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Christmas Markets along the Danube

“It’s a really special time to experience Europe,” said travel advisor Cathy Kroll after taking AMA Waterways Christmas Time Cruise, “and visiting the ‘Christkindl’ markets along the ancient cities of the Danube is a unique way to experience the Christmas season.”

xmas

“The hand blown ornaments, the little ‘smokers’ or hand incense burners; the men and women cooking sausages and sauerkraut over enormous pans; market-goers in their hats and mittens standing around barrels drinking their gluwein – these are all images from my Christmas market cruise that I’ll never forget.”

vienna

Who should go on these cruises?  “You know,” says Cathy, ‘although anyone would enjoy these, I think they’d be particularly fun for groups: your book club, your church group, all your girlfriends, or a family reunion.. it’s just so much fun to experience this with a lot of people!’

xmas2

And what about the weather? “There’s no way I would let the winter weather stop me.  Just be prepared for the cold… like your mom always tells you, ‘dress in layers!’.  My own tip?  Wear shoes that are waterproof.  Besides, you can always drink gluwein to keep warm!  And you know, when you get chilly at the markets, it’s so wonderful to come back to the ship that is all decorated to the nines for the holidays, and be welcomed with mulled wine and hot cider.”

AMAWaterways Christmas market departures are specially decorated for the holidays

AMAWaterways Christmas market departures are specially decorated for the holidays

“I travel because I’m so interested to see how others live, and the history of countries that are so much older than our own.  I love seeing life through others’ eyes.  I also love taking what I’ve experienced and, frankly, the travel mistakes that I’ve made myself, and helping my clients have their own, perfect vacation.”

If you have any questions about the AMA Waterways Christmas-Time Cruise, or you’d like some help crafting your own perfect vacation, contact Cathy at ckroll@sbtravel.com.

Australia: A Land of Surprises

“It was a country of continual surprises”, says Travel Advisor Erin Zetter, just returned from Australia.  Erin was one of only 60 agents from throughout the US and Canada invited to travel down under on Travel2’s ‘Amazing Aussie Adventure’.  Visiting Sydney, Melbourne, Ayres Rock, and the Wolgan Valley in a small group of 10 Virtuoso agents, Erin’s preconceptions of  Australia were challenged – and in a good way.

Erin at a Camel Farm

Erin at a Camel Farm

“First,” says Erin, “I was astonished at the amount of wildlife.  We went on a night safari drive to see the nocturnal animals, and then a nature walk the next morning to see kangaroos, wallaby and wombats.  We also visited the Featherdale Wildlife Park, where I was thrilled to be able to feed kangaroos (from ice-cream cones!) right out of my hands.  I originally thought, though, that the wildlife in Australia would be rather elusive.  But when we went to the Blue Mountains I couldn’t believe the number of kangaroos you could see – they were everywhere, in the hundreds.  I could even see them from right outside my room!”

Ern gets to hand feed a kangaroo.

Ern gets to hand feed a kangaroo.

 

“Everyone has seen photos of the Australian outback,” says Erin.  “But I found that no picture can compare.  You can’t begin to imagine the vastness, and the sunset and views of Uluru (Ayres Rock) were stunning.  The stars began to come out at the end of a ‘Sounds of Silence’ dinner in the outback. They had billed it as a ‘dine under a billion stars’ evening – and for once, there was no exaggeration.  With the clarity of the sky, I could see planets, galaxies, even the full Milky Way.  It was a very emotional experience”.

Sounds of Silence dinner near Ayres Rock

Sounds of Silence dinner near Ayres Rock

 

Even the visit to Australia’s cities held surprises.  Did you know the Sydney Opera House can be toured?  And that ‘Opera House’ is actually a bit of a misnomer? Because it’s not just one house, but a full complex with five different theaters where you can hear the symphony, of course, but also rock performances, dramas, and theater in the round.

In Sydney, Erin also got to complete a bucket list item with another iconic city landmark.  Conquering all fear of heights in the name of research for her clients, Erin climbed – and crossed – the Sydney Harbour Bridge for 1.5 hours as part of BridgeClimb Sydney.  Her reward from the top was 360 degree panoramic views of the city.

See those tiny dots up there?  Those are the brave climbers on BridgeClimb Sydney.  Climbers are dressed in suits to match the bridge - so as not to distract the drivers below.

See those tiny dots up there? Those are the brave climbers on BridgeClimb Sydney. Climbers are dressed in suits to match the bridge – so as not to distract the drivers below.

And then there’s Melbourne, Erin’s favorite city.  From above, the city of Melbourne has a full metropolitan skyline, complete with skyscrapers.  But walk the streets, and you’ll discover a hidden Melbourne, one with narrow alleyways and lanes, cobblestone streets, café’s and street performers.  “You’ll think you’re in Europe”, says Erin.

Europe or Australia?  ... It's a laneway in Melbourne!

Europe or Australia? … It’s a laneway in Melbourne!

“So much of this trip was fabulous,” concludes Erin, “I couldn’t believe how much there was to see and do, and so much variety.  I visited at the end of our summer and had a great time.  Ideally, in order to see everything under the best conditions, I’d recommend booking travel for our Spring and Fall.”

Want to learn more about Australia?  Give your Santa Barbara Travel Advisor a call today!

Tips for Visiting Cuba

Cuba, the tropical paradise frozen for so many years in the 1950’s, is quickly thawing.  With the U.S. and Cuba restoring diplomatic relations, now is the time to see the country before it changes.

As mentioned in an earlier blog post, cruise ships and tour groups travelling to Cuba must tailor their itineraries to adhere to the regulations of the ‘people to people ambassador’ program allowed by the U.S. government.  This means no lazy days (although under this program your nights are free) – any travel itinerary to Cuba will have a robust itinerary of cultural experiences.  It’s important to realize that going to Cuba will not necessarily be a ‘vacation’ but more an adventure, where you will be touched by the destination and its people.

Many people, in fact, consider Cuba a highly emotional destination.  If travel is all about new discoveries and expanding your horizons, then Cuba represents a perfect opportunity to do that.

 

Even though travel regulations have been relaxed, Americans must still participate in a 'people to people ambassador' program sanctioned by the U.S. government.

Even though travel regulations have been relaxed, Americans must still participate in a ‘people to people ambassador’ program sanctioned by the U.S. government.

 

The people to people experiences will feature Cuba’s culture, lifestyle and personalities, and include opportunities for U.S. visitors to meet with Cuban citizens from many walks of life.  For instance, LaTour’s nine-day Hello Cuba itinerary provides an immersive experience.

One traveler on this tour, Phil Marzullo, described some highlights of his trip, “On my tour, we visited a middle school outside Havana, an attended a music and dance performance by the students.  Another day, we visited a dance studio and took salsa lessons from professional dancers.  We also met with university students, learned about a community service project run by artists and musicians, (and) visited a senior center”…. ”These visits”, said Mazullo, ‘taught us a lot about the spirit and resiliency of the Cuban people”.

When traveling to Cuba, it is important to find a trustworthy, operator with experience in the country.  With so many complicated regulations or possible on-the-ground changes, you should also look for on-the-ground support.  For instance, some tour operators can offer meals in one of Cuba’s paladares.  These are restaurants run out of a private home.  In addition to having better food, the paladares often inspire intense discussions with local entrepreneurs.

 Paladares are privately owned restaurants, often run out of a private home. These are authentic, Cuban establishments where you get to meet local entrepreneurs.

Paladares are privately owned restaurants, often run out of a private home. These are authentic, Cuban establishments where you get to meet local entrepreneurs.

Want to know more about visiting Cuba ?  Then give Santa Barbara Travel a call.  We can let you know about the many opportunities for traveling to this dynamic destination.

Ernest Hemingway lived for almost 20 years in Cuba.  You can visit his private home, Finca Vigia.

Ernest Hemingway lived for almost 20 years in Cuba. You can visit his private home, Finca Vigia.