Today is the last of 3 magical days spent at Oberoi Wildflower Hall, which sits above Shimla, India, in the mid-range of the Himilayas. We are at an altitude of 8350 feet surrounded by forests of pine, spruce, cedar, and an unusual variety of oak. Shimla was the summer capital of the empire when under English rule. Shimla is built into the side of the mountain and the buildings seem to precariously cling to the moutnainside. Wildflower Hall sits quite a bit above Shimla and has majestic views into the valleys and out to the upper range of the Himalayas.
Let’s pause here and have an elocution lesson: these mountains are pronounced “Hih-mahl-yahs” ( accent on the second syllable) and not the Americanized Him-ah-lay-ahs (accent on the third syllable). So, if you hear me talk about these mountains from now on, I will honor the correct pronunciation. Besides, it sounds prettier!
Wildflower Hall has a long history–beginning as a summer cottage for an aristocratic Englishman, having a many year run as a government run hotel, burning to the ground in 1993, and now being built on the original footprint and with today’s modern standards. This version of Wildflower Hall began building in 1996 and finally opened in 2001. The general manager, David Matthews, is passionate about this property, almost like a proud parent! He is as gracious as they come, very intelligent, and makes you feel at home immediately. Wildflower Hall is known for its amazing spa, which is managed by Banyan Tree. They are known for holistic treatments and massages based on Ayurvda and Western techniques. Wildflower also boasts many outdoor experiences and houses a small, but wonderfully stocked and fairly priced gift shop and a charming bookstore.
So, enough travelogue, here’s what I experienced: a wonderful 30 minute slide presentation on the history of Shima (do not miss this!),;a traditional Himachal dinner; a walk in the town of Shimla from Clark’s Hotel to the Oberoi Cecil, where we once again feasted on superb Indian cuisine; 2 1/2 hours of heavenly Himalyian spa treatments; a hike on the “Wild Strawberry Trail” in the forest which abuts Wildflower Hall seeing amazing wildflowers, enjoying breathtaking views, and learning about the leopards, goren, monkeys, deer and black bear that call this area home; and a picnic in “The Peak”, an old colonial bungalow that offers amazing views. We were supposed to picnic on the grounds of “The Peak,” but the weather gods had their way and we experienced an intense thunder and hail storm. Actually, the weather proved lucky for us because “The Peak” is a large home (I thought bungalows were inherently small—guess not!) that has had many owners. It began as the summer cottage for the Viceroy of Shimla and is currently owned by Nepalese royalty. This is not a picnic as in “throw me a piece of cold chicken and pass me a beer!” We were greeted with champagne, an array of salads, rostis, and to-die-for pastas (all served piping hot), and wonderful pastries for dessert. As we drove back up to Wildflower Hall, the weather gods treated us to a spectacular rainbow. Tonight we are having farewell cocktails and “Grill under the Stars” dinner. Then it’s off to Delhi for a day and then back home.
I’ve described India before as a slice of Heaven. To me, Shimla is the centerpiece of this incredible sub-contitent!
Thank you, dear India, for wrapping me in your warmth, spirituality, adventure, culture, nature and beauty. And, further thanks to our many hosts—Amber Tours, Pierce & Leslie, A&K India, Micato Safaris, Cox & Kings (one of the best!), and the incomparable Greaves India (the absolute best!).
India, you have taken hold of my heart and soul in the way I’ve experienced in only one other continent, Africa. And, as I’ve done with Africa, I’ll return often and I invite my friends (those I know and those I’ve yet to meet) to join me in experiencing this most amazing destination—India, Incredible India!
Given: your friends and relatives have a difficult time choosing gifts for you
Thus: they resort to the unique, odd or totally weird (a bobble-head of Celine Dion, the DVD set of all the Lawrence Welk TV shows, or that cutesy plaid sweater studded with sequined Christmas trees in one size fits none)
Therefore: you must decide whether to A) keep it and be sure to have it on display when the person visits; B) throw it out (don’t be so wasteful!); C) Donate it to a local charity; or D) Allow Great Getaways to return it for you and give you the cash—-to apply toward:
Your reservation for a Virgin Galactic suborbital space flight!
I have spent far too many days, months, and years being selfish and thoughtless. I have loved exploring this planet and now I have the opportunity to help people see you in a whole new way—from space! One of my hoped for outcomes of space travel is an increased awareness of you, our precious Earth. People will be able to see that fragile,thin blue line, our atmosphere, the only thing protecting us and keeping us alive. Maybe that visual awareness will make a difference in how we treat you.
I have littered, consumed, and self-pampered beyond reasonable limits. Did I believe that what we do in the name of consumer excess to destroy you is not my problem? I don’t think I ever consciously gave you much thought. That perhaps, is the most glaring example of “not my problem.” Sure I’ve bragged about some of your wonders—the moon sparkling on the Pacific Ocean in the Galapagos, the amazing precision and longevity of Macchu Pichu, the vast Rift Valley in Kenya, Victoria Falls, the azure sea on the Amalfi coast, the red rock walls in Sedona. Yet, only recently have I taken action to pay attention to what I do to you and to change my behavior to what I can do for you. Have I cruised on ships that have, in the past, dumped their garbage? Have I demanded fresh towels and linens at hotels—just because I can? Have I left the lights on in my hotel room because, after all, I’m not paying the light bill? Guilty on all counts.
One important step I’ve taken is to have our company, Great Getaways, join Sustainable Travel International http://www.sustainabletravelinternational.org/. As a business, we are recycling more, using less paper, and we are educating you, our fellow travelers, on how to lessen the footprint we leave when we travel. We encourage purchasing carbon offsets and we support green travel.
We do not own the Earth; we are its caretakers. The actions I take today will not by themselves change the world; think, though, the power of all of us can, drop by drop, create a sea of change. Will you join me? Please post your ideas to help the greening of our planet.
Not my problem? Read below:
A mouse looked through a crack in the wall to see the farmer and his wife opening a package; what food might it contain? He was aghast to discover that it was a mouse trap! Retreating to the farmyard, the mouse warned, “There is a mouse trap in the house! There is a mouse trap in the house!” The chicken clucked and scratched, raised her head and said, “Mr. Mouse, I can tell this is a grave concern to you, but it is of no consequence to me; I cannot be bothered by it!”
The mouse turned to the pig and told him, “There is a mouse trap in the house!”
“I am so sorry, Mr, Mouse,” sympathized the pig, “but there is nothing I can do about it but pray; be assured that you are in my prayers.”
The mouse turned to the cow, who replied, “Like wow, Mr. Mouse, a mouse trap; am I in grave danger? Duh!”
So the mouse returned to the house, head down and dejected to face the farmer’s mouse trap alone. That very night a sound was heard throughout the house, like the sound of a mouse trap catching its prey. The farmer’s wife rushed to see what was caught. In the darkness, she didn’t see that it was a venonous snake whose tail the trap had caught. The snake bit the farmer’s wife and the farmer rushed her to the hospital.
She returned home with a fever. Everyone knows you treat a fever with fresh chicken soup, so the farmer took his hatchet to the farmyard for the soup’s main ingredient. His wife’s illness continued, so friends and neighbors came to sit with her around the clock. To feed them, the farmer butchered the pig. The farmer’s wife did not get well; in fact she died and so many people came for her funeral, the farmer had the cow slaughtered to provide meat for all of them to eat.
So, the next time you hear someone is facing a problem and think that it doesn’t concern you, remember that when even the least of us is treatened, we are all at risk.
Last night Great Getaways partied hearty! Our 15th birthday bash was a resounding success! Thank you to so many old friends and new friends that joined us at ARTichokes for making the evening so wonderful—-and many, many heartfelt thanks to Kimberly Stern, event planner extraordinaire, PR person extraordinaire, chef extraordinaire, and bestest of the best friend! Kimberly pulled this event together, planned the menu, prepared the food, helped procure items for the auction, helped stage the auction, called to remind you to come, arranged for our musicians, and helped us clean up after our guests went home!!!
We collected so many wonderful items for the auction—over $20,000 worth—and we raised $10,000 for the Alzheimer’s Association! Thank you for your generosity and support! This auction would not have happened without the input of Debbie Sosland-Edelman, Rachel Hill and Barb Kovacs. Barb, many thanks for orchestrating the auction, notifying the winners, and collecting the funds. You are an amazing friend! Thank you, Nicole and Debra (our friends at Heart of America Chapter, Alzheimer’s Association) for helping raise awareness of this disease and the hope for the future. To our honorees, my mom and Charlie Miller, over 175 friends of Great Getaways as well as those of us who are part of the GG family salute you!
Can you count to 10—-thousand, that is??? You have touched my heart with your kindness!
On Sunday, September 16th we’ll celebrate Great Getaways’ 15th anniversary at an Out-of-This-World Bash at ARTichokes, 10557 Mission Road. In addition to delicious food, fine wine, award-winning musicians, you’ll meet Carolyn Wincer of London, England, Director of Astronaut Sales for Virgin Galactic; Dean Johnson, Executive Vice President of Creative Leisure International, purveyor of luxe vacations; and Cathy Larson, Director of Sales for Holland America Line. Also, be sure and say hello to Heidi Denecke, winging her way to join us from the Ritz Carlton Kapalua, Maui; Susan Huston, Director of Sales for Crystal Cruises, and Becky Powell, Business Development Manager for Virtuoso.
We invite you to preview our items that will be available at our Silent Auction to benefit the Alzheimer’s Association. We hope you’ll bid on items to create wonderful memories for you and hope for those whose memories have been erased and lives forever altered! Click below on “Let us tempt you”
LET US TEMPT YOU!
Why do we “assume” that the United States has the best standard of living, the most coveted lifestyle? I know there are many people I’ve met all over the world who admire some of the material possessions we have, some of the clothing styles, the obsession with movie stars du jour, etc. The important word of the last sentence is “some.” I am amazed every time I stumble across some closet xenophobe, who after an experience in another culture, vehemently waves the flag of “We are the best! Go USA!”
Which of us claims to be the God (or Goddess) of Acceptable Living Standards? Sure, I love the U.S.—I’ve grown up with abundant creature comforts, abundant freedoms of choice, religion, and educational opportunities, quality health care (for those lucky enough to have health insurance or be independently wealthy)—but is this the “best” life—or simply the best life FOR ME?
I am guilty of “judging” other cultures, other peoples. If they are “different” from me, are they worse or am I just being arrogant? I have spent time in the Mukuru slum in Nairobi, Kenya, and it was a gut-wrenching experience. I don’t for one moment believe that living in abject poverty trumps our cush lifestyle. Yet, when I interacted with the children of Mukuru I was struck by their hope, their joy, their belief in the goodness of life. No Nintendo, no IPods, no way to IM friends or text the latest gossip—just squeals of laughter and singing, pride of scholastic achievement, and a joy of living in the moment. Is this a better life than we have? A life where parents teach toddlers to sniff glue to stave off hunger pains can hardly be considered quality! If, however, had I discounted the whole experience as “inferior” I might have missed touching the joy, the beauty, and the faith too often absent here.
The world is rich with lessons and blessings when I set aside what “I know” and exchange it for a new perspective. Life is far too short for arrogance!
—Synonyms haughtiness, insolence, disdain.
—Antonyms humility, modesty, diffidence.
|Dictionary.com Unabridged (v 1.1)
Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2006.
I am here attending Virtuoso’s Annual Travel Mart, a conference of travel consultants and vendors, where we share trends, ideas, new products, and ways to help your dreams become reality. This is an intense week—Great Getaways has 774 one-on-one appointments with execs from cruise lines, tour companies, hotels, resorts, and, of course, space travel (Go Virgin Galactic!!!) over a period of 4 days. Every 4 minutes from 8:00 AM through 4:00 PM we have a 4 minute meeting with a vendor. It’s like speed dating on steroids—resulting in the mating of wonderful vacation ideas with you, our client!
Yesterday we had 2 keynote speakers, Dewitt and Terry Jones, the former a photographer for National Geographic and the latter, his brother, the founder of Travelocity. What an amazing combination of talent!!! In fact, they spent a significant amount of time talking about turning imagination into “imaginaction”. Have they been reading Great Getaways tagline or what??? You don’t remember our tagline? Okay, one more time, then of to bed to dream of wonderful vacations— our tagline is “Imagine…Create…Experience!” Sweet Dreams from the Bellagio! Ciao!
I know you wake up every morning and rush to read my blog—which has been frustrating to you, of late, because I’ve only been blogging about once a week! Anyway, I’m sure you recall the blog entry of June 10th (Party! Party! Party!) where I invited you to Great Getaways 15th Anniversary Bash at ARTichokes in Mission Farms, 10557 Mission Road. If you don’t remember that entry, I’ll wait right here while you go back and read it…
Now that you’ve refreshed your memory, let’s continue: 15 years is a big deal in the travel industry! Companies come and go; some ideas that sound good thrive while others fade. Our industry has weathered all sorts of events, some unfortunately of our own design. Those of us who have grown and prospered are the ones that have returned to our roots; we are NOT order takers or glorified reservationists; we advise; we counsel; we use our vast pool of experience to benefit you and the journeys you take.
On that note, I once again invite you to join us to celebrate our anniversary, to share your own memories of a life well lived, and to create some new ones. My mother has so many memories of her many journeys around our world, but, unfortunately, many of those memories have been stolen from her by the insideous disease, Alzheimer’s. As I’ve watched Mom’s lapses of memory, her increased irritability and confusion, I grieve the loss of the mother I remember. She was so active, organizing reading groups and book clubs long before Oprah made it trendy; she followed the stock market, daily charting her investments; she went to the theater regularly and supported her favorite restaurants (Don Roth’s, The Cheesecake Factory, and The Bagel to name a few); and Mom was passionate about politics—that is, as long as the politician was a Democrat! (I still remember the birthday card I gave my mom that said, “Some said you’re so old, you voted for Lincoln” and inside it read, “But I know you’re a Democrat!”).
That vibrant woman has departed and what I see now is just a shell that houses glimpses of the woman that raised my brother, sister and me.
So, it is with great honor that we will have an amazing silent auction at our 15th anniversary celebration in support of the Alzheimer’s Association! Feast your eyes on some of the goodies that could be yours if you are the highest bidder:
A Mediterranean Cruise courtesy of Celebrity Cruises; 3 nights at the chic Azul Blue in Mexico courtesy of Creative Leisure; 3 nights at the Ritz Carlton Kapalua, Maui; a 3-night Mexican vacation courtesy of Classic Vacations; an original painting by Becky Pasha, one of the owners of ARTichokes, an orginal piece of artwork by Richard Stern (www.sternartworks.com); a selection of books courtesy of Rainy Day Books; tickets and a parking pass to a 2008 Royals game courtesy of David Wolff and Nancy Hipsh; haircolor and styling by Kim Jegen of Beauty Escentuals; and more!
So, come party with us (casual attire, of course—comfort IS important!), enjoy the food, the music, the art, and the event, and bring your credit card or checkbook! I promise you’ll have an out-of-this world good time!
Gasoline to drive to the Celebration: $5.00
Money for Babysitter $25.00
Bidding on the oodles of luxuries in support of Alzheimer’s Association: Priceless!