COVID: TRAVEL TROUBLEMAKER
With those two words, my plan to return to the United States early the next morning was smashed.
With those two words, my plan to return to the United States early the next morning was smashed.
In Part 5, we discovered Lecce Baroque is an attitude as much as an architectural style and that certified organic wines go down easily with a farm-to-table fresh meal wonderfully prepared.
The last city on this two-week Odysseys Unlimited tour of Sicily and Southern Italy came sooner than it seemed possible. That’s the way it is with all vacations, I expect, but sometimes the days melt faster into the next depending on activities and on the group’s personal dynamics. This 18-member group has been exceptionally harmonious, so the shared experiences have flashed by. Nonetheless, we are headed to Sorrento, a city Russ and I visited with Odysseys four years ago. Then we had mere hours in Sorrento, but an unmistakable allure demanded a lengthier stay.
In Part 4, we discovered conical roofs of flat rocks not bound with mortar can be quite useful to thwart a King’s taxman and in today’s market, bring in the big bucks.
what we learned:
Barocco leccese is an ornate artistic style developed in Lecce and in Terra d’Otranto allegedly between the second half of the 16th century and the end of the 17th. It was developed as a thanks to God for protecting Christianity from the Ottomans. Lecce Baroque style leaves no empty spaces. The thinking was that empty space lets in the Devil. The 2,000-year-old city is considered the “Florence of the South” for the breadth of the fanciful designs of human figures, flowers, and animals carved in white limestone materials encouraged by Charles V, King of Spain, instead of the marble used in Naples. In Lecce, elaborate corbels appear under railings. Classical sculptures of women line the sides of doorways. The point of Baroque design is to wow!
In Part 3, we traversed the crooked, uneven narrow roads of Matera’s Sassi area, finding a history steeped in ancient religions, superstitions, and a reluctance even now to live comfortably under the watchful eye of UNESCO and tourism.
Once again, Italy’s unfinished road system causes our bus driver to weave a meandering path along main highways and back roads towards our next destination, the Apulia (or Puglia) region, which forms the heel of Italy’s boot shape. Apulia, which means “land without rain” has a population of about four million. The economy is based on industry and agriculture, with tomatoes the chief moneymaker. Want the best mozzarella and burrata cheeses? Come to Apulia. The region is home to Bari, a port and university town, Lecce (known as the (“Florence of the South”), and Alberobello, home to another type of unique architecture that is a far cry from Matera’s Sassi caves.
In Part 2, we explored the historic Valley of the Temples in Agrigento and hiked on Mt. Etna. We also enjoyed sumptuous meals near both those famous landmarks.
We left the island of Sicily for the mainland region of Basilicata, Italy, aboard a 20-minute ferry that docked in Villa San Giovanni, Calabria. Calabria (old Italy) means “place of the bull.” Ninety percent of Calabria is mountainous.
Enroute to Matera, a city of growing fascination the more we learned, we pass by isolated run-down buildings along the road called “one Euro properties.” That’s the price anyone can pay to own one of these crumbling, likely medieval times-built homes. Here’s the backstory. Small villages desperately need restoration of abandoned homes that might entice new residents. However, remaining villagers are likely impoverished and unable to tackle repairs of a second home. Anyone can apply to buy one of those homes for one € with the pledge to restore it to historical accuracy. Applicant must also commit to five – 10 years ownership (depending on the area) but is not required to live there year-round. The property must remain a personal home and cannot be turned into a B&B or other money-making business. Not caring which homes qualified for a one € sale did not stop our 18-member tour group from pointing out luxury homes for the remainder of the two-week trip and yelling out, “One € house.”
In Part 1, we survived an arduous journey to Taormina for the first leg of our two-week Sicily-Southern Italy tour. We learned about the city’s discovery, its shames (eliminating Jews), and folklore stories woven into today’s culture, from pinecones to pottery heads of planted basil.
what we did:
At the top of the pedestrian-only hill from our hotel, Eurostars Monte Tauro, is the serenely peaceful Parco Florence Trevelyan. The beautiful public gardens were originally created as a private park by Lady Florence Trevelyan Cacciola, a Scottish noblewoman married to the mayor. She styled her sanctuary as a typical English garden with an infusion of colorful varieties of flowers and plants from all over the world, but it was her passion for ornithology (bird watching) that inspired many of the park’s fanciful brick structures. The one most used as a backdrop for photos is called “The Beehives”. Taormina’s government now maintains the quiet manicured respite overlooking Mt. Etna and the coastline.
The last time I was in Italy, I did exactly as the 1954 romantic comedy Roman Holiday encouraged. I tossed a coin into Trevi Fountain, assuring my return to Rome. Unfortunately, the movie had the ritual backwards. You stand with your back to the fountain and toss the coin over your right shoulder (where the angels sit), not your left as the movie depicted and which is where Italian Catholics believe the Devil sits. Tossing over your left shoulder might mark your return with misfortune. Maybe that’s why on this trip to Italy
In Part 5: Mozart brought music to the world, The Sound of Music rang in our heads, and the Eagle’s Nest reminded us of the destruction that greed, hatred, and supreme power can enable.
Munich is the capital of Bavaria. There are roughly one-and-a-half million people living in the city, who proudly have their own nationalistic dialect, and think of themselves as from München Bavaria, not Germany. Munich is known for its beer, Oktoberfest celebrations, museums, and international companies like the headquarters of BMW.
Where we stayed:
Eurostars Book Hotel must have been designed for people like me: readers and/or writers whose imaginations propel their lives. From the first moment we stepped inside Read more
In Part 4: Neither the Prince of Liechtenstein or Heidi was around so instead we visited a mountain in Innsbruck and a centuries-old museum of Tyrolean farms.
Where we stayed:
Imlauer Hotel Pitter Salzburg has been owned by the Pitter family since 2007. The hotel was renovated in 2014. It has a beer cellar and Imlauer Sky – Bar & Restaurant rooftop restaurant. The buffet was diverse and carries many regional dishes. Staff was friendly and professional.
What we saw:
One of my grandfathers was from Salzburg (which means salt fortress), so I was Read more
MAIENFELD, SWITZERLAND (OR HEIDILAND TO DEVOTEES!)
In Part 3: A toe dip into Stresa, Italy and a relaxing cruise around Lugano, Switzerland that explored many ancient and diverse communities.
Before leaving Switzerland behind and crossing into Vaduz, the capital of Liechtenstein, we stopped in the border town of Maienfeld, Switzerland. For such a small area, Majenfeld holds two great distinctions of world import.
It’s the birthplace of Heidi, a story written in 1881 by Johanna Spyri. The story may have been a work of fiction, but try telling that to the international tourists who flock here to visit a theme park-like area called Heidiland to see Read more
In Part 2: A relaxing boat ride and two cogwheel trains later, we’d risen over 10,000 feet to gape at the Matterhorn.
We took a toe dip into Italy before re-entering Switzerland, where we would be staying in Lugano for a few days. I say a toe dip because we left the mountains briefly for Stresa, Italy, an internationally acclaimed resort town snuggled up to Lake Maggiore, and because similar to a toe dip, we weren’t invested in full immersion.
Before arriving in Stresa, we took a roadside pause on the Simplon Pass, where Napoleon had constructed a road Read more
In Part 1: Trains, boats, a fierce storm atop Mount Pilatus… and this was just the beginning of the tour!
On our way to a boat ride that was part of the day’s transportation to Zermatt, the alpine city from which many mountaineers venture to tackle the Matterhorn, we bussed through the small village of Vegas, where once Russian composer Sergei Vasilyevich Rachmaninoff lived. The gentle one-hour 45-minute minute journey on Lake Lucerne aboard the Flüelen ferry began in Vitznau, which also has the oldest cogwheel train still running. Lake Read more
It was the trains that did it.
The idea of trains snaking slowly up to mountain peaks 7,000 feet or higher along ancient cogwheel tracks exhilarated my any-excuse-to-take-a-train husband, Russ. My stomach roiled pondering multiple train rides chugging along steep inclines, thinking about how I got nervous even holding onto the railing on the Empire State Building’s upper floor and tried looking down. He buttered me up about taking the Odysseys Unlimited Alpine Splendor tour by painting a picture of the scenic beauty we’d encounter in five countries: Switzerland, Austria, Italy, Liechtenstein, and Germany. By then, I remembered we’ve climbed glaciers and volcanos, ridden cable cars up 5,000 feet, and never once did I pass out in fright. My fears morphed into anticipation.
Ride along with me on this soaring Alpine Adventure which concluded with an extension trip to Read more
In Part 4, we saw how Vincent Van Gogh’s art was impacted by his mental issues, how mountaintop former castles and fortresses continue to “live,” and how the idyllic beauty of Southern France country landscapes inspire paintings.
It was a reality jolt to spend days roaming gentle villages of country folk living high in ancient fortresses and then to find oneself in the thriving urban city of Aix-en-Provence. We strolled along Cours Mirabeau, a wide, tree-lined thoroughfare, explored the Old Town, and took in the artistic drumbeat left by Artist Paul Cezanne, born here in 1839 and who Read more
In Part 3, we cruised down the Canal du Midi in a barge, cooked a full-course meal in a 5-star French hotel’s cooking school, and learned that Vincent Van Gogh left his impressions on more than canvas.
SAINT-REMY-DE-PROVENCE, LES-BAUX-DE-PROVENCE, ISLE-SUR-LA-SORGUE and ROUSSILLON
One of the absolute delights of this Southern France trip was getting to visit (albeit too briefly) small mountainside medieval villages on day excursions. We were lodging in Aix-en-Provence. Each village brimmed with the flavors of France, from fresh bags of lavender to nutty confections of nougat, to the flower-potted window sills that crowded narrow passageways within the former fortress rock walls. The air was fresh from mountain breezes. The views of multi-hued fields Read more
In Part 2, the journey took us to Figueres, Spain to explore Surrealist Salvadore Dali’s Theatre-Museum, to the seaside city of Collioure immortalized by paintings of André Derain, Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso, and to the quiet beauty of Perpignan.
CANAL DU MIDI, AVIGNON and ARLES
On our way to stay in Arles and to visit Avignon, we paused for a morning excursion on the famed Canal du Midi.
CANAL DU MIDI
The slow steady pace of cruising down the 150-mile-long 17th century-constructed Canal du Midi in a flat-bottomed barge was one of the most relaxing aspects of the two-week Odysseys Unlimited tour thus far. Originally named the Canal Royal en Languedoc in 1681 when completed by Pierre-Paul Riquet, it was renamed by French revolutionaries to Canal Read more
In Part 1, our journey began in Albi before exploring the medieval city of Carcassonne and then the Abbaye Fontroide in Narbonne.
FIGUERES (SPAIN), COLLIOURE and PERPIGNAN
Where we stayed:
La Villa Duflot sits in a three-acre park with olive and palm trees. The hotel’s site says it has just 24-rooms, but it is apparent they have added many more than that. We had to walk outside the hotel’s lobby to reach our room in a first-floor wing. The hotel is styled after an Italian villa, although the décor was more Art Deco. The dining room in the evening is Read more
Art. Food. Wine.
Those were the three words that drew my husband, Russ, and I to book our two-week tour to Southern France, the Languedoc and Provence regions. Russ expected this tour would be a bit more laid back than our previous Odysseys Unlimited tours, though sometimes we still felt as if we were racing against time to cram in as many cultural experiences as we could before our weary bodies collapsed. That’s not a complaint, by the way… just the reality of not wanting to miss out Read more
Part 6 was Tourists Invade Prague, The City of Concerts, Castles and Korunas
BERLIN REFLECTS THE PAST AS IT MARCHES FORWARD
While our two-week Odysseys Unlimited Discovering Eastern Europe tour focused on cities from which my ancestors had originated, our tour company’s arranged non-guided extension trip to Berlin, Germany at least landed us in the same country from which many of Russ’ family had dwelled. Seven of our tour group faced one another on a four-hour train ride from Read more
FROM CONCENTRATION CAMPS TO TRENDY KRAKÓW
Part 1 was The Razing and Rebuilding of Warsaw
I grew up with the horror stories of the Holocaust, from family whispers to the stacks of books I devoured. (I can’t count how many versions of The Diary of Anne Frank I have read or seen acted.) Just knowing our Odysseys Unlimited tour included a visit to Auschwitz (known in German as Oswiecim) and its nearby sub-camp, Birkenau, made me edgy. We were travelling to Kraków, but the visit to the camps were scheduled for the earlier part of the day. Could I handle seeing the reality which has heretofore only been personal stories or movies?
PART 5: OSLO, A CULTURAL METROPOLIS FOR MUSEUMS, ARTS, FABULOUS FOOD, THE NOBEL PEACE PRIZE, AND SO MUCH MORE!
PART 4: THE TROLL’S DAUGHTER DANCES, WATERFALLS PLUNGE, AND THERE’S SALMON… LOTS AND LOTS OF SALMON!
In PART 3: STEPPING INTO THE FAIRY TALE WORLD THAT IS NORWAY–GOAT FARMS, SKI RESORTS, FJORDS AND WHITE-KNUCKLE MOUNTAIN ROADS, we visited one of Norway’s most dramatic fjords, dined at a goat farm, and mellowed to the music of Composer Edvard Grieg.
PART 3: STEPPING INTO THE FAIRY TALE WORLD THAT IS NORWAY–GOAT FARMS, SKI RESORTS, FJORDS AND WHITE-KNUCKLE MOUNTAIN ROADS
PART 2: DANISH ROYALTY– FROM THE QUEEN’S RESIDENCE TO HAMLET’S CASTLE TO KAREN BLIXEN’S SANCTUARY.
MADRID, BARCELONA AND TIPS FOR TRAVELLERS
In Part 3, Churches were once Mosques and Synagogues, Novelists pay homage to Spain’s bullfighters and castles, Tapas tantalizes and Flamenco fiery passions ignite.
OLIVE OIL, HEMINGWAY, FLAMENCO DANCE, AND TAPAS
In Part 2, Roman ruins, mountain-top castles, gypsy offerings, history rich from battles and architectural ingenuity
SPAIN FURTHER AWAKENS OUR SENSE OF HISTORY, FROM CASTLES TO ICONIC CHURCHES
In Part 1, our tour of Portugal took us on a trip through Lisbon, Monsarez and Évora. The journey continues into Spain.
The opportunity to visit Copenhagen, Denmark began when a bright, red-headed newly-arrived exchange student from Denmark walked into the Merritt Island High School newspaper office and announced in perfect English that she wanted to participate. Little did I know then that my position as Editor and Else’s as Proof Reader (with her grammatically correct English) would form a bond that has endured more years than I wish to publicize.
It was her Facebook search, many exchanged emails catching up those years, and later a visit by her, her charming husband Erik, and their group of witty and affable golfing buddies visiting the Orlando, FL area, that culminated in my husband, Russ, and I selecting Copenhagen the next year as our next big adventure. Coincidentally, Else and Erik celebrated their wedding anniversary while here and we would be celebrating ours while there.
Once Russ began his meticulous research into Copenhagen and took the advice of our Danish friends to fly Icelandair, he received a package offer from the airline that was too tantalizing to ignore. If we stayed two nights in Iceland, a necessary layover between Orlando International Airport and Copenhagen, we would receive a reduced rate for the overall visit.
Russ reserved rooms in Copenhagen and in Iceland’s capital, Reykjavik and then we told Else we were coming, hoping that for at least one of those days or nights, we’d be able to connect with them and our other new friends. We were overjoyed and overwhelmed by the generous invitations and detailed agenda plans Else sent, indicating that each day she and Erik would guide us through Russ’ assembled list of places to visit. Else included places that are insider’s treasures. She noted places and events for us to visit on our own and Read more
Visiting Vancouver and Banff in British Columbia has been on my husband’s wish list for as long as I’ve known him.
From the time I was picked up from the airport and through all of our adventures, we were escorted and given guided commentary by Tony Kayser, customer care manager for Epic Group, DMC/DCO, and her capable, amiable crew. Here’s what I liked most about them: they were always prompt and courteous. When each of us was to return to the airport, we were individually handed a card spelling out our name, pick up time and flight info. There was no fear that a driver would fail to greet me, as has happened on two other trips (but that’s a discussion for another day).
When the invitation to attend a press trip for Panama arrived, I immediately thought how cute I’d look in one of those darling Panama hats and that I’d finally get to see the famed Panama Canal that was the highlight of one of my parent’s many cruises. Not until after I arrived on COPA Airlines into Panama (a three-hour direct flight from Orlando) did I discover that those Fedora hats worn famously by Winston Churchill, Harry Truman, Franklin Roosevelt, Humphrey Bogart or Gary Cooper, were actually Ecuadorian Read more
PART 2: where to stay
In the first of this three-part series on Napa City, in the heart of the famed Napa Valley, I told you what to see and do in this city of 75,000. In Part 2, the focus is on lodging, from intimate B&B’s to grand resorts.
I’ve never been to Aruba, St. Martins, St. Thomas or Nevis (St. Kitts’ smaller, sister island), which are some of the area’s better-known vacation draws, so can’t tell you how St. Kitts compares. What I do know is that if you’re a history buff or botanist, a connoisseur of unusual foods (provided your point of reference are U.S. supermarkets and farmers markets), love sailing on a brisk catamaran at sunset under usually-clear skies, browsing among affordable quaint shops with batik attire and colorful coconut shell jewelry, dancing to calypso music at late night local clubs, or Read more
A wise woman once said to me that the best time to advertise is when the economy is down. Yes, you’re spending money you may not have, but the visibility offered may be the key to outlasting your competitors. Hotels are finding this a perfect time to refurbish and to offer incentives to financially-weary travelers looking to maximize their vacation budgets. Here are a few of whom you may want to pay attention.
The Plantation on Crystal River
Tucked away along Florida’s Nature Coast, an easy trek just 80 miles north of Tampa, this eco-friendly resort caters to people who want to swim with the manatees in their natural surroundings or perhaps to rent a pontoon or hire a guided fishing charter. When their $3 million facelift completes by Jan. 15, the refurbished lobby will showcase updated lighting, and furniture in muted blues and greens, splashed with warm yellows and oranges. No worries about the winding wooden staircase, it’ll remain, but the new contemporary lobby bar will feature a “grab and go” coffee bar, black and white artwork showcasing the scenic river, new booths and stained concrete floors. Included in the refurbishment are the 196 guest rooms, eight junior suties and the 2,304-sf meeting space Read more
(This story was originally written for Prevue Magazine)
Steamy puffs mist lazily over bathers in the 92-degree open-air pool of the Thermae Bath Spa before escaping over densely-packed gabled rooftops little changed since the legendary healing waters of Bathfirst drew international disciples. More than 200 years after Thomas Gainsborough’s initial exhibition at the Royal Society of Arts and Jane Austen memorialized Bath in her novels, people still flock to Thermae for the same healthful benefits anticipated 2000 years ago when the Romans sank their war-weary bodies into Britain’s original natural thermal spa.
The only accessible outlet for the purifying 115-degree water bubbling up from underground, Thermae Bath Spa preserved five historic structures while capitalizing on patrons’ needs for modern amenities by erecting the New Royal Bath, a three-story contemporary glass edifice housing more than 50 spa treatment rooms. Treatments range from Watsu (a soothing therapist-guided experience through the smoothly mineral-rich waters) to exotic body wraps such as the Green Coffee slim & tone, Read more