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Canada Tales ...... stories from our clients and staff

VANCOUVER, BC --- by Reda Kay

On my way to Alaska, I happened to spend a few days in Vancouver, British Columbia. What a pleasant surprise!! Vancouver is a hub for eco-tourism, in a word, that simply means to enjoy nature as part of travel. A visit to Vancouver demands an outdoor experience.

In this metropolitan city, where mountains tower above, and busy streets yield to ocean views, tall trees are as noteworthy as tall buildings, and green space is abundant amid the architecture. Our first morning, we walked to English Bay where we took the five minute ferry ride to Granville Island.

There we were astounded by the luscious display of flowers, fruits, vegetables, and already prepared delicacies at the Granville Island Public Market. This is a must see! The pleasant noisy bustle of everything around you mingles with the glorious smells coming from the bakeries and restaurants.

There are also art studios, craft stores, specialty shops, museums, and live theatre on the island. Begin your walk there at the Information Center where you will find maps and entertainment and events schedules.
Following our Granville Island experience we returned to the city where we naturally followed the seawall, walking along English Bay, an essential Vancouver experience with its eclectic stream of enthusiasts from marathon trainees to young families with strollers, all heading toward Stanley Park, a 1,000 acre gem of green space.

Here you can take a forest walk or cycle among Western red cedar and Douglas fir, one of the largest native trees in Canada. Stanley Park, so different from most manicured urban green spaces, has several historical ties to indigenous people. Eight totem poles represent several tribes including the Haida and Kwakwaka'wakw. They are perfect for photography enthusiasts.To learn more about Native culture visit The Museum of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia.

One-quarter of Vancouver's population lays claim to Asian heritage. It is no surprise that downtown Chinatown has retained its separate identity, which today adds color and flavor to Vancouver in many ways. In addition, there is the essential Asian, Richmond, whose character is personified by several shopping malls that offer a sense of modern day Hong Kong or Taipei at a fraction of the cost of a plane ticket.

If you are a gourmet, you will delight in the variety of wonderful restaurants including those who specialize in seafood. My favorite was an introduction to Dungeness crab, a NW delicacy with a sweet flavor and melt in your mouth texture!!

I advise a stay of one week or more to allow time for taking in the various Gardens, Vancouver Aquarium, a day trip to Whistler Ski Resort, or visit to Victoria, the capital of British Columbia, and only a 1 ½ hr trip by fast catamaran.

In Victoria, I highly recommend a half day tour of Butchart Gardens, where one can spend hours enjoying a former quarry turned into hundreds of acres of fabulous flowers! Whether you enjoy the great outdoors, the great dining, or the great shopping, I think you will agree that Vancouver is one big playground!

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China Tales ...... stories from our clients and staff

MY TRIP TO AMAZING CHINA: a tale of twenty-one days by Harry Baird

In April I set off for a long anticipated tour of China, which included the major cities and a 4-day cruise on the Yangtze River through the fabled Three Gorges. The whole trip took about three weeks of staying in deluxe hotels and sailing in a superior boat on the river portion of the trip.

The first city we saw was Beijing, the capitol of the country. I was truly amazed by the number of people, buses, cars, and bicycles all over. I found that I used the word "amazed" very often during my twenty-one days in China. Of course the highlight was Tian An Men Square. It was much larger than I had anticipated. That was followed by the Summer Palace…. fantastic and lots of walking. I spent three more days of sightseeing around Beijing including the Great Wall before taking off by plane for Xian.

One thing of note….The Great Wall should not be missed! No matter how many pictures you have seen, to see it in person is truly amazing. In Xian we saw the famous Terra-cotta Army, which is still being uncovered. It is another amazing site not to be missed.

We flew south and joined our ship, The China Splendid, at Chongqing. The ship was beautiful and very comfortable with very good food. We were placed at a table in the dining room with an English family of five, making it a table of ten. There were tables of Germans, Japanese, and Chinese as well. We got large American breakfasts, while the other tables were served according to their nationalities. The ship was very clean and had every convenience.

The 4 day cruise was spectacular. Each day we stopped for sightseeing at various towns and cities….all included in the fare. Going through the Gorges where the new dam will be built was also amazing.

From Wuhan we flew to Shanghai for several days. Again I was amazed by the modern buildings…sort of like a visit to the future. A highlight was a visit to the Art Museum, which included not only modern art, but art from every age in the history of China.

Then we were on to Guilin for a few days where the highlight was a full day cruise on the Li River where Limestone peaks made an artistic site over the limpid waters. A flight then took us to Guangzhou for the night and a chance to witness a thriving metropolis in the midst of a gigantic trade fair.

I went back to Shanghai for several days to discover new sites on my own before catching the plane back to the USA.

What a wonderful trip….for me it was the trip of a lifetime.

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COSTA RICA TALES ...... stories from our travelers

ADVENTURES IN COSTA RICA: an eco-adventure paradise By: Peggy McLeod

I jumped at the opportunity to take a travel agent familiarization trip to Costa Rica in June. Journeys sends a great many clients to this popular destination, and it was with much excitement that I headed there myself. This trip was a "working vacation" to the rainforests and beaches of Guanacaste where twelve other travel agents and I experienced the natural beauty of this tropical paradise.

Bordering the northwestern sector of Costa Rica's Pacific coast, Guanacaste is a gateway to nature and beach adventures. Boasting several national parks and a unique topography, with its fertile volcanic soils, white sandy beaches, spectacular rivers, amazing savannas, cozy estuaries, superb fishing and diving, and mysterious rainforests, Guanacaste is a captivating territory.

Our first three days were spent exploring the varied activities available in the rain forests. Our first night we stayed at the Buena Vista Lodge, nestled among the mountains near Rincon de la Vieja Volcano. Our next two nights were spent at the Eco-Lodge located near Lake Coter and Lake Arenal .

Both settings are located in the heart of the rain forests with picturesque views and incredible tropical flora and fauna everywhere we turned. The food served at the lodges were delicious home-cooked meals with lots of fresh fish and meats. Also on the menu were local dishes such as cassabe, plantains and beans and rice.

Our choices of daily activities included hiking, horseback riding, canoeing, kayaking, canopy tours, bird watching, rafting, river cruises, and just about any outdoor activity you could imagine. One of my favorite choices was horseback riding through the mountains to a natural hot springs and mud bath.

A trip not to be missed is a visit to the active Arenal Volcano and the nearby Tabacon Hot Springs. You can spend all day hiking around the volcano's base, soaking in the hot springs' waterfalls and pools, and enjoy the natural fireworks of the volcano at night. If you stay overnight you can enjoy this view from your own bungalow porch. This is truly a wondrous sight.

Our last four days were spent visiting various hotels along the Pacific coast from the Gulf of Papagayo to Tamarindo Bay. The coast of Guanacaste offers hundreds of beaches from small romantic coves to large stretches of soft sand. The choice of beach accommodations vary from moderately priced small hotels to luxury resorts with all the amenities.

The region's beaches offer water activities like sailing, surfing, skin diving, snorkeling and world class deep sea fishing. The Tamarindo Bay is one of the foremost nesting grounds for the Great Leatherback Turtles. From November through March they come on shore to lay their eggs in the same place they have been doing so for two million years!

My most memorable experience was spending an afternoon deep sea fishing along the coast of Playa Conchal. We trolled around the peaceful out islands and watched the marine wildlife and an incredible sunset at the end of the day. We caught tuna and mackerel, and took them to a local restaurant on the beach to be prepared for a delicious evening meal. What a treat!

There is something for everyone in Costa Rica, and I certainly plan to return again. Whether you choose to spend your time at the beaches, in the rainforests, or a bit of both (like I did), you are sure to enjoy the beauty of the natural settings and the true hospitality of the Costa Rican people. As the local saying goes, "Pura Vida" - Costa Rica is "The Pure Life".

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GREEK TALES ...... stories from our travelers

THE GLORY THAT WAS GREECE: private yacht charter by Reda Kay

Have you been dreaming about a journey to Greece and the Greek Islands? For many years I wanted to see those antiquities; experience the dramatic white-washed, quaint villages set on rugged hillsides; taste the delectable Greek food which I love, but choosing where and how was daunting, with so many islands and such a vast mainland to explore.

Once I made the decision to go, my trip developed into a small group, designed and led by Journeys' own Ellen Lyon. We left in September, an ideal month to travel to Greece, as the crowds of summer vacationers are gone, and the water and climate are still warm.

The first days in Athens we explored the Acropolis and walked the narrow streets of the Plaka, the old Turkish Quarter, and the best area to stay in Athens. Delightful open tavernas offered a variety of food and wines, and shops were abundant! A private car and driver then took us North to the town of Delphi in Central Greece just 11/2 hours' drive from Athens. Built on the slopes of Mt. Parnassos, Delphi offers spectacular views of the Gulf of Corinth, and is within walking distance of the ruins of the sanctuary of Apollo and Athena.

The Ancients regarded Delphi as their "navel of the earth" reaching its height in the 4th century BC. We walked the paths of Alexander the Great and imagined the layers of cultures under our feet. Continuing northeast, we arrived at an extraordinary place called Meteora. A geological enigma of massive pinnacles of smooth rocks topped by ancient 14th century Byzantine monasteries, like icing on the cake of this strange and beautiful landscape. For a small fee, you can visit these working monasteries and gaze at the interior of the chapels painted from floor to ceiling with superlative frescoes. As an artist, I believe this a definite must see on any trip to Greece!

Arriving back in Athens, we were met by staff of the chartered yacht company who gave us a brief orientation and introduced us to our licensed sea captain. The Greek sunshine, blue Aegean Sea, islands, and calm simplicity were about to surround us and bathe us in relaxation!

The Greek people are known for their friendliness, spontaneity and welcoming attitudes towards visitors. On our own privately chartered sailing yacht we discovered this world and mixed easily with the local people.

Our sailing journey took us to the Cyclades, a group of islands of varying sizes, which lie to the east of the Peloponnese Peninsula. Each day we would arise to a new harbor where we would eagerly walk the narrow alleyways of the village, and the pathways of the countryside, visiting tiny chapels and windmills, and discovering shops where we purchased fresh cheeses, bread, yogurt, honey, and fruits for our breakfast and lunch. Each island had similar but distinguishing characteristics of landscape and architecture. We soon began to list our favorite places, meals, and ports of call.

Sunset in SantoriniBecause the islands were small, we could each go our own way, meeting in the evenings where we lingered over our meal in an outdoor café by the balmy waters' edge. I was particularly interested in photography and there were "Kodak moments" around every corner! The spontaneous swims and snorkeling in the crystal clear water were a favorite activity of the whole group. Small, private bays abound in Greece, and traveling by private yacht is the best way to see them. Everyone agreed Santorini is special, and the Fanari Villas in Oia the most fabulous place to relax and be pampered.

Can you imagine yourself in Greece?

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eece Travel Specialist

INDONESIA TALES ...... stories from our travelers

BALI: island without comparison - By Norm Gottlieb.

By Norm Gottlieb For me, Bali is an island without comparison. Although I've been there three times I long to return again and again. I found the people to be friendly and helpful, and the terrain varied and beautiful.

But, what sets this island apart from the many others I've visited is the variety and abundance of music and dance performances, which I attended every night at a pittance. I was fascinated and delighted by the unimaginably graceful, beautifully costumed and made-up men, women, and children who enacted ancient stories and myths in dance form. These dances are accompanied by the beat of the Gamelon, sometimes with as many as 50-75 musicians, usually performed in an outdoor setting under the stars.

I was delighted by the crafts villages that I visited, many of which specialized in specific art forms- for example; silver jewelry, wooden carvings, stone sculpture and hand carved furniture. Prices for these extremely creative works of art ranged from bargains to affordable. Shopping in this setting, which I usually detest, was an adventure with polite bargaining and haggling the rule.

I enjoyed the numerous Balinese ceremonies and celebrations which were colorful, educational and fascinating. Importantly, I was a welcomed stranger, as it is their habit to invite visitors to witness and participate in these festivities.

Lastly, being a bit hedonistic, I loved the Balinese Massages. They were so different from those I've experienced in the United States and elsewhere. Balinese massages were a happening; lasting from one and a half to two hours. A foot bath and foot massage was followed by a full body massage with aromatherapy, and then a warm bath in a tub filled with flowers and herbs, and lastly by spiced tea on the terrace with soft Balinese music playing in the background throughout, all for $10.00. This relaxing, meditative activity became an integral part of everyday I spent on the island. Little wonder my return visit is being contemplated!

SPAIN TALES .....stories from our travelers

Barcelona - a Mediterranean City by Peggy McLeod

I remember the first time I saw a picture of the modernist architecture of Barcelona with its fanciful curves and outrageous designs - I knew it was a destination for me one day. So I was thrilled to have the opportunity to join a few other travel agents on a familiarization trip to Barcelona and its surroundings, sponsored by the Spanish Tourist Office and Iberia Airlines.

Barcelona evokes a sense of vibrant independence and creativity. There is nothing stagnant about the city. Different areas of the city reflect its history, from its well preserved gothic quarter where close alleyways open up to reveal a grand cathedral or palace, bordered by La Rambla, a pedestrian boulevard which connects the city to the sea, to the expansion of the city in the mid 1800s, designed in a grid pattern where you find the greatest collection of Art Nouveau buildings of any city in Europe. Innovative architects designed remarkable residences and public buildings for Barcelona's elite. Antoni Gaudi was one of the most original of these Modernist architects, and his celebrated, unconventional church, Sagrada Familia, still under construction, is an emblem to this individualistic city.

On a hill above the city, Montjuic, the site was created for the 1929 International Fair, where huge exhibition halls were erected in grand style, and, more recently, international class sports facilities were built for the 1992 Olympic games. Here you will also find the Museum of Catalonian Art, with Europe's finest collection of early medieval frescoes, as well as many other museums, including the fanciful Joan Miro Foundation.

We were fortunate to also visit some areas surrounding Barcelona, including the beach community of Sitges where we joined the annual celebration of Carnaval, and Tarragona, an original Roman settlement on the coast with an extensive archaeological museum and a well preserved a Roman amphitheatre adjacent to the Mediterranean Sea. Both of these cities make very interesting day trips from Barcelona.

My favorite day trip was on my one free day when I took the train out of the city to Montserrat, a Benedictine monastery hidden on a majestic mountain region. This ancient hermitage can be reached from the train station only by cable car. Montserrat is considered the spiritual center of Catalonia and guardian of the souls of the Catalonians. It was a peaceful and beautiful day trip out of the city.

The food and the wine throughout our stay was superb, and it was a particularly special treat to attend a symphony concert at the Palau de Musica, where the interior modernistic décor was almost as awe inspiring as the concert. Not to be missed was a Flamenco dance and music show after an evening meal of delicious tapas of all sorts. Barcelona, the capital of Catalonia, is unequivocally a Mediterranean city, not only because of its geographic location but above all because of its history, tradition and cultural influences. Barcelona has something for everyone!

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THAILAND VIET NAM TALES .....stories from our travelers

THAILAND VIET NAM EXCURSION - by Richard and Linda Howell
My wife lived in Thailand (a crazed teenager) for two years during the late sixties. She promised to return ever since. I shared her fascination but lobbied equally hard for a Viet Nam side trip. As a result, we developed a two-week Extreme Travel Package - thanks to Reda.

Over coffee, Linda and I listed our confusing collage of "must do/see" items. Reda took notes and just smiled at the excess: Buddha, Bangkok, Hill Country, elephants, Phuket beaches, scuba diving, Orient Express, then Saigon, tunnel tour, Trang Bang, the Mekong --oh, we had it go'n on! And we did it all, but it was a very ambitious 18-day blitz.

The particulars of our trip may not match your interests. So feel free to dog-ear your own favorite guidebooks. Nevertheless, here's Food for Thought.

ENROUTE. As time zones go, Southeast Asia is 12 hours away from these parts. Point is, you can get there going either direction. We trekked Westward. As we flew from Minneapolis we were amazed to see the flight path tracking sharply north -- east of the Canadian Rockies, east and then North of Alaska, then finally arching South through the KAMCHATKA peninsula, and into Japan. I confirmed it on a globe - a round thing. Makes sense. That leg totaled 12 hours followed by a short sushi layover then 6 more hours into Bangkok. Anyway you technique it, the flight is a long haul. Do it First Class. It's mo' bucks, but mo' fun.

ODDS'N ENDS. Weather wise, Bangkok in October was about right - or we just lucked out with a nice weather blend. We loved the big mother Marriott - a lovely residence. It certainly was not hidden away or quaint, but definitely spacious, open, tropical and caloric, and right on the river - the pulsing artery of the city. The Chao Phraya River gets you anywhere - no hassles. Well, I should admit we cheated: we toddlered behind guides (three total for the trip) who expertly eliminated all hassles, but more importantly, eliminated all time wasting. Furthermore, we enjoyed their company and insights.

One of our pastimes became the challenge of getting the guides to go "unplugged" -- extracting their personal observations - esp. in Saigon: "Monks always have the new motor scooters!" That's priceless stuff. On the subject of guides, yes, the days were packaged. Maybe that sounds too touristy, but we helped do the pre-trip packaging the best we could. And once in country, day-to-day corrections were permissible - with some heads up to the team. But down the Mekong River, in Vietnam, Saigon Tours held a shorter leash. The "state" is still in control.

Maybe Viet Nam is slightly cautious as it ventures into joint ventures (with S. Koreans and Chinese, mainly) to rebuild their infrastructure - and extrastructure. My impression was that S. Tours would try to get you about anywhere you desired, but they prefer to tag along. For example, our guide tried to 4-wheel a U.S. vet into an old battlefield deep in the Mekong. They could not reach it by any overland route. The vet admitted he had been airlifted to the site by helicopter, so that's what the guide arranged. Good service!

Speaking of service, there was too much food and too much time spent eating it. In fact, at times we felt a bit isolated from humanity during our private dinners, especially in V. Nam. Diarrhea will find you. No guide required. Hopefully you're not atop an elephant or careening down the Kok River in a long tail boat. But sh… happens. Plan/ pack accordingly. Which… wat… when?

We did become overwhelmed with temple lore and Buddhas. Correction: not Buddha. Interesting character, that Buddha - especially to an Episcopalian in exile. The devil-may-care color schemes are at once curious and spectacular. In contrast, one of my favorite temples was located west of Saigon. The dark woodwork was warm and soothing. My camera was busy. I had to catch up with the departing tour.

Read all about it. We enjoyed perusing the local newspapers. The editorials were as insightful as any tour. Their observations concerning 9-11 offered some concern but mostly connection. My masseuse in Phuket was Moslem. I was not in the least worried: he was too busy fretting about his tight schedule (a capitalist!). Maybe capitalism is not just an economic driver. It's glue! Me to you.

We considered making a local personal connection, a nurse or dentist in our case, to enhance our stay, i.e. tour medical facilities, etc. Probably a good idea. But we were perhaps a bit timid or overly concerned with our want list. Amenities. In Phuket I ran some nightly e-mails back to the family from a nearby c'puter café. Each night the same lovely young Thai would appear and invite me to her apartment, party, whatever. The pressure was almost unbearable. Plus, I was becoming concerned that because of my rejections, she would think poorly of Americans. "Why you no help me with English?" Comments like that. But on the last night, amid the laughs of the café staff, she gave up on me, disclosing that she was really -- a he. Be careful over there. Personally, I have not felt safe since 1955.

Non-tour. Next time - the next big trip, we'll design a Behind Thai Tour or something similar in Nam: Thai boxing training camp, long tail engine shop, white elephant care at the Grand Palace, lunch with media reporters, lunch with a Saigon chef, a trek with the Triangle border patrol. Yeah, make those guides work and create.

Who wants to go? Let's see a show of hands? Call Journeys. Get packing. The Howells!

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If you can imagine it our travel specialists can help plan it!

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