Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Marvellous Maldives Holidays

guest post by David Collins

The Maldives is a collection of islands off the coast of India, and is a popular holiday destination for those looking for a little piece of paradise.

The archipelago has something for everyone to enjoy during their stay on one of the many islands, each of which is like your own private resort.

Popular with honeymooners and those who are looking for the chance to chill whilst on holiday, the Maldives provides the opportunity to relax on the white sandy beaches or swim in the crystal clear blue lagoons of these island paradises.

The Maldives are an ideal location if you’re looking to relax whilst on holiday, with picturesque scenery and endless blue ocean in which to swim, surf, snorkel and scuba.

The crystal clear waters of the Indian Ocean are teeming with sea life, and there is a multitude of coral reefs to discover. With a number of scuba diving schools around the island, there are plenty of opportunities to explore and photograph these underwater paradises.

The islands enjoy a tropical climate all year round, and the surrounding ocean is crystal clear and has some of the finest underwater scenes in the world, a haven for scuba enthusiasts the world over. Above water, the islands are also a popular location for surfers and windsurfing, attracted by the tropical climate and the

There is a rich variety of wildlife that live in the many reefs off the coast – and there are opportunities to dive at various times of the day – including night dives where you can catch a glimpse of the more elusive creatures of the deep.

Each island in the Maldives has it’s own resort and also it’s own coral reef, providing you with everything you need during your trip to the islands – from white sandy beaches to your own private lagoon, where you can take a swim in the tropical waters.

When considering accommodation on the islands, there are a number of beach resorts on many of the islands, giving you the chance to relax and be pampered. For something a little different, travelsupermarket.com advise that: “for something more private opt for a water bungalow where you can jump from your room straight into the ocean.

If you’d rather keep your head above water, there are a variety of boating tours available, including whale watching excursions that allow you to get close to majestic whales and pods of playful dolphins. Booking early is essential to avoid disappointment, so it can be worth planning ahead for your Maldives holidays.

So whether you’re looking to relax on a tropical beach or take the plunge and take a swim amongst the inhabitants of the many coral reefs, the Maldives is certainly a destination to consider if you’re looking for a taste of tropical island paradise.

Photo Credits: Sunset, Beach, Fish, Bungalow, Dolphins

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Photo of the Week: Sky Tower at Night (Auckland, New Zealand)

The Sky Tower (around 330 metres in height) in Auckland offers superb views over all of Auckland from its observation deck or revolving restaurant. Somewhat unnerving, the observation deck includes panels of glass in its floor letting visitors look straight through to the ground. Brave folks skyjump from the building in a form of bungee jump via a fixed wire to stop the person hitting the tower itself.

From a distance, the tower stands tall above the Auckland skyline, the rocket-ship top glowing against the darkened night sky.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Destinations for a Caribbean Cruise

Guest post by Ashley Jennings

A cruise can be a fun and memorable trip that should be experienced at least once. Although there are many possible destinations, the Caribbean remains one of the most popular. This is mainly due to the warm weather and pristine beaches. The Caribbean islands are also close together, which allows vacationers to see multiple locations during their trip. Along with the beaches, varieties of activities are available such as water sports, dining and the nightlife. St. Lucia, Martinique, and St. Thomas are three locations to consider visiting. If you are looking to book a cruise to the Caribbean with a fixed budget, you may want to consider using a travel agency such as Liberty Travel. You can still get great deals by planning the trip yourself, but be sure to research the different cruise lines to ensure you get the best price.

Because of the popularity of Caribbean cruises, many cruise lines travel to the Caribbean Islands. This helps reduce the stress of planning a cruise, since many vacation packages should be available. The temperature is also warm year round and it is usually between 75 and 85 degrees.

St. Lucia is a volcanic island that is well known for its natural beauty. The landscape of St. Lucia consists of rain forests, mountains, volcanoes, and sandy beaches. This island is also a popular honeymoon destination, where you can relax at your own secluded beach.

Martinique is considered one of the most beautiful islands in the Caribbean. The island of Martinique is like a smaller version of France. This beautiful island consists of a landscape with black sandy beaches, high mountains, and rain forests.

St. Thomas is part of the US Virgin Islands and US citizens do not need a passport. This island has many benefits for the cruise ship passenger, including some of the best shopping destinations. You can also go scuba diving, fishing, or you can relax on the beaches during your stay at this island. St Thomas is one of the busiest ports in the world, and because of the popularity of this cruise destination, you are sure to find some discount cruises to fit your budget.

A cruise to the Caribbean can provide you with the perfect atmosphere to relax, shop or to enjoy the warm weather. If you are planning a trip to the Caribbean, you may want to consider visiting the islands of St. Lucia, Martinique, or St. Thomas.

Photo Credits: St Thomas, St Lucia, Martinique, St Thomas Night

Monday, March 22, 2010

Active Iceland

As reported in various news reports (such as here and here and here), the eruption of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano in southern Iceland triggered the orderly evacuation of over 600 people from neighbouring towns, the closure of roads and the temporary shutdown of air services into Iceland. While the country is well prepared for such exceptional natural forces, with no-one being killed or injured, it highlights the extraordinary natural travel wonder that the island nation of Iceland is. A fissure nearly a kilometre wide spews ash and lava into the wintry Icelandic atmosphere as shown in photos of the various news services. Generously covered with glaciers, the small island is bisected by the edges of two continental plates causing regular volcanic activity across the country Рliterally, the country of fire and ice.

Travelling there some years ago, I can recall the landscape being explained in terms of various volcanic eruptions and lava flows. Around Hekla, various rough black stripes crisscross the splotchy panorama, each caused by one of the twenty or more eruptions over the last 1000 years. Small tinges of green colour the older flows as life fights the harsh weather to regenerate. A specialist describes “the green tinged area is from the eruption of 1845, while the darker flow to your right is from 1947”. He continues “Further over there is the lava flow from 1991…” – an ebony charred highway of lava with no sign of life. The entire history of the area is told in eruptions.

More scary is the description of the formation of Asbyrgi, an other-worldly forested area with sheer basaltic walls. While tales are told of Odin’s eight-legged horse leaving footprints in Norse mythology, scientists claim a volcano underneath a glacier caused a mass rapid melting of an ice sheet. The tidal wave of melt water gouged a path through the rocky terrain leaving the harder rocky walls, sweeping the softer rock away with an awesome natural display of primeval power.

Throughout Iceland, areas of activity are on constant show as Iceland slowly pulls itself apart, mud bubbling among steamy fissures – the sulphuric gases wafting for miles around.

The world’s finest vulcanologists continue to monitor the 2200-plus known volcanoes for undue activity – ready at a moment’s notice to report a threat and protect the population of this extraordinary natural wonderland. Maybe no other nation is being so clearly shaped by the incredible forces of nature as the unsettled Earth’s crust vents its fury every few years on this naturally beautiful and wild island nation.

Source: map

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

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Photo of the Week: The World’s Most Venomous Fish (Australia)

This ugly mottled creature typically hides among warm water reefs, rocks and mudbanks and is considered the most venomous fish in the world. Cleverly camouflaged, unsuspecting folks stand on its poisonous dorsal spines triggering an excruciating pain. There are a number of documented deaths in Australia and the Pacific Islands with more northerly coastal hospitals carrying antivenin.

This photo is taken from an aquarium, its wonderful colouring and evil spines highlighting the danger these fish pose on the low water tidal reefs.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Haunting Cliffs of Moher (Ireland)

On Ireland’s national day celebrating the life of Saint Patrick the world paints itself in emerald green. This most vibrant green matches the incredibly rich and lush countryside of Ireland. However my most abiding memory of Ireland (outside of the famed hospitality) are the haunting Cliffs of Moher.

The lady running the quaint bed and breakfast promised spectacular sunshine. Go and see the Cliffs today, it’s so clear that you’ll see North America she gasped excitedly in her lilting, choral voice. Her generous spirit made her an ideal accommodation manager but she rarely stopped for breath, talking incessantly about Irish tales, past guests, the beauty of the local area and the cold of the winters.

Among her extraordinary gifts, weather forecasting is not one. Almost on completing the sentence, a thick syrupy fog rolled in making seeing the tiny Aran Islands (less than 10 kilometres offshore) unlikely, let alone North America.

Even shrouded in mist, the Cliffs of Moher are breathtaking. The sheer rock face of layered black shale give a dark, foreboding spirit, the savage North Atlantic beating incessantly into the rocky walls below. The coastline runs as if crinkle-cut, the silhouetted headlands merging into the murky greyness. The gusting ocean winds whistle their dominant tunes through the narrow inlets adding to the ghostly setting.

Photos on a clear day show this wild coastline running for miles, the enveloping haze on this overcast day giving an endless feel to this inspiring landscape. Small seabirds dart skilfully in the powerful gusts towards their nests perched precariously on narrow ledges.

Little yellow warning signs demonstrating people slipping to a watery grave symbolically remind people to be careful near the unprotected slippery edges. Reports indicate the strong winds, blowing unsuspecting visitors from the cliff, along with errant video takers engaged with their viewfinder taking a step too far.

O’Brien’s Tower, enterprisingly built like a medieval castle, but constructed as a lookout two hundred years ago, stands isolated, a journey to its top deck pointless in the grisly weather.

As the world bathes in emerald on Ireland’s day of pride, seek out the naturally stunning Cliffs of Moher and the harsh beauty of nature. While sunshine is typically ideal for panoramic vistas, in many ways, the murky greyness of an Irish fog is more suited to this wild western coastline.

Photo Credit: Clear Day

Other Irish and British Posts
The Illuminated Manuscript (Dublin)
A Bit of British (Gibraltar)
Soaking Up Culture (Bath)
Naval Riches (Portsmouth)
All The World's a Stage (Stratford-upon-Avon)

Monday, March 15, 2010

Book Review: 100 Sporting Events You Must See Live (Robert Tuchman)

I am a huge fan of sport and over the years of travel have made an effort to watch some of the big local sporting events when possible. I think sport is a great purveyor of positive culture and has notably bought the world closer over the years. It often transcends boundaries of race, religion, nationality and age.

I have some excellent memories of sport while travelling – feeling the drama of NFL football game in the USA, playing cricket on a dusty paddock in India, seeing passionate South Americans cheer their local soccer team, watching sepak takraw (kind of athletic volleyball played solely with your feet) in Malaysia, sweating through bouts of muay thai (boxing with kicking included) standing in a packed hall in Bangkok, playing golf at St Andrews, enjoying the stoic politeness of centre court Wimbledon and watching test match rugby in Wales. So you can imagine my excitement of being asked to review Robert Tuchman’s 100 Sporting Events You Must See Live and opened it up expectantly when I received an online copy (to save on time and shipping costs from the USA to Australia) from the publisher.

The book presents more as a reference book for a sporting bucket list – a book to store on your shelves for a long time to come back and check from time to time. The appendix even includes the full list of 100 events designed for marking off over your lifetime. Each event comes with a treasure trove of information over several pages describing the best ways to obtain tickets, related websites, the typical attendee, a secret tip to getting the best experience, nearby hotels and cafes, a little history, notable players and a few significant terms to help understand the event.

Tuchman founded a sports marketing company (which Tuchman pushes a little in his book, along with a group called GoTickets.com) and clearly lives for his sport. His passion for sport comes through in the pages describing each event.

While any choice of top 100 events is likely to be contentious and is in the eye of the author, I am disappointed with the choice of some of the events. While many of the world’s leading events are listed as expected including the Olympics Games (summer, winter and special), the four grand slams of tennis, the major golf tournaments, the Tour de France, FA Cup, the Rugby World Cup and the major motor races of the world, many others focus on local rivalries and smaller events.

An incredible two-thirds of the events are based in the United States with 40 percent of events covering just three sports – American football, baseball and basketball. None of the top 100 events are in Africa, only one is in South America and only two are in Asia (Japanese baseball and Hong Kong rugby sevens) and a further two in Australia (tennis and Australian football). None of the events are hosted in eastern Europe and only one is a women’s event (a Tennessee basketball team). Local rivalry events appear limited to the USA - no Gaelic Football in Dublin, no blood-curdling local soccer ties in Buenos Aires, Milan, Glascow or any number of other cities around the world, no Chinese gymnastics and no frenzied cricket in India or Pakistan.

While the Running of the Bulls is included, major cultural experiences such as the ancient horseback race around the main square of Siena (Il Palio), sumo in Japan or the Naadam festival in Mongolia (a contest involving wrestling, archery and horsemanship) appear forgotten.

Overall, the book is well presented with lots of detail as to how to best experience each event. And while the book makes an excellent long term reference book for the sports enthusiast, it is probably limited to those who are likely to spend a fair amount of their time in the United States.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Photo of the Week: Grey Crowned Crane (Uganda)

The statuesque Grey Crowned Crane is the national bird of Uganda, characterised by its magnificent head feathers like an upturned stiff brush. These distinguished looking birds forage in grasslands entertaining visitors to national parks. It is so popular in Uganda that it appears as the centrepiece of the national flag.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Wicked But Stunning (Jasper National Park, Canada)

The tiny township of Jasper in the north of Alberta, Canada is the ideal base for a number of day trips into the travel wonder of Jasper National Park. One of the highlights is a trip along Maligne Lake Road that tracks for around fifty kilometres finishing at the namesake lake.

Only a few kilometres outside of Jasper, Maligne Canyon is deep and narrow with heavy stratified sides. While busy near the entrance, the numbers soon drop away as a superb hike meanders along the top of the canyon criss-crossing from side to side across six narrow bridges. Waterfalls tumble and the water gushes in parts giving some clue as to the savage erosion that has left a canyon over 50 metres deep in parts yet only a few metres across.

The limestone rock gives rise to a remarkable geological history that includes the area being a tropical sea many millions of years ago. Indeed, the name maligne granted to a river, lake and canyon comes from a French missionary who used the French word for wicked in describing the rushing river and the difficulty in crossing this natural barrier.

Nearby is the picturesque Medicine Lake, a spiritual place for the Indians. This remarkable lake has no river outlet and is only present in the warmer months. With only a small drainage hole beneath the surface, the volume of melting snow and ice over spring and summer overwhelms the drainage filling the lake and reflecting the beautiful surrounding mountain vista. As the water flows slow into autumn, the drainage catches up until the lake disappears over the colder months. This natural phenomenon mystified the local Indian tribes giving rise to spiritual stories and its modern name.

The road follows the rapid currents of the icy blue-green Maligne River coming to an end at Maligne Lake. Small boats with narrative ply the long narrow glacial lake travelling two-third of its length to tiny Spirit Island. Flanked by towering mountains, trickling waterfalls and meandering glaciers, this pleasant water cruise unveils stunning alpine views.

The area is rich in wildlife. On my visit, black bears, mule deer, elk, bald eagles and small squirrels were all spotted along the road or at the lake.

The travel wonder of Jasper National Park is quieter than neighbouring Banff National Park and contains stunning views of the Rockies, glorious turquoise lakes, gushing waterfalls from the glacial melt and enthralling wildlife. No road summarises the natural beauty of the area than a trip along Maligne Lake Road.

Other Canada Posts
The Twenty Dollar View (Lake Louise)
Polar Bear Splendour (Churchill)
Beyond the Bears (Churchill)
The Spiritual Medicine Lake (Jasper)
Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel (Banff)
Johnston Canyon

Friday, March 5, 2010

Walking the Andean Wilds (Cajas National Park , Ecuador)

Less than an hour by bus from the seductive colonial city of Cuenca is the primeval travel wonder of Cajas National Park. Numerous paths criss-cross the majestic, but bleak Ecuadorean wilderness that has striking similarities to the west of Scotland. The routes are numbered but signage is extremely limited making hiking in this park without a detailed map or economical local guide difficult.

I’d never planned to walk in Cajas but Cuenca’s Foundation Day meant everything in this colonial masterpiece had cerrado signs dangling from their doors and most buses weren’t running. Teaming up with a lively French woman, Bernadette and finding a guide, Juan, we set out for a day of hiking.

One excellent hike starts at Tres Cruces. With staggering views over the park from a height of over 4,000 metres above sea level, the geological history of the park becomes clearer. From a misty Andean backdrop, glaciers have gouged a primeval landscape of austere green-tinged valleys pockmarked with a glittering array of small sparkling lakes, small gnarled forests and dark volcanic rocky outcrops.

The lakes are called “box lakes” that being one explanation for where the park obtained its name, cajas being Spanish for boxes. Another variation describes that caxas is Quechuan (the local Indian language and that spoken by the Incas) for cold.

Many of the 200 plus swampy lakes have evocative names though I couldn’t see any resemblance between the shimmering Lake Toreadora and the famed image of a Spanish bullfighter.

Here, the hill-line or continental divide is significant as all water that falls on the west of the mountains runs into the Pacific Ocean and all water that falls east of the hills journeys over 1000 miles via the Amazon basin before emptying into the Atlantic.

This harsh environment supports a surprising amount of life. Overhead, a rare condor patrols his dominion cruising the currents of rarefied air that lift off the jagged peaks. Small colourful wildflowers and plants litter the pathways. Among the hardy grasses and rocky ground, Indian Paintbrush dots the landscape in scarlets spots while the chuquiragua is highlighted by orange flowers, both thriving in this harsh climate.

Small forests of twisted polylepis and quinua trees sit high above the general tree-line and create a diversion from the treeless higher valleys. Like entering middle earth and presenting a maze like an obstacle course, these knotted trees twist and turn blocking the path and catching daypacks at every opportunity. The branches of the polylepis trees have strange reddish multi-layer papery bark that flakes off in sheets and are unique to the Andes. Small birds dart easily between the foliage picking at the leaves and insects.

The day’s walking can be broken with a superb lunch of steamed trout from the park in a well-priced restaurant called Dos Chorreras, perched on a small lake and with a sweeping panorama of the park.

Despite being so close and so easily accessed from Cuenca, Cajas National Park offers wonderful hiking and a tremendous sense of solitude and wilderness. With breathtaking Andean backdrops, walking the unforgiving landscape in ever-changing weather and high altitudes gives a sense of elation and pride when settling back into colonial Cuenca. And to think, if it wasn’t for a public holiday, I’d have missed this Ecuadorian travel wonder.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Mark Twain and the Lion Monument (Lucerne, Switzerland)

As a child, I read Mark Twain's humourous tale of travelling through mainland Europe in A Tramp Abroad, influencing my will to travel later in life. Writing recently of the extraordinary Lion Monument with its poignant story of bravery by the Swiss Guards defending the French royal family, I was reminded of Twain's wonderful account of the sculpture, even providing commentary on pointless souvenirs over 100 years ago. Twain writes:

The commerce of Lucerne consists mainly in gimcrackery of the souvenir sort; the shops are packed with Alpine crystals, photographs of scenery, and wooden and ivory carvings. I will not conceal the fact that miniature figures of the Lion of Lucerne are to be had in them. Millions of them. But they are libels upon him, every one of them. There is a subtle something about the majestic pathos of the original which the copyist cannot get. Even the sun fails to get it; both the photographer and the carver give you a dying lion, and that is all. The shape is right, the attitude is right, the proportions are right, but that indescribable something which makes the Lion of Lucerne the most mournful and moving piece of stone in the world, is wanting.

The Lion lies in his lair in the perpendicular face of a low cliff—for he is carved from the living rock of the cliff. His size is colossal, his attitude is noble. His head is bowed, the broken spear is sticking in his shoulder, his protecting paw rests upon the lilies of France. Vines hang down the cliff and wave in the wind, and a clear stream trickles from above and empties into a pond at the base, and in the smooth surface of the pond the lion is mirrored, among the water-lilies.

Around about are green trees and grass. The place is a sheltered, reposeful woodland nook, remote from noise and stir and confusion—and all this is fitting, for lions do die in such places, and not on granite pedestals in public squares fenced with fancy iron railings. The Lion of Lucerne would be impressive anywhere, but nowhere so impressive as where he is.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Drinks around the World: Almdudler (Austria)

Every month, Travel Wonders look sat an unusual or notable drink tasted in his travels. This month offers Almdudler,a non-alcoholic soda or soft drink considered the national drink of Austria.

Almdudler has both a carbonated and still form and is produced by adding secret herbs found in the alpine areas of Austria with water. It tastes a little like ginger ale but is more bitter with a hint of citrus and subtle herbal elements. Almdudler is a popular mixer with white wine (I tried it at a heuriger outside Vienna). It is a popular drunk as a refreshing less sweet soft drink.

A famous jingle "If they do not have any Almdudler, I go home again!" is recognised throughout Austria. The local pride is drawn out in the Tyrolean woman and lederhosen-clad man on the bottles.

Previous Drinks Around the World include Mint Tea from Morocco, Coca Tea from Peru, a French Vin Chaud, Bloody Caesar from Canada, a Pisco Sour from South America, Singapore Sling, Belgium's Chimay Beer, Scotland's smoky Talisker Scotch Whisky and the Czech Republic's Becherovka.

Photo Source: Bottle

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