Anticipating the Arctic Circle

I”ve never been this far North and realize that I may be one of the last generations to experience this land.The Smithsonian Institute is joining forces with the French shipping line, Le Ponant, to provide the comfort and education for those of us aboard.

The thought that the ship may be adding to the climate troubles is alone concerning. And yet, I would love to witness the floe edge, the narwhals, the polar bears, the midnight sun….

I took the same ship to Antarctica a few years ago and had an amazing time in spite of all the scientists telling me the horrors of plastic, the warming of the planet and my obligations to our incredible planet.

I enjoy reading books and watching movies about the area before embarking to get into the spirit of adventure. Migration: A Novel ( Charlotte McConagly) was a mystery story based on the Arctic Terns. Another novel called Girl in Ice (Erica Ferencik) was chilling! And Arctic Void was a scary movie. Now I’m starting a non-fiction book called Icebound, Shipwrecked at the Edge of the World by Andrea Pitzer which promises to fill me with both the” splendors and the terrors” that await me.

I am also concerned that two considerable challenges could cause the trip to be cancelled. First, Covid has not gone away and a new surge might prohibit me from both the flight to Paris, the flight to Longyear and boarding the boat. If Covid strikes while sailing I am somewhat protected as I have a single cabin with a balcony. I will have an adequate supply of masks and hand sanitizer.

Just today my second fear was brought to the forefront by Thomas Friedman who suggested that a direct war with Russia may strike sooner than one might think. Both the USA and all NATO countries are possibly in Putin’s warring mindset.

It’s all going to happen within a month….or not!

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Travelling Just to Travel

Many years passed since I’ve visited New York City, at least 15. Walking through favorite neighborhoods along with the new icons were beckoning. And a note to anyone who plans on going soon: every place I went I had to show proof of vaccination except for all transportation.

I started with the TWA hotel at JFK airport. Since I was reminiscing, I thought I’d experience the glamour of days gone by. While I thought I was paying for first class I found myself downgraded to coach. Overlooking the airport doesn’t necessarily mean the runways, but the roof-top pool did offer such views. I felt as if I were in the Super Jumbo Airbus. I’m not sure if the service reflected Covid parameters or if it was just lacking in some areas. Drinks were served in plastic glasses and some of the venues like the actual plane converted into a bar were closed due to photo shoots. However, they do have the largest hotel gym I’ve ever seen.

My weekend happened to coincide with the New York Marathon so it was fun stopping by the finish line to share in all the jubilation.

I also decided to “move on up” at the Summit One Vanderbilt adjacent to Grand Central Station. There were tons of people there and the line to get in felt like New York in the old days. While very interesting it didn’t quite measure up to all the hype. At each level there was a camera ready to take your photo for an expensive memento!

A much more somber experience was my visit to the 911 Museum. Again there was a long line but there were curators who stood among us and shared insights that kept us riveted. I was told about the morgue behind the Blue Wall where remains of victims were still being identified. This site is an incredible memorial and a must see for all.

While in the city I stayed at the Beekman, an old and very elegant hotel close by the Brooklyn Bridge and the World Trade Center. And lucky for me it was right across from a deli with great food and even better prices!

The topper to my mini vacation was my ride back to JFK! When I first arrived I bought a metro card and had been using it for all my excursions that were not walkable. But for my return I booked Blade’s helicopter flight from the West side for 5 to 7 minutes of unapparelled views of the city (vaccine is required). I will be back!

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Deluxe Nights in French Chateaux

Backroads Adventure Travel offers premiere inns on some of their trips. The upgrade is worth it. My dream vocation would be to scout out these places around the world. I’ve done six trips with them so far and I’ve yet to be disappointed. My latest trip earlier this month was bicycling through the Loire Valley in France.

An uphill long windy road led to the Chateau de Rochecotte, set on 20 very green acres of forest and landscaped gardens. We spent the first two nights in this idyllic villa. After a welcome toast of champagne in one of the courtyards we dined in the private dining room.

Day 3 and 4 were spent at my favorite of the week: Domaine des Hauts de Loire, a former hunting estate on the outskirts of Onzain with it’s manicured estate featuring a 2 star Michelin restaurant. Unfortunately due to Covid it was not open on the nights we were there. Instead one night we ate at their tasty bistro and another night traveled in the rain to the gastronomique restaurant Le Fleuray!

The final night of our escapade we were planted just opposite the impressive Chateau de Chambord at the modern hotel, Le Relais de Chambord. Our farewell dinner was held outside on one of the terraces.

My dreams still revisit these incredible rooms with their comforting amenities featuring French toiletries and high end sheets and pillows. Backroads premiere inns are definitely delightful.

Final Farewell Backroads Sept 2021 Loire Valley Bicycle Trip
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Don’t Let Anxiety Spoil Your Adventure

One has to work hard to have fun while traveling due to stress caused by the Covid pandemic. Preparation now includes having a back-up plan, making sure you have refundable hotels and airfare, and having properly done your research. The rules and regulations are constantly changing.

I was about to venture on an all inclusive bicycle trip through the Loire Valley in France and was constantly wondering whether the French Government would let me in. We were no longer a “green” country…we were rapidly descending due to the increase of the Delta variant.

I started to look for back-up plans as I already had a dogsitter. As I discovered during the first lock-down it was better for your outfitter and airline to cancel than it was for you to do it. That way you were assured of a refund or credit. Thankfully it all worked out! I packed two masks for each day and made sure I had my vaccine card with me. A note of advice: the do-it-yourself test does work but internet speed might not be up to the task!

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Biking with Backroads

I do not own a bicycle and have not ridden one for over three years. However, due to a long layoff from travel due to Covid, I was intrigued by my sister and her husband’s plan to ride along the Loire River in France. They know their stuff as they have done numerous trips with Backroads, an upscale active travel outfitter. I too have done a few trips with them but mostly hiking. I decided to join them.

Brian, Benjamin and Marjorie: Support Staff Extraordinaire

Last time I did some biking I had to borrow clothes from another sister. I looked the part until someone noticed I had her gloves on inside out. I’m afraid of traffic and not aware of all the protocol for riders in a group. I was concerned enough to consider practice but did not want to risk visiting the gym during this crazy pandemic. It was suggested that I sign up for one of their e-bikes and let the guides teach me everything I needed to know. That was the route I wisely chose. Luckily, I had kept up with my fitness. Although, I was nervous every time I had to take one hand of the handle bars to signal.

I run out of superlatives when describing the guides, the equipment, the routes, the lodging and the food. In addition our guides were well versed in the history, geography and local lore; and they could handle any emergency from flat tires to finding a pharmacy that would open early in order for me to get my covid test before traveling home.

I highly recommend Backroads to any person who wants an incredibly fun and active vacation. Their catalogs describing their various trips is worthy of sitting on any coffee table from a mansion to my humble studio apartment! I will share a daily report of my delightful days in the Loire Valley in my upcoming blogs.

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Frenzy and Fireworks on the Fourth

After months of relative quiet the San Diego beaches were awash with crowds and craziness. Adorned in our red, white and blue, my daughter and I decided to observe the celebration while hopefully avoiding the virus, skateboards, bikes and being overwhelmed by the hordes.

A special thank you to all the city personnel and the many volunteers who will restore our beaches and parks to a more pristine paradise.

Happy Summer!
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The Lap of Luxury

As a single woman traveling alone I was hesitant to book a palatial resort especially when “honeymoon” is a big draw in the Seychelles. But the Constance Ephelia has 300+ rooms: advertising Senior Suites, Family Villas, Beach Houses, and Junior Suites. I was able to book at a discount through Emirates Airlines and decided to go with the half-board option due to both Covid and that I would not be renting a car.

Tourism had recently opened and all vaccinated vacationers did not need to quarantine although you needed to be tested before arrival and had to promise to wear a mask anytime you encountered others not in your party. As far as I could determine most all of the tourists were either from Russia or Israel.

This resort, through their boat houses and fitness center, offered guided hikes, zip-lining, paddle boarding, wind surfing, snorkeling, kayaking, sailing and a chance to feed the tortoises! All of these activities were included in the price of the room. Which was expensive! I only ate the two meals a day and limited myself to one glass of wine daily as drinks were extra.

This paradise stretches over 300 acres of green and sand, hills and lagoons. Two of the most beautiful beaches on this island are here. There are bikes to use without sign up and golf carts cruising by to pick you up every 10 minutes. However, I preferred walking the beaches past restaurants and various swimming pools!

With such a large capacity it was nice to know that at least 55% of employees were local and that they have their own water treatment facility! Many of the other staff were young people from around the world who were using their skills to travel, to dive and to meet other like-minded people.

Since I had to check out by noon on the last day and had many hours before my flight I hired the taxi driver I met on arrival to give me a guided tour of the entire island. It was money well spent. Allen stopped at places of interest, drove over the mountain and around the coast and kept me entertained with history lessons and culture details.

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The Spectacular Seychelles

As one of the few countries that accepts vaccinated travelers from the USA I jumped at the opportunity to visit, regardless of the distance and expense. It had been a long time since I encountered a new country.

Seychelles is known for its beaches, reefs, giant tortoises and beauty. It did not disappoint. In addition to the lush surroundings I luckily happened upon a taxi driver who expertly answered all my inquiries about the culture and lives of the locals. While tourism is their main industry they also rely on fishing and offshore business. Education is free and compulsory; Creole is the local language and Covid-19 definitely hurt their economy.

The first inhabitants were the French who came with some African and Indian slaves. It wasn’t long before British control until 1976! Today there is a mix of cultures that include European, Indian and African, creating a delightful society in this archipelagic island country.

It sits approximately 700 miles East of Kenya in the Indian Ocean and only 3 of the 115 islands are populated with any density; there are a few private islands with homes or resorts.

I stayed on Mahe with it’s lush mountainous vegetation overlooking clear lagoons and many beaches. It is also home to the capital, Victoria. The government is commited to preservation of its biodiversity by creating parks and sanctuaries.

In my next blog I will describe living the beautiful resort life!

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Vaccinated and Ready, Set, Go?

I have not planned a real trip in over a year. I did fly twice but that was because people needed my help….no real adventure or new place. This past week I decided it was time. I looked to see which of the countries I have not visited were open to Americans. There was only one: Seychelles!  The fact that I completed my vaccinations a month ago I will not have to quarantine.  As of now, however, I will need to be tested before flying both directions.  

First attempt was disasterous as I had to book two different airlines and I totally screwed up when trying to marry the itinerary. Thankfully my initial airline allowed a change within 24 hours without penalty. I noticed that I was arriving in Dubai a few hours later than my next leg departed.  Definitely a beginner mistake, but hey, it’s been over a year since I actually booked a trip and this one was not easy. I had hoped to fly Emirates in Business Class but it was way too expensive. Next I tried Delta, my airline of choice due to great benefits if I reach Diamond Status.  They only fly as far as Dubai.  From there the only non-stop flight was on Emirates so I’m hoping I at least get to see Business Class from my economy seat.  I booked my hotel through Emirates as it was the best deal I could find. 

Next concern was who would take care of my dog? Usually my daughter and son-in-law take her but they had already agreed to help out a neighbor with her dog…and SHE PAYS THEM! I twisted her arm a bit and she will take mine for most of the week if I found someone else to take her on the weekend. Whew! My sister came to the rescue.

Finally the double check: visa not needed, euros or local currency accepted, taxis available at airport or from hotel at twice the cost. I also did half-board which is something I do when travelling alone as I feel both more comfortable eating at my hotel and safer because I don’t need to go out on my own at night.

Only 32 more days!

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Play it Again Sam

While I don’t know a Sam and I realize this is not a direct quote from Casablanca the aches and chills I have suffered all day reminded me of a time years ago when I traveled to Morocco by myself.

Luckily yesterday I received the second of my Covid vaccine and it must be working because I am basically down and out (for just a brief time I’m sure). The following is a brief synopsis of this old journey.

I arrived in Casablanca, feeling unbelievably terrible but managed to exchange money and find the train to take into the city. When I disembarked I was both confused and befuddled. My shivers offered a slight distraction from the throbbing pains that flooded my entire being. I wandered around the station for a few minutes trying to gather a sense of direction and balance. The anxiety of the moment seemed overwhelming and I forgot my conviction of sticking to public transportation. I hopped in the first taxi I saw and simply gave him the address of my hotel.

Moments later I regretted that decision as he honked at every other cab and put his fingers to his lips with a gesture that implied “Boy, do I have a sucker as my fare; she didn’t ask about the meter, the cost, rien (nothing).”I paid more for that ride than I did for the round-trip train ticket.

Upon arrival at the hotel reception desk I asked for a map and directions to a Doctor. Unfortunately it was somewhere around noon and most of the city was closed for a few hours. I bravely set forth and think I saw the old medina, some parks and some buildings. I was in a fog and had to concentrate on not getting run over as I walked across the streets. Traffic was not nearly as difficult as my wandering mind.

Finally I found a pharmacy, described my symptoms with sign language and traveler’s French and gratefully accepted whatever pills he dispensed. I had hoped to take a shower to warm up but I didn’t have the strength to turn on the faucet. I crawled into bed fully clad with all the clean clothes in my suitcase, the blankets from both beds and when I was still shivering I took the curtains down as well. I could not warm up. For the first time in years I was hot flash free for 48 hours.

Mind you, I’m not complaining as I am delighted to have the two doses of Moderna and know this is nothing compared to that horrible virus!

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