In Japan, there is the "licensed tour guide system", which means the Japanese government requires anyone working as a foreign language speaking tour guide to pass the national exams and get the national licence. If you are going to book a tour of Japan, make sure your tour guide has a licence. If she or he doesn't and is going to charge you, it's an Illegal act.
But if you are going to book a tailormade tour through a travel agency, it can be very expensive. So why don't you consult a local tour guide directly? There is the web site called "Tour Guide-interpreter Search System". This site is run by the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism and all of the registered tour guides have passed the national exams, which are a foreign language, an interview in a foreign language, Japanese history, Japanese geography and Japanese general culture. These tests are one of the most difficult national tests in Japan and require a lot of knowledge.
Tour Guide-Interpreter Search System
I tried public tours and while they are cheaper, a private tour is much more personalised and inclusive. The group size is small and limited to friends (or family). Their New York City walking tours are pretty comprehensive yet leisurely.
Visiting the battlefields of the First World War in Northern France and Belgium is an emotional, eye-opening journey. Join a tour accompanied by an expert historian and you can appreciate the full impact of the experience. Stand on the D-Day beaches, and pay your respects at the many Allied cemeteries.
I was recommended Tailor-Made Tours by a friend. We have been to Spain quite a few times on weekend breaks but our weekend in Valencia was the best. We were met at our hotel by an English teacher who had been living in Valencia for five years. He took us on a great tour, telling us about the sights and answering our questions. We were taken down streets that looked like dead ends, he took us to some fantstic bars that we would never had discovered on our own. We were recommended places to eat in the evening and the insider information on the best, most authentic paella in Valencia.
Really it was more that a tour as it was an introduction to Valencia by someone who knows it like the back of his hand. We were told where to go and when to go there. Some streets that looked dead during the day were full of life and bars in the evening.
Great value for money as it really made our weekend.
Hey all, I had the opportunity to see the favela Rocinha as well and thoroughly enjoyed myself. What was the most fun was hanging out and just being there with the local people, Zezinho's friends and family.
I did not want to go with a huge group of people on a structured tour. And my main requirement is that I wanted my money to go to somebody, a local who lives there in the favela. Many of these companies like "favela tour" or "be a local" charge a lot of money for a short 3 hour visit and your with 10 or more people. I know, as I did research before chosing who I wanted to see the community with.
So, I was referred to a local "Zezinho" who seems to be giving back in his community and is not out to bilk some sorry as* tourist out of his greenbacks! Well worth the money spent for the 9 hours we spent there.
Its obvious this guy loves what he does. He presents the community honestly and makes sure before you leave that you will probably know more about favelas than the average Carioca does. This guy has tattoos of the favela houses on his arms and legs and everybody in the favela knows him! He is like an ambassador for the favela Rocinha.
We had a great time, just the four of us and we highly recommend local people to give you a tour of such a fascinating area of Rio. Stay away from these large companies as they do not hire local guides and the time spent there with them is not worth it. If you are looking to hang out in the favela, drink some beer, listen to music and not have a time limit (we spent 9 hours there), talk to Zezinho. He will make sure you have a great time absorbing favela culture!
Check out his website for the info you need!
We have been home for nearly 2 weeks now but I wanted to write to thank you once again for organising our 5 day trip around Turkey. We thoroughly enjoyed every part of it. Our hotel accommodation was excellent, our tour guides were all very informative and we had some lovely meals. Thank you too for providing us with free transport to the airport on the morning of our departure. We are already recommending One Nation Travel to everyone we speak to about our trip and are hopeful that we will be able to pass some business your way. Our best wishes to you and your colleagues at One Nation Travel, Kind regards Gary and Jennifer Zerna
Mendocino is north of San Francisco, Napa and Sonoma counties. Still undiscovered but with some wonderful small wineries, mostly organic and some also biodynamic. My favourite is the Parducci Vineyard who are the first carbon neutral vineyard in the US. And as a bonus, it is one of the very few which exports its wines to the UK.
501 Parducci Road, Ukiah, CA 95482, tel: 00 1 707-463-5350
The Okanagan is a fantastic place for wine tasting. After happily enjoying all the usual haunts - Australia, France, Italy etc - I have never had so much fun as I did when wine tasting in Canada.
Wines there are really interesting and the experience is even more rewarding with the beautiful landscape surrounding you.
Mission Hill is a huge estate with some great easy wines for tourists and beautiful food. If it doesn't take your fancy there are countless boutique wineries around the region to choose from, particularly in the southern region around Okanagan Falls.
The area produces some wonderful reds, but by far my favourite was the icewine on offer. I'm really not a fan of sweet dessert wine but this changed my mind! It is made from grapes picked on the very first frost of the season and it is lovely on its own or in a champagne cocktail - look out for a Merlot Icewine if you can. Highly recommended and tastes mighty fine in a gin cocktail.
This region is definitely worth a visit for a surprising wine experience.
Mission Hill: www.missionhillwinery.com
We drove the few hours from Vancouver but you can fly to Kelowna.
THe Accounting for Taste B&B does customised wine tours and has beautiful views of Lake Okanagan: www.accountingfortaste.ca
Only 10 minutes walk from the Gare du Midi, down a (frankly rather unprepossessing) street, is the Cantillon Brewery. This is an independent family-owned brewery producing lambic, one of Belgium's most authentic and original beers. You get a short and enthusiastic introduction, and can then follow the brewing process on your own.
What makes lambic beer unique is that it ferments spontaneously. The wort cools down in a shallow copper tray in the attic where it comes into contact with airborne wild yeasts.
You can wander through the barrel store, with its heady and musty aromas, where it will ferment for up to three years. Tasting is an education. You will be offered the slightly tart Gueuze, a blend of old and new lambics, and the sweeter Kriek beers, blended with fruit.
This is a fascinating and evocative museum, offering a rare insight into traditional brewing methods.
Fly to Mexico City, spend about five days there, then bus to Morelia for a couple of days, then taxi to Patzcuaro for three days, staying at Villa Victoria, and finally on to Guadalajara for three days. Fly home from there. Gorgeous!
Florence is a beautiful city packed with culture and vibrance. But if you only have a day or two, and on a shoestring budget, I recommend hiring a bicycle for a half a day or a day, especially when the weather is warm. It's one of the most enjoyable and memorable experiences my wife and I had, and it's fairly inexpensive.
The city is not big, and you can easily cover most of the top sights if you're willing to do a bit of pedal power, plus you'll be doing your bit on travelling green!
Also, to stretch your deflated pound that little bit further, scoff down as much breakfast as you can (Italian brekkies are simple fares), and have a late lunch. Find a pizzeria the locals recommend, and don't be ashamed to order a very large pizza. Eat half, and ask to take away the rest (a good pizza should still be good even when it's cold and bashed around in your rucksack). While you're there, soak in the atmosphere, and enjoy the distinct flavours of each ingredient. Savour the bursting flavours of the tomatoes, the freshness of the artichokes, the subtle hint of basil, and the purity of the extra virgin olive oil drizzled on fresh mozzarella on the perfect stone baked dough base. Bellissimo! Enjoy it while you can, you simply won't be able to find pizza like they make it in Italy!
Back to the bicycle ride, I would start somewhere by the river, visiting some of the markets and the shops that are just about to open by mid-morning. Florentine streets are narrow, but you should always be able to find somewhere to lock the bicycle during stops. Be equipped with a sense of adventure, and feel free to wander off the beaten track, as somehow it'll always bring you back to the centre anyway. If you prefer, zip around the many piazzas and use speed to your advantage to get to queues early if you like museum hopping.
As the sun starts to sit low, return your bicycle (making note of the closing time where you hired it), and head up to the Piazelle Michelangelo (Michelangelo Hill) by bus. It's a very touristy part of Florence, but find a place to sit down, relax, and enjoy the spectacular changing hues of the sunset as it sails below the beautiful Florentine skyline.
To get the true feeling of being in Paris, then leave the main tourist trail and head for the water- no, not the Seine, but one of the Parisian canals.
The canal cruise I would highly recommend is called "Old Paris" on the Saint Martin Canal it takes 2.5 hours and is simply heaven. It leaves from Paris Arsenal Marina and goes to Parc de la Villette It is a romantic trip and gives you the opportunity to hear the history of the true Paris.
Cruise along the tree lined canal while admiring the old, yet beautiful footbridges. You will also pass below the Bastille. You can also enjoy going through several locks and a couple of swing bridges. You will watch as people go along the canal banks with the many retro shops and cafes-it is truly a view of Paris you will adore.
During the cruise I went on, they played old French songs - which may sound off putting, but on this occasion I found it added to a glorious experience I long to repeat. And the cost is 15 euros for adults and eight euros for children.
A series of life-size staues of Antony Gormley which are spread across the city. There are 22 dotted around the place, some in very unusual locations.
Finding them gives you an interesting objective and takes you all over the city.
A map showing their location is here:
A local tour company that operates tailor made adventures around Lucca and the beautiful Garfagnana area nearby. The adventures are based around the traditional local foods of the season as well as incorporating the major sights and activities of this area in Tuscany. Families, singles and couples of all ages are welcome.
I was travelling in Turkey last year and booked all my travel through Walkabout Travel Turkey www.walkabout.com.tr They were fantastic. I wanted to be all good and be a real backpacker but it was so brilliant to have all the basics like transport, accommodation and attractions found for me, allowing me to do all the fun and interesting things. All the people in the office went out of their way to make sure I had the best trip possible and loved all my stories when I returned to Istanbul.
Just down from the Blue Mosque on the tram line in Sultanahmet
We have just been on a great tour of South Africa and had a specialist guide take us around the site of the Battle of Isandlwana (which happened in 1879) and the incredible defence of the Hospital at Rorkes Drift. Anthony Coleman was our guide and was booked through Prana Holidays. Highly recommended.
As a single traveller, doing a tour of Uluru/Kata Tjuta/King's Canyon is the easiest way of seeing the three main sights without having to worry about transport, accommodation or companions. I did a tour with Wayoutback Safaris who were excellent - knowledgeable guides who did their best to keep us away from the hordes, camping in swags in the open air, and comfortable enough 4WD buses.
Most visitors to Hong Kong would be forgiven for thinking that this "Special Administrative Region" of China is entirely urbanised. The New Territories actually make up the majority of the land area, of which vast areas are lush woodlands.
Sai Kung Town is located in the east of the region. It is famous for its seafood, which is impressively displayed outside the harbourside restaurants and on the small fishing boats, some of which offer paid fishing trips. The town has a much more laid-back feel than its urban cousin and is a welcome retreat.
Sai Kung region, New Territories
Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) is a huge place and although the centre can be navigated on foot reasonably easily, venturing further afield can be hot and thirsty work.
For the brave, a motorcycle taxi, or Xe Om, is a great way to see the city; travelling without a roof means you can take in a lot more of the city, provided you haven't clenched your eyes shut in fear. Since December 2007 all Xe Oms carry spare helmets for their passengers so this is now safer than it was. Be prepared to haggle for your fare though!
For the rest of us, taxis are a cheap, cool and comfortable. Escape from the heat and the noise of the city; a journey across the centre can cost as little as $1-2.
Be careful to go with a good brand like Vinataxi, Mai Linh or Vinasun though, as there are a few shady operators who fiddle their meters.
A free weekday only tour of a local brewery which includes lots of free samples at the end. Very popular so you need to book weeks in advance!
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