Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Which Is the Best Caribbean Island to Spend Your Vacation On?

guest post by The Traveler Zone

In case you would like to have a busy nightlife, go scuba diving, eat lobster and relax in a hammock under a palm tree, then it is the Caribbean that you have been looking for. But since the region is made of numerous islands, which one should you choose to make the best of your trip?

You want to dine?

In case you are looking for a special culinary experience, you should make sure to have a trip to St. Martin, St. Barts, Anguilla, Guadeloupe, and Barbados. Here you will find African, Indian, Spanish and French dishes or their influences over the traditional local dishes. You can visit beachside restaurants and also high-end restaurants where you will be served by five star chefs. No matter where you are from and what you are looking for, for sure you will be satisfied by the food that you will find here.

Family trip

You could be planning a trip for the close family, including kids, but you could also go with more relatives, such as aunts, uncles and grandparents. There are some destinations that offer fun, entertainment and relaxation to the entire family. Make sure that you gather some information about Grand Bahama, Grand Cayman Islands, Montego Bay, Dominican Republic and Aruba.

The Grand Bahama offers you numerous possibilities for family activities, including snorkeling on the reef, climbing rock walls, horseback riding along the beach, cave exploration, playing volleyball on the beach and riding banana boats.


You might find the region very active during the day, but when the sun goes down, the night clubs come to life. For sure you will enjoy all the clubs sizzling by salsa and other specific rhythms, rum cocktails and special dance moves. Also you have the possibility to spend some time at a local casino to truly enjoy what the night life has to offer. The places you should make sure to visit include Havana, Cuba, San Juan, Puerto Rico, Negril, Jamaica, Antigua and Barbados.

Get romantic

You don’t have to think about romance only in case you are preparing for your honeymoon. You could start a relationship with a getaway to one of the islands that the Caribbean’s have to offer. If you are looking for sand, daiquiris and sunset then you could choose from St. Lucia, The Grenadines, British Virgin Islands, Tobago and Abaco Islands. This will be the best romantic experience of your life.

The Caribbean offers a vacation for everyone whatever they are looking for. Come and enjoy one of the many suuny islands whether you want lots of activity or just some time to relax.

This is a guest post by TheTravelersZone.com. The travel blog contains useful tips and information to make your vacation a memorable experience.

Photo Credits: beach, fish BBQ, swimming with manta rays, Havana nightlife, sunset kiss

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Photo of the Week: St Blasien Abbey Dome (Germany)

Bathed in beautiful white light, the huge 36 metre dome of St Blasien's Cathedral is an architectural wonder of harmony and grace. With a circle of windows and columns, the entire church is flooded in a glorious light befitting its spiritual role.

In the south of Germany's Black Forest, the humble town of St Blasien (now a health resort) belies its rich history as a Benedictine monastery of almost 1000 years. The cathedral and surrounding defunct monastery dominates the town but is worthy of a short visit to experience a masterpiece of architectural symmetry and elegance.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Timeless Memories in Bourke Cemetery (Australia)

Living in outback Australia in the earlier days must have been demanding. Nothing highlights this more than the epitaphs in Bourke Cemetery – “found hanging in the bush”, “drowned”, “shot dead by police” and “perished in bush”. Like many rural cemeteries, the inscriptions speak silent stories of a history of paddle steamer operators, drovers, farmers, bushrangers, Afghan camel train drivers, brave policemen, publicans and local celebrities.

Set in the burned khaki plains just outside town under the soothing beauty of coolibah trees swaying gently in the heated breezes, the sea of gravestones offers a fascinating hour reflecting on times past.

I like cemeteries and have wandered a number around the world – not in a morbid way – but as a window opening onto a town’s history and culture.

At one edge of Bourke Cemetery sits a small corrugated building. It was an early mosque and a place of solace for the Afghan cameleers that realised their expertise suited the parched outback of Australia. Their graves face Mecca one man living to a remarkable 107 years of age.

Haunting is the large number of youngsters that succumbed to either an outbreak of disease or reckless endeavour – one horrifying incident with moving inscriptions claiming three young lives when a horses shied at an 1888 picnic day. In another section, a formal row of nuns reminds of the times when a convent helped support the Catholic tradition in Bourke.

A reminder of the frontier feel comes with the inscription to a policeman who dies of gunshot wounds inflicted by notorious and infamous cattle duffer (thief) and bushranger, Captain Starlight. The bushranger’s story has been told in book and film on several occasions making these men into a kind of hero for their bravado and daring.

Another tale tells of a local kind-hearted madman, Barefoot Harry Rice who after failing to save his wife from drowning because he couldn't remove his boots quickly enough, wandered the riverbanks barefooted for years afterwards in readiness to save anyone else from the same fate as his wife.

Most treasured in the cemetery is the plot of world renown eye surgeon Professor Fred Hollows. From having met the man and been deeply moved visiting one of his early eye hospitals in Kathmandu (an article for another day), Hollows is a personal hero of mine. The Hollows Foundation is my preferred charity – I can hardly imagine a finer gift than the gift of sight.

Buried within a motif of an eye made from small rocks (64 of them - one for each year of Hollow's life) near an elegant but simple smooth granite sculpture and under poetic native trees, his grave area so tells the story of a simple but driven man who shunned the limelight but whose initiative against cataract blindness and trachoma has bought vision to more than one million people worldwide. His epitaph reads "Fred Hollows, Eye Doctor. The key he used to undo locks was vision for the poor". People are encouraged to touch, climb or sit on the granite sculpture and contemplate the peaceful and beautiful surroundings.

It is a moving and simple tribute to a man whose life work has touched and continues to touch so many around the world.

Pick up an excellent little brochure from the local tourist office to help guide around the cemetery and wander through the decades of this historically-rich rural town.

This is the final article in the outback Australia series.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Traveling with Mobile Phones

guest post by Nora Williams

These days, thanks in large part to the massive spread of smart phones, the benefits of cell or mobile phones are greater than ever. The levels of convenience and methods of quick communication now available at the touch of a button are astounding, and this has led to a dramatic increase in the number of mobile phone users, and specifically smart phone users, all over the world. This is all fantastic, of course, but it can also be somewhat complicated when you get into what, specifically, you want out of your mobile phone and how you intend to use it. There are so many options, and so many functions that these phones can perform, that careful preparation is required if you are to make effective and budget-friendly decisions. For example, have you ever given thought to using your mobile phone abroad?

Once upon a time, only specialized travel phones could connect you with international service. Now, however, just about any mobile phone that you pick up from any regular provider such as O2 can be compatible with international service. This leaves you free to make calls, receive messages, and even enjoy your smart phone Internet and e-mail access while travelling abroad, which of course can be very convenient for a number of reasons. Unfortunately, however, all of this service can also add up to be very expensive after even just a short time abroad, as most roaming charges are higher than what you normally pay. So, here are a few tips for how to make use of your mobile abroad, and do so in an affordable manner:

o    First, of course, you need to make sure that your mobile phone is compatible with roaming services. Again, most mobile phones these days can be set up with international service. However, often this is something that needs to be organized in advance through your service provider; so do not make the mistake of waiting until you are already abroad to discover that you don't have service.

o    To save money from service charges, you can actually shut off certain features of your phone for the duration of your time abroad. For example, if you would only like to have your phone available for emergencies or rare situations, you may be able to afford turning off your voicemail. Or, if you are only using your device as a phone, and not for data access or downloads, you can turn off these smart features as well. Doing this can stop others from sending you data, voicemails, etc. that cost you money to download abroad.

o    If you follow the above step and turn off your data and downloading, but would still like to be able to access the Internet via your mobile device, you should remember to look into the Wi-Fi options wherever you are staying. Tapping into an available Wi-Fi network will almost always be cheaper than using your mobile device's 3G or 4G roaming services. In fact, more and more Wi-Fi is free at hotels and airports, so this may actually cost you nothing!

o    Similar to the above tip, you can also cut back on your mobile phone costs by bringing your laptop or tablet with you when you travel. Internet service on such devices operates entirely through the connection available, rather than roaming charges, so if at all possible you should limit your mobile device to purely phone usage, and use your other devices for Internet access.

With a bit of planning and care, mobile phones are a key element of modern travel. Used wisely, they are an effective and economical way to stay in touch.

Photo Credits: lake, beach

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Photo of the Week: Lift Bridge (Bourke, Australia)

Built in 1883, this bridge was one of the first lift span bridges built over the Darling River. Designed to accommodate the 200 or so paddle steamers plying the inland waters of Australia by hand-cranking the centre section upwards, it was constructed in England and brought to Bourke in sections by paddle steamer. It was finally replaced by a newer bridge in 1998 (visible behind the old bridge) and remains open for delightful strolls near the superb river gums and across the Darling River.

Past floods mark the centre pylons as Bourke braces itself for more flooding in early March (more on Bourke floods and droughts). Expected to reach almost 14 metres, it will have water sloshing around the iron girders just under the wooden slats of the bridge.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

A Town Centred on Rocks (Cobar, Australia)

Driving south 150 kilometres from Bourke, along a sunburned highway past the enigmatic Gundabooka National Park, visitors arrive at Cobar. The town sign leaves an immediate impression as to the history of Cobar. Pinned against a giant slag heap, ore hoppers topped with a large metallic sign greet drivers. Slag heaps litter the fringes of the town. A few yards further on, the heritage park contains giant pieces of mining equipment with mysterious names like a poppet-head and a stamper battery. A fine two metre statue of a miner oversees drivers entering town.

Copper was discovered in Cobar in 1870. The story has it that three failed gold prospectors were travelling out west guided by aboriginal trackers when they camped overnight near Cobar. Seeing the unusual water colour and the tell-tale green rock markings, the prospectors believed that they had stumbled across a great find, later shown to be one of the richest copper deposits ever discovered. The red ochre earth used by the indigenous people for body decoration was called kubbar in the local language and the town got its name.

The undoubted mineral wealth of the area is still visible and best seen from two vantage points. Within the grounds of the truly excellent local museum (maybe the finest rural museum in New South Wales) is the original 1870 Great Cobar Copper Mine where huge pits were dug by hand and hauled by horse and cart. At its peak, 12 smelters bubbled and brewed away extracting the rich copper deposits from the rough dark rock. Some of the waste rock has been well utilised for building or as the base for the town’s roads.

World War I saw a dramatic drop in mineral prices and soon after the war the mine closed. The main pit (over 150 metres deep) is filled with water and makes for a striking sight against the rich red environment. A second mine in the area also closed in 1920 from a fire that burned for 16 years! Copper and gold and more continues to be successfully mined today.

The outstanding museum (housed in a 1910 heritage mining office) has many humbling reminders of the harsh life and deprivations of mining families in such remote areas. The museum is presented chronologically starting with Aboriginal occupation and displays of artifacts and bush foods and moving to displays on the issues of water shortages. It highlights the bush skills required by Europeans settlers to survive the harsh weather and inhospitable land moving through to more modern times growing up in Cobar. The second floor includes historic displays on the mining of copper, gold, silver and other minerals (including a small recreated section of mine) and a farming section including a realistic local woolshed of the time (shearing must be at least as tough an existence as mining).

Outside are a fine collection of old vehicles, farming and mining equipment. Most memorable is a carriage of the Far West Children’s Health train which visited the area on occasions to bring some healthcare and medical assistance to mothers raising their children.

Overlooking Cobar is a second fine vantage point known as Fort Bourke Lookout (see top photo). A deep russet brown seam runs for miles bringing wealth to the companies and to Cobar itself. Like all mining towns, the fortunes and population of Cobar has seen steady rises and falls over the last century as the demand for copper, gold and other minerals fluctuate.

With an entrance road that curls like a wonky nautilus shell, the massive pit is the entrance to a giant underground mining system for gold. The scale is immense, the wheels on the vehicle being taller than a human. Operating every hour of every day, trucks meander up and down the slope and along the underground road travelling several miles to the main worked area.

The main street of Cobar has a number of fine historic buildings. Most attention seeking is the Great Western Hotel (1898) which has a glorious cast-iron lacework verandah that is supposedly the longest balcony in the Southern Hemisphere at over 100 metres in length. Another is the fine courthouse and its neighbouring Courtyard Hotel (maybe the accused and the court officers needed found some solace with a refreshing ale).

Cobar is a spirited town and makes for an interesting diversion with its rich mining history so apparent throughout the town and a superb local museum bring to life the demanding family life of yesterday.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Road Trip: Perth to Ayers Rock

guest post by Sarah Paige

Next time you’re planning a holiday, why not try and see some of outback Australia. Europe may have its ancient buildings and Asia has plenty of jungle to explore but where else can you drive through sparse desert on the world’s straightest road, seeing some of Mother Nature’s rarest flora and fauna? It’s road trip time.

Getting Started

Start your journey in Perth, Australia’s fastest growing city and head east towards some of the most isolated desert in the country. The trip to Ayers Rock (Uluru) is around 4000 kilometres, even longer if travelling off the beaten track.

Look into buying a used car in Perth as it can be cheaper than hiring one for the long term. Covering so many kilometres will take at least a week, more if you want to take your time and stop off at landmarks.

Where to Go

After leaving Perth, get onto the Great Eastern Highway and head for Adelaide, the biggest town on this stretch is Merredin with a population of just 2500 (and a good bakery). You will eventually come to the Eyre Highway, which contains the world’s longest stretch of straight road. There is not a single turn between Balladonia and Caiguna. That’s 146 kilometres of straight, straight driving.

Sights to see include Esperance, the telegraph station at Eucla and Kalgoorlie. There is a homestead between Belladonia and Norseman which is a relaxing place to spend a night. And don't forget the famed Nullabor Links golf course which spans 1365 kilometres next to the Eyre Highway.

Once you have visited the sights of Adelaide, it’s just a quick 1800 km up to Ayers Rock. Head to Cooper Pedy (where you can practise searching for opals and explore the underground town) via the Flinders Ranges, some of Australia’s most beautiful mountains. When you drive into the Northern Territory, prepare to be stunned by the beauty of Uluru (Ayers Rock). Sleep under the stars and marvel at how the sky is so much brighter in the outback. While in central Australia, make sure you visit and experience nearby Kata-Tjuta (The Olgas) and Kings Canyon (photo).

You could spend weeks exploring central Australia and going off the beaten track is always a rewarding travel experience. Just be sure your car is always in perfect running order and that you always have plenty of water and fuel on board and take your time and enjoy the travel wonders of the centre of Australia.

Phoro Credits: Uluru, Perth, Eyre Highway, King's Canyon

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Photo of the Week: Emu and Rock Art (Gundabooka, Australia)

Native to Australia and second to the ostrich in size, an emu in full stride is a spectacular sight. Reaching speeds around fifty kilometres (30 miles) per hour, emus run confidently through the Australian bushland, superbly built for such speed and agility.

The indigenous rock art at Gundabooka shows several emus with their three prominent toes, highlighting the importance of the statuesque bird as a source of food and feathers.

This photo is from the driver's car window in remote Gundabooka National Park. Trying to time the gaps between the roadside trees and keep the car in a straight line, this photo gives some impression of the speed and agility which emus move.

The females lay deep green eggs around the size of a human hand. In a reversal from most of the animal kingdom, the females woo the males. After partnering, the males sit on the eggs while the females leave and partner a second and even third time laying another clutch of eggs.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Rock Art and Red Soil (Gundabooka, Australia)

The rocky plateau of Mt Gundabooka rises awkwardly in a protrusion of rust coloured rock and olive green bush a few hundred metres above scrubby arid plains, the mountain visible for vast distances around. Fifty kilometres south of Bourke, it represents an important landmark for the Ngemba Aborigines or Stone People, a meeting place for millennia for various tribes and a source for shelter, food, medicines, tools and water. Cliffs, gorges and ancient waterways mark this ancient remote land estimated at nearly 400 million years of age.

Over 40,000 hectares of Gundabooka National Park is broken only by a red ochre highway and a couple short spur roads to major highlights. Native animals abound. Kangaroos bounce along the roadways or munch watchfully on the thick vegetation while shaggy emus use the main road as their own personal highway to ease their path through the park. Wild pigs (assuredly the least popular animal and hated by park rangers) scarper for cover while snakes bake joyously on the russet road.

Walking across rough rock country and over a small stony bluff in searing heat, a marked path leads to one of Mt Gundabooka’s most treasured sights, the Aboriginal Rock Art Gallery.

Karra mayingkalkaa, Paliira yuku ithu. - Welcome to our country. A sign welcomes visitors to this beloved Aboriginal land reinforcing the ongoing unity between Australia's indigenous people whose history goes back over 40,000 years and their country.

Under an idyllic natural rock cave that could provide shelter for numbers of people, stories of essential elements of aboriginal lives are told in yapa (rock paintings) in pipeclay and ochre. Graphic images of ceremonial dances (or wakakirri) are mixed with food sources such as emus and kangaroos and tools such as boomerangs, spears and fish-traps. Seemingly made in a different era (as they generally appear more faded), familiar hand stencils produced by spraying ochre from the mouth share the gallery.

Mt Gundabooka is managed in close discussion with its traditional owners ensuring both the artworks and sensitive spiritual values are preserved while maintaining access to this cultural treasure.

Nearby, small rock pools and a tiny shaded stream bubbles peacefully across sandy banks – a source of valued water (especially in periods of drought) and mild refreshment from the harsh summer sunshine. The Aboriginals knew that Gundabooka has a good supply of water, even in dry times, not only supplying a source for drinking but also a source of wildlife for food. By contrast in winter, warming fires near the rock cave could provide much needed comfort and protection from the savage night cold in this unyielding environment.

Other highlights include the short but aptly named Valley of the Eagles walk as visitors may be fortunate to spot the giant raptors soaring effortlessly on the thermals while smaller birds of various kinds twitter from the tree branches. Panoramic vistas highlight the featureless but enchanting flat land for miles around in all directions.

Gundabooka has an exceptional feeling of wilderness and remoteness, providing great views perched over the surrounding landscape and a tiny window into the spirituality and harmonious relationship the indigenous Australians shared with the land.

Monday, February 6, 2012

The Unmissable Sights of London

guest post by Central London Apartments

There’s a definite feel-good factor in and around London in 2012 as the countdown continues to this summer’s Olympic and Paralympic Games, prompting many tourists to head to England’s capital city for a spot of sightseeing and to soak up the culture. For those looking to book short-term accommodation London has something to suit every budget located all around the following must-visit places.

London Eye

Did you know that the most popular paid-for attraction in the UK is the London Eye? Why? Well, the views from being inside one of the 32 all-glass pods are spectacular all year round and no matter what time of day or night you take a trip on it. It takes around half an hour to complete a full revolution of the giant Ferris wheel so there’s plenty of opportunities to take some special pictures of the London skyline. Book online in advance to get discounted tickets because it will cost slightly more if you just turn up on the day. With the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben Clock Tower on the opposite side of the River Thames to the London Eye, it’s perfect for seeing three of London’s most iconic landmarks all in one go, while Buckingham Palace is also a short walk away.


The borough of Greenwich, which is handily placed if you stay in a Canary Wharf apartment, is a great place to explore, especially in the summer months when the weather improves and you want to escape from the hustle and bustle of central London. Greenwich Park offers an oasis of calm well away from the usual assortment of popular tourist attractions, while nearby you’ll find a cluster of museums, like the National Maritime Museum and Royal Observatory, on the banks of the River Thames well worth putting time aside to venture to.

The West End

As with any major city, the best way to explore London is on foot because so many of the big places of interest – like Trafalgar Square and Leicester Square – are in very close proximity to each other. While it may be very tempting to head for the nearest Tube station as you make your way from one attraction to the next, arm yourself with a map and instead pound the pavements. Do this and you’re bound to end up in London’s famous West End at some point, which is the theatre district. No trip to London is complete without taking in a show and discovering more about areas such as Covent Garden.

And don’t forget…

Portobello Market

Situated in the heart of the trendy superb of Notting Hill, Portobello Market is manna from heaven for the bargain hunters among you and is one of the most well-known street markets in the world.

The Monument

A ‘hidden’ gem of London’s many attractions, the Monument is tucked away roughly halfway between Tower Bridge and the London Eye and offers an alternative view of the city’s skyline from a different angle.

Tate Modern

Free museums in London don’t come much better than the Tate Modern, although if you have a few little ones to entertain then you’d probably be better heading to somewhere like the Science Museum.

London is a timeless city packed with a lifetime of sights and has the focus of the world as the 2012 Olympics approach.

Photo Credits: Houses of Parliament, Greenwich, theatre, Monument

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Photo of the Week: Charcoal Cooler (Cobah, Australia)

Continuing the journey in Outback Australia, the photo of the week shows an early evaporative cooler used to counter the harsh heat. This charcoal cooler and others using similar principles were used in the heat of outback Australia as a refrigerator from the late 1800s through to the mid-1900s, when electricity or generators were not around. Water in a tray under the fridge is drawn up through the charcoal by the chimney at the top cooling (and de-odourising) everything inside.

Based on the invention of the Coolgardie Safe which relies on wet hessian bags for a cooling effect, various cooler models sprang up around Australia in early times before electricity was available in many remote areas. Natives in Africa and the Australian Aborigines are known to travel with wet animal skins to help preserve their food for a few extra days using the same idea of a cooling airflow.

This model is located in the excellent Cobar Museum which captures so much of early living in outback Australia. Cobar is a mining town around 150 kilometres south of Bourke in western NSW.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Games Around the World: Pass the Pigs

For the last two years on the first of the month, Travel Wonders has featured a drink of the month, iconic to a certain country or region. This year in a similar manner, I am going to feature games around the world identifiable with a certain place or country.

I am starting the series with a favourite game that I have owned for over twenty years that has travelled with me on most of my journeys and visited all seven continents. It is called Pass the Pigs and simply requires two rubber pigs.

It has provided many hours of simple entertainment in meeting new people in new countries, killing time on long journeys or a bit of fun over a drink. It breaks through language barriers. I’ve played Pass the Pigs in a hostel on Lofoten Islands, riding the Congo River Boat, in a tent on the Inca Trail, curled up in a sleeping bag in Gokyo near Mt Everest and in a castle in Scotland. Two small rubber pigs take almost no space in the luggage and apart from a quizzical look in a couple of African border posts, they’ve never had any travel issues.

The object of the game is to score 100 points scored by throwing the pigs and landing them in different positions – the more difficult the position, the higher the score. Landing them on opposite sides (one side is marked with a black spot) scores a single point while landing a pig on its feet (called a trotter) is worth five points (20 if they both land that way). Flat on the porker’s back (called a razorback) scores similarly scores five and 20 for twin razorbacks.

More piggy gymnastics scores greater points – a snouter (landing a pig on his nose and front legs) scores 10 points – 40 for twin snouters – while a circus-like leaning jowler where the pig is balanced on an ear, his nose and one leg scores 15 and 60 respectively. MInd you, years of play may never see the valued double leaning jowler.

A player continues to throw accumulating points for various porcine positions. At any point the player can end their turn and bank their points towards the goal of 100, as throwing the two pigs so that they land on their same sides (either both black spots up or black spots down) results in a pig out and the loss of all points scored in that turn.

As the score for each turn accumulates or one player nears 100 points, the players are torn between risking one more throw and banking their scores creating much hilarity and laughter. The game becomes surprisingly entertaining with several people and has broken the ice in many railway carriages and boats.

Even worse if the porker gods are against you is if both pigs end up touching resulting in Makin’ Bacon and the resetting of your total score to zero for the game. The most serious Pass the Pigs roll is a Piggyback where the two pigs land mounted one upon the other, considered a most undignified and unnatural position for friendly porkers and resultant banishment from that game.

The game is available at many game shops in a small hard black plastic case (with scorecards and a pencil) and in this modern age is even available as a $0.99 Pass the Pig iPhone/iPad app and as online Pass the Pigs.

Please share you favourite travelling game in the comments. Do you have a favourite travelling game story?

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