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Friday, June 25, 2010

"The Girl from Ipanema"

This spectacular beach that was made famous from a song written by Antonio Carlos Jobim and Vinicius de Moraes has been held in Brazilians hearts since. In 2008, Diana Krall rewrote the song as "The Boy From Ipanema" which again brought this Brazilian beach in Rio de Janerio into the forefront of our minds and our hearts. Sitting adjacent to Copacabana beach, Ipanema is one of the most expensive places to live in all of Rio.

Two mountains called the "Dois Irmaes" or in English, the Two Brothers, rise at the western end of the Beach and overlook all the sunbathers. Posto's or lifeguard towers dot the expanse of beach and divide the beach into different areas.

While Ipanema Beach was named the sexiest beach by the Travel Channel, there are a few different areas to that title.

By the Rua Farme de Amoedo, there is the 'gay beach' which is extremely gay friendly, and always has a rainbow flag flying. To the west, is an area called the Posto Nove which is infamous for it's long history of pot smoking (illegal in Brazil), police raids, and gatherings of left wing and alternative activists and groups. Posto Nove's tradition began around 1980 when the present senator, Fernando Gaberra returned from political exile in France, and was photographed in a thong on this stretch of beach. Since then, it is where the young and often beautiful 'Carioca' men and women hipsters congregate.

While surf can reach 9 feet in the winter, sunbathers and worshippers flock to the sandy shores in all weather.

What could be better than a getaway to the Brazilian beach of Ipanema, where you to can become a girl or boy from Ipanema.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Backroads of Bohemia

See the backroads of Bohemia with this amazing self guided tour from Trek Holidays. From the tourist free heart of the Czech Republic, you will get to see what makes this country tick from a more indepth view. This tour starts at $1,825 per person for the land only portion, and departs quite regularly, so please speak to your local travel agent for more indepth information regarding booking at a specific time.

From the Trek Website:

“Explore the magnificent landscapes of the Czech Republic on foot on this incredible journey through Bohemia This superb self guided walk takes you into the diverse landscapes of Bohemia in the south of the Czech Republic where you’ll get off the beaten track and encounter historical villages, magical fairytale castles, magnificent medieval churches and monasteries as well as some of Europe’s most picturesque countryside. You will walk along the intricate network of pathways known as the Czech Greenways. This web of trails dates back over 100 years and connects walkers to the cultural heritage and natural beauty of this stunning country. As you crisscross colorful pastoral fields and vineyards and meander in and out of tiny villages you’ll discover places that for decades were hidden behind the Iron Curtain. This trip is perfect for recreational walkers looking to explore a unique part of Eastern Europe.”
Highlights of this tour are the Cesky Krumlov, the Charles Bridge in Prague, being able to explore the Lake District and Trebon’s medieval heart, while sampling Prague’s beers and wandering the Lednice.


1: Arrive Breclav train station and transfer to hotel in Valtice.
2: Explore the Baroque Valtice chateau. Walk through fields, vineyards and forest to Lednice and explore the Gothic Revival Chateau of Lednice. Transfer to Mikulov (11km).
3: Walk along the Palava hills through the ruins of Divci hrady (Maiden's Castle). Continue on to the ruins of Sirotci hradek (Orphan castle) and climb Tabulova Hill. Descend through vineyards to castle town of Mikulov. Transfer to Vranov nad Dyji (10 km).
4: Tour the magnificient Baroque Chateau in Vranov. Explore the Podyji National Park and walk from the village of Cizov to Austrian village of Hardegg (14km).
5: Walk from the Landstejn castle to Nova Bystrice. Take the narrow-gauge railway to Jindrichuv Hradec (15km).
6: Visit the historic town and castle of Jindrichuv Hradec. Continue to Bohemia Lake District and visit medieval city of Trebon. Walk to Kojakovice then transfer to Cesky Krumlov (14km).
7: Transfer to Zlata Koruna and explore the monastery. Walk over Klet, the highest peak of the Blansky Forest. Hike back to Cesky Krumlov (16km).
8: Transfer by bus to Prague where trip ends.

For more details, check out the website.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Why use an agent?

Old-Style Travel Agents Still Alive and Kicking, Despite Numerous Predictions of Their Demise

With so many online travel agencies, it became common to hear how the offline travel agent had gone the way of the dinosaur, amidst bankruptcy and downsizing. So why are these obsolete travel agents still selling 51 percent of all airline tickets, 87 percent of all cruises, 81 percent of all tours and packages, 45 percent of all car rentals and about 47 percent of all hotel stays?

It’s because they’re sentient human beings, they’re offline and frequently offer the best deals.

According to Fast Company:

As travel technology leaders have observed, when it comes to disappointing travelers, software is rarely the limiting factor. The technology powering Expedia, Orbitz, etc, is pretty advanced e-commerce stuff. However, what’s driving them is a strategy that invests in sophisticated margin logic and multi-level algorithms to get you to see, click, and buy what they want you to.

But this is where the rubber meets the road, literally — when the next volcano explodes and your shoes stay glued to the ground, stuck in whatever far-flung limbo you happen to be, no computer is gonna proactively re-book you or find you a hotel so you can avoid curling up indefinitely on the terminal carpet hoping to find a way to get home.

So what do brick-and-mortar travel agents have over their online counterparts?

The human element. Despite our attraction to electronics and gadgetry, computers still can’t replace human interaction, especially a human with years of experience dealing with airlines, cruise lines and tour operators. Unlike computers, they know the human pitfalls and loopholes the customer will be experiencing.

Customer loyalty. Offline travel agents make their living by keeping their customers satisfied with their services. Their one-on-one interactions create a customized itinerary based on their preferences and needs. At the opposite end of the spectrum, online travel agencies offer the lowest prices and have no loyal customer base because what they offer is essentially no different than any other OTA.

Education for the customer. Part of the travel agent’s job is to educate the customer on their choices, some of which they might not have realized. While many customers would pass up a packaged tour or cruise, a travel agent may be able to show why both options can be attractive.

Value. For those spending more than $1,000 a person on a trip this summer, a travel agent may be a sensible investment. With more expensive travel, customers are less likely to begrudge travel agent their fees in return for a painless vacation. And if there are problems on the trip, travel agents can make sure restitution is made.

When I used one last month to book a last-minute trip to Singapore, the travel agent bested every online travel agency by $400 and was able to get me two seats together (a seeming impossibility online). The entire process took a half-hour of calling and maneuvering but was surprisingly painless. When finished, my technophile husband turned to me and said, “Why would anyone not use a travel agent?”

Sunday, May 23, 2010

"For many travellers, Morocco might just be a short hop away by ferry or by one of the myriad budget airlines from Spain, but it’s a much further distance to travel culturally. The regular certainties of Europe are suddenly swept away by the arrival in full technicolour of Africa and Islam. It’s a complete sensory overload." - Quote from Lonely Planet.

Morocco has not been a place that many North Americans have ever thought to visit. We think about London with it's beer and cheap flights from home, we think of the Caribbean with it's long stretches of pristine beaches and cheap all inclusives, or we think further abroad to Australia and New Zealand with their promises of open deserts and amazing sights. Morocco is a hidden gem that exists a short hop, skip and a jump away from many of the destinations that we dream of visiting, with less of a tourist vibe. With it's different religion and sorid history, Morocco is just waiting to be explored.

Splendors of Morocco - 11 days - departs Saturday, returns on Thursday
Provided by Ambercrombie & Kent

Days 1-2: USA or Canada departure / arrival into Casablanca, Morocco
Upon arrival you will enjoy special VIP service to assist with customs and immigration formalities before you are transferred to your hotel. (Le Royal Mansour Meridien)

Day 3: Casablanca / Rabat / Fez
Visit the hassan II Mosque, the third-largest mosque in the world. This remarkable site has the world's tallest minaret and a glass floor suspended directly over the sea, inspired by a Koranic verse stating that "the throne of God was built on water." Continue to Rabat and explore the Mohammed V Mausoleum and the Hassan Tower. Travel to Fez, where this evening's welcome dinner hosted by Ambercrombie & Kent provides the perfect setting to meet your fellow travelers. (Sofitel Fes Palais Jamai) BLD

Day 4: Fez
Fez is timeless and one of the most unspoiled cities in the world. Once the capital of Morocco, it remains one of the main religious, artistic and intellectual centres of the country. Explore some of the countless narrow lanes and alleys that make up the labyrinth of the city's old quarter. Visit the historic Nejjarine Fountain and madrasas (Koranic Schools) that are dotted throughout the city. This evening, enjoy a cocktail reception at Riad Alkantara and meet a guest speaker to hear his insights on Andalusian architecture and history. (Sofitel Fes Palais Jamai) BLD

Day 5: Fez / Volubilis / Meknes / Fez
Today, drive to the ruined Roman city of Volubilis. Its beautifully preserved mosaics from the second and third centuries led UNESCO to declare it a World Heritage Site. Continue to Meknes, also a UNESCO site, where the monuments reflect the splendor of this 17th-century imperial city. (Sofitel Fes Palais Jamai) BL

Day 6: Fez / Erfoud / Merzouga
Travel by private charter flight to Errachidia, then continue by road to the Sahara Desert. Passing through the Ziz Valley, stop to visit the oasis city of Rissani, a typical southern agricultural city with modern developments and an ancient kasbah. Leave the oasis and its palm trees to enter the desert and the great sand dunes of the Erg Chebbi, the highest in the country. Set off on camel back to begin your explorations of the desert. Enjoy a romantic sunset over the sand dunes, followed by a traditional dinner served by the campfire. (Exclusive A&K Desert Tented Camp) BLD

Day 7: Merzouga / Ouarzazte
Drive to Ouarzazate, once a stopping point for African traders en route to the cities of Morocco and Europe. Stop at a comprehensive private museum showcasing the local culture and history. Travel on the "Road of a Thousand Kasbahs" and view the amazing 17th-century Amerhidl Kasbah, one of the most grand in the region; its facade appears on the Moroccan 50-dirham note. (Le Berbere Palace) BLD

Day 8: Ouarzazate / Marrakech
This morning, visit the Taourirt Kasbah, from which the Glaoui family controlled the major caravan trading routes. Afterward, travel to one of the most spectacular Altas Villages, Ait Benhaddou. Some of the world's most decorative kasbahs are found here, with houses seeming to defy gravity as they cling to the steep slopes. Cross the Altas Mountains to Marrakech, sometimes known as the "Red City" for the distinctive hue of many of it's brick buildings. (Sofitel Marrakech Palais Imperial) BL

Day 9: Marrakech
Set out to discover the secrets of Marrakech, perhaps the most famous city in Morocco. Most of the city's architectural attractions are inside the medina, the old walled section of the town. The Koutoubia minaret is one of the most perfect Islamic religious structures in North Africa. This famous landmark dominates the local skyline and can easily be spotted from all of Marrakech. Visit the Bahia Palace, a masterpiece of domestic architecture and perfect example of the privileged life in the 19th century. Explore Djemaa el-Fna, the main square of Marrakech, famous for its orange juice stalls and snake charmers. This evening, experience traditional Moroccan cuisine during your wonderful farewell dinner, which includes entertainment by a local gnaoua band. (Sofitel Marrakech Palais Imperial) BLD

Day 10: Marrakech
Enjoy the gardens of Marrakech, starting with the Menara Gardens, built in the 12th century and surrounded by lush orchards and olive groves. In your horse-drawn carriage, continue your journey with a visit to Majorelle Garden, created by French painter Jacques Majorelle in 1924 and opened to the public in 1947. The remainder of your day is at leisure to relax or continue your exploration of this fascinating and lively city. (Sofitel Marrakech Palais Imperial) BL

Day 11: Marrakech / USA or Canada
Transfer to the airport for your international flight. B

Prices starting at $5,995 per person, based on double occupancy.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Eat Pray Love and Read

I love reading. It’s been my constant companion for years now, whether it’s sitting on a warm comfy couch, with a warm fire blazing in the fireplace, on a window seat trying to grab some warmth from a wary sun, on a plane bound for yet another new adventure or sitting in the sun, basking in the suns glory, books have kept me company. I don’t travel with people very often. I don’t find that I can. I am a spontaneous type of person that loves to take things as they come, and not to plan too far in advance because I might miss something in the meantime.

Books make me cry, they make me laugh, and they make me think. But every so often, they make me revaluate the way that I see the world, and the way that I see myself. When I find a book that does this for me, I’m excited and want to share it with the world in the hopes that it does the same for everyone else, but I now realize that as much as I crave that, it doesn’t happen very often. A few people may enjoy it, a few may even pass it on to someone else, but only a select number of people, if any will get the same feeling from it that I do.

Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert is one of those books. From the multitude of people that have read and fallen in love with this book, I know that there are many that feel my gratitude for such a remarkable story to be told. While it is not a story of great love and great loss, or wars and famine, or even vampires and werewolves, it is a story that heralds from all of our hearts – it’s just one that not all of us listen to. It’s a tale of letting go, letting go of the past, of the guilt, of the loves lost, and the loves unrequited. It’s a play by play of a woman who had everything that anyone should want, just to realize it’s not what everyone should want. And what do you do when you realize that everything you have ever worked for, is no longer making you happy, and is instead filling you with a constant source of dread and longing for what you do not have?

Enter one woman who left everything that any ‘sane and normal’ woman could ever asked for, and asked for what more of us should want – the opportunity to live and love without the guilt, without the baggage and without the cares that the modern world inflicts on us. And saying this, I recommend this book thoroughly for anyone who loves to travel – for in the love of travel is the inherent dream of something new, something different and something that we never knew we wanted.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Costa Rica - The Volcano Route Tour

I know that Costa Rica has always been a must see stop for me. From it's colourful birdlife, amazing outdoor sights and incredible history - they just voted in the first female president - it is a great getaway, with a little bit of everything for everyone. My favorite tour so far is going to be this one, provided from Worldwide Ecolodges. The best thing, is that they will personalize any trip for anyone, so even if this isn't your ideal vacation, let them know and they will customize it for you.

The Volcano Route - Private tour, departs from Liberia

Day 1: Rincon de la Vieja
Today you'll be met at the airport by our representative and made welcome in Costa Rica. You will then be transferred to the Hacienda Guachipelin Mountain Ecolodge about 1.5 hours along highway and mountain roads. The hacienda borders Rincon de la Vieja National Park. Natural hot springs, virgin forests, jungle waterfalls and volcanic mud pots. The hotel is surrounded by lush gardens with native trees, exotic flowers and many types of birds and it has views to both the volcano and the Pacific Ocean.

Day 2, 3: At Ecolodge
These days offer a host of different activities that you may optionally take. There are fun family friendly rafting trips along the Colorado river, ziplines, rainforest hikes and a crater tour to the volcano. These can be booked at the lodge at an additional cost. (B)

Day 4: To Arenal Volcano Area
Scenic drive with our driver to Arenal. Arenal Volcano National Park encompasses thousands of acres of pristine rainforest and teems with tropical birds and wildlife. This evening you will be at Lomas del Volcan near the village of La Fortuna. (B)

Day 5: La Fortuna Sustainable Farm
Today we will be stopping to visit Mr. Juan Bautista on his sustainable farm. Mr. Bautista is a former teacher and principle living in La Fortuna. He is now a local farmer with a small five acre farm to show visitors how to live more closely with the nearby rainforest. He grows more than 60 crop species, including native and introduced plants, and medicinal plants such as Curcuma Ginger root. After harvesting fresh produce such as cassava root, lettuce, plaintains and more, the farm tour ends and you can try tortilla making and enjoy a typical lunch prepared by Mrs. Bautista. (B,L)

Day 6: Arenal Area
Today there are daily optional tours, such as the Hanging Bridges elevated walkway, visits to the Ecotermales Hotsprings, lava bed hikes, rafting on the Sarapiqui river, Cano Negro wetlands and wildlife tour and others. These can be booked at the lodge at an additional cost. The lodge also has a pool and is a great place to relax. (B)

Day 7: Transfer out
This morning you will be taken to the airport or to your choice of any beach resort along the Nicoya peninsula.

Includes 6 nights accomodation, transfers, tours and meals as noted, and taxes. Optional tours are not included.

Price per person - based on twin share - From $875

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Freelance Writers? The profession is disappearing.

As with many things, the reporter and journalists are going the way of the dinosaur. LA Times has the article.

Freelance writing's unfortunate new modelFreelance writing fees -- beginning with the Internet but extending to newspapers and magazines -- have been spiraling downward for a couple of years and reached what appears to be bottom in 2009. (Marc Russell)James Rainey With many outlets slashing pay scales, the well-written story is in danger of becoming scarce. The hustle is just beginning for new and seasoned freelancers.

By James Rainey
January 6, 2010

The list of freelance writing gigs on Craigslist goes on and on.Trails.com will pay $15 for articles about the outdoors. Livestrong.com wants 500-word pieces on health for $30, or less. In this mix, the 16 cents a word offered by Green Business Quarterly ends up sounding almost bounteous, amounting to more than $100 per submission. Other publishers pitch the grand opportunities they provide to "extend your personal brand" or to "showcase your work, influence others." That means working for nothing, just like the sailing magazine that offers its next editor-writer not a single doubloon but, instead, the opportunity to "participate in regattas all over the country.

"What's sailing away, a decade into the 21st century, is the common conception that writing is a profession -- or at least a skilled craft that should come not only with psychic rewards but with something resembling a living wage.

Freelance writing fees -- beginning with the Internet but extending to newspapers and magazines -- have been spiraling downward for a couple of years and reached what appears to be bottom in 2009.

The trend has gotten scant attention outside the trade. Maybe that's because we live in a culture that holds journalists in low esteem. Or it could be because so much focus has been put on the massive cutbacks in full-time journalism jobs. An estimated 31,000 writers, editors and others have been jettisoned by newspapers in just the last two years.

Today's reality is that much of freelancing has become all too free. Seasoned professionals have seen their income drop by 50% or more as publishers fill the Web's seemingly limitless news hole, drawing on the ever-expanding rank of under-employed writers.

Low compensation

The crumbling pay scales have not only hollowed out household budgets but accompanied a pervasive shift in journalism toward shorter stories, frothier subjects and an increasing emphasis on fast, rather than thorough.

"There are a lot of stories that are being missed, not just at legacy newspapers and TV stations but in the freelance world," said Nick Martin, 27, laid off a year ago by the East Valley Tribune in Mesa, Ariz., and now a freelancer. "A lot of publications used to be able to pay freelancers to do really solid investigations. There's just not much of that going on anymore."

Another writer, based in Los Angeles, said she has been troubled by the lighter fare that many websites prefer to drive up traffic. A new take on any youth obsessions ("Put 'Twilight' in the headline, get paid") has much more chance of winning editorial approval than more complex or substantive material.

The rank of stories unwritten -- like most errors of omission -- is hard to conceive. Even those inside journalism can only guess at what stories they might have paid for, if they had more money.

Media analyst and former newspaper editor Alan Mutter worried last month about the ongoing "journicide" -- the loss of much of a generation of professional journalists who turn to other professions.

Writers say they see stories getting shorter and the reporting that goes into some of them getting thinner.

A former staff writer for a national magazine told me that she has been disturbed not only by low fees (one site offered her $100 for an 800-word essay) but by the way some website editors accept "reporting" that really amounts to reworking previously published material. That's known in the trade as a "clip job" and on the Web as a "write around."

"The definition of reportage has become really loose," said the writer, also a book author, who didn't want to be named for fear of alienating employers. "In this economy, everyone is afraid to turn down any work and it has created this march to the bottom."

One Los Angeles woman who also requested anonymity writes frequently for women's magazines and fondly recalls the days when freelance pieces fetched $2, or even $3, a word. Though some publications still pay those rates, many have cut them at least in half. And story lengths have been reduced even more drastically.

The writer, who once could make $70,000 a year or more, said she is now working harder to bring in half that much. "It's just not a living wage anymore," she said.

Los Angeles freelancer Tina Dupuy gained acclaim last year when she posted a YouTube video to shame editors at the Tampa Tribune into paying her $75 for a humor column on the "birthers" -- the political activists who contest President Obama's U.S. citizenship.

Up for a challenge

She said many other papers have stopped paying for opinion columns altogether --narrowing op-ed contributions at some papers to those already in syndication or those with day jobs at chambers of commerce, corporations, think tanks and the like.

"These corporate-sponsored pieces threaten to push people like me out," Dupuy said.

That's not to say that she is getting out of the business. After an earlier career in stand-up comedy, Dupuy has learned to hustle and to be "psychologically very adept at rejection.

"It can be challenging, but Dupuy makes a living. "For someone who had to drive for hours to get to a gig -- to get $100 and a beer bottle thrown at them -- this is heaven," she said.

Indeed, relative newcomers like Dupuy or those who have spent their careers as freelancers -- like Matt Villano of Healdsburg, Calif. -- sound much more resilient about the revolutionary changes in publishing than the former staff writers and longtime freelancers.

The 34-year-old Villano -- whose outlets include the San Francisco Chronicle, Fodor's travel guides, Casino Player and Oceanus magazines -- said some writers struggle because they have fuzzy, arty notions about their work. They need to act more like small business people, Villano said, diversifying their skills and the outlets they write for.

Despite the endless hustle, Villano said he would not give up a career that has taken him from whale watching in Maui to the baccarat tables of Las Vegas. "I like the diversity," he said. "I like doing it on my own terms."

Villano strikes me as considerably more resilient, and sunny, than most people who write for a living. To make a go of it, the majority will require not only his flexibility, but a return of a more stable financial base for journalism.

With the advertising-driven income in a state of disarray, the source of future freelance dollars remains in doubt.

Philanthropic, nonprofit sites (ProPublica) will take up some of the slack, while other new models (Spot.Us) ask consumers to make micro-payments to put writers on specific local stories. Other websites (True/Slant) pay bonuses for stories and commentary, with writers getting paid more as they deliver bigger audiences.

It's hard to say if any, or all, will succeed. But the sooner they can take the free out of freelance, the better. Until they do, we can only imagine what we'll be missing.

I have never felt my feet firmly planted on the ground.  When I was a child, I would dream of far away places filled with jumping kangaroos and gladiators.  I took my first trip when I was 19, running away from my issues and neglecting to deal with skeletons in my closet.  

Since then I have returned to my first home, and have found that while it has a special place in my heart, it is no longer home.

So I roam the planet, looking for a place for me to plant my feet, and find a home.  Will I find it in this life time?  I'll never know until I find it.  But I will continue looking for it, until my last breath.

These are my journeys.