Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Cruise your Hobbies and Passions

Cruising the Columbia River. Photo © by Judy Wells.
What piques your interest? Art or astronomy, music or motorcycles, golf or gardening, film or food, wine or wellness?
Combine those and many, many more with your love of travel and cruising with a theme cruise.

The Snake River, one of two "Rivers of Wine." Photo © by Judy Wells.
I recently took one, UnCruise's "Rivers of Wine," along the Columbia, Snake and Willamette Rivers. From Portland, Oregon, we cruised aboard S. S. Legacy, a replica of a Victorian steam packet.

White, red and in between, we swirled and swished it all. Photo © by Judy Wells.
Passengers were a mix of wine connoisseurs and wine curious. Chris Arora, the ship's sommelier, and Casey Cobble, winemaker for Robert Ramsay Cellars in Woodinville, Washington, guided us through daily tastings at Oregon and Washington wineries and cellars and with daily afternoon tasting tutorials aboard.

UnCruise's S.S. Legacy. Photo © by Judy Wells.
It was an eye- and palate-opening experience. Two heritage guides entertained with stories and details about the area through which we traveled, either by boat or by bus. This is Lewis and Clark, Cayouse, Palouse, Nez Perce, Oregon Trail, Kennewick Man and Hanford Project country so there was much to tell.

Mt. Hood looms large over Mount Hood Winery. Photo © by Judy Wells.
The scenery is spectacular. We cruised through the Cascade Mountains, desert gorges and lush valleys. Snow-covered volcanic Mounts Adams and Hood made frequent, unexpected appearances.

Multnomah Falls, Oregon. Photo © by Judy Wells.
Short distances away on land we visited Multnomah and Palouse Falls, one through dense forests,  the other rain-deprived gorges.

Palouse Falls, Washingto. Photo © by Judy Wells.

We learned a lot about wine and even more about our own palates. Casey summed it up simply, our Yum or Yuck wine. Chris's goal sounded simple, too: "I want to help you discover what you like and why."

Preparing for a tasting at Archer, Newberg, Oregon. Photo © by Judy Wells
We gazed, sniffed, swirled, re-sniffed, slurped, swirled, burbled on tongue-tip, swished and tasted, mentally logging with all of the senses.

Meals furthered our assessments. Chef, pastry chef and sommelier conferred in advance, deciding the fare according to wines -  white, red and dessert - to be served so that each made the other taste better.

Vineyard at Domaine Serene in Oregon's Willamette Valley. Photo © by Judy Wells.
And yes, we figured it out.The ultimate test will arrive this fall, when heat abates and temperatures are safe to ship the wines we chose to ship home.

Tasting of syrahs and cabernets at Terra Blanca Winery & Estate Vineyard, Benton City, Washington. Photo © by Judy Wells.
Now that's a souvenir.

I highly recommend UnCruise "Rivers of Wine." Even the occasional wine drinkers enjoyed the cruise. All beverages, including those on the top shelf, are included on the all-inclusive cruise. if you prefer a different theme, check out

Summer Sales

What: Amelia Island "Seize the Summer" deals such as credits of up to $100 per day, 20 percent off of summer rates, special packages, free days.
When: Through Sept. 30.
Who: Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island; Omni Amelia Island Plantation; Amelia Rentals; Addison on Amelia;  Fairbanks House; Days inn and Suites; Hampton Inn at the Beach; The Surf Beach Motel; Hoyt House; Blue Heron Inn; Seaside Amelia Inn; Beachside Motel; Amelia Hotel at the Beach; ERA Fernandina Beach Realty rentals.

For complete list of "Seize the Summer" offers, go to

Tuscany for 600 bucks per person?

Gate 1 says that includes flights on Emirates, 5 nights in Montecatini, 1 night in Milan near the airport, manual car rental (automatic upgrade available),taxes and fees.

Depart on Nov. 13, 14, 15, 27, 28: Dec. 4, 5, 6; Jan. 15, 22, 29 (over Carnivale); Feb. 5, 14, 28 from New York. Aug.-March also on sale.

Must book by Sept. 1, 2017, online at Gate 1 or at 800-682-3333 (ask for 8 Day Tuscany Fly and Drive with Milan package).  At end of booking process use promo code TZTSC150.

Blue Ridge Bargain 

 How about a luxury bed and breakfast package in Virginia's Blue Ridge Mountains for $69 per person per night?  

Stay at Wintergreen Resort, enjoy breakfast at The Copper Mine Bistro, take advantage of unlimited access to the Aquatic and Fitness Center or try your clubs on 45 holes of golf, treat yourself at the Wintergreen Spa (I did and it's great), hike  or watch the annual song bird migration. It's apple cider time, too. or  (434) 325-2200.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Icy Expedition Cruise

Sea Spirit off Bear Island, Nuuk Fjord, Greenland. Photo © by Judy Wells.
Most cruise bookings are determined by itinerary, dates and cost. Itineraries change only under extraordinary circumstances.

The unexpected is ordinary on an expedition cruise.

Photo © by Judy Wells.
Expedition cruises go into areas of the world where exceptional is the norm. Crews do their best to stick to the advertised itinerary, but environmental conditions may make it impossible. 

Sea Spirit.
Especially on the first voyage of the season like the one I recently took to Western Greenland aboard Poseidon Expedition's M/V Sea Spirit.

Greenland caught my attention in part because it is the world's largest island, three times the size of France with a coastline longer that the earth's circumference yet only 56,000 people live there (56,001 if you count Santa Claus at the north Pole). It is also the Mother of Icebergs. One glacier we expected to visit calves 20 billion (!) tons of them a year.

Qoornoq "Bear Island," Sermitsiaq, Greenland. Photo © by Judy Wells.
Itinerary changes began our first full day. 

Qoornoq, Bear Island." Photo © by Judy Wells.
After a fascinating visit to Bear Island in the Nuuk Fjord, an abandoned fishing settlement where small icebergs, bergy bits and growlers were arrayed like nature's sculpture garden, our expedition team leader announced the afternoon excursion had been cancelled; the captain was heading out to sea.

Growler in the forefront, bergy bit behind. Photo © by Judy Wells.
Note: Bergy bit in height is greater than three feet but less than 16 feet above sea level; area is normally about 1,076-3,229 square feet
Growlers are smaller, about the size of a grand piano or a truck.  

Iceberg. Photo © by Judy Wells.
An iceberg's height must be greater than 16 feet above sea level, the thickness must be  98-164 feet and the ice must cover an area of at least 5,382 square feet.

Sea ice.
Winter had been exceptionally harsh and sea ice, frozen salt water, was still too thick to navigate safely. This set the pattern that would be repeated throughout the cruise. 

Posing under a whale jaw in Sisimiut, Greenland.
We visited a number of towns and settlements, snapped numerous photos of brightly colored houses and buildings against snow patched hills and interacted with their Inuit residents. 
Kangaamiut Harbor, Greenland. Photo © by Judy Wells.
Glacier at Kangerlussuatsiaq. Photo © by Judy Wells.
We ventured out in zodiacs to get close up looks at massive icebergs and glaciers. 

First time Arctic Circle crossers get a traditional dousing of polar water from King Neptune. Photo © by Judy Wells.
We crossed the Arctic Circle several times and were initiated.

We were in awe of the young expedition team members who scrambled to find alternative landing sites and entertainingly educated us on Greenland, its language, people, explorers, flora, fauna and environment. 

The crew went fishing and we dined on fresh halibut.
The chefs prepared wonderful food, waitstaff made sure we enjoyed each meal, stewards kept our cabins tidy, the ship provided attractive, comfortable quarters and public spaces and Greenland itself filled our memory cards with photogenic scenery.

We did not make it to that prolific glacier or very far into Disko Bay with its proliferation of wildlife.

We did, however, see huge bowhead whales that grow to 65 feet in length and weigh in at 100 tons compared to the humpback's 40 tons.

We were serenaded by the Nuuk Choir.
Nuuk Choir. Photo by Judy Wells.

We saw snow-covered mountains when the clouds lifted.

We experienced the midnight sun and days where there was little change in light from morning to morning. 

Nordre Stromfjord, Greenland. Photo © by Judy Wells.
We experienced a few firsts like landing on coasts no tourist had ever visited.

Our transport arrives. Sarqardlit, Greenland. Photo © by Judy Wells.
Most exciting of all, when we couldn't get the ship up a fjord, having our luggage air-lifted in a sling to the airport and taking zodiacs to an abandoned spot where a Sikorsky helicopter could land and give us a 25-minute ride there, too. 

In Poseidon's 18 years of polar expeditions in the Arctic and Antarctic, including an atomic-powered ice breaker to the North Pole, it had never happened to them either. 

Now that's a story to bring home with that bright red polar parka with almost as many patches as a NASCAR driver.

It's also the sign of a well-run cruise operation that knows its territory and has an excellent relationship with local sources. 

Expedition cruises aren't cheap - $6,000 and above per person double occupancy, for eight days in Western Greenland - but given the uncertainty of itineraries, the first cruise of the season is often discounted, especially as departure nears. There is usually an upcharge to kayak because of added staff and specialized equipment.

Sea Spirit has 114 en suite cabins and combines the re-enforced hull and equipment of an expedition ship with the ambiance of a boutique cruise ship. You borrow the water proof rubber boots but with Poseidon you get to take the polar parka home.

Reminder: It's cold at the ends of the Earth.

Sun Gazing

If you haven't selected your eclipse viewing spot yet, or if you have and don't know if you should drive closer to the path of totality, this from Bravo Jet Set
might help. Thanks to Escape to Blue Ridge for passing it along to me.

The closer you are to the zone of totality the longer and the clearer its effects. 

For example, in Blue Ridge, plan to catch the eclipse in totality at 2:35 p.m. for 35 seconds. The town is on the southern edge of the shadow, so totality only lasts for 35 seconds. 

However north and east of Blue Ridge in Fannin County, in McCaysville and Morganton, the totality lasts longer. In Morganton, the partial phase start will begin at 1:05:05 p.m., with the totality phase beginning at 2:34:45 p.m. and lasting one minute and 10 seconds. In McCaysville, the partial phase start will begin at 1:04:43 p.m., with the totality phase beginning at 2:34:08 p.m. and lasting one minute and 34 seconds.

Count on Blue Ridge and everywhere else along the path to have specials from sun-inspired food to sets of viewing glasses at accommodations.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Warsaw, Poland - Europe's Next Hot Spot?

Royal Palace in Warsaw's Royal Lazienska Park. Photo © Judy Wells.
A steady stream of Americans visits Poland; after all, Chicago has the second largest concentration of Poles, making it Poland's second largest city. Increasingly, the rest of America and the world are discovering this reasonably priced center of interesting history and sites, beautiful countrysides and welcoming hosts. After centuries of struggling to rule their own nation, the Poles have achieved their goal and want to show off.

LOT Dreamliner gets the inaugural traditional water spray welcome at Newark.
 LOT, the national and most aggressive airline in Europe, is making it easier with 27 new or reinstated routes for 2016. A direct flight between Los Angeles and Warsaw and Chicago and Krakow have recently been added. I was invited on the inaugural reinstated flight from Newark to Warsaw April 28 followed by a quick look at Warsaw and Krakow.

Here's my take on Warsaw.

The Holocaust

It is impossible to ignore the tragedy of Poland's Jewish populations. From the mid-13th century, Poland was known as the most enlightened and tolerant of European countries. Its rulers gave Jews all the rights of Christians. Scholars, musicians, merchants, writers and scientists flourished and so did the country. All changed with the 20th century and the rise anti-Semitism exacerbated by fascists and Nazis, who turned Jews, gypsies and homosexuals into scapegoats for all of society's ills.

There were more than 3.5 million  Jews, a large percentage of the world's Jewish population, living in Poland prior to World War II. More than 3 million of them were killed by war's end.

More Polish gentiles, 6,706, have been recognized by Israel for their efforts in saving Jews than in any other country.

Flowers fill the base of the Holocaust Memorial at POLIN Museum of the History of polish Jews.
Memorials to victims of the Holocaust dot the Polish cities and countryside, always with fresh flowers.


The current Old Town isn't so old. Photo © by Judy Wells.
Old Town after the war.
Most - 70 percent - of Poland's capital was destroyed through World War II and the Soviet takeover, but in many areas, primarily Old Town, you'd never know it. Even the Soviets recognized the importance of recreating the 13th century historic district.

Photo © by Judy Wells.
Tourists and natives flock there, picking up souvenirs, snacks and floral headbands, a popular adornment.

The "Palace's" redeeming feature is its 360-degree view deck.

The Soviets also made sure major boulevards were wide (easier crowd control) and gifted the city with the enormously large and ugly Palace of Culture and Science, tearing down what bombs hadn't already destroyed around it. Unfortunately, one of those wide roadways the Soviets built runs along the Vistula River, effectively separating it from the city.

Outside the Warsaw Rising Museum. Photo ©by Judy Wells.
Two museums that are musts for anyone with a taste for history.  The Warsaw Rising Museum effectively recreates the uprising of Polish Nationalists and Jewish ghetto residents Aug. 1, 1944, the heroic but doomed to fail struggle. From Nazi occupation, torture and systematic killing to post-war communist fears and oppression,  the museum honors all who have given their lives for a free Poland.

A recreated 17-18th century synagogue is exuberant from ceiling to floor.
POLIN,  Museum of the History of Polish Jews, entertainingly, joyously and gut-wrenchingly covers 1,000 years of Polish Jewish history.

Named Europe's Museum of the Year in 2016, it is worth the better part of a day's visit. Design your own 12th century coin in Hebrew, see a book printed in 1644 in Krakow, listen to Klezmer music, follow the footsteps to dance a tango, watch a Jewish movie, wonder at the dazzling ceiling of a reconstructed 17-18th century synagogue and yes, feel the terror and horror of the Holocaust.

Poles set up their own altars when Soviets discouraged religion. Photo  by Judy Wells.
Warsaw is still getting its act together. Some areas are in disrepair, others will have ramshackle buildings  amid attractive period or contemporary-style ones. Tangles of ownership are yet to be untied.

Inside the Neon Museum. Photos © by Judy Wells.
As soon as ownership is established, urban renewal jumps in as it has in the artsy Praga, the Bohemian district, where you will find the Neon Museum and snazzy restaurants moving in near the old Milk Bars and the unrestored area where "The Pianist" was filmed.

Chopin is front and center in Royal Lazienka Park. Photos © by Judy Wells.
Parks, 40 percent of the city, add to its charm. Don't miss Royal Lazienka Park with the larger than life memorial of favorite son Fredyryk Chopin under a willow tree. If you can't make one of the Sunday afternoon concerts there at noon and four mid-May through September, look for the marble bench, one of several near significant spots for the musician. Sit, download an app and listed to his music.

Zoologist Richard Totola chats with Moshe Pirosh, who became friends with Richard, son of Zookeeper Dr. Dan and Augustina Zabinski, when as a 10-year-old he was hidden in the Zabinski's basement.
If you are a fan of The Zookeeper's Wife, definitely visit the tree-filled Warsaw Zoo and arrange a tour of the house where it all took place. Quite an experience.
The tunnel through which Jews were smuggled into the Zabinski's basement and out to, if lucky, freedom.

Food can be a highlight of your visit.

Elixer Dom Wodka, the vodka restaurant, combines imaginative cuisine with vodka pairings in a sleek setting.  

Der Elefant attracts families and singles with a wide array of choices - pirogie to tartare to creative burgers and plate-filling fish. There's even a supervised children"s room so the adults can linger.

Regent Warsaw Hotel Lobby. Photo © by Judy Wells.
Our group was hosted by the Regent Warsaw Hotel, a beautifully designed contemporary retreat near Royal Lazienka Park. Staff is helpful, breakfast excellent, rooms large and well-equipped with divinely comfortable pillows.

Hotel Bristol.
If you want something more historic, Hotel Bristol is your spot. The rooms are smaller but you will be sleeping in an Art Deco-style hotel once owned by composer, pianist and politician Ignacy Paderewski where heads of state and celebrities have stayed.

Wasn't there long enough to evaluate the night life, said to be hopping, but Warsaw is definitely a work in progress.

Incredible India at a Bargain

Twelve days, Delhi, Ranthambhore (tiger reserve) and Jaipur in 5-star hotels, 15 meals and all the rest offered by World Spree Travel.

Hard to resist at $1,599 to $1,899 per person double occupancy depending on departure date (Sept. 29 to Dec. 5, 2017), including air.

Details: Log onto  and  click  “Destinations”  and  then “India.”  World Spree’s toll-free telephone number is 1-866-652-5656.

Naples, the closer one

 The Inn on 5th and Club Level Suites have paired up for a two-night "Cuisine and Cruise" package in downtown in Naples, FL. Room for two nights, sunset sightseeing cruise for two and $100 credit for dinner at Ocean Prime.

Package price, $403 for deluxe room, $623 club level suite. Taxes and tips extra.
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