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From the Bay to the Blue Ridge, Take Photos Leave Footprints

Meet Me At the Market: Visiting Some of the World’s Best Markets

By Scott Dicken Whenever I find myself writing about a new travel destination, I nearly always add a market to the list of places I recommend visiting. I find markets, unless they are specifically designed for tourists, a great way to learn more about a destination and its culture. As a result, I tend to find myself drawn towards them. With that in mind, this month I thought I’d share my favorite world markets. The results include night markets, food markets, the largest market in the world, a traditional souk, and a floating market. All-in-all, a well-rounded selection to cater to all tastes. Grand Bazaar, Istanbul, Turkey: The Grand Bazaar is exactly as you imagine it to be – the screaming of stall vendors, the smell of incense and spice permeating the air, and a labyrinth of streets. With over 4,000 vendors spread across 60 streets I guess you could say the Grand Bazaar is a shopper’s paradise. The most important thing to remember is to shop around and haggle hard, but also consider arriving early in the morning when the sellers are most worried about meeting their daily quotas. Chatuchak Weekend Market, Bangkok, Thailand: Reportedly the largest market in the World, and served by both the Bangkok BTS and MRT rail services, the market has an almost cult status amongst tourists. With over 15,000 stalls, and 200,000 visitors each week, it may seem a daunting task. However, the chaotic nature of the market melts away as you browse the huge selection of street foods, art, antiques and fashion. Be prepared to get lost, be prepared to not get the greatest of bargains, but also be prepared for a visual and sensory overload that makes it all worthwhile. Jemaa El Fnaa, Marrakech, Morocco: During the day, Jemaa El Fnaa square…

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Traveling in Times of Heightened Currency Fluctuation

By Scott Dicken I travel quite frequently; primarily for work and less occasionally (unfortunately) for pleasure to both major currency countries (USD, EUR, GBP, JPY) and exotic currency locations across Africa, Asia and South America. As a result, I’m quite often, and increasingly, subject to the whims of exchange rate fluctuation. As the majority of my travel is for work it’s less of a problem; after all, I’m not ultimately footing the bill.  However, with the wild swings in currency we’ve seen recently this issue is becoming an increasing problem (and will likely continue to be so) for the average tourist. In-country local currency costs can be a significant portion of your trip cost; especially if big ticket items like hotels are to be paid in local currency when you arrive. So, what exactly are your options for trying to minimize the risks associated with currency fluctuation? In this post I’ll examine a few remedies I use. I’m no financial markets expert, but hopefully some practical laymen’s guidance that doesn’t involve a broker-level understanding of futures trading might be of some use on your next big (or small in the current foreign exchange markets) trip: It’s all about timing: So, you’ve booked a trip and you’re a few months out from departure (or a year if you’re one of those organized bargain hunters). OK, I said no futures trading complexities, but simple foresight would suggest that planning your currency purchase in advance is probably a decent idea. Look at historical trends against the currency you’re purchasing (take a look at oanda.com or xe.com) and if you see a good deal then pull the trigger and buy – especially at times like present when the dollar is so strong. If you’re really risk adverse, then you could buy in smaller batches…

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The Temples of Taipei

By Scott Dicken With over 12,000 temples registered across the country, it’s fair to say that religion plays a vital role in everyday life in Taiwan. In terms of pure numbers, Taiwan has one of the highest temple per capita ratios in the world. To put that statement into perspective, there are more registered temples than there are convenience stores in Taiwan (a statistic that I’m sure has the senior management team at 7-11 quaking in their boots). That doesn’t only mean that the Taiwanese population practices a large number of common faiths in peaceful harmony (although that statement is certainly true). It also means that they take those faiths and mix them up with a hodge-podge of religious and spiritual beliefs that often overlap with native ‘folk religions’. This diversification means that a trip to Taiwan could have you visiting temples honoring Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism, Christianity, Islam, Mormonism, and Hinduism, in addition to the worship of divine figures as diverse as Mazu, the Earth God, and the Electric-Technco Neon Gods (yes, that’s really a thing and has nothing to do with rave music). All in all, ‘religiously diverse’ is probably a good way to describe Taiwan and this is appropriately reflected in the temples of Taiwan’s capital city, Taipei. So, saddle up and take a quick tour of some of Taipei’s temples with me. Mengjia Longshan Temple Longshan Temple, built in 1738, is probably the most famous of Taipei’s multi-denominational temples. In my opinion this isn’t necessarily because of the temple’s size or because of any particularly exciting architectural characteristics. Instead, the real draw for me is the atmosphere. I’ve visited Longshan on two separate occasions and both times it was my favorite place in the city (in fact on my last visit I spent an hour standing in…

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Northern Italy – Asti & Alba

By Scott Dicken Rolling landscapes framed by the Alps, viniculture to rival anywhere on earth and gastronomical delights of such quality that it prompted the birth of the Slow Food Movement; Northern Italy may not draw the same number of visitors that descend upon Tuscany but spending a few days in the fertile hills between Turin and Milan doesn’t disappoint. Best get there soon though as the secret is now well and truly out! The Piedmont Region The Piedmont Region of Northern Italy is the country’s second largest of twenty regions but could easily be described as the forgotten child – particularly when compared to Italy’s other notable tourist regions of Tuscany, Venice, Rome, Sicily, Lombardy and Puglia. Its comparatively lowly tourist status belies the wealth of riches the region has to offer: from Lake Maggiore in the north and Olympic grade ski resorts in the Alpine west to the culture of its largest city, Turin. All of this lies nestled at the very foot of the Alps which frames views of rolling hills and vineyards saturated with colours that change throughout the seasons and are coated with snow and fog in the winter. Even more importantly, Piedmont is world renowned for its acclaimed grapes and wines and is a major producer of luxury cheese and chocolate (Nutella and Ferrero Roche both coming from the region). Food aficionados are drawn from all across the globe to feast on Alba’s white truffles at the annual October Truffle Festival (Tartufi Bianchi) and to sample the “king of Italian red wine”, Barolo. Wash all of that down with sparkling white wines from the neighboring village of Asti (a mere 30km from Alba) and you’ll soon find yourself in a glorious food and wine haze from which you’ll never wish to emerge. On a…

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Africa’s Big-Five: A Safari Highlight

By Scott Dicken After what feels like a lifetime, and with the recent easing of COVID testing requirements to reenter the States, I’m finally back on the road (somewhat integral to the writing of a travel column). As I write my column this month, I’m sitting in a traditional Kosovar restaurant in Pristina, Kosovo while simultaneously attempting to plan a forthcoming trip to Mozambique and South Africa. The planning of the latter, which will incorporate several days on Safari in Kruger National Park, has rekindled my passion for safari – something that’s had to be shelved for the last few years. For that reason, the focus of this month’s column is safari’s infamous “Big-Five”. If you’ve ever been on Safari, or even just googled ‘safari’, then you’ve very likely come across the term ‘The Big-Five’. It’s the term used to describe the five animals (lion, leopard, rhino, elephant, and buffalo) that hunters found the most difficult and dangerous to hunt. Thankfully, the term is more prevalently used these days to attract tourists to game parks, reserves, and countries that play host to each of the Big-Five species. There are three important things to note about any attempt to spot the Big-5 on Safari: Just because a country hosts the Big-Five doesn’t mean that you’ll be able to see them all on the same safari on the same day (even with all the luck in the world). For example, you have the potential to see four of the Big-Five on a safari in Etosha National Park in Namibia, but if you want to spot a Cape Buffalo you’ll have to head elsewhere in the country. The combination of poaching, which can cause parks and countries to lose Big-Five status, in addition to the translocation of animals, which, for example, made Rwanda…

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10 Steps to Planning your Next African Vacation

By Scott Dicken Planning a trip to Africa without professional assistance, particularly if it’s your first time, is an intimidating prospect. Fifty-four countries, thousands of hotels and lodges, hundreds of safari destinations, and prices that can reach eyewatering heights. It can be a lot to take in. To alleviate some of that stress, in this month’s Take Photos Leave Footprints article I’ll highlight an easy ten step process that’ll have you spotting the “Big 5”, or relaxing on an Indian Ocean beach, in no time. Step 1: Pick a Destination With fifty-four countries to choose from, picking a vacation destination in Africa is a daunting task. Be it a classic safari or a beach destination, I’ve created a cheat sheet that highlights some of the most popular African vacation countries and the activities possible in each. The table also provides three of the more popular sights in each of those countries to whet your appetite. INSERT TABLE Step 2: Choose a Time of Year and Length of Trip Choosing a time of year and length of trip is a crucial decision. Two full weeks (14-16 days) is the minimum amount of time id’ advise considering. Any less will feel rushed, particularly because of the long journeys involved. Additional considerations: Weather: As with all vacations, weather is always going to be key. Weather conditions vary across the continent, so you’ll want to check the weather for your chosen destination. One thing worth considering, if you’re partaking in safari activities, is that wildlife is more easily visible during the dry season when the foliage provides wildlife with less cover. Special Events or Seasons: The most obvious of these for East African safari goers is timing your trip to coincide with the location of the great wildebeest migration. However, you might also want…

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Dubai on a Shoestring

By Scott Dicken Ten Ways to Avoid Imminent Budget Bankruptcy in the City of Gold Dubai isn’t cheap! In fact, never have I been to a place where the cost of a very average meal made my eyes water quite so much. And yet Dubai remains a go-to spot for so many tourists. With that in mind, what’s the secret for remaining on budget in a place where you could quite easily spend a years’ salary over the course of a long weekend? That’s what this article aims to explore with ten easy ways to avoid imminent bankruptcy in UAE’s city of gold! Cheap Eats: It’s always tempting to google the ‘best’ restaurants in a city and to start making your way through them when you arrive. In Dubai that will only serve to leave gaping holes in both pockets. The top restaurants in Dubai are predominantly located in and around the major hotels and have eye watering price tags for even the simplest of meals. Instead, seek out cheaper eats in Old Dubai or on 2nd December Street in Satwa. You can feast on any type of cuisine that your heart desires in either of those locales at much more reasonable price points. Savor the Souks: There’s nothing wrong with a bit of window shopping in the big fancy malls, but even if you’re from a relatively expensive destination you aren’t going to grab a bargain in any of them. Instead, spend some time in the souks of old Duabi where you can haggle for better prices for those much-needed souvenirs and gifts. Ride the Rails: Whilst it’s all too tempting to jump in a taxi (which you’d be forgiven for in the heat of the summer) those costs can soon rack up. Thankfully, Dubai has a comprehensive, cheap,…

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Fairytales, Castles, and Communism – Lake Bled, Slovenia

By Scott Dicken Once upon a time there was a lush, fertile valley and in the very centre of that valley was a small hill. The hill, which sat in the middle of the green pastures, was the favourite gathering place of fairies who liked nothing more than to spend their time dancing around its base. The fairies lived a happy, peaceful existence until, one fateful day, a group of shepherds arrived. As you can imagine, the shepherds were keen to use the fairies’ lush, green pastures as grazing land for their herds. The fairies took umbrage to this most obvious invasion of their peace and, after a bit of a conflab, opted to flood the entire valley. To this day the only part of the valley that remains visible is ‘Fairy Rock’ – the small hill around which the fairies danced. This, according to our guide, is the legend of how Lake Bled came to be. To the uneducated, myself included, the fairies sound like a bunch of morally repugnant individuals whose parents never taught them that ‘sharing is caring’. Also, flooding an entire valley because a few sheep ate some of their grass seems like a hasty over-reaction.  Nonetheless, the results of their endeavours are now Slovenia’s primary tourist attraction, and a setting that retains the charm and beauty of a fairy tale. Albeit, a fairy tale later supplanted by the less whimsical arrival of communist dictator, Tito, whose one-time residence now provides the lake with 5-star accommodation. The lake is nestled amongst Slovenia’s Julian Alps, and was actually formed as a result of glacial erosion (in a story that isn’t quite as mystical and enchanting) and is the home of the Church of Mary of the Assumption. The church is the highlight of a visit to Lake…

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10 Reasons to Make Namibia your next Vacation Destination

By Scott Dicken Stunning scenery, abundant wildlife, and plenty of adventure. Namibia has it all. Despite having spent over three months in this otherworldly country, I can say I haven’t seen even half of what Namibia has to offer. It’s also one of the easiest and safest of the African safari destinations to self-drive. As a result, companies catering to visitors who want to ‘go it alone’ are becoming ever more prevalent, catering to everything from budget camping to 5-star luxury. But what makes Namibia the ideal destination? Below are ten great answers to that question. Climbing some of the World’s Biggest Sand Dunes Dune 45 is one of the more popular dunes to climb in Sossusvlei National Park and stands at a daunting 85m high. But at 325m high, Big Daddy is the biggest dune in town and offers spectacular views from the top. …..And then Sandboarding Down Some of Them in Swakopmund Swakopmund is a small town on Namibia’s west coast, and is regarded as the country’s capital city of adventure sports. Given its abundance of sand dunes, one of the most popular local activities is sandboarding. My one piece of advice on sandboarding is to not be fooled by anyone proclaiming that sandboarding is easier (or the landing softer) than snowboarding. Having nearly cracked my head open like a ripe coconut, I can safely say it isn’t! Other sports you might want to give a go are dune quad biking, land yachting, surfing, wind surfing, paragliding and sky diving. Enjoying Wonderful Food at Every Turn Namibia hosts an eclectic mix of cuisine; from the locally inspired biltong and potjiekos, (bush stew) to the colonial influences of German cuisine. In Windhoek, Namibia’s capital city, you could choose to visit the Namibian Institute for Culinary Education (NICE) for dinner,…

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From the Bay to the Blue Ridge, Take Photos Leave Footprints

Take Photos, Leave Foot Prints

By Scott Dicken Costa Rica: A Wildlife Loving Paradise Costa Rica accounts for only 0.03% of the earth’s surface, and yet it manages to pack an enormous estimated 4-6% of the world’s biodiversity into its tiny patch of land. It’s for this very reason that most people visiting Costa Rica spend a significant portion of their time searching for the country’s famed wildlife. If you’re in the minority group of tourists who plan to drink Mai Thais on the beach with your eyes closed, then stop reading now. In this article I’m going to show you how to make the most of your wildlife experience in Costa Rica, and what you might see on your travels. Costa Rican Wildlife Costa Rica sits in the top 20 most biodiverse countries on earth and is home to a whopping 500,000 species. Admittedly, 300,000 of those species are insects, but that still leaves a staggering 200,000 animals for you to discover. While some of those animals are notoriously difficult to sight (our guide in Tortugero hadn’t seen a jaguar in ten years of working there), other species are spotted with more regularity. For example, you stand a great chance of sighting: two and three toed sloths; coatimundis; dolphins; caimans; American crocodiles; monkeys (most notably capuchins and howlers); dart frogs (the tourist ambassador of Costa Rica); toucans; turtles; basilisks and bats. If you’re lucky you might see a tapir or an anteater. If you have a few months or years to spare, and remote survival skills to rival Bear Grylls, then you might (just might) see jaguars, ocelots, pumas, jaguarundi, margays, ocelots, and little spotted cats. Costa Rica’s Best Wildlife Destinations Just as if you were going on safari in Africa, you’re likely arriving in Costa Rica with a good idea of which animals…

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