Posts Tagged ‘Luxury Escapes’

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>

 

 

 

 

#throwbackthursday USA: No Passport? No Problem! Welcome to Laguna Beach, California

Thursday, March 3rd, 2016

Laguna Beach, California ~ With Spring Break just around the corner for many students and families across the USA, many are asking me for recommendations for a fun escape they can do that doesn’t require going abroad.  Well, here’s one of my #throwbackthursday or #forwardfriday California favorites that I love visiting again and again–LAGUNA BEACH!

Laguna Beach Iconic ViewWith beautiful weather, postcard-perfect beaches and numerous hotel offerings, this is the ideal destination for students on spring break, a romantic couples’ getaway, girls get together, a family staycation, or a warm retreat for snowbirds craving to escape winter’s chill.

Here are some of my tried and true Laguna Beach activities that even Southern California locals enjoy doing on a regular basis:

LET YOUR ARTISTIC SIDE SHINE

Be an Artist for a day! Workshops welcome visitors and locals (from novice to advanced) to create a unique art piece to wear or share. Two-hour sessions led by a professional artist take place Fridays and Saturdays at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Spring Workshop Schedule: Coloring with Fire, an Introduction to Enameling on Metal (Friday, March 11 and Friday, April 29, 2016). Cost: $95; Watercolor Keep-scapes: (Saturday, April 23, 2016). Cost: $95; and Glass Mosaic: (Saturday/Sunday, March 19 and 20, 2016. Cost: $130. All materials and supplies are provided. Takes place on the Sawdust Art Festival grounds. www.sawduststudioartclasses.com

First Thursdays Art Walk. April 7, 2016 – Takes place from 6-9 p.m., with more than 40 galleries participating around town. Enjoy artist receptions, demonstrations, refreshments and live music. Free trolley service runs throughout the evening, and the Laguna Art Museum is open free of charge from 5-9 p.m. www.firsthursdaysartwalk.org

Take a Self-Guided Public Art Tour – Laguna Beach has more than 80 pieces of public art throughout town that were designed and created specifically for the community. Discover the many murals, statues, sculptures and benches with a Public Art Map that can be picked up at the Official Visitors Center, located at 381 Forest Ave. Or, view a digital map on your phone by visiting www.visitlagunabeach.com/things-to-do/art-culture/public-art/.

Laguna Art Museum’s Kids’ Art Studio, March 20, 2016 from 2-4 p.m. Create artwork based on an exhibition on view at the museum. Free for children with accompanying adults with museum admission; walk-in basis. http://lagunaartmuseum.org/education/kids-art-studio/

FOR THE BUDDING MARINE BIOLOGIST

Explore Tide Pools – View amazing marine life hidden just below the waves. Laguna Beach boasts impressive tide pooling opportunities, giving you an up-close look at various sea creatures from sea stars and hermit crabs to anemones and coralline algae. Pick up an illustrated brochure at the Official Visitors Center, 381 Forest Ave., to help you identify the sea life you might spot. Download the Visit Laguna Beach app to view the current tide schedule. www.visitlagunabeach.com/things-to-do/outdoors/tide-pools/

Whale Watching and Dolphin Cruises – The whale watching off Laguna Beach is exceptional with year-round opportunities. View gray whales in the spring. Finback whales, minke whales, humpbacks and several species of dolphin might also be spotted. Fun Fact: The dolphin population off Laguna’s coastline exceeds more than that of Florida, Hawaii and the Caribbean combined! For whale-watching/dolphin excursions: www.newportlanding.com; www.dolphinsafari.com; www.danawharf.com

Tour the Pacific Marine Mammal Center – the only facility of its kind in Orange County for pinnipeds stranded along 42 miles of Southern California coast. It is dedicated to rescue, rehabilitation and release back into the wild of marine mammals. Admission is free, but donations are welcomed. www.pacificmmc.org

STAY FIT WHILE ENJOYING THE CALIFORNIA SUNSHINE

Rent bicycles then tour the charming village or the backroads. Riding maps and tours available for all skill levels. www.lagunabeachcyclery.com. Take a 7.5 mile guided bike tour (for groups up to eight) exploring the downtown, quaint neighborhoods and canyons, with views of the Laguna coastline. www.lavidalaguna.com

Embark on a guided two-hour kayak eco-tour to explore hidden coves, beaches and kelp beds, and view sea life up close. Single and tandem kayak tours available through La Vida Laguna. Great for families! www.lavidalaguna.com

FOR THE CRUISERS IN THE FAMILY

Hop aboard and ride the free weekend trolley to get around Laguna Beach. Service hours: Friday, 4-11 p.m.; Saturday, 11 a.m.-11 p.m.; Sunday, 11 a.m.-8 p.m.
Trolley Information: (949) 497-0766; www.visitlagunabeach.com/trolley
Download the official Visit Laguna Beach app and use the “Trolley Tracker” function to access real-time trolley information.

WHERE TO STAY

OUR TOP PICK, since our ESCAPESEEKER mantra is #luxury,   MONTAGE LAGUNA BEACH (Advance Warning, the impeccable staff makes going home really tough!)

Montage Laguna Beach

Here are a few current MONTAGE PACKAGES:

“Experience California” Luxury Coastal Picnic Experience

This experience allows guests to indulge in a picnic that showcases the best coastal views and cuisine in Southern California. The day starts with a private helicopter tour of the Southern California coastline, followed by an afternoon picnic atop a cliff catered by renowned Montage Laguna Beach chefs. Guests will end the day with more culinary artistry at Montage Laguna Beach’s oceanfront, signature restaurant, Studio, with a private dining experience and a visit from Studio’s Executive Chef Craig Strong. The following morning, guests will end their adventure with a Coastal Shores Stone Massage at Spa Montage. Pricing begins at $2,845; available April 1-June 15, 2016.

Award-winning STUDIO restaurant where Executive Chef Craig Strong and his exquisite California culinary artistry reigns supreme.

Award-winning STUDIO restaurant where Executive Chef Craig Strong and his exquisite California culinary artistry reigns supreme.

 

Spring Getaway – Montage Memories Package

Enjoy one night’s accommodations in an oceanfront guest room with access to all resort amenities, plus one $60 breakfast credit at The Loft or In-Room Dining and complimentary valet parking. A complimentary 45-minute photo session captures your stay, with a $50 print credit included and no sitting fee required. For more information and to reserve your stay, click here. Just for Kids! During your stay, children are invited to Paintbox (ages 5-12) & Paintbox Petite (ages 2-5). Activities include cookie decorating, tie dye, egg hunt, petting zoo and more. To view the Paintbox activities calendar click here. For more information and to make a reservation for your child, please call (949) 715-6005.

Family Fun Package

paintbox.tif_finalBring the entire family for the ultimate getaway. They’ll take care of breakfast and entertainment for the kids while you relax and enjoy the sweeping panoramas of the Pacific. Includes: One night’s accommodations in an oceanfront guest room; one $60 dining credit for breakfast at The Loft or In-Room dining; complimentary half-day Paintbox admission for one youngster ($70 value); and access to all resort amenities. Rate based on availability. Additional restrictions may apply. Valid through Dec. 31, 2016. www.montagehotels.com

For additional hotel packages, visit www.VisitLagunaBeach.com.

 

ABOUT LAGUNA BEACH

LagunaBeachPostcard

Laguna Beach is Southern California’s premier coastal destination located midway between Los Angeles and San Diego, and along the southern coast of Orange County.  Known as home to hundreds of local artists, and set amid 20,000 acres of wilderness, Laguna Beach is primarily served by John Wayne Airport in Orange County (SNA) located just a short 20 minutes drive away.

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

Making Memories is what it’s all about.

With love,

Mel aka The ESCAPESEEKER

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A MASTERFUL WORK OF ART PROUDLY RESTS UPON A REMOTE PATAGONIAN TOWN

Wednesday, April 15th, 2015

 by Mel Gee Henderson with select images captured by Miristi Gee DSC_0358

MasterfulArt: Remota HotelModern Art In Harmony With Patagonia’s Wild Horizon

 

Puerto Natales, Chile ~ It is dusk and we arrive at Remota hotel just as the sun is bidding the day adieu.  One can’t help but gaze at the way the hundreds of windows reflect the events taking place outside its walls. And, what are those events?  It’s Mother Nature’s own works of art on display day after day in this, the most remote and only outpost town of significant size in Chilean Patagonia, Puerto Natales.

AN ARCHITECT’S MISSION:  RESIDING IN HARMONY WITH NATURE

Architect Germán Del Sol, who is also a professor at the Universidad de Chile, wanted to conceal the luxury that awaits the traveler, “to lower the expectations, so its interior will appear unexpectedly in all its splendor.” It’s all about the element of surprise—including the fact that even with its innovative design and lavish comforts, the hotel was built with a conscious effort to care for nature, striving to use minimal energy.  Congratulations Mr. Del Sol. Mission accomplished. The minute one walks into Remota Hotel, you feel as though you’ve walked into an expansive living, breathing Museum of Modern Art. If it hadn’t been for the instant welcoming staff eager to make us feel right at home, I would have immediately begun exploring every corner of this innovative hotel on my own!

Golden Hue Remota Hotel exudes a warm golden hue exceeded only by the genuine warmth of its caring staff.

 

Recognizing my childlike curiosity, Marisa Pugliese, who serves as the General Manager’s international guests liaison–in great part due to her command of the English language–invited me to tour the hotel early the next morning, vividly explaining the philosophy behind each area of this masterful work of art.

No stone turned...Marisa pointed out that the empty central courtyard or plaza, introduces the vast wilderness of Patagonia at the core of the hotel.

It is surrounded in three sides by two guest rooms buildings, and the main one in the back a little higher, where the common areas of the hotel are placed.

“The plaza is empty, except for a few big boulders, but is full of suggestions- like the clear cut that one makes to see the forest. It lets one see what one wishes, whether it is the natural environment, or the strong culture that has allowed men, women and children to enjoy  life–the unique life found only in Patagonia.  The main plaza is an invitation to leave the warm environment of the hotel, and go wandering into the wild, unworried whether the day is windy or cold, keeping in mind that all the comforts of home await you at Remota when you return,” Marisa adds.

 MiristiGeeImageryThe ever-changing Patagonia light enters the building through the sequence of vertical cuts of the window panes granting guests the feeling of open space.

A LABOR OF LOVE…GIFTS FOUND IN NATURE

The strong and spartan geometric furniture was made by carpenters at the job site out of big pieces of dead native wood recovered from the big forests of Lenga trees that still thrive close to the sea in the Patagonian low lands.

In all the furnishings, the handwork expressed by the craftsmen is clearly evident, the fruit of their labors document the year-long challenge of ultimately bringing the hotel to life.

IMG_0254Remota affords so many options for guests to find their own favorite space to gather with family and friends or just merely close your eyes to ponder and reflect upon the beauty of life.  It’s easy to do when every day you’re given an opportunity to get up close to the world’s most iconic natural wonders, many of which some people can merely dream of visiting.

Let nature's light shine throughA Chilean poet describes, “What is important is not the light that one turns on every night, but the light that one once turned off allows the memory of light….”
A place to rest...After a day of exploring Puerto Natales and its nearby sites, it’s a welcome reprieve to be able to sink into our luscious beds!

NO MATTER HOW GRAND THE HOTEL, IT’S THE PEOPLE WHO ULTIMATELY MAKE IT STAND OUT ABOVE THE REST

Enter Marisa Pugliese, a beautiful Latina who embodies all the extraordinary qualities we associate with being Latina, especially after we learned of her family’s famed Argentine Tango roots.  She gave up dancing the Tango long ago, but she puts the same focus and passion the dance requires towards her hospitality duties as she serves as the liaison for all international visitors.  No matter what arises, Marisa is all about “Mission Possible”…and when you’re visiting a place as remote as Patagonia, you want someone at the helm with a total “can do” attitude!

Understanding that my ESCAPESEEKER team is on a quest to find the compelling stories to build a new episode featuring Puerto Natales, Marisa quickly introduced us to native Chilean guide, Javier Lazo.  My photographer, Miristi’s first reaction, “Ok, she knows how to be a “casting agent” too.”  Our guide definitely has a camera-friendly face! Now, the big test–will he have the encyclopedic knowledge of the area that our PBS program standard requires? Well, we were about to find out:

ANCIENT CAVES, CONDOR CLIFFS, and ETHNOBOTANY

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We arose early to enjoy Remota’s bounteous breakfast to ensure we were properly fueled for our full day’s exploration with our expert guide, Javier Lazo.  Our first stop, Cueva del Milodón Natural Monument located  24 km (15 mi) northwest of Puerto Natales.

The monument is situated along the flanks of Cerro Benitez, and comprised of several caves and a rock formation called Silla del Diablo (Devil’s Chair). The monument also includes the largest 200 meter long cave discovered in 1895 by German explorer, Hermann Eberhard who found a large, seemingly fresh piece of skin of an unidentified animal. In 1896 the cave was again explored by Otto Nordenskjold who later recognized that the skin belonged to Mylodon, a giant ground sloth animal which became extinct at the end of the Pleistocene Epoch,the geological epoch which lasted from about 2,588,000 to 11,700 years ago, spanning the world’s most recent glacial era.

MilodonDarwiniAfter our mind-expanding geological history lesson, Javier led us further up the Cerro Benitez, continually teaching us about the flora and fauna.

10258344_10153704860798032_4915237461637036254_oThe higher we hiked, the more dramatically beautiful the vistas. I have an acronym for times like these, TYGM or “Thank You God” Moments!

Cerro Benitez8381-two-condors-soaring-below

I noticed we were not the only ones enjoying the view above Lago Sofia as we witnessed Andean Condors soaring below the cliff top where we stood.

Exploring on foot guided by an enthusiastic native guide is the fastest way to help modern travelers, especially those of us coming from big cities to relate with the natural environment and enjoy an enriching, mind-expanding, breathtaking experience.

Thank you Javier for fueling our curiosity and helping restore our childlike wonder.

Our dedicated Remota driver was waiting for us near Lago Sofia’s shoreline ready to take us back to Remota, just a short drive awaywhere we had no doubt another of Chef René Espinoza’s delightful dinner offerings were being skillfully prepared. What’s our first hint? Well, for one, the incredible aroma of hot Chilean bread baking in the kitchen is enough to make one want to steal a few loaves!

OUR THIRST FOR KNOWLEDGE IS ONLY MATCHED BY OUR HUNGER FOR CHEF ESPINOZA’S CULINARY ARTISTRY

42-34986576As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words, so please permit me to allow this photo montage of the images captured by our own talented photographer, Miristi Gee to tell our delicious story of our nightly dining experiences. Chef Espinoza uses only the freshest ingredients–his baked crab casserole is out of this world–and, I’ve personally witnessed his bread makers and pastry chefs in action–they’ve gotta be the best bakers in Puerto Natales.

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PUERTO NATALES: A PORT TOWN BORN OF RUGGED, RESOURCEFUL,  IMMIGRANT PIONEERS WITH A WORK ETHIC THAT KNEW NO BOUNDS…

 LIFE IMITATING ARTMany Puerto Natales newly arrived adventure-seeking residents are drawn to the natural, inspiring beauty of this remote land.

Puerto Natales collage (1)

A LOOK BACK TO THE PAST…

punta-arenas-mapPuerto Natales is located in the province of  Última Esperanza (Last Hope), named by Juan Ladrilleros, the sailor who was seeking the Strait of Magellan in the year 1557. It was his “last hope” to find the Strait after exploring the maze of channels between the waters of the Pacific and the mainland. It was not until three centuries later, in 1830, that another major expedition sailed through the fjords and channels of Última Esperanza: the British expedition of the sloop HMS Beagle. Some of the expedition members, Robert FitzRoy, William Skyring and James Kirke as well as their senior officers are remembered by several place-names in the Puerto Natales area. Commander Fitzroy was the captain during the Second voyage of HMS Beagle (1831–1836).

In 1870, interest in the Ultima Esperanza region was rekindled. Among the daring travelers who ventured to these desolate lands was Santiago Zamora, also known as ‘Baqueano’ Zamora. He discovered the lakes of the Torres del Paine area. Another was the English traveler and writer Lady Florence Dixie, commemorated in the city’s present-day Hotel Lady Florence Dixie. Dixie authored the book Across Patagonia, where she describes the first tourist expedition to Torres del Paine and the Three Horns (the three granite spires) which she named as Cleopatra’s Needles.

Puerto Natales was founded on May 1911 as a port for the sheep industry. During the last half of the 20th century the sheep industry declined and many people from Puerto Natales started to work in the coal mines of Río Turbio in Argentina. During the peak of the sheep industry in Patagonia, two large “frigorificos” or cold-storage plants were constructed in the Natales area, of which one still stands.

TODAY and TOMORROW…

Puerto Natales has many tourist facilities to meet every budget,  including sporting goods stores carrying popular global brands, i.e. Solomon for the serious outdoor enthusiasts.   It has become a common base for excursions to the world-famous Torres del Paine National Park, one of the most visited national parks in Chile, in great part due to its  impressive, towering rock formations.  Named a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve, the park is home to hundreds of different birds and many mammal species, as well as the third largest ice field on the planetThe national park is open all year round, but the best season to visit the park is from October to April, the southern hemisphere’s spring and summer season, the latter of which has more than 16 hours of daylight–a mountaineer’s delight!

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Stay tuned for our next report…when we discover what it’s like to reside at a true Chilean “Estancia” located within the shadow of the Torres del Paine!

Until then, here’s to #Blissful, #Endless #Escapes…

With love,

Mel Gee Henderson aka The ESCAPESEEKER

DSC_0105How we got there: via LAN Airlines:   www.lanairlines.com MIA/SCL/PUQ

Upon arrival in Punta Arenas, we were picked up by TURISMO BOULDER

Contact: Gonzalo Ginouves @ +56 9 79572915 or turismoboulder@gmail.com

REMOTA

www.remotahotel.com

Ruta 9 Norte, km 1.5

Puerto Natales, Chile

info@remota.net

+56 2 23871500

Architect: German del Sol
Location: Provincia de Última Esperanza, Magallanes, Patagonia,
Project team: José Luis Ibañez G. / Architect, Francisca Schüler M. / Architect, Carlos Venegas / Architect, Rodrigo Arenas P. / Graphics Arts
Contractor: Salfa, Punta Arenas
Constructed Area: 5,213.46 sqm
Project year: 2004 – 2005
Construction year: 2004 – 2005
Additional
Photographs by Guy Wenborne, Felipe Camus.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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THE m/s PAUL GAUGUIN: VOYAGE TO PARADISE

Monday, August 5th, 2013

The ESCAPESEEKER Big Birthday Escape…

With Select Images by Ariane Bañon

 

 

 

 

7nt_TahitiSocietyIsl_high_0French Polynesia – Upon learning of a sudden opening in my schedule due to a change in our ESCAPESEEKER Global Odyssey assignment just three days after my 60th birthday, I knew there was one place on earth guaranteed to restore my youth,  rejuvenate my body, recharge my spirit, and enrich my soul all at once – FRENCH POLYNESIA!  Sometimes, only we can determine the best birthday gift to give ourselves.  And, after covering four continents and thousands and thousands of miles in two short months, I absolutely deserved a “birthday escape” so I booked a 7-night passage on board the luxurious m/s Paul Gauguin—often described as the “The ship with a soul.”  After all, a big birthday deserves a big celebration of life, of health, and for this grateful globetrotting ESCAPESEEKER, a voyage to a place  novelist, poets, and artists, describe as “the most dramatically beautiful place on earth.”  In other words, Tahitian Paradise. Truth be known, I must confess my friends are right. My love for Tahiti is nearing addiction status as they remind me, “Mel, you were just there at the beginning of 2013!” If you take a close look at the photograph below captured of me with my new friends I met on the Paul Gauguin’s January 2013 sailing– Lucy Miller and Sylvia Cheek jet-skiing at Bora Bora’s crystal clear, turquoise lagoon –it’s easier to understand why I’m so enraptured with the beauty of these Tahitian Islands and desire to return as often as I can! It’s even more reason why I’m qualified to guide you as you prepare your own VOYAGE TO PARADISE.

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Yes, as the TV Travel Series Journalist of ESCAPESEEKER and logging in countless miles each month,  French Polynesia is where I go when I find myself needing a life’s transfusion. Thank goodness, I was able to book the last available seat on Air Tahiti Nui from Los Angeles to Papeete.  Tahiti’s gateway to her heavenly islands is a mere 8-hour nap from LAX! And, I’m happy to discover that many have taken my ESCAPESEEKER advice to fly Air Tahiti Nui so they can be guaranteed that their vacation can begin the minute they board their Tahiti flight and begin their  journey to paradise.

Jetting to Paradise...

After a delicious dinner, I closed my eyes to begin dreaming about my return to paradise, and before I knew it, we were already landing, 30 minutes earlier than scheduled, which meant we would be able to witness our first sunrise in Papeete!

 Papeete awakens…the sea is like glass…I could not wait for the first sign of dawn breaking…it’s like poetry in motion.

My personal formula for eliminating any signs of jet lag before it even begins to set in—walk it out!

After collecting my luggage I am whisked away by my favorite native driver, Greg who immediately delivers me to the InterContinental Tahiti located in Pepeete, a mere five-minute drive from the airport.  I always arrange a half-day hotel stay to give me and my body time to acclimate before I embark on the Paul Gauguin later in the afternoon.  This guarantees I’ll be refreshed and ready for the 7-night voyage to the Society Islands:  Raiatea, Taha’a Bora Bora, Moorea and back to Tahiti’s capital of Papeete. What’s my secret for combating jet lag and fatigue?  I walk the beautiful tropical grounds of the resort; I swim in its beautiful sand-bottom pool; and, sometimes, I top it off with a Spa treatment which definitely erases any last remaining symptoms of jet lag!

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.

Why choose the m/s Paul Gauguin? Ships are not created equal…

These days there are many cruise companies to choose from, and they all offer a buffet of itineraries to some of the most beautiful places on earth.  So, one has to ask, why choose the m/s Paul Gauguin?

  The m/s Paul Gauguin

For this seasoned cruiser and  ESCAPESEEKER,
“A Room with a View” is a major incentive to choose the m/s Paul Gauguin…

A ROOM WITH A VIEW

The m/s Paul Gauguin was designed specifically to sail the shallow seas of French Polynesia, visiting smaller ports that larger mega ships can’t reach.  The spacious suites and staterooms all offer ocean views, of which 70% have private balconies.  After all, with endless awe-inspiring vistas throughout its voyage, it would be a shame not to wake up to Tahiti’s glorious sunrise, or miss its mesmerizing sunsets because of a windowless “inside cabin.”  Rather, the m/s Paul Gauguin guarantees each guest, no matter what category of accommodation they book, access to borrowed landscape, in other words, “A room with a view.”

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This MAGNIFICENT SUNRISE was captured while standing on my Stateroom balcony as we made our way towards the island of Raiatea!

For sea explorers, it just doesn’t get any easier…nor any more mesmerizing!

Personally, as an active water sports’ enthusiasts, I love that the m/s Paul Gauguin has an onboard watersports marina—yes, the ship’s team of expert dive masters departs right from the marina. I can go from my cabin straight to the waiting zodiac fully equipped for underwater exploration!  For scuba divers, it just doesn’t get any easier or more convenient.

Here are a few main reasons we love diving with the m/s Paul Gauguin Cruises' Diving Team on Moorea: 1) We know we're in great hands 2) The water temperature is well, perfect. 3) We get to say hello to our underwater friends. and 4) Because we can!

Paul Gauguin’s best kept secret…

Paul Gauguin's Best Kept Secret

After an active day of play and island exploration, those of us who have sailed with the Paul Gauguin before, quickly learn that its on board SPA maybe its best kept secret.  May I suggest you book early before everyone else on board discovers its team of “velvet healing hands” therapists, salon hairstylist and colorist are all better or equal to those 5-star Spas you frequent on land!

Exquisite dining combined with Polynesian hospitality…

Exquisite DiningLess I forget, there’s a choice of three open-seating dining venues with an expert culinary team ready to meet the expectations of even the most discerning palate. After all, you have to remember, you’re cruising the FRENCH Polynesian Islands.  Thus, you can expect a meñu offering of the highest caliber.

As a writer, my inspirations like my hunger may be triggered at all hours of the day and night.  But no worries.  The Paul Gauguin provides 24-hour room service.

There’s also always someone on duty to assist at all times, especially appreciated on those occasions when you run out of your stateroom without your key!

And, should you find yourself in need of one more swimsuit, or need to spruce up and accessorize that beautiful basic black dress for the evening, the Paul Gauguin’s own Boutique Stylists are skilled and ready to add glamour to your day or evening event.

Incomparable POLYNESIAN Hospitality…

The atmosphere aboard the entire ship exudes warmth, informality, and Polynesian hospitality for which the m/s Paul Gauguin has become world-renowned.  And with its beloved troupe of Gauguines—local Tahitians who serve as cruise staff, entertainers, and storytellers eager to share their native culture—add the special Polynesian incomparable spirit of Tahiti to every sailing. Other cruise vessels try to replicate what the Paul Gauguin has learned to do so well–establish a floating, caring community, thus earning its reputation of “The ship with a soul.”  It’s difficult to explain in words…but you’ll feel it the minute you step aboard.  With one crew member for every 1.5 guests, you’re assured the highest level of personal attention. I’ve never met a staff more dedicated to my comfort and well-being as gracefully expressed in countless thoughtful acts throughout the cruise. The way the maitre d’, Ivan Bolalin remembers  my name or how much I love their mushroom risotto! And, in the kind attention extended by Edward on the top deck where I like to enjoy my breakfast. This is his first cruise, but already he made special note that I only drink water with ice for breakfast, and has a full glass already waiting at my favorite breezy table, where I am able to take in the beautiful vistas as I dine, as well as apply Mother Nature’s technique of air drying my freshly shampooed hair!  You may be surprised to know that this extremely hard-working staff, who continually exude a joyful smile expects no gratuities!  Gratuities are included in the cruise fare, leaving you worry-free to just accept all the special tailor-made treatment a VIP like you deserves.

Gauguines love to share their culture...

Don’t just take my word for it.  Please permit me to share some of the heartfelt sentiments shared by several of the first time guests I met on my “birthday sailing.”  One thing you’ll discover about the Paul Gauguin—it’s so easy to find yourselves, like I did, making new friends with people from around the world, whom like you may also be celebrating monumental events in their lives, and have dreamt of one day setting foot on these heavenly islands! The world is full of friends just waiting to be met.  Perhaps I should rephrase that—there’s a ship full of new fun-loving, engaging friends just waiting to meet you!  Like and you and me, they’re all eager to celebrate what life has to offer!

CELEBRATE Life-long best friends, Kim Friedman and Tara Turner celebrate their premiere visit to French Polynesia with Cruise Director, Michael Shapiro.

In their own words…

“The service on board the m/s Paul Gauguin is out of this world.  It’s not easy getting up early in the morning and delivering the same superb service at noon and at dinner too.  They really get it!” ~ John and Kristen Kennedy, Brisbane, Australia

“The real thing is so much better than I ever envisioned.  On Bora Bora, the turquoise lagoon is more turquoise than any picture I’ve seen prior.  This reality needs no air-brushing!” ~ Carol Horner, Virginia Beach, USA

“The Aqua Safari excursion blew me away! The Paul Gauguin experience exceeded my expectations and left me in awe!”  ~ Kim Friedman,  Manhattan Beach, California.

“As a seasoned cruiser, I set my expectations high right from the start. And, the Paul Gauguin definitely met my expectations.” ~ Tara Turner, Orange County, California.

Personal Service to the max“Mel, I can’t believe the tremendous welcome we received at the St. Regis Bora Bora! Not only did the GM, Mike Schoonewagen greet us at the dock after sending his own personal boat to pick us up, but he also took time from his very full schedule to spend time with us.  I shall never forget our beautiful day at the St. Regis Beach.  It was the highlight of our trip! We’re definitely coming back!” ~ Lance Turner, Orange County, California

 

 

Best Beach Day Ever!

Pearly-White Beaches of St. Regis Bora Bora

Lagoonarium

St. Regis Bora Bora’s Lagoonarium

Follow us to ParadiseIf you wish to follow in our footsteps, simply click below, and before you know it, you’ll be sinking your toes in the pearly white, soft sands of French Polynesia too!   No matter your age, Tahiti appeals to everyone–both the youth and the youthful!

www.airtahitinui.com

www.pgcruises.com

Perhaps you may wish to join our ESCAPESEEKER team on the m/s Paul Gauguin’s November 13th sailing to the Society Islands and the Tuamotus?  Oh yes, the only way I could escape solo was to promise my film crew they would get their turn at experiencing Paradise also.  My love and passion for French Polynesia is undeniably contagious! For more info, please feel free to contact me at:  escapeseeker@gmail.com

 

Here’s to BLISSFUL, ENDLESS ESCAPES…

And, remember, no matter where you travel, BE THE KINDEST PERSON YOU KNOW.

With love,

The ESCAPESEEKER My passion for Tahiti is never-ending!

Mel aka THE ESCAPESEEKER

Creator, Journalist Host, Executive Producer

PBS SoCal TV Travel Series, ESCAPESEEKER

The natives’ melodic harmony will remain with you…as if you’re still in their midst.  A very special “MAURURU” to all of the wonderful, enthusiastic, beautiful guests who participated in this ESCAPESEEKER story.  May you all be blessed with more unforgettable adventures…Until we meet again…

I wish you all SAFE TRAVELS!

 

 

 

REFLECTING UPON OUR SOUTHERN AFRICA ADVENTURE…

Saturday, March 3rd, 2012

SOUTH AFRICAN SUNRISE

It’s been over two weeks since our return from our ESCAPESEEKER EPIC AFRICA Advance Research assignment, and still the memories remain imbedded deep in our hearts and minds! Our ESCAPESEEKER Team totally embraced the nomadic life as we explored the EPIC SOUTHERN AFRICAN region and experienced the very best LUXURY SAFARIS found anywhere in the world. As we departed ROYAL MALEWANE on January 29th, JUAN PINTO the Head Ranger & Reserve Manager gave each of us a parting gift, a CD, and it is only now that I’ve been able to view its contents. WOW, Juan is not only a Master Guide–a category that truly deserves to have a higher class category to even begin to describe Juan’s extraordinary kaleidoscope of abilities–I suggest “Renaissance Man” since there isn’t a topic or skill related to the great outdoors that Juan has not yet conquered–including NATURE PHOTOGRAPHY! Take a look at this precious gift–a collection of the images Juan captured of ROYAL MALEWANE and our ESCAPESEEKER team doing what we do best: ESCAPING TO THE GREATEST DESTINATIONS IN THE WORLD ONE LUXURY ESCAPE AT A TIME. WE MISS YOU ROYAL MALEWANE. We cannot wait to take the next step–PHASE TWO–returning to film ROYAL MALEWANE and the other remarkable Southern Africa destinations in all its WILD AND WONDROUS grandeur!

Until then, we are happy to share this beautiful slide show which reminds us of why we continually long to return. All you have to do is click on the following link:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OlUWIEDd8DQ&feature=youtu.be

Here’s to BLISSFUL, ENDLESS ESCAPES

Mel aka ESCAPESEEKER

Creator/Journalist Host/Executive Producer

PBS SoCal ESCAPESEEKER

“Go confidently in the direction of your dreams.  Live the life you have imagined.” ~ Henry David Thoreau

“Remember, Be the kindest person you know!” ~ Mel Gee Henderson

EPIC AFRICA: WILD AND WONDROUS…ESCAPESEEKER TEAM, “WE ARE LIVING THE DREAM!”

Tuesday, February 7th, 2012

The ESCAPESEEKER ART -Advance Research Team doing what we do best -experiencing first hand the world's most fascinating travel destinations!

 

Stanley’s Camp, Botswana, AFRICA — Who would have ever venture to guess that a once-upon-a-time Philippine born, American raised, barefoot little girl from a small seaside town in Southern California, would be leading an Advance Research Team expedition throughout the southern region of Africa for her own popular PBS SoCal Travel Series, ESCAPESEEKER, Season 2012!  Yes, that would be me. Even from a very early age, my dear Mother, Eppie who passed away last month, made me believe there wasn’t anything I can’t do.  And, today, I continue to believe all dreams are possible as also expressed by Henry David Thoreau, “Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined.”

Who knew this little girl from humble beginnings would someday become the globetrotting "ESCAPESEEKER"?

I’ve now earned the title,  “seasoned journalist”—not sure if that refers to my age or my experience—but no matter, it’s a description I’ll gladly accept.  After all, it took a great chunk of my first five decades to produce six incredibly beautiful children and 10 of the sweetest grandchildren on earth!   And now, here I am blessedly exploring our marvelous planet with a child-like wonder as the “ESCAPESEEKER!”

 

ESCAPESEEKER, a nickname I derived while working for Asia’s premiere high-end global luxury magazine, ESCAPE.  My fascinating cover stories became the impetus which led me to create the inspiring PBS travel series that bears my nickname, ESCAPESEEKER!  My family and friends will be the first to tell you, my insatiable wanderlust knows no bounds, as I circle the earth with my talented film crew, often to its most remote corners, seeking out the greatest destinations in the world, one stunning LUXURY ESCAPE at a time.

 

DOUBLE RAINBOWS gently illuminating the stunning beauty and thunderous impact of the majestic VICTORIA FALLS--one of the SEVEN WONDERS of the WORLD!

If I may offer a word of warning: my passion for travel is highly contagious. Wherever I go, whomever I meet, it doesn’t take long before I have entire groups mesmerized with remarkable, often humorous travel stories, utilizing the images and footage captured by my photography team of the most dramatically jaw-dropping beautiful places on earth!  As my PBS advisors have explained, “Mel, your job each week is to deliver 27 minutes of pure joy!” Well, you know what—you can’t fake ‘pure joy’—so thankfully, our program succeeds because JOY is exactly what my team and I feel time and time again, as we are given this incredible opportunity to capture the very best our world has to offer!”  I am proud to add, we keep it honest and we keep it real.  I want my travel-loving, loyal audience to know that anything I can do, they can do.  It is not always easy to reach the destinations we feature on ESCAPESEEKER—but I’ll guarantee that they will always be unforgettable and sometimes even life-changing.”

Sunset on the Zambezi River...it took our breath away! Captured by Jim Jones

 

Since January 8, 2012, my Advance Research Team aka ART and I have been criss-crossing the magnificent, diverse expanse of the southern region of Africa and today I am reporting from the remote Okavango Delta of Botswana. The Okavango Delta is the largest inland delta in the world.  It is here that the exclusive Chief’s Island in the Mombo Concession, that Sanctuary Chief’s Camp, as well as the Sanctuary Stanley’s Camp is located.

From Stanley’s Camp with flew via a chartered single engine Cessna to the Kalahari Desert, home of the famous salt flats known as the Makgadikgadi Pans.

It was here that a legend of a man by the name of Jack Bousfield stumbled upon a site during a trapping expedition in the Makgadikgadi Pans during the 60’s,  that so captured his imagination, he set up camp under an acacia with the unshakeable expectation that others would feel the same.  To describe Jack Bousfield as a “legend” would be an understatement. Listed in the Guinness Book of World Records for the dubious achievement of hunting 53,000 crocodiles, survivor of seven plane crashes, gored by elephants, stung by African killer bees, Jack did it all! Ralph Bousfield, along with Catherine Raphaely founded Uncharted Africa Safari co. in 1993 and captures the undying spirit of Ralph’s adventurer father in what I found to be an almost indescribable place in the middle of Botswana’s Kalahari Desert aptly called,  Jack’s Camp.

The choice of such a striking locale, owed much to his original taste for the savage beauty of a forgotten Africa where he lived until his tragic death in an aircraft accident in 1992.

There's no other place in this world like it!

The minute I stepped onto Jack’s Camp, I felt I had just been casts in my own “Out of Africa” feature film…except this time, it was being shot in IMAX format.  Yes, the endless landscape is majestically panoramic, further magnified by the infinite blue, blue skies.  Add to the movie-set, the meticulously designed interiors of our tents–you honestly just have to experience it for yourselves.  It looks like something out of a novel…a novel I am now inspired to write.  It’s that kind of place.  I promise,  it will bring out the adventure/romance writer in you!

This is my version of ESCAPESEEKER CAMPING!

 

Uncharted Africa Safari Co. has pioneered and passionately supported cultural tourism in Botswana since the company’s inception 13 years ago. It has long been Unchartered Africa's belief that it is a vitally important tool in terms of preserving this unique, but sadly fast-vanishing, culture. Unchartered Africa has been working closely with the Zu/’hoasi people of the Western Kalahari for many years and are privileged to have a small group of these extraordinary men to guide us on an afternoon walking safari. Offering a window into the past, they teach us how they have survived in this harshest of environments, using their vast and ancient knowledge of plants, animal behaviour and survival skills. By the way, the combined ages of these Bushmen will astound you. Clearly, their healthy desert lifestyle promotes longevity!

Our team is continually blown away by the pristine, natural beauty and abundant wildlife we have found throughout our African journey.  More importantly, we are so moved by the genuine warmth and welcoming hospitality of the natives we meet.  Their eyes just sparkle as they proudly educate us about their beautiful country, wildlife treasures and unique culture.  It’s crucially important that if you really want to get to know a place, you have to see it, experience it, through the eyes of the locals.  You have to peel away the layers, and be in the moment…their moment…their world.  I promise you, it will change you from a mere tourist to a bonafide explorer!  And, as an additional reward, I guarantee you’ll make life-long friends wherever you go as your enriching travel experiences result in greater understanding and appreciation of your fellow-beings.

It is this heart-warming and important discovery that we made during our entire African journey that truly moved us.  All the various properties we visited strive to build long-lasting relationships with their local communities by identifying and sponsoring self-sustaining projects that have the support of the owners, their staff, and often guests like us who are given the opportunity to visit these philanthropic programs.  We met entire staffs working closely with the local schools—building, repairing, providing them with necessary school supplies to improve the general well-being and education of the children.

So what are you waiting for? It’s time to take the leap!  There’s no better time like the present to dust off that passport and fearlessly follow in my ESCAPESEEKER footsteps. The hotels, lodges, and camps that my team and I have experienced are located in some of the most beautiful pristine, best preserved areas of Africa.  There’s nothing stopping even Grandma’s like me from experiencing all that our majestic world provides. You just have to take that first step—make the necessary preparations and everything else will fall into place.  I’ll be more than happy to personally give you any guidance you may need to get you started on the right footing.

 

In the meantime, please stay tuned for ESCAPESEEKER Fall Season 2012, when my film crew and I will joyfully present, two in-depth, inspiring hours featuring EPIC AFRICA: WILD and WONDROUS!  Honestly, you won’t believe it until you see it.  And, if you can’t see it first hand, watching ESCAPESEEKER is the next best thing!

 

We’d like to express our sincere gratitude to the entire ROYAL AFRICAN SAFARIS team for your unwavering support and brilliant expertise.  You have proven to our team that one knows AFRICA like you do. You’ve made navigating our way through Africa’s massive landscape seem effortless. We could not have engaged in such an extensive effort without your guidance. Thank you!  Visit their website if you’re craving a tailor-made African Safari Adventure of your own!  http://www.royalafricansafaris.com/

There's nothing like an AFRICAN SAFARI to turn a novice photographer into a REAL PRO! This stunning image, captured up close and personal by our own Advance Research Team member, Jim Jones. Great work Jim!

 

Our heartfelt thanks also goes out to all of the destinations and their superb staff, seasoned game trackers and guides who have welcomed us with open arms and provided us with more mind-expanding, enriching WOW wildlife experiences than we ever dreamed possible!   We had no idea just how tremendous and unforgettable our African experiences would be. That is until we met you.  I’ve listed all of our amazing destinations below in the order that we first set eyes upon you:

 

  1. Cape Grace, www.capegrace.com/

 

  1. La Residence, www.laresidence.co.za/

 

  1. Birkenhead House and Villa, www.birkenheadhouse.com/

 

  1. Grootbos Nature Reserve, www.grootbos.com

 

  1. Rosenhof Country House, www.rosenhof.co.za

 

  1. The Plettenberg, www.plettenberg.com/

 

  1. Phinda Private Game Reserve, The Homestead, www.phinda.com/

 

  1. Lion Sands Game Reserve, “1933” – www.lionsands.com

 

  1. Royal Maliwane, www.royalmalewane.com/

 

  1. Tintswalo at Waterfall, www.tintswalo.com/

 

  1. Forum at Homini, http://www.forumhomini.com/

 

  1. Sanctuary Retreats: Sussi & Chuma, http://www.sanctuaryretreats.com/lodges/zambia/sussi-and-chuma.cfm

 

  1. Sanctuary Retreats: Chief’s Camp, http://www.sanctuaryretreats.com/lodges/botswana/chiefs-camp.cfm

 

  1. Sanctuary Retreats: Stanley’s Camp, http://www.sanctuaryretreats.com/lodges/botswana/stanleys-camp.cfm

 

  1. Jack’s Camp, www.africansafaris.com/JacksCamp

 

 

I am forever grateful to my indefatigable Advance Research Team: Jim Jones, Peg Whisler Jones, Carol Borghi, Ozzie Jack Clarke, Roy Henderson, Marion Ellis, Peter Moody, and Royal African Safaris’ own, Phil West.  You are all amazing…thank you for being an outstanding dream team!

 

Here’s to BLISSFUL, NEVER-ENDING ESCAPES!

 

Love,

Mel aka ESCAPESEEKER