AEGEAN BREEZES

I can’t figure it out. What was my favorite thing about our 9-night Windstar Cruise from Athens to Venice? The exotic ports of call? The French doors flung open all night as the sound of the Aegean serenaded us to sleep? The service-with-the-biggest-smiles attention? The open bridge policy to watch all the goings-on of the captain’s maneuvers in and out of harbors? The tour guides fascinating us with quaint stories of ruins and wineries? Must I choose?

Our first three days brought us to the Peloponnese in Greece, visiting the sites of the first ancient Olympics, Olympia and Itea, with their ruins and stadia and temples honoring the gods who featured so prominently in the games.

Christiana, our insightful guide during our tour of Delphi, brought the history of this sacred site to life. Known in ancient times as the Omphalos, the navel and center of the universe, it was the site where people came from across all of Greece once a year to beseech the Oracle of Delphi for her prophecies, surrounded and perhaps influenced by vapors emanating from the rocks in the darkness beneath the Temple of Apollo.

Next we squeezed through the Corinth Canal, an engineering marvel from start to finish, with barely a foot to spare on either side of our ship at its narrowest point. After winding through the glorious fjords of Montenegro, we rounded one last turn and the Captain let out three long low horn blasts. He was signaling our arrival to the Island of the Madonna that guards the entrance to the port of Kotor. In a sweet ritual that has been reenacted every time a ship enters this dramatic harbor,  someone on the Island of the Madonna then tolls its bells in response, like two lovers calling to each other from afar.

Croatia surprised us the most. Two stops in Dubrovnik and Hvar introduced us to the Dalmatian Coast, the home of craggy cliffside villages, islands and inlets stretched out along the Adriatic Sea. We began our day in sunny Dubrovnik kayaking among fortress walls and cliffs, ending with some snorkeling in a sea cave. Hot and hungry, we cooled off with the creamiest gelato and wandered the narrow streets of shops and homes climbing up the hillside.  Halfway uphill we boarded a gondola and glided to the top of the mountain with glorious views of Dubrovnik below us and  islands stretching off into the afternoon sun. Not wanting to leave our breezy perch, we dined on juicy tomatoes and burrata and a savory seafood risotto at the Restaurant Panorama with its namesake views.

Probably the only way to top Croatia was our last stop, Venice, la Serenissima. We sailed into the Grand Canal to a dramatic thunder and lightning storm that lasted until we docked. With her rich history of trade, art and decadence, there is no better city to get lost in than Venice, to wander among the alleyways that always lead to water and bridges, quaint shops and eateries. And instead of busy streets filled with buses and taxis, Venice’s “streets” are its canals, plied by water taxis and gondolas, not a car in sight.

I think my favorite thing about our WindStar cruise is the “Sail Away,” the nightly ritual with music, lights, pomp and circumstance when the ship pulls away from the pier and we set sail for our next destination.  Guests drop everything to run up to the Sky Bar on the top deck to catch this event. Two of the ship’s officers in their dress whites stand poised waiting for Vangelis’s music to crescendo and then ever-so-slowly raise the WindStar flag, inch by dramatic inch, until, over the course of three minutes, the flag is fully raised up into the evening breeze. This mesmerizing ritual would neatly wrap up the day’s adventures and was a sweet harbinger of the adventures to come in the morning. Sail Away was the time to gather together with other guests to share stories of wine tastings and hikes, olive presses and swims. All washed down with a glass of wine or the signature cocktail of the day as fellow guests on this intimate ship became fast friends.

Lisa Kallen is a Travel Consultant with Alamo World Travel, specializing in tours, cruises and customized vacations to Europe, the Americas, South Pacific and Asia. Visiting family in La Bella Italia is a favorite vacation along with “soft adventures” just about anywhere in the world. You can reach her at 925-837-8742 ext. 18 or  lkallen@alamoworld.com

#Athens #Croatia #Venice #Greece #Cruise

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Posted in croatia, Cruise, greece, Mediterranean, montenegro, Sailing, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

AEGEAN BREEZES

I can’t figure it out. What was my favorite thing about our 9-night Windstar Cruise from Athens to Venice? The exotic ports of call? The French doors flung open all night as the sound of the Aegean serenaded us to sleep? The service-with-the-biggest-smiles attention? The open bridge policy to watch all the goings-on of the captain’s maneuvers in and out of harbors? The tour guides fascinating us with quaint stories of ruins and wineries? Must I choose?

Our first three days brought us to the Peloponnese in Greece, visiting the sites of the first ancient Olympics, Olympia and Itea, with their ruins and stadia and temples honoring the gods who featured so prominently in the games.

Christiana, our insightful guide during our tour of Delphi, brought the history of this sacred site to life. Known in ancient times as the Omphalos, the navel and center of the universe, it was the site where people came from across all of Greece once a year to beseech the Oracle of Delphi for her prophecies, surrounded and perhaps influenced by vapors emanating from the rocks in the darkness beneath the Temple of Apollo.

Next we squeezed through the Corinth Canal, an engineering marvel from start to finish, with barely a foot to spare on either side of our ship at its narrowest point. After winding through the glorious fjords of Montenegro, we rounded one last turn and the Captain let out three long low horn blasts. He was signaling our arrival to the Island of the Madonna that guards the entrance to the port of Kotor. In a sweet ritual that has been reenacted every time a ship enters this dramatic harbor,  someone on the Island of the Madonna then tolls its bells in response, like two lovers calling to each other from afar.

Croatia surprised us the most. Two stops in Dubrovnik and Hvar introduced us to the Dalmatian Coast, the home of craggy cliffside villages, islands and inlets stretched out along the Adriatic Sea. We began our day in sunny Dubrovnik kayaking among fortress walls and cliffs, ending with some snorkeling in a sea cave. Hot and hungry, we cooled off with the creamiest gelato and wandered the narrow streets of shops and homes climbing up the hillside.  Halfway uphill we boarded a gondola and glided to the top of the mountain with glorious views of Dubrovnik below us and  islands stretching off into the afternoon sun. Not wanting to leave our breezy perch, we dined on juicy tomatoes and burrata and a savory seafood risotto at the Restaurant Panorama with its namesake views.

Probably the only way to top Croatia was our last stop, Venice, la Serenissima. We sailed into the Grand Canal to a dramatic thunder and lightning storm that lasted until we docked. With her rich history of trade, art and decadence, there is no better city to get lost in than Venice, to wander among the alleyways that always lead to water and bridges, quaint shops and eateries. And instead of busy streets filled with buses and taxis, Venice’s “streets” are its canals, plied by water taxis and gondolas, not a car in sight.

I think my favorite thing about our WindStar cruise is the “Sail Away,” the nightly ritual with music, lights, pomp and circumstance when the ship pulls away from the pier and we set sail for our next destination.  Guests drop everything to run up to the Sky Bar on the top deck to catch this event. Two of the ship’s officers in their dress whites stand poised waiting for Vangelis’s music to crescendo and then ever-so-slowly raise the WindStar flag, inch by dramatic inch, until, over the course of three minutes, the flag is fully raised up into the evening breeze. This mesmerizing ritual would neatly wrap up the day’s adventures and was a sweet harbinger of the adventures to come in the morning. Sail Away was the time to gather together with other guests to share stories of wine tastings and hikes, olive presses and swims. All washed down with a glass of wine or the signature cocktail of the day as fellow guests on this intimate ship became fast friends.

Lisa Kallen is a Travel Consultant with Alamo World Travel, specializing in tours, cruises and customized vacations to Europe, the Americas, South Pacific and Asia. Visiting family in La Bella Italia is a favorite vacation along with “soft adventures” just about anywhere in the world. You can reach her at 925-837-8742 ext. 18 or  lkallen@alamoworld.com

#Athens #Croatia #Venice #Greece #Cruise

WSNafplion2WSKotorMkt3WSDubViewWSKotorCaptWSStarPrideWSVenice3

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The Romantic Rituals of the Sea

Remembering fondly…After winding through the glorious fjords of Montenegro on Windstar Cruise’s lovely power yacht, Star Pride, we rounded one last turn and the Captain let out three long low blasts that signaled our arrival to the Island of the Madonna that guards the entrance to the port of Kotor. In a sweet ritual that has been reenacted every time a ship enters this dramatic harbor, then someone on the Island of the Madonna tolls its bells in response. Like two lovers calling to each other from afar. I find fascinating the world of sailing, the nautical world and all its rituals and superstitions. From raising the flag of each country we enter, even to the side of the ship that the flag is flown on, the Captain and his crew were eager to share the stories, handed down through centuries, of why they do what they do. When you go on a small-ship adventure like a #Windstar Cruise, you can dine with the Captain, chat with the crew and enjoy their “Open Bridge” policy. Or simply relax on deck, drink in hand, and soak up the sun along with the strange rituals of the sea.

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Exotic Iberia in Crystal Luxury

It goes without saying that we had an unforgettable vacation on our Crystal Cruise from Lisbon to Barcelona via Morocco.  Everyone enjoys a Crystal Cruise for the ultimate in luxury cruising.  We boarded the Crystal Serenity in Lisbon, a city with a rich combination of beauty and history, then checked into our luxurious Veranda Stateroom after enjoying a welcome glass of Cava sparkling wine.  And we were on our way! Our Bon Voyage Dinner was a sumptuous feast as was the Captain’s Gala Dinner on the second evening.  A Crystal Cruise is all-inclusive so alcohol, gratuities, enrichment classes, and premium restaurants are all at no additional charge.   Crystal ships are considered mid-size, carrying around 1000 passengers–large enough to have top-notch entertainment and activities, yet small enough to have the attentive service & exclusive amenities that have won them Condé Nast and Travel & Leisure’s top awards in their category for nearly 20 years.

Our first stop was Funchal, Portugal, a picturesque port city with a gondola-style cable car that conveys you up to a high vista point for pictures of the city and the ocean spread out below.

Next stop was Santa Cruz de Tenerife, the capital of the Canary Islands, another fine port with great photo ops.  Our amazing meal that night onboard Crystal was at Silk Road (featuring celebrity chef Nobu Matsuhisa’s cuisine) at no extra charge.  Then we were off to Arrecife, famed for its rock reef and active volcano, where we rode a camel for the first time.  The next port was Agadir (my first time in Morocco) with its beachfront promenade and lively Kasbah, followed by Cadiz, a Spanish port city with a 3000+ year history. Valencia, the home of paella, found us indulging in this piquant seafood specialty, of course!   And we ended our adventure in Barcelona, probably my favorite city, the history-rich home of Gaudi and his renowned La Sagrada Familia cathedral.

In between exotic ports, there was never a lack of things to do on Sea Days.  We enjoyed Computer University@Sea classes including PhotoShop and Power Point. We relaxed by the pool with a beverage and a book, played Trivia, listened to lectures, watched movies, had lunch at the Trident Grill and visited the Ice Cream Bar.  The entertainment each night varied between comedians, dancers and shows including some very talented local musicians.

Along the way I snapped a picture of a rainbow ending right on our own Crystal Serenity.  Not a pot of gold, but close.  When you cruise on Crystal, you will be pampered—and then eagerly look forward to your next cruise!Morocco

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The Lure of the Big Island

To those of us who have lived on the East Coast, Hawaii has always been an exotic destination that promises fragrant breezes and endless beaches.  Now that I am a California girl, Hawaii has been that much easier to get to–a weekend  jaunt to Oahu,  a hiking adventure on Kauai, a romantic getaway to Maui.

And there is the Big Island, inescapably huge and yet somehow bypassed. So this year, when my 21-year-old twins and I had endured an unusually challenging winter, I thought of the Big Island as a respite, a cure for what ails us.

From the moment we flew over from Maui, we could tell this island was different. Sprawling Mauna Loa, the world’s largest active volcano, and her lush green flanks gave way to the dry, near-barren leeward side as we dipped down into Kona. Centuries of lava flows have hardened into fields of chocolate-brown and ash-black rock, swirled and cracked and starkly beautiful. The road up the coast to our hotel on Hapuna Beach cut through miles of these old lava fields, tufted with shrubs trying to take root.

After driving north about 30 minutes, we turned away from the barren lava flows into the luxurious and garden-wrapped Hapuna Beach Prince Resort. The Prince hugs an intimate turquoise cove of bright sand and calm waves. Soothing breezes, birdsong and traditional Hawaiian music enwrapped us wherever we wandered on the resort. Every room enjoys an ocean view, service was beyond friendly, food was tropically-inspired and our mid-May stay felt uncrowded, unhurried.

Between lounging on the pristine beach and snorkeling nearby, we quickly relaxed into a Hawaiian state of mind and body. But we came to the Big Island for more than relaxation. We needed to see that huge volcano. Knowing that a trip from Hapuna Beach down to the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park was a three hour drive, we stopped along the way at Honaunau Bay, a prime snorkeling spot with an expansive reef. We snorkeled our way among the contours of the reef and its colorful population of fish until we came upon a lazy manta ray vacuuming a path along the bottom. Fifteen minutes later we pulled ourselves away from watching the manta and ended up hovering near a small family of green sea turtles, or honu, before we ended that day’s snorkeling.

We had timed our drive for a late-afternoon arrival at the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and headed to the Jagger Museum 4000 feet up the side of Mauna Loa. The Jagger Museum features scientific and historic exhibits for all ages and is the staging area for observing the volcano’s activity at night. From dusk until the full dark of evening, light emanated from deep inside the crater changing from a soft glow at first to a deep, bright orange that reflected up onto the evening fog. We drove back into the night thankful to Mauna Loa for sharing her dramatic brilliance with us.

The other activity we were eager to try for the first time was ziplining, an adventure where you fly along metal “ropes” in a zigzag over rainforest and waterfalls. We chose a 9-line adventure over the Umauma River and Falls. Helmeted and harnessed at the top of the first tower, that first step is a bit daunting…until you take it. Then all we felt was the brush of the wind on our skin, hearing the roar of the falls below as we cut between mango trees over cow pastures and guava orchards, over waterfalls and lava tubes. We screamed all the way down to the first landing where some magical mechanism slowed our speed easily and we were caught in the capable hands of our guides who unhooked us and cheered us on. At the end of each individual zip line, as we waited for our fellow zippers to have their ride, we enjoyed stunning views of the falls from decks set upon cliffs along the river chasm.

In just under two hours the Big Island showed us some of the secrets she only used to reveal to intrepid hikers. But ziplining lets us “soft adventurers” in on those secrets too. Mahalo, Hawaii, we will be back.HBPH

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Stinky Sea Lions in San Francisco

We are launching a new Alamo World Travel YouTube Channel and thought we would start close to home. It helps that San Francisco is consistently a # 1 destination for travelers from all over the globe. Here are a few of our more colorful locals, the famous California Sea Lions who live at Fishermans’ Wharf.

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Travel Tips, Insights on the Way!

We’ve arrived–We are blogging! Alamo World Travel, Luxury Travel Specialists for 34 years, has been crafting memorable vacations for our clients who want to cruise or tour or customize their own itinerary. And now it is time to share our insights with our clients and with the travelers of the world…or would-be travelers. It is never too late to start!

We are going to be blogging about destinations, from the most popular to the most off-the-beaten-track. We are going to share travel tips. And we are going to whet your appetite to see the world…so start attacking that Bucket List!

Please check out our website, www.alamoworld.com , where you will find everything you ever wanted to know about anywhere in the world! We are very excited as well that we are launching our new responsive website soon, so you will be able to find us on your smartphone and tablet as well. Like I said, we have arrived!

St. Peter, Via della Conciliazione, RomeA beautiful green  aurora dancing over the Jokulsarlon lagoon, Iceland. northern lights over plane wreck  in Iceland.Contains Noise.

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