Tag Archives: tours

Conscientious Traveler: Caravan-Serai

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This Month: Caravan-Serai

Welcome back to Conscientious Traveler–-our monthly series in which we showcase a fantastic travel organization that supports humanitarian and/or environmental work. This month is all about Caravan-Serai!

Caravan Serai is a Seattle-based tour operator that guides clients through the Middle East and North Africa, as well as parts of Iran, Caucasus, Cuba and now even an Arctic Adventure Cruise (ask WIT for deets). They are our go-to affordable experts in the Middle East, and we’re proud to feature them as one of our top recommended vendors. Travel with them include reputable guides, accommodation, most meals, and some flight connections.

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Salaam Culture Museum: A Way to Give Back

So where does the Conscientious Traveler come in? Rita Zawaideh, owner of Caravan-Serai, is also the Founder of Salaam Cultural Museum. The SCM is based out of Seattle and they regularly host a variety of educational exhibits, lectures, publications, seminars and folklore evenings. Stop by if you’re in the Pacific Northwest! (3806 Whitman Ave. N., Seattle 98103)

Through her work running tours and the museum, Rita has always aimed to promote cultural understanding of the Arab World. Over the years, the museum has refocused its efforts as a humanitarian organization. The philanthropic SCM Medical Missions is dedicated to providing humanitarian aid to people affected by disaster within Middle East and North Africa.

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In the past few months, SCM have shipped out blankets and school supplies to Syrian refugees; run clothing drives in partnership with Value Village thrift store; volunteered at refugee camps in Greece. In 2013, SCM opened up the Malki Children’s Center in Amman, educating refugee children ages 6 to 12 who have been traumatized by war.

Their program for Humanitarian Goods involves a team of volunteers who knit warm clothing and make arrangements to ship them to Syrian refugees in Jordan.

Click here to learn more or to donate. You can also volunteer to assist in clothing drives or even as an humanitarian volunteer in Greece.

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Winter Recipes: Shushbarak

Every year, Caravan-Serai shares unique holiday recipes from the Middle East that we love. Here is a special dish from this winter’s roundup.

 

All photos courtesy of Caravan-Serai
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Cuba in 2016!

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Cuba is fast becoming one of the most popular destinations for US travelers. And our agents at Willamette Intl Travel are uniquely qualified in that we have sent our clients to the island for years. Over that time, we have built a solid foundation with a few excellent tour companies. Read on to see who we recommend and why.

Book a Tour

As the Obama administration opens up commercial travel between the two countries, airlines are already gearing up to go. However, before you jump on a plane, remember: many restrictions still apply to US passport holders. You need to be confirmed on a tour with a licensed tour operator to enter the country legally.

Fortunately, we have a few top recommendations for you:

Alexander & Roberts

Alexander & Roberts has been leading exceptional yet small groups to the island for years. Pick from four different tours of varying length and focus:

– 5-Day Weekend in Havana: the City in Depth

– 8-Day Legendary Cuba: Old Havana, Pinar del Rio and Vinales Valley

– 9-Day Classic Cuba: Art & Culture in Havana, Cienfuegos and Trinidad

– 13-Day Undiscovered Cuba: Vibrant Journey from Havana to Baracoa and Santiago de Cuba

A&R also offers a 11-day cruise from Miami that circumnavigates Cuba. Explore 6 UNESCO World Heritage Sites and the cities of Havana, Trinidad, Santiago de Cuba, and two national parks from the intimate ms Saint Laurent.

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International Expeditions

This company offers up to 10-Day tours (some of which are already sold out for 2016!), which engage participants in meaningful, immersive interactions with individuals in Cuba.

Yalla Tours and Caravan Serai

Both offer independent itineraries tailored to your preference.

Globus

Globus’ People-to-People Programs offer a culturally immersive experience within the comfort of a large group.

Seats and cabins on Cuba tours in 2016 are quickly selling out! Call 503-224-0180 or email info@wittravel.com to find out more and reserve a space to this fascinating country!

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Filed under Caribbean, Cuba

Vexplore Travel: Unique Itineraries

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We recommend Vexplore Travel to our clients heading to SE Asia looking for unique, personalized and down-to-earth trips. Vexplore provides everything from cultural culinary packages to golf getaways to adventures off the beaten path.

WIT Blogger Wailana went on a trip with Vexplore last year, and attests to the friendly and professional service from their team. Her 9-day trip took her to Bangkok, the night market at Chiang Mai, peaceful Luang Prabang and the diverse villages along the Mekong. Email her at wailanak@wittravel.com for more information about this region and all Vexplore has to offer.

Check out her photos from the trip in our Gallery: Thailand and Laos.

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Vexplore can personalize any trip according to your tastes. But check out some of their small group itineraries on schedule:

10-Day Myanmar Discovery

Yangon > Bagan > Heho > Inle Lake > lake villages > Yangon

Marvel at Myanmar’s spectacular monuments, including thousand year stupas and pagodas. Browse local markets, trek through villages and sail overnight in Inle Lake. Discover the rich history of this country, just blossoming into its own.

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7-Day Nha Trang Scuba Diving

Ho Chi Minh > Nha Trang > Ho Chi Minh

Embark on an adventure of a lifetime and learn how to scuba in Vietnam. When you’re not touring the cities for some rich cultural sightseeing, you’re swimming, jet skiing, windsurfing and scuba diving at the laid-back, white-sand city of Nha Trang. Uncertified and certified divers both welcome.

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10-Day Path of Vietnam Culinary

Hanoi > Halong > Hanoi > Hue > Ho Chi Minh > Mekong Delta > Hanoi

This trip’s all about the food—explore Vietnam’s rich culinary traditions while sightseeing in Vietnam’s main cities. Cooking opportunities await you at Hoi An’s Red Bridge cooking school. You’ll purchase your own ingredients at the local market and learn from expert chefs. At Cai Be on the Mekong you’ll visit the floating market, learn about traditional candy-making, and sample local favorites like rice paper, coconut candy and popped-rice cake. And of course—the junk cruise on Halong Bay is not to be missed!

Call your agent at Willamette Intl Travel to find out more about unique trips to SE Asia. Contact 503-224-0180 or email info@wittravel.com. 

photos courtesy of Vexplore Travel

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On the Ground in Dubai!

Last January 2013, WIT Agent Pam Davis took the nonstop flight from Seattle on Emirates Airlines to the luxury city of Dubai. With the airline expanding new ports all over the world, it’s not uncommon that your trip to Russia or Africa is going to have a forced overnight in Dubai! Why not attach an extension on your trip to explore the Arab World? Check out the details in our On the Ground with Pam.

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Dubai is a fascinating destination. The country is part of the United Arab Emirates—there are seven different emirates which have banded together. The largest of these are Abu Dhabi, the capital, and Dubai. Abu Dhabi has more oil resources while the economy of Dubai is based more on business and tourism.

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Dubai is a country of superlatives. They have the largest shopping mall in the world (complete with an indoor ski slope!), and the Burj Khalifa which is the tallest building in the world (I went to the top in the fastest elevator in the world – it took 30 seconds to climb 125 floors to an observation tower). Everything seems over-the-top. Hotels are opulent, and Dubai 962construction seems to be going on everywhere. I stayed at the Atlantis Hotel, located at the top end of Palm Island,a man-made series of sand islands that jut out into the gulf and from the air look like a palm tree. Even the public transportation is luxurious—the metro line has first and second class cars; the first class cars have leather seats, and each train has a separate car designated for women and children only. There are special pink taxis with women drivers, also designated for women and children.

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The population of the emirate is now 75% expatriate—local citizens represent only 25% of the population. Most of the people are workers who come from India and the Philippines, with some Europeans and Americans who work for foreign companies. The locals have some extraordinary benefits— free housing (and it looks very nice), free education (even at foreign schools), and no income tax. No wonder they love Sheik Mohammed, the hereditary ruler. While the resort hotels accept Western-style dress, much of the country is still somewhat conservative. Men wear traditional white robes, and women wear black burkas which are basically robes covering street clothing when out in public. Inside the shopping malls are uniformed women who patrol the corridors, passing out dress code requests for women whose skirts or sleeves are deemed too short.

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Dubai is on the edge of the desert, and while there I was able to go 4-wheeling in the desert dunes, a Dubai 935popular pastime for tourists and a good contrast to the city and beaches. The service on Emirates Airlines was excellent, and they have an extensive route system connecting their Seattle gateway with the Middle East, Asia and Africa. They also have some good stopover packages—with a 3 or 4 night stay en route to another destination, you can experience much of what Dubai has to offer.

WIT Agent Pam would love to share with you more of her firsthand tips from Dubai! Call her at 503-224-0180 for more information on Dubai or Emirates. 

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Filed under Airlines, Emirates, Middle East, UAE

WIT Agent’s Insider Look: West Fjords

This week we’re taking a close look at WIT Agent Wailana’s trip to Iceland in early October. Today we continue on the Ring Road to the fabled West Fjords.

(c) Bernard McManus, Creative Commons

A bit removed from the Ring Road track, I recommend the West Fjords only if you have at least 10 days in Iceland or you’ve been there before. The West Fjords are known for their rugged austerity and countless deep fjords.

Your first stop entering by car or bus will be the Museum of Icelandic Sorcery & Witchcraft in Hólmavík. The West Fjords have a long history steeped in witchcraft and magic.

(c) Bernard McManus, Creative Commons

The unofficial capital of the fjords is Ísafjörður, with one of the largest fisheries in Iceland—also the cultural and musical center of the region. You may be lucky enough to be in town during one of the region’s various festivals celebrating skiing, music, sports, and theatre. It’s also home to the annual European Swampsoccer Championships.

There are many other activities to enjoy in the fjords, from learning local fishing, dipping in a natural hot spring, or go on a sailing tour. Travellers can also take the ferry from Stykkisholmur in the summertime to Brjánslækur.

Stop in Súðavík to see the Arctic Fox Center or Bíldudalur and its Sea Monster Museum. Visit Látrabjarg, the famous peninsula that is home to millions of birds: puffins, northern gannets, guillemots, razorbills. Drive to Rauðasandur, a red sand beach that stretches out 10 km.

(c) Yoann Lambert, Creative Commons

Don’t miss Hornstrandir Nature Reserve, the northernmost point of Iceland. Hornstrandir is a lonely place. The few settlements and farms have been mostly abandoned for decades, and the few that remain are typically utilized as summer houses by local families. Most travelers visiting the area enjoy the solitude, hiking trails and magnificent cliffs. It’s a great destination for nature lovers—home to about 260 species of flowering plants, arctic foxes, seals, and more than 30 species of birds. The cliff known as the Western Horn is one of the best places to spot seafowl. The area is accessible by boats from Ísafjörður.

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Stay Tuned for Next Time: Snæfellsnes

Thinking about a trip to Iceland next summer 2014? Call 503-224-0180 or email info@wittravel.com to chat with one our agents! Wailana would love to share with you more insider tips about traveling to Iceland!

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Filed under Europe, Iceland, News, Where in the World is the WIT Agent?

Vendor of the Month: Avanti

Willamette Intl Travel uses Avanti Destinations as one of our main tour operators in Central and Latin America. They are world-renowned, members of the United States Tour Operators Association, and have been in the business for over thirty years. Best of all, they are based in Portland, Ore., right around the corner from Willamette Intl Travel!

Avanti offers fully customizable tours in a range of destinations—from jungles and mountains to deserts and islands. Their established, creative itineraries are designed to make the most of your cultural jaunt abroad—and can even be tailored to the minute details to your interests and needs. They even offer theme journeys, focusing on ecology, adventure, food and wine, romance, etc.

photo by Steve Jurvetson

Avanti’s services extend to transfers, tours, lodgings, day trips and more. They keep a range of hand-picked accommodation on list—from lodges, villas, and condos—and every property has been inspected by an employee. These visits ensure the lodgings are of the highest quality, while maintaining a range sensitive of varying budgets. Avanti can arrange shared and private transfers to and from the airport/each destination. In some major ports, they can even arrange pre- or post-cruise itineraries for comprehensive land tour. Day tours are booked with local tour operators, keeping you always on schedule, and with local guides who have grown up in and around the region.

photo by Grace Flynutaa

On a recent itinerary to Costa Rica, we booked some of our clients on an adventurous tour through cloud forests and volcanoes. They spent a week traversing treetop walkways, river-boating, swimming in hot springs, and horse-riding on the beaches of Guanacaste. To quote one client, “This was the best vacation of my life!”

photo by Frank am Main

Travelers on an Avanti booking have:
– Taken a bus through the Andes to Puerto Natales
– Cruised the channels of Tierra del Fuego from Ushuaia
– Caught glimpses of the leopard and craines in the forests, lowlands and wetlands of the Pantanal
– Spent a night overlooking the Iguassu Falls
– Wandered the cobblestoned streets of the colonial city of Paraty
– Explored the boutiques and glitzy restaurants of Buzios on the charming Costa Verde
– Savored wine in the valleys around Santiago and the port town of Valparaiso
– Hiked Chile’s spectacular Torres del Paine National Park and the Atacama Desert with its salt flats and dramatic volcanoes
– Zip-lined in the butterfly-rampant Cloud Forest of Monteverde
– Visited the Uros-Iruitos floating reed islands and the quaint village of Copacabana
– Traced the cultural journeys of the pre-Inca Chimu and Moche civilizations, climbed the pyramids of Tucume, and visited the tomb of the Lord of Sipan in Huaca Rajada

Ask us more about Avanti or call us to find more about destinations. We can be reached at 800.821.0401 or info@wittravel.com.

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Vendor of the Month: Melitour

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Melitour is a family business run by Meli and her daughter Asli, offering private and group tours that combine sightseeing and trekking with cultural education. Most of her tours feature her homeland of Turkey, but she also coordinates travel opportunities throughout Central Asia, Mongolia, China and the Arab World.

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Ephesus

Meli has spent 39 years working in guided cultural tours, her experience and efforts have culminated in some incredible, authentic and exciting tours. Her genuine, gracious, and erudite guides are selected for their years of experience and all possess deep appreciation for their country. And there’s a bonus: tips, excursions and bathroom entrance fees are all-inclusive!

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Pamukkale

Meli goes an extra mile making sure her guests are welcome and well-educated. She helps you understand modern Turkey, its unique blend of old world tradition and up-to-date values, and is well-versed in Anatolian history, Islam, Sufism and Turkish cuisine. If nothing else, her clients’ feedback are praise enough: “If you want to be a traveler, and not just a tourist. If you want to broaden your knowledge and understanding of an ancient people and their fantastic history” (Janice B., CA). She has also worked with Rick Steves on videos in Turkey, and comes annually to the USA and Canada to conduct presentations on her tours.

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Cappadocia

She also offers special interest tours: past themes have included pottery and tiles, cruises, viewing 2006’s solar eclipse in Turkey, riding the Black Train, and yachting on the Turkish Riviera and the Greek islands.

For some firsthand accounts of a Melitour, check out: http://ltburgess.tripod.com/

Willamette International Travel is proud to have been working with Meli for years now. Call us for info or to book a tour, at 503.224.0180 or email info@wittravel.com.

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Istanbul

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TURKISH SPLIT BELLY EGGPLANT

Meli also holds cooking classes and dinners on her farm not far from Ephesus and Kusadasi. Check out one of the farm’s Turkish delights, Karniyarik—split belly eggplant:

 

Ingredients

1 lb small eggplant, peeled in stripes lengthwise

½ ground meat

2 onions, cubed

½ bunch parsley, finely chopped

1 tomato, petite diced

1 tomato, sliced in half moons

Green banana peppers, as many as eggplants

Ground pepper, salt, 2 tbs olive oil, frying oil

1 cup hot water

 

Preparation

  1. Put the eggplants in salty water for 10 minutes. Heat vegetable oil in a deep pot, dry the eggplants and fry them.
  2. Drain excessive oil by resting them on a paper towel, then place in an oven dish.
  3. In a deep frying pan, heat olive oil. Add onions and stir for 3-4 minutes.
  4. Add ground meat, cook until the meat soaks all the juice it releases.
  5. Add diced tomato, stir until cooked.
  6. Turn off heat, add chopped parsley, salt and pepper.
  7. With the help of two spoons, slit eggplants into two, leaving tops and bottoms attached.
  8. Stuff eggplants with ground meat mixture.
  9. Place a slice of half-moon-shaped tomato and a green pepper on top of each split belly eggplant. Pour 1 cup of hot water on top and bake in a preheated oven at 400F until green peppers are nicely baked.
  10. Serve with rice and yoghurt.

 

 

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Filed under Turkey, Vendors, VOTM