Reading about the current flooding of Venice makes me so sad. My family and I were there in July, four short months ago, and we stood in St Mark’s Square, which is now flooded and closed off to tourists. It is hard to believe this is happening to this historic city.
We stayed at a great hotel around the corner from St. Mark’s Square and had drinks every night in this cozy bar. The friendly servers welcomed us warmly and brought over snacks of olives, bruschetta and nuts to enjoy with our cocktails.
We had dinner one night at a quaint restaurant away from the touristy areas. The concierge at our hotel recommended it to us after we said we wanted to eat someplace smaller and more local. Il Nuovo Galeon was the perfect spot. We walked there from our hotel and it was a great opportunity to get away from the tourist spots and see where the Venetians live.
We were there during the Biennale Art Festival and saw a couple of the exhibits on our Grand Canal tour. It was a treat to see Banksy’s artwork, which we were told was his only one in the city.
The highlight of our final dinner on the rooftop of Hotel Daniele were these breathtaking views. I truly hope this city will recover from the damage caused by the flooding and will once again welcome visitors to enjoy its amazing landmarks and historic buildings, but sadly, that will probably take quite some time.
I was in London for a weekend recently. I stayed at a charming hotel called The Montague On The Gardens and loved the ambiance of this traditional English boutique hotel. The staff were so warm and welcoming, I felt like I was among friends.
I enjoyed a traditional English tea with my daughter who is studying in London for the year. I loved that we could smell the different tea leaves they offered and we sat for two hours enjoying several different varieties as well as salmon and egg finger sandwiches and lovely pastries and of course, scones.
There is also a hot chocolate cart where you can create your own custom hot chocolate with a variety of toppings including marshmallows, chocolate drops, sprinkles, whipped cream and peppermint straws.
The leopard bar was another feature of this hotel that is not to be missed. The chic and elegant decor makes this the perfect place to relax and have a couple of drinks.
What I loved about this hotel is that while you are in the center of London, walking distance to the British Museum, Oxford Street and Covent Garden, this is a sanctuary of calm and quiet where you can slow down and unwind after taking in all the excitement and buzz that this world-class city offers.
I just returned from Cancun and loved it! It was my third visit in five months. I was at the International Travel Agent Forum learning as much as I can about this destination as well as other top travel destinations around the world.
This Forum is attended by top producing agents, and I was honored to have been included in this select group! Some of the highlights of this annual event include meeting with top suppliers representing resorts in Mexico and travel suppliers from all over the world including South Africa, Israel, Hawaii, Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Europe, Russia, and Canada.
The South Africa presenter painted an amazing picture of this beautiful country where there is so much to do besides go on Safari. Don’t get me wrong, that is a must when visiting this country and seeing the Big 5 in the wild has to be on many travelers’ bucket lists. However, this destination is also a draw for foodies, adventure enthusiasts, and city lovers. Any visitor must include Cape Town and Table Mountain in their itinerary.
We also heard from a river cruise company which not many may have heard of in the US. Riviera River Cruises is a UK company operating luxury cruises along the most popular European rivers. Their ships have names like MS George Eliot, MS William Wordsworth and MS Emily Brontë to name a few. This is a hidden gem and they offer great value for their product. I am looking forward to sharing more about this company with my clients!
My next post will be about the resorts we toured which were phenomenal. Stay tuned!
I had a great time on the Playa Resorts Panama Jack Fam for the past 4 days. I stayed at the Panama Jack Cancun and the Panama Jack Playa del Carmen. Both resorts were very nice but completely different in terms of style, layout and décor. What they do have in common is very welcoming and friendly staff and great food and restaurant options, oh and great cocktails!
Panama Jack resorts are family resorts and the focus is on FUN! In Cancun, the resort has a pirate ship and kids’ activity area that will keep kids entertained for days. Jack’s Bar is the main bar. It is very large with lots of seating at the bar and comfortable sitting areas all around the room. There is a stage for live entertainment and karaoke for brave guests who want to light up the stage!
The resort is on the Cancun Hotel Zone and I enjoyed walking the long stretch of beach every morning.
We had a dance lesson and learned the Panama Jack dance which the staff perform by the pool for the guests daily. Did I mention the resort is a lot of fun?
We also got to see the turtle sanctuary which was a real treat. We were given a demonstration of how the turtle eggs are buried in the sand until they are ready to hatch. Every time a turtle lays eggs on the beach, those eggs are transferred to a protected area and buried in the ground. A sign labeled with the approximate hatch date and type of turtle is staked in the sand on the mound of each set of eggs. We even got to see an actual turtle egg. They are the size of ping pong balls.
Some of the other highlights of our stay were making Mazapan which is a Mexican candy made with crushed peanuts and powdered sugar. We had a mixology lesson and watched the mixologist make a variety of cocktails, my favorite of which was the mescalita cocktail.
The tequila tasting was the highpoint for me and I had a first ever experience of sucking on a lemon dusted with cricket salt. Yes, that’s right - ground cricket mixed with salt.
This is a great place to relax, enjoy the beach and the friendly atmosphere of this cozy resort.
When we were deciding on our activities in the Azores we came across canyoning as an option and decided to try it. We had never done it before and the idea of being close to nature and trekking through canyons really appealed to us.
When we reached Ribeira dos Caldeirões where our activity was going to begin we met Hugo and Gonçalo who were going to be our guides. I instantly liked them. They were young, warm and friendly and it was very easy to feel comfortable around them. They gave us our wetsuits, helmets and boots and fitted us with rappelling belts. I wasn’t nervous about the activity because I had no idea what was to come.
We started out walking and pretty much immediately entered dark, muddy, narrow paths that were also quite steep. I was huffing and puffing and thought ok this is for real! After walking for a bit, we approached an opening which to our delight was a natural pool and beyond that was a beautiful waterfall. I instinctively wanted to swim toward the waterfall. The water was cold but refreshing after the sweat I had built up from trekking up the steep terrain.
We received our safety briefing there and then set off to continue our climb before we would begin coming back down the canyon. The descent was the really fun part for me. We experienced so many new and exhilarating things and all around us was lush greenery and foliage that grew thick in the wet environment of this protected canyon. We slid down muddy slopes on our backs. We jumped off waterfalls. We rappelled down cliffs. Finally, as we neared the end of our adventure we came to the biggest challenge of all - jumping off a 30-ft. waterfall! Our guides were very good at offering the right kind of encouragement but not forcing us to do anything beyond our limits.
They coached us about how to jump and where to jump. At each point, they instructed us as to whether we should jump out and in which direction to avoid any possible rocks beneath the surface of the water. At this final point, they told us to simply take one step off the cliff when we were ready to jump. It was pretty wild looking down because it was such a high jump.
When the time came, I was very, very nervous and when I took that step, it felt like I was in the air for a very long time before I hit the water. I went in a little sideways on one leg and felt the impact. I was okay but knew I would have a bruise there. Nevertheless, it was amazing! They offered us the chance to jump again and I took it. The second jump was easier. I was less nervous and kept my body straight because I looked down into the water as I jumped which allowed me to keep my bearings. At this point, a crowd had gathered around the walls of the canyon and they were watching as our group took these final jumps off the cliff. It was quite amusing to look out at them as we completed our jumps and got out of the water and climbed the winding stone staircase out of the canyon. We were all excited and flush with adrenaline as we recounted our experience. It was so exhilarating and simply put, FUN!!
We arrived in Ponta Delgada on Delta which operates a daily flight from JFK. Our flight arrived in the morning so after reaching our accommodation we decided to take a short nap before our scheduled tour which was in the afternoon. Our tour guide, Leandro picked us up around 2:00pm and we set off. Our first stop was the pineapple plantation which was pretty cool. They showed us the various stages of growing pineapple and we got to sample pineapple liqueur which is pretty strong!
Next, we drove to see the massive volcanic crater of Sete Cidades. We were in awe of the sweeping landscapes surrounding the blue and green Empadadas and Canario lakes. These lakes are the result of volcanic eruptions occurring long ago. The last eruption occurred at approx. 500 years A.D. Besides the two lakes, there is a village in the crater, as well as forested areas and grasslands.
The views were simply amazing! You will notice hydrangeas in the pictures. They are everywhere! We learned that they are not native to the island, however. They were brought here and just took to the soil and grew like crazy.
That evening we walked into town to explore the town of Ponta Delgada. It is quaint and charming. A travel tip is that you must have reservations for the restaurants so plan ahead. Also, they do not always answer the phone so email in advance if possible. The restaurants are excellent though. The specialties I most enjoyed are octopus and fresh caught fish.
When in Venice, Do as the Venetians Do…Get Away from St. Mark’s Square!
Look, St. Mark’s Square is iconic. You know you’re going to do some serious sightseeing here on your trip to Venice. The Basilica San Marco, the Doge’s Palace, the Campanile (Bell Tower). Fabulous! What’s not to like? Well, quite a bit actually, particularly the crowds, the high prices, the endless souvenir shops, and the plagues of cruise ship day trippers. So don’t miss San Marco to be sure, but do yourself a favor and also visit the areas of Venice where the locals live, work, eat and hang out. Here are three for you to explore to earn the admiration and envy of your friends back home and prove your credentials as a traveler not just another tourist.
Dorsoduro: Situated across from San Marco on the south side of the Grand Canal, Dorsoduro has the best arts scene in the city and is home to the Academia Gallery and the Peggy Guggenheim Collection. Better yet are the wine bars that line the back street canals here where you can sip a glass of wine or a Campari or Aperol spritz while sampling cicchetti (venetian tapas) and watching workmen refurbishing gondolas in the tiny boatyard on the other bank.
Castello: Including the area comprising the Arsenale, the former naval fortress of Venice, Castello is one of the oldest sestiere (neighborhoods) in Venice and one of the most authentic. Home to many locals, this is an area for people watching and pretending you’re a local. As an added bonus try to find the wine bar and gin palace, highly prized by locals, where TripAdvisor reviews are banned.
Cannaregio: Located in the north of the city, Cannaregio is old school Venice away from the bustling crowds of tourists in St. Mark’s Square. This was the local neighborhood of our water taxi captain and you don’t get more Venetian than that. Of particular note is the Jewish Ghetto, the oldest in the world and the origin of the word ghetto. Today Cannaregio is a residential neighborhood filled with local restaurants, bars and cafes.
We only had a short time in Dublin and our priority was seeing Trinity College Library at the University of Dublin. This is the largest library in Ireland and houses the famous Book of Kells. We bought tickets to tour the Old Library and I rented the audio guide. The story of the ancient texts is fascinating and the intense work that the scribes performed is amazing to think about. After finishing the tour of the Old Library, we climbed the stairs to reach The Long Room. What an impressive sight it is! The library was built between 1712 and 1732 and has a lower and upper gallery. It holds 200,000 of the library’s oldest books.
A cool piece of trivia is that it was believed that The Long Room was used as the basis for the Jedi archives in the movie Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones.
After the library, we went to Kehoe’s Pub. It was such a beautiful, sunny day that while the street outside the pub was packed, inside we found seats and ordered Guinness, of course. This pub is very popular and we can see why. It has a great atmosphere and lots of “snugs”, alcoves and partitions so you are sure to find a cozy spot to sit and enjoy your pint of the “black stuff”.
Dinner was at the Cliff Restaurant which we walked to from Kehoe’s Pub. The restaurant is in an elegant townhouse which it turns out is also a hotel. The restaurant is a long rectangular room, with white walls, white table cloths and mirrors hanging on the walls giving it a very glamourous atmosphere. Continuing our quest for seafood, we ordered the seafood platter. This was an impressive display and included Oyster Rockefeller, brown shrimp, Dublin Bay prawns, crab claws, smoked salmon, scallops, lobster and mussels. What a feast!
We continued on and about an hour later we arrived at our destination, Ashford Castle. Wow! We drove up to a gated entrance where a uniformed porter offered a warm welcome. As we drove through the gates and up the winding driveway we were transported to a different world. There were green lawns and lush trees surrounding us as we approached the bridge taking us to the castle where we would be spending the remainder of the afternoon and the evening. We were greeted warmly by all the staff as they welcomed us and escorted us to our room. We had a surprise upgrade to a two-level suite.
When we entered our room for the night, we were simply amazed. We had a living room with a gas fire and dining table set with chocolates for us to enjoy. The view from our room was of the gardens and lake. We had two bathrooms on this floor with heated floors. Upstairs was our bedroom which was in the turret of the castle. The bedroom walls were green velvet and matched our bedspread. We had a walk-in closet with fully stocked minibar and another bathroom ensuite. Simply unbelievable!!
While it was tempting to sit and enjoy our luxury accommodations we wanted to explore the castle. We set out to walk the grounds and take in the beauty of the lush surroundings. There were tall, beautiful trees set in woods, then there was an opening to a green field dotted with sheep and then there were beautiful gardens. It was one delightful discovery after another. We were so enthralled that we took photos of everything we could.
We had dinner reservations in the George V dining room and knew it would be special. The waiters wore tuxedos and knew our names, greeting us personally one after the other as we were taken to our table. While it was formal, the staff were so warm and kind, making us feel at ease. Dinner included toasting with champagne then cured mackerel and langoustine tartare, followed by sautéed cod and slow roasted pork belly. We had cheese and grapefruit soufflé for dessert.
After dinner, we went to the lounge and enjoyed listening to the lady singer with a beautiful voice singing melancholy songs like “Danny Boy” with accompaniment by a pianist. After she finished her last song we moved on to the bar and enjoyed after dinner drinks for a while longer. I just didn’t want the evening to end. It was that good.
Day 2 in Ireland started with breakfast in the guesthouse. We had made our selections the night before on a form left in our room along with the time we wanted breakfast. When we entered the small dining room, they had pastries, granola and yogurt set up and offered us tea or coffee and shortly afterwards brought out our cooked breakfast.
We had such a short time in Ireland that we had to set off right after breakfast and we headed southwest to fit in a visit to the Cliffs of Moher. The drive was not long but you have to be alert. For the most part, the roads are single lanes going in opposite directions and you are sharing the road with cyclists and large tour buses. The views are beautiful with green fields along gently winding roads and of course, charming towns that you drive through along the way.
Once we reached our destination we parked our car in the large parking lot and walked across to the visitor center. Since we were short on time we didn’t spend much time there but headed out to see the cliffs. The impact of the cliffs creeps up on you. You have to stand there for a few moments and just soak it in and then it strikes you just how amazing the view is. We saw people walking along the cliffs in several different directions and weren’t sure which way would offer the best views. After a short walk to the right, we decided to turn around and go the other way. That was the right decision. As we walked we seemed to be getting higher and higher and had ever more breathtaking views. There are no words to describe the experience!
After we completed our visit of the Cliffs of Moher we got back in our car and headed to our next stop where we would be spending our second night. We drove back along the same roads we had taken earlier in the day as we were heading north. Along the way, we spotted a sign for a restaurant that was recommended to us and we decided to stop and give it a try. Moran’s is famous for seafood and its reputation is well earned! We sampled smoked salmon and crab but the highlight for me was the oysters.
Brook Bramley is a travel agent and the owner of TripBoutiq. She loves to share her passion for travel and exploring the world!