Why we all travel

by Mac Lacy 21. February 2013 20:50

Most of us who publish this magazine and most of you who read it will travel at the drop of a hat. We live for our next adventure. And if we’re going somewhere we’ve never been before, that’s even better.

All of us have friends or family members who couldn’t care less about traveling. Their idea of a great time is staying put. They don’t like flying, or they don’t like sleeping in a strange bed, or they don’t like eating unfamiliar food. And that’s OK for them but not for us.

Last month in Hawaii, I was reminded why travel is so important to us. At the United States Tour Operators Association (USTOA) annual conference, association president Terry Dale showed a YouTube video to the audience.

For almost five minutes, I was spellbound.

If you want to remind yourself why you have an unrelenting case of wanderlust, just google “Matt.” When you do, you’ll find YouTube star Matt Harding under his promotional name, “Where the Hell Is Matt?”

What follows is one of the most uplifting videos about traveling the world you’ll ever watch. Matt dances with people from cultures across the globe. People young and old are having the time of their lives just sharing their homelands and their worlds.

As Harding told us, people the world over want to feel connected. And every culture wants to share its unique characteristics with travelers from other cultures.

It’s universal. And only those of us who share that itch to enjoy other cultures can relate to it. Check it out. You’ll see what I mean. It reaffirms everything about why we jump at the chance to pack a suitcase.

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Travel Thoughts

Five favorites: Hidden gems

by Mac Lacy 19. October 2012 00:18


Tenakee Springs, Alaska

For our recent Group Travel Industry Buyers Guide, I was asked to compile a list of five favorite places I’ve been that could be considered hidden gems.  Here are four in the United States and one in Italy that certainly fit that description for me.

Ground Zero, Clarksdale, Mississippi
There are a lot of great stops on the Mississippi Blues Trail, but one I particularly enjoy features live bands, great tamales and fried catfish, and lots of star power. Academy-award winning actor Morgan Freeman is one of the owners and is known to hang out there when he is not on location somewhere.  The acts there are not necessarily name bands; they are more often local blues bands that honor the tradition of Mississippi blues. Live music is offered Wednesday through Saturday nights.

Tenakee Springs, Alaska
You don’t drive to Tenakee Springs. You arrive by small vessel or seaplane. Tenakee Springs is in southeast Alaska on Chichagof Island. The little community of roughly 100 residents is a favorite stop for fishermen, and it gets its name from the natural spring that warms the water in the community bathhouse.
The day we arrived, the town was buzzing about the arrival of a new dog. They had lost one that winter, and the new puppy, a lab, came walking up the pier on a leash while we were there.

Hollywood Cemetery, Richmond, Virginia
At the Going On Faith Conference in Richmond last summer, I asked Janie Lawson where I could go for a couple of hours for a run and some relaxation. She recommended Hollywood Cemetery, an urban preserve tucked away in Virginia’s historic capital city. This meandering cemetery lies inside a canopy of trees and includes the graves of Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederacy; U.S. President James Monroe; and numerous other historic figures. Walking tours are offered Monday through Saturday at 10 a.m., April through October.

Fertitta’s Delicatessen, Shreveport, Louisiana
Don’t ask me how to get to Fertitta’s Delicatessen because I can’t tell you. But anyone in Shreveport can. We came here for lunch a couple of years ago when we were doing a site inspection for the Small Market Meetings Conference. Our hosts suggested this local favorite that serves muffalettas, sandwiches of Italian origin consisting of olive mix, ham, salami, cheeses and mustard.  This unassuming place was filled with local diners dressed in anything from suits to hardhats. And the mint tea you poured yourself in the back was one of the most refreshing drinks I’ve ever had.

Todi, Italy
A hidden gem in Italy may be a misnomer simply because so many people put this country at the top of their travel lists. But Todi isn’t Rome or Venice or Florence. And it isn’t in Tuscany, which gets so much press as well. It’s a beautiful small city high atop a hill in the region of Umbria. I was there at Christmastime, so its ancient town square was lit for the holidays. Someone in that square was playing old Christmas songs by American artists such as Andy Williams over a loudspeaker that night. Enjoying that holiday music in this heavily garrisoned old city was a memorable paradox to me.

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Travel Thoughts

Switzerland in sun

by Mac Lacy 11. September 2012 20:22

On this day, I left the group and hiked for two hours from Holenstein down to Grindelwald

The last full day of our trip, the Swiss Alps were illuminated by a bright, clear sun.  I was thrilled for my Swiss hosts, for my comrades who had never seen this country so clearly, and for myself.  Because this was the day we were headed up to First, a tram station high above Grindelwald that offers incredible views of the alpine majesty that defines this country.

The night before, we had all felt the blush of sunlight at our evening meal high above Interlaken at the Harder Kulm restaurant.  As a result, our meal was festive and alive with anticipation of the sun to follow the next day.  We ended that evening in the bar at our hotel, the Hotel du Nord, in Interlaken.  Our group was at ease with each other by then, and we had a ball in the bar just relaxing with Swiss locals and a dog or two that found its way in.

The following day, we took the train to Grindelwald, then the tram to First.  We began the morning with a new zipline ride, the First Flyer.  Then we enjoyed lunch at reserved tables on the patio at First.   Hikers and families were everywhere enjoying the first sunny day of September.  It was intoxicatingly beautiful outside.

Afterwards, all of us took scooters down from Bort to Grindelwald, dodging cars, hikers and bicyclists along the way.  Then many of my comrades rented bicycles for more touring of the countryside around Grindelwald.  I stuck to my plans to hike.  I left the group and walked a mile or so to the lift at Grund and took it most of the way up the mountain to Holenstein.  From there, I spent two hours walking and photographing the Alps, always in the shadow of the Eiger, which was serene and solemn.

This day in sun in Switzerland proved the perfect dichotomy for a group of travelers who ended up seeing two Switzerlands, one as enthralling as the other.


I was thrilled for our hosts in Interlaken when the sun came out and brilliantly lit this picturesque city


At Harder Kulm the evening before, traces of sunlight began to appear in the clouds--a sign of things to come


From the terrace in First, the grandeur of the Bernese Oberland Alps is almost more than one can absorb

This father and son enjoyed close communion in the beauty of the Swiss Alps at First

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Switzerland 2012

Switzerland in snow

by Mac Lacy 11. September 2012 19:53

A couple prepares for a day in the mountains at the Wilderswil train station


Our group was treated to two very different Switzerland experiences in our five days on the ground.  The first few days we were there it was snowing in the Alps.  We were there in celebration of the Jungfrau Railways 100th anniversary and our first full day in Interlaken began with a trip up to Kleine Scheidegg, where groups catch the trams up to the Top of Europe. 

The Jungfraujoch is indeed Europe's highest altitude rail station.  This massive station can be seen on a clear day from thousands of feet below, its gleaming silver exterior sitting atop a craggy cliffline just above the Aletsch Glacier.  The railway that climbs into the Alps to serve the Jungfraujoch was envisioned by Adolfo Guyer-Zeller in 1893.  Within three years of expressing his vision, the work began, and 16 years after that, the railway was completed in 1912.  The Jungfraujoch station includes an ice bar, viewing decks, several restaurants and a gift shop.  A playful ice palace burrows its way through the base of the structure, featuring whimsical creatures and carvings.

Our second day in snow was at Schynige Platte, an alpine preserve that is well-known for its flower gardens and walking trails.  On a clear day, this place offers a wonderful view of the three signature peaks in the Bernese Oberland--the Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau.  For us, it did not.  But we had a wonderful lunch here and enjoyed touring its old mountain hotel.  The restaurant was filled with diners and I spoke with the owners about a hike I hope to do some day from Schynige Platte to First.  It's about an eight-hour hike and is offered in the summer as a full-moon hike as well. 

Snowball fights broke out repeatedly within our group--most of them instigated by our intrepid tour director, Adrien Genier.



Our train engineer awaited his load of passengers from Wilderswil station up to Schynige Platte


This vista from the train up to Schynige Platte gives some idea of the weather we encountered on this day's excursion


There were no takers for any of these hikes on this day, but the day after was highlighted by bright blue skies


Even in snow, the alpine garden at Schynige Platte held forth dashes of color

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Switzerland 2012

Zurich deserves some time before heading into the Alps

by Mac Lacy 11. September 2012 19:16

Zurich's Dolder Grand Hotel, built in 1899,  is home to a remarkable collection of original artwork, both indoors in its public spaces and out on its grounds


Zurich, the financial center of Switzerland, has been a gateway to this spectacular country for decades.  But this is a proud city that would like to see more of its incoming guests spend some time enjoying its culture before heading out for the mountains in other regions of the country.  I spent a couple of days in Zurich in late August with Switzerland Tourism as a guest on an international study trip that included about 15 American and Brazilian tour operators.

We stayed at the impressive Dolder Grand Hotel which overlooks the city and is internationally known for its spa and world-class art.  Served by its own tram from Zurich, this old hotel opened originally in 1899 and features works of art by Andy Warhol, Salvador Dali and even Sylvester Stallone in its public spaces.  A manicured nine-hole golf course spreads beneath the hotel and while we were there it was quite busy. 

We toured Zurich for an evening and a morning, and spent a lot of time in its Old Town.  Cobblestone streets here date as far back as the 13th century and fortifications from the 17th century remain high above Lake Zurich.  This is a city of water fountains, all featuring drinkable water unless temporarily noted otherwise.  More than 1,200 in all are spread across this city of roughly half a million people, and almost all have a small section at ground level for four-legged guests as well.

Our guide described much of Zurich's architecture as Protestant--fairly plain on the outside but resplendent on the inside.  As proof, she took us to the city's police station, which at one time was an orphanage.  Between World Wars, Swiss artist and sculptor Eduardo Giocometti came and painted its interior walls in a beautiful floral pattern.  Zurich is an international center for art, and is home to more than 50 museums and more than 100 art galleries.



Zurich is a cosmopolitan city of 500,000 people and offers many culinary options in addition to its 100 art galleries and 50 museums


This Zurich bar is resplendent with the names of those who have hoisted themselves

into the rafters and drunk wine -- a feat none of us could accomplish


These gentlemen relaxed by the river on the morning of our tour of Old Town Zurich


More than 1,200 fountains grace Zurich, all of which offer drinkable water for passersby and many for their pets

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Switzerland 2012

Virginia Beach's diversity will impress delegates at BankTravel 2013

by Mac Lacy 12. July 2012 01:11

Vintage WW II planes are the stars at Virginia Beach's Military Aviation Museum

When Jim Coggin picked me up Monday morning at the airport for a couple of days of touring Virginia Beach, he nailed his colors to the wall early. 

"We want to make sure that bank travel directors across America are aware of how diverse this area is," he told me.  "Sure, people come here for the beach.  That's understandable and we love that fact that we're well-known for it.  Three of our beachfront properties are hosting your BankTravel delegates and you are staying at the Sheraton on the beach while you are here.  But I'm also going to show you some things over the next couple of days that I'll bet you never associated with this area."

And then he did.

How about a spectacular event that combines vintage airplanes in flight against an evening sky accompanied by music performed by a symphony orchestra?  If this sounds like a novel idea, it is--sort of.  Actually, it originated in Shuttlesworth, England and when the owner of Virginia Beach's Military Aviation Museum saw it, he brought the idea home with him.  Now in it's fourth year, the Flying Proms event takes place one evening a year in early summer and already draws more than 2,000 guests for dinner on the lawn and an evening of unbelievable entertainment.

Or, who knew that you could drive five minutes from the bustle of the beach here  and wind your way through some of Virginia's most bucolic countryside for a tour of farmer's markets and family-owned farms?  Coggin's bureau has developed a detailed program to promote this city's fresh produce and cuisine called "Coastal Harvest Feast".  Tour operators are looking very closely at various elements of this five-day program that combines fresh seafood, fruits, vegetables and Virginia wines--and tastes as good as it sounds.

And for those of us who don't live near one of America's premier naval bases, the roar of fighter jets overhead can be heard intermittently throughout most days here-- urging you to look skyward as skilled aviators head out over the Atlantic to practice 'touch and goes" on massive aircraft carriers just a few miles offshore.  As Coggin pointed out, the net effect of this daily encounter with our nation's armed forces is one of unabashed pride.  It's a daily reminder for most of us of what it means to live in the greatest country in the world.

So, this blog ends without a lot of goings on about the beach.  Except to say, that after dinner that evening, I changed my clothes and headed out for a walk on the boardwalk, sat down near a blues band that was playing outside, and relaxed.  With the backdrop of the Atlantic setting the scene, and along with hundreds of beach goers who were mostly here for the sun and the surf and the sand, I got my ocean fix.  After all, diversity or not, the pounding of the waves in a place like Virginia Beach is a hard call to resist.


Virginia Beach's Farmers Market is open year-round and is popular with groups

The Virginia Beach Convention Center will welcome delegates to BankTravel 2013

For fans of the paranormal, the A.R.E. in Virginia Beach was founded by eminent psychic Edgar Cayce

On a blustery day, fishermen at the pier on Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel still had high hopes for catching fish


Cullipher Farmers Market is one of many fresh produce operations showcased by the Virginia Beach CVB

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Virginia Beach

Go Peru culminates with a cleanup project at Mercado San Pedro in Cusco

by Mac Lacy 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

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Tourism Cares: Peru 2012

Visiting the "lost city of the Incas"

by Mac Lacy 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

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Tourism Cares: Peru 2012

A Peruvian village offers rest to its warriors

by Mac Lacy 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

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Tourism Cares: Peru 2012

A rousing welcome in Cusco, Peru

by Mac Lacy 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

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Tourism Cares: Peru 2012

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