Get Local: Great Travel Initiative in Asia

WithLocals Market

Hit the local market with your guide!

What are your favorite travel memories?

My guess is that most of you will immediately think of an experience with locals. You were invited for dinner in a new friend’s home, or met some local people in a bar and spent your evening together playing traditional card games? These moments seem more special, since while on vacation, it’s easy to spot all of the other tourists at the major sites, but the locals can be hard to find.

So often we follow a tourism handbook to an awesome old local café and arrive to find it overloaded with tourists from our home country!

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Top highlights in Madrid

Plaza Mayor de Madrid 02 The gorgeous cosmopolitan city of Madrid is located in the center of Spain. Visitors there will be able to enjoy the (capital) city’s cultural landmarks, plus its selection of fresh traditional food and trips to nearby historical towns.

Art museums and cultural landmarks.

The city is known for its variety of ancient buildings, churches and museums. The three main museums are the Prado Museum, the Reina Sofia Museum and the Thyssen Bornemisza Museum. Together, they form the Golden Triangle of Museums, which is located in the city center steps away from the centric Atocha train station and the Retiro Park.

Visitors can enjoy a coffee with a view at the Circulo de Bellas Artes, the Circle of Fine Arts. This cultural center is located in the center of Madrid and its cafeteria has views towards the main streets. Another place to take in the city’s main streets from above is the Palacio de las Comunicaciones, a white Gothic building that is now part of the town hall.

The city’s parks.

After touring the city, visitors should spend an afternoon walking around one of the city’s parks. The main park, located next to the Golden Triangle of Museums, is the Retiro Park. It has many garden paths lined with ancient statues and stone fountains. There is a pond in the center where visitors will be able to rent rowing boats. Next to the pond is the Crystal Palace, a large building made from glass and steel where many exhibitions are organized. The park has several terraces where you can grab a drink, and there are stalls selling candy and salty treats.

Another main park is the Casa de Campo, an ancient hunting estate located west of the city center. This large park has several areas designed for team sports, jogging paths and a lake. The city’s Parque de Atracciones theme park and the aquarium and zoo are located on the park grounds.

The historical city center.

When planning a trip visitors should keep in mind that there are many ways of exploring this city. Madrid can be explored on a double decker bus that has two routes, one that takes visitors around the city center and another that takes them around the main streets, including the Castellana boulevard that is located north of the city center. The city’s public transport network is affordable and simple to use.

Madrid is manageable by foot. The centric Puerta de Sol is a popular meeting spot. The square has many historical landmarks, ranging from the Town Hall and the fountains to the bear and madroño tree statue that is considered to be the city’s symbol. From here, visitors can walk to the Plaza Mayor, another main square where the buildings have many balconies. A short walk away visitors will find the Plaza de Oriente square and the Royal Palace located on the square.

The food.

The city’s gastronomical scene is known for its variety. Visitors will be able to enjoy a selection of traditional tapas, appetizers that are served with each drink ordered. Some of the most famous tapas bars are located in the La Latina neighbourhood, which is a just short walk from the city center. Some of the most typical tapas are montaditos, pieces of bread that can be filled with a variety of chesses, hams, peppers and tortilla potato omelet. There are many varieties of tapas, ranging from green asparagus served with thick salt to chorizo ham served with olive oil and garlic.

What To Do in Barcelona

Plaza Virgen de los Reyes, Seville, Spain - Sep 2009 I am so excited to be sharing more of Spain with you. The country holds a special place in my heart, as it’s where I first spent an extended time abroad, during my junior year of college. Located in the northeastern region of Catalonia, the city of Barcelona has many attractions-I have visited 11 times last time I counted! Guadí’s Sagrada Familia is the city’s main symbol, and Gaudí’s architecture is present in the rest of the city.

Explore the city center.

Visitors can explore Barcelona on foot. The city’s main set of boulevards, Las Ramblas, stretches between the Catalonia square, a popular meeting spot, and the Columbus statues located on the coast of the Mediterranean sea. Each boulevard has flower stalls, newspaper kiosks and many street performers. There are several themed hotels in this area of the city, and there are many hostels located in ancient historical buildings in the El Born and Raval districts.

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Popular Casinos in Las Vegas

Las Vegas StripIn many parts of the world (including my home state of Nevada!), playing online casino games are a fantastic way of passing the time. But if you enjoy playing online, why not try your hand playing on the Las Vegas Strip? Take a holiday in order to enjoy the real deal! Everybody knows about Vegas from the hundreds of films and TV shows that show off the pure fun and excitement you can have in the city. I lived there on and off for seven years, and I can assure you that it never gets tired — the electricity you feel when you walk onto the casino floor really can’t be beat!

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Main landmarks in Seville

Plaza Virgen de los Reyes, Seville, Spain - Sep 2009The city of Seville is located in Andalusia, a region in the south of Spain. This historical city has many attractions, ranging from cathedrals and ancient minaret towers to bridges and fortresses.

The Cathedral and the Giralda Tower.

The city’s main symbol is its cathedral, which was built on the ruins of an ancient mosque. This large cathedral has several naves with vaulted ceilings and gilded decorations. The main altarpiece is the Retablo Mayor, a large structure decorated with golden statues. Some of the halls have been transformed into galleries filled with antique goblets that were used during mass. Continue Reading »»

Early to rise, early to board

Kuwait International Airport - ParkingEarly morning and night flights – the bane of a traveller’s life! You might have noticed an increase in this trend, too, as more and more flight companies try and cram as many flights in to popular destinations as possible. Of course this is good for you, as it means more choice and maybe even cheaper fares, but as far as tiredness goes, it’s a recipe for bleary eyes!

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Daydream of the Week: Macau

Macau SkylineBring on the bright lights!

Seven years off and on in Sin City, and I never tire of neon. So imagine my excitement when I was able to squeeze in a long weekend in Macau during my most recent Asian adventure. After a week in Hong Kong, where I took in such sites as the Big Buddha, I headed with my mom and two brothers to “Asia’s Las Vegas.” One of my brothers has been a professional poker player in China for years, so has spent “some” time in Macau. And my mom, herself a savvy gambler, had met him there before. Me? I was ecstatic to see if for the first time! Having edited three local Vegas magazines, I’ve written/edited a lot of stories about Macau over the years. (My favorite: Bridging the Gap between Vegas and Macau by Steve Friess.) For Vegas locals, watching Macau explode has been fascinating. It’s no secret that the area’s passion for games of chance fueled mega-winnings for the casinos over there — and helped keep the Vegas outposts afloat during the US recession.

We stayed at Venetian, and it looked so much like the one in Vegas (that I know like the back of my hand) that I often found myself headed to a bathroom or something that didn’t exist. I had been told that Macau was small, and I really needed only a day or two. WRONG! We were there three days, and I wanted even more time! It’s true that there are less restaurants (and only one show!), so some non-gamblers might get bored. But not this one — I wanted to see everything!

Other than that, the biggest difference was the weather. You’ve heard of the smog in some parts of Asia — the skies in Macau were indeed grey, a far cry from the bright sunny dessert weather I’m used to in Vegas.

Next up? Mainland China!

Seattle day trip: gorgeous Bainbridge Island

Seattle day trips Bainbridge Island

Bainbridge Island is full of beautiful surprises.

After a silly, fun-filled day “Riding the Ducks” in Seattle, my friends and I decided to check out nearby Bainbridge Island. My old pals had just moved from New York, so it was fun that all of us were doing these activities for the first time. (After living in Vegas for more than five years, I know a thing or two about re-visiting the same tourist attractions with out-of-town friends!) Three adults and two kids under the age of five: We were a little late driving to the docks to make the ferry, so we ended up just driving our car right onboard. It was so cool! And very easy. You just drive up, tell them what you want to do, pay accordingly, and drive to where they tell you. It’s quite an experience to watch all of the bicyclists ride on the massive ferry, and then car after car parade on after them.

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Daydream of the Week: Summertime Fun in Seattle

Seattle Ferris WheelAs my social media streams load up on snow pictures from the big blizzard in the northeast (what a winter!), I was home in sunny (but still chilly) California — and I happened to come across some photos from this summer that never saw the light of the day. It’s no secret that I prefer hot, sticky tropical weather to winter wonderland snowstorms. So I thought I’d skip down memory lane as an ode to all the fun I had last summer in the carefree months after I decided it was time to leave Las Vegas for the California coast. This picture is from underneath the Seattle Ferris Wheel, taken during a long weekend I spent there last July. After jumping onboard the off-the-wall “Ride the Ducks” tour and a day on Bainbridge Island, my two pint-sized friends (ages 2 and 4) caught a second wind and ran towards the big wheel, willing to wait in line as long as it took. As the tourists in front of us started to load up one enclosed cabin after another, I couldn’t help but wonder how the little kids in my party were so fearless. We were getting ready to go sky-high — even I was getting a little nervous! But once we climbed in, all of that was forgotten. We were so excited! Slowly, we rose higher and higher, in our own car with plenty of room to move around as we each tried to see everything. What a view… The wheel increased to some pretty impressive speeds once it was full and could really get going. We looked for our car, pointed out interesting people along the boardwalk and took a ton of photos. The water was gorgeous with a smattering of sailboats.

Winter is cozy, but I am already looking forward to the lazy days of summer!

Low-Cost Family Escapes to Lanzarote

Neighboring Gran Canaria island.

Neighboring Gran Canaria island.

Family holidays take many different forms, but when planning aim for the big three: diversity, well-equipped resorts and plenty of fun.

Lanzarote, one of Spain’s Canary Islands, certainly ticks all of those boxes. For starters, kids will love exploring Lanzarote’s volcanic landscape – take them to visit the fascinating Timanfaya National park as part of a day trip, and watch them marvel as small geysers erupt on demand. Or treat your family to a tasty lunch cooked over a geothermal barbeque, powered by searing volcanic heat. The scenery is this part of the world is nothing if not dramatic, and your kids can learn oodles about volcanoes, eruptions and geology by discovering Lanzarote’s lunar-like landscape and lava fields.

Of course there’s no work without play, and once your kids have filled their brains with facts and figures about Lanzarote’s fiery volcanic past, they can hit the beach with Mum and Dad. There are around 30 kilometres’ worth of beaches around the island, along with plenty of other sandy patches and rocky coves dotted around the coastline. Some beaches are made up of black and grey volcanic sands, which create a striking spectacle against the turquoise seas, livid green palms and bright blue sky.

As for resorts, Lanzarote is home to a wide range of child-friendly resorts. Families are best steering clear of Puerto del Carmen which, although it boasts one of the best beaches, is pretty lively and tends to attract party animals to its pub-packed town centre. However, Costa Teguise is a great choice for families. Its breezy coast means there are plenty of watersports on offer, and it’s within a stone’s throw of the island’s only water park – perfect for energetic kids. It also has a lovely white-sanded beach which is a great spot for a day paddling and building sandcastles with the kids.

Lanzarote is home to a wide range of family-friendly resorts, from quiet family retreats to full-on holidays that are all about family fun in the sun. Find out more by searching online at one of UK’s most popular family holiday agents thomascook.com, Thomas Cook’s Lanzarote holidays.

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