Photo Of The Day: Exploring Glacier National Park

It’s almost summer, and you know what that means? Road trip season. Sure, you can take a road trip any time of the year, but there’s something about warm air drafting through the windows as you drive down an unexplored road, twisting and winding towards a new and tempting destination.

JasonBechtel‘s photo, taken on the iconic Going to the Sun Road from the front of a Red Jammer, the buses used at Glacier National Park to cart tourists around, manages to get that same sensation into one single shot. Makes you want to go grab your car and head for the road right now, doesn’t it?

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48 Hours In Lisbon: In Search Of Coffee, Tiles And Sun

All truth be told, Lisbon was never a city I had given any thought to. In fact, I couldn’t even come up with anything linked to it. Give me a list of other European cities and there was at least one or two things that came to mind.

Stockholm: Old Town and the archipelago.

Paris: croissants, the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre.

London: pubs, fish and chips and Big Ben.

Venice: canals, gelato and carnival.

But Lisbon? My inability to come up with anything symbolic of the Portuguese capital was embarrassing.

Come to think of it, it wasn’t just embarrassing; it was a little odd. For centuries, Portugal was a powerhouse, conquering remote parts of the world from Brazil to Timor (even today, seven of Portugal’s former colonies still have Portuguese as their official language), bringing back exotic luxuries that would later become European staples – chocolate and coffee come to mind. And yet here I was unable to come up with a connection to Portugal whatsoever. It was obviously time to improve my cultural understanding.

Enter the 48-hour trip – like a quick dip into the sea, the kind of thing that sort of gets you acquainted, but really just leaves you wanting more.Although it’s the capital of Portugal, it only has around 550,000 habitants. This makes it the kind of city that feels like a city, but still small enough, with plenty of animated neighborhoods, that it’s manageable enough to explore.

Sitting on Portugal’s west coast, Lisbon is Europe’s westernmost capital city, and with the meeting of the Atlantic Ocean and the Tagus River, water is a central part of the city’s history and identity. The smell of saltwater and a cool ocean breeze is never far.

“Ah, the San Francisco of Europe,” said a friend when I told her I was going. She was right, the mix of bridges (one looks almost exactly like the Golden Gate), colorful buildings, streetcars, an artsy vibe and proximity to the ocean makes the two cities feel very similar.


Lisbon has an organic feel. It certainly isn’t rural, but it’s one of those amazing places that manages to seamlessly combine the natural world with the urban one. Maybe it’s the lack of overly tall buildings in the center of town, or the fact that it has a more Mediterranean climate than other cities, but this is a place where there are trees and foliage everywhere. Restaurants have gardens with trees growing in the middle, and if you leave your window open, you’ll be woken up by birds chirping.

We were staying near Bairro Alto, a neighborhood known for its nightlife. Right on the outskirts we were close enough to be within walking distance of the city center, but far enough that it felt like we were living like locals – for 48 hours at least.

That’s the key when traveling: immersing yourself, even for just a hot minute.

That meant ordering a morning cafe and pastel del nata at the corner kiosk in the park one block away, picnicking at the waterfront and not taking the yellow streetcar (although you can be sure I snapped a picture of myself in front of it).

Forget public transportation cards and days inside of museums. With only 48 hours, sunny Lisbon was beckoning me to explore it on foot for as long as my body put up with.

We kicked things off the first evening with the season’s first OutJazz concert – a summer-long series that features outdoor concerts in Lisbon’s public parks and gardens. When you’ve lived in Portland for over five years, you think you know what hipsters look like. But then again, you’ve never hung with the European hipster crowd. Twenty-somethings and 30-somethings scattered all over the park on blankets, drinking wine out of bottles and smoking the obligatory cigarette. The combination of outdoor music, percentage of Ray-Ban wearers and skinny jeans were proof that we were in a city that likes to be hip, and a budget-friendly evening picnic with free bands was a place that we could certainly fit in. It was the beginning of the summer season. There was a noticeable buzz in the air.

That’s what I found in Lisbon: a city that feels very much alive and vibrant. A city that despite its old roots is moving. It’s a hub of Portuguese design. A city that mixes together old and new – classic yet cutting edge all at the same time.

Walking down narrow alleyways, plenty of laundry hanging out to dry in the warm air, it’s hard to not notice the colors that make Lisbon unique. Almost every building, new and old, is covered in bright tiles. The older and non-restored ones are dingier, yet still colorful, the glory of their bygone days showing through. There are so many patterns and colors you can almost believe that you could traverse the city without finding two of the same kind. They are buildings with stories to tell, something I was reminded of while at a flea market in Belem, just outside of Lisbon. There a man sold tiles, chipped and clean ones alike, with a sign atop the table stating, “before you buy a tile, know its history.” Noted.

Beyond exploring the city streets I was on a mission for good coffee. Coming from Paris where the coffee is less than desirable, and the price always way more than any decent human being wants to pay, it doesn’t take much to impress me. Our Airbnb host Joana insisted on us stopping by A Carioca to pick up some infused beans. Open since 1924, you get the feeling that not much has changed since its first days, old French presses and grinders covering the walls, and the smell of coffee so strong that if you’re a coffee addict, you’re in love within one step of entering. We grab a 100-gram of hazelnut coffee for good measure.

The other “must” was a pastel de nata, the typical Portuguese pastry made with custard. “You can get the classic ones in Belem, but I think the place down the street is better,” said Joana as she handed over one of the specialties as a welcome present on our first night. It was still warm from the oven.

She was right. Check out any Lisbon list and it will tell you to stop off at Pasteis de Belem a little further out of town to get the really classic ones, but if you don’t go snag a half dozen of the ones at Nata, right at the edge of Bairro Alto and near the center of town, you’ll be missing out. They’re 1€ a pop, there’s certainly no point in restraining yourself.

We wrapped up the weekend with a trip to Belém – certainly worth a visit given its historical importance. Here is where you’ll find the UNESCO World Heritage site Torre de Belém as well as the Jerónimos Monastery. Go on a Sunday and you’ll score the flea market, full of tourists and locals alike.

When it was time to head back, there was a quick dash to the clean and efficient metro (after coffee at the corner kiosk of course) and soon enough we were on a plane out of Lisbon. That’s how 48-hour trips go after all; they offer mere doses of cities that get you immediately planning your next trip back. As we pulled away from the city I couldn’t help but think about how it’s the places that you don’t know anything about that are often the best to discover.

Here’s to the beauty of the unknown, and always wanting to learn more.

A few budget friendly Lisbon recommendations for when you go:

Terra – In need of vegetarian food? Terra does an incredible vegetarian buffet (they also have a menu of good organic teas and wines) and serves it up in their beautiful garden space behind the restaurant. The lunch menu at 12.50€ is an excellent deal for stocking up midday and eating a lighter meal in the evening.

Lost N – Inspired by India, List In is both a store and a restaurant/bar. Head to the terrace in the early evening for a comfortable spot to grab a drink.

Torre de Belem – at only 5€ to get into the UNESCO World Heritage Site, you get to explore a beautiful monument, and if you make it all the way up to the top, a fantastic view of the city. It’s definitely worth your while.

First Flight: How Travel Helped Me Grow Up

The cold snapped at my calves, which were covered only in panty hose and exposed beneath the hem of my coat. The wind gushed and ushered me into the airport terminal entrance and my parents, who were both damning the weather under their breaths, were right behind me. I had never seen a moving walkway before, but I was about to step onto it. I had never been on a plane before, but I was about to step onto one of those, too. I had received a ride home to Ohio for Christmas with a friend, but the holidays had blurred into the horizon behind me, as they do, and the solo trip back to New York was before me.

My father, who at that point hadn’t been on a flight since his honeymoon, tried to comfort me as I hugged him goodbye.

“Everyone does it. It’s easy. Just read the signs,” he told me.

Flushed over with naivety, my heart was racing. I pursed my lips, stood tall and did as my father had instructed; I read the signs. Although I didn’t have enough money to buy anything in the airport, I had dressed up in an outfit I perceived to be elegant, under the impression that only rich people flew. Once I boarded the plane, I listened attentively to the flight attendant’s emergency instructions, begging my brain to record every single word, just in case. When she was done preparing me for the worst, I flattened my face against the cold windowpane and witnessed the world shrink beneath me for the first time. I imagined what childhood must have been like for my friends who had been flying since they were babies. They knew what French sounded like in elementary school. I envied their world-weary nonchalance as they described the long airport security lines, their disdain for the airplane food and small seats as they shared their summer stories. They were boarding planes by themselves in high school for spring break. I felt poor and inadequate by comparison. I was determined to stay silent beneath my headphones rather than risk admitting to the person beside me that I was on my first flight.

When I arrived at LaGuardia, I stepped outside feeling different somehow. I had quietly moved through a rite of passage. Adulthood wrapped around me like a soft blanket, soothing with the strange comfort of the unfamiliar. That pride vanished on the train ride back to my dorm and in its place moved an unshakeable knowledge of what else I had yet to do. I felt crushed by the weight of my own ignorance. I had never eaten asparagus or cherries that weren’t out of a jar – my list of edible food was laden with high-fructose corn syrup and embarrassingly short. I had never seen the Pacific or the desert, the Redwoods, or any mountains other than the old and low ones I grew up in, the Appalachians. Aside from a short trip to Toronto with choir in high school, I had never left the country. I could not even guess which languages were being spoken around me during my first few months in New York, nor did I know the difference between Islam and Hinduism or Judaism and Buddhism. I recoiled at the thought of myself, doe-eyed and dumb. I felt like a child and I thought like a child, but I promised myself to become as absorbent as a sponge, to seek out that which did not first seek me. I swore to myself that I would, somehow, learn about the world. A decade later, I’m not sure I would recognize that version of myself, but I’d like to think that if I met her, I’d give her a chance to learn from me and I from her. After all, intrigue is not marked by the experiences we are given, but rather by those we pursue.

The five explorers of the future

I’ve spent a lot of time in recent years pondering the future of exploration. As we creep into the 21st century, what exactly is the definition of exploring? New lands have essentially all been discovered, we’re no longer out looking to plant flags on new territory. These days we are spending more time attempting to discover new energy sources over new finds of gold, silver or silk. Ending disease is today a far more prominent search than trying to discover what’s just over the horizon.

Some direction to my big question was provided recently at the headquarters of the National Geographic Society. I had the privilege of sitting in on its annual, two-day Explorer’s Symposium and hearing from some of its newly-appointed class of “Emerging Explorers.” The emphasis among the bulk of the 14 young explorers was definitely science, focused more on agroecologists and molecular biologists than hard-bodied climbers eyeing new peaks simply because they are there.

The program goes back eight years – its first “class” was anointed in 2004 — and focuses on recognizing and supporting “uniquely gifted and inspiring young adventurers, scientists, photographers and storytellers, explorers who are already making a difference early in their careers.” Each gets a stipend of $10,000, an introduction to the extensive depths of the Society’s in-house media connections and access to the more veteran Explorers-in-Residence and Fellows it supports.

Several of the new class are already atop their fields and have gotten some good press. Sasha Kramer’s non-profit SOIL (Sustainable Organic Livelihoods) has been building toilets and trying to transform Haiti’s waste into valuable resources since 2006. Norwegian paleontologist Jorn Hurum has been digging for fossils for several decades and has unearthed the bones of 50-foot long, sea-loving cousins he’s dubbed “Predator X.” Nairobi-based Paula Kahumbu is capitalizing on the Internet to help preserve wildlife in Africa, Asia and South America, as executive director of both WildlifeDirect and the Kenya Land Conservation Trust, which allows interested parties (donors, scientists, the general public) to observe real wildlife problems in real time using blogs, online videos and fundraising tools.

Certainly each of the emerging explorers is already having an impact in their chosen fields, whether as educators or in-the-field scientists. Five to keep your eyes on:
1. Hayat Sindi is introduced as a “Science Entrepreneur.” Her main work focuses on new ways to monitor health in remote and impoverished parts of the world, specifically using low-tech diagnostic tools to test for liver function. Across the developing world, powerful drugs are used to combat HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and hepatitis. Unfortunately the same drugs often cause liver damage. The result is that millions are dying from the very medications meant to save them, because doctors don’t have the ability to monitor long-term health implications. Born in Saudi Arabia, when she moved to London hoping to attend university there, she spoke no English; she learned by watching the BBC and became the first Saudi woman accepted at Cambridge University in the field of biotechnology. She is now a visiting scholar at Harvard, working on her Ph.D., and she and her team have been awarded prizes by both MIT’s $100K Entrepreneurship Competition and the Harvard Enterprise Competition, the first group ever to win both prizes in the same year.

2. Ashley Murray’s modest goal is get the world to rethink how it views waste and wastewater. Given that 2.5 billion people on the planet wake up with no access to basic sanitation, her audience is sizable. Her specific goal is to turn getting rid of or recycling wastewater into for-profit businesses. Currently based in Ghana, she founded a company there called Waste Enterprises, which relies on human waste as its primary product and looks for ways to reuse, recycle and profit from it in order to help provide better sanitation for the poor. The options seem endless: Fertilizer for fish farms, as industrial fuel to help make cement, to replace coal or oil as an energy provider. “The real goal is improving basic sanitation, health, and environmental conditions for some of the world’s poorest populations,” she says. “If I can prove this is a viable business model, I hope copycats spring up everywhere. I want to catalyze the use of our ideas in cities all across Africa.”

3. Kevin Hand is no ordinary rocket scientist. His job at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, under contract to NASA, is to figure out a way to send a probe to explore Europa, Jupiter’s fourth largest moon. Why Europa? Its average temperature is 280 degrees below zero, is devoid of atmosphere and at times is 600 million miles from Earth. But it is believed, below its ice surface, to be home to a 60-mile deep ocean (Earth’s is just seven miles at its deepest), which means it could be home to three times the volume of liquid water as Earth. His is a long-term commitment: The orbiting probe is not expected to be ready until 2020 and will take six years to reach Jupiter, then spend two years touring the planet’s four largest moons before spiraling back to Earth. “By the time we get there,” says Hand, “I’ll be a much older man. This business is not for the faint of heart.” To research the best way to study such a forbidding place, his travels have taken him from the glaciers of Mount Kilimanjaro to the valleys of Antarctica, testing new tools he hopes will one day be strapped to the end of a robotic arm 600 million miles from Earth.

4. Juan Martinez grew up in a tool shed in South Central Los Angeles, far from anything remotely considered wilderness. Ironically, it was failing a high school science test that led to three months of after-school detail tending a garden begun by its Eco Club. A two-week scholarship to Wyoming’s Teton Science School followed. “Ten years later, I still can’t find words to describe the first moment I saw those mountains rising up from the valley,” Martinez recalls. “Watching bison, seeing a sky full of stars, and hiking through that scenery was overwhelming.” Today he is national spokesman for getting youth, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds, into the outdoors. Everyone from the Sierra Club to the White House have recognized his efforts; his Natural Leaders Network of the Children & Nature Network creates links between environmental organizations, corporations, government, education and individuals to reconnect children with nature, with an optimistic spin. “Some kids on my trips have been in foster care their whole lives, feeling very disconnected from other people. Suddenly they’re out in the backcountry relying on each other. Nature can be a real facilitator for skills that are so crucial in life-communicating, working together, and realizing you can do things you never thought you could (like hiking six rough miles in one day). I take kids who have been abused, heavily medicated for behavior problems, violent, distrustful, but after a few days outdoors they’re sharing feelings and fears, laughing, and thinking like a team. You may be able to see the stars through a computer screen or book, but it’s nothing like lying on the grass looking up at the Milky Way.”

5. Cambodian Tuy Sereivathana also grew up in an urban setting, but his introduction to wildlife was thanks to the Khmer Rouge, who chased his family into hiding in a remote part of the Cambodian rain forest. So many people were similarly forced into a rural life they quickly began to impede on those that were there first, particularly elephants. “Overnight a traditional elephant migration route would become a rice farm,” says Tuy. With rain forests shrinking, hungry elephants foraged farmlands, destroying crops. The poor farmers fought back, killing elephants to protect “their” lands. As a result, Cambodia’s elephant population dwindled to fewer than 500. Tuy has made a career of trying to introduce a conservation ethic into the country “People were not well educated about conservation,” he says. “They thought the elephants belonged to my project, so they threw all their anger at me. It was difficult to build trust and convince them to join my efforts. But day-by-day we proved that we were concerned not only with elephants, but also with human beings. His efforts have led to construction of schools and encouraged teachers to make conservation part of their curriculum. Since 2005 not a single wild elephant has been killed in Cambodia due to human conflict.

[Flickr image via Paulo Brandão]

Travel How-to: Road trip through Glacier National Park in the winter

Here at Gadling, we’re big fans of visiting National Parks in the off-season. There are fewer crowds, less headaches and more chances to enjoy the natural aspects that made these magnificent places so spectacular to begin with. The only trouble is the weather. Generally speaking, many of the United States’ National Parks partially shut down when Old Man Winter shows up, driving away a good deal of would-be tourists and also limiting how much of the park you can see. The famed Tioga Pass through Yosemite National Park is drowned in snow from October to April, and the majority of Yellowstone‘s roadways are closed to automobiles during Wyoming’s lengthy winter. And when it comes to one of America’s true gems — Glacier National Park — the star attraction is completely off limits to even 4WD vehicles for three-quarters of the year.

With the Going to the Sun road shut down, is there even a reason to travel to northwest Montana to give this majestic place a look? Without a doubt, yes. It’s true that Glacier, even in her 101st year as a National Park, is most open to exploration in the regrettably short summer season, but there are massive benefits to going in the winter. For one, hardly anyone else is there. You’ll be lucky to see a dozen others exploring the park on a given winter day, giving you ample opportunity to get lost inside this truly gigantic place. But there’s something else that few people consider when pondering a visit to Glacier in the winter: Highway 2. Read on to hear our secrets on making the most of an off-season visit to Montana’s largest National Park.

%Gallery-114793%During the winter months, which usually stretch from October to April depending on snowfall, only ~12.5 miles of the Going to the Sun road is open to motor vehicles. Even those are usually covered with a light layer of snow and ice, so we’d recommend a 4WD vehicle as you head in.

From the West Glacier entrance ($15 vehicle entry fee required), around 11.5 miles are cleared, taking you from the Visitor’s Center to McDonald Lodge. This route tiptoes around the shoreline of Lake McDonald, the Park’s largest lake at ~10 miles long and ~1.5 miles wide. Thus, you’ll find various opportunities to park your vehicle and walk out to the shoreline, with just you, a vast range of mountains and a few lingering clouds to photograph.

If you visit on a particularly hazy day (not tough to find in the winter), you’ll usually see loads of grey in the sky. If the clouds hang right, you’ll have friends believing that your shots across the lake are actually of Iceland or somewhere far more exotic than America’s Treasure State. With the snow covered banks, the setting creates a perfect opportunity to tinker with your metering techniques — snowy landscapes are one of the few places where spot metering is actually preferred, and with no crowds pushing you around, you’ll have plenty of time to adjust your settings to get the perfect vibe and tone from your shots.

About three-quarters of the way to McDonald Lodge, there’s a spectacular view from the lake’s shoreline. It’s roughly halfway between each end of the lake, presenting a golden opportunity to utilize your compact camera’s Panorama mode. Below is a shot that was quickly composed using the inbuilt Panorama mode on Casio’s Exilim EX-H20G. It’s obviously not the high-quality stuff you’d see out of a properly arranged DSLR, but considering that this took about ten seconds to generate, it’s not a bad way to remember just how vast this lake really is. If you’re serious about panoramic shots, we’d recommend bringing along a GigaPan Epic robot, which you can mount your camera on and program to swivel around in a set interval to capture a very high-resolution, high-quality panoramic shot.

Once you circle out and head back out of the same entrance you came in on, the real fun begins. If you continue on Highway 2 East, you’ll be heading towards East Glacier — the other side of the park. What most tourist fail to realize is that this road actually runs through the southern part of the park, and there’s no fee required here. If you pack snowshoes, you’ll have an unlimited amount of options for stopping and exploring the wilderness around you, and it goes without saying that the views of the surrounding mountains are a photographer’s dream. Highway 2 is rarely “clear” in the winter, so we’d recommend a 4WD vehicle and slowed speeds while traveling. It’s a solid 1.5 hour drive from West to East Glacier, but ever inch of it is jaw-dropping.

Think you’ve now seen all there is to see of Glacier National Park in the winter? Not so! Once you reach Browning, MT, you’ll want to head north and turn left onto Starr School Rd. This will divert you over to Highway 89 North towards the Alberta border, giving you an incredible view of Glacier’s towering peaks from a distance. It’s an angle that you simply won’t get while driving through the heart of the park on Highway 2, and the snow covered summits provide even more reason to keep your shutter going. The drive northward to Alberta remains gorgeous, and we’d recommend driving on up if you have your passport handy.

Even the National Park’s website won’t tell you of the surrounding highways to traverse if you’re interested in seeing as much of Glacier National Park in the winter as possible, but now that you’ve got the roads you need to travel, what’s stopping you from renting a 4WD and seeing the other side of this stunning place? Be sure to pack along your camera and brush up on the basics — snowy mountains definitely present unique challenges when shooting, but they also provide the perfect opportunity to finally try out that ‘Manual’ mode you’ve been trying to ignore. And if you’ve got a geotagging dongle or a GPS-enabled compact camera? Make sure to document your trip with locations that correspond to the stops your make along the way!