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Cabins of the Smoky Mountains

Umrah: A Pilgrimage of Peace

The Kabah, Masjid-al-Haram

Florida to Saudi Arabia. A thirty-hour journey that was, to say the least, exhausting. But as soon as I stepped foot onto the bus that would be transporting our group, a fresh burst of energy and vigor swept over me. We were here, along with millions of other Muslims, to perform Umrah, one of the two pilgrimages that are essentially “pillars” of Islam. It is imperative that Muslims visit the two holy cities, Makkah and Madinah, and perform … [Read more...]


Old cemetery in Prague's Jewish Quarter

Its my junior year of college, and while my peers are headed to party in Amsterdam, or find their soul-mates in some handsome young Italian, I find myself bound for Prague. Curiosity got the best of me, so there I was off to explore in the land of Kafka, Dvorak, and Pilsner beer.   Designed to give students a broad cultural, political and historical view of Czechoslovakia, the gem in this course load would be History: A Personal Perspective. … [Read more...]

The Stranger Side of Travel

California - The Stranger Side of Travel

See dem hills? I live in dem hills… The man pointing at the blue-green hills in question was talking to my mother. He looked like Billy Ray Cyrus -- if Mr. Cyrus had less teeth and a meth-addiction. We were in rural Australia, and this young man with an uncanny resemblance to a junkie version of the popular country singer was doing his best to woo my mother. My teenage sister and I were highly amused.  Over a decade later, we still … [Read more...]

Gruesome Ghoulash: Budapest’s “House of Terror”


John M. Edwards tours the ambivalent history of terror in the Hungarian capital Outside the museum on infamous Andrassy utca stood a young Hungarian law student wearing an anachronistic frockcoat straight out of some 19th-century novel. He said his name was Andros and asked me for a cigarette. He then lit it and smiled pleasantly. “Did you know that there was a persistent rumor during World War II that our ghoulash bowls were full of human … [Read more...]

Gibraltar: the end and the beginning


My original plan for the end of my Encircle Africa expedition was to return to Gibraltar’s southernmost point, Europa Point, where I began. I liked the idea of looking back at Africa with renewed eyes. But all my reserves of energy were spent, and it was consolation enough to know that all that separated me from Africa was nine miles of often still water, after having travelled a distance equivalent to circumnavigating the earth at the … [Read more...]

The Mauritian Chronicles: Paradise Lost and Found

mauritius cross

John M. Edwards grabs his “Beachcombers Card” and does Divali (Festival of Lights) on delicious Mauritius, a paradisiacal Indian Ocean isle--once the roost of extinct dodos, now the boast of professional beachbums--which initially he can’t place on a map! “Incredible!” You are from New York?!” boomed Willy Van Damme, a friendly Belgian restaurateur and former soldier of fortune, in the sleepy resort town of Péreybere. “Very rare! We get almost … [Read more...]

Celebrating the Caribbean Experience in London


Looking for some additional “warmth” through the end of the year in London? Perhaps simply the sound of the word Caribbean will quickly make you start dreaming of the region's warmth - both in weather and hospitality. Or more, start you thinking about white sand beaches, island music, tropical rum and relaxation. If you cannot physically get to the Caribbean this year and you are in London, the Holiday Inn Kensington Forum hotel (located in … [Read more...]

Into Africa: Can BushCats Save the Beasts?


“There is an elephant holocaust going on in Africa today,” says Paul Maritz, the last gentleman adventurer. “Up to this point elephant counts have been done by error-prone Mark 1 Eyeballs, and nobody believes the numbers. You really can’t motivate people to take needed drastic actions unless they are convinced you have the facts. And so we need to get the facts.” Rhodesia born Paul and his brother David have created a flying machine they … [Read more...]

The Dry Tortugas Are Far Out, All Right—in So Many Ways

Briana cannon

A conch, a parrot and a rooster walk into a bar. You don’t need a map to follow that joke: you know you’re in the Florida Keys. The Keys are one of the few places in the US where you might think, “What country am I in?” But wherever you are in the Keys, it’s all good—I’ve never been in an area that has more of a smiling “what the hell, why not?” attitude. It’s on a place’s edges where you see the more unusual sights, and for the southern … [Read more...]

Wonders of Nature in France

Divonne-les Bains

Have you watched Mary Poppins? As a child, during the holidays, I would watch this movie numerous times until the video tape broke. The best part of the musical was when the birds sang when one perched on Mary’s finger. I thought that was amazing and hoped that one day, I too would sing with a bird, or at least get a bird to come close to me enough to perch on my hand. Travelling is always a joy and full of unexpected surprises.  On a sunny … [Read more...]