Category Archives: UK

Islands Series: the Orkneys

Tired of this heat and seeking a cooler harbor?

This week we’re taking a look at islands where you can stay cool in the summer, big and small. Islands where you can still enjoy a cup of piping hot coffee or tea without sweating away in your windbreaker!

So you’ve been to England, you’ve seen Bath and Stonehenge in all their glory–you’ve even did a train up to Edinburgh and checked out the incredible Sterling Castle. What’s next to explore in the UK? How about a week in the slightly stranger, much more tranquil, Orkney archipelago?

Screen shot 2015-09-09 at 2.20.23 PM

The Orkney Islands include about 70 islands just off the coast of Scotland. With its sloping valleys and stark green moors, the islands–much like its Faroe neighbors to the north–give off a wild and somewhat mythical atmosphere that tends to draw the more curious of travelers.

The locals tend to be hospitable and thoughtful, with the pragmatism that comes from centuries of survival in a challenging environment. Officially, the native tongue is English–but the pronunciation tends to differ between districts, and much of the lexicon has close roots to Old Norse.

Screen shot 2015-09-09 at 2.08.40 PM

There’s loads to see and do on the islands, most notably for avid history fans. Visitors interested in Orkney’s vivid Viking heritage will surely find Maeshowe intriguing. This tomb contains the best collection of Viking runes outside of Scandinavia, and is located 14 km west of Kirkwall. Travelers can also investigate the prehistoric ruins of Skara Brae, arguably the best-preserved ancient village in Western Europe and inhabited well before the Pyramids were built–as well as the stone circles at Brodgar and Stenness. Other (and relatively more recent) historical attractions include the ruins of St. Magnus Cathedral, an elegant medieval church on the islet of Streymoy, and the Italian Chapel, built by prisoners of war in WWII.

Try to visit in the summer, when the weather is tolerable, or during one of the spirited town festivals. The Orkney Folk Festival is a lively event in May of folk music, dance, song–the towns erupt with ceilidhs and fiddle concerts. Or stop by during midsummer for the St. Magnus Festival, a distinguished celebration of the arts. But, if you happen to come in the winter or cusp season, you may get a glimpse of the Northern Lights!

Screen shot 2015-09-09 at 2.10.51 PM

Locals love giving guided walks and tours of their famous sites. Join a guide around the WWII Naval Base near the bay of Scapa Flow. Whisky enthusiasts will delight in Highland Park, the world’s most northerly Scotch distillery. Outdoorsy types will find a home in the Orkneys, where there are ample valleys and cliffs to hike or cycle, and the multiple bays make for great sailing, fishing, kayaking and windsurfing. Visitors will also find 9- and 18-hole golf courses–where windy turf can prove quite the challenge.

Travelers can even bring their kids without worry–there are lots of activities for the whole family to enjoy–from secluded beaches, to diverse marine wildlife, to farm museums and swimming pools.

Screen shot 2015-09-09 at 2.08.53 PM

Did You Know? Some great opportunities for scuba divers abound in the Orkneys. You can dive down to the remains of the German WWI Imperial Fleet, scuttled in Scapa Flow.

How to Get There: The best way to access Orkney is by plane, via Flybe from major airports in Scotland, or by ferry.

Our Agents would love to help you beat the heat! Call us up to chat more about next year’s options to the Orkneys, Shetlands, Faroe Islands or other misty, spellbinding destinations.

Screen shot 2015-09-09 at 2.10.38 PM

Leave a comment

Filed under Europe, Family Travel, Luxury Travel, Travel by Ship, UK

Jim in London and Paris

Our agents recently organized a great trip for our client Jim D to London and Paris. Read on for his hilarious inside look into what these iconic cities have to offer. 

Did you know we post client feedback on our Testimonials page? Click here to read more excellent comments!

I am happy to say that my trip went quite well, thanks in great part to the subtle details which had already been taken care of by your agency. The flight that started things off (my first!) was very pleasant, and less grueling than I had expected; hats off to Delta Airlines for the great service. It may have helped that the flight was only about half full, so everyone had plenty of elbow room, and the amenity-to-passenger ratio was in our favor.

I loved the Radisson Blu Vanderbilt Hotel, not only for the cordial service (and special free breakfast!) but also for the great location. After checking in I immediately trotted off to the Natural History Museum, followed by The Victoria Albert and the Science Museum (Must… Stay… Awake…). I found a good chip shop in the neighborhood and then went off in search of Harrod’s department store, which I had heard was a near-mythological monument to commerce. I wasn’t disappointed. Every room was like a different land! Food, Perfume, Clothes, and a toy department (LAND!) where I would like to live, please. I think the stuffed toy giraffe they had cost as much as a real giraffe. While exploring Harrod’s I came across my favorite amusement ride in London, The Egyptian Escalator.

The following day I rode the London Eye, spending the extra money on a fast-track ticket, saving me at least an hour of line-standing; totally worth it. The Tate Modern and the Winston Churchill War Room Museum were also on the docket, with lots of walking- Buckingham Palace, St. Paul’s Cathedral- followed by an excellent take-away cheeseburger in the hotel room, a change of clothes, and the discovery that 6pm on a Friday night is kind of a busy time to take the Tube to the West End. Into the breach, indeed. “Women On The Verge Of A Nervous Breakdown”, at the Playhouse Theatre on Northumberland Ave. in the West End, was excellent and I recommend it. A solid and entertaining production in a space that seats less than 800. Theatre heaven.

Saturday’s first mission was to go to the sandwich shop featured in the BBC America TV show “Sherlock” (On North Gower St. in Camden, posing as Baker St.), but it turned out they were shooting the show on that day so I was out of luck. Next I walked to The British Museum, where I spent the afternoon gaping at their astonishing collection of artifacts, in a building I would have loved even if it was empty. By this time I was having so much fun just walking and people watching that I walked all the way back to the hotel, through Piccadilly Square and past Harrods, where of course I had to go in and ride the Egyptian Escalator a few more times. London struck me as a thriving, bustling, culturally bountiful city, and I enjoyed it very much. The next morning I checked out of The Radisson Blu Vanderbilt and got myself over to St. Pancras Station, and onto The Chunnel, which was as comfortable and modern as I had hoped.

My biggest misstep happened upon my arrival in Paris. A cabdriver (who intercepted me- and spoke excellent English- before I even got to wherever the line of cabs outside actually was) convinced me that a cab ride to my hotel was going to cost a small fortune, that it was a long way, and that the rate was set, that any other cab would cost the same amount. If I were to do it again I would say “thanks anyway” and try a few more cabdrivers, and also look into the Metro situation. But I took the ride, and, to his credit, he did point out all of the important landmarks to me on the way to the hotel. And, this gave me my first chance to use the emergency-sentence-finisher I had prepared for just such an occasion: “Well, that didn’t go very well, but it’s okay, because I’M IN PARIS!”

After checking in at the hotel (The Aramis Saint Germain- cozy, well appointed, pleasant and helpful staff), I set out to walk down to the river, taking care to remember what my good friend John Smith had passed on to me from a Frenchman he had met: Parisians think that Americans smile too much, and they find it annoying. So I was trying my best to appear sullen and world-weary, but that didn’t last very long. Everything in Paris was so beautiful, and so French, that I kept laughing. I mean, somebody actually rode by on a bicycle with baguettes in the front basket. Come on!

Down by the Seine, I visited the Musee d’Orsay, yet another museum housed in an extraordinary  building. The view from the roof of the museum gave me good ideas about where to go next, and it wasn’t until I was on the right bank, and crossing back over again, that I saw the Eiffel Tower for the first time. I had been so preoccupied in the preceding hours that I had kind of forgotten to look for it, so it caught me by surprise and I may have actually yelled “Eiffel Tower!” out loud.

Monday was reserved for said Eiffel Tower (which closed for undisclosed security reasons right before I got to the front of the line), and also for a lovely walk along the river to Notre Dame Cathedral. Then I wandered across the bridge to explore a cluster of buildings and discovered that it was the Louvre, and that it was open on Mondays (closed on Tuesday). I went in to say hi to the Mona Lisa, and then down below ground to see the old Roman ramparts; beautiful and fascinating.

Tuesday morning I overslept due to new-smartphone-related complications, but eventually got myself all the way out to The Palace of Versailles, which I wanted to see with my own eyes just to get a sense of the kind of gross imbalance of wealth distribution that would cause an entire country to revolt. As I roamed around the palace (Hall Of Mirrors!) and its expansive grounds, I thought, “Yeah, this would do it”.

Then back to Notre Dame to go up in the towers this time, where the gargoyles were a highlight of the trip. Tuesday night I was able to convince personnel at three different stages of access to the Eiffel Tower that they needed to let me in with the previous day’s pass because I had been shut out the day before. I’m glad I went back- nighttime was better, I think.

Wednesday was mostly for Montmartre neighborhood, which I enjoyed very much. I took a bus out there but walked back to maximize my Parisian experience before an early bedtime and an ungodly early wake-up.

The transfer to the airport went smoothly. The flight to Amsterdam was a little bit late so things were a bit harried on arrival but they held up the flight to Portland for us and all was well once on board. I returned to Portland with 3 stamps (!) in my passport and a desire to get out and get some more stamps as soon as possible. Thank you for everything. I would love to be kept informed of the various tours the agency conducts, and I will be in touch when I figure out where I should go next.

~~~ JIM D.

Willamette Intl Travel works one on one with clients, delivering personalized and memorable travel experiences. Book your summer and fall trip to Europe today! Contact us to discuss the best options that fit you and your family’s travel style. Call 503-224-0180 or email info@wittravel.com

Recently returned from a trip planned by the Wittravel team? Tell us all about it! We love to hear your comments, and maybe it will even end up on our testimonials page!

Leave a comment

Filed under England, Europe, France, UK, Where in the World is the WIT Client?

Art in London: The Great Museums and Collections

May 17-23, 2014

Join Portland-based art historian Amy Osaki on her new art tour to London. Begin with the history and architecture of London reveling in the monuments that are a feast for the eyes—the Houses of Parliament, Big Ben, the Tower of London, Tower Bridge and Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre. Delve into the extraordinary richness of London’s museums including the National Gallery, the National Portrait Gallery, the British Museum, the Queen’s Gallery at Buckingham Palace, the Royal Academy of the Arts, the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Tate Britain and the Tate Modern. Refuel at small private collections including Sir John Soane’s Museum and the Courtauld Gallery. Experience the joy of art in situ at St Paul’s Cathedral, Westminster Abbey, and the church at St Martins in the Fields. Free evenings invite you to add your own theater experiences or concerts.

Sign up now to reserve a spot on this extraordinary journey! This trip is a guaranteed departure. When you join Amy Boyce Osaki on one of her art-focused trips you walk softly into the world of art, history and architecture. Immerse yourself in a rich diversity of museums, and explore art “in situ” for a deeper insight into its role within a living culture. These carefully crafted “art feasts” occur only once or twice a year.

Amy Boyce Osaki studied art at the Louvre Museum in Paris, holds a master’s degree from Winterthur Museum, and worked as a museum professional for over a decade including six years at the Portland Art Museum. She has led art trips to Paris, Amsterdam, Prague, Barcelona, Budapest, Krakow, Florence, Peru, Japan, China and Russia for the past sixteen years. Many of the trips were offered for graduate credit from Portland State University. As a travel professional, Amy has led at least seventy-eight trips to seventeen countries on four continents. She is fluent in French and speaks Spanish, as well. Her photographs have been exhibited in juried exhibitions, group exhibitions, and can also be found in private collections. Amy is a Certified Travel Counselor, a level of professional certification that is the travel industry’s highest.

Trip Price: $4295 per person, based on double occupancy
Single room: $1090 supplement

Contact your Willamette agent and reserve a spot on the London Art Tour with your $400 per person deposit today! 503-224-0180 or info@wittravel.com. Ask us for pre and post tour travel suggestions and arrangements.

Want a preview of London before your trip? Check out the National Theatre Live program, which broadcasts productions at the World Trade Center in Portland each month. Portland’s own theatre company Third Rail is hosting NT Live’s “live-captured” performances shortly after the original performances. This spring season you can see “The Habit of Art,” “Hamlet,” “Coriolanus,” “War Horse,” and “King Lear” with world-class London actors right in downtown Portland! Buy tickets here: http://www.thirdrailrep.org/ntlive.php

Leave a comment

Filed under Art & Architecture, Europe, Features, Top Experiences In..., UK, Vendors, Where in the World is the WIT Client?

The Shard of London’s Skyline

The Shard will finally open to the public next month! Standing at 309.6 m (1016 ft), it is officially the tallest building in the European Union and the second tallest in Europe (after the Mercury City Tower in Moscow). It was designed by Italian architect Renzo Piano, of such accomplishments such as Paris’ Pompidou Centre, and the architectural firm Broadway Malyan. Renzo claims that the irregular pyramid shape was inspired by symbols of the industrial age: London spires, railways and sailing ships. With 11,000 panes of glass, it reflects the London skyline like a perfect shard. It has 72 habitable floors, and is equipped with a Shangri-La hotel, observation deck, offices, residences, retails, restaurants, spa, and a five story public viewing gallery. The latter will be a chief tourist draw, expected to draw over 2 million visitors a year once it opens in next February. Adult entry will be £24.95 (US$40).

“We’re aiming for a million visitors a year and I think we’ll achieve it,” said Andy Nyberg, chief executive of The View From the Shard and a former director of the Burj Khalifa in Dubai. “We’ve been on sale since July and we’ve well surpassed our expectations. We’ve sold tens and tens of thousands [of tickets]. We’re recommending people book about ten days in advance because we don’t want them to be disappointed.”

From the open-air observation decks on levels 69 to 72, visitors can view breathtaking panoramas of the London skyline–and catch unique sights of the Olympic Stadium, Tower of London, Tower Bridge, St. Paul’s Cathedral, Westminster Parliament, Buckingham Palace, and Wembley Stadium.

photo by Steve Wilson, creative commons

Check out the Shard’s official website for previews of the panoramas.

Booking a trip to London? Email info@wittravel.com or call us at 503.224.0180 to plan your trip today!

Leave a comment

Filed under Europe, News, UK

Diamond Jubilee

photo by Elliott Brown

The festive air is flooding into London as crowds flock to this year’s Olympics and Jubilee. Hotels and flights are swelling up to no vacancy, and all the UK is busy with preparations. For those of us abroad, we can at least enjoy the festivities from a stress-free distance.

But what is a Diamond Jubilee and how will the Queen be celebrating?

The practice of Jubilees dates back to antiquity, when Hebrews observed a year of rest and universal pardon every 50 years. It was eventually incorporated into the Roman Empire and Christianity as a time of remission and holy pilgrimage.

Elizabeth II is the only British monarch to celebrate her Diamond Jubilee with the exception of Queen Victoria in 1897. It marks 60 years into her reign. Following tradition, festivities will be held in London and throughout the Commonwealth. The Royal Mint has issued a £5 coin with new portraits of the queen, to be minted for only one year.

Fun Fact: The flambéed dessert Cherries Jubilee is said to have been invented by Auguste Escoffier who prepared the dish for Queen Victoria’s Jubilee celebration.

PROGRAM OF EVENTS

2 June: The Queen will kick off her celebrations by attending the Epsom Downs’ Investec Derby Festival, featuring horse races and the greatest flat race in the world.

3 June: A flotilla of one thousand boats will accompany the Queen’s ship in the Thames Diamond Jubilee Pageant, which floats down the Thames River. Tickets are still available to the festival in Battersea Park—a great vantage point from which to view the on-sea pageant.

4 June: The Queen and some of her family will attend a concert at the Buckingham Palace, broadcasted live on BBC One, Radio 2 and on big screens across London. Later that night, thousands of beacons will be lit around the UK and the greater Commonwealth.

5 June: The Queen will attend a national service of thanksgiving at St. Paul’s Cathedral. She and her family will continue via processional route from Westminster Hall to Buckingham Palace.

Did you know that the British Monarchy has twitter? You can follow the Diamond Jubilee via live tweets @BritishMonarchy. Or to wish the Queen a good Jubilee, write to:

 

            Her Majesty The Queen

            Buckingham Palace

            London SW1A 1AA

 

Are you celebrating the Jubilee? Comment below and tell us how!

Leave a comment

Filed under England, Europe, Features, UK