Saturday, September 3, 2016

Scenic HIGHWAY ONE in California! Oh my!

If you are in California and interested in driving the famous Highway One scenic highway along the coast, here are a few rules you need to know.  

Rule Number one: don’t be in a hurry! Rule Number Two: don’t be in a hurry! Rule Number Three: Take a good camera.  Seriously, it is a beautiful drive and worth the effort. 

Effort?  Yup! To make the most of this venture, plan well.  First of all be warned!  It will not take long before a driver notes this is some of the most twisted, curvy, torturous driving in the United States, if not the world.  Not all of it is like this, but for the most part you are in for some convoluted motoring.  Thus the importance of Rule Number One … and Rule Number Two, because it is (they are) serious … don’t be in a hurry.  All in all, if you drive this route in a reasonable fashion you can proceed from Leggett to San Francisco in 10 hours, give or take. And that includes stops along the way for some pictures.  Yes, you will want to do that.

So, Rule Number Three demands that you indeed take a good camera.  Some of the most beautiful scenery in the state of California, or any of the United States for that matter, is found along this coast. 
Scenic Highway One offers many opportunities to stop and partake of some stunning vistas
You begin the drive, southbound, up near Eureka; the signs for Highway One are evident on Highway 101 around the town of Leggett, south of Eureka.  We ended up driving south simply because we were wrapping up a tour in Humboldt County and we needed to get to San Francisco to catch our flight home (the route goes all the way to San Diego if you are so inclined to drive it in its entirety).  

This worked out well as my wife and stepdaughter were able to better see the ocean and beaches to their right and holler when it was time to stop and capture images. 

There are plenty of places to pull off the road to take photos of some natural beauty.  Also, it’s important to know this because you’ll need to take breaks and rest up for a few minutes.  

How often you stop depends, of course, on both your stamina (refer back to Rules Number One and Two) and also the scenery that catches your eye, or to be more accurate the eye of your passenger.  Your eye will be on the road.

In addition to natural wonders, there are many very pretty and quaint towns along the way.  Most notably are Mendocino and Fort Bragg.  If you are hungry there are many quaint “mom & pop” diners and cafes to choose from in these towns.  Approaching San Francisco, a rather famous town on Highway One comes into view.  If you are not a horror flick aficionado, this particular town was the setting for one of the scariest motion pictures ever made ...  
The old Potter School used in the movie The Birds
Yes, The Birds, directed by Alfred Hitchcock and based on a 1952 story of the same name by Daphne du Maurier, was filmed in town of Bodega Bay.  But it was all fiction, of course.  Yes, all fiction. 

We hope.

Depending on the season, motorists will see some very interesting things.  We were surprised to be there in the month of August and to look out from Bodega Bay and see a whale.  We had figured most of them would have been down near Baja by this time of the year.  But there it was, maybe a mile out.  We could see it plainly from time to time; it would breach and blow.

Because of the route’s unique location and construction, there are few things a driver must anticipate. One thing is highway maintenance (refer back to Rules One and … oh, never mind … you get the picture by now). Indeed, many trip advisors and guidebooks warn of erosion and landslides.  Because this is a two-lane road, there are likely a few places where traffic is stopped by roadwork crews.  You’ll be waiting in a queue of cars behind temporary stop signs or stop lights.  Then, at regular intervals, a pilot truck will lead you to a spot beyond the construction.  The delay was not, overall, distracting; you simply must anticipate it and be patient.  Also, gasoline along the highway is also more expensive than the rest of the state.  The prices should not be a surprise when one considers that the fuel must be trucked in.

It can be tad arduous, but Highway One is a beautiful ride.  Plan well!  Certainly include a good camera and a proper mindset of leisurely travel, i.e., don’t be in a rush.  The excursion is very much worth it.

Avalon Waterway’s Seven nights Burgundy and Provence river cruise

Avalon Waterway’s Seven nights Burgundy and Provence river cruise was exceptional. First of all being a river cruise you must be aware that the vessel is going to be smaller than a cruise ship, naturally. When we first saw the Poetry II, we were concerned that per chance it was going to be too crowded.  This was NOT the case at all since as there were only 128 passengers on-board.  

But first, with time on our hands, we walked about the town of Chalon-sur-Saône.   We were ready for lunch and scouted about for a place to dine. Now, what can we say about the cuisine of this part of France?  Note that just about anywhere you turn there is usually some wonderful café, in some beautiful half-timbered house, run by a family dedicated to good cooking. No, let’s make that GREAT cooking! They offer delicious meals consisting mostly of the provincial food eaten by the locals.  This was probably one of the best aspects of this trip.  

Scouting about for a meal in Chalon-sur-Saône. It was so easy to find great food!

Now, back to the Poetry II!  We should also make this note about the crew: they were very, very professional.  It is clear that Avalon maintains high standards in selection of its personnel.  The captain was very young but very adept at his job.  His English was impeccable and he went out of his way to explain the workings of the ship and how it was navigated.  Safety features abound on this very intriguing piece of waterborne equipment. And, even if you're not interested in engineering it is very worthwhile watching the ship go through the lock systems on the river.  
Boarding the Poetry II!
Also, when able, be on deck when the ship goes under bridges! There's not much clearance with some of them and interestingly the captain’s pilot house can be raised and lowered accordingly. I would venture that under some of those bridges it's just a matter of inches, clearance-wise, but the whole process is managed professionally and safely. 
We were really impressed with every aspect of the Poetry II ... the crew, the ship, the food! Everything!
Also, if you wondering about sailing in southern France, this route on the Saône, and eventually the Rhone, is not the same as sailing on the Rhine or the Danube. You do not see vineyards sweeping up steep slopes from the banks nor do you see massive walled cities on mountain tops. However, the further south we went we noted more and more medieval structures on the banks.  Yes, more castles were becoming visible and they were imposing to say the least! The best time to see them was at night or early in the morning when they were illuminated! 

The city of Lyon was particularly interesting. This was one of the more modern cities we experienced, certainly because it has been situated there for a very long time, of course. This is one city on the river that you get the same visual experience of some parts of the Danube on the Rhine. Lyon is rather big. It is one hour from Mont Blanc. What was interesting about Lyons is that the Rhône and the Saone run parallel to each other for quite a ways. The rather odd looking  Musee des Confluences is situated at the point of land marking the spot where the two rivers do join. 
Sailing into Lyon, one of the bigger cities on the cruise
Once off the ship, it was very enjoyable to walk around the old parts of Lyon. Also, we took a tour up to the top of the city on the Southbank where we were able to tour the Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière Cathedral. The cathedral is not all that old. And right next to it is a smaller version of the Eiffel Tower which is their simply for telecommunication purposes. It was a wonderful view of the city up there.
Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière Cathedral, high above the city of Lyon!
Back down in the city, one enjoyable aspect of Lyon was hiking to the market.  Yes, a walking trip to the city market is recommended.  It was not very far from the boat and the directions provided by the crew were easy to follow. Once there, the visual experience is great!  
The City Market in Lyon -- an amazing sensation for the eyes ... and nose!
The aromatic experience, however, may be different sensation to some!  Yes, your sense of smell will indicate that you are truly in the marketplace; it sells everything from meat, to fish to cheese.  Indeed, there is some very pungent fromage. But there is also chocolate! It was great to walk around and look at all the chocolate and other delicacies. 
A sampling of French culinary products in Lyon!
To and from the ship there are numerous cafés for when you're tired or should you simply want a break.  There is a café just about on every corner where you can sit, enjoy a hot beverage, and people watch. By the way, a lot of famous French characters, celebrities, and other notables came from Lyon. Most notably was Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, or “Saint X”, the author of The Little Prince.

There are many very intriguing short shore tours available in the small villages.  These were always a delight! We were never disappointed! The guides were all local residents and extremely knowledgeable on the history of the specific stop.  Very intriguing was the Roman history; yes, to this day visages of the Roman Empire can still be seen here in there and some of the villages along the river.   

Depending on your historical interests, it should be pointed out that if they lie in the realm of the medieval then the village of Pérouges is probably going to be your best bet for a short excursion.
Katherine at the entrance to Pérouges; a very picturesque medieval gate! 
This village is about one hour bus ride from Lyon.  
Once you are there it is literally like stepping back into medieval era! 
Extremely old restaurant in Pérouges
It seems as if it's hardly changed at all unless you look closely for an occasional mailbox or power meter which are fairly well hidden for the most part.  The town has been used as a setting for a few medieval period movies.
Walking the old streets of Pérouges
Another great part of this trip was a venture from Lyon into the Maconnais Region.  It is the most southern wine growing terrain of Burgundy. Dry wines made from Chardonnay grapes are produced here. The rolling hills, vineyards and picturesque country villages are spectacular.
The beautiful and distinctive terrain of the Maconnais Region

Châteauneuf-du-Pape is small wine village in the Rhone Valley. The grapes grow in a very rocky and sandy terrain. Actually, the term “rocky” is an understatement; it is the most extraordinary ground imaginable.  The stony terrain (see the photo, below) makes one wonder how anything could grow here.  
Vineyards of Southern France!  The rocky soil seems to do the trick!
But the vines, indeed do grow.  Some of these vines are around 100 years old.  Indeed, Rhone Valley wines are a blend of different grapes that thrive here. There are around thirteen variety of grapes growing in the Rhone Valley, but Grenache is the primary grape. 

Wine tasting in a medieval setting!  Amazing!
Wine tasting in these regions is an educational experience.  The French take great pride in their wines and love to share their knowledge of cultivating grapes and the wine making process with their guests.  In many small villages, such as Châteauneuf-du-Pape, it seems as if every other building is a winery.  Generally, most are open to the public for a tasting experience. You can purchase wine directly from the wine houses and they will ship it for you. 

As we neared the end of our trip, one of the highlights was the tour of Arles, the point of disembarkation.  Again, you take in the former grandeur of the Roman Empire when you see the coliseum (still used for bullfights) as well as the Roman aqueducts.. 

The ancient Roman coliseum, one of many throughout southern France.

But for those with a bent to the medieval period, be sure to tour the Church of St. Trophime with its amazing cloister.

The Church of St. Trophime
Take the time to walk the galleries and observe the detailed capitals that depict many scenes of the Old and New Testament.
Biblical tales a evident throughout the Cloister.
Whether you are an art connoisseur or not, you are walking through a dwelling of Vincent Van Gogh. That poor tortured artist took refuge in Arles in the year 1888.  The town has gone to great pains to inform visitors that they are standing in the exact spot where Van Gogh painting some of his beautiful and more renown pieces such as The Night Cafe, the Yellow Room, Starry Night Over the Rhone, and Garden of the Hospital in Arles
The setting for Vincent Van Goph's The Night Cafe
This city was a fascinating experience!  It was bittersweet, too, because we knew our cruise was over.  

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Alaska Cruise and Tour

In June 2014,  we did a 11 day Denali Park Tour and 7 cruise. I organized this trip for 20 people, consisting of family and friends. We saw so much beautiful scenery on this tour: glaciers, wildlife, waterfalls, the Tongass Natural Forest. We were also surprised at how much we learned about the rich Alaskan history and culture.

Mount McKinley

The train ride through Denali Park was a real treat. The scenery is spectacular, and the staff on the train is extremely energetic and accommodating. The lunch we had on-board was absolutely delicious.
Alaska Railroad
Denali Park is huge. Taking the bus trip 60 miles into the park is somewhat demanding, but it gives you an idea of the immensity of this national treasure. The further you drive north, the forest begins to get thinner, and you really understand how far north you are, moving into the region of tundra.

Denali Park
We traveled with a group of 20 people, consisting of family members and friends. Most of the group did the 11 day Denali Tour and Cruise, while others met the ship at the Whittier port for the cruise portion only.
Barker Family at the Denali Bluff Hotel
Whale watching is spectacular fun. You get very close to these huge majestic animals. It’s amazing how graceful they are as they a surface for air. They don’t seem to mind your presence at all.

Whale Watching in Icy Point, Alaska
Alaska is famous for some of the largest glaciers in the world. These slow moving rivers of ice along with the blue tinted icebergs floating nearby are magnificent.

It is highly recommended that you take a trip to Skagway. While it is not a very large town, it nevertheless gives you a great idea of what it was like in Alaska during the early days of the gold mining in this region. Extremely rustic, and a lot of fun.

Skagway, Alaska
Creek Street is a quaint historic boardwalk along the banks of Ketchikan Creek in Ketchikan, Alaska.  A former Red Light District where both men and salmon swam upstream to spawn.

Creek Street in Ketchikan, Alaska
Vancouver Canada was a great stop. This city is a real jewel; it is absolutely sparkling in its cleanliness. Very tourist friendly.

Vancouver, Canada

This park is great for Nature lovers. The park has 7 suspended footbridges and treetop adventures, offering views 100 feet above the forest bed. You will be surrounded by towering evergreens and cedars.

Capilano Suspension Bridge near Vancouver, Canada

We would love to have you! So think about joining us for a 11 night Alaskan Cruise and tour. We depart Anchorage June 27, 2016. For additional information feel free to contact Kathy at

Sunday, August 16, 2015

The World is Now More Accessible Than Ever - Explore and Enjoy It!

The world is now more accessible than ever before. Twenty percent (62 million) of the U.S. population has some form of disability, and the number of these individuals is increasing daily. These people need to, want to, and can travel. If you’re part of that twenty percent, a world of travel awaits you.
Travel professionals such as myself who are accessible travel advocates certified by Special Needs Group, the leading global provider of special needs equipment for the travel industry, have unique, specialized knowledge about how to help individuals with disabilities enjoy a wonderful, hassle-free and memorable trip.
Here are a few tips from Special Needs Group to ensure that when your next travel opportunity arises, you are ready to go.

 Outline your travel needs

Take time to evaluate the logistics of your trip in relation to your ability to keep pace. What modes of transportation will you be using? Airplane, motor coach, train, ship, transit vans for ground transfers? Make a list, referring to relevant brochures, your trip organizer or travel agent to make sure you don’t miss anything.

Now, make a list of your specific requirements. Be honest: what types of special needs equipment do you depend on at home? What do you use or need (or wish you had!) when shopping, sightseeing locally, dining out or going to the movies, attending concerts, the theater, street fairs or sporting events at home?  

Can you hear and see clearly without special auditory equipment or visual aides?  How far can you walk without a rest break? Are stairs difficult? Can you get in and out of the tub or shower at home without handgrips or other assistance?

Travel, whether solo or in a group, is no time for roughing it or trying to “tough it out.” If a wheelchair, scooter or portable oxygen will make your trip easier, place that item on your list. Many people who do not use wheelchairs or walkers at home feel more comfortable using these mobility aides for tour and excursions. In fact, most of Special Needs Group’s wheelchair and scooter rentals are to individuals who only use such aides when traveling.   

Plan Ahead

If you already own a scooter or portable oxygen, it’s important to know the policy and procedures for bringing that equipment onboard all the transport vehicles included in your itinerary, from planes to taxis to ferry boats. Does that transport have a way to stow your scooter or wheelchair? Is oxygen allowed on board? Some airlines prohibit certain types of batteries, such as wet cell batteries, or oxygen cylinders. Airlines operate under strict rules, so there may be packing procedures to follow if they do allow the equipment. Keep in mind, most airlines need at least 48 hours’ notice to make special arrangements, and be prepared to fill out forms. 

Overall, cruise ships are more lenient in allowing oxygen, but some disallow certain types of oxygen. All require that the oxygen be delivered to the ship, and that you have enough for the entire voyage. Oxygen may never be brought aboard in your luggage. Requirements vary, so check your cruise line for proper instructions.  Again, documentation and paperwork are required. 

Whether you are headed for a cruise ship, hotel or all-inclusive resort, double check for wheelchair access at that venue, plus any venues you will be visiting on the trip.  Confirm that accessible hotel rooms, resort accommodations or ship staterooms are available for your travel dates. The earlier you book, the better your chances of securing fully accessible accommodations. And early booking increases your chances of securing a ground floor hotel room or cruise stateroom near the elevator, if these issues are important.

Check on the access to public rooms, restaurants, bars, toilets, the swimming pool, hot tub, beach area and other amenities. Are there TDD phone devices? How will you get in and out of the shower or bathtub? Are there flashing lights to accommodate hearing? Braille room numbers? Knowing in advance the scope of your needs gives you time to arrange advance rentals of any necessary equipment, scheduled to arrive when you do. Everything from scooters, lifts, ramps, TDD kits and special mattresses, including special needs cribs, is available for rental.

Will road travel or car excursions be part of the trip? Many car rental companies have vehicles that are modified for drivers or passengers with mobility limitations. Check ahead to make sure a suitable vehicle will be available for your travel dates. If you will be hiring a car or van, make sure the company is aware of your special needs.

When traveling with a limitation or disability, full travel insurance for medical coverage abroad and trip cancellation insurance are even more important and strongly advised.

Ask the Right Questions

When making the final bookings, be sure you ask the right questions, even if the accommodations or cruise stateroom are categorized as “accessible.”
For example, are doorways wide enough for the largest wheelchairs? Do the doors open outwards or into the room?
Are all the public areas of the hotel, resort or ship accessible? Do you need to make special arrangements in the dining room to accommodate the wheelchair or scooter?

Will the bathroom facilities truly fit your needs? Is the bathroom large enough for the wheelchair or scooter?

 Is there a roll-in shower? Grab-bars?

Are there facilities for companion/assistance animals?
Are there shopping and entertainment facilities close by if you are staying at a hotel or resort? 

On shore excursions or tours, does the van have a lift and method for transporting wheelchairs and scooters?  

Simply stated, don’t take anything for granted. It’s easy to arrange for almost every situation, and the world is wonderfully accessible, once you know what’s needed, what’s available and how to find the necessary equipment.

I look forward to helping you with all of your accessible travel needs!
Katherine Culclasure


Thursday, June 4, 2015

Why Join Kay's Group Dance Cruise?

Kay Lawson
Dance and Cruise with Kay


 Kay’s dance group departed on Jan 24, 2015 for a fun and relaxing seven night Western Caribbean cruise aboard Royal Caribbean’s Vision of the Seas. The group consisted of friends, students, and acquaintances of Kay Lawson, the owner/instructor from Kay’s Social Dancing.

Dancing on the Lido Deck

The voyage kicked off on the pool deck with a “meet and greet”.  New friends and old acquaintances had a few drinks and danced their first dance with the assist of the Vision of the Seas wonderful entertainment. Thus the stage was set for the rest of the cruise.

Meet and Greet
On the days out at sea, Kay instructed dance to the group in the “Some Enchanted Evening” Lounge. She taught Bachata, a dance that originated in the Dominion Republic.  Bachata? It is danced solo, in two-hand hold, open embrace and close embrace.  Challenging, but fun! 

Kay teaches dancing
But in any case the ship’s entertainment played a mixture of music allowing the dance group to show off a wide range of dance styles.

The Captain and his Staff entertain
The ship’s busy activity included other dance classes taught by the ship’s staff:  Line dancing, belly dancing, the “thriller” and salsa to name a few. Regards the “thriller”?  Of course all dressed as zombies. 

We seemed to be going everywhere!  The cruise itinerary included Cozumel, Costa Maya, Belize City, Belize, and Roatan (Honduras).   If we did not want to go on organized group tours, there many shore activities at the various ports: shopping, enjoying cocktails and just hangin’ out!

Al Tun HA Mayan Ruins
Looking for Kay? She was usually on the dance floor leading her students/friends in dance. She really left an impression; I heard many comments about the groups dancing ability, poise and style from other guests.

Cruising with Kay’s dance group is fun, fun, FUN!  Whether it’s singles or couples, this cruise has something to offer for dancers.

We would love to have you!  So think about Kay’s dance group cruise April 9, 2016.  For additional information feel free to contact Kathy at