Fado reveals the soul of the Portugal!

No comments

Popular in cafes, nightclubs, and restaurants, fado is a unique form of Portuguese music loved for its expressiveness. Its origins date back to the 1820s or earlier. Central to Portuguese culture, and described by the term “saudade,” a longing as a result of a permanent loss with far-reaching consequences.

Often, the musicians sing about the hard realities of everyday living. For that reason, fado is regarded as the spirit of Portuguese music and culture. A feeling of understanding that cultural travelers and other tourists visiting Portugal seek may be difficult to achieve without experiencing live fado performances.

To enjoy the seductive charm of a city like Lisbon you must roam the city’s alleyways. While doing that, take time to slip inside cafes, steamy bars, or restaurants and listen to the soulful fado songs by famous artists like Amalia Rodrigues. Some of her popular songs were Uma Casa Portuguesa, Coimbra, and Foi Deus among others.

Visitors can find numerous fado bars and restaurants along the streets of Alfama, one of the oldest neighborhoods in Lisbon.

Have you ever felt a deep sense of longing for something you love? Fado music evokes such experiences. The songs capture thoughts, emotions, struggles, and the spirit of adventure running through all aspects of Portuguese society. Subtle and soothing tunes express the Portuguese way of life.  Camane, considered to be the best male fado singer among a new generation, continues this tradition while remaking the traditional music of his parent and grandparents for new generations.

Fado bars and restaurants allow you to immerse yourself in the food and music of Portugal.

Frequent cultural visitors to the country always seek out fado performances for various reasons, such as experiencing the destination like a local, a nice evening, and for those who want to check UNESCO sites off their list, the organization rates it as Portugal’s most prominent cultural heritage.

Fado performances provide a pleasant addition to an evening of dinner and drinks. Can you imagine the pleasure of soaking in soulful melodies while enjoying different delicious forms of Portuguese cuisine such as bacalhau, (salted cod), polvo

àlagareiro (boiled octopus with onions, tomatoes, and peppers), or pastel de nata (Portuguese egg custard for dessert? Song albums like Uma Noite de Fados by Camane will appeal to your deepest sentiments.

The lively fado tunes are a trademark of Portugal, dating back to the 1800s in the working-class neighborhoods of Lisbon.  Cobblestone streets,  mazes of alleys, small plazas, and colorful buildings close enough to string clotheslines between and have conversations with your neighbors thru the windows.  Walking these neighborhoods during the day elicits a feeling of charm but also the effort of daily life.  As day turns to night, the locals seek the camaraderie of their friends in nearby bars and restaurants to hear music that conveys the essence of their lives.

To get a bit of understanding of the people of Portugal, an evening of fado is a must!  Otherwise, what would be the point of traveling if you can’t say your eyes were opened a bit during your travels.  The perfect way to do that in Portugal is to lose yourself in the revelry fado music creates!

Known for triggering a wistful yearning for what is gone and a nagging sense of loss, fado music comes in two different styles. The most well-known is named the Lisbon fado. It is drawn from social contexts focusing on unlawfulness and marginality. The second genre

One or more guitars typically accompany fado singers.

is Coimbra style fado. It is linked to the academic traditions of Coimbra University, usually performed on the streets of the city as well as bars and restaurants by performers often in academic robes singing tunes that are more upbeat and cheery.

Listening to fado is the best way to compliment the charming sights you see during day trips. Nothing can heighten your appreciation of the Portuguese more than throwing yourself into the closeness of a fado bar atmosphere. Get in touch with me and I will help you do that!

Pat Ogle-CollinsFado reveals the soul of the Portugal!
read more

How do you spell controvery in Tasmania – MONA!

No comments

Sex, death, poop and more not-for-the-dinner-table subjects are the inspiration for art at one of Australia’s most controversial museums.  To truly understand what MONA is all about, you might have to drop by. The museum in Hobart, Tasmania, is not your average history or art stop. Constantly evolving, you never know what you might find, as museum curators freely admit. Instead, they give a long list of quirky clues that ends with the story of the peacock who was banished from the museum for attacking blue cars.

So what is the Museum of Old and New Art, MONA, all about?

Aerial view of Tasmania’s Museum of Old and New Art (MONA)

Founder David Walsh says he was inspired to build the tourist attraction so he could “bang above his weight.” A comment that leads back to MONA’s sex and death theme that states people are primarily motivated by the drive to have sex and dodge death.

“Cement Truck” by Wim Delvoye

The intense, asthmatic art lover and professional gambler is known for being provocative, controversial, and argumentative. If you are lucky enough to meet this outspoken atheist, your conversation is sure to be fascinatingly colorful. The museum is recognized by many as an extension of his loud and bold personality.

You can expect to feel strong emotions that might include amusement, admiration, disgust, joy or confusion. Evoking extreme and deep reactions seems to be at the heart

of the museum’s existence. Most people come through the doors expecting some shock value while the odd traveler stumbles across the museum and leaves with more than they bargained for. Indeed the best vacations gift you with this kind of memorable experience that might be way out of your comfort zone or totally unexpected.

Here’s a little taste of past exhibitions. We couldn’t want to give you any hint of future ones, as it’s anybody’s wildest guess.

  • Cloaca by Belgium artist Wim Delvoye was a smelly machine that needed to be feed daily and emitted poop
  • A wall of carefully sculptured vaginas by artist Greg Taylor
  • A dizzying yellow room full of black dots by Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama

“Cloaca” by Belgium artist Delvoye

Critics are vocal about the museum, its art (including some of Walsh’s personal collection) and all that it represents. Similar to blue cheese or kimchi, visitors either love it or hate it. Do you dare to find out what side you are on? While you might think you are open-minded and capable of appreciating art that is contemporary and thought-provoking, you might find yourself fleeing for the nearest exit. Or you might be inspired and impressed. For sure, your emotions will be triggered and conversations will flow for some time after a trip to MONA.

“20:50” by British artist Richard Wilson plays with optical illusions using oil

Regardless of how much outrage it might garner, MONA is considered a cultural asset to Australia, appearing on the Tasmanian Heritage Register. Walsh is famous in art circles and beyond locally and internationally and has boosted the tourism industry to impressive heights. Annual festivals at MONA, including Dark Mofo that includes a winter nude swim, send tourism numbers through the roof.

The building itself, nestled into a rock, is another talking point and part of the memorable MONA experience. Getting inside involves quite the walk with thoughtful use of space and minimalism to clear the mind before you enter the contemporary-looking museum. Notable features of the architecture are a mirror wall at the entrance and several buildings that are joined by an underground tunnel. The work that went into the design and construction of the museum is massive and Walsh worked closely with

renowned architects to achieve his ever-changing vision. It is a vision that is endless and expected to continue growing in all directions. Once inside, staff hand visitors an iPad entitled “art wank” containing info about each expressive exhibition.

If you love MONA, you can stay the night in one of the luxury dens. We would personally fancy settling down in the Walter Den. Inspired by Walter Burley Griffin, who designed Australia’s capital of Canberra, the MONA website says the accommodation includes “TVs all over the place including the bathroom” and a personal security screen “to avoid visitors you don’t like.”

Contact us soon to arrange your vacation to Tasmania. There is a whole world of fantastic travel experiences waiting in the Australian state, including this not-to-be-missed museum that might make all other museums look dull after you recover from your MONA visit.

A portion of “Grotto” by Randy Polumbo

Pat Ogle-CollinsHow do you spell controvery in Tasmania – MONA!
read more

The soul of South Africa lies in Soweto!

No comments

Do you want to experience breathtaking wild safaris in the heart of an African national park? Are you looking forward to sunbathing on some of the most exotic beaches in Africa? Is interacting with locals and indulging in their culture and cuisine something that excites you? If the above questions describe your ultimate getaway, pack your bags and make your way to South Africa!

Directional signage on Vilakazi Street in Soweto

For a trip that gives you a total view of South Africa, you need to visit the townships in the vast country. Soweto is the ideal township to include in your itinerary. I know you are thinking why visit an area that holds not-so-good memories for locals and might be unsafe for foreigners. Isn’t this slum tourism? Far from it, many Soweto residents are open to visitors learning about their painful past, understanding their culture, and interacting with them within the township.

The Birthplace of the Anti-Apartheid Movemennt

Located in Johannesburg, Soweto is at the heart of apartheid history in South Africa. In the 1930s, Africans were forced to move from their original homes to the edge of urban areas to separate them from white people that took over their land. The places they moved into developed into townships that were overpopulated and largely impoverished.

Nelson Mandela House

Most attempts to end apartheid were birthed in Soweto, with many political campaigns launched from the township. It was also the battleground between police and school-going children in 1976, resulting in the death of many black children. Many of the famous sights in Soweto are significant in South African history and a testament to their resilience and eventual victory.

Traveling through Soweto is the best way to immerse yourself in the past and present of South Africa. You don’t have to worry about saying and doing the right

thing but focus on learning as much as possible. The people are friendly and openly talk about their experiences during apartheid and post-apartheid. Living with less materially does not dampen their zeal for life, as is evident in their daily activities. Before traveling to the township, read ahead on its history to have everything in context and do your best to respect the residents’ life choices, even if they differ from yours.

The Soweto Experience

So, now you are ready to tour Soweto, but how do you get around? You can choose to ride on a regular tour bus, but for a more immersive excursion, consider cycling, walking, or riding a tuk-tuk. Taking a bike tour is one of the best ways to get an up-close look at famous sights. The locals are also amiable, making your tour a great way to interact with residents in their own space.

Soweto has many “must-see” sights, with many located in Vilakazi Street. The use of sign language to spell out “Vilakazi” using a sculpture of eight large grey hands as you enter the street is eye-catching and welcoming for visitors. You can spend more time than you planned on the street looking at various displays of public street art and memorials celebrating icons of the apartheid struggle. Relax on the benches placed alongside the road allow you to take in the beauty and buzz of the area. The seating is decorated with attention-grabbing mosaics that add authenticity to the precinct.

Hector Pieterson Memorial

The residence of Nelson Mandela on the same street still looks like he still lives there. It was renamed Mandela Family Museum and provides a look into the life and times of the former head of state. Another famous individual that lived in Vilakazi Street is Nobel Prize winner Desmond Tutu. A visit to the archbishop’s home is an excellent eye-opener on how the religious community got involved in the fight against apartheid.

In the same area is the Hector Pieterson Memorial and Museum, which highlights the involvement of children during the anti-apartheid era. It is a commemorative space built in an urban design to display the past and bring out the heritage of Vilakazi Street. A few blocks away is the site where Hector Pieterson, a student taking part in the riots, was shot and killed.

Orlando Towers, an iconic Soweto landmark

End your trip at the Orlando Towers, a power station constructed after World War II to serve Johannesburg. It served the largest city in South Africa for over fifty years before being decommissioned. The distinctive landmark gets a regular facelift from graphic designers to showcase their skills to locals and tourists. It is also a bungee jumping spot for tourists looking to enjoy an adrenaline rush!

Staying connected

Touring Soweto is the first step towards

discovering another side of South Africa that may not be glamorous but eye-opening. Besides buying local merchandise and dining in restaurants to empower the locals that depend on tourist visits, you can still make a significant impact in several ways, even when back at home. Thankfully, the trip doesn’t have to be the end of your connection with the township.

Speak about your experience with friends and family that may have preconceived notions about Soweto and South Africa. Sadly, the false narratives about the nation have been peddled for decades, and an accurate account of your experience in Soweto is powerful in changing mindsets. Township tourism doesn’t have to be unethical or exploitive when done right.

Speak about your experience with friends and family that may have preconceived notions about Soweto and South Africa. Sadly, the false narratives about the nation have been peddled for decades, and an accurate account of your experience in Soweto is powerful in changing mindsets. Township tourism doesn’t have to be unethical or exploitive when done right.

Research on social causes in the township that may need support and plug into one that tugs at your heartstrings. It is advisable to connect with reputable non-profit organizations that offer educational and job opportunities to Soweto locals. Unemployment is a significant problem in South Africa, and they often appreciate any help towards such causes.

Plan to visit Soweto as a volunteer in the many organizations set up to assist township residents. Volunteering is always encouraged as it helps improve the lives of the locals and their children. If unable to return in person, you can send in your donations and support your favorite charity.

Festival goers in South Africa’s Soweto

Soweto neighborhood

Ultimately, the journey through Soweto is a rewarding experience for a day trip or an extended period. The catch is to strike a balance between awareness of the issues locals face and respectfully choosing to focus on their strengths instead of weaknesses.

If you are keen to start your journey to Soweto on the right footing, you need someone with experience to guide you. I am well versed in matters Soweto and will help you discover a new side of South Africa. Call me!

Pat Ogle-CollinsThe soul of South Africa lies in Soweto!
read more

Feel like royalty in these gorgeous thermal baths!

No comments

The capital of Hungary, Budapest, has many nicknames. Still, the most prominent one is the City of Spas because of its abundance of historical thermal spas.  For centuries, Hungarians enjoyed the advantages of having natural springs under the country by building thermal baths that increased in popularity quickly for the medicinal benefits of the warm mineral water and social aspects.

Hungarians just followed what other civilizations enjoyed. The Turks, and before them, the Romans,

Locals integrate relaxing in the thermal baths into their day.

built luxurious baths thousands of years before those in the region that is now Hungary. Some of the Turkish baths, like Király and Rudas, still operate in Budapest today.

So, what makes these historical thermal baths worth visiting? Well, like the elegant coffeehouses scattered around Budapest, some of the most beautiful bathhouses warrant visits solely based on the architecture and their stunning interiors.

Gellért Baths and Spa

The Gellért Baths and Spa is one of the most popular bathhouses in Budapest. Located next to the famous Danube River, this bathhouse has an impressive history.  Although it wasn’t built until 1918, the water from Gellért Hill was being used as far back as the 13th century. It now houses the world’s oldest wave pool and features both outdoor and indoor pools to reap the benefits of the mineral-rich water.

Gellért Baths and Spa

Széchenyi Thermal Baths

The design of the baths here is in Art-Nouveau style and is one of the main reasons to visit.  As you enter the mall hall at the Gellért Baths and Spa, you will be immediately transported back to 1918, with stunning cream columns, azure blue tiles lining the walls, as well as beautifully colored glass that illuminates the room on a sunny day.

Each thermal pool in this ten pool building has its own distinct design, showcasing the style of the early 20th century and how it’s still just as beautiful as it was back in 1918.

Széchenyi Thermal Baths

Once you arrive in Budapest, it won’t be long until you learn about the Széchenyi Thermal Baths. Located in the Pest part of the city, it is one of the largest and most popular public baths in Europe.  Similar to the rest of the thermal baths, the architecture and history behind the Széchenyi Thermal Baths entice you to visit. Built between 1909 and 1913, Neo-Baroque and Neo-Renaissance styles dominate the architecture. You’ll notice that even the smallest details of the palace balconies and arches are rich in water metaphors and water allegories.

Like the Gellért Baths, Széchenyi also provides an outdoor and indoor pool of differing temperatures, two saunas, and a steam bath.

If you’re a fan of art history, you cannot miss the Széchenyi Thermal Baths’ beauty.

Rudas Thermal Baths

The Rudas Thermal Baths, built by the Turks in 1550 directly on the Danube, are the oldest and most beautiful of all baths in Budapest.  The Ottoman architecture at this thermal bath is quintessentially Turkish, expressed by marvelous domed ceilings, marble columns and walls, and rooms with a smooth and sleek finish. Red columns support the dome over the main pool, surrounded by four smaller pools of varying temperatures. With the range of pools, you can pick and choose the water temperature in which you wish to luxuriate.

Not only that, but Rudas Thermal Baths are one of the only baths in Budapest that has a drinking hall where you can drink healing water from three springs; Hungária, Attila, and Juventus. The Juventus water is the same water the Turks drank to help with anti-aging, hypertension, and rheumatism.

Rudas Thermal Baths

Lukács Thermal Baths

Unlike most of the other thermal baths in the city, the waters at Lukács Thermal Baths are said to have some of the most effective healing waters that can treat a range of diseases.  The architecture may be simpler compared to the Széchenyi and Gellért. Still, it’s the historical plaques Unlike most of the other thermal baths in the city, the waters at Lukács Thermal Baths are said to have some of the most effective healing waters that can treat a range of diseases.  The architecture may be simpler compared to the Széchenyi and Gellért. Still, it’s the historical plaques

Lukács Thermal Baths

Király Thermal Baths

The 400-year-old Király Thermal Baths, unlike other thermal baths in Budapest, don’t have their own natural water source: its water comes from the Lukács Thermal Bath.  Similar to the Rudas Baths, when you step inside the Király Thermal Baths, you are taken back in time to when the Turks ruled the Buda Castle, hence the stunning Ottoman architecture.

Traditionally Turkish, the dome-shaped ceiling of the Király Thermal Baths provides dim light over the octagonal pool. The bath nor the surrounding building hasn’t been restored for a few decades, making it that much more historically appealing.

The thermal baths of Budapest aren’t just worth a visit because of their warm waters, but the history and the architecturally stunning bathhouses make it impossible to leave off your itinerary.  Dip into Hungarian spa culture and other cultural riches!  Email me today to explore this area of Europe so overlooked by many!

Pat Ogle-CollinsFeel like royalty in these gorgeous thermal baths!
read more

Strolling Melbourne’s laneways – a total sensory experience!

No comments

Looking for an Aussie destination with character? Melbourne offers a cultural buffet of wonderful choices. Trams chugging through the city center, a vibrant food scene, an awe-inspiring public library, and plenty of historic architecture, including churches and cathedrals amongst the urban landscape create a metropolis always buzzing with activity. In this modern Australian city you will also find Melbourne’s laneways.

The colorful little lanes are famous for bright murals and creative street art that cover a dizzying maze of streets. Pedestrian-only streets mean you can lose yourself in the artwork without watching for cars. There is plenty of pedestrian traffic, though, with many people browsing the boutique shops, local restaurants, and fancy cafes along the way. Fashionably dressed teens bound for school, business people in suits, families shopping, and tourists documenting their travels all move at their own speed through the popular central business district (CBD) instantly recognizable as “Melbs: as the locals affectionately call it.

Melbourne’s culture embodies the laneways, and if you visit a resident of the city they will proudly show you the eye-catching creations while pointing out that street art isn’t graffiti. You will see famous Australian life depicted on the walls with work by local artists covering Aussie life, politics, pop culture, fashion, music, beauty, and love.  Explore almost every theme you can imagine using art on the  Melbournites who can relate to the work and appreciate the bold beauty it beholds.

walls of the lanes to tell a story or message. Perhaps that is why they hold so much meaning for

The history of the lanes goes back to the Victorian era, when horses and carts would clatter along the narrow paths. In the 1990s, the area transformed into a trendy spot for shopping, dining and drinking and street art slowly emerged. Soon the bright surroundings became more popular on a local and international level. The intimate lanes offer a haven where people can absorb the cultural scene, drink coffee, meet friends and

escape, even for a short time, from the bustling city just outside the coziness of the lanes. As you dance down the lanes you will notice a lot of the old architecture is well-preserved, increasing their charm even more.

Meyers Place (formerly Nicholas Lane) is one of the oldest laneways in the city, so a must-visit for true street art fans. Funky eateries and bars line the lanes where you can linger for a while. Lane’s Edge Cafe and Bar is the perfect place for dining outdoors with a laidback vibe. Refuel with dishes paired with local Aussie beer and wine before diving back into the adventures of lane hopping in search of the best mural of the day.

Hardware and Goldie lane features 20th-century warehouses and Degraves Street, named after Hobart merchants Charles and William Degraves, has alfresco dining options for patrons who appreciate the views of the art deco architecture. Hozier Lane near Flinders Street Station is another popular

urban art spot, or you might find yourself rocking out at ACDC Lane. There are so many lanes, and you can rely on your instincts and embark on a bright road of artistic thrills. There is no wrong way for your feet to take you and there’s no predicting what you might

discover. As you weave your way from lane to lane just be sure to take enough photos for invoking memories of this colorful stroll.

Melbourne’s strong coffee culture goes hand-in-hand with the thriving art scene. Rest your tired feet and order a latte at a hip café. Take in the art with the aroma of caffeine and background chatter of socializing coffee lovers for a true Melbourne experience.

Forget about Google maps and get lost in the streets for an inspiring walk that you could probably not make the following day if you tried. Roaming around another day you would notice different details of the artwork adorning the laneway walls. It’s an uplifting place for culture-loving explorers and is free as long as you aren’t tempted to spend at a chic boutique filled with designer garments that are another form of beautiful creative expression.

Enjoy the backstreets decorated with street art by emerging and established talented artists. Watch an emerging work in progress as an artist empties some spray cans. To avoid the crowds arriving early and snap plenty of photos without too many people.

Melbourne’s lanes are a major tourist attraction constantly evolving, with new murals appearing all the time. Embrace the cheery journey as you

Ready to immerse yourself in this outdoor gallery of contemporary art?  Let me design a trip for you that incorporates the laneways and the other wonderful things Melbourne has to offer! walk through a colorful moment in history that might never be the same again.

Pat Ogle-CollinsStrolling Melbourne’s laneways – a total sensory experience!
read more

Even a Scrooge can’t scowl at glüwein and twinkly stars!

1 comment

Walking through a European Christmas market feels like being in a romantic winter wonderland movie. As the aroma of spiced wine mixes with the cool breeze, you will experience a feeling of joy and happiness as you roam a fairytale holiday market filled with festive treats.

Germany, Slovakia, Poland, Belgium, Austria, and Hungary are a few countries that put on a Christmas market that would impress the socks off Santa and all his elves. Every country has a unique market with various winter displays, events, parades, and food.  Picking a favorite one is simply impossible.

Christmas Market in front of Town Hall in Vienna, Austria

Prague’s Christmas Market in its Old Town

Shopfronts are decorated in cheery festive Christmas themes that are so beautiful it’s hard not to stop at each and every one. Historic architecture makes the perfect backdrop to this dreamy annual event. Many stalls line the streets with welcoming cafes and rustic restaurants everywhere, so it is easy to rest when you get weighed down by all your shopping bags.

Christmas mugs, handmade knick-knacks, souvenirs, ornaments, toys, decorations, fabrics, fashion, sweets, and more are just some of the buys you will

want to take home. Christmas decorations are probably one of the most exciting items at the markets because local artisans make beautiful decorative pieces that you will never find anywhere else.

If you are obsessed with Christmas decorations, save a whole section in your suitcase for wooden sleds, nutcracker creations, handprinted trees, sparkly stars, and Santa decorations that are irresistible. Delicate snow globes are not easy to travel with but are worth the effort.

When it comes to Christmas shopping, the European markets have something unique for everyone, even that most hard-to-shop-for person who has everything. Even if you travel to the markets this year during the holidays and delivering your gifts after your trip or even next year, nobody will mind if they get a gorgeous Christmas-inspired gift from Europe.

Nuremberg’s Christmas Market is known for its traditional decorations and ornaments.

Children aren’t the only ones that look forward to the sweet treats at Christmas markets throughout Europe.

Sweet treats are a big part of the European Christmas markets which are loaded with delicious temptations. Indulge in iced sugar cookies, crepes, cake, donuts, chocolate, and candy. If you don’t have a sweet tooth, there’s plenty of other scrumptious options like roasted chestnuts, dumplings, soup, and gingerbread cookies. You might even discover reindeer sausages or Töki pompos (cooked dough with bacon, onion, and cream toppings a favorite in Hungary). Drinks with a dash of spice, peppermint, or something stronger are great to carry around as you roam the markets.

The daytime and nighttime atmospheres at a Christmas market are quite different, so make sure you explore the markets at both times. During the day, there is a busy vibe as everyone shops and enjoys music with festive food and drink. At night the glow of the lights adds a romantic feel, and the pace of life seems to slow down a little. Locals and tourists linger over meals of traditional Christmas fare and soak up the holiday atmosphere that surrounds the whole village or city.

An ice skating rink filled with happy children is a breathtaking sight and the little ones will also love to see puppet shows, Father Christmas, and live Christmas performances with all the classics being played. Even if you don’t have children with you, your inner child will be thrilled to feel a level of excitement about Christmas that you might not have felt since your youth. Every corner seems to be another picturesque scene of festive yuletide cheer.

Nativity sets fill the Aix-en-Provence Christmas Market.

Find the nearest church or cathedral near the market because they are sure to be in the holiday spirit with nativity scenes, twinkling lights, and Christmas carols. Spend time reflecting on the rich history of the traditional Christmas markets that originated in Germany hundreds of years ago.

The market in Munich takes place under the watchful eye of its famous Glockenspiel on Marienplatz in the center of the city.

As the snowflakes fall, it is time to dash indoors for one more hot chocolate, glühwein, or eggnog next to a Christmas tree adorned with pretty fairy lights. Make sure you take plenty of photos and videos to remember this once-in-a-lifetime Christmas holiday experience.

Call me today to discuss what city might be calling your festive soul to visit. While December probably isn’t a month you usually travel, this year can be different.  I can arrange an amazing European

winter vacation, with the highlight being the Christmas markets, faster than a 10-year-old can rip open a gift-wrapped box on Christmas Eve.

Pat Ogle-CollinsEven a Scrooge can’t scowl at glüwein and twinkly stars!
read more

Seek a Moroccan souk for your own Indiana Jones adventure!

No comments

Would you ever put chaos and beauty in the same sentence when it comes to markets? It’s doubtful many people would. However, those two words describe the souks of Morocco perfectly.

A souk is a traditional open-air market in Morocco, with the primary/famous ones being in Marrakech and Fes. However, if you go to other large cities, the

Djemma del Fna Square in Marrakesh, the gateway to the souk of the city

neighborhood souks often have similar goods to those in Marrakech and Fes at better prices and fewer tourists, but the cost is the ambiance of the historical aspect and size of these famous souks.

In saying that, visiting a Moroccan souk isn’t about spending money per se; it’s a cultural pillar that needs to be experienced. Souks are where most Moroccan locals do their shopping, so seeing them living their daily lives and seeing all of the exquisite goods they craft on display is a real shift from the western life to which most are accustomed.

Intricate patterns of color draw buyers of Moroccan rugs from around the world.

Shoppers, you won’t need to spend time convincing your traveling companion to visit a souk.. Simply show them some photos of the beautiful products, explain that it’s a cultural experience not to be missed, and you’ll be on your way there!  Most will find something that catches their eye in these bustling meccas.

Once you enter the medina, a walled area in the oldest part of the city, you will walk down narrow streets and alleys.  Here you will find very old buildings, palaces, and mosques. You can almost feel the history!

As you finally reach the souk, your senses will be equally overwhelmed and excited as everywhere you look, you’ll see hundreds of stalls, dogs walking past, customers trying to get a bargain, people passing by on motorbikes, and locals chatting with friends.  The streets wind and cross creating a labyrinth.

So, now you know what makes the souks so chaotic, what also makes them beautiful you may ask? The vibrant colors of the traditional Moroccan lanterns, the tantalizing smells of the spices, the creativity and handiwork of artisans at work, and the voices of the Moroccan shopkeepers trying to lure customers to consider their wares.

Donkeys transporting hides from a tannery in the souk in Fez.

Whether you are there to shop or experience the cultural atmosphere, it won’t be long before a shopkeeper eagerly invites you to look at their products. Each seller specializes in one thing,whether that be leather bags, spices, oils, metalwork, or jewelry. The list is endless.

No matter if this is your first time visiting a souk or your fifth, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and get lost in the maze of stalls. So, hire a licensed guide when you visit one of the larger souks in Morocco, especially in Marrakech or Fes.

With a guide, you will not only hear about the history and popular attractions surrounding the souk, but they will also help you find any specific products you might be seeking by guiding you to the area where these goods can be found. If you’re planning on purchasing a product, a guide will assist or guide you in bargaining, the only way to obtain a price from a shopkeeper. You don’t need to be intimidated, it’s the way the locals do it, but a guide may help you feel a bit more at ease.

Moroccan lamps are just one of the wares that provide magnificent displays of color in the souks of Morocco.

Even if you’re there just to marvel at the beautiful creations that the locals make, it’s worth hiring a guide.  They often will know of unique artisans, historical spots or interesting people.

However, if you choose to wander through the souk without a guide, be aware of the guides who approach you. These “guides” tend to be associated with a specific shop

in the souk and will ultimately lead you there and pressure you into buying their products. If you see or think you see someone like this approaching you, just tell them “No thank you” and walk away.

The description of the souk as a labyrinth or maze is no understatement. The medina in Fes contains over 8000 alleys!  Tall buildings and covered alleys block GPS signals in many areas.  Getting lost easily happens.  When visiting on your own, visitors should frequently orient themselves and note landmarks.  When with a guide should you find yourself separated, stand still.  Guides usually grew up in the area and know the souks well so can backtrack and find you.  Moving only makes finding lost visitors more difficult.

Thousands of streets and alleys make up the old part of the city where the souk is located in Fes.

Whether a shopaholic or not, a visit to a souk will provide a lasting sensual memory. It’s a cultural experience worth the time and perhaps some nervousness with this very different way of life. After all, you may feel different kinds of excitement, confusion, and anxiety, but you may also and feel closer to the culture of Morocco because you’re right in the heart of it.

Ready to explore an authentic Morocco, call me to talk about a trip!

Pat Ogle-CollinsSeek a Moroccan souk for your own Indiana Jones adventure!
read more

There’s more than one magic kingdom!

No comments

Magical when describing a place – what does that bring to mind?  Fairytale castles?  Misty mornings?  Gingerbread-style houses?  Powdered sugar-covered mountain peaks? If so, places like this don’t exist only in theme parks and storybooks.  A short drive south of Munich, Germany you will find just such a place.

A wonderful destination awaits which will please everyone. During the colder months of the year, winter sports enthusiasts flock to Garmisch-

View  of Garmisch-Partenkirchen

A wonderful destination awaits which will please everyone. During the colder months of the year, winter sports enthusiasts flock to Garmisch-Partenkirken, a beautiful town in this southern area of Bavaria. During the warmer months of the year, activities abound in the surrounding area. And I do mean abound!  With careful planning, you can enjoy the best of the area in a couple of days. For those that want a slower pace or to enjoy nature more fully, one can easily fill up a week using Garmisch as a base. Thus, this picturesque vacation area offers a lot of fun for families, couples, and solo travelers.  What can you do in and around Garmisch-Partenkirchen? Let your journey begin!

Zugspitze

Not far from Garmisch-Partenkirchen you will find the highest mountain in Germany. At its 2,962 meter summit,  breathtaking views from this imposing peak draw visitors from around the world. While there, check off your list that you visited Austria by taking a few steps over the border.

Summit of the Zugspitze

Albspitze

The Albspitze may not be as big as the Zugspitze, but this mountain is a favorite of many.  The striking north face with its pyramidal peak stands guard over Garmisch-Partenkirchen creating an impressive panorama.  Its formidable presence makes it one with the city and its symbol.

Especially in summer, you can hike through the idyllic landscape. With some climbing experience, one of the most popular climbing routes in all of Bavaria awaits you. Not a climber, no problem.  Several cable

cars transport summit seekers to the top. The view from the platform “Alpspix” should be a reason to call this mountain a must-see!

Partnach Gorge

Located about three kilometers to the southeast of Garmisch-Partenkirchen, you find Partnach Gorge, by far one of the most impressive works of art that Mother Nature has given southern Bavarian. Through this rocky gorge flows the Partnach River, which carved its way through the rock over millions of years.

In summer, the gorge will blow your mind with its simply breathtaking landscape. In winter, when snow covers the whole area, a much more spectacular sight awaits. Massive ice formations give the already beautiful gorge the final touch.

Oberammergau

You’ll find the village of Oberammergau about 20 kilometers north of Garmisch-Partenkirchen. Although just a very small town, it offers visitors plenty to see. Strolling the picturesque streets of this generally quiet village, you’ll notice the many murals on the houses depicting various scenes from the bible and notably the Passion of Christ.

In addition to its famous woodcarving school and shops filled with the work of these craftsmen,

Quaint restaurant in Oberammergau

Oberammergau hosts the world-renowned Passion Play which takes place every ten years during the late spring thru early autumn.  In thanks to Godfor saving the town from the bubonic plague, the play draws attendees from around the world to see the production by the citizens of the town. During other years you can still visit the Passion Theater for a tour of the theater and stories of how this event is produced that will leave you amazed.

Neuschwanstein Castle

If there is one castle known all over the world for its breathtaking beauty, the Bavarian fairytale castle of Neuschwanstein stands out. Sitting atop a hill near the base of a mountain, this castle commands the surrounding area.  One of three castles built by the so-called  Mad King Ludwig, this castle inspired the castles in Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella.  In addition to a visit inside the castle, allow time to walk or take a carriage ride up the hill to the castle and enjoy the views.  For those with more time, explore nearby Hohenschwangau, the childhood home of the mad king.

Neuschwanstein Castle

Keep in mind that you are not the only one who wants to enjoy the breathtaking sight. Long lines form early and last throughout the day.  With limited time and/or families with children, purchase “skip the line“ tickets in advance for a less stressful visit.

In addition to this fairytale castle, you will also find numerous other castles throughout Bavaria worth a visit. However, if you have a tight schedule, Neuschwanstein Castle, the most beautiful of them all, should be at the top of your list.

Linderhof Castle

Linderhof Castle is the smallest of Neuschwanstein and Herrenchiemsee (located between Munich and Salzburg) castles built by Bavarian King Ludwig II. In this castle, the so-called fairy tale king stayed here most often. Why you may ask?  This castle in the Alps was the only one completed during his lifetime.

Above all, the beautiful gardens and relaxing fountain around the imposing castle will completely inspire you.  The mix of baroque and rococo styles gives this royal residence a flair that can hardly be compared to any other royal dwelling.

And that’s not all!

Of course, you will find plenty of other interesting places to visit in addition to these should you opt for an extended time to explore the area. For example, Höllental Gorge, Ettal Abbey, the Wieskirche, and the town of Fussen are just a few of the other sites in this area jam-packed with things to see and do. If you love the outdoors, literally thousands of trails can keep you challenged the entire length of your stay.

Linderhof Castle

Don’t let the small alpine town of Garmisch-Partenkircken and surrounding area known for skiing lure you into thinking you can see everything in a day or two.  With a well-planned itinerary, you can see the highlights, but to savor the area and all it has to offer, you can plan to spend 4-7 days.  Call me to help you create a perfect itinerary for you!

Pat Ogle-CollinsThere’s more than one magic kingdom!
read more

Uncork your way thru Australia!

No comments

From palate-awakening chardonnay to sharp-tone shiraz, Aussie wines have it all.  Tourists looking to sample some of Australia’s wide variety of offerings during an afternoon or as part of a longer wine-focused journey may feel a bit overwhelmed with their choices.  Every state, except the Northern Territory, produces wine and lots of it. Australia has roughly 2000 wineries. You can bet that if you don’t find a wine pleasing to your palate, head down the road to another winery or move on to another region.  You know what they say, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again!”

Tastings may draw you to one of Australia’s many wine cellars, but the scenery may make leaving harder.

Victoria

Located along the southern coast of Australia, Victoria is known for being the cultural hub of the country as well as the home to the Great Ocean Road and the Yarra Valley, one of Victoria’s top wine regions.  Cooler temperatures and high-quality volcanic soil contribute to the lighter fruity and floral wines coming from this area.

Twenty wine regions now call Victoria home including the Yarra Valley, Bendigo, Mornington Peninsula, Gippsland, Rutherglen, Swan Hill, Red Hill, Goulburn Valley, and many more.  The most common wines produced in these regions vary between white wines like Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay and red wines like Pinot Noir, Shiraz, and Cabernet Sauvignon from over 800 wineries!

Yarra Valley led the way in Victoria with the introduction of vineyards in 1838, well before wineries spread across Victoria in the 1860s.

Victoria’s Yarra Valley

One of the best wineries in Victoria is the Helen and Joey Estate, situated in Gruyere, in the heart of the Yarra Valley.

This winery started producing wines in 2010 after purchasing an established vineyard.  Now 65% of their vineyard is made up of a variety of reds and the rest is a variety of whites.  The Helen and Joey Estate prides itself on its award-winning Chardonnay.

While the Helen and Joey Estate, known for its stunning views may be hard to leave, some of the other sights and tastes of the Yarra Valley like the following may call you.

  • Take a scenic walk on the trail around the Maroondah Reservoir Park
  • Pick some delicious, fresh cherries at the Cherry Hill Orchards
  • Visit the Healesville Sanctuary to see many native Australian critters, like the koala
  • Eat a delicious meal at the Dixons Creek Cafe Bar & Grill

Western Australia

On the western side of Australia, crystal clear waters of the Indian Ocean,  remains of ancient Aboriginal sites, the natural beauty of the remote Kimberly, and the many luscious green vineyards of world-class wineries, provide great incentives to explore Western Australia.

Western Australia has twenty wine regions, including Margaret River, Swan Valley, Great Southern, and Geographe with 503 wineries spread throughout.

Quinninup Falls, an ocean-facing waterfall, located in the Margaret Valley of Western Australia.

When visiting Margaret River, the most well-known wine region in Western Australia, spend time at the world-known Vasse Felix winery located in Wilyabrup. This beautiful property occupies 20 acres of land only 2.5 miles from the ocean, so you can drop by the winery in the afternoon and then go for a picnic on the beach and a swim in the evening!

Vasse Felix has four different locations, including Wilyabrup, Karridale, Gnarawary, and Wallcliffe, all located in the Margaret River wine region (try saying these after you have tasted a couple of wines). This winery produces some of the finest wines, including Cabernet Sauvignon,  Chardonnay, Shiraz, Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc blend wines.

But don’t just spend time at the winery.  Nearby you can:

  • Eat some gourmet chocolate at the Margaret River chocolate company.
  • Try Rústico’s award-winning tapas.
  • Watch the sunset at Injidup Beach.
  • Explore Quinninup Falls, an ocean-facing waterfall surrounded by beautiful scenery.

South Australia

Home to the famous Kangaroo Island, the top wineries in Australia also call South Australia home.   Adelaide, South Australia’s capital city, known for being the hub of festivals and delicious food, means you can always find something exciting happening in the city and nearby.  It’s the best place to make the most of your Australian wine trip.

South Australia boasts almost as many wineries as the rest of Australia. With 28 wine regions, including Adelaide, Barossa, Limestone Coast, and Clare Valley, these regions lay claim to roughly 989 wineries today.  If you visited wineries every day, it would still take you a year often visiting more than 2 wineries a day to visit each winery!  That’s a lot of wineries!

Barossa Valley, home to some of the oldest vines in the world, also produces what many consider to be Australia’s best shiraz.   With quaint towns, lovely scenery, and great restaurants, a couple of days may not be enough to enjoy all it offers.

South Australia’s Barossa Valley wineries line Seppeltsfield Road.

Known for its wine, foodies enjoy the area’s shops specializing in cheese, jam, salami and many shops will prepare picnic baskets to enjoy.

Jacob’s Creek is a great place to start any wine tour in the valley. One of the world’s largest-selling brands since 1973, the winery exports to countries around the world including the United Kingdom, the United States, China, and over 45 other countries.

With its start producing table wines, good value wines rank as some of Jacob’s Creek most widely sold. But the winery produces a wide range of reserve and classic wines such as heritage reds, double-barrel Cabernet Sauvignon, cool-harvest Pinot Grigio, and many more.

After sipping some wines, wondering what activities and attractions there are to do? In the area you can also,

  • Visit other wineries in the area like Elderton wines or Rockford Winery.
  • Visit the Hentley Farm Restaurant for a delicious meal paired with their award-winning wines.
  • Spend a night at The Villas in Barossa for a special evening in a bush setting.
  • Order a picnic basket full of local goodies, like cheese, jam, salami and more, to enjoy on the grounds of one of the vineyards or other scenic site.

Sample the views of Hunter Valley wineries by hot air ballon.

New South Wales

Visiting Australia, and more than likely, your itinerary will include a stop in Sydney.   The city ranks as the #1 most visited in the country for its iconic landmarks:  the Sydney Opera House, the Harbor Bridge and Bondi Beach.

New South Wales may be big on landmarks but ranks as the fourth-smallest wine-producing state in Australia, with 24 wine regions calling the state home. These regions include Canberra, Hunter Valley, Central Ranges, and Cowra, where 634 wineries make their home.

While smaller among wine-producing states, Hunter Valley stands as the oldest region in the country and one of Australia’s major wine regions.  The region began with Semillon and Shiraz grapevines in the early 1800s.  Hunter Valley today has roughly 150 wineries producing delicious wines for both Aussies and wine lovers around the world.  Hop in the car or take the train from Sydney to visit these wineries.

Great wineries to visit in Hunter Valley include Brokenwood Wines. Started in 1970 by a group of weekend wine hobbyists, it’s now regarded as one of Australia’s most reputable wine labels.  Brokenwood Winery produces many varieties of wine such as Shiraz, Pinot Noir, Semillion, Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot, and is noted for its famous Graveyard Vineyard Shiraz, ILR Reserve Semillion, and Cricket Pitch Range.

Spend a day or two in the Hunter Valley so you have time to enjoy other activities in the area.  You can:

  • Book a hot air balloon and view Hunter Valley from above.
  • Taste some delicious French chocolate at Cocoa Nibs.
  • Try out a tiny home for a night at Tiny Away.
  • Visit other Hunter Valley wineries such as De Bortoli Wines or Wynwood estate.

Queensland

Roughly 200 national parks showcase the scenic beauty of Queensland. These parks cover over 25,000 sq miles of the state and the coastline stretches nearly 4500 miles on the northeast side of Australia.  With so much coastline and parkland, it’s no wonder Queensland has the second smallest number of wine regions in Australia, with only five, including Darling Downs, Queensland Coastal, South Burnett, Granite Belt, and Queensland Zone, and only

Enjoy the granite rock formations found in Girraween Park, located in the Granite Belt wine region of Queensland.

116 wineries.  However, wine is growing in importance due to the increasing global demand for wine.

When traveling to Queensland, visit the Granite Belt, the holy grail of wine regions.  Located in the center of Stanthorpe, in southern Queensland, your journey could easily include wineries and a stay on nearby Hamilton Island on the Great Barrier Reef or one of the many beaches along its coast.

The Golden Grove Estate in Ballandean within the Granite Belt region provides a great introduction to Queensland’s wineries.  Mario and Nita Costanzo purchased land in Ballandean in 1946 to grow stone fruits and a variety of grapes, evolving into a vineyard and winery over several generations.  Their cool weather wines encompass both reds, including Tempranillo, Shiraz, and Merlot, along with whites,  such as Sauvignon, Vermentino, and Semillon that are fresh and elegant with a natural acidity not found in wines from other areas of Australia.

The Granite Belt offers more than just wine.  After you sample some, enjoy other activities.

  • Take a walk-through Girraween National Park.
  • Book a night or two in the vineyard cottages.
  • Eat a delicious meal using fresh, seasonal fare at the Barrelroom restaurant in Ballandean.
  • Visit other wineries in the area, such as Jester Hill Wines or Tobin Wines

Vineyards surround the Tamar River in Tasmania’s Tamar Valley.

Tasmania

On the northern central coast of Tasmania, the Tamar Valley is the oldest of the 8 regions on this island located off Victoria’s southern coast.  Although Tasmania is tiny compared to other states, it is a fantastic location for traveling and, of course, winemaking. With the cleanest air in the world and the coldest wine regions in the country, Tasmanian wines receive awards for their delicious sparkling

wines, Pinot Noir, and Chardonnay.   Seven wine regions on the island contain 184 wineries that produce some of Australia’s best wines.

The Tamar Valley is the oldest wine region in Tasmania, due to its cool climate that makes the wines crisp and unlike no other.   Where there is wine,  you often find award-winning restaurants and the Tamar Valley is no different.   Based on locally grown ingredients, farm and sea to table are the norm here.

Dreamed of opening a business with friends?  That’s exactly what friends from two families did with the founding of Goaty Hill Winery near Kayena.  There are no goats at Goaty Hill but Rieslings and sparkling wines are top choices here along with their gourmet platters and cheese plates that also get rave reviews.  In line with their community focus, they frequently sponsor live music and art events to go with your wine.

With its clean air and fresh locally made products, there’s plenty to see do and eat after your visit to Goaty Hill.

  • Pick some strawberries from Strawberries at Littlewood.
  • Taste the local produce at the Richmond village farmer market such, as Harvest Market.
  • Taste some of the Richmond Bakery’s world-class hot pies.
  • Stay a night or two in the historical 1800s Richmond Oak Lodge.

With the extensive winemaking across Australia, time may be the greatest obstacle when exploring.  State by state, region by region, we can create a plan that can keep you returning to Australia for years to come.  Give me a call and let’s talk.

Pat Ogle-CollinsUncork your way thru Australia!
read more

Step by Step – The Ultimate Form of Slow Travel!

No comments

When planning a long-awaited vacation, how you want to travel is just as important as where you want to travel. If you are somebody who enjoys culture, outdoor life and a slower form of travel, then taking a walking might be right up your alley. Choose your desired level of activity and have a unique experience, discovering new cities and regions.

Nowadays, you can find walking vacations suited for anyone’s needs and every level of fitness. Many tours combine traditional sightseeing and walking. That means you can enjoy a morning walking thru beautiful scenery and then continue with some less physical adventures, for example, a cooking class, wine tasting or a visit to a craftsman.

Explore the Italian Alps, the Dolomites, and their towering rock monoliths.

The possibilities are endless – book a Spanish culinary tour that takes you through charming villages, or – if you prefer a bigger challenge – spend a week in the mountains. Taking a walking tour may not be what you imagine – it is the perfect combination of comfort and activity. When it comes to accommodation, no sleep bag required-we’re talking lovely inns with fluffy duvets, fresh warm bread or croissants, and lots of hot water!

Contrary to trekking tours, you won’t experience high altitudes or rough conditions. When backpacking, specialized equipment is typically needed, and training is a must.  Not the case with walking tours.  Usually, you only carry what is needed for the day while your baggage is transported to your next hotel. There’s no hassle and no tired backs. If you are somebody who likes to treat yourself after a long day, some tours even offer meals at Michelin-starred restaurants and hotels with spas!  But walking tours offer more than deluxe-style travel.

Literally, you can stop and smell the flowers along the way on a walking tour.

Zipping by not allowed!

When traveling to a destination for the first time, it can be overwhelming with all there is to see and do. Walking tours allow you to focus on a smaller region and travel at a slower pace and even on your own pace. Of course, driving on your own or with a tour means you may see more in terms of area, but walking allows you to see a destination more closely and more deeply.

Rather than seeing works of Van Gogh in a museum, walk sites he visited, and the places he painted in Arles and St. Remy in Provence.  Furthermore, some places can be accessed only on foot. Just explore all of the incredible alleys of Fes in Morrocco and gorgeous enjoy panoramic vistas of the Alpine valleys that otherwise might be missed!

Eat that extra dessert!

Walking tours are perfect for travelers who seek adventure but don’t relish the thought of sore muscles.

And better yet, it’s great for those that like to enjoy local food. That walking, it’s burning calories your consumed during wonderful meals!  The level of activity and distances vary. Even those who aren’t athletically oriented can find a tour suited for their abilities. There is truly nothing more wonderful than being outdoors for long periods of time, enjoying nature, and walking through the sunshine (or rain – its own joyful type of experience).

Let others do the work!

Planning might be fun for some, but good luck trying to find a restaurant on a trail in the Bavarian forest or someone to transport your luggage from one village to the next.  All done for you on a walking tour.  These tours also offer some unique sights and experiences that you might not even know exist. Simply follow your guide (or the information provided by the company if you are going on a self-guided tour) and let your worries drift away.

There’s no campfire grub on a walking tour.  Enjoy wonderful local cuisine featuring local farm-fresh ingredients.

The route and distance are mapped out and time to explore on your own is frequently scheduled.  Distances during the day may be as few as a couple of miles to as many as 10.  You may find a short walk during the morning in one town followed by a transfer to another town for a short walk before dinner.

Walking tour companies also know that everyone is different. Self-guided tours allow you to walk the entire tour on your own. However, those who prefer to meet new people can choose a small group tour led by a local guide who knows the area and the culture well. Days spent walking with others allow you to get to know other participants and friendships to grow – lovely for those traveling solo. After all – what can be better than meeting people who share similar interests to you?

When choosing a tour, it is crucial to pay close attention to what is included and the level of difficulty, since the terms – hiking, walking, trekking – may vary by company. You will find walking tours all around the globe – from Europe to Southeast Asia and beyond.

Enjoy the destination and those with you on a walking tour.

There’s a song that may just be talking about walking tours –

Slow down, you move too fast
You got to make the morning last
Just kicking down the cobblestones
Looking for fun and feeling groovy.

Life’s too short and vacations go too fast.  Slow down and enjoy a walking tour.  I’m ready to help when you’re ready to explore.  Call me!

Pat Ogle-CollinsStep by Step – The Ultimate Form of Slow Travel!
read more