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Wanderlust Blog

Here at Amazing Journeys, we’re lucky have the best jobs in the world—and we think our good fortune is worth sharing. So, when your next journey seems like a distant dream, take a few minutes to explore our WANDERLUST blog—it’s chock full of engaging tales and helpful tips from our travels around the world. Check out the most recent entry (at the top) or search by your preferred criteria. Consider it motivation for your next embarkation.

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We Show You the World and You Mean the World to Us

Wednesday, November 25th, 2020

by Michele

Vacations That Change Your Life, originally, a tagline when created, was with the thought that the travel experience alone would be what changed your life.  What we have come to understand and have witnessed for decades, is that in addition to that, our journeys are changing your personal life here at home as well.


As we are now spending time at home and riding this wave together, we have felt the strength of our Amazing Journeys family.  Since we first received the “shelter in place” orders, one of our top priorities was to continue to share the power of positivity and what better way than to continue our time together even if for now it is virtually. Trivia, Lunch and Learn, Ice Cream Social, Happy Hour, Art Gallery Crawl, Shabbat and the list goes on.  We have even seen new faces online who we can virtually welcome into our AJ family until we can welcome them in person somewhere in the world.

I know from hundreds of calls I have had over the years, no one ever truly expects how their life will change when traveling with a group of AJers. Oftentimes, I find myself telling the first-time caller that I am personally still in touch and friends with several from our very first trip in 1993. We form special bonds and they have changed my life and I know have impacted many others.

After speaking with one of our newer AJ friends recently, he said something very poignant as before he traveled with us, he really didn’t know what to expect.  His personal observation was there have been some wonderful “unintended consequences”!  He thought he was just signing up for a tour but what he came back with was new friends that enhanced his world.  Looking back on many conversations from the last 20+ years, we hear all of the time:
…I met my best friend on my trip.
…All of my fellow Broadway goers I met through AJ.
…So many that celebrated my milestone birthday were my friends from AJ
…Going through a challenging time, when I looked around, I realized most
were my travel friends from AJ.


As we navigate these uncharted waters, I have learned now more than ever, there is so much to be thankful for.  Although we show you the world, we want you to know that you mean the world to us and also to each other.


Please feel free to share with us one moment or friendship that has changed your life as we would love to hear from you and be thankful together!

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

Follow us on Instagram

Thursday, April 25th, 2019

by Erin

If a picture is worth a thousand words, our Instagram feed is worth millions! 

Our Instagram feed not only allows you to follow along with trips as they are happening but is also where we share travel insight, highlight some of the most beautiful places in the world, show behind the scenes at the AJ office and more. Instagram is an amazing place to indulge your wanderlust!

We’re posting all the time, so click here to follow us on Instagram.  That way, you won’t miss any of the amazing posts we have to share.

Want to see something we haven’t yet posted? Send us some suggestions – we’d love to hear from you!

Goodbye WOW

Thursday, March 28th, 2019

by Malori

Ave Shalom WOW.

I really liked WOW.  As an airline, it had a certain ‘joie de vivre’ and a style all its own.  From the magenta colored planes to the smiling but somewhat snarky attitude of the flight attendants, their uniforms and best of all, just the name WOW said it all. 


But airlines come and airlines go.  If you’ve been in the travel industry as long as I have, you understand it’s just part of the natural selection process. At the bottom of the food chain are the “low cost carriers.” They are actually doomed from the start if you ask me. An airline or any other business cannot operate on a shoestring.  While it may be nice for an airline to advertise uber low fares, they still have to maintain their planes, hire qualified pilots and have some savings for a rainy day, when something goes wrong and you need a back-up plan.  Low cost carriers usually have great fares, a few planes and a “fly by the seat of their pants” position. It’s not sustainable. Add to that the large giants of the sky, the competing carriers who are ready to wage an all out war when a low cost carrier comes into the market.  Advertising picks up, fares drop to match the new airline and before you know it, the new carrier can’t compete with the big dogs.

So while I am sad to see another carrier go, it was only a matter of time.  So long WOW. C’est la vie. Or as they say in Icelandic, svo lengi.

 

Cooking Class: Irish Scones

Friday, March 15th, 2019

by Erin


One of the favorite experiences that we have offered on past trips to Ireland is a scone making lesson on a local farm.  Our scone making class was a memory we could take home and share with others. So in honor of the upcoming celebration of St. Patrick’s Day, we thought we’d share the recipe so you can have a taste of Ireland at home!

Ireland blog3
Irish Scones

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

So whether you are celebrating with scones, green beer, a parade or chasing leprechauns, we wish you a happy St. Patty’s Day!

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Travel is an Art

Wednesday, November 1st, 2017

Highlights of Scandinavia and Russia

Monday, August 28th, 2017