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Archive for January, 2013

Going Solo

With Valentines Day quickly approaching, it seems like everything is about couples. Those who aren’t part of one seem either deflated or independently proud of not celebrating the “hallmark holiday” (their words, not mine). I’ve heard similar sentiments when it comes to travel. Most people tend want a travel partner, even if it’s not a romantic partner, for lack of a better phrase. But then there are those proud solo travelers who prefer to go it alone. With so much couple-ness in the air at the moment, I wanted to honor those adventurous spirits with a blog on the positives of solo travel. Don’t worry couples – you’ll get your own blog. For now though, a six reasons to travel on your own:

1. Freedom and autonomy. You decide the destination, the itinerary, the pace of the trip based your preferences and yours alone.

2. Spontaneity. While it’s certainly not impossible to be spontaneous when traveling with others, you can’t just randomly wander off in whatever direction interests you without letting the other person know – or at least not without worrying them quite a bit!

3. You make new friends. Two of my closest friends I met traveling solo. One friendship started with a chat while waiting in line to board a flight, the other while waiting to be picked up for a tour. In both cases we just started up a conversation because, quite simply, there was nothing else to do and the other person seemed friendly. Had I been with a significant other, or anyone else for that matter, chances are I would have been chatting with them instead and not met these fantastic people who I’m quite certain are lifelong friends.

4. You learn about yourself. When you travel alone, you learn what you can handle, and what you can’t. Often times, you realize you can handle more than you think you can – because you don’t have a choice. If something goes wrong, you have to take care of it, so you do.

5. It’s a confidence boost. Similar to the above point, there’s something about managing a whole trip on your own that inspires a feeling of accomplishment. Perhaps you’ve navigated a country where you don’t speak the language and can’t recognize some of the food, and you’ve done it on your own. Thinking back to my solo travels in my late teens and early 20s, I did some things while that would cause me serious anxiety or frustration now (i.e. solo 24 hour bus ride up the coast of Australia that began at 11 PM) . But I know I could do them if I had to. There’s a lot to be said for that.

6. You tend to immerse yourself more. For some reason, when you travel alone, I feel you tend to mingle more with the locals. I don’t know why. Perhaps it’s because in some cases, that’s who you have to rely for information, restaurant recommendations, directions, etc, especially in less touristy areas.

So next time you’re looking to take a trip and can’t find a suitable travel companion, don’t throw in the towel. You may just have one of your best vacations traveling on your own.

The Tudor Facts

In my last post, I offered a quiz on Tudor History. Below are the answers, with enough detail to provide some insight to the life and times of this famous royal family.

1. How many wives did Henry VIII divorce?
While the traditional “rhyme” used to remember Henry VIIIs wives is “divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived”, technically Henry never divorced any of his wives. He annulled marriages to Catherine of Aragon and Anne of Cleves, and also annulled the marriages to Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard before they were beheaded. Since the marriages were considered to never have been valid, he never had to divorce any of them.

2. Which wife of Henry VIII narrowly escaped arrest and possible execution?
While given the label “survived” in the above rhyme, Katherine Parr may have had a narrow escape. The warrant for her arrest was dropped, and the person who found it brought it directly to her. She hid it from Henry, pleaded her case to him as a loyal and loving wife who in no way subscribed to heresy, and they reconciled.

3. Which wife of Henry VIII supposedly still haunts Hampton Court Palace?
Catherine Howard. When she was arrested for adultery, it was said that she was dragged to her rooms at Hampton Court Palace screaming “her head off”. Visitors to Hampton Court have reported hearing her still shrieking in the hallways.

4. Which wife of Henry VIII was added to a famous family portrait posthumously?
In a famous picture of the Royal Family depicting Henry, Jane Seymour, and young Edward, Jane Seymour was added posthumously. She’d been dead for several years when it was painted, but Henry requested that she be included. He is also buried next to her, causing some to claim that she was his most beloved wife.

5. Despite his apparent hatred for her, Henry allowed Anne Boleyn one small “allowance” for her execution. What was it?
Henry allowed Anne to be executed by sword, instead of axe (sword being the “better” way to go, if that can be said of decapitation). This also meant she was allowed to choose her executioner.

6. How did Lady Jane Grey rise to the throne?
Even though Mary and Elizabeth had been placed back into the line of succession, they had not been legitimized. As he was dying, Edward amended the succession document, writing out Mary and Elizabeth. Mary Queen of Scots, the next legitimate heir, had been written out by Henry VIII. Therefore, the succession passed to the family of Henry’s younger sister, Mary. Francis Grey, Henry VIII’s niece would have been next in line, but (for reasons only speculated about) she was passed over for her daughter Lady Jane Grey, who never really wanted to be queen.

7. How long did Mary Tudor (once Queen) wait before executing Lady Jane Grey? How old was Lady Jane when she was beheaded?
Queen Mary waited 7 months before executing Lady Jane Grey for treason, hoping to find a way to spare her life. She provided her with a priest, saying that if Lady Jane converted to Catholicism her life would be spared. Lady Jane held steadfast to her faith, and was executed at just 16 years old.

8. Which wife of Henry’s was later named as his sister?
While Henry has been reported as saying “I like her not!” upon first meeting Anne of Cleves, she agreed to be called his sister after the marriage was annulled and the two remained friends. She frequented court often to visit, play cards, and even serve as a trusted confidant of the King.

9. Why was Henry VIII so desperate to have a son?
Henry VIII’s father (Henry VII) won the crown in battle, and his claim was a bit nebulous. Henry VII was the grandson of Catherine of Voilas, who married Owen Tudor, her Master of Closet, after the death of Henry V. Rumor was that they’d had an affair, and some speculated they never actually married – which would have made Henry VII, and therefore Henry VIII, an illegitimate heir to the throne.

10. Before marriage to Henry, Lady Anne Boleyn was bestowed which title on her that was historically only given to men.
Marquess of Pembroke. She was the first woman in England to ever be given this title.

11. Why was Elizabeth I not legally a suitable Queen for either Protestants or Catholics?
Catholics believed her parent’s marriage was invalid, and therefore she was not a legitimate heir. The marriage had been annulled under Protestant Law, which also made her an illegitimate heir. Therefore, she technically should not have been queen according to either faith.

12. The Tudor dynasty produced how many Monarchs?
Five: Henry VII, Henry VIII, Edward, Mary, and Elizabeth. Technically, you could also count Lady Jane Grey, as she is a decedent of Mary Tudor, Henry’s younger sister. But she was not a direct descendent, was taken off the throne after reigning for only 9 days, and later executed for treason. James I of England (also presided as James V of Scotland) was descended from Henry VIII older sister Margaret, but his mother, Mary Queen of Scots, had long been written out of the line of succession. Therefore the Tudor dynasty is said to have produced three kings and two queens, ending with Henry’s last direct decedent, Elizabeth I.

A Tudor Quiz

To celebrate the launch of Chimera Travel’s exclusive Tudor History Tour taking place this fall, I thought I’d put together a fun quiz about the life and times of the Tudor dynasty. While I’m trying to be as historically factual as possible, much of the goings-on during that time (including things that today seem quite important, like dates of birth for women) were passed down through history by story, written down much later, and often deduced from those things that were recorded at the time. So even with some of the most factually based information, there’s always room for a little speculation.

1. How many wives did Henry VIII divorce?

2. Which wife of Henry VIII narrowly escaped arrest and possible execution?

3. Which wife of Henry VIII supposedly still haunts Hampton Court Palace?

4. Which wife of Henry VIII was added to a famous family portrait posthumously?

5. Despite his apparent hatred for her, Henry allowed Anne Boleyn one small “allowance” for her execution. What was it?

6. How did Lady Jane Grey rise to the throne?

7. How long did Mary Tudor (once Queen) wait before executing Lady Jane Grey? How old was Lady Jane Grey when she was beheaded?

8. Which wife of Henry’s was later named as his sister?

9. Why was Henry VIII so desperate to have a son?

10. Before marriage to Henry, Lady Anne Boleyn was bestowed which title on her that was historically only given to men.

11. Why was Elizabeth I not legally a suitable Queen for either protestants or Catholics?

12. The Tudor dynasty produced how many Monarchs?

Exclusive Tudor History Tour

Normally my blogs don’t focus around specific products or tours. However, I’m making an exception today, because this isn’t an external product, but an exclusive offer for Chimera Travel’s clients. I am very excited to announce that in September 2013, we will be leading our first ever small group Tudor Hisotry Tour through England in conjunction with the company Tudor History Tours on the ground in England. The tour will run September 18 – 26, 2013, and has been created exclusively for our group.

The itinerary includes:

Buckden Towers: Once home to Catherine of Aragon

Peterborough Castle: Catherine of Aragon is burried at Peterborough, as was Mary Queen of Scots until her body was exhumed and re-inturned at Westminster Abby.

Kenilworth Castle: Queen Elizabether I and Robert Dudley stayed at Kenilworth on Summer Progress

Coughton Court: Coughton was in the influential Thockmorton family for many years. Today the site contains Tudor artifacts, including the chamise that Mary Queen of Scots is said to have been exectued in.

Sudeley Castle: Family home of Katherine Parr, who burried in a church on the grounds

The Vyne: Of great importance to Henry VIIII, today The Vyne contains relics and stained class windows hear portray Catherine of Aragon and Henry VIII

Windsor: The castle here is the oldest occupied caslte in the world, and home to the current Queen

Hamtpon Court Palace: The only palace built by Henry VIII that is still standing, Hampton Court is steeped in Tudor history.

Hever Castle: Childhood home of Anne Boleyn

Pennhurst Place: Given to Anne of Cleves as part of her divorce settlement from Henry VIII

Hatfield House: Childhood home of Mary, Elizabeth, and Edward Tudor

Tower of London: Served as both a royal estate and the notorious exectution site of Anne Boleyn, Katherine Howard, and Lady Jane Grey

We are also working on possible visits to Syon House, the Globe Theatre, and Kimbolton Place – where Catherine of Aragon was forcibly taken and later died. Kimbolton is closed to the public, but Chimera Travel may be granted private access.

Space on this trip is truly limited, as we are looking to take just a small group. If you are interested or have any questions, please email me for furter details. You are welcome to pass this information on to others who may be interested!

Wonders Unlisted

Each list of wonders comes with its own set of criteria and standards. In addition, some of the lists have been voted on by the public, to allow travelers themselves some input. Because of these factors, there are many “wonders” that have not made any well-known list, that I think still deserve credit. I’m not setting up any specific criteria, just sites that perhaps were up for consideration, or maybe were not, and that I feel are traveler must-sees. These are based on personal travel experiences, since for something like this, I only like to include those places I have seen and experienced myself. There are entirely too many to write about here, but below is a sample of some of my personal top wonders of the world that have not been included on the New or Natural Wonders lists.

Iguaçu (Iguazu) Falls: At 269 feet and a total length of 1.7 miles, the falls of Iguaçu are some of most revered in the world. They can be seen from you Paraguay, Brazil, or Argentina, though Argentina is often considered the best side from which to view them.

The Twelve Apostles/Great Ocean Road: Stretching from Torquay to Warnambool, Australia’s Great Ocean Road is 151 miles long and one of the most magnificent driving routes in the world. Most notable are the Twelve Apostles – twelve limestone formations that jut out of the water along the coastline.

Dubrovnik’s walled city: While not on a “wonders” list, the walled city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The city is believed to have been built in the 7th century, and though it’s been damaged by earthquakes and conflict, has managed to preserve it’s Gothic, Baroque, and Renaissance Architecture – namely, it’s churches, monasteries, palaces and fountains. Visitors who walk along the city walls not only experience a taste of the past, but are rewarded with expansive view of the city within the walls, the harbor at the edge of the city, and the hills that sprawl behind it.

Milford Sound: Located within Fiordland Naitonal Park, Piopiotahi Marine Reserve, and Te Wahipounamu World Heritage Site in the South Island of New Zealand, it’s no surprise that Milford Sound makes our list of wonders. Rainforests cling to the sheer cliffs of 1,200 meters (3,900 feet) that surround the waterway, and the sound itself is home to seals, penguins and dolphins. With an annual rainfall average of 268 inches a year, over 182 days, it is considered one of the wettest places on earth.

Pompeii: I want to clarify that I don’t like to consider a tragedy, such as eruption of Mt Vesuvius in 79 AD that buried the city of Pompeii under up to 20 feet of ash, a “wonder”. (Nor can it really be classified into natural or man-made). It’s the restoration work done on this city-turned-mausoleum that is so incredible. The city lay under the ash virtually undiscovered for almost 1700 years until excavation efforts began in 1749, and they continue to this day. The history, the emotion, and the stories told as you wander through this once-lost city are captured in such a way as to transport you to life as it was in that time, moments before the incident occurred, as people went about their daily lives, completely unaware of the peril that awaited them.

The Natural Wonders

Although the list itself perhaps is not as well known, the 7 Natural Wonders may rival many of the New World Wonders for popularity among travelers. Each wonder on this list must be completely natural – not only in that it incorporates nature, but in that it hasn’t been manipulated at all. In addition, it must be unique. The Natural Wonders span six continents, with Antarctica being the only one not represented. The list and descriptions below are in no particular order of significance.

Aurora Borealis: Also known as the Northern Lights, these naturally occurring lights appear in the sky, generally around 11 PM or midnight. The closer one gets to the magnetic pole in the Northern Hemisphere, the better your chances of seeing them. Unfortunately, their appearance is rather unpredictable, but you’re most likely to see them in March, April, September, or October.

Grand Canyon: This 277 mile long gorge is located in Arizona, formed by the Colorado River. It’s over a mile deep, spanning in some parts to 18 miles wide. While visitors can simply see the canyon, which is spectacular in itself, many choose to hike, backpack, or explore the canyon on the back of a mule. White water rafting at the floor of the canyon is also a popular activity.

Paricutin: Perhaps the least well known of the Natural wonders, Paricutin is a cinder volcano located in Michoacán, Mexico, and it’s birth was actually witnessed by humans. While still active, it last erupted in 1952. Visitors can hike or ride horseback through the banks and the lava fields surrounding the volcano.

Victoria Falls: These 360-foot high falls are located on the border between Zimbabwe and Zambia and can be seen from either side (though it’s said that the view from the Zimbabwe side is better). While the falls have more water during the rainy season of November to early April, they also produce a lot of mist which make the view more difficult – not to mention getting the viewers wet. The best time for the view may be June or July, though the falls will be less lush.

Mount Everest: This highest mountain in the world is located in the Himalayas on the border of China, Tibet, and Nepal. Many visitors choose to trek to the base of the mountain, allowing them to experience it without requiring extensive climbing expertise. October and November are the start of the dry season here, so probably the best time to visit. However, weather can be unpredictable, and the most important factor to avoid is active snow fall.

Great Barrier Reef: Located off the coast of Cairns, Australia, it is the largest reef system in the world, with 2900 reefs covering 1600 miles. Snorkeling and SCUBA diving are by far the best way to experience the reef. November through May is the summer season here, though also the rainy season during which the area gets the majority of its annual rainfall.

Harbor of Rio de Janiero: Also known as Guanabara Bay, it is the largest bay in the world based on water volume, and the mountainous surroundings add to its visual appeal. The most popular way to see the harbor is from either Corcovado Peak or Sugarloaf Mountain, both of which offer a panoramic view of the bay, and the city below. The best months for visiting the bay are September and October, when it’s warm enough but not yet as humid as the summer months.

The 7 New Wonders

In 2001, it was decided that a new list of World Wonders should be chosen. After all, only one of the originals remains standing today. The initiative was understaken by the New7Wonders Foundation based in Zurich, Switzerland, and after much hubbub among voters and travelers worldwide, the 7 New Wonders were decided on in 2007. They are (in no particular order):

• The Taj Mahal
• Chichen Itza
• Christ the Redeemer (statue)
• Colosseum
• Great Wall of China
• Machu Picchu
• Petra

The Pyramids of Giza, being the only remaining ancient wonder, was not voted in again, but was given an honorary spot on the list.

So we know they’re popular – at least among the voters – but what are they really? Why should we visit? Below is a bit of information about each, to help travelers decide which of these wonders may be next on their travel wish list.

Taj Mahal: This marble mausoleum located in Agra, India was built by the Mughal emporer Shah Jahan in memory of his third wife. It is considered one of the most astounding pieces of Muslim art in the world, and was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983. The tomb is the central feature of the structure, and the site is most recognizable by its white marble dome.

Chichen Itza: Chichen Itza is a Mayan city located in the eastern portion of the Yucaton in Mexico. Built possibly around 600 AD, it was one of the largest Mayan cities, and is considered to have been a major economical power, during its highest points. Within the city, visitors can see multiple architectural styles, representing its diverse population.

Christ the Redeemer: Located on Corcovado Mountain in the Tijuca Forest National Park Overlooking Rio de Janeiro, this statue stands 130 feet tall and is the 5th largest statue of Jesus in the world. Visitors to the statue take a short train ride through the park to the top of the mountain – the view from the peak alone is worth the trip up.

The Great Wall of China: The wall stretches approximately 5,500 miles from east to west along the historical northern borders of China. Originally, the wall was built, at least in part, for protection of the Emperor and those within its borders from military invaders. The “wall” consists of actual walls, trenches, and natural barriers such as hills and rivers, and has been rebuilt several times. Today, it is most frequently visited from Beijing, where travelers can walk along portions of the wall.

Colosseum (Coliseum): In it’s prime, the Colosseum could seat 50,000 spectators, and was used for gladiator fights and other public spectacles. Today, as in its hay day, it’s considered one of the greatest works of Roman architecture and engineering in existence. While damaged, much of the Colosseum still stands and visitors can tour it, transporting themselves back to the times of the ancient emperors.

Petra: Ancient cities seem to be a theme with this list of wonders, despite the designation of “new”. This Jordanian city dates back as far as 312 BC and was the capital of the Nabataeans. It’s particularly famous for its rock cut architecture and water conduits that, along with dams and cisterns, were used to help control flooding. Among Petra’s most notable ruins are Aaron’s Tomb – said to be the burial place of Moses’ brother, Al Khazneh (commonly known as the Treasury), and the amphitheater.

Machu Picchu: This 15th century Incan city lies in the mountains overlooking the Urubamba Valley of Peru. It was abandoned seemingly overnight, and sat undiscovered and dormant for 500 years, until Hiram Bingham came upon it in 1911. It’s thought to have been built for the emperor Pacachuti, and is often referred to as “The City of the Incas”. Visitors to Machu Picchu can wander through the houses of the emperor and the nobility, the Temple of the Sun, the working and living quarters of the lay people, envisioning the city, and the daily life of its residents, as it occurred in the 1400’s.

WONDERful World

Travel makes the vast world much smaller. It allows us to reach destinations that people only dreamed of seeing even as recent 50 years ago. Ancient sites transport us back hundreds or thousands of years, we hike through thick jungles and rainforest, canoe down the amazon, wander through the streets of countries where no one else speaks our language, swim deep in the ocean among endangered and rare species.

Throughout the years, various people and organizations have tried to determine the “best of the best”, so to speak. Those sites that if you saw nothing else, you must sea. We originally started with the 7 Wonders of the Ancient World.

• Great Pyramid of Giza
• Hanging Gardens of Babylon
• Temple of Artemis at Ephesus
• Statue of Zeus at Olympia
• Mausoleum at Halicarnassus
• Lighthouse of Alexandria
• Colossus of Rhodes (there’s been some debate on this one, as no historical depiction or description of it has been found, yet it’s mentioned frequently in literature from the time. The location is also debated).

In 2007, with only one of the original Wonders still standing (the Pyramid of Giza), a new list was created – the 7 New Wonders of the World. It was a multi-step process, which allowed the public to vote on nominees, and those with the highest number of votes won, though there wasn’t a measure to prevent multiple votes, so the validity of the list as “the best of the best” has been disputed, particularly from those countries with nominees that were not chosen. Still, there’s no denying that the new list of wonders contains some of the world’s most spectacular sites, so regardless of the procedure used to create it, it’s worth paying attention to.

Other lists of Wonders have been created over the years, which include the 7 Natural Wonders, the 7 Underwater Wonders, and doubtless other, less celebrated lists. It appears that there will soon be a “New7Wonders Cities”, as well. To kick off the new year, this issue of TraveLuxe will focus on several of these wonders, to highlight some of our world’s most treasured sights, and perhaps serve as some inspiration for future travels.