Sahlep – the winterful, wonderful street beverage of Istanbul

The magnificent Blue Mosque

There is something indescribably “Istanbul-ish” about a warm, soothing cup of sahlep as you walk around in the cool, brusque Fall and Winter air of Sultanahmet (in the Old City) any evening between November and January.

Hagia Sofia with its generations of history

The refreshing evenings in the Old City side of Istanbul during this cooler time of year, capture an ambiance that’s definitely not in existence during the sultry summer months.

Street tea vendors at night – Istanbul

During the winter, if you go out later in the day, when the crowds have quieted down, you’ll find a different, quieter city, when there’s only you and a few other souls walking around, watching the multi-coloured dancing waters of the fountain in the Center of Sultanahmet Meydani (Square), which mystically contrasts the serenity and stately grandeur of the Hagia Sofia and the Blue Mosque.

Sultanahmet Square
Sultanahmet Meydani with Hagia Sofia as the backdrop.

To add to your winter delight on the dark streets of Istanbul, if you’ve never had the wondrous experience of drinking hot sahlep on a cold night, the sensation would feel similar to this: on a horse-drawn sleighride in the crisp winter air, enjoying a nice ‘perfectly warmed’ cup of hot chocolate.

Sahlep is similar in consistency to hot chocolate, unlike warm milk chocolate, it would be akin to a cup of warm, white chocolate drink. That is sahlep! Delicious and topped with just a hint of cinnamon or nutmeg, and some crumbled pistachios to slightly enhance the flavour. Yum! Try it! You’ll like it!

The Blue Mosque – Istanbul
Sahlep and Turkish tea vendors at night in Istanbul

These types of intimate and enriching but local, cultural experiences are what we like to share with our guests when we go to Istanbul, either on a group itinerary, or privately. Let us share our love of Istanbul with you!

Blue Mosque/Sultan Ahmed Mosque (Turkish: SultanAhmet Camii)
Sahlep! Take a walk around Istanbul this winter and experience it for yourself!

Avalon Waterways – Christmas Markets River Cruise, The Markets

A Christmas Markets River Cruise is a bucket-list item for many travel aficionados. We had the good fortune to enjoy a Christmas Markets River Cruise through France and Germany in 2019, and it was nothing short of spectacular, and even more than we imagined and expected it would be!

Strasbourg Christmas Market at dusk. Wonderful!

 

This particular Christmas Markets cruise commenced in Frankfurt, where the one of the city’s largest Christmas markets is located just a short walk away from the starting location/Westin hotel, at Römerberg and St Paul’s Square. There is a huge Christmas tree that is brought to the square annually, and its truly one of the most magnificent squares that we witnessed in Germany. Who knew Frankfurt held so much magic!!??

Our group decided to take a few days before the cruise started, to sightsee in Frankfurt and drive to a few nearby Castles, since we were “in the neighborhood!” We always find this is a great way to see some of the local treasures, and enjoy the region, before commencing your actual travel itinerary.

 

 

Once we embarked on the river cruise, the celebratory ambiance and magic continued day after day, as we made our way towards Switzerland and our end port of Basel.

 

Each day we had a choice of activities and included sightseeing tours off-boat to take part in. Each passenger can choose from several different options as to which excursion they wish to take part in, or they can just walk off the ship into town to stroll leisurely on their own. The pace of these river cruises is marvelous and unhurried.

Ridiculously long sausages

One of the stops along this Christmas Markets cruise is Breisach, which some call the ‘gateway’ to Germany’s Black Forest. The markets here did not disappoint, with offerings of Black Forest ham, links and ridiculously long sausages of more meats than you can imagine, cherry cake (and EVERY every kind of cake and treat you can imagine), and cuckoo clocks galore.

 

If you’ve ever dreamed of old fashioned Christmastime scenes, Germany and France immerse you in this dreamland, with sights of sugarplum fairies dancing in the streets (no lie!), and the sweet scents of swirling smoke from the chimneys of stalls offering up both mulled wines (Glühwein) and ciders, and smoked meats from the Black Forest. It is everything you can imagine!

 

In Strasbourg, France, the ambiance is truly magic! That’s the only way to describe it. Strasbourg is home to one of the oldest and finest Christmas markets in Europe—dating back to the 16th century. Take in the aromas of mulled wine, spice cakes, and biscuits.


In Strasbourg you can partake in a tour to the ruins of Heidelberg Castle, which overlooks the city in all its magnificence. At Christmastime, the markets are spread over five town squares and include an ice skating rink at one end, for those who wish to partake. Each day in port winds down to the quiet beauty of the markets in all their twinkling glory at night. Bask in the holiday cheer with Glühwein (hot mulled wine), bratwursts, and other regional delicacies.

Colmar is yet another stop during this XMas markets cruise that is truly fabulous; Colmar’s timber frame houses will fill most passengers with delight, both at the architecture that makes this city so special and the magic of Christmas adoring every doorway!

 

Almost every building in Colmar was designed to enchant with its medieval, time-style, designed-with-love-and-christmas-magic styling!

We had plenty of opportunities for Christmas trinkets and presents, as well as talking with local tradespeople and craftspeople who design the beautiful Christmas decorations in each stop.

The Christmas Markets of Europe, is surely to be a trip you’ll not soon forget!

Let us help you decide which river cruise company is right for you!

 

Westjet‘s COVID-19 Insurance Coverage: Let’s break it down

While we think it’s great that the airlines are now including insurance to protect you, if you should become affected with COVID-19 either whilst travelling on their aircraft, or in destination once off your WestJet flight, please note that the coverage has its LIMITS. Within the limits is where many problems lay when it comes to Insurance products!

What’s covered*

  • New round-trip bookings including WestJet Vacations packages (excluding U.S.) will be eligible for coverage up to 21 days. (Hidden meaning: travelling for a month? You should buy additional insurance that covers your full travel period)
  • New one-way bookings will be eligible for coverage for up to seven days (Hidden meaning: We have many clients that book a one-way ticket for travel to Europe or South America, for extended stays or even longstay holidays. Beware that coverage only runs 7 days and obtain adequate insurance to cover your precise travel dates, destination and needs).
  • Emergency medical and hospital costs for outbound travellers if diagnosed with COVID-19 while outside of Canada (excluding U.S.) for up to a maximum limit of $100,000 CAD per insured person. (Hidden meaning: if you’re in ICU in an International hospital, a $100,000 coverage cap can be tight financially, not as tight as medical costs in the USA definitely, but beware that $100,000 can be limiting. We’ve had an experience of a client who incurred a serious infection, which caused brain swelling and client had to be put into an induced coma for 2 weeks while he recuperated. His hospital bill, in Canada, came to well over $250,000! Ensure you have adequate coverage limits, even if you have to buy additional insurance than that which is offered by WestJet).
  • Emergency medical and hospital costs for inbound travellers visiting Canada diagnosed with COVID-19 while in Canada up to the maximum limit of $100,000 CAD per insured person. (Hidden meaning: As above)
  • Quarantine accommodation costs when the traveller tests positive for COVID-19 on the trip up to $150 CAD per insured person, per day to a maximum of 14 days for inbound and outbound reservations. (Hidden meaning: what kind of room can you find in Dublin, or Rome, or Paris in July for $150CAD/night – judge accordingly, and know that this nightly cap will leave you with limited choices)
  • Ambulance transportation and air evacuation costs related to COVID-19, up to the maximum limit of $100,000 CAD per insured person for inbound and outbound guests. (Hidden meaning: MEDIVAC and similar costs one-way to get you back to your home hospital can be extremely expensive; this $100,000 would certainly help ‘towards’ the MEDIVAC costs, but probably won’t cover the full bill, which can run into the multi-000’s range, so again, be aware of cap limits, and the need for additional insurance).
  • COVID-19 repatriation costs in case of death of up to $5,000 CAD per insured person for inbound and outbound guests.(Hidden meaning: If you die overseas, and your family cremates you overseas, $5000 should cover getting you home. If your will dictates that your body be repatriated, the costs can easily run over $5000, so be prepared for this cap limitation.)
  • One-way economy airfare for the return of one travelling companion and dependent children when air evacuated back home for treatment. (Hidden meaning: None really, but make sure everyone has the same return to home insurance coverage. If you are with numerous family members, ensure everyone has similar ticket coverage).
  • COVID-19 related insurance coverage will apply to any eligible itinerary that includes at least one flight operated by WestJet (code 838). You will qualify for coverage regardless of whether your first flight was operated by WestJet or by one of WestJet’s code share partners so long as your booking was ticketed on WestJet and includes a flight operated by WestJet. (Hidden meaning: None. Ensure at least one leg of your ticket is flown by WestJet or its code share partners – which it always will be, if you book a WestJet ticket, even if it’s flown aboard WestJet, or Delta, or Air France or any of Westjet’s code share partners: https://www.westjet.com/en-ca/about-us/airline-partners (If you are uncertain if you’re actually booking a WestJet flight or not, please feel free to contact us.)
  • If you purchased your ticket on a WestJet-operated flight from another airline, even if that airline is a code-share partner airline of WestJet, you will not be eligible for coverage.

*Exclusions apply. Not available for travel to, from or through the United States, or for travel including cruises. For full details on coverage, inclusions and exclusions please view or download the Certificate of Insurance and the Summary of Coverage


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MSC Seaside Aurea Suites (S3)

MSC Seaside – Category S3 – Cabin # 9211
Category S3: Aurea Suite
Cabin # 9211

 

Description:
Aurea Suites have a private bedroom with two single beds that convert to a double bed, spacious wardrobe, and a bathroom with shower/tub combination. The sitting area has a double sofa bed, armchairs, and desk. Floor-to-ceiling sliding glass doors lead to your private balcony with seating. Each stateroom also has a television, thermostat controlled air-conditioning, mini bar, individual safe, available internet connection, and direct-dial telephone.

 

Occupancy: Can accommodate up to 3 guests in this particular cabin

 

 

Aurea Experience
Includes Fantastica Experience: You get all the same amenities as the Fantastica Experience PLUS more.
Free UNLIMTED Drinks: Unlimited drinks including specialty coffee, wine, beer, cocktails, soft drinks, and gelato 24 hours a day. Valid for non-premium alcohol.
Free My Choice Dining: Have dinner in a dedicated area of the restaurant any time during dining room hours. No set time, no reservations needed.
Free Spa Service: Relax with a free 60 minute massage per person, up to 2 per stateroom, access to the sauna & steam room for the duration of your cruise, consultation with spa doctor, and welcome cocktail.
Private sundeck access: Access the private and exclusive Top 18 sundeck where you can sunbathe and lounge in a kid-free environment & enjoy a private bar.
Free priority boarding: Save time with priority boarding on the day of embarkation. Priority boarding helps you get on board quicker so you can start your vacation sooner.
Cabin 9211 Extended Balcony

 

 

 

 

 

*Please note: In the event of a complimentary upgrade to this category, the guest will benefit from the stateroom upgrade only, excluding the content of the Experience. Upgrades are stateroom only, and the Experience services will remain the same as category and Experience originally booked.
Size: 302 – 355 sq ft sq ft*
I found the location of the sofa pull-out bed to be very odd, as it was pushed right up to within a foot of the closet, which meant you had to turn sideways to gain access to the sliding closet doors.

 

South Beach, Miami – What a Strip!

South Beach, Miami – What a Strip!

Before a recent cruise aboard MSC Seaside, we had the opportunity to spend some time along Ocean Drive, South Miami Beach. What a great place to spend a couple of days, prior to embarking on a cruise or even as a destination itself.

Ocean Drive is a well known for its promenade and street famous for its neon-lighted, Art Deco hotels, as well as so many great restaurants & bars to choose from. One of the most famous hotels along this strip is the Colony Hotel erected in 1939, which has been featured in many movies. Currently it offers travellers a great stay as a boutique accommodation, directly fronting onto Miami Beach.


 

The different colors of each of the buildings, and the palm trees along the promenade at night are a true spectacle and light show.

 

If you like running, jogging, bicycling, or just strolling, there is a decorative concrete promenade which boasts scenic views of the Gulf on one side and the colourful buildings of Ocean Drive on the other.


 

Ocean Drive is also where the famous Casa Casuarina, former home of Gianni Versace, is located. After the icon’s infamous death circumstances, the property was turned into a lovely boutique hotel, and is one of the most photographed houses in Miami. (This pic taken by Vadelmavene)

 

This famous street is also listed on the National Register of Historic Places, for its development of Art Deco houses and buildings which dominate the street.

 

And the food offered up on South Beach! So much to choose from, but one of our faves was the Front Porch Cafe, a very laid-back ambiance which serves all day breakfast, as well as lunch and dinner, not to mention Happy Hour $3 beers! One of the most famous restaurants on this strip is Mango’s Tropical Café, a Caribbean-inspired restaurant that also has live performances by dancers and singers.

Seafood bars, and crab shacks abound, in every nook and cranny, so you’ll not be searching too long for fresh seafood places in South Beach Miami.

 

If you’re heading to Miami for a cruise and want some suggestions for places to stay, or if you’d like to visit Miami please feel free to give us a call and we can arrange your cruise and/or Miami vacation for you. We’re looking forward to the day we can go back to Miami for a few days after covid gets sorted out!!

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