Posts Tagged ‘holiday’

When I think back to our Caribbean cruise,  the day that brings the biggest smile to my face is our visit to St. Kitts!  Not only is it the most diverse of the islands (in my opinion), but our local guide, Royston, provided a fun and interesting first-hand look at this picturesque, history-rich gem of an island!


Royston was like a ray of sunshine with his friendly personality and pleasant smile. He greeted us just outside the terminal and walked us over to the Royston-mobile (as I like to call it) – a fresh air, windowless van that proved (as we would soon learn) that it could handle any terrain St. Kitts had to offer!  Stocked with ice cold beverages and 2 fun married couples from Utah, we boarded the Royston-mobile eager for the adventure ahead!




Our tour began with a drive through the charming capital city, Basseterre.


IMG_5717Built in 1883 and modeled after Piccadilly in London, The Berkeley Memorial is
an ornate clock tower and drinking fountain that sits in the heart of Basseterre.


IMG_5745The stunning Government House.

Did you know that St. Kitts has a Veterinarian school called Ross University?
I had no clue that it existed!  And an ocean view too…score!

Around the Island ~ Royston Style!

The thing I think I enjoyed the most was the spontaneity Royston provided on the tour.  We already knew what sights we’d see that day, but Royston added something special to it.  He sprinkled the day with the unexpected…like for instance, taking us to non-touristy spots that he enjoyed as a child…or gathering sugar cane so we could feed donkeys…or driving us right on the beach!  It was moments like those that made his tour better than we could have hoped for!

IMG_5969Royston gathering sugar cane.


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERARoyston knew exactly where to take us for superb photo opportunities!


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMy hubby found his Jeep twin in St. Kitts on a random cliff overlooking the ocean!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADid I mention Royston was funny?
He pulled a “photo bomb” with the Royston-mobile while I was taking a photo of hubby!


The Royston-mobile brought us up close & personal to the stunning
beaches of St. Kitts!
As you can see, our tour-mate enjoyed the drive on the beach!  🙂

IMG_5731What’s better than a flock of egrets in a tree?…

IMG_5763A flock of bottles in a tree!  😉
I’d like to introduce the “Rum Tree” – a mango tree adorned with empty
bottles from oh-so-happy men from a nearby bar!

IMG_5765I just loved holding this sweet little monkey!

IMG_5778Bath, anyone?
This oversized “tub” was really used to melt down sugar cane.


The Rainforest

Driving through the rainforest was like entering a different world.  The light rain dripping from the canopy of trees created a magical ambiance.



IMG_5873My tarzan swinging on a vine!

IMG_5868The lush rainforest was a sight to behold…

IMG_5823…and so were these cute goats…

IMG_5813…and so was my hubby!  🙂

Black Rocks

On the northeastern coast of St. Kitts is Black Rocks, a picturesque collection of lava rocks adorning the coast from the nearby volcano Mount Liamuiga.





Wingfield Estate

Back in 1625, Wingfield Estate was the first working estate on the island for sugar, molasses, tobacco and rum.  And it happened to be owned by Thomas Jefferson’s great-great-great-grandfather, Sam Jefferson!  It was fun to explore the remains and learn about how they cultivated the land that included a water wheel!














Romney Manor

Formerly owned by Sam Jefferson, this gorgeous 6 acre estate is now home to Caribelle Batik, a shop that sells a variety of popular batik products that are hand-printed in the studio using an old Indonesian wax-and-dye process.




OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAColorful batik products



Brimstone Hill Fortress National Park

History buff or not, the Brimstone Hill Fortress is a marvel to behold!  A UNESCO World Heritage Site, it is a wonderfully preserved fortification and an architectural masterpiece with unmatched sweeping views in every direction!




Designed by British military engineers and built by African slave labor, this magnificent fortress took over 100 years to construct beginning in the 1690’s.



Looking into the horizon, I could almost see the fleet of 50 French ships coming in to storm the fortress!












If you’re ever in St. Kitts, put Brimstone Hill Fortress at the top of your list!  It’s only $10 to get in…so why not experience this rich piece of history?
Oh, & be sure to bring good walking shoes for those uneven steps up to the fortress!

IMG_5916The Royston-mobile sure got around!


Did I mention the a-ma-zing views?

The Peninsula

Did you know that Royston has an adventurous side?  Yep!  The Royston-mobile was not afraid to take us off the beaten path and into places other tour companies would not go!  We’d be driving along a paved road, and he’d suddenly veer off into the brush and drive us somewhere simply stunning!

Others may have tried, but only Royston will get you there in one piece!  LOL!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAYou can’t tell from looking, but Royston pulled that van right up to the edge for a simply stunning outlook of the Peninsula!
The parking area for the “other” tour vans was well below us!

Behold – the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea!
Simply stunning!



IMG_1900If this is a dream, don’t wake me!

Lunch at South Friar’s Bay

Lunch was included in the tour, and Royston stopped at his friend’s little eatery to pick up 7 ‘rotis’ – a wrap with potato, mild curry, spices, and a choice of beef, chicken, conch or veggie.  With lunch in tow, Royston drove us to “The God Father” – an empty beach bar by day (but not by night!) that acts as the perfect place to enjoy the delicious food and gorgeous views of South Friar’s Bay!



IMG_1912South Friar’s Bay



IMG_1927During the tour, Royston stopped by his dad’s house to pick something up.
As the van pulled away, we could hear his dad shout out,
“You hired the best man!”
We couldn’t agree more!


Our wonderful day in St. Kitts was over, but as our ship pulled away,
there was one more surprise awaiting us…

IMG_6022Until next time St. Kitts…

What part of this tour would you enjoy the most?

St. Kitts is lucky to have Royston represent them!

If you’re ever in St. Kitts, please consider taking Royston’s Tours!
For $45, this is a quality tour that you won’t soon forget!

Royston Tours


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july 4
God Bless America!

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For seven days and nights, we called the Carnival Valor our home. 

Although we spent most of our time exploring the various islands on our cruise itinerary, we got to know the Valor very well and discovered that it was more than just a floating hotel. They don’t call it the “Fun Ship” for nothing!

So come aboard and discover all the fun you can have on the Carnival Valor without leaving the ship!

1. Share your room with different “animals” in your room every night…or just take a towel folding class and make your own!







2. Enjoy a bon voyage party on your first night at sea complete with music, games and fun!


3. Try different culinary masterpieces every day…


4. …or satisfy your sweet tooth craving with 24 hour soft serve!  My husband agreed that dessert before dinner was perfectly acceptable! LOL!



5. See entertaining shows every night!


6. Enjoy a party at sea complete with a “Hairy Chest Contest!”


7. Gaze out into the vast blue.


8. Watch movies outside…in the middle of the sea…in a pool…or a hot tub…or on a lounge chair…the choice is yours!


9. Get competitive with games like “Name that Celebrity.”


10. Snag a beach chair, & work on your tan.  These empty chairs were a rare sighting!


11. Get windswept!


12. Enjoy perks of being a return Carnival Cruise customer.  The perks get better with each cruise you take. We were treated to a jumbo bottled water…and it came in handy!


13. Go on a photo safari.



14. Play miniature golf…in the desert…and on the sea!


15. Do absolutely nothing…


16. Make new friends. (Ours were from Montreal, Canada)


17. Watch your server shake his money maker!


18.  Release your inner child!  (And we released it twice!)



19. Watch the sky turn into a brilliant shade of coral.


20. Awaken to a breathtaking view.


21. Indulge in a decadent dessert!


22. Be curious & explore the ship!


23. Get gussied up and have a professional take your photo!  (There are backdrops for every mood…so be creative and have fun!)


24. Realize that you love cruising and can’t wait to do it again!


And that just scratches the surface!  The list goes on and on…from comedians to karaoke to yoga to the casino to dance lessons to kids clubs…the Valor has it all!

Never once was I bored!

The selection of activities was endless, and at times, we had a hard time fitting it all in!

So if you’re on the fence about cruising, trust me when I say, go for it!

It’s an experience you’ll always cherish for years to come!

 I know we will!

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Last year, after spending 5 blissful days on the beautiful island of Maui, my husband and I boarded the Mokulele Express, and for one hour, we lazily dreamed of what awaited us on the Big Island of Hawaii.

You see…on our Hawaiian vacation, we wanted to experience something other than a typical hotel room.  We searched for something unlike anything we’ve experienced before, and so may I introduce…the enchanting Bali Tree Cottage in Captain Cook, Hawaii.

Bali Tree Cottage

A 12 year labor of love for long time residents, Ron and Karen Repan, the delightful Bali Tree Cottage combines rustic charm with modern conveniences blending the best of outdoor with indoor.  A true glamping experience!

Bali Tree Cottage

Arriving at 4:00pm, Karen met us at the entrance of the driveway leading to the cottage.  Her hospitality was genuine and abundant!  After settling into our new accommodations, Karen suggested we take a less than two minute walk over to the gorgeous Manini Beach Park overlooking the Kealakekua Bay.  She gave us a brief tour and history of the area (post to come!), and upon our return, the sound of relaxing Hawaiian music filled the air.  Ron, Karen’s sweet husband, had turned on the cd player in the cottage and stood on the porch welcoming us with a warm smile and two glasses of vino!

We felt like family!


Staying in the house next door, the Repans always respected our privacy and were just a few steps away if we had any questions or just wanted to say hello.

Curious about the origin of this open air cottage, Ron and Karen entertained us with the story of how it came about.

“Ron loves beautiful things.” Karen said, smiling his way.

Never experiencing Bali but loving the architecture and feel of Thailand, Ron expected to see many outdoor Bali-style cottages or huts upon moving to Hawaii, but he couldn’t find a single one…and so began his 12 year labor of love.

Visiting several antique shops through the years, he invested in gorgeous Balinese hand carved teak panels with intricate details, many which were left in the jungle for possibly over a hundred years.

Ron spoke enthusiastically about the panel on the front of the cottage.  “This panel is worth $12,000, but I got it for $6,000.  It took five men to lift it.  This wood doesn’t interest termites – it’s too heavy.”

Bali Tree Cottage

Nothing was overlooked in the Bali Tree Cottage.

On the balcony you will find a full service kitchen stocked with just about everything you need. A refrigerator, freezer, oven, sink, towels and dishes were all available for our use.  Just be sure to clean up after yourself…or the ants will!  A variety of spices, sauces and condiments are available to add to any dish you make.  There’s also a BBQ located in the garden that came in handy for preparing our steaks one evening.

Outdoor KitchenOutdoor kitchen

When you’re ready to enjoy that meal, choose from the lovely outdoor garden dining area or cozy up indoors.

Outdoor Dining

Bali Tree Cottage - Dining Room

Relaxing is something that comes easily here.  Rock back and forth into a peaceful state to the sound of the ocean waves on a comfortable rocking chair or on the garden hammock. Or enjoy some time reading, listening to the radio or just spending quality time with whoever you choose to in the thoughtfully eclectic living area (ficus tree included!)

Relaxing Porch

Bali Tree CottageLiving area

A unique sleeping experience awaits you in this four-poster bed with net draping.  Recycled metal for the roof keeps the raindrops and tree nuts at bay.  A decorative double vanity opposite the bed has a basket full of soaps, sun screen and heavy duty bug repellent (which was greatly needed and appreciated!)

Bali Tree Cottage - Bedroom

Double VanityDouble vanity in bedroom

Bali Tree Cottage

From the bedroom, exit through large wooden doors and wash the day away in the refreshing outdoor shower. Complete with soap, shampoo, conditioner, lotions, towels and therapeutic rocks to stimulate the shiatsu zones in your feet, your main job is to simply enjoy.  The sound of vibrant birdsong and rustling breezes comes into high definition as you become mesmerized by the truly special ambiance.  A definite highlight of our stay!

Shower HeavenOutdoor shower area

Outdoor Shower

Ron’s passion for surfing is also apparent in his large collection of surfboards inside the cottage and outside in the garden.

Surfboard Collection

Being a former surfer himself, Ron would also buy broken surfboards off of their owners for around $20, and he would have them sign it for his collection.  Some were designed by the best artists of the era while others are just beautiful to look at.

A special surfboard known as “Da Bomb” hangs from the bedroom ceiling.  Hand built on a warship in the Gulf War, Ron found this surfboard in a shop in Hawaii.  Just hanging in the surf shop for 5 years, Ron asked the store owner if he could buy it off of him, but the shop owner wasn’t receptive to his request, so Ron suggested they flip a coin.

Heads, the shop owner keeps it, and tails, Ron buys it off of him.  It landed on tails.

Although not shown here, a female on the back of the board is a copy of the one on the nose of the B-29 “Enola Gay.”

"Da Bomb" “Da-Bomb” (the gray one pictured here)

The outside of the cottage is as intricate and methodically thought out as the inside!

Step out of the cottage and into a wonderland filled with everything to delight the senses!  Lose track of time by simply getting lost in the lush garden and decorative elements including paper lanterns, tiki torches, stringed lights and surf boards.

Bali Tree Cottage

Surfboard Collection

Enchanting YardBackyard paradise

Pathway to Cottage


Beautiful Flowers


Various diverse plants decorate the landscape making you feel worlds away.

“Let me show you the sensitivity plant.”  On a table was what looked like an everyday fern.  “Now touch the leaves.”  I did as Ron instructed, and the leaflets folded in as if protecting themselves from predators.

The next plant Ron showed me had a more threatening way of protecting itself.  It was called the serenity plant.  Coming out of the trunk were dozens of razor sharp thorns.  “Touch the point very softly.”  And as I suspected, this plant was no joke.

A large ficus tree is an integral part of the cottage.  Intertwining in and out of the living room, you truly feel like you are camping in the jungle.

Ficus Tree

We quickly learned that combining both the indoors and outdoors meant that we would be sharing our lodging with visitors of all kinds.

“Now don’t be afraid.  That’s only a kane spider.  They’re gentle and shy…and they don’t bite.”

I stared at this thin, branch-like spider that fell on the table right in front of me.  Ron ensured me that I could pick it up and it wouldn’t harm me.  “It’s like holding a tarantula.”

These experiences had become an expected part of our lives for 3 fun-filled days here at the cottage, and we started to look forward to meeting our new four and six-legged friends (minus the mosquitoes!)

Peek-a-boo GeckoThis gecko loved the camera!

GeckoHe enjoyed hanging out with us in the outdoor kitchen.

IMG_0228Not sure who this little guy was, but what a unique looking creature!

Purry the CatPurry, the Repan’s sweet kitty, was always a welcomed guest!

There were so many things I loved about our stay at the Bali Tree Cottage.  From the vibrant birdsong greeting us in the morning, to the outdoor shower experience, to the unique ambiance of the cottage, to the simple act of relaxing.

IMG_0395Manini Beach Park

The list can go on forever, but what I enjoyed most was the warm hospitality from our wonderful hosts, Karen and Ron, who made us feel like family and ensured we had a memorable time. Whether it be enjoying each others company while watching a glorious sunset…or sharing stories…or Ron supplying me with treats for my solo walk to the nearby Keii beach…or bringing us delicious coffee one morning while we were enjoying an early morning sunrise…or Karen stopping by to say “Good Morning” with her darling dog Chloe and offering recommendations on places to visit. These heartwarming acts of kindness played a large part in shaping our trip into the wonderful experience that we will cherish forever.

Upon asking Karen what she thinks draws travelers to the Bali Tree Cottage and Kealakekua Bay year after year, she replied,

As to our success with Airbnb, I think the fact that we are here onsite to check people in and help them with any questions really helps.  I don’t know of any other vacation rentals in the bay that have onsite owners.  Also, because of all our great reviews, we are #1 to come up on site!!  We really want to share the Aloha of this Island!

Karen, our wonderful hostessAnd Aloha they did share!
One last photo with Karen before leaving the cottage.  We missed Ron 😦

If staying in an open air, Balinese style cottage experience in beautiful Captain Cook, Hawaii is something that sounds like fun (and it is!), check out this jewel on, and contact Karen and Ron to book your stay!

I guarantee it’ll be an experience you’ll cherish forever!







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After our enchanting stay in Maui, we arrived on the Big Island of Hawaii and drove for about an hour until we reached our new island dwelling.  This tranquil coral and lava-filled beach was a mere 1.5 minute walk from our tropical sanctuary.

Can anyone guess what beach this is?

Whoever guesses right will get a ray of California sunshine sent their way!  😉

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Twin Falls

The 52 mile Road to Hana on Maui’s east coast is full of wonder and beauty around every hairpin turn.  The first waterfall on our journey was the stunning Twin Falls located in a peaceful cove surrounded by lush foliage.  The scenic and oftentimes slippery 30 minute hike was well worth it!  To get there, you’ll need to cross a small stream and walk over other tricky, slippery surfaces, so leave your flip flops in the car, strap on a pair of sturdy waterproof shoes and be sure to bring your camera!

Twin Falls is the perfect way to kick off your Road to Hana experience!

Check out more Photo Bliss!

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Have you ever stayed at a hotel that left you speechless?

Back in 2010 when my hubby and I planned our dream honeymoon, we decided to splurge (just a little) on one hotel throughout the entire trip so that way we’d have more spending cash for other things like excursions, souvenirs and dining experiences.

First we had to decide on our splurge location…and that was an easy choice – the stunning Greek island of Santorini.

Now the hard part – choosing a place to stay among the many cliff hugging, magical, white washed hotels that just oozed charm.

After going back and forth, we decided on this gem:

Hotel KetiHotel Keti is located in Fira Town, Capital of Santorini

The “Cavehouse Suite” was our first choice, but it was already booked, so we stayed in a “Double Superior” room which worked our perfectly!  At 120 euros a night, it was a splurge to us, but compared to the neighboring hotels…it was quite a bargain!

Room in Hotel KetiThe room was quaint, simple & modern.
Hotel KetiThe bathroom was spacious with a jacuzzi tub.

But here’s the real reason we chose this hotel:

View from Hotel Keti
 Stunning views right outside our door!
IMG_0599_r1Private terrace time
View from the front doorDoorway to paradise!
Hotel KetiTalk about grand entrance!
View of Fira from our terrace.
Enjoying vino and the viewsVino + Gorgeous Views = Happy Jen!

Sure, you have to walk down almost 100 winding cobblestone steps to reach the hotel, but with views like this…it’s so worth it!  (And if you need a little assistance, a porter is available to carry your bags…for 20 euros.)

Breathtaking viewsCruise ships in the harbor.

The front desk personnel were extremely friendly & very helpful with directions, excursions & suggestions on things to do.

Welcoming committeeWe even had a welcoming committee (who was very cute!)

Little did we know that on our last night in Santorini was the annual  fireworks display commemorating the eruption of the volcano.

Fireworks advertisement

All we had to do was step outside our door to the best seats in the house, kick back & be awed by the vibrant, beautiful display in the distance.

Virtual volcanic eruptionFlares and fireworks created a virtual representation of the volcanic eruption.



IMG_0737_r1Fireworks then continued over Fira lighting up the town.





Honeymooning in Santorini and staying at Hotel Keti was definitely the highlight of the trip.  If you ever consider traveling to Santorini, I wholeheartedly recommend getting swept away by this magical jewel!

Hotel KetiTrust me, you won’t be disappointed!

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A big, santa-sized belated Merry Christmas to you all!

How time has flown!  I hope you’ve all enjoyed this lovely season with your family and friends.

IMG_6948aMerry Christmas!

Christmas here was full of love, cheer and too much yummy food!  But ’tis the season, is it not?

My apologies for my lack of blogs lately.  I was thinking of you all, I promise.  It’s just that I’m working on a large project that will affect the lives of me and my husband, and it has taken up soooo much of my time.  I can’t reveal what this project is yet, but I promise you, when the time is right, I will.  🙂

Sunset SkiesSunset Skies

Ok, so I just had to show you the view from my balcony this evening.  Today was very gloomy, grey and cold, and then suddenly out of nowhere, the sun emerged.  The sunset is just to the right of the photo, but it lit up the sky making the trees so vibrant…that just made my day!

So I can’t believe that 2013 is almost here…and I can’t wait!

I’m ready to close the chapter known as 2012.  It’s just been one of those years, ya know?  And I’m so ready to close that chapter and begin anew.

So with only a few days left of 2012, I took down our pint-sized Christmas tree (shown above), cleaned up the house, created some New Year’s resolutions (to be revealed later)…and this past Thursday, I went to a concert.

My hubby’s cousin’s friend has some amazing connections and got us complementary tickets to see Social Distortion at the House of Blues on Sunset Blvd.

Have any of you heard of them? 

They are an American punk rock band and were formed in the late 70’s in our beloved city of Fullerton.  Growing up in the 80’s, they had lots of air play on the radio!

So the evening was about to become very surreal.  What wasn’t revealed to us was that about an hour before the show, we were going to be given a VIP tour of the House of Blues!  I was like, this doesn’t happen to regular people like ourselves!  After getting our wristbands on & complimentary beverages in hand, we were basically shown one VIP room after another where the elite & musicians hang out, dine and perform for the lucky few.  I was literally walking around in a fog of disbelief.  Sure, I didn’t look the VIP part in my jeans, sneakers, sweatshirt and windblown hair, but I think I faked it…sorta…lol! 

OK and the reason you’re not seeing fabulous photos is because 1.) I didn’t know about the surprise tour  2.) My husband’s camera phone feature doesn’t do low light well and 3.) I didn’t want to be carrying valuables around during the show...but had I known…this page would be overflowing with amazing-ness!!! 

After an unbelievable tour, the show was about to begin.  Once again, I was in disbelief when our tour guide led us to VIP seating!

Umm…shouldn’t we sitting in the nosebleed section?  lol!

I had no idea that the HOB has actual seating up in front right behind the pit, and it was perfect since my legs were getting tired…and there was no way I was going to join the youthful energy that is known as the mosh pit!!!  🙂

SocialDSocial Distortion

Needless to say, the show was one to remember and a great way to end the last Thursday of 2012!

Before I conclude my last blog post of 2012, I want to thank you all for joining me in my Passport to Bliss!  There are lots of exciting things coming up in 2013, and I can’t wait to share them all with you!

Wishing you all a wonderful, memorable and cozy New Year!   Til 2013…

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As the train pulled up into the station, I wondered if, in my broken Italian, I was able to explain to Leonardo two hours earlier that I missed my connecting regional train to the small town of Magreglio & that I would be an hour late.  With my luggage in one hand and an umbrella in the other, I stepped off the train into the downpour searching for someone who I emailed a total of five times.

A few people walked by, but no one was purposely looking for me…until I saw a man with a small child walk by.  Our eyes locked, but he just kept walking.  He took a few steps more, but stopped in his tracks & came back to where I was standing.  “Jennifer?”  A wave of relief swept through me.  “Leonardo!!!”  Martino, his little boy, looked up at me.  “Ciao!”

My host family had arrived.

My wonderful host family: Leonardo, Mita and Martino

As we walked up to the entrance of his home, Mita, his lovely wife, opened the door to greet me.  As I walked out of the pouring rain and into their home, the inviting aroma of warm pasta, spices, breads and vino filled the air.  Before my eyes was the most beautiful spread of food laid out on a table decorated with a red tablecloth and flowers.  I was overwhelmed at the trouble they went through to make their guest feel welcome and at home…and they really did!   So this is what Servas International is all about.

When I first started traveling solo, I discovered how liberating & exciting it could be!  I loved the freedom to go wherever I wanted, whenever I wanted.  But what I craved was something more meaningful.  I wanted to really get to know the locals, their culture and their daily life.  Sure, I would engage in casual small talk with the locals, but it was usually short lived, and I was on to the next destination.

So before embarking on my second solo journey to Europe, I decided to do more than just sight see.  I wanted to be a part of a host family and join in their everyday life.  Through my research, I discovered Servas International and  decided to join their worldwide hospitality network.

Servas is purposeful travel. Travelers and hosts are united by their desire to help build world peace, goodwill and mutual understanding by participating in visits with individuals and families of diverse cultures and backgrounds.  –

Applying is as easy as it was 5 years ago:

  1. Apply online
  2. Receive Application Packet in the mail.
  3. Fill out Traveler Application. (Included in your application packet.)
  4. Choose your Servas interviewer. (A list of interviewers is included in your application packet.  You can also look them up online.  There are many to choose from, but I just opted for the one closest to my home. )
  5. Meet with your Servas interviewer & be approved as a traveler.  (New travelers and host families are always interviewed.  I felt better knowing this because it gave an extra sense of security for both parties involved.  They also require you have two letters of reference.)
  6. Fill out a Letter of Introduction.  (Once you’ve been approved as a traveler, you are given a validated Letter of Introduction that is good for 12 months.  The host family usually requests that you email the letter to them once they agree to host you, or they ask that you present it to them upon arrival.  The Letter of Introduction asks for things like your name, passport number, email address, phone number, occupation, permanent address, dates of travel, languages spoken, description of yourself and your trip, what learning goals you have for your travels, interests and hobbies, previous Servas experience, involvement with any peace movements, etc…)
  7. Pay your yearly fee.  (For an adult, it’s $85.00)
  8. Get a borrowed host book list.  (Host books give you the information on the host families in the country you want to visit.  They usually provide contact information, their hobbies, location, etc…  This needs to be returned upon completion of your trip.  )
  9. Contact the host family you’re interested in.  (Sometimes they may not be available during the times you request, so just keep looking – you’ll find that perfect host family!)
  10. Get to know your host family.  (I emailed Leonardo a few times before going to Italy just to get to know him and his family a little better.)
  11. Travel to your destination & HAVE FUN!

The next couple of days with my host family were wonderful!

They drove me all around Lake Como and showed me hidden scenic spots since they knew I loved photography.

Mita kindly let me borrow her rain boots because I wasn’t expecting rain.

We went shopping, took a cruise on Lake Como and went to quaint lakeside villages.

I spoke of my life in California, and they talked about their love of Italy and of being a host family.

We gave each other language lessons – Italian for me, and English for them.

Leonardo knew I’d be traveling to Paris at the end of my trip, so he offered me travel tips, a map of Paris and the best way to navigate the city.

The days went by so fast, and at the end, it felt like I was saying goodbye to old friends.  I really felt like we were all bonded by our love of meeting new people, experiencing new cultures and spreading peace and friendship through traveling.

On the last day, Leonardo and his family drove me all the way to the train station in Lecco and treated me to coffee as I waited for my train to arrive.  They made sure I was at the right terminal and that I had my ticket in hand with the right regional train number – they sincerely cared.  We said our goodbyes and gave each other one last hug, and with a heavy heart, I boarded the train.  As it pulled away from the station, I looked back at my lovely host family, & they waved to me for the longest time.  My heart was full.

I will always remember and hold dear to my heart my first Servas experience with my Italian family, Leonardo, Mita and Martino.  ♥

Have you ever hosted a traveler or been hosted by a family?  What was your experience like?  I’d love to hear about it!

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Two weeks ago, my husband and I took a much deserved holiday to New York, Washington D.C. and Virginia.  Since it was my first time to each of those states, it was a real treat, and I brought back some wonderful memories…in addition to a wicked flu bug!  Since I’m resting up this weekend, now is a good time to share with you our adventures from our first stop, NYC.

We left on May 21st on a red eye that departed at 9:45pm and arrived in NYC at 5:30am.  First off, remind me to never take the red eye again!  I thought we could sleep our way through the night after some pre-flight vino and arrive refreshed and awake…oh well…it was a nice thought!

Visions of our hotel room were very inviting as we touched down in NYC.  We looked forward to resting up that morning so we would be rejuvenated for our 6 hour walking tour which started at 10:00am.  Now I know what you’re thinking…are they completely mad?  Not really…but due to very limited holiday time that I have at work, we had to cram as much of each city into each day as possible, and in NYC, that started promptly at 10:00am.

Well it turns out our room wouldn’t be ready until 3:30pm, and they didn’t have any public bathrooms that we could freshen up in.  Luckily the Starbucks across the street did have a bathroom, and so we changed into some fresh clothes, splashed water on our faces, got some coffee and headed out on a morning stroll that took us directly to Times Square!

My hubby in Times Square
(He looks rather good for getting only a few winks of sleep.)

Before our trip, I checked the weather, and it stated that there would be scattered thunder showers and humidity in all 3 states, so I wasn’t really sure how to pack because the humidity I heard can be quite dreadful!  (And fyi…I totally failed in my philosophy of packing light!)   Lucky for us though, the rain was more like a light mist, and it helped balance out the humidity…so it was quite pleasant!

We spent some time soaking in the awe of Times Square.  Every year I would watch Dick Clark as he hosted “New Year’s Rockin’ Eve”, and I would count down the seconds as the ball dropped.  What I envisioned was everything I hoped for!  The pulse of the city, the people, the lights, the billboards, the food, the excitement…it’s all there!  I had a hard time breaking away from Times Square, but it was time to head to our 6 hour walking tour.

We decided to go with Real New York Tours because what better way is there to experience New York than with an real New Yorker!  Our guide’s name was Jimmy, and what a character he was!  Born and raised in New York, he had quite a few stories to share with us and a wealth of knowledge on the city’s history…and some jokes to keep us on our toes!

Our guide Jimmy from Real New York Tours

When you sign up with Real New York Tours, be sure to strap on your most comfortable walking shoes and get ready to walk…quickly…all over the city and up and down stairs going to & from the subways.  This is a no-nonsense walking tour.  If you’re new to New York or want a more in depth look at the city and get some interesting stories & facts from a local, this is a tour to look into.  I’ve learned so much about this great city thanks to Jimmy.

For $70.00, you really get your money’s worth!

Here is a brief itinerary of what we covered in those 6 hours:

China Town
Little Italy
Times Square
Greenwich Village
Wall Street
Strawberry Fields
Washington Square Park
Central Park
Ground Zero (surrounding area)
St. Paul’s Chapel

Here are just a few photos from the afternoon:

St. Paul’s Chapel
It’s hard to believe it suffered no damage from the attacks on 9/11.

The chapel was filled with remembrances of 9/11.

NYC Firefighter uniform from 9/11.

Cross forged from destruction.

Badges of courage and honor.

Wall Street

Central Park

New York traffic

John Lennon memorial in Strawberry Fields

Love this sign!

According to Jimmy, Little Italy doesn’t have the best Italian food…but China Town does!

And he was right!  We stopped at family-owned Forlini’s for lunch…wow!!!

Can you believe that this little Greenwich village hot spot is where Jimi Hendrix, Bruce Spingsteen,
Bob Dylan,
Bill Cosby & Richard Prior all got their start?

Nothing like a game of chess on a Tuesday afternoon!

It was a fun afternoon of sights and sounds, but the day was still young.  After the tour, we headed back to the hotel, showered, took a brief nap and headed out for the evening…stay tuned for:  Visions of New York, Day 1 (Part 2).

Have you ever been to New York?   If so, what’s your favorite memory?

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