A Tiny Cruise Line With A Big Impact

cruise lineLike them or hate them, travelers have heard of cruise lines that travel around the world on city-like ships, ply the rivers of Europe or sail from convenient home ports around North America. Some have ships designed to be destinations in and of themselves, while others have purpose-built vessels with a shore-side focus, stopping at world class destinations. Between the brands of Royal Caribbean International and Carnival Corporation alone, millions of travelers take to the sea each year. A comparative handful of cruise travelers choose small, boutique lines that sail just a few ships to many of the same places with their own signature travel experience.

Lüftner Cruises, a family-owned Austrian company, is one of those tiny cruise lines. Lüftner operates Amadeus Cruises, a luxury river cruise line with just six ships that sail along Europe’s Rhine, Main and Danube Rivers in opulent luxury on voyages lasting four to 15 days.

Just launched, 443-foot Amadeus Silver is their largest and most luxurious river ship ever. The 90-cabin vessel is adorned in first-class interior furnishings, luxurious accommodations, authentic Austrian programming and an environmentally-friendly design.

Featured on the Amadeus Silver is Café Vienna, a traditional Austrian coffee shop serving Sachertorte specialties. An open-air lounge named the River Terrace is located in the ship’s bow and has special glazed windows to protect passengers from a windy or rainy day. The ship also has a two-story fitness studio, two restaurants and a sundeck with a golf putting green.

Passenger cabins are a roomy 172 square feet and have innovative French balconies with drop-down windows affording panoramic views. Spacious suites are 258 square feet and have walk-out exterior balconies with seating areas.

On the ship, activities include folklore shows, lectures on the history of the Rhine-Main-Danube canal and Bavarian evenings with live music. Off the ship, city excursions showcase the region’s rich cultural diversity and feature concerts in Vienna, wine tastings in Wuerzburg and castle tours.

Lüftner Cruises also has an uber focus on the environment, earning certification by Green Globe, the global travel and tourism industries’ certification program for sustainable tourism as well as Atmosfair, a climate protection organization with a focus on travel.

“We are well aware that tourism always impacts on the environment despite increasing efforts to offer environmentally-friendly travel arrangements,” said Dr. Wolfgang Lueftner, Founder and Owner of Lueftner Cruises in an Eturbonews report.

On board Lueftner ships, cruise travelers have the opportunity to positively impact the environment. Passengers can, and do, choose to offset their own CO2 consumption with a donation and are given the option to pay a suggested climate protection levy of €2 per day per cabin.

[Photo Credit – Amadeus Cruises]

Edmonton: Three Boars, Perfect Cocktails

edmonton

Before a recent trip to Edmonton I did my standard restaurant research. All trails seemed to lead to a place called Three Boars Eatery, located happily enough just a few blocks from my hotel in the neighborhood of Old Strathcona. I left a message requesting a booking the day before my arrival and two minutes later my phone pulsed. “Hi. You called. We’re full upstairs tomorrow night but there’s always room in the bar.”

The next night, after an airport shuttle ride through snow-choked streets and a quick check-in, I entered Three Boars’ bar area. It was populated solely by men, all of whom sported either a beard or a plaid shirt. Some, like me, boasted both. It felt like a homecoming. I overheard talk of poorly-behaved roommates at the far end of the bar, while the two gymrats next to me discussed in very technical terms the effect of steroids on a friend’s growth. The Rolling Stones ranted in the background; in the foreground, the service was attentive and nerdy. A revolving cast of three waiters asked questions and probed, made suggestions, and explained that the menu changes several times a week, sometimes daily.

Three Boars is about offal and local provenance. It’s full-fat and high protein. Three Boars is relaxed but it is also self-conscious, telling guests where all their food and drinks originate. I sipped local beers (fine, though nothing truly exceptional) and ate several small and very good courses: smoked pork jowls with grainy mustard, smoked steelhead trout, and bacon-wrapped figs stuffed with blue cheese. So far so good.

Then came the truly exceptional part of the evening, the part that made me sit up: a miso-braised pork belly sitting on steel-cut oats cooked in dashi, with scattered pickled mushroom, roe, and seaweed. The flavors were bold and beautifully balanced. The result was a wildly delicious and quite comforting savory breakfast, but for dinner. It entered the upper reaches of my global favorite food items chart with a bang.

Naturally I asked my waiters where else I should eat. “The food community is small in Edmonton, so everyone knows each other,” said one. To illustrate, he pointed out a chef sitting at the far end of the bar and then grabbed a fellow who was just leaving. “And this is Tarquin, the best bartender in Edmonton. You should have him make you cocktails.”Two nights prior, Tarquin Melnyk had won a Canadian Professional Bartenders Association prize as the best bartender in Alberta. He suggested that I visit Manor Casual Bistro, the restaurant where he tends bar, which I did the following night. I tried three of his complicated cocktails, thinking that each looked on paper as if it had too many ingredients, only to be walloped each time. These are remarkable, ambitious cocktails, some with either semi-exotic components (elderflower liqueur); others with remarkably exotic ingredients (phytoplankton).

Melnyk is personable well beyond reasonable customer service expectations. I had the feeling that, had I requested it, he could have devoted an evening to discussing new developments in the world of craft cocktails with me.

Edmonton’s dosage of friendliness was pleasing for sure, but what made my few days in Alberta’s frozen capital downright exciting was the vibe of being invited in, however briefly, to spend some time with a group of people making good food and drink for each other all bitter winter long.

[Image: Flickr | Hobolens]

Adventure Safari Brings Easy Way To Give Back

safari

Traveling almost anywhere around the world, we see people in need. Many struggle to survive in endangered areas or in a place where an earthquake, tsunami or another natural disaster has occurred. But those in need can be located at stops along our way in the Caribbean, South America, Europe or some other areas too. In the past, it has been hard not to feel the need to help, but often more difficult to know what we can do with the limited time and resources we bring when traveling. Then we found Pack For A Purpose (PFAP), a non-profit organization that lets us give back in a very meaningful way.

Eleven years ago, during their first trip to Africa, Scott and Rebecca Rothney learned that while they were each limited to 40 pounds of luggage on safari, their airline had an allowance of 100 pounds of checked luggage, plus a 40-pound carry-on.

To make a long story short, the Georgia couple asked themselves, with an attitude typical of their Southern hospitality, “Why not take advantage of that unused weight and bring along supplies that will fulfill some need?” They noted how it wouldn’t cost fliers anything to ship and that they could be doing some good. With this in mind, the two launched Pack For A Purpose.

“In making plans for a second trip, we looked into visiting a school near the lodge we would visit in Botswana,” says Rothney. “We contacted our safari company, Wilderness Safaris, to see if we could determine any specific needs of that school. Armed with that information, we were able to deliver 140 pounds (64 kg) of school supplies, including soccer balls, to the school.”

%Gallery-180487%Building on that experience but making it easy by asking travelers to pack just five pounds (2.27 kg) of various supplies, the idea was to involve everyone who wanted to add value to their trip by participating.

travelers give backTo make it even easier, the destinations travelers might visit are organized on the PFAP website by continent, then by country, resort, lodging or tour. Travelers who are considering a land vacation or going on a cruise that stops in Jamaica, for example, will find 18 different properties listed where supplies can be dropped off.

The idea worked. In the first three years of operation, PFAP has been instrumental in delivering over 17,000 pounds of supplies.

Making even more sense of the PFAP plan, Rothney said “We don’t look at it as ‘charity’. It’s a way of saying ‘thank you’ and showing our appreciation for the wonderful experience we have in these places we visit,” in a telephone interview with Gadling.

Think about that for a minute: can you spare five pounds worth of space in luggage?

Pack For A Purpose
points out that five pounds translates to:

  • 400 Pencils, or
  • 5 deflated soccer balls with an inflation device, or
  • A stethoscope, a blood pressure cuff and 500 bandages.

All are much-needed supplies at a variety of locations around the world.

Check this video with Rebecca Rothney explaining what Pack For A Purpose is all about:



[Images – Pack For A Purpose]

Why We’re All Drinking ‘Canadian’ Beer

A few facts about beer:

  • In ancient Babylonia, where the first beer was supposedly made, they took the sudsy stuff so seriously that if you made a bad batch, you’d be drowned.
  • The Vikings’ version of heaven, Valhalla, was really a great meat and beer hall in the sky, complete with a giant goat whose udders spewed-you guessed it-beer.
  • Light makes beer go bad, hence the reason one usually finds it in a tinted glass bottle. When exposed to prolonged light, beer gets a skunk-y smell (Corona, anyone?).
  • The melody to the American national anthem, the “Star Spangled Banner,” was taken from a beer drinking song. Seriously.
  • Much of the corporate brewery beers from other countries that you might consume in the United States was either made in Canada or America.

[Record scratch across the heavens] Wait, what? That’s right. Big breweries don’t necessarily fall over themselves to keep this a secret. But they don’t exactly advertise it, either.I had never thought about this or the effects of travel on beer until I was recently at Hospoda, a Czech restaurant on New York’s Upper East Side. There was something about the taste of the Pilsner Urquell on draught was so…good. It was crisp and light yet the flavors were not muted, as is the case sometimes when I drink it on tap at other bars in North America. And then Lukas Svoboda, who is in charge of the beer at Hospoda, told me that restaurant is one of the few or only places in North America that has their Pilsner Urquell kegs shipped to them in air conditioned containers.

All the Pilsner Urquell one’s drinks in the world is made in Plzen, in western Bohemia. But almost none of it shipped with an air conditioning unit inside the shipping container. And that, apparently, makes all the difference.

Which is one reason why most of the big breweries open up localized breweries to make their beer. Like Japanese beers such as Kirin, Asahi, and Sapporo? It’s brewed in North America by Molson and Anhueser-Busch. Foster’s? Nope, that didn’t come from down under, but rather from up over: it’s made in Canada. The same goes for Beck’s, Heinekin, Bass, and many other “foreign” beers.

Which gives some incredulity when you see “imported” on some beer labels. It’s not lying; it’s imported. But likely from Canada.

I always liked drinking foreign beer at home because it gave me a taste of the world, a bit of travel on my palate, knowing it was made half a world away by guys (and gals) who toiled over the beer making process. But I guess I just failed to read the fine print on the back of the label that says it was made in a not-so-distant land.

I turned to beer expert and widely published writer, Evan Rail for an explanation. “Big industrial breweries usually have one reason for everything they do: to maximize profits,” said Rail who is the author of “Good Beer Guide: Prague & the Czech Republic,” and the Kindle singles “Why Beer Matters” and “In Praise of Hangovers.” “Beer is heavy. Shipping it can be really expensive. And shipping it under refrigeration – which a good beer really deserves – adds even more to the cost.”

But does it change the flavor? Does it destroy any sort of “terroir” that the beer would have had if it was still brewed in the land for which it originally hailed?

Rail says: not really. “Heineken, for example, really shouldn’t be any different when it is brewed in Canada: modern industrial brewing is so incredibly precise that the beer should taste almost exactly the same – at least within the occasional variations for the brew in its place of origin. This is more true for industrial lagers like Heineken and American Budweiser, which are relatively flavorless anyway.”

Interestingly, some previously smaller breweries are getting into the game. Brooklyn Brewery is building a facility in Sweden to make beer. San Diego’s Stone Brewery has been, according to Rail, trying to build a brewery in Europe for a few years now.

The best thing you can do, whether you’re home or traveling, is to drink whatever brew is made nearby.

Rail puts it nicely: “In terms of cost, taste and the environment, there’s really no substitute for drinking local beer.”

[Photo courtesy of deege@fermentarium.com via Flickr]

Airline Adds Live TV To In-Flight Entertainment Choices

in-flight

Emirates Airlines has raised the bar on in-flight services for quite some time, offering over-the-top amenities like a shower in first class, Bvlgari amenity kits, dine-on-demand service and more. Now, Emirates has figured out how to add live TV from a variety of sources.

“Installing the type of satellite communication that allows live TV on an aircraft is no easy feat,” said Adel Al Redha, Emirates executive vice-president of engineering and operations, in a Breaking Travel News report.

Currently offering a choice of four live TV channels, Emirates allows passengers to choose from BBC World News in English, BBC Arabic or Euronews.

Sports 24 is a channel with exclusive live coverage of sporting events around the world. Upcoming events include English Premier League and Bundesliga football matches, coverage of the Australian Open, Wimbledon, US Open Tennis, ATP Tour Masters 1000 Series, ATP World Tour Finals, US Open Golf and the British and Irish Lions Tour.

That’s in addition to information systems that allow passengers to follow the progress of their flight and see what’s going on outside the aircraft with external-mounted cameras. Already in place are in-flight phone calls both to ground and other passengers on the plane, as well as the ability for sending and receiving text messages, email and over 1,400 channels of premium entertainment.

Available on select Boeing 777 flights flying over the Middle East, Europe, North Africa and North America, Emirates live TV service is provided via expanding satellite technology, soon to be offered worldwide.

Want a taste of the Emirates first class experience? Check this video, just in:



[Photo credit – Flickr user BriYYZ]