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Tuesday, January 21, 2014

The Best of Holiday Travel- European Christmas Markets and Austrian Delicatessen

We landed at the Munich Airport on a cold and gray day and took a transport (a bus) 2 hours to Innsbruck. As soon as we dropped off our luggage at the hotel, we headed to the Old Town area - a five minute walk - and stumbled upon one of the most beautiful streets I've ever seen. If I hadn't been so jet lagged, I would have appreciated it more!

This is the ugliest street in Innsbruck. Only kidding! There is a commercial side to Innsbruck but the old town area is what everyone comes for. It is uniquely beautiful with a mix of architectural styles and the stunning background. We hired a private guide who showed us many hidden gems in Innsbruck, shared restaurant choices and the best bars to go to. She even showed us where one of the Von Trapp descendants lives.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Best of Jamacia's All-Inclusive Resorts for Couples

Mark & Tiadora visited Ocho Rios, Jamaica on December 3-9, 2013 and stayed at the beautiful and all-inclusive Couples Tower Isle Resort. This all-inclusive property is modern, clean and up to date as it has just underwent a million dollar renovation. Between Couple's Tower Isle and close by Couple's San Souci, this was the best choice as the San Souci property is very old.

Tower Isle's staff was amazing, very attentive and helpful. The bartenders were the best especially Terry, Pasqua, and Omar! The resort's decor was beautiful and had an open air feeling to it. The lobby was actually open so the breeze passed through the entire time.
Tia and Mark at Couples
View from their room

Lobster Night at Eight Rivers

The food was amazing all over the resort. The buffet tasted good with an excellent variety but tended to get cold quickly. The presentation was amazing at the buffet, and the people were so friendly. The Veranda is the Jamaican restaurant which is very laid back, with great service and people and the food was amazing! We ate out of coconuts, which was so cool! We liked this spot because we were able to listen to the ocean and enjoy ourselves. Eight Rivers is the upscale restaurant on property where the servers are very proper and the decor is simple and beautiful.  The lobster bisque has to be the best I've ever had but all the food was very good! The Asian Bistro is our favorite restaurant, because it sat right on the ocean and was so relaxing to have dinner out there. Though the service was the worst we had all vacation the food was amazing! I especially loved the plating and the layout. The Veggie Bar was open during the day and you could have fresh veggies with different kind of dips as well as plantain chips. They also made fresh fruit smoothies and drinks in fresh coconuts. Pool Grill was a great place because it was open all day and was the perfect snack place when you were hungry. Their hours are 12:00 p.m.- 6:30 p.m. and 10:00 p.m.- 6:00 a.m. They had ice cream, nachos, and popcorn and soda and water at all times. They also offered Jamaican beef and chicken patties, hamburgers, hot dogs, chicken nuggets, calamari etc.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Cruising the Mediterranean during off-season on Regent Seven Seas Voyager

It is lovely to visit the Mediterranean late in the season when the weather is usually wonderful, there are less crowds everywhere and between summer and the holidays, it is just a nice time to travel. And it is especially lovely to do so on an exquisite luxury ship. Arriving in Rome for two leisurely days in one of our very favorite cities, gave us time to rest up and lose the jet lag before boarding the beautiful Regent Voyager. She was just out of dry dock with a major refurbishment which made her look brand new!

This is a small ship by today's standards accommodating just 700 passengers in elegant veranda suites of varying sizes. We splurged on a huge Seven Seas suite with 1-1/2 bathrooms and a butler which was pure heaven for our ten day voyage. The ship is small enough to be intimate and have no crowded spaces or lines anywhere, ever! Yet large enough to have various dining and entertainment venues to please everyone.  A lovely touch is Regent’s “block party”, right after muster the first afternoon, all passengers were invited out into their hallways and asked to bring a glass from their bar. And there waiting to greet us were waiters with canapes and bottles of champagne as we greeted our new neighbors and the officers who passed by to greet us.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Discover Bavaria’s Culture, Beer & Wine in the Magical Land of Germany

I recently participated in an educational trip to the Bavaria region of Germany. Germany has so much to offer and every state is a little different. There are 16 states within Germany.  I never get tired of visiting Germany since there is always something different. During this visit I saw the amazing fall colors everywhere that were more breathtaking than New England colors at times!

Our first stop was Wurzburg in the German State of Franconia, truly one of the loveliest baroque cities in Germany.  You will notice the old and new with so much charm everywhere you look. Franconian are always on the world's top wine awards and certainly worth tastings whenever you can. There are many “Weinstuben” restaurants which have their own tasting rooms and many own their own vineyards.  Make sure to make stops at the various green markets and especially the Christmas market. 

If you plan on driving the “Romantic Road," this drive is on the top of my list. Wurzburg is a perfect town to visit as a first stop after arriving in Frankfurt. Don’t miss the Residence Palace after walking through Old Town. 

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

A Five Star Experience in Florence Italy at The Hotel Brunelleschi

I'm happy to say that I finally made it to Florence!  Although it was a very short visit (only about 20 hours and part of the time I was asleep), it was enough for me to realize the 'magic' of this beautiful city!  The first thing that was very apparent to me was that you should NOT drive if the purpose of the trip is to visit the historical city center!  Even for the experienced driver it is extremely difficult to navigate the streets of Florence. Two-way streets can barely fit one car through, let alone two!  And of course there are areas marked that say 'Area Pedonale', which means 'Pedestrian Area' so naturally an American tourist will avoid turning in those streets; little did I know that you can (and need to) actually turn in those streets in order to get to where you're going to!

So the first (and only) challenge was getting to the Hotel Brunelleschi. After following the navigation system around the same area about three times, I finally called the hotel and spoke to Sergio, the front desk concierge, who guided us to the same area we had passed multiple times. When we got closer to the hotel he had the Bellman step outside and guide us the rest of the way  for the last two turns!  Sergio stayed on the phone with me until we safely made it to the courtyard.  So this is the view that magically appears once you turn that last corner!

The hotel has historical significance dating back to the 6th and 7th centuries, part of it once being a church and the tower part at one time being a women's prison.  What is so beautiful about this hotel is the fact that they have preserved the historical aspect of it yet have remodeled it to make it one of the most luxurious hotels in all of Florence!

View from my window

The location is absolutely perfect, in my opinion.  For someone wanting to be in the historical part of Florence there really is  no better location, no better hotel than The Brunelleschi.  It is a stone's throw from Ponte Vecchio and from Piazza della Signoria, the 'leather market' and so many cafes, restaurants, gelaterias, etc.  It is a very unique gem, no 'cookie-cutter' look for this place!  And better yet is the staff, starting with Claudio Catani, the General Manager, and then on to Sergio, Antonella, and Stefano.   In my short stay each and every person that I came in contact with was extremely and genuinely pleasant, and greeted every guest that they passed by.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Mother, Daughter Trip of a Lifetime to Machu Picchu in Peru

     This was a mother daughter, once in a lifetime, bucket list type of trip.  We had always wanted to see Machu Picchu and when we found the trip that included getting there on horseback, that just seemed like the ultimate experience. Our expectations were high because the brochure made the trip sound extraordinary.  Well, the brochure just didn't do it justice. It was without question the best trip I have ever taken.  

     It started with the services of Largay Travel that made booking and getting questions answered easy as could be.  Both Amanda and Vivian were fabulous to work with.  We did not have one single snafu with flights, bags, or hotels.  Now that NEVER happens but it did.  Once we were picked up by Mountain Lodges of Peru, it was indescribable.  They have it down to a science.  Everything worked like clockwork, we felt completely safe at all times, we were catered to on every level.  

Monday, October 28, 2013

Brazil hosts the World Cup and the Olympics... Copacabana anyone?

Rio de Janeiro is in full swing with preparations to host The World Cup 2014, Olympics 2016, and Paralympic Games. Rio was Brazil's capital city until 1960 then fell into a state of neglect. A housing and jobs shortage left many residents living in favelas, or shantytowns. Today, however it is in the middle of a massive comeback. With huge oil and gas reserves in its coastal waters, the area is rapidly attracting businesses from shipbuilding to high-tech research. Notorious favelas like Rocinha and Cidade de Deus are becoming less of a concern. 

Favelas in the hills across from Copacabana Beach 
There are many attractions in Rio and its surrounds. The Museu de Arte Moderna is incredible both for its architecture (spacious concrete and glass design) and its location alongside Guanabara Bay. It constantly brings world class exhibitions to Rio. The museum is known for its vast Latin America cinema archives, sculpture exhibitions, and experimental art activities. 

The beaches are unforgettable and the people are vibrant and beautiful. Stroll the neighborhood of Ipanema, a chic beach neighborhood. It has a mixture of upscale shops, hip restaurants, and nighttime hot spots. In the streets, the aroma of mangoes, star shaped carambola fruit and the smell of fresh seafood makes your mouth water. Rio's markets offer many varieties of fruits including the exotic caju and jaboticaba, as well as mangos, grapes, peaches, and the sweetest pineapple ever. 

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

A Happy Largay Traveler Explores the Many Ecosystems of Southern Africa

Largay Advisor, Honey Mistry, sent her clients on an adventure to the southern region of Africa; South Africa, Botswana and Zambia. This is one travelers review of the amazing itinerary Honey choose for them with Tauck Tours...

WOW!  WOW!  WOW!  This trip was fabulous – even better than last year! The combination of ocean, delta, and desert ecosystems was amazing and the contrast of the three was so enjoyable.

Here are some details of the trip:
Journey:  Tauck Botswana, South Africa and Zambia
Departure:  September 12th - 23rd  2013

Day 1:
Arrive in Cape Town, South Africa.

Day 2:
Morning tour of the city.  This included the Company Gardens and the Castle of Good Hope.  Overall this was “ok”.  I made a suggestion to Tauck that there are more interesting things to do in Cape Town.

Afternoon was “on our own”.  We spent the time walking the waterfront and had lunch.  Food in Cape Town is amazing and affordable.

Evening “braai” at a home.  This was great!  Braai is the South African word for barbecue; and this was a great barbeque – lots of interesting meats to try and lots of sides too.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Sailing with Paul Gauguin to The Fabulous Islands of French Polynesia

There's something to be said about being on a mere 300+ passenger ship and stopping in some of the most pristine places on this planet!  There's never a rushed or uneasy feeling, never waiting in a line or feeling like you're 'just a number'...only the feeling of being pampered, and as if you are the only one that matters...

Perfection to me comes in the form of beautiful turquoise waters with the backdrop of glorious mountains & scenery, and it comes in the shape of a tiny passenger ship that provides the ultimate in luxury cruising!  I have to say that this cruise experience has reshaped my whole thought process on what cruising means to me!  From the minute that I boarded the Paul Gauguin until the very moment that I got back on the plane to return home, I felt like I was part of a wonderful Tahitian family!

I knew the moment that I got to LAX to board the Air Tahiti Nui flight that I was in for something different!  There were actually two Paul Gauguin Cruise representatives at the check-in area for Air Tahiti Nui at LAX that were there for the sole purpose to meet the guests that were scheduled to fly over that night to board the ship for the upcoming sailing!  What other cruise line does THAT??  

It all flows so seamlessly .....at the other end in Papeete, there are again two Paul Gauguin Cruise representatives that greets guests with their traditional Tiare flower lei and direct them to the transfer vehicles for a quick five minute ride to the Intercontinental Tahiti where more friendly representatives are waiting for travelers to provide them with keys to their rooms for the day!  

What a great way to start a cruise!  The Intercontinental Tahiti ...

The Treasures of Southeast Asia

My blogs are written as I experience my adventure, but there has never been as much after-the-fact reflection as in  this journey. There is so much to process. After I saw the classic "We Were Soldiers" the other night,  my most recent experience in Vietnam and Cambodia seemed to crystallize. The processing will continue.

I truly feel that to understand the struggles, complexities and opportunities of Southeast Asia one needs to experience this itinerary starting in Hanoi, cruising the Mekong River and ending in Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon). 

Asia, in this case Southeast Asia,  is a part of the world that I definitely want to explore.... and most importantly I need to  be able to handle the physical challenges.  Therefore advance preparation is critical. Drinking plenty of coconut water the week before departure and being armed with  a bottle of Airborne are the prerequisites. I am confident that the AMAZING   Vietnamese massage my first night in Hanoi was one of the reasons that jet lag seemed to escape me. (I am on the hunt for a Ytsara Head to Toe Pampering Massage in the Chicagoland area.) The fact that I had a row of three seats to myself on the flight from Chicago to Korea definitely was a highlight in my storied flying career.

Highlights in Hanoi: The Old Quarter is a maze of streets dating back to the 13th century.  We visited  Hanoi Hilton, where John McCain was captured on October 26, 1967 after his Navy plane was shot down while on a bombing run over Hanoi. He was imprisoned here for 5 1/2 years. Hoan Kiem Lake is where locals begin their day performing tai chi. It's hard to have a bad meal in Hanoi!

Unbelievable fact: An estimated 3 million motorbikes crowd the streets of Hanoi, small numbers compared to Ho Chi Minh City's (Saigon) 6.5 million.

Highly recommended: a one or two night cruise on Ha Long Bay.