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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

English as a Second Language

Friday, August 23rd, 2019

by Erin

As I stand here in the Fumicino (Rome) airport, awaiting my transfer to the ship, I am spending my time by observing the Information Desk.  People are coming and going from all over the world and no matter what language they speak at home, 95% are coming to the desk with questions in English. It may be broken, not perfectly grammatical or involve a lot of directionary hand gestures, but everyone knows to try to start the conversation with the Italian Information Desk man in English.

We sometimes take for granted how lucky we are that our native tongue is spoken so freely throughout the world. In many countries, English is thought from a young age so no matter who you talk to, you can at least have the semblance of a conversation. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been walking down the street in a foreign country and kids hear us speaking English so they come out to say “hi” and are excited to practice their English with us.

We are often ignorant to others languages and customs, assuming instead, that others should bend to meet us where we are, but the beauty of international travel is that you get to learn new customs, meet people who are different from you and push your comfort zone.

So while my go-to language is English, I try to learn a few key words or phrases of whatever country I am traveling to, so at least the locals will know that I am trying – which is often met with a smile and a response back to me in English. 

Malori’s Top 10 List for Scenic Beauty

Tuesday, June 18th, 2019

by Malori 

Everyone’s got a top 10 list: TripAdvisor, 1,000 Things to See Before You Die, Conde Nast Traveler, The New York Times, Viator…  I’ve decided to create my own. Having escorted groups to 7 continents, traveled to 130 countries, sailed on 126 cruises, and visited 38 US states, I consider myself to be well qualified for this task.

Today I want to share: Malori’s Top 10 List for Scenic Beauty (OK, I had to go with 12)

There are so many amazing places on this earth that are so beautiful, being in any one of them actually takes my breath away.  I have been so fortunate to have had several such experiences.  And let’s face it, since beauty is in the eye of the beholder, we may all have different places that excite and inspire us.  For me, it’s where the snow covered mountains meet a body of water, be it a sea, a lake an ocean or a river. 

With many places, an entire region or even most of the country is so spectacular, it would win a top spot on my list, but I went with the more specific destination, just in case you should decide to visit… I promise, it’ll be so worth it!

  1. Canadian Rockies (Banff, Lake Louise), Alberta, Canada

  2. Queenstown, New Zealand

  3. Jokulsarlon Beach and Lagoon (also known as Diamond Beach), Iceland

  4. Inside Passage, Alaska

  5. Lake Tahoe, CA

  6. Vail, Colorado

  7. Jungfrau, Switzerland

  8. Flam, Norway

  9. Antarctica

  10. Glacier Alley, Chilean Fjords, Chile

  11. El Chalten, Patagonia, Argentina

  12. Iguazu Falls, Argentina and Brazil

 

If you can get to any one of these magical spots on earth, consider yourself lucky.  More than one, consider yourself blessed.  I’ll be back with a new list in the coming weeks!  

Calgary Stampede

Tuesday, March 26th, 2019

by Erin


We are so excited to have the opportunity to bring another group to the Canadian Rockies this summer!  The scenery is stunning, the pictures you take will make your friends jealous and you get to experience the incredible Calgary Stampede!


What exactly is the Stampede, you may ask?  Well, it’s only the Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth! The Calgary Stampede is an annual, 10-day rodeo, exhibition and festival held every July in Calgary, Alberta. It attracts over one million visitors per year and features one of the world’s largest rodeos, a parade, midway, stage shows, concerts, agricultural competitions and chuckwagon racing. It is North America’s premier rodeo and western festival and a unique western experience for the world to enjoy. 


The city takes on a party atmosphere during Stampede: office buildings and storefronts are painted in cowboy themes, residents don western wear and events held across the city include hundreds of pancake breakfasts and barbecues.


The Calgary Stampede Rodeo features the world’s best competitors and animals. Every afternoon, cowboys and cowgirls face off in a furious display of skill and grit, with every win building towards Showdown Sunday – the World’s Largest Outdoor Rodeo.


One of Canada’s largest music festivals, the Calgary Stampede features numerous musical performances from established and emerging artists in a variety of genres, both at Stampede Park and around the city.  The Calgary Stampede Evening Show is a unique entertainment experience taking place nightly. The evening includes a derby, chuckwagon races and is followed by the Grandstand Show, dazzling audiences with elaborate song and dance numbers and acrobatics, capped off with spectacular fireworks!


So if you’re looking for a truly unique experience this summer, the Calgary Stampede is your ticket!  Grab your boots and your cowboy hat, throw on a big belt buckle and explore this awesome party with us this July!

Canadian Rockies & Calgary Stampede trip info is available by clicking here.

Our Bucket List

Monday, March 11th, 2019

We are lucky to have the opportunity to go to amazing destinations as part of our job, but get asked all the time, “where do you want to go next”?  Just like you, we each have our own personal bucket list that we keep adding to.  So what is at the top of each of our lists?

Malori: Antelope Canyon, Arizona. Those who know me know I love to be outdoors and I love to hike.  I get inspired by nature and the visual beauty of Antelope Canyon makes me want to jump right in and explore!

Courtesy of the Arizona Office of Tourism

Erin:  There are so many places I want to go, but I really want to go to Peru.  I would love to push myself to do the Inca Trail, ending the 4 day hike with the incredible views of Machu Picchu!


Michele:
I can’t wait to go to the Canadian Rockies.  I love the majestic beauty and being able to be surrounded by nature. The colors are just amazing and you get different scenery at every turn.

Stacey: I’d love to spend more time in Thailand. I can’t get over all of the gorgeous wats (temples)!  Combine that with green countryside, a plethora of beautiful Buddhas and delicious food, I’d love to immerse myself into the culture and country of Thailand.

We want to know what’s at the top of your bucket list, too!  We may already be planning a trip there for you to get excited about and we are always open to your suggestions to plan upcoming adventures!

Experience Adventure at Every Turn

Tuesday, August 8th, 2017

 

Getting Back to Nature

Thursday, August 3rd, 2017

Do you ever feel the need to get back to nature?  Leaving the city behind and heading to the Canadian Rockies is a destination filled with more scenic beauty than most people see in a lifetime.  The majestic grandeur of the granite mountains on view before us had our group of 40 travelers in constant wonderment, enjoying one amazing view followed by another.

We began in Calgary, a metropolitan “cowboy town” that has flourished into a laid back city of about a million residents. What our group loved about being in Calgary was shimmery glass towers defining unique architecture with lots and lots of sculpture everywhere.  The rivers surrounded the town dotting it with lots of parks, gardens and green space, balancing out the cityscape.

Our next stop was to Montana and Glacier National Park.  On the way, we visited the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Head-Smashed-In-Buffalo-Jump, once belonging to the Blackfeet Indian Tribe.  A fascinating look at how this society once survived using buffalo for food, clothing, housing and a variety of other uses, we gained insight into how these first inhabitants to the area lived.

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Soon the mountains and lakes started appearing and the scenery became vastly enhanced.  Looking out of the window of our coach, we gazed upon what we had come to see… snow covered mountains, set in the background of farmland and fields of green.  Once inside Glacier National Park, our full day tour in “red touring cars”, once known as Jammer Cars took us around the amazing sights inside of the parklands.  Waterfalls, long-horned sheep, the bluest lakes and streams and glaciers were what we had come to see and no one in our group was disappointed!  If you go, there are some cool places to stay within the park, and a few cute nearby towns such as Whitefish, or Columbia Falls (which has no waterfall, they just liked the name when the town was built!). A cowboy style barbecue (with real cowboys) on a lakeside setting was one of the highlights of our stay in Montana.  We loved taking photos of one of the most beautiful sunsets we have ever seen.

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Traveling back up north to Canada through BC and Kootenay National Park, crossing over into the province of Alberta and Banff National Park, the scenery was amazing!  We “ohhhh-ed” and “ahhhh-ed” our way through the drive until we reached Banff and our famous hotel, the incomparable Banff Springs Hotel, also known as the “Castle on the Hill.”  Built in 1907 by the Canadian Pacific Railroad, hoping to get more people to take the train by building magnificent hotels in scenic destinations along the train route, this hotel is the original and has lived up to the high standards it was built for all these years later.  We all gasped when we saw the magnificent hotel waiting for us to explore for the next three days.  Evening entertainment, sitting on the patio with drinks in hand watching a late night sunset over the granite Rockies, walking to Bow Falls and the Bow River, and dining on yummy treats for dinner and breakfast were just a few of the things we loved about the property.  We all agreed it would be wonderful to stay longer.

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With Banff as a base, we spent the next two days discovering what we had come to see.  We took the Sulphur Springs Gondola high up into the mountains and had 360 degree views of the Rockies, Banff and the surrounds.  With breakfast at the top of the hill to start, we then climbed our way up and down platforms to see all that we could see, taking pictures all along the way,  Next, we were off to Lake Louise with the beautiful Victoria Glacier as the backdrop to this famous turquoise lake.  With the Chateau Lake Louise at one end, and the glacier at the other, there were miles and miles of hiking paths and trails in-between.  We hiked, we walked, we sat in the garden and drank beer or ate ice cream… everyone had an amazing day.

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On our last day together, we set out on the Icefields Parkway to take in what Mother Nature was offering up.  We stopped at Mirror Lake which was so serene and reflective, our photos are just spectacular!  Continuing down that road, we stopped for a visit to Maligne Lake where you will find the bluest waters in the world.  Imagine the blue on our Amazing Journeys logo.  That is the blue of the lake we saw!  Continuing into Jasper National Park, the piece de resistance was the Columbia Icefields and Athabasca Glacier, where some rode on an Ice Explorer and played on the face of the glacier, while others walked on the Skywalk and walked out over the ice fields.  We all sipped on glacial waters.

A visit to the Canadian Rockies is always very special.  To experience such scenic beauty is something that sets you straight and lets you know that all is right in the world.

Close to Home Summer Getaways

Monday, July 24th, 2017

There’s nothing like a weekend spent in Hershey, Pennsylvania.  For our family, it had always meant the beginning of summer.  A few happy June days were spent at the hotel pool, HersheyPark amusement park and gorging on chocolate.  In Hershey, chocolate is available everywhere.  Upon arrival at the Mediterranean style 1930’s designed Hotel Hershey, you are checked in and greeted with one large chocolate bar for each member of your family.  Being handed five chocolate bars upon check in is a kid’s dream come true.  OK, I confess, it was a dream come true for me as well.

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The stunning pink resort sits proudly upon the highest hill in the otherwise mostly flat farmland surrounding this city.  It can be seen from nearly everywhere in the city.  It boasts one of the finest restaurant in the state, the Circular Dining Room, which serves an amazing Sunday Brunch with all of the yummy items that make up for best brunches, but what’s different here is that the waffles have chocolate chips, the pancakes are served with chocolate syrup, pancakes topped with chocolate shavings and there are chocolate desserts galore!

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Did I mention the spa at the resort?  Have you ever had a chocolate facial?  What about an almond scrub?  They’re not only delicious but so relaxing as well.

The town of Hershey is adorable with “kisses” for street lamps and wonderful little cafes and restaurants lining the main street.

The town of Hershey is about four hours from New York City, New Jersey and Pittsburgh.  It’s only 1.5 hours from Philadelphia and Washington, DC making it an ideal location for weekend travel.  If you’re looking for something to do this summer (or any weekend year round), this should be on your short list.  It’s one of my top picks for quick summer getaways!