15. May 2013 20:07
Plenty of ice to go around (the River Duchess)
I spent almost the entire month of March traveling internationally to experience the vessels and hospitality of four different cruise lines…SeaDream Yacht Club (SeaDream II) on the Upper Amazon River in Peru and Columbia, plus Vantage Deluxe World Travel (River Splendor), Viking River Cruises (Viking Aegir) and the Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection (River Duchess) on the rivers and waterways of The Netherlands and Belgium.
Although my detailed reports on these programs will appear in our publications during the coming months, I thought it might be of interest now to share a few unusual occurrences I encountered along the way.
1. I went through TSA screening at Miami International Airport soon after the notorious Congressional “Sequester” that promised layoffs of numerous federal employees. Immediately after going through the multi-million dollar, full-body screening equipment, all male travelers were being frisked by a TSA employee. The only conclusions one can draw from this situation are (a) the expensive electronics we have all funded either don’t work, or (b) TSA personnel previously accustomed to standing around were now being given unnecessary duties to make them look busy in an apparent attempt to avoid staff reductions.
2. Speaking of fancy electronics, US Airways’ deluxe boarding pass “reader” (complete with conspicuous flashing lights) allowed a Copa Airlines passenger bound for Panama City, Panama, to board my flight to Charlotte. It also boarded another passenger assigned to a seat that didn’t exist.
3. Kudos to South American airline LAN for exceptionally clean and well-maintained aircraft. They also served a very tasty and filling dinner in coach, quite unusual in a time when tasteless, 99¢-TV-dinner-sized meals are the norm. United Airlines earned my “chutzpah” award by following a video presentation boasting of their celebrity chefs, flight kitchens and exciting new menus with a coach meal featuring the same nondescript “chicken or pasta” entrees they served a generation ago aboard DC-8s.
4. I witnessed the captain (who will remain nameless) of one of the ships I cruised upon this month badmouthing his competition in front of several media representatives, on more than one occasion. This is just about the most unprofessional behavior in which a travel company employee can be engaged, so I hope that his employer sets him straight. Furthermore, if something does appear to be lacking or wrong with an industry supplier’s product or service, it is the responsibility of an unbiased media (people like me) to disseminate that information.
5. In between a morning excursion and an afternoon concert of Amsterdam’s world-renowned Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, I stopped off at a McDonald’s in a residential neighborhood for a burger to tide me over until dinner. Needless to say, it was startling to see the restaurant’s counter employees (apparently legally stoned) stumbling around aimlessly in a daze like zombies, and accomplishing very little in the process. I left hungry after standing in line for 15 minutes and getting no closer to placing my order.
6. If you thought that winter had long since worn out its welcome here in the U.S., take a look at the accompanying photo which I took in Hoorn, The Netherlands, on the seventh day of spring, Tuesday, March 26.
7. I am not a big fan of the fancy duvets (“comforters” to us Yankees) that are seemingly very popular these days atop beds in European hotels as well as on numerous cruise ships. Not being a small person, I have found that these padded “appliances” usually end up in a heap on the floor during the night, leaving my bulk uncovered. Thus it was indeed a pleasure to find some of the most luxurious, high quality bedding I’ve ever snuggled underneath, tucked firmly under my mattress aboard Uniworld’s River Duchess. See the photo for a “happy camper” preparing for a night of restful sleep.
The author ready for a good night's sleep
15. May 2013 20:05
Among the many nice folks I met in March, the following particularly stood out:
1. John Harwood, a multi-talented Brit who resides in Manaus, Brazil…botanist, author, poet, troubadour and a member of SeaDream II’s Expedition Team
2. Carl and Judy Eben from San Francisco: Very experienced world travelers and simply one of the nicest couples I have ever been fortunate to meet
3. Myriam Hembrechts, lecturer aboard Vantage’s River Splendor, who appeared to know more about the subject of Belgian chocolate than would be thought humanly possible
4. Neil Oliver, archaeologist, BBC Television personality, and Viking River Cruises lecturer, who gave a fascinating presentation on the history of the Vikings
5. Rik Sprengers, Cruise Manager aboard Uniworld’s River Duchess: The embodiment of cordiality, knowledge and customer service after 11 years on Europe’s rivers and waterways
Carl Eben (on Monkey Island, Colombia)
15. May 2013 19:56
The Leticia Fish Market
What would the travel industry be without unique places to visit? Sometimes it is the unexpected out-of-the-ordinary destinations that stand out in your mind after a trip.
Here are just a few of the gems I discovered during March while traveling internationally to experience the vessels and hospitality of four different cruise lines to the Amazon River in Peru and Columbia and to the rivers of The Netherlands and Belgium.
1. The Leticia Fish Market in Columbia is where I learned that, contrary to popular belief, residents along the Amazon River actually eat a lot more piranhas than the other way around.
2. The Enkhuizen Museum in The Netherlands’ is the picturesque answer to Mystic Seaport, Old Sturbridge Village or Colonial Williamsburg.
3. Museum Het Schip (The Ship) on a Viking River Cruises excursion is a fascinating example of social housing and Amsterdam School architecture dates from the beginning of 20th century.
4. The Grand Café Horta in Antwerp is the site of a outstanding dinner gala and entertainment included for participants in Vantage’s Naming Ceremony and pre-inaugural cruise of River Splendor.
5. De Doelen, Rotterdam’s performing arts center looks like an ugly box on the outside, but oh what aural pleasures await inside! The center boasts incredibly fine acoustics for a thrilling Rotterdam Philharmonic concert.
Enkhuizen (Zuiderzee) Museum
Museum Het Schip
Grand Cafe Horta
10. May 2012 21:33
*The five photos in this blog from our cleanup project were provided courtesy of Terrapin Blue
Local tourism leader Rogers Valencia Espinoza addresses the gathering. Tourism Cares CEO Bruce Beckham is shown at right.
Our whirlwind adventure in Peru was wrapped up with a boisterous welcome back to Cusco for a cleanup project at Mercado San Pedro, a major downtown market in this mountain city. Following official welcomes from local tourism leaders and remarks by Tourism Cares CEO Bruce Beckham, we got started.
Tourism Cares teams supplemented by lots of local volunteers addressed numerous facilities at this busy park. Some crews painted light poles, while others painted kiosks. Other groups went to work painting the marketplace's exterior walls, while others painted and filled flower pots that had long ago become filled with trash. We worked hard for a couple of hours before taking a wonderful lunch break that included sandwiches and the local specialty, Peruvian corn on the cob. These ears of corn feature huge kernals--some the size of marbles--and are served hot. All of us were hooked on this local delicacy by the time we left the country.
That afternoon, we went back to work and put second coats on many items and did a lot of trim work around railings and windows. Our video crew, Terrapin Blue, out of Athens, Georgia, got lots of great video of the event, plus many stills. Since I was working, I did not shoot any photos of this event and want to give thanks to Ryan and Jill Kelly, the company's owners, for sending these shots for this final blog.
About 40 Tourism Cares volunteers from the U.S. participated in the restoration
This passerby wore a typical tall hat that offers protection from the sun's rays in Cusco, which sits at 11,000 feet elevation in the Andes
Volunteers of all ages donned painting gloves and went to work to restore the city marketplace
Many prominent travel industry companies were sponsors of Tourism Cares' first international project
9. May 2012 19:15
Terraced hillsides step downward from the city's walls and courtyards
Understandably, Machu Picchu regularly rests atop the various bucket lists of worldwide travelers published by magazines and websites. Its iconic images of a "lost world" resting high in the Andean mountain range are immediately recognizeable to most of us, like the Taj Mahal or Egyptian pyramids would be. We took a winding bus ride up the mountain from the small village of the same name after an hour and a half train ride from Ollantaytambo to get here.
Our guide was careful to point out the variations in stone architecture that separated the living quarters here from the sacred temples or structures that addressed the Inca's spiritual beliefs. As with Christianity, the number three was sacred to this culture and was represented in various ways--the sun, mother earth and water, for instance, or their elevation of three creatures to spiritual status--the condor, the puma and the snake.
The Incas were master architects and builders, and they built Machu Picchu with earthquakes in mind, using distinct angles for windows and doors that would allow stones to compress into one another as opposed to away from one another in the event of a tremor or worse. Their craftsmanship as masons was extraordinary. Thus, 600 years later, many structures in this citadel are entirely or almost entirely intact. The Incas used a calendar they created from the movement of the sun through the seasons which allowed them to build sacred windows that were positioned to capture the sun's direct light on specific days of the year. Their calendar was remarkably similar to the one we use today.
Peruvian tourism leaders have done much to recondition the citadel's lawns
Distant peaks give some idea of just how inaccessible this archaeological marvel really was
The Incas were master craftsmen and built "quake resistant" structures
Most of these structures date to the 15th century
6. May 2012 18:00
A young boy in Ollantaytambo peered down an alley as we passed
On Saturday, we visited Ollantaytambo, where we caught our train to Machu Picchu. This village name means resting place for a warrior and high above us on the mountainsides were terraces and garrisons where Incan warriors tried to stop the advance of the invading Spaniards.
We saw the Incan canals that ran beside most streets that carried fresh water from high in the Andes and offered sanitation 600 years ago. We also saw the small crosses and team of bulls that rest on many rooftops to show reverence for God and prosperity for the dwellers inside.
It was a beautiful morning and this village was busy in its role as a conduit for many travelers making their way to Machu Picchu, about an hour and a half away by train.
These dolls were an adornment in a home we entered in Ollantaytambo
Many homes are set off the street within ancient corridors
Sacred items within this home included mummified alpacas and skulls of ancestors
5. May 2012 03:57
This fountain honors an Incan king in a city square of Cusco near our meeting site
I'm in Peru with Tourism Cares for a restoration project at Cusco's Mercado Central de San Pedro park, where we'll be removing grafitti, painting its walls and planting flowers in old flower beds long filled with trash. We're also visiting Machu Picchu, one of the world's most treasured archaeological sites that rests some 8,000 feet above sea level in this country's Andes Mountains.
This raucous welcome with costumed dancers was given to our group on Friday, May 4, prior to a day-long tourism summit with local officials, professors and dignitaries. Peru ranks very highly with affluent travelers in the United States and sends the second most visitors here after neighboring Chile.
Tourism Cares CEO Bruce Beckham brought a blue chip panel with him and asked USTOA President Terry Dale to moderate a discussion of how this country can continue to grow its American travel business. Industry leaders here are into serious long-range planning to deal with the sustainability issues that arise with an ancient site that draws so much visitation like Machu Picchu does. Several local professionals including Rogers Valencia Espinoza of Andean Lodges and Ruth Shady, an archaeologist who helped to discover Caral, the oldest city in the Americas, led a discussion of those plans and gained input from the American tour operators in attendance.
Costumed dancers entertained us as we entered the Cusco Convention Center
A band played for our delegation as we prepared for our day long meeting with local leaders in Cusco
The primary theme of Peruvian industry leaders today is sustainability of their sacred sites like Machu Picchu