Planning my trip overseas

When planning a trip overseas, a few questions to consider:

Where do you want to go?

Do you want to visit one or more cities in the same country or perhaps multiple countries? If you aren’t quite sure, start a list of what you’ve always wanted to see.

When I was planning my recent trip to Europe, knew I wanted to travel to Germany next; however, the cities to visit were up-in-the-air. When you think of Germany, what comes to mind? For me, it used to be Oktoberfest in Munich, the history of the Nazi’s, or the romantic Rhine River. There is so much more to Germany and I knew I wanted to visit the beauty and uniqueness of this amazing country.
Street and Gate in Rothenburg

Do you want to travel independently or would you prefer to join a tour?

Myself on Marienbrucke bridge with NeuschansteinNow that I had my general destination, I had to decide if I would travel with a group or on my own. If you are wondering if you should travel with a group, the easiest way to decide is to consider if you feel comfortable traveling on your own or if you prefer to be  a part of a group. Also, would you be comfortable navigating around on your own or prefer for someone else to be in charge? I have actually traveled with one of our Witte signature tours, the Netherlands Waterway Cruise, and loved it. I was part of a group, but at the same time there was free time to investigate the areas visited on my own if I so chose. This time around, I decided to travel with a co-worker on an independent trip.

What resources to use for a fun and successful trip?

Would you use the Internet, buy a book on traveling to the country chosen, or contact a travel agency?

For me, the next step is to talk to the professionals. I always encourage family and friends to contact a travel agency to help them plan their trip…whether you join a group or go it alone, using an expert ensures you will have all of the information needed to make the best decision possible.

Hohenschwangau with village and lake

Tracy, my colleague and I talked to our German expert in the Witte Tours group department to help us with our itinerary. We gave her our general ideas on the cities we wanted to visit and what we wanted to accomplish. She knew we’d be traveling via train from city to city vs. renting a car. Knowing all of this, she helped us decide on a “home base” that would help us get around most efficiently. She also helped us narrow down the cities we should visit based on the time and goals we had for our trip.

I have planned vacations using just the Internet and find using an agent is so worth it. They have the knowledge, resources, and experience to plan an independent trip or book a group tour that will fit your needs to a tee.

Do you need travel insurance?

Cologne Cathedral-CloseupFor me, I always get the insurance whether I’m traveling independently or on a group tour. The reason is simple, if something happens and I can’t go on the trip for a covered reason, I won’t lose the money that the trip cost. OR, what happens if your flight gets cancelled, luggage lost, you get sick on the trip, etc? You have invested in this trip, it only makes sense to protect this investment.

Witte Travel & Tours In the News…Ask the Expert

Witte Travel & Tours In the News…Ask the Expert

As featured in the 2012-2013 issue of NTA Trip Planner

Henk Witte launched Witte Travel & Tours in 1975 in his home in Ada, Michigan, after working for two international airlines and a tour operator, because he wanted to use his expertise to arrange performance tours for choirs, bands and orchestras traveling throughout Europe. Over the decades, the high demand for special interest tours led Witte to expand into custom-designed tours for art, architecture, religious, historical, cultural heritage and study-abroad programs…view the rest of the story

Israel Handbell Tour – Final Post

Final Image Slideshow

It is the final day of the tour and everyone is either home, on their way home or in Jordan (one went on to Aqaba). The day began by departing from Nazareth and then visiting the excavations at Meggido, which overlook the fertile Jezreel Valley. This ancient “tel” has evidence of 20 different settlementss, each built upon the remains of the previous one.  Because this town, with its strategic location on the primary route between the East and the Mediterranean, was the scene of so many battles over the years, John writes in the Book of Revelation that this is the place that Armageddon will occur.  For more information on Meggido visit http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tel_Megiddo

Our next stop was in Haifa at the Baha’i Temple and gardens. This sight encompasses panoramic views of the city of Haifa, its port and surrounding geographty.  Traveling on up Mt. Carmel, we stopped to visit the church where the prophet Elijah confronted the prophets of Baal.  Because the church was closed for the afternoon, we all enjoyed a serendipitous time for lunch and taking photos from the top of the mountain.

Caesarea Maritime is located on the Mediterranean coast and was built by Herod the Great to function  as the seat of government for the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate. Our visit here included the ruins of Herod’s palace, the hippodrome and the theatre. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caesarea_Maritima)  Because this was the 65th anniversary of Israel’s independence, workers were setting up the theatre and surrounds with a stage and lights, food stalls and fireworks for the celebration later in the evening.  Would have been fun to be part of the festivities!

Our final evening together included a farewell dinner in Jaffa at the restaurant Babai. It was a perfect way to end our journey together as we sat above the beach, watched the sun set over the ocean and had a wonderful meal and shared terrific fellowship. Words of thanks were expressed and we even managed to talk about the next festival! More on that in the coming months.

Following dinner, team USA headed to the airport for their flights home while members of team Canada went to the hotel for a couple hours of rest before heading to the airport for their flights.  Several members are currently in Jordan experiencing the sights in that country. Team Hong Kong had to leave before dinner in order to make their flight home.  As of this posting, I have heard from all teams and am happy all arrived home safely.  The Jordan extenders are the only ones still traveling and I hope to hear from them once they arrive safely on home territory.

I want to express thanks to Debbie Rice who, without her knowledge, passion and expertise with and for handbells, this festival would not have happened.  It was a real joy to partner with her in a wonderfully collegial way to make this festival such a success.  Also, thanks to my colleagues in Witte Travel & Tour’s Grand Rapids office for all their attention to detail, support (both with operations and mentally!); Rashid Tours for their on-ground expertise and support; Peimon Handbells of Israel, especially Brenda Alony, Fadi Ramadan and Itzik Goudeket; Schulmerich Handbells; Jeffers Handbell Supply; and to John Semingson for his unswerving support of me each day while on tour.  Finally, a huge thank you to all the ringers and supporters who gave of their time, finances and selves for putting their trust in Debbie and me.  This was a terrific group with whom to travel and would consider it a privilege to do so again at anytime in the future.

Thanks to all of you have kept up with us the past few days.

Shalom.  Keith Cole

Grand Teton National Park

We didn’t spend as much time in the Grand Teton National Park, though next time around we will definitely expand our explorations of this spectacular area. We got to view the Tetons from many different turnouts and overlooks. Each one was well worth the stop. We also got to enjoy a float trip down the Snake River, as well as exploring the town of Jackson Hole.

Grand Teton

Yellowstone National Park Slideshow

Views of the Tetons – Albright View Turnout, Glacier View Turnout, Teton Point Turnout, Snake River Overlook, and Oxbow Bend. We stopped at each outlook and were rewarded every single time. The scenery is beyond description. My two favorite stops were Snake River Overlook and Oxbow Bend.

Moulton Barn and Grand Teton Range

Moulton Barn, which is located in the Mormon Row area, is a sight to see against the backdrop of the Teton range. This is one of the most photographed barns in the world. We actually stopped at this spot twice, in the late afternoon and early morning. It was worth the trip both times and one of the many highlights of the trip.

Scenic Float Trip – we decided to enjoy the area by participating in a 13-mile float trip on the Snake River.   The trip time was three hours total, including transportation to the river and back, and included a box lunch. Our river guide was quite knowledgeable and kept us entertained. The scenery from the river was so unique, we were glad we signed up. I never knew eagles nests were so large and seeing eagles flying overhead…spectacular.  Next time we are planning to try White Water Rafting.

Elk Antler Arch in Jackson Hole, WY

Jackson Hole, WY – while you’re in the area, don’t miss out on visiting this quaint town. Jackson Hole has amazing boardwalks and a Town Square that has elk antler arches, which is a site to behold. There are a lot of shops to visit, and so many options for dining that you are sure to find something you’ll enjoy.  We got the chance to see an Elk Chandelier being assembled. My husband and I took a day to just visit this town, which was yet another of our highlights. When we return to the National Parks, we’re sure to visit Jackson Hole again.

Yellowstone National Park…Thermal Areas

Mud Volcano Area, includes Dragon’s Mouth Spring – interesting to see, but not one I have to see again. If you are short on time, skip this area.

Old Faithful – isn’t quite as faithful as it used to be. The time of eruption is about every hour-and-a-half. It was a lot of waiting as we arrived right after an eruption. We were eventually rewarded and it was interesting to watch. Did you know that Yellowstone National Park is considered on of the largest active volcanoes in the world? It’s not the typical volcano in scale or appearance.

Grand Prismatic Spring

Midway Geyser Basin with the Excelsior Geyser (third largest geyser in the world), Turquoise and Opal Pool, and my favorite…the Grand Prismatic Spring, the largest hot spring in Yellowstone and second largest in the world. This is one area I would return to every time we visit Yellowstone on vacation.

Mammoth Hot Springs

Mammoth Hot Springs that include unique limestone terraces. This is quite an interesting spot to visit and explore. I would definitely go back to this area again.

Yellowstone National Park Slideshow

Yellowstone National Park…Animals Aplenty

Bison, Elk, Moose, Birds, Wolves, and Bear

Bison in Haydn ValleyHaydn Valley – our absolute FAVORITE spot. My husband and I visited this valley in the early afternoon and found a tiny herd of Bison. The next day we decided to return to the valley and were rewarded by an awesome site…the largest heard of Bison I have ever seen in my life. Did you know that female Bison also have horns? I didn’t know that until seeing it with my own eyes. Mike and I spent more than an hour in the valley enjoying the amazing sights and sounds of these animals. It’s a hoot to watch them cross the road. Just know that they are in control and will cross in their own time so if you get stopped by one just settle in and enjoy the views.

Animals when you least expect it. My husband and I happened upon two Bull Elk, one of whom still had fur on his horns. Their horns are absolutely massive and were quite a sight see. We got to enjoy the Elk with quite a few other tourists who were very respectful of the animals. Being quiet and staying at a safe distance is key to enjoying these wild animals.

On our trip we also saw a momma Grizzly and her two cubs from a vast distance away. We didn’t get any closer looks, which was fine with me. We also got to see an adolescent bear on our way leaving the park at the end of our stay. He was investigating a meadow area and we were on an upper level with many other tourists. Once he started getting closer, and even knowing he’d have to climb to get to us, I decided to venture back to the car. It was quite an amazing highlight that we didn’t expect to see.

Yellowstone National Park Slideshow

Yellowstone National Park…Scenery Galore

Yellowstone is without a doubt my most favorite place to visit. The scenery is simply breathtaking.

Gibbon Falls Trail – nice short trail with waterfall views.

Calcite Springs Overlook

Brink of Upper Falls – this trail is as long as you want. My husband and I enjoyed views of the upper falls and decided to continue down the path, over a bridge and found ourselves by Yellowstone River. Beware of signs and of your surroundings. While we didn’t see any wildlife, except a beaver, there is a sign warning of bear in the area.  The next day when we were in our car coming back from the Lower Falls and in the same spot where we had saw the sign for Yellowstone River there was a wolf. Now a second word of caution, don’t forget these are wild animals. I can’t tell you how many vehicles were on the side of the road and people were out of their vehicles approaching the animal.

Lower Falls – Two vantage points

  • For an amazing view that includes a short and leisurely walk, visit Artist Point. This is where we got the absolute best views and images of the Lower Falls.
  • For those that want to get “up close and personal” with the Lower Falls and are in great shape, check out Uncle Tom’s Trail. This trail is not for those with mobility issues. The trail is a 500-feet and includes a 328 steep steel staircase and paved inclines.

Kepler Cascades – quite a beautiful waterfall and worth the short trek to the viewing spot.

Calcite Springs Overlook – a short walk to the overlook area (The Narrows), which will afford you views of the river 500 feet below. One of our most favorite images taken was at this very spot. The scenery…well worth the stop.

Lewis Falls – 30 feet tall on the Lewis River. A last-minute stop that we thoroughly enjoyed running across.

Yellowstone National Park Slideshow

Yellowstone National Park…Accommodations

In preparing for our visit, I felt it important to find the best accommodations possible based on what we wanted to see.  Yellowstone is quite vast at 2,000,000 miles, so we knew we would be traveling via car quite a bit and wanted to minimize the commute to/from our lodgings. Unfortunately I began my search for accommodations after the National Park reservation system had opened up, so the best dates/rates were already gone for accommodations inside the park. If this happens to you, there are so many options just outside the park that you’re sure to find what will work best for your family. With four entrances, be sure to find the best “home base” for your family so you can minimize traveling time as much as possible.

Tips and Hints for an enjoyable and SAFE vacation at Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks

Follow the speed limits, signs, and rules regarding distances to animals at all times.  The parks are amazing; however, if you don’t follow the rules you or the animals can get hurt. The animals are not caged, so you are entering their habitat.  I saw many people forget that in the excitement of seeing elk, bear, wolves, and even bison.

  • Did you know that more than 100 deer, moose, bears, elk, bison, & wolves are killed each year due to speeding vehicles? 
  • Did you know that while bison can weigh as much as 2,000 lbs, they are faster than you would think and can spring 30 miles per hour.  More people are injured by bison than any other animal in Yellowstone.  If you heed the wisdom of the safety rules, you are ensured to have an amazing time.
  • Staying safe in Yellowstone’s superhot places.  There are many hydrothermal areas.  Water is often near or above boiling.  The crust above the water is thin and easily breaks.  The best way to stay safe is to follow all signs and stay on boardwalks and designated trails.  They protect you and the delicate formations.  If the wind blows some of your possessions away from the boardwalk, don’t try and retrieve it if it’s in a thermal area.  Find a park ranger to see if they can help.