Sunday, August 27, 2017

Travel in the Worlds Safest Countries

Spoiler Alert: The US is Not One of Them

Travel touches and instructs us in very profound ways.

At times it brings us to tears.

Nothing in my travels has touched me more deeply than Berlin's Solpersteine's or "stumble stones".

The 10 cm X 10 cm "stones" are actually concrete or brass ingots permanently embedded in sidewalks at the front doors of buildings throughout Berlin. The program has grown with stones actually now found in many cities.

The locations are frequently located at the front doors of the building (or where a building used to be).

Each stone lists the name(s), birth date(s), abduction date and (if known) the location and date of their murder by the Nazi's

These stones represent the souls of Jews, Sinti / Romani (gypsies), Jehovah's Witnesses, gays, African's, the developmentally or physically disabled, Freemasons, Communists, and the many Protestant / Catholic humanitarians who died in attempts to save others.

So as America reels from moral revulsion in the realization that there are those who freely claim racial superiority, embrace Nazi symbolism and now feel emboldened to openly march in our cities, all I could think of were those stones.

You see, I believe anyone with any human dignity at all visiting Berlin will come away unable to rationalize the moral obscenity of the Hitler / Nazi regime.

Yet, our daily newspapers underscore how our nation is (as one of my more astute friends noted recently) "tribalizing" under the influence of tell-me-only-what-I-want-to-hear media. Shouting and violence is replacing civil discourse as America convulses in a national nervous breakdown.

So what does this all have to do with travel?

Well, over the past couple of years many friends have told me they are limiting vacation options to the US citing the horrific attacks in Paris, Brussels, Istanbul, Nice, Manchester and now Barcelona.

And, while I completely understand their fear, I question the basic assumption that we are safer limiting travel to the US.

So I researched how countries stack up when independently evaluated for safety and peacefulness. And, in doing so, I assumed (hoped) the US would rank somewhere toward the top of the list.

The most comprehensive evaluation I found was research conducted annually by international / independent think tanks that collectively issue a report entitled the Global Peace Index (GPI).

The GPI assesses crime rates, terrorist acts, violent demonstrations, relationships with neighboring countries, rates of militarization and overall political stability / effectiveness in 167 countries.

So in 2017 if you want to travel to the 25 safest and most peaceful nations in the world (according to the  GPI) you should consider visiting:

1. Iceland  
2. New Zealand
3. Portugal
4. Austria
5. Denmark
6. The Czech Republic
7. Slovenia
8. Canada
9. Switzerland 
10/11. Ireland and Japan (a tie)
12. Australia
13. Bhutan
14. Norway
15. Hungary
16. Germany
17. Finland
18. Sweden
19/20. Belgium and Netherlands (another tie)
21. Singapore
22. Mauritius
23. Spain 
24. Chile
25. Romania

Most of the rankings did not really surprise me.

Then, I looked down the list for other favorite destinations: Italy ranked 38, the UK 41 and France 51.

The US didn't make the top 25, 50, or even the top 100. It ranks 114 (out of 167).

So while there are awesome and amazing destinations to visit and cherish in the United States, there are safer and more peaceful places to visit.

So resist the temptation to dig a hole and climb in; go explore.

Be "of" the entire world. Be touched. Think on your own.

Roadboy's Travels © 2017

Sunday, August 13, 2017


Perfect Timing

When cycling in Spain last year, I noticed some cyclists from Germany riding a couple of amazingly sleek carbon fiber bikes. Despite panniers etc. their bikes looked like they were right out of Tron. Then, in chatting with them, I came to realize they were actually electric assist (or "E") bikes.
Although the riders were younger than me (and clearly fitter than me) they said they loved their E bikes. Although they could use them in full electric mode (which they said they never really did), they found them to be great "helping" on long hills.
Well this came on a day when I was really huffing up the hills and was starting to wonder if my cycle touring days were coming to a close. So, the prospect of riding a bike that could help level out a hill sounded pretty darned good! 

When I returned to Phoenix I began looking at electric bikes. I also had serious chats with my local bike shops. They all said E bikes have become a major part of their inventories. But they also said the technology was changing fast and they felt prices would likely start to come down.

So although I've decided I will buy one, I am going to wait a year. 

And, in the meantime, my favorite bicycle touring company VBT is now offering "E" bikes on its more challenging routes at no extra charge. So I've signed up for one on my 2018 trip to Croatia!

Some things in life just get better!

Roadboy's Travels © 2017

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Roadboy Bikes Acadia - Days 5-6

Day 5 - Exploring Rockefeller's Carriage Trails

On Day 5 we left the busy park roads to pedal from Bar Harbor to Northeast Harbor (and our new hotel the Asticou Inn) using Acadia's famous 45 mile network of "carriage" trails.

John D. Rockefeller Jr. began building the carriage trails in 1913 with construction continuing for almost three decades. At is peak there were 300 skilled workman employed building the trails. 

The trails afford close up views of the park's lakes and ponds and climb to some of the highest points on Mount Desert Island. The trails safely cross over the park's busy auto roads that encircle the park giving hikers, equestrians and bicycle riders a safer and more spectacular way to experience the park.

A Quiet Pond Along Eagle Lake

 The View From Trail 36 
(After a Climb to 1191 Feet)

As an architect I appreciate how the design of the trails carefully align with the natural contours of the hills while offering gentle slopes to enable their use by horse drawn carriages. The engineering of the trails delivered trails that are able to survive harsh Maine winters through the use of multiple layers of crushed granite supported by a nearly invisible series of stone culverts and drains. The trails are lined with guardrails of irregularly spaced giant granite boulders and include a series of elegant stone bridges (that are actually reinforced concrete bridges clad structures clad in stone). Each bridge is different and many are built with gentle curves where trials meet streams and ravines.
 One of the Stone Bridges

A Scupper Drain Detail

Along the way we had snack stops where our hosts tempted us with a variety of fresh fruits, energy bars and chocolate. The route was perfectly timed for us to arrive at noon at the Jordan Pond House where we could enjoy a wonderful lunch at waters edge (complete with a chance to sample the local "popovers").

Our Host Tracey at a Snack Stop on the Way to Jordan Pond
From here we could choose a relatively flat 3 mile hike to the Asticou Inn or embark on a more challenging ride to the hotel involving a climb of 1191 feet. I opted for the longer bike ride. It rewarded me with sore legs and seemingly endless views along with lots and lots of wild blueberries. While a challenge, the ridgetop trail was clearly one of the highlights of my trip.

Of course the long ride up the mountain meant we had miles of wonderful downhill trial that eventually resulted in our arrival at the Asticou Inn.

The Asticou Inn at Northeast Harbor

Flowers at the Inn

The Asticou Inn built in 1883 is operated seasonally and survived the great fire of 1947. It offers 31 rooms in the main lodge (no two the same) as well and clay tennis courts a large heated swimming pool. If you are lucky enough to get a room facing the harbor (I was) the view is amazing. Happily, the rooms lack TV's or air conditioning (but lovely cool evening air is afforded just by opening the windows).  

 Room 134

    The View of Northeast Harbor From My Balcony

Day 6 - A Visit Little Cranberry Island

Day 6 was our only non-biking day. The weather forecast was for grey skies with a little rain.  We met at the dock at northeast harbor and boarded the Elizabeth T for Little Cranberry Island. Along the way we passed the lighthouse at Bear Island before arriving at Islesford dock to clib aboard a lobster boat and chat with a veteran lobsterwoman and her crew. 

Northeast Harbor
(The Asticou Inn is the grey building off in the distance)

 Lobstering 101 From Stephanie The Lobster Woman and Her Crew
 (Note the old style wooden lobster trap)

Measuring The Catch
(Too small they go back, too big they go back)

We then walked to a gravel beach for a picnic lunch followed by time to visit island artisans. The highlight was Storyteller Pavilion built to showcase the work of island artist Ashley Bryan whose work includes art glass panels using colorful sea glass and marionettes made from driftwood and found objects.

Ashley Bryan's Lyrical Puppets

The walk across the island included a trip to the National Park Service Museum on the island and the time to swat losquitos and admire the many flowers blooming Isleford. 

The Bees and Blooms

Kids, Mosquitos and Kids and Mosquitos

 Isleford's Wharf Displaying the Effects of the Time and Sea

After a full day we boarded our boat back to Northeast with a short stop to retrieve a Lobster Trap to see how they work.  The 3 section trap had 4 residents in its Kitchen, Pantry and Living Room.  All were too small to keep and went back into the water.

The evening concluded with a farewell dinner and a private and performance by remarkable fiddler Gus La Casse and guitarist Peter Lindquist. The pair performed regional music and original compositions. What was a bit amazing to me was that Gus is just 16 years old.

Peter Lindquist and Gus La Casse

Tomorrow we pack up our belongings and take a final ride along the Carriage trails back to Bar Harbor where we meet the shuttle back to Bangor to begin the journey home.

Once again I offer my praise Vermont Bicycle and Walking Tours (VBT) for the creation of this incredible experience. Everything was paced perfectly and designed to provide and immersive look into the people and culture of Maine and scenery of Acadia.

This was my third trip with VBT and the first in the US. It was also my first VBT trip utilizing their new GPS based turn-by-turn mapping. 

According to my GPS I rode about 100 miles and climbed 6,522 feet at an average speed of 8.5 miles per hour.  Despite that, with all the blueberry pie and lobster I consumed, I'm pretty confident I didn't drop any weight.

Roadboy's Travels © 2017