Explorer Spotlight: Virginia Comella

Impressions of Vietnam & Cambodia

The Temples and Pagodas of Cambodia:

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Angkor Wat, our bucket-list destination is an impressive temple with its many towers and its extensive galleries with walls of bas relief’s honoring long-ago battles and celestial dancers reflecting both Hindu and Buddhist religions. Yet it was just one of many Cambodian temples and pagodas we visited. Six other temples of Angkor near Siem Reap are smaller and equally interesting. Ta Prohm, a temple overrun with massive tree roots reminded me of fake ruins on Disney’s Jungle Cruise, while Bantay Srei’s detailed and delicately carved bas reliefs, and carved monkey guards were captivating. The four faces of Buddha at the Bayon Temple were upstaged by two elephants with red blankets, saddles and passengers lumbering nearby.  Tickets to all are purchased at a many-windowed ticket office reminiscent of Disney World. The crowds, performances of musicians and dancers, and even a hot-air balloon reflected the Disneyfication of the real thing.

We were even more impressed by the beautiful Buddhist temples and pagodas in Phnom Penh and in villages along the Mekong River. The Silver Pagoda on the Royal Temple Grounds with its tiered dragon rooflines gilded with gold and silver, as well as the palace itself were impressive.  Stupas, elaborate carved towers for the cremated remains of the dead, were everywhere.  Especially impressive was the gold-gilded carvings on a stupa in front of a modern glass building.   Every village had its own pagoda with a Buddha facing the river.  The village pagodas also had a line of fruit/vegetable sculptures.

 

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Surprises:

 

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The biggest surprise was the vibrancy, friendliness and enthusiasm of the Cambodian people, especially the children, who were everywhere. A visit with elementary school children was a highlight. We demonstrated the diversity of English, with British, Aussie, Canadian and American accents from our fellow travelers and showed the children on maps and globes where we lived.  Many wanted to become Doctors.

 

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Motor scooters are the substitute for cars throughout both Viet Nam and Cambodia: many more than we see even in DeLand’s Bike Week rally.  They are ridden by women, men and whole families.  They carry buckets, baskets, and construction materials.  Sidewalks are scooter parking lots.  Most of the riders wear face masks, not to protect from pollution, but from sun, since white skin is a status symbol.

 

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French Heritage.
Throughout both Viet Nam and Cambodia, are reminders of  French  Indo-China rule: yellow buildings with red roofs, which include most public buildings such as schools, city halls, post offices, prisons [including the infamous Maison Central (Hanoi HIlton)] and Phnom Penh’s domed Central Market.  French baguettes, pastries, and cafes are other reminders of French rule.

 

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Explorer Spotlight: Jeffery Higgins

The best part of the trip for me from an activity perspective was the downhill mountain biking.  I always thought mountain biking was a technical thing – around rocks, over roots, through a stream – but this was totally different. Daredevil stuff in a beautiful setting.  The speed and the scenery were great.  If anyone thinks they have the guts, I highly recommend this activity in Ecuador or anywhere else.

I think our favorite location was Banos. There was a ton of stuff to do, and we could’ve easily spent another couple of days there without getting bored. Kind of a hippie, ski-village vibe without the snow.  Lots of outdoor activities, decent nightlife.  It’s obviously geared towards tourists without being tacky or “touristy.”  Still hidden off the radar, so easy to take in on a limited budget.

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Doing the sporting activities in a different country was interesting because of the risk element & because of the level of cultural immersion.  I’ve never felt so far from the US or what I considered “normal” life.  Plus, some of the activities were a little dangerous, and because of the language barrier (more on that later), the safety training was very different than you would get for similar activities in the US.  I know we talked about it before, but if anyone is going on this trip, they will enjoy themselves a lot more if they have at least a little experience with whitewater rafting, canyoning, or fairly intense hiking.  You don’t want to be a rookie at everything.

As far as advice for others looking at a trip to Ecuador, tourism seems pretty new to them.  As a result, things there are cheap (since the money-grab hasn’t started yet), there aren’t many opportunities to buy souvenirs (let alone the t-shirts or hats most Americans expect), and the language barrier is VERY real.  Even at a major hotel in the capital city, the desk clerks didn’t really speak English & were not very sympathetic if you didn’t speak Spanish.  I kind of liked this (after all, I want to know I’m in Ecuador, not feel like I’m in Epcot), but people should know what they’re getting into.

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As for the adventure aspect, G Adventures tells you just how physically challenging a trip will be.  Travelers will be wise to listen to them.  I think this trip rated a 4 out of 5 as far as how challenging it was & that was a very accurate rating.  In pretty much every activity there was a real risk of harm and people experiencing minor injuries (twisted ankles/knees, minor falls, blisters, cuts, bruises) throughout the trip.  In addition, because of the altitude & intensity, fitness should be taken into consideration.  You don’t need to be an Ironman triathlete, but you need to do more than walk the dog to get ready to make it through this trip.

 

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Explorers Spotlight: Debbie and Jim Joiner Part One!

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Our Explorers of the week are Debbie & Jim. They recently came home from an Oceania Cruise to Greece, Italy, & Malta that they booked with Bretta and this is what they had to share with us:

“Our trip was fantastic and couldn’t have been better! Both Jim and I were so pleased with everything. The Oceania ship was incredible and far exceeded out expectations. Everyone we met who cruised all the time said we has started at the top! It was very relaxing on board, the food was amazing, the service couldn’t have been better, and the tours were top notch! I would recommend Oceania to anyone who wants an incredible experience. I can’t imagine a ship that would be any better. Thanks again for everything. It was our “Trip of a lifetime”.”

Here are some insights from their day to day itinerary

Day 2: Athens

It was very hot the day we were in Athens, so the guide took us to the Acropolis first. We saw the Parthenon, Athena’s temple, the temple of Zeus, Mars Hill (where Paul preached to the Athenians), and the oldest theater in the world.  It is amazing to think these places were erected before Christ.  The workmanship, artistry, and design are incredible!!!  The Parthenon is under renovation, to repair damaged parts, so there are portions of the building all over the ground – some from the explosion of the building in the 1500’s and some from the engineers taking pieces down one at a time to repair and replace.  In some of the pictures you can see the restored areas – they are the white places where new marble is used.. As the tour guide put it, “Athens is an ugly girl”.  There is hardly any green space, there are condominiums everywhere, graffiti is easily seen, and decay in some areas is evident.

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Day 3: Mykonos

This morning we ate breakfast at the Terrace Café.  There are tons of choices and everything is very good.  I had an omelet, potatoes, fruit, bacon, orange juice, and a sticky bun!!!  Then we got ready for our excursion to Mykonos.  We had to meet in the lounge, get our bus number, go to place where you board the tenders, and take the boat to the island.  It was fun, and very windy.

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Mykonos is a rocky island with all white houses.  It is a requirement that all houses be painted white, and nothing can be taller than two stories.  It also has a lot of churches – many of which are abandoned now.  I especially liked the houses or hotels that had the white building and stone walls or fronts.  They were beautiful.  They all look like wedding cakes made of fondant!!! We took a walking tour of old Mykonos, with its narrow streets (done intentionally to deter pirates), saw a pirate house, little Venice (houses right on the water that look like Venice), churches, shops, windmills, and a 15th century wood burning bakery still in operation.  We got a free cookie there!!  Then we boarded a bus to go to the other side of the island.  We saw two beaches, a monastery, and visited the town of Ana Mera where we were given a snack (bread with cheese spread, cucumber, tomato, meat pie, and 2 olives).  I didn’t eat the olives!!

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Back on the ship, we ate a light lunch.  We had reservations for the Polo Grill – a steak place.  It was very good.  After dinner we saw a show called “Lights Camera Music” that was a celebration of musicals – like Judy Garland, Gene Kelly, and Liza Minelli.

Come back next Monday to see the rest of Debbie and Jim’s travels with Oceania!

Explorer Spotlight: Patricia Bovio

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What made you interested in traveling to Hawaii as a family?

 

We’ve wanted to visit Hawaii for a while. We were also very attracted to what it has to offer and that there are so many different things to do like hiking, sight-seeing, nice beaches, etc.  We got the recommendation of doing a cruise and that was definitely the best option to see different islands without the hassle of traveling in between.

 

What was the best part of Hawaii?

 

We absolutely loved all the islands and what each had to offer. Our absolute winner was Hilo and the excursion to the Kilauea. Seeing the old lava flows and the volcano so close, made for an extraordinary experience that we will never forget. We really got to see Mother Nature in all its splendor.

 

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How would you describe traveling with your 2 year old to Hawaii?

 

Surprisingly it was not too bad (other than the long flights), we were also surprised to see many other families traveling with babies and young kids as well. Because we were doing so many things and constantly changing sceneries, Sophia was busy and entertained. We did not even have to go around everywhere with toys or other things, only plenty of drinks and a few snacks. All the tours we took were very patient and accommodating with us and the baby. The cruise was definitely the best way to go, since we wanted to see more places and did not have to worry about constantly packing and unpacking and the time that consumes. The only disadvantage was the limited space; next time we will definitely look into having a little bit more room.

 

Explorer Spotlight: Donna Green

By Explorer: Donna Green

Christmas Market River Cruise

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What is your favorite part of your most recent trip?

Wow! That is a hard question. I loved Prague, Nuremberg, and so many places, but I would love to return to Salzburg. It was so cold and very icy when you got away from the shopping areas, so we were unable to visit what I wanted to explore. There is so much to see in Salzburg, starting with the salt mines, the fortress, the filming location of The Sound of Music and Mirabell Gardens, and then you have many side tours from there through the Bavarian Alps.

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Now that is a reason to return to this area, but to answer the question “my favorite part?” would be Regensburg. We walked everywhere, both on a guided tour and then by ourselves. It is easy to get around there; the people are friendly and helpful, and there is a lot of history to discover. The Christmas Market in Regensburg was the nicest and most interesting with lots of arts and crafts.

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What sites did you see while traveling?

The most interesting site for me was visiting the Courthouse and Room 600 where the Nuremburg Trials were held. Besides the history you learn in Room 600, one floor up is a museum with numerous photographs and information on the trials as to who was found guilty and who was acquitted. In this area we also found photographs and some information on the Japanese Trials. In Nuremburg, our tour took us to Hitler’s base of operations and that was amazing to hear and see what had transpired there.

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Any interesting facts or history you learned?

We learned that the children in school are taught of the atrocities during Hitler’s regime and how that can never happen again. We saw a memorial to the Jews in Regensburg and some school children were there on a field trip.

What company did you travel/ cruise with?

Through Roseborough Travel we booked with AMA Waterways for the December 2016 Christmas Market River Cruise. We look forward to another river cruise with AMA. They are phenomenal!

How did you find that company handled your vacation/ tours/ hotels?

Roseborough Travel in Deland, Florida, the best agency you can use.

Anything you did not like?

We did not like the COLD, especially the FREEZING cold in Budapest! Yes, we knew it would be cold in December in Europe, but this was the WORST! However, I would like to return to Hungary one day in their spring or summer and really enjoy all they have to offer.

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Where is the next place you want to explore?

ICELAND, and I’ll be going there in February 2017.

Explorer Spotlight on Australia

A Roseborough Explorer Perspective of Australia

explorer-spotlightSpotlight written by Lisa and Steve Pauszek

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  • Why did you want to go here? We like to go to places that are different from what we are used to. We enjoy seeking out cultural differences in other countries & especially enjoy trying foreign foods. We loved the fact that so many animals & birds were completely new to us here. It was really a pleasure to encounter so much that was new to us. 

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  • What was your favorite part about this destination? We would highly recommend Australia & can’t possibly pick out a favorite part of the vacation. Things we especially enjoyed were the Great Barrier Reef out of Port Douglas, hot air ballooning over the Yarra Valley, and the Queen Victoria Market in Melbourne is a must, as is the Australia Zoo on the outside of Brisbane. The biggest problem we had in Australia was not having enough suitcase space coming back! 

Great Barrier Reef

Yarra Valley Hot Air Balloon Ride

  • How did you travel here?  Independent- getting around the cities was exceptionally easy. Plenty of trams! Keep in mind that Australia is larger than you imagine it is, so air travel between cities is almost a must. 
  • What is #1 on your “Live it” List and why? Antarctica. We would love the accomplishment of going somewhere that so few people have seen. We have been hiking on glaciers in Iceland & it was one of the most majestic experiences that we have lived through. The views are amazing. I would love to leave from Patagonia, in order to experience those breathtaking views. 

 

 
  • What is your favorite place in the world to travel just for the food and wine and why?

Steve’s gut reaction to this question was Italy, however, I’ve never been! I would say Scandinavia for food. I LOVE game. It was so fun to try reindeer, moose, bear & elk in Sweden & Finland. If you ever get a chance to have reindeer filet- TAKE IT! It was delicious! For wine, I would say Australia. We went wine tasting in both Adelaide & Melbourne. I would go again & again. I think I would bring “wine luggage” next time.

-Lisa & Steve Pauszek