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Wanderlust Blog

Here at Amazing Journeys, we’re lucky 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. Check out the most recent entry (at the top) or search by your preferred criteria. Consider it motivation for your next embarkation.

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India Recap

Tuesday, December 20th, 2016

Let me just take a minute to tell you about my favorite day of the trip.  We hopped on the bus in the morning to make the drive from Udaipur to Jaipur.  Along the way, we were looking out the window and all of a sudden, we came along a parade on the side of the road.  Turns out, a baby was born in the village and they were having a parade (complete with a DJ bus) and were dancing from one village to another.  So what did we do?  We jumped out of the bus and joined the party!20161208_104859

Once we made new friends and danced beside the blaring music truck, we hopped back onboard and made the rest of our ride, still dancing in our seats.  That night, we dressed up in sari’s and had henna done so we really looked local and were ready for dinner.  Back on the bus and on our way, we came upon a wedding procession, complete with a band, lights and the groom riding an elephant.  And who are we to miss a party, so we hopped out and joined the next parade!  The groom’s family invited us into the procession so we danced and jumped around, looking flashy and wearing our sari’s well.

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With the dancing of the day complete, we arrived at our home hosted dinner at the home of the descendants of royalty.  We were given the opportunity to ask questions of their life, have a tour of their gorgeous multi-generational family home and then have a homemade dinner with the family members themselves.  It was a truly unique experience, not to mention a delicious meal!

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This trip was amazing and with a great group, every day was one to remember.

 

Top Reasons to Visit China

Friday, November 6th, 2015

 

China is one of the world’s most fascinating travel destinations, both for a look into its past and for a chance to ponder its future. China’s evolution from the oppressive Mao years to the current rampant consumerism may be one of the most amazing transitions in human history. This country is changing faster than any place on earth, so it’s important to go now before any more of its history disappears.

Here are the top reasons to visit China now:

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Beijing

Beijing is the historic heart of China where courtyard homes still line old, narrow alleyways called hutongs and a traditional way of life continues despite the constant threat of redevelopment. The capital city also contains many sites essential to understanding this sometimes baffling country.

Begin at the Forbidden City, an impressive palace complex built in the early 1400’s where twenty-four emperors ruled for 500 years. Hidden from view behind imposing walls and a deep moat lies a totally different world of marble bridges, tranquil gardens, and thousands of rooms once used to house the emperors and their households. The Forbidden City was designed according to feng shui principles with red buildings (for luck) topped with yellow roofs (for power). Common people were not permitted to enter, and many of the royals rarely ventured out. Why would they have any desire to leave? After all, of the 10,000 people who once lived here, 3,000 were concubines.

Tiananmen Square fulfilled Chairman Mao’s dream of creating the largest and most spectacular square in the world. Designed to hold 500,000 people, it’s easy to envision the intimidating military displays regularly performed here during the days of the Cultural Revolution. The site also evokes memories of the hundreds killed by government troops during the 1989 student protests. But today, the most common sight is the street vendors hawking cheap Mao wristwatches, with the Chairman pounding out the seconds with his fist. If you want one, be sure to bargain hard!

The Summer Palace is a gorgeous spot outside the city where the royals went to escape the summer heat. While The Forbidden City was all about power and impressing visitors, this summer retreat was a pure pleasure palace. Don’t miss the Marble Boat down by the lake. This “boat” that looks more like a boat-shaped marble pier, was built by the crazy Empress Cixi with funds supposed to be used to modernize the Navy.

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The Great Wall

Reputedly 5500 miles long, The Great Wall is considered one of the wonders of the world and is China’s number one tourist attraction. The Chinese have a saying, “You are not a real man until you have climbed the Great Wall.”

The Great Wall is simply awesome, a truly unbelievable engineering feat. The 12-foot wide wall has crenellated sides like the edges of a huge castle, a height that varies between 20 to 30 feet depending on the terrain, with scenic watchtowers strategically placed all along the route. The wall itself is impressive enough, but to build it in this unforgiving terrain seems insane. At least one million slaves and prisoners of war worked on the project. Walking from watchtower to watchtower is an incredible way to see the beauty of the country while participating in an activity that you can brag to your friends about for years!

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Xi’an

Discovered in 1974 by Chinese farmers drilling for a well, The Terracotta Warriors are one of the most significant archaeological excavations of the 20th century and the highlight of any visit to Xi’an. Qin Shi Huang, China’s first emperor, was obsessed with the hereafter. To ensure that he would continue the sweet life of commander-in-chief even after his death, he had his minions create a terracotta army made from local clay baked in a kiln. This effort resulted in thousands of warlike, life-sized soldiers with weapons in hand, decked out in full battle armor, and positioned in military formation.

The Warriors are housed in 3 separate buildings (“creatively” named Pits #1, # 2, and #3). Each pit is an unfinished archeological work in progress, with many of the soldiers and other artifacts still in the process of being discovered. It is estimated that 6,000 soldiers will be unearthed in Pit #1 alone. Walk around the periphery of the excavations to observe the details of each soldier and horse. Remarkably, no two soldiers are alike – you’ll see different faces, heights, and statures along with a variety of mustaches and hairstyles. Each soldier’s head is actually a separately molded piece that fits together with the body, like inserting a peg into a hole. The idea was to provide the soldiers with a wider range of motion so they could turn their heads during battles in the afterlife.

Xi’an offers more than just clay warriors, and even if you are not usually into song and dance, you should check out the Tang Dynasty Show. This extravaganza features wildly colorful stage sets and elaborate costumes. Plus a fascinating musical mix of unusual Chinese instruments and dancing that is the definition of graceful, especially when the female dancers wave their long, drooping sleeves like ribbons in the wind.

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Food fit for an emperor

If your knowledge of Chinese food is limited to your neighborhood take-out place, you haven’t begun to appreciate this complex cuisine. Chinese dishes are varied, healthy, always a treat for the senses, and each region glories in its own specialties.

Ancient chestnut trees still grow near The Great Wall, and these wonderfully chewy nuts are the star of savory dishes. Xi’an has a longstanding dumpling tradition and eating a “dumpling dinner” ranks right up there with seeing the Terracotta Warriors as a Xi’an must-do. Wooden steamer bowls are spread out on your table, each one holding several beautifully presented dumplings. The paper-thin wrappings conceal ingredients such as chicken, vegetables, fish, and even walnuts. One of the most loved foods in China, dumplings are delicate works of art often shaped to look like animals or flowers – a delight to the eye and the tummy.  And don’t forget to sample the fragrant Chinese teas. Some of the more elaborate teas even open up like a flower unfolding in your glass.

Beijing is renowned for Peking Duck, a roasted duck dish that was a favorite in the Imperial Court. The lean and crispy duck arrives at your table intact where it is expertly sliced in front of you. Then, you go to work creating the equivalent of a Chinese taco: spread some plum sauce on a steamed pancake and add succulent slices of duck, some scallions, and cucumber slices. Now down it all with a cold Tsingtao beer. Hao chi! (Delicious!)

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Shanghai

Shanghai is a city of contrasts where east meets west, and an historic waterfront faces off with a modern, neon skyline. Shanghai is at its most romantic along The Bund, a sublime riverside walkway and people-watching paradise. This part of Shanghai feels almost European with many buildings unchanged since the 1930’s when Shanghai and The Bund became the chief shipping, trading, and financial district for the colonial powers (Great Britain, France and the U.S.). In those days, Shanghai was considered the Wall Street of Asia. A walk along the 1-mile promenade reveals why The Bund has been called a “museum of international architecture” with a mix of architectural styles including a number of exceptional Art Deco structures.

The architectural delights of The Bund compete with the marvelous modern structures of the area called Pudong, directly across the Huangpu River. While The Bund holds on to its colonial heritage, Pudong is bright and brassy, clearly demonstrating the power and financial might of the new Shanghai. At night , the Pudong skyline is a neon fantasyland from the crystalline rooftop of the Jin Mao Tower to the Chinese Oriental Pearl Tower that looks like it swallowed two giant Christmas balls.

The people of Shanghai are as shockingly modern as the skyscrapers of Pudong. Designer clothes are de rigueur, and shopping seems to be the principal pastime. The tranquil Yu Yuan Gardens provides a peaceful respite from the bustle of the city. And the pearl shops nearby offer an astounding selection of these lustrous gems.

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An unexpected welcome

The best reason to visit China now is because foreigners are still a novelty. At first, you may feel uncomfortable with the way that the Chinese stare at you — like you are the most exotic animal in the zoo. But you need to understand that many Chinese tourists are traveling from their homes in the provinces for the first time, and some have never seen a western face before.

You may find yourself surprisingly popular. When visiting China, you may be amazed when Chinese tourists at breathtaking sites like the Temple of Heaven or The Great Wall want to take pictures of you. Some of your favorite memories of China may be these fun picture-taking interactions.

It is hard to believe that the Cultural Revolution ended just two generations ago. Throughout China, young people seek out foreigners to show-off their fluent English, and little school children jump up and down yelling, “Hallo! Hallo!” whenever they see western tourists. In general, China is much friendlier than you would expect. As new generations emerge, the old antagonism towards the West seems long forgotten, and the deep suspicion of foreigners that Mao encouraged is nowhere in sight.

 

edited from BootsnAll

Sights and Sounds of a Spice Route

Monday, May 13th, 2013

One thinks of a “route” as a means to get from one point to another.  In ancient times throughout history, spices have been as valuable as gold and silver. According to a 15th century saying: “No man should die who can afford cinnamon.”

Think about that the next time you sprinkle a little bit of this sweetness into your coffee or tea.

The spice trade was a commercial activity of ancient origin which involved the merchandising of spices, incense, herbs, and other drugs between historic civilizations in Asia, Africa and Europe. What oil, agriculture, stocks and free markets are today….is what spices, medicine, herbs and other aromatic pleasures were of yesterday.

As our group of Amazing Journeys passengers return home to their normal routines, what they just experienced in Singapore, Malaysia, Sri Lanka and India was quite the contrary.  Life in these parts are not just figuratively worlds apart.  Life is a different order here. The value system is vastly different from the western world in so many ways.  Rich people live in homes with dirt floors. Poor people have satellite dishes and cell phones.  Washing your clothes at a river is commonplace.  Creamating the dead along a river is custom.  A road is means to get where you’re going, but it doesn’t matter how you get there or by which means.  Camels, rickshaws, trucks piled high with a hundred laborers, tuk tuks (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Auto_rickshaw), bicycles, motorscooters, cars, busses and anything that moves, moves on these roads. And in any direction where there is an open space.  Western folk tend to cringe at every turn on the roadways, while the locals are just navigating their way through another day in the life.

Men wear turbans, women wear saris.  Kids play cricket on the side of the road like we shoot hoops in our driveway.  Laundry hangs out to dry; sometimes in a window, sometimes along the median in the road….sometimes as an full-fledged business along the highway.  Goats and cows roam freely, but they are all owned by someone; someone who just let them out for the day.  At the end of the day…yes, the cows do come home.  You have something to sell? Just bring a table and set it all down on the sidewalk and start selling.  Or, just hawk the tourists when they come by. Need to pray?  The nearest mosque, shrine or temple is closer to you than the nearest Starbucks in Seattle.   Want to see some wildlife (beyond the cows)?  Just look up – monkeys abound like unsupervised children.

And food!  Oh, the food.  How about Pani Puri (a crisp doughy cracker dipped in spicey water)…or Aloo Tikki patties made up of mashed potatoes and masala deep fried in oil?  You can buy that off the side of the road.  Nan that is freshly made in a fire pit is about the closest one can come to heaven of the tastebuds.  Thirsty?  Have a freshly squeezed sugar cane to drink–literally right off the cane, pressed between two rotating metal wheels. Want to spice up that meal? India, Sri Lanka and Malaysia have thousands of spice variations that can diversify and intensify a diet more than most easterns would care to dare.  But its there!  Spices and herbs and aromas are an essential part of the culture and of immense important to commerce.

Spices are used in different forms – whole, chopped, ground, roasted, sauteed, fried and as topping. Locals blend food to extract the nutrients and bind them in a palatable form. Some spices are added at the end as a flavouring and are typically heated in a pan with ghee or cooking oil before being added to a dish. Lighter spices are added last, and spices with strong flavor should be added first. Curry is not a spice, but a term used by western people and refers to any dish in Indian cuisine that contains several spices blended together and could be with a gravy base or a dry item. A curry in Indian cuisine typically consists of whey cooked with gram flour, chopped onions, turmeric powder, and several spices blended together and some that are fried and added in the end as flavoring.

Spices and herbs are used for medicinal purposes too.  Any ailment or hygenic enhancement can supposedly be aided or cured with an herbal concoction.  Your’s truely had a hair removal treatment on my leg, at no extra charge. Or pain for that matter.  You can ease digestive challenges….smooth your skin….get rid of hemmeroids….cease balding….increase your metabolism…build muscle tone….and look 20 years younger, just by taking a few natural herbs.  We saw the garden of eden…and the man who would say so.   And yes, my hairy legs were smooth as a butter.  It must work.

Its not easy to get there, but it is so worth the trip.  It puts life into prespective and opens your eyes to a whole new world (and sometimes it opens your nostrils too…and makes your eyes water with all that spice). If  you live in a developed country, be grateful.  Its all relative, but I’m happy to have what I have here in the good ol’ USA.  Life along the Indian Ocean isn’t necessarily a bad life; its just a life that I am glad to have visited.  But with well over a billion people all vying for space its a bit overcrowded for me.    Its so interesting in so many ways…and so different in even more ways.  I’ll go again.  Will you?

“Amazing Journeys”….or “Azamara’s Journey”; no matter how you slice it, its a match made in the ocean.

Thursday, January 17th, 2013

The new buzz word in the world of cruising is “Azamara”.  A two-ship cruise line and part of the Royal/Celebrity family of ships these vessels are  a special brand unto itself.

Azamara states that they are “out to change the world…or at least how you get there”…and Amazing Journeys is becoming a regular partner.  Over the past two years, we have taken about 100 passengers on Azamara, much to their exceptional delight.  This year, you too can partake in the experience. 

What makes Azamara different? 

  • A smaller ship experience. 
  • Upscale attentiveness and service.
  • More inclusions including all non-alcoholic beverages, specialty coffees, bottled water and even wine with meals
  • An almost 1:1 ratio of guest and staff
  • Late night and overnight ports of call in unique out-of-the-ordinary locales
  • Half price shore excursion and substantial air fare specials
  • And much much more!

 

In the news, Journey emerged last week from an eight-day makeover in dry dock.  The 694-passenger cruise ship has been spruced up with new carpets and upholstery in public spaces; new mattresses and upgraded balcony furniture for cabins; a resurfaced pool; and new sun loungers and pool towels on the outer decks. Among areas getting the most significant upgrades was the Journey’s Casino Bar, which was expanded and enhanced with new furniture. Also getting a notable overhaul was the ship’s spa and fitness center, which received a new steam room, showers and Life Fitness cardio equipment.

On the culinary front, a new caviar and champagne bar was added to Aqualina, one of the ships’ two specialty dining venues. The makeover also brings a new Chef’s Table concept that will feature three wine degustation menus serving Italian, French and California cuisine, respectively.

Amazing Journeys clients demand excellence and Azamara is the one to provide it. The Journey  is currently sailing on a 13-night Indonesia voyage round-trip from Singapore….but come April 17th she will begin a journey of stellar proportions. First and foremost, the Journey will become “Amazing” in more ways than one.  AMAZING JOURNEYS will join the Azmara Journey in Singapore for a unique one-time-only voyage through the jewels of the Indian Ocean.  After an overnight in Singapore, we’ll be sailing to Malaysia, Sri Lanka and 3 cities in southern India before disembarking for an optional 3 night extension into India’s northern geography for a chance to visit Delhi, Agra and The Taj Mahal.

This 14-night cruise will be one for the ages.  We still have limited space available; if you’d like to learn more call Amazing Journeys at 412-571-0220, email us info@amazingjourneys.net or visit http://amazingjourneys.net/trip/spice-route-cruise.  See more about this awesome ship: http://www.azamaraclubcruises.com/plan-your-voyage/booking/explore-our-ships/azamara-journey

One Night in Bangkok

Thursday, January 10th, 2013

More than One Night in Bangkok….it was “Slingin’ it in Singapore” and “Gooooooooood Morrrrrrrrning Vietnaaaaaam”.

What an amazing journey, on so many fronts!  Its been just a few days since AJ returned from the far east, having visited some truly remarkable, interesting and memorable places.  From visiting extravagant Buddhas and riding elephants in Thailand to chillin’ like the locals overnight in Saigon ….from the opulence of a Grand Palace to the chaos of motorbikes-gone-wild in Vietnam….from a New Year’s Eve Party on the pool deck to riding the “Flyer” in Singapore, the thousands of miles traveled,  the places we visited,and the scores of friendships made will not soon be forgotten.

A picture’s worth a thousand words so enjoy this story of 3 weeks in Asia, and a Happy New Year like no place on earth:

Our first week in Southeast Asia

Sunday, December 30th, 2012

As we countdown to 2013, Amazing Journeys and 92 Jewish Singles from around the world have been exploring all that Southeast Asia has to offer.  We still have over a week to go on our cruise but check out some of the incredible sights we have already seen!

HAPPY NEW YEAR (already?)

Wednesday, December 19th, 2012

For Amazing Journeys and 92 excited people (Jewish singles) from across North America and other countries across the globe, the New Year’s holiday is about to begin.  Our amazing tour of southeast Asia is about to embark with two days in Hong Kong before setting sail on December 23rd for two weeks in Vietnam, Thailand and Singapore. 

And so, our holiday begins tomorrow as the planning and planning concludes and the transit across the globe commences.  Friends from 15 cities across the US and Canada will meet up with friends from Australia, Great Britain, and Switzerland for an indulgence of wildly interesting cultures, tantalizing cuisine and a plethora of social interaction that will provide friendships and memories to last a lifetime.  Add to all this, a newly revitalized cruise ship – the Celebrity Millennium – and a little bit of pampering will just top off the truly remarkable vacation for everyone. 

Follow our escapades on our facebook page; we’ll be posting photos and captions from our adventures. just click here: www.facebook.com/AmazingJourneys 

To all who are joining us, we can’t wait to see you.  To all of our other “amazing” friends; we hope to see you again in 2013.   Happy Healthy New Year to all!

Wanna Get Away? A Sneak Preview for 2013

Tuesday, August 14th, 2012

Boy, does Amazing Journeys have a lineup for the ages!  If you are starting to think about traveling in the next year, just you wait and see what we are going to be offering!   We are aware that the information that follows will fill your plates with so many exciting possibilities that you’ll be asking your boss for extra vacation time.  This is why we are letting you know NOW what’s in store for the coming year.  Get those vacation request days in before your co-workers and lock in what we proudly proclaim will be one of the best–if not THE BEST–vacations of your life! 

You may have traveled with us in 2012 or maybe in 2011…..or maybe not for a few years. Or, dare we say….not yet at all?  In any case, you’ll need to hold on tight as we tempt, tantalize and treat you to a lineup of Jewish singles trips for 2013 that you will want to start planning for now.  We are in the throes of putting the final touches on many journeys that are amazing throughout next year, but its not too early to start planning for them. 

Firstly, check out our website (www.amazingjourneys.net) for details on Jewish singles trips that are currently available and sizzling hot:

-Northern California (August 26-Sept 3, 2012); Just ONE spot left!

-New Mexico and the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta (October 12-17, 2012); Only 7 spaces left!

-New Year’s Southeast Asia Cruise (December 23 – January 6, 2013); Over 70 people booked!

-Brazil including Rio, The Amazon and Iguazu Falls (February 21-March 2, 2013)

Now that’s what we’re selling today.  In the days and weeks ahead, stay tuned for this AMAZING array of 2013 AMAZING JOURNEYS….and start making plans to join us!

Israel: May 2 – 13

Irresistible Italy by Land:  June  6-16
 

Italy/Croatia Cruise: July 19 – 31

Alaska: August 16 – 23

Heli-hiking in the Canadian Rockies: Summer

Yellowstone National Park and the Grand Tetons: Summer

Baseball Lover’s Dream Weekend: Summer

African Safari to South Africa and Botswana:  Fall

Australia and New Zealand:  Fall

Granted that some of these trips are well over a year away, but there are benefits to starting the planning process now.  Send us a note that you are interested in any of our destinations and we’ll place your name and email address on an “interest list”.  Interest Lists receive advanced and priority notice of all trips when they become available, and allow those individuals to capture what is sometimes very limited space or, as in the case of our cruises,  the very best stateroom location.

Amazing Journeys; going strong for over 22 years and heading towards even more amazing destinations.  We hope you’ll join us!

Amazing Journeys’ glorious vacation to China has come and gone

Wednesday, March 28th, 2012

Amazing Journeys’ glorious vacation  to China has come and gone, oh too quickly. Thirty folks from 4 countries all convened in New York for a 13+ hour journey across the globe for a tour that was chock full of unbelievable experiences.  For ten fascinating days, we toured some of the most famed highlights in the world, tasted not-your-neighborhood-takeout Chinese food, shopped for pearls and silk, witnessed arguably the greatest archeological  find in history and hiked a wall that was really Great.  The tour began in Beijing and traveled through Xian and into Shanghai….and while it was a little chilly in the beginning, the warmth of such a great group enjoying so many wonderful experiences together meant that new friendships and amazing memories would not soon be forgotten.

From posing like a Terra Cotta Warrior to shopping from the “Hallo” people for “one dollah, one dollah”…. to hiking The Great Wall and biking through a Hutong neighborhood…..from making silk to making friends, …from anxious toilet experiences to exciting cultural performances… and from navigating traffic like nowhere on earth, to feeling a vibe like nowhere on earth, it really was, by definition, an amazing journey.

We sincerely thank all 30 of our guests; our newest AJ friends, for entrusting us with their travel plans and  for being part of such a memorable destination.

As they say in China..”XieXie”

Didn’t get a chance to visit Asia on this trip but wished you had?  Join us on our Asia Cruise for New Year’s Eve!  We set sail to the exciting ports of Hong Kong, Vietnam, Thailand and Singapore. Sign up by this Friday, March 30 and you’ll get a $100 ship board credit!

Amazing China at a Glance

Wednesday, March 21st, 2012

Our Amazing Journeys China tour is off and running. Beijing is the first stop for four nights and here are a few moments of all the memories-in-motion!