Captain Mike's Travel Blog
Explore the World in Style with Captian Mike
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Right now, I am flying home from a most satisfying trip to Paris and the Bordeaux wine region. Satisfying because all 20 of our group were actively participating in mind and body. River cruising may have a reputation as a sedentary mode of travel for seniors, but this one was nothing like that ... at least for our 20.
Daily agendas included yoga and stretching on the top deck at 7AM, a hearty breakfast followed by a morning walk with our local guides. Yes, occasionally this included wine tasting in wine caves before lunch back onboard. The afternoons were regularly exploring trails through the vineyards by bicycle. I’ll bet we averaged over 12 miles per day as we road between towns along the rivers. Once, we rode the bikes into the town of St. Emillion to on cobblestone streets. Another time we visited the town of cognac for a day of tasting ... well cognac.
Back onboard you could take in a strengthening class with stretch bands taught by a top-notch wellness expert. Better clean up fast because cocktail hour, dinner and dancing will complete the night. Exhausting ... if you want it to be.
A truly satisfying European trip for me calls for cultural stimulation and plenty of it. Did I learn something today that I never thought about? Did I share a moment with a local person and connect with them about every day life? Did I challenge myself to have an experience slightly out of my comfort zone? Hey, just finding our way around Paris or boarding the TVG with too much luggage in the correct coach qualifies.
Specifically, this type of trip, is promoted as learning wine making across the ages. Yes, our trip can check that box and we now understand wine making and wine buying even more. Satisfying for me is the understanding how man shared wine making challenges with other countries and persevered through droughts, World Wars, diseases and politics. I leave this life experience, once again, feeling exhilarated and satisfied that we have more in common with The French than not.
Walking the long narrow hallways of the Hanoi Hilton prison. The prison is in downtown Hanoi looks like a school house from the outside ... but the lessons taught inside were horrific. Built originally by the French to intern the Vietnamese political prisoners. The terrible years were from the 1920's until the Vietnamese gained independence in 1954 from France. These photos show the mal-treatment of prisoners from shackles and torture to the guillotine. In Vietnam the war was called The American War when 500 US soldiers were imprisoned there until 1973. Among the field pilots that checked into the Hanoi Hilton included Senator John McCain ... for 5 years.
5:56 in the morning, now across the pond from Angkor Wat. 12th century temple city. A place of worship and like a fortress to keep locals safe from invasion. From China in North and Thailand in the West. This 1-mile square picturesque Temple took only 30 years to build (completed in 1150AD) but even today (2017) is in very good shape. A man-made wonder. Travelers from all over the world are awake and on-sight this morning to experience dawn rising behind the main tower, peaceful reverence. While Thailand originally started out as an Hindu country, slowly over the years their beliefs have shifted towards Buddhism. Another instance when I feel small, was at Angkor Wat. Together, man and beast built this magnificent temple. An estimated 300,000 humans and 60,000 elephants moved sandstone in place for the artisans to carve their stories of battles and Gods in 30 years. Angkor Wat is preserved because it has always been open for families to live and pray. Cambodians are consistently happy people and when you speak to them about the meanings of Angkor Wat they are so proud! Young and old, Cambodians will make their pilgrimage to this sight while onboard this life. Honored that I have as well.
Days are happy, here in Cambodia, we have seen a many Happy Buddha's. The bathrooms are called the Happy Room (the locals say "you go inside one with an upside-down smile, for bad belly or worse and after a little while ... come out with happy smile). Cambodians are primarily Buddhist so their karma (outlook of life) is very positive. Adult Cambodian’s have seen their share of war and desperation, (1978 Killing Fields) so they choose to bring their children up with happy outlook always. Cambodian’s also raise their children to be polite and respectful of elders. They do not use names to address one another, they use a reference of brother or sister when people are close to their age. Showing respect is very important to the Cambodian’s. They will address their fellow man according to their perceived age. If they are close to your age it is brother or cousin. If they are older than you, the proper address is father, even if they are not old enough to be your father. If they are even older the proper address in Grandfather. Cambodians will not look you directly in the eyes, this is another way to show respect. Basically, they want to avoid conflict, and stay as happy as possible in this life. They believe living their life with dignity and prayer... is key to setting up the goodness of the next life ... sound familiar?
Along with 12 travelers from the Southlake area, we visited Cambodia, Vietnam, and Thailand. Gloria and I have been traversing this world with various Shangri-La Travel Club members for 11 years, we average 2 hosted destinations per year. There have been some "mind-stretching" adventures along the way, we remember the sights of Egypt, East African safari, Galápagos Islands and the interiors of China. This trip to Indochina will move into the top tier of our adventures. I leave this most interesting region not just visioning the great sights, but feeling emotionally immersed. My lasting memories will be of the faces, their thoughts behind the faces and their continuous smiles.
Cambodia, Thailand, and Vietnam have so much in common historically, yet so different in cultural progression today. Here's my approach:
World travelers, much smarter than myself, believe to properly experience a destination you should consider 3 broad characteristics ...
- Religion - How important is practicing religious preferences to everyday living?
- Socioeconomic conditions - Over the past century, how has man treated their fellow man to influence their progress politically, economically and socially. On an everyday basis, do they care for each other's sustainability and core requirements ... food, shelter and overall well-being/happiness.
- Education - Is the priority for an individual's educational development valued at the family level, prioritized among the political hierarchy, and indoctrinated within the religious culture.
Within these observations, we gain insight into every day within the culture, and of the people that share it.
All tourists say they seek out social experiences and understanding of the local culture. Yet, we tend to compare our findings to our "known" benchmarks ... our own life in our own country, state, and hometown. Travelers, it can be argued, seek out the stories behind culture and envision themselves among them. Indochina locals tell us not only what they have learned from university and their elders, but they also share their personal stories that evolved in this culture with us, brilliant! Taking the above characteristics into consideration, listening to the local educators and top-level tour guides were a key contributor this time to observing and hopefully understanding the insightfulness of their country.
Here are my personal observations:
Cambodia is 100 years behind the progress of Western societies. Remember, during the Khmer Rouge and Killing Fields, the Pol Pot regime nearly exterminated one or two generations. You must respect a historically superior society that lost EVERYTHING and is now having a coming out party with 40% of their people 15 years of age or younger. They are energized, happy and focused people that have seen the worst in fellow man and yet, value the next day as the best of times for all Cambodian's. The look in their eyes and the welcome they extend to visitors of all nations is so contagious, we are SMILING all-day for them and while we are with them, we feel better for us.
Vietnam is seriously 50 years back in time for everyday street life, and for an Asian culture, it is somewhat frozen in time. Hanoi in the North remains very influenced by their French occupation during the 19th Century. Saigon, in the South, is growing as a progressive middle-class economy, based on current technologies, but is socially and politically frozen. This country has been continuously at war for 2 centuries, with China, France, USA, and Cambodia. When not at war, they do not seem to have the "next plan". Their pride today is all about the past regime that either fought with or against the American's. I felt like I was back in the turbulent and confused 60's.
Thailand is comparable to American standards when in the cities, and would be competitor internationally in many ways if they valued that rating like we do. While they can compete globally and the ability to be on the forefront of something, like China and the US, they respectfully choose not to. Buddhism and Buddhist family values are so important to their approach to this life, this is not something they value.
Bottom line, this was a long trip, 16 days including travel days. Our hotels, transfers, river cruise, and tours were first rate which made it easier to travel to strange and differing cultures as a group. Sightseeing is informational and pleasing, but what really stretches the mind is taking the time to walk, talk and understand these cultures, why other human beings are what they are, it stretches the soul!
Thank you, Indochina, I am today, a better person having met you.
No two years are the same when it comes to travel. This year is shaping up to be windy and shifting. The Caribbean storms have put a pause on familiar ports of call:
- Maarten ships have moved to St. Kitts and Nevis
- Luxury cruise ships that home-ported in St. Maarten will embark and dis-embark from Barbados
- In the US Virgin Islands, St. Thomas traffic will move to St. Croix for some time
- The Port of San Juan will reopen for some cruise lines like Royal Caribbean, but the island is still struggling to get power to all businesses
- Barbuda (little sister to Antigua) and French Martinique are rebuilding and not available until the end of 2018
- Havana, Cuba took on a big blow … but you would not know it. Other than the political shifting, cruises and “people to people” tours are happening weekly.
Here is the shift for the winter season and 2018
Europe, Italy had a huge year in 2017 and will again in 2018. UK, Scotland and Ireland remain popular and well-traveled by US families. The weak Pound Sterling against the dollar is a main reason and 2018 will be another good year to take advantage of this. France and Belgian had an off year and are very motivated to re-energize in 2018. We are placing an emphasis in 2018 to have our clients participate in the local cultures and traditions outside of the touristy city life. Visiting wineries and having lunch with the estate owners, attending a cooking class inside a villa of Tuscany, or barging down the tributaries of the Rhone or Rhine rivers.
Venezuela is still a no-go. Turkey is settling down, but has not yet picked up as it should.
Making a Comeback! Egypt, East Africa (Kenya and Tanzania) and the Holy Lands.
Also “Hot” is Australia and New Zealand. Our winter months (their Summer months) have always been popular and takes a long lead to get booked. However, more than ever, US patrons are discovering their “shoulder months.”
Domestically, Hawaii and Alaska will be strong for those wanting to vacation in the USA. Airline seats to Hawaii will have an increase of 18% in 2018. Non-stop flights to the outer islands other than Oahu are the biggest winner!
It is not too early to plan 2018 and we are already taking bookings for 2019 for land and sea. Travel smart. Travel safe. What’s next on your Life’s List?
Scotland in general terms is large in stature and the beauty here is new to me. Rolling hills, greenest pastures and yes, it can rain at anytime, on any day. As the clouds roll by in eery fashion, you look out at this landscape and you feel like life is larger here. Highlands seem larger, castles and manors are larger than Ireland's, and even their tales of monsters in the Loch are huge.
Edinburg was the first stop on our Azamara Club Cruise. Half our group headed to St. Andrews and the golf Mecca. It is a beautiful ride through the Scotish countryside where fertile farmland abounds with a single hector producing over 20 different crops, all green. As we descend on the small town of St. Andrews, it is vibrant and numerous quaint shops line the streets and alleys. A quick circle of the town brought us to the University of St. Andrews. You may know this one as the meeting place of two students, WIlliam and Kate of British royalty. We stopped by the pub they met, of course. Then onto St. Andrews, Old Course where golf began and the links style courses gave another life to the village. "Links" style is when the golf course lies between the township and the sea. A great use of marsh and hills that evolved and grew over from sand piles. All I know is the fairways here are cut like our greens and the traps are really, really deep. The public clubhouse on the 16th hole is a great stop and many of us thought we found the best fish and chips of the trip, right here.
Others in Shangri-La Travel Club toured Edinburgh from Edinburgh Castle to Parliament, to Old Town and New Town. It was not my day to castle crawl, but I heard the old castle is very grand and well kept. The shopping was stellar in Old Town but the highlite was a public appearance of Princess Anne of England. The royal family tries to spend their Summer Holidays is Scotland each year and Anne likes to tour the castle and be available to visitors.
Next day, onto Kirkwall in the Orkney Islands. Those of us that golf set out early to open the members course at Kirkwall Golf Club. (It seems more polite to hit their barn and perhaps a windmill before the locals arrive.) The course, while short, was very challenging and we enjoyed the lunch, beers and boasting inside the 19th hole. Others, took the scenic route to Skara Brae, a settlement from 3180BC. A Unesco World Heritage Site that takes some imagination to understand, but quite amazing with stone furniture and whole that have preserved themselves in the countryside.
Many of us met up in the Town of Kirkwall with pubs, distillery (Highland Park) and, of course, old churches. We did fairly well at taking over the town pub, Helgis, but alas, our concurring fell short when they brought out the haggis (a pudding of sheep organs and spices that are stuffed again inside the stomach). We tried some to say we did, then drank up and moved on.
Our final stop in Ireland is for the Isle of Skye. The photo above is of the most picturesque and photographed castle in Scotland, Eilean Donan Castle. Great tour and photo stop. The day was complete with lunch and some local brews in Portree, the largest, small town on the Isle. Goodbye Scotland ... for now.
Do islands remind of you of people or do people resemble the island?
Shangri-La World Travel Club or family and friends. It can get personal.
Brother Tom is much like St. Martin. Fairly mass market with a little bit of 2-Country culture, Dutch/French. Plenty of month long Floridians speaking the Northern Eastern language of Long Islandese .
Ultra cool Son, Ryan is very St. Barts. Out doors with the best of sports toys, good looking crowd and attends beach parties that boom… boom until your dancing above the furniture. Very chic, but will wear you down.
Dominica is naturally sister Debbie. You know, the real outdoorsy folks that make their own entertainment by tubing waterfalls, hiking, biking and trying anything to fill a day and without any cost.
St Lucia can absolutely make Cousin Paula's day or week. She is so complex that she may go for the massage under the tiki hut. Next, a High end lunch and High tea. Afternoon. But then, she will hang with the best rum and punchers on the beach for before sunset. Hi or low, who knows, but she may take a nap and do it all over again.... tonight !
Cousin Todd is as laid back as Bequai in the Grenadines. The island offers an upscale, yet rasti look and feel. Let me put it this way, a good Todd day is spontaneously unplanned and will find its way to just that special moment in the sand.
Cousin Russell insists on top-shelf full service any time and place he wants it. Where can I find such an island for him. Mayroux with SeaDream Yacht club. Give him a private beach, a few moments that include a surfboard on the beach, baluga caviar and champagne flowing!
Follow that with Bar-B-Que and a hammock with room service …Russell.
Barbados is not just a single spirit . Rather, this island personality is complex. It resembled many of our group exploring the Southern Caribbean. Beauty at the beach and in the shops, but not of this era. It brings you back to the 70's and 80's, when service was polite and attentive. The Island is very much an island nation. Big business for medical, financial and high-tech companies ... we sped about on groomed highways and British round-abouts. We tasted great foods in fine restaurants(here’s a plug for the Tides Restaurant) ... multicultural and upscale. Barbados could be just about any single member of Shangri-la Travel Club. Worldly, Fun-seeking and play great in the Sand Box.
On board... at this very moment on Regent Seven Seas Explorer. She does live up to her billing as the world’s most luxurious ship. Not that I have sailed on all the others, but I do know what a luxury experience should be at sea. Does it aesthetically look and feel contemporary and lush. Check. Is the staff alert to please and go the extra steps to delight. Check. Is it all suite, abundant with closet space and have a bathroom large enough for two to not only function but enjoy. Check. Yes, luxurious but to be "the most" ... of anything ... a ship must be the best at in multiple categories.
Regent Seven Seas and Canyon Ranch partnered up for the best spa experience I have toured at sea. Large, lush and one-stop that will fill your afternoon with pampering.
The Culinary Arts Kitchen is expansive with 18 personal, top-of-line induction work stations. Each two-hour class features topics like “Home Italian, The Perfect Pair (wine pairings), Majestic Mediterranean and Everything French”. Under the direction and escort of Executive Chef Kathryn Kelly, the Culinary Experience offers Gourmet Explorer Tours throughout local food markets across Europe.
The fine dining opportunities on board are also unique. All passengers are welcome to dine in each of the seven specialty restaurants. The largest, Compass Rose, is what many cruise lines would tag as Main Dining. But, it is soooo spectacular that it is #1 in demand. (you basically design your own meal each night, therefore the variety does not ever get stale).
Yes, I am certain, that in many on board categories, Regent’s Explorer rolled out the most impressive experience in my sea-life. But, what is most difficult to convey, is how consistently luxurious each public bar, restaurant, hallway, staircase, artwork, and chandelier really is. It has been many years since Regent Seven Seas has launched a new luxury ship … this one is worth the wait. I do not like to end a review with everything perfect. So, I guess my sole complaint is that this cruise is not longer!
While 2016 and our elections-preoccupations are behind us. For certain, the international winds of change may flare, but we are not seeing any fall off in bookings or travel planning. Certainly, destinations like France, Belgium and Turkey are showing lighter traffic going into the New Year. (We see some softening in France’s hotels fares for off-peak periods). Italy remains strong, along with Spain, Portugal and anywhere in the United Kingdom or Ireland. Travel … is life!
Here is some great insight from the travel writer’s of the Huffington Post:
America’s Vacation Deficit Disorder: Workers are starting to comprehend the strong relationship between wellness and taking time off (AKA vacations); with enlightened employers leading the charge. Vacation shaming is so 2015. Wellness travel is growing 50% faster than regular travel, with travelers recognizing that recharging, refreshing and rejuvenating themselves regularly is part of a healthy work-life balance. Smart value-minded employers are investing in their employees time-off knowing that a happy, creative and fresh employee—is a motivated and profitable employee. Tuscany here we come!
So, with Europe seemingly sputtering … I say that there has been no better time to travel there in my adult life. Here are my 3 best reasons why:
- Our dollar is really strong, really, all over the world, but especially Europe and the UK. Today the Euro approaches par and the British pound is only $1.22 European’s are struggling to visit the USA at those rates.
- Fears brought on by tragic events in France and Belgium are creating opportunity across twenty plus other countries across the continent. There is an over capacity of rooms in the major cities.
- The inevitable effects of Brexit and EU European community are only 2 years away! Now and not later is the time to enter Europe at ease … before economic or strained politics can effect our ability to travel freely.
We all need some mental down-time from work and the winds of change yet to come. Make a point to get out there and rejuvenate Southlake … this year.
Only last week, our travel agency Shangri-la World Travel, celebrated our 10th Anniversary in operation in Southlake. A renowned world traveler, accomplished author and our good friend, Jack Cunningham, thoughtfully shared this poem with the other 75 Top Clients in attendance … Thanks Jack you’re a classy guy!
It's been 10 years for our friends the Currie's since they first put out their shingle
And lots of clients have seen the world, but today we're here to mingle.
We'll raise a glass and toast to them on this their special day,
And thank them for the work they do as they help us find our way.
We've seen the sun come up in places that we really never dreamed,
And watched the morning break as magic filled the earth it seemed.
And Southlake was so far away but when we get back home
We can't remember what it was like when we set out to roam.
So we talk to Mike and Gloria again and start anew our quest,
To see another delightful place before we come back to rest.
We've cruised and bused and flown and walked to vistas without end
Because there's that place we've never seen and it's just around the bend.
In China we visited the Temple of Heaven, in Grand Cayman we went to Hell,
We've cruised the Arctic Circle and to Easter Island as well.
Machu Picchu was amazing, Angkor Wat just blew our mind
I'm sure there's more interesting places, they're just so hard to find.
We snorkeled in the Red Sea and strolled on a black sand beach,
Because Shangri-La still puts the world completely within our reach.
So dream a dream and pick a place, a place you've never been,
And let the Currie's know that you've started their next ten.
Congrats to Mike, Gloria, Princess Leia & The entire crew. And like the Chevy people say, "Find New Roads."
-Jack Cunningham, 2016
There are high expectations when invited to a friend’s home in Eagle – Vail, Colorado during the Summer months. Among the options may be wading into a babbling stream to stalk down a brown trout with fly fishing tackle, teeing it up at world-class golf courses that look more like a ski-run than a fairway or even just managing a nap on the 2nd story patio in 75-degree weather with the flow of water below and a visiting hummingbird above. Well, all that and some more happened for me in just 4 days!
Yes, I love it when travel expectations are not only met, but really exceeding expectations as opportunities arise… unforeseen. My host and I arranged for a fly fishing guide and a float boat on the Northern Colorado River. All I expected was to see if my fly fishing skills (casting and landing) would come back after 6 years away from the sport. It took about an hour into to the float, with some lost fish along the way that our chatty guide, Kurt, changed my tackle from a large fly to two very small ones.
OK … that worked. Soon, Larry and I were hooking and occasionally landing feisty brown trout. Yes, the photos began!
While the fishing was grand, the fast rapids of the Upper Colorado and the beauty of the high gorge with accompanying wild life made the morning special. I would go back just to float with friends.
While putting up the float boat and our fishing tackle, Kurt, asked if we had checked out one of Colorado’s many cannabis dispensaries. We had not, and may have talked around it, but did not have plans for a visit. On the drive back, Kurt, pointed out two that were on our way back to town.
After lunch, with the ladies and sharing our fishing tales, we pulled into check out Rocky Road Remedies. This was not a purchasing opportunity, but rather to see for ourselves how two states (Colorado and Washington) were managing this block buster new business.
First impression … the head shop was within an unspectacular strip plaza. However, as you walk thru the doorway, we were presented with a fairly upscale clothing, art, and tobacco appliances studio. It was tastefully decorated and there was a long counter with a couple of employees stationed to answer questions. In addition, they were there to ask qualifying questions while seeing your identification and birth information. Absolutely no self-medicating products are in the part of the secured facility at all.
After understanding our mostly inquisitive, first-timer, and non-fishy purposes for the visit, we were allowed to the second half of the facility. Once inside, we greeted by another long counter and another employee behind it. Once again, he requested our driver’s license and registered our names (for the visit). Perhaps a bit much, in that, we only walked through an inside doorway. He made a full explanation of products from the smoking to edible to powder for adding to beverages. This industry has absolutely outgrown the 70’s.
Ultimately, we had fun fodder for great conversation with even greater friends in downtown Vail. And yes, only the elevation was high that afternoon in sunny Colorado.
Copenhagen, Denmark is a very vibrant city and even in better condition than I left it 12 years ago. Nyhavn (New Harbor) is the hot spot in summer with outside cafes along the waterway. The Little Mermaid is the #1 attraction (even though Rosenborg Castle is the most impressive) You may know the original Little Mermaid story of Hans Christian Anderson, but many know the artwork on the seaside rock. The artist was contracted in 1912 to honor Anderson’s work with the Mermaid. He requested the Prima Ballerina to pose for the prestigious life size bronze statute. However, when she arrived for first session and found out that real mermaid’s do not shop for or wear clothes … she declined. After some Monarchy intervention she posed for the head and the artist’s wife is the body.
On August 23, this year the city will celebrate the 104th anniversary with 104 bikini clad maidens posing in formation of 1 – 0 - 4. Very Artsy Scandinavian.