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We’re funny (usually), controversial (sometimes) and insightful (always!). Our travel experts share their experiences below in hopes of hearing back from YOU. So read, comment and enjoy!

Posts in ‘Things to do in Europe’

Algarve Safari Tour

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Algarve Safari Tour

Taking a jeep or 4×4 buggy safari through the Algarve feels like you are bumping along some remote dusty North African desert region. That sensation is in the name too. Algarve is a translation from the Arabic meaning “the West.” The Algarve is at the southern tip of Portugal and you could be forgiven for thinking that you were not in Europe.

That exotic feeling is further accentuated by a sense of adventure as you jolt and jounce in your jeep across pebbly streams, through sandy, dusty and scrub dotted tracks. It doesn’t matter from where you start your Algarve Safari you have about 2,090 square miles of potential fun and excitement. It is also the best way to see this region and get you away from the beaches and the crowds.

There is one thing you learn very quickly as your open vehicle roars through the fabulous scenery – you shouldn’t have worn white! The dust thrown up your jeep and the others in the convoy will soon change it.

Going on an Algarve safari is an opportunity to see spectacular parts of the country you would not otherwise have seen or imagined. Adventure and thrills aside the safari will take you into the interior with its winding un-metalled roads; tiny white-washed villages that pop up out of nowhere; past orange and lemon orchards interspersed with stands of eucalyptus.

Another one of the attractive aspects of getting on an Algarve tour is the chance to have lunch in a traditional village or a local restaurant – a meal that includes the famous chicken piri-piri. If you are up to it you could try out a glass of medronho – the potent local “firewater.” You will see how the rural people of Portugal get along and glimpse their way of life.

There are several versions of an Algarve safari. Some will combine a boat trip along with the jeep ride. Others include a day surfing and swimming in the itinerary. There is a half day tour that starts in the evening. This one is best enjoyed if there it is a moonlit night.

There are plenty of photo opportunities along the way as the jeep drivers make regular stops when you can sip some refreshment and (possibly) give one’s bottom a break from all the bouncing. It is also a great time to bond with your fellow safari travellers.

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San Fermin Festival in Pamplona, Spain

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San Fermin

The fiesta of San Fermin is a deeply-rooted celebration —held from 6 to 14 July every year—in the city of Pamplona, Spain. It is celebrated in honour of Saint Fermine, patron of Navarra, and is locally known as Sanfermines.

The festival is a celebration of many traditional and folkloric events including the most popular encierro, or 'the running of the bulls'. Its events and worldwide fame, along with its attraction of a vast number of visitors from around the world are closely related to the description in Ernest Hemingway’s book, The Sun Also Rises.

The rave-up basically is about the consumption of large quantities of alcoholic beverages (sangria), music, bullfighting and partying.

The ceremonial process

The San fermin Festival starts at noon on 6 July each year and is marked by setting off the pyrotechnic chupinazo – a ceremonial rocket or the explosion of rocket from the balcony of the city hall at midday.

From the 7th to the 14th, the encierro – letting loose the bulls through some of the streets of the old part of the city take place when the clock on the church of San Cernin strikes 8 o'clock in the morning. From then on risk and excitement go hand in hand with high spirits and non-stop fun.

Running with the bulls is free but extreme caution must be exercised as it is an extremely risky sport, even considered male-only tradition. It has had 15 deaths since 1925 and most insurance don’t cover it – so you may only participate at your own risk.

The fiesta carries on with clear broth chocolate (caldico), long doughnuts (churros), the ceremonial giants (Gigantes), the aperitif and the fireworks at night; which then give way to all-night partying.

The dress code for the festival is red and white. And so for the next nine days, the streets turn into a celebration — of friendship, music, non-stop partying and open-air dances to the rhythm of the charangas and the peñas.

Tickets for the bullfight can cost anything from 25 to 70 Euros.

Closing

On the final day, i.e 14 July, thousands of people once again gather in the Town Hall Square with lighted candles and singing "Pobre de mí" (Poor me), to send off the Sanfermines until the next year.

Although most tourists know the festival as ‘The Running of the Bulls’, it is actually the party atmosphere, the celebration of life and the overall experience of the full-on Spanish fiesta that makes visiting Pamplona during San Fermin such an exciting and memorable one.

Have you booked your tickets yet?

Image credit: Rufino Lasaosa

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Touring Brussels’ Chocolate District

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Brussels Chocolate

Strolling through Brussels’ city centre on the chocolate trail has got to be one of the sweetest (pun fully intended) experiences of your life. Be prepared to have your sweet tooth totally saturated. Locally chocolate is often referred to as “Le Chocolat, L'Or Noir Des Bruxellois” or Chocolate, the Black Gold of the People of Brussels. The chocolate guided tour is a rather unique way to see and experience this self-proclaimed ‘chocolate capital of the world.

It is not all about titillating your mouth and filling up on the sinfully good stuff. If you take the four hour Brussels Walking and Chocolate Workshop Tour you will see and learn about the chocolate making process, the history of chocolate and even get to make some yourself under the guidance of a "Master Chocolatier". The tours generally take you to some of the premier chocolate shops in Brussels. A part of the tour experience is the free tasting of chocolate samples.

This is also pretty good tour because you see a whole lot of Brussels’ historical landmarks too including some very pretty art noveau houses. The old historic city centre of Brussels is livened up by the iconic and famous statute of Manneken Pis (Little Man Pee).

The statute, made from bronze, is part of a fountain depicting a naked little boy peeing into the basin. It was sculpted by Hiëronymus (Jerome) Duquesnoy and installed in 1618 or 1619. It is amazing how many folks from all over the world come to this see chubby little fellow and photograph his non-stop urinating. There will be lots of giggles! Oh yes replicas of the 2 foot tall boy can be found cast in chocolates and lollipops.

Just around the corner from little Mannekin is the Grand Place or Brussels’ central square. The area is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is enclosed by the Town Hall, The Breadhouse (King’s House) and a number of Guildhalls. Begun around the late 11th century with buildings being added at intervals, it was rebuilt after being destroyed by artillery fire in the 1700s. The Square, today, is a mix of Gothic, Baroque and Louis XIV styles. How it attained its current attraction despite the architectural mish-mash is a wonder.

Getting back to the chocolates… two stops are a must. One is a visit to Brussels’ oldest chocolate shop the Neuhaus. Started by Jean Neuhaus in 1857, they are the inventors of the praline or chocolate bonbon. The company is now a manufacturer of luxury chocolates, biscuits and ice-cream and the shop is bound to make your mouth water. If you make purchases here be ready to have your wallet emptied or credit card dented.

The other stop is the delightful Museum of Cocoa and Chocolate. They give you a history lesson on the origins of chocolate, the production process, chocolate sculptures and chocolate clothes. There are praline-making demonstrations several times a day so check for timings. The museum also contains and displays porcelain cans and cups relating to chocolate. The place is literally filled with the strong aroma of hot chocolate.

Tip
Most of the guides on these tours are supposed to be multilingual but you need to be clear when booking, which language you want or else you could find yourself in amongst a group that speak another tongue. The guide will obviously focus predominantly on them and you could be left out.
 

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Las Fallas – Festival in Valencia

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            In March Valencia is home to one of Spain’s largest celebrations called the Falles, which is a traditional celebration commemorating Saint Joseph. The celebration lasts for 5 days and 5 nights, and is a perfect reason for a vacation. From March 15th-19th the streets and small neighborhoods of Valencia will be filled with people of all ages throwing fireworks and noisemakers into the streets to celebrate the culture and history of Valencia. Known to Spaniards as Las Fallas, there are 6 main events that make up the popular festival that cannot be missed! La Despertà and La Mascletà are events that occur in Valencia’s neighborhoods and are large displays of fireworks, firecrackers and musical celebration. La Despertà happens at 8:00 am but if you are not a morning person La Mascletà is the larger celebration at 2:00 pm.

La Plantà is an event that happens on the first day of Las Fallas and marks the start of the festival. Neighborhood leaders, also known as the Casal Faller, produce a structure known as a Falla, which is eventually burnt down at the end of the festival. A good way to see the Falla's and the neighborhoods is through a walking tour around the city. A walking tour will also show you where the fourth event of Las Fallas is, the L’Ofrena Floral, which is the floral offering given to Saint Mary by the Casal Fallas. This event occurs on March 17th and 18th and is a larger event than described because by the end of March 18th Saint Mary is beautifully covered in flowers and floral arrangements. 

If the firework displays at 8:00 am and 2:00 pm are not enough for you, Els Castells and La Nit del Foc, the night of fire, are nighttime fireworks displays at the old riverbed in Valencia. They occur on the first four nights of Las Falles and each display gets progressively grander. If your looking for something to do in between the multiple fireworks displays, bike and tapas tours are an excellent way to learn about the culture and history of Valencia.

All of these events and information will get you ready and excited for the final event of Falles, which is held around midnight on March 19th, La Cremà. The Falles that were constructed by each neighborhood are burnt in a huge bonfire to symbolize the end of winter and beginning of spring. This tradition started in the Middle Ages when artisans disposed of their winter wood by burning them to celebrate the spring equinox. This ritual evolved over the years into Las Fallas, which is now one of Spain’s largest celebrations. So hurry up & book your trip, celebrate the coming of spring with the people and community of Valencia. 

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Cruise Through Europe

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Many cities in Europe are laced with rivers and canals, and some are at the edge of the Atlantic or Mediterranean Oceans. So why not make time for some cruises, featuring gorgeous sights in some of the most beautiful cities in the world?

Prague, Czech Republic

One of my favourite cities in Europe, Prague has a perfect combination of Neo-classical charm and modern attractions. It is one of the few cities that as just as beautiful during the night as it is during the day. This tour takes you through an informative and insightful trip through the city, stopping at some of the most notable places. It then proceeds to a picturesque glide down the Vltava River, giving you a wonderful view of Prague’s skyline by night. Food and drink are provided on the cruise, as well as live entertainment.

Amsterdam, Netherlands

A wonderful combination of a canal and city cruise, this Amsterdam tour takes you past some of the most prominent landmarks of the city, like the Royal Palace and the Skinny Bridge, as well as some of the iconic sights of Amsterdam, such as the windmills and 17th Century Merchant Warehouses. Enchanting and informative, this cruise crosses off two must-do’s in Amsterdam.

Frankfurt, Germany

This activity brings together a tour of the city with a dinner cruise by one of the most scenic parts of the city, the Rhine! The tour begins on an open-top bus, and stops twice: at Romer Square and Sachsenhausen. The cruise takes you through the Rhine Valley, which has inspired many poets and artists. Enjoy dinner with this picturesque backdrop in a charming waterside restaurant.

Venice, Italy

When you think of canals, you think of this Italian city. Out of the many Europeans cities I have visited, Venice is my favourite because of its quaint houses and built-in charm. Venice is famous for its myriad of twisting and connected canals, but that is not all there is to this loveable city. The islands close to Venice are just as remarkable, with unique aspects of their own! Visit Murano to see how its distinctive and beautiful glasswork is made, Burano for the wonderful lacework and Torcello for Venice’s first cathedral.

Budapest, Hungary

A defining aspect of Budapest is the river that runs through the city. The Danube used to separate two separate cities – the Buda side from the Pest side – but history has brought these two cities together into the one we all know. So slide along this historic and beautiful river to the many other towns along its edge. This cruise is extremely lovely and allows you to appreciate the beauty of river outside the bustling city of Budapest.

Whichever cruise you decide to try out, a good time and beautiful scenes are guaranteed!

 

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Visit Three Countries in a Day!

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Three different times of the day, three different activities and three different…countries? Yes, countries! It is very possible to visit three countries in one day, especially when on the Mediterranean Coast stretching between France and Italy. What some people don’t realise is how close these bordering countries are with each other- something I certainly did not understand until I crossed European country borders myself! I come from a small island, and the only way to get into another country is either to get on a plane or boat. With the Schengen Agreement, you are allowed to travel between a large number of European countries without having to whip out your passport every time you pass through the border. So why not try to visit three different countries in a day?

Your trip can begin in Nice, France and end in Ventimiglia, Italy. These towns are along the Mediterranean coast referred to as the French Riviera and are so close together you can stop by them all along your way north the coast. The French Riviera is the coastline of the south of France, and is an area that had the first modern resorts because of its natural beauty. Tours of this coastline are sublime, because of the splendour of the area and the good weather year-round. It has hot, dry summers and mild winters, making it a pleasant destination at any time of the year. You can spend a whole day (or more!) in Nice, for it has much to offer- such as shopping, ruins from Roman times, and charming views.

Monaco is the second smallest country in the world, and is completely surrounded by France on three sides, its fourth side facing the Mediterranean. It is directly between the French town of Nice and the Italian town of Ventimiglia, and will be your second stop on this trip. Monte Carlo is famous for its gambling and also has a large entertainment centre, featuring restaurants, nightclubs and sports clubs. I can promise that you would not want to spend merely a few hours there, for there is much to do! You can loiter there for a few days…but why would you, when you can travel onto Italy, making it your third country in one day?

Wrap up your hectic day with some pasta and wine in the charming seaside Italian town of Ventimiglia. Not as much of a tourist destination as Nice, it is more laid back but still has bits of its history scattered around…such as the remains of a Roman theatre, the medieval city centre, as well as other remnants of its ancient past. It’s a good end for an amazing journey, and if there is any town you want to revisit, it will be just a short car ride away.

Three countries in one day: didn’t think you could do it, huh? If you plan your day well, it is very possible along the French Riviera.

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Diamond Jubilee Events

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shutterstock_29062723

Imagine doing your job for 60 years without a real vacation or sick day? That is something worth being honoured for! The Royal Family are attending numerous engagements, not just in the UK, but in far-reaching places of the Commonwealth from Jamaica to Australia, to commemorate the Queen’s impressive six decades as Monarch. The celebrations will culminate with a series of spectacular events on ‘The Central Weekend,’ 2-5 June 2012. Here are just some of the not-to-be missed activities:

1.      The Big Jubilee Lunch – Sunday 3 June, 2012

Every good celebration involves food, so get together with your friends, family and neighbourhoods and celebrate the Jubilee by sharing a meal. The idea comes from the Big Lunch initiative whose goal is to foster a sense of community and togetherness among residents. After all, nothing bonds people more than breaking bread. If you’re in the UK, your local authority may already have a party planned so contact them directly to find out further details. Not in the area? You can still get in on the action and host your own Big Jubilee lunch in your hometown, be it a street party, picnic or celebration in your backyard.

2.     The Thames Diamond Jubilee Pageant – Sunday 3 June, 2012

A thousand boats will join Her Majesty and The Duke of Edinburgh as they travel in their Royal Barge from Battersea Bridge to Tower Bridge, in one of the largest flotillas ever on the River Thames. Roads and bridges will be closed so people can gather along the Thames to view the spectacle and viewing screens will be set up, if you don’t get a spot at the front!

3.      BBC Concert at Buckingham Palace – Monday 4 June, 2012

If you were lucky enough to score tickets to this prime event, you’ll see some of the best of British perform at Buckingham Palace. The line up includes Jessie J, JLS, Elton John, Tom Jones, Annie Lennox, Sir Paul McCartney, and Ed Sheeran, just to name a few. For the rest of us, the concert will be broadcast live in the UK and around the world.

4.      Carriage Procession and Flypast – Tuesday 5 June, 2012

The final day of the Jubilee celebration is jam-packed full of activities. After The Queen attends a special service at St. Paul’s Cathedral, a reception and a Jubilee lunch, she and the other members of the Royal Family will travel along a Processional Route by Carriage from the Palace of Westminster to Buckingham Palace. At Buckingham Palace, the Royal Family will make an appearance on the balcony and there will be a Flypast. For front row seats, you better starting queuing now!

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Traveller Tip: Santorini-Greece

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Some people just live a magical life… Shivi Singh is currently travelling the world and has given us the following report from her 11th stop: Santorini.santorini-by-shivi-singh

Santorini is magical, it has spectacular views, romantic spots, fun recreational spots, it has history and adventure, its all in one, you can not get bored there! We went on a sail boat tour to see the volcano and the hot springs which we swam in; that was interesting because that’s the volcano that split the islands up of Santorini and is still active today.

santorini-3Santorini gets very touristy in summer. The people are friendly and you can never get lost or be short of information. Everyone is willing to help. I loved Santorini I would come back any day! The views all around the islands are just indescribable magical, the views up on the cliffs are beautiful and the sunsets in Oia are a dream.santorini-2

The other side of the islands has beaches and each beach has its own beauty: there is a black sand beach and a red beach, which has red rocks surrounding it. They are coloured that way because of the volcanic rocks and formations. Lastly, there is a white beach which has white pebbles instead of sand.

In short, Santorini is magnificent and a must see for all age groups!

Visit Shivi’s Santorini and take in all the splendour of the island with a cruise in the Santorini sunset.

Shivi receives an isango! gift-voucher for her tip – For a chance to receive a voucher, send us your Travel Tip at competition@isango.com with Travel Tip in the subject line.

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Sunny European Get Aways.

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It’s official as Metro reported that UK’s summer 2011 is the coldest since 1998. The Met Office has concluded that the average temperature this summer was a mere 14C .  The report called the British summer ‘somewhat pitiful’… Hmmm, we can think of a stronger synonym or two for this appalling weather! So search for the sun elsewhere as September is looming and summer is officially at an end. Here are our suggestions to get your portion of Vitamine D in Europe.

by Flickr - Moyan Brenn

Rome, Italy. Temperature: 29C

Friends have recently returned from Rome describing it as epic but hot! (Perhaps this should be: epic and hot.) In any case Rome does tick the sun box as well as all the culture boxes. You can see ruins of the old Roman Empire, the Coliseum, the Forum and Palatine Hill. Admire the riches of the Baroque movement in Bernini’s architectural work at the Piazza San Pietro, his sculptures and a mix of both the Fountain of the Four Rivers at the Piazza Navona. Book for the Vatican and skip the line: walk through the Papal post and its surroundings and view the world famous works of painter Michelangelo in the Sistine Chapel.

by Flick- Justin Knabb.

Cote d’Azur, south France. Temperature: 25C

Madonna was spotted jet skiing there and the French Riviera has always had it’s attraction for celebrities as Cannes, where the famous film festival is held, is conveniently located there. One of the most popular destinations is Nice, the capital of the Cote d’Azur.  It has 15 private and 22 well-kept public beaches for you to lie on and top up that tan.Speaking of which, you could also visit the seaside resort of  St Tropez. We offer a wine-tasting tour from Nice, we bring you to the lovely village of Port Grimaud and St Tropez. On the way back you make a stop for a wine tasting session. Sun, beach and wine: who could wish for more?

by Flickr - Wendjie Zhang

Seville, Spain. Temperature: 25C

How do you think the Seville oranges get their colour?  Seville in southern Spain is the crown of Andelucia. Relax, while walking through the city admiring the architecture. Their famous Gothic Cathedral was a former mosque and the largest Gothic building in Europe. After some sightseeing, enjoy some local tapas and visit a flamenco show in the evening all while on tour in Seville.

Photos by Flickr: Rome by Moyan Brenn/ Nice by Justin Knabb/ Seville by Wendjie Zhang

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Experience the Magic-Disneyland Paris

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mickeyminnie

“Disney” is a name that, within the last 100 years, has gained instant recognition worldwide. The Walt Disney Company has produced countless movies and television shows, and created some of the most memorable characters in entertainment history. Over the past few decades, Disney’s most noteworthy claim to fame has been its multiple theme park locations around the world, each home to unique attractions, thrills, fun, and of course, magic! Now, imagine a magical Disney theme park in one of the globe’s most magical cities full of lights, glamour, romance, and stunning sights. What does the combination create? Disneyland®Paris.

Disneyland Paris, which first opened its gates in 1992, has become one of the most popular things to do in Paris. Disneyland Paris tickets are available to two parks–Disneyland®Paris park and Walt Disney Studios Paris. Disneyland Park, a land where fairytales come to life and classic Disney Characters frolic through the streets bringing fun and laughs to visitors, is the one of the two parks that most of us are familiar with. Thrilling attractions such as Big Thunder Mountain, Space Mountain, and Pirates of the Caribbean are spread throughout each of the park’s five magical lands, each of which boasts its own enchanting atmosphere. There are many festivals and parades held seasonally that bring Disney joy to any guests that choose to partake in various seasonal parades and activities. Walt Disney Studios Paris merges all the elements of cinema magic in a land where guests can explore studio lots, see live, interactive and entertaining shows, and experience high-speed movie-themed adventures on attractions such as The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror ™, Cars Race Rally, and Rock n’ Roller Coaster starring Aerosmith. No matter what kind of holiday you prefer–thrilling or easy-going–Disneyland Paris tickets grant you access to all kinds of fun and magic that individuals of all ages should get the chance to experience! With the purchase of some types of Disneyland Paris tickets, individuals get the opportunity to hop back and forth between parks daily to ensure that they get to explore all  the spectacular theme park’s offerings.

While there is never a shortage of things to do in Paris, Disneyland®Paris is a getaway where childhood dreams come true and fantasy becomes reality. While classic Parisian landmarks have their own splendor, Disneyland Paris ensures a whole new kind of magic that should not be missed!

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