Thursday, April 4, 2013

Rochelle's Travel Blog- South America- Atacama & Easter Island

Many of us have a “bucket list” of things we’d like to do. Or, others, like me, have a bucket list of places we’d like to visit. A few months ago I decided to check off three of these destinations.

Along with my husband, Art, and our good friends, Chris and Rick Zantop, I boarded a flight to Santiago, Chile to begin our adventure.

Our first destination was San Pedro de Atacama, three hours north of Santiago. The Atacama Desert is a place of active and soft adventure in northern Chile between the Pacific Ocean and the Andes Mountains. We loved our accommodations at the Explora Lodge. Explora handles everything from transfers, to meals, to all activities. There are so many things to do here that you plan your individual itinerary for each day with your own personal guide. Some of our activities included hiking, swimming in the hot springs and watching the pink flamingos in the salt deposits.

Three days later we were off again. Back to Santiago for an overnight at the newly refurbished Grand Hyatt. The next morning, we took a five-hour flight to our second destination, one of the most remote and unusual places on Earth: Easter Island.

The Explora Lodge was again our home for the three days we stayed on Easter Island. The people  who are called Rapa Nui, the food and the scenery were wonderful, but the best part was hearing the stories about the huge Moai monuments that dotted the island landscape. These statues are made out of volcanic rock and they are the most incredible ancient relics ever discovered. I was fascinated by the mystery surrounding them. Our guide was fantastic, so knowledgeable and proud of his heritage. We were sorry to leave this magical place. One could easily spend more time on the island horseback riding, hiking and snorkeling.

Another five-hour flight and we landed in Lima, Peru for an overnight. We stayed at the beautiful Miraflores Hotel on the ocean. This hotel, run by Orient Express, is the best one in Lima. It is decorated beautifully and has a great staff.

The next morning, a short flight took us to Iquitos where we were transferred to the beautiful Aqua Expedition for our journey into the Amazon. The Aqua is a fairly new ship holding 24 people in 12 beautifully decorated cabins. From the wood floors to the white duvets, the cabins are comfortable and roomy. The huge picture windows allow you to see the river as you float by. I was amazed by the excellent food and the variety served onboard the ship. The staff was helpful and fun to be with. Each day we boarded our skiffs to delve deep into the jungle. We saw unusual birds, pink dolphins, manatee and bats. The highlight was seeing the Anaconda snake and going into the jungle to see what vegetation is used for medicinal and other purposes. I enjoyed our visit to a local village where the children put on a program for us. We brought them books, pencils, paper and T-shirts as gifts, for which they were all grateful. It is times such as these that I realize how much we take forgranted in our everyday life. After four days journeying down the Amazon, it was time to go home.

Since this part of South America is in our time zone, we returned home with no jet lag, but with an abundance of great memories of our visits to three very different and interesting destinations.

Rochelle's Travel Blog- Black Sea Cruise & Polar Bears of Churchill

Every year I plan trips to parts of the world I have always wanted to explore. I love to see new and unusual places and, most importantly, I love to share my findings when I return home. This past year lived up to my expectations with two very different adventures.

Last July, my husband, Art, and I were delighted to be Virtuoso Hosts on Seabourn’s newest ship, the Quest. Prior to boarding the ship for a seven-night sailing of the Black Sea, we spent a few days discovering the dynamic and modern city of Istanbul with its rich historic sights, delicious food and bustling bazaars. We stayed at the beautiful Ciragrin Palace Hotel where the high level of service and exquisite rooms were quite impressive.

The Quest is an elegant and intimate ship with 225 ocean view luxurious suites. 90% of them have private verandas. They were gorgeous, equipped with the latest amenities and staffed by a personal suite stewardess that handles all requests one may have. The ship interior is accented with wood and light colors, very warm and inviting. With  award-winning dining venues, a large spa facility and unparalleled service, we could not have been more comfortable.

Our round-trip itinerary included the ports of Nessebur, Bulgaria; Constanta, Romania; and Odessa, Yalta and Sevastopol, Ukraine. The Virtuoso shore excursion was held in Odessa with a detailed tour of the city and a festive lunch complete with traditional Ukraine dancing and singing. Exeter did a superb job of handling the daily private tours. In each port, one of their experienced guides picked us up and showed us the highlights of the city. This area of the world is truly fascinating.

An additional treat was in store for the Gateway Travel contingent onboard the ship one evening. Our fellow traveler, Dr. Sanford Finkel, entertained us to our very own private piano concert. It was a wonderful, lively night.

After saying our goodbyes to the group in Istanbul, Art and I continued on for two days to Cappadocia. I had never been to this central Turkey location and was curious to visit the “fairy chimneys” that dot the region. Over the years, the people here have carved houses, churches and even hotels into these cave-like rock formations. We took a gorgeous hot air balloon ride over this dramatic landscape. What an experience!  I will definitely add this unique stop to future itineraries.

In November, with long underwear, fleece and camera in tow, I hosted an exciting four-day trip to Churchill, Manitoba, a small, hospitable Canadian hamlet on the shore of the Hudson Bay. Adventure seekers and photographers, this is the place for you! Churchill served as our base to view the beautiful white polar bears. Natural Habitat Adventures did an excellent job of organizing our transportation as well as our accommodations. From our very knowledgeable guides, we learned about the ways of the bears, how they live and even about the people that live in this part of the world. It was a great learning experience.

Each day we set out in special vehicles called Tundra Buggies. They were roomy; complete with bathrooms, heat and comfortable seats. As we roamed the tundra we were able to get up close to these fantastic animals while taking in the rugged beauty of the land. It was thrilling to see the bears in their natural environment. They were quite playful and came right up to our vehicle. I know we all enjoyed taking many pictures and showing them to each other each evening as we reconvened at dinner.

This trip was definitely an animal lover and photographer’s dream. I know it was one our group will long remember.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

On the road with Gateway's Advisors

My husband, Burton, and I were very fortunate to be selected as the Virtuoso Voyager Club hosts on the Seabourn Pride sailing from Xingang, China to Kobe, Japan.  The itinerary was fascinating & included three exciting ports in South Korea. Our Virtuoso shore event took place in Busan, South Korea, where we visited the Beomeosa Temple, a highlight of our tour. The temple is located at the foot of Mt. Geumjeonsan; a beautiful and  peaceful setting.  It was our first visit to South Korea and we were very impressed by the friendliness of the people and the great prosperity evident everywhere.

Recently, I went on a 10-day trip to China with Imperial Tours. We toured Beijing, Xian, Guilin and Shanghai. There are so many highlights of our trip, but I can say climbing the Great Wall of China was definitely one of the best.  As we got to the top, Imperial Tours had set up a beautiful lunch for us with white tablecloths, rose petals strewn across the ground, flowers on the table and our own personal chef serving us lunch and wine! The Terracotta Warriors in Xian were also an amazing site to see. Another exceptional day included floating down the Li River toward Guilin watching the Chinese farmers in the rice paddies living their daily lives. Shanghai was a vibrant, exciting city with wonderful shops, food, hotels and waterfront. Imperial Tours is an excellent company that gives their clients a very special way to see China.

In November 2011, I experienced an exotic paradise, the French Polynesian Islands! They were amazingly beautiful with pristine white sand beaches, brilliant hues of turquoise water, delicious food and warm, welcoming people!  I visited Tahiti, Moorea, Bora Bora and Taha’a. All were fabulous and unique in their own ways. My favorite was Bora Bora. The St. Regis was exceptionally stunning! The over-the-water bungalows are gorgeous; 1250 sf of sheer luxury with glass floors and colorful fish that swim with you right off your own private balcony! It’s a destination like no other, well worth the time it takes to get there.
My husband, Herb, and I visited Egypt for two weeks. We traveled to Cairo, Luxor, Abu Simbel and sailed on a Nile cruise.  ISRAM was the wonderful tour company that arranged this tour for us. We stayed in deluxe hotels and cruised on the newest Nile ship, Sontesa St. George. ISRAM did a fantastic job of keeping us informed about the unfolding protests that were occurring. We felt safe and secure at all times. Egypt is a fantastic travel destination that will appeal to everyone who journeys there. The people, the history and the antiquities are beyond wonderful.

I recently returned from a wonderful trip to Israel and Jordan, sponsored by Travex and UTA, our Virtuoso partners in those countries. In ten days, we experienced the best Israel and Jordan have to offer. Israel highlights included a visit to a Golan Heights winery, Mount Masada, Bethlehem, and most importantly, the city of Jerusalem. We walked from the Mount of Olives through the Old City, stopping at Stations of the Cross and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Our visit ended at the Western Wall, a must-see sight! Then, it was on to the amazing country of Jordan. Outside of Amman we visited Jerash, one of the Decapolis cities from the third century. We overnighted in Petra for the chance to ride a camel to see the sixth century BC ruins declared an UNESCO World Heritage site. What a day! We also spent time with Bedouins in Wadi Rum on a wild jeep ride in the desert. Both Travex and UTA provided us with a wonderful guides and drivers and our hotels were top notch. All in all, it was the trip of a lifetime and not to be missed!