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Black Tie International Travel  1
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Black Tie International Magazine - Travel-Bob _Nicholaides_Cruising


Traveling Along… with Bob Nicolaides


Cruising luxuriously can be equated to one of life’s most intense joys.  Cruise liners today are engineering marvels: Something compared to  floating 5-star hotels that offer the best service, accommodation, cuisine, and activities.  They visit exotic locales, with non-stop relaxation or stimulation, depending on your pleasure. Over the past few years, cruise companies have spared no expense and literally invested billions in jaw-dropping magnanimus ships.  Even if you’ve cruised, say five years ago,  you probably have not experienced anything like these new marvels. But, the best news is that due to the slowdown in travel caused by the recession and significant overcapacity in the industry, savvy travelers can now book once-in-a-lifetime cruises at insanely low prices. How does 75 percent off the brochure price sound?  Believe it or not, it's possible through a company called Vacations To Go, one of America's Largest Cruise Agencies. Founded more than 25 years ago, Vacations To Go realized that taking a cruise is a great pleasure that is not equaled. For some cruise fans, there's nothing like a new ship, and this year there will be plenty of new ships from which to choose. Six major cruise lines that market to North Americans are unveiling new oceangoing vessels in 2011, including industry giant Carnival and family-focused Disney Cruise Line (rolling out its first new ship in more than a decade, the Disney Dream).

Ordered several years ago when the economy was booming, the new Class of 2011 includes two first-of-its-kind vessels. In addition to the much-awaited Disney Dream, the first of a new series of ships at the line, the year will see the first ship in a new series for Oceania Cruises. The four other new ships for 2011 will be sisters to already existing vessels. Luxury line Seabourn, for instance, is rolling out its third and final Odyssey Class vessel). Celebrity Cruises is unveiling the fourth in its popular Solstice Class series. Four major lines that, notably, won't have a new ship in 2011 are Royal Caribbean, Princess Cruises, Norwegian Cruise Line and Holland America. Princess and Norwegian each have two ships on order, but they don't begin arriving until 2013. Neither Royal Caribbean nor Holland America has a single ship on order. With the peak period for bookings — aka Wave Season — now underway, the Cruise Log offers the following guide to 2011's major new vessels (click on the ship names below to go to a full page on each of the newcomers that offers details on on-board features, home ports, itineraries and pricing). In addition to the oceangoing vessels listed below, there are a number of new river ships under development for 2011 from such river lines as AmaWaterways and Avalon Waterways. We'll have a full report on them soon.



Five miles outside the Israeli town of Ein Gedi, close to the center of the Dead Sea, an international team of scientists has been drilling beneath the seabed to extract a record of climate change and earthquake history stretching back half a million years. The preliminary evidence and clues found during the 40-day project was more than the team could have hoped for. The scientists did not expect to pull up a wood fragment that was roughly 400,000 years old. Nor did they expect to come across a layer of gravel from a mere 50,000 to 100,000 years ago. Those findings indicate that  what is now the middle of the Dead Sea — which is really a big salt lake — was once a shore, and that the water level had managed to recover naturally. “We knew the lake went through high levels and lower levels,” said Prof. Zvi Ben-Avraham, a leading expert and the driving force behind the project, “but we did not know it got so low.” Professor Ben-Avraham, a member of the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities and chief of the Minerva Dead Sea Research Center at Tel Aviv University, had been pushing for such a drilling operation for 10 years. The idea was to bore under the sea and extract a continuous geological core that, once analyzed, could supply information of global importance on natural processes and environmental changes.

Sitting in the largest and deepest basin in the world, scientists decided to drill at the center because the sediment accumulated here had always been under water. A special mineral found in the lake can be used for dating much further back in time than the more common radiocarbon method allows, giving the scientists an unprecedented insight into the history of natural forces in the region. Finally, the International Continental Scientific Drilling Program, which is based in Germany and is the only organization in the world capable of conducting such an operation, agreed to take on the $2.5 million project as a co-sponsor, together with the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities. The Israeli-led enterprise involves 40 scientists from Israel, Germany, Switzerland, Norway, Japan and the United States. Professor Ben-Avraham and his project manager, Michael Lazar, a marine geophysicist at the University of Haifa, emphasized that they were working with scientists from Jordan and the Palestinian Authority because Israel, Jordan and the West Bank all border the Dead Sea. With its surface now almost 1,400 feet below sea level and its waters reaching a depth of 1,240 feet, the Dead Sea offers a unique environment for research that may also contribute to the world’s knowledge of human cultural evolution.


The ancient city of Feneos lies next to the modern-day city of the same name in Corinth prefecture, and features the ruins of fortresses and a wall. Ancient Feneos is situated on a plateau the foot of Mt. Kyllini, better known to locals as Mt. Zireia, the mythical birthplace of the god Hermes, and in antiquity was part of the Arcadian region. It served as an important cult center for the god Hermes, particularly during the annual Hermaea festival.


The region was inhabited since the Neolithic Age until the Roman Age. The history is apparent everywhere. The ruins of Ancient Feneos are located next to the modern village of Feneos, which hosts a folk museum. Nestled between the peaks of Greater Zireia and Lesser Zireia is the Cave of Hermes, where Zeus and the nymph Maea, daughter of Atlas, found refuge from Zeus' wife Hera and where Maea gave birth to Hermes. The sloped cave is located at an altitude of 1,700 meters and is comprised of 8 chambers. The nearby valley of Flambouritsa is an idyllic biotope protected under the Natura 2000.


From bacchanalian rites to somber ceremonies and family dinners, wine has long been connected with human sociability. However, for how long would you guess? One well-known biblical story says that after Noah's Ark came to rest on what is thought to be Mount Ararat, Noah planted a vineyard, harvested grapes, fermented them and got drunk. Now actual proof of early vintners comes from a cave near a remote Armenian village, which, perhaps not coincidentally, is within 60 miles of Mount Ararat. Scientists have unearthed a surprisingly advanced winemaking operation, surrounded by storage jars, and say it dates back 6,000 years, making it the earliest known site in the world for wine-making with grapes, by far. Its presence, along with the recent discovery of the world's oldest leather moccasin in the same cave outside the small town of Areni, is requiring professionals in the field to broaden and, to some extent reexamine, exactly what constituted early civilization and where it occurred.

"This is the oldest confirmed example of winemaking by a thousand years," said Gregory Areshian, an archaeologist and co-director of the dig. "People were making wine here well before there were pharaohs in Egypt." The winemaking in the cave appears to be associated with burial rituals because numerous graves are close by, he said. "This was almost surely not wine used at the end of the day to unwind." Areshian said that the discovery of winemaking in the Areni cave complex, outlined in the peer-reviewed Journal of Archaeological Science and released Tuesday, indicates that the people there were settled and relatively sophisticated 6,000 years ago. Although researchers traditionally look to Egypt and Mesopotamia to understand ancient civilization, Areshian said that "there were many, many specialized and unique centers of civilization in the ancient world, and we can only understand it as a mosaic of these people." Establishing vineyards with domesticated and high-yielding Vitis vinifera, the hybrid grape still used to make wine today, is a significant advance, and is considered more complex than making beer from the grains that dominated in the fertile lowlands. The Areni area also had orchards at the time of the early winemaking because the cave has remains of plums and apricots. The shape and placement of the wine press indicates locals stamped the grapes with their feet, as people throughout the Mediterranean and Near East did as late as the 19th century, and collected the wine in fermentation jars placed below to capture the liquid.

The discovery, and painstaking process of determining that it was wine being made and stored, adds to the importance of the Areni cave, which in 2009 yielded the  best known leather shoe and a red basket buried alongside an infant. The mocassin, made of leather and straw, was carbon-dated to be about 5,500 years old.It is highly unusual for organic material to remain intact so long, but the dry conditions of the cave, its  stabilized temperature and a covering layer of sheep’s dung deposited long ago have created a treasure trove of objects from the period called the Copper Age. The age of the finds was set through carbon dating and uncovering archaeological layers.


The remains of a large building complex area (200 m²) dating to the Roman period were discovered during excavations at the site of Vlou, located 2,5 km northeast of Anogyra village (Lemesos District). According to an announcement by the Department of Antiquities of the Ministry of Communications and Works, the excavations, which have been completed, were conducted by the Institute for the History of Material Culture of the Russian Academy of Sciences under the direction of Dr V.A. Goroncharovskiy.  It says that it is probable that the site was part of a rural sanctuary of Apollo (4thcentury BC 4th century AD). During previous field seasons, two service rooms and a main cult room and courtyard on the central axis of construction were excavated. The courtyard has now been uncovered entirely (about 65 sq. m). In connection with the fact that a number of tourists come to Cyprus for its archeological values, it was reported that The problems and difficulties affecting Cyprus’ tourism industry in 2010, are expected to affect tourist arrivals in 2011 as well. However, Chairman of the board of the Cyprus Tourism Organisation (CTO), Alekos Orountiotis, expressed optimism on its recovery during the current year. Cyprus managed to record an increase of 1.5%  in tourist arrivals during 2010, followed by an increase of 4% in revenue from tourism by November 2010, despite the global economic crisis and the effects of the Icelanding volcano  eruption last April.


Currently, CTO plans to promote Cyprus abroad on a reduced budget of 19 million euro. According to the Chairman of the CTO there is a potential increase in tourist rrivals this year compared to last year.  To quote him, a number of airlines are planning to increase their number of flights to and from Cyprus. Meanwhile CTO has launched its new campaign using the slogan ''Cyprus in your heart,'' which intends to put Cyprus on the international tourism map in 2011. Cyprus’ history as well as culture- modern and contemporary-friendliness and hospitality plus activities that one can enjoy by exploring the island will be dramatized through posters and TV commercials.



Although drug-related violence has been concentrated near the U.S. border, many travelers have avoided the entire country. That means incredible bargains in Cancun, Cabo San Lucas and other resort areas. There are so many rooms they are trying to fill, so every week there are unbelievable deals." Bargains are even more eye-opening in interior cities. "You pay what the Mexicans pay," is the motto for all who plan to visit these placid areas away from the gunfire! visitmexico.com

You don't have to be a mountain climber to experience the home of Mount Everest. Visitors can take fascinating cultural tours out of Kathmandu, while fully outfitted whitewater rafting trips are available at less than $50 a day, a fraction of the cost in North America. Recent political problems mean that tourists are staying away from Nepal, and bargains are even greater than usual.

This Mediterranean country has been attracting tourists for millennia, and despite its recent debt crisis, that's not going to change. But the protests and strikes, compounded with the recession that has cut the number of European visitors, means there's excess capacity now. "They're hurting for business and rolling out the discounts," Look for bargain tours, cruises and island vacations. 212-421-5777; visitgreece.gr

Contiki Vacations, the leader in fun travel packages for 18-35 year olds, is pleased to announce the launch of the 2011 Europe Summer brochure. The brochure is available in print and online at Contiki.com/brochures, and offers up 38 countries, 76 tours and cruises including a brand new trip, 72 World Heritage sites, and five different ways to travel. Traveler favorites are back and better than ever, including the European Discovery, Italian Espresso, and Egypt and the Nile trips. New to the gang is the Greek Island Odyssey, an 11-day adventure to some of the most scenic and historical spots on the planet including Istanbul, Pamukkale in Turkey  and fantastic Greek islands Rhodes, Santorini, and Crete.


The brochure and Contiki.com have been beefed up for the new season, including printed QR codes linking to YouTube videos and unique online tools that make the Contiki experience easier to visualize. Contiki.com now offers the Tour Genius, a cool feature that asks simple questions and matches you to your ideal Contiki tours. For more information, visit Contiki.com/Genius. To ring in the brochure launch, Contiki is offering $175 off land-tours nine days or longer in Europe or Egypt. The $175 off will come in handy for travelers who want to wine taste or shop in France, cruise the canals on an old-school gondola in Venice, sample local specialties in Germany (mostly beer), and climb up ancient pyramids in Egypt. "One of the many great advantages of going Contiki is that they take care of the heavy lifting for you-transportation, accommodations, and most meals," says Greg Fischbein, President of Contiki Vacations. "You get to do what you came to do -- have the time of your life experiencing the world." Contiki clients can choose from several types of tours including multi-country, in-depth regional and special departures for events and festivals including Oktoberfest.



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