Author: George Rathwell
Avalon Waterways Cruise July 2017
Budapest to Amsterdam
Danube, Main, Rhine Rivers
Day 1 Budapest & Aboard Ship
Budapest is a beautiful city in so many ways, but it has also maintained a bit of historical grit - there are still buildings standing that are riddled with bullet holes from past wars including the Hungarian Revolution of 1956. We came into Budapest a day early to help us transition to time zones, etc.. Staying in central Budapest makes life easy as there are great streets to walk for whatever your interests are while travelling. Shammi, loved the shopping streets and somehow our hotel was a half block off the long main shopping street. The good news for me was that central Budapest has it all; there is great history, wonderful architecture and many restaurants and bars to visit. You are also near the Danube River staying in central Budapest. The Danube divides the old cities of Buda and Pest. Most travellers stay in Pest which has been developed to accommodate tourism, while the Buda side of the river is more the historical visit with massive historical buildings. Fortunately, there are numerous bridges across the Danube so that you can walk both sides of the city. If you love a good walk, this is your kind of city! Beautiful scenery, very level on the Pest side and lots of great places to stop for a bite or a beverage.
Budapest, has a population of approximately 1.8 million in the metropolitan area so it is busy, but not overwhelming. It is relatively easy to walk about in the central area and find all sorts of treasures. Our tour began late afternoon of July 4th with a meeting at a central hotel and transportation to our river ship. We joined the Avalon crew on the ship “Expression”. These boats are very comfortable and the rooms compare very well to what would be quite a large hotel room in many parts of Europe. Our room was larger on the ship than at our hotel.
We had our first meal on board that evening and it was very delicious. The selection of wines was also great. The menu for both wine and drink mirrored our location in Europe each night. This first night was a positive sign of things to come. Our dinner menus were strong throughout the trip with a basic selection of a few different appetizers, main courses and desserts. Following dinner, many of the passengers go to the lounge area on board where a piano player and a bar are located. For many nights on the cruise, this is the meeting place for the passengers to talk about the past day’s events and future options on the trip.
Day three began with some beautiful cruising down the Danube. I am not even mentioning the buffet breakfast because these were consistently excellent. Did I mention the great cheeses and breads?
The countryside between Budapest and Bratislava is colourful and in many places, there are large tracts of agricultural flatlands. If you are from the prairies, that certainly is familiar to you. What strikes you on this part of the cruise are the river lock systems on the Danube. When you make this river trip in either direction (Budapest-Amsterdam or vice versa) ,you are “climbing through the locks” to the European continental divide of central Europe. At that high point, you begin to descend the locks to your destination. There are many, many (approximately 65) river locks on this river cruise, but some are much more dramatic than others and we travel through some at night. It is fascinating to be on one of these cruise ships when it is being raised/lowered quickly. Some of the locks are part of a dam system and electrical power grid which makes them quite the engineering feats. This was the case on the Day 3 morning.
Cruising into Bratislava on a hot July afternoon was interesting. The city is a great mix of the new and the old. Many of us noted the number of bridges in this area. Some of these bridges have some artistic flare; other bridges, not so much. The main bridge into Bratislava was interesting for its design. Sometimes locally referred to as the UFO bridge due to a rather large space craft looking top to a bridge tower. The bridge leads into a highway cutting directly through the historical city centre of Bratislava. I have never seen such a planning designation for a bridge and a major roadway. It certainly does not help with one’s first impressions of Bratislava. Fortunately, the remainder of the old city is quite charming with some excellent small shops, restaurants and bars. In fact, we returned at night into the area and it really bustles with people. The evenings in such areas are very interesting for the number of local people out and about.
Personally, I loved this old/new city for its mixture of eastern and western European culture and its relative smaller size (650,000 in metropolitan area). An evening walk was a nice alternative evening event as our ship did not leave until very late. The entertainment in the lounge was a very talented group of young musicians, but I recommend at least considering getting off the ship in the evenings when you can just for variety because there are many nights when you are sailing and leaving the ship is not an option.
Waking up in Vienna, Austria is a great way to start the day. We had an interesting walk about sightseeing tour of central Vienna. We even managed to get a close look at some Lipizzan horses (not as large a horse as I would have thought). While I enjoyed this tour, it focused upon the 19th century buildings and empires of Austria. I would have preferred some discussion of the 20th century history of Vienna. A number of us had some Sacher torte to conclude the tour of central Vienna. This is the famous chocolate cake with a light layer of jam. Worth every calorie.
Our afternoon was spent on the optional tour of Schonbrunn Palace. This is the Austrian Hapburg’s response to Versailles and at 1,441 rooms the Hapsburgs were fully competing with the French monarchy. It is particularly interesting if you have visited Versailles so as to make some comparisons. While this palace and its gardens are not Versailles, it makes for a very interesting afternoon of beautiful, “over the top” gardens and opulent palace rooms with amazing art from all over the known world at the time.
There is a further optional tour that eve entitled the Royal Waltz Concert. We did not partake as that is not to our musical taste, but many on board the ship did attend and reports were quite positive.
Sailing into the Wachau Valley, a Unesco World Heritage Site, provides you with great scenery. During the past few days, it is quite evident that the Danube is much more than simply a trade and transportation route. There are many recreational activities on the river as well. In this Wachau area, motor boats and dragon-type canoes were part of the river life. It is always nice to see people enjoying the water. There are large campgrounds along the Danube in certain areas. We had noted some as we approached Bratislava and many more today. Camping by tent and in small expandable trailers is clearly a popular pastime in this part of the world.
We began the day by visiting the local Gottweig Abbey. This is a striking building as it is perched on a hilltop overlooking a beautiful setting of farms, vineyards and a small town. You feel like you are entering the “hills are alive with the sound of music” country today. We’re definitely in winemaking country now and the amount of grapes being grown throughout this valley is amazing. The abbey itself has an awesome staircase with a ceiling fresco that makes the building tour worthwhile. There are also some very old Bibles on display and some discussion of the history of the Reformation in this area of Austria. I found this topic interesting because at this time in European history, very few people could read these Bibles.
Following that Abbey tour, our guide, an American woman who came to the area to study and never left, escorted us into Durnstein, a small medieval village on the side of the Danube. This village is a beautiful place. The proximity to the river, the flowers and the overall cleanliness of the village is quite striking. We attended a wine tasting at a local hotel on a deck overlooking the river. We were provided a number of local white wines that were excellent and a great way to head into lunch. Due to low water on the river, which happens at times in the summer, the boat had to find its way forward on the Danube without us so that there would be adequate water levels to press on. Avalon Waterways provided us with cash to buy a lunch in Durnstein rather than return to the boat. Great lunch! There were a few small, patio style restaurants open on a Saturday afternoon. I ordered barbecued ribs as a Saturday special - three racks of pork ribs later! Our American guide had told us that there are three types of meat in this part of the world pork, swine and pig. Try the ribs.
We caught up to the boat down river and continued to see some very pastoral river valley scenes that day. For a change of scenery on the boat, we tried “Bistro” dinner in the lounge rather than the full supper setting in the dining room. I would describe that style of eating as `tapas’ style and it is certainly a smaller crowd with limited seating. If you are seeking a quieter, more intimate setting it is a good approach to supper. Personally, I preferred the supper plates and full meals of the banquet area.
Day 6… Salzburg, Austria or Cesky Krumlov, Czech Republic
Tough choice…Cesky, a backwater sort of medieval town or the world famous Salzburg?
We chose Cesky Krumlov- the pride of Bohemia, because we wanted a two hour tour in the Austrian/Czech countryside. I always enjoy seeing the rural way of life in any country I visit. A traveller can get the wrong impression about a culture/country if they only see the sites of the cities in my view. The town, Cesky Krumlov, is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We were not disappointed by any part of this tour. Our guide was very informative (and talkative). It was interesting to see some of the Czech villages and hear of the changes since the fall of the communist state. Cesky Krumlov is beautiful and well preserved. The castle is outstanding and the architecture of the town was remarkable. My wife, Shammi, was particularly pleased with the choice of tour locations as all the stores were open in the Czech Republic on a Sunday, while most of the Austrian city of Salzburg was closed. Different history leads to different store hours.
We ate in a recommended local restaurant on one of the side streets and it was excellent. Many of the restaurants are quite small family operations in older buildings that overlook the small river that winds its’ way through this small city. Find your way to the river in a few spots as some entrepreneurs have created a business in renting canoes and other small boats so people can paddle through the town site. They even have white water - sort of.
Lots of meat and potatoes for lunch! We ordered a feast of local fare for three and we could not eat it all. The local beer is great so to wash all that food down. Our tour of the town was good and brief as it is a fairly small centre that is outstanding for the preservation of the streets and buildings.
The bus ride back to the Danube had an interesting moment in that we stopped in a Czech McDonalds - yes, that McDonalds. We all smiled at the pastry sections and the coffees available. It is always an interesting snapshot of a culture and its cuisine when you stop at a McDonalds anywhere in the world. And….the washrooms are always clean.
We met the Salzburg group at a ferry landing on the river and that is where we re-embarked. This had something to do with water levels and dock timing, but it all worked. The Salzburg group enjoyed their day as well, so everyone was happy, but for the shoppers that were disappointed in that the stores were all closed in Salzburg. The Sound of Music fans, as well as, the Mozart followers had made it to the home of it all.
Day 7 Regensburg
We passed on the optional tour to the Danube Gorge and the Weltenberg Abbey. However, similar to all the tours on this cruise, all reports were that this was a very good tour. We chose to take a locally guided tour of the old town and it was well done. We saw an assortment of medieval buildings that are in very good shape. This smaller centre seemed to be a bit of a local centre for the arts. There were signs of music festivals, plays and concerts everywhere and the place just had that artsy feel. Our guide had been a teacher in the city, she actually lived in one of the older buildings in the old town so she brought a certain expertise to her walk about that one does not always get. She ended her tour at the well- aged Sausage kitchen. This was a highlight for me as the sausages (6 slender and well done ones) were very good and once again, a good cold beer helped wash them down. You are also provided sauerkraut with this meal. I tried, but I will never be a sauerkraut fan. This meal was all part of the tour. Brilliant conclusion to a walk thought I. Some sausage lovers thought these were the best of the trip. Not certain of that, but some of my fellow cruisers tried a sausage in every port so they did have some authority on the matter.
Later that afternoon, Avalon Waterways arranged a beer tasting event on board in the lounge. Most of us attended as well, free beer does have a certain attraction. The young women presenting were well spoken and explained a bit of the history of beer making in the area, as well as, some of the different brewing methods and reasons for the variety of flavours and alcohol content in local beer varieties.
That evening we had a one man Humpapa band in the lounge. Hans O’ Marush was quite the character and be warned, he selected people out of the audience to assist him with his music. The act was amusing. He was particularly funny with his choice of English phrases. Most of the audience really enjoyed this entertainment. Personally, I was satisfied after about fifteen minutes of the act. All of the performers on board, whether they be musical entertainers in the evening or guest speakers in the afternoon, presented in the Lounge for forty-five minute time slots.
Day 8 Nuremburg
What an interesting day. Cruising through the night, we crossed the continental divide and began our descent through the lock system to eventually reach Amsterdam. To mark the occasion, Avalon Waterways brought a guest lecturer on board to discuss the history of the lock systems on the rivers of western Europe. This young man was a university lecturer and historian. I learned more about the history and engineering of locks in his forty-five minute talk than I had garnered in the rest of my life. We were on the locks at the time of the lecture so this made the history lesson all so very relevant. While I am critical of some of the entertainment on board, I must compliment Avalon for the guest speakers. They were very good and very timely choices.
This afternoon we had choices of tours of Nuremberg. One choice was similar to the walkabouts we had done of smaller centres. The other choice was entitled `Nuremberg World War 2’ and this was the tour we chose. Without a doubt, this was one of the best tours I have ever completed. Our guide began by quietly discussing the Nuremberg trials and we were able to see the buildings and walk about the grounds, but it was really only memorable to people such as myself who have a keen interest in history. I was worried as I thought we might be missing an opportunity. I was wrong!
We drove through the historical centre of the city and it was impressive in terms of its’ restoration after the Second World War given the bombing raids over the city. The bus then took us to the Nuremberg rally grounds and the Documentation centre (a great museum re the rise and fall of the Nazis). I did not know what to expect, but surprising to me, the rally grounds have been left much as they were during the Nazi era. The grounds are massive and some new work has been done to the surfaces. For instance, there is a modern North American football field on one corner of the grounds- it looks small which gives you an idea of how large these grounds were for the pre – war Nazi rallies.
Our guide told us that there was a civic/cultural dilemma surrounding these fields. They are an important part of the local and national history and provide a very tangible study of the Nazi era of German history, but the costs of maintaining and restoring the historical grounds and the stadium was becoming very controversial in the city.
I was fascinated by the sheer size of the area and the varied conditions of the stadiums and grandstands. I asked to have permission and time to climb the main grandstand and podium. We were given both and a number of us made the short climb. A few of us stood where Adolph Hitler had addressed the Nazi rallies with upwards of 150,000 followers on the grounds. It certainly gave one pause. We were careful not to do anything untoward out of respect for the local people in the area. I was told later that if one was caught today giving the Nazi salute from that podium, they could be fined up to five hundred euro.
We were then escorted to the Document Centre (museum). This museum is excellent and explains a great deal about various aspects of the Nazi regime, the rallies, the treatment of the local Jewish population and how Nazi beliefs played out in the Nuremberg city and region. The museum is exceptionally well done covering a large piece of German history in a very effective and efficient manner. The museum is attached to a massive Nazi Coliseum-type structure that was never completed. The intention was to house some 50,000 attendees of the rallies apparently in a Roman Coliseum sort of manner. Wow. Again, it is in surprisingly good condition. Delusions of grandeur- the new Romans indeed.
I appreciated the opportunity to experience, to see and to discuss some of the World War 2 history of the area. I know that this was not the focus of this river cruise, but I did find it a bit odd that all along the Danube, there were significant 20th century events involving battles, resistance, anti-semitism, etc. but there seemed a reluctance to discuss these matters. Nuremberg changed all of that. For individuals interested in WW2 and twentieth century history, Nuremberg is a must- see place.
We returned to the ship for supper and a unique international music performance by a young woman named Valery May. She had an excellent voice singing some old classics.
Cinque Terre: a Picture Perfect Destination
By Maria-Teresa Andreacchi
A photographer once told me it’s the one place in the world where you can’t take a bad photo. With colourful homes to add composition and breathtaking landscape as a natural background, the edge of Manarola, Cinque Terre has all of the elements of a perfect photo – and, as I discover, the perfect destination.
Cinque Terre, or in English “five lands,” is a stretch of five towns along the Italian Riviera. The UNESCO World Heritage site has been a traveller’s dream for years, known for its beautiful sights and exquisite cuisine.
I walk up the winding stone pathways lying between the colourful homes. The place I’m wanting to try is Trattoria dal Billy, a famous seafood restaurant tucked away from the main attractions. There are no menus at this place. Instead, the waiter recites the fresh catches of the day.
Curious and hungry, I choose the seafood antipasti, a selection of 12 mini seafood dishes infused with local ingredients. Raw fish with pomegranate seeds, anchovies with lemon, and marinated calamari. Washing it down with red wine made by Trattoria dal Billy, I discover a new love for seafood.
Hiking in Cinque Terre
The next day, I hike from Manarola to Riomaggiore. In 2011, a landslide wiped out nearly all of Cinque Terre’s coastal walking trails, and while some were later restored, the trail from Manarola to Riomaggiore remains closed. In an effort to truly experience this region, I ditch the short train ride to Riomaggiore and choose to hike over the mountain.
Walking up the stairs, then the rocks, then the mountain. It isn’t a straight line, but travelling rarely is. Standing at the top of the mountain, I see homes nestled between massive peaks of green. The S-shape coastline shows the sheer size of the mountains, one of which I’m standing on.
As I stop to catch my breath, I capture Manarola’s beauty by memory; a remote town unlike anything I have ever experienced. A town where steep slopes inspired architecture; land and water inspire culinary art; and landslides turned average tourists like me into extraordinary hikers.
The last morning, I walk back to the marina, the place that first fueled my desire to travel here. With a few moments left before departing, I snap the iconic photo. It is only a matter of time before another wanderer is inspired to explore the five lands known as Cinque Terre.
I recently had the opportunity to speak at Ladies only Luncheon. My topic was "Is it possible for a woman to travel the world and stay safe?"
I thought I would share my notes on our Blog. Enjoy!
Even if you steer clear of resorts.
Even if you go to developing countries.
Even if you don’t speak the local language.
Even if you’re traveling alone.
You can survive, thrive and have time of your life.
By prioritizing your safety while traveling.
What does that mean?
Well, let me share a few safety tips.
1. Research Your Destination Thoroughly
For many travelers, planning and researching is almost as fun as actually traveling!
It is fun to scope out the most beautiful beaches and coolest cities.
The more you know about where you’re going, the safer and happier your travels will be.
It helps to choose a destination where you will feel safe and in your comfort zone.
Check to see if there is a Travel Advisory in effect for your proposed destination.
Get information on safety and security,
local laws and customs,
health conditions and
All of these can be found on our Canadian Government Travel website. (travel.gc.ca/advice)
2. Keep Your Valuables On You While in Transit
But you shouldn’t bring valuables in the first place!
You shouldn’t bring anything you can’t afford to lose – such as expensive jewelry.
Today people travel with so much technology.
Everyone has a smartphone at the very least;
many bring laptops, tablets, Kindles or other e-readers, DSLR cameras with pricey lenses, and more.
When you consider the costs to replace any one of those items, they definitely count as valuables.
You should have a day bag into which you can fit all of your important items: your passport, your camera, your medication, your jewelry, your credit cards, your smartphone, and any other technology, photography or otherwise valuable equipment.
Never put any of those items into your checked luggage on a plane. If you let them out of your sight, there’s a fair chance that they could be taken away from you forever.
As a precaution against loss or theft, leave copies of important travel documents with family or friends. A good idea is to email your documents to yourself at an email address you can access anywhere. This includes a scan or picture of your Valid Passport. It’s a good idea to keep your bank and credit card phone numbers stored in a document as well.
3. Only Take What You Need and Leave the Rest Locked Up
There’s no need to go out for a walk in the city with all of your credit cards, your passport, and lots of cash.
Take what you need for the day: maybe around $50, tops, and a debit card, a credit card and keep the rest locked up in your accommodation.
Carry your Debit card and Credit card in a RFID sleeve.
An ideal handbag or day pack is one that is easy to carry and has zippered inner compartments for added security. The best way to carry your bag is in front of you, close to your body.
Try to have one hand free at all times.
Avoid displaying expensive looking camera’s, jewelry and other showy accessories that may mark you as a wealthy tourist.
Beware of Credit Card Fraud – Never let anyone take your credit card out of your sight.
Keep a backup cash stash In the event that the worst happens – your purse is stolen, and your credit cards are suddenly maxed out …
Keep at least $50 dollars hidden in a secret spot deep inside your luggage, like inside a tampon or hidden in a sock. In a separate spot, keep a backup credit card. If your purse or day bag is stolen off your body and literally everything is taken away from you at least you will have a little cash and a credit card.
4. Blend in as Much as You Can
Want to have the attention of every pickpocket in Paris? Show up in shorts and a t-shirt. For extra credits, wear Birkenstocks and have a conversation on the metro in English.
As normal as shorts and a t-shirt would be in Canada, you would never see that style in most of Europe. Shorts are rare and Europeans in general dress much more neatly than North Americans, especially in France and Italy.
The more you stand out, the more you brand yourself as someone who is unfamiliar with the location, which makes you more vulnerable to criminals.
Instead, research your destination in advance, observe how people dress, and try to pass as a local – or, if that’s impossible (like if you’re in Thailand or Mexico and look neither Thai nor Mexican), try to pass as a longtime expat. You know what I mean...ditch the touristy beer T-shirts!
In tandem with blending in, it’s important to maintain confidence at all times, and even if you’re not confident, at least maintain the appearance of confidence.
When you’re walking down the street, hold your head up and your shoulders back. Look straight ahead and walk with a purpose. Pretend that you have somewhere important to be, and if you fall prey to street harassment, ignore it and keep moving.
Study your street map before going out of your hotel. Avoid opening a map in a public area. If you become lost and you need to find your way, slip into a shop or café to consult your map privately or ask a shopkeeper.
Always carry the address or a business card from your accommodations. This is very useful when you are in a country where you don’t speak the language. Handing your taxi driver a business card of your hotel is much easier than trying to explain. Snap a picture of your Taxi’s license plate before getting in. Both for safety and also in case you leave something in it: Having the license number makes it much easier to track down. If you are feeling uncomfortable in your taxi, (of even walking for that matter), make a real (or fake) phone call to say “Yep, I’m almost there. I’ll be there in 10” so the driver thinks you are meeting someone at your destination. Yup! I have done this.
5. Spend Extra Money on Staying Safe
It is a smart idea to financially invest in your own safety.
What does that mean?
It means that if your flight is scheduled to arrive late at night, you should spend money on a private transfer.
It means you should pay extra money to take a taxi home at night if you don’t feel comfortable walking through the neighborhood on your own.
It means paying more to stay in a central neighborhood with lots of lively activity instead of a cheaper, quiet residential area where you feel isolated.
So speaking of accommodations:
Avoid ground floor accommodations.
Request a room close to the elevator and away from the exit.
Enter the room first and walk away around to feel comfortable.
Ensure your door locks work. Consider carry a rubber door stop for added security.
Keep two hotel keys with you — one in your bag and one on your person.
That way if your bag gets nabbed, you’re not locked out.
Leave the DO NOT DISTURB sign on your door and the TV on when you leave your hotel room
Befriend female hotel employees.
Ask them for tips about getting around the area and where NOT to go.
6. Get Travel Insurance
Do you really need travel insurance? Absolutely. Whether your luggage is lost, you end up in a political coup or natural disaster, or you need to go to the hospital while on the road, travel insurance will reimburse your expenses. If you’re robbed, travel insurance will provide you with the security you need.
If the very worst happens and you end up losing your life, good travel insurance will allow your family to bring your body home without paying tens of thousands of dollars and getting wrapped up in mountains of red tape.
In short, if you can’t afford travel insurance, you shouldn’t be traveling.
7. Check in Regularly
It’s a good idea for at least one designated friend or family member to have a copy of your itinerary in advance: your flight numbers, your accommodation, and a general schedule of where you’ll be on which dates, as well as information on your travel insurance, credit cards, and a bank account number.
Plan ahead of time how you’ll check in and how often, whether it’s through daily emails, texts, or social media updates, Staying in touch is a way to dispel the fears of your loved ones, but if you find yourself in trouble, they would be able to locate you much more easily than if you had been vague about your whereabouts.
Another tip is if you are touring solo for the day, leave a note in your room explaining where you are going. If you don’t return as planned, this information could be used to track you down.
My last remark:
"We travel not to Escape life, but for life not to Escape us."
By Waheeda Harris
Whether you’re on a romantic get-away, or travelling with children, AMResorts has locations in destinations such as Mexico, Dominican Republic, Panama, Costa Rica, Jamaica and Curacao. Each resort comes with an extensive amenity list featuring a wide array of international dining, spa facilities, included gratuities and taxes, and no wristbands.
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With 15 resorts by the end of 2016 in the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Costa Rica and Mexico, including a new resort in Cap Cana in November, this romantic AMResorts brand is focused on one thing: ultimate luxury.
Dreams Resorts & Spas
These family hotels offer fun in the sun for parents and kids; and by the end of 2016, there will be 14 resorts in five countries.
Zoëtry Wellness & Spa Resorts
Zoëtry Wellness & Spa Resorts are the antidote for those needing to de-stress and indulge in some “me” time.
Breathless Resort & Spas
If a holiday is more about fun, excitement and friends, Breathless Resorts provides an adult-only environment to party all night long.
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These family-friendly resorts provide an adventure-laden environment for multi-generational family trips and celebrations.
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With locations in destinations across the Caribbean and more, AMResorts properties are the perfect place to celebrate every stage of your wedding plans, from pre-parties to the
A tiny nation on the edge of the Yucatan, Belize packs a number of huge experiences, including swimming with some of the world’s most impressive marine.
By Tim Johnson
One minute, there are no sharks – just a wide-open stretch of aquamarine so clean and clear, I can see all the way to the bottom. And then, suddenly, dozens surround us. Forming an almost continuous grey mass off the back of our catamaran, they churn the water white as they jockey for position, chomping up the chum thrown in by our crew – and looking, to my eyes, genuinely terrifying as they did so. So I made the obvious decision to go ahead and jump in.
I’m in Belize at Shark Ray Alley on the Mesoamerican Reef. It’s the largest reef in the Western Hemisphere producing a swirling kaleidoscope of fish and the unique opportunity swim alongside dozens of sharks. Waiting for one particularly huge shark to pass, I put on my mask and snorkel and take the plunge, trying to keep my arms and legs compact – and unbitten – while swimming just inches from this roiling mass of shark.
An hour later, I emerge from the waters (happily) unscathed – nurse sharks, it turns out, are almost entirely harmless. These shark swims are commonplace here, offered on most snorkel trips, and the safety record is very good; even the squeamish on our boat manage to get into the water.
I return to the warm Caribbean several more times during my vacation, strapping on my snorkel and swimming along the surface, marvelling at the diversity, and sheer number of fish on the massively prolific reef below: the yellow-and-blue flash of queen triggerfish; black-and-white banded butterflyfish; small, menacing porcupine puffers; and creepy, sleek barracuda.
My adventure began in the water and fittingly ends in the water – this time with a paddle. Deep in the jungle, I glide down the Rio Grande, a sacred river, the tip of the canoe silently slicing the green-blue waters, the only sound being the mysterious creaks and croaks of the surrounding rainforest. It could’ve been now, or a hundred, or a thousand years ago – a timeless moment, simple, and yet extraordinary. Ahead, the village awaits. But I could’ve stayed on this river forever.
Top 5 Things to Do in Panama
By Kathryn Dunmore
From crystal blue waters to lush tropical rainforests, travellers can pack a lot into their days in this small Central American country.
1. See the rainforest: Just a 30-minute drive from Panama City and you’ll find yourself in lush, cool rainforests. Here, you will find many activities: kayaking, fishing, and even aerial trams to give you a bird’s-eye view of the flora and fauna.
2. Go bird-watching: Nearby Pipeline Road offers serious birders or curious travellers the opportunity for a glimpse of toucans, tiny Green Honeycreepers or even hawks. It’s an easy hike, and bird-watchers are likely to see many monkeys and sloths, as well as birds. Don’t forget binoculars!
3. Visit the Panama Canal: The Miraflores Visitor Centre is worth the trip to learn the marvels of this man-made canal. Here, there’s an observation deck where you can watch, in sheer awe, as massive cargo ships pass through the 50-foot-deep locks.
4. Wander Panama City: Panama City is the perfect blend of old and new – just one look at the city’s skyline and you know this is a modern economic centre. But, beyond the glass skyscrapers, you’ll find the Historic District, recognized as a World Heritage site for its original buildings from the 1600s.
5. Relax in Bocas del Toro: This stunning archipelago is mostly covered in rainforest and spectacular white sand beaches – perfect for sunbathing, swimming, snorkelling or diving. Known for its laidback vibe and colour clapboard houses, Bocas del Toro is also one of the world's biodiversity hot spots.
Now taking Bookings for the upcoming Winter Charter Season
Charter flights to:
Puerto Vallarta/Riviera Nayarit
Cayo Santa Maria
Non stop flights to Las Vegas and Phoenix on West Jet
Early Booking Bonuses end August 31st
I would never tell you to NOT go to Europe, despite recent situations.
However, Ixtapa Travel does recommend the following:
As you probably are aware, Delta just pulled their service from Regina.
We NEED to keep them in Saskatoon! Here is a letter that was sent to all Chamber Members.
Yours Truly ... Barb Crowe
As you are probably aware, in 2015 our Chamber expressed concern with the loss of Saskatoon's air service direct to Chicago and Denver - large airline hubs in the United States. While the loss of those connections was significant, we expressed our thanks to Delta Airlines who remained committed to servicing the Saskatoon market with their Minneapolis connection.
We at the Chamber want to draw your attention to the valuable access alternative that Delta has kept in our market. It is important to support our partners in business that remain committed to our city. Delta has been servicing Saskatoon the longest of the US carriers and we want to see this service continue and even expand.
As a valued Chamber Member / decision maker, I understand you are focused on saving time and money while conducting important business travel. Using this connection is one way to save both time and money while encouraging the retention and expansion of Delta's service to Saskatoon.
Thank you for thinking about supporting Delta Airlines as part of your business operations.
Greater Saskatoon Chamber of Commerce
104-202 4th Avenue North, Saskatoon, SK S7K 0K1
Phone: (306) 244-2151 Fax: (306) 244-8366
Ixtapa Travel Staff