Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Travel Tip Tuesday - Converters

In a previous blog, we discussed the importance of determining the voltage used by your International Destination.  Most countries use 220-240 volts, unlike in the United States and Canada that use 100-120 volts.  It is very dangerous to plug in a device that is made for 100-120 volts into a wall socket that delivers 220-240 volts.


If your device is not a multi-voltage device that accepts 120-240 volts (most computers, smartphones, and cameras are) then you have to purchase a converter to address the difference in voltage.  It is important to remember that a voltage converter is only applicable if your device will only accept 100-120 volts.  You can usually find this information on the label of the device that tells you what voltage or input the device can handle. If you can't find the voltage for your device, it is prudent to check online or look at the instruction sheet or box that it came in.

Types of Converters

A converter basically steps down the electrical voltage from the outlet to the device so that it can be used safely.

Courtesy Amazon

 Foval Power Step Down Voltage Converter is on Amazon's choice for a travel converter that sells for $38.98.  It steps down the voltage from 220/240 volts to 110/120 volts so you can use American electronics and appliances with it.  This device can be used in more than 150 countries throughout the world.  The converter also has an auto shutdown for surge protection, overheating, over current, temperature and short-circuiting to keep your devices safe.  The Foval device is compact and comes with five feet of detachable power cable and has a 24-month warranty.  It also comes with one EU power cable and three international adapters for US, UK and AU.

Bestek Universal Travel Adaptor and Voltage Converter

Courtesy Amazon

This converter can step down power from 220 volts to 110 volts and enables you to also charge up to seven devices safely.  It has 6A output charging, four USB charging ports plus three AC ports.  It comes with a 24-month warranty and has over-current, over-load, over-heat and short circuit protection.  It sells for $39.99

For information on our blog on voltages click here.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Shopping for Meissen Porcelain

Shopping is always a highlight of any trip whether your journey takes you to a faraway land or a place close to home.  It is always important to understand the value of what you are purchasing and how you will use it once you get it home.

A stop in Meissen, Germany is a delight for anyone that is a fan of this famous blue and white porcelain that dates to the early 18th century. It offers a wide variety of objects, from figures and figural groups to tea sets, dinnerware, vases, ewers, and so much more. In addition to the ever-popular Blue Onion design, Meissen also produces lines of redware and stoneware. In general, early Meissen porcelain pieces rarely come on the market and when they do, they are expensive. Collectors may find some 19th and early 20th century pieces in fine antique galleries or at auctions, and these pieces, often times whimsical pieces have become very expensive as well.

When purchasing Meissen, as a collectible or as a souvenir there are a few things to keep in mind. Here are the top four things to look for.

1. Note the density and weight.

 Although the patterns are eye-catching in all Meissen pieces, pay special attention to how heavy the piece is because the weight of the porcelain matters. In general, the heavier the porcelain, the higher the quality of the workmanship.

2. Look for the trademark.

Make sure that there is the maker's mark of crossed swords that represents the Meissen brand. Some German manufacturers have copied this design using a similar marking making these copycats confusing. Look at the quality of the piece if you are unsure of the marking. Inferior quality is a telltale sign of a copycat. 
The image below displays in chronological order the marks used to identify Meissen Porcelain through the centuries.

3. Look at the decoration.

Real Meissen pieces are distinctive in style and should have either Rococo elements or Baroque elements as part of their design, but never a combination of both. Look for the brightness of the decoration, the brilliance of the gilding in addition to the feel, weight, and detail of each piece.

4.  Look at the condition.

If you are considering buying an older piece, then look carefully at its condition. If a piece is chipped or cracked, it will not be worth as much. If you collect Meissen figurines, look at the toes, fingers and other small details such as flowers to make sure they are in good condition. If the piece has been restored, make sure that the restoration has been done in an acceptable way.

The 21st century Meissen is just as vibrant and beautiful as it was in the 18th Century and is still prized by avid and novice collectors for its timeless beauty.

Tours of Distinction is visiting Meissen on our tour, Exploring the Elbe, June 29 - July 8, 2019.  This trip includes visits to many cities along the Elbe including Prague, Litomerice, Bad Schandau, Dresden, Meissen, Wittenberg, Magdeburg, Hohenwarthe, and Berlin.  All meals will be onboard the M/S Elbe Princess II and complimentary Wi-Fi and open bar is included. Roundtrip air, transfers and gratuities for the Tour Director, Driver and MS Elbe crew are included. Services of a Tours of Distinction Tour Director is also included. For information on this tour visit https://www.toursofdistinction.net/tours/cruises/theelbe

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Bourbon, Banter and the Culture of Kentucky

When traveling to a new destination it is always fun to sample the local food and drink.  In Kentucky, food is celebrated and so is bourbon making a tour and tasting experience in a bourbon distillery de rigueur. Over the past few years, bourbon has exploded in popularity. According to the Kentucky Distillers' Association, "America's native spirit" is an $8.5 billion signature industry that filled a whopping 1,886,821 barrels of this delicious amber nectar last year, breaking records all the way back to 1967. There are more than 6.6 million barrels aging in the state, enough to supply each Kentuckian with a barrel and a half of whiskey, and plenty in reserve for visitors to sample.

One of the best places to find out about bourbon is to take the bourbon tour and have a tasting at the Evan Williams Distillery.  Located in the heart of downtown Louisville, this distillery combines two of America's favorite things, history, and bourbon. Here you will learn about the life and contributions of Evan Williams, the first commercial distiller in Kentucky while sipping on this amber liquid.  Among the many facts that are pointed out as the tour progresses is that whiskey can be classified as a bourbon as long as it meets several requirements. In general, it must be at least 51% corn, aged in new charred oak barrels, be 160 proof and put into barrels at no more than 180 proof and bottled at no less than 80 proof. Straight bourbons are those that are aged at least two years.

The first part of the tour guides participants through the world of eighteenth-century distilling and the second part of the tour takes guests on a timeline adventure from the 1890s to the modern distilling process. A highlight of this experience is a visit to Evan Williams micro-distillery that is a testament to the timeless process of how bourbon was made centuries ago.

The next leg of the tour is a walk through a historically accurate look at Lexington's wharf area that was constructed to look like it would have in the 1790s when Evan Williams started his business.  A highlight is a walk through a "rick" house or a whiskey aging warehouse where barrels would have been stored in "ricks" or racks.

One of our favorite parts of this experience is Whiskey Row because it is so immersive and interesting.  In the 1890's, Louisville's historic Whiskey Row was packed with rectifiers, distillers, offices, barrel makers, wholesalers, saloons, and more; it is fun to walk through this area and imagine yourself back in the heyday of those times.  The walk down Whiskey Row is the final part of this tour that represents a timeline starting in the 1890s and ending in the present day.

 Displays include information on prohibition, rectifiers, the great depression, the business of alcohol, and bourbon in the 1940s and 1950s including a walk through a 1950s speakeasy bar.

After the history tour, the real fun begins with a tasting.  Expect an excellent range of bourbon options to be served that make this experience a great introduction of bourbon for "newbies" as well as a special occasion for bourbon aficionados that may pick up a fact or two that will impress their friends back home.

When attending the tasting event there are a few tips to keep in mind.  The first thing tasters should notice is the color of the bourbon.  The shade of amber reveals the proof of the product and hints at the number of years it was aging in the barrel. Lighter shades indicate lower proof while darker shades indicate higher proof. Smell is also important to bourbon tasting.  Take a deep breath and keep your mouth open to get the full experience. As for tasting,  everyone has a different method.  One of the best ways is to swish the amber liquid around your mouth in order to get a complete tasting profile.

A Glossary of Bourbon & Whiskey Lingo

When delving into the world of bourbon and whiskey, there is a particular lexicon used to describe this golden amber spirit.  The abbreviated glossary below is courtesy of the Kentucky Distillers Association.

Angel's Share: The portion of Bourbon in an aging barrel that's lost to evaporation.

Bourbon (straight): A whiskey made from a mash containing at least 51 percent corn, distilled out at a maximum of 160° proof, aged at no more than 125° proof for a minimum of two years in new charred oak barrels. If the whiskey is aged for less than four years, its age must be stated on the bottle. No coloring or flavoring may be added to any straight whiskey.

Wheated bourbon: Bourbon made from a mashbill that contains wheat instead of rye grain.

Rye whiskey (straight): A whiskey made from a mash containing at least 51 percent rye, distilled out at a maximum of 160° proof, aged at no more than 125° proof for a minimum of two years in new charred oak barrels. If the whiskey is aged for less than four years, its age must be stated on the bottle. No coloring or flavoring may be added to any straight whiskey.

Single barrel whiskey: Whiskey drawn from one barrel that has not been mingled with any other whiskeys.

Small batch whiskey: A product of mingling select barrels of whiskey that have matured into a specific style.

Corn whiskey: A whiskey made from a mash containing a minimum of 80 percent corn and, if it is aged at all, must be aged in used or uncharred oak barrels.

Rackhouse: The building in which whiskey is aged, sometimes referred to as the “warehouse.”

Ricks: The wooden structures on which barrels of whiskey rest during aging.

Tours of Distinction 

Sounds of the South 

July 6-12, 2019

Tours of Distinction is offering a small group tour called Sounds of the South for no more than 24 participants to Memphis, Nashville, and Lexington July 6-12, 2019.  This seven-day tour includes roundtrip air and transfers, roundtrip motor coach throughout the tour, six nights in four-star accommodations, 12 meals (six breakfasts, two lunches, and four dinners), reserved seats to the Grand Ole Opry, all entrances and guides to attractions on the itinerary and roundtrip baggage handling.  Best of all, this tour includes the services of a professional  Tours of Distinction Tour Director as well as all gratuities for the Tour Director, local guides and the motorcoach driver. In addition to the full tour option as listed above, there are three additional tour options at different price points that include: triple per person pricing, single per person pricing and double per person pricing land only.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Travel Tip Tuesday -Determining Voltage Ranges

There are several essential items to pack for International Travel that includes passports, visas, local currency and portable adaptors and converters that you can use to charge your electronic devices such as cell phones, cameras, computers and other appliances like hairdryers or curling irons.  There are two basic things to keep in mind when packing converters and adaptors, the voltage used by your destination and the type of wall outlet/plugs used.

Voltage Range

The United States is one of the few countries in the world with a voltage range of 100-120 volts; most other countries use a 220-240 (50 or 60 Hz) voltage range.  Most countries have a well-defined voltage standard. This list also notes voltage differences from region to region.

The most important thing to do is to determine the voltage of your device by checking the label.  If the device shows only one number before the V on the label it is a single voltage device with a voltage range of 100-120 volts and won't work in most countries without a converter.

Most laptops, smartphones, cameras and other modern electronic devices are multi-voltage meaning that they will automatically adjust to different voltage ranges and all that they will need is the appropriate adapter plug.  Some devices such as hairdryers, curling irons, and electronic toothbrushes may require you to switch the device from 100-120 volts to 220 volts for International use.  If you do not switch the voltage before plugging it in you will damage the device.

To determine the voltage used for the country you are visiting check out the overview of all countries of the world and their respective plugs, outlets, voltages used for domestic appliances and electronics. For the chart click here.