Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Drinks Around the World: Bloody Caesar (Canada)

Each month a group of travel bloggers (including Lifecruiser and Travel Expert(a)) conduct a virtual cocktail party where writers highlight a notable drink from their travels or experiences. With a recent visit to scenic Lake Louise deep in the Rockies, this month's drinks takes us to chilly Canada.

The Bloody Caesar is a Canadian adaption to the internationally renown Bloody Mary. It is made by adding a measure of vodka to a salt-rimmed glass. Add a few drops of worcestershire sauce and tabasco, a little lime juice and a shake of pepper. Top with Clamato, a tinned mixture of tomato juice and clam broth that I have only seen for sale in North America.

Bloody Caesars are tasty, slightly spicy, refreshing drinks that I' ve only ever seen served in Canada. I've only tasted a few and they were a real favourite.

So a hearty cheers for this seafood flavoured cocktail at this month's party.

Other Drinks of the Month
Pisco Sour
Singapore Sling
Chimay Beer

Monday, September 28, 2009

The Icelandic Phonebook Surprise

Look up a phonebook in Iceland and a surprise awaits you. It is listed in first name order followed by surnames, occupations and addresses.

This makes good sense when you realise that everybody in Iceland is known by his or her first name and nobody uses Mr. or Ms. in any situation. Young children call their teachers and friend’s parents by their first name and Icelanders even reference their president by her first name. Unlike virtually all countries, Icelanders do not have surnames in the traditional sense. A surname in Iceland is simply their father’s name suffixed with either son for boys or dóttir for girls, based on the same patronymic system from the time of the Vikings.

This can be confusing when you consider that it means that a typical family of four will almost certainly have multiple different “surnames”. For example, if Jón Helgason (his father’s name is Helgi) and Margrét Magnúsdóttir (her father’s name is Magnús) have a son, then his surname will be Jónsson while his daughter would take the name Jónsdóttir – four different surnames in the same family!

In a strange way, I believe that this approach to names gives Iceland a greater sense of equality and respect in how they approach their lives with excellent gender and age balances in most walks of Icelandic life.

The well-known eclectic Icelandic singer Björk simply uses her first name as is the Icelandic tradition. According to Wikipedia being the daughter of Guðmundur, her full name is Björk Guðmundsdóttir of which there are a few in the phonebook.

Moreover, when choosing a name for a newly born, the parents must select a name already approved by the Icelandic naming board which would screw up some of those Hollywood types with a penchant for choosing weird names (like Dweezil, Moon Zappa, Diezel and Pilot Inspektor to nominate just a few). New names can be added by special application but they need to be Icelandic in nature.

Similar in motive to the names, a special group designs new Icelandic words to maintain the purity of the language from the Viking age. So rather than take modified English words for modern terms as many languages do (what is the word for computer or television in most languages?), the Icelanders create their own suitable words to maintain their language. So the word for telephone is sími (Viking word for thread) and computer is tölva (by combining Icelandic words for number and soothsayer).

With such a potpourri of surnames, it is little wonder that the Icelandic phone book is sorted by first names. Try the online version in Icelandic or English if you want to test it. Mind you, if the population were 300 million rather than 300,000, I suspect the system may not work as well.

Other Icelandic Posts
Lake of Dancing Icebergs
Astride the Continents
Nature’s Wonderland
Remote Sign

Friday, September 25, 2009

The Twenty Dollar View (Lake Louise, Canada)

With familiar glittering scenes that grace Canadian brochures, the travel wonder of Lake Louise is sublime beauty on a large scale. Though tremendously popular in the warmer months overwhelming the tiny village, the three main natural sights of Lake Louise should be on any Rockies agenda.

With the grandiose Lake Louise Château perches on its shoreline, the emerald Lake Louise offers perfect reflections of the giant amphitheatre of surrounding mountains and tumbling Victoria Glacier. With a path that circumnavigates the lake, this deep brooding lake rarely reaches more than a few degrees above freezing point.

Even more scenically stunning is nearby Moraine Lake (top photo). The rich turquoise blue of the shimmering waters, caused by rock particles ground into dust over the years by glaciers and washed into the lake, reflect a grand range of ten jagged snow-capped peaks (all over 3000 metres). Trails run around the edge of the lake and through forests of pine trees but the best view is just left of the car park. Some seek the solitude of colourful canoes to help soak the immense beauty of this wonderful landscape while others just sit on the shoreline in silent admiration. Arrays of wildflowers add colour to the lush grassy fields.

The outlook has been nicknamed The Twenty Dollar View in a claim that greatly undervalues its beauty. A green and white picture that does the scene little justice graced the back of the Canadian twenty dollar bill for many years.

To get some appreciation of the entire Rockies vista around Lake Louise, a chairlift climbs Mount Whitehorn to a height of around 2000 metres. Lake Louise and its oversized hotel hide in one corner of this superb panorama enjoyable from various vantage points including the sun-soaked deck of a small café and display area. Various paths and trails crisscross this winter ski area offering views across the conifer-covered valley and to the splendid mountains, including Mt Quadra whose four peaks have the rough appearance of teeth jutting from a jaw.

Occasional bears are reported around the Lake Louise area, as are chipmunks, squirrels and boisterous birds.

If you are flying to Canada and the spectacular Rockies, include Lake Louise on your itinerary. However you choose to explore the travel wonder of Lake Louise, it is a place to take time to soak and admire the stunning panoramic alpine views and the vivid blue glacial lakes, and to walk and commune with nature on a grand scale.

Things To Do on raveable

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Photo of the Week: Cathedral (La Paz, Bolivia)

The cathedral, built in 1835, stands majestically in Plaza Murillo, in the world's highest capital city of La Paz. At 3800 metres above sea level (12,000 feet), the more affluent people live below the city where there is more oxygen rather than above La Paz with its panoramic views.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Peering from the Eagle's Nest (Berchtesgaden, Germany)

Combining infamy and stunning natural beauty, the tiny town of Berchtesgaden is a German travel wonder. Surrounded by dazzling turquoise lakes, towering snow-capped mountains, brooding dark green forests, cute steep-sided churches and tumbling falls, Berchtesgaden seems unsuited to its sinister past.

Perched on the appropriately named Eagle’s Nest (Kehlstein), one of Hitler’s most faithful generals built a remote and highly secure meeting place for Hitler during World War II. Only accessible via a twisty mountain road and a final lift deeply embedded into the bedrock, the Kehlsteinhaus now serves as a tea-room with tasty, calorie-rich snacks. With staggering panoramic views of the Bavarian Alps, Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest House is more suitably sited as a fancy hotel or tea-room than a location to hatch battle plans and invasions.

Off the mountain is an outstanding and detailed museum called the Dokumentation Obersalzberg, rich in documents, photos and video footage of the Nazi war regime along with a section of the underground bunkers designed to protect the elite German senior officers.

A local salt mine can be entertainingly toured dressing in old mining gear and sliding down a wooden chute polished by thousands of slithering backsides into the mine area into a salty underworld. Travelling via a small mining train and riding a raft across a briny lake, the valuable salt was dug from these pits for over 500 years. Strange salt formations have been carved and lit a misty orange colour to add to the overall mining mood.

A highlight of the area is to ride a small silent electric boat that cruises along the deep emerald waters of Königssee in an amphitheatre of snow-capped alpine majesty towards the onion-domed church of St Bartholomä. Looking more Russian Orthodox than traditional church, the red domed whitewashed house of worship reflects across the gentle ripples of this glacial waterway. A short walk leads to the tumbling Röthbach Falls and another emerald lake.

Combined with the natural beauty of the Berchtesgaden National Park, the small town of Berchtesgaden is often a visitor’s last glimpse of Germany before rolling into the heartland of Austria. As a final taste of Germany, Berchtesgaden represents a superb last course, combining a major element of twentieth century history with an area of intense and lasting natural wonder.

Other Germany Posts
A Timeless Promise (Oberammergau Passion Play)
Bacon Beer and Bishops (Bamberg)
The World's Largest Advent Calendar (Gengenbach)

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Win a Night in a Luxury Hotel

The friendly folks at Priority Club Rewards has kindly offered a lucky Travel Wonders reader one night in a five star hotel available across over 4,300 IHG hotels in over 100 countries (**). The IHG hotels are household names with some of the best hotels in the world in their portfolio including InterContinental Hotels and Resorts, Crowne Plaza, Hotel Indigo, Holiday Inn Express and Staybridge Suites. IHG offer accommodation in all the major cities in the world, along with numerous smaller towns and off-the-beaten-path locations (a Holiday Inn recently opened on the Dead Sea in Jordan).

Anybody is eligible to join the program and members (there are over 44 million of them) immediately start to accrue points with eligible stays at the range of IHG hotels. To join, simply register at any IHG hotel or online at Additionally, air miles can be redeemed with over 40 airline partners including British Airways, Lufthansa, Air France and KLM.

Anyway, if you’d like to win a night of luxurious comfort, you simply need to complete the following two steps:

1. Add a comment on your select IHG Hotel in the world for a special stay and the reason why. Ensure that I can track you down if you win by leaving an email address or contact details within your URL.

2. Subscribe to Travel Wonders via email using the panel in the top right of the sidebar.

Entries will close on Friday, 9th October with the winner judged on the reasons for the special night. The winner will be announced on this blog and via email to the winner.

Note that the winner will be required to register an account with Priority Club Rewards and email me with their membership number. Priority Club Rewards will transfer the points directly into the account.

** Please note that the prize is for 25,000 points and will not cover a stay in an Intercontinental Hotel.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Top Five Skiing Holiday Resorts

guest post by Thomas Cook

If you are looking for the perfect ski holiday and want to stay at only the best resorts you may be wondering where you should go for your own perfect ski vacation away. Here is a guide to the top five skiing holiday resorts to consider for your ski holiday.

Our first choice takes us to beautiful Sauze d'Oulx in Italy. This is a truly picturesque place with breathtaking scenery. Take in the beautiful mountains and clear blue skies as you take part of a skiing experience you will not find anywhere else in the world. There is skiing here for everyone. From the beginners to those who have been skiing their whole lives. They offer English-speaking ski classes as well as English-speaking snow boarding classes. There is also a plethora of options of accommodation for visitors here. From small simple hotels for those who are on a budget to luxurious spas for those who are wanting to splurge you will find a nice variety of places to stay.

Next we will take a look at Les Deux Alpes in France. Home to the largest skiable glacier available in Europe you will be pleased to find that they offer over 200 km of pisted runs for skiers to take advantage of. There many opportunities for seasoned skiers as well as paths for those with less experience. Les Deux Alpes is also home to one of the most respected snow parks you will find available in Europe. Les Deux Alpes has many different accommodations for its tourists and visitors. There are some beautiful, elegant resorts to small, charming chalets. Visitors will be pleased with the scenery and friendly people.

St. Anton is next on our list. This is a lovely village located in Austria that has become very popular amongst skiers from all over the world. The village is filled with both old and modern buildings. They offer many slopes and St. Anton features ski opportunities for everyone young and old alike. As far as hotels you will find family friendly hotels to small quaint hotels with cozy warm rooms perfect for coming back to after a long day filled with skiing.

Les Arcs, France is our next stop. Les Arcs boasts of being one of the most beautiful European mountain areas and they have every reason to boast so. Visitors and tourists will be amazed at the scenery and put at peace with the beautiful clean air, peace and quiet that you can only find at Les Arcs. They offer great skiing for both the experienced and those who are new to it. Les Arcs also has a nice selection of resorts whether you are looking for a romantic getaway or a family holiday.

Lastly we are taken to Niederau in Austria. Known for their long runs and family friendly atmosphere Niederau has become a family favorite amongst skiers. It is also the perfect place to for those who are just learning to ski. Niederau also offers a variety of things for everyone in their nightlife. Whether you eat at one of their delicious restaurants or head to the local bar you will find there is something for everyone. They have some lovely hotels that feature saunas, indoor pools and other luxuries you will want to take advantage of after a day of skiing.

Photos: 1, 2, 3, 4

Friday, September 11, 2009

Photo of the Week - Raffles Hotel (Singapore)

In the midst of a skyline of glassy, towering skyscrapers, this quaint colonial relic tries to preserve the times of yesteryear. Especially grand at night, visitors flock to the colonial Long Bar with wicker chairs and elegant bartenders for the over-priced syrupy Singapore Slings and a chance to shamelessly throw peanut shells on the floor. If you close your eyes, it is easy to believe that you could be enjoying afternoon tea as the owner of a tea plantation. By contrast, the Writer’s Bar is an elegant, regal affair that summons the memories of authors past, including Rudyard Kipling, James Michener and Joseph Conrad.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Gorillas in the Mist (Congo)

Our group had been trekking for three and a half hours through thick forest, the thorns catching our clothing and our feet sloshing through the muddy grounds. Deep into the Congan rain forest, it was well over 30°C (86°F) and 100% humidity and getting hotter. The six of us were getting a little agitated, being drained of fluid and having started the early morning with such anticipation. The glint off the guard’s rifle caught my eye as he macheted away more branches. There is something unnerving about guns, especially when carried by two guys who didn't seem old enough to be out of school. They walked intently with a clear direction in mind, though there were no obvious paths to follow.

The rear guard pointed right to show piles of neatly matted leaves and branches in the trees. Though I couldn’t hear him, it had been the gorilla’s bedroom of last evening.

There was a disturbance to our left followed by a crack of timber. Our guards told us to crouch down as I spotted a ball of black fluff tumble clumsily down a branch. Suddenly as our eyes strained through the dim light of deep green-black of the forest, more balls of black fluff appeared and we had finally reached our goal – the elusive and endangered mountain gorillas.

We settled down onto the damp undergrowth to watch the gorilla group, about 15 in number. The mothers and older gorillas contentedly munched on bamboo and grass, the youngsters leaping around with boundless energy, staging mock fights and using the older gorillas as diving platforms. They seemed undisturbed by our group, though well aware that we were there with occasional glances towards us.

In the back, there was a pervading sense of piercing eyes surveying the area as the largest of the gorillas, a silver sheen on his deeply bent back from the dappled sunshine, kept a watchful patrol over his family group. The silverback, the largest adult male with his insatiable hunger broke trunks of bamboo from the surrounding trees as if snapping a toothpick.

Suddenly he stood and wacked his chest, producing a hollow thudding sound. Our group sat a little lower sinking into the surrounding foliage. There was no doubt who is boss. The silverback settled back down again as I feel a strange feeling on my right leg, always uneasy with the creepy-crawlies of the rain forest floor. I was about to swat it away when I saw it was one of the baby gorillas coming for a closer look. I glanced nervously towards the silverback but he seemed relaxed, carefully picking the greenest shoots from a moist grassy plant. Satisfied at what he’d found, the baby gorilla leapt away and back to the low branches to swing some more.

Today, there are estimated to be only around 700 of these magnificent primates left in the wild. They live in a small area of the Virunga mountains of Congo, Rwanda and Uganda. Rwanda and Uganda run regular tours and have a number of habituated groups with reports of gorilla tours starting again in Congo.

A few minutes later (actually an hour) we were being hustled away by the guards. We pleaded for more time with these mesmerising primates but I think they’d heard it all before – “but we’ve travelled so far”, “we won’t ever get another chance like this”, “we’ll tip you more” – and soon we were back trekking out everyone chattering at once. The mountain gorillas could be left in peace for another day and a few hours later we were back at our camp.

Though expensive, it was reassuring to find that the money paid to trek helps fund the guards and the efforts to preserve both the gorillas and their habitat, making the gorillas more valuable alive than dead, reducing the value of bushmeat or the illegal animal trade.

Trekking to see the mountain gorillas is one of the greatest travel wonders available and is truly the greatest single wildlife experience of my life.


It was quite an effort to trek to the gorillas so a reasonable level of fitness was important. In some ways, it seemed a lot of work for one hour but everyone would have done it all again without question. Some days the gorillas are apparently easy to find and some days, people trek for hours unsuccessfully (though this is quite rare). Leave a spare day just in case if you possibly can.

The forest area was generally dark and flash photography is not permitted and may antagonise the gorillas. Use a higher ISO (400 or 800) on your camera to get clearer photos. Don’t forget to stop photographing for a decent period of time and just enjoy sharing time with the king of primates and the antics of the youngsters.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Czech Tease (Czech Republic)

Across the south of the Czech Republic are three delightful small medieval travel wonders all featuring magical central squares and rich histories. Only an hour by bus from each other, the alliterative Třeboň, Telč and Třebíč (from west to east) can be covered in a couple of days.

Třeboň is constructed on marshland with an ingenious usage of canals, dykes, medieval artificial lakes and fish ponds to manage flooding. With a stunning main cobble stoned square of traditional pastel-painted buildings (great viewing by climbing the town hall tower), the town is best experienced by cycling a path around the canals through a series of historic mini-villages and forests, highlighting the success of the historic fishing industry. There is a pleasant short walk around the intact city walls with its five gates and protective bastions. The black peat from the marshes is used in spa treatments that are accompanied with the usual medicinal claims for ailing joints and respiratory systems. More medicinal is the fine fish soup, impossibly fresh fish dishes or beer from the local Regent brewery.

Telč is a small town with little more than one long medieval cobble stoned street of stunning facades in a multitude of pastel-colours linking the majestic main square with the lavish Water Chateau (highlighted by a superb gilded ballroom). It is one of the finest squares in all of Europe, meriting UNESCO world-heritage listing. On each side of this village are artificial fish ponds built over six hundred years ago providing both food and defence. Virtually nothing has changed in over 250 years in this tiny town, giving a wonderful restful feel. Munch on a calorific pastry from one of the several bakeries on the square.

Třebíč is a treasured historic town that mixed a Jewish and Christian population for centuries. Aside from the huge main square with its typical pastel-coloured facades, it is the evocative Jewish Ghetto and cemetery and the oversized Gothic basilica (originally a monastery) that is the highlight of the town and has attracted UNESCO listing. Unlike the tourist madhouse of Prague’s Jewish quarter, Třebíč’s peaceful narrow cobblestone lanes and quiet houses feel frozen in time with almost none of the population surviving World War Two. The nearby cemetery leaves an almost eerie feeling with the numerous headstones, darkened over the centuries with algae and dirt, poking up at all angles like a horror dental job, surrounded by rough shrubs and bushes.

These three small Czech towns are best enjoyed exploring the narrow lanes, peering in the historic buildings, chatting in the street-side cafes and walking the rivers and lakes. Select at least one stopover on the way to Slovakia and enjoy the peaceful ambiance of a Czech village.

Other Czech Posts
Czeching Out the Capital (Prague)
Czech Out the Castles
Drinks Around the World - Becherovka

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Book Review and Contest - Imagine: A Vagabond Story (Grant Lingel)

A few weeks ago I received a pre-publication copy of Grant Lingel's first book Imagine: A Vagabond Story for review. Grant and Travel Wonders are offering two free signed copies of this rollicking backpacking adventure.

Seven lousy credit points short of completing his degree, a spot of confusion on what to do next at this watershed moment in anyone's life and with a few hundred bucks in his back pocket, Grant Lingel heads for Mexico.

Starting as a guest entertainer in a flashy Mexican hotel, Grant very much lives life day-to-day. Early days are a blur of easy sex, cheap drugs, gallons of alcohol and brief acquaintances in among work shifts. When a chance to share a van with five strangers arises, Grant grabs the opportunity with both hands. Over a short period, Grant and his new friends trek through tropical rain forest, scuba dive, hike dingy caves full of bats, climb smoking volcanies, sit atop Mayan pyramids, discover tumbling waterfalls in remote national parks with gun-toting soldiers and drive their van off a steep mountain track as they venture through Mexico, Guatemala and Belize.

Eventually Grant settles a little, volunteering at a couple of Guatemalan hostels meeting a "United Nations" of backpackers, guests and volunteers with their potpourri of languages, cultures and upbringings. At this point, Grant seems to change character being shaped by friendships that are more than temporary and with values that starts to shape Grant's thinking and life.

The book beautifully captures the varying characters that Grant meets with a wonderful eye for fascinating detail - some are types of people that I could picture from my own travels. Similarly, Grant captures the exotic wilds of Central America - the stunning landscapes, the dusty villages, the harrowing roads. At times, I'd have liked to know more about some of the characters but I guess travel at times only realistically offers fleeting glimpses of people that lead such different lives and probably have great stories to tell.

Grant's story barrels along at a rapid pace, each day bringing new places, different people and varying adventures. His typical and conservative family upbringing in New York seems but a fading memory. Grant's boundless energy, adventurous tales and youthful exuberance disguises a truly personal journey of self-discovery, building of character, freedom and growing-up, yet one he is contented to share with the world. It is an easy-reading book I heartily recommend and would make an excellent travel companion on your next journey.

On offer are two copies of the book signed by Grant which will go to the two best comments, describing your ideal vagabond adventure. Ensure that you leave an email address so I contact the winners. The competition closes on September 15.

Meanwhile, I'd suggest you buy a copy of Imagine: A Vagabond Story, view an excellent gallery of photos from Grant's trip and learn more of his ventures through Central America.

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