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TravelWorld International Magazine, Spring 2022 - Spring into Travel

The magazine written and photographed by members of the North American Travel Journalists Association.

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SPRING 2022

Sunset at Pattaya City, Thailand

travelworld

INTERNATIONAL MAGAZINE

Spring into Travel

The Magazine Written & Photographed by North American Travel Journalists Association Members

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Letter from the Editor

Spring into Travel!

How liberating!

To even think about “Springing into Travel” is exhilerating!

We have been so confined ... incarcerated, if you will!

We are soaring with that sense of freedom!

We can get out now, experience travel again,

and share our stories!

Eighteen North American Travel Journalists

desired to share their travel experiences with you

in this Spring issue of TWI Magazine.

Their fascinating tales come from around the world.

Every story tells a unique travel experience.

If you are not quite ready to “spring into travel,”

you may find that these stories provide you the inspiration

to get up and go. If not ... you can travel vicariously through

their talented storytelling and photography!

Thanks to the NATJA members who stepped up

and led the way back into travel journalism!

Your work is important and appreciated!

TravelWorld International Magazine

is the only magazine that showcases

the member talents of the

North American

Travel Journalists Association

Group Publisher:

Publishers:

VP Operations:

Editor:

NATJA Publications

Helen Hernandez &

Bennett W. Root, Jr.

Yanira Leon

Joy Bushmeyer

Contributing Writers & Photographers:

Donna Adinolfi

John Gottberg Anderson

Daniele Auvray

Laura Watilo Blake

Sandy Bornstein

Tykesha Burton

Dennis Cieri

Judi Cohen

Christine Cutler

Alex Kallimanis

Sharon Kurtz

Lisa Morales

Steven Rosenberg

CarlaRupp

Jason Rupp

Cori Solomon

Debbie Stone

Lina Zeldovich

This magazine is produced by members of the

North American Travel Journalists Association,

the premier membership organization for

Travel Media and Destination Marketing Organizations.

Thank You! Merci!

Gracias! Donka!

Cảm ơn! K̄ hxbkhuṇ!

Joy Bushmeyer,

Editor

Cover Photo Credit

Carla Rupp and her son Jason Rupp are long time NATJA

members who love the freedom of travel and exploring

the world. They “sprung” from their city confinement and

found rejuvination in Pattaya, Thailand! You can almost

feel the balmy breeze in their sunset photo on the cover.

Their delightful story starts on page 44.

Editorial /Advertising Offices:

TravelWorld International Magazine

3579 E. Foothill Blvd., #744

Pasadena, CA 91107

Phone: (626) 376-9754 Fax: (626) 628-1854

www.travelworldmagazine.com

Volume 2022.01 Spring 2022. Copyright ©2022

by NATJA Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.

Reproduction in whole or in part without written

permission is prohibited. Advertising rates and

information sent upon request. Acceptance of

advertising in TravelWorld International Magazine

in no way constitutes approval or endorsement by

NATJA Publications, Inc., nor do products or services

advertised. NATJA Publications and TravelWorld

International Magazine reserve the right to reject

any advertising. Opinions expressed by authors

are their own and not necessarily those of Travel

World International Magazine or NATJA Publications.

TravelWorld International Magazine reserves the

right to edit all contributions for clarity and length,

as well as to reject any material submitted, and is

not responsible for unsolicited manuscripts. This

periodical’s name and logo along with the various

titles and headings therein, are trademarks of

NATJA Publications, Inc. PRODUCED IN U.S.A.

www.natja.org

info@natja.org

www.travelworldmagazine.com

2 3


SPRING

2022

travelworld

INTERNATIONAL

MAGAZINE

SPRING

2022

travelworld

INTERNATIONAL

MAGAZINE

Spring into Travel

Tucson’s White Stallion Ranch Donna Adinolfi 6

Spring into St. Petersburg, Florida Chris Cutler 12

Rocky Mountaineering Excursion Lina Zeldovich 16

Budding Vines at California Wineries Cori Solomon 20

Tiny House Getaway above Zion Tykesha Burton 24

Acadia National Park - Crown jewel of Coastal Maine Debbie Stone 28

6 12

20

North America

26

16

30

Asia

Rejuvenate in Pattaya, Thailand Carla Rupp & Jason Rupp 44

Spring Garden in Tokyo Daniele Auvray 50

Hội An, Vietnam John Gottberg Anderson 54

44 50

54

Europe

Barge Cruising in the South of France Judi Cohen 60

Delicious Belgrade Beckons SEE MOVIE

Dennis Ciere 64

Blue Danube River Cruise Alex Kallimanis 66

Springtime on the Isle of Skye Lisa Morales 70

60 64

66 70

South America & Central America

Colombia’s Magical Cocora Valley Laura Watilo Blake 34

Costa Rica’s Coffee is Steeped in Tradition Sharon Kurtz 40

34 40

The Caribbean

Spring into Taking a Cruise Sandy Bornstein 74

Turks & Caicos Adventure Steven Rosenberg 78

74 78

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White Stallion Ranch

A True American West Experience

It was living that I was after.

A need to feel awake, energized…alive!

So, I returned to Arizona.

The pandemic has taken its toll on all

of us in one way or another. Working

from home had me longing to wander

somewhere so I could reconnect with

nature and myself. That’s one of the

reasons I travel – to reconnect with

myself, discover something new, meet

new people, and engage with life.

Likely the same reason for many of you.

Story and Photos by Donna Adinolfi

White Stallion Ranch is

surrounded by majestic

mountain views.

“It ain’t dying I’m talking about, it’s living. I doubt it matters where you die, but it matters where you live.”

- Robert Duvall as Gus McCrae, ‘Lonesome Dove’

First, let me share the inspiration for

this trek to Tucson and White Stallion

Ranch.

I went to see Arizona Odyssey,

a photography exhibit at Gilbert

Historical Museum by renowned

photographer, Kerrick James. It was

his photo from White Stallion Ranch

of running horses, titled Running of

the Horses from the Deep Corral, that

inspired me to explore this unique

western ranch.

Go West Cowgirl!

As I arrived at White Stallion Ranch, I

couldn’t help but wonder about others

that were on this same dirt road many

years ago. Passing through the gate

truly took me back to a simpler time

of the American West. That’s what I

love about Tucson – it still reflects the

American West and reminds me of

Louis L’Amour stories, Johnny Cash,

and old country songs.

History of White Stallion Ranch

and the True Family

White Stallion Ranch is surrounded by

Saguaro National Park, Panther Peak,

and the majestic Tucson Mountains

near I-10 in Tucson, AZ. This

welcoming Ranch is family-owned and

operated with quite a bit of history to

share.

It began in the 1900’s as a cattle ranch

and you can see part of the original

adobe wall in the current dining room.

The Ranch had several owners over

the years. Cynthia and Allen True

purchased the ranch in 1965 and

additional land purchases brought the

size to 3,000 acres. The True family, 3rd

generation now, continues to own and

operate this sprawling guest ranch.

I was elated to connect with Russell

True during my stay and chat with him

about getting through the covid-travel

years and more. I really wanted to learn

more about his memories of growing

up at the Ranch. After all, he was only

about five years old when his parents

purchased this Ranch and moved

from Colorado to Arizona. Russell

said, “One of my fondest memories

was FINALLY talking my parents into

letting me learn how to team rope, and

then being able to do it.” I could only

imagine what that must have felt like.

65% of White Stallion’s business comes

from returning guests and that speaks

volumes about the experience. I asked

Russell about this, and he said, “the

feedback from a guest that I will never

forget was from a lady who had been

to the ranch in 1965 (our family’s

first year) and then back for our 50th

anniversary and she said, ‘Everything is

different, and nothing has changed,’ and

it was the perfect comment from our

perspective.”

Did you forget your hat?

Don’t fret – plenty at the gift shop!

Feel the thunder as these beautiful animals run free!

Photo by White Stallion Ranch.

Grab your hat and get ready for

the weekly rodeo with team roping,

barrel racing, and more. Plan your

stay to be here for this event.

A welcoming sign that you’ve arrived at White Stallion Ranch

– Get ready for a true American West Experience!

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GUEST RANCH

The property is surrounded by

spectacular mountain views and

towering Saguaros as well as cactus

gardens. At times you’ll feel like

you’re on a western movie set and

well, you are, as there were quite a

few movies filmed on property and

it is still used for commercials and

Nashville videos.

For example, the first film shot at

the ranch was Arizona in 1939 with

William Holden and Jean Arthur.

There were many others over the

years including How the West Was

Won (1977 with James Arness),

Stones for Ibarra (1988 with Glenn

Close and Keith Carradine), and over

20 others.

Pretty in pink Bougainvilleas can

be found around the Ranch and

they offer a great contrast to the

mountainous backdrop.

There are 43 rustic and beautifully

designed rooms plus a hacienda,

suitable for a larger family.

Rooms have a queen or king plus

twin bedding and several other

configurations.

The American Plan includes snacks,

non-alcoholic beverages, and three

meals. The main dining room offers

cooked to order breakfast, buffet

lunch and dinner. There’s also a patio

where guests can enjoy lunch alfresco.

There’s so much going on each day

including Rock Climbing, Archery,

E-biking, Cattle Sorting, Slow Rides,

Fast Rides, Lessons, Team Penning,

Shooting, and more.

About horseback riding – everyone

that rides will get matched with their

own horse to ride during their stay.

A little sore from your ride? There is

a spa at White Stallion Ranch offering

massages, facials, and body wraps.

This is based on experience, height,

weight, and riding goals. It’s best to

start off with a lesson (the only feebased

activity).

This dude ranch has one of the largest

private herds of horses (160+) in the

state. The slow ride, which is also

suitable for children (5 and up), gives

you an up close and personal look at

the desert to discover and learn more

about the flora, fauna, and surrounding

area from the wranglers; whereas the

fast ride gives you the opportunity to

lope through the desert for a true sense

of freedom and adventure. Guests

must pass a lope test before they can go

on a fast ride.

Just added to my bucket list is the skill

of loping but first, more lessons and

slow rides.

My recently renovated Ranch style

room – Upscale, comfortable, and

Western design throughout.

n addition to riding,

there are ample

opportunities to hike in the

Sonoran Desert to enjoy the

scents, sights and sounds

of nature by exploring

the trails, which is what

I spent most of my time doing.

The most challenging is to hike

Panther Peak, which you can see

in the distance. Self-guided hikes

are possible, and the Nature Walk

(or Edible and Herbal Walk) are

good ways to learn more about

the desert during your ranch

getaway.

Part of the exposed wall of

the original Ranch House

from the 1900’s can be found

in the rustic dining room.

As the dust clears, there’s nothing more

beautiful than free spirited horses running.

Photo by White Stallion Ranch

“We travel not to escape life, but for life not to escape us.”

Anonymous

“You city folk, you worry about a lot of s--t. 50 weeks a year getting knots in your

rope...and then you think two weeks up here is enough time for you. None of you

get it. Do you know what the secret of life is....one thing...just one thing? That’s

what we have to figure out....”

Curly speaking with Mitch in City Slickers

This was on my mind often as I wandered around the ranch –

it was one of the goals of my stay – what was the ‘one’ thing for me?

What’s the one most important thing for you?

Disconnecting from the outside world?

You can still communicate from the

Telegraph Station (adults only!).

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A great space for adults only when they’d like to retreat

from some activities and just be.

Cowboy gear put aside at the Livery Stable

while tending to horses.

Hungry? This is the place for

home-style meals when on

the American Plan. Breakfast

is cooked to order, buffet

for lunch and dinner. Patio

dining is also open for lunch.

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hen you’re in

an environment

like that of

White Stallion

Ranch you learn

how to be with

yourself, how to live

your life more fully, and consider

what’s most important to you. I

won’t go into what came to me

during my stay, but it was eye

opening, and I’m changed for the

better because of it. My stay was

limited but my thinking is boundless.

“A flower blooming in the

desert proves to the world

that adversity, no matter

how great, can be overcome.”

Matshona Dhliwayo

Beauty is everywhere and

especially at the Cactus Garden.

As you meander through the

different paths at the ranch you’re

greeted by more towering saguaros,

flowering aloe, cholla, vibrant

bougainvillea peeking through terra

cotta archways, and a plethora of

desert flora and fauna. The cactus

gardens and nearby pen with horses

yearning for guests to bring some

treats was all part of the experience.

When the day is done and your

hips, thighs and arms are sore

from riding, a massage at the spa

is the answer. They also offer body

wraps and facials. An intimate spa

with comfortable areas to relax

and there’s also a fitness area. In

addition to the spa, the Saguaro

Serenity Courtyard was a great

space to take a time out from an

active day.

Flora and fauna greet you as you

meander through the Ranch.

Making the most of the evening to

take time to gaze at the stars, listen

to a cowboy sing by the bonfire,

partake in line dancing, and enjoy

authentic western shows makes for

a fun stay.

If you stay for one week, you

can join the True family for an

exhibition rodeo at the arena with

barrel racing, team roping, and

more.

My time at White Stallion Ranch

has left a lasting impression on

me and I’m looking forward to

returning to spend more time

outdoors, getting back in the

saddle, and engaging in activities

that enhance my life’s journey.

A perpetual hug from this Saguaro

as there are plenty of open spaces

to wander around the Ranch and

enjoy the Cactus Garden.

Mellow Yellow and other beautiful

colors greet guests as they stroll

by the Cactus Garden.

WHAT TO PACK

Closed toe shoes, long pants, hiking

boots, hat, gloves, short and long

sleeve tops, shorts/fitness clothing,

sweater/jacket (seasonal), bandana,

bathing suit, small flashlight,

camera, sunscreen. Be sure to leave

room in your carry on for some

western items as there are vendors

that sell their wares either inside the

main building or the courtyard.











TRAVEL TIPS AND INFO

Fly into Tucson International Airport (about 35-minutes).

Phoenix Sky Harbor is about 1.5 hours away

Bring gloves (for riding)

Family friendly and there are many non-riding activities for all

Transfers to the Ranch are included on the full American Plan package of 4-nights or more*

$25 per person, per transfer for shorter stays and other packages

Consider staying at least 5-days to get the full benefit of this Western Ranch Experience

Visit White Stallion Ranch at www.whitestallion.com

Dude Ranch Foundation at www.DudeRanchFoundation.com

Visit Tucson at www.visittucson.org

Vaya con Dios!

Leaving the Ranch with a knowing you’ll return.

Until we meet again…

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Downtown

St. Pete

skyline

from

Whitted

Park

Spring Looks Good in

St. Petersburg, Florida

Story and Photos by Christine Cutler

“This is the reason we live in Florida,”

I exclaimed to my husband when we were recently

stuck in a blizzard in New York City. “I’ll take heat

over cold any day.” He rolled his eyes because as much

as I love warm weather, I always said I didn’t want to

live in Florida. When our son and daughter-in-law

moved to the Tampa Bay area, though, we visited

them in March, and something about St. Petersburg

in the spring enchanted me.

The first time I visited some 30 years ago, St. Pete was

a haven for senior citizens who spent days on park

benches and shuffleboard courts. Today, St. Pete is a

vibrant city filled with residents of all ages who enjoy

its great weather, lively art scene, parks, marinas,

sunshine, and warmth.

The Gulf Coast dunes are calling

xcept for two small downtown beaches on

Tampa Bay, St. Pete is not really a beach

community. Many people assume that St.

Pete Beach, which is always among the best

beaches in America, is in St. Petersburg. Actually, the beach

belongs to the city of St. Pete Beach, a short drive from St.

Petersburg. All along the Gulf Coast, you’ll find white sand

beaches of the area’s award-winning beaches.

Even if you are in St. Pete, though, you can still have fun in

the water. The Vinoy Park and Spa Beach at the St. Pete Pier

are both in the downtown area. Windsurfing, kite boarding,

skimboarding, and stand-up paddle boarding (SUP) are

popular too. For those who prefer being on the water

instead of in it, you can rent a kayak or take a boat tour. St.

Pete is home to the south’s largest city marina, and you’ll

find others dotting the shore in the area.

Home to many museums, 137 parks, numerous hiking

and biking trails, botanical gardens, an arboretum, and

Tropicana Field (home to the Tampa Bay Rays), St. Pete

offers plenty of experiences for those times away from the

beach. Hop on the free St. Petersburg Downtown Looper

and ride to many of them.

The USF campus offers a view of

one of the downtown marinas.

Fun in the Water

Vinoy Park

is the perfect

place to relax

and take in

Tampa Bay.

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Tourism is the city’s major industry, and spring is the

perfect time to partake in St. Pete because the winter

chill is gone, but the summer heat and humidity have

not yet come to visit. Visitors and residents alike flock

to the area’s cultural, artistic, sports, culinary, and

outdoorsy activities.

The white sand beaches of the

area’s Gulf coast annually rank

among the best in the country.

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Fun on the Dry Land

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Wings, glass art by Tom Marosz, at the Imagine Museum

Monochromatic glass bowls on display at the Imagine Museum

The James Museum has

a superb collection of

contemporary figurative

Western paintings

Seven faces marble

sculpture at the

James Museum

More than 500 palms are on display at the

Gizella Kopsick Arboretum

The Downtown Looper is a free way to tour

much of what St. Pete offers.

St. Pete has plenty of trails for hiking and biking.

he Looper is a good way to tour the downtown area. Be

sure to keep an eye out for the more than 450 street art

murals that decorate the buildings, or use it to museum hop.

The Dali and Chihuly are wonderful, but every museum

deserves a visit. The James Museum offers a fantastic collection of western

art and sculpture. If you love Chihuly, be sure to check out the Imagine

Museum’s spectacular glass art. With 11 museums just in the downtown

area, St. Pete is a great cultural destination.

If you prefer to be outside, pedal The Pinellas Trail, a 47-mile bike trail

that starts in Downtown St. Pete and wanders north through peninsular

towns to end in Tarpon Springs (where you can visit the historic sponge

docks). If you’d rather walk, you’ll find more than 20 hiking trails all over

the peninsula.

Are you a sports fan? In addition to the Rays, the Toronto Blue Jays and

Philadelphia Phillies are to have their training facilities and hold games

on the peninsula. The New York Yankees train and play in Tampa, a short

ride away. Golfers can hit the links on more than 40 golf courses or watch

the PGA Valspar Championship at Innisbrook Golf Course (north in

Palm Harbor).

While the St. Pete Pier is popular all year, it is particularly pleasant in

spring when you can find a variety of activities for the entire family. One

of the two downtown beaches, Spa Beach, is on the pier, and you can even

cast a line from the fishing platform.

Not far from the Pier, are a number of city parks and the Vinoy Park

Beach. If you’re lucky, you’ll find one of the city’s many spring art festivals

in progress. My absolute favorite is the Saturday Morning Market, a

weekly celebration of fresh produce, food, crafts, music, and fun.

If you’re looking for an incredible place to spend some time this spring,

St. Petersburg might just fill the bill. Find more at:

visitstpeteclearwater.com

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Even utility boxes

showcase art

Cat mural decorates the outside

of Edge Animal Hospital.

Street Art Street Art Fresh produce is for sale every week at

the Saturday Morning Market.

Someone is festivaled out at Shopapalooza.

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Rafters getting ready to brave

the Colorado River rapids

Rocky Mountaineer

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The American West is

famous for its breathtaking

beauty, with the red

pinnacles of the Arches

National Park rivaled only

by the Rockies’ snow-capped

peaks. But driving through

these gorgeous gorges—

often on narrow, winding

roads edged on precipitous

cliffs—is not for the faint

of heart. Too often these

scenic journeys devolve into

stressful white-knuckle rides

Adventure Story

Photos and Story by Lina Zeldovich

where anxiety all but kills

the wonder. If only there was

another way to do it!

There is indeed another

way now. After launching

its inaugural route in the

USA last year, Canadian

luxury train company, Rocky

Mountaineer, is back on track

this April. Chugging between

Moab, the gateway town to

Arches and other national

parks, and Denver, Colorado’s

capital, the train embarks on

a spectacular journey through

mountainous canyons during

which you never have to touch

a steering wheel. Instead,

you savor the scenery while

indulging in gourmet foods

and wines, plus take a soak

in hot, mineral-rich baths of

Glenwood Springs half-way

through the journey. Rockies

to the Red Rocks Classic is a

basic package with 24 tack-on

packages to choose from.

The Rocky Mountaineer Train is back on track this April.

Are You Onboard?

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Delicious desserts with the

ever-changing view

Onboard hosts bring food and tell

stories of places flying by

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All Aboard in Moab

Down to Denver

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Our Rocky Mountaineer

adventure starts in Moab, a

charming mountain town

set amidst the towering red

cliffs, a short drive away

from Arches. Even before

the train departs, we begin

to appreciate the luxuries of

our coach car. The massive

dome-like windows allow a

360-degree view throughout

the journey, not to mention

plenty of legroom—airplane

companies could take note.

As our train picks up speed,

our onboard hosts serve food

and tell stories of places we

pass. At first, we glide along

the chiseled red ridges of the

Arches National Park and La

Sal Mountains. Now’s the time

to let one’s imagination run

wild—the ethereal monoliths

look like Egyptian pyramids,

Medieval forts, Manhattan

skyscrapers and Martian

landscapes. Taking photos

becomes an obsession—open

platforms between cars allow

plenty of opportunities.

As we cross Utah and enter

Colorado, we pass through

the beautiful Ruby Canyon,

followed by the town of Grand

Junction, once the state’s first

vineyard planted in 1890,

and now Colorado’s Wine

Country. Shortly after, we ride

by Palisade, an agricultural

region, where cows peacefully

graze in the fields. The

bucolic idyll somehow brings

hunger—and food is already

coming, right to our seats. We

savor ale-braised short ribs and

foraged mushrooms with an

ever-changing view.

Towards the evening, we

arrive at Glenwood Springs—a

historic Wild West town

doubling as a wellness

destination, thanks to its

mineral hot springs. Various

illustrious historical figures

stopped here for some soaking

and recuperation, including

Wild West performer Buffalo

Bill, mobster Al Capone and

dentist-turned-gunfighter Doc

Holiday. Glenwood Springs

is one rare place where we

can follow these characters’

footsteps—right into the

massive steaming bath in the

center of town.

When we board the train next

morning, we enjoy breakfast of

waffles and berries, served while

we travel through the forested

Glenwood Canyon. On our

left, we spot a Roundup River

Ranch that belongs to actor Paul

Newman who makes his famous

Ranch Dressing here. As the

train chugs along the winding

Colorado River, we stare out the

windows in hopes to see some

wildlife--deer, elk, moose and

even bears. Today, however, we

only spot human animals—a

large group of rafters braving

Colorado’s rapids.

We arrive in Denver in time for

dinner, which we stop for at the

Mercantile Dining and Provision,

a European-inspired eatery at

the city’s Union Station. We

overnight at one of the city’s

newest spots, the Catbird Hotel,

located in River North or RiNo

district, a trendy neighborhood

lined with brewpubs and food

halls. If your dream home could

marry an art studio, it would

give birth to the Catbird Hotel,

where rooms feature loft beds,

induction stovetops and folding

dinner tables.

Known as the Mile High city,

Denver is a gem wholly worth

one’s time. Just the street art

alone—think colorful larger

than life murals—can take a

full day to admire, and there’s a

map listing them all. The newly

expanded Denver Art Museum

adds to it a collection of French

impressionists. For a city tour,

a Tuk-Tuk, an electric cross

One needs a map to see

all Denver’s street art

between a car and a bike, is a

uniquely Denver choice, buzzing

along the city streets. In the

evening, Mediterranean-themed

Rioja in the city’s historic

Larimer Square where street

musicians play, might just be the

best dinner spot. The outdoor

music tradition is also uniquely

Denver—just outside the city is

the Red Rocks Amphitheater,

an open-air performance venue

built within two giant red

sandstone monoliths. It serves

as an unforgettable coda to the

one-of-a-kind rail journey from

the Rockies to the Red Rocks.

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Paul Newman’s Roundup River Ranch where the

famous Ranch Dressing is made

A unique outdoor performance venue Red Rocks Amphitheater is

built within two giant red sandstone monoliths

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Vineyards in Santa Ynez

Piazza Vineyard in Ballard Canyon

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Budding Vines Herald Spring Travel for

California’s Central Coast Wineries

First cluster

Photo by Karen

Steinwachs

Story and Photos by Cori Solomon

Bud break

In wine speak, the cycle of life for the vine

begins in the spring. The vineyard starts to

come to life as bud break approaches after

laying barren and dormant during the winter.

It is a new beginning and a new vintage and

signals a time when I am ready to explore what

the vineyards have to offer. Therefore, wine

lovers should consider spring travel as the ideal

time to visit a wine region or a specific winery.

The smells and sounds of spring are all around

in the vineyard, from the blossoming of flowers

to the chirping of birds; I know this is the time

for me to travel up the coast to my favorite

wine regions as they beckon me to visit. Those

calls are often from those wineries that practice

sustainable, organic, or biodynamic farming.

Spring Travel and

Down to Earth Month

Another signal of spring in California is

Down To Earth Month, which celebrates

California wines and wineries utilizing

sustainable practices. Many wineries offer

special events during April, encouraging spring

travel to the wineries.

Buttonwood Farm Winery

and Vineyard Pond

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Buttonwood Farm

Winery and Vineyard

Buttonwood Vineyards

Buttonwood Farm Winery

and Vineyard Pond

Venturing to the

Central Coast

As spring comes to the vineyard, my

favorite place to visit to discover the

new vintage is the Central Coast. The

area encompasses wine regions within

Ventura County, Santa Barbara County,

and San Luis Obispo County, including

the Edna Valley and Paso Robles. In

addition to bud break, another clue that

spring has come to the vineyard is the

mustard flower as it blooms in the fields

adjacent to the vineyards. The rolling

hills are alive with bursts of yellow,

orange, and purple flowers. Between

vine rows, wildflowers may bloom

because they have a purpose in the

regeneration of the vineyard.

Spring Travel and

Picnicking in the Vineyard

In the spring, I enjoy visiting my favorite

wineries with areas for picnicking in

and around the vineyards. Some have

lovely ponds where the wildlife engages

us with their presence., This is all part of

the mystique of spring travel to Central

Coast wineries and vineyards.

Buttonwood Farm

Winery & Vineyard

One favorite winery to picnic and enjoy

the scenery is Buttonwood Farm Winery

& Vineyard in Solvang. Buttonwood

is a sustainable winery and farm. The

property features a lovely pond that is

ideal for picnicking. Adjacent to the

winery is a farm stand where one can

purchase fresh produce.

For Buttonwood, vineyard life is

structured around harmony, which

begins with the soil utilizing organic

materials to create a healthy mineral

balance. In the vineyard, Buttonwood

created natural ecosystems that

encourage wildlife and birds of prey to reside and keep

rodents and unwanted insects, birds, and animals in control.

The pond is an enticing ecosystem for ducks, turtles, and

others to dwell in its natural habitat. This harmonic balance

comes together in the spring as the vineyard comes to life.

One of my fond memories at Buttonwood Farm Winery &

Vineyard was the Annual Spring Vineyard Walk & Scavenger

Hunt. I remember walking through the vineyards during

bud break with winemaker Karen Steinwachs followed

by a brunch at the pond. We were harmonizing with the

vineyards and the wines on that glorious morning. This

annual event signals bud break and the advent of spring.

Other Santa Barbara County

Wineries with Picnic Areas

Here are some other optimal areas to picnic and enjoy a glass

of excellent wine.

In Lompoc along Highway 246, Melville is designed to

encourage picnicking near the tasting room. Deirberg

Star Lane also features picnic areas set against a picturesque

backdrop of the rolling hills that live behind their tasting

room.

In Santa Ynez, Beckman Winery has an outdoor deck

overlooking their pond. Another Santa Ynez Winery is

Rusack Vineyards and Roblar Winery and Vineyards.

Dierberg Star Lane

Tasting Room

Melville Winery

With springtime upon us, consider putting a visit to

wine regions and wineries on your spring travel bucket

list as a fully satisfying sensory experience.

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Zion’s Tiny Oasis

Exterior of tiny house

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Story and Photos by Tykesha Burton

he global pandemic has

left me altered. I once sped

through excursions, booking

trips within trips with an

aim to tick as many items as

possible off my bucket list. After

two years marked by devastating

personal losses, closures, and

cancellations, I’m achingly aware of

the fragility of life, and how salient

time and shared memories are. I

have discovered that the best of

life happens in the in-between…

the quiet spaces between the big

moments and great adventures.

My quaranteam, as I call them,

consists of my husband, two

children (a 7-and 4-year-old),

mother and I. We spent the bulk of

the pandemic holed up, at home,

together.

We were aching for an adventure,

so when restrictions started to ease,

we tip-toed back into travel. We

chose Southern Utah. Although

this destination is known as

a playground for outdoors

enthusiasts, we chose it for its

fresh air and wide-open spaces.

Since my husband had to

work, this trip out West was

for my mother, two children,

and I. During the planning

phase, I wanted to ensure that

we included activities that the

entire family would enjoy. My

mother loves tiny homes. She’s

never actually lived or stayed in

one; this love affair was purely

theoretical – based partly on

her desire to live a minimalist

life and her consumption of tiny

home television shows.

I knew we had to add a special

activity to our Utah itinerary

just for her. My research led

me to Zion’s Tiny Oasis, a

family-owned tiny house rental

The view from the front

porch of our tiny house.

company, nestled on the west side

of Zion National Park. Although

we already had a vacation rental

in St. George’s for our stay, I knew

the tiny house would be a hit. I

promptly booked a one-night stay

and kept it as a surprise.

When we arrived in Southern

Utah we oohed and ahhed at the

landscape as we drove from St.

George airport to our vacation

home. We spent a few days

hiking, canyoneering, and lazing

about the poolside. When it was

time for us to check in to our tiny

home, we informed my mother

that we had a surprise for her. I

packed one day’s worth of clothes

and food and set out for our tiny

house adventure.

We arrived just after lunch, my

mother quietly taking in the

landscape as I drove up a steep

dusty road to reach the property.

cluster of four tiny houses

was spread out atop a hill

overlooking one of the

entrances to Zion. We pulled

up to the Guardian Angel and

parked. When I explained to my mother

that the 289-square-foot house would serve

as our home for the night, she squealed

with delight.

We quickly discovered that we had the

whole compound to ourselves, and we

decided to explore our new home and the

surrounding area. We toured the tiny house

together, opening hutches and discovering

the multiple uses of single items.

On one side of the house, there were

180 degrees of tall windows providing

knockout views of the surrounding striated

mesas. On the other side was a kitchen/

laundry room and full bathroom. Above

that, was a set of removable stairs that led

to a loft. I watched as my mom and kids

clambered to the top and called dibs on the

king-sized bed and loft.

The Kolob Terrace Entrance to Zion National

Park – This sign is located on the same road, a

few miles away from Zion’s Tiny Oasis.

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My children playing

The children enjoying a cup of hot cocoa

lthough our tiny house was

equipped with WIFI and

streaming TV services, we opted

to forgo them. We sat on the

porch drinking beer while our

senses were immersed in the

beauty of our natural surroundings instead.

The sun dipping below the horizon and a

praying mantis catching and enjoying its

dinner served as entertainment that night.

We went to bed sated and happy.

In the wee hours of the next morning, I

climbed out of bed, made coffee, and woke

my slumbering mother to join me outside.

As the children slept, we waited for another

installment of one of nature’s best shows. We

sat shoulder to shoulder, sipping coffee and

watching as glints of pinky purples, and deep

yellows peeked between the mountains and

eventually streaked across the sky.

In that moment, I realized that although

we had spent the better part of two years

together, we were often encumbered by so

many other things. Our stay in this tiny

house, set in a tranquil perch overlooking

a national park, was a much-needed respite

from our overstimulated lives. Since then,

I’ve endeavored to savor the quiet, inbetween

moments with my family in our

everyday lives and travels.

My mother, Gail, enjoying her tiny home experience.

Interior of the tiny house

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My children (Aubrey and Austen) and I in front of our Tiny

House

My children exploring, after

enjoying s’mores on the

firepit

My mother enjoying the sunrise from the porch.

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Take in the view from Cadillac Mountain, anytime of the day

Acadia National Park

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These boulders boast pretty-in-pink hues.

Enjoy the

famous

popovers

at the

Jordan

Pond

House

Many

visitors

enjoy

walking

the trail

that goes

around

Jordan

Pond.

The Crown Jewel of Coastal Maine

he popovers at the Jordan

Pond House in Maine’s

Acadia National Park are

famous. But until you try them,

you might be skeptical of their reputation. After all,

they’re popovers. How good could they be?

It only took one bite of my Jordan Pond House

popover to know that the glowing accolades were

true. I was an instant convert. The muffin-like baked

treat was light and fluffy with a delicious buttery

flavor, and served piping hot. Of course, I slathered

it in butter and strawberry jam. A glass of blueberry

lemonade made the perfect accompaniment, as did

the beautiful view of Jordan Pond and the Bubble

Mountains.

The Jordan Pond House traces its history from 1847,

when settlers established a small mill near the foot of

the pond. As to its name and that of the pond, credit

goes to the Jordan family, who built the original

Story and Photos by Debbie Stone

Take in this quintessential

coastal Maine scene.

farmhouse on the property. The place became a restaurant

in the early 1870s, which is when the custom of serving tea

and popovers outside on the lawn overlooking the pond was

established.

People come from all over, not only to experience this

popular tradition and walk the trail around picturesque

Jordan Pond, but to explore the rest of glorious Acadia

National Park. With an average of 3.5 million visits a year,

Acadia is one of the top ten most-frequented national parks

in the U.S. It boasts the highest rocky headlands along the

country’s Atlantic coastline (oh, those jagged pink granite

formations!), a rich cultural heritage and an abundance of

diverse environments. There are 27 miles of historic roads,

158 miles of hiking trails and 45 miles of unique carriage

roads in the park.

Acadia encompasses nearly 50,000 acres, including Mount

Desert Island, Schoodic Peninsula, Isle au Haut and other

outer islands. Most of the park is located on Mount Desert

Island, the largest island off the Maine coast. And this is the

area where most visitors opt to spend their time.

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Welcome to Maine’s

Acadia National Park!

he Park Loop

Road is an

effective way to

get around this

part of Acadia by

vehicle, as it offers

dramatic views and access to

notable highlights, as well as to

various hiking trails. It winds

through forests, past lakes and

mountains and along the shoreline

of this natural paradise.

One of the highlights of Acadia

is Thunder Hole, a natural rock

formation that is affected by sea

conditions. Big, crashing waves

move into the hole and cause a

thundering boom and a boisterous

splash. Time it right – about two

Sand Beach is another highlight in the park.

hours before high tide – for the

most impactful experience.

Sand Beach is another point of

interest. The beach is primarily

made up of crushed shells. You can

swim here, and “polar bears” do,

but know that the warmest water

temps are between 55-60 degrees in

August. Brr!

Don’t be disappointed if you’re

not able to spot sea otters at Otter

Point and Otter Cliffs. There are

none here, nor anywhere in Acadia.

It’s possible these places were

actually named for river otters.

Wildlife aside, both these locations

offer spectacular views and make

rewarding stops. At impressive

Acadia picturesque vistas.

Otter Cliff, the granite formations rise way

above the water. Take the trail further on

to Otter Point, where you can laze on the

rocks and explore tide pools.

Monument Cove is known for its namesake

pillar, which is the result of storm wave

action over centuries. This stalwart sentinel

has stood in its current form for 500 years,

guarding the cove from above. Nearby is the

unofficially named “Boulder Beach,” where

you’ll see a section of shoreline covered in

bowling ball sized rocks.

Hiking trails range from easy to

challenging, depending on the terrain.

Some go through forests or along the

coastline, while others loop around

lakes. You can also scale cliffs to reach

mountaintops for dramatic panoramas.

The fall colors at Acadia are spectacular.

avorites include

Gorham Mountain,

Beehive Loop, Beech

Mountain South

Ridge Loop, Cadillac

North Ridge and Bubbles

Nubble Loop. At 1,530 feet, Cadillac

Mountain is the highest point in the park

and on the eastern seaboard. It’s the first

place you can see the sunrise in the U.S.

from early October to March. If you’re short

on time or don’t want to hike up to the

summit, you can always drive to the top and

get the same awe-inspiring vistas.

Biking is another popular activity at Acadia,

particularly on the rustic carriage roads.

We have John D. Rockefeller Jr. to thank for

the construction of this system. The famed

philanthropist was an adept horseman,

who wanted to travel on motor-free byways

via horse and carriage into the heart of

Mount Desert Island. His efforts resulted in

Acadia’s beloved carriage roads. Check out

the handsome stone bridges – all seventeen

of them! And the large, cut granite stones

lining the road are called “Rockefeller’s

teeth.”

For another view of the park, I suggest

taking a boat trip, where you can see Mount

Desert Island and the shores of Acadia

from the water, along with lighthouses and

landmarks of Frenchman Bay. Bar Harbor

Whales offers several seasonal excursions

that you can board at the docks in the town

of Bar Harbor – the gateway to Acadia.

LIGHTHOUSE

CRUISE

I took the Somes Sound, Lighthouses

& Acadia Park Cruise, which provided

a thorough overview of the area. You’ll

ride in a state-of-the-art catamaran, with

knowledgeable guides and crew, who’ll

regale you with details about the history,

geology, wildlife and more of this special

place. Along the way, they’ll also point

out any wildlife that choose to make an

appearance, including seals, eagles, seabirds

and harbor porpoise.

Lighthouses are iconic in Maine

Lighthouses come in different shapes and sizes.

A lighthouse and nature cruise with Bar Harbor Whale Watch

Company is a favorite experience for many visitors.

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On a boat tour, you’ll pass by a number of

summer homes owned by notable residents.

BAR HARBOR

This is a fine example of

Maine décor!

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t was surprising

to learn there are

over 4,000 islands

off Maine’s coastline.

Amusingly, more than thirty

of them have “sheep” in their name.

Mount Desert Island is the largest in the

state, and the second largest off the U.S.

outside of Hawaii and Alaska. Only Long

Island is bigger.

Interesting to note is that Cadillac

Mountain was named for French

explorer Cadillac. Though not born of

nobility, he convinced the King at the

time that he was of royal blood. He

devised his own Coat of Arms which you

can still see on the hood of Cadillac cars.

I loved hearing about “Millionaire’s Row”

and gazing at some of the more notable

residences. Kenarden, for example,

belongs to the Campbell Soup family

and during the summer, they fly a flag

that is white with a big red tomato on it.

Another, the High Seas Estate, was built

for a professor from Princeton. Story has

it that he constructed the house to

entice his fiancé to move here from

Europe and marry him. The good

news – she agreed. The bad news –

he booked her on the Titanic!

In Seal Harbor, the lifestyles of the

rich and famous are on display.

Martha Stewart’s home, “Sky

Land,” which is set on 63 acres, was

originally built in 1925 by Edsel

Ford. During the summer, you may

see her wooden picnic boat in the

water.

The estate on the Point is called “The

Anchorage.” Nelson Rockefeller was

the first owner, but it was later sold

to Edsel Ford. The last T-bird made

was delivered here to this house

and given to Josephine Ford, greatgranddaughter

of Henry Ford.

The most expensive house on

the island is now owned by a

venture capitalist. It’s worth a mere

$40,000,000.

As for the lighthouses, we saw

several of these romantic icons,

including my favorite, Bass Harbor

Light. Widely regarded to be one of

the most photogenic lighthouses in

the country, it dates back to 1858.

Some say it’s haunted at night by the

ghost of a construction worker who

disappeared during the construction

of the site.

Our guide told us about the rigors

of a lighthouse keeper’s life, which

was full of rules, regulations and

inspections. They were busy from

morning to night caring maintaining

the upkeep of the tower, the keeper’s

house and all the buildings and

grounds, while ensuring that the

light operated properly through

the night. They made about $1 a

day and were not given pensions

or compensation for injuries.

The powers in charge at the time

encouraged the keeper to have lots of

kids to help with all of the chores.

Staying in Bar Harbor makes the most sense when

you visit Acadia, as it’s mere minutes to the park.

This charming community has a colorful harbor

scene, numerous shops and eateries, and options

galore when it comes to accommodations.

If you want to be steps from all the action, I

recommend staying at the Harborside Hotel, Spa

& Marina. This highly rated resort is a relaxing

retreat with all the bells and whistles, including

oceanfront swimming pools and hot tubs, fitness

facilities, a spa for some personalized pampering

and a private marina.

Accommodations in the newly renovated

property are spacious and elegantly-appointed

with natural wood touches, plush bedding and a

lux marble bathroom with upscale bath products.

The hotel also has its own onsite restaurant. La

Bella Vita is a cozy Italian trattoria, complete with

copper pots, Italian mosaics and picture-perfect

harbor views. Authentic Old-World recipes are

the mainstay here with brick oven pizzas, antipasti

and pastas. Specialties include chicken piccata,

chicken parmigiana, grilled ribeye, East Coast

halibut and a Sicilian ocean stew that’s chockful of

mussels, clams, shrimp, lobster and haddock.

Save room for dessert and order the blueberry pie

with lemon curd. It’s swoon-worthy!

Actually, I’ve found that anything blueberry in

Maine – blueberry pancakes, blueberry cobbler,

blueberry fudge, blueberry beer – is a winner

because the berries have such an intense flavor.

In town, dining choices are numerous. Naturally,

fresh fish and shellfish abounds, with lobster the

favored crustacean on the menu, but there are

plenty of other choices if creatures from the sea

aren’t your thing. Being a pescatarian and seizing

every opportunity to eat Maine “lobstah,” I had

it in every form possible, from simply steamed

to stuffed in tacos and enchiladas, grilled cheese,

bisque and stew, ravioli and omelets. I even tried

lobster ice cream, which is the only form of

lobster I discovered I didn’t like. Somehow, frozen

lobster tidbits in vanilla ice cream…

You can shop till you drop in Bar Harbor.

When in Bar Harbor, you

can feast on lobster to

your heart’s content.

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Horseback riders follow a well-worn trail through the Cocora Valley.

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The creators of Disney’s

Encanto were inspired

to set the movie’s story

among the Cocora

Valley’s mist-shrouded

Quindío wax palms in the

Andean foothills.

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The Magical Cocora Valley of Colombia

Colombia’s endangered Quindío wax palms provide the backdrop for an

enchanting visit to the real-life setting of Disney’s animated film Encanto.

et’s talk about

Colombia’s

Cocora Valley.

The bona fide setting

of Disney’s Encanto

beguiles those who wander

among its sky-high and century’s

old palm trees, but it will take

more than a miracle to save these

guardians of the Cocora Valley.

Quindío wax palms, a

national symbol of Colombia,

are splayed out on the

Andean foothills of the

Cocora Valley.

Story and photos by Laura Watilo Blake

In the last few months, it feels like the

world has spent a lot of time talking

(and singing) about not talking

about Bruno, one of the characters

in Encanto, Disney’s Oscar winning

film about the magical Madrigal

family. As much as I appreciate Lin-

Manuel Miranda’s tune, I can’t stop

thinking about the enchanting place

the Madrigal family calls home—a

secret hamlet protected from the

outside world by soaring mountains

topped with tall, skinny palm trees.

The setting is not just something the

animation team dreamed up from

their imaginations; the movie is

undeniably set in Colombia’s majestic

Cocora Valley, home to the world’s

tallest wax palm, the national tree of

Colombia. But unlike the Madrigal’s

domain, the Cocora Valley is anything

but a hidden gem.

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Salento’s busy

Calle Real leads to

a staircase of nearly

300 steps leading to

a hillside cross and

panoramic views

of the town and the

surrounding valley.

The town closest to the

Cocora Valley is Salento,

a colorful town with typical

colonial-style architecture.

Expert baristas show off their

talent for latte art at Salento’s Café

Jesús Martín, known for some of

the best coffee in Colombia.

Entering the

Cocora Valley’s

tourist zone, lines

with stables,

restaurants and

souvenir shops.

Part of the Eje Cafetero,

or Coffee Triangle,

travelers are drawn

to the region, not just

for the famous trees, but

also for trekking in Los

Nevados National Natural

Park, adventure sports, horseback

riding and agri-tourism. Within this

relatively compact territory, there

are numerous stand-out places to

visit, from coffee farms to hot spring

resorts. The most popular base for

exploring the Cocora Valley though,

is the colonial town of Salento,

where the white-wash buildings are

punctuated with colorful window

frames, doors, and balconies.

From Salento, the valley of the palms

is still a 20-minute drive away. To

get there, we head to the Plaza de

Bolívar to catch a ride in a Willy, the

predominant form of regional public

transportation. When WWII came to

a close, the U.S. military had a surplus

of Willys Jeeps that found their way

to Colombia. They were quickly

adopted by coffee farmers to transport

workers, equipment, and heavy loads

of Arabica beans for market over

mountainous terrain. These days,

mechanic mules, both old and new,

ferry up to 14 passengers to and fro as

shared taxis. The most fearless riders

climb onto the back bumper for the

best open-air views and unobstructed

breezes. My husband, Chris, and

I remain safely inside the vehicle

with our young daughter, Kinley,

sandwiched between us.

Up to 14

passengers pile

onto the Willys

jeeps waiting in

Salento’s main

plaza to catch

a ride into the

Cocora Valley.

The most fearless

riders climb onto

the back bumper

for the best

open-air views

and unobstructed

breezes.

The narrow paved road to

the Cocora Valley winds

through an area dominated

by cattle and dairy farms. While

the driver dodges horse-driven

carts laden with galvanized-metal

milk cans, our eyes are transfixed

by the incredible number of palms spread

punctuating the pasture land and the

surrounding emerald-green hillsides. Their

long, skinny trunks look like giant Fourth

of July sparklers topped with blazes of

palm fronds.

The Willy driver drops us off in a public lot

near a cluster of horse stables, restaurants,

campgrounds and souvenir shops. We part

ways with our fellow passengers, some of

whom are heading for the five- to six-hour

counterclockwise trek in the national park

that ends in a cloud forest with sweeping

views of mist-shrouded wax palms. In

another lifetime, my husband and I would

have followed that path, too, but we know

instinctively what our daughter wants

to do before she says it: “I want to ride a

horse!”

Horseback

riding is a

popular way

to see the

countryside

of the Cocora

Valley.

After milking in

the pasture, a Pino

Hermoso employee

transports fresh milk

down the hillside.

Photo opportunities are

set up throughout the

Cocora for instagramworthy

images.

Pino Hermoso is a working dairy farm in

the Cocora Valley with opportunities for

guests to wander among the pastures

and even try their hand at milking.

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It takes about 5-6 hours to complete the trekking

circuit in the Los Nevados National Natural Park.

ur guide leads our horses along a dirt road that heads

downhill before turning right through a gate and

climbing up a steep embankment covered in palm

trees. Along the way, we pass plenty of people, who are

huffing and puffing as they hike up the mountain on

foot. Once we reach the top, our guide encourages us to

hop off our horses and wander among the stately palms to take in

the unforgettable aerial from the lookout before heading back to

the stables.

There is no question the Cocora Valley has an enchanting quality,

but peering out from atop the mountain, we can’t help but notice

many fallen palm trees scattered on the hillsides. According to

a report in El Espectador, more than half of the palms will die

by 2029 as they reach the end of their life cycle. Even though

the trees are protected by law, deforestation of other endemic

vegetation to make way for cattle grazing remains one of the

major threats to the future of the Quindío wax palms. When

their seeds drop to the ground, they get eaten by grazing cows,

which means no new wax palms can take hold to replace the

current crop of aging specimens, which have survived nearly two

centuries and grown as high as 130 feet.

Visitors to the Cocora

Valley can take part in

tree-planting rituals that

contribute to sustaining

the magic of the region

for future generations.

reserving wax palms for

future generations has

become an urgent priority

for the people that make a

living from tourism in the Cocora

Valley, so, on a subsequent visit

to the Cocora Valley, I participate in a

tree-planting ritual at Donde Juan B., a

restaurant with rustic accommodations.

After dining on local rainbow trout

served with deep-fried plantains the size

of a human head, we head outside to

meet the gardener, Jacin. He’s carrying

a foot-high tree sapling with three

green fronds emerging from a short

stem. We are surprised to find out that

this diminutive plant, which bears

no resemblance to its sky-scraping

ancestors, is already three years old. Jacin

strips away the protective casing around

the sapling and asks us to put our hands

on the bare dirt and raise it above our

heads.

“We lift up this palmita as an offering to

you, Pachamama,” he begins, closing his

eyes to offer a brief prayer. “We bestow

upon you the gift of a long, fruitful life

that extends way beyond our own. Give it

strength to grow.”

Together, we drop to our knees to place

the sapling in a small hole, packing the

loose dirt around the delicate stem. He

motions for us to turn our hands upward

toward the sun, to draw energy from the

source and direct it to the tiny tree. After

dousing it with water, the ritual comes to

a close.

“You came as guests,” Jacin says. “But

you’ll leave as ambassadors for the region

and the planet.”

I can only hope that my small

contribution toward repopulating the

wax palms will ensure future travelers

will fall under the Cocora Valley’s

spell for many generations to come. It

may take more than a miracle to save

the guardians of Colombia’s coffeegrowing

region, but it’s worth the effort

to preserve the magic of this real-life

encanto.

Where to stay near the Cocora Valley: Town vs Country

TOWN:

Hotel Salento Real

Not unlike Encanto’s charming casita, the Hotel Salento Real is designed like a typical colonial-style

hacienda with its hotel rooms wrapped around a central courtyard filled with plants and local art. Here,

you’re close enough to the heart of Salento’s commercial center, but just far enough away for some peace

and quiet. The in-house restaurant’s menu fuses the flavors of national and local dishes, including panfried

trout. The rooftop bar has sweeping views overlooking the town. hotelsalentoreal.com

Hotel Salento Real’s rooftop bar

has sweeping views overlooking

Salento, the jumping off point for

trips to the Cocora Valley

COUNTRY:

Pino Hermoso Ecohotel

A few years ago, dairy farmer Julian Noreño decided to open up his hacienda to overnight guests.

Located midway between Salento and the Cocora Valley, the Pino Hermoso EcoHotel is now an agritourism

destination in a relaxed pastoral setting with comfortable but rustic accommodations. There

are four rooms in the main house and three new cabins a short walk away. In addition to a hearty

farmhouse breakfast each morning, the welcoming staff can arrange a range of memorable activities, like

cowmilking in the pasture and horseback riding, on the farm and surrounding valley. It helps to have a car

in this rural setting, but transportation is only a phone call away. pinohermoso.com

e common area at Pino

Hermoso EcoHotel.

Pino Hermoso has rustic

accommodations in the

Cocoro Valley.

Hotel Salento Real is designed like a typical

colonial-style hacienda with its hotel rooms

wrapped around a central courtyard filled

with plants and local art.

Julian

Noreño

slices open

feijoa, a

type of

fruit that is

endemic to

Colombia.

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The finca is on the slopes of the Poas Volcano

Costa Rican

Coffee

is Steeped in Tradition in the

Central Highlands

Story and Photos Sharon Kurtz

Los Volcanes

Plantation Coffee Tour

Miguel Castro Murillo and his wife, Jeanette Calderon

Vazquez, are third-generation coffee producers with

coffee in their hearts and souls. Dedicated to the highest

quality and environmentally friendly practices, Los

Volcanes Coffee Fina is a family-owned organic shadegrown

coffee farm nestled on the outskirts of the Poas

Volcano in the Central Highlands.

The family is the guardian of a long coffee tradition,

cultivating coffee in mountains of Costa Rica, which

has been the source of their livelihood for more than

three generations. Los Volcanes has been recognized

as achieving the highest level possible in sustainability

certification.

Miguel led our happy band of travelers on an hour-long

ramble, where we immersed ourselves in the earthy

comfort of the farm. Sharing his depth of knowledge,

we learned about the different techniques used to grow

and harvest their organic coffee. We connected with the

farm in a tangible way, sensing his pride and passion in

every word he spoke.

Miguel walks

us through the

plantation

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Costa Rica is a Central American paradise, with lush rainforests, active volcanos, and incredible

wildlife. But there is another reason to add Costa Rica to your travel bucket list: Coffee. Costa

Rican beans are revered by coffee connoisseurs, baristas, and aficionados worldwide.

History of Coffee in Costa Rica

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The coffee industry has played a vital role in Costa

Rica’s rich history, culture, and society for over 200

years. Coffee was first introduced in the late 1700s.

The tropical climate and fertile volcanic soil are perfect

for producing quality coffee beans. In the early days,

free land and coffee plants were given to anyone who

wanted to cultivate “the golden bean,” which became

an essential part of the country’s economy. Costa Rica

now harvests and exports nearly 200 million pounds

annually around the globe. It is the only country in the

world where it is illegal to produce anything other than

100% Arabica—the highest quality of coffee beans.

Banana trees

provide shade for

the coffee plants

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Coffee plants start blooming three or

four years after planting

Coffee cherries ripen at different rates

on the same branch

After picking, cherries are washed

and separated from their skins

Washed and skinned cherries are

spread out and dried in the sun

Explaining the coffee picking

process

Miguel explains the coffe

grading system

The coffee is roasted compared to

chart color and number

Coffee roasting is an art

From Seed

to Cup

Starting from a seedling

in the nursery, we learned

what it takes to successfully

grow and nurture the

bean to flourish during its

lifespan. A combination

of distinct dry and rainy

seasons, volcanic soil, cool

temperatures, and high

altitudes make for excellent

quality beans.

It takes approximately nine

months from blossom to the

ripe cherry ready to harvest.

The beans must be handpicked

with experienced

workers, choosing only

the red cherries among the

unripe green berries.

The harvested cherries

must travel quickly from

the fields to the beneficio

(processing plant) within 24

hours for optimum flavor.

They are then washed,

separated from their skins,

dried in the sun, and

roasted with each beneficio

using its own methods.

Next, we moved on to the

roasting room. We learned

how the beans are roasted

at a specific temperature

over an optimal time,

continually tested using

a guide to achieve the

desired roast. The fragrant

air wafting in the room

had the intoxicating aroma

of freshly roasted beans.

Taking our beans to the

grinder, we could hardly

contain our anticipation to

taste that first cup.

Brewing and

Sampling

the Coffee

In the cafe, Miguel set up a table with

the traditional enameled cups and

a Chorreador—a simple two-part

device used to prepare coffee the

traditional Costa Rican way. The

word means ‘to pour coffee,’ and

that’s what it does; a bolista or a

small cloth sock is pushed through

a hole in a wooden stand, filled with

ground coffee, and poised over the

cup or pot. Hot water is poured into

the cloth bag and slowly filtered into

the container.

Finally, it

was Time

to Taste

We learned how the experts

discern and rate gourmet coffee by

participating in a “coffee cupping”

session. Miguel instructed us on the

proper way to evaluate the coffee

using all our senses. We started

by sniffing the coffee, inhaling

the aroma. Next came slurping it

loudly, aerating it as it spread across

our tongue and hit our tastebuds.

Full-bodied and smooth, I tasted

fruit and subtle notes of chocolate

and honey. Like wine, you can find

endless flavor profiles in coffee as

each harvest is different.

Spending time at Los Volcanes

and learning about Costa Rican

Coffee from seed to final sip was

an educational, fun Pura Vida

experience. Ticos take growing coffee

seriously; I have a new appreciation

for what it takes to produce the

perfect cup of coffee.

preparing for the coffee tasting

traditional enamel cups and

chorreadors make great souveniers

IF YOU GO:

Our freshly roasted

coffee is ground

Los Volcanes coffee

make great souveniers

Los Volcanes Coffee Plantation and Tours:

San Pedro De Poas, Alajuela, Costa Rica

cafelosvolcanes@hotmail.com

https://www.facebook.com/cafelosvolcanes

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Pattaya, Thailand

Sunset in Pattaya,

Thailand

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Jomtien Beach in Pattaya City

An Affordable Destination

he lockdowns had gotten to

us. We needed a reset. Our

bodies became weaker, due

to enough lack of movement.

But even more than that, we

weren’t happy. We missed traveling

the world.

The thought of leaving New

York City’s frigid wintertime

temperatures to beautiful Thailand

became possible again, due to

loosening entry restrictions.

We came to Thailand to get

ourselves back to good health, and

pamper ourselves, at a fraction of

what it would have cost almost

for Rejuvenation

Story and Pictures by Jason Rupp and Carla Marie Rupp

anywhere else in the world. We came

here to get ourselves back to where

we were before we all ever heard of

lock-downs.

Imagine going local in Thailand, by

getting traditional Thai massages as

low as $3 USD for an hour. Haircuts

as low as $3. Huge bags of tropical

fruits, such as mangoes, dragon

fruits, and passion fruits -- and only

pay $10? This is where we went.

Thailand, with its beautiful, warm

weather year-round sold us.

Our travel and pampering is taking

place in the beach resort city of

Pattaya, 90 minutes from the

Bangkok airport. We’re happy now,

getting back in shape, doing beach

walks and swims, getting therapeutic

massages, doing steam saunas...

and lots more to rejuvenate. Our

rejuvenation here in Thailand saved

us.

Pattaya City, while well-known for

its nightlife, is also great for Thai

massages, manicures and pedicures,

hair treatments, facials, swims in

the sea, walks on the beach, visits to

spas with sauna, steam rooms and

outdoor pools; plus for eating fresh

fruits and delicious foods. We enjoy

drinking coconut water fresh from

the coconuts as often as we can here.

ll the fruits taste better in

Thailand – bananas,

pineapples, mango,

durian, etc. We each

adore eating as well as

making smoothies with

passion fruit and red

dragon fruits. Another favorite is pomelo,

which tastes like grapefruit and is said to

help with weight loss.

We have side-by-side, ocean-front beach

condos with kitchens in Jomtien Beach

– one of the palm tree-lined beaches of

Pattaya City. While our accommodation

has a beautiful pool, it is sometimes fun

to pool hop. One way is to go to beach

clubs. Usually, all you need to do to get a

drink food, or there may be a small fee.

We enjoyed the Fat Coco Beach Club, with

its colorful décor on Pattaya Beach Road,

and the Alexa Beach Club, with special

DJ’s each weekend. When we ate dinner at

the incredible rooftop restaurant at Siam

at Siam Hotel, the waitress told us we can

come back anytime to use the infinity pool

for the price of a drink.

Red Dragon fruit for sale at the

local market

We drink coconuts as often as

possible when in Thailand

Thai bananas for sale at

$0.60 a bunch

Tropical fresh fruit is for sale

everywhere in Thailand

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A night view of Jomtien Beach,

Pattaya, Thailand

n addition to doing things

to better our health, much

of our time is spent finding

places for the niche of the Jason

Rupp channel on YouTube,

which has the slogan of: “Keep

Jason handsome. Keep Jason

making videos.” We look for places

to make videos of Jason getting haircuts,

getting shaves, facials, pedicuresmanicures,

and more treatments along

that line. His theme is simply “Travel

& Pamper.“ Often, Mama Carla, the

co-producer, makes appearances in the

videos or helps to film.

For bettering our health & happiness,

we found live music to enjoy. They say

music is good for the soul. One evening

we went all out! We heard live jazz at

a beautiful venue called the Jazz Pit,

led by guitarist Thomas Reimer from

Austria. After that, we caught the last

set of a fun house reggae band at Trench

Town in Soi Buakow, a lively nightlife

area.

Jazz Pit is in the Sun Sabella Thai

Classical Restaurant Complex and

features jazz music performers every

night from 6 pm to 10:30 pm except

Tuesday. We also enjoy the house band

playing for the jazz jam on Sunday

afternoons from 2 pm to 6 pm. Guitarist

Thomas Reimer is a longtime jazz artist

in Pattaya from Austria. A few of the

performers come in from Bangkok for

the weekend. Sandbar Restaurant is

another venue near our condo building

in Dongtan Beach that we recommend

for live music on the weekends, starting

on Friday evenings with salsa dancing

to Latin bands.

ight markets are fun places for us

to go for inexpensive and fresh

food. We enjoy the Thepprasit

Weekend Market, bustling with

stall after stall of every kind of foods.

Jomtien also has its own nightly market

on the beach, where you can sit outside

and enjoy a beer.

One of our favorite places for sauna became the VIP

Sauna (only $5 entry), where you can not only go in

and out of the hot steam and sauna rooms and the cold

splash pool and jacuzzi, but sit down in your swim suit

and order and eat the tastiest Thai curry and stir-fry

imaginable. Another favorite spa is Sands Sauna near

our beach condo. For 300 baht/about $9 USD, you get

complimentary watermelon, fresh coffee, and water,

along with your entry, with a pool, steam and sauna

rooms. You can stay until 10 pm, as we did. Sands is

especially good to go to, since it’s beach-front, and you

can come and go all day.

We’re having fun again. Feeling better.

We could laugh and smile more.

Fat Coco Beach Club

in Pattaya, Thailand

Condo pool

example

in Pattaya,

Thailand

Lek’s

Classroom

has jazz

nightly in

Pattaya,

Thailand

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Jazz nightly at Jazz Pit,

Pittaya, Thailand

We love all the music in the city,

the different kinds of foods, getting

massages, riding a motorbike around

town. We have our favorite places in

Pattaya for various ethnic varieties

of food. While we love Thai food, we

particularly enjoy Salotto Italy Smile, in

Jomtien Beach, for pizza made by the

Italian chef Giovanni.

Fat Coco’s Beach Club

Relaxing and enjoying the

good life at the pool

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Spicy red curry makes

us happiest

Thai Massage

in Pattaya,

Thailand

Foot

Massage

by Two

Thai

Staff

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Usually found on

all tables in Thai

restaurants -- a

bowl of fish sauce,

chili peppers, garlic

Whole fish for

less than $10

Chef Giovanni

holds our

pizza for the

camera. Our

favorite Italian

restaurant is

Salotto Italy

Smile restaurant

in Jomtien

Beach, Pattaya

Thai food

Stir-fried

mushrooms

with

cashews

We enjoy street

food, such as

these coconut

pancakes.

o look and feel good, you need

your teeth in good shape. So Jason

made appointments for us with his

favorite dentist in Bangkok,who he

has seen before on previous visits.

We boarded the $4 express bus in

Jomien and took a side trip for a few

nights to Bangkok. On other trips, we

have seen temples and the sights, but

this visit was mostly health-related.

However, we did take time to see the

sights in this famous Southeast Asian

city. We have always loved to visit the

Chinatown area. But this time it was to

Little India first, on a pretty street in the

area to Mama’s restaurant. A delicious,

late-afternoon, outdoor Indian meal,

on a beautiful canal, became one of our

most memorable times in Bangkok.

We took a taxi to the dental office in the

Bankapi area. The dentist was happy

to see us, since he knew us from other

visits. We each had dental cleanings and

checkups. It turned out we each needed

one filling. The thorough cleanings

and fillings were so reasonably-priced,

Bangkok Side Trip

compared to what we would have

paid in New York City! Each filling

and each cleaning cost only $30, a

total of $120 USD, quite a deal.

On the subject of dental tourism,

Carla actually had some major

dental implant work done in Pattaya

a different year, and the implants

are still holding strong. It was a

decision she made three years back,

after learning how expensive three

implants would be in New York City,

even with shopping around dentists.

So we made plans to have the work

done in Thailand at a Jomtien-Pattaya

office for way less than a third of

the cost...and the difference paid for

our trip! She has been more than

satisfied with the results, especially

with having the bottom front teeth

straight for the first time and the

implant teeth looking better than the

originals.

After so much walking around to get

our health back, we noticed that our

feet hurt. We searched the internet

for a foot doctor. As a result, part of

our rejuvenation included seeing a

renowned Dutch podiatrist at the

Walker Clinic in Pattaya. We were each

fitted with orthotics for different foot

problems. After our inserts were made,

we received the call, less than a week

later, to try them out for the doctor.

Now with these removable orthotics,

we are enjoying Thailand even more

by being able to walk more easily with

improved foot conditions. However, it

did take a few days or so to get used to

the orthotics.

We also each bought better quality

sneakers for the new removable foot

inserts for our shoes. The visit to the

Adidas shoe shop at Central Festival

Mall paid off in better foot health.

It was worth the long airplane rides

to get to Thailand. Health and wellbeing

are so important. We found Thai

smiles, joy and better health. While we

did this all for less cost in Thailand, we

realized that our health and happiness

is priceless.

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Freelance journalists, Jason Rupp and Carla Marie Rupp run several travel Youtube channels. Jason

has carved his own niche that he calls “Travel & Pamper. He documents his travels by pampering

himself with haircuts, barber shaves, massages, and unique health-related treatments.

48

https://www.youtube.com/c/JasonRuppVlog

49


One can

entirely

marvel

at this

fantastically

shaped

Camellia’s

blossom.

The Maiden

Camellia:

“Otome Camellias”:

refined doubleflowered

camellias

developing simply

above Hotaru-Sawa

stream.

Ode to a

Tokyo Garden

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The ornamental

Camellia Japonica

grows properly well

when near a stream

as in this garden’s..

Believed to have been developed in the early 9th century,

this three- storied pagoda was once relocated to the garden,

from a temple in the mountains of Hiroshima in the 1920s.

Throughout

the garden,

camellias

come in all

exceptional

shapes,

forms and

coloring,

spellbinding

the viewers.

“Tsubaki-Yama’:

Camellias are

evergreen shrubs

or small trees with

flora of five to

nine petals whose

shade fluctuates

from pink to red.

Peonies grow wild

in the gardens and

can be incredibly

huge when in full

bloom.

The garden

“Hotaru-Sawa”

stream: so

named as it is

believed to be

the fantastic

area where to

experience the

enchanting

sight of fireflies

at some stage

in the summer

season..

Story and Photos by

Daniele Auvray

Dream or reality?

Is reality nothing but a dream?

A pure product of our imagination?

An illusion?

The line between the two is often blurred.

n the eastern

edge of the

Musashino

plains, where

much of

western Tokyo

lies, is the Sekiguchi

Plateau, a scenic spot famous

for its wild Camellias, since

the fourteenth century. During

the Edo period (1603 -1868),

many daymio and samurai

families had villas in the area

and haiku poet Matsuo Basho

lived nearby for a few years.

In 1878, statesman Aritomo

Yamagata envisioned creating a

beautiful garden and villa there

after he bought a piece of land

in the area known as: “Tsubakiyama”

(Camellia’s Hills). He

christened his estate “Chinzan-so,”

or ‘Mansion on Camellia’s Hills.”

Little did he know then that his

dream would not only outlive him,

but that it would stand the test of

time! It has flourished to become

the magnificent garden that we

still enjoy and admire today.

To make sure, however, Mr. Yamagata

hired the best of garden designers to

assist him in his endeavor and chose a

kaiyuu-style garden that was not only

pleasant to look at, but also enjoyable

to stroll around. Kaiyuu-style gardens

usually have vast green meadows, a

pond, a tsakiyama (ground molded

to look like a small mountain) and

winding rivers. By reproducing

familiar landscapes on these grounds,

with the assistance of Iwatomo

Katsugoro, Mr. Yamagata developed a

garden that will always remind him of

his birthplace in Hagi.

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“Entsukaku” the

Buddhist pagoda:

Center staged, and

illuminated when

night time falls ,

the three- story

pagoda occupies

the perfect point in

the garden’s.

At the Gojo waterfall:

The man made Yusuichi

pond is additionally

graced through means

of a waterfall.

This urban

emerald oasis has

pathways allowing

the traveler to be

totally immersed in

the lush greenery

of trees.

ater the property was passed on to

Baron Heitaro Fujita and, while still

respecting Mr. Yamagata’s wishes, he

decorated the grounds with

historical monuments coming

from all over Japan, especially

Kyoto and Toba. One monument

is a one-thousand-year-old pagoda, which

was transferred here from the Hiroshima

Mountains. Chikurin-ji Temple monks

remarkably built this three-story pagoda

without the use of a single nail! There was

also the Shiratama Inari Shrine, in the

center of the garden, but it was removed

from the grounds of Shimogamo in Kyoto,

in 1924. Other cultural treasures scattered

throughout the site include carved Taoist

and Buddhist images and over thirty

stone lanterns. A large pond, waterfall,

and natural spring are also part of the

garden, plus a 500-year-old sacred tree that

measures 4.5 meters around its base.

The history of Japan reveals itself on a

stroll through the garden, and every season

offers its own delights. In March and April,

you’ll see cherry blossoms and azalea, and

in May come the irises. June is the start of

the hydrangea season and at night you’ll

see fireflies. There are migrating birds

in the autumn months and the foliage

is breathtaking. In December, Camellia

Sasanqua, a species native to Japan starts

to bloom. Then January ushers in the plum

blossoms. From February to March, you’ll

see the Camellias Chinzan-so is famous for.

The hilly garden still extends today, over

nearly seven hectares, with camellias

continuing to grow at the foot of stone

lanterns and statues. This spectacular

garden is all lit up in the evenings with

beautiful lights designed to layer over each

other, creating a perfect color gradation.

The garden’s famous “unkai” (sea of

clouds) hover among the trees, and the

installed special nature sounds make for

an immersive experience. The garden is

stunning with walking trails and ponds with

koi carps, all surrounded by lush greenery.

It can easily take an hour or more, to visit

the entire garden.

he garden has many

Japanese traditional

features, among them a

red bridge (Benkei bridge), a

feature that was very popular

during the Edo period. The

Chinzan-so monument,

inscribed with writings by Yamagata,

is evidence of his great fondness

for the place. Dabbling as he did in

composing waka poems, Yamagata

had a cultural side evidenced by the

passion he devoted to create gardens.

Though the garden was destroyed

during World War II, reconstruction

soon began in 1948, under the

direction of Ogawa Eiichi, whose

vision of “building a green oasis in

Tokyo” included the transportation

of more than ten thousand trees. A

festive party on November 11th, 1952,

marked the grand opening of the

Chinzan-so as a garden restaurant. It

proudly celebrates its 70th anniversary,

this year.

Like most Japanese gardens, the

Chinzan-so garden can be enjoyed in

every season, but the most spectacular

times to visit are in spring for the

cherry blossoms and in fall, for

the autumn leaves. The settings of

this garden, with the quaint pond,

stunning pagoda, waterfall, lanterns

and images of Taoism and Buddhism,

all add to the exquisite beauty of this

lovely garden. It is clear that Old

Japan survives in this garden that is in

modern Tokyo, for as you enter it you

are transported back into a completely

different world. It is a world that

stays true to its former name and

original creator with its large variety

of camellias from throughout Japan.

The recent addition, at certain times

of the day, of the astonishing release

of artificial fog creates a mystical,

magical, and mysterious feel to the

place, a perfect illusion, giving it a

dreamy look that is absolute poetry in

the making!

The holy image

of the Kanzeon

goddess is

enshrined

in the three

storied Buddhist

pagoda and

destined to

protect the site.

All lit up at night,

“Fukuroku-ju”

god of fortune,

wealth and

longevity is

however one of

the seven gods

scattered around

the garden’s

paths.

Closest to the

Kanda River, this

cautiously designed

lower gate to the

Chinzan-so garden

leads to the Ryotei.

Evening Cherry

blossoms viewing in

Chinzan-so garden.

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Handmade paper lanterns dazzle young shoppers at an artisan’s store.

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Exploring Hội An

Vietnam’s ‘City of Lanterns’

Story and Photos by John Gottberg Anderson

Visitors to the Cam Pho Communal House,

more than two centuries old, model imperial

costumes from the pre-European era.

he paved lane along the north bank of

Vietnam’s Thu Bon River, in the city of

Hội An, is quaint by day, spectacular

by night. Centuries-old houses, some built as

long ago as the 1700s, welcome visitors to

enjoy coffee, food, tailored clothing, and

other merchandise. Their ochre-hued walls

and tiled roofs are invariably brightened by colorful

flowers and paper lanterns.

When the sun disappears, those same lanterns

illuminate the water, hanging as they do from small

boats that carry passengers through the serene stream.

They brighten the pedestrian bridge that crosses the

waterway to mobile kitchens and a night market on

the opposite shore and give this romantic city its

nickname:

“City of Lanterns”

There are eight UNESCO World Heritage Sites in

Vietnam. They include places of profound scenic

beauty and destinations of remarkable historical and

cultural importance. Of these, Hội An stands out as

truly unique. That’s because this city of 140,000 is still

living its heritage.

A boatman awaits passengers for

an early-evening cruise on the

Thu Bon River.

Young women wearing traditional

ao dai dresses enjoy conversation

in the doorway of a medieval

home in Hoi An’s Ancient Town.

trading port famed throughout the western Pacific and

even Europe, with a significant Chinese and Japanese

population. Today it maintains more than 800 historic

buildings, nearly two dozen of them open to visitors as

places of worship, private homes, and small museums.

Chinese traders in particular made their presence

known. They followed the monsoons south across the

South China Sea in spring and returned north four

months later when the winds turned. They came with

silk, paper, spices, medicines, beeswax, and lacquer.

They built assembly halls as places to gather and worship

their Taoist and Confucianist deities, each congregation

representing their specific home regions of China.

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Colored lanterns hanging

on tour boats illuminate

the Thu Bon River at night.

As the premier tourist destination in Central Vietnam,

Hội An (pronounced hoy-ann) is known for its

marvelously preserved Ancient Town. Between the

15th and 19th centuries, Hội An was an international

The tiled rooftops of Hoi An’s Ancient Town

shelter a UNESCO World Heritage district of

more than 800 historic buildings.

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The Cantonese Hall, built in 1885, is dedicated

to a 3rd Century general remembered for his

virtues of courage and righteousness.

South Chinese merchants built the colorful

Fujian Assembly Hall in 1697. In its central

pagoda, visitors offer prayers to Thien Hau,

goddess of the sea.

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A multi-headed dragon strains

for release from a tiny pool

in the back garden of the

Cantonese Assembly Hall.

everal of these buildings

are spectacular. The Fujian

Assembly Hall, originally

constructed of wood in

1697, was rebuilt with

brick and tile in 1757. Its

colorful architecture incorporates

sculpture with potted plants, flowers,

and other garden features. Modern

Vietnamese and Chinese come to

pray to Thiên Hậu, goddess of the sea,

who protects fishermen and other

maritime travelers.

The Cantonese Assembly Hall, built

in 1885, is dedicated to Quan Cong, a

Third Century general. Its highlight is

a back-garden sculpture of a Medusalike

dragon, multiple heads straining

for release from a tiny pool.

One of the town’s most famous

features is the Japanese Covered

Bridge at the west end of the Ancient

Town. Built over a stream in the

1590s, the arched bridge is guarded

at either end by paired statues of

dogs and monkeys. At its center is

a shrine guarded day and night by

human security.

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Built over a stream in the 1590s,

the Japanese covered bridge is

guarded at either end by paired

statues of dogs and monkeys.

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Sunset paints an artist’s glow on Thai Phien street in suburban Hoi An.

A woman in 18thcentury

costume

crosses a Hoi An

Street. Scores

of ochre-colored

buildings are home

to shops, restaurants

and coffee shops.

ội An is an

easy town

to find your

way around,

despite

some

nameless

narrow alleys: They all

lead somewhere, and there

are numerous maps and

directional signs (mostly in

English) to help you out.

To pay for continued

maintenance of historic

buildings, all visitors are

requested to purchase an

entrance ticket. A fee of

about US $2.60 entitles

admission to five buildings;

I needed two tickets, even

though not every building

was open during my visit.

Still, it was money very

well spent.

Apart from seven assembly

halls and communal

houses, and five small

museums, the ticket allows

entrance to a half-dozen

traditional family homes.

Of these, both the Tấn

Ký House and the Quân

Thắng House are in

their seventh generation

of continuous family

ownership. Each features

beautiful artisan tile and

woodwork, numerous

historic portraits, a central

courtyard and an altar

beneath the front eaves.

Traditional cultural shows

and craft demonstrations

are offered at several

locations around the

Ancient Town.

ven before Hội An

was a recognized

trading port, its

location was

embraced by the

ancient Champa

Empire — a medieval

regional power — as a spiritual

one. The Hindu ruins of My

Son (pronounced mee sone) are

some of the most memorable

in Vietnam, and they are an

inexpensive 45-minute taxi ride

upriver from Hội An.

Dating back more than 1,000

years, this sanctuary was lost

in thick jungles for centuries,

rediscovered by French colonists

in the 1800s, then mercilessly

bombed by Americans 50

years ago. Today it has several

clusters of red-brick structures

in various stages of collapse and

restoration. It is a UNESCO

World Heritage Site in its own

right.

Hội An is about 30 kilometers

(19 miles) south of Da Nang, the

largest city in central Vietnam.

Buses and taxis run frequently

from the international airport,

and scores of outstanding hotels

and budget guest houses cater to

visitors.

The town is famous for such

local foods as mí quang (a

noodle soup typically served

with shrimp, pork, and

crushed peanuts) and cao lâu

(rice noodles in a sauce with

marinated pork). But because

of international tourism, it’s easy

to find a cosmopolitan variety of

dishes, from steaks and pizza to

Thai and Indian cuisine.

Cao lau, made of rice noodles in a sauce

with marinated pork, shrimp and quail

eggs, is a specialty dish of Hoi An.

Some of the Hindu

sculptures at My Son

were carved as long ago

as the 7th Century, when

the Champa Empire was

a regional power.

Dating back more than 1,000 years, the

Champa Empire spiritual center of My Son

is undergoing extensive restoration as a

UNESCO World Heritage site.

John Gottberg Anderson,

a resident of Vietnam

since 2019, is the author

of the weekly blog:

www.travelsinvietnam.com

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View of the Cathedral in Narbonne

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Map of Canal du Midi from

Marseilland to Le Somail

Courtesy of European Waterways

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Idyllic Rural France on a Luxury

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Barge with European Waterways


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Story and Photos by Judi Cohen (@TravelingJudi)

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Blessed with historic rustic villages,

seemingly never-ending vineyards,

and relaxed unhurried canal life,

barging on the medieval Canal du

Midi in southwestern France’s remote

Languedoc Region was the ideal

escape after a long, difficult two years

with the COVID pandemic.

Our tiny 8-passenger first class

hotel barge, Anjodi, part of the

European Waterways fleet, had the

right combination of simplicity and

sophistication for my slow journey,

one lazy bend of the canal after

another. It was a pleasure to spend 6

nights on board to enjoy local French

dishes prepared by a private chef,

visit villages dating back to the 17th

century, and relax on the top deck

with a panoramic view of canal life

and lush vineyards.

First impressions

It took mere minutes to be immersed

into the natural beauty of the region,

while embracing the freedom to do as

much or as little as I wanted to for six

nights. From the moment I stepped

foot on the barge in Marseillan, the

magic began.

(Prior to boarding, we overnighted in

Narbonne, a small city rich in Roman

and French history, and with many

delightful shops.

Canal Du Midi

Canal Du Midi

Commissioned in 1666 by King Louis

XIV, the Canal du Midi was built

to connect the Mediterranean Sea

with the Atlantic Ocean. Our tiny

barge cruised through 24 locks, from

Marseillan to Le Somail, including

a flight of staircase locks, known

as the Fonserannes Locks near the

city of Beziers. Navigating countless

bridges, aqueducts, as well as the

historic Malpas Tunnel was a once in

a lifetime experience.

Barge Anjodi approaching Beziers on the Canal

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Excursion to the medieval

fortified city of Carcassonne

Village of Pezenas

Shopping

with the

Chef at the

Marche in

Narbonne

Village of Minervois

Anjodi cruising the

Malpas Tunnel

Sunset view from top of

the Fonserranes Locks

Cathar Villages

and

Medieval Towns

Our onboard guide shared his

expert insights about the Cathar

villages and medieval towns as

we meandered down the canal.

I enjoyed the views of fortified

hilltop villages, ancient walled

cities, and gorgeous fall colors

of the vineyards and trees. For

passengers wanting to exercise

while exploring the French

countryside, bicycles were available

on the barge to cycle in the

towpaths, and we were encouraged

to walk or cycle alongside the

locks.

Just minutes by foot from the canal

we were able to explore the villages

of Capestang and Le Somail, and a

short drive away were the medieval

fortified city of Carcassonne with

its longest city wall in all of Europe,

the ancient hilltop village of

Minerve, and the city of Narbonne

rich in Roman and French history.

There are bicycles on Anjodi

Delicious Details

My six-night cruise on Anjodi was a veritable

study in French cheese, wine and food. The day

began with a breakfast of croissants, baguettes,

yogurt, fresh fruit, eggs any-style and cheese. The

sun-filled salon’s dining table accommodated all

of the guests and we soon began to feel like one

big family, sharing stories and photos of friends,

pets and past trips.

This was truly a moveable feast of fine French

cuisine and perfectly paired wines. Our private

chef, Mickail, masterfully prepared 4-course

lunches and dinners complete with a cheese

course and dessert daily. The highlight, however,

was dining al fresco on the top deck enjoying

the sun and warm breeze, sipping wine and

splendidly chilled champagne as the autumn

scenery changed throughout the day.

A highlight was accompanying our chef one

morning to the art-deco Marche in Narbonne to

choose shrimps, clams, oysters and other seafood

for our dinner extravaganza upon returning to

the barge. As on all days, our hostess presented

red and white wines from the Languedoc region,

explaining their qualities, vintage, and why they

were selected for each meal.

Plus, a private wine tasting and winery tour

at the Chateau Pech-Celevran, owned by the

Saint Exupery family for five generations, they

immersed us in the rich French history. Antoine

Saint Exupery’s book, “Le Petit Prince” is a classic

I read with my children when they were much

younger.

Hooked on

Barge Cruising

Judi and Lawrence enjoying

the sun on the top deck

Shrimps fresh from the

Marche in Narbonne

Fresh Oysters from the

Marche in Narbonne

direct to our table on

Barge Anjodi for lunch

Dining Alfresco with

our chef introducing

our lunch on the top

deck of Barge Anjodi

Bottles of

Antoine

de Saint

Exupery Wine

at Chateau

Pech-Celevran

Jazz Trio on Anjodi with a foot

bridge designed by Gustave

Eiffel over the canal

Judi relaxing in the

spa tub on the top

deck, cruising on

the tree-lined canal

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With seemingly endless romantic French scenery,

over the top personal service, and fine food and

wine, I’m officially hooked on barge cruising.

With so many barge options along the canals in

France, Italy, Holland, Ireland and Scotland, I will

certainly be shopping for another barge cruise

soon! Spring is just around the corner.

Vineyard tour at the

Chateau Pech-Celevran

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Delicious Belgrade Beckons

CLICK ABOVE RIGHT TO SEE MOVIE!

Explore the City of Belgrade

Through Its Delicious Food

Story, Photos and Movie by Dennis Cieri

Adventure Caffe. Try this local eatery if you are looking for a quick drink or just a bite to eat

DVA Jelena - Sip Vinarija Zvonko Bogdan Cuvée No.1, a very popular Central Serbian wine.

MOVIE

CLICK

HERE

Serbian cuisine is a melting pot of flavors

and smells that draws its inspiration

from the Byzantine influences - Greek,

Bulgarian, Turkish and Hungarian

motifs. Its colorful and boisterous

character is as unique as its people. Join

us as we walk the city sampling a wide

variety of food.

If you’re a foodie, here’s a mouthwatering

itinerary of this delicious city to follow

on your next trip to Belgrade. While

exploring Belgrade, you can spend a

good portion of your trip sampling

the foods from the local markets and

many restaurants that fill the city. There

are also a lot of small stands selling

everything from pizza to ice cream.

The city of Belgrade boasts a seemingly

endless selection of bakeries, kiosks,

markets, eateries, and restaurants

throughout its historical yet modern

streets. Every year, locals and tourists

alike enjoy eating at the restaurants on

Skadarlija street or ‘tasting’ street with

food from the local vendors.

DVA JELENA

DVA Jelena, Skadarska 32, Belgrade,

Serbia - which translates in English as

Two Deer Restaurant, is a 180-yearold

restaurant located in the center of

Skadarlija. It was and still is a favorite

watering hole of famous poets and

writers such as Janko Veselinovic, Laza

Kostic, Djura Jaksic, Milovan Glisic, and

Tin Ujevic.

A live Serbian band perform each

evening until 8:30pm. We loved our

mixed meat platter with warm fresh

bread, which we washed down with an

excellent local Serbian wine.

MARKETS

Belgrade has Farmer’s Markets where

the Serbian farmers bring their fresh

produce to the city every morning.

Serbia prides itself on its effort to keep

its agriculture free from Genetically

Modified Organisms (GMO). The

farmer’s market is where you will find

locally sourced fruits, spreads, nuts and

vegetables.

ADVENTURE CAFFE

Be sure to venture down Knez Mihailova

Street, known by the locals as Kneza

Mihaila, filled with shops, bars,

restaurants, and art galleries. We settled

on Adventure Café Trg republike 5,

Belgrade Serbia, where we were served

a delicious cold cuts plate, veal soup,

salad, and of course, kajmak. According

to a local Belgradian, kajmak, is “a

cream cheese-like spread which we put

everywhere! We love it, especially on hot

bread and on a salad. For us, it goes with

everything”.

OTHER SMALL CAFES

AROUND KNEZ MIHAILOVA

The area also boasts dozens of small

dessert cafes and shops. The Serbian

people take the art of coffee and desert

very seriously!

The cafes in Belgrade are favored by

young and old people alike. Each cafe

has a unique style that you will definitely

not find anywhere else.

HUSH HUSH SOCIAL CLUB

Hush Hush Social Club Karađorđeva

2-4, Belgrade, Serbia, offers a little bit

of Belgrade’s nightlife! This lounge bar

is situated in the heart of Belgrade and

overlooks the Sava River. During the

day, this restaurant serves delicious

traditional Serbian food.

A classic Serbian band plays a mixture of traditional and

contemporary music until 8:30 PM every evening at DVA Jelena.

A mixed meat platter with kajmak,

a cream cheese-like spread and

Serbia’s favorite.

We had the pljeskavica, which is

a notorious Serbian dish akin to

a burger. According to the chef

himself, the meat is made out of

lean beef prepared almost 72 hours

in advance before it is baked. It

is then topped with kajmak, the

traditional creamy dairy product

that is “put on everything”. To top

it off, we had a slice of cake for

dessert made from 3 different types

of milk and covered in caramel.

Savor

pljeskavica,

a favorite

Serbian

dish

akin to a

burger.

Savor this mouthwatering Hush

Hush creation--a slice of cake

made from 3 different types of

milk and covered in caramel.

In the evening, going to the

Belgrade Fortress along the

waterfront is a lovely place to finish

the day before heading back to the

hotel. And while there you should

visit the Kahvana Mali Kalemegdan

for a cup of coffee or a dink and

some desert.

TAKEAWAY

We loved eating our way through

Belgrade and we would definitely

recommend you do the same. Take

your time to explore Belgrade

through all of its exquisite cuisine.

This beautiful city is not only

steeped in history and culture,

but also rich in spices and flavors.

Follow your inner gourmand’s quest

in the midst of this magical everchanging

city!

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A DANUBE RIVER CRUISE

DAZZLES THE SENSES

Emerald Cruises’ Emerald Destiny docked along the Danube

River. The ship launched in 2017 and has a maximum capacity of

182 passengers and includes amenities like an indoor pool, night

cinema, spa massage room, fitness center, lounge, fine dining

restaurant and a sun deck with putt putt golf.

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Story and Photos by

Alex Kallimanis

ailing along Europe’s Danube River

conjures images of historic castles,

rolling vineyards and UNESCO

World Heritage towns. With flowers

in bloom, spring is a great time

to visit. Fewer crowds compared

to summer means easier access to

popular attractions along with money saving

opportunities.

A Danube River Cruise offers a treasure trove

of highlights. Companies like Emerald Cruises

offer a variety of itineraries to stylishly explore

inspiring destinations. Panoramic windows in

state rooms, along with a spacious rooftop deck

offer ample opportunities to view gorgeous

sites both privately and publicly.

Emerald Destiny passengers enjoy sailing into

Durnstein, Austria atop the sundeck. It’s popular

for the ruins of Durnstein Castle and sprawling

vineyards around its historic center.

I explored 8 beautiful destinations in Germany,

Austria, Slovakia and Hungary without worrying

about travel logistics. Another perk of cruising is

the variety of expertly guided excursions, activities,

fine dining and cultural experiences. Guests can also

freely choose how they spend their time in ports

as well as on board the ship. It’s great to avail of

included walking tours in the morning, followed by

self exploration afterwards.

My Danube cruise began in Nuremberg. Bavaria’s

second-largest city offers highlights like Kaiserburg

Castle, where Popes once crowned German kings

during the Holy Roman Empire. The medieval

fortified buildings atop a sandstone ridge offer

sweeping vistas overlooking its charming historic

center.

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Scholl Schonbuhel, a 12th

century castle along the

Danube River in the Wachau

Valley of Austria between

Melk and Durnstein.

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Overlooking the “Three Rivers City” of

Passau, Germany from Veste Oberhaus.

Melk Abbey Courtyard in Melk Austria is an exquisite

example of baroque architecture that survived the

Reformation. It’s home to around 30 Benedictine

monks who maintain and reside at the abbey.

The impressive

Hungarian

Parliament

viewed from the

sundeck of the

Emerald Destiny

on a Danube

River Cruise.

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uremberg resonates

with history buffs

for the Memorium

Nuremberg Trials,

a museum and

active courtroom where high

ranking Nazi officials were tried.

Art buffs should visit Albrecht

Durer’s House, the former studio

of Germany’s most famous

Renaissance painter. A longtime

friend from university days, Felix

Oettner, owns the Albrecht Durer

Museum Shop, which features

antique tiles from the 1700’s.

Sailing along the Danube from

Nuremberg to Regensburg, a

UNESCO World Heritage Site,

visitors learn about the bratwurst

rivalry between two picturesque

German towns. It’s the perfect

setting to enjoy delicious brews in

a beer garden like Spitalgarten.

Passau, Germany is called the Three

Rivers City because it rests along

the confluence of the Danube,

Inn and Ilz rivers. I marveled at

the breathtaking view of Passau’s

charming historic center and the

three rivers atop Veste Oberhaus, a

13th-century defense fortress built

by prince-bishops. Dom St. Stephen

is a stunning baroque church that

houses the world’s largest organ,

made of 17,974 pipes.

Sailing through the Wachau Valley

of Austria offers another idyllic

European setting. Melk Abbey

is an impressive Baroque style

Benedictine abbey. Adorned with

elaborate frescoes, it offers sweeping

views above a perfectly charming

Austrian village. The incredible

28km sail from Melk to Durnstein

is lined with scenic towns, rolling

vineyards and historic castles.

The grandeur of Vienna is well suited

to be called the “City of Music.” A visit

to ornate palaces like Schönbrunn and

Belvedere showcases lavish gardens and

offers a glimpse into the aristocratic life

of a bygone era.

Eroica Hall, where Beethoven performed

the premiere of his Third Symphony, is

the perfect setting for a concert. Fabulous

music is capped with a soaring rendition

of Johann Strauss’s Blue Danube Waltz.

Emerald Cruises organizes the concert as

an additional outing you can select and

includes pre-concert champagne in the

foyer.

Founded in 1447, Griechenbiesl is the

oldest inn in Vienna. Grab a seat on their

terrace and savor Vienna’s most popular

dish, wiener schnitzel! Cafe Central,

founded in 1876, is an iconic venue to

savor Viennese cakes like sachertorte,

gugelhupf, dobos torte and strudel.

t’s a short sail down the

Danube River from Vienna

to Bratislava. The revitalized

capital of Slovakia is a

charming and easily navigable

destination. River cruises

dock in the heart of town, and its

quaint historic center is packed with

delicious cafes and punctuated by

Bratislava Castle, which overlooks

town.

Sailing into Budapest is an epic

way to conclude a Danube River

Alexander and Bellinda King-Kallimanis

enjoying schnitzel at the oldest

restaurant in Vienna, Griechenbiesl.

cruise. The Hungarian Parliament,

built in 1904, is a grand example of

Gothic Revival architecture. Waking

up to view the striking building in

early light, while the ship makes

360 degree turns to offer panoramic

views of other sites like Castle Hill,

is a remarkable experience.

Nicknamed “Spa City,” Budapest

rests atop 123 thermal springs.

Roman settlers built the first spa

baths, and the tradition continued

through Ottoman occupation.

Popular Budapest baths include

Szechenyi, Rudas, Gellert and

Kiraly. Budapest houses more

medicinal baths than any other

world capital.

A Danube River cruise is a fantastic

way to experience Europe in spring.

Waking up to explore exciting new

destinations, in different countries,

all without swapping your room, is

a memorable journey sure to elicit

frequent doses of nostalgia.

The medieval Maxbrucke Bridge in Nuremberg is the oldest stone

bridge in the city, built in 1457 by Jakob Grimm. It crosses the

Pegnitz River and connects historic Maxplatz and Untschlittplatz.

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Springtime

The extensive views and natural formations of

the Quiraing attract hikers and picnicers.

on the

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Isle of Skye

Story and Photos by Lisa Morales

Neist Point Lighthouse perches

on the far reaches of Skye and

catches the sunset colors.

pring comes slowly in the

Highlands of Scotland

but as sure of the Old Man

of Storrs stands, it does

come. Lambing season begins,

wildflowers bloom and waterfalls

run swiftly as mountain ice melts.

Sheep are not

bothered by onlookers,

they occupy very

scenic pastures along

the coastline of Skye.

Skye, 639 square miles in

the Inner Hebrides chain

of islands, has only 16

inhabitants per each square

mile. Linked by an auto

bridge since 1995 the island

is also connected to its

neighbors by the ferry system.

There’s no public airport, but

bus service meets trains from

Inverness and Glasgow. Local

buses are available on the

island as well as tours buses,

taxis and private car hires.

Famous

Highland cattle,

or “coos” dot

the hillsides on

Isle of Skye.

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Early spring blooms in

the Scottish Highlands

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Sligachan Old Bridge is near both the hotel and

campgrounds and leads to hiking trails.

Blooming heather

Glenfinnan is the site of the railroad trestle

made famous in the Harry Potter movies.

Dunvegan Castles seen from the water,

once the only way to access the fortress.

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he place names of Skye’s

hamlets and towns are

whimsical, and the views

and landscapes are both

rugged and breathtaking.

There are whiskey tours and farm

stays, but if picturesque vistas and

stately castles and gardens are on

your wishlist Skye is perfect for

springtime exploration.

An excellent base is the Sligachan

Hotel, nine miles from Portree,

Skye’s capital. The Sligachan’s

renovated rooms are welcoming

and charming, mine had a lovely

view of Old Sligachan Bridge over

A wedding couple

poses at the Quiraing

on Isle of Skye

the river looking toward the Red

and Black Cuillins. A destination

since 1830, I loved the cozy corners,

blazing fireplaces, gleaming bars,

and small museum of the area in

the reading room. The local fare

served includes fresh salmon and

addictive sticky pudding.

Many of Skye’s iconic landscapes

are famous as television and film

locations. But these are ancient and

mystical places, trod on through

millenia by Norseman, clansmen

and possibly inhabited by faeries.

The Quiraing on the eastern face of

Meall na Suiramach, draws visitors

to walk the swirling hills. The full

walk takes two hours, I found myself

marveling at the stunning views around

every wrinkle in the land. Fluffy sheep

dot the green slopes far below.

On the West side of Trotternish ridge

at Balnacnoc, is the Fairy Glen. The

basalt tower looks like a castle ruin

but is a weathered natural formation.

Wildflowers and heather line the crags

and lake shores. I watched as visitors

scrambled up rocks and over streams,

and a bride and groom posed for their

wedding portrait. It’s an isolated and

quiet spot with some parking. Access is

also by a 30 minute walk from Uig.

Waterfalls near the Sligachan Hotel with the Black Cuillins

in the background.

aerie legends also feature at

the Faerie Pools, Allt Coir

a ‘Mhadaidh, in the shadow

of the Cuillins. Near the village

of Carboth, the waterfalls flow

in multiple stages from the River Brittle.

The falls are a mile and a half walk from

the parking area. The waters are clear and

cold! Watch your footing, I slipped and

slid along the slippery sides of the river.

Among the man-made wonders are

Glenfinnan Viaduct, Dunvegan Castle and

Gardens and Neist Point Lighthouse. Save

the lighthouse for sunset on a clear, calm

evening, and join the crowds with a picnic

to await the spectacular colors lighting up

the rocks.

Portree is the Isle of Skye’s capital and hub.

Located on the westerly tip of Skye

near Glendale, in the area known as

Durinish, it is best reached by car. I

stayed at the top of the cliff with my

camera, but there is a sidewalk and

steps down to the lighthouse, about

a mile down and back.

Glenfinnan Viaduct carries the

railway to Glenfinnan Station across

a 1,000 ft span, 100 ft above the

ground. The Jacobite steam train

runs to Fort William and Mallaig in

summer months. Walk up the path

for a view of Loch Shiel. There’s a

visitor center near the parking area

with a cafe and gift shop.

Best seen from the water,

Dunvegan Castle is imposing,

rising from the sea. I was thrilled

with the stories told by our boat’s

captain on a skiff from the castle’s

dock, where we got an up close

view of seals and otters. Much of

the 800-year-old property and

its gardens have been beautifully

restored. I came to see the Faerie

Flag of Dunvegan, Am Bratach

Sith, woven of silk in the 4th

century AD. Legend has it that

this sacred clan banner has

miraculous powers. It is delicate,

mysterious and beautiful, with

several mystical stories attached

to it.

Portree is the commercial,

transportation and cultural center

of Skye. I enjoyed shopping,

restaurants, museums and walks

along the quai. From Portree you

can enjoy a fishing charter, go

sailing or follow a Treasure Trail.

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There’s so much more to see and

do on Isle of Skye, with something

for everyone from the distillery

tours to camping to hiking.

My next trip will include more

searching for faeries!

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Celebrity Cruises Apex

Celebrity Apex Sky Suite Veranda- A Private Respite

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Spring Back into Travel by

Taking a Cruise

hen COVID-19

caused the global

cruise industry to

become sidelined, I

couldn’t help but wonder

when it would be safe to

cruise again. As an avid cruiser,

I am keenly aware of the efforts

that cruise ships took prior to the

pandemic to ensure the safety and

well-being of their diverse clientele.

For decades, cruise ships have

monitored outbreaks of norovirus,

respiratory diseases, Legionnaires’

disease, vaccine-preventable diseases,

as well as other contagious illnesses.

On numerous occasions, I witnessed

first-hand how ships instituted

stricter onboard policies to prevent

serious outbreaks of disease and

Story and Photos by Sandy Bornstein

quarantined passengers after they

became contagious.

However, a new era in cruise

travel began when the Japanese

government mandated that the

Diamond Princess be quarantined

off the Yokohama coast in 2020.

While reading and watching the

news stories generated by this

troubling event, I realized that my

comfort level would determine

when I would sail again.

It was challenging to predict the

trajectory of the pandemic as waves

of the disease ebbed and flowed and

countries responded in different

ways. Our previously booked

cruises needed to be postponed and

rebooked several times. Reserving a

Looking down on

the St Thomas Harbor

new cruise seemed very speculative,

especially if the proposed itinerary

involved international travel. But

when you are simultaneously coping

with a spouse who has glioblastoma,

an incurable brain tumor, time

becomes very precious. Maintaining

a forward-looking mindset that

includes copious travel plans

becomes paramount to our lifestyle.

Throughout the pandemic, we

found safe ways to explore domestic

destinations. Initially, we planned

road trips. By the spring of 2021,

we were willing to travel by airplane

to various U.S. cities. If we were to

sail again, I had to overcome my

pandemic cruise fears and choose

well thought out destinations and

embarkation dates.

While we did not anticipate taking our first

cruise until March 2022, we made a lastminute

decision to take a Caribbean cruise in

December of 2021. Disappointingly, our plans

for a West Coast media trip did not materialize

as we had anticipated. We were looking forward

to traveling, but suddenly we did not have a

destination. Since I didn’t want to disappoint

my husband, I started researching spur of the

moment options. We unanimously agreed that

booking a Celebrity Cruises Apex Retreat Class

cabin coupled with a three-island itinerary to

San Juan, St. Kitts, and St. Thomas was a good fit.

Within just a couple of weeks of the sailing, we

snagged one of the last suite class cabins on this

brand-new ship.

The crowds in the airports, aboard airplanes,

in the Fort Lauderdale hotel, and at Port

Everglades, reaffirmed our belief that people

were traveling despite the COVID mandates. I

felt confident that the vaccination and pre-cruise

COVID testing requirements would minimize

our risks for exposure. While nothing in life

is 100% guaranteed, we felt confident that we

would be okay if we inadvertently contracted

COVID aboard the ship.

Advantages of the Retreat

At the Fort Lauderdale Cruise Port, Retreat

Class guests enter the terminal building

through a special door and receive personalized

service. Onboard, we immediately enjoyed

the perks of this unique category by becoming

acquainted with The Retreat Sundeck, the

Retreat Lounge, and the Luminae Dining Room.

Since these public spaces were restricted to

suite class guests, we didn’t encounter large

crowds. Our only exposure to larger crowds

while onboard occurred when we attended an

evening performance or daytime program in the

innovative Theatre. To avoid unnecessary close

contact with other passengers, we rarely used an

elevator and chose to exercise at non-peak times.

With a spacious cabin and relaxing veranda,

the desire to spend time by ourselves remained

a viable option. However, our comfort levels

returned shortly after boarding the ship. While

Introducing Celebrity’s Newest Ship-- The Apex

at sea, we happily divided our time in The Retreat areas.

Having experienced the Luminae Restaurant during a

Japanese intensive sailing in 2019 aboard the Celebrity

Millennium, we knew that the culinary staff could

accommodate Ira’s nutrient-dense diet. However, with

a noticeably larger dining area, the service was less

personalized and a bit slower, but the overall quality of

the made-to-order entrees remained intact.

Celebrating Chanukah

Our weeklong cruise coincided with the concluding

days of the festival of Chanukah. During Jewish

holidays, Celebrity Cruises accommodates its Jewish

guests by offering group celebrations. An American

cantor led a short service which included the blessings

over electric candles. Dozens of attendees were treated

to traditional Chanukah foods— latkes (potato

pancakes) and sufganiyot (jelly donuts).

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SHORE EXCURSIONS

St. Thomas

Sampling a Luminae

Restaurant Appetizer

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Entrance to Brimstone Hill National

Fortress, A UNESCO World

Heritage Site at St. Kitts

Greeted by a strategic

fortress when Entering

the Puerto Rico Harbor

Inside Castillo San Felipe del Morro with three flags flying

Prior to arriving in Fort Lauderdale, we made our shore

excursion plans. Even though we had previously visited two

out of the three ports of call, we planned to disembark at each

island. However, we were reluctant to book a large group tour.

Instead, we chose to either explore on our own or arrange

a private tour. Surprisingly, we did not have to wait in any

lines when we left and later returned to the ship. Most of the

passengers remained onboard. When talking to some of these

cruise guests, we learned that the fear of contracting COVID

motivated their choice to avoid the ports.

San Juan

Our mid-afternoon arrival at San Juan’s port caused

abbreviated visits to San Felipe del Morro Castle and Castillo de

San Cristobal. Instead of the anticipated closing time of 5 pm,

these sites shut their doors promptly at 4:30 pm. Even though

we had previously toured these historic sites, we wanted to

acknowledge the 500-year anniversary of the founding of Old

San Juan, the oldest city in the United States. While walking to

and from these noteworthy landmarks, we observed how some

streets were recovering slowly from the latest hurricane. As

the sun was setting on the horizon, we returned to the ship for

dinner.

St. Kitts

St. Kitts’ historic attractions can only be accessed by a car or

bus. My online research for a tour guide led to several dead

ends. Eventually, a tour operator responded to my email.

The pandemic, coupled with the curtailment of cruises for a

prolonged period, caused many tour operators to seek other

sources of revenue.

Chris James, a tour guide for St. Kitts/Nevis Luxury Taxis and

Tours met us at Port Zante. Our half-day tour stopped at the

Fairview Great House and Botanical Garden, which included

time to tour the recently opened slavery exhibit, Romney

Manor, Brimstone Hill Fortress National Park, and a photo

opportunity at a panoramic overlook. We did not see any other

tour groups. The large parking lots were almost totally empty.

Only a handful of visitors in private cars were willing to visit.

At the St. Thomas port, we were greeted by Nicole Petersen, a customer

care coordinator for the United States Virgin Islands Department of

Tourism. She arranged for us to visit an historic synagogue, experience

a scenic overlook, and to participate in a food tour. During our visit

to The Hebrew Congregation of St. Thomas, Agnes Rampino (Agi)

provided a comprehensive history of “the oldest synagogue building

in continuous use under the American flag, the second oldest in the

Western Hemisphere—and only one of five synagogues in the world

with sand on the floor.”

In the afternoon, Jane DiCola, a tour guide for St. Thomas Food Tour,

introduced us to some St. Thomas history and a cross section of local

foods and Caribbean favorites. Our thirsts were quenched with an

herbal tea and a signature alcoholic beverage called a painkiller. We also

tasted salt fish cakes, coconut drop cookies, rum cake, and a Caribbean

sampling inundated with nutrient-dense vegetables and spices. After

sampling some local favorites, we hope to return so we can indulge in

more Caribbean foods.

Becoming Receptive to Cruising Again

Our December 2021 Celebrity Apex sailing to the Caribbean reignited

our desire to include cruising into our travel plans. After a long hiatus,

we once again experienced the exceptional perks of a successful voyage.

We had ample time to step away from our daily concerns by relaxing

during sea days and seeking wonderful adventures while in port.

Throughout the day, we dined on delicious cuisine and sipped herbal

teas. In the evening, we watched and listened to theatrical performances,

multi-talented musicians, and a hilarious comedian. We returned home

without any health issues and with an abundance of memories.

As more and more people become receptive to worldwide travel

opportunities, I encourage individuals to spring back into travel by

taking a cruise. It is an amazing way to experience multiple destinations

without having to pack and unpack numerous times.

Multi-talented

Greta Salóme,

an Icelandic

singer/

songwriter

and master of

the violin.

Eating Healthy at the

Luminae Restaurant

Aboard Celebrity Apex

Tasting a local favorite-- a Salt Fish Cake

Aerial Acrobats

performing in a

multi-sensory

Theatre

Production

Show called

Crystalize

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Inside the

sand floor

sanctuary of

the Hebrew

Congregation

of St. Thomas

After listening to Chris’s introduction to St. Kitts’ history and

visiting these landmarks, we had a better understanding of the

Europeans’ intention to eliminate the native population and

subsequently implement a profitable sugar plantation industry

dependent on African slave labor. Had we chosen to remain on

the ship, we would have missed this chapter of history.

Disclosure: The United States Virgin Islands Department of Tourism hosted The Traveling Bornsteins’ day tour of the island.

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Diving the Turks and Caicos

Diving ‘Beautiful by Nature’ aboard a Floating Resort

The Best of Turks and Caicos aboard the Aggressor Liveaboard Yacht

or the past two years

Covid 19 has reshaped

travel as we knew it. Scuba

enthusiasts have stayed dry,

afraid to interact and to

travel freely as they once did.

However, as restrictions are

beginning to loosen up, divers are

once again eyeing opportunities

of travel. A renewed appetite for

excitement, to interact with marine

life, and to have the opportunity to

capture unusual photos and videos is

encouraging certified divers to look

for new adventures.

The Turks and Caicos is a fabulous

nearby destination in the western

Caribbean that offers visitors a lengthy

checklist of enthralling underwater

temptations. It is for good reason

that this British protectorate entices

visitors with the slogan “Beautiful by

Nature.” The waters surrounding this

island chain beckon with the promise

of experiencing breath-taking vertical

walls, frequent close encounters with

sharks, opportunities to observe an

incredible diversity of fascinating

marine life, and the intrigue of visiting

unique and unusual dive sites.

Story and Photos by

Steve Rosenberg

The Turks and Caicos Aggressor II

lies at anchor at West Caicos.

The best way to see the underwater

world of the Turks and Caicos and

to be pampered during the entirety

of the trip is aboard a floating resort.

The Turks and Caicos Aggressor II

Yacht is a combination luxury hotel

and dive boat. Most scuba devotees,

who are excited about travel, are still

a bit leery of big crowds and nervous

about restrictions on travel. The

Aggressor employs up to date safety

protocols, helps guests navigate the

ever-changing travel requirements

and concentrates on keeping guests

safe and healthy.

The 120-foot-long Aggressor Yacht offers a

variety of staterooms, all of which feature a

flatscreen tv, media player, full shower and

bathroom and central climate control air

conditioning. Common areas include a roomy,

air-conditioned salon and dining area, shaded

sun deck complete with a hot tub, lounge

chairs, deck chairs, and shaded cocktail deck.

As nice as the staterooms and salon may be,

the heart of activity aboard the Aggressor is

centered around the dive deck. Every diver

has their gear locker, where their air tanks

are kept and filled. All diving is done easily

from the large dive platform at the stern of the

yacht. The overall layout affords a smooth flow,

which allows for an easy and quick transition

from bed, to meals, to gearing up and stepping

into the water via an effortless “giant stride.”

The itinerary accommodates as many as 27

exciting dives during the trip. The top deck and

spacious salon area also provide plenty of room

for kicking back and socializing between dives.

Avid underwater photographers and

videographers will find the facilities and

services of the Turks and Caicos Aggressor

Yacht to be top shelf. On the dive deck there

is a spacious, three-deck camera table; a

dedicated charging room; and a bathtub-sized

rinse tank reserved for cameras.

From early Spring through December, the

Aggressor embarks from Turtle Cove on the

north side of the island of Providenciales on

a Saturday-to-Saturday itinerary. To begin

the adventure, guests fly into the bustling

international airport. Upon exiting customs,

guests take the short taxi ride to board the

yacht. Divers are welcomed on board, fed a

delicious meal, and given an orientation. For

the rest of the evening they are left to store

their gear and meet the rest of the guests.

Before the first dive on Sunday morning, the

guests receive a general dive briefing and a

summary of the dives to come.

A diver prepares to begin the

dive from the dive platform at

the stern of the Aggressor.

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A diver swins up to a

barrel sponge protruding

from the face of a vertical

wall at Northwest Point.

A diver comes face to face with a large Nassau

Grouper beneath a section of the Dome.

Aggressor usually begins the Turks

and Caicos dive adventure by

visiting dive sites located within

Providenciales’ Northwest Point

Marine National Park at the west

end of Provo. This area offers

more than a dozen excellent dive

sites scattered along a three mile

stretch of undersea walls. These

wall dives are well known for their

magnificent formations of colorful

tube sponges, bright orange

elephant ear sponges, and massive

barrel sponges. The sponges serve as an

interesting backdrop for some of the

local residents, including eagle rays,

turtles, moray eels and reef sharks.

Even the sites selected for “checkout

dives” provide plenty of excitement. Eel

Garden is named for a large expanse

of sand in the shallows at the top of

the wall, that is home to large numbers

of garden eels. Divers like this area

because they are able to closely observe

the large southern rays and roughtail

rays that are drawn to this area to feed

Large green moray eels can be found out on the

reefs during the day in TCI, even though they are

mostly known as nocturnal hunters.

Diving in Providenciales

Octopuses are often

found in the open on

night dives at the Eel

Garden.

on the garden eels. This site is also

one of the better night dives along

Northwest Point, where divers

will regularly see octopuses and

moray eels hunting in the open.

Black jacks swim in and around

the beams of the divers’ lights,

using the illumination to help spot

their prey. Divers also frequently

encounter slipper lobsters, large

channel clinging crabs, flounders

and an incredible variety of macro

subjects in the shallow areas.

ne of the most unique dive

sites at Northwest Point is

called the “ThunderDome.”

How often do you get to

dive a site that got its name

because it used to be part of the

set for a television game show. The main

feature of this site is the “Dome,” which

was originally constructed as the focal

point of a French television game show

called “Le Tresor de Pago Pago” or The

Treasure of Pago Pago. This show was

filmed in the Turks and Caicos Islands

in 1992 and was Broadcast on French

TV in 1993 and 1994. On the TV show,

contestants had to free dive (on a single

breath of air) through a rectangular

opening in the top of the dome and

gather pearls that were “spit out” into

the water by a man-made, metal stove

pipe sponge that sat inside the dome.

The base of the structure sat on a flat

sandy bottom at a depth of 30 feet, and

the top was at a depth of 15 feet. During

the course of each contest segment, the

contestants would grab as many pearls

as possible on a single breath of air

and would receive 250 Francs for each

pearl. Fortunately, no-one died during

the show, but the show was canceled

after several contestants suffered air

embolisms or similar “dive-related”

medical issues, and had to receive

treatment at the local recompression

chamber to recover.

Although the dome collapsed during

hurricane Francis in 2004, the large

pieces of the dome scattered about the

bottom provide shelter to an incredible

variety of marine life. Divers will

encounter schools of grunt, goatfish,

schoolmasters and snapper that take

refuge beneath the sections. There is a

plethora of friendly angelfish, Nassau

grouper, squirrelfish, moray eels, and

other marine animals wandering in

and out of the protected areas of the

Dome, which seem unconcerned by

the close proximity of the divers, thus

allowing endless opportunities for

photos and video.

Schools of

grunts and

Schoolmasters

can be always

be found taking

refuge under

the scattered

sections of the

Thunderdome.

A Caribbean reef shark

patrols the wall at

Highway to Heaven.

This image of the Thunderdome was taken in

1999 prior to the structure being collapsed by

hurricane Francis in 2004.

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A hawksbill

turtle swims

along a

wall at

Northwest

Point as a

diver tags

along.

A diver

takes a look

at some

huge barrel

sponges

located

at the top of

the wall at

West Caicos.

A beautiful Caribbean

Reef Shark swims just

off the wall at West

Caicos.

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West Caicos is an uninhabited island

about 10 miles (16km) southwest of

Providenciales. An underwater wall runs

the entire 6 mile length of West Caicos,

only 100 to 150 yards off the western

shoreline. Twelve excellent dive sites

are perched at intervals along the top of

this wall. The diving conditions on the

west side of the island are almost always

calm because the prevailing winds come

out of the east. The spectacular wall

begins at depths between 35 and 55

feet, and the vertical drop-off plummets

vertically to depths in excess of 6,000

feet. Huge barrel sponges, magnificent

deep-water sea fans, large elephant ear

sponges, black corals, and healthy hard

corals decorate the face of the walls.

West Caicos offers the opportunity to see

large schools of jacks, beautiful reef fish,

cleaning stations for jacks and grouper,

and have multiple encounters with

Caribbean reef sharks on almost every

dive! Few destinations in the Caribbean

can offer this enticement.

Elephant Ear Canyon, a favorite

with divers of all skill levels, offers

an abundance of photographic

opportunities. The main canyon

begins at the top of the wall in

about 60 feet of water and opens

up to a wide, sloping sand chute.

In the shallow sandy areas near

this sand chute, there are plenty of

amazing small critters that can be

found in the seas grass, including

seahorses, large rays, green moray

eels, nurse sharks and jawfish.

Divers can get pretty close to

these animals because they are

often pre-occupied with dining,

waiting in line at cleaning stations

or baby sitting duties. The various

kinds of jawfish are often seen

aerating eggs in their mouths. A

short distance from the beginning

of the sand chute, divers will find

an unusual, three-foot sponge

that closely resembles a cartoon

A large

sponge

resembling

the face

of a frog

can be

found near

Elephant

Ear

Canyon.

Diving the Walls of West Caicos

caricature of a huge frog and poses

an interesting and fun challenge for

photographers.

When divers swim down along the

face of the wall, they will often find

hawksbill turtles cruising along the

reef or feeding on small sponges. The

face of this wall is adorned with a

kaleidoscopic tapestry of corals and

sponges, to depths of 100 feet or more.

There are many other attractions

seen at the various dive sites at West

Caicos. At Spanish Anchor, divers

frequently see eagle rays, turtles and

sharks swimming along the drop-off.

There is a large, encrusted anchor

clearly visible against the northern

side of the gully. Caribbean Reef

Sharks can be seen at all of the sites,

cruising alongside the face of the wall

or gliding up into the shallow sandy

areas to observe the divers.

A large encrusted

Anchor can be

found wedged

against the side of

a gully at Spanish

Anchor.

Spotted Eagle Rays,

which are often

encountered at French

Cay, are occasionally

seen swimming along the

walls at West Caicos.

A diver takes a close look at a roughtail ray

on the back reef at West Caicos.

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Diving remote French Cay

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French Cay is usually the highlight

reel of an Aggressor trip to the Turks

and Caicos. The Cay itself is a small

uninhabited sandy atoll, only a few

hundred feet long, located on the

southwest side of the Caicos Bank,

about 18 miles from West Caicos and

Northwest Point. The dive sites in this

area, which are simply amazing, are

remote and exposed, diveable only

in good weather. If divers want close

encounters with lots of big marine life,

offering lots of opportunities for wide

angle photography and video, these

sites provide non-stop action.

At Double-D divers will find a lush,

sloping reef that offers an abundance of

large marine life. During a typical dive,

it is common to encounter Atlantic

Spadefish, horse-eye jacks, barracuda,

turtles, eagle rays and several large

A nurse shark, nicknamed

“Fin”, can be found on

night dives at G-Spot at

French Cay.

reef sharks. There are also large

elephant ear sponges on top of

the reef. Green moray eels will

frequently leave the protection of

their dens and swim around the

reef.

G-Spot has a large population

of nurse sharks that divers will see

snoozing or cruising about the

shallow reef top. Caribbean reef

sharks are always patrolling the

wall and the shallows, and are not

shy about coming within arm’s

reach. This site always produces

an amazing night dive. There

is a resident nurse shark with a

damaged dorsel fin, nicknamed

“Fin,” who is always eager to

introduce his family members.

Reef sharks continually appear out

of the darkness and occasionally

bump into divers. The beams of

the dive lights illuminate sleeping

turtles, moray eels and octopus.

At Half Mile Reef the Caribbean

Reef Sharks are very friendly,

frequently joining buddy teams of

divers. Stingrays, octopuses, large

reef fish and an assortment of jacks

and turtles are always present. There

is a large elephant ear sponge near

the mooring, that is great for wideangle

portraits.

If anyone is looking for a dive

adventure in the Caribbean,

the Turks and Caicos Islands is

one of the top destinations for

magnificent walls, friendly marine

life and exciting interactions. As

the brochure states, it is simply

“Beautiful by Nature.”

A fearless Caribbean

Reef Shark swims

within an arm’s reach

to say hello.

N

A diver swims up to a

large nurse shark for a

close look at Double D.

Schools of Atlantic

Spadefish are

found throughout

the dive sites at

French Cay.

84

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