About Jessica Festa

Jessica Festa

Jessica Festa is the editor of the travel sites Jessie on a Journey (http://jessieonajourney.com) and Epicure & Culture (http://epicureandculture.com). Along with blogging at We Blog The World, her byline has appeared in publications like Huffington Post, Gadling, Fodor's, Travel + Escape, Matador, Viator, The Culture-Ist and many others. After getting her BA/MA in Communication from the State University of New York at Albany, she realized she wasn't really to stop backpacking and made travel her full time job. Some of her most memorable experiences include studying abroad in Sydney, teaching English in Thailand, doing orphanage work in Ghana, hiking her way through South America and traveling solo through Europe. She has a passion for backpacking, adventure, hiking, wine and getting off the beaten path.


Latest Posts by Jessica Festa

10 Immersive Language Learning Holidays

November 23, 2014 by  

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In today’s globalized world, one of the most valuable and rewarding skills you can possess is the ability to learn languages and speak foreign tongues. Multilingualism opens you up to authentic travel experiences, new professional opportunities, greater cultural understanding and friendships with people from across the world.

Whether you’re learning your second language or your fourth, whether you want to speak a lingua franca like French or an obscure tongue like Welsh, the best way to learn a language is to be surrounded by it. The following programs not only give you a solid grounding in foreign language skills; they also immerse you in local culture and all it has to offer.

learn languages

Photo courtesy of Cooperative School San Pedro.

1. Learn Spanish & Hike Volcanos In Guatemala

Situated in the stunning Lake Atitlan region of Guatemala, the Cooperative School San Pedro offers far more than just Spanish language lessons. Grow your fluency in Spanish in and beyond the classroom with salsa lessons, hiking, kayaking, zip-lining and film nights, as well as lots of information on Guatemalan history. Room, meals and classes start at $160 per week.

learn languages

Photo courtesy of the Arabic Language Institute of Fez.

2. Learn Arabic With A Local Family In Fez, Morocco

Study one of the world’s most widely-used and fastest-growing languages in a vibrant Moroccan city at the Arabic Language Instite of Fez. Housed in a Moorish villa, ALIF offers a variety of Arabic language courses, paired with film screenings, Arabic calligraphy courses, Moroccan cooking classes and dancing lessons. You’ll also be lodged with a Moroccan family, an invaluable language building experience. Three-week courses start at approximately $720.

learn languages

Photo courtesy of Coto Language Academy.

3. Learn Japanese In The Heart Of Tokyo

In the midst of the Japanese capital, Coto Language Academy offers one of the most reputable Japanese language courses in the country. With a strong focus on building conversation skills, Coto combines language classes with extra activities like Kabuki workshops, café conversation sessions and excursions to the Japanese countryside. Three-week intensive courses run at approximately $700.

learn languages

Photo courtesy of Langua Travel.

4. Learn Spanish & Tango In Argentina

What better place to learn Spanish and Argentina’s famous dance than in the birthplace of the tango, Buenos Aires? Langua Travel’s unique course pairs intensive Spanish language lessons with four hours of tango classes per week. There are multiple accommodation options, but the most immersive is the opportunity to homestay with an Argentinian family. Suitable for all levels of Spanish and tango ability. One week of language classes, tango and accommodation costs approximately $650.

learn languages

Photo courtesy of Mikadun via Shutterstock.

5. Learn Italian In The Shadow Of The Duomo In Florence

With its rich artistic, literary and political past, Florence is the ideal city in which to learn the beautiful language of Italian. Located in the heart of the stunning red-brick city, the Centro Fiorenza allows you to learn Italian not only through language, cooking and drawing lessons, but also through guided visits to Florentine museums, theaters and cinemas. There are even excursions to nearby cities and specialized classes for over forties. Basic intensive courses cost approximately $300 per week (not including accommodation).

learn languages

Photo courtesy of Milan Palko.

6. Learn French in the Latin Quarter of Paris

Affiliated with the prestigious Paris-Sorbonne university, the CCFS offers varied French language and culture courses for all levels. Classes are scattered across buildings in various parts of the beautiful Latin Quarter, and students can also take guided city tours, culture lectures (from French cinema to Parisian history) and specialized French literature courses. Intensive four-week courses are available in the summer, but the standard offering is a semester-long language course, which costs around $3000 (accommodation not included).

learn languages

Photo courtesy of CIEE.

7. Learn Russian With A Host Family In Saint Petersburg

Join the 170 million other people in the world who speak Russian by taking a course at CIEE in Saint Petersburg. You’ll be immersed into Russian language and culture through intensive language classes, a wide range of cultural excursions and living with a local Russian family. The course also offers Russian and Georgian cooking classes, museum visits and a trip to Moscow. Courses run on a term basis and sit at around $17,000, all expenses included.

learn languages

Photo courtesy of Mandarin Rocks.

8. Learn Mandarin in China’s Most Populous City, Shanghai

Mandarin is the world’s most widely spoken language, with around 2 billion speakers, and therefore one of the most useful foreign languages to learn. Get a grasp of this popular and complex language while immersing yourself in the bustling culture of China’s most populous city, Shanghai. Mandarin Rocks offers a variety of Chinese language courses, as well as an immersive summer camp, workplace internship opportunities and homestay options to practise your Chinese with a Shanghai family. Two-week classes start at approximately $600.

learn languages

Photo courtesy of Nant Gwrtheyrn.

9. Learn Welsh On A Remote Retreat In Northern Wales

Welsh may not be the most widely applicable of languages to learn, but it is a fascinating, rich and complex tongue. Located in the stunning Nant Gwrtheyrn retreat, on the Llyn peninsula in Northern Wales, students can learn one of the world’s oldest languages while staying in Nant Gwrtheyrn’s quaint miners’ cottages. Sample traditional Welsh cuisine and explore the property’s period house in between language classes. Five-day courses with full board are approximately $800.

learn languages

Photo courtesy of Gemma King.

10. Learn German In Historic Berlin

Immerse yourself in the rich, artistic culture of Berlin all while mastering the language of German. Located in the trendy East Berlin area of Prenzlauer Berg, GLS offers multiple German language courses with the opportunity to stay on campus, as well as extra activities like bar and gallery crawls, Berlin walking tours and trips to other German cities like Leipzig or Potsdam. One week of standard language classes (not including accommodation) costs around $240.

 Have you studied a language immersively overseas? Share your experiences with us in the comments below.

By Gemma King

5 Transformative Stays in the Land of Jordan

November 23, 2014 by  

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For those traveling to Jordan, there are an array of experiential hotels that allow visitors a glimpse into local culture in an eco-friendly way. Your accommodation is one of the most influential parts of your vacation, with the potential to enhance your experience in a profound way. To help you plan your trip, here are my top suggestions based on my trip to Jordan.

jordan hotels

1. Captain’s Desert Camp

Located in Wadi Rum is Captain’s Desert Camp, an upscale camping accommodation that allows you to experience authentic Bedouin culture. Bedouins are known for being nomadic desert dwellers living in woven goat-hair tents. Campers will be able to stay in these tents immersed in the dramatic scenery of the Wadi Rum desert. Because there is no electricity, candles light pathways and rooms while food is cooked in a zarb(underground pit) in traditional Bedouin fashion.

A large pit is dug into the ground where a fire is made, with trays of meat and vegetables placed above it. From there, it is covered in foil and sand to trap in heat, leading to a juicy, flavorful meal. This ended up being one of my favorite meals in Jordan. At night, activities I enjoyed were stargazing, traditional music and dancing with Bedouins around the fire. Moreover, the camp can set you up with interactive Wadi Rum experiences, like 4x4ing through the desert, riding camels, hiking, soccer games and more.

feynan ecolodge

2. Feynan Ecologe

Located in Feynan — one of the few places in Jordan where a authentic Bedouin culture still exists — the Feynan Ecolodge is a true ecolodge located at the South Western edge of the Dana Biosphere Reserve. The property features 26 rooms and works on minimal electricity, and running without refrigeration with candles illuminating rooms and common areas and energy being provided mainly by the sun.

Moreover, the ecolodge focuses on four main areas: helping the local Bedouin community, providing guests with unique experiences, contributing to conservation and leaving a minimal carbon footprint. Along with experiencing a sustainable way of life through vegetarian cooking classes, naturalist-led walks and nightly stargazing, the lodge helps guests experience local Bedouin culture.

Some possible experiences include visiting a Bedouin tent to learn about the importance of coffee culture, learning how to weave goat hair or bake bread, taking a sunset walk, having tea with Bedouins, spending a day with a Bedouin shepherd and learning about the kohl Bedouins use around their eyes as protection from the sun. Moreover, because the hotel employs only local Bedouins you’ll have many opportunities to interact with these people.

jordan hotels

3. Evason Ma’In Hot Springs

Part of the Six Senses Hotels Resorts Spas, Evason Ma’In Hot Springsimmerses guests in a world of sustainability and tranquility. As soon as you walk in, you’ll be greeted with a refreshing towel and a cup of fresh hibiscus juice, before being brought to your guest room with spa music playing. Stand out on your balcony overlooking the nearby waterfalls, take a soothing shower using natural bath products, enjoy traditional meals made with organic ingredients from their onsite gardens or relax in the lobby done in neutral hues and littered with comfortable couches and swings.

The real draw to the property is its prime location next to an array of curative hot springs that promote relaxation, improve skin ailments, boost the immune system and detoxify the body — basically where I spent most of my time at the property. Continue the therapeutic experience in the spa with treatments like a Dead Sea Mud Body Wrap, Jasmine Facial, Bamboo Massage, Henna Flower Hair and Scalp Treatment, or an Olive Grove Scrub.

Additionally, other experiences include a morning hike with breakfast served at a table on the mountain, viewing wildlife at the Mujib Nature Reserve, exploring the dramatic desert wilderness of the protected Wadi Rum, visiting the Hammamat Ma’in Valley and learning about where the hot springs come from and visiting the Dead Sea — the lowest point on Earth — and floating in its curative waters which are said to relieve muscle pain and treat skin diseases.

jordan hotels

4. Movenpick Resort & Spa Dead Sea

Located right on the Dead Sea, Movenpick Resort & Spa Dead Sea is a (surprisingly budget-friendly!) 5-star hotel that will transport you to a world of wellbeing and balance.

The property encompasses lush gardens, boutique shops, 346 luxurious rooms, nine restaurants and bars, over 3,000 square kilometers (1,158 square miles) of pools, a beach, tennis courts, beach volleyball, a gym, Jacuzzi and a spa featuring treatments that incorporate the Dead Sea’s curative mud, salt and waters. At night, take in a traditional belly dancing show, grab an al fresco drink and smoke some shisha, or enjoy a gourmet meal with Jordanian flare.

Other experiences available to guests include floating in the Dead Sea, visiting the nearby Wadi Mujib to hike or abseil and going to the site where Jesus was baptized at Bethany Beyond the Jordan. Sidenote: It’s possible to book a room for about $108 a night depending on your travel dates — spring and summer often have cheaper hotel deals — a steal for a luxury property.

jordan hotels

5. Stay With A Local

While not a hotel, per say, those visiting Jordan are given the unique opportunity to enjoy a homestay with a local family for a firsthand glimpse of local life in the country.

*My trip to Jordan was hosted by Visit Jordan. I was not required to write this post nor was I compensated for it. As always, all opinions are my own. All photos my own.

How, Why and Where India Will Transform You…

November 22, 2014 by  

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India is a land which has a rich ancient history and deep cultural roots. A visit to India is unlike any other place one can visit in the world. Indian customs and traditions have been revered by most of the travelers who have visited the country and the vast range of geographical locations in India has made it one of the top tourist destinations.  It’s also a country that can transform you in a myriad of wonderful ways, from architecture to cultural experiences to spiritual wonders.

History

india

IMAGE (CROPPED) CREDITS @ GILI CHUPAK

India has been inhabited by one of the oldest civilizations in the world dating back to the Neolithic period. It has been a home to ancient kingdoms and dynasties with each of their stories more interesting than the others. The ancient books written nearly thousands of years ago provide a deep look into one of the most interesting of all world cultures. Being a part of the European colonies from the 17th century India is a home to major world events and is an essential part of world history.

The Taj Mahal

india

IMAGE CREDITS @ ETRENARD

India is a geographically diverse land that enjoys almost all the physical features and geographical locations, from the monolithic mountains of the Himalayas to the Golden Sands of the Thar Desert, and from the snowcapped mountains to pristine sandy beaches. States of Himachal Pradesh, Rajasthan, Kerala, Goa, Uttaranchal and Tamil Nadu are famous for their exciting attractions and are visited by millions of travelers from all over the world.

Culture

india

IMAGE CREDITS @ ABHISEK SARDA

The country is a birthplace to few of the major world religions like Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism and Jainism and is known for its vast and dynamic culture. Most tourists consider visiting India as they want to experience the various cultures and traditions which are often unique. The Indian weddings are often few of the most amazing experiences one must try out. Indian dresses like Saris, Salwar Kameez, Dhoti, Lungi and Sherwani are well renowned for their aesthetics.

Architecture

india

IMAGE CREDITS @ MANUEL MENAL

India is the home to one of the oldest civilizations in the world. Architecture in India has evolved through countless centuries due to the influence of the various dynasties and civilizations that have flourished in the region. The various historical and archeological sites are simply marvelous and many have been recognized as world heritage sites by UNESCO. The forts, palaces and temples in India are often characterized by some of the most striking architectural designs and display the artistic prowess of the Indian kingdoms and dynasties.

Food

india

IMAGE CREDITS @ THEY CALLED ME LILY

India has a huge number of recipes which are native to the different regions, and most tourists are attracted to this country for its mouthwatering and flavorful dishes. Indians are generally perceived as vegetarians, and there are a huge number of artful and great tasting vegetarian dishes and curries. The arrival of the Mughals in the 16th century saw the introduction of Middle Eastern influences in Indian cooking and is majorly responsible for the amazing non-vegetarian cuisines offered here. The street food is worth trying; however, one must be careful as the food is often very oily and spicy.

Music

india

IMAGE CREDITS @ MICHAEL HOEFNER

India being on the forefront of world civilization is famous for its various performing arts and especially the classical Indian music. Music is an important part of the Indian society and many notable world musicians have originated from India since the ancient times. The Carnatic influence from the 13th and the 14th century AD plays a major role in shaping traditional Indian music. There are, however, various forms of folk music which display a distinctive sound and feel which is specific to their region of origination. The music is usually performed using Indian stringed and percussion instruments which further facilitates the production of a unique blend of sounds.

Dance

india

IMAGE CREDITS @ US CONSULATE CHENNAI

Indian Dance arts are few of the most complex and expressive dance forms in the world. Each that originated in India follows certain philosophies which exist in the ancient religious texts. Dance forms like Kathakali, Bharatnatyam, Kathak are a few to check out while visiting India.

Shopping

india

IMAGE CREDITS @ JAVIER CARCAMO

India is known for its huge market places and most tourists visit the country because of the amazing shopping experience. Textiles, clothing, handicrafts from India has been widely popular in the world due to the unique design aesthetics employed in their making. Many cities like Jaipur in Rajasthan are known for their market places built inside a fortified town. The national capital of Delhi is known for its marketplaces and various handicrafts which can often be bought cheap after a little bargaining.

Festivals And Fairs

india

IMAGE CREDITS @ JANSSEM CARDOSO

India is a home to a huge number of people who belong to a different cultural background, and the Indian calendar is full of various festivals and is famous for its elaborate and colorful fairs. The color filled festival of Holi and the vibrant and enlightening festival of Diwali are few of the most important festivals in Indian culture, and a visit to the country during these is recommended. The massive fairs like the Kumbha Mela and the Pushkar Camel fairattract millions of visitors from all across the globe.

Spiritual Experience

Meditaiton

IMAGE CREDITS @ SKYSEEKER

India is the birthplace of various religions and religious philosophies. Many people visit India not for the tourist attractions, but to experience a calm and peaceful environment and get in touch with their spiritual self. Ever since the arrival of the Beatles, spiritual arts like Yoga and Meditation have attracted a huge number of tourists from the world. A visit to the various temples, a look in the religious texts and the stories of how the different legends originated can provide a deeper insight in the Indian culture, and will certainly refresh your senses like no other place in the world.

Contributed by Rohit Agarwal.

Learning All Things Grapes & Wine During Harvest Season in Virginia

November 19, 2014 by  

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Sepia-toned movies like French Kiss, Sideways and A Good Year paint a romantic image of life on a vineyard. Who wouldn’t want to abandon beige office cubicles for sunny rows of grape vines? Or exchange suit pants for jeans? After a blissful five-day stay at Antigua Residencia, a lovely hostel on a vineyard in Mendoza, Argentina, I decided I needed to see for myself.

I contacted (read: cyber stalked) Stinson Vineyards in Crozet, Virginia about volunteering for a couple days during harvest season. A family-run operation, Stinson is an eco-friendly boutique vineyard at the foot of the majestic Blue Ridge Mountains. As I pulled up the gravel drive, past the old farmhouse overlooking the colorful fields beyond, it was as if life was imitating cinematic art. I quickly shot my boyfriend a text insisting we buy a vineyard.

Two days later, exhausted and sore, I had a hell of a lot of respect for vintners and a much more realistic view of what it actually takes to produce a perfectly balanced bottle of wine. That doesn’t mean I’ve given up on the dream of replacing office retreats for harvest parties. As Ben Franklin said, “Wine is constant proof that God loves us and loves to see us happy.”

vineyard

Photograph courtesy of Mythja via Shutterstock

Go With The Flow

Rain, frost, sunshine, humidity and temperature are just a few of the things to contend with while managing a vineyard. All affect the quality of the wine and Mother Nature can be a real banshee. Healthy soil, grape type, the fermentation process, and even the way the grapes are crushed affect how the final product turns out. When you harvest is just as important and unfortunately you don’t always have control over that either. I learned the most coveted commodity a vintner can have is a reliable harvesting team. With so many factors to consider and elements outside your control, it’d be easy to become a Type A stress case, but what’s the fun in that? A cool head, a steady hand, and a healthy dose of perspective are what’s required.

Danger, Will Robinson, Danger

No sooner had one of the volunteers sliced his hand open with a pair of harvesting shears then the horror stories began. A local guy had snipped his thumb straight off with his clips, a wine maker at a neighboring vineyard caught his arm in a malfunctioning de-stemmer while trying to clean it, and apparently there is a disturbingly high number of people falling into giant vats of fermenting grapes and suffocating from the overwhelming C02 levels. It made me really appreciate the celebratory glass of wine we had at the end of a long day.

No Cake Walk

I once read a job description that required applicants to be able to stand, walk, use their hands, reach, stoop, kneel, crouch, crawl, sit, climb, balance and regularly lift 10-25 pounds. It was for an office manager position. The day after harvesting the merlot and the malbec, my back, arms and legs were on fire. From hauling lugs to cleaning out giant vats, wine making is not for the sluggish.

The hardest part for me was “punching down,” a glamorous activity that refers to the breaking up and pushing down the solid mass of grape skins, stems and seeds — called the cap — that rise to the top of the vats during fermentation. This helps the wine have a richer color and flavor. You take a long stick with an X on the end and punch through the cap repeatedly a few times a day. By the end, I resembled Carrie on prom night.

vineyard

Photograph courtesy of Windu via Shutterstock

Perfect Chemistry

After I finished Mrs. Gray’s 10th grade chemistry class, I swore I’d never take another. Thankfully my varied career as a failed actress, waitress, fundraiser, digital strategist and communications nerd never required it. Walking into the wine lab at Stinson Vineyards was like hopping a time machine back to high school science class. There were beakers piled in the large sink, bottles of chemicals, a Bunsen burner, and stacks of binders with figures and measurements neatly recorded. The process of making wine involves a chemical reaction in which sugars are turned to alcohol and carbon dioxide because of the presence of yeast. As it turns out wine making is all about chemistry.

Feel The Rhythm

While it was wildly exciting to try wine making, there was a lot of monotony. Harvesting grapes involves repetition. Day one was the systematic removal of grapes from the vine. Grab bunch of grapes, clip off at the stem, drop into lug, repeat. Day two was de-stemming. While the de-stemmer removes most of the stems from the cluster of grapes, there are thousands of smalls ones that make it through. Once the grapes pass through the de-stemmer, they land on a vibrating metal table that acts as a conveyer belt. Your job is to stand there and pick out as many of the stems as quickly as possible.

Have you ever worked on a vineyard? What was your experience like? Please share in the comments below.

By Abby Sugrue

Top photo courtesy of Deyan Georgiev via Shutterstock

Old Town Temecula, Where Culture Meets Arts

November 18, 2014 by  

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old town temecula

It seems you can’t travel anywhere nowadays without seeing McDonald’s, Subway and Chick-fil-A. Recently, I was invited to a wedding in a place known not only for its homegrown wines and beers, but an Old Town where by law only artisan vendors are allowed to open storefronts: Temecula, California.

In fact, after wandering the historic neighborhood and its main Old Town Front Street, where every single space seems to be a local restaurant, purveyor offering free samples or antique shop, I became convinced this was a culture carnivore’s heaven.

old town temecula

Closeup of horse-drawn wagon; Old Town Temecula, California. Photo courtesy of Lowe Llaguno via Shutterstock.

To prepare, I jot down a few potential stops and addresses. Once I park my rental car and find myself standing in front of a series of craft shacks selling handmade jewelry, candles and blown glass, it becomes immediately apparent no itinerary is needed.

My first stop, which also ends up being my favorite even after the day is over, is the Temecula Olive Oil Company. Walls lined with olive oil, balsamics, rubs and salts greet me, as does a smiling woman holding a bottle of olive oil with a small plastic tasting cup. Score.

old town temecula

Olive oil tasting in Old Town Temecula. Photo courtesy of Jessica Festa.

Anyone is welcome to savor tastings — free of charge — at the Temecula Olive Oil Company. What’s interesting is that these all natural olive oils aren’t infused with outside ingredients, but instead whole local fruits, vegetables and spices are added right into the olive oil making process, to make olive oils like Citrus Reserve, Hickory Smoked and D’Luscious Lemon. Moreover, knowledgeable tasting guides create flavorful pairings with their oils and balsamics for a novel experience.

“Our Citrus Reserve Olive Oil with real blood oranges goes great in pancake batter and cookies to give a citrus flavor — and pairs well with our Vanilla & Fig Balsamic Vinegar,” says my guide for the day (pictured above).

In the next 30 minutes, I savor a number of unique pairings: Fresh Basil Olive Oil — made with 20 pounds of basil and 100 pounds of olives — with pomegranate balsamic; a Fajita Frenzy Olive Oil featuring whole crushed limes with honey balsamic; Roasted Garlic Olive Oil made with kettle-roasted garlic to give a nutty flavor with spicy 911 Hatch Chili Balsamic to add a nice spice.

While I don’t get to experience it, the company offers tours at their nearby ranch in Aguanga.

old town temecula

Display inside the Temecula Lavender Company. Photo courtesy of Jessica Festa.

And they’re not the only local company offering farm tours. The Temecula Lavender Company also offers tours during harvest season, around late June to early July. Even if you can’t make it during that time, their shop in Old Town is a fragrant wonderland. As soon as I step into their whimsical wooden shop I’m enveloped in the relaxing
fragrance of the purple plant.

Instead of food samples, there’s complimentary tries of lotions and body oils, all made 100% naturally and locally.

The real draw to the store, aside for the artisan products, is the way it draws you into farm country. Wooden tables hold small shaded lamps, weathered frames with calligraphy-adorned signs telling about the products, and glass jars and tied rope holding lavender-oatmeal soap, lavender & tea tree shampoo, and lavender massage oil, among other things.

old town temecula

Delicious cheeses abound at the Temecula Valley Cheese Company. Photo courtesy of Yellowj via Shutterstock.

Once again it’s time to satisfy my hunger, which I don’t feel until I’m surrounded by farm fresh offerings. The Temecula Valley Cheese Company has a wall lined with local art and tasty products (merlot and chocolate mustard, anyone?). The real draw, however, is the counter of stinky cheeses, free for the sampling. Budget travelers should also peek into the bin of odd but still fresh cheese ends sold at a discount price. I try a sample of the Huntsman, a layered cheese featuring Double Gloucester and Stilton Blue cheese, and a Prima Donna Dutch Gouda, which tastes of caramel, meat and nuts all at once. I buy both to use later for a localized wine picnic. I also vow to come back and enjoy one of their wine or beer and cheese pairing classes.

old town temecula

E.A.T. Marketplace & Eatery. Photo courtesy of Jessica Festa.

The artisan offerings of Old Town all come together during dinner at E.A.T. Marketplace & Eatery, where Founder and Executive Chef Leah DiBernardo focuses on making delicious dishes crafted from local and sustainable farm-sourced ingredients that are often organic, biodynamic, raw or gluten-free. The menu changes with the season, and the chefs are constantly being inspired by the Old Town Temecula Farmers’ Market (Saturdays, 8am to 12:30pm) and the natural world around them.

old town temecula

My sustainable salmon dinner at E.A.T. Marketplace in Old Town Temecula. Photo courtesy of Jessica Festa.

I start the meal by ordering a glass of organic Chardonnay, with notes of crisp green apple and papaya.

Next, I savor a steaming soup packed with organic local vegetables, before moving on to a beautiful fillet of salmon sourced from Skuna Bay, a Vancouver-based farm dedicated to farming craft-raised salmon reared off of the glacier-fed Pacific Ocean waters near Vancouver Island. They make sure to harvest unstressed fish — which leads to a firmer texture and happier marine life — and work to preserve seabeds and reduce pressure on wild fish.

The seafood is served over a bed of tomato rice with a side of organic local carrots. For dessert, I go in two directions: a healthy Paleo brownie, amazingly made without flour or dairy, and a macaroon that makes me feel like a true VIP, dusted in raw mineral gold. I almost feel bad eating it, but quickly forget my remorse once I feel the thick jam sliding over my tongue.

For those interested in farm-to-fork dining and exploring a destination through the palate, Temecula’s Old Town immerses you in a delicious world of local purveyors, complete with historical 19th-century Western architecture dating back to the 1880s as well as more modern design structures. It’s a true melding of history and culture.

Have you visited California’s Old Town Temecula? What was your experience like? Please share in the comments below.

Exploring All Things Food in Dubai

November 17, 2014 by  

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If you’re planning a trip to Dubai, you need to make sure that you have a good grasp on Emirati cuisine. The food that you will find in the region will be unlike any food you’ve ever had, so you need to prepare yourself for an experience. Dubai is not short of great eateries; however, you should make sure that you find a place that suits you.

Food In Dubai Is Inspired By Asian & Middle Eastern Dishes

There is not just one style of food in Dubai. Here you can get any style of food you desire. The main restaurants in the region take inspiration from Asian and Middle Eastern cuisine. That means that you can try everything from Indian to North Korean food in the area. Make sure to research each restaurant before you book your table to find the best places. Dubai is a luxurious place, so everywhere you go will be high-class.

Camel Is A Popular Dish

Have you ever thought of eating a camel? Well, now you can. In Dubai, camel is a common and popular dish. Many Emirati dishes include camel as one of their main ingredients. You can try stuffed camel, which is a famous dish in the area. A chef stuffs a whole camel with herbs and spices and then roasts the meat for a meal that’s rich and tender. The fact that there are so many camels in the area means the meat is cheap to buy — which also means if you want to save money on food, you should eat loads of camel on your vacation.

food in dubai

Pizza. Photo courtesy of Jag_cz via Shutterstock.

If You Don’t Like The Local Food, Opt For Takeout

If you visit Dubai, but don’t like spicy food, you may have a problem. Many Asian and Middle Eastern dishes contain chilies and spice. Don’t worry, you will still find something to eat in the area. Few people realize they can order takeout to their hotel rooms in Dubai. That means that you can get pizza takeaway in Dubai with ease.

Dubai Has Delicious Street Food

When walking around Dubai, consider trying the local street food. As a rule, food in Dubai tends to be quite expensive. The area is famous for its rich tastes and expensive lifestyle, and you’ll spend a small fortune if you eat in nice restaurants every single night. Street food is an inexpensive and tasty option, and many people who live in the area eat street food every day.

The region is a hub for business. That means that people are always busy. Street food has become popular in the area because it is quick and easy to eat.

food in dubai

Simit. Photo courtesy of berna namoglu via Shutterstock.

Make Sure To Haggle On The Price Of Your Food In Dubai

When you are buying street food or food from a local restaurant, it is okay to haggle over the price of your dish. Many Westerners don’t like haggling, as they think it makes them look cheap. My tip? If you want to save money on food in Dubai, get comfortable with it. When somebody brings you the bill, you can question it. Ask if you can get a discount or whether they will accept a little less than the asking price. Make sure that you’re not too pushy, though, as this could come across as rude.

Eating In Hotels Is Less Authentic

It’s a good idea to venture away from the hotel when traveling through Dubai. Often hotel cuisine is different from the cuisine in the rest of the area. The chefs at your hotel are likely used to cooking for Western tastes, meaning milder and less authentic cuisine.

Eating at your restaurant for a couple of nights is fine, but make sure that you try some local cuisine. There are many delicious Pakistani, Indian and Chinese restaurants in the city worth exploring.

food in dubai

Shawarma. Photo courtesy of Ververidis Vasilis via Shutterstock.

Shawarma Is Delicious & Cheap

If you want to have an authentic Emirati dish, you should try some Shawarma. The meal is a type of spicy meat served in a wrap and is considered fast food in Dubai, so you must try it while you’re out and about. If you’re not too keen on spicy food, you might find the dish a little too strong. Some extra mint sauce and salad will help to combat this.

If You Like Pork, You’re Out Of Luck

As Dubai is a Muslim region, you will not find any pork dishes in the major restaurants. Instead, lamb, camel, beef and chicken are popular options. Just know that local chefs tend to use lots of heavy spices when they cook meat, so be prepared and adaptable.

Contributed by Rohit Agarwal.

Dubai skyline top photo courtesy of Ashraf Jandali via Shutterstock.

Head to Jordan For Adventure in the Dessert

November 16, 2014 by  

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While often touted as a top destination for history and religion, Jordan is also home to an array of experiences for adventure-seekers. From skydiving over the dramatic landscape of Wadi Rum to scuba diving shipwrecks, the country is full of adrenaline-pumping adventures. To help you get your heart rate up in Jordan, here are my top suggestions.

Shooting, Paintballing and Cart Racing In Amman

Amman isn’t just a place for great nightlife and history, it’s also home to some fun adventures. Start by visiting one of the local shooting ranges, like the Royal Jordanian Shooting Club or the Action Target Shooting Club, for some target practice. Afterward, use your new shooting skills to fire balls of paint at your friends during a paint-balling session at the Mountain Breeze Country Club. Here you’ll also be able to take part in archery, camping, beach volleyball and football. Moreover, local riding clubs like Princess Alia Center for Riding or the Arabian Horse Club will get you out of the city and into the desert.

Credit: Shutterstock

Credit: Shutterstock

Skydiving in Wadi Rum

Wadi Rum is best known for being the place where Lawrence of Arabia operated throughout 1917 and from where the strike on Aqaba was launched. The valley’s striking desert terrain, melted cliff tops, jagged peaks and colourful sandstone skyscrapers make for a dramatic Mars-like landscape, especially when viewed from above. Skydive Jordan allows you to free-fall from 13,000 feet until your parachute bursts open and you can float and take in the scenic beauty from the clouds.

Want to continue your adrenaline rush? Other Wadi Rum adventures include trekking, mountain climbing, hot air ballooning, camel riding, horseback riding, mountain biking, camping, 4×4 riding and ATVing.

Bedouin Camping in Wadi Rum

While there are many places to camp in Jordan, one of the most interesting experiences can be had in Wadi Rum at the Captain’s Desert Camp. The campsite features traditional Bedouin tents made of goat hair, with pathways and rooms illuminated by candlelight. You’ll enjoy activities like learning Bedouin song and dance, smoking shisha and falling asleep under the stars. A highlight of the experience is seeing the unveiling of the evening meal, which is cooked underground in a mud oven using dry wood and earth to trap heat. The result is juicy chicken served with rice, slow-cooked carrots and potatoes, hummus, shrak (traditional Bedouin bread) and other traditional foods.

Credit: Shutterstock

Credit: Shutterstock

Scuba Diving in Aqaba

Aqaba is Jordan’s only port, and provides a beach resort-type destination for travellers who want to swim in turquoise waters and sunbathe on soft sand. For an adrenaline rush, opt to scuba dive in the Red Sea’s azure waters and see the area’s more than 500 coral species up close. Scuba diving is offered year-round in Aqaba—which is home to over 30 main diving sites—with June and July being a great time to see whale sharks and February being popular for manta rays. One popular dive site that has something for everyone from beginners to technical divers is First Bay, where you’ll experience bizarre black coral trees, colourful parrotfish and the opportunity to visit the thrilling Death Valley with its strong current, fan and whip corals and depths reaching over 100 metres. For a shipwreck dive, head to the Wreck of the Cedar Pride, where you’ll take in a Lebanese freighter that sank in 1985 and is now home to a variety of soft and hard corals and curious fish. Other popular dives from Aqaba include Eel Garden, Black Rock, Seven Sisters, Oliver’s Canyon and Yellowstone Reef.

Hiking to Petra

No visit to Jordan is complete without visiting the iconic Petra, an ancient city believed to have been established around 7,000 to 6,500 BC by the Nabataeans. The historical attraction is home to over 800 monuments, rock-cut tombs and temple facades, rock reliefs and gathering places.

The most impressive sites within Petra are the Monastery and the Treasury. While Petra itself has numerous hiking trails, you can add even more adventure to the experience by hiking to Petra itself. The best place to start is the Rummana Campsite in the Dana Biosphere, where you can enjoy home-cooked Jordanian food and sleep under the stars. The hike takes four nights and five days and brings you through all three of Jordan’s climates: tropical, Mediterranean and Saharan. You can hire a porter to carry your equipment, cooking supplies, tents and backpack by contacting Petra Caravan Tours. You can also choose to begin the hike from Feynan Ecolodge, which promotes local experiences and conservation.

Credit: Shutterstock

Credit: Shutterstock

Canyoning in Wadi Mujib’s Gorge

Past the jagged peaks and sand dunes and down into the vibrantly coloured gorge of Wadi Mujib lies a world of adventure. The experience begins with a challenging uphill trek where you’ll take in aerial views of the stunning Wadi Mujib before heading into a water-filled gorge. In this narrow canyon you’ll traverse over boulders thigh-deep in water, gliding down slippery stone slides, plunging into waterfalls, rolling over boulders and rapelling down cliffsides . It’s a true adrenaline rush. It is recommended to book this experience through Wadi Mujib’s visitor centre at least four days in advance.

 

 

 

History & Culture of Ethiopia: Now Enter A Conversation Over Beer

November 15, 2014 by  

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ethiopian culture

Much of the tourism in Ethiopia is focused on history. The country is in the region of the world where humankind originated – the ‘Cradle of Civilization.’ From the Rift Valley, which yielded the 3.5 million-year-old fossil of Lucy, to 11th century churches hand-carved out of granite, the country fascinates. Add in some very interesting fauna such as the critically endangered Ethiopian wolf and the gelada baboon, and you have a winning destination.

Digging into Ethiopia’s history is fascinating, but part of any trip is finding special places to pause and take it all in…perhaps with a beer. Here are five of my favorite spots around the country to do just that.

ethiopian culture

Photo courtesy of Simien Lodge

The Highest Bar In Africa

Ethiopia is home to the highest bar in Africa: Simien Lodge. Perched atop the Simien Mountains at 10,700 feet, they serve Africa’s highest elevation drink in a cozy, circular room in front of a roaring fire. The fire is absolutely necessary, as nighttime temperatures at this altitude can be extremely cold, and the Lodge’s solar heating system leaves a bit to be desired during the wet season. After an evening enjoying local beers, wines or creative cocktails, you can grab a hot water bottle and head to your chalet for a good night’s rest. You’ll want that sleep so that you can enjoy the next day, when you will be trekking to see gelada baboons, a unique monkey species only found in the Ethiopian Highlands.

ethiopian culture

Photo courtesy of Ben Abeba

Ben Abeba

Ben Abeba is a totally inexplicable structure perched high on a cliff edge in legendary town of Lalibela. Having no idea what is was, but naturally curious once we spotted it, we set off on a walk through back roads and alleys to reach the otherworldly-looking restaurant/bar. Winding ramps take guests up to gently swaying balconies with magnificent views. Beers are cheap at about $1 US, and the food is delicious and served piping hot, which is most welcome once the sun sets and the temperature drops. Ben Abeba is much lower than the Simien Lodge, but at 8,500 feet, it still can be a bit chilly at night. There are blankets on offer for diners should you need one. And if it’s too chilly to walk back to your hotel, you can grab one of the ubiquitous blue tuk-tuks for just a few Birr.

ethiopian culture

Photo courtesy of MaxyM via Shutterstock.

Dashen Brewery

I visited the Dashen Brewery in Gondar on New Year’s Day. We had driven by the day before and things looked quiet, with a few scattered picnic tables around the grounds and a smattering of visitors. On September 12th, however — and I’ll explain this in a moment — there were more than 1,000 people making merry on the grounds. Live music, professional and amateur dancers, and endless food and drink made for an enthusiastic crowd. It was quite a treat to be a part of the celebration while sipping a frosty Dashen Lager.

My visit happened to coincide with the Ethiopian New Year, observed on September 12th in 2014. If that sounds odd, here’s where things get more complicated. This September 12th was New Year’s Day…2007. Ethiopia observes the Julian calendar, a 13 month calendar (with one month being only 5 days) which I am not really capable of explaining beyond those facts. What I do know is that I’m seven years younger when I’m visiting the country, and they have ’13 months of sunshine.’ Good enough for me!

ethiopian culture

Photo courtesy of Kuriftu Resort & Spa

Kuriftu Resort & Spa

Lake Tana is the largest lake in Ethiopia, and the fourth largest in Africa. At its southern end, you’ll find the town of Bahir Dar, which is a great base to explore the historic monasteries along the lake and on its islands, as well as to visit the source of the Blue Nile. After a day of sightseeing, the best place to indulge in a beer is back at your hotel, at least if you’re staying at the Kuriftu Resort & Spa. Kuriftu has a stunning swimming pool and terrace that overlook Lake Tana. The real attraction of this spot is the view – the calm waters, bird life, and traditional fishing boats provide a tranquil and exotic setting that is unforgettable.

ethiopian culture

Having a beer at Lake Langano. Photo courtesy of Gretchen Healey.

Lake Langano

If your travel to Ethiopia includes spending time with the tribes in the south, you’ll need to stop somewhere en route. Lake Langano, with its latte-brown waters, is a great spot to shake off too much time in the car and indulge in a bit of relaxation. Its shores are the perfect place to kick off your shoes and lean back with a St. George’s Lager, another of Ethiopia’s delicious, crispy beers. Bird lovers will do well here, too, as the area supports a great variety of species. There are watersports on offer (this is the only freshwater lake in Ethiopia that is safe for swimming), as well as nearby hiking in Abiata-Shala National Park. There are plenty of resorts on the lake to choose from, and I promise you that they all have beer.

Contributed by Gretchen Healey.

 

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