Written by Pamela Kniss
Pamela’s Pick Melbourne
In my opinion, Melbourne is a must see for anyone who loves good food, wants to see the iconic Australian animals in the wild, appreciates a beautiful coastal drive and finds the back streets and boulevards of a vibrant city enticing.
Melbourne has a very diverse ethnic population. As such, ethnic food is an integral part of the foodie scene and can be found in large elegant establishments as well as small intimate family owned restaurants. The best way to sample this wonderful variety is to experience a few restaurants in one evening. Join the Progressive Degustation Walking Tour with Hidden Secrets. With clusters of delicious possibilities within easy walking distance, this tour visits three unique restaurants offering carefully chosen wine tastings and tantalizing savories from their diverse menus. This is a tasty way to discover the city. If wines are not your thing, try the Café Culture Walk which takes you on a tour of Melbourne’s hidden food and café scene. You will visit places you may not have found on your own and get a real taste of the flavor of Melbourne.
Another reason to visit Melbourne is the opportunity to get out into the bush just a short drive from the city. The Great Western Plains is a natural habitat for the animals you most associate with Australia. Koalas and Kangaroos in the Wild with Echidna Walkabout is a small group eco day tour led by an experienced wildlife guide. Walk through natural bushland and meet wild koalas, learn about each one’s history and social life. Did you know that you can identify individual koala by the pattern of pink on the inside of their noses? Join wild mobs of kangaroos, visit the natural environments of parrots and emus, and you might even spot an echidna. Because this is an eco tour, you can make a difference for the animals who live there— remove Boneseed, a noxious weed, record sightings of native wildlife and learn survey techniques that will be useful wherever you go.
Another unique wildlife experience is waiting for you at Phillip Island. Only 90 minutes from Melbourne, Phillip Island provides an opportunity to join a “Waddle on the Wild Side” and witness the fascinating and fun pen- guin parade. At sunset each day, the world’s smallest penguins return home from their ocean travels to one of the largest penguin colonies in Australia. It is difficult to describe just how magical it is to watch these little penguins come ashore and waddle across the beach to their sand dune burrows. They are afraid of the seagulls who stalk them along the beach and coming ashore through the surf is not an easy experience. Once on the beach, the seagulls are there to scare them back into the water and they must try once again to make it out of the water to the safety of their burrows. One way to experience the penguin parade is with the Ultimate Penguin Tour. Designed for groups of up to 10, this eco tour takes visitors to a stunning, secluded beach to view the little penguins with the use of night vision technology. You can drive yourself to Phillip Island, or there are tours from Melbourne. Either way, don’t miss this entertaining natural display.
Jaw-dropping beauty might be one description of the Great Ocean Road. This is a day trip out of Melbourne, although two days and one night on the road will give you more time to soak in the sights. Witness the rugged splendor of the famous 12 Apostles; magnificent rock stacks that rise up majestically from the Southern Ocean. This dramatic coast- line is created by the constant erosion of the limestone cliffs of the mainland. The 12 Apostles are stunning examples of the creative forces of nature. Discover some of Australia’s best rainforest scenery in the Otway Ranges amongst the tall trees, ancient plant life and lush ferns. Walk among giant tree ferns at Maits Rest, see the glow worms at Melba Gully or experience the full beauty of this rainforest on the Otway Fly Treetop Walk. This is another of the iconic experiences from Melbourne that can be accessed by self-drive or by tour.
Melbourne operates the world’s largest tram network that is an efficient transportation system carrying locals and visitors all over the city. You certainly don’t need a car in Melbourne.
I recently returned from a tour of Spain and Portugal with Insight Vacations. You are in good hands with Insight Vacations as they take care of every detail for you. The Insight coaches are among the most comfortable in Europe, having had 10 seats removed to allow for more legroom. We had the pleasure of riding in this coach across Spain into Portugal.
Our tour started in Madrid, where we had the opportunity to spend some free time exploring the city alone. The historical center of Madrid is centered around three squares; Puerta del Sol, Plaza Mayor and Plaza Isabella II. The three are located relatively close to each other and contain many of Madrid’s shops, cafés and restaurants. The squares are home to the city’s festivals, farea, theatre performances, holy week processions, street markets and café culture. Although the city dates to the ninth century, it became the capital of Spain in 1561 after Phillip II moved his court from Toledo. In Madrid, we rode past the Fountain of Cybele, showing the Greek God of fertility, riding in a carriage drawn by lions. It is in one of the most beautiful places in Madrid.
Although the city dates to the ninth century, it became the capital of Spain in 1561 after Phillip II moved his court from Toledo. In Madrid, we rode past the Fountain of Cybele, showing the Greek God of fertility, riding in a carriage drawn by lions. It is in one of the most beautiful places in Madrid. Madrid has many world-class museums, many of which are located close to the beautiful Paseo del Prado Boulevard. The mustsee museums are the Prado, Reina Sofia and Thyssen-Bornemisza. These museums feature masterpieces by Velazquez, El Greco, Goya and Picasso. Be sure to take the time to relax in one of Madrid’s wonderful cafés. No one can visit Madrid and not visit Retiro, Madrid’s most popular park. Make sure to take out one of the pedalo boats while in the park.
Visit the Royal Palace, with 3,418 rooms. There’s a lot of palace to explore. You will enjoy seeing Charles III’s bedroom. Each of the rooms represents a period in time and style. You will love the Chinese Room for its color, and the nearby gardens are wonderful also. Be sure to prebook your tickets because the tour is very popular. From Madrid, we took the coach to the old city of Toledo and on to Granada. Toledo was once the capital of Spain and is situated high above the River Tagus. It is famous for its burnished steel swords that have been crafted there for centuries. We were able to visit a local Damascene workshop where expert craftsmen inlay steel with gold, silver and copper thread. We walked through the cobbled streets to visit the Church of Santo Tome, housing El Greco’s famous painting, “The burial of the Count of Oraz.”
We then continued crossing over the Sierra Nevada to reach Granada. It was once the capital of the Moorish Kingdom of Spain until the Moors were defeated in 1492. We enjoyed a dinner looking over the Alhambra Palace at night. It was such a sight to see it all lit up. The next day we had the opportunity to visit the Palace and the exotic water gardens. The palace is a fantasy of stone-cut lace, arabesque gardens and fountains built as a citadel by the Moors in the 13th century. We took a side trip to visit Cordoba and visited the Mezquita, an eighth century mosque with a catholic church built inside it. When the Romans took over the mosque, they felt the building was so beautiful and important they could not bring themselves to destroy it, so they built their church within the walls of the mosque. It is a sight not to be missed.
Once we reached Seville, we visited an immense 15th century cathedral, the final resting place of Christopher Columbus. The monument to Columbus was beautiful, depicting six men carrying the casket of Christopher Columbus. Once we passed the altarpiece, dripping with gold, we came upon the tomb of Christopher Columbus. That evening in Seville, we were treated to a fiery Flamenco show during dinner. The dancers were colorful and the music was festive.
Our time in Spain was done and a new adventure had just begun. We passed through the oak forests of the plains of the Alentejo to Lisbon. The forests are the home to the black Iberian pigs. We stopped in Javugo, Spain just before crossing the Portugal border, for some insight into the history and curing process of Jamon Iberico hams. The pigs are fed a diet of acorns for the last three months before being processed. They are buried in salt and hung to cure for up to three years. We were allowed to have a tasting of the delicious hams after a brief tour of the processing. We ventured across the wide Alentejo Plateau to Lisbon. As we neared the city we came to the Christ the King Shrine on a hill above the River Turgas and overlooking the city of Lisbon. We visited the Belem Quarter in Lisbon where sailing ships set forth to discover unknown lands. We also visited the Monument to the Discoberies and the more ancient Belem Tower—a fortress originally set in the middle of the river, but now left high and dry on the riverbank. No visit can be complete without Fado Music in Lisbon. It is the musical expression of the Portuguese people. Fado, meaning fate or destiny, is Lisbon’s version of the blues. Most fadistas have traditionally cloaked themselves in black shawls and blood-red lipstick. They sing haunting poems of lost sailors, passion and broken hearts, as their voices come close to a sob. The music is beautiful and haunting. “Fado is an intimate dialogue between the artist and the audience. You may not understand the words, but if you listen, you will feel the meaning.” —author unknown. If you are wanting to experience the ultimate experience in Spain and Portugal, please give us a call and we can help you plan your trip with Insight Vacations.
Endless Travel Blog
Plan your vacation to Peru today!
--by Shelly Donahue
If you are looking for a unique vaca- tion, Peru, with Avanti Destinations, may be just what you are looking for. You should plan on visiting for a minimum of 6 nights, but with so much to see and do, I would recommend a longer stay.
When arriving in Peru, expect to be greeted kindly by the Peruvian people. Peruvians take pride in customer service and it shines through with Avanti’s local guides and drivers. Also, bring your appetite, as the Peruvian cuisine is a unique fusion of traditional Inca and modern Asian/Latin cuisines.
Getting around Peru is simple. You fly into Lima (about a 10 hour flight from Denver) and then take domestic flights to the majority of the other destinations in the country (Cuzco, Iquitos, Juliaca, Puerto Maldonado, Arequipa and Chiclayo). You must take a train from either Cuzco or the Sacred Valley to Machu Picchu. Avanti’s ground operator has modern sedans, vans and busses that are reliable and comfortable.
Lima is renowned for its rich Spanish architecture—the City of Kings was founded by Pizarro in 1535. Cultures past and present are represented in the outstanding art, archaeological museums and cuisine throughout.
Lima has a unique history worth discovery but the highlight of Lima is the cuisine. The gastronomy tour and market visit is often the favorite tour for foodies and non-foodies alike.
Cuzco’s architecture is dazzling and the city tour is a must. Be introduced to the charming colonial city built on the foundations of Inca palaces.
Peru is full of must-see destinations, including the lush setting of the Sacred Valley—natural beauty of rivers and lakes within the well-kept historical towns of Ollantaytambo and Pisac. The Pisac market stands out as a unique experience and is a great spot for some authentic handicrafts to bring home.
First-time travelers to Peru should always visit Machu Picchu twice. The first entrance is for the guide to explain the stories of how and when these ruins were built, but the next day provides a chance to really explore these expansive ruins on your own. It is always best to go to the Sacred Valley first in order to acclimate to the altitude. The Sacred Valley is full of adventure. You can enjoy the natural beauty by mountain biking, rafting, kayaking and hiking. I would recommend at least 2 nights in the Sacred Valley and then 1 night at Machu Picchu, with a visit to the ruins on the afternoon of the day of arrival and another visit the following morning.
If you plan on hiking the Inca Trail, you should plan at least 6 months in advance in order to get your passes to hike the trail. The Inca Trail is closed during the month of February and the best time to visit is June through August.
The Peruvian Amazon is a one-of-a-kind destination. The Amazon is one of the most biologically diverse places in the world. You can see monkeys, birds, iguanas and the elusive pink dolphins. Long inhabited by indigenous people, the area has a remarkable history worth exploring. Avanti offers both lodges and Amazon cruises, which offer incredible day trips deep in the Amazon while still offering first-class accommodations and incredible food.
Another destina- tion is the enigma of Nazca. The barren desert harbors myste- rious ancient ruins—a set of carved glyphs so massive they can only be seen from the air. The Nazca Lines have long captured travelers’ imagina- tions with their preci- sion and scale. Full of
mystery, there isn’t much comparable to an overflight of the incredible Nazca Lines.
Lake Titicaca is the highest lake in the Americas. For visitors to Lake Titicaca, the floating islands of Taquile and Uros are spectacular for both nature and cultural travelers. There is nothing like the combination of scenic vistas and cultural authenticity. Revel in the natural wonders of the lake as you kayak the highest navigable lake in the world.
Ready to visit Peru?
Drop us a line today to book your trip!