Travels with Talek https://travelswithtalek.com It's all about the experience Mon, 30 Mar 2020 15:24:46 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.4 115219145 ONE NEW YORKER’S TAKE ON CORONAVIRUS https://travelswithtalek.com/0ne-new-yorkers-take-on-coronavirus/ https://travelswithtalek.com/0ne-new-yorkers-take-on-coronavirus/#comments Mon, 30 Mar 2020 13:46:14 +0000 https://travelswithtalek.com/?p=25692 This New Yorker’s take on the coronavirus involves the movie industry.  The film industry loves to create disaster movies that destroy New York City. As I’m now under a city mandate to stay in my NYC apartment due to the [...]

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This New Yorker’s take on the coronavirus involves the movie industry.  The film industry loves to create disaster movies that destroy New York City. As I’m now under a city mandate to stay in my NYC apartment due to the coronavirus, I’ve had the luxury of time to count how many movies show NYC in various stages of destruction. Seventy so far, that I know of. Probably more, starting with 1933’s King Kong.

Among the most recognizable NYC destruction movies are Deep Impact, Armageddon, The Day After Tomorrow, Independence Day, I Am Legend, the sci-fi classic, When Worlds Collide, Planet of the Apes and so many more. Even animated movies like to destroy NYC.

Why is that? Why New York City? Is there something in the world’s consciousness that says, “once New York City is gone all bets are off…game over.”  Is the destruction of New York City a projection of humanity’s worst fears?

Empty Central Park during coronavirus

An empty Central Park during the coronavirus

We are now in a real-life disaster. Perhaps the worse in my city’s history.

I was just a kid when I experienced my first NYC emergency, the blackout of 1965. I didn’t know what was going on, but I could sense the tension from the adults.

Nineteen seventy-seven brought us the great summer blackout. There were riots in the streets. My sister and I stood in front of our mother’s store with baseball bats to discourage marauders. Fortunately for everyone, especially us, no one approached us.

In April of 1980 we had the transit strike. I was working at my first job on the 17th floor of north tower at the World Trade Center which, 21 years into the future, would be reduced to rubble. I rode my bike from East 75th street all the way downtown – about 9 miles- to show up to work on time.

On February 26, 1993 a group of terrorists tried to bomb the World Trade Center. I remember thinking “do they REALLY think they could ever destroy the twin towers?” Seven years later, on September 11, 2001 they did just that.

New York City skyline

So here we are again. New York City is once again front and center in the news. And not in a good way. This time we are ground zero (there’s that reference again) for the coronavirus pandemic in North America and the world.

This time we can’t direct our outrage at any person, group or organization. We must, once again, do the best we can to soldier through, help each other and emerge stronger.

To that end, I thought I’d share a couple of websites that may help all of us, not just New Yorkers, to get through this trying situation.

So here we go guys:

How to sanitize packages from Amazon

How to safely shop for groceries

How to prepare your household for the virus

How to make your own hand sanitizer at home

How to avoid coronavirus when you leave the house

How to reduce anxiety over the virus

What to stock up on so you’re prepared

One Work Trade Center in New York City

NYC streets should be packed with people. They are empty.

If you are stuck and home self-isolating here are a couple of tips to keep you busy.

100 things to do while stuck inside during the virus

Virtual museum tours (this one is really good)

And now for some GOOD news

10 positive updates on the corona virus

More good news regarding the corona virus

There is actually lots of good news and inspirational stories about people helping each other on the internet.

I’m looking out the window of my typically small NYC apartment. It is a crisp, sunny, cool and beautiful spring day. I see a guy walking his dog. A young biker transports home food delivery. A woman carries groceries. Everything seems so normal except everyone is wearing masks.

in New York City during coronavirus

Ready to go buy milk at my corner deli in New York City

I wonder what things will be like 2 weeks from now.

What are your thoughts on this New York’s take on the coronavirus? Tell us about your experiences with staying home and self-isolating?

*****

BTW, if you are getting ready for your trip, make sure to take advantage of these useful, money-saving links to book your trip:

  • Research and book your flight with Skyscanner. I have found them to be the best because they list all airlines including the budget ones. You are always sure of having researched all options. You can also book your car rental through Skycanner.
  • For car rental in Europe that has flexible pickup and drop-off options, I recommend Auto Europe.
  • Book your accommodation with Booking.com. I find they have the widest selection and a nice, user-friendly, transparent website.
  • If an Airbnb experience is more your style, book Airbnb here and get a $40 credit towards your first stay.
  • Protect your trip and, more importantly, protect yourself with travel insurance. I use World Nomads and have been very happy with them.
  • Looking for a small group tour to unforgettable destinations with top professionals? Intrepid Travel is your choice.
  • For more general tours to any destination or attraction, book with Viator. Check them out.
  • Need a visa?  Get your visa for all countries with iVisa.

I personally use, and can recommend, all the companies listed here and elsewhere on my blog. By booking through these sites, the small commission we earn – at no cost to you – helps us maintain this site so we can continue to offer our readers valuable travel tips and advice.

The post ONE NEW YORKER’S TAKE ON CORONAVIRUS appeared first on Travels with Talek.

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TRAVEL BOOKS TO READ WHEN YOU CAN’T TRAVEL https://travelswithtalek.com/travel-books-to-read-when-you-cant-travel/ https://travelswithtalek.com/travel-books-to-read-when-you-cant-travel/#comments Sun, 22 Mar 2020 12:00:14 +0000 https://travelswithtalek.com/?p=25676 When you can’t travel because you’re stuck at home self-isolating and practicing social distancing, pick up a travel book. Reading about travel may not be as satisfying an experience as the actual travel, but when you can’t travel, this is [...]

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When you can’t travel because you’re stuck at home self-isolating and practicing social distancing, pick up a travel book. Reading about travel may not be as satisfying an experience as the actual travel, but when you can’t travel, this is your next best option. Read about the places that move you. Allow yourself to be virtually transported to the villages of Southern Italy, the streets of New York City with its eclectic neighborhoods or Australia’s dynamic cities. A travel book can take you anywhere you want to go.

If you’re looking for the best books to read when you can’t travel, you came to the right place. We asked frequent travelers which books inspired wanderlust. Their answers are interesting and intriguing.

I love travel books. If you do too, you’ll appreciate these literary travel companions. Some are fiction books about travel, some are travel guides offering valuable travel tips and advice, but all are good books to read when you can’t travel. There’s something here for everyone.

Listening vs. Reading

There are times when you can’t pick up a book and read because it is inconvenient like driving (obviously), exercising, cleaning the house or falling asleep in the dark. Enter audible.com to the rescue! I banish boredom and restlessness by listening to a good travel book, or any kind of book.

I used to think that I wouldn’t appreciate listening to a book as much as actually reading. That I would miss the feel of a book in my hands. That I would somehow be betraying a precious, lifelong friend…a book. Actually the opposite happened. I started listening to books on audible.com and never looked back. I also saved a ton of money because audio books don’t cost as much as the real thing.

I recommend audible.com and for a limited time – actually until December 31, 2020- Audible.com is offering a free membership AND 2 free audio books of your choice. They know if you try them you will be hooked as I am. Use this link to get the promotion and tell me if I’m not right.

A styalized open book to read when you can't travel

Travel through a book

Eight of the Best Travel Books to Read When you Can’t Travel

*****

Ali and Nino

One of my picks for this list of the best books to read when you can’t travel is Ali and Nino. When I was a teenager in high school, I used to stop at a candy store that also sold paperbacks on my way to and from school. One day I found a book called Ali and Nino by Kurban Said. It was a Romeo and Juliet themed love story about a Muslim boy and a Christian girl. The story took place in Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan. What impressed me the most about the book were the descriptions of Baku.  I felt I was inhaling the aromas of the roasting meats I was reading about and feeling the sun on my face in the plazas the author described. I fell in love with the place and determined to see it someday.

Years later I became a fan of Paul Theroux’s travel writing. His books on train travel fascinated me; The Great Railway Bazaar, Riding The Iron Rooster, The Old Patagonian Express and his most recent, Dark Star Safari.

Reading a small bio on Theroux I learned about one of his favorite books, Ali and Nino. He said this book made him fall in love with Baku, Azerbaijan and influenced his life-long passion for travel. I was amazed, delighted and intrigued that someone like Paul Theroux had the identical reaction to the same book as I did!…and around the same time too! It’s worth a read. Maybe you too will develop a passion for travel and fall in love with Baku.

*****

The Art of Travel

Popular sociologist, Alain de Botton tells us how and why to travel. With intelligence and wit, de Botton considers the pleasures of anticipation; the allure of the exotic, and the value of noticing everything from a seascape in exotic settings as well as takeoffs at Heathrow.

Even as de Botton takes the reader along on his own peregrinations, he also cites such distinguished fellow-travelers as Baudelaire, Wordsworth, Van Gogh, the biologist Alexander von Humboldt, and the 18th-century eccentric Xavier de Maistre, who catalogued the wonders of his bedroom. The Art of Travel is a wise and utterly original book.

*****

A History of the World in 500 Walks

“I enjoyed reading it because it gives the reader so many great ideas of places to visit! My family and I enjoy hiking and this book has inspired me to learn about the history and culture of a destination by walking and hiking! Also includes great maps and important information to consider on each hike.”

Credit: Jacki Dyrholm

*****
An open book with illustrations you can read when you can't travel

Full Tilt: Ireland to India with a Bicycle

This is the diary of the author, Dervla Muphey’s bicycle trek from France, across Europe, through the countries of Iran and Afghanistan, over the Himalayas to Pakistan and finally terminating in India. She ventures alone accompanied only by her bicycle, which she names Roz.

Murphy not only survives daunting physical rigors but truly gets to know the people. She carried a pistol, suffered the usual stomach disorders and endured bad accommodations but reaped much local hospitality, too. This is a journey you won’t soon forget and the ideal book to read when you can’t travel.

*****

The Worst Journey in the World

This is the story of Robert Falcon Scott’s ill-fated expedition to the South Pole. The author – who survived the notorious Winter Journey—draws on his firsthand experiences to create a stirring account of Scott’s legendary expedition. He himself would be among the search party that discovered the corpses of Scott and his men, who had long since perished from starvation and brutal cold. It is through the author’s insightful narrative and keen descriptions that Scott and the other members of the expedition are memorialized.

*****

West with the Night

Beryl Markham was one of the first bush pilots. A British-born Kenyan aviator, adventurer, and author, she became the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic from east to west. West with the Night is her memoir, a unique adventure of a remarkable woman.

*****

A styalized book with a waterfall in it. A travel book to read when yu can't travel

The Great Railway Bazaar by Paul Theroux

I love traveling by trains; as the author quotes “…I have seldom heard a train go by and not wished I were on it”. His odd experiences and acquaintances reminded me of some of my own that I will never forget. This travel book really made me want to travel.

Gina Theodoropoulou’s blog is Traveling Soul.

*****

Ten Years a Nomad

Written by Matt Kepnes, the New York Times bestselling author of How to Travel the World on $50 a Day who also runs the award-winning travel site, Nomadic Matt.

This book isn’t just for frequent travelers, it’s for everyone who wants pro tips on how to explore the world. The author explains just why he’s been exploring the world for 10 years.

The book helps you realize how important travel is and how getting out there can make the world a better place.

*****
Do you have a book to add to this list of the best books to read when you can’t travel? Let us know in the comments below.

If you liked this post, you may also like my interview with travel expert, Matt Kepnes of Nomadic Matt. You should also check out Best travel apps for worldwide travel.

PIN ME TO PINTEREST!

BTW, if you are getting ready for your trip, make sure to take advantage of these useful, money-saving links to book your trip:

  • Research and book your flight with Skyscanner. I have found them to be the best because they list all airlines including the budget ones. You are always sure of having researched all options. You can also book your car rental through Skycanner.
  • For car rental in Europe that has flexible pickup and drop-off options, I recommend Auto Europe.
  • Book your accommodation with Booking.com. I find they have the widest selection and a nice, user-friendly, transparent website.
  • If an Airbnb experience is more your style, book Airbnb here and get a $40 credit towards your first stay.
  • Protect your trip and, more importantly, protect yourself with travel insurance. I use World Nomads and have been very happy with them.
  • Looking for a small group tour to unforgettable destinations with top professionals? Intrepid Travel is your choice.
  • For more general tours to any destination or attraction, book with Viator. Check them out.
  • Need a visa? Get your visa for all countries with iVisa.

I personally use, and can recommend, all the companies listed here and elsewhere on my blog. By booking through these sites, the small commission we earn – at no cost to you – helps us maintain this site so we can continue to offer our readers valuable travel tips and advice.

The post TRAVEL BOOKS TO READ WHEN YOU CAN’T TRAVEL appeared first on Travels with Talek.

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PUNTA CANA SAFETY CONCERNS: PERCEPTION VS REALITY https://travelswithtalek.com/punta-cana-safety-concerns-perception-vs-reality/ https://travelswithtalek.com/punta-cana-safety-concerns-perception-vs-reality/#respond Mon, 09 Mar 2020 12:00:40 +0000 https://travelswithtalek.com/?p=25322 Punta Cana safety concerns were the last thing on my mind as I strolled through the honey colored beaches of one of the many resorts in the area. Safety concerns in Punta Cana were also the last thing on my [...]

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Punta Cana safety concerns were the last thing on my mind as I strolled through the honey colored beaches of one of the many resorts in the area.

Punta Cana Beach

Punta Cana beach

Safety concerns in Punta Cana were also the last thing on my mind as I swam in the crystalline waters of the Caribbean, sampled the local cuisine, dipped in the plunge pool or explored the dense, lush rain forests. This is a paradise.

Punta Cana, a tropical paradise

Punta Cana is an island nirvana in the Caribbean on the very tip of eastern Dominican Republic.  The area faces both the Atlantic and the Caribbean and has ideal weather created by the ocean cross-breezes. Ringed with 34 kilometers of pristine beach, Punta Cana is host to numerous boutique hotels and all-inclusive resorts.

I recently spent time at several resorts in beautiful Punta Cana as a guest of a consortium of hotels promoting the Punta Cana Promise. This Promise is an eight point pledge describing resort food and beverage safety guidelines, policies and security measures detailing what guests can expect at Punta Cana properties.

I was invited because the hotels wanted to communicate the message that it is safe to visit. And it is.

The importance of tourism in Punta Cana

Tourism is certainly among the top industries of the Dominican Republic. This vital revenue generator saw a sharp drop in visitor check-ins last year after several American tourists died.  These unfortunate incidents resulted a frenzy of negative media activity. All the deaths were found to be accidental or due to natural causes. Dominican officials called in the F.B.I. to do their own tests which resulted in a confirmation of no foul play.  In fact, the tourists to tourist-death-ratio was found to be within the standard norm. With over 2 millions visitors a year, the deaths, although tragic, were not unusual.

Still, good news does not sell, and the tragic events caused a reaction totally out of proportion to the facts.   The hotels responded with a concerted and coordinated effort to communicate the reality of the resorts’ safety and security.

Resort pool at Punta Cana

The concept of the Punta Cana Promise was always in effect. Tourist safety and security was always a prime objective of the hotels and resorts. Now it has become more relevant and urgent to communicate the Punta Cana Promise to prospective tourists who have many options for where to spend their tourist dollars.

Safety protocols dispel Punta Cana safety concerns

One of the Punta Cana Promise participants is the Iberostar chain of hotels.

Deep in the resort’s kitchens, and dressed in sanitary whites, I witnessed the extraordinary measures taken to ensure food safety from sanitizing glass water bottles (the hotel uses no single-use plastic bottles) to their vendor sourcing protocol.  Vendors must be approved by several levels of authorities both governmental and independent agencies certifying the vendors’ sanitary and quality compliance.

The kitchens were spotless and are subject to surprise inspections by independent international agencies. The staff proudly displayed the many certificates of food safety compliance received from the corresponding authorities. All certificates must be renewed on a yearly bases.

And did I mention the food was amazing!!!!

Seafood Platter at Punta Cana Worth mentioning is the sustainable tourism measures many of these hotels undertake. The Iberostar maintains coral nurseries to safeguard the delicate organisms and ensure their beauty for years to come.

The Melia hotel chain is also a Punta Cana Promise participant and is equally engaged in the safety and security measures.   From onsite 24 hour multi-lingual medical assistance and ambulances to their own fire department – we were reminded several times that the best fire is the one that is never started – the security measures at this hotel chain were impressive.

The staff to guest ratio is very high and employee training extensive. One interesting little tidbit of back office information: any employee that interacts with a guest has a mirror at their desk. They look in the mirror when speaking with a guest to ensure they are smiling which is expected to communicate a pleasant tone to the guest.

RIU hotels made me realize how it is virtually impossible to enter a room without at least seven people knowing who entered and having a record of it.  In this day and age, in hotels the caliber of these Punta Cana resorts, the room entry systems are so sophisticated they are virtually impregnable.

All guests are given a bracelet with an electronic chip that opens the door.  There are no traditional metal keys or key cards involved. Whenever a guest enters the room all they do swipe their wrist at the door to open.  All room entries are immediately reported electronically to a central control point as well as to individual phones belonging to supervisory and security staff. Any entry not caused by the guest or housekeeping is a red flag addressed immediately.

The housekeeping staff uses cleaning solutions certified by independent agencies, rooms are sanitized regularly, there are anti-humidity controls in the air-conditioning for guest comfort and rooms are closed twice a year for deep cleaning.

Upside down bar in Punta Cana

Notwithstanding these super security and sanitary measures, the most impressive security measure I observed was the bar controls.  Rather than have liquor bottles that can be opened outside of a controlled environment, the bottles at the RIU sit upside-down in a locked cabinet. Shots are poured through measured dispensers. The only time the bottles are touched are when they arrive in the room sealed and when they are empty and replaced.  Genius!

Other hotels visited included the upscale Zoetry with its holistic wellness approach and the lovely Bahia Principe Ambar with their extensive list of activities.

Perception vs Reality

If there ever was an abyss between perception and reality it just may be the safety and security of resorts in Punta Cana and the misguided perception that it is somehow dangerous for tourists.  I found Punta Cana safety concerns to be unfounded. The resorts are super safe, all the more so now with the attention given to the Punta Cana Promise.

Things to do around Punta Cana

All the hotels offer aquatic sports either internally or through local providers. These sports can include kayaking, windsurfing, snorkeling, stand-up paddle boarding, sailing, group boat tours, surfing, catamaran tours and more.

Cabanas in Punta Cana

Swim with sharks and manta rays

One unusual activity is snorkeling with sharks and manta rays.  I decided to try this thinking it was a once in a lifetime opportunity.  The guide assured me the nurse sharks were yay big – he extended his arms about two feet apart – and that they were not dangerous.  Believe me, no matter how many times someone tells you sharks are not dangerous, once you get close to them your adrenaline starts to pump.

On the boat the guide said to me, “OK, go over there where the sharks are and snorkle around them.” I heard myself say “OK” and then wondered what possessed me.  I soon found myself in a little alcove snorkling near the surface of the water and looking down on not one, but four sharks all of which were considerably over six feet.

I felt a primeval instinctive fear looking at those sharks swimming so close to me.  They’re in their own environment whereas I’m in theirs. What if they come in my direction?! How would I get away? If it is possible to perspire in fear while underwater, I did it. But the sharks ignored me as a food option and quickly dispersed.

We also swam close to two giant manta rays called Big Mama and Big Papa.  I’ve never had an experience like that and will cherish the memory.

Parque del Este National Park

This is a biologically diverse nature reserve and a UNESCO World Heritage Park. It is a paradise of flora and fauna with over 500 species of plant and hundreds of species of birds and fish. The park offers an ideal opportunity for hikers to explore many loop hikes inland and along the pristine beachfront.

The park is the site of more than 400 indigenous cave paintings attributed to the Taino Indians, the original inhabitants.

Flamingos

Ojos Indigenas Ecological Reserve

This 1500-acre nature reserve is used for scientific research, nature conservation and recreation. The reserve has many beautiful trails and freshwater lagoons you can swim in. It is also home to a small petting zoo and an iguana habitat.

Saona Island

This island is part of the Cotubanama National Park located south of Punta Cana.  You can reach it via catamaran (2 hours) or speedboat (about one hour) from Punta Cana. There are several companies offering this service from Punta Cana. Your hotel can also arrange a tour for you including lunch.  It makes for a perfect day trip from Punta Cana.

As a protected nature preserve, the island is pristine with water in beautiful varying hues of blue, waves and waves of coconut trees and thick mangroves.

 Santo Domingo

Two hours to the west of Punta Cana, on excellent roads, is the capital city of Santo Domingo. This colonial capital is the oldest continuously inhabited European settlement in the Americas and, similar to the colonial historic center of Old Havana, it is also a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Santo Domingo has excellent international restaurants, a vibrant nightlife and interesting museums.

 

How to get to Punta Cana

Punta Cana is one of the easiest places to get to from virtually anywhere in the world.

With over 2 million visitors per year, Punta Cana airport (PUJ) is the second busiest airport in the Caribbean. There are many direct flights from U.S. cities, think Boston, New York, Atlanta and DC. Canada is not far behind with direct flights from Calgary, Edmonton and Halifax. There are a surprising number of direct flights from Europe; Amsterdam Frankfurt, Madrid, as well as from Latin America from as far away as Buenos Aires and Santiago de Chile and much more.

The airport is in the town of Punta Cana so transport from the airport to your accommodation is likely to take a maximum of 30 minutes but probably much less. Many hotels and resorts provide shuttle service so check with your accommodation. Otherwise there is taxi service at the airport.

What are your thoughts about Punta Cana safety concerns if any?

PIN ME TO PINTEREST!

BTW, if you are getting ready for your trip, make sure to take advantage of these useful, money-saving links to book your trip:

  • Research and book your flight with Skyscanner. I have found them to be the best because they list all airlines including the budget ones. You are always sure of having researched all options. You can also book your car rental through Skycanner.
  • For car rental in Europe that has flexible pickup and drop-off options, I recommend Auto Europe.
  • Book your accommodation with Booking.com. I find they have the widest selection and a nice, user-friendly, transparent website.
  • If an Airbnb experience is more your style, book Airbnb here and get a $40 credit towards your first stay.
  • Protect your trip and, more importantly, protect yourself with travel insurance. I use World Nomads and have been very happy with them.
  • Looking for a small group tour to unforgettable destinations with top professionals? Intrepid Travel is your choice.
  • For more general tours to any destination or attraction, book with Viator. Check them out.
  • Need a visa? Get your visa for all countries with iVisa.

I personally use, and can recommend, all the companies listed here and elsewhere on my blog. By booking through these sites, the small commission we earn – at no cost to you – helps us maintain this site so we can continue to offer our readers valuable travel tips and advice.

The post PUNTA CANA SAFETY CONCERNS: PERCEPTION VS REALITY appeared first on Travels with Talek.

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20 MOST SPECTACULAR PLACES TO VISIT IN ARMENIA https://travelswithtalek.com/20-most-spectacular-places-to-visit-in-armenia/ https://travelswithtalek.com/20-most-spectacular-places-to-visit-in-armenia/#respond Mon, 24 Feb 2020 13:00:14 +0000 https://travelswithtalek.com/?p=20764 It is very difficult to narrow down the most spectacular places to visit in Armenia simply because there are so many. From the trendy capital city of Yerevan to the fascinating Armenian historical sites throughout the country, the country captivates [...]

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It is very difficult to narrow down the most spectacular places to visit in Armenia simply because there are so many. From the trendy capital city of Yerevan to the fascinating Armenian historical sites throughout the country, the country captivates and enthralls. There is something for everyone in Armenia where the people are friendly, the Armenian cuisine is unique and the landscapes are breathtaking. Come see this collection of the most beautiful places to visit in Armenia.

Armenian monastery, one of the things to see in Armenia

I recently spent several days in Armenia sightseeing in both the little known Armenian cities as well as exploring the top Armenia tourist spots. I didn’t expect to find so many things to do and must-see Armenia landmarks. I came away with a great appreciating for the country and the Armenian culture. As a result, I can heartily recommend a visit to Armenia. 

Before delving into the most spectacular places to visit in Armenia, I want to share some helpful Armenian facts and information.

Facts about Armenia

  • The population of Armenia is about 3 million with over one third in the capital city of Yerevan.
  • Armenia was the first country to accept Christianity in 301 CE preached by Saint Gregory the Illuminator.
  • Armenia is located the Caucasus region, between the Caspian and Black Seas, along with Azerbaijan, Georgia, parts of Russia and parts of Turkey.
  • Currency in Armenia is the dram. There are about 476 dram to the US dollar as of this writing.
  • English is frequently spoken in the tourism industry and hotels in major cities.  The younger the people the more likely they are to speak some English.  Older people are more comfortable in Russian.
  • ATMs are readily available in major cities, less so in the countryside.
  • The distance from the Yerevan airport to the city center is 14 kilometers, about 20 minutes.
  •  Charles Aznavour was French-Armenian. His real name was Shahnour Vaghinag Aznavourian and he is considered a   national hero in Armenia having assisted greatly after the earthquakes of the 1980s.

The Most Spectacular Places to Visit in Armenia

Yerevan 

This capital city of about 1 million residents is the type of place your could linger in indefinitely and one of the best places to visit in Armenia.  The city is beautifully laid out with excellent transportation options, a lively nightlife, good restaurants, helpful friendly people and a vibrant cultural life.

The must-see destinations in Yerevan are easy to find:

Start your Yerevan city tour at Republic Square, considered the center of the city. All roads lead from Republic Square.  Here’s where you find a good portion of the city’s cultural icons; the National History Museum and the Art Museum, conveniently both in the same building and worth a visit!

Another cultural icon is the Matenadaran, the nation’s repository of ancient manuscripts, gospels and other documents. Make sure to take the 30 minute tour!

A different cultural icon is the Ararat Brandy Company.  Brandy has a long cultural legacy in Armenia which is well represented here.  Take the tour, learn the history and taste the generous samples.  You will leave happy.

A fun place to hang out in Yerevan is the Cascade, a massive staircase rising to a view of Mount Ararat (don’t worry, there’s an escalator) and the Sculpture Garden below displaying sculptures for the likes of Botero and other prominent artists.

Sculpture garden in Yerevan, Armenia, one of the places to visit in Armenia

Mother Armenia, the statue of a woman holding a sword which looks over the city from a mountain top, is a beautiful structure as well as a national symbol. Make sure to see the small museum at the base.

Shop at the Vernissage market for local crafts and souvenirs and at the Gum Market to sample traditional Armenian delicacies. Yum!!

If you want to experience the Yerevan nightlife, go wander Saryan Street until you find your perfect wine bar or restaurant. This is where Yerevan goes to enjoy the evening in their beautiful city while they snack on “lavash” (goat cheese wrapped in Armenian bread with condiments), and a glass of wine. Saryan Street is the place to be in Yerevan for wine lovers.  And even if you don’t like wine, this is such a fun place to people watch, you shouldn’t miss it.

No matter what you do in Yerevan, no matter how long you are in the city, you cannot leave without visiting the Armenian Genocide Museum.  This well-curated museum explains the history of the Armenian holocaust at the hands of the Ottoman Empire.  It will give you insight into the culture and help you understand it.

Where to stay in Yerevan

Once you leave Yerevan, you begin to explore the Armenian countryside with its amazing landscapes.  One of the most beautiful sights is the view of Mount Ararat where, legend has it, Noah’s ark rested after the flood, with the Khor Viral Monastery in the foreground.  The view is picture perfect and a great photo opportunity.

Khor Viral Monastery View with View of Mount Ararat

Armenian monastery and Mount Ararat in background

Novarank Monastery

Two hours southeast of Yerevan is Noravank Monastery, clinging to a cliff, surrounded by rust-colored rocks.

This 13-century monastery is known for its carvings, one of which is believed to be the only image of god in the country. The monastery has served many purposes throughout the centuries. It was once the residence of high-ranking clergy which made the monastery a religious center. It was also a cultural center and even a library.

Novarank Monastery, one of the most interesting places to visit in Armenia.

Jermuk

Jermuk is the spa town in the area. During the Soviet Era Jermuk is where people came to enjoy fresh mountain air, lovely landscapes and “sanatoriums.” A sanatorium was a spa-type establishments that offered massages, steam rooms and saunas. The town’s principal draw has remained and flourished after the Soviets left.  Today there are some pretty good spas available at extremely reasonable prices. One example is the Grand Resort. 

Throughout the town you can see abandoned Soviet Era structures still standing like movie theaters and enormous hotels clinging from mountain sides.  It’s fascinating to see these relics of the past and imagine what life must have been like during Soviet times.

Another town draw is the health waters of Jermuk.  In keeping with the town’s reputation as a health resort, there is a fountain that sprouts what is touted as waters with health benefits from different sprouts. All the waters have different temperatures. Tourist drink the waters and have their photos taken in the arcade sheltering the fountain.

Salim Caravanserai

Between the towns of Jermuk and Noratus there is an ancient caravanserai.  A caravanserai is an inn used as a stopping point by the caravans as they worked their way across Asia.  The ancient caravanserai were instrumental in encouraging the flow of information, commerce, ideas and people along the trade routes of Southeast Europe, North Africa and Asia, particularly the Silk Route.

Today there are caravanserai that have been reconstructed and transformed into hotels serving the same purpose as they did over 1000 years ago. You can find many of them in Baku, Azerbaijan, once a central transfer point in the ancient world, similar to what major airline hubs would be today.

Doorway of Salim Caravanserai, one of the most interesting places to visit in Armenia Salim Caravanserai

The Salim Caravanserai in Armenia looks exactly as it did in the 13th century.  It is said that Marco Polo stayed there on his way to China.

What’s fascinating about this place is that you can see exactly what a caravanserai looked like and imagine how the people lived and travelled along the Silk Route.  There are separate rooms for the pack animals; camels, donkeys and horses.  The middle of the large room is reserved for cooking with an air chute still clearly visible above what was the cooking fire.  Directly in front of the animal stable section is the area where the humans slept and rested.

You can almost envision these long-distance traders wheeling and dealing and planning their next day’s journey by the light of the fire.  I found this to be one of the most interesting places to visit in Armenia.

Right outside the caravanserai an entrepreneurial couple sells souvenirs, Armenian delicacies and local flavored vodkas and brandies.

This is a must on your list of places to visit in Armenia simply for its uniqueness and historical value.

Lake Sevan and Sevanavank Monastery

Next stop, Lake Sevan, the Pearl of Armenia and one of the largest high-altitude fresh water lakes in the world.

Lake Sevan is a popular getaway spot for Armenians.  There are restaurants around the lake offering fresh seafood and Armenian delicacies.

A short walk from the lake is the Sevanavank Monastery.  Climb the 200 steps of the monastery and be rewarded by a spectacular view of the shimmering lake.

Lale Sevan, one of the best places to visit in Armenia Sevanavank Monastery, a must-visit place in Armenia

The monastery itself is also impressive. It is part of a complex that dates back to the 4th century CE.

One of the many legends surrounding the monastery is that it was built by a princess who dreamt that the 12 apostles flew over the lake and indicated to her where the monastery should be built.

Since that time the monastery has been a rehabilitation center for misbehaving monks, a center for illustrating manuscripts, a writers residence and a summer retreat for high-level politicians.

The monastery was originally on an island but during an industrialization project the lake was drained of 65 feet and the island became a peninsula although the locals still refer to it as an island.

The monastery is worth a visit for its architecture and breathtaking views of the sparkling azure Lake Sevan.

Noratus and the Khachkars

Of all the places to visit in Armenia, the cemetery in the little town of Noratus was the most fascinating for me.

I love cemeteries. I believe they are perfect history lessons about the area you are visiting. Cemeteries reveal customs, attitudes and beliefs. The cemetery in Noratus was no exception.

The cemetery at Noratus is amazing for many reasons but mostly for the abundance of khachkars.

A khachkar is a carved memorial stone frequently used as a headstone or a memorial marker.  These stones, also called Armenian crosses, usually contain a cross design and are found throughout Armenia and parts of Turkey.

UNESCO has included the khachkars along with their craftmanship and symbolism in the list of Intangible Cultural Heritage.

Armenian khachkars at Novratus, one of the best places to visit in Armenia

Dilijan

Dilijan is a town with a lot going for it.  It is frequently referred to as Armenia’s Little Switzerland because of its spa areas, beautiful mountainous surroundings and main street, Sharambeyan Street, built to resemble a Swiss Village.

The town is situated within the Dilijan National Park and has long been regarded as an artistic center where artisans can work on their specialties and sell their creations direct to the public from their work studios.

The other big draw in Dilijan is the fabulous collection of ancient monasteries within the Dilijan National Park.

Haghartsin Monastery in Dilijan National Park, places to visit in Armenia

One of the monasteries in the national park that is definitely worth seeing and probably the easiest to access is Haghartsin Monastery, This ancient structure is said to have been originally built in the 9th century – no one is really sure -and renovated extensively in 2011. It is a large complex with hidden passages and soaring spires nestled on a leafy green mountainside. This is one of the most spectacular places to visit in Armenia and a photo opportunity you don’t want to miss.

Right outside the monastery is a gata stand.  What’s a gata? A gata is a traditional Armenian pastry eaten as a snack with coffee or tea. They are baked with flour, sugar and butter and stuffed with a variety of fillings like nuts, raisins or various fruits. A gata can be as small as the palm of your hand or as big as a car wheel.

Gatas are eaten during certain holidays or for no reason whatsoever. Sometimes a coin is baked into a large gata and whoever finds it is said to have good luck for the coming year.

Each Armenian region has its own take on gata. The gatas at the Dilijan National Park by the Haghartsin Monastery are representative of both the Dlijan specialty and specialties from various regions.

Batches of gata are made throughout the day and its fun to watch them bake the delicacies from scratch. It’s even more fun to taste them right out of the oven. I tasted the blueberry gata and it was outstanding!

Insider tip: Get there early to avoid the crowds.  This is a very popular tourist spot.

Where to stay in Dilijan.

Vanadzor

About 130 kilometers north of Yerevan is Vanadzor, Armenia’s third largest city, the capital of Lori province and a major former industrial center in the Soviet Era.

As is the case with most of Armenia, Vanadzor is rich in archeological sites having been continuously inhabited since the Bronze Age. The city is decorated with lush gardens, pleasant pedestrian streets and broad plazas.

Vanadzor is also considered a major cultural center with many Armenians saying the country’s finest khachkars come from that vecinity.  Many artists make Vanadzor home including the inimitable Bogdan the khachkar carver who welcomes visitors into his workshop and regales them with his Armenian melody’s.

On the way back to the capital of Yerevan, two fascinating places to visit in Armenia are the monastery of Geghard and Garni. These two attractions can also be visited as day trips from Yerevan.

Geghard

If Geghard Monastery were in a country other than Armenia, it would be one of the top tourist attractions in the country. But  in Armenia, a country that is overflowing with UNESCO World Heritage sites, it is just one more must-see, jaw-dropping, amazing historical structure.

Geghard Monastery, a UNESCO World Heritage site, was actually carved out of the mountain!  When you see this place you can only imagine the effort that it took to accomplish this amazing architectural achievement.

Geghard Monastery, one of the best places to visit in Armenia

The legend is that the spear that pierced Jesus’s side was once housed at Geghard. This made it a major pilgrimage site. Today, Geghard Monastery is visited for its religious significance as well as its architectural achievement.

This site was built in the 4th century CE although the main chapel was built in 1215. What’s fascinating about Geghard and makes it one of the most interesting places to visit in Armenia are the adjacent chapels that were literally carved out of stone almost 1400 years ago with nothing beyond human and animal power.

Garni

A short distance from Geghard Monastery is the village of Garni with its magnificent temple.

Built in the 1st century CE, this ancient temple of Garni is the only Greco-Roman structure in Armenia.

There is speculation as to the temple’s original purposes. Some historians claim it was originally built as a temple to the local sun god.  Others say it was initially a tomb which is why it survived the destruction of the pagan temples when the area Christianized.

Garni temple, one of the best places to visit in Armenia

Whatever its origins, it is truly spectacular and a must-see site in Armenia. 

Where to stay in Garni

The Symphony of Stone

Nearby is one of the most interesting places to see in Armenia, the Symphony of Stones.

The Symphony of Stones are basalt column formations clinging to the cliff sides of the Garni Gorge.

Just before reaching the Greco-Roman temple, there is a road that takes you down to the valley. As you descend you will begin seeing the columns which continue to the valley floor.

This is a must-see natural phenomenon you will never forget.

*****

Armenian Cuisine

Armenian cuisine is not only about food, it is about culture.  Besides being delicious, many of the specialties have interesting backstories or are prepared using unusual methods.

Common ingredients in Armenian food include eggplant, lamb, cheeses -particularly goat, and bulgur or cracked wheat rather than rice.  These are not highly spiced dishes relying instead on the freshness of the ingredients for flavor.

The gatas mentioned above are very popular and after tasting one I can understand why. Biting into a freshly baked gata is a very rewarding experience.

Another amazing dish you will see at almost every meal is the lavash. Lavash is a thin flatbread cooked in a tandoor oven and eaten with various accompaniments like goat cheese, tomatoes, jams and herbs. It is frequently used to roll up the sides and eaten like a taco.

Just like a gata, a fresh-out-of-the-oven lavash is delightful.  Lavash is found throughout the Caucasus, parts of Turkey and Iran, but it is almost mandatory in Armenia.

The lavash and its preparation is such an integral part of Armenian culture that it was declared an Intangible Cultural Heritage by UNESCO in 2014.

Gata Armenian pastry Armenian lavash

The most interesting thing about lavash is how it is prepared.  The tandoor ovens can sometimes be underground. The dough is kneaded, placed on a cushioned platform and slapped onto the side of the oven. When it is retrieved, fully baked, it is hung to dry.  It’s quite a spectacle.

Does Armenia sound like a place you want to visit? Read more about this fascinating country in these guide books.


What are your thoughts on the best paces to visit in Armenia? Let us know in the comments which of these locations most impressed you.

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BTW, if you are getting ready for your trip, make sure to take advantage of these useful, money-saving links to book your trip:

  • Research and book your flight with Skyscanner. I have found them to be the best because they list all airlines including the budget ones. You are always sure of having researched all options. You can also book your car rental through Skycanner.
  • For car rental in Europe that has flexible pickup and drop-off options, I recommend Auto Europe.
  • Book your accommodation with Booking.com. I find they have the widest selection and a nice, user-friendly, transparent website.
  • If an Airbnb experience is more your style, book Airbnb here and get a $40 credit towards your first stay.
  • Protect your trip and, more importantly, protect yourself with travel insurance. I use World Nomads and have been very happy with them.
  • Looking for a small group tour to unforgettable destinations with top professionals? Intrepid Travel is your choice.
  • For more general tours to any destination or attraction, book with Viator. Check them out.
  • Need a visa? Get your visa for all countries with iVisa.

I personally use, and can recommend, all the companies listed here and elsewhere on my blog. By booking through these sites, the small commission we earn – at no cost to you – helps us maintain this site so we can continue to offer our readers valuable travel tips and advice.

The post 20 MOST SPECTACULAR PLACES TO VISIT IN ARMENIA appeared first on Travels with Talek.

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COMMON TRAVEL OBSTACLES (AND HOW TO GET AROUND THEM) ACCORDING TO NOMADIC MATT https://travelswithtalek.com/common-travel-obstacles-and-how-to-get-around-them-according-to-nomadic-matt/ https://travelswithtalek.com/common-travel-obstacles-and-how-to-get-around-them-according-to-nomadic-matt/#respond Mon, 17 Feb 2020 13:00:38 +0000 https://travelswithtalek.com/?p=23998 What are the common travel obstacles that hold YOU back from traveling? Sometimes you are not even aware of them.  Whatever they are, there are many ways to overcome all types of  travel obstacles, even the most stubborn of them. [...]

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What are the common travel obstacles that hold YOU back from traveling? Sometimes you are not even aware of them.  Whatever they are, there are many ways to overcome all types of  travel obstacles, even the most stubborn of them.

In this interview with world renown travel blogger and author, Nomadic Matt, Matt shares his insight into the obstacles, both real and imagined, that keep people from traveling. More importantly, he provides thoughts on how to overcome them and realize your travel dreams.

Nomadic Matt with pet, overcoming obstacles to travel

Now, let’s hear from Matt.

*****

Common Travel Obstacles and How to Get Around Them

After ten years of traveling the world, I’ve heard pretty much every excuse there is when it comes to putting off travel. Most of these perceived travel obstacles and excuses are cultural. As an American, I was taught that “travel” means taking a two-week vacation each year — and that’s it. Longer trips are for retirement, when you can finally relax and do all the things you’ve been meaning to do.

It’s such an ingrained way of thinking that even I believed it for much of my life.

But, as we start a new year, I wanted to speak up against that way of thinking. Travel isn’t something you should wait to do — because there is no guarantee that we’ll make it to 65. There’s no guarantee that, if we put our travel plans on the backburner, they’ll still be there when we’re ready to finally travel.

I’ve seen far too many people wait until it was too late. Don’t be one of those people.

To help you make your travel dreams a reality this year, here are the top 6 travel obstacles I see — and how you can get around them!

View of Manhattan from DUMBO in Brooklyn

New York City.

Travel is too expensive

This is probably the most common obstacle people. And while travel is a privilege and many people don’t have the luxury of taking trips, the fact is that many people could make travel a reality if they looked at their situation a little differently.

“But I’ve got bills to pay” is what I always hear from people — which is fair. We do all have bills to pay. But guess what? That’s never going to change. There will always be bills to pay, birthdays to get gifts for, weddings to attend, new clothes to buy, groceries to shop for. The list goes on.

Those expenses are always going to exist. That just the way it is. And while maybe in the future we might have more money to spend, that isn’t a guarantee. We can lose out job or the stock market can crash or we encounter unexpected expenses. Anything can happen.

If you’re waiting so you can go on your perfect getaway, chances are you’re never going to actually make that trip happen. That’s because there is never a perfect time to travel. The perfect time to travel is a myth. Wait for it, and you’ll still be waiting come 2030. You just need to make the most of what you have today — because tomorrow isn’t guaranteed.

The good news is that it’s never been cheaper to travel the world. Even if you don’t want to backpack on a shoestring budget, you can still travel much of the world for $50-100 USD per day. You can learn how to find a cheap flight online, budget accommodations like Airbnb and hostels make finding accommodation affordable, and the sharing economy can connect you with money-saving apps to help you make travel affordable. There are a million ways to make budget travel happen without giving up your comfort.

To get the ball rolling, sign up for any of the best travel credit cards on the market and start earning free points. You can use those points for free flights or hotel stays, saving you the majority of your travel costs. All with no additional spending too! If you’re going to do one thing this year to make travel happen, do this!

Glacier Bay

Glacier Bay

Travel is too dangerous

While there are many regions of the world to avoid, the overwhelming majority of destinations travelers visit are just as safe as back home (if not safer). I often hear many Americans worry about their safety abroad, owing to our penchant for overblown news stories. However, the reality is, there are plenty of countries on every single continent that are safer than the US.

As long as you take some common-sense precautions and learn about common travel scams you’ll be fine. Will you occasionally get ripped off a few dollars when haggling? Probably. Will a taxi driver take the long route so you have to pay a dollar or two more? Undoubtedly.

But at the end of the day, that’s just a couple bucks. It’s not going to ruin your trip or break the bank (and taxi drivers in North America do that too!).

By being prepared and using common sense, you’ll be ready for whatever surprises the road throws at you. For everything else, buy travel insurance. That way, even if something does happen you’ll be protected.

I don’t have enough time

This is a big one for Americans (as well as families). There just never seems to be enough time for a trip — especially if you only have two weeks off per year.

The truth is, if you want to travel more you just need to change your definition of travel. Every weekend is a chance to travel to a nearby city for a quick getaway. Between vacation time and weekends, that’s 110 days of travel every year!

Additionally, it’s never been easier for families to move abroad for long-term travel while still making money. Remote positions, teaching English, housesitting, and volunteer platforms like Worldpackers.com make it easy for anyone to travel more while lowering their costs. You just need to get creative and think outside the box to overcome any travel obstacle.

Nomadic Matt in front of French castle overcoming obstacles to travel

Matt in France

I don’t have anyone to travel with and I don’t want to go alone

As a solo traveler, I often hear from people who would love to travel more but just don’t have anyone to go with. I can definitely relate to this feeling.

Years ago, for one of my first big trips, I had planned to backpack Australia with a friend. He ended up bailing and I just went by myself because I knew that, if I kept waiting for him, I’d never go (he still hasn’t been by the way).

On the plus side, I was able to meet tons of people on my trip (and on every trip since). By using websites like meetup.com, thenomadicnetwork.com, and apps like Couchsurfing’s Hangouts, you can easily meet people while you travel. This can be for a meal, a day trip, or even a longer journey together if you get along.

I know that solo travel can seem daunting, but to be honest you’re never really going to be “solo.” You’re always going to be stumbling into other travelers and locals alike. People you can join for a meal or a night out, and sometimes even people who you’ll travel with for a few days or more.

You can also meet like-minded people on walking tours, in cooking classes, or in your accommodation. In fact, I always meet so many people that it’s hard to find time to be alone!

I wouldn’t know how to go about planning the trip

Planning a trip (especially a long trip) can be overwhelming. How do I find a cheap flights? What’s the best travel insurance company? Do I need visas or vaccines? The list goes on!

Fortunately, there are a million and one blogs, groups, and companies out there to help you reach your travel goals. In fact, you can find everything you need to get started on my blog alone!

There are also lots of awesome tour companies that can do all the work for you if you’re not ready to plan your own trip. Even though I love solo travel, I still go on multiday tours because sometimes it’s just relaxing to let someone else do all the planning (Intrepid Travel is my go-to company and Talek runs her own tours too. You have lots of options). This is also a great choice for solo female travelers who are hesitant about traveling alone.

And if you do want to plan your own trip, you can find everything you need online. No need for expensive travel agents or overpriced guidebooks. Travel blogs and online travel groups have everything you need for free.

Overcome travel obstacles and see zebras in Africa

African adventure

I don’t speak the language

This was something I was worried about when I first started traveling. I’ve come to realize two things since then. First, many people all around the world speak enough English to help you get by. Second, body language is universal. I once said “choo choo” and pretended I was a train in order to communicate that I needed a train ticket — and it worked!

More importantly, these days travelers have access to powerful (and free) online apps like Google Translate. You can download languages offline to use without Wi-Fi so you are never without a means of communication. You can also use the app to take photos on ingredients or signs to translate too. It’s super helpful and pretty much eliminates languages barriers so you can travel without worries.

While travel is definitely a privilege, it is also more attainable than we tend to think. Travel obstacles and excuses are always going to be there. And they will stay there, if we let them.

But, if we start to look at travel from a new perspective and are willing to get creative, then it will become much, much easier to make your travel dreams a reality. With some planning, preparation, and prioritizing you can make your dream trip happen sooner rather than later.

You just need to take that first step.

*****

Thanks to Matt for his thoughtful and actionable information on travel obstacles and how to overcome them.

If you want to take that first step, here are a couple of destinations that are ideal for first time travelers as well as the seasoned wanderer.

Don’t forget to stock up on the right travel guides and inspirational travel books (including Matt’s new book) for your next trip.

What are the travel obstacles that hold YOU back from traveling?  We’d like to know.

PIN ME TO PINTEREST!

BTW, if you are getting ready for your trip, make sure to take advantage of these useful, money-saving links to book your trip:

  • Research and book your flight with Skyscanner. I have found them to be the best because they list all airlines including the budget ones. You are always sure of having researched all options. You can also book your car rental through Skycanner.
  • For car rental in Europe that has flexible pickup and drop-off options, I recommend Auto Europe.
  • Book your accommodation with Booking.com. I find they have the widest selection and a nice, user-friendly, transparent website.
  • If an Airbnb experience is more your style, book Airbnb here and get a $40 credit towards your first stay.
  • Protect your trip and, more importantly, protect yourself with travel insurance. I use World Nomads and have been very happy with them.
  • Looking for a small group tour to unforgettable destinations with top professionals? Intrepid Travel is your choice.
  • For more general tours to any destination or attraction, book with Viator. Check them out.
  • Need a visa? Get your visa for all countries with iVisa.

I personally use, and can recommend, all the companies listed here and elsewhere on my blog. By booking through these sites, the small commission we earn – at no cost to you – helps us maintain this site so we can continue to offer our readers valuable travel tips and advice.

The post COMMON TRAVEL OBSTACLES (AND HOW TO GET AROUND THEM) ACCORDING TO NOMADIC MATT appeared first on Travels with Talek.

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THE 10 COOLEST NEIGHBORHOODS IN MANHATTAN https://travelswithtalek.com/the-10-coolest-neighborhoods-in-manhattan/ https://travelswithtalek.com/the-10-coolest-neighborhoods-in-manhattan/#comments Mon, 10 Feb 2020 13:00:57 +0000 https://travelswithtalek.com/?p=23556 What are the coolest neighborhoods in Manhattan?  It depends on what you’re looking for.  World-class museums, theater, music venues, trendy clubs, great food from every ethnicity on the planet, you name it, Manhattan’s got it. But certain neighborhoods tend to [...]

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What are the coolest neighborhoods in Manhattan?  It depends on what you’re looking for.  World-class museums, theater, music venues, trendy clubs, great food from every ethnicity on the planet, you name it, Manhattan’s got it. But certain neighborhoods tend to specialize in specific attributes and are famous for them. Midtown has Times Square and the Great White Way of Broadway (BTW, it’s called the Great White Way because it was the first part of New York City to have electricity).   The Upper East Side has its glorious museums. The Financial District has the memorable 9/11 Memorial and Museum.

But there is more to this city of immigrants than its unique and famous attractions. There are also a surprising amount of underrated attractions in Manhattan.

Winter, spring, summer or fall, there are always fun, interesting and unique things to do in Manhattan and these are the coolest neighborhoods to do it in.

Taxis in Manhattan neighborhoods

New York City taxis

Neighborhoods in Manhattan have their own feel or vibe. Something as simple as finding a great, affordable restaurant in Manhattan – yes, they exist-  can make a neighborhood feel like your own special place. A place to return to time and time again.


“I go to Paris, I go to London, I go to Rome, and I always say, “There’s no place like New York. It’s the most exciting city in the world now. That’s the way it is. That’s it.” ― Robert De Niro
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We asked frequent visitors and residents to share their favorite Manhattan neighborhoods and what about them is so special. We hope that knowing a little more about the features of these Manhattan neighborhoods will make it easier for you to choose a destination next time you’re in New York City.

*****

Harlem

Today’s Harlem is one of the coolest neighborhoods in NYC.  It is one of the best places in town to take a New York City walking tour and learn about the history of this fascinating Manhattan neighborhood.

Harlem started life as a Lenape Indian settlement, from there it transitioned to Dutch farmlands, immigrant enclave, African-American cultural hotbed and now, trendy NYC neighborhood with vestiges of all its cultural past enriching its present.

What’s your pleasure? Harlem’s got it; museums, cuisine, music, and more.

My favorite restaurants in Harlem are Sylvia’s for delicious down-home cooking; ribs, corn bread and desserts to die for.  Red Rooster is the brainchild of Swedish-Ethiopian celebrity chef, Marcus Samuelson. The cuisine is a daring, innovative, combination of flavors in a beautiful environment.  Samuelson’s other restaurant is Streetbird that transforms the humble chicken into something out of this world and delicious.

The new Senegalese immigrants have added their own cultural influence to the local cuisine so come and try Senegalese food!

Jazz clubs in Harlem are legendary.  Ginny’s Super Club is in the same location as Red Rooster and also serves dinner. The music is a wonderful selection of various artists playing Blues, Jazz, Latin and more.  The Sunday Gospel Brunch show at Ginny’s is more than a show, it is an emotional experience. You end up saying “I love you” to total strangers from places as far away as Japan and Norway, and it feels so good!   There are so many great jazz clubs in Harlem.  Make a plan to try them all.


“There is no place like it, no place with an atom of its glory, pride, and exultancy. It lays its hand upon a man’s bowels; he grows drunk with ecstasy; he grows young and full of glory, he feels that he can never die.” ― Walt Whitman
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The best experience you can have in Harlem – besides a Gospel Brunch show, is to attend Amateur Night at the historic Apollo Theater.  Many legends have passed through the Apollo’s door including James Brown, Michael Jackson, Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald to mention just a few. On Wednesdays wannabe greats perform and the audience votes for their favorites.  At the end everyone gets on stage and dances. A must do in this legendary Manhattan neighborhood!

Things to do in Harlem: Apollo theatre, Harlem, NYC, New York City, Amature night at the Apollo

The Apollo theatre marquis in Harlem, NYC

Talek blogs at travelswithtalek.com

*****

Soho

Soho is my favorite neighborhood in Manhattan for many reasons. The first one is that I live here, but apart from that, there are many cool things to see and do in Soho. It is full of designer stores and tourists so it can get very crowded, especially on weekends, but early in the morning, wandering the streets almost alone, is magical. Many of the streets are still cobblestoned, one of the few remaining areas in NYC where this is true.

Soho is also famous for being the Cast Iron District with beautiful buildings made of cast iron so that columns are narrow and elegant and windows large. Soho has great food and drink too. New York is home to many famous food crazes, and you can’t miss having a cronut (a cross between a croissant and a donut) at the bakery that created them – Dominique Ansel Bakery on Spring Street. For pizza, visit Fanelli’s café on Prince Street, one of the original and best pizza restaurants in New York City.


“The true New Yorker secretly believes that people living anywhere else have to be, in some sense, kidding.” ― John Updike
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For something more upmarket, make a reservation at The Dutch where great food, old world charm and enormous windows make the perfect night out. And for something off-beat, escape from the craziness of shopping and more mainstream art galleries to the Earth Room on Wooster Street. It’s an art exhibition consisting of rooms full of earth. Yes, you read right! Soho truly has something for everyone.

Soho cronut, coolest neighborhoods in Manhatan

James blogs at travelcollecting.com

*****

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Greenwich Village

Greenwich Village has been one of the coolest neighborhoods in Manhattan since the 19th century.

Back then, artists in New York City used to congregate in Greenwich Village’s Tenth Street Studio Building. The Tenth Street Studio Building no longer exists, but artists and bohemians have never left Greenwich Village. In the middle of the 20th century, creative geniuses like James Baldwin, Bob Dylan, Lenny Bruce, and Jack Kerouac used the bohemian vibe of the Village as inspiration for their work.

Nowadays, Greenwich Village is more expensive than it was in the 50s and 60s, but it’s still extremely cool. When activists want to lead political rallies in NYC, Washington Square Park is the first place they look, and they might look for inspiration at Unoppressive Non-Imperialist Bargain Books afterwards.

The Arch in Grenwhich Village, one of the coolest Manhattan neighborhoods

Stella Jane blogs at aroundtheworldin24hours.com

Chelsea

Whenever I’m in Manhattan I go to my favorite neighborhood: Chelsea. It’s on the west side of the island, approximately between 34th and 14th Streets. Its vibe is cosmopolitan and classy while still retaining a “hip” factor.

The famous Chelsea market is there with vendors selling anything from seafood and crepes to loaves of bread and pasta dishes. If you’re not hungry but passing through there’s plenty of artisan shops, a flower store and a magazine stand. (There’s often pop up sample sales of high end fashion designers too!)

The High Line is in this neighborhood and is accessible from right next to Chelsea Market as well but it has several street-level access points along the way.

The Vessel, a popular NYC tourist attraction that looks like a copper vase with stairs seemingly reaching the sky, is in Chelsea in “Hudson Yards”. (Though Hudson Yards has become a Manhattan neighborhood all its own, the southern part where this attraction is does, in fact, reach into Chelsea.)


“It isn’t like the rest of the country – it is like a nation itself – more tolerant than the rest in a curious way. All the viciousness that makes other cities vicious is sucked up and absorbed in New York.” ― John Steinbeck
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Take the subway to the neighborhood for fast and affordable, virtually traffic-free transportation. The blue line subway with the A/C/E trains stop there as well as the red line with the 1/2/3 trains.

Chealsea, one of the coolest Manhattan neighborhoods

Mikkel blogs at sometimeshome.com

*****

The Meatpacking District

In the early 1900s the area was heavily involved in meatpacking and related activities which began to decline towards the 1960s when the distribution system began to change.

The Meatpacking District neighborhood in Manhattan took a different turn in the early 1990s when hip-boutiques like Diane von Fürstenberg, Alexander McQueen and Christian Louboutin appeared in the area.

Restaurants like Pastis which closed in 2014 and returned at a new location a few years later, attracted the fashionable crowds to the area and were famous for people watching and celebrity spotting.

Meatpacking District was also mentioned in Sex and the City, where four friends would spend their evenings in one of the hot night-clubs in the area. Some of the highlights of Meatpacking District are the Whitney Museum of American Art as well as a stretch of the High Line, which is an elevated park built atop former railroad track.


“I look out the window and I see the lights and the skyline and the people on the street rushing around looking for action, love, and the world’s greatest chocolate chip cookie, and my heart does a little dance.” ― Nora Ephron
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The district is also known for its trendy restaurants and high-end boutiques.

Meatpacking District, cool Manhattan neighborhood

Elena blogs at passionfordubai.com

*****

Museum Mile

One of the best neighborhoods in Manhattan is a mile-long stretch along the east side of Central Park known as Museum Mile. This area is, you guessed it, made up of some of the best museums in New York and possibly the country. Along with the Museum of the City of New York, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, and many others, the world-renowned Metropolitan Museum of Art, with over 2 million works of art, is a must-visit.


“If you want to become a real New Yorker, there’s only one rule: You have to believe New York is, has been, and always will be the greatest city on earth. The center of the universe.” ― Ellen R. Shapiro
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Whether you’re visiting New York City for an extended stay or only a day, Museum Mile is a great place to check off some bucket list items. Plus its proximity to Central Park allows for even more exploring when you get tired of the exhibits and collections. And if you visit during early June, don’t miss out on the annual Museum Mile Festival, with free admission to 9 museums, musical performances and art-making workshops along the mile. For art and museum lovers, Museum Mile is a can’t-miss neighborhood while visiting New York City. It is truly one of the great neighborhoods in Manhattan.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art, part of Museum Mile, one of the coolest neighborhoods in Manhattan

Jordan blogs at the sololife.com

Chinatown

Chinatown is a Lower Manhattan neighborhood bordered by Lower East Side, Little Italy, Tribeca, and the Civic Center. Home to one of the biggest populations of Chinese in the Western Hemisphere, visitors will feel like they have traveled to China when visiting Chinatown.

Once you have entered the Chinatown neighborhood, you will know. Chinese street signs hanging off the side of the buildings, street vendors on the street selling fruits and vegetables, and roasted pork and ducks hanging on the windows of restaurants, there is no doubt where you are when you enter Chinatown.


“As for New York City, it is a place apart. There is not its match in any other country in the world.” ― Pearl S. Buck
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If you have a chance, visit one of the dim sum restaurants and try out chicken feet or pig intestines, it is something unusual to do in New York City. You might forget the taste but you will never forget the memory. The only downside is that Chinatown really lacks nightlife, as there are only a few bars/clubs in the area. However, its neighboring district, Lower East Side, is one of the best and most affordable places for nightlife in New York City!

Chinatown, Manhattan neighborhood

Sean blogs at Livingoutlau.com

*****

Little Italy

Ah, Little Italy. One of the coolest neighborhoods in Manhattan. Just the name signals romance. But aside from the charming lights that criss-cross the street, it looks a little rough around the edges.

A hundred years ago it stretched across much of lower Manhattan. Now it has shrunk to just a few blocks. I visited many times during the period a few years back when my daughter lived there above a cannoli shop. She had a teeny, tiny apartment in a walk-up, and though I adored stepping out into the bustle of Mulberry Street each day, she complained about the tourists sitting on her stoop.

It is a popular, touristy spot, and for good reason. The restaurants are a big draw, but they have a general reputation for being not so good. However, on Mulberry, which is the heart of the area, Da Nico Ristorante at #164 and La Mela Ristorante at #167 (it’s described as “like walking into a Mafia movie”) are both highly rated.

At the end of the street is Canal Street, famous for its selection of souvenirs and bargains on counterfeit goods. And just across that street is atmospheric Chinatown. A don’t miss is the annual Feast of San Gennaro held for two weeks each September.

Little Italy is one of the coolest neighborhoods in Manhattan

Carole blogs at travelswithcarole.com

*****

The East Village

The birthplace of funk was known to be in the East Village in lower Manhattan. Historically this multicultural neighborhood was home to many musicians and arts. Today it still has a large arts scene with many theaters. It’s one of the most laid-back neighborhoods in Manhattan with a vibrant nightlife that draws a hip, bohemian crowd. You can find everything from dive bars to vintage clothing shops here.

To get a sense of the history of the neighborhood visit one of the old-school bars or clubs. Barcade combines the arcade games of your childhood with the drinking culture of today. Make sure to visit Spot Dessert Bar across the street from Barcade for some unique desserts that mix American & Asian flavors. Big Gay Ice Cream shop is another fantastic place to go if you have a sweet tooth.

While there are a lot of Asian restaurants and ramen places in the East Village, you can eat at a wide variety of places. Hole in the walls like Taqueria St. Mark’s Place to trendy Asian fusion restaurants like Momofuku Ssam Bar can be found throughout the neighborhood.

Within the East Village you can also see the different communities grouped together. For example, Little Ukraine is a great area of the neighborhood to try some Ukrainian food and learn about the culture of Ukraine at the Ukrainian museum.

Ukranian Museum in the East Village Manhattan neighborhood

Elizabeth blogs at the fearlessforeigner.com

Lower East Side

The Lower East Side is a must-visit neighborhood for anyone looking for the taste of old New York City. From art galleries and museums to some of the best rooftop bars in NYC, there is truly something for everyone.

However one of the best parts of the Lower East Side is the history. Visit the Tenement Museum to learn about the history and experiences of the immigrants that called the Lower East Side home upon first arriving in America.

After getting your fill of American history head over to Katz for the world’s best pastrami sandwich. It is a NYC institution and a must-visit.

Finally, don’t forget to satisfy your sweet tooth at the Donut Plant where you can have your pick or some of the best donuts around.

Aside from the food, culture, and history in the Lower East Side, one of the best-kept secrets is the waterfront views. Skip Dumbo for the less populated Pier 35. This small park is the perfect place to have a picnic or just take in the views of Dumbo, and the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges.

Bridge view from the Lower East Side neighborhood in Manhattan

Taima blogs at poorinaprivateplane.com

DUMBO

Although not in Manhattan, DUMBO is just 10 minutes away and such a cool neighborhood that I wanted to include it.

The DUMBO area of Brooklyn is hipster heaven with industrial-style warehouses-turned-markets, urban art galleries and start-ups galore so it’s no wonder it’s one of the coolest spots in New York. Standing for “Down Under Manhattan Bridge Overpass”, DUMBO is an area next to the river on the Brooklyn side which has spectacular views of the Manhattan skyline as well as having a wonderful character of its own.

DUMBO is the first neighbourhood you reach when you walk over Manhattan and Brooklyn bridges and it can also be easily accessed by ferry from the likes of Williamsburg and Wall Street.

While the area originally burgeoned thanks to the quirky artists who chose this as their favourite New York location in the 1970s, it has now become an Instagram dream with the cobblestone streets, industrial units and towering bridges making the ideal backdrop for that like-worthy Insta shot.

When you’re not snapping the ultra-photogenic locations, indulge in some of the cool activities DUMBO has to offer. Wander through Brooklyn Bridge Park, watch locals playing basketball on the riverside courts, take a ride on a vintage carousel, visit the Time Out Food Market or check out one of the area’s bars, galleries or boutiques.

View of Manhattan from DUMBO in Brooklyn

Chrissy blogs at Travelpassionate.com

There are lots of other exciting neighborhoods in Manhattan; the Upper West and East Sides, Hell’s Kitchen, El Barrio. All of them are cool in their own way. Make a point to see them all.

Map of neighborhoods in Manhattan

Learn more about where to go and what to do in the coolest Manhattan neighborhoods in these useful and entertaining books.

Which do YOU think are the coolest neighborhoods in Manhattan?  Which ones did we miss?

BTW, if you are getting ready for your trip, make sure to take advantage of these useful, money-saving links to book your trip:

  • Research and book your flight with Skyscanner. I have found them to be the best because they list all airlines including the budget ones. You are always sure of having researched all options. You can also book your car rental through Skycanner.
  • For car rental in Europe that has flexible pickup and drop-off options, I recommend Auto Europe.
  • Book your accommodation with Booking.com. I find they have the widest selection and a nice, user-friendly, transparent website.
  • If an Airbnb experience is more your style, book Airbnb here and get a $40 credit towards your first stay.
  • Protect your trip and, more importantly, protect yourself with travel insurance. I use World Nomads and have been very happy with them.
  • Looking for a small group tour to unforgettable destinations with top professionals? Intrepid Travel is your choice.
  • For more general tours to any destination or attraction, book with Viator. Check them out.
  • Need a visa? Get your visa for all countries with iVisa.

I personally use, and can recommend, all the companies listed here and elsewhere on my blog. By booking through these sites, the small commission we earn – at no cost to you – helps us maintain this site so we can continue to offer our readers valuable travel tips and advice.

The post THE 10 COOLEST NEIGHBORHOODS IN MANHATTAN appeared first on Travels with Talek.

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WALKING EL CAMINO FROM SARRIA TO SANTIAGO: ONE WOMAN’S STORY https://travelswithtalek.com/walking-el-camino-from-sarria-to-santiago-one-womans-story/ https://travelswithtalek.com/walking-el-camino-from-sarria-to-santiago-one-womans-story/#comments Mon, 27 Jan 2020 13:00:09 +0000 https://travelswithtalek.com/?p=23806 Walking El Camino de Santiago is a spiritual journey for some, a challenging adventure for others and an exhilarating experience for all. The section from Sarria to Santiago is especially popular and for good reason. I recently interviewed Milagros (Millie) [...]

The post WALKING EL CAMINO FROM SARRIA TO SANTIAGO: ONE WOMAN’S STORY appeared first on Travels with Talek.

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Walking El Camino de Santiago is a spiritual journey for some, a challenging adventure for others and an exhilarating experience for all. The section from Sarria to Santiago is especially popular and for good reason.

I recently interviewed Milagros (Millie) Teran,  a woman who walked the Camino at that most beautiful section from Sarria to Santiago. Her story will surprise and delight you.  But first, for the benefit of the uninitiated, let’s get the facts on walking the Camino de Santiago.

Facts for Walking the Camino

The Camino de Santiago is the most famous hike in the world. It was originally a pilgrimage that began in the 9th century traveling to the grave of Saint James, one of the twelve apostles.

For centuries the pilgrim numbers ebbed and flowed until the 1970s when the pilgrimage became very popular again. Although the hike traditionally had religious significance, hiking enthusiasts have come to appreciate it for its beautiful landscape.

The Camino route continues to grow in popularity.  It is now estimated that over 350,00 walkers completed the journey in 2018.

el camino from Sarria to Santiago de Compostela

The Many Camino Routes

There are several routes depending on how much time you have and what scenery you’d like to see, but the major routes are:

  • The Camino Frances, the most popular starting at St Jean Pied de Port traversing all of Spain to end at Santiago de Compostela. It contains the popular short route from Sarria to Santiago.
  • The Camino del Norte is said to be the hardest with over 800 km of challenging coastline. It is also reputed to be the loveliest with breathtaking views of the northern coast.
  • The Camino Primitivo is short at 260 km but has a series of tough hills to cross.
  • The Camino Portugues is also very popular. The complete route runs north from Lisbon to Santiago, but many people prefer to start at Porto. If pressed for time, you can even start further north at Tui, on the Spanish border, and still qualify for a certificate verifying your walk.
  • The shortest route is the Camino Ingles which starts at Ferrol on the northern coast and ends at Santiago.

“Change your thoughts and you change your world.” – Norman V. Peale
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When Is the Best Time to Travel the Camino?

Spring and autumn are the best times to go. The summers are hot and the most crowded part of the year.  The winters are cold but all seasons certainly have their own charm.

What Are the Best Routes to Walk the Camino if Your Time Is Limited?

Depending on the time you have available to you, you can start your journey anywhere along any of the routes as long as you complete the minimum 100 km necessary in order to claim your Compostela or certificate of completion.

verification stamps on the Camino de Santiago

Some folks want to complete the entire route but don’t have enough time so they return year after year, collecting their stamps, until they finish their preferred route.

If you only have about a week, there are several ideal options.

Camino Frances from Sarria to Santiago

The Sarria to Santiago route is just over 100 km meeting the minimum for a certificate of completion. You can split the journey into 5, 6- or 7-day walks depending on how much you want to linger and appreciate the scenery.

This is an easy walk but with plenty of opportunities to see various landscapes. You’ll see lush vegetation, crisscrossing rivers and bubbling streams. This area is famous for its eucalyptus forests and soaring oak trees.

Keep in mind the route from Sarria to Santiago is also the busiest, so if you want peace and quiet, perhaps consider another alternative.

woman looking over bridge on the Camino de Santiago

Camino Portugues from Tui 

One of the main draws on this route is that you get a taste of the Portuguese culture as well as the Spanish. At 118 km this is the easiest route of all and can be walked in 6 to 7 days or less.

On the Camino Portugues you will see medieval villages with town centers that have not changed in centuries. The landscape is verdant and lush with large forests and expansive farmlands.

This route combines history, beautiful landscapes, easy hiking, and great cuisine. No wonder people love it!

Camino Primitivo from Lugo

This is the oldest route and, as such, is dotted with Roman ruins and charming medieval villages. Lugo itself is surrounded by one of the best-preserved, 3rd century Roman walls in Europe.

You will cross medieval bridges and walk the same roads walked by Romans over 2000 years ago passing forests, farmland and orchards.


“All truly great thoughts are conceived by walking.” – Friedrich Nietzsche
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Via de la Plata from Ourense

If you want peace and quiet while you contemplate the green Galician countryside, this is your route. This 111 km walk can be completed in 5 to 7 days and is bursting with thick woods, and charming villages that are deceptively sleepy during the day but come alive at night with tapas bars.

There are other short walks available.

*****

One Woman’s Story: From Sarria to Santiago

Nothing can capture the essence of a Camino de Santiago walk better than a description from someone who has actually walked the walk.  For that reason, I asked Millie Teran to share her Camino story, thoughts and experiences with us on her journey from Sarria to Santiago de Compostela.

Please tell us a little bit about yourself. Who did you travel with on this trip?

I am originally from Havana, Cuba but grew up in New Jersey.

I made this journey with my husband.  He had always wanted to visit Galicia, and especially Ourense, where his maternal grandfather was from.

What made you decide to take this route from Sarria to Santiago versus any other? 

After visiting Santiago de Compostela in 2015 we were very moved by the waves of pilgrims arriving at the Plaza de Obradoiro. We were fortunate to witness a pilgrim mass at the Cathedral where the immense Batafumeiro (metal container used to burn incense during religious ceremonies) was being swung from side to side dissipating the aroma of incense throughout the beautiful cathedral.

Right then and there we began to explore the possibilities of us walking the Camino.

What were the initial preparations you took?

We began to walk on a daily basis to see if we had the stamina to do this. We walked about 2 to 3 miles a day initially not realizing that we needed to walk longer distances.

We got a lot of information from a Facebook group called “American Pilgrims on The Camino.” Although there were many details to consider, we were mostly concerned with distances between sections, clothing, weather, shoes, and lodging.

Many people young and old do the Camino without any of those considerations and do fine, but we–being in our sixties and not in the best physical condition–needed assurances of the above items.

We found out that the minimum distance to qualify for the Compostela Certificate was 100 kms or approximately 70 miles. We also found out that the town of Sarria which is about 114 kms from Santiago was a convenient starting point for many people and it satisfied the requirement of the 100 kms to obtain the Compostela certificate. We decided to start from Sarria and began to equip ourselves with the proper clothing, shoes, walking poles, etc.

Sarria starting point of El Camino de Santiago

We also contacted Santiago Ways, a company whose advertising we saw on the Facebook group I mentioned before, to plan our Camino. Their service would move our luggage from place to place and secure lodging for us. We stayed mostly in hotels but also in other types of accommodations such as a private home.

How did you get to the starting point to go from Sarria to Santiago?

After flying into Madrid we stayed there a few days to try to reduce the jet lag effect before starting our adventure. We then took a train from Madrid to Sarria. That first night we stayed in a nice hotel, had a delicious meal and went to bed.

In the morning after breakfast we embarked on this amazing adventure. We both had small backpacks (our sons’ high school backpacks, which were of great significance to us) where we carried essential supplies for the journey.

The luggage bags were transported by the service we hired. The starting point for the Camino was a short walk from our hotel. We soon were going to find out that the Camino requires more than stamina. It also requires faith and the energy you get from listening to the inspirational stories of fellow pilgrims.


“Walking brings me back to myself.” – Laurette Mortimer
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Did you have any concerns prior to the trip, e.g., health, travel safety, time, diet?

We sure did. I had broken a toe about four weeks before and had stopped walking to allow for healing. Luckily by the time we left I was feeling better. My husband had been suffering from chronic knee pain for a long time but it did not deter him from forging ahead with our plans.

We both went to the doctors and after extensive tests were given the go-ahead.

Can you please give a brief explanation of each day. 

We obtained our Pilgrim Credentials at the front desk of the hotel we stayed at that first night and had them stamped with our first Stamp. You need a minimum of two stamps per day to get your Compostela.

Stamp station on the Camino

a local stamping station

The Compostela is the certificate you receive at the end of the trip verifying that you completed the journey. You will get these stamps along the way at a variety of places such as churches, roadside rest areas, restaurants, albergues, hostels, hotels, etc.

Day 1. – Sarria to Portomarin. 13.8 miles

Our first day consisted of a grueling climb that seemed to go on forever. It is truly a test of your conviction to complete this journey.

As we arrived at the top of the hill my husband had began to have doubts about his ability to complete this journey. There at the top of the hill sitting on a rustic bench was an elderly man we had seen on the train to Sarria. He had attempted to talk to us on the train but we could not quite understand him. Now we realized the reason why.

He told us that we would find water and a place to rest just ahead. We asked him how did he know and he replied “I have done the Camino 33 times”! You could see by his slurred speech and hand movements we realized he probably suffered from some form of Cerebral Palsy. We stood there in awe. We had heard someone say “you will see angels along the way in this pilgrimage.”  This was a very inspiring moment, especially for my husband. Fully energized by this man’s spirit he picked up the pace and forged ahead. It was a very long and rigorous day.

We walked approximately 14 miles through winding roads and the amazing scenery of Galicia to the town of Portomarin located next to the Miño River. My husband with arthritic knees and I with a broken toe.

We stopped at a roadside eatery where we had serrano ham sandwiches and freshly squeezed orange juice. It took us 9 hours, mostly because my husband had to stop to look at every cow, sheep, chicken and donkey he saw along the way.

cows on the Camino from Sarria to Santiago

That evening we had dinner at a small restaurant next to the hotel we were staying at. We had Caldo Gallego, Pulpo a la Gallega and a local fish accompanied by a local wine which is always part of the meal. Water is extra.

Octopus dish on the way from Sarria to Santiago

Day 2. – Portomarin to Palais de Rei 15.4 miles

It was a very wet day. It rained the whole day. Although we were wearing raincoats we were totally soaked from head to toe.

We noticed that women outnumber men in this Camino by far. Young and old, many are doing this all alone.

My husband who walked behind me most of the time had a shoelace untied, we kept waiting to arrive at a place sheltered from the rain to tie it. He just couldn’t bend down with the backpack, the rain and his knee pain. Suddenly a very wet young lady came up from behind and told him that his shoelace was untied, he told her that he couldn’t bend down, without hesitation she bent down to tie it. He told her it was OK that he was going to tie it at the next rest stop and thanked her. These are the angels you find everywhere in the Camino.

This day our Camino was very difficult, although it rained heavily from beginning to end, we accomplished our goal and were glad to arrive at our destination and settle down for the evening.

Day 3 – Palais de Rei to Melide 9 miles

On the third day we had better weather. It was very foggy when we set out in the morning but beautiful and very energizing. Shortly the sun came out it was only interrupted by brief showers. Temperatures were pleasant in the 50F range.

We were fortunate to stumble on a church in a small town that was having Mass. We received a special Peregrino blessing from the priest and kept on our way. We saw an elderly lady fall trying to maneuver her way through very rocky and difficult terrain, she suffered a cut to her face. She appeared to be bleeding from her face as other peregrinos took her back for help to the small village we had just passed. Three hours later this same lady passed us at a very quick pace with a big smile and a big bandage on her face, “Buen Camino!” she joyfully shouted.

The Galician countryside continued to be amazingly beautiful. We kept passing small villages with ancient homes that appeared to be empty. We witnessed many cases of handicapped people on wheelchairs being helped along by very courageous helpers. We walked a total of 9 miles that day which took us about 6 hours.

That evening we stayed in a small town in a house. The lady of the house told us where we could eat. It was a 5-minute walk through dark and desolate streets. When we got there we realized we were the only guests in the dining room. The chef had gone home for the evening and there were only a couple of individuals in the bar in the front with the bartender. The bartender told us to wait, she was going to call the chef at home and he would come shortly. Soon after that, the chef showed up and he himself took care of us. A very friendly and accommodating young man, his name was Jesus.

paella on the Camino on the way from Sarria to Santiago

He told us all his offerings in Gallego, the local dialect, but we figured it out. Everything was delicious and fresh. We were hoping to lose some weight along the Camino but with all this delicious food it was next to impossible.

Day 4 – Melide to Arzua 8.8 miles

On the fourth day, we had a pleasant journey. Nice cool temperatures and no rain. We walked approximately 9 miles from the town of Melide to Arzua and visited some ancient churches along the road.

El Camino woods

We got lost in a forest of eucalyptus trees. We were so amazed by the beauty and the aroma that we missed our marker for the Camino. About 10 minutes into the forest a lady came out of nowhere and told us we had to turn back.

We stopped for a quick bite at a small place where the specialty was a type of stuffed pie that reminded us of my mother-in-law’s chicken pie, it was delicious! Again the scenery of the countryside continued to make our journey a more pleasant experience.

Galician meat pie


“A year from now, you will wish you had started today.” – Karen Lamb
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Day 5 – Arzua to O Pedrouzo 11.9 miles

We were thinking about the ancient pilgrims that made this journey. We wondered what they ate along the way. Well, the Camino has plenty of free food to offer. Today my husband got hit in the head by a falling pear which he quickly ate. There are apple, pear, fig and grape trees everywhere. In addition there are thousands of chestnut trees that litter the landscape with millions of chestnuts and if you’re a connoisseur of edible mushrooms there are plenty of them.

Today the Camino has many small family owned inns or bars along the way that serve delicious meals for a very reasonable price. In addition there are plenty of places that offer a warm comfortable bed for a reasonable fee.

Day 6 – O Pedrouzo to Santiago 12 miles.

Our journey today was long but pleasant. We covered 12 miles in approximately 7 hours. We stopped to appreciate everything we saw on the Camino.

We met so many people from all over the world and learned from their interesting stories. We kept seeing this elderly lady, short, gray-haired, a bit on the heavy side walking alone with a certain limp and holding an umbrella. We assumed she had started with us in Sarria 114 km away. We asked her how many days had she been walking and she replied in her Irish accent 45 days! She had started in St. Jean Pied de Port, France which is 500 miles distance from Santiago!

My husband asked her if she would do it again and she replied, “I have already told my daughters that when they do the Camino I want them to bring my ashes and spread them along the way.”

What impressed you the most about this trip?

So many powerful and inspirational moments. Some are very personal but I was impressed with the friendliness of the local people as well as fellow pilgrims. A person that does this kind of thing is a very special human being.

What was the process of obtaining your certificate?

Obtaining the Compostela was very simple and easy. Once we found the office which had been moved to a new location from the time we were there in 2015 we obtained a ticket with a number. You can then follow the approximate time to return for your certificates on your phone or by checking a monitor in the Office of the Peregrino

How did you feel when you arrived at your destination?

A most special, joyful, emotional moment. I saw tears running down many people’s cheeks as well as my husband’s. You sit there contemplating and savoring the moment. It is truly a life changing moment. Only those who have experienced this can understand.

end of the Camino at Santiago de Compostela church

We made it!

As we sat there meditating about what we had just done my husband asked me “will you do it again?” I replied, this event is similar to having given birth. We must pause and give it time.

What do you want to say to people considering walking the Camino?

I also want to tell those considering doing the Camino that it is not a race–it is a journey. Savor each moment, smell the flowers, pause and ponder on the beauty that surrounds you.

*****

Want to create your own Camino de Santiago? Use these guides to help you plan.

Is the Camino on YOUR bucket list? What are your thoughts on the route from Sarria to Santiago? Would you choose a different one? Let us know in the comments.

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BTW, if you are getting ready for your trip, make sure to take advantage of these useful, money-saving links to book your trip:

  • Research and book your flight with Skyscanner. I have found them to be the best because they list all airlines including the budget ones. You are always sure of having researched all options. You can also book your car rental through Skycanner.
  • For car rental in Europe that has flexible pickup and drop-off options, I recommend Auto Europe.
  • Book your accommodation with Booking.com. I find they have the widest selection and a nice, user-friendly, transparent website.
  • If an Airbnb experience is more your style, book Airbnb here and get a $40 credit towards your first stay.
  • Protect your trip and, more importantly, protect yourself with travel insurance. I use World Nomads and have been very happy with them.
  • Looking for a small group tour to unforgettable destinations with top professionals? Intrepid Travel is your choice.
  • For more general tours to any destination or attraction, book with Viator. Check them out.
  • Need a visa? Get your visa for all countries with iVisa.

I personally use, and can recommend, all the companies listed here and elsewhere on my blog. By booking through these sites, the small commission we earn – at no cost to you – helps us maintain this site so we can continue to offer our readers valuable travel tips and advice.

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WHAT TO SEE IN YEREVAN, (ARMENIA): THE PERFECT YEREVAN CITY TOUR https://travelswithtalek.com/what-to-see-in-yerevan-armenia-the-perfect-yerevan-city-tour/ https://travelswithtalek.com/what-to-see-in-yerevan-armenia-the-perfect-yerevan-city-tour/#respond Mon, 20 Jan 2020 13:00:15 +0000 https://travelswithtalek.com/?p=21184 What to see in Yerevan? I found virtually limitless opportunities to stroll the city’s picturesque streets, sample the food and wine, learn about the ancient culture and much more. The charming capital city of Yerevan is Armenia’s largest city and [...]

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What to see in Yerevan? I found virtually limitless opportunities to stroll the city’s picturesque streets, sample the food and wine, learn about the ancient culture and much more.

The charming capital city of Yerevan is Armenia’s largest city and one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world. There is archaeological evidence of people inhibiting the Yerevan since the 4th millennium BCE.  That alone was enough to pique my interest. That and the fact that Armenia is not on the major tourist routes. I love off-the-beaten-track destinations dripping with history, and Yerevan is a perfect example.  There are plenty of things to do in Yerevan to include in your Yerevan itinerary and create your own perfect Yerevan city tour.  

Republic Square in Yerevan

So where is Yerevan? As capital of Armenia, Yerevan is in the Caucasus region which lies between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea. Other Caucasus countries include Azerbaijan, Georgia, parts of Russia and parts of Turkey.

Transportation in Yerevan is efficient making it easy to get around. The Yerevan metro system is fast, clean and cheap, only 100 dram, about .25 US cents. Most of the 10 stations are marked bilingually. Between walking and the metro, you can easily get to all the things to see in Yerevan.

English and other western languages are spoken in the tourism industry and ATMs are readily available in Yerevan but less so in other parts of the country. Many street signs in the central streets of Yerevan are written in English.

It is a compact city easy to navigate with a map. The city is beautifully laid out in ever-widening concentric circles with Republic Square roughly at its center.

What to See in Yerevan

Most visitors to the city start their Yerevan city tour at Republic Square, a broad plaza surrounded by some of the country’s most important buildings including the Government House, History Museum, National Gallery and various ministries. In the center of the square is a large fountain.

Republic Square in Yerevan

One striking feature of Republic Square is the tufa stones used to construct the buildings. This native Armenian stone comes in shades of pink, cream and grey. In the evenings when the fading sunlight hits just so, the square takes on a soft magical golden glow.

The avenue leading directly north from Republic Square is Northern Avenue, with high-end stores and restaurants on either side. The street is great for window shopping. Although mostly a commercial avenue, there are also luxury condominiums on the avenue where the wealthiest local are said to reside. Underground, running the length of the avenue is an underground shopping center offering everything from food to furniture.

The Opera in Yerevan

At the other end of Northern Avenue is the Opera, a massive, round structure that presents all types of the performing arts; opera, symphony, drama, music.

*****

Matenadaran

Further north is the Matenadaran, a great source of pride for Armenians. The Matenadaran is a repository of manuscripts and a research organization. It houses the world’s largest collection of Armenian documents; over 23 thousand manuscripts and gospels some dating as far back as the 9th century.

Matenadaran in Yerevan

According to Rouben Poul Adalian, Director of the Armenian National Institute in Washington D.C., “The Matenadaran is the repository of Armenian civilization.”

You can take a tour of the Matenadaran but don’t imagine you will only see old books written in Armenian. A tour guide will present the history of Armenia through the manuscripts many of which are gloriously illustrated. The tour only takes about a half-hour. It is a great example of what to see in Yerevan that will help you understand the Armenian culture and history better.

*****

Cascade and Sculpture Park

Yerevan’s Cascade and Sculpture Park are really two destinations in one.

The Cascade is a giant limestone structure of stairs rising to a platform top.  From there you can enjoy unobstructed views of the city as well as the legendary Mount Ararat. It’s quite a climb but fortunately, there are several escalators behind the stairs to whisk you to the top.  The cascade is decorated with beautiful sculptures interspersed throughout.

Sculpture garden at the Cascade in Yerevan

At the bottom of the Cascade is the Sculpture Garden populated with artwork from the likes of Botero and others. It is a large, open-air area great to walk around and take photos.

On either side of the Sculpture Garden are traditional Armenian restaurants and cafes.  This is a major entertainment destination for tourists and locals alike.  On designated days there are also concerts in the garden.

*****

The Vernissage Bazaar

This wonderful bazaar adjacent to Republic Square is a massive gathering of local arts and crafts. The space takes up about two city blocks. The weekends are the best because that’s when the city’s carpet vendors lay their goods on display.  This is an organized chaos of colors, aromas, and sights. An excellent place to buy local clothing, art, souvenirs and more! And don’t forget to bargain!

This is a fun place to spend a morning or afternoon wandering among the vendors, exploring the local crafts and drinking coffee.

*****

Armenian Genocide Museum

If you’re debating what to see in Yerevan, make sure you don’t miss this moving exhibit.

The Armenian Genocide is one of history’s most brutal holocausts. It describes and immortalizes the expulsion and mass extermination of 1.5 million ethnic Armenians at the hands of the Ottoman government during the years 1914 to 23.  Most of these ethnic Armenians were at the time citizens of the Ottoman Republic.

The Armenians were arrested, deported and most were eventually massacred. This ethnic cleansing took place in two stages; first, the able-bodied men were deported so the rest of the population wouldn’t have protection.  Then the women, children and elderly were led on death marches and also murdered.

Armenian Genocide Museum

The majority of the Armenian communities found today in places like the United States, France, and other countries as far as Latin America, are the direct result of this diaspora resulting from the genocide.

As can be imagined, this is a moving exhibit.  The displays pull no punches and many of the photos and translated documents are hard to take.  You will need a couple of hours to view the entire exhibit and you will probably want to take a guided tour.

*****

Mother Armenia

Mother Armenia is a statue in Yerevan of a woman holding a sword that represents Armenia. The symbolism is that, although Armenia is benevolent, she will defend herself against all enemies.

Completed in 1962, the stature replaced a statue of Joseph Stalin.  While the statue of Stalin was being taken down, one soldier was killed, and others were wounded. The local observation was that, even long after death, Stalin was still killing Armenians.

The statue is 51 meters high with the pedestal and it sits in Victory Park with a spectacular view of the city of Yerevan.   There is a little museum at the base. The overall impression of the park and statue is that they are definitely worth a visit.   Mother Armenia in Yerevan

Gum Food Market

One can’t-miss activity in Yerevan is the Gum Food Market. This lively, multi-level market takes up about a city block and sells just about anything you can imagine; all types of food, clothing on the upper level and live animals on the periphery of the market.

If you linger at one counter more than a few seconds the vendor will approach you and offer samples of everything from cheese to dried fruit.  This is an excellent place to stock up on souvenirs and sample the local snacks.

Dry fruits in Yerevan market

The market is in the center city so it won’t be out of your way and visiting it can easily be combined with other destinations.

*****

The Ararat Brandy Museum

The Ararat Brandy Museum is the unique place representing the history of Armenian brandy. Offering tours in 5 languages, it covers all the milestones of the Ararat history. You have to book a tour in advance.

Wander the Wine Bars of Saryan Street

Saryan Street is a long, trendy street with cute, inviting wine bars and restaurants on either side. It seems a mix of New York City’s Greenwich Village and London’s SOHO with a dash of Eastern Europe thrown in for authenticity.

The restaurants spill out onto the street in little, cozy cafes.  The area is busy throughout the night as the restaurants are open late.  Some of the wine bars double as art galleries or book stores making the area a place to linger and savor the Yerevan night scene.

By far the best things to see in Yerevan are the streets.  Getting lost in winding streets, broad avenues, squares and leafy parks of the city is the best way to get to know this fascinating capital.

Get Out of Town – Day Trips from Yerevan

The culturally important sites of Zvartnots Cathedral, Saint Gayane Church and Echmiadzin Cathedral are all close together and just a short distance from Yerevan. As a result, they can all be seen on a one-day trip from Yerevan.

Zvartnots Cathedral

Although in ruins now, Zvartnots Cathedral is a unique example of Armenian architecture from the early Christian period.

Ruins of Zvartnots Cathedral in Yerevan

Church of Saint Gayane

This 7th-century church is very near Echmiadzin, the spiritual center of Armenia and within walking distance of the cathedral. The church has remained virtually unchanged since it was built in 630 CE and is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

The dates in Armenia just amaze me. I find it fascinating to imagine people walking around in the 7th century on the same streets that we walk today.  And the structures they created!…so graceful and symmetrical. It is a pleasure to see these. The church of Saint Gayane is one of those memorable buildings.

Gayane was the name of the abbess who was martyred with thirty-eight other nuns in the early 2nd century CE. She was tortured and martyred at the site of the church. Later she was canonized Saint Gayane.

As impressive as the outside of the church is, it is the inside that truly grabs your attention. It is full of colorful murals detailing the story of the saint. Of particular interest in the mural of the martyred nuns ascending to heaven. Mural of Saint Gayane church

Echmiadzin Mother Cathedral

This is the soul of Armenian spirituality, the center of the Armenian Apostolic Church, also known as the holy city.

Echmiadzin Cathedral is located in the town of Vagharshapat, less than an hour from the capital city of Yerevan. The cathedral is to Armenians what the Vatican is to Catholics.

The cathedral was founded by Saint Gregory the Illuminator around 300 CE. According to scholars, the cathedral was the first built in Armenia. Many consider it the oldest cathedral in the world in one of the oldest inhabited cities on earth.

Surrounding the cathedral are beautifully landscaped gardens.  Also on the grounds is the cathedral museum containing many relics of great significance to Armenian believers. These include the lance that pierced Jesus and a piece of Noah’s Ark.

In 2000 UNESCO declared Echmiadzin a World Heritage site.

What to Eat in Yerevan and Where to Eat It

Armenian food is very tasty, but not spicy-hot.  Meals generally begin with a salad and continue with meats accompanied by vegetables.  The dolmas (stuffed vegetables) that you see throughout the Middle East are also present in Armenia. Other Middle Eastern-type specialties in Armenia include hummus and babaganoush.

One Armenian specialty that I had not seen anywhere else is lavash.  Lavash is a thin bread pancake stuffed with mostly goat cheese and garnished with scallions, cilantro, or sometimes cucumber and tomatoes. You wrap it up taco-style and eat it like a taco or eggroll. This treat is amazing, especially when the bread is right out of the oven!

Armenian lavash

Some good Yerevan restaurants specializing in traditional cuisine include: Danal and Taverna Yerevan.  There are also great snack bars around the Cascade and sculpture park. They are always packed but a little patience and you will be rewarded with lavash!

Know before you go to Yerevan.  Explore these reference materials to get a good understanding of the city first.

What are your thoughts on the beautiful city of Yerevan?  Is this someplace you’d like to visit?  Let us know in the comments.

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BTW, if you are getting ready for your trip, make sure to take advantage of these useful, money-saving links to book your trip:

  • Research and book your flight with Skyscanner. I have found them to be the best because they list all airlines including the budget ones. You are always sure of having researched all options. You can also book your car rental through Skycanner.
  • For car rental in Europe that has flexible pickup and drop-off options, I recommend Auto Europe.
  • Book your accommodation with Booking.com. I find they have the widest selection and a nice, user-friendly, transparent website.
  • If an Airbnb experience is more your style, book Airbnb here and get a $40 credit towards your first stay.
  • Protect your trip and, more importantly, protect yourself with travel insurance. I use World Nomads and have been very happy with them.
  • Looking for a small group tour to unforgettable destinations with top professionals? Intrepid Travel is your choice.
  • For more general tours to any destination or attraction, book with Viator. Check them out.
  • Need a visa? Get your visa for all countries with iVisa.

I personally use, and can recommend, all the companies listed here and elsewhere on my blog. By booking through these sites, the small commission we earn – at no cost to you – helps us maintain this site so we can continue to offer our readers valuable travel tips and advice.

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TRAVEL SAFETY DOS AND DON’TS: AN EXPERT’S GUIDE TO AVOIDING ILLNESS, INJURY AND THEFT https://travelswithtalek.com/travel-safety-dos-and-donts-an-experts-guide-to-avoiding-illness-injury-and-theft/ https://travelswithtalek.com/travel-safety-dos-and-donts-an-experts-guide-to-avoiding-illness-injury-and-theft/#respond Mon, 13 Jan 2020 13:00:26 +0000 https://travelswithtalek.com/?p=22831 Ask people what are some of the top travel safety dos and don’ts and the answers might surprise you. Some will say terrorist attacks. In fact, according to NBC News, you are more likely to choke on food, die from [...]

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Ask people what are some of the top travel safety dos and don’ts and the answers might surprise you. Some will say terrorist attacks. In fact, according to NBC News, you are more likely to choke on food, die from being buried alive, or being struck by lightning than you are to be involved in a terrorist attack.

Others will say car accidents. That’s getting close, but still not exactly correct.

I recently had the opportunity to speak with James Page,* Senior Vice President, Chief Administrative Officer and Head of Assistance and Claims of AIG Travel.

Mr. Page shared a wealth of information on the top causes of injury and illness while traveling and how to avoid them. During my lifetime of travel, I’ve seen – and experienced – many such examples. I share a few here, interspersed with Mr. Page’s advice.

It turns out, the single most common cause of injury while traveling is poor judgment, and poor judgment manifests itself in many ways.

Top Travel Safety Dos and Don’ts

Don’t think you’re superman (or woman).

Believing that you can just jump on any vehicle and tour a new location without any proper instruction is the number one activity that causes injuries while traveling. You know what I’m talking about; the cool scooter tours in Vietnam, the jet skis in Cancun or, in my unbelievably dumb judgment, the whitewater rafting trip down the Zambezi where I almost drowned. Understand the vehicle you are maneuvering and know the route. Wear protective gear. Secure proper instruction or don’t do it.

causes of injury while traveling. Scooters

Use alcohol wisely

Of all the travel safety dos and don’ts, alcohol-related ones are the most obvious.

Now here is a lethal cocktail; excessive alcohol and poor judgment. As a wine lover myself, far be it from me to eschew a glass of sauvignon blanc, but overindulge, especially while traveling and you’re looking for trouble. The second most common reason for injury like falling off balconies, decks, ships or horses are frequently linked to alcohol consumption.

Know your limits!

The third top cause of injury while traveling is something that we’re all at least a little guilty of…venturing beyond our physical limits. In other words, know your limits and stay within them. If you are out of breath after climbing a flight of stairs, you probably shouldn’t hike to Everest base camp. If your knee hurts while walking the dog, it’s going to hurt a lot more hiking the Appalachian Trail. Know your limits when considering the travel safety dos and don’ts.

Beware the transfer trauma

Here is one that surprised me. Transfer traumas! What’s a transfer trauma? It’s when you step off a bus, train or ferry, if you don’t watch where you place your foot, you can experience a nasty fall. I can see that. Think about it. Ever try getting off a subway train with those huge gaps to the platform? I’m surprised these injuries are not higher up on the list.

Transfer trauma one of the causes of injury whioe traveling

Don’t feed the animals

Here is one of the classic causes of injury while traveling; mishaps when approaching animals. Been there, done that (I’m raising my hand). I am guilty of one of the biggest travel safety DON’TS… feeding the monkeys. In my defense I will say that the monkeys I fed were really cute. Look at these guys! Would you have done the same thing? Still. I realize now that’s a bad idea, especially after The Great Monkey Attack of Angkor Wat.

causes of injuries while traveling are monkey bites

Continue your normal medical routine

I laughed when I read this one. “Medical conditions do not disappear when you are traveling!” Seriously, are you surprised? Your high blood pressure and cholesterol do not magically disappear while you are on vacation. You still need to take your medications and watch your dietary intake. Nuff said on this key travel safety DO.

Wash your hands

Wash your hands… a lot. Over and over and over. This little habit grows on you. Something as simple as this can prevent you getting any number of afflictions. My husband carries around a little container of antiseptic gel and uses it a lot. I made fun of him for years for being overcautious until I read that this is one of the easiest way to avoid illness.

Pay attention!

Travel safety dos and don’t are easy to follow if you pay attention. We’ve all seen videos of people falling into ditches, manholes or escalators while looking at their cellphones. It’s a thing, all right. Watch where you are walking! Store your selfie sticks until you get to wherever you’re going to take your photo. Ignoring standard safety measures to take better photos is an accident waiting to happen.

Consider what you eat.

Eating exotic cuisine, or food you are not used to, is a top cause of illness while traveling. Now, one man’s “exotic” is another man’s daily bread.

I have eaten everything from iguanas, crickets and ant eggs in Mexico, to sheep eyeballs in Mongolia to things too bizarre to mention in Beijing and actually enjoyed (or at least tolerated) everyone of them, but I’ve been doing this all my life.

Do people build up a resistance to weird food? Maybe. But perhaps people who have never encountered exotic or unusual food should pace themselves. It’s not just what the foods are, but how they are prepared that can cause stomach issues.

The last thing you want is stomach issues on a trip. I speak from experience.

Wash fruit before you eat it

I got horribly sick from eating a big, fat, beautiful (but unwashed) peach in Dubrovnik. I was in a hurry to catch the bus to Split. I knew I SHOULD wash that peach, but it looked so appealing. I was running out of time and I was hungry so I bit into it.

Four hours later when I got off the bus I thought I was going to die. I spent the entire visit to Split in my Airbnb projectile vomiting so bad I made the Exorcist look tame by comparison.

Washing the peach would have been the easiest travel safety DO to follow.

Like many things related to traveling, you have to weigh the pros and cons. Experimenting with different cuisines is one of the great pleasures of traveling.

Don’t deprive yourself from trying new food because you think you might get sick. But do evaluate the condition of the restaurant. Don’t be shy about asking how the food is prepared. Finally, use your best judgment.

*****

Below are a couple of activities that I can vouch for as being accidents waiting to happen. We all like to try our hand at adventurous and strenuous activities when we travel, sometimes with no prior experience.

Examples include rock climbing, zip-lining, parasailing or my favorite, whitewater rafting. They are all dangerous but they are SO MUCH FUN!! How do you reconcile this?

All I can say is get proper instruction, check weather conditions, make sure you have the proper gear, or don’t do it at all. Jeopardizing your body or your health is not worth it under any circumstances.

Falling off a mechanical bull is oinjury while traveling.

Whether you decide to be foolish or prudent while traveling, always, always, always get travel insurance because seriously guys, you never know.

More Travel Safety Dos and Don’ts for a Safe Trip

  • Register with your Embassy prior to travel. If you are a U.S. citizen, consider enrolling in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program to download the Smart Traveler app for important emergency information and register with the local embassy. Know the security risk level of your destination.
  • Ensure your phone is able to make calls to your home country and that you know how to place an emergency call in a foreign country.
  • Leave a copy of your passport and itinerary with someone at home who is designated as your emergency contact registered with the embassy.
  • Confirm if you need any vaccinations before you travel and be educated about the risks of your destination including water, streets, proper gestures, etc.
  • OMG! Don’t pack medication or medical equipment in your checked baggage. Take your meds on your carry-on with you.
  • Have your passport with you when you take a cruise, even if you depart from the US. You never know when you will need to disembark due to an emergency and travel home.
  • Educate yourself on insurance; does your primary health insurance cover you outside the US? Are you purchasing appropriate coverage for travel insurance based on your destination?
  • Know how to say a few key words such as “police” and “help” in the language of the country you are visiting.
  • Learn about local customs before you arrive. Is certain clothing like shorts considered inappropriate? Dress accordingly.
  • The same common-sense rules apply overseas. Avoid discussing sensitive topics like politics and religion. People often will give foreigners’ faux-pas some leeway, but then again, they may not.
  • Don’t forget to carry chargers for your digital devices. Don’t risk running out of batteries in an emergency.
  • Prepare a list of your emergency contacts including family, friends and coworkers, as well as contact information for insurance and emergency travel assistance. Keep both hard and digital copies.
  • Activate travel notices with your bank and credit cards; familiarize yourself with local currency and the closest banks and ATMs.

What surprised me about these safety dos and don’ts of traveling is how simple it is to follow them. It’s all common sense and sober (pun intended) judgment. A little preplanning goes a long way towards safe travels.

  • * As Senior Vice President, Chief Administrative Officer and Head of Assistance and Claims of AIG Travel, James Page has global responsibility for the AIG Travel Operations and Assistance Services. Previously, he was President of AIG Travel Assist, Inc., and President of American International Assistance Services, Inc. James joined AIG in 2000 and has played an integral role in the development and growth of the assistance business and call center operations worldwide.

*****

What do everyday frequent travelers do to stay safe while traveling? We asked a couple to give us a list of their travel safety dos and don’ts. The answers may surprise you. Check out these valuable tips.

A couple of good travel safety dos and don’ts can make all the difference between a great hassle-free trip and getting ripped off.

Travel Safety Dos and Don’ts from Frequent Travelers

Sew secret pockets into your clothes

Find a seamstress to sew secret pockets inside of your favorite travel pants (or do it yourself if you’re crafty). That way, you can hide your phone, passport, or wads of cash whenever you’re passing through sketchy areas. You wouldn’t believe the freedom and peace of mind this brings—even if nothing bad ever happens!

If you want to take it a step further, you can hide your valuables in your secret pocket while carrying a fake wallet and cheap Nokia phone in your normal pockets. This way, you’ll have something to hand over if you get robbed (can you tell I’m based in Cali, Colombia?). The reality is, most thieves aren’t going to believe you’re walking around without a phone or wallet. And if they do, it might piss them off (something you’re best off avoiding).

Tip: Before sewing everything together, make sure your valuables (passport, phone, money and cards) fit inside. The idea is for the pocket to be as low-profile as possible so there are no noticeable bulges anywhere. Lastly, I wouldn’t recommend storing anything in these pockets when you’re going through airports. If security decides to pat you down, they might find your secret pockets a bit suspicious.

sew a pocket into your clothes to keep your valuables

Mitch Glass blogs at Project Untethered.

Make copies of your ID and passport

You never know when your passport or ID might get stolen or misplaced. By making two copies, you can give one to a friend or relative and keep the other with you while you travel. If you’re a U.S. citizen or national traveling abroad, you can enroll in the Smart Traveler Program for free for an added level of travel safety. If you are abroad, you can enroll at the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate, which can assist you if you lose or have your passport stolen.

make copies of your passport, a key do of the travel safety dos and don'ts

Stymie pickpockets

Pickpockets are an inevitable hazard while traveling. You’ll find them and travel scams in all big, bustling cities throughout the world.  You’ll find pickpockets anywhere tourists congregate and transmit the fact that they are tourists by reading maps in the street, carrying prominently displayed camera equipment, using their phones in public or staring up at skyscrapers with mouth agape.

Pickpockets are increasingly sophisticated and we must be equally adept at stopping them. Here’s how.

  1. Use a money belt, ankle belt or some other accessory to keep a large part of your valuables while traveling.
  2. Don’t keep all your money in one location. Split it up; wallet, money belt, other hidden location.
  3. Know where pickpockets congregate; metro, train and bus stations, airports, entertainment venues, any crowded location.
  4. Be alert to any commotion which can frequently be a diversion to pickpocket you.
  5. Don’t display valuables; jewelry, electronic devices, cash, wallet.

There are so many other ways to stymie pickpockets. Just being alert and acknowledging to yourself that this can happen is a good start.

Don't expose your wallet, a solid do of the travels safety dos and don'ts

Talek blogs at Travels With Talek

Travel with a dog

My rescue dog Annie is a wonderful travel companion. She never complains about my choice of music on the car stereo, she is always happy to go out hiking (even if it is raining) and she never complains about where we stay the night, as long as she is by my side she is happy! She also helps me to feel safer when I am visiting new places as a solo female traveller. Okay, she is no guard dog, she doesn’t actually have an aggressive bone in her body, and I don’t travel with her for safety reasons but that doesn’t stop me feeling like she is an extra layer of security. She does alarm bark and I imagine pick pockets may be less likely to approach someone with a dog by their side!

a traveling dog

Gemma blogs at A Girl and Her Dog on the Road.

Don’t draw attention to yourself

One of our favorite travel safety tips is trying to blend in. If you look like you’re from out of town, you are a much bigger target for crime. Blend in as much as you can by wearing inconspicuous clothing and only looking at maps when necessary. It’s also a good idea to be careful about who you ask for directions so that someone doesn’t take advantage of you.

don't draw attention to yourself, a key don't of the travel safety dos and don'ts

Take precautions to avoid theft

Losing my valuables is one of my biggest worries while travelling. As a blogger, I travel with expensive camera equipment, along with regular valuables like cash and passports. To avoid my fears coming true, here are some tips I use to keep valuables safe:

Lock everything up that you don’t need while you’re out exploring. Most hostels and hotels have lock boxes inside the rooms where you can store your valuables. If the room doesn’t have a lockbox, you can ask the front desk to store your valuables in the lockbox there. When locking away valuables, be sure to use your own locks. Often the locks provided by hotels can be cheap and easily broken into. I bring two locks with me while travelling: one for storing my belongings at the hotel, and another to carry with me.

When I take any valuables out with me, especially in populated areas, I lock my bag to itself to deter anyone who might try to pickpocket me. As an extra precaution, I carry my bag in front of me in crowded areas.

Try to avoid having your valuables show in public. I once had someone grab my iPhone right out of my hand!

Last but not least, purchase travel insurance that covers theft of personal belongings. This brings peace of mind that even if something unfortunate happens, you will at least get reimbursed for the monetary value of the items.

hotel lock for travel safety, the best of the travel safety dos and don'ts

Lora Pope blogs at Explore with Lora.

Don’t trust public WiFi

Another way to stay safe while traveling is avoiding public WiFi when you travel. Why? Using it makes it very easy for hackers to steal your personal information, like credit card numbers. To protect your identity, you can always sign up for something called a VPN (virtual private network) that will allow you to securely connect to the Internet. You can also get a portable router to set up your own WiFi hotspot. It will allow you to convert any wired connection, say in your hotel room, to a secure wireless one.

don't trust public wifi, a good don't in the travel safety dos and don'ts group

Always bring snacks and drinks for emergencies

When on the road, travelers often find themselves needing to take long bus rides. Whether the trip is three hours or a long-haul overnight ride, I always recommend bringing bus snacks and drinks in case of emergency. You just never know when you’ll be stuck somewhere for long hours if an unexpected event happens on your ride. I’ve been in situations where buses and trains that were supposed to take only four hours lasted up to eight, and I’ve seen people get stuck for ten hours in traffic jams. This is especially common in developing countries or places where the roads are two-lane mountain roads. Even in situations where you would normally expect to stop, you may find yourself without the right currency to make a purchase.

My recommendation is to bring a bottle of water or two, and enough snacks that you can go at least two meals without a problem. Hopefully you won’t end up needing these, but you need to always be prepared when circumstances would otherwise be out of your control. You also need to pack these inside of your carry on so that they aren’t visible. There are some bus companies that do not allow food and drink. In this situation, you would only be busting them out in case of emergency. But better safe than sorry, and if they see them they may force you to throw them out.

Great bus snacks are anything that comes pre-packaged and won’t cause an annoying smell for other passengers or make a mess for the driver. And of course, always clean up after yourself before you go.

keep snacks on hand for emergencies

Stephanie Craig blogs at Sofia Adventures.

Password-protect phones and add tracking tools

Our smartphones store so much personal information, such as emails, credit card information, and bank accounts. By adding a passcode to your phone, it makes it very difficult for a thief to open your phone and steal your sensitive information. Some phones offer fingerprint IDs and face recognition, adding an extra layer of security for when you travel.

You should also turn on location tracking and install software that will wipe your phone so that you can track it down or destroy all of your data if it’s ever stolen when you’re traveling.

pasword protect phones and computers, a key do in the travel safety dos and don'ts

Travel with a Pacsafe

In the world where safety is not guaranteed everywhere we travel to, keeping yourself and your valuables safe is paramount. But how do you make sure that you don’t fall a victim to the country’s insecurity? My all-time favorite tip to keep my items safe is to always carry a Pacsafe. Commonly known as an anti-theft travel product, a Pacsafe will guarantee the safety of your valuable items you might have traveled with. (Although it’s not advisable to travel with valuable items, sometimes you just have to travel with your really expensive camera to capture the best moments)

Regardless of how secure your hotel might seem like, a Pacsafe is a must-have to lock away your valuables, passport, and some extra cash. (The amount of items you can keep in a Pacsafe depends on its size, so remember to purchase a Pacsafe size that suits your needs). A Pacsafe comes with a wire which you can fasten around the hotel chair or bed. Although it is unlikely that someone would break into your hotel room, it is better to take precautions rather than being sorry.

use a pacsafe, a good do in the travel safety dos and don'ts

Credit: Flickr

Esther Namugerwa blogs at The Adventurous Feet.

Learn about your destination before your trip

Part of the excitement about travel is the planning! So while you are researching the best places to stay and eat and your bucket list activities, take a look at the travel safety information for where you’re headed. How safe are your accommodations? Are there any local health issues you need to concern yourself with? What will be your main mode of transportation? Which neighborhoods are the safest, and which should you avoid?

research your destination before you arrive, an important do in the stavel safety dos and dont's

Here is a selection of travel safety books for your reference.

If you like this post, you will enjoy these other articles with essential travel safety dos and don’ts for your next trip:

What are your favorite travel safety dos and don’ts? Let us know in the comments.

safety travel dos and don'ts, a man putting his head into an aligator's mouth

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BTW, if you are getting ready for your trip, make sure to take advantage of these useful, money-saving links to book your trip:

  • Research and book your flight with Skyscanner. I have found them to be the best because they list all airlines including the budget ones. You are always sure of having researched all options. You can also book your car rental through Skycanner.
  • For car rental in Europe that has flexible pickup and drop-off options, I recommend Auto Europe.
  • Book your accommodation with Booking.com. I find they have the widest selection and a nice, user-friendly, transparent website.
  • If an Airbnb experience is more your style, book Airbnb here and get a $40 credit towards your first stay.
  • Protect your trip and, more importantly, protect yourself with travel insurance. I use World Nomads and have been very happy with them.
  • Looking for a small group tour to unforgettable destinations with top professionals? Intrepid Travel is your choice.
  • For more general tours to any destination or attraction, book with Viator. Check them out.
  • Need a visa? Get your visa for all countries with iVisa.

I personally use, and can recommend, all the companies listed here and elsewhere on my blog. By booking through these sites, the small commission we earn – at no cost to you – helps us maintain this site so we can continue to offer our readers valuable travel tips and advice.

The post TRAVEL SAFETY DOS AND DON’TS: AN EXPERT’S GUIDE TO AVOIDING ILLNESS, INJURY AND THEFT appeared first on Travels with Talek.

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6 MEMORABLE THINGS TO DO IN ASTURIAS (SPAIN) https://travelswithtalek.com/6-memorable-things-to-do-in-asturias-spain/ https://travelswithtalek.com/6-memorable-things-to-do-in-asturias-spain/#respond Mon, 06 Jan 2020 13:00:35 +0000 https://travelswithtalek.com/?p=21509 There are so many things to do in Asturias, northern Spain’s lush green natural paradise.  The best way to share the magical experience that is Asturias is to ask a resident to explain it to us.  For this reason, I’ve [...]

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There are so many things to do in Asturias, northern Spain’s lush green natural paradise.  The best way to share the magical experience that is Asturias is to ask a resident to explain it to us.  For this reason, I’ve asked resident and Asturias lover, Debora de Block to share with us her appreciation of this beautiful Spanish region.

*****

The Six Reasons Why I Fell in Love with Asturias

Regular readers of this blog must know by now why Asturias, in the north of Spain, is worth visiting. High mountains, abundant wildlife, hidden, empty beaches, great food, friendly people and an interesting historical heritage. And that all within a very short distance from each other! Having lived here for a bit over a year now, I’d like to share with you the many things to do in Asturias and the six reasons why I fell in love with Asturias… 

Ok, to be honest: I first fell in love with an Asturian. Before I met him, I never even heard about Asturias! When we both still lived in the Netherlands (where we met and where I am from), we visited his home region during the holidays. We did the ‘usual’ tourist stuff: visiting the breathtaking Lagos de Covadonga in the Picos de Europa, hiking the exciting Ruta del Cares, mountain biking along the Senda del Oso and shopping in Oviedo, Gijon and Aviles. 

Ruta de Cares hike, one of the reasons why I fell in love with Asturias

Breathtaking views and great depths at the Ruta del Cares

Our decision to move to Asturias in 2018 gave me the opportunity to explore Asturias’ less well-known areas. Discovering these areas together with our little daughter not only gave us great experiences as a family. It also helped to build our tourism company intoAsturias.com. In this way, we want to let international visitors discover and explore Asturias as well!  

Things to Do in Asturias

Enjoy the Climate

Asturias has a great climate for active people. This part of Spain’s north coast is called ‘Costa Verde’ for a reason. Summers are relatively cool and except for the mountainous areas, winters in Asturias are mild. While a large part of Spain was suffering a major heatwave earlier this summer, Asturias was the perfect base for people with an active lifestyle. 

Hiking, rock climbing, canoeing and mountain biking are only some of the examples of activities in summer. In winter, Asturias’ two ski stations offer skiing and snowboarding. Regular snowshoe walking tours are also organized. Of course, you can also ride a sled or just build a large snowman!

Hiking Picos de Europa, things to do in Asturias

Picos de Europe offers trails for all hiking levels

Follow Dinosaur Footprints

Dinosaurs walked along the coast (and you can still see their tracks!).  Something that I only discovered after I started living in Asturias is that part of the Asturian coastline is called the ‘Jurassic or Dinosaur’ coast. This name refers to the section between the cities of Gijón and Ribadesella (approx. 75 km long). 

Along the coast, you find footprints and fossil bones from dinosaurs and other Jurassic reptiles. A great day out is to visit the Jurassic Museum of Asturias which is built in the shape of a dinosaur footprint. The museum teaches you all about the eras when dinosaurs roamed Asturias.

We found some impressive dinosaur footprints next to the La Griega beach (the biggest tracks known in Spain and among the largest in the world)! But there are many more to discover along the coast. A great way to end your exploration is to go for lunch or dinner in nearby Lastres, one of Asturias’ prettiest fishing villages. 

Dinosaur footprints with Llastres fishing village in the background

Gigantic dinosaur footprints with at the background fisherman village Lastres

Walk the Camino de Santiago

A great way to explore Asturias while meeting people from all over the world is by hiking (part of) the Camino de Santiago. The Camino de Santiago originated in Asturias.  Three of the many Caminos pass though Asturias: the Camino del Norte, the Camino San Salvador and the Camino Primitivo. 

The latter one follows the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela of the very first pilgrim: King Alfonso II of Asturias. Having heard of the divine discovery of a tomb in a forest in Galicia, the king embarked on a journey to see this with his own eyes. The Camino Primitivo follows his footsteps (or more accurately, horse tracks).

Nowadays, more than 15.000 people hike the Camino Primitivo each year. While this number is still growing, it is still one of the most pristine and tranquil Caminos to follow. 

Statue of Asturian kings, things to see in Asturias

Statue of King Alfonso II in front of Oviedo’s Cathedral, the very first pilgrim

Experience Nature’s Paradise in Asturias

Asturias is actively promoted as a ‘Natural Paradise’ and a major ecotourism destination. More than 1/3 of Asturias is designated as a nature reserve of some sort.

One national park and dozens of natural reserves and protected landscapes allow you to immerse yourself in nature.   

Puerto Maraibo National monument

Relatively unknown Natural Park de las Ubiñas La Mesa

Stay in a Mountain Cabin in a Nature Reserve 

There are a variety of places to stay in the nature reserves. Casas rurales, or rural houses, are often a great way to start exploring Asturias’ nature. However, a more adventurous way is to spend the night in a refugio, or mountain hut. 

Last autumn, we spent one night in the mountain hut ‘Brañagallones’ in Redes Natural Park. After a beautiful hike enjoying the autumn colors, we were welcomed by its inviting smells from the kitchen. We entered for a well-deserved Fabada Asturiana, Asturias’ famous dish of large white beans and meat.  

Brañagallones is quite luxurious compared to more basic mountain huts in Asturias. It has warm water and private rooms of various sizes. Also, it is easily accessible if you don’t want to hike up there. From the village at the foot of the mountains, four-wheel drives take you up to the hut after which you can go on a hike for as long as you want. A perfect place for people who want to experience staying in a refugio for the first time!

Asturian country home, why i fell in love with Asturias

Mountain hut Brañagallones in Natural Park Redes

See Brown Bears in Their Natural Habitat 

The idea of hiking in brown bear territory makes me very excited! Unlike other parts of Spain and Europe, people here are generally proud of the presence of bears. Brown bear observation is one of the main tourist attractions of Somiedo Biosphere Reserve. 

Ecotourism related to bears offers a source of income for small villages in other locations in Asturias as well. I’ve met some great people for whom ecotourism is a way to revitalize village life and provide jobs for young people. I am always happy to direct visitors to them, as well as providing any other suggestions for your visit to Asturias, my lovely place! 

Brown bears in Asturias, why I fell in love with Asturias

Look out! You’re entering brown bear territory! -Near Cangas de Narcea

Want to know more about all the things to do in Asturias, nature’s paradise? Check out these books.

Love Asturias and northern Spain?  You may enjoy these posts too.

Author Bio:

Debora de Block founded intoAsturias (www.intoAsturias.com) in 2018. She aims to let international visitors experience Asturias through her blog, guided tours and providing tailored trips.

What are your thoughts on the great variety of things to do in Asturias?  We’d like to know.

PIN ME TO PINTEREST!

*****

BTW, if you are getting ready for your trip, make sure to take advantage of these useful, money-saving links to book your trip:

  • Research and book your flight with Skyscanner. I have found them to be the best because they list all airlines including the budget ones. You are always sure of having researched all options. You can also book your car rental through Skycanner.
  • For car rental in Europe that has flexible pickup and drop-off options, I recommend Auto Europe.
  • Book your accommodation with Booking.com. I find they have the widest selection and a nice, user-friendly, transparent website.
  • If an Airbnb experience is more your style, book Airbnb here and get a $40 credit towards your first stay.
  • Protect your trip and, more importantly, protect yourself with travel insurance. I use World Nomads and have been very happy with them.
  • Looking for a small group tour to unforgettable destinations with top professionals? Intrepid Travel is your choice.
  • For more general tours to any destination or attraction, book with Viator. Check them out.
  • Need a visa? Get your visa for all countries with iVisa.

I personally use, and can recommend, all the companies listed here and elsewhere on my blog. By booking through these sites, the small commission we earn – at no cost to you – helps us maintain this site so we can continue to offer our readers valuable travel tips and advice.

The post 6 MEMORABLE THINGS TO DO IN ASTURIAS (SPAIN) appeared first on Travels with Talek.

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