Hole in the Donut Cultural Travel
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Note: Free airfare from Miami to Cuba was originally offered exclusively to my readers who booked the June trip to Cuba with Discover Corps, but the registration deadline for that tour has passed. Discover Corps has kindly extended the offer for their July tour as well. See below for details:

I’m back in the U.S. following my Discover Corps tour of Cuba, and my head is spinning from everything I saw and learned. The name of their tour – Building Bridges – says it all. Travel to Cuba is not yet legal for all Americans, but since January of this year, restrictions have been substantially eased. Discover Corps seized that opportunity and designed a State Department approved, people-to-people tour that focuses on cultural interaction.

This is a new program for the company, so they have openings on their tour that begins July 25th, and they’ve provided me with a discount available to readers of my blog. Book this Discover Corps tour between now and May 25th and receive free round-trip airfare on a chartered flight between Miami and Cuba. This is a $600 value – an incredible offer, if you have the ability to act quickly. The program fee of $4,495 includes all meals, excursions, transportation, and tips in restaurants and hotels.

Horse-drawn carriage on the streets of Santa Clara. Travel to Cuba before scenes like this begin to disappear.

Horse-drawn carriage on the streets of Santa Clara. Travel to Cuba before scenes like this begin to disappear.

So what can you expect to see and do? My recent tour included visits to numerous community dance, art, and music, groups many of which are working with youth and/or neighborhoods to improve the quality of life in Cuba. A professor of economics from the University of Havana met with us for an hour to explain the economic challenges of the country and how the U.S. embargo has affected Cubans. We visited a Read More

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It’s been a long 15 months in the U.S., with little opportunity to travel, but that’s about to change. By the time you read this, I will be in Cuba, a place I have long dreamed of visiting. Having lived in both the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, I am no stranger to this part of the world, but Cuba has a mystique like no other Caribbean island. Antique muscle cars, polished to a deep sheen, rumble down boulevards like deep-throated lions sizing up prey. Sensuous salsa tunes float into the street from dim and smoky music clubs. Crumbling buildings, painted in shades of peeling pastel, are a photographer’s paradise.

Map showing my travel to Cuba with Discover Corps, showing the destinations we will visit

Map showing my travel to Cuba with Discover Corps

You may be wondering if legal travel to Cuba is available for all U.S. citizens. The answer is yes and no. On January 16, 2015, regulations governing travel to Cuba were amended by the Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC). Twelve categories of travel that previously required a specific license are now allowed by OFAC. These include categories such as family visits for persons of Cuban descent; journalistic activity; professional research and meetings; educational activities; religious activities; public performances, clinics, workshops, athletic, and other competitions and exhibitions; support for the Cuban people; and humanitarian projects. Travel for general tourism, however, is still not allowed. Read More

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The tide is ebbing. I had hoped my father would live to see another spring and summer. To enjoy his final pontoon boat rides on the river. To see the trees bud out and watch the deer sneak surreptitiously into the yard under the cover of darkness. But the pull of the moon is strong and the tide is receding a bit more each day.

My heart aches with each little thing he can no longer do. He says he is suffering from “Daddy Syndrome” – he’s taken care of his children for more than 62 years and suddenly we are taking care of him. This role reversal has been more painful for him than any of his health issues.

Centennial Olympic Park Fountain show in Atlanta Georgia, a metaphor for the ebb tide of life

Centennial Olympic Park Fountain show in Atlanta Georgia

I was in Atlanta last week, packing up stuff that I had stored there for the past few years and hauling it back up to my Dad’s house in Illinois. The trip reminded me of an earlier visit to Centennial Olympic Park in downtown Atlanta, which was created for the 1996 Summer Olympics. The centerpiece of the park is the Fountain of Rings – five intertwining Olympic rings embedded into the pavement, through which waters spout in syncopation with broadcast music. Read More

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Close your eyes and picture a Viking. Most likely, you envisioned a axe-wielding, muscle-bound man clad in filthy animal skins, wearing a metal helmet with pointed horns protruding from each side. As I learned recently at a behind-the-scenes preview of the new Vikings exhibition at Chicago’s Field Museum, this stereotype couldn’t be further from the truth.

Replica of a Viking wooden sailing vessel

Replica of a Viking wooden sailing vessel

The Vikings left no written history of their culture. Much of what we know has been gleaned from a history of the Vikings that was written by an Icelander named Snorri Sturluson, several hundred years after their civilization had vanished, or from extremely skewed characterizations, written by people who interacted with the Norsemen as they traveled far and wide to trade and raid. One such comment came from Ibn Fadlan, an Arabic envoy who in the early 10th century described Scandinavians he met on the Volga river, saying, “They do not wash after visits to the toilet…and they do not wash their hands after they have eaten. They are like stray asses.” Read More

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I can’t count the number of times I’ve looked at a building in Chicago and wondered about its history or wished I could see inside. Fortunately, one weekend each year, the Chicago Architecture Foundation makes that possible during Open House Chicago, a citywide architectural festival that offers free, behind-the-scenes access to more than 150 buildings around the city.

With so many intriguing buildings on display, choosing which one to visit was the most difficult part. I was tempted by famous downtown skyscrapers like the Tribune Tower, properties such as the Frank Lloyd Wright mansion, and a handful of historic theaters. But in the end, I opted for a more obscure building in the Bridgeport/Back of the Yards neighborhood on Chicago’s southwest side.

As I was born and raised on the south side of Chicago, Back of the Yards is more than a name to me. The neighborhood was named for the infamous Union Stock Yards, which in my youth was the largest livestock processing and distribution facility in the world. As a teenager, my father worked at the Stock Yards as an apprentice electrician. By the time I came along, the meat packing industry was winding down, but it was still active enough that the sickly smell of raw meat reached my nostrils on days when the wind blew just right.

Organic vegetables in the garden supply local restaurants

Organic vegetables in the garden supply local restaurants

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On occasion, I write about travel related products that I use, but there’s another whole side of my life that I rarely talk about – the equipment needed to publish this blog. As most of my readers will know, photography is a big part of what I do, and the possibility of losing photos from a trip causes me to lose sleep. At the end of each day, I transfer my photos from the camera’s SD card to my laptop, but that’s only a temporary fix. The storage capacity of my laptop is much too small to hold all my work, so I always travel with an external hard drive, where I keep a backup copy of the more than 100,000+ photos I’ve taken.

The WD My Passport Wireless external hard drive offers a sleek silhouette and compact size, with built-in SD Card slot

The WD My Passport Wireless external hard drive offers a sleek silhouette and compact size, with built-in SD Card slot

Recently, I was contacted by a representative from WD, who offered me the opportunity to test their new WD My Passport Wireless drive. I’ve been using My Passport drives for a number of years and they have always performed perfectly, however this new wireless drive has an SD card slot, so I would be able to eliminate backing up to the laptop entirely. And with its wireless capacity, I would also be able to upload photos from my iPhone to the drive on the fly. I eagerly accepted their offer to try it out. Read More