Where to Honeymoon in September, October or November?

It used to be, that the summer months were the most popular, but lately, couples are choosing more and more to get married during the fall months.

With September being peak hurricane season, many ask where should we honeymoon in September or October? Is it safe to travel to the Caribbean during hurricane season? What do we have to expect from hurrican season? And, are there any alternatives?

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Of course, choosing a destination has a lot to do with the time a couple has available as well as their budget. It also has something to do with what they ultimately want to experience.

Some couples aren’t worried about hurricanes and don’t mind a daily afternoon rain shower. That is mostly what you should expect during hurricane season. However, every now and then a hurricane forms and eventually takes one path or another.

Nowadays, hurricane tracking is fairly reliable and a hurricane’s path is predicted days before it actually happens. This can be both, great if indeed the hurrican takes a certain path and the chosen destination is affected, upsetting if you change your plans, only to find that the hurricane takes a different path or has weakened.

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The most important thing to have in this situation is solid travel insurance. If you have a “cancellation for covered reasons” policy, chances are that you are only covered if the hurricane hits. Meaning, that if the hurricane is supposed to hit tomorrow, but you are traveling today, you have no option to cancel because “fear of a hurricane” is usually not covered.  If you want to have the flexibility to decide not to go because you are worried a hurricane might affect your honeymoon, you need a so called “cancel for any reason” travel protection plan.

But, which Caribbean island to pick during hurricane season? If you want an all-inclusive experience, go with Jamaica, the Negril side to be precise. The island’s Blue Mountains offer a natural, protective barrier to the other side of the island. They also catch most of the rainfall. If an all-inclusive honeymoon isn’t on top of your list, pick one of the ABC Islands (Aruba, Curacao or Bonaire). These are usually out of the hurricane belt and less prone to stormy action.

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Whichever destination you choose in the Caribbean, or along the Pacific Coast, there never is a guarantee though. Weather patterns have been changing and are no longer as predictable as they once were.

For those who want to stay away from hurricanes altogether I suggest a trip to Europe. Fall in Europe is the best, and depending on where you go, you can still enjoy a beach vacation.

Here are some of my top choices:

IRELAND

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Great for nature lovers, couples on a tighter budget, couples afraid of long flights, and couples worried about language barriers.

How long does it take to get there? A quick 6- 7  hour flight from the East Coast will take you there.

ITALY

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Perfect for romantics, history buffs, art lovers, music lovers, food lovers… need I say more, the country screams amore and passion. Fall is less crowded, the weather mild, prices lower.

How long does it take to get there? Expect a little over 8 hours from the East Coast

GREECE

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For a laid back, sunny, island hopping experience. Sipping ouzo, nibbling on olives, watching a donkey go by. The perfect setting for a romantic, relaxing honeymoon. However, keep in mind that once October hits, many hotels, shops and even ferries shut down

How long does it take to get there? Expect a little over 10 hours from the East Coast

PORTUGAL

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Douro River – image courtesy of Viking River Cruises

For a romantic river cruise along the Duoro River where vineyards abound and harvest season is in full swing. Lisbon is also one of the most stunning cities in Europe!

How long does it take to get there? Expect a little over 6 hours from the East Coast

PARIS, LONDON & AMSTERDAM

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For a three city power pack cultural experience. Each unique, each worth a visit. Super easy to connect via high-speed trains. Track Royals in London and have High Tea at Kensington Palace, stroll book stalls along the Seine in Paris and enjoy dinner atop the Eiffel Tower, and ride a bike in Amsterdam and check out the Anne Frank museum.

How long does it take to get there? Expect between 6 – 7 hours from the East Coast, depending on which city you fly in and fly out of.

stefanie pichonnat aavtravel

 

Written by STEFANIE PICHONNAT
Stefanie Pichonnat is the owner of  AAV Travel, a boutique travel firm, specialized in creating and customizing honeymoons. You can contact her at stefanie@aavromance.com

 

 

Mask Making in Venice

Venetian masks are world famous and a symbol and tradition of Venice. There is no avoiding them when in the city, as every street vendor and souvenir shop carries multiple versions, from the cheapest mass production piece, to the more expensive, unique and handcrafted version. Nowadays, masks are mainly worn during carnival. However, as long as the Venetian Serenissima Republic lasted, until 1797, they were part of the everyday Venetian life. During those days, Venetian nobles put on the masks to be whoever they wanted to be and turn their life into and aventure, gamble, and add a little bit of spice and risk to the everyday life.

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A few of today’s mask artisans open their workshop doors and offer classes. They can range from the actual making of the mask with paper mache, to learning the decoration techniques used. It is a wonderful experience for both old and young.

I wanted to do something special, memorable and had setup such workshop for my children and myself. We had picked a small mask making shop owned by Giorgio Galasso who has been making masks for the past 20 years.

Arriving at his shop is like stepping back in time. Instructions say find the San Zulian church, follow the wall, turn into a small square, and there you are. No street name, number, and most definitely not a place Google Maps knows how to find.

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The artist’s workshop is tiny and although Giorgo says he accommodates up to 5 people in the summer, it seems like 3 are plenty. Giorgio is an older man, long black grey hair, the features of his face almost like a mask. He wears a black framed set of reading glasses, and you immediately feel like you are working with someone who truly knows his craft.

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In broken English he explains that before you start, you have to make a plan. You start with a vision of your mask which you then complete in several steps. He works with my two children, aged 10 and 12, as well as myself, and easily succeeds in making us feel confident in our abilities. We spend a good hour decorating our masks, learning about the different techniques, and materials used. One of my daughters works in the window and becomes the attraction for many passersby, who oftentimes end up entering the small shop, and buying one of Girogio’s masks.

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Once done the masks have to stay in the shop for about an hour to dry. We head for lunch and pick them up on our way back to the hotel.

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We were truly pleased with the result. It is a unique and memorable souvenir to take home from Venice. The masks will always remind us of  the experience which is one we will never forget.

stefanie pichonnat aavtravel

Written by STEFANIE PICHONNAT
Stefanie Pichonnat is the owner and travel consultant at AAV Travel, a boutique travel firm customizing travel itineraries for discerning customers. With her extensive travel experience in Italy she can help you create a wonderful trip. Contact her at stefanie@aav-travel.com

 

 

Venice for a day – A Daytrip from Milan

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It was still dark when we arrived at Milano Centrale. Thanks to the Excelsior Gallia’s location we only had to stroll across the street to make it there. The air smelled moist and crisp on the early mid-February morning.

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Milano’s train station is impressive, a humongous historical building dating back to 1912 when its architect, Ulisse Stacchini, came up with the idea to create  the “Cathedral of Movement”. With 11,000 m2 of marble and the central arch spanning over 72 meters Milano Centrale is easily one of Europe’s most beautiful train stations.

Crossing the deserted hall, which seemed somehow dark, despite the bright, artificial lights, we made our way to the platform.

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The ride from Milan to Venice Santa Lucia station takes about 2 hours 30 minutes. In the early morning hours the landscape had a romantic touch, covered by a layer of mist which softened the classic Italian shapes and colors, almost like a painting. In the distance a view of the Dolomites, the stoic mountain range which is home to some of Italy’s best skiing areas such as Cortina.

Once the train starts crossing the water from Venice Mestre to Venice Island it’s time to get excited. Venice’s train station is very welcoming with its bright, airy and clean setting. As you cross the arrivals hall and step out into the open, you are immediately greeted by the city’s romantic beauty. It almost hits you by surprise, it’s as if you stepped right into a postcard.

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There is daylight now, but the sun still sits low. A romantic mist lingers over the canals, making the skyline of domes and towers of the city look like a pastel water color painting.

Since we hadn’t made any plans, we decided to hop on one of the water buses, the so called Vaporettos, to get closer to the Grand Canal and St. Marks Square. The waterbus system is extensive and  very much like a subway or bus system in a larger city. Instead of hoping onto a train though you are embarking and disembarking a small, one story, passenger ship. Whilst public transportation usually is a quick way to get around, this is different. The Vaporettos are extremely slow.  And, just like a subway or a regular bus, they fill up and get crowded at times, making it not the most comfortable and convenient way to travel.

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Venice’s streets and canals are confusing. To have a map is essential and to look at it often is crucial. It is extremely easy to get lost in the many small passages and sideways. Quite honestly though, Venice makes getting lost as charming as can be. There are so many squares, palazzos, beautiful houses, canals and bridges, always something to see. It is hard to take your eyes off or wonder, if this place really exists. Getting lost also means that you lose the crowd of tourists and all of a sudden find yourself in a more residential area, where flowers are delivered by boat and old people stand at the street corner thoroughly engaged in a chat.

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Presuming that it wouldn’t be busy in February, I was surprised how many tourists were crowding around the major attractions such as St. Marks Square and the Rialto bridge. It quickly becomes clear that Venice is attractive, no matter what time of the year. Some of the lines to enter attractions seemed almost ridiculously long. I cannot even begin to imagine what it must look like in summer. At the end of the day I felt utterly charmed by Venice, it is truly unique and one of the most romantic cities. However, it likely wouldn’t have had the same effect on me during the summer, when it is overrun by tourists and some of the canals exude bad odors.

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stefanie pichonnat aavtravel

 

Written by STEFANIE PICHONNAT
Stefanie Pichonnat is the owner and travel consultant at AAV Travel, a boutique travel firm customizing travel itineraries for discerning customers. With her extensive travel experience in Italy she can help you create a wonderful trip. Contact her at stefanie@aav-travel.com

Day Trip to Eilean Donan Castle via Loch Ness and Kyle of Lochalsh

Eilean Donan Castle is peacefully perched on a small tidal island in the Western part of the Scottish Highlands.  Located close to the village of Dorny, it sits right where three lochs meet; Loch Duich, Loch Long, and Loch Alsh. With this fairy tale setting, it is no wonder Eilean Donan is one of the most photographed castles in the world, and  considered one of the most romantic ones as well.

eilean donan, scotland, castle, aavtravelHowever, let me start at the beginning of our day trip to this legendary castle. Chances are, that unless you are headed to the Isle of Skye via the Skye Bridge, Eilean Donan will not be on your travel route. So either you happen to pass by the castle because you are headed towards the gateway to the Hebrides, or you have consciously made the decision to visit Eilean Donan Castle. For us, it was the latter.

Departing from the heart of the Cairngorms National Park, Aviemore to be more precise, the round-trip to the castle was projected to take between 5 – 6 hours driving time. As I am not a fan of driving the same route twice, we decided to loop through the Highlands.

aviemore, scotland, cairngorms, aavtravelThe morning was cloudy and grey with raindrops every now and then. The first thing that hits you when you get out of the house on one of these cloudy mornings is the fresh air. It is thick, moist and thoroughly refreshing, like drinking water straight from its source. The second thing one notices, are the clouds. Even on days when the sun is shining, there is a good chance that you will spot some clouds, usually big and dark. A very gentle reminder to never forget your raincoat or umbrella.

We started by heading towards Inverness and on to Loch Ness. I have been to Loch Ness before, and quite frankly it is one of those destinations you feel you absolutely have to go to, but you really don’t. The loch is huge and dark and has a rather gloomy appeal. The road along the lakeside is pretty, but not spectacular. From my previous visit I knew to abstain the urge to visit Urquhart Castle. It is not worth the time or the money. Instead we stopped at the Loch Ness Exhibition Center which made for a great break. The exhibit was interesting and my children were clearly enchanted by the many Nessie souvenirs available.Loch Ness Exhibition Centerloch ness, nessie, souvenirLeaving Loch Ness, we headed West through the Highlands and along Loch Cluanie. Before driving into the rural areas of the Highlands, you need to make sure to fill your tank. You might even want to pack some food and drinks. Gas stations are a rare find and food stops scarce. Every now and then you might come along an Inn but you really need to keep your eyes open.

We arrived at Eilean Donan during low tide. The sight was breathtaking!

eilean donan, castle, scotland, low-tide, aavtavel, loch Due to its unique location, one expects to find the castle deserted. It being overrun by cruise passengers is not really something you would expect. However, just as we arrived, about 100 Holland America cruise passengers were about to embark from their tour buses. As you can guess, it put a little damper on our visit. If you take away one thing from reading this post, it is to make sure you plan your visit around the cruise schedule, or any major tour bus arrival, particularly during the high season of July and August. I think it will greatly enhance your experience.

eilean donan castle, loch alsh, scotland, aavtravelDue to the many people cramming through the castle, we did not get a full inside experience. However, my children had an awesome time, trying to uncover the mysteries following a scavenger hunt map, given to them at the entrance. Thanks to the scavenger hunt, we discovered the secret spy hole, as well as a little troll in the wall.

eilean donan castle, troll, scotland, children, loch, aavtravelWe walked around the castle and enjoyed the view of the 3 lochs.  This particular image has Loch Duig as a backdrop, the most Eastern of the three. eilean donan castle, loch duig, scotland, aavtravelThis view is of Loch Alsh, with Kyle of Lochalsh and the Isle of Skye in the distance.

loch alsh, scotland, eilean donan, loch, aavtravelHere you see Dornie on the right, the village by Eilean Donan, and the bridge that crosses over Loch Long.

dornie, loch alsh, eilean donan, aavtravelAs my daughter would say, we were “starving” after the visit and headed to Kyle of Lochalsh to find some food. Much of it was closed, and we ended up having lunch at the Lochalsh Hotel. It was nothing to write home about but filled our empty stomachs.

kyle of lochalsh, hotel, scotland, aavtravelThe hotel overlooks the sailboat harbor of Kyle of Lochalsh, and in the distance has a view of the Skye Bridge, with Kyleakin on the other side, and the Cuillin mountains on the Isle of Skye in the far back.

kyle of lochalsh, loch alsh, skye bride, isle of skye, aavtravel, scotlandWe did not stop on our way back to Aviemore. However, the route via Loch Carron took us through the rural Highlands, taking us high up over passes, and down again into vallies with streams and lochs. Every now and then a flock of sheep. We returned back late that afternoon to Inverness via Achnasheen and later Loch Luichart.

stefanie pichonnat aavtravelWritten by STEFANIE PICHONNAT
Stefanie Pichonnat is the owner and travel consultant at AAV Travel, a boutique travel firm customizing travel itineraries for discerning customers. With her extensive travel experience in Scotland she can help you create a wonderful trip. Contact her at stefanie@aav-travel.com

24 hours in Paris – Paris is always a good idea!

paris, il de la cite, notre dame, seine, aavtravelI will never forget my very first time in Paris. I had just turned 14 and my parents decided to take my sister and I to the City of Lights for a couple of days. It was sometime in the 80’s and the TGV, the high speed train, had just been introduced. This new, super fast train, made traveling from Bern to Paris non-stop and a breeze.

Quite a few memories remain from that visit. Le Marché aux Puces de Saint-Ouen and Le Magasin Tati, shopping heaven for bargain hunters, or teens on a limited budget. The incredible grandeur of Versailles impressed me forever with its lavishly decorated halls and perfectly manicured gardens. Dinner in a typical French restaurant, somewhere along the Seine river. A charming French waiter who traced a heart of whipped cream on my dessert, timidly asking my parents if he could take me out that night. Me, deeply embarrassed and the laughing stock of my sister. Needless to say, the trip left an everlasting impression.

ile de la cite, paris, seine, river, aavtravelA couple of years later, I returned to stay for a year. The city was still beautiful; but had become somewhat more menacing. I spent my mornings working as a nanny in one of the suburbs and the afternoons perfecting my French at the Alliance Francaise in the 6e arrondissement. Most of my free time I spent roaming around Paris, discovering every nook and cranny, meticulously following the different walks suggested in Michelin’s Guide Vert. For almost a year, I discovered Paris inside and out. The good, the bad, and the ugly.

I’ve returned many times since but this summer was going to be different. I was headed in that direction with my girls and it was their very first time. We only had about 48 hours but I absolutely wanted them to see Paris, even if it was just for a day. It was an incredible experience to watch them get excited, show interest, and wanting to discover more.

Here are a few pictures from our day visiting some of my personal highlights in the city. Enjoy!

carousel, merry-go-round, bercy, paris, aavtravelOur first stop, the carousel at the Parc de Bercy. This is probably Paris’ newest park which is beautiful and consists of 3 different gardens, The Romantic Garden, The Flower Beds and The Meadows. There was no chance we could leave the carousel, without enjoying one of the enormous “barbe à papa” (cotton candy or loosely translated, daddy’s beard).

barbe a papa, cotton candy, paris, bercy, carousel, aavtravelNext on the list was one of my very favorite places in Paris. La Place des Vosges, home to Victor Hugo’s house, located in the area called Le Marais.

le marais, place des vosges, paris, aavtravelplace des vosges, playground, le marais, paris, aavtravella place des Vosges, paris, marais, aavtravelWe headed towards Les Quais de la Seine, the boardwalks by the Seine river where until today, you can find merchants selling old books, magazines, posters and paintings.

quais, seine, marche, livres, paris, aavtravelseine, parisLively St. Michel made for the perfect lunch stop. We opted for Indian food at Le Safran and enjoyed a lovely lunch in their upstairs area.

Indian food, paris, safran, restaurantLe Louvre was already closed when we got there but no matter what, it is beautiful to look at. I remember the controversy of the pyramids when they first installed them and today they are an integral part of these ancient buildings. If you go, make sure to check out La Pyramide Inversée, the inverted pyramid as well, which acts as a skylight.

louvre, paris, aavtravellouvre, pyramides, paris, aavtravellouvre, road, paris, aavtravelWe went on to Le Jardin de Tuileries (the Tuilerie gardens) where the summer carnival was in full swing. We did go on the Ferris wheel which was incredibly overpriced and honestly said, not worth the money. I was however able to get some nice shots. Can you spot La Défense,  Le Musée d’Orsay, Les Invalides, Opéra Garnier and Sacré-Coeur?

tuileries gardens, carnival, jardin des tuileries, paris, aavtraveljardin des tulieries, tuileries, musee d'orsay, paris, gardens, aavtravelmontmartre, opera, paris, tuileries, aerial view, aavtravel, parisDawn was setting in as we headed North to the Montmartre area, one of my absolute favorites because of the incredible view. subway station, metro , louvre rivoli, parisThat evening, it was incredibly busy due to it being Le 14 juillet (Bastille Day).

sacre coeur, montmartre, paris, aavtravelparis, montmartre, view, aavtravelWe decided to head back to the Tuileries to watch the fireworks and walked towards Pigalle where the Moulin Rouge is located.

mourlin rouge, pigalle, paris, aavtravelWe enjoyed the fireworks from a distance and then traveled back to the hotel for a last night in Paris.

eiffel tower, paris, by night, aavtravelBonne nuit mes amis! We had a great time, short but sweet. We will be back!

stefanie pichonnat aavtravelWritten by STEFANIE PICHONNAT
Stefanie Pichonnat is the owner and travel consultant at AAV Travel, a boutique travel firm customizing travel itineraries for discerning customers. With her extensive travel experience in France and Paris, she can help you create a wonderful trip. Contact Stefanie at stefanie@aav-travel.com

 

“Into the Woods” – Cairngorms National Park, Scotland

“Into the woods, it’s time to go, I hate to leave, I have to go. Into the woods – It’s time, and so I must begin my journey”. Those lines kept on going through my head as I watched my daughters running along, disappearing into the thickly spread pine forest near Glenmore. The air was moist from the sprinkling rain, the undergrowth was covered with dew drops, and the smell of pine, moss, and grass, was overwhelmingly fresh.

Glenmore Forest Park CairngormsThe idea that day, was to take a stroll along the Ryovan Pass to the Ryovan Loch which is known for its vividly green color. People say that its color is due to the fact that the local fairies wash their clothes there. Always on the lookout for fairies, we were eager to head that way. I didn’t have much information on how exactly to get there, but knew that we had to park by the National Outdoor Training Center, at Glenmore Lodge.

Once parked, we looked around and simply took the first hiking path spotted. It so happened to lead us up a hill. We climbed through the thick of the pine forest for a good 20 – 30 minutes before emerging on a dirt road, higher up the mountain.

glenmore, crairngorms national park, loch morlich, aviemore, aavtravel, scottish wildflowers, lupinesThe view that greeted us was spectacular! With Loch Morlich and distant mountain ranges. We decided to follow the dirt road further uphill. It soon stopped and led us onto a smaller path through more woods.

cairngorms, hiking, aavtravel, scotlandScotland has so many areas of incredible beauty and it is one of those places, where getting off the beaten path means you will be on your own. The entire landscape is there for you to soak up, and enjoy. It still has a very untouched feel and radiates an incredible energy. It is as if you get to the heart of nature, where everything is pure and you can feel the pulse of the earth and smell of the air as it is supposed to be.

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scottish lupins, flowers, cairngorms, scotland, glenmore, aviemore, hiking, aavtravelcairngorms, scotland, glenmore, aviemore, hiking, aavtravelWe had set out to find a loch colored with fairy water that day, but found an incredible place uphill instead. We never doubted that fairies must live there.  We even spotted a small stream with reddish water. And maybe, just maybe, fairies are as meticulous in separating their laundry by colors as we are.

If this peaks your interest and you want to learn a bit more about Cairngorms National Park and what it has to offer check out some of these videos

 

stefanie pichonnat aavtravelWritten by STEFANIE PICHONNAT
Stefanie Pichonnat is the owner and travel consultant at AAV Travel, a boutique travel firm customizing travel itineraries for discerning customers. With her extensive travel experience in Scotland she can help you create a wonderful trip. Contact her at stefanie@aav-travel.com

 

 

Oxford Park n’Ride: A Short Visit to the University Town of Oxford

I had it all planned out. We would leave London early morning, and get to Oxford around 10am. I already knew that driving into Oxford was a bad idea because of parking, and had decided on Thornhill Park n’ Ride as gateway to the university town.

It would be a lie to say I wasn’t nervous. My two girls (10 & 8) in the back seat, my 70 year old mom in charge of navigating, and me driving on the left hand side for the very first time. Not necessarily a dream combination. Nevertheless, we made it without a scratch and in good spirits.

Oxford’s Park n’ Ride was managed a bit different from what I knew. First off, instead of remembering your parking spot number you had to remember your license plate. Once at the parking meter, you enter that number and a camera then searches for your car on the lot which hopefully you will recognize. You choose your car and then make a payment. The meter was supposed to accept both, credit cards as well as cash, however, it did not want to accept any of my cards. I would hence suggest to bring some cash as it appears to be the safer bet.

The bus fare into Oxford is extra, and less than £3 for a roundtrip. Children are free. The ride takes about 15 minutes and takes you right into the center of the university town. Before you hop off, you might want to ask the driver where the return stop is, as it can be a bit tricky to locate it among all the different buses and stops.

This is a photo-log of our day in Oxford. Enjoy!

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