Tag Archives: turkey

5 Great Destinations to Fly in a Balloon (that aren’t Cappadocia)

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Photo by WIT Owner Christina, in Namibia

Have you ever flown in a Hot Air Balloon? Imagine drifting at a languid pace, above a breathless landscape, slowly transforming before your eyes with the sunrise. the crisp, open-air and the adrenaline from the height keep your senses alert. It’s an exhilarating experience like no other.

One of the more popular activities in Turkey is riding a hot air balloon above the rock chimneys of Cappadocia. The arid landscape, full of green vineyards and surreal limestone peaks, draws thousands of visitors each year. But what if you’re not in Turkey? Here are five of our recommended places around the world to hop in a hot air balloon.

1. Jaipur, India.

Jaipur, the capital of Rajasthan province in northern India, is known for its historic forts, pink palaces and ornate, fanciful architecture. A hot air balloon provides a bird’s eye view of the Palace of the Winds and the Amber Fort. Sunrise is always the best time to watch the colors unfold around you, from vast deserts to Rajasthani villages, and the majestic Aravali Mountain range beyond.

2. Australia.

Australia is a treasure-trove for hot balloon locations, with its miles of open, unexplored landscape. The Red Center is the country’s outback, home to the fiery monolith of Uluru, hopping kangaroos and surreal rock formations. Further south along the coast, the Yarra Valley also makes for some rich balloon scenery, with acres of blooming vineyards and orchards.

3. Yang Shuo, China.

Dramatic karst formations and green rivers make Yang Shuo a perfect destination for balloons. Located just northwest of Hong Kong, Yang Shuo is known for its outdoor adventures. Float slowly above peaks more than a kilometer high, above paddy fields, bamboo thickets, water buffalos and orchards of mandarins. The best time for views of the emerald landscape is the first two hours after sunrise.

4. Namibia.

This past autumn WIT Owners Christina and John guided a group out into the red deserts of Namibia. Their hot air experience remains one of the more memorable ones from the trip! Admire the desert world as the sun rises of pink sand dunes in Sossusvlei, over the rock formations of Naukluft Mountain. Marvel at the constantly changing kaleidoscope of colors, accentuated by big, bold shadows of cliff faces.

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5. Bagan, Burma.

The ancient city of Bagan is home to more than 2,000 pagodas, stupas and temples with a 26-square mile zone—a dizzying display of Buddhist piety. The “gilded city,” as Marco Polo called it, was once home to 13,000 temples in its 11th century heyday. The iconic landscape of stupas stretching out above banyan branches, and the mist-covered Irrawaddy River, is all the more gorgeous from the heights. But be aware that the balloon season is seasonal; due to strong winds, hot air balloons only ride from November to March.

Have a Destination you Recommend for Hot Air Ballooning? Let us know in the comments!

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Client Report: Viking Ocean’s Star in the Mediterranean

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Our agents at Willamette Intl Travel booked a cruise with Viking Ocean for long-time client Nancy T. Now Nancy’s come back from her amazing trip through the Mediterranean. Hear what she has to say about the voyage:

How was the Ship?

The Viking Star is absolutely stunning. It is very well thought out. Even though there were over 900 people on the ship, you never felt crowded. Our room was quite large and the bathroom was exceptional – full size shower and heated floor! The food was amazing. We loved the sauna and snow grotto room. Because we took an extensive excursion every day, we really didn’t have time to try out all the amenities on the ship. You could spend your entire trip onboard! There are so many beautiful places on the ship.

You did the pre-cruise extension, Two Nights in Istanbul, with Viking. How was the hotel?

Istanbul was beautiful. A side note to Viking—the Conrad hotel is not well placed for visitors. I know Viking will be getting a lot of feedback regarding that. It’s a beautiful hotel but not situated well for those wanting to explore Istanbul. Lots of business people and conferences being held there. It’s  a 30 – 40 minute walk to the nearest transit station and then another 20 minute ride to the old section. Taxis from the hotel to the old section are expensive because of where the hotel is placed and all the traffic.

(Note from Wittravel: The Conrad is a superb hotel, but indeed may be suitable for those travelers who wish to relax before their voyage. For those who want quicker access to the sights and smells of Istanbul, we can arrange nights in many excellent hotels closer to the city center. Call us for a one-on-one consultation.) 

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Tell us about the Excursions — how was Istanbul?

We did the guided tour provided by Viking on the first day – well thought out. The second day, we walked and took the light rail to see the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia. Also went to a small bazar. The next day was spent entirely at The Topkapi Palace which is huge. We were too tired to get to the Grand Bazaar or go to the recommended spice market. It was good we had done the smaller bazaar since it had spice stores there.

We did see some of the Syrian refugees. It broke our hearts. Turkey is trying hard to deal with them compassionately but their patience is running out. There are already over 2 million refugees and a million more are expected. I have a greater regard for Turkey and its place in our world.

We loved all the other, added-on excursions we did. I fell in love with Montenegro. Our excursion was 5 hours that day. Santorini was amazing – that was an 8-hour day. Athens was a 6-hour tour. Kusadasi ( Ephesus) was a 3.5-tour.

Final Thoughts?

It was an amazing, exciting trip. I highly recommend it to anyone wanting to explore that part of the world. Another side note – the majority of passengers on the ship had already on it for ten days before we got on it. They had combined this trip with another one which started in Barcelona.

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Viking Cruises launched its first ocean-going itinerary in May of this year. Ocean voyages have been fully booked up well into 2016! Viking’s world-renown cruise line has ranked highly on multiple travel lists, including Conde Nast Traveler’s Gold List, Travel + Leisure World’s List, Travel Weekly Readers’ Choice Awards, and National Geographic’s The 10 Best of Everything. The ocean cruises continue the Viking tradition of an all-inclusive experience, from all onboard meals, cultural enrichment, complimentary room service, to shore excursions, wifi, self-service laundry, wine, beer & soft drinks, and all port charges and government taxes.

The Viking Star is an all-veranda ship that accommodates up to 928 passengers. Combining Viking world-class standards with refreshing itineraries, the Viking Star is the ultimate luxury voyage that enhances each destination port. From the lavish 270-square-foot veranda to the premium Owner’s Suite spanning a whopping 1448 square feet, there’s something for everyone on the Star. She will be equipped with multiple restaurants, serene Wintergarden lanai, Piano Bar, Explorer’s Lounge, and a Nordic Spa. The Star will also have as its token jewel an Infinity Pool that is cantilevered over the ocean—the only one of its kind among cruise ships worldwide.

Call us for more information on Viking and their ocean and river itineraries. Contact 503-224-0180 or email info@wittravel.com.

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Holiday Recipes from the Middle East: Baba Ganuj

Happy Holidays from Caravan-Serai Tours and Willamette Intl Travel!

Each holiday season our friends over at Caravan-Serai offer an assortment of our favorite recipes from the Middle East, North Africa, and the Caucasus. Be sure to subscribe to our blog for updates!

Today’s recipe: Baba Ganuj or Baba Ghanoush

Baba Ganuj

 

2lbs (1kg) eggplants

1 large tomato

1 green pepper

1 medium onion

2 garlic cloves

1 Tbs salt

1 Tbs mint

2 Tbs olive oil

2 Tbs lemon juice

2 Tbs pomegranate molasses

 

  • Roast the eggplant s on a baking dish in medium oven approximately one hour, or until the skin darkens and begins to split, remove from oven to cool
  • When eggplants are cool enough handle, break open and scoop out the insides
  • Mash the pulp with a fork until a smooth puree
  • Add olive oil and lemon juice and set aside
  • Finely chop tomato, pepper and onion, add them to eggplant puree and stir
  • Crush garlic in a pestle with salt and stir into juice and olive oil
  • Add liquid to vegetable mixture and mix well
  • Stir in the mint
  • Serve in a shallow bowl with garnish of tomatoes or parsley sprigs and pita bread

A variation on this recipe is to cook the eggplant on a BBQ, it will enhance the smokey flavor! Enjoy!

Call Willamette Intl Travel at 503-224-0180 to discuss options for travel in and around the Middle East.

To read what a Sample 5 Day Emirates Desert Adventure with Caravan-Serai would look like, click here.

Caravan Serai is a Seattle-based company that specializes in small-group escorted tours to destinations in the Middle East and North Africa such as Jordan, Turkey and Morocco. Expert guides escort guests through fun-filled and tasty itineraries, valuing comfort and safety all the while trekking across ancient paths and historical ruins.

To read more about Caravan-Serai, click here.

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Filed under Africa, Egypt, Middle East, Morocco, Travel by Taste, Turkey, UAE, VOTM

Rail Europe Updates for 2013

SNCF Withdraws from Eurail Select Pass Program

Beginning January 1, 2013, the French national railway Société Nationale des Chemins de fer français (SNCF) will withdraw its participation in the Eurail Select Pass. Select Passes purchased before Dec 31, 2012 will still be valid if redeemed within six months of purchase. Eurail Global Passes and Eurail Regional Passes will still be valid in France. TIP: In Portland, Oregon? Buy your rail pass from us before Friday 28 December and pay the 2012 price!

Train Chartering, Creative Commons

Turkey Accepts Eurail Passes

In January Turkey will start accepting Eurail Global and Select Passes on Turkish State Railways. Travelers should be aware of construction work on some Turkish routes until Fall 2013.

Eurostar to Launch New Service to France

Eurostar, which connects London and mainland Europe via the Chunnel, is launching a new direct service from London to Lyon, Avignon, and Aix-en-Provence. The service will be offered for a trial period from May 4 to June 29, 2013 and tickets are already on sale. This route runs from London St. Pancras International or Ashford International nonstop to Provence. On the return, disembarkation is required in Lille Europe to complete security and passport checks necessary for Chunnel travel before re-boarding to the UK.

photo by Alain Gavillet, Creative Commons

Italian NTV Trains

This year Italo fast trains, run by the private operate Nuovo Transporto Viaggiatori (NTV) became available to book through Rail Europe. However, rail passes are still not accepted on these trains, so passholders are advised to opt for the Eurostar Italia or Le Frecce services. Italo trains typically run at 300 km/hour. They offer three different classes of service: “Club,” “Prima,” and “Smart” with varying degrees of comfort. Stations served are still limited: Venice, Torino, Milan, Bologna, Florence, Rome, Naples and Salerno. Torino Porta Susa and Milano Porta Garibaldi are connection stations for the TGV to Paris.

photo by Luca Volpi, Creative Commons

We issue rail tickets and passes for domestic, European and other international travel in-house. Come into the office and you’ll have your ticket in 15 minutes! Call us at 503.224.0180 or email wailanak@wittravel.com for more information.

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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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Agent Picks: Our Top 2012 Destinations

This week we asked around the office for our agents’ top destinations for 2012, and here are some of our awesome picks:

photo by Hector Garcia

Cook Islands

The Cook Islands are situated between French Polynesia and Tonga, comprised of 15 islands. Summers (Nov-Apr) are warm with afternoon rains, and winters are cooler and dry. It is largely unspoiled, with pristine beaches, coral atolls, blue lagoons and white sands. With no high rise hotels and a culture firmly based in its roots—each island offers unique ways to relax and enjoy Polynesia. The visitor can enjoy a variety of activities, including swimming in resorts, visiting the famous Aitutaki Lagoon, snorkeling, scuba diving, mountain hiking or stopping for a shore excursion at Palmerston Atoll.

photo by Arian Zwegers

Baltics

Since the fall of Soviet communism, the Baltic states—namely Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia—have slowly emerged as a major travel hub. Still under the American traveler’s radar, the capitals of Vilnius, Riga and Talinn still retain their refreshing and unspoiled vibe. With old world architecture, pastel colors, and rich cultural backgrounds, the people have been called welcoming and yet still an enigma. The Baltics are also relatively inexpensive for Europe, with boutique hotels running less than 150 USD per night and private tours available for a third of the price of their Western European equivalents. From the lively cities to the icy resorts on the Baltic Sea, there’s something for nature and culture lovers alike.

photo by xiquinhosilva

 Turkey

Turkey is a less expensive option to neighboring and popular Greece—but as equally worth your time due to its rich cultural heritage and diverse landscapes—from mountains to beaches to ancient monuments and ruins. Depending on your travel tastes, spend your vacation wandering through bipolar cosmopolitan Istanbul, sunbathing on the Bodrum Peninsula, touring the fairy chimneys in Cappadocia, or unwinding in a steamy hamam. If you’re feeling more adventurous, we recommend exploring the uncharted deserts of Eastern Turkey, trekking through the Ottoman and Greek ruins, or hiking through Nemrut Dagi National Park. Above all, don’t miss the food—mouthwatering mezes, olives, kebabs, anchovies, baklava, and kanafeh (a sweet and delicious pastry). WIT works with a fantastic tour guide named Meli who provides fully escorted tours through incredible historical sites, hot springs, monasteries, and the gorgeous architectural wonders of the Aya Sophia and Topkapi Palace.

photo by Maurizio Costanzo

Ecuador/Galapagos

Ecuador is one of the smallest countries in South America, but features a biodiversity unparalleled in the Western Hemisphere. For decades a top destination for nature lovers, the country features volcanoes, tropical forests, Pacific coast, indigenous markets, and unique wildlife. Most popular are the Galapagos Islands, barren but beautiful landscapes ripe with giant tortoises, penguins, marine iguanas and sea lions. Due to the fragility of the islands, tourists’ access is limited and must be accompanied by a park-certified tour guide.

photo courtesy of Viking River Cruises

 European River Cruises

The European river cruise is a massively growing industry—not a destination, but a worthy travel experience in of itself. These cruises are often all-inclusive, allowing Americans to avoid high exchange rates by locking fares in dollars, and can include accommodations, remarkable scenery, meals from stellar chefs and occasionally shore excursions. The most popular routes are on the Douro River, the Rhone, the Rhine and the Danube. River boats travel at a leisurely pace of 5 mph, allowing travelers spectacular views of the countryside, vineyards, castles, and villages. They can accommodate from 200-300 passengers, and the tiniest barges as few as four—intimate yet never feeling claustrophobic Many ships offer deluxe cabins, or suites with balconies, and there is a small number of public rooms and plenty of deck space. Fall is a popular time to go—the time for grape harvesting, Oktoberfest brewing, and the polychromatic turning of the seasons.

photo by @Michael

USA National Parks

Summer is a time for parks, and no better place to check out wildlife than in America’s diverse and breathtaking national parks. The National Park Service protects 58 areas across America, so there’s no excuse not to find one for a hike! Lodges are already selling out in well-known destinations such as Bryce Canyon or Montana’s Glacier Park. In Oregon, check out Crater Lake, Fort Clatsop, John Day Fossil Beds, or the Oregon Caves—or hike a historical trail, such as the Lewis & Clark or Pacific Crest trails. Some of the tours WIT works with offer escorted park tours, like Tauck’s Southwestern canyon vacation or their Yosemite trail, both crafted by filmmaker Ken Burns.

Interested in traveling this year to a top destination? Email info@wittravel.com or call us at 503.224.0180.

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