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SPRING 2018

BALTICS

St. Petersburg Little Known Estonia Baltic River Cruise

Best of the

Greek Islands

Hidden Cuisine of

TUSCANY

Cruising the

DANUBE


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THE BEST VACATIONS BEGIN RIGHT HERE. We are a proud member of the Ensemble® Travel Group - an international network of over 850 professional travel agencies. Our combined buying power and expertise enables us to take you places beyond the boundaries of your imagination, in a style that exceeds your expectations. Choose from our Hotel & Resort Collection and relax in the lap of ultimate luxury. Discover our Ensemble® Hosted Cruises with complimentary amenities; take advantage of insider perks and crème de la crème locations with our Ensemble® Villas & Vacation Homes; or let us transform your vacation into an unforgettable journey with the help of our Ensemble® On Location specialists.

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20 Editor’s Letter

Spring 2018 SUNSET IN SANTORINI

Welcome to the spring edition of Ensemble Vacations®.

In this magazine, you’ll find pages of inspiration for European destinations, including some tried-and-true favourites like Italy and France; other emerging destinations, such as Croatia; and some that are a little more off-the-beaten path on the Baltic Sea. Each country has its own unique culture, cuisine and history. And while sometimes it’s good to slow down and really take your time to enjoy a new destination, part of the allure of Europe is that you can see so much in a short time. In Europe, it’s easy to travel widely, whether by guided coach tours, riding the rails (as one of our writers did across Spain) or on a cruise. Recently, I was fortunate enough to take my first cruise ever along the Rhine River with Avalon Waterways. For eight days, we sailed from the Netherlands to Germany, stopping at a new port each day – no two ports were the same. One day an excursion had me on a small boat travelling through Amsterdam’s famous canals, and the next, I was walking through the streets of Munich where building architecture alone tells the tale of the destruction of war and post-war renewal. It made for an exciting trip; every day an adventure. I hope this magazine gives you new travel ideas; there’s something in here for everyone. When you are ready, your travel specialist can help you plan your European dream vacation.

Detours

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12 14 18 20

Travel News Vacations® HOT LIST Cool Islands of Scandinavia Packing List DESTINATION SPOTLIGHT Best of the Greek Islands

Features EXTRAORDINARY EXPERIENCES

RED SQUARE, ST. PETERSBURG

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EXPLORING THE BALTIC SEA St. Petersburg Little Known Estonia Journey like a Viking across the Baltic Sea A First-Class Rail Adventure

ADVENTURE 38 41 46

Island Adventures in Croatia The Search for a WW1 Soldier Town and Country Roads of Alpine Bavaria

ULTIMATE FAMILY VACATIONS

Happy travels,

48 Venice Family Travels

Karen Leiva Editor, Ensemble Vacations® Magazine

HEALTH AND WELLNESS 50 Spa-cation like an Ancient Roman in Bath 52 Experiencing Denmark’s Saunagus

editor@ensembletravel.ca

WORLDLY DELIGHTS SCENIC TRAIN RIDE THROUGH THE PYRENEES

Vacations® is proud to be NATJA’s (North American Travel Journalist Association) 2017 Gold Award Winner in the Travel Magazine category.

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54 A Toast to Saint-Émilion 56 Hidden Cuisine of Tuscany 60 Simple Food Elevated

CRUISE VACATIONS 64 Active Discovery: A New Way of River Cruising 70 Raise Your Glass to Cruising the Danube

KOLOCEP ISLAND

Vacations® • Spring 2018 • 7


Featured Contributors

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Spring 2018 Credits PUBLISHER Ensemble Travel® Group MANAGING EDITOR Liz Scull EDITOR Karen Leiva

SANDRA MACGREGOR Sandra MacGregor is a Canadian writer and editor who specializes in travel, food and finance. Her work has appeared in a variety of publications like the New York Times, the UK Telegraph, the Washington Post, Forbes.com and the Toronto Star. She also combines her love of travel and saving money as a regular contributor at Greedyrates.ca. This wayfaring writer spends her free time exploring new destinations and she’s been fortunate enough to live for a year or two in captivating cities like Paris, France, Seoul, South Korea and Cape Town, South Africa.

TOPETTAS RACING ALONG THE CANALS

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KATE POCOCK

CREATIVE DESIGNER Cherry Ann Valles FOXX Advertising & Design Inc. PRODUCTION MANAGERS Joe Viecili, Dalia Shamkhani - FOXX Advertising & Design Inc. ADMINISTRATION Ingrid Lopez STEAM RISES FROM ROMAN BATH

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ENSEMBLE TRAVEL® GROUP CO-PRESIDENT VICE PRESIDENT MARKETING DIRECTOR OF MARKETING

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Lindsay N. Pearlman Carl Schmitt Franca Iuele

©Ensemble Travel Group. All rights reserved. Spring 2018 Ensemble Travel® Group. Ensemble Vacations®, Ensemble® Experience, Ensemble® Exclusive, Ensemble® HostedCruises, Ensemble® Villas & Vacation Homes, Ensemble® On Location and Ensemble® Hotel & Resort Collection are all proprietary trademarks of Ensemble Travel® Group. No part of this publication may be reprinted or otherwise duplicated without written permission of the publisher. Ensemble Vacations® is published four times per year on behalf of Ensemble Travel® Group member agencies.

ENSEMBLE VACATIONS VINEYARD IN SAINT ÉMILION

Travel writer Tim Johnson’s globetrotting adventures often involve two of his favourite activities – eating and drinking. He’s bathed in beer in the Czech Republic, chewed on crickets in Myanmar, eaten his weight in steak in Argentina and sampled snake in Australia. In this issue, he samples, and writes about Europe’s best high-end peasant food, and goes on a Tuscan culinary adventure. Having visited 128 countries on all seven continents, Johnson contributes to the Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, CNN Travel, Reader’s Digest and many others.

PRODUCTION SERVICES Andy Thomas - TURN KEY Marketing Solutions Inc DISTRIBUTION Envoy

Kate is a Toronto-based journalist who has been writing about travel since her three kids (and 11 nieces and nephews) were ‘babes in arms.’ She believes that travelling with any age – from tots to teens to young adults – provides a unique understanding of their world beyond ‘home turf.’ Favourite experiences have included swimming with stingrays in the Caribbean, schussing down mountains in Whistler, riding trains across Europe, and yes, watching glass being ‘made’ in Venice. Her stories have been published in numerous outlets including Canadian Geographic and the New York Times.

TIM JOHNSON

Tim Johnson Yvonne Gordon Hans Tammemagi Fiona Tapp Emily Price Kate Pocock

CREATIVE DIRECTOR Liz Scull

HANS TAMMEMAGI Hans’ writing is eclectic including travel, environment, Native culture and all things quirky. He has penned 10 books including one national best seller. Hans has spent two decades writing for magazines like Canadian Geographic, Westworld, Zoomer, Explore, Northwest Travel, Canada’s History Magazine and for newspapers including the Globe and Mail, Vancouver Sun, Montreal Gazette, Toronto Star and National Post. As a member of the Society of Environmental Journalists and former adjunct professor in environmental sciences, he has a strong affinity for nature and the environment around us. He lives in the Gulf Islands of British Columbia where he enjoys kayaking and photography.

CONTRIBUTORS Maria-Teresa Andreacchi Chris Robinson Karen Leiva Charmaine Noronha Franca Iuele Laura Kiniry Sandra MacGregor

69 Yonge Street, Suite 1403 Toronto, ON M5E 1K3 (416) 367-3660 Registration Numbers: vary by agency; see back cover Publication mail agreement: No. 40005027 Printed in Canada.

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Cover image: The Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood, St. Petersburg ©Getty Images Photos by Getty Images unless stated otherwise.

DANUBE RIVER VIEWS ©KAREN LEIVA

Vacations® • Spring 2018 • 9


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Detours

TRAVEL NEWS Get ready for an exciting year of adventure with new cruise ships and new tours to discover. By Karen Leiva

HOT TRENDS FOR 2018 Leading adventure travel company, G Adventures released its top 10 destinations for 2018 which include emerging travel destinations such as Colombia, Sri Lanka, Kyrgyzstan, Oman and Bolivia. There are also some oldies-but-goodies making a comeback, including Morocco and Egypt (for the anticipated opening of the Grand Egyptian Museum). Not surprisingly given Nelson Mandela’s upcoming centenary birthdate, South Africa also made the list. The only European destination is Portugal, finally getting its due recognition for great food and sites to see. Hawaii is also on the list, noted for its efforts in sustainable tourism.

DISCOVERING THE “NEW” EUROPE The Balkans is the “new” Europe when it comes to vacationing, and no one knows the charms of this undiscovered region more than the Globus family of brands. For 2018, Globus has added two tours: the 11-day Croatian and the 17-day Best of the Balkans which has an optional three-night Greek cruise at the end. And its value-brand sister company Cosmos is chiming in with a new Venice, Slovenia, Croatia and Montenegro 11-day tour. Each includes the services of an expert Tour Director, transportation in comfortable Wi-Fi-equipped coaches and tons of local experiences. Your travel agent has all the details, including current sales and early booking bonus opportunities.

AROUND THE WORLD In 2019, Silversea’s Silver Whisper will embark on a 132-day journey visiting 31 countries and stopping at 52 ports along the way in Europe, Asia, Africa and Australia. For this incredible around-the-world voyage, Silversea has invited nine writers aboard. The writers will write short stories inspired by the regions they visit, culminating in a published anthology. Writers already confirmed include: Paul Theroux, winner of the James Tait Black Prize for Fiction; and famed travel writer, Pico Iyer. 12 • Vacations ® • Spring 2018

NEW ROUTES THROUGH SPAIN Also new in 2018, Trafalgar has introduced two new Spain itineraries. The all new Great Iberian Cities nine-day tour will take guests on a journey from Spain to Portugal with stops in Barcelona, Madrid, Seville and Lisbon. Guided tours include visits to the famed Prado Museum in Spain and the magnificent UNESCO-listed Hieronymites Monastery in Portugal. The Madrid Explorer is a six-day tour focusing on cuisine and culture.

THE HIGHEST RATED RIVER CRUISE SHIPS

SOLO EXPLORERS Solo cruising just got much easier thanks to AmaWaterways’ new Solo Traveller Promotion. Ask your travel specialist about this program enabling single passengers to join more than 145 departures without having to pay extra fees for a single supplement. The promotion includes 24 Wine Cruises and other itineraries through Europe and Asia. “There’s something liberating about travelling on your own, as it gives you the opportunity to truly immerse yourself in a new culture and meet new people, in many cases making lifelong friends,” said Kristin Karst, executive vice president and co-owner of AmaWaterways. We couldn’t agree more!

NEW ADVENTURE EXPEDITION VESSEL Australis, the only cruise operator to sail the Chilean fjords, has launched a new ship, Ventus Australis, for 2018. This expedition vessel will get passengers up close with massive glaciers, penguins and the remote lands of Patagonia. Everything about the new state-of-the-art Ventus Australis was designed to navigate the narrow fjords and channels, while keeping conservation front and centre. Ask your travel specialist about itineraries for four, five and seven nights.

Vacations® • Spring 2018 • 13


Detours

HOTLIST Cool Islands of Scandinavia By Chris Robinson

The Scandinavian countries are amongst the coolest destinations for 2018. Each has islands which are easily visited, and may be the highlight of your Scandinavian trip. Here are our recommendations.

DENMARK – BORNHOLM This granite island lies 100 kilometres east of the rest of Denmark, in the middle of the Baltic Sea. Bornholm has gentle landscapes of rolling hills and patchwork fields, laced with 200 kilometres of hiking and biking trails. Five thousand years of history are manifested in runestones and traces of Stone Age occupation scattered across the island. Northern Europe’s largest fortress was built here in the 13th century. This is where the Danes themselves come to vacation, so book ahead for June and July. It’s quintessential Scandinavia in one island getaway.

NORWAY – SVALBARD ARCHIPELAGO Where the Atlantic and the Arctic oceans meet, and the Gulf Stream finally fades, is a massive island archipelago known as The Kingdom of the Ice Bear. Half way to the North Pole from mainland Europe, Svalbard is an Arctic wildlife paradise. Polar bears can be viewed in pristine wilderness – indeed, there are more polar bears than people in Svalbard. Seven national parks, and more than 20 bird sanctuaries and nature reserves ensure a thrilling wildlife experience with guided tours from the main settlement of Longyearbyen, or the cruise ships that venture to these remote islands.

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ICELAND – HEIMAEY ISLAND Take a walk on the wild side on Heimaey, the largest and only inhabited island of the Westman Islands, a few kilometres off Iceland’s southern coast. The earth is alive here, due to 70 volcanoes above and below the surface of the Atlantic. Heimaey grew more than two square kilometres in 1973 when Eldfell volcano erupted, and a 15th island was added to the group in 1963 when Surtsey erupted from beneath the waves. Heimaey has an equally wild Viking history – the sagas tell of a blood revenge massacre in AD 875. Today, wildlife is the main attraction: whales, seals and seabirds abound, and the puffin has become the island emblem.

SWEDEN – GOTLAND Come to this mid-Baltic island between Sweden and Latvia to immerse yourself in the Viking Age. Gotland is Sweden’s largest island and boasts castles, churches, runestones and, it is rumoured, trolls. It is also Sweden’s sunniest island, with 800 kilometres of craggy coastline and beaches. The largest town, Visby, is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Scandinavia’s best preserved medieval town has more than three kilometres of walls that enclose wooden houses and cobbled streets leading down to the medieval harbour. You can almost see the Viking longships bobbing on the Baltic.

FINLAND – ALAND This archipelago lies in the Baltic Sea midway between Finland and Sweden, and has been fought over by these two countries for centuries. Aland is currently Finnish, but the people speak Swedish and the islands have a high degree of autonomy, even issuing their own postage stamps. There are more than 6,500 named islands but few are inhabited – so there’s lots of scope to find an island to yourself. Mariehamn is the main settlement and its Maritime Quarter is a rich mix of traditional handicrafts, boat-building and even a smithy. The ruined medieval castle of Kastelholm was once home to Swedish kings who ruled the combined kingdom of Finland and Sweden.


Day 1

Arrive at LIR or SJO airport. After a meet and greet you will be transferred to the Rio Celeste area, a unique spot that offers the real Costa Rican rural life and the impressive Celeste River.

Day 2

Hike in Tenorio Volcano National Park, then arrive at the mighty Arenal Volcano where you will be welcomed by its perfect conic shape.

Day 3

Enjoy horseback riding to La Fortuna waterfall and visit different areas of Arenal Volcano and the town of La Fortuna.

Day 4

Travel from Arenal to Monteverde cloud forest, part by boat and part by bus.

Day 5

Explore Monteverde Cloud Forest, activities include: walking over suspension bridges, taking a cable car ride in the cloud forest, and Trapiche tour.

Day 6

Enjoy a transfer to your all-inclusive Guanacaste Beach Resort. These beach resorts offer amazing sunsets, great for capturing in pictures.

Day 7

Simply relax at the Guanacaste Beach Resort or take a local tour to further explore the area.

Day 8

Transfer to LIR or SJO airport to catch your flight back to Canada. Or, extend your stay in the area.


Detours

PACKING LIST Pack light and stay on trend while exploring Europe By Maria-Teresa Andreacchi

This Packing List shows you how fashion, comfort and practicality merge to make your European getaway unforgettably relaxing.

CANON POWERSHOT G9 X MARK II CAMERA Channel your inner photographer without the heavy equipment. Canon’s light-weight, compact PowerShot G9 X Mark II is a small but powerful camera packed with high-tech capabilities – touch screen navigation, built-in filters, Wi-Fi and video capabilities. $649.95 henrys.com

NYDJ ALINA JEGGINGS Ideal for those cool summer nights or an itinerary that takes you from north to south, this might be the only time when wearing jeans all day feels comfortable. Pair with a T-shirt and ankle boots for your walks, or heels and a blouse for dinner. $157 NYDJ.com

POPPY & PEONIES EVERYDAY CROSSBODY A versatile handbag is the perfect way to switch up your wardrobe when on vacation. Inspired by a love for fashion, but a need to be practical, Toronto designer Poppy & Peonies created the Everyday Crossbody bag – a four-in-one purse that can be worn as a large or small crossbody, clutch or wristlet. $99 poppyandpeonies.com For some, it’s sitting down to the first five-star dinner of the trip, and being transported by the rich, unexpected flavors awaiting you. For others, it’s sailing into an exotic, TANYA HEATH PARIS ANASTASIA BOOT Tanya Heath Paris has made luxurious shoes with changeable heels a reality for Canadian travellers. The impeccably designed Anastasia Boot can be complemented with a 1.4-inch block heel or a stiletto, letting you move from cobblestone to fine dining in seconds. Anastasia boots $750 Changeable heels $55-$85 tanyaheathcanada.com

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MEC HYDRAPAK STASH COLLAPSIBLE BOTTLE – 1 LITRE Beat the heat with a water bottle that’s there when you need it, and unnoticeable when you don’t. BPA free, naturally anti-fungal, and only five centimetres when empty, it’s a practical alternative to a plastic water bottle, plus saves you space! $28 mec.ca

remote port without another ship in sight. And for you, it’s the little things. Discover your moment.

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Detours

SPOTLIGHT Best of the Greek Islands By Charmaine Noronha

The azure Aegean Sea is set against whitewashed cave homes cascading down volcanic rock faces. Warm sand and cool breezes. Lively ports and quaint fishing towns. Greece’s 6,000 islands (227 of them inhabited) are among the Mediterranean’s most beautiful assets. Here’s a snapshot of what’s to offer on a few top-notch islands.

SANTORINI Sweeping ocean views, superb beaches and traditional Grecian architecture contribute to making this volcanic island one of Greece’s most popular tourist destinations. Head to Oia on the northern tip, where sunset views are the stuff of “wish you were here” sentiments. Given its popularity, you’ll have to jostle through bustling crowds to reach the top for prime viewing. Grab an outdoor seat at Mezzo Restaurant, a glass of Santorini SantoWines Assyrtiko wine and mouth-watering Moussaka while watching the sun dip into the sea.

SUNSET IN SANTORINI

PALACE OF KNOSSOS

MYKONOS Mykonos could be considered Greece’s version of Ibiza for its party scene which ramps up well after midnight and keeps going well after sunrise. Start your party by swigging a cocktail at the Sea Breeze Cocktail Bar in Little Venice while watching the sunset. Walk up to Roca Cookery and nosh on octopus in wine sauce and grilled fish while overlooking the picturesque Old Harbour. Head back down to Little Venice to begin your night of calorie-burning via dance floors at the unpretentious Caprice. SUNSET COCKTAILS IN MYKONOS

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CRETE Crete, the largest and most popular of the Greek islands, is blessed with impressive mountainous landscapes, fertile valleys and steep gorges. Its natural beauty is rivalled by its rich history as the birthplace of the first advanced society on European soil, the Minoans, who ruled some 4,000 years ago. You’ll find evocative vestiges all over, including the famous Palace of Knossos. Tour around the palace to see the awe-inspiring Throne Room and imposing frescos. And because of its higher summer elevations, Crete is a haven for olive oil, cheese and wine production; eat at a traditional taverna or kafenio (Greek café) where everything melts in your mouth because the ingredients are so delectably fresh.

COBBLESTONE STREETS OF RHODES

RHODES Rhodes is rooted in ancient history and adorned with beautiful beaches. The atmospheric Old Town of Rhodes, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is a maze of cobblestone streets that will transport you to the days of the Byzantine Empire. Walk through the Knights Quarter where during the 14th and 15th centuries, knights protected themselves from potential invaders by erecting mighty fortress-like mansions and the magnificent Palace of the Grand Master. Then head to Lindos, an ancient city-state, known for its clifftop acropolis, which features monumental 4th-century gates and reliefs from about 280 BC and check out The Temple of Athena Lindia.

MONASTERY OF SAINT JOHN

PATMOS This small island has long been the site of Christian pilgrimages as it’s reputed to be where St. John the Theologian received a vision from Jesus and subsequently wrote the Christian bible’s Book of Revelation. Visit the Cave of the Apocalypse, where John is said to have received his Revelation. Follow the picturesque alleyways toward the Monastery of Saint John, the Theologian. In 1999, the island’s historic centre Chora, the Monastery of Saint John and the Cave of the Apocalypse were declared UNESCO World Heritage sites. Vacations® • Spring 2018 • 21


Extraordinary Experiences

#1to the Sun

Baltic Sea

Exploring the

You might be most familiar with this country’s incredible canal, but Panama has so much more to offer. Surrounded by two different oceans on both coasts, you can expect all the delights of a tropical vacation, from beautiful beaches to the lush rainforest and incredible surfing opportunities.

Off Europe’s beaten path, get ready to explore destinations along the Baltic Sea. With beautiful coastlines and stretches of countryside, exciting ports of call, and fascinating history and culture along the way, Baltic Sea countries are a gem to be discovered. COBBLESTONE STREET AROUND THE CHURCH OF THE SAVIOR ON SPILLED BLOOD

ON THE EDGE: ST PETERSBURG Tucked away near Finland and Estonia, find Russia’s St. Petersburg along the Baltic Sea coast. It’s a popular port of call for cruises, giving guests a taste of culture outside of Europe – but, still so close. With sites such as the Hermitage State Museum and the Bronze Horseman, our writer Tim Johnson shows you what not to miss when you visit St. Petersburg.

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GOTHIC TOWN HALL, TALLINN

WORTH VISITING: ESTONIA In 2018, all eyes will be on the Baltic States of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, as these little-known countries mark 100 years of independence from Russia. Travellers can expect to find a range of centenary celebrations that include everything from music to yoga classes and, of course, history and culture. Our writer, Hans Tammemagi, recently visited Estonia to retrace his family roots around this postage-stamp size country.

VIKING SKY

CRUISING THE BALTIC SEA It would be amiss to talk about the Baltics without highlighting cruising. Most of the major cruise lines from Holland America Line to Norwegian Cruise Line offer itineraries that take guests across the Baltic Sea with ports of call in Scandinavia, the Baltic States and Russia. Your travel specialist can help you narrow down your options when it comes to choosing the right itinerary and ship. Our writer Laura Kiniry shares her journey across the Baltic Sea as a solo cruiser aboard the Viking Sky. Vacations® • Spring 2018 • 23


Extraordinary Experiences In the latter half of the 19th century, Catherine the Great purchased more than 200 paintings from Germany, and from that has blossomed one of the world’s great art museums

Must See:

St. Petersburg Set on the shores of the Baltic Sea, St. Petersburg is a city that was built with one goal: to impress.

By Tim Johnson

BALTICS

THE BRONZE HORSEMAN

THE HERMITAGE

RED SQUARE

Once known as Petrograd, and then Leningrad, what you’ll find here today – on a cruise, or land-based adventure – is a city that feels both ambitious and elegant, a part of Europe and yet a place apart, royal, and yet always, undeniably, Russian. GETTING ORIENTED While most ships dock at the city’s main cruise terminal, several kilometres outside of the city centre, smaller vessels make their way closer to the action, up the Neva River. Either way, you’ll almost certainly find yourself in the historic centre of the city, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Shot through with canals that are traversed by more than 300 bridges, it’s here that St. Petersburg’s best-known attractions are clustered, all within reasonable walking distance, through a system of city squares.

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DON’T MISS The Hermitage: Officially known (rather stiffly) as The State Hermitage Museum, this is, hands-down, St. Petersburg’s top draw. Spanning six buildings strung along the Neva, its undisputed heart sits in the Winter Palace, an iconic building that served for centuries as the administrative centre of the Russian empire, and home to the tsars. In the latter half of the 19th century, Catherine the Great purchased more than 200 paintings from Germany, and from that has blossomed one of the


Extraordinary Experiences world’s great art museums, now home to more than three million pieces. Just a fraction of these remain on display, and it’s worthwhile to see them – everything from Rembrandt to Matisse to Leonardo da Vinci. However, the building itself, an undisputed masterpiece, remains the greatest work of art.

COLOURFUL ONION DOMES IN THE CHURCH OF THE SAVIOR ON SPILLED BLOOD

BALTICS

The Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood: Reminiscent of Moscow’s St. Basil’s Cathedral (the most recognizable structure on Red Square), this church’s colourful onion domes and sanguine title attract visitors. Constructed by Russia’s royal family on the site where Tsar Alexander II was assassinated in 1881, its medieval style is unique in the city, and its 7,500 square metres of colourful mosaics stand out, inspiring religious piety – and more than a little awe, from visitors. The Bronze Horseman: Commissioned by Catherine the Great, this homage to Peter the Great remains the most recognizable monument in the city. Impressive on sight, this depiction of the former tsar and city founder astride a horse is even more magnificent with a little background. Created by French sculptor Étienne Maurice Falconet, the statue sits upon the Thunder Stone, reportedly the largest rock ever transported by human beings, dragged from area swamps to its current place of prominence in Senate Square.

MOSCOW VICTORY PARK

GET OUTSIDE Moscow Victory Park: A 168-acre oasis of green in the southern reaches of the city, this is a great place to stretch your legs and breathe fresh air. Opened in 1946 to honour the Soviet Union’s costly triumph in the Second World War, you can still take in a somewhat bizarre Walk of Heroes, devoted to socialist giants, or instead head to the beach, tennis courts or mini-golf course. Summer Garden: Designed by Peter himself in 1704 on the grounds of the original Summer Palace, this lovely spot, where the Fontanka River flows into the Neva, remains romantic and lush, transporting you back in time. Original Italian statues decorate the walks. Fountains flow, and colourful plantings come from all over Europe. Famed poet Alexander Pushkin used to take strolls here, and the Russian nobility held summer balls here. You can enjoy the history, and the urban outdoors, with even a brief visit.

GOTHIC TOWN HALL, TALLINN

RUSSIAN BAR

HIDDEN TREASURE Museum of Russian Vodka: It’s no secret that Russians have a reputation for knowing the best place to find a drink. Renowned for their vodka, the national spirit, this museum, located just a couple blocks from the Bronze Horseman, will walk you through the liquid history, and the unique and special connection between vodka and the nation. Then give it a try next door at Russian Vodka Room No 1, an elegant space that showcases Russian cuisine over the centuries, and stocks more than 200 kinds of vodka. DID YOU KNOW? St. Petersburg was founded in 1703 by Peter the Great, head of an empire that stretched all the way to the Pacific, and perhaps Russia’s all-time greatest leader, who sought to create a namesake showpiece that would showcase his strength and wealth to Europe. He moved the imperial capital to St. Petersburg for almost two centuries, before the communists moved it back to Moscow. 26 • Vacations ® • Spring 2018

Touring Little Known

ESTONIA By Hans Tammemagi

When the airplane touched down at Tallinn Airport in Estonia, I got goosebumps; this was my first visit to the land of my forefathers. We passed modern stores and office buildings on the way to Old Town, where my wife Ally and I were soon seated at an open-air café in the cobblestoned main square. Under the shadow of the Gothic town hall (finished in 1404) with its fortified walls and tall weathervane, we made plans to explore Tallinn (established 1219) and then tour the country. I wanted to connect with my roots.

From visiting his grandfather’s grave to walking the university halls where his father once walked, writer Hans Tammemagi journeys through Estonia in search of his family’s history.

The next few days flew by as Ally and I walked the narrow cobblestone streets of medieval Old Town, a UNESCO World Heritage site and one of Europe’s most beautiful capitals. We viewed church spires, thick battlements (about two kilometres of walls and more than 20 towers are preserved) and grand merchant houses. We climbed the narrow staircase that joins upper Old Town (for the nobles) with the lower town (for merchants). From the upper ramparts we enjoyed views onto the rooftops and spires of lower town. Vacations® • Spring 2018 • 27


ROOFTOPS OF OLD TOWN TALLINN

The next few days flew by as Ally and I walked the narrow cobblestone streets of medieval Old Town

Estonian, English and Russian, and we were free to wander, with few other visitors. A short ferry ride took us to Saaremaa, Estonia’s largest island. At Kuressaare, the island’s capital, we wandered through the towering 14th-century castle. A small exhibit dedicated to Estonians murdered by the Soviets in 1941, brought tears to our eyes. Returning to the mainland, we sought out Pärnu, a popular seaside resort famous for its spas and rich cultural life. We toured an art gallery and afterward enjoyed dinner at a small, back-alley restaurant. Heading southeast to Võru, we passed wooden houses and large abandoned collective-farm buildings, remnants of the Soviet occupation. Soon (Estonia is a small country) we reached Big Egg Mountain, the country’s highest point, a mere 318 metres (1,043 feet) elevation. A brief hike took us to the summit where we viewed the surrounding forest and quilt work of farms. At our favourite bar, the Hell Hunt, locals explained that Estonia is a progressive country: Skype was invented here; there is almost no government debt; corruption is minimal; and voting is conducted via Internet. Their blonde hair showed that Estonia is Nordic, its language and culture closely associated with Finland. Our new-found friends — and I — were pleased that Estonia has become westernized since gaining freedom in 1991 from a repressive Soviet occupation.

CASTLE IN KURESSAARE

At a small forested cemetery in Elva, we found the grave of my grandfather. I paid my respects to a man whom I had never met, but whose genes I bore. Turning north, we drove to Tartu, Estonia’s second largest city and home to Tartu University. A regal town hall loomed over the main square where outdoor cafés were crowded with students. We wandered through the university, stopping for coffee at the National History Museum. Then my footsteps echoed in the corridors of the medical faculty where my father had studied. Later, our journey took us to Rakvere, where I went to a sauna – a national tradition – and sweated in the semi-dark, enjoying the sound of Estonian spoken around me, evoking memories of my parents’ voices. Back in Tallinn at the Hell Hunt, my wife and I toasted this tiny nation. I felt different, more complete, having seen the land of my grandparents. And I was pleased it was thriving.

PADISE MONASTERY RUINS

Leaving Tallinn, we headed southwest, beginning a counter-clockwise tour of the country. Driving was easy with little traffic, good signage and virtually no billboards or litter. We passed through a flat landscape with birch forests, wetlands and occasional farms and villages. Language was only a barrier occasionally as most Estonians speak English. Brown signs marking historic/cultural sites frequently lured us. Occupying a strategic location on the North Sea, Estonia has long been fought over and, thus, has numerous castles and fortifications. Padise Monastery, a fortified church that had fallen into ruin, was typical. There was no entrance fee, a sign provided detailed history in 28 • Vacations ® • Spring 2018

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Extraordinary Experiences

The Joys of

Cruising Solo By Laura Kiniry

Journey like a Viking across the Baltic Sea. MAKING PIEROGI IN GDANSK ©LAURA KINIRY

BALTICS

The performers had just finished a rousing rendition of “Twist and Shout”, and the crowd gathered on the ship’s covered pool deck roared with applause. I stood from my lounge chair and turned to the older man to my right. “Thanks for singing along,” I said, shaking his hand. I then slipped past the still-dancing couples and down the stairs to my cabin. Once there, I sprawled across my king-size bed thinking, who knew cruising solo would be so much fun?

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As a single woman on my first cruise, Viking’s newly built ocean liner was especially appealing for both its relatively compact size and wealth of amenities and activities

ABBA MUSEUM ©LAURA KINIRY

VIKING SKY

Although the Viking Sky classifies as a “small ship”, it seemed like the Emerald City to me: rising up from Stockholm’s central Stadsgården wharf like a sparkling 930-passenger jewel. As a single woman on my first cruise, Viking’s newly built ocean liner was especially appealing for both its relatively compact size and wealth of amenities and activities – everything from educational talks on Fabergé eggs to a poolside screening of the James Bond thriller, From Russia with Love.

MOVIE NIGHT ABOARD VIKING SKY ©LAURA KINIRY

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STOCKHOLM’S GAMLA STAN (OLD TOWN)

Being one of the cruise ship’s only solo travellers made many things easier. My fellow passengers (most older and travelling in pairs) were constantly inviting me for afternoon tea or a drink in the Explorers’ Lounge. Still, with no one to coordinate, I often decided on plans last-minute: whether that meant squeezing in the last few minutes of an evening variety show, or slipping back to my cabin for a quiet night reading. TOURING STOCKHOLM’S VIBRANT CAPITAL When it came to excursions, I could join a group or enjoy some time on my own. Sweden’s vibrant, cosmopolitan ‘city of islands’ is made for solo travellers, and so I chose to explore Stockholm on my own. I began with a quick ferry ride from the city’s Gamla Stan (Old Town) to Djurgården, known for its cultural attractions and home to the world’s only almost 100 per cent intact 17th-century ship. My destination here, ABBA: The Museum, an immersive journey through the lives of Sweden’s most iconic musical export. While other passengers were preparing for a night at the elegant Royal Swedish Opera House, I was performing “Dancing Queen” on stage alongside holograms of the band. The next day began with an early and quiet morning stroll through Gamla Stan, walking its cobbled and narrow medieval streets, admiring the bold, opaque hues of its exquisitely preserved buildings, and paying a visit to the Royal Palace, with its stoic-faced guards. I then caught Stockholm’s convenient metro to Södermalm – the city’s artsy, laid-back hub – where I joined a local acquaintance for fika: Sweden’s traditional daily coffee break. POLAND’S SEASIDE PORT It’s said that the seaport of Gdańsk is unique among Poland’s cities, not just for its architecture – a blend of largely reconstructed Gothic and baroque-style structures – but also its history. An independent city-state, Gdańsk fell into Nazi hands during WWII, then later became part of the new Poland. With only several hours in port, I opted for one of the ship’s organized excursions. A guide led our group of about 20 32 • Vacations ® • Spring 2018

along Old Town’s pedestrian-only Dlugi Targ (Long Market), and gave us time to explore the market stalls along Elbląg Canal. After visiting an authentic amber shop, we filed into the elegant Gdański Bowke eatery to make pierogi – boiled dumplings filled with potato, cheese, sauerkraut – then leisurely savoured the fruits of our labour. ENJOYING A CENTURIES-OLD NORDIC EXPERIENCE Snowflakes fell lightly as I cleared off a seat within the ship spa’s aptly named Snow Grotto, my swimsuit providing minimal coverage for the glass room’s chilling temperatures. I’d begun my Nordic spa experience mere minutes earlier in the wood-heated sauna, then, following centuries-old Nordic tradition, came into the cold to jump-start my circulatory system. After a quick chat with some fellow snow-bunnies, I continued over to the steam bath, where the somewhat stifling heat was meant to flush out toxins. I finished off my ritual with an ice-cold bucket shower, then scurried over to one of the spa’s heated lounge chairs for an ever-soothing rest. On our final afternoon aboard the Viking Sky, I gathered with several other ship passengers to share a tiered tray of crustless sandwiches and sweets in the ship’s Wintergarden conservatory. While nibbling, we discussed our favourite trip moments and swapped email addresses. It was liberating, knowing that I spent each day exactly as I’d wanted, but still had plenty of new friends with whom to share my experiences. Friends that I just may encounter again on my next solo cruise. SNOW GROTTO ONBOARD VIKING SKY


Extraordinary Experiences As we check into our hotel by the Cathedral in the city’s main square, bells are ringing

A First-Class Rail Adventure By Kate Pocock

Celebrating a special anniversary riding the rails from Paris to Spain.

THE CATHEDRAL IN BARCELONA’S MAIN SQUARE

SCENIC TRAIN RIDE THROUGH THE PYRENEES

HIGH SPEED TRAIN TO BARCELONA

Forty years together? Certainly, something to celebrate! So why not commemorate past travels when I was a student in Paris, and he was a Toronto friend who stopped by and suggested a fun trip to Spain. It obviously worked! After marriage, three kids and busy careers, we decide to duplicate this former adventure. With new high-speed rails, we can travel from Paris to Barcelona in under six and a half hours, then explore other romantic Spanish cities. No traffic woes, no debates on which road – just time to relax, reminisce and watch some stunning scenery flash by. 34 • Vacations ® • Spring 2018

FIRST TRAIN: PARIS TO BARCELONA Arriving at Paris’s Gare de Lyon, we search for our track number for the high-speed train to Barcelona. When it comes up, we join the excited rush of passengers to our double-decker coach at the front of the train. The lovely plush interior is mauve and blue; seats are wide and comfy. We adjust footrests and music channels, then a departure announcement. Set to leave at 10:07 a.m., the train pulls out at the exact minute. An attendant arrives with coffee and snacks, and by the time we have moved through the Paris suburbs, we are already toasting to our upcoming trip. As ribbons of yellow mustard whiz past our large picture windows, my husband glances at the digital speedometer reading. “We are going 260 kilometres an hour!” he cheerfully announces. Heading southward, palm trees soon emerge; kite surfers dance over whitecaps on a distant lake. Then an announcement that the Pyrenees are ahead. Soon, giddy with anticipation, we are rolling into beautiful Barcelona. By Kate Pocock As we check into our hotel by the Cathedral in the city’s main square, bells are ringing, and the plaza is filling with citizens wearing medieval costumes and oversized papier mâché heads. Apparently, since the 14th century, no special Catalonian feast day in Barcelona is complete without a procession of these colourful ‘giants’ whirling through the streets. What fun! Vacations® • Spring 2018 • 35


Up top, a stupendous view as light plays during the day over the artsy shapes of wood – all held together with high-performance glue. Locals have dubbed this piece as “The Monstrosity” but I love it. The official name: ‘Metropol Parasol’ – and certainly shade seems paramount in such a sun-filled city. In search of Seville’s famous tapas, we hunt out whenever possible a myriad of tiny plates delivering potato croquettes, pork loin sausage (from acorn-fed pigs!) or fried fish atop a heap of purple cabbage. Other delights include strolling musicians, sidewalk theatre, a religious nighttime procession, and yes, small oranges literally dropping from trees. Yum. But the Mediterranean coast beckons and we hop on a train for Málaga. TRAIN JOURNEY TO MÁLAGA: ON THE RAILS AGAIN, FROM PAST AND PRESENT! It is time to discover the beaches that we had encountered 40 years ago, but what we find is a spectacularly developed port area with restaurants and shops. And yet, the Cathedral bells in the historic Old Town – which kept us awake for an entire night years ago – are still ringing! After touring the historic house where Pablo Picasso was born, we head to the impressive new Museo Picasso Málaga to learn more about the art – and the painter. “Even when he was a child,” says our guide, “instead of seeing the number six, he would see a face and a nose.” Written on a wall, another Picasso quote for life: “When I paint, my object is to show what I have found, not what I am looking for.”

SEVILLE MUSHROOM ©KATE POCOCK

To re-orient ourselves, we take a double-decker bus to view architect Frank Gehry’s golden fish structure by the port and Gaudi’s intriguing buildings uptown. On our first evening in the Gothic quarter, we enjoy an impromptu opera concert. As tourists and citizens take turns singing arias from different operas, music reverberates off the thick stone walls. In the gathering darkness under a full moon, it is a magnificent welcome. On another evening, we attend a concert featuring three flamenco guitarists and two dancers at the beautiful Art Nouveau Palau de la Música Catalana. The flashes of skirt and clicking of heels to accompany the fast-paced guitar playing has the audience shouting “Bravissimo!” It’s a great nightcap to our Barcelona visit. SECOND TRAIN JOURNEY: BARCELONA TO SEVILLE After security at the Barcelona Sants Train Station, we board the train for Seville and are immediately impressed. Announcements are in Spanish and English; stylish décor features modern accents of wood and leather, silver and 36 • Vacations ® • Spring 2018

KATE AT TRACK LEVEL ©KATE POCOCK

glass. As friendly attendants hand out Spanish newspapers, we plug into music channels for Bollywood, opera, jazz or pop.

Before leaving the bustling old city, we wander along the modern port promenade. The whole area has changed from years past, when small seaside restaurants served up fish paella and fried squid fresh off the boat. But then, perhaps we have grown up somewhat too. RAIL JOURNEY BACK TO BARCELONA AND PARIS It’s time to train back to Barcelona, then Paris and home. At the Barcelona train station, as we board our final high-speed train, friendly attendants greet us warmly and ask about our trip. This time, we travel on the upper train level with superb views of the countryside and towns below. Donkeys graze in fields filled with purple flowers; white windmills spin in air like toys. After a delicious croque monsieur and a glass of wine in the bar car, we swap tales with other passengers. Life is good. But as we travel speedily to Paris, I spy a large track-side billboard with a poignant message for our trip, and our relationship. “The best part of a journey is the memory of it,” it reads. In our case, how true!

Then a surprise: dinner menus are delivered along with Spanish newspapers and a complimentary magazine, sparkling Cava, unlimited beer, Spanish brandy and liquors, and fresh orange juice. But whoosh, a train whizzes by in the opposite direction. My husband checks our speed: 299 kilometres per hour! As the sun sets, we munch on delicious egg sandwiches, carrots and ham, fresh fruit, banana bread, coffee and more sparkling Cava. We knew good things about Seville, but we are bowled over by the current friendly citizens, the varieties of paella and gelato, Spanish architecture, and the happy sounds of horses clip-clopping along cobble-stoned streets. The highlight for me, however, is one new wooden structure: ‘The Mushroom.’ This modern architectural icon designed by German architect Jürgen Mayer hovers over a balanced series of stairs and escalators. Down below, a market and underground museum of Roman and Moorish artifacts. MÁLAGA TAPAS BAR ©KATE POCOCK

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Adventure

Island adventures in

Croatia Four days sailing the Elafiti Islands.

We’re in Polače village on Mljet Island in Croatia, on a sailing trip. It’s a typical island harbour scene – there’s a row of fishing boats tied up for the night, gently creaking as gulls cry in the distance, competing with the singing and the clink of plates and glasses from waterside restaurants. A cat moves across the fishing boats, some kids are chatting on a wall, and lights from the harbour reflect in the calm water. A blackboard menu lists specials like spaghetti with lobster, black risotto and octopus under the bell – cooked on an open fire under a bell-shaped lid.

By Yvonne Gordon

We had set out the day before from Dubrovnik on a four-day sailing adventure to the Elafiti Islands on a yacht. We’ll visit the archipelago’s three islands which are inhabited – Šipan, Lopud and Koločep – and then Mljet, a neighbouring island with a national park. On the islands, food is the catch of the day, fished locally, along with meats like goat, beef and even wild boar. As well as sailing, the islands are popular for kayaking, hiking and cycling. With fair winds across the bay, our first stop is the island of Koločep, where we tie up on the small pier at noon, just as a local fisherman is landing his catch and tidying his nets. The sea air has given us an appetite so a short walk from the pier, we take a table at the Skerac restaurant where they are cooking a large dorada (sea bream) on an outdoor charcoal grill. There’s no menu, but the fish is served to us with mixed vegetables, salad, a tray of chargrilled eggplant and local wine. After lunch, we explore the island. In Gornje Čelo village, tiny streets are lined with palm trees, exotic flowers and houses with terracotta roofs, all leading uphill to a church with views over the harbour. From the village, a walking track through the trees passes through olive groves and vineyards to the other side of the island, where there are cliffs. Along the path, a woman sells local products from an outdoor table. There’s grape, fig and orange jam, plus lemon and blackberry marmalade, and tall bottles of brandy liquor made from orange, lemon and blueberries. Everything is made from old family recipes. KOLOČEP ISLAND

MLJET LANDSCAPE

As dusk falls, the sound of singing wafts across the water. It’s a group of male singers, all in harmony. It seems to be coming from another boat, so I walk around the harbour to investigate. There’s a group of men sitting together in a wooden waterside bar which has been designed in a boat-shape, complete with fishing nets and lifebuoys. They’re singing Klapa, a traditional Croatian style of a cappella singing (klapa translates as ‘group of friends’). 38 • Vacations ® • Spring 2018

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Adventure

BIKING IN MLJET NATIONAL PARK

MONASTERY ON ST. MARY’S ISLET

Back on board the yacht, we set sail for Šipan, arriving at the sheltered bay at Sipanska Luka in the late afternoon. As well as two kayaks, our boat has bikes on board – one for each of the six guests – so we explore the coastal path, admiring the pretty shuttered stone buildings. At Konoba Kod Marka restaurant, there’s a small waterside terrace. There’s no menu, the choice is meat or fish. We tuck in to fresh anchovies with lemon, octopus cakes and pasta with shrimps and vegetables, also sampling the local olive oil. Šipan has 35,000 olive trees, so olive oil is served on or with nearly everything. The next day, we cycle around the island – there are very few cars so roads are peaceful. Our first stop is a large stone church, fortified with high windows and tall, flat walls. We climb to the bell tower on the roof for panoramic views. Back on the boat, from here, we set off in a pleasant breeze for a four-hour sail to Mljet Island – a close neighbour of the Elafitis. As we arrive at Polače harbour, I notice how green the island is. There are no buildings along the shore – Mljet National Park covers half of the island. We tie up beside the ruins of an old castle. It’s quiet and, as dusk falls, this is when I hear the Klapa singers. Next morning, we cycle across Mljet. There are two salt-water lakes and the green-blue water in the larger lake, where we set out in kayaks, is flat, calm and crystal clear, the bottom visible in the sunlight. Dense Aleppo pine trees line the edge of the lake, and on St. Mary’s Islet, there’s a 12th century Benedictine monastery. Later, we cycle around the lake path.

In Search of a OVERVIEW OF LAKE IN MJLET ISLAND

WW1 Soldier From Vimy Ridge to Ypres, one writer sets out to find a friend’s WWI grave. By Hans Tammemagi Sitting in a centuries-old bar with a tilting floor in Brugge, Belgium, my wife, Ally, and I pored over a much-creased map of World War I cemeteries in Belgium and northeastern France. Our goal was to find the tombstone of Norman, the uncle of a good friend. Our friend had tried, but was not successful. Now, with beer goblets in hand we were taking up the challenge.

It’s an adventure, but also a peaceful island escape. A SOLDIER OF THE GREAT WAR TOMBSTONE ©HANS TAMMEMAGI

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Vacations® • Spring 2018 • 41


VIMY RIDGE TRENCHES

ALLY WITH BEER GOBLET IN HAND AND READY FOR THE CHALLENGE ©HANS TAMMEMAGI

The next morning, we took a boat tour along the canals of Brugge, which is not unlike Venice. My camera clicked non-stop at historic churches, grand squares, horse-drawn carriages, and old residential houses leaning against each other. After a lunch of moules frites (mussels and fries), washed down, of course, by delicious Belgian beer, we pointed the rental car south. Puttering along country roads on a sun-kissed fall day, we soon discovered the picturesque farm country is dotted with numerous World War I cemeteries. Each one was immaculate with rows of white tombstones lined in regiment-like precision on well-trimmed lawns. “I can’t believe how many there are,” whispered Ally. Nothing, however, prepared us for the sombre yet stunningly beautiful Tyne Cot Cemetery. Ally wiped tears from her eyes as the enormous human tragedy of WWI lay spread out before us. The cemetery contained nearly 12,000 neatly aligned white tombstones, and some 35,000 additional names of missing soldiers were engraved on the memorial walls. We were overwhelmed, for Tyne Cot held only a tiny portion of the war’s toll. Soon we arrived in Ypres, a gorgeous medieval city with narrow winding streets and cobblestoned squares. We made straight for In Flanders’ Fields Museum. Located in the Cloth Hall, an imposing Gothic building with an enormous clock tower, the museum is named after the famous poem by Canadian John McCrae. “Are those real?” asked Ally pointing to three holograms of soldiers with rifles. The museum’s displays did not glorify war, but suggested its enormous futility. We scoured the museum’s database but could not find 42 • Vacations ® • Spring 2018

Ally wiped tears from her eyes as the enormous human tragedy of WWI lay spread out before us. The cemetery contained nearly 12,000 neatly aligned white tombstones TYNE COT CEMETERY, BELGUIM ©HANS TAMMEMAGI

the site of Norman’s grave, perhaps not surprising, as there are more than 100 cemeteries just in the Ypres area. At dusk we walked to the towering Menin Gate and listened to the haunting sound of taps echo over the street as it has every evening since 1932. Almost all servicemen who fought in this area marched through this gate. As the numerous cemeteries attest, many never returned. Heading south, we crossed into France and found a hotel in Lilles. Ally loved French shops. Even the local supermarket carried an unbelievable range of cheeses, patés and seafood. My eyes became like saucers when I saw two aisles full of wine. In the morning we continued toward Arras, passing through gently rolling farmland with the occasional church spire in the distance. The roadside was dotted with wild red poppies. The tall monument commemorating the Battle of Vimy Ridge became visible long before we arrived. The memorial and surrounding area, considered Canadian soil, marks what many view as the coming of age of Canada. Our soldiers captured the ridge in 1917, but at great loss. Several areas

were roped off with signs warning of unexploded ordnance – after a century! We shook our heads as we learned the two opposing trenches were only 25 metres apart. Touring the claustrophobic, primitive underground bunkers we could see first-hand that war is hell. We loved the French countryside with its stone farmhouses, colourful gardens, and cows and horses. A German cemetery had long rows of black iron crosses. At one point we inched along behind a tractor pulling an enormous load of potatoes. At Beaumont Hamel a huge moose statue remembered a Newfoundland regiment that was annihilated in the Battle of the Somme. Cemetery after cemetery dotted the attractive landscape. At each site we asked about the tombstone we sought. We headed back to Belgium. Clues led us to a small village where hops were growing on tall poles, and there, on a small rural road, we found the Hop Store Cemetery. Cows grazed nearby as we checked the registry. We found it. Among some 250 dead was Corporal Norman, who died at age 20. With wet cheeks, Ally placed a small wooden cross on his grave. UNCLE NORMAN’S GRAVE AT LAST ©HANS TAMMEMAGI

Vacations® • Spring 2018 • 43


GREAT CANADIAN WAR MEMORIAL TOUR Designed by Canadians for Canadians

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This special tour pays tribute to all who have served their country in the Great War and World War II, taking in the museums, memorials and special sites throughout France and Belgium. INCLUDED HIGHLIGHTS: PARIS—welcome dinner; guided sightseeing, ascend the Eiffel Tower • GIVERNY—Claude Monet’s home & gardens • CAEN—orientation; Ardenne Abbey • LANDING BEACHES— Memorial Museum for Peace, the Canadian War Cemetery at Bény-sur-Mer, Juno Beach Memorial Centre & Park • BENOUVILLE—Pegasus Bridge • HONFLEUR—Normandy Bridge • DIEPPE—Museum at the Canadian Cemetery and Jubilee Centre • AMIENS— cathedral and memorial to Allied Forces • DURY—Beaumont Hamel Newfoundland memorial • VIMY RIDGE—WWI site and memorial; Interpretive Centre and CabaretRouge British cemetery • YPRES—Cloth Hall and In Flanders Fields Museum; Essex Farm Cemetery • PASSCHENDAELE—guided sightseeing; Crest Farm; Tyne Cot Cemetery

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Adventure

Towns and Country Roads of

Alpine Bavaria By Franca Iuele

Discover the Alpine countryside of Southern Bavaria with majestic castles surrounded by green lush hills where everything looks orderly and pristine, yet warm and welcoming – just like the people of Bavaria. ALPINE LANDSCAPE OF BAVARIA SURROUNDING NEUSCHWANSTEIN CASTLE

plaza surrounding the abbey with a stunning view of the towering mountains is the perfect location for concerts, which are an important part of the culture in this town widely known for violin and lute making. In the early evening, we stroll through various local establishments and enjoy a Hugo, a cocktail made with Prosecco, mint and locally grown elderflower syrup, along with platters of local cheeses, cured meats and roasted vegetables. At the general store, which also serves as a restaurant, butcher and deli, we dig into delicious bowls of Spätzle – a creamy noodle dish which we wash down with a local Riesling. A stroll along the Lech is a perfect way to digest and enjoy the view of charming cottages lining the river banks.

COBBLESTONE STREETS OF FUSSEN

Arriving in Fussen, a small town of about 15,000, my tour group and I discover the town beautifully situated on the Lech River, the last or first stop along the Romantic Road. Our tour of the town takes us along the cobblestone streets to St. Mang’s Abbey. Over its history, the medieval abbey served as a Benedictine monastery and basilica. Today, the well-preserved buildings are home to the Town Hall and museum. The little 46 • Vacations ® • Spring 2018

CASTLE HIKES AND ALPINE ROADS Fussen is the entry point to visit the castles. Our morning starts with a visit to the museum for a self-guided tour to learn about the Kings of Bavaria, and in particular, King Ludwig II. Tourists have the option to take buses to the entrance of Neuschwanstein Castle or hike along a steep winding road. We chose to hike. The trek is tiring on this hot day; it takes us 45 minutes, but we all agree the views of the valley and lake are stunning. Tours to the castle are precisely timed, and in true German fashion every group leaves according to the time on the reservation. We learn King Ludwig

was a fascinating figure with an imagination for architecture. His reign was brief and tumultuous, and the mystery of his death has created many conspiracy theories. Our next day takes us for another hike along Alpine roads, streams and down steep slopes dotted with small chapels carved into the side of the mountain. We visit the town of Mittenwald with its painted houses, church tower and a backdrop of snowcapped mountains. We stroll leisurely through the narrow streets and visit the violin museum to learn the art of carving a perfect instrument.

WORLD-FAMOUS PASSION PLAY No visit to this area would be complete without spending time on Oberammergau, site of the world-famous passion play. In 1633, the bubonic plague ravished towns all over Europe, and the inhabitants of Oberammergau made a promise to God that if their town was spared total destruction, every 10 years they would put on a play portraying the passion of Christ. In 1634, locals staged the first Passion Play in the small church

surrounded by the cemetery, starting a tradition that has lasted almost 400 years. The 21 main actors are announced on a hand-written scroll in the town square on Ash Wednesday. No wigs or fake beards are permitted – each actor must grow their hair and beard to maintain the authenticity of the Biblical story. Performed each decade, the event will next take place in 2020.

At lunch, we head to the Michelin-starred Das Marktrestaurant. While we are treated to a delicious lunch made from locally foraged ingredients, a wedding procession makes its way to the cathedral – to our surprise, all of the guests are wearing traditional dirndl and lederhosen. THE OBERAMMERGAU PLAY ©FRANCA IUELE

Vacations® • Spring 2018 • 47


Ultimate Family Vacations stops for biscotti, hot chocolate or pasta and pizza. By the second day, our ‘sailor boy’ had schedules and routes figured out. And whether it was watching people buy melons from market boats or speeding along the waterways, he was deliriously happy. For day two, as all were enchanted with the miniature glass animals and soccer players in the shop windows, Will wanted to travel to the island of Murano to watch the glass blowers. “I never knew that you could actually make glass,” he said. As the craftsmen turned sand, quartz and other material into small glass horses, silence reigned – except for the blows of the makers and the roar of the furnaces. Amazing for all to watch. Hopping onto another Vaporetto, we then cruised to the colourful lace-making island of Burano, where the kids joined a pickup soccer game, and we all enjoyed dinner with local fishermen in a simple restaurant.

BEAUTIFUL FRESCO CEILINGS OF CA’REZZONICO PALACE

The next day was Natalie’s turn. She was past her ‘princess phase’ but it would be cool to see a palace. We headed to Ca’ Rezzonico on the Grand Canal to see the splendour of 18th-century Venice. As we climbed the magnificent staircase to the ballroom, we had to continually look up to admire the beautiful fresco ceilings, huge glass chandeliers and gold everywhere – definitely a ‘Belle’ moment. On the top floor, a puppet theatre with large marionettes in 18th-century dress, as well as an historic pharmacy drew interest. But best of all was the view from the first-floor balcony onto the Grand Canal. Even I could imagine waving a silk handkerchief as guests arrived by boat.

GLASS MAKING ON THE ISLAND OF MURANO

My husband wanted a beach day, and since Venice is but a short ferry ride from the famous Lido sands, we opted to stay overnight. Natalie and I managed some retail therapy with lower prices to match. But the main focus here was the beach made famous in Thomas Mann’s classic, Death in Venice. No sadness here, as we played on the sand for a day and enjoyed some of the best pasta and seafood of our trip.

THE GRAND CANAL OF VENICE

Venice

Family Vacation:

For our final day, I chose art. Who could resist the mosaics in St. Mark’s Basilica, or hunting for lion sculptures – they were everywhere. After a stop in Piazza San Marco to hear tunes played by warring orchestras (whose music wafts over what is probably the most expensive coffee and sodas you’ve ever enjoyed), we cruised to my surprise: a unique gallery and home, the Peggy Guggenheim Collection. This private Palazzo designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, offering free admission, a garden café and teen-friendly artworks by Magritte, Max Ernst, Picasso and others, served as Guggenheim’s home. At the bottom of the garden, a surprise; her ashes buried there beside her 14 dogs. After reading the plaques and pet names – Cappuccino, Madam Butterfly or Sir Herbert – an animated discussion ensued as we motored back to our hotel. “Why was she buried there?” and “How did she collect all these paintings?” But isn’t that what travel with young tweens and teens is all about. A successful vacation was had by all.

By Kate Pocock

A watery wonder world for kids.

“Imagine us racing each other in speedboats down these canals!” 12-year-old Dustin shouts to his 14-year-old brother, Will, as our water taxi zoomed to our Venetian hotel. Meanwhile, 10-year-old Natalie is squinting and blinking; something in her eye perhaps? “If you close your eyes a bit,” she explains, “the buildings look like old black-and-white photographs.” I tried it; she is right. Some say that Venice, with its 177 canals, umpteen churches and boisterous Carnival, is not family-friendly. But, within minutes of arriving, our three kids are hooked. Hopefully, 48 • Vacations ® • Spring 2018

a city known for pasta, pizza and enough street theatre to please – from impromptu mime to the famous warring orchestras in Saint Mark’s Square – would make for a fun family holiday.

WILL SERVED A GLASS OF PRE-DINNER PROSECCO ©KATE POCOCK

After checking into the hotel, our first order of business: gelato. Would it be Oreo, cheesecake or something that translated to ‘Can You Taste Dark Chocolate’ as we discussed our plans? As with all our family vacations, each of us would pick one special activity. Of course, we parents had veto power (no all-day cartoons even if they were in Italian!), but we usually went along with their choices, often discovering delightful surprises. After a great sleep in our family suite, Dustin, excited by the zooming ambulances and police boats, gondolas and speedy water taxis, including topettas (wooden boats) and traghetti (in which passengers stood as they crossed the canals), asked for as much water travel as possible. We purchased a travel discount card and spent hours cruising the waterways with

TOPETTAS RACING ALONG THE CANALS


Health & Wellness

SPA-CATION Ancient Romans

STEAM RISES FROM ROMAN BATH

LIKE THE

Bath, England, or Aquae Sulis as it was known to the ancient Romans who settled this city, is a designated UNESCO World Heritage site, known most for the Roman Baths where people continue to bathe in the rich mineral spa water. Walking around the terrace and underground chambers of the ancient Roman baths, it’s easy to imagine how it would have looked to those bathers who relaxed here and worshipped the goddess, Sulis Minerva, back in AD 70. The steam still rises from the “Sacred Spring” like an inviting bubble bath at a temperature of 46°C. I waited my turn patiently lining up behind an excited school group to peek out from the old stone windows and feel the warmth of the water on my face, which comically fogged up my glasses with its intensity. BATHE LIKE A GODDESS The city remains a wellness haven for spa-cation enthusiasts and the only place in the U.K. where you can still bathe in hot spring waters, like the Romans did thousands of years ago. To experience the soothing effects, you only have to walk a hundred metres from the original site to the gleaming Thermae Bath Spa. This luxe spa features a basement pool, the largest of the baths, with a lazy river design that pushes and pulls motionless bodies around in a relaxing current – you just have to surrender and see where you end up!

By Fiona Tapp

ANCIENT ROMAN BATH

PULTENEY BRIDGE IN BATH

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SALLY LUNN’S ©FIONA TAPP

AFTERNOON TEA AT JANE AUSTEN CENTRE ©FIONA TAPP

On another floor, you’ll find a variety of sauna and steam rooms at different temperatures in the wellness suite which has been created to honour the ancient Roman design, complete with a mosaic of Sulis Minerva on the steam room wall. Ride the elevator to the rooftop level where you’ll find the show-stopping final pool. Enjoy the magnificent views of this historic Georgian city as you laze and soak in natural mineral waters. All the pools here are filled with the original mineral rich spring water, and during construction meticulous attention was paid

to preserving the archeological ruins leading to significant, but necessary, delays in the opening of Thermae Bath Spa. AFTERNOON TEA, HISTORIC HOUSES Doing absolutely nothing can, ironically, exhaust you, so you’ll need to refuel after your spa session. Head to the Jane Austen Centre for afternoon tea before touring the museum and learning about the literary heroine’s life and the time she spent in this city. Alternatively, find a cozy table inside Sally Lunn’s historic house where you can try one of her buns served here since the 1400’s. An authentic Sally Lunn bun is large with a golden top and a fluffy middle – try it with their house-made cinnamon butter like I did, or choose from jams or lemon curd, or take it savoury with smoked salmon and capers. Wash it all down with the requisite pot of tea. GETTING AROUND Bath is a compact city, and you can easily get around on foot. The Roman Baths, Thermae Bath Spa, imposing Bath Abbey and a host of other sights are within a short distance of one another.

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Health & Wellness

Experiencing Denmark’s

Saunagus By Emily Price

The intense Saunagus experience combines three sauna sessions at extreme heat with aromatherapy and a dip in the Øresund.

KURHOTEL SKODSBORG SPA ©KURHOTEL SKODSBORG

AROMATHERAPY ©KURHOTEL SKODSBORG

Tina begins, mixing suggestions on how to relax with encouragement to not leave the room. She waves a towel around above us, sometimes using it like a fan to push the warm oil-scented air toward us. Three minutes pass, then four. The heat is what I imagine standing in a lit fireplace might feel like. It’s so hot you feel like your skin is burning, but you’re not uncomfortable. At the five-minute mark, she stops and opens the door, but asks that none of us leave.

SIZZLING HOT SAUNA ROCKS ©KURHOTEL SKODSBORG

“This is going to be a very difficult experience. You’re going to want to leave,” our Saunagus instructor, Tina, a tall and exceptionally fit woman in her mid-30’s warns.

Saunagus is a unique aromatherapy sauna experience offered at a spa just outside of Copenhagen. Tina is responsible for guiding us through the experience, as well as administering the oils as things go on.

Standing in front of our group of five, she cautions that Saunagus is an exceptionally difficult experience. We will have to “work” while we we’re inside the sauna and we are guaranteed to have at least one “fight or flight” moment where we want to give up and leave, however, she encourages us all to stay.

Saunagus is described as an experience with “a long-lasting effect of relaxation, calm, circulation and renewed energy and strength”, but from Tina’s description, it sounds like we’re about to run a marathon that we forgot to train for.

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After exchanging a few nervous glances with the others, we step into the sauna and settle in on seats around the room. The space is small. Our group of five takes up all but one of the places inside, and the room is already hot. Very hot.

SAUNAGUS INSTRUCTOR ©KURHOTEL SKODSBORG

Our Saunagus experience is only a third of the way done. The open sauna door constitutes a “break” of sorts. Tina steps out and returns with a bucket full of ice water, which she tosses on each of us, a

startling and refreshing experience. The sauna door closes, and we repeat the process for another three minutes. Tina says the heat is less intense, but it feels the same as the first session. When it’s over, we grab our robes and head outside: we’re going in the ocean. Outside the spa is a small dock that leads down to the Øresund, the sound separating Denmark and Sweden. One by one we walk to the end and take a small ladder in. The water here is colder than the ice water from before, cooling our body temperatures just in time for one last session in the sauna. The final sauna session is the shortest. After two minutes of more oils and hot temps we’re once again let out, this time to head to the small dunking pool on the spa’s porch and then back into the world. While it was certainly a strenuous experience, it’s a positive one, and definitely something I want to experience again.

KURHOTEL SKODSBORG SAUNA ©KURHOTEL SKODSBORG

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Worldly Delights

VILLAGE OF SAINT-ÉMILION

A TOAST TO SAINT-ÉMILION While the Bordeaux region of France is famous for its wines, charming villages like the medieval town of Saint-Émilion add an incomparable flavour to any traveller’s experience. By Sandra MacGregor

“I’ll only pour a tear’s worth,” says Luke to the heavyset American who’s insisting on just “the tiniest taste” of the latest Bordeaux on offer at L’Essentiel wine shop. You can’t really blame the man for attempting to show restraint, the bulging knapsack at his feet betrays just how much wine shopping he’s already enjoyed. But indulging in wine is, after all, what Saint-Émilion was made for. Just 40 kilometres outside of the city of Bordeaux, Saint-Émilion is a clarion call to all wine connoisseurs all over the world searching for France’s – and possibly the world’s – best red wines. The region offers a dazzling array of more than 1,500 vineyards and a corresponding richness of quaint, photo-worthy neighbouring towns to explore. What makes this UNESCO Heritage site so remarkable is that, thanks to its ancient architecture, interesting sites and world-class restaurants, it’s an equally intoxicating destination even for teetotallers.

WINE SHOP IN THE TOWN OF SAINT-ÉMILION ©SANDRA MACGREGOR

Though the village is peppered with tasting boutiques like L’Essentiel, for a newcomer to the world of wine like myself, the Maison du Vin is the ideal first stop on a visitor’s itinerary. This unique shop sells wines from over 250 of the area’s vintners (at some of the best prices in town) but is even more worth visiting for its emphasis on wine education and its 90-minute introductory wine courses. Even kids will love the centre’s intriguing “aroma game” where guests can test their olfactory skills by taking a sniff of a cork-filled canister to see if they can identify notable wine aromas like strawberry or nutmeg. Though you’ll likely be spending a lot of time doing tours in the underground caves of numerous local wineries, arguably the town’s best subterranean surprise is the Saint-Émilion Monolithic Church. Carved out of a single giant piece of limestone in the early 12th century, the astonishing structure features a chapel, medieval paintings, catacombs and an underground church.

WINE CELLAR

If heights are more your thing, head to the top of the Monolithic Church by ascending its famed bell tower. My legs were burning by the time I climbed the 196 steps of the ancient winding staircase, but the views were well worth it. You’ll be rewarded with a 360-degree panorama of the township complete with verdant vineyards for as far as the eye can see. The entrance to the bell tower is locked and you’ll have to sign out a key from the friendly tourist office nearby, but it’s a wonderful excuse to visit the tourist centre, which was among the most helpful I’ve ever experienced. The multilingual staff helped me book tour tickets and a delicious creperie (Le Trouher Creperie Bretonne).

VINEYARD IN SAINT-ÉMILION

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The perfect respite to a long day of negotiating my way along narrow, serpentine streets and stairwells was to be found at Cloître des Cordeliers. At this wine bar-cum-architectural attraction, I sat in a garden among the ruins of a 14th century monastery and toasted this bewitching town with a glass of Cordeliers sparking wine.

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Worldly Delights

BEAUTIFUL LANDSCAPE OF TUSCANY ©TIM JOHNSON

HIDDEN CUISINE IN

TUSCANY A taste of the good life in Tuscany. By Tim Johnson

Nothing about this feels real – in fact, it all seems like something from a classic film, perhaps one by Federico Fellini. The air just feels a little too light, our bellies rather full, the blooms of midday wine spreading on our cheeks. No matter what, we all agree that, for the moment, we’re living La Dolce Vita – the good life. Piled into a 1960s-era vintage VW van, a vehicle purchased from the Gucci family – yes, that Gucci family – I join a 56 • Vacations ® • Spring 2018

Tuscan friend, Matteo Carri, his brother, Marco, and two of their friends, twisting through the hills of Tuscany. Having finished lunch in a town found in very few travel guides, eaten at a restaurant without a website or much social media, we’re cruising to a vineyard in the long rays of late afternoon. A friend is there waiting for us, most of the day having been consumed with our primary pursuit here: eating and drinking.

CHEESE PLATE AT LA TANA DI UGO ©TIM JOHNSON

I’m deep in the heart of Tuscany, but not the one you might expect – not the labyrinthine lanes of nearby Florence, or Siena and its famous, biannual equine race. This is a hidden Tuscany: unknown villages, riverside hole-in-the-wall restaurants, and small-town chefs cooking some of the best fare I’ve ever tasted. Arriving the previous evening, Carri picked me up in Florence, traversing a dwindling succession of roads of highway to byway, and byway to stone and dirt, finally finishing at his family’s farm. The house glowing, his mother waited with meatballs and wine inside. I awake the next morning in a medieval tower, part of the neighbour’s house, and find myself surrounded by vineyards and olive trees, unseen in the inky blackness of last night. Walking down to Carri’s place, we’re quickly off to the Trattoria l’Pepolino, anchoring one end of the ancient Medici Bridge in the medieval town of Pontassieve. While it helps to have a friend like Carri, it’s not necessary for the casual traveller – the town is less than a half-hour by commuter rail from Florence, with trains running here as often as twice per hour, its cobblestone core easily traversed on foot. Seated at a simple table, we inspect the handwritten menus laying out the courses ahead: primi, secondi, contorni. The items already sold out are simply scratched off. Carri shares that we won’t find spaghetti and meatballs here, not in the BOTTLE OF SELVAPIANA, A LOCAL CHIANTI WINE ©TIM JOHNSON


a local boy. We finish with a tasting, Orsini pouring healthy portions of various bottles. We finish on the other side of the Medici, back in Pontassieve. Seated at one of perhaps five tables at another hole-in-the-wall, La Tana di Ugo, the food (and wine) soon covers the table – cheeses and pasta and then, the pezza di resistenza, thick, juicy, rare Florentine steak covered in truffle shavings.

EUROPE Your Way

“This food,” Carri says between bites, “it wasn’t for the peasants. It was for the landowners.” But more than an aristocrat, tonight, as I drink glass after glass and dine on some of the best beef in the world – tonight I feel like a king.

Book by April 30, 2018 and

SAVE 500 $

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per couple

1960’S VINTAGE VW VAN PURCHASED FROM THE GUCCI FAMILY ©TIM JOHNSON

same bowl. “That’s an American invention, and I can see how that happened,” he says. “They got over there, and they were poor, so they just dumped last night’s leftover meatballs into tonight’s spaghetti.” Carri adds that traditional Tuscans aren’t fancy – they cook the meals of the masses. “Tuscan cooking is ‘poor people cooking’, less is more, fewer ingredients, but fresher,” he tells us, as the server pours glasses of red wine that Carri must’ve ordered in staccato Italian when we entered the room. “Most of the dishes come from the peasants’ tradition.” We order pasta in a rich Bolognese sauce – its meaty sauce the best I’ve ever had – and all sorts of other delicacies. The table is soon scattered with steaming plates brought out by a couple of young, cool-looking chefs. Finishing up, we pile back into the VW and wind through the hills to Fattoria Selvapiana where Fernando Orsini, the winemaker, awaits. Once a medieval watchtower built to protect the other reaches of Florentine territory, the buildings here later housed the bishops of Florence until the property was acquired by a wealthy banker in 1827 and converted into winery. Selvapiana has been a leader in growing Sangiovese grapes, producing Bucerchiale, a single-vineyard Chianti, and incidentally, the red we had enjoyed back at lunch. Amiable and dynamic, Orsini tours us through the rambling winery, past its French oak and cherry barrels, and portraits of brooding aristocrats and centuries-old murals, some of them perhaps touched by Leonardo da Vinci,

58 • Vacations ® • Spring 2018

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TIM ENJOYING HIS JUICY FLORENTINE STEAK COVERED IN TRUFFLE SHAVINGS ©TIM JOHNSON

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Worldly Delights

SIMPLE FOOD ELEVATED Elevating the food of the masses – so-called “peasant food” – to the level of haute cuisine. By Tim Johnson

WOOD FIRE OVEN PIZZA

PORTUGUESE SLOW COOKED POT ROAST ©TIM JOHNSON

Sometimes, simple is best. Combine the recipes of farmers and the urban working class, and add fresh, local ingredients, and you’ll get delicious results. Here are top European spots to enjoy the very best meals of the masses. KRAKOW: In Poland, during communist times, drab, unfriendly cafeterias (where the silverware was tethered to the tables) – so-called “milk bars” – fed the masses cheap pierogi, bread dumplings and plenty of cottage cheese. Now, the concept is back, but in a healthier, happier form, with places like Krakow’s Milkbar serving up old favourites, such as stews and soups and dumplings, made with fresh local ingredients in stylish surrounds. Krakow’s best is called, Milkbar Tomasza, where the cabbage rolls are amazing, and the knives and forks are no longer tied down. PARIS: Some call it the “culinary capital of the world,” a place where it seems a Michelin-starred chef has set up shop on every corner. But even here, some of the finest food can be found in unexpected places, from back-alley savoury crepes that you’ll never forget, to spots like La Droguerie du Marais, which has taken street food crepes off the street and been rewarded with line-ups out the door. Or shop where the chefs go – pick up unpasteurized 60 • Vacations ® • Spring 2018

camembert, fresh fruit, veggies, seafood and baguettes still warm from the oven at small neighbourhood markets out in obscure arrondissements. MILAN: In the world’s fashion capital, flashing cash in this northern Italian city is a time-honoured tradition. The home of Armani, Prada and Versace, most visitors include a visit to that vaunted temple of all things lovely and expensive, the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, where sentries by the door of each shop will give you a good look up and down before allowing you entry. But the city’s favourite pie can be found at Piz, a tiny hole-in-the-wall within walking distance of the Galleria. They offer just three options on the menu, including the margherita, which Chef Pasquale Pometto pulls out of a wood-fired oven at a dizzying pace. You’ll probably have to wait for a table in the little courtyard outside, but don’t worry, servers provide both a complimentary slice, and gratis glass of prosecco. AZORES: An archipelago of nine volcanic islands in the middle of the Atlantic, this Portuguese territory has long been a way station for hungry explorers – everyone from Columbus to modern-day yachters have docked in these harbours in search of sustenance. And these islands don’t

CABBAGE ROLLS

FRESH BAGUETTES AT PARIS FOOD MARKET

disappoint. A people who have always lived close to the land and sea, you won’t have to wander far on the cobbled streets of ancient Angra do Heroismo on Terceira to find truly excellent tuna or beef steaks. Head just outside of town to Quinta do Martelo, an old farming community that’s been updated to a modern hotel and restaurant, and serves up some of the very best alcatra, a classic Portuguese pot roast slow cooked in a clay pot. Vacations® • Spring 2018 • 61


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Cruise Vacations AVALON EXPRESSION EXTERIOR

AVALON EXPRESSION PANORAMA SUITE

ACTIVE DISCOVERY:

A New Way of

River Cruising By Karen Leiva

From Amsterdam to Frankfurt, Avalon Waterways is invigorating cruising along the Rhine River.

In a trendy art studio tucked into one of Amsterdam’s many side streets, the instructor shows our group of amateur ‘artists’ one of Vincent van Gogh’s earlier works – his painting proves there was a time when the famed Dutch artist drew inspiration from the river’s edge just outside the studio. If I am lucky today, I’ll catch a touch of his spirit.

With the Active Discovery program, each day we have the choice of three excursions including classic, active or discovery – all included in the cruise price. It’s the Active Discovery options that set Avalon Waterways apart from typical river cruises.

Painting classes might not be what you would expect for a river cruise excursion, but, indeed this class is part of Active Discovery, a new way of exploring traditional itineraries with Avalon Waterways.

DANUBE RIVER VIEWS ©KAREN LEIVA

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Vacations® • Spring 2018 • 65


GERMAN SNACKS ©KAREN LEIVA

Active options include activities such as jogging, canoeing or cycling; while Discovery excursions offer a chance to meet a local vintner or farmer, don an apron for a cooking class, or – as we are doing – challenge your inner van Gogh. For the next hour, I lose myself in the brush strokes, mixing hues of purple, aqua and pink, and dabble on my canvas. I’m so focused on the task at hand and (although my masterpiece seems to lack van Gogh’s special touch) I’m loving every minute of it. It’s the perfect start to a cruise through the Netherlands and Germany. Back on board the Avalon Expression that evening, the ship is ready to set sail. Over the course of the week,

Avalon Fresh

Avalon Waterways has upped its game in onboard cuisine, with a raft of Avalon Fresh options at each meal. For example, kick off a healthy day with options on the breakfast bar that include everything from goji berries, fresh juices and honey right off the honeycomb. For lunch and dinner, expect menus showcasing local produce sure to satisfy even the heartiest post-activity appetite. Avalon has also mastered culinary options for people with dietary restrictions, offering multiple dishes with dietary restrictions noted on the menu.

66 • Vacations ® • Spring 2018

MILTENBERG, GERMANY ©KAREN LEIVA

we will sail through the famed Rhine Valley and the German countryside dotted with farms and medieval homes that survived two wars. These spectacular views are visible from anywhere on the ship, including guest rooms, which have wall-to-wall panoramic windows that open, effectively transforming the entire room into a balcony. One morning, the port of call is Rüdesheim, a picturesque village surrounded by vineyards producing some of Germany’s best wines. Our group walks across cobblestones, past shops selling everything from Christmas ornaments to clothes, and we head for cable cars to take us up the hillside. While the ride is short, the views are short on nothing; row upon row of green vines growing against a backdrop of the Rhine River and historic red-roof homes. At the top, we visit a massive monument built in the late 1800s, and then hike down the hillside. We come to a group picking grapes for Pinot Noir and Riesling in a Breuer vineyard; these grape pickers aren’t hired help, but rather they are the vineyard owners and their family members. Our tour guide takes advantage of the moment, pulling out wine for us to enjoy amongst crates of freshly picked grapes. The Active Discovery hikes on excursions like this are not strenuous, but they are enough to work up an appetite. Today, our group is rewarded when this adventure ends in the Breuer’s private cellar lit with candles, and harvest tables set with local cheese, sausage and bread. We taste two more Rieslings here, dry and delicious. On another day in Würzburg, the challenge of the hike ramps up a notch for a two-hour walk, winding past gardens and up a long set of stairs. Out of breath and legs burning, when I reach the

SNACKS IN A CELLAR ©KAREN LEIVA

top, I can see it was worth every step. We’ve hiked our way to the Marienberg Fortress built in the 1200s complete with mighty walls, drawbridges and stables for horses. From the castle’s garden, there’s yet another perfect German view to take in – this one of vineyards sloping down the castle’s hillside leading to an historic village. Castles are common place in Germany and we visit another in Miltenberg. Along the way to see this castle, our local guide tells tales of the town’s storied past when Nazis were driven out by priests who rang church bells to disrupt their gatherings; or when townsfolk were accused of witchcraft and burned at a stake in the centre of town, the area now marked with a monument. Our hike through the village ends in typical German fashion: with locally-made schnapps and sausages.

On the final day, I slow things down and forgo a bike ride through beautiful Bamberg in Bavaria, opting for an afternoon strolling through the town’s centre, picking up souvenirs of gingerbread cookies and Nutcracker Christmas toys (wooden Nutcracker statues date back to the 1800s in Germany). Sipping tea, sitting outdoors on a patio overlooking this perfectly-preserved old town, much of which is now a recognized UNESCO Heritage site, is the perfect end to an action-packed week. Back on the ship the next day, as the cruise rolls into its final port in Frankfurt, I’m wishing I could go on and sail the Danube from Austria to Budapest. But that will have to wait for my next adventure.

AMSTERDAM PAINTING ©KAREN LEIVA

Travel Planner

Ask your travel agent about Active Discovery on The Rhine in 2018 from Amsterdam to Frankfurt with excursions that include everything from walking through the mining corridors of an ancient volcano to learning the art of making chocolate in Cologne. Also look for Active Discovery on The Danube from Linz, Austria to Budapest, Hungary. Excursions include jogging tours around Vienna, canoeing on the Danube, or tasting beer brewed by Trappist monks near Linz.

Vacations® • Spring 2018 • 67


IMAGINE EXPLORATION IN MOTION ACTIVE DISCOVERY CRUISES

Imagine awe seeing fantastic vistas in Alaska. Imagine relaxation while reclining on a pristine beach in The Caribbean or Mexican Riviera. That’s what your clients will experience when they vacation on our newest and most incredible ship, Norwegian Bliss. NORWEGIAN BLISS HIGHLIGHTS: • The largest race track at sea and Ocean Loops a double waterslide 16 stories above the sea that whooshes guests 11 feet over the side of the ship. • Custom-built for the spectacular with a 180-degree Observation Lounge and the two-story Horizon Lounge exclusively for guests of The Haven. • Delicious new dining options including Q, a Texas-inspired smokehouse, Los Lobos, our premium Mexican restaurant, Coco’s chocolate shop and a full-service Starbucks. • Legendary Broadway entertainment, including the Tony-Award®-winning musical Jersey Boys.

CHARTING A WHOLE NEW COURSE FOR THE ACTIVE & ENERGETIC. BIKE, HIKE, PAINT, LEARN AND ENGAGE YOUR WAY THROUGH EUROPE. Everyone travels to see new things, but many travel to do new things as well. Avalon Waterways Active Discovery cruises on the Danube and Rhine offer travellers a way to explore their way through the scenic and historic wonders of the world in a variety of active and engaging ways.

New! ACTIVE DISCOVERY ON THE RHINE

ACTIVE DISCOVERY ON THE DANUBE

8 days | Frankfurt to Amsterdam (or reverse)

9 days | Linz to Budapest (or reverse)

$4,201* CAD

$4,390* CAD

| Based on July 8, 2018

Ships’ registry: BAHAMAS and UNITED STATES OF AMERICA. ©2018 NCL Corporation Ltd

1/18

| Based on June 17, 2018

departure

departure

Frankfurt, Wiesbaden (Embarkation), Eltville, Rüdesheim, Rhine Gorge, Boppard, Koblenz, Engers, Bonn, Cologne, Düsseldorf, Duisburg, Xanten, Amsterdam (Disembarkation)

Linz (Embarkation), Engelhartszell, Mauthausen, Grein, Spitz, Vienna, Visegrád, Budapest (Disembarkation)

For more information and our Current Promotions, please contact our Travel Agency. *Featured prices are per person, in Canadian dollars, cruise only, based on double occupancy (cab. Cat E), departure dates as indicated, and includes all taxes and port charges. Flights and travel insurance are additional. 3280 Bloor St. W, Suite 400, Toronto, ON M8X 2X3, TICO#1893755/50015835

Jersey Boys

Race Track

Q Smokehouse

Vacations® • Spring 2018 • 69


Cruise Vacations

Raise Your Glass to

Cruising the Danube By Charmaine Noronha

AmaWaterways pairs two beloved luxuries – wine and travel – on its Eastern European cruises

® VIEW 70 OF BUDAPEST ALONG DANUBE RIVER • Vacations • THE Spring 2018

“Hold your glass to the light, swirl the wine around and notice the wine legs or tears,” says Master of Wine Peter Marks. “The legs indicate the level of alcohol. In sweeter wines, the tears will flow slower down the sides of a glass.” I nod in agreement to Marks’ wine notes, sheepishly pretending I never thought wine tears are what happen when a bottle is finished. I raise my glass and offer cheers to my fellow wine tasters. As the wine expert educates us about the finer points of fine wine, idyllic scenes roll slowly by the window: turreted castles, terraced vineyards and red-roofed villages set against a background of craggy green mountains. I feel rather fancy as I swig wine aboard AmaWaterways’ AmaSerena river cruise along the picturesque Danube River. Marks indicates the next sample is being poured, and I whisper “wine not” to the amusement of a fellow cruiser. Wine not indeed! AmaWaterways perfectly pairs two beloved luxuries – wine and travel – as it sails through Eastern Europe from Germany to Hungary.

We learn about wines from the regions we explore on our tapas-like tour of quaint towns and bustling cities on port stops. The generous pours are complemented by dishes that tantalize taste buds. Soups range from goulash to peppery consommés to hearty lentil, and are followed by immaculately prepared mains like freshly grilled seafood and roasted lamb. The perfect pairing of regional food, wine and sightseeing pleases this first-time river cruiser. Our first wine lecture follows a brisk hike to Passau’s Castle Hill. Known as the City of Three Rivers, Passau is a picturesque German town in Lower Bavaria crossed by the Danube, Ilz and Inn rivers. Hiking to the fortress Veste Oberhaus offers sweeping views of the city and rivers. After trekking back to our cozy ship, we warm up with a hearty meal with, of course, wine! The next morning, the hills are alive with the sounds of music as we pull into Linz, Austria. Though many North Americans associate the country with The Sound of Music, we learn most locals have never seen the musical.

Nevertheless, it’s easy to understand why Linz and the Lakes Region became the stuff of musicals; the Salzkammergut area boasts 76 lakes with crystal-clear waters and rolling hillsides. Salzburg, set against the snow-capped Alps, radiates Old World charm that begins with its Altstadt – “Old Town” – a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage site inlaid with cobblestone streets and medieval and Baroque buildings. We traipse around streets adorned with Christmas decorations and pass a monument erected in 1842 to honour Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, who was born in the city. All this walking works up an appetite. In a cavernous restaurant, we fill our bellies with Käsekrainer, Salzburg’s mainstay of cheese-filled sausages. Back on board, we’re treated to the thematic, The Sound of Austria show featuring The Sound of Music classics sung beautifully by local opera singers. I awake the following morning to more serene scenes as we sail into Dürnstein, the Pearl of the Wachau, a winemaking region. Our riverboat languidly passes

Vacations® • Spring 2018 • 71


FORTRESS VESTE OBERHAUS IN PASSAU

A RIVER CRUISING EXPERIENCE LIKE NO OTHER Let AmaWaterways introduce you to a world where dramatic sights are met with innovative and luxurious ships — your beautiful home away from home. Savor our award-winning, chef-prepared cuisine with the freshest local ingredients. Enjoy included shore excursions along with guided hiking and bike tours — bold adventures as active as you choose to be. Join us aboard the highest-rated ships in Europe.

the striking blue façade of the monastic Parish Church, a landmark of the Danube Valley, along with the ruins of the Dürnstein castle fortress perched high on hills dotted with apricot orchards and steep terraced vineyards. On land, we nestle into a tiny tavern where we learn the Wachau Valley produces revered white wines including Rieslings and Grüner Veltliners. Apparently, Grüner Veltliner is the most widely planted grape in the country and can be produced in a variety of styles ranging from simple jug wine to age-worthy wine that continues to develop in the bottle. BUDAPEST AT NIGHT

AMASERENA EXTERIOR

72 • Vacations ® • Spring 2018

Next stop, Vienna! Once the glorious capital of a sprawling empire, we whiz through vintage markets en route to the elegant Café Landtmann, opened in 1873, that was frequented by the Vienna-born Sigmund Freud. After our apple strudel fix, we walk to the striking Belvedere Palace to gaze upon Klimt’s famous works before indulging in mulled wine. Back on board, we’re treated to the piece de resistance: sailing into Budapest at night. The magically imposing Parliament Building, chain bridge and the city’s decadent Baroque architecture are aglow, their reflections illuminating the Danube. We’re transfixed by the lights show. It’s the perfect finale to our Eastern European exploration tale, a scene and a river ride worth raising a glass to.

save up to C$1,500 per stateroom on select 2018 departures plus receive $300 usd onboard credit BLUE DANUBE DISCOVERY

DANUBE SERENADE

7-night cruise from Budapest to Nuremberg

7-night cruise from Nuremberg to Vienna

CRUISE STARTING AT C$2,959

CRUISE STARTING AT C$2,959

Terms & Conditions: Prices are per person in CAD for cruise only and are inclusive of port charges (C$210 per person), double occupancy and valid on select 2018 sailings only. C$1,500 Savings is per stateroom, based on double occupancy. Offer is not combinable with any other promotions/discounts, is limited to availability, is capacity controlled and is subject to change or termination without notice. Price listed for Blue Danube Discovery is based on the November 18, 2018 embarkation of the AmaLea; price listed for Danube Serenade is based on the November 18, 2018 embarkation of the AmaSonata. Onboard credit amounts are in USD and are $300 per stateroom ($150 per person), based on double occupancy (solo travelers receive half). Offer is combinable with current promotions and is applicable to FIT and Group bookings. Price reflects C$750 per person savings. Other restrictions apply. CST#2065452-40


Manulife Premium Protection Plan ®

IN THE CARIBBEAN, EVERY DAY IS A “ME” DAY.

Travel insurance just got easier

We sail the stunning turquoise waters of the islands all year long, so you can treat yourself to a slice of paradise any time you want. Unwind on pristine beaches. Soak up the warm tropical sun. Whenever you need some luxurious “me” time, there’s always an award-winning Caribbean vacation.

A simplified travel insurance product that offers more coverage for travelling Canadians.

ENSEMBLE EXCLUSIVE: Book an Aqua Class or Concierge Class cabin and receive $100 Shore Excursion Credit per stateroom!

The Premium Protection Plan® offers: • Great value • Up to $10,000,000 Emergency Medical Insurance • All-inclusive coverage, featuring the Cancel For Any Reason benefit • Assistance 24 hours a day, 7 days a week • Fewer exclusions and no medical questionnaire

Offer applies to 4-night and longer itineraries that depart Nov. 10th, 2017 through December 31st, 2019. Bookings must be made between Nov. 10th, 2017 and December 31, 2018. Offer excludes Galapagos, Transatlantic, Transpacific, repositioning Asia and South America repositioning cruises. $100 per stateroom Shore Excursion credit will be applied in the form of an onboard credit. Offer is $100 Onboard credit per stateroom for Concierge, and Aqua class cabins. Offers are applicable to new individual bookings and to staterooms in noncontracted group bookings, which must be named and deposited. Guests’ stateroom folios will be credited with an Onboard credit. Onboard credit has no cash value, is applicable to cruise only, non-transferable, not redeemable for cash, and will expire if not used by 10:00 PM on the final night of the cruise. Offer excludes interior, oceanview, standard veranda and suite staterooms. Offer is not combinable with any other offer, promotion or discounted fare other than Go Big, Better, Best offer. Single occupancy bookings are eligible for the Offer. Refer to Cruise Ticket Contract for additional terms and conditions. Celebrity reserves the right to cancel the Offer at any time, correct any errors, inaccuracies or omissions, and change or update fares, fees and surcharges at any time without prior notice. ©2018 Celebrity Cruises Inc. Ships’ registry: Malta and Ecuador 18060684 • 1/2018

Please contact your travel professional for details.

Canadian Residents enjoy between 10%–25% savings on all sailings through 2018!

Built to navigate the lagoons of the South Pacific, the m/s Paul Gauguin offers the only moving, luxury, all-inclusive, “overwater” experience in French Polynesia.

ALL-INCLUSIVE FEATURES • All oceanview staterooms • Onboard beer, select wines and spirits • Prepaid gratuities Included Airfare from Los Angeles

*

Certain conditions, limitations and exclusions apply. See policy for details.

Underwritten by

The Manufacturers Life Insurance Company (Manulife) and First North American Insurance Company, a wholly owned subsidiary of Manulife. Manulife, the Block Design and Manulife Premium Protection Plan are trademarks of The Manufacturers Life Insurance Company and are used by it, and by its affiliates under licence. © 2018 The Manufacturers Life Insurance Company. All rights reserved. Manulife, P.O. Box 670, Stn Waterloo, Waterloo, Ontario N2J 4B8 180058 (03/2018) 74 • _Ensemble Vacations • Spring 2018 11065 Vacations Half Page Ad.indd 1 ®

2/16/18 11:33 AM


Vacations Current Edition CA  
Vacations Current Edition CA