Exploring the "Old World" in September is my favorite way to embrace the changing seasons and this fall, my heart was set on Southern Spain. Since growing up in Eastern Europe, I remember people talking about Costa del Sol & Marbella, but wasn't quite sure what all the fuss was about.
Costa del Sol (the "Sun Coast"), is your Mediterranean escape to the Spanish Riviera. The region is steeped into the traditional culture as much as any other part of Andalusia. From Picasso to bullfighting, to flamenco, and colorful ferias, Costa del Col has an immense cultural offering.
The region is comprised of small resort towns along the coastline of the province of Malaga, as far south as Gibraltar, and if your time allows, you can even take a day trip to Morocco! As the largest city in the area, Malaga is the main gateway, and from the airport, you can either rent a car or rely on the well-connected local bus companies such as Avanza Portillo to travel up & down the coast.
Travel Tip: The easily-recognizable, red-labeled Avanza Bus ticket counter & the bus stop are located right outside of Malaga Airport Arrivals Exit
Although there are plenty of charming towns along the Costa del Sol such as Fuengirola, Mijas, Estepona, etc., we chose Marbella as a home-base for our one-week, car-free vacation. With a population of over 140,000, the town was larger than we imagined it and is spread out to different neighborhoods. Also, situated just four miles south of the main town, the affluential "Puerto Banus" enclave and its marina is a popular playground for the rich and famous and a quick ride by public bus or ferry service from Marbella. Notably, many of the higher-end hotels are nested on the so-called "Golden Mile" strip (Marbella Club Hotel, Nobu Hotel, Puente Romano), between Puerto Banus and Marbella's center. My family and I stayed in the Town Centre, in a complex located a block from the beach, the sea promenade and 10 min. walk from the historical center.
Travel Tip: The location of your hotel is key if you wish to get around on foot to the main points of interest, alternatively there are regular buses & taxi services to the "Golden Mile" & Puerto Banus.
Marbella's sea promenade is a walker's paradise dotted with hotels, restaurants, bars & shopping that ends in Puerto Banus. It's a lively place until the wee hours. In near proximity with Marbella's Marina is "Avenida del Mar"- a small, palm-fringed square that connects the beach walk with the Old Town. Take the time to study the Mediterranean inspired bronze sculptures of the Spanish surrealist Salvador Dali -- a real treat for art-aficionados!
Just a short walk from the sea promenade, the Historical Town of Marbella is a cultural treasure and a favorite gathering place for locals & travelers alike. The labyrinth of pedestrian streets is lined up with Castilian Renaissance period buildings, today meticulously restored and converted into boutiques, cafes & trendy alfresco restaurants. Start with leisurely strolling along the spotless, cobblestone streets and slowly taking in the vibrant scene unfolding in front of your eyes. At the moment you might think that you are lost, the streets suddenly emerge into small plazas, home to churches and romantic fountains.
Right in the middle of this whole maze is the iconic "Plaza de Los Naranjos"(plaza with the orange trees), which dates back to the 15th Century, right after the Christian re-conquest of the city from the Moors), and the historic Town Hall. Dominating the square is the most important building in town, the Church of St Mary, constructed at the beginning of the 17th Century. Go ahead and stay in at one of the plazas for a late-night, live local performance while sipping a glass of Spanish wine.
Between the endless sea promenade, Puerto Banus & the Old Town, combined with the easy day trips to the heart of Andalusia & Gibraltar, Marbella captured our hearts and left long-lasting memories. Are you ready to start planning your vacation to the Spanish Riviera?
In a beautiful fall morning, my parents and I left the Spanish Riviera, known as "Costa del Sol" and set on a new adventure to Ronda, one of the oldest strongholds of Moorish Spain. Our dramatic, windy- road ascent in Sierra de las Nieves Mountains (over 2400 meters!) suddenly ended on a plateau, and the outskirts of the town started to appear on the horizon.
Our first stop in the Andalusian countryside was a tour of a bullfighting and horse-breeding farm. After paying a visit to the happily roaming animals -- we were told that one bull enjoys the attention of 10 cows(!), we met with Rafael Tejado, the farm's owner. Presently a real matador in his early 40s, after starting out with an engineering degree, he realized that his life's passion was actually bullfighting. ...Did you know that Ronda is the oldest center of bullfighting in Spain? It was a surprise for us too.
After such an immersive encounter with daily Andalusian life, we made our way to Ronda.
The moment we entered the city we felt an excitement in the air. It was the last day of "Feria Goyesca de Pedro Romeo"- An annual festival that starts with a procession of colorful horse-drawn carriages and culminates to bullfighting spectacle. Locals & visitors alike were in a celebratory mood & all dressed in exquisite costumes for the fest. We snapped a couple of pictures and then slowly made our way towards the Old Town.
Overlooking the "El Tajo" Gorge is Puente Nuevo (the "New Bridge"), one of the most spectacular bridges in Spain. It was built in the 18th Century to connect the New & Old Town parts of Ronda, which dates all the way back to the Moorish period between the 8th & 15th Centuries.
Once there, our local guide took us to a hidden architectural treasure, one of the wealthiest homes in the Old Town, which is now converted into a unofficial museum. The highlight was the house's expansive terrace overlooking the gorge & the bridge. The views were mesmerizing!
After a short walk through narrow cobblestone streets and passing white-washed buildings, we were welcomed by another fascinating visit to one of Ronda's wineries. Here, I have to confess that we extended our wine tasting which was on a self-service basis... All the wines were delicious, but my favorite was a sweet, sherry wine. We learned that winemaking is one of the prime sources for Ronda's prosperity compare to other small Andalusian towns. ...A very pleasant surprise -- who knew?
After getting happily tipsy, we were ready to explore further. In our search for a good restaurant, we kind of stumbled into "King Moro's Water Mine" (one of the main points of interest in the Old Town). Carved into the cliffs of "El Tajo" gorge, the mine and the fortress date back to the Moorish Era when the constant wars in Al-Andalus requiring the city government to protect the water supplies to the city and its defenders. Within the mine are 231 steps carved into the rock that leads to the river below, a total distance of 60 meters. After our rapid descend and ascent, my parents and I were totally famished and speedily made our way back to the New Town, where the dining options were plenty. The main street was brimming with activities. the Goyesca festivities were over, and all the participants were enjoying a lazy afternoon with their families. After a delightful late lunch, sadly it was time to say "goodbye" to the mountainous town and make our way back to Costa del Sol. However, we will keep Ronda in our hearts forever.
Has this short read inspired you to visit Ronda yourself?
Fellow traveler, are you fascinated by old history and curious to learn more about Morocco's rich cultural heritage? Are you in a process of planning a trip to this African country but don't know what to expect (cultural norms, shopping, tipping) when you get there? Then, this quick read is for you.
Driving almost 300 miles south, you will reach the town of Merzouga, set right on the border with Sahara. Seeing the sunset on the top of the dunes is a life-changing experience!
Now, with these essential travel tips in mind, you are equipped to start planning your Moroccan Journey!
Morocco travel is at its peak. It appeals to travelers who like to get a taste of an exotic destination, but also like to feel the familiar Westernized culture, and the fact that the country was over 40 years a French territory and the French is an official language helps. This Spring, my husband and I took advantage of an opportunity and traveled to Morocco in a small group tour, organized by Canadian tour supplier G Adventures. Here are a few insights:
(1.) We chose the G Adventures "Morocco Kasbahs and Desert" 8-day tour that was their best seller. It was a fast-paced itinerary that covered a vast territory and you do see quite a lot. Expect daily early morning start (between 7:30-8:30 am) and longer hours (between 4-6 hours per day) spent in a comfortable, 16 people air-conditioned Mercedes minivan.
(2.) G Adventures' primary focus is on local experiences, not on pampering: The accommodations used are locally run, 3-star hotels and guesthouses which in certain cities (like Casablanca), can be somewhat dated. In general, this tour is not suitable for travelers used to staying at luxurious hotels and taking the day at a slower pace but rather caters to budget-minded people seeking authentic and/or "adventurous" experiences. Also, keep in mind, that with a few exceptions, the included daily breakfast is basic and it's based on heavy bread.
(3.) G Adventures tours are maximum of 14 travelers, on our tour date (during the shoulder months) it was just eight of us. The small size of our international group had many benefits -- we quickly connected with each other and it was easier to get around. One-third of the group were single travelers, they get a complimentary roommate match or there is an option to get your own room.
(4.) In Morocco, tipping is part of the culture. Every person who provides a service to you is expected to be tipped (from the hotel bellboy to the G Adventures CEO and our minivan driver) On an 8-day tour, you should budget appx. $80-100 per person for tips, apart from the cost of the tour itself.
(5.) If you'd like to purchase locally made goods and souvenirs, don't wait until the end of the tour in Marrakesh, where you fill find poorer quality and higher prices. Overall, Morocco is not a budget destination- expect to pay Western prices for dining at clean restaurants and shopping at local Co-Ops (not exactly part of the itinerary, but your G Adventures CEO will take you there anyway). You might find the prices quite high ($15 for a ceramic soup bowl), but remember that the majority of the goods are handcrafted and the cooperative often provides employment to the entire village.
(6.) If you'd like to reserve G Adventures optional activities, plan on it once you arrive in Morocco. Some of the tours take place at alternative hours and if you are the only person in the group that has opted-in, it can result in changing of the original time/schedule/ indicated in the itinerary so it can suit the entire group.
(7.) Pack light: This faster-paced tour involves changing of five different hotels, some of them without elevators and mobility is key.
(8.) If you travel in the Spring, don't rely on AccuWeather, bring an extra layer of clothes. Morocco is approximately the size of California and there are numerous micro-climates. Within less than 24 hours we traveled from Sahara desert to High Atlas Mountains where we encountered snow.
(9.) G Adventures as a business model is a fine example of Sustainable Travel. Their foundation "Planetera" supports and provides employment opportunities for local communities. Every time you book one of their tours, a portion of the cost goes back to the local people.
Are you ready to start planning your Moroccan Journey?
For those who follow travel trends, you may have seen that travel to Egypt is on the rise, and now ranks among the leading must-visit destinations for 2019-2020. There are many reasons why. As one of the cradles of civilization, Egypt is a living, open-air museum with so many archaeological sites, that a typical 7-day itinerary you can only reveal a glimpse of its magnificent cultural heritage. The delicious Mediterranean cuisine, the exotic bazaars, and the lesser known for the American traveller Red Sea coast with world-class resorts in Sharm El Sheikh & Hurghada are even more reasons to put Egypt on your travel list. Here are a few suggestions on what to see and do in Egypt and how you can get there:
You can visit Egypt either by an organized, tailor-made private journey or a pre-packaged group tour. Having a local guide, preferably and an Egyptologist and a driver is a must. For full immersion, consider a 10-12 day itinerary.
Travel Tip: If you are travelling in a group, before you reserve, ask what is the maximum number of travellers allowed. Small groups (under 15 travellers) benefit from more time sightseeing, personalized attention an connecting with like-minded travellers, rather than the traditional 40-50 people in motor coach tour.
Every itinerary begins and ends in Cairo, the capital of Egypt. Three days in this metropolitan city is a perfect start of your journey. A classical itinerary will include a visit to the Pyramids, Memphis (the ancient religious capital of Egypt), the Step Pyramid & visit of the Cairo Museum. If an option, consider a visit to the Red Pyramid, built by Sneferu (the father of Cheops). It is the first true pyramid that inspired Cheops to master the construction of his own. Getting inside of the Great Pyramid & the Solar Boat Museum will be a bonus.
Travel Tip: The traffic in Cairo is quite challenging. I recommend selecting a hotel in Giza vs downtown Cairo. The pyramids are located in Giza plateau and a majority of accommodations are just outside of the pyramid complex and offer "Pyramid views". Sitting on your hotel balcony with a glass of wine and watching the sunset over the Pyramids is quite spectacular (check out Mena house hotel by Marriott). In addition, the brand new Cairo museum, scheduled to open in 2020, is located in the near proximity to the Pyramids.
Travel Tip: Since all Egypt Itineraries start and end in Cairo, a good idea is to spend the last day visiting the Coptic Cairo (the Christian Neighbouhood of Cairo), and Khan Al Khalili bazaar -- one of the oldest functioning bazaars in the world. A shopper's paradise, this exotic place becomes alive after sunset, when the temperatures cool down.
"Egypt is the gift of the Nile," said the Greek historian Herodotus more than 2,000 years ago. Your journey to Egypt won't be complete unless you embark on a river cruise. The majority of river cruises begin in Luxor or Aswan. The best preserved Egyptian Temples (Philae Temple in Aswan, The Horus temple in Edfu, Kom Ombo Temple & the Temple of Goddess Hathor in Dendera) date back to the Ptolemaic Period (3-1 Century BCE) and are located mostly along the banks of the river. There is a wide choice of local and international riverboats that run 3-4 days and longer itineraries, offering an all-inclusive experience accommodating any type of budget. Sailing on the Nile feels peaceful, relaxing and you can almost imagine yourself 4,000 years ago when the banks of the river were brimming with all kinds of local activities: fishing, harvesting, and children playing.
Millennia ago, the religious and administrative capital of Egypt was Memphis, located just outside of Cairo, and ancient Thebes was only chosen by the Pharaoh's of 18th Dynasty (1500 BCE) to be their eternal home. Today, Luxor (the Greek name of Thebes) is a busy tourist town, a gateway to Valley of the Kings. If you are embarking on a river cruise, visit Luxor & Karnak Temples, both dedicated to the God Amun, as it is included in the cruise itinerary, as well as a visit of Valley of the Kings where a general entrance ticket will include an entrance to few of the sons of Ramses II. The sight of Queen Hatshepsut's Mortuary Temple is truly a marvel.
Travel Tip: If you like to journey in depth, visit the best-preserved tomb in Valley of the King -- the tomb of Pharaoh Seti I or queen Nefertari in Valley of the Queens (father and wife of Ramses II). If you like to venture further, the lesser visited tombs in Valley of the Nobles will leave you in awe with their colours so bright 3500 years, later on, that one might think they were painted yesterday.
If you opt in to spend a night in Aswan, consider a stay at the Old Cataract Hotel, a heritage property, where during the beginning of the 20th Century, Agatha Christie wrote "Murder on the Orient Express". Aswan is also a getaway to visit Abu Simbel Mortuary Temple of Pharaoh Ramses II and his beloved wife Nefertari.
Back in Cairo, you can extend your journey with a day trip to Alexandria on the Mediterranean Sea and explore archaeological remains dating to the Ptolemaic & Roman Rules or decide on a quick Red Sea tropical escape. Sharm El Shaikh Resort complex on the Red Sea will allure you with its crystal water, world-class diving, and high-end accommodations.
Are you ready to get enchanted by the magic of Egypt?
Situated on the west bank of Ganges River in Uttar Pradesh state of North India, Varanasi, also known as "Benares" or "Kashi" is mystical and captivating. As one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world, Varanasi is a place where history and religion form a colorful melange. A Hindu legend passed through millennia states that Lord Shiva (the destroyer, transformer, and protector of the city) founded Varanasi five thousand years ago, though contemporary scholars agree to be around three thousand years old. For Hindu devotees, a journey to Varanasi has the same significance as the Muslims pilgrimage to Mecca or the Christians to Jerusalem. It is believed, that taking a bath in holy Ganga River has the power to wash away one's sins. Due to the large distances and poverty in India, for Hindu followers, this sacred pilgrimage is often ones in a lifetime trip.
What makes Varanasi even more fascinating, is its spiritual meaning for another religion- just 13 km outside of the city is Sarnath, one of the four holy places for Buddhism.
My friend and I arrived at the modern and well-connected Varanasi Airport (VNS) and during our drive to the hotel, located in the new part of the city, we couldn't help but noticed how clean were the roads compared to New Delhi and Agra. Our guide shared with us the reason: the Indian Prime Minister Modi favors Varanasi and there is a continuous stream of financial resources.
Where to Stay
Varanasi is divided into Old and New City with the majority of the international hotel chains (Taj, Sheraton, Ramada) located in the new part.
Travel Tip: For Travelers feeling adventurous and seeking an authentic experience you might consider a stay at Brijrama Palace, 18th Century Palace converted into a 4-star hotel located in Old Varanasi, right on the banks of Ganga River.
Use a Local Guide
In a city with a million population and the lack of public transit getting around on your own can be challenging. During our stay, we used a prearranged local guide & driver. Our driver helped us to maximize our time by navigating us through traffic. Our guide Shasha, born and raised in Varanasi gave us an inside of the local traditions, beliefs, took us to the Ghats, Hindu Temples, local restaurants and off-the-beaten-path tour of the Old City.
Sunrise Boat Ride on Ganges River
In the Old City, the 8th km stretch of the River is accessed by man-made stone steps called Ghats. Majority of them were built in the 18th Century to provide an entry for the pilgrims seeking a holy dip or to perform religious rituals. Today about 80 of the Ghats are functional and have primary bathing and cremating purposes. Despite our early morning (6 am) start, upon our arrival, the Ghats were already brimming with all kind of activities- praying & bathing ceremonies, locals washing clothes and hotel sheets, flower sellers and beggars. Along the banks of the river are also a number of Hindu Temples, lower-end, privately run hotels and "moksha guesthouses" used as the last resting place for dying people. Hindu people believe that dying in Varanasi will help them to attain Moksha- instant liberation from the circle of life and death.
Travel Tip: Despite being a holy river, sadly, Ganga is one of the most polluted rivers in the world and drinking/bathing is not advisable.
Attend Ganga Aarti Ceremony
In Hinduism, Ganga River is a Goddess and Ganga Aarti Ceremony is a sacred ritual devoted to Mother Ganges. This daily ceremony takes place after sunset at Dashashwamedh Ghat- the main Ghat where according to a myth Lord Brahma "created" Lord Shiva and welcomed him. Although today the ritual is thought to be in a certain degree commercialized, Ganga Aarti is still a must-see, powerful Hindu ceremony and attracts thousands of devotees every night. Young priests follow a spiritual ritual performed by brass lamps and mantra chanting. Offerings to the Goddess in the form of conch shells filled with flowers and incense sticks are let to float down the river.
Visit Kashi Vishwanath Temple
Kashi Temple, dedicated to Lord Shiva, the protector of the city, is one of the holiest Hindu Temples and is located in Old Varanasi, in close proximity to the Ghats. There is no certain period when the original construction began, but throughout the centuries, the temple has been destroyed and reconstructed many times. In the 17th Century, the Moghul Emperor Aurangzeb defiled the sacred Hindu spot and erected a mosque on it, which is today the reason for numerous religious conflicts and rigid entrance security. On a daily bases, Kashi Temple receives 3,000 devotees and the number goes up on certain holy festivals.
Take a Guided Walk in the Old City
Walking around Old Varanasi feels like stepping back in time. Following our guide, my friend and I passed narrow muddy alleys, centuries-old houses, Hindu temples dedicated to Lord Shiva, local shops selling souvenirs and offerings for the temples and of course cows!
Travel Tip: At the end of your walk, stop to a local Masala Tea Shop.
Visit Sarnath, a Holy Place for the Followers of Buddhism
Located a short 13 km drive outside of Varanasi is the historical complex of Sarnath, one of the four holy places for the followers of Buddhism. This "Mini City" is comprised of a few Buddhist & Jain Temples and an archaeological site with the remains of Buddhist Monastery and Dhamek Stupa built in 500 AD to replace an earlier structure commissioned in 3rd Century BCE by the great king Ashoka. It is said that Dhamek Stupa marks the spot where in the 5th BCE Buddha gave his first sermon to his disciples after attaining enlightenment.
Are you ready to plan your journey to India?
A recent trip to India inspired this blog- hope you find it useful. Fascinated by Ancient History, GQ Travel mission is to bring world heritage sites to life through travel.
Traceable India history dates back to the third millennium BC when flourishing Indus civilization together with Mesopotamia, Pharaonic Egypt and Yellow River Valley formed the Four Cradles of the Ancient World. The fertile plains of Indus Valley were home to thriving major urban centers like Harappa and Mohenjo Daro that left their mark in the history. It is believed, that sometimes during the Bronze Age Hinduism came to existence and dominated the religious life of the populous until the 6th Century BC when the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama branched off from the mainstream and gave birth to the Buddhism. The Great Empires of Ancient India (such as Maurya & Gupta) bloomed until 8th Century AD when series of Muslim invasions weakened and led to the decline of the region. A new page in Indian history was written with the arrival of the Mughals and the founding of the Mughal Empire in 16th Century AD. In the span of three Centuries, Moghuls established multiple capitals in India, Pakistan, and Afganistan, including New Delhi, Agra, Fatehpur Sikri, Jaipur, Kabul to name a few, and left a remarkable cultural and architectural legacy that can be seen today in their well-preserved palaces, tombs, and forts. The mid of 19th Century marked the arrival of the British Raj which lasted until 1947 when India got its independence.
Traveling to India feels like traveling back in time- Mystic religious practices are still performed in Ancient Hindu and Buddhist Temples, Mughal Forts, and Palace complexes continue to amaze visitors with their beautiful structures, laborious ancient arts and craft works passed through centuries are still practiced within communities and on display in local workshops.
Today Hinduism is the predominant religion in India, with 80% of the population identifying themselves as Hindus. The rest of the country adheres to other religions (Islam, Buddhism, Christianity, Jainism)
To enter India, you need a valid passport, return ticket and, if your visit purpose is travel for a period less than 30 days Indian Visa prior arrival (Electronic Travel Authorisation ETA)
Arrive in India with Pre-Planned Program
Whether you decide to travel with a partner or in a group, it is imperative to plan your entire stay in India a few months in advance with a travel advisor specializing in a cultural immersive travel. This will secure your airport transfers, preferred hotels, arrange your local guides and save your time in the destination.
Traveling with an organized small group or with a private guide/driver is highly recommended. Why? You will rarely see Western Tourists walking on the streets! The major Indian cities are densely populated and chaotic, the traffic is bad and driving rules/signs virtually non-existent. To make the driving experience worst, domesticated animals such as cows, dogs, goats are let to roam free on the streets and even can be seen on the highways. Fortunately, important highways connecting driving distance cities in the Golden Triangle( such as New Delhi, Jaipur, Agra) are modern, fast and efficient. As an alternative, India Railway system is cheap and trains, mainly preferred by the locals connect the entire country. When embarking on a train, one must be prepared for frequent delays and confined compartments.
Travel Tip: If you do like to experience how the locals get around the city, hop on a rickshaw ride!
Where to Stay
For the sake of comfort and hygienic purposes, staying at 4 or 5-star hotels is vital. In reality, due to local customs and traditions, you cannot simply get out of the hotel and walk to a store/supermarket/restaurant. A nicer hotel will provide you with a complimentary supply of bottled water ( The tap water in India is not drinkable), a clean room, Western Breakfast & various amenities. Majority of this properties are located in a close proximity to historical points of interest.
Travel Tip: If within your budget, staying at a Heritage Hotel displaying Indian History will completely transform your experience. Today, many former maharaja palaces are converted into luxury hotels.
Where to Eat
Eating at random street stands and restaurants is not advisable. India is a third-world country and the locals have poor hygiene in preparing street food. Unless your body is used to the local bacteria, you risk getting sick. However, buying peeled fruits from the street vendors is safe and you can enjoy tasty organic apples, bananas or coconuts.
Travel Tip: Unless your guide takes you to a trusted local restaurant that is known for its good hygiene, you will have no other choice than taking all of your meals in the hotel and unfortunately to pay Western Prices. On the positive side, a reputable hotel will serve a variety of Indian and Western dishes.
Travel Tip: Consult with your doctor for preventive medicines/vaccines you might need to get.
What to Buy
Support the local economy by purchasing locally made fabrics (such as silk, cotton), gemstone jewelry, marble & house goods, organic tea. Every city specializes in a particular art & craft. Your local guide will take you to cooperative workshops, where you can see the art of handmade goods in action, passed through generations and have an opportunity to purchase. New Delhi is famous for its Pashmina Shawls, Arga for its marble and leather goods ( local workshops employ the same inlaid marble technique used in the building of Taj Mahal), Jaipur is a world center of gemstone jewelry, Varanasi famous for its silk. These workshops are supported by the Indian Government and often an entire village is involved in the production and makes their living. The laborious, long and handcrafted process dictate almost Western prices, but you are buying with the peace of mind that you have helped to feed a local family and the uniqueness and quality are assured. Buying souvenirs or clothes from street vendors will be cheaper, however, a majority of the goods are Chinese manufacture and of low quality.
How to Dress
Dress modestly. Avoid wearing tidy shorts, short skirts or tank tops. Adopt loose cotton pants, long light dresses and a shawl to cover up your shoulders (especially when you enter a temple)
Travel Tip: Most of the temples require taking off your shoes. If you don't feel comfortable to do so, bring a pair of socks with you.
Cash & Tipping
If most of your trip is prepaid ahead of time, you don't need to carry a lot of cash with you. Established and brand name hotels, restaurants and stores accept credit cards. You will mainly need small Indian Rupees bills (INR) to purchase offerings for the temples you visit, for restrooms (20 INR) and to tip pretty much everybody that provides a service for you(guides, drivers (on your discretion), hotel/ restaurant staff, room cleaners, bellboys 100-200 INR)
Travel Tip: Always carry with you a package of tissue paper/wet-naps, most of the restrooms don't have toilet paper!
Are you ready to start planning your journey to India?
Paris, The "City of Light" is a destination in itself and it is on every traveler's list. As one of the cultural centers in Europe and one of the most romantic cities in the world, the things to see and do are almost endless but without a proper planning, they can become easily overwhelming. However, it doesn't have to be this way. A few minor twists can completely transform your Parisian experience.
Learn a few basic French words
You may know, that France is one of the European countries where Engish is not widely spoken. If you are not prepared, the language barrier can easily create unpredicted and challenging situations. That being said, there are ways to go around this. Patience and learning a few basic French words like "Bonjour", "merci", "S"il-vous-plait"is a good start!
Choose a centrally located hotel
Paris is one of the most pedestrian-friendly cities in the world. Comprised of 20 arrondissements (neighborhoods), there are a variety of accommodations that can satisfy many travel tastes. If you are a first-time visitor, choosing a hotel that is either a walking distance to major must-see sights( Eifel Tower, Norte Dame, Louvre Museum etc) or near a train station can save you a lot of time and frustration. For our recent stay, my husband and I choose the boutique Louison Hotel located in Saint- Germain-des-Pres neighborhood. Also known as "Luxembourg", this arrondissement is home to the Luxembourg Museum and Gardens. This being our first time in Paris, we loved the location: steps away from multiple metra/train stations (including Gare Montparnasse for a short train ride to Chateau De Versailles), shopping, and a wide choice of restaurants and historical cafes including Le Procope, the oldest cafe in Paris. There was a nice mix of residential buildings and small hotels that didn't feel touristy.
Reserve your museum tickets ahead of time
Paris is home to one of the most visited museums in the world and if you don't reserve your tickets in advance you risk waiting on hours-long lines.
Travel Tip: Choose a ticket with a time entry/skip the line option. For some museums, you may have to do that a weeks in advance.
Travel Tip: If you are planning to purchase The Paris Pass, consider for how many days you are in Paris and how many museums you like to see per day (once activated, the Paris Pass have to be used in consecutive days and might not make a financial sense)
Give yourself an extra time to get to your point of interest
Paris metro is one of the oldest and one of the best systems in the world, but the complex metro system can be a challenge even for the most experienced traveler. Expect to take a couple of days to master the train system and to get lost a few times before getting used to it.
Travel Tip: If you can, just walk! You will get exercise and you will discover hidden neighborhood gems on your way.
Get an early morning start
Why would you get up early on your vacation? There are many reasons to do so, but the primary being is to avoid the crowds! Unless you book a "behind the closed doors/after hours entry" private experiences you will still wait on lines, but they will be considerably shorter compared to mid-day museum visits, also you will get better picture opportunities.
Are you ready to start planning your Parisian Escape?
Why Sicily you may ask? For savvy travelers, who have seen most of mainland Europe, the island of Sicily offers an idyllic Mediterranean escape with longer summer- high temperatures (80 F) often through the whole month of September. Similarly to its neighbor island nation of Malta (see the previous blog about Malta), Sicily will satisfy diverse travel tastes with its unique blend of rich history, local culture, and maritime traditions.
Basic facts you need to know:
Travel tips you might find helpful:
Are you ready to start planning your Sicily vacation?
Fellow travelers, with your hardly-earned vacation right around the corner, how many times these thoughts have crossed your mind?:
"Let me go with the flow and leave the planning of daily activities once I get there."
Well, this might have been the right approach in your 20s, but today's savvy travelers know that a bit of pre-planning is essential to be able to actually relax on a vacation. Of course, the variety of tricky experiences in my own travel adventures have served to reinforce this idea, and we generally pre-book the main points of interest ahead of time (while still leaving some free time for exploration), and would like to share a few key points learned from the process.
Pre-planning will optimize your vacation time
In the today's busy world, time is money -- and time at your vacation destination is especially valuable -- so leaving that to the last minute to "go with the flow", will mostly result in last-minute stress, missed opportunities, and an unsatisfactory experience generally. Picture this: After one or two typical international flight connections, you finally have arrived in the destination. The last thing you'd like to do at that point, is to start exploring ideas what to do and not to do and when/where to go. Yes, most likely there will be an excursion desk in the hotel or nearby ready to book you on a tour for the "best rate" according to them. The chances are, that's just another tourist trap. ...Just to cite a recent an "eye-opening" example from my last family vacation in Malta, we reserved the one of the popular Captain Morgan Cruises for a day tour to the Blue Lagoon and the island of Gozo (you can see Captain Morgan booths almost at every corner of the sea promenade in Sliema, where is the main foot traffic). The total tour was 8 hours, out of it, we've spent 1 hour "beach time" at the Blue Lagoon and 1 hour touring Gozo (including the bus transfers). We ended up with 6 hours on the boat "cruising" between the islands, considering the fact that the distance between Malta and Gozo is less than 14 miles!). What a time-waster!
Special interest activities typically require -- or benefit from -- an advance booking.
Did you know? Exclusive museum/ special interest entrance tickets require an advance registration (the Tomb of the Pharaoh Seti I in Valley of the Kings in Egypt is one of the best-preserved tombs just recently opened to the general public and allows only 150 ppl per day with a special permit), or Scuba Diving Trips (limited number of divers in a group, in addition, most dive shops require reservation at least one day ahead).
Tip: Using a travel specialist to assist you with special interest tours will save your time and will enhance your vacation experience by leveraging relationships with local tour operators.
Save $ reserving in advance online
Did you know? Many local tour operators offer two type of rates- An online rate and a walk-in rate. Sometimes the price difference is significant.
Skip the long lines to must-see sites
Majority of must-see historical sites are notorious for their long wait lines (the walk-in entrance to the Vatican museum can easily be a couple of hours). However, a travel expert will tell you that there is two type of travelers: those that wait in lines, and the other ones, who don't. Many museums offer a skip-the-line pass for an upcharge which is totally worth it in terms of a value and time-saver.
Pre-planning helps to reduce your stress
Unfortunately, stressful situations do occur when you are on vacation, especially due to a lack of coordination and planning to stay ahead of the game. Quite often, nailing-down a couple or a few key, high-value, items can work wonders in helping to create the best, most-optimized experience for you and/or friends and family.
Are you ready to plan your stress-free journey?