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Archive for July, 2010

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Friday’s Friendly Funny

Fifth edition of our first-hand look at the Athens and 3-Day Greek Isles Cruise

View from the steps to the Cave of the Apocalypse

When I left you last I had boarded the Aquamarine after a morning in Kusadasi, Turkey. We were headed for the port of Skala on the island of Patmos.

This island is one of the original Dodecanese (meaning “12″) Greek islands. The earliest known temples on the island were the fourth century B.C. sanctuary of Diana. It’s believed that the name Patmos might come from Latmos, or Mt. Latmos of Turkey, where the goddess Diana was worshiped.

Patmos was populated beginning in about 500 B.C. by Dorians, then Ionians, and then the Romans in the second century B.C. It was during this time that the island fell into decline and was used as a place to banish “criminals and religious and political troublemakers.”

Not long after, according to some, Patmos makes its mark in the history books. The story has been subject to much scrutiny, but legend has it that John the Apostle (sometimes referred to as John of Patmos) received his first visions while living in exile on the island. These visions inspired the writings of the Book of Revelation, the last document of the New Testament.

It’s for this reason that Patmos is a frequent destination for Christian pilgrimage. So for obvious reasons, the shore excursion that takes Friendly Planeteers to the Monastery of the Apocalypse, Cave of the Apocalypse, and Monastery of St. John are very popular. This was the excursion my friends and I opted to go on, as did almost all of our tour group.

The port of Skala: View from the Monastery of St. John

We boarded buses in Skala that took us on a short drive up the hillside to the village of Chora where these three sites are located. The first stop was the Monastery and Cave (or Grotto) of the Apocalypse. The Monastery is small, beautiful, and peaceful with amazing views of Skala and the Aegean.

Next to the Monastery is a long stone staircase leading to the cave where St. John is believed to have written the Book of Revelation. We saw niches left in the wall marking the pillow where he rested his head and ledge used as a desk. Above your head is the crack in the rock said to be made by the voice of God honoring the Holy Trinity.

Further up the hill is the Monastery of St. John, built 900 years ago. The main church, still in use today, is known for its intricate frescoes and decoration. We were there the day before Palm Sunday, and leaves tied into delicate crosses were hung inside the building. Nearby is a small museum that houses priceless ecclesiastical treasures, books, manuscripts, mosaics, icons, splendid medieval textiles, vestments, and jewelery.

Drinking Ouzo on Patmos

After two hours of sightseeing, we headed back down to Skala to explore on our own. We went into the little white-washed shops to find gifts for our families, and sat outside of a cafe where we shared pastries — baklava and kataifi — and had our first tastes of ouzo.

Ouzo is typically mixed with water, which turns it from clear to cloudy. We forgot until about halfway through our drinks that we’d been warned about the drinking water on the islands. But luckily, we lived to tell the tale. :) When we asked the waitress where we could get our own ouzo glasses to commemorate our day in Patmos, she said, “You can keep these!” It was the perfect souvenir to bring home with us.

As night fell, it was again time to head back to the ship for dinner. This was one of my favorite stops on the tour — very beautiful, peaceful, and seemingly untouched by the rest of the world. If I had to choose one place to spend the whole week, this would be it. The next morning we’d be arriving at Crete to make an 8 a.m. wine tasting appointment. More on that in my next post.

Save $300 on Friendly Planet Travel’s Galapagos Islands tours before Aug. 2

In June I told you about our two new tours to the Galapagos Islands. Both were priced so low that many departure dates filled up within days.

But if you’re still looking to go to the Galapagos don’t fret. We’re offering travelers the same deal again until Aug. 2! SAVE $300 when you book the seven-day Darwin’s Galapagos Islands Hopper or the nine-day Darwin’s Galapagos Islands Explorer before Aug. 2.

That brings the seven-day tour down to $2,199 and the nine-day tour to $2,499. As I’m typing this, there are only 10 spots available for each departure date, so don’t hesitate if you’ve ever wanted to experience the preserved beauty of the Galapagos Islands. Hop back to my previous post to get a refresher on where you’ll go, what you’ll see, and what’s included in the price.

If you have any questions, visit our website for more details and the full itinerary for both tours. If you want to be the first to find out about exclusive savings such as this one, sign up for our Hot Deals mailing list.

Advice on what you shouldn’t pack in your suitcase

Some people like to pick up every knickknack and souvenir they can get their hands on when they travel. From the hotel shampoo to the restaurant matchstick book, they shove it all into their luggage. I, on the other hand, do not. It weighs your luggage down, and you don’t need it!

If you’re a pack rat you should read Chris Elliott’s “Packing Tips: 4 Things to Take (or Leave Behind) When You Travel.”

Chris gives the best advice on what is worth saving and what can be left behind. I agree with almost every tip he gives. It appeared on Frommer’s last week and it got me thinking about what else I normally leave behind to save space in my suitcase. In addition to Chris’s tips, here is some other advice from me.

For every piece of paper that you pick up when you travel, just ask yourself, “Can I find this information online?” This goes for brochures, menus, coasters, etc. A majority of the time your answer will be yes. If it is, recycle it.

In a previous post, I mentioned that I carry travel sizes of my cosmetics. That includes lotions and face creams. But if I know that travel size won’t be enough during my trip, I leave it at home. Instead I’ll buy that product locally.

That way I also know it’s formulated for the local conditions. I typically do this with my body lotion. I use it regularly, so I always buy it in the country that I am visiting. If the bottle isn’t empty by the time I leave, I throw it away to save space in my bag.

Almost every hotel now offers shampoos and soap as amenities in its bathrooms, so avoid packing large bottles of those items. If you’re bringing your own travel sized toiletries, then don’t open what the hotel gives you. Leave the unopened bottles behind for the next guest to use. It also saves the hotel the cost of restocking it.

I know in some cases, people bring home hotel toiletries to donate to a shelter. If you actually do take these toiletries to a shelter when you get home, great. If, like me, a busy life gets in the way, leave the toiletries in the hotel. Then, when you get home, if you really want to make a contribution, why not just write a small check and designate it for purchase of personal items.

Lastly, you can buy products such as nail polish remover, toothpaste, mouthwash, hair spray, etc., in almost every city in the world. It’s not worth carrying large containers of these. So save yourself some space in your luggage by applying these tips and reading what Chris Elliott has to say. Have any more suggestions? Share your tips in a comment to this post.

Friday’s Friendly Funny

Four-time Friendly Planet traveler reviews our Egypt and China tours

Customer loyalty is what makes the Friendly Planet go round, and this review from Margaret Bernarding put an extra pep in my step today. She’s gone on four Friendly Planet Travel tours! She sent us an e-mail telling us about her favorite parts on her most recent adventures — Treasures of Egypt and Best of China. I pasted it below (verbatim) to give you some first-hand feedback.

Funery mask in Egyptian museum

“I went on two of your tours this year, Treasures of Egypt and Best of China, as well as two other tours (Athens/ Istanbul with optional Classical Greek extension; Croatia/Slovenia/Montenegro) in previous years. I don’t know how friendly planet puts together such amazing trips so reasonably, as I couldn’t book things separately for double the price.

Treasures of Egypt, my last tour, was lead by a fantastic tour guide with an advanced degree in Egyptology! The accommodations on the cruise ship were top notch with all the amenities and great food breakfast, lunch and dinner, helpful and friendly crew. We also stayed in a luxurious hotel in Cairo (breakfast included). All the admissions to the various temples / pyramids were included. They even provide extra security guards, though we always felt completely safe and well taken care of.

Wild Goose Pagoda in China

Best of China was wonderful! We had our guide, Sam, plus a local guide in each area we went to. The trip included a 4 day cruise on the Yangtze River (a highlight) with very nice cabins with private decks, a 4 hour cruise up the Li River through some of the most beautiful sites in China, many flights within China, which allowed us to see more of the country, 5 star hotels, clean and modern buses to transport us to the sites of interest, such as the spectacular Great Wall.

My favorite parts were where we saw the mountains and other natural wonders of China. One of things I will never forget was an optional excursion out in the countryside up river from Guilin where we were able to meet a family and visit their 400 year old home, walk in the rice fields, etc. I would wholeheartedly recommend this travel company.” – Margaret Bernarding, Forest Knolls, Calif.

Margaret, I’m beaming hearing all of these wonderful things. I’m glad you had a great time, and please share with us when and where you book your fifth tour. ;-)

In print: Christine Gilbert is Almost Fearless

If you were struggling to hear parts of my podcast with Christine Gilbert, creator of Almost Fearless, you’re not alone. Skype enabled us to chat when she was in Colombia, but it got a little bumpy in some spots. So if you missed anything, give your ears a break and read the transcript.

Get exclusive savings on Friendly Planet tours with Hot Deals

SMOKIN HOT: Save on Friendly Planet tours with Hot Deals

The weekly Hot Deals mailer is getting so hot I might need to apply SPF 45 to make sure it doesn’t burn. In addition to giving subscribers announcements on deals and new destinations, Hot Deals is now including exclusive coupon codes on Friendly Planet tours.

Starting this week, when your Hot Deals e-mail lands in your inbox, you’ll see a new section that will list four to six different tours. Each tour has its own coupon code for a discount that’s good for that week.

These savings are only available to Hot Deals subscribers. So if you’re not a subscriber, what are you waiting for? Sign up now and tell your friends and family too!

Friday’s Friendly Funny

Christine Gilbert is Almost Fearless as she travels the world

Almost Fearless not only describes a lot of people who want to quit their day job and travel the world, but it’s also the name of the popular travel blog penned by Christine Gilbert. It follows her journey from corporate manager to full-time traveler, writer, and mom.

Last week Christine was in Colombia, with her husband and infant son, and I was able to talk to her on Skype for a podcast. She even used to bring her two dogs, but she decided not to take them on this leg of the trip.

You might be asking, she travels with a baby? Yes, when you’re a full-time traveler! After having her baby at the beginning of the year, she got back on the the road and surprisingly she’s found traveling with her son to be fun and easier than expected.

Hit our podcast to find out what it’s like to travel with a family in tow, and where the best places are to stay if you’re taking a little one along for the ride.

We also talk about the documentary she is filming on digital nomading. Christine’s been raising money to finance it on her blog for months now. She tells me what the documentary is about and where they plan to go this year to film it.

In addition to filming documentaries, Christine also writes e-books. “A Practical Guide to Going Digital,” “30 Ways in 30 Days to Redesign Your Life and Travel the World,” and “Twitter for Travelers” are three that we dive into in the podcast.

I could go on telling you what we talked about, but there’s so much more! My best piece of advice is to click play and start listening to find out what it’s like to walk in Christine’s shoes, where she’s been so far, and what her travel advice is for those thinking about venturing around the world.

A quick note about the podcast. Since she was in Colombia on Skype, the connection is fuzzy in some parts, so the transcript will be posted shortly.

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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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