Wanderlust Blog

Here at Amazing Journeys, we’re lucky to have the best jobs in the world—and we think our good fortune is worth sharing. So, when your next journey seems like a distant dream, take a few minutes to explore our WANDERLUST blog—it’s chock-full of engaging tales and helpful tips from our travels around the world.

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50 Shades of Green

Wednesday, October 29th, 2014

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by Malori

It’s hard to say which of the many highlights of our recent tour in Ireland was our favorite. Was it the scone making class at the farm and the delicious fruits of our labor we got to enjoy with tea? Was it the 50 shades of green that dotted the rolling hillsides and farmland? To some, it was the endless rainbows we spotted or our never-ending search for the pot of gold and leprechauns. Many said it was it our remarkable pub crawls with the best music in the world. And to most of us, it was the wonderful group that gathered together across the pond to explore and discover the delightful and hospitable people of Ireland who welcomed us to their country.

Ireland is a culture away, yet, just a hop, skip and a jump from America. The six hour flight and the five hour time difference made it easy to travel. The fact that English is the language made it simple, yet, the dialect so different from ours, we couldn’t understand much of what was spoken. That was part of the fun.

Enjoying whiskey tastings and learning about Guinness Beer, straight from the source, were more highlights. Most of us took on the 100-step climb up to the top of Blarney Castle. We braved wind and rain and then lying upside-down on our back, kissed the famous stone to be granted “the gift of eloquence.”

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We were amazed that the food was actually better than we expected, and we got to sample potatoes of every kind!

Roasted potatoes, mashed potatoes, baked potatoes, hashed brown potatoes, potato leek soup, scalloped potatoes, garlic potatoes… need I say more? We sampled Guinness stew and savory pies of every kind. Seeing the Dingle Peninsula and the Cliffs of Moher were gorgeous and we were blessed with a sunny day so we could enjoy hiking around the cliffs.

We got to sample ice cream with names like Kerry Cream, Irish Oats and Caramel, Smoked Salmon and Guinness. It was delicious (the Irish Oats and Caramel, that is)!

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Our scone making class was a memory we could take home and share with others. Barry and I made them today and tweaked the recipe somewhat. Here is our new and improved Irish Scones…straight from the farm!

2 c. self rising flour
¾ stick butter
¼ c. sugar
1 egg
½ c. buttermilk
½ c. dried fruit (raisins or other fruit…we used tart cherries)

• Pre-heat cookie sheet and oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
• In a large bowl, mix together flour and butter. Use your hands to mix to make sure butter is softened and evenly distributed.
• Add sugar and stir.
• Add dried fruit.
• In a measuring cup, mix together buttermilk and egg.
• Make a well in the flour mixture and pour in half of the buttermilk/egg mixture.
• Mix in part of the flour mixture getting it moist from the liquid in the center of the bowl.
• Add in more of the dry ingredients from the sides of the mixing bowl as needed.
• Take the dough and need it on a flat surface, adding in flour as needed until the dough is no longer sticky.
• Spread out dough to about 1 inch thick.
• Take a glass or round cookie cutter, dip the rim in flour (so it doesn’t stick to the dough.
• Cut with cookie cutter or glass.
• Place on heated cookie sheet
• Cook for 17 minutes.

It’s a simple recipe and so yummy. Serve with jam and tea. Enjoy!

scones

Winter Whiskey Warmer

Wednesday, October 22nd, 2014

whisky

With the weather getting colder, it’s nice to have a warm drink to come home to!  Our Amazing Ireland travelers had the opportunity to visit the Kilbeggan Distillery and sample the whisky last week.  Here’s the recipe for our newest drink recommendation:

Winter Whiskey Warmer

1/3 part whiskey
2/3 part hot water
1½ t. brown sugar
1½ t. honey

In a pre-warmed glass, mix the ingredients.
Sip slowly.
Enjoy!

Home is Where the Heart Is

Monday, October 6th, 2014

malori in india

by Malori

When I was seven years old, I decided I wanted to run away from home.   Was I bored in my current surroundings or was it the open road that was calling my name?   Was I hungry for adventure or needing to satisfy my curiosity about the world at such a young age?  That afternoon, I packed up my jewelry box (I guess I believed then as I do now in packing light) and shared my plans with my mom.  She asked me where I would go and I said I hadn’t yet decided but I would just head out at dinnertime and start walking.  She convinced me that I might prefer a nice “last” home-cooked meal and a good night sleep in my own bed, with a fresh start in the morning.  I believed then as I do now, that my mom was wise and made a good point (although I was never one to admit it), and took her advice.

The next morning, jewelry box in hand, I said my good-byes to my family, and headed for the hills on foot.  I got about two blocks away, and decided I needed a better plan and returned home.

Do people travel because they are searching for something or are they running away from something?  Are we seeking to learn and discover a people and a place very different from what we know at home?   Certainly, many of you reading a travel blog have an appetite for adventure, and we seek to learn about a different time and place from our everyday world.

malori and barry in morocco

But as people travel do they take the time to do what they set out to do?  Are we experiencing other cultures or merely brushing by those living in a different place than us?  Are we really experiencing other cultures or just seeking to check off the sights on our bucket list and buy the souvenirs we think we are supposed to bring back?  We observe as so many people do just that.

malori with ice

I believe travel should be experiential.  If you only get one opportunity to visit someplace new, why not explore it by having a conversation with some of the locals?  There is nothing more rewarding than having a local child give you a smile out of sheer joy for life and because they are seeing you, a face different than the one they know.  You have opened their world as well.  Sometimes getting out to the countryside to experience life in the small villages requires a long bus ride, perhaps along a bumpy road, but isn’t that why you came in the first place?

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I travel to experience places and people who are different than what I know at home.  I want to learn about their lives, their families, their holidays, food, religion and more.  I want to know how they see the world.  I want to not only touch the land, but also touch the hearts of the people I meet along the way, as they certainly touch mine.  That’s my souvenir.

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I guess I didn’t really want to run away from my family when I was seven,  I wanted to know other families in addition to my own.  I wanted to explore the world… and I have been doing so ever since!

 

What an Amazing Summer

Tuesday, September 16th, 2014

by Malori

Summers are always busy at Amazing Journeys and this was no exception. During three calendar months, we do nearly half of our year’s trips, and bring along nearly half of all of our year’s passengers! This summer, 250 amazing journeyers participated in a variety of trips to some incredible destinations.

From the North Pole to South America with Europe in-between, we covered a lot of the earth’s circumference.

spitsbergen
We started with Spitsbergen, the closest place on earth to the North Pole.  Our adventure travelers headed north to Norway and then further north to the island of Svalbard in search of the polar bear and they were not disappointed.  Traveling by expedition ship, our Arctic travelers hiked on frozen tundra, rode on a sled pulled by dogs and were transported onto Spitsbergen by zodiac rafts.  Lots of wildlife was spotted, along with 30 polar bears!

med nice group
Next was our Mediterranean Cruise that began in amusing and colorful Barcelona, this group of 30s, 40s, and 50s, many of them new to Amazing Journeys, discovered Spain, France and Italy and visited some of the Mediterranean coasts most loved cities. We spent our days enjoying the beauty of the Amalfi Coast in Italy, the beaches and foods of Southern France in Nice and the excitement of Barcelona. Biking, wine tasting, pizza eating, walking miles and miles, all with a great group and the warm summer sun, this cruise brought everything we wanted and more!

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Our National Parks trip to Colorado and Utah was the perfect summer vacation for those who love nature and beauty. And it’s all right in our own backyard! Visiting four of the US National Parks was a highlight, and having time to hike and soak in the grandeur of it all was breathtaking. Everyday brought new awe-inspiring beauty and adventure, including white water rafting on the Colorado River, a jeep adventure riding over huge rocks and mountains in Moab, Utah, and a highlight, watching sunset over Arches National Park and seeing the “purple mountains majesty” set against rocks so orange and red, it made us cry over it’s sheer beauty! And thanks to our Denver friends who came out to party with us one night in Denver…we loved seeing all of you!

jewish heritage group

Our 74 Amazing Journeyers experienced a different kind of journey on our Jewish Heritage River Cruise along the Danube River in Germany, Austria, Slovakia and Hungary. Some started in Prague, offering an extra few days of touring, while others began their journey in Munich. This trip, our first river cruise, was an opportunity to explore part of our heritage and with it, part of ourselves. It was truly a journey of discovery as we delved into our past and the turbulent times of our Jewish people. Each day was a new opportunity for education as we met with locals like the 101-year-old Holocaust survivor, spending Shabbat with the local community at the Synagogue of Linz, and walking through the same streets that our family members had done in the not-so-distant past. Every day seemed to bring a new realization of our past, and our family members. And, all loved the river cruise experience and said they would do it again!

peru group machu picchu
Peru and the Inca Trail, one of our summer trips, was offered to those in their 20s and 30s and this group got to challenge themselves on the 47 kilometer Inca Trail. This once-in-a-lifetime experience combined four days and three nights of hiking and camping, in the scenic valleys, mountains and high elevations of Peru. Their prize at the end of it all? Reaching Machu Picchu through the Sun Gate on the morning of the fourth day. They were rewarded with a spectacular sunrise, magnificent views, and bragging rights for life! They also enjoyed biking in Lima, the markets of Cusco, learning how to weave, visiting llamas and alpacas, tasting local foods and visiting ancient ruins which dot the country.

peru group
Our second Peru group, which was designed for our 40+ group of travelers, got to experience adventure as they hiked, biked and white water rafted their way through Peru. For this group of adventurers, visiting Machu Picchu, enjoying a cooking class and exploring ancient Incan sights were among the highlights.

For those who got to spend a part of their summer with Amazing Journeys, we thank you the opportunity to plan and share a part of your summer with you.

Come join us for next summer! We’re already planning and our trips will be appearing on our website soon! We’d love to show you our amazing world!

 

5 Scientific Reasons A Beach Vacation Is Necessary For Your Health

Tuesday, August 26th, 2014


By James Cave, Originally posted on Huffington Post

If you don’t already have a beach vacation planned, marine biologist Wallace J. Nichols’s new book will make you seriously reconsider. Blue Mind: The Surprising Science That Shows How Being Near, In , On, Or Under Water Can Make You Happier, Healthier, More Connected, And Better At What You Do (that’s the whole title) is the result of over 10 years of research that shows how looking at water, being around it or in it coaxes our brains into releasing happy chemicals such as dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin.

Below, five theories from Nichols’s book that totally “blue” our minds:


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1. Water returns us to our natural state:

We’re connected to water from the onset of life. Babies’ bodies are 75 percent water. As we age, we become drier (only 60 percent), but our brains are still three-fourths water and even our bones are 31 percent water.

The brain, which rests in a kind of “clear, colorless cerebrospinal fluid” in our heads, reacts to water very fondly because, as Nichols writes, “our ancient ancestors came out of the water and evolved from swimming to crawling to walking. Human fetuses still have ‘gill-slit’ structures in their early stages of development,” and the water in our cells “is comparable to that found in the sea.”

This biological connection to water, Nichols told CBS News, triggers an immediate response in our brains. When you see or hear the ocean, he says, you know “you’re in the right place.”

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2. We’re more relaxed along the coast:

Look at the picture above. Beautiful, right? The very sight of it, it turns out, subconsciously calms us, and Nichols cites a study (“Functional Neuroanatomy Associated with Natural and Urban Scenic Views in the Human Brain: 3.0T Functional MR Imaging,” to be precise) that shows how areas of the brain associated with less stress and more empathy are activated when we look at nature scenes. While pictures of urban landscapes elicited activity in the parts of our brains associated with stress, participants who were shown nature pictures had heightened activity in the parts associated with “positive outlook, emotional stability and the recollection of happy memories.”

And when it comes to nature views, the coast wins. Another study, “Human Brain Activation in Response to Visual Stimulation with Rural and Urban Scenery Pictures: A Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging Study, shows that coastal images were more effective than other nature images in activating participants’ reward systems — “an area rich in opioid receptors that triggers feelings of wellness,” Nichols writes.

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3. Looking at pictures is good, but water is even better in real life:

While looking at pictures is one thing, it turns out the real-life natural world also wins over urban landscapes. Nichols references a 2011 study in which a smartphone app called Mappiness tracked the well-being levels of about 22,000 participants. The participants received random prompts to report how happy they were in that moment. According to the over 1.1 million responses that were sent in, not only were people happier when they were outside, they were 5.2 percent happier when near bodies of water.

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4. Water rejuvenates a tired mind:

In a section titled, “Water, Nature, and the Optimum Brain,” Nichols illustrates that we now have more screens to touch, social networks to update and websites to refresh, and our fatigued brains need to recharge. Water, he theorizes, helps that happen.

He references a study published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology in 1995, titled “Views to Nature: Effects on Attention.” Researchers wanted to find out whether or not dorm students with views of beautiful nature scenes would do better on cognitive tests that measured attention, visual scanning and motor speed, over students with more urban views.

“The dorm rooms were grouped by the views from their windows: trees and a lake, lawns and buildings, and brick walls and slate rooftops,” Nichols writes. “Students whose rooms overlooked trees and the lake not only performed better on the cognitive tests but also rated their ‘attentional functioning’ as more effective than that of all of the other groups combined.” The study found that, not only does nature rejuvenate a tired mind, but “an attention-restoring experience can be as simple as looking at nature.”

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5. Blue soothes:

Blue, it turns out, is the world’s favorite color. Nichols cites a 2003 research project that surveyed 232 people from around the world about their associations with various colors. Forty-two percent of men said blue was their favorite color, while 35 percent of the women surveyed said the same thing — a majority in both brackets.

Nichols isn’t surprised. We “evolved on a planet that is primarily shades of water and sky blue,” he writes, so it makes sense that blue stimulates a positive emotional response. He quotes neurosurgeon Amir Vokshoor, who explains that “the arousal mechanism stimulated by blue’s wavelengths correlates to the release of neurotransmitters thought to be associated with feelings of euphoria, joy, reward, and wellness related to the effects of dopamine.”

Nichols also cites a study in the journal Perceptual And Motor Skills, entitled “Effect Of Partition Board Color On Mood And Autonomic Nervous Function,” which found that we feel less fatigued and claustrophobic when we’re around the color blue.