Don’t tiptoe thru the tulips – cycle!

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Imagine cycling through the countryside among fields of colorful tulips stretching for miles with the sight of a pretty windmill in the distance. Just over a rustic bridge, you stop for a rest, inhale the scent of the fragrant flowers and take photos of the scenery surrounding the path you are traveling.

Biking through the Netherlands provides a form of slow travel that allows you to experience truly local sights and get a fitness fix at the same time. This beautiful European country has charming towns, quaint villages, and lovely countryside that will keep you entranced. Biking tourism is popular for many reasons, including how easily you can hit the bike brakes to stop and admire the sights and then continue your adventure when you are ready.

For the Dutch, cycling has become a way of life – almost everyone owns a bike, including children and the elderly. The biking culture is so popular in the Netherlands that most people ride every day and some paths serve double duty as bike paths and power generators because these solar cell-covered paths collect energy!

Narrow streets and canals means you get to your destination faster than by car in Amsterdam.

The flat landscape of the Netherlands makes it easy for leisure riding, so you don’t need to be ultra-fit or a serious cyclist to enjoy this mode of travel when you visit. Those with young children or in their retirement years, might dismiss biking as being too energetic and demanding, but once you see how the locals embrace biking, you might be tempted to give it a try. The locals will always be cheering you on in their warm and friendly way, as they love seeing visitors embrace their biking culture.

Tulip time provides not only beautiful scenery for a bike tour, but a delightful scented tour as well.

Since travelers are all different, you will find different kinds of bikes for your journey, including recreational bikes, e-bikes and road bikes. Depending on your experience and fitness level, you can match the right bike and tour, so you have a wonderful time cycling the great outdoors. You can even choose your bike seat to help you have a comfortable ride.

There are many kinds of bike tours available with something for everyone from hour-long tours to full or multi-day tours.  You can find group tours, luxury

tours, and family-friend tours, making your bike trip a great social experience. For those that enjoy time in the company of friends and/or family or even alone, you can head out on a self-guided tour through a tour company, leveraging the services just like you would get on a tour.  This more independent style of bike travel works out to be affordable yet still comes with services including routes, information and a help hotline.

There is nothing like being able to enjoy your pedal-powered travel without the hassles and logistics. All the details are arranged when booking a group or self-guided bike tour. When moving on to a new hotel, your baggage will be transported for you while you use peddle power to reach your destination. If your bike needs a repair or the weather turns bad, you will be rescued, making it a stress-free adventure that will be exhilarating. Getting to your destination promises to be both rewarding and exciting.  After biking thru the scenic countryside all

Due to its biking culture, you frequently see crowded bike parking lots.

day, indulge in some guilt-free local cuisine with drinks and dessert. The beer that waits for you at the end of a fun day of cycling will taste incredible.

Life in the Netherland’s bike lane is great for first-time bike tour travelers. It is a very safe place to cycle, so safe that wearing a helmet isn’t required. Even with group tours, you can ride at your own pace and enjoy the sights and scenery; taking your time to experience the environment is what it’s all about. Once you experience the fun of cycling in Holland, you might consider bike tours in other countries too. Barge cruises and biking trips are also popular for travelers who like to mix it up. This different kind of travel is easy to get used to and might be your new-found pastime.

See the Netherlands by land and water on a bike and barge tour.

The Dutch constructed over 35,000 km of bike paths where you can see lush forests, pristine rivers, ocean, plains, towns and more. You might stop to explore a local bakery and farmer’s market with the freshest cheese for your picnic later. You are free to ride and park as your wish, making every day full of unexpected surprises.

Bike sightseeing provides a great way to immerse yourself in the communities you visit. Conversations with locals flow when they see you are riding through

their country and often, questions about where have you been and where are you going spark meaningful exchanges. These rich travel experiences probably wouldn’t happen if they were on a tour or driving by car.

As well as health and fitness benefits, cycling means you contribute to improving the environment. You will notice how fresh the air is, especially in the countryside. As you can tell, there are numerous benefits to biking in the Netherlands. If you’ve been considering a bike tour, I am sure you will find it immensely enjoyable. If this idea is new to you, I’m excited to help you discover this new form of travel.  Just give me a call!

Even cheese goes by bicycle in the Netherlands!

Pat Ogle-CollinsDon’t tiptoe thru the tulips – cycle!
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Dancing lights make these cold destinations a warm delight!

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Although more common than an alien sighting and less dangerous than tornado chasing, the Northern Lights can be elusive. This is part of the thrill of traveling to a destination where they can be seen. If you are thinking of taking a vacation that includes searching the skies for the Northern Lights, there are a lot of factors to consider so you have the best time possible.

You want to pack your suitcases for somewhere the Northern Lights are frequently seen and where

The Northern Lights meet urban lights for a unique light show.

you will be entertained if don’t see them. While the lights are spectacular, we can never guarantee they will appear, so plans should include other activities that make the trip worthwhile if Mother Nature doesn’t bless you this time.

 

So here are some places that offer a good chance of seeing the lights, but are also wonderful to explore in any case.

The city of Churchill, in Manitoba, Canada, is known not only for the Northern Lights but for the polar bears that migrate thru the area.

Canada and the United States

Bursts of color can be seen at night in Yukon Territory in Canada from August to mid-April. Churchill in Manitoba province is another excellent place to see the lights and polar bears in the natural habitat. For nature lovers, there is also the possibility of seeing animals like Beluga whales, birds, seals and the surroundings are beautiful.

In the United States of America, Cherry Springs State Park is the ideal place to immerse yourself

in nature with the chance of seeing the gorgeous Northern Lights. The Milky Way Galaxy and many stars can also be seen from the area classified at an International Dark Sky Park. You might pack outfits for hiking, ATV riding, swimming, boating, fishing and camping.

 

In Alaska, for your best bet of seeing the lights head to Fairbanks or destinations above the Arctic circle. You might experience the Aurora Borealis during any season, but the best time is November to February, when there are fewer daylight hours and darker nights. Arctic excursions can include fishing, hiking, paddling, nature watching and more.

Nordic Regions

The Nordic region covers Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Iceland, the Faroe Islands, Greenland and Åland. All of these places are amazing to visit.

 

Norway is one of our top picks because from mid-November to the end of February, the country experiences polar night, meaning it is dark 24 hours of the day. So technically, you might see the lights during the daytime. This increases your chances of seeing the lights, especially in Svalbard, a group of islands between Norway and Santa’s place (aka the 

Enjoy not only the Northern Lights, but the centuries old houses and Artic Cathedral of Tromsø, Norway.

North Pole.) You can keep busy with adventurous experiences like snowcat safaris, snowmobile tours, or stay cozy in luxury accommodation complete with spa treatments and fine dining. 

In Finland, the lights are seen an impressive 200 nights per year on average. You can hunker down in a luxury igloo after taking a sleigh ride powered by reindeer or huskies. Horseback riding, hiking, photography, boat trips and Finnish saunas are wonderful outdoors and cultural activities you can enjoy in Finland.

 

Iceland is a glorious place for a vacation with a wild and rugged landscape, rich culture and plenty of history to enjoy. From volcanos to waterfalls to lakes to mountains, you will have the adventure of a lifetime and a good chance of seeing the Northern Lights. 

Enjoy dog sledding, ice fishing, snowmobiling, sleigh rides and more when visiting the Lapland area of Finland for the Northern Lights.

Wherever you go, the lights might dance across the sky in an amazing array of colors. We have our fingers crossed you will see them. Sometimes one of nature’s best shows is only minutes long, other times it goes on for hours.

 

Weather patterns, including the Northern Lights, are unpredictable. We recommend you go for the destination, not the Northern Lights. Of course, we can maximize your chances of seeing them by booking your trip at the right time of year, but we also want to ensure your visit is still memorable if you aren’t lucky enough to see the lights.

Many hotels and resorts are geared towards guests looking for the Northern Lights. You might

find a room with a skylight or be offered a wake-up call at any hour the lights appear. You can also book many tours on arrival at Northern Light destinations that include exciting nighttime activities as you wait for the sight you’ve been hoping for. 

 

Planning epic schedules for our clients is a passion that has been burning since we launched our travel business so many years ago. Contact us soon to discuss your options. We are ready to light up your life!

Pat Ogle-CollinsDancing lights make these cold destinations a warm delight!
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Italy’s famed Alps, the Dolomites, are dyn-o-mite!

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For many travelers the Dolomites in the north of Italy are a kind of heaven on earth. Mother Nature blessed the stunning Italian mountain range with rolling hills, grand mountains, scenic glacier lakes and the kind of fresh air that makes you feel truly alive.

The Dolomites, aka the Dolomite Mountains or Italian Alps, are enchantingly gorgeous and you can also find a diverse cultural scene with the prettiest little villages dotted throughout the area. There really is something for everyone in the Dolomites!

Braies Lake north of Cortina d’Ampezzo
in northern Italy

Your days will be decorated with awe-inspiring sights as you travel the Dolomite Alps. If you love hiking, the trails will delight you whether you are a newbie or seasoned hiker. Don’t forget your camera because there is an abundance of photo opportunities from dawn to dusk. As well as photographing the iconic gray rocky mountains you will find flora and fauna including deer, cows, goats and birds to document the local “wildlife”.

Iconic alpine winter sports in Italy draw enthusiasts from around the world.

The seasons in the Dolomites put on spectacular shows and it’s debatable which season is the most beautiful. In summer you can expect blue skies contrasting with wildflower explosions and in winter the snow-capped peaks are fairytale-like. For skiers and snowboarders, the alps offer some of the most epic experiences in all of Europe. Autumn and spring are equally as stunning and the weather during those months is just lovely.

While a vacation in Italy usually conjures up visions of shopping in Milan, gondola rides in Venice and ruins in Rome, this area of the country offers something quite different. While those places are wonderful, you won’t want to miss the Dolomites. This sometimes-overlooked destination is rich in nature, culture, history and gorgeous postcard-perfect scenes and for many it is a highlight of their travels. UNESCO agrees, listing the Dolomites as one of the top 49 world heritage sites in Italy.

Charming towns like Vipiteno are lined with pastel-colored historic buildings, old cathedrals, excellent restaurants and shopping. Each town is unique so I recommend you spend several nights at each stop to truly experience the local culture of each village. Foodies can indulge in some fantastic dining experiences that will include mouth-watering pasta dishes and spa junkies will find luxury spa resorts for some relaxation and pampering that is well-deserved after a day of exploring the great outdoors.

Due to its proximity to Austria, this northern Italian region reflects the influence of its neighbor in its architecture, food and culture.

A glass of local Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon or Cabernet Francs is also on the menu as you unwind from your busy day of sightseeing. Or make a day of sipping wine by stopping at a winery or vineyard for a wine tasting tour.  Or you can even ski from wine tasting to wine tasting.  You might also stumble across a remote monastery, museum, ride a cable car or go fishing with a local guide on another day. The Dolomites

Via Ferrata, a type of mountain climbing that used metal rungs, ladders, and cables mounted in the mountain walls provides an exhilarating experience.

are full of spellbinding experiences and sights that will stay with you for a lifetime. If you get the chance to go kayaking on a crystal-blue lake it will be one of the most peaceful and lovely rides of your life. Cycling is another awesome way to get around the Dolomites with epic cycling routes the go through lush green valleys, over bridges and passes and along country roads that are as quaint as they come.

For sure you will hear about Via Ferrate. Translating to iron road, Via Ferrata is guided climb along four breathtaking routes on the cliffs above Mt Norquay. It’s an exhilarating adventure not for the faint hearted. Scaling steep cliffs, crossing suspension bridges and braving steel safety ladders are all part of the thrilling experience. All the routes are wildly exciting from the 2-hour explorer path to the challenging mountaineer path that takes around eight hours.

If you are excited to explore the Dolomites contact me to start planning your trip. With over 500 square miles covering three Italian regions (Veneto, TrentinoAlto Adige/Südtirol (South Tyrol) and Friuli Venezia Giulia), I can create trips to rival trips to those other Alps that are filled with music!

Cortina d’Ampezzo, a small town in the northern Italy, that hosted the 1956 Winter Olympics will again share hosting the games with Milan 70 years later in 2026.

Pat Ogle-CollinsItaly’s famed Alps, the Dolomites, are dyn-o-mite!
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This scenic journey will warm you up to Switzerland no matter the season!

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Tickets, please! The Glacier Express is departing soon and we’ve saved you a seat on the prettiest train ride through scenic Switzerland.

The famous Glacier Express is a direct train joining the gorgeous mountain resorts, Zermatt and St. Moritz, via Andermatt in the central Swiss Alps. Sights of pristine snow-capped peaks, vast valleys and dramatic landscapes are all part of the package, so

Overlooking Zermatt and the Matterhorn in the distance

you won’t want to nap during this epic 8-hour journey. Hailed as one of the most iconic railway trips in Europe, it is an experience that wows every traveler who climbs aboard.

A trip on the eye-catching red glacier express is a must for nature lovers who love to travel. There is no better way to see some of the most picturesque areas of Switzerland as the train gently rocks along the tracks towards a UNESCO World Heritage Site area then heads to the massive Landwasser Viaduct. This 65-meter high and 136-meter long railway bridge is an exhilarating part of the trip. Then you carry on to discover some of the most awe-inspiring sights, including Oberalp Pass, the charming traditional Swiss village of Andermatt and over hundreds of bridges.

The Albula Pass, formerly a trade route for the Romans.

Get ready to go through gorges and tunnels, past waterfalls, viaducts, and green pastures where cows and horses roam free. The scenes are constantly changing but always beautiful, and without this train route that has been operating for over 90 years, it wouldn’t be possible to see these magnificent parts of the earth.

Inside the carriage, there is a beauty of a different kind. You can expect plush seats, large windows for

optimal viewing, luxurious interiors and service that will impress you every moment of your exciting adventure.

I highly recommend booking a first-class ticket for a truly comfortable and relaxed time. A standard ticket is nice, but for a reasonable cost, you can upgrade to express excellence class and travel in the most refined style with amenities that make the trip even more enjoyable. They literally roll out the red carpet for you as you climb aboard to meet your own personal concierge.

The spacious cabin only has 20 seats arranged in pairs facing each other, meaning everyone has a window seat. An iPad is loaded with info on all the sights and scenes and the train staff are well-versed on all the details of the trip. When it comes to dining, you are spoiled with decadent meals featuring fresh and creative dishes to compliment the uplifting travel experience. So relax and take in the view that will be a fond memory of your time in Switzerland. Sipping on quality Swiss wine or champagne as you pass by endless postcard-worthy sights is an indulgent way to spend the afternoon.

St. Moritz park overlooking the lake of the same name fed by the melting snow of nearby peaks.

Be sure to use a fast shutter speed on your camera to capture some of the spectacular views of the natural surroundings. You might not get super sharp images while the train chugs along at speeds of about 25 miles per hour on this well-known European train route, but everyone tries. If you miss that shot and want to remember the feeling you had staring down at the snowy landscapes or up at the dramatic mountain tops, you can always buy some postcards or art at your destination

The Matterhorn standing over the Matter Valley

At the highest point of the luxury trip, you find yourself 2033 meters above sea level, and then you will be surprised to see a little red and white lighthouse. Ask your concierge about this unexpected architectural feature which is the highest lighthouse in the world.

Known as the world’s slowest express train, we also feel it should be named the most charming and

romantic train trip on the globe. The only problem is deciding whether to go during summer or winter.

The glorious spring and summer months put on a stunning show of greenery and blooming wildflower fields, while the winter wonderland that follows is not to be missed. Some people do make the trip more than once to experience the train ride during different seasons because some of the panoramic sights will leave you speechless.

Drop us a line soon to find out more about traveling through Switzerland on the Glacier Express in what will be the experience of a lifetime.

Pat Ogle-CollinsThis scenic journey will warm you up to Switzerland no matter the season!
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Fado reveals the soul of the Portugal!

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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!
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Feel like royalty in these gorgeous thermal baths!

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

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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!
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There’s more than one magic kingdom!

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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!
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Rollin’ on a river, soakin’ up the culture!

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Know anyone that loves river cruising?  Probably so as river cruising continues to increase in popularity.  It’s easy to say it’s the smaller ships driving this increase.  Yes, that’s part of it.  But for those that enjoy culture, including history, food, wine, architecture, and more, these journeys put all these aspects of a destination front and center.  So if exploring the culture of a destination ranks as a primary driver for your motivation to travel, river cruising might just offer a different style of travel to satisfy that yearning.

The popularity of river cruising continues to increase.

Regionally Focused Itineraries

Rivers naturally allow for more focused itineraries.  You won’t see a river cruise ship traveling anywhere near the speed of a cruise ship.  Also, these smaller ships need only limited docking facilities, unlike their oceangoing counterparts.

Half timbered houses in Strasbourg, France similar to those found in Germany

Slower going and more available docking facilities mean these cruises travel shorter distances over the length of the cruise and between ports, concentrating the focus generally on smaller regional areas.  For example, in France you find cruises focused on Provence or Bordeaux.  Cruises of 7 days usually only cover a couple of hundred miles even when passing thru several countries and the cultures of those countries meld from one into the other.

Step Right Into the Culture

All ashore means something totally different on a river cruise.  First, when departing the ship, you step directly into a town or city rather than on the outskirts, so right from the start, you can enjoy the feeling of the destination immediately.  This access allows passengers to take full advantage of what each stop has to offer – have lunch or dinner in a local restaurant;  enjoy a coffee at a café where you can see the ship;  watch the locals play an unknown card game outside a restaurant in the afternoon; walk thru a local market and take your purchase of a fragile item back to the ship before a bike ride.

Want something more in-depth or experiential?  River cruises offer numerous excursions at each stop, many included in the price of your cruise.  Wine tours, culinary tours, and history tours as well as tours of famous monuments, landmarks, and castles.  For those more active, guided bike tours in cities and towns, along river banks and thru forests provide calorie-burning opportunities.  Hiking tours to panoramic vistas, historical landmarks, and areas of natural beauty entice many.  There are even yoga tours!

Sightseeing, scenery and winery visits can all be
done on bike tours offered on river cruises.

Cultural Exploration Doesn’t Only Happen Onshore

River cruisers enjoy culture all around them on board the ship as well as onshore.  With frequent stops in areas known for their agricultural products, chefs procure high-quality local ingredients to create exquisite meals.  These meals also frequently incorporate local dishes as well, like Hungarian goulash, Bavarian bratwurst, flaky strudels from Austria, and lusciously rich cheeses from France to enjoy at the end of your meal.

Champagne served on deck of a river cruise.

Agriculture includes grapes and from those grapes come many of the wines and spirits served on board.  Rieslings from Germany and rosés from Provence accompany your meal and you can enjoy Calvados from France, Genever from Holland, and local beers over conversation with friends and other passengers in the evening.

A slow pace and easy access to the ship allows cruise ships the opportunity to engage with people of the area to bring their local culture onboard.

Musicians, dancers, storytellers delight passengers with their onboard performances.  After a busy morning onshore, passengers can opt to enjoy a craft session or lecture onboard in the afternoon to gain additional insights into local life.

And don’t forget the other passengers joining you on your cruise.  Most river cruise passengers have traveled extensively and maintain a wide range of experiences and interests.  With the small intimate nature of the ships, interesting conversations occur naturally among passengers from the United State and countries around the world.  Cross-cultural interaction comes not only from the destination but with the passengers and the crew as well.

The World Awaits

When thinking river cruises, most think of Europe and particularly cruises on the Rhine, Danube, Rhone, Saone and Seine, the Yangtze in China, and the Nile in Egypt.  Yet with civilization developing around rivers all over the world, river cruising will continue to expand.  Now you can find cruises on the Dordogne and Garonne in France, the Po in Italy, the Duoro in Portugal, the Volga in Russia, the Amazon in Peru, and the Mekong in Southeast Asia.  There’s even a river cruise on the Zambezi in Africa!

Local performers offer a view of local culture on board river cruises.

River cruising is becoming increasingly popular on the Mississippi, Colombia, and Snake Rivers in the US as well.   They’re still a significant number of rivers around the world capable of supporting river cruise ships, so that means there will be a lot of cultures left to explore going forward.

With so much to see, so much to do, and so much to enjoy, river cruising is a perfect fit for travelers who are “culture vultures”.  Ready to explore a destination differently?  Call me to float some ideas!

Pat Ogle-CollinsRollin’ on a river, soakin’ up the culture!
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Once a year there’s another happiest place on earth – Munich’s Oktoberfest!

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Talk about a party!  Oktoberfest started in Munich in 1810 as a celebration of the marriage of the crown prince of Bavaria.  Today millions attend each year to celebrate the beer culture of Bavaria and share in gemütlichkeit, a feeling of friendliness and cheer. This two-week fun-filled event presents cultural travelers with delightful opportunities to celebrate the Bavarian tradition, spend time with Germans or tourists visiting Germany, and enjoy classic Bavarian food and beer.

A tent at the Oktoberfest in full swing!

I can assure you this is an intoxicating (pun intended) experience of beer drinking, food, song, dance, and care-free gaiety. It is a rare opportunity for engaging in an overwhelming carnival spirit on the expansive Theresienwiese, a large open area in the heart of Munich.

Each year the Oktoberfest starts with a parade that brings barrels of beer to the fest site, the Theresienwiese.

Knowing a few tips to help you navigate the parties in the beer tents helps maximize the fun.

  • While called the Oktoberfest, the fest always starts on the third Saturday in September and runs thru the first Sunday of October.  Tents are open daily from 9 am and continues through the day until 10:30 pm when the last song is played by the band and the lights to out at 11:30 pm.  On weekends and public holidays, tents open at 9 am.
  • The fest starts with a parade that brings barrels of beer to the fest followed by the official tapping of the first barrel by the mayor in the Schottenhamel tent.  Once the tapping ceremony ends, 12 gunshots are fired, signaling to the other tents that the fest is open!
  • Getting the best places in the tents means showing up at the festival early, particularly on weekends though the best time to go is during the weekdays. The partying goes on inside the tents where up to 8000 people drink happily.   If you are not inside, the only other place you can grab a beer is outside in the adjacent beer gardens.
  • During the 16 day fest, over 6 million people will attend, drinking over 7 million liters of beer and eating 510,000 roast chickens and 60, 000 sausages.
  • A simple way of finding an open seat at Oktoberfest is to download the official Oktoberfest app. This app will make it easy for you to find your way around the fest and to keep track of your friends.

Wurst, pretzels and roast chicken accompany the beer at the Oktoberfest.

  • Enjoying the traditional delicacies offered inside the tents is an important part of the fun. Tents are of various sizes, styles, decor, themes, and vibes with each one offering a unique experience in terms of beer, entertainment, and food. Check out the offerings in various tents prior to deciding on a tent.  While the classic chicken, wurst, and pretzels are served in all tents, each tent offers its own dishes as well.  Finding this out after you have found seats may cheat you out of the opportunity to find a new favorite dish.
  • Be polite, friendly, and ready to share tables with everyone. At the heart of Oktoberfest is the spirit of friendship. A huge part of the fun is making friends with Germans and other tourists.
  • Be forewarned that Oktoberfest beer is stronger than its deceptive light color.

Aloyisus watches over fest goers in the Hofbrau tent.

  • Lastly, but most importantly, learn the words of Ein Prosit and their meaning. This is a song you will hear throughout the day. You are expected to sing along each and every time. It is German for “A toast, a toast, to cheers and good times”, and when it is sung, raise your mugs high in the air, toast, and drink.

These few tips provide some basics for an enjoyable experience at the fest, but there is so much more.  Guidance from an “expert” can make all the difference.  Start practicing your arm curls and give Wizard of Odysseys a call, because it is never too soon to book, even when the fest is months away.

Pat Ogle-CollinsOnce a year there’s another happiest place on earth – Munich’s Oktoberfest!
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