Saturday, December 24, 2011

Aussie Jingle Bells and Merry Christmas

Best wishes to you all for Christmas season and for a prosperous and healthy 2012. The blog will close for around ten days. The photo shows the superb Christmas light show using St Mary's Cathedral in Sydney as a backdrop.

To help celebrate Christmas, I have included the words of an Australian version of Jingle Bells sung to the familiar tune, by successful Irish-born Australia singer and songwriter, Colin Buchanan.

It highlights the strange contrast of Christmas being associated with snow and wintry weather while falling in the middle of the Australian summer. Below the song are the explanations of a handful of Australian words that you may not be familiar with (marked with an asterisk).

Aussie Jingle Bells

Dashing through the bush,
in a rusty Holden(*) Ute (*),
Kicking up the dust,
esky(*) in the boot,
Kelpie(*) by my side,
singing Christmas songs,
It's Summer time and I am in
my singlet, shorts and thongs(*)

Oh! Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way,
Christmas in Australia on a scorching summers day, Hey!
Jingle bells, jingle bells, Christmas time is beaut!(*),
Oh what fun it is to ride in a rusty Holden Ute.

Engine's getting hot;
we dodge the kangaroos,
The swaggie(*) climbs aboard,
he is welcome too.
All the family's there,
sitting by the pool,
Christmas Day the Aussie way,
by the barbecue.

Oh! Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way,
Christmas in Australia on a scorching summers day, Hey!
Jingle bells, jingle bells, Christmas time is beaut!,
Oh what fun it is to ride in a rusty Holden Ute.

Come the afternoon,
Grandpa has a doze,
The kids and Uncle Bruce,
are swimming in their clothes.
The time comes 'round to go,
we take the family snap,
Pack the car and all shoot through,
before the washing up.

Oh! Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way,
Christmas in Australia on a scorching summers day, Hey!
Jingle bells, jingle bells, Christmas time is beaut!,
Oh what fun it is to ride in a rusty Holden Ute.

Holden: Australian brand of General Motors
ute: utility vehicle
esky: portable plastic cooler box (brand name derived from shortening eskimo)
kelpie: Australian breed of sheep dog
thongs: open footwear sometimes called flip-flops (or jandles in New Zealand!!)
beaut: slang for very good
swaggie: slang for swagman, a transient rural worker (farmhand, shearer, miner or other) who carried everything in a bedroll moving from place to place (or swag)

Thursday, December 22, 2011

British Columbia – Splendour without Diminishment (Canada)

guest post by Nazeli K. Kyuregyan

The Latin motto splendor sine occasu suits perfectly the most exciting Canadian province. Let its natural gems inspire your soul while its vibrant cities conquer your mind.

Splendid Nature

Incredibly naturally gifted, British Columbia is venerated by adventurers from all around the world. Whether you are a skier, snowboarded, free-climber, hiker, cave-explorer, animal lover, kayaker, experienced golfer, or a beach devotee BC has a special gift just for you. It will impress you with its steep snowy slopes, rocky mountains, endless green pathways, labyrinths of caves, unforgettable wild animal-watching, enchanting kayak-paradise creeks, sun beamed golf courses, sandy beaches and much, much more. This is probably the only place in the world where you cam ski in the morning and sunbath in the afternoon. Its generous 824 naturals parks have everything from frozen waterfalls to even a small desert.

Splendid Vancouver

Even if you are not particularly attached to Mother Nature, BC will definitely not bore you. A single day is enough to turn you into a Vancouver-addict. The multicoloured metropolis, locked between the Coast Mountain and the Pacific, has many secrets to share. Variety is the key word here, where you can find all types of accommodation, restaurants that will take you across all continents and activities to fill your every second.

Explore Chinatown for an original dim sun, have a shopping session at the fashionable Yaletown then stop for a very special maple cream ale at Granville Island and drift through its colourful markets. Have a perfumed stroll among the roses of Stanley Park and a rendezvous with the charming giant octopus at the Vancouver Aquarium. Old-style Gaston is a must for its unique ancient houses and the famous Steam Clock, followed by a picnic under a 500-year old tree at the Seymour National Park.

If you are hungry for romance head to the Sunshine Coast for a magnificent ocean cruise or a kayak race among the tranquil creeks, whereas if you need to show off your hi-tech snow equipment the exclusive Whistler snow resort will become your top destination.

More adventures are just around the corner. Challenge yourselves with the extra-tough 2.9km Grouse Grind Trail then enjoy the Pacific during a windsurf lesson.

Splendid Vancouver Island

Vancouver Island is the home of British Columbia’s majestic capital Victoria. Go back in time as you study its colonial architecture, explore the old Inner Harbour, get lost in its famous flower gardens or take your high tea in an old-style hotel. Remember to greet the inhabitants of the West Coast, the orcas, then have a breath-taking visit of Canada’s tallest waterfalls, the Della Falls. A busy day requires a healthy dinner at the Salmon Capital of the WorldCampbell River.

Splendid Haida Gwaii

The Queen Charlotte Islands, now known as Haida Gwaii, treasure the authentic aboriginal culture. The villages and museums of the First Nations will unravel Canada’s indigenous history and heritage. The archipelago is also home to unique animal and plant species together with rare First Nations art and crafts.

Splendid Glamping

If you love nature but feel uncomfortable for its side effects (bugs, unwelcoming tents, mud, canned food, etc.), glamping, or glamorous camping, is your solution. British Columbian resorts offer comfortable outdoor experiences such as dark chocolate s’mres by the bonfire, yoga lessons in the middle of the lush rainforest, or master-chef pancakes with freshly picked huckleberries for breakfast.

Whatever you do, do not miss to say hi to the nicest inhabitant of British Columbia – the grizzly, that you can easily spot on a luxury bear watching cruise.

For more, check out My Destination British Columbia.

Photo Credits: lake, bears, Vancouver night, gardens, Haida Gwaii

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Photo of the Week: Watermelons For Sale (Luxor, Egypt)

With a backdrop of centuries-old walls and only a block from the stunning Karnak Temple, a watermelon salesman tries to sell his stock of watermelons before the heat of the midday sun empties the streets. The Egyptian streets were filled with wonderful seasonal fruits and spices grown on the banks of the life-giving Nile.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

The Quirkiest Ski of Your Life

guest post by Kirsty Leckie-Palmer

This New Year as you’re busy flinging your glass to the heavens and toasting health, wealth, and happiness, remember to make room on your list of resolutions for a new experience. Once you’ve been on a ski holiday once, it’s unlikely you’ll change the routine if you’ve found a smart little resort with good snow coverage, a cosy fireside and swift access to the slopes. However, the reason we all go skiing - have you forgotten the sense of adventure? When booking your luxury ski holidays 2012, don’t just blindly thrust your credit card at the old reliable destination; check out new, exciting ways to hit the snow. Remember, life is much more fun if you do something every day that scares you…

Night Skiing in Montreal

With the largest area of fully lit pistes in the world, Mont Saint-Saveur in Montreal is perfect for those skiers who are sick of a ruddy nose and the blinding glare of the hillside sun. It also has the record for having the longest ski season, running from October to June. If this isn’t enough, they also have the Viking rollercoaster toboggan ride which hurtles through the trees and snow to leave you shrieking in delight – or terror - depending on whether you decide to use the optional braking mechanism mounted on the toboggan!

Heli-Skiing in Alaska

What’s more exhilarating than flinging your body down a mountain? Factor in a helicopter, and some of the most remote, untouched runs in the world, and you’re getting close. Located in the south-eastern side of the Chugach Mountains, Points North Heli-Adventures inc have the monopoly on the area, with over 1000 square miles of unexplored terrain. In spite of the lack of competition, they still shine globally as one of the best heli-skiing destinations on the planet. They’ll arrange everything from beginners runs to fly fishing and glacier tours. You can even finish your day with fish and chips at the gloriously-dubbed Reluctant Fisherman.

Summer Skiing in California

Yes, it’s possible, and not just on the dry-ski slopes. Whether you’re so dedicated to honing your skills you can’t bear to pack away your gear until winter or you have ambitions of training as instructor, many resorts do stay open in the summer months, and can be a lot more enjoyable with their lack of crowds and more economical tolls. With a ski season lasting from November to June, Mammoth Mountain in California has an unusual volume of snowfall, 3500 acres of mountainside, and a scenic gondola ride. What more do you need?

Indoor Skiing in Dubai

How about not being blasted by the great outdoors? There’s now an entire indoor ski resort, called Ski Dubai, in the extravagant Dubai Emirates Mall. This isn’t just for novices either, the 400 metre slopes boast the world’s only indoor black run. There are professional instructors on hand and a quarter pipe for snowboarders. Then, blow your mind by stepping out into the blazing Emirates sunshine for a well-earned après-ski.

Photo Credits: California, Snow Tracks, Dubai

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Frenzy of Otavalo Markets (Ecuador)

Every Saturday morning Otavalo awakens from its week long slumber to launch a giant market bazaar selling crafts of all descriptions along with animals, meat, vegetables, fruit, grains and hardware. A similar market has been conducted for a remarkable four thousand years providing a central meeting point for Indian villages from miles around. A cacophony of sounds from the noises of frenzied trading to the various calls of chickens, sheep, pigs and cattle greet the early arrivals when most of the local trading is done (the animal market winding up before the majority of tourist buses arrive in the mid-morning). The women and men have long animated conversations catching up on village news and goings-on before the onslaught of travellers.

Nearby villages use age-old techniques to produce superb high quality tapestries, tablecloths, hammocks, shawls and textiles along with musical instruments (including the haunting and ever-present Andean flutes), jewellery, carvings, leatherware, pottery and paintings. The various colours glisten in the equatorial sunshine, the brightly coloured textiles almost blinding in the mid-morning sunshine.

The Otavaleños men look distinctive in their dark ponchos with their pigtail dangling from below their felt hat. The women are striking with their intricately embroidered light-colored blouses, long dark skirts and shawls, unusual folded headwear and numerous gold and beaded bracelets and necklaces.

The centre of action is Plaza de los Panchos which becomes a maze of pathways between the rows of tapestries and clothing. While it is crowded, the stall holders let you wander in peace appreciating the detailed craftwork and general market activity. While hard-bargaining is expected for the crafts (but not the food), it is conducted in a friendly, relaxed manner and there is little hard-selling.

Otavalo makes a wonderful morning journey from Quito where even the most resilient of non-shoppers are likely to end up with a backpack full of Ecuadorian crafts and clothes from this most spectacular artisan market with a carnival feel.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Aloha Hawaii (USA)

guest post by Leslie To, Aqua Resorts

Hawaii has long been the getaway for those seeking to witness the superbly sublime--a type of natural beauty that startles the mind with its breathtaking profundity and serenity. With the soothing tumble of the Pacific's rolling waves providing a marvelous score, Hawaii provides an outlet for experiences unlike anywhere else on the planet. Whether you're looking to take in the warmth of the sun on one of the many picturesque beaches, challenge yourself to reach the peak of Oahu's famous crater, or acquaint yourself with the dynamic and unique island culture by night, Hawaii boasts a little something for everyone--all of which will be remembered for a lifetime.

Nestled in the heart of city, seconds away from the ocean, and combining island tranquility with contemporary splendor, The Modern Hotel is surrounded with unmissable attractions. Kick up your feet in an unparalleled state of relaxation after seeing the best of what Oahu has to offer.

Take a Surfing Lesson

From the North Shore to Waikiki, the beaches of Hawaii offer varying degrees of surfing difficulty. From beginners to professionals, people travel from far and wide to experience the glistening blue of the island's surf. If you've ever had a longing to give your inhibitions up to the majesty of a wave, there is no better place to try. You'll never forget the feeling of standing up on your board for the first time as you coast back to the beach.

Our Neighbors under the Sea

The clarity of Hawaii's water allows you to see some of the creatures that call the island sea home when simply wading in the surf. However, if you'd like a closer look at the visually-arresting coral reefs, peppered with sea turtles and fish of all different colors and sizes, you'd be hard pressed to find an activity better suited to you than a snorkeling adventure. Strap on your mask, and dive in to a world of mystical beauty.

Hike through a Tropical Paradise

Immerse yourself in the luscious expanse of Oahu's tropical rainforests on a hike you'll remember forever. Enjoy the blissful silence of the jungle, broken only by the distant rumble of a hidden waterfall or the call of a bird as you work up a nice sweat. You never know what you may come across. You may just stumble upon an area you recognize from the hit show LOST.

A Nightlife Worth Exploring

Filled with restaurants, shops, nightclubs, bars, and other Oahu hotels worth exploring, you've got options when the sun goes down. Choose from a number of world class restaurants before dancing the night away or taking in a show. When it's time to wind down, take a relaxing nighttime stroll along the sand with a refreshing cup of coconut ice cream.

See the Island from Above

Oahu is home to Diamond Head Crater, part of a larger series of Hawaii's famous volcanoes. If you'd like to see the entirety of the crater, including the National Guard facility within, as well as the rest of the island with an unrestricted 360 degree view, you should consider taking a helicopter tour. You'll be able to see for miles as you gaze out across the Pacific, and the views of Oahu are truly spectacular when seen from the air.

Regardless of your choice of activity, on Oahu, one thing is for certain--you'll never feel at a loss for things to do. And when calling The Modern Honolulu home for the duration of your stay, you're never far from the action. Come enjoy the Aloha spirit in Hawaii!

Photo Credits: sunset, surfing, turtle, waterfall, crater

Friday, December 9, 2011

Photo of the Week: Eastern Water Dragon (Australia)

This cute little fellow (click on the photo to enlarge) contentedly poses for the camera as he suns himself on a small rock. Equally adept as swimmers and on land, water dragons are a reasonably regular sight in the Australian summer, especially in parks and near waterways.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Mappa Mundi - The Ultimate Medieval Map (Hereford, England)

Hand-painted on calfskin vellum, the Hereford Mappa Mundi is the world's largest medieval map. Created in the very late 1200s the map has spent its entire life in Hereford Cathedral surviving fire, flood, theft, various battles and world wars to present to today's visitors a mesmerising detail of the world as it was understood at the time.

Measuring around 1.6 x 1.3 metres, the cloth of the world is not a map as we know them today. It would be impossible to get from one town to another using Mappa Mundi. And although seven hundred years have seen some significant wear and tear, it is in fair condition and remarkably legible for a document of its age.

The cathedral itself is worth a quick wander with its superb Norman pillars and vaulted ceiling. Elegant stained glass windows leak an enchanting hue through this 1000 year old cathedral.

However the highlight of the visit is the exquisite map. The map is split into three main parts (click on it to view it in more detail) - Asia is the top half of the map (maps in those days have east at the top and the Orient sees the sun first, Europe in the lower left and Africa in the lower right. In an embarrassing timeless gaffe, the author labels Europe as Africa and Africa as Europe. The very centre is reserved for Jerusalem with the Mediterranean just below it as the divider of the three known continents.

Each of the over 400 marked cities are identified by a castle or cathedral with the name of the city. Rivers and seas curl through the map like veins. A further hundred or so animals, people, biblical events and plants fill the gaps reinforcing prejudices and legends of the times. Mythical creatures like fire-breathing dragons and griffins are drawn into the Asian section as an area not understood, faraway and hence dangerous and frightening.

The Red Sea sit like a pair of lungs in the top right of the photo along with a curling path representing the path of the Israelites travels through Egypt. The Nile snakes up the right hand edge of the map. In such a detailed map more places become apparent as you study the fine detail. Constantinople (Istanbul today), Rome, Greece sit just below and left of Jerusalem as key places in the history of the world.

England is mapped in the bottom left corner mysteriously separated from Scotland by a river (again, click the reproduced map for more detail). Various towns can be made out even though they are recorded in Norman French though other displays in the cathedral help decode the map.

The fact that the map lives in a cathedral is appropriate as the map is more attuned to representing the eternal glory of Christianity and God and the relative unimportance of humans. As a work of geography it fail completely but rather focuses on the highlights and marvels of the known world, its extraordinary creatures and overwhelming scale. Remembering that the vast majority of people were illiterate, the map enforces the comforting and dependable arms of Christianity and Christ to reassure among the bewildering complexity of the world. Indeed, Jesus Christ sits upon the top of the map arms outstretched to aid as a reminder to the readers of the time.

An excellent excerpt from the BBC captures the mystery of Mappa Mundi well.

Remarkably this isn't the only literary treasure in Hereford Cathedral. The world's largest existing chained library where books are shackled to their shelf (via a rod that runs at the bottom of each shelf) to prevent theft. The books are stored the wrong way around with the pages outwards to prevent the chain tangling when removing it to read from the desk below.

Such was the value of books in medieval times when books were painstakingly hand-scribed and a library of 100 books was considered impressive. Today over 200 chained books sit in the Hereford bookcases alongside a larger collection of books acquired over the centuries. The collection includes the Hereford Gospels from the 8th century (sadly not on display when I visited) and one of only four copies of the 1217 Magna Carta in remarkably fine condition.

More unusually, the Magna Carta is virtually unmentioned through the cathedral and a remarkable surprise given that some of the freedom in statutes encoded in the early 1200s continue to form a basis of English law (and the US constitution) today.

Hereford Cathedral is an exceptional place to visit as an architecturally elegant building with a fine exhibition wrapped around its treasured chain library, Magna Carta and the complex intriguing Mappa Mundi where viewers can immerse themselves for a long period in the incredible confused detail of a map drawn for the glory of Christianity rather than as an atlas of the world.

What would have the people of the 1300s made of this medieval map?

Note: A 360 degree visual tour of the cathedral and chained library are available here.

Photo Credits: chained shelves, chained books

Maps are in the public domain.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Top 10 European Destinations to Visit at Christmas

guest post by the Travelsupermarket holidays team

As we enter December it is a reminder that Christmas is a hectic time for most people, but if you want to get away from it all for a few days, and are struggling for inspiration on where to go, read our guide to the top 10 European destinations to visit this Christmas.


One of the best-known and most popular Christmas markets in Europe is located in Vienna's Rathausplatz, the large square in front of the Town Hall. Here, 140 wooden stalls sell a variety of handcrafts and foods from mid-November until New Year's Eve.

While the market remains open, the nearby park is transformed into a wonderland with themed lights hanging from trees and the air is filled with the spicy scent of mulled wine, all helping to bring Christmas alive.


With a Christmas market that dates back to the 16th century and features up to 300 stalls, Strasbourg is one of the most popular festive destinations in France. No visit is complete without a taste of Bredle, the small spicy cakes that are traditionally eaten at this time of year.


As you would expect from the home of Good King Wenceslas, Prague is a city that absolutely loves to celebrate Christmas. A series of markets, stalls and stages surround a massive, beautifully decorated tree in the main square, while spectacular nativity scenes and beautiful choirs add to a festive atmosphere that will continue to delight and surprise you throughout your stay. There are often great deals on city breaks to Prague, so keep an eye out for some bargains on flights and hotels.


Located in the far north of Scandinavia, Lapland delivers a truly magical and unique Christmas experience in stunning picture-postcard setting.

With acres of pristine snow, herds of reindeer, teams of eager huskies, sleigh bells and, of course, Saint Nicholas himself, Lapland is a delight for children of all ages. Though temperatures are likely to be below freezing, you can be sure of a warm welcome, along with a hot mug of cider.


Transformed by the addition of half a million lights and more than a thousand Christmas trees, Copenhagen's Tivoli Gardens, the oldest amusement park in Europe, is the stunning centrepiece of the city's annual festivities.

Dozens of stalls, selling everything from hot apple dumplings to hand painted porcelain dolls, surround the main lake, which is transformed into a vast skating rink.


A stunningly beautiful medieval city at any time of year, Bruges becomes even more idyllic at Christmas with craft markets, fairground rides and a huge ice rink in its main square.


When it comes to Christmas markets, Germans are spoiled for choice, with literally dozens to choose from in every major city across the country. In addition to being home to one of the oldest markets in the Europe, a visit to Dresden also affords the opportunity to take part in a unique celebration.

In early December, a four-tonne version of the traditional Christmas cake, known as a stollen, is paraded through the city streets and into the market before being cut up and distributed among the crowd.


As the city where the tradition of celebrating Christmas was born, a visit to Rome at this time of year is always an enchanting experience.

The spectacular Piazza Navona plays host to a large market while the Piazza del Popolo is home to an exhibit featuring 100 beautifully crafted Nativity scenes. For many, the highlight of any trip is attending midnight mass at St Peter's Square in Vatican City on Christmas Eve, a truly unforgettable experience.


If you want to start your Christmas celebrations early, Amsterdam is the place to be. Here, the traditional day for giving and receiving presents is December 5, the holy day of Saint Nicholas.

With colourful illuminations, bustling markets, ice skating rinks and a spectacular circus, as well as museums, galleries and exhibitions that remain open, there is plenty going on throughout the whole of the holiday season to ensure you have a Christmas to remember.


One of the smallest yet most historic Christmas markets in Europe takes place in the Austrian city of Salzburg. With just 85 beautiful stalls, you can enjoy a feeling of intimacy that is missing from many larger locations.

Wherever you happen to be in Europe there is a Christmas market in a nearby city to explore and enjoy.

Photo Credits: Christmas bretzels, Vienna, Prague, Copenhagen, Dresden, Amsterdam

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Drinks Around the World: Spritz (Italy)

Spritz is the name of a variety of drinks but the original hails from Venice and the Veneto region. Created when under Austrian rule (hence its Germanic name), it is made by mixing equal measures of Prosecco wine (a very dry sparkling wine), the bitter liquor, Campari and sparkling mineral water. The Campari gives it a vivid orange colour. Chill with ice and add a slice of orange and an olive and enjoy watching Venice waltz pass (but get out of St Mark's Square to keep the prices in check!!).

I find the drink very refreshing and have seen variations in other parts of southern Germany, Switzerland and northern Italy.
This is the last of a monthly series that has run for two and half years featuring iconic and traditional drinks from various locations around the world. The drinks have varied dramatically including hot and cold beverages, both alcoholic and non-alcoholic, some well-known and others unknown to most people.

Photo Credit: drink

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