European River Wine Cruises

Cruising, whether ocean or river, is becoming more and more niche based.


The niche size varies from huge demographic groups (think family targeted mass-market cruising such as Carnival or Royal Caribbean) to very specific such as yachting the Galapagos Islands. Some niches are voyage or itinerary specific, such as the Christmas Markets or Tulip river cruises.

Today I’d like to focus on European River Wine Cruises. The combination of medieval Europe exploration with the history and atmosphere of European wine-making is captivating. This growing specialty of river cruising is increasing in popularity and appeals to all levels of wine “connoisseurs”.


I mean, really. How expert do you need to be to enjoy biking through French vineyards, going on a “truffle treasure hunt”, or learning the ideal pairing of French chocolate and a Bordeaux wine at a chocolatier's shop? Just a few examples of some of the activities available with these wine focused river cruises.

But, on the other hand, if you are a wine aficionado, imagine sampling Bordeaux wines in a wine cellar in Saint-Emilion, Bordeaux or a Moselle wine while admiring the turrets of a Rhineland castle?!

And it’s not just the traditional wine regions of France and Germany that have wine focused agendas. Cruise the Douro River and enjoy Spanish and Portuguese wines, as well as learning more about Port making in Porto. Or navigate the Po River from Venice to Bologna while indulging in Italian wines and delicacies.

Some wine cruises are itinerary specific such as cruising thru Burgundy from Avignon to Lyon or exploring the Bordeaux region winding along three different rivers in the valley. Alternatively, traditional itineraries with an added wine and culinary focus and including a guest expert such as a winery owner vineyard manager on board are also available.

These specialized wine cruises are fabulous for small to medium groups. Whether your group is expert or a new-to-wine experiment, these are a great way to experience the sights, sounds, and tastes of old-world Europe.

Cisterns of Istanbul


Istanbul. The name alone evokes the senses – the colors, the activity, the smells. It is one of the most captivating cities I’ve visited and one to which I definitely hope to return. Byzantium became Constantinople and is now the Old City or “Sultanahmet” of Istanbul. Sophia Hagia, the Blue Mosque, Topkapi Palace are all well-known historical and cultural sites within walking distance in this section.

One of my surprise finds when I visited this mesmerizing city were the underground cisterns. Not only are they awash in history (as is everything in Istanbul!), but it was a fun tour and cool relief from the outside heat.

My definition for “surprise find” as it relates to travel is relatively broad. It could be a tucked away café or shop that I discover, or a hidden trail, or a local hangout that wasn’t in any guidebook. But, I also bestow the tag to sites or experiences I enjoy more than I anticipated. In other words, it surprised ME in some way.


The Basilica Cistern is the largest surviving of hundreds of cisterns under the city. It was constructed in the 500s AD by Emperor Justinian to provide water to the city in case of a siege. 336 sculpted marble columns are used to support the ceiling. The columns stand 28 feet tall. It can store up to 80,000 cubic meters of water (100,000 tons). After the conquest of Istanbul in 1453, it was the primary water source for the Topkapi complex for a short time, but the Ottomans preferred running water and installed new water delivery systems. The cistern fell into disrepair after centuries of disuse and was all but forgotten.

After cleanup and restoration, the city of Istanbul opened the cistern to the public in 1987 and it is now operated as museum.


One of the mysteries that remain about this engineering marvel surround two sculptured heads of Medusa. Used as column supports, mystery shrouds not only their origin, but their placement. There is no recorded history from where the sculptures came. As they are in a Roman style, the generally accepted thought is that they were seized as spoils of some war or skirmish and placed in the cistern to provide protection.

One of the heads is placed upside down and one lies sideways. One popular legend claims they were placed in this manner to avoid the “Gorgon spell” that turns one into stone. But, researchers think they were probably used this way as the best fit to support the columns. I prefer the first theory!

One of my surprise finds. What is your favorite “surprise” from your travels?

What To Do If I Am Bumped


The video circulating the internet showing the passenger being dragged off a commercial jet has created a lot of commentary. And, there are a myriad of issues involved: passenger rights, legal authority, customer service matters, not to mention just plain ole “what were they thinking?”

But, the question most frequently posed to me this week was “What do I do if I’m bumped?”

First, let me differentiate between two forms of “bumping”. Voluntary vs involuntary.

Voluntarily relinquishing a seat for compensation isn’t counted by the DOT in denied boarding statistics. Usually a win-win for all. The airline gets the seat(s) they need, the re-accommodated passenger(s) are compensated in a manner they’ve agreed to and feel is fair. Frequently this is with future-use vouchers, but it is up to airline what carrot they want to dangle to entice potential volunteers. I posted a story earlier this week on Facebook about a family that received $11,000 from Delta to give up seats – probably a reaction to the week’s headlines.

I’ve known passengers who deliberately plan and buy their tickets with the intent to take advantage of this possibility. They will purchase tickets for the earliest flight on a day that has a high volume (think Wednesday before Thanksgiving) with no urgency to arrive at their final destination until late in the day or even the next morning. They’re first in line to give up a seat when the airline inevitably requests a volunteer. One couple I know volunteered twice on one day!


Usually, with the first or second offer, the airline gets their volunteers. But, sometimes there aren’t enough takers and the airline will continue to up the ante until someone accepts. This cat and mouse game sometimes provides good entertainment. Once, I was on a plane that had already boarded and they needed one seat. The auction started at $200 and a guaranteed seat on next flight which was a couple of hours later. Actually, I think that was a pretty lame offer since we were already on the plane. No takers. The bid went up to $300, then $500, and finally $1000. BINGO! Three call lights went off simultaneously.

Involuntarily giving up your seat is a different situation and happens when there aren’t any volunteers (or not enough). The airline chooses the passengers to which they will deny boarding based on the airline's policy.

There are specific rules the airlines must follow when this happens:

  • If they can rebook you on another flight and get you to your destination within one hour of the original arrival time, you are owed nothing.
  • If you are rebooked and your arrival window is between one and two hours of the original, you must be compensated up to 200% of the one-way fare or $675, whichever is less.
  • Over two hours it goes up to 400% and $1,350.
  • There are also additional criteria for meals and hotels depending on length of delay. But, the most important takeaway is that there is required monetary compensation if you are not volunteering to be bumped.

My advice if this happens:

  1. Clearly ask “Am I being denied boarding?” Don’t confuse a voluntary relinquishment of your seat for a voucher with being involuntarily bumped. This also gives the airline representative a chance to be clear with their position. And, may encourage the airline to reconsider whether they’ve exhausted their possibilities for volunteers.
  2. If the response is affirmative, request a copy of the airline’s denied boarding policy – they must provide it to you. Each airline’s policy is different outside of what is required by law.
  3. It never hurts to ask for some amenities such as a pass to the lounge or a request for first-class seating on your new flight. They don’t have to do it, but they might try and mitigate a bad situation. The vast majority of airline representatives are friendly and want to be helpful. They probably feel regretful about the situation, albeit not as bad as you. Be friendly with requests for extras.

Hopefully, an involuntary boarding denial will never happen to you.

In fact, in my opinion, it should rarely if ever happen. If the airlines want to overbook their flights to increase the likelihood of filling the planes, they should be prepared to compensate passengers when it doesn’t work out. If that requires $1000 voucher (or more) to get someone to volunteer, then so be it.

What do you think?

What are the Seven Wonders of the World?

The original “Seven Wonders of the Ancient World” was compiled by a Greek travel writer around 225BC. There were seven defined themato, Greek for “things to be seen”. I guess you could call this the first “Bucket List”.

The original Seven Ancient Wonders were:

  • Great Pyramid of Giza
  • Hanging Gardens of Babylon
  • Statue of Zeus at Olympia
  • Temple of Artemis at Ephesus
  • Mausoleum at Halicarnassus
  • Colossus of Rhodes
  • Lighthouse of Alexandria

Naturally, people being people, there was disagreement at the time whether these were the top seven. Or the number seven – why not eight or ten? But, this list of seven did endure through the ages. Only the Great Pyramid remains today.

During the Middle Ages, there came an “updated” list: I’m not sure how this one was compiled, but it was generally accepted at the time.

  • Stonehenge
  • Colosseum
  • Catacombs of Kom el
  • Great Wall of China
  • Porcelain Tower of Nanjing
  • Hagia Sophia
  • Leaning Tower of Pisa

Probably the most debatable, albeit most well-known, today is the “New” Seven Wonders list that was determined by a global vote initiated by a Swiss marketing group in 2007. Controversially, the finalists didn’t include the Great Pyramid and the voting itself was unscientific with no limitation set on number of votes by individuals or entities.

  • Chichen Itza
  • Christ the Redeemer
  • Colosseum
  • Great Wall of China
  • Machu Picchu
  • Petra
  • Taj Mahal

The Great Pyramid was granted “honorary” status, so now there are eight New Seven Wonders. Really?

The lists of ‘Seven Wonders’ are numerous: Natural Wonders, Engineering Wonders, Underwater Wonders, Man-made Wonders, etc.


It has become traditional to limit the list to seven (or eight!?) And, any list is going to be subjective. But, regardless of the number or your perspective, they’re great for conversation starters and dreams of adventure.

Here is my list, in no particular order, other than a general regional grouping. Some I’ve “checked off”, some are yet to come. I didn’t attempt limiting it to seven!

What’s on YOUR list?

  1. Great Pyramid
  2. Petra
  3. Jerusalem Old City
  4. Serengeti Migration
  5. Victoria Falls
  6. Hagia Sophia
  7. Roman Colosseum
  8. Acropolis
  9. Stonehenge
  10. St Basil’s Cathedral
  11. Great Wall of China
  12. Taj Mahal
  13. TerraCotta Warriors
  14. Angkor Wat
  15. Great Barrier Reef
  16. Antarctica
  17. Easter Island
  18. Machu Picchu
  19. Amazon Rainforest
  20. Galapagos Islands
  21. Chichen Itza


Wherever I travel, I try to learn a few basic words or phrases in the language of the country I’m visiting. I’m not a linguist. In fact, when it comes to foreign languages I’m “tone deaf”. Well intended, but abysmal at pronunciation. Sometimes I feel I’m causing more confusion with my poor language skills than if I didn’t try at all! In spite of my impairment, I have learned a few new words over the years. Some have even stuck with me past my travels.

My favorite word, so far, is “Prego!”

Isn’t that a great word? It can express so many different things and yet it is just an everyday word in Italy. It’s one of those words that doesn’t really translate exactly. But, it works so well in so many situations. I think the word most similar in the US is “okay”.

“Okay” can mean agreement, acknowledgment, enthusiasm or sarcasm depending on the situation. “Prego” is like that. But, “okay” seems dull compared to “Prego”. And, “Prego” seems to have more uses.

Maybe it’s that fabulous accent that goes with it. Or the ambience? After all, everything looks, tastes, and sounds better in Italian, right?  I don’t know, but I fell in love with “Prego!”

  • “Thank you for helping me.”
    • “Prego!” Your welcome.
  •  “Do you have tables available for lunch?”
    • “Prego!” Come in. Have a seat.
  • “Look, there’s a parking space right up front.”
    • “Prego!” Outstanding.
  • “I know I’m not supposed to drink cappuccino in the afternoon, but I’m dying to try one.”
    • “Prego!” Whatever. (This may or may not be accompanied with an eye roll, depending on the sincerity of the speaker!)

What is your favorite word that just works for any situation?