Japanese Gardens: Travel Impressions

August 24, 2015

Japanese gardens have been around for centuries. They have been, and continue to be the source of inspiration for poets, writers, painters, sculptors and the general public. The Japanese garden is closely linked to the Japanese tea ceremony. Their idea is to awaken the spirit to the realization of our humility in our relationship with the world and the universe around us. It emphasizes the connection between the body’s movements and the mind. It was during the Heian period (794-1185) that gardens came to be viewed in this way. They separated from a solely religious purpose and began to include more secular motives such as the tea ceremony, amusement, contemplation and recreation.

The Japanese garden takes several forms. The one most recognizable to me is the one which includes guided paths and water features that serve to guide a visitor. There are also dry gardens, where racked sand is used to represent ripples on the surface of water. A typical garden has a center, or viewing point. This is usually a home or a place where tea ceremonies are held with a purposeful view of the garden.

A typical list of some possible features in a Japanese garden might contain:

Water, whether real or symbolized.

A bridge spanning the water or stepping stones to allow crossing the water feature.

A hedge, fence or a wall.

A central viewing point or pavilion.

The hedge feature is used to block out an unwanted view or to use some distant feature, such as a mountain, visible above the hedge, implying it is part of the garden by design. This adds to the sense of enclosure and vastness at the same time.

I visited the Earl Burns Miller Japanese Garden located at Cal State Long Beach. This public garden, unlike private ones, includes a wide variety of environments. The most obvious is the pond you come upon when you enter. It contains islands, water plants and rock features. It is crossed by an arching bridge and Koy, orange and white in an almost Pinto pattern, swim in large schools. The paths winds in and out of several different settings, each designed to set a different mood. A one point the path was broken and I had to look down and watch my footing. When I looked up again I saw a stand of bamboo partially concealing a small waterfall. I later learned the broken path was intended by design to take my eyes off the surroundings so that I could be rewarded by the water feature when I looked up again. It worked, I felt rewarded. Maybe not in that exact wording but I did feel suddenly glad I was there.

Drive On.

Joseph Valentinetti is an author of novels: fiction and fiction based on fact. He writes articles on a variety of subjects, from impressions of travel spots to speculating about the name of the moon, but his focus is on his writing and author interviews. Get better acquainted at http://www.valentinetti.com. Join his site, pick up his feed and become part of the dialog. Read A Book.

Martinique Travel – Warm Up Your Winter Vacation

July 24, 2015

If you are looking for the true French Experience but prefer to enjoy it in tropical climes, consider Martinique. More so than its French neighbors, Guadeloupe and St. Barts, Martinique is the social and cultural center of the French Antilles.

The reasons to vacation in Martinique are far more than its French ambience. The exotic island contains beautiful sandy-white beaches and lush rainforests. Its people, the Martiniquaise, are both charming and elegant.

Martinique’s terrain is mountainous, especially in its northern rainforests, where the volcano Mantagne Pelee rises to a height of 4,582 feet. As you travel to the island’s center, the mountains are smaller, with Carbet Peak’s summit reaching 3,897 feet. Martinique’s southern portion has hills, known as mornes, that peak at just below 1,400 feet.

Martinique’s shape is irregular, with five bays and dozens of coves. Martinique’s western shore faces the Caribbean, and its eastern edge borders the Atlantic. About a third of the population of 360,000 resides in Fort-de-France, the capital and largest city.

The island almost always feels mild, with year-round temperatures of 75 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit. It’s kept cool by a tropical breeze called alize. Rain showers are frequent, especially during Fall, but last mere minutes.

Vegetation is bountiful in Martinique’s lush rainforests, including hibiscus, poinsettias, coconut palms, bougainvillea and mango trees. Fruits sprouting from the island’s soil encompass pineapples, bananas, papayas, avocados and custard apples.

Flavorful food plays a big role in Martinique’s personality, and excellent Creole cooking goes along with Creole customs and traditions that still flourish. Other cuisines represented in fine restaurants are French and Caribbean.

In addition to Fort-de-France, Martinique’s vacation spots are Pointe du Bout, The South Loop (comprised of Le Diamant, Ste-Luce, Le Marin and Ste-Anne) and The North Loop (consisting of Le Carbet, Montagne Pelee, Grand-Riviere, Le Marigot, Trinite and Le Francois). Lamentin International Airport is very convenient to the major vacation locales.

In which location you should stay depends on the type of vacation you prefer. If history and charm are to your liking, Fort-de-France might be your choice. The city dazzles with New Orleans-style iron grille work, flowers and fascinating people of Creole descent. But, you probably will not want to stay in Fort-de-France if you prefer a beach vacation. You would need to hop on a ferry to get to the sand and sea.

If a relaxing vacation is your preference, you might want to book accommodations in Pointe du Bout, across the bay from Fort-de-France. Pointe du Bout is the site of Martinique’s major hotels. It’s also a destination for tennis, water sports and, in nearby Les Trois-Ilets, a Robert Trent Jones-designed golf course. However, while the beaches of Pointe du Bout have white sand and are clean, they tend to be small, which makes them crowded.

A better option for beaches if you are staying in Pointe du Bout is driving or taking a taxi just south to Anse Mitan, where the beaches are large and less crowded, and the water is crystalline.

Though the largest resorts are in Pointe du Bout, the best places to stay are scattered throughout the island. For families, the kid-friendly Hotel Carayou in Pointe du Bout is a terrific choice. The historic Habitation LaGrange in Grand-Rivere at the island’s north end is stellar. The Cap Est Lagoon Resort & Spa near Le Francois on the Atlantic side is Martinique’s finest property.

Pointe du Bout has a smattering of decent restaurants, such as La Villa Creole and Le Pacha. Martinique’s most honored dining spots are in the Cap Est Lagoon Resort & Spa near Le Francois. They are a duo made up of the informal Le Campeche for lunch, specializing in Creole, and the romantic Le Belem at dinnertime, offering French and Antilles fare.

Martinique dream vacations are easy to book on the Internet. Companies such as Travel Impressions will guide you through building your dream trip. If you prefer, you can create your own custom holiday.

Silver Gate: The Coronado Ferry, Travel Impressions

June 24, 2015

Coronado Island is a popular tourist destination located on the Bay of San Diego. When you look at it on a map it is plain to see it is not an island at all but a peninsula that forms the northern end of the bay, a true natural harbor and deep water port which is home to the United States Navy’s Pacific Fleet and a docking station for cruise ships.

There is a ferry that runs from Coronado to San Diego, about a ten minute trip each way, with a fifteen minute layover on each side. The name of the ferry I took was Silver Gate, a small boat no doubt converted from some earlier unknown use. It was a crisp slightly overcast day, early in the morning. At least early for tourists since the shops don’t open until 10 the port is quiet during these hours and the passengers numbered about a dozen.

The water was clear and untroubled, the ferry’s movement across its calm face created the only breeze. I was sitting facing forward, looking out across the bow. To the northeast was San Diego to the northwest the Pacific Fleet.

My friend said, I sailed for Viet Nam from over there, pointing to the northwest. We got there early, a busload of us. I spent all day standing at the rail on the top deck of the troop ship watching the same parking lot my bus had pulled into. All day long, bus after bus pulled in and troops unloaded then disappeared up the gangplank into the ship. I couldn’t believe the number of them. It seemed like it might never end. Maybe we’d never get to Viet Nam, he joked.

He joked but I could tell from his tone of voice, growing weary as he spoke, that day had a numbing effect on him, watching the service personnel, by the thousands, go from being a single busload of individuals to a droning stream, a nameless parade. The very largeness of the event created its own opposite, a sense of smallness. Even after so many years the sting was still there, a palpable itch.

He continued. When we pulled out the guy next to me pointed his chin at Mission Beach and told me to take a good look, it was the last of America you’ll see for a while.

When we reached the San Diego side we debarked and climbed the gangplank to the street level. Amid the souvenir t-shirt and novelty sellers there was a line of pedal-cabs, modern rickshaws, ready to take us through downtown and the gaslight district. We decided to get back on the ferry.

Two Proven Profitability Drivers For Travel Agencies

May 24, 2015

The travel trade media are full of ideas for lowering expenses but not enough ideas about sure ways to increase your travel agency’s profitability. Yet there are proven business models which
work for mid-size and larger travel agencies.

1) Consider a straightforward dealership model in which the travel agency decides to
marry a single cruise line and moves 80%+ of its revenue to this vendor. In return the cruise line offers the agency the highest commission and override plus training, soft dollars and co-op marketing funds, cleared wait-lists and satisfactory resolution of customer issues 100 percent of the time.

This approach requires the travel agency to prove to a vendor that it is able to move most of its revenue within an agreed upon time frame. But think about it: today you advertise that your agents are specialists, yet they sell 15 to 20 preferred vendors – can they really be specialists? In a dealership, your agents learn everything about a single vendor and become true specialists.

o Plan on 9 to 12months to convert your business to one vendor from the time you reach an agreement.
o Put in place a non-preferred vendor tracking/compliance and offer an incentive only for the selected vendor.

2) Try a tour operator/retail travel agency model. Several national travel organizations are using this model well, including AAA Southern California which owns part of Pleasant Holidays; American Express which owns Travel Impressions and Flight Center owns GoGo and Liberty.

This model works when there is a large retail network of owned agencies to sell tours and programs as well as other retail travel agencies which can sell your products as well.

o Start by deciding on the appropriate tour operator that matches your strategy and niche (high-end/luxury or mass-market).
o Approach the owner or CEO with a partnership proposal which would benefit both of you.
o Suggest an infusion of investment and potentially expanded distribution outlets in return for % ownership in the tour company.

Travel vendors welcome discussions about dealership or part-ownership proposals. Travel business consultants such as Travel Business CPR will also investigate and negotiate on your behalf.