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Showing posts from February, 2010

The Magnetic Charm of Day Two in Bhutan

The drama of the day built slowly as we finished our freshly cooked breakfast at Amankora, which is conveniently located in the capital of Bhutan, Thimphu.  The quality and variety of the menu items was very unexpected, but most appreciated and devoured. The anticipated day’s activities included a two hour climb to a sacred temple overlooking the valley and rushing river, followed by a mountain biking decent back into town to witness the weekly farmers market.  The market lasts for three days and is the place where all the villagers come to purchase their vegetables for the coming week.

Day Three in Bhutan and It's Time to Check Out the Shops

Our day started off with yet ANOTHER fabulous breakfast and early morning four hour hike to a sacred temple overlooking the village of Thimphu.  The weather was divine and was only exceeded by the views we had earned as a result of our assent.

Archery to Tradition Bhutanese Dinner on Day Six

Today has been completely monopolized by a six hour hike though some of the most beautiful and varied terrain imaginable. We trekked through river valleys, steep mountain passes and National Forrest lands that posed extremely tall majestic woodlands.  The altitude, over 10,000 ft., was at times a bit challenging, but with dogged determination, humor, and a wonderful picnic lunch we prevailed.

Some of the true highlights of the climb were witnessing up close and personal the endangered bird, the Black Neck Crane, and an archery competition between local villagers.  Archery is the national sport of Bhutan and it was very evident as we watched young and old successfully hit their ’marks’ from vast distances easily exceeding the length of a football field.

Feeding the Monks on Day Five in Bhutan

The wakeup call shattered the predawn serenity of our hotel room but we gladly arose as we were on a mission.  After friendly assistance with our local attire, we made our way to the monastery perched majestically on the hilltop to cook and serve breakfast for one hundred and twenty five monks.

Upon arrival we were graciously greeted by the head monk and led to the cookhouse whose working conditions presented some unusual challenges.  First, there was no electricity and the source of heat for the (50) gallon pots of water were open fire pits fueled by large logs harvested from a nearby forest.  After stoking the flames, we proceeded to the temple where we joined all the resident monks in morning prayers, chants, meditation and celebration.

In the Land of Thunder Dragon - Day Six Culture and History in Bhutan

After yet another picturesque, yet harrowing 3 hr + transit over the twisting and turning east and west highway we arrived at the ancient fortress in Punakha.  Upon arrival we were treated to one of the many unique and culturally ingrained charms of Bhutan, their festivals and pageantry of dances. As it was a regional holiday, all the local townspeople were in attendance at the fortress colorfully attired in their native dress. Many of the dances were either historical reenactments of events or religious beliefs. The choreography and kaleidoscope of pastel colors was remarkable and were told a microcosm of the events that transpire in the height of the annual festival season in September and October.

An Eight Hour Journey, on Day Eight of Bhutan, to a Temple Built by Queens

Today we have decided to once again physically challenge ourselves by undertaking an eight hour trek that took us through rice paddies, chili and cabbage fields, up to a hillside temple recently built in 1999, by the four queens of Bhutan (Kamsum Chorten).  Upon arriving we are all humbled by its beauty and artistic presence. The structure itself is flawlessly built and strategically positioned to capture a panoramic, commanding view of the entire valley. The interior was adorned and decorated with religious artifacts that have been hand crafted by skilled artisans to pay tribute to their Buddhist faith. This just might be the most beautiful religious shrine we’ve EVER seen.

Visiting a Temple in Bhutan

From Panche to Paro, On the Road to Bhutan's 'Tiger's Nest' - Day Eight

Upon arrival in Paro we anxiously, yet reluctantly prepare for a climb to the ‘Tiger’s Nest’ and are all excited for the opportunity to finally see and experience one of Bhutan’s most famous and revered monuments.  We are sad, however, as we know our remaining days in Bhutan are dwindling.  Upon arrival at the base we considered ourselves fortunate as the day is cloudless and the temperature is in the low 60’s.  Peering up at the sheer rock face some 3000 ft above the valley floor, the ‘nest’ appears to be magically suspended in midair.  The stark contrast between the gray, foreboding granite face of the mountain and the pristine, whitewashed exterior color of the building adds to the intrigue.  Throughout our pleasant two hour climb we were periodically teased and rewarded with spectacular glimpses of the nest as we round various corners of the trail.  The view and the personal satisfaction from the top is as expected, absolutely remarkable.

 Throughout our personal tour, we learned…

Hiking to the End of Our Epic Journey through Bhutan - Day Nine and Ten

By choice we saved the most physically demanding trek for last so after an early morning two hour transfer to the Ahh Valley, we climbed to 12,000 feet.  There we were unexpectedly greeted at the summit by strong winds and blowing snow.  We hung our blessed prayer flags and descended as quickly as possible and arrived back at the hotel nine hours after we began our climb. We were exhausted but jubilant, as we had endured steep, continuous grades, cold temperatures, and a wild bear encounters..yikes!

We subsequently attended a lecture by a reincarnate, which is a Buddhist follower who has reached enlightenment and was officially outside the wheel of life, but who unselfishly returned to earth to provide guidance and example to others.  We were so mesmerized by his words that we dined and chatted with him long into the evening.  This was a perfect ending to an auspicious beginning.

After nine glorious days we were all truly saddened to have to finally say goodbye to such a wonderful coun…

Best Bali Properties for the Amadari or "Peaceful Spirit"

I recently had the opportunity of visiting the exotic island of Bali. I disembarked in Padang Bai after a short but wonderful cruise on Regent Seven Seas Mariner from Singapore to Bali and chose to spend a few days in beautiful Bali visiting three Aman properties Amankila, Amandari and Amanusa.

Amankila is a short drive from Padang Bai where the Mariner had anchored and we tendered in. A cheerful, smiling  Budi Klong met us once we had gotten off the tender  and greeted us with the word Ibu before our names. In Indonesian Ibu means mother and everyone will greet you that way., After a short drive from Padang Bai we arrived at Amankila which means peaceful hill. It is set on a hill overlooking Lambak Strait in East Bali. Our suite, one of the 34 had a spectacular view of the sea and surrounding hillside with a private pool. Check-in is done in the suite which are like beach houses. Below the resort is it’s private sand beach and club. One can chose to walk or be driven in an open-air …

Finding a Place of Peace in Kenya

Two thousand and six was a challenging year for me.  Personal struggles had taken their toll and I began to feel like I was surrendering my usual upbeat personality.  I knew that something had to change and, like the rest of the “travel addicts” in our industry, an adventure was the perfect remedy to heal my soul.  For years I have been planning African safaris for clients and for years I had intended to visit myself but to no avail.  Brochures, pictures and stories from my mentors and African enthusiasts, Paul and Roland Largay, had me selling a destination that intrigued me, but for a multitude of reasons had thus far, eluded me.  With each successful African adventure I crafted, my knowledge grew but Uncle Roland (as he is known throughout the industry) would always remind me, “You have to go to truly understand.”  So in full Thelma and Louise style, my sister, Denise, and I began to prepare for our African adventure.

My overall goal was to experience Africa “Micato Safari style” …

Let Your Vacation Begin on the Airplane

Over the years I have trained myself to believe that my vacation truly begins the moment I touch down at a destination.  Driving to the airport, parking, waiting for my flight and sitting on the plane were nothing more than a necessary evil.  Sometimes painful and sometimes uneventful, it just wasn’t something I looked forward to.  Even when I was lucky enough to enjoy a business or first class seat, I never looked forward to my flight experience and reveled in my time onboard…. until I found the promise land in Virgin Atlantic’s Upper Class.

With a new agreement and special pricing for our clients, I felt somewhat obligated to try out this service.  Sir Richard Branson, Virgin Atlantic’s founder, had always been known for creating those “over the top” experiences and I had to find out if he had once again lived up to his reputation for turning something ordinary into something extraordinary.  So I boarded my eighteen plus hour flight from New York to Johannesburg, South Africa, with…

A Smaller, Classy Cruise Experience and the Difference on the Symphony is 'Crystal Clear!'

As I arrived in Athens, the excitement was incredible.  We stayed in Athens for 1 night to view the Acropolis and the Parthenon.  It was as incredible as I thought it would be. The following day we were picked up at our hotel and brought down to the pier. Boarding was seamless and because of our great connection with Crystal I was able to board early! I don’t know how they do it but from the minute we boarded, snapped our picture for our I.D. they knew us by name.  Amazing!

The ship is simply beautiful and has just been refurbished. Cabins are comfortable and sitting on the balcony in the morning for that cup of coffee was a special time.

Mealtime was an extra treat.  Although the dining room served exquisite food, Nobu and Prego are the specialty restaurant and special is just what they are.  Reservations are needed but easy to obtain once you are on board.

I cannot say enough about the crew.  From the cabin steward to the Captain everyone was amazing.  A smile on the face and a ple…