Tuesday, February 19, 2019

5 Things To Know About European Rail Tickets

5 Things To Know About European Rail Tickets

By: Europe Express 
Point to point tickets or passes? Are reservations mandatory? Where and when are seat assignments required? First class or second class?
Europe's extensive rail system makes getting around easy and quick but picking the right ticket options and knowing the rules can be challenging. Here are 5 things to consider when navigating the world of European rail.
  1. Passes are not always the best option - Many people have the impression that rail passes are the most inexpensive way to travel by train in Europe but depending on the number of segments and routing, they can sometimes be more expensive then point to point. Also, some costs are not fully covered by passes; seat assignments or supplements may be required if a pass doesn't include all countries en route, and some additional fees can apply on specialty and overnight trains. It's a good idea to always look at the price and efficiency of point to point versus a pass, with all additional local fees included, before deciding which is best.
  2. Seat assignments are a great service - Not all tickets include seat assignments so it is important to clarify if one will need to be purchased in addition to the ticket. Many regional and local trains don't require them, and some don't offer them at all. For others, seat assignments are mandatory and must be are purchased locally before boarding if not purchased prior to travel. This is especially important when someone is traveling with a rail pass. Although passes allow for flexibility, they do not guarantee travel if the train is full so when possible, arrange these prior to departure to avoid confusion. 
  3. Not all sleeper cars are created equal - When taking an overnight train there are many choices and configurations. Some trains have bunks while others simply have seats that recline. Passengers can also often choose how many people share their couchette. Trains tend to be full in Europe so travelers should be prepared to share a compartment and bathrooms if they did not pay for private facilities. To avoid confusion, be sure to qualify your expectations before booking. 
  4. Be prepared to provide proper documents and passports - The conductor will almost always ask to see tickets and seat assignments if purchased separately, so it's a good idea to always have these on hand. Also, regardless of how travelers get from one country to another, everyone will be asked to show proper documentation. On an overnight train the conductor may collect passports during boarding or shortly after, often not returning them until the following morning. 
  5. Know when it is worth it to upgrade to first class - The amenities and quality of trains vary because there are over 50 different train companies throughout Europe. Depending on your expectations, it may be important to upgrade to first class. Trains and routes differ so it is essential to evaluate the specific amenities of each class before deciding what to purchase for a particular journey.
  6. For other tips on navigating Europe's 121,205 miles of track Contact Matty K Travel

Sunday, January 13, 2019

A Tour of a Hong Kong Wet Market: Not for the Faint of Heart

PHOTO: A Wet Market in Hong Kong (Photo by Mia Taylor)

The portly frog and I eyed each other from afar. The frog looking like he hoped to break free from his cage at a Hong Kong wet market. Me, the sentimental, animal-loving vegan, wanting to set him loose.

Called Ting-gai in Cantonese, which oddly enough translates to mean "field chicken," frogs are used in a variety of dishes in Hong Kong, particularly rice congee. They’re just one of the many types of animals on display at a wet market, a place where everything from poultry, to fish, and reptiles are sold out in the open.

The markets, which occupy streets and alleys, storefronts and stalls, are where many locals shop on a daily basis for food in Hong Kong.

They’re a vibrant hive of activity, a crush of people who come as much to socialize as to inspect the freshly cut slabs of meat, the carefully stacked pyramids of vegetables and all manner of shellfish, from oysters on the half shell to razor clams.

“This is the real Hong Kong,” my guide, Sidney Luk, told me. “People have contact with each other here. They can say ‘Hey, how was your day?’”

“Chinese people go to wet markets every day. When they see a product here, they know it’s 
fresh and it’s cheaper than going to a shopping mall,” Luk added.

As I learned during my recent visit, a wet market is clearly not for the faint of heart. Or for vegetarians or vegans. (Culinary daredevil Anthony Bourdain I am not, as much as I’d like to be.) The stacks of pig’s heads dangling on hooks, the innards on display, the severed goat heads with eyes still intact staring out at me, were a bit more than I had expected.

My visit to the market was prompted by a desire to see local life and experience the culture of everyday people in Hong Kong. I had spent days admiring the city’s famed skyscrapers, visiting posh rooftop bars sipping martinis and peering from observatories 100 stories in the sky designed to provide sweeping views of the architectural feat that is Hong Kong, a city that boasts the largest number of skyscrapers in the world.

Now it was time to explore the city up close, from the ground, immersed in the smells and sounds, the language and the bustle of the streets. The wet market was my first stop during an afternoon of exploration.

The markets are increasingly attracting tourists in search of the "real Hong Kong." As a result, locals are not unaccustomed to seeing foreigners amid the crowds of shoppers. But do yourself a favor and don't get in anyone's way as they're shopping or doing business, as it's not taken kindly. (Instagramers be warned).

My guide walked me through the throng, pausing every so often to explain how the various animals on display are used. Out of politeness to my host, I refrained from explaining that I'm a vegan.
The meat, fish, and vegetables sold at a wet market are displayed under dangling red lights designed to make the food look even fresher.
In some cases, customers want to see the animal live before it's purchased. And many wet markets have facilities for allowing a buyer to choose a live animal, then take it home as is or see it killed and cleaned.

There are also tanks of snakes and turtles, both of which are used for soup. Ser geng, or snake soup, is believed to have medicinal benefits, warming the body and nourishing one's blood.

Wildlife advocates and campaigners, however, have pointed out that the practice of making snake soup is cruel and unnecessary because the snakes are sometimes kept in inhumane conditions in snake farms in mainland China before being skinned alive, among other things.

Snake soup, turtle soup, my head started spinning and I made a dash for the safety of the nearest vegetable stand, an area I was far more comfortable with. Tomatoes and lettuce, just my speed I thought to myself. I was never so happy to see a benign stack of bok choy.
Whether or not my squeamishness was apparent to Luk, he didn’t miss a beat and transitioned to sharing details about fresh produce sales.

“Most fruits and vegetables come from the mainland,” he explained. “We’re highly dependent on the mainland. The border is just 50 minutes away.”

In a skyscraper-filled metropolis like Hong Kong, very few people have gardens or the space to grow their own food, my guide explained. Only the very rich, he said, have that luxury.
He also pointed out that many of the individual stalls in a wet market have been in a family for years and years. Often the individual working in the stall is elderly, in their 80s or 90s. That’s because the younger generation does not want to follow in the footsteps of their parents, doing such laborious work for a living.

Once a sparsely populated region of farming and fishing villages, Hong Kong is now one of the most significant financial centers and commercial ports in the world, which provides a great deal of promise for younger generations hoping to leap beyond such humble pursuits as selling food from a stall.

Hong Kong’s economy expanded by 2.9 percent year-on-year in the third quarter of 2018 after growth of 3.5 percent in the preceding quarter, marking the eighth consecutive quarter of growth. According to the government, Hong Kong continues to be the world’s freest economy.

But with all its glitter and possibility, and all of its economic freedom and growth, or perhaps because of these things, Hong Kong is an incredibly complex place that doesn’t represent the same level of promise for everyone.

The cost of housing can be prohibitive, particularly for young couples just starting out in life and few are able to own a home. As Luk explained to me, he and his wife have even opted not to have children because it’s simply too expensive. Both of them work long hours in order to make ends meet.

“In Hong Kong, there’s very little personal life. It’s all work,” Luk said.
The wet markets, however, continue to represent a simpler way of life. One that many people, including Luk, still enjoy experiencing. The markets allow for getting back in touch with a sense of community that has in some ways been lost amid all of the skyscrapers and malls and all of the growth and development.

For the most adventurous of tourists, wet markets also provide a glimpse of a far less polished and less modern side of Hong Kong. One you won't soon forget, particularly if you're the type who prefers observing animals running free in the wild, rather than as they wait to end up on a dinner plate.

contact us today info@mattyktravel.com

Monday, January 7, 2019

Carnival Cruise Line Reconsidering Room Service Changes

PHOTO: Carnival Cruise Line's Carnival Victory. (photo courtesy of Carnival Cruise Line)

Less than a week after Carnival Cruise Line announced room service would no longer be complimentary on its ships, the company said it is waiting to make those changes until a better plan could be put in place.

According to a Facebook post from Carnival brand ambassador John Heald, the cruise line revealed that it was evaluating the adjustments made to its room service plan initially scheduled to take effect in January.

Heald said the company was working to “balance the interests of our guests with our efforts to reduce food waste costs.” As a result, no changes will be made until a new plan can be developed and finalized.

While Carnival cruisers won’t have to worry about paying for their room service for the foreseeable future, the cruise line is working hard to start charging for the service despite the delay.

The original changes were announced last week, with officials saying Carnival ships would be switching to an a la carte stateroom service menu starting in mid-January 2019. Prices for a wide variety of menu items were expected to range from $2 to $5 per item.

As part of the original plan, passengers would have been charged for lunch, dinner and late-night menu items, but continental breakfast would remain free of charge.

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Albuquerque's Friendly LGBTQ Vibe

PHOTO: Albuquerque, as seen from the top of the Sandia Mountains. (Photo by Paul Heney)

Albuquerque is a fascinating and dynamic city, sometimes overlooked by travelers. Similarly, the city is under the radar as a queer destination. But the city and region are very queer-friendly, and there are many reasons why LGBTQ travelers should consider New Mexico's largest city for their next trip.

According to Mauro Walden-Montoya, President of the Albuquerque LGBTQ Chamber of Commerce, the city has been used to diversity since its founding, way back in 1706.

"With the Native, Spanish and other cultures mixing for so many years, LGBTQ folks have been naturally accepted. It is easy to be LGBTQ in Albuquerque and we are very welcoming to residents and visitors alike," he said. "New Mexico was the 17th state to legalize same-sex marriage, and Albuquerque welcomed thousands of LGBTQ couples from other states like Texas, Arizona, Colorado and as far away as Virginia who came to get married here."

Walden-Montoya noted that one hotel welcomed a same-sex male couple from Dallas, who flew in on a Sunday evening to get married. They planned to have the ceremony on Monday and then leave that evening.

"The hotel manager sent them out sightseeing before the minister arrived. When they came back for their wedding, she had gotten them a cake (from an LGBTQ-friendly bakery) and decorated the lobby for their wedding. She and a staff member were their witnesses," he said.

"They were overwhelmed by the friendliness shown towards them as a gay couple everywhere they went. Albuquerque is a very comfortable place for LGBTQ people—we can walk around holding hands, when we introduce our partners or say we just got married, the reaction is 'Congratulations!'"

Additionally, Walden-Montoya said that there is so much to do for couples in the city: take a couple's balloon ride, watch the sunset while riding the Sandia Peak Tramway, eat at a romantic, intimate restaurant, hike to a hot spring, explore ancient Native American pueblos, or visit the ABQ BioPark.
"We have had sexual orientation and transgender protections since 1993 in the city and since 2003 for the state. Albuquerque is an amazing destination for LGBTQ folks with cuisine, outdoor adventures, nightlife, a great community and one of the longest-running Prides in the country (since 1976)," he said.
What's more, the city supports diverse organizations such as the LGBTQ Chamber of Commerce, the Rainbow Roadrunners Car Club, the Transgender Resource Center, ABQ Pride and gay sporting event associations. The city's LGBTQ film festival, Way Out West, is in its 17th year.

Albuquerque has hosted the Lambda Car Club Grand Invitational, the Gay Pilots Association annual meeting and in 2020 is hosting the yearly conference of the Western Business Alliance (the association of western U.S. LGBTQ chambers of commerce).

"Albuquerque is romantic, affordable, fun, welcoming, and comfortable for LGBTQ folks—and the whole city will say “Bien venidos” to our LGBTQ visitors," said Walden-Montoya.

Visit Albuquerque has a whole "LGBT friendly" section on its website. According to Brenna Moore, PR & Communications Manager, Visit Albuquerque, that section has been in existence since before any of the current members of the marketing team started working at the bureau.

"We envision that it was a natural outgrowth of the diverse Albuquerque community and the welcoming nature of our culture," she said. "It became even more important when same-sex marriage was legalized in New Mexico in 2013—ahead of the Supreme Court ruling in 2015. We wanted to have a resource that specifically spoke to LGBTQ travelers about the experiences that awaited them in our destination."

Moore said that the city does collaborate with the Albuquerque LGBTQ Chamber of Commerce on the LGBTQ section of the visitors' guide. Additionally, there is a print version offered—and Visit Albuquerque prints 300,000 copies of the guide each year. While the organization doesn't specifically target its print advertising to the LGBTQ traveler, Moore's team has advertised to queer audiences via Facebook.
"Albuquerque is a city that continues to celebrate and embrace diversity and works to be an inclusive place to visit and to live," she said. "LGBTQ travelers will be welcomed to ABQ with open arms!"

Saturday, January 5, 2019

United Airlines Announces Changes to Emotional Support Animal Policies

Man walking his dog at Houston Intercontinental Airport (photo courtesy iStock Editorial / Getty Images Plus martince2)

United Airlines recently announced changes to its emotional support animal policies that will go into effect January 7.

According to CNBC.com, United will no longer allow emotional support kittens and puppies under four months of age on any of its planes and all emotional support animals will be banned on flights longer than eight hours.

While the airline said it would honor reservations made by January 3 with the old rules, the new regulations will only permit dogs, cats and miniature horses as service animals. The decision comes as United continues to minimize biting incidents and soiled cabins.

“We have seen increases in onboard incidents on longer flights involving these animals, many of which are unaccustomed to spending an extended amount of time in the cabin of an aircraft,” United said in a statement.

The Chicago-based airline is following the lead of Delta Air Lines, which banned younger emotional support animals in December and no longer allows any animals on flights scheduled to last longer than eight hours.

The changes were also influenced by the animal vaccination policy of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the principles outlined in the United States Department of Transportation’s Air Carrier Access Act.

Matty K Travel Group 516.366.9008

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

6 Cruise Destinations to Add to Your New Year's Resolutions

Have you thought about what kind of adventures you'll include at the top of your New Year's list resolution list this year? What dreams do you want to see fulfilled? Cruising lets you collect experiences and return from each journey feeling invigorated and transformed. 
With a Norwegian cruise, you have seven seas and countless land in between to explore. The world's horizons are large. What do you want to discover? Need some ideas? Here are six Norwegian cruise destinations to add to your New Year's resolutions this year.   

1. New Zealand Cruises

New Zealand is a cruise destination that should be at the top of every bucket list. Visit the Fiordland National Park to see New Zealand's glacier-carved fjords, valleys, and lakes. Enjoy the scenic mountain and sea vistas. 
Explore Devonport near the port city of Auckland. Devonport is a charming, laid-back waterfront village. See yellow-eyed penguins, Royal Albatross, and fur seals in Dunedin, New Zealand. Grab a seat on the Taieri Gorge Railway train and see dramatic ravines, sheer cliffs, and other breathtaking scenery near Port Chalmers. Visit Akaroa, New Zealand and visit a historic settlement that is located right in the heart of an ancient volcano. Visit the local boutiques and shops to pick up some souvenirs for folks back home. 
Take in Victorian Gothic buildings in Wellington, New Zealand. Visit one of the many famous vineyards of Napier, New Zealand. A must-visit while in Tauranga, New Zealand, is the aptly-named Hell's Gate, a natural geothermal park that has hot geysers, mud baths, and pools. 

2. South Africa Cruises

South Africa is another cruise destination that should be at the top of your bucket list. Gorgeous Table Mountain looms high above the capital city of South Africa — Cape Town. Take a cable car to the top of the mountain for a breathtaking 360-degree view of the city, or explore the vibrant, bustling urban city on foot. Visit the notorious prison that held Nelson Mandela. The prison, located on Robben Island, is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. 
Take a stroll around Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens, then head to Boulders Beach, which got its name because of its location right between two granite boulders. See penguins at close range on the beach. Stroll along Capetown's waterfront for some entertainment and shopping. 

3. Cruises from The United Arab Emirates

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is quickly becoming one of the most popular cruise destinations in the world. Dubai is a glamorous playground that is a city of contrasts. The city embraces the future with projects like a lightning-fast hyperloop train, but it also embodies tradition and culture. See some of the most stunning architecture in the Middle East, such as the world's tallest skyscraper, the Burj Khalifa. Make sure you visit the observation deck for unforgettable views. Experience the many culinary flavors of Dubai, too. Stroll along the Dubai Marina waterfront past luxurious yachts and trendy restaurants. 
There are a variety of other things to do in the United Arab Emirates. Take a safari through the desert and ride a camel. Explore the Souq Madinat Jumeirah village, which is made up of a series of canals, and take in the Arabian hotels that line the canals. 

4. French Polynesian Cruises

Take a French Polynesia cruise and explore Bora Bora. Bora Bora means “created by the gods,” and it seems that this island was aptly named. The dramatic landscapes will make you think that you are in another world. Paddleboard across a still lagoon. Shop for handicrafts at a local boutique. Hike through the lush forests of Mount Otemanu. Explore the marine life of Bora Bora as you snorkel the clear turquoise waters. Look for friendly mantas and black-tipped sharks. 
Visit the port town of Nuku Hiva. This volcanic island features dramatic waterfalls, gorgeous beaches, and dramatic cliffs that rise from the sea. Hike through the lush vegetation of Moorea, which one of the most beautiful islands in French Polynesia. 

5. Cruises to Greece

Book a Norwegian Greek Isles cruise and check off several of your New Year's Travel list destinations at 

once. The Greek Isles are full of mystery and intrigue. Drive along the east coast of Rhodes and discover a 

landscape full of lemon, olive, and orange trees. Spend a day visiting any of the beautiful vineyards in the 

area. Sample wines and olive oils produced at Agriturismo Magna Grecia. See ancient stalactites in 

Argostoli. You might have to travel off the beaten path, but that's true of many bucket list destinations.

6. Russia Cruises

See timeless cities and plenty of natural splendor on a Russia cruise. Great golden palaces, breathtaking churches, and wonderous palaces are just a few of the sights that you can see on a cruise to St. Petersburg, Russia. 
St. Petersburg has more than 200 museums that house more than three million pieces of art. See how many you can visit on your Norwegian cruise. See the pure gold dome of the St. Isaac Cathedral. It's made of 220 pounds of pure gold. Make sure you explore the flavors of Russia while in St. Petersburg, too. Visit one of the city's many local markets for fresh, artisanal cheese, local produce, natural honey, and caviar. If you cruise to St. Petersburg in June, you'll note that the city's night sky is never dark, which explains St. Petersburg's famous "white nights."
Do you want more bucket list cruise destinations to add to your list?

Matty K Travel Group including Castle Vacations can be found on the web at Mattyktravel.com and Castlevacations.net

These Hilton Hotels Help You Keep New Year's Resolutions

A Five Feet to Fitness guest room at the American Hotel Atlanta Downtown – A DoubleTree by Hilton, Georgia. (Courtesy Hilton)

The start of a new year inevitably brings with it a flurry of resolutions covering everything from exercising more to maintaining a healthier diet.
As we all know, however, following through with such goals can be a significant battle, with many people often giving up altogether by February.
With that in mind, Hilton has just released a list of some of its top properties around the globe where maintaining health and fitness resolutions can not only be far less challenging but dare we say it…even enjoyable.
From mermaid fitness and spin classes overlooking the Pacific Ocean to outdoor red sand warrior pits and personalized fitness assessments, here’s a look at some of the hotels you may want to put on your 2019 travel agenda.

Hilton Sedona Resort at Bell Rock, Sedona, Arizona

An upscale getaway, the Hilton Sedona Resort at Bell Rock has everything you need to train like a wellness warrior in its outdoor red sand Warrior Pit.

The outdoor boot camp playground includes tires, ropes, sledgehammers, and anchors. The Pit also hosts weekly classes led by a seasoned cross-training instructor. Guests can also book a Wellness Warrier package that includes a private training session in the Pit and unlimited fitness classes at the Sedona Athletic Club.

Rome Cavalieri Waldorf Astoria, Italy

This luxe property’s fully equipped gym includes a range of high-tech cardiovascular, aerobics and weight equipment. There’s also a team of personal trainers on hand who specialize in fitness, muscle-building, yoga, and Pilates. And don’t miss taking a post-workout dip in the 2,500 square foot hot and cold plunge pools with hydro-massage elements.

The American Hotel Atlanta Downtown – A DoubleTree by Hilton, Georgia

Unlike any other hotel in downtown Atlanta, this property boasts revolutionary Five Feet to Fitness guest rooms. What does that mean exactly? The rooms are stocked with more than 11 pieces of fitness equipment and accessory options including Gym Rax, a Fitness Kiosk with more than 200 bespoke fitness videos, a Wattbike, TRX, and a meditation chair.

This unique concept is also available at select hotels in other states including DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Utica in New York, DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel El Paso Downtown in Texas, DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Dallas – Campbell Center in Texas and DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Orlando Airport in Florida.

Embassy Suites by Hilton Minneapolis Airport, Bloomington, Minnesota

For those who prefer exercising in the great outdoors, the Embassy Suites by Hilton Minneapolis Airport is just minutes away from the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge, which features 70 miles of scenic walking trails along the Minnesota River.
If nature isn’t your thing, but you’d still like to get your steps in, the hotel is also minutes away from The Mall of America, which has more than three miles of marked indoor walking paths.

The Beverly Hilton, Beverly Hills, California

The Beverly Hilton has announced a partnership with Upgrade Labs -- a biohacking health and fitness facility -- to open Upgrade Labs’ second biohacking human upgrade facility in Los Angeles, right inside the famed hotel.

At the 6,000-square-foot facility, guests and locals alike will be able to take advantage of an inside-out approach to improving physical and cognitive performance. There will be a range of cutting-edge technologies allowing the facility to offer experiences such as EEG brain training, meditative inductions, and recovery treatments to help guests bounce back from things such as injuries or medical procedures.

Miramonte Indian Wells Resort & Spa, Curio Collection by Hilton, Indian Wells, California

Nestled at the base of California's Santa Rosa Mountains, this peaceful desert oasis aims to keep guests relaxed and healthy with an award-winning Well Spa, three swimming pools, daily wellness classes, and 18-hole golf courses. The resort’s signature restaurant, Citrus & Palm, meanwhile, will help keep your diet on track. Many ingredients are grown at the resort or in partnership with local farmers.

Waldorf Astoria Berlin, Germany

For those looking to restore inner calm and recharge the body, Waldorf Astoria Berlin’s Guerlain Spa may be just the place. Spanning 1,000 square feet, this “beauty universe” features six therapy rooms, a cloud-shaped pool, hot tub, sauna, steam room, terrace, a five-sense hydrotherapy Vichy shower, and a 24-hour fitness center.

Guests can also engage in personal training to improve flexibility and achieve the perfect balance between body and soul, with Guerlain’s customized fitness plans.

5 Things To Know About European Rail Tickets

5 Things To Know About European Rail Tickets By:  Europe Express   Point to point tickets or passes? Are reservations mandatory? Wher...