Archive for 2010

Wanderlust Blog

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Perhaps the very first Amazing Journey

Wednesday, December 15th, 2010

Last year marked the 150th anniversary of the most incendiary book in the history of science, and coincidentally, the 200th birthday of the mild mannered Englishman who wrote it. Charles Darwin did not invent the idea of evolution, any more than Abe Lincoln–who happens to share his birthday on Feburary 12–invented the idea of freedom. What Darwin provided in The Origin of Species was a powerful theory for how evolution could occur through purely natural forces, liberating scientists to explore the glorious complexity of life, rather than merely accept it as an impenetrable mystery.

Contrary to popular belief, Darwin did not visit only Galapagos.  He actually only visited these islands just once in his lifetime.  As indicated from his journal, he visited and researched his evolutionary theories in many parts of the world:

“The day has past delightfully.  Delight itself, however, is a weak term to experess the feelings of a naturalist who, for the first time, has wandered by himself into a Brazilian forest” – Darwin: February 29, 1832

“It is scarcely possible to imagine any thing more beautiful than the beryl-like blue of these (Tierra del Feugo, Chile) glaciers, and especially as contrasted with the dead white of the upper expanse of snow” – Darwin : January 29, 1893

Geneticist Theo Dobzhansky wrote 37 years ago that “nothing in biology makes sense, except in the light of evolution.”  That light, which began as a glimmer in the mind of a young naturalist aboard H.M.S. Beagle, today casts a beam so bright we can read the very text of life by it.  Darwin would be overjoyed to see how much he did not know, and how much we have yet to learn.

London (British Isles Pre-Cruise)

Thursday, December 9th, 2010

America’s Best and Worst Airports

Wednesday, December 8th, 2010
Just in time for the busy holiday travel season, the Daily Beast is out with its second annual list of America’s best and worst airports. There’s good news for those who fly from Phoenix but bad news for those who use Newark.
The Daily Beast ranked the 27 largest airports in seven categories, including how quickly travelers get in and out, the number of incidents and accidents, and amenities. Each of these categories was weighed accordingly, with the largest components being on-time departures and arrivals.
Sky Harbor International Airport in Phoenix gets the top spot with on-time departures 84 percent of the time in 2010, on-time arrivals at 86 percent, on-time holiday departures at 85 percent and on-time holiday arrivals at 84 percent. The average time spent waiting in a security line at Phoenix was only 10 minutes.  The website also ranks Phoenix high in categories including safety and airport amenities.

Other airports getting accolades include Seattle-Tacoma International in the second spot and Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport in third. Los Angeles Airport and Orlando International Airport rounded out the top five.

But the picture wasn’t so cheery for passengers at Newark Liberty International Airport, which ranked at the bottom of the list for the second year in a row. The Daily Beast says on-time departures were only 76 percent, on-time arrivals 73 percent, on-time holiday departures 77 percent, and on-time holiday arrivals 76 percent at the New Jersey airport, though average security wait time was only 7 minutes. Newark also ranked 24th in terms of safety and 26th in terms of airport amenities.

John F. Kennedy International in New York also ranked at the bottom of the list.

George Bush Intercontinental Airport (I said “airport” – not the man himself!) in Houston was ranked number one in 2009, but fell all the way to the number nine spot this year. The airport lost points for having a 77 percent on-time arrival rate during the holidays, as well as being near the bottom of the list in the “tarmac nightmares” category.

Charlotte/Douglas International Airport, however, was one of the biggest rank gainers since last year. The airport came in at number eight, a seven-spot jump from last year.

To pull together their list, the Daily Beast used data from groups such as the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, Flight Explorer and the JD Power and Associates 2009 North American Airport Satisfaction study.

Around The World In 8 (brightly lit) Days

Thursday, December 2nd, 2010

As we begin the festive holiday of Hanukkah tonight, we embark on a tradition that’s thousands of years in the making.  As Jews in the 21st century, we have been made aware of the candle lighting customs…the spinning of dreidles…the giving of gifts…and the eating of sufganiyot (jelly donuts).  But that’s here, in America.  What about other parts of the world?  Is our tradition varied at all by culture, geography or even political climate? 

I’ve been to Shabbat Services all around the world; from Australia to Costa Rica…Argentina, Croatia, England and even Russia.  What I’ve noticed is that as people we are all so different…..yet as Jews, we are all so much the same.  I may have (tried to) read the non-Hebrew portions in Spanish, Croatian or Russian, but when it came to the traditional prayers read in Hebrew, it was as familiar to me as my Gates Of Prayer. The Sh’ma, Shalom Aleyhem, Lecha Dodi and others….all just the same as mine back home.  

But I digress. Hanukkah.  One would think that this meaningful, yet rather easily understood holiday would be celebrated just as simply around the world.  You light candles, sing songs, spin dreidles and eat latkes & donuts. How much variation could there be?  Well, see the stories below for a “wow” on just how different Hanukkah can be:

Spanish Jews hold first Hanukkah in five centuries –

The Jewish community of Spain held a public celebration of Hanukkah Dec. 20, 1998, for the first time in more than five centuries.  Members of the small community lit candles at the same location in Girona, Spain, where their ancestors sought protection in 1391 from anti-Semitic violence that was prevalent at the time. Jews were expelled from Spain in 1492. “This is an emotional and unforgettable day,” Mayor Joaquim Nadal told the gathering outside the ruins of Gironella Tower.  The candle-lighting ritual on the eighth and last day of Hanukkah drew close to 1,000 people, including many non-Jews. The ceremony was lead by Eliahu Bakshi Doron, Israel’s chief rabbi of Sephardic Jews, who trace their ancestry to Spain.

A Jew in Japan (trying to) celebrate Hanukkah  –   One thing that I do every year at this time is decorate my English school with Hanukkah memorabilia. Near the entryway, I put out a hanukiyah . On the table in the lobby, I laid out a number of dreidels. The walls are decorated with posters of children eating latkes  and sufganiyot  playing with dreidels, and, of course, lighting hanukiyah.

 The yearly display always draws a big response because it is unfamiliar to Japanese people (many American people, too, I imagine). Kids love to play with the dreidels (tops are a popular New Year`s activity in Japan). Young and old admire the candles displayed in the hanukiyah. And, invariably, several people say, “I didn`t know that people in America celebrated Christmas like this!” Oy Vey! One student even looked at a picture of Judas Macabbee and said, “I thought Santa Claus always wore red!”

MEXICO  In Mexico Hanukkah is written “Januca,”. The Jewish Hanukkah customs are very similar to those of Jews elsewhere except that the food may be a little different. Instead of latkes and sufganiot which are common among the Ashkenazic Jews of Russia and Eastern Europe the Sephardic Jews of Mexico tend to favor things like “buñuelos” which are fried fritters drenched in sugar syrup and also balls of corn dough with marmalade inside. Like their Jewish counterparts around the world they play the game of “dreidel” which they call “toma todo” and they call the dreidel top a “pirinola”. To make their holiday really special and authentically Mexican the add a Mexican “piñata” in the shape of the dreidel top to the festivities.

Today, there are about 50,000 Jews living freely in Mexico and openly practicing their ancient religion. I hope they all enjoy their Hanukka festival. Happy Hanukka to everyone!!!

The Light of Hanukkah Menorahs shall Shine all over Russia –  This year, despite the global crisis, the light of Hanukkah candles will shine not only for kids, but, for all Jews across Russia. In the outgoing year, as never before, Jews had the support and understanding of the government. For us, this support is very important, and we are pleased that the Russian government shows its support for all the traditional religious confessions, in particular, for its care for our Jewish community.

Without this support, the full-blooded rebirth of Jewish life in Russia would have been impossible. Firstly, the state returned to us many buildings that were owned by the Jewish community before the Revolution. Today, the government actively cooperates with the Jewish community in tackling social problems. Recently, our community won one of the support grants for non-commercial organisations. With God’s guidance, we will use it to implement our plans in the incoming year. Generally speaking, without the involvement on the part of the state, the Jewish community would have been unable to achieve the successes it has achieved in the sphere of education, enlightenment, and religious life”.

Eight days of Hanukkah celebrations will take place  throughout the entire country. During these days, in Moscow, there will be holiday concerts, fairs, and music and arts festivals, which shall bring together ensembles and performers from many Russian regions, Israel, and Jewish communities around the world.


Memoirs of a Journey Down Under

Wednesday, November 24th, 2010

Dear Mom and Dad, 

Well, our Australian Down Under Tour is almost over and I’m very sad to see it end.  Like a huge meal for the whole family over Thanksgiving, it seems that after months of planning and gearing up, it’s all over in a blink.  Still…it’s been a truly “amazing journey” in every sense of the word.  Every day was the best day of the trip so far

After I flew to L.A. and met our group leader Bill and all the other travelers, we had the loooooongest journey of the trip so far…but it wasn’t really that bad.  We were on Qantas’ new 380 mega jet liner and it was very modern and not too uncomfortable.  That is, until we heard a few days later that pieces of our jet fell from the sky over Singapore….soooo, we’ll be flying home on something a bit smaller. On the flight I caught up on a few good books, watched 27 episodes of “How I Met Your Mother”, and even watched us take off and land from the plane’s “wing cam”. Ambien helped too, and I did my best to sleep like a baby for 6 hours…in the full upright position!

When we landed in Melbourne we were met by our Tour Manager Barry and the fun began. 

I had no idea on that first day just how much fun Barry would be, but his personality and “behind the scenes” organizational skills would ultimately make the trip seem flawless.  Thank goodness our rooms were ready, so I freshened up and then headed out for a little exploration before we got to know the group a little better at our formal welcome program and dinner. Then the jetlag kicked in, and bed in the fully downward prone position was a welcome reprieve.

 Our first tour the next day immediately made the long journey around the world worth every minute it took us to get here.  We headed outside of the city to the You Yangs National Park and the Serendip Sanctuary for a little safari of sorts, searching and viewing kangaroos and koalas.  I’d dreamt for years for the chance to see kangaroos and koalas in the wild, and just reliving it right now is giving me goose bumps.  We walked among them and were sometimes so close that we could almost reach out and touch them.  Our outback guide, Janine was so passionate about these creatures and her zeal made the day even more fun and I have to say that this was one of the highlights of the tour.   

And it was only the first day!!

The rest of our time around Melbourne was filled with seeing the city; a bustling cosmopolitan with a buzz for food, history, architecture and a gutsy party atmosphere surrounding The Melbourne Cup horse  race that would parallel a week long New Year’s celebration.  You should have seen these getups–especially the hats!

 I loved Melbourne and all its energy, but the city soon gave way to more best days of the trip so far. About as big a contrast to the big city as we could get, arriving into Ayers Rock was like a time warp.  In a matter of a few hours, we went from a developed metropolis to an ancient monolith surrounded by desert. This was the true Outback.  Sure we had to survive some death defying turbulence on the flight over…but we were hundreds, if not thousands of miles away from any modern civilization. Human existence in this part of the world consisted of our small resort town built for tourists and Aboriginal villages that dotted the outback throughout the continent. 

 So here we were in the outback.  I…was….in…..The Outback! I couldn’t believe it.  Our first order of business was a Shabbat Service.  Bill somehow managed an Outback Challah and after a short but very meaningful service we hamotzied, kiddushed….and then headed off to what they call The Sounds of Silence.  I have to admit that I didn’t know what to expect at this event, but I have to say it was one of the top memories of the entire tour.  We were taken to a small hillside overlooking Ayers Rock for champagne during sunset…and then led down a path to a small cutout in the desert where a catered setup of tables and food awaited.  We were surrounded by nothing but rocks, desert, sand and bush.  If it weren’t for the setup of tables and food, I would have felt like I was in the middle of nowhere, never to be found again.

As the sun set and darkness loomed, soon only the candles and burners illuminated our place on this part of earth. Oh, and yes, the stars!  First I saw ‘em, but didn’t really notice them…until the true meaning of The Sounds of Silence took hold.  But, first as with all good Jewish functions….the festive meal!  We dined on crocodile, barramundi, kangaroo, lamb, and a variety of other local delicacies.  We also inadvertently dined on some of the local flying critters too…who, although uninvited, chose to stay with us for the duration of the evening, despite the cries and screams of protest from a jittery few.

A didgeridoo player harmonized our experience and chit chat among the participants filled the air…until dinner was over and the true sounds of silence took hold.  We were given a moment of silence, so to speak, to take in the essence of the outback.  Some dude at another table tried to ruin the moment but he didn’t. The lights were turned off and it was so dark that that only the stars in the sky could be seen. Billions and billions of stars…constellations, shooting stars, planets and an endless plane of the universe.  Wow, was that special!  Then, our gastronomical experience turned into an astronomical experience as we followed an articulate astronomer through a passionate and story-filled tour of the sky.

After dessert in the desert, our sounds of silence experience was over, and it was time to look ahead for more fun things to come.

 When daylight hit–well, more like BEFORE daylight hit–we headed to the friendly skies for a flight seeing tour over Ayers Rock and the Olgas.  We had two of the cutest…and youngest…pilots I’d ever seen.These two dudes learned to fly before they learned to drive, but our lives were in their hands as they were the ONLY 2 flightseeing pilots in Ayers Rock.  But they were awesome. Young, fun, cute yet very professional and great guides as we viewed the incredible rock formations from a few thousand feet above.

The rest of our time in Ayers Rock was devoted to touring the rock, hiking the Olgas and hanging out at our gorgeous oasis in the desert. 

We also had a really fun dinner cooked by Bill and Barry on the “barbie” before calling it a day and heading off to Cairns and the Great Barrier Reef.







Our first day in this tropical beach town involved the earliest wakeup day of the trip so far, for an amazing sunrise hot air balloon ride over the plains and small communities of Cairns.  A team of 5 balloons sailed high in the sky which was a sight to behold in and of itself.  From our koala balloon we saw mobs of kangaroos, said hello to one of the neighbors from high above her rooftop and even saw our reflection in the river below. 


Our pilot Jay was hot…and I’m not just talking about the fire he used to fuel the balloon.  After we came back to earth and helped the crew let all the air out of the balloon we were treated to a champagne breakfast before heading down to the water for our excursion to The Great Barrier Reef.  Wow…first kangaroos from the sky, then fish and turtles and coral from under the sea.  My new friend Jen and I even saw a shark swim right by us! The lunch on Green Island was NOT the best meal of the trip so far, but the time on the beach, snorkeling in the water and taking in a small part of one of The Seven Natural Wonders of the World made this day befitting to the premise of “living life to the fullest”. 

Like a great meal, a scrumptious dessert is the perfect compliment to the experience. The perfect dessert to this incredible day was given to us upon arrival back on land when we went over to the Cairns Wildlife Nature Dome for the chance to hold a koala in our arms. I only got to hold him for about 30 seconds, but the feeling of his little paws around my arms will stay with me forever.

We spent a day in the Daintree Rainforest area where we had the most special opportunity to feed kangaroos and wallabies, hold another koala and see really up close and personal a variety of other indigenous wildlife. We even took a cruise on the Daintree River where learned about the mangroves, crocodiles and other living creatures that make up this ancient ecosystem.

Our final day in Cairns was really fun.  First we had a little retail therapy in an artsy village called Kuranda and then we hopped aboard this amazing gondola called the Kuranda Skyrail that took us high above the Kuranda rainforest.  This skyrail is the 2nd longest such gondola ride in the world and it was way cool being so high above the treetops.  We even saw cockatoos flying below and resting on the tree limbs. 

Once we landed, we walked among the Aboriginals.  We painted our faces, learned to throw a boomerang, played a didgeridoo and even had a few laughs as Bill and Laura danced like no one was watching on stage with the Aboriginals.  A little more retail therapy in the gift shop and it was time to go.

 Time to go to Sydney!

Mom, Dad..while I’ve been expressing my love for each of the elements we shared throughout Australia, nothing could have prepared me for how much I fell in love with the city of Sydney.  Bill told us early on that it was his favorite city on earth and now I see why. Magnificent, majestic, eclectic, fun, friendly, romantic, entertaining…the adjectives could go on forever and ever.  We toured the Opera House, climbed the Harbour Bridge, strolled Bondi Beach and toured The Great Synagogue.  We partied with the locals, met some fascinating people, dined with the most exceptional views and well, yes….shopped just a little bit more.  You could plant me on Bondi Beach…or on a chair near the Sydney Harbour….or just leave me wandering aimlessly anywhere in the city, and I’d be a happy boy no matter where or what I was doing in Sydney.  My goodness….I loved Melbourne and Ayers Rock and Cairns, but every day in Sydney was the best day of the trip so far.

 I overheard someone in my group say today, “I’ve never said the word “amazing” so many times in two weeks as I have here in Australia. In all honesty, Mom and Dad, Australia truly is a wonderland of amazing people and amazing things to see and do.  It’s now in my memory…but it is forever in my heart and soul. 

I have met some great new friends, I have seen breathtaking scenery, I have had an adventure like nothing I’ve ever had before…and it truly has been a most amazing journey.

I can’t wait to come home and share my pictures with you…and to relive the memories with my new friends who shared this experience with me.

 See you very soon,

 Love,

Me

Amazing New Zealand

Sunday, November 21st, 2010

It’s hard to believe tomorrow we arrive home after a fabulous and amazing week in New Zealand.  The week really flew by as we enjoyed nature and excitement daily!  The journey began in Christchurch where visited the Antarctic Centre and experienced a real earthquake!  We were a little shaky but anxious to see what this breathtakingly beautiful country had to offer.

Still on the South Island, we traveled to Mt. Hood, before arriving in Queenstown, which has to be one of the most magnificent spots on earth!  Surrounded by snow covered mountains on all sides, and overlooking a reflecting lake, this “Lord of the Rings” backdrop was heaven on earth.  Our days were filled jetboating and sailing along the deep fjords and narrow passages of Milford Sound.  

Heading onto the North Island, we were entertained by Maori’s in a cultural show that including native dancing and dinner.  We visited Rotorua, with it’s geo-thermal pools and geysers…the entire town smelled like sulphur!  Actually, this city is where the earth’s crust is the thinnest, and mud pools bubble and spew and churn as we observe nature. It’s really fascinating.

Continuing north to Auckland, we enjoyed the “City of Sails” before it was time to head home.  It’s hard to believe our tour to New Zealand is over, but with it come fabulous memories of one of the most beautiful spots on earth!

The State of the Travel Industry

Tuesday, November 16th, 2010

Malori and Stacey just returned from World Travel Market in London and are happy to report that all is good in the travel industry!  We met with tour operators and vendors from over 250 countries around the world as we planned and got ideas for future Amazing Journeys in 2012.  In addition, we attended lectures given by travel insiders from around the globe as they presented the state of the travel industry.

“Green” travel options were a big topic.  Vendors from every corner of the globe are stepping up to the plate to offer sustainable tourism, becoming more aware of water shortages, carbon footprints and taking a stand to keep the world from being overused.  Along those lines, we attended lectures on keeping religious sites truly sacred by limiting the amount of tourists at any one place at a given time.  It’s a responsibility we must all embrace if we are to have a world to share with the next generation.

Trends in growth for travel include Asia, leading the recovery from the 2009 economic downturn with more people visiting countries within Asia, as well as the “new middle class” within China who are beginning to travel within their own country and abroad.  Latin America is offering more adventure and sporting event opportunities with Brazil being the favorite destination.  Africa is getting ahead of the pack with “Space Travel” opportunities, offering travelers in-room telescopes to look at the night sky, night-vision safaris, Astro tourism, clear night skies in Africa and wants to actually take up traveling in space to compete with the US.  Adventure travel is appealing to more individuals than ever before and 85% of those polled worldwide, list adventure travel as a priority when making plans to travel.  And finally, there are the beginnings of interest in Iraq as a growing area for tourists (think Vietnam).

While in London, Stacey and I selected hotels in London for our upcoming British Isles trip.  You’ll love what we found and we can’t wait to share it with you in the coming weeks!

So there you have it.  We have toured the globe in only three days at World Travel Market.  Where do you want to go in 2012?  Now is the time to let us know as the planning has begun!

Cairns

Thursday, November 11th, 2010

We experienced the best travel day ever!  We headed out in the wee hours of the morning for a hot air balloon ride over the city of Cairns. We lifted off in the balloons just as the sun was gently rising to unveil the surrounding beauty.   After the flight, we came back to earth for a champagne breakfast!  Later, we boarded a high-speed catamaran for an exciting excursion to the Great Barrier Reef.  From our base on Green Island, we were able to explore the reef and see beautifully colored fish swim by in their natural habitat.

The next day, we explored the rainforest, rivers and beaches of Daintree and Cape Tribulation. We joined a wildlife cruise through the mangroves and rainforest wilderness, and looked for crocodiles, pythons and flying foxes.  We met up with a botanist who guided us on an interpretative walk through the rainforest.

On our last day in Cairns, we  experienced the beauty of Far North Queensland’s World Heritage Rainforest as we traveled on the Kuranda Skyrail – the world’s largest gondola railway.  We rode above the canopy of the tropical rainforests of the Barron Gorge National Park.  Then we experienced the unique lifestyle of the Aborigine people with a visit to the Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Center.  We witnessed an Aboriginal dance show, learned about the Aboriginal life style, learned to throw a boomerang and to play a didgeridoo, a traditional instrument.

We’re on our way to Sydney…more later!

Ayers Rock and Cairns

Saturday, November 6th, 2010

At Ayers Rock we took a flightseeing plane over Uluru to watch the sunrise, and then had a relaxing day by the pool of our beautiful resort hotel.  In the evening we got to have “steaks on the barby”!

Today we’ll leave behind Australia’s Outback, and fly to Cairns, the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef. One of the world’s most spectacular natural attractions, the reef was established as a marine park in 1975 and is a collective haven for thousands of species of sea life, as well as turtles and birds.  In 1981 the United Nations designated the Great Barrier Reef a World Heritage site. This evening we’ll explore this enjoyable sea-side town, filled with night markets and restaurants galore!

Cruise to French Polynesia

Friday, November 5th, 2010