How to Plan a Storybook “Christmas in Connecticut”

We originally researched and published this article in 2012, and it has proven to be a winter holiday favorite among our readers ever since. We believe there is magic in the air in the small towns of Connecticut at Christmas time. See if you agree. Here is our story:

In 1945, Hollywood coined the phrase “Christmas in Connecticut” after the movie of the same name. Since that time, romanticists around the world have dreamed of spending at least one winter holiday in a quaint Connecticut hamlet complete with a town common crowned with freshly fallen snow and carolers strolling by storefronts and elder homes.

The scene that is presently in your mind’s eye is not a figment from a Currier and Ives print – it actually exists – and we found it.

Our research

We spoke with tourism friends and officials in Connecticut and asked for the names of towns that would fit the homey Christmas characteristics of Bedford Falls, a fictitious town in another popular holiday movie “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

Arriving in winter

We landed at JFK airport on a cold day in early December. We rented a car and headed for nearby Connecticut at a time when many small towns and villages throughout the area are preparing for the upcoming holiday season.

Janet Serra, the Executive Director of the Western Connecticut Convention and Visitors Bureau, and Anne Lee, the Executive Director of the Central Connecticut Regional Tourism District provided us with valuable holiday tips for our project. They also gave us several places to consider. After reviewing what each location had to offer by way of Christmas spirit and activities, we settled on the little town of Madison.

Driving to Madison

First settled in 1650, Madison was renamed for President James Madison and incorporated in 1826. Madison is a pleasant little community along historic Route 1, the Boston Post Road in the “Connecticut Shoreline Area.” The town lies approximately equidistant between New York City and Boston. Yale University is just 20 minutes away.

By the time we arrived in Madison, the small shops that make up the bulk of retailers in the village center were ready for the holidays. Most were sporting holiday decorations and touting special sales – many to benefit local charities and civic projects. 

The Tidewater Inn

Before we walked the entire town, we decided to check into our chosen lodging for our time in Madison. We had searched for a place that was like a relative’s warm and inviting home – an inn that properly fit into our pastoral Christmas picture. The Tidewater Inn (circa 1928) is a bed and breakfast that proved to be exactly what we wanted, and it was an easy walk to downtown Madison.

Meet the Innkeeper

Congenial Victoria Kolyvas, is the owner of the Tidewater Inn, and she was the perfect personality to help us with an itinerary that would give us a flavor for all the seasonal activities and events that would be taking place in and around Madison during our brief stay. She pretty much planned our visit for us, and we could not be more grateful. We will also mention right here and now that Viki is a superb host and cook!

Innkeeper Kolyvas already had the Tidewater spruced up for the holidays. A beautifully decorated tree sat next to a cheery fire in the hearth in the dining/tea-room.

We ate some bountiful breakfasts and had friendly afternoon chats accompanied by local wines and cheese at a large table in that same room.

Staying at the Tidewater Inn is very much like going to grandma’s house for Christmas. It provides a feeling of sanctuary – of returning – coming home. Each of the nine guestrooms is pleasantly decorated with beautiful antique furnishings and other tasteful décor. Our room was cozy and warm, and we slumbered each night in luxurious comfort.

The events of Madison

After a sumptuous gourmet breakfast at the Tidewater, we took our air with a brisk walk to the center of Madison. We visited a number of shops and craft fairs and found one event particularly delightful – the “Décor Encore” at St. Margaret’s Church. It was advertised as the place to find “previously loved Christmas decorations revived and ready for a new home.” The fair also featured beautiful homemade quilts for sale. What a treat!

Parade day

In early December, the Madison Chamber of Commerce has a homespun Holiday Parade that brings out the entire citizenry.

Some colorful participants and unusual costumes and floats gave us big smiles. It was a wonderfully crisp winter day, perfect for this wholesome family entertainment.

Santa, his wife, and a comely elf stopped by a local café to chat with the kiddies. Donations for the needy of non-perishable food items were accepted to help the Madison Food Pantry.

We also dropped by the local bookstore to watch Santa Letter Writing – great fun.

Tour of Madison historic inns

During parade day, the Tidewater Inn, along with one other local inn, provides a Christmas Open House and Tour of Madison’s Historic Inns via a horse drawn wagon that clops from place to place, and stops for passengers to imbibe on Christmas cheer and sweets – all for the benefit of local charity.

On to the Shoreline Soul Concert

Later that afternoon, we enjoyed the “Soul Concert” at the local First Congregational Church. It featured holiday songs sung by an accomplished volunteer choir in a beautiful church. The entire scene was truly inspirational.

The singers were led by a highly talented conductor who had the choir and audience hand clapping and singing along. This is an annual event you do not want to miss. Any freewill offerings from the event went to support the Village Mountain Mission. 

The tree lighting

As dark descended on the expansive town green, it was time for the annual Christmas tree lighting. Three, two, one – Merry Christmas! Happy Hanukkah!

Families and friends gathered around the lighted tree to drink complimentary hot cocoa and watch the children wonder at the magnificent tree and colors.

Everyone was holding candles and having fun talking with their neighbors. It was a scene right out of Norman Rockwell, and we could not help thinking that once upon a time, much of America celebrated Christmas in just such a grand manner.

Saving the best for last

Victoria told us that we would run out of time before we ran out of things to do in and around Madison – at any time of year. We found that during the holiday season she was most certainly correct. Fortunately, she planned enough time in our itinerary for a wonderful event.

Ahavah: A Christmas Story

We had never heard of Ahavah, which is the Hebrew word for love, and we soon learned that it was also an original ballet about a young girl’s search for the true meaning of Christmas. It is performed annually in early December by the Christian Academy of Dance at the Morgan High School in nearby Clinton. Do not be put off by the venue. This is excellent entertainment professionally written, choreographed, and directed.

Photo: Ahavah by Christian Academy of Dance

The talent that appears in this ballet is exceptional. We found this Psalm written in the program handout:

“Let them praise his name in the dance: Let them sing praises unto Him with the timbrel and harp. For the Lord taketh pleasure in His people.” The young performers in this ballet seemed to take the ancient words to heart.

A bittersweet farewell

We hope we can return to Madison and the Tidewater Inn for another holiday season one day very soon. It was everything we had hoped.

If you go

The website for the Madison Chamber of Commerce is www.madisonct.com

Look *here* for more information about the Tidewater Inn.

To learn more about Ahavah – A Christmas Story, click *here*

Happy Travels – Happy Holidays – Remember our troops!

To read more of the journalists’ articles about Connecticut and great places to stay, click on the abbreviated titles below:

Enjoy the fall colors of New England

Visit Kent Falls, Connecticut

A family budget hotel in Shelton, Connecticut

A historic inn in fashionable Westport, Connecticut

An intimate B&B on the backroads of northwestern Connecticut

The countryside elegance of the Mayflower Inn and Spa

The Delamar luxury hotel in the Greenwich harbor

© Travels with Wayne and Judy Bayliff

Photos © Wayne and Judy Bayliff – Ahavah photo by Christian Academy of Dance

“Get out there, but be prepared.”

Whenever we travel, we are protected by Allianz Global Assist travel insurance.

You can plan your trips with Google Maps.

The opinions expressed in our articles are the journalists’ alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any entity.

 

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Holiday Gift Guide 2017

Judy and I have posted holiday gift recommendations in various publications for the past several years. We usually receive a number of service and product samples each year, test them, and bring forth our buying recommendations in our annual Holiday Gift Guide.

Out of eleven tests this year, we feel comfortable recommending the following seven unique gift items for your consideration in 2017.

Carrie’s Travel Ready Health and Beauty Aids

Tired of transferring beauty products into suitable TSA travel containers? We tested a line of travel ready hair and skin care products that are designed to overcome specific travel destination issues like dry skin and unruly hair.

Carrie’s travel size beauty products, such as rested eye cream, rehydration serum, age moisturizer, etc., are prepackaged in TSA travel compliant containers, and the product quality is excellent!

You can build your own travel kit, and the company will deliver right to your door.

We also like the fact that these products are made in the USA.

Check out the full line at www.gocarries.com

Silipos Active Gel Products

During our travels this year we did a good bit of hiking. We were happy to have along several samples of gel items from Silipos Active Gels. 

These products are specifically designed to reduce abrasion during high impact activities, like hiking and jogging. Wayne injured his toe, and the Silipos Active Gel Toe Protector made hiking while recovering bearable.

The Silipos product line boasts a solution for the most common problems that active athletes, travelers, and tourists face, e.g., sprains, blisters, corns, bunions, heel pain, and plantar fasciitis.

For more information about these great stocking-stuffers made in the USA, look here.

CityPASS

When someone on your gift list is planning to visit a new city that is on the CityPASS list, you have a great gift in the making – A CityPASS Ticket Book.

This year we enjoyed the attractions of San Francisco using our CityPass book.

Next year we plan to use a CityPASS book to see the important tourist sites in Seattle. On the list – the Seattle Space Needle, Seattle Aquarium, Argosy Harbor Tour, Pacific Science Center, and the Woodland Park Zoo.

The CityPASS saves about 45% of the cost of purchasing the included tickets separately. It’s like seeing almost half the main attractions of a city for free.

CityPASS is available for the following locations: Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, New York City, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Seattle, Tampa Bay, Toronto, and now Southern California.

For more information go to http://www.CityPass.com

Dryel Stain Pen

A great idea for people traveling or just busy and on the go.

We received our sample of the Dryel Stain Pen, and had occasion to try it out on our very next writing trip. Wayne dripped some of Holland America’s secret BBQ sauce on his silk tie. It had already started to dry when Judy noticed it. Wayne made a quick retreat to the stateroom, stuffed a piece of paper napkin under the backing of the tie, administered the Dryel Stain Pen to the mess, and voila, a minor tragedy resolved – and a favorite tie saved.

The ingredients of the pen appeared to push the stain through the fabric and on to the absorbent paper behind. Quite amazing.

The stain pen worked on every fabric we tested – including dry-clean only clothes.

Easy to carry and great to have on hand when you travel. The soft applicator helps to remove stains without harming the fabric.

The Dryel Stain Pen is available on-line – search for Dryel Stain Pen.

Books for avid travel readers:

Atlas of Untamed Places

Like to travel on the wild side? We have a book for you and your friends to read before you plan your next extreme adventure.

Atlas of Untamed Places was written by a senior staff writer for Geographical, the official magazine of the Royal Geographical Society. Chris Fitch grew up in wild tropical rain forests, but eventually found his way to London, where he now resides.

His journeys take us through fearsome landscapes, feral environments, and the untouched and inhospitable wildernesses that make up our excitingly wild world.

We were fascinated by the chapter on Chernobyl. After being abandoned for decades, it has now returned to the wild, free from human intervention.

This is a travel book like no other. Expect to find brief, but compelling descriptions of each location, unusual maps, and interesting photography.

Atlas of Untamed Places is a fascinating read. Search the internet for best prices.

Havana Forever

It’s been many years since Havana, Cuba has seen large numbers of tourists. If Havana happens to be on your Bucket List – or that of a friend, you might like the new 2nd edition book entitled Havana Forever by Kenneth Treister.

Here’s an opportunity to tour the Cuban capital’s architecture, landmarks, and public places. A literary and pictorial step back in time.

Havana was a dynamic city that was removed from world progress by years of isolation. One advantage of its social exile has been the preservation of its decades old pedestrian harmony and unique way of life.

The book is beautifully illustrated and captures the glory days of Havana when the capital was visited by many world celebrities who went to play in a city that did not sleep.

We believe that Havana has a long way to go (if ever) to return to its days of glory, but for those interested in its past and its future potential, this table-top book will prove a satisfying place to begin your study.

For best prices, Internet search for Havana Forever Book

Travel Insurance

Finally, our last recommendation is one that we know to be important. Travel insurance has saved many a vacation for family and loved ones. Too many things can go wrong when you travel, and travel insurance is the best way to avoid major disappointments, financial hardships, and stress.

Travel insurance can cover everything related to your trip. Some examples are non-refundable tickets, travel interruptions, and medical expenses. Insurance can be complicated, and travel insurance is no exception, so talk to the experts.

Whenever we travel, we are protected by Allianz Global Assist travel insurance.

Before you or a family member or friend travels, consider Allianz Global Assist insurance. It can be the best holiday gift of all.

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Ho Ho

So there you have it friends. You can’t go wrong with any of the above goodies for yourself or those on your gift list.

Wishing you Happy Holidays, and a wonderful, healthy, and prosperous 2018!

Wayne and Judy

The opinions expressed in our articles are the journalists’ alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any entity. Other than the test samples, we are not compensated for our endorsement of products or services in the Gift Guide.

© Travels with Wayne and Judy Bayliff

Plan your trips with Google Maps.

Ghosts Along the Danube in Budapest, Hungary

When we travel the world we come face to face with history, some grand, and some that we would wish away if we could. This article is about the great stain on European history referred to as the Holocaust. There are many recorded stories about Holocaust horrors, and you may not be familiar with this one – we weren’t – until we came across a simple, poignant memorial.

Background

It was our first river cruise, and we chose Viking Cruise Line and an itinerary that sailed between Budapest and Bucharest in Eastern Europe.

Our ship, the Jarl, was docked and waiting for us in Budapest.

We were a short walk from the famous, often photographed, Hungarian Parliament Building that was inaugurated in 1896 on Hungary’s 1000th Anniversary. If you are not familiar with this magnificent structure, you may remember it as a feature of the Viking River Cruise ads on television.

After checking into our stateroom on board the Jarl, we decided to take a stroll along the Danube to photograph the Parliament Building. Along the way we encountered a small group of people pondering over some small items lining the concrete bulkhead of the river.

The subject of interest

The objects of the group’s interest were shoes. Actually, sixty pairs of old worn shoes, all sculpted in cast iron. Men’s, women’s, and children’s shoes from the 1940s, perfect in every detail.

At first we were taken aback by the oddity of the scene and the unusual sculptures. There were no conspicuously visible signs describing what we were looking at, until we noticed this small metal marker embedded in the cement:

So, this was a memorial, but who were the victims and who were the Arrow Cross Militiamen? We didn’t know, so we did some research.

The brief story

There were approximately 3,500 people shot along the Danube River in Budapest between 1944 and 1945 – mostly Jews and Gypsies. The site of the memorial was just one of several locations along the river bank used by the Arrow Cross in their executions of innocent people.

Members of The Arrow Cross were Hungarian fascists sympathetic to the Nazi cause. Adolf Hitler used them to replace the legitimate government of Hungary during the Nazi occupation. They ruled as the “Government of National Unity.” They were in power just eight months, from October 1944 to May 1945. During that time, they killed or sent to concentration camps 100,000 Hungarian Jews.

Why shoes as a monument?

Because shoes are so personal. The men, women, and children to be massacred were ordered to remove their shoes, an act that we all can relate to – and therefore, easily imagine ourselves in the same terrifying situation.

After they removed their shoes, the victims were summarily shot, and their dead or wounded bodies fell into the cold rushing river. Ironically, this egregious and repugnant act took place just 1000 feet from one of man’s greatest architectural accomplishments, the beautiful Hungarian Parliament.

If you go

The memorial is simply named, “Shoes on the Danube Promenade.” Like a visit to the Ann Frank House in Amsterdam, or the Auschwitz Camp near Krakow, Poland, a visit to the shoes in Budapest, Hungary is a moving and somber experience, and a stark reminder of the cruelty that man is capable of inflicting on his fellow human beings.

Kudos

This unique remembrance of the Budapest tragedies is the idea of Hungarian film producer Can Togay and sculptor Gyula Pyauer. The display was opened to the public in 2005.

We are thankful that travel experiences generally celebrate the grandeur and beauty of our planet, and the spectacular achievements of mankind. Nevertheless, tributes like the “Shoes,” play an important role in reminding us that we must never lose sight of what can happen when evil takes the form of crimes against humanity, ethnic cleansing, and genocide.

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You might also enjoy reading another discovery article from our Viking River Cruise ­­­-­- click here.

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“Get out there, but be prepared.”

Whenever we travel, we are protected by Allianz Global Assist travel insurance.

You can plan your trips with Google Maps.

The opinions expressed in our articles are the journalists’ alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any entity.

© 2017 Travels with Wayne and Judy Bayliff

Photos © Judy Bayliff

In Search of the Blarney Stone

“The Blarney Stone,” is also known as “The Stone of Eloquence,” and it is both a legend and fact. If you have wondered about the location of this fabled icon, the answer is to be found atop the 12-foot thick walls of the bleak and eerie ruins of the magnificent Blarney Castle near Cork, Ireland. Come along and join our quest.

The magical legend

In early 15th century Ireland, a Munster king named Cormac MacCarthy constructed a grand fortress in the village of Blarney – upon the edge of a towering cliff near the town of Cork.

The castle top was crowned with a machicolation that was built about two feet out from the main building and held in place by a series of large stone corbels. The objective of this separate wall was to protect castle defenders from flying arrows while they dispatched attackers with hot liquids and rocks dropped through the opening between the suspended outer wall and the structure’s main wall.

The witch did it

During the castle construction, a good and grateful witch, who had been saved from drowning by a member of the builder’s family, placed a numinous power into one of the machicolation stones. Unfortunately, she chose a rock in the most awkward location on the battlement. The enchanted stone is set in the bottom of the outer wall positioned more than 5-stories above the ground.

The Leprechauns made it public

After the witch empowered the stone, she gathered the local Leprechauns and requested they tell all the “good people” of County Cork that anyone who had the courage to kiss her “Stone of Eloquence” would be rewarded with “the eternal gift of gab.”

Well, you know how Leprechauns are. Before long the whole of Ireland knew of the magical powers of the Blarney Stone, and within 100 years – the whole world knew.

Kissing the Blarney Stone

If you visit Blarney Castle to see the famous stone, you may as well get the benefits of caressing it with your lips, because it is very hard to get a good look at the Blarney Stone without being in the kissing position.

The witch did not make this an easy task. First, there is the long and laborious climb up a narrow spiraling rock staircase to get to the parapet. There is no elevator in the ruins. We counted 124 steps, but we may have missed a few.

Getting ready for the smooch

Once you reach the top of the castle and address the stone, the kissing effort requires you to lie on your back, grab onto two iron rails fixed to the outer wall, and wiggle and suspend your head and shoulders out into space in order to reach your objective.

We can tell you first hand that it is a good thing to be on your back during this experience, because you would not want to be facing down. Visitors who suffer from acrophobia have a difficult time standing close to the opening.

Not to worry, the castle provides an able-bodied helper to hold your legs while you stretch over the opening to put lips to stone. A note of caution that we learned the hard way – remove everything from your pockets before you assume the position.

Millions of kisses and still counting

300,000+ lip caresses a year have turned the stone’s kissing spot a rather dismal shade of dark gray. The color and sheen is understandable considering the many millions of people who have kissed the magic rock over the past five-hundred years.

No one knows the full measure of famous and eloquent politicians, actors, literary giants, and business and religious leaders, who owe some – or perhaps all – of their success to the magic of the Blarney Stone.

Blarney Castle belongs on your Irish itinerary

Blarney Castle is a first rate tourist destination with a fine gift shop, charming gardens, and a superb Rock Close that is said to be built on a former Druid ceremonial site. Check out their website at http://www.blarneycastle.ie

Happy travels!

We flew from New York to Dublin on Aer Lingus. We enjoyed the Irish hospitality in the sky, you will too.

“Get out there, but be prepared.”

Whenever we travel, we are protected by Allianz Global Assist travel insurance.

You can plan your trips with Google Maps.

The opinions expressed in our articles are the journalists’ alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any entity.

© Travels with Wayne and Judy
Photos © Wayne and Judy Bayliff

Don’t Miss the Luau at the Royal Hawaiian

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Aha’aina – is a Royal Celebration. We were anxious to experience this renowned oceanfront luau on Waikiki Beach with its spectacular views, excellent food, and top-notch entertainment. We were not disappointed.

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During our luau celebration at the famous “Pink Palace,” we were treated to a few minutes of Hawaii’s famous liquid-sunshine. It did not dampen the spirits of guests, servers, or entertainers. The show must go on and it did.

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Hawaiian liquid sunshine at the luau

A great time was had by all the temporarily napkin-headed guests. The fire dancer had just concluded, and he was not in the least bit hampered by the passing shower.

After the Aha’aina we walked along the sand. The after shower rainbow showcased Diamond Head and was truly breathtaking.

If you go

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The Royal Hawaiian is located just off fashionable Kalakaua Avenue on Waikiki Beach and nine miles from Honolulu International Airport.

This is Hawaii as it should be. We recommend the luau, guestrooms, and all the amenities of this iconic luxury hotel. For more information, check out their website at www.royal-hawaiian.com .

A note for event planners

Walking around the premises, we were surprised to learn that the Royal had 11,800 square feet of inside meeting space, and 15,500 feet of available outside event space. It is capable of accommodating a large company meeting or convention in an elegant Hawaiian style. If you are in charge of planning events for your organization, this venue can’t lose.

Happy travels!

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“Get out there, but be prepared.”

Whenever we travel, we are protected by Allianz Global Assist travel insurance.

You can plan your trips with Google Maps.

We flew to Hawaii on Hawaiian Airlines.

The opinions expressed in our articles are the journalists’ alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any entity.

Copyright © Wayne and Judy Bayliff

Photos Copyright © Judy Bayliff

Cruise to the Incomparable City of Arts and Sciences in Valencia, Spain

A cruise to Spain on Holland America’s Nieuw Amsterdam showed us there are many contemporary reasons to consider the ancient city of Valencia as a top-notch vacation destination.

Since the time of El Cid – over the last thousand years or so – Valencia has seen Christian and Muslim conquerors come and go. Its history also includes being the birthplace of three European kings and two Catholic Popes. However, for the most part, Valencia played a quiet role in Spain’s colorful history – until the decade of the 1990s.

We walked from the cruise port to the futuristic City of Arts and Sciences

If Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry (1921-1991) had lived to see the creation of the Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias by renowned Valencian architect, Santiago Calatrava, he might not have selected Marin County, California as the 2161 building site of the Starfleet Academy. Instead, he may have asked Senor Calatrava to design it for him in Valencia.

Construction on Calatrava’s amazing complex of otherworldly buildings began in 1998 along the old bed of the redirected Turia River at a reputed cost of more than $2.5 billion dollars.

The main structures

The Umbracle is the huge promenade entrance to the City of Arts and Sciences. Numerous lofty arches are covered in verdant vines that protect a garden and several species of tropical plants and trees. Along the colorful walk you will also find the ‘Stroll of the Sculptures’ an outdoor gallery of nine unusual figures by contemporary artists.

The Prince Phillip Museum of Sciences opened in 2000 and its design is often said to resemble a whale’s skeleton, or a dinosaur’s spine. Whatever your muse, this magnificent exhibit is actually an interactive museum that will prove fascinating to anyone interested in the scientific disciplines that study everything from questions about The origin of the universe to contemporary issues like the enigma of climate change.

The Queen Sophia Palace of Arts sits amidst a setting of Mediterranean blue reflecting pools. When it opened in 2005, it became the signature performing arts center in Spain for opera, theater, and dance. At 248 feet, it is the tallest opera house in the world. The site encompasses four multi-purpose auditoriums and the smallest hall seats 400, the largest 1,700 people.

Proudly, the Queen Sophia Company hosts the Centre of Perfeccionament Placido Domingo, which is a celebrated program for young talented opera artists. As the name indicates, the program honors Spain’s most famous tenor, Placido Domingo.

The Oceanographic is like an underwater city and is the largest aquarium in Europe. It features over 500 species of fish and mammal inhabitants collected from the world’s oceans. The oceanographic compound covers some 20-acres and includes an unusual aquarium restaurant with floor to ceiling glass walls where curious fish can watch you savor the catch of the day along with your paella.

The Hemispheric is a visually striking eye-shaped Planetarium in the midst of a stunning turquoise pool. This popular attraction has a computerized astro-projector that shows the night sky with all the planets and stars on a screen so large you feel like an astronaut.

There is also a laser show displayed on a 900 square foot screen, and visitors can watch IMAX and 3-D journeys through space. It is no wonder that the Hemispheric Planetarium is now one of the top five buildings visited in Spain.

The Agora is the latest structure created by Calatrava’s architectural genius. This surrealistic multi-use sports arena is 262 feet high and seats over 5,500 spectators.

The combined images

The various buildings of the Valencia City of Arts and Sciences have been called ‘techno-palaces’ and they certainly live up to the name. The scope of this unusual complex is breathtaking and an architectural marvel. The light, reflecting waters, shapes, and structural designs are a photographer’s dream. This is an intellectual Disneyland and could be a megalopolis base in the Galactic Empire in Star Wars. Speaking of which, do the views of the Palace of Arts remind you of Darth Vader for any reason?

Don’t miss the rest of Valencia

Visitors to Valencia will want to tour other attractions in the ancient city, like the Barrio del Carmen. Our bet is that your most cherished memories of Valencia will include both Calatrava’s brilliant gift of a glimpse of the future right along with the historic monuments of the past.

If you go

Valencia is 220 miles south of Barcelona on the sunny eastern coast of Spain. Valencia is easy to reach by all means of transportation.

We flew to Barcelona from New York, with a stopover in Dublin via Aer Lingus. We enjoyed the Irish hospitality in the air. Check out their flight schedule *here*.

 

We then boarded the luxurious Nieuw Amsterdam for a wonderful trans-Atlantic cruise back to the United States. For more information, or to book a cruise on Holland America, click *here*.

Happy travels!

“Get out there, but be prepared.”

Whenever we travel, we are protected by Allianz Global Assist travel insurance.

You can plan your trips with Google Maps.

The opinions expressed in our articles are the journalists’ alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any entity.

© 2017 Travels with Wayne and Judy Bayliff

Photos © Judy Bayliff

The Ideal First Cruise for Seniors

On our last cruise we were delighted to meet a number of first-time cruisers in their seventies and eighties.

When they heard we were travel photojournalists, they were more than willing to offer opinions and comments that helped form the foundation for this article, which we dedicate to them.

The perfect first cruise

We had not planned to write about senior cruising when we signed up for a 7-day cruise to the Western Caribbean on Holland America’s ms Oosterdam.

However, a little coaxing from some enthusiastic golden-agers (like this amicable septuagenarian couple from Florida), had us agreeing that an article that provided insight for prospective elder cruisers was a pretty good idea.

It turned out that the group thought this was the ideal first cruise for seniors, and here are the reasons why:

Celebrated cruise line

Holland America Line (HAL) has long had the reputation of providing quality cruises at affordable prices.

‘Consistency’ and ‘dependability’ are important words in grandma and grandpa’s travel book, and HAL is uncompromising in its commitment to reliable service on all its 14 ships.

Comfortable ships

As a rule of thumb, the larger the ship, the longer it takes to board and disembark, but the smoother the ocean ride.

The Oosterdam, with less than 1,000 staterooms, is small enough for expedited disembarkation at ports of call, but large enough to allow her to ride rough seas comfortably – and that helps to greatly diminish the odds of becoming seasick.

Important Note: Should you ever become ill for any reason, there is a doctor on board every Holland America cruise ship, and gratefully, he/she is much closer than you will normally find medical assistance at a hotel or resort on land.

Looks count, and the décor of the Oosterdam is tasteful without being trendy. The color schemes are soothing and sophisticated.

Shipboard activities

On our cruise most passengers were 55+. Consequently, the on-board activities were geared to that audience.

Pool side hairy chest contests and madcap revelry are not de rigueur on Holland America.

Such activities are happily traded for quieter pools, interesting and educational talks on a myriad of subjects including ports of call, shopping, live entertainment, bingo, yoga, social imbibing, ritual noshing, and just plain relaxing.

There are also card games, movies, dance lessons, computer classes, art and wine auctions, culinary demonstrations, and exercise classes.

Pictured above is an active senior exercising at the pool.

Senior activities on a cruise ship are often centered around the practiced art of eating.

 On the Oosterdam, the food is excellent, and the restaurants do not feel crowded, nor do the pools, casino, bars, wellness center, or any of the public spaces. We had 1,906 passengers on our voyage, and it never felt crowded.

On our third evening at sea, we ate at the Pinnacle Grill, one of the specialty restaurants aboard the Oosterdam. Super food, and a great place for a special celebration, or a quiet romantic interlude.

Great port facilities

  • Our cruise departed from the port of Tampa on the west coast of Florida. Any port in Florida is a good choice for a first cruise – the ports are easy to access by air from anywhere USA.
  • All airlines cater to the Florida tourist trade, so there are often good ticket deals to be had if you are diligent.
  • Once on the ground, all Florida ports are easily accessible by ground transportation from the airports.
  • Florida cruise terminals are often staffed with retired seniors living in Florida. They understand the special needs of vacationing seniors and can be very helpful to first-time cruisers.

  • The embarkation and debarkation processes at Florida’s cruise terminals are relatively fast – and it’s nice to know that after “check-in” there is a wonderful buffet luncheon awaiting every passenger that boards the ship.

Desirable itinerary

It’s hard not to like a Western Caribbean itinerary. Ours included Key West, Roatan, Belize, and Cozumel, Mexico. All great places for tours, or just meandering about on your own.

Accommodating Crew

We always interview the Captains on our cruises. Above, Captain Michiel Willems opines that a friendly crew demeanor, and excellent customer service, are the top hospitality hallmarks of the Holland America Line.

Everywhere aboard the Oosterdam, the genial crew was eager to uphold the HAL tradition.

If you go

If you decide to look into Holland America, start with its website *here*. HAL can handle your entire travel plan, including air, or you can make your own travel arrangements. It’s up to you.

Should you think you are just too old to enjoy cruising, read our story about our nonagenarian friend “Julia.” She and her husband are passengers on the Holland America world cruise every year!

We encourage every senior that still wants to experience new adventures – take a cruise.

Happy travels.. and smooth sailing!

To learn more about HAL, and see additional pictures of the interiors of its ships, check out these other stories we have written about Holland America cruises.

A Christmas Cruise Aboard the Amsterdam

Vacationing Aboard the Nieuw Amsterdam

Exploring the Amenities Aboard a Holland America Ship

A final note: If you are worried about the rigors of going ashore at the various ports of call, there are many passengers that never leave the ship. We often stay aboard when we visit ports we have seen several times. It’s an excellent time to catch up on reading and emails, watch a movie, take a nap, and get ready for the next round of serial feasting!

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“Get out there, but be prepared.”

Whenever we travel, we are protected by Allianz Global Assist travel insurance.

You can plan your trips with Google Maps.

The opinions expressed in our articles are the journalists’ alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any entity.

© 2017 Travels with Wayne and Judy Bayliff

Photos © Judy Bayliff

Honoring Heroes at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier on Memorial Day

There are many historical destinations in the United States, but to Americans, few have the emotional relevance of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

Located in our National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia, the Tomb is dedicated to lost and missing American soldiers from all wars.

The Tomb was established with the interment of an unknown soldier from World War I on November 11, 1921. He was laid to rest directly beneath a marble sarcophagus inscribed

HERE RESTS IN
HONORED GLORY
AN AMERICAN
SOLDIER
KNOWN BUT TO GOD

Subsequent burials from the conflicts of WWII, Korea, and most recently,Vietnam, were made near, but not under the tomb.

Due to the advancement of forensic science, the Vietnam era unknown was exhumed in 1998. DNA identified the remains of Lt. Michael Blassie, and he was subsequently re-interred near his family home in St. Louis.

The government decided not to replace the Vietnam soldier with non-identifiable remains. Instead, the original Vietnam inscription and the dates of that conflict have been changed to “Honoring and Keeping Faith with America’s Missing Servicemen.”

A sacred trust

Guarding the Tomb of the Unknowns is a solemn duty, reserved for our finest soldiers. Since 1937, the US Army has guarded the Tomb every minute of every day. On April 6, 1948, the permanent honor was bestowed on the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment. “The Old Guard,” is the oldest active-duty infantry unit in the US Army, and can trace its origins to 1784.

The elite soldiers chosen to stand watch at the Tomb are called Sentinels. They are generally men (there were 3 exceptions), and typically have the rank of Private First Class or Specialist. They stand between 5 feet 10 inches and 6 feet 4 inches tall, and must be proportionally built. They are on average 22 years of age.

The Sentinels do not wear insignia of rank lest they outrank the Unknowns -­ whatever their rank may have been.

Their uniforms are made of wool, and are worn through cold winters and hot summers on the Potomac. They are issued special shoes and sunglasses to protect their eyes from the sun reflecting off the many marble monuments, and their gloves are moistened to assure a firm grip on the ceremonial rifle stock.

Inclement weather does not affect the watch

The Sentinels have a motto, “Soldiers never die until they are forgotten – Tomb Guards never forget.”

Good Americans are like Sentinels­ and will never forget the sacrifices made by our armed services.

If you go

The cemetery and Tomb is situated directly across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C., and near the Pentagon. During the summer months (April to October) the guard is changed every half-hour. During the winter months (October to April) the guard is changed every hour.

The cemetery is closed to the public from 7pm to 8am April through September, and 5pm to 8am October through March. When the cemetery is closed, the guard is changed every two hours.

The next time you are in Washington D.C., take your loved ones to see the Tomb and the more than 300,000 graves at Arlington. You and they will be inspired, and reminded that the freedom we often take for granted comes at a very great cost.

Safe travels!

“Get out there, but be prepared.”

Whenever we travel, we are protected by Allianz Global Assist travel insurance.

You can plan your trips with Google Maps.

The opinions expressed in our articles are the journalists’ alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any entity.

© Travels with Wayne and Judy Bayliff

Photo © Judy Bayliff

Skagway: At the Top of Alaska’s Inside Passage

Skagway is one of the best-preserved gold rush towns in Alaska. During the 1896 stampede for riches it played an important role as the last outfitting post along the Inside Passage seaway before the prospectors headed inland over treacherous mountains to the Klondike gold fields.

This tiny seaside village with wooden sidewalks and gold rush era architecture runs north and south in a picturesque glacial valley. The town sits at sea level, but is surrounded by 7000-foot snow-capped mountains.

The locals say, “It’s a thousand miles north of worry.” That describes this peaceful little community well, but not accurately. Skagway is actually 1,800 miles north of Seattle, and 800 miles south of Anchorage.

Most of the other gold-centric towns of Alaska have disappeared, but Skagway’s natural beauty, virtually night-less summer and mild year round weather (for Alaska), as well as its proximity to the sea made it a particularly nice place to settle – and many did.

The town of Skagway now has less than 1000 year-round residents and a few hundred buildings, but there are 452 square miles of land and 12 square miles of water within the city limits.

Things to do in Skagway

Like other ports along the Inland Passage, Skagway has a plethora of organized tours and activities for visitors.

One unique attraction is a railroad adventure where you can experience panoramic views of the local mountains, glaciers, gorges, waterfalls, tunnels and trestles …

all from the comfort of a vintage parlor car.

Among the many other things to do, are horseback riding, dog sledding, river adventures, and helicopter glacier flights.

If you prefer something with a little exercise, you can get away from the crowd by taking a half-mile hike to Smugglers Cove, a rocky outcropping along the water’s edge.

The cove is situated in a local park that offers breathtaking views of the expansive sea channel and surrounding mountains, and it’s just minutes from downtown Skagway. The park is quiet and serene, and a great place to watch passing sea lions and local waterfowl.

The park is not on the tourist maps, but ask any resident to point out the walking bridge across the river. Turn left and follow the signs to Smugglers Cove.

Unique graffiti

The rocky cliff near the city dock is festooned with graffiti painted by cruise ship employees, mostly naming and honoring the various captains of the many ships that have sailed into Skagway Harbor over the years.

A train conductor at the Skagway Depot told us, “The graffiti rock painting is a tradition that dates back to the early 1900s when train employees predated the cruise taggers in honoring the names of locomotive engineers of the time.”

If you go

Most people enter Skagway by cruise ship,

but some hardy adventurers prefer to drive.

Skagway is the farthest north stop in the Inside Passage on the Alaska Marine Highway.

There is an impressive network of ferries and ships that is not very well know to the residents of the lower 48 states, but it plays a major role in connecting the remote communities along the many waterways of Alaska’s Inside Passage.

For more information about Skagway, check out “Things to Do.”

We have been privileged to visit Alaska on Carnival, Princess, and Holland America cruise ships. We can recommend all of them for excellent Alaska itineraries.

Happy travels!

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“Get out there, but be prepared.”

Whenever we travel, we are protected by Allianz Global Assist travel insurance.

You can plan your trips with Google Maps.

The opinions expressed in our articles are the journalists’ alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any entity.

© Travels with Wayne and Judy Bayliff

Photos © Judy Bayliff

Discovering “Decebalus Rex” on a Danube Viking River Cruise

After writing scores of articles about ocean cruises, we decided to see what motivates vacationers to take European river cruises. We are glad we did.

So much to choose from

There are endless selections of river cruise itineraries on the internet, so we sought the guidance of three prominent river cruise companies in Europe – Amway, Uniworld, and Viking.

Viking River Cruises comes through

Viking River Cruises was most generous with their public relations department and customer service time, so we selected their 11-day Budapest to Bucharest cruise on the Danube.

Casting off

We boarded our Viking longship, the Jarl, in Budapest. We pulled away from the dock just after dark.

If you have seen the Viking commercials featured on shows like Downton Abbey on PBS, you know what the Hungarian Parliament Building looks like by day. The picture above, shows it at night – it is a spectacular sight!

Our itinerary

Our chosen itinerary would take us to five eastern European countries including Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Serbia, and Croatia.

This is the first story from our first river cruise experience.

Romania

Romania is a country steeped in mystery and shadowed folklore. Brahms Stoker never visited the country, but he borrowed from the harsh legend of Romania’s 15th century Prince Vlad Tepes of Transylvania to create his eerie and unforgettable character, Dracula.

Another famous (in Romania) real-life character was King Decebal. He was the last king of Dacia, an ancient land located in present day Romania. He is the subject of the historical curiosity in this story.

King Decebal

Decebal was a strong and popular leader who dared defy Rome and Emperor Trajan’s conquering legions. 

The thundering silence of Decebalus Rex

Decebal is immortalized in an enormous stone likeness of his solemn face gazing toward the far (now Serbia) shore of the Danube – the place where the Roman armies camped and prepared to attack – two thousand years ago.

After many years of struggle, the Romans finally crossed the Danube River and decimated the Dacian armies in circa 105 AD.

Surrounded by faceless generals of stone, Decebal’s ghostly visage stands alone to witness the final defeat that took his country, and eventually his life. He is fated to stare into the distance, and relive his humiliation, throughout time.

A giant undertaking

At 140 feet tall, the Decebalus Rex monument is the tallest rock structure in Europe. It is considerably taller than the more famous U.S. Mount Rushmore at 59 feet.

The stone monument appears ancient, but was actually just completed in 2004 after a difficult decade of site preparation and carving. The project was funded by a private Romanian citizen, Giuseppe Constantin Drăgan.

The Tabula Traiana

Just across the river on the Serbian side lies the Trajan Table. It is an ancient carved memorial at the Danube’s edge commissioned by the great Emperor Trajan to commemorate his victories over the Dacians in the first century.

Trajan considered the ending of the Dacian Wars to be one of his greatest triumphs; so important that Trajan had another monument constructed to commemorate the event – the famous Trajan’s Column in Rome.

Pressing forward

Our Viking river boat glides silently under the brooding face of Decebal and past the ancient Trajan Table, and on through the Kazan Gorge, one of the four narrow gorges that make up the legendary Iron Gate of the Danube. This is the most scenic part of a Danube river cruise.

Our next stop will be Bulgaria.

About our river cruise ship

The Jarl is one of the 60+ longships in the Viking river fleet. She’s a sleek 443 foot vessel with 95 comfortable water-view staterooms.

She has a crew of 50 and moves effortlessly and quietly through the water with a modern diesel/electric hybrid powerhouse.

Most of the Jarl’s staff is multi-lingual, and all are well trained in the nuances of excellent customer service.

On our cruise, the food was good and ample. The chef featured cuisine from the countries we visited. If you have a palate for paprika, you will be delighted.

River ship’s hierarchy

Aboard a river cruise ship, the Captain is responsible for the operation of the vessel and the safety of the passengers. Everything else is the responsibility of the Hotel Manager.

During our 11-day cruise, we changed our Captain once. Our Hotel Manager, the genial Franz Wusits, was with us the entire trip and kept the ship’s staff on their toes – everything ran smoothly.

We interviewed Franz in our Explorer Suite located at the back of the ship.

The suites aboard the Jarl are large, and well appointed without being trendy.

Franz’s “river stories,” will provide smiles in future articles about our Viking River Cruise. Stay tuned.

More to come

We will also write about several of our excellent bus excursions on the Danube trip, which by the way, are all included in the price of the cruise. A nice bonus to river cruising.

If you go

Viking River Cruises has an itinerary to please every taste. Check out their website at www.vikingrivercruises.com.

Viking made the arrangements for our flights to Budapest and back to the US from Bucharest. We appreciate the effort.

This will not be our last river cruise, and we highly recommend the experience.

As always, if you have questions, write us at the2writers@gmail.com

Happy travels!

“Get out there, but be prepared.”

Whenever we travel, we are protected by Allianz Global Assist travel insurance.

You can plan your trips with Google Maps.

The opinions expressed in our articles are the journalists’ alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any entity.

© 2017 Travels with Wayne and Judy Bayliff

Photos © 2017 Judy Bayliff