Blog - Amazing Journeys
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.

Border

The Wandering Jew

Friday, August 28th, 2020

by Malori

Traveling around the world, I’m so fortunate that I get to see a plethora of amazing sights. And the experience that I hold close to my heart is sharing our Jewish heritage with our travelers in faraway lands throughout the world. Whether joining a local community for Shabbat services, creating our own community for holiday observances or bringing back prayer to a synagogue that hasn’t seen Jewish life for years, or sharing the Hora with those who may not have ever experienced it, these are the moments treasured by myself and our groups alike.

We have had the good fortune to see many of Europe’s Synagogues. The largest and most magnificent I’ve experienced is Budapest’s Dohany Street Synagogue. Built in the mid-19th century, the architectural style is Moorish Revival and is truly remarkable.  With seating for 3,000 participants in its main sanctuary, it also houses a museum, a graveyard, and sits on the site of Theodore Herzl’s home. But in addition to the glorious interior, it’s the experiences one has that is the most memorable,  Being brought up to the bima and away from the crowds of visitors, we pre-arranged the opportunity of having their world famous Cantor lead us in prayers, together as an Amazing Journeys community.  Our voices rang to the top rafters of this massive interior structure.  Just outside the doors to the most beautiful synagogue in the world, we were taken to the site where thousands of Jews were murdered during the 1930’s and 40’s.  Anyone who has been to Budapest will have vivid memories of the stories of the atrocities that happened along the river dividing Buda and Pest and elsewhere in the city.

While most of our Jewish experiences are pre-planned by our Amazing Journeys team, some are bashert or, just happens because they are meant to be. When headed to the Azores, a remote group of islands located in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, roughly 930 miles off the coast of Portugal and 2400 miles off the US coast, I received a call from a would-be traveler.  She said her dad was on a business trip a few years prior, along with a business associate, a Catholic woman who was born in the Azores. They asked about a run-down building they saw while walking down the street and were told it was a hidden synagogue from the 1800’s.  For over 30 years, the two had decided to raise money to restore the synagogue, and took trips to Ponta Delagada on the island of San Miguel until they had restored the Sahar Hassamain Synagogue into its original look.  They also created a museum and included details of Jewish life in Ponte Delgada. Upon hearing the story, we wanted to take our group to visit as well as have Shabbat services there.  In advance of our Amazing Journeys visit, we asked employees at the museum, those running the fundraising organizations and were told it was a museum and was not used as a synagogue for nearly 60 years. We asked different times and in different ways, and still the answer was no.  We arrived in the Azores, visited the museum as part of our tour and later, at the end of our day of touring, I mentioned to the guide we had been hoping to have our Shabbat services inside the synagogue.  She said, “why not?”  I told her we had already had a long line of “no’s” from everyone we spoke to and she said, “I work for the Mayor… I can make it happen.  Give me until tomorrow (Friday)… I am certain I can get this approved.”  Sure enough, she did and we kept our secret from the group.  Later that evening, I asked everyone to meet in the hotel lobby so we could have Shabbat services together, followed by dinner.  We walked the 4 blocks to the synagogue and had a private service in this 130 year old space.  We all realized the specialness of this experience, and that we were bringing voices of prayer to these walls that had not heard songs for decades.  Many of us cried.

Sometimes synagogues appear in the most random of places, nevertheless, they are houses of prayer.  Cochin, India was once known as ‘Jew Town’ because they were located along the Spice Route and had many Jewish families who settled there.  Cochin is filled with many synagogues, some being currently brought to their original beauty as houses of worship by congregations in the US and other countries who want our Jewish history not to be lost forever. We visited several synagogues in the once bustling area.  My favorite was one synagogue visit where we had to pass alongside of several aquariums filled with fish to reach the entrance of the synagogue.  Not very fitting for a house of worship, it reminded me that having a defined prayer space is a gift.  People in different parts of the world will make sacrifices so that they can pray as Jews.  While in Cochin, we met Sarah Cohen, the last Jew in Jew Town.  We spoke to Sarah, then in her 90’s, who still produced handmade challah covers.  Sarah recently passed away at the age of 95, leaving the former Jew Town devoid of Jews.

We have celebrated Shabbat in synagogues in Cuba where in Havana there are still two shuls, and as always, there is the one you “don’t go to.”   We have prayed with 400 visitors and Jewish business people living in the area in Shanghai, China and said prayers in a tiny underground hidden shul at Auschwitz in Poland.

 

One of the most sobering was in Linz, Austria where we had Shabbat services at The Linz Synagogue.  This meaningful symbol of our Jewish religion and our heritage sits just one block away from the balcony where Hitler gave one of his earlier hate speeches.  On the tiny balcony in front of the Rathaus in the main square in Linz, Hitler proclaimed the Greater German Reich on May 12, 1938.  He called Linz “my home.”  It was so important that here, we came together to pray as one.  This reconstructed Synagogue was both architecturally meaningful and hauntingly spiritual. Our voices during services were loud and proud as we aimed them to reach the heavens.

Whether one is Jewish or not, most likely a Jewish wedding is associated with dancing the Hora to Hava Negela.  On our travels, we have created the fun and fervor of the hora in many spaces and places on earth, including the most remote spots imaginable. We taught a local dance troupe in Madeira, an autonomous region of Portugal in an archipelago comprising four islands off the northwest coast of Africa, to dance the hora.  Even more remote, our Amazing Journeys travelers to Antarctica did an impromptu singing of Hava Negila around an Israeli flag, after doing the Shehecheyanu blessing, a common Jewish prayer to celebrate special occasions. On a recent trip to Tanzania, we met the Hadzabe people, an isolated tribe who still hunt for their meals with poison arrows and spears. They live under bushes and move about Tanzania, following the game. Here, after this tribe taught us their dance, we showed them ours!  Although we couldn’t communicate through verbal language as they still use the “click language,” the language of dance was our connection. Although we weren’t 100% sure our movements would translate favorably, we’re still here to talk about it!

In India, just outside of Varanasi, the holiest city in all of India, we celebrated Tu’ BiShvat, the New Year of the Trees.  I asked our guide to provide me with a space under a tree, so that we could say some prayers and experience this holiday. He was proud to bring us to the Bodhi tree where Buddha was enlightened. Nearby, we found a tree we could sit under as a group and celebrate Tu’ BiShvat.

Sometimes it’s the remoteness and serenity of nature that connects us most to God. In my favorite spot on the planet, our heli-hiking lodge in the Bugaboo Mountains in eastern British Columbia, Canada, our group celebrated Shabbat with a setting filled with glaciers, mountains and granite spires. It’s the most majestic backdrop to a memorable Shabbat.  Equally so, perhaps my favorite Shabbat ever was facing Uluru, formally known as Ayers Rock, in the Outback of Australia.  Here, we perched ourselves on a large, red rock, indicative of the landscape of this desert area, complete with challah, wine and candles as I led the group through Shabbat services. As the sun set and the colors of Uluru changed with the changing sunlight, surrounded by our Amazing Journeys community in song and prayer, it brought us to tears.

Of all the exploration we do on our Amazing Journeys, it’s our visits to explore our Jewish heritage, see synagogues and visiting Jewish communities throughout the world, and  it’s the Jewish celebrations in which we participate that are always the most memorable part of the trip and our travelers remember for years to come.

What Happens When Tourism Stops

Tuesday, August 11th, 2020

by Malori


Tourism is one of the largest industries in the world and is included on any list of the Top 10 Employers globally.  It’s hard to fathom just how large this industry is until you begin to break down the numbers.  In 2019, travel and tourism directly contributed nearly 3 trillion dollars to the GDP.  And in the US, it was the largest contributor to the GDP with a total of over 580 billion US dollars last year. Tourism employs 330 million worldwide.  Sometimes these numbers can be difficult to understand until we break it down further.

Tourism is on the brink of disaster.  Tour guides we have been working with for years in India, Africa, China and Vietnam and have developed friendships with are looking outside of tourism for other work.  Imagine, when we visit Tanzania and hire a Masai Mara guide, the ones we love to jump with and who takes us into their dung huts to show us life on the Mara– this one-day guided experience will feed 10 others in his community with this one encounter.  We recently visited Thailand.  The absence of visitors can change the life of vendors who are on the streets with their food carts, t-shirt sellers, elephant sanctuary workers and tuk-tuk drivers who cannot see their way to bringing home payment so their family can survive another day.  The Moroccan carpet sellers, the mustache-festooned doormen at our hotels in India, our Jewish tour guides in Rome, the jovial bartenders on your last cruise, the ferry captain in the fjords of New Zealand, hiking guides, olive oil tastings in Greece… it all shuts down.  Last week, I had the opportunity to speak with the Vice President of a major worldwide hotel chain who told me 50% of his hotels will shut down in Europe next month… and they currently have occupancy rates in the single digits. Do you know how many hundreds of thousands of people will be out of work in that scenario? Only a handful of cruise ships are sailing.  That’s another 1.1 million out of work employees from around the world. Add to that, it is expected that 50% of the more than 60,000 travel agencies just in the US will be out of business by September.  When tourism stops in its tracks, the ability of millions of people to put food in their mouths stops, too.

As the Chief Amazement Officer at Amazing Journeys, I take my job very seriously.  Because I know that not only am I crafting tours that include highlights within each destination we visit, I am also taking care of the locals… small business owners who can provide experiential memories, sure to make your trip that much more enjoyable, while feeding their local community at the same time.  Whether it’s a surprise tuk-tuk ride to see the sun set over the Taj Mahal, a food tasting tour, shopping at the local market before attending our cooking school in Vietnam, wine tasting in Israel, tasting whiskey in Ireland and scotch in Scotland… it’s all part of putting money into the local economies and more specifically, the individuals who are feeding several members of their community.

At Amazing Journeys, not only do we take great pride in creating a tour that you will remember for the rest of your life, we also take seriously our responsibility to take care of those who take care of us.  And we do this by generating opportunities for local populations.  We know that tourism is a force for good. Those of us working in tourism and those who travel… we are all in this together – we are one community.

What Do I Miss Most About Travel – Barry

Wednesday, August 5th, 2020

by Barry

This blog should actually be titled: What I Miss Most About Malori NOT Traveling!


My life with Malori runs at about 70 miles an hour… on a slow day.  When she’s away from home, traveling with Amazing Journeys, I’m able to slow down a bit and can turn our house into my personal (but temporary)  “Man Cave”.  I’m able to do things when Malori travels that I just wouldn’t attempt when she’s at home.  Take a look at some of the things I look forward to when Malori travels:

 – I eat some of my meals right out of the pot I cook them in.
 – I make a big pot of chili and have it for dinner EVERY NIGHT for the week!
 – I read the entire Sunday New York Times every week (with a pot of coffee).
 – I’ll have a cigar if I want to.
 – I go to sleep with the television off.
 – If my socks don’t match, I’ll never know.
 – On the weekends, I never have to change out of my gym shorts and t-shirt.
 – If I want to scratch, I can.
 – I do the dishes when I run out of clean ones… sometimes.
 – I don’t have to separate laundry into light, medium and dark… they’re just dirty or clean.
 – Iron clothes?  What’s an iron?
 – One pot meals are the rule.
 – Why should I take the clothes out of the dryer and move them to my dresser, they just end up back in the laundry anyway.  I use that as my closet.
 – Nothing is better than a book, a Scotch and a cigar while swinging in a hammock for hours in the backyard.
 – I don’t have to worry if the toilet seat is up.
 – I can go to sleep as early as I want.
 – Chips and salsa are a food group, right?
– I have time to do some of my many projects.
 – I can take all day Photo Safaris if I want to.
 – I can hop in our boat and take my own cruise on one of Pittsburgh’s Three Rivers.

As you can see, when Malori’s not at home I’m not bored.  I just run my life differently.  But, if you want to know a little secret, my life is more fun when she’s in town… but don’t tell her that!

What Do I Miss Most About Travel – Erin

Tuesday, July 21st, 2020

by Erin


One of the many things that I have inherited from my father is a love of photography – capturing the life of a country, the beauty of nature or the fun of a situation.  Now don’t get me wrong, I have still been taking a lot of pictures in these months where we have not been able to travel, but it still feels like something is missing.

To be able to go to a new destination and experience it is a feeling like no other.  To be able to remember all of the amazing things that you did is nearly impossible.  That’s why I try to document as much as I possibly can, knowing that when I come home, I will be able to re-live all of those moments again while going through my pictures.

Before digital photography, I would average about a roll of film a day, taking pictures of the things I saw, but limiting myself to the number of shots available.  Now, I click, click, click all day long and go through the pictures after the fact, allowing myself to be more in the moment and try to capture everything.

Like many of you, my pictures usually just live on my computer and I don’t do much with them.  But one of the projects that I have committed myself to during this pandemic is to go through my years of travel pictures and print a few that I want to feature on the wall in my living room.  Rather than just going through them on my screen, I want my pictures to come to life.  Not only to brighten the walls of my house, but also to bring a smile to my face.  Each picture is a memory and a moment in time that I remember fondly.

So even though we may not have the opportunity to take pictures of new countries and cultures for now, that is no reason to put away your camera (or cell phone).  Keep snapping away to recall what is happening in your daily life now, and know that one day, your pictures will start to be of new things and they will bring new memories and stories, as well!

What Do I Miss Most About Travel – Malori

Tuesday, July 14th, 2020

by Malori

From the time I was a little kid, maybe 10 years old, I had a fascination with everything travel. I used to ask my parents to take me to our local airport (LAX in Los Angeles) which thrilled me to no end.  The hustle bustle, the sights, sounds and smells.  Hearing announcements in languages I couldn’t understand. The luggage stacked up on the runway, waiting to be loaded into the belly of the planes. The board announcing arrivals and departures for sites unknown. People gathering from all different places on earth, traveling to countries far and wide.

 In the international terminal, as I walked from gate to gate, I was virtually transported around the world, hearing different languages as people headed to what I had imagined to be all places wonderful. I used to imagine why they were going to wherever it was they were headed.  I’d make up probable scenarios in my mind.  Some were most likely off to explore an exotic destination that one day I’d like to visit myself!  I’d see lots of travelers, perhaps returning home after a visit to our country, or maybe meeting up with family they hadn’t seen for a long time. I would listen closely for different languages being spoken, an occurrence  that still fascinates me.  To this day, when hearing someone speaking a different language or with an accent, I enjoy engaging them in conversation and eventually asking where they’re from and most likely, I’ve been there.  The fact that I have seen their country which they miss and are certainly proud of, breaks down many barriers and we enjoy knowing that much more about one another.

I remember being at the airport with my parents, picking up my Aunt Shirley and Uncle Marv who had just landed after a once-in-a-lifetime dream trip to Hawaii.  As passengers started arriving with their individual boxes of souvenir coconuts and pineapples in hand, each passenger was adorned with flower leis made of orchids picked and strung just prior to their five hour flight from Honolulu to LAX. The airport gate was laden with orchids and everything smelled so sweet! I couldn’t wait until I was old enough to travel to Hawaii.

I am in love with the design, art and architecture of airports. Each one is truly unique and each were considered modern at the time in which they were built.  I love how the logistics work both inside airports and coordinating all of the flights internationally.  I love the individual airlines logo, colors, uniform design and everything about them as I scurry through airports worldwide. When I graduated college, earning my degree with a focus on Commercial Interior Design, I wanted to design airports or hotels.  But living in Mobile, Alabama at the time of my first job post-graduation, there were no architectural or design firms in the city building airports…or hotels.

My favorite airport?  I love all the features designed into the Singapore Changi Airport. Having won the Best Airport Award seven years in a row, you quickly learn why.  With relaxing forested areas and the world’s largest indoor waterfall, a butterfly garden, a movie theater, swimming pool and world class restaurants and shopping, this airport earns the top spot.  My favorite domestic airport is Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson Airport. Built in 1980, I was one of the first passengers coming through this modern airport and they have kept it growing and modern ever since.  My favorite feature is the art galleries placed all over the airport, each with different themes and always changing. My favorite artwork is between Concourses A and B. Besides interesting sculptures in the center of the underground walkway, and murals lining the sides of this 450 foot passage, most people don’t look up to see the most interesting ceiling covered in art, an installation called Flight Paths. This walkway has sounds of rain, simulated lightning and thunder and is missed by most travelers. The worst airport?  In my opinion, it’s Charles de Gaulle in Paris.  It’s so spread out, it’s larger than most cities in Alaska.  Maybe all of them!  You have to allow hours to navigate between flights and it always seems to be under construction. Terminals and gates are labeled nonsensically and you’ll find gates and terminals labeled with F12H and KA12T and the like.  I’ve been through CDG a plethora of times and I still don’t get it. You have to leave and reenter security at least once per plane change and typically, your terminal isn’t on the train system and they shuttle you from terminal to terminal, using back entrances, stairways and alleys.  What a mess!

While I realize most travelers look at airports as an inconvenience, and the length  of time spent mid-air as a “boring part of travel which must be endured” to get to the destination which is the real excitement, just know that for some of us, “it’s the journey and not the destination.”