Visiting Spain: Visit the Essentials First

visiting spain

It doesn’t matter what your travelling preferences are, we all love a fiesta, and what better place to have a fiesta than by visiting Spain itself? Located in one of the warmest parts of the European continent, Spain does not only offers long sunny days, but also a rich history and culture. This country can cater to anyone’s taste. Partying all night, visiting museums and researching Spanish history or eating their delicious cuisine until your heart pops out. The only thing that you should know is where you’re heading, and this is where we step in. Look at the list below, and try to find the best Spanish ciudad for your holiday, especially if it’s your first time:

Madrid: The heart of Spain and capital of flamenco

It doesn’t do to visit Spain and not see the capital of the country, does it? As any other European capital, Madrid has everything to offer – bars that are open until late at night, great shopping centers and some of the most amazing parks in Europe. One such is the El Parque del Buen Retiro, or simply shortened to El Retiro. It was once a royal ‘’hangout’’, and it staged many concerts and garden plays. Nowadays, it is a great tourist attraction (even though greenery might not be the first thing that comes to your mind when you think of Madrid), as people can rent one of the many rowboats and paddle in the huge man made lake in the center of the park. However, Spain is the only place in the world where you can see a live performance of flamenco dances, and Madrid is the best place to do this.

madrid

Barcelona: The diamond of Catalonia

You’ve no doubt heard of Barcelona. There are numerous tourists who hit the road to Spain and decide to visit this place only. And it doesn’t matter how many days you stay, Barcelona is a city which you can never fully explore. If you really want a European holiday of your lifetime, you should find one of the best Barcelona holiday packages that are offered, and see the home of the extremely impressive pieces of Gaudi’s architecture such as the legendary La Sagrada Familia. Moreover, taking a walk-through Las Ramblas and having a cup of coffee in one of its many cafés is definitely something that you should experience at least once in your lifetime.

barcelona

Seville: From bullrings to beautiful barrios

To all the animal rights activists out there – no, we don’t agree with this either, but we must agree that this is one of the symbols of Spain and an inevitable part of Spanish history. Even though bullfighting originated in Ronda, Seville is its spiritual home. So, is it a form of art or simply animal cruelty? Well, it would be best to visit one of Seville’s many bullrings and see for yourself. However, don’t you think for a second that Seville is only good for this. As the heart of Andalusia, this magical city has many other things to offer – such as the Barrio Santa Cruz, one of the most beautiful barrios of Spain, or Alcazar (perhaps better known as Dorne from HBO’s Game of Thrones).

seville

Granada: The place that’s the richest in Spanish history

First and foremost: you’re visiting Spain and you want to try tapas. Since Granada is one of the rare places in Spain where you get tapas for free alongside your drink, it should be on the must-visit list. Moreover, this is a place where you’ll see the most important historical monuments of this country. It is a paradise for every history buff. One of the best things you can see here is the Alhambra fortress – a fortress so huge that you will need a whole day to explore it to the smallest detail. If you want to imagine what it looks like, it’s said that you must imagine the world’s most beautiful gardens, add a fortress and multiply the whole image by ten. Alhambra overlooks the whole city of Granada, offering a most breathtaking view. And it’s also an excellent place to take amazing Instagram photographs! The ticket is around 13 euros, and it’s open from March to October, so make sure to plan your stay there accordingly.

granada

And these are only the essentials. Spain has so many other things to offer, such as 24/7 Ibiza parties, spring days in Valencia, visiting the tomb of Christopher Columbus, walking across the world’s scariest bridge, seeing the Museum of Funeral Carriages, or eating at the world’s oldest restaurant in Madrid. Spain should be your next destination. And maybe even the one after that, because you can go there as many times as you want, and you’ll still have more things on your bucket list.

The Paris Series (Part 1) – Like A Local

There’s nothing better than going to a “new” destination, and experiencing it like a local. I had been to Paris before (through the airport and in the city when I was all of 7 years old) but neither time really counts. In spite of the considerable travelling that I have done, Paris was a new destination. While it’s great to see the tourist sights like everybody else (i.e. the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre,  Notre Dame Cathedral), it’s also great to really immerse yourself like a local. Find the food stands, small shops, cafes and squares where the locals go. While you can find some great guide books, maps and apps to help (Rick Steves immediately comes to mind),  why not actually have a local take you on a tour and show you the neighbourhood favorites?

So I linked up with a local food tour called the “New Parisian Palate” (formerly “Bobo Palate”) with Context Travel. Context is a network of specialists and scholars who act as private guides and lead small groups on walking tours through some of the world’s greatest cities. Tours include archaeology, art history, cuisine, history, urban planning, environmental science, and classics.

Our small group met outside of a bistro in upper Marais. We began our tour with a walk and talk through the iconic “Marche des Enfants Rouges” (the oldest covered market in Paris dating back to the 1600s).

Our walking tour continued for the next 2 1/2 hours and included various stops in the market, a bakery, butcher shop, prepared food and foie gras shop, a cheese shop, a wine and Armagnac shop and a chocolatier. All along the way, the small bites and samples never stopped.

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The French are proud of their history, culture and country. And so they should be. Our guide explained how French food tastes were slowly changing, becoming more modern and incorporating flavors and food ideas from around the world. She pointed out new shops and even food trucks to support the “new Parisian Palate”. With most stops, our guide either purchased samples or gathered food in a bag for our end of tour “party” (wine, cheese, pate, baguette).

446  If you’re thinking of a walking tour, here’s 3 bits of advice:

  1. Take a Context Tour. They are immersive and well worthwhile and get you feeling like a local (and less like a tourist). The group is limited to 6 and led by a local expert.
  2. If you take a Context food tour, don’t eat a meal beforehand (nor will you be able to eat a meal after).
  3. Take your tour in the first few days of your trip if you can. You’ll get a better feel for the city, culture, local area and the places that you’ll want to return to later.

I want that local perspective wherever I go. I want to dive into the destination and its culture. And I want to get local.

Dublin Like A Local

I’ve been to Ireland 5 times (so far) and I’m starting to feel like a local in Dublin. I have the good fortune to have some great Irish friends so going to Dublin is not a typical tourist experience. I’m picked up at the airport and driven around town like visiting royalty. The trip is mostly planned out with pub nights (almost every night), dinners and visits to worthwhile venues. It’s great fun and gives a very local perspective.

As a local, you DON’T go to Temple Bar (“it’s too damn expensive”); you don’t go to the Guinness Storehouse Tour (“I already worship Guinness- every night”); you don’t limit your shopping to Grafton Street (“stay north of the Liffey with fewer tourists”).

As a local, you DO go to your “local” (the pub in your neighborhood where you know almost everyone who walks in the door); you do have your regular shops (like the Bretzel Bakery where they know you and your order as you walk in); you do order multiple drinks at last call (because the barman can’t leave or kick you out before you are done).

As a tourist, you should go and see the Book of Kells, Christchurch Cathedral (the basement is spooky), and the Kilmainham Gaol Tour (Old Dublin Jail from the 1800s). Entrance to all museums, including the National Gallery, the National Museum of Ireland and Trinity’s Douglas Hyde Gallery, is free. You might notice a lot of taxis – there are in fact more taxis in Dublin than in New York City! Dublin is a great town with lots to see and with lots of great people.

Whatever you do, don’t call an Irishman “British” (the Republic of Ireland is not part of the U.K.). And don’t stop for the weather, i.e. rain. It’s either about to rain or will rain later in the day. Bring rain gear and enjoy. It’s all part of Ireland.

5 Must-Try Activities During an Evening Desert Safari in Dubai

If you want to witness the dazzling sunset in the Arabian Desert at night, and later catch a glimpse of  the stars high up in the heavens, go on an evening desert safari in Dubai. A desert safari is one of the best adventures you can experience in Dubai.

Exploring the beautiful topography of the Arabian Desert and trying out the different activities that come with the tour you choose will definitely make the safari truly memorable, and something that will be etched in your heart and mind forever.

By going on a desert safari in the evening, you will see the wonderful sights and enjoy all the must-try activities in the Arabian Desert under cooler, more comfortable temperatures.

Desert Safari in Dubai

Here are five activities you have to try when you go on an evening desert safari in Dubai:

1.    Dune bashing

A desert safari won’t be complete if you don’t go dune bashing. While onboard a 4×4, you will go on a thrilling ride to navigate the picturesque sand dunes of the Dubai desert.

With the sun setting in the background, you will have a more glorious, lovelier view of the desert as you go over the different sand dunes.

Since you will be going around the sparse desert wilderness when the sun is already going down, you will be more comfortable inside the vehicle as well. You can even open the windows a bit to feel the cool breeze if the driver allows you to.

2.    Camel riding

You won’t be going on an authentic desert safari if you don’t get to ride a camel during your tour as well. Riding a camel is quite a novelty while you also get to see the wonderful sights of the Dubai desert up close.

Whether you are riding on a camel or simply standing beside one, make sure you get lots of photos with the beautiful sunset in the background.

Desert Safari in Dubai

3.    Fire show

If you want to witness something truly exciting, you’re in for a treat at the camp.

After experiencing a heart-thumping fast ride up and down the sand dunes, you can look forward to relaxing and watching what’s in store at the desert camp.

A fascinating fire show is part of the night’s repertoire of skilled entertainers. Prepare to be amazed as the skillful fire showman manipulates different fiery implements complemented with his fantastic acrobatic abilities.

Everyone in the crowd would be in awe of the dazzling fire display from start to finish, so make sure to have your camera with you and capture the beautiful fire show.

Desert Safari in Dubai

4.    Get a henna tattoo

Once the tour is over and you arrive at the desert camping grounds, make sure you take home a beautiful souvenir by getting a henna tattoo.

Let a henna tattoo artist work his or her magic on your hands, arm or leg. In the end, you will have a unique work of art on your body which you can show off. Since the tattoo is only temporary, it will last for only two to three days.

5.    Enjoy a buffet dinner

One important thing that separates a morning desert safari from one scheduled in the evening is that the latter comes with a scrumptious buffet dinner.

At the end of the tour, you can treat yourself to a buffet dinner complete with a variety of mouthwatering barbecued treats. The buffet tables and stations also have an assortment of authentic Arabian and vegetarian dishes so there is an option for everyone. You won’t be disappointed by their dessert and beverage offerings as well.

The desert safari camp and clear skies will be the backdrop of the al fresco dinner you’ll enjoy in the company of other safari-goers. You can also try puffing a shisha or drinking a traditional Arabic coffee during the evening.

A nighttime desert safari will allow you to explore Dubai’s wilderness, however sparse, and try various activities more comfortably.

Best of all, at the end of the tour, you will enjoy a delectable dinner with the clear, wonderful sky and the Arabian Desert as your background.

If you’ve come to Dubai as a holiday-goer, be sure to make the most of your trip by booking your stay at a hotel accommodation which can also arrange for other unique experiences in the emirate.

 

AUTHOR BIO

Hafiz Umer Ali Zaib is the Social Media Specialist at Luxury Tours, a leading provider of tours, cruises and safaris across the UAE. The company’s top offerings include the Dubai Desert Evening Safari, City Tours, Dhow Cruises, Mountain Tours, Limousine Service, Discounted Tickets for theme parks, and a variety of many other excursions.

5 Exquisite Wine Routes in France

As Europe’s peak travel season winds down and most people are returning to work and school refreshed from their summer vacation, the sleepy vineyards sweeping the French countryside awaken for the annual harvest. Foliage begins to turn, days and evenings become pleasantly cooler. And the picturesque back roads call out to be traversed, beckoning in one of the best times to visit France. There’s no better time than autumn to channel your inner wine connoisseur and rent a car in France. The following list is a compilation of five lovely wine regions and scenic routes fringed with vineyards that beg to be explored. Each of these destinations is sure to make for an unforgettable experience.

Alsace Wine Route

Alsace Wine Region

The Alsace region is situated along a narrow plain, which is bordered by the Rhine River to the east and the Vosges Mountains to the west. Why not rent something special for your trip, like a Mercedes SLK Roadster in Strasbourg? Put the top down and leisurely make your way south along the Route des Vins d’Alsace (Alsace Wine Route). This 170 km stretch of roadway begins in Marlenheim and ends in Thann. Take your time and discover the Alsace vineyards, castles, and charming villages that dot the way.

Bordeaux Wine Route

Bordeaux Wine Region

Six distinct wine producing territories branch out from the heart of the Bordeaux region. The beauty of visiting this location is that you can create a unique tour of the wineries based on your specific taste. Sample the fine red wines north of Bordeaux, and the sweet or dry white wines south of the city. Offering an excellent array of grape varietals, colors, and tastes, you won’t be disappointed when visiting this southwestern area of France.

Provence Wine Route

Provence Wine Route

South of the Alps and north of the cliff-lined Mediterranean Sea is the Provence region, a part of France that is celebrated for its rosé wine. Start your journey by driving west along the coast with your rental car in Nice and making frequent stops to appreciate the villages and scenery, follow the 200 km course to Camargue, a town just east of Montpellier. The Provence vineyards are divided into eight appellations, and there are about 350 winemakers along the way.

Burgundy Wine Route

Burgundy Wine Route

A two hour car-ride southwest of Paris leads into the rolling hills of France’s Burgundy region. Renowned for its Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, the vineyards here yield some of the country’s finest wines. Burgundy has five territories, and Route des Grands Crus (road of great wines) takes you through Côte de Beaune and Côte de Nuits. It is the area’s most popular drive and is close to 60 km. Clearly marked road signs make this itinerary very easy to follow.

Champagne Route

Champagne Wine Route

Only 160 km east of Paris, yet seemingly worlds away from the city of light, is the highly regarded Champagne region. Sparkling wine can’t claim the name Champagne unless it originates from here. There are five circuits that wind their way through each of the appellation territories. The Coast Bar route is the longest at 220 km, and the shortest courses are Montagne de Reims and Massif of Saint Thierry, each of these is 70 km.

Before setting off on any trip in France, it is important to note the country’s new driving law, which requires every vehicle to have a breathalyzer on hand. Avoid the possibility of needing to use one of these devices by staying at a lovely Chateau when choosing to indulge in a few glasses of regionally produced wine.

Enjoy the wine and enjoy France!

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Tropical Inspo: Why You Have to Visit Fiji

There are almost endless reason why you have to visit Fiji. With its exotic ambiance and endless opportunities to relax, do sports, or simply socialize with some of the nicest people on the planet, Fiji is a must-see for every adventurer. From the very moment you are greeted with “Bula”, your trip will be filled with memorable sights, people, and events. If you’re looking for your next vacation destination, here are a couple of reasons why it should be Fiji.

You’d get to taste some delicious food

If you love trying out new types of food, then you will love Fiji. There are two main cuisines ‒ the indigenous Fijian and the Fijian Indian, (mainly focused on seafood, rice, chili, and spices). If you prefer to prepare your own food, there are produce markets in every main town filled with only the freshest and most delicious food. Don’t miss out on the opportunity to attend the Lovo Night at your hotel and see how they prepare food in an underground oven. Finally, don’t forget to try kava ‒ a traditional drink made from a natural herbal ground root. It might not taste that great, but it’s more about the tradition than the taste.

It offers a great working environment

If you consider yourself to be a busy digital nomad and you love working while traveling, then this is definitely one of the destinations you should visit. The calming nature, the friendly people, and the hammocks on gorgeous beaches create a perfectly peaceful atmosphere for work. When it’s time for a break, bask in the sun with a refreshing drink and let your mind and your body relax and recharge.

Whether you’re into diving and surfing, sunbathing or playing golf, there is something for everybody in Fiji. If you’re an adventurous type, you can try firewalking, or you can go on a journey up the stunning Sigatoka Valley. Visit villages and spend some time getting to know the Fijian culture and enjoying their customs (including lots of singing and dancing)!

It’s the best place to unwind

In case you’ve just finished high school and are looking for a way to celebrate and have some fun after all the studying, consider signing up for amazing Fiji schoolies. They are safe and include plenty of  interesting and educational activities. You’d be surrounded with lots of young people who want to have some fun, meet new friends, and enjoy some time away just like you.

It’s very romantic

We all know the struggle of finding the perfect romantic destination for the next vacation with our significant other. There is no way you can go wrong with Fiji! You’ll enjoy long walks on the gorgeous beaches, buy each other presents (like the lovely earrings and necklaces made of South Sea pearls), or spend a day together relaxing in one of the numerous tropical spas.

You’d be in the company of the happiest people in the world

Studies have shown that Fijians are amongst the happiest people on the planet. If you’ve been feeling a bit down lately or are simply searching for a new perspective in life, this is the place to be. Moreover, Fijians are known for their love of kids. Don’t hesitate to take your youngest family members with you and let them enjoy this experience as well. The happiness is guaranteed to rub off on you, and the only sadness you will feel is when its time to go home.

Apart from all the adventure, finger-licking food, fantastic nature, and amazing people, Fiji is a true paradise that simply has it all. If it’s not on your bucket list already, it should be. Visiting Fiji would is an experience guaranteed to cherish for the rest of your life.

Thinking Of Renting A Car In Europe? Here’s What You Need To Know

Renting A Car In Europe

Renting a car in Europe lets you explore and discover different countries and cultures. Renting a car gives you freedom to travel on your own schedule and time. You can get off the beaten path and get to smaller towns and sights with relative ease. There are potential challenges like “driving on the wrong side of the road” in the UK, different rules of the road and some country specific laws. But it’s all well worth it for the memories and potential trip of a lifetime. Here’s the short list of things to consider when you’re renting a car and driving in Europe.

Renting A Car In Europe? Book In Advance

Ca rental rates vary widely by destination and season. Generally speaking, rates are higher for any rental car company or location if you wait to book. (Especially if you walk up to a rental counter with no reservation). You will save money by paying for your car rental ahead of time. Auto Europe is one of the best options for car rentals in Europe. They’ve been in business over 60 years with more than 20,000 locations in 180 countries. They work with well known car rental companies and provide unbeatable rates on car rentals. You can book your car rental as soon as you book your trip with the option to modify or cancel your booking if your plans change.

Beyond the large highways in Europe, most roads are tight and winding. And parking is tight and tricky with limited street parking and small parking lots. A smaller car, typical in Europe, is the best way to get around and easier to drive. Many cars in Europe are equipped with a manual transmission. If you don’t drive a standard/manual transmission, you’ll need to book early to make sure that you get a car equipped with an automatic transmission.

Renting A Car In Europe

Renting A Car In Europe? You’ll Need Insurance Coverage

With Auto Europe, if you select a basic rental rate your price will include value added tax (VAT), public liability insurance, fire insurance and unlimited miles. If the inclusive rate is selected, it will include everything in the basic rate plus collision damage waiver (CDW) and theft protection for the rental vehicle. I definitely recommend the inclusive rate specifically to have full CDW and theft protection on your rental car. If you rely on credit card coverage or your own car insurance, you may not have enough coverage and/or you may have to pay in full for a claim and then seek reimbursement.

Renting A Car In Europe? You Might Need an International Driver’s Permit

Many European countries—like the United Kingdom and Ireland—recognize North American driver’s licenses. However, other countries—like Italy, Germany, and Spain—require that you possess and carry an International Driving Permit (IDP). The IDP is proof that you possess a valid driver’s license. It also translates your driving qualifications into ten of the world’s most commonly used languages, and allows travellers to drive in over 150 different countries.

You can get an International Driver’s Permit at AAA (U.S.) and CAA (Canada) for a nominal fee, and you only need proof of your driver’s license to apply.

Renting A Car In Europe? Be Prepared For the Unexpected

The unexpected can of course happen anywhere and at anytime. Be aware of what’s covered by the rental car agency if you have an accident or your car breaks down. Most offer some form of roadside assistance in the event of a break down. Traffic tickets and toll fees will naturally be billed to you if you don’t pay locally.

If your rental car is involved in an accident, it is imperative that you contact local authorities immediately. A valid police report is always required, regardless of how minor the accident is. The second number you should contact is the one listed on your car rental key chain. For further protection, take pictures of all the damage done to your rental car and any other parties involved.

Having your cell phone activated for use in Europe is a must for driving directions, destination information and in the case of emergency. A SIM card saves on roaming and data charges while keeping you connected. TravelSIM is my choice because its prepaid (providing cost control), works in over 170 countries and incoming calls and messages are free. Between driving and blog support, I need coverage while in Europe.

Renting A Car In Europe?

Renting A Car In Europe? Find Out the Rules of the Road

The autobahn actually exists in Austria and Germany where the drivers follow a strict code. The left lane is for passing only (most cars will be travelling at more than 160 km/per hour). The middle lane is for the average driver – 120-160 km/per hour. Anything slower is on the right lane.

In the UK, you drive on the left side of the road , and you pass on the right side. There are also numerous roundabouts where you need to know which exit you are taking ahead of time.

Turning right on a red light is not permitted anywhere in Europe, unless there’s a sign that indicates otherwise.

Renting A Car In Europe? Other Things To Know

  1. It’s not a bad idea to buy a traditional paper map as backup. Maps are readily available at gas stations and highway stops. Google Maps or offline maps work but you may not have service or data in remote areas.
  2. Most tolls can be paid by coins, cash or credit card. Some countries like Austria and Switzerland require the purchase of vignettes (driving stickers) that need to be displayed in your front window. They are readily available at gas stations and road side stores.
  3. Getting gas in Europe typically requires that you pay in advance before pumping.
  4. Parking in Europe varies greatly by town and city. Parking can be free, pay via parking meter or require a parking permit. Pay attention when you park or you will invariably get a ticket.
  5. You’ll get comfortable driving in no time. Enjoy the trip, lookout for great places to stop and enjoy the views!

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