Archive | January 8, 2011

Easy Pace Russia

By: Elaine Post Director of Sales East for Insight Vacations and Insight Vacations

 

I just returned from Insight Vacations Easy Pace Russia program. It was a fantastic experience. We spent 3 nights in St. Petersburg & 3 nights in Moscow & used the train to get between the cities. Since we spent so much time in each area, we had ample time to see all of the sights & also to explore on our own. All of Insight’s Easy Pace programs require a minimum of 3 nights in each city, which allows you to really get to know an area.

One of the highlights of the trip in St Petersburg was our visit to the Hermitage Museum located in the Winter Palace. The Winter Palace was the residence of the Russian Czars & was built during the span of 1754 to 1762. The array of artwork by the masters was mind boggling; with over 3 million pieces of work from the Stone Age to the 20th Century. Peter the Great’s summer residence at Petrodvorets, with its fabulous gardens, is also not to be missed.

Moscow exceeded my expectations. Red Square & the Kremlin were wonderful. Gum’s Shopping Center at Red Square was amazing; built in 1893 brings you back to the time of the Czars. Another thing that wowed me there were the subways. It is hard to believe that a subway could impress anyone, but in all of my travels & there have been lots, I have never seen anything like what I saw there. The station at Red Sq built by Stalin has bronze sculptures throughout. You would think that you were in a museum, rather than a subway station. The other stations also had fabulous art work.

I also found the food to be quite good. Breakfasts were huge buffets with a vast array of choices. Typical Russian dinners were borsht (a hot beet soup) & beef stroganoff (Created by the Duke of Stroganoff because he had no teeth & needed something soft to eat). Salads & desserts are also included. Lots of vodka toasts occur, as well, at dinner time.

Shopping is great with the dollar getting a great exchange rate against the ruble. Picking up a matriochka (stacking doll) is a must. I brought 2 home.

Russia should definitely be one of the places on your list to see. If you want to have a fantastic time, make sure you experience it with Insight Vacations and R and B International Travel.

Staying Healthy: Cooking, Dancing & Gardening

By: Collette Vacations

Dance the Night Away

Do the Hula in Hawaii…stomp out the rhythm of folkloric dancing in Mexico (and wear a bright colorful skirt just for fun)…tango the night away in Buenos Aires, Argentina…move to the music at a salsa dance lesson at San Antonio’s Institute de Mexico…experience the song, dance and guitar of the flamenco, the national dance of Spain.

Cooking your way to a healthier you

  • Cook with olive oil.
  • Cut down meat portions, and increase portions of grains and legumes proportionately.
  • Eat more fish.
  • Eat more leafy green vegetables and salads.
  • Sit down for meals whenever possible, rather than eating on the run.
  • Choose whole grain breads and pastas instead of refined products.

Gardening – Reap what you Sow

What is more gratifying than arranging a lovely bouquet of cut flowers from your own garden or savoring the delicious flavors of colorful vegetables that you tended from seeds and picked fresh that day? Many Americans list gardening as a way to unwind and relax. Squatting, stooping and bending in the home garden are good for circulation and “playing” in dirt lowers stress levels and promotes a sense of well-being.

Contact R and B International Travel and discover how fun staying healthy can be.

Traveling Well to Israel

 

Shalom!

Welcome to Israel…a land where Abraham forged his covenant with God…and today is a nation that has defied unbelievable odds to become an ancestral homeland for Jews and a place where democracy has flourished.

For the first time traveler to Israel, it is like a walk through history. Here three continents (Asia, Africa and Europe) and two seas convene making the country a blend of cultures, customs and traditions. Here was a crossroad to ancient routes of commerce and a home to diverse peoples reflecting the flood of conquering armies striving for eminence in this much-desired small country. Canaanites, Hebrews, Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, Romans, Arabs, Crusaders, Ottoman Turks and the British—each made their stand, briefly flourished, and were swept away leaving in their wake fortifications, castles and royal palaces. From sheikhs’ tombs with whitened domes to ancient synagogues decorated with colorful mosaics and the graceful arches of Crusader churches, Israel is an amazing feast for the senses.

Rooted in religion—though a majority of its people is quite secular—the old Walled City of Jerusalem is of great symbolic importance for Judaism, Christianity and Islam and their histories entwine on its labyrinthine streets. Walk along the Via Dolorosa or Way of Sorrows to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the site of Jesus, the Christian Messiah’s, crucifixion, burial and resurrection. Observe the solemnity of the Western Wall, the only surviving remnant of Judaism’s most sacred shrine, the Temple Mount. Gaze in awe at one of the world’s great architectural masterpieces, the Dome of the Rock, which was built over a rock said to retain Mohammed’s footprint. It is of particular veneration because of the belief that it is the place that had been visited by Mohammed, the Muslim Prophet, on his miraculous night journey which had taken him from Arabia to heaven.

Ancient and modern, secular and sacred, Israel beckons visitors with its magnificent sites, holy places and warm Mediterranean climate. And while Israel is a land of dynamic contrasts with age-old sacred shrines alongside futuristic skyscrapers and posh resorts with swaying palms alongside desert wasteland…it is its own unique Israeli blend—a fitting description for a nation that continues to confound expectations.

What time of year is best to visit Israel? Anytime of year is beautiful in Israel! Israel enjoys long, warm, dry summers (April-October) and generally mild winters (November-March) with somewhat drier, cooler weather in hilly regions, such as Jerusalem and Safed. Rainfall is relatively heavy in the north and center of the country, with much less in the northern Negev and almost negligible amounts in the southern areas.

Regional conditions vary considerably, with humid summers and mild winters on the coast; dry summers and moderately cold winters in the hill regions; hot dry summers and pleasant winters in the Jordan Valley; and year-round semi-desert conditions in the Negev.

Weather extremes range from occasional winter snowfall in the mountain regions to periodic oppressively hot dry winds that send temperatures soaring, particularly in spring and autumn.

Who are the Israelis?

  • Population of 7 Million
  • 79% are Jewish
  • 15% are Muslim
  • 6% are Christian, Druze, Buddhist and more

Official languages:

  • Hebrew, Arabic
  • Almost everyone speaks English

Short Distances: – Israel is basically the size of New Jersey.

  • Tel Aviv-Jerusalem: 50 minutes
  • Jerusalem-Dead Sea: 45 minutes
  • Jerusalem-Masada: 90 minutes
  • Tel Aviv-Haifa: 90 minutes
  • Jerusalem-Tiberias: 2.5 hours
  • Tel Aviv-Eilat: 4 hours

Preparing for the Trip

  • No visas required
  • Just a passport with validity of 6 months
  • All major credit cards accepted
  • Accessible ATM’s
  • 3.5 Shekels = $1

Electricity The electric current in Israel is 220 volts AC, single phase, 50 Hertz. Most Israeli sockets are of the three-pronged variety but many can accept some European two-pronged plugs as well. Electric shavers, traveling irons and other small appliances may require adapters and/or transformers, which can be purchased in Israel.

Israel: A Journey to the Holy Land

10 days
Tel Aviv • Jaffa • Caesarea • Tiberias • Sea of Galilee Nazareth • Jericho • Dead Sea • Masada • Qumran • Jerusalem • Wailing Wall • Bethlehem • Church of the Nativity • Mount of Olives • Mt. Zion

Did You Know?

  • Israel has 4 seas, 6 micro-climates, mountains, valleys, lush pastureland and deserts, all in a space the size of New Jersey.
  • Jerusalem is Israel’s “Washington, D.C.” and Tel Aviv is Israel’s “New York City.” Jerusalem, the capital, is home to three quarters of a million people. The Tel Aviv metropolitan area, Israel’s center of business, culture, fashion and entertainment, is home to four million people.
  • Mount Hermon is 10,000 feet high, Jerusalem is 3,000 feet above Sea Level, and the Dead Sea is the lowest point on earth. Because it is 2,000 feet further from the sun’s rays – even the fairest skin tans at the Dead Sea shore, but doesn’t burn.
  • 75% of Israelis are Jewish, 25% are Israeli Muslims, Christians, Druze, Baha’is and Buddhists.
  • Israel’s official languages are Hebrew and Arabic and almost everyone speaks English.

A Taste of Israel: Filet of Sea Bass

Ingredients

  • 4 fillets of Sea Bass (5 ounces each)
  • 3.5 ounces of Spinach Leaves
  • 3.5 ounces of Cooked Chickpeas
  • 3.5 ounces of Blanched Green Ful (Fava Beans)
  • 3.5 ounces of Baby Arugula
  • 4 Thyme Leaves
  • 1 Garlic Clove
  • 1/2 cup of Olive Oil
  • 1 grilled Eggplant
  • 1 tablespoon of Sour Cream
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • 1/2 Lemon

Cooking Instructions

  1. Cream of Eggplant: Burn the eggplant on an open flame. Cut in half and scrape out the inside. Throw away the peel. Mix the eggplant with salt, pepper, lemon juice, and 1 tablespoon olive oil to taste. Mix in a blender with 1 tablespoon of sour cream until it becomes a smooth cream.
  2. Tomato Coulis: Slice an X into the top of the tomatoes. Boil in water for 1 minute. Remove the skin, cut into quarters, and take out the seeds. Put on a tray and sprinkle 2 tablespoons olive oil, pepper and salt to taste. Bake for 2 hours in the oven at 200 degrees.
  3. Fish: Season fish with salt, pepper, and 2 thyme leaves. Heat a tablespoon of olive oil on a sauté pan. Place the fish on the pan and sear on both sides until brown. Take the fish off the pan and put on a baking sheet. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and cook fish for 4 minutes.
  4. Vegetables: Fry spinach in a sauté pan with 1 teaspoon of olive oil. Season the spinach with salt and pepper. Let sit until it reaches room temperature. Sauté cooked chickpeas, fava beans, 1 garlic clove, salt, pepper, and 2 thyme leaves in a pan with 1 tablespoon olive oil on a low flame for a few minutes. Add tomato coulis and 1 tablespoon water and cook for another few minutes.

To Serve: Place the cooked chickpeas and fava beans in the center of the plate. Place the fish on top, then place the fresh arugula leaves seasoned with salt and pepper on top of the fish. Pour the cream of eggplant on the side.

Contact R and B International Travel today to start planning your Israel journey.

New Zealand Uncovered

 By: Wanda Leas and Collette Vacations

New Zealand is my favorite place in the world. I love to see the wonder in the eyes of those travelers seeing its beauty for the first time. Putting on my tour manager cap, I’d love to show this place to you. Pretend we’re there.

New Zealand is comprised of three major islands. The North Island is more industrial; the South Island is more agricultural; and Stewart Island is more protected due to the large populations of Kiwi, the national bird.

Auckland is a city with countless sights to see: the American Cup Village, Maritime Museum, some art galleries, and the Sky Tower among them. An extinct volcano blends with the landscape here – Mt. Eden.

The Bay of Islands is where the country began; touring Paihia and Waitangi Treaty grounds, you’ll learn how the country got its start. Waitangi is where Captain James Cook and Chiefs of the local Maori tribes signed the Waitangi Treaty, in 1840 blending the two cultures of the British Crown and Maori together. The Treaty is the linchpin of race relations in New Zealand today.

As you set sail for the South Pacific, keep your eyes open for seals, Orca whales, and dolphins playing by our boat. Arriving in the township of Russell, we’ll discover a tranquil place with a romantic setting. Russell wasn’t always this calm; in fact, it was once known as “the hell hole of the Pacific,” as in 1835 it became a magnet for convicts, whalers and drunken sailors.

Our tour moves on to Rotorua, home to mineral springs and many spas. Our scenery shifts, becoming filled with lovely rolling hills and historic, extinct volcanoes. A highlight for many is our visit with a Kiwi family for the night. Travelers love the opportunity to learn all about the culture and daily life of New Zealanders over a warm, homemade dinner.

Until 1865, Auckland was New Zealand’s capital city. Now Wellington holds the title – and much beauty to go with it. Aptly called the San Francisco of the South Pacific, the city is hilly and also windy. Huka Falls is where you’ll find nature at its best, with water that’s clear and turquoise.

Leaving the North Island behind – beauty surrounds and overpowers. Crossing Cook Strait, we enter the South Island. On a clear day, the water sparkles like diamonds dancing on waves. Enter Christchurch – the most English city in New Zealand. A wine tasting is a great way to start our adventure on the South Island. From Blenheim, most of the trek for the day will take us along the South Pacific Ocean.

The next morning, climb aboard the Tranz Alpine Train to ride across the Canterbury Plains, some of the most beautiful farmland in the country. Our train winds up into the Southern Alps, where sheep stations flourish, and pristine rivers of glacier runoff flow through the mountains. The beautiful turquoise of the water against the golden hills and white-capped peaks offers an awe-inspiring sight.

Queenstown welcomes you – the city known as New Zealand’s outdoor adventure capital. If jet boating, paragliding, parasailing or bungee jumping inspires the adventurer inside you, take advantage of the activities offered here. There’s plenty of beauty to entertain those who want to stay grounded, as well. The Queenstown Gardens are lovely; boutique-browsing is a must and there are galleries to check out. The Safari of the Rings is an excellent way to see the surrounding area, including the Remarkable Mountains – where much of The Lord of the Rings film trilogy was filmed. The TSS Earnslaw and Walter Peak Farm is a pleasurable way to cruise on Lake Wakatipu. “Middle Earth” comes to life here.

Milford Sound, a breathtaking fjord and a World Heritage Site, is a must-see for anyone visiting New Zealand. Travel around Lake Wakatipu, through farmland, sheep and deer country, stopping for tea on the banks of Lake Te Anau.

Venture through beech forest, stopping at Mirror Lake where I always get this great feeling of wonder at its majestic beauty. Our group walks into a rainforest to take pictures of a hidden secret – the Chasm.

Mount Cook is the highest mountain in New Zealand at about 12,000 feet. Our journey to Mount Cook takes us through fruit orchards and vineyard country – where we stop and enjoy a sample.

And the adventures just continue. This tour has the best of New Zealand: Auckland, Bay of Islands, Tongariro National Park, Wellington, the Franz Josef Glacier Region, Queenstown, Milford Sound, Mt. Cook, Christchurch… and so much more. Extinct volcanoes, famous mountain chains that set Academy Award winning scenes, fjords, wildlife, turquoise waters, romantic islands… this is New Zealand.

When it is time to go home, you have so much more than you came with – new friends and many fond memories of an adventure you will never forget. Many people are concerned about the long flight to New Zealand but the only concern you’ll have when its time to leave is how soon it’ll be before you can return.

Contact R and B International Travel and discover New Zealand Uncovered.

Wanda Leas, one of our seasoned Tour Managers, has been a Tour Manager for 25 years. She leads tours to New Zealand, Australia, Fiji, and throughout the USA, has traveled to 28 countries and lived in 25 of them with the USN. She wants to take you on a virtual tour of some of her favorite parts of New Zealand!