Photo of the Day (05.24.10)

There’s nothing worse than forgetting where you parked your rental car. Well, perhaps worse is when you forget what kind of rental car you had in the first place. How do you find a car when you don’t even know what car you’re trying to find? I’m pretty sure this guy always remembers where he parked. Security is his big problem. Flickr user u07ch spotted this “motorist” in Belfast keeping an eye on his vehicle because he failed to splurge on a proper alarm system. I guess it beats coming back to your rental car and finding that your GPS has been stolen. Come to think of it, this guy doesn’t even appear to have GPS. How’s he going to find the closest Apple Store?

Have a picture of unusual forms of transportation? Submit your best travel images to Gadling’s Flickr group right now and we might use it for a future Photo of the Day.

Photo of the Day (4.25.2010)

I found myself laughing out loud when I saw Flickr user VickiR1952’s photo on our Gadling Flickr page today. Where do I even start? The amazing beard on the cowboy, the horse’s expression, the pose…it’s all perfect. These two look like they could be long-lost cousins. It’s an image oozing with personality and charm.

Taken any cowboy photos of your own? Why not add them to our Gadling group on Flickr? We might just pick one of yours as our Photo of the Day.

Daily Pampering: Carriage rides in Vienna

Fiacre
When you find yourself in Vienna, surrounded by palatial architecture and the echoes of history’s most brilliant classical musicians at every turn, a kind of nostalgia sets in. This is an excellent time to take a ride in a horse-drawn carriage.

When Cinderella’s fairy godmother came to visit, one of the most important things she did was turn a pumpkin into a horse-drawn carriage. In Vienna, horse-drawn carriages are called “fiacres” (or “fiakers“), named for Saint Fiacre, “patron saint of taxi drivers.” Yes, he’s also the patron saint of gardening, but Hotel de Saint Fiacre in Paris used to rent carriages, and the moniker ostensibly originated there.

The drivers of Vienna fiacres are usually part of family-run companies, so they are competitors and it’s a good idea to tip. You can haggle a price outside St Stephen’s Cathedral for a large or small tour of the city (that terminology will help) for as little as 20 euros. If you’re looking to make a special night fancier, though, opt for an enclosed carriage; the kind with doors and a little more privacy. The prices are usually about the same (unless you’re a professional barterer, in which case … good for you) — just ask your concierge how much it will cost and they can make arrangements for you.

From then on, you may refer to your concierge as “my fairy godmother,” but it may be frowned upon. Check your local hotels to ask if there are fiacre services in your area.

Want more? Get your daily dose of pampering right here.

My visit to Vienna was sponsored by the Vienna Tourist Board, but the opinions expressed in the article are 100% my own.

In the Heart of Central America: Cowboys and coffee in Copan, Honduras

Located in the northwest of Honduras, just a few miles from the Guatemalan border, the area known as Copan has a landscape of lush green rolling hills, coffee plantations and cattle ranches. This is pure cowboy country. In Copan Ruins, horses clip-clop softy over the stone streets and the jangle of spurs can be heard as men in boots, jeans and cowboy hats wander through town. A few miles away, cowboy Carlos Castejon warmly welcomes guests to his family’s coffee, cardamom, and cattle ranch to learn about the farm’s production.

Finca el Cisne has been owned Carlos’ family since 1885. What started as a simple farm growing Arabica coffee, corn, and beans, has grown to encompass 800 hectares (40% of which is primary forest). Visitors to the Finca will drive for nearly twenty minutes from the start of the family’s land to the main house, passing by the dwellings of Carlos’ employees who live on the land. In 2002 Carlos decided to expand the farm’s operations to include agritourism. With a subtle, quick wit, a penchant for teasing his guests (in a good-natured way) while providing an interesting and informative experience, and a clear passion for his home country, Carlos is the perfect host.

While in Honduras, I was able to spend a day at the Finca, which starts with a stop at Carlos’ rustic guesthouse. Equipped with five rooms, running water and electricity, the guesthouse is very basic but inviting. Guests who chose to come just for the day will arrive at 8am and depart at 6pm. With transportation from town the outing costs $64 per person. Once you arrive at the Finca, you’ll get to sample some of Carlos’ coffee and a light breakfast prepared from ingredients grown on the farm, such as mashed banana stuffed with beans and served with cheese, an unusual combination that was actually delicious.

From there Carlos took my group on a tour, stopping to point out the many fruits grown on the property, including passion-fruit, mango, mandarin, avocado, banana, plantain, breadfruit, starfruit, lime and grapefruit. Along the way, he’d reach for a fruit, sliver off a piece with his knife, and pass out samples.

Then we were off to the coffee mill to learn about how coffee is produced from start to finish. First Carlos showed us the fruit, which blooms in stages from January to April and begins ripening in December. When the fruit turns red, it is handpicked and the beans are extracted from the fruit (which is used for compost) by machine. The beans are fermented, washed, and then cycled through a series of troughs that allow the low-quality beans to run off and the higher quality (heavier) beans to remain until they are pushed through.

The beans are then spread on the ground to sun dry (and then often moved to a drum to machine dry) and the finished green beans are extracted from their shells. The majority of the beans will be exported while they are still green and then roasted to the taste of their destination country.

While all of this was fascinating for me (and the smell of the coffee was making me rethink my aversion to caffeine), I was anxious to get to the next part….the horseback riding. So Carlos led us over to a small pasture where several horses were saddled and waiting. As the most experienced in the group, I was given the horse Carlos normally rides, while he rode a younger horse that he was training.

With Carlos and another guide we set out to explore the property. Again Carlos would stop, point out the many fruits and edible flowers growing around us, and offer up tasty samples. We walked and trotted our way along a dirt road and then entered a field where Carlos gave us the go-ahead to pick up a little speed. I leaned forward, gave my horse some free rein, and we were off, galloping through the brush and up a hill. After an exhilarating ride to the top, my horse simply stopped and waited for the rest of the group to catch up.

For another hour we explored the property, taking in the views of the rolling green valley below, passing cows and horses grazing in the fields, and again and again taking off at a breathtaking but controlled gallop through the countryside. I can honestly say it was the single best horseback riding experience I have ever had while traveling. All too soon it was time to head back to the house for lunch.

We wandered around the main house gawking at photos of Carlo’s ancestors with jaguars they shot on the property to keep them from eating the cattle. We sat down to a lunch of traditional Honduran food (the menu for which changes based on seasonal availability). We started with coffee (of course), fresh orange juice, and a bean soup with fresh-made corn tortillas and cheese. Then heaping plates of food were served family-style, including potatoes, watercress salad, braised beef, and more beans, tortillas, and fresh cheese. A sweet plantain in a syrup of cardamom from the farm was served for dessert. To complete the day, and to help soothe any sore muscles from the ride, Carlos takes guests to the local hot springs for a relaxing soak.

There are other coffee tours in Copan, and I had the opportunity to do another one during my time in the region. But this one was the best. The tour was informative and, thanks to Carlos’ humor and passion, very entertaining. Lunch was delicious, the property was beautiful, and I think there is no better way to see this area of cowboys and coffee plantations than on the back of a horse.

This trip was paid for by the Honduras Institute of Tourism, but the views express are entirely my own.

You can read other posts from my series on Honduras here.

Four resources for horse-crazy travelers

I grew up riding horses, and though now that I live in a big city I don’t get to ride as often as I’d like, I still love the feeling of galloping on horseback to the rhythm of hoof beats. I’ve ridding with the gauchos in Argentina, through coffee fields in Honduras, over rolling green hills in Hawaii, and on the five-gaited four-legged teddy bear of an equine that is the Icelandic Horse. If you love horses and are looking to plan an equestrian vacation, here are four resources to get you started.

Equitours, “America’s largest and oldest horseback riding vacation company”, offers packaged tours for avid equestrians. With tours in Africa, Asia, Central and South America, Europe, America, and the South Pacific, they pretty much cover the globe by horseback. The site allows you to search by experience level, location, length of tour, and date. Trips range in cost from $800 to $2900 and include riding, accommodations, meals and transfers, but not flights.

Hidden Trails Equestrian Tours offers packaged vacations, but goes beyond the standard trail rides. In addition to vacation treks, they offer cattle and wild horse drives, riding clinics, covered wagon treks, riding safaris and pack trips in over 40 countries. Specialty trips include ride and cook, ride and fish, woman only, and gaited horse trips. Rates range from $600 to $3000 and include riding, accommodations, meals and transfers, but not flights.Equitrekking works with local riding companies to offer equestrian vacations throughout North and South America and Europe, with few options in South Africa, India and Nepal. In addition to offering links to the individual companies and their tours (which range in price, riding ability required and length) the site also offers advice and information on equestrian travel, travel tips, and clips from episodes of the Equitrekking TV show.

Nancy D. Brown, a travel writer and the lodging editor at Uptake.com, details horseback vacations around the world on her new blog, Writing Horseback. Detailing everything from full-service ranches and resorts to equestrian vacations and companies offering trail rides, her site covers destinations from California and Oregon to Antigua, Norway, and Hawaii. It’s not a fully comprehensive list of everything that’s out there (the site is quite new) but if you are open to suggestions for a destination, want to plan a trip to a resort that caters to riders, and prefer first-hand reviews, this website is a great resource.