What is an escorted tour anyway?

Endless Travel Blog

What is an escorted tour anyway?

--by Sheryl Fick

With the Internet, there are so many choices of what to do and how to do it, that at first glance, you may not feel the need for a professional travel consultant. I hope, however, this will explain some reasons to consider Endless Travel. Normally, there are no added planning fees, so see what you think, and see if an escorted tour may be what you want.

First, an escorted tour is when all of the components are bundled together in a form where you, as the traveler, really do not have to pre-plan anything—just show up for the time of your life without any of the hassles of planning and hoping things work out. Of course, that is why you may want to consider the option of a fully escorted tour nearly any place in the world. With the help of Endless Travel to qualify your travel needs, we do the work (or we work together) to plan the perfect vacation.

We work very closely with the Globus (Cosmos is their sister company at a lower price point) family of brands, which include the wonderful Avalon River Cruises and Monograms, the land package we can add on at any time. Globus/Cosmos escorted tours are very popular in Europe, but did you know you can also go to Israel, Jordan, Scandinavia, Iceland or Russia to name a few other destinations? The beauty of an escorted tour is that you can simply sit back, and let Endless Travel do all the work with the help of Globus/Cosmos—you can also be as involved as you choose. This means that if you want to arrive earlier than the tour starts, or stay after the tour, or take a river cruise on Avalon, it can be done. And the pre and post sections can be done with the help of Monograms.

This is a special air rate you can only get by going through a tour company like this...

Several years ago, I experienced an escorted tour in Europe for 12 days. I have to say, it was so relaxing to let someone else drive while I was a tourist and got to hear all the wonderful information presented to me while touring. This tour was during a public wedding in London, and could have been a serious problem, but Globus/Cosmos pre-reserved hotels in the center of each city I visited. So I sat back, and was not concerned with other events potentially disrupting my tour. Such an event could be something like the Rome Jubilee, where hotel space is nearly impossible to find; but not to worry on a Globus or Cosmos escorted tour.

You can have your airfare booked by Globus/Cosmos if you want, and you probably did not know that they offer something you can’t get yourself, which is contracted air. This is a special air rate you can only get by going through a tour company like this, and most times, the prices are much less than you can find. Don’t worry if you do have free air on points. That is something that can be done separately.

This is how it works:

lourveYou contact Endless Travel, and we discuss your itinerary and which escorted tour works best. We can add air to any city you want (arrival transfers). Then you are shuttled to your selected hotel while your luggage is handled for you. Next, you meet the rest of the group and your tour guide for the trip, and are given more details of all the sights you will be seeing. There are no lines to wait in if you choose tours like the Louvre in Paris, the London Eye or the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, to name a few. Let’s say you want to visit Venice, but your tour ends in Rome. No worries! We can arrange a train first or second class, with transfers from the tour to the rail station, and again upon arrival in Venice. The choices are endless! We take the stress of planning away, and Globus/Cosmos does the rest. You can have as much fun as you want planning additional options.

So if you want the ease of not having to plan a trip on your own, perhaps an escorted tour may be a viable option for you. We see people of all ages now doing escorted tours, as they are hassle free, and everyone gets to enjoy the journey. I am still in contact with friends I met from South Africa, as that is one of the many perks.

Why not call your travel experts at Endless Travel? We have over 100 years of travel expertise, and if an escorted tour is not what works, we ‘sell the world.’ Let us help you plan that trip of a lifetime, and remember we, as Globus, Cosmos, Monograms and Avalon, are teaming up to provide the perfect vacation with lasting memories!

Ready to schedule your escorted tour?

Drop us a line today to book your trip!

Cuba

Endless Travel Blog

Viva Cuba!

--by Susan Hammond

Cuba, the largest island in the Caribbean, and located just 90 miles south of Miami, has much to offer for those seeking a world of contrasts and authentic experiences. I had the opportunity this past November to fulfill a personal dream, and escorted a group of 12 clients to three Cuban cities (Havana, Varadero and Vinales) on a 9-day, fully escorted, people-to-people experience offered through Cosmos Tours. It was amazing to actually take a step back in time, allowing us to observe the allure and unique lifestyle of the Cuban people.

Cuban law, while relaxed some for American tourists, still places strict limitations on what we can do when traveling to Cuba, requiring cultural exchange activities for many travelers. The travel restrictions and U.S. embargo, which still remains in effect, means travel to Cuba is not easily planned on a whim.

cuba capitolUpon arrival, I was overwhelmed by the beauty of the architecture, the delicious cuisine and my warm welcome from the people. I quickly learned that the Cuban people I interacted with were very inviting and friendly in their responses to questions from our group about their country.

Upon landing in Havana from Miami on a charter flight, we were picked up by our 33- year-old Cuban Tour Director, Limon. As we headed east, we drove through picturesque countryside to a beach destination called Varadero, which is a hotspot for tourism because of the beautiful Cuban beaches. We kept busy that day visiting a local artisan shop called Taller de Ceramica Aristica and enjoyed a pottery demonstration by the owner and, of course, shopping opportunities.

We next traveled to a nearby city called Matanzas, known as the Athens of Cuba for the many renowned artists and intellectuals it has produced. One of the most fascinating stops that we made was at a print and binding shop called Ediciones Vigia. This independent publishing collective began making homemade books in 1985. They are truly creating books that are not only of literary value, but also unique works of art. Each book published is beautiful to behold, fit to be displayed, and work to be treasured.

cuban manThe anticipation of traveling back to Havana was high as we prepared ourselves for a walking tour of Old Havana. Cosmos Tours arranged for a local architect to give us a lesson about the history written in the stones of the 400-year-old streets and colonial buildings. The Havana UNESCO World Heritage Site centers on three historic plazas, each distinct with a church, slave market, and fort. Among the bustle of people, we witnessed one of the most confounding paradoxes of Cuba. Gaily dressed peasant women and old men with fedoras and big cigars posed for photos for a dollar each. They easily made $10 a day, $300 a month. Yet the average government salary is $20 per month. The Cuban people are definitely very resourceful.

While in Havana, we visited a daycare center filled with 50 two-year-olds. Caring nuns and their helpers run this center. Only mothers who are willing to go back to work are allowed to put their child in this free childcare program. The children delighted us with a few songs, and we then returned the favor by singing “Old McDonald” and “The Itsy Bitsy Spider.” This exchange was heartwarming and definitely a highlight of our day.

Next, we were off to visit Ernest Hemingway’s home where he lived for over 30 years, and penned some of his most favorite novels. We saw tombstones where he buried four of his beloved dogs—Black, Negrita, Linda and Neron. It was also fascinating to see his fishing boat, El Pinar, which was used to patrol for German U-boats during WWII.

Next, we were off to visit Ernest Hemingway's home...

As we wrapped up our 9-day tour, we traveled to the western end of the island to the lush province of Pinar del Rio. On the way, we visited a local primary school and interacted with fourth-graders working on math problems. Since this is a state owned school, we were not allowed to donate money to the school, however school supplies were much appreciated. As the children introduced themselves, they told us what they wanted to be “when they grow up.” We heard the typical professions such as police officer and school teacher. But one young man said he wanted to be a driver, and his buddy sitting next to him boasted that he was going to be a mechanic. These two professions in Cuba are very important to this nation due to the vast number of vintage cars throughout the country.

As we checked into our pre-assigned bed and breakfasts in the small town of Vinales, we had the wonderful opportunity to interact with host families and continue immersing ourselves in the local Cuban culture. From the feedback I received from my clients, this part of the tour was one of the highlights of the overall trip. My husband and I stayed in a home where the host was an English teacher. He enjoyed educating us on the everyday challenges of his community, and demonstrated excitement towards the American tourist and what we bring to their country.

A thrill for the men in our group was a visit to a tobacco farm and the opportunity to puff on much coveted cigars while watching the proprietor roll these Cuban novelties. Also, we toured an organic farm where we chatted with the staff and were treated with a delicious farm-to-table lunch.

cuban carCar enthusiasts in our group were totally surprised to see the large number of vintage cars throughout the country. The streets of Havana are congested with Soviet-era trucks, boxy Chinese cars, horse-drawn wagons, and chrome-gilded Buicks and Chevrolets. For those who love history, we explored the different facets of the historic relationship between the U.S. and Cuba. Also, Cuba is an expert and amateur photographer’s dream by offering opportunities to capture life unfolding naturally for the locals.

In my opinion, Cuba has something for everyone who is willing to remain flexible and “go with the flow.” As a travel consultant, I am often asked, “What is your favorite destination?” Until now, I always struggled with this question since I have had many favorite experiences. Now, without any hesitation, I can confidently say that our Cosmos Cuba People-To-People Tour was a trip that I will never forget. In fact, I am planning to go back in a year or two to explore the eastern side of the island including Trinidad, Bay of Pigs, and King Ranch.

Ready to visit Cuba?

Drop us a line today to book your trip!

Belize

Endless Travel Blog

The Unspoiled Paradise of Belize

--by Susan Hammond

I had the opportunity just a few months ago to participate in a guided tour with National Geographic by G Adventures to the country of Belize, allowing our small group of travel professionals to discover and connect with the wonderful local people in a way that was truly meaningful. This adventure took us deep into the Belizean culture, offering a greater hands-on exploration, interactions with local experts and the freedom to roam, all within the structure and security of travelling in this intimate group. This authentic nine-day experience consisted of exploring the Mayan ruins, a visit to a hot sauce factory and excursions to small local villages to get up close and personal with island life.

Formerly known as British Guatemala, Belize is a country on the eastern coast of Central America. It is the only country in Central America whose official language is English, though Belizean Creole and Spanish are also commonly spoken. Belize is bordered on the north by Mexico, on the south and west by Guatemala and on the east by the Caribbean Sea. Since this small and diverse country is approximately the size of Massachusetts, we were able to explore a lot of it during my very first visit. What I truly love about Belize is that in just over a week, we spent time in the lush jungle of the west on the Guatemalan border, ending our journey with beach time on Caye Caulker, which is truly a tropical paradise on the Caribbean Sea.

After arriving in Belize City, our group was transported about 20 minutes from the airport to the centrally located Burrell Boom Village, which is right on the Belize Old River. We stayed in a charming jungle resort offering comfort and convenience in an exotic, tropical rainforest setting.

Our first day consisted of a full-day excursion to the Lamanai Ruins, a renowned Mayan ceremonial site consisting of over 800 structures surrounded by lush jungle. Lamanai (“Submerged Crocodile,” in Mayan) was occupied as early as 1500 B.C.

First of all, getting to Lamanai was half the fun! The short van ride led us across rivers and vast expanses of land, providing us with a true Belizean country tour. We arrived at the Tower Hill Bridge where we boarded a motorboat for a spectacular ride upriver, continuing our journey to Lamanai. The boat tour was by far the highlight (except for the Lamanai Ruins, of course, but we had to flip a coin...) of the full-day excursion. The ride was a wonderful opportunity for wildlife spotting, as well as spotting many tropical birds and spider monkeys. We even saw a couple of freshwater crocodiles floating near the river’s edge.

These caves, called ‘Xibalba,’ meaning ‘Mayan hell,’ are fascinating underground worlds.

As we continued on our journey to the western side of Belize to the city of San Ignacio, we stopped along the way to cave tube (which is an activity very specific to Belize). First, we walked approximately 30 minutes through the jungle alongside the river carrying our inner tubes (yes, we had our mosquito repellant close at hand), then happily launched the tubes in the welcomed cool water passing through dark caves and their wonderful cavities that we discovered thanks to our headlamps. These caves, called “Xibalba,” meaning “Mayan hell,” are fascinating underground worlds. In my opinion, cave tubing is a not-to-be-missed activity in Belize that you have to add to your bucket list!

After completing our drive to San Igancio and checking into our rainforest hotel on the outskirts of the city, we enjoyed a couple of free days to individually choose how we wanted to explore the surrounding countryside and attractions. Most of us chose to cross the border into Guatemala (which was an experience in itself) to visit Tikal National Park, which is the largest excavated site on the American continent, containing some of the most fascinating archeological remains of the ancient Mayan civilization. On the way back from this all-day tour, we stopped for a late lunch in northern Guatemala at a local restaurant right on Lake Peten, which is the second largest lake in Guatemala. A dip in this lake was very refreshing, plus the local cuisine was outstanding!

The second day in western Belize consisted of some of the youngsters in the group participating in a cave excursion to Belmopan, Belize’s Crystal Cave. Since I am not a millennial anymore, and spelunking is not my idea of a good time, some of us chose to go to Chaa Creek Lodge (a wildly civilized luxury resort) for the day to explore the Blue Morpho Butterfly farm, where we observed the “Belizean Blue” during every stage of their life cycle. Of course, while we were at the beautiful Chaa Creek lodge for the day, a site inspection was in order after our delicious jungle cuisine. This lodge is very proud that they were chosen to host Prince Harry a few years ago when he visited Belize as part of a Diamond Jubilee tour representing Queen Elizabeth. I came home telling my husband that I could live at Chaa Creek forever, and of course he reminded me that I still have two boys in college, so now is not a good time. Plus, he knows that I would miss the Rocky Mountains and having four seasons, so I was instantly jerked back into reality.

Leaving western Belize and travelling along the Hummingbird Highway, we headed toward the small Garifuna fishing village of Hopkins about three hours by road, south of Belize City. On the way, we stopped at the Hot Mama’s hot sauce factory, which is a true institution in Belize. This tour was a can’t-miss for anyone looking for a genuine taste of Central America. We toured the factory before indulging in some spicy flavors, and of course brought plenty home to enjoy ourselves and give as gifts.

Arriving into Hopkins later that day allowed time to explore the fascinating Garifuna culture. The Afro-Caribbean Garifuna people originated with the arrival of West African slaves who washed ashore on the Caribbean island of St. Vincent around 1635, while likely on their way to New World mines and plantations. We had a delicious dinner at the Sandy Beach woman’s co-op. They served a dish called hudut (a creamy fish stew served with mashed plantain and distinctive local flair). After dinner, we had fun taking a drum lesson and enjoyed a demonstration by these amazing local artists.

belize hammocksUpon leaving Hopkins, we drove back to Belize City and then took a short ferry ride over to Caye Caulker. This small laid-back island, consisting of 1,000 or so residents, displays the ‘no shirt, no shoes, no problem’ attitude throughout the island. The only traffic sign instructs golf carts and bicycles to “go slow,” a directive that is taken seriously. The island is an ideal base for snorkeling and diving adventures at the nearby reef. The northern part of the island—a tempting destination for kayakers—is mostly mangroves, which are home to an amazing variety of birdlife. Other than that, all visitors should be sure to schedule in plenty of time for swinging on a hammock and enjoying the breeze (which is indeed a legitimate activity on Caye Caulker).

In conclusion, my first journey to Belize allowed me to step away from my daily routine to a special place in the sun. I also got to experience some soul-recharging beach time, but with added cultural experiences that gave me a look at what life is like living in Belize. So if you enjoy photographing wildlife, hiking in the jungle or just exploring one of the longest barrier reefs in the Western Hemisphere, Belize has got it all!

Ready to visit Belize?

Drop us a line today to book your trip!

Guatemala – Land of Eternal Spring

By Alison Barnes

This past January, I had the opportunity to travel to the beautiful country of Guatemala in Central America. Why Guatemala? First, a little history… In Summer 2018, I was in Cabo San Lucas researching hotels and met a fellow travel advisor from Guatemala. The pictures, stories and enthusiasm he shared about his country were contagious and I was determined to visit and experience Guatemala firsthand. Fast-forward to January 2019, and a colleague and I were on our way to Guatemala, also known as the Land of Eternal Spring.

We spent our first night at the AC Hotel by Marriott in the city. We had a gorgeous view of the bustling city from our ultra modern room. The next morning, we left early to avoid traffic and started our tour of the countryside. On our way, we stopped for a traditional Guatemalan breakfast of cheese-stuffed tortillas, beans and fried plantains along with a steaming cup of sipping chocolate.

Our first stop was the small village of Chichicastenango (ChiChi) for shopping in the local market. It was mid-morning and already bustling with residents and a few tourists. Everything you could imagine was on display in blocks and blocks of booths manned by entire families selling their handmade and homegrown goods. The colors and weaves of the clothing differed depending on the village they were from. Vibrant reds, pinks, blues and even black mixed with all of the colors of fruits, veggies and spices made for a fantastic sensory display! Negotiating is encouraged when purchasing, but we did not feel any pressure to buy.

After a refreshing cup of papaya, mango and pineapple, we continued through local villages until we arrived at Lake Atitlan, one of the crown jewels of Guatemala. It is

Guatemalan Market

the largest lake in Central America in a volcanic valley basin. The lake is surrounded by small villages, each with its own culture and traditions, with Mayan and Spanish influences. There is no road connecting villages around the lake, but you can take water taxis to each one for a unique experience. We stayed at the lakefront Hotel Posada Don Rodrigo in Panajachel (Pana) where the afternoon was spent in a hammock with a drink and a snack. That evening, we listened to the waves lapping at the shore while watching the sunset. Ready for more adventure, the next day we ventured onto the lake in kayaks. Once on the lake, we felt the true enormity of the landscape; surrounded on three sides by towering, extinct volcanoes and green, terraced-farmed mountains opposite. Just like the village before, Pana was filled with the warm, friendly faces of the Guatemalan people. In addition, and true to its claim of the Land of Eternal Spring, the weather was gorgeous—cool in the morning and evening with a nice warm-up during the day. The majority of the restaurants were open air and the food is full of flavor, yet not spicy. A daily afternoon coffee and dessert kept us going for a later dinner at a taco stand along the main street.

The next morning, we said goodbye to Pana and arrived in Antigua, one of the more popular tourist destinations. Antigua qualifies as a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) city by the World Heritage Convention (WHO) for its cultural, economic, religious, political and educational influences in Guatemala. As a UNESCO city, Antigua is full of a variety of museums, activities, tours, restaurants, markets and experiences.

We checked into our hotel, Hotel Camino Real. The interior reveals beautiful, lush courtyards with fountains, flowers and luxury accommodations. However, sunsets in Antigua are an event not to be missed. The first part of the evening was spent at Cerro San Cristobal (with coffee and dessert, of course) watching the sun set behind one of Guatemala’s active volcanoes, Fuego. During our time in Antigua, we actually heard Fuego “talking” a bit with small booms and puffs of smoke—quite a unique sound for someone from the Rocky Mountains!

 

Guatemalan Countryside
Guatemalan Countryside

The following day, we took advantage of the cultural offerings of Santo Domingo del Cerro Museum and Sculpture Garden. What a gem! We enjoyed the peaceful displays both inside and out. They also had an exhibit of influential Guatemalan artists through the country’s history including the artist who designed and decorated many of the government buildings we saw in Guatemala City. We had lunch at the museum’s restaurant, El Tenedor del Cerro, that included a lovely view of Antigua’s hillsides. Another highlight of Antigua was a visit to Filadelfia Coffee Resort  &  Tours.   The  tour was informative and included a tasting of freshly dried, roasted and brewed coffee. Our guide was extremely knowledgeable and explained how the volcanic soil lends to a unique flavor of the coffee in Guatemala. I think they may have created a coffee aficionado!

After Antigua, it was back to Guatemala City for a night on the town with dinner and dancing! After seeing the Mayan and Spanish influences in the country and so much history in Antigua, it was wonderful to see the connection in the city. Guatemala’s history, people and landscape now hold a permanent place in my heart, and I am anxious to return. Next up—the Mayan Ruins of Tikal, Guatemala. Who’s with me?! Call Endless Travel to book your experience to Guatemala or any of your travel needs!

Antigua Sunset

 

 

Cinque Terre, The Five Lands

The area known in Cinque Terre, a series of five villages along the Italian Riviera northwest of Florence, is mentioned in documents dating as far back as the 11th century.  Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, Riomaggiore and the coastline connecting them make up the Cinque Terre National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Limoni
The little path that winds down
along the slope plunges through cane-tufts
and opens suddenly into the orchard
among the moss-green trunks
of the lemon trees.
— Nobel Laureate in Literature, Eugenio Montale, 1921

While Montale originally trekked to the village on foot, these days there is a train from La Spezia that will take you to any of the five villages within a half an hour. Even if you have a car, it is recommended that you park in La Spezia and take the train the rest of the way, as the mountain roads are often only one lane, and the main road stops about a kilometer from Vernazza. Walking the historic trails, however, is something not to be skipped. The walking (and biking) paths spider web across the area, connecting the villages and surrounding sights.  Plan for a multiple day visit to give yourself enough time to walk through the vineyards and olive orchards, to trek between villages, and just to explore.

While many of the trails are perfect for a short walk, for some of the village to village paths, plan on bringing a picnic lunch and enjoying the view of the Mediterranean as you eat. You will need a trekking pass to access the trails during peak season, but during the off season it’s not something you need to worry about.

At the end of a long day’s scenic walk, you can enjoy one of the area’s many divine restaurants featuring such specialties as Monterosso Anchovies, Ligurian Pesto, and Farinata, a savory pancake-like snack made from chickpea flour. And, of course, the gelato made with honey from Corniglia is the perfect dessert. Once your appetite has been properly satiated, it’s simple to catch a train or shuttle back to your starting point. It’s actually a bit safer to do that than walk back as the area is populated by wild boar who like to roam the trails at night.

The predominant industry in Cinque Terre was traditionally grapes and olives, but in the 1970s, the brightly painted fishermen’s cottages perched on the terraced cliffs and hills began to be marketed as a tourist attraction, and tourism has been the primary industry since. In fact, tourism has become so important in Cinque Terre that even when there is a transport strike, at least half the trains through the area continue to run to ensure that vacations go on as planned.

With beaches, exceptional hiking trails and historic World War II bunkers, there is a little something for everyone in Cinque Terre. Endless Travel can make your trip to Italy a walk in the woods. Reach out to us today.

Literary and Popular Media References

Dante compares the rugged cliffs of Purgatory with Cinque Terre in the Divine Comedy.

In Faville del Maglio, Gabriele D’Annunzio mentions the region’s Sciachetrà white wine.

Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street shot scenes in Cinque Terre.

Pompeii and the Amalfi Coast

In 79 AD Mt. Vesuvius erupted in what may be one of the most famous disasters of all time. While eyewitness accounts of the eruption were recorded, records of the towns surrounding Vesuvius’ base, including Pompeii, were lost to history. The city lay buried in volcanic ash until 1592, but excavation wouldn’t start in earnest until 1764, and since then Pompeii and its sister town of Herculaneum have been popular tourist destinations, attracting nearly 2.6 million visitors a year by the early part of the 21st century.

The ruins of Pompeii

Even though barely a third of the excavated buildings are accessible to the public, the open sections of the city are extensive, and you may be better off hiring a guide to take you through the ruins — it’s worth every penny. You should set aside at LEAST a whole day to explore Pompeii to get a solid understanding of the city and its history.

There is a weighty seriousness as you walk around the arena and cemetery… the people who lived here fled in terror nearly two thousand years ago, and some of those who didn’t escape have been preserved as plaster casts which are viewable near the public entrance. But their homes and their art have been left behind for us to explore. Frescos, mosaics, and beautifully carved fountains are around every corner. And every one of those fountains is carved differently as they served as street signs as well as meeting point designators. Finally, at the end of the day, when your feet are tired and your brain is full, stop and enjoy the mystical sunset.

If time permits, spend a second day exploring the city of Herculaneum. Unlike Pompeii, the ash and lava that encased Herculaneum carbonized, preserving wood and other organic materials such as beds, food, and skeletons.  Herculaneum’s library was found to contain over 1800 carbonized scrolls, which are slowly being unrolled and deciphered digitally thanks to modern technology that allows us to differentiate between ink and carbonized papyrus.

When your historic explorations are done, it’s time to hop in a car and head south towards Sorrento. Sitting on the southern shore of the Bay of Naples, Sorrento is one of the most notable tourist destinations in Italy.  Visited by such venerable figures as Charles Dickens, Lord Byron, Goethe, Henrik Ibsen, Keats and Walter Scott, it is a popular tourist spot for many reasons. First and foremost, the views from Sorrento and the surrounding area are beyond picturesque. The city itself may be one of the most photogenic spots in all of Europe. With small shops, museums, and the 14th century Cathedral of Sorrento, it is a picturesque stop on your way towards the Amalfi Coast.

The part of the Mediterranean Sea surrounded by Italy, Corsica, Sardinia and Sicily is more commonly known as the Tyrrhenian Sea. Jutting out from the ankle of Italy’s boot, on the southern coast of the Sorrentine Peninsula, is the Amalfi Coast. As you drive through the mountains and along the shore, you may recognize some of the vistas as the island of Themyscira from 2017’s Wonder Woman. Stopping in Positano for gelato, you’ll find yourself in the middle of some of the filming locations from Under the Tuscan Sun. And if you are a fan of Fellini, you may recognize shots from his movie Roma while you make your way back towards mainland Italy.

Rich with history and breathtaking vistas, the area around the Gulf of Naples could occupy a significant part of any Italian adventure. Let Endless Travel help you plan your trip so you get the most out of your time under the Salerno sun.


Literary References:
John Webster’s tragedy The Duchess of Malfi.
John Steinbeck’s short story Positano.
William James’ Finding Positano, A Love Story.
You can also find several works by M.C. Escher featuring the Amalfi Coast.

The Yukon: Larger than Life

By Susan Hammond

Last month, I was invited by Anderson Vacations and Yukon’s Department of Tourism and Culture to experience the spectacular and truly unique place they call home: Canada’s Yukon. With pristine landscapes, abundant wildlife, a rich cultural heritage and outstanding services, I quickly found out that the Yukon has something for absolutely every kind of traveler—even in the winter.

So, off I went with six other travel advisors (I was the only American) and our hosts to Whitehorse, Yukon (the territory’s capital) to hunt the dancing aurora, snowmobile through the woods, experience a dogsled “limo” and try to ice fish for the first time. Working in the travel industry for most of my adult life, I really thought I was pretty good in geography, however since I have never been to Northern Canada, I really didn’t know exactly where Whitehorse was located in North America. After spending my first night in Vancouver, we all took an approximate 2-hour nonstop flight the next morning on Air North, which is the Yukon’s airline, headquartered in Whitehorse. Now I know that this small city of approximately 28,000 in population is a couple hours north of British Colombia and a 2.5 hour drive northeast of Skagway traveling along the Klondike Highway.

After visiting Air North’s headquarters and their brand-new hanger near the Whitehorse airport, we checked into our hotel for the next five nights, anxiously awaiting the adventures ahead. Well, I would like to let you in on a little secret—the Yukon gets even more intriguing in winter. Almost 80 percent of the Yukon is pristine wilderness. That’s over 350,000 square kilometers (218,000 square miles) of mountain vistas, boreal forests, wild rivers and crystal clear lakes. And since there are 10 times more moose, bears, wolves, caribou, goats and sheep than people, there’s the possibility of seeing wildlife around every bend. We actually saw a lynx quickly creeping across a frozen lake our first day out. I can now say the Yukon compares to Alaska—without all the people and it’s more laid back with less tourists.

The Yukon River winds through Whitehorse, which is nestled in a broad, forested valley, with mountains flanking either side. The Yukon’s capital city is steeped in culture and history, with wonderful restaurants, vibrant arts community, world class attractions and top-notch tourist services. I found all the amenities of a large city with an endearing small-town personality. Whitehorse doesn’t come without its characters though. As we took a quick city tour, we stopped at the 98 Hotel Breakfast Club at 10 am one morn-ing to visit with some of the local characters. This bar is home to the famed breakfast club, a badge of honor worn by morning drinkers; he establishment opens at 9 am and closes at 11 pm. There’s an air of mystery around the place.

“People will either tell you to avoid the 98 like the plague, or make a point of going for an authentic Yukon experience,” says General Manager Angel S. “We’ve got the most colorful people in town. There’s nothing fake in this place.” I personally love this experience!

Our first day started around 8:30 am with a hearty breakfast as we prepared to drive about 45 minutes south of Whitehorse to an area called Carcross in the Southern Lakes region. The vilage of Carcross is home to the Carcross/Tagish First Nation. It boasts incred-ible scenery, cross-country ski and snowshoe trails and a variety of visitor’s services. Some of the Yukon’s oldest buildings dating back to the days of 1898 are located in this community. The year 1898 is significant in the Yukon because that is the year that the Klondike Gold Rush was coming to an end. Carcross got its name years ago since it was a major migration crossing for woodland caribou prior to the gold rush. It’s easy to feel the draw to Carcross because the compelling First Nation culture invites you to experience their heritage. We had the opportunity to stand in the presence of totem poles master carver—Keith Wolfe Smarch, as we were invited inside a carving shed to watch and learn the significance of his artwork’s shapes and colors. I quickly learned that wherever you travel in this territory, Yukon First Nation’s history and culture is part of what makes the Yukon the special place it is.

Upon sunrise (around 10 am) the next morning, we headed over to the start of the 36th annual Yukon Quest. This event is a dogsled race from Whitehorse to Fairbanks, Alaska. For the last 36 years, dog teams have answered the call to endure 1,000 miles of rugged terrain across the heart of Alaska and the Yukon. The Yukon Quest poses challenges that no other race on Earth can boast. Extremely cold temperatures are guaranteed, and long distances up to 200 miles between checkpoints means a musher and dog team must be mentally and physically prepared for the worst Mother Nature can dish out. As we all were waiting for the race to start, the temperatures were hovering around -33 degrees Fahrenheit. Fortunately, our hosts provided us all cold weather gear to keep us warm in the extreme

dogsledding3
Carcross Visitor Center

temperatures, however my heart went out to the dogs that were so eager to take off and run! This year, they had 31 teams that took on this challenge, representing six different countries. The race takes preparation, knowledge, skill and strategy just to finish and was a once in a lifetime experience for all seven travel advisors that attended this event for the first time!

After watching most of the teams head out on their journey, we were taken to the Lumel Studio in downtown Whitehorse for some hands-on glassblowing. Upon entering the warm studio, we each were allowed to select a piece we wanted to make and take home. I chose to make a small bowl with assistance from one of the apprentices of the studio: Angus. Angus was very patient as I selected the colors of my personal piece and success-fully made a bowl that is actually round and sits level on my desk holding candy for my clients’ enjoyment.

The following days we encountered snowmobiling through the woods, ice fishing on a lake for trout, conducted site inspections at a few local hotels/inns and spent a couple evenings hunting for the northern lights. Leaving at 10:30 pm both evenings and driv-ing 30 minutes south of Whitehorse to get away from the small city’s lights, we came upon three very comfortable and warm yurts and two teepees with bonfires roaring inside. These outer buildings offered hot chocolate, tea and s’mores fixings while we waited for the weather to gift us with this other light source. Unfortunately, we did not get a break in the clouds either of those nights, however we loved the hospitality from our hosts and Aurorae guides.

As I look back at my short journey in Northern Canada, I am already thinking about taking my family back in the summer for some hiking, canoeing down the Yukon River, attending one of the many festivals offered each season and enjoying the midnight sun. The creative spirit is strong in the North, and any of our professional advisors at Endless Travel can assist you experience this territory’s wildness, beauty and contradictions.

The Albanian Riviera

In southern Albania, sandwiched between the Ionian Sea and hills of olive groves, the town of Sarandë (pronounced and sometimes spelled Sa-ran-da) sits on a horseshoe-shaped bay, edged by beaches and a promenade, the Bulevardi Hasan Tahasini.  While Albania may not be the first place you would think of for a luxurious vacation, Sarandë’s friendly residents and phenomenal local cuisine (fresh off the fishing boats) makes the town a relaxing and inexpensive place to spend your holiday.

Facing west, towards the Mediterranean, Sarandë’s geography lends itself to spectacular sunsets. The climate is warm enough that Mandarin orange trees line the streets, providing a quick snack as you explore the plentiful bakeries, butchers and fruit stands.  While English isn’t always spoken by the locals, they are all exceptionally welcoming, and always happy to have visitors.

Sarandë comes from the name of the Byzantine monastery of the Agioi Saranda (Άγιοι Σαράντα), meaning “Forty Saints” in honor of the Forty Martyrs of Sebaste. The monastery dates back to the 6th century AD, and it is thought to have been an important regional pilgrimage site. The second floor of the monastery was destroyed during World War II’s Allied bombings.  While the monastery today is in a state of ruin, it is worth a visit, not just for its historic importance, but for the panoramic views of the town.

Nestled at the top of the hill about a 50-minute walk (or short taxi ride) from Sarandë is Lëkurësi Castle. The castle’s ruins feature imposing round towers and sweeping views, and it has been expanded with a spacious eatery. The views overlooking Sarandë and the farmland nearby, are stunning and well worth the trip. Built in 1537 by Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent, Lëkurësi Castle was constructed to protect the town from invaders approaching the coastline by boat.

Albania was an isolated country post World War II, and didn’t open her arms to tourists until the fall of communism in the 1990s. The country had distanced itself from neighboring nations and other communist countries, and even now you can see remnants of the communist era in the form of numerous pillbox military bunkers along the roads leading to places like The National Park of Blue Eye (Syri Kalter) with its 18 natural springs or the ruins at the Butrint UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Since its liberation from the restrictions of a communist government, Sarandë has become a popular tourist destination among Albanians and visitors from around the world, with its population swelling to over 300,000 people during the summer months.  However, in the offseason, the town settles down into a peaceful village perfect for your extended, quiet getaway. Just a short ferry ride to Croatia or Greece, Albania is an ideal base as you explore the Ionian Sea region.

Related Reading: Bury Me Standing: The Gypsies and Their Journey (1995) by the American-Uruguayan writer Isabel Fonseca.

 Blog post was written by and images copyright AlphaPixel Reach