UNESCO Natural Site

Giant’s Causeway

Stop #15:

Giants Causeway has over 40,000 basalt columns formed from ancient volcanic activity. Located on the northern coast of Northern Ireland, The causeway is a UNESCO world heritage site since 1986.

By legend, the stones are the remnants of a causeway built by a giant named Finn MacCool to connect giants destroyed the causeway (depending on which version of the story is told), leaving only the remnants of the causeway you see today.

Sinaia, Romania

Stop #19

Wow! Wow! Wow!  This place makes you feel like royalty!  I’ve never been this intimate with such gorgeous woodwork (all walnut, which is by far my favorite), Murano glass, marbles, expensive artwork and tapestries.  If you visit one thing in Transylvania, this is your stop!


  • The beautiful Bucegi Mountains are in the background.
  • Sinaia is full of colored wooden houses that contrast with wgrander 19th century buildings.
  • The town was a summer retreat for Romania’s first king, Carol 1.
  • Pele’s Castle / palace has everything you would expect to see in a palace – hidden passages, fairy tale turets, galleries all over the place, and classical statues. It is by far the best castle I saw in Transylvania.
  • The Grand Reception Halls of the palace borrow from Moorish, Florentine, and French styles.
  • The only grander palaces I’ve seen are now the Hermitage and the Royal Palace in Madrid.

Maramures, Romania

Stop #12

Maramures is the most traditional region of Romania. With many Gothic wooden churches with steeples that rise to the sky, you feel like you stepped back in history as you ride through this region. Carriages pulled by oxen and horses pass by on the other side of the street. Farmers are dressed in clothes full of patterns you might never imagine worn together. People are hanging out by the street sharing the latest news of the village. It was fascinating to me.

It was said that Ceausescu encouraged the people of Maramures to maintain their traditional culture, contrary to the policies in place for the rest of Romania.

As for the story of the unique wooden churches, here is how it goes.  In the 14th century, Orthodox Romanians were forbidden by Hungarian rules from building churches in stone. So the carpenters of the region used wood to express spirituality. The churches have interiors have walls painted in biblical frescoes (which look like folk art quite honestly).  But the churches are quite unique.

Tatra Mountains


Stop #9

The High Tatras are the tallest range in the Carpathian Mountains. The range runs along the border of Poland and Slovakia. I wish I had taken more pictures of the towns that we drove through. Lots of ski resorts and unique looking buildings with high pitched roofs. Very beautiful place.  And one town we drove through was Gronkow in Poland … could that be where Gronkowski’s family is from?

Pinhão, Portugal

Stop #27:

In Pinhão, we stopped at the local train station to take photos of the 25 large azulejo panels depicting scenes from Douro rural life.  While Portugals buildings are often covered in these tiles, the scenes that were included at the train station tell a story about every day live in the Douro Valley, which is full of vineyards growing grapes for port wines.

The wines from the Douro region (Douro River means River of Gold) is transported to Porto for export.  We also spent some time driving through the Douro Valley through the wine quintas (estates) in the valley.  The patterns of grape vines and stepped designs of the hills made for interesting photos of the landscape.

Douro grows several varieties of grapes for wines.  Reds are usually made from a blend of the native grape, Touriga Nacional. Whites are dry, have a pale-yellow color.  Famous wines from Douro include the  “Douro Boys”— Quinta do Vallado, Quinta do Vale Dona Maria, Quinta do Vale Meão, Quinta do Crasto, and Nieport.  To be callsed “Port”, it must be produced in Douro under strict regulations.

Thanks to Fodor’s Travel Guides, Trip Advisor, and Wikipedia for the great lessons that helped me to plan and summarize this trip.

Santiago de Compostela, Spain

Stop #26:

Santiago de Compostela, Spain is the main attraction along the pilgrimage route of the Camino de Santiago, the camino francés, which crosses the Pyrenees from France and heads west across northern Spain.  The city’s Cathedral is very impressive, although it was under construction/renovation when we visited.  Santiago de Compostela has more than 4.5 million visitors per year, and even more during Holy Years.


  • Casco Antiguo is the old section of town with stone-paved narrow streets.  There are many convents and churches.
  • Cathedral. Parts of the Cathedral date to the late 1100s.  An old Romanesque sculpture, the Pórtico de la Gloria is the original entrance with three arches having figures from the Apocalypse, the Last Judgment, and purgatory. Because of the renovations, we didn’t get to see this entrance.  St. James is the figure on the altar, and it is when his birthday falls on a Sunday that there are “Holy Years”.  The crypt under the altar has Saint James’ remains.
  • Hostal dos Reis Católicos (Hostel of the Catholic Monarchs). Next to the Cathedral is the Hostel, which was built in 1499 by Ferdinand and Isabella to house the pilgrims who slept on Santiago’s streets every night. It is the oldest hostel in the world.

Thanks to Fodor’s Travel Guides, Trip Advisor, and Wikipedia for the great lessons that helped me to plan and summarize this trip.

Mont Saint-Michel

Le Mont-Saint-Michel in Normandy is a small island with a population of 44 people! Sitting at the top of the fortifications is a monastery. While we were there on a rainy day, an orchestra was playing in the monestary. Until recently, the island was accessible only during low tide, making it a defensible position – incoming tides stranded or drowned those that didn’t belong there! Because of this natural defense, the Mont was not conquered during the Hundred Years’ War.

Mont Saint-Michel is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Yellowstone NP

The Yellowstone Act of 1872 created the world’s first national park. It withdrew more than 2 million acres from sale, settlement, or occupation to be “dedicated and set apart as a public park or pleasuring-ground for the benefit and enjoyment of the people.” Unlike Yosemite, the bill put Yellowstone under federal control because ceding it to either Montana or Wyoming as newly minted states would have likely prompted a high-noon-style duel. The legislation placed the park under the control of the Secretary of the Interior to “provide for the preservation, from injury or spoliation, of all timber, mineral deposits, natural curiosities, or wonders within said park, and their retention in their natural condition.”
Hansen, Heather (2015-10-20). Prophets and Moguls, Rangers and Rogues, Bison and Bears: 100 Years of the National Park Service (Kindle Locations 389-392). Mountaineers Books. Kindle Edition.

From trapper Daniel Potts’s letters to his brother, the Gazette of the United States & Daily Advertiser (Philadelphia) printed, “The Yellow Stone has a large fresh water lake near its head on the very top of the mountain, which is . . . as clear as crystal. On the south border of this lake is a number of hot and boiling springs. One of our men visited one of these whilst taking his recreation— there at an instant the earth began a tremendous trembling, and he with difficulty made his escape, when an explosion took place resembling that of thunder.”

It didn’t take long for official talk of preserving Yellowstone to echo in the halls of Congress. Senator Samuel Pomeroy, a Republican from Kansas, got the ball rolling on an otherwise ordinary Monday in December 1871 when he addressed his colleagues, saying, “I ask leave to introduce a bill to set apart a certain tract of land lying near the headwaters of the Yellowstone as a public park. It has been ascertained within the last year or two that there are very valuable reservations at the headwaters of the Yellowstone, and it is thought they ought to be set apart for public purposes rather than to have private preemption or homestead claims attached to them.” The big idea was known simply as Senate Bill 392.
–Hansen, Heather (2015-10-20). Prophets and Moguls, Rangers and Rogues, Bison and Bears: 100 Years of the National Park Service (Kindle Locations 377-381). Mountaineers Books. Kindle Edition.


Carlsbad Caverns NP

Carlsbad Caverns National Park is found in the Guadalupe Mountains in southeastern New Mexico.

Carlsbad Caverns includes a large cave chamber, the Big Room, a natural limestone chamber which is almost 4,000 feet long, 625 feet wide, and 350 feet high at the highest point. It is the third largest chamber in North America and the seventh largest in the world.

If you like to see bats, stalactites, stalagmits, and lots of interesting formations, this is the place for you!

Masada, Israel

Link to Wikipedia

Masada is an ancient fortification in the Southern District of Israel situated on top of a mesa. Located on the eastern edge of the Judaean Desert, it overlooks the Dead Sea.  Herod the Great fortified Masada between 37 and 31 BCE. According to Josephus, the siege of Masada by troops of the Roman Empire at the end of the First Jewish–Roman War ended in the mass suicide of 960 people, the Sicarii rebels and their families hiding there.


Yosemite NP

Easily one of the most recognizable National Parks, Yosemite is a peaceful and magical place.  While we were there, snow fell overnight, blanketing the park with a fresh layer of soft powder.  We followed some tracks in the snow to a spot where a coyote was eating his kill, right in front of one of the most impressive waterfalls, Upper and Lower Yosemite Falls!  And impressive Half Dome can be spotted from so many different places…just like Ansel Adams saw when he photographed the park in the late 1920s.

Description Carleton Watkins, Half Dome, Yosemite Valley, California

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Cairns, Australia and the Great Barrier Reef

Randy and I went SCUBA Diving in the Great Barrier Reef.  That was really fun.  It looked like an aquarium with lots of coral, amazing colorful fish, and life like I have never seen before.  This is a must see.

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