How to Plan a Storybook “Christmas in Connecticut”

We originally researched and published this article in 2012, and it has proven to be a winter holiday favorite among our readers ever since. We believe there is magic in the air in the small towns of Connecticut at Christmas time. See if you agree. Here is our story:

In 1945, Hollywood coined the phrase “Christmas in Connecticut” after the movie of the same name. Since that time, romanticists around the world have dreamed of spending at least one winter holiday in a quaint Connecticut hamlet complete with a town common crowned with freshly fallen snow and carolers strolling by storefronts and elder homes.

The scene that is presently in your mind’s eye is not a figment from a Currier and Ives print – it actually exists – and we found it.

Our research

We spoke with tourism friends and officials in Connecticut and asked for the names of towns that would fit the homey Christmas characteristics of Bedford Falls, a fictitious town in another popular holiday movie “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

Arriving in winter

We landed at JFK airport on a cold day in early December. We rented a car and headed for nearby Connecticut at a time when many small towns and villages throughout the area are preparing for the upcoming holiday season.

Janet Serra, the Executive Director of the Western Connecticut Convention and Visitors Bureau, and Anne Lee, the Executive Director of the Central Connecticut Regional Tourism District provided us with valuable holiday tips for our project. They also gave us several places to consider. After reviewing what each location had to offer by way of Christmas spirit and activities, we settled on the little town of Madison.

Driving to Madison

First settled in 1650, Madison was renamed for President James Madison and incorporated in 1826. Madison is a pleasant little community along historic Route 1, the Boston Post Road in the “Connecticut Shoreline Area.” The town lies approximately equidistant between New York City and Boston. Yale University is just 20 minutes away.

By the time we arrived in Madison, the small shops that make up the bulk of retailers in the village center were ready for the holidays. Most were sporting holiday decorations and touting special sales – many to benefit local charities and civic projects. 

The Tidewater Inn

Before we walked the entire town, we decided to check into our chosen lodging for our time in Madison. We had searched for a place that was like a relative’s warm and inviting home – an inn that properly fit into our pastoral Christmas picture. The Tidewater Inn (circa 1928) is a bed and breakfast that proved to be exactly what we wanted, and it was an easy walk to downtown Madison.

Meet the Innkeeper

Congenial Victoria Kolyvas, is the owner of the Tidewater Inn, and she was the perfect personality to help us with an itinerary that would give us a flavor for all the seasonal activities and events that would be taking place in and around Madison during our brief stay. She pretty much planned our visit for us, and we could not be more grateful. We will also mention right here and now that Viki is a superb host and cook!

Innkeeper Kolyvas already had the Tidewater spruced up for the holidays. A beautifully decorated tree sat next to a cheery fire in the hearth in the dining/tea-room.

We ate some bountiful breakfasts and had friendly afternoon chats accompanied by local wines and cheese at a large table in that same room.

Staying at the Tidewater Inn is very much like going to grandma’s house for Christmas. It provides a feeling of sanctuary – of returning – coming home. Each of the nine guestrooms is pleasantly decorated with beautiful antique furnishings and other tasteful décor. Our room was cozy and warm, and we slumbered each night in luxurious comfort.

The events of Madison

After a sumptuous gourmet breakfast at the Tidewater, we took our air with a brisk walk to the center of Madison. We visited a number of shops and craft fairs and found one event particularly delightful – the “Décor Encore” at St. Margaret’s Church. It was advertised as the place to find “previously loved Christmas decorations revived and ready for a new home.” The fair also featured beautiful homemade quilts for sale. What a treat!

Parade day

In early December, the Madison Chamber of Commerce has a homespun Holiday Parade that brings out the entire citizenry.

Some colorful participants and unusual costumes and floats gave us big smiles. It was a wonderfully crisp winter day, perfect for this wholesome family entertainment.

Santa, his wife, and a comely elf stopped by a local café to chat with the kiddies. Donations for the needy of non-perishable food items were accepted to help the Madison Food Pantry.

We also dropped by the local bookstore to watch Santa Letter Writing – great fun.

Tour of Madison historic inns

During parade day, the Tidewater Inn, along with one other local inn, provides a Christmas Open House and Tour of Madison’s Historic Inns via a horse drawn wagon that clops from place to place, and stops for passengers to imbibe on Christmas cheer and sweets – all for the benefit of local charity.

On to the Shoreline Soul Concert

Later that afternoon, we enjoyed the “Soul Concert” at the local First Congregational Church. It featured holiday songs sung by an accomplished volunteer choir in a beautiful church. The entire scene was truly inspirational.

The singers were led by a highly talented conductor who had the choir and audience hand clapping and singing along. This is an annual event you do not want to miss. Any freewill offerings from the event went to support the Village Mountain Mission. 

The tree lighting

As dark descended on the expansive town green, it was time for the annual Christmas tree lighting. Three, two, one – Merry Christmas! Happy Hanukkah!

Families and friends gathered around the lighted tree to drink complimentary hot cocoa and watch the children wonder at the magnificent tree and colors.

Everyone was holding candles and having fun talking with their neighbors. It was a scene right out of Norman Rockwell, and we could not help thinking that once upon a time, much of America celebrated Christmas in just such a grand manner.

Saving the best for last

Victoria told us that we would run out of time before we ran out of things to do in and around Madison – at any time of year. We found that during the holiday season she was most certainly correct. Fortunately, she planned enough time in our itinerary for a wonderful event.

Ahavah: A Christmas Story

We had never heard of Ahavah, which is the Hebrew word for love, and we soon learned that it was also an original ballet about a young girl’s search for the true meaning of Christmas. It is performed annually in early December by the Christian Academy of Dance at the Morgan High School in nearby Clinton. Do not be put off by the venue. This is excellent entertainment professionally written, choreographed, and directed.

Photo: Ahavah by Christian Academy of Dance

The talent that appears in this ballet is exceptional. We found this Psalm written in the program handout:

“Let them praise his name in the dance: Let them sing praises unto Him with the timbrel and harp. For the Lord taketh pleasure in His people.” The young performers in this ballet seemed to take the ancient words to heart.

A bittersweet farewell

We hope we can return to Madison and the Tidewater Inn for another holiday season one day very soon. It was everything we had hoped.

If you go

The website for the Madison Chamber of Commerce is www.madisonct.com

Look *here* for more information about the Tidewater Inn.

To learn more about Ahavah – A Christmas Story, click *here*

Happy Travels – Happy Holidays – Remember our troops!

To read more of the journalists’ articles about Connecticut and great places to stay, click on the abbreviated titles below:

Enjoy the fall colors of New England

Visit Kent Falls, Connecticut

A family budget hotel in Shelton, Connecticut

A historic inn in fashionable Westport, Connecticut

An intimate B&B on the backroads of northwestern Connecticut

The countryside elegance of the Mayflower Inn and Spa

The Delamar luxury hotel in the Greenwich harbor

© Travels with Wayne and Judy Bayliff

Photos © Wayne and Judy Bayliff – Ahavah photo by Christian Academy of Dance

“Get out there, but be prepared.”

Whenever we travel, we are protected by Allianz Global Assist travel insurance.

You can plan your trips with Google Maps.

The opinions expressed in our articles are the journalists’ alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any entity.

 

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Ghosts Along the Danube in Budapest, Hungary

When we travel the world we come face to face with history, some grand, and some that we would wish away if we could. This article is about the great stain on European history referred to as the Holocaust. There are many recorded stories about Holocaust horrors, and you may not be familiar with this one – we weren’t – until we came across a simple, poignant memorial.

Background

It was our first river cruise, and we chose Viking Cruise Line and an itinerary that sailed between Budapest and Bucharest in Eastern Europe.

Our ship, the Jarl, was docked and waiting for us in Budapest.

We were a short walk from the famous, often photographed, Hungarian Parliament Building that was inaugurated in 1896 on Hungary’s 1000th Anniversary. If you are not familiar with this magnificent structure, you may remember it as a feature of the Viking River Cruise ads on television.

After checking into our stateroom on board the Jarl, we decided to take a stroll along the Danube to photograph the Parliament Building. Along the way we encountered a small group of people pondering over some small items lining the concrete bulkhead of the river.

The subject of interest

The objects of the group’s interest were shoes. Actually, sixty pairs of old worn shoes, all sculpted in cast iron. Men’s, women’s, and children’s shoes from the 1940s, perfect in every detail.

At first we were taken aback by the oddity of the scene and the unusual sculptures. There were no conspicuously visible signs describing what we were looking at, until we noticed this small metal marker embedded in the cement:

So, this was a memorial, but who were the victims and who were the Arrow Cross Militiamen? We didn’t know, so we did some research.

The brief story

There were approximately 3,500 people shot along the Danube River in Budapest between 1944 and 1945 – mostly Jews and Gypsies. The site of the memorial was just one of several locations along the river bank used by the Arrow Cross in their executions of innocent people.

Members of The Arrow Cross were Hungarian fascists sympathetic to the Nazi cause. Adolf Hitler used them to replace the legitimate government of Hungary during the Nazi occupation. They ruled as the “Government of National Unity.” They were in power just eight months, from October 1944 to May 1945. During that time, they killed or sent to concentration camps 100,000 Hungarian Jews.

Why shoes for a monument?

Because shoes are so personal. The men, women, and children to be massacred were ordered to remove their shoes, an act that we all can relate to – and therefore, easily imagine ourselves in the terrifying situation.

After they removed their shoes, the victims were summarily shot, and their dead or wounded bodies fell into the cold rushing river. Ironically, this egregious and repugnant act took place just 1000 feet from one of man’s greatest architectural accomplishments, the beautiful Hungarian Parliament.

If you go

The memorial is simply named, “Shoes on the Danube Promenade.” Like a visit to the Ann Frank House in Amsterdam, or the Auschwitz Camp near Krakow, Poland, a visit to the shoes in Budapest, Hungary is a moving and somber experience, and a stark reminder of the cruelty that man is capable of inflicting on his fellow human beings.

Kudos

This unique remembrance of the Budapest tragedies is the idea of Hungarian film producer Can Togay and sculptor Gyula Pyauer. The display was opened to the public in 2005.

We are thankful that travel experiences generally celebrate the grandeur and beauty of our planet, and the spectacular achievements of mankind. Nevertheless, tributes like the “Shoes,” play an important role in reminding us that we must never lose sight of what can happen when evil takes the form of crimes against humanity, ethnic cleansing, and genocide.

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You might also enjoy reading another discovery article from our Viking River Cruise ­­­-­- click here.

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“Get out there, but be prepared.”

Whenever we travel, we are protected by Allianz Global Assist travel insurance.

You can plan your trips with Google Maps.

The opinions expressed in our articles are the journalists’ alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any entity.

© 2017 Travels with Wayne and Judy Bayliff

Photos © Judy Bayliff

In Search of the Blarney Stone

“The Blarney Stone,” is also known as “The Stone of Eloquence,” and it is both a legend and fact. If you have wondered about the location of this fabled icon, the answer is to be found atop the 12-foot thick walls of the bleak and eerie ruins of the magnificent Blarney Castle near Cork, Ireland. Come along and join our quest.

The magical legend

In early 15th century Ireland, a Munster king named Cormac MacCarthy constructed a grand fortress in the village of Blarney – upon the edge of a towering cliff near the town of Cork.

The castle top was crowned with a machicolation that was built about two feet out from the main building and held in place by a series of large stone corbels. The objective of this separate wall was to protect castle defenders from flying arrows while they dispatched attackers with hot liquids and rocks dropped through the opening between the suspended outer wall and the structure’s main wall.

The witch did it

During the castle construction, a good and grateful witch, who had been saved from drowning by a member of the builder’s family, placed a numinous power into one of the machicolation stones. Unfortunately, she chose a rock in the most awkward location on the battlement. The enchanted stone is set in the bottom of the outer wall positioned more than 5-stories above the ground.

The Leprechauns made it public

After the witch empowered the stone, she gathered the local Leprechauns and requested they tell all the “good people” of County Cork that anyone who had the courage to kiss her “Stone of Eloquence” would be rewarded with “the eternal gift of gab.”

Well, you know how Leprechauns are. Before long the whole of Ireland knew of the magical powers of the Blarney Stone, and within 100 years – the whole world knew.

Kissing the Blarney Stone

If you visit Blarney Castle to see the famous stone, you may as well get the benefits of caressing it with your lips, because it is very hard to get a good look at the Blarney Stone without being in the kissing position.

The witch did not make this an easy task. First, there is the long and laborious climb up a narrow spiraling rock staircase to get to the parapet. There is no elevator in the ruins. We counted 124 steps, but we may have missed a few.

Getting ready for the smooch

Once you reach the top of the castle and address the stone, the kissing effort requires you to lie on your back, grab onto two iron rails fixed to the outer wall, and wiggle and suspend your head and shoulders out into space in order to reach your objective.

We can tell you first hand that it is a good thing to be on your back during this experience, because you would not want to be facing down. Visitors who suffer from acrophobia have a difficult time standing close to the opening.

Not to worry, the castle provides an able-bodied helper to hold your legs while you stretch over the opening to put lips to stone. A note of caution that we learned the hard way – remove everything from your pockets before you assume the position.

Millions of kisses and still counting

300,000+ lip caresses a year have turned the stone’s kissing spot a rather dismal shade of dark gray. The color and sheen is understandable considering the many millions of people who have kissed the magic rock over the past five-hundred years.

No one knows the full measure of famous and eloquent politicians, actors, literary giants, and business and religious leaders, who owe some – or perhaps all – of their success to the magic of the Blarney Stone.

Blarney Castle belongs on your Irish itinerary

Blarney Castle is a first rate tourist destination with a fine gift shop, charming gardens, and a superb Rock Close that is said to be built on a former Druid ceremonial site. Check out their website at http://www.blarneycastle.ie

Happy travels!

We flew from New York to Dublin on Aer Lingus. We enjoyed the Irish hospitality in the sky, you will too.

“Get out there, but be prepared.”

Whenever we travel, we are protected by Allianz Global Assist travel insurance.

You can plan your trips with Google Maps.

The opinions expressed in our articles are the journalists’ alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any entity.

© Travels with Wayne and Judy
Photos © Wayne and Judy Bayliff

Cruise to the Incomparable City of the Future in Valencia, Spain

A cruise to Spain on Holland America’s Nieuw Amsterdam showed us there are many contemporary reasons to consider the ancient city of Valencia as a top-notch vacation destination.

Since the time of El Cid – over the last thousand years or so – Valencia has seen Christian and Muslim conquerors come and go. Its history also includes being the birthplace of three European kings and two Catholic Popes. However, for the most part, Valencia played a quiet role in Spain’s colorful history – until the decade of the 1990s.

We walked from the cruise port to the futuristic City of Arts and Sciences

If Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry (1921-1991) had lived to see the creation of the Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias by renowned Valencian architect, Santiago Calatrava, he might not have selected Marin County, California as the 2161 building site of the Starfleet Academy. Instead, he may have asked Senor Calatrava to design it for him in Valencia.

Construction on Calatrava’s amazing complex of otherworldly buildings began in 1998 along the old bed of the redirected Turia River at a reputed cost of more than $2.5 billion dollars.

The main structures

The Umbracle is the huge promenade entrance to the City of Arts and Sciences. Numerous lofty arches are covered in verdant vines that protect a garden and several species of tropical plants and trees. Along the colorful walk you will also find the ‘Stroll of the Sculptures’ an outdoor gallery of nine unusual figures by contemporary artists.

The Prince Phillip Museum of Sciences opened in 2000 and its design is often said to resemble a whale’s skeleton, or a dinosaur’s spine. Whatever your muse, this magnificent exhibit is actually an interactive museum that will prove fascinating to anyone interested in the scientific disciplines that study everything from questions about The origin of the universe to contemporary issues like the enigma of climate change.

The Queen Sophia Palace of Arts sits amidst a setting of Mediterranean blue reflecting pools. When it opened in 2005, it became the signature performing arts center in Spain for opera, theater, and dance. At 248 feet, it is the tallest opera house in the world. The site encompasses four multi-purpose auditoriums and the smallest hall seats 400, the largest 1,700 people.

Proudly, the Queen Sophia Company hosts the Centre of Perfeccionament Placido Domingo, which is a celebrated program for young talented opera artists. As the name indicates, the program honors Spain’s most famous tenor, Placido Domingo.

The Oceanographic is like an underwater city and is the largest aquarium in Europe. It features over 500 species of fish and mammal inhabitants collected from the world’s oceans. The oceanographic compound covers some 20-acres and includes an unusual aquarium restaurant with floor to ceiling glass walls where curious fish can watch you savor the catch of the day along with your paella.

The Hemispheric is a visually striking eye-shaped Planetarium in the midst of a stunning turquoise pool. This popular attraction has a computerized astro-projector that shows the night sky with all the planets and stars on a screen so large you feel like an astronaut.

There is also a laser show displayed on a 900 square foot screen, and visitors can watch IMAX and 3-D journeys through space. It is no wonder that the Hemispheric Planetarium is now one of the top five buildings visited in Spain.

The Agora is the latest structure created by Calatrava’s architectural genius. This surrealistic multi-use sports arena is 262 feet high and seats over 5,500 spectators.

The combined images

The various buildings of the Valencia City of Arts and Sciences have been called ‘techno-palaces’ and they certainly live up to the name. The scope of this unusual complex is breathtaking and an architectural marvel. The light, reflecting waters, shapes, and structural designs are a photographer’s dream. This is an intellectual Disneyland and could be a megalopolis base in the Galactic Empire in Star Wars. Speaking of which, do the views of the Palace of Arts remind you of Darth Vader for any reason?

Don’t miss the rest of Valencia

Visitors to Valencia will want to tour other attractions in the ancient city, like the Barrio del Carmen. Our bet is that your most cherished memories of Valencia will include both Calatrava’s brilliant gift of a glimpse of the future right along with the historic monuments of the past.

If you go

Valencia is 220 miles south of Barcelona on the sunny eastern coast of Spain. Valencia is easy to reach by all means of transportation.

We flew to Barcelona from New York, with a stopover in Dublin via Aer Lingus. We enjoyed the Irish hospitality in the air. Check out their flight schedule *here*.

 

We then boarded the luxurious Nieuw Amsterdam for a wonderful trans-Atlantic cruise back to the United States. For more information, or to book a cruise on Holland America, click *here*.

Happy travels!

“Get out there, but be prepared.”

Whenever we travel, we are protected by Allianz Global Assist travel insurance.

You can plan your trips with Google Maps.

The opinions expressed in our articles are the journalists’ alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any entity.

© 2017 Travels with Wayne and Judy Bayliff

Photos © Judy Bayliff

The Best First Cruise for Seniors

On our last cruise we were delighted to meet a number of first-time cruisers in their 70s and 80s.

When they heard we were travel photojournalists, they were more than willing to offer opinions and comments that helped form the foundation for this article, which we dedicate to them.

The perfect first cruise

We had not planned to write about senior cruising when we signed up for a 7-day cruise to the Western Caribbean on Holland America’s ms Oosterdam.

However, a little coaxing from some enthusiastic golden-agers (like this amicable septuagenarian couple from Florida), had us agreeing that an article that provided insight for prospective elder cruisers was a pretty good idea.

It turned out that the group thought this was the ideal first cruise for seniors, and here are the reasons why:

Celebrated cruise line

Holland America Line (HAL) has long had the reputation of providing quality cruises at affordable prices.

‘Consistency’ and ‘dependability’ are important words in grandma and grandpa’s travel book, and HAL is uncompromising in its commitment to reliable service on all its 14 ships.

Comfortable ships

As a rule of thumb, the larger the ship, the longer it takes to board and disembark, but the smoother the ocean ride.

The Oosterdam, with less than 1,000 staterooms, is small enough for expedited disembarkation at ports of call, but large enough to allow her to ride rough seas comfortably – and that helps to greatly diminish the odds of becoming seasick.

Important Note: Should you ever become ill for any reason, there is a doctor on board every Holland America cruise ship, and gratefully, he/she is much closer than you will normally find medical assistance at a hotel or resort on land.

Looks count, and the décor of the Oosterdam is tasteful without being trendy. The color schemes are soothing and sophisticated.

Shipboard activities

On our cruise most passengers were 55+. Consequently, the on-board activities were geared to that audience.

Pool side hairy chest contests and madcap revelry are not de rigueur on Holland America.

Such activities are happily traded for quieter pools, interesting and educational talks on a myriad of subjects including ports of call, shopping, live entertainment, bingo, yoga, social imbibing, ritual noshing, and just plain relaxing.

There are also card games, movies, dance lessons, computer classes, art and wine auctions, culinary demonstrations, and exercise classes.

Pictured above is an active senior exercising at the pool.

Senior activities on a cruise ship are often centered around the practiced art of eating.

 On the Oosterdam, the food is excellent, and the restaurants do not feel crowded, nor do the pools, casino, bars, wellness center, or any of the public spaces. We had 1,906 passengers on our voyage, and it never felt crowded.

On our third evening at sea, we ate at the Pinnacle Grill, one of the specialty restaurants aboard the Oosterdam. Super food, and a great place for a special celebration, or a quiet romantic interlude.

Great port facilities

  • Our cruise departed from the port of Tampa on the west coast of Florida. Any port in Florida is a good choice for a first cruise – the ports are easy to access by air from anywhere USA.
  • All airlines cater to the Florida tourist trade, so there are often good ticket deals to be had if you are diligent.
  • Once on the ground, all Florida ports are easily accessible by ground transportation from the airports.
  • Florida cruise terminals are often staffed with retired seniors living in Florida. They understand the special needs of vacationing seniors and can be very helpful to first-time cruisers.

  • The embarkation and debarkation processes at Florida’s cruise terminals are relatively fast – and it’s nice to know that after “check-in” there is a wonderful buffet luncheon awaiting every passenger that boards the ship.

Desirable itinerary

It’s hard not to like a Western Caribbean itinerary. Ours included Key West, Roatan, Belize, and Cozumel, Mexico. All great places for tours, or just meandering about on your own.

Accommodating Crew

We always interview the Captains on our cruises. Above, Captain Michiel Willems opines that a friendly crew demeanor, and excellent customer service, are the top hospitality hallmarks of the Holland America Line.

Everywhere aboard the Oosterdam, the genial crew was eager to uphold the HAL tradition.

If you go

If you decide to look into Holland America, start with its website *here*. HAL can handle your entire travel plan, including air, or you can make your own travel arrangements. It’s up to you.

Should you think you are just too old to enjoy cruising, read our story about our nonagenarian friend “Julia.” She and her husband are passengers on the Holland America world cruise every year!

We encourage every senior that still wants to experience new adventures – take a cruise.

Happy travels.. and smooth sailing!

To learn more about HAL, and see additional pictures of the interiors of its ships, check out these other stories we have written about Holland America cruises.

A Christmas Cruise Aboard the Amsterdam

Vacationing Aboard the Nieuw Amsterdam

Exploring the Amenities Aboard a Holland America Ship

A final note: If you are worried about the rigors of going ashore at the various ports of call, there are many passengers that never leave the ship. We often stay aboard when we visit ports we have seen several times. It’s an excellent time to catch up on reading and emails, watch a movie, take a nap, and get ready for the next round of serial feasting!

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“Get out there, but be prepared.”

Whenever we travel, we are protected by Allianz Global Assist travel insurance.

You can plan your trips with Google Maps.

The opinions expressed in our articles are the journalists’ alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any entity.

© 2017 Travels with Wayne and Judy Bayliff

Photos © Judy Bayliff

Viking Luxury on a Longship Vacation up the Danube River

After writing scores of articles about ocean cruises, we decided to see what motivates vacationers to take European river cruises. We are glad we did.

So much to choose from

There are endless selections of river cruise itineraries on the internet, so we sought the guidance of three prominent river cruise companies in Europe – Amway, Uniworld, and Viking.

Viking River Cruises comes through

Viking River Cruises was most generous with their public relations department and customer service time, so we selected their 11-day Budapest to Bucharest cruise on the Danube.

Casting off

We boarded our Viking longship, the Jarl, in Budapest. We pulled away from the dock just after dark.

If you have seen the Viking commercials featured on shows like Downton Abbey on PBS, you know what the Hungarian Parliament Building looks like by day. The picture above, shows it at night – it is a spectacular sight!

Our itinerary

Our chosen itinerary would take us to five eastern European countries including Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Serbia, and Croatia.

This is the first story from our first river cruise experience.

Romania

Romania is a country steeped in mystery and shadowed folklore. Brahms Stoker never visited the country, but he borrowed from the harsh legend of Romania’s 15th century Prince Vlad Tepes of Transylvania to create his eerie and unforgettable character, Dracula.

Another famous (in Romania) real-life character was King Decebal. He was the last king of Dacia, an ancient land located in present day Romania. He is the subject of the historical curiosity in this story.

King Decebal

Decebal was a strong and popular leader who dared defy Rome and Emperor Trajan’s conquering legions. 

The thundering silence of Decebalus Rex

Decebal is immortalized in an enormous stone likeness of his solemn face gazing toward the far (now Serbia) shore of the Danube – the place where the Roman armies camped and prepared to attack – two thousand years ago.

After many years of struggle, the Romans finally crossed the Danube River and decimated the Dacian armies in circa 105 AD.

Surrounded by faceless generals of stone, Decebal’s ghostly visage stands alone to witness the final defeat that took his country, and eventually his life. He is fated to stare into the distance, and relive his humiliation, throughout time.

A giant undertaking

At 140 feet tall, the Decebalus Rex monument is the tallest rock structure in Europe. It is considerably taller than the more famous U.S. Mount Rushmore at 59 feet.

The stone monument appears ancient, but was actually just completed in 2004 after a difficult decade of site preparation and carving. The project was funded by a private Romanian citizen, Giuseppe Constantin Drăgan.

The Tabula Traiana

Just across the river on the Serbian side lies the Trajan Table. It is an ancient carved memorial at the Danube’s edge commissioned by the great Emperor Trajan to commemorate his victories over the Dacians in the first century.

Trajan considered the ending of the Dacian Wars to be one of his greatest triumphs; so important that Trajan had another monument constructed to commemorate the event – the famous Trajan’s Column in Rome.

Pressing forward

Our Viking river boat glides silently under the brooding face of Decebal and past the ancient Trajan Table, and on through the Kazan Gorge, one of the four narrow gorges that make up the legendary Iron Gate of the Danube. This is the most scenic part of a Danube river cruise.

Our next stop will be Bulgaria.

About our river cruise ship

The Jarl is one of the 60+ longships in the Viking river fleet. She’s a sleek 443 foot vessel with 95 comfortable water-view staterooms.

She has a crew of 50 and moves effortlessly and quietly through the water with a modern diesel/electric hybrid powerhouse.

Most of the Jarl’s staff is multi-lingual, and all are well trained in the nuances of excellent customer service.

On our cruise, the food was good and ample. The chef featured cuisine from the countries we visited. If you have a palate for paprika, you will be delighted.

River ship’s hierarchy

Aboard a river cruise ship, the Captain is responsible for the operation of the vessel and the safety of the passengers. Everything else is the responsibility of the Hotel Manager.

During our 11-day cruise, we changed our Captain once. Our Hotel Manager, the genial Franz Wusits, was with us the entire trip and kept the ship’s staff on their toes – everything ran smoothly.

We interviewed Franz in our Explorer Suite located at the back of the ship.

The suites aboard the Jarl are large, and well appointed without being trendy.

Franz’s “river stories,” will provide smiles in future articles about our Viking River Cruise. Stay tuned.

More to come

We will also write about several of our excellent bus excursions on the Danube trip, which by the way, are all included in the price of the cruise. A nice bonus to river cruising.

If you go

Viking River Cruises has an itinerary to please every taste. Check out their website at www.vikingrivercruises.com.

Viking made the arrangements for our flights to Budapest and back to the US from Bucharest. We appreciate the effort.

This will not be our last river cruise, and we highly recommend the experience.

As always, if you have questions, write us at the2writers@gmail.com

Happy travels!

“Get out there, but be prepared.”

Whenever we travel, we are protected by Allianz Global Assist travel insurance.

You can plan your trips with Google Maps.

The opinions expressed in our articles are the journalists’ alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any entity.

© 2017 Travels with Wayne and Judy Bayliff

Photos © 2017 Judy Bayliff

The Unique Architecture of the Fabled Walled City of Dubrovnik

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Established in the 7th century A.D., the ancient and scenic port city of Dubrovnik lies in the southernmost part of the Republic of Croatia, – almost directly across the Adriatic Sea from the “spur” in the boot of Italy. It is a beautiful city of colorful red-topped tile roofs and cobblestone streets, all of which looks very much like it did centuries ago.

The Pearl of the Adriatic

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Among the city’s many admirers was Lord Byron who called Dubrovnik, “the Pearl of the Adriatic.” A century later the famous playwright, George Bernard Shaw proclaimed, “If you want to see heaven on earth, come to Dubrovnik.” If you visit Dubrovnik, you will see that it is indeed worthy of high praise.

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To spend time in Dubrovnik is to feel the drama of a city tossed through time and finally settled in recent history as a place of peace and beauty.

Early Dubrovnik

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The years have put many unique stamps on Dubrovnik. The city may very well be the world’s first planned community. As early as 1272, there was a town diagram, and in the following two centuries, the avant-garde citizenry opened a pharmacy (still in operation), a home for the aged, a quarantine hospital, and an orphanage.

Libertas

Most extraordinarily, 74 years before Columbus discovered America, the aristocracy in Dubrovnik abolished slavery and slave trading. In honor of the visionary proclamation, they adopted a new flag that was seen throughout the trading routes of the world. Dubrovnik’s mighty fleet of merchant ships sailed under a white flag inscribed with the word Libertas (Latin for “freedom”)

The wall

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Dubrovnik is renowned throughout the world as the “ancient walled city.” The wall that surrounds the city was originally constructed in 900 A.D. – and was further fortified in the 15th century. The wall, which is a popular walking attraction from which all aspects of city life can be viewed, is 1.3 miles long, 10 feet thick along the sea, and 20 feet thick elsewhere. There are substantial fortifications on all four corners.

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A cruise tour group rests at the ancient water cistern

Although some of the fanciful architecture dates back to the 7th century, most of the public buildings were rebuilt after a great earthquake killed 5000 residents, and leveled many dwellings in 1667.

A couple from Florida enjoying the ocean breeze on the wall

Florida cruisers enjoying the pleasant Adriatic breeze on the Dubrovnic wall

Old wars

In the succeeding centuries, Dubrovnik suffered bombardment by a Russian fleet, and conquests by Napoleon, the Nazis, and Marshal Tito of Yugoslavia. In 1973, the old city declared itself a demilitarized zone in hopes that it would never again be a casualty of war. Unfortunately, fate was not yet ready to bestow peace on Dubrovnik.

Recent conflicts

23-100_1936In 1991, Croatia and Slovenia declared their independence from Yugoslavia, and on October 1, 1991, under a mantle of dispute, Serbians of the Yugoslavian People’s Army laid siege to Dubrovnik. Once again, the ancient city with so many historical treasures was barraged as if it were a common piece of dirt, and the rest of the world stood by and watched. The attacks lasted until May 1992 when the Croatian Army liberated the city.

Most of the damage from the latest conflict has been repaired. The renewed city has taken its rightful place as the jewel of the Adriatic – complete with storybook architecture and picturesque twisted streets and alleys.

Bucket list

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We highly recommend Dubrovnik to photographers and tourists interested in antiquities, history, and architecture. The old city is a superb vacation site with an ideal climate and gracious and hospitable inhabitants – both to be enjoyed in a genuine fairytale setting.

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Click here for more information.

Happy travels!

*************************

“Get out there, but be prepared.”

Whenever we travel, we are protected by Allianz Global Assist travel insurance.

You can plan your trips with Google Maps.

The opinions expressed in our articles are the journalists’ alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any entity.

© Travels with Wayne and Judy Bayliff

Photos © Judy Bayliff

The Magnificent Coast of Oregon in Winter

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Much of the Oregon coast consists of miles and miles of beautiful sandy beaches, which may be exactly what you are looking for if you seek total relaxation.

However, if you crave excitement, check out the wild 40 miles of rocky shoreline that begins in the north at Waldport, Oregon and zigzags south along curvy Highway 101.

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Here, for your winter touring pleasure, nature provides scenic headlands and lofty volcanic outcroppings that plunge precipitously to the unbounded Pacific several hundred feet below.

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The best of the stretch is known as Cape Perpetua. The views are so exceptional that the rugged expanse has been federally designated a National Scenic Area.

Local history

Captain James Cook discovered and named Cape Perpetua in 1778. The mountainous wooded territory remained virtually unreachable until it became part of the Siuslaw National Forest in 1908.

In 1914, the U.S. Forest Service carved a rough road around the Cape and joined the two small neighboring towns of Yachats and Florence by constructing a wooden bridge across the Yachats River.

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By 1930 the old wooden bridge had been replaced by a span made of steel. The road was greatly improved and is now part of historic Highway 101 stretching 1,500 miles from Port Angeles, Washington to Los Angeles, California. The panoramic Central Coast of Oregon is now accessible to all.

Thank you CCC

The Civilian Conservation Corps was created in 1933 to provide jobs to thousands of America’s youth during the Great Depression. The result of the CCC effort in Oregon made Cape Pepetua a unique travel destination with miles of inviting trails.

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Imagine being young and strong and working in this pristine domain of breathtaking beauty where you can see for miles along the jagged coastal shoreline. 

Visualize waking to a crackling fire amid a silent coastal fog, and gathering with your fellow workers for that first warming sip of morning coffee.

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The work was hard, but satisfying, and the participants of the CCC experienced life in convivial communal encampments — the remains of which are still visible at Cape Perpetua.

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These were the lucky ones in hard times, and although most of them are now departed, their lasting legacy of trails and shelters are still in use today.

Attractions at the Cape

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There are three major natural attractions within a short walk from the parking lot of the Cape Pepetua Visitors Center. Thor’s Well, Spouting Horn, and Devil’s Churn – the most exciting being Thor’s Well.

In simple terms, Thor’s Well is a collapsed underwater volcanic cave that formed a large round hole on the surface – think very big blow hole. 

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The hole is about 20 feet deep, and during incoming tides and rough seas, the water rushes into the submerged cavern and erupts into a mighty blast of foaming ocean that can easily tumble curious onlookers that venture too close.

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Seconds after the upward explosion, the Well dramatically inhales the ocean that it just hurled-up.

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Be careful, you don’t want to be on the ride back to the sea!

Trails

It’s an intermediate-level hike across the rocky shoreline and up through dense spruce forests to the outlooks.

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Fortunately, the trails adjacent to the Visitor’s Center are paved for easy access by all. There are 11 trails to choose from; a total of 27 miles of hiking adventures and spectacular views.

Sea lion caves

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Approximately five miles south of the Cape Pepetua Visitors Center is another unusual natural attraction – The Seal Lion Caves. This is North America’s largest sea cave, and well worth a visit. You can learn more about what to expect at the caves by viewing our photos and reading our article on the subject here.

Heceta Lighthouse

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While in the area, plan to visit the historic Heceta Lighthouse. We spent two nights in the lighthouse keeper’s residence — a unique experience indeed. You can read that story here.

If you go

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For campers there’s the nearby Washburne State Park Campground where you can pitch a tent, and park a trailer or RV. For under $50, there are also several yurts for rent.

For more creature comforts

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If you prefer something more comfortable than living in the great outdoors, we highly recommend the Three Rivers Casino and Resort  in nearby Florence, Oregon.

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This is our favorite casino, and is less than 15 miles from Cape Pepetua.

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The rooms at the Three Rivers Casino are reasonably priced, clean and spacious, and just steps away from an exciting gaming facility.

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We are non-smokers, so the separate smoking and non-smoking gaming halls are most welcome.

Outstanding buffet

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If you love great food, you cannot beat the World Market Buffet at the Three Rivers. The buffet offers a wide selection of savory entrees, with several made-to-order specialties. We have reviewed many buffets, and we rate this one – tops.

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For more information or reservations, click on the Three Rivers Casino website.

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A Winter Odyssey

For an awe-inspiring look at the Oregon Coast, check out this excellent video from Uncage the Soul Productions.

We love the Oregon Coast in winter. We think you will too!

Happy travels!

*************************

“Get out there, but be prepared.”

Whenever we travel, we are protected by Allianz Global Assist travel insurance.

You can plan your trips with Google Maps.

The opinions expressed in our articles are the journalists’ alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any entity.

© Travels with Wayne and Judy Bayliff

Photos © Judy Bayliff

Remembering December 7, 1941 by Visiting the USS Arizona Memorial and Pearl Harbor

The USS Arizona Memorial is a national monument honoring those who served in the Pacific Theatre during and after the Japanese naval assault on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.

The memorial structure is built on and directly over the rusted remains of the sunken battleship USS Arizona. This is the final resting place of 1,177 Americans killed when a bomb penetrated the deck above the ship’s munitions magazine during the Japanese air attack on Battleship Row.

The loss of life on the Arizona represents more than half of all the Americans killed on December 7, 1941. It also represents the greatest number of casualties on any American warship in history.

Now a garden setting

If you have not been to the memorial lately, you will be much impressed with the park like setting at the Pearl Harbor Visitors Center.

While at the Center, be sure to see the 23-minute film and audio tour that brings that fateful morning at Pearl Harbor to life.

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The exhibits at the Center are designed to pull visitors deftly into that specific moment in history, as they relive the politics and events leading up to the Japanese attack.

The presentations are poignant – be prepared for a holistic experience you will not forget.

A solemn journey

When their background education is refreshed, visitors board a launch operated by the Navy and are ferried across the harbor to the waiting memorial. It is a short and quiet ride.

After pulling alongside the monument, passengers disembark and walk up to the cenotaph resting on the Arizona.

At the far end of the memorial, look for the Wall of Honor with the names of those that gave their lives on the ill-fated Arizona. They are now resting beneath your feet.

Visitors speak in whispers, tears are visible, eyes are cast downward into the entombing water, and minds imagine the confusion and utter chaos of that December morning so long ago. It all seems surreal to the observers who now stand in the gentle Hawaiian breeze – safely atop the remains of the Arizona.

The ultimate sacrifice

One can only wonder what life might have held in store for the one-thousand plus soldiers and sailors below – if they had not been aboard the Arizona on that fateful day. Had they lived, what famous Americans might they have fathered for our generation, what greatness might they have achieved? America moved forward, one-thousand heroes remain at their post.

The tears of the Arizona

Seventy-five years later, oil still seeps from the sunken battleship. It randomly appears on the water’s surface – then like a spirit – it floats slowly away. Observers have named the oil manifestations “the tears of the Arizona.”

Be sure to visit the USS Arizona Memorial

Save a day during your vacation on Oahu and take your family to see the USS Arizona Memorial. For some, it is an awakening and first time realization about the many Americans that have sacrificed everything to keep our nation free.

The USS Missouri

The Arizona Memorial is now symbolically guarded by the ever-vigilant USS Missouri battleship. “Big Mo,” is permanently docked in Pearl – just up-harbor from the Arizona. The Missouri fought in and survived WWII and her deck was the historic site of the official surrender of Japan in 1945. It seems fitting that a battleship that participated in ending the war in the Pacific, should rest near the dreadnought that was the earliest casualty of the conflict.

The great Missouri went on to fight in Korea, and Operation Desert Storm. She was decommissioned in 1992, and took up her post as silent sentinel for the Arizona in 1999.

The USS Missouri has the distinction of being the last active battleship in the world.

If you go

The USS Arizona Memorial is located in Pearl Harbor, which is two miles west of the Honolulu International Airport.

Look *here* for more information about the USS Arizona Memorial, and *here* for the USS Missouri Memorial.

Heroes are still being interred on the USS Arizona. This video explains – http://youtu.be/MgE2KiPd3xg

Happy travels – Remember our troops, not only today, but always.

*******************************

“Get out there, but be prepared.”

Whenever we travel, we are protected by Allianz Global Assist travel insurance.

You can plan your trips with Google Maps.

The opinions expressed in our articles are the journalists’ alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any entity.

© Travels with Wayne and Judy Bayliff

Photos © Judy Bayliff

Military Style Luxury At The Thayer Hotel At West Point

Few public inns in the United States can boast the patriotic pedigree of the Thayer Hotel at West Point.

We paid a visit to the award-winning Thayer Hotel during the holiday season. It was an easy assignment to write about this unique hotel that honors the army that has gallantly served our country.

General Douglas MacArthur stayed at the Thayer whenever he visited the military academy. Dwight D. Eisenhower did the same – both as a general and as president of the United States. Four other presidents including John F. Kennedy enjoyed visiting the hotel – you will too.

The beautiful Hudson River Valley

It is little more than a one-hour drive along the Hudson River Valley to reach West Point from New York City. At the entrance to the military academy, you are required to stop at a small stone guardhouse. There you advise the sentry of your intentions to visit the hotel, and he or she will direct you to your destination atop a steep driveway to the right.

As you slowly drive up the hill, you are drawn to the many leaded glass windows of the fortification like building. You immediately sense that this is a special place, and it is.

The Thayer Hotel

Completed in 1926, the hotel is situated on a prominent bluff that offers breathtaking views of the Hudson River far below. As you walk the manicured lawn towards the adjacent woods on the riverside of the hotel, you will see many stone outcroppings – an assurance that the hotel, like the academy, is built on very firm ground.

There is a short marble staircase leading from the old wooden front door to the grand reception lobby. Flags decorate the overhead between the first and second floor of the hotel. There is a large fireplace directly across the room from the top of the entry stairs.

The whole picture is that of the interior of a castle or military fortification – yet at the same time, there is an extraordinary warmth about the lobby that is quite inviting.

Guest Room Dedication Program

We were at the Thayer to attend a ceremony where a guestroom is named after a distinguished graduate of West Point. Honorees are selected from academy graduates that have made significant contributions to the United States and the world.

The dedication program is part of a recent multi-million dollar renovation at the hotel. The program is a work in slow and deliberate progress of the hotel’s 151 guestrooms.

Honoring outstanding United States Military Academy graduates

The officer being honored with a dedicated room at the Thayer at the time of our visit was General Roscoe Robinson, Jr., a 1951 academy graduate, and the first four-star African-American general in the history of the U.S. Army.

General Robinson served in both Korea and Vietnam. He was the recipient of many service awards in his 34 years of service to his country. In April 2000, the USMA named a new auditorium in his honor. General Robinson died at the age of 64 in 1993.

We had an opportunity to chat with a few of the cadets that attended the dedication. The experience was refreshing and left us with an appreciation for the caliber of our future military leaders being schooled at West Point. They are bright, dedicated, and most impressively, patriotic.

The room we occupied during our stay was dedicated to Dr. Thoralf M. Sundt, Jr. of the class of 1952. The walls of this guestroom are filled with great period pictures of Dr. Sundt as the cadet that later became a pre-eminent brain surgeon at the Mayo Clinic. Other photos include Dr. Sundt’s family and one of him with President Ronald Reagan who was a patient in 1989. Dr. Sundt was the subject of a segment on “60 Minutes” before his death in 1992. He was just 62 years old.

Great place for conferences and reunions

While we were there, we also had an opportunity to talk with several alumni of the 101st Airborne who were attending a reunion at the hotel. It was an honor to meet these retired soldiers and defenders of our American way of life. Humble to a man, they came to celebrate life, but also to remember fallen comrades.

The Thayer has eight meeting rooms and six boardrooms and has become a favorite location for corporate conferences. What better place to instill team spirit and inspiration!

Duty, Honor, Country

Walking the Thayer’s historic hallways is a lesson in patriotism and heroism. There are pictures and mementos everywhere to remind visitors of the motto of West Point – Duty, Honor, Country.

Dining at the Thayer

The hotel’s MacArthur’s Restaurant is a stately dining room with leaded glass windows that in daytime cast an oneiric light on the walls and the historic photos of soldiers past, and in evening, add to the rich ambiance of the dining experience.

Glowing light from the vintage chandeliers enhances the pleasing sensation of a comfortable setting that is equally fit for a romantic rendezvous or an elegant social gathering.

There is also a cozy bar/restaurant at the Thayer. It is appropriately named “General Patton’s Tavern.”

The U.S. Military Academy at West Point  

We learned some interesting trivia while at the Thayer Hotel:

The military academy at West Point dates back to 1802. Since its inception, West Point has been in the center of U.S. history.

George Washington paraded his troops on these very grounds.

The USMA encompasses 25 square miles – a piece of real estate just a bit smaller than the island of Manhattan.

West Point graduates commanded troops on both sides of 55 of the 60 battles of the U.S. Civil War. Of the remaining five battles of the war, a West Point graduate commanded the troops on one of the sides.

Edgar Allen Poe attended one semester at West Point, and General George Armstrong Custer is buried there.

Two U.S. Presidents graduated from West Point, as did 18 NASA astronauts, 74 Medal of Honor recipients, and 3 Heisman Trophy winners – and scores of great statesmen, diplomats, business leaders, doctors, and engineers.

A hotel for all seasons

Our visit to the Thayer Hotel and West Point was in December, and even in the cold of winter, the terrain is magnificent to behold. We plan to return to West Point so we can savor the woodland setting in the green of summer – and the fall when the cool air creates a kaleidoscope of changing colors. This is a truly beautiful part of the eastern United States.

If you go

When you walk the land at West Point, you walk in the footsteps of many who gave all for their country. If you are an American, you are on hallowed ground.

The Thayer Hotel is a Historic Landmark Hotel. Staying at the Thayer is like living inside history.

Their website is full of information about the hotel and surroundings. Check it out at http://www.thethayerhotel.com

Happy travels!

*************************

“Get out there, but be prepared.”

Whenever we travel, we are protected by Allianz Global Assist travel insurance.

You can plan your trips with Google Maps.

The opinions expressed in our articles are the journalists’ alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any entity.

© Travels with Wayne and Judy Bayliff

Photos © Judy Bayliff. Photo of General Robinson courtesy of U.S. Army

The Royal Hawaiian: Luxury on Waikiki Beach

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Rainbow from the beach at the Royal Hawaiian Resort by Judy Bayliff

If you have ever marveled at the iconic “Pink Palace” on Waikiki beach, and wondered about its colorful origin, so did we. Here is what we found out about its interesting history.

In the early 20th century, a group of capitalists with substantial interests in Hawaii had the foresight to envision a burgeoning tourism future for the Hawaiian Islands – Oahu in particular.

The first luxury hotel, the Moana, had been successfully catering to the carriage trade for over 25 years, and it was evident that with the right combination of transportation and accommodations the Hawaiian luxury travel market could be profitably expanded.

Regal location

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Touring the artwork at the Royal Hawaiian Resort

King Kamehameha I conquered Oahu in 1795 and built a residence on the pristine oceanfront that was destined to become Waikiki Beach. During the prosperous 1920s, that same prime land was acquired by the Matson Navigation Company from the Royal Family of Hawaii and was to become the future site of the Royal Hawaiian Hotel.

The development of tourism in the area was arrested until 1920 when the Ala Wai Canal was built to drain the wetlands and swamps that were just inland from the unspoiled beach. The construction of the canal, which runs parallel to the ocean and the main street of Waikiki Beach, opened the door to rapid expansion.

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The early Royal Hawaiian Hotel from the Royal Hawaiian Gallery

Construction on the Royal Hawaiian started in 1925. She was built of sandstone block covered in stucco. Her contemporary Spanish-Moorish architecture was fashionable in California at the time, and fit quite nicely into the coconut palm groves at Waikiki. Pink was a popular color on the mainland, and again, it too was well suited for Hawaii.

One thousand and two hundred celebrants greeted the opening of the Royal Hawaiian to island high society on February 1, 1927. She quickly attained the nickname, “The Pink Palace of the Pacific.”

How they came

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Rich tourists from North America first came by ordinary steamship. Then in the mid-20s, the Matson Navigation Company built the Malolo – a luxury cruise ship with 650 1st class cabins. She could do 21 knots and made the crossing from San Francisco to Honolulu in 4.5 days. The Malolo was built specifically to cater to the affluent guests that would occupy the new Royal Hawaiian Hotel.

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None of the other luxury hotels in Oahu was considered opulent enough for the passengers of the elegant Malolo.

The Great Depression

Business was brisk at the Pink Palace until the advent of the Great Depression, then like the mainland, hard times hit the islands.

The silver lining

Counterbalancing the ill effects of the Depression, air travel in the mid-30s was making access to the Hawaiian Islands faster. No longer tethered to lengthy steam ship journeys, the working rich began taking the weekly flight to Hawaii – that led to more flights and cheaper fares for everyone.

It soon became possible for tourists of limited means to reach Oahu for short vacations. A boom of ‘everyday’ hotel construction on Waikiki was followed by more services for all.

The luxury hotels, especially the Royal Hawaiian and Moana ultimately did very well during the travel renaissance.

World War II

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In January 1942, the US Navy leased the Royal Hawaiian and transformed it into a Rest and Recuperation Center for sailors. The famous Coconut Grove Cocktail Bar was made over into a soda fountain, the tennis court became a basketball court, and a new baseball diamond was built on the property.

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The hotel was turned back to its owners almost four years later in November of 1945, at which time a major renovation ensued. Twenty years to the day the Royal opened, she re-opened with a gala celebration on February 1, 1947. It was the end of war, and the beginning of great times for Hawaii and the Pink Palace of the Pacific.

Matson takes a bow

With less demand for steamship travel, Matson officials decided to concentrate on their core competency of shipping goods and materials, and subsequently sold their hotel interests in Hawaii. It was an end of an era, and Matson can be credited with a commendable job of developing the tourist industry on Oahu.

The Royal Hawaiian today

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The Royal Hawaiian regularly undergoes changes to keep her competitive with other luxury hotels in Hawaii, but she will never lose her main advantages of location and historic charm. The Royal Hawaiian is a truly extraordinary hotel in every sense of the word ‘hospitality.’

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If you go

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The Royal Hawaiian is located just off fashionable Kalakaua Avenue on Waikiki Beach and nine miles from Honolulu International Airport. For more information check out their website at www.royal-hawaiian.com .

If you have an opportunity to stay at the historic Royal Hawaiian, take it. You will find that the experience cannot be duplicated. There is no other luxury hotel quite like it anywhere in the world.

Happy travels!

*********************************

“Get out there, but be prepared.”

Whenever we travel, we are protected by Allianz Global Assist travel insurance.

You can plan your trips with Google Maps.

The opinions expressed in our articles are the journalists’ alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any entity.

Copyright © 2016  Visit great vacation destinations with Wayne and Judy Bayliff

Photos Copyright © 2016 Judy Bayliff – vintage photos courtesy of Royal Hawaiian Gallery.

Sitka: The Old Capital of Alaska

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Stepped in history and culture, and surrounded by picturesque forested islands, towering mountains, a distant volcano, and soaring eagles – Sitka is what most tourists imagine when they think of Alaska’s natural wonders.

Founded by Russian explorers in the eighteenth century, Sitka (once called New Archangel) is within easy view of Mt. Edgecombe, an extinct volcano that adds drama to an already rich and colorful landscape.

Sitka before Juneau

The city of 9,000 residents was the capital of Alaska between 1867 when the United States purchased “Seward’s Icebox” from Russia and until 1912 when the territorial seat of government was moved to the current state capital, Juneau. The site where the transfer of ownership of Alaska took place is a brief walk from the cruise-tender dock on Sitka Bay.

Things to do in Sitka

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A visit to Sitka offers the traveler an opportunity to participate in Russian cultural tours, and outdoor activities that include fishing, hiking, biking, kayaking, and nature walks and other attractions.

Visit the cemetery

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We always try to offer up something a little different in our travel reviews, and our choice for Sitka is the Old Russian cemetery, which dates back to the early 1800s.

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Noted on tourist maps, but not on any organized tour, the old burial ground is located a short walk from the center of town.

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The graveyard entrance is not conspicuously marked, and judging by the narrow footpaths, it is not frequented by many visitors.

100_3358The cemetery was built on a difficult landscape of densely forested hills – along dark winding paths lined with moss and ferns – not particularly conducive to carrying a casket.

The grounds are not maintained. Most of the century’s old weathered headstones have sunk into the wet peat soil and rest at odd angles to the surrounding terrain – resulting in a macabre geometric mélange of ghostly forms. If you like reading Poe, you will enjoy a visit to this eerie yet enchanting graveyard.

Eagles everywhere

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The last time we saw a bald eagle was at Big Bear Lake in California, when a fellow tourist spotted one soaring high above the water. The sighting caused quite a stir among the onlookers.

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Contrast that single sighting experience to Sitka where there are bald eagles everywhere – hundreds of them.

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The proud and beautiful American symbol with the white head and huge wingspan is an integral part of life in Sitka.

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Bald eagles soar overhead – constantly, and look like white Christmas ornaments as they perch in the tall evergreen trees that line the shore.

How to get there

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Sitka is situated midway up the Inside Passage in the Alexander Archipelago on Baranof Island, and is frequented by most of the cruise ships that sail the Passage.

Sitka is also serviced by the Alaska Marine Highway ferry fleet, and Alaska Airlines.

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If you travel the Inside Passage, be sure that Sitka is on the itinerary. You will not be disappointed.

Happy travels.

**************************

“Get out there, but be prepared.”

Whenever we travel, we are protected by Allianz Global Assist travel insurance.

You can plan your trips with Google Maps.

The opinions expressed in our articles are the journalists’ alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any entity.

© Travels with Wayne and Judy Bayliff

Photos © Judy Bayliff

Stay at a Beachy-Keen Resort while Exploring Oregon’s Sea Lion Caves

The famous San Francisco sea lions that occupy prime dock space on Pier 39 first appeared there shortly after the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. Then in 2009 they mysteriously disappeared for three months. Where did they go? 

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Oregonians believe that the celebrity sea lions headed north to holiday on the turbulent and exciting shores of the central coast of Oregon. To be exact, they headed for the famous Sea Lion Caves in Florence. 

As evidence, the Oregon locals point to the massive increase in the annual sea lion population soon after the SF lions turned off the lights in their famous City by the Bay. 

Sea lions everywhere 

Sea lion fans rejoice. Currently, nature is providing ample amounts of the odoriferous mammalia to go around.

Along with the flabby fellows comes the infamous sea lion aroma. The gamey bouquet is pervasive on the famous California pier, and is inescapable in the celebrated Oregon cave. Take heart, most people recover rapidly from the first initial shock.

When they are in Oregon 

From about December to August the jolly lions inhabit the largest sea cave in America, which is located just 11 miles north of Florence, and some 200 feet below the roadbed of busy US Highway 101. 

The cave is 25 million years old, tall as a 12-story building, and about a football field in length. It’s big.

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The building entrance to the cave sits on a curve in the road that during the summer months percolates with tots and teens under the watchful gaze of parents – all anxious to view the famous pinnipeds in their natural habitat.

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Once you have paid your admission fee inside the gift shop, it’s a relatively-short and scenic walk down to the elevator pavilion. 

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The elevator was installed in 1961, and today it’s fun to watch people cheerfully bunch into the hoist that transports them 208 feet down to the giant sea grotto below.

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The cave’s resident Steller and Northern Sea Lions are viewed in their natural habitat from behind a metal mesh screen, which can be a challenge for picture taking, but it is doable. 

Now you see them and now you don’t 

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The lions come and go from the Sea Cave on a loose schedule determined by Nature. The choice rock space begins to fill up around December 1st of every year, and the last of the several hundred cave inhabitants usually have somewhere else to go by mid-August. 

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Even when there are just a few – if any – sea lions in the cavern, the Cave is a worthwhile experience. 

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Over the years, the owners of the Sea Cave have embellished the attraction with ample parking and a great topside gift shop (try the delicious homemade fudge – yummy). 

What you will find down under 

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Look for the natural rock room where the public can view an engrossing film about the sea, cave, and the flora and fauna of the area.  It’s interesting to note that there are several species of endangered birds nesting in the cave.

Additionally, there are educational displays, and creative colors and lights that are conducive to the grotto setting.

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From the subterranean sea lion viewing level, walk up the staircase to the observation platform.

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There you will find a dynamic panorama of the sea – an excellent place from which to view the historic Heceta Lighthouse* perched on a cliff just a few miles north of the cave. 

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The Sea Lion Caves is a fun family activity. We suggest you give it a go.

Where to stay 

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On this visit we chose to stay in Florence at the Driftwood Shores Resort, the only oceanfront hotel in the area. 

The view astonishes

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Every room and suite at the Driftwood Shores has a spectacular view.

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All the rooms overlook miles of pristine beach, and the fresh air, and roar of the crashing waves is a welcome sleep inducer.

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In addition to the usual hotel conveniences, our generous lodging had a full size kitchen,

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and a front row seat to breathtaking sunsets from our private balcony. 

Other unique amenities include an indoor aquatic center, and an electric car charging station.

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The resort offers ocean cuddling accommodations from single rooms, to one bedroom suites, and three bedroom condos. It is a comfortable base from which to explore the many attractions and activities offered in this scenic part of the Oregon coast. 

The Driftwood Shores Resort would be a great venue for a wedding, large family, or small corporate gathering. There’s ample gathering space for about 100 people. 

It’s a beachy-keen accommodation that we think you will like.

Where to eat

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The Surfside Restaurant and Lounge is located right on property. The food is first rate. Open seven days a week, the restaurant is a celebration of the region’s produce in a striking setting with panoramic views.

If you go 

For more information about Sea Lion Caves reach out to their website at http://www.sealioncaves.com 

To check on current specials or make reservations at the Driftwood Shores Resort click here

*To read our story about the historic Heceta Lighthouse look here

Happy travels! 

**************************************** 

“Get out there, but be prepared.” 

Whenever we travel, we are protected by Allianz Global Assist travel insurance

You can plan your trips with Google Maps

The opinions expressed in our articles are the journalists’ alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any entity.

Copyright © 2016 Visit great vacation destinations with Wayne and Judy Bayliff 

Photos Copyright © 2016 Judy Bayliff – some Driftwood Shores facility photos courtesy of Driftwood Shores Resort.

Luxury Cruising on the Golden Princess Through New Zealand’s Fiordland National Park

The “Other Down Under” destination of New Zealand is on the Bucket List of many Americans — and justly so. Problem is, New Zealand is a long way from anywhere U.S.A. Consequently, most tourists want to see as much as possible on their first visit. Our suggestion for an orientation trip to New Zealand – book a cruise.

The rationale

A cruise will visit several ports on the two islands of New Zealand, which is a great way to get a taste of the entire country – and all without packing and repacking. And, if you fancy an endless array of delicious gastronomical delights included in the price of your vacation, all the more reason to choose a cruise.

On our fourth trip to Australia and New Zealand we blocked out time for a voyage on one of our favorite ships, the Golden Princess.

There is not enough space in this brief article to adequately describe all the picturesque ports-of-call we visited in New Zealand, so let’s just concentrate on one very special destination…

Fiordland National Park

Established in 1952, New Zealand’s largest national park (3 million acres) was formed over the eons by gigantic glacial flows that gradually crushed and moved the earth into the sea leaving deep navigable canyons of water in the South Island coast.

The park fiords are lined with steep cliffs from which giant fingers of gushing water emerge to crash-dive into the sea below.

This park is extraordinary because of its almost incomprehensible size and unsurpassed isolation. Much of the flora and fauna found in the rainforests of the park are just as they were many thousands of years ago.

Entering the park

On the previous night, the ship’s captain alerted us that we would be entering the park at the break of day.

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We woke about 5:30 and walked up to one of the observation decks just as the sun started to peek over the majestic mountains on our port side.

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The sea was quiet, and there was a veil of still mist in the air.

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At first we could only hear, but finally did see, our first waterfall. There were “oohs,” and “ahhs,” aplenty.

Watch for the bears

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We had a naturalist on board who narrated our passage through this otherworldly wilderness. He jokingly entreated the passengers to keep a keen eye out for bears along the nearby rocky shoreline (there are no bears in New Zealand). A fellow passenger retorted, “Bears hell, look out for dinosaurs.” It’s that kind of place.

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At sunset we left the park for the open sea.

That evening at dinner, we joined a group of passengers celebrating the experience of spending a day cruising through time. None of us will soon forget the primitive beauty of Fiordland National Park.

If you go

The New Zealand Department of Conservation administers the fiords, lakes, mountains, and rainforests of the Fiordland National Park. Check out their website here.

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The next sailing with our exact itinerary on the Golden Princess will be January and March 2017, but you needn’t wait because Princess has other ships that cruise throughout New Zealand. Check out other dates and itineraries here.

Happy travels!

If you have an interest in cruising, the authors suggest reading their four other articles involving Princess Cruises and the Golden Princess.

A Table Rendezvous with Italy’s Chef Ottavio Bellesi on the Golden Princess

The Sweetest Suites for two on the Golden Princess

Luxury Cruising from San Francisco to Hawaii on Princess

Princess Cruise Ship Rescues Canadian Yachtsman

******************************************

“Get out there, but be prepared.”

Whenever we travel, we are protected by Allianz Global Assist travel insurance.

You can plan your trips with Google Maps.

The opinions expressed in our articles are the journalists’ alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any entity.

© Travels with Wayne and Judy Bayliff

Photos © Judy Bayliff

The Poet and the Dictator that Shaped the Destiny of Italy

By Bob and Janice Kollar

A Surprise Discovery in Gardone Rivera

We selected the town of Gardone Rivera on the shores of Lake Garda because of its proximity to the Sirmione Peninsula, and the archaeological site of well preserved “Roman Ruins”.

We usually plan some “open time” in our travel itineraries to allow us some flexibility to explore an interesting town, or museum, or just take a spontaneous side trip.

The “Vittoriale degli Italiani” (The Shrine of Italian Victories) Museum worked out perfectly and it was only five minutes from our hotel.  We actually discovered a fascinating introduction to one of Italy’s most famous, as well as, interesting personalities… Gabriele D’Annunzio.

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D’Annunzio’s Villa

 The final residence of Gabriele D’Annunzio is now a museum dedicated to his life and accomplishments.  A review of this incredible man’s life makes an excellent read, and provides an entertaining glimpse into the political side of Italy’s history leading up to World War II.

In the era before World War I, he was one of Italy’s most influential politicians, and a charismatic leader adored by his followers.  He served valiantly in the Navy, Air Force, and Army as a true war hero known for his boldness and outright courage. His many medals and awards are on display in the museum.

D’Annunzio was also regarded to be a national treasure.  A “Renaissance Man”… he did it all as an artist, poet, journalist, playwright, and one of Italy’s most popular, as well as, controversial writers of the 20th Century.

But another part of his lore was derived from his legendary affairs as he boasted to have seduced over 1,000 women.  Being married to a young aristocrat with three sons did not stop him from his constant affairs (sometimes multiple at once) throughout his adult life.

At 5’ 4” and not terribly attractive (some said ugly) he possessed a sexual magnetism that proved to be quite irresistible.  Perhaps this attraction also attributed to his outlandish, exhibitionist lifestyle, his purported suave Italian demeanor, and presumably his many erotic publications that may have peaked their interests… it had to be something!

The Era of the Fascist Regime

During World War I D’Annunzio became a powerful figure and began asserting his very strong ultra-nationalist doctrine.  But at the same time Benito Mussolini was developing his movement with a more extreme right leaning tilt.  After the dust settled, Mussolini had more power, influence and aggression than D’Annunzio and created a more dominant form of Fascism.

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The Dictator and The Poet         

Photo Credit —  Vogue Italia  —  Corbis

D’Annunzio supported Mussolini and his rise to power but did not participate in the Fascist political party, remaining neutral. One consistent thing; he did not like Germans and the Nazi movement and continually counseled Mussolini to avoid an alliance with Hitler… to no avail.

 Eliminating the Competition

On the evening before a fateful assembly to determine the “meeting for national pacification”, the Poet was thrown out a window of his Lake Garda Villa onto the courtyard and his active career came to a bone crushing halt.

Two months later, Mussolini did his march on Rome and took control of the country. IMG_7242

The Bone Crushing Courtyard Landing Zone

 Mussolini and his followers adopted a great deal of D’Annunzio’s ideas, his approach to government, his skills with motivating and influencing masses of people, the elaborate nationalistic ceremonies, etc… right down to the Roman Salute.

 Maintain and Control

The Dictator kept D’Annunzio on the side lines and out of his way.  Mussolini was known to have said… “With a rotten tooth, you either pull it out, or fill it with gold!  With D’Annunzio I have chosen the latter treatment.”

So he vastly enhanced D’Annunzio’s villa into a monumental residence, and provided him a constant supply of cocaine… in essence he literally paid him to remain out of politics… the window drop would have done it for me!

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Vittoriale degli Italiani

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Entrance to the Auditorium

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Garden Sculpture atVittoriale degli Italiani”

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Amphitheater

Also on display at the museum are his books, uniforms, medals and art work as well as a few of his war relic mementos… such as a torpedo boat, the front half of an armored cruiser, and even the hero’s airplane.

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D’Annunzio’s Actual Combat Aircraft IMG_7227

One of Many Military Installations

 On March 1, 1938 D’Annunzio died at the age of 75 of a cerebral hemorrhage.  His funeral was a large Fascist state affair and Mussolini walked with his coffin.

Mussolini was quoted to say… “You may be sure Italy will arrive at the summit you dreamed of.”

In Summary

The visit to Lago di Garda and the town of Gardone Rivera provided us with memories of beautiful scenery, excellent cuisine, and exposure to the absolutely wonderful, warm and friendly people.

A definite highlight was the surprise history lesson.  By leaving some “open spots” in your daily itinerary, it is amazing what rewards come your way.

Please follow us in the next article… Exploring the Roman Ruins of Lago di Garda.

After all, what is the hurry… be inspired.

© 2016 Inspired Travel Itineraries with Bob and Janice Kollar

© 2016 Picture Credits Bob & Janice Kollar

A Town and Hotel Remember the Greatest Athlete of the 20th Century

The name “Jim Thorpe” may no longer be a household name in America, but in the early 1900s there was nary a child or sports fan that did not know of his legendary sports achievements.

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Enrolled in the Carlyle Indian Industrial School in Pennsylvania in 1904, the Sac and Fox Native American from Oklahoma, was destined to become one of the most celebrated athletes of the 20th Century.

Pop Warner and company 

Coached by the famed Pop Warner, a team led by Jim Thorpe from the little known Carlyle school became a national football powerhouse in 1907. The “Indians” regularly competed and won against eastern Ivy League colleges like Brown, Harvard, Princeton, Yale, and also Army and Navy. In 1911, the little Indian school posted an impressive 11-1 gridiron record against much better-known colleges.

In 1912 the Indians won a highly publicized football game against a nationally ranked Army team and its celebrated linebacker – Dwight D. Eisenhower.  The future general – and president-to-be was injured in the contest and never played football again.

The world’s greatest athlete

After reviewing his extraordinary sports achievements, Jim Thorpe was awarded the title of “The Greatest Athlete of the 20th Century” by an Associated Press poll in 1950, and again by ABC’s Wild World of Sports in 2000.

For starters, Jim Thorpe had won both the grueling five-event pentathlon and ten-event decathlon in the 1912 Olympics. Further, he excelled in all track and field events, as well as boxing, golf, hockey, rowing, and swimming.

As a professional, Jim Thorpe dominated the early days of pro-football (he was also the first President of the NFL), and additionally played professional baseball and basketball during his phenomenal career.

The town of Jim Thorpe

Thorpe was a true sports legend, and when he died in 1953, two small towns in Pennsylvania – located 100 miles from his old Carlyle school – wanted to capitalize on his fame for tourism and commercial purposes. They made an agreement with Thorpe’s widow, and in 1954, the neighboring boroughs of Mauch Chunk and East Mauch Chunk, Pennsylvania, merged to become Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania.

The new municipality entombed Thorpe’s remains, and erected a stately monument with two statues in his memory. The monument sits on soils from his native Oklahoma, and from the Stockholm Olympic Stadium where he won his gold medals.

Worth a visit

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We planned to visit the borough of Jim Thorpe primarily because of the sports legend, but also because we heard the town was charming – and offered a unique perspective on Pennsylvania coal-country Americana. We decided to spend a few days there, and hoped it might turn out to be a worthy destination to write about. It was.

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The now quiet hamlet is teeming with exciting stories about big coal throughout the 19th century, early tourism in Pennsylvania, and the famous hangings of the Molly Maguires in 1877.

The town stats

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Jim Thorpe has a population of approximately 4,700, and is peacefully situated in a valley under craggy Mount Pisgah with its many hiking and biking trails.

Nestled in the Lehigh Valley Gorge, and alongside the Lehigh River, the little town is a photographer’s potpourri of interesting landscapes and 1800s architecture. There is much to discover about Jim Thorpe that is not immediately obvious.

Where we stayed

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A subscriber to our travel stories, had recommended a local hotel because of its well-preserved architecture and period charm. We found the hotel a gentle step back in time and quite delightful.

The Inn at Jim Thorpe

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As we climbed the outside entry stairs and passed through the old wooden doors, we knew we had chosen the right place to compliment the classic character of the town.

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We checked in and ascended the long-serving staircase to our second floor room.

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Like the hotel entrance, our room and furnishings were a perfect extension of the town’s yesteryear aura. We quickly became immersed in the subject of our work.

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Sitting on the hotel’s veranda on Broadway was an enjoyable way to take in the activity of the town below.

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The Inn was re-built in the commercial center of town after a fire in 1849. Like most 19th century lodgings the Inn at Jim Thorpe has had several names, seen good and bad times, and had many opportunities for rebirths. The latest took place in 1988 when the Drury family purchased the Inn and faithfully restored it to its early glory.

If you enjoy the unassuming ambiance of small historic hotels with a very different vibe from your run-of-the-mill lodging establishments, this one is for you. 

Don’t forget to eat

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The Broadway Grill and Pub is owned by, and adjacent to the Inn at Jim Thorpe. It is a friendly bar serving both local brews and top-shelf spirits. The tempting menu includes some local favorites.

For dinner we indulged in a traditional Pennsylvania dish. Haluski, which consisted of fried cabbage and kielbasa, sautéed with onions and a touch of sauerkraut. The entrée included a glass of smooth Yuengling Lager. Close your eyes and you could be dining in a bistro in Central or Eastern Europe!

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Our daily breakfast, the “Broadway Breakfast,” consisted of two farm-fresh eggs, bacon (but available with sausage, ham, corned beef hash or scrapple), served with fresh garden potatoes, toast, coffee and juice. At the time, just $10. Yummy!

If you go

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Jim Thorpe has been called the “Switzerland of Pennsylvania,” as well as the “Gateway to the Poconos.” That should give the reader some idea about the scenic value of a visit.

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There is plenty of cultural and outdoor activity in and around Jim Thorpe. Check out the Jim Thorpe Visitors Guide, and the town website for an up to date review of things-to-do.

For more information about the Inn at Jim Thorpe click on their website *here*.

If you have an interest in differing styles of Pennsylvania and Pocono Mountain lodgings, we invite you to read our other articles on the subject:

The Fabulous Lodge at Woodloch

Rustic Luxury at the Bear Mountain Lodge in Wellsboro

The Main Street Boutique Hotel in Kutztown

PA Jim Thorpe PosterIf you have an interest in the man and athlete that became a 20th century sport’s icon, you will enjoy the 1951 movie classic “Jim Thorpe – All-American.” The film stars Burt Lancaster in the starring role and features some archival footage of Thorpe’s Olympic feats. Charles Bickford is excellent as Glenn “Pop” Warner, who was Thorpe’s lifelong friend and mentor.  

Happy travels!

*************************************

“Get out there, but be prepared.” ​

Whenever we travel, we are protected by Allianz Global Assist travel insurance. You can plan your trips with Google Maps.

The opinions expressed in our articles are the journalists’ alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any entity.

Copyright © 2016 Visit great vacation destinations with Wayne and Judy Bayliff

Photos Copyright © 2016 Judy Bayliff

Built for Luxury: Ahwahnee Hotel to Lose Historic Name

The grand Ahwahnee Hotel

The Ahwahnee Hotel photos by Judy Bayliff

Because of a legal dispute over trademarks, some of the best-known places in Yosemite National Park may soon change their names. If something is not done, the historic and world-famous Ahwahnee Hotel will become the Majestic Yosemite Hotel.

This is not simply a name change, it is another gross humiliation for the people of America. A case where an ineffectual federal government squanders 100 years of American history and heritage through incompetence and maladroit negotiating.  The people who love our national parks are rightfully angry.

An extraordinary feat and justifiably celebrated name

Stephen T. Mather was the first Director of National Parks in the United States. He accepted the position in 1915 when there were only 16 national parks – today there are 58. Mr. Mather used the iconic Ahwahnee Hotel in Yosemite Valley to propel the success of the entire National Park System. Here’s how it all happened.

The Ahwahnee History

Mather built the Ahwahnee Hotel in his favorite park in Yosemite, California in 1927. It was to be the Crown Jewel of National Park Hotels, and for a very good reason.

Interest the rich and benefit the masses

Stephen Mather wanted his Yosemite hotel to be a wilderness destination for the rich. Not because he wanted to cater only to the wealthy, but because he knew that if he could interest influential people in the National Park System, he could build better parks for everyone. His plan worked beautifully.

The Ahwahnee was built with the best of everything, from newly invented electricity to bathrooms in each guestroom, and an elaborate kitchen that would provide extraordinary dining to the hotel’s privileged guests.

Two electric elevators were installed and manned by staff operators.

Noise reducing plaster was applied to interior walls to assure that guests were not disturbed by the roar of nearby Yosemite falls.

The siding and beams appear to be wood but are actually cement

The Ahwahnee Hotel structure looks to be made of rock and timber, but in reality the primitive looking exterior siding, balconies, and beams that appear to be timber are actually constructed from cement castings superbly stained to match the surrounding redwoods and pines. We have visited the Ahwahnee Hotel many times over the years, but until we did the research for this article, we had no idea the exterior walls were indeed made of cement.

Building the Ahwahnee Hotel was a monumental undertaking

It was the largest such task for the burgeoning young American trucking industry of the 1920s. Trucks ran on dusty roads day and night, seven days a week for over a year to bring materials to the Ahwahnee worksite.

Valley road to Ahwahnee Hotel

All building materials for the six-story hotel were imported from outside the park. That meant hauling nearly 700 tons of steel I beams along with 5,000 tons of building stones, and 30,000 feet of lumber and logs with early model trucks along bumpy dirt roads. Add to that the many tons of hotel furnishings, and the kitchen and maintenance equipment necessary to run a luxury hotel. It was a huge undertaking for more than 250 drivers, workers, and artisans to create the timeless lodging masterpiece that we now so revere.

Stephen T. Mather did himself, and America proud.

The hotel had its grand opening on July 14, 1927.

The dining room

Dining was important to the wealthy, and in the Ahwahnee Hotel, the master architect Gilbert Underwood provided Mather with one of the most memorable grand dining rooms in the world.

The dining room stretches 130 feet from the elevator lobby toward Yosemite Falls and spans 51 feet from side to side. Its vaulted ceiling crowned with stripped pine rafters and trusses is 34 feet high.

Imagine the difficulty of trucking the dining room’s 11 plate glass windows that are 24 feet high on early California furrowed roads up to the building site of the Ahwahnee. One can only guess many windows were broken along the way. Consider also that once the windows arrived on site they had to be positioned without the aid of modern moving equipment – fascinating.

The great dining room timbers are huge bare pine columns that support a weighty truss ceiling. Unknown to the observer is that the pine columns are actually hollow concrete encased steel pillars. Once again, the genius of the architect is displayed. The rustic appearance of the dining room echoes the overall woodsy splendor of the plan. The immensity of this magnificent room dwarfs the 350 guests it can seat.

The dining room alcove – a magical place

 Located at the far end of the dining room, the alcove appears as an add-on to the vast main room before it. It has one of the 24-foot high glass windows, and in this instance, the window provides a showcase for the Upper Yosemite Falls and makes for an unforgettable setting.

The alcove has hosted many historic events including a round table dinner with Queen Elizabeth and Price Phillip during their visit in 1983. The Queen and Prince hosted a small dinner in the alcove after attending services in the park’s historic little wooden chapel.

When not arranged for special events, there are a number of tables for two set up in the alcove. The window center table is often reserved by newlyweds. Your authors had the distinction and privilege of having dinner at that special honeymoon table on their wedding night many years ago.

As we did on that night, we have often thought about the destinies of the hundreds – perhaps thousands of newly married couples that toasted and celebrated their future at that very spot over the last 90 years.

The beautiful Ahwahnee Hotel is host to about 200 weddings per year. If you are planning a wedding – it is an incredible venue.

The Ahwahnee Hotel design theme

The Ahwahnee has a Native American theme, and the chosen decorators did a superb job of blending the furnishings with the overall character of the property. Much of the furniture at the Ahwahnee is original with only subtle changes in fabric and design made to please contemporary tastes.

The Ansel Adam years 

When the stock market crashed in 1929, the number of visitors to the national parks dwindled, and the Ahwahnee fell on hard times.

The president of the Yosemite and Curry Company (YP&CC) decided that publicity would boost the Ahwahnee occupancy rate and he hired a young aspiring concert pianist, who was also a part-time photographer, to photograph and promote the hotel and the Yosemite experience. The young man’s name was Ansel Adams. The rest is history. His work, like that of John Muir will live as long as there is a Yosemite Valley.

Adams was in love with the beauty of Yosemite from an early age. He finally moved from San Francisco to Yosemite in 1937, and although he created visual masterpieces in other parts of the west, he remained intimately connected with the valley and the Ahwahnee Hotel for over 40 years. He retired in 1972 and died in 1982. He left behind a treasure trove of photographs of natural wonders.

The war years

The US Navy appropriated the Ahwahnee Hotel to be a convalescent hospital for sailors in June 1943. Before it was returned to the YP&CC in December of 1945, more than 6,700 patients had been treated at the Ahwahnee.

When the Navy vacated they left behind many buildings including a bowling alley, gymnasium, machine shop, pool hall, and foundry. The buildings were quickly dismantled and the salvage was put to good use in the valley.

Other changes through the years

The guest elevator was automated in 1963.

A small swimming pool was added in 1964 in a non-obtrusive space next to the bar.

Air conditioning was added, and all the windows in the guestrooms were replaced in 1976.

There was a golf course, but it was removed before 1980 in order to preserve the primordial nature of the surroundings.

TVs made their first appearance in the guestrooms in 1989.

The Ahwahnee Hotel was put on the National Register of Historic Landmarks in 1977.

The American Automobile Association (AAA) has designated the Ahwahnee a Four Diamond Hotel.

If you would like to read more detail about the Ahwahnee Hotel there are two short, but excellent books on the subject. . The Ahwahnee – Yosemite’s Grand Hotel, by Keith Walklet and The Ahwahnee – Yosemite’s Classic Hotel, by Shirley Sargent. Both books are available from Amazon.com.

If you go

Road to Glacier Point

There are several entrances to Yosemite Park and you can choose your route from the park website.

As you drive through the park, watch for signs to the Ahwahnee Hotel. A magnificent stone gatehouse at the entrance to the hotel gives the visitor an exhilarating sense of arrival. The leafy, tree-lined drive beyond the gateway increases the anticipation, and the Sequoia lined parking area provides a warm welcome to all visitors.

You are privileged to be about to enter one of the grandest rustic hotels in the world. Whatever it is eventually named, it will always be the “Ahwahnee,” to many generations of proud Americans.

Happy travels.

*************

“Get out there, but be prepared.”

Whenever we travel, we are protected by Allianz Global Assist travel insurance.

You can plan your trips with Google Maps.

© Travels with Wayne and Judy Bayliff

Photos © Judy Bayliff

The Drive from Innsbruck, Austria to Bolzano, Italy

By Bob and Janice Kollar

We left Innsbruck and crossed into the northern region of Italy known as Alto Adige via the Brenner Pass.  The lowest of the Alpine passes, it is situated about 4,500 feet above sea level and has played a major role in Italy’s history.

Centuries ago it was an important trade route for Rome, and eventually becoming the strategic roadway for invasions into Italy by Austria and Germany to name a few.

Today the Brenner “Highway” remains a very significant route between Italy and Austria. But this time the invaders are holding credit cards and shopping bags as it is a major tourist gateway between these countries.

Alto Adige

The region’s cultural fusion is fascinating as the native Alpine (Austrian) people are rooted to the land and their heritage.  The impact of the World War II “adjustments” to the borders of both countries resulted in a blend of traditions, customs, wine making, cooking, and the language having a slight twist.

With German being the predominate language at hotels, restaurants, and even the street signs… we asked ourselves… are we really in Italy?

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Finding the Schloss Hotel Korb        

Finding Bolzano was easy, but finding the hotel was a challenge especially with an address like this one:

Schloss Hotel Korb ag-spa,

Hocheppanerweg 5 via Castel d’Appiano

1-39050 Missian/o – Eppan/Appiano

South Tyrol / Italy

The GPS got us to the right area but that was it.  The hotel came up as unknown.

We now had to depend on our language skills (using that term lightly) and began asking directions to the hotel near Bolzano.  We wound up in a vineyard, on a gravel road, with a new car, four wheeling under a beautiful blue sky.

Bob said, “No problem, I’ll find it!”  as he reached for the cell phone to call the hotel. The Schloss Hotel Korb was very helpful and tried to find a landmark to pin point where we were and to guide us to their property.

With questions like: “Can you see a church steeple?  Does it have a cross or an onion on top?”  OK, it has a cross… now what?   We were instructed to simply drive towards that structure and we will be right on course for the hotel.

No we cannot make this stuff up… classic isn’t it?

We asked yet another local and through his 7 year old daughter (the interpreter) we were told to go down this road and turn left at the fountain and the church is down the hill on the right.

As we are finally making our way out of the vineyard, a peloton of cyclists (about 50 +) were going by at a rapid pace… where the heck did they come from?

Following the cyclist was a bunch of celebrating wedding guests, plus the bride and groom, and a dozen or so cars blaring their horns and having a great time.

There we sat, in a cloud of dust, just looking at each other. We smiled and said…welcome to Italy!  

The Schloss Hotel Korb Experience

We finally found the Schloss Hotel Korb sign and navigated our way through more vineyards but this time on paved roads.

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The hotel is set on top of a hillside surrounded by vineyards, overlooking the Dolomites and the valley below leading up to the village of Bolzano… picturesque is an understatement.  IMG_6859

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     Manicured to perfection and almost ready for the harvest 

 Schloss Hotel Korb Ambiance and Setting

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 Welcome to Schloss Hotel Korb

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The Tower IMG_6862

Outdoor Dining with a View IMG_6871

Registration Area and Foyer in the Castle

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The First Floor Foyer View

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Sissi the Guard Dog and Greeter IMG_6853

The Battlement Suite in the Castle Building with an Expansive Outdoor Balcony 

In Summary

A visit to Northern Italy is not complete until you experience the Alto Adige region.  The people, Italian & German blends of cultures, food and wine… bellissimo!

After all, what is the hurry… be inspired.

© 2016 Inspired Travel Itineraries with Bob and Janice Kollar

© 2016 Picture Credits Bob & Janice Kollar

Staying at a Lighthouse Keeper’s House May Not be Luxurious, but it is a Fun Experience!

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We had heard so many fascinating stories about lighthouses along the scenic Oregon coast that we decided to make a road trip from San Francisco to visit one. Here’s what we did.

Breaking up a long drive

Ours was to be a considerable drive of 552 miles, estimated to take approximately 9-hours, so we decided to break our journey into two days. 

The first thing we looked for was a convenient bed and breakfast along the route.

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We contacted the Old Thyme Bed and Breakfast, 217 miles north of San Francisco in the town of Redding, which came recommended by a subscriber to our articles.

The inn is just minutes from Interstate 5, where we spent most of our driving time, and gave us the perfect break in our travel.

After a super slumber and a delicious breakfast, we were ready for the final leg of our adventure.

On the road again

Interstate 5 traffic continued to be light from Redding to Weed, California, and the scenery improved with each passing mile. The intermittent views of Mt. Shasta from I-5 were often breathtaking.

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The most picturesque route to the central Oregon coast begins after leaving I-5 at exit 136 and connecting to Oregon state highway 138. Be sure to make the drive along 138 in the daylight, because you do not want to miss the panoramic blend of lush forests and verdant mountains.

We arrive

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By mid-afternoon we were approaching the coastal town of Reedsport, Oregon. From there it’s a quick 20-minute drive along historic highway 101 north to the art-deco inspired Siuslaw River Bridge that spans the river running along the Florence waterfront.

It was a beautiful crisp day on the Oregon coast.

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We took lunch at the Bridgewater Ocean Fresh Fish House in the quaint “Old Town,” section of Florence.

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Our selections were fish and chips and fried oysters. Exceptionally fine sea food at reasonable prices.

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The ambiance of Florence is “American Quaint,” and we were immediately comfortable with the town and our surroundings.

On to the lighthouse

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One of the reasons we chose Florence for our base camp was its close proximity to the Heceta Lighthouse.

History

In 1891 President Benjamin Harrison reserved a coastal headland known as Heceta Head, in Lane County, Oregon, for the sole use of a lighthouse, which was subsequently constructed and dedicated three years later.

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The lighthouse, boasts a 1.2 million candle power light — the most powerful on the Oregon coast. It can be seen from far out at sea, and also, from various points along Hwy 101. 

The last keeper left when the giant light was automated in 1963. Thereafter, the keeper’s notably unique residence went vacant.

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The Heceta lighthouse keeper’s dwelling was put on the National Register of Historic Places in 1973.

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Twenty-two year later in 1995, Lane County opened the building for tours and a six guestroom B&B.

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We had the privilege of spending two nights in the Mariner II (the one we recommend) guestroom at the Heceta Lighthouse Keeper’s Bed and Breakfast.

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Our room was one of three with an en suite bath. If you enjoy traveling back in time, this is a place you will not want to miss.

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Painstakingly furnished with period antiques, the vintage Queen Ann style keeper’s house is a giant step back to the late 1800’s.

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The house is reputed to be haunted, and the setting is perfect for the phenomenon, but alas, we did not see any ghosts.

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The view from our room was inspiring. The windows were like a powerful lens through which our expectations of the beauty of the rugged Oregon coastline became a reality.

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A stay at the Keeper’s home includes a house tour, lighthouse tour, wine and cheese social, and a gourmet breakfast. All worth the price of admission.

See the lighthouse in daylight and after dark

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It’s a brief walk from the keeper’s house to the lighthouse atop the craggy knoll.

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There is also a cliff trail that rises above the lighthouse.

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The view from that vantage point invites your gaze over the shimmering ocean and the southern aspect of the Siuslaw National Forest and its rocky shoreline.

A flashlight is provided in every guestroom in the inn, along with encouragement to climb the easy trail after dark.

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At night the lighthouse is showcased in the dramatic glow of its illuminated Fresnel lens, which tirelessly scans the sea under the gaze of a million stars.

Do not miss breakfast

Original innkeepers Mike and Carol Korgan are both certified executive chefs. They are retired now, but their daughter Michelle, and partner Stephen have upheld the tradition of fine dining at the house.

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A seven-course day-opening meal awaits each guest. At this table, delicious food keeps coming until every guest is fully nourished and satisfied.

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Accompanied by rousing coffees and teas, the multi-plate tapas style breakfast was a great way to start the day. The experience was further enhanced by the congeniality of our fellow guests.

Our recommendation

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For those heading to Oregon and ready for an authentic 19th century lighthouse keeper’s experience accompanied by a gourmet-envy seven-course breakfast, we think you will enjoy the Heceta Head Lighthouse B&B. Learn more about it here.

Because this vintage B&Bs has very few guestrooms, be sure to make reservations several weeks in advance to avoid disappointment.

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Happy travels!

********************************

“Get out there, but be prepared.”

Whenever we travel, we are protected by Allianz Global Assist travel insurance.

You can plan your trips with Google Maps.

The opinions expressed in our articles are the journalists’ alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any entity.

© Travels with Wayne and Judy Bayliff

Photos © Judy Bayliff

A Luxury B&B for the Crab, Wine, and Beer Festival in Mendocino, California

We love off-season travel because of the reduced crowds and bargain accommodation rates. Last winter we drove from San Francisco to Mendocino to attend the annual Crab, Wine & Beer Days – a fun family experience – especially if you savor the taste of freshly cooked Dungeness crab.

Getting to Mendocino

Starting at San Francisco’s iconic Golden Gate Bridge on highway 101, the drive to Mendocino takes about 3 hours. The last half of the trip from Cloverdale along highways 126 and 1 will take you back to a time when all rural California roads were scenic and fun to drive.

It was a beautiful day, and we zipped along 126 dashing between tree cover to sunshine, and constantly pointing out new exciting sightings in the ever changing panorama.

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We arrived in Mendocino around 3pm and drove directly to the Brewery Gulch Inn just off picturesque highway 1. This highly recommended B&B would be our home for the coming event days.

Our welcome

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The appearance of wild turkeys next to the gravel parking lot was a nice touch, and a precursor to the unusual rustic luxuries we would find during our stay at the this AAA Four Diamond inn.

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When we plan to write about a place we stay, we look for the little details that will help us define the property. In the case of the Brewery Gulch Inn there was an old wheel barrow near the inn’s entrance, and a seen-better-days motor boat in the side of the parking lot. Both these unusual accoutrements got us wondering about the inn’s reputation for richness, but any misgivings on first appearances vanished upon entering the building and experiencing the homey reception and the elegant, designed for living, Great Room.

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We were greeted at check-in by owner/innkeeper Guy Pacurar. Guy purchased the inn in 2007 to fill a “Bob Newhart” fantasy. Guy is a congenial host and the go-to-guy for information about Mendocino and the Brewery Gulch Inn.

The accommodations

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The Great Room is the focal point of the Brewery Gulch Inn. At its center is a magnificent four-sided steel and glass fireplace enshrined in a room of towering wood and 13-foot high redwood French doors.

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The doors open to a spacious deck with sweeping views overlooking the ever-changing Pacific and Smuggler’s Cove. This is an architectural design perfectly suited to its setting.

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Add a measure of overstuffed leather chairs and 1930’s style oak dining tables, and you have the makings of the ideal gathering and dining room.

The Pelican Room

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Climbing the stairs to our second floor guestroom, we noted the inn was much larger than we anticipated. You can choose from eleven sleeping rooms to suit your taste along with an unattached cottage.

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All the rooms and suites elegantly avoid being trendy or too thematic. All are finely appointed with a warm touch of appropriate place and kind furnishings.

Time for dinner

We had heard rave reviews about the inn’s complimentary evening “light” buffet. Don’t believe the “light” description. We enjoyed two great dinner meals at the inn’s casual buffet. Additionally, this every-evening event is carefully calibrated by the management to assure a sense of comfort and informality.

Served with a variety of wines, beers, and soft drinks, the inn’s nightly all-you-can-eat spread was more than enough for any evening meal, and it was delicious.

First night menu

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Tuscan Ragout of Beef in a Deep Tomato and Roasted Red Pepper Sauce

Tri-Color Marble Potatoes with Horseradish Sour Cream

Crab-Cocktails, with Meyer Lemon Slaw

Balsamic Glazed Grilled Endives

Grilled Japanese Eggplant with Sweet Chili Sauce

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We finished off with a delectable Cinnamon Banana Brioche Bread Pudding

So who needs to eat elsewhere!

Dreaming about tomorrow

After a restful night on luxurious bed linens, and a delicious breakfast (more about that later), we headed out for our first adventure.

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It was a crisp morning and perfect for exploring the many sites of Mendocino. After walking around town and checking out the boutiques and shops, we headed for the Point Cabrillo Light Station.

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Still working off our hearty breakfast, we were grateful for the opportunity to walk the half-mile from the parking lot to the Light Station.

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The clean salt air was brisk and the walk invigorating.

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We chatted with the light station attendant in the museum/gift shop, and spent a good part of our sunny afternoon walking along the headlands and gazing out over the vast Pacific. On our day, we saw hundreds of whale spout sightings far off in the distance.

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Returning to the inn just in time for some complimentary wine — and an opportunity to rest our weary feet — we settled into two of the easy chairs on the inn’s deck overlooking Smuggler’s Cove.

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Time passed quickly, and it was once again the hour for another of the inn’s extraordinary “light” buffets.

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If it all looks good, it was! A perfect ending to a wonderful day.

The following morning

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Light streamed through the tall glass windows illuminating the rich interior of the Great Room with its period oak tables and upholstered furniture.

The breakfast at the Brewery Gulch Inn is magnificent.

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On this morning we had our choice of a crab and avocado omelet,

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or cheesy eggs, and blueberry pancakes – both of which were mouth-watering delicious. They also served “Millionaire’s Bacon,” which is a thick slice of lean bacon seasoned with hot peppers. Actually, not our cup of tea, but other guests raved about it.

After breakfast we headed for the Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens.

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Even in winter, the Mendocino Gardens are worth a visit.

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There are ample species of flowers to enjoy, and the trails to the ocean are a terrific way to pass a sunlit afternoon.

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Be sure to take along your best buddies, because the gardens are pet friendly.

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It took us several minutes to walk to the ocean where we sat and once again watched the distant whales frolicking on their way to the warm waters of Mexico.

Time for crab tasting

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Because these were Crab, Wine, and Beer Days we were anxious to sample the best of what the local restaurants had to offer by way of crustacean delights. We decided to have dinner at a highly recommended establishment, the Little River Inn.

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The Little River Inn is well known for excellent crab cakes, and we were in the mood. The Brewery Gulch inn and the Little River Inn are just a short distance apart.

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Dining at The Little River Inn restaurant is comfortably elegant. The atmosphere and service were outstanding, and the menu was designed to reflect the location. We found the menu choices to be sophisticated, yet approachable.

We made our selections from the Crab Specials Menu prepared especially for the days of the event.

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Our starter was a Dungeness Crab Cocktail with home-made cocktail sauce, celery, and crackers. There’s nothing quite like the delicate taste of chilled and fresh Dungeness crab to excite and delight the palate.

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We next tried the inn’s award winning Crab Cakes. We can’t describe what makes these crab cakes best in class, but we can report that they were definitely some of the best crab cakes we have tasted anywhere in the world. If you go, do not miss this delicious delicacy!

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Keeping with the symphony of flavors, our next foray into Crab Days was the Dungeness Crab Pot Pie baked under a flaky crust and teeming with leeks, celery, onions, potatoes, and sweet peas. Exquisite!

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Everything crab was topped off with an Olallieberry Cobbler,

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and a Hot Fudge Sundae.

Having feasted to fatigue, it was back to the Brewery Gulch Inn for another night of snuggly slumber.

All too soon

We found the Brewery Gulch Inn to be an idyllic place for discriminating travelers, and we wish we could have stayed longer, but before we could say “more crab, please,” it was time to head for home.

There are so many interesting things to see and do in Mendocino that we are already looking forward to our next visit. Guy and wife Sarah have some super site recommendations; look here for their description of a perfect getaway to Mendocino and the Brewery Gulch Inn.

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One of the activities they recommend is the 2.25 mile hike to Russian Gulch Falls. We did it and it is spectacular. Be sure to put it on your list.

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In 2016 the Mendocino Crab, Wine and Beer Days will be held on January 29 and 30.

For more information and reservations at the Brewery Gulch Inn click here. Book now, and avoid disappointment.

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Happy travels!

*****************************************************

“Get out there, but be prepared.”

Whenever we travel, we are protected by Allianz Global Assist travel insurance.

You can plan your trips with Google Maps.

The opinions expressed in our articles are the journalists’ alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any entity.

© Travels with Wayne and Judy Bayliff

Photos © Judy Bayliff