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Posts Tagged ‘Spain’

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Don’t be scared! Here are the top 5 international cities to visit on Halloween

Halloween is an international holiday, but not every country celebrates it in the same way. Many nations put their own touches on some of our favorite traditions, and create unique and exciting All Hallows’ Eve experiences. If you love spooks and spirits (both the undead sort and the stiff drink kind), consider traveling abroad to cities that embrace this haunted holiday. Here’s my list of the top five international cities to visit on Halloween.

5. Transylvania, Romania: Travel to Eastern Europe to visit the home of one of the most famous Halloween figures of all time: Dracula. Travelers can take a tour of Bran Castle — sometimes called Dracula’s Castle — to see the fictional home of the undead Count. The castle is situated in the heart of Transylvania, and serves as the inspiration for the setting of Bram Stoker’s famous night walker novel. After a spooky evening tour of the massive fortress, visit the small village of Bram to cap off your traditional Transylvanian experience — just be sure to carry some garlic with you.

4. London, England: London is an elegant city with a macabre history. Visit London’s infamous prison, the Tower of London, which housed political figures like Elizabeth I and Lady Jane Grey. Keep an eye out for misty forms and floating orbs as you learn about the tower’s bloody past. For a more traditional Halloween scare, visit the London Dungeon — an underground haunted house — and meet some of England’s renowned villains: Jack the Ripper, Sweeney Todd, and Henry VIII. London at Halloween’s sure to frighten even the bravest of travelers.

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The world’s simplest guide to experiencing Barcelona

The following is a guest post from Kate Katubi, Reservations at Friendly Planet Travel.

If Madrid is Spain’s historic and cultural matriarch, then Barcelona is its eccentric second cousin. While the two cities share the same flag, they couldn’t be more different. Barcelona shrugs off traditional Spanish customs in favor of a more free-spirited and whimsical culture. The Catalonian capital offers a rich history of modern architecture, world-class cuisine, and sun-drenched beaches, making it the ultimate European getaway.

While I returned from my trip to Barcelona a few years ago, I still catch myself daydreaming about fruity sangria, joyous street music, and mosaic dragons. If you’re considering a trip to breathtaking Barcelona, let me share my simple tips on how to best experience this phenomenal, energetic city.

Walk, don’t run. Barcelona is a pedestrian’s paradise. The city encompasses a mere 40 square miles, with the majority of sites in easy walking distance. For instance, walk to the Plaça de Sant Jaume, the center of the old city of Barcelona. Then visit Barcelona Cathedral, the city’s 15th century gothic cathedral dedicated to a martyred virgin. Next, stop at the awe-inspiring Picasso Museum. Near the old port, Port Vell, you can marvel at the sacred spirals of the basilica Santa Maria del Mar. Finally, visit Ciutadella Park, which, for decades, was one of the only green spaces in Barcelona.

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Souvenirs don’t have to be tacky. Some can hold lifelong memories.

Every member of the Friendly Planet Travel staff has been bitten by the travel bug. Over the years, members of our team have gone soul searching in India; served in the Peace Corps in the Republic of Georgia; collected local art in Spain; returned to their roots in Ireland; and much more.

Each trip exposed them to a new culture and opened their eyes a little wider to the diverse world around them. To celebrate the unique experiences of our staff, I asked them to submit photos of some of their favorite souvenirs from their global travels. Here’s Friendly Planet Travel’s souvenir gallery.


Continue reading to hear a personal description about each memento.

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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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How many of the most-pinned travel destinations have you visited?

I recently stumbled across a Mashable article highlighting the most-pinned places on Earth. As I scrolled through the list, I noticed that many of these Pinterest favorites are also destinations that we offer to our travelers!

I’m not surprised. Our Friendly Planet Travel team lives to craft once-in-a-lifetime tours to some of the world’s most popular destinations. Places like Italy, Greece, and Spain are not only beautiful in photographs, but engaging and authentic destinations that can change the way we look at the world.

While Pinterest is a great place to fantasize about exotic destinations — Friendly Planet’s Pinterest page in particular will make you drool — nothing beats the real experience of discovering the world.

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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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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.

Glimpse ancient, spiritual sites with Friendly Planet Travel’s pilgrimages


People have been traveling to places of spiritual or moral significance for centuries. These pilgrimages are usually personal journeys or important rites of passage.

We’ve been organizing pilgrimages for our travelers on an individual basis for some time now. However, more of our travelers have been asking about them, so we’ve put together 14 new pilgrimage tours.

All of these tours take travelers to places important to the Catholic religion. They span the map, from Italy to France to Spain. These pilgrimages have the same great affordability and value as our tour packages, while allowing travelers to visit ancient religious sites as well as experience the modern culture of these places.

We recently issued a press release announcing these pilgrimages. To get the full scoop, scroll down and read what they’re are all about.


FRIENDLY PLANET TRAVEL OFFERS NEW LOWER PRICING ON 14 CATHOLIC PILGRIMAGE TOURS FOR 2012

New pilgrimage program takes travelers to Israel, Germany, Poland, Czech, France, Spain, Portugal, Bosnia, Croatia, and Italy

JENKINTOWN, Pa. — (TRAVPR) – January 18, 2012 — Thirty years ago, Friendly Planet Travel, a leading tour operator that has helped thousands experience high-quality, affordable vacation packages to exotic destinations worldwide, began its business as a group pilgrimage operator. Over the years, the company has gained extensive experience arranging pilgrimages to fascinating spiritual and religious locales. Today, Friendly Planet Travel has expanded beyond its previous itineraries, and is announcing 14 new Catholic pilgrimage programs designed to go beyond the traditional pilgrimage experience. In addition, these new travel programs offer lower pricing that will place these important spiritual adventures within reach of many more travelers.

“We take pride in offering the best service at quality prices, and this policy applies to our new pilgrimage program as well,” says Peggy Goldman, President of Friendly Planet Travel. “Travelers experiencing our pilgrimages will visit the most sacred Catholic holy sites and Marian shrines in the world. Plus, our programs will travel off the beaten path and into the picturesque towns along the countryside, exposing travelers to the cultural, artistic, and historical landmarks within these regions. Excellent exchange rates and land prices have allowed us to offer superior accommodations, itineraries, and services at a price among the lowest in the industry without compromising on quality. This is what differentiates our programs from others.”

All new pilgrimages include hand-picked, first-class and centrally located accommodations for excellent shopping and dining options; English-speaking guides; entrance fees; many meals; and an accompanying tour chaplain. In addition, these programs include multiple masses in ancient cathedrals and chapels, such as the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, St. Peter’s Square in Rome, Santiago de Compostela in Spain, and St. James Church in Medjugorje.

Friendly Planet Travel has eliminated as many one-night stays as possible and limited groups to 25 travelers, making for a spacious and relaxed touring environment. For example, all travelers will benefit from a window seat, as Friendly Planet Travel’s pilgrimages tour breathtaking sites of Biblical significance, such as the Sea of Galilee, the 14 Stations of the Cross, Vatican City, and the Sistine Chapel.

The 14 pilgrimages offer the Catholic experience of a lifetime by providing the chance to see major religious destinations throughout Israel, Rome, Italy, Spain, France, and other places in central Europe. Additional sites unique to Friendly Planet Travel’s pilgrimages include stays in Rocamadour and Avignon in France, Perugia and Cortona in Italy, Dubrovnik on the Adriatic Coast, and Regensburg in Germany. Featured pilgrimages include:

In addition to the 14 published pilgrimages, Friendly Planet Travel offers large and small groups expert customized travel services and personalized components, providing limitless opportunities for unmatched spiritual and cultural experiences for all involved. Whether it’s one of Friendly Planet Travel’s planned itineraries, or one that has been completely developed by and for a particular group, the services and pricing will be exceptional.

To learn about any of Friendly Planet Travel’s pilgrimage specials, departure dates, and full itineraries, please visit the pilgrimage page on the company’s website. For more about Friendly Planet Travel, please visit Friendly Planet’s website; Friendly Planet Travel’s blog; or contact Jackie Zima-Evans at 610-228-2138 (office), 215-534-2973 (mobile), or write to Jackie@GregoryFCA.com.

Press contact:
Gregory FCA
Jackie Zima
Associate Vice President
610-228-2138
Jackie@GregoryFCA.com

Company Contact:
Friendly Planet Travel
Peggy Goldman
President
215-572-9594
PMGoldman@FriendlyPlanet.com

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.

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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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