Category Archives: Destinations

Visiting Chichen Itza: An overview and tips for visiting

After a few minutes in the full sun you can almost feel your skin sizzle, and your hair nearly burns your fingers as you run your hand through it. The area is vast, but the tourists surrounding the guide crowd under the sparse trees, seeking shade from the oppressive heat.

This is what visiting Chichén Itzá feels like in April. In short: it’s ungodly hot.

We saw Chichén Itzá in 2013, when we vacationed in Cancun on the Yucatán peninsula in Mexico. That over was two years ago, but I don’t suppose the area has changed much since then, though some of the excavation work has probably moved forward.

A Bit of History (as always)

“Chi” means “mouth” and “chen” means “well” in Mayan, thus Chichén Itzá means “at the mouth of the well of the Itzá tribe.”

I’m afraid I found conflicting information as to who the Itza were and when they arrived in the region, so I’m not going to say anything about that.

The well mentioned in the name is the nearby cenote, a naturally formed round, deep depression in the ground filled with water, and pretty steep walls. This particular cenote wasn’t actually used for fresh water, however, but rather ceremonial purposes. When the cenote was dredged at the beginning of the 20th century, the archeologists found not only hundreds of objects at the bottom, but also human remains that showed signs of human sacrifice.

Chichén Itzá was a large city, which archaeologists think started gaining importance between 700 to 1,000 A.D.

At the beginning of the 10th century the region saw the arrival of outsiders from the Central Valley, the Toltecs (or people influenced by the Toltecs according to Encyclopaedia Britannica), who made the locals accept their own gods. The main Toltec god was the Feathered Serpent called Quetzalcoatl in Aztec, which was translated to Kukulkan in Mayan.

The most spectacular structures in Chichén Itzá were built during that period – 11th to the 13th century, but the whole area of Chichén Itzá includes both Toltec and earlier, Mayan structures.

panoramic view of the temple of Kukulkan
panoramic view of the temple of Kukulkan

Continue reading Visiting Chichen Itza: An overview and tips for visiting

Quebec City’s Le 760 Honore Mercier Apartment 604: A Review

Hotels or vacation rentals, that is the question, isn’t it? Especially if you travel with a family, and not just by yourself.

We usually opt for vacation rentals – whole houses in rural areas, or apartments in the cities. Sometimes they are fantastic, sometimes not so much. Here’s our review of Le 760 Honoré-Mercier Apartments in Quebec City, Quebec, Canada, where we stayed for four nights last May (2015).

Le 760 Honoré Mercier

The vacation rentals at Le 760 Honoré Mercier are located in a brand new building just a short walk to Old Quebec area, and a block away from Rue Saint-Jean with grocery stores, restaurants, and plenty other stores.

outside Le 760 Honoré Mercier
outside Le 760 Honoré Mercier

You can rent those straight from their website, but we found booking.com offered a better price.

Le 760 Honoré Mercier offers a variety of 1-, 2- and 3-room apartments, and they’re all complete apartments, with a full kitchen, bedroom, and dining- and living-room areas.

There is also a garage underneath the building, and when you check in, in addition to a card key to your apartment, you also get a key to enter the building. Only guests of the building can open the front door, even though there is a registration desk and concierge right at the front entrance.

When we visited Quebec City last May, we booked Le 760 Honoré-Mercier Avenue 604, which is advertised as a two-bedroom apartment for maximum 6 people.

Two bedrooms it does have, but I’m not sure how six people could sleep there comfortably, since the apartment only has two beds, and the sofa in the living room is not a sofa bed.

Luckily, our daughter was just small enough to fit on the sofa bed, but a larger child or a grown up definitely would not like it.

Here’s a brief overview of what you can expect: Continue reading Quebec City’s Le 760 Honore Mercier Apartment 604: A Review

In the Footsteps of Royalty: Schonbrunn Palace in Vienna, Austria

Right past the wide open massive iron gates, the vast courtyard is full of tourists eager to catch a glimpse of imperial splendors of the past.

In the times of Emperor Franz Joseph, who reigned from 1848 till 1916, on Mondays and Thursdays any subject of his empire could supposedly ask for an audience with the monarch in his opulent Walnut Room.

What did it feel like, I wonder, to approach the Schönbrunn Palace, crunching gravel underfoot and petition in hand?

Schönbrunn’s size must have must have impressed even the wealthiest of the emperor’s subjects, not to mention the simple city dwellers, if they were in fact ever allowed to see the Emperor.

The grand entrance to the Schönbrunn Palace up close
The grand entrance to the Schönbrunn Palace up close

Continue reading In the Footsteps of Royalty: Schonbrunn Palace in Vienna, Austria

How I kidnapped my own kids to North Myrtle Beach

For April vacation this year, I needed to find someplace to the south to take the kids. Close enough from New England that it would be a reasonable drive, yet far enough south that we could think about swimming in outdoor pools. It had been a brutal winter!

Eventually I settled on going to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, to the Wyndham Ocean Boulevard.

Unfortunately, Jolanta couldn’t take time off this April, so it was just me and the kids. We packed our stuff in the car and off we went, without telling my wife where we’re going. The first time we called home, she accused me of kidnapping the kids. :)

Continue reading How I kidnapped my own kids to North Myrtle Beach

The Best View in Town: Observatoire de la Capitale in Quebec City

Observatoire de la Capitale – the viewing deck on the 31st floor of the Marie-Guyart Building in Quebec City, Canada – boasts it has “the best view in town” from “221 meters up.”

And they’re absolutely right – the views are spectacular.

The Views

To the east, you can see the beautiful and picturesque Old Quebec and the citadel:

view from the Observatoire de la Capitale toward Old Quebec and the citadel
view from the Observatoire de la Capitale toward Old Quebec and the citadel

Looking a bit to the north, you can get a glimpse of the expanse of St. Lawrence River, the Quebec City port, and the mountain ranges in the distance: Continue reading The Best View in Town: Observatoire de la Capitale in Quebec City

Krakow, Poland Photo Essay

If you’ve never been to Kraków (Cracow), Poland and aren’t sure whether it’s worth visiting, this essay is for you.

What’s is there to see in Kraków, you may ask? Take a look at the photos below, highlighting just a few places you might enjoy seeing in this beautiful city, with history going back into the medieval times.

The Wawel Castle

The Wawel Castle is, of course, a must. Dating back to the tenth century, it was the seat of the kings of Poland for several hundred years, and includes both Gothic and baroque elements.

You need tickets to go inside the castle, but walking around the Wawel Castle hill, and within the courtyard is free of charge.

the Wawel Castle as seen from Starodomska street
the Wawel Castle as seen from Starodomska street

Continue reading Krakow, Poland Photo Essay