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Wonders Unlisted

Each list of wonders comes with its own set of criteria and standards. In addition, some of the lists have been voted on by the public, to allow travelers themselves some input. Because of these factors, there are many ?wonders? that have not made any well-known list, that I think still deserve credit. I?m not setting up any specific criteria, just sites that perhaps were up for consideration, or maybe were not, and that I feel are traveler must-sees. These are based on personal travel experiences, since for something like this, I only like to include those places I have seen and experienced myself. There are entirely too many to write about here, but below is a sample of some of my personal top wonders of the world that have not been included on the New or Natural Wonders lists.

Igua?u (Iguazu) Falls: At 269 feet and a total length of 1.7 miles, the falls of Igua?u are some of most revered in the world. They can be seen from you Paraguay, Brazil, or Argentina, though Argentina is often considered the best side from which to view them.

The Twelve Apostles/Great Ocean Road: Stretching from Torquay to Warnambool, Australia?s Great Ocean Road is 151 miles long and one of the most magnificent driving routes in the world. Most notable are the Twelve Apostles ? twelve limestone formations that jut out of the water along the coastline.

Dubrovnik?s walled city: While not on a ?wonders? list, the walled city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The city is believed to have been built in the 7th century, and though it?s been damaged by earthquakes and conflict, has managed to preserve it?s Gothic, Baroque, and Renaissance Architecture ? namely, it?s churches, monasteries, palaces and fountains. Visitors who walk along the city walls not only experience a taste of the past, but are rewarded with expansive view of the city within the walls, the harbor at the edge of the city, and the hills that sprawl behind it.

Milford Sound: Located within Fiordland Naitonal Park, Piopiotahi Marine Reserve, and Te Wahipounamu World Heritage Site in the South Island of New Zealand, it?s no surprise that Milford Sound makes our list of wonders. Rainforests cling to the sheer cliffs of 1,200 meters (3,900 feet) that surround the waterway, and the sound itself is home to seals, penguins and dolphins. With an annual rainfall average of 268 inches a year, over 182 days, it is considered one of the wettest places on earth.

Pompeii: I want to clarify that I don?t like to consider a tragedy, such as eruption of Mt Vesuvius in 79 AD that buried the city of Pompeii under up to 20 feet of ash, a ?wonder?. (Nor can it really be classified into natural or man-made). It?s the restoration work done on this city-turned-mausoleum that is so incredible. The city lay under the ash virtually undiscovered for almost 1700 years until excavation efforts began in 1749, and they continue to this day. The history, the emotion, and the stories told as you wander through this once-lost city are captured in such a way as to transport you to life as it was in that time, moments before the incident occurred, as people went about their daily lives, completely unaware of the peril that awaited them.

The Natural Wonders

Although the list itself perhaps is not as well known, the 7 Natural Wonders may rival many of the New World Wonders for popularity among travelers. Each wonder on this list must be completely natural ? not only in that it incorporates nature, but in that it hasn?t been manipulated at all. In addition, it must be unique. The Natural Wonders span six continents, with Antarctica being the only one not represented. The list and descriptions below are in no particular order of significance.

Aurora Borealis: Also known as the Northern Lights, these naturally occurring lights appear in the sky, generally around 11 PM or midnight. The closer one gets to the magnetic pole in the Northern Hemisphere, the better your chances of seeing them. Unfortunately, their appearance is rather unpredictable, but you?re most likely to see them in March, April, September, or October.

Grand Canyon: This 277 mile long gorge is located in Arizona, formed by the Colorado River. It?s over a mile deep, spanning in some parts to 18 miles wide. While visitors can simply see the canyon, which is spectacular in itself, many choose to hike, backpack, or explore the canyon on the back of a mule. White water rafting at the floor of the canyon is also a popular activity.

Paricutin: Perhaps the least well known of the Natural wonders, Paricutin is a cinder volcano located in Michoac?n, Mexico, and it?s birth was actually witnessed by humans. While still active, it last erupted in 1952. Visitors can hike or ride horseback through the banks and the lava fields surrounding the volcano.

Victoria Falls: These 360-foot high falls are located on the border between Zimbabwe and Zambia and can be seen from either side (though it?s said that the view from the Zimbabwe side is better). While the falls have more water during the rainy season of November to early April, they also produce a lot of mist which make the view more difficult ? not to mention getting the viewers wet. The best time for the view may be June or July, though the falls will be less lush.

Mount Everest: This highest mountain in the world is located in the Himalayas on the border of China, Tibet, and Nepal. Many visitors choose to trek to the base of the mountain, allowing them to experience it without requiring extensive climbing expertise. October and November are the start of the dry season here, so probably the best time to visit. However, weather can be unpredictable, and the most important factor to avoid is active snow fall.

Great Barrier Reef: Located off the coast of Cairns, Australia, it is the largest reef system in the world, with 2900 reefs covering 1600 miles. Snorkeling and SCUBA diving are by far the best way to experience the reef. November through May is the summer season here, though also the rainy season during which the area gets the majority of its annual rainfall.

Harbor of Rio de Janiero: Also known as Guanabara Bay, it is the largest bay in the world based on water volume, and the mountainous surroundings add to its visual appeal. The most popular way to see the harbor is from either Corcovado Peak or Sugarloaf Mountain, both of which offer a panoramic view of the bay, and the city below. The best months for visiting the bay are September and October, when it?s warm enough but not yet as humid as the summer months.

The 7 New Wonders

In 2001, it was decided that a new list of World Wonders should be chosen. After all, only one of the originals remains standing today. The initiative was understaken by the New7Wonders Foundation based in Zurich, Switzerland, and after much hubbub among voters and travelers worldwide, the 7 New Wonders were decided on in 2007. They are (in no particular order):

? The Taj Mahal
? Chichen Itza
? Christ the Redeemer (statue)
? Colosseum
? Great Wall of China
? Machu Picchu
? Petra

The Pyramids of Giza, being the only remaining ancient wonder, was not voted in again, but was given an honorary spot on the list.

So we know they’re popular – at least among the voters – but what are they really? Why should we visit? Below is a bit of information about each, to help travelers decide which of these wonders may be next on their travel wish list.

Taj Mahal: This marble mausoleum located in Agra, India was built by the Mughal emporer Shah Jahan in memory of his third wife. It is considered one of the most astounding pieces of Muslim art in the world, and was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983. The tomb is the central feature of the structure, and the site is most recognizable by its white marble dome.

Chichen Itza: Chichen Itza is a Mayan city located in the eastern portion of the Yucaton in Mexico. Built possibly around 600 AD, it was one of the largest Mayan cities, and is considered to have been a major economical power, during its highest points. Within the city, visitors can see multiple architectural styles, representing its diverse population.

Christ the Redeemer: Located on Corcovado Mountain in the Tijuca Forest National Park Overlooking Rio de Janeiro, this statue stands 130 feet tall and is the 5th largest statue of Jesus in the world. Visitors to the statue take a short train ride through the park to the top of the mountain – the view from the peak alone is worth the trip up.

The Great Wall of China: The wall stretches approximately 5,500 miles from east to west along the historical northern borders of China. Originally, the wall was built, at least in part, for protection of the Emperor and those within its borders from military invaders. The ?wall? consists of actual walls, trenches, and natural barriers such as hills and rivers, and has been rebuilt several times. Today, it is most frequently visited from Beijing, where travelers can walk along portions of the wall.

Colosseum (Coliseum): In it?s prime, the Colosseum could seat 50,000 spectators, and was used for gladiator fights and other public spectacles. Today, as in its hay day, it?s considered one of the greatest works of Roman architecture and engineering in existence. While damaged, much of the Colosseum still stands and visitors can tour it, transporting themselves back to the times of the ancient emperors.

Petra: Ancient cities seem to be a theme with this list of wonders, despite the designation of ?new?. This Jordanian city dates back as far as 312 BC and was the capital of the Nabataeans. It?s particularly famous for its rock cut architecture and water conduits that, along with dams and cisterns, were used to help control flooding. Among Petra?s most notable ruins are Aaron?s Tomb – said to be the burial place of Moses? brother, Al Khazneh (commonly known as the Treasury), and the amphitheater.

Machu Picchu: This 15th century Incan city lies in the mountains overlooking the Urubamba Valley of Peru. It was abandoned seemingly overnight, and sat undiscovered and dormant for 500 years, until Hiram Bingham came upon it in 1911. It?s thought to have been built for the emperor Pacachuti, and is often referred to as ?The City of the Incas?. Visitors to Machu Picchu can wander through the houses of the emperor and the nobility, the Temple of the Sun, the working and living quarters of the lay people, envisioning the city, and the daily life of its residents, as it occurred in the 1400?s.

WONDERful World

Travel makes the vast world much smaller. It allows us to reach destinations that people only dreamed of seeing even as recent 50 years ago. Ancient sites transport us back hundreds or thousands of years, we hike through thick jungles and rainforest, canoe down the amazon, wander through the streets of countries where no one else speaks our language, swim deep in the ocean among endangered and rare species.

Throughout the years, various people and organizations have tried to determine the ?best of the best?, so to speak. Those sites that if you saw nothing else, you must sea. We originally started with the 7 Wonders of the Ancient World.

? Great Pyramid of Giza
? Hanging Gardens of Babylon
? Temple of Artemis at Ephesus
? Statue of Zeus at Olympia
? Mausoleum at Halicarnassus
? Lighthouse of Alexandria
? Colossus of Rhodes (there?s been some debate on this one, as no historical depiction or description of it has been found, yet it?s mentioned frequently in literature from the time. The location is also debated).

In 2007, with only one of the original Wonders still standing (the Pyramid of Giza), a new list was created – the 7 New Wonders of the World. It was a multi-step process, which allowed the public to vote on nominees, and those with the highest number of votes won, though there wasn?t a measure to prevent multiple votes, so the validity of the list as “the best of the best” has been disputed, particularly from those countries with nominees that were not chosen. Still, there’s no denying that the new list of wonders contains some of the world’s most spectacular sites, so regardless of the procedure used to create it, it’s worth paying attention to.

Other lists of Wonders have been created over the years, which include the 7 Natural Wonders, the 7 Underwater Wonders, and doubtless other, less celebrated lists. It appears that there will soon be a “New7Wonders Cities”, as well. To kick off the new year, this issue of TraveLuxe will focus on several of these wonders, to highlight some of our world?s most treasured sights, and perhaps serve as some inspiration for future travels.

New Years Abroad

I love to travel over the holidays, particularly New Years. It’s so intriguing to see how other cultures celebrate the end of one year and the beginning of the next. With only a couple of weeks left in 2012, I thought I’d share some photos from a few of my favorite holiday trips. I’d love to see yours!

Positano, Italy. They celebrate New Years Eve with music and dancing on the beach, and a local parade through the windy streets on New Year's Day.

Venice may well ring in the New Year aquatic style. The island can flood badly in the late fall and winter months.

In Buenos Aires, they rip of the calendar from the current year and throw the shreds out in the street putting the past behind them.

In Rio and other cities in Brazil, they love to party. If you want an all-night bash, Brazil's a great place to ring in the New Year.

7 Things To Consider When Booking Your Flight

Most people consider airfare an easy purchase (except perhaps on their wallet these days). Ironically, airfare can be one of the trickiest and most confusing travel buys, but often, this is only discovered when something goes amiss. Here are seven things to consider when choosing your flight.

1. Even within each class of service, there are different “classes” of seats. They are denoted by letters, such as Y, J, B, C. and they come with different price tags. So when you look at a flight and the price has jumped dramatically since the day before, this may well be the culprit. The lower class sold out, and you’re now paying for a more expensive class.

2. You can only upgrade with loyalty/flyer miles if in certain seat classes. So if you want to do so, you need to know – and let your travel planner know – ahead of time, so we can determine which class of seat on that flight will allow you do that (hint: it’s often the more expensive ones). The airline needs to be consulted directly each time, in case the rules have changed, which as you may have figured with air travel, happens rather frequently. There’s no guarantee you can upgrade even if in the “right” class, but if you don’t choose your fare accordingly, you’ll have no chance at all.

3. Unless you book a flexible fare (always more expensive), once your tickets is purchased, you generally cannot change it or cancel it without a stiff penalty. There are airlines that avoid this rule, such as Southwest, but for the most part, be sure it’s the flight you want or you’ll pay handsomely. The penalties are generally around $150 plus the any increase in price for domestic flights, and $250 plus any increase in cost for international flights, per person.

4. A direct flight is technically a flight that has a stop, but you don’t change planes (perhaps a fuel stop or to pick up other passengers in route). A non-stop, is, as it sounds, actually a flight that doesn’t stop between your point of take off and your point of landing. Direct flights are rare, especially domestically, but if a flight is indicated as “direct”, confirm whether it has a stop of any sorts.

5. In the US, you must go through customs and immigration upon your first entry back into the country, as opposed to your final destination. Therefore, if you have a connecting flight upon returning to the US, make sure that you give yourself enough time to grab your luggage, go through customs/immigration, and get to your next gate for boarding.

6. Some cities in close proximity are now combining flight/train tickets into a “connection”. For instance, if your Philadelphia-bound flight has a connection in Newark, NJ (considered a NYC international airport, so a popular point of entry for international flights), you may actually be landing in Newark and then taking the train from the station within the airport down to Philadelphia.

7. Similar to the above point, some cities with multiple airports will have you landing in one airport, and your connecting flight taking off from an airport across town. I’ve seen this between London’s Heathrow and Gatwick airports, as well as New York’s La Guardia and JFK airports, as two examples. Carefully inspect the airport codes before purchasing the ticket. While there should be some “warning” on the flight listing, you never know!

Where Are You Going in 2013?

I do a lot of traveling, I read a lot of travel publications, and probably most notably, I continually listen to the interests and curiosities of clients and fellow travelers. It is through a combination of these experiences that I have come up with my own “up and coming” list for destinations. You will no doubt see similar lists elsewhere if you scan through popular travel magazines or other travel-related blogs. While it’s likely that there will be some cross over, it’s almost certain that there will be some destinations that make one list and not another. There’s really no “wrong or right” here, it’s just a matter of perspective, as well as of the audience towards which the blog is geared.

It’s important to note here that because of the type of travel I plan, it tends to be more mid-level to upscale budget wise. Therefore, some of these destinations might not fit for “budget travelers”, as the entry/visa fees, accommodation options, need for a private guide, or airfare alone might put this over their comfort level budget wise. That doesn’t mean it can’t be done, it just means it might not be as ideal as another destination if budget is your primary criteria. Because there are plenty that I’d like to suggest, I’m going to go continent by continent in a series of blogs. For organization’s sake, we’ll start at the beginning of the alphabet for today’s, featuring Africa.

1. Namibia: While there are certainly opportunities for wildlife viewing in Etosha National Park, Namibia’s “must see” features also include supurb non-wildlife features. The Namib dessert, Sossusvlei sand dunes (arguably the highest in the world), and the Skeleton Coast – named for the scores of shipwrecks whose “bones” still remain viewable there today, are among the top. For animal lovers, the Skeleton Coast is also a very welcoming environment for fur seals. Namibia is easy to combine with South Africa and/or Botswana. US citizens traveling on a US passport for leisure can generally obtain a visa on arrival in Namibia.

2. Zambia: Zambia is probably not for the first time traveler to Africa, but it is definitely a destination to keep your eye on. It’s most obvious (and popular) feature is Victoria Falls (also viewable from Zimbabwe), and certainly if you’re in Zambia, visit the falls! The country also boasts game reserves and safari opportunities, elephant back safaris, white water rafting on the Zambezi – said to be some of the best rafting in the world and not for the faint of heart, lion and cheetah walks, to name a few highlights. US citizens traveling with a US passport for leisure for can generally obtain a visa on arrival in Zambia.

3. Mozambique: Mozambique lies on the east coast of southern Africa, and thus much of it’s appeal revolves around the water. Most notably, its splendid, un-touristy beaches draw honeymooners and those looking for an unconventional getaway. In addition to its beaches, snorkeling and diving in the Bazaruto and Quirimbas Archipelagos, and whale and dolphin watching in the north of the country all point to Mozambique as a haven for ocean-lovers. But the country is also home to six National Parks, among which visitors can see the wide variety of animals as they would expect to find in more “traditional” wildlife-viewing countries, including the Big Five animals. Travelers to Mozambique must have a passport that is valid for at least six months after their stay is completed. While visas are provided at international airports, it’s suggested that visitors obtain a visa prior to entering the country.

The Travel Planner Difference – From a Fast Food Commercial

This morning, I heard a radio commercial for a fast food restaurant – McDonald’s I believe – that perfectly defined the difference between using a professional travel planner (consultant, advisor) as compared to an online travel agency. In the commercial, a man calls the front desk of a hotel where he’s staying and tries to order a breakfast meal from said food place- breakfast sandwich, coffee, something like that. The remaining conversation goes as such, and I’m paraphrasing here:

Front desk agent: “um sir, we don’t have that restaurant here in the hotel.”

Hotel patron: “But there’s a McDonald’s(?) right across the street, and the front desk said ‘anything we can do to make your stay more pleasant.'”

The front desk agent: “Well, we did say that.”

Hotel patron: “Great, can you throw in some hash browns too?”

The front desk agent then presumably goes across the street get the meal, since it is after all a commercial for the fast food place, and it wouldn’t be very good marketing if he didn’t.

The point is, though, that the front desk agent promised “whatever we can do to make your stay better” and truly meant it – including running across the street to get this man’s breakfast sandwich. That, right there, is the difference between working with an unknown online travel agency and a professional planner with whom you develop a personal relationship. When you need something customized, when something goes wrong, when you have a detailed question, you call a mass online travel agency and you get a call center rep. It’s so impersonal at times that they aren’t even allowed to give you their last name or a personal extension to call them back. The reps often times aren’t in the travel industry at all, except the fact that they’re answering phones for an online company. They haven’t had destination training, the individual reps don’t have personal connections with local suppliers on the ground in your destination, hotels don’t recognize that rep personally as an industry professional. This isn’t to say that the companies aren’t known – they’re practically household names thanks to mass market and lots of advertising – but their employees with whom the clients work don’t develop those personal relationships.

When you work with a professional travel planner, though, you do benefit from this customization, this industry knowledge and experience, these personal relationships with suppliers. I know my clients’ travel preferences, favorite airlines and hotel brands, must haves and can’t stands. I have exclusive access to suppliers and ground operators because of my industry partnerships. I can reach out to a hotel contact or tour representative provided specifically to travel professionals in my region only, many of whom I have a established personal relationships with. Finally, I have a very personal interest in each and every client. My business isn’t run on high volume, one and done sales. A happy client is a client who returns, who refers others, and who I am truly helping live out their travel dreams. I work with every client individually, often over the period of several months, and when you get to know someone like this, you want to ensure that they have their ideal trip – it makes you happy to see them happy, as cheesy as that sounds. They’re not just a number going to a call center, they’re someone I now know personally. I think this can be said of many of today’s professional travel planners – certainly many that I know.

This doesn’t mean that a travel planner can fix absolutely any problem at any time. If the flight gets cancelled and the airline you “must” fly on because you want to earn miles does not operate any other flights that day, I cannot get them to schedule one. We are only human and even the most influential of us have occasionally run into a situation that we cannot control – i.e a volcano erupting in Iceland and all airports across Western Europe being shut down. However, in situations like this we can work with our trusted suppliers to find the best and quickest solution, and we can get to these solutions much quicker because of our personal relationships.

This, in a rather large nutshell, is the difference. And, while we as professionals we’d prefer you and not ask us to run across the street and fetch your bagel sandwich for you, I do offer new clients a complimentary consultation, and often we meet at a coffee shop, where I’m happy to buy them a coffee to enjoy while we discuss their future travel plans.

Choosing Your Travel Partner

I love to travel alone. I also love to travel with my family, and I’ve been lucky enough that basically all of my significant others over the years have been very good travelers – perhaps I subconsciously analyze this when meeting someone new! However, I know a lot of people who strongly dislike traveling with their family, or many others, for that matter.

I think the key is knowing yourself, and being very honest with both yourself and others, when choosing your travel companions. What attributes do you require, or strongly hope for, in a travel partner? What are your quirks that someone has to put up with for days or weeks on end if they’re going to travel with you? Here are a few questions that might help you to consider when choosing your travel partners, and especially, your travel roommates.

1. Are you an early riser or a late nighter? No one wants to feel like they’re missing half their vacation waiting for their roommate to wake up. Similarly, no one wants to feel like they can’t enjoy the nightlife becuase they’re travel partner likes to be in bed earlier. This can be one of the trickiest parts of traveling together, and it’s important to know these dynamics up front.

2. What’s your travel style? Do you like to plan things out, go with the flow, or some combination? Planners will go nuts with people who don’t even like to have a place to stay lined up on their trip. Similarly, people who like to go with the flow 100 percent can feel stifled by a planner. Similarly, do you prefer to go nonstop on your trip for the fear of missing something, or take a slower pace and just see what you see?

3. Luxury or low maintenance? Some people consider camping and hostels a fun adventure. Others consider it cruel and unusual punishment and prefer high end hotels.

4. Dining habits. How adventurous are you when it comes to food? Sounds silly, but if you’re looking to try every local street food vendor as you go along and they want three square meals in a nice restaurant, a compromise in one form or another will be necessary.

These are just a few ideas to get you started. Probably every trip and every set of travel companions will require looking at different dynamics. Still, you want to have some frame of reference when you begin planning. You most likely won’t see eye to eye on every one of the above. So it’s important to know what’s really important to you, and what you can compromise on. If there’s someone you really want to travel with (i.e. a significant other) but their travel patterns and styles are greatly different than your own, sit down and discuss these and any other concerns you have about traveling with them, and see what agreements you can come to.

Do you have other travel partner “musts” and “no ways”? Would love to hear them!

Test Your World Knowledge

As an inquisitive person, and a person that loves to learn, I enjoy taking various quizes to test my knowledge. I thought it might be fun to post a quiz (or several?) on my blog to see how my readers do – and maybe provide a little travel inspiration as well. I’ll post the questions in this blog, and the answers in a following blog. Let’s see how you fare – and no googling, wikipedia research, or using any other internet tool!

1. Name three structures that were originally built for a World’s Fair, but then became permanent fixtures. (There are several that have either been moved or were destroyed by disaster later, which are acceptable answers).

2. As of the date of this blog post, which country has the most UNESCO World Heritage Sites?
a. Spain
b. Italy
c. France
d. China
e. India

3. Which Natural Wonder of the World spans across the border of Zimbabwe and Zambia?

4. Which is the only one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World still standing?

5. Which Big 5 animal is considered to be the most dangerous to humans?

6. The Bridge of Sighs is located in which European city?

7. In which country is Bibimbap a popular dish?

8. If you land in Schipol airport, you are in what country? (There are two names acceptable here – they’re both the same country. I’ll take the official or unofficial).

9. Which two countries are the only two in the world to span two continents?

9b. Which city is the only city in the world to span two continents?

10. As of the time of this blog post (Sept. 20, 2012), what is the world’s newest official country?

Bonus Question: What is the capital of that country?