Cities, Mountains, Boat and Beach: Letters Home from Honeymoon in Vietnam & Cambodia

Riding a scooter through the countryside © Dave E Leiberman/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Dave E. Leiberman & Laini Miranda

Travel Features Syndicate,  goingplacesfarandnear.com

After a whirlwind destination wedding in New Orleans and a relaxing mini-moon in St. Lucia, we took a few weeks to recover at home, and then embarked on a 3-week adventure to Vietnam and Cambodia. After researching some 30 different destinations, we chose this combination for a number of reasons: the landscapes (according to Google image search) are varied and breathtaking; the climate is still warm in December, but not swelteringly hot; the food is supposed to be unbelievable; we can do some sightseeing and also indulge in some down-time (Bai Tu Long Bay cruise in Vietnam and island-hopping in Cambodia); we heard the people are incredibly kind and traveling around the country independently is fairly easy even with the language barrier; and we would be able to live well and splurge when we wanted to without breaking our budget (as opposed to Fiji, Tahiti, Hawaii, Maldives and other honeymoon hot-spots).

Our honeymoon to Vietnam and Cambodia proved to be all of the above AND MORE. The following are from emails we wrote home to our families, with names added afterwards for reference…

Subject: Update from Vietnam!

Hi fam!

Sorry to not have written earlier! We’ve been having an incredible time in Vietnam. Seriously every place so far has been a highlight, it’s pretty unreal. We’ve taken about 2000 photos each already so we’re starting an album of some highlights. 

One of our favorite lunches (marinated fried catfish hotpot with fixings), Chả Cá Thăng Long, Hanoi © Laini Miranda/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

We started with 2 days in Hanoi walking around the old streets and eating some amazing food, and egg coffee, which is surprisingly delicious. Our first night we went with Hanoi Street Food Tours to sample some of the awesome street foods we wouldn’t have otherwise known to order.

Hanoi © Dave E Leiberman/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The second night we took a $1 Grab, (the Vietnamese Uber that costs $1 to go almost anywhere) to Chim Sao, this non-touristy restaurant out of the city center, and had an incredible dinner of traditional specialties like water buffalo, mountain sausage, banana flower salad, baby mussels, and rice wine. Food here is out of this world—very different from American Vietnamese and we are constantly surprised by the dishes.

View from our room at Ham Rong Homestay © Laini Miranda/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

We had a great experience with Hanoi La Castela, the hotel we ended up in after we decided to leave our not so clean Airbnb. The staff at the hotel was incredibly friendly and helpful and their breakfasts were huge and delicious. They set up a car & driver for us to go to Ninh Binh, the gorgeous region about 3 hours west of Hanoi in the countryside. Lots of beautiful karsts (those tall mountain things jutting up from the land that you see in all the photos of Ha Long Bay). We stayed in a beautiful secluded homestay, Ham Rong, where the only sounds we could hear were the animals and insects around. We arrived just in time to hike the 500 steps of the mountain-top above Mua Caves and catch the sunset over an incredible panorama of Tam Coc and Ninh Binh.

Mua Caves, Tam Coc, Ninh Binh © Dave E Leiberman/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

The next 2 days we rented scooters from our homestay and had an amazing time riding around the countryside. Don’t worry, Dave was sure to drive very slowly and carefully, and it was all country back roads so very safe. We took a little boat ride through the karsts and caves in nearby Trang An, wandered through the back roads of the little villages, and visited some very cool temples built into the sides of mountains, like Bich Dong Pagoda. We also visited Bai Dinh, apparently the largest temple in all of Southeast Asia with a giant gold Buddha in one of the main halls–the whole complex was pretty ostentatious and absurd, and very cool to see, especially all lit up at night.

Along the road in Pu Luong, Vietnam © Dave E Leiberman/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Our homestay arranged for a private car to take us to Pu Luong, where we stayed for 2 nights and absolutely need to return. It’s a phenomenally gorgeous nature reserve with self-sustaining villages that was totally unknown to foreigners before about a year or so ago. Some people have caught on and now some of the villages have started making homestays for visitors, but it’s still very rare to see any other white people outside of the homestay. There’s no tourism infrastructure (yet) aside from these few clusters of homestays so it feels like a very special peak into authentic traditional Vietnamese village culture.

Pu Luong, Vietnam© Dave E Leiberman/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Rice terraces of Pu Luong Nature Reserve, Vietnam © Laini Miranda/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Most of the time you’re just surrounded by spectacular landscapes of terraced rice fields and mountains with scattered people tilling soil, herding water buffalo, cutting bamboo, harvesting rice, etc.

A village of Pu Luong, Vietnam © Laini Miranda/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Throughout the national park there are amazing little villages with everyone out working together, and everyone was so sweet to us when they’d realize we were foreigners. Anytime we’d go through a village all the little kids would very cutely run out to say “Hello! Hello! Hello!” until we passed.

Our treehouse at Pu Luong Treehouse, Don Village, Pu Luong Nature Reserve, Vietnam © Dave E Leiberman/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We stayed at Pu Luong Treehouse, the first night in an actual treehouse with the most gorgeous view, then upgraded the second night to a bungalow at the same place (same view) with private bathroom and a bigger space which was really gorgeous and probably one of the coolest places we’ve ever stayed. The host, Zoom, is from Hanoi, went to school in Alaska, has traveled the world, and has amazing taste so the whole little retreat she’s created is designed into the landscape with beautiful details everywhere. Basically everything is made of bamboo or branches, all the linens made herself with traditional textiles and weavings from Pu Luong. The chef she hired from the village is also incredible so we’ve been eating VERY well (several course meals 3 times/day). 

Traditional weaving in Don village, Pu Luong, Vietnam© Dave E Leiberman/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Incredible lunch stop at Nhá Tung homestay near Les bains de Hieu, Pu Luong, Vietnam © Laini Miranda/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We’re currently in a car back to Hanoi with Zoom (who’s 8 months pregnant and had to return home for a few days) and two great Australian girls who were also staying at the homestay. All 7 of us staying there got pretty close over the past 3 days, which seemed to be a function of the sweet energy Zoom’s created at the homestay, and I guess the type of people this very random, very peaceful province attracts, as it takes a good amount of research to get there. We’re sad to leave, but so excited for each next part of the trip!

Dragonfish meal with morning glory at  Nhà hàng 1946 © Dave E Leiberman/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Spending tonight in Hanoi and leaving tomorrow morning for Bai Tu Long Bay (Ha Long Bay’s apparently less touristy, equally beautiful sister). We’ll be on Indochina Junk’s Dragon Legend for 3 days, 2 nights.

Love yous! Us

Subject: Vietnam/Cambodia update 2, going off-grid!

Hi fam!

Angkor Wat, 12th century Buddhist temple, one of the largest religious monuments in the world. Photo: Senghuat Boun

We’re currently on a small prop plane from Siem Reap to Sihanoukville to catch a boat to Koh Ta Kiev, a tiny island off the southern coast of Cambodia. We had an amazing (but too short) 2 days in Siem Reap exploring the Angkor Wat complex. We hired a private guide/driver (Senghuat Boun) on the recommendation of a couple we met on our cruise in Bai Tu Long Bay, and he was amazing.

Dave playing his guitarlele with the children of the Temple guard at Ta Nei © Laini Miranda/ goingplacesfarandnear.com
Laini watching the kids draw in her sketchbook at Ta Nei
 © Dave E Leiberman/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We saw all the main temples plus a few smaller “off the beaten path” ones, including Ta Nei in the jungle, a small temple that hasn’t yet been restored and is amazing to see how it’s been reclaimed by nature. When we were there this afternoon it was just us, the temple guard, and her 2 ridiculously cute children who played guitar with Dave (he has his guitarlele with him) and drew with me. It was a really sweet way to end the temple circuit.

First Light over Angkor Wat © Laini Miranda/goingplacesfarandnear.com
South Gate of Angkor Thom © Dave E Leiberman/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Afterwards we had our driver drop us off at a restaurant we found last night but was closed then, and our lunch there today was actually one of the best meals either of us have ever had (Pou Kitchen & Cafe). In NYC it would have a 6-month waitlist. Four incredibly inventive dishes plus dessert and fancy iced coffee came to $22.

Preah Kahn, 12th century temple built by King Jayavarman VII in honor of his father. Photo: Senghuat Boun

Before Siem Reap, the cruise on Bai Tu Long Bay was awesome. Indochina Junk’s Dragon Legend is a 4-star ship with amazing food (and a ton of it), and makes an extremely relaxing experience on the bay.

Aboard Indochina Junk’s Dragon Legend, Bai Tu Long Bay, Vietnam © Laini Miranda/ goingplacesfarandnear.com
Laini relaxing aboard Indochina Junk’s Dragon Legend, Bai Tu Long Bay, Vietnam © Dave E Leiberman/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We sailed to Bai Tu Long Bay, which is supposed to be less touristy and cleaner than Ha Long Bay, and we barely saw another boat on the water except for when we docked to sleep, since boats are only allowed to dock overnight in one specific spot). It was actually a luxury 45-person cruise ship, but only 14 people were on board so it was very sweet and intimate, and the perfect amount of people for the short day tours (kayaking, visiting a fishing village, learning about oyster harvesting). I loved spending the afternoons drawing and reading Adam’s book and Dave got to play a lot of guitar.

Hoi An, rainy season © Dave E Leiberman/goingplacesfarandnear.com

After a quick overnight in Hanoi the night we returned from the cruise, we went to Hoi An, about an hour flight south of Hanoi. There was torrential downpour from the time we arrived until 2 days later (completely forgot this is rainy season in the south). But it gave us a night in to chill at our beautiful hotel (Ocean Breeze Villa) in An Bang, the sleepy beach town just out of the city where we were somehow able to order delivery from Morning Glory, one of the city’s best restaurants.

Takeout from Morning Glory during the storm in Ocean Villa Hotel, An Bang, Hoi An © Dave E Leiberman/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We took another $1 Grab into the city and got an incredible 2-hour massage and scrub at 5 Senses Spa during the heaviest rains of the 2nd day ($26 for a 90 min massage!). 

We try on our new clothes
at Thong Phi Tailors, Hoi An

The rest of the time we mostly spent shopping and eating, since this is the town known for their great tailors, which are all indoors. From one shop we went into the first day, Thông Phi Tailors, Dave got a nice black suit, chinos, and 3 dress shirts, and I got 2 linen jumpsuits and a pair of linen trousers, all made to order with a few rounds of alterations so everything fits perfectly. The last day Dave started talking to a shop person at a different Tailor (Bai Diep) while he was waiting for me next door and he ended up getting 4 more shirts and an awesome patterned blazer for me all tailored and altered in just 3 hours!


Bahn Mi assembly line during the lunch rush at the Parts Unknown favorite, Bahn Mi Phuong, Hoi An, Vietnam
© Laini Miranda/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Most of that last day was finally sunny so we were able to see the beautiful colored walls (mostly rich yellow) and multi-colored lanterns emblematic of the city without all the rain. You can look up #hoian on instagram to get a sense. The city is wild–it’s one of the oldest looking towns because the whole ancient quarter is a registered historic site so they can’t do anything to alter its appearance, though the entirety of this old town is catered to tourists, with shops selling clothes, leather, tailored goods, and other stuff in just about every storefront. It was great for a rainy 2 1/2 days. 

Sampling street food in Hoi An, Vietnam © Laini Miranda/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

So now we’re off to 5 days/nights on an island to do nothing but read and veg. We’re most likely spending 2 nights in Koh Ta Kiev, the small island with no electricity, so we’ll be out of touch for at least a few days. If we love it there we’ll stay longer. If we decide we want a hot shower or fans we’ll head to Koh Rong Samloen, another beautiful small island that’s slightly more developed with Bungalows with real walls, showers, and AC. We’ll be in touch when we’re back in wifi zone! Can’t wait to catch up with you all!!

Miss and love yous! 

Us

Subject: Re: Vietnam/Cambodia update 2, going off-grid!

Crystal clear waters at Lazy Beach, Koh Rong Samloen, Cambodia

Hi guys! Just wanted to let you know where we landed…  We’re at Lazy Beach in Koh Rong Sanloem, Cambodia until we head to the airport. We have a perfect pretty large bungalow with a beautiful view of the water and the beach is quiet and awesome.

Morning to ourselves at Lazy Beach, Koh Rong Samloen, Cambodia
© Dave E Leiberman/goingplacesfarandnear.com

In total contrast to construction-hell Sihanoukville and even Koh Rong Samloen’s Saracen Bay that’s beginning to be pretty built up, all that’s built on this side of the island are about 15 bungalows stretching along the shore and one open-air restaurant where we’re able to order all our meals from an extensive menu of both Western and Cambodian specialities (the owners are from the UK, the kitchen crew is mostly Cambodian). Everything is wonderful. We feel very lucky to be here. No WiFi on this part of the island, but Dave’s phone seems to get sporadic service so text him if you need us. Otherwise we’ll be back in touch on the 18th when we land in JFK! 

Love yous! 

Us

_____________________________

© 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

New Orleans: ‘It’s Not All About The Jazz,’ Guest at Destination Wedding in NOLA Discovers

By Laurie Millman and Martin Rubin

Photos by Laurie Millman and Karen Rubin

Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

One of the most festive traditions of a New Orleans destination wedding is the Second Line parade. Here the newly married couple leads the line through the Bywater district © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Laurie spent years staying away from New Orleans, Louisiana, with the excuse that she didn’t enjoy jazz enough to go there. Recently, though, we found ourselves in the Mississippi River delta city to attend a family destination wedding. After five days in New Orleans (affectionately known by its acronym — NOLA), we can now say that this is one of the most exciting and interesting cities we’ve visited. It is certainly a destination to return to, perhaps at Mardi Gras time!

We stayed in the old, quaint French Quarter at The W New Orleans (316 Chartres St., (504) 581-1200, https://www.marriott.com/hotels/travel/msywh-w-new-orleans-french-quarter/) — a Marriott property with rooms that surround a serene, outdoor garden, fountain, and pool. The modern style of our hotel room contrasted with our balcony view of the colorful, historic buildings built during the city’s French and Spanish periods, with distinctive French Quarter pastel colors and balconies decorated with rod-iron scrollwork.

Prior to travelling to New Orleans, it was recommended to us to forego a rental car as long as we planned to stay primarily in or around the French Quarter and the other New Orleans neighborhoods. We found that Ubers, Lyfts, and taxis were never more than 5 minutes away, and usually inexpensive – and then we didn’t have to deal with the nightmare of parking. 

For sightseeing around the city, we recommend using the red, double-decker bus marked, “24-hour Hop-on Hop-off City Bus Tour.”  This bus follows a loop around New Orleans, going through the colorful neighborhoods. With a day pass, passengers may stay on the bus the entire time and learn about the NOLA neighborhoods from the bus guides, and get off and back on at various stops along the route to spend more time exploring. (https://www.hop-on-hop-off-bus.com/new-orleans-bus-tours)

Walking tours abound in the French Quarter with guides retelling stories about events, pirates, voodoo queens, and hauntings. Our private walk around the historic Quarter was fun and interesting: we stopped to read the plaques describing the French and Spanish history, visited little boutiques and galleries, checked out themed bars and restaurants, checked out a few unique museums, and strolled through the beautifully groomed parks.

NOLA Electric Streetcar Trolley Stop © Laurie Millman/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

For an historic mode of transportation, NOLA offers an electric streetcar trolley system. The St. Charles line is the oldest continuously operating streetcar line in the world. All four of the NOLA lines either run along or intersect with Canal Street in the area between the French Quarter and the Central Business District. A standard, one-way fare on a streetcar is very reasonable at only $1.25 per person.  However, a word of warning: the trolley system was not the quickest form of travel, and we had to wait at least 15 minutes before a trolley arrived to pick us up.

Band entertains on Frenchman Street © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

NOLA knows how to party — 24×7 — both inside and outside the many bars and restaurants. We saw visitors out and about at all hours carrying alcohol between bars and restaurants in the French Quarter. Live music abounds in venues, on street corners, and in the parks, throughout the day and night. We noticed colorful beads from past Mardi Gras celebrations layered like tinsel on the trees lining the city streets. We listened to the sounds of the city as we enjoyed breakfast and afternoon snack on the balcony of our French Quarter room.

Second Line brass bands marched down our street and through the French Quarter throughout the day and evening – one of the most popular traditions during a New Orleans wedding (we soon experienced this first hand) – a common occurrence and one of the many reasons New Orleans is one of the most popular venues for destination weddings.

Celebrating a wedding with a Second Line parade © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

For a wedding, the Second Line signifies the start of a new beginning of life for the bride and groom.  A Brass band leads the bridal party and the guests from the ceremony to the reception venue or it may take place at the reception itself. The first line is usually a brass band and the ones being honored, the newlyweds.  The newly married couple leads the second line holding decorated umbrellas or parasols. The guests who join in the celebration make up the second line, forming a line behind the band and the newly married couple, as they all dance and stroll through the streets to lively music waving handkerchiefs.

Celebrating a wedding with a Second Line parade © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Soon enough, instead of watching a Second Line brass band from our balcony, we were parading in ourselves, as the newly married couple we came to New Orleans to celebrate led their wedding guests on a New Orleans musical journey around the artsy Bywater neighborhood near the French Quarter.

French Quarter © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Bourbon Street in the French Quarter is legendary for its barhopping and music. Only about a mile from Bourbon Street and our hotel, we also found a real gem of bars, restaurants, and local artists selling their art late at night on Frenchman Street. We came back to this street often for the diverse live music and food, as well as to purchase gifts for the family from the artists. We enjoyed sharing small plates and meaty gumbo at the Three Muses Restaurant (517 Frenchmen St., (504) 252-4801), while listening to a jazz pianist playing some of our favorite Scott Joplin Ragtime jazz songs.

Musicians in the Spotted Cat © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
 

We dropped in to the Spotted Cat, a small bar with a live band playing traditional Dixie jazz, then went across the street to Cafe Negril (606 Frenchmen St, (504) 229-4236), for drinks and to listen to our favorite Caribbean sounds being expertly played and sung by a  large reggae and funk band. We came back another night for Cajun and American food at The Maison (508 Frenchman), where we listened to two different local jazz bands — the stage in the back of the restaurant had a band playing and people dancing when we first walked in but by the time we were into our dinner; a second band had set up and played from the small stage at the front of the restaurant.

Maison on Frenchman Street © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Besides the music for which NOLA is known, the major attraction is its food – NOLA has some of the most unique local foods in the US, from traditional Louisiana Po-Boy sandwiches (usually roast beef or fried seafood, often shrimp, crawfish, fish, oysters or crab), meat or shrimp gumbo (like a thick soup), and beignets (donut pastry with powdered sugar). Cafe Du Monde in the French Quarter is a popular open-air coffee shop that serves only beignets along with non-alcoholic drinks (800 Decatur St, in front of Jackson Square, 504-581-2914). Harbor Seafood & Oyster Bar offers traditional seafood po-boy sandwiches, fried and boiled seafood, gumbo, raw oysters, char-grilled oysters, blackened seafood (3203 Williams Boulevard, (504) 443-6454). Cafe Degas is located a few blocks from the house where Edgar Degas lived while in NOLA. The restaurant offers French bistro food (mussels, in-season soft shell crab,frites, escargot, French onion soup) in a setting where a large pecan tree grows through the dining room, giving the feeling of an open-air patio (3127 Esplanade Ave., (504) 945-5635).

Cafe Du Monde server line with trays of beignets and drinks © Laurie Millman/goingplacesfarandnear.com

NOLA is more than alcohol and music and food – it is a city with plenty of attractions for visitors of all ages. Go online or speak with your hotel’s concierge for suggestions, and to make reservations on tours and at restaurants. Also check with visitor centers around town for discounts through “Day Passes.”

The scene at Café Negril © Laurie Millman/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Our attraction recommendations are:

Take a walking or bus tour to the historic and purportedly haunted locations in the French Quarter and local cemeteries. We joined an evening bus tour to four city cemeteries to look for evidence of hauntings, while learning about NOLA history from our resident guide.  Although we did not experience a “haunting,” we viewed a Christian cemetery from the gates to look at the iconic NOLA “houses” for the dead, and walked around a Jewish cemetery to see if we “felt” anything, while our guide explained how this lower-than sea level town interns their dead when they can’t be buried six feet down. We also walked around the Hurricane Katrina Memorial Park (5056 Canal St.): six blank, black mausoleums were designed for the unnamed and unclaimed victims. They border the paths representing a hurricane’s spiral path, and lead to a central, vertical rock which depicts the eye of the storm.

In the center of the French Quarter is a little museum which preserves New Orleans’ unique history and culture of the practice of Voodoo.  The New Orleans Historic Voodoo Museum is open seven days a week and most holidays, from 10AM to 6PM. General Admission is $7.00/person; $5.50/Seniors, Military, College Students with ID; $4.50/High School Student;  $3.50 Kids under 12. (724 Dumaine St., www.voodoomuseum.com, (504) 680-0128).

The National WWII Museum is a complex of buildings with immersive, interactive, multimedia displays to help you learn about the WWII campaigns. Visitors first start out by obtaining a “dog tag” (think “card key”) and you “board” a simile of a train to be assigned a digital WWII service person. You can then learn about the individual’s experiences, and collect digital WWII artifacts at stations posted throughout the museum campus. The Museum is open daily, 9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. (closed Mardi Gras Day, Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Eve, and Christmas Day.) General admission is $28/adult, $24/Seniors (65+); $18/Military (w/ID), college student with ID), child (K-12).  (945 Magazine St,, https://www.nationalww2museum.org 

Experience gourmet bug food at Audubon Nature Institute’s Insectarium © Laurie Millman/goingplacesfarandnear.com
At the Aquarium, see Greta the Great White Shark sculpture from plastics reclaimed from oceans
© Laurie Millman/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Audubon Nature Institute has three facilities which offer visitors special NOLA experiences:

The Aquarium of the Americas (https://audubonnatureinstitute.org/aquarium; open Tuesday – Sunday, 10am-5pm) is a two-story building located along the waterfront, and accessible by public transportation, including the trolley car lines. We love visiting aquariums across the country, as each one showcases local fish, mammals, and birds. This is true for the NOLA aquarium, where the main floor leads you through indigenous marine creatures from the Gulf of Mexico, as well as jellyfish and the Mayan reef. On the second floor, you can visit the Mississippi River Gallery and an albino alligator. Also check out the penguins, sea otters, sharks, and marine animals from the Amazon rainforest.

While walking around upstairs, take a break for some pizza at Papa John’s or a bowl of Haagen Dazs ice cream. Don’t forget to walk around the ice cream bar to check out the large collection of colorful parakeets.   Look for the large, fanciful sculptures which are scattered around the Aquarium and are made from reclaimed plastics from the oceans and seas. Without having to fly to the Maya Riviera in Mexico, you can treat yourself and others to a snorkeling experience in the Maya Reef exhibit, as well as schedule an up-close visit with the penguins and the sweet sea otters

To save $3 per Aquarium admission, go to the Audobon web site:  $25.95/Adult; $17.95/Child (2-12); $20.95/Senior (65+) (plus sales tax and $1 transaction fee per ticket).  You need to book the marine encounters in advance of your visit, either online or contact the Aquarium directly.

We walked into the Butterfly Garden and Insectarium (open Tuesday – Sunday, 10am – 4:30pm), expecting to be in and out in an hour — three hours later, we walked out with amazing new experiences. This facility is a living museum, with many examples of live insects and a wonderful butterfly room with a koi pond. As soon as we arrived, we were greeted by one of the facility’s entomologists, who walked with us and described each live insect in the long hallway cases and rooms. The entomologists rotate throughout the facility, always ready with a smile and a story to help you learn about the bugs.

A giant mealworm becomes food at Audubon Nature Institute’s Insectarium © Laurie Millman/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The same entomologists take turns in the ‘Bug Appétit’ Kitchen, six days a week. They prepare many of their own recipes to allow visitors to sample food made with edible insect ingredients. On the day we visited, we sampled roasted whole crickets with barbeque and other flavorings, chocolate “chirp” cookies with organic cricket flour, and crackers coated with garlic spread, humus, and cheese spread — all contained ground, roasted crickets or mealworms. Surprisingly, these delicacies all tasted quite good and turned out to be the highlight of our visit. As Mack, the head of Bug Appétit noted, “This is the wave of the future.” In fact, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations has been promoting the increased consumption of insect protein around the world since 2003 — farming of edible insects produce low greenhouse emissions, and offer a sustainable and inexpensive source of protein, vitamins, and amino acids essential for humans.

The Insectarium price includes an animated, 4-D movie about superstar bugs and their outstanding achievements. “Awards Night,” is fun for all ages, with celebrity voices by Jay Leno, Joan Rivers, and Brad Garrett. The “Flea Market” gift shop has unique items to take home: Laurie purchased amber earrings and keychains with baby scorpions and other bugs as gifts for herself and the family!

To save $3 per Insectarium admission, purchase online at the Audubon web site:  $18.95/Adult; $13.95/Child (2-12); $15.95/Senior (65+) (plus sales tax, $1 transaction fee per ticket).The Audubon Zoo offers an animal-themed water splash park for all ages with three different splash zones and  one area specifically for toddlers and younger kids. Grab an inner tube for a lazy ride along Gator Run, slide down a huge alligator water slide, run through spider monkey soakers and water-spitting snakes. Check the web site to confirm when the water park is open.

To save $3 per Zoo admission, purchase online at the Audubon web site:  $18.95/Adult; $13.95/Child (2-12); $15.95/Senior (65+) (plus sales tax, $1 transaction fee).

If you plan to visit all three Audubon centers, the best value is to purchase the “Audubon Experience” ticket, which offers a savings of up to $30.90 per person: $44.95/Adult (plus sales tax); $34.95/Child (2-12) (plus sales tax); $37.95/Senior (65+) (plus sales tax).

The Music Box Village is an enchanted secret garden of art and music which brings out the kid in anyone © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
The Music Box Village is an enchanted secret garden of art and music which brings out the kid in anyone © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com


The Music Box Village in the Bywater neighborhood of New Orleans was the location for the wedding which brought us to this part of the country (the bride, an artist who had done a couple of residencies in New Orleans, had a personal connection to the Music Box, and the groom had an American Roots band). The “Village” is a unique, outdoor, artist-created sculpture garden of life-sized, interactive musical houses. Each “house” is whimsically designed with different types of materials and equipment. The overarching purpose is to allow visitors of all ages to explore many different ways to make sounds and music. It is a magical, enchanted garden that turns anyone into a kid absolutely enthralled with making music. Check the Village’s web site for events while you are in town, so you, too, can experience this magical outdoor venue. (4557 N Rampart St., https://musicboxvillage.com)

New Orleans turned 300 during 2019.

Here are more highlights of a visit to New Orleans:

St. Louis Cathedral, New Orleans. New Orleans celebrated its 300th anniversary in 2019 © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
New Orleans celebrated its 300th anniversary in 2019 © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Horsedrawn carriage passes by the Oldest Tavern in US, reputed to have been built between 1722 and 1732, in the French Quarter of New Orleans © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Voodoo shop in the French Quarter © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com
The French-style wrought iron that decorates buildings in the French Quarter of New Orleans © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
French Quarter, New Orleans © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Night on Frenchman Street, New Orleans © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com
Night on Frenchman Street, New Orleans © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com
Night on Frenchman Street, New Orleans © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com
A walk through the Bywater, New Orleans © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
A walk through the Bywater, New Orleans © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
A walk through the Bywater, New Orleans © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Beads strewn from Mardi Gras past, New Orleans © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Walk over the Rusty Rainbow Bridge to Crescent Park Trail from the Bywater, along the water, to the French Quarter of New Orleans © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Rusty Rainbow Bridge: Besides music, art and food, New Orleans is about poetry and romance © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Rusty Rainbow Bridge: Besides music, art and food, New Orleans is about poetry and romance which is why it is so perfect for a destination wedding © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

New Orleans & Company, the visitor bureau, has an excellent website to help plan your visit, including sample itineraries: 2020 St. Charles Avenue, New Orleans, Louisiana, 70130, 800-672-6124, www.neworleans.com.

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© 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

From African Safaris to Chernobyl Nuclear Site, NYT Travel Show Showcases a World of Travel Experiences

Katoryna Aslamova, the chief guide for Chernobyl Tours, who has been leading tours to the Chernobyl nuclear site for years, at the New York Times Travel Show. Last year, 70,000 people toured Chernobyl, and the numbers have been increasing 30 percent a year © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

The New York Times Travel Show, which takes place each year at the Javits Center in New York City, is the largest consumer travel show in North America. Essentially, in the course of an afternoon, you can travel around the world on a single floor and 1000 steps.

The three-day showcase features global cuisine tastings, cultural performances, travel book signings, one-on-one conversations with travel experts, travel seminars and special discounts and offers from 600 exhibitors.

Here are some highlights from our “tour” around the floor at this year’s show:

Chernobyl Tour, Ukraine

The world’s largest radiation catastrophe at a nuclear power plant took place at the now infamous Chernobyl, in the Ukraine. An area the size of a small state was abandoned. Today, it is a tourist attraction, visited on daytrips and multi-day trips.

I meet Katoryna Aslamova, the chief guide for Chernobyl Tours, who has been leading tours there for years, and asserts that visiting is absolutely safe.

Though people love to post selfies of a Geiger counter beeping when it hits 0.3, she notes that the level of radiation during the course of a full day tour is equivalent to what you experience on an hour-long airplane flight (she says that the flight from Ukraine to London showed 2.82; to NY 3.91); 160 times less than a chest x-ray; 3600 times less than a whole body CT scan. It is even safe for pregnant women. The only ones not allowed are people under the age of 18, mainly because they cannot be legally prosecuted if they break rules, take out any of the rocks or disturb the soil (that could unleash damaging material).

(You can order a personal dosimeter “it will make your experience more enjoyable and memorable by making the radiation level visible and show your exact radiation dose at the end of the trip.)

 “It is so easy to set up the mood, the perception that visiting Chernobyl is risky. There are some hot spots on the ground– the size of a coin or tennis ball and the closer you come to it, the higher the radiation. But it can’t influence health because it would need long term exposure. Even if you measure a hot spot in the radiation zone, no place is high enough to risk health. The only place that would be dangerous would be inside unit, which is covered (double-sealed).

What could be risky hypothetically is the radioactive dust  (that give off alpha rays) that is still in ground have particles  –“ if you would dig it up or ingest it, that would cause dangerous exposure – so it is prohibited to dig or plant there.”

There is no restriction for pregnant woman if not prohibited to fly.

To take the tour, you are picked up in Kiev, capital of Ukraine, at 8 am for the 1 ½ hour bus ride. Over the course of a full day (the bus returns about 8-9 pm), you visit several sites.

The first stop is the village of Zalissya, which was the biggest in the area. “We are trying to tell not only about the accident but how people lived.”

Next the town of Chernobyl, which is 18 km from the powerplant (and not the ghost city that is so frequently pictured). People still occupy Chernobyl – scientists and foresters – who live there for 15 days a month in dormitory. “It is a unique place for research.” Visitors who do the overnight tours stay in hotels in Chernobyl.

There also are “self-resettlers” here and in other villages in the contamination zone – people who were evacuated after the accident “but sneaked back into the houses in the zone. They were homesick or had no place else to go.”

The accident took place in 1986, and many believe it contributed to the collapse of Soviet Union. “People stopped trusting government and the economy collapsed.”

She notes, “Nobody knows how many affected by Chernobyl explosion – the Soviet government tried to hide.”

The tour visits Radar Duga-1, a secret Soviet base known as Chernobyl 2 –which would have launched nuclear weapons. It is the only remaining antenna.

This reminds me of a documentary, “The Man who Saved the World,” about a Russian Lt. Colonel, Stanislav E. Petrov, who on September 26, 1983, despite radar showing the United States had launched nuclear missiles against Russia, refused to give the order to launch Russia’s missiles, literally saving the world from nuclear holocaust (for which he was disgraced and lost everything). No one knew of him for 25 years, but she knows of him. “He was a hero but not appreciated.” In that moment, I had such a sense of connection with this young woman from the Ukraine through our mutual knowledge and appreciation of Petrov.

The tour continues on to Kopachi Village which was buried under ground because there was too much radiation, but there are still some buildings (that’s where the famous photo of a kindergarten is from). You come up to the side of the power plant – 300 meters from the accident (but still, she says, 4x lower radiation than on an airplane.” 

Then the Red Forest, famous because it was consumed by the cloud. “We don’t go inside, but measure radiation.”

Then on to the famous ghost city of Prypat. This is not just where people lived – it had a population of 50,000  – but was a model city of the Soviet Union. The average age was 26 – every third person was a child. They were employees of plant. It was supposed to be model of the great Soviet life, if Communism would have worked.”

Chernobyl was biggest nuclear accident ever, but what does the whole world know? That there was an explosion, people died, it can’t be inhabited. But it is also a story of victory – of the mitigated areas.

All of this in one day, but there are multi-day tours, as well.

Every year 30% more people come on the tour (which is offered year round). Last year 70,000 people came (there are at least five tour companies, of which Chernobyl Tour is the largest.) Most take the one-day tour $89 – includes insurance, transfer, guard, permissions (can book day before, but it costs more).

There are also tours inside the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant and other limited access facilities; airplane and helicopter tours over the Chernobyl Zone and Ukraine; military tours to the shooting ranges, rides on armored vehicles and visits to a nuclear missile base; underground tours in the drainage systems, subway, tunnels and caves, and sightseeing tours in Ukraine.

Chernobyl-Tour.UA, 11 Andriivskyi descent, Kyiv, Ukraine, tel. 888-752-0336 (US), www.Chernobyl-tour.com.

Americans Continue to Visit Cuba

Travel from the US to Cuba is expected to rebound in 2019 after declining in 2018 after Trump renewed restrictions on travel and issued a State Department warning. That didn’t deter visits from Canada, Europe and Russia, and visits to the island nation increased. Cruise arrivals continued to increase in 2018, and were expected to exceed 850,000, with 70% of the cruisegoers coming from the US. Travel companies continue to offer tours that meet the Trump requirements, and all forms of “purposeful” travel authorized by the Obama Administration remain in place (heritage, family, journalists).

Independent travel by individuals, families and friends is largely unchanged but now falls under the rewritten license category of “Support for the Cuban People” instead of “People to People.” But Americans are cautioned not to stay or use facilities that support the regime; staying homes (Air BnB), is okay. “Keep your receipts for five years,” a woman who traveled independently through Cuba in 2017 tells me.

“I used Air BnB, stayed with beautiful families, visited schools, brought school supplies,” Shay Pantone of NY, who traveled to Cuba in 2017, tells me, adding “You need to speak Spanish if you are going to travel independently.”

Despite the Trump Administration’s branding Cuba with a Level 2 travel advisory (“Exercise Increased Caution”), the same status as 57 other countries including 12 in the Americas and 7 in western Europe, Cuba is judged by most as one of the safest destinations in the region with less crime and disease.

How to go? The Fund for Reconciliation and Development (www.ffrd.org), a group that has been advocating for opening travel and overturning sanctions against Cuba for years, advises:

  • Book nonstop to Havana on Jet Blue from JFK or on United from Newark; American, Delta and southwest have connecting flights. American or Jet Blue flies from Miami or Ft. Lauderdale to Santa Clara, Holguin, Varadero, Carnaguey and Santiago (from May 3).
  • Select “Support for the Cuban People” as the appropriate license category from the airline menu.
  • Use Air BnB or Trip Advisor to reserve a room or apartment (casa particular) from a private owner.
  • East in private restaurant (paladar)
  • Buy handicrafts, art and clothing from self-employed craftspeople and creators (cuento propistos).
  • If you need a guide, hire privately (preferably in advance)
  • As much as possible, use private taxis (also available between cities)
  • “Whatever you do, wherever you go, be intentional and responsible that your goal is ‘a full time schedule of activities that enhance contact with the Cuban people.. and that result in meaningful interactions with individuals in Cuba.’ (The judgment of what qualifies is yours.)”
  • Apportion recreational activities like concerts, dancing and the beach as in a normal work week.
  • Keep a journal or list of your ‘meaningful interactions’ for five years.
  • If you are on a cruise, exercise your right to explore independently or with a local guide.

More information:

Current US government regulations: tinyurl.com/regsnov2017

Essential information for independent travelers: tinyurl.com/Cubabasics

Fund for Reconciliation and Development is offering a fam trip May 3-10 to explore Santiago and Guantanamo; and for Carnival, July 20-28.

Fund For Reconciliation and Development, 917-859-9027, director @ffrd.org, www.ffrd.org.

Safaris with Social Benefit

Zulu Nyala promotes animal conservation in its six-day, six night safari packages using four-star lodges, in its own safari park the family has had for 35 years. “The owner was out with his family and stopped to look at a giraffe, saw a for-sale sign, and bought 15,000 acres.” The park accommodates up to 300 guests in three lodges (50-units, 56 suites, 48 safari tents). The all-inclusive program is hosted by a game ranger and offers two activities a day (walking or driving). (www.zulunyala.com).

The organization also offers the opportunity for organizations to use the $6,000 safaris as a charity fundraiser – for example, starting the auction at $2500 for two for a six-night stay, where the organization keeps 50 percent and gives the safari company 50%.

“There’s no money or risk on the part of the organization; we’ve been doing it for 15 years, and supported hundreds of American organizations.” (Contact Debbie Bosman, African Safari Donations, 800-595-5810, www.safarisforcharity.com, bosman@zulunyala.com).

Off Season Adventures: The idea here is to safari in Tanzania and Zanzibar off-season, when there are fewer people, it is less expensive, while also supporting local communities. The company reserve 5% of clients’ total package cost to invest in the communities and wildlife through a 501(c)(3) public charity Second Look Worldwide.  “These community and environmental investments are tangible projects which our clients can see during their trip. All projects are determined by the communities and dependent on their most direct needs, however, we are focusing on projects that support water management solutions. Our goal is to become a sustainable, net-positive travel company by replacing and building up all resources used by our clients during their tours.”

The company’s first community initiative, the Kakoi Water Project , is a project that will provide a year-round source of water to the village of Kakoi and its surrounding communities, which include three other villages, two schools, and a dispensary. “By supporting these local communities that border Tarangire National Park in Tanzania, we contribute to their well-being and encourage them to make an extra effort to protect animals in the area.”  The tours include an excursion to the Kakoi Water Project. Visitors get to visit a relative of theirs – go into hut, gather honey, seeds, roots, experience how live.

Off Season Adventures not only times its safaris in Tanzania and Zanzibar in the off-season when there are fewer people, it is less expensive and less stressful for villagers and wildlife, but also allocates 5% of tour price to support local community; this year, supporting the Kakoi Water Project to provide a year-round source of water for the 1000 people of the Kakoi Village and surrounding villages, and brings its guests to see it.

The tour company also offsets all carbon emissions through a partnership with Carbon Tanzania, which conserves huge tracks of forested land in Tanzania, a more productive way of offsetting carbon.  “To date, we have offset 83.84 metric tons of CO2 and protected 69 trees by helping Carbon Tanzania preserve 35,000ha of forest in the Yaeda Valley, an area that the Hadzabe tribe have called home for thousands of years. This way of offsetting not only has a positive environmental impact, but also has a positive impact on the local population of the Hadzabe.”

“Travel has the power to transform not only the traveler, but also our world. This belief forms the foundation of our business. We have a deep commitment to protecting and preserving the destinations we visit, and building a better world through sustainable travel.

“We believe in integrating sustainability into all components of our business. We are committed to providing experiences that have a positive impact on the environment, community, and economy of each destination visited. We work closely with our local partners to ensure that travelers are respectfully visiting in a way that showcases authentic experiences.”

(Off-Season Adventures, 100 Marshall Street #416, Hoboken, NJ 07030, 619-971-0823, offseasonadventures.com). 

Tours by Locals

Tours by Locals has now grown to a network of 3100 independent-contractor guides. The company facilitates the trend toward independent, “authentic,” experiential travel. The company marked a milestone: 10 years and 1 million travelers. You can find a guide for Vietnam ($50 US for 8 hours private, with car; less if walking or cycling city). The most northerly guide in the registry now is in Svalbord, Norway (where the Svalbard Global Seed Vault is located); the newest is in Mogadishu, Somalia (the guide comes with security); and there is an uptick in requests for guides in Cuba.

Israel for Foodies

I found it intriguing that Israel was the sponsor of the Taste of Travel section for the second year. Israel, after all, is not top-of-mind for cuisine. 

“Israel has wonderfully diverse gastronomic. We have James Beard Award-winning chefs,” Chad Martin, Northeast Region Director for the Israel Ministry of Tourism (www.israel.travel), says. “Israel is 70 years old- we now have fourth and fifth generation Israelis. Israel is a pot that hasn’t melted – In Israel, you might have four grandparents from different ends of the earth: Argentina, Morocco, Russia, East Asia – all Jewish and intermarrying. They borrow the best recipes from every grandparent, the spices mix together

What is Israeli food? “Israeli food is a mix of 70 cultures. The combination of cultures and innovation together – Israel, after all, is the Innovation Nation with the most start-ups.- it has a culture of creativity and that manifests in the food. We invented the cherry tomato. We’ve made numerous innovations in agriculture – we made the desert bloom, and there, things grow sweeter.

“The Israeli food scene is based around fresh ingredients. We are the size of New Jersey but have our own vegetables.”

At the New York Times Travel Show, Israel shows off its diversified offerings for travelers beyond heritage and pilgrimage experiences, from culinary to adventuring © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Culinary experience is just one of the ways Israel is reaching out beyond the most traditional sources of visitors- Jewish Heritage and Christian Pilgrimage. For the first time, Israel surpassed 1 million visitors from the North America, posting 42% growth over a two-year period. People are coming for food and wine experiences, meetings and incentives, even adventure and outdoors travel – mountain biking in the Negev where the country’s first Six Senses resort is opening and a new airport is opening in Eilat. Hikers can travel Trail Israel – it takes a month – and kayak in the grottoes of Rosh HaNikra, a geologic formation on the border between Israel and Lebanon, on the Mediterranean Sea coast in the Western Galilee.

“40% of our visitors are returnees, but not just for heritage, but because they realize that can’t really ‘do Israel’ in one trip. The ‘sophisticated travel’ segment has skyrocketed.”

The New York Times Travel Show brings culture from around the world to entice travelers to discover © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

The New York Times Travel Show, now in its 16th year, is the largest and longest-running trade and consumer travel show in North America, hosting 10,000 travel professionals during a Travel Industry Conference, and some 22,000 travelers at Consumer Seminars, Meet The Experts Pavilion and an interactive Exhibition with more than 600 exhibitors representing travel to all seven continents, positioned within 16 pavilions (including Adventure, Africa, Asia, Australia/South Pacific, Canada, Caribbean, Cruise, Europe, Family, Global, Latin America, L.G.B.T.Q., Mexico, River Cruise, Travel Products, and U.S.A. Pavilions). In addition to discounts and special offers, the show provides educational seminars and live entertainment for families, individuals and couples and seniors.

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© 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

Parade through Chinatown, NYC Welcomes in Year of Pig, Showcases Chinese Heritage

20th Annual Lunar New Year Parade, Chinatown, New York City © 2019 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate,  goingplacesfarandnear.com

Dragons and dancers paraded through New York City’s Chinatown on Sunday, February 17 to usher in the Year of the Pig in the city with the largest population of Chinese descent outside Asia.

US Senator Charles Schumer at 20th Annual Lunar New Year Parade, Chinatown, New York City © 2019 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

The parade is a colorful pan-Asian procession that incorporates the great variety of Chinese traditions – with a smattering of Brazilian drummers, Hispanic dancers, and Irish bagpipers. Tens of thousands lined the parade route as it wound from Hester Street, Mott, Broadway, and Forsyth to Sara D. Roosevelt Park, with US Senator Charles Schumer and NYC Mayor Bill DiBlasio among other elected officials, along with leaders from the Chinese community, leading the way.

US Senator Charles Schumer at 20th Annual Lunar New Year Parade, Chinatown, New York City © 2019 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

In his remarks to the gathering before the parade got underway, Senator Schumer applauded the contributions of “immigrants from all over who made America great.”  

NYC Mayor Bill DiBlasio and other officials at 20th Annual Lunar New Year Parade, Chinatown, New York City © 2019 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

With a population estimated between 70,000 and 150,000, Chinatown has been a favored home for Chinese immigrants. Indeed, Lower Manhattan has long been a haven for immigrant communities, from Jews in neighboring Lower East Side (the Tenement Museum), and Italians in Little Italy, and today, Dominicans, Puerto Ricans, Burmese, Vietnamese, and Filipinos among others add to the multicultural mosaic.

NYC Mayor Bill DiBlasio at 20th Annual Lunar New Year Parade, Chinatown, New York City © 2019 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Lunar New Year is cherished as a time to embrace family and heritage.

“Lunar New Year is the liveliest and most important celebration in Chinese culture and Chinatown is the place to experience it!”

Celebration of Chinese Lunar New Year Parade, Chinatown, NYC 2019

And the parade is an expression of celebration for Chinese heritage in America – as evidenced by the sheer variety of costumes and traditions on display.

Here are highlights:

Celebration of Chinese Lunar New Year Parade, Chinatown, NYC 2019
Celebration of Chinese Lunar New Year Parade, Chinatown, NYC 2019
Celebration of Chinese Lunar New Year Parade, Chinatown, NYC 2019
Celebration of Chinese Lunar New Year Parade, Chinatown, NYC 2019
Celebration of Chinese Lunar New Year Parade, Chinatown, NYC 2019
20th Annual Lunar New Year Parade, Chinatown, New York City © 2019 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
20th Annual Lunar New Year Parade, Chinatown, New York City © 2019 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
20th Annual Lunar New Year Parade, Chinatown, New York City © 2019 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
20th Annual Lunar New Year Parade, Chinatown, New York City © 2019 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
20th Annual Lunar New Year Parade, Chinatown, New York City © 2019 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
20th Annual Lunar New Year Parade, Chinatown, New York City © 2019 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
20th Annual Lunar New Year Parade, Chinatown, New York City © 2019 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
20th Annual Lunar New Year Parade, Chinatown, New York City © 2019 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
20th Annual Lunar New Year Parade, Chinatown, New York City © 2019 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Museum of China in the Americas (MOCA) offers a walking tour that takes visitors through Chinatown to learn about holiday traditions and customs observed by Chinese households. Witness how the neighborhood transforms itself in preparation for the New Year and discover the characteristics that make this holiday unique.”

Tours are conducted in English and are led by MoCA docents with personal or family roots in the neighborhood. In case of inclement weather, tours will be held in the galleries. Advance reservations are required. For information and reservations call 212-619-4785 or purchase tickets online, www.mocanyc.org. (Museum of Chinese in America, 215 Centre Street New York, NY 10013, 855-955-MOCA).

For more information, visit www.chinatown-online.com.

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© 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

NYT Travel Show: How to Be a Responsible Traveler… and Why

Safari in the tiger reserve of Kanha National Park in central India – tour companies, guides and visitors are tightly regulated. © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

Overtourism is a growing concern and not just for residents of popular places being overrun and rendered unaffordable and uninhabitable by onslaughts of tourists, possibly assisted by the mad dashes to the next “hot” place, prompted by social media “influencers” and “user generated” posts (‘Look at what a wonderful place I’m in, you should come!”). Governments and municipalities who otherwise relish the jobs created and economic benefits of tourism, are increasingly concerned about the literal destruction of the very thing that so attracts travelers – effectively killing the goose that lays the golden egg.

Some destinations are being mindful – Venice is even contemplating charging admission to day-trippers and there are now gates in place that can close off the city to anyone who isn’t a resident or hotel guest at night. Coral reefs are being killed off by snorkelers wearing popular sunscreens with oxybenzone (a travel company, Aqua-Aston Hospitality, won an HSMAI Adrian Award for Leadership in Corporate Social Responsibility for its “Reef Safe” Campaign raising awareness, including giving out 70,000 samples of appropriate sunscreen and ultimately got the state of Hawaii to ban the damaging chemical).

Places like the Galapagos and Macchu Picchu limit the number of people; the National Park Service has a lottery system for permits rafting in the Grand Canyon and people wait years for their number to come up.

Rafting and camping in Grand Canyon National Park are limited by number of permits issued and space © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

People can love a place to death, or just be so selfish and insensitive not to care – look at what happened the Joshua Tree National Park during the government shutdown, with vandals and marauders destroying trees that take 1000 years to grow, and will take 200 to 300 years to restore the park.

It’s a dual-edged sword, though: tourism, done right, helps sustain the very environment, culture and heritage by providing economic sustenance, so indigenous people can continue to live and work in their native lands, so there is money for maintenance and upkeep of monuments, wildlife refuges and nature preserves. Ironically, some game preserves justify selling hunting permits to sustain the animals. And often, travelers are not in a position to know whether the elephants or camels they ride are “gentle” because they have been conditioned with cruel means.

“I’m shocked how people (Americans) don’t care – until problem is right on them,” an irate Mark Lakin, Co-Founder, Epic Road, said at the New York Times Travel Show panel, ”Sustainable and Socially Conscious Travel: Tips, Advice and Travel Experiences.”

“Think about what drew you to a place – sustainability is defined as preservation of that asset – whatever it is that you want to see, you want your kids to see, you are choosing to make that asset live. I’m surprised more aren’t concerned about travel.” 

“Travel is not a right, travel is a privilege – if you are among those people privileged to travel, you have obligation to preserve [what it is you are traveling to see],” said Bret Love, Co-Founder, Green Global Travel. “Are you going to exploit or empower? We practice ecotourism – responsible travel to natural places – eco doesn’t stand for economy, which is exploitive, it stands for ecology.

Visitors are up at dawn to participate with indigenous people in the Sacred Maya Journey, on the Playa del Carmen, in Mexico’s Riviera Maya. Responsible travelers make an effort to get to know local people and learn about their customs and heritage © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

“Our purpose for being is to teach people how to travel more responsibly, sustainably to preserve not just the natural but the cultural – languages, music, dance – all the things that make a cultural destination unique. If we are not preserving, they won’t survive. The reason this is important is that if we don’t spend money responsibly when we travel, we risk losing all the things that make the places special.”

“There are two terms fairly loosely used: responsible travel and sustainable travel,” said James Currie, Wilderness Safaris Brand Ambassador. “Responsible travel has now become a word that you have to embrace sustainability to be responsible – yes can travel with a sustainable outfitter – someone who is taking care of the environment, who builds lodges in a sustainable way, but it is up to us travelers to act responsibly – to respect local cultures, communities, distances you go to see animals.

“I genuinely believe that responsible travel is a better form of travel, and once people experience it, you won’t want to travel any other way.”

New York Times travel and lifestyle writer, Shivani Vora discusses socially conscious and sustainable travel with experts Mark Lakin, Co-Founder, Epic Road; Bret Love, Co-Founder, Green Global Travel; and James Currie, Wilderness Safaris Brand Ambassador © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

New York Times travel and lifestyle writer, Shivani Vora, who moderated the panel, Sustainable and Socially Conscious Travel: Tips, Advice and Travel Experiences, at the New York times Travel Show, raised the issue that “so many of us stay in hotels, what does it mean to choose a sustainable hotel?

“There is such a thing as greenwashing – towels, hire locals – that actually saves money,” said Currie. “True sustainability goes so much further. When considering a sustainable hotel in fragile environments (like safari lodges), consider: Is that hotel built in a sustainable manner? Where we operate in the wilderness areas of Africa, you can literally pick our lodges up and there will be little sign of ever having been– there is no concrete foundation, everything is on elevated boardwalks, canvas-style tents, yet you still don’t sacrifice luxury. What are those hotels on the ground doing to have sustainable effect – animals, conservation, local communities? What are you doing for local communities, how are they benefiting from  the tourism dollars going to the hotel, what conservation projects are they supporting? We’ve been operating 35 years – 35 ears of “traveling with purpose” – we pioneered ecotourism in Africa before the word existed. 

“We use life changing journeys to help preserve and restore the wild places of Africa. Wilderness safaris connect with nature, make a difference. We were the first with passion, courage to pioneer sustainable ecotourism as we know it today. We adopted the African schema as a logo, a symbol of pristine and fragile eco systems. We were the first to reintroduce previously extinct species (rhino), to do ground-breaking reforestation in Rwanda habitat for gorillas.

“For us, it’s not just about big game on the savannah – thanks to 35 years of experience, we are able to offer guests authentic, intimate wildlife encounters – 2 million hectares of pristine wilderness areas in seven countries, 40 camps and lodges that epitomize our ideal.

While visiting temples in Cambodia, sketching with local children © Dave E. Leiberman/goingplacesfarandnear.com

“Conservation is also about people. “Our journeys change lives” not just those of guests, but of the staff and thousands of people who live in these communities.”

Among the programs that Wilderness Safaris offers is Youth of Africa, an eco-mentor program, where young people access and can appreciate their heritage and become the conservation leaders of the future. “We change lives now and into the future; our journeys change lives. We make a political impact.”

 “Don’t be afraid to ask the important questions when you travel in Africa,” Currie said. “If they don’t have something tangible in writing, a really good environmental policy, you are booking the wrong hotel or operator.

Bret Love, Co-Founder, Green Global Travel advised, “Certification programs to look for – some are more efficient than others – LEED building certification (if the hotel was built in sustainable fashion, but not if operated sustainable, or community initiatives). The epitome is the Global Sustainable Tourism Council (gstcouncil.org), which devises criteria by which tour operators and hotels are judged. But you have to pay to play and small mom and pop operators may not be able to afford certification. Another is Earthcheck (earthcheck.org) which has patented software and systems that have set a benchmark for sustainability reporting for the travel and tourism industry and is used 70 countries. Another is Green Globe and Rainforest Alliance.

“But it boils down to reviewing blogs, authoritative sites like New York Times, what people say. Look for active engagements with the community. 

“We work with international expeditions, leading tours to Peruvian Amazon for years – go to local schools in Iquitos where have conservation education program for kids, who train to become guides and trackers; go to river villages to see water treatment plants they created for villages, sidewalks so don’t have to watch for poisonous snakes – use money from tourism for schools, infrastructure.”

In Kenya, Gamewatchers Safaris & Camps have a connection to Masai. The company pioneered Masai conservancies, just outside Masai Mara where there is more wildlife because the animals are more protected. The local communities own the land which Gamewatchers lease, 90% of the employees are from the Masai and the company pays out $500,000, divided among 1000 local Masai families that own the property. So, look where money goes to community.

“Why it should matter to you is not just benevolence,” said Lakin. “In the Maldives people love those romantic over-water bungalows built on coral reefs. But if you use heavy machinery to build them, you kill the reef. Why should you care? Because when you dive off from your bungalow to the reef, it’s dead.

“The person who comes and serves breakfast. If the wilderness lodge has gone out of its way to build a school to educate that waiter’s child, he  will be happy to have the job, and it will be reflected in how he treats the guest.

Off Season Adventures not only times its safaris in Tanzania and Zanzibar in the off-season when there are fewer people, it is less expensive and less stressful for villagers and wildlife, but also allocates 5% of tour price to support local community; this year, supporting the Kakoi Water Project to provide a year-round source of water for the 1000 people of the Kakoi Village and surrounding villages, and brings its guests to see it.

“Stop seeking ‘ecotourism’ for ecotourism. You are all curious nomads, seeking out the next great adventure. If you  want adventure to be great, think about how every person, place and thing was treated and hopefully the label of ‘ecotourism’ will go away and it will just be about good business practice.”

Even hotels in urban destinations can reflect sustainable practices and responsible tourism.

“Consider not just how the building was built, but what extra things the hotel does for the local community, visitor experience,” Love said. “Does it have its own rooftop garden where they grow produce used in the restaurant? Does it have a rainwater catchment system so they are not using public water, or a gray water recycling system to irrigate, efficient lighting. Does it make the lowest impact it can make?”

The easiest telltale says Lakin, “Do the plastic test: if you walk into the room and you only see plastic; how many little bottles, pens, cups? “

“Whether a hotel is in Africa or a city, there are tangible examples of what a difference we can make, Currie says. “We had plastic bottles at our lodges until 2012, when we started a five-year plan to reduce plastic in lodges. In five years, we reduced plastic waste by 88%. We also put in reverse osmosis and recycle wastewater for vegetable gardens.

The amount of electricity using solar can save is 5000 carbon tons, equivalent to 600 flights between London and Johannesburg. Ask hotels what they are doing to reduce their carbon footprint.

The Sandpearl Resort in Clearwater Beach, Florida, was Florida’s first LEED Silver certified hotel; even the pool was designed to be purified without chlorine. © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
 

“If you travel and see a company not managing sustainably, speak up. As consumers, you have power,” says Love. “We spoke up in the Amazon, where operators were using plastic water bottles which they had to have shipped in and then deal with it afterward. We said, Why not just put a water filter system on the boat, give guests a water bottle with your logo that they can fill up, then you don’t have to deal with shipping. You can make these changes.” 

“Sustainability is a ripple effect,” says Currie. “It starts with the traveler making a difference, which makes a difference for the hotel, which has immense power with suppliers. At Wilderness Safaris, we noticed that a lot of food that was coming in cellophane-wrapped. We put pressure on suppliers to stop wrapping the food in plastic.

But even companies that want to be sustainable, may not know all things they need to do – companies that offer animal interactions, like elephant rides in Thailand, camel rides in Egypt, posing with a tiger, swimming with dolphins or encountering sharks in a dive cage.

Love points to companies that offer a chance to ride an elephant. “We had to educate them that this is not truly sustainable – if you want to use these words and avoid greenwashing – dedicate yourself to educating yourself. Consumers should educate – at website, stories about cases.

“I swam with dolphins before the documentary, ‘The Cove’ came out. No one knew in 2007 about dolphins in captivity – swimming with dolphins was considered ecotourism. The same with riding an elephant and walking with lions. Elephants which are trained to pose for photos or give rides, are put through an extremely brutal training process, designed to break the animal’s spirit and make it a slave to human overseers. If you wouldn’t want something done to a human why would you allow it to be done to one of most precious and beautiful animals in the world?

“Educating yourself about what is behind these things- people see Tiger Temple in Thailand where you can pose with a tiger (which may be shut down). But it has been proven that the tiger has been drugged, that’s why it’s so placid – but people don’t know. If you are touching an animal, posing with selfie, riding an animal that’s not meant to be ridden, probably there is some hurtful process to condition the animal. People don’t know. But if what you are doing is changing the natural behavior of the animal, don’t do it.

Aqua-Aston Hospitality won HSMAI’s Leader in Corporate Social Responsibility Award for its “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 © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Even snorkelers can be unwitting killers of the coral, by wearing sunscreen containing  oxybenzone, which is toxic to the living coral.

 “If on safari, game rangers or guides too close to wildlife that puts you at risk, but if something happens, the animal would be shot,” Currie says. “Guides must respect a comfortable distance, and keep park vehicles so they always have an escape route. If you see the guide getting  too close, say something. It’s about your safety but the animal’s safety also. At Ngorongoro Crater there are off road tracks all over because of irresponsible guides.

“The vast majority of animal interactions are not acceptable,” says Lakin. “One of the quickest ways to figure if interacting with captive animal is acceptable, is whether the animal is being bred.

In contrast, you can support organizations that rescue orphans and reintroduce them to the wild.

Lakin points to the David Shelbrick Wildlife Trust, which rescues orphan elephants whose mothers have been killed by poachers. They have developed a synthetic milk formula that mimics elephant milk. They may spend 5-7 years rearing the baby elephant before reintroducing them into a herd, but allows visitors, who make a donation, to visit the baby elephants. Elephants have lived on earth for over 55 million years, but in just the last 100, we have lost 92% of elephants to habitat loss and poaching.” 

Epic Road supports the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust (DWST) which rescues, rehabilitates and reintroduces the orphaned elephants, providing travelers who symbolically “adopt” an elephant with a $50 donation, an opportunity to have a private visit.

“The experience is just better when it is responsible,” Lakin says.

Micato Safaris received HSMAI’s Leader in Corporate Social Responsibility Award for its “AmericaShare” Campaign, where a portion of guest fees goes to subsidize a child’s education, and promoting wildlife conservation © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

“Wherever you go, try to engage with local community, food, culture, history, art, dance, everything that makes unique – don’t just be an observer but a participant – learn the language, learn to cook a dish, sing a song. In the Peruvian Amazon, we taught kids to do the hokey-pokey, in middle of Amazon! You will feel feelings you won’t get from all-inclusive resort, or a cruise. Just engage and be part of the world, embrace the world, that’s what makes travel real, connect across boundaries, understand we are all more alike than dissimilar. 

Overtourism – literally loving cherished places to death – is another problem inadvertently raised by ecotourists who believe they are supporting and sustaining environments and cultures. But there are ways to mitigate the adverse impact: time the visit to the off-season and less popular times when a destination is not being overrun. Even better, seek out alternatives.

The Taj Mahal is over-touristed, but a Responsible Traveler can choose to visit in less trafficked times. © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

“You might find joy in finding the 2, 3rd or 10th version of that place and not being with so many people,” says Lakin. “That’s not to say Taj Mahal or Victoria Falls are not spectacular but there is something to be said for visiting less trafficked.”

“There is no problem with going to Machu Picchu, which is doing things to limit tourists,” says Love. “But traveler should research and go in off season or shoulder. Machu Picchu is great but there is a whole sacred valley with amazing ancient ruins just as cool. Don’t neglect to see other things – in Czech Republic, Prague was crazy, way too many tourists, but every place outside Prague was great. You don’t want to contribute to mass tourism, but that doesn’t mean you can’t visit, just avoid peak times.”

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© 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

NYT Travel Show: ‘1000 Places to See Before You Die’ Author Shares 20 Favorites for 2019

Iceland, Land of the Midnight Sun, offers other-worldly scenery and is on “1000 Places” Author Patricia Schultz list of recommended places for 2019 © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

Patricia Schultz, author of the New York Times best-seller, “1000 Places to See Before You Die” offered up some 20 of her favorites to consider for 2019 in her talk, “Global Travel Experiences” at the New York Times Travel Show.

In writing her book, though, she said, “I started off with 100 drop-dead places” but was encouraged to increase the number to 1000. It took 8 years to write the book.

 “I did all the homework. Are these your favorite 1000? Probably not. You may ask, ‘How will I ever see all 1000?’ But it’s not about seeing all 1000, it’s having those places that resonate, talk to you, realize that this is place you’ve always heard about, or never knew existed.”

Despite skepticism of how the book would be received, within days of publication, the book shot up to #1 on the New York Times best seller list. “And to prove I am still alive, I gave myself the gift of travel. I don’t need a special occasion.” But she notes that it was a landmark birthday, “so with a friend I went to Machu Picchu.”

Machu Picchu – You fly from Lima to Cuzco to see the Lost City, 11,000 ft above sea level. The risk here is altitude sickness. “I was cocky. All that mata de coca stuff in the lobby didn’t work. So I’m sitting with an oxygen mask in the lobby, and  engaged in conversation with a woman from Newark celebrating her 90th birthday with her first passport stamp. She spoke of having dropped out of school at age 11 during the Great Depression, put four children through university as a washerwoman – one became an attorney, another a gynecologist. As a gift for her 90th she told me, ‘Perhaps you heard of it, 1000 Places.’ They gave me a magic marker to highlight any place and they would send me.’”  Edith with her husband of 70 years gave me two wonderful quotes: ‘Your knees have expiration dates’ (and she was on her second set of replacements, titanium); and ‘You need to do the difficult places first.’”

Scotland: Isle of Skye, Inner Hebrides Islands– brooding, romantic, often misty, green (it rains a lot). Of the islands off Scotland’s west coast, one is connected by bridge. Skye is only 50 miles north to south – incredible to hike. There’s a whisky trail (The Scots love whisky); a castle trail. Edinburgh. Take the train from London– wild, unexpectedly beautiful. Edinburgh has one of best performing arts festivals in world, Edinburgh Arts Festival. Part of it is the Military Tattoo –tickets are hard to come by – there are drummers, bagpipers from all over the Commonwealth around the world, who perform at night in front of Edinburgh Castle.

Iceland’s main city, Reykjavik, is quirky, the smallest capital city in Europe with just 125,000 people but that’s still about half the entire country’s population © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Iceland is only about 5 hours flight (about as long as it takes to drive out to the Hamptons on Long Island’s eastern shore from New York City- Icelandic Air has discounted fares – often you can stay days or a week in Iceland enroute to/from 20 cities in Europe.  The main city, Reykjavik, is quirky, the smallest capital city in Europe, just 125,000 people but the entire country has a population of just 300,000, and most live in the southwest corner. Icelanders are unusual people, highly literate, cultured, well traveled, speak English. The scenery is other-worldly.

Iceland is probably best known for Northern Lights, a celestial spectacle, sublime and surreal. Vikings, Iceland’s indigenous people, always had an explanation for the spectacular display of lights that can last 5 minutes or 5 hours – green, blue – if you haven’t seen it, you have to. You can take Northern Lights packages – but stay at least 4 nights because they don’t happen all the time, you can’t guarantee.  In summer, you don’t see the Northern Lights; instead, you have the Midnight Sun.

(Hurtigruten offers a Northern Lights cruise through Norway – if you don’t see the Northern Lights, they reimburse you.)

St. Petersburg, Russia. Commissioned by the czars of Russia, St. Petersburg big port of call on Baltic cruises – second most popular European cruise (after Mediterranean and you don’t need to be 90) – visit Scandinavian cities, northern European – Taillin, Estonia, Gdansk in northern Poland – we sailed out of Copenhagen, capital of Denmark, sailed east then north up to St. Petersburg – so much to see, you get 5-8 hrs in ports, but in St. Petersburg, you overnight up to 3 days. The Winter Palace is grand – best known as the home of the Hermitage Art Collection (one of the three top art museums in the world, with Le Louvre in Paris and Metropolitan Museum in New York). The Heritage Museum, Russia’s Louvre, is one of world’s richest repositories of art. It holds the Guinness Book of Records for most paintings of any museum – most are stored in the basement . The crowds are crazy.

Bruges, Belgium is Brussels in miniature. Everyone goes to London, Paris, Berlin, fly into capital cities and sometimes that’s all you see – which gives you a distorted idea of a country. Brussels, the capital of Belgium, is a beautiful city but less than one hour by high-speed train (travel throughout Europe by train, makes Amtrak look medieval, embarrassing) from Brussels is Bruges. People go for a few hours, for lunch, the museums. It’s very picturesque.  Bruges was the seat of the Dukes of Burgundy in 15th century – the Venice of the north, a little Amsterdam also built on canals. Bruges is less than 2 hours from Amsterdam. Everything you experience in big cities like Brussels experience here.

Amsterdam: The canals in Amsterdam are 400 years old, a UNESCO World Heritage site. People think of cafes, marijuana, red light district. Amsterdam is so much more. I visited on an AMA Waterways river cruise that starts in Amsterdam, cruises on the Amstel River that connects with Rhine. The Christmas market season is magical. A walking tour of the Red Light District is fascinating; the district has changed generation to generation; there is much to be learned. 

Venice” taking advantage of nighttime hours to visit the Doge Palace in San Marco Square, you feel you have this extraordinary art, this spectacular space to yourself. © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Venice, Italy – I took one of my first trips to Europe for ancestral purposes, to discover my roots – that’s a real thing, to explore your background, heritage, the reasons, traditions you grew up with. My mother was not from Venice, but from Puglia (on the heel of boot; Venice in northeast corner of ‘boot’ on a Peninsula). Venice was the seat of government; the Doge ruled this maritime republic that reached to Asia. San Marco was where the Doge lived and ruled; he built a cathedral to house St Mark’s bones, “borrowed” during the Crusades from the Holy Land. The Basilica of St. Mark was built over 1000 years ago – it’s not the oldest church in Italy but one of the most magnificent. It looks Byzantine, Arabesque because it was fashioned after Sophia in Constantinople. 

Istanbul, Turkey – rising above the chaos, where East meets West. There are other bi-continental countries (Russia), but Istanbul is the only city in the world that is bi-continental with one foot in Asia and one in Europe. Istanbul was a prime, super important hub on the Silk Road for millennia –merchants came with goods from China on their way to the Mediterranean and Venice – then loaded up European treasures to bring back. Over time, this commerce between East and West also resulted in an exchange of religion, ideology, DNA, cuisine, language, culture, everything imaginable. Built in the 6th century to spread Christianity (what was America was doing then?), Hagia Sophia was the inspiration for the Basilica St Marks in Venice. Today, it is no longer a cathedral or basilica; Ottomans stripped it of its Christian-ness and converted it into a mosque. The Muslims plastered the Christian frescoes over but did not destroy them, so some have been restored, so today, you can still see the fresco of Virgin Mary. Ataturk (who founded Turkey) made it into a museum, but it is still imbued with a spirituality; Muslims and Christians still pray here. Turkey has an incredible food scene, both traditional and contemporary. 

In Morocco, ride a camel at sunset into the Sahara desert where you overnight in a tented camp © David Leiberman/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Marrakesh, Morocco is an everyday carnival at the heart of the Medina – Morocco is so much fun, offering Islamic welcome and history. Most Americans believe Morocco is in the Middle East, but in fact is in North Africa. One of the best food markets, Jenna el Fna Square, happens in the evening in Marrakesh (overly loved by tourists); from 5-6 pm, they set up the stalls – a lot of vendors sell the same secret ingredient specialty, 6 generations. You can smell bbq, couscous for miles. Atlas Mountains and Sahara – you travel like Bedouins by camels and can spend the night in a tented camp. One night is fine in the desert under the stars. 

Lalibela, Ethiopia –Ethiopia is known for coffee, who knew Ethiopia was Christian? St George, one of the most photographed and best known, is one of 11 medieval churches in Lalibela, named for King Lalibela, built underground. You go down 3 flights of stairs to the entrance –columns, vaulted ceilings, each column different, all one piece of stone, dating from the 11-12th century. How were they built? They say it was built by a legion of angels. This is one of nine UNESCO World Heritage sites in Ethiopia. You will also find some of nicest people. Coffee regions are lush – beautiful countryside – thought would be dusty scenes – but large parts lush. Very mountainous – Simien Mountains are among the highest in Africa; Simien National Park in Northern Ethiopia is a World Heritage Center site (simienpark.org)

Most go to Africa for the safari experience (“safari” is the Swahili word for “journey” ) – the big 5 Safari Countries: Botswana, Kenya, Tanzania, South Africa, Zambia.

In the Botswana’s Okavango Delta, you can go safari by mocoro canoe © Eric Leiberman/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Okavango Delta, Botswana –is an incomparable wildlife oasis, one of the best places for safari– irresistible for many reasons, especially wildlife – Okavango Delta is the 1000th UNESCO World Heritage site – people danced in the streets when it was designated 3-4 yrs ago. You go into the Delta – a territory the size of Switzerland –in  dugout canoes the locals make. This is the only place in Africa where you can go safari by canoe or walking with armed guard and trackers (most places go by open top jeep). If you see 10% of what sees you, it’s a good day.

Mountain Gorillas of Uganda – It’s not cheap, just to get there to see the mountain gorillas of Uganda. Daily permits cost $600. There are three neighborhing countries (Uganda, Rwanda and Congo) where gorillas – who don’t know national borders – wander through, but pretty much stay put. The three countries together understand gorilla tourism is a big thing – accommodations are modest, fine – but it is about experience. For $600, you get a million dollar experience. The gorillas are not easy to find, but that’s what trackers do early in the morning, and report by walkie talkie or cellphone that they have found family x. The gorilla families are habituated to homo sapiens.  When they find a family is habituated enough, they allow you to sit with them for one hour. You sit and eat in the company of our closest relative (we share 98% of the same DNA). A Silverback can grow to be 500-600 pounds, they can be up to 6 ft tall. Males communicate with grunts and groans (but not us, lest we give the wrong signal or message). Uganda is spectacularly beautiful – Winston Churchill called it the  ‘Pearl of Africa’ and Ugandans even among Africans are known to be the friendliest.

The world’s three monotheistic faiths converge in Jerusalem © Eric Leiberman/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Old Jerusalem, Israel – transcending time, place and faith. So many have been to Israel but if I had a dime for every time people ask, Isn’t it dangerous? We live in America – if you’ve looked at statistics of gun violence, worse off here than in Israel – all kinds of statistics that more likely to encounter risk in your bathroom – I just say go. World is big, wide, possibilities are endless, wonders are countless, and you won’t have the same experience if you just sit and watch beautiful documentaries. Get up, get out and do and visit the Holy Land. Regardless of your religion or inclination, the history is amazing –this is the only piece of real estate equally revered by three major religions, Judaism, Christianity, Islam. One of the most photographed sites in Israel is the Wailing Wall. Also the Church of Sepulcher, built on the spot where Christians believe Jesus was crucified; the Golden Dome revered by Muslims. Israel is quite small (size of New Jersey); there is a new high speed train from Tel Aviv (like South Beach on the Mediterranean) to Jerusalem.

Petra, Jordan – the Pink City is half as old as time. Just across the border from Israel is another holy city, more and more visited in the last 10 years. Petra hit its stride during the Arab Spring, then tourism came to a standstill. Petra is mentioned in the Old Testament 2000 years ago. It was on the trade caravan route – and had water – so caravans laden with incense, frankincense, myrrh – spices found almost exclusively on the Arabian Peninsula, sold throughout Europe and worth its weight in gold – would stop in Petra and be taxed heavily by Nabataeans who were fabulously wealthy. Petra is actually 100 sq miles – you hike, go by mule (it’s 110 degrees), follow a mile-long sikh (natural alleyway) from 3-4 story high cliffs, that open up to reveal the Treasury. Most people visit for 2-3 hours and go back to Amman or Wadi Rum – like our Red Rock Country – and down to Aqaba (Lawrence of Arabia Country, center of Arab revolt). But if you stay overnight, you can go back in the evening, the place lit by votive candles, and hear Bedouin musicians perform.

Samarkabnd, Uzbekistan –another timeless caravan stop along the fabled Silk Road. Of the 5 “stans,” Uzbekistan is the best. Tashkent, the capital, is actually very modern in a Dubai way – crazy architecture, lots of money – but there are corners of the capital that are locked in time. Cities like Samarkand which were stops along the Silk Road, are some of the oldest inhabited cities – the tiles you see are remarkable – but what knocked us over was the hospitality of the people. They have been welcoming foreigners –  wide eyed and fascinated – for thousands of years. It’s an exciting time to visit and not just for all the architecture, but for the food and the exchange of culinary traditions over millennia.

Mongolia – across the Steppes in the path of Genghis Khan. There is one asphalt road. The people live in white tented gers (yurt), which they roll up to follow the herd to the next place. The nomadic herdsman culture goes back to Genghis Khan – they say one out of three Mongolians has Genghis Khan’s DNA (Genghis Khan now rock star reputation). Mongolia has eternal blue sky – Montana on steroids – countryside is open, untrammeled – people have very hard scrabble life – winters are harsh – snow, horrific sub-zero weather but still live in yurts.

Kerala India – backwater lagoons with highland plantations – India has 39 states –a big country with a population of 1 billion –  but most tourists confine their visit to Rajasthan (the Taj Mahal in Agra, Jaipur). But this time, I went to Kerala in the south – you have to go. Kerala has the highest rate of literacy in India – this corner of India is very cultured – feels different – very hot, humid, and looks like Sri Lanka (which is nearby) – the highest population of Christianity but predominantly Hindu – also has one of the oldest Jewish communities in Asia, in Cochin (the traditional account is that traders of Judea arrived in Cochin in 562 BCE and more came as exiles after the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE). This place is what Vasco de Gama and Christopher Columbus were looking for when they were searching for a maritime route to India, what Henry Hudson was looking for when he wound up in Albany (de Gama found the route to India on his 1497-1499 voyage). Everything is wild here. The highlands have some of the largest tea and coffee plantations, and spices from here (black pepper was gold) made their way into the cuisine. They say there are 100 kinds of curries from coconut here. The backwaters offer hundreds of miles of lagoon labyrinth. You fly into Fort Cochin – we arrived in Tamil Nadu – on the triangular tip of southeast Asia.

Kyoto, Japan –It is surprisingly easy to get around Japan independently, but if you are concerned about language, go with a group.  But the independent experience is such a different thing. Especially in Japan, which is so safe.  We think New York City is big but it’s a village compared to Tokyo, with 33 million people, but one of safest, friendliest – if you like big cities you will love, Tokyo. But you get on the Bullet train to Kyoto, small by comparison – just 1 million people. Kyoto is a city of ancient temples and gardens amidst a modern cityscape – among the most important, Fushimi Inari Shrine. Everyone comes for shrines, temples (2000) – Inari, Shinto Shrine to saki, rice, business (mushed together) – magical – Kyoto also home to thriving geisha community, remarkable cuisine.

Sa Pa Vietnam – On the northernmost border with China – Yunan – over 30 ethnic hill tribes live in a concentration you don’t find in China.  

Ubud, Indonesia – of the 17,000 islands of Indonesia, Bali is the most visited– Australians go to Bali like we go to the Jersey Shore – package deals, spring breaks, bachelor parties. But leave Bali behind and go to the interior, to Ubud – predominantly Hindu – beyond the beaches on the island of the gods.

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© 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

NYT Travel Show: Pauline Frommer’s Picks for Best Places to Go in 2019 – and They’re Not the Most Famous

The Douro River Valley in Portugal, one of the oldest wine regions, should be on travelers’ lists, travel expert Pauline Frommer  tells the New York Times Travel Show © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

What places will be really exciting in 2019, unusually inexpensive, or offering special celebrations – in other words, that should be on the list to travel in 2019?

At the New York Times Travel Show, renowned travel expert Pauline Frommer offered her picks – notably they are alternatives to the most heavily trafficked places that are top-of-mind these days:

Austral Islands, Tahiti: inexpensive to get there now – air fare is low thanks to the arrival of an upstart carrier, French Bee, going directly from California to Tahiti, driving down fares on  competitors.  But once you get to Tahiti, she advises, don’t go to the popular Moorea or Bora Bora, where you will spend $400-500/night for a hotel on the beach. Instead, go to Austral Islands –you fly into Papeete and most take a short hop, 45 minutes to Moorea or Bora Bora; instead, it takes 1 hr 15 for Austral Islands).

“You will see Tahiti as when [the artist Paul] Gauguin was there – totally undeveloped – there are not even hotels, you stay in a local guest house –a main house and a lot of bungalows on the beach where you pay $75-100/night, where there are incredible caves to explore, rich Tahitian culture – but you will pay 30-40% less than just a year ago.”

Matera, Italy: A city in the region of Basilicata in southern Italy, Matera is one of longest continually inhabited places on earth. People have been living in the caves here since 7000 BC. It looks as if it is from the Biblical era – which is why Mel Gibson filmed “Temptation of Christ” here, and other biblical tv and movies filmed here.

“It’s a real success story. In the 1950s, Matera represented everything that was going wrong with Italy. Carlo Levi wrote a famous memoir, “Christ Stopped at Eboli,” about the area, the deep poverty that the south of Italy was living in. In Matera, people lived in caves with no electricity, plumbing, their livestock in the caves. As a result, the Italian government intervened, pulled people out of caves, and created a new city for them. Then in the 1980s, entrepreneurs came in and repurposed the caves to boutique hotels. This year there will be even more visitors because Matera will be one of two European cities of culture – 1000 artists will descend on Matera to create site-specific operas, dance, music. It will be so exciting to get there.”

“The government was supposed to create high speed rail from Rome to Matera, but, this being Italy, they didn’t, so it is a little difficult to get there. But there you will find warm people, great food, and an art scene this year.”

Olympic National Park –there is overtourism elsewhere in America’s national treasures, our national parks, but Olympic National Park is under-touristed. “It’s the size of state of Rhode Island but 95% of it has no roads. You get to the edges of park. To go deeper, there will be in pristine wilderness, two hours from Seattle. You will find glacial covered peaks, 70 miles of undeveloped coastline (the most in lower US), primordial rainforests with thick sweaters of moss, trees 300 feet tall – you feel as if there should be a dinosaur clomping through – so under-touristed. Rain – they get 16 feet of rain per year – that’s how moss gets so thick – but you can stay close by, in Sequim, one of driest places in the US (its lavender farms make it the Provence of US, the air scented with lavender). If you go to Washington State, visit Olympic National Park.”

Pousada do Porto, Freixo Palace Hotel, in Porto © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Estrada Nacional 2 Portugal:  “This is Portugal’s Route 66. Portugal is on the rise, everyone wants to go there. It has the cheapest prices in Western Europe, restaurants and hotels, gorgeous things to see and do. Estrada Nacional 2 goes north to south through Portugal’s interior – you see less visited places like medieval villages in the mountains, where you can visit farmers – cheese, wool – and wolves howl at night; the Douro River Valley, one of oldest wine regions in Europe. Spend a night in a 15th century quinta (manor house); visit ancient gothic houses, university cities. In many places you will see places slathered with gold. This is because in the 17th century, Portugal was the most important on earth in wealth, bringing galleons of gold from the New World, so you see gold slathered all over churches. Then, in 1755, Portugal had bad luck – a major earthquake stopped development, then, in the 20th century, Portugal was under the control of the dictator António de Oliveira Salazar. It had the deepest poverty in Europe, the worst rate of infant death rate in 1950s-60s. Then, after 1968, Portugal emerged from cloud – but is still not as developed as other parts of Europe, so feels more preserved. Do this wonderful road trip.”

New York State: “New York State is one of best places to go in 2019. There are all the glorious nature sites – Finger Lakes; Lake George (free music festivals in September, fireworks Thursday, dino themepark opening); the state has the most ski resorts of any state in the nation. But the reason we picked it as a top place in 2019 is that there are so many new developments.”

The Nest, one of the new attractions (under construction and due to open in 2019), located near the popular Highline and Javits Convention Center, along with special celebrations in New York City and around the state make New York one of the top destinations for 2019 © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

In New York City, Hudson Yards, just across from the Javits Center in Manhattan, is a little controversial but will be catnip to tourists – in middle ‘The Nest’ – opening in April –you climb over it (which will likely be as popular as the fabulously popular Highline). There’s an arts center, The Shed, on wheels so artists can decide whether artwork should be seen inside or outside. Soon it will have going to have tallest observation deck in the hemisphere where you look down.

Jackie Robinson Museum, an 18,500 sq. ft museum at 75 Varick Street, in lower Manhattan, scheduled to open in spring2019.

2019 World Pride, commemorating the 50th anniversary of Stonewall uprising, taking place in June, is expected to draw millions of visitors to the city, and throughout the state. “There is a rumor Madonna will be performing; Niagara Falls will be decorated with rainbow colored lights. It will be amazing time.”

This year also marks the 50th anniversary of Woodstock, with two concerts, one by the original producers (not in the original place) and another in the original place with a mix of old/new artists.

Walt Whitman is turning 200, with exhibitions and commemorations, centered on “where it all began,” in Huntington, NY, with events throughout the year, but special birthday celebration on May 31: Walt Whitman’s 200th Birthday! (246 Old Walt Whitman Road, Huntington Station, NY 11746, www.waltwhitman.org).

Singapore is a huge movie star with “Crazy Rich Asians.” Singapore also has extraordinary cutting age architecture: “Super Trees” which are vertical gardens, with live plants growing along side and solar panels for energy. “People forget this is a culturally rich small nation, settled by people from Malaysia, China, India – a mix of cultures – little Indias, mosques, temples, museums to all the cultures, fabulous food (the only Michelin 4-star restaurant where you can get a meal for $1.50 – it’s actually a food stand in one of hawker centers). If you ever wanted to go to Singapore this is the year: commemorating milestones: Raffles, man who came and claimed Singapore, 200 years ago, exhibitions, in context of longer Singaporean history, culture.

Some trends that will shape travel in 2019:

Chinese New Year in Chinatown, New York City – the rise of 100 million travelers from China are changing the economics of travel around the Chinese New Year, no longer a “low season” for pricing, availability. © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Chinese tourism: Last year, 137 million Chinese travelers left China to venture to other parts of world. The World Tourism Organization (WTO) estimates their average spending double the international average, so the travel industry is bending over backwards to make Chinese tourists happy – hotels are replacing alcohol bars with tea bars, using feng shui design. This trend will affect Americans negatively by changing the seasons of travel: For example, January-February had been low season everywhere in the world (where you could expect low rates and few crowds), but that’s Chinese New Year, the time when Chinese go out to travel. That means  you will see spikes instead of dips in January-February around New Year, and around Golden Week, in September.

Iceland’s famous Blue Lagoon. Travel experts like Pauline Frommer fear such places are being “over loved” – there were more Americans visiting Iceland than Icelanders – and suggest some alternatives to “overtourism. © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Overtourism is a significant problem. “There are places that are over-loved,” she says, offering suggestions for alternatives:

Instead of Barcelona, travel to Girona, Figueres, Roses

Faroe Islands instead of Iceland (last year, there were more Americans in Iceland than Icelanders)

Komodo instead of Bali

Similan Islands of Thailand instead of Maya Bay (made popular by Leonardo DiCaprio’s movie, ‘The Beach,’ the government closed it to protect it from overtourism)

Choquequirao instead of Machu Picchu

Rovijn instead of Dubrovnik

Basilicat et Puglia instead of Cinque Terre et Amalfi Coast

“A lot of tour operators are working with this. They understand the problem”  that if a destination is overrun, the very thing that people are coming to experience will be destroyed, so are pushing clients to travel different times of year. “There are many more tours to Japan in the dead of winter – much of what there is to do is indoors, anyway, and it is wonderful to go to the baths in winter. (fyi: You won’t be able to use the baths if you have a tattoo, the mark of Mafia).”

The Frommers host a regular radio show, publish their famous guides and produce an outstanding travel site, Frommers.com.

See also: New York Times Travel Show: Pauline Frommer Offers Sage Advice to Satisfy Wanderlust

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© 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

New York Times Travel Show: Pauline Frommer Offers Sage Advice to Satisfy Wanderlust

“Don’t forget hostels” Pauline Frommer tells the New York Times Travel Show. Staying at the Green Tortoise hostel not only provided a lower-cost alternative to commercial hotels in San Francisco, but is an experience in itself © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

The New York Times Travel Show is the largest consumer travel show in North America and this year hit record attendance – a good indication of the eagerness and ability of people to pursue their dreams to explore, discover, engage, rejuvenate.

Each year, one of the best of the programs offered at the travel show is the presentation by Pauline Frommer, travel expert extraordinaire and scion of the legendary Arthur Frommer, whose famous book, “Europe on $5 a Day” was a bible for a generation of Boomer backpackers, including me.

Each year, her tips (best travel sites, best time to book, best ways to save money, best ways to have an enriching, immersive experience), trends in travel that will shape your next vacation, and suggestions of where to go (this year, a focus on alternatives to places despoiled by overtourism) are spot on, delivered with sincerity and sheer joy of travel. 

But this year, she starts off with why it is so important to travel, especially now.

On the one hand, she observes (as did Nicholas Kristof in his New York Times column, “Why 2018 Was the Best Year in Human History!”), that despite the anxiety-provoking headlines, humanity has never been better off than now – certainly there is no better time to be a woman than now; the percentage of population in extreme poverty has fallen from 90% in the 1820s to 15% today (despite the fact that three Americans have as much wealth as the bottom 160 million); the life expectancy of Europeans and Americans in the 1700s was 35; by the 1950s, 60, and today, 75-80 (60 in the Developing World).

“We’re on a good path, but we don’t realize this.” This is largely because of media and how we consume it.

“So if we see nothing on the news but plane crashes and murders – even though air travel is statistically the safest way to travel and the murder rate is on the way down – fear today is making us make bad public decisions, and not just in the United States.” (And some have seized on this power to shape perceptions.)

She notes that these countries have something in common: UAE, Ireland, Germany, Canada, Bahamas, France, New Zealand, UK. What do they have in common? All of them have travel warnings against coming to the United States because of gun violence.

But, she says, “When we go out in the world, we have such a great opportunity to explore and see what’s going right, what’s working, what isn’t working in terms of social issues in Europe, Asia, Africa. We come back and tell our neighbors, Mexicans are not rapists and there is no such thing as shithole countries.

“Travel is a fun thing, a relaxing thing, but today, it is also important. We are witnesses and we need to be good ambassadors of United States.”

Indeed, she offers a quote from Mark Twain: “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on These accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.” Notably, Mark Twain was also a pioneering travel writer.

Renowned travel expert Pauline Frommer shares her sage travel advice at the New York Times Travel Show © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

So what are the trends and tips for travel in 2019?

New distribution capability (NDC): Airlines (who pioneered e-commerce, Customer Relationship Marketing – Loyalty programs – and yield management) are working on incorporating artificial intelligence to track all your buying decisions and bundle air fares to what they “assume” you want (or rather, what they assume you will buy). “But say you are traveling on your boss’ dime, so you checked a bag and paid for priority boarding, but when you travel on your own, you don’t want to pay for that. In coming months, the program they are rolling out, if it works as planned, when you search for an airline ticket, you won’t be shown tickets without luggage or priority boarding, they will already be bundled into the quoted fare, because they think they know what you want. It will make air fare searches even more opaque than in the past.”

Frommer’s advice: “You need to be anonymous – clear cookies, use a different computer. It will be less convenient, but it’s the only way to get true fares.”

She recommends two sites as best for airfares, based on a survey of 10,000 searches, beating out Googleflights, Expedia, Orbitz and the rest.

Momondo.com

Skyscanner.net

“They consistently came up with lower prices.”

She adds, “Timing is everything in booking airfares.”

Based on analysis by the Airlines Reporting Corporation (ARC), the middle man between airlines and travel agents and OTAs (online travel agents):

Booking on Sunday can mean a 17% savings (“possibly because corporate travel agents don’t work on weekends, the airlines know you are leisure traveler, and therefore more cost-conscious, so will get better deal)

Don’t book on Friday, prices are up 12%

February is the least expensive for international flights; December is most expensive month; September the cheapest for domestic flights, June the most expensive.

Artificial intelligence will affect hotel stays – they are tracking you there as well.”I was at a travel writers’ conference and met a woman who supports her writing (most freelance journalists living under poverty line) by renting out her apartment through AirBnB when she travels. She asked a friend to look at her listing. But her friend couldn’t find the listing because her friend usually spent more than she charged, so AirBnB didn’t deliver it – even on the last page she couldn’t see it. This is another case where you need to be anonymous as you can.”

Hotels booking sites are working on the back-end to make it ‘more convenient’ for you to find them.

Here are where you can find the best prices for booking hotels:                      “

Bookingcom (has best rates– beat the big ones everywhere but Asia)

Agoda.com – best for booking hotels in Asia

There are also sites that give you the best hotel rates for booking “blind:”

Priceline.com

Hotwire.com 

BiddingTraveler.com

TheBiddingTraveler.com

“BiddingTraveler and the TheBiddingTraveler.com are manned by travelers who say what was bid and what they got -prices can be extraordinarily low.”

But alternative lodgings – hostels, apartment-sharing, home exchange – not only can save money over commercial hotels, but afford a special experience.

“Don’t forget hostels –they’re not just for young people, not just dorm meals – some offer private rooms, are lovely places to stay. There is no more fun than going into the lobby of hostel and speaking to people from all over the world.”

“Sharing” Accommodations Sites:

AirBnB.com

Homeaway.com

Zonder.com

Flipkey.com

VRBO.com

The ‘sharing’ sites are starting to affect commercial hotel pricing, [but they also are] adding more and more fees. ”A lot of individual owners are getting smarter about charging high cleaning fees – so be careful and go all the way to the end [of the listings] before you book. When you book are these sites, you aren’t booking with an agency but with an individual owner –who may have one or 20 homes, but not the heft of a hotel. That that can make cancelling a reservation very costly.

Taking “sharing” a step further is home exchange.

“Home exchanges are a great way to travel and have an authentic experience,” Frommer says, but emphatically advises, “Not Craigslist.”

Frommer recommends:

HomeExchange.com

GuesttoGuest.com

Through Friends

“A friend who was tracing her geneology and did home exchange, had a knock at the door, and a neighbor invited her to tea; another came and invited her to a ramble; another to tour the local factory. This kept happening and she finally realized she was the single most exciting thing to happen to this small town in Wales. On the last day, a group of neighbors presented her with a framed painting of town square, and they are still in touch.  With home exchange, you will meet locals – everybody sends over their friends to check you’re not busting up the place.”

As for safety, she says, “It takes so long to set up a home exchange – so many details – Do you exchange cars? Leave the cribs? – it wouldn’t behoove a criminal to take part –there is  not enough payoff. It’s a very safe activity.”

For car rental she recommends:

AutoSlash.com is best. “When you go to the site, it asks, ‘Are you a member of Costco, AAA, AARP? It applies all the discount codes to your rental and any other discount that could be on the market. So they start off with lower price, then track rental, so if the price drops, rebook at lower rate.”

Frommer relates that she used the site two years ago for a trip to New Zealand, and because of all the price drops and discounts, saved $400 on a rental in northern New Zealand and another $400 on a rental in southern New Zealand.

A barge hotel cruise on canals through Burgundy, with bikes on board, has appeal for younger travelers. The rivers and canals were the arteries that connected towns and communities; you step off the boat right into a cobbled town square © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

River Cruises – Europe, Vietnam, United States, Amazon rainforest – these rivers were the arteries that connected communities. You wander off the boat directly onto a cobbled town square, the great cathedral you came to see – this is how people traveled for eons.

“But river cruises are not for everybody. My father turns 90 this year and 10 years ago he took a river cruise and raved – and claimed he was the youngest on board. River cruising attracts a certain demographic.” (Probably because they tend to be very expensive.)

“Certain boats get younger travelers, like UbyUniworld

Over the top river cruises: Uniworld, Tauck, Scenic

Luxurious: AMA Waterways (have bikes onboard, so get more active travelers); Viking Cruises, Avalon Waterways

Budget: Emerald Waterways; CroisieEurope; Grand Circle; U by UniWorld; Vantage

Family friendly: Ama Waterways; Tauck

Best rivers: Danube, Mississippi, Mekong

“The dirty little secret about river cruising is that while everything is included (more than on ocean cruises) – all the alcohol, daytrips for initial price – but with the exception of UniWorld and Grand Circle, all the companies share the same pool of guides on shore – they take whatever guide is available. So you could be paying $550/night on Uniworld and get the same land experience as on Emerald paying $200/day. 

The best rivers for cruising, according to Frommers guidebook editors Michelle Baron and Fran Golden, are the Danube, the Mississippi and the Mekong because they have the best variety of things to see and do.

“On many river cruises, Day 1 has the most gorgeous cathedral, Day 2, Day 3 the same. But on the Danube, Day 1 is a winery, Day 2 a castle, Day 3 a cathedral, Day 4 an art deco spa. There is more variety.”

How to find the right tour for you? Frommer recommends:

Stridetravel.com

Tourradar.com

Evaneos.net

Viator.com – does short/long term tours. “You put in where you want to go, dates, and get something like this: a list of 8/day trips to Masai Mara (the cheaper one stays in same camps with almost same itinerary)

Frommer, who notes she had just met the TourRadar CEO, says, “When you buy a tour through them, they hold the money until after departure, so they do the best they can to vet the tour operators. They want to bring in Mom-and-Pop and local companies – so you often get greater value, more authentic, closer-to-ground experience. They hold the money until after departure and if necessary, book another tour for you.”

For big-ticket items for rentals, cruises, safaris, tours, Frommer recommends buying travel insurance:

SquareMouth.com

InsureMyTrip.com

Travel Insurance.com

(My favorite is WorldNomads.com)

The most expensive policies usually don’t cover everything, Frommer advises, but never buy insurance from the travel provider you are traveling with – if the company goes out of business, you’ve lost insurance as well as money for the trip, and they get commission (kickback) from insurance. You can get more coverage by going direct (to the insurance company).

Foodies who appreciate the lusciousness of truffles should make a beeline to Portoroz in Slovenia and Rizi Bizi restaurant for a gourmet experience. Culinary experience is increasingly steering travel choices © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Next big thing in travel:

Foodism – culinary travel is shaping the travel experience. “Thanks largely to the late great Anthony Bourdain, travelers know food is an extraordinary window into different cultures, and are demanding more and more authentic food experiences. On tours, like Country Walkers (a glamorous high end walking company), you end the day with a 5-course meal with the chef or going to a farmhouse for dinner.

“There are foodie-experiences on every tour, but you don’t have to take tours to have unusual food experiences – there are a slew of new websites that help you find them yourself”.

Eatwith.com

Travelingspoon.com (you eat in people’s homes around the world, like the best Italian grandma/chef in Palermo, where you go into her kitchen. They guarantee all hosts speak English)

Foodietrip.com

Airbnb.com/experiences – for example, an ex-tv producer became an Airbnb experiences guide, who takes travelers to dining experience

BonAppatour.com

Another unusual way to have authentic, immersive travel experiences: short term work

Frommer offers the example of her daughter, a college freshman, who took a gap year last year and went to Japan with Workaway.com. This is a website where would-be employers post job listings, employees know they will work 5 hours a day, 5 days a week, for full board –you  just pay airfare. “She worked at a ski resort (got lift tickets), a farm selling sweets (learned Japanese to give a spiel on candy), a traditional inn (we have a photo of her cleaning a toilet with a big grin on her face). She met people from all over the world, all ages doing this.”

Some of the sites:

Workaway.com

WWOOF.org

WWOOF.org (Willing Workers on Organic Farms) – Sweden, Netherlands – free vacation but do some work

Vaughan Systems (https://grupovaughan.com/teaching-english-spain/), which offers a series of English language programs in Spain. “They want volunteers who speak different kinds of English. They don’t expect you to have any experience teaching, they just want you to talk. They give wine at every meal so it is easy to talk and talk. They are doing this at a campus in Salamanca, a medieval university town, another in Pyrenees, and in Madrid. People who have done it said was a life-changing experience. They made dear friends among those teaching English.”

Digital nomad careers – for people who want to hit road and don’t want to come back – skills to work remotely – who don’t have to be in same timeszone as post – whole cultures are growing up around digital nomadism

Jobatical.com

Remotey.com (remote year – finds places to live and work with WiFi – different jobs; people live together, work in the same space and socialize together and every month, the whole group moves to a different city; there are 4 and 12-month programs)

Jobspresso.com

RemoteOk.lo

The Frommers host a regular radio show, publish their famous travel guidebooks and produce an outstanding travel site, Frommers.com.

Next: Pauline Frommer’s Picks for Best Places to Go in 2019 – and They’re Not the Most Famous

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© 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

Honeymoon in Paradise: Anse Chastanet in Saint Lucia

Dave takes in the view at sunset from our Passion Flower terrace at Anse Chastanat, shortly after we arrive on Saint Lucia © Laini Miranda/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Dave E. Leiberman & Laini Miranda

Travel Features Syndicate,  goingplacesfarandnear.com

When we thought about our ideal honeymoon, all we knew is that after extensive planning for our DIY destination wedding in New Orleans, we (1) wanted to be on a tropical beach with beautiful scenery and spectacular lodging in which we wouldn’t typically indulge, where we could decompress and just be together, and (2) didn’t want to do much planning. We had heard that Saint Lucia had some of the most unusual scenery of the Caribbean Islands (mountains, jungle, volcanoes), and that if we were going there, we had to stay at Anse Chastanet. We didn’t know it when we boarded the plane in New Orleans, but we were on our way to a honeymoon that would truly redefine our notions of a romantic luxury beach vacation.

Anse Chastanet (below) and Jade Mountain (above) are designed to be at one with Saint Lucia’s nature © Dave E Leiberman/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

A slow, adrenaline-pumping car ride up two miles of rocky terrain brings us to Anse Chastanet and its even more exclusive sister resort, Jade Mountain, nestled at the westernmost point of the island of Saint Lucia. The first thing we notice from the top of the mountain is the breathtaking view from every angle: the grand Pitons to our left, the Caribbean straight ahead, and lush jungle to our right. We find ourselves in a World Heritage Site anchored by the twin peaks and the resort’s two bays which are part of a designated marine reserve protecting miles of coral reefs. Both of these ultra-luxury eco-resorts are the creations of a young Nick Troubetzkoy, who straight out of architecture school discovered 600 acres of virgin jungle and had a vision for a resort designed to honor the boundless nature surrounding it.

The entire resort is seamlessly built into the oceanside mountain. The architecture highlights the views, camouflages walls, and celebrates natural touches of luxury like the soaring peaked ceilings in each room, the iridescent recycled glass tiles in each private pool of Jade’s residences, and the koi ponds dotting the layout of Jade’s open courtyard. There is no all-encompassing “roof” to the resort. The refrain we heard from a few of the staff there seemed to perfectly characterize Troubetzkoy’s vision: “Above Anse Chastanet is Jade Mountain, and above Jade is the sky.”

We can hear the ocean waves and chirping birds from our king canopy bed, and see the sunset from anywhere in our suite (even from the shower!) © Dave E Leiberman/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We will remember the details of our honeymoon at Anse Chastanet forever — falling asleep and waking up to the lulling lap of the ocean and peaceful chirps of the birds, our only visible and audible neighbors; epic buffet breakfasts overlooking the blue ocean horizon; red snapper and coconut ceviche lunch on the adjacent Anse Mamin beach, and the most flavorful jerk chicken we’ve ever had. During daylight hours we mountain-biked through the jungle on the property, snorkeled around the reef whenever we felt like it, had delicious tropical cocktails on both beaches (we recommend the St. Lucian Banana Daiquiri), and got amazing massages at the resort’s Kai Belté Spa. In the evenings we sipped champagne on our wrap-around terrace before strolling down to dinner, which one night featured a private, five-course Lionfish dinner served to us under a candlelit canopy on the sand (more on that later)! We couldn’t have dreamed for a more ideal honeymoon.

We are greeted with welcome drinks on the Treehouse terrace while the wonderful staff brings our luggage to our rooms.
© Dave E Leiberman/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The rooms at Anse Chastanet and Jade Mountain are masterfully designed to avoid two things: (1) artificial air conditioning and (2) the traditionally conceived concept of a roof, or more generally of an enclosed space. Each has its own unique features: one room at Anse Chastanet has a swing and a jungle tree running through it to the sky; one suite at Jade, named best room in the world by Condé Nast in 2016, is around 2000 square feet and features a lit mini-stairway to the bath area, a jacuzzi for exactly two people, and a freshwater infinity pool made of one-of-a-kind, hand-made iridescent recycled glass tiles, that overlooks the ocean and the Pitons (there are 3 Galaxy Sanctuaries with similar features at Jade Mountain).

JE 1, one of Jade Mountain’s 3 Galaxy Sanctuaries averaging 2000 sq. ft., features panoramic views of the Pitons and the Caribbean through the absent fourth wall, a two-person Jacuzzi and massive infinity pool © Dave E Leiberman/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The private infinity pools in Jade’s rooms range from 450 to over 900 square feet, with a private walkway leading up to the room (your privacy begins well outside your door). Jade’s rooms all come with a personal butler service of Major Domos trained by the British Guild of Butlers. While Jade Mountain reserves exclusive access to guests with rooms on this part of the resort, we were treated to a visit one afternoon.

There is, of course, no such thing as a room with a bad view at either luxury resort. Some rooms at Anse Chastanet and Jade Mountain have the fourth wall missing entirely, while others have wooden louvre walls that open to balconies or patios. There is also the The Piton Pool Suite, tucked away in a private hillside setting, and the Beach House, a stand-alone house with a 1600 square foot patio, secluded amidst its own landscaped grounds with a private gated entrance from the beach (this house is fully air conditioned). There are no TVs, radios, or telephones in the rooms, “so that the outside world cannot intrude”. All of the rooms have original art on the walls created by artists who were invited to stay in the room while they made the artwork inspired by the space itself.

Without hyperbole, “Passion Flower” at Anse Chastanet is the most spectacular “room” we have ever stayed in. Calling any suite at Anse Chastanet a “room” is misleading for so many reasons; they would be more accurately described as exquisitely crafted sanctuaries integrated into the mountain, magically extending each space for miles. Passion Flower is a particularly spectacular suite because of its prized location at the top of Anse Chastanet, offering a panorama view of the Pitons to the left and the expansive Caribbean sweeping across the center and to the right. With multiple seating areas across the wrap-around terrace, this 900ish square-foot space is one of those that lacks a fourth wall, instead letting the room open up to the views and fresh air. Sliding mahogany doors of wooden jalousie louver (slat) windows allow great cross ventilation and let you move the “walls” to enable any palatial configuration you desire, while still keeping the light out in the early morning. The ceiling fan above the bed keeps the temperature perfect while you sleep. The long, warmly-lit bathroom with Matisse-like blue figures painted on the white wall, features a double vanity and an open-floor shower the size of a New York City bedroom.

Our sumptuous room, aptly named Passion Flower, is 900 square feet of luxury with panoramic views of the Pitons, the ocean and the jungle © Dave E Leiberman/goingplacesfarandnear.com

There are so many thoughtful touches in the room that make our stay even more special, from the homemade banana bread and glasses of St. Lucian rum left on our dresser to accompany the fresh lime juice waiting for us in our mini fridge, to the amazing scent of the incense (or mosquito repellent coil) to which we would return each night after dinner, to the turn-down service while we were out that left a card on our bed with a new fun fact about St. Lucia each night.

A ring of warm yellow lights with traditional Saint Lucian shades, combined with pleasant-smelling incense, is the natural way to keep bugs away at Anse Chastanet © Dave E Leiberman/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

The food at Anse Chastanet is an incredible (delectable) surprise. We travel by food, letting interesting culinary experiences and unique tastes influence much of how we move through the world. The chefs at Anse are on an entirely different level, each meal a culinary sensation more impressive than the last. Part of this must be due to the Emerald Estate farm where the resort grows its own organic produce, and to the talent and creativity of an all-star culinary team.

Indulge in breakfast amid trees with views of the Caribbean from the Anse Chastanet veranda © Dave E Leiberman/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Breakfast is served in the gorgeous mountain-top veranda nestled within the treetops of the jungle below. In keeping with the Anse way, there are no walls in any of the dining areas, so you are always surrounded by nature–they even have cute little whale squirt guns to shoo off the birds who visit your breakfast table, though they too are more of a treat than a nuisance. You can opt for the buffet or choose from an impressive menu that will please the health-conscious and the vacationing glutton alike (we tend more towards the latter on this trip). The breakfast buffet alone could satisfy most: cereal bar with home-made granola and all the fixings, English muffins and other fresh baked goods with a selection of lox, ham, various cheeses, homemade jams, seasonal fruits, a fresh juice bar, coffee, tea, and on special occasions hot cocoa from their own estate cacao beans. You can pair the buffet with made-to-order eggs, benedicts, or any number of brunch items from the menu.

Lunch on Anse Mamin Beach is cooked right behind you on a grill made from a large clay pot relic from the 18th century Anse Mamin Plantation. © Dave E Leiberman/goingplacesfarandnear.com

For lunch you’d be hard-pressed to do better than a fresh burger cooked right behind you (on the large clay coal pot leftover from Anse Mamin Plantation) while you enjoy an island cocktail with your feet in the sand at Anse Mamin, the smaller beach just next to Anse Chastanet with a castaway island vibe. Take the quick complimentary boat ride or five-minute walk to Anse Mamin for jungle to one side and water on the other. The excellent Jungle Grill and Bar will keep you content all day with several variations of loaded burgers and one of the best ceviches we’ve ever had. Full disclosure: we will try ceviche whenever it’s on a menu and its preparation is often how we rate restaurants (and of course had it at our own wedding). This Signature Coconut Ceviche was out of this world: red snapper with flavors of coconut, lime, chili, and lemongrass served in a coconut bowl with fresh baked plantain chips. Laini doesn’t like to share ceviche, but this bowl had so much fish in it she didn’t even get too anxious when Dave tried to steal it for a few minutes. The Caribbean Slaw with Jerk Chicken is another favorite–the chicken has a slight tandoori flavor to it, which we love. The Green Fig and Saltfish Burger (a popular local dish-turned-burger) is huge and all it’s cracked up to be. We also heard great things about the Jungle Beef Burger, so we’ll have to come back to try that next time. You can enjoy your lunch from your ocean-side chaise, picnic benches under some shade, or bistro tables.

Our delicious lunch served at Anse Mamin Beach: ‘Green Fig and Saltfish’ burger and the signature Coconut Ceviche with Red Snapper © Dave E Leiberman/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Each dinner we have is more spectacular than the last so it’s honestly hard to recommend one over another. Apsara is the ocean-front Indian fusion restaurant with romantic warm lighting and incredibly inventive dishes. We eat here twice during our four nights, and we have many great martinis and other cocktails here. It seems like everything they make just tastes better than anywhere else we’ve tried it before. Their fire roasted lamb chops, king prawns, and chicken tikka are unbelievable. The catch of the day marinated in ginger and chili served with pumpkin and mint crush and yogurt sauce is particularly interesting and delicious. The Sticky Toffee Pudding with cashew ice cream and caramel popcorn is so rich and flavorful it’s now become the standard off which we measure other desserts. Just thinking about Apsara’s menu makes us want to return to Anse Chastanet immediately.

The Anse Chastanet staff is already preparing the scene for our private dinner on the beach © Dave E Leiberman/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Another highlight is the five-course lionfish dinner prepared for us by the Apsara chef as a private oceanside dinner with feet in the sand surrounded by lanterns and a romantic white canopy. An invasive species common in the Caribbean, Anse uses this lionfish dinner as a brilliant way to “eat them to beat them.” It would take way too many pages to properly describe each creative course, but suffice it to say each dish is something we have never seen before and we are amazed by how many tastes the chef is able to incorporate into dishes that work so well together. The final course (before a reprise of the sticky toffee pudding, of course) features a pork belly skewer topped with baked lionfish filet, with Malabar spinach purée and a side of lionfish egg sushi, just to give you a sense.

Enjoying our private dinner on the beach under a canopy at Anse Chastanet

In addition to the special dinners all guests are able to book (such as the lionfish menu, private oceanside dinner, sunset celebration, and private dinner at Anse Mamin), there are also weekly culinary events including Monday Gourmet Dinner and Wine pairing, an Emerald Estate Cacao Plantation Tour and Chocolate Tasting, Tandoori Cooking Class, Chocolate and Wine tasting, and the Sunday Saint Lucian Rum Mixology class.

The service throughout the meals and overall hospitality at Anse Chastanet are exceptional. We feel we get to know each server, who always refers to us by name, and everyone is exceedingly helpful with everything from choosing dishes to arranging activities.

Of the many activities and “extras” available, we experience their snorkeling, mountain biking in the Anse Mamin jungle, and a couples’ spa treatment at Kai Belté.

Snorkeling on the side of the main beach area is very rewarding. Sign out the complimentary equipment at Scuba Center and with such clear water you’ll immediately find tons of tropical fish even close to the shore. We even see a little octopus! A first for us. A complimentary boat takes guests to other snorkel and dive spots for those who want to go out a bit further. While we are not divers, Anse Chastanet is known for their world-class diving, as the entire region surrounding the resort’s waters is an award winning marine reserve (SMMA) which has protected St. Lucia’s spectacular coral reefs since 1995. Beginning just 10 yards from the water’s edge, the Anse Chastanet reef is home to over 150 different species of fish. Scuba St. Lucia, the resort’s PADI 5 Star Dive Operations and DAN (Divers Alert Network) partnership facility offers both beach and boat instructor-led dives, night diving, scuba courses, and dive packages. Their state of the art compressor and filtration system is the first and only of its kind on the island, so if you’re a diver, Anse Chastanet is the place you want to be.

An easy day-trip from Anse Chastanet will bring you to Diamond Falls at the Botanical Gardens in Soufriere.

As land creatures, we opt for the mountain bike jungle tour rather than the dive experience. The mountain bikes let us explore more of the beautiful jungle grounds of Anse Chastanet that would have been a shame to miss, and our friendly guide leads us around the eight miles of exclusive trails and teaches us about the many different species of plants, trees, and fruits that grow in the area. We ride top-of-the-line Cannondale F800 mountain bikes, and even though it is a little scary to bike over tree roots and rocks, between our guide and the stability of the bikes, we never feel in danger.

Mountain biking through the jungle grounds of Anse Chastanet © Dave E Leiberman/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Our “Romance Ritual” massage begins with an incredible chocolate platter from Anse Chastanet’s very own Emerald Estate Farms, followed by an aromatherapy foot soak, dry body brush to remove dead skin, and a candle-lit 60-minute couple’s massage. The spa facility sits next to Apsara by the shore so we are able to let our relaxing treatment continue to soak in on the oceanside lounge chairs afterwards.

Anse Chastanet is the perfect place for post-wedding decompression © Dave E Leiberman/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We are faced with a difficult decision to make on our last full day at Anse Chastanet: whether to venture over to explore the closest town of Soufriere, known as the heart and soul of St. Lucia, or to lie on the beach at the resort and enjoy cocktails and another delicious grilled lunch. We are fortunate to have had four nights at Anse Chastanet, and having taken a tour the day before to the Soufriere Saint Vincent Volcano, and nearby Diamond Falls Botanical Garden and Mineral Baths, we just crave more beach time and opt for lavishing in leisure.

Anse Chastanet is the perfect place to treat yourself to a honeymoon paradise, even if you didn’t just get married. Our main advice once you’ve made the smart decision to visit: stay one night more than you think!

Complimentary Offerings at Anse Chastanet:

* Anse Chastanet beach with beach chairs and beach towels
* Complimentary use of non-motorized water sports including snorkel gear, windsurfers, sit on top kayaks, Sunfish sailing, Paddle boarding
* Complimentary use of tennis court and equipment
* Complimentary tennis clinic Monday and Wednesday from 9.00 – 9.30 a.m.
* Resort shuttle boat, Jungle Express to beach at Anse Mamin daily for Jungle Beach Bar & Grill, beach activities, jogging and hiking
* Select Guided Walks and Hikes on 600 acre estate with Meno – learn about history and botany
* Yoga daily 8.30 a.m. – 9.30 a.m. and 5.00 – 6.00 p.m. in the beach yoga gazebo
* Paddle board yoga demonstration in the Anse Chastanet bay every Tuesday from 12.15 p.m.
* Creole History Class in the Beach Bar Friday 11.30 a.m.
* Daily Live Entertainment in the Piton Bar except Tuesdays when entertainment takes place in the beach bar
* Library located in the Piton Bar with WiFi internet connection and complimentary guest computer
* Manager’s Cocktail Reception,Tuesdays from 6.30 – 7.30 p.m. in the beach bar
* Underwater Slideshow at the Scuba center, Tuesday 6.00 p.m.
* History, benefits and uses of Aromatherapy presented by Spa Manager, Tuesdays from 5.30 p.m.
* Chocolate Sensory Tasting at Emerald Restaurant, Tuesdays from 10.00 – 10.30 a.m.
* Saint Lucian Rum Mixology Class, Sundays 4:30 – 5:30 p.m.
* Anse Mamin Plantation Walk with Meno, Monday – Saturday from 1:45 p.m.

Anse Chastanet Resort, Soufriere, St. Lucia, 800-223-1108, www.ansechastanet.com; Jade Mountain, 758-459-4000, jademountain@ansechastanet.com, www.jademountain.com.

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