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Posts Tagged ‘Europe’

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Explore Tuscany and Barcelona through two new independent travel packages

Have you ever dreamt of visiting the rolling countryside of Tuscany or sipping sangria at a café in Barcelona? Well now you can for as little as $1,099! The new Tuscany Fly & Drive and Breathtaking Barcelona independent travel packages allow travelers to customize their trips based on their interests and experience the wonders of Italy and Spain at their own pace.

The best part? Our line of independent packages removes all of the guesswork from booking an international vacation.

It’s easy to find great travel deals on the Internet, but what’s difficult is ensuring the quality of the accommodations. Our staff has meticulously researched hotels and hand-selected properties that are well rated and located near tourist sites, as well as shopping, restaurants, and other attractions. We’ve also negotiated airfares and transportation to ensure affordable prices while promising quality accommodations and 24-hour customer support throughout the trip.

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The perfect Mother’s Day gift: International travel

It’s almost Mother’s Day, and as a mother and grandmother, I wanted to take a minute to share some motherly advice. While all moms appreciate the traditional Mother’s Day flowers, cards and the occasional breakfast in bed, the ultimate present has always been spending time with our children and yes, our grandchildren. I’ve watched my kids grow from wobbling toddlers to successful adults, and looking back over the years, the moments that bring the biggest smiles to my face are those spent enjoying time together.

With that in mind, I suggest rethinking the traditional Mother’s Day gifts this year, and consider giving Mom a present that will create lifelong memories for your family — a mother-and-child trip to an exotic destination that both of you are dying to visit and enjoy together.

In my more than 30 years in the industry, I’ve heard countless stories about how travel has built bonds and strengthened relationships. In fact, a lot of those stories are mine, having traveled internationally with both my own kids and grandkids. Not only do families learn about new cultures, they learn about each other and gain a new level of appreciation for one another. In case you haven’t discovered any mutual travel “must visits” of your own, here’s my Mother’s Day gifting guide to help you choose the perfect destination for you and your mom.

The first-time-traveler mom: Italy

Italy is a perfect destination for first-time international travelers. Your mom will fall in love with the welcoming Italian people and feel completely at home in the relaxed culture. Stroll through the winding cobblestone streets of Venice, a city that floats on water, and watch gondoliers serenade patrons as they glide along the city’s 177 canals. Travel to Florence, the birthplace of the Renaissance, and shop for gold, jewels, and art on the Ponte Vecchio, a walking bridge lined with high-end stores. Then gaze upon Michelangelo’s famous statue of David. End the trip sipping bold red wines at a café in Rome and wandering through the ruins of the famed Coliseum. Whether you and your Mom love cooking, art, music or just plain strolling, you’ll find boundless opportunities to make memories that will last a lifetime.

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How to be smart with your money in Europe

The economy might be tough, but those travelers who do their research will still find plenty of affordable ways to take that well-deserved vacation. In fact, Europe, where the euro has lost ground to the dollar recently, has become a favored destination for bargain-hungry travelers.

The new, more affordable Europe caught the attention of Quentin Fottrell of SmartMoney, and he included a few of my tips in his article “Euro Woes a Boon for Travelers?” Hop over to read some ideas I shared on the smartest ways to travel and shop in Europe.

Thanks for featuring my advice, Quentin!

Time is almost up to win an autographed Pauline Frommer travel guidebook

There are only few days left to win a signed copy of “Pauline Frommer’s Italy: Spend Less, See More.” The contest ends on Friday, June 24 at 11:59 EST.

If you’re planning on visiting Italy or going back to the country again, Pauline’s guidebook is the one you want in your hand as you travel the narrow city streets or open countryside.

Here’s what you have to do to enter to win. Tell me about at least one place or site you want to see in Italy in a comment on the original post.

Head back to the post now to leave your comment, and find out what Pauline will help you discover in Italy.

First-time Friendly Planet traveler reviews our Best of Turkey tour

It’s been almost a year since we introduced Friendly Planet Travel’s Best of Turkey tour. And every Friendly Planeteer I’ve spoken to who has taken this tour tells me how much they loved exploring the country known as the crossroads of Asia and Europe.

I wanted to share with you what Ann Ott from Cedar City, Utah had to say about her trip to Turkey. She sent me an e-mail that I’ve pasted below verbatim.

“Just returned from my first trip with Friendly Planet and was so impressed that I had to write this note. You have a lot of choices in travel and I have found my tour company at last. Everything about my trip was amazing- our guide, Ibrahim, was not only extremely knowledgeable, but also patient and very funny.

Hotels, transportation, meals, added excursions were all superb. Everything went off without a hitch- I felt safe and cared for every minute and could spend ALL of my time enjoying the trip instead of worrying about the travel details. Turkey, its people, scenery, food, monuments and parks are just wonderful. I can’t wait for my next trip. So little time, so much to see.” — Ann Ott, Cedar City, Utah

Ann, it brightens my day to find out how pleased you were with your first Friendly Planet Travel tour! Let us know which tour you pick as your second trip. And thanks again for your note!

Turkey bound: Friendly Planet Travel introduces its first tour to Turkey

At the beginning of every year, I give myself a Friendly Planet Travel to-do list. One of the items on my list this year was to add new destinations to our tour offerings. I can put a check mark next to that one today! For the first time Friendly Planet Travel is going to Turkey, with our new 14-day Best of Turkey tour.

Whirling dervishes

I’m excited to offer travelers a chance to visit Turkey, a country steeped in history and touched by many civilizations. It’s where the east and west truly blend together.

But you’ll find much more than just history in Turkey. The sun-splashed Mediterranean beaches, modern cities, covered bazaars, and whirling dervishes will leave even the most experienced traveler in awe, and with a new appreciation of world history.

For 14 days, you’re transported around the country beginning in Istanbul, Turkey’s largest city. You start at the Sultanahmet Mosque, also known as the Blue Mosque, for its tiles adorning the walls of the interior. Later, roam the Grand Bazaar built in 1461. It’s one of the largest and oldest covered markets in the world with 1,200 stores.

From there you’ll stroll the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations in Ankara, Turkey’s capital. The museum holds Anatolian artifacts from excavations including Assyrian trading colonies, Hittite, Hellenistic, Roman Byzantine, and Ottoman periods.

Cappadocia rock formations

In the land of the fairy chimneys, get to know Cappadocia. It’s famous for its natural rock formations and underground cities. Afterwards, you’ll go south to the coastal cliffs of the Mediterranean Sea to Antalya. Upon arrival you can take a tour to Aspendos. It is renowned throughout the world for its magnificent ancient Roman theater, famous for its perfect acoustics.

Depart the coast for Pamukkale, meaning “cotton castle” in Turkish. The city contains hot springs and terraces of carbonate minerals left by flowing water. After a night in the town, you’ll leave for Kusadasi, a port town on the Aegean coast.

Here you’ll take a short drive to Ephesus to see the Temple of Artemis. It’s one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World and the second most well-preserved ancient site in the world. It’s also home to the largest collection of Roman ruins in the eastern Mediterranean.

In the last portion of your trip, you’ll make your way back to Istanbul stopping in Pergamon, a powerful kingdom during the Hellenistic period in the first century. Then Asklepion, a famed ancient medical center built in honor of Asklepios, the god of healing. Before you cross the Dardanelles for Istanbul, you can’t miss the ancient city of Troy, the focus of the Trojan Wars as described in the epic poem by Homer.

The best part is that you get all of this and more in the $1,599 price tag. Included in the price are roundtrip, nonstop flights from New York (JFK) via Turkish Airlines, including fuel surcharges; arrival and departure transfers with meeting, assistance, and porterage; intra-Turkey transportation; accommodations in superior hotels; 22 meals; comprehensive touring program including entrance fees; and a professional, English-speaking tour guide.

Right now we only have five departure dates available. So if you want to visit Turkey, book the 14-day Best of Turkey tour for $1,599 before Sept. 22, or as long as space lasts. If you have any questions, visit our website for the full itinerary. And as always, feel free to write to me or call 1-800-555-5765 and speak to our reservations team.

What students should know before traveling to Europe: Advice from Laura Carroll

A few weeks ago, Students In Europe interviewed our own Peggy Goldman about what to do and see if you’re a student spending a semester “across the pond” (a.k.a. Europe). Peggy had such a great time working with the writers that we decided to turn the tables and interview Laura Carroll, Managing Editor of Students in Europe, in a podcast.

Laura studied abroad in Paris, France when she was in college. The romantic mood of the city inspired her and she fell in love with the people, the culture, and the time away from home. Since then she’s been an advocate for students to get out of the U.S. and over to Europe for a life-changing experience.

I talked to Laura about her travels and how she’s learned to cope with home sickness, handle currency exchange rates, schedule spontaneous trips to different parts of Europe, and more. She translates all of her real-world experience into practical posts on Students in Europe.

The website is dedicated to providing young travelers everything they need to be well-prepared for their journey to Europe. Its city profiles, news updates, product and venue reviews, interviews, and tips create a field guide to European travel for students.

Even if you’re not a student, my chat with Laura offers great insight to anyone looking to spend some time living in, or exploring parts of Europe. Turn your speakers up and be prepared to get rocked with information.

A look inside Friendly Planet Travel’s Iberian Coasts Cruise (part 4)

Lying on the eastern coast of Spain, Alicante is steeped in history, rich in culture, awash with every kind of shop, and bursting with European beach life. The city of 320,000 residents enjoys a privileged year-round climate with an average temperature of 66.2 degrees and 2,500 sunny hours each year. For a sun-dog like me, that’s all I needed to hear.

As the Louis Majesty pulled into port at Alicante, I was looking forward to some slightly warmer weather in the palm-lined coastal town. Unfortunately for us, in February “slightly warmer” meant rain. But that wasn’t going to stop us from enjoying our morning in port.

STEEPED IN HISTORY: Alicante, Spain

As we stepped off the shuttle that took us from port to the city’s bustling downtown, it wasn’t hard to imagine why Alicante has become one of the most popular tourist destinations in Spain, even in a drizzle. The marina area is one of the most prosperous areas of the city, an open space facing the sea replete with bars, restaurants, and outdoor squares.

Our first glimpse of the city from the boat revealed an ancient castle towering above the city center, which, when we arrived in town, was our first destination.

ON THE MOUNT: Castle Santa Barbara

The Castle Santa Barbara sits 166 meters above sea level on Mount Benacantil. Positioned for its enormous strategic value, it’s possible to see the entire Bay of Alicante and surrounding stretch of land from the mountain’s summit.

On the hillside leading up to the castle, different archaeological remains have been found dating back to the Bronze Age, as well as from the Roman and Iberian civilizations. The origins of the actual fortress however, date from the late 9th Century, when the Moors ruled Spain.

My husband and I took an elevator to the top of the castle to spend some time exploring the grounds on our own. Tracing my fingers along the castle walls, it was incredible to imagine how astonishing the Castle Santa Barbara must have seemed as it emerged from the hilltop over 12 centuries ago.

A VIEW FROM THE TOP: Bay of Alicante

After spending a few hours walking through the castle’s three precincts, we spent the rest of the morning ambling through Alicante’s streets, popping in to quiet churches along the way.

The sea was a beautiful turquoise green, which seemed to bleed into the tropical feel of the city itself. The streets were busy for a Monday morning, but the people seemed to have a bit more of a somber feel to them than those in Barcelona.

This could have been due to the rain on a city that wasn’t quite used to breaking out umbrellas, or the fact that Sundays are simply happier days than Mondays, no matter which country you live in. Or perhaps, everyone was simply biding their time until summer weather, when the true splendor of the city would truly emerge.

A look inside Friendly Planet Travel’s Iberian Coasts Cruise (part 3)

A light snow fell upon the city in the early morning light as the Louis Majesty pulled into port at Barcelona on Feb. 14. Watching the snow fall as I sipped my tea in the Royal Observatory, I regretted my decision to leave my warm winter boots at home. But by the time my day’s tour stepped off of our bus later that morning into Barcelona’s Park Guell, I’d forgotten all about the chill in the air (well, almost).

MASTERPIECE: Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia

Part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site, “Works of Antoni Gaudi,” the park is an incredible peek at the world of Catalan architect Gaudi. Here, his imaginative sculptures and visions for a divine community come to life.

Originally designed to be a housing development and worked on from 1900-1914, Gaudi proved to be too far ahead of his time (and somewhat mad) for current Barcelona standards, and the community failed. But today, the park is a step back in time and into the mind of an incredible artist and visionary architect. Rife with mystic symbolism and incredible mosaics, Park Guell is not only an awe-inspiring display of architecture, but it is a sanctuary from a busy city.

On a sunny day, it would be easy to lose yourself for hours among the tilting pillars and swirling mosaic sculptures. A sucker for color and avant-garde uses of outdoor spaces, I was absolutely mesmerized.

From Park Guell, our tour bus took us to Gaudi’s masterpiece, la Sagrada Familia. It’s not often in my life that I have been overwhelmed by the works of man, but this church took my breath away.

Besides the sheer enormity, the intricacy of the stonework was absolutely incredible. As we circled the outside of the church, our guide flexed his Gaudi knowledge as he pointed out detail after detail and entire Biblical stories unfolded before our eyes. I felt like I could have stared at a single turret all afternoon, and new elements would still slowly reveal themselves.

As the day wore on, we visited Barcelona’s historical district, which was actually my favorite part of the day. There is little else I enjoyed more while in Europe than winding my way down narrow city streets and taking in all the unique sites, sounds, and smells.

NOTHING BETTER: In Barcelona together

When we parted ways with our guide — whose passion for Barcelona shone through his incredible tour — my husband and I stopped for some tapas y cervezas in a sunny piazza with some fellow travelers.

There is perhaps no better way to understand a city than to enjoy a little food and drink in a crowded spot. The food was warm and delicious and the beers were crisp and refreshing. Is there anything better than that?

I did a little shopping on La Rambla on our way back to the boat, where, as one of our travel companions warned us, “they’ll steal your underwear without ever touching your pants,” so don’t be afraid to haggle! A beautiful urban space in a bustling city, it was easy to imagine the splendor of La Rambla in the spring and summer when the trees are in bloom.

When my husband and I finally arrived back on ship, the Louis Majesty housekeeping crew (constantly sticklers for detail) had decorated our cabin for our first Valentine’s Day as a married couple. And after a day like that, I don’t know how we’ll ever beat it.

A look inside Friendly Planet Travel’s Iberian Coasts Cruise (part 2)

I’m sure by now most travelers interested in cruising have seen ads for American cruises such as Royal Caribbean’s Oasis Of The Seas. Have you ever noticed that not one of these ads tells consumers where exactly the boat takes cruisers? Rather, the entire appeal of the cruise is the cruise itself. The destination is the boat.

While this is wonderful for those who want to plan a vacation floating around the middle of the ocean on a boat that more closely resembles a thriving metropolis, that’s not what Friendly Planet Travel had in mind when they began planning the Iberian Coasts Cruise (or any of its cruises, for that matter). Why would they, when there’s Italy, France, Spain, and Morocco to see?

WELCOME: Louis Majesty reception area

During my time aboard the M/V Louis Majesty, I learned that they do it a little bit differently in Europe. When I first stepped foot on the Louis Majesty, I was struck by the vessel’s understated elegance. Less of a traveling circus, and more of a traveling hotel, with all the luxuries you’ve come to expect from Friendly Planet Travel.

The style on board is redolent of the art deco made so popular in the 1920s, which helps you feel that when you step on board, you’re about to embark on an adventure that transcends both time and place.

Many of the sights, sounds, and smells of Europe and Northern Africa are much the same today as they were hundreds of years ago. And life on the ship, with elegant common areas and impeccable service from a staff who truly appear to love their jobs — from the officers to the wait staff — is a small step back in time.

The outside cabin, while not overly large, offers all the comforts of home, including — and as a relatively seasoned world traveler, this was quite a pleasant surprise — power outlets for both European- and American-style plugs.

Imagine tucking into bed after a night at sea, including decadent dinner at the Four Seasons Dining Room, a stroll around the ship’s upper decks, and a quick dance at the Louis Majesty disco.

HOME AWAY FROM HOME: Louis Majesty outside junior suite

Now imagine waking, the room still dark with a hint of sunshine leaking in from the curtains behind your bed. You pull back the curtains to let the sun pour in and before you lies Marseille, France. The homes, stores, and restaurants all different shades of muted pastel. In the distance, you can see the Cathedral of Notre Dame de la Garde overlooking the city, with the island of Chateau D’If not far off the coast.

This isn’t hard to imagine on the Iberian Coasts Cruise, because this is your view on your first morning aboard the Louis Majesty. With an entire day at port before me, I didn’t waste any time to get into town.

BEST VIEW: Cathedral of Notre Dame de la Garde

While Friendly Planet Travel offers a number of optional shore excursions at each port, I set out this morning alone with my husband, who was able to accompany me on this incredible journey. We spent hours walking up and down the cobblestone streets with a map in our hands. The February weather was chilly, but nothing to keep you from spending an entire day taking advantage of all there is to see in Marseille.

We walked up to the Cathedral of Notre Dame de la Garde, which offers a breathtaking view of the entire city and port.

From there, we walked on, snapping pictures and ducking into cathedrals. Marseille is a fascinating combination of ancient buildings and traditional French architecture mixed with a subtle new world cosmopolitan flare.

Of course, we had to stop for a fresh baguette and some cappuccino too. Then on we walked. And when we felt like we had taken enough pictures and walked down enough narrow, winding streets, we popped into a small bar overlooking the harbor and enjoyed a cold beer and some olives while we watched the busy city.

EXPLORING ON SHORE: Strolling the streets of Marseille, France

When the day had finally come to a close, our cabin was a welcoming sight after an entire day spent exploring on shore. Marseille was truly an unforgettable city, and tomorrow … Barcelona!

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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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