HSMAI 2018 Adrian Awards Honor State-of-Art Travel Marketing Techniques that Get Back to People-to-People Basics

‘Best of Show’ winners of the HSMAI 2018 Adrian Awards © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

The HSMAI Adrians are the CLIO awards of the hospitality, travel and tourism industry – the nation’s third largest industry which people don’t readily recognize as being so integral to everyday life, so fundamental to local economies and communities. But these are the advertising, public relations and digital marketing campaigns that excite, engage, inform and ultimately spur millions of us to venture out and experience new places, people and activities. Travel bolsters local, state and national economies, creates an economic underpinning for communities that sustains heritage, culture and the environment, while travelers are themselves enriched, often with life-enhancing, life-changing experiences; travelers become ambassadors, opening lines of communication and understanding between people that break down the barriers that promote conflict, in effect, winning the battle for “hearts and minds.”. And going back to the age of Marco Polo, travelers help the free exchange and spread of ideas and innovations that foster progress.

Brand USA, the public-private destination marketing organization for the United States, won an Adrian Platinum Award for public relations for its “Travel Transcends Politics” campaign to reset the narrative around travel to USA from abroad: (“Brand USA Faces Extinction Under Trump’s Proposed Budget; The USA Would Never Be the Same” “The Trump Slump: German tourists avoid US as travel destination”). “Welcome to the USA” generated 2 billion media impressions and $276 million in earned media. © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Hospitality Sales and Marketing Association International (HSMAI) hosted its 62nd  annual Adrian Awards Dinner Reception and Gala at the New York Marriott Marquis, celebrating innovators in hospitality advertising, digital marketing, and public relations before more than 850 industry professionals.

It’s so interesting at these annual Adrian Awards galas to see how far and how fast hospitality, travel and tourism marketing has come. But it is important to note that the travel industry essentially birthed e-commerce – only then it was called “e-ticketing” and started with giving travelers the ability to book their own airline tickets online.

So much has happened in the past 30 years that few remember how not that long ago, an air traveler book and pick up a physical ticket at a travel agency or airline city ticket office. Since then, the travel and tourism industry has been on the leading age of yield management, CRM (Customer Relationship Marketing) that gave us the loyalty programs, which gave us the data mining and micro-targeting and dynamic pricing.

Now the challenge is to get through all the clutter, to inform, inspire, captivate, and finally transform a consumer into a traveler, a guest, a passenger, a visitor.

Now, as Gopi Kallayil, Google’s Chief Evangelist of Brand Marketing, told the HSMAI Digital Marketing Conference the next day, the ability to search real-time databases of all sorts of travel components, putting all this power, knowledge in desktops, on smartphones literally in one’s hand. has created new expectations. The goal, he said, isn’t even three seconds to load a site and six clicks to book, but zero clicks by a program that virtually reads your mind.

Each year, the creativity and the technology leaps forward. (Imagine writing emails on your shower stall (Marriott International’s “Splash of Brilliance”). But what is so interesting now, is how it is all in the service of getting back to the basics of what travel and hospitality is all about: face-to-face encounters, personal experience. The award-winning advertising, public relations, digital marketing and sales campaigns are those that are “authentic”, “personal,” that forge “connections”. Winning campaigns this year celebrated the Golden Rule of kindness and respect, “unplugging” and “connecting”, “upcycling” discarded bedsheets into pajamas for needy children.

Fran Brasseux, Executive VP, HSMAI and Executive Director of HSMAI Foundation, and Agnelo Fernandes, Chief Strategy Officer and Executive VP Revenue of Terranea Resort present the first Adrian Corporate Social Responsibility Awards © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Indeed, one of the new categories introduced to the HSMAI Adrian Awards this year was for Corporate Social Responsibility – in essence modeling values for travel and tourism at a time when overtourism (spurred in part by social media) is an emerging concern and there is much more consciousness raised about both the benefits of tourism to preserve and protect ecology and heritage, as well as the risks that overuse can destroy the very thing people come to experience. Here again, the hospitality and travel industry can model techniques and solutions that individuals can bring back to their own homes and communities.

The first Leader in Corporate Social Responsibility Awards were presented to four recipients: 

Aqua-Aston Hospitality: “Reef Safe” Campaign that turned the tide against coral bleaching in Hawaii caused by a chemical in many sunscreens with both a consumer awareness campaign (including giving out 70,000 samples of appropriate sunscreen) and achieving a state ban on the use of sunscreens with the damaging chemical

Hersha Hospitality: EarthView Program, which partnered with Clean the World and Cornell School of Hospitality, to institute environmental and conservation initiatives system wide, the first REIT and management program to establish institutional sustainability program

Hilton Hotels and Resorts: “Travel with Purpose – Where Responsibility and Hospitality Meet” Campaign – a campaign to reduce carbon emissions system wide.

Micato Safari: “AmericaShare” Campaign, where a portion of guest fees goes to subsidize a child’s education,  and promoting wildlife conservation

The second new Award, Facebook Mobile Video Award, also reflected the changing media landscape, and was presented by Colleen Coulter, Industry Manager, Travel for Facebook  to Sheraton for its Halo campaign.

More than 850 industry professionals gathered at the New York Marriott Marquis to celebrate the standout campaigns of the past year and the creative individuals behind them.

“We received a lot of impressive entries this year, but tonight’s winners are truly the crème de la crème,” said Robert A. Gilbert, CHME, CHA, president and CEO of HSMAI. “Adrian Award-winning campaigns incorporate strong elements of originality, embrace technology, and also generate real measurable results for their brands.”

Established in 1956, the Adrian Awards recognize marketing achievements in hospitality across multiple segments of the industry. Award winners are selected by senior industry and media experts from nearly 1,200 entries, for entry divisions: advertising, digital marketing, public relations, and integrated marketing. Gold Award winners across these categories were recognized during the Adrian Awards Dinner Reception, which was co-sponsored by HSMAI, Google, and TravelClick. Platinum winners were selected from outstanding Gold Award winners.

Best of Show Awards, the pinnacle of the evening, were presented to Platinum Award winners from three divisions—digital marketing, public relations, and advertising:

Digital Marketing “Best of Show” – AccorHotels: Seeker Campaign

Public Relations “Best of Show” – Westin Hotels & Resorts and its agency, MFA, a Finn Partners Company: Westin Launches CSR Program to Upcycle Hotel Bed Linens, Transforming Them into Children’s Pajamas

(Tie) Advertising “Best of Show” Marriott International and its agency, mcgarrybowen: Golden Rule Campaign (Courtyard, Fairfield, Four Points & SpringHill Suites)

(Tie) Advertising “Best of Show” – Explore St. Louis: Sterling K. Brown Advertising Series

(Tie) Advertising “Best of Show” – Marriott International: Marriott Hotels and HK7s Innovation in Advertising Campaign

Digital Marketing Platinum Winners: 
Company; Agency

AccorHotels for the Seeker Campaign, Le Club AccorHotels (“Discover Where Your Heart Wants to Go Next,” using biometrics; the campaign generated 100 million media impressions and 125:1 ROI)

Bermuda Tourism Authority; Miles for Bermuda Google Streetview (generated 3.5 million street views; expanded street view coverage of the island four times)

Best Western Hotels & Resorts; Ideas Collide for Best Western’s YouTube Director Mix Campaign (No need to throw a Hail Mary, plan your summer trip today! Two-step your way out of town for a trip; the campaign generated 29 million impressions)

Curio Collection by Hilton; I.D.E.A. for “The Curiosity Gene Campaign” (Do you have the curiosity gene? It received 6.9 million impressions, 1 million engagements, 320% increase in Instagram engagements)

Margaritaville Resort Orlando; Concept Farm for The Integrated Consumer Digital Campaign (generated 12,000 ownership leads, 225 closed contracts, 20,000 rental leads).

Marriott Rewards for Dynamic Ads for Moments (“Blast off at Kennedy Space Center, Titusville, FL)

Newfoundland and Labrador Tourism; Target for “The IcebergFinder.com Campaign” (The campaign drew 33K Facebook engagements, 466K website interactions, 5K referrals)

VISIT PHILADELPHIA and the Pennsylvania Convention Center Authority for Retargeting Marketing (generated 1,265 overnight hotel stays)

Public Relations Platinum Winners:
Company; Agency

Beverly Wilshire, a Four Seasons Hotel; C&R, for “Urban Glamping at the Beverly Wilshire” story

Brand USA for “Travel Transcends Politics” to reset the narrative around travel to USA from abroad: (“Brand USA Faces Extinction Under Trump’s Proposed Budget; The USA Would Never Be the Same” “the Trump Slump: German tourists avoid US as travel destination”) “Welcome to the USA” generated 2 billion media impressions; $276 million in earned media

Major Food Group; NJF, an MMGY Global Company, for CBS This Morning segment

Marriott International for “Splash of Brilliance”

Marriott International for “W Hotels’ Experience At Coachella” (Marriott X Coachella: Elevating the Festival Experience)

Murphy Arts District; NJF, an MMGY Global Company for a campaign to create a new destination, “El Dorado, Arkansas, the Comeback Kid of the South, Murphy Arts District”

The Plaza, a Fairmont Managed Hotel, for “Home Alone 2: 25th Anniversary”

Royal Caribbean International; Weber Shandwick for “A Perfect Night to Introduce a Perfect Day”

Westin Hotels & Resorts; MFA, a Finn Partners Company for “Westin Launches CSR Program to Upcycle Hotel Bed Linens, Transforming Them into Children’s Pajamas” (223 million media impressions)

Advertising Platinum Winners: 
Company; Agency 

Rob Torres, Managing Director, Travel, Google, and Michelle Woodley, President Preferred Hotels and Resorts, present an unprecedented three-way tie for “Best of Show” for Advertising.
© Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Aruba Tourism Authority; Concept Farm for “The Authentic Aruba Local Stories Campaign” (which resulted in 13% increase in US visits, 10 M social media impressions, 1M video views)

Explore St. Louis for “The Sterling K. Brown Advertising Series” (which generated 200K visits, 4.5 million impressions, 140K Youtube views)

Hilton Garden Inn; GSD&M for “Simply on Another Level Video” (which generated 30% increase in campaign recognition, and 3.85 billion media impressions).

Marriott International; mcgarrybowen for “The Golden Rule Campaign

Marriott International for Marriott Hotels and HK7’s Innovation in Advertising (1.4 million views on facebook, )

Wyndham Hotels & Resorts for “Reconnected: A Wyndham Grand Family Experience” (which generated 2.9 million social media impressions, and reached 1.8 billion viewers)

Integrated Marketing Campaign Platinum Winner:
Company; Agency

Tourism Australia for its Dundee Tourism Campaign for Australia, “There’s Nothing Like Australia” (14,000 PR mentions, 102 million video views, 305,000 campaign leads; 50% lift in destination desirability)

Gold Award winners’ submissions – selected from close to 1,200 entries – were showcased on digital displays at the Adrian Awards Dinner Reception and featured during the Gala stage presentations. The largest group of winners in the Award’s history, they included 104 awards in Public Relations, 25 in Integrated Marketing, 89 in Digital Marketing and 48 in Advertising. They were selected by some 200 judges who are prominent members of the travel industry and subject-matter experts in advertising, digital marketing, media, and public relations.( View the complete list of Gold Award winners on the Adrian Awards website).

“The Adrian Awards winners raise the bar for the travel industry as a whole to be a place of creativity and innovation,” said Fran Brasseux, HSMAI Executive Vice President.  “The Adrian Awards are a rare opportunity to recognize the exceptional work being done in travel marketing. But just as importantly, we are also putting a well-deserved spotlight on the exceptional people behind that outstanding work.”

HSMAI Top 25 Extraordinary Minds

Selected by a panel of senior industry executives, The HSMAI Top 25: Extraordinary Minds in Hospitality Sales, Marketing, Revenue Optimization for 2018 were honored by HSMAI in a reception and also recognized on stage during the Gala.

Jennifer Andre, Senior Director, North America and Latin America, Expedia Group Media Solutions

Dustin Bomar, Head of Industry – Travel, Google

Ronald Castro, Chief Strategist, Roca Marketing

Christopher Crenshaw, CRME, Vice President, Digital Data Solutions, STR

Fred Dixon, President & CEO, NYC & Company

David Downing, President & CEO, Visit St. Pete/Clearwater

Erica Doyne, Vice President, Marketing, AMResorts

Gino Engels, Co-Founder & Chief Commercial Officer, OTA Insight

George Galinsky, Senior Vice President Marketing Communications, Mohegan Gaming and Entertainment

Darren Green, Senior Vice President, Sales, Los Angeles Tourism and Convention Board

Chad Hallert, CRME, CHDM, Vice President of Performance Marketing, Noble Studios

Allison Handy, Senior Vice President of Sales and Marketing, Prism Hotels & Resorts

Adam Hayashi, CRME, Vice President of Revenue Management, AccorHotels

Carolyn Hosna, CHDM, Senior Director, Corporate Marketing, White Lodging

Jay Hubbs, CHDM, Senior Vice President of E-Commerce and Digital Marketing, Remington Hotels

Jodi Kern, Senior Director, Digital Merchandising, Marriott International

Gil Langley, President & CEO, Amelia Island CVB

Dave Lorenz, Vice President, Travel Michigan, Michigan Economic Development Corporation

Sarah Murov, Vice President, Public Relations & Communications, Loews Hotels & Co

Leticia Proctor, Senior Vice President, Sales, Revenue Management and Digital Strategies, PM Hotel Group

Julie Scott, President, Colwen Hotels

Jim Struna, CRME, Regional Director of Revenue, Rosewood Hotel Group

Matt Teixeira, CHBA, Director of Sales, Best Western Hotels and Resorts

Theresa van Greunen, Senior Director Corporate Communications, Aqua-Aston Hospitality

Cherilyn Williams, Director, Global Portfolio Marketing, Marriott International

Lifetime Achievement Awards

Additionally, the distinguished careers of three industry leaders were celebrated with HSMAI Lifetime Achievement awards.

Steve Bartolin, Chairman of The Broadmoor, was honored with the 2018 Winthrop W. Grice Award for Public Relations.

Stephen Powell, most recently SVP Worldwide Sales for IHG prior to retirement, was the recipient of the inaugural HSMAI Award for Lifetime Achievement in Hospitality Sales.

Harris Rosen, President and CEO, Rosen Hotels & Resorts, was celebrated with the Albert E. Koehl Award for Hospitality Marketing. 

For more information about the Adrian Awards, visit www.adrianawards.com.

Founded in 1927, HSMAI is a membership organization comprising more than 5,000 members worldwide, with 40 chapters in the Americas Region. Connect with HSMAI at https://www.hsmai.orgwww.facebook.com/hsmaiwww.twitter.com/hsmai, and www.youtube.com/hsmai1.


© 2019 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com, www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

4 Days in Morocco: Desert Adventure from Marrakesh to the Sahara

Sandboarding from the mountain-like dune in the Sahara © Laini Miranda/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Dave E. Leiberman & Laini Miranda

Travel Features Syndicate,  goingplacesfarandnear.com

Everything about a trip from Marrakesh to the Sahara is epic. We didn’t know if we would drive ourselves or hire a tour, so from finding the right desert guide, then traveling the 8+ hours through roads filled with switchbacks and harrowing drivers, to the climactic landscape of red-hot sand dunes reaching literally as far as your eyes could follow, this was an adventure we could never have anticipated.

There are several ways to do this trip. You can book a trip online through Tripadvisor, Getyourguide, Viator, or any of the other aggregator sites with real reviews. The average price we found was around $250/person. Or, you can wait until you arrive in the country and try to haggle a better deal through your riad/guesthouse, or any of the endless storefronts advertising excursions to the desert.

With four days or more, you will be able to experience more of the desert landscape and not feel quite as rushed. Since we knew we wanted to spend a night in Aït Benhaddou, we made our own way there by bus and had our riad host arrange our desert excursion from that point.

Our main advice is to budget at least 4 days. Anything less and you won’t really experience the heart of the Moroccan Sahara. All standard 3-day desert tours offer the same basic itinerary:

Day 1: Leave Marrakech early AM, arrive in Aït Benhaddou in time for lunch, quick tour of the Kasbah then back on the bus, pass through Ourzazate for a brief visit, then overnight at a hotel or riad in Dades Valley. Day 2: Full day drive to Merzouga, stopping in the old town of Tinghir (a guided tour will probably take you to a berber carpet showroom). Arrive in Merzouga just before sunset, Berber guides will escort you on camels into the desert sand dunes, have dinner in the camp, sleep overnight in a tent or on a wool blanket on the sand. Day 3: Leave just before dawn to return to Merzouga where you’ll meet your driver for the 9 hour ride back to Marrakech. Some trips will give you a little more time in the morning to experience the dunes in the daylight for an extra fee. Absolutely do this if you have the offer.

Tzikinitza: On the harrowing drive through the switchbacks of the Tizi n’Tichka Mountain pass in the High Atlas Mountains, en route from Marrakech to Ait Ben Haddou © Laini Miranda/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Here is what we did, what we learned, and tips that we wished we’d had before we went…

Day 1 – Aït Benhaddou

This fortified ancient village, currently home to only five families, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and also the set of Game of Thrones, Gladiator, Lawrence of Arabia, and other epic dramas. We took the CTM bus from Marrakesh to the village of Wade Melah, where the host of our riad met us to drive us to the old town of Aït Benhaddou. No one knows exactly how old the town is, but they estimate that it dates back at least 500 years, and looks much older. It was once a hub of Jewish and Berber people who lived harmoniously in the town. In fact, if you stay in the Riad Dar El Haja, you will be staying in the former home of the old village’s Rabbi and his family, which we were told is one of only two guesthouses in the Kasbah. Today this riad features several well-appointed rooms with comfortable beds, ensuite bathrooms with hot water, 2 terraces to enjoy dinner or breakfast al fresco, and an original natural cave that makes a magical setting for a tagine dinner cooked on premise (breakfast is included in the stay, 3-course dinner was about 13 Euros/person).

Ait Ben Haddou at dawn, looking just as it did over a dozen centuries ago. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Ait Ben Haddou has been the set of Game of Thrones, Gladiator, Lawrence of Arabia © Dave E. Leiberman/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Getting There:

Luxury: In Marrakesh you can find several private taxis or tour companies that will take you directly to Aït Benhaddou. We were quoted prices between 1500-4000 MAD (1000 MAD equals $104), haggling mandatory.

Breakfast served on the rooftop of Riad Dar El Haia, once a rabbi’s home, in the Kasbah of Aït Benhaddou © Dave E. Leiberman/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Budget: Take the CMT bus from Marrakesh to Ouarzazate (100 MAD), then a taxi to Aït Benhaddou (~90 MAD). Or you can try to convince your bus driver to drop you off in Wade Melah as we did, to meet someone from your riad willing to pick you up.

Adventure: Rent a car in Marrakesh. You can drop the car off in Ouarzazate if you decide to join a tour to the desert, or go rogue and try it all on your own. The road from Marrakesh to ABH is insane with about 2 hours of tight switchbacks as you pass the Tizi n’Tichka, but if you’re a (very) comfortable stick driver it seemed like it would be a lot of fun to drive, IN THE DAYLIGHT. The roads between Tinghir and Merzouga are more harrowing and we were happy we opted for the tour.

Our tips:

  • Stay the night: Most tour buses arrive at the Kasbah around noon and leave around 3 or 4, so spending the night before means you have the old town virtually to yourselves in the morning, and you can see the Kasbah before the stalls open for the day.
  • Break up the drive to the desert: Make Aït Benhaddou a one-night stop on a longer desert tour to break up your first or last day of the 8+ hour drive (more on this below).      
  • Catch the sunrise: Most tourists seemed to hike to the top of the Kasbah for the sunrise. For an even wilder 360-degree view, walk out of the Kasbah toward the big hill at the base of the east part of the town (right next to the famous filming spot of Gladiator and Game of Thrones), and watch the sunrise to the east with a movie-perfect view of the Kasbah to your west.
  • Lunch away from the main bus pick-up area: Most people meeting their tour groups seemed to be directed to the main large hotel/restaurant complex, which all had long waits and apparently mediocre food. We had an excellent lunch of lamb and prune tagine and Merguez sausage at Riad Maktoub, just down the road. This is also a highly-rated riad, if you decide to stay across the river from the Kasbah.

Day 2

Rashid, our riad host, referred us to a 3-day small group tour with Nature Dream, that we were able to join in Aït Benhaddou (they had started in Marrakesh at 7am that same morning, arrived at noon for lunch and had 2 hours to tour the Kasbah before getting back on the bus). We joined 4 other young travelers in an old van and drove to Boumalne Dades, an area of dramatic mountains and breathtaking views at every turn.

Our Tips:

  • If you do go with a tour, ask ahead of time about your accommodations. Once we entered Boumalne Dades we saw many cool-looking riads with incredible views. The one arranged by our tour company was not one of these, although it ended up being all we needed for a quick night’s sleep with the typical chicken and vegetable tagine dinner.
  • If you drive here on your own, make sure you arrive before sunset because the views are really worth seeing in sunlight.

Day 3

Our private dinner cave in Riad Dar El Haia, once a rabbi’s home, in the Kasbah of Aït Benhaddou © Dave E. Leiberman/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We left our riad at 8 am and drove to Tinghir, where we met a lovely guide named Rachid. He showed us around the Kasbah and informed us about its history as a Jewish and Berber community until 1948 when the Jewish people left for Israel or larger Moroccan cities. Now the Kasbah is mostly abandoned, inhabited by nomads helped by those in the village who give them jobs in the farms and share their food. There are now only about 15 families living in the Kasbah, with close to 1 million people occupying the greater city of Tinghir.

Pouring “Berber whiskey” (honey mint tea), a Moroccan ritual for welcoming guests© Dave E. Leiberman/goingplacesfarandnear.com

While in the Kasbah we were taken to a home of several families that specialized in Berber rugs. We were given the classic “Berber Whiskey” (mint tea), and learned about traditional rug-making, from the way the wool is cleaned and spun, to the pigments used to tint it, and the meanings beyond different typical Berber rug designs.

Rachid then took us to Todra Gorge, and then to a nice lunch spot nearby. We would recommend contacting Rachid even if you do not do a tour, as he was one of the sweeter, more gentle people we encountered in our 3 days, and his English is excellent (Spanish is even better). He lives in the greater village of Tinghir and often takes groups hiking and climbing in Todra Gorge, and if you have a few days he’ll take you to visit the nomadic families living deeper in the caves.  (Rachid Haddi: +212629460239 whatsapp).

Our tip:

  • The range for rugs in each of the small villages we visited fluctuated from 6000MAD (1000 MAD equals $104) down to 2000MAD for a 4 x 6 ft rug. The general rule of thumb seemed to be to suggest at most 1/3 of the first asking price, and walk away until they meet you close to your price.

Day 3 Continued:

After lunch we left Rachid and continued to Merzouga. We had learned from Rachid that wet season is August to October, and we definitely experienced this first hand during this part of the drive. There are 3 roads to Tinghir. We took the most direct route in the middle, which passes through many small towns on little maintained roads. Because of recent storms, many roads were completely flooded and may have been unpassable in standard cars. Even with a driver from the Sahara with 20+ years experience driving tour groups, we were still worried we wouldn’t make it several times and on one occasion our driver was harassed by a swarm of 20+ teenage boys trying to get 50 MAD for them to push his car across the road with the motor off. We saw a rental car with foreigners turn around at this point and I guess attempt a different way. We don’t have experience with the north and south routes, but by the look of the map they seemed like bigger roads if slightly less direct.

The sun was setting as we set out on our 7 km  camel trek through the Sahara to our desert camp, much of it in the dark © Dave E. Leiberman/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Finally around sunset we arrived at a riad in Merzouga, where we waited for our camels with about 30 other travelers who had been dropped off from similar tours. About half hour later, all of us were escorted on camels through the dunes of Merzouga to our camp in the middle of it all. We were surprised to be on the camels for an hour and a half (7 km)! Once at the camp we were assigned beds in 4 or 5 person tents, and had the expected chicken tagine dinner. The camp itself was very bare-bones, with no sheets or pillowcases, just one wool blanket on top of a mattress and another for warmth in the night. We found the tents to be quite stuffy at night, and sleeping under the stars was in all ways the better alternative. The stars at night were spectacular. The air was crisp and cool, but not freezing, and if not for the scratchy wool blankets, it would have been a pretty magical night’s sleep.

Trekking by camel through the Sahara to our desert camp © Dave E. Leiberman/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Desert camps:

            Luxury: We were quoted prices for a private driver for just the 2 of us, “stopping anywhere we wanted to”, with 3 days and 2 nights (1 in the desert), with luxury accommodations for 4000MAD/person (1000 MAD equals $104). We got this driver down to 3000 MAD for more budget accommodations and private driver. Luxury accommodations seemed to have beautiful glamping-style beds with sheets in large private tents.

            Standard: Just about every 3 day/2 night tour seems to spend one night at a hotel or riad in the Dades Valley (Boumalne Dades), stop on day 2 at Todra Gorge followed by a sunset camel ride out to the desert, camp overnight, and drive 8hr 30min back to Marrakech on day 3, leaving the camp just after sunrise. These tours all include 2 night accommodations and breakfast and dinner, with lunch spots determined by the driver and paid individually by the travelers. Standard tours ranged from 1250 – 2500 MAD/person.

            Budget: Since we joined a tour in Aït Benhaddou, we paid 900 MAD/person in a 6-person van and budget accommodations. Right as we arrived at the camp, our camp hosts told us we had the option to ride the camels back to Merzouga at 4:30am (before sunrise!), or be driven in their SUV over the dunes after sunset for 10 Euro/person. Of course opt for the latter or else you’ll miss the most spectacular time in the dunes. Or better yet, opt for a tour that has the van-ride back their default and doesn’t try to charge you for it.

Our desert camp in the Erg Chebbi Dunes of the Sahara Desert © Laini Miranda/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Our tips:

  • BYO Sheets: If you do go on a standard tour, this is a MUST: bring a cocoon travel sheet or sleep-sack. We were really jealous of our tour friends who had heard this tip before-hand and enjoyed a full night’s sleep.
  • Don’t bring food unless it’s sealed in an air-tight container. We saw a mouse in our tent earlier in the evening and woke up to see the plastic bag of our trail mix nibbled into, and one of our thin linen sweaters destroyed (still can’t imagine what was appetizing about that!).
  • Head-wrap: Bring a thin scarf for the night and morning as it can get quite chilly and is nice to wrap around your head if sleeping out under the stars (you can pick this up for 30-40 MAD at every single stop along the way, or at any stall in any medina. Beware that the really cheap ones will bleed and stain your other clothes in the laundry). It also looks cool wrapped as a turban as you’re riding your camel.
  • Sandboarding: If you’re comfortable on a snowboard and want the exercise (and amazing photos), rent a snowboard from Merzouga town before heading into the desert. Our camp hosts rented one to Dave for 200 MAD and brought it out in their truck while we rode the camels. Of course there are no ski lifts so you’ll have to trek up the highest dune with it yourself in order to get the best ride down.

Day 4

Watching the sun rise over Algeria from a sand dune ridge in the Sahara © Dave E. Leiberman/goingplacesfarandnear.com

After catching the sunrise over Algeria and sandboarding a bit, we took the SUVs back to the riad where we were given the classic breakfast of Moroccan pancakes and bread with jams and honey, and had a chance to wash up in their WCs before the long haul back to Marrakesh. They don’t supply towels, but if you bring your own you can even have a shower. The last day is a full driving day, stopping every 2-3 hours for our driver to have a coffee and take a quick break. As with most of the stops we had lunch at a random place on the route where other drivers brought their tours. Expect about 100 MAD/person for an app, entree, and dessert at each of the lunch spots (a la carte is not offered, but can be an option if you ask nicely).

View of our desert camp from atop a dune ridge © Dave E. Leiberman/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We arrived back in Marrakesh around 8:30pm, just enough time to settle at the riad where we had a relaxing dinner, and a much needed shower.

Our lodging tips:

  • Riad Al Nour: In the Marrakesh medina, Youssef and Younes will take great care of you while staying at their riad. They know the best street food spots and will even run out to pick something up for you if you want a relaxing dinner in their courtyard after your long trip back from the desert. The riad is gorgeous, beds are big and comfortable, showers are hot, and AC works! Book directly with the riad to avoid booking fees.
  • Riad Dar El Haja: One of the few riads in Aït Benhaddou, enjoy a hot shower, big comfortable bed, great food, and epic location, on the actual set of Game of Thrones!
Our host at Riad Ait Ali in Dades Valley © Dave E. Leiberman/goingplacesfarandnear.com

On the harrowing drive through the switchbacks of the Tizi n’Tichka Mountain pass in the High Atlas Mountains, en route from Marrakech to Ait Ben Haddou © Dave E. Leiberman/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Breakfast served on the rooftop of Riad Dar El Haia, once a rabbi’s home, in the Kasbah of Aït Benhaddou © Dave E. Leiberman/goingplacesfarandnear.com
A village on the way from Ait Benhaddou to Ourzazate © Laini Miranda/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Trekking by camel through the Sahara to our desert camp © Dave E. Leiberman/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Nighttime in the Sahara © Dave E. Leiberman/goingplacesfarandnear.com


© 2019 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com, www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

Wolf Super Blood Moon Lunar Eclipse is Spectacular Sight

Wolf Super Blood Moon Lunar Eclipse, Jan. 20, 2019, 11:50 pm © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

The moon put on quite a display late Sunday night into Monday for the inhabitants of the entire Western Hemisphere. The only lunar eclipse of 2019, it was spectacular: a Super Blood Wolf Moon.

People used to say the Moon looked like cheese, but on closer inspection, it looks more like a honeydew melon. On this Super Moon, when the moon is at its closest to Earth, in the perigee of its orbit, and is visibly 14% larger and 30% brighter than when it is at its furthest (apogee), you can see patterns that look like map markings or roads, and a circle and dot on the bottom that you can see moves to the left from the beginning to the end of the eclipse.

The “blood” modifier comes from the way it becomes blood-red as the earth comes between the sun and the moon, blocking the light.

As for “Wolf,” that is the name that Native Americans are supposed to have given January’s full moon.

You didn’t even have to travel far –just step out your door and look up (fortunate because it was frigid cold with a blustering wind, which I suspect helped make the sky particularly clear). I did this about every 20 minutes during the course of the eclipse.

Here is the progression as enjoyed over Long Island, New York:

Wolf Super Blood Moon Lunar Eclipse, Jan. 20, 2019, 10:20 pm © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Wolf Super Blood Moon Lunar Eclipse, Jan. 20, 2019, 10:59 pm © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Wolf Super Blood Moon Lunar Eclipse, Jan. 20, 2019, 11:19 pm © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Wolf Super Blood Moon Lunar Eclipse, Jan. 20, 2019, 11:51 pm © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Wolf Super Blood Moon Lunar Eclipse, Jan. 21, 2019, 12:21 am © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Wolf Super Blood Moon Lunar Eclipse, Jan. 21, 2019, 12:44 am © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Wolf Super Blood Moon Lunar Eclipse, Jan. 21, 2019, 1:37 am © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Wolf Super Blood Moon Lunar Eclipse, Jan. 21, 2019, 2:14 am © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com


© 2019 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com, www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

48 Hours in Lisbon

Palacio de Pena is a wildly colorful and richly patterned 19th century estate atop a steep hill offering sweeping 360 degree views of lush forest. © Dave E. Leiberman/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Dave E. Leiberman & Laini Miranda

Travel Features Syndicate,  goingplacesfarandnear.com

There is so much to do, see, and taste here, you should absolutely try to spend more than 48 hours in Lisbon, Portugal’s capital and one of the great European cities! That said, if you’re tight on time and just able to do a quick trip like we were, here are our recommendations for how to make the most of the destination!

Day 1

Morning: Head to Pasteis de Belem for breakfast. (open everyday 8am-11pm) Their “secret recipe” for their namesake pastries dates back to 1837 and it’s clear to see why they’ve been so famous for so long. There will probably be a line out the door, but it goes fast. And it’s absolutely worth it.

The namesake pastries served at the charming Pasteis de Belem is a secret recipe dating back to 1837 © Dave E. Leiberman/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Afternoon: Take a train, bus, or drive to the magical town of Sintra (http://www.sintra-portugal.com/guides/Lisbon-to-Sintra.html). Parking is tough on weekends, but driving yourself is doable on weekdays during non-peak months. Once in Sintra, take a tuk tuk or bus (tuk tuk is more scenic, quicker, and about 7 Euros; bus is hop-on, hop-off and circles between Sintra, Pena Palace and Moorish Castle, 5 Euros/person. You can also hike up if you’re okay with hills.)

Pena Palace, a magnificent example of Portuguese 19th century Romanticism. © Dave E. Leiberman/goingplacesfarandnear.com

An instagrammer’s dream, Palacio de Pena is a wildly colorful and richly patterned 19th century estate atop a steep hill offering sweeping 360 degree views of lush forest. It exemplifies the 19th century Romanticism style of architecture with vividly painted terraces, decorative battlements and mythological statues. The interior has been restored to reflect the decor of 1910, when the Portuguese nobility fled the country to escape the revolution.

Outside the Palace you have several kilometers of park with lakes, greenhouses, and beautiful walking trails with ornate features and stunning views. Allow at least 2-3 hours to walk around the palace and park grounds, then go to Castillo de los Moros if you have time (we didn’t, but wished we had), or take a tuk tuk down to the village of Sintra and shop your way through the old narrow streets. The tuk tuk down the mountain was a fun adventure in itself that we’d highly recommend, even if you have a bus ticket. Just wear your seatbelt!

Entrance fee into the Pena Palace is €14.00/€12.50/€12.50/€49.00 (adult/child/senior/family); a cheaper ticket which provides access to the park and palace terraces (but not the state rooms) costs €7.50/€6.50/€6.50/€26.00 (adult/child/senior/family). This park/terrace ticket allows visitors to explore the exterior of the palace and is ideal for visitors who have little interest in the history or are limited for time. Further information regarding opening times and entrance fees can be consulted at the Parques de Sintra website: https://www.parquesdesintra.pt/en/plan-your-visit-en/opening-times-and-prices/

Return just in time for dinner in Lisbon’s Bairro Alto or Chiado neighborhoods. Bairro Alto felt a bit more touristy by day and younger/louder by night than its slightly classier next-door neighbor, the Chiado.

Visit a wine bar in the Chiado or the Bairro Alto for a more college-party-on-the-streets feel. Tasca Do Chico in Bairro Alto is a great little gem that has live fado music until 1am.

Enjoy dinner and nightlife in Lisbon’s Bairro Alto or Chiado neighborhoods. © Dave E. Leiberman/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Day 2:

Breakfast in Largo do Carmo or the nearby Faca & Garfo.

Walk around the old streets of Bairro Alto and Chiado.

Head to the Mercado de Ribeira’s TimeOut Market to sample dishes from some of the city’s best chefs under one roof. Try Sea Me for inventive seafood from one of Lisbon’s famed restaurants, Pap’Açorda upstairs for a great view and excellent chocolate mousse, or any of the 40+ vendors lining the perimeter of the sprawling 2-floor historic Market. 

After lunch, grab a private tuk tuk to see the highlights of the city, ending up in the Alfama. Be careful which tuk tuk you hail, as some local drivers will bargain with you and charge under $15 for a streamlined guided tour, while others want to charge over $100 for a full sight-seeing route. 

Evening in Lisbon © Dave E. Leiberman/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Stop off at one of many wine bars in this area and catch live fado, or try the local ginjinha liquor.

Walk to El Chapito to see some local artisan crafts and enjoy dinner in their upstairs dining room with an epic view of the city. Catch a live fado show at their downstairs bar, or wine by the glass at Tágide, just a bit further up the hill with similarly epic views, open till midnight. 


© 2019 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com,  www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

Grand Residences Riviera Maya: A Luxury All-Inclusive Done Right

At the five-star Grand Residences Riviera Cancun, no detail is overlooked © Eric Leiberman/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Sarah Falter & Eric Leiberman

Travel Features Syndicate,  goingplacesfarandnear.com

At the five-star Grand Residences Riviera Cancun (30 minutes south of Cancun), no detail is overlooked. In fact, the 144-all-suite resort takes advantage of every opportunity and touchpoint with guests to elevate the experience, be it with a wide-variety of activities, gourmet cuisine or comfortable lounge areas that make the already picturesque scene that much more serene.

This is notable because the Grand Residences Riviera Cancun is an all-inclusive resort, a category which can be associated with mass-market travel experience.

But from the moment you step out of the airport you’re greeted with a smiling representative from the hotel who takes your bags, gives you a cold eucalyptus towel and an ice cold bottle of water. The transportation from the airport was premium (luxury SUV) and complimentary. When we arrived, we were presented a beautifully crafted welcome cocktail, gently wrapped local jewelry at reception, and a personal tour of the resort as we made our way to the room.

The impeccable service didn’t stop there. There were handmade crafts on our pillow with turn-down service every night, personal concierge service throughout our stay, and even a hydrating Evian facial spray with towels every time we arrived at the pool. We were particularly struck by the kindness and generosity of the staff. Everyone we interacted with during our stay somehow managed to be warm, present and helpful, without ever feeling overbearing or intrusive.

The beach at the Grand Residences Riviera Cancun, a luxury all-inclusive resort © Eric Leiberman/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Outside of the service, the facilities were also top-tier. The rooms were spacious and comfortable. The grounds of the resort were colorful and beautifully manicured (the resort is located between the world’s second largest barrier reef and a tranquil nature preserve). The beach was clean and expansive. We very much enjoyed exploring the property and surrounding areas in the early morning and walking the beach at sunset. One evening we rented yoga mats and did self-guided sunset yoga on the beach.

Some beach resorts may make you feel trapped or constrained, but what we loved most about our experience was the freedom to really make our stay whatever we wanted or felt like doing at the time. When we wanted to be active, there was a tennis court, lap pool, gym and miles of beach/trails for running. But when we wanted to do nothing, there were so many comfortable nooks to relax and fully enjoy the exquisite luxury of doing nothing at all. And when we wanted to eat, the options were endless.

The food was truly delicious (which is saying something for two foodies) and the options for dining were plentiful. On the property, there are three restaurants: El Faro Grille, Flor De Canela and Heaven Beach Bar & Grille. While the last option is only open for lunch, the first two offer elaborate and varied options to satisfy every possible appetite. El Faro Grille is the international option, with a rotating menu every evening. Flor De Canela is more traditional Mexican cuisine (definitely our favorite).

We ate so much delectable food at these restaurants throughout our stay: Lobster tails in fettuccine pasta, green curry mussels, short rib mole, the list goes on and on and on. And for those looking to lay low, the resort offers 24-hour room service, the menu for which is more limited than the restaurants, but still with tons of options.

All of this is included in the all-inclusive package (anywhere from $400-500 per night, depending on the time of year).

There is a long list of what we could take advantage of: Tea Time Experience; yoga; zumba dance lessons; tennis lessons; Kids Club (mask design, sand art, face painting, Mexican lottery, air hockey, Xbox, etc.); bicycle tour to Puerto Morelos Town; cooking classes; personal concierge; 24 Hours fitness center; complimentary WiFi; butler service; mixology lessons and 5 minute sunscreen massage at pool/beach and the complimentary airport transfer.

Grand Residences Riviera Cancun is in the Riviera Maya of Mexico, rich in natural sites, including Cenote Multun-Ha © Eric Leiberman/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Grand Residences Riviera Cancun sits in the heart of the Riviera Maya in the Yucatan Peninsula which boasts a vast wealth of natural wonders and interesting remains of the ancient Mayan civilization.

The resort is relatively close to some vibrant, historical and culturally interesting towns. During our week-long trip, we spent some time in Playa del Carmen (45 minutes) & Tulum (90 minutes), as well as visited nearby cenotes and caves. For us, these destinations offered a textured and authentic compliment to the tranquil resort life. If you’re like us and value a balance of adventure and relaxation in your vacations, we highly recommend checking out these nearby destinations.

Grand Residences Riviera Cancun is in the Riviera Maya of Mexico, rich in archeological sites like Coba © Eric Leiberman/goingplacesfarandnear.com

It is worth noting that Grand Residences Riviera Cancun is a great wedding destination (planners on staff) and honeymoon place.

If you’re looking for a great balance of luxurious family resort (children under 12 stay free) and a relaxed adult atmosphere, Grand Residences Riviera Cancun, a member of The Leading Hotels of the World,  is a perfect destination for your next vacation. It is secluded and private, but very accessible, making it especially easy to swing for a long weekend. 

Visit the website for special deals.

Grand Residences Riviera Cancun, (US) 855-381-4340, https://grandresidencesrivieracancun.com/.


© 2019 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com,  www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

Gold Coast Arts Center, Long Island Presents ‘Chinese Artists in America’ Exhibit

Artists Ping Wang and Arthur Liu with Town North Hempstead Supervisor Judi Bosworth and Gold Coast Arts Center Executive Director Regina Gil at opening of exhibit, “Chinese Artists in America© Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Gold Coast Arts Center, Great Neck, Long Island presents an exhibition of “Chinese Artists in America.” The works by eight contemporary Chinese-American artists is on view through March 20.

“The exhibition reflects the creative vitality of Chinese and American cultural interaction and growth through the arts and its historical and aesthetic links to other communities,” Gallery Curator Jude Amsel writes.

“These artists created a new visual language that embodies aspects of traditional Chinese art while responding to a time of great transition. Their artworks express personal beliefs, national pride, and international awareness.”

“The Gold Coast Arts Center is dedicated to promoting awareness and understanding through the arts and through public events that bring people together,” stated Regina Gil, founder and Executive Director of the Gold Coast Arts Center. “We are proud to have enabled artists from around the world to share their vision and craft with our audiences. The exhibition of art by Chinese-American artists weaves the heritage, experience and craft that has emerged from each artist’s personal exposure to Chinese and American culture and education.”

The opening reception for the art exhibition was accompanied by a cultural performance, music and dance presented under the aegis of the Great Neck Chinese Association.

Here are highlights, with the artists’ own statements.

Zhen Guo © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Zhen Guo: “With ‘Muted Landscape; I present a view of the world, and we who live on its surface, that is at once expansive and frightening.  The images, created (I do not say painted because there is no obvious brush work in the ink on rice paper creation) present a landscape as if from 36,000 feet, muted by both the gray color and by the distance.  Mountains, lakes, a sheer rock face wall, caldera, fields of snow, high and pointed peaks and rivers are joined and blended but not necessarily in the places or ways we expect.  It is as if the vision of Ansel Adams has been stirred shaken and kneaded merged a late Autumn vision of the natural world.  As our eyes travel over the painting the view changes and rivers become shadows, mountains become fields, and lakes become snow covered peaks.  We are entranced and at the same time afraid that, if we landed, there we could not find our way out. Perhaps this is a place for own internal search for a perch for our soul or to find our way forward.”

“Country Fair,” by Dexiang Qian © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Dexiang Qian: “I was born in Zhijiang. Many artists have come to Zhijiang to observe, sketch, and experiment with depicting the rural countryside. During my creation process, I use a glazing technique with a limited color palette. I continue to simplify the elements, and the resulting composition often is in geometric patterns.”  © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Xiangdong Shi © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Xiangdong Shi: ““Food: Chinese beauty, taste and auspicious meaning. Chinese cuisine is not only delicious, but also the pursuit of form and color, such as Sweet Dumplings, put in a few red medlar, and immediately look happy, and eat the Sweet Dumplings at the Lantern Festival, so the Sweet Dumplings are also called Yuan Xiao, means the first full moon night of the year. Chinese cuisine is rich and auspicious Meaning, such as birthday, Chinese people often cook a bowl of noodles, called longevity noodles, meaning healthy longevity. Another example is the Traditional Chinese Rice-Pudding, is the exclusive food of the Dragon Boat Festival, it is to commemorate the ancient Chinese famous poet Qu Yuan, in addition, often in the  Traditional Chinese Rice-Pudding have any jujubes, white rice and red jujubes are put together, the color contrast is strong. Red has a special meaning in Chinese culture, and represents good luck. Therefore, the food series I painted not only expresses the taste of food, but also the sense of form and meaning of food. This is the true essence of Chinese culture.”

Arthur B. Liu © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Arthur B. Liu is President of Queens Art Education Center, New York, visiting professor of the Guangzhou Academy of Fine Arts, member of the Watercolor Society of USA, artist of the National Art League of USA, director of the Chinese Culture Art Association of New York, USA. He is the Educator, Artist and Inventor. He is the only one Chinese American artist who has been granted patents for inventions. He is showing “The flowing colors Chinese painting series” in this exhibition.

Ping Wang © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Ping Wang: “The initial idea of my “In and Out” series were body parts extended from a “Square”(space ) merged into a background. The background scenes are from Chinese illusional landscapes to recent New York City landmarks and daily life.  After a year or two reminiscing in depth I subconsciously escaped in the collision between China and American culture. I was enormously inspired by traditional Chinese composition and techniques. In the ‘Fight Club; series, I tried to combine some oriental perspectives and compositions into a Western story. Now living in New York for several years, I can see the integration of eastern and western cultures.”

“Sacrifice the Body to Feeding the Tiger,” by Yulin Huang
© Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Yulin Huang: “In the face of the canvas, I have never forgotten all the so-called knowledge, just by intuition, in a simple, primitive, child-like way, straightforward and quick to smear. “Sacrifice the Body to Feeding the Tiger” (2018) is a “Dunhuang” mural from the ancient East, painted on the walls of the grotto 2000 years ago. It tells a Buddhist story. A prince, giving up his life and helping his hunger with his own flesh   The hungry tiger mother and son are born into Buddha after death. Like the cross that Jesus passed. In “Chinese New Year,” red lanterns, dragon dances, lion dances, firecrackers, fireworks, spring couplets, red envelopes… The people celebrate the biggest festivals, joyous and lively. But I feel a very loneliness.”

Hai Wei © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Hai Wei: “Even though we all advocate tolerance, different habits and beliefs sometimes constitute an offense.  Each different culture and art is connected of each other while learning from each other and integrating with each other. When the plane flies over the Arctic Circle, across the window, the outside is a mountain like a scarf, inside is a scarf like a mountain… All things connected, miraculous conversion. Similarly, in the body, the blood, the fresh life, can also be converted and reincarnation?  We have been watching ourselves for too long and rarely look at them. Most people think the sheep is weak ,ordinary, silent. In fact, they still have power and charm of wildness. The art created by nature is life, the beauty of life, and it does not depend on us. It is a kind of dignity.”

Yafu Wang with “Chinese Artists in America” curator Jude Amsel © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Yafu Wang: Yafu’s works are varied and diverse.  Those selected art pieces cover his early works in road, shadows, posters, and temples etc.  Yafu always states that his work expresses his deep love and awe for the mighty God.  It fulfills all the missing parts in his life. 

Here are highlights from the performances:

Chinese Drum “Ma Deng Dance” featuring Anthony Wu, Dorie Liu, Kexin Huang, Yuxin Huang, Kingsley Liu. © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Chinese Guzheng Duet “Dong Ting New Song” featuring Ella Li, Shiying Wei. © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Chinese Cucurbit Flute Solo, “Wedding Vow,” featuring Ricky Deng © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Violin & Piano in Chinese song, “Painted Heart” with Aili Tian, Phoenix tian, Joy Yang and Selena Lu (piano). © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Chinese Instruments ensemble “Xi Yang Yang (Be Happy)” “Turpan’s Grapes Turn Ripe (with Dance)” featuring Xiulu Xin (Banhu):, Yuqi Sun (Erhu), Xianyi Wang (Dulcimer), Xiuzhen Liang (Ruan), Rongxian Chen (Electronic Guitar), Cathong Li (Rock Percussion/Dance) © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Children’s Chorus: Jasmine Flowers featuring Evan Cao, Derick Chen, Melissa Chiang, Jessica Chiang, Anthony Chiang, Athena Jin, Ella Li, Jack Pei, Dorothy Qian, Lucas Wang, Madeline Wang, Isabella Wu, Kenneth Wu, Katharine Xu, Carolyn Zuo and Kaitlyn Feng (piano) © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Gold Coast Arts Center, Long Island Presents “Chinese Artists in America”

The Gallery is open when the Gold Coast Arts Center is open, 113 Middle Neck Road, Great Neck, NY, 516-829-2570, goldcoastarts.org.


© 2019 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com,  www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

Stargazing Amid Dark Skies, Discovering Ancestry, Mystery Cruises & Spiritual Awakening Among Most Interesting Cruise Trends for 2019

Taj Mahal, one of the sacred places that can be visited by cruise ship © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Journeying where dark skies present the most spellbinding panoramas; embarking on an odyssey of discovery of ancestral lineage; cruising to destinations of mystery, adventure, spiritual awakening. These are the top three “most interesting cruise trends” for 2019, according to
CruiseCompete, an online cruise marketplace.

Here is CruiseCompete’s projection of three such trends for 2019:  

1.  Dark Skies Cruising – You do not have to be an astronomer to find a dark sky cruise fascinating.

Research by the Light Pollution Science and Technology Institute indicates that 80% of Earth’s land mass suffers from light pollution, and 99% of people in Europe and the USA view a night sky that is obscured by artificial lighting. As a result, opportunities for true constellation admiration are few and far between.

Cruising is the ultimate vacation to give stargazers access to spellbinding panoramas for star-gazing, as the open sea has low light pollution, and some cruise lines have designed itineraries specifically for this purpose. For example, Princess Cruises offers stargazing nights that are led by an astrophysicist.

Northern Lights in Alaska, seen during a land excursion on Royal Caribbean’s Alaska cruise. Some cruises are tailored for viewing the Northern Lights© Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Or, perhaps you would like a special kind of star-gazing cruise, one that explores the Northern Lights. It’s one of those magical experiences on nearly every traveler’s bucket list.  You can simplify the logistics of viewing those shimmering colors in the nighttime sky by booking a northern lights cruise. Cunard offers just such an opportunity on their November 2019 12 Night Norway and Northern Lights roundtrip from Southampton.

2.  Exploring your DNA may offer memorable travel that will give treasured connections to family experienced through travel.

According to ABC News, genealogy is the second most-popular hobby in the United States, surpassed only by gardening. The study of our family trees and DNA testing has a universal appeal, because most of us have a history that extends far beyond the nation where we’ve been born and bred.

We live in an information age which allows us to document our family history with a high degree of accuracy, but does it tell us where we really come from? A true connection to history and heritage can only be experienced through travel, where names on paper become real people and foreign locations become ancestral homelands filled with the treasures of family history.

2019 will see a surge in travel that reflects people’s desire to visit the cities and countries that feature prominently in their family history. Ancestry.com, for example, will offer an 11-Day Irish Ancestry Tour that visits Dublin, Cork, County Kerry & Galway in August 2019. This special tour, designed with The Irish Ancestral Research Association, allows for research time in archives/libraries and would be perfectly complemented by a 25 Night British Isles Grand Adventure From Dublin, Ireland to Ft. Lauderdale, Florida.

Praying at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, one of more than 100 sacred sites that can be visited on a cruise.

Or, explore on your own terms with a pre- or post-cruise visit that allows you to study a region in even greater depth. Expand PONANT’s Sep 27, 2019 In the Wake of General MacArthur: The Legacy of World War II cruise, with tours of the cities and countries, reflects your personal history.  

3. Mystery, Adventure & Spiritual Inspiration – The Ultimate Cruise Travel Experience

Are you adventurous enough to take a mystery trip? One where you won’t know where you’re going, what you’ll see, where you’ll stay or what you’ll be eating? Earlier this year, Intrepid’s first ever trip of this kind, the Uncharted Expedition, sold out virtually overnight with 10 travelers choosing to journey 3,500 kilometers from Kazakhstan to Mongolia reminiscent of the bygone days of Genghis Khan.  Imagine your journey on roads not yet mapped by Google and where there is only intermittent electricity and WIFI, a few cold showers and fermented mares’ milk as a treat along the way!

Also finding favor with seasoned travelers for 2019 is the “mystery cruise”. Saga has one such cruise scheduled, and Fred Olsen has three slated this year. Expect to see a sharp rise in popularity of mystery cruises, fueled by people’s sense of adventure and delight in being surprised by the unknown.

Then there is a different kind of mystery, one deeply spiritual in nature: cruise itineraries that provide access to sacred places. 

Sacred Places: Spiritual Sites That Can Be Visited Via Cruise Ship

There are more than a hundred cruise itineraries that transport travelers to sacred places – sites of healing, guidance, and divine inspiration across the globe. The significance of these hallowed places cannot be expressed in words or pictures – to understand their impact, the faithful must visit them in person, to experience healing, guidance or draw divine inspiration.

While many of the world’s most sacred sites have historically been inaccessible to all but the hardiest of travelers – those who were able to make arduous overland journeys – travel experts at CruiseCompete say travelers will find that today’s cruise itineraries make many of these locations surprisingly easy to visit.

Sistine Chapel, The Vatican, Rome, visited as a land excursion on a Royal Caribbean Cruise © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Here is a partial list:

Asia/Far East
Beijing, China, Hanging Monastery
Beppu, Japan, Beppu Onsen
Delhi, India, Taj Mahal
Delhi, India, Rishikesh
Hiroshima, Japan, Peace Memorial Park
Kochi, Kanyakumari, India, 3 oceans unite, Ghandi Memorial
Mumbai, India, Ajanta and Ellora caves
Qingdao, Tai Shan, China, Tai Shan Dai Mai Complex
Shanghai, South Korea, Lotus Lantern Festival
Shimizu, Japan, Mt Fuji
Taipei, China/Taiwan, Wenwu Temple
Yangon, Myanman, Bagan

Bridgetown, Trinidad and Tobago, Diwali

Bordeax, France, Lourdes
Bucharest, Romania, Hurezi Monastery
Cologne, Germany, Aachen Cathedral
Cologne, Germany, Shrine of the Three Kings
Dublin, Ireland, Newgrange
Holyhead, Holywell, Wales, St Winefride’s Well
Lisbon, Portugal, Our Lady of Fatima
Madrid, Spain, Mezquita
Beaches of Normandy, France, Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial
Paris, France, Chartres Cathedral
Paris, France, Mont-St.-Michael

Cairo, Sinai peninsula, Mt Sinai/St. Catherine’s Monastery
Haifa, Nazareth / Galilee (Haifa), Israel, Sea of Galilee (Lake Tiberias)
Istanbul, Turkey, Blue Mosque
Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Cave of the Nativity
Jerusalem, Israel, Western Wall
Jerusalem, Israel, Holy Sepulchre Church
Jerusalem, Israel, Yad Veshem
Tripoli, Lebanon, Cedars of God Lebanon
Livorno, Italy, Chapel of the Stigmata
Luxor, Egypt, Valley of the Kings
Rhodes, Greece, The Cave of the Apocalypse
Rome, Italy, Abbazia Di San Galgano
Rome, Italy, St. Peter’s Basilica

Middle East
Aqaba, Jordan, Petra

North America
Baltimore, Virginia, Arlington National Cemetery
Huatulpo, Mexico, Day of the Dead
New York, New York, Ground Zero
Baltimore, Washington DC, Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial

South America
Copacabana, South America, Islands of the Sun and Moon
Easter Island, South Pacific, Easter Island
Lima, Peru, Mcchu Picchu/ Sacred Valley of the Inca

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Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine Ushers in New Year with Inspirational Concert for Peace

The traditional candlelighting that is so inspirational concludes the New Year’s Eve Concert for Peace at The Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine as people sing, “This Little Light of Mine.” © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

One of my favorite ways to bid adieu to the year and begin anew is the annual Concert for Peace at the magnificent Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine, now in its 34th year. This is a signature New Year’s Eve event that was founded by Leonard Bernstein in 1984 with the idea of bringing together New Yorkers and visitors from around the world for an evening filled with uplifting music. It is an event that rings in the new year with inspiration and resolve.

Led by Kent Tritle, Director of Cathedral Music, this year’s concert featured soloist Sidney Outlaw joining the choir for Robert Convery’s powerful setting of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s I have a dream during the 50th anniversary year of King’s assassination and the 20th anniversary of his composition.

Cathedral choir and orchestra conductor Kent Tritle with baritone Sidney Outlaw and composer Robert Convery after performing “I have a dream” honoring Martin Luther King Jr. © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

The choir performed make peace by David Lang and presented the New York premiere of Wayne Oquin’s Alleluia. Jason Robert Brown performed his stirring composition, “Singing You Home” with vocalists Kate Baldwin and Ashley Perez Flanagan, a newly written spiritual performed with Spanish and English lyrics expressly for the separated migrant families.

Jason Robert Brown, Tony Award-winning composer and lyricist, performed “Singing You Home,” which he wrote for the separated migrant families with vocalists Kate Baldwin and Ashley Perez Flanagan © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Paul Winter performed on soprano sax his composition, “Sun Singer, written with Paul Hatley.

Paul Winter on soprano sax performs “Sun Singer which he composed with Paul Halley © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

The concert also included music by included William Boyce’s Symphony No. 1 in B-flat;  Mozart’s Symphony No. 29 in A Major, J.S. Bach’s Dona nobis pacem from his Mass in B minor.

The Cathedral Choir’s Jamet Pittman leads the audience in This little light of mine © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Cathedral Choir’s own Jamet Pittman led the audience inThis little light of mine as the entire congregation lit candles and basked in the glow to welcome the new year with hope, joy, and affirmation.

Here are more highlights:

The Cassidy Family from Toronto © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Cathedral itself is a marvel. Originally designed in 1888, with construction beginning in 1892, the cathedral has undergone radical stylistic changes and the interruption of the two World Wars. It started out in Byzantine Revival-Romanesque Revival style, but the plan was changed to  Gothic Revival in 1909. A major fire on December 18, 2001 caused the cathedral to be closed for repairs until 2008. It remains unfinished with construction and restoration a continuing process – which inside, only adds to the mystique of the place. It boasts being the largest Gothic cathedral, and may be the world’s largest Anglican cathedral and church; it is also the fourth largest Christian church in the world.

Kent Tritle, Director of Cathedral Music, leads the Cathedral Orchestra at the New Years Eve Peace Concert ©  Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
The Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine is a stunning venue © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
The traditional candlelighting that is so inspirational concludes the New Year’s Eve Concert for Peace at The Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine as people sing, “This Little Light of Mine.” © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com
The Cassidy Family from Toronto at the New Year’s Eve Concert for Peace at The Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The cathedral houses one of the nation’s premier textile conservation laboratories to conserve the cathedral’s textiles, including the Barberini tapestries. The laboratory also conserves tapestries, needlepoint, upholstery, costumes, and other textiles for clients.

There are concerts by the Cathedral Choir and other artists and events throughout the year. Check the website for details.

The Cathedral of St. John the Divine, 1047 Amsterdam Avenue (at 112th Street), New York 10025, 212-316-7540, info@stjohndivine.orgwww.stjohndivine.org.


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