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Saturday, September 23, 2017

Coasting Thru Croatia

This September Corinne and Natascha of VM Travel Adventures introduced 7 of our travel friends to the dazzling coastline of Croatia!  We started in the waterways of Venice and after a 3 hour hydrofoil ride over the Adriatic found ourselves in Rovinj, Croatia. A gourmet meal of mussels, shrimp and even lobster was enjoyed on the rocks of the Puntulina Restaurant.

 The theme of the tour was water and we were never far away from this majestic coastline of the Adriatic Sea. Roman ruins were explored in Pula a short bus ride away. The Sea Organ in Zadar serenaded us early in the morning before we nestled into Sibenik further down the coast. An invigorating day was enjoyed in the KRKA National park - hiking, swimming and lunching with our feet in the waterfalls, copious amounts of wine from our grog mugs added to the merriment at the local tavern.


Our apartment accommodation in Sibenik gave us a chance to relax as if we were at home - laundry, grocery shopping and potluck dinners. The Medieval Day Festival to our enjoyment of this coastal town! From here we headed south to Split for another ferry ride to the Island of Hvar!!
This island known for its lavander and wine is a favourite destination for sailboats! Another magical day was spent in the countryside cooking in a small village with a young Croatian couple and consuming yet more wine at the Tomic winery! We all came away with bottles of Plavic Mali - red wine from the region.  A free day of shopping, swimming and exploring the fort and the islands off shore gave everyone a chance to do their own thing!

Dubrovnik was another 3 hour ferry ride away and we managed to avoid the cruise ship crowds by walking the wall at dusk and catching some shopping time - the handcrafted silver military buttons
were a hit! The Panorama Restaurant on top of the gondola station  treated us to a magical view of old Dubrovnik for our final dinner.
An early morning flight to Zagreb, the nation's capital took us inland to a delightful city of buildings from the Belle Epoque and lushious parks.  Natascha arranged an excursion into the countryside on a local bus to Samabor, home to lead crystal (another popular purchase) and a lunch of local delicacies including wild boar and fresh mushroom soup. Mario, our guide in Zagreb filled us in on the recent history which enabled us to understand Croatia's desire to enter the European Union and make its mark as a tourist destination. Clean, safe and stunningly beautiful are some of our impressions of this 18th most popular tourist destination.  In 2018 VM Travel is looking forward to sharing this delightful tour with more Canadians!

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Meet Van Gogh in Amsterdam!


In June, 12 artists from Prince Albert, Saskatchewan along with their art teacher, Christins Thoen learned about the fruitful yet tragic life of Vincent Van Gogh.  All, yes all of his paintings are in Holland, except for a few dotted in famous museums around the world. “Vincent” as he signed his works of art and prose only sold 1 painting in his short life of 37 years! The will of his sister in law was that all his paintings, many which came from the south of France we kept in Holland, his birth country. Thus, we managed to stand before many of his famous chef d’euvres in both the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam and the Kroller - Muller Museum in the Hogue Veluwe National Park. Tears came to her eyes when Christina stood before her favouite “Café la Nuit"

The week was full of information gathering from our best ever guide in the Riyksmuseum where we learned all about Golden Era of the Dutch Masters like Rembrandt. The “ Night Watch” came alive  under Roberto’s guidance.  Our sketching time captured Amsterdam’s bridges, bikes, canals, windmills and even a rendition of Vincent’s sunflowers. Of course there was time for shopping and dining in Amsterdam’s brown cafes - all international food but with an abundance of Indonesian restaurants. We tried the Rice Table!!! We enjoyed a beverage in the bars of the Red Light district and frequented many of the other museums like the Rembrandt Haus and My Lord in the Attic (a Catholic church in hiding for 200 years).  The Bridge Hotel on the Amstel was our home for this week. It was conveniently located next door to the CASA Theatre where, guess who, Jude Law was performing in “ Obsession”. Cool that some of us (not me!!) saw him out for his daily run in the morning!

Our weather did not cooperate all the time for us, but when we were outside sketching it did! Thanks to Christina for her wonderful instruction in making all of us feel that we were the creating our own masterpieces for life!

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Tour de France with the Schutzman's

I enjoyed a thrilling ten days with the Schutzman family in Northern France and Belgium from October 11 to 22, 2016.  Bev had some ideas of sites that each and every family member would enjoy so we were off in our private van to see what we could see!  
We navigated out of Paris toward the countryside in the Loire Valley, then headed northward toward Brittany and Normandy.  Some of our destinations were new to me and others were favourite places to return to such as St. Malo and Mont Saint-Michel.  Ypres is a fascinating city, rebuilt in it's original style after WWI took it's toll.  We finished the tour in lovely Bruges with three days in the city of canals.  We attempted to try all of the beers (450+!) to accompany the chocolate, candy and frites.

There was no need to translate in French for this group. All were bobbing their heads in agreement and understanding on the first night in the Loire Valley when we were welcomed by our dinner hosts at the Manoir de la Giraudière. The origin of this Manoir's name is still to be discovered, along with the torture instruments in the Chateau de Chinon..... this is probably ok anyway.  We saw several castles and conquered most of them too!

At each new engineering marvel, Bob would.... marvel.  We took a detour to Nantes to see the Isle des Machines, an adventure park in the shipyard.  Here we got to ride a giant elephant while it took a tour of the harbour and sprayed small children as it lumbered forward.  In the 'atelier' machine factory we discovered a spider, a flying heron and we got to drive a big ant.  Bob volunteered to take a spin on the 'chenille' caterpillar and he definitely drove it like he stole it, even in reverse!

We tasted apples- oh so many apples..... and pommau and cider and calvados.  We washed down the moules and frites and cheese and crepes.  Kate found the best mussels at the Lion D'or in St. Malo, and Bev signed us up for the Atelier de la Crèpe, a lesson in making sweet and savoury buckwheat crepes! Mon dieu is it ever difficult! After several attempts and piles of flops Kate emerged as the champion. We got to enjoy a proper galette luncheon made by our teacher Marie Laure, a native of Brittany.

Bev shared with us her favourite pastries such as 'Kouign-amann' and chocolates to be enjoyed in the van.  I, the driver, felt well fed at all times. Fed not only with apples and cheese and sausage but of route notifications from my co-pilot, Tom.  Thank-you Tom, for getting us through Paris in the fog of your jet lag, and for your patience when I 'didn't like' the route you suggested!  Thanks for taking the wheel to spell me off too, mucho apreciado!

Around every corner there was a surprise; we met the organ player of the St. Cathrine's Cathedral in Honfleur and we got to tour and tinker on this enormous organ built in 1775!  The astonishing art at Ackerman Caves had us aglow with wonder, and Kate took an inadvertent dip in the bubble fountain of Arras.  To top it off, we were honoured to be toured around Bruges in the boat of the silliest Captain in all of Belgium!

Jonathan was the historian and enjoyed the WWI and II sites immensely, even amidst the drizzling rain in the Ypres salient. A stop at the D-Day landing beaches had us explore the bunkers of the allied adversaries at Juno.  The 360º circular cinema told the story of the end of the second world war with the effort of our Canadian compatriots.  We enjoyed a 'traditional kebab' picnic on the beach at Dieppe before spending two days in the extraordinary town of Arras to visit the Vimy Ridge Memorial, just 6 months before the centennial celebration of this turning point toward allied victory in WWI.  In Belgium we visited the German pillboxes that became John McRae's makeshift hospital in Flander's field, a far cry from the Saskatoon Hospital and workplace of Jon, the doctor 'in residence'.  

Bob wore a suit for the flight on airplane AND caterpillar.  Tom was dapper in his three piece suit on two occasions, while the lovely Kate had an exquisite new blouse to wear each day.  Such a well dressed and good looking family, I was honoured to be part of their tribe for the duration of our adventure.  Next time we will find a big beret for Bev and an exciting race at the track for Tom.  Thanks Bob for all of the lovely meals we enjoyed together, this was truly a gastronomical tour!

As I write this I am missing all of you Schutzman's and you too Dr. Dean!  See you on the next adventure when we take Nantes by storm in 2021 to climb L'Arbre aux Herons!  


Life is too short not to have this much fun!

Bisous a tous!


Saturday, October 29, 2016

Amy Dodic and Friends in Provence & Paris!

September came around again and VM Travel Adventures found themselves once again in France for the Impressionist Art Tour.  It is lovely to be able to escape the Canadian autumn to spend time where the Atlantic trade winds blow warmly and the sea is temperate! Our group of Lethbridge travellers were a wonderful bunch to tour around with and some of us even tried to reproduce some Impressionist art in Provence!  Rodney Abbot, Impressionist, professional wine taster and now, blogger wrote the following blurb about our trip together.  Enjoy!

A tour of southern France, Cotes d’Azur and Provence with onsite Impressionist history. We travelled with our good travelling buds Dodics and Mooks. We flew Air Canada landing in Frankfurt Germany then connecting to Nice France. There we stayed in a cool little hotel right off the Nice Promenade. 

Our guide Natascha Radchenko of VM Travel Adventures took us to wonderful little towns, vineyards, restaurants, bull fights etc. It was pretty cool. We got along with everyone very well. Then off to our next stop being a quaint farm compound with several small buildings/rooms plus the “Mas Saint Antoine” compound where we stayed and were able to cook and party and rest. We did some market shopping and food preparation for a culinary experience one can only dream of. Several Chateauneuf Du Pape products were consumed. One might say a wee bit of extravagance took place but then again in moderation. Remember moderation is OK if one doesn’t overdo it. Trips to Avignon and Arles kept us plenty busy.  

Amy is a wonderful teacher. Natascha was our driver as well as our guide so we could go to all these fabulous spots and stay as long or as little as needed. The countryside is very beautiful this time of year. The colours of the buildings and masonry are all earth tones as you know with standard red and brown roof tiles everywhere. It is truly a special place. 

Train to Paris  ooh la la  the fast one .. 323 Km per hour  streaking thought the countryside and on the Paris. Our taxis took us directly to our boutique hotel right in downtown Paris. It was called The Hotel Chopin. Our room was on the 4th floor and was overlooking the glass covered promenade of a mall that housed small stores and cafes. A cool Bar and Brasserie was at the entrance to this mall called the Zephyr. We got to enjoy it a lot. 

We walked everywhere. Every day we exceeded our basic step requirements. We took in our quota of Museum Impressionists. Van Gogh, Monet Cezanne and Renoir. I was inspired and did make an attempt to emulate Claude Monet and his scene depicting a farm house and a wind mill. I will do several renditions to show how I improve with experience. Natascha is also an aspiring artist. 

The people of France were friendly and hospitable. They have been beaten up pretty good by the filthy swine as Inspector Cluseau would call them. Our meals and wines were superb. The odd beer intertwined with occasional Merlots, Cabs, Pinos all helped to enlighten the moment. Even Mrs. Mook was singing and dancing on the tables... NOT. We did manage to remain calm.   R.A.D.

So there you have it - we did manage to remain calm despite all of the excitement!  
A highlight for me, the tour guide, was to do little extra things since this group was so flexible!  We visited the Carriere de Lumieres, a large limestone quarry with projections of Chagall's art instalments spinning and flying over our heads in the dark!  It made us all dizzy with wonder!  We also got to trade a sunny day for a rainy one when we visited the Montmartre  area to shop around and enjoy a cheeky wine in the Place du Tertre in the sun!   My favourite memory?  Beer and sketching in the Jardin de Tuileries in front of the Louvre!

Amy was an inspiring and busy artist as she sketched her way through the tour.  Thanks Amy for brining your fantastic group of amis to France with us!A bientot mes amis de Lethbridge!  See you on the next trip!

...Life is too short not to have this much fun!

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Ladies Tour of Italy with Shannon Wolfe

Well, we shopped till we dropped!  21 curious ladies from the Calgary and Sundre area of Alberta were invited to Italy by their travel organizer, Shannon Wolfe, who is passionate about sourcing out fun destinations for this ladies's travel group.  They have been on 6 tours together now, and their next destination is Australia.... have a shrimp on the barbie for me, gals!

Our group started their tour in Rome instead of Naples due to a transit strike in Germany.... the Italians were very surprised to hear that it was the Germans on strike this time, affecting 6 airports in the country!  Regardless the group was saved by the Eurotravel Bus company and whisked down to the Sorrentine Peninsula from Rome.  Lucky girls only started the tour a few hours late and even got to have a prosecco and homemade cake upon their arrival at the Palazzo Jannuzzi.

The Amalfi Coast highway was our first day trip from Sorrento.  The cliffside views and Michele's slow careful driving made it a relaxing day, despite the altitude gained over the dizzying heights!

Shopping in Sorrento in the evening with time to relax and enjoy the nighttime buzz of the people in the streets.  The Isle of Capri awaited us the next morning as we filtered through the crowds in Capri to escape to the other side of the island Anacapri.  The slower but higher side of the island is home to the locals, shopkeepers and of course the Blue Grotto.  More than half of the group decided to brave the jagged steps down into the little boats, which then swept them under the cliffside into the grotto.  Such a special cove and grotto warranted a little wine celebration afterward, as we watched the other tourists shuffle in and out of the rock hole in their little boats.  Another small group of adventurers took the Monte Solaro chairlift to the top of the island for the ultimate view of the bay of Naples and the Tyrhrennian Sea!

Knowledgeable Nicola greeted us in the Ancient Roman City of Pompeii the next morning for a tour of the buried town.  Newly uncovered homes and shops were exposed after having been sealed by ash in 79 AD.  We saw the fast food vendors, the crosswalk and we even had to line up to get into the brothel, still the most popular place in Pompeii!

Onwards to Rome where we found our neighbourhood quite posh.  We were situated near the Piazza Cavour and behind the majestic Palazzo de Justicia courthouse.  We wined and dined in Trastevere at CIAK restaurant and enjoyed Carbonara, Cacio e Pepe and even Cinghiale for our first taste of Roman primi piatti.  Molto Buono!!!

It was only a short jaunt the next morning across the Ponte Umberto to meet Domizia and we were off on an architectural tour of Rome, weaving through the streets to the Spanish Steps.  We thew a coin in the Trevi Fountain and drank the waters out of the others!  In the afternoon, some girls with Shannon's guidance climbed the Vittoriano, Rome's 'White House' that looks like a birthday cake.  We made sure to say hello to Papa Francesco at the Vatican City Museums, again with our amazingly funny guide, Domizia.

Arrivederci Roma!  A quick train ride to Florence and we were getting settled in amongst the wisteria and rosemary in the gardens of the Pensione Bencista.  Some girls enjoyed a manicure or massage at the Spa, others sank in the views while sipping a spritz!

Our date with Michelangelo's David was not forgotten and we took off down the hill into Florence for the day.  After a stop at the Duomo to view the Last Judement by Vasari, we were hungry for more shopping so were led by Natascha to the Leather Market at San Lorenzo.  Most everyone came home with three purses, one for each occasion!

Our next mission was to conquer the Pisa's Leaning Tower.  In two groups we fearlessly stomped up the 250 steps that wind their crooked way up to the sky.  There were many of us holding on to the walls because the tipsy tower makes you feel like you had too much prosecco at breakfast!  We spent the afternoon in Lucca before returning to Florence for a wonderful impromptu antipasto party overlooking the Tuscan countryside.

Our last morning in Toscana was spent eating the world's best Gelato in San Gimignano and sipping wine at the Crux Bibbiano winery.  It couldn't have been a better morning to visit the countryside, for the sunlight on the rolling vineyards reminded us of our rural home.

During the past 9 days we got used to the traffic in Italy.  But then we found ourselves in Venice where we found bridges instead of walk-lights.  It was a refreshing change to be amongst the canals of this maze of a city.  We visited the Basilica for Sunday Mass and the islands of Murano for glass and Burano for lace, and a few even took in the Barber of Seville Opera at the Teatro Fenice.

We took every transport option possible, a shiny water taxi, the big smelly vaporetto 'city boat' and the gondoliers came to get us to glide us right up to the Locanda Montin for our farewell meal.  A majestic time was had in Venice!

Drops of rain came on our last morning in Italy, our cue to head on home.  Arrivederci Italia and lovely to meet you ladies!  Grazie mille Shannon Wolfe for inviting along such great spirited gals!

Life is too short not to have this much fun!

Saluti a tutte!


Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Countryside of Italy

The Countryside of Italy

What a pleasure it was for me,Saskatoon girl that I am, to escort 10 enthusiastic ladies from rural Saskatchewan into the countryside of Italy this spring! We started our adventure at Anna’s La Vecchia Quercia in the hills above Salerno on the Amalfi Coast. Anna opened up her villa early for us this spring and as polite Canadians we tolerated the rather chilly temperatures in the rooms for the first couple of nights only to discover that the heating system had malfunctioned – we were toasty for our last night! Of course Anna’s warm welcome with Napolitana cuisine , a tour through her garden and an adventure in cooking gluten free pasta made for a heart-warming stay. Closeby at Rivabianca Bufalo farm we appreciated the process to make this succulent pure white ball of mozzarella cheese. We all had a squeaky taste of this cheese as it was being formed into balls or braids by the Mozzas !  We took in the Greek and Roman ruins as we walked through Paestum and learned all about olive oil production from our friends at Casa di Baal. One of the highlights of our visit to Campania wine region was the personal guiding of owner and wine-maker, Roberto di Meo at his family winery di Meo. In his 17 Century Prince’s palace we enjoyed a lunch of antipasti accompanied by copious amounts of Di Meo wine – Aglianico, Greco di Tufo and Fiano di Avelino! To top it off Roberto offered us some of his special brandy – 40 % alcohol – all this called “ lunch” in Italy!

At the beginning of April, surprisingly we lucked out with some beautiful weather all along this tour. On Sunday we made a partial visit to the Amalfi Coast visiting Vietri sul Mare for ceramics and Ravello for lunch and the beautiful gardens of Cimbrone with a precipice overlooking the Mediterranean! Nicola our guide in Pompeii had us visit some newly opened exhibits of Villas and Gardens with frescos still on the walls of this Roman city devastated by the Volcanic eruption of Mt Vesuvius in 79 AD.  Then we slowly, very slowly (due to Sunday traffic) made our way to the Hotel Transatlantico in the old port of Naples – my favourite hotel in all my travels! Our chauffeur GP offered to dine with us on the terrace of this hotel and then stay overnight to transport luggage up to Florence for us – what a lifesaver!!! Thanks GP. Anita Silvernagle our 10th guest arrived in Rome that evening so GP and Chandra made the trek to Rome airport to pick her up and carry on to Florence. Quite the logistics of planning!
At the Pensione Bencista, a former convent (and yes some of the beds were that hard!) we were welcomed by the Simone family whom I have known for 13 years now! What a beautiful setting in the hills overlooking the city of Florence. Our Florence stay had us enjoy the food and leather market before seeing the sights like that handsome “David”!  Soon we were off to Cinque Terre for our stay in the beach hotel in Monterosso – what a cute little village! Somehow the beach bar and the Mediterranean Sea captured the group as the enjoyed an afternoon of sun! Chandra even went swimming!!!! A true Canadian! The next morning 4 of us climbed the 700 and some steps on the path from Monterosso to Vernaza! Yes, we had a wine break at the top and met the rest of the gang who arrived on the train in this village for gelato. Further along on the train to Riamaggiore for lunch and soon Maronibus whisked us off to Lucca, the roman walled city which resisted any invasion by the Florentine Medicci family.
One of the restaurant owners in Lucca entertained our Canadians so well that they went back 3 times for pasta!  What a find! And they spoke perfect English! Lucca is one of the best little places to shop, this resulted in buying another suitcase for some!  Oh yes, and we did see a glimpse of the Leaning Tower of Pisa – fascinating! Although most of the time in Pisa was in Macdonald’s getting a fix of North American food!
Before taking the fast train (around 300 km/hr) to Venice Franko drove through the rolling hills of Chianti (Linda’s wish) where we tasted wine and walked through the vineyards with Mathio of Croce di Bibbiano. Farmers talking to farmers – what we didn’t learn about growing grapes!! The train ride went without a hitch as we were prepared for the luggage ordeal. Thanks to efficient packing most of the gals had no difficulty with their bags on the train as this time we did not have GP to come to our rescue!  The Locanda Fiorita was a stone’s throw away from the San Angelo Vaparetto station and our Prosecco reception was welcomed after our voyage. Venice was a delight and the weather was perfect! Our last day we pooled our coins together and bought a private taxi to the island of Murano to see the glass blowing. Of course you are obligated to visit their show rooms after the demonstration, but they quickly learned that we were not about to buy a 35 000 Euro chandelier and guided us to the Murano glass room full of affordable jewelry. Everyone seemed to pick up a little souvenir of our visit. We persevered the vaparetto to Burano, the lace making colourful houses island for the rest of the afternoon and then decided to hire another taxi to take us home.
A final Prosecco and feedback evening on the terrace of the Locanda and our final Italian pasta meal finished off our tour to Italy!  Thanks gals ! It was a real delight for me to share the countryside of Italy with you!