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Intimate Porto

Posted: June 30, 2023

In order to get to know a place properly you ought to spend a little time there. On my third visit to Portugal in the past 3 years I spent two weeks in Porto this past spring 2023 pounding the cobblestone streets day and night, and I fell in love with this city and its people. Portugal and Porto's unique history has only begun to reveal itself too much of the modern world in the past 40 some years of transformation. Portugal was the last country in Europe to ditch fascism (1976) and more recently they impressively plowed through heavy austerity measures imposed by the EU. Having paid some dues for past transgressions the Portuguese have come out the other side in good shape, and are now one of the more popular European countries for travelers to visit, and deservedly so.... 

"A City Built by Artist for Artist" 

More often than not Porto is over shadowed by Lisbon in popularity. Capital cities oftentimes grab the headlines, but in my opinion Porto, and the Douro Valley is the more interesting and intimate experience. It's 100% walkable, its restaurants are renowned and often old, and the city has an artistic vibe with loads of talented artists, crafts people and musicians playing everything from melancholic native Fado to punk rock. A city of hills, riverside quarters, windy warrens of old lanes and alleyways with centuries old buildings and beautifully tiled churches. Then there's the deep Duoro River and its remarkable history which gave rise to Portugals economy by means of Europes oldest vineyards. The old world charm of Porto is inescapable, it did not suffer the devastation from the 1755 tsunami as the entire south of Portugal did, saving all the old world charm. It's also considered to be one of the safest cities in Europe. Lisbon is certainly worth a visit, as is the Algarve and most all of the country for that matter, but Porto and the north are my favorite parts of Portugal. 

With young well educated and gracious hosts holding down the majority of the hospitality jobs, antiquities galore, streets and buildings steeped in culture, wonderful food along and $3 glasses of wine, Porto hits all the high marks of a great European city to visit. With this, I've decided to share this experience by introducing a seven night stay in Porto called Intimate Porto. Our first two days will feature walking and electric bike tours which will give you the lay of the land, then you'll be good to go! 

As always with Tours for Travelers we'll be having memorable meals in some of the best (not most expensive) restaurants together and on our own if you choose. I also have a list of off the beaten track recommendations such as the oldest book store, galleries, music venues, Fado shows, port wine tastings and more. You'll unpack your bags once for the week as we settle into our private home with a courtyard and small pool, and the rest will be history in the making....

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The Basque Country for Foodies 2023

Posted: December 07, 2022

After recent trips to Portugal, Spain, Italy and Turkey I can't stop thinking about the food put out by these European giants of the culinary arts. And beyond the food there's the miles of meandering cobblestone streets filled with history and culture. I love a good dinner party, so I've decided to share one of my favorite destinations by introducing a one week foodie tour to the Basque Country of northern Spain. The Basques have distinctively delicious food and serve it in their classic European settings, our job as a group would be to provide some good company with great appetites, they then add the Rioja and or cider and wallah, the makings for a memorable feast is pretty much guaranteed. 

Five hours north of Madrid by road and you enter Basqueland. Along with the dramatic natural beauty of this area and it's enigmatic and ancient origins, this is also home to the world of Pintxos (peen-chos) - and some of the oldest recipes and best tasting food prepared in the world. Their ingredients come from the Pyrenees mountains and valleys, the Bay of Biscay and beyond. There's a tried and true respect for the processes and they've been safely tucked within this indomitable culture for centuries. They may say "it's grilled lamb" but you'll ask yourself, grilled how, with what? this is so good! The same can be said for the other proteins, the cheeses, vegetables, oils, salt and pretty much everything that comes from their farms, rivers and sea and is prepared in their way. 

The Pintxos have all the good flavors and also come with a culture of their own, often times you'll be bellied up in a crowded bar or huddled around a table pub style because that's what's available in these very popular local establishments. Pintxos are typically served on a small piece of bread or a small plate often with a skewer or toothpick, hence the name. A number of them at different bars makes for a great night out. Each Pintxos will typically have multiple ingredients stacked, similar to Spanish tapas, but there's a difference between Pintxos and tapas and it may be for any number of reasons; creativity, local farming methods, climate, proximity to market, I'm not entirely sure what it is, but it's a delicious mystery, like so much of Basqueland. One native foodie I met in Bilbao put it this way, "it's like Guinness mate, the closer to home the more original the flavor." That's not all the Basques and Celts have in common. 

The tour includes dining at Michelin Star restaurants, a scenic coastal drive, Paleolithic cave art, a visit to a farm with a special lunch, a tour of the Rioja wine country and visits to select museums and stunning cathedrals.  

With a population of roughly two million, Basqueland has nearly 40 Michelin star restaurants, and aside from the popular chefs there's a slew of sous chefs and other creative's who have carried on the art of this cuisine for centuries. The bounty in tiny Basque is rich, and a must do for serious foodie travelers, and it's my pleasure to guide the way. 

I've designed a one week tour for up to 7 people plus myself that will visit Bilbao, San Sebastian and points in between with a private van and local guides on occasion.  

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Happy Birthday Mr. Ataturk

Posted: December 04, 2022

The Republic of Turkey turns one hundred years old on October 29th, 2023. I'm planning on being there, hopefully celebrating positive results from their May elections with plenty of Raki and some close friends. 

If there was ever a founding father of a country, as in you can only have one dad, right? I mean one person, or else it simply doesn't come into existence, it's Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. The modern-day Republic of Turkey owes its existence to this 20th century leader. 

Lieutenant Colonel Ataturk reportedly never left Turkey after WWI when he became President Ataturk, now a revolutionary statesmen, because he didn't "have time for back slaps and autographs." He had just finished commanding the fight in the trenches of Gallipoli for eight cold wet months against the Australians, New Zealanders, the French and Churchill's navy, and somehow managed to win! This victory saved the day for the Turkish population or they could have ended up without a country to call their own. It should be noted that the Sultans had the Turks on the wrong side of history and the war, and there was a terrible price for that to the Allies. Also the Armenians in particular suffered horribly at the hands of the Ottoman armies, and as well as the Greeks who suffered great loses. 

President Ataturk began his monumental list of tasks after the war by turning the remaining population of the Ottoman Empire (thirteen million) 180 degrees on its access and poised toward the west, toward the rule of law with a constitution, civil rights and a free press. Ataturk imposed his policies as promptly as humanely possible. To begin with he imposed a Roman alphabet. He then personally influenced a new wardrobe both for his own pleasure and because it was smart business acumen toward the west. Ataturk created an atmosphere fostering religious freedom even though ninety five percent of the population were Muslim. He gave women equal rights and the vote, declaring "Everything we see in the world is the creative work of women." This was in the 1920's!

The right guy at the right time? I'm biased, but yes I think so, the sheer optics of all those levers and mechanisms of public affairs turning at the same time to try and build what would become a successful democratic model for the people of Turkey after six hundred years of rule by the Sultans, who were despotic absolute monarchists, and then to be on the wrong side of WWI, and it's 1919, that and this long sentence makes me a little dizzy. Ataturk had a republic declared and in the books by October 29th, 1923, three months after The Treaty of Lausanne was signed. Turkey became a member of NATO in 1952, three years after it was formed. 

Now one hundred years later and the Turks are back in the trenches metaphorically. Sadly, they're also joined by the United States, a good handful of European countries, India, Hong Kong, Brazil, South Africa, Venezuela, Peru, Nicaragua, Israel, Mexico and far too many other countries all in a fight for democracy and freedom. Every nation these days wear the battle scars from the 20th century and beyond as history inevitably produces a traumatic slog with some good wins and some bad loses. But, the 20th century produced for the US and Turkey a number of hard fought for and critically important political and social victories for our respective populations. Principally enfranchisement, civil rights and liberties with protections. 

These are all at risk. Also at risk these days are impartial and independent courts. In Turkey freedom of the press is dead, for now, protection from tyranny is under serious attack, for now. In the US we're battling against a false narrative about what it even means to be American, our very foundational stuff, inclusion and freedom with protections for the vast majority of us, a very basic social contract for such a wealthy and supposedly enlightened country. Recently at least one villain, Tucker Carlson, was slapped and demoted but not imprisoned; this man who is a true traitor and spreader of false propaganda has simply been replaced. But of course the bigger more important target as for the media end of the snake is Fox news and Rupert Murdoch. Fox and other social media propaganda left unchecked will catch up with us and hate filled violence will ensue if it's not checked and ultimately stopped.   

We've hit a critical juncture in democratic countries, and as a whole our populations are unprepared in far too many ways to fight, we're battling fierce propaganda machines and this makes serious effective change incredibly difficult. That said, a good finger in the dike could be had at the ballot boxes in the next year and a half in both Turkey and the US. If the US and Turkey can, God Willing, stand together in defense of democracy and the social victories that each country experienced during the past 100 years we could log big wins for democracy world wide. What our two countries cannot afford to do is fall asleep and or believe the false propaganda, this will allow the sociopathic clowns, demagogues and scoundrels to take over and sustain power by sleazy political means and literally crush our essential victories of the 20th century, sending us and the world backward. That could be too much to over come for a very long time, if ever. 

As flawed as our systems in the US and Turkey are we are still young liberal democracies (at least on paper) and still with enough freedoms intact to learn, grow and improve upon our progress of the past 100 years. Admittedly I may be somewhat naive about the huge global picture since it becomes more convoluted and complicated daily, but after witnessing what it's like for other people, some close friends, living where their voices are stifled by threat of arrest, and their choices are seriously curtailed by flimsy sometimes meaningless ballot boxes, I wouldn't change our messy democracies for anything. True justice remains a hope everywhere, but we have to stay free if we want to get there. 

The alternatives to democracy have been played out in many ways throughout  history and it never turns out well. Without the dilution of power that democracy produces authoritarian figures and regimes will fill the vacuum, the rule of law will be replaced with some form of autocratic rule, might makes right will prevail, checks and balances will evaporate, and added all together we could essentially erase all of our 20th century victories and well beyond. That would be a disaster that would step our societies and the world backwards, just when we desperately need to progress in all areas and come towards each other as opposed to retreating into tribalism.  

These days are a good time to remember the quote: "Power tends to corrupt; and absolute power corrupts absolutely" Lord Acton. 

Or if you like, "Democracy is the worst form of government - except for all the others that have been tried" Winston Churchill. 

Turkey and America are two of the most important and enduring democracies still left in the world, the US is the vanguard of the west and the worlds oldest democracy, while Turkey sits just inside the volatile and extremely complicated Middle East, with the Mullahs of Iran and dictators of Saudi holding down there antiquated religious tribalism and anti democratic ways. In 2023 and 2024 respectively Turkey and the US are having elections which are critical for the myriad of reasons mentioned. Hopefully, our populations will rise up and make the right choices with what's still available at the free but not so always fair ballot boxes. It's a new world order, and there's a cold war and some hot wars in play between democracy (freedom), theocracy and autocracy. It's that simple. It's an end game I believe. The Turkish and the American people need to be out front in this fight and remember the lessons taught by our respective founding fathers. Otherwise, I fear all bets will be off and then it's an ugly fight or submission, neither of which are good for our respective populations or the world at large. Freedom and respect for the democratic process is where all hope resides! 

Happy Birthday Mr. Ataturk, and to the many good people of the Republic of Turkey. 


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Introducing The Crossroads

Posted: January 27, 2018


American roots music, culture and history ran hard and fast through my veins on a recent road trip. Admittedly I had some expectations since I was driving toward the crossroads of our country where the blues, gospel, country, bluegrass and rock 'n' roll, the Freedom Riders and the Civil Rights Movement all come together. The land of the Grand Ole Opry and Graceland, Sun Studios and Stax Records, the last steps of Martin Luther King and the glorious first notes of rock 'n' roll.

Forgive me for underestimating the gravitas of history and the joy of rediscovery I found in this small corner of our country ~ this crossroads of our country. Simply put ~ I was blown away! Blown away in many ways, by the hospitality, the wonderful chefs, by the beat of the music that wants to unite, and by the profound need for social justice that remains but a hope in our country today; a hope that needs to accelerate, not retreat.

I was so turned on by this trip that I want to share it with you. I've created a nine-day tour that highlights the vibrant places and legendary people that bring to life this quintessential American journey. To enhance this adventure I've enlisted local guides whose stories will enrich your experience, I found renowned restaurants to savor regional foods and selected unique accommodations to help keep your trip affordable.

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Istanbul, Ephesus and Jerusalem & the West Bank Tour Updates

Posted: July 01, 2014

July 2014

Hello Travelers,

I recently finished an enjoyable month abroad working on the itineraries for Tours for Travelers. The first week I spent in Istanbul hunting down new galleries, revisiting museums and eating at new restaurants with my Istanbul friends. The second week I drove along the Aegean coast via the Gallipoli peninsula and also visited Troy, the old Greek towns of Assos & Behramkale, the ruins of Pergamum and two towns near Ephesus, Selcuk and Sirince (pictured below).

I could not be happier with the finishing touches to the Aegean tour. The boutique inns I found are beautifully preserved historic buildings run by local visionaries with excellent knowledge of the surrounding areas. The meals are especially delicious and the ruins are stunning and abundant, including some of my favorites that are definitely off the beaten track, such as Magnesia Ad pictured below. 

After 3 weeks in Turkey  I flew to Israel to put the finishing touches on the Jerusalem tour. I first visited Israel in 1985 while I was taking a week R&R from my job in Egypt working as a tour conductor for a small British tour company. On that first visit after an overnight bus trip from Cairo across the Sinai (where I witnessed the most spectacular sunrise I'd ever seen) I arrived in Jerusalem. Once there I met and befriended an expat Jewish man from NYC named Ari. Ari was a passionate and knowledgeable fellow who for a small fee and lunch would walk with me throughout Jerusalem from morning till dusk, filling my head with history and stories that beguiled my imagination and left me feeling like a western civilization illiterate. Besides feeling a bit under informed I also remember feeling a profound sense of awe at the depth of this place, and wonder at it's ability to survive throughout its tumultuous history, I was also horribly intimidated and definitely intrigued to learn as much as I could about it. I returned to Jerusalem, and Ari three more times in 1985 & 86 and had not been back there until last fall 2013 when I decided to add a Jerusalem tour to the roster of Tours for Travelers
IMG_3345.JPGTwenty eight years later I found Jerusalem to be every bit as intriguing and thankfully less intimidating as it was during those first visits as a 28 year old. The old town was still mostly that of an old and colorful Arab souk with that spicy aroma and maze of shops and food places. The Church of the Holy Sepulucre hadn't changed, still wonderfully scented from 1,700 years of incense and candles and filled with all those individual tiny dark chapels and the delightful Ethiopian Coptic rooftop chapel/village. And of course the center piece - the majestic tomb of Jesus, or so they say. Further along the smooth cobble stones of the old town the enigmatic Wailing Wall remains as the last remnant of the second temple and continues to attract the serious prayers of the Jewish faithful. Above the wall, stood the beautiful golden Dome of the Rock, still dominating the Jerusalem skyline and one would hope becoming the symbol of peace sometime in the future, as its importance to Jews, Christians and Muslims alike remains as it has for hundreds of years.

IMG_3230.JPGThe Greek philosopher Heraclitus said, "You could not step twice into the same river; for other waters are ever flowing on to you." I believe this wholeheartedly.
As much as I had hoped that Israel would be the same as it was twenty eight years earlier it was not, it had changed, significantly. It's true that many things remained as they were, and it's my hope that the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the Western Wall, and the Dome of the Rock stand forever as important symbols of our religions.
But the landscape had changed, significantly. There's a new structure in town, and it's every bit as monumental as the aforementioned places, but it's not at all beautiful or ancient so that we can gaze nostalgically with reverence and our imaginations. In fact, it takes no imagination at all. It's a segregation wall, or fence depending on your position. Built by the Israeli government for security since the end of the last intifada in 2005. In places this grey giant reaches 25 feet high and is topped with barbed wire. It can be seen snaking for an eventual 430 miles over the landscape throughout Jerusalem and within the Palestinian territories, basically surrounding the entire West Bank like a prison yard.

IMG_2883.JPGIt is a fact that since the wall was built suicide bombings have essentially stopped, but as an outside observer I have to ask myself at what cost? Many Palestinians now spend countless hours of their everyday lives just making their way around these walls to get to school, visit family, shop for food or go to a clinic for medical care. Tasks that used to take five minutes can now take hours and often times they have to funnel through cattle call lines and are questioned by young Israeli guards at numerous check points. This policy is extremely controversial and begs the big question, is it absolutely necessary? Has everything been done to avoid the need for such a demeaning imposition to exist? 

The first two intifadas were filled with brutality on both sides and brought on by years of struggles and hostilities, but this wall is like "spit in the eye" according to one Palestinian I spoke to. He believes that they'll have no choice and that eventually the violence will begin anew. The wall is only one part of a series of punitive measures the Israelis have enacted in order to build security, security they deserve, but again with these sort of measures the ultimate price may be too big. The current Israeli policies could effectively break the will of the Palestinian people and drive them out of Israel. I hope that this is not a planned policy, or I fear that peace in Israel may never be achieved. 

IMG_3358.JPGOne of the many big questions that still loom over this whole situation came about in 2000. Following the unfulfilled Oslo accords of 1993 President Clinton presided over a summit with Yasir Arafat and Ehud Barak at Camp David. In the end Arafat turned down with no counter offer what many thought was the Palestinians best opportunity for peace, it included a road connecting the West Bank with Gaza, sovereignty over part of east Jerusalem neighborhoods, a natural barrier to Israeli settlements and perhaps their best chance at obtaining their own country through peaceful means.  President Clinton was among the chorus of world leaders that agreed with the assessment that Arafat blew it. But why? Since Arafat's rejection of this agreement the plight of the Palestinian people has gotten worse by the year. There are so many questions and differing points of view that need to be considered and weighed about this conflict. It's beyond most of us for sure, but I've decided to extend my interest to you and include a conversation about this as a part of the Tours for Travelers program.

Tours for Travelers "Jerusalem & the West Bank" will spend three days visiting sites in and around Jerusalem with our Israeli guide, then another three days visiting sites in the Palestinian territories with our Palestinian guide. My goal, to the best of my ability, will be to show you both sides without taking sides. However, you can be sure that the points of view you will hear from our different hosts will be passionate and nationalistic. My sincere hope, like so many others is that there can be peace in this region and that both the Israelis and the Palestinians


can thrive to the best of their abilities. Whether a two state solution is possible probably comes down to the fate of Jerusalem, as well as the plethora of other details that continue to mount and shift with time including the Israeli settlements in the occupied territories. Time will tell whether or not the Israelis and Palestinians can find a peaceful solution, but it's hard to be optimistic with this wall looming over the landscape. Having said that, my knowledgeable Jewish barista at the Israeli Museum who had previously witnessed a horrific urban bomb blast by Palestinians reminded me, "what else do we have but hope?"
The US government is the biggest player outside of the Israelis and Palestinians with regards to this conflict, so discussions, first hand observations, and our effort at understanding the situation as Americans I believe is important. To be sure despite my political content here, our tour is not going to be limited to a discussion about the politics and conflict, we'll actually be spending most of our time digging into the ancient history of this mythical land, visiting beautiful historic sites, eating wonderful food and enjoying the hospitality of the people who invented the concept. So pass the bread, the hummus and the hookah, fill up your wine glass and let's dig in for a profound and memorable experience in Israel and Palestine.       
Warm Regards Always,
Kevin Sheehy
612 998-7488
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