Our Favorite Travel Destinations on water, Part 1

 Eastern Caribbean CruiseSt. Maarten

Several Cruise lines have itineraries for the Eastern Caribbean.  We think this journey should include these islands: St. Thomas, US; St. John, US; Anguilla, UK; the fascinating of St Martin, France/Sint Maarten, Netherlands; and Antigua.

Most sailings will embark and disembark from San Jose Puerto Rico.  Renowned for their pristine white sand beaches, Azure, sapphire, turquoise waters, gentle breezes, and coral reefs bursting with tropical fish, each island has it own character, history and culture.

St. Thomas and St. John offers a US approach to Caribbean living, dining and entertainment with some of the best shopping in the region.  While French St. Martin offers numerous dining options, Dutch St. Maarten offers expansive shopping.St. Martin

The best snorkeling and coral reefs are on St Thomas and St. Martin.  Most islands have great inland hiking trails with spectacular scenic overlooks, lots of flora and fauna.

High season is typically December to April.  Summers can get very hot and humid. Summer and fall are often hurricane season but the ships are great about rerouting out of harms way.

Resources:  Windstar Cruises, Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Celebrity

Duration: usually 7, 10 to 14 days.

Lake Titicaca, Peru/Bolivia, South AmericaLake-Titicaca

If you traveling in the region, Peru or Bolivia, plan to spend a few days and nights in one of the larger Cities, like Puno, Peru or Copacabana, Bolivia on Lake Titicaca.  Better yet, a night or two at the Ecolodge La Estancia on the Isla del Sol (Island of the Sun) closer to Copacabana and La Paz, Bolivia.  Discover the ancient ruins on the island.

At just over 13,000 feet, Lake Titicaca is the highest navigable Lake in the world.  Day trip to the islands are plentiful from both Peru and Bolvia shoreline resort towns.  Each of the islands has its own culture with colorful local costumes in the villages and markets.

Close to shore you will see massive beds of reeds.  Just beyond will be islas flotantes, floating island, the traditional homes of the Uro people, who have lived on these island dating back to the Incas.  Keep and eye out for the traditional totoro reed boats made from bundled lake reeds lashed together to make canoe-like boats, the local transportation for the Uro.

Try the typical local dishes like Alpaca steak, fish from the lake or roasted guinea pig.

Do not miss the night sky.  It was literally like being in the best and biggest planetarium on earth.night

Best time to go is between May and October.  Be prepared for extreme changes in temps.  Intense sun during the day and close to freezing by night.  Electric power is inconsistent.  A flashlight is essential.

Resources:  www.peru.info.com, www.peru-explorer.com, www.kensingtontours.com, www.viator.com/lake-titicaca, www.amazonadventures.com/lake-Titicaca

Yangtze River, The Three Gorges, China

The Yangtze River is one of the longest rivers in the world.  Its length is 3,915 miles long starting in the Tibetan Plateau and ending in the East China Sea.

three gorgesAdd a 3-4-5 day river cruise to any China trip and enjoy the journey from one of the 4 and 5 star ships.  Cruises travel West from Chongqing, Yichang, Wuhan and Jingzhou or East upriver in reverse.yangtze

The highlight will be the 150 stretch or the river Three Gorges region where the gorge walls tower 610 feet above the river and 1.3 miles from bank to bank.  Depending on your ship choice, it will take four to five hours to pass through five locks.

There are a wide variety of side trips available, small boat trips to pristine tributaries, shopping excursions, theater and entertainment venues, major museums, small villages and temples.

Depending on your tour choice, you journey may be part of a longer China journey from companies like Grand Circle, Uniworld, Tauck, Avalon Waterways or Viking Cruises.  Or put your own trip together and book you river portion directly with Victoria Cruises (our choice), Orient Royal Cruises, or many others.

Best time to travel is Spring or Autumn or anytime in between but it will be warmer.

The Mekong River

The Mekong River’s source is a spring in the mountains of Tibet that flows 2500 miles through six countries: Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, China, Myanmar (Burma) and Vietnam.mekong laos

There are a variety of ways to travel the river.  It can be in conjunction with other travel to each country, or several countries, or a day trip, or a river journey.  Intrepid travels often hire a raft to

We have traveled on the Mekong independently by hiring a fast long boat in Thailand for a wonderful ride zipping up the river to a remote village where we then hired elephant for a trek into the rain forest and a remote stilt village where we had a home cooked Thai lunch before retuning to the comfort of a 5 star hotel.

We sailed twice more on the Mekong, first in Vietnam as part of a small organized tour (16).  It was a wide, beautiful, peaceful day trip past remote village, incredible scenery and lots of wildlife. And just last year in Laos, from the World Heritage site, Louangphrabang upriver to Pak-Ou, an amazing limestone cavern to see hundreds of Buddha statues of all shape, sizes and ages.mekong cave

Other highlights were the riverside villages, one with one of the largest bells in the world that you can actually climb into, ancient temples, fishermen and gleeful children everywhere.

Go during the cool, dry season, December to February.

Backwaters of Kerala, India

keralaKerala is an incredibly beautiful part of South India, a chain of brackish lagoons and lakes lying parallel to the Arabian Sea.  Partly man made, partly natural, at the confluence of 38 rivers.  A largely agricultural and fishing region where the lagoons are used to transport goods and services to the numerous villages.

Fresh water is used for irrigation while the brackish and salt water are used for fishing.  The local folks of all ages use the canals and lagoons as streets and highways.

The main event for travelers is to hire a houseboat with crew for as many days as you would like.  The boats are mainly former rice boats that have been converted into house boats for tourists and travelers.  They are particularly popular for couples celebrating a honeymoon or a romantic getaway.kerala-backwater-trip

They come in all shapes and sizes.  Ours was part of the royal fleet with two decks, a handful of private rooms with en-suite facilities, a chef and crew.  The food was fresh daily and prepared to perfection (usually very spicy/hot).  The local tiger prawns were amazing.

It’s a great way to take a break from the sensory overload India often offers.  Floating along the byways, observing a simpler rural lifestyle, post card sunrises and cocktails by sunsets.Kerala fishing news

The best time to go is November to February.  Avoid the monsoon season, March to October.  Insect repellant is essential.

Resources: www.india tourism.com, www.keralagreenery.com, www.ktdc.com, www.oattravel.com

One Dozen of our favorite hotels around the world.

Note: Prices are approximate and vary on demand and accommodation selection.


Hotel Due Torri
Hotel Due Torri

We discovered this charming little hotel several years ago and fell in love with it.  It is on a little tiny one lane street in the center of old Rome within walking distance of most of Rome’s must see sites.  The rooms are compact but very serviceable with free Wi-Fi and a hearty breakfast included.  There are a handful of rooms with small balconies overlooking the rooftops of the neighborhood.

The owner and manager speak very good English and are very helpful recommending lots of local restaurants and shopping in the immediate area.  In fact, we enjoyed our last stay so much we have reservations for several days next year.  Reviews rank 3.9 of 5 stars.  Rates: 80 to 330 Euros.

Website: Hotel Due Torri

Beryl Country House, Wells, United KingdomBeryl Country House

This delightful house was built in 1842 and has been fully restored and updated with comfortable furnishing and antiques.  It sits on 13 acres of parkland including a walled Victorian garden.  There is also a pool opened from May to September depending on the weather.  There are 14 rooms to choose from, each with its own character.

Breakfast at Beryl is a traditional English breakfast with a menu of choices.  While dinner is not served, the hotel has a variety of suggested dinner options a short drive away.

Wells is famous for its Cathedral, its charming town and close proximity to other places of interest.  We suggest 2 or 3 nights in conjunction with other destination in the Somerset region.  Reviews rank 4 of 5 stars.  Rates 110 to 160 Euros.

Website: Beryl Country House

Courtyard Budapest City Center, Budapest, HungaryBudapest City Center

We just discovered this hotel this summer for 4 nights before boarding a river cruise to the Black Sea.  You might think it odd to recommend a Marriott property for a visit to an ancient capital, but this is a sleek, modern full service hotel with nice everything and it was surprisingly affordable for the quality.

It is in the center of Budapest making it well positioned for sightseeing.  Trams, buses and subway are all out the front door.  Rooms are generous in size, floor to ceiling glass, some rooms have balconies.  Other rooms face a large light well so bear that in mind when making reservations.  Reviews rank 5 of 5 stars.  Rates 90 to 184 Euros.

Website: Courtyard Budapest City Center

Belmond Hotel Monasterio, Cusco, PeruHotel Monasterio

Located next to the Cusco’s central square this hotel as you might guess, started as a monastery in 1592.  Make no mistake, this property was completely renovated into a luxury hotel boasting two restaurants, and a spa.  The 122 rooms and suites are both ancient and modern situated around the original courtyard.

It is in the Center of Cusco, a perfect location from which to explore this amazing colonial city before or after a visit to Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley.  It is a bit pricy but worth the splurge.  Note: some rooms come with extra oxygen pumped in.  The local coca tea also works well.  Reviews rank 4.5 of 5 stars.  Rates $345 to $1200. USD.

Website: Belmond Hotel Monasterio

Park Hyatt Sydney, New South Wales, AustraliaPark-Hyatt-Sydney_jpg

I still remember our arrival to this hotel.  After a painfully long flight in coach (we were relatively novice travelers then), followed by a long ride from the airport to central Sydney, we checked in, made our way to our room, pulled back the drapes and wham, there was the Opera House in all its glory.  It consumes the entire field of vision.  It turns out the Park Hyatt is in a dynamite location directly across the harbor from the famous Opera House.

Located in the lively “Rocks” neighborhood, with its restaurants and shopping, directly adjacent to central Sydney.  This is a world class luxury property with oversized rooms, fine dining, rooftop pool, spa and free Wi-Fi.  As you might suspect, it is also pricy, but considering the journey to get there, what a great way to get oriented and rejuvenated.  Reviews rank 4.6 of 5 stars.  Rates $500 to $2200 USD.

Website: Park Hyatt Sydney

Westin Resort & Spa, Los Cabos, San Jose del Cabo, B.C.S., MexicoLos Cabos Westin

This resort is nestled in it’s own private cove with stunning modern architecture.  All rooms have stunning Sea of Cortez ocean views and balconies.  The resort has a beach club, all the water sports you can imagine, a huge spa, state of the art fitness center, numerous dining options, six golf courses nearby and close to the city center of San Jose del Cabo.

All that said, this resort was damaged by last year’s hurricane Odile.  The hotel has been undergoing extensive repairs and restoration since and is scheduled to re-open July 1, 2016.  We have been twice, first at the resort and later at the adjacent timeshares which have full access to the resort but with private spa, pool and fully equipped apartment.  We will go again.  Reviews rank 4.6 of 5 stars.  Rates: $208 to $3500. USD

Website: Westin Resort & Spa, Los Cabos

The Aubrey, Santiago, Chileaubrey

We stumbled on this small boutique hotel last year and spent New Years 2015 there.  The Hotel consists of two historic homes that were completely restored,  upgraded and expanded.  It manages to be intimate, authentic and original at the same time.  There are three room types but all rooms are unique with ultra modern bathrooms.  Some rooms have balconies or private terraces.  There are extensive exterior decks and lounges.  There is also a pool nestled on the edge of the hill.  The property is surrounded by foliage and flowers yet there is plenty of sunshine.

There is an extensive breakfast buffet along with eggs to order.  Tapas are available from the indoor/outdoor bar in the evening.  Beverage service is available on demand anytime.  Affordable massage service is available en suite or poolside.  The service is world class and the concierge among the best.

Central Santiago and all the main sights are walkable, but there is also safe public transportation.  Taxis are very affordable.  There are dozens of dining, shopping and entertainment venues in the immediate neighborhood.  Reviews rank 5 of 5 stars.  Rates $195 to 575. USD

Website: The Aubrey

Canal House, Amsterdam, Netherlandscanalhouse

This is truly a ‘unique to Amsterdam’ hotel made up of three traditional buildings (some dating back to the 1600s) adjacent to each other and merged into a unique luxury hotel.  It faces one of the inner canals making it ideally situated for exploring the City.  It is also walkable to the Central train station.  It includes breakfast and Wi-Fi., garden, terrace.  There are 23 rooms.  The staff is multilingual and service attentive.  It is like stepping back in time but with all the modern conveniences including room service.  We cannot wait to go back.  Good reason to go now, all the major museums and sights have been recently restored.  Reviews rank 4.5 of 5 stars.  Rates: $345 to $750.  USD

Website: Canal House

Ravenswood Hall Hotel and Restaurant, Bury St. Edmunds, Suffolk,  UKravenswood

We discovered this wonderful gem of a hotel as a pre-North Atlantic cruise extension.  (Great suggestion if you are sailing in or out of Harwich, England.)  The origins of the 7 acre estate, surrounded by thick English woods and flora, date back to Henry VIII.  The hotel holds a variety of rooms, a lively pub/bar and an excellent restaurant.  When weather permits, there is a large pool, and equally large sun terrace and expansive lawns.

The hotel is close to Bury St. Edmunds which is a robust town with all manner of history and activities. The bucolic Suffolk region offers easy access to seaside villages and tranquil countryside.  Two, three or four nights would do nicely. Reviews rank 4 of 5 stars.  Rates: 125 to 175. British Pounds

Website: Ravens wood Hall Hotel and Restaurant

Tenuta Di Canonica, Todi, Umbria, ItalyTanuta di canonica

We fell in love with this estate home, with roman ruins as the foundation, over a decade ago.  It was transformed into a countryside hotel just outside the hill town of Todi in the region of Umbria.  Rooms vary from simple and quaint to opulent suites.  It retains so much character of its past but offers a warm inviting vibe that fosters lingering.  Much of its history was that of a farm house, today a hotel with a wonderful chef in the kitchen for savory dinners and delectable breakfasts on one of the many terraces.

And after a long day of exploring the countryside towns and villages, an awesome pool terrace with unspeakably beautiful vistas awaits.  We especially like to visit during the wild boar and truffle seasons (early fall).  This is a fav of ours.  Reviews rank 4.5 of 5 stars.  Rates: $173 to $250 USD

Website: Tenuta Di Canonica

Sheraton Mirage, Port Douglas Resort, Port Douglas, AustraliaSheraton Port Douglas Resort

This is a large, chic, upscale resort with all the bells and whistles you might expect. Two giant saltwater pools, several bars, restaurants but only one golf course.  Choice of rooms or villas.  Pool view, garden view, ocean view.

Best of all, this is the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef.  One of the best in the world.  We have been here twice and we are planning another visit in the next year or two.  Tons of active options: the Reef, Daintree Rainforest, Skyrail Cableway, helicopter rides, rafting, horse riding and on and on.  For this one, it is the whole package, hotel meets activity.  No doubt the reef is tops.  Reviews rank 4.5 of 5 stars.  Rates: $220 to $1674. USD

Website: Sheraton Mirage, Port Douglas Resort

Hotel La Fenice et des Artistes, Venice, ItalyHotel La Fenice

First, it’s in central Venice, steps away from St. Marks Square!  Next door to La Fenice Opera House, where you can ease drop on tonight’s performance rehearsals in the late morning or early afternoon.  It has a wonderful restaurant with a charming garden.

The rooms vary a lot but they all have incredible silk wall fabrics and classical period furniture with high ceilings and beautiful art.  Breakfast is included, great bar, room service, concierge and free WI-Fi.  Its a bargain by Venice standards.  Did you know Venice by night is uncrowded and just as beautiful as by day?!  Don’t forget the magic of hundreds of church bells ring simultaneously. Ah Venice.  Reviews rank 4.5 of 5 stars.  Rates: $270 to $1200. USD

Website: Hotel La Fenice et des Artistes








Japan 2015

Japan Water Front

Now that jet lag has subsided and I am in my right mind, please see my observations below. I hope you enjoy.

First, just a quick travel observation. We left Osaka, Japan yesterday, Thursday at about 4:30 PM. We landed, at 10:00 AM Thursday. So officially, we returned to the US six hours before we left! It is one of the International Date Line things that happen every time you cross the dateline.

Another Quick side bar. Our 8 year old nephew, William, knew we were traveling to Asia. His Dad explained to him where we were and how it was tomorrow there from the US. Since William and we were following the playoffs and it was a day ahead, William asked by text if we knew who won the Houston/NY game. Too funny!! Oh, to be 8 again. 😋

Impressions of Japan

Japan was a fascinating, strange, vaguely familiar place. Prior to this trip, we had only been to a few of Japan’s “cruise ports” for short day tours, mostly coastal sites of interest prior to this three week visit.

Now, my overarching observations. Japan is a big, first world country with all the benefits you would expect of a G7 world economic power.

Next, it is so clean, I could hardly believe it. And I mean everywhere!! Every street, every bus, cab, train, street car. Every restaurant, new, old, city, village. Every car, house, temple, office building, store. Every attraction, school, temple, shrine, park, tourist stop.

It is civilized. Everyone is polite. (well 99% but I do not want to be picky, unless you count fellow tourist/travelers. But that will be a future article.) Everything works and well! Hotel checkins were instant. Openings of anything, on time, every time. Same for closings. Taxis, buses, trains all on schedule EVERY time. It was almost uncanny. True fact: Japan’s train service last year, including their extensive high speed Bullet train, had an on time record within 36 seconds, yes I said seconds. Jaw dropping.

Bowing is a big thing. Mainly, three different bows. One for greeting (about 15 degrees), one for respect (about 30 degrees, as guests, we got a lot of those), and one for apologies (about 40-45 degrees). Bowing is so common, we found ourselves adding a small bow to every hello, goodbye or thank you.

Japan is not perfect. The first poke I’ll take is urban architecture. While there is an occasional superstar here and there, the country in general has the most boring, boxy, bunch of buildings I’ve seen anywhere. Yes, traditional housing and temples have their charm, but, they are squashed out by the endless boredom of concrete and glass office towers or apartment blocks with occasional attempts at some kind of architectural flare.

And now, (drumroll followed by the applause of my fellow travelers) FOOD. That one thing so many of us hit the road for! The sustenance of life and pleasure for the soul. It was general boring and mostly repetitive. This was somewhat a surprise for a country touting so many Michelin star restaurants. It was a big discovery to find the better restaurants cater to only to the wealthy and expense account crowd.

We made a few discoveries on our own but only a few. On the surprise front, on two different nights we ventured on our own for dinner, both nights the chef owners followed us outside afterwards and gave us full bows of thank you until we were out of sight. Humbling!!

Another surprise but over arching discovery we were not prepared for, was undercooked foods. Example: every egg, scrambled, fried or otherwise was half cooked or raw. I am not kidding. Same for bacon, sausage or even chicken, pork or beef. Bizarre!

You MUST eat rice! Every meal, every day, every day. We are not talking Uncle Ben’s here, or jasmine or basmati rice. We are talking full blown Japanese sticky short grain rice. And fish, sashimi (raw), sushi (also raw). At least one fish per each meal per day. The alternative was a life saving bowl of udon or ramen noodles served in a broth but often accompanied by vegetables and…some type of fish, shellfish and occasionally chicken or pork.

Personally, I love fish and sashimi/sushi are right up my alley but I must admit the rare pasta or pizza was devoured with delight.

On the highlight side.Architecture The countryside is very accessible everywhere and we were honored to be able to enjoy lots of it. The national parks and temples and shines and imperial palaces were amazing. The gardens are unlike any we have seen anywhere. In one park we saw gardeners plucking imperfect pine needles one by one and dropping them onto large tarps so as not to litter on the ground. Water features are an art form, stones and lanterns are messages, form and function are often the same. It was hard to come away from any such walk in a bad mood.

In ending, it must be said the people were amazing. Genuine, polite, helpful, forgiving, cheerful, focused. We met old folks still with a twinkle in the eye. Children, delightfully doing what children do, with glee in every action. Buddhist monks, going about their daily business, shepherding the poor and poor of spirit alike. Worker bees, working long hours and painful commutes in numbers that must be seen to be believed.

Japan is not perfect. It is still a male dominate society. Women are way behind on the equality front. This is slowly improving, so slowly. Tradition is paramount yet variety in all aspects of life seems to offer a crack in that armor. Time will tell.

Someday, I would like to see Japan again, in spring or in snow, maybe farther away from the urban centers. But for now, we’ve had enough and are pleased to be home and surrounded by all things familiar.


Japan Skyline