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More Time to Travel

When most people think about UNESCO recognition, they’re likely to think about UNESCO World Heritage sites (like the Great Wall of China, Venice or Yellowstone National Park).

But did you know that UNESCO also recognizes many intangible but significant elements of cultural heritage around the world as well? Neapolitan pizza has achieved this status.

A food with a storied history

If I could eat only one food every day for a month, hands down, pizza would be my first choice. And I suspect  I’m not alone in a universe of rabid pizza lovers.

So It’s not surprising that pizza, one of the most iconic foods of Italian heritage, has migrated from Italy to almost every country across the globe.

Pizza is nutritious, relatively inexpensive, and delicious. Not enough time for a sit-down lunch or dinner? A sizzling slice of pizza right out of the oven can be consumed either as a meal or a snack.

Depending on where you eat it and the particular pizza maker, styles and preparations vary including the thickness of the crust and the use of different toppings.

Pizza has its roots in Italian focaccia, a seasoned Italian flatbread, sometimes with toppings (similar to pizza dough in composition and texture but with an added leavening agent). And focaccia has its roots in Greek pita bread. According to legend, a pizza maker (pizzaiolo) from Naples created Pizza Margherita in 1889 to honor Margherita of Savoy, the Queen of Italy. The colors of the cheese, tomatoes, and basil were intended to represent the flag of Italy.

Pizza in Cancun (Quintana Roo, Mexico)

Pizza at Sugar Hill in Jamaica (Hanover Parish)

Its popularity in the U.S. spread further with the wave of Italian immigration in the late 19th century and now it’s pretty much eaten all over Italy. Originally eaten predominantly in central and southern Italy, World War II soldiers helped aid and abet the pizza “diaspora.”

Pizza in Castellina in Chianti (Sienna, Italy)

Pizza in San Gusme (Sienna, Italy)

Pizza in Bologna (Emilia Romagna, Italy)

A simple food achieves UNESCO Cultural Heritage Status

In December 2017, the pizza of Naples (the capital of the Campania region of Italy) garnered a spot on the list of UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage. (At the time, it joined a total of 470 different but culturally relevant practices from 117 countries on the same list.

The essential ingredients of Neapolitan pizza include San Marzano tomatoes, Mozzarella cheese, flour, sea salt, and water. Making Neapolitan pizza as it has been made by generations in the same geographic area is an art that has become part and parcel of the history and culture of Italy.

There are some 3000 official pizza makers in Naples. The UNESCO Cultural Heritage status recognizes that the valuable traditions and special skills associated with Neapolitan pizza may be threatened and need to be preserved.

When the citizens of Naples learned about this historic recognition, pizza makers in the city shared slices of free pizza in the streets!

Learn more about the art of pizza:

On BuzzFeed: 19 Versions of Pizza from Around the World

Photo credits: All except lead photo, Jerome Levine

Art of Neapolitan ‘Pizzaiuolo’ - YouTube

More Time to Travel - Travel advice, information, & inspiration for people over 50 from Irene S. Levine, an award-winning freelance journalist

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It isn’t always convenient to find a local pharmacy when traveling abroad. So most intrepid travelers keep a ready-to-go stash with meds they might need for the typical maladies that occur on overseas trips: headaches, stuffed noses or upset stomachs.

Along with bandages for blistered feet and such, many travel “first-aid” kits include loperamide (sold under the trade name Imodium). Imodium A-D is a drug approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to help control the symptoms of travelers’ diarrhea—which include frequent bowel movements, gas and bloating.

Each of these symptoms can surely “cramp” your style when traveling.

Travelers’ diarrhea: A common malady

What causes an upset gut when you’re away from home?

Experts report that changes in eating habits and different bacteria and mineral content found in water can easily lead to diarrhea or constipation.

In fact, up to half of all international travelers experience diarrhea, making it the most common travel-related illness.

Available over-the-counter (OTC), Imodium A-D can be extremely effective in reducing the mobility in the intestine that leads to frequent bowel movements while traveling.

The maximum dose for OTC use of the drug is 8 mg per day (four-2 mg tablets) and no more than 16 mg when prescribed by a doctor. The medication shouldn’t be taken for more than two days.

Misuse of Imodium: The lurking danger

However, like most drugs, abuse or misuse of Imodium can cause serious health problems. Many travelers may make the mistake of taking more of the anti-diarrheal medication each day than is recommended or take it for more days than advised.

Another reason for misuse/abuse: The Washington Post reports the loperamide is sometimes called “the poor man’s methadone” because it can induce a cheap, mild high and relieve withdrawal symptoms in addicts.

Despite label warnings on the package, the FDA continues to receive reports of severe heart rhythm problems and even death when the drug is taken at much higher doses than those listed on the label.

For this reason, the FDA issued a new safety communication on January 29, 2018 concerning the use of Imodium to treat travelers’ diarrhea.

What you should know

The FDA warns:

  • If your diarrhea lasts more than two days, do not continue to take this anti-diarrhea medication without the advice of a physician.
  • If you or a fellow traveler experiences fainting, rapid heartbeat or unresponsiveness while taking Imodium, seek out immediate medical attention (e.g. 911 or an emergency room); inform the attending health professional that you have been taking the drug loperamide.
The bottom line

The FDA is working with manufacturers to encourage single dose packaging and blister packs, and to limit the number of doses in a package.

But don’t toss your pills just yet. The FDA notes that use of Imodium for travelers’ diarrhea is safe and effective when taken as directed.

Remember! Don’t take more than four two mg tablets per day for more than two days.

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More Time to Travel - Travel advice, information, & inspiration for people over 50 from Irene S. Levine, an award-winning freelance journalist

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Ever imagine being the main character in a personalized romance novel, one set in an exotic travel locale—perhaps someplace you’ve been or would like to visit with a heartthrob? Two of my colleagues have made that dream come true for countless romantics.

I met fellow travel writers J.S. Fletcher and Kathy Newbern at an SATW travel writer’s conference on a Holland America cruise ship and found out they had a unique sideline that dovetails perfectly with travel writing.

Twenty-five years ago, the couple (then romantic partners) had what they now call their “light-bulb moment.” That brainstorm was the genesis for YourNovel.com, a company that produces custom romance novels. You might call their work a labor of love.

Award-winning freelance journalists, the Fletcher and Newbern have traveled to more than 70 countries that inspire their novels.

Their company is aptly called YourNovel.com. Customers provide the details to make the books their own: such as their names, hometowns, workplaces, eye and hair color, best friends, favorite music, and affectionate nicknames. They can also choose to have their photo(s) grace the cover of the novel that is produced with one-of-a-kind personal details scattered throughout. These “customized capers come in both huggy-kissy ‘mild’ or sexy-steamy ‘wild’ versions,” and are available in paperback, hardback and as e-books.

The Giveaway

My colleagues have agreed to create a personalized romance novel for one randomly selected reader of MoreTimeToTravel.

  • To be eligible to win the giveaway, simply leave a comment below—before midnight on Valentine’s Day (February 14th, 2018—naming the travel destination you would choose for the locale of your own romance story.
  • The winner will be randomly selected and announced here.

Need some inspiration? Some of the novels have taken place in New Orleans, Key West, on safari in Africa, on cruise ships, and at beaches, dude ranches and ski lodges.

Want to purchase one for a unique Valentine’s Day gift for your honey? Visit: YourNovel.com.

YourNovel.com on YouTube:

YourNovel.com.mov - YouTube

More Time to Travel - Travel advice, information, & inspiration for people over 50 from Irene S. Levine, an award-winning freelance journalist

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We asked guest blogger Janis Fisher Chan to explain some of the essentials of what boomer travelers need to know about home exchanges. Janis is a writer and passionate traveler who recently launched TravelontheHouse.com to provide information, tips, and advice about home exchanges and short-term rentals. 

My husband and I travel a lot, sometimes 2-4 months out of the year, and we need to get the most out of our limited travel budget. Home exchange helps us do that. We’ve swapped for homes in Amsterdam, Barcelona, San Miguel de Allende, and on a world-famous Santa Barbara beach. Just last week, we set up an exchange for a beautiful Paris apartment a stone’s throw from the Marais.

Home exchange is a wonderful way to travel, and you can do it, too. To help you get started, here are 10 important things to know.

#1. Home exchange is a very low-cost way to travel.

You’ll pay a fee to sign up on a home exchange site, and you’ll keep on paying your home expenses (mortgage, utilities, and the like). But your lodging is free – no hotel charges or short-term rental costs. Your home exchange partners might also let you use their car, saving you the cost of renting one.

#2. How home exchanges work

When you do a home exchange, you stay in someone else’s home while they stay in yours. That usually happens at the same time (a simultaneous home exchange), but not always. You might stay in someone’s home while they’re away and welcome them into your home at another time (a non-simultaneous home exchange). On some home exchange listing sites, you can earn points when a member stays in your home and then redeem those points for a future stay in another member’s home.

#3. All kinds of people do home exchanges

It’s true that people who live in popular cities or near popular tourist attractions attract more interest from potential home exchangers. But people all over the world seek home exchanges for many reasons: to live like a local in a new place; to attend a special event such as a wedding, visit family or friends; and even for business. One of the best things about home exchanges is the chance to interact with people from all over the world.

#4. The internet makes it easy to find a home exchange partner

It used to be cumbersome to find a home exchange. You needed to search a printed catalog, where listings had only brief descriptions and a photo or two, and you could communicate with potential exchange partners only by phone and snail mail.

Today’s home exchangers find one another on home exchange sites such as Home Exchange.com or Sabbatical Homes.com. A Google search for “Home Exchange” will bring up lots of others. Once you’ve joined and listed your home, you can search for potential exchanges in the areas you want to visit and members who are interested in coming to your area can get in touch with you.

#5. Home exchanging offers unexpected opportunities

We get home exchange proposals from all over the world – condos in Thailand, farmhouses in New Zealand, lakeside cottages in Minnesota. Every January, we get a flurry of proposals for summertime exchanges from European families. Most of them won’t work for us because of the timing, and some are from destinations that aren’t on our travel radar. But once in a while a great opportunity suddenly appears, and we end up with a wonderful trip we’d never have thought of planning. With home exchange, you might find yourself visiting places you’d never considered before – and having a great time.

#6. Arranging a successful home exchange takes time and attention

People often ask us, “Is home exchange safe?” “Yes,” we reply, “But it takes some work.”

Home exchangers report having encountered relatively few problems. After all, they have an incentive to take care of one another’s property, knowing that the other people are staying in their home as well. But successful home exchanges are built on trust and clear, ongoing communication. We always take the time to get to know our exchange partners, and we have a written agreement that clarifies one another’s expectations.

#7. Your home exchange partners can be a virtual tourist guide

Even if you love exploring new places, it helps to have a local’s perspective. Exchange partners typically enrich one another’s visit with tips for finding the best shopping and dining, hidden walks and hiking trails, out-of-the-way museums, and more.

#8. Some home exchange partners will accept or care for pets

Have a beloved pet you take with you everywhere? You can seek a home exchange partner who is happy to accept pets. If you want to leave your pet at home, find an exchange partner who is a pet-lover. Leave clear instructions and be sure that the pet is willing to be cared for.

#9. It’s important to plan for the “what-ifs”

The most carefully arranged home exchange can fall apart at the last minute. If you’ve been careful about planning the exchange, clarifying expectations, and agreeing on the details, that should happen only in case of illness or emergency.

Decide ahead of time how you and your exchange partner will handle a last-minute cancellation. Maybe you can arrange backup lodging with a friend or family member or agree to reimburse one another for the cost of a hotel room or short-term rental. You might each get travel insurance to cover unexpected costs. Check with your home exchange listing site – some now offer insurance in case you can’t find a substitute exchange.

#10. The last word: Home exchange isn’t for everyone

Before you take the leap, carefully consider whether home exchange is right for you. It works for us because we like to settle into one place and stay awhile when we travel. But if you’re signing up for a tour in India or planning to bike through southern France, you won’t need another home to stay in. We also don’t mind the thought of strangers sleeping in our bed and using our showers. If that idea makes you uncomfortable, you will probably want to find another way to stretch your travel budget.

Previously on MoreTimeToTravel.com:

More Time to Travel - Travel advice, information, & inspiration for people over 50 from Irene S. Levine, an award-winning freelance journalist

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The colorful (and not-to-subtle) exterrior of the Paul Bocuse Restaurant (Credit: Paul Bocuse Restaurant)

“The world of gastronomy is in mourning,” the local newspaper in Lyon, France reported this past weekend.

“Paul Bocuse—Monsieur Paul to his friends, his collaborators, and all those who had the chance to rub shoulders with him—died a few hours ago.”

The Michelin Guide announced his passing on Twitter:

Paul Bocuse (1926-2018).
Le cuisinier du siècle nous a quittés.
Nous nous associons à la douleur de ses proches. pic.twitter.com/54WXbgxiUe

— Le guide MICHELIN (@guideMichelinFR) January 20, 2018

Loss of a culinary giant

This larger than life culinary icon, known throughout the world for popularizing nouvelle cuisine, died on January 20th, 2018, only a few weeks shy of his 92nd birthday.

Chef Paul passed away in the same house in which he was born, where he lived his entire life, and where he created his legendary restaurant, L’Auberge du Pont de Collonges. The house is located in the French countryside about 20 minutes outside of Lyon.

Arriving at the doors of the restaurant

The elegant dining room at Paul Bocuse Restaurant

Known for the quality of its food, impeccable service, and stunning setting, the chef’s flagship restaurant has remarkably maintained three Michelin stars since 1965. This culinary giant has been called the “Chef of the Century” and the “Pope of Gastronomy.” He was surely one of the most prominent ambassadors of French cuisine. A virtual rock-star whose popularity never waned, he was one of the first chefs to come out of the kitchen, mingle with diners, and develop a brand.

The Chef’s meticulous attention to detail (and branding) is evident even in the beautiful tableware used in the restaurant.

Click to view slideshow.

In 2014, we visited Lyon to write an article about this food-centric city’s markets and restaurants for the Chicago Tribune. We discovered firsthand how pervasive the chef’s influence has been in his hometown. The most famous market, Les Halles, where Bocuse did his shopping, had been renamed Les Halles de Lyon Paul Bocuse. The chef created five successful brasseries around his home city, each specializing in a different type of French cuisine, and left a special legacy: his world-class cooking school that trains young chefs.

The meal of a lifetime

Irene and Jerry outside the dining room, in front of a mural of Paul Bocuse

During our visit to Lyon, we were fortunate to snag lunch reservations at the Bocuse flagship restaurant in Collonges. More than a meal, it was an experience and every aspect was incredible—the beauty of the dining room and tableware; the professionalism of the staff; the quality of the ingredients; the taste and creativity of the dishes that built upon classic preparations; and the beauty and artistry of its presentation.

Paul Bocuse’s obituary in the New York Times noted, “His signature dishes not only pleased the palate; they also seduced the eye and piqued the imagination.”

We chose the price-fixed Classic menu and added one extra appetizer that we couldn’t resist (seared foie gras). Some of our photos may help tell the story of what made the meal so special:

Duck meat dodine à l’ancienne, foie gras and pistachios at Paul Bocuse

The bread plate: When in France, French bread, of course

Traditional Lyon quenelles of pike with crayfish, Nantua sauce

Scallop of foie gras, pan-cooked, passion fruit sauce

Sea bass stuffed in puff pastry shell with Choron sauce served tableside for two

The cheese course: A selection of fresh and matured cheese from La Mère Richard

When we thought we couldn’t eat one more bite, we were faced with a full desert selection (where you can choose anything and everything you want) called “Delicacies and Temptations.” Indeed, they were:

Some of the delicacies and temptations brought to our table at Paul Bocuse 

There were too many to taste but we tried our best!

Click to view slideshow. Our one major misgiving

During our pilgrimage to Collonges, we had made arrangements to meet Monsieur Paul. The one disappointment of the day was finding out he wasn’t well enough to do so. He had been in ill health for some time and remained in his residence that day. After our meal, his Maitre D’ apologized and graciously took us on a tour through the wine cellar and busy kitchen.

Wine room in the basement of Paul Bocuse Restaurant

Preparing cheese in the kitchen at Paul Bocuse

In the taxi on our way back to our hotel, we vowed to return—as often happens when travelers have a sensational experience like this one. We discussed doing so each time we planned a subsequent trip to Europe—perhaps, for a milestone birthday or to share the experience with friends or family. Unfortunately, it never happened for one reason or another. The lunch was such a rhapsody that we could not even find the words to fully describe it on this blog until years later when we learned of the Chef’s passing.

We especially wish we had revisited that meal, that experience before this happened. But we, like many others, are comforted knowing that the standards he pioneered at L’Auberge du Pont de Collonges will transcend his death. And we will return. We still have to taste the truffle soup!

IF YOU GO

Paul Bocuse Restaurant, Collonges au Mont d’Or, France

A few tips for dining at Paul Bouse Restaurant:
  • Advance reservations are required. They can be made online.
  • The restaurant is open at both lunch and dinner. We opted for lunch for two reasons: Such a lengthy meal was easier to “endure” mid-day and the daylight hours allowed us to soak in the greenery and views on the way to Collonges au Mont d’Or.
  • Arriving a few minutes before our reservation allowed us time to look around; don’t miss the wonderful murals on the walls beyond the courtyard.

One of the wonderful murals outdoors at Paul Bocuse

  • The meal at Paul Bocuse is expensive but the experience is priceless! There are both fixed price and a la carte menus. Both are available online as well as pricing information.
  • The dress code is casual elegant. Jackets are required for men.
  • Since you will likely be having wine with your dinner, take a taxi from Lyon rather than driving (even if you’ve rented a car.)

Caution: Watch this video of the restaurant on YouTube at your own risk. Hunger is likely to follow!

VIDEO AUBERGE 2017 - YouTube

More Time to Travel - Travel advice, information, & inspiration for people over 50 from Irene S. Levine, an award-winning freelance journalist

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Learn Italian slang and more…these little books are the perfect companions for your trips abroad.

Savvy travelers know the importance of being able to speak the local language. It enhances a person’s ability to immerse oneself in the place and culture—from understanding directions and street signs, to being able to handling emergencies or sticky situations (e.g. What do you yell when you’re on a crowded train and feel the hand of a pickpocket in your pants? How do you tell an Italian flirt to get lost?)

Speaking the language

For the reasons above and others, travelers are increasingly taking advantage of opportunities to learn languages through courses and apps, many of them available for free. It is estimated that Duolingo has 200 million registered users around the world. Each day, more than 200 million people rely on Google Translate, available on some browsers and also as an app!

A new 2018 survey of travel trends by American Express reports that 15 percent of the more than 2000 respondents traveled “to experience new languages and customs” last year, and 20 percent (5 percent more than last year) plan to do the same in 2018.

The “What They Didn’t Teach You in Class” Series

The “What They Didn’t Teach You in Class” series (available in French, Italian, Russian, German and Spanish) promises to provide the slang expressions and practical words travelers are likely to need on trips abroad. It focuses on “real expressions” used by locals rather than the phrases typically taught in language school. Not much larger than the size of a passport, these trim books can easily be slipped into a purse or backpack.

Ulysses Press has come up with a new and highly practical tool that should appeal to travelers at many different levels of language proficiency:

  • Those with little or no fluency
  • Those students (of all ages) who haven’t yet achieved fluency before embarking on a trip;
  • Those who may have forgotten what they learned in language school (whether recently or many years ago); and
  • Those who know the language well but want to master the informal slang.
What They Didn’t Teach You in Italian Class

I reviewed the 192-page Italian version of the series and was impressed with the excellent organization of the book. Divided into nine chapters, I could easily figure out where to find the right words I needed.

The chapter on “Friends and Flirting”, for example, mentions that Italians like to connect. If you’re hanging out in a bar—whether for espresso or an apertivo—you’ll know the phrases that can arm you with confidence to speak without crossing a line.

If you are a compulsive shopper (a real risk of traveling to Italy), you’ll feel empowered enough to know the difference between asking for a push-up or sports bra (regisseno).

The book makes for a perfect travel companion or a great gift for friends or family members who are travelers.

THE BOOK GIVEAWAY

What They Didn’t Teach You in Language School

The publisher of the series, Ulysses Press, is offering one lucky reader of MoreTimeToTravel a three-book set. The set includes one copy of “What They Didn’t Teach You in Italian Class” and two other companion books, “What They Didn’t Teach You in Spanish” and “What They Didn’t Teach You in French.” A total of three books!

To be eligible, simply subscribe to the MTTT newsletter by February 15, 2018 (see the top of the right sidebar) and leave a comment below saying that you did.

The winner will be randomly selected and announced on this website.

Need the book sooner? The Italian version and any of the four other languages are available both on Kindle or Hardcover on Amazon.

Disclosure: The publisher provided us with a copy of the Italian book for review.

More Time to Travel - Travel advice, information, & inspiration for people over 50 from Irene S. Levine, an award-winning freelance journalist

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Have you heard about the new U.S. State Department system of travel warnings?

Given all the turmoil all over the globe (natural disasters, political strife, wars, terrorism, etc.), it’s prudent to check State Department Advisories before traveling internationally.

On January 10th, 2018, the U.S. State Department announced a new system for informing travelers about safety and security, replacing the previous often-confusing system of travel warnings and travel alerts. The aim of the overhaul was to make the system more understandable and user-friendly.

The four levels of caution

The new system is color-coded, defining four levels of caution:

Level 4 – Do Not Travel

This highest level (red) warns the public that they should not travel to these locations. For example, Iran, Yemen and North Korea fall into this category.

Level 3 – Reconsider Travel

Because of “threats” to safety and security, this level (orange) suggests that travelers heed specific advice from the State Department.

Level 2 – Exercise Increased Caution

Because of “heightened risks,” travelers to level 2 (yellow) should heed specific advice as well.

Level 1 – Exercise Normal Precautions

This lowest level (without any color or blue) still carries some level of risk for travel.

Criteria for travel advisories

In addition, the new advisories offer a rationale for the assignments of various levels, including:

C – Crime

T – Terrorism

U – Civil Unrest

H – Health

N – Natural Disaster

E – Time-limited Event

O – Other

The bottom line

As you make travel decisions and certainly before you go, it’s a good idea to take a look at the State Department website that lists country-specific information (linked to city-specific crime and safety reports) and displays them on an interactive, world-at-a-glance color-coded map.

In addition, because conditions can change rapidly, all travelers should enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) to stay informed of changing conditions in countries to which they are traveling. Travelers can also stay in touch via Facebook and Twitter.

More Time to Travel - Travel advice, information, & inspiration for people over 50 from Irene S. Levine, an award-winning freelance journalist

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Contributing writers John and Sandra Nowlan report on their wine-themed cruise on Holland America Koningsdam—impressed by a perfect mix of wine, food and music.

Holland America Line Koningsdam in the Caribbean

Fresh fish, really fresh fish, almost never shows up on the dinner menus of the big ocean cruise ships. It’s just easier to store and prepare the frozen product. But, happily, there are exceptions.

We recently sailed aboard the 2600-passenger Holland America Line (HAL) Koningsdam from Fort Lauderdale to the “ABC” islands in the Southern Caribbean (Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao). (This was our second opportunity to board this wonderful ship.)

We discovered that the chef often visits local markets to buy fresh seafood for the a la carte Rudi’s Sel de Mer restaurant, styled after a Parisian bistro. The fresh grouper we enjoyed after our stop in Curacao was remarkably good, probably the best fish we’ve ever eaten at sea.

Fresh grouper at Rudi’s Sel de Mer on Koningsdam

Grouper up close

What’s new on Koningsdam, the newest ship in the HAL fleet?

Koningsdam is the newest ship in the Holland America Line fleet and has clearly benefitted from some superb planning and clever innovation. The rooms are spacious with king-size beds, lots of closet space, and the bathrooms have generously-sized showers (rare at sea).

There’s a full, uninterrupted track for jogging or walking (three laps for a mile) and a main theatre that’s remarkable for its 300-degree seating (almost theatre in the round) and its state-of-the-art wraparound LED video canvas.

Koningsdam’s Canadian captain showed us the bridge with the latest in marine navigation and safety technology. With GPS, he’s able to establish his exact position within about a metre— anywhere in the world. He told us that the Costa Concordia disaster was a wakeup call for the cruise industry and measures were implemented fleetwide to improve efficiencies on the bridge.

Captain of the Koningsdam explaining the ship’s safety features to Sandra Nowlan

What can guests expect on a wine-themed cruise on Holland America?

Our cruise was particularly interesting because of its wine theme. Koningsdam already has an excellent wine cellar but our experience was enhanced by a special Winemaker’s Dinner in the modern, open-kitchen Culinary Arts Center.

The chef described and prepared an outstanding five-course meal, each course accompanied by champagne or a high-end red or white wine produced or imported by the Washington State winery, Chateau Ste. Michelle. A wine educator from the winery gave a descriptive commentary with each pour telling the guests why he recommended this particular pairing. The highlight was our beef course with a Chateau Ste. Michelle Cabernet Sauvignon/ Merlot blend that was ideal.

On every cruise, Koningsdam also features a special room called BLEND where guests are invited to taste five high quality red wines from Chateau Ste. Michelle, discover their unique characteristics, and experiment with a blend of two or more wines that suits individual palates.

Mixing wines and making friends at BLEND on Koningsdam

The sommelier in charge then provides guests a full bottle of the blended wine using the chosen formula. After several experiments we both agreed on a tantalizing mix of 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot and 10% Cabernet Franc. We took it to dinner the next night (no corkage fee if you provide wine from BLEND). It was one of the best red blends we’ve ever enjoyed. (The cost of BLEND is $79 for one guest, $99 for a couple.

What else will food and wine enthusiasts savor on Koningsdam?

If guests’ tastes are more into whisky than wine, Koningsdam has another unique palate pleasing venue called Notes that offers more than 100 varieties of Scotch, Irish, Bourbon and other varieties of whisky (or whiskey). A whisky expert can guide you through tasting samples or, at a modest cost, you can simply enjoy a wee dram of your favourite.

Notes, the whisky-tasting venue on Koningsdam

The main dining room on Koningsdam is one of the most imaginative at sea. Inspired by the strings on a harp, its support structure looks more like a series of whalebones.

Interesting architecture of the Koningsdam dining room

Enhanced by white tablecloths and outstanding service, it’s an excellent venue for breakfast, lunch or dinner. Particularly good were the shrimp dishes and beef. Desserts were very imaginative and the nineteen choices of tea were even better than on any of the Cunard Queens.

Among the extra cost specialty restaurants, our favorite was Tamarind (a $25 surcharge) with wonderful Asian dishes like Ginger and Garlic Wok Seared Lobster  and Vietnam Style Lamb with Mint. The ship offers complimentary pizza at the New York Deli (it was excellent) plus hamburgers and hot dogs at the Dive In grill, almost as good as those inspired by Guy Fieri on Carnival vessels. But Koningsdam fries were better! An elegant afternoon tea, with white-glove service, is served every day in the Queen’s Lounge.

What kind of entertainment can guests expect?

Holland America Line has a strong focus on music as evidenced by the constant stream of first-class musical entertainment throughout the ship. We were particularly impressed by BB King’s Blues Club with a five-piece band and two vocalists who would be at home in Memphis. Another room featured Billboard hits with twin pianos and singers. Every night the main theatre featured complex music reviews by its troupe of singers and dancers or specialty acts like an ABBA tribute.

ABBA in the (almost) round theatre on Koningsdam

Classical music is also front and center (even the decks are named after composers – Mozart, Schubert, Gershwin) with a section of Deck 2 devoted to the Lincoln Center Stage. Several times a day, a very talented quintet of European musicians (piano, two violins, viola and cello) performed everything from Beethoven to Bernstein—all flawlessly.

String quartet with piano at Lincoln Center Stage

Koningsdam: A new standard?

Koningsdam sets a new standard for cruise ship design, safety and guest accessibility. Holland America will build more of these “Pinnacle Class” ships with few changes. And, we were told, Cunard Line was so impressed with the design that its next ship, the fourth in its current fleet, will be modeled after Koningsdam.

Guests relaxing in Caribbean waters

IF YOU GO

Holland America Line

*John and Sandra Nowlan are travel and food writers based in Halifax, Nova Scotia

Disclosure: The Nowlans were guests of Holland America Line but any opinions expressed in this post are their own.

Previously on MoreTimeToTravel:

Holland America Line and O, The Oprah Magazine announce unique partnership

Half Moon Cay: Visiting the Best Cruise Private Island

More Time to Travel - Travel advice, information, & inspiration for people over 50 from Irene S. Levine, an award-winning freelance journalist

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More Time to Travel

With boomer friends in Italy

Baby boomer travelers aren’t all the same but we share one thing in common: We refuse to be defined by age alone; we follow our passions and interests.

Factors influencing of baby boomer travelers

Our travel plans differ based on a number of personal and situational factors as well as our personalities.

Among them: income and financial wherewithal, time available for travel (e.g., retired or working), caregiving responsibilities (for children and/or aging parents), travel history (been there, done that), travel aspirations (e.g. sense of adventure, curiosity), health status, and activity and energy levels.

A 2017 report from Immersion Interactive collected data that describes noteworthy characteristics of the group as a whole:

  • Boomers are between the ages of 51 and 69 (that was last year and, of course, they are getting older each year). In the U.S. alone, there are 74.9 million boomers in that age cohort.
  • They control some 70 percent of all disposable income.
  • Of boomer households, 63 percent include one individual who is still working.
  • Boomers are more tech savvy than you might imagine: 49 percent are tablet users and 40 percent are smartphone users (although these numbers pale in comparison to that of their millennial offspring).

Adding to our understanding of baby boomer travelers, is the most recent AARP travel survey data from the same year:

  • Most boomers are expected to take an average of five leisure trips in 2017.
  • TripAdvisor, Expedia, Travelocity, Yelp and Google Maps are the most common online planning and booking tools used by boomers.
  • Some of the most common barriers to boomer travel are cost, health and security concerns.
  • As a group, most boomers prefer travel that allows them time to relax, and spend time with family and friends.
What baby boomer travel trends are predicted in 2018?

Although not broken down by age (perhaps useful because boomers are such a varied lot), findings of the annual 2018 Virtuoso Luxe Report suggest that 2018 travel trends might be summed up as more of the same.

These trends don’t differ significantly from the same trends that have been emerging in recent years and, in our experience, they seem to apply to boomers as well. They include:

  • Multigenerational travel
  • Active or adventure trips
  • River cruising
  • Food and wine travel, and
  • Celebration travel

Lastly, this same report compiled by the Virtuoso luxury travel network notes that contemporary luxury travelers are foregoing “tourist” experiences preferring interactions with locals and more spontaneous discoveries.

Sounds like us, indeed!

Learn more about baby boomer travelers from the experts on GettingOnTravel:

More Time to Travel - Travel advice, information, & inspiration for people over 50 from Irene S. Levine, an award-winning freelance journalist

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More Time to Travel

Meeting Chef Dan Barber in the baking lab

One reason we’ve been able to dine at Blue Hill at Stone Barns as often as we have—is that it’s fortuitously located just four miles from home. Otherwise, it takes some effort to visit this world-class destination (ranked 11 in 2017 among the World’s 50 Best Restaurants). In addition, reservations are hard to come by.

Often JUST called “Blue Hill” (actually the name of its older sibling restaurant in Manhattan), this one-of-a-kind restaurant is planted on the grounds of a rolling, 80-acre, four-season farm—located off a two-lane road in Pocantico Hills (a tiny hamlet in Westchester County, New York).

A mecca for food-lovers

The land it sits on has a long and rich history interwoven with that of the Rockefeller family. The spacious, contemporary dining room occupies what was once the family’s dairy barn. The room accommodates about 75 people at a sitting; the tables are so nicely spaced that you forget you have neighbors.

Food enthusiasts flock to Blue Hill because the moniker “farm-to-table” isn’t a mere marketing ploy. Here, the concept is literal. In fact, you can see the fields and pastures that provision your meal outside the dining room windows.

When our friends, Suzanne and Craig Stavert (Adventurers of Empty Nesters) from Pasadena, California, recently visited, they provided the perfect excuse to return.

What is it like to dine at Blue Hill? Always a first-time experience!

The New American menu changes not only seasonally but also daily. Depending on what and how much of it is growing on the farm or stored in the larder, your meal may even be different that that of other diners around you.

We realize, however, that the Blue Hill experience isn’t for everyone. Before you invest considerable time and money in the “Blue Hill Experience,” consider this:

Are you willing to leave menu choices to the Chef?

As alluded to previously, the food at Blue Hill celebrates each growing season. There are no menus, per se, and few choices. Before you arrive, you’ll be asked whether you have any food allergies, sensitivities or aversions.

Once seated, you’ll receive a small journal called “Field and Pasture” that offers some month-by-month hints of the types of foods and ingredients you’re likely to find on your plate.

Being introduced to new ingredients and inventive (and often, whimsical preparations) you’ve never had (or imagined) before requires some degree of flexibility and willingness to try new foods.

Squash brulee dessert made with a thin-skinned squash bred for flavor

A dessert tree and holiday fruitcake

Do you enjoy small bites?

The number of “courses” served is typically so plentiful (some 20-30 courses or more) that you’ll probably lose count during your feast. Trying to recollect them afterwards will be even more of a challenge!

A brussel sprout tree to chop down and share

Portions are large enough to offer you a real taste but not too large to spoil one’s appetite for what comes next. Another example of the mindfulness of the kitchen: Patrons are discouraged from stuffing themselves with the very delicious (baked on premises) breads before their meal; instead, bread is served as one of the later courses.

If you’re looking for a 16-ounce aged steak with an oversized baked potato, this isn’t the place.

Are you willing to use your fingers? 

Healthy finger food from the garden

A chance to forage for chanterelle mushrooms and chestnuts under the leaves on the table

Yes, the first several courses are foods intended to be eaten with fingers rather than utensils. Because the silverware settings arrive afterwards, you don’t have a choice.

Your meal will likely start with a parade of fresh and flavorful baby vegetables from the farm. The strategy is disarming. Like a potent cocktail, these veggies simultaneously serve as a social lubricant and relaxant.

Although the dining room is elegant and the service attentive, the mood remains decidedly relaxed. (Blue Hill at Stone Barns won the 2017 James Beard Award for Outstanding Service), a credit to the committed team led by Operations Manager Philippe Gouze.

Are you open to being taught about your relationship to food and the earth?

Chef Dan Barber has transformed the roles of wait staff to that of knowledgeable food educators and mentors. They describe every dish set on your table, are able to tell you from which of 65 local farmers or foragers they’ve been sourced, and explain the relationship between the food and Stone Barns Farm.

Courses are largely vegetable- rather than meat-centric. Many veggies come to your table with a fascinating breeding history. For example, our server Ronald told us that our habanero peppers were the result of three generations of breeding, aimed at making them less spicy. The NY 150 potatoes we ate were bred to be creamy.

Kohlrabi, a member of the cabbage family

Tableside preparation and serving of squash guacamole

Pickled vegetables, including the habanero pepper

Chef Barber believes that chefs and their culinary teams can play seminal roles in teaching people how to eat so there is minimal waste and foods, therefore, remain sustainable.

Do you have the time and patience to dine leisurely?

A meal at Blue Hill at Stone Barns isn’t rushed. Rather, it’s intended to be slowly savored over the course of 3 or 4 hours or more. The service is like theater; the presentation of the food is an art form—from the creative plating to the polished service and presentation.

Utensils arrive mid-meal

Are you willing to pay the price?

Exceptional meals like these come at a price, albeit a fixed one. The cost of dinner is $258 per person; wine pairings are an additional $168 per person. Like some other fine restaurants, Blue Hill at Stone Barns has a no-tipping policy. Instead, it charges a 20 percent administrative fee that is shared by service staff.

Bottom line

Blue Hill at Stone Barns has perfected the recipe for creating a dining experience that is joyful, entertaining and educational. And, of course, good meals like this one are always enhanced when you share them with good friends.

The proverbial icing on the cake was when Chef Barber invited us to a between-course tasting in his bread-making laboratory, providing an opportunity not only to taste his unique wheat breads but also to thank him for a memorable culinary experience.

Table setting for the tasting in the baking lab

Wheat bread made with flour, salt and water

***Apologies for the photos taken at night under low lighting…

IF YOU GO

Blue Hill at Stone Barns

Directions by train: Take Metro-North Hudson Line from New York’s Grand Central to Tarrytown. Hail a taxi at the station for the 10-minute drive to Blue Hill.

TIPS:
  • It takes a good 50-minutes to “Uber” to the restaurant from midtown Manhattan—and longer by Metro-North railroad train, which requires a taxi afterwards from nearby Tarrytown.
  • Reservations are usually tough to come by without advance planning. Reservations can be made on reserve.com.

For a different take on the same meal, read Suzanne’s post:

Suzanne and the author in the baking laboratory

More Time to Travel - Travel advice, information, & inspiration for people over 50 from Irene S. Levine, an award-winning freelance journalist

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