Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Travel Tip Tuesday - 5 Key Benefits of Working with Travel Professionals

In a newly released study, AAA found that the vast majority (75%) of Americans from millennials to baby boomers are planning to use a travel professional for a trip in the next twelve months. Despite the advances in technology and search engines, and regardless of the type of trip they are planning, those surveyed believe that travel professionals add value to their trip and ensures a smooth experience regardless if it is an annual domestic getaway or the journey of a lifetime.  




Many travelers think it is wise to consult with a travel professional when planning their next vacation because they depend on them to help them negotiate the best deals, secure special upgrades or perks and help them navigate destinations that they would not be able to on their own.  Here are the top five reasons identified by this study of why more and more people are using travel professionals like Tours of Distinction.

Save Time. Travel professionals take the guesswork out of researching and evaluating the endless options offered by the travel industry.

Expert Recommendations. A knowledgeable travel professional will make personal recommendations and offer tips on visiting destinations.  Many trips are curated to visit the destination during the best time of year. 

Reduce Stress.  Travel professionals can help with all the details from things like getting your passport renewed and updates on new TSA PreCheck information to what the voltage is of the destination you are visiting and what types of converters to bring along.

Help with the unexpected.  Best of all when traveling with TOD you are always accompanied by a professional tour director that helps with any unexpected delays or glitches from weather updates to luggage. Tour Directors act as your travel advocate before you hit the road and while you are on it.  They help you navigate any challenges that you might encounter and make sure your time on vacation is the best that it can be.

AAA’s research findings are the result of a telephone survey (landline and cell phone) consisting of 1,002 adults living in the continental United States. Interviewing for this survey was conducted August 23-26, 2018. This study has an average statistical error of ±3.1 percent at the 95 percent confidence level for all U.S. adults.

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-*