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 Vacations are precious investments of time with your loved ones.  

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Editor's Letter,
August 2018
Dear ActiveTravels Members,

Today is our daughter's 20th birthday!! And, she's our baby! How did all that time go by so quickly? Everyday I see this picture as I sit at my desk and I reminisce about the good ole days. She has grown into a beautiful young woman both on the inside and out and she faces the world head on with those big eyes and gentle smile and her bright personality. Steve and I are incredibly proud of her and excited to see what the next decade brings for her.

Many clients come to us as they realize they are about to have their 25th wedding anniversary and need to finally get to Hawaii to celebrate, or they are turning 75 and must go to Morocco with the kids to remember the milestone or they want to head to Mexico with their buddies to mark turning 50. Travel can take many forms and travel inspiration often emerges from an inner need to bookmark time and remember the present in vivid color.

Mark your moment and keep on traveling with your loved ones. You won't regret it!

Read on for travel inspiration as our August newsletter features stories like Five Ways to Travel in Cuba, and includes the highlights of Steve's recent trip to Colombia, as well as a surprisingly fun trip to Hartford, Connecticut! If you're heading to Europe this month, read about the great (and free!) audio tours by Rick Steves.

Happy Birthday, Melanie, and, of course,

H appy Travels,
Lisa & Steve
Five Trips You Gotta Try:

Lisa and I recently had the pleasure of meeting Megumi Gordon, granddaughter of ActiveTravels member, Naomi Gordon. Megumi, along with her husband, Michael Laverty, and his brother, Collin, is co-founder of Habana Live, a tour operator in Cuba that custom-designs trips to the island based upon your interests. 

With new nonstop service on JetBlue starting on November 10th between Boston and Havana, (JetBlue already offers direct flights from JFK to Havana), there's no better time to visit Cuba. Along with Megumi, many outfitters and cruise lines are adding Cuba to their list of destinations this winter. 

These are the five we recommend:

Based on your desires, Megumi can put you in the spanking new 5-star Kempinski resort in Havana, the soon-to-debut Hotel Packard (run by Iberostar), or a stay at someone's home. But lodging is secondary to the many experiences Megumi can offer, from visiting artists' homes to seeing live jazz to learning about Hemingway from a local Hemingway expert to creating a Jewish heritage itinerary. She will happily design an itinerary based on your dates, passions, and budget.

Home to 112 passengers, the SeaDream vessels are more like yachts than cruise ships. In the winter, they ply the remote waters of the Caribbean, visiting the special islands of the Grenadines and BVIs, like St. Bart's and Virgin Gorda. In the summer, you'll find their yachts on the coast of Croatia or in the Greek islands. Starting in February 2019, SeaDream will be headed to Cuba to circumnavigate the island on a dreamy weeklong cruise. It's the best of both worlds. See the sights, then head back to the comforts of the yacht for exceptional dining and comfort. You can even sleep under the stars. They have several outdoor beds each night for two lucky couples.

Backroads is the first American active travel company to operate cultural trips in Cuba under the People-to-People License and they've already built a strong network of local ties that allow guests to find an authentic experience. Choose between their biking or multi-sport trips on island, with highlights that include the chance to hike the rarely accessed Santa Catalina Caves and to bike through rural countryside and charming colonial towns.

From vintage cars to classic architecture to tropical plant life, there is no shortage of photo opportunities in Cuba. Follow fellow travel writer, Christopher Baker, on a trip to Cuba in February 2019. Baker leads many of the National Geographic Expeditions trips to Cuba and is author of the Moon Guide to Cuba.

Head to Cuba during the Havana Jazz Festival in mid-January with Jazz Cuba. The 8-night itinerary includes private tours of the island by day and chance to see jazz legends like Herbie Hancock and Chucho Valdés at night.

Please let ActiveTravels know if you'd like to know more about these exciting trips to Cuba.
On the Road:
Medellin and Cartagena, Colombia
Tourism in Colombia was up 28% from 2016 to 2017, which is no surprise as its quickly becoming one of the top travel destinations for our clientele and staff (Amy's son, Jake, worked as a teacher in Colombia in 2017). That was a good enough reason for me to finally make it to the country in early June.
We all want to find the best lodging within our price range when traveling, as it should be. But equally, if not more important, is the unparalleled value of a good guide. Take Pablo Ospina, who was recommended to me by Latin Excursions, our go-to tour operator in Colombia and other countries in South America. Pablo chose to meet me my first day in Medellin, knowing that the city was on holiday and the traffic was far less than usual (wow, did I realize that the next day when the city was back in swing and it took forever to get downtown). Pablo's first stop was Communa 13 to see the magnificent and ever-growing street art in this neighborhood, which not too long ago was one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in South America. While we strolled, Pablo gave me the history of Medellin, this city of 4 million nestled in the valley close to a mile high. When Pablo was growing up, there were car bombs and constant fighting between the government and the guerilla forces of FARC, with the remnants of Escobar's drug ring thrown in for more chaos. Now the city has rose from the ashes and what a remarkable job it's doing. Not only is it safe, but it has one of the best climates in the world, 70 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit year-round. Many people are retiring to the city to enjoy the weather and the only public transit system in Colombia, which includes cable cars and outdoor escalators.
When we descended from Communa 13 on the escalators and spotted about 5 tour groups heading up to the street art (we had the place to ourselves since Pablo wisely headed here first), we took a cable car up into the hillside for glorious vistas of the city ringed by jagged peaks. Then it was on to the city center to see the Botero sculptures and his paintings in the nearby Museo de Antioquia. Botero not only donated his impressive sculptures, paintings, and watercolors to his boyhood museum, he bequeathed his collection of contemporary art by Stella, Frankenthaler, and Andy Katz, among others. For lunch, we headed to the large botanical garden in the center of the city and its signature restaurant, In Situ.   One sip of the sublime coconut lemonade and that would be my drink of choice throughout the week in Colombia. After lunch, we strolled the gardens and spotted large lizards amidst the orchids and bamboo trees. Seven hours after picking me up, Pablo dropped me back off at my hotel, the Intercontinental Medellin. But not before outlining what I should do the following day on my own. That's what you call an excellent guide, one that I will happily recommend for all clients headed to Medellin!
The Intercontinental Medellin, where I stayed in town, is only a 5-minute taxi ride down the hillside to the upscale neighborhood of Poblado. I started the next day at the Santa Fe Shopping Mall to find souvenirs, then headed south along the wide boulevard of Carrera 43A, stopping at one of the outdoor restaurants for hot out-of-the-oven arepas stuffed with cheese and corn. At Poblado Park, I turned right and headed slightly uphill to the narrow streets of Via Primavera. Carrera 35 is home to fashionable clothing shops, restaurants, breweries, and a charming bakery and café, Como Pez en el Agua, where I stopped for an almond croissant and cappuccino. That night I would return to the area for dinner at OCI.Mde, one of the city's finest restaurants. Earth, Wind & Fire was blaring on the radio (always a good sign) as I walked in and ordered the best caipirinha I ever tasted, paired with an appetizer of fresh tuna sashimi dipped in a tangy soy sauce. Dinner was braised short ribs, cooked 12 hours in a cashew sauce. When it arrived on the table, it was so tender it fell off the bone.

The following day I was on a flight to Cartagena, one of those Spanish Colonial cities that seems to be built with the traveler in mind. Behind the fortress walls are narrow streets, large plazas, 17th-century churches, and row after of charming restaurants, boutique shops, and salsa dance clubs. 
The fortress reminded me of Old San Juan while the streets of Cartagena felt similar to the French Quarter
of New Orleans. I loved strolling and taking photos of the colorful adobe-like homes and the lush tropical foliage like bougainvillea flowing from the terraces.

An added bonus to Cartagena is the long stretch of beach and warm waters to swim. You can choose to stay in the Old Quarter at the historic Sofitel Cartagena Santa Clara or the smaller boutique property, Movich Cartagena de Indias, with its glorious views of the city at night from its rooftop bar and pool. But I wanted to be right on the beach, so instead chose to stay at the Intercontinental Cartagena de Indias in the newer Bocagrande section of the city. I loved waking up to their breakfast buffet (juicy mangoes were in season when I was there in early June) and going to the outdoor terrace to look out over the expanse of water. It was also a joy to return to the hotel after a day of sightseeing (the Old Town is only a 5-minute Uber or Taxi) and sip mojitos in the infinity pool, with those same breathtaking views. The temperatures were much hotter and more humid than Medellin, since you're back at sea level, ideal for a winter or late fall getaway.
My final day in Cartagena, I took the hour boat ride to the Rosario Islands, home to the only underwater national park in Colombia. We snorkeled for 45 minutes with a guide and spotted wonderful coral formations and large schools of neon-colored fish. You also have the option of scuba diving or sea kayaking in the mangroves. Then we had a glorious lunch of fried red snapper and an Aguila beer, before going for a dip in the warm waters and passing out on my chaise lounge chair. Several couples on our boat spent the night at Hotel San Pedro de Majagua, perfect for that romantic and very private retreat, especially when the day-trippers leave.
If you need any help with your upcoming trip to Colombia, please contact Steve at ActiveTravels!
Tried & True Travel Tips:
Rick Steves Audio Europe App

Rick Steves knows Europe. You cannot argue with that statement. He has circled the continent over and over and he consistently finds new topics, important current information you'll want to know and he reminds you about the must-sees when visiting the major cities and towns of Europe. 

That's why you'll want to download his app. Once you've done so, you will have access to all his walking tours throughout Europe. While you're in a wifi area, just upload the tours you want so you don't have to use your international data plan, as you stroll through Venice, view the WWII sights of Normandy France or experience the Barcelona Gaudi architecture. Handy pdf maps of the tours can be found on the app as well so you can follow along.

If you prefer podcasts, Steves has you covered. Just find his audio tours on iTunes or locate them on Rick Steves website. Don't miss his podcasts on Notable Travelers such as David McCullough's Favorite Historical Sights and  David Sedaris in Paris. Other podcasts worth checking out are Pico Iyer's Lonely Places and Doc Martin's Cornwall.
Quick Escape:
Hartford, Connecticut
With its wealth of Hudson River School works and contemporary sculpture and paintings by artists like Calder and Yves Tanguy, who resided in Connecticut, Hartford's Wadsworth Athenaeum is a gem of an art museum.When I heard they were hosting a Frederic Church exhibition through August, that was more than enough incentive to make the 90-minute drive. We also wanted to finally meet clients we've worked with these past 5 years, Lynne and Leland, and spend the night at the newly revamped Goodwin Hotel downtown. It ended up being the perfect 24-hour escape.
The Frederick Church exhibition focused on his travels to Rome, Athens, Jerusalem, and Petra from 1867-1869. He would sketch these cities inhabitants, animals, and major sights like the Parthenon, Roman Coliseum, and Dome of the Rock, and then continue painting these scenes over the next 30 years in his grand style. 
That was one fruitful pilgrimage for Church.

Then we headed to the first floor of the museum to see works by Warhol (Jackie), Miro, and a life-sized cut-out of the Wadsworth's registrar for more than 50 years, Margie, who retired in 1973.

The contemporary flair continued at the Goodwin Hotel, within easy walking distance to all the major theaters in the city (consider visiting Hartford in December if you can snag tickets to Hamilton at the Bushnell). Lisa and I loved the hotel's décor, from the oversized couches in the lobby 
to the blue copper tin roof in our spacious room to the wooden floor of the shower. In the hotel's bar, Pina, glass pineapples provide the lighting and Colonial-era silhouettes on the wall include the talented chef at the helm of the hotel's restaurant, Porron. His name is Tyler Anderson and he's one of the best-known chefs in the state, with James Beard-nominated restaurants like Millwrights in Simsbury and The Cook and the Bear in West Hartford already part of his growing empire.   
Anderson debuted this Spanish restaurant in February and he's already elevated the dining scene in town. Just ask Mayor Luke Bronin and his wife, Sarah, who sat at the table next to us (he recommends seeing a Hartford Yard Goats baseball game in town, she suggests The Republic for brunch).
It was great to finally meet Lynne and Leland as we dined on such tasty tapas as a tomato salad with warm ricotta (Anderson now owns a 3-acre farm that supplies most of his veggies), smoked duck legs, chorizo stuffed mushrooms, and a dish of imported slice Spanish ham, all washed down with a fruity Rioja. The next morning, we returned to Pina, transformed into a coffee bar run by Anderson's Pastry Chef, Kristin Eddy, who's known for her sublime doughnuts, including a coconut- almond-shortbread combo that had me licking my lips. 

If you haven't been to Hartford in a while, it's time to return and enjoy all it has to offer!
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