Sunset at Pattaya City, Thailand
Spring into Travel
The Magazine Written & Photographed by North American Travel Journalists Association Members
Letter from the Editor
Spring into Travel!
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
Travel Journalists Association
Helen Hernandez &
Bennett W. Root, Jr.
Contributing Writers & Photographers:
John Gottberg Anderson
Laura Watilo Blake
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!
Cảm ơn! K̄ hxbkhuṇ!
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.
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Volume 2022.01 Spring 2022. Copyright ©2022
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Reproduction in whole or in part without written
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in no way constitutes approval or endorsement by
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World International Magazine or NATJA Publications.
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NATJA Publications, Inc. PRODUCED IN U.S.A.
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
Rejuvenate in Pattaya, Thailand Carla Rupp & Jason Rupp 44
Spring Garden in Tokyo Daniele Auvray 50
Hội An, Vietnam John Gottberg Anderson 54
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
South America & Central America
Colombia’s Magical Cocora Valley Laura Watilo Blake 34
Costa Rica’s Coffee is Steeped in Tradition Sharon Kurtz 40
Spring into Taking a Cruise Sandy Bornstein 74
Turks & Caicos Adventure Steven Rosenberg 78
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
“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
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
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
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
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!
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
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
Pretty in pink Bougainvilleas can
be found around the Ranch and
they offer a great contrast to the
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
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
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
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
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.”
“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!).
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.
hen you’re in
like that of
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.”
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
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
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…
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
is the perfect
place to relax
and take in
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
The white sand beaches of the
area’s Gulf coast annually rank
among the best in the country.
Fun on the Dry Land
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
Seven faces marble
sculpture at the
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
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
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:
Even utility boxes
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.
Rafters getting ready to brave
the Colorado River rapids
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
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?
Delicious desserts with the
Onboard hosts bring food and tell
stories of places flying by
All Aboard in Moab
Down to Denver
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
Vineyards in Santa Ynez
Piazza Vineyard in Ballard Canyon
Budding Vines Herald Spring Travel for
California’s Central Coast Wineries
Photo by Karen
Story and Photos by Cori Solomon
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
Winery and Vineyard
Buttonwood Farm Winery
and Vineyard Pond
Venturing to the
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.
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
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
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.
Zion’s Tiny Oasis
Exterior of tiny house
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,
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
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
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.
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
My children (Aubrey and Austen) and I in front of our Tiny
My children exploring, after
enjoying s’mores on the
My mother enjoying the sunrise from the porch.
Take in the view from Cadillac Mountain, anytime of the day
Acadia National Park
These boulders boast pretty-in-pink hues.
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
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
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.
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
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.
Beehive Loop, Beech
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
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.
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.
On a boat tour, you’ll pass by a number of
summer homes owned by notable residents.
This is a fine example of
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
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
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.
Horseback riders follow a well-worn trail through the Cocora Valley.
The creators of Disney’s
Encanto were inspired
to set the movie’s story
among the Cocora
Quindío wax palms in the
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
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
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.
Calle Real leads to
a staircase of nearly
300 steps leading to
a hillside cross and
of the town and the
The town closest to the
Cocora Valley is Salento,
a colorful town with typical
Expert baristas show off their
talent for latte art at Salento’s Café
Jesús Martín, known for some of
the best coffee in Colombia.
tourist zone, lines
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
onto the Willys
jeeps waiting in
plaza to catch
a ride into the
The most fearless
riders climb onto
the back bumper
for the best
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
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
riding is a
to see the
of the Cocora
After milking in
the pasture, a Pino
transports fresh milk
down the hillside.
Photo opportunities are
set up throughout the
Cocora for instagramworthy
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.
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
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
“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
“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
Where to stay near the Cocora Valley: Town vs Country
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
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
Pino Hermoso has rustic
accommodations in 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.
fruit that is
The finca is on the slopes of the Poas Volcano
is Steeped in Tradition in the
Story and Photos Sharon Kurtz
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
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.
us through the
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
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.
provide shade for
the coffee plants
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
Miguel explains the coffe
The coffee is roasted compared to
chart color and number
Coffee roasting is an art
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
It takes approximately nine
months from blossom to the
ripe cherry ready to harvest.
The beans must be handpicked
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.
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
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
Sunset in Pattaya,
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 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
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
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
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,
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
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
A night view of Jomtien Beach,
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
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
Jazz nightly at Jazz Pit,
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
Spicy red curry makes
Usually found on
all tables in Thai
restaurants -- a
bowl of fish sauce,
chili peppers, garlic
Whole fish for
less than $10
pizza for the
We enjoy street
food, such as
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
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
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
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.
Ode to a
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.
come in all
or small trees with
flora of five to
nine petals whose
from pink to red.
Peonies grow wild
in the gardens and
can be incredibly
huge when in full
named as it is
believed to be
area where to
sight of fireflies
at some stage
in the summer
Story and Photos by
Dream or reality?
Is reality nothing but a dream?
A pure product of our imagination?
The line between the two is often blurred.
n the eastern
edge of the
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.
Center staged, and
night time falls ,
the three- story
the perfect point in
At the Gojo waterfall:
The man made Yusuichi
pond is additionally
graced through means
of a waterfall.
emerald oasis has
the traveler to be
totally immersed in
the lush greenery
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
features, among them a
red bridge (Benkei bridge), a
feature that was very popular
during the Edo period. The
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,
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 holy image
of the Kanzeon
in the three
protect the site.
All lit up at night,
god of fortune,
however one of
the seven gods
Closest to the
Kanda River, this
lower gate to the
leads to the Ryotei.
blossoms viewing in
Handmade paper lanterns dazzle young shoppers at an artisan’s store.
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
“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.
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.
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.
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
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
Built over a stream in the 1590s,
the Japanese covered bridge is
guarded at either end by paired
statues of dogs and monkeys.
Sunset paints an artist’s glow on Thai Phien street in suburban Hoi An.
A woman in 18thcentury
crosses a Hoi An
buildings are home
to shops, restaurants
and coffee shops.
ội An is an
to find your
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
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
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
ven before Hội An
was a recognized
trading port, its
embraced by the
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
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
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:
View of the Cathedral in Narbonne
Map of Canal du Midi from
Marseilland to Le Somail
Courtesy of European Waterways
Idyllic Rural France on a Luxury
Barge with European Waterways
Story and Photos by Judi Cohen (@TravelingJudi)
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.
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
(Prior to boarding, we overnighted in
Narbonne, a small city rich in Roman
and French history, and with many
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
Excursion to the medieval
fortified city of Carcassonne
Village of Pezenas
Chef at the
Village of Minervois
Anjodi cruising the
Sunset view from top of
the Fonserranes Locks
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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, 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
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
akin to a
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
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
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.
Story and Photos by
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
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
Scholl Schonbuhel, a 12th
century castle along the
Danube River in the Wachau
Valley of Austria between
Melk and Durnstein.
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.
viewed from the
sundeck of the
on a Danube
with history buffs
for the Memorium
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
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
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
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.
The extensive views and natural formations of
the Quiraing attract hikers and picnicers.
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.
or “coos” dot
the hillsides on
Isle of Skye.
Early spring blooms in
the Scottish Highlands
Sligachan Old Bridge is near both the hotel and
campgrounds and leads to hiking trails.
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.
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
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
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
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.
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!
Celebrity Cruises Apex
Celebrity Apex Sky Suite Veranda- A Private Respite
Spring Back into Travel by
Taking a Cruise
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
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
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
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.
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).
Sampling a Luminae
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.
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
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.
and master of
Eating Healthy at the
Aboard Celebrity Apex
Tasting a local favorite-- a Salt Fish Cake
performing in a
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.
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
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.
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
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.
can be always
be found taking
sections of the
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.
Point as a
takes a look
at the top of
the wall at
A beautiful Caribbean
Reef Shark swims just
off the wall at West
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
of a frog
Diving the Walls of West Caicos
caricature of a huge frog and poses
an interesting and fun challenge for
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
against the side of
a gully at Spanish
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.
Diving remote French Cay
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
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
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
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.
A diver swims up to a
large nurse shark for a
close look at Double D.
Schools of Atlantic
the dive sites at