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Saturday, November 22, 2008

Las Vegas


As eons passed, the marsh receded. Rivers disappeared beneath the surface. The once teeming wetlands evolved into a parched, arid landscape that supported only the hardiest of plants and animals. Water trapped underground in the complicated geologic formations of the Las Vegas Valley sporadically surfaced to nourish luxuriant plants, creating an oasis in the desert as the life- giving water flowed to the Colorado River.
Construction workers in 1993 discovered the remains of a Columbian mammoth that roamed the area during prehistoric times. Paleontologists estimate the bones to be 8,000 to 15,000 years old. Hidden for centuries from all but native Americans, the Las Vegas Valley oasis was protected from discovery by the surrounding harsh and unforgiving Mojave Desert.
Mexican trader Antonio Armijo, leading a 60-man party along the Spanish Trail to Los Angeles in 1829, veered from the accepted route.
While Armijo's caravan was camped Christmas Day about 100 miles northeast of present day Las Vegas, a scouting party rode west in search of water. An experienced young Mexican scout, Rafael Rivera, left the main party and ventured into the unexplored desert. Within two weeks, he discovered Las Vegas Springs.

Las Vegas Featured Hotels With so many extravagant properties to choose from, Las Vegas is sure to have the perfect hotel casino for you. If you don't even know where to begin choosing accommodations, start by looking at our fabulous featured hotels. All of these hotels are different, but they are all proven time and again to please their guests and keep them coming back. Offering variety in services and price ranges, these featured Las Vegas hotels are known for being great values in even better locations. These properties offer a diverse range of amenities, so be sure to check for your own personal "must-haves". Get your money's worth staying at one of our featured Las Vegas hotels.
Aladdin Alexis Park AmeriSuites Arizona Charlie's Boulder Artisan Atrium Suites Bally's Barbary Coast Bellagio Best Western - Mardi Gras Blue Moon Resort Caesars Palace California Casino Royale Clarion Hotel & Suites Comfort Inn El Cortez Embassy Suites Emerald Suites (LV Blvd) Emerald Suites (Trop) Emerald Suites Cameron Emerald Suites Nellis Excalibur Fairfield Inn Grand Desert Falcon Ridge Hotel Fiesta - Henderson Fiesta - Rancho Fitzgerald's Flamingo
Four Queens Fremont Gold Coast Golden Gate Golden Nugget Golden Palm Greek Isles Green Valley Ranch Hampton Inn - Tropicana Hard Rock Harrah's Hawthorn Inn & Suites - Henderson Hawthorn Suites - Strip Hilton Grand Vacation - LV Hilton Hilton Grand Vacation Strip Horseshoe Imperial Palace J.W. Marriott L.V. Hilton La Quinta - Nellis Lady Luck Luxor MGM Grand Main Street Station Mandalay Bay Mirage Monte Carlo New Frontier New York New York
Orleans Palace Station Palms Paris Renaissance Rio Riviera Royal Sahara Sam's Town Silverton Sonoran Suites Stratosphere Sun Coast Super 8 Motel Super 8 Motel LV Speedway/ Nellis AFB THE hotel Terribles Casino Texas Station Treasure Island Tropicana Tuscany Vegas Club Venetian Westin Causarina Wild Wild West Wynn Las Vegas
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Las Vegas Restaurants Las Vegas has some of the best restaurants in the world. If you are looking for a great steak, fresh seafood or just about anything else gourmet, you can find it in Las Vegas. We've hand selected the best Las Vegas Restaurants, by going out and testing each restaurant for it's QUALITY of food, hospitality, service and all around dining atmosphere. We have plenty of fine restaurants to choose from, it can make it a tough choice, that's why we have taken the guess work out. You select the type of restaurant and we will undoubtedly deliver the best of the best restaurants to choose from. Bon Appetite Casa di Amore Enjoy Las Vegas the way it used to be! 24 hour dining, great Italian food and late night entertainment - Casa di Amore should be on your agenda whether you are looking for an intimate dining experience or a unique spot to host your bachelor/bacheloret

Dubai


The freeways are dead straight in the Emirate of Dubai and as hot as an oven. There are records of the town of Dubai from 1799. Earlier in the 18th century the Al Abu Falasa lineage of Bani Yas clan established itself in Dubai which was a dependent of the settlement of Abu Dhabi until 1833. On 8 January 1820, the then sheikh of Dubai was a signatory to the British sponsored "General Treaty of Peace" (the General Maritime Treaty). To the east the land is bounded by mountains of bare rock and to the south by endless sand dunes. From here the route out of the desert leads to the Persian Gulf. To the northwest shrouded in a shimmering haze one sees strange shadowy outlines of parts of a pyramid-like or mussel-like object or perhaps even the Tower of Babel. A mirage perhaps?
This hallucination on the horizon proves on closer inspection to be constructed of steel, glass, and concrete. Tens of thousands of immigrant workers have constructed hundreds of ultra-modern buildings on the coast line of more than 40 miles (70 km) of the Emirate. There are barrel-like twin towers, pyramid shopping temples, giant office blocks, and towering hotels with curvilinear exteriors that remind one of a sail.

Brazil Rio


Christ watches over the city The other landmark is the around 130 foot (40 m) tall statue of Christ that stands on top of the approx. 2,300 foot (700 m) high Corcovado rocks to the west of the Sugar Loaf with his arms stretched out over the city. A winding road through a section of ancient rain forest and a rack railway reach the top. The mountain ridge from which the Corcovado rises separates the southern part of the planned rich suburb of Barra da Tijuca from the northerly National Park da Tijuca. Rio de Janeiro owes its stunning beauty to its position on the west- ern shore of the wide Guanabara Bay, at the foot of the slopes of the Morros, and the foothill of the Brazilian mountains that is covered in lush vegetation. This surely also impressed the Portuguese discoverer, Andre Gon-calves when he entered Gunanabara Bay on New Year's Day 1502. He mistakenly imagined there to be a river and named it Rio de Janeiro or "January River." Because the bay is an ideal natural harbor Goncalo Coelho built a Portuguese settlement at Urea, the hill below the Sugar Loaf. The first foundations of Cidade de Sao Sebastiao do Rio de Janeiro were laid in 1565 in the place that is now the center of the city. When gold was found in the early eighteenth century at the Gerais mines to the south of present-day Brasilia it led to a wave of immigration from Europe. The town quickly grew beyond its walls and replaced Bahia as the colonial capital in 1763. The gold mines were soon exhausted but after a short economic downturn the country turned to exporting coffee. When the Portuguese Royal family fled here to escape Napoleon in 1808 the colony grew even faster. New buildings were constructed, old ones were restored, new streets were driven through the town, and the public water supply was extended. Brazil shares a border with almost every other country in South America--only Chile and Ecuador are untouched--and covers almost half the continent. It is the fifth largest country in the world, behind Russia, Canada, China, and the U.S.A., with an area of eight and a half million square kilometers. Despite its vast expanse of territory, Brazil's population is concentrated in the major cities of its coast. The urban sprawls of Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo dominate the southern coast. Further north, towns such as Salvador and João Pessoa retain the colonial atmosphere of the early Portuguese settlers. The great interior, much of which is covered by the rainforest basin of the Amazon, remains sparsely settled.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Venice Italy


Venice is built on one hundred and seventeen small islands, and holds one hundred and fifty canals, connected by an amazing four hundred and nine bridges, of which only three cross the main canal. The area it covers is a mere 458 kilometers. Although the city appears small, it is really quite extensive for its size. While most tour guides don’t recommend getting lost in the majority of cities, Venice is the place to get hopelessly lost for a day; it is certainly more advisable than getting lost in a shopping centre and hiding out in the frozen foods section. Venice isn’t all cities and crowded streets: through the mysterious alleyways leading off from the city, endless mazes of backstreets and deserted squares, the ‘real’ Venice. And a perfect place to walk for hours on end, pretending to know where you areProbably the only ways of getting around Venice are walking and paying up for the 'expensive-but-worth-it' gondola, water bus/taxi or a regular taxi is officially banned in the lagoon city – a bicycle won’t help you much.
The islands of the Venetian lagoon were first settled during the barbarian invasions of the 5th and 6th centuries AD, when the people of the Veneto mainland sought refuge in the marshy region.
The refugees built the now-famous watery villages on rafts of wooden posts driven into the soil, laying the foundations for the floating palaces of today. The traditional date of Venice 's birth is given as 25 March 421, but there is little evidence to support this belief. The population is roughly 63, 000 people, but there is belief that Venice will, over time, lose most of its population and become merely a large theme park, purely for the entertainment of camera-clad tourists.

Vancouver Canada


Vancouver is situated within shimmering inlets and the Fraser River on a deeply fissured peninsula set against the backdrop of snow-covered peaks that soar to 3,937 feet (1,200 m). Its big city heart beats on a peninsula that is washed by the waters of English Bay, Burrard Inlet, and False Creek. Chinatown is like a portal in front of the lively business area immediately on the land link and gives a foretaste of the cosmopolitan atmosphere of this city. Vancouver's British aura has been formed into an individual character through exposure to many cultures, especially Asian. From time immemorial this Pacific city of two million has had considerable attraction for countries on the other side of the oceans. Yet it is not yet 150 years since the first white lumberjack settled here among the Salish native Americans Vancouver is located on the mainland of North America, in the south west corner of British Columbia, which is the westernmost of Canada's ten provinces. Greater Vancouver is made up of 18 municipalities that occupy 2,930 square kilometres on and around the Fraser Baggage Handling Porter service is available at the Vancouver International Airport. Most tour group companies provide baggage handling services on arrival and departure. Rates and policies vary and should be confirmed with the supplier. Smoking Laws Smoking is not permitted by law in public buildings, on public transit, in shopping malls, and in most restaurants, pubs, nightclubs and casinos. Many restaurants and other establishments have designated smoking areas such as patios or outside heated seating areas. Please smoke in designated areas only. River delta. The City of Vancouver is one of them

Friday, October 10, 2008

Las Vegas Tours


Begin your evening of luxury with complimentary Las Vegas Strip or downtown hotel pickup. We'll take you to our heliport for a champagne toast before climbing aboard our luxury 6-passenger, air-conditioned A-Star jet helicopter. Take a deep breath as you ascend over the stunning Las Vegas Strip. A millions lights will mesmerize you as you soar past the golden towers of Mandalay Bay! Cruise past the dancing waters of the Bellagio & the towering New York New York Hotel. Take flight over the legendary Caesar's Palace, the Eiffel Tower at Paris or catch the pirate fight at Treasure Island. Soar above the Fremont Street Experience, an exciting pedestrian promenade located in the neon center of Las Vegas. Fly around the Stratosphere Tower, rising over 1,149 feet in the air, then breeze past the lights of downtown. After about 5 to 7 minutes in the air, pass the powerful light beam – that can be seen from outer space – at the Luxor Pyramid before returning to our heliport. Then, we'll return you to your Strip or downtown hotel to continue your exhilarating evening in Las Vegas! We are proud to possess an impeccable FAA safety record, all FAA safety certified aircraft and pilots and a promise to ensure the safest possible flight for all passengers!

Barcelona Tour

No surprises here. If you are a footie fan then this museum is a must see. It has wall to wall trophies, pictures and statues of the greats. I'm not a football fan but I still enjoyed walking round this museum. When you buy your ticket you have 2 options. You can buy a ticket for the museum and to see the stadium or you can buy a dual ticket where you get to see the museum and behind the scenes at the club e.g. changing rooms, VIP lounge, press conference areas etc.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Scotland


Scotland - Mountain and loch, sheer rocks, and a sky create a drama that scarcely can be beaten. Edinburgh born writer Robert Louis Stephen son could not understand why this abundance of eccentrics was not a theatrical scene but an everyday view of his city. Scotland has been a constituent part of Great Britain since the Act of Union was passed by the legislatures of England and Scotland in 1707. However, the union of these two ancient lands has not always been an easy one, and even after 1707 wars and rebellions by Scots determined to maintain their full independence were not uncommon. Many of these conflicts have been celebrated in popular culture and some have even been given the Hollywood treatment. One of the most notable examples was “Braveheart”, a 1995 film produced, directed and starring Australian actor Mel Gibson. While not completely accurate, the film told the story of William Wallace and his struggle to keep Scotland fully independent in the face of attacks and invasions from England’s King Edward I in the early 14th century Edinburgh, world cultural heritage, and festival city masterfully sets the scene and surprises not only the poet with its sense of the theatrical. The castle alone in its imposing position on black basalt rocks with its St. Margaret's Chapel built in 1090 seems shrouded in mystery and today houses the Scottish Crown Jewels, that includes a crown made with gold mined in Scotland. In a tiny room in the castle the Scottish Queen Mary Stuart bore her son James VI who ruled Scotland and following the death of Queen Elizabeth also over England. With his move to London he also sealed the fate of the Scottish monarchy.

Niagara Falls


The Niagara River, as is the entire Great Lakes Basin of which the river is an integral part, is a legacy of the last Ice Age. 18,000 years ago southern Ontario was covered by ice sheets 2-3 kilometers thick. As they advanced southward the ice sheets gouged out the basins of the Great Lakes. Then as they melted northward for the last time they released vast quantities of meltwater into these basins. Our water is "fossil water"; less than one percent of it is renewable on an annual basis, the rest leftover from the ice sheets. During the busier months of July and August, two popular attractions- Cave of the Winds and Journey behind the Falls can have long waiting lines. Best time to visit is in the early morning or late afternoon. The Honeymoon Capital of the World, this city of nearly 81,000 people is defined by the stunning and world famous waterfalls. Its two bridges are the busiest border crossings between Canada and the United States. Tourism remains the leading economic sector in the city, with annual visitors estimated at 14 million. The city's economy is also driven by manufacturing in automotive, food & beverage, chemical, abrasive and steel fabrication. Environmental, engineering, warehousing and distribution centres are also emerging sectors in the economy. The mighty river plunges over a cliff of dolostone and shale. Niagara Falls is the second largest falls on the globe next to Victoria Falls in southern Africa. One fifth of all the fresh water in the world lies in the four Upper Great Lakes-Michigan, Huron, Superior and Erie. All the outflow empties into the Niagara river and eventually cascades over the falls.

Langkawi Island


Langkawi Island is located just off the coast of North Western Malaysia, about 30 km from Kuala Perlis and 51 km from Kuala Kedah and close to Thailand. The archipelago of Langkawi contains 99 islands during high tide whereas during low tide, the number of islands can be as many as 104. Sanctuary of some of the most ancient rainforests in the world, they are teeming with exotic flora and fauna. Langkawi Island itself is the largest among the archipelago, measuring about 478.5 sq km, is the only one with any real settlement. It fringed by lovely beaches scattered along its coast. The island is still very much a rural landscape with villages and paddy fields. Pulau Langkawi - Province : Kedah State - Country : Malaysia - Latitude : 06 19 N - Longitude : 99 50 E The name "Langkawi" is believed to be related to the kingdom of Langkasuka, centred in modern-day Kedah. The historical record is sparse, but a Chinese Liang Dynasty record (c. 500 AD) refers to the kingdom of "Langgasu" as being founded in the 1st century AD. 'Langkawi' means Eagle Island, it may be noted, and indeed there is a great abundance of eagles in the area. In Kuah, the capital, there is a huge eagle monument in Eagle Square which commemorates the origin of Langkawi's name. Langkawi eventually came under the influence of the Sultanate of Kedah, but Kedah was conquered in 1821 by Siam and Langkawi along with it. The Anglo-Siamese Treaty of 1909 transferred power to the British, who held the state until independence, except for a brief period of Thai rule under the Japanese occupation of Malaya during World War II. Thai influences remain visible in the culture and food of Langkawi, while Thai is still understood by many on the island. Langkawi is a cluster of 99 islands separated from mainland Malaysia by the Straits of Malacca, it is a district of the state of Kedah in Northern Malaysia and lies approximately 51km west of Kedah. The location of these tropical islands is where the Straits of Malacca meet the waters of the Andaman Seas. The main tourist attractions of Langkawi Island are its virgin, white, sandy beaches. The beaches have a very gentle continental slope and the water is crystal clear. Langkawi Island has many legends and myths associated with it and is therefore also called Pulau Lagenda Langkawi comprises a group of 104 tropical islands lying off the northwestern coast of Peninsular Malaysia, about 30 kilometres from Kuala Perlis and 51 kilometres from Kuala Kedah. The main islands are richly blessed with a heritage of fabulous myths and legends: of ogres and gigantic birds, warriors and fairy princesses, battles and romance. As a natural paradise, the island are perhaps unmatched anywhere else in Southeast Asia

Mauritius


Mauritius is the most accessible island in the Indian Ocean, boasting as much tropical paradise as Maui or Martinique and, better still, offering it at a bargain price. Though nestled up alongside Africa, it's actually more influenced by its British and French ties and predominantly Indian workforce. The first people to set foot on the island of Mauritius were Arab sailors and merchants. Arabs merchant ships have been sailing the Indian Ocean for centuries. Important trading routes linked the east coast of Africa and Madagascar with the Arabian peninsula, India and Indonesia.
The Mascarenes Islands were a long way off the usual trading routes of Arab or Indian sailors. Perhaps the islands were discovered when a cyclone (hurricane) caught an Arab dhow unaware and pushed it towards Mauritius. Evidence that points to the discovery of the Mascarenes Archipelago by Arab seamen comes from copies of Portuguese maps of the early 16th centuryIn 1498, the Portuguese explorer Vasco Da Gama succeeded in rounding the cape of Good Hope and called at various Arab-Swahili cities along the East African coast on his way northwards. It was at one of those city ports that an Arab or Indian pilot showed him the way to Goa, India. Within the next ten years, numerous Portuguese expeditions explored the Indian Ocean, visiting Madagascar, the Seychelles and the Comoros Islands.
Around 1507, the Portuguese seaman Fernandez Pereira sighted Mauritius and named it Cerne. The group of islands consisting of Mauritius, Reunion and Rodrigues were given the names of Mascarenes after the Portuguese captain, Pero Mascarenhas. that depict a group of three small islands south east of Madagascar that bear Arabic names

Papeete{tahiti}


Papeete is the capital of Tahiti, the largest island, nicknamed "the island of love". It is a visitor's first port of call because of the International Airport which is located here. Moorea is the sister island some seventeen kilometres north west of Papeete. Here the tranquil of Cook's Bay and Opunohu Bay lap at its majestic volcanic peaks which thrust into the sky. Bora Bora is 240 kilometres north-west of Tahiti and is in the Society Islands, as is Huahine Island, which comprises two islands joined by a narrow isthmus and enclosed by a protective necklace of coral. Rangiroa with its 42 mile long turquoise lagoon in the largest atoll in the Tuamotu Archipelago, and Tikehau atoll in the same archipelago is an almost circular atoll with an interior lagoon, twenty-six kilometres across and a safe pass for small boats through the coral reef. Tahiti is a multi-racial mix of Polynesians of Maohi (Maori) extraction, Europeans, Asians and mixed races. A handsome people, they are noted for their hospitality, friendliness and easy going nature. They speak French and Tahitians which are the two official languages, but English is spoken in the hotels and shops. Lush vegetation grows high above the lagoons and bays and floral scents permeate the tropical air. A myriad of tropical flowers grow throughout the Tahitian islands. The national flower is the Tiare, a heavily scented gardenia which forms the basis of the traditional lei necklaces. You can visit Point Venus where Captain Cook camped to observe the transit of the Planet Venus in 1769, visit the Faarumai waterfalls, and at Taravao on the strategic isthmus joining the two Tahitis, wander through an old fort built by the French in 1844. Don't miss the Gauguin Museum which is set in exotic botanical gardens and the fruit, vegetable and flower market in central Papeete. Tahiti, the largest of the isles in French Polynesia is a place for beginners or rusty divers who wish to brush up on their skills. Tahiti's dive sites offer an average of 30 metres visibility along with masses of coloured fish life, canyons and caves. Hand feed the moray eels or even dive the wrecks of an ocean schooner or seaplane. Dive operators here are Tahiti Plongee, Yacht Club of Tahiti Diving Centre, Tahiti Aquatique and Ta'itua.

The Republic of Venezuela


The Republic of Venezuela is the sixth largest country in South America, but in variation its landscape rivals that of the much larger countries like Brazil and Argentina. In fact, comparing its geography really doesn't do it justice: the country is simply unique. Anyone who has ever seen a tepuis rising above Venezuela's Gran Sabana can testify that there's nothing really like it, anywhereVenezuela lies at the northern extreme of South America, bordered by Colombia to the West, Brazil to the South, Guyana to the East, and the Caribbean Sea to the North. In all, the country is just over 900,000 square kilometers and divided into 23 states. Its borders seem to hold all of South America in miniature: there are fine stretches of the Andes, huge areas of Amazonian rain forests, fertile plains known as llanos, miles of Caribbean shoreline, and even a small desert. The nation also has a few geographical superlatives, including the world's highest waterfall and South America's biggest lake

neveda{las vegas}


As eons passed, the marsh receded. Rivers disappeared beneath the surface. The once teeming wetlands evolved into a parched, arid landscape that supported only the hardiest of plants and animals. Water trapped underground in the complicated geologic formations of the Las Vegas Valley sporadically surfaced to nourish luxuriant plants, creating an oasis in the desert as the life- giving water flowed to the Colorado River.
Construction workers in 1993 discovered the remains of a Columbian mammoth that roamed the area during prehistoric times. Paleontologists estimate the bones to be 8,000 to 15,000 years old. Hidden for centuries from all but native Americans, the Las Vegas Valley oasis was protected from discovery by the surrounding harsh and unforgiving Mojave Desert.
Mexican trader Antonio Armijo, leading a 60-man party along the Spanish Trail to Los Angeles in 1829, veered from the accepted route.
While Armijo's caravan was camped Christmas Day about 100 miles northeast of present day Las Vegas, a scouting party rode west in search of water. An experienced young Mexican scout, Rafael Rivera, left the main party and ventured into the unexplored desert. Within two weeks, he discovered Las Vegas Springs. Las Vegas Featured Hotels With so many extravagant properties to choose from, Las Vegas is sure to have the perfect hotel casino for you. If you don't even know where to begin choosing accommodations, start by looking at our fabulous featured hotels. All of these hotels are different, but they are all proven time and again to please their guests and keep them coming back. Offering variety in services and price ranges, these featured Las Vegas hotels are known for being great values in even better locations. These properties offer a diverse range of amenities, so be sure to check for your own personal "must-haves". Get your money's worth staying at one of our featured Las Vegas hotels.

miami beach


Miami is an exciting, vibrant city set within a lush, tropical landscape. This is a remarkable contrast to its origins of a remote fishing village barely over a century ago when the area was mostly mosquito-infested swamp. Today, Miami and Miami Beach are top destinations for business and travelers. People flock to Miami for business, sun, sand, beaches, and entertainment - this place really rocks! Also known as the American Riviera, Miami Beach is ultra hip and fun. A popular hot-spot for movie stars and fashion models, it offers wide sandy beaches, numerous restaurants and exciting nightlife. Ocean Drive is one of the busiest parts of Miami Beach. It runs parallel to the beach, from Street south to South Pointe Drive. It is famous for its Art Deco architecture. Miami has a strong Hispanic flavor with many of its residents from Cuba, Haiti and various Caribbean and Latin American countries. The result is an American city with great ethnic and cultural diversity Food and music, in fact, showcase Miami's zest for all things sensual. Cool jazz, spirited salsa rhythms, and a cuisine that unites fresh seafood, tropical fruits and tongue-tingling peppers provide evidence of a people and a city mesmerized by – and dedicated to – the spices of life. Give yourself over to its many incarnations in Miami's most sizzling neighborhoods: Little Havana, SoBe or the Design District. Each one boasts top-notch clubs and superlative restaurants, energized by the buzz of a style-conscious clientele. Such range and so much possibility – for both spirit and appetite – ultimately impart to Miami a semblance of meaning that it neither needs nor demands. The city's allure remains independent of attempts to quantify it, and regardless of the effort, satisfaction comes with just experiencing it. After all, when sympathetic climate and abundant care give rise to a strong, vivid hybrid, it's not the parentage that draws attention but simply the beauty of the flower

Pattaya beach{bangkok}


Pattaya's main attractions are its beaches. Pattaya Beach is situated along the central city in close proximity to shopping, hotels and bars. The over-abundance of jet-skis and speedboats has contributed to the pollution of the water along Pattaya Beach. The section of beach from Central Road (Pattaya Klang) south to the harbor is adjacent to the core of Pattaya's abundant nightlife area, hence it is less family-oriented than the North Pattaya, Na Klua and Jomtien beaches. Pattaya is 147 km southeast of Bangkok, and faces the Gulf of Siam. It is located within easy access of the Bangkok Airport and has excellent accommodation and restaurants and entertainment for all tastes. Because of its easy accessibility from Bangkok, Pattaya remains one of Thailand’s most popular weekend getaways for Bangkok’s city-dwellers.Accommodation ranges from luxuriously appointed beachside hotels with superb convention facilities to simple guesthouses.Sporting opportunities abound both on land and water, and include some of the finest golfing, game-fishing, and scuba-diving anywhere in Asia. Theme and amusement parks, offbeat museums and lush botanical gardens offer numerous forms of leisure activities and cultural entertainment for all family members. And after dark, Pattaya offers the allure of a truly vibrant nightlife with a great variety of restaurants, night clubs, bars, discotheques, and cabarets

Tourism is Pattaya’s main source of income. It attracts thousands of pleasure-seeking tourists from all over the world. There is much on offer - good beaches, offshore islands, diving, sailing and its many golf courses are just a few of the activities visitors can enjoy. More than 30 offshore islands stretch around Pattaya within a radius of some 48km, from around Si Racha in the north, to Sattahip in the south. A few islands are off-limits as they are under the control of the Royal Thai Navy. Most others have fascinating dive sites. The waters are rich in various coral species and tropical fish. Pattaya's main attractions are its beaches. Pattaya Beach is situated along the central city in close proximity to shopping, hotels and bars. The over-abundance of jet-skis and speedboats has contributed to the pollution of the water along Pattaya Beach. The section of beach from Central Road (Pattaya Klang) south to the harbor is adjacent to the core of Pattaya's abundant nightlife area, hence it is less family-oriented than the North Pattaya, Na Klua and Jomtien beaches. Pattaya is 147 km southeast of Bangkok, and faces the Gulf of Siam. It is located within easy access of the Bangkok Airport and has excellent accommodation and restaurants and entertainment for all tastes. Because of its easy accessibility from Bangkok, Pattaya remains one of Thailand’s most popular weekend getaways for Bangkok’s city-dwellers.Accommodation ranges from luxuriously appointed beachside hotels with superb convention facilities to simple guesthouses.Sporting opportunities abound both on land and water, and include some of the finest golfing, game-fishing, and scuba-diving anywhere in Asia. Theme and amusement parks, offbeat museums and lush botanical gardens offer numerous forms of leisure activities and cultural entertainment for all family members. And after dark, Pattaya offers the allure of a truly vibrant nightlife with a great variety of restaurants, night clubs, bars, discotheques, and cabarets.
Tourism is Pattaya’s main source of income. It attracts thousands of pleasure-seeking tourists from all over the world. There is much on offer - good beaches, offshore islands, diving, sailing and its many golf courses are just a few of the activities visitors can enjoy. More than 30 offshore islands stretch around Pattaya within a radius of some 48km, from around Si Racha in the north, to Sattahip in the south. A few islands are off-limits as they are under the control of the Royal Thai Navy. Most others have fascinating dive sites. The waters are rich in various coral species and tropical fish.
Known as "The Rivera of Thailand" Pattaya started life as a small, insignificant fishing village. In the 13th century it was the R&R (rest and relaxation) spot for soldiers of the great King Nari during his campaign against Burmese invaders, but other than that it continued to doze, until the 20th century. In 1950, Pattaya was still little other than a small fishing village. It regained popularity with the armed forces in 1959 when a group of American GI’s visited for R&R. After renting a house on the beach, spending an enjoyable time with the locals, they returned and the word was out…Pattaya was “The” place to holiday. New groups of Marines arrived and it is from this simple beginning that the city grew. In just 40 odd years it has developed into one of the most renowned of all Thailand’s holiday spots, locally, and world wide. By the late 70’s, hotels, shopping centres, entertainment houses and the like had shot up. Industry developed as did tourism and with the opening of the motorway from Bangkok to Pattaya, it became a two-hour drive from the country’s capital.Pattaya’s popularity grew so rapidly that the local government couldn’t cope with its administration. So in 1976 Pattaya and nearby Naklur became one administrative district. Then in 1978 Pattaya was declared a city in its own right.
Pattaya is renowned for its Night-life which caters primarily to foreigners. The city has literally hundreds of beer bars, go go bars, massage parlor and night-clubs. A great many of these venues offer the services of prostitutes despite prostitution being technically illegal in Thailand. Many clubs offer sex shows including ping pong shows. Pattaya is known as a destination for sex tourism (alongside several districts in Bangkok and Phuket). Muay Thai (Thai Boxing) matches aimed at the tourists can be seen at many of the open-air beer bar complexes. Some areas, such as Soi 6 have become famous nightlife areas in their own right.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

MIAMI


Miami is an exciting, vibrant city set within a lush, tropical landscape. This is a remarkable contrast to its origins of a remote fishing village barely over a century ago when the area was mostly mosquito-infested swamp. Today, Miami and Miami Beach are top destinations for business and travelers. People flock to Miami for business, sun, sand, beaches, and entertainment - this place really rocks! Also known as the American Riviera, Miami Beach is ultra hip and fun. A popular hot-spot for movie stars and fashion models, it offers wide sandy beaches, numerous restaurants and exciting nightlife. Ocean Drive is one of the busiest parts of Miami Beach. It runs parallel to the beach, from Street south to South Pointe Drive. It is famous for its Art Deco architectureMiami has a strong Hispanic flavor with many of its residents from Cuba, Haiti and various Caribbean and Latin American countries. The result is an American city with great ethnic and cultural diversity Food and music, in fact, showcase Miami's zest for all things sensual. Cool jazz, spirited salsa rhythms, and a cuisine that unites fresh seafood, tropical fruits and tongue-tingling peppers provide evidence of a people and a city mesmerized by – and dedicated to – the spices of life. Give yourself over to its many incarnations in Miami's most sizzling neighborhoods: Little Havana, SoBe or the Design District. Each one boasts top-notch clubs and superlative restaurants, energized by the buzz of a style-conscious clientele. Such range and so much possibility – for both spirit and appetite – ultimately impart to Miami a semblance of meaning that it neither needs nor demands. The city's allure remains independent of attempts to quantify it, and regardless of the effort, satisfaction comes with just experiencing it. After all, when sympathetic climate and abundant care give rise to a strong, vivid hybrid, it's not the parentage that draws attention but simply the beauty of the flower

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Vietnam


The gentle rocking of our carriage came to a gradual stop as the long whistle of the train announced our arrival in Lao Cai. Peering out the window of our cozy berth, my traveling partner, Ramona, and I witnessed the deep pink of a dawning sky as the sun rose to burn off the morning mist.
We had traveled on the night train to the very northern reaches of Vietnam, home to more than 50 indigenous hill tribes that populate the countryside. This was the beginning of our two-week journey in Vietnam. Our mission was to create an itinerary that captured the heart and soul of the Vietnamese culture for the future clients of our travel company, Soul Adventures.
The bustle and excitement of passengers exiting the train gave way to the rich morning sounds of a village just awakening. Roosters crowed in the distance as locals pushed their wooden carts of wares, and drivers lined the street outside the train station, engaged in friendly banter.
Ban Ho is tucked away in lush tropical vegetation of bamboo and palms.
Still chilly from the frosty night, we bundled up and went in search of our driver. We found our guide, Thang, and were welcomed with a big hello and a warm smile as we loaded our gear into the truck for our journey north into the Sapa Valley.
We swayed on the winding road as it led us deeper into the mountains, and the deep green of the rolling hills blanketed our route. Local hill-tribe women, heavily laden with finely woven baskets on their backs, traveled on foot toward town to trade their goods. As we made our way around the final bend in the road, we spied the bright orange and gold of the Victoria Hotel atop a hillside.
Inside, we were greeted by the crackling of a warm fire and fresh mango juice. Finely carved wooden musical instruments and rich tapestries — crafts made by local villagers — adorned the lobby and guest room walls. This was to be our base camp of adventure for the next four nights.
A cool morning mist blanketed the valley as we ate a hearty breakfast buffet — a combination of Western classics and the robustly spiced foods of Vietnamese cuisine. Steaming hot noodle soup, sushi and fresh breads filled us up as we gazed at the villagers filling the streets of Sapa below.
The town of Sapa is part of a network of small villages that can be reached by a complex array of footpaths. Ramona, Thang and I left our hillside retreat and descended about a half mile on a steep and rocky footpath to the valley floor, which was elegantly carved by the cool, rushing waters of the Muong Hoa River.
Hunched over large boulders at the river’s edge, a woman dressed in the blue denim dress of the Black Hmong tribe scrubbed a pile of clothing in the river as men and women passed on foot bearing heavy loads of rock, wood and bamboo. Crossing the river over a solid foot bridge, we ascended the northern bank and wound our way through seemingly endless rice fields of the many villages dotting the lush landscape. A handful of houses comprised each village, and as we passed by, children ran from their homes and, with the biggest of smiles, loudly exclaimed “Hello!” A “hello” back always resulted in deep laughter, as they repeated their “hello” in hopes of prolonging the exchange.
The sun was warm on our backs as the winter mist of the valley gave way to a clear blue sky. We walked gingerly, balancing along the slippery mud mounds outlining each rice terrace, careful not to fall into the thick gooey mud of the recently harvested beds.

Uruguay


Let’s face it, there are name-dropper travelers among us. People who love to utter things like, “Oh yes, when I was in Nepal, that was just before I headed down to Bhutan ... ,” aiming to burnish their reputations as intrepid seekers of the most unusual travel destinations in the world.
If one finds oneself in Buenos Aires, a truly hot destination these days, it’s indeed tempting to consider a ferry ride across the Rio de la Plata, which separates Argentina from Uruguay, to the town of Colonia del Sacramento for another stamp in the old passport.
A lighthouse and fort stand the test of time in Old Colonia.
On a recent visit to Buenos Aires, I came across the Buquebus ferry brochure in a travel agency for an excursion to Colonia del Sacramento (commonly called Colonia). Buquebus’ price for the round trip was 95 pesos, or $US 24. This was on the “slow boat,” which takes three hours one way. (Ferrylineas’ hydrofoil makes the crossing in 45 minutes, but it costs about three times as much.)
The Buquebus price suited my time and budget, and so it was that I found myself at Buenos Aires’ Port Madero for a scheduled 8 a.m. departure. Unfortunately, it was a Friday, when Uruguayans who work (for the better wages) in Buenos Aires head home in large numbers. The terminal was packed, with two passenger checkpoints, so we didn’t leave till 8:45.
We arrived in Colonia just before noon, and a bilingual guide promptly whisked us four tour-takers into a tour bus. Our first stop was lunch at the elegant Sarao, where we had a delicious minestrone-style soup, a fish fillet fried in a light batter accompanied by tomato slices and lettuce, and a wonderfully light and airy flan.

After a brief whirl about “modern” Colonia, with its 1960s vehicles plying London plane tree-lined streets (which made me think of Havana) and modest pastel stucco houses, we made the obligatory stop at a local souvenir vendor, where we perused handmade straw figures, brightly colored textiles and hand-woven shawls.
Our next stop was the historic section of the city, the Barrio Histórico, on a peninsula jutting into the Rio del la Plata (River of Silver). This old Portuguese settlement dates to about 1680, and has been designated a World Heritage City by UNESCO. Exploring its broad cobblestone streets made me feel transported back to long-forgotten times. The Spanish took over the port town in the mid 1700s. An old fort, still with some cannons on the ramparts, is nearby, facing the water.

Wales


Without warning, the English on the road signs along M4, one of the UK’s main motorways, became the secondary language. Coincidentally (or not), it also started raining the first time I crossed the England/Wales border. The misty rain transformed the dreary English countryside into a mythical Welsh wonderland filled with mountains and sheep, accompanied by an incomprehensible language intended to guide drivers through a new territory. The translation of “Croeso i Cymru” is “Welcome to Wales,” written in one of the oldest surviving languages in Europe.
St. John’s Church has stood guard over Cardiff’s changing cityscape for more than 800 years.
From a single road sign, it is evident there is a strong sense of “hireath” and “hwyl,” Welsh words for longing, passion and pride for one’s country. As I stroll along Queen Street, Cardiff’s pedestrian shopping center, there is an undeniable buzz in the air. Just last year, the city celebrated its 50th birthday as Wales’ capital, and its centenary year as a city. The construction of modern high-rise buildings distracts me as I try to savor the white marble façade of Cardiff’s traditional architecture.
Youthful moms and trendy teens hunt for the latest London fashions at Top Shop and H&M. Tourists flock to the legendary Cardiff Castle for a dose of Welsh history and culture, while rugby enthusiasts pour out of the pub, stumbling toward the Jetsons-inspired Millennium Stadium.Huddled in the corners are buskers and street musicians, aspiring to become the next Manic Street Preachers, Stereophonics and Goldie Lookin’ Chain — Welsh rockers and rappers who are defining the “Cool Cymru” movement. Amid the chatter on Queen Street, I eavesdrop on conversations in English, Arabic and, increasingly, Welsh.
During centuries of British occupation in Wales, the use of the Welsh language was quelled, because it undermined the legitimacy of the British Empire. Recorded history shows the Welsh always felt they were different from their English brethren. In fact, the word “Cymry” denotes the Welsh as “foreign.” Nevertheless, the Welsh language refused to die. The 17th century first standard Welsh Bible “saved” the language from possible extinction, while the coal-mining industry helped the Welsh language flourish and expand across the countryside during the Industrial Revolution. Welsh visionaries created the Plaid Cymru movement in 1925, thus creating the inaugural Welsh National Party to preserve a sense of “Welshness.”

Yemen


There are travel guides out there who describe Yemen as safer than where you come from. Perhaps it is because this country at the southern tip of the Arabian Peninsula has had none of its formerly famous kidnappings since 9/11. When terrorism swept the world in 2001, it apparently left Yemen. Now European and Japanese tourists are flocking to ancient Arabia Felix (Lucky Arabia), Yemen’s name in antiquity when Solomon and the Queen of Sheba ruled the world and Yemen’s incredible desert palaces and hilltop towns began sprouting up.
Yemen (population 20 million) is eye candy where tourists snap photos with abandon. Start your visit in the capital of Sana’a — its Old City with gingerbread-like condos liberally sprinkled with fancy white frosting in intricate patterns. On the edge of Sana’a, 9 miles (15 km) outside of town in Wadi Dhar sits an ancient castle stacked high on a red rock skyscraper. Dar al-Hajar is the most popular symbol of Yemen seen on posters and in magazines.
Don’t miss Thula and the old Turkish fortresses built high on the mountains 37 miles (60 km) northwest of Sana’a. Thula is a charming pre-Islamic town with tower houses and aqueducts and cisterns.
Dar al-Hajar, the famous castle in Wadi Dhar, is the most popular symbol of Yemen.
Make sure to visit tiny mesa-topped Kawkaban, a miniature town propped high above the 16th century city of Shibam. Kawkaban, with its primordial cave homes, sits on a sheer cliff 1,100 feet (350 m) straight above Shibam and was built to protect it. The World Heritage Site of Shibam is located 30 miles (48 km) west of Sana’a. Shibam is nicknamed the “Manhattan of the Desert” because of its impressive tower-like structures that rise straight out of the cliffs. Surrounded by a fortified wall, Shibam is regarded as one of the oldest and best examples of vertical urban planning.
Al Hajjarah, 74 miles (120 km) northwest of Sana’a and high on a mountaintop, is a charming postcard town, fortified with lots of dry stone construction. From there, the ancient town of Old Ibb (124 miles or 200 km south of Sana’a) spreads over a precipitously craggy mountain. See the stunning mosques of Jiblah (3 miles or 5 km southwest of Ibb) and marvel at the view from high on the mountain over Ta’izz (39 miles or 64 km south of Ibb). The white powder beaches of the Red Sea are another big draw. Yemen is tourist excitement central.
Another interesting thing about Yemen is the fact that at first it doesn’t look so safe. My initial impression was that everyone wore a wicked-looking dagger, either pea green or yellow. These scary items are usually stuck in a golden belt worn over white djellabahs (long, loose hooded garments with full sleeves) and underneath turban tablecloths seemingly pinched from Italian restaurants. After the initial shock of a populace armed to the teeth wore off, I realized the daggers were all ceremonial. During my weeks in Yemen I only saw daggers unsheathed twice: the first time at the traditional Yemen dance exhibition where the men sashay arm-in-arm while brandishing their daggers like candles. The second time I saw them unsheathed was when the driver of an 18-wheeler cut another one off and they zoomed down the highway waving daggers at each other while fiercely scowling over bristly mustaches; far more comical than the .347 Magnums wielded in road rage where I come from.
Eastern Yemen takes a little more getting used to. There you learn the lessons of the desert. The first is to always give a man a ride who is hitchhiking with a Kalashnikov. The residents of eastern Yemen all tote Kalashnikovs, trusty Russian machine guns that make a de rigueur fashion statement on the road to Mareb. The wild, wild east looks like a lawless part of Yemen at first. But not a single shot was fired during my journey to the east. Many of those carrying Kalashnikovs looked suspiciously like mustachioed Woody Allens in slightly soiled lavender dresses, hardly formidable. However, I also learned the second rule of the desert. Always ask first before taking a photo of a guy with a Kalashnikov. Whew. Heart be still.

Zambia


Crocodiles are everywhere — keep your hands and feet in the canoes,” warned Paul Grobler, a safari guide with 17 years of experience leading trips down the Zambezi River. “You must also beware of hippos.”
The safety briefing is intense and thorough before embarking on a canoe excursion of Zambia’s Lower Zambezi National Park. Although there are a variety of safaris for observing wildlife, from game drives to riverboat rides, offered by a variety of operators, canoeing can be the most exhilarating way to witness the region’s diverse ecology.
The Zambezi River is the fourth longest river in Africa. From its source in Zambia, it eventually empties into the Indian Ocean in Mozambique after a 1,600-mile-long (2,574 km) twisted journey through south-central Africa. It’s a rich watery vein that quenches the often thirsty, drought-distressed region.
Nile crocodiles fill the Zambezi River. Canoeists often see them on the river’s edge, soaking in the sun during the day.
The Zambezi flows along the border of Zambia and Zimbabwe. The Lower Zambezi National Park lies opposite Zimbabwe’s better-known Mana Pools Reserve, so the whole area on both banks of the river forms a massive wildlife sanctuary where animal activity abounds.
Elephant herds gather at the shoreline to drink and bathe, while enormous males wade to small islands mid-river to graze on lush vegetation. Fishing eagles soar overhead, and busybody baboons scamper along the river’s edge. Hundreds of noisy, sociable hippopotamuses pepper the waterway and command the narrow channels.
Established in 1983, the Lower Zambezi National Park is Zambia’s newest protected reserve. With relatively few visitors and little development, it remains a hidden gem. Several lodges and tent camps, ranging from rustic to luxurious, operate in the park.
The Zambezi River’s current is swift, which makes the canoeing nearly effortless, as the boats glide downstream. This particular stretch of the river offers only calm and peaceful waters. Our guide guaranteed there would be more drifting than paddling, but the water’s ominous inhabitants gave me pause.
The cartoonish-looking hippopotamuses often depicted in children’s stories as harmless ballerinas are realistically one of Africa’s most fearsome beasts. Their roly-poly 3,300-to-7,000-pound (1,500-3,175 kg) bodies emit loud, comical, whoopee-cushion choruses, but entering their territory is no laughing matter. Hippos reportedly kill more people than lions, and safari guides are chock-full of gory stories about the territorial river tyrants. Of course, the guides are always quick to emphasize that neither they nor their groups have ever been harmed.
Menacing, prehistoric-looking Nile crocodiles fill the river in incalculable numbers, slicing through the darkness, unnoticed, beneath boats. Bearing a reputation as vicious man-eaters, the quiet and agile reptiles can reach lengths of 16 feet (5 m) and weigh up to 1,100 pounds (500 kg).
“They won’t bother us,” Grobler confidently assured us. “Just keep your bodies inside the boats.”
Crocodiles and hippos aside, other river hurdles include tree stumps resting just below the surface. We were instructed to keep our 20-foot-long (6 m) canoes to the shallows and steer clear of ripples in the glassy water, indicating underwater obstacles.
During the safety briefing it’s easy to lose confidence and question your capabilities, but we were promised that canoeing is the best way to experience Zambia’s enthralling wilderness. I put my trust in our guide, swallowed my thickly forming trepidation, and donned a life vest.

Zimbabwe


The sun had reached its zenith, and it was siesta time. My friend, Mia, and I saw elephants a little distance upriver. Against the advice of our guide, Englibert, we walked toward them to get a closer look. At a spot with a good view, I climbed a small tree and stood in a fork five feet above the ground. Farther off, a second group of elephants ambled near the river. Some 200 baboons napped, suckled infants, or wrestled, screaming, in the dust. Several, like me, stood watch in trees. A large herd of gazelles and a half-dozen warthogs grazed placidly.
Then a bull elephant in the closest group of pachyderms moved toward us. Mia slipped back toward camp while I stayed and watched. The bull ate shrubbery on a trail leading alongside my tree, then it was too late to move. As he passed downwind six feet (2 m) away, he stopped eating and sniffed.
A herd of elephants walks past a termite mound in Mana Pools National Park.
I could smell him, too. He had an odor as big as his body; a spicy, rich scent like a teenage boy’s bedroom. He paused. I kept quiet (except for my heart) and he moved along. The other elephants came down the same path and, like the bull, seemed anxious when they passed by me, but they didn’t do anything rash, and neither did I.
Then all the animals started to move off. Antelopes went all at once. Warthogs trotted, long, tasseled tails sticking straight up. Baboons straggled out with the lookouts bringing up the rear. I heard Englibert yell, “You can come down now.” He had been worried that I might panic and try to run, or that the elephant would attack. He had gotten out his gun just in case, and watched from a distance.
I was on a canoe safari in Mana Pools National Park, a spectacular World Heritage site in the north of Zimbabwe. The Zambezi River, which divides Zimbabwe from its neighbor, Zambia, forms its northern boundary. The river draws many wild animals, especially in September and October, the end of the dry season. One of the best ways to experience the river and its wildlife is in a canoe.

I’d met two women in Harare, Amy and Mia, and we had signed on with Kasambabezi Safaris, which provided transport, a guide and all our equipment and provisions for about US$ 100 per day. Our guide, Englibert, and a driver met us in Makuti, three hours from Harare.
When we reached the river, we unloaded the truck and packed the canoes, then Englibert gave his safety and paddling spiel: hippos, those great vegetarians, pose the main danger to canoeists. They submerge when threatened, then surface suddenly, potentially capsizing the canoe.

Cambodia


I always enjoyed making things even as a very young child,” explains Sasha Constable as she sits in the garden of her parents’ home in the village of Norton-sub-Hamdon, in the English county of Somerset. After leaving school she intended to study painting, but an art foundation course introduced her to sculpture: “I just loved the more tactile, physical side of making sculptures so I specialized in that.”
Sasha, 33, is maintaining a family artistic tradition — she is the great-great-great-granddaughter of the master landscape painter, John Constable (1776-1837). Every generation of the family since has produced at least one artist. “I’ve been surrounded by art; you can’t look around this house without seeing a painting or a drawing or a sculpture,” she says.
Her current project, though, has taken her far away from this quiet village. In July 2003, she and small weapons specialist, Neil Wilford, established the Peace Art Project Cambodia (PAPC) based in the capital, Phnom Penh. “Neil was working for the European Union on a disarmament project and the idea started as a conversation over a couple of beers, discussing the possibility of setting up a program loosely based on the Mozambique ‘Swords to Ploughshares’ scheme.” This project, begun in 1992, offered tools — such as ploughs, sewing machines — to anyone who handed over a weapon following the end of the long-running civil war in Mozambique.
Sasha Constable and Chhay Bunna at the opening of "Elements" at the Java Gallery in Phnom Penh.
Since the end of the decades of armed conflict in 1998, Cambodia has been dealing with a huge amount of weaponry still at large among the general population. Between 1999 and 2004, the government, with the help of the European Union Assistance on Curbing Small Arms in Cambodia, has destroyed 125,000 weapons. Huge bonfires of firearms have publicly displayed Cambodia’s determination to create a weapons-free society.
Some of these weapons, however, have been donated to the PAPC and are sculpted, forged or welded into artworks by student artists. Birds, flowers, even an elephant, are some of their creations.
Sasha’s love affair with Asia began in 1989 before she began a degree course in sculpture at Wimbledon School of Art in London. “I went out to meet a friend in Thailand, who was traveling on a gap year. I spent three months there and really enjoyed it. During the last seven or eight years I’ve returned to Asia many times, in particular Cambodia,” she says. The stone carvings, the sculptures and the culture appealed to her. “I gained inspiration and ideas while traveling, came home and produced a body of work. I would then sell enough pieces to buy a flight back and do the same thing again.” She has exhibited her work, both sculpture and prints, in over 40 exhibitions and held four solo shows.
Sasha has been based in Cambodia since November 2000 when she was appointed Artist in Residence by the World Monuments Fund, a non-profit organization that preserves historic buildings worldwide. This gave her the opportunity to study the Cambodian Temples. “They are amazing, awesome buildings. I never get bored with them, I can still spend whole days out there,” she says, smiling at the recollection.

In May 2003, she and Neil Wilford began talking seriously about the possibility of launching PAPC and drafted a proposal. “I spent the whole of that summer sending it to people, trying to get support. Not an easy job, getting money for an idea, but I was fortunate that many people I met were very supportive. Paddy Ashdown (a former British politician who is now the European Union's Governor of Bosnia and Herzegovina) wrote a covering letter, which I’m sure helped us a lot.” Actresses Emma Thompson and Angelina Jolie and model Stella Tennant are among the list of fund donors.

Jordan


It’s been more than a decade since the ancient rock city of Petra made its silver-screen debut in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Petra was an ideal backdrop for the action-packed movie. However, Hollywood overlooked what is perhaps Jordan’s second most-important archaeological secret — its desert castles.
About 75 percent of this Middle Eastern country, which is roughly the size of Portugal, consists of dry and barren lands. The black basalt desert east of the capital city of Amman is a seemingly endless and empty expanse wedged between Syria to the north, Iraq to the east, and Saudi Arabia to the east and south. It’s mostly flat, and dotted with low-growing shrubs, bushes and cacti.
The Qasr Azraq fortress is enclosed by walls that are approximately 260 feet long (80 m).
There are few proper roads here, but dozens of desert tracks that crisscross the parched landscape. They have been used for centuries by pilgrims en route to Mecca, by caravans carrying goods from one trading post to another and by caliphs on their way to their royal retreats. Forlorn in a vast arid sea, imposing desert castles and pavilions stood their ground as islands of civilization. Most of them were built during the Umayyad period, the first major Islamic dynasty, which reigned from A.D. 661-750.
As lonely as these bastions of civilization appear today — often located many miles from human settlement — they were at one time integrated agricultural and commercial complexes, well-watered townships situated at the edge of the desert.
Often constructed on top of and incorporating earlier Roman and Nabatean structures, these imposing palace-fortresses served many purposes. The magnificent desert pavilions could be used for defense, if necessary. But they were primarily places where the Umayyad caliphs could, to quote our guide Mohamed, “get away from it all,” leaving the cares of ruling behind and retreating here to hunt and hawk, relax in secluded baths, meet with tribal groups over whom they ruled, and occasionally offer hospitality to caravans passing through.
With just one day to spare for a desert excursion while staying in Amman, I had to select three of the many desert castles.

Qasr Kharana (qasr means palace or castle in Arabic), located about 37 miles (60 km) east of Amman, is one of the closest and easiest of the desert castles to reach from the capital. It’s also one of the oldest, probably built prior to A.D. 710, as an inscription found on one of the interior doorways suggests. Qasr Kharana is considered to be an important example of early Islamic art and architecture.
From the outside, Kharana looks like a perfect mini-fortress, with almost circular tower buttresses at each corner and semi-circular towers in each of the walls except for the entrance wall, where a pair of towers flank the massive entry.
Appearances can sometimes be deceiving, as inside, utilitarian stables and storage rooms surround a central courtyard on the ground level, and the upper floor of this desert castle is anything but fortress-like.

Iceland


First impressions are not always correct, but my introduction to Iceland's Nordica Hotel was right on target. Immediately upon our arrival, the Nordica, located in Reykjavik, gave my friend Patty and me an introduction to traditional Icelandic hospitality. Although we arrived five hours before check-in time, the gracious and welcoming staff hurriedly prepared a room and helped us with our luggage.

We thankfully dropped our weary bodies onto the small twin beds and snuggled under the cozy down comforters. Minimalist décor mixed with Scandinavian-styled furniture gave the room a distinct feel of European sophistication. Orange and brown pillows provided the only splash of color in the room, which was small, but comfortable, with a view that included Mount Esja in the distance.

An aerial view of Reykjavik
The majestic mountain keeps a watchful eye on the world’s northernmost capital located on a picturesque peninsula by the Atlantic Ocean. In the year 2000, this city of 170,000 held the prestigious title “European City of Culture.”

Located on the southern coast of Iceland, Reykjavik is surrounded by a ring of dramatic mountains and the blue water of Faxafloi Bay.

The nearby Snaefellsjokull Glacier, which was made famous in Jules Verne's novel, Journey to the Center of the Earth, covers a cone-shaped volcano which has been dormant for almost 1,800 years. Beautiful and unspoiled nature such as this are as much worth the visit as Reykjavik’s energetic and colorful cultural life.

On our second day in Iceland, we treated ourselves to dinner at VOX, Nordica's high-end gourmet restaurant and bistro. Chef Hákon Örvarsson won a bronze medal at the gastronomical contest Bocuse d’Or. The food served at VOX is excellent and extremely expensive, as are most of Reykjavik's eateries. My appetizer alone -- crab and scallop tortellini -- was a jaw-dropping US$ 25. Those staying at the hotel may be disappointed with the lack of ambiance at VOX, which is in the same room as the breakfast buffet. The trays, bowls and bins of scrambled eggs are removed from the gleaming silver counter, but the room is still the same -- not feeling entirely transformed by the dimmed lights and votive candles used in the evening.
Under the direction of Head Chef Hákon Örvarsson, the Vox Restaurant at the Nordica has become known as one of the top restaurants in Iceland.

Although Patty and I spent much of our vacation sightseeing, we made time to check out the Nordica's fitness center and spa, the most exclusive in Reykjavik, offering three Jacuzzis, two steam rooms, 10 massage treatment rooms and an outdoor log-cabin sauna.
Exclusivity comes with a price however, as even those staying at the Nordica (except those paying for Executive or Business class rooms) have to pay a fee to enjoy the center's luxuries. But after a day of exploring Iceland's magnificent landscapes, waterfalls and mountains, the fee is well worth it.

The entire staff at the Nordica, from the restaurant to the tour desk, was delightfully accommodating and helpful. The concierge assisted us in planning our daily excursions around Reykjavik, and the receptionist gave us insider knowledge on the best places to go for brunch and dinner. After only a few days at the hotel, the women at the front desk greeted us personally and asked us each day about our travels. Like the many native Icelanders we met during our stay in Iceland, the staff at the Nordica seemed genuinely interested in ensuring that our stay was a pleasant one.

Bulgaria


A low growl is the only giveaway that I’m under surprise guerrilla attack from behind. Looking behind to gauge the distance of my pursuer, I’m suddenly aware that he’s not alone, and there is a pack of his companions flanking me. The beast in front of me bares its teeth and snarls. It is only meters away and looks hungry. My pulse quickens. My throat constricts. Fight or flight?
Realizing I’m hopelessly outnumbered, I choose the latter. My nerves are shot by this close encounter with ferocious wildlife. Continuing, I’m tense in preparation for my next potentially deadly brush with aggressive and territorial wild dogs. Every sense alert, perspiration dripping from my brow, I’m on edge with the knowledge that a split-second decision holds my fate in its hand. I’m questioning my sanity in deciding to bicycle through deserted, potholed streets in this part of the world, particularly after dark.
No, I’m not in Africa. Far from it. I’m actually in Sofia, Bulgaria’s capital, cycling home after work from the Centre to Kniajevo, a distance of some eight fun-filled kilometers (about five miles). It’s a twice-weekly event: faced with the post-11 p.m. suspension of public transport, I take my life into my hands and face the reality of Sofia’s problematic street dogs.
More than 35,000 dogs roam the streets of Sofia.
While the animals seem less harmful during daylight hours, the nighttime is their territory and they defend it aggressively. On one late-night taxi ride home, three dogs were fearlessly charging in tactical formation toward my high-speed taxi. The driver took little notice, not slowing or deviating, and darted through the gap left between their jaws. The dogs miraculously escaped this encounter unharmed; though some of their companions have not been so lucky, judging by the occasional roadkill on Sofia’s arterials.
Sofia counts among its many concerns a major street dog problem. The official street dog population stands at 35,000, but many estimate this number to be over three times that amount. There are four stray dogs for every human inhabitant.
Bulgaria ’s low human fertility rate, countered by its street dog population growth, and the battle for Sofia’s territory seems to have shifted from mafia maneuverings to canine gangland warfare. Attention has turned to Sofia’s “top dog.” Ineffective proposed solutions and other inaction means that the public is paying for the mayor’s blood. In the meantime, Sofia’s suburbanites are tackling the problem in the best way they can — by running.

The next pack of dogs lying in wait has had its attention roused by the indignant barking of the pack from which I just escaped. Knowing my only option is to imitate my taxi driver, I try to create some space for myself. Standing high on my pedals and growling threateningly, I launch into a tirade of woofs, barks, snarls and bow wow wows, praying that the Bulgarian dogs understand my Australian accent. The dogs, obviously having heard rumors about the infamous Crocodile Hunter, pause momentarily and I glimpse a glimmer of fear in their eyes. I lift my foot high, demonstrating intention to kick. The dogs part with respect and retreat to their hideout, discussing among themselves tactics for their next ambush. I live to ride another night.

Jamaica


Men have lusted after Jamaica for more than five centuries. Christopher Columbus called it “the fairest isle that eyes have beheld.” The Spanish liked the island so much, in fact, that they decided to move right in, disregarding the native population. The British were the next to covet this piece of paradise. When they discovered the island’s potential for the spice trade in the 1650s, they happily relieved the Spaniards of their ownership. By the 1850s, the island was a British crown jewel, producing much of the queen’s sugar. But it was success that came by the hand of African slaves who had been brought in to work the fields. Over the years, these nationalities began to mix, producing a culture unlike any other. “Out of many, one nation” is the Jamaican motto, and it’s this rich heritage that has given the island her colorful, free-loving spirit. In 1962, Jamaica finally gained her independence … yet some things never change. People still long to walk the shores of Jamaica — only this time, the newcomers aren’t would-be conquerors, but tourists. Guests are drawn by the island’s sun-kissed beaches, tropical climate and the welcoming people of Jamaica.
Drummers entertain the crowd at the Best of Jamaica Festival at Grand Lido Resort & Spa.
Yet like every nation, Jamaica has had its difficulties. This country of 2.6 million is a developing land, and its rise from poverty has been a struggle. It’s not uncommon to see million-dollar mansions next to tiny concrete lean-tos. There are certain regions in Jamaica that visitors should avoid, such as some inner-city neighborhoods of Kingston. And though the use and sale of drugs is illegal in Jamaica, it’s often a common occurrence.
Thankfully, such problems are avoided with a little common sense. Most Jamaican resorts are far from the hubbub of city life, stretched out along remote, quiet beaches, where the only worry is which drink to choose while you soak up the sun.
Actually, my only worry is whether my banana daiquiri will stay cold while I take a quick dip in the ocean with my friends at the Grand Lido Braco Resort & Spa.
This AAA four-diamond destination in Trelawny, just an hour from the Montego Bay airport, on the island’s northern coast, has pampered me so much that I’m beginning to feel like royalty. We’ve dined like kings, slept by the pool and discussed life from our beachside chairs. With such a daily routine, it’s easy to feel entitled.
This warped sense of reality, far removed from the stresses of daily life, is exactly what the resort hopes to provide. Designed as a traditional Jamaican village, complete with a small town square, cobblestone streets and gingerbread fretwork, Grand Lido Braco is a “super-inclusive” resort.
Nothing in life is free, of course, but at all-inclusive resorts such as Grand Lido Braco, you can at least enjoy the illusion. Guests pay one daily rate that includes accommodations, meals, drinks, entertainment, equipment rental and activities, including a vast array of water sports. You can even have a wedding at Grand Lido Braco, complete with minister, music, drinks and cake, for no additional charge.

Nepal


In two of the three dimensions, length and breadth, Nepal is just another small country. In the third, height, it's number one in the world. Nepal starches from north-west to south-east about 800 km and varies in width from around 90 km to 230 km. This gives it a total area of just 147,181 sq. km according to the official figures. Within that small area, however, is the greatest range of altitude to be seen on this earth - starting with the Terai, only 100m or so above sea level, and finishing at the top of Mt. Everest (8848m), the highest point on earth. Often a visitor's overriding goal is to see the mountains, especially Everest and Annapurna. However, to exclude the people, flowers, birds and wildlife from the experience is to miss the essence of the country regions, or natural zones: the plains in the south, four mountain ranges, and the valley lying between them. The lowlands with their fertile soils, and the southern slopes of the mountains with sunny exposures, allow for cultivation and are the main inhabited regions. takes on a complete air of mysticism when the early morning mist in the high valleys all around rises up to the icy ridges of the Himalayas. Temples and images of the gods are swallowed up in a sea of white, one imagines hearing distant muffled sounds of gongs and detecting a cold whiff of decay and charred wood. In these unreal moments the Newar people believe they find spiritual cleansing, with all sins and bad thoughts being freed and born away by the mist. This does not last long because in the modern parts of the "city of a thousand temples" the cleansing mist is replaced by smelly gases from car and moped exhausts. The large volume of foreign visitors has long since changed the isolated town in the Himalayas into a noisy major city with a sudden rise in population -from 123,000 to 450,000 within four years. But in the midst of modern Kathmandu there is still the virtually undisturbed age old scene of many shrines, images of gods, and palaces. In two of the three dimensions, length and breadth, Nepal is just another small country. In the third, height, it's number one in the world. Nepal starches from north-west to south-east about 800 km and varies in width from around 90 km to 230 km. This gives it a total area of just 147,181 sq. km according to the official figures. Within that small area, however, is the greatest range of altitude to be seen on this earth - starting with the Terai, only 100m or so above sea level, and finishing at the top of Mt. Everest (8848m), the highest point on earth. Often a visitor's overriding goal is to see the mountains, especially Everest and Annapurna. However, to exclude the people, flowers, birds and wildlife from the experience is to miss the essence of the country regions, or natural zones: the plains in the south, four mountain ranges, and the valley lying between them. The lowlands with their fertile soils, and the southern slopes of the mountains with sunny exposures, allow for cultivation and are the main inhabited regions.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Scotland



Scotland - Mountain and loch, sheer rocks, and a sky create a drama that scarcely can be beaten. Edinburgh born writer Robert Louis Stephen son could not understand why this abundance of eccentrics was not a theatrical scene but an everyday view of his city. Scotland has been a constituent part of Great Britain since the Act of Union was passed by the legislatures of England and Scotland in 1707. However, the union of these two ancient lands has not always been an easy one, and even after 1707 wars and rebellions by Scots determined to maintain their full independence were not uncommon. Many of these conflicts have been celebrated in popular culture and some have even been given the Hollywood treatment. One of the most notable examples was “Braveheart”, a 1995 film produced, directed and starring Australian actor Mel Gibson. While not completely accurate, the film told the story of William Wallace and his struggle to keep Scotland fully independent in the face of attacks and invasions from England’s King Edward I in the early 14th century Edinburgh, world cultural heritage, and festival city masterfully sets the scene and surprises not only the poet with its sense of the theatrical. The castle alone in its imposing position on black basalt rocks with its St. Margaret's Chapel built in 1090 seems shrouded in mystery and today houses the Scottish Crown Jewels, that includes a crown made with gold mined in Scotland. In a tiny room in the castle the Scottish Queen Mary Stuart bore her son James VI who ruled Scotland and following the death of Queen Elizabeth also over England. With his move to London he also sealed the fate of the Scottish monarchy.

Caribbean, West Indies


The West Indies is a large group of islands that separate the Caribbean Sea from the Atlantic Ocean. It is comprised of three main island groups namely the Bahamas, the Greater Antilles and the Lesser Antilles. The island nations are often frequented by tourists who come mainly to visit the beautiful white sandy beaches. The island states together with Guyana which forms part of the South American continent, are also known by their world class cricket team, which is also a winner of the World Cup twice. As these states together hold the privilege of hosting the 2007 cricket world cup, millions of visitors from all parts of the world are expected to reach them to watch the thrilling and the much awaited Cricket World Cup. Those visiting the islands to watch the Cricket World Cup should not miss the wonderful and fantastic sights in the islands that can be a memorable experience in itself.

Athens - Greece


Athens - Greece - The exuberant and chaotic traffic in the city center hardly touches the people in the crowd. The drone of traffic and car horns has little effect on the people in the countless sidewalk cafes. Even the businessmen who hectically weave through the mass of people seem composed in spite of their haste. The Athenian does not forget to laugh or show their disarming friendliness, or express pride in their city, which continues to grow in this new millennium. Athens. The city with the most glorious history in the world, a city worshipped by gods and people, a magical city. The enchanting capital of Greece has always been a birthplace for civilization. It is the city where democracy was born and most of the wise men of ancient times. The most important civilization of ancient world flourished in Athens and relives through some of the world's most formidable edifices. Little remained of Athens when it became capital of Greece in 1834. Only four thousand people lived in the small row of houses on the northern hillside of the Acropolis when King Otto was imported from Bavaria as ruler of the Greeks. Initially the eighteen-year-old son of Ludwig I had to make do with a modest two-story house while his German architects prepared plans for his palace and a new landscape for Athens. People returned as the city was rebuilt. In 1921 the Greeks and Turks exchanged their minorities and of the half million Greeks who had to leave Asia Minor half of them poured into Athens. Then those working the land increasingly sought work in the capital and with a building boom in the 1950s the city expanded beyond all previous boundaries. By the 1960s Athens had once again become one of the most interesting metropolises of Europe. With new plans this city of one million people is on its way to becoming a modern world metropolis.

Brasil


Christ watches over the city The other landmark is the around 130 foot (40 m) tall statue of Christ that stands on top of the approx. 2,300 foot (700 m) high Corcovado rocks to the west of the Sugar Loaf with his arms stretched out over the city. A winding road through a section of ancient rain forest and a rack railway reach the top. The mountain ridge from which the Corcovado rises separates the southern part of the planned rich suburb of Barra da Tijuca from the northerly National Park da Tijuca. Rio de Janeiro owes its stunning beauty to its position on the west- ern shore of the wide Guanabara Bay, at the foot of the slopes of the Morros, and the foothill of the Brazilian mountains that is covered in lush vegetation. This surely also impressed the Portuguese discoverer, Andre Gon-calves when he entered Gunanabara Bay on New Year's Day 1502. He mistakenly imagined there to be a river and named it Rio de Janeiro or "January River." Because the bay is an ideal natural harbor Goncalo Coelho built a Portuguese settlement at Urea, the hill below the Sugar Loaf. The first foundations of Cidade de Sao Sebastiao do Rio de Janeiro were laid in 1565 in the place that is now the center of the city. When gold was found in the early eighteenth century at the Gerais mines to the south of present-day Brasilia it led to a wave of immigration from Europe. The town quickly grew beyond its walls and replaced Bahia as the colonial capital in 1763. The gold mines were soon exhausted but after a short economic downturn the country turned to exporting coffee. When the Portuguese Royal family fled here to escape Napoleon in 1808 the colony grew even faster. New buildings were constructed, old ones were restored, new streets were driven through the town, and the public water supply was extended. Brazil shares a border with almost every other country in South America--only Chile and Ecuador are untouched--and covers almost half the continent. It is the fifth largest country in the world, behind Russia, Canada, China, and the U.S.A., with an area of eight and a half million square kilometers. Despite its vast expanse of territory, Brazil's population is concentrated in the major cities of its coast. The urban sprawls of Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo dominate the southern coast. Further north, towns such as Salvador and João Pessoa retain the colonial atmosphere of the early Portuguese settlers. The great interior, much of which is covered by the rainforest basin of the Amazon, remains sparsely settled.

New Zealand


While New Zealand is a relatively young country, it has a rich and fascinating history, reflecting both our Maori and European heritage. Amazing Maori historic sites and taonga (treasures), some dating back almost a thousand years, are a contrast to many beautiful colonial buildings. A walk around any New Zealand city today shows what a culturally diverse and fascinating country we have become. New Zealand has a unique and dynamic culture. The culture of its indigenous M?ori people affects the language, the arts, and even the accents of all New Zealanders. Their place in the South Pacific, and their love of the outdoors, sport, and the arts make New Zealanders and their culture unique in the world. New Zealand's spectacularly beautiful landscape includes vast mountain chains, steaming volcanoes, sweeping coastlines, deeply indented fiords and lush rainforests. Comparable in size and/or shape to Great Britain, Colorado or Japan, New Zealand has a population of only 4 million - making it one of the world's least crowded countries. It is a haven for those seeking peace, rejuvenation and relaxation as well as a playground for thrill seekers and adventurers. A temperate climate with relatively small seasonal variation makes it an ideal year-round holiday destination

Paris[France]


Paris - France
The poet Heinrich Heine wrote of Paris: "Living is so fine, so sweet on the banks of the Seine in Paris," and Ernest Hemingway described it as a "moveable feast." No other European city is so exuberantly loved as Paris and none other provides such an escape from reality. From a major appearance at the opera, through a picnic by the Seine, lunch at Brasserie Lipp, to sunbathing on the steps of the Sacre-Coeur, this city provides pleasure in abundance. The low, protected islands on the Seine tempted the Celts in the third century BC to settle in the heart of present-day Paris and the Romans too later appear to have found Lutetia Parisiorum as an ideal place for a settlement. The invading Franks started the rise of the city in the third century AD and in the tenth century it became a royal residence and acquired its principal role at the heart of France even after Louis XIV moved his court to Versailles. With a population of more than one million, Paris was at the very center, of the French Revolution. The city on the Seine is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world with its art and culture, but also its haute cuisine and haute couture.
Many visitors want to spend some time on the Boulevard St. Ger-main-des-Pres, or perhaps in heated existentialist debate in the Cafe de Flore. The area, that was formerly a monastery, attracted artists and writers and the arts are celebrated here with a unique diversity of galleries. Many visitors want to spend some time on the Boulevard St. Ger-main-des-Pres, or perhaps in heated existentialist debate in the Cafe de Flore. The area, that was formerly a monastery, attracted artists and writers and the arts are celebrated here with a unique diversity of galleries. It is impossible not to fall in love with Paris. The city's people are stylish and flirtatious, its architecture seductive, its restaurants and nightlife devoted to the pursuit of pleasure and its streets are scattered with dreams.
There is no 'best time' to visit Paris; in every season the city is always alive. Summer days are spent lazing on the banks of the Seine, sipping coffee at a sidewalk café, or idling in one of the city's many gardens or forests. In autumn afternoons the brisk walk from the Eiffel Tower through the Parc du Champ de Mars and up to the glittering Champs Elysées is accompanied with a carpet of leaves crunching underfoot. Winter nights induce a warm glow ice-skating in the outdoor rink at the Hotel de Ville, and in spring the passions of performers fill the air outside the Pompidou Centre and the nose is tickled with the subtle scents of flowering gardens.
There is an otherworldliness to this city, where beauty and elegance are favoured over purpose and practicality. Centuries of urban development have the appearance of having being mastered by a single hand with a strong sense of balance, contrast and aesthetics. The views from the Eiffel Tower or Sacré Coeur reveal hundreds of iconic attractions for the snapshot visitor, but the best way to see this city is by tucking your map back in your pocket and allowing yourself to get lost on its streets and avenues, discovering the city for yourself. However long you spend in Paris, on departure you will know you are sure to return.