This is Part 1 of a two-part feature.
by debbie olsen
special to the advocate
When asked what they plan to do, many prospective retirees list travel as one of their ambitions. One of the great rewards of deciding to slow down is finally having the time to do the big trips you have always dreamed about without having to worry that you’ll use up your entire allotment of vacation days.
It is becoming increasingly popular for new retirees to celebrate their freedom from work obligations by enjoying a big trip to someplace they have always dreamed of visiting and this past summer, when retirement was looming for Leith Damiani, she and her husband Jim started looking for an adventure.
After examining several options, the Bentley couple decided on a one-month around-the-world tour by private jet offered through a company called Travel Guild. “Travelling by private jet has many advantages,” explained Leith. “All flights are direct, meals and drinks during flights are complimentary, and you are travelling with the same group of people who become your friends as you share experiences together.”
The private Boeing 737 the pair travelled on had been modified to hold 76 extra-wide business class seats and the tour included stops in Alaska, Beijing, Vietnam, Cambodia, Nepal, India, United Arab Emirates, Kenya, São Tomé, Nigeria, Senegal, Morocco, and Iceland. Accommodations, tours, visas, and most meals were also included in the cost of the trip.
The first major stop on the tour was a visit to Beijing, the capital city of the People’s Republic of China. Sightseeing highlights included Tiananmen Square, The Forbidden City, The Temple of Heaven and The Great Wall of China. “Although the Forbidden City was remarkable, the Great Wall was by far the most impressive site to behold,” said Jim. “When you realize that you are only looking at a small portion of what the wall is, it gives you even greater respect and admiration for the people that actually built it and the years it took.”
After enjoying the sites in and around Beijing, the tour travelled to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, more commonly known as Saigon. “The people in Vietnam were very pleasant, but we were a bit intimidated by all the motor scooters and the busy traffic that comes with a city with a population of more than 5 million people,” Leith said.
“At one point we were standing on a street corner trying to decide how to cross safely when a young woman walked up and said ‘come with me’ and proceeded to help us get safely across the street. We were definitely impressed with her and the other people we met.”
The group spent three days in Siem Reap, Cambodia on the next leg of the journey and enjoyed a tour of Angkor Wat. Due to flooding in Cambodia, some of the scheduled tours could not be completed but there were other activities that could be undertaken.
Choices included a tour of Siem Reap by Tuk Tuk or a visit to the Military Museum. “The people and the history of Cambodia make this country a place to re-visit in the future,” said Jim.
The highlight of the visit to Nepal was undoubtedly a small plane flight providing panoramic views of the Himalayas and the world’s highest mountain, Mount Everest. “It’s an awe-inspiring landscape and as we flew through the Himalayas, the flight attendants pointed out the names of the various mountains,” explained Leith. “When we reached Mount Everest, they allowed us to go into the cockpit of the aircraft to get better pictures. Going into the cockpit is not something you get to do very often these days, but it provided an incredible view of the highest spot on earth.”
It was less than a two-hour flight from Nepal to Agra, India, the next stop on the itinerary. The pair found India to be a land of contrasts where cows walk up and down roads next to modern hotels and people live in poverty next to the opulent Taj Mahal, one of the Seven Wonders of the World.
“The Taj Mahal is indeed a very impressive building to see first-hand with its intricate carvings, but the Agra Fort also known as the Red Fort , which is also an UNESCO World Heritage Site, was very interesting.,” said Jim. “The guide who took us through the Fort was very knowledgeable which made it enjoyable.”
It was a four-hour flight from Agra to Dubai, the capital of United Arab Emirates and the next stop on the itinerary. Built out of the desert, this modern city is home to the world’s tallest building, the world’s largest shopping centre, the world’s largest single floor space (in the airport), and the first seven-star hotel in the world. Expatriate Canadians can enjoy indoor ice rinks and an indoor ski slope.
“Dubai is definitely a spectacle to see,” Leith said. “We enjoyed seeing the sights of the city, including a visit to the Jumeirah Mosque, seeing the Sail Hotel from a distance (you are not allowed on the island that it is built on, unless you have a reservation), and a 4X4 dune drive in the desert. We both enjoyed riding through the desert and the desert barbecue and the belly dancing that followed.”
At the halfway point of the trip, Jim and Leith could hardly fathom the amount they had seen in such a short time. Without the bother of connecting flights and with the convenience of well-planned tours and accommodations, they were finding the tour both relaxing and stimulating at the same time. As they looked ahead to the coming weeks, they realized that the best part of their trip was still to come.
If You Go:
For more information on Travel Guild, visit www.privatejetadventures.com or call 1-800-268-4284. A one-month tour as described includes flights, accommodations, local tours, visas and most meals and the cost will vary depending upon the tour being offered.
Debbie Olsen is a Lacombe-based freelance writer. If you have a travel story you would like to share or know someone with an interesting travel story that we might interview, please email: DOGO@telusplanet.net or write to: Debbie Olsen, c/o Red Deer Advocate, 2950 Bremner Ave., Red Deer, Alta., T4R 1M9.