A few months ago, some comments on our Facebook page caught our eye. We always love reading about our guests' travels, and both Therese Taylor and Karen Reyes were effusive in their generous praise of our trips and tour directors. And, best of all, they are sisters!
Karen and Therese have traveled on six of our tours together, ranging from China, to Turkey, to the Greek Isles and beyond. They were joined on two of those trips by Lyn Taylor, Therese's sister-in-law and a great friend to both women.
We reached out to Therese, Karen, and Lyn for their stories and photos, which are reproduced below. Take a few minutes and enjoy the tales of their travels and photos from around the globe!
Therese: What excites me has changed over the years. At first it was the chance to finally see ruins and artifacts from times I'd been reading about since I was a kid. As I learned more about art and architecture, thanks in no small part to some brilliant OU guides like Daljia in Lithuania, Mauro in Italy, and Zanna in Greece, I noticed the small things that make a work so unique. Then I came to appreciate a really fine hotel, like the Grand Europa in St. Petersburg and King David in Jerusalem, that I would not have otherwise known. Then there's the food. I've come to really look forward to the meals, whether a street cafe or exotic Vietnamese treats that I can't pronounce. A flight of caviar with paired vodkas, served with truly impeccable service, is certainly something I never could have imagined doing just a few years ago. Venison and beet soup in Lithuania (which I thought I hated), languorous multi-course dinners in Italy... glorious food.
Lyn: I love visiting other countries to learn about the people and their culture, to experience the different climates, history and architecture. After travelling in much of Europe the opportunity to explore a small part of Asia and Central America, and Tuscany had to be taken.
Karen: I can’t think of a better or more compatible traveling companion than my baby sister, Therese. We share a deep love of crumbly old buildings, ancient ruins, and dusty museum artifacts. On our trips, other travelers often wonder how we get such joy from just touching an ancient wall or sitting quietly in a corner of a medieval church. Therese is a history and geography expert. She has used her extensive knowledge of history and geography (subjects I hated in school) to convince me to choose and combine Odysseys trips to destinations I would have never picked myself. She does the research ahead of our trips and I do the enjoyment. I live in California, Therese lives in Texas, and Lyn (Therese’s sister-in-law and my friend) lives in England. Going on an Odysseys trip is the ideal way for us to get together. Easy peasy, as Lyn would say. And so much fun.
Therese: My sister Karen can put up with me as no one else can. She can put up with my evening hyperness and ignore my morning stupidity and is always tolerant of my wanting a beer and a cigarette. Anyone else would kill me. Lyn, my sister-in-law, is always fun, game for anything new and very knowledgeable. As a trio we can stay together or one of us can go off on a solo adventure and the other two enjoy something different. Together Karen and Lyn make me laugh like no one else. They're the perfect companions.
Lyn: Therese, my sister-in-law, and her sister Karen are always fun to be with and we all love sampling the local food and beverages. We usually take turns to decide which tour to book and always look forward to getting together. The sisters each have a great sense of humour and we entertain each other throughout the tour.
Karen: Memorable moments: Where do I begin? There are so many. The first thing that comes to mind are the caring and knowledgeable tour guides. Zanna in Greece. A brilliant woman who could hold her place with anyone on any subject in the Grecian sphere of influence.
Then there was William who was our guide in China. That trip had the full 24 members, including one man who would always wander off to do his own sightseeing. William amiably and firmly kept him from separating from the group all the while taking wonderful care of each of us. Our Baltic and Russian guide Daljia seemed to know what each of us needed before we did. She seamlessly got us through every encounter between borders with charm and confidence.
Other memories — Food: Delicious and exotic, and beautifully served cuisine native to each country. Hotels: Famous and luxurious places we probably could never have afforded to stay in on our own let alone get a reservation. People: Meeting wonderful, kindly people in every city. Destinations: The views, the sites, the wonders of the world.
Therese: Too many memorable moments...so just a few but by no means complete.
Beauty—Ha Long Bay, Tuscan vistas, the thousand shades of the Aegean sea. Seeing the Acropolis lit up at night from our hotel balcony. Going through the Panama Canal in a small ship during daylight.
Getting lost—all my own fault as I tend to dally. Troy in Turkey—I stayed at the museum too long so was behind the group. Figuring I'd walk counterclockwise and run into them I found myself myself going down a trail that ended at a small grotto with a little spring. I looked out on a dry plain, no roads, no power lines, no man made sounds, no signs of civilization. It was like a Twilight Zone, eerie but beautiful. I met the group after following the trail back, of course. It was fun. Lost in Troy.
The Vietnamese and Cambodian people. I knew nothing of Asia other than growing up during the war. These people are the nicest, most honest and all around pleasant folks I can imagine. They are truly glad you're there and not just in a tourist fleecing way. All genuine smiles when you greet them. I asked a Cambodian policeman where I could get a taxi or tuk-tuk, he jumped on his tiny motor scooter and motioned for me to hop on. He took me straight to my hotel. Amazing to someone raised in LA and Denver. He also tried to sell me his policeman's hat, but I declined.
Lyn: As Therese said: Vietnam—Ha Long Bay, all of Tuscany, the small ship in Panama and travelling through the canal in daylight, swimming off the beach of a Costa Rican island. And yes the Vietnamese and Cambodian people—so friendly and generous. I was interested to see the reaction of the Vietnamese to the Americans veterans in our party and theirs to the Vietnamese—very respectful on both sides with interesting stories over dinner.
Therese: The OU guides are the best. They all share excellent organizational skills and deep knowledge, but also have an almost sixth sense of what the group, or an individual, needs. A sense of the rhythm of people, when they have questions or need a break or special help. They are all much younger than our groups but have an innate understanding of how we're feeling. I've seen guides handle some very difficult situations and difficult people so smoothly that I'm in awe. I'd have gone ballistic. Having seen other guides I don't think this is something that can be learned. They just have it.
Lyn: Again, I echo Therese’s sentiments. As Therese has written, the OU guides are first class—both the permanent tour guides and the visiting guides engaged to talk with authority about for example, the Galleria dell’Accademia in Florence.
Therese: The local guide at dell'Accademia not only explained all the statues in the hall leading up to Michelangelo's David but watched the flow of the crowd so she could get us up close to David by ourselves. You will be amazed how a work you've seen all your life is so powerful when you can see it up close and full size. Only a very good guide can negotiate crowds so well.
Therese: The local guide I will always remember is the woman who took us around the kibbutz in Israel. She grew up there, raised a family, and explained why this system worked for her but why she encouraged her kids to move out to the world. How the kibbutz was a world unto itself, totally necessary in the early days but became an anachronism. There was a sadness about what she'd missed but pride in her part as a pioneer.
Lyn: The Vietnamese guide gave our party insight into his childhood and learning to speak English via a North Vietnamese army officer. The guide and I bantered about American English and English English (as I am usually the only Brit on the tour!!) The Cambodian guide told us about his childhood separated from his mother at a very young age and only being re-united when the Pol Pot regime was over. Pasta making in Tuscany was fun and the visit to a silk picture-making school employing local people and particularly some young people with learning difficulties. Two silk pictures created by a teenage girl with learning difficulties hang in my home.
Karen: Most memorable tour: China is another world. It was my first Odysseys trip. The city had just hosted the Olympics. The place and people were completely otherworldly to this Westerner. I remember sitting with my nose pressed against the bus window absolutely mesmerized and enthralled at everything I could see. Every minute of my tour was an experience to be remembered for the rest of my life. I would take another Odysseys China trip tomorrow except for the fact that there are just too many other places that I haven’t been that are waiting to be explored. Life is too short!
Therese: Every trip has been great. We've booked a return to Italy in October as we know we can set our own pace and enjoy just sitting in a street cafe if we're not up for a lot of walking—we are getting old. I'd love to see Greece again as I really liked the cruising and loved our guide Zanna. I guess Vietnam and Cambodia were most surprising as the people were all so truly warm. And happy. How they can be so happy and decent after so much bad has and is still happening to them. I didn't expect that.
Karen: Why Odysseys? Imagine traveling without worries or concerns about where you were going to stay, what you were going to eat, how you were going to get from one place to another. Imagine getting VIP treatment at every hotel, restaurant, museum, and site you visit. Imagine having a full-time concierge and guide at your beck and call. That’s what an Odysseys tour provides. It’s traveling without care or concern.
Therese: OU gives great value for money, a varied itinerary I know we'll enjoy, and the best guides.
I feel confident that they have the experience and means to handle any eventuality and have vetted every segment so I feel safe.
Lodgings often allow three or more nights in one place so we're not always packing and moving. Hotels range from just fine to quirky to luxurious, always with great scenery. Hotels are usually centrally located so travel time is reduced. There always is at least one amazingly different hotel: a kibbutz in Israel, carved into a mountain in Cappadocia, seaside in Da Nang....it'd be easier to list the ones I didn't like and those would be very few.
Transportation is well organized. I love that we get a full sized bus and are never crammed in a van. Getting around is the biggest time waster when traveling on one's own.
The guides have always been amazing and I'm sure they will be in future. They're the jewels of OU.
I've estimated what a similar itinerary would cost if bought a la carte and your prices can't be beat. So great value for money.
Karen: I always felt so sorry for the individuals in the huge groups that I would see while on tour with Odysseys. There would be 40 or 50 people huddled together and hurriedly being pushed along by a harried tour guide. I wondered how he/she could keep up with all of them. No individual attention there.
Therese: We often see other tour groups and they're filling a bus with no spare room and following their guide so far behind they can't hear or see her. Just follow the flag. I'd rather stay home.
I never see the huge groups in the nice hotels we stay in. I love the treat of the better hotels.
And, I've checked out some of the very high end tours. They might be fine, but they cost several times what OU does and I think they'd just be too fancy. I am a tourist, not a jetsetter.
If I could afford a private car and guide, that'd be the ultimate. But until I win the lottery, I'm happy with OU.
Therese: We (Lyn, Karen, and I) are booked for Northern Italy in October. If restrictions are lifted by then, the pent-up demand will make tours full so we wanted to reserve now. We all want to see Pearls of Dalmatia, which we had to cancel a few years ago. I'm interested in the Eastern European tours and we all want to do Burgundy Barging.
Karen: Therese and I always fly to our destination a few days before the tour starts. That gives us a chance to check out the city at our leisure and get over jet lag.
We’ve learned the hard way to travel as light as possible. And we always use the hotel laundry services when available. A bit pricey, yes. But fresh, clean clothes are more than worth it.
When possible, ship souvenirs. Always go to reputable shops and pay with a credit card. That way if the shipment is lost you have a way to get a refund. And only take enough of the local currency for tips and small purchases until you can get to a local ATM. And only withdraw enough cash for a day or two. Travel is so much easier now because the world is really just one huge village.
Therese: Vendors, both shop and street vendors: watch for substitutions, once you decide on an item inspect it carefully for chips, cracks etc. Then either take it as you pay for it or watch it being wrapped. Never allow it out of your sight. If the seller quickly ducks it under the table or goes in a back room to wrap it, you could find a different or damaged item when you unwrap it back home. I once got home with three of the same picture rather than three different ones.
When you plan to haggle at a market, keep the max amount you're willing to spend in a separate pocket. Never flash a lot of bills. Counter their initial price with your max and say this is all you have and walk away. If they run after you with the item and accept your price, be sure to inspect the item before paying. But always first ask about the local customs on haggling—some places it's expected and others rude. If their first price is fair, just pay it. If you haggle and agree on a price, always follow through and buy it.
Established shops and community jumble sales are usually already priced fairly. Don't get ripped off and don't be a jerk. Ask your guide , they always know.
Hotels—If it's important to you, ask about paying for an upgrade. I love having a balcony and will pay extra for it while others couldn't care less. It's worth asking but don't expect freebies, offer to pay.
Local currency—Get an ATM card from your bank or CU. NOT a debit card, take just an ATM card. Debit cards are terrible and dangerous, at home and abroad. An ATM gives you the best exchange rate without the cash advance fees a CC charges. I'd never bother getting foreign money at home before I depart, just use the ATM in the airport if needed. I always have a few euros and pound sterling left from a previous trip and those plus dollars are accepted most everyplace I've been (but illegal in Russia). Some places like Panama, Vietnam, and Turkey really prefer the dollar, euro or pound. Many vendors outside of the Euro area will give you better than bank exchange rates. Try to use a CC that has small or no foreign exchange charges for all major purchases.
Most everyone you'll deal with is just making a living and happy to see tourists so don't nickel and dime them. Each of us is a representative of our country so do us all proud and leave a good impression.