Celebrations International Travel Blog

Posts Tagged ‘Spain

Celebrations International Travel: Princess Cruises Certified Experts

Having just sailed on the Sapphire Princess and met Captain Nick Carlton in person, I was immediately drawn to this latest post on Princess Cruises’ 50 Essential Experiences.

Like Captain Carlton, I am often asked about my favorite places in the world.  I really like how he recounts the ways in which he feels connected to the many places he’s visited, and I find his description of the historical and religious significance of Santiago de Compostela poignant and compelling.

Princess Cruises - Cathedral of Santiago de Campostela, Spain

As the final resting place of St. James, the Cathedral of Santiago de Campostela attracts thousands of pilgrims every year.

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When I read this post, I was instantly struck by the way Rob Roberts describes his travel experiences, from the perspective that we never know where life might take us.  I would be the first to attest to this!  Sometimes life throws you a curve ball and takes you on an amazing ride.  Enjoy!

My Grand Tour

Princess Cruises - Gondolas in Venice

Gondolas bob in the Grand Canal of picturesque Venice.

Check out this mouthwatering post on GotSaga.com that I was graciously invited to contribute to:  http://t.co/KcHBDfB Scroll down a bit until you see our picture!

Here’s the full text of my submission.  Enjoy!

China:  Peking Duck – A traditional three-course meal in which the duck is enjoyed in three different ways:  the crispy skin, the meat, and a soup course.

Thailand:  Phad Thai – This favorite is made up of flat, skinny rice noodles, bean sprouts, scallions, and other vegetables, tossed in a flavorful spicy and tangy sauce, topped with chopped peanuts.  The meat of your choice is most often added to this dish.

Vietnam:  Pho is a traditional Vietnamese noodle soup that is made in countless variations.  Vietnamese-style rice noodles are added to a spicy broth, along with beef, chicken, pork, or seafood and a variety of vegetables.  Diners are offered fresh lime, basil leaves, and bean sprouts to garnish to taste.

Australia:  Billy Tea & Damper:  A traditional Australian brewed tea with milk and sugar, enjoyed with a rustic-style biscuit.  The best thing about this is that it can be prepared virtually anywhere, including the middle of the Outback!

France:  Duck a l’Orange or Pate de Fois Gras – Duck with Orange Sauce or a terrine of Duck Liver Pate

Austria:  Weinerschnitzel – The traditional, richly-prepared Austrian veal cutlets

Switzerland:  Fondue or Raclette – The fondue is most often a mixture of different varieties of Swiss cheeses mixed with white wine or kirsch and fresh herbs, eaten with bite-sized pieces of a crusty baguette.  A raclette is a meal so unique I have never seen it elsewhere, even in Europe.  It requires a special grill with multiple compartments and surfaces, places in the middle of the table.  Diners choose from a variety of fresh vegetables, meats, eggs, or anything else the host fancies, puts the food in the raclette, and tops it off with cheeses, onion, garlic, herbs, and other condiments.  The heat from the raclette melds the ingredients together, resulting in a tasty and unique creation.

Spain:  Paella – This is a rice dish traditionally made with a variety of fresh seafood (clams, mussels, oysters, shrimp, scallops, etc.) and meats like chorizo and chicken.  Flavored with a rich broth and plenty of bright yellow saffron, paella can be prepared over an open fire and enjoyed on the beach, or savored in a five-star establishment.

Morocco:  Traditional Couscous –  This traditional meal is presented in huge, deep bowls.  First, a generous portion of couscous fills the bottom of the bowl, and is typically topped with cubed or sliced lamb, beef, and chicken or another meat of choice.  Fresh, colorful vegetables are added (root vegetables, etc.), then a slightly spicy, flavorful broth is ladled over everything….a great king-sized meal!

Whether you are an aspiring chef or simply an epicure, culinary travel promises the opportunity to truly savor your vacation. This growing trend of experiencing authentic cooking and dining around the world allows you to broaden your education and your palate at the same time. What a decadent way to travel!

The genre of culinary travel includes trips that focus on learning to create local dishes, those that emphasize tasting and wine pairing, and everything in between. As you can see, there are many options available. Let this TRO report assist in your planning, as it will provide you with the basic recipe for culinary travel. With it, you and your travel consultant are sure to cook up the perfect culinary adventure!

The most important consideration in planning your culinary vacation is whether you want to learn traditional recipes and cooking techniques, or if you’re more interested in enjoying the end result. Those wanting a strictly educational experience might enjoy cooking alongside famous chefs in renowned cooking schools. If dining inspires you, perhaps you would prefer the company of a learned chef as your guide. Or maybe you would like just a taste of culinary arts in your trip, as you explore other cultural aspects of your destination. The more consideration given to these issues before contacting a tour operator, the more efficient the planning process will be and the quicker you’ll be on your way.

If cooking is your passion, think about attending a cooking school, many of which boast award-winning chefs as instructors. If you go, you will have to consider your level of expertise to ensure pairing with courses that suit your abilities. The less experienced might learn more through hands-on instruction, while advanced students may feel confident in attending cooking demonstrations. You can even choose to learn a particular specialty such as pastry making. Wine schools are also a popular choice, offering classes on wine making, history, appreciation and pairing with foods.

For those interested in learning to cook according a country’s customs but want to spend a little less time in the kitchen, a cooking tour may be the best bet. Along with culinary classes, these tours are peppered with visits to wineries, vineyards, superior restaurants, and local markets and food producers. With some tours, you will travel to different cooking schools to take classes. Others offer the more intimate experience of attending the kitchens of various celebrated chefs.

Culinary tour guides, many of whom have backgrounds in history and/or cultural anthropology, will tell you the history of indigenous dishes, offer guidance while dining with you, and even provide cooking instruction. Your tour may be guided by an actual chef, or may enlist the services of two guides: one culinary and one cultural. Your guide should be bilingual, even if those providing the cooking demonstrations are not. And of course, if you would like to design your own culinary dream vacation, chef guides and cultural guides can be hired on an individual basis – the possibilities are endless!

Most cooking tours will accommodate travelers with every level of experience. However, general kitchen knowledge is expected. Before you go, ask your travel consultant if class participation is mandatory, or if you may merely observe. You will also want to inquire about attire. Cooking classes are generally casual, but more sophisticated dress may be necessary when dining out. You may also want to find out whether recipes will be provided after the demonstration.

Your tour operator should be able to accommodate any dietary needs regarding meals. However, the meals prepared during cooking classes, unless the class is designed and taken on an individual basis, are usually determined by the instructor and cannot be changed upon request. There are tours designed for vegetarians, which usually take place in Asian countries. Thailand, for example, boasts an annual vegetarian festival.

If you are more of a gastronome, you will want to take or design a tour that focuses on the pleasures of dining. Many culinary travelers maintain that there is no better way to learn about a culture than by sampling its traditional dishes. Such tours often include the excursions mentioned above, as well as more standard tourist attractions such as museums and art galleries. Certain tours allow more time for exploring the towns in which you stay. There are also more active tours, which incorporate such activities as hiking, painting and language instruction. These tours also provide a good option for those wanting to dine independently.

Not surprisingly, the most popular destinations for gourmet vacationing are Italy and France. Tasting tapas in Spain is also en vogue. When visiting these popular regions, the earlier you make your reservation, the better. But Europe isn’t your only option. You may enjoy a culinary cruise to the Caribbean, or take a chef-guided tour of Mexico. For the more adventurous, culinary tours are offered in such exotic locales as Morocco, India and Vietnam. For those looking for an experience closer to home, consider becoming a barbecue connoisseur in West Virginia or cook up some Creole in Louisiana.

Travelers may also take a culinary vacation by means of a food festival. The Netherlands boasts an international food-tasting festival every August, and Georgia is home to the annual Vidalia Festival. If you appreciate good beer as much as good food, Oktoberfest is certain to leave you hoppy.

The cost of a culinary vacation varies widely. The biggest factor in determining the price of your trip is whether you opt for a package tour, which generally means sharing your travel experience with other culinary enthusiasts. Most culinary tours are packaged at a fixed price that includes daily classes, meals, excursions, accommodations and ground transportation. You will be responsible for making your own travel arrangements to the school or destination, a task with which your travel consultant can greatly assist. The cost of your trip is further determined by the country visited, the extent of teaching provided, the quality of restaurants enjoyed, and the number and nature of excursions taken.

Accommodation is also a factor. Luxury and high-end hotels are a more expensive option. Staying in a countryside villa may not be as posh an experience, but the relaxation granted by fresh air and lush landscapes could prove to be priceless. Work through the options with your travel consultant. The more clearly you state your own preferences, the better your travel consultant can work with the tour operator to properly accommodate you and your traveling companions.

When pricing your stay, remember to take into consideration any Value Added Tax (VAT) levied by many countries in Europe and elsewhere. Because VAT is often as high as 20% of the cost of an accommodation or good purchased, the amount is often not insignificant! Many travelers assume that VAT is refundable. However, this is typically not the case for services such as transportation, accommodation, food, gas or any other goods or services consumed within the country itself. Ensure that the price you are quoted includes all taxes and other fees.

Sound too good to be true? It’s all for real and with a little planning a culinary vacation can be an absolutely wonderful way to garnish your next trip away from home.

Content courtesy and with the express permission of Travel Research Online.

For a sample of Celebrations International’s culinary tours please visit our Culinary tours homepage. Please note that all our tours are fully customized!

I came across the picture of the Starbucks location at Sagrada Familia in Barcelona:

Starbucks at Sagrada Familia, Barcelona

Starbucks at Sagrada Familia, Barcelona

Considering that Sagrada Familia is a church, I can’t decide if this Starbucks takes the cake over the controversial new McDonald’s about to open in the Louvre in Paris.

What do you think?

This is an article I wrote that was published today by Travel Research Online, a resource for travel professionals.   I write columns for consumers as well as industry-related articles whenever possible.

Enjoy!

A Travel Pro Dares to Dream
June 26th, 2009 . by Adrienne Mitra

As travel agents, much of our time is spent planning clients’ trips, solving logistical challenges, and researching.  I am often drawn to itineraries or locales my clients choose, resulting in a long list of “someday” trips I’d like to take.  When it comes to my “dream trip”, there is no question:  a cruise around the world, complete with a land tour component in each major city.
My goal for this trip would be to experience the countries, cultures, histories, peoples and cuisines of the world first-hand, not just to sightsee.  With that in mind, I have a strong preference for shore excursions that provide travelers with a tangible experience to treasure, rather than whirlwind bus tours that leave travelers with little more than a panorama of discombobulated images. Unfortunately, working in a full land tour in each area is next to impossible, but since I am dreaming…

I wish I could combine all the wonderful ways to explore Alaska into a single tour.  In Hawaii, I imagine an inter-island tour encompassing the sunrise over Mount Haleakala, touring the natural wonders of Molokai, an authentic Hawaiian luau, and leisure time on Poipu Beach.  Next would be visits to the pristine islands of the South Pacific.  In Australia and New Zealand, apart from seeing the Great Barrier Reef, the Outback and the major city highlights, I would tour some of the best estate wineries, visit Kangaroo Island, and witness the ritual of the fairy penguin parade on Philip Island.

After that, my tour of exotic Asia, land of my family’s heritage, would begin.  I would immerse myself in all the unique sights, events, culinary delights, and possibilities for one-of-a-kind experiences the Asian countries have to offer.

Continuing westward, I would want to visit my husband’s native India. To avoid extensive overland travel, I would insist on flying to the most popular destinations from the port city and touring fully escorted, possibly requiring a multi-night stay in each given city.

The opulence of modern Dubai, navigating through the Suez Canal, and visiting the ancient wonders of Egypt would all present opportunities for new adventures, the conclusion of which would be our entry into the Mediterranean.  Having traveled extensively in this region, I would plan more unique, less touristy experiences.  For example, enjoying authentic paella cooked over an open fire on a beach in Spain or a walk through a lavender field in Provence.

Sailing north, I would like to spend a significant amount of time exploring northern Europe, Scandinavia, the Baltics, and Russia.  I would be tempted to debark from our oceanliner in Bergen, and take Hurtigruten’s 12-day round-trip voyage to experience the Norwegian Fjords, no matter what time of year.  And when it comes to Russia, I’m not sure the overnight in St. Petersburg would do it justice, especially during White Nights.

Owing to the fact that I would eventually have to come home, after concluding the tour of Europe, I would set sail back across the Atlantic to Nova Scotia.  Hopefully I would arrive in time for the fall foliage, which I haven’t seen in years.  Then it’s down the eastern seaboard, paying homage to my childhood origins in the south before heading to parts of South America for experiences new and different, then transiting through the Panama Canal, and finally ending my journey back in Los Angeles.

Would this be a dream trip or my ultimate challenge as a travel professional?  Both.  As there is no single supplier or cruise that can offer this type of voyage, most of this trip would have to be pieced together—if it even could be. But a girl can dream, right? And, should something like this ever come to fruition, I believe  I would be my own toughest client indeed.

Adrienne Mitra is the owner of Celebrations International Travel, Inc., an independent agency focused on serving a number of niche markets, including culinary travel, cruises, tours, and group travel. Phone:  (480) 272-6020

Culinary Travel is a new area of travel specialization that Celebrations International Travel is launching this year.  Culinary travel is one of the hottest travel trends out there, and we’re very excited to be a part of it.

I am  a graduate of Penn State’s Hotel, Restaurant & Institutional Management program, a gourmet cook, a connoisseur, and of course, a world traveler.  Simply put, I cannot think of a better way for my passions in life to come together than culinary travel.  I am American-born Chinese (originally from South Carolina), and Agni was born and raised in Kolkata, India.  Agni and I have enjoyed a wide range of travel experiences, both individually and as a couple, and as ardent epicureans, we look forward to sharing our love of travel and culinary delights with you.  Our agency’s tagline is “Celebrating Life Through Travel”.  What better way to celebrate than with great food and wine enjoyed in the world’s most authentic settings?

Here are two great recipes I found for Spanish tapas.  If you make them, let me know how they turn out, and if you like them!

Broiled Bell Pepper Tartlets
Serves 4

Ingredients
1 1/2 cups All-Purpose Flour
Pinch of Salt
6 Tbs. Chilled Butter, Diced
2-3 Tbs. WaterS
1 Red Bell Pepper, Seeded and Quartered
4 Tbs. Heavy Cream
1 Egg
1 Tbs. Parmesan, Freshly Grated
Salt & Pepper to Taste

1.  Sift the flour and salt into a bowl.  Add the butter and work it with your fingertips until the mixture resembles fine bread crumbs.  Stir in enough water to make a firm, not sticky, dough.

2.  Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Farenheit.  Roll the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and line 12 individual molds or a 12-hole muffin pan.  Prick the bases with a fork and fill the pastry shells with crumpled foil.  Bake for 10 minutes.

3.  Meanwhile, place the bell peppers skin-side up on a baking sheet and broil for 10 minutes until the skin is blistered and blackened.  Cover with a dish towel and let stand for 5 minutes, then peel away the skin.

4.  Cut each piece of bell pepper lengthwise into very thin strips.  Remove the foil from the pastry shells and divide the bell pepper strips among the pastry shells.

5.  Whisk the cream and egg in a bowl.  Add plenty of salt and pepper and pour over the bell peppers.  Sprinkle the Parmesan over each filled tartlet and bake for 15-20 minutes until firm and golden brown.  Cool for 2 minutes before removing from the molds.  Transfer to wire racks and serve warm or cold.

Stewed Eggplant
Serves 4

Ingredients
4-6 Tbs. Olive Oil
1 Large Eggplant, Sliced into 1/2-inch Rounds
2 Shallots, Thinly Sliced
4 Tomatoes, Quartered
2 Garlic Cloves, Thinly Sliced
4 Tbs. Red Wine
2 Tbs. Parsley, Fresh Chopped, plus extra to garnish
Salt and Pepper to Taste

1.  Heat 1 Tablespoon of the oil in a frying pan.  Cook the eggplant slices in batches (adding more oil as necessary, but reserving 1 Tbs.), until golden brown.  Drain the slices, cut them into strips about 1/2-inch wide, and set aside.

2.  Heat the reserved oil in a saucepan and cook the shallots for 5 minutes until golden.  Add the eggplant strips with the tomatoes, garlic, and wine.  Season to taste.  Cover and simmer for 30 minutes.  Sir in the parsley, check the seasoning and serve, sprinkled with chopped parsley.

Enjoy, and stayed tuned for more!  Meanwhile, visit Celebrations International Travel to learn about all of our services, and check out the Culinary Travel Homepage.

Please write us with your questions, comments, suggestions for future blog articles.  Tell us about your favorite foods, beverages, and travel experiences, and we will expand upon your input in our blog!

Celebrate Life Through Travel!!

Adrienne

Agency Owner, Celebrations International Travel


About Us


This is blog based on the experiences and interests of travel agency owners Adrienne and Agni Mitra. Through our blog entries, we will share our travel experience and expertise. We will also have other entries of interest to inspire your travels.

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