The Middle Rhine is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The river's banks are lined with charming villages, terraced vineyards and enchanting castles. There are 21 castles along the river side and an additional 19 on mountain tops or in the adjacent valleys, all within an approximate 40-mile stretch of the Rhine. Rheinstein Castle is near the south end of the UNESCO area. The original castle dates back to the late 13th century but fell into ruin in the 17th century. It was restored and rebuilt in the mid-19th century.
Marksburg Castle is the only medieval castle on the Rhine that has never been destroyed. It dates back to the 13th century and overlooks the town of Braubach.
Katz Castle is less than a mile away from the famous Loreley statue, representing the mythical beautiful girl whose songs distracted sailors from the danger of the rocks below, causing them to wreck their ships.
Deep in the Rhine-Meuse-Scheidt Delta the Dutch landscape unfurls. Kinderdijk, Holland has 19 18th-century windmills, some of which can be visited.
Keukenhof Gardens, almost 80 acres, has more than 7 million tulips, daffodils & hyacinths bulbs. It is only open 8 weeks of the year but is the most glorious spring garden in the world.
Tucked away in the eastern Himalayas is perched the charming country of Bhutan. It's about the size of Switzerland and over 70% of its land is forested and inhabited by around 700,000 people. The majority of the Bhutanese practice Tibetan Buddhism and the red robes of monks are seen daily in towns and countryside. Prayer flags are also prevalent. These were on a hill top overlooking Thimpu, the capital of the country.
Yak herding is still seen in high rural areas though it is on the decline. An animal unique to the Himalayas is the takin, the national animal of Bhutan. They can weigh up to 700 pounds and are also called cattle chamois or gnu goat.
There are nearly 400 species of orchids found in this tiny mountainous country. The Bhutanese feel strongly about protecting their environment and carefully choosing how they modernize their country, trying to learn from the mistakes of other countries that rushed into the 21st century with dire consequences.
One of the most famous places in the country is Tiger's Nest, the Buddhist temple complex first built in 1692 on the cliff side of the Paro valley at 10,300 feet.
Bhaktapur, is the eastern gateway to the Kathmandu Valley in Nepal. The town dates back to the ninth century. Its many temples were damaged by the earthquake of 2015 but as a whole, they fared better than their counterparts in Kathmandu. Vatsala Devi Temple was originally built in 1696. The bronze Taleju Bell next to it was used to sound curfew and each morning to indicate the goddess Taleju was being worshipped. The triple-roofed Bhairabnath Temple is dedicated to Bhairab, a fierce incarnation of Shiva. It survived the earthquake intact. The 1934 earthquake ruined the original Fasidega Temple, also dedicated to Shiva. A modern domed shrine was built atop the base but this was destroyed in the 2015 quake.
Pottery Square is where you may see traditional pottery making: men and women, young and old, each absorbed in creating practical implements for daily use.
Leaving Nepal and flying to Bhutan gives you the wonderful opportunity to see Mt. Everest and its 29,029 feet of glory if the weather cooperates.
People watching is an interesting pastime in Nepal because of the variety of activities and attire. This woman sitting on a street corner in Kathmandu was very remindful of a Navajo elder in the American west.
Boudhanath Stupa is the largest stupa in Nepal and the holiest Tibetan Buddhist temple outside Tibet. It was built in the 14th century. A stupa is a round edifice that usually contains Buddhist relics. The faithful who visit walk around the stupa three times praying, usually fingering prayer beads. The woman in the foreground has a prayer wheel which helps her concentrate on her prayers.
Prayer bells are an important feature in Buddhist temples. One can pray and run their hand along the bells as they walk.
The Sadhus are Hindu holy men who have abandoned a life of ease and material goods. They meditate and rely on the generosity of others for their basic needs.
Swayambhunath Stupa was already an important pilgrimage site by the 5th century AD. It is called The Monkey Temple because of the hundreds of monkeys that have settled there.
Nepal is a little known, but truly exotic place to visit. Sharing borders with India and Tibet, its Himalayan mountain range is home to 8 of the 14 highest mountains in the world. Chitwan National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is an extensive nature preserve found on the southern border of Nepal, adjacent to India's Valmiki Tiger Reserve. Chitwan has 450 species of birds within its confines. The Red Junglefowl is the ancestor of the domestic chicken. It was first domesticated five thousand years ago in Asia, then introduced around the world.
One of the most cartoonish-looking birds is the Oriental Pied Hornbill, which resembles a Disney creation. In addition to being a fruit-eater, they eat reptiles, insects and young birds.
The conservation status of the sloth bear is vulnerable because of poaching and loss of habitat. Contrary to their name, they aren't slow and can outrun a person. Unlike their western cousins, they are insect eaters, primarily termites and ants. Because of that they have a long snout and no upper incisors better adapted to sucking up the insects.
Great One-horned Rhinos are very prehistoric looking, similar to an armored tank, and males can weigh up to 3 tons.
A very rare creature, the gharial is a form of crocodile that eats only fish and has to take that in head first. There are only 200 in the wild along the rivers in southern Nepal but there is preserve that is breeding them and re-introducing them into the wild.
One of the best places for bird watching in the winter is Sanibel Island, accessible by a causeway from Ft. Myers, FL. The J.N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge, though only a 4 mile drive, is replete with wintering waterfowl: egrets, herons, cormorants, pelicans, spoonbills, among others. The refuge is part of the largest undeveloped mangrove ecosystem in the United States, according to its website.
"Ding" Darling was an early Florida conservationist who helped block the sale of environmentally valuable land to developers on Sanibel. He urged President Harry S. Truman to sign an Executive Order creating the Sanibel National Wildlife Refuge in 1945. It was renamed in 1967 in honor of Darling. The refuge covers about 6,400 acres with over 245 species of birds found there.
Occasionally one is lucky enough to see several species gathering together to fish for the small minnows in the mangroves. Here there are Snowy Egrets, Great White Egret, mature and immature White Ibis.
Tri-colored Herons are frequently seen, usually more solitary than the egrets.
Another loner is the Yellow-Crowned Night Heron, typically seen late in the day.
White Pelicans gather to preen and rest. The Brown Pelican is a year-round resident of Florida but the Whites migrate from the North from October to March.
Above the fray the Osprey circles, looking for fish, before diving down and catching its prey in its sharp talons and flying to a nearby tree to eat his lunch.
Greece is still bewitching with its bright whitewashed buildings glowing on the shores of the blue Aegean Sea. The history that goes back thousands of years is prevalent no matter where you go. Of course, the Parthenon may be the most famous of its ruins, begun in 434 BC at the order of Pericles as a temple to the goddess Athena. Overlooking the city of Athens, it stands as a constant reminder that very intelligent, cosmopolitan people preceded the modern day inhabitants.
A more modern but influential edifice is the Arkadi Monastery on the Greek island of Crete. It was built 800 years ago and has served as a center of education and manuscript copying over the years.
The magic of ruins like the Theater at Delphi still touches the visitor with the imagination to picture the 5000 toga clad citizens who regularly enjoyed performances in the fourth century B.C. on this hillside. There were close to 90 such theaters in ancient Greece. People watched plays, poetry recitals and choral processions. It was a social, political and religious center.
Chile is an immensely long country: 3000 miles down the lower spine of South America. It's the most southern section, Patagonia, which also encompasses part of Argentina, which is referred to as The End of the World. It is truly one of the most remote, thinly populated places on earth. The Chilean gateway is Punta Arenas, a small city but Patagonia's most important one. The ships cruising through the Strait of Magellan depart from there. Magdalena Island is the home to over 65,000 breeding pairs of Magellanic penguins, also called Jackass penguins. They stay from October to March to breed and raise their young.
Chile is home to about 2000 glaciers. One of the most impressive was in Condor Fjord. The blue ice is said to be over 500 years old. A young Andean condor settled on the rocks. Their massive wingspan can reach over 10 feet and is considered the largest flying bird on earth.
In contrast to some of the stark landscape are the bonsai-like trees found on the low mountains bordering Occasion Sound.
The ever-present snow-capped Andes, glaciers and icebergs convince you that you are much closer to the South Pole than the Equator. Ushuaia, Argentina, the capital of Tierra Fuego in Patagonia is the southernmost city in the world and is only about 700 miles from Antarctica. Patagonia has a wealth of natural treasures worth taking the time to explore.
Argentina is the eighth largest country in the world and encompasses quite an array of terrains and climates: seven different regions. On a recent trip to the Pampas, which lies in the central part of the country, Cordoba was the first stop for a three-day dove shooting experience. The area has a 20-30 million dove population (depending on with whom you talk) and has attracted shooters for many years. One of the side benefits of a shoot is the chance to see literally hundreds of hawks and eagles that hang around to finish off the fallen prey at the end of the shooting. The Black Chested Buzzard Eagle was one of the largest. The predators would circle the area or perch in trees and patiently wait until the shooters took a break or finished. Hawks were just waiting for a chance to swoop down. Not much real work was involved for them in these fields.
Buenos Aires was the next stop. A bustling Colonial city of around three million, its heart is a 16th century plaza but much of the architecture reflects the 19th century French and Italian influence. La Boca is one of the city's 48 barrios, with a heavy Italian flavor. The brightly painted houses in Caminito and the tango clubs draw many tourists.
The Recoleta Cemetery was dedicated in 1822 and is truly a "city of the dead", with amazing nineteenth and twentieth century funerary art and architecture. One of the country's most famous people known internationally, Eva Peron, is buried there.
One fascinating feature of the city is the extensive graffiti found in so many places that there are guided tours for seeing the most outstanding selections.
A couple of hours by plane from Buenos Aires is the most outstanding water feature on this planet: Iguazu Falls on the border of Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay. There are 275 falls stretching over a 2 mile area. It is truly one of the most breathing-taking sights in the world. When Eleanor Roosevelt first saw it she exclaimed, "Poor Niagara!"
Zambia doesn't have as many tourists as some of the better known African countries, such as Tanzania and Kenya. But need make no apologies to the other game rich nations. Elephants abound and having the opportunity to watch them in family units and in large herds gives one insight into the intelligence of these behemoths Having watched two females with a young elephant for 15 minutes, imagine our surprise when a tiny baby elephant stood up after napping on the ground, unnoticed. After nursing its fill, it lay back down below its mother and went back to sleep. Often elephants take a dust bath immediately after bathing in a lake. We were told that helps minimize the insects that bother them.
The Luangwa Valley is home to a large population of leopards. Note how well camouflaged they are in the bush. The female leopard in the field had successfully moved one of her cubs to a wooded area but when she returned for the other, some vehicles spooked her. The young one came down his tree but when his mother failed to pick him up he scampered back for safety. It was a couple of hours later before the mother felt it was safe enough to retrieve and move him.
Lion kills are never pretty but they are necessary to the life of the pride. We followed fourteen lionesses on the hunt one night. Suddenly the cry of their victim, an antelope called a puku, rang out. When we arrived at the scene a dozen lions were already feasting on the fallen prey. This was their first kill of the evening, but probably not the last as it wasn't enough to satisfy the hunger of all.