Custom Search

world clock

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.

Dubrovnik - Croatia


The motto of Dubrovnik declares that “freedom is not for sale for all the money in the world .” The city unusually aroused a passion in the renowned cynic George Bernard Shaw who described the city as “a paradise on earth.” Like a fiery flower the "Pearl of the Adriatic" sits in a cerulean sea, protected by massive fortified walls, with beautiful Italianate architecture. There was an outcry throughout the world when the Serbs fired on Dubrovnik during the Balkan War because everyone knew the collective heritage was irreplaceable. Today the war damage has been extensively repaired thanks to the commitment of the local people and international aid, and the city's life has returned to normal. A settlement known as Epidau-rum was established on the mainland by the Greeks. When the Slavs invaded in 614 and conquered the place the inhabitants fled to a rocky island off the coast which today is the site of the old town of Dubrovnik. It speaks volumes for the diplomatic skills of the inhabitants that a couple of centuries later they formed a joint republic with their former enemies the Slavs settled on the mainland under the sovereignty of Byzantium. Traveling through Croatia, Dalmatia or Dubrovnik Region offers immense and rich experiences to every visitor. From the coastal to the continental parts, Croatia’s rich cultural heritage, combined with its magnificent natural beauties, make it the perfect place to spend your vacation at. The total land area of Croatia amounts to 56.610 km.sq / 35.336 sq.mi., with a population of approximately 4.9 million. It features a total land border of 1.778 km (1.110 mi.) stretching from the historic city of Dubrovnik in the South to the ancient Roman city of Pula in the North, encompassing a 1.278 km (789 mi.) section of the Adriatic Sea. Spread like pearls along the coast, Croatia’s 1.185 islands provide a magical paradise to be experienced and explored

Egypt


The Nile and an isolated location significantly aided the formation of one of the world's greatest civilisations. Egypt was founded in around 3200 BC by King Namer. This dynasty continued to rule for three more millennia. The Thirtieth, and last, Dynasty fell to Persians in 343 BC. The Persians designed and built the Suez Canal, connecting the Red Sea to the Mediterranean. The Persians were defeated in 332 BC by the Greeks who held onto Egypt until Antony and Cleopatra fell to Augustus Caesar in 31 BC. The Romans were finally defeated by the Byzantines in 395 AD and ruled until 641 AD when the Persians finally managed to recapture the land. The religion of Islam and the Arabic language was brought over by Muslim Arabs in the 7th century.
Egypt began to prosper and grew significantly in size and importance over the next few millennia. With the completion of the Suez Canal in 1869, the country became an important world transportation hub. The country saw its wealth and status rise dramatically. Unfortunately, this new-found wealth was short lived because in 1882, due to large debt, Egypt was seized by Britain. Egypt continued under British rule until 1953, when on June 18th, the country became a republic.

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? 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.
Posters proclaim "Our city is getting bigger and better." Dubai is one of the states forming the United Arab Emirates, about one and a half times the size of Luxembourg and the ruling Al Maktoum family wish to turn it into the world's most modern city. With its World Trade Center, Dubai is the most important trading center of the region, has the most competitive airport, and the largest artificial container harbor.
It rains Petro Dollars The dream blossoming began to develop when oil was found in the sea. With the successful offshore drilling Dubai overnight joined the club of oil extracting nations. The daily yield is in the region of 1,500,000-2,000,000 barrels and for the state's treasury it continuously rains Petro Dollars. Part of the wealth was shared with members of his tribe in 1990 by the ruler Sheik Rashid bin Zayed Al Maktoum, the 180,000 original inhabitants of Dubai. None of these descendants of Bedouin is forced to breed camels, fish, dive for pearls, or get involved in smuggling to make a living. They all live in luxury villas and have at least a Mercedes 600 parked by their gate. The Sheikh was concerned with engineers' reports that calculated Dubai's oil fields would be exhausted in the near future, perhaps as soon as 2025. In order to continue to profit from the blessings from Allah billions of dollars have been invested in major projects to yield major profits when the final drop of Dubai oil is drained off. In Dubai City two ages clash head on with each other. The area around the harbor was once an Arab settlement on either side of a small sea inlet that stretches for 7 and half miles (12 km) inland. Wide-beamed Arab dhows — trading vessels little changed since the Middle Ages - still moor at the quay. There are also oriental souks and old quarters such as Bastakia with its wind tower houses with decorated roofs that let fresh air into the living areas. This is all within a couple of hundred yards of the shaded business center and high-rise bank buildings with full air conditioning and marble clad temples of consumerism with their conspicuous design, sometimes ancient Egyptian, sometimes Belle Epoque, and sometimes futuristic. Tourism is also booming. For the wealthy there is an extremely modern cruise terminal and in winter the international airport conveys a virtually never-ending stream of pale westerners to the Marina. More than two hundred luxury hotels offer rooms and suites of more than

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 century that depict a group of three small islands south east of Madagascar that bear Arabic names.In 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.

Las Vegas


Prehistoric Southern Nevada was a virtual marsh of abundant water and vegetation.
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.

Tour To Costa Rica

Tour to Costa Rica and make your vacations memorable experience of life. Costa Rica is a destination, which is capable of offering lots of adventure in small geographical area.
Located in Central America and south of Nicaragua and North of Panama, Costa Rica has estimated area of 50,660 sq km and population of 3.5 million. Official religion is Roman Catholic however Protestant religion is also practiced.
Tour To Costa Rica will take you to the amazing world of nature. Rain forests, volcanoes, rivers, wide biodiversity and perfect exotic beaches together form this small country. Costa Rica Tourist Destinations also show wide diversity like the geographical features of Costa Rica. Tourist destinations of Costa Rica comprise of National Parks and beaches also. Costa Rica consists of some of the unexplored and unspoiled beaches of the world. Santa Rosa National Park-a Tropical Dry Forest, Juan Castro Blanco National Park Cloud Forest and National Park Guanacaste are the major national parks of Costa Rica. However there are 20 national parks total in Costa Rica.
Costa Rica also has lots to offer in adventure. Adventure Tour of Costa Rica comprises of Scuba Diving, River Rafting, Bird Watching, Turtle Watching, Surfing, Hiking and Hot-air Balloon ride. Beside these explore the forest of Costa Rica to find some amazing facts about species of flora and fauna.
Costa Rica like its geographical diversity also has large numbers of festivals in almost every month of the year. Caribbean Music Festival, Artisan's Fair, International Arts Festival, National Orchid Show, International Dance Festival are the festivals of national importance.
Costa Rica Cuisine is simple and cheap. National dish is Gallo pinto- dish of fried rice and black beans. Beef and Chicken are inexpensive in Costa Rica whereas despite of a long coastline Seafood is expensive.
Costa Rica Tour offers lot of things to shop in Costa Rica Shopping Package. Handmade Cuban Cigars, Coffee, Flowers, Sara de Mallorca Pearls and Jewelry Boxes made of wood are the most demanding goods of Costa Rica.

RUSSIA


Russia is one of the most fascinating countries in the world. Though yet to become a developed tourist country, it has tremendous natural beauty, diversity and historical and cultural traditions. The national language is Russian, which is a Slavic language related to Polish, Czech, Slovak, Bulgarian and some others. The best way to travel and avoid traffic jams is to use the subway called the Metro. The system is clean and inexpensive and many of the stations are architectural masterpieces. Besides the two major cities of Moscow and St. Petersburg, there are many other cities and villages with splendid architectural and cultural traditions here. Cities of the "Golden Ring" close to the capital are Suzdal, Vladimir, Kostroma, Ivanovo, Sergiev Posad, Rostov Veliky, Yaroslavl and Pereslavl Zalessky.

Mauritius Tours


Mauritius is an idyllic and beautiful tourist destination that is just perfect for a stopover on a business trip to Asia or for spending a fantastic holiday on the golden beaches of this magnificent island in the Indian Ocean. For the island has everything from beautiful landscapes with open valleys and dense forests to endless gardens of coral populated by a countless variety of fish on the reefs surrounding it. The Republic of Mauritius has a total square area of 1860 km with a population of 1.2 million people. It has an interesting mix of Indo-Mauritians, Créole, Sino-Mauritians and Franco-Mauritians who may be Hindu, Christian or Muslim. Predictably, a large number of languages are spoken here such as English, French, Urdu, Créole, Hindi, Hakka and Bhojpuri.

Taj Mahal[most visited attractions]


The Taj Mahal (pronounced /tɑʒ mə'hɑl/) (Persian: تاج محل), is a mausoleum located in Agra, India, that was built under Mughal Emperor Shah Jahanin memory of his favorite wife, Mumtaz Mahal.
The Taj Mahal (also "the Taj") is considered the finest example of Mughal architecture, a style that combines elements from Persian, Turkish, Indian, and Islamic architectural styles. In 1983, the Taj Mahal became a UNESCO World Heritage Site and was cited as "the jewel of Muslim art in India and one of the universally admired masterpieces of the world's heritage."
While the white domed marble and tile mausoleum is most familiar, Taj Mahal is an integrated symmetric complex of structures that was completed around 1648. Ustad Ahmad Lahauriis generally considered to be the principal designer of the Taj Mahal

Disneyland Resort Paris[most visited attractions]


Disneyland Resort Paris is a holiday and recreation resort in Marne-la-Vallée a new town in the eastern suburbs of Paris, France The complex is located 32 km (20 miles) from the centre of Paris and lies for the most part on the territory of the communeof Chessy
Disneyland Resort Paris features two theme parks, an entertainmentdistrict and seven Disney-owned hotels. Operating since April 12, 1992, it was the second Disney resort to open outside the United States (following Tokyo Disney Resort, and the first to be owned and operated by Disney. With 14.5 million visitors in the fiscal year of 2007, it is one of Europe's leading tourist destinations.
Disneyland Resort Paris is owned and operated by French company Euro Disney S.C. a publi company of which 39.78% of its stock is held by The Walt Disney Company, 10% by the Saudi Prince Alwaleedand 50.22% by other shareholders. The resort is run by chairman and CEO Karl Holz.
The complex was a subject of controversyduring the periods of negotiation and construction, when a number of prominent French figures voiced their opposition and protests were held by French labour unions and others. A further setback followed the opening of the resort as park attendance, hotel occupancy and revenues fell below projections. Partly as a result of this, the complex was renamed from Euro Disney Resort to Disneyland Paris in 1995. In July of that year, the company saw its first quarterly profit.
A second theme park, Walt Disney Studios Park, was opened to the public on March 16, 2002.

Notre Dame de Paris[most visited attractions]


Notre Dame de Paris is a Gothic cathedral on the eastern half of the Île de la Citéin Paris France, with its main entrance to the west. It is still used as a Roman Catholic cathedral and is the seat of the Archbishop of Paris. Notre Dame de Paris is widely considered one of the finest examples of French Gothic architecture. It was restored and saved from destruction by Viollet-le-Duc, one of France's most famous architects. The name Notre Dame means "Our Lady" in French. Notre Dame de Paris was one of the first Gothic cathedrals, and its construction spanned the Gothic period. Its sculptures and stained glass show the heavy influence of naturalism, giving them a more secular look that was lacking from earlier Romanesque architecture.
Notre Dame de Paris was among the first buildings in the world to use the flying buttress The building was not originally designed to include the flying buttresses around the choir and nave. After the construction began and the thinner walls (popularized in the Gothic style) grew ever higher, stress fractures began to occur as the walls pushed outward. In response, the cathedral's architects built supports around the outside walls, and later additions continued as such.
The cathedral suffered desecration during the radical phase of the French Revolution in the 1790s, when much of its religious imagery was damaged or destroyed. During the 19th century, an extensive restoration project was completed, returning the cathedral to its previous state.

Fisherman's Wharf, San Francisco, California[most visited attractions]


Fisherman's Wharf is a neighborhood and popular tourist attraction in San Francisco, California.
It roughly encompasses the northern waterfront area of San Francisco from Ghirardelli Square or Van Ness Street east to Pier 35 or Kearny Street. It is best known for being the location of Pier 39, San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park, the Cannery Shopping Center, Ghirardelli Square, a Ripley's Believe it or Not museum, the Musée Mécanique, the Wax Museum at Fisherman's Wharf, Forbes Island and restaurants and stands that serve fresh seafood, most notably dungeness crab and clam chowder served in a sourdough bread bowl. Some of the restaurants, like Pompeii's and Alioto's #8, go back for three generations of the same family ownership. Nearby Pier 45, there is a chapel in memory of the "Lost Fishermen" of San Francisco and Northern California though it might not always be open everyday. Once a year, the chapel has a service for the lost fishermen.
Transportation to Fisherman's Wharf can be provided in a variety of ways. The F Market runs through the area, the Powell-Hyde cable car lines runs to Aquatic Park, at the edge of Fisherman's Wharf, and the Powell-Mason cable car line runs a few blocks away. Other popular areas in San Francisco, such as Chinatown, Lombard Street and North Beachare all located in proximity to Fisherman's Wharf.
Fisherman's Wharf plays host to many San Francisco events, including a world-class fireworks display for Fourth of July, and some of the best views of the Fleet Week air shows.
One of The City's most popular figures is a harmless but controversial resident of Fisherman's Wharf called the World Famous Bushman a local street performer who sits behind some branches and startles people who walk by. He has gained notoriety during the 28 years he has been doing this.

Niagara Falls[most visited attractions]


Niagara Falls (French: les Chutes du Niagara) are massive waterfallson the Niagara River, straddling the international border separating the Canadian province of Ontario and the U.S. state of New York. The falls are 17 miles (27 km) north-northwest of Buffalo, New York, 75 miles (120 km) south-southeastof Toronto, Ontari, between the twin cities of Niagara Falls, Ontario, and Niagara Falls, New York.
Niagara Falls is composed of two major sections separated by Goat Island: Horseshoe Falls, on the Canadian side of the border and American Falls on the United States side. The smaller Bridal Veil Falls also is located on the American side, separated from the main falls by Luna Island. Niagara Falls were formed when glaciers receded at the end of the Wisconsin glaciation (the last ice age), and water from the newly-formed Great Lakes carved a path through the Niagara Escarpment en route to the Atlantic Ocean. While not exceptionally high, the Niagara Falls are very wide. More than six million cubic feet (168,000 m³) of water fall over the crest line every minute in high flowand almost 4 million cubic feet (110,000 m³) on average. It is the most powerful waterfall in North America
The Niagara Falls are renowned both for their beauty and as a valuable source of hydroelectric power. Managing the balance between recreational, commercial, and industrial uses has been a challenge for the stewards of the falls since the 1800s.

Disneyland Park[most visited attractions]


Disneyland is an American theme park in Anaheim, California, owned and operated by the Disney Parks and Resorts division of The Walt Disney Company It opened on July 17, 1955, in ceremonies led by Walt Disney.
Currently the park has been visited by more than 515 million guests since it opened, including presidents, royalty and other heads of state. In 1998, the theme park was re-branded Disneyland Park to distinguish it from the larger Disneyland Resort complex. In 2007, over 14,800,000 people visited the park making it the second most visited park in the whole world.

Trafalgar Square[most visited attractions]


Trafalgar Square is a square in central London, England. With its position in the heart of London, it is a popular tourist attraction; its trademarks are Nelson's Column, which stands in the centre, the four lion statues that guard the Column, and the large amount of pigeons that live in the square. Other statues and sculptures are also on display in the square, including a fourth plinth displaying changing pieces of contemporary art, and it is a frequent site of political demonstrations
The name commemorates the Battle of Trafalgar (1805), a British naval victory of the Napoleonic Wars The original name was to have been "King William the Fourth's Square", but George Ledwell Taylor suggested the name "Trafalgar Square".
The northern area of the square had been the site of the King's Mews since the time of Edward I, while the southern end was the original Charing Cross, where the Strand from the City met Whitehall, coming north from Westminster. As the midpoint between these twin cities, Charing Cross is to this day considered the heart of London, from which all distances today are measured.
In the 1820s the Prince Regent engaged the landscape architect John Nash to redevelop the area. Nash cleared the square as part of his Charing Cross Improvement Scheme. The present architecture of the square is due to Sir Charles Barry and was completed in 1845

Walt Disney World Resort{most visited attractions}


Walt Disney World Resort is the most visited and largest recreational resort in the world, containing four theme parks, two water parks, twenty-three themed hotels, and numerous shopping, dining, entertainment and recreation venues. Owned and operated by the Walt Disney Parks and Resorts segment of The Walt Disney Company, it is located southwest of Orlando, Florida, USA. The property often is abbreviated Walt Disney World, Disney World or WDW.
It opened on October 1, 1971, with the Magic Kingdomtheme park, and has since added Epcot (on October 1, 1982), Disney's Hollywood Studios (on May 1, 1989), and Disney's Animal Kingdom (on April 22, 1998).

National Mall{washington}[most visited attractions]


The National Mall is an open-area national park in downtownWashington, D.C., the capital of the United States Officially termed by the National Park Service National Mall and Memor Parksthe term commonly includes the areas that are officially part of West Potomac Park and Constitution Gardens to the west, and often is taken to refer to the entire area between the Lincoln Memorial and the Capitol, with the Washington Monument providing a division slightly west of the center.

Times Square{new york}[Most visited attractions]


Times Square is a major intersection in Manhattan, New York City at the junction of Broadway and Seventh Avenue and stretching from West 42nd to West 47th Streets. The Times Square area consists of the blocks between Sixth and Eighth Avenues from east to west, and West 40th and West 53rd Streets from south to north, making up the western part of the commercial area of Midtown Manhattan.
Formerly Longacre Square, Times Square was renamed after the Times Building (now OneTimes Square), the former offices of The New York Times, in April 1904. Like the Red Square in Moscow, Trafalgar Square in London, and Tiananmen Square in Beijing, Times Square has achieved the status of an iconic world landmark and has become a symbol of its city. Times Square is principally defined by its animated, digital advertisements.
The intersection of Broadway and 42nd Street, at the southeast corner of Times Square, is the Eastern Terminus of the Lincoln Highway, the first road across America.
On Google Earth, Times Square marks the very center of New York City.

Tourism

Tourism is travel for predominantly recreational or leisure purposes or the provision of services to support this leisure travel. The World Tourism Organization defines tourists as people who "travel to and stay in places outside their usual environment for not more than one consecutive year for leisure, business and other purposes not related to the exercise of an activity remunerated from within the place visited". Tourism has become a popular global leisure activity. In 2006, there were over 846 million international tourist arrivalsTourism is vital for many countries such as Egypt, Thailand and many island nations such as Fiji, due to the large intake of money for businesses with their goods and services and the opportunity for employment in the service industries associated with tourism. These service industries include transportation services such as cruise ships and taxis, accommodation such as hotels and entertainment venues, and other hospitality industry services such as resorts.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Travel to Switzerland

Wanna a trip to heaven? Just come to central Europe. Bordered by France, Germany, Italy, Austria and Liechtenstein, a small but one of the most beautiful places of the world, Switzerland is waiting for you. The name itself creates an illusion of chocolates, cheese, watches and glorious snow clad mountains in front of eyes.Located in a transition zone, Switzerland has strong influence of Atlantic Ocean in the west while eastern part has almost continental climate. Maximum temperature will be around 35C in summer where as winters are more cold and dry with temperature of 0C all over.
The history of Switzerland is also quite fascinating and attractive just likes Switzerland travel. Habitated by a Celtic tribe called Helvetia in the ancient times, it became a part of the Holy Roman Empire in A.D.1032. But was soon captured by the mighty Habsburg Empire of Germany. In A.D.1291, the death of Habsburg ruler Rudolf I led the formation of Swiss Confederation.
Switzerland tour packages offers touring different countries at a single period of time. Got confused? But it is true as Switzerland has cultural elements of Germany, French and Italy. Languages spoken here are German, French, Italian and Romansh.That's why Switzerland tour reveals culture of these countries also.
Switzerland tour packages provide numerous opportunities of adventures sports be it skiing or mountaineering or paragliding. Slopes of Alps and Zura are great places for skiing. Adventurous packages clearly show why Alps make Switzerland a truly paradise country. But there are more than just snow-clad peaks of Alps, cheese and chocolate. Small villages in rugged mountains valleys, crystal lakes surrounded by green pastures and magnificent art and architecture made travel to this small paradise country a matter of worth million dollars.
Switzerland tour package not only open gates to be eyewitness of its natural beauty but also highlight, its world famous cities. Major holidaying destinations are Geneva, a French-speaking city and home to many international organizations. Zurich, a garden city between wooded hills, dominated by German language, has twin Gothic towers of the Crossmunster church. Also has Fraunmunster church that features the splendid Chargall stained glass windows. Basel, the ancient city, is a center of art and research. It boasts a sandstone cathedral, world-class fine arts museum. Beside these major cities, Graubunden region to the east is the center of distinctive Romansh culture and language.
Not only this, Switzerland travel gives you a chance to be a part of the popular summer jazz festival of this little paradise also at Montreux. Opera houses in Zurich and Geneva are the gems of entertainment of chocolate land. St. Moritz, Zermatt and Davos are the famous winter resort known for ski activities. Kunstmuseum in Basel is world's oldest public art collection having paintings of 15th to 20th centuries including works of Picasso, Braque and many more.Cuisines of Switzerland are little bit expensive in comparison to most of European countries. The most important part of food is dessert. Any flavors of cakes or cookies or world famous Swiss chocolates.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Five Star Hotels in Dubai

Dubai is a five star tourist destination that abounds in a number of five star hotels that perfectly complement the appeal of this fascinating place. The five star hotels in Dubai provides for luxurious accommodation. The majority of the five star hotels in Dubai is both externally and internally eye catching and offers rooms and suites that are not only plush but are considered cocoons of comfort for the jaded travelers. Worldtravel4indians.com provides you with valuable inputs on some of the best five star hotels in Dubai.
Burj al Arab Hotel
Rated as one of the most spectacular hotels in the world, Burj al Arab Hotel is an imposing structure that dominates the Jumeirah coastline. This luxurious seven star hotel in Dubai soars up to a height of about 320 meters and enjoys the distinction of being the world's tallest hotel building.
At Burj al Arab Hotel, the guests are offered the choice of 202 Duplex Suites that includes Deluxe, Panoramic, Two-bedroom, Club and Presidential options. Every suite is replete with the reception, push button operated air-conditioning, lighting an curtains, dining area, sofa, business desk with laptop, private fax and copier, 42 inch plasma TV screen with video on demand and 65 cable channels, DVD system, mini-bar, spacious bathroom with bath, Jacuzzi and separate shower and floor to ceiling windows.
The dining facilities offered at the hotel are simply unmatched. The six restaurants whip up delectable dishes that would tickle your taste buds. The other facilities offered at the hotel include health club, spa, swimming pools, children's pool, fitness studio and aerobics floor.
The Royal Mirage
The Royal Mirage is another favored five star hotels in Dubai. The hotel takes its inspiration from the Arabian palace and fortress and is an impressive structure located on a striking one-kilometer stretch of Jumeira beach.
At The Royal Mirage, you will get to stay put in the 246 rooms and suites that afford soul stirring sea views. All the rooms are complete with the requisite modern amenities that comprise of air-conditioners, walk-in closet, luxurious bathroom with separate shower, satellite TV, IDD telephone, private balconies or ground floor patios.
The themed restaurant, café, bars, swimming pools, tennis courts, putting green, croquet lawn, basketball, volleyball, fitness room, steam bath, children's center, sailing, windsurfing, water skiing, health and beauty facilities enhance the appeal of the hotel.
Jumeira Beach Hotel
This five star hotel in Dubai lies in close proximity to Dubai's world renowned International golf courses and shopping galleries. Its strategic location makes it a great favorite among both the business and the leisure travelers. The recently inaugurated spa offers rejuvenating and pampering massages by its professional therapists and masseurs.
The other major five star hotels in Dubai include, Al Bustan Rotana, Taj Palace, Crowne Plaza Hotel, Emirates Towers Hotel, Grand Hyatt Hotel, Hilton Dubai Jumeirah, Renaissance Hotel , Sheraton Hotel and Shangri-La Hotel.
World Travel 4 Indians is an international travel site and a repository of useful information on Five Star Hotels in Dubai and on various aspects of traveling to Dubai.

Sydney{Australia}


Located in the South Western corner of Australia, Sydney is the capital of New South Wales state and largest city of Australia. With Australian capital Canberra and Melbourne, Sydney creates a corridor of three most important cities in the country. The city has a large immigrant population that gives it a cosmopolitan character. Sydney is also the economic powerhouse of the country with great many tourist attractions that symbolises the modern world in which we are living. Explore the Sydney Harbour, The Rock, Sydney Opera House, Circular Qua, Darling Harbour, Bondy Beach, and Olympic Stadium among others.