Wanderlust Blog

Posts Tagged ‘Amazing Journeys’

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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A Taste of Cuba

Monday, March 16th, 2015

by Malori

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It’s been a week since returning from our Amazing Journeys people-to-people mission to Cuba.  We saw and did so much in just a weeks time, it’s hard to put it all down in words.  Traveling to Cuba is like heading back to the late 1950’s or earlier.  The cars, the hotels, the ideas, billboards of Castro with anti-American posts, it’s hard to believe only 90 miles away is the US where we are free to believe what we want and free to do just about anything we want.  We can get our hands on any kind of goods and services.  The people of Cuba cannot.  For example, for the average citizen, it is illegal for them to have an email address.  Think about that for a moment.  Our guide had only been on the internet four times in his life!  Imagine!  He has seen only four movies, and up until very recently, was not able to step foot into a hotel where foreigners stay. For a country with 11 million people, there are only 750,000 cars and half of those belong to the government.  To purchase a car can cost from $100,000 to $250,000 USD.  The things we take for granted, like a refrigerator, can cost upwards of $5,000 and it is the type and style we used in the 60’s.

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Rationing is still the method used for food distribution.  Eggs are limited to 10 per month.  After that, you need to find it on the black market.  Milk is cut off after a child turns seven years old.  Flour, butter, bread… it’s all rationed.

We got to visit with the Jewish Community and were happy to see that with the help of the JDC and those who contribute to it, the Jewish community, while shrinking to a fraction of the size it was, is a robust community.  Those from the “outside” world have seen to it that there are clothes to wear, medicine to be had and Judaica to hold services for Shabbat and holidays.  The teens are even given the opportunity to go on a Birthright trip to see Israel and develop a strong connection to the country and her people.

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Visiting Cuba is like peeling back the layers of an onion.  We believed it to be a certain way, because that’s what we were taught.  Fidel Castro, Bay of Pigs, Communism.  But what we found is a people who cannot wait to get out and get with modern society.  It’s going to take a lot of time and money to bring Cuba back to her glory days of the 1950’s when time stood still.  Now that the US has lightened restrictions, more people are able to visit (currently there are 500,000 US citizens per year visiting Cuba, with 80% of those being Cuban born American’s, coming back to visit with family).  Next month, the American Embassy will re-open when John Kerry brings the American flag back to Cuba.

The people of Cuba are excited to see what will come of this new beginning.  It brings hope to a country that had, for so many years, none.

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Welcome home from India

Tuesday, February 24th, 2015

by Stacey

Wow, what an amazing experience we had in India!  From spectacular sunrises to crazy tuktuk rides through traffic and dining with royalty to a spiritual boatride on the Ganges, I can’t say enough good things about this once in a lifetime trip.  Our group had an insider-look at India – we got to see things that tourists never ever get to see and eat at some very local restaurants and road-side samosa carts.

India saris

Here is the poem I wrote at our Farewell Event highlighting the amazing, silly, memorable, exotic two weeks we spent in India.

Are you ready for an adventure?
It’s off to India we go
for a once in a lifetime journey,
and an escape from the snow.

After a long day of travel,
it’s time for rest and relaxing.
Just kidding – grab your bag and some pani,
it’s time to hit the ground running!

Say “Namaste” to your rickshaw driver
And hang on for your ride.
For once you’re on the road,
There’s nowhere to hide.

Take a look around you and you’ll see14
Lace, rhinestones and saris,
Tobacco, snacks and cloth,
Wires and even monkeys.

Lime soda during lunch/
No, lemons.  Limes.  Oh I don’t know.
Honey balls for dessert
And lunch with spice level zero.

Get ready to shake those hips,
Throw your arms out and strike a post.
Our Bollywood dancing now
Must be finer than the pros.

It’s time for our first flight,
Some of you went to get a snack.
What you learned there was that apparently
You should put your unused ketchup back.

Our approach to the Leela Palace
Was truly one of a kind.
A boat, an escort with a ‘stache,
Musicians and bindis – what a find!

And wait, what is this?
Rose pedals falling from the sky?
Look up, you’ll see a specific
Rose pedal falling guy!

Exploring this stunning city,27
The “city of lakes” as it is known.
But first we must have breakfast,
Don’t eat alone.

Pancakes, French toast, fudge rolls,
Muffins and passion fruit.
Fresh juice, lychees, cheeses,
And amazing dosas to boot.

An early morn at sunrise,
Yoga far from home
At an ashram with our very own guru.
Ommmmmmmmmm…

The Palace tour of Udaipur,
You can see yourself as royal.
Chef Robin making naan
In the kitchen with chefs a-full.

It’s cocktail party time,
Let’s all get up and schmooze!
But wait, it’s formal at the Palace,
We must sit and sip our booze.

Challo everyone,
It’s time to hit the road.
Put on your sports bra and warm up your horn,
It’s off to Pushkar we go!

Went through the town and to the lake,
With chatchkee shops galore.
At our hotel we were greeted by fire breathing,
Balancing acts, spinning skirts and more.

An early rise with camels
To see a meh sunrise.
Jodi left with a gift – on her shoes and jeans.
From the camel.  It was a surprise.

Off to the Pink City.
Jaipur – what a treat.
We toured the City Palace and
Near a snake charmer we took a seat.

The world’s largest sun dial,100
The size it was absurd.
While browsing ‘round our horoscopes,
Ellen got it from a bird.

Back at the hotel,
We blessed the wine, candles and challah
For our first of two very special
Shabbats in India.

After dinner we were taking
A lovely stroll back to the bus.
When – hark!  What is that sound
We hear in front of us?

A wedding!  Through the bright tents
We did advance.  What a bash!
With food and guests and saris,
What a wedding we did crash.

We boarded our next mode of transport –
An elephant to the Amber Fort!
Wobbling back and forth,
We now had pictures to sort.

500 rupees for a picture!
Okay, 200 for one.
300 for the whole album?
Isn’t bargaining oh so fun?

Our next surprise was sure to last
It must be some sort of trick.
We got hennaed by a pro.
It’s beautiful, and boy is she quick!

We had some free time in the market –108
Bracelets, scarves, saris for any weather.
We even saw a goat standing on a tire.
Yes, he was wearing a sweater.

When asked “why, kind sir, is your goat wearing that?”
The man, he didn’t splinter.
He simply looked at us and replied
“It’s because it’s winter”.

It’s time to dine with royalty,
But first another treat.
We’ll don saris as we dine –
This surprise can’t be beat!

In our hotel we primped and prodded
And tucked and folded and pinned.
We’re ready for our special night.
Just top it off with a bind-i.

From dining with the royals,
We’ll head to Ranthambore now.
Weaving and hinking on our drive,
We hit a sacred cow.

Bus games made it better and
Encouraged watching “India TV.
Looking outside the window
And snap, snap, snap your camera with glee.

Stuffed rickshaws, trucks, goats, dogs,
Trash, cow pies and cow butts,
Traffic jams, produce stands,
Bikes, monkeys and men getting haircuts.

We awoke all bright and early110
For our safari drive near the quarry.
We were so lucky, we saw the tiger
In all her stripy glory.

A tour of downtown Ranthambore,
Tasting candy – the chickpea was the best.
passing the train station to see the sight
of two feisty pigs making piglets.

A campfire by the pool with friends,
Bottles of wine and a game.
We learned what cartoon you’d like to be
And in which creative medium you’d have fame.

Back on the bus to Agra,
A pilgrimage on its own
To see the Taj  Mahal in person,
This site is world renown.

The marble glower at sunset,
The perfect Golden Hour.
This monstrous work of architecture
Holds a spiritual power.

Rise and shine, let’s board the bus
It’s off to Delhi we go.
Take a schluff, snap some pics
And look out the window.

Hurry, hurry, don’t be late,
We have to catch our flight!
But first we’ll make a quick pit stop
(despite protesting will all my might).

Robin went to the hospital for some wax
With our Doc, guide and Stace in tow.
The other ladies took a stroll
Right down Embassy Row.

We made it just in time13
For a chai tea at terminal 3
To arrive in Varanasi –
Ravi’s home when he was wee.

Through the Old City of twists and turns
And folks to whom we were so foreign.
This once in a lifetime adventure
Was anything but borin’.

A boat ride down the Ganges,
Past the crematorium and then
Floating even further down
To see bells and candles danced by men.

Just this morning, back on a boat
With music just for us
To experience sunrise in the City of Light
And dipping in for those whom if was a must.

In this peaceful time
As we readied to step off,
We heard “Hi!  Hi!” from a boat
Of people who were from down souff.

We took pics of them and them of us,
Then a surprising round of kisses.
Then hugs, then pleasantries then more kisses,
I think they’ll really miss us.

Our final surprise, a visit to someone
Who Ravi holds so dear.
His brother and his wife welcomed us
As friends from very near.

Double-wide silks, table runners,india flowers
Marble, rugs, paintings and a lovely top.
Boy this group surprised me –
You guys can really shop!

We’ve seen pigs, dogs, goats and elephants,
Camels, cows and monkeys in the streets.
Tigers, peacocks, deer, boars snakes,
Elk, alligators, owls and green parakeets.

We’ve been in busses, tuk tuks, tongas,
Elephants, cruises, and planes.
Rickshaws, boats and camel carts,
Electric vans and even trains.

We’ve covered the north of India
In two weeks, jetting from event to event.
As exhausted as you are,
I’m sure you loved India 200%.

With full hearts and heavy suitcases,
From Ravi, the AJ team and me,
We hope to see you soon
On your next Amazing Journey.

Don’t be that traveler…

Monday, January 5th, 2015

In travel – as in life – things are bound to go differently than planned.  The best course of action is to be flexible, have a back up plan and go with the flow.  Many of the most memorable parts of a vacation happen when you go “off script”, so to say, and you are sent home with stories of “that time” on vacation.  It is our job at Amazing Journeys to make sure that you are well informed and taken care of so that even when plans do change, you don’t need to worry yourself but just keep on going and enjoy your vacation.

With that being said, we would like to share a few funny comments that travelers with other companies have shared about their travel experience.  They made us laugh!

1. “On my holiday to Goa in India, I was disgusted to find that almost every restaurant served curry. I don’t like spicy food.”

2. “They should not allow topless sunbathing on the beach. It was very distracting for my husband who just wanted to relax.”

3. “We went on holiday to Spain and had a problem with the taxi drivers as they were all Spanish.”

4. “We booked an excursion to a water park but no-one told us we had to bring our own swimsuits and towels. We assumed it would be included in the price.”

5. “The beach was too sandy. We had to clean everything when we returned to our room.”

6. “We found the sand was not like the sand in the brochure. Your brochure shows the sand as white but it was more yellow.”

7. “It’s lazy of the local shopkeepers in Puerto Vallarta to close in the afternoons. I often needed to buy things during ‘siesta’ time – this should be banned.”

8. “No-one told us there would be fish in the water. The children were scared.”

9. “Although the brochure said that there was a fully equipped kitchen, there was no egg-slicer in the drawers.”

10. “I think it should be explained in the brochure that the local convenience store does not sell proper biscuits like custard creams or ginger nuts.”

11. “The roads were uneven and bumpy, so we could not read the local guide book during the bus ride to the resort. Because of this, we were unaware of many things that would have made our holiday more fun.”

12. “It took us nine hours to fly home from Jamaica to England. It took the Americans only three hours to get home. This seems unfair.”

13. “I compared the size of our one-bedroom suite to our friends’ three-bedroom and ours was significantly smaller.”

14. “When we were in Spain, there were too many Spanish people there. The receptionist spoke Spanish, the food was Spanish. No one told us that there would be so many foreigners.”

15. “We had to line up outside to catch the boat and there was no air-conditioning.”

16. “It is your duty as a tour operator to advise us of noisy or unruly guests before we travel.”

17. “I was bitten by a mosquito. The brochure did not mention mosquitoes.”

18. “My fiancée and I requested twin-beds when we booked, but instead we were placed in a room with a king bed. We now hold you responsible and want to be re-reimbursed for the fact that I became pregnant. This would not have happened if you had put us in the room that we booked.”

Hanukkah Shopping Guide: Travelers Edition 2014

Wednesday, November 19th, 2014

With Hanukkah right around the corner, we’re all racking our brains, trying to find that perfect gift for friends, family, or what to tell others we want… Amazing Journeys to the rescue! Here is our Top Ten Travel Gift Idea list! Buy for others or share the list to hint at what you want!

10. Multiple Device Travel Charger

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This portable charger minimizes cable clutter by placing multiple charging outlets on a single unit. You can refuel up to six devices simultaneously while occupying just a single wall outlet. Available here.

9. Scratch Map

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Track your travels with a scratch-off-where-you’ve-been map that charts globetrotting in a fun, colorful and innovative way. Scratch off the areas you’ve visited and show off your travel progress! Available here.

8. Foldable Water Bottle
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Another way to save space in your bag!  Roll it up and a metal loop keeps the bottle scrunched up so it fits easily into your bag. Available here.

7. iPhone Life Jacket
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Want to take pictures as you take a dip in the pool?  Throw your iPhone in a waterproof case and life jacket and let it float right alongside you. Available here.

6. Crease Release
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In a world of overpacked schedules (and suitcases!), ironing isn’t always an option. As soon as you make it to your destination, unpack your clothes, give them a quick spray and blast of the blow dryer and start looking fabulous. Available here.

5. GoPro Camera
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This rugged, waterproof, portable camera will take all the action shots you ever need to become the adventurous envy of all your friends back home. Available here.

4. A good travel book

Whether you’re reading up on your next destination, learning about a new culture or just escaping from reality, its always great to travel with a book. And who knows? When you’re done with your book, you can always trade with a friend on your trip and read their new favorite, too! Available here.

3. RFID Blocking Wallet
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This lightweight organizer protects your passport, ID and credit cards from identity theft with advanced RFID-blocking technology. Thieves with scanners can’t get at the radio-frequency tags embedded in your cards and documents because of the secure lining that shields your information. Available here.

2. Global Entry pass
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Global Entry is a program that allows pre-approved travelers the opportunity travel easier at the airport. Once you have been approved for Global Entry, you can use this for Pre-Check, a special quick security line in most major US airports, allowing you to breeze through while keeping your shoes and belt on, your liquids stored away and your laptop snuggly in your carry-on. How nice is that? There is an application process but we think it’s worth the work upfront, knowing how much time it will save at the airport. Available for US citizens only.

1. Packing cubes
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This is the very favorite of our AJ staffers. If you’re looking for an easy way to pack and unpack while on tour, here is your answer! Throw all of your socks into one, your accessories in another and your shirts into the larger one. When its time to unpack in your stateroom or hotel room, you know where everything is and you’re done in 3 minutes. Simply unzip the cube, open the top, and lay right inside of the drawer. When it’s time to pack it up again, zip it all up and throw it in the suitcase. Only staying at the hotel for a day or two? Leave it all in the suitcase and reach right in to easily find what you are seeking! Available here.

Enjoy your holiday shopping, happy Hanukkah and hope to travel with you soon!

50 Shades of Green

Wednesday, October 29th, 2014

Ireland blog1
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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

Satisfy your sweet tooth with strudel

Friday, August 1st, 2014

- by Erin

The passengers on our upcoming Danube River Cruise will have the opportunity to taste local specialties of the region including crafted brews, indulgent chocolate and of course, homemade strudel.  In an attempt for everyone to get their fair share of pastry, we thought it was only fair to share a recipe for this delicious delicacy!

Apple strudel

STRUDEL PASTRY

INGREDIENTS

Pastry Ingredients

  • 1 ¼ cups flour
  • 2 tbsp. vegetable oil
  • 1 egg
  • 1 ½ cups water
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • 1 tbsp. sugar
  • ½ stick butter

 

Stuffing for Pastry

  • 2 lbs. green apples, peeled and sliced thinly
  • 1 oz. cinnamon
  • 2 oz. raisins
  • 3 oz. sugar
  • 2 oz. dark rum
  • 1 egg yolk

 

PREPARATION METHOD

Sift the flour and combine with sugar and salt. Mix the egg and oil together, and them with the dry ingredients. Add the water to the dough a tablespoon at a time and knead the dough for 5-10 minutes. Form into a ball and set aside, covered for 30 minutes. Take the dough and roll it out as thinly as possible in a rectangle on a lightly floured pastry board. Drape the sheet of dough over your hands and stretch, being careful not to tear it. Continue until the sheet of dough is very thin, always working from the middle toward the edges until it reaches 18″ x 14″. Lay the sheet of dough on a well-floured pastry cloth. Brush with melted butter. In a bowl, mix the apples, sugar, raisins, cinnamon and dark rum. Spread immediately on the dough. Form a long, tightly tucked roll. Press the ends and seal. Butter an 18” x 12” oven tray with raised sides and preheat the oven to 475°. Beat the egg yolk and brush over the strudel, and then sprinkle with sugar. Bake for 10 minutes at 475° then lower to 400° and bake for 20 minutes. Lower to 300° and bake and additional 15 minutes. Remove from pan and place on a large serving tray. Pour the juice from the pay over the strudel and set aside to cool. Serve either hot or cold, and garnish with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.

Makes 10 servings