Sep 11, 2015

I Take My Wolfdog On Epic Adventures Because I Hate To See Dogs Locked Away

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I’m often surprised by how much joy animals can bring into our lives. Even more, the joy that comes from healthy relationships with them is really amazing. It seems hard to describe so I typically don’t try.
Loki’s Instagram is really the product of that hard-to-describe emotion. Additionally, I believe dogs aren’t meant to live out their lives in a backyard or inside a house. I hate to see that. I hope we are inspiring people to get out, explore our world, and make memories with their pups.

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this article from   boredpanda.com
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Sep 7, 2015

Walking on water in Slovakia

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Walking on water sounds like the stuff of miracles, but there’s nothing supernatural at work in the clip above. Watch as two hikers in Slovakia’s High Tatra Mountains walk across a lake that’s frozen so clearly, they look to be walking on water.

Tomas Nunuk posted the clip on 8 December. Since then, the footage has garnered more than three million views, with some viewers expressing both astonishment and scepticism.

"This is a good example of how beautiful the world can be when it’s not tainted by humans," said YouTube user Tyler Wolff.

Chloe Bateman, on the other hand, questioned the authenticity of the 0:39-long video: "surely you would record this for longer if in fact it was legit."

Several scientists have come to the video’s defence, including meteorologist Meghan Mussoline. “Clear ice is about twice as strong as white ice, since it is more dense,” she explained in an Accuweather video. “The ice on the frozen lake in the Slovakian Mountains was likely sufficiently thick for people to walk on due to cold air entrenched across the region since mid-November.”

Technology blog io9 featured further clarification from University of Helsinki geophysicist Matti Lepparänta. “Since the concentration of impurities is lower in congelation ice than in the lake water, the ice may be even more transparent than the water in turbid or humic lakes,” he said.


Temperatures this cold may make for some spectacular phenomena, but natural wonders are hardly in short supply in the Tatra Mountains, a region that PopeJohn Paul II visited on a detour from an 11-day pilgrimage to his homeland in 1997. The mountains, which form a natural border between Slovakia and Poland, are home to a huge variety of winter sports. The Low Tatras range (highest peak 2,043m) and the High Tatras (highest peak 2,564m) both come highly recommended for their natural beauty and their affordability as a skiing destination.

Tantalised by the natural beauty you see in the clip above, but not quite ready to book a trip? See more of this stunning region in this high-resolution,action-packed adventure clip showing some of the most spectacular sights the Tatra range has to offer.





this article from site   bbc.com
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Sep 6, 2015

Man who traveled to every country on earth explains the most difficult places to visit and why

Riyadh gfci

travel reviews in Last summer, my Royal Air Maroc flight from Casablanca landed at Malabo International Airport in Equatorial Guinea, and I completed a 50-year mission: I had officially, and legally, visited every recognized country on earth.

This means 196 countries: the 193 members of the United Nations, plus Taiwan, Vatican City, and Kosovo, which are not members but are, to varying degrees, recognized as independent countries by other international actors. 

In five decades of traveling, I’ve crossed countries by rickshaw, pedicab, bus, car, minivan, and bush taxi; a handful by train (Italy, Switzerland, Moldova, Belarus, Ukraine, Romania, and Greece); two by riverboat (Gabon and Germany); Norway by coastal steamer; Gambia and the Amazonian parts of Peru and Ecuador by motorized canoe; and half of Burma by motor scooter.

I rode completely around Jamaica on a motorcycle and Nauru on a bicycle. I’ve also crossed three small countries on foot (Vatican City, San Marino, and Liechtenstein), and parts of others by horse, camel, elephant, llama, and donkey.

I confess that I have not visited every one of the 7,107 islands in the Philippine archipelago or most of the more than 17,000 islands constituting Indonesia, but I’ve made my share of risky voyages on the rickety inter-island rustbuckets you read about in the back pages of the Times under headlines like “Ship Sinks in Sulu Sea, 400 Presumed Lost.”

I’ve had hundreds of adventures inside these countries, but for certain countries, the adventure started before I could even get in. The difficulties I encountered trying to get tourist visas taught me, in their own way, about places I had yet to visit and their relationship with the wider world.


(Getting a visa to famously isolated North Korea is actually not that difficult: The United States does not bar its citizens from going there, and the North Korean government, though it despises America, loves Americans’ money and is happy to provide visas—albeit exclusively through expensive, government-approved tours.) Here are the nine countries for which I had the hardest time obtaining visas.
north korea

Saudi Arabia was truly tough. I tried, from 2000 to 2009, without success, or even explanation for my failure, to secure a tourist visa to the Desert Kingdom—though at the time the Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiquities had no history of granting tourist visas to non-Muslims.
Because I had to get in to complete my quest, I worried that I might have to convert to Islam, memorize the Koran, study with a mullah, attend a mosque, and forget I was an ultra-liberal Jewish atheist.
This became especially frustrating in 2011, when I was in Bahrain, a quick drive over the King Fahd Causeway to Saudi Arabia. After I failed yet again to get a visa, an unusually candid Saudi consular officer finally told me why. He said, in essence: “Look, we have lots of oil money, so we don’t need your few tourist dollars.
We have 2 million Muslim pilgrims visiting every year to do the Hajj”—the annual pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca—“and they are no trouble.
Some of our conservative citizens do not want non-Islamic Westerners coming and stirring up our people with liberal ideas. And we certainly do not need the bad publicity if you are hurt or killed in our country by some radical.”
Finally, I found a well-connected tour agency in Michigan that arranged for me to reach Saudi soil disguised as part of a team studying under the guidance of an archaeology professor and expert on the tiny clay counters used for keeping financial accounts in the Middle East some 7,000 years ago. My own finances were $9,000 weaker after airfare and tour arrangements.
Riyadh gfci

Kiribati was too small and poor, when I first applied for a visa in 2006, to afford an embassy in the United States. It had, instead, created eight “honorary consulates” scattered around the world, and I was directed to a consul in Honolulu who usually was out surfing. I eventually acquired my visa from the consul in Fiji while en route to other South Pacific nations.

The situation is much easier today: For several years, Kiribati has not required tourist visas from U.S. citizens staying less than a month.
kiribati

Chad required, and still requires, the visa applicant to submit a letter from a sponsor or hotel in the country’s capital, N’Djamena, inviting him or her to visit, and setting forth the relationship and the purpose of the trip.
When I went in 2012, only two or three hotels there were issuing such a letter, and in order to obtain it, I had to book, and pay in advance for, a room at a nonrefundable $300 a night.
The entry problems are not over after booking, however.
Right after I arrived at the N’Djamena airport, a uniformed officer rubbed his thumb and fingers together as I approached and said, “Money, money, money.” He asked for a bribe of $50 to let me leave the airport.
I told him, in my most forceful French, that I had already paid for my visa.

He looked unimpressed: “Money, money, money.”
I lied and told him that the Chadian ambassador to the United States had assured me that I did not have to pay more money to enter Chad.
He looked at me as if I were a simpleton: “Money. Money.”
I asked him to show me the regulation that required me to pay.
He looked at me as if I were a troublemaker.
I told him I would pay him only if he gave me a signed receipt.
He choked with laughter and shared the joke with two of his colleagues, who were waiting for their cut.
As the end of both his shift and my patience approached, the price of the bribe dropped to $15.
I had only a twenty, which I gave him, and asked for change. For this I got the biggest laugh of the day and a wave to get the hell out.                       This is chad travel review .
Chad, africa desert

Nauru was, for me, from 2001 to 2007, impossible to get a visa to.
From the late 1960s through the early ’70s, the denizens of this tiny Pacific island were the wealthiest people on the planet per capita, due to the dense and valuable guano deposits left on the island by fish-eating seabirds over a period of eons.
The last of these rich phosphate resources were depleted by 2006, and the suddenly impoverished Nauruans were compelled to make a living in other ways.

First the country became a tax haven and alleged money-laundering hub for Russian criminals. Then it established internment camps for refugees as part of “the Pacific Solution” to prevent the refugees from reaching or remaining in Australia, and effectively closed its borders to all visa-seekers not approved by the Australian High Commissioner to prevent foreigners from monitoring the migrants’ conditions.

Nauru relaxed these restrictions with the formal end of the Pacific Solution in 2008. And though the country remains a dumping ground for many refuge-seekers, it is now focused on legitimate enterprises, including tourism, making it far easier to get a visa—the island’s airline arranged mine, and I finally visited in 2011.
But unless you are on a crazy quest to visit every country, you might want to skip this uninviting strip-mined mess of a speck of limestone.
Nauru Denigomodu Nibok

Russia wouldn’t have made this list but for my fourth visit there in 2010, when I discovered the liability of being an American seeking to enter Putin’s land: While most of the rest of the world’s peoples can apply for a visa to Russia using a simple single-page form of 21 questions, U.S. citizens must use an arduous “new form implemented on the basis of reciprocity” that has 41 often-intrusive questions.

These include: itinerary details; the name of the person or organization paying for the trip; the names of every country the applicant has visited in the past 10 years (99 for me); the applicant’s current and two previous places of work; every educational institution the applicant has attended; all the professional, civil, and charity organizations of which the applicant is a member or with which he has “cooperated”; the names of all the applicant’s relatives in Russia; the details of any training in firearms, explosives, nuclear weapons, and “biological and chemical substances” (which arguably would include everything from acidophilus yogurt to Drano); and details of the applicant’s military service, including rank and occupation.
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 Red square, St. Basil's Cathedral, Moscow, Russia
Somalia has been devastated by decades of war and terrorism, so it certainly needs tourist dollars, but its government is reluctant to see visitors get killed or kidnapped. A few hotels and guesthouses are, however, open for business, although they primarily cater to diplomats and nongovernmental organizations, and they do take care of procuring visas.

They can also book at least four, and preferably six, armed guards who will form a complete perimeter defense around you, with their chief beside you, usually scanning the rooftops with binoculars for snipers. This armed crew, together with two bullet-resistant SUVs in constant contact by walkie-talkie, set me back $750 a day when I visited in 2012. The cost has since risen to $1,350 a day, with little room to bargain.

The security team is virtually required for getting a visa, since the government will not let you in unless it is comfortable that you will be protected. I can only guess whether the steep rise in price recently is the result of increased visitor activity or increased danger.
Though my guards bustled me about rapidly to keep me from becoming a sitting target for kidnappers, they did take me for an hour’s walk on the Lido, one of the most beautiful strands of fine-grained, wave-washed white sand I’ve ever seen, lined by formerly luxurious villas, not one of which had retained four intact walls or glass in their windows.

Mogadishu Somalia

Sudan was a hard nut to crack. From 2004 to 2007, whenever I asked the Sudanese Embassy in Washington about the status of my application, I got the same terse reply: “It is being considered in Khartoum.”
The government in Khartoum is secretive and paranoid. It has sponsored a genocide against non-Arabs that has killed hundreds of thousands in the Darfur region since 2003, and some of its top leaders, including the president, are wanted by the International Criminal Court.
It seems clear why they would be reluctant to have camera-toting tourists running around the country, and they severely restrict the number of visitors, where they can go, and what kind of photos they can take.
I finally gave up on the official procedure and found a way in (with camera) thanks to a friend at the United Nations, who put me in touch with an official of the Arab League, who put me in touch with a shady character who “facilitated” my entry in 2008 by crossing several palms with silver to procure a visa.
Somali hotels can book as many as six armed guards, who will form a perimeter defense around you.
Yemen was too hot to handle for a long time.

After being thwarted for several years in obtaining a visa following the turmoil of the Arab Spring and the resignation in November 2011 of the dictatorial former president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, I was able to snag a visa and enter legally during a rare window of relative peace in January of 2014.
But with the overthrow of the government by Houthi insurgents at the end of this January, that window is firmly closed and locked for the time being.
Sudan travel reviews
Sudanese Woman


Angola was the most difficult of all the countries I visited. Its stingy visa policy perhaps reflected a widely held belief that foreign visitors only want to steal the country’s diamonds.
Furthermore, Angola’s government granted Americans almost no tourist visas for years because of American support for Angolan rebels in a 27-year civil war that began in 1975 and killed more than half a million people. No one I knew had been granted a visa during the years I tried to get one, between 2004 and 2008.
I was finally able to enter the country in December 2012 through a newly formed connection with a highly placed Angolan executive who was able to pull some strings at the Foreign Ministry.

There was not much to see in Luanda except massive traffic jams and high-rise yellow cranes, because the nation was in the midst of an oil-fueled construction frenzy. The countryside I traversed had little natural beauty, and most of the wild animals had been killed during the civil war; the souvenirs were five times as expensive as similar items in other countries; the Portuguese-influenced food was bland and boring; and when I asked for a doggie bag to take my leftovers back to my hotel, I got charged five dollars for the bag.
Kilamba Angola

Angola was the last country on earth that I hadn’t visited at all. (It would take me two more years to visit every country legally—I had sneaked into Yemen and Equatorial Guinea before returning in 2014 with the necessary paperwork to make it official.)
It was far from my favorite, but like every other place on the list—from Nauru with its ravaged limestone to Somalia with its machine-gun nests ringing Mogadishu—it was a necessary step on a journey all the way around the world.

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this article from  businessinsider.com
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Sep 5, 2015

Scotland's North Coast 500: A high road to the roof of Britain

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Blistered and savage, lonely and unspoiled, the new 500-mile tourist route is an enchanting expedition for Mark Rowe and family

Think of the world's great road trips – the Amalfi Coast, the corniche of the Côte d'Azur, the Great Ocean Road, the Pacific Coast Highway, Route 66 ... And yet I haven't even boarded a plane to get my fix of high-road thrills, of driving into emptiness and – sometimes – thin air. A few hours out of Inverness, my mind is reeling from a road trip utterly removed from the humdrum suburban world of bypasses, dual carriageways and motorway traffic jams.


It's taken nearly four hours to drive barely 40 miles towards and then away from the tiny village of Lochinver, perched high on the north-west coast of Scotland. The journey has involved a stomach-lifting, topsy-turvy drive along the B869, a road fetchingly – and not frivolously – known as the Wee Mad Road of Sutherland, where switchbacks and severe ups and downs lift us past wild coastal scenery. If we'd met a supermarket home delivery van, or a lorry with a mischievous satnav, we'd still be there.


And this is only day one of an epic family road trip around the coastal fringes of northern Scotland. We're heading clockwise out of Inverness, aiming for the roof of Britain. The roads have always been there – the Wee Mad Road feels as though it has been in place since the Picts were in charge – but the whole circuit has been rebranded as the North Coast 500 (so named because it's roughly a 500-mile loop) in the hope that more people will be enticed to come and explore. Not too many, you hope, because a big part of the appeal of this route is the sheer loneliness, the deranged emptiness, of driving for mile after mile and not seeing another car. I find it amazing that such space and solitude still exists on this grand scale in a heavily populated nation.


We join the A894, which does at least pass for a recognisable road. The scenery is anything but run of the mill. This is a part of Britain with resonant names that seem to connect with a distant past, ancient regions called Assynt, Sutherland, Wester Ross, Caithness. The outline of Suilven, the most alien-like mountain I've seen in Britain, is now behind us, pulling out of a stretched landscape like a disfigured stegosaurus. Elsewhere, we spot peaks familiar to National Hunt racing historians, such as Arkle and Foinavon. Stac Pollaidh could moonlight as the mountain from Close Encounters of the Third Kind.


Geologically, it's a blistered landscape – Iceland meets Patagonia. We head north along a road blasted through rock that has not budged for millions of years. The defining characteristic at play is Torridonian sandstone, 700 million years old, and an ancient geology, though a mere babe in arms compared to the 2.8 billion-year-old gneiss rock that burps out of the ground, and which is truly impermeable. Let your imagination go, and you can almost hear the earth groaning.


Castle of Mey


The colour schemes take us by surprise. Dazzling gorse, the colour of buttercups, twinkles beside shallow aquamarine coastal waters and the deep, dark, peaty lochs. When we pause, we can often hear the brisk clatter of straths and burns tumbling through the endless moors on to the coast. The moors too, seem to ache with biological decay and thousands of years of waterlogging. It's a landscape bursting with emptiness.


The route certainly gets a big tick for wilderness and grandeur. It also deserves full marks for another of those quirks you might wish for in a great route: the great café in the middle of nowhere. We lift the car over yet another pass – surprisingly this is the first time we encounter roadside barriers above a slightly unnerving drop – and spot the northern coast of Scotland for the first time.

We finally rock up in Durness, the approach tracking a fabulously wild road that peers into a glen splattered with erratic boulders, and which seems to have no end to it. We pull up outside Cocoa Mountain, a chocolatier that would not look out of place on the Grand Place in Brussels. We drink enormous mugs of creamy hot chocolate and wander on to Sango Bay, a glorious stretch of beach that would be covered in deckchairs were it positioned near Blackpool. The children set up the cricket stumps and play what at that moment is the UK's most northerly test match.

Onwards, eastwards. The inland waterscape is mesmerising: vast bodies of water, finger-like sea lochs stab inland between the mountains, replete with more evocative names, such as Loch Eriboll, the Kyle of Tongue.



The A894 crosses a loch

We are taken by surprise at John O'Groats, which has had a facelift since my last visit. This is mainly down to the intervention of the Natural Retreats group, which has refurbished the old John O'Groats Hotel, painted it in the colours of a Battenberg cake and refurbished the interior into penthouse apartments. Nearby, the chain's distinctive, aesthetically pleasing lodges gaze serenely out to sea. The township still has a post office, a bakers, a decent cup of coffee and a farm shop.


 Our other discovery is that for decades pilgrims to John O'Groats have been hoodwinked: it is neither the most northerly point of the UK mainland, nor the most north-easterly. We reason this out on a day trip across to Orkney. As we look back at the mainland, high cliffs tumble into the sea right along the eyeline. Dunnet Head clearly reaches further north, and to the east the UK tapers upwards to its north-easterly extremity, Duncansby Head.

Later, we visit Duncansby Head, a mile or two east of John O'Groats. It looks how the edge of an island nation should look: pointy sea stacks lurching out of a frothy sea, sheer cliffs, and dramatic clefts in which seabirds have nervelessly chosen to nest. Great skuas, big and scary and known locally as bonxies, patrol the skies while puffins huff past.

Close by, we visit the Castle of Mey, the late Queen Mother's old residence, a textbook castle of honeyed Caithness stone, with an echoing spiral staircase. Curious touches stand out, such as her drinks cabinet and the soft-toy Loch Ness monsters that she requested be placed on curtain rails. The small farm and its chipmunks delight the children.

A sharp right-hand turn by the John O'Groats' farm shop turns us south for the first time, and the A99 threads through the lonely, vast moors of Caithness. I wondered if the route might peter out at this point, but instead the road and its successor, the A9, prove to be one of the world's thrilling coastal highways, with views far south to the distant Moray Firth.

We are struck by how handsome and vibrant many of the towns are: Brora (where we pause at Capaldi's Italian ice cream shop), Golspie and Dornoch, where we make our way to the beach. It's warm enough to sit in shirt sleeves as our children explore the rock pools. Behind us, perhaps six miles distant are rocky peaks smothered in snow, even now, in high summer.

We close in on Inverness, for a breathtaking finale, driving alongside the Cromarty Firth where we're taken aback by the vast, doleful collection of oil rigs that have been positioned in the firth's deep waters, awaiting deployment or a refit. Then, a quick skip across the Kessock Bridge, which arcs gracefully across the Moray Firth, and we've come, if not full circle, then full loop.

My wife turns to me. “We've missed something,” she says. “Tantrums”. Some of our friends considered us mad for taking three children in a car on such a road trip with no electronic devices to distract them. But perhaps it was proof that big beaches, big scenery and big hot chocolates are sufficient to keep even the most fidgety of passengers happy.

article from independent.co.uk 
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