Posts Tagged 'Gutsy Traveler'

Croatia from the Deck of a Sailboat – Cruise the Adriatic Islands off Croatia

Crystal clear seas and more than 1,000 islands make Croatia one of the world’s best cruising destinations. The water is clean and unspoiled; nature reigns supreme. Last summer my husband and I chartered a 42-foot Jenneau sloop for a sailing holiday among these idyllic islands. Our two teenage daughters accompanied us – spending most of their time sunning on the deck, reading, listening to music or occasionally jumping off the stern into the deep blue water to swim.

Although Croatia has been a favorite getaway for “in the know” Brits and other Europeans, it is just hitting the radar for American travelers. When European tourists started going to the Croatia, (formerly Yugoslavia) in the 20th century, it wasn’t for the historic and cultural attractions of fortified towns, Roman ruins, or museums, they came to bask in the sun along hundreds of miles of jagged coastline, and bathe in the pristine Adriatic waters.

Why, you may wonder, would we travel so far to cruise when we live in San Francisco Bay Area, where it’s possible to sail every weekend of the year? Here are ten reasons why we chose Croatia and why we fell in love it:

1. Following the Wind. There was an exhilarating feeling of freedom to chart our own course and sail where we wanted, when we wanted, and to anchor wherever we wished. We moved to the rhythm of nature — at the mercy of the wind and waves, sailing every day. We discovered that one of the most restful ways to enjoy a vacation is to lounge on the deck of a sailboat; indulge in leisurely meals in the open air; watch the vastness of the sea; and rock to sleep to the gentle movement of the waves.

2. Cooking is Optional. So I opted out. I did not prepare one dinner aboard. Every night we anchored in a different bay or along the waterfront of a small village. We always had a selection of open air restaurants with fresh fish, caught by local fishermen hours earlier. Cold beer, local wine and delectable pastas topped off dinner.

3. Great Food in Every Village. Every morning I went ashore and joined a group of village ladies at the local bakery to buy fresh bread, warm rolls, croissants and pastries. In some villages we frequented French-inspired pastry shops and Italian ice cream stands. Small markets sold regional cheeses, wines, olive oils and hams as well as vegetables and fruit recently picked from local organic gardens.

4. Savor the Sunny Season. Thanks to Croatia’s balmy climate from April to November, mostly rain-free days, sea breezes, clear, clean warm water, and relaxed atmosphere, water buffs can soak up the sun and swim for hours.

5. Revel in the Rich History. Many of the coastal towns we visited were surrounded by thick stone walls, round watch towers, town gates too narrow for today’s vehicles, and cobblestone pedestrian streets through the historic town center. In medieval Trogir we wandered through the labyrinth of ancient streets and into piazzas filled with colorful umbrellas, outdoor cafes and gelato shops tempting us to try every flavor (Tiramisu was my favorite). Quaint shops offered soft leather products, the latest European fashions, and silver jewelry. During the peak summer season, July and August, the streets swam with visitors, but in June, when we went ashore mornings and evenings, it was quiet. The outdoor bazaar and farmers market, located across the bridge from the island, is where you’ll find inexpensive sandals, sundresses, t-shirts, and organic vegetables. The tiny strawberries were so fragrant we couldn’t resist. The colorful seaside promenade is lined with outdoor cafes and restaurants. Trogir, founded in the third century BC by Greek colonists, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a place not to be missed.

6. Architectural Splendor. Dubrovnik, known as the “Pearl of the Adriatic,” is one of the world’s most spectacular and best preserved fortified cities. Massive thick walls and medieval fortress towers circle the historic center. We walked through the old town on shining smooth limestone pedestrian streets and lingered in open-air cafés (you won’t miss Starbucks, the espresso is delicious), and stopped to shop small boutiques. With teens in tow, we often stopped to shop.

One morning we hiked up steep steps to the top of the thick walls encircling the old town and were rewarded with panoramic views of the sea, over the terracotta roofed town houses, cloistered gardens and copper domes of Baroque churches. The damage from the 1991-1992 War for Independence has been painstakingly restored and Dubrovnik has regained its former magnificence. Cruise ships from Venice and the Greek Islands stop here and almost every tourist makes a stop in Dubrovnik so expect crowds, especially from July and August. If you want to avoid the crowds, visit in the spring or fall.

7. Search for Treasure. Located on Hvar Island, the historic town of Hvar was our favorite. It is nestled beneath three mountains and crowned by an old Venetian fortress, which is illuminated by yellow floodlights after dark. Hvar was first settled by the ancient Greeks and later inhabited the Venetians. In the 15th century the town was built by the Venetians as a port of call for their trade ships between Venice and the Black Sea. Today the charming harbor is filled with fishing boats, yachts and water taxis. The town of Hvar boasts elegant hotels, fashionable shops, lively nightlife and exquisite restaurants. Vineyards, lavender fields and small coastal villages dot the thin, long island.

8. Melt into the Mediterranean Pace of Life. Sailing along the Croatian Coast and among its multitude of islands is a slow-paced vacation. We sailed into deep blue bays, backed by fields of olive groves and vineyards and dropped anchor, took a swim and napped while the only sound we heard was the gentle lapping of the sea. Far from the crowds, noise, cars, roads, and traffic, we slowed down and found the peace and solitude that replenishes the body and soul.

9. Island Hopping Made Easy. Ferries depart cities and towns frequently, so day-trips are a breeze or select a few islands and settle in. There are regular ferries from Split to the island of Hvar’s main port of Hvar and the small towns of Stari and Grad. Or, if you’re a sailor, charter a yacht for a week or month and sail on your own wherever the wind blows you. Another option is to hire a captain and crew.

Visit Croatia while it’s still affordable and before Starbucks, McDonalds, Costco and other prominent U.S. vendors arrive.

From Sophisticated Cape Town to the Stunning Mountainous Wine Country

Sophisticated travelers often rank San Francisco, Cape Town and Sidney as the most beautiful cities in the world. From the hilly neighborhoods dotted with peach, yellow, and lime-colored wooden homes to the colorful waterfront, Cape Town can confidently accept this praise. An excellent climate, friendly folk, beaches stretching forever, swooping seagulls and sun-kissed surfers make Cape Town the country’s most vibrant city.

Table Mountain, towering 3,500-feet above the city of 3 million, is the symbol of Cape Town, like Statue of Liberty for New York City, Big Ben for London, and the Eiffel Tower for Paris.

South Africa’s legislative capital and oldest city boast top-rated hotels, internationally ranked restaurants, boutique shopping trendy wine bars and a night life that never stops. Jazz clubs swing with the multi-cultural sounds of Cape Jazz, distinctive for its Latin, Africa and Malay influences.

Top Sights Not to Miss:

Victoria & Alfred Waterfront: This entertainment district overflows with pubs, restaurants, clubs, art galleries, museums and night life. Dedicated shoppers will enjoy the shopping mall and crafts centers. The waterfront offers boating excursions, two movie theaters, an IMAX theater, and the Two Oceans Aquarium.

Robben Island:  South Africa’s Alcatraz is a former prison perched on limestone rock in Table Bay where Nelson Mandela was incarcerated for almost twenty years. Robben Island, a World Heritage Site and National Park, is a “must see” to learn about apartheid. You’ll need to take a ferry from Victoria and Albert Waterfront. Tours are led by former prisoners who were part of the struggle against apartheid.

Table Mountain: As the sun sets over the continent of Africa, Table Mountain reflects a red glow. The top can be reached by a hiking trail or a revolving cable car. Miles of trails cover the plateau and offer incredible views of the suburbs, bays and the sparkling sea. Visit early in the day before the clouds move in or go at sunset to avoid the crowds.

Kirstenbosch Gardens: If you love flowers or gardening, don’t miss this World Heritage Site, showcasing an enormous variety of South African plants, trees, flowers, vegetable, and succulents. A free docent tour is offered at 10 a.m. daily. The docent guide will explain plants, species and medicinal uses for the plants as she leads you through the manicured gardens, sculpture garden, and fragrance garden.

Bascule Whiskey Bar – A Cape Town Hotspot! A five minute walk from the heart of Cape Town’s shops, markets, art galleries and museums, this trendy whisky bar and wine cellar is the place to rub elbows with relaxed young professionals after work. On nice days dozens of good-looking men and attractive women sip wine, beer and whiskey under the umbrellas on the outside patio overlooking mega yachts. The nautically decorated Bascule Bar is located in the Cape Grace Hotel. Over 400 malt whiskies from every producing region including Scotland, Ireland, USA, Canada, India, and Japan are served from the long, oak bar. The walls display rare whiskies, including a 50-year-old bottle from Glenfiddich, a 35-year-old bottle of Springbank, and more. The wine collection features world-renown Cape wines and the people watching can’t be beat. Whether under the sun with moored yachts or enveloped in dark wood and warm maritime comfort, Bascule is the “in” meeting place to unwind.

An Appetite for Cape Town: 

Cape Town is the place for a cross cultural food experience. The country’s rainbow culture has produced a natural fusion cuisine with enough variety and spice to satisfy any visitor. Black Africans had (and have) a healthy diet of game, fish, root vegetables, wild greens, berried, millet, sorghum and maiz. Sugar farmers brought indentured laborers from India to cut the cane, and with them they brought the distinctive cuisine of India. The British and German immigrants added European embellishments to South African fare. Workers from Malaysia brought their own dishes – all using a generous sprinkle of spices. Malay slaves brought their spicy and flavorful cuisine. French Huguenots arrived after the Dutch and introduced the vineyards that began South Africa’s love affair with fine wine. Ask where you can have a typical Cape Malay or Zulu meal.

One Market: Judging from the crowd of regulars who cram One Market, an elegant waterfront restaurant, this is the place to go for creative cuisine and intimate dining infused with distinctly South African flavors. Don’t miss the wild Caesar salad with three cured carpaccios of warthog, ostrich and springbok, served with toasted garlic and roasted pistachio chips. The fresh culinary ideas are balanced with flavor and the passion of Chef Bruce Robertson and his team. After your meal compliment your palate with lingering vintages and indulge in the dessert chocolate and wine pairing. Rock Salt Dark Chocolate is paired with Cabernet Sauvignon. The Masala Dark Chocolate compliments the spiciness of Shiraz wine. But best of all is the Rose Geranium Milk Chocolate that mimics the sweet raison and vanilla flavor of Muscat. Winemaker Kevin Arnold and the Chocolatier Richard Von Gensau created this experience. Epicurean dining at an elegant restaurant is part of the Cape Town’s attraction.

The Accommodations Are Also Extraordinary!

Cape Grace was voted “Best Hotel in the World” by Conde Nast Traveler in 2000 and the awards have kept on coming. Located on the picturesque Victoria and Alfred Waterfront, this Leading Hotel of the World has long been the choice for honeymooners and sophisticated travelers seeking comfort and luxury. In addition to the expected luxuries, the Cape Grace has a fabulous spa that combines understated elegance with treatments that hark back to ancient Africa – when massage and aromatic spices were used to cure a thousand ills. The Spa, as well as rooms at the Cape Grace enjoy views of Table Mountain to the south or Victoria and Alfred Waterfront and the Indian Ocean to the north.

Wine Country with Local Belvedere Ancestory:

Eric and Lente Schwartz, of Belvedere have deep roots in the Constantia Valley, the Cape’s oldest wine farming area. Lente’s family (the Louw’s) owned the Steenberg estate for three generations. Steenberg, the oldest wine estate, and a five star hotel, still produces award-winning wines. It’s a short 20 minute drive from Cape Town surrounded by pristine vineyards and nestled at the foot of the imposing Steenberg Mountains. The buildings which date back to 1682, have been lovingly restored to their former glory and each has been declared a National Historical monument. And an 18-hole championship golf course designed by Peter Matkowitz follows the natural contours of the original farm.

The property’s first owner, Catharina Ustings, arrived in the Cape in 1662 from Germany, purchasing the estate in 1682. She was first woman and this was the first farm to be given title in South Africa. Catharina was one of the most daring and controversial figures to ever settle in the Cape. One of her five husbands was killed by a lion and legend has it that Catharina hunted the lion on horseback and shot it.

The property is situated in the Constantia Valley, the Cape’s oldest wine farming area, particularly famous for its white wines, due to the cool breezes from False Bay. The flagship Sauvignon Blanc Reserve has won a number of awards worldwide, and Steenberg’s red ‘Catharina’ blend is highly recommended for its elegant French feel. Take time for a guided tour and wine tasting, and treat yourself to a Ginkgo “Elixer” Massage at the spa. The Catarina restaurant won awards for its contemporary South African Cuisine, including the American Express Platinum Award for Fine Dining.

Dozens of old wineries are located an hour east of Cape Town in the historic wine region grouped in a triangle around Stellenbosch, Franschoek and Paal. You can do wine tours by bicycle, (there are wide shoulders on the roads for bikers’ safety) or on horseback or spend a day with the wine farmer, the wine maker, and the chef to enjoy a tasting paired with local organic food in the owner’s manor house.

For the discerning guest who wants to visit a winery privately, stop at Vielliera, a family-owned little gem that no large groups or tourist buses visit. Try the Monro, a four star flagship wine with a well-structured palate, unobtrusive with a plumy and chocolate taste. Monro wines are a blend of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon.

Hoopenburg is a vineyard famous for its Sauvignon Blanc, selected by South African Airlines for serving to all classes of travelers.

Le Bonheur, is located off a quiet back road, at the end of a gravel driveway. The estate, built by a French Architect, is surrounded by a white picket fence and weeping willow trees. You’ll be welcomed by the sweet heady fragrance of French Jasmine as you relax at tasting tables on oriental carpets set among French armoires. Like most of the vineyards, they don’t know what to do if a vehicle arrives with more than four guests.

For More Information, please consult the South African Tourist Office 212-730-2929.

The Insanity of Learning to Surf at my Age – On the North Shore of Oahu

Learning to Surf on the North Shore of Oahu

I can remember exactly the first time I felt I had to surf….against all expectations, as I am uncomfortable in the ocean when my feet don’t touch a sandy bottom. Surf movies were projected onto the walls of the hip restaurant where we celebrated my daughter’s birthday.  Watching surf movies is like seeing poetry come to life.

The scene of a young woman on her board, freely gliding atop a wave 10 times her size seduced me, even though I knew that as with skiing, surfing is best learned when you’re young and flexible in body and mind.

The image of me on the surf board became another “must do” on my bucket list of adventures. I wondered if it was crazy to try to surf in my 50’s.

Recently, when planning a family vacation to Hawaii, I saw a promotional photo of a girl on a surf board outside the Turtle Bay Resort on Oahu. That’s it, I thought. I’ll book the surf lessons for myself and my two college-age daughters. My husband was less enthusiastic, but I had to give it a shot, and with my daughters urging me on, maybe I’d have the courage to try. We grabbed our suitcases and good books and took off for Turtle Bay, a non-stop flight from San Francisco and then only an hour drive from the Honolulu Airport.

The north shore boasts big waves, large enough to drown you or throw you up on the rocks and crush you. It’s a Mecca for the world’s top surfers and competitions. All my life I’ve sat on the shore watching the surfers and finally said to myself, “I have to get out there and confront my fear of the ocean. I’ll never have better company than my athletic daughters and I may not have the opportunity to take lessons at a surf school as renowned as Hans Hedemann’s at the Turtle Bay Resort. “Go for it,” I remember my mom telling me so many times.

Surf lessons with my daughters

We were given thin wet suits and long boards and instructions on the sand, and then into the breakers we paddled. Our buff teacher Tom floated at the crest of the waves near us and called me to paddle over and get ready. Bobbing up and down, he watched and waited for the perfect wave for me, then with a push, a spin and a yelp, I paddled out of the wave. On my belly, counting to three, following his instructions, I tried to stand up, wobbled and crashed.  “The wipe-outs are part of the fun,” I remember Tom saying.  Tumbling downward into the pit of the wave, I felt the whole power of the ocean above me. There was no time to be scared. Suddenly a force pulled me by my ankle up to the surface. There was no time to wonder if it was a supernatural power helping me out. With a snap, tug and a pull from the surfboard strap I was propelled upward.

Sputtering and dazed, I surfaced and looked out to the wave line where I saw my daughters smiling with thumbs up. “OK, time to try again,” I thought.

Then they took their turns and gracefully stood up, balanced and rode their waves. We were all hooping and yelling encouragement to each other.

I paddled back out to the instructor, feeling my strength and pumping up my courage. What did I do wrong? Tom said, “Let go of it. Don’t count or think, just feel the wave.” He pushed me off for the second try and started paddling into the rushing wave. I had the sensation I was dancing and that I’d been on that wave all my life. I stood up and rode it in. It was pure euphoria.  For the rest of the day I managed to ride every wave, something I never thought I would be allowed to do. The ocean touched me on the nose and said, “That was for you.”  For a few seconds I was one with the wave.

Learning to surf is one of the harder things I’ve done in my life, but it’s also immensely gratifying. It requires both great focus and tremendous effort to paddle out and get on the wave. You need to be highly observant to understand what’s happening around you, while simultaneously letting everything go and allowing your instincts to guide you. If you’re not 100-percent present, you might get unlucky and get hurt.

Out there bobbing in the waves of the North Shore of Oahu, I had to deal with the ocean, the fear, the survival and the challenge – all alone. You truly are on your own.

After the surf lessons I was sore for days and I stayed close to the pool, the Jacuzzi, and the sand beach at Turtle Bay Resort. But I knew something had changed in me—the way I feel about myself. I did it — I surfed –even at my age.

National Geographic Radio, Hear the inside story about Rapa Nui – Easter Island

My interview with Boyd Matson, National Geographic Radio, XM Radio, NPR will be aired the first two weekends in February, depending upon your location.  The Easter Island Program will also be streamed on the National Geographic Website:

and by Feb. 20th, the program will be available on itunes.

The question I’m asked the most is:

Where is Easter Island

In the middle of nowhere, no really, it’s roughly equal distance from Tahiti and Peru and Chile, at 29′ South latitude. That means 2,400 miles from land, in the southern and eastern most area of what’s considered Polynesia.

It’s a long way!

How do you get there?

My trip took 12 hours; an hour to Los Angeles, then 8 hours from LAX to Lima, Peru on LAN.

American, Alaska, Qantas, JAL, Cathy Pacific, British Airways and LAN are all part of the OneWorld Alliance, so pool your miles and upgrade to Business for a lie-down bed and great meals and wine.

Then I had a good night’s sleep in lovely hotel, Libertador (a well known, upscale brand in Peru), and then a full day tour of Lima.

What to do during a lay-over in Lima?

Again, friends asked me if Lima is safe for tourists. That depends upon where you go and how savvy you are. I recommend you hire a guide for the day.  Mountain Lodges of Peru has day guides, and Roberto, our charming, well-educated guide  was excellent.  He showed us all the highlights — Plaza San Martin, San Isidro, Miraflores, Museo Larco — and he saved us time, and ensured our safety. (By the way, Mountain Lodges of Peru’s website is awesome. You’ll want to spend more time in Peru after perusing the site).

 

Thanks to LAN Airlines for sponsoring my visit.

 

 

Questions about Easter Island – Why and How?

Mysteries and only a few answers

Despite it’s isolation in the middle of the South Pacific (roughly equal distance from Tahiti and South America), Easter Island is at the center of a lot of questions.

WHERE DID THE HEADS COME FROM?           HOW WERE THEY TRANSPORTED?

The giant heads were carved our of a dead volcano, which contains over 400 Moai, one reclining statue  is over 60′ long. They were transported down the mountain to the seaside using logs. There are more than 900 heads dotting the islands.

HOW LONG DID IT TAKE TO CARVE THEM?

It is estimated it would have taken six workers 12-15 months to carve and another 90 days to lower the statue down the mountains and transport it to an alter along the coast. It is widely agreed that the statues were mainly built from 1,000 – 1600 AD.

WHAT IS THEIR PURPOSE?

Gina, our 27-year-old guide from Explora, (the a sustainable, luxury lodge),  of Rapa Nuian descent, told us that the statues represent the clan chiefs. After they were carved and erected, they became repositories of supernatural powers. They commemorate the ancestors. Most of them are placed with their backs to the sea, they are the protectors of the people.

WHERE DID THE FIRST PEOPLE COME FROM?

Modern archeologists believe the first islanders traveled from Polynesia, so they weren’t from South America as Thor Heyerdal suggested.

COLLAPSE

Production had stopped by the time Christian missionaries arrived in the 1860’s and the society had collapsed. They had chopped down all the trees to transport the statues; there was no wood to build canoes to fish with. Tribal war broke out; people toppled the clan statues, smashed their eyes, and with dwindling resourced, turned to cannibalism. Read Jarrad Diamond’s book to learn more.

WHAT ELSE IS THERE TO DO ON THE ISLAND?

In addition to exploring the archeological sites, you can bike ride, snorkel, scuba dive, take a surf lesson, fish or relax in your hotel socializing with visitors from around-the-world at the bar, sipping Pisco Sours, a strong cocktail made with Pisco (Peruvian brandy), lemon, cane sugar and egg whites. If you scuba dive you’ll be amazed at the visibility — among the best in the world because the island is isolated from the three major currents in the Pacific. My favorite places to eat were at the Explora Hotel, Au bout du monde, and La Kaleta.

DON’T MISS THE LOCAL DANCERS

My favorite evening out was to see sunset from the Bout de Monde (End of the World in French), and enjoy a fabulous dance troupe, Matato’a (the watchful eye of the warrior), the  famous musical and dance group from Rapa Nui (Easter Island).The dazzling, physically gorgeous dancers sway and shake in routines similar to Tahitian dancing and to Maori war dances.

I saw the sunset, bu

Sunset in Rapa Nui, Easter Island, Chile Watching for the Green Flash

t unfortunately I didn’t see the “Green Flash” on the horizon the second after sunset. Have you seen it?

Night Life at Easter Island – Dance ’til you drop

Recently I went to Easter Island, the most remote and least visited World Heritage Site, home of the giant stone heads and dazzlingly attractive men and curvaceous women. To read more and see the video of the mostly nude men dancing an elegant South Seas swaying and a sexually charged version of the Maori war dance. This is the Matato’a Dance Group and they’ve performed worldwide.

Energy grids, vortex, geometric points on Easter Island

The magnetic rock attracts people worldwide who are searching for spiritual healing and enlightenment. They camp out by it, under the full moon, and receive magnetic vibrations just by holding their hands above the rock.

Why are ancient Megaliths like the moai (stone heads) placed at specific equidistant points?

Why are Positive Energy Vortexes, such as in Easter Island situated where they are?

More questions than answers.


About Marybeth Bond

Marybeth Bond is the nation’s preeminent expert on women travel. She is the award-winning
author-editor of 11 books.

Marybeth has hiked, cycled, climbed, dived and kayaked her way through more than seventy countries around the world.

She was a featured guest on the Oprah Winfrey Show. Marybeth has appeared on CBS News, CNN, ABC, NBC, National Public Radio and National Geographic Weekend.