Even if you are not a writer, keeping a travel journal is a great way to bring insight and understanding of the world as you journey through it. During any trip, you have so many incredible experiences that they may blur together. By keeping a journal, it will be much easier to recall all those unique individual memories later. Travel Consultants Julie Skrainka and Carrie Fry frequently keep travel journals and we asked them for their best tips.
When and why did you start keeping a journal?
Julie: I started writing in a travel journal on my first international trip in 1990. My husband, Alan, and I went to Ireland (with a group) and England (on our own) for almost two weeks and I knew I would never be able to remember everything we did and all of the fun people we traveled with without writing it down!
Carrie: I started doing journals after my first ‘real’ international trip. My previous domestic travels and a Caribbean cruise were more like, “yeah, vacation!” but my first international trip was to Ireland and Rome. That’s when I had my the world is huge, and complicated, and fantastic moment. And I purchased a blank journal at Dublin’s airport before my flight home.
What are the benefits of keeping a travel journal?
Julie: Writing everything down helps me reflect on the amazing experiences we have had. Each day that we are on a trip usually goes by so fast that stopping every other day or so to write in my journal helps me remember the adventures much more clearly. Now, having nearly 30 years of journals to look back on is invaluable to me!
Carrie: One reason I really like keeping a journal is for the little moments that happen on a trip that seem to get overshadowed by the trip itself. In Kyoto, we were walking past a group of school kids (maybe 8-10 years old), and they were staring at us. My husband was completely oblivious, but I made eye-contact with one of the kids and she got a huge smile on her face and said “hello”, I smiled back, waived, and told her “hi”. Then the group of kids covered their mouths, giggled, and ran away. I’d like to think these kids probably wanted to practice their English and it was a cute fleeting instant where I felt like I got to connect a little with the locals.
Do you write during your trip or afterwards? Do you keep notes in a book, computer, or an app?
Julie: 99% of the time, I write during our trip. For some of the shorter, 3 or 4 day trips, I will sometimes wait until the flight home to “catch up”. Every time I see a pretty journal, I start writing in it. Then I would pick grab an old journal for the next trip and write in there.
Carrie: I really try to write something any time I get home from a trip. I do really think it’s important, because even after my husband read what I wrote about Japan, he told me that he had already forgot about some of the trip-and we’re not that old to have our memories slip like that.
Do you use any techniques to organize your notes ?
Julie: My journals are far from organized! I am trying to make time to transfer all of my journals to the computer to make something sensible out of them. For the last couple of trips, I have actually been writing on my iPad.
Carrie: Typically, I just get on the computer and do it when I get home, but hand writing notes along the way helps a lot. Before I start, I will also compile both the pictures from each of our phones and get the itinerary out. That way I know where we were at and when and have the pictures handy to jog my memory.
What is your best tip for keep a travel journal?
Julie: For shorter, weekend trips, I have stopped keeping track of those. But for longer, more adventurous trips, I always write about those. Hopefully, my future grandchildren will enjoy hearing about all of the amazing places we have been! You now have me thinking…we just spent a fun two weeks in California seeing our kids, visiting extended family, playing a little golf, doing a little sightseeing that I didn’t even think to write about. I think I’ll get out that journal now!
Carrie: My best tip is to write during the trip. This doesn’t mean sitting down at your hotel with your laptop. The best way I journal is to buy a postcard or two before dinner, and as your having your aperitif, jot down your thoughts on that day. Postcards are super easy to find and really inexpensive. At the end of your trip, you now have a easily packable stack of postcards that you can use to compose your journal, or just keep it as is. Personally, these postcards aren’t so much about what you saw, but how it made you feel.
Do you have a travel journal from a recent trip that you took through Brentwood Travel? We want to hear from you! We love to share the insights, stories, and images of our travelers and will add this to our Blog page. It's a great way to inspire others to get out and write about their adventures. Contact Allison or Missi from our Marketing Team to learn more!
Japan has been on “the list” for years. We wanted to experience a society that feels mysterious, and the juxtaposing of modern and ancient drew us in. When we decided to do a big trip, Japan was it. We would finally get to see this amazing country first hand.
Now what to do with 8 days in a country that offers a tourist so much to experience? From Sapporo in the north down to Yonaguni in the south, each city, each island, each prefecture, has its own personality and attractions. Eight days didn’t feel like enough, but we wanted to see as much as we could while setting our own schedule. Narrowing down what to do was difficult, but for our first (because there will be a next time!) trip to Japan, we focused on Tokyo, Hakone, and Kyoto.
We landed in Tokyo in the early evening, our driver-in full suit and white gloves (we would soon find this was standard for taxi and transfers) was waiting for us with our name on a sign board. The journey to the hotel was about an hour and a half, we flew into Narita Airport, which is further from the city than Haneda, but our flight
options were better into Narita. When we arrived at the Hilton Tokyo, in Shinjuku we decided to take a nap then go to dinner. We didn’t wake up until the next day.
We woke up obnoxiously early the next day and went to visit the Tsukiji Fish Market (it opens at 5AM and you should go before 9AM to see the bustling of the market). It was overwhelming how perfectly the chaos was organized. There were people on carts taking the morning catches to the vendors, locals doing their shopping, and wares and fish I didn’t recognize. We wandered and watched and then had sushi for breakfast, although we passed on having a beer with our breakfast like many of locals were doing.
From the Fish Market, we hopped on the subway and ambled down Takeshita Street. This street is full of Japan’s latest fashions. Young adults and tourists were popping in and out of the many clothing shops and themed cafes. The street is famous for their crepes-we had to stop and have one.
Just a few blocks from Takeshita is the Meji Shrine. As the path to the shrine rambled on, we stopped in our tracks upon seeing the first tori gate welcoming us, and it hit us-we were in Japan. Hours ago, we meandered through a district that is a pop-culture bellwether and crossed the street to a shrine that was built in 1920. At the Shrine, we sauntered through the grounds and the gardens. The gardens were so tranquil, we had no inkling we were in the middle of a metropolis larger than New York City.
From the Shrine, we ventured to one of Tokyo’s most photographed areas- Shibuya Crossing. Even though we were there before evening rush hour, it was packed. We observed this perfectly orchestrated bedlam before doing a few crossings ourselves. There is a Starbucks that overlooks the crossing for an elevated view.
Our last day in Tokyo, we started our sightseeing at Hamarikyo Garden. This is well planned garden, where the flower species are staggered so there are blooms all year long. The garden is full of lakes and teahouses and even a duck-hunting blinds built in the late 1700s. After admiring the gardens and having a bit of serenity before getting back into the city, we boarding a boat to take us north to Asakusa. The hour-long boat ride was a great way to see Tokyo from a different perspective. You could see how the neighborhoods changed from sky-rise buildings to smaller homes. We even got to see where the ships dock at the fish market.
A few blocks from the dock is the Sensoji Temple. The complex is huge, with building and shopping everywhere you turn. Walking into the main hall feels otherworldly and the five storied pagoda looms over you. After taking in all we could at the Temple, we took a short subway ride to Skytree. Although very touristy, I’m glad we fit this into our itinerary. Skytree is hard to miss, it’s 2,080 feet high and you can go to the top observation deck, overlooking Tokyo at 1,480 feet. On a clear day, you can see Mt Fuji. This could be an all-day experience, there is tons of shopping from chopsticks to Pokémon and the views are absolutely stunning. It’s hard to imagine how massive Tokyo really is until you’re at the top seeing nothing but urban landscape.
Hakone is a onsen (hot spring) town about an hour and a half from Tokyo for locals and tourists alike. It feels very rural compared to Tokyo and while it would take three days to see everything, but we only had one. On our way to Hakone, we stopped at Odawara Castle. This was one of my favorite stops in Japan. It’s beautiful and the town feels sleepy. The museum at the Castle was full of ancient armor and relics. After touring the castle, we walked back to the train station and after a short ride, we were in Hakone.
Trains and gondolas are the way to get around in Hakone. At each stop, there’s a little village with shopping, restaurants, and hotels. We only had time to explore one and we chose the Owakudani Station. What’s interesting about this stop, is that you go over a volcanic area with sulfur vents. The smell is overwhelming and the landscape is eerie. There is hiking you can do in the area and even eat a hard-boiled egg that cooked in the steam of the vents that turn the egg shells black. After exploring, we got back on the gondola and took it to our ryokan.
A ryokan is a traditional Japanese inn dating back to the 8th century. There are all kinds you can book, but this was our splurge. Upon arrival, we left our shoes at the door as the floors were covered in tatami mats. We were seated in the bar and given a welcome drink as were checked in. When we arrived to our room, our hostess showed us how to dress in the provided yukata (bathing clothes). Then we were left to relax in our private onsen on the balcony of our room overlooking the mountains until dinner. This was a welcomed treat as were averaging 12 miles a day on foot. We would soak until we were too hot, cool down with a beer, then get back into the onsen until dinner time. If you would like to experience a public onsen there are a lot of etiquette rules that I’d be ecstatic to share.
Dinner was served in our room, and each of the 9 courses were better than the last-even if we didn’t recognize what we were eating. After dinner and another soak, we slept on traditional futons. The next morning, we were served a traditional Japanese breakfast in our room, then said goodbye to Hakone and the wonderful ryokan. Our stay marked one of the best cultural experiences we’ve had to date. We were off to Kyoto by bullet train. We spent the evening in Kyoto and had the best tonkotsu I’ve ever tried.
It was an early morning as met our driver at our hotel to take us to Miyajima Island Hiroshima. We arrived via bullet train to Hiroshima, then ferried to Miyajima Island where the Tori Gate in the water welcomed us. This is another place I wish we had all day to explore, as the water receded, you could walk right up to the gate. The town had so many specialties restaurants-we had oysters-and there was so much more to explore and so many deer to pet.
After our time on the Island, we went to the A-Bomb Dome and began our tour of the Hiroshima Peace Memorial. The A-Bomb Dome is sobering. As our guide let us take in the magnitude of which were seeing, she led us to the Children's Peace Monument, then the Museum. This day was certainly thought provoking and was wholeheartedly different then the wide-eyed days had already spent in Japan, I am fortunate we were able to absorb part of the history.
The next day, back in Kyoto, we took the train to Fushimi Inari. Stone foxes dominated the shrine, and everywhere you looked, there were orange tori gates-one after another- leading you to another part of the shrine. As we climbed up the mountain, there were offshoots of smaller shrines. The tori gates and shrines went all the way up the mountain. That evening, we were picked up from the hotel and taken to a restaurant across the city in the mountain foothills. The opened-air restaurant was situated next to the river, and after we were served another multi course meal, met two Maikos and watched them preform.
On our last full day, we ventured to Ryōan-ji Temple, dating back to 1450. We were there early-before the other tourists and school children, and it was so serine. You can wander the temple grounds, which takes you to a perfectly manicured rock garden. There are 15 rocks in this garden, and only 14 are viewable at any angle.
From Ryōan-ji Temple, we taxied to Arashiyama, which is just west of Kyoto. Arashiyama is an outdoor district where bicycling is popular. We began this part of our journey walking the paths of the bamboo forest and popping into the local shops that line the entrance and exists. From there, we found an amazing, small sushi restaurant for lunch. When my husband ordered the fatty tuna, the chef held the fish us for us to admire before slicing it. This was the best sushi we have ever tried and it took us months to have sushi after we came home-we were ruined.
It’s a good thing we had a solid lunch, because we then ventured to Monkey Park. You literally have to climb a mountain to get there. But when we made it to the summit, over 100 Japanese macaques were there to greet us. You can feed them from a building in the middle of the park but keep your distance when wondering the grounds! This is their home and they take no issue with running in front of you. Between being fascinated by the monkeys and the stunning views of Kyoto from the top of the mountain, the hike was worth it. We relaxed by the Togetsu-kyō Bridge taking in the gorgeous scenery until we made our way back to the hotel.
That evening, we wanted Kobe beef for dinner, and wanted to do it right. The hotel made us reservations (and delivered a package to our room with our reservation time, the address of the restaurant, and the best way to get there) at one of the best Kobe restaurants in Kyoto. The restaurant itself was very small-only seating about 15 guests. As the chef prepared our meal at the teppanyaki grill in front of us, he joked that he doesn’t catch eggs in his hat like the chefs in America.
The next morning was our last, and since our transfer wasn’t until the afternoon, we had time to explore Nijō Castle. We saw the shogun’s receiving rooms and gardens, then climbed the defense towers to get one last look at Kyoto before our flight home.
Our visit to Japan was one of our best trips yet. The culture, the people, the food, has left us wanting more. This didn’t feel like a vacation, it felt like we were transported to another world. We were able to come into contact with the ancient and modern of this country-happening all within the same day. Japan-we will see you again!
Carrie has many more stories to share of her journey to Japan! Contact her to learn more and begin planning your next bucket-list trip:
Send Carrie an email
This past October, Ensemble Travel Group and Carnival Cruise Line announced a new multi-year preferred supplier partnership. Ensemble Travel Group is a member-owned and member-run organization of approximately 850 top-tier, independent travel agencies including Brentwood Travel.
Carnival joins its North American sister brands Princess Cruises, Holland America Line, Cunard and Seabourn as part of the World’s Leading Cruise Lines preferred supplier team with Ensemble Travel Group.
Missi Wilson, Marketing Associate, believes that a Carnival cruise is a perfect introduction to the world of cruising. ‘I had never cruised before or had even been out of the country until I sailed with Carnival when I was 18. They showed me just how fun cruising can be because it's such a unique form of travel. You're vacationing on the ship while you're going to your vacation spot. I'm definitely addicted to cruising after sailing with them"
Travel Consultant Maggie Groene absolutely agrees! When she was a young traveler, Maggie enjoyed three Carnival cruises with her family. "We chose Carnival because they have New Orleans as a cruise port. We have family in New Orleans, so before each cruise we would drive down and visit them. Each cruise we did an excursion in Cozumel, which is a great place for snorkeling. Because I was super young, the things that stood out to me were the towel animals in the room and the 24hr free ice cream machine."
Contact Maggie at 314-439-5700 ext. 120 or send her an email to book your next family cruise.
Benefits of Using an Ensemble-Member Travel Agent:
Imagine if you had the opportunity to speak with a globetrotter whose profession is wanderlust? Well, you can! Booking with an Ensemble-member Travel Agents can make your experience come to life with more travel experiences, promotions, and preferred suppliers.
Working with an Ensemble-member travel agent means access to a large selection of travel experiences catered to your unique style and preferences.
When you work in the travel industry your resolution list doesn't always include just diet and exercise; instead, it's where to travel next! Some of our staff members shared where they hope to travel in 2018 that they had not visited before. We wish everyone a happy 2018 and we hope you complete your travel resolutions, too!
Allison Harper - Walt Disney World
Ashley Curry - Road trip to another state with a stop in Walt Disney's hometown, Marceline, MO
Cathy Robinson - Singapore and Italy
Cheryl Hegger - Adriatic and Baltic
Emily Medina - Galapagos Central Islands & Inca Discovery tour to see Machu Picchu
Jennifer Wilmes - Alaskan tour
Joanie Ramey - Napa, CA by way of Sacramento, CA; Phoenix, AZ; Destin, FL; Ocho Rios, Jamaica
Maggie Groene - Alaska and Punta Cana
Mickey Gaona - Portugal
Missi Wilson - Anywhere on a cruise
Stacey Hoehne - Hawaii
Susan Hakenjos - Meditation and wellness trip in India
To book your 2018 resolution trip contact one of our excellent specialists at 314-439-5700, or visit our Contact Us page.
This past October, my boyfriend Scott and I went on a trip to Negril, Jamaica to experience the pure luxury of Couples Swept Away. This is my second trip to this magical island and my boyfriend’s 14th time and we were spoiled and pampered at this all-inclusive resort perfectly located on Seven Mile Beach.
Traveling with Apple Vacations to Jamaica made our journey easy and relaxing. We were able to take a non-stop chartered flight from St. Louis to Montego Bay with XTRA airways. The flight was 3.5 hours and we landed around 12:30pm, right on time to make the most of our first day in Jamaica.
We decided to use Club Mobay which is a fast-track service and is something we highly recommend. Our meet and greet representative, Wayne, met us right at the entrance to the airport with a warm smile and our names easily visible on a large sign. He then guided us through the lines of people waiting through immigration, customs, and the baggage claim and straight to a private lounge where we waited for our van.
The lounge also had a kid friendly area for families complete with toys and electronics which I know I would I would have used if we had our kiddos along for the trip. We had enough time to enjoy a cool drink and some yummy snacks when we were told our van was ready to take us straight to our resort.
The ride to Negril only took about 45 minutes and we listened to reggea music and watched the beauty of the island unfold before our eyes. Once we arrived at Couples Swept Away, I knew right away it was a place designed to please the eye and soul. The colors of the lobby were soft and serene and the sound of palm trees blowing in the breeze was hypnotic.
We were invited into an open air room with comfy chairs and given glasses of champaign which made us feel very VIP. A representative of the resort gave us an overview of the property including the location of their six restaurants and how the resort worked on a cashless system. In other words, we were encouraged to lock up our wallets in the safe provided in our room as they would not be needed during our stay.
We were then given the key to our garden verandah room and took one of many lush paths to discover our new home for the next week.
Our room was very tranquil and featured high ceilings, ceiling fans, and a large covered porch that had an amazing jungle view. It was just a quick one minute walk to the beach were we were always greeted with the turquois water of the Caribbean. There were plenty of beach chairs available as well as large rafts that could be brought straight out to the water to float on the waves. As much as Scott loves being on the beach, the sun is not always very kind back to him and he was relieved to find several shady areas with straw-covered umbrellas.
The food at Couples Swept Away was a major highlight during our stay. We loved the options at the full buffet for breakfast which included omelet stations as well as traditional Jamaican dishes such as fried plantains. A real treat was Seagrapes Cafe which served vegetarian options and was located beach side. The sweet potato chips were addictive and we also discovered delicious coco bread which is stuffed with cheese and peppers and served with a ginger chutney sauce.
For dinner, we tried two of the specialty restaurants: Lemongrass and Patois Patio which served delicious Meditterrian entrees. Lemongrass was our favorite and required a reservation which was easy to schedule with a quick visit to the front desk. The food was ala cart and Thai inspired and the flavors and portions were all spot on. The view was just as equally incredibly as it looked over the pool and was lit with lanterns and tiki torches.
Even though we never left the resort, there were plenty of activities for us to try. Excursion schedules are posted daily and you just need to sign-up one ahead to take part. Scuba diving has been on my travel to do list and the resort offered a FREE class to get a taste. We started out getting suited up and had a lesson of essential skills in their pool. Once we completed that and felt comfortable, we were led to a shallow area near the beach where we saw starfish. It was a huge thrill!
We also enjoyed a glass bottom boat ride out to the reef. Our guide was very entertaining and informative on the types of sea life we were able to see including all types of coral, sting rays, and even a sea turtle which can be rare to view. During the day there was a menu of classes offered throughout the resort including basket weaving, wood carving, jewelry making, and morning yoga.
We also enjoyed the martini bar which always had a fun crowd watching the bartenders make a variety of mixed drinks. The martini bar also had a perfect view of the dance floor where different entertainment groups including reggae bands, dancers, and steel drummers would perform nightly.
One evening, we enjoyed a bonfire on the beach which included wine tasting and live guitar music. It was a perfect and romantic way to end a day in paradise.
I would highly recommend Couples Swept Away as a place for couples to unwind and reconnect. The people were incredible friendly and we enjoyed making instant friendships with other guests and the staff at the resort. No matter where you were, you could hear singing and laughter and I felt like it was a place where I belonged and wanted to stay for a long time.
Call one of our expert travel consultants at 314-439-5700 and be swept away to Jamaica with Apple Vacations.
My husband, Alan, and I had traveled to Northern and Western Europe, but have always had Eastern Europe on our bucket list. I know that my heritage is rooted in Germany, while his family tree extends to Czechoslovakia and Hungary from as early as the 16th century. Last August, we took a river cruise in the Bordeaux region of France and met a wonderful group of seasoned travelers, who all told us that the Danube River cruise was one of their favorite trips. I was excited to begin planning our next adventure and knew Avalon Waterways had what we were looking for.
August 19-20, 2017
On Saturday, we boarded a Lufthansa flight to Munich and had a short layover before reaching Budapest on Sunday, where our cruise would be departing from on Tuesday. Upon our arrival, we were greeted outside the baggage claim by an Avalon Waterways representative, who guided us to the shuttle that would be taking us to our hotel. Little did we know, we were arriving on the most celebrated holiday in Hungary, St. Stephen’s Day (similar to our 4th of July)! Traffic was a little crazy but eventually we arrived.
We stayed at the Sofitel Chain Bridge, which was located on the Pest side of Budapest, right on the Danube River. We had a gorgeous view from the room and would absolutely stay there again if we find ourselves in Budapest.
After a quick meeting with our Avalon tour director, Roos (pronounced “Rose”), we walked just a few blocks from our hotel and found a pedestrian area that was filled with restaurants and outdoor seating. We watched a wonderful parade that ended at St. Stephen’s Basilica. We decided to grab a seat for dinner before the crowd dispersed and made our way to the restaurant Aszu, which had a great selection of traditional Hungarian fare and a few more familiar dishes. Both of us ordered the Paprika Chicken and it was delicious.
After dinner, we strolled down the street that followed the river and watched a spectacular fireworks show over the Chain Bridge in celebration of St. Stephen’s Day.
August 21, 2017
Monday morning began with a guided City Tour that touched on Heroes Square and the Dohany Street Synagogue on the Pest side then Buda Castle and Matthias Church on the Buda side. In the afternoon, we went on a culinary tour with 6 other couples. We walked for a total of about three hours, and stopped at a traditional butcher, a wine and cheese shop, and an ice cream parlor.
After the tour we split off from the group and walked across the Chain Bridge back to the “Buda” side to do some more exploring. We walked around the Buda Castle before finding dinner. I was excited to try the traditional Hungarian Goulash (beef stew), which lived up to my expectations. It was a beautiful evening with the “Pest” side of Budapest as the backdrop. It was certainly a photo opportunity!
August 22-23, 2017
Before leaving Budapest later in the afternoon, we took some time to visit the House of Terror. One of the saddest museums and memorials I have ever seen. It is full of exhibits related to the fascist and communist regimes of 20th century Hungary. Certainly something to make you think. What seems so foreign to us is still so fresh in the minds of the people of Hungary.
We met up with 10 other couples for a tour of the countryside that included stops and wine tastings at two different vineyards as well as a gourmet lunch prepared by the owner of the second vineyard. Everything was delicious and everyone in the group was becoming fast friends.
Our home for the next seven days was the Avalon Visionary, a small ship carrying 115 guests on board. Avalon is the only cruise line with beds facing a wall of windows, so we were eager to take advantage of the scenic experience. We sailed all night and through the next day. We took advantage of the outstanding weather and had lunch on the top deck of the ship, while watching the small towns of Hungary and Slovakia pass by. We have already met so many nice people from every corner of the world: Australia, Belize, Canada, Chicago, England, New York, New Zealand, and Texas.
Our day aboard the ship consisted of eating, napping, and learning to waltz! We enjoyed an early dinner before disembarking in Vienna. We went into town for a concert at what used to be the beautiful palace/home of a prominent local family…a perfect evening.
August 24, 2017
The day began with a guided City Tour of Vienna. We drove along the Ring Road, the road that surrounds the Old Town and is built where medieval city fortifications once stood. It has been designated by UNESCO as part of Vienna’s World Heritage Site. The road is lined with some of the most beautiful buildings I think I have ever seen. Among them are the Vienna State Opera, Academy of Fine Arts, Palace of Justice, Parliament, University of Vienna, Vienna Stock Exchange, just to name a few. I wish we had more time to explore here…we will just have to come back!
We took a short walking tour through a quiet part of Old Town and were given about an hour to explore on our own. Not nearly enough time to see it all. The afternoon consisted of a tour of Schonbrunn Palace, the former imperial summer residence, as well as a great history lesson on the life of Queen Maria-Teresa, who ruled Austria for over 40 years and gave birth to 16 children (one of them was Marie Antoinette).
Our ship was docked in port until 10:45 pm so we went into town for dinner. Our tour guide recommended Griechensbeisl (please don’t ask me to pronounce it). We each ordered the filet mignon and a nice glass of Zweigelt. Afterwards we agreed we should probably try to walk off some of that dinner so we made our way back to the ship on foot. After about 30 minutes I realized we must have made a wrong turn…thank goodness for Uber!
Avalon brought a musical duo from Slovakia on board to entertain us tonight. They were fantastic! One is the conductor and the other is the principal violinist for the symphony orchestra in Bratislava. Everyone thoroughly enjoyed the performance.
August 25, 2017
Today we woke up in Durnstein. A tiny little town in the Wachau Valley where King Richard I the Lionheart was once held prisoner. One of the gentlemen in our group from England has traced his family tree all the way back to the 12th century and discovered that he is a direct descendent of King Henry II and King Richard I the Lionheart so he was quite excited to see Durnstein.
At 11:00 we set sail for Melk. We found a couple of lounge chairs on the top deck and enjoyed the scenery for the next couple of hours as Roos talked about each of the sites and villages we passed along the way. We docked in Melk at 2:00. We then went on a guided tour of the Melk Abbey. This is another UNESCO World Heritage Site and is a must see. It is a working Benedictine abbey. It contains a private secondary school for 900 children. Next to the Sagrada Famila in Barcelona, the church at the Melk Abbey is one of the most beautiful that I have ever seen.
August 26, 2017
We woke up in a tiny town called Aschach. The only reason for stopping here was to let off the passengers going on optional excursions to Salzburg or Cesky Krumlov. The “Sound of Music” is one of my favorite movies of all time so I lightly twisted Alan’s arm to visit Salzburg and see some of the spots where the movie was filmed. The first stop was in a gorgeous town called Mondsee. There is a lake at the base of the mountains where people were paddle boarding and sailing.
It is a popular holiday spot for locals.
In Mondsee is the famous St. Michael’s church where the wedding scene in the movie was filmed. We then drove to Salzburg. Our guide gave us a short orientation tour and then turned us loose. We took the funicular up to the fortress for an incredible view of the city. Coming back down, we wandered the streets in search of lunch and our souvenir Christmas ornaments before having to return to the bus.
August 27, 2017
Today we woke up in Regensburg, Germany. It is the fourth largest city in Bavaria. Besides the fact that it is the oldest city on the Danube, the three highlights were:
Before dinner, Avalon brought two local ladies on board for a tasting of the local beers. They did a great job but it was a little hard to take them seriously given their cute local costumes and pigtails. The beer was delicious and they made it really fun.
August 28, 2017
Today we are sailing along the part of the Main-Danube canal that has 16 locks in a 106 mile stretch of the waterway. A local university professor came on board to explain to us the whole canal/lock engineering masterpiece. Because of the lock system, we were actually 1000 feet above sea level at our highest point, before we started to gradually descend. He was super interesting.
We arrived in Nuremberg in the afternoon and opted for the City Tour. It is the second largest city in Bavaria and dates back to the 11th century, is notorious as the birth place of the Nazi Party and was the location of many Nazi propaganda rallies. In 1945-1946, after WWII ended, German officials accused of war crimes were brought to trial here in the Nuremberg Trials.
After that, we stopped for a tour of Nuremberg Castle and Old Town. It is storybook pretty. They hold a huge Christmas market here every year that draws over two million visitors!
August 29, 2017
We arrived by bus at the Prague Marriott at noon. The hotel is in a fabulous location…a 5 minute walk to Republic Square where you will find a farmers market, subway stop, shops and restaurants.
At 2:00 we met up with a few others for a guided “Secrets of Prague” tour. Our tour guide was Helena and she was wonderful. She has been giving tours for forty years and has seen much in her lifetime. After a short bus ride, we walked to the Charles Bridge. This city is simply gorgeous. Both sides of the river are full of beautiful architecture and history. She really covered a lot of ground with us so we were comfortable exploring on our own later.
We had dinner at a restaurant on the river. The food was okay but the view was spectacular! The highlight of the evening was walking along the Charles Bridge at night while it was full of pedestrians, musicians and artists.
August 30, 2017
Back on the bus at 8:15 for the Prague City Tour. We saw the castle and the church. We saw the Lennon Wall (a tribute to John Lennon). We went back to Old Town to see the Astronomical Clock.
This afternoon we signed up for the optional tour of Terezin. Helena was our tour guide again today. Terezin is a former military fortress an hour or so outside of Prague. During WWII over 32,000 prisoners (5,000 of them women) passed through here. Many were tortured, executed or sent to concentration camps. A distant relative of Alan’s, Anna Skrainka, was here for 18 months 1944-1945. When the prison was liberated by the allies, Anna walked 700 miles from Terezin to Hamburg. Her granddaughter, Angie Littlefield, has researched the story and is writing a book, Walking With Oma. Helena did such an amazing job of describing the conditions that it just left us with a haunting feeling and overwhelming sadness for those who were held there.
Later in the evening, at the recommendation of our tour director, Heinrich, we had an amazing dinner at a little Italian restaurant about 5 blocks from our hotel. We wandered aimlessly around the busy streets of Old Town until our feet just couldn’t take any more.
August 31, 2017
Today was the first day we could sleep in. Heaven. We grabbed sausages and beer for lunch from a vendor at the farmer’s market before boarding the bus for our last excursion. Helena was our guide once again. She really is wonderful. We drove for about 45 minutes to Melnik to see the castle and do a wine tasting. The village is very pretty and quaint. The castle has been in the Lobkowiczs family for hundreds of years (except for a brief period when it was confiscated by the communist party). The wine was very good and it was the perfect way to end our vacation.
I thought Avalon did a wonderful job. We really liked the hotels in Budapest and Prague. The ship was wonderful. The staff on the ship and the tour guides on the ground were very good. I would encourage anyone thinking about a river cruise to go on this adventure!
Email Julie or give her a call at 314-580-4554
to begin planning your Avalon Waterways cruise and discover the best of Eastern Europe.
One of the most magnificent destinations in the world is Alaska. The ice-capped mountains, crystal-clear waters, scenic forests and those oh-so-adorable sled dogs - it's a spot that should be on everyone's "bucket list". Many of our staff members have conquered its vast terrains and they invite you to attend "On Stage Alaska" presented by Holland America Line and Brentwood Travel on Wednesday, September 27th at 7:00 PM. This once a year performance will feature our staff members, Alaskan locals, and Holland America Line representatives to show you why your next trip should be Alaska. Read our staff's testimonials below to get a sneak-peek of what you'll learn at "On Stage Alaska".
Seating at Creve Coeur Community Center is free but limited! To reserve your spot, email us or call 314-439-5700 ext. 110. To find out more about "On Stage Alaska" click here.
Our first step was finding the right company to do this with. There are only 500 trail permits admitted each day for the trail so you need a licensed guide for the trek. G Adventures was the right choice for us because we wanted a small group tour that was reputable and fit our needs. After about 50 trips to REI, I had all of the right gear to hike but I still needed the support of a great company to get me there.
I was more than impressed with how amazing the porters, cooks, and guides were along the trek. I still am not sure how the 5 ft tall porters could break down camp, pack up our tents, carry their body weight on their back, run past me on the trail, and have the next camp set up all before I arrived after carrying about 5 lbs on my back! The cooks prepared some delicious meals and even a cake for a Honeymoon couple on our trip!
Hiking the Inca Trail was truly an incredible experience for me. I know that this is not everyone's style of traveling so G Adventures also offers trips in more of a comfort level such as trips for younger travelers only, itineraries paired with National Geographic, family options and even Marine cruises.
What I enjoyed most about traveling with G Adventures was the small group experience and the special local touches. We visited the Ccaccaccollo Community and Women's Weaving Co-op where we saw the traditional ways of clothing making. We also had a beyond delicious lunch at the Parwa Community Restaurant in the Sacred Valley. These places were unexpected highlights made possible by G Adventures!
Part 2: Emily's G Adventure to Costa Rica
Since I was 7 years old the one place I've wanted to see more than anywhere in the world is Paris, France. After 20 years of waiting, my wish finally came true and my husband and I traveled to Paris with Monograms, which is part of the Globus Family of Brands. It was hands down the most incredible week of my life and it lived up to everything I'd ever dreamed it would be and more.
My husband and I consider ourselves more of independent travelers - we like to do what we want, when we want. Monograms gave us the freedom to be the travelers we are while making the trip easier than we could've imagined.
When we arrived at Charles De Gaulle Airport it was madness. There were so many people everywhere and if it wasn't for the included airport transfer with Monograms we would've been completely lost. A Monograms rep was waiting for us with a "Welcome" sign and they took us straight to our hotel. During the car ride our driver was friendly and provided incredible advice about Paris and what we should do on our trip.
Once we pulled up to our centrally located hotel, Mercure Paris Montmartre Sacre Coeur, the Monograms Local Host, Julie, greeted us outside and escorted us into the lobby. Julie presented all the information we needed for our exciting week ahead and explained how to use the metro system for the easiest way to get around. Without her assistance we wouldn't have had such ease navigating the city.
Tuesday, August 15, 2017
On our first full day at our leisure we decided to go to the Palace of Versailles. This is an absolute MUST when visiting Paris. This excursion actually turned into one of our favorite days of the whole trip. We purchased skip the line tickets in advance and I'm so glad we did. The wait was over 4 hours long for those who didn't! Our visit was a guided tour filled with the most incredible details you could imagine. The amount of knowledge the guides have is unreal and we learned so much during our tour.
The Palace is filled with gold, marble, elaborate fabrics, statues, paintings, crystals and everything in between. We couldn't stop taking pictures of every detail we saw - it was all so glamorous and ornate!
Wednesday, August 16, 2017
My husband and I are huge Disney fans so we naturally had to spend a day at Disneyland Paris! There are two parks - Magic Kingdom and Walt Disney Studios. We only had enough time for Magic Kingdom but if you're able to stay more than one day I highly recommend going to both.
Disneyland Paris is celebrating their 25th Anniversary this year so the whole park was decorated in blue. For those who have been to a Disney park before you'll hardly notice that many differences, they did a great job keeping everything consistent with the American parks. However, this is still in France so it was pretty fun to hear the French language worked in to some of the rides and songs!
Thursday, August 17, 2017
On this day we went to Giverny to visit the home of Claude Monet. This was one of the more important days on our trip due to the significance of Monet in my life. In first grade we did a year-long class project over France, where we studied French culture and art. I fell in love with Claude Monet and each student wrote a book about his life. After all these years I kept my book and I took it with me to his home.
The gardens and his home were absolutely stunning. As we walked around I couldn't believe how large the garden was and just how many plants and flowers were on Monet's property. We only had two hours in Giverny but we could've spent an entire day there exploring. I would go back in a heartbeat.
After the tour of the Palace we ran into "Bag O' Nails Pub" for a quick pint and fish and chips (when in Rome, right?) to energize and we then headed to Big Ben. We were very lucky to be some of the last people hear the tower ring as it's now silent for the next four years for refurbishment. After a quick visit we did some shopping for souvenirs on Oxford Street and then left for King's Cross Station. My husband and I also love Harry Potter so it was important to us to see where Harry and the gang entered the Wizarding World.
My week trip to Paris and London was the best week of my life and I wish I could've had time for more. Now that I've had a taste of Europe I can't wait to go back and see it all! I highly recommend this trip to everyone and traveling with Monograms is the way to do it.
Call one of our expert Travel Consultants to book your package with Monograms at 314-439-5700!
We loved our week in Cabo with daughter Tammy and son-in-law Kent. We stayed at the beautiful Secrets Puerto Los Cabos in a swim out room. Everything was perfect including the accommodations, service, food, weather and traveling companions. Cabo is like Palm Springs with an ocean. And the non-stop charter with Apple Vacations was a huge bonus.
My husband (who does not swim) loved having the private pool area. Only 6-7 rooms share each swim out pool. We were in preferred club and the service by Ada and her team was amazing. Our room and bathroom were spacious and well appointed.
Each night we ate in a different restaurant. They were all wonderful in their own way, but our favorite was Himatsu, the Japanese restaurant and Miguel, our waiter, was amazing. Food here was superior and we loved the Marketplace. The breakfast and lunch buffets were fresh, tasty and offered great service from the wait staff.
If you like golf, swimming, yoga, a quiet pool or a busy fun pool, this property has so much to offer. This is the place where you can golf, fish, snorkel, workout, bike, shop or do absolutely nothing.
You can also participate in so many activities off the property. One night the hotel arranged for those who wanted a shuttle into the town of San Jose del Cabo. There was a nominal charge per person for the transportation. It was a just nice excursion to do.
I have traveled the world and stayed in many hotels of all types and styles. I highly recommend this lovely property for adults only. It was a relaxing escape.
Brentwood Travel Vacation Experts
In the 60 years since Brentwood Travel was founded in 1957, we've grown into the largest, full-service travel agency in the Greater St. Louis area. No matter what your travel needs may be, our consultants will be able to assist you.