Friendly Planet Blog

Posts Tagged ‘Greece’

Older Posts »

Take a tax holiday — on Uncle Sam

Tax season is almost over! Now that filing is nearly complete, it’s time for many of us to start looking forward to our refunds. This year alone, U.S. taxpayers already received an average of $2,831 per person in refunds, a significant amount of money that could whisk you away on an exotic vacation!

For that reason, I came up with a few suggestions for how travelers can get the most out of their newly acquired cash.

If you’re on the more conservative side of the refund spectrum or want to pocket some of the extra money, here’s my list of tax-refund trips travelers can take for under $2,000, including airfare.

  • Explore Exotic Ecuador for $1,399: Ecuador is one of the most biodiverse countries in the world, boasting more than 300 species of mammals alone. Visitors can tour the natural hot springs in Baños, view the volcanic peaks of Cotopaxi National Park, and explore the world’s most biologically diverse rainforest — the Amazon. Journey back in time with a visit to Quito, the nation’s capital and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and explore the city’s Spanish colonial architecture dating back to the 16th century. A trip to Ecuador is like immersing yourself in the world’s greatest biology class, and one that visitors will never forget.

The flavors of Greece

Feta, olive oil, pita bread. Need I say more? Greek food is some of the tastiest in the world. As a peninsula with a warm Mediterranean climate, the Greeks’ access to fresh and healthy ingredients allows them to create the classic Greek fare prized by diners worldwide.

Greeks are fanatics about fresh-grown organic vegetables and herbs. They pluck their fish directly from the sea. They raise meats, including lamb and goat, on nearby fields to move meat quickly from farm to table. Then there’s the olive oil and the wine.

Greek olive oil is among the most pure, and believed to be the magic ingredient in the Mediterranean diet — the food regime shown to promote heart health and longevity. But I suspect the wines also have something to do with it. After all, what could better promote long life than drinking wine fermented from the fruit of hundred-year-old grape vines?

If that description doesn’t get you hopping on the next flight to Greece or, at the very least, running to your local Greek taverna, then my list of top Greek dishes surely will:

1. Moussaka (pronounced Moo-sa-KAH)

Moussaka is one of Greece’s most famous and traditional entrées. The dish begins with a layer of meaty eggplant, and is topped with a mixture of sautéed beef, tomatoes, and spices. Finally, the casserole is crowned with a thick layer of creamy béchamel sauce and baked until golden brown.

(more…)

Friday’s Friendly Funny: The favorite brother

Check out this week’s Friday Funny from cartoonist Dave Blazek! Also remember to enter our Great Greece Giveaway for a chance to win a free trip to Greece!

Friday’s Friendly Funny by Dave Blazek is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 United States License.
Based on a work at blog.friendlyplanet.com.
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at http://blog.friendlyplanet.com.

Why now is the time to visit Greece: Q-and-A with our favorite Greek tour guide

Greece is a richly complex country, filled with unmatched natural beauty, antiquities, a warm and welcoming culture, and world-class cuisine. To truly appreciate the wonder that is Greece, I sat down with a long-time friend and awesome Greek tour guide, Aliki Karvelas, to discover, from the perspective of a true professional, what makes Greece a destination of a lifetime for tourists.

For more than 23 years, Aliki has been introducing English-speaking visitors to the people, history, and beauty of Greece. Her unmatched passion for the country makes her the perfect ambassador for this nation, which is now finally reemerging as a top European destination.

Here’s what Aliki had to say about the country she loves.

1. Friendly Planet Travel: How would you compare tourism in Greece before the 2010 and 2012 Greek protests, during the protests, and now? Do you think tourism is on the rise?

Aliki Karvelas: The Olympics returned to Greece in 2004, and the international attention spurred Greek tourism for the next few years. Then the 2010 economic crisis hit, sparking a wave of protests and demonstrations in Athens that generated a great deal of negative publicity from the international media. Yet much of the story was misrepresented. Few people realized that the demonstrations and protests only took place in specific areas in Athens, and the majority of demonstrations were very peaceful. Because of the negative publicity, Greece suffered three years of low tourism, drastically reducing visitor numbers. As a nation whose economy relies heavily on tourism, this decline bankrupted many restaurants, hotels, and stores.

Today, things are almost back to normal in Greece. We’re very optimistic about the return of our tourism sector. Last year alone, around 17.9 million people visited. For a country with a little more than 11 million residents, that’s a significant number. Visitor numbers are looking equally favorable this year, with experts predicting around 18.5 million people visiting Greece in 2014. If the tours I’ve already booked are any barometer, 2014 will be a great year for Greek tourism.

2. Why is Greece a fantastic destination for travelers?

(more…)

Friday’s Friendly Funny: Beautiful Greek islands

Check out this week’s Friday Funny from cartoonist Dave Blazek! Also remember to enter our Great Greece Giveaway for a chance to win a free trip to Greece!

Friday’s Friendly Funny by Dave Blazek is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 United States License.
Based on a work at blog.friendlyplanet.com.
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at http://blog.friendlyplanet.com.

Win a FREE trip to Greece and the Greek isles through the “Great Greece Giveaway”

Have you ever wished to walk among ruins dedicated to ancient gods, lounge on black sand beaches, and lose yourself in a maze of quaint shops overlooking the Aegean Sea? Well you’re in luck. Today we’re unveiling our next Friendly Planet Travel sweepstakes, which will transport two lucky travelers to the birthplace of Western civilization — Greece!

Greece unites the wonders of the ancient past with the beauty of the modern present to enchant visitors and keep them dreaming of this breathtaking destination for years to come. The Greek Isles speckle the Aegean and Mediterranean as pinpoints of paradise. With whitewashed villas and bustling tavernas nestled high on bluffs overlooking the azure sea, these beautiful islands are everything a traveler could ask for in a vacation destination. Meanwhile, Athens, awesome and inspirational, uniquely integrates Eastern and Western influences resulting in a lively metropolis, renowned for its food, music, friendly people, and shopping.

This terrific trip could all be yours for free through our “Great Greece Giveaway.” One lucky Facebook fan will win a free trip for two on our nine-day Athens & 4 Day Greek Isles Cruise group tour. All you have to do is visit our Facebook page, Like us, and enter your information in the Great Greece Giveaway tab for your chance to win this prize, worth up to $6,100. Since this is a brand-new contest, you’ll have to enter your information (whether or not you participated in a previous Friendly Planet Travel sweepstakes) to be eligible to win.

The grand prize includes,

(more…)

One young traveler’s perspective on Greece

A few months ago, I contributed my first article to the Huffington Post where I made the case that travelers should still be booking trips to see the fascinating, historical country of Greece. I also mentioned in the article that Eli and Aileen Fink, our CFO and Operations Manager at Friendly Planet Travel respectively, would be taking their two young daughters on a trip to Greece this summer.

Upon their return, I asked if they would like to share their experience on our blog, and an enthusiastic traveler jumped at the chance! Loren, Eli and Aileen’s 12-year-old daughter, was excited to blog about her family trip to Greece and what she saw while she was there. Read on to get the full story from Loren’s perspective.

Me, Loren, in front of Apollo's temple in Delphi“I have loved Greek mythology for the past two years and I was so excited when I found out that my family and I were going to Greece for a summer vacation.

The temples to the gods were mainly in ruins, just stones and pillars, but it was still so astonishing to see all those places and imagine what it was like centuries ago. It was a great experience. I got to learn new things, try new foods, and see mind-blowing places.

Greece is an amazing place. There are many beautiful sites to see from the Acropolis to Apollo’s sanctuary in Delphi. Greece has a long and interesting history, so you can learn a lot from visiting Greece, and if you love to shop, there is a place in Athens called the Plakka, which has many stores and restaurants. There are many things that will surely amaze you.
(more…)

Recapping Friendly Planet Travel’s first live Facebook travel chat

CHAT AWAY: I was happy to answer your travel questions
during our first live Facebook chat!

Having traveled both professionally and personally for over 30 years, I am often used as a resource for a wealth of travel questions. So you might have seen that we held our first-ever live chat on Friendly Planet Travel’s Facebook page. I answered many of our fans’ travel questions in real-time, and had a great time doing so. I wanted to share some of the biggest takeaways with those who missed it.

Q: What are the benefits of booking with a travel agency versus booking on my own?

A: The benefits are various, but mainly, you’ll save money. We spend a lot of time getting great deals for our passengers and we pass those on to you. Also, you’re getting plenty of expertise. All that research you’ll need to do, we’ve already done it.

Q: Out of all the cruises you’ve taken, which is your favorite and why? 

A: Honestly, the very best cruise I have ever taken was on a small ship, part of the Cruceros Australis fleet, in Patagonia. I loved this cruise because it was an amazing adventure, not just fancy food each day — we visited some of the most pristine places in our hemisphere. Also, the size of the cruise was very conducive to making new friends.

Q: Do you save any money planning a trip far in advance? 

A: It doesn’t always work out that way. Sometimes, especially with airlines and cruises, the best rates are not always available far in advance. However, with tour companies like ours, if we see opportunities to reduce cost, we always pass along the benefits, even at the last minute. The main reason to book early is to be sure you get the trip you want. If you wait, you might not get the space at all.

Q: Do you have any recommendations for traveling abroad, specifically to Ireland? 

A: If you are traveling on your own, perhaps with a rental car and some basic hotel arrangements, you’ll want to check in with the Irish Tourist Board. It has a tremendous amount of information, plus plenty of recommendations for restaurants, pubs, and fun events, many of which are completely for free. Since there isn’t a language problem, you’ll meet plenty of warm and friendly people among the Irish who will share their personal favorites regardless of where you travel. Ireland is one the most accessible destinations for Americans.

Q: What would you recommend for a good girls’ getaway trip, one with lots of sightseeing but also some relaxation? 

A: Go to Tuscany. It’s amazingly rich in touring opportunities; it’s gorgeous, friendly, with great food and plenty of opportunities to relax.

Q: Is it safe to travel to Greece right now? 

A: You bet it’s safe. There is no problem with safety in Greece today. Not a bit. The Greeks have their issues with their economy. Tourist are not only safe, they are major personas MUY GRATAS. The Greeks will treat guests like royalty, and there is no reason at all not to consider visiting Greece this summer.

Q: When is it best to exchange dollar for Euros? 

A: Never exchange money in the U.S. before taking a trip abroad. Your best exchange rate will be in the country you’re visiting. You can exchange some money when you arrive, usually right in the airport. That will get you started with local currency for tips or small purchases. Then you can check the local exchange places you’ll find everywhere or at the banks. You should check Travel.State.gov for information regarding specifics of customs, health requirements, alerts, and lots of other information. The site is for U.S. travelers, and it is very helpful.

I want to thank everyone who participated in our first of many live travel chats. If you missed it, we are holding our next chat on Sept. 7 at 1 p.m. EST. Join in and ask me your biggest travel questions. Just remember, it’s better to know before you go!

Why travelers should be visiting Greece

Bookings to Greece are down and there are many theories as to why. I believe that it is due to the perception that Greece is in chaos. However, I also think this sentiment is very overblown. The combination is an unfortunate situation, because Greece remains a magnificently beautiful country with so much to offer, such as history, archaeology, gorgeous scenery, and much more.

I covered this topic further in my first blog contribution to The Huffington Post. Check it out, and pick up where I left off about the current situation in Greece.

I also wanted to share some pictures of what makes this destination so fabulous:

Greece is known for its history, romance, music, and more. It was home to the first advanced civilizations in Europe, making it one of the most historically rich places in the world.

Santorini is an island in the southern Aegean Sea that is known for its small, but flourishing, wine industry and locally grown produce. 

Mykonos, another Greek Island, is known for its nightlife and beach resort atmosphere. Beautiful clear water, white sand, and warm people make this location a perfect one for a summer getaway.

The Temple of Poseidon, located on Cape Sounion,was constructed in 444-440 BC, and was destroyed by Emperor Arcadius in 399. It was built to honor Poseidon, a Greek God who was second only to Zeus. It stands today as remembrance of the past.

Let us know: Are you planning a trip to Greece despite the booking slump? If so, why?

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.

Older Posts »

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

Tour & Cruise Packages Our specialty for 30 years! Find one now:
choose a region Europe Mediterranean Asia Middle East Africa Central America Caribbean South America South Pacific
  • Follow Friendly Planet Share the love of travel
    • Facebook
    • Twitter
    • Pinterest
McAfee SECURE sites help keep you safe from identity theft, credit card fraud, spyware, spam, viruses and online scams
Great Greece Giveaway: You could win a trip for 2 to Greece worth up to $6100!