Friday, January 29, 2010

French Beauty (Corsica, France)

guest post

Corsica is a very beautiful and scenic place to visit. It is one of 26 outlaying islands located in the sea south of Italy. It has its own language, Corsican with its own remarkable history and culture. Corsica is an excellent choice for any luxury villa rental and should be visited by anyone travelling to the area.

The island has numerous tiny coves and beaches with many enchanting mountain villages, each with their own appeal, welcoming visitors. Romantic in nature, the small towns and villages have their own fine restaurants with delightfully varied menus. Try the traditional foods produced on the island and taste the variety of local wines.

If you like to walk, there are many valleys and gorges ready to be explored. Easy to follow hiking trails criss-cross the island helping explore the mountain and valley scenery. With such a variety of paths, you will never be able to explore the whole place in one visit walking. As most of these treks are for serious walkers and climbers, you may wish to simply stroll along the beaches with your loved one. The beaches are plentiful and easily accessible. Settle into a seaside café with your significant other - the sparkling sea being a gorgeous place to just sit and ponder the beauty of the scenery. The crystal clear blue waters are warm and tempt many with a swim.

If you're looking for villas to rent in France, Corsica is an excellent choice. Plenty of beaches mean that there are many water sports ready for your participation. You can go scuba diving or just snorkel to see the extensive underwater life that is always present in the water surrounding the island. You might try sailing or windsurfing while you are there. There is nothing better than sitting on a boat enjoying the sea. The best time is early evening with a breathtaking sunset that that you will remember forever. Corsica gives you the chance to try something new while the evenings offer an opportunity to experience the nightlife of Corsica.

Corsica is famous for its mountain train that travels through Bastia (pictured), Ajaccio, and Calvi. During the journey, you can learn the history and distinct culture of the island. The extensive birdlife of the island is pointed out - a poetic relaxing sight. As the island boasts a large nature reserve, there is plenty of wildlife to be spotted. Make sure your camera is ready because you are not going to have such a chance back home. Capture the beauty of a bird that you have never seen before and may never see again.

For a great family vacation or a romantic honeymoon get away, visit Corsica, France. You will not be sorry.

Photo Source: 1, 2, 3, 4

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Living with Martin Luther (Wittenberg, Germany)

When Martin Luther hammered his 95 Theses into the wooden door of a humble church of a small German town in 1517, Luther started the Protestant Reformation and altered European and Christian religious history forever. Almost 500 years later, the travel wonder of Wittenberg continues to thrive on the legacy of Martin Luther. Small plaques litter the town marking aspects of Luther’s life which is strung out along one long main street that changes name from Schlossstrasse to Collegienstrasse at the elegant town square.

Luther was an extraordinary man. Risking death and ex-communication from the church, Luther opposed the idea that people could buy their way from God’s punishment of sin. This challenging the authority of the pope himself who was raising money for rebuilding St Peters in Rome by selling indulgences. Luther also published a German translation of the Bible (while hidden in Wartburg Castle) providing the foundation of the modern German language and making it accessible to the general population rather than the educated few who spoke Latin.

Though its wooden doors have long since perished in a fire, Castle Church stands proudly off Wittenberg’s square, bronze doors inscribed with Luther’s theses (in Latin) commemorating this challenge to church power.

Nearby is Luther’s house, once a monastery and now a museum full of historic documents including original prayer and hymn books (with hand-drawn illustrations) and many of his authored works. The rooms include a lecture theatre where he taught, the main living room (with a superb tiled stove), Luther’s original desk and a number of personal possessions.

The two other main characters in the Reformation from Wittenberg were Cranach the Elder, a significant painter of his times (and the city’s mayor) and Philipp Melanchthon, a highly educated teacher, philosopher and moralist. Melanchthon spent time trying to encourage the more practical education of the youth of the day by not limiting classes to Latin (and extending education to more people). It was visionary thinking for the early 1500s. Melanchthon assisted Luther in his translation of the Bible. Both people have their fine houses on display as museums with fine collections detailing their lives. A superb early printing press that still functions sits in Cranach’s house. In a nice symmetry, all three are buried in Castle Church and two have statues in the main square.

The main church of St Mary's sits on the main square and is where Luther was married and where he did most of his preaching. Most stunning is the main altar painting (by Cranach) of the Last Supper including both Luther and Melanchthon.

Wittenberg is a day trip from Berlin and a wonderful journey back through one of the most significant historic periods in Europe. The work and thoughts of Martin Luther permeate every building, street and wall in this small city, marked on the World Heritage List. Wittenberg helps understand the dramatic historic change visualising Luther hammering his famed document into the church door.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Monkeying Around in Kathmandu (Nepal)

One of the travel wonders of Kathmandu’s overwhelming images is that of Swayambhunath perched high on a hilltop overlooking the Nepalese capital. As the humidity leaches energy from every pore as you clamber up the 365 step stairs to the revered and historic Buddhist Temple, its nickname of Monkey Temple becomes patently clear. Primates slink around the staircase, perch on the railings and joyously leap on unsuspecting travellers. Young monkeys cling to mother’s chests soaking in the lessons preparing them for a lifetime of leaping around this spiritual hill.

As the legs grow tireder, the large whitewashed dome of the temple looms into view. The colourful Buddha eyes stare forth, the hooked nose being the Nepalese number one symbolising unity and the third tiny piercing eye symbolising Buddha’s divine insight.

The mythological story behind the giant Buddhist temple (or stupa) is fascinating. The story goes that the entire Kathmandu valley was once a primordial lake (geologists support this claim). A lotus growing from the lake attracted an enlightened Buddhist who drained the lake and built Swayambhunath where the lotus sprung.

The temple area is awash with statues, religious icons and small shrines, along with makeshift vendors flogging postcards and pointless plastic trinkets. Somehow they seem so incongruous to the location but happily spread their blankets between the centuries-old sculptured figures eking out their living. Other Buddha statues are mixed with animal statues and symbols for the earthly elements such as water, air and fire.

Interestingly, in a world of increasing religious intolerance, the Hindus who represent the major religion in Kathmandu also revere Monkey Temple. Having also adopted the temple, the Hindus have built their own shrines and temples on the same mountain in harmony with the Buddhist Monkey Temple. In a healthy lesson, the two religions happily share this deeply spiritual location, statues and shrines intertwined across the hilltop.

Walking around the stupa (always in a clockwise direction), prayer flags flutter overhead while devotees spin the prayer wheel, the inscribed prayers and mantras sailing heaven-ward on the breezes. Many locals mark a daily pilgrimage circumnavigating the stupa several times after climbing the huge staircase, providing an inbuilt exercise program and calves like Olympic cyclists. The leathery grizzled faces of many of the pilgrims show glimpses of the hardened resilience of a tough life in Nepal, their strength of spirit showing through in each shuffled step as their wrinkled hands spin the prayer wheels in their daily ritual.

Worthy of a breathless climb up a sweeping historic staircase, Swayambhunath is one of the travel wonders of Kathmandu offering startling vistas over the city and highlighting the strange mix of travellers and pilgrims, souvenir-sellers and the faithful, all under the all-seeing eyes of Buddha.

Other Nepal Posts

Sexual Surprise in Nepal's Heart (Kathmandu)
Photo of the Week - Manual Ferris Wheel (Kathmandu)

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Photo of the Week - Manual Ferris Wheel (Kathmandu, Nepal)

Tripping through the streets of historic Kathmandu, I ventured into a ferris wheel by the river and a break from the temples and incessant hassling to purchase souvenirs. Nothing first struck me as unusual about the ferris wheel - shrieks of joy from younger children on the ride, contented parents enjoying the afternoon views along the river and jostling in the queue as new passengers were loaded.

But then the surprise - the ferris wheel had no electric power. It was powered by two young guys swinging nimbly on crossbeams across the inner part of the ride. With all the poise and balance of an Olympic gymnast, one would leap to a high crossbeam and use his body weight to accelerate the wheel before settling his feet on another beam. The second guy would similarly grab a beam near the top of its flight and further accelerate the ferris wheel repeating the ritual until the ride reached a fair speed for several revolutions before slowing to offload the delighted passengers.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Père Lachaise Cemetery (Paris, France)

guest post by Chris Zwierzynski,

Paris is often associated with the proverbial hustle and bustle of famous landmarks such as the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, the Musée d’Orsay and the Notre Dame cathedral. However, there is another side to Paris, as chronicled in Travel Wonders’ own Hidden Wonders of Paris and we find that sometimes some truly interesting wonders of a given city get pushed into the background when compared to the might of the aforementioned world-famous monuments, landmarks and tourist “must see” spots. Such is the case with this glorious cemetery, testament to not only the past of Paris, but the history of the world in that some of the world’s most famous produced of Art (be it music, dance, poetry or thought) are entombed here.

When bringing up the Père Lachaise, one often finds that it’s mentioned in conjunction with phrases like “I meant to go there, but didn’t have time”, “there’s this place where famous people are buried...what was it called?”, “I never thought of going there” or even “I didn’t know about it”. Despite the general lack of public - at least outside of France - awareness of this unique Parisian locale, it is nonetheless an important and worthwhile place to visit, both in terms of historic and aesthetic value.

The cemetery itself houses such distinguished luminaries as Molière (French playwright), Oscar Wilde (Irish playwright, poet and novelist), Chopin (Polish pianist and composer) and Jim Morrison (American singer with band The Doors). So as you can see, the residents of this Paris cemetery are certainly cosmopolitan by nature, with this being but the smallest selection of those at rest there, which numbers around 300,000.

Allegedly also one of the most famous cemeteries in the world, it’s situated on Boulevard de Ménilmontant and is easily accessible via the city Métro, with two different stops at different entrances to the cemetery, allowing for varied approaches, depending on how you feel (one particular stop is preferred, as it tends to allow tourists to enter relatively near the grave of Oscar Wilde and from there, visit the rest of the cemetery.

The cemetery has been “active” for the past 200 or so years, having been established in 1804 by Napoleon. Being located in the east of Paris (as the original/official name, cimetière de l'Est, or East Cemetery, serves to indicate), there was concern over the fact that because it was far (in those days) away from the heart of Paris, it was attracting too few burials for it to be a viable place to have a funeral. This lead to an extensive and risky marketing strategy (marketing for a cemetery, imagine that) which involved the relocation of several high profile cemetery “residents” from elsewhere in Paris right into the Père Lachaise. Subsequently, people were dying (oh dear) to get into the place, to be buried with the social elite of France. Thusly, a cemetery legend was born.

Père Lachaise also has a unique aesthetic appeal to it, with its cobblestone “streets”, fine examples of tomb/gravestone architecture and artistry, all the while interspersed with plentiful flora. It might be a cliché to suggest that the place is peaceful, or has a peaceful aura about it, but in this case the cliché rings true. For there amongst the monuments and testaments to lives past and relatively present, man can experience the chill of mortality as he is reminded that one day he too will be consigned to such a final resting place, wherever it may be.

Chris Zwierzynski is a writer for, which also offers a travel blog offering insightful and interesting travel news and tips.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The Salmon Capital of the World (Ketchikan, USA)

If arriving by ferry, Ketchikan is likely to be a visitor’s first view of the travel wonders of Alaska. Supposedly the wettest town in Alaska, the harbour is packed to the gills with boats visually highlighting the rich fishing traditions of this historic Alaskan city. Ketchikan is woven along its shoreline with nothing more than a couple of blocks from the water as the land rises sharply out of the ocean.

Packed with people if the cruise ships are in, the highlight of the town is Creek Street (top photo), a boardwalk and string of houses built over Ketchikan Creek. Seemingly patrolled by a lone sea-lion, Creek Street originally served as the red-light district bringing entertainment and relief to the men who spent many weeks away at sea. The most infamous, Dolly’s House continues today as a museum to the world’s oldest profession, while most others have turned into tourist shops selling items as bizarre as Australian opals.

At the top end of Creek Street is a fish ladder to help salmon climb past the tiny falls and return to their point of birth. The Married Men’s Trail is a rough path through the forest that allowed discrete entry to the red-light district, the single men being able to walk straight along the walkway. A funicular tram off Creek Street saves a sharp walk up the hill and offers a great view across Ketchikan Harbour.

Salmon abound in the harbour as witnessed by the local Indian population pulling in a couple while I simply stood and watched for a few minutes. While visitors need licences to fish, the local Indian population are entitled to catch enough salmon to feed their family.

Apart from a liberal sprinkling of totem poles throughout the town (helping to preserve a dying Indian art), the most interesting location is the Hatchery and Eagle Centre. The centre shows the process of breeding salmon (a couple of different varieties) for the markets while a couple of injured bald eagles, unable to fly, spend their years in the relative comfort of an enclosure with care, food and shelter. For many Americans, this is their first chance to see their national emblem in real life.

With time, a visit to the mesmerising and appropriately-named Misty Fjord National Monument with narrow fjords and sheer towering rock faces with plunging waterfalls. It is only accessible via boat or float-plane.

Ketchikan is far more pleasant without the floods of tourists disgorged from huge cruise ships so spend a night and enjoy this sample of Alaskan life.

Other Alaskan Posts
Bear Heaven (Anan Creek)
Feeding Frenzy (Anan Creek)
Misty Fjords - Bears, Crabs and Eagles on the African Queen
Receding River of Ice (Juneau)
Hey, Good Looking (Brown Bear)

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Photo of the Week - Little White Church (Elbe, USA)

Measuring just 24 feet by 18 feet (8x6 metres), the Little White Church or Evangelical Lutheran Church is not found in Germany, but in the tiny village of Elbe near Seattle. Claimed by Ripley's Believe It or Not to be the smallest church in the USA, (though this is heavily disputed), the church continues to conduct monthly services. Capable of seating 46 churchgoers and built in 1906 by German settlers, the church is set on a backdrop of towering trees and continues to carry its German signage. The elegant steeple stands 46 feet high and contains a bell taken from an early train.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Experience a Wild Night at Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary (Australia)

guest post by Gagandeep Singh

Day tours are fun, but taking a tour in the night will reveal a whole new side of Australia that the day tours miss. This is because 75% of Australian wildlife is nocturnal, so if you see them at all it will be in a specially lit house and they will be asleep. How exciting it is to see these lovely little creatures in their natural habitat. You can get to see them they go about their natural business of finding dinner and otherwise living life as normally as possible.

To do this you need a guide who knows the likeliest places to find them. He will have a strong torch to spotlight the creatures as they scurry about in the bush, foraging and playing. You’ll be amazed at the variety there is. You will also be able to view closely one of Australia’s nocturnal birds in its natural bushland setting. And watch the tiny sugar-gliders as they leap through the dark night and glide from tree to tree. Luckily, being in the spotlight of a torch does not affect them in any way.

The kangaroos at Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary are tame enough to pet and feed; don’t be afraid but get up close to these gentle creatures. Also get close – but not too close – to that ugly but amazing little creature, the Tasmanian Devil. To keep your fingers safely attached to your hands, qualified personnel are the only ones allowed to feed them. Wombats are largely nocturnal too, although some do trundle about during the day. Usually they can only be glimpsed on the side of the road as you flash past in a car, but here at Currumbin you are sure to see them up close.

Another entertaining part of this tour is the section where you can watch an Aboriginal Tribal Corroboree– telling a story through dance and song – acted out in the starlight, and some expert didgeridoo playing. One of the biggest saltwater crocs on display lives at this sanctuary, so you will also be able to pay him a visit – not too close though – and see other freshwater crocodiles.

You can even cuddle a koala here if you haven’t done it anywhere else, but the cost is not included in the tour, so you’ll need to fund that yourself. But don’t miss it in case you don’t go to another place where this experience is offered. Cuddling a koala is one of the favourite pastimes of tourist and local visitor alike.

Gagandeep Singh work for Brisbane Australia which provides latest accurate Information about Brisbane Hotels, Events, Tours and Things to do in Brisbane.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Bountiful Bled (Slovenia)

Chomping into the local delicacy of an impossibly rich vanilla and cream pastry (called kremna rezina) and a steaming black coffee on a vivid sun-drenched morning, it is difficult to imagine a more sublime place to be than at a café at medieval Bled Castle. Perched precipitously on a bare rock face, this ancient but uninteresting castle overlooks the glittering turquoise glacial Lake Bled with its fairy-tale island church, and glorious snow-capped alpine vista.

This touristy village in the very north of Slovenia, a pocket-sized country wedged between Austria, Croatia and Italy swells with neighbouring European travellers. Officially over 1000 years old (having celebrated its millennium in 2004), Bled like all of Slovenia has a vibrancy and energy in its youthful population and in the progress this tiny nation has made in the last decade.

Most popular is a visit to Bled Island and the Church of the Assumption. Walk past the hotels in Bled lining the lake to catch a squat gondola-like craft called a pletna, propelled by a local poleman. As you stride up the 99 steps from the dock, spare a thought for grooms who are expected to carry their wife up to the church to show they are fit for marriage. Enchantingly, the wife is meant to remain silent for the journey.

The church bell almost constantly chimes from its tower, echoing across the lake. Local legend dictates that those who ring the bell will have their wishes come true. Clearly many superstitious folks visit Bled!!

Rowing on Lake Bled continues to be popular, with international regattas regularly conducted on the marked rowing course.

Around Bled are lush fields, growing feed for the harsh winter months. Note the unique fence-like structures used as hayracks to dry the grasses for storage.

An excellent half-day hike from Bled is through Vintgar Gorge where a boardwalk hugs the rock wall, weaving back and forth across the raging river and tumbling water below. The gorge finishes a kilometre and a half down the boardwalk with the impressive Šum Waterfall which holds the delightfully alliterative name of Slap Šum in Slovene.

Picturesque Bled is a real treasure, a true travel wonder. Take your time, stroll around the lake, rest and relax in the local cafés and soak up the easy going attitude of this lakeside mecca.

Other Slovenia Posts
Underground Fantasy (Skocjan Caves)
Caverns, Crooks and Castles (Predjama)
The Secret Hospital (Cerkno)

Friday, January 1, 2010

Drinks Around the World: Green Mint Tea (Morocco)

At the start of every month, Travel Wonders highlights a special drink from my travels around the world. Mint Tea is a cultural tradition in Morocco served both with meals and to welcome guests. Travelling through the Saharan country several years ago, I practically lived on mint tea drinking several glasses per day. It was strangely invigorating in the humid sticky weather and gave a comforting break from the hectic roaming, sales pressure and harassment in the overcrowded souks. When discussing a sale of a larger item such as a carpet or artwork, mint tea is often served before the rounds of vigourous bartering commence. A refusal is considered disrespectful, tea being so culturally significant in Moroccan hospitality.

To make Moroccan mint tea, start by adding boiling water to a strong green tea (gunpowder tea is preferred). Swirl around the pot and after a minute or so, pour out all the water to wash the tea. Add a handful of spearmint leaves and a generous scoop of sugar (the Moroccans drink their tea extremely sweet) to the pot and fill the pot with boiling water. Leave to steep for several minutes. Pour into simple small glasses, often with a mint leaf or two in the bottom.

Tradition states that there should be enough in the pot for at least three glasses of this sweet tasty liquid. In any case, the hosts continue to fill your glass of the syrupy refreshing tea with exaggerated extravagent technique, lifting the pot high above the glass but with no spillage. The Moroccans claim that over the three glasses, the flavour changes over time as the tea steeps in the pot. One favourite local saying to describe change is:

The first glass is as bitter as life,
the second glass is as strong as love,
the third glass is as gentle as death.

Photo: Source

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