Posts Tagged ‘Adventure Travel’

ESCAPESEEKER Team Discovers the Vast Seemingly Endless Richness of Australia

Tuesday, June 20th, 2017

18953535_10154742822112711_1961532902770320287_o (1)Indian Pacific panorama captured by passenger, Ian Quatermass

BY TRAIN, BY PLANE, BY BOATS, OR ANYTHING THAT FLOATS; ON FOOT, ON WHEELS, AND EVERYTHING IN BETWEEN, MY ESCAPESEEKER ADVANCE RESEARCH TEAM ENTHUSIASTICALLY SAID ‘YES’ TO EVERY EPIC ADVENTURE!

My indefatigable “Astonishing Australia” Advance Research Team is comprised of yours truly, ESCAPESEEKER series scriptwriter/photojournalist/Executive Producer; Roy A. Henderson, Executive Producer/Pilot/Aerial Photographer; Jim Jones, Stills Photographer and Program Advisory Team Member; Peg Whisler Jones, iPhone photog specialist/emphasis-social media [Team, Thank you for making every assignment a joyful experience.]
Qantas, Australia's flagship airline--you'll feel that signature Aussie hospitality the minute you board.

Qantas, Australia’s flagship airline–you’ll feel that undeniable Aussie hospitality the minute you board.

We embarked on our Sailaway Sunset Sail at Port Douglas, Queensland, and the goosebumps begin the minute you realize, I'm headed to the Great Barrier Reef!

We embarked on our Sailaway Sunset Sail at Port Douglas, Queensland, and the goosebumps begin the minute you realize, I’m headed to the iconic Great Barrier Reef (on the World Heritage List).

We said goodbye to the big city life and stepped back in time when riverboat trade only happened along the Murray River when this beautiful 'Princess' moved between small town ports.

We said goodbye to the big city life and stepped back in time when riverboat trade only happened along the Murray River when this beautiful ‘Princess’ moved between small town ports.

Watching the sun rise slowly peek through the mountain tops as we sailed high above the fertile Mareeba Valley with Hot Air Balloon Cairns made the 3:55 a.m. pick up time absolutely worth it!

Watching the sun rise slowly peek through the mountain tops as we sailed high above the fertile Mareeba Valley with Hot Air Balloon Cairns made the rather painful 3:55 a.m. pick up time absolutely worth it!

They should rename the "Raging Thunder Adventures" "Raging Laughter Adventures" because that's exactly what our footage from our white water rafting trip on the Barron River sounded like! I would do it again in a heartbeat

They should rename the “Raging Thunder Adventures” “Raging Laughter Adventures” because that’s exactly what our footage from our white water rafting trip on the Barron River sounded like! I would do it again in a heartbeat

Keeping Rottness Island Green requires you explore with a darling electric car, or on foot, or our favorite form--a bicycle!

Keeping Rottness Island Green requires we explore with a darling electric car, or on foot, or our favorite form–a bicycle!

How can we not accept the challenge to climb the iconic landmark, Sydney Harbor Bridge? If you're looking for a true HIGH--this is an absolute must do! #bestviewofyourlife

How can we not accept the challenge to climb the iconic landmark, Sydney Harbor Bridge? If you’re looking for a true HIGH–this is an absolute must do! #bestviewofyourlife

When your hear "Australia" you immediately think, "Kangaroo" right? So, of course we decide to begin our epic Advance Research assignment on Australia's southern KANGAROO ISLAND with Nikki Redman, the island's legendary native guide!  The minute we met her, we knew we were in for a brilliant experience!

When your hear “Australia” you immediately think, “Kangaroo” right? So, of course we decide to begin our epic Advance Research assignment on Australia’s southern KANGAROO ISLAND with Nikki Redman, the island’s legendary native guide! The minute we met her, we knew we were in for a brilliant experience!

Los Angeles, California ~ Ok, I have a confession.  After being in Australia for nearly a month, I’m definitely showing signs of Aussie withdrawal symptoms.  No more morning greeting with “How you goin’?”

No daily infusion of non-stop wit from our many, many, coast to coast, Australian guides who make you beg to ask, “How in the world did you all get to be so much fun?” Their general reply, “We’ve just learned not to take ourselves too seriously!” But seriously, what I’m about to recap for you in the next five minutes of some interesting travel reading (I hope)–is one of the most enjoyable, enriching, and exciting ESCAPESEEKER assignments we have ever undertaken.  So let me not waste any more of your precious seconds, and begin to articulate WHY AUSTRALIA IS ABSOLUTELY WORTH GOING THE DISTANCE (especially for North Americans).

First stop:  Hello Kangaroo Island

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After being transported by the SeaLink coach from Adelaide to Cape Jervis through the Fleurieu Peninsula, about 1.30 hours scenic drive, we arrived at the Ferry Terminal, proceeded to check-in, and shortly thereafter boarded the SeaLink Ferry for the 45-minute crossing to Kangaroo Island.  Upon arrival we were met by Kangaroo Island native, and seasoned guide, Nikki Redman, holding up our beautiful frequent sight–the ESCAPESEEKER welcome sign!

After the usual intros, we set off on our first day of Kangaroo Island Odysseys‘ exploration on board a super roomie, luxurious Mercedes 4-wheel drive vehicle, which we would soon discover Nikki handled with total ease as she multi-tasked:  talking in her melodic Aussie accent as she briefed us on everything we ever wanted to know about Kangaroo Island–including all those interesting facts only local insiders know; driving confidently no matter the road conditions as some of the roads are unsealed, and extra care must be taken; and Nikki has this amazing ability to spot wildlife, no matter where they’re hiding–and sometimes, this is while she’s navigating enthusiastically behind the wheel!

Kangaroo Island, Australia’s third-largest island, is 155 km (96 miles long and 55 km (34 miles wide. Located 16 km (10 miles) off the Fleurie Peninsula, the island was the site of South Australia’s first official colonial settlement, established at Reeves Point in 1836. However, the settlement was short-lived, and within just four years had been virtually abandoned. The island was then settled during the remainder of the 19th century as communications improved with the new mainland settlements.

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 Travel Alert: There is no public transport on Kangaroo Island

Visitors must travel on a tour or by car. If you really prefer to focus on having the best wildlife sightings, I highly recommend going the tour route, and if you can, do as my team and I did, and booking a private tour guide.  One outstanding perk with your private tour guide–Nikki prepared some amazing meals for us during our time with her, so delicious we would almost forget that we are actually on a specific work assignment to find the interesting facts, experiences that will fill a future 27-minute episode for our special transcontinental coverage of ESCAPESEEKER: Astonishing Australia.

We've never met a guide who can multi-task like Nikki--talk about #wonderwoman!

I can tell you this in advance–Kangaroo Island doesn’t lack program content.  I can’t share everything we learned, or else you would not have any further reasons to watch the Kangaroo Island episode starring our brilliant, exceptionally fun, and witty guide, Nikki Redman.  But here’s a little teaser you might not already know:  Are you aware that Kangaroo Island is home to well over a million Tammar wallabies? Or that female wallabies actually put their pregnancies on hold if conditions aren’t suitable for the baby joey to be born?

Our first wildlife sighting shortly after arriving at Kangaroo Island: #wondrouswallaby (I couldn't resist the hashtag and alliteration) The name "wallaby" comes from Dharug 'walabi' or 'waliba'.  Young wallabies are known as "joeys", like many other marsupials. Adult male wallabies are referred to as bucks, boomers, or jacks. An adult female wallaby is known as a doe, flyer, or jill.  A group of wallabies is called a court, mob, or troupe. [Moment captured by ESCAPESEEKER photog, Jim Jones]

Our first wildlife sighting shortly after arriving at Kangaroo Island: #wondrouswallaby (I just couldn’t resist the hashtag and alliteration) The name “wallaby” comes from Dharug ‘walabi’ or ‘waliba’. Young wallabies are known as “joeys”, like many other marsupials. Adult male wallabies are referred to as bucks, boomers, or jacks. An adult female wallaby is known as a doe, flyer, or jill. A group of wallabies is called a court, mob, or troupe. [Photocred: Jim Jones]

Did you also know that the sea lions on Kangaroo Island make the 120 kilometre return journey to the continental shelf looking for food every six days, themselves risking becoming food for hungry Great White Sharks and Orcas?

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Our guide knew so much about Kangaroo Island’s flora and fauna that when Nikki described them in great detail, it was already  like watching a Nature segment on PBS!  The more we discovered about Kangaroo Island’s unique wildlife, and indigenous plants, as well as its stunning geography, also carved out by the forces of Nature–wind, rain, and sea–the more inspired we are to capture the endless beauty of this incredibly pristine, revered island.  It is Australia’s own version of the Galapagos in all its wondrous glory. From Koalas napping peacefully on their native tree branch,  to silhouettes of kangaroos grazing across the meadow at sunset, to pristine beaches that caress a vast panorama of the deep blue Southern Ocean, our multi-Emmy-award winning cinematographer, Evan Zissimopulos is surely going to think he died and went to heaven!

Kangaroo Island has always fascinated me ever since my eldest daughter, Joanna Gee who at 15 was awarded “Science Student of the Year” at her High School and subsequently selected to be part of the People to People International Student Travel Program. Joanna chose to travel to Kangaroo Island to study Marine Biology.  Joanna even made sure she was scuba-certified by her departure date, even if it meant passing her open dives in the frigid winter waters of Flaming Gorge in Utah! Well, fast forward, today Joanna is a Financial Analyst for a major tech company, but to this day, she has never forgotten her amazing time at Kangaroo Island. “Mom, t’s a haven for wildlife.  The air is fresher, the skies are bluer, and the Aussies are just the nicest people on earth.”  On that note, how can I not include Kangaroo Island on our epic #astonishingaustralia special series? Consider it done, Joanna! Thank you for inspiring me all those years ago.  What took me so long?

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 Second Stop:  Alluring Adelaide:  Artistry by Design

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Once our Kangaroo Island Odysseys adventure was completed, we returned to the mainland via SeaLink Ferry, and once again picked up by SeaLink coach and guest by guest returned to our respective Adelaide hotel.

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Our choice–the redesigned, and meticulously preserved,  luxurious 5-star Mayfair Hotel. 

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Wait until you sink your tired body  into their luxuriously famous king size bed after a long day of exploration.  We’ve never felt anything like it, and we understand the beds are manufactured right in Adelaide. Honestly, I slept like a baby!

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Adelaide’s abuzz about The Hennessy, Mayfair Hotel’s hottest Rooftop Bar.

Why visit Adelaide?

Adelaide, the state capital of the Southeast region is rich with pine forests; world-class wineries in its surrounding hills that are dotted with fertile vineyards from the Barossa Valley to McLaren Vale; to the east, the great Murray River meanders from the Victoria border down to the Southern Ocean (more on that later), and the topping on the cake for beach lovers like me–Adelaide boasts a spectacular coastline including the popular white sandy beaches of Gulf St. Vincent.

Did you know no convicts were transported here?

Home to Aborigines for more than 10,000 years, the region was settled by Europeans in 1836 when Governor John Hindmarsh proclaimed the area a British colony. William Light, the Surveyor General, chose the site of the city of Adelaide.  The settlement was based on a theory of free colonization funded solely by land sales, and no convicts were transported here.  Adelaide was carefully planned by Colonel Light with its ordered grid pattern, anchored by pretty squares and gardens, the city is surrounded by luscious green parkland.

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Beyond the well-designed public parklands, one of the vivid character traits Adelaide possesses which visitors quickly note upon arrival is the abundance of architectural wonders.  The city is like a blank canvas for modern architects, and what they’ve designed and engineered is pretty amazing!  Here are just a few total stand-outs: [L to R]  UoA Adelaide Medical & Nursing School;  South Australian Health and Medical Institute, (SAHMI, also nicknamed “The Grater”)  [Bottom L] Rundle Mall

The State Capital, Adelaide is a brilliant,  living Architectural Museum!

The State Capital, Adelaide is a brilliant, living Architectural Museum!

The city reflects the residents forward thinking attitude, as well as their youthful approach to maintaining a high quality of life–and that means living well, eating healthy, staying fit, and taking the time to smell the roses. And, there’s no better place to get a whiff of the floral varieties than at the spectacular glasshouse at Adelaide Botanic Gardens.

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Nothing fuels our appetites than a full day of exploration. We love knowing our Mayfair Hotel boasts one of Adelaide’s most highly-regarded culinary artist–Chef Bethany Finn at The Mayflower Restaurant and Bar.

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A fun insider info–Chef Bethany nurtures her very own Beehives on the Rooftop of the Mayfair Hotel, which produces the most exquisite honey I’ve ever tasted. Perhaps it’s because these bees reside in luxury?  Chef Bethany finds numerous tasty ways to  brilliantly weave her freshly harvested, purest honey into both the Bar’s signature drinks,  and the mouth-watering recipes she prepares at the Mayflower Restaurant! Livin’ is definitely sweeter at the Mayfair.  And, less you forget, when the day is over we also get to sink ourselves into one of the Mayfair‘s  heavenly beds! #tia: #ThisIsAustralia. Hospitality Extraordinaire!

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Goodnight.  Please stay tuned for more amazing adventure updates as we report on:

> Southern Australia’s food and wine connoisseur’s mecca–the fertile hillsides, vineyard-dotted,  Barossa Valley–an easy hour’s drive from Adelaide;

> the many things we learned from our pleasantly soothing River Cruise on board the p/s  Murray Princess.

> our unforgettable, adventure-filled week in Queensland at Thala Beach Nature Reserve and the Great Barrier Reef, one of Australia’s greatest treasure;

> our epic Great Southern Rail transcontinental journey on the Indian Pacific “Platinum Service” across the Great Outback, from Sydney to Perth;

> our wildly pristine surprise at Rottnest Island;

> and, Perth Perfect is exactly that–Perfect!  Take a sunset cruise on board Captain Cook Cruises, and you’ll understand what I mean.

> And, less I forget, our beautiful stay in the most envied postcard-perfect Harbour capital in the world–Splendid Sydney!

If you’re starting to think Australia just might have it all, may I simply say you could well be on the right track indeed. This may also explain the very reason visitors have been known to arrive in Australia and never leave!

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In the interim, here’s to Blissful, Endless Escapes…and, remember, no matter where you go, be the kindest person you know.

With love,

Mel, THE ESCAPESEEKER

 

BREAKING NEWS: ESCAPESEEKER “ECUADOR UNEQUALED” EPIC SEASON PROMO UNVEILED

Monday, May 1st, 2017

ESCAPESEEKER POST PRODUCTION  ~ They say a picture is worth a thousand words. Accordingly,  moving pictures must then be worth a thousand stories right? My amazing ESCAPESEEKER film team and I are thrilled  to share the following first look at our Ecuador Unequaled promo, which I am confident will help illustrate how we capture each destination’s unique stories. As the ESCAPESEEKER series’ writer and host, I’m a firm believer that the stories are best told by the actual inhabitants–joyful, kind-hearted, generous, engaging–we seek out those  who know best, and who proudly cherish their native land.

The Amazon grabs at your heart and never lets go. Our authentic Amazon experience during our stay at  La Selva Amazon Eco-Lodge & Spa is something we will always cherish.

The Amazon grabs at your heart and never lets go. Our authentic Amazon experience during our stay at La Selva Amazon Eco-Lodge & Spa is something we will always cherish.

#intheirownwords…

I continually strive to utilize my interviewing skills a seasoned global journalist to present the right questions and allow our featured native “stars” to speak straight from their heart. Combined with my passion-driven,  Emmy award-winning team’s photographic talents and artistry, I hope you’ll agree after viewing the promo that we achieved our lofty objective! We’ll keep you updated as to the exact broadcast dates and times of our brand new ESCAPESEEKER 2017 PBS Fall Season launch as soon as it becomes available.  In the meantime, dream…and we hope you too, will be inspired to explore and discover this enticing, unequaled country we call ECUADOR!  There’s no other place in the world that can compare.

We wish to express our gratitude to all of our many Ecuadorian newfound friends who opened your doors to us, welcomed us warmly, and granted us an honest and rare insider’s glimpse into your extraordinary, inspiring lives.

#musicistheuniversallanguage: We had the privilege of witnessing the most fabulous evening immersed in beautiful Ecuadorian folk music at MISQUILLA with its Founder, Juan Fernando Velasco, Latin Grammy Nominated artist, who also featured his gifted Ecuadorian talents. #ittakesavillagetoproduceESCAPESEEKER

#musicistheuniversallanguage: We had the privilege of witnessing the most fabulous evening immersed in beautiful Ecuadorian folk music at MISQUILLA with its Founder, Juan Fernando Velasco, Latin Grammy Nominated Artist, who also featured his gifted, fellow-Ecuadorian talents. #ittakesavillagetoproduceESCAPESEEKER

#envision. #explore. #embrace.

For a country its size, Ecuador offers an incredible list of #unequaledexperiences.  With its Andean peaks, Amazon rainforest, indigenous markets, colonial towns–not to mention one of the most famous chains of volcanic islands in the world, inhabited by fascinating wildlife, some of which are found only in the Galapagos!

The Fausto Llerena Tortoise Center, a long-term program run jointly by the Galapagos National Park Directorate and the Charles Darwin Foundation, began in 1965 to save the giant tortoise population on Pinzón. It was quickly expanded to include other populations, in particular that of Española where only 14 individuals remained. As of 2008, more than 4,000 young tortoises from eight different populations have been repatriated to their island of origin, with nearly 1,500 going back to Española.

The Fausto Llerena Tortoise Center, a long-term program run jointly by the Galapagos National Park Directorate and the Charles Darwin Foundation, began in 1965 to save the giant tortoise population on Pinzón. It was quickly expanded to include other populations, in particular that of Española where only 14 individuals remained. As of 2008, more than 4,000 young tortoises from eight different populations have been repatriated to their island of origin, with nearly 1,500 going back to Española.

 

 

Charles Darwin described them as "hideous-looking" and "most disgusting, clumsy lizards." It's true, they're not pretty, with their wide-set eyes, smashed-in faces, spiky dorsal scales, and knotty, salt-encrusted heads. But what these unusual creatures lack in looks they make up for with their amazing and unique ecological adaptations. Wait until you see the fascinating footage we captured! I personally think 'beauty is in the eye of the beholder'--do you agree?

Charles Darwin described them as “hideous-looking” and “most disgusting, clumsy lizards.”
It’s true, some may say decide they’re not pretty, with their wide-set eyes, smashed-in faces, spiky dorsal scales, and knotty, salt-encrusted heads. But what these unusual creatures lack in looks they make up for with their amazing and unique ecological adaptations. Wait until you see the fascinating footage we captured! I personally think ‘beauty is in the eye of the beholder’–do you agree?

We feel it an absolute privilege to share Ecuador’s unique character, soulful heart, and unequaled beauty with the rest of the world. We could not have done it without your invaluable and generous support. On behalf of my entire ESCAPESEEKER team, Muchas Gracias!

Our destinations featured:

Quito:  Casa Gangotena, [casagangotena.com] with music segment at Misquilla, [www.misquilla.com]

The High Andes’ Rainforest: Mashpi Lodge [www.mashpi.com]

The Ecuadorian Amazon: La Selva Amazon Eco-Lodge & Spa [www.laselvajunglelodge.com]

The Galapagos Islands: Haugan Cruises’ catamaran, “Petrel” [www.haugancruises.com]

Our heartfelt Thank you also to our brilliant, indefatigable ESCAPESEEKER Ecuador Unequaled “Guest Talents” who fuel our innate wanderlust and beautifully manifest their insatiable passion for travel:

#thewindbeneathmywings:  Evan Zissimopulos, Jacob Voelzke, Roy Henderson, John Hempellman, Mary McGill, Dawn Adams, J. Dann Adams, Marjorie MacArthur, Tom Whittier, Christine Hedges, [Not pictured: Mimmie Byrne, Byrne, Melody Clyde]

#thewindbeneathmywings: Evan Zissimopulos, Jacob Voelzke, Roy Henderson, John Hempellman, Mary McGill, Dawn Adams, J. Dann Adams, Marjorie MacArthur, Tom Whittier, Christine Hedges, [Not pictured: Mimmie Byrne, Byrne, Melody Clyde]

Interested in joining our amazing team? FYI…Our #1 Rule we require all to adhere–You must take off your [American] lenses and see, feel, taste, embrace the country respectfully through the eyes of the natives.

Would you like more details or have questions regarding our #ecuadorunequaled adventure?

 

Feel free to write me at:  escapeseeker@gmail.com or let’s chat via Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ESCAPESEEKER-367501815104/

I would love to hear from you!

Here’s to Blissful, Endless ESCAPES…

And, remember, no matter where you go, be the kindest person you know,

Mel aka ESCAPESEEKER

Saying Goodbye to Ecuador with a heart full of #gratitude #unequaled...

Saying Adios to Ecuador with a heart full of #gratitude #unequaled…

 

 

A LUXURIOUS FLOATING HOTEL + BREATHTAKING LANDSCAPES + ENGAGING NEW FRIENDS = AMAWATERWAYS’ AMAPRIMA RIVER CRUISE

Friday, May 20th, 2016

Spring has sprung.  And, nowhere is this more evident than in the Kingdom of the Netherlands. Amsterdam, here we come!

With select images by Jim Jones…

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Peg Whisler Jones, and yours truly, the ESCAPESEEKER

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 Introducing my ESCAPESEEKER Team to the Art of River Cruising

Amsterdam, here we come!Amsterdam, Netherlands ~ Ok, I have a confession:  I’ve always been hesitant to go on a river cruise because I’ve had the conception that I would be stuck on a boat for seven days or more with senior cruisers, so senior that they would not be up for doing  much of anything.  And, the last thing I need right now is to be reminded of how old, I too,  am becoming!  Well, WOW!  Was my conception a total MISconception! What I discovered and experienced has changed my view of River Cruising forever.

A bit of background: My ESCAPESEEKER Advisory Team

Three of my ESCAPESEEKER travel companions are members of my TV Program Advisory Team.  They’re seasoned global travelers.  And, they’re fearless, ready and eager to experience the very best in travel.  Based on the activities we continually engage in–climbing mountains, white-water rafting, canoeing in the Amazon, scuba-diving in French Polynesia–you may never guess from our adventurous behavior that two of us are in our early 60’s, while the other two are in the prime of their seventh decade!  And, the main trait we all share–we’re passionate about travel and the people who reside with us on this majestic planet! Oh yes, one more common trait–we have all managed to raise one huge family (each).

 

Our Big Family965582_10202540215885388_1749892738_o So when we’re not engaged in our extensive grand-parenting duties, we are conducting our ESCAPESEEKER advance research, and yes, the destination and experiences need to be simply amazing to make our time away from our families worth every second.

 In figuring out which of the plethora of river cruising options we wanted to try, one in particular stood out from all the rest:  AmaWaterways’ AmaPrima Tulip Cruise! After all it’s Spring time and we were advised everything is blooming in the Kingdom of the Netherlands!

AMAPrima Entrance

Why AmaWaterways?  It’s more than just about the destination–AmaWaterways is all about the complete journey.

We landed at Amsterdam Airport Schiphol around 8:30 a.m. and I have to say Schiphol is about the easiest airport to navigate. We were in the city being treated to a wonderful “Welcome ESCAPESEEKER breakfast” at the Hoofstad Brasserie overlooking the Amstel River, and located in the historic De L’Europe Amsterdam [http://www.deleurope.com/the “Grand Dame” of luxury hotels in Amsterdam by 10 a.m.  I highly recommend their delectable Spinach Eggs Benedict!

Hotel De L'Europe

Dutch Masters Wing - Junior Suite 2We had reserved two Junior Suites for the day, complete with a 6 pm late check-out in case we should need the extra time exploring the city before joining the AmaPrima later that same afternoon.  It proved to be exactly what we needed to fuel up, freshen up, and get rid of any signs of jet lag.  The city beckoned us, and we quickly acquiesced!

There’s nothing like walking and getting up close and personal to quickly orient yourself to the rhythm of the city.

 

AmaWaterways’ AmaPrima…River vessels are not created equal

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Inspired by classic ocean yachts, the AmaPrima strives to provide the most distinctive river cruise experience. As you board, the magnificent glass elevator will catch your eye, hinting of the unique design elements you’ll continue to discover onboard. Being the lover of a well sunlit rooms, I was delighted to see our cabin had their exclusive “Twin Balconies” to allow for more private, friendly-viewing of the Netherland’s gorgeous landscapes. By the way, I soon discovered that certain ports required us to be tied to another commercial river boat.  What an outstanding way to get a sneak peak of the competition, and I noted, we on the AmaPrima were the only ones who can relax in a heated Sun Deck swimming pool with a “swim-up” bar after our energizing bike rides–yes, AmaWaterways provides a fleet of bicycles for guests to enjoy–free of charge!  Our ship also featured a Fitness Center, Massage, Hair and Beauty salon–and I was too busy having fun to take in any of it.  You’ll have to test it out for me when it’s your turn to go river cruising on the AmaPrima ok?  

Our Sweet Suite

Suite-on-the-AmaPrima.

It’s a given, most people who sign up for a River Cruise do not expect to find an extra large stateroom.  After all, these river boats have their size limits so they are able to navigate the many locks throughout the voyage.  What AmaWaterways did to make the cabins look and feel more expansive–they added the “twin balcony” concept for the majority of staterooms.  It lets so much more light in, and combined with white on white plush bedding, it simply evokes what you would expect to find in a luxury 5-star hotel. Yes, it’s all there–the flat-screen TV, with local and satellite channels, spacious bathrooms with multi-jet showerheads, even the luxurious terry bathrobes! All combined, definitely keeps with my lux-seeking ESCAPESEEKER mantra!

Feasting our way through the Kingdom of the Netherlands…tough assignment right?

Feasting our Way through the Netherlands

AmaWaterways offers an array of dining options for your culinary enjoyment. Enjoy Chaîne des Rôtisseurs culinary creations in the main dining room, or in the Chef’s Table restaurant with its own private chef.

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AmaWaterways is proud to be the only river cruise line invited to join one of the world’s most prestigious culinary organizations founded in 1950 in Paris. Every AmaWaterways vessel cruising in Europe is an official member of La Chaine des Rotisseurs. Membership is considered an achievement of world-class culinary acumen.It was tough to distinguish the offerings on our floating restaurant from the land-based award-winning variety! After trying to control my intake and appetites I finally decided to just surrender, and just sign up for more excursions and activities that would help me physically burn the calories so I could “earn” the next amazing spread!

IMG_2518Burning calories with mind-expanding excursions

Are you a “gentle” take everything in kind of walker?  Or are you an “active” fast walker that can’t wait to get to your target destination? Perhaps, you’re the kind of “late starter” tourist that’s in no hurry to get anywhere, even preferring to get your beauty sleep while on vacation? Well, no worries to all of the above because AmaPrima allowed us to set our own pace on shore excursions by signing up for the ones that describe our particular category–in my case–I definitely want to earn the evening’s dessert–I signed up for “active.”  All AmaWaterways voyages ensure that you’re treated with personalized attention, on land, as well as on the river. The complimentary Shore Excursions provide an an immersive introduction land tour to every destination. The local guides did inspire me to dig deeper, immerse myself more into the history of the places we visited once we returned to our boat.  If I could have my wish, I would wish we could stay longer at each location.  Just when I was savoring the moment, it seemed, it was time to untie the boat and cruise onward. 

Day 2      AMSTERDAM – VOLENDAM – EDAM

 IMG_2269We cruised the Ijsselmeer towards Volendam, enjoying a late afternoon tour of Volendam Harbor.

Then, we continued by motor coach to Edam, a total postcard-perfect, picturesque town.  I do not know how the Dutch maintain such immaculate homes and gardens.  Our guide hinted “we’re all born with a green finger.” Is that the same as a green thumb? After tasting the local Edam cheese, we know they have a gift for cheese-making too. We walked by the Old Quarter’s beautiful houses, canals, bridges and churches with towering steeples, including one of the largest in Holland, the Grote Kerk (Great Church).

We finished off our tour with a brief visit to the shoreline at Volendam.  If there’s one thing you absolutely must try, it’s the tiny, dollar size Dutch pancakes. It is served with fresh whipped cream…to die for…I kid you not!

It’s astounding to note that flood control is an important issue for the Netherlands, as about two thirds of its area is vulnerable to flooding, while the country is among the most densely populated on Earth. Natural sand dunes and constructed dikes, dams, and floodgates provide defense storm surges from the sea.  River dikes prevent flooding from water flowing into the country by the major rivers Rhine and Meuse, while complicated system of drainage ditches, canals, and pumping stations (historically windmills) keep the low-lying parts dry for habitation and agriculture.  Water control boards are the independent local government bodies responsible for maintaining this system. In modern times, flood disasters coupled with technological developments have led to large construction works to reduce the influence of the sea and prevent floods.  In the interim, the Dutch became astute, expert sailors from residing by the sea, a trait that is evident everywhere we looked.

Edam1

Edam3

Day 3       ARNHEM – NIJMEGEN
Hallowed Ground

We arrived early, in beautiful Arnhem. The perfect weather we were blessed with only magnified how charming this small town is.  Since my ESCAPESEEKER traveling companions are avid supporters of WWII veterans, we chose  to see the monument commemorating the Battle of Arnhem Bridge made famous by the classic film “A Bridge Too Far.” Such a humbling sight to walk amidst the rows and rows of tombstones bearing the name of soldiers who sacrificed their lives to liberate Arnhem.  We also visited the Airborne Museum to learn more about the Battle of Arnhem, one of the major campaigns of World War II.  This was well worth the time.  The town’s respect and reverence for those who died is clearly evident in this museum.  After our tour, we returned to the ship for lunch and a stunning cruise to Nijmegen. Mother Nature was definitely on our  side. The weather could not be any more fabulous as we cruised through the Netherlands en route to Belgium.IMG_2315

Day 4

     ANTWERP, BELGIUMIMG_2358 (1)We awoke to yet another glorious day, as we are welcomed to Antwerp.  A walking tour of Antwerp helped us get oriented to the layout of the main square, displaying the city’s superb architecture. In the afternoon we bravely explored Antwerp on bicycles with our two local guides, following each through the charming streets of Antwerp, passing impressive historical sites such as Cogels Osylei, Waterloo House, St. Jacob’s Church and the Museum Ridder Smidt van Gelder. It was especially enjoyable to see the different neighborhoods, some established by early Jewish settlers that continue to this day.  We returned to the ship with hearty appetites and our Chef definitely did not disappoint with yet, another amazing delectable spread.13164237_10154801999673032_6800186081863567539_n 2

Day 5

     GHENT AND BRUGESIMG_2393The evening’s cruised brought us to Ghent. A town I’ve only read about, I was eager to join the walked tour through the city,  which included the Belfry Hall, the Koornlei, the Graslei and the Castle of the Counts. My camera was going on overdrive as I captured one gorgeous image after another.  My only complain about Ghent?  The city council had instituted these public, open air urinals, and honestly, the scent destroys you even before you get close enough to realize what you were about to encounter.  Ghent, whatever where you thinking?  Please, there must be another option besides ruining the beautiful ambiance of your camera-ready city? We couldn’t board our buses fast enough as we headed to Bruges for the afternoon–one of Europe’s most perfectly preserved medieval cities, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It did not take long for my team to realize that it was a Belgian holiday and everyone had the same idea–to take in beautiful Bruges.  I had been to Bruges many times before, and I had never encountered such a crowd.  So, my recommendation to you if you wish to visit Bruges–make sure it is not a Belgian holiday.  After all, it is clear they love their impressive historic town as much as we do.IMG_2418By early evening, we were back on the beautiful AmaPrima cruising through the Dutch region of Zeeland, home to one of the world’s most complex engineering projects, the Delta Works, which took more than 30 years to complete!Engineering Feat in the Netherlands

Day 6

WILLEMSTAD, THE NETHERLANDS – KINDERDIJK – SCHOONHOVENIMG_2431Once again, we were so excited knowing the morning light would find us biking through the charming 400-year old town of Willemstad. As we’ve discovered from previous tours, the Dutch are simply immaculate. No matter where we cycled, there was always a pleasant garden to greet our sight. I also conducted my own little test to see how friendly the Willemstad natives really are.  Whenever I encountered one on our bike path, I would call out an enthusiastic “Hello from America!” They would always have such a surprise look on their face, and immediately respond with, “Hello!”  Some would even add, “Thank you for visiting!” Or, “Please stay a while.”  Yes, I found myself falling in-love with this beautifully manicured country.  The hard-working people also inspire me.  Who would have ever thought from their humble beginnings and challenging environments (“the Netherlands” means “the low lands” and the land only rises, on average, 1 meter above the sea level, with one third of the land is below sea level) would rise a country that once ruled an empire. In the 17th century,  the Netherlands was the richest and one of the most powerful countries in the world. Thus,  the Dutch call the 17th century the Golden Age.  Their Dutch Empire had possessions around the world. The most important possession were the East Indies, a country that is now called Indonesia. And in case you are not aware, the Dutch also founded New Netherland, which is now known as New York.  Yes, I guess we can say, the Big Apple was once a Dutch Apple! Here’s a little interesting Dutch trivia for you: In 2004 the  United Nations declared that the Netherlands was the 5th best country to live in, in the world! I can totally understand why. Just think, if you’re English-speaking, and you moved to the Netherlands,  you wouldn’t even need to learn Dutch any time soon because every native I’ve encountered thus far speaks fluent English. I can tell, I have a lot to learn from the unique lifestyles of the Dutch. In the meantime, I better keep biking. The AmaPrima awaits.

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IMG_2513In the afternoon, after another delicious lunch on the AmaPrima, we were transported in equally impeccable tour buses to visit the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Kinderdijk, a lovely village renowned for having the country’s greatest concentration of windmills, all dating from the 18th century. The windmills at Kinderdijk are a group of 19 monumental windmills in the Alblasserwaard polder, in the province of South Holland, Netherlands.  Built in 1738 and 1740, to keep water out of the polder, it is the largest concentration of old windmills in the Netherlands and one of the best-known Dutch tourist sites. The mills are listed as national monuments and the entire area is a protected village view since 1993. They have been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1997.

One of the first things you’ll notice when entering one of the Kinderdijk windmills, is the low door opening. In the early days the diets of the inhabitants of the windmills were not as well balanced as we are used to now. This caused the people to stay small, which resulted in low door openings.  Working and living in a windmill is not easy. For instance, the windmills can only be reached by foot or bicycle. But even in the past, life was very difficult. The millers used to have large families, 10 to 12 children was no exception. There a several reasons for these large families: The influence of the church, no birth control, children often died in their first years, and the more sons, the more labor could be done in the mill and the land surrounding the windmill. However, because of their bad circumstances, the millers became self supporting, and they would grow their own vegetables, and raise their own livestock.

Fast forward, present day, I’m reviewing our windmill photos, and I think they convey one clear, simple message:  “Hello from Holland!”

IMG_2455After our informative afternoon at Kinderdijk, we returned to our ship and as we dined at the Chef’s table, our ship cruised to Schoonhoven, where we moored until midnight. I can’t believe how quickly our time on the beautiful AmaPrima cruise is passing.  All I want to do is freeze-frame to allow my memory more time to soak it all in. How in the world will I give up the “AmaZing” royal treatment we’re getting from the AmaPrima staff and crew? Please stop the clock!

Day 7 Park-Keukenhof     AMSTERDAM- KEUKENHOF – AMSTERDAM

We arrived in Amsterdam the next morning, just in time to admire the spectacular display of millions of flowering tulips during our morning excursion to the famous 79-acre Keukenhof Gardens. Talk about color-overload! You cannot begin to comprehend its plethora of rainbow blooms unless you see it for yourselves.

Also known as the Garden of Europe, it is one of the world’s largest flower gardens. It is situated in Lisse, southwest of Amsterdam. It is accessible by bus from the train stations of Haarlem, Leiden and Schiphol.   According to the official website of the Keukenhof Park, approximately seven million flower bulbs are planted annually in the park, which covers an area of 32 hectares (79 acres).

Keukenhof is open annually from mid-March to mid-May. The best time to view the tulips is around mid-April, depending on the weather.

Keukenhof is situated on 15th-century hunting grounds. It was also a source of herbs for Jacqueline, Countess of Hainaut’s castle, which is the source of the name Keukenhof (it served to provide herbs for the castle’s kitchen). Rich merchants took over the grounds after the Countess’s death. Dutch East India Company Captain and Governor, Adriaen Maertensz Block lived there in his retirement years in the 17th century in the country house (now known as Castle Keukenhof) which he had let built in 1641.

In the 19th century, the Baron and Baroness Van Pallandt assigned the landscape architect Jan David Zocher and his son Louis Paul Zocher, who had also worked on the Vondelpark, to design the grounds around the castle.

The garden was established in 1949 by the then mayor of Lisse. The idea was to present a flower exhibit where growers from all over the Netherlands and Europe could show off their hybrids – and help the Dutch export industry. The Netherlands is the world’s largest exporter of flowers. Their plan clearly succeeded!

Keukenhof-Gardens-of-HollandAll previous photos I had seen just cannot compare to seeing it in person, up close and personal!

In the afternoon, all of our fellow passengers  joined in a scenic sunset cruise through the historic harbor and canals of Amsterdam. Once again, my camera could not click fast enough. Amsterdam’s unique beauty grabs at my imagination. It’s a total movie-set, and yes, it makes me want to stay, rent a tiny alcove apartment where I can write my best-selling suspense novel. But then again, these historic houses do not come cheap.  The better plan would be to write the best seller, make a ton of money, and then I can purchase that sweet alcove with a gorgeous view of the canal!amsterdam-bicyclesniederlande_amsterdam_kanal_gracht_grossIMG_2239There’s so much to see and do in Amsterdam, especially if you’re an artist, or just enjoy seeing the works of the Masters–Rembrandt, Van Gogh for starters.  The Rijksmuseum, Van Gogh Museum, Anne Frank House, and the Stedelijk Museum are the  most popular choices, but there are many interesting small museums. There are seventy five Amsterdam museums, which attract almost seven million visitors every year. Alongside the wealth of majestic Golden Age paintings, you’ll find exciting modern art, press, film, theater, photography museums and some unique Dutch treats like the Heineken, Ajax Arena Tours, and the Houseboat museum.

And, Amsterdam wouldn’t be Amsterdam without the tourist appeal for the other eclectic side: Yes, you’ll also find the Sex, Erotic, Hash, or Torture museums.

My entire team realized that one week in Amsterdam alone is necessary, no matter your taste in art, to dedicate and explore the incredible museum offerings.

13103312_10154811523658032_1667017073633928299_nAlas, the evening would find us being treated to a final evening’s walk through Amsterdam, this time led by our dearest Amsterdammer friends, Robin Post van der Burg and Hanneke van Weel. Truly, such a special way to end our voyage, breaking bread with friends who treat us like family, while recalling our priceless Netherland experiences, all of which only fueled our desire to become new subjects in the Kingdom of the Netherlands! Yes, you can definitely count on us returning, sooner rather than later.  Thank you AmaWaterways’ AmaPrima for an unforgettable voyage.  To Captain Gerd, Cruise Manager, Rolfe, Hotel Manager, Gemma, Chef Jossef, Maitre d’ Romeo, and to our personal waiter Gabor, who took impeccable care of us at every meal, we extend our utmost heartfelt gratitude for granting us a  River Cruise to remember!

A Few Parting Words From Our Entire Team…

“Cruising is such a tremendous way to make new friends, and connect with dear ones too.  The AmaPrima’s size made making new friends so easy.”~ Mel Gee Henderson

13124730_10154802287648032_2056998124209403176_n“I never expected that we would be dipping into AmaPrima’s pool in the early days of Spring in the Netherlands! It was wonderful after our bike rides!”

~ Peg Whisler Jones

ESCAPESEEKER photogs“Absolutely fantastic boat, fantastic trip with fantastic friends for a fantastic experience. THANK YOU. again.” ~ Jim Jones

Volendam stroll “The AmaPrima exceeded my expectations…I’m definitely a River Cruise convert! By the way, if you’re an avid biker, here’s a terrific biking map for Amsterdam that will come in handy! You’ll feel like a native Amsterdammer by the time you’re finished!” ~ Roy A. Henderson

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Rudi Schreiner and Kristin Karst, received the 2016 Travvy Awards in New York City where AmaWaterways was honored to receive 6 Gold trophies including the coveted Best River Cruise Line Overall and Most Innovative Executive.

Rudi Schreiner and Kristin Karst, received the 2016 Travvy Awards in New York City where AmaWaterways was honored to receive 6 Gold trophies including the coveted Best River Cruise Line Overall and Most Innovative Executive.

AmaWaterways was founded in 2002 by Rudi Schreiner, Kristin Karst and Jimmy Murphy. All Three brought tremendous experience, knowledge and dedication to the venture. Rudi was one of river cruising’s pioneers, having introduced the modern-day river cruise concept to the world of travel. Kristin brought with her vast sales and customer service experience.   And, the third member,  Jimmy Murphy is the founder and former owner of Brendan Vacations. Their combined expertise and passion for the river cruise business has resulted in a river cruise vacation experience that strives to exceed customer expectations. The toughest part of our team’s decision–with more than 20 different itineraries to choose from, which one would you pick? www.amawaterways.com

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TANGO IN BUENOS AIRES: A CAPITAL CITY THAT HAS IT ALL

Wednesday, March 9th, 2016

ESCAPESEEKER GLOBAL ODYSSEYBuenos Aires, Argentina ~ I’ve been devoting a lot of ink these past few weeks on our One Ocean Expeditions Antarctic Adventure, which originated from the most southern city of Argentina [Ushuaia], which we accessed via the country’s vibrant Capital of Buenos Aires.  Since everyone traveling to any region of Argentina passes through its gateway capital, it’s time for me to pause from my Antarctic wonderment and shine some light on one of South America’s most famous stars. #buenosaires!

Buenos Aires

BEFORE WE DELVE INTO THE PRESENT…WE MUST KNOW SOMETHING OF ITS PAST

The year–1808.  Buenos Aires makes a final push for its independence from Spain and the town council in Buenos Aires cuts ties two years later in 1810. This move fueled further development of Argentina and its unique culture.  Meanwhile across the Atlantic, Europe’s industrialization was booming, opening the doors for Buenos Aires to become one of the world’s leading explorers of agricultural products. It was at this time that a great deal of wealth was amassed in the capital, paving the way for residences modeled after French chateaux.  It wasn’t too long before Buenos Aires aristocrats transformed the city into the “Paris of South America.”

La Mansión symbolizes the love story of  Félix de Álzaga Unzué – dashing heir to a vast South American ranching fortune – who built the masterpiece as a wedding gift for his young bride, Elena Peña Unzué.

La Mansión symbolizes the love story of Félix de Álzaga Unzué – dashing heir to a vast South American ranching fortune – who built the masterpiece as a wedding gift for his young bride, Elena Peña Unzué.

A Beaux Arts landmark set on the grounds of the Four Seasons, La Mansión evokes a time when Buenos Aires was referred to as the “Paris of South America” — a city obsessed with French culture, fashion and architecture.  Now hailed as one of Argentina’s finest residences from this time period, La Mansión offers seven one-of-a-kind suites, each affording a unique opportunity to live the city’s history first-hand.

In the early 20th century, Buenos Aires marked the centenary of its first declaration of independence by building a subway system and wide avenues, once again inspired by the French capital–Paris.

Avenida 9 de Julio in downtown Buenos Aires  is no ordinary avenue. Nine lanes wide, with gardens and beautifully manicured medians between the opposing flow of traffic, it is recognized as widest street in the world! Only those with a quick pace and long strides will be lucky to get to the other side before the intersection's traffic lights changes. A pedestrian crossing this street usually requires a few extra minutes, and two to three traffic light rotations. 9 de Julio Avenida is only one kilometer,  but 110 meters wide.

Avenida 9 de Julio in downtown Buenos Aires is no ordinary avenue. Nine lanes wide, with gardens and beautifully manicured medians between the opposing flow of traffic, it is recognized as the widest street in the world! Only those with a quick pace and long strides will be lucky to get to the other side before the intersection’s traffic lights changes. A pedestrian crossing this street usually requires a few extra minutes, and two to three traffic light rotations. 9 de Julio Avenida is only one kilometer long, but 110 meters wide.

The Porteños, as the people of Buenos Aires are called, are proud of their city, and rightly so. It boasts some of the best dining–especially if you’re a fan of tender beef–as we discovered it’s a city staple! The shopping, the entertainment, the museums, and of course the TANGO for which the city is world-renowned, all combined have earned Buenos Aires its world class status.

Tango-down-the-street-of-Buenos-Aires-ArgentinaTHINGS TO KNOW BEFORE YOU GO

When To Go

First, remember, that summer in the northern hemisphere is winter in the southern hemisphere.  That translates to Buenos Aires’ winter is from July to September.  During this time, the temperature is chilly, but never below freezing.  Summer is from December to March at which time its humidity and temperatures can rise to uncomfortable levels. Spring is from September to December, and autumn is from April to June–these are the two seasons most idyllic for exploring the city.  The temperatures are mild, and you’re in the off-peak tourist season too–that is until the world reads my story!

Cash Is Still King

It is important to have cash on you at all times in Buenos Aires as credit cards are accepted in some places but NOT everywhere. Generally, top restaurants, hotels, and stores will accept credit cards. But many will only allow it on purchases over 50 pesos.

The Argentine Sun Sizzles

fashion style

 

May I recommend that you bring at least two sets of sunglasses, a nice handy supply of sun block, and your favorite hat or two to protect you from the sizzling hot Argentine sun.

You’ll blend in nicely with all the stylish locals too. The people of Buenos Aires are naturally stylish and trendy but still manage to be wonderfully casual about it all.  Feel free to bring your favorite fashionable threads as long as they’re comfy for walking and oodles of sightseeing.  Warning: I would leave the expensive jewelry at home so as not to be an open enticement for sly street thieves.

 

 

 

However, should you forget anything at home, no worries.  Buenos Aires provides a plethora of shopping opportunities!

Retail Therapy can be found at  San Telmo Market, Calle Murillo, Palermo, Galerias Pacifico, and Recoleta.

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The Feria de San Telmo is one of the most popular activities in Buenos Aires on Sundays.  Artisans sell their beautiful handmade goods, and you’ll also find fabulous antiques, art, and delicious local fare. The market spans several blocks so wear good walking shoes. Street performers and tango dancers liven things up along the way.  For more info, go to feriadesantelmo.com

Calle Murillo in Villa Crespo is the place to be if you’re in the market for  leather goods–bags, belts and jackets are plentiful. Many of the items can be made to measure, so they’re a worthwhile investment. Negotiating is acceptable.  But be aware that the leather items sold in this area is significantly cheaper than anywhere else in the city. The locals advised that Murillo 666 is known as one of the best stores with the most reasonable prices for leather goods on Calle Murillo.

The Palermo district of Buenos Aires, also known as Palermo Soho, is a mecca for design.  There are plenty of unique specialty shops to please the discerning shopper.

Galerías Pacífico, a short walk from our Four Seasons Hotel, proved to be a convenient Mall to pick up a few items to refresh our summer wardrobe, especially since we had arrived from Antarctica–with an entirely different temperature range. The Mall is lined with high-end boutiques.  But if you’re not inclined to pay the high prices, fear not, there’s a Zara anchored at the end of the Mall.

The Recoleta area of Buenos Aires is dotted with luxurious homes and hotels, and is one of the most affluent neighborhoods in the city.

EVitaBut there’s an area that caught our interest even more:  The Recoleta Cemetery, a must-see spot, for the closest thing I’ve seen like it is the Père Lachaise Cemetery, the largest cemetery in Paris, and one of the most famous cemeteries in the world.  Well, the Recoleta Cemetery, the resting place of many wealthy (as demonstrated by their grand, elaborate, marbled tombstones) and famous Argentineans including Eva [Evita] Peron, definitely competes. Evita’s tomb is continually covered in flowers and letters from her fans who travel far and wide to pay their respects.  To prevent her body from being stolen, as it had been many times by the various military governments installed after her husband’s fall from grace in 1955, she was finally buried in a concrete vault 8.1m (27 ft.) underground in 1976.

Weather permitting, free English-language tours are held every Tuesday and Thursday at 11am. Ask for information at the small office with the sign reading JUNIN 1790, between the cemetery gate and the church. The door is sometimes closed and locked during office hours, but you can still peek into the windows and talk to the staff, particularly Marta Granja, who speaks English. If you can’t take a tour or want to explore on your own, cemetery maps are also for sale at the gate, with proceeds going to the Friends of Recoleta Cemetery, a private group that helps with upkeep.

Once the garden of the adjoining church, the cemetery was created in 1822 and is among the oldest in the city. You can spend hours here wandering the grounds that cover 4 city blocks, full of tombs adorned with works by local and international sculptors. More than 6,400 mausoleums form an architectural free-for-all, including Greek temples and pyramids. Many other rich or famous Argentines are buried here as well, including a number of Argentine presidents whose tomb names you’ll recognize because they match some of the streets of the city. The newest presidential tomb is that of Raúl Ricardo Alfonsín, who died in 2009 and was the first president elected when the 1976-82 military dictatorship ended.

recolleta-cemetaryMost tourists who come here visit only Evita’s tomb, but among the many others, two are worth singling out and should not be missed. One is the tomb of the Paz family, who owned the newspaper La Prensa, as well as the palatial building on Plaza San Martín now known as the Círculo Militar. It is an enormous black stone structure covered with white marble angels in turn-of-the-20th-century dress. The angels seem to soar to the heavens, lifting the spirit of those inside with their massive wings. The sculptures were all made in Paris and shipped here. Masonic symbols such as anchors and pyramid-like shapes adorn this as well as many other Recoleta tombs.

Another tomb I recommend seeing is that of Rufina Cambaceres, a young woman who was buried alive in the early 1900s. She had perhaps suffered a coma, and a few days after her interment, workers heard screams from the tomb. When it was opened, there were scratches on her face and on the coffin from her attempts to escape. Her mother then built this Art Nouveau masterpiece, which has become a symbol of the cemetery.

Cementerio_La_Recoleta_Bs_AsHer coffin is a Carrara marble slab, carved with a rose on top, and it sits behind a glass wall, as if her mother wanted to make up for her mistake in burying her and ensure she could see her coffin if she were ever to come back again. The corner of the tomb is adorned by a young girl carved of marble who turns her head to those watching her; she looks as if she is about to break into tears, and her right hand is on the door of her own tomb. Many locals often place delicate sprigs of flowers into her hand. It seems each grave is accompanied with a story of triumph or tragedy–as told by their beloved family, painfully left behind.

EMBRACING ARGENTINA…Postcards from #beautifulbuenosaires

It has been said,“A journey is best measured in friends, rather than miles.” The greatest blessing of being the ESCAPESEEKER is the tremendous, brilliant, inspiring friends I meet wherever I travel. I was thrilled to reunite with Argentine friends, Felix and Sole Bialet whom I first met while on assignment on board  @paulgauguincruises m/v Tere Moana in the summer of 2013! Felix and Sole not only welcomed me, but my traveling companions as well.  It is as if no time had passed!#tequieroargentina #ifeelblessed Honestly, the #world is full of #engaging, #kind #friends just waiting to be met! — with Felix Bialet and Sole Bialet at Four Seasons Hotel Buenos Aires.

12417696_10154497086878032_6034909032255144132_n (1) Just hanging out with the #whoswho of #argentina I learned so much from our brilliant @metropolitantouring Argentina #guide Andrea! Thank you for our #mindexpanding day Andrea, and for teaching us about #argentinaslegends:#carlosgardel #alfonsinastorni and #jorgeluisborges #tequieroargentina — at Gran Cafe Tortoni. 12573948_10154498820313032_6450231398075470887_n

12642492_10154512387963032_5715491327832433032_n (1)THAT EXACT MOMENT WHEN YOUR GRACIOUS GUIDE BECOMES MORE LIKE FAMILY

Maybe it was because we were standing inside Buenos Aires Metropolitan Cathedral–an architectural masterpiece where former Archbishop Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Buenos Aires listened to many in his parish bear their souls.  But we never realized we were about to have one of the most moving experiences of our Argentine journey.   Part way through our tour of this beautiful Cathedral, Andrea began to tell us her story.

pano-catedral-gdeAndrea has a genetic propensity to cancer and has been fighting cancer most of her life. If that was not enough of a burden, she lost her only brother when he died in the war with Britain over the Falkland Islands. Shortly later, her husband and only child were killed in an automobile accident in which she too was seriously injured. She laid despondent in the hospital for weeks. She wanted to end her life and asked her father for help. Her dad said he would help but since Andrea was his only surviving child he said would end his life the day after she took her life. (She said her dad was really smart.) She decided she could not commit suicide under those circumstances.

the-cathedral-n1-buenos-aires-argentina+1152_12994299458-tpfil02aw-17189Andrea left the hospital not knowing what to do. She then went to the Cathedral for Confession and asked the priest for help. The priest said he could not counsel her in the confessional but she should return later that day and give her name to an assistant at the Cathedral. That was the beginning of many months of weekly counseling sessions with the priest whose name she did not know. She later learned her counselor was Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the Archbishop of Buenos Aires.

941156_10152984229280105_520529327_nAndrea recovered her mental health but is still fighting cancer. She is a bright, cheerful guide. Recently while waiting for a medical appointment she received a call on her cell phone. It was her counselor, Pope Francis I, checking up on her!! After finding that Andrea was okay, Pope Francis asked her to pray for him. Her story is a true testament of the marvelous, compassionate character of Pope Francis I.   No matter where they reside, they will always be the parish priests caring for the Children of God. We were all in tears as we huddled around this beautiful soul–our extraordinary guide, Andrea!  From that moment on, we all felt like one big family, bearing each other up.  Life is filled with its unpredictable challenges, and when we support one another, we are no longer strangers, but members of a caring circle of #humanKIND! [Photo of Pope Francis captured by yours truly, the ESCAPESEEKER during my 2013 assignment at the Vatican.]

 

12565624_10154495839003032_2482896507647747399_nIt is such a #joy teaming this #epic #antarctica #argentina @escapeseeker assignment with Roy Henderson, Mary McGill, and John Hempelmann! Savoring @fsbuenosaires hospitality and exploring this vibrant city before we move on to our final stop: #iguazu #falls …another world’s wonder awaits us! I #love my @escapeseeker team! Te quiero #argentina — at Four Seasons Hotel Buenos Aires.

WHERE TO STAY

Our two top pics:

1) The Four Seasons Hotel Buenos Aires with its unrivaled views of the vibrant Argentine Capital.

cq5dam.web.1280.720This is how @fsbuenosaires greets their very happy guests, yours truly the @escapeseeker included! #delicious #argentina …my team and I were fueled every morning  for a full day of #buenosaires #exploration! Thank you @fsbuenosaires #tequieroargentina — at Four Seasons Hotel Buenos Aires.

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2)  The Palacio Duhau Park Hyatt Buenos Aires is decorated with antique Persian and contemporary carpets over wood floors, silk curtains and crystal chandeliers. It’s underground Art Gallery showcases renowned contemporary artists rotating every two months, as well as a permanent collection of original contemporary fine art on display throughout the hotel. I love the Palacio’s magnificent garden that sits like an elegant sanctuary, an oasis in the middle of the city.

31296751At the Palacio Duhau Park Hyatt Buenos Aires, dining is also a work of art!

11272957_1596362613969060_1486790658_nBuenos Aires is truly a #worldclass capital with something for everyone…including those of us who have wished to learn how to TANGO all our lives! I need to practice a bit more before I share my tango steps.  But, I’ve definitely been bitten by the Tango bug…and the only cure is to return to Buenos Aires and dance with the native pros!  What a graceful way to wrap up a beautiful stay in Buenos Aires!

We will be returning in October, 2016 with our entire ESCAPESEEKER film crew.  I’ve intentionally left out additional extraordinary activities we engaged in–after all, we have to reserve some surprise elements for our extremely talented cinematographer!

Here’s to #blissful, #endless, #amazing #escapes…and remember, no matter where you go, be the kindest person you know.

With love and gratitude to all who make being the ESCAPESEEKER a continued series of “Pinch me moments”…

Mel

PS:  Stay tuned for my next report…destination? Iguazu Falls!

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*****

 

To access our outstanding native guides contact: mbrown-zavaleta@metropolitantouring.com.ar | www.metropolitan-touring.com

To book our tremendous professional TANGO instructors: Rachel Makow <rachelmakow@yahoo.com>

 

 

 

 

WHALERS’ WOES: Ruins of an Industry Rusting at the Bottom of the World; And, the GREATEST WILDLIFE GATHERING I’ve Ever Witnessed!

Wednesday, March 2nd, 2016

southWriter’s Notes:  On January 6, 2016, our One Ocean Expedition made several visits to South Georgia Island.  Prior to our arrival, I became absorbed in Sir Ernest Shackleton’s book, “South” wherein he vividly chronicled their Antarctic expedition, their failed attempt to reach the South Pole, and his unbelievable, triumphant rescue of his men. Between Shackleton’s book and One Ocean Expeditions’ daily lectures from the on-board Antarctic scholars, my thirst for further Antarctic history and knowledge continued to deepen.  I read just about everything I could get my hands on during sea-days.  And, to have it all come alive during our South Georgia Island visits was better than any university class I could have taken.  If you’re the kind of traveler who demands more than just a drive-by cruise experience in Antarctica, then I highly recommend you seek out the authentic expedition companies like One Ocean Expeditions that fuel the imagination, and brings the history/nature books to life. ~ Mel Gee Henderson

PS:  Your hunger for knowledge does not end when you disembark at the end of the epic expedition.  As I’ve discovered, the more I’ve learned, the more I hunger for more.  And, honestly, isn’t that what travel is designed to do?  Make us all brighter at the end of the day!

Quote of the Day:  “Don’t tell me how educated you are, tell me how much you traveled.” ~ Mohammed

South Georgia Island ~ At the start of the last century, dozens of companies set up whaling operations on South Georgia Island. After several highly profitable decades, however, they became victims of  their own success and modernization. If these walls could talk, what stories they would tell?  Welcome to Grytviken. Grytviken

2000px-South_georgia_Islands_map-en.svgGrytviken was the first whaling station to launch operations on the British island of South Georgia, lying in the South Atlantic roughly 2,000 kilometers (1,200 miles) due east of the bottom boot tip of Argentina. For 58 years, Grytviken was in continuous operation. It survived two world wars and a global economic crisis, greeted expeditions to Antarctica that had gotten stuck in pack ice and processed an enormous number of whales into oil and meat. In more than half a century, it handled 53,761 slaughtered whales, producing 455,000 metric tons of whale oil and 192,000 metric tons of whale meat. Then Grytviken became the icy ghost town that it is today. This fate was shared by all the whaling stations in the Antarctic. As the whaling industry boomed at the beginning of the 20th century, dozens of companies set up whaling operations here. When it became clear that whaling could fetch hefty profits, six permanent whaling stations were set up on South Georgia alone. Grytviken was the last to close up shop.

Museum GrytvikenToday, all that remains is a movie theater, a church, a museum and a cemetery. All the cozy homes have been buried and destroyed by snow and ice. All the original residents have moved away, or died long ago. A landscape once filled by 500 men and their families is now inhabited by at most a few penguins, seals and tourists like me. And what was a remote stronghold of industrial whaling roughly a century ago is now nothing more than a city of ice, snow and rubble, and a handful of incredibly resilient, hardy caretakers who ensure that the island’s unique history isn’t totally lost.

 Whaling Where Only The Fearless Go

The prevailing view at the time was that whaling around the South Pole promised little.  Nonetheless, the pioneers of Antarctic whaling were convinced that whaling  would still be a good idea because Europe’s northern seas had largely been emptied of whales by the turn of the century. On November 16, 1904, the Fortuna and another ship dropped anchor off Grytviken, and the station’s new 80-member crew set to work. It didn’t take long before the station was up and running. By Christmas Eve, the men had produced the first barrel of whale oil. Within a year’s time, that figure was meant to skyrocket to 7,000.

Whale Oil To Light The World

The whales were hunted down on the open seas, shot with harpoons, dragged to port and heaved onto shore at the stations. They were particularly prized for their blubber, the white layer of fat beneath the skin. At the time, the glycerin derived from this blubber was the main element used in cosmetic products like soaps and lotions, but it also formed the basis of fuels for oil lamps and boilers.

Whale hunters are dwarfed by their huge catch, a fin whale, on the whaler 'Q Plain' off Crytoiken or Grytviken, South Georgia.   (Photo by Central Press/Getty Images)

Whale hunters are dwarfed by their huge catch, a fin whale, on the whaler ‘Q Plain’ off Crytoiken or Grytviken, South Georgia. (Photo by Central Press/Getty Images)

As time went on, the competing whaling stations continued to boost their capacities. At times, they even had to lend each other empty barrels when stations had more fat than containers to store it in. Between 1907 and 1908, the station at Grytviken produced more than 27,000 barrels of oil, after having filled only about 12,000 the previous year. These years in the first decade of the 20th century were also a golden era for those who invested in such operations: Within a single year, their dividends rose a mighty 15 percent, to reach 32.5 percent.

Even after Europe slid into war in 1914, things continued to go comparatively well for the whale hunters in the Antarctic. The supply of coal needed to fire the blubber-melting boilers admittedly got tighter. But the general shortage of resources simultaneously drove the price of whale oil up. Indeed, at times Grytviken could fetch up to 90 British pounds for a metric ton of whale oil — more than they had ever earned before. The whale fat also found use in the war effort, with blubber-produced nitroglycerin being used in explosive artillery shells and bombs. What’s more, there was growing demand in war-plagued Europe for cheap, but nutritious whale meat.

Butchering the whales at the stations was hard work done by hand. After being harpooned and towed to port, the whales were winched up a ramp and onto shore to die. Using sharp blades, two men made incisions on both sides of the whale along its entire length. From these, the white blubber would then pour out to the left and right. In the end, the men would strip the skin of the whale and separate the blubber from the meat.

A rusty whaling ship lies at the abandoned Husvik whaling station in Stromness Bay, South Georgia Island. When the whaling industry boomed at the beginning of the 20th century, dozens of companies set up whaling operations here. When it became clear that whaling could fetch hefty profits, six permanent whaling stations were set up on South Georgia alone.

A rusty whaling ship lies at the abandoned Husvik whaling station in Stromness Bay, South Georgia Island. When the whaling industry boomed at the beginning of the 20th century, dozens of companies set up whaling operations here. When it became clear that whaling could fetch hefty profits, six permanent whaling stations were set up on South Georgia alone.

Lured by high oil prices, some 19 companies set up whaling operations in the Antarctic at the beginning of World War I. Many of them wanted to speed up the killing process by going out on the high sea to hunt without a permit or dedicated processing stations. In doing so, they also cut into the business of land-based competitors, such as the Grytviken station.

40,000 Hunted Whales in a Single Season

The situation came to a head the following year, with whales becoming increasingly scarce and the storage rooms filling with unsold oil. In the 1930/31 season, the slaughter at the South Pole reached its zenith: A total of 40,201 whales were killed, about 32,000 of which were killed by unlicensed hunters on the open sea. By way of comparison, when Grytviken heralded in the era of industrial whaling in the Antarctic in 1904, whalers killed only 183 whales in the initial year.

The companies agreed to voluntary quotas for the next season, but the limits came too late for many species. By the mid-1930s, the humpback whale was virtually extinct in the Antarctic. At the same time, overproduction drove the price of whale oil to a record low. One station after another on South Georgia went under. By the time World War II broke out, only two were still active: Grytviken and Leith Harbour, whose cold warehouse also stored tons of whale oil produced in Grytviken.

Grytviken stayed afloat only because it still had financial reserves left from the golden years to temporarily cushion its losses. But the few successful years couldn’t make up for the fact that the company needed restructuring and to update its dilapidated station. In 1950, for example, Grytviken was being served by six harpoon boats that had been in service for more than 20 years.One last attempt at modernization in 1962 came too late.

Note:  My special thanks to einestages.de, SPIEGEL ONLINE’s history portal for being a tremendous Grytviken research source.

POSTCRIPT to GRYTVIKEN

Grytviken has been cleaned up and restored to a great degree by the Government of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands. We learned that the Norwegian Government has also provided some level of funding because the total annual Budget of the Government in South Georgia is $9 million. They run a tight and efficient staff with only seven employees. We met one Government Official named, Simon, and the rest are in Stanley or on their Fisheries Patrol Boats. Almost all the Government revenue comes from the sale of fisheries licenses, and visitors’ fees which are $60 per day, per person. We were happy to do our part.  They’ve also recruited a Museum Intern, Matthew, who gave us an in-depth tour and enlightened briefing on how the old whaling station used to operate. The Museum is sponsored by the University of St. Andrews and students like Matthew are selected to spend 6 months in Grytviken. After our adventures on shore we returned to our Ship for a delightful dinner.  We were joined by several of the Museum and government staff at Grytviken, including Simon and Matthew, and some of the scientists from the nearby British Station.  Once again, we made new friends. It was difficult to say goodbye to  our brilliant Grytviken friends!

After sailing all night, we landed at St. Andrews Bay where three large glaciers reach and caress the frosty sea. The surf was roaring as if to share in our excitement at reaching land. As we approached the shore, words from our King Penguin lecturer echoed in my mind, “You will witness what may be the largest colony of King Penguins on earth!” Well, our young Biologist, Kathryn was right.  The King Penguins seem to carpet the entire South Georgia landscape!   We were also greeted by HUGE (spoken in Trump fashion) Elephant Seals and a scattering of Fur Seals too. If ever I felt like a total alien on another planet, this was the day! Nothing could prepare me for this incredible experience. What an absolute “Pinch Me Moment!” Thank you Mother Nature.  Once again, my heart overflows with gratitude for eyes that can witness the grandeur of our majestic Planet Earth.

"Row upon row of king penguins stretching off into the distance. This colony in Salisbury Plain, South Georgia, has hundreds of thousands of inhabitants! The brown chicks creche together and stand out from the tuxedoed adults." ~Photo and caption by Craig Tomsett

“Row upon row of king penguins stretching off into the distance. This colony in Salisbury Plain, South Georgia, has hundreds of thousands of inhabitants! The brown chicks creche together and stand out from the tuxedoed adults.” ~Photo and caption by Craig Tomsett

 

We have one more day on South Georgia and then we sail to Antarctica–my 7th Continent.  My heart is that of a teen in-love for the very first time…it’s throbbing with anticipation!

If you wish to follow in my ESCAPESEEKER footsteps, the easiest way to begin is by clicking on the following link:  oneoceanexpeditions.com

Remember, no matter where you go, be the kindest person you know…and yes, that includes ALL living creatures you shall encounter.

Here’s to #blissful, #mindexpanding #soulenriching ESCAPES,

Mel aka The ESCAPESEEKER

ESCAPESEEKER Priceless moment captured by Craig Tomsett. [Salisbury Plain, South Georgia Island]

ESCAPESEEKER Priceless moment captured by Craig Tomsett. [Salisbury Plain, South Georgia Island]

INCREDIBLE! BEYOND DESCRIPTION! OUT OF THIS WORLD!

Wednesday, February 17th, 2016
ESCAPESEEKER is privileged to feature our outstanding Antarctica Advance Research Team member, John Hempelmann. One of our program's goals is to deliver the "JOY of TRAVEL"...and no one exudes more joy than our #brilliant, adventurous advisor and friend!

ESCAPESEEKER is privileged to feature our outstanding Antarctica Advance Research Team member, John Hempelmann. One of our program’s goals is to deliver the “JOY of TRAVEL”…and no one exudes more #joy than our #brilliant, #adventurous adviser and friend!

 

South Georgia Island ~ “Simply Amazing!” Add this to the superlatives in the Title above, and you have the exact sentiments expressed by our own ART [Advance Research Team] member, John Hempelmann, describing our January 5th premiere exploration of South Georgia Island via One Ocean Expeditions.

John’s report is so eloquently written, and reflective of his contagious enthusiasm for the wonders of our planet, that it seems only apropos that I share it with you verbatim!  And, yes, in case you are wondering, above is a picture of John I captured during the most flawless, unforgettable Antarctic sea-kayaking day.  More on that adventure later…but for now, please permit me to share John’s eloquent report…and you’ll understand why he is so contagiously #happy!

In his own words…

Incredible! Beyond Description! Out of this World! Amazing! These words do not begin to describe accurately our experiences today on South Georgia Island. Even the stunning pictures and videos  will not be enough to convey the majesty and uniqueness of what we have seen and experienced.

Sir Ernest Shackleton's GraveIt is so appropriate today is January 5 because that is the day Ernest Shackleton died here on South Georgia Island in 1922. It was here he started his ill-fated expedition to cross the Antarctic Continent. After his ship, the Endurance, was crushed by the ice in the Weddell Sea on Antarctica, it was here he landed after 17 days at sea in a small boat in his successful, arduous effort to save all his men. This is the 100th Anniversary of Shackleton’s Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition.

Shackleton's VoyageWe sailed for two days and three nights, mostly in fog, to get here. We crossed the Antarctic Convergence Zone and the temperature plummeted below freezing. Finally, this morning the fog began to dissipate as we sighted icebergs, and then cliffs, waterfalls and glaciers running into the sea. (There are 160 glaciers on the Island.) The sea had come alive with many species of birds, seals and fast swimming penguins. Then the winds blew all the fog and clouds away and it was white mountains, icy glaciers and the Salisbury Plain lying before us. The Plain was left by the retreating glacier and now it is home to thousands of fur seals and more than a hundred thousand King Penguin breeding pairs (YES, more than two hundred thousand big funny birds).

King Penguins as far as the eye can see.It was a mind blowing experience coming ashore through the surf on the Zodiac and walking into this huge conglomeration of wildlife. There were darling baby fur seals and penguins everywhere.

DSC_0799[Image captured by Mel Gee Henderson]

 

The huge parent seals snoozed in the sun–until you got too close and then a huge mammal would  jump up and bark at you. Occasionally, a big seal would charge but we could deter them with the point of a walking stick (a ski touring pole). One big guy tried to bite the tip of my pole but I snapped back at him and he retreated. They were EVERYWHERE–hundreds of them. We walked across the Plain as King Penguins came up to check us out. We climbed a very steep hillside of tussac grass and mud to get to the edge of the penguin colony. You will find this hard to believe or envision but there were hundreds of thousands of brown furry juvenile penguins and their parents in their beautiful black and white coats and they were all jammed together like a huge river running down to the sea. It was incredible! This description is completely inadequate. We watched for a long time and looked out over the Plain at the wildlife, the craggy white mountains and our white Ship in the distance floating in a blue sea against a blue sky.

After Dinner on the Ship, we set out again in the Zodiac and explored the fur seal colonies along the shore of King Olav Inlet in Cook (yes, the Captain Cook) Bay. Our scientists carefully counted the seals and made notes. As the light faded, we cruised by an old whaling station abandoned early in the 20th Century. It was a wreck and there was an old whaling ship wrecked on the beach. After the whaling parties completely depleted the whales, they just packed up and left. Eerie!! We are in a new era and saw the history of an old era.

Tomorrow, we sail to Stromness Harbor and Grytviken Whaling Station.

#

Our Adventure Continues…

We hope you’ll stay tuned as our Russian vessel, the Akademik Iofee navigates across these icy waters and brings us ever closer to the GREAT WHITE CONTINENT!

Our ESCAPESEEKER TeamFrom our entire Antarctica team pictured above, yours truly, Roy Henderson, Mary McGill, and John Hempelmann…

Here’s to #blissful, #endless #ESCAPES,

Mel aka the ESCAPESEEKER

“I seemed to vow to myself that someday I would go to the region of ice and snow…” ~ Ernest Shackleton

Tuesday, February 16th, 2016

One-hundred years later, against all odds, my ESCAPESEEKER team and I find ourselves miraculously stepping onto the same continent that drew one of the world’s greatest explorer, Sir Ernest Shackleton.

Sir Ernest Shackleton

 

How does one prepare for an expedition to ANTARCTICA?

If you can truthfully sign the following One Ocean Expeditions form, then you are definitely a solid candidate to embark on one of the most extraordinary voyages of your life.

I am in good general health, and capable of performing normal activities on this expedition. I further attest that I am capable of caring for myself during the expedition, and that I will not impede the progress of the expedition or the enjoyment of others on board. I understand this expedition will take me far from the nearest medical facility and that all expedition members must be self-sufficient. With that understanding, I certify that I have not been recently treated for, nor am I aware of, any physical, mental or other condition or disability that would create a hazard to myself or other members of the expedition.

Signature: ______________________

After researching the various entities that offered Antarctic adventures, we selected One Ocean Expeditions because we wanted to have an authentic up-close and personal Antarctica experience–not merely a “drive by”–or should I say, “cruise by.” I was also particularly moved by the sentiment expressed by One Ocean Expeditions‘ Founder and Managing Director, Andrew Prossin, “My Mother told me to work hard. She told me that the world is made of guts and grits and spirits, that you get out what you put in.  And, if you bring this into what you do, you can know about joy.”

I believe our Mothers are “cut from the same cloth.”  I knew that if I was going to venture for 21 days to the world’s coldest, windiest, highest continent on the planet, I wanted an organization that aspires to “knowing joy” and, is not afraid of hard work. As Sir Ernest Shackleton said, “Difficulties are just things to overcome, after all.” Our due diligence and research of One Ocean Expeditions revealed they possessed the “guts, grits, and spirits” to overcome any difficulty that may arise.  And, with our Antarctic-approved cold weather gear, we landed in Ushuaia, Argentina–our expedition’s embarkation port one day before our embarkation date of December 30, 2015.  To say our team is filled with anticipation would be an understatement! Thus, with the following dispatch by our ESCAPESEEKER team member, John Hempelmann to friends and family back home, we were on our way to making our lifelong dream come true–to set foot on Antarctica:

“We have started our adventure to the bottom of the World.  We left the beautiful Argentine capital, Buenos Aires, and flew another 3 hours due south to Ushuaia in Tierra del Fuego, the southernmost town in South America. Many on our flight had packs and walking sticks and they were clearly headed to backpacking to experience the exceptional beauty of the National Parks within Argentine Patagonia.  It was 85 degrees F.  yesterday in Buenos Aires and it is 40 today in Ushuaia. As I write this report, the sun has just set and it is 10:30PM. Tomorrow we board the Akademik Ioffe, our “ice hardened” expedition ship. The Ship is named after a famous Russian physicist who helped invent radar to detect German warplanes early in WW II. We can’t believe it is really happening.  What an amazing way to close 2015, and welcome 2016.  Our Seventh Continent–Antarctica, here we come!”

Akademik-Ioffe-icebreaker-shipJanuary 1, 2016 ~ Happy New Year!

We woke up this morning approaching the Falkland Islands and, as John was making the cafe mochas, Mary McGill, the 4th member of our ESCAPESEEKER team took advantage of photo opportunities of dolphins and albatross outside the port window of our cabin. Did you know the albatross has the largest wing span, 5.5 to 6 feet, of any bird in the world, and it can fly and glide hundreds of miles because, among other capabilities, it can fly while most of its brain is sleeping?

The wandering albatross, snowy albatross, white-winged albatross or goonie (Diomedea exulans) is a large seabird from the family Diomedeidae, which has a circumpolar range in the Southern Ocean.

The wandering albatross, snowy albatross, white-winged albatross or goonie (Diomedea exulans) is a large seabird from the family Diomedeidae, which has a circumpolar range in the Southern Ocean.

Yesterday we left South America and headed NE.  They say the Falklands and South Georgia are incredible and most expeditions head straight for Antarctica because they have less time allocated for use of this research ship. On board to provide passengers with daily briefings,  we have One Ocean Expeditions’ historians, geologists, naturalists, botanists, and those studying the ice and the sea. Two researchers are doing a census of various species of penguins. There are also three professional photographers, one of whom is a young Israeli, Roie Galitz, a world famous wildlife photographer, and his videos are amongst the most spectacular we have even seen. If you’re like us and thrive on mind-expanding experiences, well, we’ve found just the right “land and sea continuing ed.” One can never learn too much!

As an added bonus of the One Ocean Expeditions, we have an opportunity to continually improve our photography skills by learning from the pros.

As an added bonus of the One Ocean Expeditions, we have an opportunity to continually improve our photography skills by learning from the pros.

The Akademik Ioffe is an amazing ship crewed entirely by Russians. It is based in Kaliningrad in the Baltic. It was specifically designed for polar exploration and research and thus we can go places the “cruise ships” cannot go near. There are “rumors” this ship was designed to locate other “boats” like the USSB Henry M. Jackson but the Ohio Class boomers run so deep, so fast and so quietly that even the US Navy cannot find them. Apparently, this ship gave up trying. Now this ship takes scientists of all kinds to the polar regions to study the sea, the ice, the geology, the birds, mammals and other creatures.

We had two spectacular shore landings today in the West Falkland Islands. Except for our visit to Stanley (Pop: 2220, half of whom are British military), which has a pier (weather permitting), we go ashore in Zodiac inflatables. We are outfitted in complete water/wind proof expedition suits and boots.

Our first shore landing is on West Point Island:

Falkland Islands mapThere is a resident couple who are “Island Sitting” and have been on the Island for 3 years. They have already sailed their 30 foot sailboat 300,000 miles (that is NOT a typo). We hiked about two miles across the Island and encountered an incredible colony of thousands of rock hopper penguins nesting with black browed albatross. As you’ll note, they all had little ones.

Images captured by Mel Gee Henderson at West Point Island, The Falklands.

Images captured by Mel Gee Henderson at West Point Island, The Falklands.Before we left for the Ship, the local couple invited us to join them for tea and cookies in their little English cottage where they receive provisions by boat from Stanley every few months.

After returning to the Ship and lunch, we landed on Carcass Island. The winds had increased to 30 knots so we had a wild, wet and bumpy trip into the beach. It was worth it! We had marvelous encounters with Magellinac penguins (named by Ferdinand Magellan) and the classic Gentoo penguins (the waddling guys in dinner suits).

Magellanic Penguins on the Falkland Islands. [Image by Roie Galitz]

Magellanic Penguins on the Falkland Islands. [Image by Roie Galitz]

OOE Zodiac

 

We are safely returned to the Akademik Ioffee by our skilled One Ocean Expeditions’ zodiac navigator, Ian Peck.

The anchor has been hoisted and we now prepare for what would become one of many unforgettable evenings of story-sharing as we break bread with our new found friends from around the world.

Wow, this is definitely a New Years Day we will never forget!

Stay tuned as we continue on our epic ESCAPESEEKER expedition to the bottom of the world!

antarctica-map

ESCAPESEEKER...Tracing the footsteps of Sir Ernest Shackleton.

ESCAPESEEKER…Tracing the amazing footsteps of Sir Ernest Shackleton.

 King Penguin Colony   Image captured by Mel Gee Henderson

You too, can follow in our ESCAPESEEKER adventure:  www.oneoceanexpeditions.com

AWESTRUCK BY ANTARCTICA! ESCAPESEEKER CELEBRATES 7TH CONTINENT!

Monday, February 1st, 2016

001 collage (1)

 [Above Images captured by Israel-based photographer, Roie Galitz, http://www.roiegalitz.com/]

 

On January 11, 2016, a special member of our ESCAPESEEKER ANTARCTICA ADVANCE RESEARCH TEAM, John Hempelmann, submitted the following report:

DSC_0830

As we arrive in Antarctica, the seas are stormy and it is snowing. Snow in January makes sense but it is Summer here now! Here are a few facts about Antarctica to put everything in context.

Mother Nature's Monuments leave us breathless.

Mother Nature’s Monuments leave us breathless.

Antarctica is the coldest, windiest, highest and driest of all the Continents. It can be 80 degrees below zero in the winter. The average elevation is 7500 feet. In the winter (March-October), the ice spreads over the sea essentially doubling the size of the Continent. Ice covers 99% of the Continent. In some places, the ice is 3 miles thick and over a million years old. Because there are so many mountains here, the ice “flows” down to the sea as glaciers or forms “ice shelves” that float on the sea. Some of the ice shelves are huge like the Ross Ice Shelf which has hundreds of square miles of area. Because they float on the sea, the ice shelves move around. Icebergs are formed when wave action moves the edges of glaciers or ice shelves up and down and pieces break off. These icebergs have incredibly dense ice so they last a long time and can travel hundreds of miles in the currents. We have seen many very large icebergs during our 72 hour sail from South Georgia Island to Antarctica. Fortunately, they show up really well on the radar.  (We can go up to the Bridge most any time we wish,  and that is a neat place to watch over the bow and see all the instruments used by the crew.) About 90% of all the world’s ice is in Antarctica and it locks up almost 70% of all the surface fresh water in the world. Even with all the snow and ice, Antarctica has deserts–dry valleys–but I will explain that strange fact at another time.

Despite the ice and the harsh conditions, Antarctica is rich in wildlife, especially whales, seals, penguins and sea birds. This is primarily the result of a sea that is rich in Krill, a tiny crustacean that is produced in the billions here. As the ice melts into the sea, the cold water drops to the bottom and warmer water rises to the surface. The ice shelves form an insulating layer under which the krill grow and thrive. All the mammals feed on the krill and the seals eat the penguins, the whales eat the seals, etc.

250,000 breeding pairs of King Penguins as far as the eye can see.

250,000 breeding pairs of King Penguins as far as the eye can see.

As you know, very few people ever get to the Antarctic. We are told only .0004% of the people in the world get here (and even fewer get to South Georgia Island). We are SO fortunate.  ~ John Hempelmann

*****

On December 30, 2015, our ESCAPESEEKER team began an epic voyage to ANTARCTICA with ONE OCEAN EXPEDITIONS‘ Russian research vessel, Akademik Iofee.  For the next several days, we will be posting daily journal reports penned during our voyage as we made our way to the GREAT WHITE CONTINENT!  We will include images captured throughout our expedition by team members, Mary McGill, Roy A. Henderson, John Hempelmann, and yours truly, Mel Gee Henderson.

Bidding Farewell to Ushuaia, Argentina. The excitement is evident on everyone's happy faces.

Bidding Farewell to Ushuaia, Argentina. The excitement is evident on everyone’s happy faces.

Please stay tuned as we sort through thousands of stunning images, film clips, and beautiful reports penned straight from our hearts!

Here’s to #endless, #blissful, #aweinspiring ESCAPES!

HAPPY NEW YEAR,

The ESCAPESEEKER Team

Walking in the footsteps of Sir Ernest Shackleton...100 years later.

Walking in the footsteps of Sir Ernest Shackleton…100 years later.

The Continuing Saga of our South American Odyssey…Stranded in Punta Arenas: A Blessing in Disguise

Saturday, May 2nd, 2015

Story by Mel Gee Henderson

MiristiGeeImagerywith Select Images by ESCAPESEEKER Photographer, Miristi Gee

37656_10150215979400462_7830764_nand, Guest Photographer/Canadian Global Adventurer, Calvin Hass.

 

 

 

 

“Sorry, Your Flight Has Been Cancelled!” Not exactly the words we wanted to hear!

Punta Arenas, Chile ~ Have you ever been stranded at an airport in a foreign country due to inclement weather? After our three-week exploration of Chilean Patagonia, covering the astonishing Torres del Paine National Park, as well as the mind-expanding Australis cruise expedition through the Strait of Magellan comprised of the mythical and challenging Cape Horn, an almost vertical 425 meter high cliff discovered in 1616,  we were definitely beginning to feel the longing for a more familiar environment called home. That homesickness was only fueled further by a wonderful invitation we received from Sergio Solar Ramirez and Paola Milosevic, Co-Founders and Directors of Punta Arenas’ newest Boutique Hotel, La Yegua Loca. Yes, it fueled our ESCAPESEEKER team’s longing for home because that’s exactly what it feels like–a cozy, warm, comfortable familial home.

We elected to depart Las Torres Patagonia one day earlier than planned so we could take in their new hotel, and also enjoy the convenience of already being in Punta Arenas, where we were set to begin our journey back to the U.S.A. the very next afternoon, via Chile’s capital of Santiago.  Sounds like a great plan right?Well enter, Mother Nature.  More on that later, but first let me tell you about this charming 8-suite hotel nestled on the hilltop overlooking Punta Arenas. It is an artistically curated living museum–a living legacy, a hotel that pays homage to the incredibly courageous pioneer ancestors who carved this untamed region of the world, which by the way did not receive the nickname “El Fin del Mundo” (The End of the World) for no apparent reason.  It is literally on the very southern tip of the South American continent! But how can we refuse the invitation to explore Punta Arenas when everything I had read from guide pamphlets made it sound like a ready-made ESCAPESEEKER script as illustrated below, that merely needed some slight tweaking:

Live the adventure of navigating the main natural route between the two largest oceans of the world: the Strait of Magellan, whose coasts are formed by the extreme south of the American continent and the island of Tierra del Fuego. On the banks of this mythical inter-oceanic passage is Punta Arenas, where you can experience the charm of a small European town in which a cosmopolitan population, an interesting history and modern facilities are combined with a wide range of tourist attractions, including one of the most beautiful cemeteries in the world!  [Pictured below] We invite you to be part of the history of the Magellan immigrants who formed this beautiful city and infused with their customs and traditions.  

Punta Arenas Cemetery“In all of us there is a hunger, marrow-deep, to know our heritage- to know who we are and where we have come from. Without this enriching knowledge, there is a hollow yearning. No matter what our attainments in life, there is still a vacuum, an emptiness, and the most disquieting loneliness.” – Alex Haley

“Bienvenido a Nuestra Casa”

Paola MilosevicAfter a long, albeit pleasant journey from Torres del Paine National Park to Punta Arenas  with our new friend, Martina Ablinger,  she introduced us to Paola Milosevic, a beautiful native Chilean with a warmth, smile and disposition so kind, she defied the chilly, rainy day that greeted us as we entered the city.

Paola gave us a thorough tour of La Yegua Loca, even giving us the option to select the room we preferred, as she explained the motivations behind each individually designed suite:

“The Hotel and Pulpería La Yegua Loca is a dream born from the passion and love we feel for this wonderful land. It was here, in the mid-1800’s–at the end of the world–where Croatian, English, Chilotes, and many other courageous pioneers and explorers  who brought their traditions and combined their efforts to conquer, and reshape the destiny of the Magellanes region, bequeathing an invaluable social and cultural wealth for future generations, of which I am part. Our grandparents were Croatian pioneers. Our parents were born here, and this is the land where we grew up, amongst the simplicity, yet often difficult country life.  We learned to work hard, respect the land, and revere our family’s traditions.  With our Hotel and Pulpería La Yegua Loca, we want to share and impart the true essence of our culture.”

La Yegua Loca Suite

Paola continued to describe: “Our eight suites have been designed to represent either a typical job or a ranch area such as The Shearing Shed, The Coachman , The Orchard, The Blacksmith, The Dairy, The Carpenter, The Stable and The Braider. We included these traditional, familiar occupations, and places of the ranch, displaying them in an innovative and artistic way to surprise and delight you with our treasured, family antiques.

La Yegua Loca

LA YEGUA LOCA PAYS HOMAGE TO THEIR ANCESTRAL ROOTS

Being with Paola, and hearing her speak proudly of her grandparents and parents who paved an exemplary path for her to follow, I am quickly reminded of another quote from “Roots” author and dear friend, Alex Haley with whom I had the honor and privilege to work in the early 90’s on a special PBS Series “Ancestors,” wherein he expressed,  “The family is our refuge and our springboard; nourished on it, we can advance to new horizons. In every conceivable manner, the family is link to our past, bridge to our future.”

La Yegua Dining Room

Paola admits, “We painstakingly remodeled this heritage home which was built in 1929. We instantly fell in-love with its hilltop panoramic view of our historic and colorful Punta Arenas, the Strait of Magellan, and Tierra del Fuego. We want all our guests to truly comprehend what it is like to reside at the end of the South American continent!”

Hilltop View of Punta Arenas“When the weather is good, it is really good.  When it is bad, well, you have no choice but to just wait it out, and at La Yegua Loca, you know they’ll pamper you! Besides, it will give you the opportunity to sample all of the Chef’s delicious, native Chilean dishes. ” ~ ESCAPESEEKER

Now back to my WEATHER STORY entitled, BLESSING IN DISGUISE.

For those of you who don’t remember your grade school history and geography lessons, there is a region of the Antarctic Ocean known as the  Drake Passage–the treacherous stretch of ocean between the southern tip of South America (at Cape Horn) and the northernmost reaches of Antarctica.  There, the otherwise unimpeded waves of the vast Southern Ocean squeeze through the relatively narrow and shallow bottleneck of the Drake Passage, and in the process, generate complicated, unpredictable and often brutal weather. Well, we got a taste of Mother Nature’s unpredictable side when we tried to depart Punta Arenas as scheduled on our LAN flight to Santiago, Chile where we would then catch our connection back to the USA.  The otherwise pleasant, efficient Presidente Carlos Ibáñez International Airport  (Aeropuerto Internacional Presidente Carlos Ibáñez) [ PUQ] serving the city of Punta Arenas was totally socked in with dense fog–flights could neither safely land, nor take off.  And, because of high amounts of tourism into Patagonia’s National Parks, the airport handles a large number of passengers daily. So, there we were, waiting in long lines amongst strangers – other stranded passengers – waiting to receive new future  flight assignments.  Well, some of us did not remain strangers for long.  I felt compelled to ask another friendly American family, Dr. and Mrs. Pat Beaumier who were also traveling with their teenage son, Nick  if they needed a place to stay for the night. Plus, we met this super friendly Canadian, Calvin Hass who was wrapping up a very exciting multi-country South American adventure, if he too, needed a home for the evening. I was so enamored with La Yegua Loca that I couldn’t think of a better place to be on this cold, foggy night.  Thankfully, Paola had given me her private mobile number just in case we were not able to depart as scheduled.  So, I called her, woke her, and explained what had happened.  Then, I kindly asked, “May I bring a few extra friends home?”

Paola, not only acquiesced, she offered a “special friend’s rate” and then even returned to the hotel so that she could welcome me, and our newfound friends properly, with true Chilean hospitality, making sure everyone was comfortably settled in after our long, surprising day.

Having the extra day or two in Punta Arenas gave us all more time to explore this historic city, and also spend more time getting to know each other.  It wasn’t long before the entire hotel was reverberating with laughter and story after adventure story shared.  I realized this would have never happened had we all not been stranded at PUQ–Punta Arenas’ airport.  And, had Paola not given me her private mobile number, I would not have known to bring them “home” with me.  Yes, Mother Nature granted us a “Blessing in Disguise.” Interestingly enough, one of my newfound friends would bear the name of “Blesie?”  Lesson Learned?  “No matter where you go, be the kindest person you know,” because you may soon discover that you have just gained some new  brilliant  friends who also share your indefatigable passion for travel!

It only seems apropos that Punta Arenas magically bids us farewell with a stunning rainbow on the eve of our departure, as if to signal, “Yes, your LAN jet will be free to soar safely across these Patagonian skies once again!”

Where is our next reunion Blesie, Pat and Nick Beaumier? I’m fairly confident that we can convince our Canadian friend, Calvin Hass to join us. And, between Calvin and our photographer Miristi Gee, the entire adventure will certainly be stunningly documented with countless images.

BlessedWithNewFriends

For those of you who are traveling to Punta Arenas and wish to experience Paola Milosevic’s and Sergio Solar Ramirez’s new beautiful boutique hotel, better book it now.  With only 8 suites, you don’t want to take any chance that you’re going to miss out on one very special, and may I add, delicious experience!

Chilean cuisine La Yegua Loca

Hotel La Yegua Loca
Fagnano 310
Punta Arenas, Magallanes, Chile
+56 61 2371734 | +56 61 2371735 | +56 61 2371736
Paola Milosevic, [3rd from R], Sergio Solar Ramirez, [3rd in from L],  and their friendly staff at La Yegua Loca are ready and waiting to welcome you!
La Yegua Loca Family
We extend our heartfelt gratitude to LAN Airlines for always putting SAFETY FIRST!
And, for giving us the unexpected opportunity to make new friends! :-)
LAN on approach to PUQ
LAN on approach to PUQ [Punta Arenas]. It’s easy to understand why visibility is crucial when landing at Punta Arenas!

 

ESCAPESEEKER 2013: Our Unforgettable Year In Pictures

Friday, February 21st, 2014

Phoenix, Arizona ~ Here we are, already deep into the second month of 2014, and I have yet to complete our 2013 BEST DESTINATIONS LIST.  Well, I’ve decided to let these photographs tell our story for as they say, “A picture is worth a thousand words.”  These images speak volumes about why we feel so blessed to be part of this incredible mind-expanding, soul-enriching, gratitude-instilling, friendship-building adventure!  Thank you all for helping turn our dreams into reality. The more we travel, the more we realize how much there is that we do not know.  I hope we never stop learning…never stop moving…never stop loving and savoring this gift we call LIFE!  On that note, I shall allow these images to speak for themselves.

 2013:  OH, WHAT A YEAR INDEED!

JANUARY…and FEBRUARY…

ESCAPESEEKER Return to “Heaven’s Heaven”

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PRISTINE with a capital P! Aitutaki, Cook Islands

PRISTINE with a capital P! Aitutaki, Cook Islands

 

We embark on an 11-night journey on board the m/s Paul Gauguin...

We embark on an 11-night journey on board the m/s Paul Gauguin…

The ms/ Paul Gauguin’s retractable, on board water sports marina brings guests down to sea level, where they can hop aboard a windsurfer, enjoy SUP—Stand Up Paddle Board, launch a kayak, or embark on a Zodiac® for optional diving adventures.

The ms/ Paul Gauguin’s retractable, on board water sports marina brings guests down to sea level, where we can hop aboard a windsurfer, enjoy SUP—Stand Up Paddle Board, launch a kayak, or embark on a Zodiac® for optional diving adventures.

Cruise "cast members" comprised of ESCAPESEEKER supporters...some of the kindest people I know.

Cruise “cast members” comprised of ESCAPESEEKER supporters…some of the kindest people

As ESCAPESEEKER VIP's we were invited to dine with the Captain.  Nothing like breaking bread together to bring out the most entertaining stories!

As ESCAPESEEKER VIP’s we were invited to dine with the Captain. Nothing like breaking bread together to bring out the most entertaining stories!

 

We were even granted some special time to visit the Captain's Bridge and learn more about how this especially designed vessel is perfect for navigating Tahiti's shallow channels.

We were even granted some special time to visit the Captain’s Bridge and learn more about how this especially designed vessel is perfect for navigating Tahiti’s shallow channels.

Our team totally engaged.

Our team totally engaged.
Mixing with the locals is always on our list, but when we were invited to their Day of Worship, you bet we jumped at the chance! If you've ever wanted to hear the harmonious voices of angels...we recommend you take in a Sunday on the island of Taha'a.

Mixing with the locals is always on our list, but when we were invited to their Day of Worship, you bet we jumped at the chance! If you’ve ever wanted to hear the harmonious voices of angels…we recommend you take in a Sunday Service on the island of Taha’a.

A heavenly end to our day on Taha'a...

A heavenly end to our day on Taha’a…

 

January was off to such a great start, and with my role as ESCAPESEEKER Guest Speaker on board the m/s Paul Gauguin, and with our TAHITI: OH HEAVEN’S HEAVEN film presentations so well-attended by our fellow passengers, my Executive Assistant, Melody Clyde and I decided to extend our cruise dates so I can continue in my role as Guest Speaker.  Frankly, it did not take much convincing to remain on board.  The hardest part was finally deciding to disembark at the end of February!  But not before I was afforded the opportunity to visit the highly awaited, most eco-friendly luxury resort on the island of Tetiaroa–yes, the private island of one of Hollywood’s most iconic actors, Marlon Brando–thus the name, THE BRANDO!

I was flown by Mr. Richard Bailey from Papeete to Tetiaroa in his private plane which he piloted.  How cool is that?  As we approached the island, I quietly took in this extraordinary moment.  There I was about to land on Marlon Brando’s slice of Tahitian paradise–a former retreat reserved for Tahitian Royals,  with Tahiti’s most respected hotelier, and the man Brando personally entrusted to transform his revered island into the ultimate earth-friendly hideaway.  Even though my recently injured right foot was well on its way to healing, I decided to keep it protected as Mr. Bailey showed me around the construction site,  explaining all the revolutionary, eco-friendly methods they were putting into application to adhere to all of Brando’s strict specifications.  I can’t wait to return when it officially opens this July, 2014.  I have a feeling the list of guests eager to set foot on THE BRANDO is getting longer by the day.  After being impressed with the “before” visit, I can only imagine what the “after” final version will be.  Look out world, get ready to add one more “must do” to your Bucket List!

On approach to Tetioroa...Marlon Brando's private island...

On approach to Tetiaroa…Marlon Brando’s private island…

Tahitian actress Tarita Teriipia, who played his love interest in Mutiny on the Bounty, became Brando's third wife on August 10, 1962.

Tahitian actress Tarita Teriipia, who played his love interest in Mutiny on the Bounty, became Brando’s third wife on August 10, 1962.

Although I was still recovering from a foot injury, I wasn't about to let that get in the way of seeing first hand what the "The Brando" buzz was all about!  I'm so glad I did. Let me give you advance notice:  This is one "island escape" you'll definitely want to experience in 2014!

Although I was still recovering from a foot injury, I wasn’t about to let that get in the way of seeing first hand what the “The Brando” buzz was all about! I’m so glad I did. Let me give you advance notice: This is one “island escape” you’ll definitely want to experience in 2014!

 

This is what I call, "Guilt-Free Luxury"  in the ultimate Tahitian Island PARADISE.

This is what I call, “Guilt-Free Luxury” in the ultimate Tahitian Island PARADISE.

 

 

 

 

Great care is continually taken to protect the island's natural habitat.  The Tetiaroa Society, a non-profit organization is dedicated to research, conversation, and education related to the delicate ecology of the atoll. The goal of this organization is to create a scientific and educational window into the biodiversity of Tetiaroa, with the possibility of developing controlled eco-tourism and raising public awareness regarding the fragility of our biodiversity.

Great care is continually taken to protect the island’s natural habitat. The Tetiaroa Society, a non-profit organization is dedicated to research, conversation, and education related to the delicate ecology of the atoll.
The goal of this organization is to create a scientific and educational window into the biodiversity of Tetiaroa, with the possibility of developing controlled eco-tourism and raising public awareness regarding the fragility of our biodiversity.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2013 definitely started on the right footing, even with one foot in a cast! I’m continually inspired by the tireless visionaries who go to great lengths to create meaningful travel experiences that are worthy of our hard-earned vacation currency. More than ever, I am driven to seek out those destinations that adhere to our ESCAPESEEKER mantra of being “the greatest luxury escapes in the world.”  Just when we thought it could not get any better, our 2013 itinerary turned into a series of dream experiences.  The best part, it wasn’t a dream at all, but a reality we cannot wait to capture on film and share with the rest of the world.  Thank you all so much for your unwavering support and continued enthusiasm for this insatiable passion for our majestic planet that we all share.  Take a peak at where our path led us for the remainder of 2013–from America’s iconic desert oasis of Arizona, to the “Roof of Peru”–Machu Picchu; to the glamour and glitz of the French Riviera; to the grand dame of Formula One racing–Monaco; to the Land of the Gods–Greece; to the only city in the world that spans two continents–Indescribable Istanbul; to the City of Lights–Paris and its historic River Seine; to the River Danube magically illuminated by Brilliant Budapest!  2013–is the year for our ESCAPESEEKER Record Books!

MARCH…a quick Family retreat to America’s Desert Oasis

DESERT SUNRISE...affirming life-giving source... even in the driest conditions on earth.

APRIL …On Top Of The World!

A joyous occasion indeed when my daughter, Gabrielle and I reached the mystical, towering land of the Incas:  MACHU PICCHU.

A joyous occasion indeed when my daughter, Gabrielle and I reached the mystical, towering land of the Incas: MACHU PICCHU to celebrate the completion of her voluntary 18-month mission in Peru for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

LIVING THE HIGH LIFE IN HONG KONG!

LIVING THE HIGH LIFE IN HONG KONG!

ESCAPESEEKER Perched high above Victoria Harbor...getting a Presidential Perspective from the Ritz-Carlton, Hong Kong, the highest hotel in the world!

ESCAPESEEKER Perched high above Victoria Harbor…getting a Presidential [Suite] Perspective from the Ritz-Carlton, Hong Kong, the highest hotel in the world!

MAY…Riviera Glam

Returning to my roots...The Cannes Film Festival where I spent 12 years covering the world's cinematic arts and the actors who starred in them!

Returning to my roots…The Cannes Film Festival where I spent 12 years covering the world’s cinematic arts and the actors and filmmakers who brought them to life!

1c570bfdfa639b8de0e08977be870185The unforgettable Cannes Premiere evening when we joined the cast and crew of  Behind the Candelabra

We’ll soon find out if Matt Damon’s leading man,  Michael Douglas will follow up his Golden Globe with an Oscar!

While exploring the richness of the French Riviera, we opted to stay in the one and only luxury hotel located within the walls of this art-inspiring medieval village of Saint Paul de Vence:  Hotel Le Saint Paul

While exploring the richness of the French Riviera, we opted to stay in the one and only luxury hotel located within the walls of this art-inspiring medieval village of Saint Paul de Vence: Hotel Le Saint Paul

Supporting our Program Supporter--INFINITI EUROPE at Monaco--Truly "Inspired Performance!"

Supporting our Program Supporter–INFINITI EUROPE at Monaco–Truly “Inspired Performance!”

What it takes to "live in the fast lane" at Monaco's Formula One!

What it takes to “live in the fast lane” at Monaco’s Formula One!

 

JUNE…Fun, Sun, Cookin’ and Soul

SANTORINI--POSTCARD PERFECT ARTISTS and VITNERS ENCLAVE...

SANTORINI–POSTCARD PERFECT ARTISTS and VINTNERS ENCLAVE…

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VOREINA GALLERY SUITES...our chosen home while discovering SANTORINI's Best Kept Secrets.

VOREINA GALLERY SUITES…our chosen artistic abode while discovering SANTORINI’s Best Kept Secrets.

We embark on another voyage, this time it's the m/v Tere Moana...it's as close as you'll come to knowing what it's like to have a private YACHT without buying one, or hiring an impeccable crew of your own! It navigates through ports mega ships cannot even attempt.

We embark on another voyage, this time it’s the m/v Tere Moana…it’s as close as you’ll come to knowing what it’s like to have your own private YACHT without buying one, or hiring an impeccable crew of your own! It navigates through ports mega ships cannot even attempt.

1098156_10153152118180105_1040107060_n 1008520_10152954714105105_1123968215_o 556477_10153262564675105_1405265411_n From a sunset Barbeque on the top deck…to secret hideaway coves usually reserved for Royals…to spotless docks that lead to quaint, quiet villages…You’ll have the option to do as much or as little as your heart desires when you cruise with the m/v Tere Moana.

We disembark the m/v Tere Moana to travel to the countrysides of Rome to begin our Culinary School at CASA GREGORIO where we engage in 7 nights of extensive authentic, delectable Italian cooking!

We disembark the m/v Tere Moana to travel to the countrysides of Rome to begin our Culinary School at CASA GREGORIO where we engage in 7 nights of extensive authentic, delectable Italian cooking!

Meet Gregory Aulensi, an Italian-American designer/entrepreneur and the founder of Casa Gregorio, and his Executive Chef, Giustino.

Meet Gregory Aulensi, an Italian-American designer/entrepreneur and the founder of Casa Gregorio, and his Executive Chef, Giustino with ESCAPESEEKER & Co.

 

Castro dei Volsci, the medieval hilltop Roman village which is home to Casa Gregorio.

Castro dei Volsci, the medieval hilltop Roman village which is home to Casa Gregorio.

885787_284864841644698_1329031609_oOur Italian  laboratory of learning aka Cooking Party Headquarters!

It's amazing how much Italian culinary skills one can acquire in 7 short days when you're totally immersed in the culture.

It’s amazing how much Italian culinary skills one can acquire in 7 short days when you’re totally immersed in their Roman culture!

We take a reprieve from our cooking classes to participate in Pope Francis Wednesday's audience at Piazza San Pietro...who knew I would find myself standing before The Holy Father...and gazing into those gentle, caring eyes?

We take a reprieve from our cooking classes to participate in Pope Francis’ Wednesday’s Audience at Piazza San Pietro…who knew I would find myself standing before The Holy Father…and gazing into those gentle, caring eyes?

June 26, 2013 will be immortalized in my mind...the day I snapped this photo of Pope Francis I, and discovered he was standing right before my eyes.

June 26, 2013 will be immortalized in my mind…the day I snapped this photo of Pope Francis I, and discovered he was standing right before me.

 

 

JULY…Birthday Wish Come True

Returning to the most famous "floating city" in the world...the land of Serenissima -- VENEZIA!

Returning to the most famous “floating city” in the world…The Land of SerenissimaVENEZIA!

We rejoin the m/v TERE MOANA...this time it's the "Chairman's Cruise" and we're bound for the Dalmatian Coast of CROATIA!

We rejoin the m/v TERE MOANA…this time it’s the “Chairman’s Cruise” and we’re bound for the Dalmatian Coast of CROATIA!

We visit port after port that look more like movie sets...but they're all very real...beautifully REAL!

We visit port after port that look more like movie sets…but they’re all very real…beautiful, authentic and REAL!

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After covering several continents in three months, I decided I'm due for a birthday celebration...a birthday rest is more like it...but a true ESCAPESEEKER does not rest from travel.  Rather, we find a way to escape to our favorite place where we are guaranteed to feel rejuvenated after all is said and done.  That for me is cruising the Tahitian Islands via the m/s Paul Gauguin.  HAPPY HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME...I'm off once again to the dramatically beautiful islands of TAHITI!

After criss-crossing continents in three months, I decided I’m definitely due a birthday celebration…a birthday rest is more like it…but a true ESCAPESEEKER does not rest from travel. Rather, we find a way to escape to our favorite place where we are guaranteed to feel rejuvenated after all is said and done. That for me is cruising the Tahitian Islands via the m/s Paul Gauguin. HAPPY HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME…I’m off, once again to the dramatically beautiful islands of TAHITI!

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This hammock is exactly where I began to ponder how I would spend the next decade of my life...all the while feeling forever grateful for the tremendous opportunities I've been granted to see the world...to learn of cultures different from my own...to discover the beautiful human traits that unite us...and better understand my fellow beings.  What can be better for a birthday gift than the gift of a GRATEFUL HEART?

This hammock is exactly where I began to ponder how I would spend the next decade of my life…all the while feeling forever grateful for the tremendous opportunities I’ve been granted to see the world…to learn and embrace cultures different from my own…to discover the beautiful human traits that unite us…and gain a better understanding my fellow beings. What can be better for a birthday gift than the gift of a GRATEFUL HEART?

AUGUST…Where’s My Grandma?

Time for some ESCAPESEEKER GRANDMA bonding moments in the Kamas, Utah riverside meadows…

Cherished summer moments spent with my family...

Cherished summer moments spent with my family…

Doing what I love...Cooking for my family...

Doing what I love…Cooking and watching them feast with a big smile on their faces!

...And putting smiles on my grandchildren's faces.  Did I mention I have 12 of them? Oh blessed, blessed life! Motherhood is my greatest calling...and my greatest accomplishment.  Perhaps it is that same maternal love I have for my family that filters to everyone I meet...no matter where I go.

…And being able to put smiles on my grandchildren’s faces is just priceless. Did I mention I have 12 of them? Oh blessed, blessed life! Motherhood is my greatest calling…and my greatest accomplishment. Perhaps it is that same maternal love I have for my family that filters to everyone I meet…no matter where I travel.

 

SEPTEMBER…Finds me crossing the Atlantic again…this time I am bound for ISTANBUL!

I love setting foot on places I've only read about...and ISTANBUL had been on my wish list for a very long time.  Well, it did not disappoint...more beautiful and engaging than I ever imagined!

I love setting foot on places I’ve only read about…and ISTANBUL had been on my wish list for a very, very  long time. Well, it did not disappoint…more beautiful and engaging than I ever imagined! Photographs do not due her justice!

aa59f2e6ccf2932d1e99f2af0f263a432eef93730225cb07658bcae21867ad1daa432b07ac6a0a2e3d07c2ae83a9492bIredescent Istanbul

OCTOBER…A Season of Learning

After my premiere visit to Istanbul, I prepared for my long-awaited French language extensive immersion program at Alliance française Paris Ile-de-France.  Yes!  I’m finally going to tackle the French language 24/7.  With the kind generosity and hospitality of my life-long friend, Paris native Dominique Caffin-Robert, I found myself in the City of Lights…ready to be schooled in its difficult language…and, for the next six weeks, I would be thinking…talking…dreaming…eating…reading…and playing in French!

Find my way around Paris...on foot...via metro...was a worthwhile learning adventure in itself. By week two, there was no such thing as being lost...only diverted slightly...because with Paris' superb Metro system, you can always find your way!

Finding my way around Paris…on foot…via metro…was a worthwhile learning adventure in itself. By week two, there was no such thing as being lost…only diverted slightly…because with Paris’ superb Metro system, you can always find your way home…sooner or later!

Within a matter of weeks, my classmates comprised of students from around the world, found ourselves celebrating the successful passage into the next phase of our French immersion program!  Super!

Within a matter of weeks, and with our outstanding teacher, Sandrine HIdalgo Vidal,  my classmates comprised of students from around the world, found ourselves celebrating our successful passage into the next phase of our French immersion program! Super!

A humorous outlook on our French student life...

A humorous outlook on our French student life…

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New Class...guaranteed new friends...we were all in the same boat...eager to master this increasingly difficult language!

New Class…guaranteed new friends…we were all in the same boat…eager to master this increasingly difficult language!

 

 

 

NOVEMBER…And, I’m officially excused from school…

I was never very good at playing hookie from school, so when I told my teacher I had a previous ESCAPESEEKER assignment I needed to adhere to, she handed me an official absence request form to fill out.  That’s so French right?  I mean, the form was in French, and I was required to fill it out in French as well.  By the time I finished, I knew I had made great advances in the language and could now thoroughly enjoy my ESCAPE to the DANUBE on board the AMAPrima Waterways.  Germany, Austria, Hungary…here I come!

1405007_10153522619260105_1205773081_oPHOTOGENIC…is an understatement! [Image captured by yours truly from my balcony of Stateroom #225]

The entire AMAPrima Waterways experience was simply EXTRAORDINARY in every regard.  By the time we anchored in Budapest, our final stop, I knew I had made some life-long friends.  There is something about traveling that brings like-minded, joyful (generally) people together eager to embrace all aspects of a full, vibrant LIFE!  At least, that's what I found on board the AMAPrima...a day doesn't go by when I don't miss my newfound AMAfriends!  At the end of the day, that's the real treasure--the friendships we derive from cruising!

The entire AMAPrima Waterways experience was simply EXTRAORDINARY in every regard. By the time we anchored in Budapest, our final stop, I knew I had made some life-long friends. There is something about traveling that brings like-minded, joyful (generally) people together eager to embrace all aspects of a full, vibrant LIFE! At least, that’s what I found on board the AMAPrima…a day doesn’t go by when I don’t miss my newfound AMAfriends! At the end of the day, that’s the real treasure–the friendships we derive from cruising!

1398922_10152369539093032_2126828340_o 1425298_10152373665608032_1166428731_o 1398525_10152382434548032_850488970_o 778669_10152387310503032_701769250_o 1441360_10152389395783032_510056983_n 1466134_10152389400058032_1324180111_n 1397120_10152391070898032_1579205549_oIf you wish to make new friends who share your insatiable passion for life, then I recommend you consider cruising with the AMAWaterways fleet! I’ve never met so many tremendously engaging, fun individuals under one roof. I kid you not!

HELLO BUDAPEST!  Another Bucket List item checked off! To see her illuminated was a goose bump producing moment.  I was packing in my stateroom when I suddenly realized what was right before me.  I grabbed my camera, stepped onto my balcony and just went into photographer's dream mode!  With every click I found myself saying, "Thank you!  Thank you!  Thank you!

HELLO BUDAPEST! Another Bucket List item checked off! To see her illuminated was a goose bump producing moment. I was packing in my stateroom when I suddenly realized what was right before me. I grabbed my camera, stepped onto my balcony and just went into photographer’s dream mode! With every click I found myself saying, “Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!”

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BUDAPEST…AN ENCHANTED EVENING AT ITS BEST…[Image captured from AmaPrima Stateroom 225 Balcony by yours truly, the ESCAPESEEKER on our last night of cruising the Danube. Now is this a magnificent close to an unforgettable week or what? AMAWaterways  sure knows how to script. I cannot wait to capture it all on high definition cinematic film someday soon!

HELLO PARIS! ONE FINAL WEEK BEFORE I SAY…Au Revoir…

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No matter the season...Paris, je t'aime!

No matter the season…Paris, je t’aime!

PARIS...was an incredibly healthy experience for me in so many ways.  The more miles I walked each day, the healthier my formerly shattered right foot became.  My excess weight also melted away.  Maybe, it was from excessive use of my brain trying to conquer French? :-)  Paris is the kind of city where you never, ever feel alone...because dining solo is often as enjoyable as dining with a crowd!  It's not an easy city...but it's an inspiring one! I found myself writing volumes about what I saw...what I experienced...and what I wanted to remember forever!

PARIS…was an incredibly healthy experience for me in so many ways. The more miles I walked each day, the healthier my formerly shattered right foot became. My excess weight also melted away. Maybe, it was from the excessive use of my brain trying to conquer French? :-) Paris is the kind of city where you never, ever feel alone…because dining solo is often as enjoyable as dining with a crowd! It’s not an easy city…but it’s an inspiring one! I found myself writing volumes about what I saw…what I experienced…and what I wanted to remember forever!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1470325_10153573922525105_1710100590_nMy last night was spent at my all-time favorite hotel–the SHANGRI-LA HOTEL-PARIS.  With its magnificent unobstructed view of the Eiffel Tower at every angle, and the consistently impeccable service and attention to detail, not to mention the quiet residential location…For me, it is simply the perfect place to feel totally Parisien…a rather pampered Parisien that is!

DECEMBER…A Time of Giving…Brings me to the BIG APPLE…NEW YORK CITY.

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As my incredibly remarkable year was coming to a close…I knew there was one more important obligation I had to fulfill…my commitment to help with the annual United Nations Ambassadors Ball–a highly anticipated event orchestrated by the Hospitality Committee for the United Nations Delegation.  Their mission is as follows:

  • To promote and strengthen understanding and friendly ties between all levels of the United Nations diplomatic community and the people of New York.

  • To assist newly arrived UN diplomats and their families adjust to their new life in New York by providing information and programs that reduce language and cultural barriers.

  • To broaden an appreciation of American culture and customs among UN diplomats and their families, thereby enhancing the reputation of the United States and the United Nations.

All of the above resonates with our ESCAPESEEKER philosophy of following the Golden Rule,  “Do unto others, what you would have others do unto you.”  It’s a lofty and worthwhile goal, so of course ESCAPESEEKER offered to do our part to assist with the event.  After all, “To whom much is given, much is required.”

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MAY 2014 BRING YOU AND YOURS BLESSINGS BEYOND MEASURE:  THE GIFT OF HEALTH…THE GIFT OF ADVENTURE…and THE GIFT OF LASTING LOVE and FRIENDSHIP wherever your path may lead.

Here’s to BLISSFUL, ENDLESS ESCAPES…And, Remember, Be the kindest person you know.

With love and joy,

Mel Gee Henderson aka The ESCAPESEEKER

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