Monday, August 30, 2010

National Geographic Photo Contest

National Geographic Energizer Ultimate Photo ContestI have always been a huge fan of National Geographic's fine photography whether it be exotic wildlife from far-flung places, extraordinary scenes of nature or mood-capturing images of people from around the planet.

In their annual photography competition, over 14,000 entries from budding amateurs and enthusiasts have been narrowed down to 12 finalists across six categories (wildlife, people, nature, travel, weather and energy). All are exceptional photos (view them all in the widget below) for which you can vote the six category winners and ultimate winner. The lead photo above shows the 2009 winner of the same contest - a deeply evocative and moving photo capturing man's will and determination.

National Geographic Ultimate Photo Contest

My personal favourite is the galloping brown bear. Please comment below on your personal favourite and why.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Daylight Robbery


In Melbourne recently, I heard a story about the origins of the term daylight robbery. During the 17th and 18th centuries in Britain, households were taxed based on the number of windows their house contained. As richer people were more likely to live in larger houses with a greater number of windows, it was introduced as an early method of progressive taxation. In times past, it was seen as an invasion of privacy for income to be declared.

To reduce their tax, some families embarked on enclosing some of their windows by bricking or sealing over some of the window spaces (such as the photographed examples in Derbyshire). Protesters claimed it the technique to be a tax on daylight; hence daylight robbery.

So next time you protest at an airline's surcharges or hotel's room rate, you are probably utilising a term borne of an old tax system.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Mediterranean Cruises Top Four Destinations


guest post by Gill Cruises

Every year, more and more travellers are discovering the convenience, flexibility and excitement of embarking on a cruise ship holiday. While there are cruises sailing around the world, those heading to the Mediterranean are among the most magical and beautiful. Few other cruise destinations offer the cultural wealth and historical beauty like Monte Carlo, Naples, Athens or Istanbul. And unlike a traditional holiday, where you will spend many days of your travel time in transit, on a cruise ship all the travelling is done at night while you catch up on your beauty rest. Each morning you will wake up to discover a new port of call.

Athens, Greece is one of the world’s oldest cities, with around 3,400 years of recorded history. On your stop in Athens, there are tours to view a stunning array of ancient monuments and works of art. The Parthenon on the hill of the Acropolis is not to be missed, but you could also visit the Propylea, the Temple of the Wingless Victory, the Erechtheion temple, the Acropolis Museum, the Arch of Hadrian or the Temple of Olympian Zeus. There is also a huge collection of antiquities for you to peruse at the National Archaeological Museum.

Naples, Italy is another very popular port of call on Mediterranean cruises. This is another ancient city, dating back more than 2,800 years. Naples is also brimming with extraordinary works of art and architecture. Pompeii should be at the top of your list of tours, one of the world’s most famous excavation sites. Naples is also the birthplace of pizza, so you should seek out an authentic Italian pizza shop before you head back to the ship.

Monte Carlo, Monaco is undoubtedly the most glamorous city on the Riviera, and has long been a favourite holiday destination for the rich and famous. The most popular day trips include stops at the casino, the Hotel de Paris, the Oceanographic Museum, and the Cathedral of St. Nicholas, where Princess Grace and Prince Rainier are entombed.

Istanbul, Turkey dates back to 800 BC, but is now a modern, bustling city of almost 12 million people. One of the most inspiring experiences you might have is listening to the prayers being broadcast over the public loudspeakers in the morning or evening. There are also amazing day trips to visit the Blue Mosque, Istanbul Archaeology Museum, Basilica Cistern, or the Grand Bazaar, the oldest and largest covered marketplace in the world.

Taking a Mediterranean cruise holiday with Cunard Cruises is simply one of the best vacation values for the money. You will be able to sample a wide geographic area of destinations, and see if you’d like to return there for a longer holiday. You will find a non-stop variety of activities, events, activities and meals, and you will be pampered like nowhere else. Plus, most of your shopping can be done duty free! With so much to see and do, every traveller will come home with wonderful memories to last a lifetime.

Photo Credits: ship

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Photo of the Week: Remote African Village (DR Congo)

The Congo River journey is one of the great travel wonders experiences on water. In a country dogged with political and military upheaval, the journey passes spectacular untracked rain forests and tiny remote villages whose only contact to the outside world is via the river boat. Hemmed in by heavy rain forest, the villages maintain their difficult existence through fishing, a small garden, a little hunting and bartering with other villages via the river boat. Small wooden craft called pirogues are used to paddle out to the river boat to conduct the barter for required goods.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Temple of Literature (Hanoi, Vietnam)


For a tranquil escape (along with a sublime Vietnamese slow drip coffee) in the bustle of Vietnam’s capital, Hanoi, little surpasses the Temple of Literature. Initially built as a Confucian temple, it became Vietnam’s earliest university almost 950 years ago (predating any European university) and still harbours the academic ambiance of years past.

Initially only offered to noble or royal students, the university opened to all students some centuries later. Passing the imperial doctorate examination that gave privileged passage to life serving the royal court was murderously difficult. Elegantly carved stone steles celebrate each successful student, documenting their name and town. The steles are perched on turtles symbolising the patience to obtain the education and the longevity of the Vietnamese nation and border a peaceful lake (the Well of Heavenly Clarity). Only 1300 names are listed across the three hundred years of steles that remain though undoubtedly others have been lost over time.

Rich in Confucian symbolism, the temple is laid out with the same plan as that of Confucius’s birth place in China. Five courtyards are separated by grand ornamental entrances and walls with a long central path. While the central courtyard contains the steles, one courtyard (the Courtyard of Sages) continues to celebrate Confucius’s teaching with people quietly sitting in contemplative thought.

The Temple of Literature is a Hanoi highlight celebrating scholarly excellence, the thought-provoking teachings of Confucius and remains a peaceful paradise of trees, lawns and history to escape the rush of Vietnamese life.

Travel Tips on raveable

Friday, August 13, 2010

Save an Average of 41% on your City Break Hotel


Guest post by the short breaks team at travelsupermarket.com.

Some great advice on saving significant money on hotel bookings based on recent European research from travelsupermarket.com. I was surprised by the size of the savings for the sake of a staying a couple of miles from the city centre.

Many holidaymakers are turning their interests to the increasingly popular European city break. Whether they’re looking to enjoy the breathtaking architecture of Barcelona’s cityscape, or wanting to jet away with your beloved partner for a romantic Parisian setting, you’ll be surprised to know you can save a remarkable 41% (£53 per room per night) on your hotel, simply by booking 5 miles from the centre itself.

Research by travelsupermarket.com shows the average of 41% across 5 of the more popular destinations. For a Parisian getaway you can save even more, with the average being 48%. Not only can you save by venturing a little further, you can also opt for higher quality hotels, take the French capital for example, you can book the 4 star Golden Tulip Paris hotel, just 5 miles out for £100 a night, while the 1 star Le Petit Belloy Saint German within the centre, is offering a room for £132 per night.

This isn’t just the case for Paris; the research shows a similar pattern for Venice, London, Barcelona and Madrid. A saving of £94 per room per night (60%) can be found in London by being a little further afield.

The main thing you should bear in mind to see prices fall, is to keep to hotels away from major business areas such as Canary Wharf in London or La Defense in Pais, as their popularity is shown in the price.

Venturing from the centre and its attractions isn’t the setting stone for a dull weekend. The hotels that featured within the research were well within a mile of a bus or metro station, enabling access to all of the city’s sites.

Even with the prices of metro or bus tickets, you’ll still be making a recognisable saving. Taking London for example, a hotel 5 miles out will put you within zone 3 of the tube map; the most expensive travel day card will cost £6.30 per adult, which covers zones 1-4 off-peak. Being £12.60 a day for two adults, you’ll still be saving on average over £40 a day, nearly £81 over the course of the weekend. And in the majority of cases, even staying in the centre itself may need the ability to travel in order to see some of the more renowned sites.

Metro and bus tickets are relatively inexpensive, with option to have individual or day passes. Most cities also offer travel cards or something similar that will give you access to all the cities public transport, from undergrounds to water buses.

There are some instances where opting for a travel card will give you additional benefits. London’s travel card comes with a promotional 2 for 1 entry to some of London’s more popular attractions such as the London Eye and the London Tower. This is available to anyone purchasing a travel card from specific railway stations as opposed to the underground or Dockland Light Rail (DLR), saving even more.

Top tips for saving money on city break hotels:

    •   Look for hotels 5 miles or further from the city centre.
    •   Book a hotel close to a Metro or bus station for ease and quick access to the city’s attractions.
    •   Check travel cards for promotions, like 2 for 1 entry to major attractions, giving you additional savings (terms and conditions often apply, please check relevant websites for more details)
    •   Avoid hotels near stadiums or business areas

Research Notes
Research conducted by travelsupermarket.com. Correct on 14 June 2010.
Based on 2 adults, 1 double room, room only. Dates of: 16th-18th July (Friday and Saturday night).
Prices per room per night.
Data compiled on 5 cities of London, Venice, Paris, Madrid and Barcelona.


Photo Credits: Coins, Paris, London

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Photo of the Week: Balance and Poise (Burkina Faso)

I love the grace of this west African woman as she carries her baby, nonchalantly balancing half a dozen bowls and plates on her head. Yells of nasara (white person) punctuated the colour, activity and music of this vibrant food market in the west African country of Burkina Faso as it became impossible to anonymously and quietly purchase some food and enjoy the market. An aid worker in the area informed me that the term was endearing and respectful, simply a way to attract your attention and not vaguely racially motivated.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Review: Iconic Guides


Most travellers are familiar with the idea of hiring a knowledgeable guide or renting an audio tour for castles, museums and historic sites. While guides vary in quality and language skills but can answer questions, audio tours are typically well spoken and cost around US$10 for headsets and the recording.

Dr Benedict Davies, an Egyptologist, approached me for a review of his new business, Iconic Guides, an online organisation that offers specialist detailed audio tours of historic sites around the world. Dr Davies hit upon the idea after a frustrating tour of China unable to find good guides for some of the major Chinese sights.

Guides for various significant locations can be purchased for £2.99 (around US$4.75) each via Paypal and downloaded to the traveller’s personal iPod or MP3 player.

At present, selections are available for Egypt, Greece and Japan with plans for an expanded Greece, Italy, Turkey, Mexico and China as knowledgeable specialists for these countries produce suitable guides.

Having travelled to Egypt a couple of years ago, Iconic Guides offered me two sample audio tours (that normally cost £2.99 each) of locations I am familiar with – the 4500 year old Step Pyramid near Cairo and the Temple of Hatshepsut or Deir el-Bahari (temple to the first great female Egyptian ruler) in Luxor.

With a link (active for 72 hours) obtained on payment through the Paypal system after registration with Iconic Guides, each guide is downloaded (several MB in size) as a zip file containing a simple one page printable PDF map of the site with numbered locations corresponding to a recorded segment detailing between one and five minutes of information about the specific location. The guides start with more general information placing the site in context with the relevant history of the time.

The audio guides are spoken by a professional, high-quality, well spoken female UK English voiceover artist making the descriptions easy to absorb and easy to listen to and understand. The information is reasonably detailed covering cultural, artistic and architectural heritage without veering into areas beyond the interest levels of most informed visitors. A sample of the audio content is available on the website’s home page. The Step Pyramid commentary runs to around 19 minutes in eight parts while the larger and more complex Temple of Hatshepsut guide is around 26 minutes in 16 parts.

The audio guides are factual, detailed and informational in style but lack the flair that good on-site human guides can offer, interspersing factual details with entertaining anecdotes to keep a lighter more entertaining feel.

As travellers typically visit several sites in one major location, several packages of audio guides are available. Examples include the temples of Kyoto (seven guides) for £13.99 (around US$22) and the temples of Luxor (five guides) for £11.99 (around US$19).

In my view, Iconic Guides are best suited to those organised and informed independent travellers who typically hire the handheld recordings or hire guides for a more in-depth experience and understanding of a site. Spoken in clear easy-to-understand English, there are also no battles with accents or the frustration of limited or poorly written English signage. It will also suit those travelling in groups on a pre-defined itinerary that may wish to escape the tour group at a specific location or hear more about a location than the accompanying tour leader may be able to offer.

While presently limited in locations, Iconic Guides will become more prevalent as further guides are added.

At little more than the cost of a coffee, the price of an individual recording compares more than favourably with the price of renting an audio guide on location. Related bundles reduce the cost of individual guides but start to mount for countries with wide numbers of historic sites (such as Egypt). One attractive bundling option that Iconic Guides could consider for countries like Egypt and Japan is a “highlights” bundle that groups the temples and sights more typically visited by travellers on touring a country, accompanied with a general quick overview of the ancient history of the country.

Photo Credit: Girl

Friday, August 6, 2010

Top Five Travel Wonders of Scotland


Guest post by Scottish castle venue, Birkhill Castle

Scotland has a rugged beauty rich in history and stunning scenery. This is a list of five special Scottish wonders.

1. Isle of Skye

The Isle of Skye is a beautiful must-see scenic island located off of the west coast of Scotland. The location offers many attractions to visitors including a vast assortment of wildlife and a rich variety of birds. The picturesque mountainous landscape harbours a rich culture and history dating back to the Mesolithic period. Traversing the crags and lochs of the Isle of Skye is sure to be a breathtaking experience.

2. Loch Lomond

Loch Lomond, a freshwater loch located between the Scottish highlands and lowlands, is the largest loch in Great Britain. It contains numerous small islands within its perimeter. The Loch is famous for the Loch Lomond Golf Club, its aquarium and its variety of watersports. Visitors come from all over the world to kayak, canoe, jetski, and various other water activities on the loch.

3. St. Andrew’s

The university town of St. Andrews, Scotland is the spiritual home of the sport of golf with Scotland and Ireland being home to a number of the most beautiful and famous golf courses in the world. St. Andrews is the home of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club which was founded in 1754 while the area of St. Andrews has been the home to settlers since the Mesolithic period. Other attractions include the historic university, the tower of Holy Trinity, the picturesque ruins of St. Andrews Castle (dating from 1200) and the Cathedral of St. Andrews, located in the east side of the town.

4. Edinburgh

Although also being the capital city of Scotland, Edinburgh boasts several historic attractions of its own making it another must-see for the visitor to Scotland. Edinburgh is located in the south east side of Scotland and is the second most visited location in Great Britain. When in Edinburgh, visitors should catch a glimpse of St. Giles Cathedral and the Royal Museum of Scotland located in Old Town Edinburgh as well as other locations including the imposing Edinburgh Castle from which one can see all of Edinburgh New Town.

5. Stirling Castle

Located atop Castle Hill, a volcanic hill in Stirling, Scotland, this castle is arguably one of the most awe- inspiring castles in all of Scotland. The buildings range in age from the fourteenth to the sixteenth century and have undergone numerous sieges and uses over the centuries but remains to this day, one of most notable locations in Great Britain.

Photo Credits: Boat, Isle of Skye, Loch Lomond, St Andrews, Edinburgh, Stirling Castle

Travel Tips on raveable

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

La Residencia in Deia (Mallorca, Spain)


guest post by Elegant Resorts

La Residencia hotel is situated in the small village known as Deia, Spain. It is an ideal place for a luxury holiday in Spain with its luxurious spa facilities and tennis courts and stunning mountain views. It is located close to the Mediterranean Sea and offers guests the unique experience of fun, comfort and seclusion. Tucked away on a hillside, surrounded by a host of trees and citrus groves, this hotel has been voted in the top three of its kind in Europe.

The history of La Residencia dates as far back as the 16th century. Initially the hotel consisted of three manor houses. Today it has grown significantly to include 63 rooms situated on over 30 acres of hillside. There is also a gymnasium, Jacuzzi, sauna, indoor pool a therapy centre and steam room. The hotel offers activities such as golf lessons, bike rides or beauty treatments.

Deia is an idyllic village with beautiful historic buildings constructed of local stone and a secluded cove. Olive groves and orange trees add to the extraordinary beauty and peace of this Mallorcan haven.



La Residencia is famous for its cuisine offered at the two restaurants located on the premises. El Olivo is arguably one of the best restaurants in Mallorca. The tasty meals are prepared by renowned chef Guillermo Mendez. The restaurant offers a romantic candlelight setting and is also known for its impressive wine list. The Son Fony bistro serves breakfast made from homemade products. Guests are able to enjoy a delicious Mediterranean meal while taking in views of the mountain.

The hotel offers a wide variety of options to keep guest accommodated. They offer ballooning, helicopter rides, yoga lessons, donkey trials and other activities. However, one of the greatest appeals seems to be the spa packages. This includes a daily buffet breakfast and a choice between four different spa programs. This hotel is also the ideal venue to host events such as weddings and receptions.

There are three banqueting salons and conference rooms. Each distinctive in d├ęcor. There is the Sala Albeniz, Sala ex Teix, Sala son Fony and the Sala sa Tafona gallery. The salon Albeniz is large room, ideal for banquets, reception, dinners or other events. The Sala ex Teix offers a smaller space than the previous one; this is perfect for conferences or small business meetings. The third salon is known as the Sala sa Tafona gallery and can be used for meetings or cocktail parties. As the name suggest this room is beautifully decorated with a number of different pieces of art. The salon son Fony is attached to the Son Fony restaurant and is usually reserved for cocktail or dinner parties.

Whatever your reason for visiting Deia, be sure to stay at the luxurious La Residencia, one of Europe’s finest hotels.

Photo Credits: Sunset, Deia Hilltop, Stairs

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Drinks Around the World: Zobo (Nigeria)


Many years ago, I spent a year travelling through Africa overland starting in Morocco and ending in Zimbabwe. One of the most remarkable aspects of Africa was the broad variety of local drinks created, brewed, cooked and mixed.

In a number of small towns in Nigeria, a refreshing drink called zobo was offered to visitors or available in the market. The rich red beverage is created by adding a generous handful of hibiscus buds and sugar to boiling water (making it safe to drink!!) and brewing for around 10 or 15 minutes. Left to cool, pineapple juice and sometimes ginger are added to make for a refreshing cool drink that tastes of a mix of a tart herbal tea and tangy juice. While in Nigeria, I had to be extremely cautious that cold water or ice had never been added, it tastes best chilled and is fairly easy to recreate at home.
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At the start of every month, Travel Wonders highlights a characteristic drink experienced on his travel. Previous non-alcoholic Drinks Around the World include Indian Masala chai, Mint Tea from Morocco, Vietnamese slow-drip coffee, Coca Tea from Peru and Austria's herby Almdudler.

Photo credit: Drink

 
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