Planning a Layover in Nairobi

Planning a Layover in Nairobi

My recent article highlighted how to jump start your Kenya Safari planning. As I mentioned, a Safari requires advance planning (six months to a year is not unusual), therefore it is wise to start the research while you have some down time. As a Travel Agent, I am here to ensure that your dream trip is seamless from initial inquiry to safe return home and I can help you craft the perfect trip to suit your interests and budget.

International flights to Kenya are routed through centrally located Jomo Kenyatta Airport (JBO). Since most flights arrive in the late afternoon or evening, you will most likely need to stay overnight in Nairobi prior to boarding a bush plane at local airport Wilson. If your schedule allows, I highly recommend staying at least a night or two. Traffic can be daunting in downtown Nairobi, so an overnight stay will allow ample time between experiences and airport transfers. Plus, this will give you a chance to adjust to the new time zone and give you an opportunity to learn a bit about the country, the people, the culture and wildlife prior to embarking on safari. Here are just a few suggestions not to be missed:

Karen Blixen Museum:
“I had a farm in Africa at the foot of the Ngong Hills…” is the famous first line of the novel, Out of Africa, penned by renowned Danish author Karen Blixen. The farm, owned by Karen (pen name Isak Dinesen) and husband Baron Bror von Blixen Fincke, gained international fame after the release of the 1985 epic award-winning drama based on this autobiography. Starring Meryl Streep and Robert Redford, it’s a must-see prior to your visit to Kenya.

Single handedly, Karen (and Streep) inspired a generation of safari goers (and safari chic!). Visit the farmhouse and Museum and step back in time to 1914 when Karen moved to Africa to marry her half cousin and carry out dairy farming in the then British Colony of Kenya. Her husband, however, changed his mind and wanted to farm coffee, which did not go well. After her divorce, Karen was left to run the financially troubled farm on her own, a daunting task for a woman of that generation. She fell in love with an Englishman, Denis Finch Hatton (Redford) and the rest I will not comment on, lest I spoil the movie.

Giraffe Center Wildlife Conservation Park:
On safari, you will of course see hundreds of giraffes in the wild, but at this Nairobi center, created by the African Fund for Endangered Wildlife, you will get up close and personal with the beautiful Rothschild giraffe and even have the opportunity to hand-feed this stately subspecies of the giraffe found only in the grasslands of East Africa. At the time the center was established in 1979, the animals had lost their habitat with only 130 of them remaining. This 60-acre sanctuary started with just two giraffes and now there are over 300 safe and breeding well in various Kenyan National Parks.

Sheldrick Wildlife Trust:
Founded in 1977, this non-profit focuses on anti-poaching and safeguarding the natural environment, enhancing community awareness, addressing animal welfare issues, providing veterinary assistance to animals in need, and rescuing and hand rearing elephant and rhino orphans. The Trust’s main base, the elephant orphanage, often referred to as the Nairobi Nursery, is in Nairobi National Park. As of now, the visitation to the center is closed, but hopefully will resume in the near future so you can witness the care and feeding of these lovely animals up close. In the meantime, you can support the organization by personally “adopting” an orphaned elephant.

Photo credit: Sheldrick Wildlife Trust

Travel with a Purpose:
Including “Purposeful Travel” in any vacation is something easy to do. It’s about engaging in educational and mind-opening experiences that benefit both the traveler and the location, often shining a light on local communities, their needs and their accomplishments. My recent article Travel with a Purpose highlighted my visit to the Harambee Community Center, the non-profit partnership between Micato Safaris and AmericaShare, located in Mukuru, East Nairobi’s densely populated slum. During the pandemic, their school was hit hard, and students risked several months without guided learning which would significantly set back their future performance.  As an update to my article, I am pleased to report that through their Student Sponsorship Program, students were successfully connected to the online world: smartphones were distributed with access to educational apps, resources, and streaming lessons hosted by local teachers in the community. To find out more or donate, please visit AmericaShare.

Photo credit: Micato Safaris & AmericaShare

Travel with a Purpose, Part Two:
Another stop I made during my recent trip to Kenya was to learn about Huru International, which manufactures environmentally friendly, reusable sanitary pads that have been distributed to more than 175,000 girls in Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda. Founded in 2008, this organization addresses an important issue: East African girls cannot afford sanitary pads and very often avoid school during their period resulting in missing as much as an entire month of school yearly. Girls who miss school fall behind, drop out, or even quit which leads to the endless cycle of poverty and gender inequality. Huru Kits are a simple, sustainable, and practical way to tackle this problem. The kits include a colorful drawstring backpack, eight reusable pads, three pairs of undergarments, detergent soap, and educational materials on HIV prevention and reproductive health. The items are replaced on a timely basis.

All Huru supplies are produced in their sprawling factory by women and men from underserved communities who have learned the art of industrial sewing and tailoring, along with lessons on business, finance, and entrepreneurship.  Now, in the age of Covid-19, the production facility in Nairobi is running full steam, producing much needed multilayered cloth face masks that are donated to the residents of Mukuru.

Huru also designs and manufactures lovely reusable, colorful fabric tote bags and lunch bags which we had the opportunity to purchase and bring home — a heartfelt memory of this amazing organization. For more information or to donate, please visit Huru International.

Ready to plan your next adventure? It’s never TOO early to plan. Would you like to maximize the redemption of your American Express Points? Email me: mollie@herrickstravel.com, and find out about upgrades, special amenities, and VIP service for all Herricks Travel American Express/Altour customers regardless of credit card membership

Become a SUBSCRIBER and receive all my latest articles right to your inbox: look for the “subscribe to this blog by email” box and then respond to the follow-up email. For more information on my trip planning services, please click HERE

Kenya Safari Planning Basics

Kenya Safari Planning Basics

Now that we have turned the calendar page and put 2020 behind us, it’s time to think positive, look forward and plan for future travel. It’s the perfect time to put some serious thought into a bucket list trip: an African Safari. A safari is a magical and unique experience that envelopes you in nature, culture, and history. Safaris enrich the mind, stretch the imagination, calm the soul, and encourage self-reflection. Out of the many countries our two sons have visited with us, our safari experiences definitely stand out as most memorable. This is an itinerary that requires advance planning to ensure availability in the more intimate and authentic tented camps and lodges, arrange for visas, as well as inquire about any necessary inoculations. As a travel agent, I can help ensure the entire process runs smoothly from initial inquiry, to your safe return home.

LOCATION
A relatively small country in East Africa, Kenya’s capital and central transportation hub is Nairobi. Travelers fly into the international airport Jomo Kenyatta, while connecting flights within Kenya or to neighboring countries are booked from Wilson, the domestic airport just next door. After a short stay in Nairobi (most international flights arrive in the evening), you will reach the other areas of the country primarily by bush plane. There’s plenty to explore within Kenya, but if you have more time, a Kenya safari can be booked in conjunction with a visit to Tanzania (to the south), Uganda (to the west) or Rwanda (to the south west). These countries, plus 15 others, comprise what is known as East Africa.

LANDSCAPE
When compared with popular safari destination South Africa (located in the southernmost point on the African continent,) Kenya has a more temperate climate. To learn more, check out my previous articles on South Africa Safaris: here. The further north in Kenya you travel, the drier and hillier the landscape becomes as the area doesn’t benefit as much from the rains received in the south-west of Kenya. Because it shares its longest border with Tanzania, Southern Kenya is the best place to see glacier-capped Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest peak in Africa and the tallest free-standing mountain in the world.

GAME VIEWING
Fantastic year-round game viewing makes Kenya a TOP safari location. Although it is a “Big 5” destination in the sense that lion, leopard, buffalo, elephant and rhino are found here, it’s difficult to see them all in the same place. Rhinos are the rarest and most difficult to find and unfortunately, due to poachers, have become a critically endangered species. Safari itineraries will often include overnight stays in Masai Mara, Amboseli, Samburu, Mt. Kenya, or the Laikipia Reserve in order to increase the variety of game viewing.

Kenya is the perfect place for first-time safari goers – because the land is so flat and open, it’s easy to enjoy 360-degree views and spot game throughout the year. Roads are well-maintained and English is widely spoken throughout the country. Long-standing conservation projects in Kenya also means that animals are generally plentiful and in good condition. Special relationships between tribal landowners, the government, conservationists, and safari operators mean that the needs of humans, nature, and agriculture are carefully balanced.

MASAI MARA
Kenya’s most well known wildlife gem is the Great Migration: the 1,900-mile journey of over two million wildebeest (and zebra and gazelle) as they follow the rains over the Mara River into the Masai Mara National Reserve where they feast on thousands of hectares of fresh grazing land. They stay for about four to five months, slowly mowing the Mara between approximately July and November when they cross back into Tanzania’s Serengeti region. (Only humans require a passport to cross this border!) The massive herds also attract large predators including lion, leopard, hyena and the occasional cheetah, therefore witnessing a “kill” on safari is most likely to occur during this time period.

Our guide took us on a bush walk to visit a rhino, heavily guarded against poachers

The main reason the Masai Mara attracts the Migration is because its open, flat savannah dotted with flat-topped acacia trees, provides superb grazing. The wide landscape gives you that classic “safari look” with green grass turning golden as the seasons change. It’s impossible to know exactly when wildebeest will cross the Mara River – they don’t all cross in one place at the same time. Large groups can be viewed at different points and on different days. This unpredictability and sense of exploration is what makes safaris so exciting.

Subscribe to my blog to read my upcoming articles on Kenya including Safari Packing Tips, Weekend in Nairobi, and specifics on Masai Mara, Mt. Kenya, and the Laikipia Reserve.

Need help planning your Bucket-list Trip?

It’s never TOO early to plan. Would you like to maximize the redemption of your American Express Points? Email me: mollie@herrickstravel.com, and find out about upgrades, special amenities, and VIP service for all Herricks Travel American Express/Altour customers regardless of credit card membership

Become a SUBSCRIBER and receive all my latest articles right to your inbox: look for the “subscribe to this blog by email” box and then respond to the follow-up email. For more information on my trip planning services, please click HERE

Best of Prague

Best of Prague

Yes, much of travel is on pause now, but that doesn’t mean you can’t PREPARE. Planning helps you hit the ground running once restrictions lift and confidence resumes. Plus, half the fun is the anticipation of taking off to far off lands. Travel dreams do not fade; we WILL get back in the air and on the road. We will make new memories. As a Travel Agent, I will be here to help you navigate this new travel landscape and make sure your trip goes off without a hitch. After the New Year, there will be a surge in pent up demand and travelers will start transforming those dreams into realities.

Last fall, I visited Prague, the capital of the Czech Republic and “the heart of Europe.” Enough can’t be said about visiting Europe off-peak – less crowds and cooler weather. Prague is an architecturally and spiritually rich city. At dusk, the lights come on and this “city of a hundred spires” glows with countless gold tipped church towers. Prague is best enjoyed on foot: evening strolls through narrow streets and cobblestone lanes lead to courtyards and quiet nooks lit by gas-filled streetlamps.

A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the city center reflects all European architectural styles: Renaissance, Baroque, Romanesque, Classicism, Empire, Art Nouveau, and Czech Cubism. It’s a truly magical compilation of cathedrals, church domes, bridges, and ancient synagogues. Here are a few ideas to kick off the planning, but no matter when you travel, don’t forget to check websites for opening dates:

Photo by Edoardo Colombo on Pexels.com

Spiritual Prague:
Prague developed over many centuries as the crossroads of Christian and Jewish Cultures. Visit Church of Our Lady Victorious where pilgrims from around the globe come to pray to the famous Infant Jesus of Prague for protection. Take a stroll to Wenceslas Square to see the statue of St. Wenceslas, the main Czech patron saint and symbol of Czech statehood.

Jewish Prague:
In the early 11th century, Jews began settling in Prague, an important center for religious and social life for the Jewish community. The Jewish Quarter dates to the 13th century when Jews were ordered to vacate their homes and settle in one area. Embark on a Jewish Settlement tour to bear witness to their history and persecution.

The Old-New Synagogue, with its massive brick gables, is one of the oldest surviving synagogues in Europe. Visit the Pinkas Synagogue to view its walls hand-scribed with the names of more than 80,000 Czech Jews who were killed under the Nazi regime. Also on display are the emotional drawings by Jewish children interned at Terezín concentration camp where most perished. Walk through the Old Jewish Cemetery composed of layers upon layers of 12,000 tombstones — Jews were only allowed burial in this one small city block.

Historic Prague:
The Prague Castle refers to the entire complex of churches, towers, courtyards, and monuments. Since the ninth century, it has served as the seat of the Czech Republic President. Watch the ceremonial changing of the guards; stroll through Vladislav Hall with its magnificent Gothic vaulting; visit the Romanesque-style St. George Basilica. Climb the Old Castle steps and wander through the interiors of the Old Royal Palace. Enter Gothic-style St. Vitus Cathedral and marvel over the Crown Jewels and then descend to the Palace’s Baroque Gardens below and stroll down winding paths to “Lesser Town” along the banks of the swan-filled Vltava River.

Old Town Hall & Astronomical Clock:
Established in 1338 as the seat of the Old Town administration, the complex’s most famous feature is its beautiful Gothic tower and uniquely adorned astronomical clock. Every hour watch the “Walk of the Apostles,” the procession of twelve wooden figures circulating through the gilded clock’s mechanisms.

Musical Prague:
Fans of Czech classical music will immediately think of Dvořák– his symphony was played when American astronauts first landed on the Moon. Music and Prague are intrinsically entwined – large festivals are held annually but chamber groups can be enjoyed year-round at Smetana Hall, Liechtenstein Palace, and a multitude of churches and synagogues. The Estates Theatre is home to opera and is where Mozart personally conducted the “Marriage of Figaro” in 1787.

Walk the Charles Bridge:
There’s no more famous shot than a picture of Charles Bridge with the silhouette of Prague Castle in the background. This half a kilometer-long stone bridge hosts 31 Baroque statues and is flanked by two stately towers.

Literary Prague:
Prague produced some of the most important writers of the 20th century: Jan Neruda, Milan Kundera, and Franz Kafka to name just a few. Kafka, author of The Metamorphosis, among other auspicious works, spent most of his life in Prague – his literary legacy is well-preserved in the excellent Franz Kafka Museum.

Culinary Prague:
Typical Czech cuisine should not be missed: Czech beer, Moravian wine, spicy goulash, roast duck, beef with dumplings, wild game, homemade cheeses and sausages can be enjoyed at the many brew pubs and dining rooms sprinkled throughout the city. Try U Modré Kachničky, housed in a romantic 16th century baroque townhouse, and Kampa Park offering amazing views of the Charles Bridge from its riverside terrace. But there is also plenty of international choices too: V Zátiší for contemporary Indian fusion and La Finestra In Cucina for authentic Italian cuisine.

Go back in time at the Augustine Hotel:
This enchanting luxury hotel is deeply rooted in Prague history due to its interconnection with a 13th century Augustine monastery that remains active to this day, run by the friars of the Augustine order who also happen to have produced their own beer since 1352. Baroque-style St. Thomas Church offers special insidery tours for Augustine hotel guests only. Climb through a hidden door connecting the hotel to the monastery and gain insight to the life of the monks who serve as caretakers and guardians of the church and the ancient library housed within.

Day trip to Cesky Krumlov:
Located in Southern Bohemia, this fairy tale semi-island town is home to the second largest castle in the Czech Republic. A UNESCO World Heritage site, the Dukes of Krumlov ruled this town for over 400 years, transforming it into one of the most picturesque towns in Central Europe.

Bring home a memory:
Since the 14th century, Bohemian garnets have been treasured for their healing properties and remain a popular Prague purchase. Bohemian crystal and art glass in a rainbow of vibrant colors are transformed into gorgeous hand cut vases, goblets, and chandeliers in classic and contemporary designs. Visit boutiques Moser and Preciosa for high end designs, or for more affordable but equally exquisite pieces, visit the factory store of Caesar Crystal Bohemiae.

Itinerary Tip: Pair a visit to Prague with a visit to Berlin: they are only four hours apart by train. To read my recent article on Best of Berlin, click here.

Need help putting together your Bucket-list Trip or Dream Vacation? It’s never TOO early to plan. Would you like to maximize the redemption of your American Express Points? Email me: mollie@herrickstravel.com, and find out about upgrades, special amenities, and VIP service for all Herricks Travel American Express/Altour customers regardless of credit card membership.

To view this complete article online and read my previous articles, use this link: uniquefamilytraveler.com.

Become a SUBSCRIBER and receive all of my latest articles right to your inbox: look for the “subscribe to this blog by email” box and then respond to the follow-up email.

For more information on my trip planning services, please click HERE

Additional panoramic photo credits: Felix Mittermoier, Julius Silver, Jeshoots, Pierre Blanche

Travel with a Purpose: Kenya

Travel with a Purpose: Kenya

Safaris are magical, otherworldly experiences, wholly unlike other journeys. Not just transported to a foreign land, you are completely immersed in nature, culture, food, history. Safaris enrich the mind, stretch the imagination, calm the soul, and encourage self-reflection. A typical day? Rise with the sun and enjoy a peaceful breakfast in the wilderness; hold your breath while a mamma lion brushes up against your safari vehicle; dance with Masai warriors upon exiting a bush plane; tour a proud village elder’s mud hut; quietly tip toe through the brush to gaze at the majesty of a carefully guarded rhino; contemplate a flawless night sky and the Milky Way stretching over the evening bonfire.

But, my recent trip to Kenya included an even MORE unique experience, thanks to Micato Safaris and its nonprofit arm, AmericaShare. A recent article in AFAR magazine reminded me of what made this safari so memorable. Our two-week travel industry familiarization trip to Kenya and Tanzania hosted by Micato included a visit to one of the organizations supported by this award-winning travel company: the Harambee Community Center. Located in Mukuru, East Nairobi’s densely populated slum, this center left an indelible impression, and reminded me that travel for enjoyment can also include travel with a purpose: to open your heart and mind and shine a necessary light on causes and people around the world.

Packed into Mukuru are 500,000 people whose daily income barely exceeds four dollars. The township lacks basic formal infrastructure, running water, electricity, and sanitation. Its residents live in tiny one-roomed corrugated iron shacks with up to twenty families sharing a communal water tap and toilet.

AmericaShare, founded over 30 years ago, is dedicated to improving the lives of the children living in Mukuru. Through education and community outreach programs, they provide disadvantaged children with access to basic education resources to facilitate sustainable change. Many children in Mukuru cannot afford to consistently attend school. While public primary school tuition fees are covered by the government, hidden costs, such as uniforms, books, and lunch fees keep children from attending.

Harambee CenterOur travel agent group was brought to the Harambee Center – it means “Let’s Pull Together” in Swahili.  The center is a multi-purpose facility – a bright and beautiful oasis of hope and green space in the middle of the Mukuru slum. A vital community center, it allows residents to gather for lectures, educational sessions, and meetings. Our visit (pre-pandemic) included a tour of the classrooms, lending library, and computer resource building. Students of all ages were seated shoulder to shoulder at tables, quietly doing homework, studying for exams, and forming study groups. The library is stocked with over twenty thousand books, including novels, textbooks, and study guides. Books are a rare gift in Mukuru; many schools do not have adequate textbooks, and novels are a luxury most cannot afford.

AmericaShare has programs aimed at helping children living in poverty remain in school, giving them the opportunity to learn as every child deserves. For every trip booked with Micato Safaris, the company sends one child to school. Now in the age of COVID-19, AmericaShare’s mission has become even MORE dire: providing protective masks and organizing food donations to help ameliorate the increasing problem of hunger, something that is running rampant worldwide. Now, keeping kids from falling behind due to the recent closure of schools is even more paramount. New rules on social distancing and the lack of smart phones, tablets, or even the internet, severely limits digital learning.

Harambee Center

Harambee CenterI was grateful for the opportunity to see this organization’s efforts in action and help shine a light on their mission. Although the residents are faced with the daily challenge of survival, our visit to Harambee included an opportunity to see the children’s commitment to education, positivity, and kinship.

Our tour ended with a jubilant musical performance by the children (see video linked below). As the singing concluded, the children enveloped us and welcomed each of us into their circle, forever leaving their mark on our hearts and our souls. To learn more about AmericaShare and make a donation click here.

Click on photo to view video:

Need help putting together your Bucket-list Trip or Dream Vacation? It’s never TOO early to plan. Would you like to maximize the redemption of your American Express Points? Email me: mollie@herrickstravel.com, and find out about upgrades, special amenities, and VIP service for all Herricks Travel American Express/Altour customers regardless of credit card membership.

To view this complete article online and read my previous articles, use this link: uniquefamilytraveler.com.

Become a SUBSCRIBER and receive all of my latest articles right to your inbox: look for the “subscribe to this blog by email” box and then respond to the follow-up email.

For more information on my trip planning services, please click HERE.

Mukuru and Harambee Center exterior photos courtesy of AmericaShare.

Private Camp Experiences

Private Camp Experiences

With many summer day camps and sleep away camps forced to close this summer, how can concerned parents keep their children stimulated and safe in the age of social distancing?

I am pleased to present you with an exclusive opportunity designed to offer comfortable settings that allow for social distancing through private accommodations and meals, private activities and a dedicated private counselor.

Kids will be entertained with full days of play while parents can relax with peace of mind, join the activities, or continue working remotely. Whether you are looking to travel alone or with one or two close friends or family, a customized program for every age group will be tailor made to suit everyone’s interests. Working remotely? An office can be set up for your convenience to make sure your work continues uninterrupted.

Choose from a variety of private and semi-private destinations from around the USA, Caribbean and Mexico including ranches, lodges, mountain escapes and beach getaways. Make this a summer spent together with your loved ones! #ExperiencesNotThings

summer adventure
summer adventure

summer adventurePrivate Camp locations include:

East Coast: Chatham Bars Inn, The Lodge at Woodloch, Watch Hill Inn
Midwest: Amangiri, Dunton Hot Springs, Dunton River Camp, The Lodge at Big Sky
Caribbean & Mexico: NIZUC Resort & Spa, Rosewood Mayakoba, One&Only Palmilla

 

Ready to plan your summer family adventure? Email me: mollie@herrickstravel.com.

Need help putting together your bucket-list trip or dream vacation? Would you like to maximize the redemption of your American Express Points?
Email me: mollie@herrickstravel.com, and find out about upgrades, special amenities, and VIP service for Herricks Travel American Express/Altour customers.

To view this complete article online and read my previous articles, use this link: uniquefamilytraveler.com.

Become a SUBSCRIBER and receive all of my latest articles right to your inbox: look for the “subscribe to this blog by email” box and then respond to the follow-up email.

For more information on my trip planning services, please click HERE.

Herricks Travel American Express/Altour

 

 

Best of Berlin

Best of Berlin

Berlin is historic and hip, serious and free-spirited, traditional yet cutting edge. A trip to Berlin will take you back in time to explore its many layers from its Prussian period to Imperial rule to the violent 20th century to its present-day renaissance. Experience the evolution and modernization of this fascinating multicultural German capital. And, if you can, try to visit outside of summer’s high season when crowds are thinned. In April and May, gardens will be blooming and during my recent visit in October, temps were pleasant and not too cold — perfect walking weather. Here are just a few items to put on your itinerary:

VISIT

Berlin Wall Memorial:
Two days after sealing off passage between East and West Berlin with barbed wire in 1961, East German authorities begin building the Berlin Wall to close off access to the West. For the next 28 years, the heavily fortified wall stood as the most tangible symbol of the Cold War–a literal “iron curtain” dividing Europe. The memorial contains the last piece of the Berlin Wall with the preserved grounds behind it.

Berlin Brandenburg Gate:
This 18th century neoclassical monument, a symbol of German division during the Cold War, is now a national symbol of peace and unity. It was here, on June 12, 1987, U.S. President Ronald Reagan issued his stern command to his cold war adversary admonishing him with the words: “Mr. Gorbachov – tear down this wall!” Nearby is where Adolf Hitler hid at the end of WWII. Fittingly and deliberately, it is now just an ordinary concrete covered parking lot.

Checkpoint Charlie:
In 1947, Checkpoint C, nicknamed ‘Charlie’ by the Allies, was established as a crossing point between East and West Berlin, something that became increasingly important after the Wall was built. Checkpoint Charlie was the only official crossing point for Allied troops and foreigners between the two sides of the city. After reunification, the adjoining Mauer Museum was created to help bring the history to life. (Rent “Bridge of Spies” to see Hollywood’s depiction of this famous span).

Jewish Berlin Tour:
Explore the city’s Jewish heritage from the days of early 17th century immigration though the horrors of the Holocaust to present day. Learn about some of Berlin’s famous Jewish residents who changed the world including Albert Einstein and philosopher Moses Mendelssohn. Visit the grounds of the Old Synagogue destroyed during WWII and the “Block of Women” memorial dedicated to those women who attempted to peacefully save their Jewish husbands and fathers from deportation by the SS and Gestapo. Stop by the Moorish-style Neue Synagogue, the main synagogue of the Berlin Jewish community and an important architectural monument. Tour the Museum Blindenwerkstatt, a 1940’s era factory where owner Otto Weidt bravely protected his blind and deaf Jewish workers from persecution during the Holocaust.

Jewish Museum:
American architect Daniel Libeskind’s design for this building is meant to depict German-Jewish history. Its zigzagging lines and crisscrossing shapes leave visitors with a sense of insecurity or disorientation. The building allows for many interpretations: for some, it suggests a broken Star of David. In the center of the structure are empty voids to address the physical emptiness that resulted from the expulsion, destruction, and annihilation of Jewish life in the Shoah, which cannot be refilled after the fact. Libeskind wanted to make this loss visible and tangible through his architecture.

Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe:
BerlinIn the middle of the city stands this imposing monument which serves as a place of contemplation and a symbol to never forget the six million Jews murdered by the Nazis during WWII. Architect Peter Eisenman placed 2711 concrete slabs (reminiscent of coffins) of varying heights in a site encompassing 19,000 meters — an area that evokes a graveyard. The memorial is positioned on a slight slope and the uneven flooring gives you a sense of uncertainty and uneasiness.

Bebelplatz:
Walk across this public square to the location of the infamous book burning by the Nazis. A glass plate is set in the paving stones; below sits an underground room with empty bookshelves. Symbolically, the underground shelves have space for 20,000 books, a reminder of the books that went up in flames on May 10, 1933 under orders of the Nazis.

Museum Island:
This island in the middle of the city’s Spree River includes five world-renowned museums. Check out the New Museum with its famous bust of the Ancient Egyptian Queen Nefertiti and the Pergamon Museum with its remarkable Ishtar Gate from the ancient city of Babylon.

BerlinBerlin TV Tower:
Soaring 368 meters above Alexanderplatz, this tower is the city’s most visible landmark and the highest building in Europe open to the general public. Amazing 360-degree panoramic views can be experienced from its roof top restaurant and observation deck. No longer just a symbol of East Germany, the tower has become an integral element of Berlin’s new cityscape.

Hackesche Höfe:
A newly revitalized courtyard complex situated adjacent to the Hackescher Markt in the Mitte area is now a vibrant shopping, eating and meeting place in the art nouveau architectural style. The complex consists of eight interconnected courtyards, accessed through a main arched entrance at number 40 Rosenthaler Straße. Today, the eight courtyards play host to over forty businesses, including cultural institutions, street art exhibitions, a cinema, cafés, shops and apartments and has become a popular nightlife magnet.

BerlinFestival of Lights:
This annual October event transforms Berlin’s most famous landmarks and historical monuments such as Brandenburg Gate, Berlin Cathedral and the Victory Column into massive video art installments using light projections, CD mapping, and music. This free event casts the city in a magical light brought to you by some of the top international artists all contributing to this massive open-air art gallery — it will leave you breathless!

EAT
No trip to Berlin is complete without a taste of traditional German Wiener Schnitzel. Try Lutter & Wegner for servings so large they barely fit on the plate. For truly farm to table fare, visit eclectic Katz Orange — its cozy rustic dining rooms are accented with antiques and plush couches. Famous for its international cuisine, take a break at one of Berlin’s many Vietnamese restaurants for a hearty bowl of Pho, a popular “street food” consisting of savory broth, plentiful rice noodles, crunchy bean sprouts, and sliced chicken or beef. After a hearty evening meal, head to Orania.Bar, Berlin’s contemporary yet timeless bar for artisan drinks and crafty compositions of exotic ingredients accompanied by nightly jazz concerts.

BerlinSHOP
The Kaufhaus des Westens, abbreviated to KaDeWe, is the second largest department store in Europe after London’s Harrods. Head upstairs to the food halls to pick up delicious confectionery and chocolates or sip some champagne and nosh at one of the many anti-pasta bars. Friedrichstrasse, the high-end retail district in the heart of Berlin is home to fashion stores from high street brands to international luxury and upscale home décor. Flea Markets can be found city-wide (check opening dates): pick from an eclectic assortment at Town Square’s Marheinekeplatz; the original Arkonaplatz; trendy Fesche Lotte flea market; and historical market at Rathaus Schöneberg.

 

CITY PAIR TIP: combine a visit to Berlin with a visit to Prague, the capital of the Czech Republic — they are only about four hours apart by train.

Need help putting together your bucket-list trip or dream vacation? Would you like to maximize the redemption of your American Express Points?
Email me: mollie@herrickstravel.com, and find out about upgrades, special amenities, and VIP service for Herricks Travel American Express/Altour customers.

To view this complete article online and read my previous articles, use this link: uniquefamilytraveler.com.

Become a SUBSCRIBER and receive all of my latest articles right to your inbox: look for the “subscribe to this blog by email” box and then respond to the follow-up email.

For more information on my trip planning services, please click HERE.

Herricks Travel American Express/Altour

Additional photography provided by Unsplash & Steven Widau, Markus Spiske, Giulia Gasperini, Elijah G.
Why You Should use a Travel Agent, Now More Than Ever

Why You Should use a Travel Agent, Now More Than Ever

Articles in the New York Times and Travel Market Report highlight the recent surge in bookings arranged by Travel Agents. As the Times mentions, consumers are realizing the benefits gained by working with a professional. To save money and enhance the quality of a trip at no cost to you, travelers should look for an adviser from a large consortium like American Express. Because of longstanding partnerships with travel companies and the sheer volume of bookings companies like American Express generate for hotel, airline and cruise partners, they are able to negotiate special rates and perks on behalf of their clients, from free cocktails and room upgrades upon arrival to spa treatments and late checkouts. “The VIP treatment does not come at extra cost,” states Times columnist Michelle Higgens; “travel advisers provide an element of personalization that can’t be offered via an online travel service.”

“The struggle is real,” notes Travel Market Report; “the sheer volume of information consumers must sift through if they’re booking online has turned trip planning into an ordeal!” But, not for an experienced travel agent!

Recently, I was featured as a guest blogger on the LICenter.org website. Click here to read my article on the “Top Twelve Reasons to use a Travel Agent” and see some of the benefits and perks that YOU may be missing out on by NOT using a Travel Agent.

 

Need help putting together your bucket-list trip or dream vacation? Would you like to maximize the redemption of your American Express Points?
Email me: mollie@herrickstravel.com, and find out about upgrades, special amenities, and VIP service for Herricks Travel American Express/Altour customers.

To view this complete article online and read my previous articles, use this link: uniquefamilytraveler.com.

Become a SUBSCRIBER and receive all of my latest articles right to your inbox: look for the “subscribe to this blog by email” box and then respond to the follow-up email.

For more information on my trip planning services, please click HERE.

Herricks Travel American Express/Altour

Headphoto courtesy of Rana Swalha

Best of Lower Manhattan

Best of Lower Manhattan

While New York’s Midtown Manhattan gets plenty of attention from tourist magnets Times Square and the Broadway Theatre District, consider heading downtown for a long weekend spent at the tip of the island. The oldest permanently inhabited part of the city, Lower Manhattan, also known as the Financial District, is bordered by Chambers Street which slices through Tribeca and ends at City Hall and the Brooklyn Bridge. Chock-full of hotels, restaurants, shopping, and historical sights, make sure to include of few of these highlights on your itinerary:

New York City9/11 Memorial and Museum:
This emotional memorial pays tribute to the 2,983 men, women, and children killed on 9/11 and in the 1983 bombing of the World Trade Center. The museum explores the events before, during, and after the attacks at all three sites in the U.S., (NY, PA, and DC). Two vast reflecting pools with waterfalls cascading down, stand in permanent remembrance to the footprints of the original Twin Towers.

The Oculus:
Designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, the “Oculus” transit hub is a train station, plaza and shopping mall adjacent to the 9/11 Memorial. Replacing the PATH train station that was destroyed during the attacks, the impressive glass and steel structure resembles a white dove with wings spread. The west concourse connects the PATH train from New Jersey to Brookfield Place, an office complex across from the World Trade Center site.

New York CityBrookfield Place and Battery Park:
Formerly known as the World Financial Center, it’s an office complex and shopping mall in one with designer and contemporary fashion brands, a collection of restaurants, outdoor seating along the active waterfront with plenty of sailing charters and ferry services. The Winter Garden Atrium, a ten-story glass palm tree filled vaulted pavilion, plays hosts to concerts and cultural events. Step outside for a walk along the Battery Park Esplanade, a waterfront promenade that winds its way through the residential neighborhood, Battery Park City.

Staten Island Ferry:
The ferry that never sleeps operates 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The 25-minute FREE ride shuttles between Manhattan and New York’s outer and often forgotten borough, Staten Island.

New York CityJewish Heritage Museum:
This museum functions as a living memorial to the Holocaust and New York’s contribution to the global responsibility to never forget. Their mission statement is “to educate people of all ages and backgrounds about the broad tapestry of Jewish life in the 20th and 21st centuries — before, during, and after the Holocaust.” Always Remember; Never Forget.

Trinity Church:
Near the intersection of Wall Street and Broadway stands this Gothic Revival church. During the September 11 attacks, people took refuge inside the church from the massive debris cloud produced by the World Trade Center Tower collapse. History buffs (and Broadway show fans) will want to pay a visit to the church cemetery where Alexander Hamilton and his wife, Eliza Schuyler Hamilton, are buried.

Federal Hall:
On Wall Street, George Washington took the oath of office as our first President. This National Parks Memorial was home to the first Congress, Supreme Court, and Executive Branch offices. Now, the building serves as a museum and memorial to our first President and the beginnings of the United States of America.

Wall Street:
Yes, Wall Street is an actual street — eight-blocks long to be exact — running roughly from Broadway to South Street in the Financial District of Lower Manhattan. But, no, you cannot visit the inside of the N.Y. Stock Exchange. But, you can take a selfie with the famous Charging Bull Sculpture which stands right outside.

New York CityOne World Trade Center:
The new office towers built since the 9/11 attacks have transformed the skyline of Lower Manhattan. At its pinnacle is the One World Observatory, rising over 100 stories in the sky and offering 360 views of the city and beyond. Timed tickets can be purchased online.

Seaport District:
The 200-year old seaport is nestled between the Brooklyn Bridge and the canyons of Wall Street. Stroll down historic cobblestone streets, explore shops and restaurants, enjoy cultural events and take a trip back in time at the Seaport Museum with its high masted sailing ships (guided tours available.)

Need help putting together your bucket-list trip or dream vacation?
Email me: mollie@herrickstravel.com, and find out about upgrades, special amenities, and VIP service for Herricks Travel American Express/Altour customers.

To view this complete article online and read my previous articles, use this link: uniquefamilytraveler.com.

Become a SUBSCRIBER and receive all of my latest articles right to your inbox: look for the “subscribe to this blog by email” box and then respond to the follow-up email.

For more information on my trip planning services, please click HERE.

Herricks Travel American Express/Altour

World Trade Center photo courtesy of Sebastiaan Flam

Top Twelve Copenhagen

Top Twelve Copenhagen

Planning a cruise or land tour to Northern Europe? Make sure to schedule some extra days in Copenhagen, Denmark’s capital city and Scandinavia’s center of culture and cool. Here are just a few experiences to put on your must see list:

The Little Mermaid Statue:
At Langelinje Pier sits Copenhagen’s most famous resident welcoming all to the the city’s harbor. This bronze and granite statue was inspired by famed Danish author Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale about the “original” mermaid.

Tivoli Gardens:
Europe’s second oldest amusement park is rumored to have been the park that inspired Walt Disney to make his own wonderland. Besides the usual park attractions, Tivoli features a resident symphony orchestra, a Chinese Harlequin Theatre, and a convenient city-center location. Visit at night to see the park lit by thousands of twinkling lights — there are plenty of cozy gardens and park benches to laze the evening away.

Stroll down Strøget:
This pedestrian shopping zone stretches from Town Hall Square to Kongens Nytorv (The Kings New Square). Check out a multitude of outdoor restaurants, street performances, chain stores, and designer boutiques for all kinds of budgets.

Nyhavn:
Formally a busy 17th century commercial port, the rainbow-colored wood and brick townhouses that line the canal have been lovingly restored and cafes and music venues have taken the place of sailors and alehouses. Hans Christian Anderson lived in three of the homes at different points in his life (number 18 houses a gift shop with Anderson-themed products). During holiday time the area is perfectly lit and gift markets fill the cobblestone streets.

Danish Jewish Museum:
Designed by famed architect Daniel Libeskind, this thoughtfully planned museum leads you through 400 years of Jewish life in Copenhagen. It focuses on the unique circumstance that lead to the majority of Danish Jews being saved from Nazi persecution by their Danish compatriots during World War II. The museum is built around the concept of the Hebrew word “Mitzvah” which translates to “obligation” or “good deed,” a lesson that requires reinforcement even today.

Christiansborg Palace:
Located on the tiny island of Slotsholmen, this palace and center of power plays host to the Danish Parliament, the Supreme Court, and the Ministry of State. Visit the Royal Reception Rooms and Great Hall to view the Queen’s grand tapestries – the magnificent setting for royal galas and state visits.

Amalienborg Palace:
Get a taste of royal life at this residence of the Danish Royal Family, one of the world’s oldest monarchies. Visit at noontime to witness the changing of the guards as they march from their barracks by Rosenborg Castle through the city streets to Amalienborg.

CopenhagenRosenborg Castle:
Home to the elaborate Crown Jewels, this castle is set in the colorful King’s Garden. In the Knight’s Hall sits the Coronation Thrones and three life-size silver lions standing guard.

Danish War Museum:
Take a walk through Danish history from the 1500’s until today — from samurai swords to Knights in shining amour, from World War II to the war in Afghanistan. Located in the historic arsenal building.

Day trip to Malmö, Sweden:
Reaching Malmö from Copenhagen is fast and easy: they are only 30 kilometers apart. Trains depart from Copenhagen Central Station every 20 minutes and the travel time is 35 minutes to the center of Malmö. You can also take a direct train from Copenhagen Airport.  Remember to bring your passport!

Day trip to Kronborg Castle & Louisiana Museum of Art:
This 16th century castle was the model for the majestic home of Shakespeare’s Prince Hamlet. After your tour, take a walk in picturesque Elsinore where you’ll find cute cobblestone streets, colorful crooked houses, and even a modern interpretation of Copenhagen’s favorite mermaid. On your way back to Copenhagen, visit the Louisiana Museum of Art. This internationally renowned museum offers contemporary art, unique architecture, and a lovely panoramic view over the Øresund Sound.

Indulge in Hygge:
Pronounced “hoo-ga,” the Danish concept of hygge means creating a nice, warm atmosphere and enjoying the good things in life with good people around you. Practice your hygge at the numerous cafes, parks, and gardens sprinkled throughout the city. And, this top Copenhagen “attraction” is something that you can easily bring home with you to keep those blissful vacation memories brewing. If you’ve ever enjoyed reading a book in a comfy chair on a rainy morning, or sipping a cup of hot cocoa in front of a fire on a snowy day, you’ve experienced hygge without even knowing it!

Combine your visit to Copenhagen with a visit to Stockholm, Sweden. Click here to see my Top Twelve Recommendations for Stockholm.

Copenhagen

Even kids can enjoy a little hygge in Copenhagen

Need help putting together your bucket-list trip or dream vacation?
Email me: mollie@herrickstravel.com, and find out about upgrades, special amenities, and VIP service for Herricks Travel American Express/Altour customers.

To view this complete article online and read my previous articles, use this link: uniquefamilytraveler.com.

 

Become a SUBSCRIBER and receive all of my latest articles right to your inbox: look for the “subscribe to this blog by email” box and then respond to the follow-up email.

For more information on my trip planning services, please click HERE.

Herricks Travel American Express/Altour

Additional destination photos supplied by: Nick Kavounis, Pixabay, Jose Manuel Alonso de Caso
Best of Madrid

Best of Madrid

Spain’s capital city, Madrid, is famous for its gracious boulevards, world class museums, and beautiful Baroque Royal Palace. With excellent train and flight access it’s easy to combine your visit with many other Spanish locales (check out my recent article on Seville, here). Madrid is culturally rich, pedestrian friendly, and well known for its active night life – truly a city that never sleeps.

VISIT

Gran Via: To get a sense of the city, walk along this major thoroughfare which leads from Calle de Alcalá, close to Plaza de Cibeles to Plaza de España. It’s the city’s “Broadway boulevard” home to theater, restaurants, taverns, and fashion.

Plaza Mayor: This portico-lined square is right in the heart of the city’s oldest districts. The symmetrical layout is ringed by three-story residential buildings with 237 wrought iron balconies. The plaza plays host to numerous events, art shows and holiday markets and is a welcome open-air space amidst Madrid’s many bustling streets.

Las Tablas Flamenco: Flamenco is Spain’s most famous dance and is known around the world for its energy, colorful costumes, and artistry. Purchase tickets in advance for one of the many shows on offer, some including dinner or a drink.Madrid, Spain

Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum: From Impressionism to avant-garde, this museum features abstract and figurative art, 17th century Dutch masters, and 19th century American classics. It’s part of the “Golden Triangle,” which also includes the Prado and the Reina Sofia national galleries.

Reína Sofa Museum: One of Europe’s most interesting contemporary art collections, this museum houses the “Guernica,” Picasso’s creation for the 1937 Paris Exposition.  Most likely his most famous work, it’s a powerful political statement painted as an immediate reaction to the Nazi’s devastating bombing on the Basque town of Guernica. It has become a reminder of the tragedies of war and a symbol of the hope for peace.

El Retiro Park: Contained in this vast green oasis you’ll find a bevy of sculptures, monuments, lush lawns, and an artificial lake with row boats for hire. Rent a bicycle and pedal around the plentiful paths and check out the Glass Palace a beautiful cast iron pavilion built in 1887 to house exotic flora for an exhibition on the Philippines.

Prado: The crown jewel of the city is celebrating its 200th anniversary this year. Lining its walls are masterpieces from Spanish, Italian and Flemish schools.  Make time to view Dutch artist Bosch’s “The Garden of Earthly Delights” and the “Haywain Triptych” famous for the dreamlike universes they depict.  Short on time?  Focus on famed Spanish painters, El Greco, Velázquez, and Goya. Our tour with an historian from “The Real Thing” gave us an insidery view and an amazing lesson in art appreciation.

The Royal Palace: Although it is not the official residence of his Majesty the King of Spain (they live in Zarzuela Palace on the outskirts of Madrid), this palace hosts state ceremonies, official banquets, and state functions.  This majestic building is open every day as a museum except when ceremonies are held. Housed within is an extensive collection of paintings, sculptures, weapons, musical instruments and decorative arts (most notable is the porcelain room).  Of particular interest to my cellist son: two violins, one viola, and one violoncello all made by Stradivarius for Charles III. Madrid & Beyond’s excellent guide gave us plenty of insight to the life of the Bourbon kings who called this grand palace home.Madrid, Spain

Santiago Bernabéu Stadium: Home to Real Madrid (thirteen-time winners of The European Cup) it is set to undergo a massive renovation to include a pedestrian zone, larger club shop, and museum. The self-guided tour takes you around the club’s most iconic spots including players’ dressing rooms, trophy collection, interactive exhibit, and of course the gift shop featuring plenty of “merch.”

EAT

Tapas tour: Hosted by Devour Tours, this tour connected us to the authentic cuisines and traditions that the city is most famous for.  For the uninitiated, tapas are those delectable hot and cold appetizers in Spanish cuisine – small portions that pack a flavorful punch, meant to be shared. In three hours, we sampled an endless variety of food and beverages from the family-run eateries and mom and pop shops that are at the heart of what makes Spain so unique… and delicious!

Churros San San Ginés: There’s one reason to visit this café and that is for its famous chocolate con churros (hot chocolate and churros). It’s open 24 hours so visit day or night, or multiple times!

Mercado de San Miguel: Arrive hungry and stroll the aisles of this beautiful historic market and take a gastronomic tour of Spain: Iberian ham, Galicia seafood, Basque cheese, Asturian Cider, and much more.

Madrid, Spain

Lateral: This restaurant group’s six locations offer a mix of traditional tapas and modern cuisine with outdoor seating with heaters for cooler nights. Try the gazpacho, fresh tosta de salmon con brie, las croquetas de jamón, and albóndigas (meatballs).

Madrid, SpainLa Casa del El Abuelo: A traditional pocket-size family tavern in business since 1906, it means “grandfather’s house” in Spanish. The secret to their long success? Prawns. Perfectly prepared in garlic with a side of freshly baked bread, served with a glass of sweet Alicante red wine.

La Mallorquina: Since 1884, this bakery’s glass display cases have been filled with delectable handmade pastries and cakes. Need a break from touring? Head upstairs to their small dining room where you can enjoy your treats to order with a café con leche or a glass of fresh squeezed orange juice. Our favorite? Hands down, the perfectly flaky, crunchy and sweet Napolitana de Chocolate.Madrid, Spain

SHOP

Antigua Casa Talavera: The handmade Spanish ceramics crafted here hail from several regions of the country: Talavera, Toledo, Valencia, Granada, and Seville. Pick up brightly hewed Sangria pitchers, dinnerware, tea sets, plates, vases and tiles depicting scenes of Spanish life: bullfights, dancers, and folklore.

Taller Puntera: This store doubles as a workshop where reasonably priced handmade leather goods are crafted. Artisans work in a rainbow array of leather colors and textures.

Salamanca Neighborhood: Madrid’s northeastern district is a quiet but upscale neighborhood with plenty of chic dining options, historic architecture, and international high-end retailers. Calle de Serrano, Calle de Goya, and Calle de Velásquez are considered the most exclusive streets of the entire city and showcase beautiful 19th century buildings with delicate facades.

Il Corte Inglés:  Spain’s largest department store features an extensive selection of men’s and women’s fashion including Spanish brands like Bimba Y Loa, Jocavi and Cuplé. On the top floor visit the Gourmet Experience for a selection of foodie souvenirs like olive oil and vermouth.Madrid, Spain

Madrid, SpainNeed help putting together your bucket-list trip or dream vacation?
Email me: mollie@herrickstravel.com, and find out about upgrades, special amenities, and VIP service for Herricks Travel American Express/Altour customers.

SMART PHONE SUBSCRIBERS: to view this complete article online and read my previous articles, use this link: uniquefamilytraveler.com.

To become a SUBSCRIBER and receive all of my latest articles right to your inbox, look for the “subscribe to this blog by email” box and then respond to the follow-up email.

For more information on my trip planning services, please click HERE.

Herricks Travel American Express/Altour

Madrid at dusk photo credit: Florian-Wehde