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Road tripping in the Rockies

from Go travel via rss - Wed, 04/23/2014 - 07:31
Canada is as beautiful as it is vast. Every province is wonderfully unique, but if time is limited and you need to prioritize your list of places to visit, I’d recommend putting a road tripping in the Canadian Rockies at the top of your list. The Rocky Mountain range of […]

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Sipping your way through Europe: The geography of regional drinks

EuroCheapo via rss - Wed, 04/23/2014 - 07:06

Traveling around Europe, we are often struck how local alcoholic beverages counter the general tide of globalization. They prevail, sometimes against the odds, as assertively regional products—occasionally even limited to a single city. Whether you opt for Ginja in Lisbon, Unicum in Hungary or for Tentura in Patras, the glass in your hand contains more than just a drink. It is a distillation of local culture and tradition.

The caraway-flavored liqueur Allasch is too sweet for our taste, but it has become over the years the signature drink of Leipzig—even though its origins go back to Latvia. There is plenty of Allasch in Leipzig shops, but we do wonder if these days it is purchased mainly by tourists.

The Finnish liquor Minttu is a minty spirit that pairs well with hot chocolate. Photo: trontnort

Baltic favorites in Latvia, Estonia and Finland

Latvians may have lost their taste for Allasch, but Riga Black Balsam is still going strong. It has been made in Riga for over 250 years. Its distinctive ceramic flagons are a Latvian icon, but you will also run across Black Balsam in maritime communities across the Baltic region.

Vana Tallinn cannot claim the heritage of Black Balsam, as it is a child of the sixties, when Estonians realized that cheap Caribbean rum could be improved through the addition of a cocktail of spices. It comes in a medley of styles, some verging on the bizarre. Vana Tallinn Chocolate Cream is one to ponder.

Moving north from Tallinn across the Gulf of Finland, you might run across Minttu, which is as minty as the name implies. We think it is made only slightly more palatable by mixing it with hot chocolate, just as Finns often do in winter. Another Finnish favorite is Lakka, made out of cloudberries. Take it straight, on ice or mixed in with coffee.

Patxaran is a traditional Spanish spirit made from sloe berries. Photo: Pablo Arroyo

Further flavors

Here’s a handful of other local drinks to tickle your taste buds as you travel around Europe:

1. Patxaran – Spain

Made from sloe berries, this drink comes from Navarre in northern Spain, but it’s also a firm favorite in the Basque region just to the north.

2. Cantueso – Spain

Brimming with thyme flavors, a bottle of this is hard to find once you get beyond the Alicante region of Spain.

3. Noyau de Poissy – France

Crafted from apricots, this regional drink is a specialty of Poissy, a community on the bank of the River Seine just downstream from Paris.

4. Becherovka – Czech Republic

This spirit comes in distinctive green bottles which are found everywhere in Karlovy Vary in the Czech Republic. The town even has a museum devoted to the history of its signature drink.

5. Danziger Goldwasser – Poland

Intimately associated with the Polish city of Gdansk, we suspect that nowadays it is mainly German visitors to the city who splash out on a bottle. It is a herbal liqueur which has wafer-thin flakes of real gold floating in it. Devotees of this oddball drink debate how far the gold inflects the taste.

The post Sipping your way through Europe: The geography of regional drinks appeared first on EuroCheapo's Budget Travel Blog.

Day 15, West Africa Cruise – Lome, Togo

Everything Everywhere via rss - Wed, 04/23/2014 - 00:25

Latitude: 6° 08.5126’ N
Longitude: 1° 17.0908’ E

In the last two updates I said that our next stop was going to be Cotonou, Benin. Togo is clearly not Benin.

What happened was a classic case of West African bureaucracy and being able to adapt. Day 15 was actually Easter Sunday. Despite the fact that this trip had been planned for over a year, it was less than 24 hours before we landed that we were told that the port in Benin was closed for Easter!

Thankfully, our ground agent for Benin was also our ground agent for Togo, so the staff on the ship and the agent on shore scrambled to switch our schedules for the two days around. Also, because the sailing times between Benin, Togo and Ghana are so short, it didn’t really affect our sailing times. To give you a sense of scale, the distance from Lome, Togo to Cotonou, Benin is only 90km (55 miles).

In the end, they managed to switch around our days in Togo and Benin and everything worked out. There were some small changes which had to be made because it was Easter Sunday, and thankfully it didn’t really change the experience.

For the first time on the trip we were greeted at the port by a welcoming committee of dancers. What made this remarkable was that it was Easter Sunday and it was organized with less than 24 hours notice. The most impressive part of the show were the dancers on stilts. The stilt walkers were quite high. I’d estimate they 12-15 feet (4-5m) off the ground. Moreover, they were wearing masks and costumes that looked like they would be extremely hot, and our day in Togo was turning out to be the hottest day of the trip so far. (see the photo above)

After the dance show at the port, we traveled 45 minutes outside of the capital of Lome to the village of Akato Viepe. It took me a while to realize that this was the first actual village we had visited on the trip. Our school visit in the Congo was in a large city and the visit to the Monte Cafe in Sao Tome wasn’t really a village visit per se. Likewise, our stops in Angola were both in sizable cities.

A horn announcing the entrance of the village chief

In Akato Viepe, we were greeted with full fanfare by the village chief and his entourage.

The people of the village gave us our warmest reception we’ve had to date. I can’t help but think that part of this was the result of visiting the village on Easter Sunday. (There was a service going on in a nearby church during our visit and it sounded like quite the celebration.)

A common theme in my daily updates is how little tourism this region gets. This has both positive and negative ramifications for traveling. In the case of Akato Viepe, it resulted in people who were as curious about us as we were about them. While we outnumbered them in terms of cameras, they took their fair share of photos us.

The chief and his officials entered in a formal procession to drumming and singing before sitting down in an honored position in the village ceremonial grounds.

Like our visit to the school in the Congo, we provided the village with a large box full of school supplies and gifts which was the culmination of the ceremony.

While the audience with the chief was obviously done for our benefit, the enthusiasm and reception of the villagers was genuine. We also had the pleasure of touring the village before we left. The school and other facilities were close due to Easter, but we still were able to get a decent feel for what the village was like.

In the afternoon we headed back to Lome and visited an African art museum, a artist market and….the fetish market.

To understand the fetish market, you have to understand that in Togo, traditional religion, often called voodoo, is still practiced by a very large portion of the population. The fetish market is a market for dead animals and animal parts which are used for voodoo religious purposes.

Prior to our visit, the staff on the Expedition, which has several experts in African culture and wildlife, gave us advanced warning for what to expect. First, we were warned that many people would be very turned off by the fetish market. While it is a cultural part of the Togo, it is also something which is very offensive to western sensibilities. Secondly, we were warned not to buy anything. I didn’t really think there was a high risk of anyone on the ship buying a dead bird, but they didn’t want to encourage the wanton killing of forest animals.

Given the amount of discussion, debate and preparation we were given for the fetish market, I found it a bit underwhelming. While it was a bit morbid, the sight of dried dead animals didn’t really bother me too much. Moreover, the market really wasn’t as big as I expected.

If you visit Lome, I’m sure the fetish market will be suggested as an attraction. Just know what you are getting yourself into before you go. The photo I’ve posted here pretty much sums it up: lots of dead animals.

I also want to take some time to talk about the thing which everyone who visits this region talks about: development.

You simply cannot help but to compare the cities and countries you visit in West Africa. Each place we visit puts the other places we’ve been into a different perspective. You notice the condition of the roads, the houses, the public buildings and the monuments. The funny thing is, there doesn’t seem to be a general agreement on which place we’ve visited is the most or least developed.

Togo was a forgotten sliver of Africa which was controlled by the Germans, transferred to the French and had the unfortunate distinction of having the first military coup of any independent African country. It is a legacy they never seemed to have been able to overcome. The president today is the son of the man who took part in the 1963 coup and obtained power in a second 1967 coup. While democratic on paper, there has always been major issues with irregularities in voting.

Lome is a pretty rough city. The streets, even in the city center are often not paved or covered in so much dirt that it seems unpaved. The national monuments are in a state of disrepair and its largest building is missing many windows. Few people live in proper cement brick structures.

If you look at a map, you’ll see that Benin, Togo and Ghana are all very small and close to each other. In my upcoming posts, I’ll be addressing just how different these three countries are and how these three places, which are populated with basically the exact same peoples, took such very different paths.

Next Stop: Cotonou, Benin

The Bright Lights of Las Vegas, Nevada

Everything Everywhere via rss - Tue, 04/22/2014 - 22:00

The Bright Lights of Las Vegas, Nevada

Some Jewelry Is Very Affordable If You Know Where To Shop

Travel and Leisure - Tue, 04/22/2014 - 18:00
When buying jewelry, don't worry too much about current trends. Look for classic pieces that can be worn over several years.

Grand Canyon Air Tours And Why Helicopter, Airplanes Tours Are Best

Travel and Leisure - Tue, 04/22/2014 - 18:00
If you plan to visit the Grand Canyon, make sure to take an air tour. More specifically, make it a helicopter ride! Learn why. Read this article.

Visiting Nyiragongo Volcano In Congo DRC

Travel and Leisure - Tue, 04/22/2014 - 18:00
Permits to Hike Nyiragongo Volcano cost $200. You can hire camping equipments book permits and arrange transportation to Nyiragongo through the tour company In Goma or Gisenyi

Visiting Rwanda: A Remote Place With Spectacular Beauty

Travel and Leisure - Tue, 04/22/2014 - 18:00
Rwanda, a landlocked country located in the region of eastern-central Africa offers magnificent natural resources and enjoyable amenities that a traveler is looking for.

In a Castle Dark Or a Fortress Strong

Travel Tips and Destinations - Tue, 04/22/2014 - 15:25
Hundreds of ghosts walk the streets of this 18th century town and fortress. You can actually meet and speak with some of them, those who are still in the land of the living, that is. During the summer months, the place is populated by animators who convincingly play the roles of former townspeople, residing and working here, just like back in the day. First established in 1713, the Fortress of Louisbourg on Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, Canada is the largest reconstruction project in North America. In 1928, after lying abandoned and in ruins for a century and a half, the Government of Canada declared it a National Historic Site. In 1961, a multi-million dollar project got underway to reconstruct about 25% of the original town and fortifications. More than a dozen buildings were then opened to the public.

Wildlife Sanctuaries In Goa

Travel Tips and Destinations - Tue, 04/22/2014 - 12:53
Goa is a place known for its splendor and enigma in all that it offers to its residents as well as to those who come visit the land. The place is bountiful in beaches, different cuisines, flea markets, water sports, parties, forts, churches, music and wildlife sanctuaries. Several of the Goa's magnificent places are less explored that offer true bliss of the nature

Explore Turkey: Termessos and Gulluk Mountains

Travel Tips and Destinations - Tue, 04/22/2014 - 08:43
Still some way off the beaten tourist track, these two attractions, featuring some of Turkey's finest landscapes and a huge slice of ancient history, make a worthy day trip from the west of the famous Antalya region. There are few restaurants on your route so this trip provides the perfect chance to enjoy a picnic in the hills. There is lots of fresh fruit and vegetables plus delicious roast chicken and fresh bread in the local markets, or you can head to the huge hypermarket in the Migros Shopping Centre in Antalya You need to head...

Day 14, West Africa Cruise – At Sea, In the Gulf of Guinea

Everything Everywhere via rss - Tue, 04/22/2014 - 00:47

Latitude: Withheld
Longitude: Withheld

In theory, day 14 was supposed to be our most ‘dangerous’ day at sea. I put dangerous in quotes because it wasn’t really dangerous at all. Nonetheless, it is worth talking about some of the issues the G Expedition has to face in this part of the world and the security precautions which were put in place.

For starters, it needs to be noted that West Africa is not East Africa. The problems with piracy off the Horn of Africa are nothing like what has been happening in the Gulf of Guinea. While piracy has become a full blown industry in Somalia, in West Africa there have only been a small number of cases of piracy, and those have only involved oil tankers. To the best of my knowledge, there has never been a case of a passenger vessel being taken in West Africa.

That being said, it is possible there could be a first time, so there have been security measures put in place to ensure the safety of the ship. Here are some of the things which have been done:

One of the serveral fire hoses set up to blast away potential attackers

  • The stern of the ship has been covered in razor wire. As this is the lowest point of the ship where someone could climb on board, this part was given the most attention in terms of security. Most piracy attempts involve putting a ladder against the ship or throwing up a rope, so by securing the lowest accessible point of the ship, you can do the most good.
  • In addition to the razor wire, several fire hoses were installed which point outward on the stern of the ship. The theory being, that if someone still tried to scale the ship, they would be blasted with a high pressure flow of water and would be knocked back.
  • Most of the piracy incidents which have occurred in West Africa have come near the coast of Nigeria. That is the reason why we didn’t visit Nigeria on this trip. Also, as we traveled from Principe to Benin, we didn’t take a direct route. We took a roundabout path which was a bit longer, but was further away from any potential source of danger. This is also why I’ve withheld the latitude and longitude from today’s update.
  • A team of former special forces soldiers were brought on board in Swakopmund. These guys are trained in courter piracy measures and one is on security duty at all times during the cruise. None of them are allowed to drink during the trip. (Which I know because several of us have tried to buy them a beer :)
  • The entire crew has been trained in security procedures in the event that something should happen. Should a small team of people in a boat try to take us, they’d have their hands full with a bunch of angry Filipino crew members. The fact that you’d have to deal with so many people is one reason why hijacking passenger ships isn’t a good business decision for pirates.
  • During periods where we are closest to Nigeria, we’ve been running at night with most of our lights out. You can still see some lights out the windows, but it has been minimized.
  • We we fortunate to have a Turkish warship in the region this year. I’ve also understood that there is usually one or more naval vessels in the region all the time. That means if pirates did try something, they have to deal with armed soldiers within a few hours. Again, that is bad for business.
  • This is actually a very busy stretch of water. Along Togo and Benin we saw dozens of ships including container vessels, oil tankers and other ships with actual, sellable cargo. They are much better targets than a passenger ship filled with retirees.

So, while the threat was minimal to begin with, the security procedures put in place has made it such that none of the passengers have been seriously concerned about our safety, myself included. I have no desire to be a martyr for the cause of travel, and I didn’t feel that traveling in West Africa was in any way an extreme risk.

I have no doubt in my mind that this is by far the least dangerous way to experience West Africa.

Next Stop: Cotonou, Benin

Church of Our Lady of Remedy in Kotor, Montenegro

Everything Everywhere via rss - Mon, 04/21/2014 - 22:00

Church of Our Lady of Remedy in Kotor, Montenegro

The Best Tapas Bars In Palma de Mallorca

Travel and Leisure - Mon, 04/21/2014 - 18:00
Palma de Mallorca is a vibrant and exciting city, easy to explore, and fun to get lost in. One of the best ways to immerse yourself is to stroll down the back streets, making pit stops for ice-cold beers and tapas along the way. Tapas is an integral part of Palma's foodie culture, and is also a fantastic way of cheaply eating yourself around the city.

Manacor, Mallorca

Travel and Leisure - Mon, 04/21/2014 - 18:00
Manacor is Mallorca's second largest city, set in the region of Llevant. Located around 30 miles from Palma de Mallorca, and with approximately 30,000 inhabitants, it is home to a variety of public bodies serving the region, and is also a commercial centre for all neighbouring villages.

The Classiest Resort In Mallorca: Puerto d'Andratx

Travel and Leisure - Mon, 04/21/2014 - 18:00
In the past, Puerto d'Andratx protected the main town of Andratx from the invasion of pirates. Today, tourism is now king of the village, and it is one of the most sought-after and popular destinations with tourists, expats, and those wishing to own a luxury holiday home on the island. The village itself is fairly small, and is situated at the bottom of a valley, with Andratx town around three miles away at the top.

Property Market On Mallorca

Travel and Leisure - Mon, 04/21/2014 - 18:00
Mallorca has always been a popular holiday destination with tourists from around the world, due to its wonderfully warm climate, stunning beaches and Mediterranean cuisine. However, in the past few years, Mallorca has seen a property market boom - faring much better than the rest of Spain.

The 14 Day Tour Through Rwanda, Burundi and Congo

Travel and Leisure - Mon, 04/21/2014 - 18:00
The great lakes region of Africa offers a tremendous tour that one must embark on at some point in time. If you are looking for a true experience of Africa, there is a 15 day tour that gives you the opportunity to visit four separate countries within the continent.

A new look for London’s Generator Hostel

EuroCheapo via rss - Mon, 04/21/2014 - 06:58

Mention lounges decked out with designs by the likes of Moooi and Tom Dixon, and you’d probably picture yourself inside a budget-busting hotel or restaurant. But they’re just a couple of the impressive pieces you’ll find in London’s far more wallet-friendly Generator Hostel, which has just undertaken a £8 million revamp.

The London Generator was the first in a chain that now includes hostels  Venice, Barcelona, and coming soon in Paris and Rome, each with the same emphasis on contemporary design and style and, sixteen years after its original opening, the London branch was felt to be looking a little tired compared to its newer counterparts.

London themes are everywhere, including this DJ booth in the bar area. Photo: courtesy of the hotel

Stylish and fun upgrades with a London theme

In terms of looks, the makeover is pretty impressive. There’s a London theme throughout, from the Mind The Gap signs to the huge red double decker bus in the bar used by DJs on club nights. In the café area, the comfy seating and the wingback chairs make it a more attractive place to hang out and check your emails than many other London cafes.

What’s even more appealing is that the design has been done with a sense of fun. Each floor is devoted to a different famous fictional Brit, ranging from the sublime, in the examples of Alice in Wonderland or Mary Poppins, to the more ridiculous Ali G and Austin Powers.

The rooms have a modern and bright feel with a few colorful touches to liven them up. Photo: Frances Ambler

Affordable and bright (but still small) rooms

However, when it comes to the rooms the revamp has, unfortunately, had to be a little more limited. As the hostel is housed in a listed historic building that once provided accommodation for the local police it means they haven’t been able to make any structural changes to address the complaints about small rooms that frequently crop up in online reviews. The only rooms with ensuite facilities remain the twin rooms. Furthermore, each room has been given a colorful paint job to make it feel a bit brighter and clever under-bed lockable storage helps maximize the space.

Tasty food & cocktails but no kitchen

Another possibly divisive factor is that the hostel contains no self-catering facilities for its 870 guests. There’s a full café and bar menu, with appetizing sounding dishes such as bacon, leek and Stilton tart with a watercress salad or a toasted flatbread with hummus and roasted red peppers, goats cheese and rocket at competitive but not bargain basement prices. Perhaps more indicatively there’s also an extensive reasonably priced menu of cocktails and shooters.

The bar is pretty to look at, but the youthful scene might not be everyone’s cup of tea. Photo: Courtesy of the hotel

The lively scene may not be for everyone

To its credit, London’s Generator is trying to keep the sociable aspect of hostel staying alive, with nightly DJs, film screenings and events such as quizzes. There’s music playing throughout the reception area too, making for a lively feel—perhaps too lively for some. In fact, comments about the noise remain the most common complaint in online reviews.

The care and attention to detail that have been put into the revamp definitely make it worth checking out, that is if the idea of staying in a large, buzzy and irrepressibly lively hostel appeals. For a more sedate time, you might be better looking at a smaller hotel, even if the chairs aren’t quite so handsome.

Read our full review of the hostel here, along with dozens of other affordable London hotel options.

The post A new look for London’s Generator Hostel appeared first on EuroCheapo's Budget Travel Blog.

Whatever Happened to the Seven Wonders of the World?

from Go travel via rss - Mon, 04/21/2014 - 06:47
Long before viral websites promised to “blow your mind”, humans were capable of creating things that would genuinely blow your mind. For thousands of years, the Seven Wonders wowed travellers from across the Ancient World. One by one, however, these remarkable structures crumbled,...

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