In Traverse City Michigan, It’s Time for the Festival of Trains!

“Look! Here it comes!”

Almost in unison, a dozen small heads swivel to the left.

The Festival of Trains in Traverse City Michigan takes place on Dec 12-13, 2015.

The Festival of Trains in Traverse City Michigan.

Sure enough, with a clatter of metal wheels and a cloud of blue smoke, a tiny locomotive emerges from the dark railroad tunnel, pulling a chain of boxcars and tanker cars in its wake. It slows down to take a sharp curve, then speeds up again as it travels past miniature homes and forests.
Across the room, another model railroad setup has attracted the attention of several fascinated adults. In fact, little trains are chugging and whistling and clattering along almost everywhere you look in this century-old building.

There must be someone somewhere who doesn’t love watching model trains. But you won’t find them here in Traverse City during December.

That’s when the Great Lakes Children’s Museum and the Northern Michigan Railroad Club put on their annual Festival of Trains, a two-week display of miniature trains and layouts that draws an estimated 7,000 visitors each year to the city’s former Carnegie Library. This year’s festival will be held Dec. 12-31.

Even children who’ve never seen or heard a real train in their lives watch in wide-eyed fascination as these miniature marvels go through their paces, surrounded by 4,000 square feet of elaborate displays that evoke the sights and sounds of a vanished American landscape.

Each day, over 400 people wander through the stately Sixth Street building – now home to the Crooked Tree Art Center – to watch the trains. Many are youngsters on school field trips or visiting with their families, but a substantial number are adults indulging in a bit of historical nostalgia. The allure of model trains spans entire generations, especially during the Christmas season.

“There’s something about trains that just fascinates people,” said the railroad club’s Bill Kirschke. “It’s something that gets the older people just as excited as the kids.”
Although this “Up North” corner of Michigan hasn’t had regular train service for more than a generation, railroads are deeply interwoven into its history. Trains hauled lumber from the forests and produce from the farms, and they helped launch the local tourist industry. (In fact, the computer-generated steam locomotive featured in the film “The Polar Express” was modeled on the PM 1225, a real-life engine that ran between Grand Rapids and Traverse City during the 1940s on the long-vanished Pere Marquette Railroad.)

The railroad club – a group of several dozen committed model train enthusiasts – works all year to maintain and improve the hundreds of tiny buildings, landscapes and cars that make up the six working train layouts on display. Each year since the festival began in 1991, they have redesigned the exhibits around different themes – and one of their most popular annual features is a “swap meet” where railroad aficionados can exchange gear and paraphernalia. (This year’s meet will be held Dec. 12-13.)

The Crooked Tree Arts Center is located at 322 Sixth St. in the city’s historic Central Neighborhood. Hours will be 10 am to 6 pm Monday through Saturday, and noon to 4 pm on Sunday. On Dec. 24 and Dec 31, hours will be 10 am to 2 pm; the exhibit is closed on Christmas Day. Cost is $5 per person per visit; household unlimited festival passes available for $25 or $30 at the door. (Yes, people keep going back over and over again.

For information about purchasing advance passes and scheduling school trips, contact the Great Lakes Children’s Museum here.

Winter Travel Tips to Help Families Through Airport Security in Canada

Airports will soon be buzzing with thousands of travel

Air travel tips for travel in Canada from CATSA

Air travel tips for travel in Canada from CATSA

ers getting ready to visit family and friends or simply to escape the cold weather. Regardless of your destination, you will have to go through security.

The Canadian Air Transport Security Authority (CATSA) has 10 tips to help you and your family breeze through the checkpoint.

  1. Pack liquids, aerosols and gels properly

Only liquids, aerosols and gels that are 100ml or less are permitted in your carry-on. Place these items in a single 1L clear, resealable plastic bag so the screening officer can easily see the contents. Any containers over 100ml should be placed in your checked baggage.

  1. Know the age restrictions for baby food

Beverages and food (e.g. breast milk, formula, juice, purées) for children under the age of two are exempted from the liquid, aerosol and gel restrictions. These items should be packed so that they can easily be removed from your carry-on baggage for inspection.

  1. Bring solid snacks for the family

While you can’t bring yogurt or peanut butter, you can carry solid food items, such as sandwiches, granola bars and fruit through security when travelling within Canada. You can also bring an empty refillable drink container to refill once you pass through security.

  1. Have medications ready for inspection

Prescription and essential non-prescription medications (e.g. cough syrup, decongestant spray, contact lens solution) are allowed. You can bring them in quantities greater than 100 ml in your carry-on but must show these items to the screening officer for inspection.

  1. Leave gifts unwrapped

If you’re bringing gifts, leave them unwrapped as their contents may need to be inspected. During the holidays, some airports offer post-security gift wrapping service.

  1. Keep small electronics in your carry-on

Bringing your children’s electronic games is a good way to keep them busy at the airport. Small electronic items, including MP3 players (e.g. iPod) and tablets, can remain in your carry-on bag.

  1. Dress comfortably

Make sure you and the little ones can easily remove any bulky outwear including winter jackets and boots with large buckles. These items must be placed in bins provided at the checkpoint for screening.

  1. Use the Family/Special Needs lane
    Check if the Family/Special Needs lane is available when you arrive at the checkpoint. It’s designed to accommodate larger items (e.g. strollers, car seats) and is best for passengers needing more time or help at the checkpoint.
  1. Have your boarding passes ready

Remember to have all family members’ boarding passes ready to present to the screening officer for verification. 

  1. Contact CATSA if you have questions

If you need more information, CATSA can be contacted directly at 1-888-294-2202 or via:

Pack Your Bags for Africa: Win a trip from KLM Royal Dutch Airlines


A cheetah takes a drink in Kenya. photo by Shelley Seale.

A cheetah takes a drink in Kenya. photo by Shelley Seale.

Starting today, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines launches “Pack Your Bags,” an interactive, video-based microsite. Inspired by “bucket list” destinations in eastern and southern Africa, the site will promote KLM’s various gateways while inviting consumers to win a six-day luxury safari in the Serengeti courtesy of KLM and Asilia Africa – East Africa’s leading safari camp operator – valued at $18,000.

“Unlike some airlines that are just beginning to discover the continent, Air France-KLM has been taking travelers to Africa for decades,” said Marnix Fruitema, Senior Vice President North America Air France-KLM. “As a result, we have a deep understanding of what the different destinations and people in Africa have to offer visitors, and we are excited to share this knowledge in a fun and educational way with Pack Your Bags.”

Open through November 17, the “Pack Your Bags” microsite requires users to “pack” a KLM suitcase with two non-traditional travel items. Among these items are a hiking map, a toy shark, a mini beach towel, a Polaroid camera, and safari figurines. Then, based on their selection, users receive an itinerary output with the destinations that best match their preferences. For instance, someone who packs a hiking map will be advised to visit Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, while someone who packs a toy shark will be pointed toward Cape Town, South Africa. Participants will then be prompted to enter to win a six-day luxury safari in the Serengeti.

To find out more and to participate in Pack Your Bags, visit


Goa is India’s Beachfront Destination

Goa India

The beach at Goa, India.

Goa is India’s beachside paradise, located in the far southern part of the country.  It’s recommended that you visit in December, since that’s when it has the best weather but be forewarned, the crowds might just be there as well. And if you think you’ve seen crowds before, brace yourself for an Indian crowd.

But Goa is still a wonderful place for a  beach vacation, and the golden sands and endless blue waters of Mirimar beach will relax and untangle your nerves.  At Mirimar, the sound you hear at night is coming from boats that dock just off shore to serve drinks and play loud music.  If you’re camping, like many people, you might want to camp out of range of their loud music.

For a day-trip, a visit to the Tambdi Surla Temple, built in honor of Lord Shiva, is a great idea. It’s an ornate and ancient place reached by narrow, winding roads. Let someone else drive if you’re nervous–you should be.  A hike to Nandran will take you through some of India’s deepest and darkest forests…be prepared to hear nothing and for many, it’s hard to adjust to. But let yourself unplug and enjoy the quiet, that’s rare to find in busy bustling India.

Another hiking destination is Dudh Sagar, again through the deep forest.  About nine km more hiking and you’ll reach Kuveshi and the next destination, the famous Majorda beach.  Nearby is the Devil’s Canyon, which is a lush pool surrounded by rocks. It may look innocent, but in the water is a dangerous current, that could easily swirl and suck you down into rocks and caves below the water. So don’t go in…unless you’re a very strong swimmer.

Another Goa tradition is parasailing.  You just let yourself be taken along, and go higher and higher until you’re looking down at the pretty blue ocean and sparkling beach from a new perspective.  To some it’s scary but for others, it’s something they cannot resist. But you can go parasailing with a friend, that makes it less scary.   Sancole beach is another of Goa’s many enjoyable places to cool off, along with Donna Paula beach. You see, Goa is all about beaches, and you can take your pick to find the one that’s perfect for you.

If the idea of camping and trekking in Goa is not what you’re after, try finding a small guest house. At the luxury end of the spectrum, the Taj Exotica Goa gets fantastic reviews from guests on TripAdvisor.  One couple said that even their tiny infant got the royal treatment from the staff, they’re totally prepared to care for a newborn baby, unlike many hotels.  They even make their own special baby food to make the littlest guests feel at home.  Most of the reviews are quite positive about this property.

The Goa area is truly India’s premier beach resort center. In Old Goa, the beautiful Basilica of Bom Jesus is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is also a fine example of baroque architecture. If you visit during Christmas you can experience both the Christian traditions but in the context of a totally new set of eastern values…and that’s something you’ll remember for a long time!



Rwanda is Proud to be Naming 24 New Baby Gorillas!

Photographing a gorilla in Rwanda. photo: Silverback Lodge.

Photographing a gorilla in Rwanda. photo: Silverback Lodge.

Tourists from Around the World Will Travel to Rwanda for the 11th Annual Kwita Izina, Themed “Conserving Now and For the Future”

Kigali, Rwanda – On September 5th, 2015, the Rwanda Development Board will host the eleventh annual Kwita Izina – gorilla naming ceremony – at the foothills of the Virunga Mountains. The theme for the 2015 festivities is “Conserving Now and For the Future.” The growing gorilla population has become a major tourist draw, and thousands are expected to turn out for the naming of 24 baby mountain gorillas this year.

“Gorilla naming is an important part of Rwanda’s conservation efforts,” says Ambassador Yamina Karitanyi, the Head of the Tourism & Conservation Department under the Rwanda Development Board. “The centuries-old tradition now serves to play a significant role in the monitoring of each individual gorilla in their habitat and with their families. The Kwita Izina ceremony is a demonstration of the commitment to the conservation of Rwanda’s wildlife by the local communities, conservation groups, researchers, rangers, and tourists.”

Although gorilla naming, a uniquely Rwandan tradition, has always been a part of the country’s culture, Kwita Izina was introduced in 2005 with the aim of creating awareness for the endangered mountain gorilla. This year’s Kwita Izina will take place as Rwanda carries out another general census of the gorilla population in the Virunga Massif. The last report in 2010 showed encouraging growth in the gorilla population, registering a 26.3% growth in a period of seven years. The Rwanda Development Board has been continuing their conservation efforts and expects to once again see growth in the gorilla population.

New to the ceremony, the Kwita Izina Awards will launch this year. The Rwanda Development Board will bestow the Kwita Izina Award to celebrate achievements that have had a significant impact in improving of tourism and the protection of the wildlife globally. Awards will be given to recognize local conservationists for their life-time contributions to conservation and tourism.

Throughout the event, a business expo will highlight the economic growth in Rwanda. The Kiningi Community Complex will exhibit and sell their products including honey and handicrafts and offer interactive weaving sessions. It will also provide an opportunity for operators to sell packages and for hotels to showcase their services.

For more information on Kwita Izina and other activities in Rwanda, visit  Read more articles about Rwanda on GoNOMAD

Are You Ready for Travel? Medically, That Is

Planning a vacation takes a tremendous amount of time and energy. Making sure to maximize every minute of your time away is often difficult and not realistic for travelers. William Brady, MD, Medical Director at leading travel insurer Allianz Global Assistance USA and Professor of Emergency Medicine at the University of Virginia is sharing his top five questions on what travelers should ask themselves before they travel to the airport in advance of their next trip.

  1. Do you know your medical history? Speak with your doctor and seek advice.  Certain patients with significant, long-term illness likely should not travel to isolated areas of the world where advanced medical care is not available.  Should you find yourself abroad with an urgent or emergent medical need, consulting your travel insurance specialist, like Allianz Global Assistance (AGA), is the most appropriate means of securing medical care as soon as you feel sick. A good medical travel insurance policy, like one from AGA, can help you find a doctor, advise on when to go to a hospital, which hospital to go to base on your symptoms, and can provide coverage for your emergency medical care and evacuation, if needed.
  1. Are you fit to travel? Request guidance from your doctor.  If you have recently undergone a procedure or experienced an illness, travel and related stresses may not be appropriate for you at that time.  Rather, a delay or postponement might be more appropriate.  Finding oneself in a foreign land with an unfamiliar medical system if a recurrent problem should arise is very inconvenient and can be medically dangerous.  Your travel insurance specialist is the most appropriate means of securing medical care while abroad.
  1. Are you medically able to fly in a commercial aircraft? The cabin of a commercial aircraft is not pressured to sea-level; rather, pressures at cruising altitudes within the cabin range from that equivalent to a 6,000-8,000 foot elevation.  In other words, a very high altitude.  Thus, those patients with chronic respiratory (i.e., breathing) problems may not be the most appropriate candidates for air travel.  Consult your doctor and / or your travel insurance specialist on this matter and make preparations as needed in advance.
  1. Do you have a medical condition that requires the use of specific devices and / or medications? If yes, make sure that you will have access to these treatments prior to leaving your home.  For example, a patient requiring hemodialysis on a regular basis can certainly travel with physician guidance but the destination location must have the appropriate, pre-planned access to hemodialysis.  Your travel insurance specialist, like Allianz Global Assistance, will be able to assist in securing these services prior to departure and if you run out of medicine on your trip.
  1. Have you planned to partake in dangerous activities on your trip? Certain leisure activities and practices can be dangerous, whether you are at home or abroad.  If partaking in such events, please realize that you may be in a region of the world with medical care that is less advanced and less accessible than your home region.  Thus, adverse actions occurring during these practices may not be managed in a fashion consistent with your home region.

For more information on the benefits of a travel insurance policy from Allianz Global Assistance, please visit