Tag Archives: Travel

Stephen Rothman: Delighted to Dive

A Caribbean cruise in 2009 inspired Stephen Rothman to learn to scuba dive, which would lead him to pursue certification as a professional diving instructor. He had no way of knowing how important his new passion would become.

Rothman, a Vassar College graduate, worked in advertising in New York City before moving to Germany in 1989.  He had studied German in college and thought it would be “an interesting adventure” to live in the heart of Europe – 31 years later, he still lives in Frankfurt. He worked for the Saatchi & Saatchi ad agency for 17 years; his favorite account was Pampers, which allowed him to “travel the world, talking to moms and playing with babies in as faraway places as Russia, China, India, Japan, and closer to home in Germany and the U.S.”

Just finished Dive Instructor exam

Hammerhead Sharks, Red Sea, Egypt

In July of 2016, Rothman was able to take early retirement, which meant that he could dive more than just once or twice a year on vacation.  He discovered a store called Happy Dive and pursued certification as a Dive Master (assistant diving instructor) and eventually a full Diving Instructor. 

Hammerhead Sharks, Red Sea, Egypt

Happy Dive owners Pia and Christiane had created more than just a place where customers could buy diving equipment, take courses and sign up for diving trips.  “Thanks to Pia’s outgoing and enthusiastic personality, customers became a part of a community, almost a diving family, and I became a part of that family,” he said.

The Happy Dive family was essential to Rothman when his partner Hans died of throat cancer in 2015.  The following year, he became an unpaid partner in the business, and he continues to work there 2-3 times a week. 

“I wouldn’t do it if it weren’t fun for me – after all, I’m retired!” he said.  He advises customers on equipment, puts together dive kits, refills tanks, and performs many other daily chores.

“But by far the most rewarding part of my job are the evenings in the pool helping new students master the skills they need to become confident, capable divers and establish the foundation for years of safe and enjoyable diving,” he says. Some people are naturally nervous about breathing underwater through a regulator, and he loves helping them overcome those fears.

He becomes poetic when he speaks of the ocean: “It is not of our world, filled with creatures that are completely oblivious to our terrestrial human existence, societies, political tensions and conflicts.”

“One becomes truly in touch with the wonder of creation and develops a great sense of respect and recognition for this world, vastly larger and by some estimates much richer in life than ours on land, and the responsibility we humans have in ensuring its survival.”

In his decades of diving he has seen some lovely places – last February he dove in Raja Ampat, Indonesia, where “I have never seen more variety of undersea life, in such great numbers, or healthier coral reefs.”  He’s been to the Maldives to see “the big stuff”: sharks and whale sharks and mantas, and he has dived in the Red Sea numerous times.  “Depending on where you dive, you can see stunning coral landscapes, wrecks, big fish, or a combination of all three,” he says.

Increasingly, though, Rothman is dismayed by problems in the oceans.  His biggest concern is the impact of global warming, which has put coral reefs around the world in jeopardy, adversely affecting the ocean’s entire ecosystem.

Napoleon, Maldives

He has also witnessed a plague of plastics permeating the ocean environment and affecting all of its creatures. He saw this firsthand on a trip to the Maldives a few years ago, when their boat docked offshore at an uninhabited island.  The divers and boat crew were able to walk around the island, and what they saw was horrifying.

“We discovered that the beach around the entire island was completely covered in piles of rubbish, plastic and junk of all kinds, literally from the shoreline to the vegetation’s perimeter, deposited by the ocean currents.  And I mean piled high, without a speck of the beach visible.”  He added, “It was one of the saddest and most disturbing things I have ever seen.”

Assisting a Fellow Diver, Red Sea, Egypt

Rothman is enjoying the opportunity to pursue interests and activities that were hard to fit in when he was working full-time.  “It’s wonderful to have time to read again, to practice the piano seriously again after many years, to get out in nature and take walks, to take care of things around the house without stress, to tend to my little garden every year when spring comes around,” he said.  He enjoys evenings playing board games with friends, attending concerts and the opera, and the ease of travel throughout Europe.

And, of course, diving. His days at Happy Dive don’t feel like work, so he plans to stay involved as long as he is physically able to do so.  “None of us is in this to make money,” he says. “We’re in it because we love the sport and because we love the unique diving community that Happy Dive has been able to create.”

Meet Maxine

The Dordogne River near the castle of Beynac in southwest France

Imagine leading food, wine and history tours to some of Europe’s greatest wine regions, a different destination every year.  Envision helping wine lovers understand the nuances and complexities of the fruit of the vine, whether they are tasting wine in Portland, OR, or Bordeaux, France.  This is how Maxine Borcherding spends her time now that she is “retired” from a 30-year career as a caterer and hospitality/restaurant management instructor.

How She Did It

It all began with a teaching assignment at Oregon Culinary Institute, which required writing curriculum for two classes on wine.  Maxine admits that she was a wine novice, but the company supported her education as a sommelier, “and a funny thing happened,” she said.  “I fell in love with wine, and with everything about wine.  I had to learn more.”

Since then, Chef Borcherding has graduated from the International Sommelier Guild Sommelier Diploma Program, become a French Wine Scholar and a Spanish Wine Educator, and is completing certification as a Master Instructor for the Rhone region. 

She confesses that the Sommelier courses and exams were more challenging than earning her Master’s degree. But becoming knowledgeable in this new passion gave Maxine the confidence to retire from full-time teaching in her 60s, and to devote herself to the Taste and Compare Academy of Wine, Spirits and Food that she co-founded with her mentor and friend, Hoke Harden, in 2010.

The Business Model

Taste and Compare provides hospitality staff training, consumer classes and consulting for restaurants in Portland, OR.  Since 2013, they’ve added once-a-year wine tours with stellar destinations such as Provence and the Rhone; the Loire Valley; Burgundy and Beaujolais; and Bordeaux, Cognac and the Dordogne in France.  A Spanish tour included Madrid and the Basque country, Rioja, and Barcelona. 

Coming in May 2020: a 10-day Portuguese Food and Wine tour with local experts (2 spots available as of this posting! – https://www.tasteandcompareacademy.com/portugal-2020.html).  The tours are intimate, limited to 10-18 people, and range from 7-12 days.  The idea is to create an itinerary that allows guests to enjoy the cuisine and the culture, as well as the wine, at a relaxed pace that incorporates unique experiences and free time to explore.

Scott Fisher and his wife Julie Bell traveled to southwest France with Maxine in 2015. He recalls the day they followed Edouard and his truffle hound Farah across a gently sloping hillside punctuated with holm-oak trees. Soon the trusty hound located the intensely fragrant black truffle of Périgord,
one of the most highly prized (and priciest) members of the fungi kingdom.

Later that day, Edouard’s wife Carole created a fabulous lunch featuring a brouillade made with gently cooked eggs, heavy cream, and butter infused with grated black truffles. Scott reflected rapturously about the dish itself, as well as the experience of eating it in a rustic stone farmhouse at the edge of the oak grove where the truffles were unearthed. He added, “The look on Julie’s face when she finally held a freshly dug truffle to her nose and inhaled its fragrance was the height of that trip for me.”

Creating Unique Experiences

For Maxine, the exquisite specialty foods of Europe are highlights of every tour. One memorable meal on the west coast of France featured platters and platters of fresh oysters and whelks, and “the most delicious sole I’ve ever eaten, which they said was caught an hour before,” with the famous rare potatoes of the island of Noirmoutier, which are grown in beds of dried seaweed and “taste like they’re drenched in butter.”

Staying in unusual hotels adds another level of fun to the trips. In the central Loire Valley, people have turned old chalk quarry caverns into charming houses and hotels called troglodytes, where Maxine’s group stayed and enjoyed the local stuffed flatbread called fouees.

Entrance to the restaurant at the troglodyte hotel

In Valladolid, Spain, Maxine and crew stayed in a stunning converted monastery which is also a spa with mineral springs and massage. “Being pampered like that is quite nice if you’ve been traveling for a few days,” Max observes.

What’s Not to Love?

Leading wine tours in Europe may sound like a dream, but it requires a tremendous amount of planning and marketing.  Who is your audience, and where in the world might they want to go?  What activities would excite them?  Are there special sites, festivals or feasts to plan around? Then there are logistics: deciding how long to stay in each destination, arranging transportation and reservations, finding local guides.  “It’s a lot of work,” says Max, “like a giant puzzle where you have to make sure each piece fits, and the result will create a memorable experience and raving fans.”

And that’s also the key to success in her business.  “If you create a great experience for your customers, they will be the best marketers that you can have.  Recommendations from people other people trust have greater credibility than any advertising or promotion,” she said.

Any advice for those who envy her life and would like to do something similar?  “Choose something that you are passionate about, and that interests enough people with enough means to make the venture if not wildly profitable, at least able to cover your costs and pay for your time.”

“Truly you never know when your life course will change – when a door opens, and zoomo, presto, you have an entirely new career.”

Want to learn more?