Friday, August 24, 2007

Mosel Valley Skating

It was a tag team approach this year as we checked out the Mosel Valley for our new Skating Adventure. Zephyr's German guide Sabine, based in Switzerland, visited the area in May to see if it was a suitable tour location. I then followed up last month to set up the details.

The Mosel Valley, created by the Mosel River, actually starts in France, runs along Luxembourg, and then heads into Germany. It is known as a vacation area, for its wines, and more recently for the 535.5 kilometers of paved trail running along both sides of the river!

I must say, Sabine and her family got the best of this deal. Sabine, her fiancée Christian (who also guides for Zephyr), and her daughter Luisa made a skating vacation of their trip to the Mosel in May. And skating is pretty much what they did. I'll let Sabine explain it to you, in her typical email fashion:

"We had 5 days of great skating! We were skating every day. Luisa was skating around 200km, and take a day off. She was a good exemple, like a typical Zephyr Tourist… ( her speed, and how often she wand to take a time out). We were skating around 250km.Very nice scenery. The streets are all to skate. Most of them are very good. The towns are nice and some of them are really beautiful. The people were very friendly! It’s a good place for a Zephyr tour!"

Since Sabine had already checked out the skating, my girlfriend Devon and I were left with the organizational details! We checked out hotels, restaurants, transportation options - and of course got in some skating, too.

The Mosel Valley is beautiful. The river has cut a path through the hills, so both banks of the river rise up above the valley floor. Wine has become a major industry in the area and vineyards cover both banks for much of the valley's length. Cute German towns are spaced about 5-10 kilometers apart, making for nice destinations on the routes.

I think three unique items make this a wonderful skate tour. First, the Germans have done an amazing job at creating the paths that line the river. For much of the time, the trails are separate bike paths that run through fields or vineyards. Sometimes the paths are small side roads and at other times they are simply marked lanes on the side of a road. The nice thing is that with a trail on both sides of the river, we use the many bridges to cross back and forth so we can pick the best skating surfaces the whole way.

The second thing I really like about this trip are the "shuttling" options. Because we will essentially skate or bike in a linear path along the river from France to Germany (neither the river nor the trails are at all straight), the Long Routes each day will go from hotel to hotel. That means the Short and Medium Routes will require a shuttle. But instead of simply having a van shuttle, we use a combination of our van, the local train system, and ferry boats that ply the river to get people to and from the best skating parts of each day. It really adds a nice cultural twist to the tour.

Finally, I love that this tour involves three countries. We meet you in Thionville, France and spend the first night in Remich, Luxembourg before heading into Germany. It is a great mix - and if you like wine, so much the better!

We will run two tours next year in Germany and I am confident they will be full by October 31. Come join us July 13-19 or July 20-26 next year!

Monday, August 13, 2007

Colorado Family Multisport

I just returned from our Family Multisport Adventure in Colorado - the third Family Adventure in the past three years I had the pleasure of guiding.

For an introduction to our Family Adventures and how they operate, please scroll down to the post of last August about our Lake Tahoe trip. That posting will give you a good idea of our philosophy of providing activity levels for everyone, separating the kids and adults enough to let the kids bond and give the adults some relaxation, and keeping everyone together at other times as one big fun group.

Colorado is the perfect place for a family vacation. Once we left Denver and the airport, we had wide-open spaces, 14,000-foot mountains, and rushing rivers in our backyard. During this six-day tour we rode horses, rafted on a whitewater river, biked, skated, and hiked. We also watched a rodeo, visited a ghost town, and played with puppies at a local dog sledding operation. We had a ton to do during the day and good food to eat at night.

We had a very large group of 28 participants plus three guides. Even when we split in two groups, it was amazing to see all these people on horseback, riding through aspen groves on a real Colorado ranch. The river rafting, where we had a private group of five rafts floating down the river, was probably the highlight for many in the group. However, I know the younger kids loved being licked to death by the puppies at the dog sled kennels.

For me personally, the highlight of the trip was our "split" dinner in which we divided into the "fogies" and the "fun group". My co-guide Reno took the adults to a nice dinner while our other co-guide Sonya and I took the kids out for pizza. We had reserved an entire dance club and game room (not normally open that evening) for our evening kids meal. After wolfing down five pizzas, the group immediately spread out to play games: pool, air hockey, and darts. Funny enough, the hit game of the evening was shuffle board - at least until Caleb, Erica, and Mari took over as DJs to light up the dance floor.

The great thing about this evening was that we had kids from six different families who were winging darts, hitting pool balls, and throwing whatever it is you throw in shuffleboard as if they were fast friends with decades of past experiences together. These were kids from all areas of the country with different backgrounds and different ages. Yet, they bonded as one fun group.

I don't have kids myself but I do have a niece (Erica) and nephew (Brian), who were on this trip with my brother Dave and sister-in-law Sharon. I was also a kid myself once and remember squabbling with my two brothers in the back of our station wagon, asking repeatedly when we would arrive to our destination. I have the feeling that normal "family vacations" are at least as stressful as they are fun and rewarding.

This tour was not that way at all, neither for the parents nor the guides. We try hard to make these trips fun for the parents as well as the kids. We keep the group together at times, because we know parents love watching their kids have fun while experiencing new activities. At other times, we split them apart so parents can relax, have a glass of wine, and engage in some adult conversation - all while knowing their kids are well looked after by our guides.

As guides, frankly, these tours are not that difficult. The kids simply know how to have fun and that makes our job easy.

Come join us next year on a Family Adventure in either Yellowstone National Park or Glacier National Park, two jewels of the US park system and great places for family fun.