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Archive for January, 2011

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Friday’s Friendly Funny

A trip to The Philadelphia Inquirer Travel Show this weekend could send you to China or India

Philly’s more fun when you win a trip to China or India! If you go to The Philadelphia Inquirer Travel Show at The Pennsylvania Convention Center this weekend, you have the chance to win an extraordinary trip for two on Friendly Planet Travel’s Taste of China tour or the Taj Mahal Express tour. And those two trips aren’t the only prizes attendees can win. We’re also giving away a Nikon S8100 digital camera.

Friendly Planet Travel will be exhibiting at the show at booth #514 where attendees can register to win. It’s that simple. The winners will be randomly selected and announced right here on the blog on Monday.

If you do make it to the show, please stop by booth #514 and say hello! I’ll be there all weekend. I’ll also be giving two presentations. “7 Exotic Locations for the Price of a Vegas Weekend” will reveal the exotic spots on the globe that offer your family an unforgettable experience of a lifetime for the cost of the typical week down the shore or a long weekend in Vegas. That’s slated for Saturday at 12:15 p.m. on the entertainment stage.

And “How to Compare Travel Offers for the Best Value” will teach you how to compare different packages and uncover hidden fees to slim down your cost without slimming down your experience. That’s scheduled for Sunday at 11:15 a.m. And I’ll be answering your travel questions after each presentation.

If you haven’t bought your tickets yet, you can still do so online. Adults are $10 and kids under 18 are free. So for just $10, you could win a trip to China, India, or a pretty snazzy camera. Not a bad deal, right? And that’s in addition to the abundance of travel information and fun planned for show visitors.

There are 63 booths in addition to Friendly Planet Travel’s, although I personally have a preference for booth #514! We will have lots of material, an international slide show with amazing images of the many places around the world we visit, and special, show-only discount coupons valid for many of our tours.

Here are more details on our prizes. The Nikon S8100 features a 3-inch, high-resolution clear color display. It has 12.1 megapixals with a 10X wide Zoom-NIKKOR ED glass lens, covering 30-300 mm. It also comes with Optical VR Image Stabilzation, high ISO sensitivity to 3200, and a new flash control system. Plus, you can record full 1080p HD movies with stereo sound.

The winner of the Taste of China tour visits three of China’s most dynamic and culturally awe-inspiring cities: Beijing, Xi’an, and Shanghai. Included are roundtrip airfare from Los Angeles via Air China including fuel surcharges; all ground transfers; all intra-China flights; deluxe and first class hotel accommodations with private bath; many meals; comprehensive sightseeing with a local, English-speaking expert guide; and more. Jump back to my previous posts on the tour find out all the sights you’ll see in each city.

The Taj Mahal Express tour includes roundtrip airfare from New York on Emirates; superior first-class hotels; daily buffet breakfasts; an authentic Indian farewell dinner in Delhi; expert guides throughout the journey; fuel surcharges, transfers, and much more.

While in India, we take you on expert-guided tours of the Taj Mahal, Fatehpur Sikhri, Jaipur (known as the “pink city”), and the Amber Fort, with an ascent on elephant or a Jeep. You also get a one-day tour in Delhi that takes you to its most important sites, such as the Laxmi Narayan Temple, Raj Ghat, the Red Fort, and more. Your tour concludes with a rickshaw tour through Old Delhi’s most popular street market, Chandni Chowk. There’s so much more, but you can read about it in my recent posts.

I hope to see you this weekend! If you can’t make it, you’ll have another chance to see us at The New York Times Travel Show where we’ll be exhibiting on Feb. 25 to 27. But more to come on that in a future post.

Read along as Farihah Ali searches for the perfect dumpling in China

If you want another helping of dumplings, err, I mean another helping of our podcast with Farihah Ali, you can download the transcript. Read along as Farihah tries to find the best dumplings on Friendly Planet Travel’s Taste of China tour.

Friday’s Friendly Funny

The New York Times names Santiago, Chile the #1 city to visit in 2011

Casa de la Moneda in Santiago, Chile

On Sunday, The New York Times named “The 41 Places to Go in 2011.” I was delighted to see that Santiago, the capital of Chile, was named the #1 place to visit.

However, a lot places I thought would land on the list were left off. But I’m going to follow up in another post with a few places I think should have made the list.

In the article, The New York Times highlights how Santiago has made new investments in the arts and the modern museums it’s built in recent years.

One important aspect they forgot to mention was that Santiago is where Spanish colonial buildings and old churches are juxtaposed against the spectacular, snowy peaks of the Andes Mountains. Trust me, the setting is one that takes your breath away, and it’s an image of Santiago visitors cannot forget.

The Casa de la Moneda is one of Santiago’s and Spanish America’s most stunning pieces of colonial architecture. It also is the current seat of the Chilean government. But to find the pulse of the city, you have to visit the bustling Plaza de Armas.

Here the ornate baroque Cathedral Metropolitana, Post Office building, and the Natural History Museum inspire awe. You can also capture a spectacular panoramic view of Santa Lucia Hill, the site where Santiago was founded in 1541.

What also makes Santiago special is that it’s the gateway to many other wonderful parts of Chile, including the Patagonia region of South America, which covers parts of both Chile and Argentina.

Patagonia is a windy, wild, and gorgeous land filled with glaciers, lakes and wild plants, animals and birds. Parks like the famous Torres del Paine will make you feel like you’re in an issue of National Geographic.

Just a short drive from Santiago, you can visit one of the world’s favorite Chilean wineries, Conche y Toro. There you can tour the infamous “Casilla del Diablo” and the lush vineyards, and of course, sample wines that will make your taste buds sit up and notice.

When I traveled to this region to develop Friendly Planet Travel’s Patagonian Explorer by Sea tour, I found myself constantly awestruck by the beauty that abounds at every turn. I truly believe that every traveler who enjoys the natural world as well as earthly pleasures will find a great deal to love, in Santiago as well as the entire region.

And if you’re interested in booking a tour, our Patagonian Explorer by Sea spends two full days exploring Santiago. The other 10 days are spent visiting Buenos Aires, Ushuaia, Cape Horn, Magdalena Island, and Valparaiso. But flip over to our website for the full itinerary.

Besides Santiago, The New York Times lists 40 other locations, and I encourage you to read through the entire list. They point to some obvious and not-so-obvious locales that might pique your interest. Some of the countries they suggest, such as Thailand, Italy, Japan, Turkey, India, Egypt, Morocco, and China, are already Friendly Planet favorites. We offer plenty of inexpensive options for travelers wishing to explore. You’ll find all the information you need on them at our website.

Thanks to the editors at The New York Times for bringing attention to Santiago and the 40 other places they researched. And keep your eyes peeled to the blog to see the places I think should have made their list.

Farihah Ali searches for the perfect dumpling on Friendly Planet Travel’s Taste of China tour

Spiced beef dumplings in Shanghai

Food and travel — they’re like two peas in a pod. I always enjoy trying the exotic foods native to the country I’m visiting.

In fact, I’ve told you plenty of times that Vietnam tops my list of countries to go to for the food. But it’s not the only country in Asia that foodies adore.

Let’s head north to China. Farihah Ali, from Atlanta, went on Friendly Planet Travel’s Taste of China tour in November and wrote about her time in the country on her own blog, Spice Bites. When I stumbled upon her blog posts, I asked one of our Friendly Planet Travel bloggers, Melissa, to get to know what mouth-watering food Farihah discovered in China.

In our podcast Farihah dives into what she saw and ate in the three cities she visited in China, ShanghaiXi’an, and Beijing. Dumplings where on the top of Farihah’s list to find. She tells us about her adventures to find the best ones in each city, as well as the other food she tasted along the way thanks to help of her tour guides.

Farihah breaks down what the hotels, escorted tours, tour guides, and transportation was like in each city. She also tells Melissa how it was easy to get around the cities when she only knew one or two phrases in Chinese, and much more.

After you listen to the podcast, I encourage you to flip over to her blog to read her posts about China and look at all the beautiful photos she took. If you’ve been to China and ate some amazing food, please tell me about it in a comment on this post.

Farihah in Suzhou, China

10 things to know before you book a cruise

Cruises have been in the news lately for power failures and enduring rough seas. Unfortunately, negative stories like these can perpetuate the misconception that they’re commonplace.

But these situations aren’t the norm for cruises. The odds of a power failure or a rogue wave are very small.

Approximately 10 million passengers board a cruise ship in the U.S. every year. They’re one of the safest ways to enjoy a trip.

However, if you want to make sure your ship is up to tip-top standards, know what to do in an emergency, or how to make your trip more enjoyable, here are 10 things to know before you book a cruise.

Check your cruise ship’s inspection results. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Vessel Sanitation Program (VSP) assists the cruise ship industry to prevent and control the introduction, transmission, and spread of gastrointestinal illnesses on cruise ships. Every report they produce is documented. Look up your cruise ship to see how it fared on its most recent inspection.

Wash your hands frequently. This is one of the first lessons we learn when we’re younger and it still rings true today. Washing your hands throughly is the easiest way to avoid exposing yourself to germs and illnesses. Wash them often, but especially before you eat and after you use the restroom.

Seek medical attention if you’re sick. Even if you have the sniffles, go to the ship’s medical facility and follow their instructions. In any case, you don’t want to risk spreading your illness around to other passengers. So play it safe and seek medical attention as soon as you start to feel ill.

Check for cleanliness. Whether you’re on the ship or at port, look for inspection stickers where you’re eating. Or take a look around and just see if the place looks clean. Your impression will be a good indication whether or not the food you’re about to eat was prepared in a sanitary setting. Think of it this way. If they’re allowing the public parts of the restaurant to look messy or dirty, just imagine what the parts you can’t see (like the kitchen) look like.

Make copies of your important travel documents. You should bring copies of your driver’s license, passport, credit card, debit card, and any other travel document necessary and keep them in your cabin’s safe. If anything happens on the trip or to your original documents, you will have all the information you need safely tucked away. Having copies of your original documents will also speed up the process of getting you new documents.

Carry a flashlight. Always bring a small flashlight with a replacement bulb and battery. You never know when the power is going to go out (no matter the reason). Having the flashlight can be a lifesaver. For all sorts of security and safety issues, this is a piece of equipment worth buying and keeping with you.

Know your exits. Every cabin has emergency exit information published in each room. No one ever reads it, but every traveler should! In addition to reading it, travelers should actually go to the exit, open the door, and see where it leads. By taking a practice run, you’ll gain an important piece of information in case of a fire or other emergency. And when your captain calls for a lifeboat drill, be sure to participate. Don’t stay in your cabin and think that you’ll figure it out when the time comes. Knowing how to exit your cabin in the event you need to is an invaluable piece of information for every traveler. It can mean the difference between a good and a bad outcome in an emergency.

Pack a power strip or surge protector. Each cabin has only one electrical outlet, which is located right next to the desk or vanity. And it has only two plugs. If you want to use your computer, charge your camera, listen to music, and use a hair dryer while someone is taking a shower, you’ll need more outlets. A power strip or a surge protector will give you the extra electricity you need.

Put fabric softener sheets between your garments in your suitcase. If your travel time to the ship is more than 24 hours, this will help keep everything in your suit case smelling fresh. This is particularly nice with garments or accessories that are not regularly laundered, such as sweaters or jackets. You can cut a sheet in half and place each half in your shoes.

Bring bungee cords. They are easy to pack, take up virtually no room at all, and can even be useful in keeping your bags lashed together as you maneuver onto the ship. Just hang the bungee cord from any suitable place and you have a sturdy hook. They also make a great clothesline when you string it across the opening of your shower, or between a couple of towel bars. Lastly, use one to strap down your towel if you’re up on the deck when the ship is underway.

Is there any thing I missed that you think could make a cruise more enjoyable? Let me know in a comment on this post. Happy cruising!

Friday’s Friendly Funny

Part seven of our first-hand look at the Athens and 3-Day Greek Isles Cruise

When I left you last, I was about to go to the most famous (and some say the most beautiful) Greek Isle: Santorini. To pick up where I left off …

The Aquamarine set a course northward from Heraklion, Crete toward our next destination. And just a few hours later the ship was in the caldera (like cauldron). It’s the large, central lagoon from which Santorini’s 900-foot cliffs rise. The land mass is what remains of a volcanic eruption. Its crescent moon shape wraps around a large basin where the island literally collapsed in on itself.

It’s a stunning view from the caldera, looking up at the white-washed towns built into the cliffside. This is where our group had a decision to make. How would we get to the top? There were three options.

1. Take a bus to Oia (pronounced ee-a), the town with white buildings and blue domes where many well-known photographs of Santorini are taken.

2. Walk up a steep, winding path to Thira.

3. Ride a donkey up the cliff.

Obviously, I went with option three. It was a crazy experience that I won’t attempt to describe. Watch the video instead!

After saying goodbye to our donkeys, we spent some time exploring Thira, which is packed with little shops and was bustling with tourists. As it got later in the day, we looked for a place where we’d have a perfect view of the famous Santorini sunset.

The spot we chose was the deck of a cliffside cafe. We ordered our five thousandth Greek salad, a few cappuccinos, and the photo shoot began. It really was the most incredible sunset I’ve ever seen. Here are some of the shots I took.

When it was all over, we rode a gondola down the cliff to the water …

… and embarqued on the Aquamarine one last time. In the morning, we’d be back in Athens for the remaining days of our trip.

The Washington Post features our Taste of China tour as a ‘travel bargain’

My new year started off on a high note when I picked up The Washington Post on Sunday. Carol Sottili featured Friendly Planet Travel’s Taste of China tour in her travel column, “What’s the deal? Travel bargains from around the globe.”

Thanks Carol for featuring our tour! Hit Carol’s article to find out why she named Taste of China one of her travel bargains this week.

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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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