Category Archives: North America

Secret Treasures in Clearwater, Florida

Freelancing isn’t easy work, but sometimes the rewards are great. This guest post comes from Denise, a freelancer in Clearwater, Florida

I love finding blogs like this one, where someone has actually made the conscious decision to go against the ‘norm’ in life and make a way for themselves, and their family, that is both educational and adventurous at the same time. After all, how can you learn more about the world than by experiencing it first hand?

I’ve always been a corporate geek, right up until the U.S. economy’s latest downturn. Things to do in Clearwater, Florida
Out of work through no fault of my own (other than my hefty salary) and faced with the prospect of finding a job that pays 25% of my last position, I decided this was the perfect time to start my own business. I figured I could make as much starting out on my freelance business as I would driving for an hour each way on snow-covered freeways to get to a job where my boss will be younger than my grown children!

In the past three years, I’ve learned so much about social media, SEO, and internet marketing, and found out that excellent writing skills are in extreme demand globally. I’ve worked for clients right here in my town, and all over the globe. With the ease of communications nowadays, it truly is a small world. I can write an article and snap some photos of any interesting person, place, or thing I come upon- and quickly upload them to share with the world.

Map of Clearwater FloridaThis winter, my husband and I have the luxury of spending an extended period in Florida. He works for a construction company in Northeast Ohio, and many projects are halted when the snow flies. We have always vacationed in Florida, but this year we’ll have time to explore some of the areas in depth and live among the locals.

First stop, we booked one of those \Clearwater holiday packages we’d heard about. The beach is well known as one of the cleanest, white sugar sand beaches in the world, and the Gulf of Mexico waters stay warm through most of the winter–paradise for sun worshippers.

However, there is so much more to do in this area. Here is just a short sampling:

Pinellas Trail: This 48 mile long, twelve foot wide paved trail is perfect for joggers, rollerbladers, and bikers alike. It winds through some densely populated areas but retains a rural feel and offers awesome views from almost any point.

Clearwater Florida, Honeymoon IslandHoneymoon Island and Caladesi Island: Two beautiful state parks, one only available by ferry or private boat, are located off a spur of the trail.

Suncoast Primate Sanctuary: This sanctuary was set up to rescue primates and other animals from deplorable conditions, and is open to the public and manned mostly by volunteers.

Boating: With all of the beautiful water to explore, renting a boat can be an excellent way to spend some time. From sailboats to power boats and pontoon party boats, there is a wide selection in varying price ranges.

Fishing: Rent a boat of your own or take a charter fishing trip for some great deep sea fishing. Or, grab your fishing pole and head to one of the local piers. My son caught a sting ray at Clearwater Pier 60 when he was just six or seven.

clearwater Florida KayakingKayak trails: There are kayak trails that will take you to remote islands, and through tunnels in thick mangroves so that you can see all sorts of wildlife up close.

Tarpon Springs: This small town is a Greek settlement that was long the sponge capital of the world. Today, it boasts lots of structures on the National Register of Historic Places, the largest Greek-American population of any city in the United States, and some of the best Greek restaurants in the western world.

Clearwater Florida TravelSunsets at Pier 60: For years, Clearwater Beach has hosted an outdoor festival daily at sunset. Nature brings the beautiful sun melting into the Gulf of Mexico, and musicians and crafters, mimes and jugglers set up on and around the pier to entertain. The newest addition is Sunset Cinema-a family-friendly outdoor big screen. Bring your beach chairs and blankets to relax on the sand and take in a movie.

Denise Gabbard, a freelance writer and photographer with a passion for travel who is financed mostly by her work for Dixons.co.uk discount vouchers .

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Traveling with Kids in Cuba – Pure Heaven!

Vagobond exclusive story and photos by Jennifer Merrick

traveling with kids in cubaI knew the moment the customs officer commented on how cute our children were that Cuba would be a kid-friendly destination. I wasn’t mistaken. Almost everywhere we went on our all inclusive holiday to Cuba, my son and daughter were doted on. They were given gifts, sang to, kissed and altogether spoiled.

At first they were a little shy about the unexpected attention but they warmed up quickly. My son, especially, thrived on the attention.

“Do you want to see how much snow we have in Canada?” he would ask and show people a picture of our house with a 6-foot mountain of snow in front of it. After they oooed and aaaahed, he’d then ask,

“Can I take your picture?” And in less than two minutes we had made a new friend.

The Cubans genuine affection and appreciation of children endeared us to the island and ensured that this would be a family holiday we’d cherish for a long time to come.

kids in cubaWe decided on Guardalavaca in the province of Holguin because we wanted a quieter place away from the party crowd in Veradero. It proved to be a good choice with its stunning white beaches, crystal-clear turquoise water and laid-back atmosphere.

A highlight of our trip was a horseback riding excursion in Roca Azul Bio-Park. I was a bit nervous as neither of my children had been on horseback before apart from a pony ride and my previous experience on a horse ended up with me on the ground and a very sore hip for a month. But our guide, Alejandro, quickly put us at ease and proceeded at a slow pace. My daughter proved to be a natural, moving with the horse like she was born on one. Her brother, too, quickly got the hang of it. And I managed to stay on.

With the rhythmic clip-clop of hooves and the sun shining down, my apprehension dissipated and I took in the remarkable scenery surrounding us. Desert and tropics seemed to overlap here with sand and cacti in some places and lush tropical plants and trees in others.
We stopped at a tranquil lake, known for its good fishing. This secluded spot felt a million miles from the resort and we encountered only two other tourists and their guide. Back on the horse, we trotted along until we came to a gate. On the other side was an odd assortment of animals roaming freely – horses, goats, cows, pigs and two zebras.

zebras in Cuba“Where did the zebras come from?” I asked.

“Africa,” our Cuban cowboy replied.

What could I say?

We made our way back and Alejandro worked on turning our kids into cowkids.

“Yip,Yip,Yeeeeeeep!” Cowboys here apparently don’t say ‘hee haw’.

My son repeated the call till he got it to perfection. Then the singing began. Music is everywhere on the island and Cubans often burst into song. The guide sang a melodic Spanish ballad as we rode at a leisurely pace.

Cuban MusicNot to be outdone, our kids then sang their Christmas concert song much to our guide’s delight. The warmth of the sunshine, the music, beautiful views and a real connection made it one of the most memorable moments of the trip.

There were many others and almost every one of them involved an encounter with the people.

When we arrived at Toronto Pearson, my son’s face still had lipstick marks from the kisses the dining room staff had bestowed on him.

“Do you want to see a picture of the horse I rode?” he asked the women behind the counter at the airport.

Getting a blank stare in return, I had to remind him, “Honey, we’re not in Cuba anymore.”

But we’ll be back.

After travelling the world teaching ESL, Jennifer is now ‘settled down’ in Toronto, but continues to indulge her passion for travel as a family travel writer. Her blog www.justkidstravel.com helps kids plan and get excited about their travels.

Wild Niagara: The Best Outdoor Activities in Niagara

Niagara Falls is such a beautiful place. The river and the Falls themselves are so impressive, but some potential visitors might wonder what there is to do after they’ve seen them. Niagara has an impressive roster of sights and activities that don’t necessarily involve the Falls, many of which are exciting and invigorating outdoor pursuits that are fun for people of all ages and ability levels.

Niagara Falls

Niagara is located in what is known as the Niagara Escarpment, a unique geologic formation that is a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. The area is unlike any other, which makes it a treasure for those who love the outdoors.

Take a look at some of the outdoor activities that are available. No matter the season, there are several great ways to experience the beauty of this part of the world.

Hiking

One of the easiest and most accessible ways to experience the scenic beauty of Niagara is to simply walk around in it. In and around the area of the Falls are over 15 kilometers of hiking and mixed use trails that are available to everyone. Various trails are accessible to hikers of all abilities and range in duration from easy hikes of less than an hour, to moderately difficult hikes of 6 or more hours.

Some of the more popular areas to hike are the Niagara Gorge Trail, Niagara Glen, Dufferin Island or the Botanical Gardens. For the truly adventurous, the Niagara River Parkway’s 56 kilometer trail is open for full or partial attempts.

As with any hiking pursuit, it is wise to be prepared. Check in with a ranger or official at the park, if possible. If not, advise a friend or a member of your hotel staff where you plan to hike. Carry water, snacks, a hat, rain gear and extra clothing.

Cycling

Niagara is simply one of the best places in the country for cyclists. With kilometers of trails dedicated to cyclists, this area is a haven for riders of all abilities. Additionally, with the advent of the bike train from Toronto to Niagara, cyclists have more access to Niagara than ever.

For cyclists who prefer leisurely rides along relatively flat land, the Welland Canals Trail offers views of the ships going through the locks, or the Niagara River recreation Trail, which shows off the Falls in all of their glory. The Friendship Trail is perfect for those who like their cycling punctuated with stops at cafes along the way. All of these trails are perfect for beginners, or those groups who have riders of mixed abilities.

For the more adventurous cyclists, the Twenty Valley and Pelham areas contain steep hills and grades, but you’re rewarded with stunning views. Mountain bikers can check out Short Hills Provincial Park, but be advised that equestrians use these trails as well.

Golf
It seems there is always someone in every group who loves to golf. Niagara is the perfect place for a golf vacation, or simply a golf diversion.

There are several top notch courses to choose from in the Niagara area, including North America’s oldest golf course, Niagara on the Lake Golf Club, established in 1875. Rockway Glen Golf Club has the distinction of having its own winery, which is the perfect place to unwind at the end of a game. The Niagara area also boasts several golf instructors and golf schools to help you improve your game or to brush up on rusty skills.

Camping
For many people, a vacation just isn’t a vacation without camping. The Niagara area offers a host of campgrounds and RV parks, many of which are just a few kilometers from the Falls and other activities. In fact, access to the famed Niagara River Parkway Trail is a source of pride for many of the area’s campgrounds.

For those who prefer the convenience of cottages, many rental agencies specialize in providing exceptionally cozy accommodations to families and groups.

As you plan your Niagara Falls vacation, make sure to budget time to take in the beautiful scenery and abundant outdoor activities. A trip here just wouldn’t be the same otherwise.

About the Author: Camille Van Buren is a hiking and cycling enthusiast who authors a blog about her pursuits.