Friday, February 15, 2019

Whale bonanza as great grays head south to give birth, play in Baja

A misty blast of water from the whale's blow hole helps us see him, as our Hornblower boat moves closer.

For sailors worldwide, the San Diego skyline is one of the prettiest.

THE AIR was crisp and fresh, the sun shone bright and our group of 200 aboard Hornblower was in the mood for whale watching.
We were NOT disappointed!
The Hornblower bar did a brisk business as nature lovers from Europe, Asia and North America cast off from San Diego Bay in search of migrating grey whales.
A frisky dolphin dives near the boat to our delight.
 While we motored out, a lively commentary began with a capsule of the magnificent whale's life and travels, his breaching, "spyhopping" and mating habits. We followed the main channel past Harbor Island, Shelter Island, graceful yachts, sailboat races, our exotic submarine base, popular restaurants, the U.S. Coastguard Station, our Navy Base, and into the ocean, a scenic 40-minute journey.
For us, it's a pilgrimage we make several times a season, a lovely way to enjoy whale watching as well as to admire one of the prettiest skylines and harbors in the world.
San Diego's abundant pleasures include the opportunity to observe one of nature's grandest creatures close-up and we take full advantage as often as possible.
 When a whale spyhops, it pokes its head out of the water.
 Most oceanographers say spyhopping simply lets the animals
 get a better view of activity near the water's surface.
We found this great grey near Alaska,
where we also saw humpbacks.
THIS TRIP, we saw about 10 grey whales -- in peak migration season -- each one about the width of a basketball court. Two of our sightings were of mating pods, three whales each.  The greys often mate in a trio. We've seen babies with their mothers in April, heading north. But since the gestation period is 12 months, the ones we see mating these year will give birth next year.
We'll be looking again in April for the mothers and calves.
Keller took this photo last April, a thrill for both of us. 
Dolphins are also a delight on our whale watching expeditions. They frolic, jump and dive for us, enjoying their captive audience.
 The whales know we're nearby and don't seem to mind.  Some experts speculate that they are naturally curious and trusting, which could explain their near demise at the hands of the ruthless and greedy whalers of yore.
These beautiful creatures travel at about five knots (about six miles per hour), so when a boat captain or passenger spots one, we slow down -- usually from five or six miles out, although we've seen them at closer range. Someone hollers "thar she blows" and gauges the direction off the boat -- 2 o'clock, 11 o'clock, etc.
A mature gray whale heads into a deep dive.
Their spectacular journey is over 10,000 miles roundtrip, for us, the best opportunity to view. We've taken whale watching ventures in Hawaii, Mexico, New Zealand, Norway, Polynesia and Iceland - but have never had better whale watching than right here in our own back yard.
This year, we've been out only twice, not our usual half-dozen times, exploring the 70 miles of coastline in the migration path.
Another  grey whale "spyhop" off the coast of San Diego near La Jolla.
The gray whales start swimming south from Alaska in October,  passing the coast off San Diego from December through February, and again in March and into April, when they head north. But it's not unusual to see a northbound whale this time of year.  For as our captain said, "The whales don't have a time table. And it varies year to year, season to season."
SO WE TRY TO catch the mighty grey whales coming and going.  After spending time in warm Baja California waters so their young can grow strong and pregnant cows gain weight, they make the journey north again later in spring. This remarkable trip of 20,000 creatures represents the longest known distance any mammal migrates on an annual basis. Experts from San Diego's Natural History Museum enhance the trip with information and dialogue with curious passengers.
Wonders await aboard Hornblower's whale watch.
For this Montana girl and my San Diego born partner, it is an extraordinary spectacle.
In summer, the legendary blue whales -- the largest animals on Earth -- feed offshore the San Diego coast. Once on a summer cocktail cruise, we spotted a blue. We've also seen humpbacks, fin whales, pilot, minke and even killer whales off our gorgeous waters!
View the Whale & Dolphin Watching Brochure
Jeffrey Scott Parsons as Bobby Child is surrounded by a terrific tap-dancing
ensemble in a fine production of "Crazy for You" by San Diego Musical Theatre.
BEST BET: Magnificent tap dancing and winning Gershwin tunes grace Horton Grand Theatre, San Diego, in a satisfying production of "Crazy For You."  The thoroughly fun, old-fashioned musical features snappy numbers performed with panache by a terrific ensemble, a well tuned orchestra, colorful set and a series of show-stoppers ala Busby Berkeley. Impressive season opener for SDMT, the lovingly crafted endeavor of producers Erin and Gary Lewis. Through March 3. 
Madrid's stately boulevards are handsome and inviting even in winter.

 NEXT UP: Madrid.  Think elegant boulevards, baroque palaces and expansive, manicured parks. We take you to this exciting and historic central Spain city,  renowned for its rich repositories of European art, including the Prado Museum’s works by Goya, Velázquez and other Spanish masters. The heart of old Hapsburg Madrid is the portico-lined Plaza Mayor and we'll be there! Remember to explore, learn and live and visit us each Friday for a fresh take on travel, nature, the arts and family.

Friday, February 8, 2019

Eurail maintains its reputation for an excellent way to see Europe

Eurail offers efficient, pleasurable train travel in Europe. Purchased in the U.S., Eurail allows the traveler to
experience many European countries in clean, comfortable cars, with the latest technology, snacks and fine views. 


View from a first-class coach on a Eurail train between Rome and Florence.

Christene (Cookie) Meyers relaxes in a comfy coach
with the daily Italian paper, her phone and Eurail pass.
FEELING LIKE 20-year olds again, we launched our latest European odyssey on Eurail.
It was my 55th trip to Europe, and my partner's "20-somethingth," but for our last dozen years together, we'd rented cars, used planes and booked individual train reservations for our European forays. My last Eurail experience was in 1973, my partner's in 1977.
That time-honored train pass system, launched in 1959, requires purchasing ahead in the U.S. Our encore would satisfy our mutual desire to revisit Eurail, recapturing our youth in a delightful seven-week Eurail trip.
THE EURAIL Pass, once known as "Europass" or "Eurorail pass," allows holders to travel in 31 European countries on most European railroads and even some ferry lines.
Pass holders can visit Austria, Belgium, Bosnia Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Montenegro, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland and more.
You can buy a Eurail pass if you reside outside Europe -- living in the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Asia or Africa. We met fellow travelers from all those places, including many Americans with whom we traded travel experiences, snacks and business cards.
Europe's landscape glides by on Eurail, here entering Naples. 
EUROPE'S TRAIN system is huge and Eurail is only a part of it.  There are no special Eurail trains. 'Eurail' is simply the brand name for the railpass options for overseas visitors to travel on normally scheduled European trains. Eurail passage is offered by an impressive co-operative network of 31 national train operators. A marketing team based in Utrecht in the Netherlands manages the Eurail scheme on behalf of the national train operators. It's a massive undertaking which works wonders in streamlining travel abroad.
First, do some homework, remembering that you must purchase Eurail in the U.S. before your trip. Decide between first and second-class, both of which are fine and comfortable.  A 3-month first-class ticket will cost around $2,000, less than a third that for our one-month passes, which worked beautifully with our trip. We book-ended cruises with the month-long land tour in the middle.
Train travel in Europe is an efficient, interesting way to explore the 
continent.  A Eurail pass makes it easy to move from country to country. 
FIRST-CLASS by train is lovely, comparable to comfort plus on the airplane.  First-class is available on most longer-distance trains and if you can afford it, first is a bit nicer, with wider, plusher seats, more legroom. You'll also find nicely dressed businessmen on laptops and fewer families with kids in first class. You'll also get a little snack and beverage, but it's not the airlines, so don't expect free booze for your entire journey.  A well stocked bar and snack car is near first class.
WE TRIED second-class for one of our segments-- Madrid to Barcelona.  It was just fine. It's the way most Europeans travel - unless the company is paying.  If you're booking a longer trip, there are  sleeper trains of many types -- even deluxe sleepers with en suite toilet and shower.
Once you purchase your Eurail pass, you've got 11 months to use. We activated our month-long passes on the 30th, and used them for the last time the 29th of the following month.
Eurail offers a chance to enjoy beautiful train stations, here Naples.
    Once you've learned the system -- how to use your pass to arrange specific dates and times -- Eurail offers a relaxing way to travel without the stress of driving. We enjoyed excellent fast express trains where we met locals and tourists and watched Europe glide peacefully by.
WE FOUND that Eurail rules are not complicated, but they are specific, and each country has its own system in dealing with Eurail passes and reservations. Once you get the Eurail pass, use the Eurail timetable to see if you need a reservation for a specific trip. (We paid an extra 10 Euros each to reserve longer trips.)
On some trains, a reservation is mandatory. Other reservations are optional. Some trains don't need a reservation at all.
Because most of our trips were several hours --
Bruce Keller and Cookie arrive in Florence, where the
 train station features artwork of the Tuscan countryside. 
and we were in the comfy, modern, first-class compartments with large windows -- we really enjoyed our return to Eurail. My techy partner, this column's ace photographer, also appreciated the technical amenities: hook-ups for our laptop and power for all modern devices. We had excellent cell reception except in the occasional tunnel, and used the on-line Eurail ap to check schedules and tickets. Be sure to swap out your U.S. sim card for a European version. For a little more than $40, we had unlimited communication with the greater world. More on that coming soon.
Kudos to Eurail for rekindling happy memories as we revisited favorite cities and villages in swift, stylish comfort.

Christene Cookie Meyers and Bruce Keller enjoy whale watching around
the world.  Their best viewings occur, however, in their own backyard. 
NEXT UP:  On the trail of the great gray whale with Cookie and Keller.  The magnificent creatures are heading south by the hundreds, passing by our San Diego perch.  We're all eyes -- aboard Hornblower -- to see whales and dolphins and share with you, as they make their way to the Baja to give birth, nurse their young and fatten them up for the return trip home.  Remember to explore, learn and live and visit us each Friday for a fresh take on travel, nature, the arts and family.

Friday, February 1, 2019

Flamenco feast: Spain visit features performances of famous art form

Flamenco dancers dazzle with their movements and hypnotic footwork.


The swirling and twirling of scarves is part of the flamenco tradition.

AS A YOUNG bride on honeymoon in Granada, I witnessed my first flamenco dance.
I was mesmerized.
The dancers were a mix of ages and shapes, but all had the expressive moves down pat -- their arms and feet moving in time to the intricate footwork, shawls whipping around their bodies. From our center table in a small dimly lit cafe, we could see the facial expressions and drops of sweat. I pressed a flower that flew from the head of one of the dancers during an intricate move.
Dancers take individual bows at the end of each piece.
THE TIME honored dance form became famous in Spain but reflects contributions from many other world cultures.  It usually features a solo performer, backed by musicians and sometimes a partner.  Hand clapping and that distinctive percussive footwork give flamenco its flair, enhanced by intricate hand, arm, and body movements. 
  Today's flamenco reflects music of Latin American, Cuban, and Jewish traditions.  It was originally not set to music but was accompanied by emotional singing and clapping of hands called “toque de palmas."
The company takes bows on stage, with the featured singer in the center here.
IN OUR annual forays to southern Spain, we always include at least one night of flamenco. On this most recent trip, we gilded the flamenco lily, choosing two very different venues to enjoy this integral part of Andalucian culture. One can find as many definitions of flamenco as there are tapas bars.  Most scholars agree that flamenco is composed of four elements: voice, or cante; dance, or baile; guitar, or toque, and "jaleo," which roughly translated means "hell raising."  Clapping, stomping, shouts of encouragement to the featured dancer convey the emotion of the numbers, often laments about life's sorrows and the human condition.

Flamenco guitarists and rhythm makers
are an integral part of the show.
Dancers, singers and musicians share a final bow.
One of our shows, "Encuentros en la cumbre del baile," or Encounters at the pinnacle of dance, featured two of Spain's most famous flamenco dancers, Miguel "El Rubio" and Palmoa Fantova, backed by Maria Carmona and Sara Barrero. The other show, "Tablao Flamenco Cordobes," promised to convey the mystery of the singing and poetry -- paying homage to Gypsy, Moorish, and Andalusian folklore. As our waiter said, "flamenco is an outcry, an expression of love and pain, or enjoment and happiness.  It is meant to be felt, not necessarily understood."

All aboard next week for tips on Eurail travel with our team, Cookie and Keller.

UP NEXT: Eurail was the way to see Europe for many young Americans in the 1970s. Our two young at heart travelers take to Eurail again, so all aboard with tips on seeing Europe anew again by train. Meanwhile, remember to explore, learn and live and catch us each Friday for a novel look at the arts, travel, nature, family and more at

Friday, January 25, 2019

Toledo -- historic, stately, welcoming, multi-ethnic walled city

Toledo stands proud on the plains of La Mancha, a testimony to the possibility that three cultures can coexist in peace.


Toledo stands proudly on the Tagus River banks on the La Mancha plains.

TOLEDO APPEARS in the morning mist, like a mirage. Rolling hills of Castilla La Mancha make way to a majestic walled city here in central Spain.  We see and feel the look of antiquity as we make our way up a series of six separate and very modern escalators.Spain is the world's number one tourist destination and one of the elements to insure this top rating is Spain's ability to balance new, modern buildings with revered ancient structures.

Toledo is known for its enticing pastries, many almond based.
EUROPEANS know Toledo as "the second Rome."  On the banks of the Tagus River, it towers majestically heavenward. 
Toledo indeed is an ancient and proud city, known for its mostly peaceful merging of cultures.  Jews, Christians and Muslims have long inhabited its winding streets and stunning vistas.

Well worn stairs bring the tourist
down to Toledo's plazas and churches.
The square outside the Cathedral of  Saint Mary in Toledo
 hosts celebrations, concerts and gatherings through the year. 

As capital of this beautiful region of Spain, it is also famous as the home of the well known Renaissance  painter El Greco, or "The Greek." One of El Greco's most famous paintings is "The Burial of the Count of Orgaz," and we visited the tiny church of Santo Tome, where the painting holds court and thousands of tourists have paid homage. We couldn't resist a stop for pastry filled with almond cream. Churros, flan and chocolate filled buns are also famous here, as well as an almond flavored cheesecake Keller pronounced "fabulous." 
AFTER ZIPPING up modern escalators, 
we descended a series of well worn stairways, wending our way down to Toledo's squares, plazas, bakeries, craft shops and churches.
Santa Maria la Blanca of Toledo is now a museum, preserved by the Catholic
church.  It was built as a synagogue in the 1100s by Moorish craftsman.
Entering the Moorish Bisagra Gate and Sol Gate, built in Mudéjar style, we found ourselves in the bustling old quarter, where its Plaza de Zocodover is a lively meeting place. On we went to the church for a look at the El Greco painting, one of the most visited paintings in the world. We continued our leisurely walk through the town’s pleasant jumble of streets, down more stairs onto cobblestone lanes. Weathered façades weave Moorish and Spanish elements, testimony to the influences Toledo has embraced over centuries.

Churches, paintings, history
are part of the charm of Toledo.

TOLEDO'S MOST unusual building was one that has served as synagogue, church and mosque. Muslim workers built it for the Jewish community under a Christian regime back in the 12th Century. Although designed in Moorish style, it incorporated Jewish symbols and the central arch with its lovely scallop design served to store the congregation's Torahs. Now a museum, it is known as Santa Maria la Blanca and symbolizes more than any other building the blending of three faiths as well as Toledo's surges of disharmony.
For while Toledo earned the moniker "city of three cultures" the country's major religions did not always live in peace, as the building's moving history reveals.
By the 1400s, anti-Semitism was gathering momentum and Jews were being persecuted throughout many Christian kingdoms. The synagogue was converted into a church, the Santa María la Blanca, with a lone Star of David the sole reminder of the building's earlier purpose.
JEWS WERE given three options: conversion, expulsion or   execution. Soon the entire Jewish Quarter was deserted. Jews left with only essentials, hoping their exile was temporary, and that they would soon return to their homes, businesses and comfortable life. The wait lasted generations.  Our guide told us with great emotion of three tourists he has met from three continents. Generations and centuries later, the three hold their ancestors' keys to homes in Toledo.  They pass them on, holding them dear as a sacred symbol of hope and faith.

Flamenco is known throughout the world as a symbol of Spain.
UP NEXT: Flamenco! Come join us to honor this colorful dance which has captivated the world through the centuries.  A spiritual experience revered by generations and passed on through the centuries, we explore the meaning of the dance to Spaniards. So come explore, learn and live and catch us Fridays for a unique look at travel, the arts, nature, family and more -- on the road with Christene "Cookie" Meyers and Bruce William Keller through 

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Donkey Tours rates a huge "hoofs up" for unique European experience

Donkey Tours of Barcelona boasts one of the most engaging guides two veteran travelers have experienced in decades
of globe trotting.  Here, Greek born Eteoklis Nikolaou takes tourists through Barcelona's landmarks and hidden wonders.


Barcelona's Palau de la Musica Catalonia makes an impression.
Donkey Tour guides take you there and give you a history lesson.

WE HAD BEEN  to Barcelona a dozen times before we hitched ourselves up with Donkey Tours.
What a find! If you are looking for an unusual way to spend a morning or afternoon and learn something new about this fascinating Catalan city, you'll be delighted with the spirit and intellect of the ambitious Donkey Tours.
My internet guru and partner Bruce Keller, also the talented photographer for our globe-trotting columns, deserves bounteous thanks for finding Donkey Tours. I'd asked him to line up a half-day outing on our last day of a recent week in Barcelona, a city we thought we knew quite well.  He came up with Donkey
Tours, which operates only out of Barcelona but is hoping to expand to other cities in southern Europe.

THE TOUR is free,  but a generous tip is appreciated.  We tipped the equivalent of what we would have paid for a much less interesting tour.  The well traveled tourist, or even the neophyte, should know to tip well for such a splendid operation. Our able Greek born guide entertained Aussies, Dutch, Germans, Italians,
Africans, Brits and the two of us Yanks with humor, patience, enthusiasm and intelligence.
  Eteoklis Nicolau met us in a well known square,
introducing us to the first of many wonders:
a Picasso mural on a onetime architecture school.

Above left:  Looking for fabulous fruit for a meal,   
           or breakfast in in your digs, Donkey Tours guides
            you to the finest outdoor markets in Barcelona.

Barcelona's revered College of Architects boasts a unique mural drawn by
Pablo Picasso during his years of artistic growth in a favorite city.

BEST BET and NEXT UP:  For theater in the grand tradition of 
old-fashioned comedy, point your laughing shoes to North Coast
Repertory Theatre for "Moon Over Buffalo." The new production
is expertly rendered by regular guest director Matthew Wiener, longtime

colleague of  the Rep's versatile and talented artistic director,
David Ellenstein. The show offers fabulous timing by a seasoned cast of 
theater pros.Book tickets to this delightful ode to a life in the theater,
at Then tune in and turn on to Toledo,
as we visit this glorious ancient city in Spain. Remember to
learn, laugh and explore as we bring you a column each Friday,
with a novel take on travel, the arts, family, and  nature.
--At right, the company of "Moon Over Buffalo,'' in
which a befuddled repertory actor enters Noel Coward's
"Private Lives" as Cyrano de Bergerac. 
We spent a lively day with Theo, who took time to answer myriad questions, shared computer images and even escorted folks from our group of 25 to specific
specialty pastry shops and restaurants. We had a lovely tea and time for individual chat during
coffee break at tour midpoint, then
walked by a building most people
would have bypassed. 
WE FOLLOWED  Theo  down a marble stairway in an old law school, to discover a beautiful
basement of Roman arches and a
lovely little fountain.  Another
delightful surprise with Donkey
Tours, whose guides are all multi-
lingual and well educated. Bravo!


Friday, January 11, 2019

Herculaneum: historic village looks at life five centuries B.C.

When Vesuvius erupted, the explosion covered nearby Pompeii, but not as deeply as Ercolano, thus the preservation.



Buried beneath the slopes of Vesuvius, Ercolano was once a thriving
"vacation town" for wealthy Romans, who loved the countryside.

Ercolano is approached from a busy tourist area, with
plenty of restaurants lining the road to the ruins.
 THE LOST city of Herculaneum (Ercolano in Italian) was founded between the seventh and fifth centuries B.C. It was both a fishing village and a wealthy get-away -- the Palm Springs of its day -- a vacation enclave for well
heeled Romans escaping city life.
Cookie enters the path to Ercolano.
By the time the 79 AD eruption  ended, Herculaneum was buried by 20 metres of volcanic material. Nearby Pompeii was buried by only five metres of volcanic material and thus deteriorated through the years while Ercolano remained virtually intact, "fossilized" for posterity. Most of the buildings in Pompeii collapsed in the fall of pumice stone while this didn't happen in Herculaneum.  So off we were to this lesser known product of the wrath of Vesuvius. Fast-moving pyroclastic flow (rock, hot gas and other volcanic matter) was the devastating result of the eruption, which killed all the residents of both settlements. The gas reached a temperature of over 1,830 degrees F.
Bruce Keller poses above the lost then found village.  

FROM FOUND documents, researchers learned that Ercolano was an ancient Roman fishing town also enjoyed by wealthy Romans, who vacationed or had lavish second homes in the shadow of Mount Vesuvius. We were thrilled to read about the village and took a day trip from Napoli, Naples in English. First, we booked the direct express train from Rome to Naples, then switched to the Circumvesuviana train, a colorful ride out of Naples to the east of the city near Mount Vesuvius.
The excitement of discovering a  village more than 2,000 years old
awaits if you visit Herculaneum -- Ercolano in Italian. It's near Naples.
WHAT WE FOUND is rare. This tiny city, buried by the devastating eruption of Mount Vesuvius in AD 79, has been carefully conserved to become a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Thanks to the pyroclastic surge, much of the organic based wood objects remained intact, so these archaeological treasures give a glimpse of life of both the fishermen and the wealthy Romans they fed. Mosaics, frescoes, artwork, and even dried fruit and vegetables were sealed in the mud and uncovered centuries later. Surprisingly, we found few tourists  here, halfway between the more frequented and touristy towns of Pompeii and Naples, home of pizza!
   Although excavation began in the mid-1700s, earnest development of the site began only in the past 75 years. This peek into the past is sure to be rapidly discovered.  If you're in the vicinity, don't miss it. You can tie it in with a Vesuvius visit:

Donkey Tours will take you off the beaten track, to wonders of Gaudi
and Picasso, Roman ruins that not everyone knows about and much more.  
UP NEXT: Heard of Donkey Tours Barcelona? Want up close and personal looks at the wonders of this exciting city, from Picasso's haunts to the best croissant in town, little known Roman ruins and paella to put your taste buds in happy overdrive. We share the delights of this wonderfully engaging tour group which prides itself in knowledgeable, fun guides. Meanwhile, remember to explore, learn and live and catch us Fridays for a unique view of life with travel, the arts, nature and family.

Friday, January 4, 2019

Best of Europe: Picking the right tour can make a huge difference

The glories of the Amalfi Coast come alive with Can't Be Missed Tours, known for intimate exposure to the landscape.
The personalized nature of a quality tour includes
getting to know your guide with pointers on the region. 
Rosella and Cookie pose in Naples.


The charm of the seaside towns of the Amalfi
Coast includes time for wandering and dining.
Small vehicles hug the coastline with CBM, where intimate
experience is paramount and guides know the territory.

Our CBM guides took us to specialty shops run by locals,
for the best prices along the route, giving shoppers an edge.

 An amiable CBM tour guide will meet you at the train station, ship or airport, and even pick up or return to your hotel.
Private, small-group tours, tailored to each traveler, are the CBM hallmark. Transfers can also be arranged.

WHEN YOU plan a trip to Europe, you want to make the most of your precious time and money.
Booking the right excursions to fit your mood and interests is paramount to having a memorable time.
CBM makes the journey come alive,
with cheerful, informative guides
who take you off the beaten path.

We discovered an energetic new agency, CBM Tours, which guarantees "up close and personal" attention to each visitor and personalized, specific-interest forays to precisely where you want to go. We spent a delightful day with CBM and can't wait to meet again.  The small, family-run business is managed by Petro, an amiable multi-lingual fellow who works his small groups like a veteran jeweler, pointing out gems and bargains, making the most of each participant's time, tailoring each tour to fit the wishes of each person. Petro is a showman and he knows his territory.
Ravello's pretty streets lead to squares, churches and the famed festival.

WE FOUND CBM during a two-week Mediterranean cruise, and were thrilled to book, after studying the lively brochure. If you're interested in history and antiquity, CBM will take you up close and personal to the wonders of Pompeii, Amalfi, Sorrento, the Vatican and Florence and Pisa. 
CBM makes the tour pick-up convenient. Our cheerful guide Vincenzo met us at the ship in Naples, and drove us past the lovely port city of Sorrento, a picturesque coastal town in southwestern Italy. We had a stunning view of the Bay of Naples on the Sorrentine Peninsula. Perched atop cliffs that separate the town from its busy marinas, Sorrento is famous for its sweeping water views and Piazza Tasso, a cafe-lined square. The historic center is a warren of narrow alleys -- home to the Chiesa di San Francesco, a 14th-century church with a tranquil cloister.
AFTER TWO hours in colorful Positano, we pushed on to a town dear to my heart for its fine music, Ravello.  Its famous festival -- also known as the "Wagner Festival" -- is  an annual summer feast of music and the arts, attended by legions from around the globe, all drawn to the town of Ravello.  Many consider its location on the Amalfi coast one of the most lovely in Italy's Campania region.
An enjoyable boat ride was a highlight of our Amalfi coast CBM experience.
CBM makes free time for lunch stops, landmarks and shopping and the guides know which restaurants to recommend, based on your fancy. We found wonderful pizza and sweets and shopped for scarves and pottery made in the region.
DRIVING UP  the Amalfi Coast was a thrill.  Vincenzo pulled our mini-van off in several spectacular viewing spots where a larger vehicle couldn't go.  We'd been to Pompeii so passed on that with CBM, but others raved about the enthusiastic private tour of this fascinating place. We loved our fun, informative time with CBM and were returned to our ship precisely on time as promised. CBM's love of Italy, and knowledge of both its popular and hidden treasures made our two-week cruise.
CBM COVERS offers a range of imaginative tours and will tailor a trip to your requests -- meeting clients in Civitavecchia for Rome and the Vatican, from Naples up the Amalfi Coast and Pompeii and from Florence to Pisa.

Herculaneum, known as Ercolano in Italian, is a wonderful relic
of Roman life five centuries B.C. It's a fun train ride, too, from Naples.
UP NEXT: While we're in the neighborhood, we have more pointers.  If you're anywhere in the vicinity of Naples, don't miss the opportunity to visit nearby Herculaneum. Ercolano, its Italian name, is in the shadow of Mount Vesuvius and near Pompeii, is equally fascinating, although lesser known.  The town was covered by volcanic flows in 79 AD and is mostly preserved intact.  Remember to explore, learn and live and catch us each Friday for a fresh look at travel, nature, history, family and the arts.