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!"

Immigration for US Citizens Easier with ESTA

The days of getting your passport stamped are long gone for US citizens traveling to 38 countries for up to 90 days without a visa for business or tourism purposes.  To date, the 38 countries include Andorra, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brunei, Chile, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Korea, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Monaco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, San Marino, Singapore, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, and the United Kingdom.  

Currently, countries nominated for status in the Visa Waiver Program include Argentina, Brazil, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Israel, Poland, Romania, Turkey, and Uruguay.  Nomination initiates evaluation by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.  There is no established timeline on how long a country may remain on this list before being approved or rejected. 

As of April 1, 2016, all US citizens must have an e-passport to use in the Visa Waiver Program that has been initiated in the  38 countries mentioned previously.  The key to this new system is your passport.  To sail through immigration lines it is important for your passport to be up to date.  What makes e-Passports different is that they have a machine-readable zone on the biographic page that includes a digital chip containing biometric information about the passport owner.  e-Passports can be easily identified by a square symbol with a round center as pictured below.  Another difference is that your digital image in an e-Passport is printed on the page and not laminated into the passport.

Another way to make sure your passport is machine-readable is too look for the text below your photo.  An up to date e-Passport has two lines of text as letters, numbers, and chevrons (<<<<) at the bottom of the personal information page along with the passport holders photo.  If your passport does not have this feature it is best to obtain a new passport otherwise, you will have to get a visa.

The best thing about the new Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) is that it is fully automated.  This electronic system screens passengers quickly allowing travelers to reach their destination in record time.  All travelers have to do is slide the page with the embedded biometric information into a machine and hold the e-Passport down firmly so the machine can read the key information.  This scan takes less than a minute.  Next, your photo is taken at the gate in order to compare this picture to the image in your passport using facial recognition.  Be sure to look straight at the camera which is directly in front of you.  In order to speed up the process of taking your photo at the gate be sure to remove glasses, hats, and scarves. Once approved, visitors, are free to be on their way.  This electronic system is much faster than being checked by a Border Force Officer. 

U.S. travelers can still travel without a visa if they possess a valid passport containing a machine-readable zone that was issued before Oct. 26, 2005, or if you have an e-Passport with an integrated computer chip.  If your passport does not meet the above requirements then you will need to obtain a visa.  

And, always remember to have a passport that is valid for a least six months after your planned departure from the United States.

Thursday, June 6, 2019

Redefining Luxury Travel

There are so many ways to define luxury travel and, at Tours of Distinction, we want to go beyond the usual definitions associated with luxury.  To our company, luxury travel is more than five-star dining and booking the most exclusive hotel and most luxurious motor coach, cruise ship or airline.  We believe that the foundation of luxury travel is finding out what a group's travel dreams are and fulfilling them. 

Today travelers are seeking more from their group travel experiences than ever before which is why our travel advisors listen to what our clients are asking for and expecting.  Our goal is to provide travelers with the very best group experiences that go beyond the expectations and are within their budget.

When a group comes to us with a general idea of what they want to do we often create a value-added customized package.  Once the package is created, the journey begins with our group leader understanding what each tour entails down to the most minute details.  This collaboration between our travel advisors and group leaders assures that an itinerary caters to the interests of people that travel with Tours of Distinction

Luxury to Tours of Distinction is personalizing and customizing group travel for our clients according to their personal interests.  We strive to create experiences in meaningful ways that individuals in "the age of Google" can't do on their own.  We believe that unique experiences are the foundation of distinctive luxury travel that set our small group tours apart. 

On a Tours of Distinction group tour, travelers can expect small intimate group sizes, immersive cultural experiences, exceptional dining, and sightseeing, in addition to comfortable accommodations.  Our professional tour directors accompany every tour to ensure that travelers have an unforgettable and seamless travel experience.  A hidden benefit is the depth of experience that a group leader offers to travelers because of their inside knowledge of destinations we visit. 

On our upcoming Tour of the Galapagos Islands, clients will experience the fabric of life here with one of a kind experiences such as traditional dining, special yoga sessions on pristine beaches and guided walks in the footsteps of Darwin with a local Naturalist.  

On our Loire Valley Canal Tour in France, travelers will be able to mingle with local people and savor upscale dining experiences while the beautiful French countryside glides by on a very private barge.  

On our Spain to the Heart tour,  travelers will have a hands-on cooking class in Valencia and learn how to make the National dish, paella.  

These are just some of the exclusive travel experiences that Tours of Distinction is offering that make our clients part of the places that they visit when they travel with us.