Game of Thrones Tours Launch In Europe

horslips5, Flickr

Game of Thrones fans can now visit familiar filming locations on new walking tours around Belfast, Northern Ireland and Dubrovnik, Croatia.

Here all all the details for you Game of Thrones fans out there, courtesy of tour company Viator:

  • In Belfast, a 9-hour private tour takes visitors along the Causeway Coastal Route, which should be instantly recognizable to any fans of the HBO series. Pose for photos on the Dark Hedges road before crossing the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge, and see the caves where Melisandre of Asshai gave birth to a shadow baby before stopping for lunch at Ballintoy Harbour, which is known as Lordsport Harbour in the series. The tour also includes a stop at the UNESCO-listed Giant’s Causeway.
  • Four-hour walking tours in Dubrovnik take fans to the setting of King’s Landing, the capital of the Seven Kingdoms in the series. Visitors will check out Lovrijenac Fortress and climb the city walls that were attacked by the Baratheons in the first series, from which point they can look out over Blackwater Bay. According to Viator, a guide will also take visitors to several city parks used to film countryside scenes in the series.

In addition to Northern Ireland and Croatia, Game of Thrones has also filmed in Malta, Iceland and Morocco – but no tours have been announced there as of now. The fact that these tours have been developed, however, is a powerful testament to the effect popular culture has on tourism.

[Via Skift]

12 Offbeat Travel Ideas For 2013

valetta maltaMy annual New Year’s Eve tradition is to reflect on all the places I visited during the year and plot out where I want to go in the New Year. 2012 was a banner travel year for my family because we put all of our things in storage for five months and traveled extensively in Europe and North America. We gorged ourselves on donuts and thought we got scammed in Western New York’s Amish Country, learned how to flatfoot on Virginia’s Crooked Road, were heckled and intimidated at a soccer game in Italy, and drank homemade wine with the only two residents of the village of San Michalis, on the Greek island of Syros.

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For those of you who have made resolutions to hit the road in 2013, here are 12 travel experiences and destinations, most of them a little or very offbeat, that I highly recommend.


amish donuts12. Donut Crawl in Western New York’s Amish Country

Unlike Lancaster County and other more well known Amish areas around the country, Cattaraugus County’s Amish Trail is a place where you can experience Amish culture, and let’s be honest here – candy and donuts – without all the tourists and kitsch. I love the Amish donuts so much that I went in January and again in July. Because there aren’t many tourists in this region, you’ll find that many of the Amish who live here are just as curious about you as you are about them.

11. Soak Up Colonial Era History in Marblehead, Massachusetts

I’ve been visiting family members in Marblehead for nearly 20 years and I never get tired of this beautifully preserved, quintessential New England town. Marblehead gets a steady trickle of day-trippers from Boston – but don’t make that mistake – book a B & B in this town and dive into one of America’s most historic towns for a full weekend.

10. Save The Turtles, Eat the Fish Tacos and Ride The Waves in Safe, Scenic San Pancho, Mexico

If you want a low-key beach vacation in Mexico but aren’t into big resorts or large cities, look no further than San Pancho, which is only an hour from the Puerto Vallarta airport. It’s about as safe as Mayberry, and you can volunteer to help preserve marine turtles, eat the best fish tacos you’ve ever had and surf and frolic on a huge, spectacular beach.



sicilian man in gangi nicola seminara9. Visit Gangi, Italy’s Most Charming Hill Town You’ve Never Heard Of

Italy is filled with enchanting hill towns, but many of them are besieged with tourists. If you want to check out a lovely hill town in Sicily’s interior that hasn’t changed much in centuries, check out Gangi, where you’ll find everything you could want in an Italian hill town: a perfect central piazza, a medieval street plan you will get lost in, and perhaps the world’s best gelato at the Seminara Bar (no relation to me).

freiburg germany8. Eat the Real Black Forest Ham in Historic Freiburg, Germany

Freiburg is a gorgeous, highly underrated city in Germany’s Black Forest region that is a pedestrian and gourmand dream. Here in the U.S., companies can get away with calling any old ham “Black Forest ham” but in Freiburg, you can sample the real deal and you will taste the difference.




7. Discover Old Time Music on Virginia’s Crooked Road

Southwest Virginia has a 253-mile music heritage trail that’s a glorious little slice of Americana where you’ll find terrific homespun music played by passionate locals who have Old Time Music in their blood. Don’t miss venues like the Fries Theater and the Floyd Country Store and bring your dancing shoes.




enzo ferrari museum modena italy6. Check Out Evita Peron’s Ride at Italy’s New Ferrari Museum

I’m not even a car buff, but I loved visiting the new Enzo Ferrari Museum in Modena, a picture-postcard small city in Emilia-Romagna, near Parma, that doesn’t get nearly as many tourists as it deserves. The museum pays tribute to the founder of Ferrari, who was born in the house next to the museum, and the automotive heritage of the Motor Valley, home to Ferrari, Maserati, Lamborghini, Ducati and other companies that make vehicles suitable for rap stars, professional athletes and others who like to be noticed.




5. Eat at the World’s Best Greek Restaurant in San Michalis, Syros, Population:2

Syros is just a short ferry ride away from Mykonos but it gets only a tiny fraction of the tourists and I’m not sure why. It’s a gorgeous little island, with a thriving port, great beaches and To Plakostroto the best Greek restaurant I’ve ever been to, located in a striking, end-of-the-world village where you can see six neighboring islands.




4. Experience Bluegrass Nirvana at the Rosine Barn Jamboree in Kentucky

Every Friday night from March through early December, local musicians gather to jam at an old barn and general store in Rosine, Kentucky, the tiny little town where Bill Monroe, the father of bluegrass music was born. This might be the best free music jam in the whole country and best of all, the regulars are the sweetest people you will ever meet.




samos3. Patmos & Samos Not Santorini and Mykonos

I’m obsessed with the Greek Isles. If I could spend my holidays in just one place anywhere in the world, it might be here. But I get a little frustrated by the fact that most Americans visit only Santorini & Mykonos. Both places are undeniably beautiful, but there are dozens of less expensive, less crowded islands that are just as nice. Patmos and Samos, in the eastern Aegean, are absolutely gorgeous and aren’t as crowded or expensive. Samos is known for its wine & honey, while Patmos is home to one of the most interesting monasteries in Greece.




obama pasticciotto2. Eat an Obama Pasticciotto in Italy’s Heel

The fact that Salento, a peninsula in Italy’s heel, has a chocolaty, gooey desert named after President Obama is just one reason to visit this very special but relatively off-the-radar part of Italy. Lecce is a baroque dream, a lively place with a great passegiata, unforgettable food and wine, very friendly people and fine beaches in the vicinity.




1. Make Friends in Valletta, Malta

I had but one day in Valletta and I spent a big chunk of it trying to track down a retired Maltese civil servant who chided me for misrepresenting the country at a school model U.N. in 1986, but I saw enough of this city to want more. Valletta is a heartbreakingly picturesque port, with gently decaying sandstone buildings, warm people, dramatic Mediterranean vistas and artery-clogging pastizzis, which were my favorite treat of 2012.

Egypt Protests Scatter Cruise Ships, Concern Tour Operators

EgyptEgypt’s tourism business has been suffering since the 2011 uprising that forced President Hosni Mubarak to step down. This week, in response to protests in Egypt, the vital industry received another blow as cruise lines and tour operators began making alternative plans.

“In an abundance of caution, Royal Caribbean International has decided to cancel Mariner of the Seas’ next port call to Egypt,” says a notice sent to travel agents Thursday. “Mariner of the Seas, which departs Rome (Civitavecchia), Italy, on Saturday, September 15, will no longer call on Alexandria, Egypt, on Tuesday, September 18. Instead, the ship will now call to Sicily (Messina), Italy, on, Sunday, September 16, and Valletta, Malta, on Monday, September 17.

That caution also applies to sister lines Azamara Club Cruises and Celebrity Cruises. It’s the up side to cruise ships, often called “floating resorts.” When trouble presents itself cruise lines simply sail in another direction.

Princess Cruises, the first to return to Egypt after the 2011 uprising, is staying the course, for now. “We haven’t made any changes yet to our upcoming calls to Egypt,” Princess Spokesperson Karen Candy told Gadling. “We’re closely monitoring the situation and will of course make any changes we feel necessary in order to ensure our passengers are safe.”

Security, it seems, is an ongoing problem in Egypt. Last Sunday, about 150 tour guides demonstrated outside of Cairo’s Egyptian Museum, saying the lack of security is complicating attempts to lure tourists back.

“There is no security. This is not a joke,” Dina Yacoub, a 29-year-old guide told the Associated Press in a Washington Post article published just before this week’s anti-American violence in Libya, Yemen and Egypt this week. “We are asking tourists to come back … how would they unless there is security?”

The cruise line positions this week mirror their posturing after the 2011 unrest/chaos when they played it safe by keeping ships and passengers out of harms way.




[Flickr photo by archer10]

A Traveler In The Foreign Service: Making Peace With Malta (Mario Speaks!)

malta incident with dave seminaraRegular readers of this column will recall that I created a diplomatic incident with Malta by dressing up like Colonel Gaddafi in a grammar school model U.N. in Buffalo, New York, in 1986. A photo of me in Arab garb made it into The Buffalo News and once the Maltese got wind of it, they were none too pleased. In their indignant response, Mario Cacciottolo, the private secretary of the Prime Minister of Malta, told me that I should try to correct the misperception I’d created regarding their country.

I tried to do that, 25 years after the fact, earlier this summer. (Read Parts 1 and 2 of this story.)

I never found Mario and assumed I never would but the Maltese press got wind of the story and found the incident as hilarious as I did. Daphne Caruana Galizia, a popular columnist for The Malta Independent, wrote about it on her website and the post generated more than 40 comments, including at least one from a person who believed that I’d forged the documents and made the whole story up. (My imagination is vivid but not that good.)A reporter from the same publication wrote a piece about my attempts to find Mario, which concluded with my line: “Sorry, Mario. Please drop me a line someday. I owe you a beer.”

With Malta being a relatively small place, the story found its way to Mario himself and several weeks ago he finally contacted me via email. I was initially a little alarmed, because in the first paragraph of Mario’s message, he seemed more than a little annoyed with me.

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“The affair of the Gaddafi costume had been forgotten until you brought it up again last year, and to tell you the truth I was not at all pleased to have my name and (former) address published in the international press with a repeat in a local newspaper,” he wrote. “I only hope that the affair stops here.”

But after those lines, he warmed up considerably. “There are no hard feelings, and I was really gratified by your great efforts to find me, to ‘make peace’ in person,” he wrote.

Cacciottolo, now 71, went on to explain that I had “earned” an explanation of what had transpired back in 1986 and again last year when I asked the Maltese Embassy in Washington to contact him on my behalf. Mario wrote that he responded to a series of questions from the Maltese Ambassador last year, forwarded to him on my behalf, but he was unaware of the fact that the Embassy never passed his response on to me. (In fact, they told me that he didn’t want to speak to me, which wasn’t true.)

Cacciottolo went on to claim that he didn’t understand back in 1986 that the matter concerned a schoolboy but maintained that he had “no shame or regrets for what I had written back in 1986!”

Given the fact that Mario referred to the photo of me, at age 13, in the letter, his confusion is, well, confusing, for lack of a better phrase, but I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. But Cacciottolo also insisted that his reaction reflected no specific anti-Arab bias, but rather a patriotic response to my mischaracterization of the country.

“We may be a very small nation living in a tiny state,” he wrote. “But we are as proud of our country as anyone else in the world.”

Mario also took issue with my characterization of the mid ’80s as a time of violent protests in Malta.

“No demonstrators were EVER killed in the streets by Maltese policemen,” he wrote. “Don’t be offended or shocked, but you repeated a lot of exaggerated hogwash.”

He also insisted that the source that briefed me on what Malta was like in the mid ’80s must have thought I was a C.I.A. agent. But after setting me straight on those scores, Cacciottolo apologized for not realizing back in ’86 that I was just a 13-year-old schoolboy, and said that he’d be looking for the card I left for him with his former neighbor.

Since receiving that first message from Mario, we’ve exchanged a few more emails and I feel pretty safe in saying that we are now friends. Someday, I will buy him a beer. The only bit of unfinished business is the fact that his former neighbor apparently ate the box of chocolates I left for him. Note to neighbor: you owe Mario a box of Lindt chocolates.

Part 1 and Part 2 of this story.

Read more from “A Traveler In The Foreign Service” here.

Video: Malta Cliff Diving

Storror Summer: Malta Cliff Diving” from Sacha Powell on Vimeo.

Malta cliff diving into clear, teal water and living to do it again and again: a short summary of time spent on vacation for the young men in this video, it seems. Rust-colored sunsets and fuchsia sunspots meet slow motion falling and the smiles worn before the falls in this video from Sacha Powell on Vimeo. With music by The Naked and Famous, this video speaks of summertime fun loudly, with conviction that’s difficult to ignore. You might just feel more refreshed and inclined to hunt down a good spot for cliff diving yourself after watching this one.

Malta Travel Guide: Maltese Culture