Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Best Ports to Visit on a Mediterranean Cruise with P&O Cruises

guest post by Gills Cruise

Europe is steeped in thousands of years of history, with countless historical sites and iconic buildings at every port. On a cruise around the Mediterranean, you have a choice of so many picturesque ports that it’s difficult to know what itinerary to choose.

Whether you want to explore Europe’s ancient ruins, buy yourself something nice in one of the boutique shops, dine on healthy Mediterranean cuisine or top up your tan on Europe’s sun-drenched beaches, there’s something for everyone on a Mediterranean cruise. Summer is the peak time for people to go on Mediterranean cruises, for obvious reasons. The weather is warm, the sun is shining, and you can see the sights without fear of it raining. However there are also year-round cruises for people who prefer to visit Europe minus the intense heat and hordes of tourists.

From smaller ships to big luxury liners, there are a wide variety of cruise ships to choose from. You have the choice of cruising directly from Southampton in the UK with companies like P and O Cruises and Royal Caribbean, or you can fly to meet your ship in one of the major ports like Barcelona, Palma or Venice. Cruises tend to be divided into Eastern and Western Mediterranean; Eastern cruises visit places like Cyprus, Turkey and Egypt, whilst Western cruises travel around Spain, France and Italy. If you’re planning to go on a Mediterranean cruise, these are some of the top ports to stop at on your voyage around the Med.

Haifa- In past years cruise liners avoided Israel due to safety concerns, but this year Israel is back on the map. Several cruise lines, including Celebrity Cruises, Royal Caribbean International, Windstar, Norwegian Cruise Line, Azamers Club Cruises, Princess Cruises and Costa Cruises, will have stops in Israel this summer. If you stop in Haifa you can visit Nazareth and Galilee, and if you dock in Ashdod you can go to Jerusalem and Bethlehem.

Venice- One of the most romantic cities in the world, Venice is a popular place for people to board their cruise, with plenty of things to see and do if you want to stay a few days. Go for a ride on a gondola down the canals, take in the atmosphere at St. Mark’s Basilica and experience the shopping and fine dining at Rialto Bridge. Venice is a series of small, connected islands so there are no cars. Getting around Venice involves taking the Vaporatto or a water taxi.

Santorini- Santorini in the Greek Islands is a romantic, beautiful island with a dramatic volcanic landscape, incredible ocean views, and whitewashed buildings with blue dome-shaped roofs. Everywhere you turn on Santorini you are presented with a perfect photo opportunity. Sunbathe on one of the black sand beaches, ride quad bikes around the island and view the orange and pink hues of the sunset from the cliffs of Oia.

Rome- Rome in Italy is literally an outdoor museum, full of iconic ancient sites. Visit the Vatican where the Pope resides, throw money in the Trevi Fountain, and imagine you’re in The Gladiator as you gaze in awe at the Colosseum. The food in Italy is to die for, so you can spend your days eating pasta, pizza and gelado.

Lisbon- Whilst many cities are rather flat, Portugal’s capital is a pretty city built on a series of hills, so you’ll be doing plenty of walking uphill. Take a ride on a historic tram, sit and have coffee in Rossio Square, do some shopping on Rua Augusta and walk through the grand Triumphal Arch to the huge square, Praca de Comercio. Walk up the hill to the Biarro Alto district where there are trendy bars, cafés, old clothing stores, bookshops and artisans workshops. Climb up the hill to Castelo St. George and enjoy the panoramic views of Lisbon and the ocean.

Istanbul- Lying on the crossroads between the continents of Europe and Asia, Istanbul is a place where East meets West. Istanbul was Europe’s capital of culture in 2010 and has a rich and colorful history, so there are plenty of historical sites to feast your eyes on. Visit the ancient city of Troy where Achilles fought the Trojans, or wander the Anzac fields of Gallipoli. Take a photo of the two most famous landmarks in Istanbul; the Blue Mosque and Aya Sofia. Barter for souvenirs in the Grand Bazaar with over 4,000 merchants, savour the Ottoman cuisine, and dance the night away in one of the best party cities in the world.

Dubrovnik- Walking tours will take you around Dubrovnik’s walls to explore the Pearl of the Adriatic. Whilst few of Croatia’s Renaissance buildings survived the 1667 earthquake, you can still see Sponza Palace, St. Saviour’s Church and St. Blaise’s Church. Take a stroll down the main pedestrian walkway, Placa, which is lined with cafes and shops, and explore Dubrovnik’s churches, monasteries and museums.

Barcelona- A favourite pastime in Barcelona is strolling down Las Ramblas Boulevard, with its shops and street artists. Many of the big ships dock quite close to Las Ramblas and offer a shuttle service to this pedestrian area. See famous works of art such as the Picasso Museum and Gaudi’s unfinished but beautiful Sagrada Familia. Wander around the narrow streets of the Gothic Quarter, with its galleries and stunning architecture.

Naples- Naples is close to the ruins of Pompeii as well as the volcano of Mount Vesuvius, which erupted and destroyed most of Pompeii. Naples is also home to the largest collection of artifacts from the Roman Empire, which can be found in the National Archeology Museum. From Naples you are also within easy reach of the glamorous island of Capri.

Athens- As the oldest city in Europe, Athens is a favourite stop on Mediterranean cruises and is a must-see for history buffs wanting to discover the ruins of ancient civilizations. The highlight is the Acropolis, which sits up high overlooking the city and the bustling streets below. Athens is also the home of the Olympics, and has undergone urban renewal since it hosted the Olympics in 2004.

Monte Carlo- Full of glitz, glamour, sports cars and celebrities, Monte Carlo on the French Riviera is as glamorous it gets. This wealthy city is famous for the legendary Casino Royale, Grace Kelly, the Monaco Grand Prix and the Prince’s Palace. Take a look around the Palace, sip on a cup of coffee at Café du Paris, stroll around the harbour with its luxury yachts, and take a peek inside the Casino, even if you can’t afford to gamble.

Photo Credits: ship, Haifa

Monday, March 28, 2011

Roman History in Croatia (Pula, Croatia)

Not many cities can boast a Roman amphitheatre in the centre of town. Pula is strategically perched at the bottom of the Istrian peninsula in the west of Croatia and is dotted with several monuments from the Roman era. It isn’t difficult to imagine toga-clad men walking the streets and gathering in the main forum in a city whose layout appears unchanged for two millennia.

Several Roman gates all built around 2000 years ago lead to a city with a number of cobbled streets highlighting a rich history of Roman, Byzantine, Venetian and Austrian occupation. With their remarkable engineering and architecture it is little wonder that there is more evidence of the Romans than any other, including a temple, mosaics and an old theatre. The oldest Roman city entrance is the elegant Gate of Hercules (with surrounding town walls built later) with the badly eroded carving of Hercules and his club at the top of the arch and the names of the two Roman officials (one was the brother of Cassius who killed Julius Caesar) who led the building of the city.

The main square was once the Roman Forum and boasts the harmonious columned Temple of Romae and Augustus. Around 2000 years old, I wonder how many of today’s building will be viewed in the same majesty 2000 years from now. Mind you, this one didn’t survive a bomb late in World War II and was carefully recreated after the war.

However the undoubted highlight of Pula is the Arena, a large Roman amphitheatre that held over 25000 spectators in its day and continues to see concerts and performances today though only with audiences of 5000 (varying from Pavarotti to Elton John). Engagingly lit at night and the same age as its famous cousin in central Rome, it was sadly denuded internally over the centuries (the seats and some of the underground areas) to supply building material for other projects by the Venetians (including the four-pointed star shaped castle which provides the best external view of the Arena and now hosts the Istrian History Museum). At one point, the Venetians considered dismantling the whole amphitheatre and re-erecting it in Venice, but Pula eventually got to maintain its treasured attraction.

The Arenadesign is impressive with the stadium being three levels on the side facing the sea and two levels on the other side to account for a marked incline in the land.

The underground areas have been replaced but with a fairly thoughtless and careless cement and concrete approach. However, it does give a good sense as to the complex arrangement of managing the various wild animals, sets and gladiators that provided entertainment for a lusting audience.

In the spirit of remarkable engineering, structures at the top of the 30 metre well-preserved walls of the amphitheatre show that the complex could be fitted with awnings for hot or wet weather and the towers contained water tanks to provide fountains during the shows (the Romans think of everything!!).

Croatian pride in their Roman treasure includes featuring it on the ten Kuna note (around US$2) though the mint uses artist’s discretion to remove the various scaffolds and repair areas that mar photographers’ efforts!!

Pula provides an excellent day wandering the Roman monuments that dot the city and provides an excellent base for exploring the Istrian hill towns, including such travel wonders as Matovun, Buzet, Labin and Hum (the smallest city in the world). Make sure that you grab a copy of the Arena audio tour to discover the innovative building and design methods used in constructing this superb entertainment centre of over two thousand years of age.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Three of the World’s Greatest Cruises

by Sanctuary Retreats

Cruising is an increasingly popular choice of holiday for millions of people. Cruising gives holiday makers access to a variety of amazing destinations that would be impossible to visit during a traditional hotel based break. On a cruise you can wake up to a new and exciting destination almost every day while still getting to enjoy all the comforts and facilities of the finest hotels. You will find cruises to take you to almost every corner of the world, but there are a few cruises that are unlike any other.

Sailing along the Nile in Egypt is one such cruise. The Nile is a stunning river which has been the centre of a truly fascinating history and culture. On one of these luxury Egypt holidays you will get to see first hand the heartland of ancient Egypt and marvel at monuments and relics that are thousands of years old. Egypt’s rich history has left behind a wealth of artifacts and ruins that are just waiting to be explored and experienced. With such treasures on offer it is no wonder so many people become enchanted with Egypt.

Egypt is not the only country to offer a rich and rewarding river cruise. China is home to vast panoramic landscapes and an enthralling history which has left many monuments and landmarks. China’s most iconic river cruise is undoubtedly the Three Gorges cruise on the mighty Yangtse which gives tourists an unparalleled Chinese experience. The Three Gorges offer some of the most beautiful landscapes in China and are certain to make for an unforgettable holiday.

The Galapagos Islands are a group of islands unlike any other; it is little wonder they proved to be such a source of inspiration for Charles Darwin. These islands are located 605 miles off the coast of Ecuador, which is itself a truly amazing place. The islands often described as one of the Seven Wonders of the World which you may think is pure hyperbole but once you have seen the Galapagos for yourself you will realise it is completely justified. Great luxury cruises are available to tour these islands and allow you to see the unique flora and fauna which have fascinated and inspired so many people for centuries.

Photo Credits: flamingo, temple, three gorges, penguin

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Photo of the Week: Mount Ngauruhoe (New Zealand)

Published as part of the Blog4NZ campaign (twitter #blog4nz) to highlight the travel wonders of New Zealand and to promote that New Zealand is very much open to tourism despite the recent earthquake in Christchurch.

Mt Ngauruhoe
is a stunning conical and highly active volcano in the centre of the North Island of New Zealand and part of the exceptional one day Tongariro Alpine Crossing trek.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Thermal Wonderland (Rotorua, New Zealand)

Australians have always felt a close affinity with our New Zealand cousins. As a travel destination, New Zealand is one of the world’s most inviting destinations – dominated by extraordinary scenery of glorious mountain ranges, untouched forests, stellar national parks and sparkling oceans and complemented with a vibrant and deeply respected Maori culture (a lesson for the world) and an easy-going, unrushed population.

While Christchurch has started to rebuild from a devastating earthquake that caused untold damage, took over 150 lives and shredded the fundamental infrastructure of the city, travellers assumed that all of New Zealand was a disaster zone and closed down. Nothing could be further from the truth. An initiative of a group of Kiwi travel bloggers under the banner of Blog4NZ (twitter: #blog4nz) have encouraged over 100 bloggers worldwide to publish favourite stories of this vibrant country to encourage the world to visit. Tourism comprises around 10% of the New Zealand economy and so each visitor can help in a small way to help rebuild the South Island’s largest city and the impact on the country in general. Note that the Christchurch Airport continues to operate normally and is the perfect gateway to the South Island and its incredible natural beauty.

This article describes the unusual thermal region of Rotorua (visited in September, 2010) but readers can find other New Zealand stories on the Waitomo Glowworm Caves, the steepest street in the world and the thunderous Huka Falls.

The odorous rotten-egg gas hits me first. Within a few miles of Rotorua, the rich sulphurous air gives a taste of a remarkable landscape. Revered by the Maoris, the highlight of the area is Te Whakarewarewa which everyone confidently and loudly calls fa-ka (wh is pronounced f in Maori).

Presented almost as a mini-New Zealand, the area’s highlights are undoubtedly the spurting geysers, bubbling mud pools and steaming springs. Just past the symbolic entrance of raised wooden poles is the Kiwi House. New Zealand’s iconic bird forages in the semi-darkness, its plump body, matted feathers and strange long beak difficult to spot in the nocturnal conditions that Kiwis prefer. Sadly, there is little chance of seeing them in the wild so this is the best way to see this endangered fellow. Mating for life, the male Kiwi incubates the egg in one of nature’s more evenly shared breeding partnerships.

From the Kiwi House, the inhospitable primeval landscape lays in front of my eyes. Geysers spurt and steam billows erratically from several spots rebelling against the chilly wintry air. Several pools of mud on permanent simmer bubble, gurgle and froth under a veil of steam, belching their foul-smelling gases into the air like the worst of house guests.

Most of the geysers spurt from a multi-coloured lunar-like area called Geyser Flat. In a kind of thermal warm-up act, the grandly named Prince of Feathers geyser spurts before launching the most impressive Pohutu Geyser. Super-heated by molten rock under increasing pressure as steam builds underground, the boiling rainwater spurts many meters into the air with an impressive blast, before commencing the cycle over again. The active landscape is a reminder that geologically, New Zealand is one of the world’s youngest countries.

Strange holes seemingly lead to Middle Earth, the grey fringes giving a sense of foreboding about whether a geyser is about to shoot. Various activities utilising warming bore water for spas in the Rotorua area resulted in some geysers in the area stopping.

As an indicator of Maori reverence for this site, a Maori cemetery overlooks the main geyser area, plain white headstones and carved wooden statues marking the buried ancestors. Homage is appropriately paid to the Maori God of Fire.

Nearby, a permanently boiling water hole was used for centuries by the Maoris as a cooking area and currently highlights the innovative cooking methods with woven baskets making ideal “pots” for dunking the eggs and vegetables.A boiled egg with such little fuss.

The remainder of the site is a Maori cultural centre. With an area of pre-European Maori housing, a more modern marae or Maori meeting house and national schools for the Maori arts of weaving and carving, the Maori culture is well enshrined ensuring that their heritage and practices are not lost in modern society.

In the Maori weaving school, small clumps of the strands of the flax plant are expertly rolled across the leg forming long strings that are dyed and woven into clothing, baskets and other goods. Feathers and skins are often added for warmth or ceremonial appeal.

Around the area, I can strongly recommend completing a Rotorua day with a visit to one of several thermal pools (lose the silver jewellery first unless you want them all tarnished) for an incredibly therapeutic and relaxing experience.

Despite the odours, New Zealand's Sulphur City is a great place to visit, with the popular Whaka offering a chance to liven all the senses with the Earth's natural power in its rawest form across a thermal wonderland of geysers, boiling mud and venting steam. And to add the Kiwi flavour, a chance to experience two of the country's most identifiable images - to peer through the murkiness to witness a Kiwi scratching amongst the undergrowth and to watch a thriving Maori culture that harnesses the thermal area so harmoniously.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Ambling around Chamonix (France)

guest post by Isabella Rose of

Home to the French Alps tallest peak, Chamonix taunts snow-sports enthusiasts with slopes just begging to be tarnished by the touch of skis. However, with the overshadowing call of the wily temptress, aka Mont Blanc, and the idyllic Chamonix weather, many have overlooked the effervescent town that sits at the base of her tumbling snowfall.

Unlike other French purpose-built ski resorts, naming no names of course (cough Courchevel cough), Chamonix is an authentic town whose vibrant streets buzz with the sounds of daily life. With historical sights and cultural attractions lining the town’s pedestrianized streets there are countless opportunities for ambling.

I feel I should take a short moment here to bask in the definition of ‘ambling’. Defined as ‘an unhurried or leisurely walk’, speed demons and adrenalin junkies who live to hurtle down mountains, jump out of airplanes and throw themselves of cliffs should really take note here. For my fellow ambling friends however, who similarly rejoice in the simple pleasure of a pleasant stroll, here are some of the best opportunities for ambling around in Chamonix.

Guided Heritage Tour

Run by Chamonix’s local tourist office, a guided heritage walk around the town is an ambler’s dream. Beginning at Le Triangle de L’Amitié, home to the Mairie, Chamonix’s triumphant town hall, the tour continues on to explore Chamonix’s historic buildings and churches laced with the baroque and art deco style. On your way you will witness small pockets of hamlets and villages pervading the town, a testament to Chamonix’s diversity of life. With an abundance of cafes, restaurants and bars there is plenty of opportunity to refuel along the way. My ambling advice: check out the Chalet le Cerro, a quaint alpine chalet serving traditional French cuisine. The three-cheese fondue is worth the indulgence, just be warned your feet may feel a little heavier after this hearty feast!

Open Air Markets

Chamonix’s open air markets thrive with the hustle and bustle of local trade, providing ample opportunity for ambling. Authentic Savoyard aromas float through the air tempting you with delicious French flavours. With home-grown produce and local dairy such as the Tomme and reblochon cheese, those who enjoy the finer things in life can bask in Chamonix’s rich culinary culture and the slower pace of European life. For those who prefer a seasonal market however, the Christmas Market Argentiere held at the local town hall is ideal for a winter’s stroll. Full of festive cheer, market stalls selling traditional decorations and wooden arts and crafts are offered up here for your leisurely perusal.

Chamonix Alpine Museum

If ever there is a place where an ambler is truly at home it’s in a museum. Rich in visual history, Chamonix has several museum and gallery hot-spots. Tracing the history of the town’s origins, the Alpine Museum is a great place to start. From humble beginnings to a thriving ski resort proudly hosting the first Winter Olympics, the museum explores Chamonix’s rising success. With numerous prints, sketches and photographs to survey, art-amblers are bound to be busy for hours.

After a leisurely day of bumbling along Chamonix’s streets, you may find your legs a little shaky and your feet a little achy. Fear not! Hotels in Chamonix are a great place for expert-amblers to retire after a long day of exploration. From alpine lodges to catered chalets, swimming pools and Jacuzzi’s are on hand to provide a soothing soak at the end of the day.

For a more information on Chamonix peruse the pages of My Destination Chamonix, one of the best comprehensive guides on the area.

Photo Credits: reflection, flags, spice market

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Photo of the Week: Beethoven Grave (Vienna, Austria)

Ludwig von Beethoven is undoubtedly one of the finest musicians and composers who has ever lived. He is rightfully remembered with a grand white obelisk and grave. Ironically, his close friend and fine composer Franz Schubert was an attendant at his funeral and died a year later, being buried next to Beethoven. Also buried among this music royalty in Musician's Corner of Vienna's peaceful and leafy historic Central Cemetery (Zentralfriedhof which despite its name is a long way from the centre) are Strauss and Brahms.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Petroglyphs and Totem Poles (Wrangell, Alaska)

Wrangell has a strange, slightly ramshackle frontier mood. With only a very rare cruise liner unleashing their human cargo in this Alaskan town, Wrangell has a peaceful easy-paced feeling and none of the fancy jewellery and trinket shops around the docks that towns like Ketchikan and Juneau have.

Outside of the turbulent and wild Stikine River and the exceptional wildlife experience watching brown and black bears fattening on salmon at nearby (50 kilometres away by boat) Anan Creek, Wrangell has two interesting sights in town both related to their Indian past.

Around a mile north of Wrangell is Petroglyph Beach, full of strange carvings in rocks around the high-water mark. Several bald eagles nests line the road to the beach. Estimated to be around 8,000 years old, the area an estimated forty to fifty carvings, some simple spirals or stylised faces and others more sophisticated fish or sea creatures. While some are on rocks out in the open, some remain hidden by the lapping tides and others seek shelter under grassy fringes edging the beach. In a kind of treasure hunt, it is an enjoyable hour checking around rocks on this remote and unkempt beach trying to unearth more of these ancient carvings or to interpret their possible meaning.

A boardwalk area includes reproductions of a few of the better examples to encourage people who take rubbings to use these as a protection for the originals that are slowly being warn away by the inevitable tidal erosion.

Little appears to be known for the reasons behind the local Indian carvings. Various explanations include markings of a good hunting or fishing area, a thank-you to the gods for bountiful hunts, a celebration for a battle victory or the simple joy of artistic expression.

Near to the docks is Chief Shakes Island including a number of totem poles and a central communal hall called the Tribal House of the Bear. The title of Chief Shakes (now largely ceremonial) is handed down with the Tlingit Indians have overseen four separate ruling nations (including the Indians themselves). The Russians signed an agreement with them to trade furs in the area before the British and finally the Americans took control of the area.

The central house is surrounded by a number of grandly carved totem poles, featuring a variety of animals and symbols. My personal favourite are the three frogs peering from their wooden perch through the foliage while a friendly bear lays prone on another pole. The three frogs totem pole represents shame to a neighbouring clan who had three of their young men have sex with three of Shakes clan’s women and yet not support the resultant children.

While best as a base for two superb adventures to Anan Creek bear-viewing and the Stikine River, Wrangell offers a quiet sprawling town with two unusual sights marking the rich Indian cultural history of the area.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Bat Problem (Sydney, Australia)

The immediate east of the city of Sydney is flanked by magnificent parklands and gardens. The Royal Botanic Gardens started as the first farm in Australia in 1788 and became Australia’s first botanic gardens in 1816 (founded by the visionary Governor Macquarie), less than 30 years after the colony was settled. Trees from the original days still remain in the magnificent open gardens and many thousands stroll around and through the gardens every day. Eminent folks such as the Queen and the Pope have planted memorial trees over the years and in spring the gardens are a riot of colour and a perfumery of aromas.

The gardens are home to the stunning but incongruous Government House, built in the 1840s like a Gothic Castle. Until recently, it was the home to the Governor of New South Wales but now is purely ceremonial (free guided tours are available most Fridays).

The gardens are also home to many thousands of native Grey-Headed Flying Foxes (or Fruit Bats). As innocent as these delightful bats appear resting upturned in the trees shrouded by their wings and with inquisitive faces, they have sadly continued to destroy a number of the century old trees in the gardens.

The problem is how to encourage the flying foxes to move to new surroundings. It is impossible to capture over 20,000 flying foxes and move them to somewhere (they are likely to simply fly back anyway!!). In the next few months, the gardens are going to launch a few weeks of playing loud unpleasant recorded sounds during their sleeping hours including engine noises, crashing metal and sounds of predators to chase these irritating creatures to roost in other groves of trees away from the gardens. To avoid the issue of the bats simply settling in the neighbouring Hyde Park or other nearby attractive areas, the same sounds are going to be played in these locations as well.

While the noise is bound to destroy the tranquil beauty of these superb gardens for a short while, it hopefully will provide a suitable solution to both preserve and naturally relocate the endangered flying foxes and preserve and protect the wonderful old trees of the gardens.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Photo of the Week: Grand Canyon Sunset (USA)

The rocky splendour of one of the travel wonders of the world is at its most mesmerising at sunrise (see Grand Canyon sunrise) and sunset. This shot is taken at the ideal sunset lookout of Hopi Point highlighting the powerful erosional forces of wind and water over the millennia. Every few minutes the colours change as the canyon's rock temples shadow the sinking sun plunging parts in darkness while other peaks and ridges gleam in warming hues of reds, oranges and bronzes.

Suggestion: Other great sunset vantage points include Mojave and Pima points.

Related Posts with Thumbnails