Rail travel is the most sophisticated route to international adventure. Imagine sipping a cappuccino as you traverse the Tuscan countryside or enjoying a spot of afternoon tea while you await your arrival in Paris. It’s truly a relaxing, easy, and fast way to travel.
In fact, I believe rail travel is perhaps the best way to explore Europe. It quickly transports visitors between top destinations, without the hassle of road traffic or airport security. Plus, when taking a train from place to place, you depart from one city center and arrive in the next, completely eliminating the hassle and expense of those long transfers to the airport.
More than 713 million passengers traveled across the EU by rail between April and September of 2014, showing resurgence in popularity among locals and internationals alike. But can you guess what the top destinations to visit by rail were for the summer of 2014?
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.
Forget springtime in Paris and summer in Santorini. Off-season is the new hot time to visit your favorite European destinations. More and more travelers are ditching their summer vacations and opting to visit their favorite cities throughout the winter months.
From November to March, Europe takes on an entirely new persona. Gone are the large crowds, humid days, and high prices — leaving only the true cultures, histories, and sights of each destination for you to enjoy. If you’re interested in experiencing some hidden, off-season gems of Europe, here are just some of my reasons why the off-season is the perfect time to travel.
Sightsee at a fraction of the price. It’s no secret that off-season travel often means lower prices. Not only will travelers save on airfares, tours, and accommodations, but they’ll often find that restaurants, shops, and bars in high-tourist areas are also less expensive. This can help significantly pare down a tight travel budget. Also keep a lookout for bundled tours that take place during the off-season. Tour operators often make the most out of seasonal pricing and share the savings with travelers. By saving on the essentials, travelers can splurge on extra special events, like enjoying a Champagne dinner at the top of the Eiffel Tower or taking a dip in Iceland’s famous Blue Lagoon, making their trips even more memorable.
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.
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.
Last week I gave you a little taste of beautiful Paris, through the eyes of my friend Leanna. When we left off, Leanna had described a diverse segway ride past many of the most incredibly attractions of Paris. She continues …
Our Segway tour guides, Simon and Billy, prepared a double-secret list of “best restaurants” not generally known to tourists. We seized immediately upon that. Our favorite restaurants that week were on that list. That was a much-appreciated extra “tip” from the guides to us!
That same day, after exploring the Jardins du Luxembourg, we embarked on a night bike tour. The bikes were without lights, but we did have reflective jackets to warn any other tourists that we approaching.
We rode at breakneck speed from the Eiffel Tower to the Latin Quarter, over the bridge to the Ile Saint Louis, past Notre Dame, down the Champs Elysee to the Seine, where we took a midnight flyboat up and down the river. The boat trip treated us to sights along the riverbanks — folk dancers, rows of young men mooning the boat, lovers leaning against the walls with wine, the twinkling lights of the Eiffel Tower on the hour.
Next, we enrolled in a wine and cheese tasting class, held in an old subterranean cellar, formerly some sort of prison. Our sommelier was very French, very knowledgeable, and the wine was delicious (we scored a bottle of Sancerre). The other folks in the class were fun, and we ended up sitting with the family of Ted Nugent (remember “Cat Scratch Fever”?).
Of course, Leanna’s description of delectable French delicacies doesn’t stop there. Stay tuned for the final post tomorrow, when Leanna will tell you all about the romance and flavor of dining in Paris.