Travel Ideas From Members travel ideas
Hottentots Holland Nature Reserve. Western Cape. SA. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Normally, I’m not a huge fan of online travel communities. I think they get taken over too easily by businesses that want to promote themselves. So far, seems to be an exception. I’ve had some fun asking and answering questions from other travelers. A few businesses seem to have sneaked in, but it’s the exception rather than the norm.

Recently, I asked members what activities they build their trips around. For example, my trips center around 1) a 10K race, 2) a long day/overnight hike and 3) eating some sort of weird food native to the area. We’ll sometimes add activities, like we did in Finland for the Ruisrock music festival. But these are the three minimums.

Trippy members had some outstanding answers, and I’d like to share a few of them here. I’m just giving short excerpts and the person’s name and location. Visit the thread to read the full text and join the conversation. I’ll also add some of my own thoughts to their answers in italics. travel ideas
Flea Market at the Theresienwiese. The largest flea market in Germany. Deutsch: Flohmarkt auf der Theresienwiese. Der größte Flohmarkt in Deutschland. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Within the first day or two, find a bookstore and find something that takes place in the locale and read it during the trip. (Phillip K. – Ontario, Canada) You can’t go wrong with a bookstore. It’s a great place to meet people, no matter where you are. And you just might dig up some books that you won’t find in bookstores back home or even online. If you’re a bookstore sort of person, by the way, put Iceland on your travel list.

Flea markets! There’s nothing like a local flea market for full cultural immersion. Lest you think they’re all the same, trust me: every flea market has a personality that is unique to its location. (If you’re interested, check out the posts about flea markets around the world on my blog.) (Pamela P. – New Canaan, Connecticut, US) Super idea, and I really hadn’t thought of this. Seems like a great way to get away from the tourism brochure experiences. travel ideas
Geocacher bei Nacht (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One of the very first things I do, on the very first night I get somewhere new, is look up at the stars. I like seeing what constellations are visible in each new place. It started when I went to Mexico for the first time; one of my first trips. Looking up at the stars that first night was when I fell properly and madly in love with travel. (Jamie P. – India) Jamie has a great idea. I remember feeling the same thing when I was in Australia camping in the Outback. It’s really interesting to see the differences in the night sky from place to place. Just don’t try this in Norway int he summer! travel ideas
Skydiving! (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I have been practicing yoga in EVERY state I visit. I make sure to take a picture, put it on my blog and update my Yoga Travel map 🙂 (Diana J. – Cinnaminson, New Jersey, US) I started taking yoga classes in 1999, so I’m a huge believer in its benefits. But I’ve never taken a yoga class in a different country. Sounds like another great way to meet people.

Bicycle tour "Tour de Graz" on the &...
Bicycle tour “Tour de Graz” on the “car free day”, September 22,2009, in Graz, Styria, Austria (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Most of my vacations involve attending at least one sporting event. Being able to do that was actually a childhood dream that I have been able to fulfill. (Jeremy R. – Lafayette, Louisiana, US) Jeremy has a great idea. I even have a blog post about sports events I’d like to see during my travels. I always love "accidentally" tripping onto a sports event, like watching cricket in Australia or just stumbling onto an Icelandic Premier League soccer match. One of the Stjarnan fans is now one of my Facebook friends.

I try and do some bicycle touring in every place.

This is both a great way to see a place and it’s also very good meditation for me to be on my bike a few hours per day. (Claus A. – From Parts Unknown!) I’m also a longtime bicyclist. I’m incredibly picky about my bike shorts, helmets and shoes -- which take up a lot of room in the pack. So far, the only place I’ve cycled was in Whistler, BC, Canada, during the Crankworx festival.

I am an addicted geocacher and I try to do it pretty much everywhere around the world. And that is the amazing fact about this hobby. You really can do it everywhere around the world and even in outer space aboard the ISS. (Peter R. – Munich, Germany) Another incredible idea! I’ll bet this gets Peter into some cool areas that people who stick to the travel brochures never get to see.

I try to do something new or adventurous on every trip I make. It started in Cape Town where I went skydiving at Skydive Cape Cod and I went kloofing in Hottentots-Holland Nature Reserve which was pretty awesome to do! Look it up on YouTube, Skeleton Gorge! (Jan Jaap Ensing, Nederland) Yes! This is my kind of answer. This traveler obviously has a hobby that can help him find some adventure anywhere. In other cases, travelers just have to look for opportunities. Of course, in New Zealand, the opportunities are numerous. But skydiving in South Africa sounds amazing.


World’s Coolest Music Venues – My Top 3

If I write about the world’s coolest music venues, I know some people will expect buildings like the Sydney Opera House. So let’s get this out of the way: It’s not on the list. This list is for outdoor venues, and also places where you’re just as likely to hear the crushing, cranked-up roar of an Engl Powerball as you are a Stradivarius violin.

So let’s check out what made my list … and be sure to pitch in with your favorite venues and – just as importantly – who you want to see there!

Red Rocks Amphitheatre (Morrison, Colo., U.S.)

coolest concert venues
The amphitheater at Red Rocks in Colorado (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I got the idea for this post after a spontaneous stop at Red Rocks near Denver. We were driving around and just happened to see the Red Rocks signs. And the venue blew me away. It looks like the planet Vulcan. Of course, music is probably illogical to Vulcans, so I can’t imagine they’d build it.

Unfortunately, it was a daytime visit and there wasn’t a show in progress.

Who I’d Like to Hear at Red Rocks: Rush. Red Rocks seems like it was built for Rush.

Pedreira Paulo Leminski (Curitiba, Brazil)

Embed from Getty Images

The world’s coolest concert venues often do more than host concerts. Pedreira Paulo Leminski was the site of Curitiba’s 2014 FanFest: About 30,000 people would turn out to watch televised World Cup matches on an enormous screen. Then, local musicians would hit the stage. Everybody had a great time in the throes of World Cup Fever. And I had never even heard of it before I went to Curitiba.

Music fans here are surrounded by a pond, sheer quarry walls and an awesome slice of encroaching rain forest. And this gives this world’s coolest music venue  entry some serious mojo.

Who I’d like to hear at Pedreira Paulo Leminski: The Gathering. Their slower tempos would be less likely to ping off the quarry walls. And hearing them outdoors in the rainforest? Yeah, that works (even with a singer other than their original).

Dalhalla (Sweden)

coolest concert venues
An overview of Dalhalla. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Sweden’s entry to my world’s coolest concert venue post features a moat and a pirate ship. That’s right -- a moat and a pirate ship. And yes, like Parque das Pedreiras, Dalhalla is a quarry. What a perfect re-use of a resource!

Some might argue that the moat prevents moshing. But I don’t go to metal concerts to have meatheads slam into me. Just let the sound wash over me, thanks very much. Seems like Dalhalla wouldn’t get much use in the winter considering the climate, though.

Who I’d Like to Hear at Dalhalla: Hammerfall, who the hell else? They’re even Swedish, so nobody could do the job better!

What Good Are Primitive Living Skills?

primitive living skills
A little post-course goofing off with Cody.

You might think primitive living skills experts like Cody Lundin and his co-instructor Mark Dorsten would have a specific end game in mind when they pass their knowledge to students at the Aboriginal Living Skills School. And you’re absolutely correct.

But the end game isn’t what you might expect. They’re not – repeat, not – aiming to make you live the rest of your life barefoot, using a Paiute deadfall trap to catch rats that you’ll eat to stay alive. Nope. They’ll consider themselves successful if A) whichever course you take makes you better appreciate your modern conveniences and B) makes you better aware of your surroundings.

I can’t speak for the other students who took the primitive living skills course. But for me, I’d say they accomplished their mission. Since experiencing The Provident Primitive course back in August, I see a few differences in myself. Like what? So glad you asked.

Everywhere I Go, I’m Looking at Every Plant

During the work week, I generally walk to lunch. I amble along sidewalks, and take shortcuts through landscaped areas. And I constantly spot plants and think things like "Hey, that would make a great hearth" or "I could make a rabbit stick out of that." My eyes lock onto everything that I could turn into a tinder bundle and every seed pod I could munch on.

English: Food dehydrator Français : Déshydrateur
Food dehydrator: Money well spent. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’m even worse when I actually hike. I stop to sample plants I learned about during the course (and make my wife do the same). We left for a hike without any tissues, and she got sneezy. Sure enough, I found some mullein (aka, cowboy toilet paper) and it was problem solved thanks to primitive living skills. Just don’t mention that time she had to pick a prickly pear thorn out of my tongue, OK?

Switching My Food Habits

Since I started mountain biking in the early 90s, "energy bars" (I really hate that label because anything with calories is an "energy" food … it just allows marketing geeks to fool us) have been a staple of my snack arsenal. That’s since changed because of The Provident Primitive: Cody made an off-hand reference to pemmican, the trail food of North American natives.

English: Illustration of a Paiute Deadfall tra...
Look out, rats! I’m comin’ for ya! (taken from U.S. Army Field Manual, No. 21-76, Survival. Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I decided to give it a shot. I found a pemmican recipe, bought a food dehydrator and went to town. I’m still experimenting with the right ratios and fat sources. But every batch of pemmican has powered me up and tasted better than carb-based food bars.

The dehydrator also inspired me to try apples and other fruits. Right now, my dehydrator runs more often than it sits idle. If you want to get away from snacking on crap, get a dehydrator. Fill it with organic fruit and look out – you’ll have a lot fewer urges to fork over for stuff with high-fructose corn syrup.

Oh, and jerky – even if you don’t turn it into pemmican, it’s an awesome snack. DIY jerky is far less expensive ($7 for a few ounces versus $8 for 2 pounds of flank steak) and better tasting than the store-bought variety, too. No contest. I also love throwing it in my camping food. It soaks up the water and adds a nice protein punch.

I Like Being Outdoors More Than Ever

So I have some new observational skills, some new food ideas -- this adds up to more fun when I hike or camp. There’s something to be said for better understanding your surroundings. Knowledge shows you possibilities where none existed before.

I’ve also bought a few books about edible plants to find in the region, and look for hikes where there’s running water; the best way to have enough water is to hike/camp where there’s water, and to be sure you have the means to treat it.

I also practice with my fire-making methods every week. I still suck at the hand drill and have yet to start a full fire with it, even though I can make plenty of smoke (UPDATE: Fire achieved 11/28). I’m really hoping to have a breakthrough. But I’m handy with the flint and tinder bundle.

Last Day of Monti’s La Casa Vieja

The Fountain Room – the most-haunted area at Monti’s La Casa Vieja.

People call Phoenix and its satellite cities an area without a past, shucked of history, a collection of pass-through transients. The closing of Montis La Casa Vieja on Monday splinters another link to the past -- and the deed will be complete when most of it gets bulldozed to make room for a high-rise development in the landlocked city of Tempe.

I could easily turn this into a rant about developers, greed and a myopic worldview. I’ll resist the temptation – mostly. Developers say they’ll fold the "historic Hayden House" into the new construction. I’m not sure exactly what that means: Keep in mind that the building has gone through about as much adding-on and renovation as a 15th Century Irish pub, to the point where original elements are fused into newer bits that seem inextricably linked. Who knows what will really survive when demolition begins?

An old Make-A-Wish plaque rolls the years back at Monti’s.

But enough of that. Plenty of better-informed people have more to say about it than I do. Let’s instead take a look at Nov. 17, the final night Monti’s served to the public.

My friend Nicole, who likes history and hauntings (and wrote a cool blog post about Arizona hauntings), organized a group dinner among some friends. She’d never had a look inside Monti’s, and the legend of its haunted halls enticed her. We managed to get a seat in the Fountain Room, which is said to be the most-haunted of all the rooms (considering the building sprawls over no less than 11,000 square feet, that offers a lot of ground).

Seriously, do people think the Illuminati met here?

I was there less for the supernatural, and more for the memories. I spent more than a few evenings at Monti’s with friends: We’d have a pre-game steak or prime rib before heading down to Veteran’s Memorial Coliseum to see the Phoenix Roadrunners. In recent years, my good friend Todd and I would gather there to eat prime rib and talk about whatever was on our minds (guitars and music, often enough).

But it was really interesting to just roam the building. It has that enveloping creepiness that only an old, haphazardly renovated building can possess. One particular hallway, in particular, seemed to drink in ambient sound, muffling every whisper or footfall. I overheard one patron claim that one of the back banquet rooms was the scene of meetings of the Arizona branch of the Illuminati (I tried very hard to not roll my eyes -- I may have succeeded somewhat).

Monti's Floorplan
A glance at Monti’s floorplan gives you an idea of how big and chaotic it is. Or was …

One of the more interesting moments: Nicole spied a weathered brass plaque on the fountain in the Fountain Room. It bore the old wishbone logo and mission of Make-A-Wish from its earliest days as a "last wish" organization for terminally ill children (it has since moved on to serve kids with life-threatening medical conditions, the difference now being that many of the kids can survive their illnesses).

For all the fun I had, though, it was just sad. The servers seemed torn about it all. And every person wandering Monti’s with a digital camera clearly wished it wouldn’t come to this.

This secluded dining room just felt … weird.
Todd pokes around a more secluded area.
Diablo Way had an eerie mojo – it seemed to absorb sound.
A piece of the original adobe wall at Monti’s.

Why You Should Go to Finland

I can’t even tell you how many times I hear American travelers go on about Spain, Italy, France and England. You’ll hear about culture, history, museums and food (a little less so with England on that last one!). But I can’t say I’ve ever heard an American traveler all wound up about the idea of a trip to Finland.

And I just don’t get it.

Finland – and also Iceland and Norway – have a certain sense of community spirit that’s hard to define. But that spirit makes Finland an incredibly fun place to travel. And then you have the scenery, the events, the food, the public transit and the shopping. I’m not ordinarily a big shopper. But I always look out for things that will interest others, and I can tell you that any fashionista with an eye for one-of-a-kind items from small, independent designers will love Finland.

Let me share some information that gives you an idea of why you should go to Finland.

First Impressions

We arrived in Helsinki after a flight from Tromsö, Norway via Oslo aboard Norwegian Air Shuttle. I sat across the aisle from a young female rock band, one member of which got startled when my wife accidentally launched a gob of sanitizer directly onto her lap (pressurization, yo). Sharing a plane with young rockers reinforced my notion that Finland is a paradise for good, loud rock music; part of our reason for visiting was to go to the Ruisrock festival in Turku (the Ruisrock link includes a story about having several people convinced that I’m a rock star who performed at the festival).

go to finland
It’s early evening – soon, this park will be jammed with people on blankets hanging out.

I was a little surprised that the rail line from the airport to the city center was still under construction during our visit (it may be ready now, though). The bus ride was still pleasant, and I thought more than a few times of Minnesota as we cruised along through rolling plains and evergreen trees.

Downtown Helsinki, though, was all cool Old World architecture alongside sleek but welcoming new architecture. It’s a blend Finland wears well, just like so many other countries in the region.

First example of the community spirit I mentioned earlier – we asked a young Finnish woman for directions, and she walked us to within a few steps of our hotel and told us all about herself as we walked.

What’s So Cool About Finland?

go to finland
Helsinki could give Portland a few lessons in weird.

If American travelers knew what I do about Finland, it would be a huge, up-and-coming destination. It’s just that awesome. Let me break it down:

Absolutely Vibrant During Summer – Finland comes alive in the summer, with music festivals spanning nearly every genre practically every weekend somewhere in the country. Also, there’s a nightly tradition in the cities -- people fill up a cooler, grab a blanket, head to the nearest park and hang out with their friends and neighbors in the post-dinner hours. I imagine winter is a little less social, but I’d bet it’s still a picture-perfect scene of a holiday season.

Getting Around is Super Easy – Whether you walk, bicycle or take a train, the transit options are affordable and easy to navigate. Our two-hour trip on the VR train to Turku was a marvel of comfort and efficiency. We also used a combination of train and bus travel to enjoy a day hiking at the Nuuksion Koulu. Every leg of the trip went off without a hitch. And cyclists – be prepared for an astounding bicycle infrastructure.

go to Finland
Finland has cool architecture a-plenty

History and Fun – We also took a quick boat trip out to Suomenlinna, where we spent a day enjoying the island’s history and sites -- be prepared for some gusty Baltic winds, though. I also got to try some bear sausage. Back in Helsinki, we took an evening trip out to the Linnanmaki amusement park.

Things to Know

  • You might be tempted to call Finland a Scandinavian country. Resist the urge. Refer to it as a Nordic country instead.
  • Also, Finland uses the Euro. That’s part of the reason its prices aren’t quite as high as Norway.
  • Try sahti. It’s a traditional Finnish beer that’s hard to find … and slightly hard to pronounce. Here’s everything you need to know about sahti.
  • If you’re a beer connoisseur, let’s just say Finland hasn’t quite hopped into the craft-beer movement just yet. There are a few places to get good brews, but you’ll mostly see fizzy, watery, pale-yellow lagers.
go to finland
Nuuksion National Park an easy combination of train and bus travel from Helsinki.

Finland in a Word: Liveable

I could very easily see living in Finland, even with its winters. There seems to be a work-life balance that allows the country to prosper, but it exudes a "work to live, not live to work" outlook. That’s healthy. The country’s fixation on sauna (pronounce it “sah-oo-nah”) is another healthy element, along with well-marked hiking trails serves by huts. Finland is the place to be for backpackers and cross-country skiers.

Other Details

My total time in Finland was about nine days – enough to convince me that you should go to Finland – split between Turku and Helsinki. Turku is built around a river, and it is so incredibly relaxed and pleasant that you might never realize that many of the world’s behemoth cruise ships are built there. As for Helsinki -- I could easily use a few weeks to dive into all that it offers. I’d love a chance to learn more about its heavy metal scene and to get out into the surrounding natural areas.

go to Finland
Turku is a maritime city you’ll love … if you like strolling along rivers, walking on tree-shaded paths and meeting people.

The Real Answers to Common Travel Questions

common travel questions
When I get to this stage of my trip, I get excited … because all the pre-departure stuff is all done.

Whenever I go on one of my international trips, people always have a bunch of questions for me before and after my journey. I started noticing the similarities, and it all made me laugh a bit. I answer them politely enough with the same pat, predictable answers because I don’t like to drone on and on. But if you want a look at my inner monologue, here are the most common travel questions, the polite answers and then the real answers that flash through my head.

Are you excited?

Polite Answer: Yes, it’s going to be a lot of fun.

What I’m Thinking: I’ll be excited when I get the boarding pass for the flight that gets me out of the country. Until then, all I can think about is tying up all the loose ends at work, making sure my house doesn’t flood in my absence, that the cat is going to be OK, making sure all my travel documents are ready and myriad other worst-case scenarios. But yeah, when I get past that, I’m sure I’ll be excited.

Are you all ready to go?

Polite Answer: I think so.

What I’m Thinking: I still have laundry to do, stuff sacks to find, doors to double-check, mail to forward -- and with all that, I’ll probably wind up 8,000 miles away with just the single raggedy-ass pair of underwear that I’m wearing right now. There’s probably going to be at least one un-flushed toilet in my house, and the cat will probably drink from it exclusively.

common travel questions
Even a mundane city stroll can be a travel highlight in a place like Akihabara.

What was the best thing?

Polite Answer: I mumble something about a destination/activity they might’ve heard about, or something seriously otherworldly that rocked my world.

What I’m Thinking: Dude, you can’t do that! It’s impossible to rank a trip. Just a simple day ambling around an unfamiliar city is wonderful -- and so is losing yourself in a remote place where I might hike for 8 hours and see all of three other humans. The Internet and much of its content has too often trained us to think in terms of “best of” and “Top 5” lists. But is life really like that? That’s actually why I blog – to remember as much as possible and pass the good and bad of my experience along to other travelers. And to be able to give someone a deeper understanding of a few great destinations.

Where are you going next?

Polite answer: I don’t know yet.

What I’m Thinking: Seriously? Can I have time to at least get my photos from my media cards and into my computer before I start planning my next trip?