NearandFarAZ

Driving into our hotel parking lot in downtown Moab in the late afternoon, I immediately noticed a peculiar detail.

Not only were there hordes of people in dusty hiking boots, carrying daypacks, but there were mountain bikers wheeling their bikes away, SUVs straddled with kayaks and canoes, and climbers stowing away their gear.

It was obvious: Moab, a small eastern-Utah community, is not a one-sport town. Its fortuitous location within easy reach of two national parks, a state park, AND the Colorado River gives Moab the type of outdoor-recreation depth that many far-larger communities can only dream of.photo 3-1

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Whew, with a long flight, the airport express, and bus ride behind me, I had made it to my hotel Hong Kong, and I was ready to hit the ground running.

After checking into my hotel in Causeway Bay, I decided to take a quick trip to the rooftop deck to get my bearings. From the vantage point of 33 floors, I had a great view of the city and the bay.

But what immediately caught my attention was the cluster of activity just across the street in Victoria Park. Thousands of people, it seemed, were gathered in the small wooded area. When I asked the pool attendant what was going on, he responded (I thought), “Farmers’ market.”IMG_1159

Well, I hadn’t come all the way to Hong Kong for a farmers’ market! But it was so nearby, I thought I had to see what all the excitement was about. As I approached, I realized that it wasn’t a farmers’ market at all, but what the attendant had termed a “flower market.” And that turned out to be the world-class Hong Kong Flower Show – truly an extravaganza of flowers, with intricately arranged flowers depicting everything from underwater scenes to African safaris.

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It’s true – you really can get just about anything you need on the streets of Taipei.

I’m not talking only noodles and dumplings, either (although they’re both plentiful). I’m talking about shoes, purses, electronics, cameras, jewelry, and just about any type of food imaginable.

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Of course I had heard about the night markets of Taipei, and they ARE everything you would expect – non-stop activity, music, and food.

What I didn’t expect, though, are the morning markets, the fish markets, and flower markets.

Even in March, when the weather was a little chilly and misty, the streets were packed every day with people cooking, eating, and shopping.

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I have a confession: I love dead trees. Please don’t hate me!

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Before you rush to judgment, let me explain. Of course I would prefer a living tree. After all, there are few things lovelier than a leafy green tree against a clear blue sky.

But let’s be real – it’s nature, and trees die. And I, for one, appreciate all of the bark-less trunks and finger-like branches out there.

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If you live in Arizona and you like to hike, there is one accomplishment that stands out. Rim to rim in the Grand Canyon – for many hikers, it’s the big one, the bucket-list trip.

The rim-to-rim is definitely not to be taken lightly, and I have seen numerous people – some young and seemingly fit – struggle with the demanding hike. It takes preparation, and it takes knowledge of the terrain and climate.

There are various takes on this momentous hike. But for me, “rim to rim” means hiking from the Grand Canyon’s South Rim near Tusayan, Arizona, to the North Rim south of Jacob Lake, Arizona, in one day. Depending on the route you take, that consists of either 21 miles or 24 miles, plus nearly a mile drop in elevation, and more than a mile elevation gain.

The day will be grueling, but anyone who has done it can attest to the fact: You will never see the Grand Canyon in quite the same way again.

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If we hadn’t been looking for it, we never would have known it was there: The little Triori bed and breakfast was an unassuming presence on a block of tidy homes. Overlooking a rice field, the row house was marked only with a small sign peeking out from behind a twisted bonsai tree.

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After several action-packed days in Taipei, we had taken the short train trip to Yilan County along the northwest coast to experience Taiwan’s hot springs culture. Instructions were brief – get off the train at the Jiaoxi Station, and take a 15-minute walk to Qilidan Road, Lane 195.

We weren’t too worried. The town was small, and the walk was pleasant. Passing by the signs for dozens of commercial hot-springs resorts, we kept walking and soon came upon Triori.

From the start, it was obvious that the proprietors aimed to make our stay exceptional. Although we were a little early for check-in, they suggested that we explore the town on the bikes they provide to guests. We immediately set off on a quest for Yilan’s famed scallion pancakes. (You have to love a town known for its scallions!).

The little pancake booth located off the main drag was doing brisk business – frying up the crispy/doughy discs in huge vats of oil. A long line of customers stretched out to the street.IMG_1102

Parking our bikes, we joined the line and were soon seated at one of the nearby picnic tables, washing the savory pancakes down with milk tea. Satisfied, we headed back to Triori to check out the promised in-room hot spring. And wow! Our beautifully and minimally designed room included two levels – one with two sleeping areas and an outside patio overlooking the rice field, and another with a hot tub fed by naturally hot spring water.

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Panama was a bit of a fluke for me. Although never really on my list of must-see spots in the world, the Central American nation simply bowled me over when I got a chance to go.

It was a fluke, in part, because the main reason I visited was to join a friend on a trip to visit her daughter, who was living in Panama as a Peace Corps volunteer. That detail contributed considerably to the fun; there’s no substitute for an insider’s view. Regardless of how I got there the first time, Panama is now high on the list of places I’d like to return to, and here’s why:

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I always knew there was more to Chinese cooking than a wok and some peanut oil. But a 1,000-year old egg? I wouldn’t have guessed that ingredient in a million years!

Trust me – I’ve tried many times to duplicate the spicy/salty/sweet Asian flavors and the quick-cooking techniques. The results have been spotty at best.

So, as I was planning my recent trip to Hong Kong, I decided I would go straight to the source – a home cook. Actually, a cooking class seemed a good way to achieve several of my travel goals – learning the culture, interacting with new people, and sampling authentic flavors.

A quick online search turned up Home’s Cooking – a class that had excellent onlin reviews. I liked it because it offered half-day classes at reasonable prices, and it promised to take the participants into a relatively off-the-beaten-track neighborhood.

It turned out to be one of the high points of my Hong Kong visit. Not only did Joyce, the owner and cooking instructor, take us shopping at an authentic wet market on the streets of Hong Kong, but she then led us back to the high-rise apartment she shares with her husband and daughter.

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When I walk along the Peavine Trail in Prescott, Arizona, I can’t help but think about the train passengers of long ago, who must have been agog at the scenery that flashed by.
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The massive granite formations that make up the area’s Granite Dells surely seemed close enough to touch as the old Santa Fe Railroad passed by the iconic Point of Rocks and the many other massive granite formations lining the route.

The Peavine – so named because its route reportedly was as twisty as the vine of a pea plant – once carried passengers and freight between Ash Fork, Arizona to the north, and Phoenix to the south.

Abandoned as a train route decades ago, the railroad bed now serves as a recreational trail, and regularly carries hundreds of walkers, cyclists, runners, and equestrians.

Stick to the main route, and you will get none of the twists and turns of the old Peavine. The six miles that are part of Prescott’s trail system largely skirt the tortuous grades and turns, and instead offer a wide, flat trail with a gradual rise.

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