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  • Unique Tours

    Sure, we're all independent travelers here, but sometimes you can only experience a place by taking a tour. What's the coolest or most unique tour you've ever taken?

    Related Story:
    Eight Tours for People Who Don't Like Tours
    Sarah Schlichter
    Senior Editor
    Independent Traveler
    www.independenttraveler.com


  • #2
    Re: Unique Tours

    Unique- the house of Ananias, Straight Street, Damascus.
    Evening boat ride round the volcano on Santorini, with fresh fish grilled on board.
    Many castles, stately homes, art galleries, churches....one of the best was Raby Castle, Northmberland, and Castle Howard, Yorkshire.
    Kilauea, Hawaii, was my best volcano, though the ones on Lanzarote were spectacular, where we ate steak grilled over the heat.
    Seeing the Med coast of Egypt, with all the big houses going to rack and ruin, and Farouk's Palace.
    Seeing the modern Belfast, and East Germany, after all the troubles.
    Many, many memories.
    Jo.
    Jo. sigpic

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    • #3
      Re: Unique Tours

      I think any walking tour is probably good--the guide has to have a real love of their city to do it day after day, in any weather. Ghost tours are always fun, and an offbeat way to get a sense of the history of the place. The best one I have been on was in Gettysburg PA. New York City also has some great food tours http://www.foodsofny.com/. You get plenty of food (consider it lunch) and a slice of life in the neighborhood. I went on a shopping tour in NYC. Had we wanted bargains for high end designer merchandise--it would have been right up our alley. The guide worked really hard to try to meet our needs and we got into some very exclusive showrooms.

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      • #4
        Re: Unique Tours

        For China, there was really never a thought in my mind that I could do it without going on a tour......a very *small* tour because I didn't want to feel crowded and well, there were lots of reasons that it really turned out well. We had the most amazing, smart & brave guide, it was easy to get around - yes we did have free time, although most of the stops on any China tour have you exactly where they want you (the government) to shop, eat, etc. All the food and hotels were wonderful. I've been all over the world alone, but I did not think I could do China alone and I am glad that I did the tour. It was well priced, a great value and very memorable. I also love that I got the guide and driver to make an UN-scheduled stop to a jewelry factory because I wanted an Amber bead bracelet just like the guide had; he took a risk doing it, but in doing so, he made me and the others very happy. Hong Kong isn't as hard because of its British Colonial past, there is more English printed around the city; not so in China.

        Like jocap, I also felt that while in East Germany, I needed help. Luckily, we were visiting some local friends of (of my French friends!) and so they took us around mostly, but once we got to Berlin, we were alone. I decided to do what I never usually do and try to see the city with one of those Hop on/Hop off buses and it was the right thing to do, especially in the Eastern section of Berlin. In the western section, it felt easier to wander around myself.

        Next was a tour of the Blue Mountains outside Sydney, Australia. Absolutely amazing! I short changed myself because I did not think I'd need more time there - and I could have stayed over night spontaneously...the guide would have arranged it all.....but I'd not had a few items I'd have needed with me in order to be able to stay out there! Should have planned that one better!! The people running that tour were amazing too; they actually helped me with a wake up call so I'd not miss the tour as I did the day before! I was traveling with a two time zone watch, woke up, looked at the wrong dial and went back to sleep, missing the tour on my first attempt. When they offered to call me the next morning - well, everyone just IS that nice in Australia!

        Highlands tour in Scotland - SIMPLY AMAZING!! Great guide, beautiful sites - we missed nothing.....I also got an unbelievable rate since I ended up booking with a rather hung-over young clerk who just decided to give me every discount that existed and so the price could not have been better for what was "dream tour" come true. Driving round those tight turns on winding hills that only had room for one direction? Not for me!! Especially the whole "wrong side of the road" thing which I've yet to try......ever. Don't figure I ever will, not being the most coordinated person in the world! It's only the "wrong side" for me, I know plenty of people manage quite well!

        Yes indeed - sometimes a tour can make a difference and actually add something to your trip you might otherwise have had. Mostly, yes I like to do it myself. But the tours I have chosen, all winners - I think you just get a "feeling" and know when to tour and when it's not necessary....just speaking as an "independent traveler" of course!
        Colleen Costello
        Message Board Moderator

        Host Bonjour
        www.IndependentTraveler.com
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        • #5
          Re: Unique Tours

          Loved the "wrong side of the road" bit....it's actually not too bad, as all the gears, brakes etc are on the same side of the driver....millions of Brits take their cars into Europe frequently, and just transfer themselves to the other side of the road when they come off the ferry/out of the tunnel.
          Not too good if you want to draw your sword, though! (which is how it all began, I believe....)
          Jo.
          Jo. sigpic

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          • #6
            Re: Unique Tours

            Hmm, trying to think of any tours I've done that were particularly unique. I loved the Granville Island Public Market tour in Vancouver -- munching our way through the market, yum. A tour was the only way to really see the Fez medina in Morocco without getting hopelessly lost, LOL. I did a ghost tour in Edinburgh years ago which was pretty fun (not so much scary as interesting/informative about the quirky local history).
            "I haven't been everywhere yet, but it's on my list." -- Susan Sontag

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            • #7
              Re: Unique Tours

              @ Jo, I know the Brits and Europeans do it effortlessly but maybe with the proximity of the U.K. to the Continent, they get more opportunities and that breeds necessity. I know when I visited New Zealand, my friends told me the locals NEVER want visitors to drive (unless they of course are experienced on the "wrong side" ) because it seems to cause many horrible accidents...but then the roads on parts of South Island are not unlike what I saw in the Highlands! I'd be willing to try, but much like I learned to drive on "this side" which was in an empty parking lot and definitely with an automatic transmission! Perhaps then maybe I could drive on the big roads a little bit but then, if I came upon a roundabout.......well, I can't really handle them when I come by them here in America (outside NYC!) so upon reaching a roundabout, I'd calmly pull over and exit the vehicle! Visiting my friends in Tadley (Hampshire) and driving round those parts, to/from Basingstoke station, it felt weird doing the roundabouts in the left side of the front seats! LOL

              The whole "sword wielding" aspect of it does rather make a lot of sense, it was normal once upon a time - so to speak - and there is infinitely way more history in the U.K., Europe etc, battling (traveling turned me into such the history fan!) for centuries.....over here, we're still young and they only do "sword fighting" at Renaissance Fairs! Some people love a good joust, now and again!

              @solitelyah.....was tempted myself with the Ghost Tours in Edinburgh, some of them really sounded interesting but were mostly at night and real ghosts or not (who's to say for sure) I scare easily at night! But indeed the history had to be great to hear.......I would chat anyone up I could wherever I was to soak it up.
              I've not yet been to Morocco but to go through a medina in Morocco, I don't believe I'd even try without a guide; I'm used to crowds, have seen what a medina looks like but don't think I have the "right moves" to do the Medina but it looks like LOTS of fun!! So indeed, there is another instance where a guide or "tour" would be ideal. In Hong Kong I had my friend who'd been living there a while guide me through many of the markets there, then I got the hang of it - or had to - when she had to leave HK for business trip! But then, HK is not Morocco. All amazing culture though!!

              There are indeed times when a tour is the way to go.......I'm not too proud to do them. I'd never have survived trying to climb Fox Glacier on my own (seeing as I'd never SEEN a glacier) but then, that wasn't really an option! I'd have ended up deep/lost in a crevasse, crudely cryo-preserved for all eternity.....and I'd not have done much better jousting either, LOL. Can't ride a horse and if I tried in a car (not a bad idea, in my city) that *might* get me pulled over, wielding a sword outside the window??? My friend does have his really cool Navy sword...............
              Colleen Costello
              Message Board Moderator

              Host Bonjour
              www.IndependentTraveler.com
              Follow on Twiiter @TravelEditor & Facebook
              HostColleen
              www.FamilyVacationCritic.com
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              • #8
                Re: Unique Tours

                I'd love to see you wielding a sword in NY.....unfortunately, all you're likely to see in a driver's right hand now is a phone- even though the fines are BIG!
                We've just had to go to an automatic car, since G. broke his left foot....there's a great discussion on Cruise Critic right now as to why automatics haven't taken off much in Europe.
                I've been meaning to say....the site's address has "Pennington" in it- that's the name of the main family round here, who still live in the vast old castle at Muncaster. I love seeing old family names cropping up in unlikely places!
                Jo.
                Jo. sigpic

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                • #9
                  Re: Unique Tours

                  Hi Jo,

                  LOL at the idea of me wielding a sword in NYC (not a bad idea) although given the way most of us are oblivious to many things that would make others stop cold, no one might notice! We're all on the lookout now mostly for abandoned bags/rucksacks/packages (and when I do see one, I truly panic!) so a sword could go quite unacknowledged. Only thing that ever stopped me cold was seeing a NASCAR race car parked on East 40th Street, off Madison I think. One just does not usually see race cars parked in NYC. Oh the can-man did get my attention too, but then his suit was rather noisy and yes, it was made entirely out of soda cans. He seems to be gone, we have the Naked Cowboy in Times Square; I'm not interested!

                  Sorry to hear about the broken foot - the clutch foot - I hope the recovery goes well; that must have been painful - best wishes for a speedy recovery

                  Yes, our headquarters are in Pennington and it's interesting to know that they are a landed family in England - maybe I can find the castle online or maybe my friends know of it, they are always telling me of there glorious trips to towns, villages and manor homes/castles etc. England really IS beautiful and charming. So many of our cities and towns, especially on the east coast, are named after places in England or elsewhere in the U.K. but that's because it's where everyone came from for a long time. I'm in "New" York but I was enchanted when I was in THE York over there!!

                  As for the transmission thing, never have I been in Europe and been with friends who did not drive standard, and with steep hills, for some it seemed to be very challenging, even with all the experience. Only in taxi's have I been in automatics, but I rarely take taxis. I also noticed that so many of the BMW's (3 series) had cloth seats; here, the only way they come is with leather. But not having leather is a money saver and not everyone likes or needs it, the standard transmission also saves money but I like to think that "tradition" is mainly what keeps Europeans/U.K. folks driving standard. It's just how it's always been done and I think there's even slightly better fuel economy on standard transmissions; petrol costs are bad here but they seem to have always been bad over there. For me, over there represents history/traditions and I love that; so that's my take on it, aside from a few practical matters. I'm an old soul as well......always have been. Last time I drove a standard was about 22 years ago and that was brief; I know what to do, but it would NOT be a smooth ride! LOL

                  Feel free to add my take on the CC discussion; I love our super sister site but am on our two other sites; this one and familyvacationcritic.com and have never been on a cruise! Otherwise I'd probably work on all three! Yes, I know - I'm bad for not ever taking a cruise, I know.........a time will come I hope.

                  Cheers!!
                  Colleen Costello
                  Message Board Moderator

                  Host Bonjour
                  www.IndependentTraveler.com
                  Follow on Twiiter @TravelEditor & Facebook
                  HostColleen
                  www.FamilyVacationCritic.com
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                  • #10
                    Re: Unique Tours

                    Colleen- our cruise money has had to go towards the new car,(when the insurance pays out...) which was vastly more expensive than a "clutch" one, but it's a Nissan, made just across the Pennines from here, so we're vaguely comforted that we're keeping local folks in work.....
                    The Penningtons have lived in Muncaster Castle for ever, it seems- the local pub in Ravenglass is owned by them, and is called "The Pennington Arms"- much used by the many Americans who work in the nuclear industry here. One claim to fame in the castle is the portrait of a jester who lived there, called Tom Fool....which is where "Tom Foolery" comes from. Every year there's a festival of fools there, and one is chosen to be the local fool for the year. If you look at the west coast of Cumbria, just below the Borders of Scotland, you'll see Ravenglass and the castle, at the entrance to Eskdale.
                    The discussion on CC is quite beyond me, as all the true car lovers are writing about transmission, road control etc.....I've merely added that I don't like our auto because it's a bright blue......
                    Jo.
                    Jo. sigpic

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                    • #11
                      Re: Unique Tours

                      Jo,

                      Thanks for the lovely bit of history of the castle, pub and how the term "Tom Foolery" came to be! He must have indeed been quite the "jester" to have ranked a portrait that hangs in the castle! Tough shoes for all the fools that have followed....that festival sounds incredibly fun and I can't imagine what one must accomplish to earn the distinction of Fool of the Year. Thanks for directing me; I knew where Cumbria was, but it's rather a large and lovely region and so it often takes me a while to locate a place on the map! How goes things being so close to Scotland?? (I couldn't resist! )) I'm looking into this festival; my friends repeatedly tell me to come over and that sounds like a place to visit - well I doubt I'd not enjoy most any part of England based on what I've seen so far!

                      Sorry to hear the cruise money is tied up in the car but as I often find in the letters from my friends, your outlook is so very upbeat. As I know so many people have been made redundant in England (and all over) it's surely nice to know that your auto purchase did infuse the local economy. I wonder if the color choice was limited because of the need for an automatic - is that what got you into a bright blue Nissan? What kind of blue and how bright? The upside is, it'll always be easy to spot in a car park! Anyway, they say that everyone picks silver so for all the other drivers on the road, well it's better than staring at silver cars and, much easier for other drivers to SEE - a built in safety feature. I hope the car serves you well. Some blazing flame appliques down each side might jazz it up a bit and get you some "street cred" (aka cool car) from wannabe racers!

                      I do hope you'll be on your next cruise soon enough. In the meantime, why not enjoy your spectacular country with some road trips. I never tire of hearing where my friends wander off to on weekends and a bit longer in Scarborough where they visit family. I get lots of pretty photos in the post and hear great tales like the one you told me. So, head off in ye new auto and tell us great stories!

                      As for CC and the "road control" issue......it seems most car enthusiasts opt for standard transmissions for their high performance cars and, ALL the professional drivers only ever manually shift through the gears; it's part of the strategy in the driving. Perhaps that all means something about "road control" but then again, they put all these "assist" features on cars that claim to give better rides etc., maybe just to make the folks driving automatics feel like they would if they were driving manual?? OK I'm officially confused - I think

                      BTW, cruises and transmissions related??? Just kidding....I love it. It's a great community there
                      Colleen Costello
                      Message Board Moderator

                      Host Bonjour
                      www.IndependentTraveler.com
                      Follow on Twiiter @TravelEditor & Facebook
                      HostColleen
                      www.FamilyVacationCritic.com
                      Follow on Twitter @FamilyVacation & Facebook

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Re: Unique Tours

                        Great that your friends visit Scarborough- that's where I trained as a teacher, many, many years ago, and where we have our re-unions now, 50 years on!
                        We do like a bright colour on a car, because of seeing vehicles crossing the moors in dull weather (frequent!)....the silver grey ones don't stand out at all.
                        We count ourselves as Border people- where Border collies come from, amongst other things- I should say that half the pet dogs on our beach are Border collies, or some sort of cross. We're close to Scottish people, and think of the old Reivers, who raided this area, as neither for England nor Scotland, but for their own families....as one family boasted:"We're for the Armstrongs!!!"- ie. neither side.(Armstrongs are still banned from Carlisle after 6pm, though it doesn't work today.....)
                        Cruises and transmission?- it all comes about because of hire cars....if you want to hire in Europe, make sure you ask for an automatic; if you pass the automatic test in the UK, you're not licenced to drive a manual, so it's probably the same across Europe generally.Folk are always asking for hire addresses when their ship docks, so we have to know the sort of cars available.
                        Fun to chat!
                        Jo.
                        Last edited by jocap; 04-26-2012, 12:20 PM. Reason: silly typos!
                        Jo. sigpic

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                        • #13
                          Re: Unique Tours

                          Originally posted by Host Bonjour View Post
                          @solitelyah.....was tempted myself with the Ghost Tours in Edinburgh, some of them really sounded interesting but were mostly at night and real ghosts or not (who's to say for sure) I scare easily at night! But indeed the history had to be great to hear.......I would chat anyone up I could wherever I was to soak it up.
                          I've not yet been to Morocco but to go through a medina in Morocco, I don't believe I'd even try without a guide; I'm used to crowds, have seen what a medina looks like but don't think I have the "right moves" to do the Medina but it looks like LOTS of fun!! So indeed, there is another instance where a guide or "tour" would be ideal. In Hong Kong I had my friend who'd been living there a while guide me through many of the markets there, then I got the hang of it - or had to - when she had to leave HK for business trip! But then, HK is not Morocco. All amazing culture though!!

                          There are indeed times when a tour is the way to go.......I'm not too proud to do them. I'd never have survived trying to climb Fox Glacier on my own (seeing as I'd never SEEN a glacier) but then, that wasn't really an option! I'd have ended up deep/lost in a crevasse, crudely cryo-preserved for all eternity.....and I'd not have done much better jousting either, LOL. Can't ride a horse and if I tried in a car (not a bad idea, in my city) that *might* get me pulled over, wielding a sword outside the window??? My friend does have his really cool Navy sword...............
                          If you go to Edinburgh again, try a ghost tour -- it really wasn't scary, at least not the one I tried.

                          Good point about Fox Glacier -- when I was there, it was literally the only option for getting onto the glacier, as individuals weren't permitted. (I'm sure some people tried to sneak in on their own, which is pretty foolish given the dangers -- avalanche, crevasses, etc.)

                          Similarly, there are many attractions out there (historic houses, etc.) that will only let you in on a tour, I guess for crowd control and to make sure people don't break anything!
                          "I haven't been everywhere yet, but it's on my list." -- Susan Sontag

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