Balloon Adventures in Turkey!

Want to explore the wonderful country of Turkey in a whole new way? Then take to the skies and see the beautiful cityscape from a hot air balloon! Experience the adventure of watching these majestic balloons go up and then slowly rise into the sky for a once in a lifetime view of the city!

Also, get an inside look of a real family vacation to this exotic destination and see the great times and places you yourself and your family can visit as well!

Next in Our Imagine Series: Italy

 

Imagine….

You pull the leather strap of a two-centuries-old truffle bag across your chest and step into the mist-filled Umbrian forest.   

Emma, a truffle-foraging canine, is running energetically ahead.   The farmer’s throaty Italian commands to her are muffled by the birdsong overhead and the rustle of leaves underfoot as Emma scratches furiously beneath a tree.  She has smelled the day’s first truffle. She claws at the pungent earth, until her master bribes her off with a small cookie so that he can use his spade to unearth the precious tuber, which often fetches as much as $300/ounce on the culinary market.

The prize is retrieved.  It is a gnarly black golf-ball size nugget whose musky scent is obscured–at least to you–by the forest earth.  Still, you carefully place it in your truffle bag and hurry to catch up with Emma as she roots about. Trained alongside cadaver and drug dogs, Emma has learned to differentiate the subtle scents that make each species of truffle unique.  Dogs have advantages over traditional foraging pigs – they don’t destroy the truffle and are compact enough to fit in the backseat of a Fiat.

The morning slips by. At one point, you hear a holler and turn to see a wizened, smiling, rotund farmer standing at a fence, gesturing to you.  He has his vino nuovo, or new wine of the season, in a glass fishball in his lean-to up the hill, and he wants to share it.  That is how you find yourself sipping red wine out of plastic Dixie cups within a circle of complete strangers at 9:15 in the morning in the Umbrian woods.

By noon, your bag is full so you head back to the farmhouse. The weight of this morning’s booty will fetch more than $1000.   While you won’t take it back to the US, you will cook with some of it!

On the wood-fired white enamel stove, under the tutelage of Gabriella, the farmer’s wife, you slice, sauté, stuff, and sample the truffles for hours.  You are armed with only a rolling pin and rudimentary pasta-making skills (and glasses of Prosecco), but Gabriella’s panache creates a banquet that you will savor at the farmhouse table.

Over a delicious, albeit late, lunch, farmer Bianconi regales you with stories of his truffle business.  You hear of his favorite dogs and his museum full of trophies, and even about the heists – local crimes that are inevitably spawned by such a precious commodity.   By the time you rise, the Umbrian sun is setting. Sated by complex flavors and comforted by new friends, you pat Emma goodbye and slowly drive west to Siena for the night.      

That was a trip of a lifetime”, you say.  “Let’s do it again next year.”

 

Sharing the love of travel,  Melanie

 

The Famous Azulejos of Portugal

One of the wonderful adventures of Europe is being immersed in the history and architecture that surrounds you. One of the great ways to learn about this history is by exploring the famous azulejos (tiles) in the city of Porto in Portugal.

This city is famous for its tile work, including across the facades of buildings and train stations. These colorful tiles are also manufactured here and exploring those factories is an experience like no other! Learn all about the wonderful textile history of the area and see some amazing colors!

Exploring the Eats of East London

Heading to London for a few days? Check out some of the best places to eat around the city! From pub food like fish and chips to marvelous soups and fresh bakeries, there is something for every foodie can find a fantastic meal.

There are also wonderful street markets with wide varieties of foods, including homemade curries, cereals, sandwiches, finger food, and much more! Visit the Spitalfield’s Market for a once in a lifetime walk through a global food paradise, filled with any type of ingredient or cuisine you can imagine.

GoProing with Gondoliers and Gladiators in Venice

Imagine yourself taking an idyllic gondola ride through the famous canals of Venice, taking in the history of the city and relaxing on the water. Or listen to a world-class opera singer as you float under the legendary bridges fora true Italian experience!

Or explore Italy through the lens of your GoPro! It’s portable enough for the gondola ride and it even mounts easily while driving a Ferrari through the Italian hillside. Or simply take in the wide views of olive oils and wine country vineyards.

Adventure in the Arctic

Ever wanted to explore the Arctic? Now is your chance! Spend a week exploring the barren pack ice, where few people have roamed, at the edge of the world. Stare out at the majestic landscape of mountains of ice, icebergs and much more. See walruses and blue whales in their natural habitats and enjoy the beauty of nature.

Stay in cute, brightly colored cabins and even have a drink at a bar on an ice float! Or take an unforgettable ride on a Zodiac to isolated islands of ice that no one else gets to travel too. In the Arctic, the possibilities are endless.

Next in Our Imagine Series: Exploring the Desert of Morocco

Dear Thom and Tammy,

Imagine…

 You slept like a sultan in the desert.

The evening before,  your guide, Rashid, and his pair of wooly dromedaries had met your 4-wheel drive at the edge of Morocco’s Chegaga dunes.  The two camels, honking to each other as their boxy feet plodded, step after sinking step, carried you into the shifting coppery sands of the Sahara.

The desert dunes closed in behind you.  It was apparent, as you rode past endless, unmarked knolls, how easy it would be to get lost here.  Inshallah, God willing, Rashid’s camels know the way to your camp and will deliver you there safely.

You passed through desert dunes that the wind had shaped into a tableau of a tawny tossed sea.  Undulating furrows of sand lined up like a set of small waves, and at the crest, a ridge had been whipped to a backbone so sharp that single grains of sand danced along the surface in the evening’s breeze.  

The shadows of your camels and nomad guide stretched taller in the sinking sun of the desert.  And then, you arrived at camp.

Your tent – white canvas with swirling black trim – was ready for you, complete with a king bedstead atop layers of handwoven carpets, and even running water at a brass sink bowl and in the hot shower.  But first, you must be properly received with a traditional mint tea service.

You were led into a three-sided, colorfully-patterned tent and seated on a rough, tightly-woven deep-red Berber rug.  By the glow of a bonfire, a young Bedouin appears, silver tray in hand, clothed in a sky-blue djellaba and turban, coiled atop his head like a cobra, its fine, cream edging contrasting crisply with his deeply tanned face. He gives you a wide smile as he pours a two-foot stream of steaming mint tea into petite green-tinted glasses.

 

Welcome to the desert.

 

After your desert camp, two days of High Atlas wonders stand between you and the chaotic cobra-filled square of Marrakech.  You’ll wander through rural Berber markets – the hammering cobbler next to the bloody butcher next to the hooded man vending a mountain of tangerines.  You’ll stand beneath the hypnotic string of arches of a UNESCO-protected mosque from the 1400’s, and hike to humble valley villages to share a tagine lunch in the home of a Berber family.   At the mud-bricked kasbah of Ait Ben Haddou, as you’ll walk beneath the arch made famous from Lawrence of Arabia, you can almost see Peter O’Toole disappearing on his horse into the rocky wasteland.

But for tonight, you drift off to sleep, sheltered within dunes, under a powdered sugar sky full of stars, the muffled lullaby of Nomad drums pulsing in your dreams.

That was a trip of a lifetime”, you say.  “Let’s do it again next year, inshallah”.

Sharing the love of travel,

Rare Finds Travel!

 

Next in Our Imagine Series: Cuba

Imagine….  

You’re driving back in time, to a warm place at a pivotal time in the Cold War.

Sitting atop the backrest of a canary-yellow 1950’s Chevy convertible, you cruise down Havana’s wide boulevards between columns of tall swaying palms, then inch through its narrow pastel Art-Deco alleyways where strings of laundry and balconies of neighbors hang out overhead.   Your attention is beckoned by one colorful, boisterous scene after another, while peering down from the walls along Havana’s streets are myriad images of Fidel, as the locals him, and of Che – vestiges of the divide that until recently made the 90 miles separating Cuba and the United States an all but uncrossable chasm.

These days, Cubans open not just their hearts but also their homes.  You are lucky to land in the casa particular (a local’s home) of Katya, whose thriving bakery business is runs right out of her casa’s kitchen, wafting the aroma of chocolate and rising dough throughout the home at all hours, day and night.

This morning, custardy quiche and a soft-from-the-oven chocolate croissant arrive on your breakfast table on dainty antique china.   Both the fare and the presentation are clearly points of considerable pride for Katya, and you marvel at the contrast between the rose-colored sofa and family heirlooms in her charming pied-a-terre, and the gritty sidewalk, chipped marble steps, wad of electrical wires, and sporadic water supply that dictates when you can take a shower each day.

No matter what hardships – or because of them – the Cuban people revel in their music.  And tonight, after sunset, you set out for a mecca of that music: the Buena Vista Social Club.

In its heyday, the Buena Vista Social Club brought together some of the island’s best musicians, performing a uniquely Cuban sound known as ‘Son.’ In the 1990’s, the Buena Vista Social Club was introduced to us in the US with a new recording, spurred by the American guitarist and musicologist Ry Cooder, who fulfilled a dream in playing with some of Cuba’s best.  The BVSC is both a sound – or a feel – and a place. The club, which sits a few blocks from the Capital, is now a destination for touristas. But the music that lifts the audience from their seats is Cuban through and through. Towards the end of the show, you find yourself in a conga line that winds past the tables and up onto the stage. Though briefly, you have made the big-time, strutting your Son steps at this famed Havana venue.

To fully inhale Cuban culture, of course, you must sample its cigars.  And there is no better place than Vega Quemado del Rubi plantation out in Pinar del Rio. The drive takes about two hours west from the capital along one of Cuba’s few highways, your car sharing the road with locals’ bikes and donkey-carts.  

On the plantation, you’ll get a primer on producing the world’s finest cigars.  No fewer than 539 steps precede snipping the end of one and lighting up. You learn about different heights of tobacco plants for harvesting, and the drying and aging of leaves, draped just so across planks – 50 per plank  – that are staked on supports reaching the ceiling of a great wooden barn whose open doors and windows allow a breeze to caress the tobacco.

Although you’re no cigar aficionado, Juan’s deft rolling of the tobacco into a paper-thin wrapper leaf and patching of the end with a hand-cut plug mesmerizes, and entices, you.   And as the open-air hut fills up with the plantation owner’s sweet yet peppery puffs of tobacco, you are swept up in this dream of emerald-green rolling tobacco fields, and take a deep draw.

As your day draws to a close, it occurs to you that the distance between Cuba and the US – or at least its citizens – is even less than the narrow straits of Florida that flow between our lands.  

That was a trip of lifetime”, you say.  “Let’s do it again next year.”

 

Cliff Jumping and Caves in Jamaica

Have you ever wanted to jump off some cliffs into beautiful tropical waters? Then the landscape of Jamaica is perfect for you! Visit the famous caves and rugged coastline from popular movies and get your slice of paradise!

Channel your inner adrenaline junkie and jump in the beautiful waters or take a dip in the hot springs of the jungle. Experience relaxation in a whole much of different ways in Jamaica.

Adventure in the Maldives

Want a completely tropical and relaxing vacation? Look no further than the Maldives! Enjoy sleeping just inches from crystal clear blue waters, enjoy your morning coffee with a beautiful sunset from a submerged hammock, and of course gorgeous views everywhere you look!

Take a fun bike ride around the islands, enjoy fruity refreshments and desserts in the heat and just enjoy everything the Maldives has to offer!