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Love of Travel in the Time of Coronavirus: Why I Kept Going


“Don’t you ever stay home?”

an orange sunset: Happy traveler waiting for the flight in airport

I get the same question from my mother whenever I tell her I’m traveling that weekend (which is often). She herself is by no means a shut-in, having cruised the Nile on a barge and hiked ancient footpaths in the Andes, but the sheer frequency of my travel is what unnerves her.

Some travelers are exhausted by travel, and need time in between trips to recover, while others are energized by it. Me? I’m an introvert and like my “alone” time, but when it comes to travel my appetite has few boundaries.

So in the midst of (quite legitimate) concerns about coronavirus, I took a weekend trip to Puerto Vallarta. I spent some time rationalizing: there aren’t many cases in Mexico; the flights and airports aren’t very full; I love fresh Pacific seafood.

Some of my assumptions panned out. The flights weren’t very full, and the atmosphere felt similar to what it did in the fall and winter of 2001: everyone polite and patient in spite of their obviously frayed nerves.

After getting through the rationalization, the next question is one of self-actualization: why? Why do I keep traveling, even when it’s clearly much safer and less stressful to stay home?

RELATED: You can virtually tour these 20 landmarks without leaving your couch

a large building: Most travel plans are on hold for a while during the coronavirus pandemic. To pass the time after working from home with the kids or for a fun digital happy hour with friends, take a vacation without ever leaving your couch. Numerous world-class destinations and man-made marvels offer virtual tours that you can take online while you are social distancing. The other benefit? It’s free.

I wouldn’t argue the “safe” bit, but less stressful? After a couple of posts about my journey, I stopped scrolling through Facebook to find endless jokes about toilet paper and admonishments to supply hoarders. There are opportunities for stress wherever you are—even when you’re sipping Pacifico in the sand—and I wasn’t about to let them creep in.

Sometimes I feel like my urge to keep traveling has a documentary quality. There’s something romantic about the correspondents who rushed into the fires to chronicle them, like Ernest Hemingway commandeering a military Jeep to be the first American civilian into Paris in 1944 to “liberate” the bar at The Ritz Hotel. In Mexico, among tourists from the north, it’s as though everyone is taking pains not to discuss the elephant in the room, and that’s the snapshot I’m after.

For me, the desire to see the world isn’t one of postcard idealism. I want to see what the world looks like when it’s not perfect, too. There was a strange beauty in how we traveled just after 9/11. The additional security checks were frustrating, but travelers saw their value. The uncertainty among travel industry workers about their futures put their more authentic humanity on full display; travelers saw that and responded with understanding.

It’s also interesting how humans have the capacity to think of whatever hurdles stand up during their present as extraordinary. Suddenly COVID-19 facemasks are different from SARS facemasks. Post-9/11 security checks were different from Gulf War security checks. A generation from now, travelers of this period will bear witness when the next generation looks upon their struggle as unprecedented. 

The word “Quarantine” itself dates back to the middle ages when the city-state of Ragusa (modern-day Dubrovnik) imposed a forty-day (Italian: quaranta giorni = forty days) waiting period on arriving ships to ensure their occupants didn’t carry the plague. What strikes me is that even during the Black Death, which wiped out roughly a third of Europe’s population, there were still ships arriving to quarantine.

Even in those days, when there was little relief for an ailment of any kind (contemporary prescriptions overwhelmingly did more harm than good) and everything from a sore leg to a sniffle was potentially fatal, there was still a basic understanding that isolation could put a stop to a pandemic. Even then, they traveled on.

Every generation has its intrepid travelers, and as with most adventures, everyone has their endurance limits. Several of my friends were also traveling at the same time. One returned early from Europe, awakening to news of new travel restrictions to the U.S. One had an abbreviated trip to New Zealand after the country announced entry restrictions and airlines began to cancel flights.

I myself am also about ready to pack it in for a while. The calculus has shifted. Concerns of catching and subsequently transmitting the virus have morphed into acceptance of the eventuality that free movement will be curtailed as borders close in efforts to contain the threat.

I’ve seen the warts-and-all realities I was curious about, and it’s time to retire to the couch (yes, Mom, I do stay home sometimes) with a stack of treasured books and films about travel. Instead of the rush I get at the ink of a customs stamp hitting my passport I’ll be transfixed as Bergman is coaxed onto the silver Air France propliner in Casablanca, or Streep, anxious that her crystal and china aren’t broken on the train across Kenya.

And when the next crisis hits, I’ll probably travel right up until the gates swing shut then, too.

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How to explore the world from the comfort of your own home

The Armchair Traveller: Be dazzled by Italy and delve into Paris’s secret maze of tunnels – how to explore the world from the comfort of your home

  • The Secret Catacombs Of Paris podcast explores the city’s underground tunnels 
  • Remind yourself of famous sights with the World Landmarks 1000-piece puzzle 
  • Film fans can fall in love with the Italian island of Pantelleria in A Bigger Splash

The first guidebook from Rough Guides was published about 40 years ago (it covered Greece) but the company has long since had a brilliant website too. Click on it to read, in reverse order, the result of its 2020 readers’ poll into The 20 Most Beautiful Countries In The World.

Fabulous photographs accompany each entry, with Nepal at No 20, followed by Spain, Chile and Argentina. With its fascinating mix of the ancient and modern, Japan makes it into the top ten, and your travel bucket list will get longer as you scroll to the No 1 spot occupied, naturally, by Italy.

As a major tourist destination, France also makes it into the Rough Guides poll but if you think you know its capital, think again. The Secret Catacombs Of Paris podcast on the BBC Sounds app springs surprises from the start, revealing that the City of Light has a dark side: it’s built on more than 175 miles of tunnels, most of which are supposed to be off-limits.

The Secret Catacombs Of Paris podcast explores the French city’s tunnels. Pictured is a section of the mostly abandoned belt railway known as La Petite Ceinture

Host Jonathan Glancey speaks to a secretive band of Parisians who search for hidden entrances in train stations, cellars and sewers, and to police officers who patrol the tunnels beneath sensitive sites such as banks and prisons. Along the way Glancey reveals how the network was created and why it’s full of old bones.

Paris, of course, is home to some of the world’s greatest landmarks, such as the Eiffel Tower. And if travel lovers want to remind themselves of various gems around the globe, they could order the 1,000-piece World Landmarks puzzle from Ravensburger.

Online retailers expect to sell a year’s-worth of jigsaws in a month as simple pleasures come back to the fore. This one includes nearly 100 cleverly hidden sights, including Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, the Pyramids of Egypt, Rio’s epic Christ the Redeemer and Copenhagen’s Little Mermaid.

Meanwhile, maps of the world jump off the page amid scarcely believable stories of political incompetence in Prisoners Of Geography: Our World Explained In 12 Simple Maps, by Tim Marshall.

He races across the globe, bringing whole regions to life and showing why so many national borders have proved to be disastrous mistakes. It’s lightly told, with chapters headings such as How Do You Solve A Problem Like Korea?

And if you are home-schooling or compiling a family quiz, the book is a great way to catch up on geography and 20th Century history.

Film fans can fall in love with the Italian island of Pantelleria, pictured, in A Bigger Splash

If audiobooks are more your thing actress Julie Harris brings a very well-travelled Englishwoman to life as she reads West With The Night. It’s the memoir of Beryl Markham, who in 1936 became the first person to fly solo, non-stop, across the Atlantic from east to west. A genuine modesty pervades Beryl’s story as she roams the globe in the early days of air travel.

Film fans can fall in love with the sun-kissed but little-known Italian island of Pantelleria in A Bigger Splash, starring Tilda Swinton and Ralph Fiennes.

In real life, the tiny volcanic island is where celebrities including Madonna, Sting and Giorgio Armani go on holiday.

This drama is an adult affair, with the stars behaving badly around the villa’s pool, but the scenes of slow-dancing in warm piazzas, alfresco meals by the water and a stunning, candle-lit restaurant in the hills are the stuff of holiday dreams.

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The bizarre CIA 'fake scrotum' designed to conceal an escape radio

Nuts! The bizarre CIA ‘fake scrotum’ designed to enable downed pilots to conceal an escape radio – even if they were strip-searched

  • The ‘scrotum concealment device’ was created by the CIA’s ex chief of disguise
  • It could hide an escape radio and was designed to be glued to the body  
  • The object is now on display at the International Spy Museum in Washington DC
  • WARNING: GRAPHIC IMAGES

Spies have come up with countless bizarre and wacky devices to help them in their line of work.

But this one, designed by the CIA, really is nuts.

The ‘scrotum concealment device’ was designed to enable pilots to hide an escape radio in a place that would remain undiscovered even during a strip search.

The ‘scrotum concealment device’, which was designed by the CIA

Only one prototype of the device was ever made and it was never used in the field

It was created in the late 1960s by Tony Mendez, the former chief of disguise at the CIA, and is now on show at the International Spy Museum in Washington DC in its Tools of the Trade display in the Spies and Spymasters room.   

According to the museum, the thinking behind the device was that male security guards would be less likely to ‘thoroughly search the genital area’, so it made for a good area to hide an escape radio. 

The latex object, which would need to be glued on, is believed to have been created from a mould of genuine anatomy.

However, only one prototype of the device was made and it was never used in the field.

According to the museum, this was because CIA director Richard Helms never approved it for use after blushing when he saw it in use for the first time. 

The object was eventually donated to the spy museum by H. Keith Melton, a historian and intelligence collector.  

A spokeswoman at the International Spy Museum told MailOnline Travel: ‘Some people don’t seem to notice it – we have the largest collection of espionage artefacts ever placed on public display, so there is a lot to see and engage with at the museum. 

‘But if you stand near the artefact, you can see something light up in visitors’ eyes when they notice it and you typically get some kind of reaction like “oh my god!” or “oh man!” – particularly our male visitors who may have an easier time envisioning wearing the artefact. 

‘There is a level of wonder we see when people try to figure out how it would’ve worked and how/why someone would’ve come up with such a crazy concept. We love seeing the reactions to it.

‘This artefact speaks to the creative and out-of-the-box problem-solving Tony used to solve challenges that came his way. As goofy as it may look, at the same time, this sort of item could have saved lives.’ 

The device is on display at the International Spy Museum, pictured, in Washington DC 

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The Palace of Versailles is open for virtual reality visits


Globetrotters quarantined at home can teleport themselves to France and back to the 17th century with a virtual reality-powered visit to the Palace of Versailles.

a statue of a person: The Palace of Versailles, France

Your trip to France canceled because of Covid-19? Or need to keep a child in your home occupied for an hour? There’s a virtual reality experience for that.

“Experience Versailles” isn’t new. But it’s enjoying renewed interest among Francophiles and households on lockdown for offering an alternative way to experience Versailles from thousands of miles away.

For kids, the experience is an educational one, teaching players about Louis XIV and French sovereignty. Players also infiltrate a sumptuous masked ball held by Louis XV and can explore the palace grounds, moving through the Royal Courtyard, to the Hall of Mirrors and the King’s Apartments.

For parents, it’s an hour or two of distraction.

The “Experience Versailles” is free, powered by Steam and works with VR headsets like HTC Vive or Oculus Rift.

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Photograph of the week: Four Seasons Seychelles Resort at Desroches Island – A Luxury Travel Blog

The following post in our regular ‘photograph of the week’ series was scheduled to appear here many weeks ago, before the impact of the COVID-19 coronavirus was as widespread as it is now. Whilst travel around the world is not recommended right now, we leave this post here as a source of inspiration for something to look forward to once normality returns to our lives.

Accessible by seaplane charter, the stunning Four Seasons Seychelles Resort at Desroches Island sits among the top properties of an already impressive brand. This off the grid location ticks plenty of boxes – spacious villas, private plunge pools, pristine beaches, and sunny cabanas. There’s even a tortoise sanctuary! Available by private plane transfer, how many resorts have you stayed at that have their own airstrip?

As expected, the Four Seasons offers island luxury with a relaxed approach. The friendly staff immediately greet visitors by name and have golf carts ready as guests step off the airstrip from the short flight from Mahé. There is a quick tour of the lush premises before checking out their accommodation, where any additional paperwork is finalized. Luggage is seamlessly loaded into separate golf carts and meets guests in their villa.

When possible, booking a Sunset Beach Villa is highly recommended. High ceilings (and thread counts), a bathroom that’s almost as large as the bedroom, soaking tub, indoor and outdoor showers — these villas even come with a hammock and private beach access. We spy hermit crabs and other wildlife before going for a plunge in our private pool. These villas also include a second level, which is perfect for morning coffees or pre-dinner cocktails. While golf carts are always available to collect guests, bikes (which come with every room) are the primary mode of transportation.

The low number of rooms at Desroches all but ensure a feeling of seclusion. As the property only takes up a small part of the island, embrace your inner adventurer, grab a map, and explore island trails by bike. Pack your bathing suit to go for a quick swim, or jog on one of the many private beaches, all stocked with towels, bottled water, and recreational swim gear. While guests will most likely remain in the privacy of their villas, there are plenty of public spaces, including: tennis courts, an infinity edge pool, an on-site spa, a modern gym, a conservation center, and a water sports center. Diving and snorkeling can be arranged, and sports equipment is available at an additional fee.

Meals can be a romantic affair, as guests can dine beachside at The Lighthouse (but not before stopping for stunning sundowners upstairs). There is also all-day dining at Claudine, which offers a range of international selections, The Deli, which is home to a small sweets shop, as well as a The Bar. Similarly, guests can stop at the Lighthouse Lounge for a cocktail. Finally, there is a small bar at The Castaway, located near the watersports area.

For a resort of this caliber, everything seems to align with expectations. The spa takes offerings to the next level with Connection Ceremonies, Sensory Connection rituals, and visiting masters with some of the industry’s leading practitioners who visit the island. Guests would need to check in advance for these visits.

Easier to access than the Maldives, Desroches Island offers levels of privacy and a sense of ‘getting away from it all’ rarely found in the rest of the world. With a price tag to match, this could be a once in a lifetime getaway. Even on the ‘main’ island of Mahe, there are very few properties that approach this level of privacy and space. The low number of rooms, stunning location and attentive but relaxed nature of the staff make this a memorable vacation destination.

A pro traveler tip – add this unique destination at the start or end of your stay in the Seychelles to start out with a bang, or end on a high note. Also, try and seek out George, the oldest tortoise on the island, over one hundred years young.

Thank you to Courtney Brandt from A to Za’atar for permission to share the photograph.

If you have a really special photograph you would like to share with A Luxury Travel Blog‘s readers, please contact us.

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Discover the British Isles' dozen most delightfully remote hotels

From the Channel Islands to Scotland’s Rannoch Moor: Discover the British Isles’ dozen most delightfully remote hotels

  • Little Sark, on the Channel Islands, has a Toytown feel with bicycles and horses and carts standing in for cars
  • Hell Bay is England’s most westerly hotel and is made up of 25 chalets on Bryher on the Isles of Scilly 
  • Arkell House is on Rathlin Island, off the coast of County Antrim. It has three-brightly coloured rooms 

From hotels on tiny, car-free islands to forts in the middle of the sea, there are some fantastic places to really feel cut off from the rest of the world. 

And best of all, they don’t need to cost the earth. 

La Sablonnerie, Little Sark, Channel Islands

On the tiny island of Sark, pictured, in the Channel Islands, bicycles and horses and carts stand in for cars

Remote rating: Arrive on the tiny island of Sark and it already feels as if you’ve time-travelled back a century – bicycles and horses and carts stand in for cars, and there’s a Toytown feel to the place, with its dinky stone prison and red fire cart. Little Sark, across a narrow isthmus known as La Coupée, is one step on in the seclusion stakes.

The hotel: La Sablonnerie Hotel, run by the charismatic Elizabeth Perrée, is unashamedly old-fashioned – you won’t find televisions or wi-fi in the 22 rooms but you will be able to explore a quintessential English country garden. 

The food is unforgettable, particularly the local lobster and scallops.

Cost: B&B stays cost from £97.50pp a night (sablonneriesark.com).

The White House Hotel, Herm, Channel Islands

The gloriously sandy Shell Beach on Herm, which is 20 minutes from Guernsey on the ferry. Herm is a car-free island 

Remote rating: It may be only 20 minutes by ferry from Guernsey, but Herm, which is just one-and-a-half miles by half a mile, could be in another world. Distances are measured in minutes rather than miles – one sign by the gloriously sandy Shell Beach reads: ‘Toilets six minutes.’ Wild and charming, the car-free island is home to tiny coves, craggy cliffs and 60 residents, although summer day-trippers boost that number considerably.

The hotel: They’ve finally allowed clocks in the 40 traditional bedrooms at The White House (a ten-minute walk from the harbour), but there are still no phones or televisions. The hotel has a slightly lived-in look, but there is a pool and great sea views.

Cost: B&B doubles cost from £145 a night (herm.com/hotel).

Hell Bay, Bryher, Isles of Scilly

Hell Bay, pictured, is England’s most westerly point. It is located on the island of Bryher on the Isles of Scilly 

Remote rating: America is the next stop after Hell Bay on the wild Atlantic coast. Traffic on the charmingly quirky pint-sized island comes in the form of hikers and dog-walkers, and there are plenty of reminders of yesteryear in the countryside, including stalls with goods for sale and honesty boxes.

The hotel: England’s most westerly hotel, Hell Bay has 25 cottages and clapboard chalets with a Caribbean feel, done out in sea blues and greens, interspersed with cream. As well as fine dining, there’s an excellent Crab Shack in the grounds, and a heated pool.

Cost: B&B doubles cost from £190 a night (hellbay.co.uk).

Spitbank Fort, The Solent, Hampshire

The only way to reach Spitbank Fort, which dates back to the 1860s, is to take a private boat – and there is only one transfer a day 

Remote rating: The only way to reach this 1860s fort in the Solent is by private boat – and there is only one transfer a day. One of four circular forts built to protect Portsmouth’s naval dockyard from a threatened French attack, Spitbank has sublime sea views.

The hotel: The rooftop hot tub is the perfect spot for viewing passing yachts, preferably with a glass of champagne in hand. Among the eight classically decorated rooms in this adults-only hotel is the Crows Nest, which boasts floor-to-ceiling windows for more of those sea views.

Cost: Full-board doubles cost from £425 a night including transfer from Portsmouth (solentforts.com).

Lake Vyrnwy Hotel & Spa, Llanwddyn, Powys

Lake Vyrnwy in North Wales, which was created in 1880 as a reservoir to supply Liverpool. The surrounding woodland is protected by the RSPB 

Remote rating: Created in 1880 as a reservoir to supply Liverpool, Lake Vyrnwy now looks more like a natural lake, and is surrounded by woodland protected by the RSPB. There are plenty of great hiking routes nearby. This is also mountain-bike country, while all the usual watersports are available on the lake.

The hotel: Standing in splendid isolation on a forested hillside, the Victorian building boasts incredible views of the mountain-ringed lake from some of its 52 slightly chintzy rooms.

Cost: B&B doubles cost from £120 a night (lakevyrnwy.com). 

The Gathering, Knoydart, Inverness-shire

The sunrise overlooking Lada Bheinn in Knoydart, in the Scottish Highlands 

The only way to reach Knoydart, on Scotland’s west coast, is to take a 25-minute ferry from Mallaig 

Remote rating: Knoydart, on Scotland’s west coast, may be on the mainland but the only way to reach it is a 25-minute ferry journey from Mallaig, or an 18-mile walk over the hills from Kinloch Hourn.

The hotel: A five-minute walk from the pier in the village of Inverie, The Gathering has six contemporary bedrooms, with wooden floors and tartan throws, plus a slick self-catering cottage. There are views over Loch Nevis, a new all-day restaurant, plus a hot tub for soothing those sore muscles after long hikes. The Knoydart Brewery next door delivers its beer in a wheelbarrow.

Cost: B&B stays cost from £59 per person a night (thegatheringknoydart.co.uk).

Moor of Rannoch, Rannoch Station, Perth and Kinross

Rannoch Moor is 50 square miles of boggy moorland with small lochs, rivers and rocky outcrops 

Remote rating: Yes, it’s right next to a railway station and you can get there on the Caledonian Sleeper from London, but Rannoch Moor is one of Europe’s last great wildernesses – 50 square miles of boggy moorland with small lochs, rivers and rocky outcrops. Unsurprisingly, it’s home to a variety of birdlife as well as grouse and deer.

The hotel: Don’t expect TVs, wi-fi or mobile coverage in this restaurant with five rooms. Instead, you’ll find a communal jigsaw in the lounge, more than 100 malt whiskies in the bar that’s always open, and binoculars in the bedrooms, decorated in purple and grey, with tartan touches. The food is pretty good too – and you can get a picnic to take exploring.

Cost: B&B doubles cost from £195 a night (moorofrannoch.co.uk).

Baltasound Hotel, Unst, Shetland Islands

Unst, pictured, is the northernmost of the inhabited British Isles. The island has a population of just 500 people 

Remote rating: Once you’ve flown to Shetland, it still takes two car ferries to reach Unst, the northernmost of the inhabited British Isles. The island (population 500) has a Scandi-Scottish vibe, with Viking history and Shetland ponies to be found along the walking trails that encompass cliffs, beaches, peat bogs and freshwater lochs. There are rare flowers, too, at the Keen of Hamar nature reserve.

The hotel: The Baltasound has the accolade of being Britain’s most northerly hotel. The 24 rooms – split between wooden cabins in the grounds and traditional rooms in the main house – are simply kitted out but the real luxury is outside.

Cost: B&B doubles cost from £130 a night (baltasoundhotel.co.uk). 

Delphi Lodge, Leenane, County Galway

Remote rating: In a wild, unspoilt valley with rivers famous for salmon fishing, the 1,000-acre Delphi estate is surrounded by the tallest mountains in Connemara. Prince Charles came here to sketch the scenery, which says it all.

The hotel: Once the Marquess of Sligo’s sporting lodge, this hideaway now has 13 rooms, done out in fresh chintz. There are no TVs, phone coverage is patchy, and guests dine together at one long oak table. There is, though, a snooker room and lovely log fires.

Cost: B&B doubles cost from £192 a night (delphilodge.ie).

Inis MeÁin, Aran Islands, County Galway

The windswept Inis Meáin, which is the least visited of the Aran Islands, located off Ireland’s west coast 

Remote rating: Set right on the edge of Europe, windswept Inis Meáin is the least visited of the trio of Aran Islands off Ireland’s west coast. Those who do venture here will discover a landscape of limestone contours and dry-stone walls, cliffs and beaches.

The hotel: It may take inspiration from the landscape but Inis Meáin is proof that isolated doesn’t necessarily mean rough and ready.

The five sleek suites – all wood, limestone and granite – have an air of Japanese simplicity. Forget the lack of phone signal and TVs, the entertainment here is fishing, cycling and walking. Breakfast is delivered in the morning, a picnic lunch is provided, and dinner is a tasty affair of Atlantic fish or home-reared meat.

Cost: Four nights’ full board for two costs from £2,130 (inismeain.com).

Arkell House, Rathlin Island, County Antrim

A warm welcome: One of the three cosy bedrooms at Arkell House on Rathlin off the coast of Northern Ireland 

Remote rating: The 140-strong population of this rugged island off the coast of Northern Island is far outnumbered by seals and seabirds from April to July. Rathlin is also where Robert the Bruce reputedly watched a spider trying to spin a web in a cave. The spider eventually succeeded, prompting Robert to vow to fight the English one more time, defeating them at the Battle of Bannockburn.

The hotel: On the water’s edge, Arkell House has three brightly decorated rooms. The B&B, which provides picnic lunches and dinner, also has its own boat for transfers and island tours.

Cost: B&B doubles cost from £70 a night (rathlincottages.co.uk). 

Scarista House, Lewis and Harris, Outer Hebrides

Remote rating: With a three-mile sandy beach and Atlantic views on one side and heather-clad mountains on the other, Scarista House makes for a great Hebridean hideaway. Although Lewis and Harris is Scotland’s largest isle, it is still exceedingly tranquil and home to plentiful wildlife, from deer to dolphins. You will also find some of the oldest rocks in the world here.

The hotel: Apart from the setting, the main draw of Scarista House is its delicious food – local shellfish and meat, as well as home-made bread, cakes and ice cream. The six rooms are comfy, if a tad dated.

Cost: B&B doubles cost from £197 a night with afternoon tea (scaristahouse.com). 

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One of the world's top scuba diving destinations will wait for you – A Luxury Travel Blog

In the light of the COVID-19 outbreak all over the world, the whole globe is in lockdown and almost all the international flights have been cancelled! Yet, we still have the opportunity to read, know and discover new things and places, which we hope to visit one day.

Marsa Alam, Egypt’s Red Sea features over 400 species of coral and reefs, in addition to hundreds of magnificent fish species, sea animals, anemones, urchins, and more. Here we are going to highlight the ultimate beauty of Marsa Alam’s diving spots.

Marsa Alam is perfectly located on the western shore of the Red Sea, Egypt. Recently, it is chosen as one of the best diving spots in the world, from which you can completely explore the southern Red Sea’s wonders. In addition to that, Marsa Alam offers several world-class resorts that line the coastlines charming beaches, and what makes it more interesting, it is only about 4 hours’ drive away from Hurghada.

Marsa Allam makes a perfect diving spot for those who are looking for new challenging dives and unique wildlife experiences. Its sites offer a real opportunity to dive with unique species of sea turtles, cute dolphins, dugongs, and manta rays.

Actually, the diving season in Marsa Alam is year-round, yet the perfect time to dive in Marsa Alam is from May through August. We recommend visiting Marsa Alam in autumn when it is quieter and the water temperature is still balmy. You should expect water visibility up to 100 feet (30 m), but make sure to ask an expert about the perfect local dive sites and sea conditions before diving unguided. Pack a 3 mm or 5 mm wetsuit; depending on your cold tolerance, and always carry a dive knife, torch, and DSMB.

Best diving spots in Marsa Alam

Abu Dabab Beach

Diving depth: Up to 25 meters

Location: 30 km north of Marsa Alam.

Water visibility:  5-20 meters; better in the deeper areas

Suitable for: All diving levels.

Abu Dabab is considered one of the most popular beaches in Marsa Alam; it features many turtles and dugongs. It is also a dive site suitable to all skill levels, although it doesn’t contain any coral reefs and not infrequent poor visibility. Professional divers count it as the best place to get close to sea turtles and the dugong.

Fortunately, the bay has recently been closed to boats making both snorkeling and scuba diving easier and more relaxing. You can divide among a group of the imperiled shark species – one of the world’s rarest sharks.  It has bizarre but beautiful looks as if a stingray had been crossed with a real shark. Nothing to worry about, it’s not aggressive at all.  However never touch them as a flip of its tail could dislodge your mask.

Elphinstone Reef (Sha’ab Abu Hamra)

Diving depth: From 20 up to 70 meters (60 – 200ft)

Location: 50km northeast of Marsa Alam, and 10km from the shore.

Water visibility:  20-30 meters

Suitable for: Experienced divers only

Amazing reef line lies in the open ocean, a little over seven miles (12 km) from the Marsa Abu Dabbab coastline. It takes around 20 minutes to get there via Zodiac from Marsa Alam. It is considered as one of the top reef plateaux in The Red Sea; it’s about 300 meters long, 30 meters wide, and 40 meters deep. Yet, at its edges, there are near-vertical cliff walls.  The west drop off is a little less vertical than the east and sandier with some overhangs and small caves.

Elphinstone makes a perfect option if you are looking for shark encounters, particularly the large and usually solitary oceanic whitetip.  Many divers report up to four sitings on a single dive!  Please be cautious of these magnificent animals and never feed them. You can see sharks year round, but they are most numerous from October to December.

The reef there attracts an enormous variety of sea life including jacks, tuna, blue lunar fusiliers, black snapper, and lone giant barracuda. So, it’s better to watch the reef from a distance.

Sataya Reef

It is still not yet as well-known as other diving spots in Marsa Alam; few of the tour operators currently visit it. Yet, this gave it an additional privilege that makes of it a special reef to visit. You probably stand a better chance of swimming close to dolphins as contrary to what you might believe, these friendly but easily stressed animals. So, try to avoid areas where there are too many people and boats.

Samadai Reef (Dolphin House)

Diving depth: from 10 up to 15 meters (32 – 49 ft)

Location: approx. 20km SE of Marsa Alam

Suitable For: All diving levels

It is one of the most popular reefs in Marsa Alam; you can consider it one of the world’s most important dolphin habitats. It’s home for a large family of around sixty spinner dolphins. They are nocturnal animals and return every morning to the shallow waters of the reef to rest. It’s better not to feed or play with the dolphins as it is not natural for them and may cause distress.

Samadai Reef is crescent-shaped with a small lagoon of sand and sea-grass within, which is rich in marine life including the usually elusive sea horses.  You can also explore some underwater caves and at least twelve coral towers!  Remember, you should only explore the caves with an experienced guide.

Hamada Wreck (Abu Gosoon Shipwreck)

Diving depth: from 0m up to 18m

Location: 68km SSE of Marsa Alam

Water visibility: 15 to 30m

Suitable for: all diving levels

The Hamada sank off a secluded shoreline south of Wadi El Gamal National Park in 1993. The wreck is unique as it’s suitable for snorkelers, as well as experienced and novice divers.

It is home to young corals, while the wreck itself is home to a number of species, including hump head wrasse, lionfish, butterflyfish, and moray eels. It is fringed with some of the most beautifully colorful coral reefs in the world due to its sandy white beaches. It’s an enchanting site for diving that is perfect for experience the delicate harmony and balance between man and nature.

Sherif Khalil is Owner of Dunes & Beyond. Dunes & Beyond offers luxury tours, Nile cruises and desert safaris in Egypt.

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Travel

Travelers Stuck Around the World as Coronavirus Crisis Deepens


Malaga stretches along the blue coastal waters of Spain and is outlined with palm trees reminiscent of Florida. In a normal world, it’s the perfect place to pass through as part of a cycling trip from Spain to Norway—unless, of course, a global pandemic breaks out. As Lesley and David Hayward from York, England, have recently discovered, the difficulty is not simply in finding a flight home, it’s that even a simple bike ride in virus-laden Spain can be illegal.   

a group of people standing in a room: Alejandro Ernesto/picture alliance/Getty

Spain’s infections have lunged forward, with over 15,000 cases of the coronavirus and (as of writing this) almost 650 deaths, leading to a lockdown of the country and quarantining. Once COVID-19 became widespread, governments shut down their borders and put in aggressive travel restrictions. It’s now a fact of our pandemic planet that is leaving travelers everywhere in a dystopian nightmare. Without help from their governments or any other type of recourse, individuals and families all over the world who talked to The Daily Beast for this piece find themselves stranded, struggling to find new flights—often with no discernible way to get safely home. It’s straining their financial resources, limiting access to medical aid, and even leaving them without a roof over their heads. 

“It was my transition into retirement,” says Lesley Hayward. “It was, you know, stop work, do the bike ride, and then think about what’s next.” Lesley was a GP in York and David still is, though he’s on sabbatical for their trip. They began their adventure in the British territory of Gibraltar, but both of them are now waiting to fly home from Malaga. Two years before her retirement, Lesley planned the cycling trip as a transition—an opportunity to imagine her next steps.  

But now, does anyone in this world know their next steps?

The Haywards’ trip, David tells me, was inspired by Andrew P. Sykes’s book Spain to Norway on a Bike Called Reggie, but, says David, “when we got to Lucena [Spain], we realized that because of the coronavirus we were going to have to come back, that we couldn’t continue to cycle.”

“And now, you know, we’re still gonna get home,” adds Leslie, “but once we’re home, I’m thrown into what’s next, and I haven’t had that time stop.” 

Forced to leave bikes and gear behind, the couple is staying at a hotel for the moment with (as of writing this) a flight out on March 19, but the hotel’s ability to stay open and the flights out are both as tenuous as everything else. For now, they’ve tried to stay optimistic—even joining people who are cheering on ambulances passing by their homes in the evening.

The Haywards are not alone in having their plans turned upside down. 

Eileen and Art Martines decided to go forward with their vacation to Hawaii. The trip was planned last fall and Hawaii was still much safer when they left last week from Cranford, New Jersey. Still, as soon as they arrived everything changed. 

“My husband had surprise quadruple bypass surgery last April,” Eileen tells me, “and we are very much aware that our time is not infinite and that we should travel (one of our greatest pleasures) when we can.” They decided to make this their “big travel year” with trips to the Loire Valley and Paris in June, the Amalfi Coast in October, and a family trip in August. “It’s sad to think that the fun and adventure we had planned for this year may not be possible.”

When I first connected with Eileen, the news of the virus and flights being canceled left them wondering if they should stay or head back to their home where things are worse. She told me that they are over 60 and thought Hawaii might be safer. 

Now, she’s watching as Hawaii begins to take action like other states. Restaurants are going to takeout-only. Schools are closing. The writing is on the wall.

“As much as we wanted to stay,” she now tells me, “we’re going to try to change our flights to come home early. It’s becoming clear that we need to cut this short.”

A global pandemic status is itself not just a virus infecting people globally; it is a virus that infects international systems with global dysfunction. That dysfunction, as some travelers have noticed, can not only interfere with getting home, it also can expose serious holes in viral safety at airports. 

Emily Blair was taking a break from her work running a public relations agency to visit her sister who was studying abroad in Spain. It was also a chance to visit the Czech Republic, Austria, and some friends in England. Once in London, however, President Trump’s ban on the U.K. kicked in, leaving her rushing to get an earlier flight. As is the case for most airlines right now, Delta’s phone lines and personnel were overwhelmed.

“I had three different friends and relatives trying to reach them for me too, and they were unresponsive on social media,” Blair tells me. “They told me to DM them. I did, but then I was basically ghosted.” 

After finally getting a flight at Heathrow, she says, screening agents were surprisingly careless. “I was in line with a few other people,” says Blair, “and they were just completely unsanitary, asking us to dump all of our personal items on this giant metal table, which is a way that the virus can spread on metal and on plastic.” Travelers were raising concerns, leading to a supervisor to tell agents to change gloves. 

When she finally made it home, Blair found that in Atlanta and LAX, there was less bedlam, but still also less concern. Lines were not the chaos she expected from social media, but the CDC only required her to fill out a simple form.   

“The whole [screening] process where I spoke to somebody took about 30 seconds,” Blair says, “which was quite surprising. I have been traveling a lot and it seems to be of zero concern.” 

She tells me she will be self-isolating.

For others, the problem is less about getting home and more about being kept apart from their long-distance relationships. Marie and her partner—she asks to only go by her first name out of respect for her partner’s privacy—are both musicians. They met six years ago and have kept their relationship going, even though she’s an American and he’s British, and they are an entire ocean apart. 

As a touring musician, he often finds himself in the States, where she tries to join him on tour. He was supposed to start a tour this month, but it was canceled due to the virus. 

“No problem,” Marie tells me she thought. “He can come to the U.S. or I can go to London.” But then the travel ban to America from the U.K. was put in place. 

Plan B? She could meet up with him during the Canada portion of his tour, but then Canada’s ban went into place. Maybe she could go to London, she thought, but then she learned that the insurance she uses for when she’s in London won’t cover the virus. Given that they are both boomers, she realized she should probably wait. 

“Love in the time of pandemic,” Marie says, resigned. “It’s sort of amazing that we’ve managed to keep this thing going… but we, fortunately, have enough means to be able to see each other frequently.” She then chuckles, “Until now.” She has tickets for late April, so she’s hoping for one more try to go to London. 

Love is regularly caught within the chaos of a pandemic.

Having left Ohio, Marla and Gabe Taviano and their three daughters have lived in Cambodia since 2015. They moved there after visiting an orphanage sponsored by their church and seeing a need to counter human trafficking in the country. Gabe set out to teach website design and photography skills to those in Siem Reap as a way to head off the social factors that lead to human trafficking. Marla is a writer and author of over a dozen books.

Recently, everything changed for them, including job loss, and they decided to return to the United States—this time to South Carolina—though big details like where to live are still up in the air. Marla is documenting the chaos on Instagram.

“Our family has suffered big time because of it,” she tells me. She adds that her younger daughters were never really happy in Cambodia and now, their oldest daughter, who is 19, is engaged to a young man from there. The family loves him and is working to help him become a U.S. citizen.

When I first connected with her, Marla and Gabe were still figuring out what to do about flights that were canceled due to COVID-19 and trying to find layovers less than 24 hours in length. 

“My biggest heartache and anxiety right now is leaving my daughter and her fiance here on this side of the world during this time of unrest and uncertainty,” Marla told me Wednesday morning their time. At that time, the young couple had initial approvals for a fiancé visa and interviews scheduled for April 2.  

“Hoping and praying their interview doesn’t get canceled, that everything goes smoothly, and that we can get them flights to the U.S. as soon as possible,” she wrote to me then.

A few hours later, everything changed. “Since I wrote to you,” she tells me by email, “we got some devastating news. All immigrant and non-immigrant visa interviews at the U.S. Embassy here in Cambodia have been canceled indefinitely, so we have no idea how long my daughter and her fiance will be stuck here.”

The frustration bleeds through her email. “We didn’t expect to leave Cambodia like this,” she tells me, “we can’t even say good-bye to everyone because of social distancing and wanting to stay safe and keep others safe.”

For many, there is still no immediate and apparent way to make it home.

Lauren Davenport is a U.S. citizen currently stuck in Morocco. She and her husband, Daniel Fernandez, arrived in Spain two weeks ago, just when the virus was getting a foothold. When the U.S. travel ban went into place, they were on their way to spend a few days in the Sahara Desert. 

“We decided we would not make a decision based on fear,” Lauren explains. “Little did we know, we were on one of the last flights out of Spain before the borders were closed between the two countries.”

While they were on their Sahara adventure, Lauren says, they were mostly offline, but now they’ve caught up on the news. “It was a shock to discover that in such a short time period, and with little to no warning, the country had shut down all borders to any kind of land, air, or sea travel,” she adds. 

Emily Dickinson once said “there is no frigate like a book,” but when you’re stranded and need to get home, there is really no frigate like a plane—or even an actual frigate. 

Lauren readily says that they are healthy and their jobs are flexible enough “to wait it out,” but she is emphatic about the status of Americans there. “We’re now connected with hundreds of Americans stuck here whose stories are heartbreaking. People running out of medicines, families being separated, hotels closing and leaving people stranded without a roof over their head in Africa.” They’ve also found that the U.S. Embassy isn’t communicating with anyone. 

For now, Lauren and Daniel are in a two-week self-quarantine to do their part and are trying to let the world know what’s going on in Morocco. 

It’s hard to ignore the fact that stories like Davenport’s are popping up in the news everywhere. Daniel and Katie Stripp are also in Morocco and are trying to get back to New Jersey—Katie is pregnant. Speaking to NJ.com, they say they finally arranged a rescue flight to the U.K. and hope to find a way back from there, but as happened to Lauren Davenport, the U.S. Embassy and Consulate “left them high and dry—no one at the Consulate would even speak to them.”

Even high profile individuals, like Wednesday’s winner of the Iditarod in Alaska, Norwegian Thomas Waerner, is celebrating his win, while also realizing he may now be stuck, telling the Anchorage Daily News, “there will be some problems getting home.” His wife, Guro, left Alaska early to avoid being stranded and is now at home in self-quarantine hoping Thomas will find a way back. It turns out to be a lot easier for him to mush his team 1000 miles, than it is to find transportation home. 

There are no shortages of stories of those stranded as a result of the dysfunction and chaos caused by COVID-19. Undoubtedly, in a post-pandemic world—whatever that will look like—there will be many more. In the meantime, and as it all plays out, everyone is forced to re-imagine their own roles and responsibilities to others. 

“The whole situation at the minute with coronavirus is so big, that it pretty much overrides any emotions that I may feel in some ways,” Lesley Hayward tells me, as she comes to terms with her cancelled trip. “Because it is such a big thing, and because it’s affecting so many people in so many ways, you don’t focus on yourself, you just focus on the fact that you have to do the right thing.”

Read more at The Daily Beast.

WATCH: State Department warns Americans not to travel overseas (provided by NBC News)


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Travel

The Himalayas at its fantasy movie best…

Incredible images taken by an intrepid explorer show the ‘fantasy movie’ landscape of one of the Himalayas’ most remote regions

  • Darius Radkevicius visited Upper Mustang, a semi-autonomous part of Nepal that opened to tourists in 1992
  • He trekked across its mesmerising landscape with a team of five, including a guide, chef and 10 mules
  • The locals live in brutal conditions, with piped water turning to ice at night and dried manure burned for heat 

The ‘fantasy movie’ landscape of one of the most isolated and remote regions in the Himalayas has been revealed in a series of incredible pictures. 

They were taken by Lithuanian explorer Darius Radkevicius in Upper Mustang, a semi-autonomous region of Nepal that only opened to tourists in 1992.

While there he took part in a 28-day trek across the otherworldly landscape and discovered how the local population still live very much like their ancestors – cooking on dry manure and herding yaks – and in brutal conditions.

Lithuanian explorer Darius Radkevicius captured this incredible image at the foot of Dhaulagiri mountain during his trek across Upper Mustang. Dhaulagiri, at 8,167 metres (26,794ft), is the world’s seventh-highest mountain

The stunning Muktinath Village, a place which is sacred to both Hindus and Buddhists. It is home to one of the world’s highest temples, which lies at an altitude of 3,800m (12,467ft)

Darius found the perfect spot for meditating on day seven of the trek when he walked between Samar and Ghiling 

Darius said: ‘The people are fantastic and welcoming. Though it seems that they still live the same life their ancestors used to live – herding animals, farming and little trade.’ Pictured is the landscape on the way to Dhakmar 

Some of the houses in the settlement of Kagbeni. It is a popular stop-off for people trekking through Upper Mustang 

The Ghar Gompa monastery, pictured, dates back to the 8th century and is thought to be the oldest in the Mustang region

An aerial shot of Lo Manthang in Upper Mustang. It has a population of around 876 people 

One of the colourful buildings in Lo Manthang. The town is known for its tall, whitewashed mud-brick walls 

The view that greeted Darius in Kagbeni after the first leg of the trek. It has a population of around 1,200 people 

His trip took place last November and he explored the area with a team of five – a guide called Karma and his assistant, a chef and his assistant, and a mule handler who wrangled 10 mules and one horse.

One of the first things Darius noticed about trekking in Upper Mustang was the extreme conditions.

He told MailOnline Travel: ‘There is strong sunshine during the day at altitudes of about 2.5 miles (4km/13,200ft) but harsh ice-cold winds starting at 1pm.

‘The air in the icy peaks of the Himalayas cools and turns into harsh, rather cold and very strong winds.

While trekking to the village of Chhusang, Darius came across this former settlement, which had been carved out of the cliffs  

The ruins of an old fort at an elevation of 12,598ft (3,840m) that Darius passed on his way to Lo Manthang

The team’s mules are prepped before setting off for the journey between the villages of Kagbeni and Chhusang

On the seventh day of his trek, while walking from Samar to Ghiling, Darius came across this bone-like rock formation

Darius said: ‘There is daily changing beauty, never repeating views, polarising clouds and sun and moon together from midday.’ Pictured is Dhakmar 

The view that surrounds the Lori Cliff Monastery. Darius said: ‘There is strong sunshine during the day at altitudes of about 2.5 miles (4km/13,200ft) but harsh ice-cold winds starting at 1pm’ 

Barren trees stand against the red mountains in a stunning image that Darius captured in Dhakmar 

The Luri Cliff Monastery, which is perched on top of dramatic cliffs. Darius says it is a place where Indian and Tibetan art meet 

On his way to Dhakmar, Darius was told that this spot was said to be where Guru Rimpoche fought a dragon and spilt its blood 

This incredible picture of a red rock face was captured in the old town settlement in Dhakmar 

Darius was joined on his trip by a guide called Karma and his assistant, a chef and his assistant, and a mule handler who wrangled 10 mules and one horse

A view through one of the windows of the Lori Cliff Monastery out on to the rocky terrain below 

‘At dusk the air cools to minus temperatures and there is no heating in the local houses.

‘Burning wood isn’t really an option because trees stop growing at 5,000ft and bringing it up from the lowlands is very expensive. 

‘They cook on dried manure, which is picked by shepherds and yak herdsmen in the mountains. The water in the room freezes to ice at night, leaving no water in the toilet or tap until the sun rises.

‘The air is very dry with about 30 per cent moisture, which causes the nose to dry and become covered with bloody scabs.’

So life there is not easy. In the past though, it was far grander.

Upper Mustang is a semi-autonomous region of Nepal that only opened to tourists in 1992 

Darius said: ‘Mustang has beautiful mountains with winding paths. Each day the colours of the mountains are different – yellow, red, green and grey’ 

‘The Himalayas are unfriendly in nature and are a harsh environment for living, but they call you, you breathe differently there’, says Darius

Talking about the weather conditions in Upper Mustang, Darius said: ‘The air is very dry with about 30 per cent moisture, which causes the nose to dry and become covered with bloody scabs’

Darius added: ‘Maybe once when the Silk Road passed through people were rich. The past greatness of the region is now only visible in the ruins left around.

‘However, the people are fantastic and welcoming. Though it seems that they still live the same life their ancestors used to live – herding animals, farming and little trade.

‘You will maybe see one or two jeeps and a few satellite antennas.

‘However, if you are travelling in Mustang in late November you might miss the local population.

‘They might have migrated to the lowlands of Nepal as wintering in Mustang is nearly impossible.’

Despite the harsh environment, Darius says he is eager to return to Upper Mustang to gaze upon its stunning landscape once again.

A view out across Choser village from an old settlement carved into the cliff. It overlooks a makeshift football pitch

A cosmic-looking airfield close to the Luri Cliff monastery, which is at an elevation of 13,123ft (4,000m) 

This incredible rock formation was captured on camera by Darius on his way to the village of Dhakmar 

The village of Dhakmar, pictured, sits at an elevation of 12,523ft (3820m). Darius says that life in Upper Mustang ‘is not an easy one’ 

The trekking team get ready to start the first leg of their hike, which took them from Jomson to Kagbeni 

The ruins of a fortress near the Lori Cliff Monastery. Darius said: ‘The past greatness of the region is now only visible in the ruins left around’ 

On his way to Yara, Darius came across this ancient settlement, carved into the wall of a mountain 

He added: ‘The impression is that you are travelling in time or in some fantasy movie.

‘Mustang has beautiful mountains with winding paths. Each day the colours of the mountains are different – yellow, red, green and grey.

‘All in all, the Himalayas are a very mysterious place.

‘They are unfriendly in nature and are a harsh environment for living, but they call you, you breathe differently there, you get an understanding of how small you are and many secrets open up here.

‘There is daily changing beauty, never-repeating views, polarising clouds, sun and moon together from midday, heat and cold, flow and static and peace and danger.’ 

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Cruises

The latest travel cancellation and change policies

Many travel companies have introduced flexible cancellation and rebooking policies in the wake of the Covid-19 outbreak. Knowing that these policies can be complex, can change, and sometimes vary depending on the itinerary and departure date, Travel Weekly is providing direct links to suppliers’ policy-change pages.

Find the latest information from the State Department regarding countries with quarantines here.

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