Cruising: Spotlight on Royal Carribean

My memories of cruises are far from what their marketers want you to think of – days trapped on the kiddy deck while my family cavorted, piña colada in hand, because I was too old for the kid stuff, but too young for the disco. When my father suggested a cruise this winter down the Danube – hitting Germany, Austria, Slovakia and Hungary – I was initilly skeptical.

Then I remembered that I’m now of age.

All of the sudden, I find myself considering cruising as a relaxing, less stressful way to travel. Though we’ll be taking a different cruise line, I thought about the first two experienced I had, one of which was on Royal Caribbean.

Royal Caribbean International is one of the biggest and best-known names in the cruise holiday industry. With their blend of innovative onboard facilities, exciting entertainment and scintillating destinations, there’s plenty to love about cruise holidays with Royal Caribbean.

For starters, they sail to over 260 destinations around the world, ranging from the frozen wonderland of Alaska and the paradise beaches of the Caribbean, to familiar Mediterranean shores and far-flung exotic cities. Some of their itineraries are short 2-night taster cruises, which offer the perfect short break or a great way for first-timers to have a go at cruising. Other itineraries last for a week or even longer.

Depending on your choice of itinerary, you can often find cruise holidays with Royal Caribbean that set sail from the UK, usually Southampton, which offers a flight-free holiday – perfect for anyone who doesn’t like flying! It also means you get to spend more time onboard while you’re sailing to your first port of call, and in that time you can enjoy the ship’s fabulous facilities – be it the rock-climbing wall, the ice-skating rink, the shopping malls or evening entertainment.

Royal Caribbean has helped to revolutionise cruise holidays and is attracting a much wider audience than ever before. With family-friendly cruises, romantic escapes and exciting adventures for thrill-seekers, never before has cruising been so widely accepted – and enjoyed. What’s more, given this wide-ranging appeal, you can now find plenty of Royal Caribbean cruise deals, too. Head straight to the Royal Caribbean website or, for a fantastic range of choice and the chance to compare itineraries across all the major operators, use a travel agent like Cruise Thomas Cook. Take a look at their website here – http://www.thomascook.com/cruise/lines/royal-caribbean/ –  and search for the latest Royal Caribbean cruise deals on itineraries departing this year and next.

In short, whether you’re after a fun-filled weekend away or the adventure of a lifetime, Royal Caribbean can take you there, and beyond.

This guest post was contributed by N. Rudenko.

Any ideas one what to see in Passau, Salzburg, Vienna, Bratislava or Budapest? I’ll be on a seven-day booze cruise with my family!

Preguntas Ardientes: Airport Parking

I Facebooked the world about the news: I had finally bought tickets to attend Oktoberfest and visit my cousins in Germany! My cousin and one of my childhood best friends, Christyn, a traveler and adventurer in her own right, was excited to hear the news, but it turns out buying the airline tickets was the easiest part.

“Well, you practically travel for a living,” she said, “Why don’t you figure out the logistics? How to get there from Bann, where to stay, tent tickets…”

As it turns out, my logistical planning starts from the moment I get out of work on Thursday in late September, as I’ll have to drive to the Málaga airport and stay overnight before catching a flight early the next morning. What’s going to happen to my Pequeño Monty, my beloved new car? I remembered my dad, a travel hacker extraordinaire, always seeking out the best options for when it came time for our yearly trips out west to ski. Al ataque!

Airport Parking Options

When you’re heading off on holiday and you need to book airport car parking, whether it’s Stansted, Glasgow or perhaps Leeds Bradford Airport parking, there are a number of different parking options to consider. These can be loosely grouped into two main locations – on-and off-site parking.

On-Site Parking

You might think that on-site parking would be the most convenient option, as you’re closer to the terminal. This may be true if you book a car park that’s within walking distance of the terminal. But sometimes when you park in a remote long stay car park that requires a transfer service to reach the airport, it can often take a comparable amount of time to park off-site – and it might be cheaper too (see below for more information about off-site parking).

On-site parking can include transfers to help passengers get from one part of the airport grounds to the terminal, and when you have booked and paid for car parking, the shuttle cost is usually included. Other forms of on-site parking include Meet and Greet or Valet parking. This involves dropping your car off and having it parked for you while you walk to the terminal to catch your flight, and on your return, your car will be waiting just a short distance from the airport. It’s expensive, but it’s also convenient and quick.

Off-Site Parking

Similar to remote long stay car parks, off-site parking involves parking at a distance from the airport and using an inclusive shuttle service to transport you to and from the terminal. The main difference is that most off-site car park operators will park your car for you while you catch the shuttle, and it’s often one of the most affordable options too. So if cost is more important and you’re happy to take a short shuttle to the airport, this is usually the best option.

If you’re a traveler, what do you typically do for airport parking? Any great tips to add? PS This post was written by a third party, and I was compensated for it. No te preocupes - I fact checked!

Seville Snapshot: Afternoons in the Plazita

Can I confess I love that my breath still sometimes gets caught in my throat in Sevilla, even five years after moving here? Or that even seeing the Giralda’s soaring spire makes me stop and admire?

One place I really love in a Spanish community is the plaza. It’s more than a landmark – it’s always a meeting place, a catwalk, a social center. I remember when Plaza Nueva was just a big roundabout. Thanks the the ex-mayor giving it a pedestrian makeover, the square just in front of the town hall, has become a hotbed for celebrations, rallies, artisan markets and tour groups.

I just prefer it when the kids are chasing one another on their scooters and the abuelitas are just feeding the pigeons, waiting.

What are some of your favorite plazas in Seville, or Spain? 

Got a photo of Seville or Southern Spain to share? I’d love to see it! Send me the photo to sunshineandsiestas [at] gmail [dot] come. Look for a new photos every lunes.

Capture the Color

In having no car and no friends not working, I’ve decided to enter the Capture the Colour Contest,which is being hosted by Travel Supermarket. The premise is to write a post with 5 photos, each best representing or embodying a specific color. The winner of each color will get a new third generation iPad, and the grand prize winner gets £2,000 to jump-start plans for a dream trip.

Here’s what you have to do:

  • Publish a post with your submissions. You’ll only be eligible for the grand prize if you use all of the colors.
  • Either share the link to your post on Facebook while mentioning Capture the Colour and tagging the TravelSupermarket.com Facebook page, OR tweet the post while tagging #capturethecolour and @travelsupermkt, OR email your entry to capturethecolour@travelsupermarket.com with your name, address, and phone number.
  • Submit your post before August 27, 2012.

BLUE

Seville, Spain. Late March, 2012.

As I walked into school on the Friday before Palm Sunday, I was greeted by 45 hooded figures shouting my name. “Miss Cat, Miss Cat! Guess who I am?”

In Andalusia, the Holy Week activities are highly anticipated, and my elementary school was no different. The first graders I taught last term were given the role of nazareno, meaning they’d wear tunics and hoods echoing the KKK while leading a parade of 400 students, aged 3 to 15, around the neighborhood ahead of a small status of the Virgin Mother.

My students took their jobs about as serious as a first-grader who had been deprived their juice boxes and cookies for the sake of a Virgin Mary parade, and we had fun guessing just who was who. The blue-eyed girl was easy, a stark contrast from the Andalusian hallmarks: dark hair, skin and eyes.

RED

Scottsdale, Arizona. Christmas 2012.

On the day my partner got his Christmas gift from his family, I got mine from myself. Kike’s cowboy hat made even the most blue-blooded Spaniard look a little bit gringo, so I used my brand-new Canon Rebel to snap a photo of him under Old Glory in downtown Scottsdale. If only I’d gotten his rendition of Yankee Doodle on camera, too.

YELLOW

Seville, Spain. May 2012.

Bullfighting has never been a big draw to me, though I am a complete romantic when it comes to the pageantry of the costumes and capotes, or capes. As we had a pre-fight beer during the 2012 Novilleros season, I caught two of the picadores, men on horseback whose long spear pierce the bull’s main artery to weaken it, pass by on their way to Seville’s stately ring.

WHITE

Arcos de la Frontera, Spain. March 2009.

Spain’s southernmost region is famous for its pueblos blancos, or whitewashed villages. Tucked in the mountains that border the Seville, Cádiz and Málaga regions, these towns are home to quaint views and, quite often, good food.

My friend Cece lives in one of the largest villages, Arcos de la Frontera. Once a Moorish stronghold, Arcos is reputed to be one of the most lovely. What I liked most was the stark contrast between the white houses and the cloudless Andalusian sky that snuck into every frame that morning. We enjoyed our cafes con leche that turned into cervezas between the breezy alleyways that morning, and I fell in love with Arcos.

GREEN

Istanbul, Turkey. April 2012.

Not one to sign up for touristy gimmicks, I let myself be tricked into attending a dinner show that included whirling dervishes while in Turkey. Ever since seeing them on an amazing Amazing Race episode in college, I’d longed to see them in person, but research proved futile – since it’s a religious ceremony, many places were closed to non-believers.

So I settled for a place with mediocre food and an overpriced show in the middle of the Golden Horn of Istanbul. Ambiance was nil, but the moment the dervishes came out in their black robe and brown, trunk like hats, I was mesmerized. I set my camera on a low ISO to get the floating effect as I watched their feet move in slow routine. The lights cast an eerie green on their white robes as they floated and abruptly stopped, letting their robes twist around them, hands on their shoulders.

Now, to pass on the color baton:

A Moment in the Sun

Detalles

A Painter of Modern Life

What to do With Outdated Travel Guides

I learned the hard way just how tedious and difficult it can be to research a guidebook. After study abroad in Spain and reading every.single.page. of Let’s Go Spain 2005, I felt I knew the Iberian Peninsula in and out. I wanted to travel and eat in restaurants for free, go on tours and ride in buses to far off places, all in the name of budget travel and a small wage.

So, when I was contacted by one GG of Rough Guides, I jumped at the opportunity to help contribute to The Rough Guide to Andalucia (out May 1, 2012 – look for my mention on page 933!). I set off on the task, determined to uncover new places and tout the old ones.

The work was long, often frustrating, and needed various re-writes.

I got in contact with GG in February of 2011, and we met the following month to hammer out the details. I didn’t actually complete the work and get paid until the beginning of 2012 – due to an overhaul of the book’s design, there was more work and research to be done. Additionally, with the new government in place in Spain, the economic crisis and the normal turnover of businesses (Qué! reported in February that 14,000 new business were founded in 2011 and over 5,000 went defunct), I often had to frantically tap out an email to GG to report that a place had closed or changed hours.

Guidebooks are often obsolete the second they go to press. While they provide an excellent way to get started on planning on a trip, they often can’t be relied on blindly. So, then, what happens after your trip to SE Asia? That enormous Lonely Planet or Frommer’s you shelled out money for, what will become of it?

Trade-ins and Book Drop Offs

One of the best moments I had on my first trip to Amsterdam was browsing in the American Bookstore off of Damm Square. I was clued into the Dutch reading habit by my friend Martin, whose small apartment was full of books in many languages. My travel partner needed to do some research for her thesis proposal, so I parked it on a beanbag and browsed titles, running my fingers over bindings and through coffee table books, not wanting to start and not be able to stop a novel.

Similarly, I spent money and luggage space on books bought in Hungary at an English book exchange with incredible organic coffee. If like minds do indeed think alike, the pairing of musty old books and strong java was my idea of haven for a chilly afternoon. In expat enclaves worldwide, book exchanges and drop offs have become a way to recycle old friends and sometimes make a bit of cash.

In Seville, you could also leave your book at the Centro Norteamericano on Calle Harinas, 16-18, in the library. As one of the largest English-language collections in the city, the place takes in all of leftover books from the American Women’s Club book fair and takes up the upper patio of the restored villa. You can find Gaye, the woman in charge, during the workweek from 8:15 until 10pm (8pm on Fridays), though note that the system is based on honor, and you MUST be a member of the AWC to check books out. Similarly, the Phoenix Pub in nearby Bormujos has become a book-collecting haven for English language goods.

Leave it behind at a hostel, train station or airport with a note

Knowing my family would soon be traveling to Ireland, I picked up a copy of Frank McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes at the American Women’s Club book fair. Starting up the book in Málaga at the airport, I boarded the plane with a two-hour delay, sat on the runway for another two, was in the air for three, and sat on the ground again waiting for a gate another hour. With nothing better to do on a cramped Ryan Air flight, I damn near finished the book. I also hated myself for not having such a traumatic childhood like McCourt did. The book thoroughly depressed me.

Three days later, we arrived to still Limerick on Christmas morning. The chill and the absence of people made McCourt’s Limerick a reality to me, so I left the book on a bench near the historic center with a note on the inside flap: Reader Beware. I signed my name, printed the date and walked away.

Could you imagine picking up a book or short story in an airport and diving in? Books are to be treasured, so parting with a beloved friend can, in turn, pick up someone else’s day. Likewise, hostels are always hungry for books and provide an eclectic collection for travelers. Your old guidebooks – or books – can find a home here and become an uncovered gem for a like-minded traveler.

Decoupage

As a kid, I loved doing all kinds of crafty work and my mom took us almost weekly to Michael’s for paint, hot glue guns and the like. I started decoupaging anything I could get my hands on – often using travel magazines and the Chicago Tribune Travel section to cover notebooks, shoeboxes and pencil holders.

Now that I’ve been in Europe for over four years, I save all of my museum entrances, bus tickets and even napkins from memorable meals to decoupage photo albums. I have my camera on me at all times – even if it is just my phone’s – so my pictures are often an integral part of my trip. Signing up for photo sharing websites like Snapfish or Shutterfly will usually get you anywhere from 20-100 free prints, and I’ve scored hundreds of others for simply subscribing to the sites. My whole Ireland trip for the shipping and handling costs? Genius.

note: Amazon UK will ship for free to Spain for orders over 25£, Book Depository offers free shipping to Spain.

Plain old leave it on your nightstand, bookshelf or coffee table

In reading Rolf Potts’ Vagabonding: An Uncommon Guide to the Art of Long-term Travel, I realized that I sometimes just need a bit of inspiration to get me through a few hours’ time prowling for cheap flights. My two books that I bought back in 2009 (updated in 2008, then) serve as a good jumping off point, but I find that they’re much more practical at home than lugged in my bag. I treasure the creased pages, underlined routes and worn binding that brings me back to the souqs of Morocco or Asturias’s green coast.

My 2009 guidebooks still just sit around my house, reminding me of the thrill of going to a new, unknown place. They’ve found their home next to cookbooks and old copies of secondhand books in English and Spanish. I’ve got little trinkets all around my house that serve the same purpose – a wooden sculpture from the Merry Cemetery of Sapanta, bottles of Coke in Arabic, a Chinese New Year calendar made of plush animals. Even a good travel book can take me to destinations that seem too far to even think about visiting – as proof, I still have my first Let’s Go! Spain book, a Green Guide to Paris book from a 2006 Art History Class and a second-hand Lonely Planet to China that adorn my bookshelf back in good old America.

Calling all Andalusian-based expats: clue me in on where I can get my hand on more! I caved and got the Kindle, but love to pick up books for the beach or weekend trips.

Ya Huele a Primavera

On a popular talk show on Andalucía’s Canal Sur called La Semana Más Larga, the host Manu Sánchez recently griped about the recortes going on throughout Spain.

But Rajoy just wants us to move right into Summer! he spews, citing the recent “frío esteparian” and the subsequent 70º weather. He’s got a point – springtime in Seville is sweet, filled with tipsy afternoons drinking in sunshine and Cruzcampo, fresh breezes and the intoxicating scent of azahar. But Springtime is also the most short lived season, a brief twinkle in the year, and Rajoy’s insistence in cutting the fat off of all that is good and beautiful about life in Seville is just plain loco.

Manu claims that Spring is for the sevillanos to leave “everything in condition” so that the guiris, who olny come in the summer, can have what’s left over (watch the whole show here a la carte and enjoy Manu’s INCREDIBLE andalú). For this guiri who makes like a sevillano and verenea in a different part of Spain, I enjoy the terracitas and fresh aceite like an respectable andaluz.

Apart from the towering palmeras that line boulevards, Seville is populated with orange trees. During the winter months, the naranjos bask in the sunshine, their dimply skin growing its namesake color until the days start getting longer in late February. The oranges of this sour variety are rarely, if ever, consumed in Seville, and the rumor states that only the oranges grown in the Cartuja Monastery are sweet enough to eat.

By the time March lazily rolls around, the orange trees are shaken, the fruit gathered into thigh-high burlap bags and sent off to the British Isles for bitter marmalade. According to the Novio, the city of Seville began to crate and ship them as a gift to the Queen of England. Though I cannot find evidence to support or kill this long-told legend, the people of England start their days off with the fruit spread over their toast, and I with the scent of the orange blossom flower.

The small yellow bud, called azahar, appears for just a week or ten days’s time, smelling a little bit like fresh laundry, lightly scented perfume or a sunny day after a spring shower. I can’t put my finger on it, but crane my nose in the week leading up to Saint Patrick’s Day to catch a whiff. After seeing the buds began to peek out of the branches, I finally smelt it on Avenida de la Buhaira, riding my bike on a sunny afternoon with my sleeves rolled up.

Finally Springtime, the small glimmer of sevillano time that I am so very fond of.

If Manu’s predictions were anywhere near right, we’d lose the azahar, botellines in a sun-filled plaza on a Sunday afternoon, the sand between my toes somewhere lost in the pinares of Huelva. The passionate processions of Holy Week, gone. The lively sevillanas at the Real, finito. Bullfighting’s biggest names, fuera de la cartelera. Kelly told me my first year here: “Loving Seville in the Fall and Winter is one thing, but you’ll completely swoon come primavera.”

Losing our most treasured season, the one we live for atope in the waning sunlight of twlight, the one we wait for through the nights huddled close to the space heater, would mean a little piece of livelihood taken from the penitent nazarenos, a little less arte in our steps during Feria. Spring is the season I live for more than any other.

Sevillanos: Where do you like to spend your tardecitas? What do you do with the perfect weather and sunny afternoons? Any good tips for finding sunshine and relax? Share them in the comments, por favor!

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