There is nothing I love more than being in a place I've never been, and I pretty much just want to go everywhere...
I can't get enough of travelling and sightseeing, so this blog is dedicated to the cool little places I would someday like to go.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Last Blog Post : Everywhere

 So this is the last blog post, and there are still a ton of places that I would love to cover, but I’m probably not going to keep the blog going… so I decided I’ll just cram as much as possible into one special last blog post! It’s like a bunch of mini blog posts in one.


“Jewel of Aragon” : Zaragoza, Spain

  
What to do? Zargoza is a Spanish city not far from Barcelona and Madrid that is often passed over by tourists. Though it is not the biggest city, its culture, charm and beautiful architecture are something you shouldn’t miss. Explore the beautiful architecture and basilicas of the old town, “Casco Viejo,” which is also the best place to enjoy many delicious local dishes.  


“Fire and Water” : Kalapana, Hawaii


What to do? Starting in the town of Kalapana, Hawaii, you can take a two hour hike (ouch) to a place on the coast where active lava flows spill into the ocean. Apparently it’s a stunning sight. Worth the two hour walk? I don’t know, but probably – where else are you ever going to see something like this?


Dunhill Castle, Waterford, Ireland


What to do? Ireland is definitely high on my travel bucket list, so here’s a quick glimpse. The ruins of Dunhill Castle have stood since the early 1200’s, when it was built by the la Poer clan. Over the centuries, Dunhill castle saw many battles and changed hands many times. The castle fell into ruin during the 1700s. I absolutely love ruins, and there are tons in Ireland, so this is just a sample of what you would be able to find.


Gorges de L’Areuse, Switzerland


What to do? The Areuse mountain stream runs through the breathtaking Gorges de L’Areuse. A ‘daring’ hiking path clings to the side of the gorge so that hikers can experience this beautiful wonder as closely as possible. The hike begins in the little village of Noraigues, quite close to the entrance of the gorge. The route follows a train line and then opens up into the Champs du Moulin, a meadow in a narrow valley. After that, hikers go through the gorge, crossing at a beautiful stone bridge. The hike ends in the vineyards of Boudry on the other side.
“Valley of the Mills”: Sorrento Ruins


What to do? Explore the ivy covered ruins of this old mill in Sorrento, which is actually quite near the Amalfi Coast (my first blog post). Sorrento is a town in Southern Italy on the Bay of Naples, with spectacular views of Naples, Pompeii and the Isle of Capri. The ruins are in a deep chasm that was created by an ancient volcanic eruption. Visitors can view the mill ruins from the street above, Via Fuorimura, or go down into the valley and explore.

So that’s it for the blog, thanks for reading and bearing with me guys!

Sunday, April 21, 2013

“Ghost Town” : Bokod, Hungary

Bokod Hungary is not a tourist destination. It is barely visited – it’s just an old village on a lake. Along the lake shore, rickety boardwalks lead out over the lake to old fishing cottages that stand on stilts. It’s not the nicest location, but I think there’s something enchanting about the photographs, and there is certainly something artsy about the boardwalks and cottages on the misty water.

 
Bokod is a lake about 80 kilometers west of Budapest, the capital city of Hungary. It was hard to find information on Bokod. There was a website in Hungarian, but unfortunately I am not fluent in Hungarian, and google translate was not very helpful…
 
I’m not sure if the lake houses are inhabited – one website reported that they were abandoned but I’m not sure if it was a reliable source. If it is abandoned, I’m not sure if the boardwalks are even safe to walk on. I was disappointed when I realized this, because I saw the picture first and thought the lake houses seemed like a really cool place to stay.
 
Aeriel View
What to do? I probably wouldn’t actually visit Bokod, since there isn’t a lot to do there – just look at the houses and take some photographs I think. If I did, it would be part of a larger trip to Budapest. There are all kinds of things to do an sights to see in Budapest that would make for an excellent trip. I just decided to cover Bokod because it’s such a weird, interesting place, and the pictures are really cool.
 
What to eat? No classy restaurants here guys, this one's a picnic lunch. I'm sure there would be somewhere to eat in the village, but I wasn't able to find any online information.
 
I think Bokod certainly has potential though – if someone were to restore it and make the fishing houses into cottages for rent, it would be a lovely and very cool place to stay. What do you think?

The Heart of England” : The Cotswolds, Stow-on-the-Wold

The Cotswolds are a range of hills in southern England, known as an “area of outstanding natural beauty,” home to rolling farm fields and a number of small, charming villages.


 One of the best places to visit in the Cotswolds is the village of Stow-on-the-Wold, which sits at the top of a hill where several of the main Cotswold rural roads meet.
 

Stow-on-the-Wold has a long and interesting history. The first settlement here was an iron age fort, which grew over the centuries and became prosperous in the middle ages due to the wool trade in the Cotswolds. A 7 day market fair has been held in Stow-on-the-Wold since the 1300’s, and although it is much smaller now, this still continues today.  It is still very popular though, and the roads all around Stow are blocked for hours on the day of the fair. Stow-on-the-Wold was also a site for several skirmishes during the English Civil War.

 
What to do? There are a range of places to stay in Stow-on-the-Wold. There are hotels in beautiful restored manor houses and B&B’s, as well a hostel (also in a traditional townhouse building) and camping.
 
You can also rent a farmhouse for a reasonable price, like the Manor Farm, shown below.

 
Explore Stow-on-the-Wold and shop in the town. Charming shops sell clothing, jewellery, antiques and art, etc. The buildings are beautiful and old, made from traditional Cotswold limestone. There are museums and historical sights all around the town. You can also explore the nearby villages Moreton-in-Marsh and Bourton-on-the-Water (I love these names). There are miles of hiking trails throughout the Cotswolds, and many restored homes and beautiful gardens. The region is about 40 km across and 145 long, so pretty much everything is within a reach of a short drive if you are spending a couple days here.
 
 
In Stow-on-the-Wold a great place to visit is St. Edward’s Church, a church originally date to the 11th century. The church is built with a mixture of architectural styles due to renovations and changes over the years, making it unique and beautiful to look at.

 
Another good attraction is Broughton Castle, a romantic medieval manor house with beautiful walled gardens. You can tour the restored rooms, which have furniture from the period, and have a meal in the tea room.

 
What to eat? Stow-on-the-Wold has many tea rooms, cafes, restaurants and pubs, all serving delicious food in charming old buildings.
 

Huffkins is recommended – there are three Huffkins tea rooms throughout the Cotswolds, one of them being in Stow-on-the-Wold. Huffkins was voted “best afternoon tea in Britain” in 2008.  The family that owns Huffkins have been bakers since the 1800’s. They use locally sourced ingredients and are known for their specialty baked bread.
 

The Coach & Horses in Ganborough, only a couple miles away, is also recommended. The atmosphere is lovely – the restaurant is inside a restored old home and has open fires, cozy window seats, beamed ceilings and original stone floors, along with a large garden and patio area. The restaurant is run by a couple who serve “traditional English fare with a contemporary twist.” Like Huffkins, the ingredients are local, and the menu here actually changes seasonally and even daily, depending on what is available. They also serve ales that are brewed at the nearby Donnington Brewery.

 
The architecture and atmosphere of the Cotswolds are charming beyond belief, and I would love to experience England in this idyllic region. I think it would make a really relaxed, peaceful summer vacation and a great get away.
 

Official website with all kinds of info about the Cotswolds and Stow-on-the-Wold.
 

Monday, April 15, 2013

New England : Salem, Massachusets

I'm going to go with somewhere a little closer to home for this post – Salem, Massachusetts in the USA. I’ve actually been here, too, so I’m speaking from experience on this one.

 
Salem is a charming town known for its character, its beautiful architecture and its dark history. You may have heard of the Salem Witch Trials, which took place here during the 1600’s. The town’s people basically went hysteric, believing and accusing their neighbours of being witches. (People were a lot more superstitious back then…)

  
What to do? Today, Salem uses its history to draw in tourists. There are all kinds of museums, “magic shops,” and psychic fairs  or tourists as well as "modern practisers of witchcraft" (legit? idk), along with Haunted Walks and night-time tours of the town. Salem really goes all out with these around Halloween.

 
You can take the Salem Trolley, a guided one hour tour of the town, or else a self-guided walking tour around the centre of the city which will take you past a number of historical locations and museums. My favourite part of the trip was just walking and exploring the streets – there are all kinds of great little shops, and I loved just seeing the houses, which are Victorian or traditional New England architecture – tall, narrow, colourful with decorative porches and towers. Many of the houses are at least a century old.
 

You can check out the “magic shops” and psychic readers if you’re into that kind of thing. I passed, but it probably would’ve made for an interesting experience.

 
Another fun thing to do is go down to the waterfront, where there are more shops and some great restaurants. The waterfront is home to an original, restored sailing ship which still actually sails (although it is not open for the public to explore).
 

 Salem is quite close to Nahant beach, from which you can see the Boston skyline. You can also go to the Singing Beach, one mile away, which gets its name because the sand squeaks when you walk on it.
 

What to eat? There are some great restaurants and pubs down on the waterfront in Salem. If possible, ask a local to recommend one –they know where the best food is. Make sure you get some New England Clam Chowder, it's famous and you have to get it if you go to New England. I went to the Victoria Tavern, which had a delicious menu and a deck right on the water overlooking the harbour.

 
I would definitely do Salem again! I had a great time just walking and exploring the city, and probably could’ve spent more than just a day there.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

"Forte de Sao Joao Baptiste" : Berlengas Islands, Portugal

The Berlengas Islands are a chain of islands off the coast of Portugal: a breathtaking collage of rugged beauty and serenity, manmade architecture and raw nature. The Berlengas are one large island surrounded by several smaller ones and ragged rocks jutting out of the Atlantic. They are fairly unheard of beyond Portugal.
 
The largest, main island is Berlengas Grande, the only inhabited island. Berlenga Grande is surrounded by several smaller, tiny islands. The Fort of St. John the Baptist extends from Berlenga Grande onto a smaller island and has stood since 1502. Visitors to the island can stay in the fort for an experience that is not like any other.
 
  
This is not a luxury vacation. The accommodation in the fort is that of a basic hostel, with minimal modern convenience. The rooms include a bed, toilet/sink, and a clothesline to hang your clothes on. That’s it. The rooms are apparently cold even in the summer, and showers are only available at certain times of the day because of limited water supply. You can rent double rooms or rooms for four, and breakfast is included. The rooms are also very inexpensive, only about 15 euros.
 
But the lack of features is the basis of the island’s appeal. The attraction is getting away from complicated, modern life for a few days, and of course enjoying the architecture and history of the fort. It’s recommended that you bring a flashlight, since the fort is dark at night, and cards, a guitar, etc. to amuse yourself since there is no modern entertainment. Staying at the fort is a lot like camping.
 
I think it’s fantastic. Spectacular places like this should not be kept exclusively for the wealthy – they should be available for everyone to see and experience.
 
Visting season is May to September, and the Fort always fills up with bookings. The only way to get to the islands is by boat, a 45 minute ride over the sea. I would definitely stay for a couple nights in the fort, but you can also just go for a day trip.  
 
What to do? There are several beaches around the main island, but only one is usable. In a beautiful little cove with white sand and turquoise water, you can swim and lounge in the sun. You can also snorkel fairly far out, until you hit boat territory. There is also a public diving board. This beach is reached by a little walkway leading from the little cluster of buildings around the island’s main dock. This little cluster includes a few lodgings, the island’s restaurant, a little café, and a clean set of washrooms. Down at the main dock, you can take boat tours around the caves on the south side of the island for a few euros. The sailors are friendly and will give you lots of information about the island. It’s a little more expensive, but you can take the glass bottom boat for an especially cool tour. You can also explore the island on foot – the whole island is a nature reserve, and there are many trails.
 
What to eat? Food served at the Fort is home cooked and local. The people serving your meal are probably the people who caught it – they serve a lot of fresh fish. You can also bring your own food and cook it in the Fort’s kitchen.  There is one restaurant on the island, the Sun and Sea Restaurante. The restaurant apparently has good atmosphere and serves seafood dishes with fresh, local catch. You can also try the café, which is good for snacks, delicious pastries, coffee and beer.
 
Overall, the Berlengas are a fantastic experience if you want to relax, get away from busy every day life and enjoy some gorgeous nature.
 

Sunday, April 7, 2013

“The House in the Sea” : Newquay and Cornwall, England

Cornwall, England has always been known for its culture, charm and beauty. Tourists flock to Cornwall to enjoy the warm climate and tranquility of the region, despite the fact that it is fairly removed from most of England’s main tourist attractions.
 
 
Newquay Island is an idyllic retreat off the coast of Cornwall. When the tide is in, Newquay appears to be an island – until the tide goes out, revealing that Newquay is actually a rocky, free-standing outcrop, 70 feet high and surrounded by smooth, sandy beach.
 
Between Tides
When the tide is in, the island can only be reached by a narrow suspension bridge which connects it to the mainland. The bridge was built in 1900 and is wide enough for only one person across (don’t worry – it is checked and maintained for safety every year). I have to say, I would not enjoy dragging my luggage across the suspension bridge.
 
 
There is only one house on the tiny “island,” which is rented year-round to vacationers. The house is surrounded by beautiful gardens until the edge of the cliff drops away, nearly vertically, and the island is surrounded by ocean or by the sand of Newquay Beach depending on the time of day. Stone steps lead down from the island to the beach, which is open to the public.  
 
Low Tide
 The cottage on the island, called The House in the Sea, is a unique home-stay experience. The house sleeps six, has three bedrooms and includes wifi and televison (although why you would bother with that when you could be outside is a mystery to me). Other features of the house are the top deck, which faces out to sea, and the lower deck, which is perfect for sunbathing. The coastal views from the house are spectacular, and watching the sunset from one of the decks would be spectacular.
 
The Conservatory
The House in the Sea is a little more luxurious than the places I typically cover. This is probably not how I would do a trip to Cornwall, since it’s quite pricy and I would prefer a more natural, authentic experience of Cornwall, but I thought it was worth blogging about just because it is so charming! If you could afford it, this would definitely be a lovely get away.
 
What to do? Most of the entertainment around Newquay Island is pretty posh (golf, private surf lessons, etc.) and not really my thing. (Like I said – I prefer to travel in a more down to earth way). The attraction of Cornwall for me is the small fishing villages and the old cottages, so I would love to take a few afternoons exploring the villages, driving the coast and discovering the countryside. Newquay is close to the village of St. Ives, which is a popular destination and known for its charm. You can also walk the cliff-top Camel Trail along the mainland, and get fish and chips at the quay in the village.
 
Camel Trail
What to eat? The house includes a fully equipped kitchen so that you can cook for yourself, and there is also a bar-room. I would also make sure to get a meal in one of the villages for some traditional English pub food.
 
As I said, I would probably never be able to afford this, and this is not really how I would want to experience Cornwall anyways. It’s too removed and aloof for me – I would way rather stay in one of the fishing villages at a little bed and breakfast and explore the county all day. But that’s just me, a lot of people love this kind of retreat, so I thought I’d cover it to give you guys something new. It’s a different kind of travelling in my opinion. But of course, if I was ever offered the chance to stay here, I would not turn it down!
 

Thursday, April 4, 2013

“The Jewel of Crimea” : Swallow’s Nest Castle

Swallow’s Nest Castle is an ornamental castle in the Ukraine, perched precariously on a cliff overlooking the Black Sea. The “castle” is a miniature – only 20 m by 10m, and 12 m high, which only adds to the enchantment. The lonely little house is 130 feet above the surface of the water, exposed to the elements, and looks like something from a fairy tale.
  

Swallow’s Nest has a long and eccentric history. The first building built on the cliff was a wooden cabin, built 1985, which the builder named “the Castle of Love”..... Fifteen years later, a German nobleman bought the land and promptly tore down the “Castle of Love” to make room for the beautiful Swallow’s Nest Castle which is still there today.


Three years later, however, he sold it and it became a restaurant. Throughout the 20’s, the building was used only as a tourist attraction, and in the 30’s it was used by a book club for meetings (awesome for the book club, not so great for everyone else…) After that, however, an earthquake damaged the cliff and the castle was deemed unsafe for visitors, so the castle was closed and empty for about 40 years. There was very little damage to the actual castle, but large cracks had appeared in the cliff. Fortunately, in 1968 restoration efforts began. The cliff was strengthened with concrete and the castle was cleaned up. The castle was fully functional again in 1975. It became an Italian restaurant, and still is to this day.

The castle was built to be decorative, not to protect, and therefore it’s really just a very fancy house. It is literally right on the edge of the cliff – parts of the balconies actually extend over the edge of the cliff, supposedly because a chunk of cliff fell away during the earthquake.

The castle is an architectural marvel: delicate and weightless, but at the same time grand and sturdy (so sturdy that it survived an earthquake 6 or 7 on the Richter Scale with no structural damage). The castle has two stories and includes a main foyer, two bedrooms and a guest room. A stairway climbs to the top of the tower.


 What to do? You can reach Swallow’s Nest by road, or by ferry, which provides a spectacular first view of the castle. The castle is not visible from the road, which adds to the feeling of seclusion. A small fee will get you into the grounds, which you can explore. Inside the castle you should probably have a meal, since it is mainly a restaurant. You can then go out on the decks for a spectacular view of the Black Sea and the distant shore. You can also walk the Tsar’s Path, a nearby scenic trail.

What do eat? I think everyone can figure this one out for themselves… don’t want to be redundant. But I love Italian food, so win-win all around.


Honestly, this place is unreal and I would absolutely love to go here someday. (Apologies for the overuse of pictures but I just can’t get enough of them.) Definitely near the top of my list.

Monday, April 1, 2013

"Mist and Mountains" : Wulingyuan, China

Wulingyuan, China, is one of the most haunting and beautiful places I have ever seen.

Wulingyuan is a spectacular series of national parks in the Hunan province of China, and is relatively untouched by humans as it was historically inaccessible. Wulingyuan is most know for its breathtaking sandstone pillars – there are thousands, along with mountain peaks, ravines, gorges, rivers and waterfalls. The stone pillars are often surrounded by fog, which obscures the view but adds to the mystical feeling of the mountains. There are also two natural stone bridges, the “Bridge of the Immortals” and the “Bridge across the sky.”
  
Hiking trails wind throughout the park, allowing visitors to explore the beautiful landscape. A bus system provides transportation to different parts of the park, and there are two cable cars. The park is home to thousands of plant and animal species, including many endangered species.


You can get to the park by a one hour bus ride from Zhangjiajie City, the nearest city, which will take you to  Zhangjiajie Cun, the village just outside the park.

What to do? You can stay in the village outside the park, or in the Yuanjiajie Zhongtian International Youth Hostel, which is actually inside the park. The Youth Hostel provides dorms or double rooms, laundry facilities, and inexpensive food. The only option at the park gate is to purchase a three day park pass, so you kind of have no choice there, but the pass includes free rides on the bus system within the park and insurance.
 Hiking the park will probably take up most of your time at Wulingyuan. The park is enormous and there is no way you can see all of it in three days, so plan ahead and decide which sights you want to see. The Golden Whip Stream trail is recommended since it will take you to many of the highlighted attractions of the park and past a little souvenir shop. The natural bridges would also be spectacular to see, along with Kongzhong Tianyuan, a garden that sits on an outcropping surrounded by peaks.


Wikitravel recommends looking for "an elderly looking man named Mr. Zhou" who hangs out inside the park entrance and is apparently a very good park guide. Let me know if that works out for you.
What to eat? There are restaurants within the park, but they are apparently very overpriced, so you’d be better off eating in the village outside the park if you can. Or you can go hardcore and pack dehydrated food (mmmm!).

Sunday, March 31, 2013

"Garden Above the City" : Torre Guinigi

I’ve always wanted to go to Tuscany, Italy. The rolling fields and the villas look like paradise, and it always seems so sunny and warm and beautiful. I would love to drive through the countryside on a summer evening and stay in a gorgeous Italian villa (exactly how realistic that is, I don’t know – sounds a lot like Letters to Juliet).


But when eventually travel to Italy, one of my first stops will be Lucca, in Tuscany.


The first thing you see when arriving in Lucca is the massive stone wall that surrounds the town, which was originally built in the 1500’s for defense. It is now a walking promenade around the city for cyclists, locals and tourists to enjoy. Lucca is one of the best places to go for an authentic medieval atmosphere.

 
The town of Lucca dates back to Roman times, and Roman architecture is still visible in the town centre today. During medieval times, Lucca was a centre for trade, especially the silk trade. In the 14th century Italy was full of political turmoil and unrest, so many towns were fortified for defense. Power changed hands many times, but Lucca eventually fell under the control of the wealthy Guinigi family.
 

One of the first things the Guinigi’s did was build a huge tower to show off their wealth. This was a very common pass-time for rich families in that era, they apparently had nothing better to do with their money, and many Tuscan cities actually had to pass laws restricting the height of towers because people were just going crazy. When the families fought each other, knocking down the enemy’s tower was the ultimate burn.
 

Fortunately, Torre Guinigi survived, and today it is a breathtaking tourist attraction. The tower is entirely medieval architecture, except for the stairs, which are a modern addition (the original stairs were on the outside). You can still see the Guinigi family crest carved into the stone. Today, for 4 euros, you can climb the 230 stairs and from the top floor you can enjoy a panoramic view of the surrounding town, including the Roman centre, the original city walls, and a few other towers around the city that are still intact. You can also see the countryside around the town and the Alps in the distance.
 

The cool thing about the tower is that it’s high, but not high enough that you are completely distanced from the city. You can still hear the people in the streets and the musicians that play nearby.
 

 The most incredible feature of the tower is its rooftop garden, which dates back to at least the 1600’s. The garden is 125 feet above the ground, and includes several ancient oak trees.

 
What to Do? There’s lots to see around the town, enough to keep you busy for an afternoon of exploring. Across town from the Torre Guinigi is the Torre della Ore (the clock tower) which is also open to climb. You can visit several medieval basilicas and the Lucca Amphitheatre, whose architecture dates back to the Roman Empire. The Lucca Catherdral dates to the 1300’s and has many beautiful paintings as well as a famous sculpture of St. Martin. I would really just enjoy wandering the streets and exploring. I think that’s the best way to discover a city, and Lucca’s architecture and culture would be absolutely stunning.
 

What to eat? The Tuscany region is known for its delicious cuisine. Around Lucca you can sample the local cooking, including traditional peasant foods like cheese and herb stuffed past, delicious soups, and specialties like roast kid (goat kids) and cold rabbit salad.

 

Sunday, March 24, 2013

“Venice of the Netherlands” : Giethoorn

The picturesque village of Giethoorn in the Netherlands looks like something out of a fairytale. It’s not Venice, but it is idyllic and uniquely enchanting in its own way. In Giethoorn there are no roads – only canals. There are footpaths along the canals, and beautiful wooden footbridges to cross, but all cars must be left outside the village.
 
 
There are four miles of canals total, lined with beautiful old cottages with thatched roofs dating from the 1700’s. (For anyone who doesn’t know: a thatched roof is a roof made of straw.) Giethoorn has about 3000 residents and most live in cottages on private islands which serve as yards. On foot, many houses can only be accessed by a wooden footbridge.
 
 
What to do? Cycling, boating, guided canal tours – or just explore by yourself and take in the idyllic charm of this little village. You can get around using punts, canoes, kayaks, or “whisperboats,” which run on electrical motors. The canoes are quite shallow, so punting is especially easy (you push your boat along using a long stick). Shops and restaurants line the canals and each has its own dock, so it’s easy to get out and explore wherever you want.
 
 
 
Giethoorn is not a long train ride from Amsterdam, so you could do a daytrip to Giethoorn as part of a larger trip. There are also some excellent B&B’s you can stay in, and the owners are apparently very welcoming and friendly. The B&B’s will often rent bikes and boats so that you so that you can explore the village on your own.
 
In the winter, Giethoorn is a popular destination for ice skating. I think it would be absolutely magical to skate along the canals on a winter evening.
 
 
What to eat? Most of the B&B’s have their own restaurant or dinner service, and will serve you delicious home-cooked food. You can also eat at De Lindenhof, which is pricey but apparently a fantastic experience. De Lindenhof serves five course meals (that’s my kind of dinner!) and the food is creative, delicious and well presented. De Lindenhof is inside a traditional farmhouse and is surrounded by beautiful gardens. De Molenmeester is another restaurant, inside a restored mill, which serves regional organic dishes.
 
The canals can get quite busy as the day wears on, so it’s best to get out and about in the morning or wait until the evening, but no matter when you go Giethoorn will be a charming experience.
 

Saturday, March 16, 2013

“Sacred Blue Cenote” : Cenote Ik Kil

It’s March Break and right about now I’m really wishing I was somewhere tropical. So how about Mexico?
 
Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula is known for its Cenotes. There are no above ground rivers in the Yucatan – all freshwater is underground in natural caves and subterranean rivers. A Cenote (pronounced “sen-oh-tay”) is a natural sinkhole, formed when the roof of an underground water-filled cave collapses. Cenotes can be open like lakes or almost completely covered, except for a tiny hole at the top. The holes in the roofs allow natural sunlight to filter in, making for an enchanting atmosphere. “Cenote” means “sacred well,” since Cenotes were considered holy by the ancient Mayans, who believed the Cenotes were portals to the underworld and the realm of the Gods.
 


Cenote Ik Kil
 

There are thousands of Cenotes along the Peninsula, but one of the prettiest is Cenote Ik Kil. Many of the Cenotes are highly developed tourist centres, but in Mexico it’s usually wiser to stick to the well travelled paths.   
 
Cenote Ik Kil is 200 feet across and almost perfectly round. The water surface is about 85 feet below the ground above. A stairway carved into the rock leads down to a swimming platform, where visitors can swim and snorkel in the natural pool. The staircase is lit up beautifully in the evening. The water in the Cenote is very deep. Vegetation hangs in over the edges of the Cenote, including vines which reach all the way down to the surface of the water, and small waterfalls pour over the edges. Apparently there are catfish that live in the Cenote which would really be a problem for me, because I absolutely hate fish… but hopefully I could get over it and just enjoy the Cenote.
 
The Cenote is surrounded by cottages for visitors to rent, a restaurant, gift shop and changing rooms.
 
What to do? Cenote Ik Kil is part of the Ik Kil archaeological park, and is very close to Chichen Itza, a set of Mayan ruins and a very popular site for tourists. Cenote Ik Kil is also very close to Ek Balam, another set of ruins, which I would chose over Chichen Itza because it is apparently much less of a tourist trap and you can actually climb the temple.  
 

Ek Balam

Ek Balam also has its own nearby Cenote, called Cenote Maya. After you explore the Mayan ruins, you can swim and zipline in the breathtaking Cenote Maya, which is quite a different experience from Cenote Ik Kil, since the two are so different geologically.
 

Cenote Maya
 

What to eat? There is only one restaurant at Cenote Ik Kil, so not much choice there… but it is apparently excellent and buffet style, so wahoo!
 
You can also stay at one of the many resorts and take bus tours through the entire area, depending on what kind of experience you are looking for.
 

Thursday, March 7, 2013

“Cave of the Three Travellers” : Fangweng Restaurant

Imagine dining in mid air, hundreds of feet above a sweeping gorge with a beautiful river at the bottom. Cool? Terrifying? This is pretty much what if would feel like to dine in the Fangweng Restaurant, in the Hubei Province of China.

 
The restaurant, also known as "the restaurant near sanyou cave,"  or the "cave of the three travellers," is about 30 minutes north of the city Yichang, in the Xiling Gorge, a scenic range of cliffs and park. The cliffs are riddled with caves and the Chang Jiang river flows through the bottom of the gorge.

 
The entrance to the Fangweng Restaurant is marked by a small building that is pretty darn ugly. The real wonder begins once you pass through the building. To get to the main restaurant, you must take a precarious walk along a boardwalk built into the face of the cliff. The walk is said to be spectacular. On the left, the cliff face goes up almost vertically, and on the right only a small railing guards the boardwalk from the perilous slopes of the gorge and the river below. Historically, the cave was used as inspiration for many famous poets and artists.
 

When you arrive, you will be seated. Most of the tables are inside the restaurant, which is actually a naturally formed cave in the cliff – how cool is that?! The strange combination of being in both a Chinese restaurant and a cave makes for a pretty unique atmosphere. Some tables, however, are on a deck built out over the gorge. I can’t even imagine eating a mean with only a few deck planks between me and a sheer drop to the bottom of a gorge. The view is amazing, but I would be terrified (I’m not good with heights).
 
 
What to do? Well, eat, obviously. The best time to go is during the day, when the restaurant is not crowded, and the light is good for viewing the gorge. Other than that, you can hike, bungee jump, or take a boat tour throughout the valley, among other local activities.
 

What to eat? The menu consists of a combination of local specialties and traditional Hubei cooking. Dishes include freshwater fish, duck, pork and if you’re feeling adventurous, you could try turtle (not for me, personally). Most of the dishes include sauce, vegetables and strong spices.
 

I just think this would be a fantastic and breathtaking (but scary) experience you would never forget, and you would be hard pressed to find another place like this one.

There's not a ton of information on the Fangweng restaurant, but this travel blog covers it pretty well.