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Suffering from the Monday doldrums? For everyone out there facing the beginning of another work week, here’s a little jolt of wanderlust to brighten up your morning. Each Monday, we offer a photo of a spectacular place to spark ideas for your future travels.

This week’s shot is of the dramatic cliff of Trolltunga, looking out over Norway‘s Ringedalsvatnet Lake.

trolltunga norway hike lake ringedalsvatnet


Read Trip Reviews About Norway

Send us your best travel shot! E-mail your most beautiful or captivating travel photo to feedback@independenttraveler.com. (Please put Monday Inspiration in the subject line.)

9 Best Places to See from the Water

– written by Sarah Schlichter

rugelachWe had a pass to get into our hotel’s breakfast room. But there was a mistake: Our breakfast pass actually belonged to a couple named Johnston and Shirley. I don’t know who Johnston and Shirley are, but their names were printed on the card.

When we checked with the hotel receptionist, he insisted that it was fine and that we should keep using the pass — so for the rest of the week, we were Johnston and Shirley.

We had fun imagining what Johnston and Shirley might say to each other while having breakfast. Johnston was pretty uptight, I remember, and was concerned with being a successful-looking “man’s man.” Shirley was a total airhead who lost interest in things quickly. I can’t help feeling that we were unfair to Johnston and Shirley. I think we pigeon-holed them.

We were in Barcelona, so we’d expected a classic Spanish breakfast — even though I didn’t know what that was. I’d pigeon-holed that too.

It wasn’t what I’d expected. The hotel pretended to make its own food, but every morning you could watch the waiter or the bar man making the trip across the road to the bakery to pick up fresh goods to serve.

Our Favorite Barcelona Hotels

The bakery was a small place run by an elderly Jewish couple. Every morning, they provided the hotel with delicate scones and muffins, savoury burekas (small, flaky puff-pastries that people could take to eat for their lunch if they wanted to), and bagels. Later, there was rich coffee cake and little rugelach, which tasted how the inside of Christmas Eve might taste.

The owners had migrated to Spain in the 1970′s, along with many thousands of other displaced people, from Argentina, where they faced political violence from the oppressive military junta that had taken control there.

The diaspora’s culture manifested itself in many ways, but for us, it manifested itself in breakfast.
We could only have found such unexpected delicacies by accident. We’d have been so busy looking to find “authentic” Spanish cuisine that we’d probably have missed the exceptional pastries that all the locals were eating.

I remember a Chinese restaurant in Amsterdam where a man piloted a smoking wok over a hob that looked like an upturned jet engine. It was one of those floating palaces in the harbor that had looked so much like massive tourist hulks that I’d been pretty happy to avoid them. I’d wanted to eat something Dutch — I was in Holland, after all — but our friends, who’d been living there for a couple of months already, had taken us here instead.

It was incredible! To think I’d almost missed out because I’d had a preconceived idea of what I ought to be eating in Holland. This was one of the best Chinese restaurants I’ve ever been to. Everyone who lives in Amsterdam knows about it and heads there to eat after work while the tourists are sipping Heinekens in Rembrandt Square.

There’s no such thing as a mono-culture, and setting out to experience only one facet of a country’s food, music or social life will never give a full or representative experience. So many things influence countries and cities, helping to make them what they are.

The next time I’m pigeon-holing, even if I’m pigeon-holing Johnston and Shirley, I’ll try to remember this. Maybe I’ll enjoy a place more for what it is than what I think it should be.

12 Delicious Destinations for Foodies

– written by Josh Thomas

kiribati beachThe deserted beach. The pristine nature trail. The hushed art gallery. The view of a spectacular landmark unspoiled by crowds. It’s something many travelers dream of having: a magnificent travel experience all to oneself.

Considering that more than one billion tourists traveled internationally last year, according to the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), it’s a lot more likely that you’ll find yourself standing in long lines, sitting shoulder to shoulder on the beach and jostling fellow travelers at overcrowded museums — unless you travel to one of these 25 countries.

Gunnar Garfors, globetrotter and CEO of Norwegian Mobile TV Co., used UNWTO data to compile a list of the 25 least visited countries in the world. While the most popular destination for tourism, France, sees some 79.5 million visitors a year, the countries on Garfors’ list see numbers in the thousands, or even hundreds. Taking home the honors as the least traveled spot is the tiny Pacific island of Nauru, which was visited by a measly 200 people in 2011.

Sweet Spots to Stay in Paris

Like Nauru, many of the countries on the list are there because they’re small and difficult to get to (Tuvalu, Kiribati). Others have faced recent violence and are generally considered unsafe for tourists (Somalia, Afghanistan, Sierra Leone). Still others aren’t so much difficult to get to as difficult to get into (Bhutan and North Korea, where visas are required and travelers must arrange for a guide rather than touring independently). Yet Garfors has visited 21 of the 25, and returned with fascinating tips and stories to share.

Personally, I’m only one for 25. I’ve been to No. 25, Dominica, the sleepy Caribbean island that’s better known for its lush rain forest trails and waterfalls than for its beaches. It was worth the trip — my partner and I took several hikes without seeing another soul. As for the other 24 countries … well, I’d better get traveling.

9 Places You Haven’t Visited — But Should

How many of the least visited countries have you been to?

– written by Sarah Schlichter

Suffering from the Monday doldrums? For everyone out there facing the beginning of another work week, here’s a little jolt of wanderlust to brighten up your morning. Each Monday, we offer a photo of a spectacular place to spark ideas for your future travels.

Today’s shot is of the cliff-side village of Manarola in Cinque Terre, Italy.

manarola cinque terre italy colorful


11 Unforgettable Italy Experiences

Send us your best travel shot! E-mail your most beautiful or captivating travel photo to feedback@independenttraveler.com. (Please put Monday Inspiration in the subject line.)

Our Favorite Hotels in Rome

– written by Sarah Schlichter

most welcoming countriesMany years ago, on a three-week tour of Ireland, a friend and I found ourselves on the streets of Dingle in the rain, waiting for our small tour bus to come pick us up. It was cold, and we huddled together beneath one small umbrella trying to stay warm. As we stood there shivering, the colorful front door of one of the small houses up the street swung open, and an older woman stepped out and waved to us.

“Come in, come in,” she yelled.

My friend and I looked at the woman, looked at each other and then jogged up the street and into a small, but warm living room. For the next 30 minutes, the woman plied us with hot tea and biscuits, asked us questions and showed us pictures of her family. When it was time to meet our tour bus, she gave us each a friendly hug goodbye.

Fifteen years later I sadly do not remember her name, but her kindness and friendliness toward us, strangers in her town, will never fade from my memory. And she is not the only truly friendly soul I’ve met on my travels in Ireland. There was the father in Northern Ireland with his two young children who picked my sister and me up off the side of the road and rushed us to the ferry port so we wouldn’t miss our boat, and the bus driver in Dublin who drove us to our hostel even though he was on his break and then refused to take money from us.

Random Acts of Travel Kindness

Because of these experiences, and the overall atmosphere of its inhabitants towards visitors, Ireland remains, in my opinion, the friendliest of all the 30-some countries I’ve visited. According to a recent report from the World Economic Forum, I am not alone in finding Ireland to be a super-friendly tourist destination.

In the report, “Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Report 2013,” 140 countries are ranked according to the attractiveness and competitiveness of their travel and tourism industries. One of the criteria included in the rankings is the attitude of the country’s citizens towards foreign visitors. Ireland ranked ninth.

Iceland leads the pack of friendliest countries, followed by New Zealand, Morocco, Macedonia, Austria, Senegal, Portugal, and Bosnia and Herzegovina. Rounding off the top 10 is Burkina Faso.

Honestly, I was a bit surprised to see a few of those countries on the list, and also saddened that Australia (another of my top five friendliest countries) was left off (it ranked 27th overall). Another surprise (or maybe it’s not??) — the United States came in fairly low, placing 102 out of 140.

At the other end of the spectrum, Bolivia ranks as the most unwelcoming country for visitors, followed by Venezuela, Russia, Kuwait, Latvia, Iran, Pakistan, the Slovak Republic, Bulgaria and Mongolia.

When Travelers Get a Rude Awakening

Belgium, which I found to be the least friendly of all countries I’ve been to, actually ranked in the top 20 most welcoming countries, coming in at number 19.

What do you think of the results? Which of the countries you’ve visited have been the most friendly or least welcoming?

–written by Dori Saltzman

st ignatius church rome domeEach month, we’ll highlight one new trip review submitted by an IndependentTraveler.com reader. If your review is featured, you’ll win an IndependentTraveler.com logo item!

In this month’s featured review, reader Amelia Hesson spends three days exploring Rome, the Eternal City. “We walked from our hotel to the king of Baroque churches called St. Ignatius. The Romans call this the 3D church because the artist Pozzo painted a fake dome which looks very much like a dome if you are standing in the proper place to see it. It’s very cool — moving through the church you see it become distorted and even then it is something to behold. This church is painted very much like the Sistine Chapel with biblical scenes rising up the walls and onto the roof of the church. Don’t forget to turn on the lights of the dome, they really illuminate it well and it only costs one euro.”

Read the rest of Amelia’s review here: Roma, Roma, Roma. Amelia has won an IndependentTraveler.com duffel bag.

Feeling inspired? Write your own trip review!

11 Best Italy Experiences

– written by Sarah Schlichter

paris catacombs skullsToday is Valentine’s Day, and travel sites will be filling your inbox with lists of romantic hotels and destinations. All will feature wonderful things for couples to do together, and dreamy suites with large bathtubs — including some shaped like hearts and filled with Champagne and chocolates.

But isn’t all of that a little … cliche? Wouldn’t it be more interesting to get an e-mail for Valentine’s Day recommending that you and your loved one visit the Parisian catacombs or tour a historic prison? We think so. We’ve put together a list of four destinations to visit that wouldn’t normally be associated with Valentine’s Day.

Feel free to add your own to the list!

The Parisian Catacombs: A romantic hangout for the “Twilight”-loving crowd it might be, but for most of us the 18th-century catacombs located beneath the streets of Paris are a bit creepy. Still, what better place to be if you want an excuse to cuddle really close to your loved one?

Best Places to Stay in Paris

Alcatraz: Also referred to as “The Rock” (hmm, that seems appropriate for Valentine’s Day, actually), Alcatraz is a small island in San Francisco that housed an infamous federal prison from 1934 to 1963. Couples looking for an illicit thrill can give each other a peck on the lips in the (reportedly haunted) cell in which Al Capone once lived.

Verona, Italy: Actually not an unromantic destination at all, Verona is a city located in northeast Italy with an artistic heritage and Roman ruins. Alas, Verona also is known as the place Romeo and Juliet met their doomed end.

Intercourse, Pennsylvania: A rather appropriately named town for Valentine’s Day, don’t you think? This quaint tourist town in Amish Country was used during the filming of the Harrison Ford movie “Witness.” Visitors can check out the local crafts, take a buggy ride or visit the Quilt Museum.

12 Places Every Chocolate Lover Should Visit

– written by Dori Saltzman

Suffering from the Monday doldrums? For everyone out there facing the beginning of another work week, here’s a little jolt of wanderlust to brighten up your morning. Each Monday, we offer a photo of a spectacular place to spark ideas for your future travels.

Today’s shot isn’t something out of a fairy tale — it’s Neuschwanstein Castle in Bavaria, Germany.

neuschwanstein castle bavaria germany


Slideshow: The World’s Coolest Castles

Send us your best travel shot! E-mail your most beautiful or captivating travel photo to feedback@independenttraveler.com. (Please put Monday Inspiration in the subject line.)

8 Tours for People Who Don’t Like Tours

– written by Sarah Schlichter

… check your pulse. VisitScotland has just released a new video featuring two adorable Shetland ponies named Fivla and Vitamin, standing on a barren winter hillside in cozy-looking wool cardigans. The video was shot to promote the Year of Natural Scotland, a celebration of the region’s glens, lochs, mountains, wildlife and other natural attractions. Check it out:


After watching this, the first thing I wondered was just how they got the ponies into those stylish sweaters! Luckily, VisitScotland has provided a video of that too.


Now I want to do two things: Book a trip to Scotland — and figure out how to get a Shetland pony as a pet.

In Your Face: 9 Up-Close Animal Encounters

– written by Sarah Schlichter

Suffering from the Monday doldrums? For everyone out there facing the beginning of another work week, here’s a little jolt of wanderlust to brighten up your morning. Each Monday, we offer a photo of a spectacular place to spark ideas for your future travels.

Today’s colorful shot was snapped at the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, Turkey.

istanbul grand bazaar turkey market colorful


Our Favorite Istanbul Hotels

Send us your best travel shot! E-mail your most beautiful or captivating travel photo to feedback@independenttraveler.com. (Please put Monday Inspiration in the subject line.)

20 Ways to Blend In with the Locals

– written by Sarah Schlichter