I’ll admit it. I’ve been lots of places all around the world, but have never been to Boston. Two things I know about Boston: First is Sam Adams. Jim Koch believed that beer drinkers deserved a better American beer than what was available in the 1980’s. And was he right! Look at the proliferation of craft beers and breweries all across the US. Samuel Adams Boston Lager had a huge impact on the future US landslide of flavor packed beers. Second thing I know about Boston is Boston Rob from the CBS show survivor. Rob and his wife Amber both individually won different seasons – her in 2004 and him in 2011 after his fourth appearance! As a couple they both appeared on Season 7 of the Amazing Race – they were masters of the game, and finished in 2nd place, just short of the big prize.
For this trip, we’ll be in Boston a couple days early and will visit Freedom Trail sites in the downtown area. The city was founded in 1630 and got its name from an English village. Many of the events that led to the American revolution including the infamous Boston Tea Party in 1773, started here In 1775, Paul Revere helped spread the word that the British were coming (no tweeting in those days). The next day “the shot heard round the world” was fired, signaling the start of the American Revolution. And the rest as they say is history.
What first pops into your mind when you hear San Sebastián, Spain? Is it the beautiful seaside beach or maybe the wonderful restaurant opportunities within this Basque city? These two things after all are what why scores of people flock to visit this region of Spain – I mean just think about a day at the beach followed by an evening of the pintxos (small tapas like food available at almost every bar in San Sebastian) or dining at one of the 16 Michelin Star restaurants. That alone makes me want to go back!
Ah, but have you heard about the gastronomic clubs or societies? In San Sebastian, these gastronomic clubs have been around since the 1800’s and today there are approximately 119 in existence in the city (over 600 in the entire Basque region). These clubs were initially established as a place of refuge for men – a place for them to socialize and cook away from the women at home who were the “boss”. Today, many of the clubs are still men only and it is not uncommon to find clubs with over 100 members.
To visit, you must have an invitation or be brought by a member. Well visit I must – I just had to see what they were all about! In September, I visited San Sebastián and made it a point to book a visit to Los Corcones gastronomic club. This club has a professional chef (all clubs cook together, but not all have a member who is an actual chef) so I knew I was in for a treat.
Together with 3 friends, we met the chef and started our walk-through Mercado de la Bretxa, the 150 year old market that was bursting with sights and smells you can only imagine. Here Bendur, our chef went about choosing items that he would cook during our visit to his club. He shared samples of his favorite ham and other specialties as we shopped.
Then it was just a short walk until we arrived at what looked from the outside like any ordinary stone building – that was until he pointed out the club sign announcing our arrival. The Sociedad Cultural Musical Benefica “Los Corcones”, with its 2-blue fish logo (and yes this club even has a band!).
As he opened the door, I was immediately in love with the quaint set of rooms and old country style kitchen (but with some heavy-duty ovens) and checkerboard tableclothes. I could not wait for the gastronomical experience I was about to have. He put us to work preparing the plate of tapas and pintxos – oh did you think this was a sit and be served sort of visit – heck NO!
Up first was a sampling of Spanish cheese, olives, sausage and of course a sardine or two (enough food really for 20 people). When the sampling began, we sat around a table and talked about his club, the food and the traditions…and somehow the 4 of us polished off a majority of that food. We felt the pride he had for his country, his food and his club. Now this is the way to really experience another countries culture.
Just when we thought we could not eat or drink anymore and the real cooking began! We were served some traditional Basque seafood dishes and yes, I must say, they were tasty! This visit to a private gastronomical club was one of the best foodie experiences I have ever had. We left with a true understanding of the culture by way of not only the food but through the opportunity to dine with the chef. It was a truly amazing experience which I encourage you to try.
Being offered a “free” dining or beverage package seems to the be sign of the times today in ocean cruising bookings. Every cruise line has its own twist on the perks offered but these two are always in the mix of offerings.
So, which do you choose? You love to eat and…. okay you like to consume adult beverages too, thus the dilemma exists.
Now, my first recommendation is talk to your travel professional because all “free” perks are not created equally. For example, some lines charge service fees associated with their “free” while others do not. Most lines have a dollar limit to drinks available using the perk and the big difference is how they handle those drinks that hop over that limit. For example, let’s assume your drink limit is $13 but you really want to try that $16 martini. On some lines, you would pay only the $3 extra, on other lines you would not be able to use the beverage package and be charged the full $16. Note from one wine snob to another: Serious wine drinkers (those who won’t drink the house wine at a bar and who don’t drink much in the way of other alcohol) should think twice about the “free” beverage package because it isn’t likely to have wines that will make you happy. You, may want to consider choosing the free dining perk and then buying your own wine package.
Dining packages are no different, you really have to do the math regarding which perk will be best. Example: you are on a 7-day cruise, your perk is 3 nights in a specialty restaurant, on board credit, free wifi or the beverage package. What is the value of those 3 nights dining? Let’s say the price is $35 per visit to the specialty restaurant x 3 = $105 but the onboard credit is $150 per person…..which is better?
Remember a particular cruise line can only speak to and only wants to sell you their product, they cannot offer you a side by side comparison like a travel professional. We can help sort all that out and can search across all cruise lines for the best perk offering out there.
Remember when you’d return to school after summer break and the teacher would assign the dreaded “what I did on my summer break” essay? I mean, growing up in small town Wisconsin, did they really think we did something worth writing about?
I’m older now but that same question still haunts me each and every time I return from a sun/sand vacation to Mexico, Jamaica or the Dominican Republic. Seriously, um…it was hot and sunny and all inclusive. Need I really say more! Yet people always ask and somehow I seem to feel obligated to elaborate…..so here goes.
Unlimited food, unlimited beverages, super bright sun, wonderfully cool air conditioning, afternoon naps and a few great books. Need I really say more?
Sure there is beach volleyball, pool games, aerobics, yoga, snorkeling and excursions if someone is so inclined but for me a beach chair, book and sunscreen are all I really want or need.
That is the beauty of a beach vacation. One can do as little or as much as one wants, be waited upon or go jogging on the beach, catch up on that elusive thing called relaxation or play hard. The all-inclusive beach sun/sand vacation has something for everyone.
Some of the great places we’ve found particularly wonderful recently are: Secrets Cap Cana and Breathless Riviera Maya. Here’s my travel professional opinion:
Beaches – Secrets Cap Cana
Food – Breathless Riviera Maya
Room – Secrets if you are more modest, Breathless if you are there with someone special and want to spice things up a bit
Service – top notch at both places
Pools – both have a quieter pool and a more active pool so it’s a toss-up
Have you ever taken a European river cruise? Have you ever cruised with Uniworld Boutique River Cruises?
Our customers love to cruise on Uniworld. In fact it has one of the highest rates for repeat trips amongst all the suppliers we use.
You may very well ask why that is. Well for starters, the standards of accommodations, food and service are extremely high. The ships have very tasteful interiors and yes they are all different, with each being as unique as your voyage. Typical cruise lengths are 8 – 15 days and everything is included, making for carefree and truly effortless travel. Included are: scheduled airport transfers, all dining on board, unlimited beverages (including many premium spirits), personalized shore excursions, fitness center, Wi-Fi, on-board entertainment and all gratuities.
OK – is this a commercial? Yes it pretty much is and here is why. We currently have some very special amazing prices on select Uniworld Cruises including our group cruise in April 2017 from Amsterdam to Antwerp. This “Tulips and Windmills” cruise is scheduled to coincide perfectly with a visit to the famous Keukenhof gardens which has over 7 million bulbs in bloom each spring. Additionally we will visit the windmills of Kinderdijk, the picture perfect villages of Veere, Hoorn and Enkhuizen, and the cities of Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Bruges and Antwerp. So much to see and so much to do but you need to act fast. Why? Because our amazing special pricing only lasts until October 11. Give us a call at 262.538.2140 to reserve your spot with our group.
For additional details on the ship and the trip you may also want to visit our web page.
European vacations continue to hold great value. The US Dollar remains at historic low levels vs. the Euro. This is good news for travelers to Europe as you definitely get more bang for your buck. Our best advice for Europe is to plan ahead – this is not a destination that typically rewards the last-minute traveler. The best way to start planning your European vacation is to schedule a consultation with Sue.
River Cruising continues to grow and for very good reasons. Our clients absolutely love to take River Cruises. All it takes is to try it once and you will rave about it forever. Be aware however that not all river cruise companies are equal. You can research endlessly on your own, or you can call us to discuss. Our goal is to find out about what you want to do, how adventurous you are, what you like and what you don’t like. What are your travel dreams? Our recommendations are simply based on you and your needs, that’s it.
All Inclusive vacations will remain hot, hot, hot. The industry continues to upgrade old properties and build new ones. There are All-Inclusives for all tastes and budgets. Well we know you want a warm weather, beach destination, but are you looking for a romantic escape or a family/multi-generational getaway? Do you want basic dining choices or a more gourmet experience? How does a canopy covered bed and open air shower sound? Or a private plunge pool within mere steps of your suite? The choices go on and on. We can help narrow it down to something you will love.
According to the experts, air ticket prices are down but add-on fees are up. The simple fact, is you need air tickets to get to many vacation destinations. They are the transportation, not the vacation.
Cheap will remain, well….cheap. While the dictionary defines cheap as inexpensive, it also defines it as something of poor quality or shoddy. Continue to be cautious about anything advertised as cheap, supercheap, ultracheap, etc. A fantastically cheap vacation is not a good value if it is actually craptastic (this is our official industry word for cheap vacations!). Everyone wants good value and that’s where we help – get the best value for your money that actually gets the vacation experience you are looking for. Will it be cheap? We certainly hope not.
The best things in travel continue to come to those who plan ahead. For example, how about planning 2017? You may not be ready yet, but we are. We have 2 special group options worth considering.
Join us in January 2017 for our GetAway on the Getaway. We will do all the following: go down the highest water slides at sea, attend award-winning Broadway shows, experience Iron Chef dining, walk the plank and be endlessly entertained and pampered. Book now and choose between Free unlimited drinks, Free Specialty Dining, Free Shore Excursions or Free WiFi.
In September 2017 we will be hosting a very special Wines of Western Europe group on the Azamara Journey. Beginning in England, we will sail to France, Spain and Portugal. Azamara specializes in unique itineraries that include overnight stays in many ports. Our group will be in Bordeaux, one of the world’s foremost wine regions for 3 days. But that is not the only World Heritage region we will visit – see our web page for all the details.
Our 2015 Waterfalls & Wine tour in the great Pacific Northwest was a tremendous success.
Heading out from Seattle, we went to see our first waterfall. Snoqualmie Falls did not disappoint with an amazing double rainbow – this was truly a sign of all the good times to come.
Snoqualmie Falls – double rainbow
a great start to the tour
Even at the falls, there is an opportunity to taste wine.
Our next stop was in Yakima at Gilbert Cellars – Hackett Ranch. The hospitality was warm and welcoming, the wines were tasty and the scenery was outstanding.
Happy folks in the lavender
The ladies are mesmerized
After a delicious catered lunch at the Hackett Ranch, we departed for Walla Walla, the town so nice they named it twice. The group checked in a the historic Marcus Whitman Hotel. This was our home for 2 nights while we explored the nearby wineries.
Day 2 began at L’Ecole – where the wine was very nice, but I think everyone agreed that our second stop of the day at Northstar was truly a hit.
Wine tasting and lunch on the patio at Northstar
After lunch we head to the vines to hear about Washington wines
and then on to the wine blending class where everyone made their own red wine blend from 4 different barrels of Merlot, 1 Cabernet Sauvignon and 1 petite verdot
the blend is starting to take shape
the group shows off their personally crafted wines
After eating lunch and crafting our own red wine blends there was still another winery stop to make. At Long Shadows we experienced a custom tasting and tour that included barrel sampling.
keep it coming!
the sadness and shock of seeing an empty fermentation tank
Keep your wine thief handy, we’re having a barrel tasting
On day 3 everyone packed up for our journey to the waterfalls along the Columbia River Valley…but of course we stopped at a winery along the way. Columbia Crest in Horse Heaven Hills.
Our server at Columbia Crest for the reserve tasting was charming, engaging and a true delight. Look at all the happy faces
After a brewpub lunch stop we travelled along the Columbia River Gorge, with brief stops at 5 waterfalls.
Amazing view of the Columbia River
Evening of day 3 found us just outside of the Willamette valley. For dinner we took over our hotel lobby, ordered pizzas and everyone brought a bottle of wine to share. Day 4 began in the picturesque Dundee Hills. Our first stop was Archery Summit.
Our tour of Archery Summit had frequent stops to taste wine.
Pretty bottles all in a row
Just one of many vineyard views in Dundee Hills
The group loved Archery Summit and did not want to leave…except it was time for lunch. So off we went to our tasting, tour and catered meal on the patio at Domaine Serene.
side by side comparisons
our tour at Domaine Serene begins
After Domaine Serene, we had a special musical interlude
and then on to our next stop – Durant Vineyards
the dancing continues
outstanding views from Durant vineyards
Our final wine tasting in Willamette Valley was at Soter Vineyards
artsy photo of Soter glass
the gang continues to have fun
is it time to dance again?
At Soter even old friendships were made new again!
A sincere thank you to everyone that joined us on the 2015 Waterfalls & Wine tour. We look forward to our next journey together.
Destination weddings are very popular and for very good reasons: They can cost considerably less than a traditional wedding, and often include more. You can choose from many amazingly beautiful locations. You and your select family and friends get a wonderful vacation experience you will always remember.
We have helped many clients just like you have amazing destination weddings. We are such experts that in fact, our own wedding was a destination wedding!
What is the first thing that comes to mind when you hear Rome? For most it is likely the Vatican, the Pope, Trevi Fountain or maybe the Colosseum. Well those are all great things about the city for sure, but what about the food!
In our humble opinion one of the best things about Rome and Italy in general is the absolutely most fantastic food in the world. Oh sure, you can go to a restaurant and order but do you really get to understand the heart and passion that goes into Italian food? We don’t think so, that is unless you get your hands in and actually feel the love, guided of course by someone who an expert.
Our choice is Chef Luisa who owns a private cooking school in Rome. Luisa, knowing every secret nook and cranny of the Roman food market scene, will show you the ropes of Roman cuisine and teach your palate flavors it has never seen before. Luisa’s cooking style is inspired by Artusi Pellegrino, the most renowned iconic Italian gastronome, food critic and author of “The Science of Cooking and the Art of Eating Well”. Like Artusi, Luisa is a modern-day icon herself among the chef and culinary world in Italy and Europe. Imagine getting your hands in and creating a fantastic Italian pasta dish with Luisa’s help, then sitting down and sharing that masterpiece with her and some tasty Italian wine. Buon Appetito!
This custom tour starting in Rome, and then focusing on Tuscany is not available anywhere else. With just the right balance of history, renaissance art, amazing scenery, savory gastronomy and Italian wine – this is one tour you may not want to miss.
Our next information night is Wednesday, Jan 22 at Vino Etcetera in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin. Perhaps you have never heard of Oconomowoc – no worries, you can still get details on the trip at our web page, where you can also find the tour fact sheet and registration forms.
Please enjoy some of our photos from Tuscany and inspiring quotes on Italy in this Video.