An interlude for France

Villa in the south of France: more than just a dream

Yup, I am going to live the oft dreamt about ultimate vacation: staying three weeks in a beautiful villa in the south of France.  Languedoc region to be precise.  My flights are booked, departing Victoria 4 October and returning 25 October 2015.  Want to come along with me?  You are invited ….
What to do while I am there?  I had no idea I would ever have to pose this question!  I am thinking a day or two in grand Paris … Same in exotic and romantic Venice and perhaps a shopping day to drool in the boutique shopping Mecca of the world, Milan.  I have never been to Avignon, Marseille or Provence and all intrigue me by the names that I have heard about in songs and stories all my life. 
I am thinking of wine tours, gluten free baguettes, cheese, olives … Prosecco and perhaps limoncello.  Fine wines are made in this region so partaking of those grape varietals and aging cellars will be definitely on the list!
Checking out Arles, Nimes, Nice and the Promenade des anglais  as well as the Côte d’Azur.  We will rent a car for tootling around the local area and do the rest by fast train perhaps from Montpellier.  Perhaps flights even? 
Aix en Provence to discover beauty and the past.  The markets of Isle-sur-Sorgue   and the Luberon Villages, the hilltop villages of Gordes and Roussillon. The charming fishing port of Cassis and perhaps some beaches near Les Saintes-Marie’s-de-la-Mar.
Walking along river banks, investigating bridges, popping in to local shops and tasting the wares.  Artists through time were inspired in France.  I am as well and looking forward to even more inspiration and self discipline to follow up when I get home bringing this timeless area of the world and sensational memories with me.
Did I mention wine bars?  And local markets for fresh produce and local treats.  I am presently researching food tours for gluten free folks in Europe and hoping to find lists of places sympathetic in France.  Stopping for impromptu wine tours and tastings will be a lovely treat to write about another day.
Fragrant Lavender fields and vibrant yellow sunflowers.  Green as far as the eye can imagine.  Blue sky and fluffy white clouds holding back moisture till after I depart the exciting and vibrant France.  
As I have tours to investigate in Italy and an exciting cruise to plan in the meantime, I will wrap up this blog for today.  
Perhaps enough said and dreams of this dream vacation of a lifetime will dance in your head tonight and you will find my email in the morrow to plan and join me on this exquisite 3 week venture to heaven on earth, Bonne France!
Au revoir, mes amies.  Je t’aime

Packing for Europe!

I have fallen in love with my clothes, again

Packing and planning to travel is a great time to explore the details of my closest.  What is hanging about unloved and undiscovered this past while?  What could I spruce up and invite on my next trip?
I have decided to let go of my packing stress … Partly because I don’t have time to give it anymore space In my life and partly that it does not serve me well.  I loose sleep and make lists and exhaustion is not my friend.  So….. 
Last night, without wine, I entered that sacred space of clothes in my new walk in closet.  I have traveled so much in the past three months that I forgot what treasures lurked there!  
I changed clothes, made discard piles, imagined with this and added that, invited scarves to become the flourish and excitement to the basic black … And tried to see myself in a positive light.
I enjoyed myself so much … Me, my wardrobe and a full length mirror.  Time to myself is rare and yet so precious.  I had such a grand time!  Woke up this morning feeling totally satisfied.  
And I know I need to drop a few items from the pile, Un-invite them, so to speak .. In order to continue to use my small carry on size bag for this next extravagant trip to Europe, Italy, Greece, Egypt, Israel, and more Italy .. Punctuating a fabulous Oceania cruise for fifteen days in the med … On board the lovely (again) Riviera!  
Just a month away .. Counting the days.
Wish you were coming too …. There is another chance to join me in Europe, this fall .. October to the glorious and scenic south of France … Staying in a villa for three fun and wine filled weeks!  
Ti amo 
Pamelllllla, I was reborn Italiano!
Ps I found some great gluten free walking food tour in Rome …. Oh yah baby!  

Articles on travel 

Articles on travel

One day I ponder if I want to be a travel writer, the next day I am shaking my head at the idea.  I love what I do and I can write about it however I want, when no one is paying me!
I just read reviews, several of them, written about books written by a few different male travel writers-gone-rogue.  I am not sure if I should call them travel journalists, because as of yet, I am not sure I know if there is a difference?  
I suppose travel writing is pretty much like any form of news story …” I did this, saw this and now … My story is this”. Yup, that pretty much sums up the news, the sports, the weather (actually it is hard to mess with the weather, after the fact) and so it is with travel.
What I love or hate about a destination, touristy or otherwise, is simply not the same as anyone else might enjoy or despise the exact same experience or location.
What is significant is this … Why would I plan my precious vacation with the “lowest bidder” as my guide?  Someone who charges the least?  Someone who advertises a low-ball offer to get my business but has not ever been there, or even read about being there? …. Helping me make a choice on what is the best decision for me?
I want to do some research, check out a few sites … Google … Then read, and even talk to a number of people and sources who might know about that place or that ship … And then I consult with an expert and finally make a decision and pay my money to someone I trust.  Makes sense, right?  
Why would I go on line, research only based on the words written by any one I have never met and perhaps, would not value their opinion even if I did meet them … And then enter my credit card on line only to find that I booked the wrong flight at a time that does not work, to a place I don’t want to go … All to maybe save a buck?
We work hard for our money.  All of us!  This is our story.  We value two things, maybe three above all else … Our time, our money and our favourite people ( friends or family or both).  How we enjoy these factors … We should and do give careful consideration to.
I am an expert and a professional.  If I don’t know the answer, I will tell you I don’t know the answer and I will help you get the answer you need.    Mostly I will help you make the best informed decision you can because only you know how you value those three factors … Your time, your money and the people you love.  You get to decide how you spend that precious money … On a vacation to spend precious time, with those precious loved ones.  
I am here to help. One of the most noble tasks I can think of doing as a second career.
Call me anytime, or write to me.  Read my blog … It is free.  You can see I am not a writer for money … I write here so you can decide if I am a person you want to help you with your next vacation.
Thanks for reading and many many thanks for being one of my friends or family!  
Ti amo, 

Planning for next cruise with Women’s Travel Club!

Tours for next trip: Jerusalem 

Down to the research, now that I am home from my last two cruises.  I am going on another Oceania cruise, onboard Riviera again, and I fly out on 30 May 2015. I will be enjoying Europe with a dozen others, cruise and land stay.
One of the lessons learned on the last two cruises is that tours offered by Oceania often sell out.  And so for those who wait till they get on board to book tours, sometimes they don’t get what they want.  I am going to book ahead this time.
Also if a person books a minimum number of excursions, the cost is reduced by 25%, but only if booked in advance.  So here goes.  The planning has begun.
I have been trying to coordinate with travel buddies, people who are interested in similar tours as I am, or might be.  Also family and friends who I have travelled with previously are being consulted and we have been emailing, calling and meeting in person.  
I am selecting the first tours based on ports of call that I don’t want to roam around on my own without a tour guide, Israel and Egypt for example.  Then I looked at all the tours for all the ports and decided on one for every port that I might want should I book the “unlimited package” which allows for at least one tour on every port day.  And lastly I look at  each port and decide if I really would prefer just to walk about and see the sights of the town, for example, or the beach!  Yeah for the beaches!
We are two days in Israel and I have been two days in Israel a few years ago.  I made some decisions then on tours I would like and ruled out ones like the Dead Sea.  I talked to people and read some reviews and so those results seem still valid to me now.  Last time I toured Tel Aviv and Jaffa one day and attended a fabulous concert in a 3000 year old theatre in the evening.  Neither of those two options are available this time.
I have selected a long tour on day 1, a panoramic tour of Jerusalem.  The price is good, not a lot of exertion anticipated, and a good overview of a very interesting place that takes a while to get there.  Last time I seem to recall that was only available as an overnight tour, so this time it seems much more manageable.  I prefer no overnight tours when I am cruising and relying on the ship chef for my diet.  
On 6 June 2015 you will likely read about my day of eleven hours offering an excellent overview of Jerusalem as I learn about the age old story of Judaism and Christianity.  We will ascend into the Judean hills on way to Mt Scopus.  We will arrive at the summit of the amount of Olives where we will enjoy a breathtaking view of the old city.  We will find the Garden of Gethsemane, site of an ancient olive oil press that is surrounded by 1,000 year old trees!  We will visit the Church of All Nations.  Also in the morning we will check out some city gates, a few tombs, and see a view of King David’s City and then walk to the famous Western Wailing Wall.  This wall is considered the holiest site of the Jewish world, believing it is on the site where the Holy Ark once stood.
We will have a buffet lunch, and after head to West Jerusalem.  Probably only a few hours of walking, this promises to be a tour that takes in a lot of area and I am looking forward to interesting stories!
Day two, 7 June will take is to Acre (pronounced Akko) and the crusaders kingdom.  A five hour tour starts at the northernmost point of Haifa Bay, the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Acre.  Expecting a medieval atmosphere and an underground city including Hospitaler Quarter and a Crypt and long underground passage that is thought to once be an escape tunnel built by Crusaders.  I know very little about this storyline so am expecting to learn much!  
We will then come back to the surface and enjoy a lively marketplace with exotic and intoxicating scents, I am told.  A photo stop at Mt Carmel on the way back to the ship where I will photograph the famed golden globe dome of Haifa’s Baha’i Shrine and Acre in the distance.  This tour will include some two hours of walking on uneven surfaces with a tunnel and steps to navigate.  
By early afternoon we will be back to the ship getting cleaned up and ready for happy hour, dinner and a sail away party out of this amazing harbour by about six pm.
To be continued …..

On my way, at London Heathrow airport

  At London Heathrow

On my way home.  A very long day when I start at six am in Barcelona and it is afternoon now waiting for 9 plus hue flight to Seattle … Which seems to be delayed.  When the flights are heading toward home the time zone gets me home today but is exhausting for sure.  Hoping for a good sleep and perhaps gluten free food aboard British Airways.  
Sunshine every step of the way so far starting when I got up on the ship in Barcelona port … Now in sunny London.  What a huge airport … Very spacious and bright with the blue sky and sunshine.  Big sky …
I do love international travel and while I am excited to get home, I already feel the anticipation building for the next trip to Europe this year in six weeks and the next one to south of France in early October.  What a fabulous year for travel!  
I have many other opportunities to travel this year and I shall see what else pops up.  I am hopeful that the Womens Travel Club gals come on along wherever I go!  Travelling with friends and family is so very fun.
Boarding has begun, time to go ……

On my way home, again

Barcelona and the flight home

The last day at sea was lovely.  Full of events, lecture on highlights of Barcelona, eating (of course) and packing.  Saying good bye to friends and crew and staff, planning for the trip home and trying out those things I neglected, like the bath salts from the Himalayas!  And shopping in the boutiques.  
With all the ship board credits, and purchasing wine on outings to ports of call, the amount owingt on the final billing was a nice reasonable amount.  Very reasonable indeed!  Internet was included this time, so that helped out $350!  And a little shopping was nice in hose spacious and in boutiques … As well as spa items I could not live without … Lol!
Our friends secured one more dining in the favourite Red Ginger, which made an even ten  times out of 15 evenings we ate in specialty restaurants!  Awesome!  While there we saw some of our other friends … Also taking advantage of the last night cancellations for dinner.  What spectacular food we had on this ship, and the service was fabulous!
Packing was easier than expected, and took up less room than when I I arrived …. ?
Suitcases outside our room by ten pm, we even made it to the show after dinner!  
Difficulty sleeping, I guess, anxious about going home …
Early morning in-room breakfast as I enjoy the sun rise on Barcelona!  Clear blue sky peaks out between the ships and sights of the city.  Wow … What a grand voyage, for sure!
Excited to be going home … For at least six weeks before I come back to Europe again … I am ready for this trip to be over.  Flight check in completed and gluten free food ordered for the long flight London Heathrow to Seattle.  We head out just after seven am to get our luggage and arrange a taxi to the airport.
He showed us some highlights …. And he only spoke Spanish …. But easy enough to understand.  
Shopping at the airport after getting our boarding passes and going through security without incident.  First leg of flight almost over, arriving in London on time and with all our luggage … Of course!  And a glass of white wine from Spain was a nice touch!  Thanks British Airways!
  I Love this trip!
See you soon, all!
Big love
Pamela!  Your travelling agent!  


the Rock of Gibraltar

Good morning from Gibraltar port!  Room service as we enjoyed the view from our room balcony.  I had watched the lights along the coast as we sailed to port before the sun rise.  Beautiful, peaceful and magical.  I love this part of cruising, coming to the ports of call in the wee hours.  Fabulous. 

Today I opted to not ascend to the top of Rock of Gibraltar!  I was here for the first time about 4 years ago.  I remember the cable car, the view and the wild monkeys that live on top the rock.  My friend and travel companion this trip, Deb, took an Oceania tour in the afternoon to check it out.
In the morning she and I arranged to head to town, with another couple we met, Bill and Linda from Calgary.  The four of us walked from the ship.  It was a bit blustery but we heard the weather was to get better … Which it did.  Th sun came out, the clouds moved a long … However there was wind most of the day.   I  found the walking warm.
The shopping along  Main Street pretty much was geared to cruise ship passengers .. In particular our two ships in port today.  Oceania Riviera and Azamara Journey.  
High end watches, jewelry, cameras, perfumes, and cheap souvenirs.  Some shoe shops and Marks & Spencer too.  One shop had strings of beautiful pearls, and jewelry made from the precious pearls.  Beautiful.  We found a few antique shops off the alleys.  Coins, silver, and small prices of someone’s treasure, once significant.  
I discovered some large town squares, cobblestone pedestrian streets joining them all a block or so up from the sea Boardwalk.  
I picked up a few cards, post card of the monkeys to send to grandsons, and a few copies of water colour  cards from an artists rendition … Mementos of the area.  And I also purchased a small flag of Gibraltar to take home to Luke and Jack for the collection.  I try to purchase flags from every country I visit and deliver them to the boys  when next I see them.  Not sure if they want them, but maybe someday they will be a nice collection of their Grammys travels.  I hope to take the boys with me one day …
And some little items for my daughters …. Jewelry seems the most likely they will enjoy.
Back to the ship, Azamara loaded and departs.  I enjoy the unobstructed view now from my balcony.  I have room service and time to get ready for the evening,  a small cocktail party and hear how the day went for Deb .. Then dining with friends this evening.
Better go and clean up … See you all soon.  One more sea day and then disembark in Barcelona.  Perhaps we can get off early and have a wee taxi trip around town on way to airport .. Flight out at 1145 am I think.  Perhaps some Desigual designer shopping in the airport?  That would be fun!  
Home home after almost six weeks away, only home two days in the mid.  
I am accustomed to exquisite cruiseship food aboard Oceania.  I will need to adjust both for food and service  when I get home!  Lol
Next trip in six weeks, so some time to prepare and meet up with the gals in the Women’s Travel Club who are coming along.  
Time to do laundry and decide what to pack again!  Coming back to the same ship.  The ship will undergo refurbishment by then …nice!  
My shore excursions are already booked for about four major cities and ports … and I look forward to a few days, in small ports of call to just walk about, taking pictures and enjoying exotic and historic Europe and Africa!  
Bye for now


At Sea between Madiera and Gibraltar!

Enjoying sea days

We enjoyed a great sea day yesterday, eating and cruising along.  Our usual Sunday call, Deb and I have a standing appointment to talk a few hours each week, a “mastermind personal growth and building a better life” kind of call.  As we keep loosing time and sleep, we opted for a later morning call and sat in our room, posing important life changing questions to one another and moving ahead with our fantastic momentum. 
 We spent the afternoon enjoying the spectacular gala tea, Oceania does this event on every cruise and really has a fabulous turn out.  More food, beautiful ice sculptures, chocolate extravaganza and more!  We sat with new great friends from Victoria, Carolyn and Al …from the yacht club fame in Bermuda last week.  Then we enjoyed our pre arranged dining in Main Dining Room with friends Bill and Linda who live in Calgary … We have much in common and enjoy their company a lot as well.
It is with much appreciation for the incredible service and fantastic food in the ship of luxury … We can find nothing to say needs improvement.  I have been so very impressed on this cruise by the quality and friendliness of the staff, crew and new friends and travel companions.  We really enjoyed the fabulous entertainment last evening.  We have missed several evenings … But this one was two very talented musicians and they played at least twenty instruments as they took us around the world in musical style.  Fabulous!  
Today we ventured off to Gibraltar .. Pulling in by 8 am local time and parking next to Azamara Journey, an old friend cruise ship for me … I have cruised over a month on that ship earlier in my life :). Nice to see her enjoying the same sights and sounds as this Oceania Riviera!  Of course our ship is larger.  
The Journey is same size as Insignia and Regatta that I was on earlier last month.  Phew, almost 5 weeks of cruising and six weeks I have been on the road … Flying and hotels, and embarking and disembarking cruise ships.  One more sea day, one more port of call to disembark and home I go for six weeks before I head back to Europe for a three week adventure commencing 30 May.    
The Women’s Travel Club, a dozen of us, heading to Italy … Rome to start, then embark on a ship in Civitavecchia… This ship actually, Oceania Riviera!  Between now and then this ship goes in for ten days dry dock to get new carpets and who knows,what else.  She is only three years old and yet, getting spruced up for our next adventure!  Wow!  Lucky me!  
I will look forward to the staff I have met … Seeing them again so soon.  Travelling with my mom and several good friends in the travel club … And many ports of call including Egypt, Israel, Greece, Malta, and more Italy … Then some land touring … And home around 19 June I think.  
One trip at a time … Lol.  Today Gibraltar …  
Stay tuned!  

Funchal, Madeira, Portugal

Love Funchal, Madeira, Portugal

Wonderful stunning sunrise and awakened to the sights of this island of Madeira as we arrive around 745-8 am.  We had ordered room service to enjoy the morning arrival while eating and getting ready for this port of call.  A balcony stateroom is perfect for such viewing.  We keep having to adjust our clocks as we travel across the Atlantic, loosing sleep.  
Blue sky emerges, clay red coloured roof tops can be seen up the side of the mountain.  Tall leafy greenery poking up between and beyond the buildings.  We have a tour this afternoon of the island.  This morning is for exploring the old town and perhaps searching for a bottle of famous Madeira wine!  Or two?  Lol
Just after nine  we disembark and gather at the shuttle bus, provided by Oceania that takes us to the city Centro.  Funchal.  We have a map and some ideas of what to see.  Unprepared for such a beautiful area.
Cobblestone streets, boutique shops selling crafts of the highest quality … Jewelry and paintings, ceramics, embroidered linens.  First shop also attracts us with warm poncho style woollen and knitted hats, painted scarves, and all manner of bags, shoes made of cork.  We fall in love with this island and wonder why we booked a tour.  I guess it is hard to know how we want to see this or any area, until I have been there.  Now I know.  Next time, and I am certain there will be a next time …I will simply walk around, perhaps take a cab if necessary to some of the sights we shall see today.  Our tour departs at 130 this afternoon, so we decide to shop until noon, go back to ship  … And join the tour.
Shopping was delightful.  I could have spent all day wandering this magical place.  The sun shone bright and the air was warm, but not hot.  The shopkeepers were  helpful and professional.  The products unique.  
On tour:  
Madeira is the largest of the islands in archipelago.  250,000 population
Green gardens all along the roads.  Big casino park hotel also has its own gardens.  4-5 star hotel chain on islands.  Beautiful trees with blossoms of every colour.  Such a beautiful ride!  Reid’s hotel, oldest. People have tea here.  Hotel area, restaurants, more hotels along the coast in this city.  
African tulip trees in full bloom, orange flowers.  Bougainvillea… Hanging heavy with blossoms.
Shopping areas look high end in this area.  As we head out of city.  Terra cotta roof tops dot the hills.  Mountainous and hilly area everywhere. 
Terracing  for agriculture… Banana trees on left and right.  Heavy with fruit.  The banana plants  only last two years, cut down and then regrow from the stock..  Sugar cane gardens ready for taking to the factory for harvesting and converting to syrup only.  syrup for brandy and cakes.   Fishing, agriculture,  and tourism are the important businesses.  The fish unique to this area is filleted and cooked with banana.
A lookout, the second highest sea view cliff in Europe?  Anyway, spectacular and a glass floor so I can see way way way WAY down.  :). A washroom stop, and souvenir shop.  Hand embroidered linens, cork bags and purses … Unique gifts.
Eucalyptus and mimosa trees with blossoms.  People walk along irrigation routes.  We see vineyards all over the island.  Mango passion fruit, guava, juices from tropical fruits.  Also produce beer here.  Madeira wine aperitif as well as table wines. Cherry trees in bloom. Used for liquor. Fennel is also traditional sweets.  
Happy we took the tour.  Fantastic day, lots of pictures.  




Women’s Travel Club

Last day before Portugal

The sea is breezy sunny sparkly and yet calm.  A little cooler than my last Amazing Amazon cruise.  Too bad I did not pack those extra sweaters and jackets .. Lol.  It is not cold, but a bit chilly in the wind out at sea, and especially when coming out of the thalassotherapy pool!  Big wind up on that deck for sure!
We have very much taken advantage of all the specialty dining opportunities and then some.  Tomorrow night back to Toscana with the couples we met and tonight we decided to dine together in the main dining venue.  
It is warm enough to have the balcony door open all the time, and to be outside … Also to have the sea breeze and soon all night long as we cross the Atlantic.  I do enjoy sea days.  So relaxing!  No pressure to be here or there.
Took in a few enrichment lectures, one on a cross country Africa trip the speaker had made years ago.  Fun detail and photos.  Oh, how it was all those years ago!  And the second was a British fellow talking about how it really was with Titanic and who was at fault, who took the blame.  Interesting and he was not shy at all about his view and research on this topi.  
In between of course, food … And tootling around the ship, talking to women who want to join our club and some wanting to join upcoming tours in 2016.  
Asking me how I make decisions in itineraries … I explain that it is truly at the whim and encouragement of the women with bucket lists!  Where they want to go, I am happy to make it so.  Maybe that is a good vision statement for the travel club?  Hmmmm.
One of the franchise owners wants to interview me for my success in this business.  I am happy to report that the women I travel  with make my success.  Their ideas, their commitment and deposits … And the follow through …help finding companions and travelling in groups.
On this cruise alone I have had several offers to turn down of great value vacations.  I feel I need to get home and meet with the members of the Women’s Travel Club.  
I also encourage a mix of land vacations and cruises to really see the area of interest, by land and by sea, and sometimes by river!  
How many times will I travel every year?  How will I make decisions for the women of the club?  All that is being worked out with careful caring of the advisory group who have stepped forward.  Lucky me to have attracted such brilliant women!
So far all of the trips have met and exceeded my expectations and I truly hope all the participants feel that way.  What to wear and where to go pale in comparison to the great friendships and companions choosing to share our time together in a global holiday.  I will go anywhere with this group!  
And we don’t always think alike … We don’t have the same income levels … However we do share an intention to experience the world in style and for great value.  I am so lucky and privileged to assist with the details and arrangements.
Also I am extremely grateful for the businesses that I work with … Insurance, tour companies, cruise ships, hotels and food establishments (a big thanks  for gluten free efforts all around).  
Tomorrow on land on an exotic island belonging to Portugal, however, exotic in its climate and only accessible by ship, cruise.  How lucky I am to have found this second career, great friends, wonderful relationships with luxury affordable cruise lines, Azamara, Oceania, and more … River cruises too, and for hotels and flights.  
I am also grateful to my franchise owner Jeremy, who assists me every step of the way.
See you all soon and I will be thrilled to send you and update from the next port of call!
Your travelling agent, wish you were here!