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Posts Tagged ‘Spain’

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#FriendlyFiles: Kristin goes to Spain

Recently Kristin, a member of Friendly Planet’s Product Development team, had the opportunity to travel to a destination that’s always been on her bucket list! Check out some highlights from her recent adventure on our Discover Spain tour:

Barcelona ©Ajay Suresh, Flickr

History & Art

Spain is rich in history and culture. Whether I was exploring the ancient cities of Toledo and Cordoba, discovering the towering icon that is La Alhambra, or wandering through the narrow medieval streets of Barcelona’s Gothic Quarter, it felt like I had stepped back in time!

There is an abundance of art and architecture throughout the country: wander through the opulent jewel that is Madrid’s Royal Palace; explore the fascinating La Alhambra fortress and citadel with its Moorish influence; marvel at Giralda Cathedral in Seville, the largest Gothic cathedral and third-largest church in the world; visit the Mezquita of Cordoba which illustrates a fascinating blend of Roman, Christian, Muslim, and Jewish traditions; and of course, you can’t miss Gaudí’s iconic Art Nouveau architecture throughout Barcelona…and that’s just to name a few!

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5 Countries Where Game of Thrones is Filmed

UPDATE: We hope everyone enjoyed the Season 7 Premiere of HBO’s Game of Thrones and doesn’t if feel like this season is just zipping by?! But we digress… this post is long, and full of spoilers through the end of Season 6.

ORIGINAL POST: Now, down to business. If you’re a fan of Game of Thrones then we don’t need to remind you that season 7 kicks off on Sunday July 16. Last we left our lovable band of ambitious thrones seekers, Daenerys Targaryen was on her long awaited journey back to Westeros with Tyrion (and dragons) in tow, Jon Snow and Sansa Stark were reuniting the North, and Cersei Lannister had wrested power from the grips of all challengers. But there’s still so many questions to be answered (like who are the three heads of the dragon?). Unfortunately, aspiring Maesters won’t find much resolution in the lines of this ponderous tome. But what we can offer is a look into the actual filming locations and sets of many of the iconic GOT settings; and while we’re at it, give you some insight into how you can visit some of these places on our tours.



The Dark Hedges ©HBO (Left) ©Paul Bowman/Flickr (Right)

Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland is to GOT as Kings Landing is to Westeros – that is to say, the buzzing capital of the entire operation. Paint Hall studio in Belfast, located on the original Harland and Wolff shipyard where parts of the Titanic were built, holds the interior sets of Winterfell, Castle Black, Daenerys’s throne room in the Great Pyramid and so much more. But it’s the broad sweeping landscapes and grand castle exteriors that really shape the settings of the show and define the stories of its characters, and it’s here where the country of Northern Ireland steals the show.

The entire series opens in Tollymore Forest Park in County Down where a Night’s Watch scouting party discovers that White Walkers are no longer the stuff of ancient lore beyond the Wall. This same forest is where the Stark children discover six orphaned direwolf pups. Not far from the forest sits 1,000 acres of land belonging to Old Castle Ward. On these lands is Audley’s Castle which serves as the exterior of Winterfell. And who can forget when Ned Stark beheaded a deserter of the Night’s Watch, performed against the backdrop of moors and hills of Cairncastle in County Antrim. Also in this county is Shane’s Castle, whose cellars serve as Winterfell’s crypts, and Cushendum Caves where the Red Priestess Melisandre gives birth to the shadow creature that assassinates Renly Baratheon. But perhaps the site that is most iconic to Northern Ireland and the show is the Dark Hedges, a countryside avenue flanked by beech trees that serves as the Kingsroad leading North to Winterfell and the Wall.

While we don’t visit any of these particular sites on our Best of Ireland, you do spend plenty of time in Northern Ireland’s countryside drinking in the rolling landscapes and ancient ruins that inspired GOT show makers to set their show primarily here. Plus, when in Belfast, you’ll visit the Titanic Belfast Experience, which is located along the same dock complex as Paint Hall studio. And Bonus: on your way to the Giant’s Causeway, from the road you may be able to make out the silhouette of Dunluce Castle, the ancestral seat of the Greyjoys!

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The Do’s and Don’ts of Tapas


Tapas are small savory dishes often served as a side dish to drinks, and they are ubiquitous in Spain. On our Discover Spain tour, we’ve built wine and tapas tasting into the itinerary. But you’ll also have free time on the main tour, as well as on our Barcelona extension, when you may want to venture out and try tapas on your own.

There are several theories as to the origin of tapas. The first is that the thirteenth century Spanish King, Alfonso X, was ill and had to eat small snacks with his wine between meals to maintain his health. After he recovered, he passed this practice as law to maintain the health of his kingdom. Perhaps a more practical genesis lies in the practice of farm workers eating small snacks during the day to tide them over between meals. Although most likely, the practice of tapas has a highly practical purpose. Throughout Spain’s history, bread or small plates of olives or pork were used to cover drinks and prevent insects from getting in, and this food was then eaten. The word ‘tapas’ literally translates to ‘lid’.

Whatever the origin, tapas are now a social mainstay of Spanish culture and a must-try for any visit to Spain. So we’ve compiled these three videos, courtesy of the Spanish Tourism office in America, to help you navigate some of the Do’s and Don’ts of tapas etiquette.

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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.
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