Friday, October 29, 2010

Surprising Germany

I recently spent two weeks traveling across the waist of Germany and despite arriving on the final day of Oktoberfest didn't hear a single oom-pah band. Saw no dirndls or lederhosen either.

Oh there was beer galore but where my trip began in the Rhine valley - Dusseldorf, Cologne, Bonn - karneval, what we think of as Mardi Gras, is much more important. Unlike Louisiana's version, where male krewes lead the way, in Germany the women take center stage for high-jinks.

Surprised? So was I, but it was just one of many experienced.

There are truisms that you will encounter all over Germany so here are a few to orient you.

Bathrooms. TIP: Levelers, watch that beer consumption because bathrooms are inevitably upstairs or downstairs from where you drink and dine. Even in hotels. The older the building the more challenging the stairs. No lifts either.

Often you will encounter a closed door with the sign "Restrooms". This is not usually a unisex one-seater as you might expect. If it's unlocked, open the door and you will find separate facilities for Herren and Damen.

Pronunciation. Can be as you expect - umlauts over a letter mean to stretch it out - or counter-intuitive as in ie and ei.  When you see ie think long e - eee; when you see ei it's long i - as in eye.

Tipping. Not really expected so forget the 10-20 percent bit; just round up, but don't leave the change on the table. Hand it to your server.

Tip: Always inquire about lifts, elevators, because Europeans count floors beginning with zero. Their second floor is our third.

Sleeping. Is your pillow too big? Ask for a fritzie.

Bars. If there's a rainbow sign outside, it's a gay bar. If one of waves, it's a lesbian bar.

Beer houses. The server will slap down a coaster under your glass. Leave it and you will be brought refills. Turn the coaster over if you don't want any more. When toasting with steins, clink bottoms; less likely to chip than the thinner rims.

Food. Seeking organic? Look for bio.

Next: Duesseldorf.

Leia Mais…
Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Travel lovers' treat: SATW travel auction

Everybody likes a deal and have I got one for you. Each year, the Society of American Travel Writers holds an online auction of fabulous getaways and every year there are amazing bargains snapped up.

See for yourself at, where you will find, among other tempting possibilities,
- an ultra luxurious stay in Bali,
- a Fairmont Hotel package for the best of the Canadian Rockies at Banff and Lake Louise, 
- a 5-night Maine Windjammer cruise,
- a 3-night package at Venice's Londra Palace Hotel or
- a West Virginia Snowshoe Mountain ski package.

Lots of nice flat getaways too - St. Andrews, Scotland;  Cancun, Mexico; Washington, DC; Nashville, TN; the North Carolina shore; San Antonio, TX; Orlando, FL; Las Vegas.

Bidding closes Nov. 20. Good luck unless you're bidding for what I want!

Leia Mais…
Monday, October 18, 2010

Best Alaska Tour Guides

Every year at the end of the Alaska cruise season, Princess Cruises adds up all the "great," "good," "so-so" and "never again" comments from their passengers and bestows awards on top local tour operators out of the more than 200 they've dealt with.


So, if you're doing Alaska on your own, this is a great guide to the best guides. Here are this year's winners

Icy Strait Point:
Shore Excursion:
Whale & Wildlife Cruise, Icy Strait Point
Tour Guide:
Annette McLaughlin, Icy Strait Point

Co-Shore Excursions:
Helicopter Glacier Trek, Northstar Trekking
Rainforest Canopy & Zipline Expedition, Alaska Canopy Adventures
Taku Glacier Lodge Flight & Feast, Wings Airways and Taku Lodge
Co-Tour Guides:
Collin Pilcher, Gastineau Guiding Company
Joel Kersting, Gold Rush Tours

Co-Shore Excursions:
Bering Sea Crab Fisherman's Tour, Commercial Fishing Adventures
Moutain Point Snorkeling Adventure, Snorkel Alaska
Rainforest Canopy & Zipline Expedition, Alaska Canopy Adventures
Co-Tour Guides:
Joe Williams, Where the Eagle Walks
Rob Holston, Lighthouse Excursions

Shore Excursion:
Best of Kodiak, First Group
Tour Guide:
Dee Ann Valdivia, Kodiak Tours

Shore Excursion:
Alaska SeaLife Center & Puffin Experience, Alaska SeaLife Center
Tour Guide:
Danny Seavey, IdidaRide Sled Dog Tours

Co-Shore Excursions:
Glacier Discovery by Helicopter, TEMSCO Helicopters
Glacier Point Wilderness Safari, Chilkat Guides
White Pass Bennett Lake Adventure, White Pass & Yukon Route
Co-Tour Guides:
Steve Merrow, Chilkat Guides
Tyler Geist, Alaska Mountain Guides

Shore Excursion:
Capilano Canyon’s Natural Beauty, Rockwood Adventures
Tour Guide:
Bill Reaugh, TMS Gateway Tours

Shore Excursion:
Butchart & Butterfly Gardens, Gray Line West
Tour Guide:
Norman Archer, D’Costa Ports of Call

Shore Excursion:
Wilderness Explorer Glacier Cruise, Prince William Sound Cruise & Tours
Tour Guides:
Richard DiJulia, Alaska Sea Kayakers

Leia Mais…