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Archive for April, 2010

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Friday’s Friendly Funny

A look inside Friendly Planet’s Iberian Coasts Cruise (part 6)

After our rocky start to the day, by late morning we had finally made it to Tangier, Morocco. It’s hard to describe Tangier without using words that make every writer cringe, such as incredible, breathtaking, and at times mind-blowing. But … well … it was.

BEST PART: Careening through the kasbah

Tangier was an assault to the senses. And I do mean assault in every sense of the word. As we wound our way through the dizzying streets of the city’s kasbah, men and young boys would pop out from dark doorways and around corners, pressing leather belts, tin trinkets, and Chiclets in front of your face. Five euro, one euro, for you good price, ten euro.

It seemed that my blond hair and our white skin was a magnet for hawkers of every sort of ware, who don’t take no for an answer, hoping their insistence would finally put a few euros in their pocket. It was exciting and eye-opening and, at times, exhausting.

But I can still say without hesitancy that our time in the kasbah was one of my favorite parts of the entire Iberian Coasts Cruise.

The sites, sounds, and smells of the outdoor markets, the streets so narrow it would have been a squeeze for three people to walk down side by side, the colorful doors leading into unimaginable homes, the communal water spigots for washing dishes and clothes, the poverty, the color, the desperation, the beauty, the sweat.

We spent most of the day with our group who had hired a local guide for the day, which turned out to be an invaluable history lesson.

TANGIER MARKET: Teeming with food

With our guide, we were given the best of the streets and a sense of relative security, despite essentially walking around with a flashing neon TOURIST sign around our necks. And without him, it’s unlikely we would have even been able to find our way out of the maze of the kasbah.

In the markets, rows of stalls seemed to go on forever. Some were teeming with olives of every shape and color. Others were selling skinned chickens hanging from gruesome hooks. Still more presented barrels of oranges the size of a child’s head and so juicy that I can still taste them today.

Our guide led us to a store packed with jewelry, knives, tin boxes, and just about every imaginable Moroccan souvenir. My husband and I politely browsed through the aisles when a young man tapped me on the shoulder. “Let me show you,” he said as he led us up the stairs into a room overflowing with ceramic plates, bowls, and vases. I assumed he was showing us more of the store’s merchandise. But he walked right past them all.

“Come please,” he said as he opened a door to the store’s roof.

“My city,” he said with a sense of pride as we stepped onto the roof and the incredible old city spread before us.

Never before had I seen such poverty crammed together in such close proximity. Houses in shades of white, red, and gray, dotted with antennas and satellites literally as far as the eye could see. It was breathtaking.

FROM THE ROOF: An incredible overview of the city

With a little free time to walk around the old city ourselves, my husband and I decided to test our haggling skills and bring something home uniquely Moroccan. Should we get a vase? Maybe a handmade ceramic bowl? A candle holder? With so many beautiful, handmade wares before us, we had a hard time choosing where to even begin.

As we browsed one shop’s selections, we were once again ushered up another store’s back stairs. The shop owner wanted to show us how he made their beautiful handmade rugs. Upstairs was a giant wooden loom with a half-finished rug. Piles of rugs were stacked throughout the floor in every room. The rugs’ intricacy, color, and craftsmanship was a juxtaposition to the crude wooden room.

And that’s when we decided that we wanted to bring home a genuine Moroccan rug. Back home, we were in the process of purchasing our first home, and frankly, we couldn’t think of a more perfect housewarming gift to ourselves than a gorgeous rug from one of the most arresting countries either of us had ever visited.

And this is where the fun of shopping in Morocco began. We haggled and haggled and refused his prices, and even went so far as to walk down the steps and out of the shop when the shopkeeper chased us down and finally offered the rug for 300 euros, less than what he said he refused to go below.

So my husband and I walked back to the bus with a giant carpet under his arm and a sense of triumph clouding our heads. It was exhilarating. And we had a beautiful rug to show for it. When we finally made it back to the bus, we dropped into our seats, put our bags down, and let out a long contented sigh. Our excitement of exploring the kasbah had overshadowed the exhausting that had been building throughout the day. Now that we were on our way back to the Louis Majesty, we felt it consume us.

Our time in Tangier was absolutely incredible, and as our bus pulled away from the city walls I already couldn’t wait to experience more of Morocco the next day in Casablanca.

Friendly Planet reviewed: One traveler’s experience on the Taj Mahal Express tour

We recently relaunched our Taj Mahal Express tour with a significant discount and more features. I wanted to share with you what one of the first travelers to go on the tour just told me. You know we could send you marketing literature until the cows come home. But when I’m buying something, nothing has more value to me than what other people say. And I believe nothing has more value to you, the traveler, than what our customers say.

With that, here’s a testimonial from Nancy of Union Mills, N.C. These are her exact words. If there are any typos, my apologies, but we don’t edit these reviews.

“My husband George and I returned last Tuesday from the Taj Mahal Express (03/15/10 to 03/23/10) and we could not be more pleased with the outcome of the trip! Every aspect of the tour FAR EXCEEDED OUR EXPECTATIONS!

The itinerary went so smoothly from start to finish. The hotels were excellent, the food was great, and the sightseeing package could not have been better! Now let me sing the praises of our tour guide- Ravi Shanker Tiwari. There are not enough positive adjectives in the English language to describe the exemplary treatment our group received from Ravi, but I will try.

Ravi is extremely intelligent, knowledgeable in all aspects of his job, super organized, warm & witty, and relates well to all types of individuals. He was with us 24/7 and we felt like we were with a family member. Ravi went ABOVE AND FAR BEYOND the call of duty to ensure we had the best possible experience and he succeeded in spades.

Examples of this were extra side trips that were not included and spending every one of his own free evenings with the group so that we could experience different dining and social experiences that we would not have been able to on our own. George and I have traveled all over the world, and have never had such a great experience with a tour coordinator. I’ll also add that the bus driver and helper were also top notch.

Please make sure a copy of this email goes to the President of Friendly Planet, as well as a copy to Ravi’s supervisor. We have already recommended Friendly Planet to friends/family and will continue to do so. We will definitely be using your services for future trips (I just wish we could have Ravi as our tour coordinator everywhere in the world!)

Again, thank you for a utterly memorable adventure to India!”

Thanks Nancy! Your e-mail made me smile ear to ear. Your experience is what we’re in business for. :)

Transcript of my chat with Chris Gray Faust, creator of Chris Around the World

Last week I posted my podcast with Chris Gray Faust, former USA Today travel editor and creator of Chris Around the World. If you want to read through the interview, go right ahead. I have the transcript that includes the complete interview between me and Chris, proofed for clarity.

Friday’s Friendly Funny

How you can win one of eight Space Bags TO GO

Some things in life are unavoidable, such as catching a cold, being late for an important meeting, and packing for a trip. Worse, not only is packing unavoidable, it’s also often one of the most stressful parts of a trip.

Frankly, packing is a pain. But I’m about to offer eight lucky Friendly Planet travelers some pain relief. A few weeks ago, I told you about some handy gadgets to get you going to your destination. One of those gadgets was the Space Bag TO GO.

These are bags that you can roll up or push down to compress the items inside, which decrease the bulk of clothing and other soft items. I have found you can fit a lot of stuff into a little space with a Space Bag TO GO.

After I wrote the post, I thought it might be fun to give a few of these bags away on the blog. So, I contacted the company for some samples and they generously provided me nine bags for a giveaway.

One bag I provided to one of our bloggers who is using it now on Friendly Planet’s Athens and 3 Day Greek Isles Cruise. We’ll have more from her when she comes back, including photos, hopefully some video and, of course, feedback about how helpful the Space Bag TO GO was on her trip. I still have eight more to give away to you, loyal readers and frazzled packers.

Here’s what you have to do to enter and win: Share your best packing tip in a comment on this post. It’s that simple. Click on “Post a Comment” at the bottom of this post. A comment box will appear. Write your best packing tip and click “Publish Your Comment” when you’re finished.

Here are some ideas to get you started. What makes packing easier and faster for you? What’s your strategy for fitting a week’s worth of clothes into an overnight bag? How do you make sure your shampoos and lotions don’t explode all over your clothes?

Your tips can be as simple as rolling your clothes instead of folding them. Or can be as complex as a detailed play-by-play plan on how you pack your suitcase. Whatever your advice is, I want you to share it here.

VERY IMPORTANT: Make sure you leave your name and an e-mail address where we can contact you if you win. If you don’t leave it and we pick your name, you will not be eligible to win. Eight winners will be randomly selected from the pool of applicants. Deadline for comment submissions is Friday, April 16, 2010 at 11:59 p.m. EST. I’ll announce the winners shortly after on the blog.

Note: This contest is open to anyone except employees of Friendly Planet Travel, Space Bag TO GO, and any Friendly Planet Travel vendors.

Good luck!

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About Peggy

Peggy Goldman is a specialty tour operator and travel expert, who owns and operates Friendly Planet Travel, a full-service company that specializes in tour packages to exotic worldwide destinations at affordable prices.   More about Peggy

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