Arctic Daydreams to Whitehorse Alaska and Skagway

I went to Alaska in 2006 and liked it so much that I swore I’d go back, so in 2011 I went to Whitehorse, across the border in Canada’s Yukon Territory. From there I figured to go up to Dawson City, only a couple degrees south of the Arctic Circle. And Whitehorse seems nice, too, at first glance, but nothing spectacular, so I decide to press on to Dawson City the next day, leaving any intimate encounter with Whitehorse for the back end, since I’d already rented the car, and felt somewhat pressed to justify the expense.

Downtown Hotel in Dawson City

Downtown Hotel in Dawson City. Photo Hardie Karges

Dawson City is a bit of a disappointment, actually, though the drive up is very nice. Dawson City’s selling point is authenticity (dirt roads, plank sidewalks), and that’s a tough thing to sell. The minute you advertise it, it ain’t so authentic any more. What makes Dawson genuine, though, is the fact that what made it famous is still there, gold, and people still pan for it. It’s a bit pricey, though, in summer.

Sign posts

Sign posts. Photo Hardie Karges

So I get the big idea to go to Skagway, Alaska, in the opposite direction from Whitehorse, though not so far. The little towns unfold in reverse order from the way up, a little cluster of people wherever a river crosses or a road divides, anywhere a need might arise—Stewart’s Crossing, Pelly’s Crossing, Carmacks and Moose Creek, roads going places where until 1955 only a stern-wheeler could go. That’s 1955, mind you, NOT 1855.

Street view

Street view. Photo Hardie Karges

But I learned before in Alaska that the northern reaches were less spectacular than the southern coast, and the same holds true here. The drive from Whitehorse to Skagway starts off splendid and becomes spectacular approaching the US-Canadian border. The lakes here are a color that I’ve only seen previously in the Caribbean, due to the reflective shallow bottom, no doubt. And the border crossing itself is about as exotic as anything I’ve seen this side of Kosovo, too. I’m sure that in the wintertime it’d only be more so.

Skagway is nice, but more of a typical tourist trap, if that’s where the line of authenticity gets drawn. Ferries and cruise ships disgorge passengers here daily, leaving dollars in coffers and lives enriched along this little strip of America connected to itself only by water. This was one of THE prime places to be in the world not much more than a hundred years ago, as gold was discovered up around Dawson City and this was on the route there. So I find a nice hostel in Skagway—everything but the WiFi—and spend the night. Again, one day is about enough, especially since the meter’s ticking on the car.

Alaska views

Alaska views. Photo Hardie Karges

I get up early the next day hoping to find a bear up and at ‘em looking for breakfast, and sure enough, I find one, walking down the country highway as if it’s his own. The border’s no hassle on the return, either, out here in the long lost lonesome, one of the world’s most beautiful border crossings, no doubt. But it feels good to be back in Whitehorse, almost like home by now. I even keep the car, to explore the immediate environs, splayed out for miles in every direction. You can have the tourist traps. Whitehorse has few tourists, but many subtle pleasures. It even has Indian pawn. That’s authentic. I’m a lousy tourist, but a better traveler.

MCG Uplift Foundation Raises Funds for Local Causes

The MCG Uplift Foundation began as Eric Schroeder’s dream. Eric is a young guy who opened Mortgage Capital Group five years ago. As part of his business policy, Eric is committed to giving back to the community. Eric started the non for profit MCG Uplift Foundation to achieve this goal. Click on the image below to see a short 3 minute video where Eric explains in his own words why he started the MCG Uplift Foundation.
Once a quarter, through the MCG Uplift Foundation, Eric allocates funds for causes his employees have choosen.  This summer Eric rented a hot air balloon complete with a pilot. Together, they are working with the chosen causes to use the balloon to raise money for each of the selected organizations. Many of the causes are small and local like the Algonquin Red Dress Run, Animal House Shelter in Huntley, Crystal Lake South Gators Baseball, It’s All About Kids, Home of the Sparrow, A Friend in Deed and more.
MCG Uplift Foundation ballon

Watch for the MCG Uplift Foundation ballon sailing over the Crystal Lake area

This summer, watch for the MCG Uplift Foundation balloon as they sail over the Crystal Lake, Algonquin, Lake in the Hills, Elgin and Richmond areas. The balloon is schedule to fly sunset cruises on these dates, weather permitting.

Tuesday July 2 evening            Crystal Lake, Algonquin, Lake in the Hills
Friday, July 5 evening              Crystal Lake, Algonquin, Lake in the Hills
Saturday, July 6 evening         Crystal Lake, Algonquin, Lake in the Hills
Sunday, July 7 evening            Crystal Lake, Algonquin, Lake in the Hills
Friday, July 12 evening           Lake in the Hills
Saturday, July 13 evening       McHenry
Friday, July 26 evening           Algonquin
Sunday, Sept. 1 evening           Lake in the Hills
The balloon will sail additional dates. Keep watch as they fly over the area a wave hello when you see them. On some of these rides, the balloon will land and lucky spectators will get a chance to go up in a tethered ride in the MCG Uplift Foundation balloon.

Red Run Raises Combats Child Sex Slavery and Exploitation

Runners and walkers in The Red Run Algonquin, Illinois are taking a stand against child slavery and exploitation. I am participating in the The Red Run on August 10, 2013 in support of the Red Dress Foundation, which provides a wonderful service to those in need. The Red Dress Foundation supports the following organizations at the front lines in the fight against human trafficking.

These organizations provide prevention, outreach and after care for those who are victims of sex trafficking and exploitation.

  • The Salvation Army PROMISE (Partnership to Rescue our Minors from Sexual Exploitation.)
  • Love146 a U.S. 501 non-profit international human rights organization that works to abolish child sex trafficking and exploitation through advocacy, prevention, and after care.
  • The Dreamcatcher Foundation an organization fighting to end human trafficking in Chicago.
The Red Run Algonquin

The Red Run Algonquin

The Red Dress Foundation, founded by Cortina Nystad, left, and Kristen Guerrieri, is 501(c)3 non profit organization taking a stand against child sex trafficking. This Daily Herald article tells The Red Run story.

I challenged myself to raise $1000 in much-needed funds to support this worthy cause, and with your help, we can both make a difference! Will you sponsor me by making a tax-deductible donation today? You can give online quickly and easily here:

Sponsor April in The Red Run.

Your gift will make a big difference for those who depend on the support of The Red Dress Foundation. Any amount, large or small, is greatly appreciated. If you would like to walk with me, sign up at The Red Run.

Participants are encouraged to run or walk in a red dress (or anything red) and take a stand against child slavery & exploitation!

The race will be held Saturday August 10th, 2013 in Presidential Park located at 700 Highland Avenue Algonquin, Illinois 60102.

Click to download the Red Run flyers:

Red Run 2013 Flyer BACK

Red Run 2013 flyer FRONT

Roger Adler Musician in The Groundhog Day Movie

Touring musician Roger Adler‘s music studio was not in my plans when I walked into the Lakeside Legacy Arts Park in Crystal Lake. Fortunately for me, that’s how the night went. Roger was the first tenant when he opened his studio at the Lakeside Legacy Center.

Roger Adler is a four-time Emmy nominated composer, producer and performer who makes his home in Woodstock, Illinois. I became aware of Roger and his work when he was Music Director for WTTW’s Wild Chicago television program which aired from 1989 to 2003. Show host Ben Hollis visited off the beaten path places and interviewed quirky folks from the Chicago metro area. Roger wrote the shows catchy Wild Chicago theme song and all music segments during the shows 16 years on the air.

Roger had a part in The Groundhog Day movie and plays guitar on the soundtrack. The movie was filmed in Woodstock, Illinois and Roger is a regular at the annual Woodstock Groundhog Days festivities.

April M. Williams and Roger Adler in his Lakeside Legacy Arts Park studio

April M. Williams and Roger Adler in his Lakeside Legacy Arts Park studio

During studio recording sessions for The Groundhog Day movie, Roger and Harold Ramus got to know each other. Roger gave Harold a few impromptu guitar lessons in between takes. In the movie, Roger plays the band director and guitar player. According to Roger, “During the filming of the Groundhog dinner dance scene Harold asked if me if I could put in a guitar solo there. I said sure! Harold then asked if I wanted to be part of the band playing in the movie. Of course I said yes again.” Bill Murray learned to play piano for the movie’s sub plot. Roger had fun getting to know Bill Murray, Chris Elliot and Harold Ramis.

Harold Ramis was the presenter one of the times Roger was nominated for an Emmy award . They worked together again when Harold was a guest on a Wild Chicago segment remembering his days at Second City.

During Roger’s career he has been a freelance composer for documentaries like Nova and Golden Apple Awards for teachers. In addition to playing in bands, Roger writes music for corporations, hosts Apple store presentations on music technology, pens articles for magazines like Premier Guitar and more.

Roger teaches Pro Tools classes at Electric Clown in Chicago. When he was 18 he taught classes in a Mount Prospect music store. For 17 years he gave private lessons for 70 students. That’s over 60 thousand lessons! He currently has a couple of students.

Roger performs with the Ken Arlin Orchestra including gigs at The Bellagio and President Obama’s first inauguration. Roger was the first person to create an album with Garage Band software. He titled his work “The Garage Album” by Roger Adler.

Roger Adler's guitar collection in his Lakeside Legacy Arts Park studio

Roger Adler’s guitar collection in his Lakeside Legacy Arts Park studio

Roger showed me the Gibson Les Paul Custom that he played in the movie Groundhog Day which shows some wear. “I respect guitars” he said. “As you can see this one shows some wear. Roadies have put guitars in stands crooked and it’s fallen flat on its face a few times. So now I have this attitude about guitars that they are more like a saw in a toolbox. Like a carpenter, I reach in for the right tool. Different guitars sound all different ways.” Roger often picks up his daughters pink paisley Telecaster because of the distinct sound. Roger also plays banjo and dobro guitar.

Roger enjoys playing a broad rage of music. His influences include the Allman Brothers, Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin, Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton and stays up to date with current music. His wife Jane “keep him interested in new artists.” Roger wrote music, lyrics and plays most of the instruments for Nick Lynch‘s new album.

To learn more about Roger Adler, including the latest music, albums, songs, music videos and more updates visit his MySpace page.

Tony Blair Keynote Speaker at Judson University 2013 World Leaders Forum

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair was the keynote speaker at the Judson University 2013 World Leaders Forum. During the program, Mr. Blair answered questions submitted by audience members and shared personal recollections from his long career. He talked passionately about religious freedom, tolerance and embracing diversity as a way of uniting people. Judson University trustee and alum Dr. Nate Adams opened the session with levity mentioning the great lengths the university had taken to plan the wet, cold, damp weather to ensure Mr. Blair felt right at home. Tony Blair lead the British Socialist Labour Party from 1994 – 2007. In 1997, at the age of 42, he was elected Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and served three consecutive terms in this role until 2007.

Judson Theology Professor Dr. Darrell Cosden shared stories of the challenges and rewards his family experienced on extended missionary trips to both Scotland and Russia. Cosden first became aware of Mr. Blair when Cosden arrived in Scotland with his wife and one year old son. He earned his Doctorate at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. He said, “We shape the community and they shape us. Communities have roles to fill. Society exists for the sake of those in it.” Newly elected Judson University President Dr. Gene C. Crume joked that introducing Mr. Blair was quite a cap to his first week in office.

Mr. Blair took the stage with a few introductory remarks on the differences between US and British elections. He noted the British campaign season lasts just four weeks. Voting occurs on Thursday and the next day the winner steps into their new role. It is traditional for staff members to line the hallways and shake hands with the outgoing Prime Minister as they exit the building. It is not unusual to see tears flowing during this emotional moment. The newly elected Prime Minister then walks in the front door, again shaking hands with the staff. Mr Blair admitted this was a stressful situation.

Tony Blair takes the stage at Judson University World Leaders Forum

Tony Blair takes the stage at Judson University World Leaders Forum

Mr. Blair and Dr. Adams relaxed on chairs placed center stage and answered questions submitted by the audience. When asked about the recent death of Margaret Thatcher, Mr. Blair recognized her strong support of the American and UK alliance. He remarked the fall of communism has been the biggest change since Thatcher’s time in office. “It is interesting to reflect on what a bygone challenge that is now. The hardest things for us now are that the challenges are not asymmetrical and not what we usually expect. There is extremism based on religion. It is still important to remain united and for the US and UK, as free nations, to stand and stick together.”

On the situation in North Korea, Mr. Blair warned, “This is going to have the be managed to a place of stability. We need China and American to stick together. It seems so crazy and seems so out of normal. These are the hardest things to deal with and a tough choice either way. These rogue states require us to be strong and staunch.” Mr. Blair mentioned leading the UK’s military action against Sierra Leone and other countries. He stands by his beliefs that it is the responsibility of governments to stand up to extremists. “It is uncertain what will happen if they stay in power and what would happen when they are no longer in power. With a nod to the United States he said, “There are few counties who are able and capable to lead the free world.”

Mr. Blair clearly had no patience for the United Nations intervention. He said, “My old agenda was entirely domestic before Serra Leone. A group of gangsters toppled the democratic government. If we were to wait for the UN we would be waiting for a very long time. I decided to send in British troops. I am currently working with my charity to help Sierra Leoneget on their feet.” He returned to the conflict in Sierra Leone a number of times during the discussion.

Tony Blair and Dr. Nate Adams at 2013 Judson University World Leaders Forum

Tony Blair and Dr. Nate Adams at 2013 Judson University World Leaders Forum

During the evening, Blair talked about the tough choices he had to make including involvement in foreign government and toppling extremist leaders. He noted the hardest part was not getting rid of the dictator but what comes afterward. He believes the world is a better place with Sadam Hussein out of power citing the half million Kurdish people who died during his reign. He showed distain for politicians who pander to their party. The audience gave a round of applause when Mr. Blair declared, “I believe it is an elected official’s responsibility to their country to do what you believe is right.”

Dr. Adams asked Mr. Blair to describe working with Presidents Clinton and Bush during his three terms as Prime Minister. He called Clinton his “political soul mate” and Bush a close political ally who’s countries were pushed together due to war. While there was a serious tone to the evening, the Q&A lead to several humorous stories.

Blair told of a diplomacy lesson Clinton taught him. “When we go to these big international summits, often held in far off islands, the locals like us to wear an item of local clothing. At one of these summits, I returned to my room to find four shirts laid out on the bed. The first was hideous and the rest got progressively worse. I chose the first one and wore it to the event. Bill Clinton however was wearing the worst of the four. I said to Bill, “Why are you wearing that horrible shirt?” Bill said, “When the American people see me they will say, ‘How nice of him to wear a local item.’ When they see you they will just think you have bad taste.”

There were stories of President George W. Bush, keynote speaker at the Judson 2011 World Leaders Forum. At a Camp David press conference, President Bush was asked “Do you share anything with Mr. Blair?” Bush quipped, “Yes, we share the same tooth paste.” President Bush and Mr. Blair worked closely together on foreign affairs, particularly the Afghanistan invasion. “I have a rapport with President Bush. The public is more agreeable while parties are more political. When this happens, things get less civil. Constituencies are one stripe or another. I watch for leaders who stand up to their party base and believe if elected they are there to represent all the people, not just their party.”

When asked what advice he might offer to President Obama, Mr. Blair was candid on the challenges of leadership. “The greatest problem is there is no training for this job. After a year in government, I would tell people I’m still learning. Once you win reelection, you know what’s going on. Your time is limited and there are certain key things you can and cannot do. You can’t do 100 things but maybe can do four. Now you have confidence, your time is short, and you are thinking “What can I get done to shape my country?”

He remarked about the growing chasm between the wealthy few and the masses. Mr. Blair voiced his explicit opinion noting the changes in the world in since his youth. “In my view, the key is education. For countries and society, we need to adapt throughout our life. (In my neighborhood) when I was growing up everyone was white, Christian and you had one job all your life. Now we have many jobs during our careers. There is a need for education, to adapt and adjust all through your life. In my country, despite reforms, we need to drive down to the root of our society. We have to give our children a good education.”

Tony Blair takes the stage at Judson World Leaders Forum

Tony Blair takes the stage at Judson World Leaders Forum

Of course there was a question about Blair’s relationship with Queen Elizabeth II. When asked about his rumored anti-monarchy stance and if the movie “The Queen” won him over, Mr. Blair shed insight into their partnership. He said, “The movie came out when I was Prime Minister on the day of my weekly audience with the Queen. It is held in a lovely room in Buckingham Palace. The Queen starts out the meeting by saying, ‘I hear there is a film about me and you. I want you to know I shan’t be watching it. Will you?’ I replied ‘No.’ As a loyal royal subject, I haven’t.”

Faith did not play a key role during Mr. Blair’s youth. It was not until his college years in Edinburgh that religion became an integral part of his daily life. Since then, his faith has been a strong element in his world. During the evening he mentioned his faith and travels to the Holy Lands which he called “a fascinating, wonderful place.” Highlighting Isreal, West Bank, Galilee and the Jerusalem Jesus Trail, Mr. Blair talked of relaunching the peace process and developing tourism in the area. He declared there are no security problems in Gaza. On the banks of the River Jordan there are baptismal sites and churches. While the “politics may be terrible, the weather is beautiful and people are great.”

Asked to acknowledge highlights of his three consecutive terms as Prime Minister, he referenced his two proudest moments. The first was the 1998 Good Friday peace agreement between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland signed in Belfast. He mentioned this several achievement times during the night. The second accomplishment was winning the 2012 Olympic bid. He declared, “My most insincere answer at a press conference was when I was asked, ‘Does the fact you beat out theFrench make the victory (Olympic bid) any sweeter?” I answered, ‘Absolutely not.'”

Since leaving Downing Street, Mr. Blair has been active in worldwide efforts to bring people of all cultures and religions together. He worked with the Palestinians to establish statehood and peace in the region. 2008 saw the launch of the Tony Blair Faith Foundation to “show love of Christ. We built the foundation to show people of various religions better relations between them and promote the idea of faith as a force for good. The media reports when faith causes problems. I see examples where it benefits us. It is not complicated. What is really important is to go out and show the world what faith can really do. Important to do it and with pride. The goal of the foundation is to counter extremists in all religions and to use faith as a way to unify people rather than divide through distortion to fan the flames of hatred and extremism. The Tony Blair Faith Foundation is a response to these opportunities and challenges. We educate, inform and develop understanding among the world’s major religious traditions.”

Established in 1913, Judson University isan evangelical Christian college located in Elgin, Illinois next to the Fox River and near Interstate 90. With over 1,200 students and 60 majors from Management and Leadership to Architecture. This is the university’s Golden Centennial Anniversary, commemorating 50 years since the college’s relocation to Elgin in 1963.

Judson’s World Leaders Forum began in 2011 to “ignite a flame of leadership” for attendees. The program is also a fund raiser for the Judson Student Scholarship Fund. Mikhail S. Gorbachev, 1990 Nobel Peace Prize Recipient and Former President of the Soviet Union was the 2012 keynote speaker. In addition to the community event open to the general public, a VIP private reception and networking event was held. For information contact Jessica Bunn, World Leaders Forum Coordinator.




Little Black Dress Event Benefits CASA of McHenry County

The first annual Little Black Dress event to benefit CASA of McHenry County was a huge success. Over 70 women attended each with their own take on the LBD. No two outfits were alike. The event was held at Marzano’s in McHenry.

Wine, hors d’oeuvres and chocolates paired with dance music. Volunteers sold raffle tickets for flowers and gift baskets. Generous sponsors included Studio 2013, Intrigue Fitness, Locker’s Flowers, Anderson’s Candy Shop, Blooms and Rooms, C You at the Movies and Black Orchid Boutique.

Chaired by Mary Margaret Maule, the fabulous committee included Jill Kaman, Jennifer Dallas, Jeanne Browning, Kathy Sierminski and Cindy Kottke.

Attendees at Little Black Dress For CASA McHenry 2013

Attendees at Little Black Dress For CASA McHenry 2013

CASA’s of McHenry County‘s mission is “Giving a Voice to Abused and Neglected Children in McHenry County.”

To learn more about the 2013 Little Black Dress event and see pictures from the 2013 event, visit McHenry County CASA Little Black Dress on Facebook.

Academy Award Winner Predictions from Dann Gire and Raymond Benson

Tonight Daily Herald film critic Dann Gire and author Raymond Benson shared their Academy Award winner predictions at the McHenry Library.

While we enjoy movies, the backlist in our Netflix queue currently holds our attention. This year we saw “The Hobbit” and “Skyfall” in the theaters, mostly due to invitations from our adult kids. Both Dann and Raymond said Adele’s song “Skyfall” will mostly likely win the Oscar for the Best Original Sound category.

Dann and Raymond offered their personal predictions for all the Oscar categories and their reasoning for each pick. I was surprised how often they agreed on their choices. We viewed several film clips which illustrated their points.


Ray’s favorite movie this year is “Moonrise Kingdom” and Dann’s favorite is “Zero Dark Thirty.”

During their presentation, I noted their best guesses for winners. I’ll be comparing their predictions with the actual winners this weekend.

Best Picture: They both agreed on “Argo.”

Dann and Raymond are regulars at the Schaumburg and Arlington Heights Libraries. Come out to see one of their film programs and enjoy the banter between these two experts.

Owner Linda Costoff shows one of the Hula Hoops at Intrigue Fitness

Hula Hoop to Pole Dancing Classes at Intrigue Fitness in LITH

Classes at Intrigue Fitness in Lake in the Hills include hula hoop, pole dancing, Zumba, yoga and other fitness sessions. Owner Linda Costoff opened this women only boutique studio in August 2012. I sampled a wide variety of the classes available then joined as a member.

Picking up the hula hoop at my first class I realized this was not the same  type of toy hoop we used in grade school. The colorful hula hoops used in these workshops are larger and heavier in weight. Linda told us these adult sized hoops are for adult size bodies. The larger and heavier hoops are easier to keep in motion.

During our one hour hula hoop class we learned to swing the hoop around our hips both clockwise and counterclockwise. We did this with both a side to side then a forward and back technique. Next we learned how to walk forward while keeping the hoop in motion. We practiced three ways to do turns while the hoop continued to spin around our waist. We even attempted a trick transferring a spinning hope from one hand to the other.

Owner Linda Costoff shows one of the Hula Hoops at Intrigue Fitness

Owner Linda Costoff shows one of the Hula Hoops at Intrigue Fitness

Hula hooping is a great cardio workout and works the mid section of the body. Click on the video below to see Linda Costoff demonstrating basic and advanced hula hoop tricks.

Linda also taught our 90 minute pole dancing workshop which began with stretching exercises focusing on the core. Next we moved on to strengthening exercises including push ups and pull-ups targeting the upper body. During the session, my fellow classmates and I learned a simple mat and pole routine.

Classes sizes are small with eight poles in the studio. The room is softly lit and there are no mirrors. It is a comfortable environment where women of all levels can participate and have fun.

Students can try pole dancing workshops to learn more. These workshops are popular for private events and bachelorette parties. Classes generally run eight weeks and students advance at their own speed.

Linda began pole dancing about two years ago and at the end of class she showed us a routine she is working on. This included inversions and advanced tricks. She used both static and spinning poles for these moves.

A variety of fitness sessions are available at Intrigue Fitness. Mind body sessions include tai chi and three types of yoga classes are held during the week. Try Latin dancing infused Zumba and Hip Hop dance classes. Small group and individual personal training sessions are available.

At Intrigue Fitness, instructors remember students names and ask about injuries or restrictions. They show modifications and adapt to enable all fitness levels to participate. They even give you tips on how to wash your workout clothes.I am including the site for you

Intrigue Fitness is for those who enjoy small group environments and personal service. It is not for those who are looking for expanded services big box gyms offer like child care, swimming pools, lockers and showers. There are no treadmills, elliptically or rowing machines at the studio.

Payment is per class, punch card or monthly dues. The studio is located 9115 Trinity Drive in Lake in the Hills, Illinois 60156. Phone (224) 678-9943 or email
on the web

Fitness Center · Yoga & Pilates · Personal Trainer
9115 Trinity Drive, Lake in the Hills, IL.
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Hypertravel Books is happy to announce the publication of “Backpackers and Flashpackers in Western Europe: 500 Hostels in 100 Cities in 25 Countries,” written by Hardie Karges, author of “Hypertravel: 100 Countries in 2 Years,” and the first in a series of guides to the world’s best hostels. For those of you who don’t already know it, hostels are the biggest thing that has occurred in decades for budget travel. Just when it seemed like international travel was an activity increasingly reserved for the wealthy among us, the explosion of hostels in the last few years has once again leveled the playing field and made travel possible for almost anybody and everybody with the desire and the disposition. Accommodations ARE the most expensive part of travel, after all.

Hostels have long been around, of course, at least in Europe, but those were youth hostels. These are hostels for backpackers, and “flashpackers,” too, their more upscale urban cousins. There’s a world of difference. Now Internet is a standard feature, computers available for free or for rent, and many a flashpacker with smartphone or laptop. It’s not just Europe now, either, or just youth. It includes the whole world, and it’s a way of life. If it’s a cool place to visit, then there will probably be a hostel there by now, staffed by local people, all with at least a working knowledge of the English language. You can easily organize a trip and stay in budget hostels the whole way the whole time now. This book will help. It will also tell you the brief history and major attractions of each place, too, in addition to some basic “how-to” for newbies.

And that’s just Western Europe. Eastern Europe is the most exciting destination to open up for independent travel in decades. The food is tasty, the people are friendly, and the variety is breathtaking. At first glance Poland and the Czech Republic may seem like extensions of their Western neighbors, but they are extensions that were frozen in time for fifty years before the Iron Curtain finally fell some twenty years ago. Communism did nothing if not stop the clock; and what you find now are perfect specimens of old Europe, the one with the stunning landscapes and the picturesque city centers. Places like Russia and Romania are something else entirely, of course, and exotic Turkey is one of the most popular destinations in the world. Best of all, prices are cheaper than in the West, AND… very few require expensive time-consuming visas now. And yes; there are hostels, lots of them, the best among them now documented and catalogued for your convenience. “BACKPACKERS & FLASHPACKERS, 500 HOSTELS IN 100 CITIES IN 25 COUNTRIES OF EASTERN EUROPE” is due to be published in January 2013.

And that’s not all. Already in the works are hostel guides to Asia and Oceania, i.e. Australia, New Zealand, and the islands of the South Pacific, both with the same “500 Hostels” concept, with some important differences peculiar to the regions. And if there were surprises and revelations in the two European editions, then there are even more in the two Far East editions. The hostel concept was originally a European one, after all, and with the exception of Australia and New Zealand, there is none of that really to be had in the Asia/Pacific region. But there are hostels, I can assure you, and ‘real’ ones, too. And yes, the ‘flashpacker’ upgrade is also in effect over there, no matter how difficult the task for an easterner to fathom the minds of the young hip American or European. It’s mind-boggling. Those two books are due to be published in Spring 2013.

Did you ever wish there were a travel guide that included only the hip cool artsy fun places in a given region or country and didn’t bother so much with those cold gray cities best known for their output of coal, steel and industrial pollution? These books facilitate that. One of the happy offshoots of this series, indeed, is that now there is a quantitative standard to decide how “cool” a place is—and therefore maybe worth visiting, at least maybe more than some others, and maybe even hanging around for a while. Just count the number of hostels. As it has been up until now, you could read a 500-page guidebook, and still not necessarily have a good feel as to which places were “hip,” genial, sympa, anything but a boring, hurly-burly generic city, cold but not cool. Now you do, because hostels are nothing if not cool. C U there.

Follow Hardie Karges Backpackers and Flashpackers blog.


Satori Fire Glass Creates Handcrafted Fused Dichroic Glass

Prior to discovering her true artistic talents, Stephanie Tantillo of Satori Fire Glass spent 18 years working in the pharmaceutical industry as a production supervisor, manager and technical writer. During this time she also enjoyed working on several major motion pictures and can be seen in films such as The Fugitive, Sleepless in Seattle and the remake of a Miracle on 34th Street.

Stephanie discovered her creative and artistic abilities through the inspiration of an incredible glass artist. She found several outstanding teachers to guide her into the processes of glass fusing. It was by applying what she had been taught and working with the media on her own that she has become proficient at the art of designing and creating glass jewelry. She has since become a skilled and passionate jewelry designer and glass artist. Her joy is in bringing the glass to life with the dramatic color combinations and elegant designs she creates. Much of her work is inspired by the colors of the ocean and her love of Hawaii.

Stephanie Tantillo of Satori Fire Glass

For the past 10 years Stephanie has worked as a full time artist. Initially, she worked from her studio in the Phoenix Arizona area where she created and sold her fused dichroic glass and silver jewelry. In August 2008 she returned to the area where she was born in McHenry County near Chicago, Illinois. Stephanie continues to expand her art business through participating in numerous art fairs in the Midwest and most recently in Florida. Stephanie is known for creating the Satori Heart Collection and donates $1 from the sale of each heart to the Children’s Heart Foundation.

Archeological evidence indicates that glass fusing can be traced back to the Egyptians (2000BCE).  However some historians now say that the Romans who were prolific glass workers first developed the earliest fusing techniques. Modern technology has added spectacular color to this ancient art with the development of dichroic glass. Dichroic glass is created when thin layers of non-conducting metallic oxides are applied to conventional glass and processed in a high temperature vacuum furnace. Most pieces are a combination of dichroic, transparent and opaque glass.

Although much more sophisticated, the process of glass fusing remains basically the same as it did in ancient Egypt and Rome. The glass is cut and layered. The layers are then fused together in a kiln at temperatures that can exceed 1500°F. Once the glass has cooled it is removed from the kiln and shaped into the desired design using diamond grinders and saws. The piece is then returned to the kiln to be fire polished at a slightly lower temperature than the original fusing. To achieve the optimum look many pieces go through this process three to four times. Fire polishing is done to give the glass pieces an elegantly smooth and finished look.

Stephanie Tantillo of Satori Fire Glass donates $1 from the sale

Due to the nature of the glass, the fusing and finishing processes, each piece becomes a unique jewel reflecting its luminescent colors in the light. Finished pieces are then embellished with sterling or fine silver, semi precious stones or crystals  becoming pendants, bracelets, earrings, hair adornments, rings and more. Satori Fire Glass jewelry is designed to be worn with the most casual to formal attire.

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