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Archive for the ‘What A Trip’ Category

 

The Travelers: Varsha and her cousin Anjali

The Trip: Four days in Madrid, Spain with a day trip to Toledo. Then, three days in Lisbon, Portugal with a day trip to Sintra.

 

Varsha answered some questions about her travels for What A Trip:

 

WAT: Why did you choose this destination?
V: My cousin came across very cheap tickets to Madrid from the Washington, DC area. Since our husbands didn’t want to go we decided to go ourselves. We got our vacations approved from our bosses and we booked the tickets ($450 per person). I then looked around online and found hotels for under $100 a night in both these cities. Suddenly we had a trip!

 

WAT: How did you book your trip?
V: We booked our airfare directly with US Airways on their website www.usairways.com. We booked our hotels for Madrid on hotels.com and Lisbon was booked via Marriott’s website.

 

WAT: What were your favorite sights during the trip?
V: Madrid was bustling with people who were out till the wee hours of the morning. Toledo was just breathtaking, Lisbon simply gorgeous. The river Tagus and the Atlantic Ocean meeting was an awesome sight and Sintra was very historic and bought back memories of an old world where things were simple and elegant and peaceful.

 

WAT: What were some of the most memorable moments on the trip?
V: Shopping in Madrid, visiting all the various museums and doing the day trips to smaller cities nearby.

 

WAT: Do you have advice for others planning travel to this part of the world?
V: Pack light. Madrid is very easily accessible via metro but the metro stations in many places have a LOT of stairs! Travel light also because there is a lot of shopping and souvenir collecting to do and you’ll have new things to bring home. Lisbon is a very hilly city and you should be prepared to walk uphill a lot. Also, don’t spend a lot on a hotel. We barely spent any time in the hotel rooms. Just make sure the hotels are center city to make the most of what these destinations have to offer. Also, go with a plan. This is the easiest and most efficient way to travel in Europe in general. Plan what you want to see in advance and mostly likely you will get there since you budgeted time for it early on. We carried cash in US Dollars and were glad we did. We got great conversion rates in Spain and Portugal and saved on ATM and other fees involved. Talk to the locals and make friends. We found an Irish pub in Plaza Mayor in Madrid and made friends with the bartenders. They gave us the scoop on what was going on in the city and what areas were fun to visit. This helped us significantly since local knowledge is unbeatable. Have a fun European adventure!

 

Varsha shared some photos from her trip.  You can see them below.

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This continues a series of articles featuring trips taken by real travelers.  If you have taken a trip you’d like to see featured here, please contact What A Trip!

 

The Travelers:  Laura, her husband Alex and their 2-year old daughter Anya, along with Laura’s parents and Alex’s parents.

The Trip:  Two weeks on the island of Lefkos, on the Ionian Sea, and one week in Crete.

 

Laura answered some questions about her travels for What A Trip:

 

WAT: Why did you choose this destination?
L: My husband’s father was born in Greece, on the island of Lefkos and emigrated to the US at age 18. So, we had an insider’s perspective, as he has a huge extended family there, who brought us home cooked lunches every day, showed us the best beaches, and hosted barbecues and parties for us.  Plus, we had a tour of the monastery where my husband’s grandfather was a Greek Orthodox priest, and my husband had a tour of sights from his dad’s childhood, such as the old school he attended.

 

WAT: How did you book your trip?
L: We used the internet to look for a rental villa and then asked family members to visit it in person and help us negotiate.  We were quite happy with the two villas we rented.  My daughter loved having a big yard to play in, and we had a swimming pool in a Mediterranean-style villa.  Plus, with a child, it is wonderful to be able to cook your own food for some of the meals.

 

WAT: What were your favorite sights during the trip?
L: We loved relaxing on the amazing white sand beaches. We took a boat cruise around the islands, including Ithaca and the Onassis islands and really enjoyed the stops the boat made.  We had a few hours to have lunch on a different island, wander around a private beach, and swim in the ocean outside of one of the Onassis islands.

 

WAT: What were some of the most memorable moments during your trip?
L: I loved seeing my daughter carefully examine the olives on the olive tree and ask for Greek salad and French fries at every restaurant!  It was the smaller moments I remember… reading a book under a beach umbrella on a stunning beach, stacking up rocks on the beach with our daughter, eating course after course of amazing food with Alex’s relatives, who could not have been more welcoming, and exploring the winding markets in the evenings, in search of gelato.

 

WAT: Do you have advice for others planning travel to this part of the world?
L: I think you can’t go wrong with a trip to Greece! Eat lots of Greek food, especially the salad, gyros and fries, and leave lots of time to relax on the beach.  We traveled to a different beach almost every day. Since we were traveling with a child, we did not try to do as many sights as possible as we might have on prior trips, but we really enjoyed soaking up a taste of Mediterranean life.  It was truly a relaxing trip and one we will never forget.

 

WAT: Was your trip different or more challenging because you were traveling with a toddler?
L: We had a lot of help with babysitting (grandparents!), which was wonderful because we had the chance to take some day trips by ourselves, and I’m not sure how we would have felt about finding sitters in a foreign country.

 

WAT: Were any special challenges involved in doing an international trip like this with a small child?
L: The lengthy airplane flights: I was terrified about this issue. It actually turned out totally fine! We bought a small portable DVD player, so our daughter could watch Signing Time and Sesame Street, which helped a lot! We would recharge it in the airport, and it had 6 hours of playtime time (a lifesaver, even though she doesn’t ordinarily watch a lot of TV).  We also packed a bag full of snacks and new toys, just small trinkets a kid would like, like an Elmo finger puppet, a Magnadoodle sketch book, new board books, and crayons.  Plus, to my surprise, and unlike us, my daughter thought flying was a blast, even when we were stuck in customs in New York for several hours, and then our flight home was delayed for an additional few hours. I think she may have been the only cheerful person on the plane sitting on the runway because she enjoyed seeing the other planes out the window!

The swimming pool in the backyard of the villa: this was totally open and not fenced, which did concern me. We made sure one of us was always specifically in charge of her when we were outside, so she never wandered near the pool.

Baby gear: We traveled light.  We were able to rent a Pack n Play in Greece from a local travel organization, again thanks to the Internet, and we brought a car seat. I did not bring a stroller, thinking we would buy an umbrella stroller in Greece… HUGE mistake! An island does not have a lot of baby shopping opportunities. There was no Babies R Us or Target type shopping or strollers at a large grocery store. In retrospect, my assumption that cheap strollers would be available was silly.  Even in Athens, where we spent a few days, I could not find a stroller for less than $200, which was not what I had in mind. So we carried our daughter or she walked, but we wished we had brought a cheap umbrella stroller with us from California, to make outings easier.  We were able to buy sand toys and a ball easily, plus the Greek relatives gave her a Barbie doll, and between that and the beach, she did not need any other toys at least!

I am really glad we had the whole family together. Yes, traveling with a baby is more work, but we could not have left her for so long at that age, and it is also special to experience Greece through the eyes of a child!  How else would she have been able to add the word “gelato” to her vocabulary so young?

 

See Laura’s photos below!

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This continues a series of articles featuring trips taken by travelers from all different walks of life to destinations all over the world. If you have taken a trip you’d like to see featured here, please contact me!

The Travelers:  Amie and Cyndy, friends from the Bay Area and avid travelers.

The Trip:  Two and a half weeks in Nepal, including a 16-day trek through the Annapurna Mountain Range

Amie answered some questions about this memorable adventure and shared some of her favorite photos with What A Trip.

 

WAT: Where exactly did you go?
A: We went to Kathmandu, Bhaktapur, Pokhara, and then into the Annapurna Range for the trek. The trip is 16 days but you will probably need an additional day at the beginning or end to make flights work. This trek was probably one of the hardest things I have ever done. I think I lost about 10 lbs on the trip between the veggie meals and the 6 hours of trekking daily. (The itinerary is here.)

 

WAT: Why did you choose this destination?
A: We wanted an active and exotic trip. I had done a hut-to-hut type of trip in Torres Del Paine in Chile and I love that style of travel. All you carry is your water for the day. Porters are available to carry your backpack if you want to hire them, which we did. Food is available at the lodges. We settled on Nepal after considering the cost of the trip including flights.  Europe was out due to the hideous exchange rates at the time. Our other options were hiking in Borneo or cycling in Vietnam.

 

WAT: Did you use a tour company for to book your trip?
A: We used a company for the tour, but booked our own flights. We used Intrepid Travel (a Kiwi-owned company based in New Zealand) and I cannot recommend them more highly. They were better than I could have expected. I will use them again for my upcoming trip to Southeast Asia.

I would not tell someone to go there without using a guide or reputable tour company. There were trekkers that would arrive at lodges in the snow and rain and if there was no room at the lodge, they had to turn around and go back to the last lodge or hike several hours further to the next lodge. Horrible.

 

WAT: What were your favorite sights during the trip?
A: Fish Tail mountain and hiking closer to it each day. The mountains each day were just unbelievable.

 

WAT: Tell us about some of your most memorable moments in Nepal.
A: I think my most memorable moments were the hours following the trek every day. We usually arrive at the lodge by 2 or 3 pm we had nothing to do but hang out. Luckily, we were with an AMAZING group of Aussies and Brits. We talked, laughed, played cards, told stories, and read books. It was really a luxury to be bored and just sit there and do nothing. You never really get to do that at home.

Also, some of our group made decidedly female snow-women with the guides and porters outside one of the lodges. Each man helped sculpt this perfect woman, while all the real women sat inside and took pictures and laughed at these guys while they were staying the snow-woman’s hair. Quite an afternoon diversion. It was hilarious to see how a snow-woman with breasts could unite such different cultures.

 

WAT: Do you have advice for others planning travel to this part of the world?
A: Be aware of your environmental actions. Eat vegetarian dishes like the locals. Treat the water with iodine and drink it instead of buying all that bottled water while on the trail. Take your used batteries home with you.  That country cannot dispose of all our hazardous waste. Pack minimally and live lightly. Be polite and remember EVERY MOMENT how lucky you are.

(Check out the amazing photos below!)

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(For more photos from Madison's trip, visit her blog)

 

This is the first in what will be a series of articles featuring trips taken by travelers from all different walks of life to destinations all over the world. If you have taken a trip you’d like to see featured here, please contact me!

The Traveler: Madison, a thirty-something lawyer from New York City

The Trip: Madison took her dream trip to Africa in March 2009. She spent two nights in Johannesburg, three nights on the Zambian side of Victoria Falls (with a day trip to Zimbabwe to ride elephants and explore the falls), four days in Kruger National Park on safari and seven nights in Cape Town.

More Info: Madison detailed her travels on her blog, www.manhattanmonologues.com. You can visit her site to read her complete report and see photos. She also answered some questions about her travels for What A Trip.

 

WAT: Why did you choose this destination?

M: I’ve always dreamed of going to South Africa. I’ve been fortunate to have traveled extensively and have pretty much covered all of Western Europe and South America and some parts of Asia and the middle East and because of that I’m interested in traveling more in Africa and South East Asia. I am at the stage of my life where I want to go off the beaten path and I also am conscious of traveling to destinations that are dollar friendly. I visited a friend in Ghana while she was in the Peace Corps and have always wanted to explore more of Africa since then. Also, I had a friend who was studying in Cape Town for four months so I thought, “It’s now or never to go there.” I’ve also always wanted to safari and I think that South Africa provides easy transportation and Kruger National Park is a more reasonable destination from there than say the Serengetti or someplace in Botswana.

 

WAT: Did you use a tour company to book your trip?

M: It all started with me seeing a ridiculously great deal on South African Airways. I booked a flight and then tried to do a lot of research on my own. I’m not usually a travel agent kind of girl, but it was a bit overwhelming because on this trip I was going to be traveling alone for a lot of the time. Initially, I was planning to go to Victoria Falls and on the safari by myself. Having read everything about safety in South Africa, I decided to consult travel agents. Additionally, I found the single supplement at the private reserves to be ridiculous, so I had a travel agent book the Victoria Falls portion of the trip and find me a safari in Kruger National Park. It turned out that friends could join me for the Victoria Falls portion. I probably could’ve done that on my own, but they joined at the last minute. The safari was cool. It was just a private guide, myself, and a couple. We stayed in the rondavel huts at the Kruger camp sites and had braais every night. It was fantastic.

 

WAT: What were the most memorable moments of your trip?

M: Great question. Everything was fantastic. I would have to say that my most memorable moments centered around animal sightings. While in Kruger we had a pack of elephants about 15 feet from us in the car. One decided to walk in front of the car and passed by the driver side of the car within a foot of the car. We could’ve reached out and touched him had we been so inclined and so stupid. Also while in Kruger we were lucky to spot five male lions lounging around with one female. Lions can be difficult to see, especially the male one because they sleep 20 hours a day and female are the hunters so it’s easier to spot a lioness. Our lioness eventually decided she had enough time laying around with the lazy men in her family and got up and started walking to the car in front of us. She quickly got bored inspecting the passengers and continued walking across the road. Another great moment was when giraffes greeted us as we entered the Zambezi Sun Hotel compound. They were intertwined in a perfect pose. Another involved seeing zebras right outside our hotel door at the Zambezi Sun. There was also a time while we were waiting at the Zimbabwe/Zambian border when we saw a giant baboon almost attack these two ladies in full African dress, then walk into the customs building, walk out (evidently he was tired of waiting for a visa), attack the garbage can, and then hop into the back of a pick-up truck. He sat in the back of the truck and leaned his arm up against the side as if to say, “Listen guys, can we get this show on the road, I’ve got places I need to be.”

 

WAT: Do you have advice for others planning travel to this part of the world?

M: I think security concerns are blown way out of proportion. I know what the statistics say (lots of rapes, lots of murders) so I wouldn’t downplay that, but I never felt in danger and I spent a lot of alone time there. I went out with friends for dinner and drinks, but entertained myself during the day. I think as a traveler one has to be vigilant everywhere they go. In South Africa, I’d keep my doors locked at all times when in a car, only go to ATMs that have security guards nearby, and ask if an area is safe before venturing out. I found the Zambians and Zimbabweans to be absolutely lovely people. Very friendly, chatty and relaxed. Where as we would try to cut to the chase to ask a question (e.g., where something was, operating hours, etc.) the Zimbabweans and Zambians recognized the importance of trying to have valid human interaction with people. For example, I was invited to have breakfast with these Zambian women while I was browsing through postcards and we talked all about the men in our lives. If I had to do it all over again, I might’ve looked for an airfare/hotel combo instead of doing it separately. I got a great deal, but I think it would’ve been a couple hundred dollars cheaper if I had done an airfare/hotel combo. However, the drawback there is you’re on someone else’s schedule and not your own.

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