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Córdoba, Spain Achieves a World First
When most travelers think of vacationing in Spain, Barcelona, Seville, probably Madrid, maybe Granada and Malaga come to mind as priority places to visit. But Córdoba … where is it and why should it be on my “to do” list? Pretty much equidistant from Granada, Malaga and Seville, this destination in the southern Spanish region of Andalusia was an important Roman city and a major Islamic center in the Middle Ages. In 2018 Córdoba jumped to the top of the heap, not just in Spain but in the world, by becoming the first city to have four UNESCO World Heritage Sites within its boundaries, actually surpassing Rome and Paris with this new distinction. To be designated by UNESCO, a site must be of “outstanding universal value.”
Designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1984, this magnificent structure (above) was a Muslim mosque from 784 to 1236 before becoming a Catholic church from 1236 to the present. The Mosque–Cathedral of Córdoba is most notable for its arcaded hall, with 856 columns of jasper, onyx, marble, granite and porphyry. Image ©Spain Tourism Board
Barcelona and Seville have been major visitor destinations for decades with, respectively, 8.9 million and 2.6 million tourists in 2017. By comparison about one million people visited Córdoba (population about 330,000) in the same year though it is easily accessible from Madrid by a two-hour train ride or a 45-minute rail journey from Seville.
Considered the heart of Córdoba, the city’s picturesque Historic Quarter (above) is one of the largest of its kind in Europe, designated a WHS in 1994. There visitors may really get a sense of the Roman, Arabic and Christian cultural traditions and civilizations that shaped it. Image ©Spain Tourism Board
Taking place in the first two weeks of May, Córdoba’s Festival de los Patios (above) is the city’s most international festival. During the festival the patios of the Historic Quarter around 50 whitewashed houses open their flower-laden patios to the public free of charge. The patios also hold flamenco shows. UNESCO declares carefully-screened festivals as cultural world heritages events when they’re deemed particularly notable. The Patios Festival, which started in 1918, was given the distinction in 2012. Image ©Spain Tourism Board
Located on the western outskirts of Córdoba, Medina Azahara (above) is the archeological ruins of a vast, fortified Moorish palace-city built in the mid-10th century by the first Umayyad Caliph of Córdoba. It is Córdoba’s newest UNESCO WHS, designated in 2018. Image ©Spain Tourism Board
Interested in learning more about UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites and seeing a global selection highlighted? Check out the wide-ranging feature article in our Travel Article Library.
Educational Tour Operator Offers Campus at Sea for Older Adults
For the first time, nonprofit tour operator, Road Scholar, will operate its own cruise ship rather than send groups on vessels run by existing operators. Starting in 2020, Road Scholar will have use of the 350-passenger Aegean Odyssey. The arrangement will continue through 2023.
The operator has created 10 itineraries in Europe for the ship, which was launched as a ferry in 1973 and converted to a cruise ship in 1988. Road Scholar’s new Aegean Odyssey itineraries will explore Greece, Turkey, Portugal, Italy, Spain and the British Isles and will focus on educational and enrichment travel.
“With exclusive use of the Aegean Odyssey, we are creating the world’s first campus at sea for older adults,” says James Moses, president and CEO of Road Scholar (formerly known as Elderhostel). “In the spring of 2020, we’re casting off on our grandest adventure yet aboard our first-ever floating campus, the Aegean Odyssey. The perfect level of comfort. All the right amenities. Delicious and healthy food. Extraordinary educational experiences. And, of course, ship mates who love to learn as much as you do!”
With room for 350 passengers, the Aegean Odyssey has the an intimate feel and nimbleness to navigate the smaller, harder-to-reach ports. The ship’s cabins and common areas offer the perfect level of comfort for Road Scholar participants. Take advantage of the ship’s variety of outside seating at mealtimes, browse the classics or engage your shipmates in a game of chess in the ship’s well-stocked library, deepen your understanding of the world as you attend expert-led lectures. In short, you and your fellow Road Scholars won’t miss a minute of the adventure, even at sea!
In the past, the company booked groups on a variety of lines, including Ponant, Victory Cruise Line and several river cruise lines. By running its own ship, Road Scholar says its program costs will be 20% to 30% below the cost of comparable commercial cruises, and the operator will be able to offer a choice of activity levels to accommodate the widest possible audience. Single accommodations will be at a low supplement, and international airfare will be included from many departure cities. Last year more than 13,000 older adults took an enrichment cruise through Road Scholar. Images courtesy of Road Scholar.
Not a joke! Selfies on vacation can be fatal!“Based on a recent study published in October 2018 by the US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health, experts are calling for selfie-free zones at dangerous tourist attractions. With a documented fatality count of 259 selfie deaths between 2011 and 2017, this recommendation is largely aimed at reducing the rise of accidental deaths while distracted by taking photos or making videos. Drowning, transport (particularly from standing on tracks in front of oncoming trains), and falls from heights like scenic cliffs or highrise buildings in picturesque cityscapes were the main causes of the deaths, the study says. The average age of those who died was just 23.”
Fall in Love with Greece
Here’s a well-earned shout out to one of my favorite tour leaders/guides in what has been my own long experience of tours all over the world. When I first met her in a hotel dining room in Athens, she introduced herself: “My name is Vasiliki – call me Vicky – Papantoniou.”
I followed this personable, talented lady on a two-week, small-group women’s tour of five Greek Islands … all done by ferry to Rhodes, Crete, Santorini, Leros and Patmos. You must have a great sense of humor and a lot of patience to meet the requirements for being on such a wide-ranging eastern Mediterranean tour using public transport, never mind leading it. That was how I first fell in love with Greece!
Vicky has developed her own website called … you guessed it … Fall in Love with Greece, www.fall-in-love-with-greece.com/, bringing under one umbrella her professional lifetime of planning and leading tours throughout mainland Greece and its amazing islands. While she loves rising to the challenge of preparing customized itineraries that reflect a wide-range of interests and themes, she has also created a series of one-day tours (5 to 8 hours in length) in and out of Athens, and a collection of multi-day tours that have proved the most popular with guests in her experience.
Vicky’s clients from Arizona and Sydney, Australia should have the last word:
“This lady is unbelievable as a tour director. She puts her extensive knowledge of the whole Greek culture into a form we can readily understand and – most important – relate to. With Vicky, we “lived” Greece and loved it.” “We have visited many countries and have had many guides, but none have been as good as Vicky Papantoniou. Her training in history and art gives her an exceptional ability to share the culture of not only the country as a whole, but also of the distinctive local areas, creating an understanding of how things fit together. When you tour with Vicky, you feel you are touring with a friend.”
Images courtesy of Vasiliki Papantoniou.
A Titanic Replica to Set Sail in 2022
We’ve heard this before, but wouldn’t it be amazing if it happens? Word is out that construction of the Titanic II is under way and the maiden voyage will be the Atlantic crossing of Southampton to New York. For history buffs who have always wondered what it would be like to relive the glitz and glamor of sailing on the original RMS Titanic—minus the tragic ending, of course—they could soon get their chance. To get in the right mood, check out this YouTube video illustrating the interior and exterior design of the original vessel compared to the present design. It is pretty darn close! There are three-dimensional depictions of the new vessel’s interior spaces, for those who would like to get a better sense of what is planned.
Incorporating the same interiors and cabin layouts as the original Titanic, Australia-based Blue Star Line reportedly plans to put the vessel into service in 2022. The ambitious project was first announced in 2012 by Blue Star’s chairman, Australian businessman Clive Palmer, but work on the vessel was suspended due to a massive royalty dispute which has now been resolved.
While the interiors, including the restaurants and common areas, are being modeled after the original Titanic, the newer incarnation will incorporate modern navigation technology and will be a few meters wider to provide more stability. And there will be lots of lifeboats!
In addition to following the originally intended journey of the Titanic from the English port of Southampton to New York, the Titanic II will ultimately circumnavigate the globe, according to its builders.
The scheduled 2022 launch of the Titanic II will mark 110 years since the original Titanic set sail across the Atlantic Ocean. When the Titanic sank on April 15, 1912, after striking an iceberg in the North Atlantic, the ocean liner had been carrying an estimated 2,224 passengers and crew on board, and more than 1,500 people died, making it one of the deadliest commercial maritime accidents in history.
For most of us, our brush with the Titanic thus far comes with viewing the Oscar Award-winning 1997 James Cameron film Titanic, starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet. Their love story took place to the backdrop of vibrant scenes that illustrated what life was like on the extravagant cruise ship, from its lavish interiors to the class struggles that famously played out between the passengers of different social and economic status.
As with its predecessor, the 2,435-passenger Titanic II will have three tiers of cabins for booking: 383 first-class cabins, 201 second-class cabins, and 251 third-class cabins. At this time, there is no information on how to book a sailing on the Titanic II.
Meanwhile, a stimulating bit of homework in anticipation of sailing aboard this iconic ocean liner is to spend some serious time at the Titanic Belfast Museum in Northern Ireland, a massive facility opened in 2012. With a floor space of 12,000 square meters (130,000 sq ft), it extends over nine interactive galleries with multiple dimensions to each exhibit. Expect loads of special effects, dark rides, full-scale reconstructions and interactive features. You can even explore the shipyard that gave birth to Titanic in the city where it all began!
Food for Thought“I haven’t been everywhere yet, but it’s on my list.” Susan Sontag
Are you more inclined to travel solo than 10 years ago?
The number of people traveling solo has almost trebled since 2011, according to the latest research from the Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA).
In an annual ABTA survey of 2,001 British travelers, it turns out that 15% had taken a holiday on their own in the 12 months to August, up from 12% in 2017 and from 6% in 2011. The growth in popularity of solo travel is most noticeable among 35-44-year-olds, up from 5% to 16%.
According to another major poll of travel agents, most of their clients taking solo trips are 55 years of age or older, followed by those 45-55 (29%), 35-45 (18%), 25-34 (9%) and 18-24 years of age (0.4%).
ABTA said the widespread availability of Wi-Fi and use of smartphones and travel apps has made solo travel less daunting. In addition, tour operators that specialize in people traveling solo (some with no single supplement for accommodation at all) are a significant encouragement to leave home without searching out a family member or friend to travel with.
The most common reason for traveling alone was having the opportunity to do what they want – 76% compared to 73% last year. This reason was particularly common among 35 to 44-year-olds at 92%. Meeting new people is now less of a priority among solo travelers, with 31% citing this reason compared with 41% in 2017.
ABTA chief executive Mark Tanzer said: “Going on holiday by yourself means you don’t have to compromise on your choice of destination, your itinerary or the activities you take part in. Whether single or just wanting some ‘me time’, people now have an incredible choice of holidays and destinations and it has become so much easier to explore the world. “
We recommend some inspiring solo travel articles in our Travel Article Library:
Senior Women Traveling Solo: Tips for Safe and Stimulating Holidays. Volunteering with Cheetahs in Namibia.
What do women want from their travels?
Going solo in Scotland’s Orkney Islands.
Camel Trekking in the Australian Desert.
Solo Travel Greek Island Style.