Friday, June 30, 2017

Delightful Bermuda on NCL's Norwegian Dawn

Norwegian Dawn arrives at the Naval Dockyard in Bermuda
BERMUDA  There are two types of sea-going cruisers in the world; those who love to be on the water those who don't.

Veteran cruisers can also be broken down into smaller categories such as devotees of a single line such as NCL, lovers of certain ships, fans of cruising in general and destination cruisers.
Bermuda's Royal Navy Dockyard is a happening spot (Taylor)
Plus, there are  three basic types of cruises, and it is important to know the differences before you book.

First, there are beach cruises that sail throughout the Caribbean, Bermuda and other sun-drenched ports of call. For the most part, these cruises appeal to younger passengers and are generally 4 to 7 days in length.
Life at sea  (Taylor)
Scenic cruises sail to places like Alaska, Hawaii, Africa and other destinations that can be as enjoyable by ship or land. Ships often provide a sense of security for people who have a spirit of adventure but prefer the perceived comforts of a ship.

Most travelers in this category are seniors which means the on-board entertainment will generally be less active and the ship will be asleep before midnight.

Finally, the third category is destination cruises which include itineraries through the Greek islands, the Baltic or the Mediterranean etc. These ships are usually somewhere in between in the age category and tend, overall, to be more international.
Most ships are glitzy (Taylor)

The most important thing to decide is which category cruise best suits your lifestyle.

With that in mind, there are a number of other things to consider before sailing out on the trip of a lifetime. For example, do you want to be at sea for most of the trip or would your rather be in port? Does the point of embarkation make a difference? Consider the order in which things matter to you; food, entertainment, shore excursions, size of the ship, length of the cruise and size of the staterooms.

Cruisers can save money by choosing an inside cabin as opposed to one with a sea view or a balcony.
Life has a different pace in Bermuda  (Taylor)
If you sail from Boston, New York, Charleston, Los Angeles, Miami or any other American port, keep in mind that you are still departing from the United States and, therefore, are not getting the benefit of at least one extra port.

If that is important to you, consider sailing from San Juan or Mexico for a Caribbean cruise, or choose from a port in Europe, Asia, Africa or South America in order to enjoy the benefits of one or two different destinations.
Free train shuttle runs all day
While this may not sound like important at first, select cruises that are in no more than one port each day. Many Greek cruises, for example, often cram two ports into some of their daily outings. The problem is that there isn't enough time to see anything. A four hour excursion to Mykonos takes time to disembark and re-embark leaving limited opportunities for sightseeing.

If you do two islands in the same day, there is also transit time at sea to reach the second destination.
The dockyard isn't big but it has everything a traveler needs  (Taylor)
In that regard,  cruising to Bermuda may just be one of the most ideal cruise itineraries going. NCL's Norwegian Dawn sails on Friday afternoon at 4 pm and arrives at the Naval Dockyard in Bermuda by 1 pm on Sunday. That allows passengers two days at sea to get to know the ship and what activities most appeal to anyone's particular lifestyle.

The Dawn remains in port from Sunday until early evening on Tuesday with ample short excursions, easy access to the ship and more than enough time to explore the entire island.

The final two days are again at sea allowing time to relax and enjoy the benefits of being what cruising is all about.
Clocktower clocks has four
different times (Taylor)

Shipboard activities are in abundance and there is an excellent variety and choice of restaurants.

Though the ship is large, capacity approximately 2,000 with a crew of 1,000, it is well designed to accommodate the numbers without feeling overwhelmed by a ocean of people.

There are some negatives however, and these are important for travelers on a budget. NCL charges for all drinks including soft drinks and refills. Cocktails are expensive but not exorbitant.

Internet services are overpriced. Furthermore, if you have difficulty with access once you have logged on, the clock is ticking all the time you are trying to link to the net.

Another service to beware of is the spa. Massages and spa treatments are also nearly double the cost of similar services at home.
Cake decorating is one of
numerous classes (Taylor)
Perhaps most disturbing however, is the sales pitch that comes after the massage which completely destroys all the benefits of the process. In fact, the spa will even call you the night before you arrive in port to ask if you want to purchase any spa products.

Overall the negatives are minor, but they can mount up over the time you spend at sea when you are a captive audience. Pay attention, be cautious and enjoy all the cruise line has to offer.
The Oracle gets ready to race in the America's Cup  (Taylor) 
Then again, there is always the wonderful serendipitous nature of travel which can provide surprise benefits you never considered. In June, the America's Cup took place in Bermuda. It was a chance to observe one of the oldest and most prestigious sporting challenges in the world, and you could do it from the upper deck of the Norwegian Dawn.
Dawn breaks in Bermuda and everything is ship-shape  (Taylor) 
Land travelers will likely never completely warm to the advantages of cruising, but for people who love to be at sea, NCL's Bermuda itinerary is a marvelous trip to consider with generally good value for the money.

You won't be disappointed as you sail the Atlantic from dusk to "Dawn." 

Friday, June 23, 2017

Try the “Mountain Man” restaurant near Montreux, Switzerland

Chateau Chillon in Montreux, immortalized by Lord Byron, sits
in the shadow of Restaurant du Montagnard  (wikipedia)

VALLON DE VILLARD, SWITZERLAND -- This is a story about the human spirit. It's about perseverance and dedication. It is about humility. It is a .story about a Swiss chef who rarely left his beloved hills overlooking Lake Geneva outside Montreux, Switzerland, and it is a story about the determination to do something with your life that brings pleasure to others through your own talents and gifts

His name was Hans Odermatt, and he was one of those people you never forget.                                              
Lord Byron would have
enjoyed knowing Hans
Odermatt  (wikipedia)


It wasn’t so much his hand-knitted woolen socks that made him distinctive.  Nor was it his home-made wooden sandals with broad leather straps.  It wasn’t even his Santa Claus beard that grew down to his chest.  Rather it was his indefinable and intangible spirit; an aura that touched nearly everyone who walked into his little restaurant in Vallon de Villard (Villard Valley), the mountains that overlook 
Montreux, Switzerland.
Later, when the war was over, he returned to Zurich where he enrolled in a culinary school before moving back to the hills that rise above Lake Geneva.                                                                                                                                                        
Steamers criss-cross Lake Geneva between Switzerland and
France throughout the summer  (wikipedia)

Using his life’s savings, Odermatt purchased a 17th century farm in the 1960s.  Recalling the carpentry skills of his earlier life, Hans went to work on the stable and transformed it into a restaurant.  Working with his own hands by day, Hans gradually and methodically built his dream.

Then, in the evening, in order to earn enough money to pay his bills, Odermatt prepared fondue and raclette for the villagers who lived in the countryside.

Golden Pass train glides past
vineyards above Lake Geneva
The restaurant was rustically appointed with wall paintings by Alexandre Guhl and decorated throughout with a large collection of old farm implements. Even today, visitors are captivated by the depictions of traditional Swiss country life that permeate the restaurant.

When his restaurant was completed, Hans Odermatt continued refining his culinary techniques by expanding his menu and perfecting his craft.  Soon, Restaurant du Montagnard became well-known throughout the region.  So popular did his establishment become that the rich and famous quickly discovered Odermatt’s kitchen.  William Holden.  Richard Nixon.  Richard Burton.  David Niven.  Even Charlie Chaplin and Charles Lindbergh dined  there. 

Fireworks light up the Geneva sky in August  (wikipedia)

Each night, when his cooking chores were finished, it was Odermatt’s routine to sit in a corner booth of his restaurant with a glass of red wine and proudly observe his domain.  Elegant cuisine, its preparation and the pure enjoyment of his customers savoring each delicious morsel became a passion for the little Swiss chef.      

For many, the thought of personally preparing meals for some of the most celebrated people in the world might have been a powerful aphrodisiac for their ego, but not for Hans Odermatt.  When asked about his famous clientele, Odermatt answered humbly, “It’s the villagers who are most important to me.  They come every night, and the rich and famous don’t spend any more than the peasants do.”

Mary Shelley wrote
Frankenstein while staying
in Geneva  (wikipedia)
Indeed, Hans Odermatt was a simple man, for he understood the blessings of life.  He had a sixth sense about what made life worth living; what true quality of life was all about and a love of the natural order of things he saw daily in his beloved hills of Switzerland.
As Hans would express to others, he had no need of a calendar because he could tell what day it was in the spring by where the flowers bloomed on the hillside outside his window. 

The majestic breathtaking Alps add to the aura of Montreux and
Byron's Castle of Chillon  (wikipedia)

Hans Odermatt is gone now.  He died doing what he loved most, cooking in the place he built with his own hands.  But his restaurant still thrives, operated by his wife, Marion, and his sons, Christian and Micky Odermatt.

Montagnard means “The Mountain Man.”  It’s easy to find.  Just take a taxi from Montreux about 4 miles up into the hills.  The driver will know where it is.
And somewhere from a corner of heaven Hans Odermatt will be watching you dine with a glass of red wine in his hand.

(*Author's note: Pictures of Hans Odermatt are rare and difficult to find. I possess one transparency that was taken in his corner seat at Restaurant du
 Montagnard. When I am able to get it digitized, I will add it to the article.)

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Panama: Central America's undiscovered gem

Embera tribesman poles tourists to his village (Taylor)
PANAMA  In the world of travel and tourism, most people probably know more about the Panama Canal than the country that links the Caribbean Sea with the Pacific Ocean.

But "times they are a'changin'" and though tourism is still relatively new to Panama, it is country that has much to offer visitors with native crafts, friendly people and a rich history as well as being an environmental paradise. Panama has more than 900 species of birds. For that reason alone it has become a major destination for bird watchers from around the world.
Tropical rainforest (Taylor)
Thanks to a rainy season that lasts slightly more than half a year, the tropical isthmus is a haven for plants and animals that is beginning to rival its Central American sister, Costa Rica.

Panama was originally inhabited by several indigenous tribes before the Spanish arrived in the 16th century.
Embera women perform a traditional native dance  (Taylor)
One such group was the Embera-Wounaan people who were once called Choco. Today, the Embera live in small villages of 5 to 20 thatched roof houses along the riverbanks of the country.

But tourism has even found a path to the Embera, who regularly pick up travelers along rugged, uneven shores of a river and carry them upstream in dugout canoes to experience their lives just as it has been lived for centuries.
Typical thatched roof huts set on stilts in the Embera village
Traditional crafts are on sale though this is not a place for bartering since prices are already inexpensive.
Embera crafts for sale

The Embera are a gentle people who are proud of their heritage. Translators explain their history to guests before a traditional fish lunch is served followed by a demonstration of native dancing.

The colorful clothing, though similar to what we would call our Sunday best, is primarily worn for tourists. When visitors are not around, the Embera prefer minimalism when it comes to garments.

To truly embrace the country of Panama, it is probably wiser for travelers to visit the country by land rather than cruising through the canal. Not only will they learn more about the century old engineering marvel that is the Panama Canal, a project that has carried nearly a million ships across it waters, you will also learn about Panamanian craftsmanship which rivals that of artisans anywhere in the world.
Believe it or not this will soon be a Panama Hat  (Taylor)
Begin with a demonstration of weaving a "Panama hat" which, by the way, has its roots in Ecuador. In Panama the hats are known as "Pintado." Some people say the "Panama" designation was an American creation resulting from photos of President Theodore Roosevelt wearing one during the construction of the Panama Canal.
Weaving begins  (Taylor)
No matter. Panamanians are masters at the weaving process that creates the stylish hats. The quality is second to none and in a matter of an hour or less you can witness the completion of a hat from little more than reeds to the finished product. 
Finished Panama hats by master craftsman  (Taylor)
Traditional fine linen makes up the "pollera", a lace blouse and skirt comprised of about 13 yards of material. Creating a pollera is a time consuming art, which takes about a year to a year and a half to complete the entire ensemble. Needless to say this traditional clothing is worn during only the most special occasions.
Panamanian dancer in traditional "pollera"  (Taylor)
Consisting of a ruffled blouse worn off the shoulders, a pollera also features a ruffled skirt on the waistline with gold buttons. Designs usually consist of bright colors with flowers or birds.
Exquisite craftsmanship  (Taylor)
There are two matching pom poms on the front and back, with four ribbons hanging from the front and back on the waist line. In addition, five gold chains drape from the neck to the waist and a gold cross or medallion on a black ribbon is worn as a choker.
A work of art and elegant artistry  (Taylor)
When the skirt is lifted, it resembles a peacock's tail.
Young model  (Taylor)
The hair is usually worn in a bun, held by three large gold combs with pearls that resemble a crown. Earrings are usually gold or coral and the slippers typically match the color of the pollera.
 Quality polleras range anywhere in price from 10 to 16 thousand dollars.

Often this traditional clothing is worn in parades or native dances where the women sway gently while twirling their skirts and the men hold their hats in their hands as they  dance behind the females.
Masks are also popular to wear in ceremonies (Taylor)
There are several legends surrounding origin of the name "Panama" but when combined, most Panamanians will say that the word generally means an "abundance of fish, trees and butterflies."
Ride over a rainforest in a Swiss built cable car  (Taylor)
Trees are certainly indeed in abundance. It is possible to take a short cable car ride across a forested canopy where naturalists keep a keen eye out for animals including a variety of birds, howler monkeys and three-toed sloths.
Sloths are a favorite attraction
Another popular creature to spot is a capybara, a tailless rodent that is the largest in the world.

Dominating Panama's geography is a spine of mountains that forms the continental divide. At 11,401 feet, the Volcan Baru is the highest point in the country.

Natural beauty of Panama

The only missing link in the Pan--American Highway lies in the nearly impenetrable jungle between Panama and Colombia. Until 1903 Panama was part of Colombia.

Tourism in Panama is still in its infancy. Its people are energetic and friendly. Stop in for a beer and some ceviche and you will quickly see for yourself.
Ceviche and beer will make your forget all your cares
Transit the Panama Canal by ship if you wish, but you will miss most of what this delightful country has to offer.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Roman Holiday: Two great tours in the Eternal City

The Colosseum is a massive symbol of eternal Rome
ROME  More often than not, the second time you visit a destination will be better than the first. On that primary trip, travelers typically race non-stop through unfamiliar locations to view all the must-see sites.

Compare that to the second or third time around when there's a frame of reference combined with the luxury of time to seek and discover the hidden gems you overlooked on that initial trip.
Palatine Hill, Home of the
Roman Emperors (wikipedia)
Visitors to Rome this summer can take advantage of two incredible excursions offered by Through Eternity, an innovative tour company which has built its reputation on unique one-of-a-kind in-depth sightseeing programs. This year, Through Eternity is one of a handful of companies that have been awarded the opportunity to visit Nero's Golden House (Domus Aurea) and the Colosseum by Night.

Travelers have the opportunity experience these historic landmarks just as the Romans lived them, through the darkened torch lit tunnels of the Colosseum and the massive gold covered rooms of Nero's palace. The Golden House tour is aided by 3D virtual reality so visitors can see Domus Aurea just as it was in the time of the infamous Roman emperor.
The Roman Forum captures the imagination of a glorious past
For nearly two thousand years, Nero's 200 room Golden Palace has been hidden beneath Palatine Hill overlooking the Colosseum in Rome. Built between 64-68 AD the magnificent residence was destroyed by the Roman people and the Senate to erase the memory of Nero's extravagance and abuse of power.

According to some accounts, Celer and Severus, the architect/engineers of the palace, designed an ingenious mechanism in one location where slaves turned a huge crank that made the ceiling beneath the dome revolve like the heavens while perfume was sprayed to permeate the surroundings and rose petals were dropped on diners below.
Nero's Domus Aurea or
Golden House  (wikipedia)
The Through Eternityprogram begins in a vast column-lined portico complete with a grotto and waterfall that reside within alabaster walls. Courtyards and gardens filled with priceless paintings, mosaics and sculpture reveal themselves to visitors as they stroll through the cavernous complex before arriving at the Octagonal Room.

Here, Nero's guests would lie on couches and feast while admiring the heavens above.
Nero's frescoes are still
vibrant  (wikipedia)

Tours are done just twice a week at appointed times each day, making visits limited. Through Eternity offers a three part tour through the underground palace including the unique experience of donning 3D glasses and virtual animation to recreate the ruins just as they were in Nero's time.

The program concludes with a sparking glass of prosecco and snacks on a rooftop overlooking a 360-degree panorama of the Colosseum and Rome at night
Painting of a gladiator in
ancient Rome  (wikipedia)
The second program of this dynamic duo of tours is a behind the scenes look at the inner workings of the Colosseum and historic past. Through Eternity begins with a moonlight stroll through the two-tiered Colosseum underground where gladiators and animals awaited their fates in side by side cages.
Through Eternity will take you into the labyrinth of caves once occupied by gladiators and animals  (wikipedia)
Even in daylight the labyrinth of corridors and caverns beneath the Colosseum floor were bathed in darkness illuminated only by torchlight. Archaeological digs have produced hundreds of lanterns that only provided  flickering visibility for the competitors before battle in the arena.
The Palatine Hill nestles beside the Colosseum overlooking the
ancient Roman Forum  (wikipedia)
In addition the tour guide teaches visitors about the ingenious mechanical equipment was used to  maneuver massive stage sets into the arena and even to occasionally flood the floor to create mock sea battles.

Following the Colosseum visit, take a walk through history in the Roman Forum to the Campidoglio, designed by Michelangelo.

Through Eternity has been offering unique private and small group tours of Rome since 1999 with a philosophy of taking traveling travelers to many of the lesser known venues and relevant locations that are often located within the shadow of better known monuments and museums.
Victor Emmanuelle Monument at one end of the Roman Forum
sits beside Michelangelo's Campidoglio  (Taylor)
Guides speak fluent English and are selected for their intimate knowledge of Rome, their scholastic background and their professional expertise. It's a combination that provides a powerful experience through the love and passion the guides have for their city. 
The Colosseum at twilight beckons us to journey into the past
of a once glorious empire  (wikipedia)
Many travel experts say that the best way to "discover" a destination is to walk its streets and to immerse yourself into the sights, sounds and even the aromas of the place. (For details contact, Mary Liz Wheelis at The Suite Group 800-783-6904 or e-mail

Through Eternity provides the best of both worlds by providing unique guided walks that allow visitors to learn and discover as they meander their way through the past.

The old adage goes that "Rome is eternal" and the best way to find out is to explore Rome Through Eternity.