Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Popular Paella - One of Spain's Iconic National Dishes

Spain's culinary culture is as rich and varied as the country itself and one of the most popular dishes found here is Paella.  There are many theories about the origin of this iconic Spanish dish; the first relates to its' origin and the second has to do with the ingredients used in the cooking of the dish.  Simply put, Paella emerged in Valencia, Spain, in the area of the lagoons and marshes of the Albufera, where fresh water mingles with the water from the Mediterranean.  Most restaurants throughout the world serve paella with seafood, which should be no surprise, considering the rich variety of seafood from the Mediterranean.  What most people don't know is that shrimp and squid were not part of the original recipe. 


The Word Paella


 Most people believe that the word Paella comes from the Old Valencian language and has its roots in the Latin word patella meaning pan.  That said, there are several other theories out there about the origin of the word.  The most romantic of them being that the dish was first prepared by a lover for his fiancee and that paella is a corruption of the word "para ella" meaning "for her".  There could be a speck of truth to this because today making paella is usually left to men!  Others believe, that paella comes from the Arabic word "Baqiyah" meaning leftovers, pointing to the humble beginnings of this dish and its Arabic influence because the Moors brought rice to Spain.



Paella -Modest Beginnings In Valencia


Today it is hard to separate Valencia from paella.  Paella emerged as a gastronomic delight in the 18th century and was cooked in a round flat pan that it was named after.  The circular pan is made of polished steel, it is wide and not very deep with two handles on each side. Its flat and shallow design provides fast and uniform evaporation of the broth, an essential cooking technique for authentic paella.  The recipe was dreamed up because of the introduction of short grain rice from Africa.  The Moors conquered most of the Iberian peninsula during the 15th century and found that Valencia's warm, dry climate was ideal to cultivate rice.  In fact,  paella is all about this short grained rice which splits the short way when heated rather than on the ends like other kinds of rice.  This special short grained rice grown in Valencia allows it to absorb much more flavor from whatever it is cooked with.




Paella was originally a peasant dish that was eaten by farmers and laborers.  It was most often cooked by workers over a large fire made from orange tree branches for their lunchtime meal.  Originally, it was made with whatever ingredients were on hand in the rice fields and countryside and, could include anything from tomatoes, onions, and snails; to rabbit, duck or chicken, with a dash of saffron for color and flavor and beans to add texture.  Traditionally, each person ate right from the pan using a wooden spoon. 

As Valencia rice became more available, paella recipes were shared and adapted with many new variations as this dish became popular throughout Spain and beyond.  Today, a "true" Paella Valenciana is made with a mixture of chicken, rabbit, and snails with saffron and green beans and has no seafood, but most often, it is made with seafood including shrimp, clams and squid.




Paella - Take Time to Enjoy!


Food is a big part of Spanish culture, families use meals to socialize and meet at the end of the day.   Many consider Paella as the National dish of  Spain, that has as many variations as there are cooks! One thing every variation of paella has in common besides the rice and saffron is that it is a very social culinary occasion.  Families congregate to eat paella not only in restaurants; but also at their homes, at mountain picnic sites and, on the beach.  Making paella takes time and encourages conversation and celebration.  For visitors, learning about paella and feasting on it is a highlight of any trip.




Spain - History History To Heart


Tours of Distinction is offering a small group ten-day trip to Spain, October 6-16, 2019, hitting all of the high points of this diverse and beautiful country.  Cities that will be visited include Barcelona, Valencia, Granada, Cordoba, Toledo, Seville and Madrid. Special excursions planned include a bull farm experience, A Tapas Dinner, and Flamenco Show, and special tours of Llardi, known as the  City of Porcelain, an Olive Farm and an Oil Mill Tour.  This tour also includes a canal cruise of the rice field plantations that surround Valencia as well as a cooking demonstration on how paella is made followed by an authentic paella lunch at an authentic fisherman's home known as a "barraca".  For tour details click here











Travel Tip Tuesday - Four things You should never buy @ an Airport

In general, airports are expensive, we all know this. After all, airports have a captive audience so to speak and heading the markup list is food and parking.  If you plan on making a purchase at an airport it is best to do some research before heading out, especially if you want to purchase one or more of the following items at the airport.



Duty-Free

Just because something is duty-free doesn't mean it is less expensive or that you are sure to get a good buy.  On the other hand, if you live in a state with high taxes on liquor or tobacco you may be able to save a few bucks.  Do your research and compare local and online pricing with the pricing of cosmetics, electronic goods, luxury items, and liquor costs before buying these items at the airport.

Foreign Currency

Airports are full of currency exchange desks and often offer their services to travelers with mile high transaction fees.  As a rule of thumb, the airport is not the best place to exchange your money.  One way around this is to keep your eyes peeled for an ATM in your destination where you are most likely to get the best interbank exchange rate.  And, before leaving home, make sure you notify your bank that you are leaving the country.

Water Bottles

Bring a collapsible water bottle that you can fill up in a water fountain and save yourself $3 or more for the bottle of water that you are buying at the airport.  There are a lot of collapsible water bottles on the market from the Vapur Flexible to the Mainri soft water bottle that ranges in price from $7-$16.

Souvenirs

Don't leave behind that last gift or souvenir item in your destination, make sure you pick it up and pack it for your flight home.  Airport souvenirs are always marked up and usually not of the same quality that you will find at your destination.  Many airport trinkets are not original.  If you plan on buying souvenirs at the airport, try to do some research ahead to see if the airport offers some original and unique items to buy upon your departure.

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Travel Tip Tuesday - Flying without ID Domestically

Although we recommend that you never fly without your ID domestically you still might be able to board a flight.  So if you are at the airport for a domestic flight without your license,  the first thing you should do is to check in with your airline using your phone; and then head to the security line, the earlier the better.



In the security line, you will have to ask the TSA for a release form that states your name, the last four digits of your Social Security Number, and your home address.  At this point, the TSA will be checking your Social Security records.  Once the form is signed, TSA will ask you a series of identity-verifying questions.  The questions vary and range from what is your mother's maiden name to where you were born.  The answers are relayed to a TSA agent that verifies the answers to these questions and those you answered on the form.  Most of these answers are available on your birth certificate if you are a natural born citizen.

Once your answers have been verified to the satisfaction of the TSA agent, you will be able to go through the checkpoint where there will be additional screening. 

Never forget your ID when traveling internationally.  The TSA agent can screen you and let you through the security checkpoint, however, the airline at the gate will not allow you to board an international flight without a passport. If you lose a passport when traveling internationally you will have to contact the nearest embassy or consulate.  To be on the safe side, it is always helpful to keep of passport photo of you in a secure spot to help expedite the process of getting another passport when traveling internationally. 

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Five Reasons to Go to the Tulip Time Festival

For nearly 90 years people have gathered each May in Holland, Michigan to celebrate Dutch culture and tulips. The city has over six million tulips in bloom throughout the city that is situated on the Great Lakes.  This festival heralded as the best "flower festival" in the United States offers many more things than the colorful array of tulips that pop up everywhere.  If you are going for the first time or a repeat visitor here are five things not to be missed. Tours of Distinction is offering an eight-day escorted tour that ensures visitors don't miss out on the fun.

Colorful Costumes


Nearly everyone that lives in Holland Michigan has ancestral ties to the Netherlands; here Dutch Culture is alive and well. The Netherlands is divided into 12 provinces and 8 are represented by the type of costume worn at this festival. Costumes are sewn by hand and can cost as much as $200; often they are altered and handed down generation to generation.  The clothing worn at the festival has to be approved by the Festival Costume Directors and are styled to clothes worn in the mid.-1800s.  Costumes are on display at Field's Fabrics for those what would like to view them in person.   Dutch Provinces represented at the festival include Spakenburg, Friesland, Zeeland, Noord, Overijssel, Gelderland, Flevoland, and Groningen.

Dutch Dancing


Wooden Shoes

Get ready to hear wooden shoes pounding the pavement as school children and adults perform traditional Dutch dances...the sound is totally unique and unforgettable.  This tradition goes back to 1935 when the first high school girls, called "Klompen Dancers" performed at the Tulip Time Festival. Today, there are nearly 1,000 costumed locals that perform traditional dances that last anywhere from 5 to 15 minutes.  A highlight after some of the dance performances is a 10-minute style display that showcases the colorful Dutch costumes.


The Dutch have been wearing wooden shoes, sometimes called clogs or "Klompen" since medieval times. Originally, they were made with a wooden sole and a leather strap tacked onto the wood. Eventually, the shoes were made entirely of wood in order to protect the whole foot. Alder, willow and poplar wood was used to make clogs. The unique clicking sound made by clogs when walking is thought to have inspired traditional Dutch dancing.

There are many different ways clogs can be finished, some are brightly painted with traditional Dutch scenes and, the more expensive clogs are painted and carved.  Clogs are easy to get in and out of and if you get a good fit and wear them with heavy woolen socks they can be quite comfortable.

Travel Tip - At the DeKlomp Wooden Shoe and Delft Factory you can watch these iconic shoes being made from blocks of solid poplar wood; it is a fascinating process to watch. You can talk with artists as they carve shoes on machines that were imported from the Netherlands.

Delftware



The iconic cobalt blue and white Delft faience produced mainly in the town of  Delft in South Holland dates to the 17th century.  Historically, unlike expensive Chinese porcelain, Delft blue is not made from typical porcelain clay;  but from clay that is coated with a tin glaze after it is fired. This iconic pottery is known for its vivid shades of blue that depict floral motifs, natural landscapes, and historical or biblical iconography.  

Items made in Delft are usually kitchenware, vases, tiles, and various object d'art.  There is a wide range of prices and products of various quality and buyers attending the Tulip Time Festival have the choice of purchasing imitation delftware, modern delftware, and antique delftware.  

Travel Tip -Be on the lookout for the studio where skilled artisans paint traditional scenes onto pottery that ranges from pins and vases to salt shakers, plates, and platters. Talk to artists as they hand paint Dutch designs and glaze each item for the perfect sheen.

Dutch Cheese 



Traditionally, Dutch cheese farmers brought their cheeses to the market square to sell in teams of cheese carriers.  Each team wore a different colored straw hat depending on the cheese guild they belonged to. Along with windmills and tulips, the Frisian cows are very much a part of Dutch culture and so is their cheese.  The Tulip Time Festival doesn't disappoint when it comes to Dutch cheeses.  

Be on the lookout for Gouda, Edam, Maasdammer, Leidsekaas, Kanterkaas and Komijnekaas with their tasty cumin seeds to counteract the salty flavor of these cheeses and Boerenkaas that is sometimes called farmhouse cheese.  If you liked smoked cheese try Rookkaas it has a distinctive brown rind and smokey taste and is shaped like a sausage.

Tour Highlights 

The Holland Tulip Festival Tour offered by Tours of Distinction from May 5-May 12, 2020  features three nights in Holland Michigan. The tour also includes visits to the Rock 'N Roll Hall of Fame, Greenfield Village and the Henry Ford Museum, Cranbrook House and Gardens, Niagara Falls and a wine tasting at Ventosa New York State Vineyard. A total of fourteen meals are included" seven breakfasts, one lunch, and six dinners in addition to a Tours of Distinction Professional Tour Director.


Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Travel Tip Tuesday - Do I need a Passport to go on a Cruise?

Depending on the type of cruise you are taking will depend on whether or not you will need a passport. In terms of best practices, it is always better to travel with a passport (and a copy of your passport along with an extra set of passport photos kept in a secure place) than without a passport.  In general, for most international cruises you will need a passport.



If you are traveling on a cruise that departs and returns to the same port in the United States then you need to travel with a birth certificate or a government-issued photo ID; the most prudent bet is to travel with a passport.  You can also travel with a passport card that is similar in size to a drivers license and less expensive than a passport.  The drawback to a passport card is that it is only valid for land and sea crossings in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Bermuda, and the Caribbean.


If you are not on a "loop cruise" that departs and returns to the same port in the U.S. then you are required to travel with a valid passport.  Basically, if the cruise takes you outside of the U.S. then, yes, you will need a passport to take the cruise.


Tours of Distinction offers a variety of cruises from the Hawaiian Islands, Maine and Canada, Alaska, and the Caribbean to the Panama Canal and Exploring the Elbe in Europe and many more options.  For all our cruise options click here-*

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Is a Wellness Vacation for You?

 Traveling to take a break from the daily grind is not a new idea.   Due to our busy lives today and the constant presence of social media it is sometimes hard to focus just on yourself.  This is where wellness travel comes in.  Whether you travel with a small group or if you prefer to travel solo, a wellness trip will give you the opportunity for some serious "me" time.  Regardless of whether you want to maintain your healthy routine associated with wellness living or take a break from the stress of daily life, a wellness vacation can be a tonic for the mind, body, and spirit.



Wellness Travel Trends 
Recently, wellness travel has started to trend becoming popular with people of all ages and from all walks of life across the globe.  This type of traveler seeks destinations that include new health experiences that go above and beyond a spa treatment. The Global Wellness Institute defines wellness tourism "as journeys made by tourists who seek to improve or maintain their well being during or as a result of their trip." And, this type of travel experience is popular with an estimated 17 million travelers identifying themselves as being "healthy and wellbeing" focused; and with a surprising 40% of those interested in wellness traveling regularly.



What to Expect 

For many folks, the first thing they think of when considering a wellness vacation is a spa treatment, bland meals, lots of restrictions, and luxurious accommodations.  Wellness travel has come a long way from that!   As the popularity of wellness travel grew so did the variety of activities available to travelers seeking this type of travel experience.  The key to a successful wellness vacation is to find the right balance of wellness activities and Tours of Distinction has curated a new wellness retreat that does just that.

  
Elements of wellness travel provide authentic experiences that put you first helping you feel refreshed and energized.  Imagine taking a hike to look for exotic wildlife, practicing yoga on a deserted beach, meditating at sunset, and fresh farm to table meals that tantalize your taste buds, these are all elements of a wellness vacation.  


Wellness travel is about rejuvenating and finding balance in your life.  You might learn about a healthier way of eating, collect new recipes, or be inspired by hiking, paddle boarding, biking or yoga.  You might even shed a few pounds, although wellness travel is more about the reduction of stress and your overall mental and physical health than it is about losing weight.




The Galapagos Retreat with TOD

Tours of Distinction has made planning a wellness trip easy with the development of a new tour to Ecuador and the fabled Galapagos Islands called the Galapagos Island Retreat that is perfect for small group travel whether you are traveling with friends, as a couple or flying solo.  




The Galapagos Retreat will host no more than 18 people for eight days, from September 23-September 30, 2019, and include fourteen meals.  This journey begins in the cosmopolitan city of Quito, Ecuador, home to the Basilica del Voto Nacional, the first UNESCO World Heritage site in the world.  For the next five days, the group will explore five Galapagos Islands, practice yoga on the beach, learn about the unique wildlife that makes these islands their home, snorkel, swim, paddleboard and enjoy healthy and fresh local cuisine.  





This tour also offers complimentary airport transfers within 50 miles of the departure airport, a Tours of Distinction Tour Director,  and a certified Yoga Instructor.  All gratuities for the Tour Director, Nature Guides and Drivers are included in addition to Galapagos Park entrance fees and all excursions per the detailed itinerary.



Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Five Top Places for Solo Female Travel

One of the most common reasons why women don't travel is because they worry about traveling alone, even in regard to group travel.   There are worries about being bored and safety.  All this is changing according to Google.  Searches for solo travel for women is on the rise and has hit an all-time peak of 100 million Google searches this year.  The Travel Industry Association said that 32 million women travel alone each year. And, tour operators like Tours of Distinction have seen an uptick in requests for women traveling solo and for group travel that is solo travel-friendly.  




Traveling solo is a way to unwind and to immerse yourself in another way of life without having to think about anyone but yourself.   This type of travel can be rewarding because it gives you complete and utter freedom, there is no compromise and no debating with others; it is essentially being selfish without it being a bad thing!  As a solo traveler, you are apt to be more open to talking and connecting with people living in the destination that you are visiting.  Just think of all the amazing people you can meet and learn from as a solo traveler.



The Wander Woman's Index reviews some of the best places for solo female travel on a variety of factors in order to rank and assess what destinations are best suited for solo travel for women.  Some of the factors that were considered include safety, women's rights, culture, scenery, adventure, and culinary options, all factors women claimed were important to them.  The following are five highly rated destinations for solo women travelers.

Japan





Japan was the highest scoring country on the Wander Woman Index list not only because of its' incredible scenery but also because it has a very low crime rate.  There is so much to do and see in Japan from exploring fast-paced cities to meditating in serene Buddhist temples.

France




The destination that ranked second on the Wander Woman's list was France because of its high score on women's rights and amazing culture.  TOD is offering a cruise on the Hidden Canals of the Loire Valley that is solo travel-friendly.  This tour allows travelers to leave the group and cycle along historic canals.  Paris is another favorite in France.  It is an extremely walkable city that is ideal for women to explore on their own. The TOD tour offers a day and a half on your own in Paris before setting out for the Loire Valley, making this a great solo travel option.  For tour details click here.

Spain



Spain ranks third on this list because it ranks high for its culture, amazing art, and culinary scene. Tours of Distinction's Spain History to Heart is a solo friendly tour that offers plenty of time to explore this legendary country on your own.  Barcelona is fairly simple to navigate, the food is excellent, and the cultural attractions are amazing.  For tour details, click here.

Italy




It is not a surprise that Italy comes in at number four on this list. Rome is on the bucket list for so many travelers including solo women travelers. Italy ranks high not only in its culture but on its world-renowned artwork found throughout the country.  Italians tend to speak English and are warm and friendly people making it easy for solo women travelers to socialize.  Tuscany also ranks high with solo women travelers.  This destination has been popularized by books such as "Return to Glow: A Pilgrimage of Transformation in Italy."  TOD's Sailing the Western Mediterranean stops in Italy, Spain, and France that allows solo travelers to check off all three of these destinations.  A real plus on a cruise for solo women travelers is that they enjoy the convenience of an itinerary and secure accommodation and the fact that they only have to unpack once. For tour details click here.

Iceland




According to internet searches, Iceland is ranked high by many solo travelers because it is not only considered safe but also friendly.  Iceland ranks high for an abundance of natural wonders from glaciers and volcanoes to pools of bubbling mud to the surreal Blue Lagoon.  The capital city is easy to navigate with a myriad of interesting shops, cafes, and restaurants. A favorite time for solo travel is in the summer when there is almost 24 hours of daylight.  TOD Iceland Inspired tour offers a variety of solo-friendly options to explore this fascinating destination on your own. For details click here.





Solo travel gives you as much as you put into it. Be confident, be well prepared and be safe - use your street smarts. And, always remember, a smile can go a long way in helping you meet like-minded travelers and locals that make your destination of choice their home.  Tours of Distinction is happy to help you choose the right destination and help you customize your solo friendly tour. For more information, click here.