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Aboard Crystal Serenity – Day 2

With a first rather wavy night (thank you Atlantic might) of rest behind us, the ship docked in Porto early morning or us to explore. Conveniently located at the mouth of the Douro River, this wealthy city of fortified wine fame is worth exploring.

We started with a morning of business sessions and then left the ship on an afternoon drive. Our first stop was the hillside terrace of the Relais&Chateaux hotel Yateman located opposite of Porto on the ravine in Gaia. The views from there are absolutely spectacular as is the port house of Taylor’s right down the hill which is owned by the same family. Afterwards we crossed the Douro River and discovered the narrow streets with its narrow cobbled streets.

Our special tour included a VIP visit to the British Factory House – the union hall of the by now well-established port wineries. It’s interior is most fascinating – from the library to the port decanter collection and the dining room, this private meeting place is stunning and historic. Loved the visit.

Back at the ship, we set sail for La Coruna in Spain. Stay tuned for more of my adventures.

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Aboard Crystal Serenity – Day 1

After a lovely day of riding the historic yellow trams and walking through rainy Lisbon, Julie and I enjoyed a bite of Portuguese pasteis de baccalau (fish fritter) at a spectacular local stand.

Then we returned to our abode – The Lapa Palace Hotel to grab our stuff and headed boarded the Crystal Serenity docked in Lisbon for our first adventure aboard the venerable luxury line to sail for 5 nights to London.

Here we are sailing under the 25th of April bridge – headed out to the Atlantic.

Join us on our adventure along the Iberian coastline.

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An ode to the world’s best custard tartlet

Yes, there is such a thing as food tourism, meaning returning to a place simply for the pleasure of enjoying a particular dish or meal!

That is exactly what I did yesterday myself. I have dreamt about this day for over 13 years since our discovery of this very special of bakeries in the Belém neighborhood of Lisbon. The “world’s best custard tartlets” being crafted here by the millions since 1837, the Pasteis de Belém is simply fantastic.

From its crunchy yet super thin shell to the perfectly balanced custard, this tasty treat is best enjoyed at the bakery when it is still slightly warm to the touch with a sprinkle of cinnamon and powdered sugar.

Yes, take-out is offered but eating them fresh is the unrivaled experience. The challenge with take-out is that once the tartlet cools off, the custard (egg based as it is) sets up and becomes dense. Trust me, the taste changes at that stage – so eat it fresh for maximum enjoyment.

The line outside is for take out clients while over 400 seats in a maze of rooms and chambers takes you into the inner sanctum of the baking area, a sight not to be missed.

Simple yet so well perfected, this treat is worth a trip around the globe to be enjoyed. Will I be back someday? You bet.

The taste, the experience, and the memories made with my tastebuds make this one of my all time favorite food pilgrimages. So much so that the image is worth repeating.

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Lisbon’s Charm revealed

From one bridge to another – while it looks like a mirror image of the Golden Gate – this spectacular man made wonder is called the 25th of April bridge and it spans the Tagus River from Lisbon to its suburb of Almada. It is noteworthy that not only are both suspension bridges, they have an indirect link from a construction perspective. The 25th of April bridge was in fact built by the American Bridge Company whom also constructed the Bay Bridge linking Oakland to San Francisco.

In town to board the Crystal Serenity for a special recognition event tomorrow, we had time to see the charm of this often overlooked European capital. After a rather long flight (6 hours spent connecting in Philadelphia due to weather) we landed in Portugal’s capital Lisbon and made our way via metro and bus to the hotel. As it has been 13 years since my last visit here, I had kind of forgotten how steep and hilly Lisbon is – schlepping luggage only made this more adventurous to say the least.

The views and setting of our room at the lovely Lapa Palace hotel made the effort well worth it. A quick shower later, we made off exploring with stops in Belem at the monument dedicated to the Portuguese seafarers whom discovered much of the Western Hemisphere and the tower of Belem.

Then we took the tram 15 line back to Lisbon and meandered the streets of the commercial district and the Alfama neighborhood which is forever linked to the music style that is Fado. Views of the streets and sunlit rooftops complimented our 16k steps today which included a fair share of stairs.

All those steps we needed to earn a very special treat which I will dedicate its own blog to tomorrow – stay tuned.

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Montego Bay continued

A long night of sleeping allowed me to return to a human state and function properly. A new day also meant new impressions of this destination – and resort as well as a business update discussion.

It is important to disclose that our stay at Hyatt Zilara (adults only) is co-sponsored by Delta Vacations and Playa Resorts whom also operate the twin resort of Hyatt Ziva (families with kids). That said, my stay is effortless so far. Food is fair and the room is fine, albeit a bit loud due to the connecting door which transmits a lot of noise from my neighbors. I learned secrets at 1am I was not supposed to hear – I’ll leave it at that.

In the afternoon we had an opportunity to tour a few competitor properties – an activity I find interesting and educational.

AM Resorts adults only “Secrets White Orchid & St. James” was our first stop. These twin-resorts mirror each other with 350 rooms each. Massive and crowded (they were both at capacity) are the words that come to mind. Definitely not my cup of tea but a lot of folks like the hustle and bustle of music, pool activities, and food stalls. It is an all-inclusive set up so no wrist bands or card swipes for every consumption.

Our second stop was at the intimate AM Resorts brand Zoetry Montego Bay – a 4 Diamond rated hotel per AAA. Encompassing just 62 rooms, the hallmarks that jump out are elegance and flair. I personally rate it an 8.5 out of 10 after our comprehensive visit. The grounds are lush and green, the SPA is quaint (located in the owners villa on the premises) and the restaurant & bar are perfectly located – including a local icon the jerk shack. I love the swim-out JR Suites the best. The gal in the picture is my Delta Vacations account director Paola from Italy.

Last stop was a 30-minute drive away at the Excellence Oyster Bay. Opened just last fall, this 275 room resort is next to Falmouth Harbor (frequented by Carnival and Royal Caribbean cruise line’s). From the pictures you’ll see that the vegetation is still young and privacy for the swim out suites is not yet there.

Contemporary in design, the resort is spacious and stretched out along the lagoon. All in all a great venue for peaceful R&R for young at heart guests.

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Montego Bay awaits

I have to admit that I am a bit jet lag challenged these past few days as I returned from Australia last Saturday and I am already off to my next destination. This week it’s Jamaica for a special event with Delta Vacations in Montego Bay.

Upon arrival in this Caribbean island nation, we were greeted and whisked away to our resort for the next 3 nights – the Hyatt Zilara Rose Hall.

Held in a white colonial cottage style, this adults only resort is perfectly situated on a calm stretch of private beach. Stay tuned for more details of my stay over the coming days.

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Down Under adventure revisited – final post

A smooth 2-hour drive got us to the Park Hyatt Melbourne where the Virtuoso family awaited us for this year’s edition of Symposium. Over 4 days, we met with suppliers, listened and participated in stimulating key notes and work shops, and tasted Melbourne’s famous gourmet offerings.

While the fall skies were predominantly great to black, rain didn’t hit us till yesterday when it poured buckets – nothing stopped us though as we walked up and down the main drag along Flinders street and the Yarra River.

A short hop to Sydney and on to San Francisco on united airlines (14 hours) and I will soon be back home.

My suggestion

Put Down Under on you bucket list – this short revisit reminded me of the amazements this continent offers to travelers.

Safe, ultra friendly and welcoming, affordable and only a few hours farther than Europe (from the west coast that is). The sheer grandeur of the continent with sparse population makes this a paradise for abundant wildlife. The cacophony of birds singing stood out as it has gotten so quiet around my neighborhood.

G’Day to all my readers and thanks for all the feedback and reactions to my posts.

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Down Under adventure revisited – part 6

Fully rested and finally adjusted to a 14 hour time change we hit the road for breakfast in Paynesville – a short 30-minute hop

Nourished for the day, we then took what must be the world’s shortest ferry over to Raymond Island for a walk. The purpose of this early morning excursion is Australia’s signature creature – the Koala – come along🐾

Our walk was a lovely loop of about a mile through the neighborhood and eucalyptus grove. We spotted 6 in short order – each nestling on a branch dosing away or eating breakfast on one of the 25 varieties they like (out of over 700 species of eucalyptus trees).

Quite amazing to be so close to them in the wild.

After that we travelled on to the gold mining town of Walhalla which was quite the experience as well. Tucked in a gulch, this town had the largest gold haul of any in Australia’s Goldrush (74 tons) manually dug out of mine shafts the length of 55 miles.

Our fabulous host Michael from the Star hotel showed us around and provided the stories to bring this gem of a town to life. An outstandingunch with local Rose 🍷 accompanied our final stop before reaching Melbourne.

Stay tuned for my next blog on the final leg of the trip.

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Down Under adventure revisited – part 5

Our morning began with an adrenaline rush from a sea plane flight over the rugged coastline of southern New South Wales. As you may recall from my vblog yesterday, this is humpback whale country and in just a few weeks time you can actually do a 45- minute flight to see these majestic creatures from the air.

While we did not see whales today, the weather was stunning and I could see the potential. I’ve already strategized onnwhen I will be back here during whale season – in late August the year I retire (gotta have a plan after all). Below is a picture of myself and Richard Aquino from Allianz whom travelled with us from Sydney.

A great lunch of fresh oysters and fish & chips later, we hit the road to our overnight destination of Metung – 460 km/280 miles south along the cast. About half-way we crossed into Victoria from New South Wales.

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Down Under adventure revisited – part 4

An early morning got us out of Sydney and on to Australia 1 – Princess highway – south bound for our first viewpoint of the coastline. This view has been enhanced by the new cantilever bridge that replaced the one carved into the hillside we had driven on 28 years ago.

From there we drive around the city of Wollongong down to the quaint village of Kiava where a blowhole awaited us. Our spacious Mercedes Sprinter van (see above) is our comfy 4-wheeled companion on his journey.

After that short stop, we continued on to the town of Huskisson on Jarvis Bay for a Dolphin discovery cruise – outstanding!

This natural horseshoe harbor is home to 80+ bottle nose dolphins year-round and humpback whales for 6 months out of the year. This are of unspoiled nature preserve md by a marine sanctuary must feature on any Australia drive.

A fantastic seafood lunch later – thank you Kevin and crew – we continued on the road toward our overnight stop in Bateman’s Bay. Just before arriving, we detoured to Pebbly beach in Murramarang Bational Park to spot kangaroos on the beach.

Crimson parrots and other creatures as well as a rainbow brought the area to life. A spectacular day that I pinch myself about for years to come. This stretch of coastline needs to make a comeback for travelers as it is truly breathtaking. Help me spread the word #tourismaustralia.