The Third Day of National #PlanForVacation Day 2019: Santorini – The Most Beautiful

Photo by Jimmy Teoh

Chances are, you have seen the breathtaking images of the dark blue Caldera waters complimented by whitewashed buildings set on steep volcanic slopes, creating the most amazing contrast of white and blue, worthy of every traveler’s dream.

Greece is steeped in history and has many gorgeous islands, each with a different personality. None, like Santorini – the Most Beautiful, as one of its many names, Kallisti, means. Some people even believe that you can find the ruins of the fabled city of Atlantis buried underneath the sea around it.

Unlike other Greek Islands, Santorini makes for a great destination no matter what time of year. By nature, its geography beckons to be explored and experienced, rather than simply used for sunbathing on the beach.

Expect many ups and downs, steep stairs, and small roads. Spend time dining in romantic restaurants, shopping trendy boutiques, and browsing art galleries. Soak up the island air and its flavors. Don’t forget to taste some local wine, supposedly some of the best in Greece. Knowing a thing or two about wine it only makes sense that the volcanic island soil would produce more sumptuous grapes.

We reached out to our clients who returned from Santorini just last fall and asked them to share their experience with us. Suzanne, Troy, and Rachel are well traveled and always up for an adventure. To celebrate Rachel’s college graduation and Suzanne & Troy’s wedding Anniversary, the three decided to make their dream come true.

They immersed themselves and savored every minute on the island. In fact, they loved it so much that one day in the future, when strolling along a romantic alley on Santorini, you might just find an artisan store bearing Suzanne’s name.

We would like to thank them so much for their trust and sharing some of their favorite memories:

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This is the third destination highlight of twelve, leading up to the National #PlanForVacation Day on January 29, 2019. Don’t let your vacation days go to waste, plan a trip!

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Written by STEFANIE PICHONNAT
Stefanie Pichonnat is the owner of AAV Travel; a boutique travel firm specialized in creating and customizing personalized travel itineraries. You can contact her at stefanie@aav-travel.com.

 

The Second Day of National #PlanForVacation Day 2019: Swim with Spinner Dolphins in Waianae, O’ahu

oahuwestsideSwimming with Dolphins is highly popular, but also very controversial with many traditional Dolphinarium facilities shutting down in recent years. If a dolphin encounter is on your bucket list but you want to make sure the animals are happy, and in their natural surroundings, I have a fantastic suggestion!

On O’ahu’s West Side, Waianae Harbor to be exact, you will find a company called Wild Side Specialty Tours. Offering small group experiences (six people maximum, unless it is a charter tour), you become a guest on a ship operated by a crew deeply in love with the ocean and marine life.  There are many things to love about this company, but what I would like to highlight is how this woman-owned company is committed to the ocean, its inhabitants, and their preservation. While you get to experience swimming with dolphins, you can rest assured, that your team makes sure the animals remain safe and protected and that you are doing no harm.

Unlike swimming with dolphins in captivity, Wild Side Specialty Tours makes it possible for you to swim within a group of spinner dolphins in the wild – if you dare that is! The experience is beyond amazing. What might initially seem daunting becomes easy and natural, once you allow yourself to blend into the pod. Watch mothers teach their young dolphins how to swim. Try to keep up. Time flies as you share the ocean with these beautiful mammals!

 

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Written by STEFANIE PICHONNAT 
stefanie pichonnat aavtravel
Stefanie Pichonnat is an O’ahu Master Agent and Hawaiian Travel Specialist at AAV Travel; a boutique travel firm specialized in creating and customizing personalized travel itineraries. You can contact her at stefanie@aav-travel.com

The First Day of National #PlanForVacation Day 2019: Australia’s Red Center

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Our clients, Ashley & Mike, on their fantastic 15-day Tour of Australia.

Australia’s Red Center is a place of drastic contrasts, empty spaces, dirt roads, and incredible beauty. Set in a landscape of desert planes, you find some of the Aborigines’ most sacred sites like Uluru and Kata Tjuta, but also weathered mountain ranges and rocky gorges.

The Red Center is Australia’s heart, it feels like being at the source of the continent. For a brief moment, you get a glimpse of its ancestral spirit. Marvel at the vast, splendid starry skies, watch the play of light on the majestic sites, listen to the many stories told by the Aboriginal people, and experience the drastic change from heat to cold.

Whether you choose to stay at one of the hotels in the Ayres Rock Resort or want to rough it camping in the Outback, there are many options to experience the area.

The Field of Light installation by Bruce Munro is a unique experience you can currently enjoy in the area. At nightfall, gentle rhythms of color are lighting up the desert.  The art installation is currently scheduled to stay in the area December 2020.

For the upcoming National Plan For Vacation Day on January 29, 2019, AAV Travel wants to give you ideas and encourage you to plan a vacation. That is why we decide to create the Twelve Days of National #PlanForVacation Day.

stefanie pichonnat aavtravelWritten by STEFANIE PICHONNAT
Stefanie Pichonnat is the owner of AAV Travel; a boutique travel firm specialized in creating and customizing personalized travel itineraries. She has traveled across Australia for almost two months and can help you create a wonderful and unique experience. You can contact her at stefanie@aav-travel.com.

Puerto Vallarta Viewpoint – Mirador Cerro de la Cruz, Scenic Overlook

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Shaped like a horseshoe, the Bay of Banderas sits in the State of Jalisco and offers over 50 miles of beautiful shoreline, ranging from jagged cliffs to sandy beaches. In its heart sits the city of Puerto Vallarta.

Puerto Vallarta is famous for many things, including its beautiful old town, El Malecon, the wonderful beachfront boardwalk, and its spectacular sunsets.

 

Needless to say, a viewpoint overlooking the Bay of Banderas and the colonial city promised to be spectacular, especially when you imagine the sun dropping into the ocean!

However, the day we set out to find the scenic viewpoint over the city, the so called Mirador Cerro de la Cruz, was cloudy and hot.

It hadn’t been easy to find information on how to get there beforehand, but with a bit of persistence, a sense of adventure, and a lot of sweat, we made it to the top. It was worth every drop of sweat, despite the cloudy skies!

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To make it easier for those wanting to visit the viewpoint after us, here is how to get there:

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From the Malecon, take Calle Aldama to walk towards the hilltop. Once you get to Calle Emilio Carrenza, take a left.

This is what it looks like where you turn left into Calle Emilio Carrenza. It is the beginning of the steeper, more dirt road part, of the ascent:

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Walk up the cobble stone pathway towards the white house, all the way to Calle Abasolo. There you turn right. From here it is a straight shot to heaven!

You’ll come by some awesome street art, as well as local houses. No need to worry, the people are really friendly and many of them offer water for sale.

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Calle Abasolo ends at the staircase which will take you directly to the viewpoint.

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On top, you will see the cross which gives the viewpoint its name, as well as the viewing platforms.

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A few tips for the road:

  • Wear sturdy shoes, the road is not always paved and it can get a bit slippery on the dustier slopes.
  • Have a sense for adventure, keep an open mind, show respect, and appreciation for different cultures.
  • To put safety into perspective,  my daughters and I, no man in tow, felt completely safe at all times.
  • Bring water, or have a few pesos to buy water from the locals that live there. I am sure they will appreciate it greatly!
  • Don’t forget sunscreen, hat, and bug spray.
  • If you are physically fit it will take about 20 minutes from bottom to top.

We’d love to hear how your experience was, if you end up going on this little adventure, just comment below!

stefanie pichonnat aavtravelWritten by STEFANIE PICHONNAT
Stefanie Pichonnat is the owner of AAV Travel, a boutique travel firm specialized in creating and customizing personalized travel itineraries. She is also a Puerto Vallarta Specialist. You can contact her at stefanie@aav-travel.com

 

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