“When we get out of the glass bottle of our ego and when we escape like the squirrels in the cage of our personality and get into the forest again, we shall shiver with cold and fright. But things will happen to us so that we don’t know ourselves. Cool, unlying life will rush in.” – D. H. Lawrence
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LISA COLEMAN – FollowMeTours
Your local Independent Consultant for leisure travel planning services & more! Offering ONLY AmEx Preferred Tour and Cruise Suppliers! Don’t waste time or money on the web; one call does it all…
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All good pilgrims understand the need to become a fisher of men, and once I completed my first trek along the Camino Frances I knew I’d be back, and with as many others as I could muster! It started with my brother, Petr, who met me shortly after I’d completed that first hike, and within moments of knowing we’d be connected in some karmic way through life, he’d committed to going along with me should I decide to do it again. I was already bursting with plans to take a small group and with 2013 as my target date, felt committed to the task of bringing friends, family or anyone else with a glimmer of interest on this thing called Camino; becoming a true pilgrim is to be that fisher of men in as such being that person who can sway a small army to take this journey and even escort them and provide for their Way, so that they too may be prepared to share their allure with The Way, and propigate more pilgrims! Does it all sound too crazy for words? It’s definitely NOT NORMAL – Normal folks only talk about that ‘some day when maybe they’re going to do something different’….and things stay the same for them day after dreary day, each feeling drearier and drearier ~ I only find it curiouser and curiouser why everyone wants to be soooooooooo NORMAL?? Why NOT take a really Long Walk? Can you break the chains of work, duty, phones, emails, sales, and all that making money entails and just walk away? Can you hike 16 or more miles per day and still be kind to everyone you meet along The Way? Buen Camino!
Enjoy this break from normalcy and sit back to enjoy pictures of what this Camino thing and The Way really is, ok? OK!! Touche!
Having two trips lined up back-to-back is always a bit of an overwhelming feeling, causing one tidal waves of ‘what to wear 2 weeks from now’ worries and excessive weigh-in sessions with one’s luggage. I began a new ‘chapter’ so to speak in my career by taking a training class last July that offered Certification as an International Tour Director. Little did I know, after sending out only 4 resumes and receiving an interview and offer of training and employment from my first choice of employers, Explorica Tours, it would all come rushing home to roost, this uncanny overwhelming feeling of having met one’s chosen destiny – So it was likewise with the trip to Peru – I had only been singing ding-dong made up songs about Machu Picchu since shortly after my arrival in the receptionist’s chair at CI Travel back in late 2008, spending my days perusing one after another of myriad travel brochures and dreaming up extensive travel agendas, all seemingly for the fun of dreaming…But having a gift of both gab and manifestation, soon I had spoke of it so much, I caused it to happen! Yes, this trip to Peru had fallen on my head, by way of a simple Meetup group and fortuitous friends made therein, like Jacquie Whitt, of Adios Adventure Travel; a charter member of my newly-minted Meetup Group “Tidewater Leisure Travel Lovers”, Jacquie introduced herself and her direct connection in providing tours of Peru, Machu Picchu and beyond and I knew right away that without any doubt a small group would form and that we would indeed travel without delay to Peru with her guides out of Cusco. All was manifested and all set in motion by the most innocent and inexplicable series of events propelling me to Peru and back home again like a shot, then ricocheting off to DC, where a mission group and our whirlwind sightseeing trip was like taking Alice’s Trip Through the Looking Glass, intermingled with being a Pioneer Mother! Enjoy the scenery with two, two, two pictorial trips in ONE POST – Two Smilebox Presentations jusssttt forrr youuuuuu!!!
**About those blues, it was John Mayall’s live performance, a newly purchased cut on my I-phone that escorted me home from Peru when I checked out early from the Encantada, and it seemed so well-timed, titled “Room To Move”…. check it out on I-tunes, the best ever live performance of over 5:o4 minutes!
Early in May of this year while promoting various cruise booking incentives to my Travel Meet Up group, I came upon a spectacular river cruise itinerary, sailing aboard a brand-new long ship, The Aegir, with Viking River Cruises. The promotion discounted pricing was heralded as “2-for-1 and free international airfare”, seemingly too-good-to-be-true, but in fact, it was quite honestly the best valued travel package I’ve ever come across. I spoke to three of my travel club members, who all chipped in most immediately, and without any ado but for a phone call to Viking River’s reservation line, we booked the 8-Day Rhine Getaway for the week during Thanksgiving, departing from Amsterdam and heading upriver to Basel, Switzerland. The tours, meals, beer, wine and all shipboard activities were included in the pricing, leaving only optional excursions and incidentals out-of-pocket, and the grand total per person was under $3K. Amazing considering we would visit 8 cities in 3 countries, with guided tours in Kinderdijk, Netherlands, Cologne, Koblenz, Rudesheim, Heidelburg, Speyer, Breisach, Colmar & Black Forest regions of Germany, as well as Strasbourg, France and have ample leisurely time to explore on our own, all within the span of 8-action packed days along the most scenic portions of the Rhine River.
Having never been on a river cruise, I was uncertain as to what to expect, but as I assured the other members, since it was pretty much All-Inclusive and every day we would be experiencing a new port along the Rhine, with guided touring and plenty of leisure time to boot; what’s not to like? Our air reservations were made and although we booked 2 cabins and linked the bookings, one of the members in the 2nd cabin had to send off for a renewed passport, which caused cabin #1’s air itinerary to be booked prior to the 2nd cabin’s air booking, leaving 2 of us on British Air through London, and the other 2 flying Delta via JFK, so always be sure if you need to align air for more than one cabin to ask for the Viking Air Plus service. We were fortunate that we all landed in Schiphol airport within 1 hour of each other and our transfer personnel were waiting with open vans to whisk us to the dock. After a wonderful dinner we walked 5 minutes over to Centraal Station, and spent 2 hours exploring A-dam. In hindsight, we definitely wished we had booked a pre-stay in Amsterdam, but our quick walking tour allowed enough time for explicit photos of the Oude Kerk, Red Light District, Damrak and a few nighttime shots of the bedecked streets, such a feast for the eyes, after dark in A-dam was exhilarating. Picture (1).
The long ship left the dock at 11:30pm, while we slept like babies in our Main Deck cabins 102 and 103. The cabins were superbly done, posh down bedding, Le’Occitane accoutrements in the bath, the glass enclosed shower stall was roomy, and an added bonus, the bathroom floor was heated! A flat-screen TV also provided us with extensive sailing itinerary details, daily on-board activity schedules, a “live” bow-cam, where we could see everything sailing by from our room, as well as all sorts of movies and other entertainment options, none of which we watched. We spent zip-nada time in our room other than to change and sleep, deeply.
The 1st morning of touring dawned sunny, with temps in the mid-50’s, where we docked in the Kinderdijk region of the Netherlands. No one picture could encompass the stark and desolate span of these 18 windmills, built in the 18th century and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, they provide an intriguing glimpse into Holland’s past. We met with one of the windmill keepers, wearing the requisite wooden clogs of Netherlanders, and he was quite jovial, but explained that many of their younger generation were not interested in working within the mills, yet he remained hopeful that windmill keeping would not become a by-gone tradition. Keeping the mills working is vital to this area, as it is below sea-level and many rivers, specifically the Lek and the Noord running through the region, would flood without the mills draining the polder! I was impressed most by the tiny typical sleeping quarters in a windmill. *See picture link at end of report!*
While sailing later in the afternoon, continuing our journey upriver, we saw a humongous replica of Noah’s Ark, which had been hand-built and sailed to London for the Olympics; it is now docked in Utrecht. The 2nd evening was spent enjoying the Captain’s Welcome Dinner, splendidly done, I must also include a picture below of the galley, or Chef’s quarters, as it was quite amazing how they provided hot meals for 190+ guests, served table by table in unison by our sterling wait staff. The meals were the finest I’ve ever been served, having catered and ‘been around the dining block’ a few times before, there were no disappointments plated here!
Cologne, or Koln in German-speak, was a highlight and all who have traveled this way before know it’s contents, Dom cathedral and ancient Roman historical museum were toured, as along the many cobbled streets we weaved our way until dark; it’s beer haus selection was par-excellence and we took an after-dark op ex beer tour (29 Eu) that had us squished into the man-festivals that are beer haus staples; there had to be 55 men for every one woman, a big win by the soccer team had everyone jolly and beer flowed like the Rhine, upstream into our ‘locks of lips’ YUM! The scenery was sublime for us gals. Our favorite beer was the golden Kolsch from Paffgen, pouring since 1883.
Koblenz included a ½ day tour of Marksburg Castle, one of the most fantastical castles with everything so intact that it looked as if it’s inhabitants had gone out for a hunt; later the same day we cruised along the Middle Rhine area, most scenic of all and passed the Lorelei, a legendary rock formation upon which it is said a voice is still heard singing (long story). Rudesheim’s residents, where we docked prior to dinner, were getting their Christmas Markets set up, and I somehow lost the city guide, but ended up with a 4-some from our ship of hardy drinkers, who hailed me into 1st a hat store and then into a beer haus, where they inundated me with beer…somehow we missed the start of dinner upon returning…2 hrs. later; Zoran, the Maître d sent us packing into the bar, where one of our party slumped into her seat while the rest of us ordered dinner from the bar menu – a club sandwich was de rigueur! I slept it off the next AM and made a point to avoid getting off-course again.
Heidelberg Castle, setting for the opera The Student Prince, did seem straight out of a movie set, and its university town feeling was youthful and vintage all-in-one. Our delightful city tour guide, Eveline, gave every detail in depth and was a walking historian herself. One could not take enough pictures of all the statuaries, stone walls, drop-dead views of city rooftops or even the wood wine cask, the largest in all of Germany, below the castle’s stone floors – the wine must have flowed mightily in this castle, no picture could encompass it all!
The ship left us and went along to Speyer, where we were motor coached over to board for lunch, and afterwards a nice amount of time to explore this important Jewish culture center. The immense Kaiserdom, Germany’s largest Romanesque building was hard to miss! The ship sailed prior to dinner being served, and we enjoyed yet another fantastic dining experience. I will pause here to fete Zoran, who took to me, and I to him, because I cannot help myself for watching all that goes on ‘behind the scenes’ in a restaurant, and it all went like Swiss clockwork, perfectly timed. Zoran was a munificent host and we hugged and chatted daily. Our hotel manager, Michael, also was very debonair and made sure all the details of our cabins were handled without ado. Our Program Manager, Simon Howell, warned us of a ‘special show’ in the lounge that evening; a glass-blowing demonstration, given by Rolf, a really ‘hot’ Rumanian, who asked me to be his assistant. I thought he said ‘I’ll need you to crush some glass’ but the language barrier made for my faux pas because later, when he called me up by the name “Luciana” and asked me to blow on the hot glass straw, it turned out that I was the head glass blower and he commended me on my newfound blowing abilities. I was presented with a lovely gift of the glass ball with loop that he and I completed. I gave him a pass on getting my name right, because I was calling him Ralph until I took his business card and realized I had botched his name as well as ‘exactly what I was to do’.
Evenings in the lounge were always a surprise, a children’s choir from Cologne, a dance trio from Strasbourg, even Simon presenting the following season’s cruises was a complete smash hit because all 190+ of us were having such a splendid time laughing; we were all firmly in the zone….Simon could’ve plucked us in the head and we’d have loved it, as champagne flowed every single night, keeping us all feeling quite cheery and light!
Strasbourg was a blur, we toured the Christmas Market area outside of the cathedral and I found a vintage carousel that I just had to ride, only one horse was big enough to support me…I set my Gluven (hot wine) down on a ledge to take my ride and watched a homeless man walk off with it merrily. Turns out the cups in which they serve the wine are ‘refundable’ so he had a double-bonus. I was glad as I wasn’t a big fan of hot wine, personally, but totally enjoyed the carousel ride! Christmas markets, IMHO, seemed duplicitous but my cabin mate was perusing the wares for hours, meanwhile it started to rain and I ran out of time and temerity for all the goo-gads of Christmas gadgets. I retreated to the ship and skipped our intended op ex, an Alsatian wine tour – but Lillimae really enjoyed it!
The last day was touring via motor coach along the Romantic Road and Black Forest region, stopping for a brief respite at a shopping center with requisite Cuckoo clock shop, glassblowing store and a kitschy presentation of “How to Make Black Forest Cake”, absolutely one of my favorites, so I bought a small flask of Kirsch, which is the cherry syrup liquor one uses to make this delicious dessert. The days final stop, and my favorite, although it was drizzling rain and the coldest day of our touring, was Breisach, known for its ancient Celtic Fortress high on a hill directly across from the hilltop aerie of St. Stephens Cathedral, looking every bit the tourists delights in sights-to-see. We climbed a hundred stone stairways to reach the cathedral, and then another 75 or more to reach the Fortress across town. The views were stunning, the streets very quiet in the early evening drizzle, really we were in heaven, I was quite certain. The best of 1100 photos was taken from atop the Fortress, looking across to the cathedral; This was our last evening and two locks were yet to come during our upstream run to Basel, Switzerland, so we stayed up the entire remaining hours of the cruise to watch our ship float upwards through cement walls twice, toasting w/the hearty drinking crowd from the Aquavit Terrace on the bow until we docked; our transfer coach arrived only 1.5 hours later; we dozed for a moment in our cabin, then hustled to put our bags in the hallway and bade fare-thee-wells to ship staff and fellow travelers.
A mere 23 hours later, or so it seemed, as hours were lost somewhere in-between, when we landed in ORF, we were all ready to kiss the ground. A great time in the going, a long homeward return journey; still I wish I had never left…Breisach had my name on it and I will return there to thru-hike there were many signs throughout the town identified by the Pilgrim’s scallop shell; was it just happenstance that it was one of many Germany Camino trails? I must go back to hike it and from there, maybe I’ll end up in Spain…
CALL Lisa for personalized booking service or BOOK YOUR OWN at my MICROSITE here http://www.vikingrivercruises.com/myagent/followmetours
Of course completing the Disney College of Knowledge can assist you in learning all the background of the many parks and upcoming new exhibits, as well as the intricate Meal Plans and various add-ons available, but nothing can compare to actually attending the parks to experience the magic firsthand.
I have visited Magic Kingdom three times now in my 50-year lifespan and I am constantly surprised by the new additions and well-preserved long-running exhibits that make up this park. As the entire premise was decorated for Trick-or-Treat with Mickey, the October feel in the air lent a celebratory feel to our approaching the Main Street on day One of our visit. Also perfect 80 degree weather made this Saturday in October feel special. As the lines were never very long for our favorite rides and events, we only had to use the Fast Pass option one time (on day Two) and we sped through the zigzagged ropes without a wait of more than 15 minutes for anything. Our first stop was in Adventureland, Swiss Family Robinson’s Tree House, or Jungle Lodge – I’ve always wanted to live in a tree! Next up in our Adventures was an Amazon Jungle Cruise, then onward to the Pirates of the Caribbean exhibit. Frontierland always seems so fun and familiar, but although I’ve rode on the Thunderball Canyon railway (roller coaster) before, it never gets old, I had a rip-roaring time trying to photograph all that went speeding by our rail car. Looking out over the lake, a river boat ride seemed enticing, so we hit the gangway and rode with less than 50 folks in total. Very relaxing. My roommate, Sue, who has never been to Disney, was given a “1st Visit” button that had all the staff giving her special accolades, which she appreciated greatly! It’s fun to be feted! I forgot to mention that we rode in with my dad’s 1990 Ford Van sporting a handicapped tag, that I was actually not planning to take advantage of, but the parking staff stopped my van, waving me towards the ‘blue lines’ that lead one quite easily to the front parking area for disabled. Ok, so daddy wasn’t ‘in the van’ but all you need is the vehicle with the tag for special parking, which came in handy on day Two, another “Magical” adventure in-and-of-itself. Onward to Tomorrowland before we get to the next days’ experiences…I have never not enjoyed the People Mover, a great opportunity to People Watch, wherein the milieu one could marvel over all who wore their “Mickey Wear” – ears of all variety, princess couture and sparkly hair, brides with black-eared white veils and grooms with tiny top hats, matching T’s for groups of up to 50 or more, orange, lime-green and blue groups were everywhere!
Walt Disney’s State Fair show in-the-round, titled “Carousel of Progress” was so much fun to watch, plus air-conditioned, always a bonus! Hard to witness all the improvements in our lives without complete wonder! Then, without telling Sue a whole lot about what was actually inside “Space Mountain”, we approached the ride with glee as we ran straight up to the ‘launching pads’ and secured ourselves, me in the front seat for this hair-raising, starry-night filled and entirely in-the-dark spin through the cosmos. My voice is still raspy from the screams of complete abandon, and somewhere in the midst, Sue’s readers were lost…I probably should have given her more info, but she wouldn’t have acquiesced if I had! We left for our “meet up” with two amigos in Downtown Disney about 6PM, taking in dinner at Paradiso 37 and a lake-front table for we beat the crowds by arriving early and getting down to ordering our dinner before 7PM. We lingered to enjoy coffee and then strolled through Pleasure Island, taking pictures of various eateries and entrances to shopping stores galore.
Day Two dawned even hotter than yesterday, and we stopped along I-192 to purchase some “Mickey Wear” for ourselves that day; since being matchy-matchy was so pervasive! For only $7.99 we found two hot pink Mickey 2011 T’s that fit the bill and were easy on our wallet! Quick-change in the van and we drove into Disney’s Hollywood Studios by 10AM, easily entering w/out a line, we strolled in just in time to see a show Disney Showcase Live, and then went onward to investigate the wait time for the Tower of Terror; at that early in the AM, there was a 55-minute wait, so we finally did the Fast Pass routine, which entails sliding your Magic Pass into a machine, it spits it right out and provides you with a 2nd ticket, showing a timeframe in which to come back – our timeframe was 12:40-1:40, so as it was only 11AM, we had plenty of time to further investigate our surrounding options. Taking in the Indiana Jones event, where over 1,000 people sat to watch stunt tricks only took up about 5 minutes, we quickly entered the Star Tours, which was a great simulator ride tossing us again up into the cosmos and fighting starwarsian spaceships of all sorts. Exiting through the gift shop was, of course, de rigueur! Loved the Grauman’s Theatre experience, where a trip through movie memories lane on a slow-moving show-stopping vehicle left us filled with famous quotes from “I’ll get you my pretty!” to “I’ll be back!”!
Our plans to ride on the Rock ‘N Roll Roller Coaster were dashed, the ride closed for ‘technical difficulties’ (likely someone left their stomach contents therein…), so we had a couple of $9 pretzels for lunch and agreed to follow our tower terrors up with big cups of ice cream, it was hot as Hades and a lack of greenery in this park (other than in the center square) left us feeling like we had walked 100 miles on a hot beach. So, without further ado, we approached the Tower of Terror, watching up high where the ‘flaps’ along the elevator’s paths were swished open randomly and screams from within echoed in the park, the tower definitely seems a lot taller when you are entering…a quick intro in a spooky lobby and we were whisked down to the “Service Elevator” for our terror-filled 2 minutes. One gal hopped out of our elevator at the last minute and Sue almost followed her, but I hung onto her sleeve and insisted we could ‘do this thing’…the next two minutes had our butts out of the seats at least three times and our hair not just raised but flying upwards as we went down, down, down, the flaps open for a quarter of a second and one gets a birds-eye view of the entirety of the Hollywood park twice as well! Exiting through the gift shop, the funniest gift shop addition in my humble opinion was the ‘hotel bell’ and I almost bought one for the lobby, but…we managed to only spend less than $25 ea. on both days, so I ran from the urge, as if from the gates of hell!
A short while later, we decided to ‘say we went to Animal Kingdom, but not’…we returned to daddy’s van to find our battery dead. Not to fear, the magic is SO pervasive in these parks, a security guy pulled right up and although he looked able enough to wrestle a few alligators to the ground, he didn’t have a charger, so he called Disney Car Care, and a man with a tow-truck and two battery packs showed up within 5 minutes and gave us a jump, for FREE! We took the Scooby Van, as we deemed it early on, and sped back down I-192 to the nearest dark bar to my daddy’s home, The Silver Dollar, where the A/C was blasting, 2 beers cost a total of $5.50 and the pool table was calling our names. Happy Hour after our 2-day Magical Adventures was never sweeter!
John Puckett made sure we didn’t get beat up entering a bar in our “Matchy-Matchy Disney Kooks” shirts!;)