Crème de Cancun: The Top Five Resorts

A while back I wrote a blog post called Crème de Los Cabos:  The Top Five Resorts  which has proven to be one of my most popular posts ever.   Having been decidedly unpopular among the snootier cliques during my high school days (I’m not bitter, honest I’m not),  I now warmly embrace popularity wherever I stumble into it.

Seeing a golden opportunity to make those uppity, out-of-ballast cheerleaders eat their black little hearts out, I have decided to ride this “crème”  train all the way to the station, so to speak.  Thus, you can expect  in the days ahead, even more gangly siblings in this growing family of “crème” posts.

Some may wonder how I have arrived at my personal list of Cancun’s top five resorts.  Let’s just say that the polling was even less democratic than the recent election in Crimea where the populace voted with Russian boots firmly planted on their necks.  As was famously said by Putin’s diabolical predecessor, “In elections it doesn’t matter so much who votes as who counts the votes.”  In my case, I readily admit, I did both.

Excellence Playa Mujeres

Excellence ResortsYou have to admire the chutzpah of any hotel chain daring to call itself “Excellence”.  It is a lot less risky when you actually are excellent, or so I’m told. One of the things I like best about this property is its location.  As they describe it on their website “an all-inclusive Playa Mujeres Golf Courseoasis situated on an untouched peninsula between the Caribbean and a wetlands preserve”.  Even though it is a little out from Cancun proper, I have included it this grouping because it is the opposite direction from the Rivera Maya. Instead of south it is north and a little west.

Another great feature of this resort is both the quality and variety of dining options.  Suppose your busy schedule only permits a three night stay.  (The first order of business is to re-priortize your schedule!  Do you want to die young?)  In any case, imagine being able to savor the tangy herbs and spices of India’s North-West frontier your first night at Basmati,  sauntering (by the second night you have slowed your pace signficantly) over to Barcelona Mediterranean Restaurant for a variety of tapas followed by paella, veal or perhaps seafood.  By the third night the romantic juices are in full flow (remember those?) and nowhere else will do but Chez Isabelle, their signature French restaurant.  The resort claims you will forget for a moment that you are in Cancun and begin to imagine you have been transported to the Left Bank.  My guess is that by this time you will have been transported to an amorous place where geography is the last thing on your mind.

Fiesta Americana Grand Coral Beach

Fiesta Americana Grand Coral BeachIf “Excellence” was apropos of the previous resort, “Grand” certainly fits this hotel every bit as much. It begins with the location on what is arguably the nicest stretch of beach in Cancun.  If you are familiar with Cancun’s resemblance to the number seven, this property sits at the top of the seven just before it bends southward.  If you like to be in the heart of things, you can’t find a better location.

The entire hotel exudes an old-world charm that from the moment you enter delivers careful attention to detail.  If you are the sort who Le Basilicappreciates refined taste and gentile surroundings, you will immediately fall in love with this hotel.  You will not want to miss the incomparable dining experience afforded at the five diamond Le Basilic.

One of the lingering memories I carried away from my stay was how incredibly fresh and delicious were the breakfast pastries.  Every hotel, including Motel 6, offers pastries and in spite of the fact I have a sweet tooth that would shame a sabre tooth tiger, most of them are frankly not all that tasty.  It is a testament to the class of this resort that it maintains exacting standards even in a relatively small matter.

Hyatt Zilara (formally Royal Cancun)

Room at Hyatt Zilara CancunIn case you didn’t know (keep reading this blog and eventually you will know almost as much as the master), Hyatt Resorts has entered the all-inclusive market.  When a player the size of Hyatt makes a move, they don’t do anything by half-measures!  When they entered the Los Cabos market, they just went out and bought the Barcelo Los Cabos Palace Deluxe with one of the most stunning settings in that destination (see Hyatt Ziva).  In Cancun, they merely ponied up a few mil from their rainy day account and acquired the storied Royal Cancun and rebranded it the Hyatt Zilara.  (The Hyatt Zebra and Hyatt Zephyr can’t be far behind, can they?)

I want you to picture yourself coming home from work one evening, flashing the picture above to your life partner and saying this is the room where we will be staying next weekend.  If that Hyatt Zilara Cancundoesn’t get you around third and all the way home you have bigger problems than I have a clue how to solve.   I suppose if your beloved has an aversion to the color blue as in sky, ocean and pool, that could present a problem.

This stunning resort property is all adults, all -suite, all-inclusive and all your greedy little heart could covet.  There are seven specialty restaurants including Pelicanos which offers international cuisine in an oceanfront setting.  Catering to your refined palate will hardly be a problem here.  Check out this impressive new video!

Nizuc Resort And Spa

Nizuc Resort and SpaBy way of full disclosure, I have never been to Nizuc Resort and Spa.  This picture above is of the reflecting pond.  I find it has put me in a very reflective mood.  Right now I am reflecting on the question of why I have never stayed there.  Two reasons come to mind.  One, it only opened in March of 2013.  The second, and more important reason, I have never been invited.  Note to whom it may concern in Nizuc’s upper management.  My passport is up to date, my bags are perennially packed and my dance card is wide open!  (I know, not exactly subtle.)

By virtue of research, reputation and recommendation, I have definitely determined that it is a place I want to visit.   If you visit their website, take a little time to drool all over your Nizuc Resort and Spa. Cancunkeyboard in the “Gallery” section.

Once you get to Nizuc, you don’t even have to leave your room to enjoy spectacular views.  Not a bad place to enjoy your morning coffee, I would say.  The resort is located in the secluded enclave of Punta Nizuc.  I suspect you have to flash your American Express platinum card just to get past the gate which could potentially constitute a problem for me since my most exclusive credit card is made of balsa wood.  Since I am sure you don’t share that problem, should my pathetic hint above falls on deaf ears, promise me you will send me pictures!

All four of the properties I have mentioned so far deserve a much richer treatment than space permits here.  Should the Lord tarry and my body parts not collectively implode, I promise to write about each one of these gems separately.  That, however, is not a problem for my final selection below as you will shortly see.

Secrets the Vine

Secrets The Vine The Wine GlassOf these five properties, this is the only one I have already treated in detail.  Knock yourself out and read all three.  It’s not like you have anything else going on in your life, right?

At Secrets The Vine, The Wine’s Divine (1)

At Secrets The Vine, The Wine’s Divine (2)

At Secrets The Vine, The Wine’s Divine (3)

I know that many of you will have your own thoughts about which resorts should and should not be on this short list.  I invite you to use the comment section to weigh in.  I would love to hear your list.  All I ask is please don’t tell any of the other worthy candidates I didn’t select!

If you would like to visit one of these incredible resorts, reach out to us here.

Puerto Los Cabos And The Quest For The Best

Being a consummate travel professional (no giggles, please), I admittedly approach my personal travel a little differently than the average vacationer.  Because a large percentage of the travel I do could be considered a combination of business and pleasure, I always travel with an eye out for the unique, the fascinating, the “New Next” to steal a phrase from Texas Monthly magazine.  It is my own relentless “quest for the best” to share with you.  Think of me as a sort of Indiana Jones searching for the Ark of the Covenant only without the chest hair and female entourage.

Marina at Puerto Los CabosThis past week was a perfect example.  I serve on the advisory board for the travel behemoth, Travel Leaders.  We had our quarterly meeting in Los Cabos, Mexico, not exactly a shabby site for a business meeting. One thing I will say about the travel industry, we do meetings right!  I was especially pleased to discover that we were staying at the Secrets Puerto Los Cabos.  As the title above suggests, this post (and the next several) will introduce you to the newest, nicest and neatest development in one of my favorite destinations in all the world.

Google Map of Los CabosFirst a quick geography lesson. Did you ever stop to think about the fact that the destination is called Los Cabos and not El Cabo (cabo meaning cape or tip in Spanish)?  The reason is that at the very tip of the Baja Peninsula there are actually three capes: on the western side is the Cape of San Lucas where you find the town of Cabo San Lucas; the Cape of San Jose where the town of San Jose del Cabo is situated; and finally, there is an Eastern Cape.  Just east of San Jose del Cabo is Puerto Los Cabos sitting right on the border between these latter two capes.  In between the first two capes is the stretch of land known as The Corridor.  Are you starting to remember why you hated geography class so much!

Not to worry, for our purposes we are going to focus all our attention on Puerto Los Cabos.  This amazing development is the brain child of the Sanchez Navarro family comprised of a father, at least two or three sons involved in the business and a nephew.  To date I have only had the pleasure of meeting Rafael who directs the sales and marketing, a deficiency I hope to remedy soon.  I did Google the rest of the family and they all look like stars of a Mexican telenovela. I would love to meet the rest of the “cast” even though in their midst I would no doubt look like one of those character actors brought in for comic relief!  Their company is aptly enough named Grupo Questro and, as you will read below, the entire family obviously shares my passionate quest for the best.

Golf Course at Puerto Los CabosPuerto Los Cabos is a planned development nestled in the hills of the Sierra de la Laguna mountains with its own spectacular marina and 18-hole golf course.   The existing course is the only course I have every played where the front nine was designed by one world-class architect, Jack Nicklaus and the back nine by an equally famous luminary, Greg Norman.  This marriage made in heaven, alas, is temporary seeing that the Greg Norman half will become the front nine of his own eighteen hole signature course and the Jack Nicklaus half will become the back nine of his own 18-hole course.  Nothing like picking out your next spouse while still married!  And you thought geography was complicated.

With the time I have remaining, I am going to tell you about two incredible resorts currently in progress (J. W. Marriott and Ritz Carlton Reserve) and then invite you to come back soon and read about two magnificent resort properties you can book right now (Secrets Puerto Los Cabos and El Ganzo).  Over an ice-cold Negra Modelo (the best beer in Mexico, by the way), Rafael explained to me that the construction I could see next door from where we were sitting on the terrace was a J. W. Marriott that is slated to open late this year. The best I can offer you at the moment are the various artist renderings below. To read a news release about the property, click here.

JW Marriott Puerto Los CabosIn case you are not aware, apparently Ritz Carlton was just not quite ritzy enough for some folks so a few years back they launched the Ritz Carlton Reserve brand.  This new property is described in their news release which you can read here.  “Nestled along 800 feet of oceanfront along Mexico’s Baja Peninsula, 124 private, single-story, oceanfront villas will each have breathtaking panoramic views across the Sea of Cortez in an area of outstanding natural beauty.”  Again, here is an artist rendering.

Ritz Carlton Reserve Puerto Los CabosLest you assume the only option today for visiting Puerto Los Cabos is bringing along a pup tent from home along with a can of pork and beans and a few matches, in the next several posts I will tell you about two remarkable places you can book now.  By way of a tease, while both are magnificent, one of these two is perhaps the most unusual and intriguing hotel concept I have ever seen!  It may take a couple of blog posts to do it justice.

I’ll be back soon.  Why don’t you invite a few friends to join us next time as we continue our “quest for the best”?  This will be one time I can promise you won’t be disappointed.  In fact, why not sign up to follow this blog and you will never have to be disappointed again?  Cheers!

Crete’s Neat! Who Knew?

I fully intended to wrap up this Golden Circle saga in 2013 and begin 2014 with a fresh assault on your literary sensibilities.  In my own defense, however, may I point out that even failing this objective, I am still way ahead of George Lucas and his announced twelve Star Wars episodes (coincidentally, the number of posts in this series).  Come on George, pick up the pace!

Regrettably, all my good intentions to wrap this up in 2013 went decidedly south, not unlike my ambitious New Year’s resolutions . . .  and yes, I do realize it is only January 7th, thank you very much.

Lighthouse in Chania, CreteMy last port of call before returning to Civitavecchia was perhaps, in some ways, the most surprising of all.  I’ll be honest, after scintillating Sicily, awe-inspiring Athens and exhilarating Ephesus, my expectations were not very high for conventional sounding Crete.

I opted not to do a structured tour and instead decided to hop a city bus that took me to the old part of Chania.  I set off with high hopes of buying one of those Uncle Si Robertson growing beards.  You can imagine my disappointment when one of the locals on the bus pointed out (with uncalled-for disdain I might add) that we were going to Chania, not Chia.  Having already sprung for the bus fare, I decided to make the most of my day.

Public market in Chania, Crete   Olives in Chania, Crete

I noted upon stepping off the bus that we were in front of the Agora, a huge, cross-shaped, indoor public market.  Reassured that I could always find directions back to this massive building and thus the bus stop in front (under no circumstances does one want to view the sailing away of one’s cruise ship from the dock), I decided to set off with nary a compass, map or any intelligible plan of attack . . . sort of the way I have approached my entire life.  The second picture above is a concession to my fellow lovers of Greek olives!

Resisting for the moment the urge to sit down in one of these comfortable looking green chairs and let Chania pass me by, instead of visa versa, I continued to amble down narrow streets lined with quaint shops and various eateries.

Sidewalk cafe in Chania, CreteThe pictures below represent a nice study in contrasts!  The first house I took note of on my walk through this charming city had alabaster white walls and second story windows set off by black wrought-iron railings.  It had beautifully carved wood doors and was classically framed by small trees.  As you can see, it was the picture of orderliness and care.   Not so, the second house. May 20th, House in Chania, Crete1941 marks the day the Germans started aerial bombing attacks which rained down significant damage upon the Old City.  I don’t know for sure if this second house was left as it now appears as a testimony to that destruction but I suspect that to be the case.

The bloody Nazis were very adept at wreaking havoc and raining down destruction.  Their meteoric rise to prominence, which thanks to God and the US military flamed out in a few Old house in Chania, Creteshort years, is one of history’s saddest chapters.  Sorry, that is more than enough time devoted to those sadistic miscreants.

On a more uplifting note, I am rather certain that there are guardian angels in heaven whose sole responsibility is to guide the steps of clueless travelers as they wander aimlessly through strange surroundings.  In spite of the fact that I headed north from the Agora for no particular reason it was only a short time before I stumbled upon the most picturesque part of the city, the Venetian port of Chania.  From a strictly utilitarian point of view, it was never very viable as a port being small, shallow and vulnerable to north and west winds.  (Strangely, I also have been called small, shallow and susceptible to just about everything but that doesn’t need to be explored here.)  Crete is, in fact, a fascinating destination and I hope my travels permit another and much longer visit in the future.

Chania's Venetian PortTo close out this series on an amusing, some might say disgusting note, any idea what is going on here?  For the record, these are not my feet dangling in the water.   Actually, thisFeet exfoliation in Chania, Crete is touted as an excellent form of exfoliation.  To quote the poster, the Garra Rufa fish have an enzyme in their saliva called diathanol which has healing properties.

So how did I spend the last couple of hours in my last port of call on the Golden Circle odyssey?  See for yourself below.

It is the quest for moments like this which motivates all of us who restlessly wander the wide world.  We ask only for a few priceless moments to pause, to reflect, to drink a local beer while we drink in the incredible surroundings and to pretend for a brief span we haven’t a care in the world.   Such moments are not just gloriously lived but gratefully relived whenever we rummage through the corners of our minds.

Relaxing by the Venetian Port of Chania, Crete

As we come full circle (pun intended) and move on to new adventures, I would love for you to take a moment and share your thoughts through a comment on this post.  I know full well that everyone has not been blessed to travel as widely as I have. I write these words in the hopes of giving you a small taste of the experience and inspiring your zeal to see as much of this amazing planet as resources, time and the grace of God permit.

Let’s Talk Turkey: Ephesus To Be Precise

Note to Mr. Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, prime minister of Turkey:  I realize it was my first time to visit your fine country but the official greeting committee, shown below, which you sent to welcome me when I stepped off the ship was so much more than I was expecting.  Simply having President Abdullah Gül standing there offering me a cup of Turkish coffee and presenting me with my medal while the military band played the İstiklâl Marşı (Turkish National Anthem) was more than sufficient . . . and even slightly embarrassing for a man of my notable humility.  (Note to reader:  Unfortunately, the picture of that historic moment was snatched out of my hand while feeding an overly aggressive sea turtle from the aft deck.) 

Turkish greetingBut let’s not get ahead of ourselves.  By now, you know the drill.  First we look at one of my favorite aspects of the Navigator of the Seas and then I regale you with fascinating and occasionally true stories of my exploits at the latest port of call.

A FAVORITE FEATURE

“Those are my principles,” Groucho Marx once famously said, “and if you don’t like them–well, I have others.”  One of my own principles is that I never over indulge.  It may have happened once or twice that I was over-served but I think we can all agree, that is hardly the same thing.  Nonetheless, I must admit, I do enjoy the fruit of the grape from time to time.

Vintages on the Navigator of the SeasThere are few better places to sip a mellow Malbec or sample a crisp Cabernet or imbibe a saucy Shiraz or . . . I think you get the idea . . . than Vintages on the promenade deck of the Navigator of the Seas.  This cozy gathering place features more than 60 vintages in their 600 bottle cellar.  Frommer’s has a very nice review of this venue midway down the page here under the heading Public Areas.  Be honest, doesn’t just looking at this inviting image make you yearn to be sitting there right now?

A PORT TO PONDER

For those of you whose biblical knowledge is a trifle rusty, Ephesus was a city visited by the Apostle Paul in his evangelistic journeys and a place which bears the name of one of his epistles.  Just so you don’t embarrass yourself at the next Sunday School pot luck dinner, okay, the Epistles were not the Apostles’ wives!  The epistles were pastoral letters written to burgeoning congregations of Christians in places like Ephesus, Thessalonica, Corinth and Philippi.

Ephesus was built on a small hill with the entrance at the top and the exit at the bottom, a rather unusual design.  That reality is clearly illustrated from this picture.  It is not at all difficult to imagine this main thoroughfare crowded with people from all over the world 2000 years ago just like it was on the day I snapped this picture.

Ephesus, TurkeyIf you would like to view the many pictures I took during my stroll through Ephesus (too many to post here) just visit this site.  (Tip:  The pictures are in chronological order just as Houses of the Wealthy in Ephesusare these Golden Circle posts.)  This is truly one of the most amazing excavations anywhere in the world.  There is a large covered area where massive excavations are underway to unearth “Terrace Houses”, also called the “Houses of the Wealthy.”  These impressive homes were built right into the side of Bulbul Mountain opposite the Hadrian Temple.

This is a picture of the Grand Theater where the Apostle Paul once preached.  It is the largest extant theater from the ancient world with a seating capacity of 24,000.  Just think of it as the “Cowboys Stadium” of Ephesus' Grand Theaterantiquity.   If you have never been to Ephesus, you owe it to yourself to make the effort.  If you have even a remote interest in the ancient world, this is a must see.

For those who need an additional incentive to make the trek, like shopping for example, take note of this head scratching sign that I could not help but notice in the small shopping bazaar just as you exit the ruins to return to the motorcoach park.

Sign in Ephesus market

I am thinking about adopting the slogan for this blog: “Genuine Fake Blog Posts!”  What a great disclaimer against charges of false advertising.

Athens: The Eye Of Greece, Mother Of Arts And Eloquence

If you like the title of this post, be sure and look up John Milton when you arrive safely on “the other side” and shake his hand. He has been over there for more than 300 years signing autographs so he should be almost caught up by now. The phrase comes from Paradise Regained (1671), Book IV, line 240.  My little gray cells have taken off early for the Christmas holidays and the best I was coming up with for a title for this post was Athens Is Really Neat . . . not exactly Miltonian in its rhetorical splendor.

Following Sicily (see previous post) our next port of call was Athens.  In just a moment I will tell you (sadly with none of the lyrical brilliance of John Milton) just how fascinating it was. But first, let’s take a stroll around the Navigator of the Seas and focus on what I am calling in this series of posts:

A FAVORITE FEATURE

Navigator of the Seas' Two Poets PubThese good folks, whoever they may be, are sitting outside the Two Poets Pub. (I am not that great a judge of age but I am pretty sure the lad on the left needs to be carded!) Here is a nice little YouTube video taken by a guest who was obviously having a good time back in May at this pub. It is a great place to sample a pint (or two) from all over the world.  They Famous Beer Quoteshave a very clever and informative menu with categories such as: Good For What Ales You, I Just Like The Taste, Brawny Browns and Second Cousins.

There is a section shown here with a lot of very funny quotes.  If you can’t read the small print, call me and I can book you on the next sailing of the Navigator out of Galveston for a mere pittance and you can read the entire menu while plying the waters of the Gulf of Mexico.  I love the etymology of words and sayings and from this menu I learned this little gem.  “In English pubs, ale is ordered by pints and quarts.  So in old England, when customers got unruly, the bartender used to yell at them to mind their own pints and quarts and settle down.  This is where we got “Mind your P’s and Q’s.”

A PORT TO PONDER

Quite obviously, in the time remaining, I am not going to be able to do justice to one of the Our guide in Athens marvels of the ancient world.  But here are a couple of highlights.  We were extremely blessed  to have such a knowledgeable and erudite guide for our day in Athens.  I would be only too happy to share her name with you had I not managed to lose her business card somewhere between Athens and Ephesus.  Dear lady, if you recognize yourself, send me your contact information and I will update this blog post!  What I especially appreciated is that she spoke slowly and methodically which permitted even my plodding mind to keep up!

We spent most of the morning on the Acropolis.  This picture, taken as we descended from the Parthenon itself, gives you a sense of how all the edifices built upon this famous hill dominated, and still dominate, the entire landscape.

Descending from the Parthenon

As you can tell from this picture below, the Parthenon is in the midst of substantial renovations.  The ravages of time and modern pollution have taken a heavy toll.  The Parthenon was dedicated to Athena, the patron goddess of Athens.  At one time there was a magnificent golden statue of her standing in the midst of the Parthenon.

Parthenon in Athens, Greece

This model from the museum will give you an idea of how it looked in the ancient world.  Model from the Acropolis Museum

Following our tour, we ( a couple of busloads of my closest friends and I) stopped off for a delicious lunch of traditional Greek food at one of the many restaurants nestled between shops in the Plaka district.  This happens to be one of my favorite cuisinesRestaurant in Athens for those of you who are assembling a scrap-book of all my preferences and peccadilloes.

Following lunch and a brief time to browse the shops, we made our way to the breathtaking new Acropolis Museum. I could have spent hours in there.

All in all I would have to say, it was a great day . . . and a Greek day, as I think about it!  I was worn out from all the trekking about but also very inspired.  So, as I was taking a long shower back in my cabin getting ready for dinner, I decided to do a little carving with the bath soap and my toe nail clippers.  Not too shabby, huh?

New Acropolis Museum in Athens

Should I Dubai Before I Die?

Here is my variation on a well known, eighteenth century children’s prayer . . . with humble apologies to the original author:

Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep.

Should I Dubai before I die?  To make that choice, I must know why!

The world contains innumerable grand and glorious places to experience yet each of us has been allotted a finite amount of time to explore its mysteries.  This quandary is madeShould Dubai be my next destination? considerably trickier by the fact none of us knows exactly how much time we have before we shuffle off this mortal coil.   The nearer we draw to that inevitability, the more acute the decision-making process becomes.  I am certainly closer than many of my readers.  About the only consolation I have found so far in growing old is I no longer have to worry about dying young!  Granted, it’s not much but can you say that?

The question I would like to posit in this post is this:  Should you add Dubai  to your “farm list” (as in “before you buy the farm”)?  Sorry, I just couldn’t bring myself to use that other overtaxed, ubiquitous phrase (you know, the one that involves a lower appendage striking a milk pail).  Since I am not a fan of authors who raise questions but offer no answers, here is my never humble opinion:  YES, you should!  I can think of several compelling reasons but in the interest of brevity, here is one of the best.

In Dubai You Can Experience Arab Culture In A Secure Place

I must tread lightly here so as neither to offend nor be misunderstood.  The mention of the religion of Islam and the Arab world in general sparks a plethora of emotions here in America.  Because of the tragic yet undeniable reality of radical Islamic terrorism, many in this country are left in a quandary. They are caught between curiosity and even admiration for one of the world’s oldest and most erudite cultures and a totally understandable apprehension about sating that curiosity in a safe fashion.  For you folks, I have wonderful news.  Dubai is the perfect place to visit to learn more about this culture in a safe and secure environment.

Experiencing Arab hospitality

One of absolute highlights of my brief trip to Dubai . . . I think I have spent more time writing about Dubai that visiting it . .  was a stop in the old section of the city called Bastakiya.  My intrepid guide Susan with Desert Adventures (more about both below) led me to the extremely ??? structuremodest structure you see in the picture to your left called the Bastakiya Majlis.  Before entering she explained that you never knew who might be relaxing within from a humble tradesman to a member of the royal family.

As we entered, we were greeted with what can only be described as effusive hospitality of the sort you identify with the legendary Bedouin custom of Diyafi where even an enemy must be given shelter and fed for a few days.  I was warmly greeted by a handful of men and immediately asked by the man in the picture above, I believe his name was Ahmed, to join him on the mat where he was seated.  I was quickly brought some tea, a little afternoon treat and invited to hold the Hookah pipe which I believe they call Shesha.  The gentleman then began to tell me how he had served in the military and how richly God had blessed him and his two devoted wives.  I used to quip that I had a child and two wonderful wives at home but Ahmed was serious!  I have no doubt, had we had the time, he would have gladly passed the afternoon sharing conversation and extending hospitality.

Gold Souk MarketI wish time permitted me to share many more compelling reasons for making Dubai your next destination.  Since it does not, I point you to the Desert Adventures website which describes just a few of the many available options with this paragraph.

You could be discovering wrecks in the ocean, seeing the world’s tallest tower, attending a diva’s concert, trying your skills at belly and salsa dancing, or going to the theater, feasting on an mouth-watering Arabic buffet in the desert, swimming with the dolphins, dinner cruise on an Arabian dhow, dune bashing, exploring heritage sites, shopping, setting up a business, or even skiing – yes, in the desert! – are just some of the things you can do. The list is endless.

Dubai's Gold Souk marketBoth of the pictures directly above were taken in the market called the Gold Souk.  When we send our clients to Dubai, we use the gold standard of middle east inbound tour companies, Desert Adventures.  Susan Jorehri, whose impeccable knowledge of the destination was earned through more than a decade of local residence, could not have been more kind or informative.  When you get ready to plan you next trip to Dubai, contact our Travel Leaders offices.  Working with Desert Adventures, we will make sure your “farm list” experience is golden!

Let The Journey Begin: Dubai Or Dust!

I have been in the travel business for well over 25 years.  I will refrain from interjecting the tiresome old saw about being in kindergarten when I began.  One glance at my weathered countenance would quickly dispel such illusions anyway.  Unfortunately, the creases in my face are beginning to bear a striking resemblance to a West Texas river bed after a ten-year drought.

One of the things that got me into the travel business originally, besides a fiscal naiveté befitting a first year business major, is my seemingly unquenchable thirst for adventure.  Another less flattering way of saying the same thing is that I have the attention span of a fruit fly.

Unlike my more mature counterparts, I spend very little time reflecting on the past.  My brother, for example, is the family historian.  I am the family futurist.  Most of my psychic energy is expended contemplating my next foray into the sometimes testing but never tedious world around me.

The Club at DFW

The Club at DFW: The only civilized way to start your journey!

This morning*, I set off of on another of my episodic jaunts.  If you happen to have read one of my previous posts, I gave you a few hints as to my upcoming itinerary.  You need simply to read this post, and the next several to follow, for the denouement.

Every successful journey is immeasurably aided by a good beginning.  This one, I must say, is going quite swimmingly so far. It started with being collected at my domicile by a black car arranged for by my dear friends at RideCentric.  After buzzing by my favorite Starbucks for my obligatory tall, skinny, French vanilla latte, we were off to the airport.

Upon checking in at Emirates (the glistening flying chariot that, even as I pen these words, is spiriting me to Dubai), I headed to The Club at DFW (complimentary for those of us blessed to find ourselves in business class).  The breakfast tacos were quite tasty, I must say.

I have been for quite some time very eager to sample the highly vaunted Emirates flying experience.  Oh, I have been on an Emirates plane before, it just never actually got airborne.  Faithful readers will recall I have even been to a couple of Emirates events.  Today, however, is my first occasion to actually fly on Emirates.

As I write these words I am somewhere over Chibougamau (and no, I did not make that up), so I still have numerous hours to go.  For those of you who hang on my every syllable . . . let‘s not delve into embarrassing percentages . . . here are my preliminary observations.  The service on Emirates is every bit as good as advertised.

Flight attendent on EmiratesIf you own an airline (and don’t we all), you better know how to hire the right people.  There is a magical line between effortless grace and obsequious fawning.  My attendant, Jason, must have a Masters degree in that subtle yet critical distinction.  He manages to be helpful without being harassing.  Restaurant servers take note!

The food, so far at least, has been quite delectable.  I say “so far” since I have a lite-bite and a hearty breakfast still to go.  (Hey, it’s a fourteen hour flight and I have to keep Meal service on Emirates my strength up if you expect me to keep cranking out these literary masterpieces.  You don’t think John Steinbeck actually lived off grapes, do you?)  I particularly enjoyed the salad trio of prawn, salmon and lobster.

The flight to this point has been as smooth as a leisurely punt down the Thames.  I write these words with no small measure of reluctance out of fear I may be tempting fate to send along some white-knuckle turbulence just to keep me humble.  Let’s pray not!

The entertainment center called ICE (for information, communication and entertainment), Emirates in-flight entertainment centeris quite elaborate.  So elaborate in fact, I have yet to muster the energy to decipher it.  I haven’t gotten past the screen that shows one’s excruciatingly slow progress toward one’s destination.

Fortunately, munching on Godiva chocolates, sipping port and rambling endlessly on to you, my adoring readers, seems to provide an adequate diversion so far.

Speaking of rambling, I am bumping up against my self-imposed word limit for any given post.  I would tell you my limit but invariably you would start counting words!  Not to worry!  I will be back with more mind-numbing, sleep-inducing, gray cell-suffocating blog posts before you can say “Just take me out and shoot me!”   Dubai or Dust!

* Owing to undependable access to wi-fi during my travels, these posts are being published several days after the events described.  If you remember literature class, it is written in the historical present!  One last note, all the posts related to this trip can be found under the category Golden Circle 2013 on the homepage right rail.

Travel Hopscotch: Name That Destination

I am writing today to assuage the concerns and quiet the fears that surely must be roiling cyber space over my brief hiatus.  I have not published a new post in a couple of weeks which is quite unusual for me.  I can only imagine how sick with worry you must be.

What’s that you say?  You hadn’t noticed?  That’s not very charitable.  It’s not that difficult to feign a little heartfelt concern, you know.  I do it all the time and in one of my finer moments even manufactured a tear once.   If not grave concern, is there at least any idle curiosity out there as to why I have not posted recently?   The short answer is “I’ve been busy!”

Semaphore

International signal for “Dos cervezas, por favor”.

I know most of you think this travel thing is all foo-foo drinks and tiny umbrellas.  You assume all we do is drag our deck chairs from one shade-drenched palapa to the next but you would be so wrong.  In the first place, we would never drag it ourselves if there were a beach waiter within semaphore range.  I got a very nasty splinter doing that once.

Secondly, I will have you know this industry ranks right up there with thinning trees in the pacific northwest and roughnecking in a west Texas oil field for sheer back-breaking exhaustion.  OK, I might be embellishing a tad but the pace, nonetheless, can be quite frenetic.

Here is a bit of good news for those who live for the next installment of these posts.  I am soon to embark upon a rather exotic spate of travel that should provide loads (or would it be bales, or perhaps stacks?) of fodder for future riveting posts.  So where are my travels about to take me?  Are you up for a little cyber parlor game?

Below are pictures of six stops on my itinerary presented in chronological order.  They are labeled, not illogically, Stop One to Stop Six.  I invite you to write a comment with your best guess for each one.  In some cases I have intentionally avoided the more iconic images of the destination.  You won’t see any Sydney opera houses or Eiffel Towers.

Dubai AirportSTOP ONE

Ladispoli, ItalySTOP TWO

Messina, Sicily Athens, Greece

                      STOP THREE                                                  STOP FOUR

Goddess Nike at Ephesus STOP FIVE

Chania, Crete, GreeceSTOP SIX

Give it your best shot.  I am looking not just for the country but the city.  If anyone gets all six correct, I have an immediate opening for you in our vacation travel department!!!

River Cruising: A Languid Stroll Down Liquid Highways (2)

When last I left you  . . . or you left me . . . let’s not quibble over who broke it off, we were strolling hand in hand down that most renowned of liquid highways, the incomparable Rhine river.  I had made some tortured pun on the name of our ship and you had tittered in that coy way you have. Then, suddenly, you slipped away into the heavy mist that creeps along the river’s banks like a cat burglar in ballet slippers.   Let’s resume our journey and see if we can’t recapture a bit of yesterday’s magic.

Before we leave Amsterdam for good though, I just have to show you this picture as a dire warning that even a pastime as noble as gardening can go to seed, so to speak. You could build an entire reality show called “Horticulture Gone Wild” based on this yard alone.  Did you notice the garage roof?

Horticulture Gone WildOne of my favorite stops along the way was Cologne from which we get our word . . . cologne.  I figured that out without resorting to the guide book.  And speaking of guides, Viking River Cruises has this fantastic system whereby every passenger is given a headset to use on walking tours.  If you look closely at our guide, whom I called Hoss Cartwright (behind his rather imposing back, of course), you can see his microphone.

The reincarnation of Hoss Cartwright.

The reincarnation of Hoss Cartwright.

“Hoss” was an absolute mountain of a man.  Let’s just say he cut a wide swath and I quickly found that if you followed in his wake you could careen along behind him no matter how many Peppermint Schnaps you might have imbibed. I will say, “Hoss” had a masterful grasp of colorful local history and and a very entertaining way of presenting it.

The first picture below is a great illustration as to why comfortable walking shoes are an absolute must on this kind of experience.  The second picture is the perfect advertisement for:

1) living in the south of France instead of the north of Germany

2) letting your wife dress you in the morning

3) finally, for choosing a musical instrument that is smaller than you are! I wonder if this guy ever gave serious consideration to an harmonica.

Cobblestone streetsStreet Musician

 If you are foolhardy enough to book another river cruise company besides Viking River Cruises, the picture below depicts the cabin you will likely end up with.  Ancient casteJust so you know, having waterfowl hanging on your wall will cost you a surcharge..  OK, just a little harmless joke, other river cruise partners.  Actually, there are several quality river cruise companies out there but Viking is certainly an industry leader in many categories.  They are not the cheapest nor the most expensive but they provide incredible value for price.  They have won a number of very prestigious awards.  You might want to read my recent post on Travel Deals And Other Mythical Creatures for a little perspective on travel values verses supposed deals.

If I have rekindled your affection as well as sparked your passion for this wonderful way to see the world, are you willing to indulge me one final installment in this little trilogy?  If so, let’s make a date to meet back here in a few days where we will conclude our river odyssey.

River Cruising: A Languid Stroll Down Liquid Highways

There is a very good reason that so many great cities, not only in Europe but throughout the world, are found alongside some of the world’s most majestic rivers.  Before relatively recent times, challenging terrain posed many obstacles to travel over land.  In the rivers, however, the merchants found ready-made highways to transport their goods and thus these cities sprung up as inland ports-of-call.  River cruising is capitalizing upon this reality and rapidly becoming one of the hottest vacation options in travel.

View from the Viking HelvetiaA couple of years ago I was fortunate enough to experience a truly magnificent river cruise aboard the Viking Helvetia.  We sailed from Amsterdam to Basel mostly along the Rhine River.  Part of what made the experience so enjoyable was that I was sauntering along with eighty or so of my closest friends.  You are no doubt shocked I would have 80 casual acquaintances much less that many close friends.

Viking River Cruise Excursion

The wheels on the bus go round and round.

You might be surprised to learn how much natural affinity there is between us like-minded, quirky travel folks.  We tend to congregate in large clusters, kind of like the Amish but without the beards . . .  and the foggiest notion of what’s appropriate in public, of course.  Actually I count the folks in this picture among my dear friends. At least I did before I published this candid shot on the internet without their permission where it will linger in some dank corner of cyberspace for all eternity.  Flip’s not really driving.  It just sort of looks that way.

I discovered that there are a whole host of things I like about river cruising, first and foremost being the leisurely pace.  Someone like my fellow blogger Lesley Carter over at Bucket List Publications, a frequenter of these pages, God love her,  would probably have to parasail behind the ship upside down, blindfolded and tethered to concertina wire just to stay awake.  Check out her blog to see what I mean.

However, for those of us for whom an adrenaline rush is defined as sipping a mellow Malbec in a dimly lit room, it is ideal.   When you are trying to absorb several hundred years of European history through the bar’s gigantic picture window, even five knots an hour seems like wave running.  Captain, can’t you slow this thing down a bit!

Archimedes' screws in Amsterdam

Giant Archimedes’ screws

Our first stop was in Kinderdijk where we did a windmill excursion.  If you have ever wondered how they move water around in a country which is largely below sea level check out these gigantic Archimedes’ screws.  Those of you who are expecting one of my typical crude attempts at humor will have to wait a sentence or two.  I’m not touching this one.

Just to prove I actually was in The Netherlands, here is one of many windmills dotting the landscape.  And no, dear skeptics out there, I did not photoshop the third hole at my local miniature golf course.  Windmill in KinderdijkI can tell by your drooping eyelids that I am not going to be able to hold your attention all the way to Basel.  Therefore I have made an editorial decision, seeing as I am what passes for an editor around here, to return next post with more of my heart-throbbing river adventures.  I have decided to do this just for the  Helvetia of it.  (Now there’s the kind of pathetic pun you have come to expect from your humble blogger.)

Have you ever been on a river cruise?  After reading this scintillating post, would you like to?  Check it out here. At you own languid pace, of course!