Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Passport & Passport Card

The U.S. State Department issues two types of passports, the traditional passport, and the passport card. Travelers may opt to get one or the other or both and should be aware of when and how to use each type of document.

A traditional passport covers all international and domestic travel.  The book includes many pages for passport entry and exit stamps as well as pages for visas. A traditional passport is required by the U.S. Government for people entering the country on your return visit from an international destination.  Airlines will not let U.S. citizens depart from the U.S. without their passport.  Many foreign countries only require a U.S. passport for entry. The current cost of a U.S. passport is $145. The passport book is valid for ten years after issue for adults and five years for travelers under 16.

The passport card is the size of a drivers license and does not include any areas for visas or entry and exit stamps.  It can only be used to re-enter the U.S. from Canada, Mexico, Bermuda, and the Caribbean at a land border crossing or at a seaport of entry. A passport card may not be used for international air travel, even when you re-enter the U.S. by land. The first time fee for a passport card is $65.  The passport card for adults is valid for ten years.

The State Department offers an option where travelers can obtain a traditional passport as well as a passport card for $175.  For more information click here.

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Travel Tip Tuesday Benefits of Carry On Luggage

Traveling light is an art and the benefits of traveling with just one lightweight piece of luggage is amazing.  Traveling light frees up your time and increases your mobility.  It is also a money saver because you don't have to pay airlines for the privilege of checking your bags.

Organizing what to pack in your carry on bag takes a lot of thought and planning.  Look for a bag that is durable, lightweight, and functional and most importantly one that meets the airline carriers size and weight requirements. Most airlines require a standard carry on bag to be 22 x 14 x 9 inches.  You might want to consider a carry on bag that is a little smaller to give you a bit more wiggle room when fitting your luggage in an overhead compartment.

 If you opt for carry on luggage with wheels make sure that they conform to the size requirements of the airline, also make sure that side pouches don't impede fitting your bag into an overhead compartment.

It is important to do your packing prep work ahead of time and to make a list and save it for your favorite destinations. In terms of what to pack, it is always best to pack dark colors and to plan on doing a little laundry. Consider what you need to wear for planned excursions and think about packing clothes with two or more purposes. You can use layers to change your look and add a bright scarf to dress up an outfit.

If you opt to travel with just a carry on bag it is a good idea to pay the airline an extra fee to pre-board.  These days fewer bags are being checked and many passengers are traveling with just carry on luggage. The result of this is that overhead bins are filling up faster than ever.  Early bird check-in and boarding will allow you to snag that coveted overhead bin space before it fills up!

Monday, July 8, 2019

The Three Palaces of Ludwig II of Bavaria

Ludwig II built three lavish castles to realize his dreams in brick and stone.  He wanted to create palaces that captured the romance of Teutonic Sagas and the splendor of Versailles.  Wagner's operas allowed Ludwig II to enter into the romantic world of Medieval heroes but this experience was limited to the stage.  In the castle's Ludwig II built, Linderhof, Herrenchiemsee, and Neuschwanstein he could actively enter the golden splendor and romantic tales of times gone by leaving reality far behind.

Linderhof Palace

Linderhof Palace

Linderhof was the smallest of the three palaces built between 1863 and 1886, by Ludwig II and was the only palace that he saw completed.  It is built in the 18th century Rococo style and is reminiscent of the Petit Trianon in Versailles. The staircase is a smaller recreation of the famous Ambassador's staircase in Versailles as is Ludwig II's Hall of Mirrors. Ludwig II idolized the French Sun King, Louis XIV who was the type of absolute monarch that Ludwig II could only dream of being.

Herrenchiemsee or New Palace

New Palace

In 1878, Ludwig commissioned a neo-Baroque New Palace to be built 
as a homage to King Louis XIV and his belief in the divine right of kings on Lake Chiemsee's idyllic Herrenchiemsee Island.  This vast palace was based on a model of Versailles and was built as Ludwig II's private residence.  Like Versailles, it has a Hall of Peace, a Hall of War, and a Hall of Mirrors with a tableau showing Louis XIV at his best.  This palace was Ludwig II's last and largest building project.  It remained unfinished at the time of his death with 50 of its 70 rooms still incomplete.  After Ludwig II's death, all work stopped on here.  The expenses, in excess of $250,000 in today's figures brought royal finances to the verge of bankruptcy.  Several weeks after Ludwig II's death this palace was opened to the public. It was given to the State of Bavaria in 1923.  Today this palace is still very remote and can only be reached by boat.

Neuschwanstein Castle

Neuschwanstein Castle

Neuschwanstein Castle built in the Romanesque Revival style was commissioned by Ludwig II in 1868 as his personal home and retreat in honor of Richard Wagner. The king saw this palace as a romantic interpretation of the Middle Ages and the operas, Tannhauser, Lohengrin, and Parsifal composed by his friend Wagner.  Typical of 19th-century architecture this palace mingles Gothic, Romanesque, and Byzantine architectural and artistic styles.  Ludwig II concerned himself with the most minute details of the interior design of this castle from the murals and furniture to the chandeliers and dishes.  This castle was decorated as a theatrical stage set for Ludwig II to live out his dreams. 

Bedroom of Ludwig II

In the castle itself, Wagnerian themes dominated the decorations that matched Ludwig's favorite scenes in Wagener's operas. In the dining room, murals show scenes from the Wartburg Singers' Festival.  The King's bedroom has a magnificently carved walnut bed with scenes representing the doomed love affair of Tristan and Isolde from Wagner's opera set against richly carved oak walls. The King's study showcases the story of Tannhauser, another opera composed by Wagner.  Throughout the castle were reminders of Ludwig's hero, Lohengrin, and his swans painted on walls, carved into ceilings and arches, cast in porcelain, and woven into exquisite tapestries. 

Ludwig's Study

Beyond his bedroom, Ludwig constructed an artificial grotto lined with plaster stalactites, a fountain, and a clockwork moon.  And, beyond this room was a hanging winter garden overlooking the Fussen plain below.

Singer's Hall

Above Ludwig's third-floor bedroom was Ludwig's singer's hall modeled on the Wartburg Room where Wagner had set his famous song contest in Tannhauser.  This room is bright with its high arched windows letting in the sunny alpine light.  The high vaulted ceiling is richly painted in medieval style floral designs and the murals in the room depict the legend of Tannhauser and Parsifal, as well as the saga of the Holy Grail. It is in this room that you will find Ludwig II's coat of arms, it is the only reference to the creator of this glorious mountaintop castle.  

Throne Room

The real centerpiece of this castle is the throne room as it was designed as an architectural celebration of the divine right of kings.  The style of this room is Byzantine and takes its inspiration from St. Sophia in Istanbul. More than two million tiles compose the intricate floor that depicts animals in the forest. The columns are painted to look like lapis lazuli and porphyry and have gilded Corinthian capitals. At the time of Ludwig II's death, this palace was far from complete. Ludwig only lived 172 days in the castle and slept in it only 11 nights.

Tours of Distinction - Bavaria and Austria 

On our tour Bavaria and Austria with Oberammergau, September 9-16 2020, you will visit the romantic castle of Neuschwanstein built by Ludwig II as well as the home he grew up in, Castle Hohenschwangau.  Other highlights include Munich, a journey to Oberammergau with an optional side trip to Innsbruck.  For tour details click here

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Travel Tip Tuesday Five Packing Rules for International Travel

Traveling internationally is exciting because it allows us to meet people from different cultures and lifestyles and, it introduces us to new sights, sounds, and food.  To get ready for your international getaway, we have put together five helpful travel tips to keep in mind.

1. Research your destination.  It is important for you to know what the weather will be like for your trip's timeline so you can pack accordingly.  It is also important to look into the culture itself to see if there are any customs that you should be aware of.

2. Pack an international travel adaptor to keep your electronics charged. A universal travel adaptor comes in handy and a good one is the Kensington Grounded International Travel Adaptor.  This adaptor is compatible with grounded and ungrounded plugs in more than 200 countries and has a retractable three-pole adapter making it suitable for powering laptops, cell phones, and small appliances like hairdryers. There is even an internal fuse that protects against power surges.  Click here for more information.

3. Bring along a compact reusable bag to carry personal items.  When out and about a reusable bag that folds into itself is perfect for carrying travel essentials like water bottles, sunscreen, and other essentials. It is also perfect for souvenirs and can double as a beach bag. A staff favorite is the 24-7 reusable bag by flip and tumble that is made of nylon. An extra perk is that it has a no-slip shoulder strap. Amazingly, this bag can hold up to 35 pounds.  Best of all it is washable and very compact.

4.  The beauty of compression socks is that they prevent feet and legs from swelling making them a  must-have for long or even short flights.  If you are sitting in an airplane seat for longer than three or four hours chances are your feet and legs will swell.  In order to aid circulation wear a pair of compression socks on the flight to keep down the swelling and to avoid the possibility of blood clots.

5.  Disinfecting wipes will help keep you healthy.  Catching some sort of sickness on a flight can ruin a vacation.  Wipe down your seat, armrests, and tray table as well as anything else you are touching on the plane. Once at your destination, these wipes will come in handy when you are traveling on the road and unable to wash your hands.

Monday, July 1, 2019

Poor "Mad" King Ludwig II of Bavaria

"He is unfortunately so beautiful and wise, soulful and lordly, that I fear life must fade away like a divine dream in this base world."  Richard Wagner on Ludwig II, 1864

Neuschwanstein Castle

Setting the Scene

Set high above the sparkling green-blue waters of the Forggensee, on Jugend Mountain, Neuschwanstein Castle perches like a fairytale castle come to life.  This white confection rises like a gleaming jewel from the shadows of the mountain, bristling with gables and balconies, arches, and crenelated towers that pierce the sky.

Just looking at its limestone facade and deep blue turrets most people think of Sleeping Beauty's castle in Disneyland.  After all, Walt Disney and his wife visited Europe and stopped at Neuschwanstein Castle, so perhaps, the striking similarities between the two castles aren't that much of a surprise. 

The story of the builder of Neuschwanstein, "Mad King" Ludwig II of Bavaria is not as idyllic as the setting of this castle and entails elements of mystery, murder, suicide, political intrigue, romance and, perhaps, insanity.  

Crown Prince Ludwig II

King Ludwig II

Ludwig II was born in 1845 into the Bavarian ruling family, the House of Wittelsbach, well known for its' eccentric family members.  At the time of Ludwig II birth, Bavaria, one of thirty-nine independent states that formed Germany was ruled by his grandfather, King Ludwig I.  Some four and a half million people lived in Bavaria which was the largest of the German states. King Ludwig, I like his grandson, Ludwig II were both patrons of the great artists and architects of their day, and both, in their own ways, came to an untimely end.  Ludwig I was forced to abdicate his throne due to political turmoil surrounding his mistress, Loa Montez, and Ludwig II's death was controversial with some believing it was suicide and others believing it was murder.

King Ludwig I

Ludwig I was succeeded on the throne by his son and Ludwig II's father, Maximillian who was an intellectual conservative with very traditional views.  Ludwig II's parents didn't really like each other and cared little for their children. King Maximillian and his wife, Princess Marie of Prussia, set unreasonably high expectations on young Ludwig II which inevitably lead to dashed hopes. Ludwig II's failures were met with beatings and harsh verbal reprimands from his father leaving his relationship with both parents strained and devoid of any natural affection.  

Growing Up Royal @ Hohenschwangau Castle

Hohenschwangau Castle - "High Country of the Swan"

An imaginative and shy child growing up alone in the magnificent Hohenschwangau Castle (that roughly translates as "high country of the swan") and surrounded by alpine beauty, it is easy to see how Ludwig II became immersed in his own world of dreams.  This castle is decorated in the gothic style with countless frescoes of heroic German sagas connecting it to the Teutonic legend of the Swan Knight.  These sagas of the long forgotten days of knighthood and chivalry coupled with Ludwig II's love of the splendors of Versaille became an obsession that was to last throughout his life.

King Ludwig II Ascends the Throne @ 18

King Ludwig II

Ludwig II inherited the troubled throne of Bavaria at 18 when his father, King Maximillion died suddenly.  Ludwig II had no political training from his father and when he took the oath of allegiance to the constitution, he was a complete enigma to his court. Never interested in politics, Ludwig II all but abandoned his kingly duties in pursuit of his romantic ideals.  Like his grandfather, Ludwig I, he became a passionate supporter of the arts.  Ludwig II, however, took his passion to a whole different level by insisting on building castles and participating in every aspect of the process. 

Loss of Bavarian Independence

At the age of 20, Ludwig II suffered a major political defeat in Bavaria's participation in the Seven Weeks War.  The result was a peace treaty that created a new German State.  In return for financial concessions, Ludwig II was forced to sign a letter declaring that Bavaria was no longer an independent state, but part of the German empire. Ludwig II's uncle, Wilhelm I was declared the German Emporer. The failure of losing Bavaria to Prussia caused Ludwig II to fully retreat into a world of dreams; and from this period on Ludwig turned his attention away from politics and increasingly toward construction, the arts, and the theatre. 

Soulmates and Friends

Empress Elizabeth of Austria 

A noted recluse, Ludwig II had few friends.  In his youth, his best friend was Prince Paul Maximillian Lamoral of the Thurn and Taxis family.  They would read poetry and stage scenes from Wagner's operas.  A life long friendship also developed in his early years with his older cousin Elizabeth, Dutchess of Bavaria, who married Emperor Franz Joseph of Austria becoming the Empress of Austria.  This friendship lasted for his entire life.  The Empress and the King loved to write and dream together and even developed nicknames for each other, Ludwig was "the eagle" and Elizabeth was "the dove."  Both were brooding and reclusive, they disliked the duties of court life and were unhappy with their lives. Ludwig II and Empress Elizabeth shared a mutual longing for beauty and dwelt in a world of dreams, each giving access to the other but denying the rest of the world.  Although they were never lovers, they were soulmates.

Wedding Woes

King Ludwig II and Dutchess Sophie

Ludwig II became engaged to Dutchess Sophie of Bavaria, the younger sister of Empress Elizabeth of Austria in January of 1867.  The wedding was planned for Ludwig's 22nd birthday on August 25, 1867.  Ludwig's anxieties over the public festivities that would accompany the wedding and the simple fact that Dutchess Sophie was not a replacement for Empress Elizabeth pushed him to postpone the wedding to October 12 and, once again, to November 28. When Sophie's father heard of this postponement he wrote to King Ludwig II demanding that he set a firm wedding date or call the engagement off, and, callously, Ludwig II called the wedding off blaming it on Sophie's parents.

Ludwig II and the Arts


In addition to his support of Wagner, Ludwig II  was instrumental in bringing the works of Shakespeare, Ibsen, and Mozart to Munich for the first time. One of Ludwig II first acts as King was to establish a new Court Theater, the Staatstheatre am Gartnerplatz, still one of the most active theatres in Germany.

Ludwig II and Wagner

Within a month of ascending the throne of Bavaria Ludwig II sent his private secretary in search of composer Richard Wagner.  Wagner came to the capitol with enormous debts which Ludwig settled on his behalf.  Wagner was put on the official court payroll and housed in Castle Berg where Ludwig II could visit him every day.  They spent hours discussing the composers latest ideas and plans for the future. Ludwig II wrote rapturous declarations of his undying love, support, and admiration for Wagner.  For Ludwig's 19th birthday in 1864, Wagner composed the March of Homage much to the delight of the king.

Without the king's support, it is unlikely that Wagner would have ever completed his great Ring Cycle, Parsifal, or lived to see the staging of Tristan und Isolde. Over the course of their friendship, and much to the anger of court officials, Ludwig II lavished 985,099 guldens on Wagner which is equivalent to $50,870,613 dollars today. Eventually, Wagner left Munich and settled in Switzerland in a house financed by Ludwig II and there, he turned to someone else for comfort.

Why Ludwig Built Palaces

Neuschwanstein Castle

The failure of his marriage to Dutchess Sophie, the loss of Bavarian independence, and the fact that Wagner turned to someone else for comfort had a major effect on Ludwig II.  Disillusioned in life, from 1867 onward, Ludgwig spent more and more time in the Bavarian Alps where he retreated into his own fantasies and began to build. Ludwig II built three lavish castles to realize his dreams in brick and stone.  He wanted to create palaces that captured the romance of Teutonic Sagas and the splendor of Versailles.  Wagner's operas allowed Ludwig II to enter into the romantic world of Medieval heroes but this experience was limited to the stage.  In the castle's Ludwig built, Linderhof, Herrenchiemsee, and Neuschwanstein he could actively enter the golden splendor and romantic tales of times gone by leaving reality far behind.

Too Many Bills 

Linderhof Castle

Ludwig's passion for building left him deeply in debt, and by the end of 1885, he owed more than 14 million marks to creditors.  When Ludwig's ministers found out about the staggering funds owed to creditors, who could sue the king in open court, they refused to fund any more building projects.  A furious Ludwig II threatened to sack his entire cabinet.  
The response of  Ludwig II's ministers upon hearing this threat was to remove the king from power on June 10, 1886, declare him insane, and appoint his uncle as Prince Regent. Ludwig II called for his restoration and armed resistance.  Before Ludwig II could rally support, on June 12,1886, Ludwig II was seized by the Bavarian government and was taken to Castle Berg as a prisoner.  Here he was put under the care of  Von Gudden, a psychiatrist, who declared him insane.

Mysterious Death 

Ludwig II and Von Gudden on the Lake Path of Castle Berg

There is no part of Ludwig II's life as mysterious and clouded in legend as that of his death. On June 13, 1886, Ludwig II asked Von Gudden to join him for a stroll around Lake Starnberg.  Ludwig II set off for a walk with the doctor around 6 p.m. and neither man was seen alive again.  Their bodies were retrieved from the shallows of the lake a few hours later, with Von Gudden's showing that he had been badly beaten. Ludwig's death was attributed to drowning, although no water was found in his lungs and he was a strong swimmer.  The space for describing the cause of death for Ludwig II was left blank on his autopsy report. 

Cross on Lake Starnberg

There is speculation that Ludwig was murdered by his enemies in the government.  Another theory claims Ludwig II was shot although no bullet wounds were recorded in his autopsy.  It was also claimed that Von Gudden brought a bottle of chloroform with him on the walk and this caused Ludwig's death by drowning.  It is then supposed that Von Gudden died of a heart attack from the shock of Ludwig's death.  In 1933, Ludwig II's personal fisherman claimed that he was hiding in the bushes with his boat to help Ludwig II escape.  The fisherman claimed that as Ludwig boarded the boat he was shot. Another story has it that Ludwig II murdered Von Gudden in an attempt to escape and died of natural causes; perhaps a stroke or a heart attack brought on by the cold water of the lake.

The suicide theory also made the rounds and was popular.  People close to Ludwig II claimed he threatened suicide in the weeks leading to his death.  Had Ludwig really meant to take his life he had plenty of opportunities while he was free at Neuschwanstein Castle before he was taken prisoner at Castle Berg.

Castle Berg

There is also evidence that Ludwig II's cousin, Empress Elizabeth, of Austria, Ludwig II's "soulmate" spent the afternoon wandering along the shore of Lake Starnberg at her childhood home that was across from Castle Berg. It is said that she had a carriage waiting by the shoreline ready to take Ludwig II to Munich or Austria.  Boats were organized to pick Ludwig up and bring him safely to the waiting carriage. It is known that in the afternoon Ludwig II sent a note to his cousin, Empress Elizabeth, perhaps it was to alert her to the time of his walk around the lake. What exactly happened that dark and rainy night will never really be known.  

Tours of Distinction - Bavaria and Austria 

On our tour Bavaria and Austria with Oberammergau, September 9-16 2020, you will visit the romantic castle of Neuschwanstein built by Ludwig II as well as the home he grew up in, Castle Hohenschwangau.  Other highlights include Munich, a journey to Oberammergau with an optional side trip to Innsbruck.  For tour details click here

Magical Mackinac Island - Jewel of the Great Lakes Aug. 18-25, 2019

Imagine visiting an Island that has no cars and is surrounded by calm lake waters and fragrant evergreen forests.  An Island where 80% of its landscape is an unspoiled National Park; and one that has a living Victorian village where the only mode of transportation is by horse and carriage or bicycle.  Mackinac Island, the jewel of the Great Lakes is all this and more.

Visitors to Mackinac Island often feel they have stepped back to a more genteel time because of its elegant Victorian architecture and the signature sound of the clip-clop of horses as they pull carriages around this unspoiled island that has banned cars since the 1800s. Here, you will find the queen of Victorian Era resorts, the Grand Hotel, you can take a leisurely stroll  or horse and carriage ride through a "living" Victorian village, sample fudge made from a traditional recipe that has not changed for more than a century, and tour Fort Mackinac, that dates to the 1700s.

In 2015, Travel and Leisure Magazine called this charming four-square-mile island located on Michigan's Lake Huron the "world's friendliest island".  It is no wonder that the island snagged the number one spot. Most of the island is undeveloped and unspoiled, the service and amenities are excellent, and the attractions are varied and interesting.  Best of all, residents of the island are friendly; many affectionately refer to visitors as "fudgie" because very few visitors leave the island without sampling its specialty...fudge!

Downtown Mackinac Island

Lined with colorful Victorian styled shops, restaurants, art galleries and boutiques, downtown Mackinac Island is a shoppers paradise that has something for everyone.  Downtown is also the best place to rent a bicycle or go on a horse and carriage ride. If you are planning a shopping expedition, make sure to wear a comfortable pair of shoes!

If you are a foodie there are more than 50 restaurants to choose from ranging from family friendly to fine dining. For more information about restaurants click here. At night, many of the restaurants and pubs offer live entertainment from big band music to rock, folk, blues, jazz, and country, the choice is yours and the scene is convivial.

Mackinac Island claims to be "America's Fudge Capitol", and after sampling the endless varieties of fudge, you might believe that this is fact, not fiction!  The tradition of making fudge was born in the years following the Civil War and is alive and well today.  Many recipes used here have not changed since the 1900s.  Keep an eye peeled for Murdick's Fudge located downtown; it is the oldest fudge making shop on the island that has been serving this delicious delicacy since 1887.

Downtown for History Buffs

Downtown isn't only for shoppers, history buffs can explore five beautifully preserved historic buildings including the Biddle House, the Benjamin Blacksmith Shop, McGulpin House, the American Fur Company Store, and Dr. Beaumont Museum, and the Mission Church.

Biddle House

Once the home of a fur trader,  the Biddle House dates to 1797 and is of French Canadian construction.  A highlight of the house is the open hearth cooking demonstrations and hands-on crafts classes. Close by, the McGulpin House is a rare example of Canadian architecture that was built around 1780.  It is a gable-roofed French Canadian structure made of squared horizontal logs with dovetail corners.

American Fur Company Store and the Dr. Beaumont Museum

The American Fur Company Store and the Dr. Beaumont Museum has exhibits that include a period setting of what the store looked like in the 1820s and is staffed with a costumed interpreter.  It also has a gallery explaining Dr. Beaumont's observations on the digestive system. The story goes that in 1822, a French Canadian traveler was accidentally shot in the American Fur Company Store and that Dr. Beaumont nursed him back to health. The wound never healed properly and through an opening to the stomach, the good doctor was able to compare the digestibility of food. From his observations, Dr. Beaumont published a groundbreaking book on the digestive process in 1830.

The Arch Rock

Regardless of how you view Arch Rock, from above or looking down through its frame, you will be in awe. This dramatic and extremely rare geologic formation was created thousands of years ago during the Nipissing Era when the water levels of Lakes Huron and Michigan were much higher than they are today.  Over the centuries the receding water and wind eroded the soft rock below leaving only the hard breccia rock exposed that forms the symmetrical archway that we see today.  Arch Rock rises 146 feet above the water and is 50 feet at its widest point.

Mackinac Island State Park

Breathtaking vistas, historic landmarks, nature trails winding through verdant forests, and spectacular rock formations are just some of the delights found at Mackinac Island State Park. Visitors can take a horse and carriage ride through the park, go horseback riding, bicycle or hike on 70 miles of trails that make their way through this unspoiled wilderness.

The Park has many historic landmarks such as the palatial summer cottage of Michigan's Governor and Anne's Tablet, a bronze memorial that commemorates the work of novelist Constance Fenimore Woolson.  There are two benches here with a fabulous eastern view that overlooks the town and harbor making it a perfect spot for photos and a picnic lunch.

For history buffs, don't miss Skull Cave that was used by Alexander Henry, one of the British survivors of the June 2, 1763 attack on Fort Michilimackinac.  He was taken to the cave by his friend, Ojibwa Chief Wawatam for protection.  Henry reported that this cave was full of skulls and bones!

Fort Mackinac

Fort Mackinac was built by the British Army during the American Revolutionary War. It looms 150 feet above the Straits of Mackinac and overlooks Marquette Park, which was a garden for the soldiers living in the Fort.  Entering the Fort is like stepping back in time to 1775 when the American Revolution began.  Visitors are invited to explore the 16 buildings of the Fort that are open and furnished with period settings or themed exhibits. A special treat is the dining experience at the Tea Room located in the Fort with its excellent view over Marquette Park.

In addition to its stunning panoramic views, highlights of the Fort include tours by costumed interpreters, hearth cooking demonstrations, and the exciting experience of watching cannon and musket firing demonstrations.  Be sure not to miss the 15-minute movie in the King's Storehouse that tells the story of the attack at Michilimackinac.  If you like to shop, before you depart check out Sutler's Museum Store where you will find items unique to Fort Mackinac. 

Tour Mackinac Island With Tours of Distinction

TOD is offering an exclusive eight-day excursion to Mackinac Island, August 18-25, 2019.  The tour includes roundtrip motor coach and ferry transportation, 14 meals, and 7 nights hotel accommodation.  A professional TOD Tour Director accompanies the group on this exciting trip.  A variety sightseeing has been carefully planned and includes Niagara Falls, Henry Ford Museum, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Greenfield Village and Tour, Cranbrook House, Lunch at the Grand Hotel, Carriage Ride and Tour of Mackinac Island, Vineyard Tour, Tasting and Lunch in the Fingerlakes, and Frankenmuth, Bavarian Village.  For complete tour details click here.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Legends - the Wild Horses of Assateague

There are many legends of how the wild horses of Assateague Island came to reside here, and, all of them are shadowed in the mists of the past.  The legends range from dramatic shipwrecks to abandonment, glorious Spanish galleons, and farmers trying to avoid taxes.  Regardless of what legend you believe - the chance to catch a glimpse of these wild horses frolicking in their natural environment is an unforgettable travel moment.

Photo Credit  NPS
According to the most popular and dramatically romantic legend, a Spanish galleon was wrecked just off the shoreline of Assateague Island in the late 17th century.  Native Americans living in the area rescued the crew, while the horses on board swam to the safety of the island's shoreline.  The description of the crew by Native Americans as documented in Scribner's Monthly predates Jamestown (1607) by several years.  Just how many members of the crew were rescued and how many of the horses swam to shore will never be known.  This legend was passed down from generation to generation of people living on the island and was memorialized by Marguerite Henry's Misty of Chincoteague. 

Photo Credit NPS

Another theory maintains that the horses of Assateague were abandoned by 17th-century colonials that brought their horses to the island to avoid fencing laws and the taxation of livestock.  One of the more outlandish legends has to do with the famed pirate Blackbeard.  It was believed that he gave his favorite wife (he had 14 ) that lived on Assateague Island a herd of horses.  The legend goes on to relate that the horses' visitors see today are descents of those owned by Blackbeard's beloved wife. 

Photo Credit NPS

A popular legend links the horses of Assateague to the Spanish man-of-war, La Galga.  This ship was escorting six ships back to Spain from Cuba when it encountered a hurricane off the coast of Florida. Several ships were lost but the La Galga was driven to the shoreline of Assateague Island.  The crew of the La Galga claimed that their horses swam to shore on that stormy night.  Many believe that the horses that roam the island today are descents of those horses from the Spanish man-of-war that swam to safety.  A recent find of a Spanish wreck discovered off Assateague Island lends credibility to this legend.

Photo Credit NPS

Today about 300 wild horses graze on marsh and sand dune grasses, rosehips, bayberry twigs, and persimmons on Assateague Island.  The horses are often spotted in the island's bay habitats when traveling by boat and in pines forests or grazing on salt marsh cordgrass along Assateague's western shoreline when exploring by foot.

Photo Credit NPS

Assateague Island was dedicated as a National Seashore in 1965, in celebration of its' long history.  The area is managed by three official park agencies including the National Park Service, the U.S. Fish, and Wildlife Service, and the Department of Natural Resources.  In addition to the horses, Assateague Island is home to more than 350 bird species including bald eagles, merlins, piping plovers, pelicans, oystercatchers, snow geese, black skimmers, great horned owls, and peregrine falcons.  In addition, there are significant populations of  Delmarva fox squirrels, sika deer,  and red foxes.

Photo Credit NPS

Check out our tour Oceans, Dunes, and Horses, September 23-26 that visits Ocean City, Tangier Island, and Assateague Island where you may catch a glimpse of a wild horse as well as birds and other mammals that make this pristine paradise their home.  

Monday, June 17, 2019

Five Laugh Out Loud Travel Books

Two of the best things in life are traveling and laughing.  Funny travel books are sure to keep you optimistic and smiling on the road.  Long flights or motorcoach trips are the perfect time to catch up on your reading.  And, since you are on vacation you should treat yourself to some light reading.  Some of the most entertaining books on the market are travel books that make you smile.  It is amazing how time literally flies by when you are immersed in a good book. At Tours of Distinction, we are recommending five travel books that are as engaging as they are humorous!

1. Westward Ha! - S.J. Perelman, Al Hirschfield

The Plot - Madcap travel chronicles from S J Perelman, heading west this time on a satiric romp from Hollywood to China, Singapore, Thailand, India, Egypt, and several luckless cities in Europe. Perelman's companion is cartoonist Al Hirschfield, whose drawings capture the very essence of "Perelmania".

What People are Saying - "CNN listed this as one of the funniest travel books ever written and they were right. This was a funny, laugh out loud book chronicling a trip made in 1947 by S.J. Perelman (a New Yorker columnist) and caricaturist Al Hirschfeld. They left New York City, traveled to Hollywood, and went by boat, train, plane, and other through China, Singapore, Siam (Thailand), India, Egypt, Italy, Paris, and London. S.J. Perelman has a wry, ironic, wit with his writing that is filled with satire and the unexpected. Al Hirschfeld peppered the short novel with his funny caricatures and sketches of life on the road through post-WWII Asia and Europe. Both were a great compliment to this supposed travel log that had less to do with the scenery and spoke more about the people, climate, and just getting from one point to the other."

2. The Sex Lives of Cannibals: Adrift in the Equatorial Pacific - Maarten Troost 

The PlotAt the age of twenty-six, Maarten Troost—who had been pushing the snooze button on the alarm clock of life by racking up useless graduate degrees and muddling through a series of temp jobs—decided to pack up his flip-flops and move to Tarawa, a remote South Pacific island in the Republic of Kiribati. He was restless and lacked direction, and the idea of dropping everything and moving to the ends of the earth was irresistibly romantic. He should have known better. The Sex Lives of Cannibals tells the hilarious story of what happens when Troost discovers that Tarawa is not the island paradise he dreamed of. Falling into one amusing misadventure after another, Troost struggles through relentless, stifling heat, a variety of deadly bacteria, polluted seas, toxic fish—all in a country where the only music to be heard for miles around is “La Macarena.”  With The Sex Lives of Cannibals, Maarten Troost has delivered one of the most original, rip-roaringly funny travelogues in years—one that will leave you thankful for staples of American civilization such as coffee, regular showers, and tabloid news, and that will provide the ultimate vicarious adventure.

What People are Saying - "A belly laugh on almost every page.. Rumor is that when the Republic of Kiritimati found out that someone wrote a book about their country they thought it was wonderful.....until someone actually read it. Word is that Maarten Van Troost was sued for libel by Kiritimati. The case was thrown out because you can only libel an individual not a nation. He is supposedly now persona non grata in the Republic. You want a hilarious look at Pacific island nations this is it."

3.  A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail by Bill Bryson 

The PlotBack in America after twenty years in Britain, Bill Bryson decided to reacquaint himself with his native country by walking the 2,100-mile Appalachian Trail, which stretches from Georgia to Maine. The AT offers an astonishing landscape of silent forests and sparkling lakesand to a writer with the comic genius of Bill Bryson, it also provides endless opportunities to witness the majestic silliness of his fellow human beings. An adventure, a comedy, and a celebration, A Walk in the Woods has become a modern classic of travel literature.

What People are Saying: "Within the first few pages I surprised myself by chuckling. Then laughing. Then outright, from the gut, throwing back my head and howling. I stayed up until almost 1 AM that first night, devouring chapter after chapter, even though I had to be up early for work the next day. I just couldn't put it down. The writing is refreshingly honest-- at once thoughtful, hilarious, sarcastic, and downright well done. This is not the scribbling of a celebrity trying to sell books. This is the tale of someone who has truly lived a once in a lifetime kind of all-American experience. His observations about the conditions of the trails, the miraculous preservation efforts made by volunteers on the trail for decades, and even his views on life, are inspirational. His descriptions of the kooky characters, the beautiful, sweeping vistas of untouched wilderness that he discovered as he rounded thousands of wearying bends in the never-ending trails . . . it's magic. Pure magic. I can almost close my eyes and see it, so vivid are his descriptions of the meadows, the wildflowers, the soft sighing of the trees in the quiet breeze."

4. When You Look Like Your Passport Photo Its' Time To Go Home - Erma Bombeck

The PlotErma Bombeck, whose books have sold more than 15 million copies, takes her show on the road with this devastatingly witty and quintessentially Bombeckian book about family travel--here and abroad.  The popular humorist offers tips and truisms on travel, discussing oddly named food, Asian bus drivers in Germany, plumbing around the world, and more.

What People are  Saying - "Of all her books this one is my favorite. Maybe because I have traveled so much myself. It is so true that sometimes you will go to great lengths to get that favorite souvenir. Cheap or expensive. If you have ever traveled overseas you will probably see yourself in her situations Embarrassing then but now funny. The cover says it all for it is true you look great at the start and you have a great time then you are ready to come home and you look it. A great read. Very funny."

5. Malaria Dreams: An African Adventure - Stuart Stevens

The Plot The story begins when a "geologist" friend mentions to Stevens that he has a Land Rover in the Central African Republic which he'd like to get back to Europe. It's only later when Stevens discovers that half of Africa thinks his friend is a spy and the other half is convinced he's a diamond smuggler, that the intrepid author begins to realize he should have asked a few more questions before leaving home. And then there's the small problem of the Land Rover's seizure by the minister of mines, who has appropriated it as his personal car.  Three months later, Stevens and his twenty-three-year-old companion (the only woman to ever transfer from Bryn Mawr to the University of Oklahoma) have somehow managed to drive-though not in the ill-fated Land Rover-across the wildest part of Africa, emerging scathed but still alive on the shores of the Mediterranean.  Through it all, Stevens and his ex-fashion model companion battle the odds, and often each other, to return home to tell this unlikely, highly amusing tale.

What People are Saying - "A great fun and perceptive read! I especially laughed at how the author's view of "comfort," "convenience," and his whole perception of time changed over the course of this misadventure.  From Chapter Twenty-four: "The delay was only a few days. Only a few days. I thought, bemused, of the times in my pre-Africa life I had fumed and ranted over late planes and traffic jams. An hour---hell, a half hour---was intolerably painful. Now I accepted with a shrug a few days' detours just to buy gas. . . . Highly recommended for those who enjoy traveling from the comfort and convenience of their own cozy, warm bed!"