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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Iceland – The Land of Northern Lights, Magical Trolls, and Mystifying Foods: Part 2

by Amanda Vallone

 

Eyjafjallajokull Volcano Visitors Center

 

Once the travel ban was lifted we went onto one of the most historic sites in most recent travel memory – Eyjafjallajokull Volcano Visitors Center or E15 for short. You may remember a ton of flights in 2010 being cancelled due to the black soot let off by a volcano in Iceland. Well E15 was the culprit. IATA estimates over 107,000 flights in an eight day period were cancelled, affecting nearly 10 million passengers. Working in the travel industry, this was a HUGE deal and a vivid memory.

The visit to Eyjafjallajokull was intriguing because it showcased one family’s struggle of life during and after the dramatic events of the explosion of this infamous volcano that brought European air travel to a halt. The family that ran the visitors center told us about running a farm and living under an active volcano, worrying about it exploding, and life when it was about to errupt. We learned of how they had to move all of their livestock and how they nearly lost their farm…. we also learned of how they overcame such a crazy event. Interestingly enough, tourists from all over the world would come and help them clean up the black dust, volcanic ash, so that they could have a part of E15 to bring home with them too.  Most interesting to me was much unlike Hawaiian Volcanoes (that I had just seen in July of last year), the eruption of E15 occurred under a layer of glacial ice which chilled lava quickly. This is what caused the black ash to plume and turn the black cloud above for so long rather than hot flowing lava.

 

 

Reynisfjara

 

 

 

Reynisfjara is a black sand beach right outside of Vik. The sand is black due to volcanic ash and the beach is surrounded by basalt formations which is volcanic rock or lava exposed at the beaches surface.

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There are also great cliffs and caves to take photos in and of where you will see many birds and of course rushing waves from the ocean.

 

Geysir & Stokkur

 

From boiling mudpits to geothermal fields, the exploding geysers the Geysir Hot Spring Area is a wonderful stop along the Golden Circle that will get your clicker finger going for your chance to catch Geysir or Stokkur Errupt.

 

 

Blue Lagoon

 

The Reykjanes Peninsula is home to a rugged landscape, lava fields, numerous hot springs, and the world famous Blue Lagoon. Did you know the water in the Blue Lagoon is not really blue? It is actually clear to milky white. The blue hue is from the silica in the water.

Did you also know, you must have an appointment to go to Blue Lagoon?! You can even set up a layover appointment at Blue lagoon to save your luggage, get a spa service, then go back to the airport if you like. Well you can!

On that, it is a SPA! The Blue Lagoon is a geothermal heated pool that visitors may get massages, facials, enjoy fine dining, or just some time in the pleasantly warm bath. The mineral-rich waters of the geothermal pool are located in the middle of a lava field so it looks beautiful and natural – just the way any perfect spa should.

A few fine points for us Americans – you MUST shower naked prior to going in. (You do wear a swimsuit while in the lagoon.) I had a few people calling me on a weekly bases (you know who you are) worried that they were going to re-live their high school gym locker room days showering in public. Yes and No! You can if you want, and you will see many people unfazed by the human body, but if you are uneasy about showing off your fleshy parts, don’t worry, at the end of the locker room there are curtained showers.

Conditioner. Conditioner. CONDITIONER! Ladies, this mineral rich water wreaks havoc on your locks! The spa provides you some conditioning cream to use prior and after but be prepared – you will need more. OR you may bring a shower cap and put your hair up.

I would also recommend leaving your towel in your locker. I brought mine outside and because it was snowing my towel got wet sitting on the hook. You only get one towel at check in, so be careful with it!

Finally, bring a waterproof case for your phone or gopro for photos in the water. It is so beautiful; it is worth it.

I LOVED LOVED LOVED Blue Lagoon. It was so much fun and relaxing too. We got a few beers while floating around in the waters, and did a silica mask to help with age defying and make our faces look like a cute baby’s bottom and then we paid for the Algae Mask to cool the slight sting left behind from the Silica.

 

 

Reykjavik

 

We stayed at Hotel Reykjavik Centrum, a perfect location right in the center of the town and great for our evening of shenanigans.

Throughout Iceland you can enjoy some pretty amazing hotdogs, aka the Pylsa. I mean these things are gourmet! I am not much a fan of having hot dogs on a normal basis, but these were made of primarily Icelandic lamb with some pork and beef topped with fried onions, a creamy sweet mustard, bacon bits, and various other toppings.

The bun is steamed and the meat is actually cooked with some malt beer in the water. YUMMMM!

 

Have a Whale of a time!?! They Eat Whales too?

 

Yes, we did try some Whale while here. The concept that Icelanders serve you whale while at any restaurant was quite mind boggling to me. Before going on this trip I read that it was an Icelandic delicacy, but everything I always thought was that whales were endangered or that they were not food for the very least. It got me pretty curious. I would say do some research. I did try it. I didn’t think it tasted bad at all actually. But, I wouldn’t eat it on the regular.

 

They eat that too?

 

 

Nightlife in Reykjavik

 

George, Sherri, and I went out all night downtown Reykjabik. We started in the Drunken Rabbit which was super casual and has great live music. Loved this! You can spin the wheel and win up to 8 free drinks! Wahoo. The Drunken Rabbit was our “go to” every night.

We also went to the American Bar… which we felt was pretty hypocritical of all the things other people think “Americans” are. There were football helmets, jazz music, a picture of Jack Nicholson doing his the “here’s Johnny” face from the shining and it was pretty boring on this evening. We left pretty quickly.

Then onto a British bar- AMAZING!

And finally the “locals” bar- they sang Icelandic music, the menus were in Icelandic, and the vibe was dark & cool and super goth, yet great. Loved this one too!

Sherri and I felt like we could have stayed out all night long without George and we would have felt SAFE as two women bar hopping. We were so happy to have him with us, but we realized how safe we felt in ALL of Iceland.

 

All-in-all I LOVED Iceland. I would recommend going back in May to see the Puffins come in and to enjoy slightly warmer temperatures. But the views were extraordinary!

If the land of Fire and Ice is one you wish to see, feel free to e-mail me and I will be happy to share more with you.

 

 

Check Out Part 1 here.

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.

 

Wanda’s Grand Voyage

Roseborough’s own Wanda Hamm talks about her Grand Voyage around the globe.

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How many days was your cruise?

111 Days. We left on January 4th this year and returned home on April 26th. It was round-trip from Ft. Lauderdale.

How many different ports of call did you go to?

There were 36 scheduled ports, but we missed two of them due to bad weather.
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Why did you decide to go on a grand voyage?

We decided to do the World Cruise to see as much of the world as we could without having to pack and unpack. The cruise ship was our moving hotel. Also, I don’t like to fly, so this was a perfect alternative.

What makes a Grand Voyage different from the other cruises you have gone on?

They roll out the red carpet on the World Cruise.  Holland has Gala Night with nice gifts such as luggage, Waterford Frames, Chocolates, World Cruise Logo Items, and Dinner with the Captain.  There are lots of parties for various occasions.  And the dining experience is above any other cruise I have been on.

What was your favorite experience from the cruise?

We loved all of the ports, but we especially loved Japan – the cities were extremely clean and the people were very friendly and helpful to us as visitors.  Oman was another favorite, we fell in love with the people. Kindness is very important to them.

Why should someone consider a grand voyage?

It is a trip of a life time and exceeds anything you could imagine.  The memories you create and bring back, you will cherish them forever.

Theresa’s Travels

By Theresa Olivetto

Puerto Rico

 

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Visiting Puerto Rico was a great experience.  We got off of the cruise ship and walked.  And walked and walked.  We were hoping to find a beach to spend the day at.  We found a beach pretty quickly and at that point started walking the beach when we could, or walking through town when we had to.  

We ended up stopping 3.2 miles from where we started.  We found a hotel with a bar and pool on the beach.  As we walked up the steps, there was a security guard there, standing on the steps.  We assumed he may stop us but he did not so we went to the bar and ordered a drink.  We sat there for a while and watched the waves.  Words cannot describe how beautiful the beach and waves are in Puerto Rico.  We ordered another drink and then headed to the pool, again, no one caring that we were there.  We took a swim and then headed back toward our cruise ship.  It was very exciting to see how the people lived in Puerto Rico.  We took the streets back as opposed to the beach.  We stopped at a restaurant and had a $2.00 beer and then continued our journey.

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A while later we stopped at a tiny little bar with a pool table.  There were a few children there, one playing pool, probably 15 or so.  We sat down and ordered a beer and began talking to this man that told us he had cancer.  We talked to him for quite a while, he told us so many great stories about his life and growing up there.  He later told us that the bar was for locals and not tourists but he was very glad that we had stopped there.  He bought us a drink and we in turn bought him one.  Funny how ignorance is bliss, we didn’t know we didn’t “belong” and loved socializing with everyone.  

As it started to get dark, we headed back to the ship for dinner and to call it a day.  It was a spontaneous, wonderful day that I will never forget.  

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St. Thomas

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So when we visited St Thomas, we decided to get off the ship and just play it by ear, nothing planned.  I was hoping to rent a scooter and sure enough that is what we did.  It was only $65.00 for the day, which to me was very reasonable.  

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It took a lot of getting used to as you drive on the opposite side of the street and there are a lot of mountains and hills and very sharp turns.  We laughed a lot as we had several close calls but being adventurous and spontaneous, we just went with it.

We stumbled upon a park, paid $10.00 to go in and walked the beach.  It was awesome.  Very few people there, a pavilion and several picnic tables, wooded.  We walked for a long way, as far as the beach would take us.  

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We got back on the scooter and rode around for a while and saw a sign that said public beach access.  We took a very steep road down to the area and once we got there, the only sign we saw was a Ritz Carlton.  We parked the scooter in public parking and walked toward the resort.  We walked up to the bar and I ordered a bloody mary and a beer.  Paid $22.00 for the two.  That’s not me but it was a time and a place.  We went to the beach and sat on a couple of lounge chairs with padded cushions.  I joked they were more comfortable than the mattress on my bed.   

It was beyond amazing to take this all in.  The wait staff came over several times and asked if we wanted anything.  I was surprised that we were there without question.  We took a swim and then headed out.  We had to know if over the mountain was the “public beach access” so we walked over hill and saw THE REST of the Ritz Carlton.  It was beyond beautiful.  They actually had a pump with several different sunblocks that you could use.

We left the resort and headed on our way.  We came upon a resort that the guy that rented us the scooter said to go to.  Secret Harbor Beach Resort .  We sat at the bar and ordered some lunch.  It was very good.  We couldn’t help but notice the swim platform in the lagoon and agreed immediately we would swim out to it before we left.  We asked the bartender if you had to stay at the resort in order to enjoy all of this and she said no, anyone is welcome as the beaches are not owned by anyone. Maybe that is why nobody questioned us at the Ritz Carlton??

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We ate our lunch and then swam out to the swim platform.  It was something I will probably never do again as where do you find that scenario??

We got back on the scooter after our swim and headed up the mountains as we wanted to see the view.  We got pretty high, maybe not the highest mountain, but pretty high.  We saw a couple of goats that were just running around the mountain.

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After we went up, we decided to head back, get closer to the ship as we were running out of time.  

Once back to the port we had a beer, decompressed and headed back to the ship.

Island number three of our cruise.  Explored, adventure, risk, crazy and fun would describe the day.  Another day I will never forget.

Turks and Caicos Grand Turk

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Today I visited Grand Turk for the first time.  We wanted to see the island but really didn’t want to take a guided tour so I quickly found a plan b, which was to rent a golf cart.  It was $80.00 for the day, which I thought was very reasonable.  What better way to see the sights on our own terms.  The island is so many things.  It is beautiful, surrounded by turquoise waters.There were many homes, looked like million dollar homes, that were half done and partially boarded up, distressed.  When we returned the golf cart I asked the man that rented it to us what had happened and he said that when the economy crashed, many people that were building those homes lost their jobs and the banks pulled out of the projects.  It was very sad.

We did a lot of off road exploring on the golf cart as many of the roads are dirt roads.  We visited beautiful beach after beautiful beach.  I wondered why someone didn’t pick up the garbage on the beaches but since they were off the beaten path, maybe no one cared.  The beaches were still breathtaking, you just needed to look past it.  There were several beaches that it was only us, which was very nice.  While there I was relaxed and at peace.  

We came upon a very interesting project.  There were several cottages and an in ground pool on the ocean in a very pretty forest.  It looked like it was going to be a very expensive resort.  Evidently the project was never finished, all but destroyed and distressed.  I wondered if it was from a storm or the economy.  It had so much potential.    

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We visited the salt ponds and made our way to the Grand Turk Lighthouse.

My favorite thing about the island and our adventure were the donkeys and horses that roamed the island, free, content, well fed.  It made me very happy to see these animals happy.  The way it should be.  

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After our golf cart ride we made sure we had enough time to spend a good part of the afternoon at the resort area.  

The resort area was magnificent.  The sand so white and the water so blue.  We did some snorkeling and saw quite a few fish.  There were plenty of chairs and umbrellas at the beach so we were very comfortable.  The island natives were friendly and accommodating.  There were plenty of rentals there from scooters, to four wheelers to dune buggies, snorkeling equipment and more to fit everyone’s needs.

We did some shopping and bought a couple of bottles of rum at the duty free store.  We had a drink at Margaritaville before we headed back to the cruise ship.

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Grand Turk was a perfect combination of adventure, exploring and relaxing.  I would highly recommend the island to anyone.

 


Theresa Olivetto is an Outside Sales Agent for Roseborough Travel Agency. If you’d like to ask her more about her travels and experiences, please feel free to contact her.

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.