The perfect vacation can often include beaches, beverages, beautiful and bustling with activities. One of our Coon Rapids Riverdale Travel agents recently traveled to Aruba and saw some of the most amazing sunsets ever!
Explore the beaches of Aruba
Truly known for its beaches, I expected the country to be beautiful, but the peaceful surf and pristine water was more than I could have imagined. The combination of being tropical yet an arid desert gives the island a unique landscape.
We spent hours walking one of the most beautiful beaches in the world; Eagle beach. Visitors have the options of strolling through the soft sand or on a boardwalk which is perfect for those who want to enjoy the gorgeous views but may have mobility concerns. On the street side, there are wonderful local stores and shops.
Discover Arikok National Park
Activities abound. We loved Arikok National Park which represents 18% of the island and offers some of the most stunning views and great photo opportunities. In the park there are three caves, the Huliba Cave is also known as the Tunnel of Love because of the heart shaped opening at its entrance.
Local villages and shopping
A must see for me was the city of SanNicolas. This quaint village whose name I share, (yes even spelled the same!) was just a short trip from our resort! While there you must stop at Charlies Bar – the food and drink are top notch – but what really sets this local favorite is the decor!
Call me so I can tell you about my experiences at Renaissance Island with its famous Pink Flamingos, the black sand beach, and the Aruba Donkey Sanctuary.
If you are staying at an all-inclusive, you can enjoy breakfast and lunch along all day beverages. Since Aruba is affordable, you can certainly feel comfortable having dinner at one of the local restaurants. Unlike other beach destinations, all hotels and resorts are open to the public, visitors can wonder through hotels, dine in restaurants, and are encouraged to play a round or two of blackjack in any of the local casinos.
With its location only 15 miles north of South America, Aruba is out of the hurricane zone so an ideal spot for a vacation any time of the year. It’s a perfect location for beach lovers like me, destination weddings, honeymooners, and adventure seekers.
Love Christmas and chocolates and creative gifts, but hate battling the frigid cold (even while sipping hot cocoa and mulled wines)?
Then a visit to Zürich’s indoor Christmas Market is sure to feel like a special holiday treat! Our Coon Rapids Travel Agent spotlight is featuring a girlfriends getaway in December 2018 with our Christmas Market Cruise down the Rhine River, including a stop in Zurich. Wondering what you’ll experience in Zurich? Read on to get a glimpse of Zurich at Christmas.
Zurich’s Hauptbahnhof Train Station
The festive Christmas Market held at Zürich’s busy Hauptbahnhof Train Station (aka Zürich’s Main Station) is one of the largest indoor Christmas markets in Europe. It may be a White Christmas and winter wonderland outside but keep cozy and warm in here — with 150 festively decorated market stalls to get in the yuletide spirit. The fragrant scent of cinnamon, Glühwein (mulled wine), Glögg (another mulled wine), traditional tirggel biscuits (which have been enjoyed here since 1461), Christstollen fruit loaf and roasted almonds waft through the station, beckoning commuting travelers and shoppers alike. Find handmade gifts full of character – including Christmas ornaments, jewelry and handmade candles as you listen to Christmas carols. But of course, the big showstopper here is the 50 foot Christmas tree decorated with between 5,000-7,000 Swarovski crystals and ornaments.
Touring the station
While the Christmas market is a highlight, many tourists come to see the magnificence of the station. The market, which was originally starting in 1994, had humble beginnings starting with just a dozen stalls. While it has flourished in the relatively few years since its founding, its location of the Hauptbahnhof station lends it an older, more established feel.
The station, which opened in 1871, is a Neo-Renaissance masterpiece which features an elegant triumphal arch at the main entrance and faces the dazzling Bahnhofstrasse. Richly decorated lobbies, atriums, restaurants, halls and a monumental fountain commemorating Swiss Alfred Escher – it is clear to see why it is listed as Swiss Inventory of Cultural Property of National Significance – and a must-see in its own right.
Of course, there are many other ways to celebrate Zürich’s holiday season. One of the most popular favorites is strolling down the vibrant and exclusive Bahnhofstrasse. This is Zurich’s most tantalizing shopping avenue and it is always at its most stunning when aglow for the holiday! Bahnhofstrasse is one of the most expensive and exquisite shopping avenues in the world, on par with New York City’s 5th Avenue – and home to stores like Bvlgari, Hermés, Gucci and Louis Vuitton. Shopping here anytime is a special treat but during the holidays, the street becomes particularly magical. As if the bling in nearby Tiffany’s and Dior weren’t quite enough, 12,000 glittering LED lights are sure to keep the festive twinkle in shoppers’ eyes. The annual Santa Claus Parade also uses the Bahnhofstrasse as its annual route.
The Wienachtsdorf Market
The Wienachtsdorf is another one of Zürich’s popular markets. Set in Old Town by the spectacular Opera House, the market caters to shoppers with 100 red market stalls, delicious foods and artisanal goodies. Look for incredible fondue chalets and intricate wooden ornaments to add a something cheery and bright to the festivities.
The Market at Werdmuhleplatz
The Christmas Market at Werdmühleplatz is Zürich’s newest market. It is still notable for its sweet ‘singing Christmas tree.’ No, this is not some hokey electronic tree – but a many tiered stage (rising up in the shape of a tree), where kids line around and sing out carols. This sweet and charming small market is sure to charm you as you shop and explore the wonders of Christmas.
Ready to board our cruise and book your girlfriends’ getaway? Coon Rapids based Riverdale Travel is ready to help!
Have you been dreaming of a trip to Norway? Our Coon Rapids travel agent spotlight features Brenda’s recent trip on a Globus tour of Norway.
This spring, I had the opportunity to travel thru Norway on a Globus tour. The tour highlighted the many scenic areas of Norway. We cruised fjords, drove to the Jostedal Glacier, climbed the Olympic Ski Jump in Lillehammer, visited a Stave Church, took photos of 100’s of waterfalls and sculptures in Frogner Park and sampled at an Apple Farm on the Hardanger Fjord.
Jostedal Glacier is the biggest glacier on mainland Europe and divides two of the worlds longest fjords – the Songefjord and Nordfjord. Famous for it’s wide variety scenery, expect to see valleys with lush vegetation, majestic mountains, and glacier landscapes. For the glacier enthusiast, you will find an opportunity to hike the glaciers and taking photos of the beautiful scenery as you tour this area.
Olympic Ski Jump in Lillehammer
One of the highlights of our trip was visiting Lillehammer and climbing to the top of the Olympic ski jump. The Olympics were held in Lillehammer in 1994 and the area still hosts thousands at ski resorts in the area during the winter months. The jumping tower is a popular photo stop for visitors and will enable you to see panoramic views of the town of Lillehammer and the largest lake in Norway, Mjosa. While the tower is worth the climb, you can enjoy a leisurely ride down using the chairlift or make a game out of it and count the stairs on the way down.
On our way to Oslo, we were able to stop at a stave church and tour this medieval wooden church building style found mostly in Norway today. Made out of a wooden post and timber framing, these historical churches are a site to see as you visit the countryside.
Frogner Park in Oslo is one of the largest parks in central Norway and is a popular visitor attraction. One of it’s most popular spots, the Vigiland Sculpture Park features more than 200 sculptures by Gustav Vigiland made out of bronze, cast iron, and granite. Once you’ve toured the sculpture garden, plan for a walk through the park or a picnic lunch enjoying the grounds. After lunch, you’ll see Norway’s largest collection of roses or visit the Frogner Manor and museum.
A must see on any trip to Norway is the Hardanger Fjord area. Hardanger is the 3rd largest fjord in the world and is the home of some of the most amazing hikes in Norway. Queen Sonja’s panoramic hiking trail is for the experienced hiker as you will travel over high mountains and long and demanding trails. Trolltunga, a hike for the serious and experienced hiker requires advanced preparation, and an overnight stay – hiking over the most spectacular scenic cliffs that Norway has to offer.
For those who are less experienced, the four waterfalls trail in Husedalen Valley leads hikers on a lengthy hike ending at four scenic waterfalls. Not up to a challenging trail? Head to Hardangervidda National Park which offers a wide range of beautiful hiking trails to choose from.
My trip to Norway was full of adventure, history and beauty – making it hard to choose a favorite. If you’re thinking about your own trip to Norway, we’d love to help you design a trip tailored to your interests for the trip of a lifetime.
Taking a cruise on the Mediterranean Sea is a great way to see the sites of southern Europe and is the feature of our Coon Rapids Travel Agent spotlight.
Boarding in Barcelona
I had the pleasure of sailing the Mediterranean Sea out of Barcelona. Oh Barcelona! I want to go back! It is amazing to wander thru the small alleys and shops only to discover the beautiful Basilica of Santa Maria del Mar, which is a gothic style Church that was built in the 1300’s. Plan on taking time to see the sites in Barcelona before boarding for your Mediterranean Cruise. After exploring the city, we boarded our ship to head out to sea.
Port stop in Cannes, France
Another favorite for me was Cannes, France. I enjoyed walking the Promenade de la Croisette, where I did a little window shopping and star stalking. Aside from exploring the city, the Yachts in Cannes were quite amazing. I did see the luxury hotel Majestic Barriere which is a haven during the Cannes Film Festival. Your Mediterranean cruise is sure to stop in Cannes so I recommend walking the city and taking time for shopping when you stop.
Speeding through Rome
Rome was a short stop, but long enough to experience riding around Rome in the train! The high speed train! We were able to stop at the Vatican and hear the Pope speak at the Vatican. Rome is a city filled with history and faith and worth an excursion from your ship.
A Great Cruising Experience
This is just a glimpse of my Mediterranean cruise experience. What an excellent way to see a variety of destinations throughout Europe. There’s nothing wrong with sailing in a balcony cabin facing out the back of the ship! Beautiful sunsets and beautiful full views of the cities when departing in the evening!
If you’re ready to sail the Mediterranean, then Riverdale Travel is ready to help you create your Mediterranean cruise experience.
Coon Rapids Travel Agent Spotlight: Machu Picchu, Peru
When it comes to adventure travel, there’s no other place like Machu Picchu! From the beautiful mountains to hiking the Inca trail, our Coon Rapids travel agent office can help you book the trip of a lifetime.
Machu Picchu Highlights
For many travelers who visit Peru, Machu Picchu is the #1 attraction and the highlight of the trip. Over the years, Machu Picchu has become South America’s most famous archaeological site, and one of the top attractions in South America. Machu Picchu is located in a beautiful setting, on the ridge of a mountain overlooking the Urubamba river valley and surrounded by the high Andes. To ensure you have the best possible experience when visiting Machu Picchu, it pays to do some homework.
Machu Picchu History
The citadel of Machu Picchu was built in the 15th century and founded around 1450. The site was abandoned around 1570. Because of its remote location and very difficult access, Machu Picchu was unknown to the Spanish conquistadors, and thus left undisturbed for centuries. It was in 1911 that Hiram Bingham, an American professor and archaeologist at Yale University, led an expedition that discovered Machu Picchu, with the help of local guides. In subsequent years, there were several expeditions to clear the forest and rebuild and preserve the ruins – an effort that continues until today. Machu Picchu is a marvel of engineering, especially when you are on site and you see how difficult the access is. While don’t know exactly why the Incans built it, Machu Picchu was a religious, administrative, and trading center.
Your Visit to Machu Picchu
The Popular Approach
The most popular approach is to travel from Cuzco or your hotel in the Sacred Valley on the day of your visit. I don’t recommend this approach for several reasons. For starters, it is exhausting, as you have to get up very early from either Cuzco or your hotel in the Sacred Valley to catch the train to Aguas Calientes, then a 30 minute drive up the mountain to the main entrance. Secondly, by the time you arrive at Machu Picchu, you will be visiting the site at peak occupancy. After your visit, you take a bus back down the mountain to Aguas Calientes , catch your train + transfer back to your hotel. It is is typically too much to pack into 1 day. Your tickets are only good either in the morning (Until 12N) or in the afternoon (12N to 5pm), which will add another level of complexity to your visit.
Overnight Stay in Aguas Calientes
A second options is an overnight stay in Aguas Calientes and highly recommended. When you spend the night before in Aguas Calientes you will have 2 opportunities to visit the ruins, with more time to explore the site and nearby hikes. In addition, the weather is unpredictable, so if you go on 2 different days you have 2 shots at being able to get great photos. When I visited, I had sunny weather on day 1 and rain/clouds/mist and partial sun on day 2.
Giving yourself the option of 2 days will eliminate the need to rush through the site. My advice is to take the morning train, have lunch at your hotel in Aguas Calientes ( the lunch options at the ruins are poor, crowded, and overpriced), then go up to the ruins around 2pm, when the day trippers start to leave. Stay until closing time at 530pm for great afternoon photos. The following morning, get up early, see the site early in the morning, leave when the site starts to get crowded, then take a train out in the afternoon.
Admission to the ruins
On any given day, up to 2,500 visitors enter Machu Picchu. To manage the demand, the Peruvian government started offering either morning or afternoon ticket options, as of 01JUL17. The morning ticket is good from 6am until 12noon, and the afternoon ticket is good from 12noon until 530pm, when the site closes.
For the fit and intrepid, you have several options. The most famous is the hike up the Huayna Picchu (or ‘Young Peak’) the steep mountain in the back of the ruins. This is the most demanding hike up a steep and narrow path (not for anyone who suffers from vertigo), which takes about 1 hour each way. There are only 200 permits at 7am and another 200 at 10am, and you’ll need to buy a separate ticket. The second hike is all the way up to the Cerro Machu Picchu (you will also need a separate permit) which is tough, as you climb over 2,000 ft over sea level on a stone path. The third option, and the one I took, is to hike up to Intipunku, or the ‘sun gate’, which is the terminus of the Inca Trail. You do not need a separate permit for this hike, and you get a sense of the terrain and great vistas of the ruins from a distance.
Many travelers do not know that Machu Picchu (elevation 7,900 ft. over sea level) is actually at a lower altitude than Cuzco, which is at 11,000 feet over sea level. Aguas Calientes, where the train drops you off, is at 6,693 ft. over sea level.
Other practical advice when visiting Machu Picchu:
Bring a knapsack with water and snacks.
Wear hiking shoes or comfortable walking shoes with good rubber soles
Bring a hat and sunscreen
Pack a small umbrella or rain jacket, especially October through May
High season runs from June to September, normally cooler and drier than the rest of the year
Dress in layers, as the weather is unpredictable
The trains to/from Aguas Calientes have very limited overhead or storage space. If you are spending the night, My recommendation is to pack a small overnight bag and leave your bigger suitcase at your hotel.
Train service to/from Aguas Calientes
The only way to travel to Aguas Calientes is by train. Peru Rail offers 3 options. The most luxurious is the Hiram Bingham, which you can catch from either Poroy (near Cuzco) or Ollantaytambo. This is a deluxe experience, complete with meals, transfers, guided visit in Machu Picchu, the works. The second option is the Vistadome train, which you can catch at either Poroy or Ollantaytambo. Vistadome offers comfortable seats, free non-alcoholic drinks, and multiple departure times. The third and less expensive option is the Expedition train, also available from Poroy or Ollantaytambo, a more basic rail service that is popular with budget travelers.
Where to stay
The only hotel at the ruins is the Belmond Sanctuary Lodge. This small (31 rooms), luxury hotel is right outside the main entrance of the ruins. Because of its location and services, this hotel is very popular and books months ahead of time.
In Aguas Calientes, there are 2 great options. The Inkaterra Machu Picchu Pueblo Hotel, a beautiful hotel hidden on the side of a mountain surrounded by lush vegetation and tropical gardens. The hotel boasts of 81 rooms spread out over 12 acres, and is within walking distance to the main train station.
Finally, there is the Sumaq Machu Picchu Hotel, the newest of the 3, located on banks of the Urubamba river and offering 62 rooms andsuites, and is also walking distance to the train station. Sumaq has the advantage of being in one building, so everything is easily accessible. The hotel offers spacious rooms, a great restaurant, and a small spa in the lower level.
Machu Picchu is a must see stop on any visit to South America. The agents at Riverdale Travel are ready to help you make Peru your next trip-of-a-lifetime.
Discover the beauty and charm of Catalonia, Spain in our Coon Rapids Travel Agent Spotlight. Our spotlight articles highlight stories from featured destinations around the world. The Catalonia region is located in northeast Spain and boasts beautiful beach resorts set against the backdrop of Barcelona and the Pyrenees Mountains.
We began our journey by exploring this region with the wonderful people on the Catalonia tourism board and marveled at each site. Our well-rounded itinerary included a variety of activities including hiking and cycling. After a full day of active adventure, we experienced true gluttony as we dined on delectable food and of course, an incredible visit to a local vineyard and winery.
The Spectacular Views of the Pyrenees
The National Park of Aigüestortes and St. Mauricio is an authentic little-known gem and the most spectacular site I’ve ever visited! The mountain bike trails and hiking route was amazing and proved not to be too difficult. The Pyrenees stands out for the impressive mountain scenery with deep valleys, rushing waterfalls, amazing snowcapped peaks, and magnificent woods. I have never witnessed lakes so crystal clear or breathed such fresh air. It is truly a unique place where you will find ancient culture and strong traditions in the surrounding villages.
We ended our trip with a visit to the mountain of Montserrat, the famous La Sagrada Familia, as well as some of the best Gaudi buildings in Barcelona via E-Bike. Barcelona harbor was a peaceful and inspiring place to rest our feet for the final day in Spain. I could have spent hours watching the sail boats come in and out of the harbor. Whether you love to relax at the beach or hike the mountain peaks, a trip to Catalonia offers a little bit for everyone. If you’re ready to plan your next adventure, Riverdale Travel is ready to help. We can partner with you to customize your journey to Catalonia or any other destination you’ve been thinking of.