Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Presentation on Morocco

  This past Monday, my husband and I attended a wonderful presentation about Morocco at the Roselle Library (Roselle, Illinois).  It was given by world traveler, Bill Helmuth.  Mr. Helmuth has traveled to places that many people would not think of traveling to.  Morocco is on my list of places to visit, however, I'm curious to see his presentations on countries that I would be more hesitant to visit such as Syria, Iran, and Afghanistan. 
   Here are some interesting things that I learned about Morocco from Mr. Helmuth's presentation:

  • Morocco welcomes tourism and is easily accessible. 
  • It is located in the upper northeast corner of Africa and is easy to reach from Spain.
  • Morocco is ruled by King Muhammed VI.
  • Morocco is primarily a nation of farmers.
  • Morocco has had multiple capitals over the years with Rabat being its current capital.
  • Rabat has a Jewish Quarter.
  • Morocco is a religiously tolerant country with Muslims and Christians peacefully living together.
  •  Besides speaking Arabic, many Moroccans also speak French.
  • Muslim women in Morocco do not want to be photographed.
  • When visiting Morocco as a tourist, always be careful to drink bottled water.
  • A camel with one hump is called a Dromedary and is from Arabia.
  • A camel with two humps is called a Bactrian and is from Northern Iran.
  • Yves Saint Laurent, the fashion designer, is buried in Marrakesh.

  For more information about Bill Helmuth's travels, please visit his website:

Monday, September 24, 2012

Going to the Ryder Cup?

  The 2012 Ryder Cup is just around the corner...literally.  The official first day of the competition at Medinah Country Club in Medinah, Illinois is September 28th with some practices starting tomorrow.  Chicago and its northwest suburbs have been preparing for it all summer.  Chicago's northwest suburbs is where I call home so the Ryder Cup is also literally around the corner from my humble abode.  Our local high school will be closed during this time and their parking lot will be used for shuttle buses.  Hotels have been happily booked up and now its time for restaurants and shops to jostle in this influx of customers.
  I'm an avid train commuter and Medinah is one of the stops on my train route.  Medinah station is an easy walk to the Medinah Country Club.  Medinah Station is about a 45 minute train ride from Chicago.  Visitors can also board trains to Medinah from many of the nearby suburbs on the train route including Elgin, Schaumburg, Roselle, Itasca, and Franklin Park.
  I'm not an expert on the inner-workings of the Ryder Cup and Medinah Country Club but if you have any questions about the area and area attractions, please feel free to message me. 

Sunday, September 16, 2012

What's Your Interesting Eat?

  Yesterday I watched a show called "Street Foods International" on the Travel Channel and it made me think about the most interesting food I have ever eaten.  The show visited different cities and talked about different street foods and how they were just as good as meals prepared in restaurants but were much less expensive.
   Bangkok boasted grasshoppers, locusts, bamboo worms, scorpions, and giant water beetles.  All were cooked or fried and were ready to be snacked on.
   Curry wurst was an interesting bite in Berlin while Amsterdam was known for its eels and herring.  Not to be outdone in the eel department, Tokyo offered freshwater eels and marinated seaweed.  Hong Kong was one of many places were people dined on pig intestines.  Finally rounding out the show was Israel which seemed the most tame with juice stands, dates, and sesame paste.
  What's the most interesting thing I've ever eaten?  In Spain, pig seems to reign supreme.  We got very used to seeing a pig's leg on a holder and watching people take slices off the leg, as they pleased.  Spain was also where I tried my first taste of pig's ear.  One bar in Seville had snails boiled in garlic water out on their counter similar to the way our U.S. bars have pretzels sitting out for patrons.  We enjoyed a nice beer with some garlicky snails that night.  I have also eaten curry wurst in Berlin.  I found it different but fairly enjoyable.  My taste buds did not particularly care for the froie gras I ate in France.  I found it to have a texture similar to a stick of butter.  I hope I did not offend my friend and her parents too much!
  Below is an "eclectic" lunch that we tried in Seville.  It was at a cafe and we didn't exactly know what we were ordering.

  One food that I would never try again that I actually had here in Illinois is shark fin soup.  This is popular in Asian countries and I actually tried it at an Asian restaurant.  I didn't really understand the appeal.  To me, the texture of the pieces of shark fin was similar to human snot.  That was about 10 years ago and at the time I didn't know very much about sharks and about how many people want to ban the consumption of shark fins.  In the shark fin industry, sometimes when a shark is caught, only the fin is removed and the rest of the shark is thrown back into the ocean still alive.  Since it is not able to move about normally, it dies of suffocation or is eaten by other predators.  There are many advocate groups protesting this practice and hopefully this will have some kind of impact on the shark fin business.
  While I'm on the topic of food, I had to share a fun treat I had in Panama City this past January.  We had "snow cones" that were made from scratch.  It's hard to see in this photo but there is a block of ice on this snow cone cart.  One person shaved off ice and put it into a cone while the other added the toppings and served the customers.  One of the "toppings" was condensed milk which I was a little hesitant to try at first but actually really enjoyed.


Monday, September 10, 2012

Wine Festivals 2012

  I needed a little Wine Time before the summer ends so this past weekend I went to a wine festival in Geneva, Illinois.  This was my second time attending the Geneva Festival of the Vine.  It was busier then ever with oenophiles enjoying chocloate, spice, and peach and yoghurt wines. 

  For the last couple of years I've been wanting to go to the Nouveau Wine Festival in Galena, Illinois but haven't gotten a chance to.  This year it's the weekend of November 16-17, 2012.
  Some other wine festivals across the U.S. include:

Naples Winter Wine Festival Florida - January
Nantucket Wine Festival Massachusetts - May
Wine and Food Festival National on the Harbor Waterfront in Maryland - May
Temecula Valley Balloon and Wine Festival Winchester, CA - end of May/early June
Finger Lakes Wine Festival New York - July
Hawaii Food and Wine Festival - September
Snowmass Wine Festival  Colorado - September 14 - 15, 2012

Friday, September 7, 2012

Bus Tour Expectations

  Since my last post was about the bus tours I've taken over the last few years, I decided to create a follow up post about what to expect and what not to expect with bus tours. 

  What To Expect: 

-Expect to see a lot of the big tourist spots and highlights of the towns and cities
-Expect to meet many new people and even make some new friends
-Expect to get up early every morning
-Expect most if not all breakfasts to be included in the tour plus some lunches and dinners
-Expect to pay for extra optional excursions and expect some to be on the pricey side
-Expect to bring your medical insurance information for the tour company because most do ask for it
-Expect that most tour companies limit the weight of your luggage so that it doesn't drag down the bus
-Expect to bring enough money to tip the tour guide and bus driver at the end of the trip

What Not To Expect:

-Don't expect the bus to make bathroom stops every hour, it usually stops only every couple hours
-Don't expect a lot of free time to explore the smaller towns, some stops are only for an hour or two
-Don't expect 5 star hotels unless you have paid for a higher-end, luxury tour
-Don't expect the group to wait for you to primp yourself every morning....some tours will leave without you

  Every bus tour and bus tour company is different.  Some tours are more fast paced, whereas other tours are more leisurely.  The tours that have a lot of ground to cover in a short period of time seem to like to keep things moving.  Many people also keep in touch with each other after the tour is over.  One older couple from our Germany tour even invited us to visit them in Scotland!

This photo is of me and some tour-mates on our last tour night all together in Madrid.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Traveling in a Bus Group

  I had previously mentioned that my husband and I have taken a few bus group tours over the years.  Even though bus tours can have their downsides, we've found them to be very rewarding.  Despite having to wake up early every morning, we were happy to see all the villages and cities that we did on each tour.  Each day we would cover a lot of ground and get to see many hot tourist spots plus get some time for ourselves.  One of the downsides of group tours is having a tight set schedule of sights to see.  During the day every stop is timed.  Sometimes we would stay out late at night but for the most part, we tried not to since we knew we had to get up very early the next day.  In our tours, we would only stay in each city for 1 or 2 nights at a time.  Thus, we would try to see as much as we could in each city and not get very much rest and relaxation.  I remember sleeping a lot on the bus.  I do, however, find bus tours to be enjoyable and would do one again in the future.
  In 2006 we did our Eastern Europe bus tour through Contiki.  Contiki is a tour company that provides vacation tours for people ages 18-35.  Before our trip we thought it would be a nice age range to be with.  Everyone would be our age and we would all want to go out at night and have fun.  We saw a lot on our tour and have a lot of fun memories however we decided to look at different tour companies for our next group tour.  We met some very nice people on our Eastern Europe tour but there was also the typical gossip and "cliques" that formed.  I was in my mid-twenties at the time but I was still amazed about how some of these people could party all night and get up and tour the next day.  One thing I have to say that I didn't like about our tour guide is that she didn't seem to have a lot of tolerance for young people even though she was in our age range as well.  She flat out told us that if we were not on the bus at a certain time, the bus would leave without us.  There was one guy that did get left behind one morning and he had to find his own transportation to catch up with us in Prague.  The 14 day Eastern Road bus tour can still be found on Contiki's website.  The travel route starts in Berlin and goes to Prague, Vienna, Budapest, Krakow, Warsaw, and back to Berlin.  According to Contiki's website, you will pay $2,295 per person if you leave this September.  6 years ago we paid less for this trip.
  In 2008 we decided to try a different travel company so we booked a tour of Germany through Cosmos.  Cosmos provides tours for all age groups however in the 2 tours that we took through Cosmos, there were not any young children in our groups.  There were many older, retired people on our Cosmos tour and actually we liked hanging out with them better then we liked hanging out with the people our age.  They still liked to drink and go out at night but they drank more casually and were overall more laid back.  Our 12 day tour of Germany is currently called Highlights of Germany and is currently priced at $1,679 for a September departure date.  We traveled from Frankfurt to Cologne, to Hamburg, to Berlin, to Nuremberg, to Munich, to the Black Forest and back to Frankfurt.
  I forgot to mention before that almost all the people in our groups were from English speaking countries.  Americans, Canadians, Australians, and British made up a large part of our groups and there were also a few "Kiwis" or people from New Zealand.  In our 2006 Eastern Europe Contiki group I remember there was one really nice Italian girl and another girl that was Dutch.  Our tour guides and bus drivers all spoke English well and ranged from being Dutch and German to Canadian and Spanish.  
  Our last group bus tour was in 2010 for our honeymoon.  This tour was also through Cosmos and we again were probably the youngest in our group which suited us just fine.  It was 9 days from Madrid to Madrid and included overnight stops in Coimbra, Lisbon, and Seville. Current prices for September departures are $1,209 per person.  Even though the tours usually only stay overnight in larger cities, there are still plenty of smaller cities and villages that the buses stop in.  For example, in Portugal, one of the towns we stopped in was Fatima.  In 1917 Fatima is where 3 shepherd children saw the apparition of the Virgin Mary.  It is now a place of pilgrimage for many people.
  All in all, I think bus tours can be great depending on what you're looking to get out of a trip and what kind of person you are.  If you like to visit and see a lot every day of your trip then a bus tour is a great travel experience.  If you enjoy wandering around on your own and not being on a schedule, then a bus tour isn't something you'll particularly enjoy. 

       This is a photo of our 2010 Spain/Portugal tour group.  We met a lot of fun, nice people on this trip.