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Insight Vacations

You'll see beautiful Norwegian fjords on Grand European Travel's "Scenic Scandinavia" tour. Photo from Grand European Travel..

You’ll see beautiful Norwegian fjords on Grand European Travel’s “Scenic Scandinavia” tour. Photo from Grand European Travel.

Grand European Travel — which offers more than 300 guided vacations, escorted tours, and river cruises around the world — has a catchy quiz up on its website called “What Type of Traveler Are You?”

Just answer a few questions like “How Would You Spend Your Weekend?”, “What Does the Inside of Your Dream House Look Like?”, and “What Is the Perfect Travel Outfit?”  — with pictures to guide your way — and find out what type of guided tour might be right for you.

If you’re like me, you may want to take the quiz more than once because some questions have at least two choices (out of six) that seem appealing.

When I took the quiz the first time, I was deemed a “Nature Lover” (which I am) and directed… Continue reading

Uniworld's European Jewels river cruise will feature the SS Maria Theresa. Photo from Uniworld.

Uniworld’s European Jewels river cruise will feature the SS Maria Theresa. Photo from Uniworld.

I’ve often wondered about the derivation of the ship godmother tradition. A female celebrity of some sort says a few nice words about a new vessel and, in theory, breaks a bottle of Champagne across the bow to christen it.

According to one account I read, the tradition goes back thousands of years to when pagan priests would douse a new ship with blood as a kind of bon voyage send-off.

Somehow this morphed into celebrity godmothers and bottles of bubbly. Even royalty have gotten into the act. Queen Elizabeth II has served as godmother for a couple of Cunard’s “Queen” ocean liners, and Kate Middleton has  appropriately doused a Princess Cruises vessel.

Actresses Make Great Godmothers

Actresses are commonly tapped. In retrospect, I would have gladly splurged on a balcony… Continue reading

Prague's Charles Bridge crowded with pedestrians. Photo by Dennis Cox, Worldviews

Prague’s Charles Bridge crowded with pedestrians. Photo by Dennis Cox, Worldviews

On my recent Central Europe tour with Insight Vacations and an international group of journalists, we were lucky to have Insight’s CEO, John Boulding, along with us.

It might seem that having the CEO along would cramp our style, but that’s not the case with John. In fact, John was often the life of the party, and was as likely to close the pub as any of the several twenty-somethings who were along, then show up early the next morning ready to accompany the sightseeing.

John even helped lead a 10-mile bike trip through some hilly backroads of the Czech Republic, outpedaling a number of folks perhaps half his age.

John, who lives in the Channel Islands, personifies the Insight philosophy: open to new experiences and ways of doing things, sensitive to what customers like and want in… Continue reading

Budapest's Chain Bridge over the Danube by night. Photo by Dennis Cox, WorldViews

Budapest’s Chain Bridge over the Danube by night. Photo by Dennis Cox, WorldViews

I love river cruising and was itching to get onto the Danube as soon as we reached Budapest, the Hungarian capital that the river neatly divides into two sections called Buda and Pest.

“We” being the international group of journalists I was traveling with, on an Insight Vacations tour of Central European capitals. Budapest was our last stop in a whirlwind tour that was an accelerated version of the regular Insight tours of the region, yet we managed to pack a huge amount of sightseeing into less than a week.

Having just left Vienna a few hours before, we arrived in Budapest in late afternoon in time to change money, change clothes, change languages and change mindsets from schnitzel to paprikash. Fortunately, goulash, sausages and strudel remained much the same.

Our hotel, the Sofitel… Continue reading

The Hungarian Parliament Building, illuminated at night. Photo by Clark Norton

The Hungarian Parliament Building, illuminated at night. Photo by Clark Norton

On my recent trip to Central Europe with Insight Vacations, I enjoyed Prague immensely, discovered the delightful Medieval town of Cesky Krumlov (also in the Czech Republic), rekindled an old flame in Vienna, but  fell totally in love with Budapest.

Maybe it’s because I’m a sucker for river cruises — the evening dinner cruise we took on the Danube was magical — or maybe it was the Hungarian Parliament building, lit up like a centenarian’s birthday cake at night and almost as beautiful inside by day, or maybe it was that lunch consisting solely of the best strudel I’ve ever eaten.

Probably some of all three, but there were also the endearing intangibles:

* Asking a couple of locals shortly after our arrival the name of the  bridge in front of our hotel,… Continue reading

The village of Durnstein lies on the Danube in Austria's beautiful Wachau Valley. Photo by Dennis Cox/WorldViews

The village of Durnstein lies on the Danube in Austria’s beautiful Wachau Valley. Photo by Dennis Cox/WorldViews

In my last post, Fifteen Things I Didn’t Know About Vienna, Austria, I confessed that there was a lot I didn’t know about Vienna, despite having visited there a number of times in the past.

But those visits had been quite a few years ago, and I had forgotten what a beautiful city Vienna is.

Vienna, in fact, has ranked number one of all the world’s cities  for the past three years in the Mercer Quality of Living rankings for expatriates, based on 39 factors such as infrastructure, amenities, health care, etc. I could definitely see living here, though I’d have to brush up on my German, which consists of three words: bier, danke and Auf Wiedersehen. (Well, I guess that’s four.) And, oh yes, wein. And wurst… Continue reading

Vienna's Schönbrunn Palace was too small for Empress Maria Theresa. Photo by Clark Norton.

Vienna’s Schönbrunn Palace was too small for Empress Maria Theresa. Photo by Clark Norton.

I’d been to Vienna several times before my recent visit there with Insight Vacations — a company that runs high-class tours of Central Europe and many other destinations throughout the world — but I learned a number of things I didn’t know about the city, largely thanks to our excellent guides and our tour director, Neira Milkovic .

* Vienna sports the world’s oldest zoo, the Tiergarten Schönbrunn, which dates from 1752 and is located within the gardens of Schönbrunn Palace.

* The gardens at Schönbrunn Palace are as big as the country of Monaco. The palace was the summer hunting “cottage” of the Habsburgs, who ruled Austria and much of Europe for hundreds of years; despite its nearly 1,500 rooms and 3,000 servants to tend them, Empress Maria Theresa, who ruled from 1640-80,… Continue reading

Prague's Charles Bridge crowded with pedestrians. Photo by Dennis Cox, Worldviews

Prague’s Charles Bridge crowded with pedestrians. Photo by Dennis Cox, Worldviews

Somehow the Czech Republic had eluded me in my travels until two weeks ago, when I was invited as a guest on an Insight Vacations tour that spent two days in Prague and one day in Cesky Krumlov, a medieval town in the southern part of the country.

If you’ve been following my previous posts, you’ll know that we toured the main attractions as well as some of the more historic beer halls and restaurants in Prague, and spent a day with overnight in Cesky Krumlov,  a well-preserved “fairytale town” that “went to sleep,” as our excellent guide put it, for 300 years following Europe’s destructive Thirty Years War in the early 17th century.

Here are ten things I didn’t know about the Czech Republic before I arrived (with thanks to our Insight Vacations tour director,… Continue reading

Cesky Krumlov, viewed from the castle. Photo by Clark Norton

Cesky Krumlov, viewed from the castle. Photo by Clark Norton

Cesky Krumlov, a three-and-a-half-hour bus ride through country roads south of Prague in the Czech Republic, has often been described as a “fairytale” town, and it fits the description well.

As our Insight Vacations tour director, Neira Milkovic, explained en route, the town was cut off from trade routes by Europe’s destructive 30 Years War in the 17th century and “went to sleep” for about 300 years after that.

It’s now awakened as a tourist magnet, for good reason. If you want to see what European towns looked like hundreds of years ago, Cesky Krumlov — a UNESCO World Heritage Site — is a great place to do it.

It comes complete with a hilltop castle, winding cobblestone streets, a scenic river cutting an S shape through town, a central square, and — in a nod to modernity — plenty… Continue reading

Pilsner Urquell is the Czech Republic's most famous export. Photo by Clark Norton.

Pilsner Urquell is the Czech Republic’s most famous export. Photo by Clark Norton.

When you think of European beer, Germany may spring first to mind, but the real capital is the Czech Republic.

Czechs are said to drink more brew than any other nationality in the world: 40 gallons annually for every man, woman and child in the country. I’m guessing that the average is somewhat higher than that for adult men.

The very word “pilsner” derives from the city of Pilsen in the Czech Republic, where the country’s best known export — and my longtime favorite beer, Pilsner Urquell — is brewed. It was the first golden pilsner ever made.

On my recent Insight Vacations tour of Prague, I discovered that Pilsner Urquell is only the beginning of what Czech beer has to offer.

Along with 30 other journalists from around the world, I was fortunate to join the… Continue reading

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According to government and private surveys:

  • Leading-edge baby boomers (born between 1946 and 1955) and seniors account for four out of every five dollars spent on luxury travel today.
  • Roughly half the consumer spending money in the U.S.--more than $2 trillion--is in the hands of leading-edge baby boomers and seniors.
  • Baby boomers (born 1946-1964) travel more than any other age group.
  • When asked what they would most like to spend their money on, baby boomers answered “travel” more than any other category, including improving their health or finances.

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