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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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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.

Travel and Animal Welfare

Wednesday, September 4th, 2019

Goin’ To A Land Down Under

Wednesday, November 20th, 2013

In the land of Oz there are many special things that are magical.  No, I’m not talking about a twister or Auntie Em. Nor am I speaking about Toto or little munchkins, or a yellow brick road or a wizard.  I’m talking about “the land down under”, also known as Australia.  Also known, since Aussies like to shorten so many words, as “Oz”.

This is a magical land of a different kind.  Magical in the sense that as western as many of the cities are, the diversity of culture and landscape and adventure and people are so unique to the world that one cannot help but feel like they’ve entered a very meaningful place.  One day, we’re walking in a paddock among free ranging kangaroos and koalas,  The next day we’re hiking among the Olgas rock formation that was created by centuries of the earth settling around it (unlike so many mountains that have been created  upwards by thermal activity deep with the earth’s core).  Then, we’re trekking through the 100 million year-old Daintree Rainforest and before you know it, we’re snorkeling at The Great Barrier Reef.  Some went hot air ballooning and camel back riding at sunrise around Ayers Rock, and some went to a performance at the famous Sydney Opera House.  In the morning we’re cuddling a koala and in the afternoon we’re taking boomerang-throwing lessons.

One night we’re eating dinner under a gazillion stars at the Sounds of Silence experience, and the next night we’re cooking out on the barbie with skewers of beef, shrimp, kangaroo and baramundi (local fish). One morning we’re climing a bridge high above Sydney and then that evening we’re praying at The Great Synagogue where the historic relevance of Judaism in Australia captures a deep essence.   At times, we’re learning about the culture by an eloquent Aussie-linguist saying words like “Fair Dinkum” (I’m telling the truth), “Owarya” (how are you?) and “fancy a stubby?” (can I buy you a beer?)…and at times we are toasting with AJ Aussies who live where we’re visting and just can’t be hospitable enough for us.

Amazing Journeys’ tour to Oz was just remarkable. We’ve only just returned, but the memories are bound up in our souls forever.  Every day was a “G’day Mate” and we can’t wait to go back!

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!

Scenes from Paradise

Thursday, November 10th, 2011

It’s hard to believe that our glorious Jewish singles Amazing Journey in French Polynesia has come and gone.   What an adventure! What relaxation!  What pristine beauty! 

Among other things, we snorkeled along our private motu, explored an island by 4 x 4, gazed at flipping dolphins, shopped for a black pearl (or ten!), kayaked off the back of the ship, dined at a fancy restaurant with sand between our toes, danced with Polynesian princes and princesses, and just chilled out on the balcony with a good book.

The islands we visited, the fun we had and the many friends that we all made will not soon be forgotten.

Ia Orana (“yo-rah-nah”)

Sunday, October 23rd, 2011

Ia Orana is a proper greeting (“Hello” or “Welcome”) in the Tahitian language.  This week 36 AJers will will say Ia Orana to each other, and to Tahiti as we embark on an 11-night journey to French Polynesia.  Perfect weather is an understatement as balmy days turn into moonlit nights, and where tropical breezes blow while brightly colored fish swim just below the surface of clear turquoise waters. 

The pampering begins with two nights at an incredible resort in Tahiti followed by a seven night cruise aboard the luxury ship, Paul Gauguin. Built specifically for French Polynesia, this intimate voyage will glide our group of honorary Jewish single Tahitians through some of the most remote islands of the world.  Some of these islands you may have heard of: Tahiti and Bora Bora seems to be familiar to many.  But there are 118 islands-about 50 of which are inhabited-that make up French Polynesia.  Our journey will also take us to the tiny but pristine islands of Moorea (More-aya), Raiatea (Ry-a-taya) and Taha’a (pronounced exactly how it looks).

The ship is equipped with an array of unique features such as a drop-down watersports marina where passengers will enjoy complimentary kayaking, snorkeling, windsurfing and waterskiing.  On board, unlimited complimentary drinks, three exquisite restaurants, Polynesian entertainment and a ratio of one crew member to every two guests will translate into one huge Ia Orana (“Welcome”) and memories to last a lifetime. The word ‘vacation’ cannot be more clearly defined than what is in store in French Polynesia. 

To share in the tranquility of these unique islands our new friends will travel from four countries to be a part of this amazing journey: US, Canada, Australia and England.  Stay tuned to our Amazing Journeys facebook  (www.facebook.com/AmazingJourneys) page over the next 2+ weeks for a front row seat on our adventures. 

And then…don’t be left out in the cold yourself.  Why not consider joining us on one of our next upcoming Amazing Journeys:  Spain, China, West Coast Cruise, India, Music Cities of the South, New Year’s Caribbean Cruise, Alaska…and lots more.   Visit: www.amazingjourneys.net  

Landmarks of the World

Wednesday, May 25th, 2011

Are you ready for a trip around the world?  Are you?  Really??

Sadly, the majority of Americans will rarely see any geography beyond their own borders.  The Office of Travel and Tourism Industries published a finding that only about 10% of of US residents have ever traveled to overseas destinations (Canada and Mexico excluded – they’re not overseas. )  Leisure travel is more than a vacation. Its an activity that makes you more worldly, knowledgeable and tolerant of the differences in cultures that make our planet so special.  Its an adventure.  Its a means to experience “Life” with a capital “L” – a chance to break from the routine…the norm…the grind…the familiararity…the common.  Its a purpose, not just an experience.  Humans are born to travel; we’ve been given the mobility and dexterity to do so and as Americans we’ve also been given the “land of opportunity’; a means to earn, spend and have plentiful of what most other nations around the world don’t.

Get Out There, America! Whether you’re single or married…Jewish or Christian….in your 30s or in your 60s; don’t do what the regretful elderly do when they say for decades “I’ll travel when I retire” or “I’ll get there someday”.  Go now, while you’re able-bodied, healthy and capable! You never know when you might not be, and denying yourself the greatest of life’s givings is a regret of unfathomable proportions.  Trust me, the world is an incredible place.  America is wonderful…but the world is, well, an Amazing Journey for all to see.

IF NOT NOW….WHEN?

Memoirs of a Journey Down Under

Wednesday, November 24th, 2010

Dear Mom and Dad, 

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

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

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

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

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

And it was only the first day!!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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







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


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

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

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

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

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

 Time to go to Sydney!

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

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

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

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

 See you very soon,

 Love,

Me

Amazing New Zealand

Sunday, November 21st, 2010

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

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

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

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