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Senior Travel Newsletter: nature, cruise, barging, volunteer vacations.
Senior travel newsletter: nature travel, educational, cultural, volunteer, cruise and barging vacations worldwide.
New stories, October 1, 2014 
TravelWatch: Senior Travel Newsletter.

What's on the Travel News Menu for YOU Today
Senior travel nature vacations, cruise and barging vacations, volunteer vacations worldwide & much more! Would you like to be notified of each bi-monthly issue as it is launched? Click here to add your email to our TravelWatch newsletter notification list. [See our Privacy Policy]

1. Just announced! India's sacred Ganges River will be a brand new destination for luxury river cruising beginning in January 2016. Booking begins in mid-October, 2014.
2. Vintage train fans are flocking to Ecuador to participate in a multi-day journey from the country's volcano-laced highlands through spectacular engineered descents to the Pacific Coast. Here's the itinerary.
3. For the past decade, aboriginal tourism has been a fast-growing focus among travelers interested in understanding and appreciating indigenous cultures. Vancouver, British Columbia is a leader in sharing such opportunities with visitors. We bring you the latest initiatives including a brand new indigenous-designed hotel and a restaurant where the menu is deliciously focusing on wild native dishes!
4. Move over Antarctica! There is plenty to explore in the sheltered inlets of Chile's Southern Patagonia that doesn't require crossing the challenging Drake Passage twice, and there are way fewer people to get in the way of your enjoyment. Check out these educational expeditionary cruises!
5. Sicily is not just the Mediterranean Sea's largest island gently bobbing between the boot of Italy and North Africa. It offers a distinctive multi-layered history and cultural personality that is only now being appreciated by increasing numbers of international visitors. Get there quickly!

Before planning your next adventure, you may compare accommodation alternatives with sites such as www.trivago.com or use their data base for further information about your destination and read traveler hotel reviews.

River Cruise Fans Should Plan Ahead to 2016 for this New India Offering!
In October 2014, Uniworld Boutique River Cruises, www.uniworld.com, will begin booking for India's Golden Triangle & the Sacred Ganges tours, the company's newest addition to its collection of boutique river cruises and tours. There are multiple departures but this exciting itinerary is expected to sell out well ahead of launch.
Ganges Voyager II, new Uniworld river cruise ship in India.
The new Ganges Voyager II will be home-base for the seven-night cruise along the Ganges River. Uniworld
Interior suite of Ganges Voyager II, new Uniworld river cruise ship in India.
Cruise accommodation offers guests various-sized suites all tastefully decorated. Uniworld
Set to debut in January 2016, the 12-night itinerary includes seven nights onboard the new all-suite Ganges Voyager II, featuring a maximum capacity of 56 guests. For the five-night land portion of the itinerary, accommodations are provided at several award-winning Oberoi Hotels and Resorts as clients visit the Golden Triangle, one of India's most historic, colorful and culturally-rich areas.
Taj Mahal, India.
The iconic Taj Mahal is part of the five-night land tour of Uniworld's new India program. Alison Gardner
The land itinerary will take travelers to a number of cities and important sites, including Delhi, the Taj Mahal, Rajasthan's Pink City of Jaipur, Mother Teresa's tomb and former home in Kolkata and an enormous Vedic temple in Mayapur. Uniworld's new India program will be open for booking on Oct. 15. For full details, check the program web pages.

Yet again, Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection has been honored as "Best Luxury River Cruise Line" in the 2014 Cruise International Awards. This is the third year in a row that Uniworld has received this prestigious honor from Cruise International, the British consumer travel magazine dedicated to cruise holidays.
Ecuador Offers Multi-Day Heritage Train Journeys
from the Andean Highlands to the Sea
Ecuador's award-winning ecotourism company, Tropic Journeys in Nature, www.destinationecuador.com, is hosting four-day/three-night journeys aboard Ecuador's freshly-refurbished Tren Crucero (cruise train). Launched in early summer 2013, Tren Crucero is already being singled out to join a pantheon of the world's top train journeys. Here's the itinerary so you can see why.
Beginning in Ecuador's highland capital, Quito, guests experience Ecuador's stunning volcano-laced landscape while traversing 450 kilometers of the spectacular north/south Andean corridor known as the Avenue of the Volcanoes. Each night they will enjoy accommodations at carefully-selected haciendas and colonial lodgings that immerse them in regional cultures along the route. While aboard a refurbished early 20th century steam train, passengers will see a change of scenery from heights of 3,600 meters/11,800 feet, through tropical forests and national parks, eventually down to sea level over several days, disembarking at Guayaquil. On board the train guests enjoy drinks and tapas, seated comfortably in the lounge cars or viewing the landscape from an open-air observation car.
Restored heritage train offers exciting journeys in Ecuador.
The restored heritage train passes by the majestic Cotopaxi, a stratovolcano in the Andes Mountains about 50 km south of Quito.
Tren Crucero rolls out of Quito's Chimbacalle station at 8 a.m. on a Tuesday, stopping at El Boliche where a modern coach ferries guests to a hike near Limpiopungo, a glacial lake in Cotopaxi National Park that shelters a variety of Andean wildlife: Andean gulls, Andean deer, wolves, the unique bear of South America, and the magnificent Andean Condor. Overall rising 6,000 meters or nearly 20,000 feet above sea level is the picturesque Cotopaxi volcano. After a hacienda lunch, guests view a dance festival at Lasso train station and have an overnight with dinner at La Cienega Hacienda which once lodged Simon Bolivar who led four South American countries to independence from Spain.
Lounge of Tren Crucero, Ecuador's vintage train, on a multi-day tour.
Tropic Journeys guests ride Tren Crucero by day and spend nights in luxury haciendas and colonial lodgings.
On Wednesday from Latacunga train station, guests travel southward to explore a rose plantation and learn the history of Ecuadorian roses, a major contributor to the country's gross domestic product. Lunch follows later at Roka Plaza hotel, an ancient colonial house in Ambato. Conditions permitting, there will be views from a safe distance of the very active Ttungurahua volcano that is currently spewing ash and gas daily. The afternoon presents Urbina at 11,840 feet above sea level, the highest train station in the country. Here an ice trader will explain his daily craft of digging ice from a glacier on the Chimborazo volcano. Overnight and dinner are at Abraspungo Inn.
Ecuador's mountain called Devil's Nose.
The most challenging aspect of the route to build was the Devil´s Nose (Nariz del Diablo), a mountain whose gradient precluded running track up or down. Trains worldwide are designed to travel on 2% or maximum 4% gradients. This train track arrived at a 6% grade utilizing a zigzag method that at the time was the best way to gain altitude in a few kilometers. Challenging technical conditions, geography, a limited budget and worker deaths led this railway to be named as "the most difficult railway in the world" at the beginning of the 20th century.
Riobamba was once Ecuador´s capital. Thursday's departure from here is via an impressive restored steam locomotive pulling guests across fascinating Andean landscapes to the Colta community. There's a short stop at Balbanera church, the first Christian landmark made here some 500 years ago. The destination is Guamote's indigenous market, one of the last authentic markets in the Andes, with traders exchanging products as they did 4,000 years ago. Impressive geological formations begin in Alausi as the train zigzags 535 meters in altitude over 12 kilometers down Devil's Nose, the track itself an engineering feat hailed as the most difficult in the world. The overnight in Huigra. a small village between the Andes and the coast is at Eterna Primavera lodge.
Tren Crucero offers multi-day tours from Quito in the Ecuador Highlands to the Pacific Coast.
Guests observe a variety of terrains from high mountain scenery to banana, sugar and rice plantations nearer the Pacific Coast.
Friday transitions from the Andes to the coast along the Chanchan riverbed, stopping in Bucay to visit the Shuar community that migrated many years ago from the Amazon basin. The journey continues to Durán, passing through banana, sugar and rice plantations and ending at Guayaquil.

The per person rate is US$1,270 inclusive of a bilingual naturalist guide, daily train and bus excursions, three nights lodging and all meals. Departures are from June through early September and from December through February.
Established in 1994, Tropic Journeys is an award–winning ecotourism company specializing in responsible, community-based tourism in Ecuador. Programs combine active and cultural ecotourism experiences focusing on nature, conservation, diversity and sustainability with its lodges in the Ecuadorian Amazon and the Galapagos Islands and with its deeply-meaningful Journeys in Nature.
Images courtesy of Tropic Journeys.
Vancouver's Unique Aboriginal Attractions, Accommodation
and Cuisine are a Cultural Highlight of Visitor Experiences
Vancouver's Museum of Anthropology focuses heavily on indigenous cultures of British Columbia.
I know of no other city in the world that celebrates its own First Nations (native) heritage and contemporary culture as well as Vancouver, British Columbia. Many travelers from around the world make it a special feature of their visit to learn about the province's diverse tribal cultures through breath-taking museums and art galleries, colorful costumed performances of dance, music and storytelling, and canoeing or kayaking on nearby inlets with First Nations interpretive guides.
Left: The world-class Museum of Anthropology celebrates west coast indigenous cultures in an architecturally-spectacular indoor setting. Alison Gardner
Below: Salmon 'n Bannock Bistro offers a fine blend of old time pioneer dishes and authentic First Nations cuisine. Alison Gardner
Salmon 'n Bannock Bistro in Vancouver is an aboriginal restaurant serving authentic native cuisine.
Among the more recent additions to the First Nations catalogue of experiences is an intimate restaurant, Salmon 'n Bannock Bistro, www.salmonandbannock.net, whose slogan is "We got game!" And indeed they have … from a variety of fresh-caught wild fish (no farmed salmon here!) to elk, bison, boar and musk ox, often served with traditional native bannock bread, wild berries and wild rice. The superior-quality wines are exclusively from native-operated vineyards in B.C. Check out the creative menu. Thanks to a high TripAdvisor rating (#5 out of 2809 Metro Vancouver restaurants), great word-of-mouth popularity with Vancouverites and a lot of international visitors, it is essential to book ahead.
An exciting "first", not just for Vancouver but for the world, is the September 2014 opening of the Skwachays Lodge http://skwachays.com, an 18-room boutique hotel where the lobby and reception are a stunning art gallery. In quite spectacular fashion, the heritage building's roof is topped with a newly-carved 40-foot totem pole. Inside, the breakfast room and the relaxation area with fireplace for chatting with other guests or having a quiet read, are decorated with dramatic First Nations carved tables and other decorative pieces made from wood recycled from this heritage building during its renovation.
Skwachays Lodge in downtown Vancouver is a new aboriginal-operated 18-room boutique hotel, topped with a new 40-foot totem pole.
In downtown Vancouver, Skwachays Lodge is a new aboriginal-operated 18-room boutique hotel whose heritage building roof is topped with a freshly-carved 40-foot totem pole. Alison Gardner
Bedroom of Skwachays Lodge in Vancouver, BC,  designed by local aboriginal artist.
Bedroom of Skwachays Lodge in Vancouver, BC,  designed by local aboriginal artist.
Each of the 18 Skwachays Lodge bedrooms or suites is distinctively decorated by a West Coast Aboriginal professional artist in collaboration with one of Vancouver's noted interior designers. Alison Gardner
From walls and ceiling to beds and other furniture, each Skwachays Lodge room or suite has been designed and individually decorated by a contemporary aboriginal artist in collaboration with a professional interior designer. The artist's profile is in the room for guests to read which helps to make the experience very personal ... like sleeping in someone's home.

Other highly recommended First Nations attractions are the Bill Reid Gallery of Northwest Coast Art in downtown Vancouver, the Museum of Anthropology on the grounds of the University of British Columbia, and Tayaka Tours, offering guided kayaking, canoeing and walking tours in local waters with exclusive aboriginal interpretation. For a current list of First Nations activities and events available to visitors, contact Tourism Vancouver. In some cases, booking assistance is also available.
Explore Southern Patagonia with Expedition Cruise Specialist, Australis
With roughly 40,000 visitors a year now heading to Antarctica, there must be a great many travelers who have already checked Antarctica off their bucket list. As well, there are plenty of people who have heard about the frequently rough crossings of the Drake Passage between the tip of South America and Antarctica, and determined that this is one adventure they don't wish to experience.
The Chile-based expeditionary cruise company, Australis, www.australis.com, offers a far less-visited bucket list destination in the same part of the world. It duplicates much of the terrain and wildlife without the open-water hazards of a crossing to Antarctica. Exploring the dazzling inlets and islands around Southern Patagonia as far south as the Strait of Magellan and Cape Horn, expect to see plenty of penguins, elephant seals, marine mammals and spectacular tidewater glaciers while cruising aboard the 136-passenger Via Australis or the 210-passenger Stella Australis. Each vessel is designed to navigate the Chilean-Argentinian Patagonia channels in style and comfort with three-, four- and seven-night programs.
Expeditionary ship, Stella Australis, cruises the inlets of Southern Patagonia.
The Stella Australis is a welcome 210-passenger home base to return to after twice-daily zodiac excursions with the ship's onboard naturalists.
Pia Glacier in Patagonian Chile.
The sheer size and beauty of Chile's tidewater Pia Glacier matches the best of Alaska's equally spectacular tidewater glaciers.
"Our cruises are in one of the most remote areas in the world," explains Jorge Rodriguez, North American Marketing Manager for Australis. "It's completely uninhabited and most of our journeys go through areas where no other ships have navigated. We offer a unique combination of 35,000-year-old glaciers, up close animal experiences and the magic of visiting Cape Horn, the southernmost part of South America."

The majority of Australis passengers have "seen it all" and are looking for a nature experience they've yet to encounter. Just 13,000 travelers set foot in this region annually. About 90% of Australis clients are mature travelers between 45 and 80 years of age, with the top three clienteles coming from the U.S.A., Germany and France, in that order.
Visitors boardwalking to Cape Horn on an Australis expeditionary cruise.
For centuries, Cape Horn on the southern tip of South America has carried the magical title, "End of the Earth". An Australis expedition cruise allows guests to visit this most allusive of landscapes.
The all-inclusive expeditions are heavily nature focused, usually with twice daily excursions off the ships and into the wild, visiting Wulaia Bay, Cape Horn National Park, Pia Glacier, the Magellanic penguins of Tuckers Islets, the elephant seals at Ainsworth Bay, the Piloto and Nena Glaciers and the cold rainforest of Patagonia at Aguila Glacier. Naturalist guides are all highly experienced and knowledgeable, dedicated to ensuring that the excursions are eco-friendly.
Australis Zodiac in close encounter with a whale in the waters of Southern Patagonia.
Twice-daily Zodiac expeditions from the ship allow guests to observe wildlife and experience landscapes in an up-close manner.
The Australis fleet sails six months of the year, from the end of September to early April. See all routes and itineraries in detail. Australis also offers one land and sea itinerary that intimately explores Tierra del Fuego, "Gauchos, Penguins & Glaciers". Most travelers on an Australis expedition combine their cruise with a longer visit to Chile or Argentina.
Images courtesy of Australis.
Sicily is Still a Sleeper for Most Travelers ... But Not For Long!
The first time I set foot on Sicilian soil was on a cruise ship day excursion in 1998. I was fascinated by my brief glimpse of the island and vowed to return for a longer period. I did so 16 years later on a three-week vacation in the summer of 2014. This most strategic island, dominating a narrow piece of the Mediterranean Sea between Europe and North Africa, has been over-run by many foreign rulers and held by many empires in the past 2,800 years: Greeks, Phoenicians, Romans, Vandals, Ostrogoths, Byzantines, Arabs, Norman crusaders, the Spanish and the Italians have left their architectural marks and cultural influences.
The Greek Temple of Segesta overlooks a cliff top in Sicily.
Built in the late 5th C. BC, the Greek Doric Temple of Segesta on the northwest tip of Sicily is one of many ancient temples that decorate the tops of sea-gazing cliffs. Alison Gardner
Sicilian cuisine is distinct from Italian cuisine.
Having some elements in common with Italian food, Sicilian cuisine also presents Greek, Spanish and Arab influences. Alison Gardner
Sicilian cuisine is delicious and distinctive, related only in part to its counterpart on the Italian mainland. It shows clear elements of two millennia of Greek, Spanish and Arab influences during extended periods of occupation by each. Occupation by the Norman crusaders in the early medieval period ramped up the fondness for meat dishes, and the Spanish introduction of New World influences like cocoa, maise, peppers, turkey and tomatoes. Arab occupation in the 10th and 11th centuries brought the use of apricots, sugar, citrus, sweet melons, rice, many spices and pine nuts. The island's strategic location made it a crossroads for many things including a cuisine worth sampling in considerable detail!
The volcanic soil and the climate in Sicily are ideal for growing grapes, and a wine-making tradition on the island has operated since the Greeks set up their first colonies there. Today, all provinces of the island produce very acceptable wines for both local consumption and export within Europe and abroad.

At about 3,350 meters or 11,000 feet,
Mount Etna is Europe's highest, best known, and most active volcano, last blowing its top and re-arranging its landscape in October 2013. Meanwhile, parts of this widely-spread volcano almost continually feature powerful lava fountains, flows and ash emissions on some part of the mountain, so approach with care.
In spite of this volatility, Mount Etna is an incredibly popular destination, open daily, all year (when not erupting in a life-threatening way), 9 a.m.-5:30 p.m. (last cable car); in winter to 3:30 p.m. At the 1,800 meter high vehicle parking area, there are eateries, shops and guiding services. Many hotels also arrange guided tours right from the front door. There are two ways to go higher: either on foot with a hiking pole as a helping hand or by cable car and 4x4 bus taking visitors to the 2,800-meter level. The hiking option can be a physical challenge because of the altitude and the soft, loose lava ash under foot. It can also be a bit monotonous in terms of landscape. For my money the cable car + 4x4 bus option offers the best way to see some of Etna's numerous craters and get that special bird's-eye view that a high mountaintop affords.
Mount Etna, walking on the volcano.
Mount Etna is Europe's highest and most active volcano, with visible evidence here of its most recent eruption in October 2013. Alison Gardner
A particular favorite of cruise ship visitors to Sicily, the cobbled streets of Taormina (population 11,000) can be very full and hot during the summer season. Perched 250 meters/820 feet above the Ionian Sea, it has been a strategic townsite since Greek settlement of the island around 700 BC. Today, its Greek theater is one of Sicily's most celebrated ruins with a fine state of preservation and a remarkable location.
The well-preserved Greek theater in Taormina.
Taormina, a popular tourist town in Sicily.
Above: The popular cliff-hugging village of Taormina offers plenty of sightseeing, a wide range of eateries and shopping opportunities along its cobbled streets. Alison Gardner
Right: Still used for major pop and classical music performances, Taormina's Greek theater offers a fine view of Mount Etna, a 45-minute drive away.
 Peter Gardner
The theater is the second largest of its kind in Sicily, after the one in Syracuse. Street-strolling in Taormina is a popular pastime with many old churches, lively bars, fine restaurants, and antique shops to serve as temptation. A trip by aerial tramway down to the beach is a great way to gain a little perspective on the town and cool off in a quieter zone for a while.

Sicily already hosts six UNESCO World Heritage Sites, most recently Mount Etna recognized as a natural WHS in 2013. In addition, there are four more sites on UNESCO's list for consideration, all of which underscores the richness of experiences for travelers considering a visit to this Mediterranean island.
DK Eyewitness Travel guidebook to Sicily, 2013. DK Eyewitness Travel Top 10 Sicily, 2013.
Your highly-recommended travel companions for discovering the best of Sicily are the DK Eyewitness Travel Sicily guidebook (2013, 256 pages), and the DK Eyewitness Travel Top 10 Sicily (2013, 160 pages), each with pull-out maps, many three-dimensional diagrams of archeological and architectural sites and a generous selection of the best color photos you will ever see in any guidebook.

The "Top 10" concept is a particularly useful idea that distills a city or region or theme to the top ten of just about everything you can imagine. These may include castles, museums and archaeological sites or wines, restaurants and outdoor activities, together with a brief description of why the item is included.

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