British Isles Destinations

Must See Destinations in the British Isles

If you’re planning a trip to the British Isles, be sure to include theses destinations on your itinerary.  These are some of my favorite cities in England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland.  Click on the heading for more details and photos.

Shrewsbury, England:  A picturesque river city in Shropshire with a medieval past.

Shrewsbury School Across the River Severn

Shrewsbury School Across the River Severn

Conwy, Wales:  A beautiful little coastal town in Northern Wales with an awesome castle.

Conwy Castle on the North Coast of Wales

Conwy Castle on the North Coast of Wales

Inverness, Scotland:  A city in the Scottish Highlands near Loch Ness and Urquhart Castle.

Inverness Castle, Inverness, Scotland

Inverness Castle, Inverness, Scotland

Galway, Ireland:  This eclectic city on the west coast of Ireland is the gateway to Clifden and Connemara.

Galway Cathedral on the River Corrib

Galway Cathedral on the River Corrib

 

Blue Orb Travel ‘Best Pick’ Destinations

Add These Often Overlooked Travel Gems to Your Itinerary This Year

          Check out some of John’s favorite places by visiting these Blue Orb ‘Best Picks’ when you travel this summer.  By clicking on the link it will take you to our full article on each travel destination.

Shrewsbury, England

          A charming little town straddling the River Severn near the border with Wales.  Located in County Shropshire, England Shrewsbury is only 170 miles from London.

The River Severn, Shrewsbury, England

The River Severn, Shrewsbury, England

Konigssee, Germany

          This hidden gem of Bavaria is one point on a small tourist triangle that also includes Berchtesgaden with it’s Eagle’s Nest and Salzburg, Austria.  Just 100 miles from Munich, Konigssee is easily accessible by train and you can walk to the lake from the train station.

The Konigssee Lake in Bavaria, Germany

The Konigssee Lake in Bavaria, Germany

Nizhny Novgorod, Russia

          This shining gem just outside the Golden Ring is 260 miles from Moscow and one of the first stops on the Trans Siberian Railway.  Located at the confluence of the Volga and Oka Rivers, Nizhny Novgorod is the third largest city in Russia and is home to a fabulous Kremlin and many splendid cathedrals.

Kremlin at Nizhny Novgorod

Kremlin at Nizhny Novgorod

Luang Prabang, Laos

          Located off the beaten path in the hill country of Laos and accessible only by bus or plane, Luang Prabang is well worth the trip!  This French colonial town on the Mekong River is full of old world charm, wonderful restaurants, great shopping and inexpensive hotels.

Suzdal, Russia…a Gem in the Golden Ring

The Golden Ring

          The Golden Ring is a collection of picturesque ancient towns northeast of Moscow, noted for their history, culture and architectural splendor. Each town typically has a Kremlin or fortress with watch towers and, because the villages in this region played a significant role in the development of the Russian Orthodox Church, each one is replete with churches, monasteries and onion domed cathedrals. Your first stop on the Trans-Siberian Railway going east from Moscow should be the town of Vladimir. On the three hour train ride you’ll have an opportunity to really mingle with the locals before arriving at your destination. On arrival in Vladimir, the four items on your agenda will be to walk up the hill and get a room at the Hotel Vladimir, return to the train station and book your train reservation for the next town of Nizhny Novgorod for the following day, take the one hour bus ride to Suzdal where you will spend a wonderful day, then return to Vladimir and take a walking tour of this charming medieval town during the early evening.

Suzdal, Russia

Suzdal, Russia

Nativity of the Virgin Cathedral, Suzdal

Nativity of the Virgin Cathedral, Suzdal

Suzdal

          This onetime capital before power was consolidated in Moscow is actually fortunate that the Trans-Siberian Railway bypassed it and instead went through Vladimir 22 miles away. As a result, this sleepy hamlet has remained essentially unchanged over the years and is now considered one of the most beautiful spots in all of Russia. Straddling the quietly flowing Kamenka River, Suzdal is everything you envisioned about Russia. The old wooden houses, cathedrals, shops and the kremlin are nestled among gently rolling hills, making it easily walkable for most visitors. The walled kremlin dates back to the 11th century and includes a bell tower and the blue domed Nativity of the Virgin Cathedral. The Savior Monastery of St. Euthymius is located on the river and altogether there are more than 30 cathedrals, churches and monasteries studding the countryside around Suzdal. Be sure to also visit the Trading Arcades in the downtown market square and the Museum of Wooden Architecture and Peasant Life. You’ll have plenty of time to relax and enjoy this bucolic setting before catching the bus back to Vladimir.

The Suzdal Kremlin with the Cathedral of the Nativity

The Suzdal Kremlin with the Cathedral of the Nativity

Suzdal Kremlin

Suzdal Kremlin

Vladimir

          By the time you get back to Vladimir, it will be late afternoon, but after freshening up at the Hotel Vladimir, you’ll still have time for a walking tour of the town. This ancient city is perched high on a bluff overlooking the Oka Valley and the Oka River, a tributary of the Volga River, affording a spectacular view of the surrounding countryside. Most of the important sites in Vladimir are on the same street as the Hotel Vladimir and during a leisurely, slightly uphill walk, you will first come to the Nativity Monastery, then the square shaped Cathedral of St. Demetrius of Salonica, the Assumption Cathedral and finally the Golden Gate. I was fortunate to have an opportunity to attend mass in the resplendent Assumption Cathedral with its gold domes and 15th century frescoes where many of the princes of ancient Russia were crowned. Perhaps one of the most famous sites in Vladimir is the Golden Gate at the end of the boulevard, which is the only remaining part of the original kremlin walls. It was early to bed for me this night, as I had an 8:30 AM train to catch the next morning, which would take me to Nizhny Novgorod, the next stop on the Trans-Siberian Railway.

Assumption Cathedral, Vladimir, Russia

Assumption Cathedral, Vladimir, Russia

Golden Gate, Vladimir, Russia

Golden Gate, Vladimir, Russia

Hotel Vladimir

          The Hotel Vladimir was a great place to stay while visiting Vladimir and Suzdal. It was just a short walk up the hill from the Vladimir Train Station and was located right in the heart of town. I paid about $55 for a nice room with private bath, but breakfast was not included. The front desk staff members were friendly, welcoming and helpful and the entire facility was clean and safe. There were a number of nice shops and restaurants nearby. For all these reasons I can recommend the Hotel Vladimir and consider it a Blue Orb Travel Awesome Accommodation.

Hotel Vladimir in Vladimir, Russia

Hotel Vladimir in Vladimir, Russia

Wooden House, Suzdal, Russia

Wooden House, Suzdal, Russia

Monument Valley, Arizona

Straddling the Arizona-Utah Border

          Monument Valley in northeastern Arizona is another must-do side trip from Sedona, Arizona. One of the most photographed and recognizable landmarks in the United States, Monument Valley has been the setting for countless western movies, beginning in 1939 with John Ford’s Stage Coach, starring John Wayne. To reach Monument Valley, head north from Sedona and get on US 89 at Flagstaff. Then take US 160 heading northeast near Tuba City. Be sure to stop at Bashas’ Supermarket in Tuba City to stock up on snacks and to experience a wonderful encounter with the friendly Native Americans working and shopping there. The 200 mile drive from Sedona to Monument Valley takes a little over three hours going through some interesting territory. We made the round trip comfortably in one day and this works fine for those with limited time. Of course, if time is not an issue, it would be even better to make it an overnight trip. The The View Hotel and Goulding’s Lodge are both popular places to stay at Monument Valley and accommodations are also available at Kayenta, about 20 miles south on US 160.

Monument Valley, Arizona

Monument Valley, Arizona

Monument Valley, Arizona

Monument Valley, Arizona

Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park

          The vast collection of red sandstone buttes in Monument Valley were formed over millions of years by erosion of the Colorado plateau. This stunningly beautiful landscape has been occupied by various Native American groups since the ice age period, somewhere between 12,000 and 6,000 BC. The Anasazi peoples inhabited the area until 1300 when they abruptly disappeared. They were followed by the Navajos, but the exact time they came to the region is unknown. In 1884, President Chester A. Arthur added the region to the Navajo reservation by executive order and it remains part of the Navajo tribal lands to this day. Now known as the Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, this incredible landmark is administered by the Navajo tribe. While professional tours are available, you can take a self-guided tour in your own vehicle for a fee of $20, paid at the entrance near the The View Hotel and Visitor Center.

Scenic Drive on Dirt Road in Monument Valley

Scenic Drive on Dirt Road in Monument Valley

John Ford Point, Monument Valley

John Ford Point, Monument Valley

Goulding’s Lodge and Trading Post

          Just north over the border into Utah you’ll want to visit Goulding’s Lodge and Trading Post. Harry and Leone ‘Mike” Goulding bought 640 acres of land for $320 when it became available after the government swapped the land with the Paiute Indians. Together they established a trading post in 1924 and it was Harry Goulding who introduced producer John Ford to the region in 1938. And the rest, as they say, is history. While the property has changed ownership several times, it is still private land in the midst of an Indian Reservation. You can visit the gift shop and museum, as well as the lodge and restaurant where many Hollywood stars have found accommodations while filming western movies in the valley. Professional tours of Monument Valley are available at Goulding’s and many private tour buses stop there to let their passengers have lunch at the restaurant. Despite the crowds, the restaurant is surprisingly efficient and you should definitely plan to have lunch there as part of your visit. We had a wonderful bowl of beef stew with Navajo Fry Bread that is ‘to die for’! Check out the video below for an easy way to make this delicious Native American staple in your own kitchen.

Goulding's Lodge and Trading Post

Goulding’s Lodge and Trading Post

Navajo Fry Bread and Stew at Goulding's Restaurant

Navajo Fry Bread and Stew at Goulding’s Restaurant

The Monuments

          The seventeen mile drive through Monument Valley begins at the View Hotel. With your $20 entrance fee you will get a map pointing out the most prominent monuments along the scenic loop drive. You will immediately recognize the East and West Mitten Buttes, so named because of their resemblance to hands with separate thumbs reaching for the sky. One of my favorite stops on the route is John Ford Point, also one of the director’s favorite locations. In addition to the spectacular and familiar views from this spot you will find Native Americans selling their crafts at open air tables. Be sure to stop at each of the vendor areas along the route, as you may never find a better opportunity to purchase some of these works of art right from the artists themselves. Since returning from my trip to Monument Valley, it seems that I have been watching Western movies nonstop, looking for the familiar locations I had just visited where so many scenes were filmed. Guess I just can’t get enough of these beautiful red sandstone buttes!

East and West Mitten Buttes, Monument Valley

East and West Mitten Buttes, Monument Valley

Native American Crafts at Monument Valley, Arizona

Native American Crafts at Monument Valley, Arizona

Check Out This Recipe for Navajo Fry Bread

The Grand Canyon

Grand Canyon National Park

          The splendor and enormity of the Grand Canyon is so mind-boggling that it’s no wonder people flock from all over the world to see it. On my recent trip to this World Heritage Site I encountered so many enthralled visitors speaking foreign languages that it almost felt like I was in another country. This one mile deep, eight mile wide canyon was formed over a period of millions of years through erosion carved by the Colorado River which snakes through it for 277 miles. Various Native American cultural groups inhabited the canyon dating back as far as 1200 BC. President Theodore Roosevelt was a frequent visitor to the area and was instrumental in preserving the Grand Canyon, which became a National Park in 1919. If you’re staying in Sedona, the Grand Canyon is just a 117 mile, two hour drive north, making it an easy day trip.

Colorado River on the Grand Canyon Floor?

Can You See the Colorado River on the Canyon Floor?

Spectacular Colors of the Grand Canyon

Spectacular Colors of the Grand Canyon

Historic Sites

          We encountered a bit of a wait at the South Rim entrance to the park, but that’s the price you pay to see one of the world’s most popular destinations. Speaking of the price to pay, don’t forget that seniors (age 62 and older) with a lifetime pass (one time fee of $10) do not have to pay an entrance fee at this or any other national park. There is ample parking within walking distance of the viewing areas and the shuttle buses. Take a gander at some of the vintage trains parked in the nearby depot, part of the Grand Canyon Railway, which has been transporting tourists on the 64 mile trip between Williams, Arizona and the South Rim since 1901. Of course, you’ll be tempted to spend most of your time taking in the spectacular views, but be sure to check out the historic El Tovar Hotel, a former Harvey House Hotel, and the nearby Hopi House, both opened in 1905. The Hopi House is a pueblo style building which houses the largest gift shop in the Grand Canyon and an impressive array of Native American crafts and artwork, arranged in museum fashion. Precariously perched on the rim of the canyon is the Kolb Studio dating back to 1904, which has a great selection of books and a magnificent art gallery, not to mention a wonderful view.

El Tovar Hotel, Grand Canyon

El Tovar Hotel, Grand Canyon

Hopi House, Grand Canyon

Hopi House, Grand Canyon

Spectacular Views from the South Rim

          By now you will have mastered the network of shuttle bus routes that lead to the various lookout points on the South Rim. The views across this expansive chasm are breathtaking and it’s easy to see why it is considered one of the seven natural wonders of the world. Although there are 19 viewing points on the South Rim, Mather Point and Yavapai Point are two of the most popular. If time permits, hike a little bit of the Bright Angel Trail, a somewhat notorious path that leads to the Colorado River on the canyon floor below. The truly adventurous can hike from ‘rim to rim’, but any trek in this wilderness area should only be undertaken after careful planning and preparation. The once nearly extinct California condor was re-introduced to the Grand Canyon in 1996. There are now thought to be around 70 condors in the canyon area and with a little patience and luck you can see them gliding gracefully over the steep cliffs. After a visit to the Grand Canyon it is impossible for even the most seasoned traveler to leave without a sense of awe and a renewed appreciation for nature.

Grand Canyon South Rim Shuttle Bus

Grand Canyon South Rim Shuttle Bus

Bright Angel Trail to the Grand Canyon Floor

Beginning of Bright Angel Trail to the Grand Canyon Floor

Sedona, Arizona

Sedona, Arizona

          After my first visit to Sedona last month, I found myself wondering why I had never been there before. It does take a little doing to get to this off the beaten path destination in the middle of Arizona, but all of your efforts will be rewarded many times over. Whether you make the 12 hour drive from San Francisco or the 7 hour drive from Los Angeles or just fly into Phoenix which is only 118 miles from Sedona, it’s a trip well worth taking. The stunning red rock scenery surrounding this small resort town will blow your mind! After a day of hiking or sightseeing, you can relax and unwind while strolling down the main street lined with boutique and new-age shops, restaurants and art galleries. For a dose of spiritual and physical energy, be sure to pause for a moment in a vortex. Accommodations are plentiful, but reservations are definitely recommended.

Scenery Surrounding Sedona, Arizona

Scenery Surrounding Sedona, Arizona

Nearby Sights

          If you’re arriving by car via Flagstaff, you’ll drive through Oak Creek Canyon, a gorge forged by a river with some breathtaking scenery. You’ll want to stop at Oak Creek Canyon Vista on your way down for a view of what’s ahead. The winding road can be a bit hair-raising at times, but just take it slow and enjoy the ride. You’ll pass by Slide Rock State Park and other campgrounds before arriving in Sedona and if you’re lucky, you’ll get a glimpse of an Elk or two…truly magnificent animals. There are many other points of interest nearby besides the main downtown area. Just outside Sedona is the Catholic Chapel of the Holy Cross, perched on a butte overlooking the valley below…definitely worth a stop! Nearby, you’ll get an up close and personal look at the huge Courthouse Butte, a red monolith so named because it looks so much like a castle. If you’re looking for an easy hike with some beautiful scenery, try the Fay Canyon Trail just out of town. You’d be hard put to find a more pleasant place to pass a couple of hours.

Hiking in Fay Canyon near Sedona, Arizona

Hiking in Fay Canyon near Sedona, Arizona

Shopping

          Sedona and the surrounding area is a shopper’s paradise, especially if you like Native American crafts, jewelry and other Western items. One of my favorite places is Son Silver West located a little south of the main drag. It’s an indoor-outdoor gallery of unique items and you could spend hours looking at everything they have. Their wares run the gamut, from classic artwork to Mexican trinkets. Just north of the main drag, Clear Creek Trading is another large shop loaded with interesting souvenirs, art work and craft projects. If you like Kachina Dolls, check out the Kachina House west of town. This unpretentious building houses an amazing collection of Native American dolls, arranged in museum fashion. It’s operated by a friendly group of knowledgeable ladies who will guide you through the vast array of items. Finally, no visit to Sedona would be complete without numerous stops at the outdoor Native American tables, where friendly vendors sell their own crafts at reasonable prices. For a good sampling of Indian artwork, check out the group of tables located just north of town on Highway 89A and the ones at the Oak Creek Canyon Vista mentioned above. You’ll enjoy visiting with these genuine local Native American artisans keeping their proud culture alive…and you can get all of your Christmas shopping done in one place!

Courthouse Butte from Chapel of the Holy Cross

Courthouse Butte from Chapel of the Holy Cross

Day Trips from Sedona, Arizona

          There are endless attractions near Sedona, Arizona…enough to keep you busy for weeks. There’s the pre-Columbian cliff dwellings at Walnut Canyon National Monument, the Tuzigoot pueblo ruins, the Petrified Forest National Park and the Meteor Crater, to name just a few. With only a week to explore this incredible region, those sights will have to wait until my next visit, as if I needed an excuse to go back! We did get to Jerome, an old mining town perched on a steep hillside overlooking the beautiful Verde Valley. There are lots of shops and restaurants in this easily walkable town thirty miles southwest of Sedona. Between Jerome and Sedona is the town of Cottonwood, located in the Verde River Valley. There are two places you absolutely must see in this quaint little hamlet. First, you have to visit ‘Larry’s Antiques and Things’, featuring two acres of ‘antiques, collectables and treasures’. Then you must go to the Blazin’ M Ranch for their Chuck Wagon Supper and Western Stage Show. This place is bound to please everyone in your group, from kids to seniors. With its old west town attractions and shops, a delicious and plentiful barbeque dinner and an awesome show featuring the Blazin’ M Cowboys you’ll feel like a genuine buckaroo by the time you head home. This was truly one of the highlights of our trip to the Sedona area! Be sure to check out our next articles featuring two more day trips from Sedona…The Grand Canyon and Monument Valley.

Western Show at the Blazin' M Ranch, Cottonwood, Arizona

Western Show at the Blazin’ M Ranch, Cottonwood, Arizona