The Educated Traveler
Special Interest Travel Notes
Much has changed since I first wrote for Transitions Abroad. The impetus for my first column, on traveling with a baby in Europe, is
now 16 years old and she has been abroad at least half a dozen times. She has a younger sister now, who is also a veteran traveler.
What I hope to bring you in this new column is a collection of personal discoveries that showcase how far-reaching and diverse special
interest travel has become. Ill tell you about my own travels, and I welcome you to share your experiences with me.
A 3-hour walking tour of the Roman Forum and Coliseum seems a nice way to spend a morning in the Eternal City. But youd expect
enthusiasms to wane after five hours, right? Yet no one in our group of six travelers excused themselves (including my mother) when our Scale Reale tour went
into two hours of overtime. Chalk that up to our passionately knowledgeable guide, a young American completing his PhD thesis on Julius Caesars War
of 49-48 B.C. at the American Academy in Rome. All the Scala Reale guides are expatriates who live in Rome precisely because they are in love with the citys
Its easy to add a Scala Reale tour to your schedule (in fact, we ended up filling our days with five such tours!). You simply
pay a $20 per person registration fee to become a member of this not-for-profit organization run by American Tom Rankin. After a 2-hour orientation walk,
you can sign on for any one of three half-day, semi-private itineraries (average cost $35 per person). Choose a specific daytime schedule or an evening Baroque
Stroll. Members are also eligible to join a special free excursion offered each week (we opted to tour churches displaying Caravaggios work). Theres
usually a short stop for coffee or a snack included in each walk, a time our guide used to the fullest by reading from Suetonius The Twelve Caesars.
Contact: Tom Rankin, Scala Reale; 888-467-1986, fax 617-249-0186; firstname.lastname@example.org, www.scalareale.org.
North Korea by Sea
With travel to Cuba becoming increasingly easy for Americans, tour companies are looking for new destinations to open
Enter the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea (North Korea). Asia Pacific Travel offers a selection of 2-day excursions in and around
the Kumgang Mountains in the southeast corner of North Korea.
No doubt the shipping company, Hyundai Cruise Division, was allowed to develop this area for tourism because visitors will have little
contact with North Korean people or cities. Nonetheless, you can visit local scenic spots and enjoy a performance by North Korean acrobats and add a hitherto
forbidden destination to your passport. Contact: Asia Pacific Travel, P.O. Box 350, Kenilworth, IL 60043-0350; 800-262-6420 or 847-251-6400, fax 847-256-5601;
Survive in the Falkland Islands
I try to consider myself more high-brow, but I did watch a few Survivor episodes last summer. Audrey Patterson, president of Tread Lightly
Travel, a respected ecotourism operator, must have been watching, too, for she has created a survivor-like experience in the Falkland Islands, a place that
only 500 North Americans visited in 1999. Tread Lightly plans to fly a group of participants to one of the 700 islands in the Falkland group, dropping them
off at fully supplied but remote cabins. Each day a local air service will transport one member, selected by the group, to another equally remote island.
As Patterson describes it, The process continues each day until all the group are once again reunited.
Only 17 of the Falkland islands are inhabited and only 10 have tourist accommodations, notes John Fowler, manager of the Falkland Islands
Tourist Board. Youll find five kinds of penguins, sea lions, 2-ton elephant seals, and the worlds highest number of golf courses per capita (only
341 people live outside of Stanley, the capital). Contact: Audrey Patterson at Tread Lightly Travel, 37 Juniper Meadow Rd., Washington Depot, CT 06794; 800-643-0060
or 860-868-1710, fax 860-868-0298; email@example.com, www.treadlightly.com. Contact
John Fowler at the Falkland Islands Tourist Board, Stanley, Falkland Islands; firstname.lastname@example.org.
A Villa in Bulgaria?
You wouldnt expect to find a 5-star villa resort in Bulgaria, but Conde Nast Traveler recently ranked Villa Stresov, in Borovets,
Bulgarias largest, year-round mountain resort, as one of the top 30 villas in the world. (Did you know that Bulgaria has four times as many Cabernet
vineyards as California?). The cost of renting this 4-bedroom villa and sampling the wines comes out to less than $275 per person per week. Villa Stresov
sits in the midst of a 100-year-old pine forest located at the foot of the highest mountain on the Balkan peninsula, an area that is now a major ski center.
The original villa, nationalized by the Communist government following World War II, was returned to the Stresov family in 1989. Todays visitors use
Villa Stresov as a base from which to explore Sofia, 90 minutes away, and the nearby Valley of Roses. Contact Villa Stresov, Borovets, Bulgaria; U.S. Office,
5 Revere Dr., Suite 200, Northbrook, IL 60062; 877-255-6699, fax 847-205-5330; email@example.com,
A New View of Israel
When I accompanied a museum group to Israel several years ago, I remember how impressed I was with the view over Jerusalem from my room
in the King David Hotel, not to mention my location just down the hall from where Liz Taylor and Richard Burton spent one of their honeymoons. It was interesting,
but expensive. Now Ive discovered you can find an even more sweeping view from a Tel Aviv office building, and you pay only $3.50 for the experience.
The Azrieli Buildings are the tallest buildings in the Mideast, and one has a 49th-floor observatory that offers views all the way to the Jerusalem hills.
The Azrieli Center is located on Petach Tikva Road in Tel Aviv and open daily (Saturday it opens at sundown). For more details, contact the Israel Ministry
of Tourism InfoCenter at 888-77-ISRAEL; firstname.lastname@example.org.