Archive for the ‘Traveler Words’ Category

Pazzo for Travel

Thursday, August 26th, 2010

Guest Blogger William J. Higgins, FAIA is an architect with 37 years of worldwide experience, has practiced in 10 different countries, and has traveled through more than 20 countries across Europe, Asia and North America.  He is contributor to two recent books: International Practice for Architects and Founder’s Folly. He has a Masters of Architecture degree from Harvard University, a Bachelor’s Degree from Louisiana State University, and has taught at Stanford University. He is a founding Principal of Architecture International, Ltd. and was a Principal of The Architects Collaborative, Inc. Here, he shares a tale of travel planning with family.

Travel’s always more fun with friends and family. (Cafe, Florence).

It was Christmas, and we were gathered at a family dinner. My wife and I were regaling our parents with tales of our personal travels to Europe.  I paused, looked at my wife across the table, and then blurted out, “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if all of us went to Europe together?” One would have thought that I was Santa Claus flying down the chimney loaded with gifts, for the resounding “Yes! What a wonderful idea!” that instantly sprang forth from my mother, mother-in-law, and father-in-law. Their happiness filled the dining room. Even my wife, Norma, beamed with approval.

I consider myself to be an educated, informed and, yes, mature individual. I generally have my wits about me and usually make wise choices when it comes to life decisions such as what color socks to wear, what channel to watch, or what to eat for dinner. So why did a sensible person like me, married to an intelligent and insightful woman, think it would be a great idea to travel to Europe with our parents? The Italians have a word for it: pazzo, or crazy. The French would say fou. Yes, crazy.

Both of us are of European descent. Norma is Italian and Hungarian, and I am a blend of Italian, French, Irish, and English. So the thought of journeying to Europe with our parents to explore the roots of our heritage seemed like an exciting way to bond with our family and enjoy some time together. We are fortunate in that we get along with our in-laws, and that our three “old ones” enjoy each other’s company. We all share common interests, one of which we now discovered, is travel.

As we continued with Christmas dinner, pouring more holiday wine, the questions came in rapid succession and with excited voices: When to go? Where to go? How do we get passports? What about medicines? Travel insurance? The question of when to go would not be as much a challenge as where to go. Now that I had opened the proverbial can of  traveling worms, the suggested places to visit stretched across the entire European continent from the Danube  to the English Channel. My English Literature professor mother-in-law, Alice, was inclined to try Shakespeare’s England, or perhaps Shelley’s Rome or even Lord Byron’s Venice. My high school principal mother, Gwen, thought it would be grand to see the Louvre in Paris, or the Uffizi of Florence, but “England would be nice, too.” My recently retired yet adventurous father-in-law, Rus, yearned to see the majesty of the Matterhorn or Michelangelo’s Florence or the WWII cemeteries of France. More wine please.

The Danube River, as it passes through Budapest.

I asked myself, how do we see 2,000 years of history and 2,000 miles of landscape in a fourteen day timeframe? Oh yes, the senior members of our family decided our trip had to be at least two weeks.  What the heck, they had plenty of time on their hands, why waste an opportunity to delve into old world culture especially if I am offering to be the tour guide?

Norma retrieved the World Atlas from the study and we moved all the dishes to one end of the table, poured more wine, and swarmed over the maps of Europe, measuring distances between destinations with a nearby, uneaten string bean. After much bean positioning and stretching, we decided that the farthest we should travel in one direction was 1,000 miles or three string beans. Thus was born the rule of the haricot vert.

Our inaugural grand tour would encompass a scenic loop by car through Switzerland, Italy, and France, a mere 2,000 miles, or six string beans. This way we would please everyone and be so exhausted at the end that the thought of doing this a second time would completely vanish from our collective noodle heads. All heads turned to me, and in unison, said “So, when do we go?”

I paused because I thought it would be cool to travel to new places, visit world renowned museums, cathedrals, and historic sites and see them through the eyes of our parents. Can you imagine exploring the inner streets of old cities discussing the window patterns and architectural detail of a French neighborhood with your mother? Or sampling the local cuisine at an outdoor cafe in Rome with your mother-in-law? Or taking a gondola ride to the base of the Matterhorn with your father-in-law? Well, neither did I, until I realized that the excitement that was already expressed in their eyes and the gaiety in their voices meant that this could be a very energizing experience for our parents, at a time in their lives when they were contemplating what their next chapter was going to be. We were ready to help them write it in a foreign language.

Where do you want to go next? Please share.

Ready to take off yet? Click here to see how you can travel to Europe with Smithsonian Journeys.

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Cruising The Great Lakes

Monday, November 30th, 2009

Alex Whaley is a Reservation Specialist in the Smithsonian Journeys call center, where she advises travelers on where to go and what tours best meet their needs. She recently accompanied Smithsonian travelers on our Great Lakes cruise, and here, she shares her reflections on the experience.

Niagara Falls

Niagara Falls

Our journey aboard the Clelia II began as we traveled east from Duluth, Minnesota and the waters of Lake Superior, to Toronto and the waters of Lake Ontario. All voyages through such beautiful landscapes would be lovely, but traveling with Smithsonian made the journey a memorable and enriching experience.

The star of my voyage, my study leader, Dr. Bob Burger, is a university professor of geology, and because of the design of our Smithsonian tours, not only was I able to attend his fascinating lectures, I was also able to travel with him on our daily excursions and dine with him at several points throughout the tour. It was like having your favorite professor in college by your side anytime!

Throughout our voyage, our lectures focused on how the Great Lakes  were formed, the mineral deposits of the regions, the natural wonders of the lakes, and finally what trade and settlements developed as a result of the lakes. Of course, each of these lectures tied in directly to our daily excursions. Excursions included the copper mines of Houghton, Minnesota, the Fur Trade Settlement of Old Fort William, and Niagara Falls, as well as the locks our ship passed through.

These locks are incredible feats of engineering- the Soo Locks of Sault St. Marie are the busiest in the world with 12000 ships passing annually, and the Welland Canal is a series of seven locks designed as a continuous flight of “stairs” that lifted Clelia II 324 feet over a distance of 27 miles! I couldn’t believe how excited our travelers got as we passed through these locks, and it was wonderful to share their enthusiasm.

My most memorable moment with Dr. Burger, however, was on Mackinac Island as we visited Arch Rock, a natural limestone arch formed during the Nipissing post-glacial period. According to Native American legend, this rock was formed when a beautiful Indian maiden’s tears washed away the limestone bluff as she waited in vain for her lover to return. As we were looking at the beautiful site, he turned to me with quiet humor and said, “Well, it’s possible, but not very likely that that’s how it was formed.” Experiencing history and nature firsthand is truly exceptional, and Study Leaders like Dr. Burger make the difference between being a tourist and becoming a traveler.

What’s your favorite engineering marvel? Share below.

Join us on the next Great Lakes cruise or click to see all of our US tours.

My Journey Through Egypt

Wednesday, November 25th, 2009

Sheila Lyons is a Smithsonian Traveler from Southern California. Here, she shares her reflections on her recent travel to Egypt with Smithsonian Journeys.

A Smithsonian Traveler takes a camel ride in the Egyptian desert

The Egyptian Odyssey was the trip of a lifetime. It was clear to me that every aspect had been researched and developed thoroughly. Amal, our Egyptian guide, and Dr. Rhanda Baligh, our study leader, were incredible. Hassan, our Egyptian tour manager, had everything under control and coordinated side trips in our free time. I loved how we seamlessly moved from location to location.

We were a group of 17 which was nearly perfect. Having Amal and Randa travel with us the whole time was really a treat. They are both so personable and all around exceptional people.

Amal, our local guide, is a treasure. She added an unexpected pleasurable element to the tour. She is so bubbly and outgoing. I loved her way of describing all the sites. She has incredibly good English. Amal always seemed to time our stays at each site perfectly. Just enough lecture and just enough free time. She is worth every penny she is paid – in fact she deserves more!

Dr. Baligh’s lectures were very educational and insightful. She has excellent delivery skills that are both informative and entertaining. Randa is a lovely person and a delight to have along. She is obviously incredibly knowledgeable and I like that she is so familiar with the US that she can do comparisons and contrasts between the cultures of the US and Egypt.

Hassan is a terrific asset. He always made us feel safe. We knew we were in very capable hands. We were all aware of our security guard being present at all times but did not feel it was necessary.

The extra stops at the perfumery, rug makers, spice market, papyrus store, etc. were lovely. It was nice to have the chance to purchase locally made quality products. The Aswan Spice market was fabulous. Only a few of us made this side trip, but I think everyone would have enjoyed it! There is a lot crammed into each day, making me feel that I really got my money’s worth.

Where have you traveled most recently? Share below.

See Egypt for yourself. Click here for travel opportunities with Smithsonian Journeys.

Traveled recently and want to share your thoughts? Click to see more information about submitting your post  for publication on our blog.

Traveler Words: Inspired by Africa

Friday, March 13th, 2009

See what our travelers have to say about their recent journeys to South Africa. We’re grateful that travelers so generously share their thoughts with us. This week, read about what they loved about visiting Africa by rail.

“As a first time traveler to South Africa, Zambia and Botswana, I came away with a very special sense of Africa because of this tour…The tour was very diverse and I was able to get a sense of South Africa and an introduction to Zambia and Botswana. I loved Rovos Rail and all the safaris. I liked this trip so much, I plan to return to Cape Town and other countries.”

Judith Schwartz – South Africa’s Great Rail Journey

A traveler on Rovos Rail

A traveler on Rovos Rail. Photo: Patrick Wagner


Tropical Adventures – Words, Pictures, and Videos from our Travelers

Friday, February 20th, 2009

We are grateful that our Smithsonian travelers are so often eager to share their thoughts about their tour experiences with us.

This week, long-time and first-time travelers tell us what they love about exploring some of the world’s most pristine habitats.

“Things learned and liked best: The incredible size and diversity of the Amazon basin – its flora and fauna, bio-diversity, people were eye opening. Truly one of the earth’s lungs! Daily excursions were very knowledgeable naturalists who went out of their way to show us all what the Amazon was all about. Village and home visits to acquaint us with the Riberonos’ daily lives.”

-Bill and Mary McNamara, Amazon River Journey

Leaf Cutter Ants in Costa Rica. Photo: Jim Urmston

Leaf Cutter Ants in Costa Rica. Photo: Sharon Cotter

Keep reading for an amazing zip-line-view video…