My Travel Adventures To Inspire You~

The Delightful Danube- Budapest to Prague river cruise with Avalon Waterways 

     I adore the Danube River!

     I have sailed it four times and will probably sail it many more.
There is nothing like gliding past the illuminated Parliament in Budapest, I will never tire of that sight!
As it is a long river there are many different itineraries options to choose from.
On each of my journeys there have been new ports to explore and new adventures awaiting me.

     I favor Avalon Waterways when I do river cruises for many reasons, one of the most important is their panorama suites.
They are so much larger than their competitors cabins and laying in bed facing the full wall of windows is an experience that is really hard to beat.
When the slider is opened up the entire room becomes an open air balcony, plus Avalon's cabin has a nice sofa and soft chair to sit on, the others do not. 

     My cruise began in Budapest and had an extension in Prague at the end, which is a really nice way to see this part of the world.
Budapest is a great city, it is very "user friendly" they have a great public transportation system to get around on and you can walk easily between attractions.
It took until my third visit to Budapest for me to visit one of the baths, well, I visited them previously but didn't actually go in the water until last year.
I highly recommend you give it a try, it is not expensive and is super relaxing, you can pre-purchase on line a pass and a massage for very little money.

     Most Danube cruises overnight in Vienna which is another great city easy to explore on your own!
We went to the Imperial Crypt which was super interesting, the coffins were gorgeous, and when we visited the palace later it was fun to match the casket to the bedroom.

     The Spanish Riding School is in Vienna, you can go to see the Lipizzaner’s practice which is quite amazing!                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          You may not know this but the horses are actually born black and turn white later, I found that out there when chatting to one of the trainers.
The control and talent of the riders (and horses) is something you won't soon forget!
We visited the Belvedere museum on our own as well, my favorite painting," The Kiss" hangs there, it was humbling seeing it in person.

     The Wachau valley has lovely wines, the ship pairs them perfectly with meals at no charge.
If wine is not your thing, beer is also included with lunch and dinner, sparkling wine is free with breakfast as well.

     Bikes are available to take off the ship for free if you want to go riding, and there is an adventure host that does all kinds of things like yoga, hiking etc.
The included excursions are interesting too, not just things like a guided walk in town.
For example, we opted to visit Mauthausen Concentration Camp Memorial, it is not for everyone, a sobering day but something I was glad I did.                                                                                                                                                                                                            Mauthausen was a Vernichtung durch arbeit" (extermination by work) camp.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          Many parts of it are disturbingly intact which serve as an important reminder to the world to never allow horrors like this to happen again.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                r.

    The trip ended with a few days in Prague which was nice to wind down to a slower pace.
The castle is interesting as is the astronomical clock but I just like wandering around on cobblestone street exploring and shopping.
We found the best hole in the wall restaurant where I am sure the grandmother was the chef.
There was only room enough for maybe ten patrons and it was the best meal I had the entire three nights I was in Prague.

    River cruising has quickly become my favorite way to travel, having excursions, meals, Wi-Fi , wine, etc. all included in one bill makes budgeting easy.
I really like how Avalon, although very luxurious, is laid back, I don't have to worry about dragging fancy clothes to Europe, my husband can leave his suit at home.                                                                                                                                                                            They have a smaller guest ratio so it has a country club atmosphere making it easy to get to know fellow passengers right away.
Unpacking once is a plus, I do take bus tours and that is one thing I do not care for having to pack up and move every few days. 
When my hotel (ship) moves right along with me it is so much more relaxing.

    If you are looking for a trip that gives you lots of beautiful scenery, great included excursions, luxurious accommodations with gourmet meals this checks all the boxes!

Cruise on the Danube river- Budapest to Prague Video

View from my bed in a category P Panorama suite on the Avalon Vista

 ~ Italian Treasures with Cingue Terre ~ round trip Rome tour by Globus ~                 

     Italy is my favorite place in the world!

Each year I visit, exploring new areas and returning to others I especially enjoyed.
I like the ease of escorted tours as it allows me to sit back and enjoy the scenery rather than having to navigate traffic or look at maps.                                       
Usually I sandwich a tour in between some relaxation time on my own near the water.

The first escorted tour I took was called "Italian Treasures" it is a great package.
It not only covers the 'big three', Rome, Florence, and Venice but also some special places like The Cinque Terre.
The ease of having VIP skip the line tickets and tours is great for places like the Vatican.
As I had already visited Italy many times in the past you may wonder if I felt compelled to always go along with the group. 
The answer is no, it is your vacation and you are free to do as you wish.  

I treat tours like a buffet, I take what I like and leave the rest.
I use them for the transportation, the hotel reservations, the educated guide, and then for the skip the line tours that I do wish to partake in. 
Other times I just go off on my own asking when I need to meet back at the bus the next day.

This tour visited Verona, which is a lovely city, it has an opera house that looks like a mini colosseum and a shopping street that is made of marble.
Shakespeare set Romeo and Juliet here and many are excited to see Juliet's balcony.

We enjoyed a wine tasting in a castle in Chianti and visited the "Town of the  Fine Towers" San Gimingnano.
After spending the night in Lucca, a medieval walled city, we headed to La Spezia for one of the highlights, a boat trip to the Cinque Terre. 

The colorful houses sit perched on a cliff seeming to defy gravity.
We stopped in three of the villages and were able to shop and soak in the atmosphere.
I went swimming in Monterosso al Mare instead of having lunch- it was a great choice the water was divine!

Our hotel in Assisi had sweeping views over the Umbrian countryside it was just breathtaking.
This is a great all-around tour of Italy, it has an extension available to Sorrento, or you can do like I did and fly over to Sicily after to relax, give me a call and we can chat about your options!

Venice and Verona ~ video

 

Fountain of the Four Rivers Piazza Navona Rome ~ video

  ~ Meandering  the Mekong River - Angkor Wat to Ho Chi Minh ~                               

Asia is a fascinating place!

  It is so different than the western world in a multitude of ways. 
When you visit places such as Cambodia, Vietnam and Thailand you come away changed, a more thoughtful and appreciative person.

     Prior to this adventure I had already visited several areas of Myanmar, Beijing,and Bangkok so I did have an idea as to what to expect, but still, seeing in person the art and history of these countries is humbling. 

     My journey began in Siem Reap where I spent three days exploring the ruins of temples of Angkor. 
I wish I had more time as it was fascinating, I probably will return as I couldn't visit them all, and new temples are still being discovered. 
Of all of the complexes I visited, Angkor Thom impressed me the most. 
It is a maze of gigantic heads, each with a different smirking expression on it's face as if he knew a secret. 
Walking through these ancient temples was a phenomenal experience, just trying to figure out how they were able to construct them was mind boggling!

     The evening after my final visit to the Angkor complex our guide arranged for a private Apsara dance show for us. 
These young women must start training their fingers before the age of five to get them to curl back the way they do. 
The dance is mesmerizing to watch, in fact believers feel that the Apsara’s could hypnotize the rivals of the King of the Gods by this dance. 
There are Apsara dancers immortalized in stone dating back to the 7th century at the Sambor Prei Kuk temples in Kampong Thom.

     I took this trip in conjunction with Avalon Waterways, selecting them purposely because their Asia ships have only 18 cabins.
There were just 20 of us in total which worked perfectly, it felt more like a private yachting expedition than a river cruise.
Each day while on the river we would have two included excursions, one in the morning and a second after lunch. 
Some of the excursions were sobering, like when we visited the killing fields in Cambodia and learned about the horrors of the Khmer Rouge. 
Others were uplifting, for example when we visited a local school and helped the children with their English lessons, or when we were given a water blessing by a monk.

     Everywhere we traveled the art on the buildings was so detailed and brilliantly adorned it almost felt like it was for a movie set. 
This is the day to day paradox, beautiful gold leafed temples next to shanty houses on stilts. 
One consistency was how welcoming and kind the people were, everyone seemed truly happy to see us no matter where I visited.

     The sunsets on the river were just breathtaking, with no streetlights and only an occasional fishing sampan passing by the views were amazing! 
Our day to day lives were immersed with the culture, but we were sheltered in luxury at the same time. 
Each cabin on the ship is a suite with a full wall of windows that the bed faces. 
The wall opens up to turn the entire room into an open air balcony.  
The slider has a screen and there is a ceiling fan so if you want to lie in bed and listen to the river you could without concern about bugs getting in.

     Meals were an exciting event! Always available was a “western option” like filet mignon or salmon, but there are choices of regional favorites as well. 
I never would have considered trying some of the offerings elsewhere but found I really enjoyed them on the ship and was glad I had the opportunity to widen my horizons. 
On our last day of the trip we were brought to a Vietnam restaurant and given a cooking class which was great fun,they sent us home with the recipes we cooked which was a nice touch.

     After the cruise I flew up to northern Thailand to do a private tour for a week. 
I visited the “Golden Triangle” where Myanmar, Laos and Thailand converge, the former drug capital of Asia due to the poppy fields. 
It was quite interesting to see how the queen stepped up and saved the people from the misery of addiction. 
In place of the poppy plants there are now tea plantations.

     I visited the beautiful Wat Rong Khun, or “White Temple” in Chiang Rai and was even fortunate enough to meet the artist who created it. 
My journey continued with a visit to a Padaung tribe which are Kayan people who immigrated from Myanmar. 
The woman are known for wearing brass rings around their necks giving the illusion that their necks are long. 
I had a lengthy conversation with one of the women and she explained to me that it is not a burden to wear the coils, that in their culture it is considered a status symbol and sign of beauty. 

     I visited the famous Wat Doi Suthep temple in Chiang Mai and finished out my Asianadventure by taking care of my own elephant for the day.

     Southeast Asia is a fantastic experience, you will see amazing detail in the art, encounter warm hospitable people and come away with a true sense of how fortunate your own life circumstances are.

From Cambodia to Thailand- video   

         

Avalon Mekong River Cruise "Saigon" ship tour

 ~ Finding Romance along the Rhine River - Cruising with Avalon Waterways ~     

    The Rhine River is considered one of the most romantic stretches of water in the world.

Cruising along past castles and vineyards is sure to set your heart a flutter!                                                   
My husband and I enjoyed this magical river cruise after spending a week exploring the Netherlands.
Sailing the Rhine is a different experience than the Danube, a busier river, but the breathtaking Rhine Gorge with all of the castles makes up for any traffic.
It is very easy to imagine yourself as royalty staring in your own fairytale as you glide by the palaces.     

     Romance aside, there are fantastic excursions included to keep you busy during the day.                                                                                                                                                                    
I really loved Siegfried’s Mechanical Musical Instrument Museum in Rüdesheim!
There was a player piano that had several violins mounted inside, each violin played one string along with the piano creating a perfectly coordinated song.
The trip up to Heidelberg Castle was fascinating! 
Parts of the castle is in ruins but a lot of it still quite intact, we were able to go inside and explore after an introductory tour and lecture about the history.
Not everyone has had the chance to wander around in a castle, the view is stunning be sure to bring your camera!     

     Castles are the theme of this cruise as you will see many of them, the day spent cruising through the Rhine gorge it is hard to keep count!

     On the last day in Breisach we elected to take an optional excursion to Colmar; it was like stepping into a storybook!
Half-timber houses and gingerbread shops decorated the streets and canal ways were the mode of transport in the “Little Venice” section.
Taking a Rhine River Cruise is a wonderful way to experience history, other cultures, and enjoy romantic scenery.

If you appreciate wine you will definitely enjoy this itinerary as the Alsace region produces delightful offerings!
Both wine and beer tastings are on the itinerary and unlimited wine and beer are included at lunch an dinner during your cruise as well as sparking wine at breakfast.

If you are looking to celebrate an anniversary or simply feel like royalty for a week, this is the cruise for you! 

The Romantic Rhine River Cruise ~video

Siegfried's Mechanical Music Museum- video

                                                                                                                                             

    ~ Incredible India ~ River Cruise on the Ganges with Avalon Waterways ~    

    "Why India?"

  I was asked that question from half the people that I told I was heading there on my next adventure.
My answer was simple, I find different cultures and religions fascinating and enjoy learning about them. 
As an artist myself I was very excited to see all of the beautiful monuments and I find the various religions of the world fascinating.    

     My journey began in Delhi, I went in several days early so I could adjust to the time change and have a chance to do some exploring on my own.
Although I had visited many countries where the majority of the population were either Muslim or Buddhist this would be my first experience visiting Hindu and Sihka temples.
I hired a private guide and driver who educated me for two days about Hinduism. 
It was my living classroom.
The stories about the various Gods and Goddesses are very entertaining, there are 330 million deities if one wants to get technical.
It was quite fascinating visiting the different places of worship and learning about their beliefs.     

     When the group arrived we set off to visit all of the main sites in Delhi, Agra and Jaipur.
Did you know that there is a Great Wall of India? There is! 
You can see it from the Amber fort in Jaipur, it looks just like the one in China but it is just not as long.     
It is hard to put into words the beauty and detailing of the temples, especially the Taj Mahal.
I visited the Taj at both sunrise and sunset and ventured over to a park across the river to catch it from another angle.
The colors of the building changed with the position of the sun. 
The detailing really gives you a sense of awe, I could have stayed there all day looking at it.     

     Yes, in India there is poverty, and chaos, and noise at times.
You will see cows walking down the road and monkeys jumping around on buildings but it didn’t bother me.
The positives far outweighed any negatives, I certainly wasn’t going to be able to see a snake charmer walking down the main street of my own town! 
That is an experience I won’t soon forget!     

     I was astonished as to how happy and friendly all the Indian people I met were. 
This was not just one or two people but a consistent welcome. 
Everyone was delighted to see us. 
They also wanted photos with me as my red hair is a rarity in their area. 
It was a great ice breaker for my being able to take photos of them.
Even if we couldn't speak to each other a smile and the gesture of a camera worked and we knew what each other wanted.     

     Sailing the Ganges was very unique, we went round trip Kolkata with Avalon Waterways. 
The Ganges (Ganga) is worshiped by Hindu's, it gives life and is where reincarnation begins. 
I witnessed many ceremonies along the way from people bathing and praying, to a cremation.
There were so many unique excursions, we ventured into small villages and saw how brass is made, visited ancient terra cotta temples, saw how idols are created, and went to the largest flower market in India.
The time just flew by!

   If you are looking for a unique adventure where you will feel like you are staring in your own travel show, his trip fits the bill!

Changing colors of the Taj Mahal-video

A day in Matiari India-video

      ~ The Gems of Umbria and Tuscany - round trip Rome tour by Globus ~       

I like going off the beaten path...  
   
     If you have been to Italy once you surely visited the “big three” Rome, Florence, and Venice. 
I love those cities, however there is so much more to Italia then just them! 

     Globus has some great “Undiscovered Italy” itineraries that visit villages that most tours overlook.
My husband is interested in the history of the Etruscan's and I love the countryside so this was a natural choice.
    
     Our group met up in Rome and had dinner before our departure the next morning. 
The trip kicked off with a visit to Narni, the inspiration for “Chronicles of Narnia”. 
We were treated to a pasta making demonstration followed by a fresh pasta lunch with wine. 
Well satiated we were off to Spoleto and stunning Spello. 
     
Spello is an absolutely adorable small village with beautiful flowers everywhere you look! 
There is a famous flower festival held in Spello each June, a true feast for the eyes!

     After exploring the hilltop village we visited Assisi and the were on to San Martino in Campo our base to explore Perugia for two days.
We visited the Piazza IV Novembre square with it's beautiful fountain, and tasted Baci candies   
It was lovely strolling the promenade of Lake Trasimeno and hard to imagine that the bloodiest battle in Roman history happened there  

     Leaving Umbria we headed to Siena home of the annual Palio race. 
We had a wonderful dinner in Monteriggioni a picture perfect village nearby. 
In Volterra we explored the Roman ruins and then headed to one of my favorite villages, San Gimignano, where we had the afternoon to ourselves. 
The pace of the entire tour was like this, with a lot of free time to explore on your own.   
   
     Driving through the beautiful gentle rolling hills of the Val d'Orcia to mountaintop medieval villages was a magical experience. 
We stopped in Pienza known for its pecorino cheese and did a Brunello wine tasting in Montalcino.

     The tour wound down with two nights in Orvieto.
We visited the Etruscan Underground Labirinto, and of course the magnificent cathedral with the San Brizio Chapel.     

     Our last night in Rome we went to a great opera dinner show. It was quite humorous, not stuffy at all, so even non-opera fans would enjoy it.    

 I highly recommend this adventure for anyone who would like to get a more in-depth look at the villages of Umbria and Tuscany! 

Gems of Umbria and Tuscany Video

Tanga Opera Restaurant in Rome Video


 

  ~ Down the Danube to Dracula- Budapest to Transylvania with Avalon  ~              

     I adore the Danube river!
I have sailed it four times and never grow tired of the cobblestone lined streets and quaint villages.
Gliding past the illuminated Parliament in Budapest is nothing short of jaw dropping.

     When I saw that Avalon had a cruise sailing towards the Black Sea with a Transylvania extension I knew I had to try it!
How often do you get a chance to visit the castle linked to the Dracula books?
When I first made my reservation, my main interest was to see the dramatic Iron Gates gorge with the massive rock sculpture of Decebalus.
That is an impressive sight,but,there were so many unique and beautiful scenes I was exposed to,I don't know that I can say that was the true highlight of my journey.                                                    

     The terrain is much different than other parts of the Danube with steep mountains and narrow passages that suddenly open up to huge reservoirs. 
You never knew what would be waiting around the next corner!
One foggy morning in Serbia we boarded a smaller vessel and sailed past an old fortress that could be the setting for any number of movies, it was very mysterious and not like any excursion I had experienced before!
Another day we visited the Belogradchik Fortress which felt like we had stepped right into a Game of Thrones episode. 
Next we slipped down the rabbit hole into a fairytale while visiting Peles Castle, which now tops my list as the most beautiful palace I have visited. (Sorry Neuschwanstein you have been replaced.)
     Finally the moment of truth, the trip to Bran Castle, the setting could not have been scripted better in Hollywood.
It was misty and drizzling as we walked up the stone pathway, it felt almost foreboding. 
The Castle looks quite imposing, I can see how an author could conjure up that Dracula could be lurking around a corner. I saw dramatically carved furniture, suits of armor, a poetic courtyard with a wishing well and even a hidden escape tunnel to the roof!

     I like to look for out of the ordinary trips and this certainly fit the bill. 
It was exciting with great scenery, and much different than my other river cruises. 
I still had my same luxurious panorama suite, the same great food and service but, this trip was more edgy and exotic than your typical Danube cruise.
If you would like to hear more about this trip give me a call, the history of the Balkans is quite fascinating, the people are welcoming and the views amazing!

The Iron Gates on the Danube river-video

             

The Belogradchik  Fortress video           

              

                                                                                                    

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Ann Castagna Morin

Southampton, MA
An Independent Agent with Nexion, LLC in Irving, TX, a Travel Leaders Network Affiliate Agency.
Luxury River Cruise & European travel specialist

I have had a sense of wanderlust since I was a child, always yearning to go off and explore the world.

I will take my own personal passion for travel and use it to craft an extraordinary luxury experience for you.

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