I’m trying to plan out next year’s travel and have become obsessed with the Black Sea. I blame this on indecisiveness. I was thinking about visiting Istanbul, curling along the western Turkish coast and then up through Cappadocia. Then I got thinking about Russia and a grand tour from regal St. Petersburg through the countryside to Moscow. I’ve also been enjoying Curious Cat on the Run‘s travels through Romania, so Eastern Europe seemed like a beautiful and decidedly untouristy destination. So there you have it. A dramatic mix of numerous cultures that can only be achieved, in any practical way, by visiting the Black Sea.
I realized pretty quickly that an organized cruise may be the only way to see it all in a reasonable amount of time. On my own, I would have to cobble together a trip through numerous ferry lines without very efficient routing, like Odessa to Yalta to Odessa to Batumi. (For help, see this Lonely Planet thread). With limited vacation time, I am always looking for the best way to maximize my travel days and back-tracking, not knowing ferry schedules ahead of time, and negotiating travel in three languages over 12 days doesn’t make much sense.
Sadly though, I am not a “cruise” person. Don’t get me wrong, I love the ocean, as long as I am on a passenger ferry. The idea of ginormous buffets, cheesy entertainment, being stuck with 2000 other people on a ship, 4 hour visits to ports and lame pre-packaged shore excursions do not appeal to me.
So now I am looking for “acceptable” companies, meaning smaller ships whose mission and style cater to the discerning nerd traveler, schedules with long port visits and it would be nice if they didn’t cost an arm and a leg. I’m weighing a few that I’ve found so far (and am always looking for experienced advice….). So either I pick one and go to the Black Sea next year, or I scrap it all together and go to Peru!
Maybe this is a new trend or I am just now noticing it, but I am starting to see retailers sponsoring travel tours. Obviously there are retail travel companies that run tours, but this is something new. What I am talking about are companies that actually make a product and are offering trips for their connoisseur customers. These trips almost strike me as pilgrimages for committed fans. Here are a couple that caught my eye:
Pub Tour of Ireland
See if Guiness really does taste different in Ireland.
Obviously a brewery sponsoring trip to Ireland is no stretch of the imagination. But if you combine the fun folks from Harpoon in New England with like-minded beer enthusiasts, you’re in for a fun four days in Galway and Dublin in November 2010. With airfare it’ll run you $1445, and I’m guessing that doesn’t include the bar tab.
Magical Belize (without Oompa Loompas)
If you crave rich dark chocolate, then you have probably already heard of Taza Chocolate. They are offering a chance to see how chocolate is made – like really made, starting from cacao farming to harvesting to bean fermentation. While in Belize for 13 day “Chocolate Week”, you’ll also be able enjoy the jungle and relax in a pretty nice looking lodge. I still have not heard back on the cost and inclusions but since this isn’t until March 2012 you have some time to save up.
Study Russian Art in Russia
There is plenty more of this in Russia.
This is not exactly a retailer but the specificity of the tour made it too good not to mention. I am actually really mad I missed this one. Not because I have already been to Ireland and Belize but because this would be the height of nerd art-lover travel! The Museum of Russian Icons sponsored a 17 day Russian Sacred Art Trip which just wrapped up (July 15-31, 2011). From the itinerary, they visited what seems like every well-known cathedral and obscure rural church between Moscow and St. Petersburg. And since they do not even go to the Hermitage (it has to be added in a trip extension), you know this is a legitimate, hard-core Russian Icon educational tour. Just about everything is included and its only $3800. Sign me up for next year!