Monday, June 28, 2010

Sydney Colony Meets Bollywood (Australia)

In the style of a live Bollywood production and framed by the magnificent backdrop of the Sydney Opera House and Campbell Cove, Fire Water is the modern retelling of the brave voyage of merchant Robert Campbell’s tall ship in 1797 (less than ten years after Australia was colonised). Told through the eyes of an 11 year old Indian-Australian girl via a FaceBook video projection, the story details the arduous journey from Calcutta of a vessel laden with 30,000 litres of rum and food shipwrecked 500 kilometres from Sydney.

Recreated on the harbour, the theatrical display highlights the dangerous overland journey the crew make from their shipwrecked craft to Sydney through pop-up characters, before returning to their vessel with assistance.

To thunderous orchestral music, the finale sees the hauntingly lit ship enter Sydney Cove, sailors acrobatically descending ropes and barrels of the precious liquid being joyously offloaded to the shore. Colourful smoke billows from the ship in the style of a modern day Indian festival.

Entertainers in strange outfits stroll the harbour foreshore, delighting youngsters with their colourful outfits and strange antics.

Fire Water is one part of a month long festival in Sydney, now in its second year. The Vivid Sydney festival features a program of events including the dazzling lighting of Sydney Opera House sails in an ever-changing array of abstract patterns (see 2009 Opera House lighting photos),a concert for dogs and the celebration in lights of Australia’s most significant early governor, Lachlan Macquarie, who started his eleven year reign two hundred years ago (see Macquarie Visions).

With the crowds out on the days I visited the various events, I suspect that Vivid Sydney is likely to be around for a while.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Cote d'Azur Villas (France)

guest post

The Cote d'Azur, also knows as the French Riviera or Gold Coast, is located on the southern end of France along the Mediterranean Sea. With a climate that boasts over 300 days a year of sunshine and mild temperatures, beautiful azure waters, and the Alps as a backdrop, this area has long been one of the most sought-after havens by those searching for the ideal spot for truly luxurious relaxation in one of the many Cote d’Azur villas.

The French Riviera has an almost tropic climate, making it the perfect spot for all types of outdoor sports and leisure activities. Beautiful villas dot the beaches and hills, and lovely yachts dot the waters. At least 90% of all superyachts dock in the waters of the Cote d’Azur during their sailing lives, making it a haven for seagoing luxury.

Hiring your own villa may be the best way to see the Cote d'Azur. By renting your home, you have a base of operations from which to explore this beautiful area, and can enjoy the excitement of all the Cote d'Azur has to offer.

The cities of this area, Nice, Antibes, Saint-Tropez, and Cannes, have become symbols of the best in art, jazz, shopping, and film. It is not unusual to spot movie stars and the super-rich enjoying the beautiful atmosphere of these towns, or enjoying playing in the bright waters and wandering through the lovely cities and villages.

The cities of the Cote d'Azur combine Old-World charm and history with modern amenities. Side-by-side with the narrow, winding streets and ancient buildings of the old cities exist the exciting, vibrant markets and shopping rows with shopping opportunities ranging from antiques to some of the most-coveted and exclusive labels in the world. Art has always been a significant feature of these cities, whether it is painting, writing, or film, and many artists have found their inspiration here.

Wonderful sightseeing is only a step away from your villa. You can take a drive through the beautiful countryside, rent a bicycle and explore the lovely hills around the coast, book a tour covering the history of the area, or just wander along the narrow, cobbled lanes of the old cities. Whatever you choose to do, you will find no shortage of beautiful architecture, churches, and natural wonders. The cities abound in museums, cathedrals, and other points of interest. The countryside is also worth any amount of sightseeing, simply to enjoy the beauty of the natural surroundings.

Photo Credits: St Tropez Harbour, Sailing Sunset, Beads, Antibes Street

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Jean Sibelius Monument (Helsinki, Finland)

Walking towards Helsinki’s exceptional Temppeliaukio Cathedral, built underground hewn from solid granite, is a striking monument to Finland’s finest composer, Jean Sibelius. Built from more than 600 steel pipes in the form of organ pipes, reactions vary from praise to disappointment at the modern surrealist memorial.

Personally, I loved the monument, glittering in the warming rays of the Helsinki sun, the trees of the surrounding park reflected off the various lengths of silvery pipe. The organ pipes gave a sense of his prodigious musical achievements with a striking and memorable sculpture. Artistic travellers stooped, laid down and leaned to get their perfect angle to photograph this unusual monument.

Next to the organ pipes is the silvery moon-shaped head of Sibelius set on stone with two artistic blobs of quicksilver. While glistening in the sunshine and despite Sibelius’ striking visage, I found the head somewhat tasteless.

Also worth a brief stroll is the neighbouring cemetery. Packed with presidents, prime ministers, military, artists, actors, sportsmen, authors and other significant Finns, the graves nestle peacefully in a tranquil tree-filled peninsula. Armies of tiny squirrels disrespectfully dance across the graves chasing morsels of food fallen from the overhanging trees. Somewhat surprisingly, Jean Sibelius doesn’t feature among the numerous tombs.

While the Finnish suburb of Töölö would be unlikely to attract many visitors without the remarkable travel wonder of its modern cathedral, it warrants a brief stroll to enjoy the restful parklands of the area and to enjoy the sparkling silvery monument to Finland’s most famous composer. Do you like either or both of the sculptures?

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Seven Traditional Dishes You Can Try in Lithuania

Guest post by Lithuanian tours company, Baltic Travel

Traditional Lithuanian food is filled with simple, tasty dishes following the traditional saying “who eats well, works well”. In the last 25 years, there have been more fruits and vegetables available across the four seasons. Before that, the food served reflected the time of the year. Lithuanian dishes often contain potatoes, rye, beet roots, mushrooms, dairy and meat. Below are seven traditional Lithuanian dishes.


Minced meat is stuffed into pig stomach with garlic. It is then cold-smoked and matured. Many smoked meat products are popular in Lithuania.

Šaltibarščiai / Barsciai Borscht (Cold / Warm Beetroot Soup)

Cold borscht for summer contains shredded beets, cucumber, dill, and green onions with cold soured milk or kefir. Sides are most often potatoes either hot boiled or fried, or a sliced hard-boiled egg. Barsciai borscht, hot beet soup, is the winter counterpart, served either without cream or with sour cream or buttermilk and mushrooms.

Juoda Duona - Black Rye Bread

Bread has played a role in rituals and ceremonies throughout Lithuanian culture. The dark rye bread is fragrant and heavy. It can be served with any meal of the day, though it is not seen as often these days.


This traditional drink is also popular in Russia and other parts of Eastern Europe. It is made from the black rye bread and is considered a soft drink despite the alcohol content, about 0.05 to 1.5%. This unique-flavoured beverage may have fruit, raisins, berries or birch sap added.

Didžkukuliai or Cepelinai

Cepelinai are large potato dumplings stuffed with meat. A vegetarian alternative uses curd filling instead of meat. It’s generally served with sour cream, mushrooms, or pork rind called spirgai.

Potato Pancakes - Bulviniai Blynai

Potato pancakes are often served with sour cream or mushrooms. The pancake is closer to a crepe. They can be made from yeast-risen batter or be very thin.

Kūčiukai or šližikai

Small pastry rolls baked and served with poppy milk and served on Christmas eve. Leavened dough is used with the milk from crushed soaked poppy seeds and sweetened with sugar or honey.

These rich Lithuanian dishes are the hallmark of a society that loves to eat and shares that love by cooking and serving others. The simple flavours are combined for a variety of unique, tasty dishes that provide a cultural highlight of any visit to the Baltic nation of Lithuania.

Photo Credits: Trakai Castle, Skilandis, Šaltibarščiai, Black Rye Bread, Gira, Cepelinai, Potato Pancakes, Kūčiukai

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Escher Optical Illusions: Mathematics or Art? (The Hague, Netherlands)

Entering the travel wonder of the Escher Museum in The Hague (Den Haag) is to enter a world of optical illusion. As much mathematics as art, M. C. Escher’s works mainly feature lithographs of impossible shapes, metamorphosing figures, imaginary worlds and strange perspectives.

I knew of Escher’s works through a special mathematics display I attended many years ago and was pleased to know that Escher’s treasured works finally went on display in a historic Dutch Palace in the nation’s political capital in 2002 (and only an hour’s travel from Amsterdam).

At first it seemed strange to place such modern and challenging surreal works in a mid-1700s royal palace, but the wide open uncluttered rooms leave plenty of space to enjoy the strange pictures.

The first floor covers his early works of more traditional landscapes but the second floor displays Escher’s finest works. Waterfall features flowing water which drives a watermill wheel where the water impossibly continues to flow downhill. Closer inspection shows that the left tower is one storey higher than the right tower, though both look the same height. In a similar vein, Escher’s Ascending and Descending shows a set of four connecting staircases where people are either permanently walking up the stairs or down the stairs.

My personal favourite is Belvedere where a ladder from inside a building looks natural but is enabling someone to climb to the outside of the same building. Columns connect erratically while a man sits relaxed on a bench idly challenged by a strange cube. Bizarrely the lower floor features a gaol where a prisoner’s pleas fall on deaf ears.

Metamorphosis pictures reveal birds seamlessly changing to fish and back again while another shows horses converting into fish.

The rooms are lit by the graceful addition of fifteen artistic chandeliers designed for the museum by the Dutch sculptor Hans Van Bentem. Shaped as skull and crossbones, umbrella, dolphin, seahorse and more, the chandeliers add a beautiful touch to the abundance of Escher’s drawings.

The third floor is a virtual reality multimedia world where visitors can experience and become part of the art. The Escher Room is setup to have two people standing in opposite corners, one looking gigantic and one looking much smaller. Another area lets visitors frustratingly try to construct an impossible triangle.

Short films effectively add to the display with Escher recording several interviews and videos throughout his life.

Escher in Het Palace
(Escher in the Palace) is a superb tribute to Escher’s fine artworks. Enjoy the works and answer the question: Is Escher a mathematician or artist?

Note: Enjoy more of Escher's art in the picture gallery at his offical site (the latter years are the most interesting).

Monday, June 14, 2010

Photo of the Week: Dik-Dik (Kenya, Africa)

This rather timid antelope is the unfortunately titled dik-dik due to its group warning noise of nearby predators. And sadly for the dik-dik with its short stature (at a little over half a metre), nearly every carnivore in the African jungle from lions and leopards to birds of prey and large lizards see it as a potential meal. One interesting protection is that the dik-dik doesn't drink water and hence can avoid risky visits to waterholes.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Alicante’s Sweetest Escape: Jijona

guest post by Fiona Hilliard

Jijona (or Xixona as Valencians like to call it) is one of those places you can only dream about stumbling upon. Set in the foothills of the leafy mountains, just a 25km drive north of Alicante, not only is it a town that’s little known to tourists but it’s also famous all over Spain for both luscious ice cream and a yummy almond treat called Turrón. Turrón holds a special place in the hearts of Spaniards everywhere. Jijona knows it. In fact the town is so thankful to Turrón that it has given it its very own museum, Museo del Turrón, an impressive emporium entirely dedicated to the crunchy nougat dessert.

The museum is situated in the same factory that manufactures the famous El Lobo and 1880 brands of Turrón.

Jijona’s Turrón tradition goes all the way back to the 11th century when the Moors were lording it over Alicante. King emir Ali was the local ruler at the time. As the story goes, he married a Scandinavian princess called Ilda who he loved very much. He would do anything to see her happy. When spring arrived in Alicante and the almond trees burst into blossom, the local landscape was covered in snow-like petals. The falling petals reminded the princess of the first snow of Scandinavia. Seeing how overjoyed Mother Nature had made his wife, emir Ali made her a promise that she would see the almond trees blooming all year round. Around the same time, a little bakery in Jijona came up with the idea to make confectionery flavoured by the almond tree. The meeting of two minds meant Ilda could indeed enjoy the spring blooms all year round.

In the 15th century, Turrón had become so popular that it was known as Dulce Espanol “Spanish Sweet”. These days in Spain, many do not consider Christmas complete without sharing Turrón with their nearest and dearest.

Turrón may have Arabic origins but its connection with Jijona is fascinating. It’s a real circle of life story that begins with the pretty wild flowers that grow in the mountains all around the town. These provide food for the bees that produce the essential honey ingredient. This honey is in turn combined with almonds from local orchards. There are two types of Turrón, soft and chewy Jijona and Turrón blando, a much smoother version which tastes similar to peanut butter.

Museo del Turrón’s guided tours are well worth doing if only to experience the Wonka-esque thrill of observing the inner cogs and wheels of a genuine sweet factory. Chocoholics can check out both traditional and modern production methods, including interesting exhibits of how Turrón was manufactured over the years.

Stand out aspects of the tour include a colourful display of packaging featuring a vintage Rolls Royce truck complete with retro advertising. Of course, at the end of the tour you have the option of tasting the chewy local favourite for free or snapping up your very own little souvenir in the museum’s shop.

But enough about Jijona’s sweet tooth – let’s talk jaw dropping views. All around Jijona, you’ll see beautiful oak and pine forests. The highest point of the town is known as Carrasueta and has a cloud-grazing peak that is 1300 metres above sea level. Driving along the fragrant mountain roads you’ll bear witness to blink after blink of sun-dappled valleys and plunging ravines. It certainly makes a change from the usual bucket and spade images churned out by package holiday brochures.

The town itself is charming in its architectural honesty. Highlights worth photographing include the Convento Franciscano de la Virgen de Orito (The Franciscan Monastery of our Lady of Orito, the Ermita de Santa Barbara and the Iglesia de Santa Maria.

While driving around Jijona, don’t miss out on the ruin of the old city castle, high in the hills. It offers a wonderfully scenic view over the whole landscape. Simply follow the route that crosses the city. You’ll find the view of the Costa Blanca to be quite unbeatable.

How to Get to Jijona from Alicante
Jijona is located 41.8km from Alicante Airport, with a total journey time of just 40 minutes.

Directions: Driving east, take the ramp to the N-340/Elche/E-15/A-7/Valencia/Murcia and then merge onto the N-338. You then have to merge again onto the E-15/A-7 via the ramp to the A-31/Madrid/A-70/Alicante/Benidorm/Valencia. Continue on as far as the A-70 and then take exit 67 towards the CV-800/Xixona. You can then merge onto the N-340. You will need to take a left, but stay on the N-340. After following 1 roundabout, take a right at N-340/Polígono 8 and continue to follow the N-340. Take the next exit. At the roundabout, take the first exit onto Ctra de Alicante. Continue on Calle del Vall. Take a right at Calle de Alcoi and the first left at Av de la Constitució. Take a left at Calle Doctor Fleming and another left at Calle de Vicent Cabrera/CV-810. You will see Jijona located on your right.

Museo del Turrón
Carretera Jijona-Busot
03100 Jijona Spain

Photo credits: turron nougat, turron, ruined castle

Fiona usually writes about Alicante car hire for award winning site Here she lifts the lid on the chocolate-box delights of one of Alicante’s best kept secrets, Jijona.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Magnificent Mont Blanc (Chamonix, France)

The ideal way to explore the French Alps is to visit Chamonix. Himalaya-esque alpine vistas of saw-toothed mountains and broad glaciers, including western Europe’s highest mountain are the highlight of this delightful mountain town. While there are many outstanding hikes criss-crossing the valleys, the two highlights are the recently described le Mer de Glace while the second is the exceptional panorama of Mont Blanc and taking a series of cable cars across the border to Italy. How often will you cross a national border by gondola?

The viewing platform for Mont Blanc is a two-stage twenty minute cable car trip almost three vertical kilometres up to a vertical spire of rock that pokes out of the Alps like a needle from a pin-cushion. Indeed, the Aiguille du Midi translates as midday needle due to the sun appearing to sit directly over the rock spire at noon from Chamonix. Impressively, the two gondolas run unsupported (except at the ends) making for an extremely sharp rises in altitude and extremely sharp drops in temperature. The views of trees are quickly replaced by views of rocks and snow. From the top, the vistas leave you breathless both for the glory and the greatly reduced oxygen levels on this lofty perch.

It is a journey for early birds with more settled and clearer weather far more likely in the morning (and far shorter queues beating those who sleep in – travel before 7:30am with the gondolas open from 6:00am). A screen at the Chamonix base station shows the visibility at the cable car summit to ensure you don’t waste a pricey journey into clouds.

From the top of the gondola, leap into the lift through the rock to one of the world’s finest panoramas. From this one place, a 360 degree arc of alpine peaks lay before you across Switzerland, Italy and France including the brooding white mass of Mont Blanc immediately in front. Enjoy the chilly refreshing air and spot the tiny colourful dots sprinkled across the glacier and across the face of the white giant – climbers reaching for this imposing mountain summit. In the distance is the tiny but familiar crookneck Matterhorn rising proudly and an array of French mountain peaks several starting with aiguille and one descriptively titled The Giant’s Tooth lay before you.

To get a brief taste of the hiking conditions, proceed down an ice tunnel labelled la Vallée Blanche to the exit point for cross-country ski trips and treks to Mont Blanc. Brave souls laden with ice axes, ropes, crampons and more strode out while I was happily snapping the incredible mountain vista.

For those not yet overdosing on white splendour, tiny red gondolas for four silently sail a further five kilometres over forty minutes across the giant glacier field to Pointe Helbronner and Italy. This remarkable gondola has only one tiny mountain pylon across this huge distance and the 360 degree views are mind-blowing. Some packed with their belongings take a one way journey to enter Italy and continue their European trip.

Chamonix is a wondrous alpine playground. The journey to the rooftop of France is expensive but well worth the captivating mountain amphitheatre of the Alps. Take a couple of days to settle into this thriving town, hike the valleys, explore the ice river of le Mer de Glace and ride the imposing cable cars to the summit of Aiguille du Midi to experience superb vistas of Europe’s finest mountain range.

Note: Check out the excellent Chamonix brochures.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Concert for Canines (Sydney, Australia)

Over the weekend in Sydney, an unusual event took place. Among all its musicals, operas, concerts and recitals, the Sydney Opera House has probably never seen such an event. A music event especially for dogs was held on the forecourt of the famous Sydney icon. Hundreds of dogs – tiny pampered pooches carried in baskets, large loping dogs towing their masters and all shapes and sizes in between – perched on the steps of the Opera House and settled in for twenty minutes of tunes and music acoustically designed for dogs.

With an assortment of high-pitched whistles and noises mainly outside the human hearing range, the canine audience contentedly listened to the doggie concert. Some appeared more interested in the other attendees, some enthusiastically waved their tails while others nervously viewed the unfolding concert.

Conducted as part of the Vivid Sydney festival that is repeating its nightly lighting of the Opera House sails that were so popular in 2009, this novel event billed as an absolute must for any dog and their two-legged friends shows that the organisers have broad minds when it comes to this month long festival of lights and sound.

Photo Credit: all photos

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Inspired by Iceland

There is possibly no country on Earth where nature has had such a significant influence on the lives and culture of a population. Iceland continues to have a love-hate relationship with its nature, a country where a visitor can stand astride two continental plates and experience a nation being geologically created. Of course, recent Icelandic news was dominated by financial issues and the eruption of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano, the ash cloud affecting people all over the world with the closing of much of the European airspace.

In an exceptional display of co-ordinated national pride, in a campaign called Inspired by Iceland, the population of a little over 300,000 went online during a nominated hour today (the Iceland hour) and sent e-cards around the world about their remarkable island nation. The messages contain an open invitation for people to visit this inspiring country of such staggering natural beauty. A wonderful video of Iceland went to air in that same hour (introduced by the President) showing superb visuals of this extraordinary natural wonderland.

So far it is clearly having some effect as over 500,000 people have viewed the video and two million have checked out their Twitter (@icelandinspired).

People who love Iceland (I have written my memories of visiting Iceland) can go to the Inspired by Iceland website and leave their favourite stories, photos or videos. People considering an overseas vacation this northern summer should seriously consider visiting Iceland. With a favourable exchange rate and an opportunity to have a truly unique experience of nature on such an immense scale, it is a great time to go to Iceland.

Though I have no heritage ties to Iceland or to this initiative, the country offered some of best travel experiences I've ever had. My memories of visiting Iceland are numerous - sitting in naturally warmed rock pools overlooking a glacier in the evening twilight, viewing tortured rock formations, standing on the edge of untamed waterfalls, trekking along immense glaciers, cruising a lake full of graceful icebergs, dining on wild salmon, watching a geyser erupt every few minutes, walking the colourful streets of the tiny capital city, standing on the location of the world's first parliament and listening to rich Icelandic sagas (some written about on this blog). But my abiding memory is of the friendly reserved people, so proud and accepting of the wild and unpredictable nature of their terrain - as one put it "it is what makes us Icelandic".

Do you want to be inspired by Iceland?

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Drinks Around the World: Mack Pilsner Beer and Midnight Sun (Norway)

Seeing the midnight sun seemed a forlorn hope. The clouds appeared entrenched across the bright evening sky, a reminder that Narvik doesn't see the sun set for almost two months in summer.

I settled into a quiet bar for an evening drink to see if the cloud might lift and allow the sun to peek through at midnight. What could be more appropriate than a bottle of Mack Pilsner, brewed in nearby Tromso, the world's most northerly brewery and most in the bar appeared to be tempted to this choice.

When thinking beer, Norway is not the first country that leaps to mind with the Scandinavian country's habit of heavily taxing alcoholic beverages. But the Mack Pilsner was a refreshing ale, lightly coloured with a tasty hops flavour. While the budget only extended to a single beer, a conversation with a travelling Swede stretched the clock to 11 o'clock but the clouds continued to mask my goal. Refreshed but disappointed, I trudged off to bed.

Next morning, I awoke to the sun streaming through the window in the generous gap in the deteriorated curtains. A little disoriented with the mind slowly gathering some semblance of rational thought but leaping out of bed anyway, I thought I'd missed the inclusive breakfast. Quickly changing and packing stuff in my bag, I glimpsed through the window. With my eyes slowly adjusting for the bright light, there wasn't a single sole on the streets. Narvik was a quiet town but this was ridiculous. Finally gaining some alertness and checking my watch, I was alrmed to discover it was 3:00am.

Feeling stupid, I sheepishly went back to bed, kind of wondering if being awoken by the sun at 3:00am counts as viewing the midnight sun. Whether your goal is to see the sun at midnight, if you ever venture to the northerly reaches of stunningly scenic Norway, make sure you sample a Mack Beer and drink a toast to eternal summer light. Skål.
At the start of every month, Travel Wonders highlights a characteristic drink experienced on his travel. The only previous beer in this series of over a year is the Belgian classic monastery beer, Chimay.

Related Posts with Thumbnails