Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Quebec: Adventures in Nature

Parc national Fjord-du-Saguenay, Rivière-Éternité (c)
Charles David Robitaille

Last week I was a very “happy camper” in Saguenay Lac-Saint-Jean, Quebec. The area is located in the woods north of Montreal and Quebec City known for the Saguenay Fjord, one of the ten longest fjords in the world. I have to admit that I didn’t actually camp in a tent. The adventure was more of a “glamping” experience where I engaged in camping-type adventures like hiking up the glacier-carved granite and gneiss hills, sailing down the salty waters of the fjord and zigzagging into gorges gouged into the rock by the huge ice flows of the Pleistocene Era. But instead of roughing it, this “glamper” had the luxury of dining at glamorous restaurants and sleeping in comfy chalets and hotels.

Adventures in Nature #1: Hiking

The challenging Statue Trail started near sea level on the shores of Saguenay Fjord. At dinner the night before, I’d learned that a fjord is a long, narrow glacial carved valley that is filled with salt water. After dinner, we attended the Saguenay Wine Festival, the largest international wine fest I’d ever experienced. I tasted Zonin Proseccos from Italy, French rosés and Spanish Riojas as well as Canadian wines, and rubbed elbows with Spanish wine maker, Roberto Alonso, who promised to show me around Bodegas Valdemar vineyards the next time I’m in Logrono, Spain.
Annual Saguenay Wine Festival in Chicoutimi, Quebec
Chicoutimi’s historic downtown is open to foot traffic only during for the annual street party. Vintners from across the globe, as well as spirit distillers, draw a cosmopolitan crowd made of locals and visitors from Montreal and Quebec City with over 40K people attending the three-day event.

Statue Trail at Saguenay Fjord National Park
 The next morning in the Saguenay Fjord National Park, I hiked up through the lush boreal forest past green spruce and white-barked birch up an enchanting pathway of rock stairways, redwood decks and glacier-polished bedrock. The many overlooks of the fjord disappearing below me tempted me to the edge of the fiords’ vertical cliffs. National Geographic named this trail network through Saguenay National Park as a “Top 10 Walks & Hiking Tours in 2010.” The trail is a three- to four-hour out-and-back trek up to a statue of the Madonna who overlooks the water.

The huge sculpture was financed by a Quebec City merchant, who went through the ice with his horse and load of merchandise on a sales trip to Chicoutimi in 1878. After praying to the Virgin, he pulled himself from the icy mire, vowing to give back to her. Years later after a series of further misfortunes, the statue was finally installed on the high Cape Trinité overlooking the Fiord.

Adventures in Nature #2: Boating

Because of the dangers associated with thirteen- to 20-foot fluctuating tides and the wind tunnel created by the high rock formations lining the fjord, canoes and river kayaks are not allowed on the big waters of Saguenay Fjord National Park. But a really convenient feature in the national park is the marine shuttle, Les Navettes maritimes du Fjord, which is a hop-on, hop-off water taxi that services trailheads to wilderness overnight backpacking trails, charming villages and marinas. I loved being on the water, that’s just who I am. I kept a lookout for beluga whales (even though I was told they did not come up this far in the fjord) as I enjoyed the storyteller who told tales of the north woods as we sailed to the remote village of L’Anse-St-Jean. Other experiences for water adventures include with Zodiac boat excursions, guided Fjord en Kayak sea kayak trips and sailboats.

That evening, we ate like foodies at Chez Montagner, a new restaurant by Quebec City restaurateur, Frédérick Montagner and slept like babies in the comfy Chalets du le Fjord motel.

Adventures in Nature #3: Via Ferrata

Parc Aventures Cap Jaseux, Saint-Fulgence (c) Charles-David Robitaille
Tourisme Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean
Via Ferrata is a course that aids people in climbing steep terrain with fixed cables, suspended walkways and inverted ladders embedded into cliffside walls. The term is Italian for “Iron Path,” and adventurers can take part in the adrenalin rush at Saguenay Fjord, but I opted for its kinder, gentler brother at Parc de la Caverne Trou de la Feé.
Parc de la Caverne Trou de la Feé
There I walked swinging suspension bridges over whitewater as it raged through a narrow canyon. I didn’t know whether to close my eyes or leave them open. I enjoyed the wooden walkways were bolted into the canyon walls but skipped the zipline.
Domaine Le Cageot winery 
In keeping with our glamping motif, we lunched at Domaine Le Cageot winery where we were led through a wine tasting during the outdoor le déjeuner. Later at Val Jalbert, a restored “company town” where we spent the night in upmarket, renovated townhouses, we experienced nature by riding a gondola along a powerful waterfall.

The river and falls, higher than the Niagara Falls generated hydraulic power that once ran the pulp mill. The pulp from this company town deep in the forest was shipped down the fjord to the St Lawrence Seaway to New York and London. Val Jalbert is now a living museum full of activities and fun for the whole family. Reenactors live out the days of old, autos are not allowed, but you can spend the night “in the museum.” Rooms are upscale and full of modern amenities. 

Make plans to for your own adventures in nature by going to www.saguenaylacsaintjean.ca/en

"Unstoppable Stacey" Wittig is a travel writer based in Flagstaff, Arizona. The Arizona travel writer was was hosted for her stay in Quebec, and although that does not affect her opinions, she believes in full disclosure. 

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Camino Guidebook by Stacey Wittig and Johnnie Walker recently released

A London publisher, the Confraternity of St James, recently released their latest Camino guidebook, Camino Primitivo Villaviciosa-Oviedo-Melide, by Stacey Wittig and Johnnie Walker.

This new, pocket-size edition of the Confraternity of St James (CSJ) guide to the Camino Primitivo brings together

  • up-to-date details for walkers and cyclists, 
  • elevation profiles by Sean Hampton, and is 
  • sprinkled with intriguing background information 
about this historically-significant route.

The Camino Primitivo is so historically relevant to early development of the Santiago de Compostela pilgrimage phenomena that this year the Confraternity of St James crafted a guide that devotes segments to the history and culture of the route in addition to the walking notes and accommodation.

Roman wall in Lugo on Camino Primitivo

Camino Primitivo sprinkled with historical and cultural info

EXCERPT: In the early 9th C, some say 814 AD, the tomb of St. James was discovered in north-western Spain by a hermit named Pelayo. Pelayo seems have been a popular name in medieval times, so don’t get this Pelayo confused with the Pelayo (Pelagius in Latin), who begat the tiny Kingdom of Asturias after leading Christians into battle against the Moors almost 100 years prior to the discovery of the saint’s remains. Legend has it that the hermit reported his findings to the bishop of Iria Flavia, Teodomiro, who in turn communicated the miraculous discovery to Alfonso II, the Asturian king ruling from Oviedo.
The king and his entourage journeyed to Iria Flavia (modern-day Padrón) to view the crypt. That being so, Alfonso II is often referred to as ‘the first pilgrim’ to make the trek to honor the relics of the saint. His route from Oviedo to Iria Flavia (18km from what is now known as Santiago de Compostela) was the first Camino route. Hence the name, Camino ‘Primitivo’ or ‘original’ road. 
The Camino Primitivo guide was originally written and mapped by CSJ stalwart Eric Walker. Edits were made by CSJ fellows until 2013 when editor Chris Lennie updated all the route and accommodation information. This year CSJ again walked the route, brought the information up-to-date, added maps elevation profiles by Sean Hampton and Stacey Wittig enhanced the guide book with the intriguing historical and cultural background of Camino Primitivo.

Stacey Wittig’s life was transformed by her first Camino in 2005. Since then the writer has walked more than 4300km on Camino routes in France, Italy and Spain. She is author of the “Spiritual and Walking Guides” series of Camino devotionals for Christians yearning for deeper spiritual journeys.

Johnnie Walker is a former Chief Executive who found new life and new meaning on the Camino to Santiago. The Camino author has walked thousands of kilometers on pilgrim routes in Spain, Italy, the United Kingdom and Japan. Learn more about Johnnie Walker here.

Camino guide available in KINDLE and PAPERBACK

Buy the pocket-sized paper edition at the Confraternity of St James website at https://www.csj.org.uk/product/pilgrim-guides-camino-primitivo-2017-2018-villaviciosa-oviedo-melide-pocket-size-edition/

The Kindle version is available on Amazon at https://amzn.to/2KK3d6b

Friday, March 16, 2018

Mazatlán Recognized by Forbes, American Express Travel and Live and Invest Overseas

Mazatlán was recently recognized by three heavy hitters -- Forbes, American Express Travel and Live and Invest Overseas -- as the place for North Americans to vacation, retire or invest.
Unstoppable Stacey in Mazatlan
I visited Mazatlán, Mexico, not long ago and ran into quite a few people from the US and Canada. Some were vacationing, while others were expats who had moved to the lovely beach-side city. It got me thinking, with the amount of money being poured into the infrastructure of the already comfortable, historic town, Mazatlán might just be the place for me to spend my retirement years. I surely enjoyed vacationing in the “Pearl of the Pacific” over the last two decades and I easily envisioned myself living there as I roamed the colorful historic district.
Mazatlan or New Orleans? Authentic architecture in the historic district.
After returning, I did a little research and found a Forbes article entitled, “The Surprising Top 10 List of Best Places to Retire Abroad,” that features high praise for Mazatlán from both ‘Live and Invest Overseas’ and ‘International Living’ authorities. The insider list was surprising to me as it named four places that I have visited: Lisbon; Portugal's Algarve Region; Valletta, Malta; and Mazatlán. Even more unexpected was that Mazatlán placed third on the Forbes top ten list, behind the Algarve Region and Valletta. 

1. Portugal's Algarve Region*
2. Valletta, Malta*
3. Mazatlán, Mexico*
4. Abruzzo, Italy
5. Saint-Chinian, France
6. Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
7. Lisbon, Portugal*
8. Budapest, Hungary
9. San Miguel de Allende, Mexico
10. George Town, Malaysia

* Been there, would like to go back.

Home to more than twelve miles of golden shoreline, Mazatlán offers idyllic year-round tropical weather, first-class amenities and infrastructure, and an active lifestyle for older adults who embrace a "young at heart" mindset. 
Many expats embrace living like a local, enjoying the laid-back living and city life surrounding the Historic District's Plaza Machado, which offers magnificent sidewalk cafes, up-and-coming gastronomy, local arts and crafts, and a diverse theater culture.
Ángela Peralta Theater
Forbes reported, 
Known for its North American expat community, this Pacific coast beach resort has, according to Live and Invest Overseas, “a little bit of everything” — 20 miles of beaches, world-class fishing, historical attractions, delicious street food and an international airport. Climate? Tropical, with a wet season and a dry season.

Mazatlán, a city in transformation

Earlier I mentioned a large amount of money being poured into Mazatlán. I didn't reveal how much. The amount is approximately 2,085,000,000 Mexican Pesos, or 111.5 million US Dollars. I saw evidence of many new amenities and improvements and especially enjoyed: 
  • the renovated Malecón (they’re adding new bike paths to this longest boardwalk in the world,) 
    The Malecon (Boardwalk) where locals meet and visitors stand in awe
  • a restored Centro Histórico that preserves the French, Italian and German architectural roots of the fascinating and Instagrammable historic center, 
  • the refreshed Ángela Peralta Theater and Cultural Center, the gathering spot for the renown opera and theater culture,
  • the renewal of the tallest, working natural lighthouse in the world and 
  • the creation of new parks and city centers for both families and visitors to enjoy. 
“Mazatlán is enjoying a renaissance, and many are returning here to savor a burgeoning culture scene rich with the arts,” said Rafael Lizárraga Favela, Undersecretary of Tourism for the State of Sinaloa. “Whether you are an empty-nest couple looking to slow your pace of life, or a prior snowbird visitor looking to make a permanent change to our incredible year-round tropical climate, you can find value and a quality of life here in our colonial city on the beach that includes luxury living, endless activities, and a booming culinary scene,” he added.
Translation headphones provide by Fiesta Amigos
I was honored to hear the tourism official speak at a gathering of the 23rd annual Fiesta Amigos, a unified city effort to educate and celebrate Mazatlán’s tourism partners from the U.S. and Canada.
Mazatlan's International Convention Center
The Fiesta Amigos was held at the beautiful and modern International Convention Center, which showcased the state-of-the-art multi-use facilities that businesses, conferences and meeting organizations utilize year-round. 

My research also uncovered that American Express Travel ranked Mazatlán one of the hottest worldwide destinations last fall, and Live and Invest Overseas called Mazatlán’s historic city center ‘The Ideal Second Home.’ Maybe I’ll just have to start shopping Mazatlán real estate. 

For more information about Mazatlán, visit www.GoMazatlan.com.

About Mazatlán 

Mazatlán is a Mexican resort town along the Pacific Ocean. Founded in 1571, its Historic District, 19th-century landmarks include the performance hall Teatro Ángela Peralta and the towering Immaculate Conception Basilica. Sandy beaches line its four mile-long malecón (boardwalk), the newly developed Nuevo Mazatlán area where two marinas and two professional golf courses sit, and the modern district of Zona Dorada which is known for nightlife and hotels to suit any budget. Old villages with unique charm such as El Quelite, Concordia, Copala and El Rosario surround Mazatlán, and guided tours are available from all hotels. Direct air service is available to Mazatlán from most U.S. and Canada markets.

Arizona travel writer Stacey Wittig was hosted for her stay in Mazatlan, and although that does not affect her opinions, she believes in full disclosure. 

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Two New Dramatic Destinations Open in Bangkok

Bangkok’s contrasting sides of its hip social scene were reasons that I fell in love with this Thai city. I called it the “Two Faces” of Bangkok in an article that I wrote soon after my return. Since then, two new dramatic destinations have opened their doors, proving once again that the Thai metropolis is ever-changing and intriguing to returning visitors.

The first new destination is ABar on the 37th floor of Bangkok Marriott Marquis Queen’s Park, high above the bustling city streets. The trendy bar opened on New Years Eve, and I can’t wait to go back to the Bangkok Marriott Marquis Queen’s Park to experience the new destination bar, an attraction in its own right. One thing that I learned while I was in Bangkok was that the Victorian Era was alive and well in the city back in the late 1800s. This bar harkens back to that era with classic dark wooden décor, wingback chairs and leather-bound books.

Its library-like, book lined walls also have the feel of a “Speak Easy” that is making such a strong comeback in the US right now. A recent media release describes the cool, sophisticated cocktail bar as blending “the mystery and magic of Victorian London with the gritty edge of 1930s America.”

The comfortable venue that reminds me of a London gentleman’s club makes ABar the perfect spot in which to unwind and enjoy hand-crafted cocktails in a warm ambiance overlooking the spectacular Bangkok skyline.

Prohibition-Era Cocktails, Craft Spirits and Rustic Mixes

Capturing the spirit of the venue, ABar specializes in dark spirits including whiskies from around the globe, dark rum and cognac. An extensive selection of drinks is available, including vintage and prohibition-era cocktails, craft spirits and rustic mixes.

Sanctuary of High-End Relaxation

I can imagine unwinding with my new favorite beverage or one of the reimagined classics in this sanctuary of high-end relaxation with cool jazz playing in the background. ABar seats 76 guests indoors and 32 on the semi-al fresco terrace which overlooks Benjasiri Park.

ABar Rooftop

The second recently-opened destination bar is ABar Rooftop, also located at Bangkok Marriott Marquis Queen’s Park. Perched on the 38th floor just one floor above ABar, its rooftop location delivers a real wow factor.

The stylish open-air bar features one of the largest selections of gins in the city, with more than 50 different varieties including many craft labels.
The exquisite gins are used to create an extensive range of signature G&Ts and innovative cocktails, which can be enjoyed in the ultimate intimate setting while gazing out over the sparkling Bangkok cityscape.

ABar Rooftop seats 60 people. No reservations are taken at either venue and seating is assigned on a first-come-first-served basis. Both ABar and ABar Rooftop will open daily from 5 pm to 1 am.
Access to the bars is via a dedicated elevator from Bangkok Marriott Marquis Queen’s Park’s South Tower Lobby.

For information and reservations, call +66 (0) 2 059 5999 or email restaurant-reservations.bkkqp@marriotthotels.com or visit www.bangkokmarriottmarquisqueenspark.com.

About Bangkok Marriott Marquis Queen’s Park
The largest and the first Marriott Marquis in Asia Pacific, Bangkok Marriott Marquis Queen’s Park is the city’s new landmark completed with ample amenities and facilities, including 1,360 guestrooms and suites and over 5,000 square meters of function space across 37 venues. The hotel also offers two outdoor swimming pools, Quan Spa and several restaurants and bars on prime location on Sukhumvit Road, surrounded by business centers and entertainment. Bangkok Marriott Marquis Queen’s Park is truly an ideal choice for travelers visiting this vibrant and colorful city.

Read more: Bangkok Posh: Three Hotels Worth the Splurge

Common to the travel industry, writer Stacey Wittig was hosted by the Tourism Authority of Thailand. While that has not influenced this review, the writer believes in full disclosure. #ThailandInsider

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Thailand Celebrates 1M Annual Visitors: Vagabonding Lulu goes to Hollywood

Vagabonding Lulu joined the Tourism Authority of Thailand to celebrate 1M visitors during the 2017 tourist season. The celebratory party aptly named "A Million Thanks" brought Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) partners together for an extravaganza party at Wanderlust Hollywood in Los Angeles, California, where the venue was transformed into a Thai Street Market.

"I was so excited to finally eat authentic Thai food after my trip to Thailand last November," said the Arizona travel writer. "I was in seventh heaven eating and talking to the Thai street food vendors that TAT brought in for the party." 
Authentic Thai massage at Hollywood Party
"I also got a Thai massage, danced with the other fabulous travel writers that I met on the TAT Thailand trip, and posed for Instagram photos in a real Thai tuk tuk. It was almost as much fun as traveling to Thailand," Vagabonding Lulu stated.
Travel writers Bella Graham, Stacey Wittig and Pat Bailey Russo in Thai Tuk Tuk

Travel Disaster Averted

Vagabonding Lulu almost missed the party when her airplane was delayed out of Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport. "I'd flown in from Flagstaff and was waiting for my connection in Phoenix for my next flight to Burbank," said the seasoned traveler. "Fellow travel writer Suzanne Stavert [of Adventures of Empty Nesters blog] was picking me up at the airport and then driving me to her home in Pasadena to get primped for the party. The plane that was to take me there was delayed in Albuquerque. As my flight continued to be delayed, I texted Suzanne and told her not to leave for the Burbank airport."

"I was pretty much freaking out that I was going to miss the party... I wasn't so sure how long it would take to drive the LA freeways to Hollywood. I calmed myself by Googling the distance and traffic -- only 25 minutes from BUR to Wanderlust Hollywood." Unfortunately the late plane didn't allow time for Lulu to go to Suzanne's home to change. And it was a LITTLE 76-passenger tube-like CRJ9. 
The CRJ9 was similar to the on depicted here

The regional jet has a toilet in the tail where the ceiling curves over the occupant's head making them crouch. "I am glad that I have hidden talents; like a crouching tiger," laughed the travel writer. "I ended up changing from my Flagstaff fleece and yoga pants into my evening gown in the tiny toilet of the plane."

BEFORE and AFTER the mini-toilet dressing experience

Vagabonding Lulu makes debut Hollywood appearance

Check out the exciting TAT party on this YouTube vid. Can you spot Vagabonding Lulu in her debut Hollywood appearance?

Tourism Authority of Thailand https://www.tourismthailand.org

Wanderlust Hollywood http://wanderlusthollywood.com

Stacey "Vagabonding Lulu" Wittig is a travel writer bbased in Flagstaff, Arizona. Like this story? Then "Follow" this blog from the box in the upper right.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Don't Miss the Desires of Your Heart: Tips for Traveling Solo

Many women travel alone successfully. Especially those who have lost their husbands, are retired, or like me can’t pry their hubbies away from the home front. Other ladies are terrified just thinking about traveling solo and so miss the desires of their hearts. Wherever you are on this spectrum, one of the following five tips is sure to grease the wheels on your travel buggy:

1. Hook up with Others

If you are unsure of traveling by yourself, book a group adventure with companies such as Road Scholar, formerly known as Elder Hostel. Promoting lifelong learning, their trips to faraway lands -- or around your region -- offer chances to meet others of similar interests. As I told my parents when I headed off solo to Spain for the first time, “Don’t worry. I’ll be with my friends – I just haven’t met them yet.”
Photo by Didier Weemaels on Unsplash

2. How to keep your Money Safe While Traveling Solo

Keep your money safe. I am always surprised when well-traveled girlfriends return from trips and announce that ALL their money and credit cards were stolen. Then they begin the saga of how difficult it was to replace passports, get cash and reissue credit cards. This won’t happen to you with a system I call “redundant security controls.”

Divide your credit cards and cash into three piles. To the first pile, add a copy of your passport and stash it inside a cotton money belt. As your least accessible stash, it’s the place for larger bills and your backup credit card. Put the second pile into a passport-sized wallet that hangs around your neck and goes in your handbag as a wallet when you don’t want to look so geeky.

I find that the neck wallet works well in airports, train stations and ferry ports when I need both hands for baggage but also need access to travel docs at a moment’s notice. The second stash is most accessible, so keep only one-day’s supply of small bills and your passport here. The third pile goes into an envelope with driver’s license and second copy of my passport. I hide the envelope inside my carry-on bag (not my handbag) in a zippered compartment.

When checked into hotel rooms or cruise ship cabins, leave the waist wallet locked in the safe. Then if someone grabs your handbag, the perp gets only one-third of your loot. If they make off with the pile that includes your passport, you have copies to take to the Embassy.

3. Don't Leave Home Without - Making Copies of - It

Before leaving home, make two copies of both sides of each credit card. Credit cards have the “Lost or Stolen” phone number right on them, so if any card is stolen, you can access that information along with credit card numbers from your copies. I kept the copies hidden in separate bags on my trip to Kerala, India.

4. Single Travelers Share Experiences on Escorted Tours

Lisa Cappabianca, of Cappabianca Travel in Erie, PA, recommended escorted tours for single travelers going overseas. “You get to share your experiences with other people. …cruises are a good fit for singles because they are safe and activities are planned.” I loved my experience with Hedonistic Hiking Gourmet Hiking Holidays. I traveled solo to Nice, France, but met up with a group of Aussies that soon became fast friends while we hiked over the Alps into Italy. Read more about that adventure here.

5. Luggage Tag Saavy

When on tours or cruises where your address changes daily, put your itinerary in your luggage tags. That way, if luggage is lost, the airline can deliver it to the appropriate address. I learned this one when my luggage followed me around the Mediterranean during a 12-day cruise. Without the itinerary, my bags didn’t catch up with me until day seven.

So girls, get started today by filling out that passport application and making your bucket list.

Reprinted from Her Times magazine, Erie, PA.

Stacey “Vagabonding Lulu” Wittig is an Arizona travel writer who loves solo globetrotting and boomer travel. Read more about her adventures here or at Facebook www.facebook.com/stacey.wittig

Disclaimer: Vagabonding Lulu was a guest of Hedonistic Hiking gourmet hiking holidays, yet all opinions are her own.