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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!


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!


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.


2 hotels for you’ll love


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.

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.

Alaska: What’s an Un-cruise Adventure?

Alaska Damien and Meredith
Sea lions and orcas and bears, oh my!

Meredith and I saw all these and more on the latest Great Getaway, in Alaska’s Inside Passage with Un-Cruise Adventures.

Despite a very early flight schedule that had us up at 3:15 a.m. – note to travelers, book your flights well in advance if you can — and a rainy forecast, we were in high spirits for our first visit to the nation’s largest state.

As we dropped out of the clouds, the gray-blue of the stormy ocean gave way to a speck of green on the horizon. Then suddenly everything was green. The hillsides were covered with the mighty spruces of the 17-million-acre Tongass National Forest. We knew we weren’t in Kansas anymore. This was Southeast Alaska.

When we landed in Ketchikan, it rained. And rained. And rained. We quickly discovered this was par for the course in Alaskan summer. Despite the “liquid sunshine,” we found Ketchikan a warm and inviting town. We even met a few locals who sent us to the dock with 15 pounds of fresh fish. Long story, don’t ask. But what else would you expect in the Salmon Capital of the World?

Unfortunately, the Un-Cruise crew wasn’t allowed to serve our catch — I mean, it sure seemed like a good idea to me — but they were accommodating in every other way. Our ship, the S.S. Legacy, holds 88 passengers, and there were 57 onboard for the week. A ship that size offers a lot of flexibility, as we soon discovered when the captain, Dano Quinn, announced that Petersburg, not Wrangell as scheduled, would be our first stop. The change was made because a large cruise ship was scheduled to be in Wrangell the next day, and this way we avoided having to share the small town with a boatload of people.

The detour allowed us to stop by LeConte Glacier. The rain was cold and the wind fierce, but that served only to enhance otherworldly feeling of being surrounded by gray-green water dotted with icebergs. It felt like a scene from the claymation movie “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.”

While, sadly, a stop by the Island of Misfit toys was not in the itinerary, there were too many wonders that were to list. Here are just a few:

— After three days of rain, the liquid sunshine gave way to, you know, actual sunshine that you don’t need a euphemism for. The weather was beautiful the rest of the trip.

— We saw a whale breach three times then slap its fins against the water, a family of orcas and enough sea otters frolicking to make me bored of sea otters frolicking — just kidding, that’s impossible — in one day.

— The White Pass & Yukon Route train in Skagway is a much better way to admire the mountain scenery than the way the Gold Rush prospects did, no matter how appealing it might sound to climb something called Dead Horse Gulch.

— You can probably skip The Hammer Museum in Haines. Unless you really like hammers. I’ll let you decide. The name is pretty self-explanatory.

But the absolute best day was on Glacier Bay. It dawned clear and warm, and we picked up a park ranger who said days like this came around maybe 5 percent of the time on Glacier Bay. We were very lucky, and the hits just kept coming. We saw a black bear in the morning and a brown bear in the afternoon. We saw mountain goats on cliff ledges that appeared impossible to reach.

But what’s Glacier Bay without glaciers? Well, we got within 2 miles of Johns Hopkins Glacier at the back of an inlet and heard the “white thunder” of new icebergs crashing into the bay. We saw rivers of silt pouring down mountainsides, giving the water its muddled turquoise color. We saw icebergs flip over and a seal lying atop one making sure it wouldn’t flip. On the way out, we passed a big cruise ship that couldn’t even make it into the inlet.

In Tarr Inlet, we saw the flowing Grand Pacific Glacier, which one filled the whole bay, and got within a quarter-mile of brilliant-white Margerie Glacier, which enthralled us by calving off two huge icebergs right before our eyes.

The show wasn’t over yet. On the way out, we stopped by South Marble Island, teeming with wildlife. There were puffins, murres and several other types of sea birds. Mostly ignoring them were large groups of sea lions, young males who haven’t gotten the chance to breed, who naturally had other concerns. As you might expect, they had too much time and energy on their hands and spent the evening fighting each other and taking breaks to go swimming. It was like a frat house, except the sea lions bathed.

As if all that weren’t enough excitement for one day, an announcement went out around 12:30 a.m. that the Northern Lights were making a rare summertime appearance. It was the perfect cap to an amazing day of natural beauty.

I read it on the Internet — It’s gotta be true!

Brazil Iguazu Falls   Brazil world cup  Brazil carnival

This afternoon I looked at some trivia websites to find a suitable Facebook post for our page, www.facebook.com/greatgetawaystravel. When I found some interesting tidbits, I began my version of fact-checking (wikipedia and snopes.com are 2 of my “reliable sources”). One “fact” was about  Yerevan, Armenia, claiming it to be the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world. While we’ve yet to send a client to Yerevan, I found this interesting and put it through my truth v. truthiness test.

[Truthiness, a word coined by comedian Stephen Colbert in 2005, is defined by Dictionary.com as “the quality of seeming to be true according to one’s intuition, opinion, or perception without regard to logic, factual evidence, or the like: the growing trend of truthiness as opposed to truth.” Much of what we read on the Internet falls in the realm of “truthiness” versus “truth”, and though the distortions are not always purposeful distortions, they are, in fact, not a fact , and that’s a fact!]

I discovered the Yerevan is indeed a very old, continuously inhabited city, BUT it is not assured the honor as the “oldest.” It was close to a fact, but missed slightly. I decided that trivia about Yerevan probably won’t attract much interest, so I continued my quest. I seized the next “fact” with glee because it was about Brazil, a very popular destination and a major economic force in the world. The website said, “Did you know that Brazil got its name from the nut and not the other way round?” I played with that delicious morsel of news, began searching for photos of brazil nuts, was about to post it, and then remembered to fact check the info.

Drats! Again, close to the truth but no cigar, or should I say no nut? Brazil, or Brasil, comes from the Portuguese word brasa which means “ember” or “emberlike”. A tree discovered by Portuguese explorers produced a deep red dye, the color of an ember, that was popular in Europe for making clothing. The original color was found only in India and was an expensive imported luxury. Harvesting of brazilwood was the primary reason for going to this newly discovered country and at that time the European custom was to name countries for what they produced. Actually, I found out more than I ever needed to know about the etymology of “Brazil” and I invite you to learn more (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Name_of_Brazil).

And why, you ask, am I sharing all this newly gleaned knowledege? Or, as they say in fables, what is the moral of this story?

1. Do your due diligence when reading articles on the Internet AND make sure the attached photos are legit and not photo-shopped (especially the hotel photos, a few of which have photoshopped out the surrounding neighborhood).

2. Please feel free to fact-check me. I do not mean to misrepresent and I unknowingly have in the past and may in the future.

3. Check out Brazil before it becomes wall-to-wall tourist during the 2014 World Cup or the 2016 Olympics

4. Sometimes the search for “truth” over “truthiness” can yield some fun results and broaden your horizons—and that’s the truth!


And now for some potty talk…

ladies room

…and, no, I don’t have a potty mouth!
2 years ago I fell in love with a toilet—not any toilet, a toilet that seemed almost human! Designed and built by Toto, this feat of engineering and technology sensed when I was near, lit the pathway to it, saluted by raising and lowering its lid, flushed automatically (of course), heated itself, and had several wash and dry options. I loved it so much I blogged about it (http://www.greatgetaways.travel/hi-chai-and-hai-from-shanghai/), photographed it, and have forever since compared every other commode to the amazing one at the Waldorf Astoria on the Bund in Shanghai, China.
Unfortunately, since my Shanghai love affair, my relationship with toilets has been less glorious. I’m not complaining about the hole in the ground variety found in the countryside of China—I was aware of them before I ventured there—or the ultra-sensitive types that are so automatic they flush even when you are just adjusting your position.


My complaint isn’t even with the toilet—it’s with the users. So let me address them directly:
Dear Ladies who use public restrooms,
Too often I walk into a stall in a public restroom only to find evidence of a previous visitor (and I’m not talking about the graffiti autographs on the walls). Granted, many times the handle doesn’t work preventing you from flushing. However (you knew that a “however” was coming, right?), what is your excuse when the toilet is an automatic flush style? What’s that? You’re telling me that when you stood up, the toilet just sat there—expressionless, er, I mean flushless? Yes, sometimes that happens. That’s when you need a more “hands-on” approach. Waving your hand in front of the sensor won’t do it, so don’t waste your time. Instead, might I suggest the magic “button”? Yes, without too much exploration, you’ll most likely find a button—on the side, top, front or back of the toilet. I recommend you press the button and “Voila,” the evidence of your visit is quickly flushed away…at which time, please feel free to leave a graffiti autograph. Just please get rid of the waste!

And, I have one more gripe about public restrooms:

toilet superhero
There, I’ve said it and I feel so much better! What’s your experience been in the public arena, so to speak?

Virgin Galactic’s David Mackay: The pilot who will fly to space


Virgin Galactic pilot David Mackay gave a delightful interview to the BBC. David Mackay is the first pilot of a consumer space company Virgin Galactic.