UW Alumni Tours Blog

Archive for the ‘Trip Reports’ Category

Witness to History…Or, Don’t Go There?

Wednesday, July 20th, 2011
Escorts in Egypt

In Egypt, armed escorts accompany travelers.

This past January, UW Alumni Tours hosted a tour to Egypt at precisely the moment when that country embarked on revolutionary change. For 19 UW travelers anticipating the wonder of the Great Pyramids, the Sphinx and the Valley of the Kings, becoming eyewitnesses to history was an abrupt addition to the itinerary.

So… what it was like? We’ve got a round-up of firsthand accounts from folks who were there, including UW Alumni Tours Assistant Director Susan Cathcart, her fellow travelers and two UW professors. All vividly recall 12 days that changed the course of history in the Middle East. We’ve got articles, interviews, videos, photos and a look at what’s happening in Egypt today. Check out our Egypt page now.

We’re going back to Egypt in 2012. It probably won’t be historic, but it’s bound to be a lot of fun.

Our return, however, begs the question: With recent turmoil in unexpected places, along with natural disasters that strike without warning, is there ever a perfect time to travel? And where, exactly, does one go?

Travel writer Paul Theroux explores the issue in this New York Times article from April.

Portrait of Italy: What’s Your Best Memory?

Tuesday, July 19th, 2011

What will be your best, long-lasting memory about the trip?”

Portrait of Italy, April 30-May 16, 2011

That’s what we asked returning travelers from our late-April Portrait of Italy tour: a 17-day excursion that roamed up and down the boot from Venice to Amalfi, with stops in Rome, Naples, Florence and more. That’s a lot of ground to cover in a short time, but our group was game. And more than a few highlights came to mind afterward:

“Gazing over the peaceful Tuscan countryside in the cool of the morning from the patio of Villa Lecchi. Of course seeing David and the Sistine Chapel were anticipated highlights, and the enjoyable walk through Pompeii with Nicola’s subtly amusing narration was an unexpected delight.”

“The beautiful little villages of Umbria and Tuscany and seeing them both with new UW friends.”

“Seeing the Michelangelo sculptures and frescos that we read about before the trip, as well as the warm and welcoming feeling we got from the Italian people.”

“Our tour guide, Mauro. Great personality, wonderful sense of humor. (He) took great care of everyone. …We learned a lot of history and many new Italian words. Does he lead other tours?”

“Seeing the Pieta at St. Peter’s.”

“Villa Lecchi.  This was so lovely and peaceful; my favorite place on the trip. The best memory would be the people on the tour, and all they brought to the group.”

“For John it was seeing the Colosseum. For Judy, the view from Villa Lecchi with the umbrella pines and poppies in the fields.”

If Italy sounds like your cup of tea, we’ve got other great tours coming up: Chianti & Italian Riviera; Flavors of Northern Italy; Southern Italy & Sicily; and Italian Reflections.

Fond memories of Turkey

Monday, October 19th, 2009



We’re back from Turkey and our radiant glow from all that sunshine is dissipating! It was an incredible journey and as always, it ended much too soon.  This is one of the most popular tours that we operate,  and it’s  always highly rated.  In 2010 we are offering the same tour:  Turkey & the Turquoise Coast from September 18 to October 2nd.  If you haven’t had the opportunity to explore this unique and ancient country,  now’s your chance!


Five days of sun, ruins and sailing!

Friday, October 9th, 2009
Early morning on the gulet

Early morning on the gulet

As we stepped off our Turkish gulets and glanced back at the sea,  I think we all realized we had experienced something special.  The weather has been gorgeous, warm enough to swim every day off the boats, beautiful walks through the islands, exploring ruins, incredible Turkish cuisine. I could go on and on. Now we are in the ancient city of Antalya, staying in a wonderful hotel perched over the sea.  More visits to ruins and Turkish Baths await us!

Huskies cross the Dardanelles

Friday, October 2nd, 2009
Curtis with some spices!

Curtis with some spices!

A quick snapshot of our current tour to Turkey…We  started our journey in Istanbul, a city of spice markets, beautiful mosques, delicious kebabs and of course tea and Turkish delight! As we progress down the coast of the Aegean Sea we cross the Dardanelles singing the Husky Fight song as we ‘land’ on the ‘Asia minor’ side of Turkey. A visit to the ancient cities  of Troy and Ephesus  are a spectacular highlight for the group and we are heading off today for a 5 day cruise on the Turquoise Coast. I hope we have some good swimmers so we can see the underwater ruins!

Memories of Bhutan

Thursday, August 20th, 2009

Rdside Prayer WheelNow that I’m back in the office, my visit to Bhutan seems surreal. Did I really fly halfway around the world to visit this fascinating country? If it wasn’t for my photographs as proof, I don’t think I’d believe that I was really there.

I’ll miss seeing prayer wheels alongside the roads, but I won’t actually miss the winding roads themselves. I’ll miss the lush, green high mountains; the bright colors of the local dress; the beautiful temples so full of history and wonder; and the local people. For me, it’s always the people.2local women

Each time I travel, I take such joy in meeting the locals, looking into their faces and trying to imagine the story each face tells. Early in the trip, I came across these two women who were part of a larger group sitting with their backs up against the base of a large prayer wheel. I can imagine them sitting there every day while they chew on betal nuts, twirl their prayer wheels and finger their prayer beads. We shared a few smiles and they happily let me take their photos. I felt enriched by the short exchange.

Prayer Wheels-localsI’m excited about the opportunity to sponsor a UW trip to Bhutan so that our alumni will be encouraged to also discover this unique country. In the next month, I’ll be working with our tour operator to confirm an itinerary and tour inclusions. Once our program is set, we will have it posted up on our website and we’ll be ready to take reservations.  I hope you’ll be able to join us on our fall 2010 alumni tour to Bhutan.

Hiking to Tiger's Nest (Taktsang Monastery)

Monday, August 17th, 2009

For years I’ve seen photographs of a monastary way up in the sky,  tightly hugging a cliff, usually photographed surrounded by mist.

The Monastery in the Sky

The Monastery in the Sky

It looked so mysterious and exotic that I immediately wanted to know where it was located because to me it spoke of traveling to faraway destinations. Upon hearing it was in Bhutan, a country I knew little about, it seemed even further away than I imagined and I certainly never dreamed that one day I would actually hike the hillside to reach this very special place.

Frankly, I can’t come up with the right words to describe the experience of arriving at this monastary by foot. I can’t say it was an easy experience as you have to hike up a continual incline, beginning at approximately 7,500 ft., all the way to 9,000 ft. up in the sky. Just getting to the first viewpoint was an exertion and my years of having a desk job seemed to have caught up with me.

The Final Stairs

The Final Stairs

I began the second half of the hike with good intentions but after taking a few breaths and finding myself struggling to breathe, I announced to my travel companions to go on ahead without me. After they continued, I decided I would keep taking  slow steps and would see just how far I could go. Step-by-step,  walking more slowly than I can ever remember, I kept moving ahead, stopping often.  Suddenly, I arrived at the second viewpoint and there was a startling close view of the Tiger’s Nest – it seemed like I could almost reach out and touch it.

To reach it, I still had to walk down many, many narrow stairs, across a tigers nest -hikersbridge (with mist from the waterfall kissing my face), up another flight of stairs, through a wooden gate and finally – the entrance. To my surprise and the surprise of my companions, I had made it to the monastary in the sky!

Every single step and breath were worth this wonderful accomplishment. I will always cherish this day.


Our Day in Punakha

Sunday, August 16th, 2009

me and monk boyToday was magic – just absolutely magic. We walked across a suspension bridge, with prayer flags flapping in the wind. Then continued through rice paddies and up a hill (passing a few cows along the way) to visit the impressive Khamsum Yuelly Namgyal Chorten (Stupa). In the temple, we climbed three flights of steep stairs that were well worth the effort when we witnessed the incredible view of the Punakha Valley below!

Our afternoon walk was a leisurely one, once again through rice paddies, and up to the temple dedicated to Lam Drukpa Kuenly – View from Templeotherwise known as the “mad monk.”  With jasmine scenting our final few steps, we arrived at the temple to be greeted by a small group of very friendly Twainese who were traveling with a monk. A group member approached me with a huge smile and proceeded to tell me that the monk’s mother had come to this temple years ago to pray for a son. Not long after, she received her wish. Her next story concerned a female member of their group who had been to this temple previously and had also successfully prayed for a son. It was in this manner that I learned the special significance of this temple. From our guide, we heard many amusing stories of the “mad monk” and just how the temple’s reputation came about.

prayer flagsTraveling in Bhutan in the shoulder season has had its rewards. Yes, the mist may have obscured our view of the Himalayas at the top of the pass, but there are few other tourists and minimal traffic. It has not been uncommon for us to be the only travelers at a restaurant or local site. This is sure to change as Bhutan increases in popularity and tourists begin arriving during all seasons of the year.