Love from Lhasa!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Call it Tibet or be politically correct and call it China, I loved my visit to Lhasa. I was looking at some of our photos of our travels and realized I hadn’t talked about Lhasa in a long time.

Lhasa is over 11,000 feet above sea level, so get some altitude sickness medicine and begin taking it a couple of days before you arrive. In many ways I felt Lhasa was frozen in time a la Lost Horizon, a true Shangri-La, steeped in bright colors, lots of incense, interesting architecture, and charming clothing. Food is not why you go to Lhasa – lots of yak dishes and lots of yak butter. It’s all about the experience – the palpable spirituality.

We picnicked outside a monastery; visited monks learning to debate and participated in meditation with the monks;  we visited sacred shrines and palaces, and lunched outside Norbulingka, once the Dalai Lama’s summer residence, with a monk who, through an interpreter, answered our questions about his life. Enough words – time for some pictures! Enjoy!

Email me, Barbara, for more memories of Lhasa or info on the logistics of visiting this exotic destination.

Great, Greater, Greatest!

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After 25 years of owning a brick-and-mortar travel company, Great Getaways Travel has decided to work remotely and become a “virtual” travel company, joining the 21st century finally! We are still a thriving company and are here to help you with your travels. Our phone number remains 913-338-2244 and we look forward to talking to you.

One of our favorite sayings is “Don’t let the good get in the way of the better and don’t let better get in the way of best.” We practice that philosophy in everything we do personally and professionally.

Because our objective is to create the most memorable vacations possible for you, we’ve decided to affiliate with Largay Travel, in Waterbury, Connecticut. It’s great, greater, and greatest news!

GREAT: We now have even more support and resources.

GREATER: Largay will handle all the pesky back office details freeing us to devote 100% of our time to planning your travel.

GREATEST: By affiliating with Largay Travel we are able to give you increased benefits when you travel, as we now have preferred status with several hotels, cruise lines, and tour companies.

PRICELESS: We are still very active and proud to be part of Virtuoso — you’ve experienced the benefits of that association.

So, where do you want to go in 2017? Give us a call, 913-338-2244, and start packing!

 

Fall in love with Florence

 Guest post by Damien Martin, Italy Specialist, Great Getaways Travel

 

“C’è tanta storia,” I said to my guide, Cinzia, and really to anyone else who asked my impressions of Florence. “There’s so much history.”

Florence is rich in history

And you can’t help but walk though it every day you spend there. Founded by Julius Caesar and the Cradle of the Renaissance, Florence absorbed Roman culture and was the first to replicate civilization as Europe awoke from the middle ages, bursting with art and international commerce.

Boboli Gardens

Boboli Gardens

Florence means “flowering”

The name means “flowering,” and that’s just what Florence did, going from a town of 50,000 at the start of the 13th century to a city of 120,000 (plus another 300,000 in the surrounding countryside) by the 14th century. Through banking and trade, Florence fast became an international power, allowing its leading families to patronize such artists as Michelangelo, Leonardo, Brunelleschi and Botticelli. The most powerful family, the Medici, established themselves as dukes of Tuscany and built the magnificent Boboli Gardens to showcase their wealth and the talent of Florentine sculptors.

Florence and the Medicis

The gardens stand behind Palazzo Pitti, the last of three Medici palaces in the city, across the Arno River from the heart of the city. Legend has it that the palace was commissioned specifically by Luca Pitti to surpass Palazzo Medici, the first Medici palace. But Luca Pitti died with the house unfinished, and his family eventually sold it to the Medici, a testimony to their unrivaled status as Florence’s top dogs. The sheer number of buildings featuring their family crest proves their legacy lives on.

Michelangelo's David

Michelangelo’s David

The second Medici palace occupied the most important address in medieval Florence. Named Palazzo Vecchio — “the old palace” — ever since they moved out, it serves as Florence’s city hall to this day. Before it was moved inside after centuries of exposure to the elements, Michelangelo’s David stood out front. Today, a replica statue stands in place of the original, and David gazes out with the famous combination of fear and confidence in his eyes. There’s plenty for you to look at, too, as cafes line the Piazza della Signoria surrounding the palace, providing first-class people-watching. Watch out for the plaque marking the spot where Savonarola was burned at the stake in 1498.

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How jewelry shops came to adorn the Ponte Vecchio

Around the corner, the Medici kept their business offices, the Uffizi, now home to one of the world’s pre-eminent art museums. The Medici didn’t like that fishmongers hawked their wares on the bridge near their offices, so they kicked them out in favor of goldsmiths. This is why the Ponte Vecchio (which was thankfully spared when the Nazis blew up all the other bridges in the city) is now adorned with jewelry shops. That still wasn’t enough for the Medici, who had Giorgio Vasari build them a private suspended corridor across the river over the bridge to the Pitti Palace.

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The Duomo – an engineering marvel

A few steps in the opposite direction from Palazzo Vecchio, and you come out in front of the Duomo, with its massive engineering marvel of a dome and separate bell tower and baptistery. As Cinzia explained, only the baptized could enter the Duomo, so believers first had to enter the baptistery through the golden doors Michaelangelo dubbed the Gates of Paradise to be christened.

Birth of Venus

Birth of Venus

That barely scratches the surface of the myriad places of historical significance in Florence, and contributions the city has made to modern times. The language I spoke to Cinzia, now recognized as Italian, is the language spoken in Florence in the middle ages, popularized by native son Dante Alighieri in his Divine Comedy. But you need only walk around to be transported back in time to — as a plaque in the Pitti Palace describes — “that beautiful but turbulent city” which Medici patriarch Cosimo I “found and left peaceful and resplendent.”

O Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?

 

Guest Post by Damien Martin

Italy Specialist, Great Getaways Travel

 

Lovers of Italy, have you been to Verona?

I’m a trivia lover (Did you catch me on JEOPARDY last year?) and will share some Italian trivia with you. In the famous quote that is the title of this post, do you know the meaning of the word “wherefore”? Hint: It doesn’t mean “where”.  Juliet wasn’t asking where Romeo was, she was questioning his purpose. Speaking of purpose,  I want to share my love of Verona with you, the setting for Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet.” Verona is for lovers. The setting of three Shakespeare plays about love, most notably Romeo & Juliet, and birthplace of the Roman romantic poet Catullus, Verona exudes ancient and medieval charm.

Lovers of Italy and History Unite!

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Situated on the banks of the Adige River, Verona is home to a Roman theater from A.D. 30 that is still used for operas and concerts to this day. With a capacity of 30,000 (though for safety, attendance is capped at about half that), the arena boasts a super-sized stage so large that sets need to be custom-made and once accommodated live elephants during performances of Aida.

Juliet lovers, check this out!

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The city’s other famous landmark is the Juliet’s House, a 13th-century home that belonged to the real-life Capulet family (as evidenced by the symbol of the hat, the family crest). Profess your undying love from Juliet’s balcony, hang a letter to your sweetheart from the walls of the courtyard or even rub the breast of Juliet (a statue, not a person) for luck. But try to visit early in the morning or late in the afternoon to avoid the throngs of star-crossed lovers pressing up close in the, shall we say, intimate courtyard.

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2 hotels for you’ll love

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If the balcony is a little cramped for your declarations of love, the rooftop terrace at Virtuoso-preferred Hotel Due Torri (a 14th-century palazzo just steps from a Roman bridge and theater) provides sweeping views of the city and surrounding hills and is a perfect place to hold a wedding or just enjoy a beautiful sunset.

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Outside the city, Relais & Chateaux property Villa del Quar is built on a site that has been offering rest to weary travelers since A.D. 47. A stretch of the Roman road Claudia Augusta still runs through the property, along vineyards growing yielding three varieties of Valpolicella wine.
Within easy reach are the Alps, Lake Garda, Bologna and Venice, Verona serves as a gateway to Italy’s northeast if your passions run farther afield. So raise a glass to your loved one and toast to Verona, city of romance.

Italy’s Lake District – AMORE!

By Damien Martin, Italy Specialist

 

Lake District Amore!

You know I love Lake Como but it’s hardly the only beautiful lake in Northern Italy. Move east along the bottom edge of the Alps between Milan and Venice, and you’ll find two other gems of Italy’s Lake District,  Lake Iseo and Lake Garda.

Lake Iseo

Lake Iseo is a Renaissance painting that has come to life

You know those Italian Renaissance paintings that feature lush, mountainous landscapes? That’s Lake Iseo. Enjoy the view from the patio of the VistaLago Bistro or Michelin Guide-recommended LeoneFelice at L’Albereta (the Virtuoso-preferred boutique hotel in Erbusco). The vineyards stretch to a shimmering lake. Be awed by a ring of snowcapped mountains, crowned by a tall green island rising out of the water. It’s no wonder the founders of the winery next door chose the name Bellavista, “beautiful view.”

 Christo creates art in the Lake District

This summer thousands even got to walk on water, thanks to artist Christo’s “Floating Piers.” Christo put 220,000 high-density polyethylene cubes into the lake, covered by 100,000 square meters of yellow fabric. Several people swarmed the area to see the Floating Piers and overwhelmed public transportation. Typically, though, Lake Iseo is quite tranquil.

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The Spa at L’Albereta, a reason to visit the Lake District

L’Albereta itself means “the plantation,” a perfect name that highlights the rows of trees lining the property.  The Espace Chenot spa program offers comprehensive wellness programs complete with aromatherapies and bio-light menus. The spa offers 3-, 4-, 7- and 14-day programs. Of course, if you need a cheat day, just head over to Bellavista for some of the sparkling wine the Franciacorta region is famous for.

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Lake Garda

Continue east toward the border between the Lombardy and Veneto regions, and you’ll hit Lake Garda. Lemon houses dot the shores, adding a vibrant yellow glint to the verdant hills. On the western bank is the Vittoriale degli Italiani, the victory monument of the Italians. It doubled as the home of writer and war hero Gabriele d’Annunzio. In reality, Mussolini gifted the home to d’Annunzio in exchange for retiring from public life. The hillside holds a mausoleum, amphitheater and an intact navy cruiser.

Navy cruiser at Vittoriale degli Italiani

I found d’Annunzio’s home more surreal than the warship.  There are two waiting rooms, one for welcome guests and another for unwelcome ones (guess where Mussolini had to wait?). While the  windows offer stunning lake views, d’Annunzio kept the shades drawn because his eyesight was failing. Countless books and religious iconography litter the walls. D’Annunzio died at his desk  and it remains untouched. Though the poet didn’t dine with his guests, he kept a statue of a favored pet turtle, which had died from overeating, on the table as a reminder to guests to not wear out their welcome.

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Lefay Resort and its incredible spa

Be sure to visit Lefay Resort and Spa,high up on a hilltop with a panoramic view of the lake.  Select a treatment from the nearly 70-page spa menu. You may want some “calm” after visit D’Annunzio’s home!

The real star of the spa at Lefay is the infinity pool, which seems to hang out over the cliff and blend with the lake. On a clear day, you can see Sirmione, home of the Roman poet Catullus, who called it the “gem of the islands and peninsulas.” I, for one, would be hard-pressed to argue.