Eurail Releases New 2015 Offerings

Photo: Eurail

For getting around Europe, it’s best to do so by rail. And depending upon your itinerary and finances, rail passes can provide a viable option.

Recently I went to a reception held by Eurail Group G.I.E., a cooperative effort that streamlines Europe’s national railway companies, to hear about new offerings for 2015.

If you’re new to Eurail, here’s some background info. Eurail Group G.I.E. sells different rail passes for travelers who reside within Europe (called Interrail) and those who don’t (called Eurail) for train travel to most major European countries that are available for certain periods of time. Interrail has just two types to choose from (One Country and Global Pass) and is valid for 30 countries. Eurail has four kinds (Global, Select, Regional, and One Country) with periods ranging from three days to three months and is valid for 28 countries.

Graphic: Eurail The various European railroads belonging to Eurail.

At their reception, Eurail revealed some new offerings and developments. They include:

  • Attica Pass: This new Eurail One Country Pass is designed in mind for those who want to do some hopping around the Greek Islands. The pass consists of six ferry crossings within one month: two international trips between Italy and Greece, and four domestic trips to the islands.
  • 1st Class Youth: To keep families together in first class: a 1st Class Option is now available for Eurail’s youth pass. Before this, youth travelers had to buy an adult ticket to be up in these cars.
  • Global Pass 5 days in 10 days: Since Spain, Italy, and Germany are popular destinations – particularly with Americans – and don’t border each other via a railway connection, this global pass gives with a shorter validity for those who require more flexibility. So with this pass, for example, you can spend two days in Berlin, Munich, Milan, Barcelona, and finally Madrid.
  • New Countries Participating: Four countries have been added onto the Eurail Global Pass, bringing the total number up to 28. They are: Poland, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia, and Montenegro.

Personally, I haven’t bought Eurail passes, but the closest thing for me was riding the D-Bahn (which is included in Eurail Group G.I.E.) on my trip to Germany and Switzerland last summer. Visit Eurail’s website to get further descriptions and prices on various rail passes.

Yonderbound: A Novel Travel Booking and Planning Tool

Yonderbound copyRecently, I joined a partnership with Yonderbound, a third-party hotel booking site, as a team member with their bloggers program. It’s novel in that goes beyond listing users’ opinions by letting them create their own mini-review site.

Let’s face it: Booking sites can get tedious — and really time-consuming — when you’re scrolling through post after post. Opinion after opinion. Yonderbound’s approach can be described as Pinterest meets Trover. Here’s how it works. After setting up an account, users create a Yonderbox in which they could share their travel stories by inserting information on the hotels they’ve stayed at. It’s like putting together a little scrapbook of your trip or a file for saving places to stay for your next one!

It’s pretty easy. On Yonderbox’s home page, you can search for specific hotels or type in a general request like hotels in Japan. Each result comes up with pricing, a map of the hotel, available amenities, and a description about the property. Trip Advisor is incorporated in

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Overall, I like Yonderbox’s simplicity with design. It’s very clean and it gives you what you often look for first: location and features. I made my first Yonderbox about Barcelona, featuring two hotels I stayed at in 2009: Regencia Colon in the city’s Gothic Quarter and Hotel America in the Eixample District.

You can also follow other travelers and travel bloggers on Yonderbound and check out their Yonderboxes.

As part of my agreement with Yonderbound, my followers receive a $10 Welcome Credit when they sign up on Yonderbound.com. Use this link to claim your credit. And if you want to follow me, this is my profile page here.

Disclosure: I am in a partnership with Yonderbound and I do receive compensation for my work with this company.

Intrepid Travel’s $1 Deposit Promotion

Intrepid - $1 ChallengeRecently I got a press pitch from reps for Intrepid Travel and thought it would be good for sharing. Now until February 28, 2015, Intrepid is holding a $1 deposit promotion to inspire people to consider booking a spot on certain adventure tour packages. The company caters mostly to independent travelers with different itineraries and excursions.

Intrepid’s promotion is being marketed as giving an opportunity for travelers to take on a new personal challenge for 2015: doing things outside of your comfort zone. And it’s for remote places that probably are on an adventurer’s Bucket List (or must-do list if you hate that term). According to their website, a sheer buck holds a spot on new bookings for select tours. They are for Polar Trips, Gorilla Treks, Inca Trail trips, and Peru trips operated by a local partner company called Dragoman.

I followed up with Intrepid’s PR reps to see if the promotion had any other limitations or requirements. Nope, I was told. The response: Normal booking conditions still apply.  Those booking a trip will pay the $1 deposit and have the option to (1) pay the trip cost in full or (2) pay later, with final payment due 56 days prior to travel.

Editor’s Note: I was neither paid nor solicited by Intrepid Travel to write this post.

Why You Should (or Maybe Shouldn’t) Date a Traveler

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Photo by JD via Flickr

Recently a number of stories based on the topic of why you should date a girl who travels have been floating around the web. These pro-dating pieces are on mark but to be fair there can also be counter arguments.

Trust me: I’m all for being with someone who is all about seeing the world. I would want that for the guy I’m with and I automatically expect the same thinking from him about me. Yet the reality is that the people we’re dating might have a hard time with our long-term traveling. Or trying to be a good sport about it.

These realizations should be kept in mind too. Heck, even the best travel writers can relate to the delicate balance between maintaining relationships while being on the road.

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So here are some factors to keep in mind about why you should–or maybe shouldn’t–date a traveler:

  • We need – or feel the need – to keep going. Whether for business or for pursuit, travelers are always in motion: making sudden or long-term plans. If we see a mistake airfare sale or see a travel opportunity such as conference or event that’s too good to pass up, we don’t. And like with just about any evolving career, if you work in the travel sector in some way, shape or form you have to stay current on what’s happening. And life is short, so we don’t want to dwell on “what ifs.”
  • We could be a part from you for a while. This is a biggie. From a week or two to even a month, or in between weeks, we might be heading out. Or we might be back home for a few days and then be taking off again. With professional travel writing, our assignments with publications or business agreements with companies require us to get the job done. We don’t mean to sound, well, mean but we have to shuffle off. However, we also know when it’s necessary to stay or come home (much desired rest, catching up on routines and projects or when our loved ones need us).
  • Technology can keep us connected. Just because we can’t be there with you in person doesn’t mean we can’t talk to you. As long as there is a good Wi-Fi signal, the beauty of Skype and FaceChat enable us to have conversations wherever we are. Even IMing through Facebook or Google Chat works fine. If we’re posting pictures, it’s for social media reasons along with a bit of excitement in being there.
  • Please don’t get jealous. Yes, we know it sucks to hear when we’re off to a wow destination like Italy or Australia or any place that you’ve always wanted to go (but can’t or haven’t just yet). Note that in many cases our travels involve a lot of planning (research and financial) and preparing (looking at resources, weather or even availability) on our part. My story: An ex of mine assumed I hit up my folks for the cash I would need to go to London. Nope! I did a lot of budgeting, saving, watching flight/hotel prices, and taking on odd jobs for getting extra cash. With press trips, it’s work. Fun, but still work.
  • Maybe you come join us. Depending upon our arrangements, it might be possible for you to come along on our ventures. But remember, if it’s a business arrangement we there to work. Especially with press trips, daily itineraries are made with set times for outings, departures, and arrivals. It’s not likely or even a good idea for us to blow off our work (don’t even suggest it). If all else fails, perhaps we can meet up when we get back or post-press trip in our destination. Or if timing and location are in both our favors, perhaps you can come meet us.

Be assured that we still go places together, unless you don’t like to travel.

On Location Tours Unveils Romantic Movie Moments Tour

cafe-lalo-webresIf you’re a big fan of romantic movies or you really “heart” NYC like I do, here’s some news that might make you swoon. Since the Big Apple has provided the scenery for many memorable tearjerkers and rom-coms, On Location Tours has launched its “Romantic Movie Moments Tour” that takes you en route to famous Manhattan sites featured on the big screen.

Led by a local actor, this tour goes to sites such as the bookstore where Billy Crystal spots Meg Ryan in “When Harry Met Sally”; the venue where Sarah Jessica Parker’s Carrie Bradshaw almost marries Chris Noth’s Mr. Big in the film series of “Sex and the City”; and the cafe where John Cusack and Kate Beckinsale share a frozen hot chocolate in “Serenity.”

Without giving too many scenes away, other film spots featured include ones in “Sweet Home Alabama,” “You’ve Got Mail,” and “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.”

The tour departs Saturday and Sunday afternoons throughout February at 3 p.m.

GoldenEye: The Jamaican Property Where James Bond Was Born

The Fleming Villa - ExteriorJames Bond fans: did you know that this suave British Secret Service agent was born in Jamaica? Literally.

Writer Ian Fleming, who created Bond in 1953 and featured him in 14 novels and a collection of short stories, first came to Jamaica during World War II for a conference and fell in love with the country. He made a promise to himself to return and after the war he went back and acquired 19 acres of property in Oracabessa Bay on Jamaica’s north coast for building a home.
Living Room in Fleming Villa

It was in this basic bungalow retreat called GoldenEye where Fleming would begin to pen “Casino Royale,” his first book introducing Bond during his winter stays. He went on to write every single Bond thriller, every January and February he was there. (Bonus fact: The spy’s name is said to come from a reference book on birds by James Bond, an ornithologist.)

The Fleming Villa-Entertainment Room

Several years after Fleming’s death, GoldenEye was almost sold to reggae legend Bob Marley, who pulled out of buying it. It was bought in 1976 by Island Records mogul Chris Blackwell and over time turned the property into a world-class resort while still keeping Fleming’s old home.

The Fleming Villa-InteriorBelonging to the Island Outpost collection, GoldenEye now consists of 11 one and two-bedrooms villas located directly on Low Cay Beach or on a seawater lagoon, six lagoon cottages, and one oceanfront villa. Fleming’s former jaunt is still here but now called The Fleming Villa. Rightfully so, it’s marketed as a separate area on the property.

Once you see, you’ll understand why. It’s a place onto itself.

photo 2(13)Far more reclusive and shaded that the other accommodations, the Fleming Villa has its private swimming pool, tropical gardens and a full-time dedicated staff. In the main house, there are five individual bedrooms such as the king-sized 007 Bedroom, which has Fleming’s writing desk; dining/living room area; kitchen and bar; and a private bathroom with an outdoor shower. Up to 10 guests can stay here. A delightful patio area provides a nice lookout over the surrounding beach. There is also a smaller, separate cottage named “The Sweet Spot.”

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Fleming’s detached garage still stands but has been turned into an entertainment room that overlooks the patio and pool area. And James Bond’s presence – movie versions of his books, “Dr. No,” “Live and Let Die” and “The Man with The Golden Gun,” have scenes filmed in Jamaica – is still felt throughout GoldenEye. Readers will find Fleming’s James Bond books placed in bookcases or nightstands inside the various accommodations as well as Fleming Villa. Upon arrival, spot a collection of Bond-related photographs on the walls of a building near the main entrance.

photo 2(12) Spa services are offered at FieldSpa, a lagoon-based cottage, with private and open-air treatment rooms. Spa services include cleansing treatments called bush baths as well as massages, salt scrubs, facials, and herbal wraps.

As for dining, the Bizot Bar provides low-key dining options set near a fresh water swimming pool and the western part of the beach. Breakfast and lunch is served here. Choices include Jamaican fare like saltfish and jerk chicken with rice as well as continental burgers, pasta, and salads.

Its opposite option is The Gazebo. This tree-house style lounge and restaurant provides a bit of a nightlife scene with some international flare. Fine dining dishes include grilled lobster tail and seasoned roast lamb. Its open atmosphere also sets up as a cocktail lounge area where perhaps you might order that martini. Shaken not stirred.

Getting Here: GoldenEye is located 20 minutes east of Ocho Rios. It is a 90-minute drive from Montego Bay Airport and an eight-minute drive from Ian Fleming International Airport (private aviation) in Boscobel, Saint Mary Parish.

Tasting Jamaican Blue Mountain Coffee

photo 3(1)On the first full day of our #VisitJamaica Bucket List press trip, we checked off item Number 1: tasting Jamaican Blue Mountain Coffee. And we went directly to the Blue Mountains to try it.

About half an hour or so from Kingston, Jamaica’s Blue Mountains provides what these coffee plants need to thrive: misty and cool climate, shady areas, and rich soil. Coffee plants were introduced to Jamaica in 1728, but they were originally placed in a parish field in Kingston. Eventually, these plants were brought to the mountains where they’re still raised and harvested today.

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Jamaican Blue Mountain Coffee can carry a hefty price tag, yet the reasoning behind it is a good one. Only coffee grown in a legally defined range of the Blue Mountains – starting from 2,000 feet to 5,000 above sea level – gets the stamp of authenticity: a globally protected certification mark.

It’s also a single origin coffee. Just completely red cherry-colored beans are picked, every by hand. Beans then also have to pass inspection codes set by The Coffee Industry Board of Jamaica on everything from their coloring to sizing and go through various inspection tests before getting a stamp of approval.

When visiting Jamaica, travelers and coffee drinkers can head to The Blue Mountains. From my experience, I would say that it’s best to research and book a tour directly through sites like Expedia or Viator or other tour companies. When you get to the Blue Mountains, you’ll see what I’m talking about. Through a tour, your ride and your admission to a working coffee plantation is covered, of course, but you definitely want a local to handle the driving.

photo 2(3)Getting there is an interesting uphill journey. The ride involves going up winding and unmarked roads but relax by taking in lush green vegetation, mountain shade and blue-sky views from your side window (get one). Small working communities like Irish Town are found along the route, and I spotted simple homes and even shops scattered in between long stretches of fauna.

One coffee plantation up here that’s open to public is Craighton Estate Coffee Plantation. The property consists of an over 200-year-old Georgian style residence once for housing Jamaica’s dignitaries that is now the welcoming area on this farm.

photo 1(5)Bought by the Ueshima Coffee Company (UCC) in 1981, much of the coffee grown here is exported to Japan. The Japanese market is a major importer of Jamaican Blue Mountain Coffee, above European and U.S. drinkers, due to their government investing in Jamaica’s coffee production in the eighties to re-percolate it.

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On the porch of this house, guests are greeted with a sit-down lesson on “Coffee 101” and its place in Jamaica.

And, yes, you get a cup of coffee.

Our guide, Alton Bedward, told how well traveled coffee has been over time and over the world (Jamaica first exported beans in 1737). In focusing on Blue Mountain coffee, Bedward shared insights on what makes this beverage so delectable. It is packed with antioxidants, and is low in both acidity and in caffeine levels. “Drinking Blue Mountain coffee is like getting a heart massage,” Bedward said, in that having a cup is locally described as though it’s like drinking to your health.

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Jamaican Blue Mountain Coffee has a floral aroma and creamy light yet full-bodied flavor. There is little or no lingering aftertaste. “It’s also got a little sweetness,” said Bedward. I got to add a little more sweetness to my cup through adding in a coffee-infused honey made at Craighton.

After our “coffee talk,” we went to see the property. Harvesting season runs from September through the end of January. After being picked, the beans go through a wet processing method of being washed and pulped and then are sundried (the traditional way of removing moisture) at certain facilities.

While keeping long-term coffee growing methods, modern eco-friendly ones are now more included. As shade is a coffee plant’s best friend, Bedward said Jamaica’s department of forestry is encouraging the planting of mahogany trees to give some ground cover and introduce healthy nitrogen into the ground through their roots. At Craighton, local manure is used as fertilizer and coffee plants are cut back every five years to help them rejuvenate throughout their lifespan.

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Visitors to the Craighton Estate Coffee Plantation can walk on an easy paved uphill path from the property to a gazebo that has great panoramic views. While on your way up and back down, you might spot some beans growing too.

Before leaving, visitors are offered the opportunity to buy bags of coffee. I was advised to do so because I would probably pay more in a store and definitely much more at the airport. So I left with two at first, then changed my mind to get four and then settled on a sure six of them to bring home.