All posts by Vago Damitio

Vago Damitio  (@vagodamitio) is the Editor-in-Chief for Vagobond. He jumped ship from a sinking dotcom in 2000 and decided to reclaim his most valuable commodity, time. He bought a VW bus for $100, moved into it and set out on a journey to show the world that it was possible to live life on your own terms. That journey took him from waking up under icy blankets in  the Pacific Northwest to waking up under palm tress in Southeast Asia. Three years later, his first book, Rough Living: Tips and Tales of a Vagabond was published. After diving into the Anthropology of Tourism and Electronic Anthropology at the University of Hawaii (with undeclared minors in film and surf) he hit the road again in 2008. Since that time,he's lived primarily in Morocco and Turkey, married a Moroccan girl he couchsurfed with, and become a proud father. He's been to more than 40 countries, founded a successful online travel magazine (this one!), and still doesn't have a boss. Life is good. You can also find him on Google+ and at Facebook
Pinnacle National Park in California

Exploring California’s National Parks

California may well be famous for its sun-drenched beaches, but we think that when it comes to having a really exciting, memorable holiday, it’s the California’s National Parks you should look to. There are 26 in total, and today we’re going to take a look at three of the very best.

Yosemite National Park

Yosemite, photo by SmifLet’s start with Yosemite National Park, which is around a four-hour drive from the bright lights of San Francisco. In this reserve can expect to stroll with views of some of the most beautiful mountain terrain in the world. It’s this stunning landscape that the park aims to protect, and for which it was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site back in 1984.

First, a few basic facts. The park was formed by millions of years of glacial activity and spans 1,170 sq miles. Without doubt it is best known for its striking scenery, which includes vast monoliths like El Capitan (3,000 ft high), waterfalls and sequoia coves. While there are plenty of activities you can try in the park, including hiking and rock climbing, arguably the best thing to do if you’ve never been here before is to visit some of its most famous landmarks.

Yosemite Valley should be high on your list, with its gorgeous waterfalls and dramatic cliffs. For the ultimate vista, head over to Tunnel View, which is at the east end of the Wawona Tunnel – from here, you can see El Capitan and Bridalveil Falls. We also recommend visiting the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias, which is around 36 miles south of Yosemite Valley (which should give you some idea of just how vast the park really is). This is the reserve’s largest group of giant sequoias, and standing among them you’ll feel utterly dwarfed by their size.

By the way, if you’re planning a fly-drive holiday to California  don’t miss driving along Tioga Pass. Usually open from late May to early October, it spans the entire length of the park and offers incredible alpine scenery.

 

Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks

California National Parks Sequoia & Kings Canyon by Satosphere

Over in the Sierra Nevada Mountain range are the Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks. Now, technically these are two reserves rather than one, but as they are twinned and often treated as a single entity, we will look at them as one park. And, as they stand side-by-side, that’s perfectly easy to do when you visit as well.

Both these parks preserve granite peaks and lush forests and, as you can probably guess from their names, the giant sequoias and Kings Canyon are the top things to see. Looking at the latter first, Kings Canyon might not be as well known as the Grand Canyon, but it is actually the deepest in America. Expect to be totally wowed by the views – think sheer granite cliffs rising 1,000 ft sprinkled with spectacular waterfalls.

The sequoias, meanwhile, are best viewed in the aptly-named Giant Forest. The largest tree of them all is dubbed General Sherman, and is approximately 275 ft high. As you stare up at it, it’s worth remembering that this is thought to be the biggest tree in the world by volume.

Other great things to do here including taking a tour of Crystal Cave. A really popular attraction that’s home to some fascinating marble formations, it is open to the public from May to November, but you’ll need tickets to get in and take the tour. It’s worth bearing in mind that because of its popularity these tend to sell out fast, so try to book first thing in the morning. Sometimes you can reserve places the day before, so that’s worth checking when you arrive.

Pinnacles National Park

Pinnacle National Park in California

Our final suggestion is Pinnacles National Park – another aptly-named reserve, having earned its title from the huge spires and monoliths found here. Located just to the east of Salinas Valley, this ancient volcanic field is in the Gabilan Mountains and has some of the most exciting and unusual terrain in California – at least we think so anyway!

Over millions of years, the volcano here eroded as it gradually moved along the San Andreas Fault. Left behind are sheer-walled canyons, spectacular spires and massive monoliths that have to be seen to be believed. Most people come to the park to hike or rock climb, but you can also visit simply to admire the view. As a quick tip, Pinnacles is one of the few national parks that’s well suited to exploring in the cooler months and is generally open throughout autumn and winter.

Since the park is home to more than 30 miles of excellent hiking trails, it’s definitely a must-visit for keen walkers – even if you’re not after anything too challenging. For instance, there are several short routes starting out at the Pinnacles Visitor Centre, such as the 2.3-mile trail to Bear Gulch Day Use Area and the 6.5-mile path along the South Wilderness Trail. The latter is fantastic for wildlife spotting, while it’s worth bearing in mind that spring is the best time to come for seeing wild flowers on any of the trails.

 

Dubrovnik in the Mediterranean

Mediterranean history: reading between the waves

Setting off on a cruise around the Med might seem like the perfect excuse to surrender your mind to complete vegetation for a few weeks, but it’s becoming increasingly popular for holidaymakers to seek something more meaningful from their vacation.

Dubrovnik in the Mediterranean - Image by Mario Fajt, used under the Creative Commons license.

Stretching from the Iberian Peninsula, along the southern coastline of continental Europe to the north of Africa, the Mediterranean Sea traverses three continents, and Mediterranean cruises can offer some unique opportunities to learn about our world’s history from some of its most ancient destinations. Take note of these educational places best visited from the sea.

Istanbul

A city spanning two continents, this cultural capital comprises an entirely unique cityscape of bathhouses and minarets, domes and spires. The Blue Mosque, the Agia Sofia and the Basilica Cistern are historic highlights no traveler should miss ticking off their itinerary before re-embarking. Istanbul’s beautiful hybrid of styles demonstrates a historic diversity which is unrivaled.

 Dubrovnik

This Dalmatian Coast delight boasts the best preserved medieval walls in the world, and an old town which has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. While its city walls bustle with cruise day-trippers, it’s easy to understand why; walking the two kilometers of stone fortifications is an edifying experience.

Tunis

With bustling medinas and French colonial architecture, Tunis is a city that wears its history scrawled across its skyline. Visit the Roman mosaics in the Bardo museum, then strike out for the ancient civilization of Carthage, one of the world’s most impressive archaeological sites, and the former heart of the Carthaginian empire.

Rome

No cultural odyssey would be complete without the inclusion of majestic Rome, a city guarding ancient treasures like the Colosseum, the Pantheon and the Baths of Diocletian under the guise of a modern metropolis. A number of cruise lines port at Civitavecchia, from which you can explore the city sights. Rome is hilly, so stay cool on your excursions with an old trick; fill your water bottle from one of the many historic drinking fountains in the city which dispense cool water carried directly by aqueduct.

The Mediterranean is one of the world’s most ancient beds of civilization, and so much can be learned about the world from setting off on a cruise around this historic and cultural haven.

With the breadth of countries to discover, the scope of cultures to explore, and the provenance of its destinations, choosing to cruise the Med proves history can be a literal voyage of discovery.

Author bio: Anissa Suliman is a vacation enthusiastic who makes a living managing a busy office to feed her passion! She also loves to cook Italian food and never visits a new country without her running trainers.

 

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Charming Aromas: Exploring Vienna’s Coffee Culture

There’s nothing like a good cup of coffee. But almost more important than the actual latte, cappuccino or drip is where you are when you’re drinking it. The charming Viennese coffeehouse culture places the city’s cafés on the must-see list while you’re on a weekend break in Vienna. For a different perspective on Austria’s capital — plus some much needed caffeine for those fighting jet lag — you should consider touring them.

Back in time

Though there were a couple coffeehouses scattered across Europe already, the first coffeehouse in Vienna opened its doors in the late 1600s. Battle of Vienna hero Jerzy Franciszek Kulczycki, or Georg Franz Kolschitzky as he’s often referred to in German, reportedly started the very first Viennese coffee house in 1683, with coffee beans left by the opposition.

Coffeehouses grew in popularity and became a place for friends to meet up, intellectuals to browse the papers and writers and poets to compose. The late 19th and early 20th centuries in particular saw a rise in prominent writers choosing to work within the quaint atmosphere of Viennese cafés, with their work now known as ‘coffee house literature.’

Viennese coffeehouses became a home away from home with some — including Austrian writer and poet Peter Altenberg — even having their mail delivered there.

Coffee culture, or cultural coffee?

The Viennese coffeehouse culture today sees many of the same traditions carried out. Marble tabletops and strong coffee greet you. You’re more than welcome to sit and read, write, or play cards and there’ll never be anyone rushing you out the door. Customers are often treated to live piano music in the evening hours, giving you all the more reason to sit and make yourself comfortable.

The servers are kind; they’ll refill your glass of water but otherwise leave you alone. Grab a few postcards or a journal to write in when you’re in town — who knows, you may be the next famous face to compose their work there!

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The cafés to be

As far as where to go, there are more than a few charming, traditional Viennese cafés to choose from. Café Central, which opened its doors in 1876, is steeped in tradition. Located in Vienna’s Old Town, this café became an intellectual hub for people including Leon Trotsky, Sigmund Freud and Adolf Hitler.

Café Landtmann’s location, on the bottom floor of the neo-baroque Palais Lieben-Auspitz, makes it another coffeehouse worth seeing. Near the University, Town Hall and spectacular Burgtheater, this café is where it’s at!

Finally, Café Prückel shows off a slightly different vibe. Its 1950s design will allow you to travel back in time, to a place where a strong cup of coffee and slice of apple strudel is all that matters. An added bonus? Live piano music several nights a week.

Are you looking to see a different side of vibrant Vienna? Then why not grab a simple cup of coffee.

Image by indigotimbre, used under Creative Commons licence.

Author’s bio

Shirley Beale is a foodie and traveller. She loves cultural experiences and tries to visit a many as she can of the world’s museums.