All posts by Robert & Adrienne Lee

We are globetrotters who have been traveling the around the world for several decades. . Our travels have taken us to more than 22 countries. We have a passion for traveling the world and encouraging others to do the same. We believe that travel provides the best education and agree with Mark Twain's quote, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.”

Don’t Listen to What They Say, Go See

 

 

 

 

 

 

All of us are different and we experience travel differently. While reading reviews, and listening to others’ advice is helpful when planning a trip, the only way to really experience a destination is to go see it for yourself. People are different, and their opinions vary widely. Here are a few of the opinions that I’ve heard about destinations:

THE FOOD IN ITALY IS BAD: Italy is comprised of many major cities – Rome, Milan, Naples, Florence, Genoa, Bologna, Palermo, Venice and Pisa are just a few. The cuisine varies by region. So it was hard for me to believe that ALL of the food was bad. As one of the world’s most beloved cuisines, it is much more than pizza and spaghetti. We made a point of tasting food in in several cities, including Rome, Naples, Florence, Venice, Capri and Vernazza. We had one of our best meals ever, at a picturesque little restaurant in Positano while driving along the Amalfi coast. The limoncello on Capri was fresh and flavorsome. The olives in Monterosso were like none I’ve ever tasted anywhere else. The pasta dishes were excellent everywhere we went. And don’t even get me started on the gelato.

THE PEOPLE IN PARIS ARE RUDE: I was very concerned about being treated badly in the “City of Lights”, especially since we don’t speak French. But bonjour, Au revoir, merci and big smiles went a long way…. We have been twice and shopped at stores, eaten at cafes, visited museums, even ridden on public transportation. We didn’t find Parisians particularly rude – no more than any other city we’ve visited.

PEOPLE IN CHINA TREAT BLACK PEOPLE LIKE ATTRACTIONS: I’ve heard people say that Chinese people pointed, stared and tried to touch their hair….and other body parts. I’m not disputing them, just saying that we didn’t have that experience. We went to Beijing, Suzhou, Hangzhou and Shanghai in 2015 and again in 2016 (there’s so much to see that it takes more than one trip to experience it all). Some people were curious and even asked to take pictures with us, but it didn’t make us feel like “attractions”. Many of the people in the major cities were Chinese tourists who appeared to be from outlying areas and probably had not seen many black folks. But it wasn’t too intrusive. In Suzhou we even explored the neighborhoods near the Grand Canal and no one even paid us any attention. After a while I even asked some of them to take pictures with us. It was fun.

THERE’S NOTHING FOR BLACK PEOPLE IN EUROPE: We have a rich history in Europe that would take years to study. For example, in 711 the Moors from northern Africa invaded what is modern day Spain and Portugal. Their rule in the region lasted until 1492 with the 8-month siege of Granada. When we visited Granada (in southern Spain) we toured the magnificent Alhambra Palace and fortress complex. It was constructed in 889 and converted into a royal palace in 1333 by Yusuf I, Sultan of Granada. Moorish poets described it as “a pearl set in emeralds”. Touring those grounds was like walking back in history. We have visited several European countries and have seen black people everywhere we’ve gone. I met this young sister in Monaco. I don’t speak French and she didn’t speak English….but we managed to connect.

We’ve had some very positive travel experiences – and some negative ones too. No travel destination is perfect. But we never base our opinions on anyone else’s experiences. We prefer to draw our own conclusions.

Talk is cheap and everyone’s experience is different, so don’t listen to what they say, go see for yourself.

Travel Now, and Then

Our love of travel began more than 30 years ago, in 1988 we booked our very first cruise, and we’ve been globetrotting ever since.

 

Over the course of those 30 years we’ve seen lots of changes in the travel industry. Here are just a few:

PRE-CRUISE HOTEL STAY – Cruise lines used to include a one night pre-cruise hotel stay and transportation to the cruise port in the price of the cruise fare. In 1988 we flew from San Francisco to Miami, stayed at a lovely hotel and were transported to the cruise dock the next morning to board the ship for our Caribbean cruise.

AIRLINE TICKETS – Airline tickets were paper (not e-docs) and could only be purchased at an airport or travel agency.

AIRLINE BAGGAGE FEES – There were none. The price of the airline ticket included transporting you….and your luggage. Imagine that!

AIRLINE SCHEDULES – Airlines attempted to stick to published schedules. Now when you make a reservation, all bets are off. If you happen to make a reservation that’s a few months away it’s very likely that your flight time, seat choice and even aircraft type will be changed. Or sometimes they just cancel a flight altogether and re-route you. Their right to do that is spelled out in the fine print of their terms and conditions…which few passengers actually read. A few months ago we purposely booked nonstop flights between San Francisco and Fort Lauderdale. When I re-checked the reservation a few weeks later, I found that they had cancelled those nonstop flights and put us on flights with one stop each way that were routed through Chicago….in the dead of winter (high likelihood for weather delay). I called the airline and was able to get them to re-route us through a different city. – for no charge. It’s a good thing I checked. Always remember to check….and re-check.

AIRLINE CHANGE FEES – What can I say about those that hasn’t already been said? It is understandable that they can’t allow people to book reservations and make changes at a whim. But you can pay exorbitant fees to make even the smallest change…like one letter in the spelling of a name. It now costs $200 to change or cancel a non-refundable airfare on the remaining “legacy” U.S. airlines (American, Delta, United), and a bit less on some other carriers. Changing or canceling an international ticket can cost much more. Why do they do it? Change fees are a healthy source of revenue for the U.S. airline industry. During the first half of 2010, the 19 largest domestic airlines collected $1.1 billion in cancellation and change fees, according to the Transportation Department. Delta made the most ($347 million) followed by American Airlines ($235 million), and United Airlines $158 million). So why do they do it? Because they can.

TRANSPORTATION SECURITY ADMINISTRATION (TSA) – The TSA is an agency of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security that was created after the September 11, 2001 attacks. TSA employs screening officers in airports, armed Federal Air Marshals on planes, and mobile teams of dog handlers and explosives specialists, to protect air travel. When we flew in 1988 we could not have imagined that air travel would one day require disrobing in front of strangers, removing our shoes and walking through a metal detector or even having a “secondary screening”. If you’ve ever gotten the “SSSS” on your boarding pass you know what I mean. There are a variety of reasons that can cause you to be selected for this type of screening:

  • Sometimes it’s because the specific itinerary you’re on is unusual; this could include flights booked last minute, international one-way tickets, travel originating in “high-risk” countries, etc. Perhaps that’s why it happened to me last year when we were returning from Istanbul, Turkey. Let me tell you, they were quite thorough. I managed to grin and bear it, while my beloved travel partner/husband sat at the gate idly reading a newspaper, seemingly oblivious to my plight.
  • Sometimes it’s because you’re on some sort of a list; I have no clue what causes people to get on lists, though I suspect for some people it’s because of their travel patterns, for others it’s because of their names, and for others it’s because they’re being watched more carefully for whatever reason.
  • Sometimes it’s completely random.

Purchasing the TSA Pre Check allows for a lesser screening experience (you can keep your shoes on and don’t have to take out your computer). The cost is $85 and it is good for 5 years.

TRAVEL FASHION – Remember when people used to dress up to travel? Whether you were traveling by airplane or train, you put on your Sunday best. These days that’s not usually the case. Traveling economy has become such a contact sport that you need to “suit up”. No more Stacy Adams, stetsons,  pumps or pearls. Honey, now it’s all about Nike shoes and sweats.

LAS VEGAS – We fell in love with Las Vegas in 1989 when we went to the Sugar Ray Leonard/Thomas Hearns fight (The War) at Caesars Palace. Boy has the Strip changed since then. Gone are the days of cheap eats, free drinks and statuesque show girls. Las Vegas has gone through several metamorphoses in the last 30 years. In the 1990s there was even an attempt to make it more family-friendly with an amusement park at MGM. There are still some thrill rides at New York, New York and Stratosphere. But much of the emphasis these days is on high-end shopping and designer boutiques including Chanel, Dior, and Louis Vuitton. The Strip has also become a mecca for gourmet dining with restaurants by a veritable who’s-who of top chefs including Gordon Ramsay, Huber Keller, Wolfgang Puck, Emeril Lagasse, and Bobby Flay – some even have more than one restaurant on the Strip. If you’re looking for an exceptional dining experience, visit Joël Robuchon’s unparalleled French restaurant. This unforgettable Three Michelin Star restaurant caters to a sophisticated palate and was designed to resemble a luxurious Art Deco townhouse complete with a lush garden terrace and marble floors. Whether enjoying the 16-course degustation menu on the picturesque Parisian Terrace or relaxing in the elegant Aperitif Lounge, Joël Robuchon Restaurant provides an unparalleled dining experience.

Yes, the Las Vegas Strip has come a long way from the $5.99 steak dinner and the shrimp cocktail. But more affordable taste treats can still be found at off-Strip restaurants and diners. It’s still possible to find a really good hamburger, even on the Strip. One of our favorites is Bobby Flay’s Burger Palace.

GROUND TRANSPORTATION – Landing in a new city meant catching a taxi to your hotel – and hoping that the driver didn’t take the long way so that he’d get a higher fare. I dreaded watching the meter that seemed to keep climbing higher…and higher…even at stop lights. With the increasing number of ride share services, travelers have other choices like Uber and Lyft. Despite opposition they operate in an increasing number of cities in the Unites States and around the world. It’s a convenient, cashless way to get around a city. It’s also helpful when you don’t speak the local language. Last fall we used Uber in Mexico City quite successfully, even though our Spanish language skills are sketchy, at best.

LODGING – Besides hotels and vacation rental homes, the shared economy has encouraged the development of companies like Airbnb where travelers can rent homes, villas, condominiums, rooms and even campers. I saw a listing for an Airstream trailer on a beach that would accommodate 3 people, for $650 per night. And then there’s Couchsurfing, which Wikipedia describes as “a hospitality and social networking service accessible via a website and mobile app. Members can use the service to arrange homestays, offer lodging and hospitality, and join events such as “Couch Crashes”. So whatever your lodging choice, there’s an app for that.

TRAVEL BOOKING – Planning a trip used to begin with a visit to the local travel agent’s office to thumb through brochures. Now it’s just a matter of logging onto your computer or mobile device and looking at websites or taking virtual tours of hotels and resorts. YouTube is an excellent way to get destination information. If you know where you want to go, you can purchase an airline ticket, book a hotel room or rent a car with just a click of a mouse. Online travel agencies (OTAs) like Expedia and Travelocity work well for simple itineraries. But for more complicated trips, perhaps with large groups or multiple stops, many people still turn to their travel agents.

Today’s travel agents still provide valuable services to busy travelers who don’t have time to book their travel or affluent travelers who simply want to take advantage of the customer service offered by expert travel advisors.

LOYALTY PROGRAMS– It pays to be loyal….Airlines, hotels, cruise lines  and even credit cards provide travel perks to their loyal customers. As Honors members we’ve gotten upgrades and free Wi-FI at Hilton hotels in many cities.  As Diamond Level members of Royal Caribbean’s Crown and Anchor Society, we enjoy great benefits every time we cruise….like backstage theater tours, ship bridge tours and  nightly private cocktail parties with unlimited drinks.

During the past 30 years we’ve seen lots of changes and racked up lots of travel miles. No doubt, the travel industry will continue to change…..and we’ll continue to travel.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Black Man Abroad

Leroy Tyler is one of our youngest and most widely-traveled group members. He has visited more than 27 countries. After following his travel posts for quite I while I was curious to find out how he came to be such a globetrotter. Here’s what he told me.

“When I was a kid, around 8 or 9, my mother got me a kids encyclopedia. I read through it, and got to the geography section, and was instantly hooked on all the buildings and stuff I saw. I made it a mission to go see those places I read about when I got older. When my mother died in 2005, I made it even more of a personal mission to see those places she never made it to, along with the fact that it helped with the ongoing depression from losing her to cancer. The rest is history….”

His travels include trips to Iceland, Ireland, England, France, Germany, Netherlands, Ukraine, Czech republic, Japan, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Indonesia, Turkey, Philippines, Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, UAE, South Africa, Puerto Rico, Thailand, Cambodia, China, and Canada.

Recently he traveled to Ukraine. The following is how it all went.

Everyone knows something about Chernobyl. Any disaster with such horrifying implications tends to leave a mark on history. But Chernobyl is different. It has struck a chord with us somehow, and has become the inspiration for countless media and art, allowing us to venture off into fantasy worlds.

This wasn’t a fantasy world. This place exists.

Are the depictions in pictures and media true to life? Something out of a post apocalyptic movie? See for yourself.

But first, you have to get there, and you can’t go at will. You need to book a tour.

I booked mine with SoloEast, the oldest tour company that provides tours to the exclusion zone.

Upon arrival at the meeting point, the Kozatskiy hotel, I was greeted by my guide Andrew Vasylievych. Once the rest of the group arrived, we departed for Chernobyl, which is about 2 hours from Kiev.

When we got there, we entered the first checkpoint, where they checked our passports and entrance tickets. Once confirmed, we were allowed to enter. Upon entry I noticed a TON of stray dogs.

Our first stop was a kindergarten. When we walked in, we could just feel the desolation of this place.

I’ve never seen anything like it. Children’s beds with toys left behind, books, dolls, and even Soviet newspapers, just sitting there for the past 32 years. While there, Andrew used his Geiger counter to test the radiation levels outside. Needless to say, the soil is STILL pretty contaminated.

After that, we were provided lunch, consisting of soup, bread, chicken, and salad. Lunch was included in the tour package.

After lunch we entered the 2nd checkpoint. From there, we went to the giant steel structure that houses reactor 4 (the one that exploded). The fog was intense.

Andrew showed us before and after photos of what the reactor looked like, as well as teaching us about the radioactive mass in the basement of the reactor, called the Elephants Foot. This is deemed the most radioactive spot on earth!

From the reactor, we entered the abandoned city of Pripyat, where we explored an abandoned cafeteria with stained glass windows still intact, an amusement park that NEVER got to open, a sports complex, and the infamous swimming pool. We didn’t get to visit the hospital because there was way too much ice on the stairs and railings. Safety is paramount in the exclusion zone.

Our final stop was to Chernobyl 2, a secret military base that houses the decommissioned Duga Radar.During the dying days of the Cold War, the Soviet Union built an early warning detection system to listen out for NATO and U.S. ballistic missiles. This was used for that. The fog added a creepiness to the scene. This thing is MASSIVE!

Upon exit of the exclusion zone, we had to go through radiation detectors to check our radiation levels, then we drove back to Kiev. That 12 hour day was packed with history, great photo opportunities, and an amazing guide.

I highly recommend that everyone visit Chernobyl with SoloEast. Andrew is a phenomenal guide, hysterical and knowledgeable. When you go, tell him I sent you.

If you’d like to see more of Leroy’s travels, follow him on Instagram @ablackmanabroad, or subscribe to his YouTube channel www.youtube.com/leroy30590.

 

 

BFTT 2019 GROUP TRIP – BEST OF SOUTH AFRICA

MAY 18-26, 2019

9 Day Tour from Johannesburg to Cape Town

Join Black Folks Travel Too as we journey to South Africa.  From the history of Johannesburg to exploring Kruger National Park and Cape Town’s highlights, this tour of South Africa will be an adventure like no other. We’ll begin in Johannesburg’s Soweto Township to learn about its turbulent past, and hopeful future.

Visit the thought-provoking Apartheid Museum and Mandela House, located in the former neighborhood of Nobel Peace Prize winners, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela.

This  escorted African vacation continues through some of the world’s most sweeping and dramatic landscapes on your way to Kruger National Park area. Marvel at God’s Window (a forested ravine and majestic cliffs), and the stunning cascades of Lisbon and Berlin Falls. Your guided African safari begins in the Kruger Park area with morning and afternoon game drives through the homes of the big cats, giraffe, cheetah, hyena, gazelle, and more. You’ll visit Cape Town and ascend to Table Mountain via cable car for spectacular views. On boulders Beach, you’ll observe a colony of endangered penguins, then venture to Cape Point Nature Reserve, the Cape of Good Hope, and Cape Point at the continent’s most southwestern tip.

This South Africa tour is an adventure into historic heritage and wilderness wonder of this spectacular part of the continent.

PRICE:  $2919 PER PERSON (based on double occupancy), land only

Includes:

  • 11 meals
  • First class hotels
  • Pre-paid gratuities
  • IntraTour Air (Kruger area to Capetown)
  • Travel Protection Insurance
  • Air Taxes

Prices are per person, based on double room occupancy. The price listed does not include your international airfare, taxes or fees. You can book your own international air reservations or we can provide a quote from the tour company.

Single Room Supplement: $440

Triple Rooms are not available.

Extra Nights per person in Johannesburg: in single room $165; in twin room $96

Extra Nights per person in Cape Town: in single room $139; in twin room $81

PAYMENT SCHEDULE:

DEPOSIT: $250 PER PERSON (NON-REFUNDABLE)    January 18, 2019

If air is booked through tour company deposit is $550 ($250 for land and $300 for international air)

FINAL PAYMENT: March 13, 2019

Travel Terms & Conditions

Please ensure that you read carefully and understand the Terms & Conditions prior to booking. These Terms & Conditions cover Deposit & Final Payment information.

The following charges are not included in the land vacation price unless otherwise noted:

  • Airfare to and from the start of your vacation; Intra-vacation air unless specified in the itinerary
  • Airline baggage fees including checked and/or excess baggage fees
  • Federal inspection fees for the Federal U.S. Customs and Immigrations; International Air Transportation tax; agricultural tax
  • Other per-person taxes imposed by government entities; airport taxes and fees including the September 11th Security fee up to $11.20 per person, passenger facility charges up to $18 per person, Federal domestic flight segment fees up to $4.00per segment, and U.S. and International arrival and departure and other government-imposed added by the airline and applicable at time of booking
  • Port taxes
  • Passports; visas
  • Vaccinations
  • Tips to your Tour Director, Local Host, driver, Local Guides, gratuities on ferries, trains, and cruise ships
  • Laundry
  • Telephone
  • Minibar
  • Alcohol, beverages, and food outside of the contracted itinerary as presented at a hotel or restaurant or onboard your vessel (these extra items will be billed to you before leaving the hotel, ship, or restaurant)
  • Airport transfers on non-qualifying flights
  • Optional excursions
  • Porterage at airports and train stations
  • Travel Protection; and all other items of a personal nature

Space is limited, so contact us today to book your reservation. Email blackfolkstravel2@gmail.com.

Cruising the Mediterranean

Malaga….Marseille…Morocco…..these are just a few of the ports that Sylvia Keys and her friends visited during their recent Mediterranean cruise that  sailed from Lisbon, Portugal. The itinerary also included  Barcelona, Spain and Genoa, Italy.     

These ladies have been globetrotting together for some time and have been to Dubai, the ABC Islands, Australia and Fiji. They work in various professions and each brings her special skills and talents to the group. Sylvia is the group leader and researcher who finds the trips, studies the travel books and scopes out the best shopping deals wherever they go (like the Jade Market in Tokyo).  The financial analyst maps out the costs of each trip.  Several of the ladies work in the medical field and focus on keeping everyone healthy. One is a doctor who has loads of Marriott points (a great benefit to everyone).

They selected MSC, an Italian-owned cruise line because it offered an itinerary with the ports that they all wanted to visit.

Since the ship sailed from Lisbon, they spent time exploring the city and learning about its rich history. Before long it was time to board the ship and set sail on the MSC Preziosa.

As an  experienced cruiser, Sylvia provided good information about the Preziosa and their onboard experience. The other passengers were mostly from Russia, Eastern Europe, Australia, Brazil, Japan, Malaysia and Portugal. There were only ~10 other Americans onboard. There were only 18 Black people, all total. The ship was large and very well maintained.

The  cabins were comfortable with large showers and large balconies. They even cleaned the balcony doors several times when the ship was in port.

Customer service was excellent and Sylvia described the staff as FABULOUS. Most of them were from Madagascar, South Africa and the Caribbean; all spoke several languages.

Entertainment was different from other cruises they’d experienced – no musical or comedy shows – probably due to the fact that the passengers spoke so many different languages. Other onboard amenities were standard and included swimming pools, a casino, spa, hair salon and even a 4D movie theater.

Food was fresh and included fresh fish, Indian food and burgers.      As much as they enjoyed the shipboard experiences, the real fun began when they docked. Barcelona was the first port of call and they enjoyed its many sites, including La Sagrada Familia. Sylvia even remembered to send regards to our BFTT group.

In France they explored the port city of Marseille, gateway to the Provence region. Even though it rained some,  that did not dampen their spirits.

Then it was on to Genoa, one of Italy’s most underrated gems. One of the highlights of the trip (and there were many) was visiting Morocco. In Casablanca they shopped in the bazaar for about four hours, visiting vendors who sold herbs, textiles, rugs, Goyard items and other souvenirs. The bazaar can get pretty hectic, but they found someone who guided and protected them from the more aggressive vendors, and even helped them find ATMs and taxis.    The bazaar has ~400 kiosks, shops and stores. It really was the shopping experience of a lifetime.

It really sounds like these ladies had the trip of a lifetime. It must be great to have travel buddies that you can travel with regularly. If you’ve ever traveled with a group, you know that group dynamics can be “interesting”. But even with five different personalities and mindsets, these ladies seem to have it figured out. As a matter of fact they are already making plans for their 2019 trip.

 

My Favorite Place

 

 

 

 

 

My husband and I have been globetrotting for more than 30 years. In that time we have seen some breathtaking sights and had some amazing travel experiences. When people find out how much traveling we have done, they often ask, “What is your favorite travel destination?” We’ve had so many enjoyable experiences that it is difficult to pick just one. But after lots of thought and consideration, I’ve decided to answer that question. My favorite destination in the entire world is…..Istanbul, Turkey.

This bustling metropolis is one of the world’s most exciting cities. It is a kaleidoscope of culture, history, ancient architecture, modern urban energy, and fresh, delectable cuisine.

Experiences like watching the sun rise over the Bosphorus, shopping at the Grand Bazaar and hearing the call to prayer as we entered the Blue Mosque are indelibly etched into our travel memories. Yes, Istanbul is my favorite destination.

But wait….after our recent trip, I can’t possibly leave out Thailand.

The azure waters, balmy breezes and lush scenery of that tropical paradise are almost too beautiful to be believed. After a hair-raising speedboat ride we spent a perfect afternoon sailing around the islands and sunning ourselves on powdery white sand beaches.

Yes, that idyllic paradise has to be my very favorite travel destination.

But wait….when I think about azure waters and white sand beaches, I can’t possibly leave out another tropical destination….the island of Jamaica.

After viewing this beautiful beach in Montego Bay, it was easy to see why Stella got her groove back here. There are plenty of other ways to enjoy the island. We’ve partied on the beach, climbed up Dunns River Falls and zip lined through the tree tops at high speed what a rush!

We’ve also eaten the most delicious jerk chicken, Jamaican patties and washed it all down with ice cold Red Stripe Beer…and of course, rum punch.So without a doubt, Jamaica is my favorite travel destination.

But wait…how can I forget about China? In 2015 we visited Beijing, Suzhou, Hangzhou and Shanghai.

We were captivated by the architecture and history of this ancient country. In addition to the Forbidden City, Summer Palace and Lingering Garden we shopped and dined in the modern metropolis of Shanghai. We even toured jade, silk and pearl factories. The highlight of the visit had to be climbing the Great Wall of China. I expected it to be amazing, but the experience was beyond anything that I’d imagined. I’d hear other people describe going up on a gondola, so I was prepared to see breathtaking vistas. What I wasn’t prepared for was the actual climb. Our tour guide took us to Juyongguan Pass, a section of the wall where there was no gondola. So it was all about the climb….and those 2000 year old stone steps were no joke.

But it was well worth it – the views from the top were spectacular! The experience was even more special since we shared it as a family.

But wait? I can’t possibly forget about Spain. There is so much to see and do in this country that I’ve lost count of how many times we’ve been there. With cities like Barcelona, Valencia, Mallorca, Malaga, Vigo, La Coruna, Cartagena, Valencia, Marbella, Sitges and Puerto Banus it is impossible to see it all in one, or even two visits.

Barcelona is a city that has to be experienced to be fully appreciated. Its edgy, urban energy reminded us of San Francisco with the restaurants, street performers, street art and designer shops. The Gothic Quarter is a winding maze of narrow alleys that open onto charming plazas where you can hear street musicians, watch flamenco dancers or just sit and people watch, while sipping sangria. There are also great destinations to visit outside of the city. Two of our favorites are the Penedes Wine region, home to the Freixenet Cava caves and several other world-class wineries. We also enjoyed visiting the Santa Maria de Montserrat Abbey, nestled high on a mountain peak; it’s only an hour train ride from Barcelona and home of the famous Black Madonna.

Malaga is another one of our favorite destinations in Spain. It’s a port city on southern Spain’s Costa del Sol, near the continent of Africa, Morocco is only a 70-minute ferry ride away. We were particularly intrigued by evidence of Moorish history. We toured the Alcazaba, a hilltop citadel and the nearby Alhambra Palace, another fortress built in the 13th century.

We’ve always been fascinated by Moorish history and discovered that the Spanish occupation by the Moors began in 711 AD when an African army, under their leader Tariq ibn-Ziyad, crossed the Strait of Gibraltar from northern Africa and invaded the Iberian peninsula ‘Andalus’ (Spain under the Visigoths). So visiting this palace complex was like walking in the footsteps of those great warriors.

So that’s it…..Spain is my absolute favorite travel destination. Unless I overlook Italy….and I couldn’t possibly do that. From Rome, to Venice, to Florence to Capri, to the Cinque Terre, we’ve lived “la dolce vita” all over that country.

Although many of the famous sites (Colosseum, Leaning Tower of Pisa, Trevi Fountain) are often overrun by tourists, they are still amazing to visit. Regardless of religious beliefs, the museums and St. Peter’s Basilica of Vatican City are simply awesome. During our most recent visit we got an inside tour of the Colosseum and actually got to see it from a gladiator’s perspective. Wow!

Whenever we visit Florence, we take a day trip to the Cinque Terre, 5 charming coastal villages accessible by boat or train.

Whether you choose to hike between the villages or take the train, the views are simply stunning!

Foodies, can we talk? Italy is hands down one of the world’s top culinary destinations. We’ve enjoyed delicious meals at small trattorias, fine dining restaurants and neighborhood cafeterias. There’s much more to Italian cuisine than gelato, pizza and pasta. But I’ll admit that I could actually eat my weight in pasta….and have done so on occasion.

No matter where you are in Italy, eating gelato daily is a must….

 

So that settles it, Italy is my favorite travel destination.

Who am I kidding? I can’t pick one single destination as my absolute favorite. Each place offers something special that is unique to that destination. So I’ll just plan to keep traveling around the world…..discovering new “favorites”.

What Ever Happened to Travel Agents?

What ever happened to travel agents, do they still exist? Are they extinct? Absolutely not, they are alive and thriving. Like many other industries, the internet has affected the way that travel advisors work. Years ago trip planning always included visiting a travel agency, flipping through brochures and having an agent book the trip. Now much of the booking can be done online, so many travel agents have closed their brick-and-mortar offices and do most of their business remotely.

 

 

When would someone use the services of a travel agent? Some people say always, others say never. In truth, it’s not an always or never situation. It really depends on the type of trip you’re booking. A simple airline ticket, hotel room or even a cruise can be booked online with the click of a mouse. But if the itinerary is more complicated or you’re trying to coordinate group travel, a good travel advisor can save you time – and money. Here are some examples of when you can benefit from using a travel advisor:

– Trip planning: Some people know exactly when and where they want to go. Others have no clue. They may only know that they want to take their family to a warm destination sometime between June and August. A good travel agent uses a survey/interview process to help the client determine what will work best – and will offer several options. They partner with the client to custom design the vacation.

– In recent weeks we’ve seen an unprecedented amount of natural disasters that have resulted in flight/hotel cancellations, cruise ship re-routing and much more. Stranded travelers have had great difficulty getting through to airlines, or the online travel agencies (Expedia, Travelocity, etc) to make adjustments. Many have been kept on hold until their cell phone battery died; then they have to start all over again. Those who had travel agents just had to make one call to let them handle the issues from their office. Agents have access to inside personnel at hotels, cruise lines, etc. who can get much quicker resolutions. They are your best advocates.

– Specialty trips: Some trips are lengthy, more complicated and may have multiple destinations or multiple modes of transportation. A travel agent can ensure that all of the connections and fine details mesh.

 

– Group travel: Have you ever tried to coordinate a group trip or family reunion? It can be like herding cats. A travel agent can serve as the central point of contact and communicate itineraries, payment deadlines and so much more. They also handle all of the accounting – keeping track of who has paid, how much people still owe and what’s outstanding. When a group is small 5-10 people, it’s no problem. But when the group is large, 20 or more, it becomes much more difficult. Group members may be hesitant to give you their credit card information, so it’s much easier to use a trusted travel professional.

– Busy professionals: I’ve seen commercials for OTA (Online Travel Agencies) that will allow you to search hundreds of travel websites. In today’s fast-paced world, many people are too busy to search hundreds of travel websites. One call to a travel advisor can simply that process.

The travel landscape is constantly changing. There are daily changes to airline fees, hotel policies, TSA requirements and much more. People who only travel once or twice a year may not be aware of those changes. Travel agents study trends daily and can inform their clients about how the changes will affect them. When is a passport required? Which countries require visas? What regions require immunizations? This is information that a travel advisor can provide. Here are some examples of valuable information:

– Some American citizens don’t feel the need to get a passport since they don’t travel outside of the United States, but that is all going to change in 2018. Starting at the beginning of next year, residents in nine states will need to have passports in order to take any kind of flight, whether it is international or domestic. Those states are: Kentucky, Maine, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Washington.

– Many countries require that your passport be valid for 6 months beyond your travel date. So even if your passport is still valid, but will expire in 3 or 4 months, you won’t make it through immigration.

– Travel agents can give advice about dress codes and what is acceptable. Some countries require women to cover their heads before entering a church or mosque. In others, showing too much skin is frowned upon – so no tank tops or shorts for men or women. I few months ago I visited the Monaco Casino and they do no allow running/tennis shoes or ripped jeans. I saw several people turned away.

I’ve heard people say, “I don’t use a travel agent, I just book online.” Newsflash, if you book on a website like Expedia, Travelocity or Hotwire, your using an online travel agent (OTA). Often they are in another country, working from home or a call center.

Aren’t travel agents expensive? No. Most of their services are free to clients, since they are paid commissions by the travel vendors (except for airlines, who do not pay commissions). Some agents might charge a service fee for complicated bookings, or airline bookings, but they’ll let you know that right up front. Here’s another newsflash – you pay fees even when you book online since those fees are built into the price. For example, if you ask your travel agent to book a hotel room for you, he/she may find a rate of $199 per night, and the commission will be paid out of that rate. But if you book the same hotel room through an OTA, or directly with the hotel the rate will be the same. You’ll still pay the commission – they just keep it instead of paying the travel agent. You won’t get any additional discount for booking directly.

The same thing happens with cruise bookings. You can book directly with the cruise line. But travel agents often have access to discounted rates and extra perks that the cruise lines don’t tell customers about.

So why not take advantage of the free services offered by the travel agent?

How do you select a travel agent? Are they all the same? No, all travel agents are not “created equal”. Unfortunately, it is a loosely regulated profession. So it is important to shop around and thoroughly vet an agent before trusting them with planning your vacation. Even if someone tells you that they are a “certified travel agent” that’s not enough. They may actually have extensive experience and knowledge – or they may have just paid $99 and taken an online class to get that “certification”.

Here are some guidelines:

  • Make sure they have a website.
  • Make sure they have a social media presence.
  • Get references from past clients, customer reviews, Yelp, etc.
  • Make sure that they actually travel – a good travel agent has real travel experience.
  • Find one that has knowledge about the destination(s) that you plan to visit and the type of travel that you want to do. For example, if you’re planning a destination wedding, a safari specialist won’t be of much help to you. If you want to cruise, make sure that they can give you information about several cruise lines, ships, etc.
  • Find someone with a broad range of travel expertise, in hotels, resorts, cruises and current trends.
  • Ask them what they specialize in. Although all travel agents have access selling all travel products, most tend to specialize in destinations or types of travel. You’ll get better service when dealing with someone who is a specialist in your desired destination.

Working with a travel advisor is not right for everyone – or for every trip. But working with the right one can be priceless.

 

 

Cruising 2.0

Have you been on a cruise lately? If so, you have experienced some of the great new innovations that have been introduced by the cruise lines. Of course cruising is not a new experience; it has been used for centuries to transport people and products. But the invention of the steam engine made the process much faster and the passenger ship industry began to flourish.

If you watched television in the 1970s you’ll remember a weekly series called “The Love Boat” that was set aboard a Princess Cruise ship. Each of the episodes included several story lines that revolved around the cast and crew. It provided an inside look at what vacationing onboard a cruise ship was like. It was also a great marketing tool for cruise lines.

Fast-forward to 2017 and you’ll find that cruising is no longer just a way to travel from point A to point B. The cruise game has changed completely. In the last 20 years cruise lines have continued to build bigger, more innovative ships – they have become floating cities! Onboard activities include IMAX theaters, zip lines, ice skating rinks, rock climbing walls, world-class spas, designer shops, waterslides and much more. Here are some examples:

In 2009 Royal Caribbean introduced the world’s largest cruise ships; the Oasis Class. They can carry more than 5000 passengers and 7 different neighborhoods, a 5-deck high Central Park with lush tropical gardens, a boardwalk with a full-size working carousel. Entertainment options are many and besides the usual casino and main showroom, guests can enjoy the comedy club, aqua theater, ice shows, and several nightclubs. Active cruisers can zip line, rock climb, ice skate or hit the waves on one of the FlowRider surf simulators. There is also plenty onboard for the little ones since Royal Caribbean has partnered with DreamWorks so you never know when you’ll run into someone like Shrek or Fiona.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Carnival has expanded their fleet to include activities like an IMAX theater, an onboard waterpark and even flying bicycles!

On the newest ship, the Vista guests can enjoy SkyRide at SportSquare. It is a twin-track suspended bike course — strap in and race around for the win or just cruise for great views.

Celebrity offers modern luxury cruising and its newest ship, the Edge, is advertised as “a ship to leave the future behind”. It does exactly that with transformative spaces. As the sun sets, the groundbreaking spaces on Celebrity Edge transform to deliver completely new experiences. By day, outward-facing ocean views, ever-changing abstract artwork, and unexpected entertainment create a luxurious resort-style atmosphere. At night, ambient lighting, unique al fresco dining, and live music set the scene for energy, intimacy, and elegance.

Custom-built for the spectacular, the Norwegian Bliss will cruise Alaska and the Caribbean seasonally beginning Summer 2018. In addition to the aqua park you can also burn rubber on the largest racetrack at sea and then challenge your friends or family to some friendly competition on the Aqua Racer. Dare to whoosh over the side of the ship on Ocean Loops before dodging lasers during an exhilarating game of laser tag.

Bellissima is the newest flagship of the MSC cruise line. The two-deck inside promenade features a spectacular 260-foot-long LED dome, and is lined with places to shop, eat and drink. There are 20 bars and 10 restaurants to choose from, including specialty restaurants. For entertainment, you can enjoy 2 brand new Cirque du Soleil® shows designed especially for MSC Bellissima, and relax in the desert themed Water Park – an oasis for kids and families.

Princess, the original cruse line of the Love Boat continues to expand its fleet with its new Medallion class ships. Its latest ship, the Regal Princess will debut in November 2017. Enjoy sweeping views from one of more than 1,400 balconies on Regal Princess or stroll on the SeaWalk®, a glass-floor walkway extending 28 feet beyond the edge of the ship! From the tranquil Sanctuary, a retreat reserved for adults, to the dazzling Princess WaterColor Fantasy light and water show and more, there are diversions for every mood.

If you’re looking for an all-inclusive luxury cruise experience, look no farther than Crystal and choose from 3 different cruise types – ocean, yacht or river cruise. The award-winning Crystal Serenity has a contemporary style with a bright, modern décor. Guests can shop at chic boutiques or dine under the stars at Trident Grill, a light and airy courtyard beneath a retractable glass roof. Most striking is the lush greenery – variegated “living walls” and live olive trees under-planted with lavender.

If ocean cruising is not your thing, consider taking a river cruise. It’s a great way to experience the beauty and scenery along the world’s greatest rivers like the Danube, Rhine, Yangtze or Nile. Traveling by river, beyond the reach of roadways, you’ll discover the true nature of these fascinating lands and the people who call them home. You’ll travel with ease, unpacking just once and enjoying the ever-changing scenery along the banks as you are gently carried aboard an elegant, intimate ship to your next destination.

Disney fans that want a “magic included” cruise experience can find it on one of Disney’s world-class ships. There is something onboard for everyone with activities for children and adults-only areas as well. They even offer convenient Wave Phones that let you call and text your fellow passengers while you’re onboard or at Castaway Cay (their private island) so you can always keep in touch.

World Cruises – If time and money are no problem, consider taking a world cruise. Sail from Los Angeles to London (120 days), Sydney to Vancouver (Australia, Asia & Alaska, 79 days), or Athens to Hong Kong (50 days). If you haven’t made vacation plans for 2018, it’s not too late to book the Princess Cruises 2018 world cruise, sailing round-trip from Fort Lauderdale where you can spend 111 days visiting 5 continents and 28 countries. However, the ship only holds 672 passengers, so it’s very likely that it is already sold out.

As you can see, there are LOTS of different cruise experiences to choose from. Cruise ships have become floating resorts. There is so much to do onboard the larger ships, that it can be difficult to experience everything. We have taken transatlantic cruises on Royal Caribbean’s mega ships, the Oasis and the Allure of the Seas and even with 12 days on the ship, we didn’t manage to do or see everything.

 

 

 

 

 

ENJOYING THE MERRY-GO-ROUND ON THE ALLURE

It goes without saying that cruising is not everyone’s cup of tea – there is no “one-size-fits-all” vacation. But cruising comes pretty darn close. Here are some of the benefits:

There is something onboard for everyone. Whether you’re a party animal who wants to be in constant motion, or a loner who prefers “me time”, there are spaces and activities for you. Even the ships that carry 5000 passengers are so well designed that there are always private nooks and crannies.

Cruises are a great way for families to travel together. There are age-specific areas and activities for all ages, so it’s a great way to vacation with the kids and still enjoy some “grown folks” time too.

Cruising offers the best value for your vacation dollar. Although many are not all-inclusive (you have to pay for alcoholic drinks, sodas), it’s still a good value. The cruise fare includes unlimited dining (in dining room, buffet and snack areas), 24 hour room service, nightly shows (we’ve seen Grease, Hair Spray and Cats with actual Broadway casts), nightclubs (no cover charge), and of course transportation between ports. The total for those activities for a 7 day vacation would be much higher than a cruise fare.

Cruising also offers an element of safety. A solo traveler who might be hesitant to stroll around a big city after dark would be perfectly safe going to dinner, a show or nightclub on a ship.

Are all cruises wonderful? Absolutely not! It is important to choose the cruise line and itinerary that fits your travel style and budget. As you can see from the list of ships and activities they are all very different. The experience depends on the ship and the itinerary that you choose. I’m not a fan of old or small ships, so I don’t book cruises on them. It’s also important to book the right cabin. I’ve heard people say that the cabin doesn’t really matter since you don’t spend much time there. Maybe it doesn’t…..to them. For me the cabin is a very important part of my cruise experience. So I want to be as comfortable as possible. I’ve heard people say that they don’t want to be “cooped up” on a cruise ship. That can happen if you’re in an inside cabin with no windows or outside light. But a cabin with a balcony provides an entirely different experience. It’s the perfect place to enjoy the beauty of the ocean in complete privacy, and enjoy beautiful scenes like this.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If your idea of a vacation is a nonstop pool party, I wouldn’t recommend taking a river cruise – they tend to draw a quieter, more elderly crowd (#no turn up). Or if you are a senior who prefers to vacation with people in your age group, a spring break Caribbean cruise would not be the best choice for you.

What’s the best way to decide? Talk to an experienced travel advisor who has cruised and is familiar with all of the cruise lines. They can help you make the best choice.

The cruise industry continues to innovate and re-invent the cruise experience.  It’s a great way to vacation and a great way to see the world.

 

Show Me What You’re Workin’ With!

According to Wikipedia, “The representation of African Americans in media has been a major concern in mainstream American culture.” It has also been a major concern of mine – especially when it comes to travel images. There are very few of us on the Travel Channel, in travel magazines or brochures. Although there are millions of us who do travel, somehow mainstream media manages not to show us. Why do you suppose that is? (Rhetorical question). I could list a number of reasons and I’m sure you could too. Suffice it to say that the media does not try very hard to present us in a positive light. The negative images like street fights, robberies and mug shots manage to appear on the front pages of newspapers and lead stories on the nightly news. But the positive images are few and far between. They struggled for 8 years when they were required to show the First Family – who always presented a positive image.

 

Ownership in the media drives what is being broadcast and we are significantly under-represented when it comes to ownership of media. Advertising also plays a big part and African Americans are also under-represented when it comes to being sponsors. Although there are predominately black areas all over the United States, we are less than 13% of the overall population. So our domination of the mainstream media is not likely to happen soon.

However, when it comes to travel, we do have the power to broadcast our own positive images. Social media outlets like Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and blogs are perfect (and free) ways to do that. Most of us live with a cell phone clutched in our hand, or pocket, so it’s easy just to point and shoot.

BEYOND THE SELFIE – We’ve all mastered the art of taking a selfie, so many of the images that we post are just photos of us. That’s fine, we all do it. But how about also taking photos of the destination? We know what you look like, but we’d also like to see the scenery, historical sites, architecture, etc.

BEYOND THE STILL PHOTOGRAPH – Videos are powerful ways to allow viewers to actually experience the sights and sounds of a destination. Harness the power of YouTube to share your VLOGs with the world.

CAPTURE THOSE MEMORIES – My father was an amateur photographer, so he took his cameras everywhere we went. As children, we didn’t always appreciate his artistry and didn’t want to stand still long enough to pose. But now that Dad has passed on, we have a treasure trove of beautiful scenery (much of it in black and white) as well as a catalog of family memories. Your photos and videos also help to relive the joys of any trip. If you visit more than one destination in a trip, it’s sometimes difficult to keep them separate in your memory. Earlier this year we spent 9 days traveling around western Turkey….what a fabulous trip! Each day was more amazing than the last. Canakkale, Laodicea, Ephesus, Kusadasi……it’s hard to keep them straight in my memory. But the photos and videos that we took transport me right back to each amazing site.

AT THE LIBRARY IN EPHESUS

TRAVEL LEGACY – By recording your travel experiences with photos and videos, you’ll leave a legacy for your children and even grandchildren. My son loves looking at my old travel photos (even if he does laugh at me in Yosemite, with my afro and bell bottoms).

MY SIBLINGS AND I IN 1968

Too much of our history has been forgotten. We have had an impact on the history of the world, but since we didn’t write the history books, much of it was “omitted”.…..imagine that. I’ve traveled over much of southern Spain and learned about the many accomplishments of the Moors from North Africa. In Iberia (Spain and Portugal) they created a highly advanced civilization and culture, famous for its art, architecture and centers of learning.

Somehow those facts never appeared in the textbooks when I studied world history.

With our photos and videos, we have the power to shape the narrative and present facts about our travels. I watched a program on the Travel Channel just this morning about New Orleans. They visited several restaurants in the French Quarter and went up and down Bourbon Street – but somehow managed to show only 2 black people. What? Somehow they managed to shoot around them….and I’ve seen this happen on many of their programs in other locations. Coincidence? I think not. Mainstream media outlets have no intention of showing us traveling around the world. But they can’t stop us from sharing our own experiences. It’s exciting to see so many black travel social media groups sharing information and showcasing our travel exploits. They also spark very lively discussions. But at the end of the day, talk is cheap…..post those images.

SHOW ME WHAT YOU’RE WORKIN’ WITH!

 

 

 

 

 

10 Things to do in Barcelona

Barcelona is the largest metropolis on the Mediterranean Sea, and one of the world’s leading tourist, economic, and cultural centers. With a population of ~1.6 million people, it is an urban kaleidoscope of culture, entertainment, media, food, fashion and architecture. It also happens to be one of my favorite European cities. In the last 10 years I have visited it more than 6 times and each time have discovered something new to enjoy. As a cruise port, it is often visited by tourists. But whether you’re in town for a few hours or a few days, there is always plenty to see and do. Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Spend some time on Las Ramblas               Las Ramblas is a tree-lined pedestrian mall that is popular with both tourists and locals. It stretches for ~1 mile and both sides of the street are lined with shops, restaurants, tapas bars, and hotels. It is a perfect place to stroll, see and be seen – or just sip a little sangria.

2. Shop Around La Boqueria

La Boqueria is one of Europe’s oldest markets. Since 1217 it has been used to sell meat, fish and many other goods. Although it is a major tourist attraction, it is also frequented by local residents. It’s easy to find since it’s located right on Las Ramblas.

There are so many choices – fresh fish, fruit, vegetables, juices, baked goods, meat (including some of the best ham in the world)that it’s difficult to know where to begin. You can even purchase tapas to eat onsite at one of the many food counters. Everything is artfully displayed, so it is as visually stimulating as it is delicious. Prices are quite reasonable, so it’s a perfect place to eat on the cheap.

  1. Take the hop-on-hop-off bus

One of my favorite ways to explore a city is by hop-on-hop-off bus and Barcelona offers two companies to choose from; Bus Turistic and City Sightseeing. Both have 3 different lines, so they are the perfect (and affordable) way to tour the entire city. They run frequently, so you can get off and spend as much time as you like in any location. It’s easy to purchase tickets online ahead of time, or just get them on the bus.

  1. Get lost in the Gothic Quarter

The Gothic Quarter is the center of the city of old Barcelona. Located near Las Ramblas, it is one of the most fascinating areas of the city. It was built primarily in the late 19th and early 20th century, but some buildings date back to medieval times. The area is filled with charming narrow streets and alleyways that open onto plazas. It’s a perfect place to wander around and enjoy the many shops, eateries and even churches. On a recent visit our hotel room looked out onto the Church of Santa Anna, a medieval church dating back to 1300.

 

 

  1. Eat a sandwich at Conesa

Barcelona is known for it’s delicious tapas and they can be found everywhere. But there are also other dining choices. I’ve had some scrumptious kebobs at several eateries all over the city. On my most recent visit I discovered Conesa, a sandwich shop in the Gothic Quarter. It’s a perfect place to enjoy a hot, tasty pannini.

 

  1. Take a day trip to Montserrat

Montserrat is a multi-peaked rocky range located not far from the city, in Catalonia, Spain, so it is a good option for day trip. It is well known as the site of the Benedictine abbey, Santa Maria de Montserrat. Located high on a hill, it is impressive, and views of the valley are spectacular.

  1. Tour wineries in the Penedes Wine Region

Located less than an hour from Barcelona, this is another great option for a day trip – especially for wine lovers. It is one of Spain’s best wine-producing regions, particularly known for it’s Cava production. We spent a day touring the Jean Leon and Torres wineries and the Freixenet Cava caves.

At each winery we were greeted by a knowledgeable guide and each tour ended with plentiful wine tasting and tapas.

  1. Eat tapas – lots of tapas

Tapas are snacks or appetizers that are enjoyed in the early evening. Since dinner is usually served between 9 and 11pm, Spaniards often go “bar hopping” in the hours between finishing work and having dinner. They can be served hot or cold and can include bread, meat, cheese, shellfish, olives, and other delicious fried delicacies. I must confess, that after visiting several tapas bars and enjoying a few sangrias, I’m usually too full to eat a large dinner.

 

  1. Check out the street performers on Las Ramblas

The street performers on Las Ramblas are some of the most imaginative that I have ever seen. Their costumes can range from cute, to kitschy to downright scary.

If you want to take a picture of or with them you’re expected to leave a tip. Each one is unique and puts on a good show.

10. Visit La Sagrada Familia

Barcelona is famous for it’s architecture, the city is full of beautiful and imaginative buildings. One of its most famous architects is Antoni Gaudi. One of his most famous buildings is La Sagrada Familia, a large Roman Catholic church. Construction began in 1882 and is still ongoing; with a projected completion date of 2026. It has been called the most extraordinary personal interpretation of Gothic architecture since the Middle Ages. It is both ancient and futuristic. In a word, it is AMAZING.

Since it is such a popular tourist destination, it is often crowded and lines can be very long. I definitely recommend purchasing a guided tour with skip-the-line access.

These are just a few of the attractions available in this vibrant city, with the cool urban vibe. Whether you choose to take tours around the city, or just sit in a plaza and relax, it is