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Sep
05

5 Things to Do in Queens, NY

The US Open is held in Queens, one of New York City’s five boroughs and home to the most culturally and ethnically diverse communities in the United States. If you’re attending the US Open and you’re not from New York, you might wonder what there is to see and do in the neighborhoods that whiz past you as you take the 7 train to the Mets-Willets Point station.

Though few tourists and visitors venture into Queens, favoring Manhattan and Brooklyn over the other boroughs, there are lots of “only in New York” experiences you can have in this under-visited borough.

Here are five things to do in Queens while you’re in town for the US Open, or really any time when you want to check out the cool attractions in this region of NYC:

1. Time travel in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park.

You won’t have to wander from the US Open grounds to act on this tip, as the tennis stadiums are located in the park’s boundaries. The park–New York City’s second largest–was host of two New York World’s Fairs (1939-1940 and 1964-1965); several relics from those fairs remain on display today. The large Unisphere sculpture is the most visible and photogenic of these relics, but the most interesting (and the ones that are closest to the US Open venue) are the mosaics and time capsule that serve as snapshots of mid-century pop culture.

And those snapshots aren’t without controversy. Read this interesting article from local radio station, WNYC, to learn about the “mosaic mystery.”

Time Capsule Mosaic

Time Capsule Mosaic

Image: calestyo

2. Eat your way through Flushing’s Chinatown.

One stop beyond the US Open on the 7 train is Flushing, home to New York City’s lesser-known Chinatown. As busy and bustling as Manhattan’s Chinatown, Flushing is, well, flush with Chinese restaurants specializing in most regional cuisines, though locals in the know tend to visit Flushing for dim sum.

Get off the 7 train at Main Street, come to street level, close your eyes, spin around, and wherever you’re facing when your eyes open, head in that direction to find an authentic Chinese restaurant.

Flushing's Chinatown

Flushing's Chinatown

Image: Terry Ballard

3. Walk Flushing’s Freedom Trail.

Barely familiar even to New Yorkers who consider themselves connoisseurs of the little-known, Flushing’s Freedom Trail is a walking path with historically significant sites that offer important insights into both New York’s and America’s past.

Along the path, you’ll find the home of the man who invented the carbon filament light bulb and New York City’s first public high school, as well as the oldest house of worship in the city.

A stop on Flushing's Freedom Trail

A stop on Flushing's Freedom Trail

Image: Francisco Collazo

4. Visit the Louis Armstrong House Museum.

Harlem and Greenwich Village are more famous for their roles in musical history, but Queens is a surprisingly rich repository, too. For almost 30 years, Louis Armstrong lived in a modest house in the Corona neighborhood; today, the house is a museum that is open to the public.

Though it’s a bit out of the way, it’s a must-visit for serious Armstrong fans, as the house has been preserved as it was when he and his wife lived there.

Louis Armstrong House Museum

Louis Armstrong House Museum

Image: Paul Lowry

5. Watch the sunset from Gantry Plaza State Park.

Long Island City, one of Queens’ neighborhoods and the closest one to Manhattan, sits on the East River and has perfect, unobstructed views of Manhattan, best seen at sunset. Take the 7 train to Vernon-Jackson, walk west on 50th Avenue all the way to the water, and enjoy the view from the end of one of the piers or from your own hammock at the northern end of the park.

Gantry Plaza State Park

Gantry Plaza State Park

Image: Francisco Collazo

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Jul
25

5 Things to Do in Cancun This Summer

Cancun isn’t just for Spring Breakers hoping to escape Mom’s and Dad’s watchful eyes. Though high schoolers and college students descend upon Cancun for one party-hardy week each spring, the rest of the year tends to be much more mellow. But maybe you don’t know what Cancun has to offer beyond the ubiquitous souvenir t-shirt from Senor Frogs. If that’s the case, here are six things to do in Cancun this summer.

1. Swim With Whale Sharks

Whale sharks, the largest animal in the seas, spend four months of the year (May-September) off the coast of Cancun, and visitors can see them—and even swim with them—by taking an excursion with a licensed tour operator. The whale sharks are gentle giants, gliding slowly through the water as they feed. You can watch them from your tour boat or swim alongside them with a guide; this activity is recommended for travelers ages 10 and up.

Swimming with whale sharks in Cancun. Photo: CollazoProjects.com.

Swimming with whale sharks in Cancun. Photo: CollazoProjects.com.

2. Swim With Dolphins

If whale sharks seem too overwhelming or if you’re prone to seasickness, you can stay on land and swim with dolphins in the Cancun Interactive Aquarium’s pool. You’ll be introduced to the animals by a professional trainer, who will stay with you in the pool throughout your session. During your time with the dolphins, you’ll see how they’re trained and watch the commands they can fulfill. This option is also better for younger children, as there is no minimum age limit to participate. Before or after your swim, you can also visit the aquarium’s museum, which features touch tanks and other displays.

Swimming with dolphins at the Interactive Aquarium. Photo: CollazoProjects.com

Swimming with dolphins at the Interactive Aquarium. Photo: CollazoProjects.com

3. Go to the Zoo

Cancun isn’t just about marine animals; at CrocoCun Zoo, you can also have one-on-one encounters with land mammals and reptiles, including parrots, crocodiles, snakes, monkeys, and more. A professional guide leads you on an hour-long tour through the well-kept, humane zoo; during the tour, you are invited to touch, hold, or feed most of the animals.

Kids touch a crocodile at CrocoCun Zoo. Photo: CollazoProjects.com

Kids touch a crocodile at CrocoCun Zoo. Photo: CollazoProjects.com

4. Explore Mayan History

2012 is a particularly important year in Mayan history, as the Mayans’ long-calendar reaches its end. Travelers with a particular interest in archaeology and indigenous history have been visiting Cancun’s and the Riviera Maya’s Mayan sites in large numbers this year; why not join them? You can take a day trip drive to the most-renowned site, Chichen Itza, which is 60 miles from Cancun proper, or you can stay closer to the city and visit El Rey, a 47-structure site in Cancun. Other sites within 60-80 miles’ driving distance include Tulum, Xcaret, Xel-Ha, and Ek-Balam.

The main temple at Ek-Balam, a Mayan site. Photo: Donna Arioldi.

The main temple at Ek-Balam, a Mayan site an hour outside of Cancun. Photo: Donna M. Airoldi

5. Take a Day Trip to an Isla

Cancun has several islands—Isla Mujeres, Isla Holbox, and Isla Contoy—off its coast that are increasingly gaining the attention of visitors. Mujeres and Holbox are known for their laid-back, takin’-it-easy pace, while Contoy is a national park that invites supervised eco-tourism visits limited to 200 people per day. Ferries run from Cancun’s Puerto Morelos to the islands; though you could easily do a day trip to Isla Mujeres and Isla Contoy, it’s recommended that you stay at least overnight to have time to enjoy Isla Holbox, which requires a longer trip from Cancun. Once there, you can relax on the beach, snorkel, fish, or kiteboard.

Limiting visitors to Isla Contoy means you're likely to find a stretch of beach to yourself. Photo: Alaskan Dude.

Limiting visitors to Isla Contoy means you're likely to find a stretch of beach to yourself. Photo: Alaskan Dude

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Jun
20

6 Most Beautiful Places to Take a Leap of Faith

Craving a rush of air, adrenaline and great views? Check out these stunning jump-off spots that will leave you breathless in more ways than one.

1. Bungee jumping at Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe

Located between Zambia and Zimbabwe, Victoria Falls is the largest waterfall in the world – so it should go without saying it is an ideal place to fall 111 meters with a cord attached to your ankles. We wonder if the fall’s namesake Queen Victoria ever felt the rush of plummeting off this waterfall? We guess not.

Image: On The Go Tours/Flickr

2. Base jumping from the Sky Tower, New Zealand

People from all over congregate to the 328m Sky Tower, distinguished as one of the tallest free-standing structures in the Southern hemisphere. Feeling the need for speed? This base jumping spot is the place for you – jumpers reach up to 85km/hr while on their way down. On top of this fast and extremely high fall, you also have to worry about wind entering your equation. Fortunately, base jumpers use a guide-cable-controlled to avert the jumper from bumping into the building.

Image: Andy Beal Photography/Flickr

3. Skydiving over Lake Taupo, New Zealand

Take skydiving to the next level by flying above one of the last active volcano regions in New Zealand. It is very popular for people to experience one minute of freefalling in this 15,000 feet drop. Also, if you are a skydiver on a budget, skydiving over Lake Taupo is known for low-cost jumps. We’re not sure if this is a good thing or not.

Image: Antoine Hurbert/Flickr

4. Hang gliding the mountains of Bariloche, Argentina

Hang gliding in Bariloche, Argentina is said to be an incredible experience any time of the year, but summer has been recognized as the truly best time.

Image: patrícia soransso /Flickr

5. Zip lining the treetops of Durango, USA

If you are an adrenaline junkie jonsing for the great outdoors, then it is time for you to zip line through the treetops of Durango, Colorado. As you travel high up amongst the trees, you can spot reptiles and birds from an incredible vantage point. Sounds like an ideal day to us.

Video: Gary Gaurdreau/Vimeo

6. Paragliding Babadag Mountain, Turkey

In October the small resort town of Oludeniz hosts an annual Air Games week for all the air lovers around the world. Located at the foot of Babadag mountain, be one with nature as you para-glide through the mountains, cedar forests and shores of the Mediterranean.

Image: babadag.com


Love this topic? Read the whole post on the NileGuide blog

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Jun
15

9 Secret Cave Cities

There were two recurring themes that surprised us while researching cave dwelling cultures from around the world:

1. Mongols.

2. George Lucas.

Read on to see where we’re going with this.

1. Cappadocia, Turkey

Image: Curious Expeditions/Flickr

Image: sputnik 57/Flickr

The Cappadocia region of central Turkey has some of the strangest, most incredible geology anywhere on earth. And for 3,500 years, humans have managed to build 200 incredible cities in this rocky, mountainous terrain. Lucky for modern day visitors, the cave cities in Cappadocia provide thousands of years of history and miles of caves to explore. And on top of that, all the artifacts found within the caves have been incredibly well maintained over the centuries. The dry, arid weather inside the caves has made for almost perfect conditions for preserving the artifacts, and there is still undoubtedly much more to be discovered.

Image: whl.travel/Flickr

Image: drreagan/Flickr

Along with constructing incredible cave complexes, the multiple groups that have called Cappadocia home also utilized the unique Fairy Chimney rock formations native to the area – turning them into homes. Found only in a few places on earth, the formation looks like a tall pyramid with a large rock balanced on top. Native cultures hollowed them out and used them as freestanding dwellings. Pretty cool huh?

Image: Vin60/Flickr

2. Vardzia – Southern Georgia

Image: en.wikipedia.org

We certainly don’t envy any 12th century monarch. With the Mongols terrorizing Europe, it must have felt like your chances for survival where slim. So when Queen Tamar of the Caucasus heard that the Mongol army was at her doorstep, she demanded the impossible: Build an impenetrable fortress on the side of the Erusheli mountain. Although it seems barely feasable by modern day standards, in 1185 construction began.

When the complex was completed it had 6,000 apartments on 13 levels, a throne room, a church, and an exterior of terraces for growing crops. Incredibly Vardzia also had an irrigation system and a secret entrance only accessible via a hidden tunnel.

Image: onbangladesh/Flickr

Image: zigurdszakis/Flickr

Luckily, it worked in protecting the queen from the Mongols. Unluckily, a hundred years later a massive earthquake in 1283 destroyed much of the complex, exposing the interior apartments that were originally hidden inside the mountain. Even after the damage, monks continued to live in what was left until being attacked by Persians in 1551.

It is now open to visitors, and a small group of monks maintain the incredible ruins.

3. Petra – Jordan

Image: paalia/Flickr

The Nabataeans established Petra around the 6th Century BCE as their capital city. An important stop on the Middle Eastern trade route, Petra’s iconic structures weren’t built until around zero AD. The most famous ruin, Al Kjazneh or “The Treasury”, has an incredibly detailed facade carved out of a sandstone rock face.

Image: To Uncertainty And Beyond/Flickr

Image: tympsy/Flickr

Many of the details of the Greek-influenced architecture has been lost over the years, but it still makes for an incredible site. Although it isn’t known what The Treasury was constructed for, it was deemed a World Heritage Site is 1985. But perhaps even more exciting than that, it was also in Indiana Jones an the Last Crusade.

Image: archer10(Dennis)/Flickr

4. Coober Pedy – Northern Australia

Image: DuReMi/Flickr

The small town of Coober Pedy has 3 great things going for it. 1: It is the Opal Capital of the World; 2: It is the set location for 3rd Mad Max movie; and 3: It was used while filming Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. Other than that, living there is pretty rough. Located in a desolate strip of land in northern Australia, temperatures hover at around 105 degrees Fahrenheit for most of the summer. Along with the sweltering heat comes 20% humidity. Not such a comfy place to live – especially since power to run air conditioning is pretty expensive all the way out in the middle of nowhere.

Image: DuReMi/Flickr

Image: DuReMi/Steel Wool/Flickr

To combat the insufferable temps the original opal prospectors in 1915 built underground homes, and to this day that’s how most of the town lives. One of the only modern additions? Chimneys that can be seen from above ground.

Since it’s become somewhat of a tourist attraction in the past 20 years, Coober Pedy offers a few underground hostels in case you’re dying to live like the locals.

Image: whale05/Flickr

5. Uplistsikhe – Eastern Georgia

Image: Lidia Ilona/Flickr

Located 5 miles from Gori, the city of Stalin’s birth, Uplistsikhe is an ancient town built into the soft rocks of eastern Georgia. Some structures have been dated all the way to the Early Iron Age, but Uplistsikhe really began to hit its stride in the Middle Ages when it was a major stop in the Silk Road. At its peak the city housed a population of around 20,000 residents who lived in 700 caves. Unfortunately in the 13th century, Mongol invasions left the city ravaged. Already weak, subsequent earthquakes struck soon after, which severely damaged the rock city and left it largely uninhabitable.

Image: masterplaan/Flickr

Image: masterplaan/Flickr

Today only around 150 caves remain, many of which have barely survived. One of the most incredible structures still left standing is the 9th century church of Uplistulis Eklesia. Although the church was Christian, it was built directly over a previously constructed pagan sun temple. No matter what your religious bent the views from the church are pretty darn incredible.

Image: SusanAstray/Flickr

Image: Mart Laanpere/Flickr

6. Yaodong in the Loess Plateau – China

Image: Next Stop Beijing

For centuries, inhabitants in the Loesses Plateau in northern China have been building their houses into the side of steep cliffs. Cave dwelling may seem like an ancient tradition, but recently Yaodongs have been praised for their eco-friendly construction and sustainability. Modern Yaodongs are constructed carefully with proper precautions, but this wasn’t always the case. When the 1556 Shaanxi earthquake hit northern China, an astonishing 85K people died when their cave homes caved in on them.

Image: Clare’s Research Trip 2010-2011

Image: en.wikipedia.org

Today there is an estimated 40 million people who call Yaodong home including one famous former resident, Mao Zedong.

7. Matmata – Southern Tunisia

Image: Panegyrics of Granovetter/Flickr

If the interior of these buildings look familiar it’s probably because you’ve seen one before. Remember in the beginning of the first Star Wars movie? Yep, Luke Skywalker’s Aunt and Uncles home was actually filmed in a troglodyte house in Matmata, Tunisia. Troglodyte complexes have been built by the Berbers that live in this region for centuries, possibly even since Egyptian times. They are created by digging a large central pit, and then creating artificial underground caves around it.

Image: 10b travelling/Flickr

Image: Syromaniac/Flickr

Even though these homes are ancient, it wasn’t until 1967 that they were “discovered” by the outside world. After 22 days of consistent rain, the small and private community of Matmata were forced to contact authorities when many of their homes began collapsing. It was previously thought that only nomadic tribes lived in the area, and officials were shocked when they came to investigate and found the troglodyte homes.

Image: matee, but who cares?/Flickr

In response to the flooding, above ground homes were built, but as soon as the underground dwellings could be repaired the new homes were abandoned.

8. Bamyan – Central Afghanistan

Image: AfghanistanMatters/Flickr

The modern story of Bamyan is a tearjerker, so prepare yourself.

Bamyan was once an important religious center for Buddhists, and at one point 2,000 monks built their homes in caves in the sandstone cliffs above the city of Bamyan. In addition to creating magnificent paintings inside the caves, the monks also built two massive statues of Buddha between 544-644. Standing 180 and 121 feed high, these were the largest standing statues of Buddha anywhere in the entire world – modern day included. Tragically in 2001 the Taliban intentionally destroyed the statues, calling them an “affront to Islam” and blowing them up with dynamite.

Image: United Nations Photo/Flickr

Previously the Taliban also used the monks’ caves to store ammunition, but once they were driven out of the region the caves became reoccupied with locals looking for homes. Amazingly, the new cave dwellers have found more treasures in the caves, including the world’s oldest oil paintings and a 62-foot reclining Buddha statue.

Image: Tracy Hunter

Image: Tracy Hunter

9. Kandovan – East Azerbaijan Province, Iran

Image: basheem/Flickr

When the Mongols invaded Iran in the 13th century, Iranians fled all over the country. A community ended up in northwestern Iran, and found a bizarre rock formation they decided to call home. These cone structures were created by eroded volcanic ash, and have made incredibly temperate and sturdy houses for the past 700 years.

Image: Eliza_Taibihi/Flickr

Most homes built in Kandovan are between 2 and 4 stories tall, and have actually made this very remote village a popular tourist destination within Iran.

Image: basheem/Flickr

Read the whole post on the NileGuide blog

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May
14

Photo of the Day: Mammoth Lakes, CA

Mammoth Lakes is part of Yosemite National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site located in the Sierra Nevada Mountains in east-central California. Yosemite is internationally recognized for its spectacular granite cliffs, waterfalls, clear streams, giant sequoia groves and biological diversity.

Mammoth Lakes, CA (image credit Flickr)

Mammoth Lakes, CA

Mammoth is famous for its stunning hiking trails and crystal clear lakes, excellent skiing in wintertime, and a vibrant music and arts scene year-round. Physically fit travelers will enjoy hiking Yosemite’s many trails and footpaths. Check with rangers for trail conditions; snow and hazards from falling rock close many trails in winter. No permits are required park-wide for day hikes. The valley also offers some of the most challenging and spectacular rock climbing in North America, with vertical faces more than 3,000 feet tall.

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Oct
28

Top 10 Haunted Hotels in the US

Halloween is approaching and spookiness is in the air, so we thought we’d bring you some of the country’s most notorious haunted hotels to consider for your next trip. Why settle for a plain old hotel stay when you could add apparitions, strange noises in the night, locking and unlocking doors, and more to the experience?

Hotel Monteleone, New Orleans - Image credit: Flickr

Hotel Monteleone, New Orleans - Image credit: Flickr

Check out these haunted spots from the Victorian seaport town of Port Townsend, WA to the land of voodoo and witchcraft itself, New Orleans, LA, and find the spot that’s right for your next journey!

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Oct
25

Every year, Frommer’s releases their must-do travel list, and it’s always sure to include at least a few eyebrow-raisers. Beirut, Lebanon? You might not know that it’s a sophisticated coastal city bustling with energy. Kansas City, MO? The world-class Kauffmann Center for the Performing Arts just opened, attracting some of the biggest names in dance and music.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park - Photo credit: Flickr

Great Smoky Mountains National Park - Photo credit: Flickr

Check out the full list here for some other surprising – and not so surprising – travel ideas.

Oct
11

Red Bull Flugtag 2011 in Tampa Bay

Red Bull Flugtag challenges teams of everyday people to build homemade, human-powered flying machines and pilot them off a 30-foot high deck in hopes of achieving flight. Flugtag means “flying day” in German, but all these crafts ultimately splash into the waters below. They are judged not only on their flight’s distance, but creativity and showmanship as well.

Red Bull Flugtag - Tampa Bay, FL (photo credit: Red Bull)

Red Bull Flugtag - Tampa Bay, FL (photo credit: Red Bull)

The 2011 Flugtag was held theispast weekend in Tampa Bay, Florida. Check out the website for amazing videos of the winners, losers, and Top Ten crashes from years past. Maybe you’ll even be inspired to put on your thinking cap and dream up a flying machine of your own!

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Oct
06

Ever heard of a Silent Disco?

Well, you wouldn’t actually hear it. It’s silent, right?  But you could watch one on Oct. 29, when Traverse City adds yet another entry to its list of fall happenings: the first-ever Old Town Halloween Carnival and Monster’s Ball. And it’s a spooky sight to behold.

In a Silent Disco, dancers are issued wireless headphones through which music is broadcast via an FM transmitter. It’s the perfect eerie effect for a Halloween street party, since everyone appears to be moving to no discernible music at all. (An added benefit is that non-dancers don’t have to shout at each other over the music, and the neighbors don’t call the cops to report you for making a public nuisance.)

Already known among Halloween cognoscenti for its ghoulish  5K Zombie Run footrace, where shambling “zombie” runners chase down normal-looking “survivors,” and the unspeakable cuteness of its kid-friendly Downtown Halloween Walk, Traverse City seems determined to make itself the Halloween capital of the Midwest with yet another event.

Photo credit: Porterhouse Productions

Photo credit: Porterhouse Productions

Billed as “the largest Halloween event in Northern Michigan,” the Oct. 29 Halloween Carnival and Monster’s Ball starts with a Saturday morning “Monster Pancake Throwdown” – a contest among local chefs in this bastion of culinary competitiveness for the title of Best Pancake in Traverse City. Pancakes will be served out with a host of other locally-produced sausages, eggs, jams, syrups and ciders. Family-style fun continues from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., with a kids’ costume contest, a haunted bouncy castle, old-school carnival games, Halloween creatures, a pneumatic “virtual hearse ride,” a pumpkin pie-eating contest, performances by local bands and dancers and other fun.

But things really begin to happen after dark, when the streets are taken over by the Monster’s Ball, with local food, wines and microbrews, and music from live bands and DJs. Entertainment will include the last live performance of Michigan dance-rock group Ella Riot (this will be the band’s farewell show), a costume contest featuring premium prizes, and an all-night Silent Disco dance party featuring DJ Body Rock and Wally Sparks (of Ella Riot), DJ Dominate and others.

Tickets for the Old Town Halloween Carnival & Monsters’ Ball can be purchased online at www.porterhouseproductions.com.

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Oct
06

Travel + Leisure Names America’s Most Beautiful Neighborhoods

Travel + Leisure has released their list of America’s most historic, charming, and downright beautiful neighborhoods, and folks across the country are bound to have strong opinions about which towns were left off the list. I’m happy to say I’ve personally spent time in four of the ten neighborhoods selected, and the others are now on my short list. I was surprised to see parts of Baltimore, Oklahoma City and Houston on this list, and you may be surprised by some of the other selections.

Check out the article and let us know which ‘hoods you think should have made the list, and which ones you think were deservedly named “Most Beautiful.”

Photo credit: Travel + Leisure / Nik Wheeler/ Alamy

Photo credit: Travel + Leisure / Nik Wheeler/ Alamy

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