guest post by Airtours
The Canary Islands have long been associated with all inclusive holidays. Tripadvisor.com has recently voted the Canaries as having six out of ten of the best beaches in the whole of Spain. However, there is far more to the archipelago than just glorious temperatures, crystal clear waters and powder soft sand.
Canary Islands Overview
The Canary Islands are group of Spanish islands situated just off the north coast of Africa. Because of their location they are subject to equatorial weather conditions, which gives them the added advantage of almost guaranteed sunshine 365 days a year. They have a long and complex history, with evidence of Neolithic settlements across the islands. The Canaries have also been visited or invaded by a number of races including the Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Europeans, Arabs and Portuguese. Each invader has left remnants of their culture behind, reflected in the eclectic cuisine, architecture and numerous festivals of the islands today.
For those looking to incorporate a natural angle into their sun holidays, the Canary Islands are filled with fascinating and unusual wildlife, both on and below the land. There are four national parks, two of which have been declared World Heritage Sites by UNESCO. The other two are recognised as World Biosphere Sites, reflecting their ecological importance. These are regularly visited by tourists on nature trek holidays, where they can see over 600 endemic species of flowers, birds such as the Blue Chaffinch (photo) and Tenerife Ringlet and animals including geckos and the El Hierro Giant Lizard.
Below the waterline, the variety of life is even more spectacular. The seas surrounding the once-volcanic islands play host to a multitude of vibrant and colourful creatures such as Leatherback turtles, starfish, sea anemones and a breathtaking array of fish. Many visitors enrol in the local scuba schools so they can experience the marine life in its natural environment.
In addition to the Islands’ natural splendour, the Canary Islands are well served for holidays of all types. There are seven islands, each with its own unique character. Golf is a popular pursuit across all of the islands and there are over 20 world class courses to challenge even the most dedicated player. With the islands being so well served by the ocean, it is small wonder that the PWA World Windsurfing Championships are held here, and the Lanzarote Volcano Triathlon sees competitors swimming five kilometres as part of their trial.
Visitors looking to soak up some culture will enjoy other aspects of Canarian life such as the Tenerife Gastronomy Fair or the Gran Canaria Opera Festival. While the Canaries are synonymous with a hedonistic party scene, this tends to be only on certain areas of certain islands. While revellers flock to areas of Tenerife and Lanzarote, families and those looking for peace and quiet can remain undisturbed on the same islands, albeit in different areas.
Families will have no problem with entertaining younger visitors. In addition to the beaches, water sports and wildlife reserves, there are a variety of theme parks such as Tenerife’s water kingdom, Siam Park, and Aqualand in Maspalomas.
The Canary Islands are as rich and diverse in what they have to offer as they are in the bounty of wildlife and stunning panoramas. Sun is an integral part of any holiday, but it doesn’t have to be the deciding factor, especially when there is so much more to discover.
Photo Credits: sunset, blue chaffinch, turtle
Sunday, May 29, 2011
Friday, May 27, 2011
At first sight, the Grevy Zebra doesn't look quite like a zebra. Its large ears look out of place and its belly looks like it has been white-washed - the narrow pyjama stripes not stretching all the way around. The Grevy Zebra is the slightly larger cousin (and largest of all species in the horse family!) of the more familiar Plains Zebra and is seriously endangered. Favouring drier climates, these Grevies were photographed in Kenya's semi-arid Samburu National Park, lying almost in the centre of the country just above the equator-hugging Mt Kenya.
Tuesday, May 24, 2011
For centuries, Malacca (or Melaka in Malay) has been a rich melting pot of cultures. Occupied at various times in history by the Chinese, Portuguese, Dutch, English, Japanese (briefly during World War 2) and Malays, all were interested in its strategic position on the narrow Malacca Straits (primarily for the historic East Indies trade route).
While the main sights are in the centre of town and on the main roads, the UNESCO World Heritage city of Malacca is a town full of history and a great place to explore on foot. To best experience and to feel Malacca, get off the main roads which swarm with tourists and wander the quieter back streets. Here historic elements of the town remain, an architectural pot-pourri of European, Chinese and Malay construction.
Most striking is the central Dutch Square with its terracotta red buildings including the landmark Stadthuys (Dutch for town hall, top photo) and a cacophony of rickshaws bidding for business. With its impressive wooden doors (with wrought iron hinges), robust stonewalls, louvred windows and elegant edifice, the Dutch governors must have lived well in the Stadthuys. Though most has been reconstructed, one fine room with its intricately carved ceiling is original, the Stadthuys now serving as an excellent museum full of old maps, artwork, weapons, paintings and various Dutch and Portuguese memorabilia.
Other bright red buildings on the square include the Christ Church and the Clock Tower. Stories abound as to the origin of the red colour. One ascribes to a practical decision by the British to paint the whitewashed Dutch buildings in red to stop the naturally red stonework from showing through and the red soils from staining the buildings in the heavy tropical rains. Another describes an antidote against the habits of the local population of spitting the red-coloured chewed betel nuts.
There is little evidence of the historic Portuguese presence in the city. Most of their buildings efforts were razed by the Dutch though the ruinous town gate (Porta de Santiago, the only remaining part of the old fort) and the moving St Paul’s Church remain. Perched on a hill and with its soulful tombstones and rough stone floor now open to the elements, the Dutch also used the church as a place of worship. The British added a lighthouse and a flagpole and used the building to store gunpowder.
The Chinese occupation is mainly sighted through Bukit China (Chinese Hill). The largest Chinese cemetery outside of China, the hill is sprinkled with around 12,000 Chinese graves, a number dating back to the Ming Dynasty (over 500 years ago). The tiny stone graves are sprayed across the hill and boast panoramic views across the straits and excellent feng shui with excellent water outlooks and protection from the winds.
The Sultan’s Well represents the valuable historic source of drinking water with visitor’s today throwing coins into the well to wish for a return to the enchanting Red City.
Chinese influence is also strong in Jonker Street, appropriately translated as Junk Street. Once famous for superb antiques including porcelain, metalwork and furniture, it now turns into a night market filled with glitzy stalls selling typical tourist trinkets and trash under the guise of history, though the food stalls offer a variety of tasty treats. The laksa is especially noteworthy as is the deliciously sweet cendol, a concoction of ice, jelly and coconut.
While there are a large number of museums (or varying qualities) throughout the city (and a variety of Hindu, Buddhist, Moslem and CHristian places of worship), one final worthwhile visit is the wooden Sultanate Palace, superbly and accurately reconstructed using original techniques, meaning the building has no nails.
Along with the refreshing Cameron Highlands, Malacca is a highlight of any visit to Malaysia. Over a couple of days, enjoy the cultural influences of the various ruling powers, avoid the overly touristy places (sadly these seem to be overtaking parts of Malacca) and savour the tasty food from the street stalls or local cafes. Go and paint the town red.
Photo Credits: Sadly, I left my camera in Kuala Lumpur on my visit to the photogenic Malacca. Credits to Stadthuys, Dutch Square, Bukit China, St Pauls Church, Jonker Street, Sultanate Palace
Saturday, May 21, 2011
guest post by Amanda Hattersburg
Spain's popularity as a holiday destination means there are many attractive Spain holiday deals to choose from, whether you’re looking to indulge in some scintillating time in the sun or view the architecture that has made it such a fascinating tourist attraction.
But despite the diverse range of activities across the country, there is one thing holiday-makers universally appreciate about Spanish culture... its cuisine!
There are so many different dishes to indulge in – most are relative to their region – offering different depths and dimensions to their respective areas. Here are some favourites, and where they can be found.
A dish totally in tune with both Spanish and Portuguese culture, cocido is a classic regional stew made from meats, vegetables, sausages and either chickpeas or garbanzo beans. The most famous cocido lies in Madrid, and is called the cocido madrilène. Translated as ‘Madrid stew’, it’s heavy on the meat and typically contains salt pork, beef, ham, chorizo, a stewing chicken, morcilla and a vegetable and potato mix.
A very popular dish consumed widely across Spain, gazpacho is a raw tomato and vegetable-based soup. Originating from Andalusia in the south of Spain, gazpacho is the perfect way to cool down on a hot summer’s day. Served cold, gazpacho soup is distinct because of its bright red colour, though replacing the tomatoes with other ingredients such as watermelon, avocados or seafood can make a difference and offer real variety, both in colour and flavour.
You’d be forgiven for thinking that paella is Spain’s national dish, such is the delicacy’s reach across the globe. But, in Spain, paella is regional to Valencia and regarded as something of a local speciality. There are three different types of paella to sample when visiting Spain: Valencian paella, mixed paella and seafood paella. No matter which paella you try though, watching its preparation is mastery itself. According to tradition, paella is supposed to be cooked over an open fire by men, which has to be kindled with oranges, pine cones and pine branches for aroma before being eaten directly from the pan.
The Spanish Mediterranean diet also consists of a lot of seafood - fish such as hake, squid, shellfish, traditional fried fish dishes and more besides. The Spanish culture and available cuisine across its many regions is a delight to explore and discover day after day, and something that has to be truly experienced first-hand.
Photo Credits: food, cocido, gazpacho
Thursday, May 19, 2011
The Chicago Water Tower was one of the very few public buildings to survive the 1871 Great Fire. It looks more like a European medieval castle, standing in sharp contrast to the towering modern edifices that dwarfs its elegant limestone symmetric structure.
Wonderful spring-time white blooms adds life to its restful nature, though Oscar Wilde reputed (and unfairly) described it as a "castellated monstrosity with pepper boxes stuck all over it".
Today it acts as a gallery though it was closed as I wandered past walking Chicago's Magnificent Mile.
Monday, May 16, 2011
The Cameron Highlands are Malaysia’s relief valve from the oppressive equatorial heat and humidity of the capital and the beaches. Gloriously cool and refreshing, the Cameron Highlands are gently rolling, misty hills, dramatic peaks and fertile soils filled with tea plantations, lush jungle trails, fruit and vegetable farms and weekend retreats.
Being the finest in natural air-conditioning, the Cameron Highlands are ridiculously busy and touristy on the weekends so two strong suggestions are to come during the week and to avoid the glitzy and clichéd tours.
Apart from the restful escape from the heat, the highlight of the area is the tea plantations (I’d recommend Boh Tea Estate). With sweeping torrents of emerald green tea plants smothering the hills all the way to the horizon, the plantations are a hive of activity. Strange aerial lawnmowers clip the leaves from the tops of the plants, gathering the valuable crop into a trailing sack. Others (mainly Indian and Nepalese immigrants) beaver away like manic barbers clipping the sides of the tea plants for further leaves. This process is repeated on each plant every couple of weeks giving a hedge-like appearance to the plantation.
The leaves are wilted (brings out the flavour), tumbled in trays, left for a time to oxidise, rolled and dried to produce the familiar leaves that make for the fine cups that many of us enjoy each day. Indeed, nothing is more relaxing than sinking into a comfortable chair, gazing over the highlands and sipping on a freshly brewed cup of tea.
Avoid the tours that ship visitors to an indigenous village (for a demonstration of blow-pipe hunting), a temple or two and a variety of honey, strawberry, butterfly, cactus and flower farms (but completely and utterly fail to capture the spirit and nature of the Malaysian highlands).
Instead, grab a map (the trail markings aren’t so good) from the main town of Tanah Rata and a rain jacket and follow one of the numerous trails. One good path wanders through lush and refreshing forests for around an hour to one of the areas tumbling waterfalls, Robinson Falls (where the trail continues onto the Boh Tea Estate).
Finish the day with a dinner of delicious satays and Chinese steamboat where you cook a mixture of vegetables, meat and seafood into a thin steaming broth at your table.
The Cameron Highlands is one of Malaysia’s best sights with a quaintly English feel to it. Enjoy the refreshing cool temperatures, lush greenery, the country cottages and discover the mysteries of tea making before sipping a delightful brew overlooking the sweeping hills and lush jungle vistas.
Photo Credit: Robinson Falls
Friday, May 13, 2011
guest post by Amy Baker
The people of Oman are known for their exceptional hospitality. In fact, when visiting don’t find it surprising if you are invited into a strangers home as it is customary for Omani people to welcome others for refreshments and if you are lucky, a little nibble on something tasty.
Be warned: Omani cuisine varies a great deal across the different regions and is entirely different from the traditional dishes of the other Gulf States. For example, dishes from Muscat (in the North) and Salalah (in the South) are so incredibly different that it is hard to draw any comparison at all. This makes it difficult to make an informed decision on your meal and that’s why we’ve stepped in. Here is a handy rundown of some of the essential dishes that you absolutely must sample on your trip to this charming country.
As Oman is an Islamic country, alcohol is illegal and therefore when invited into someone’s home, it will be for kahwa (coffee). This strong, bitter drink is flavoured with cardamom and will often be served with something sweet to counteract the drinks bitterness.
Halwa is a sticky, sweet spread made from brown sugar, eggs, honey and various spices. It can be served at any time of the day and is often flavoured with ingredients such as rose water, nuts and chocolate and is a nice little accompaniment to kahwa.
You will be hard pressed to find any establishment that doesn’t offer you Rukhal bread with every meal. This thin, round bread is traditionally baked over a fire made from palm leaves and can be served with honey or halwa for breakfast or alongside your evening meal.
Lokhemat is another dish served to compliment your coffee and is particularly delicious. Here, balls of flour and yeast which have been flavoured with Cardamom, are deep fried and then served up with syrup and sweet lime juice.
There are two main festivals in the Islamic World; Eid Al Fitr, which is celebrated following the month of Ramadan, and; Eid al Adha, which is celebrated on completion of the pilgrimage to Mecca. These festive periods are when visitors can sample Omani food and drink at its best.
The most famous of these festive dishes is named shuwa and whole villages unite to collectively prepare this delicacy. Shuwa consists of a whole goat or cow roasted incredibly slowly, for up to two days, in a specially prepared clay oven underground. The meat is marinated in a plethora of herbs and spices which permeate the meat as it cooks giving it its distinct flavour.
Other dishes that you should expect to find during festival time are aursia which is mashed rice flavoured with herbs and spices and mashuai, a meal of whole spit-roast kingfish served up with zesty lemon rice.
For those of you with a sweet tooth, the treat of all treats when it comes to Omani food and drink is sakhana. This delectable and, frankly, very naughty dish is a thick, sweet soup made of date molasses and milk. Omani people love to drink yoghurt drinks and laban which is a salty buttermilk drink.
There you have it, when it comes to Oman there are so many different choices when it comes to their food and drink that you will be spoilt for choice. And one last top tip, although the food may be made with all the same ingredients as Asian food, Omani cuisine is not spicy at all meaning that you haven’t got to worry about missing that beer when it comes to putting out the fire in your mouth caused by hot food! For more information visit My Destination Oman.
Photo Credits: coffee pots, halwa, shuwa, laban
Wednesday, May 11, 2011
Hong Kong is famous for its remarkable array of shops, alive with the enthusiastic hurly-burly of shoppers (both locals and tourists). The area of Mong Kok is one of the busiest where vendors selling the same goods compete as neighbours on price and ability to bargain. Areas include vendors of men's goods, women's clothing and bags, flowers, birds and goldfish.
In Goldfish Street (on Tung Choi Street) over 40 aquarium shops jostle for the attention of folks who adore fish and reptiles as pets in just a couple of city blocks. Walls of plastic bags containing the treasured goldfish line the walls of each tiny store maximising the stock on display. Other shoppers marvel at the fish tanks packed tight with fish that glisten fluorescent colours or the snakes, turtles, corals or jellyfish that may take people's fancy.
The shopping is frenzied (especially in the early evening) with people carefully choosing their favourite individuals as harried staff attempt to scoop out the relevant specimens (keen fingers tracking the chosen fish in a strange marine form of Where's Wally? (or Where's Waldo?) . New shipments arrive every week to match the insatiable desire for marine pets - hardly a surprise given my unusual goldfish experience.
Sunday, May 8, 2011
As a sculptor, Gustav Vigeland struck an interesting deal with Oslo. They bought him a spacious and comfortable studio in a central park and Vigeland donated all his created artworks to the city. Over twenty years Vigeland carved over 200 statues involving many hundreds of human figures - both men and women of all ages in various emotional states and pursuits (running, sitting, jumping, gathering together, hugging and fighting) and all without a stitch of clothing.
In today’s shrill world, prudish countries would be up in arms and censors and do-gooders tripping over themselves trying to ban the artworks and decrying the polluting of everyone’s minds. However, Oslo's Vigeland Sculpture Park(as part of the huge Frogner Park complex) provides an oasis of tranquillity and a peaceful ambiance of awe-inspiring sculpture. People wander quietly admiring the skill of the works, pointing subtle details in individual characters – each their own character and lifeform.
A central path follows the main highlights of Vigeland’s work starting from the striking bronze gates topped with old style lanterns. The Bridge crosses a small lake and is flanked by numerous lifesized figures both single and grouped, giving the first look at the detail of the works. The granite is incredibly smooth.
Even in close-up, the human detail comes to life. The facial expressions, the angle of the hands and the general pose all revealing the mood and personality of the individual statues. The most famous statue called The Angry Boy (sinnataggen) is on the bridge, rubbed to a glossy finish by decades of admirers, though I struggle to see why this statue stands out above others.
Capturing the human spirit through the cycle of life, the Fountain shows man's journey from cradle to grave. All male, it shows the eternal cycle of life from childhood through adulthood to old age and death, captured under gushing water. Just past the fountain is my favourite statue at the high point of the park – the Monolith (top photo). Intertwined up a 15 metre statue are a chaotic emotional tangle of lean and naked humanity all remarkably carved from a single piece of granite. While some figures rest peacefully in this tower of twisted torsos, others appear to be clambering towards the top of the obelisk in an internal battle for supremacy.
Past a sundial, the final statue is The Wheel of Life (lijshjulet) showing a circular bronze monument of men, women and children, another statement on Vigeland’s constant theme of the cycle of life.
Beyond the superb carving, it is Vigeland’s ability to capture the full range of human expressions covering sadness, anger, joy and laughter across the hundred of sculptures that makes the displays so mesmerising.
Initially the artist’s home and art studio, the neighbouring Vigeland Museum contains numerous partial sculptures, photographs, plaster works and sketches related to his final vision and creation. It brings the artist himself to life and is well worth the slight detour after wandering the park.
The statues were first cast in clay (all by Vigeland) before three sculptors translated the works into granite and bronze over a fourteen year period. The initial display must have stunned the local population with its scale, variety and enshrining of human life.
On a visit to Oslo, Vigeland Park is a highlight among Oslo’s natural surrounds, museums and castles well worthy of a couple of hours of cultured and contemplative roaming among the greenery and Gustav Vigeland’s remarkable artistic commentary on human life.
Note: Discover more about Vigeland Sculpture Park on the official site.
Thursday, May 5, 2011
guest post by Titan HiTours
Canada is a holiday destination full of history and vibrancy. The second largest country in the world, it borders America’s northernmost states and is surrounded on either side by ocean. Every season offers something different, so it’s always an exciting place to go, and with ten states and three provinces, there’s no lack of diversity so you can plan a trip that suits your taste and preferences. Why not try an escorted tour or a cruise? That way, all the planning is done before you leave and once you’re there, all you have to do is sit back, and enjoy the holiday!
In the spring, Montreal’s Botanical Gardens and the Biodome are a must-see. The gardens offer a beautiful floral canopy inspired by the colours and fragrances of the seven continents and the site is one of the largest of its kind in the world. Coastal British Columbia is another great springtime destination; look out in particular for the cherry blossom in bloom.
Summer is fishing season so either get in on the action or just enjoy the view over one of the Great Lakes. Many Canada holidays, escorted tours and cruises will include a stop-off at one of these, and it’s the perfect photo opportunity. Banff National Park is another great rambling spot, with the town itself also a popular tour destination or, if you are an animal lover, now is the time to go whale-spotting. Churchill, Manitoba is a favourite hot-spot.
Eastern Canada is the place to be if you want to indulge in some leaf-peeping; the autumnal colours are spectacular and the weather’s still warm enough to go for a hike or a ramble, depending on how energetic you are feeling! While the weather’s still warm, explore the city streets- try Toronto’s bustling art scene and range of bars and restaurants.
Skiing season generally tends to run from December until about April, depending on the region. Whistler is the most famous of these destinations, but there is plenty of choice. If you’ve chosen to go on a cruise, then you can glide past the impressive glaciers from the warmth of your cruise liner and survey the glittering landscape. The lakes that are picture-perfect in summer freeze over in winter, and offer a different view that is just as stunning.
Of course, it’s also all about the culture, and Canada’s diverse makeup of nationalities makes it a particularly rich place to visit; French-speaking Quebec has its own particular identity, and each region and city has its own unique flavour, which you will get to know as you stop off or drive through or stroll along. And along the way, if you are on a tour or a cruise, you will have the benefit of guided tours and audio guides, as well as the expertise of a team with local knowledge and a friendly group of like-minded travellers to share the experience with. From the Rockies to the thriving cosmopolitan cities, all times of year, Canada is a top holiday spot and not to be missed!
Photo Credits: flag, Montreal Gardens, Lake Superior, Fall Colours, Lake Louise Winter
Tuesday, May 3, 2011
When I think of New Zealand, my mind floods with wonderful images - gazing upon ice-capped mountain ranges, sipping perky sauvignon blancs, gazing at whales escaping the Antarctic winter, meeting friendly people, sharing the Kiwi passion for rugby, enjoying the rich Maori culture, soaking in thermal springs, leaping from bridges attached with a rubber band or simply indulging in the stunning natural beauty.
Qantas and Tourism New Zealand have combined the passionate pursuits of sport and travel into an innovative and exciting competition called The Great Crusade. Entrants have the chance to win one of fifty (yes, 50) two week tours for two around New Zealand travelling in specially decked out campervans (bathed in Wallaby logos and support) combining the Rugby World Cup with visits to a number of New Zealand's iconic locations on both islands. The first convoy of 26 vans appropriately launch from Christchurch that is being rebuilt by its spirited population after the ravages of the recent earthquake.
Last Saturday evening, Qantas (with their sponsorship of the Wallabies) gathered together a group of people including some sporting and travel bloggers (a chance to meet Kaz and Craig from yTRavelBlog and Brooke from Brooke vs. the World among others) with beers and food at a Super 15 rugby game at the Sydney Football Stadium to announce this exciting competition. Four of the campervans gathered around the ground to promote the competition, flyers being given out to the crowd as they flooded into the game.
The contest is big and has quite a few elements to it involving gathering points for doing things such as creating fun and unique video segments capturing your passion for travel and sport (the details are all on The Great Crusade website). Early entrants get a better chance to gather more points so jump in and get started. There are smaller spot prizes along the way. Also I'd suggest following the Twitter hash-tag #greatcrusade.
The judges include no less than Gregor Jordan, the award-winning writer and director of movies such as Two Hands and Buffalo Soldiers who will also join the trip to shoot daily videos of the various activities (and there are far far more activities than rugby matches - the teams only play once every six or seven days).
One enthralling element through the launch evening was to see how a simple germ of an idea has been passionately taken and grown and embellished by various folks (several of whom were at the launch, including the marketing executives at Qantas) into such a huge competition with such a large number of major prizes. Qantas spoke enthusiastically of being more heavily involved with social media and bloggers and the like. I'll watch with interest how this campaign and greater adoption of the newer media grows.
Meanwhile, if you'd love to visit New Zealand as guests of Qantas and join the campervan convoy, sign up at The Great Crusade, read the rules and milk your creative juices to create your first video describing how far you'd go to support your favourite team. After all, they are looking for a fun group of people to share the travel wonders of New Zealand with.
Photo Credits: rugby
Sunday, May 1, 2011
The drink Around the World for May is Scotland's favourite soft drink (soda), Irn-Bru. One of the very few carbonated drinks to outsell Coca-Cola in a marketplace anywhere in the world, this radioactive orange-coloured drink is sugary sweet and slightly bubbly with a taste that sits somewhere between citrus (a mix of lemons and tangerines?) and vanilla. While living in Britain for several years and despite a general dislike of overly sweet drinks, I got quite hooked on its strange intoxicating flavour, catchy nationalistic taglines and quirky ads(check a few out here, here, here and here - there are many others).
Like a few drinks, it comes with the wonderful story of the secret recipe of 32 different ingredients (supposedly including caffeine and quinine, so it will keep you alert, clear your mind and protect you from malaria) being only known by two people who are never together, the brewing secret being held behind a secure Swiss bank vault.
I have found it in Australia, so check out your local speciality drink stores and try the unusual flavour so loved in Scotland.
Travel Wonders highlights a characteristic drink experienced on his travels. Prior articles have featured drinks including Austrian Almdudler, Green Mint Tea from Morocco and Bibicaffe (Italy).