Month: November 2018

Asia & PacificTravel Tips

The Perks of Work: Classic China

China is a land of contrasts that offers both thriving modern metropolises such as Shanghai and Beijing as well as cities steeped in tradition and history such as the ancient city of Xian, the first capital city of China.

We spoke to Gate 1’s own Maria Metusela who recently returned from the 11 Day China with Chengdu tour and asked for the lowdown on her time in China.

What was it about China and this tour that made you want to go on the trip?
I am fascinated with ancient history and architecture so the thought of seeing the Terracotta Warriors and walking the Great wall of China was very attractive to me.
I also thought it would be interesting to see how a country of 1.4 billion people work, live and operate.
Add real life pandas to the mix and I was hooked and ready to go.

What was the highlight of the trip?
What stood out to me the most on this trip was our visits to the local parks in Xian and Chengdu.
The parks in China are quite different compared to Australia with regards to how they are used. The local park we went to in Xian was a park that many seniors/retirees would visit each morning. They go there to exercise, play games and for dance and singing rehearsals. We got to join in on all these things which was fun and gave us a glimpse of how their day starts off.
We even went to a park in Chengdu that had a matchmaking corner. Parents would write their child’s name, date of birth, occupation, education and such on a piece of paper and pin it on a board. The parents would then walk around looking at other resumes on the board, chatting with other parents to see if their children would make a good match.
I enjoyed these visits very much as it gave me the opportunity to interact with the locals and to get a true understanding of their way of life.

What was your favourite meal or what food did you have that you really enjoyed or felt was very authentic?
I thoroughly enjoyed the food in China. All the restaurants that we went to on this trip were local and authentic. There were no other tourists in there but us.
Most of the meals were Lazy Susan style with such a variety of dishes and so flavoursome that you couldn’t help but try them all.
The Peking Duck dinner for our orientation night in Beijing was amazing and was definitely my favourite meal. I also enjoyed the food in Xian especially one of their local dishes “biang biang noodles”.

What surprised you about China that made it different from other places you have visited?
What surprised me about China was that each city that we went to was different from the other. No two cities were the same which made it feel like a whole new experience.
Even the food we had in each city, although the dishes were the same, they were cooked in a slightly different way with different flavours.
You can see the influences from the different dynasties in the different cities. Xian had a more historical feel to it being the ancient capital of China. Beijing was a mix of old and new.
Chengdu had a very commercial and industrial feel to it whereas Shanghai was very modern and cosmopolitan.

What travel tips would you give to someone preparing to go on this trip?
Always carry tissues around with you as you will need it when touring during the day.
It can get crowded when visiting some historical sites so always keep your Gate 1 whispers on so that you are aware of where your guide is at all times.

What did you enjoy the most about the Gate 1 escorted tour?
The organisation of this tour was simply outstanding. Everything was taken care of so I did not have to worry. Joe our Tour manager was exceptional and called us his family. We were never too late or too early for anything on the itinerary so nothing was missed out and the day ran smoothly. I also learnt so much about the history of China, the people and the culture through Joe and our equally informative local guides.

If you’re thinking of touring China you can browse our website for a whole range of options to suit your preferred travel style and budget. If you book a Gate 1 China tour by the 31st of December you can save $200 per person when you quote the promo code FBCHINA200A. Simply quote the promo code at the time of booking to receive the discount. Call 1300 653 618 if you have any questions and we look forward to welcoming you to China soon! 


Israel’s Astonishing Natural Beauty

When you think of Israel, a vast treasure trove of historic and religious sights undoubtedly comes to mind. But this small country is home to some of the world’s most stunning natural beauty, the likes of which you won’t see anywhere else.

Here, quiet villages are tucked away in fertile valleys. Mountains rise from plains and rocky cliffs soar to the heavens. Starkly beautiful deserts are dotted with Bedouin tents. And serene lakes stretch out like small seas. Throughout Discovery Tours’ Israel, Ancient & Modern Culture trip, you can witness this magnificence firsthand.

The Road to Galilee

The rocky terrain of Galilee seems to stretch into eternity. Dappled in wide swathes of green and soaring to summits of up to 3,800 feet, it’s a breathtaking canvas adorned with streams and flower-laden fields. The climate of this fertile region supports a large variety of flora and wildlife. The Hula Valley Nature Reserve especially thrives with life, including many birds that stop here to rest from their migration between Africa and cooler climates to the north. In one of nature’s most spectacular displays, tens of thousands of cranes pass through here as they make their way from Finland to Ethiopia every winter.

In the west of Galilee on the Mediterranean Coast, white chalk cliffs spill into the sea. Over millennia, the crashing surf has carved a network of spectacular grottoes dimly lit by the sparkle of azure waters. These Rosh HaNikra caves, Hebrew for “head of the grottoes,” are a mysterious and magical place, a maze of subterranean passageways untouched by humankind for ages until divers began exploring them. Today, a cable car lowers you to the grotto entrance, and it is well worth a visit.

From sea level to mountaintop, Mount Bental rises in the eastern region of the Golan Heights. In Arabic, it is sometimes known as the “Mountain of Lust,” so it might not surprise you that it was once an active volcano. Now dormant—as are the other peaks of this mountain chain—it provides incredible views of the Golan Heights and the surrounding region. The volcanic soils have made this a fertile pocket of Israel. Farming communities, kibbutzim, and wineries dot the landscape, and Discovery Tours visits one of them—the delightfully welcoming Golan Heights Winery—to sample some of the local vintages.

The tranquil Sea of Galilee is the focal point of this beautiful region. Contrary to its name, it is a freshwater lake fed by underground springs and by the Jordan River from the north. Aside from its beauty, it has a lot to boast about. It is Israel’s largest and the world’s lowest freshwater lake. What’s more, it is the site of several miracles of Jesus. He is said to have walked on these fabled waters, and to have transformed five loaves and fishes into a feast for thousands here on these shores.

A Sea Full of Salt and a Massive Mesa

Unlike the Sea of Galilee, the Dead Sea is very much full of salt. So much salt, in fact, that it is impossible to sink in its waters. This is the lowest point of land on earth—1,315 feet below sea. This fascinating body of water is more than nine times as salty as the ocean, creating an environment that cannot support animals, hence its name.

But it is a geographic curiosity for a host of other reasons. With the Jordan River its only significant source of water and with no outlet, tiny springs have formed underneath its shore, resulting in pools and quicksand pits. Further, with so much salt and relatively little water, intriguingly shaped salt deposits form on the shores as water evaporates, from thick multi-layered blankets to tiny pearl-like pebbles, all of them sculpted over millennia. If you’re not completely smitten with the geology of the Dead Sea, then its buoyancy is sure to put a smile on your face. Merely step in, lie back, and relax to enjoy nature’s only flotation device.

Nearby, a giant rocky plateau rises from the Judean Desert. This is Masada, and its magnificent setting helped to shape history. So commanding are the views from atop this mesa—some of its cliffs are 1,300 feet high—Herod the Great built his fortress here just a few decades before Christ. Who can blame him? The vistas of the Dead Sea and the Negev Desert are spectacular. But not everything was serene and beautiful in Herod’s day. When the Roman Empire attacked at the end of the first Jewish-Roman War, 960 Jewish rebels are said to have thrown themselves off the cliffs rather than surrender to Rome.

We invite you to surrender to the natural beauty and irresistible allure of Israel.

Find out more about our Israel trips here 

AfricaAsia & PacificEuropeLatin AmericaMediterranean

9 of the Best New Tours for 2019

Are you working on your travel wish list for 2019? Dreaming of sleeping in a riad in Morocco or knocking back a schnapps in the Swiss alps? Learning Salsa in Colombia or surprising your friends by heading off to Uzbekistan?

So where to go and what to do?

Check out our new tours visiting hot destinations:

1. Italy and Croatia

Quote lines from Gladiator at The Colosseum in Rome, taste local wines in Tuscany, Florence, Venice and Pisa, and head off Croatia to bask in the azure beauty of the Adriatic sea.

Did you know that Marco Polo was born on the Croatian island of Korcula? Visit his birthplace, explore ‘King’s Landing’ aka Dubrovnik just in time for the last season of Game of Thrones, and take in the natural beauty of the famed blue cascades in Krka National Park.

More info about the 17 Day Italy & Croatia with 7 Day Adriatic Cruise here.


2. Costa Rica

Do you know the way to San Jose? Not to be confused with San Jose in Northern California that The Carpenters sang out, San Jose is the capital of Costa Rica and is a perfectly preserved Spanish Colonial town.

From this starting point, head out to an artisan village to learn about local art and craft, visit a dormant conical volcano, knock back some Costa Rican coffee on a plantation tour and put your head in the clouds at Monteverde Clouds Forest.

More info about the 14 Day Kaleidoscope of Costa Rica here.

Costa Rica

3. Colombia

Apart from having some of the most beautiful people and pumping salsa clubs in the world, Colombia is also one of South America’s undiscovered treasures.

Eat an empanada while you wander around Cartagena’s Colonial District, marvel at pre-Columbian gold at the Gold Museum, and view Fernando Botero’s famous paintings and sculptures.

More info about the 8 Day Affordable Colombia here.

4. Morocco

Enjoy a home-cooked meal in Fez, make like Bogey and Bacall in Casablanca, and wander through Chefchaouen, Morocca’s famous Blue City.

Connect with your nomadic spirit when you traverse the desert along an old caravan route, and marvel at the acrobats, performers, and snake charmers in Marrakesh’s Djemaa el Fna Square.

More info about the 18 Day Absolute Morocco here.

Sahara, Morocco

5. Switzerland and the Rhine River Cruise

The vantage point from a river or canal gives you a totally different aspect on a country. Glide under 14th Century medieval bridges in Lucerne, pass castles and cobbled streets straight out of fairytales, and enjoy a tipple in a quaint wine tavern in Rüdesheim. See the tiny storybook Principality of Liechtenstein from the bow of your ship and hop off for a close-up look at Marc Chagall’s stained glass window in the Fraumunster Church in Zurich.

More info about the 17 Day Classic Switzerland with Rhine River Cruise here.

6. Southern Italy, Puglia and Campania

Get off the beaten track by heading for the heel of the boot. This is the lesser known part of Italy is the birthplace of pizza and the home of Pompeii. Enjoy long farmhouse lunches, stroll through UNESCO Heritage-listed cobblestone streets and visit medieval ruins. Round out your trip with a visit to the Amalfi coastline for a look at one of the world’s most loved views.

More info about the 11 Day Southern Italy, Puglia & Campania here.

7. Central Europe

There is nowhere hotter than Central Europe for small group touring. With a burgeoning cafe culture and bohemian art scene, the Czech Republic is the place to hang out. On the flipside, take in Slovakia’s perfectly preserved town centres, castles and convents for a glimpse back in time at 13th century life.

More info about the Heart of Central Europe Discovery small group tour here.


8. Uzbekistan

Did you know that the oldest copy of the Koran in the world is held in Tashkent’s Muyi Muborak Madrasa? Visit this historic marvel before you head off down the Silk Road to explore the cultural treasures of this little known corner of the world. Learn how to make a traditional Pilav when you share dinner with a local family, relax in a yurt camp in the desert and take your credit card on an adventure at the ancient Siab Market.

More info about the Uzbekistan Discovery small group tour here.

9. Turkey

Wander through the back streets of Istanbul tasting regional specialities like stretchy icecream made from orchid roots, look up in awe at the dome of the Blue Mosque, and master the art of shopping in the Grand Bazaar. For a change of pace, spend a day cruising around Fethiye’s 12 Islands, explore an ancient underground city at Kaymakli and explore traditional Turkish Ottoman houses in Safranbolu on the coast of the Black Sea.

More info about Turkish Odyssey small group tour here.

And the best thing? People who book any of the above 2019 tours by 2nd December and quote the promo code CNNEW2019A to receive a $300 discount per person.

InspirationRegionsUSA & Canada

Top Ten Reasons My First Gate 1 Tour Will Not Be My Last

By Douglas Lund

It’s been almost a month since my wife and I returned from our 9 Day National Parks of Canada with Lake Louise tour with Gate 1 Travel and we are still reliving it in our minds over and over again. We met and befriended many incredible fellow travellers on this tour. Here are the Top Ten reasons we will be back with Gate 1 very soon:

10) Bang for the buck.

And while we’re tossing out cliches, this wasn’t our first rodeo either. We are both ex-airline and travel agency employees. We are veterans of over 40 previous packaged tours throughout the world. All with competing tour operators. In our experience none of thepyramidlake other companies featured such value for the consumer. Unlike their competitors, Gate 1’s listed price was the price we paid. No hidden extras or misleading advertising. It was especially nice not having to put up with the up-selling of optional excursions during the actual trip. We’ve been on tours where one is made to feel uncomfortable because the side trips required everyone to sign-up and pay or no one goes.

Best of all, by paying with a cheque or bank transfer rather than credit card we saved another 5% off the advertised price. Who else does that?

9) So simple to arrange.

Gate 1’s website reservation process was straight forward and simple. Everything was easy to understand online and didn’t require numerous phone calls to put things into motion. When I did speak to a representative on the phone they were always patient and helpful.

8) Joining a new family.

Who would’ve thought that we’d return from vacation having made scores of new friends along the way? Not only did we share new experiences with folks from all over  but we came home with lasting friendships with people that share our same love of world travel. It was impossible not to become buddies spending so much time having fun together.

7) First class accommodations.

Upon arrival in Edmonton we were treated like welcomed guests. This was a first. On our previous tours we often felt like the hotel we were staying in saw us as discount visitors not worthy of the same treatment as their paying guests. The hotels we stayed in were modern and well-equipped. WiFi worked well in all of them. Comfortable queen sized beds with clean bathrooms were the norm. Having hot water for the morning shower was never an issue. Most had indoor pools and hot tubs.

6) Knowing where you’d be staying each night.

With other tour operators we often found our hotel reservations changing multiple times before and even during the trip. Not only were the Gate 1 hotels the same establishments as advertised but they were all conveniently located. No hour long bus rides to get to the center of action. Each evening we could easily and safely leave our hotel to explore the nearby attractions.

5) Clean comfortable and modern transportation.

Our tour involved quite a bit of travel between stops in the Canadian National Parks. Our bus rides never became uncomfortable or felt too long. There was plenty of leg room even for this guy who was recuperating from recent knee surgery. We could hear every announcement made by our tour glacierskywalkmanager over the P.A. System. The ride was always smooth and comfortable. A rather unique and very efficient system of seat assignments on the bus had couples changing seats every day. No arguments over being up front or on the “good” side of the bus. I didn’t have to line up to be first on the bus every morning. Best of all, our bus had cup holders which were filled every morning with fresh bottles of spring water.

4) A courteous and cordial bus driver.

Charlotte was more than happy to satisfy the various needs of our tour group. She was always first off the bus in order to lend assistance to those needing a little help. She drove smoothly and professionally throughout the trip and always kept her smile. She never lost her cool even with some of the clueless rental RV drivers posing a threat on the parks’ roads. When someone on the bus spotted an elk, moose, long horn sheep or other wildlife she was willing to safely pull over so that we might get photos.

3) Great dining options.

Unlike other tour companies that provide you with minuscule Continental breakfasts, our Gate 1 tour offered us a sumptuous full breakfast each morning serving real orange juice and not Tang. My cholesterol level rose on this vacation because of all the bacon and eggs I was able to enjoy each morning. Instead of packaged low cost dinners reminiscent of a college dining hall we were free to eat where and what we wanted for dinner. Our extremely knowledgeable tour manager seemed to know every eating establishment along our route and kindly offered suggestions. She directed us to many of the local specialty dishes and adult beverages.

2) A smooth comfortable pace.

As I mentioned, my mobility was somewhat hampered by my meniscus repair surgery yet for the most part I was able to enjoy all the highlights of the trip. For those that bighornwanted to walk more there were ample opportunities to hike up a ridge or descend into a canyon or even circle a lake. Meanwhile others in the group could visit a shop or just relax on a bench soaking up the beauty of the Canadian Rockies. When my wobbly knee began to fail me near the end of the trip I was able to take a seat on the bus while the group hiked down to a waterfall.

1) The most incredible tour manager imaginable.

Whether you call them a “tour guide”, “group leader”, “travel coordinator” or “local expert” we have never met anyone more helpful, exuberant, knowledgeable, proud of her heritage or as professional as our tour manager, Karen Frey. The woman never stopped working at keeping us happy throughout the tour. Her organisation was immaculate. She was never frazzled despite a couple of minor hiccups beyond her or Gate 1’s control (temporary power outage in one town and snowy weather elsewhere). She taught us, made us laugh, and kept us safe throughout the trek. Karen’s contributions toward our enjoyment of this tour convinced us to sign-up for five more Gate 1 tours over the next year and a half.