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.

europewinter2016_4234europewinter2016_4234

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.

europewinter2016_4215europewinter2016_4215

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.

europewinter2016_4249europewinter2016_4249

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.

europewinter2016_4250europewinter2016_4250

europewinter2016_4245europewinter2016_4245

europewinter2016_4201europewinter2016_4201

europewinter2016_4253europewinter2016_4253

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.

europewinter2016_4208europewinter2016_4208

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

 

 

Long layover at Tom Bradley International Terminal LAX

15 hours at LAX – oh how I was dreading spending my time at the airport!

LAX

Let me begin from the start though. Picture a small group of travel professionals selected to embark on an educational adventure to Tahiti. Needless to say a trip like that involves a schedule planned into the smallest detail. Resort visits, inter-island flights, ferries, excursions, dinners with hotel executives, networking trade shows… 8 fully packed days.

Because of that, I did not want to miss my flight to Papeete and hence decided to leave the Midwest very early in the morning, for a late at night flight from LAX. I landed at LAX around 8am. It took me a good hour to retrieve my luggage and make it to the new Tom Bradley International Terminal.

The good news is, I was early enough to catch the Air Tahiti Nui gate agents who had just sent off a morning flight. They allowed me to check-in more than 12 hours prior to my actual flight, thus giving me the golden ticket, the boarding pass, that would give me access to the terminal.

Before doing anything else I had to have some breakfast. I settled for an over priced yogurt/granola breakfast from Larder at Tavern which well, was just okay. Since I wanted to do some work  that day and I had brought my laptop and quickly found a comfortable space with view of the runway.

TBIT010

10 hours into the layover I have to say, Tom Bradley International Terminal is absolutely great. The amount of daylight you get in this terminal makes you forget that you are inside. The architecture and design is simply stunning.

Here are my top things to do (when not working):

  • Food (I was looking for reasonably priced options)  and found these faves:
    • ink.sack: A great selection of gourmet sandwiches prepared to order. Priced reasonably which is truly a treat at this airport.
    • 800 degrees: Typical Neapolitan pizza, the perfect airport comfort food.

TBIT012

  • Water (admittedly, I am picky, spring water is a must have). There is definitely a shortage of spring water in the newsstand areas (Dasani and Smart Water is the choice and those price around $3/4 for a bottle). Fiji is the only natural water I could find and it has to be purchased from one of the food vendors. $5.50 (incl. tax) is pretty much the street price.

You will also find Starbucks, pinkberry smoothies/ice cream, as well as Vanilla Bakeshop (selling cupcakes and other sweet indulgences).
In addition there are a lot of upscale dining options, including a sushi bar, Petrossian caviar,  and many fun bars to choose from.

TBIT007

TBIT004

Shopping options are plenty and mainly high-end

TBIT006

TBIT008

Wifi at LAX is free only for 1 hour. If you are staying longer you will have to purchase a Boingo Plan. I ended up subscribing to Boingo’s monthly plan which turned out to be less expensive than the 24 hour option. I used it again on my return layover and then cancelled the plan after my return.

Electricity is available all across the terminal, however, make sure to check that the outlet is working. I’ve encountered several that seemed to be malfunctioning.

TBIT009

I do like to workout and feel the need to move around. I found that it is really easy to walk laps throughout the terminal as well as integrate stairs into the workout.

TBIT003

Having spent pretty much an entire day at this terminal I can tell you that it is very peaceful and relaxing. At no point did I feel it was noisy or rushed. That is until the evening hours, when the terminal started to fill up with the late night flight passengers. It was still easy to find a spot, but it definitely started to feel more like a terminal. One of my favorite evening perks was the live duo, playing some classic cover songs which sounded great throughout the main hall.

For those traveling with children you will be happy to know that there is a designated kid zone area. However, I was a bit disappointed. It is stuck in the darkest back area with absolutely no daylight whatsoever.

TBIT005

The one thing I feel would put this terminal over the top, is an outdoor area somewhere. A little bit of fresh air would have made this layover perfect.

TBIT001

I had originally planned on spending my day at the United Lounge, however I am so glad that didn’t work out, as I am sure, the time in the terminal was more relaxing and interesting. Plus, I got to enjoy the pretty sunset.

TBIT011

Written by AAV Travel’s Owner

stefanie pichonnat aavtravelSTEFANIE PICHONNAT
Stefanie Pichonnat is the owner of AAV Travel, a boutique travel firm specialized in creating customized travel itineraries. Having personally traveled to many destinations worldwide, she can help you create a wonderful vacation experience. You can contact her at stefanie@aav-travel.com

Äscher-Wildkirchli – Hiking in Switzerland’s Appenzell

Have you ever looked at one of the “Most Amazing Places on Earth” lists? If so, you have likely seen an image of the Aescher-Wildkirchli cliff restaurant and guesthouse. The dramatic cliff restaurant is world famous, yet many people don’t know where it is and how to get there.

Äscher Wildkirchli, cliff, restaurant, mountain, guesthouse, Äscher, Aescher WildkirchliOn an early morning in June, my two daughters (8 and 10 years old) head out from Bern for an adventurous day in Appenzell. The air is chilly, especially after days of excruciating heat, but the day promises to be perfect. We are starting with a 3 hour train ride, first-class, among business people headed to Zurich to work. As always, they look at us with a certain curiosity, but we don’t mind, playing cards as we go. The train goes straight to Gossau, and once we pass Zurich, the compartment starts to feel deserted.

Past Zurich, the landscape becomes more and more beautiful. Rolling hills, timbered houses, sunflower fields, cow pastures, and the scenery green and bountiful. In Gossau, we change train to board the smaller Appenzeller Bahn. A 50 minute train ride takes us through an incredibly romantic area of Switzerland. Mountains are green and rounded. Houses are painted with a lot of love and detail. Appenzell is one of the most picturesque and also conservative areas of Switzerland. As a result, it is really well preserved and tradition runs deep.

appenzell, switzerland, aavtravelOnce in Wasserauen we cross the street and arrive at the Ebenalp cable car station. The ride takes us swiftly in the air and quickly gains height. Drastic cliffsides as well as alpine meadows are abundant. The ride takes less than 10 minutes.
ebenalp, appenzell, switzerland, panoramaThe panorama that greets you once you step out of the Ebenalp station is incredible. Green mountain tops as far as the eye can see, snow covered mountains and Lake Constance in the distance. The air you breathe is fresh, the grass greener, and wildflowers abundant. Many cows graze peacefully along our side as we start the descent.

The walk to the Äscher-Wildkirchli only takes about 15 minutes, but is exciting on many levels. After crossing the pasture, it quickly descends to the prehistoric Wildkirchl Caves which you cross via a safe path and then leads to the ancient hermit dwellings. The hermits that settled here in the early 1600 would accompany travelers through the caves for safe passage.  The caves are dark and despite some lights you might want to bring your own flashlight. Past the dwellings you then come to the actual chapel, dating back to 1621, built into the mountain side.
Äscher-Wildkirchli, wildkirchli, Äscher, Appenzell, cliff, mountains, switzerland, aavtravelÄscher-Wildkirchli, wildkirchli, Äscher, Appenzell, cliff, mountains, switzerland, aavtravelAround the bend you go and there it is, the world famous Aescher-Wildkirchli Gasthaus. The Äscher-Wildkirchli is a restaurant as well as simple guesthouse with a few dormitory style beds. It is built directly into the cliffside and some of its back wall is bare rock. The guesthouse dates back to the 1800 when hermits and milkers (Sennen) started serving simple food and drinks. It turned into an actual guesthouse in early 1900.

Äscher-Wildkirchli, wildkirchli, Äscher, Appenzell, cliff, mountains, switzerland, aavtravelFrom here you can either return up to the Ebenalp cable car station or start your hike down towards Unterauen. The hike takes about 2 hours, and is very steep at times.

ebenalp, appenzell, alpstein, aavtravel, switzerlandWe decided to embrace the challenge and started our hike towards Wasserauen. It was an excellent time although due to the constant descent, very challenging towards the end.

ebenalp, appenzell, alpstein, aavtravel, switzerlandebenalp, appenzell, alpstein, aavtravel, switzerlandebenalp, appenzell, alpstein, aavtravel, switzerland

alpstein, appenzell, switzerland, cows, alps, alpine, mountains, aavtravelThe way down is steep and not always clearly indicated. Beautiful views, spectacular alpine scenery, many colorful wildflowers accompanied our way, and we also made new friends…

 

ebenalp, appenzell, alpstein, aavtravel, switzerland, cow

ebenalp, appenzell, alpstein, aavtravel, switzerlandWe did get lost on our way and ended up in Weissbad instead of Wasserauen which wasn’t really a problem since the train back to Gossau stopped there as well. It was a wonderful day-trip which we will treasure forever. All in all, it took us a full day (12 hours) from Bern, and we slept very well that night.

Ebenalp/Aescher-Wildkirchli makes for a wonderful day-trip from many cities in Switzerland. Here are a few things you will want to watch out for:

  • Weather in altitude is generally cooler and can change in an instant. Be prepared.
  • Bring a picnic. There is nothing more beautiful than to sit on an alpine meadow and have a snack. Don’t forget a little trash bag so you don’t leave anything behind.
  • Your shoes need good tread. The terrain is steep, there are rocks, gravel, and steps. Make sure your shoes snug tightly to your feet and your gear is adequate.
  • Trail indications are not the best. Our rule of thumb: As long as you go downhill you are going the right way.
  • You will be walking through cow pastures. Before you decide to touch a cow, assess the situation. If the animal seems restless or scared, do not attempt to approach and touch it.
  • The trail requires a certain level of fitness. You do not need to be a professional athlete, but it is very steep at times and if you have issues with your knees or back it is definitely not recommended.
  • You can do the trail with your children, however they need to be old enough to hike on their own and you need to feel comfortable to let them run a little risk every now and then. One of my girls stumbled, one slid and fell on her butt. Some tears were shed but we survived and have some beautiful memories. My daughter told me afterwards that it made her feel stronger.
  • Make sure you factor in the travel time. From Bern the train ride to Wasserauen takes about 3 hours. From Zurich it will take about 2 hours. Depending on where you are, it will be shorter or longer.
  • How to get there? You first need to travel to Gossau (St. Gallen). From there you take the Appenzeller Bahn to Wasserauen. The Ebenalp cablecar ground station is located right across the street. The adult roundtrip cablecar ride prices at roughly 15 CHF.

stefanie pichonnat aavtravelWritten by STEFANIE PICHONNAT
Stefanie Pichonnat is the owner and travel consultant at AAV Travel, a boutique travel firm specializing in customizing travel itineraries for discerning customers. Being originally from Switzerland makes her an expert and she can help you create a wonderful trip. You can contact her at stefanie@aav-travel.com

 

Where to Stay in Fiji? Vomo Island Resort — A Romantic and Active Island Getaway

Just 15 minutes north via helicopter or seaplane from Nadi International Airport on the main island, Vomo is a luxurious island resort with endless possibilities. Vomo is the northernmost island of the Mamanucas, just before the Yasawa island chain begins.  Mount Vomo is located on the its eastern side, and those who dare to conquer it can get a breathtaking 30 degree view.

vomo island resort fiji

Your Stay
There are four different types of accommodations to choose from on Vomo. There are 28 luxurious beachfront villas with a personal deck and a place to lounge. Imagine waking up in paradise and only being steps away from the sandy beach. There are also private hillside and garden villas that are below the lower slopes of Mt. Vomo and offer breathtaking views of the gardens, island or ocean.  Both the beachfront and private villas sleeps either three adults, or two adults and two children.

Vomo Fiji aavtravel The Royal is your own private getaway of true Fijian style living. With a maximum of six guests, there are three ensuite rooms, separate dining, kitchen and living areas, entertainment space and a great outdoor oasis–with your own private pool. Does it get any better than that?

Vomo Fiji aavtravel If you need more room, The Residence offers up to eight guests their own private island lifestyle at their own compound. There’s a full kitchen so you can cook up something yourself or choose on-site catering. There’s also indoor and outdoor dining, entertainment area, and there’s a free 24 hour butler service. Another perk, you’ll get sunset canapés and a bottle of champagne on arrival.

Vomo Fiji aavtravel

Kid’s are welcome in paradise
At Vomo, they understand that family is important. Which is why the resort is family-friendly. There is a “kid-village” facility (9 a.m. to 9 p.m.) specifically for the children. All ages are welcome, but children under four are to be accompanied by a parent or a ‘baby butler’ (an additional charge). If you are there with your children and want to enjoy the spa for a couple hours, the staff at the kid village will keep them entertained with group activities, treasure hunts and crafts. The kid village is a complimentary service available during the day and into the evening. You can relax and know that your kids are having just as much as you are!

vomo fiji pool aavtravelThe Fun Never Ends
At Vomo, you can have endless amounts of fun–on land and the water! From building sand castles on the beach, splashing around in the pool, windsurfing, Hobbie Cats, paddle boarding, single and double kayaks (also glass bottom kayaks!) and who can forget snorkeling?! You can snorkel off the beach or go on a guided excursion offered everyday at 11 a.m. Snorkeling around Vomo and the close by private island is absolutely spectacular! Hands down some of the best we’ve ever experienced. The new PADI Dive Centre is great for all levels of experience–beginner to advanced–and they offer an array of courses.

vomo stand-up paddle board, aavtravelThere’s plenty to do on land as well to keep you busy. As a guest you have access to the tennis courts, gym, hiking and jogging trails, badminton and volleyball nets. There’s also a 9 hole-par 3 golf course on the island. So for golf lovers, you won’t have to worry about letting your swing get away over your vacation. And what a better way to spend a beautiful morning out on the course, underneath coconut trees?

vomo fiji golf aavtravelFor additional costs, there are also other activities available at Vomo, such as: deep sea fishing, sunset cruises, island hopping tours, Fijian village tours and trip to Cloud Break for surfing.

Vomo Fiji aavtravel A Personal Touch
Vomo can even be booked for private hire, like a destination wedding, special occasion or corporate event. Imagine having a whole island for just you and your guests! The staff at Vomo will be at your service to make sure everything is perfect, just for you. 

Or to add a little romance into your stay, you can book a private picnic for two on the sister island, Vomo Lailai. The best part? You’ll be dropped off with a gourmet picnic, chilled drinks and a two-way radio, and it’s only a two minutes away by boat. You can stay as long as you like! When you’re ready to return back “home” you can just radio in and staff will come pick you up, or simply just swim back. It’s your own little deserted island.

Vomo Fiji aavtravel Vomo is one of the more “lifestyle” oriented resorts in the Fijian islands. Almost a bit hip if you like. US viewers might even recall the resort being featured in the “The Bachelorette” Season 7. Here is a short clip of the final Rose Ceremony where Ashley stands at the beach with Vomo Lailai (little Vomo) in the backdrop.

Aren’t those drift wood flower decorations just gorgeous? Fijian resorts are generally a wonderful option when it comes to destination weddings. Perfect to elope to!

Another famous guest of the island was Prince Albert of Monaco. Him and his new wife stopped there on their honeymoon.

stephanie jellett aavtravel

Written by STEPHANIE JELLETT
Stephanie Jellett is interning as a travel writer and social media manager at AAV Travel. You can contact her at stephanieljellett@gmail.com


in conjunction with AAV Travel’s Fiji Expert


stefanie pichonnat aavtravel
STEFANIE
PICHONNAT
Stefanie Pichonnat is the South Pacific 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

Passport Checklist for Smooth Travels

Are you ready to hit the beach for a week down south? Explore the bustling city life in Europe? Or how about walking the Great Wall of China? As a traveller, whether frequent or new, it is your responsibility to make sure that you have completed the “before you go” passport checklist–that way you won’t have any troubles at the border or with airlines and it’ll be free sailing from there.

TravelDocuments aavtravel travel

Make sure you have ALL required documents for your destination.
We strongly believe that the global traveler of today MUST have a valid passport! You might hear otherwise, and yes, there are a few exceptions, but play it safe, get a passport. They usually are valid for 10 years. For US passport information and application forms visit the Bureau of Consular Affairs’ website.

You already have a passport, that is great!

  • Many countries require your passport to be valid for at least six months beyond your arrival date. You can always check with the Embassy of your destination if you’d like to get more information.
  • Make sure your passport isn’t damaged! If your passport is damaged in any way, you can face delays or get denied entry at border crossings or flights. “I’m sorry, your passport is damaged, I can’t let you on this flight.” That’s not something you want to hear before heading on your vacation. Your passport is considered damaged if it:
    • has been exposed to water and humidity
    • has a tear in one or more pages
    • has unauthorized markings
    • has altered information or the photo is unrecognizable
    • has pages that have been removed/torn out
    • has been chewed by a pet
    • has come apart (the cover)

If you’re concerned about the condition of your passport and want to make sure it’s not considered damaged, you can contact the airline you’re traveling with before you leave, or contact the National Passport Information Center. 

Having the improper documents for a trip can become a real issue. A common example is a cruise. They may start and end in the USA, but sometimes they will dock in a foreign country, like Canada.  Even though you don’t plan to leave the ship, if you don’t have the proper documentation for the country, you’ll be denied entry on the cruise.

cruise passenger travel

Check the visa laws for your destination
Visa and immigration laws change all the time. Let’s say you planned and booked a trip six months to a year ahead of time. Laws may have changed since you’ve booked your trip, so it’s a good idea to check again before you leave to make sure you have the proper documentation. Let’s say you are a US citizen but your friend is from Germany. There will be different requirements as some countries have treaties with each other whilst others don’t. Visa Central is a great place to check and can also help you with visa procurement if needed.

Traveling with children
First off, if you need to apply for a passport for your child, both parents need to apply for the child’s passport. For more info click here. If you are a single parent, grand parent, friend and traveling with a minor that is not accompanied by both parents you will need a notarized Letter of Content, giving you permission to take the child with you when leaving the country.

children, beach, travelingTravel Tip: To be extra safe, scan and make a copy of your passport ID page, foreign visa (if applicable), itinerary, hotel confirmation, airline ticket, driver’s license, credit cards being used on the trip and Traveler’s Cheque serial numbers. Keep the pictures on your phone or store them online in a safe place, for example in your Dropbox.

We love Sonia’s Travel Tips and this video fits our topic perfectly!

Having a smooth trip is what everyone wants. Follow these steps and you will be enjoying your Mojito on the beach in no time!
Stephanie Jellett

This post was written by STEPHANIE JELLETT
Stephanie Jellett is interning as a travel writer and social media manager at AAV Travel. You can contact her at stephanie.jellett@maine.edu