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We’re funny (usually), controversial (sometimes) and insightful (always!). Our travel experts share their experiences below in hopes of hearing back from YOU. So read, comment and enjoy!

Posts from November, 2012

Visit Three Countries in a Day!

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Three different times of the day, three different activities and three different…countries? Yes, countries! It is very possible to visit three countries in one day, especially when on the Mediterranean Coast stretching between France and Italy. What some people don’t realise is how close these bordering countries are with each other- something I certainly did not understand until I crossed European country borders myself! I come from a small island, and the only way to get into another country is either to get on a plane or boat. With the Schengen Agreement, you are allowed to travel between a large number of European countries without having to whip out your passport every time you pass through the border. So why not try to visit three different countries in a day?

Your trip can begin in Nice, France and end in Ventimiglia, Italy. These towns are along the Mediterranean coast referred to as the French Riviera and are so close together you can stop by them all along your way north the coast. The French Riviera is the coastline of the south of France, and is an area that had the first modern resorts because of its natural beauty. Tours of this coastline are sublime, because of the splendour of the area and the good weather year-round. It has hot, dry summers and mild winters, making it a pleasant destination at any time of the year. You can spend a whole day (or more!) in Nice, for it has much to offer- such as shopping, ruins from Roman times, and charming views.

Monaco is the second smallest country in the world, and is completely surrounded by France on three sides, its fourth side facing the Mediterranean. It is directly between the French town of Nice and the Italian town of Ventimiglia, and will be your second stop on this trip. Monte Carlo is famous for its gambling and also has a large entertainment centre, featuring restaurants, nightclubs and sports clubs. I can promise that you would not want to spend merely a few hours there, for there is much to do! You can loiter there for a few days…but why would you, when you can travel onto Italy, making it your third country in one day?

Wrap up your hectic day with some pasta and wine in the charming seaside Italian town of Ventimiglia. Not as much of a tourist destination as Nice, it is more laid back but still has bits of its history scattered around…such as the remains of a Roman theatre, the medieval city centre, as well as other remnants of its ancient past. It’s a good end for an amazing journey, and if there is any town you want to revisit, it will be just a short car ride away.

Three countries in one day: didn’t think you could do it, huh? If you plan your day well, it is very possible along the French Riviera.

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Relaxing Spa Getaways!

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Do you sometimes feel that vacation causes more stress than it should?  All of the travelling, packing, organizing, and walking can really take a toll on our minds and bodies.  Well, here are a few tours that will have you so relaxed!  

Champagne, softly lit candles and hot stones can only mean one thing: a stone massage for two at New York’s first Green Spa.  Upon your arrival, you and your guest will be given robes and slippers while you relax in the tea lounge in preparation for your session.  You will then be escorted to a private suite where you will soak in the relaxing sounds of a waterfall while you are massaged with warm stones from head to toe.  Finishing your treatment, women will be given a special rose to remember their time there.

Spas are certainly not just for women!  Men can get in on all the relaxation as well at Green Spa New York.  This package allows men to learn to roll the perfect cigar, have a nice sushi lunch and be fully pampered by experts.  Spend a wonderful four hours sipping on cocktails as you receive massages by therapists that will tend to your special needs.  Using pure essential oils, you will be taken on an aromatic journey that will relax your body and reduce stress.  You will leave your session feeling absolutely rejuvenated!

If you’re looking for a spa treatment that is a little more exotic, this one is for you!  This excursion to Massada, Dead Sea and Ein Gedi Spa bring all the natural qualities of a wonderful treatment.  At the beginning of this tour, you will be taken on an excursion of Massada, Dead Sea and Ein Gedi spa by your bilingual guide.  You will then take a cable car to visit the Massada fortress and palace of Kind Herod.  Bathe in the springs at Ein Gedi that are rich in minerals.  Also, during the session you will be given the opportunity to visit six pools, get a massage, take a dip in a mud bath or lounge on the beach.  Your tour will end with you relaxing in the Dead Sea!

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New Year’s Kiss

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New Year's Kiss A friend once told me that her New Year’s resolution was to be kissed as the clock struck twelve on the first day of the New Year. So here are some great and different places that I would suggest for that magical kiss with that special someone:

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Famous for its Carnival, Rio is also great destination any other time of year. This is one of the few times of the year that the locals join the tourists for a great time! This celebration is on par with their Carnival and the fireworks are absolutely amazing. Dress up in white and share that New Years kiss on the beaches of Rio! And you cannot come all the way to Brazil without experiencing its rainforests, can you?

Venice, Italy

This small city in Italy is perfect for a New Year’s kiss. On the last night of the year, many restaurants in Venice have feasts starting from 9p.m. and lasting until midnight, with great food and cheap wine. Also, in St. Mark’s Square there is a huge celebration with music, fireworks and a huge group kiss at midnight. And nothing spells romantic like a gondola ride through the canals of Venice!

Cape Town, South Africa

Welcome the New Year dancing in Cape Town! Some of the hottest parties and celebrations are held in this seaside city, and you can have your special New Years Kiss while on the beach. You of course will have to try the wine while in South Africa, for it rivals even Italy for quality!

Hong Kong, China

Although the Chinese Lunar New Year does not coincide with December 31st, there are still celebrations held in Hong Kong! You will not be at a loss to find a popping party the night of. Top the Hong Kong experience off with your New Years kiss while LED lights count down the last 60 seconds of the old year! You cannot forget the wonderful beauty outside Hong Kong either, for China is home to some of the most breathtaking sights.

Sydney, Australia

Although not as typically romantic as European cities, Sydney has a lot to offer. Enjoy your New Year’s kiss as some of the first New Year’s fireworks in the world explode in the night sky amid music! The best part of being in Sydney at the end of the year is that it is not wintertime; you will be coming in the height of summer. You can spend your days at the beach, dolphin spotting and enjoying the Australian lifestyle!

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Doge’s Palace Venice

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The Palazzo Ducalo, Venice, also known as the Doge’s Palace, combined with St Mark’s Cathedral and St Mark’s Square make up the most beautiful architectural complex in the world. The Palace on its own is a very impressive complex. Every façade is really striking, whether you approach on a boat via the Lagoon or from La Piazza (St Marks’s Square).

For over a thousand years it was the residence and seat of the rulers, the Doges, of the Venetian Republic. In 1923, the palace was turned into a museum. Since then it has been one of the top draws in Italy with huge crowds going in and out of and around this pale chalky masterpiece of Venetian Gothic architecture and design.

Throughout its history, until it became a museum it has been a place where official, legal, political and commercial work took place. Its fabulous halls and rooms housed public offices, archives room, courtrooms, prisons, torture rooms, the Doge’s apartments, stables, armouries, and other facilities.

The structure, as it stands today, is the culmination of centuries of building, rebuilding, renovation, expansion and a variety of architectural styles. It has suffered the ravages of three devastating fires, the first in the 10th century, the next in 1483 and the last in 1547.  No traces of the original building remain but the result of the fires and the growth and power of the Venetian state saw additional construction and extensions to the structure.

Most of what we see today is the result of work started and directed by Doge Bartolomeo Gradenigo in 1340. His efforts were focused mainly on the side facing the lagoon. Before that other major works were carried out under Doge Sebastiano Ziani (1172–1178) and Doge Francesco Foscari who extended the building by raising a wing facing the Piazzetta (little Piazza). The highlights of this construction were the ground floor arcade, the delicately beautiful open loggias that run along the first floor, the internal courtyard and the lovely Porta della Carta.

Nearly every Venetian and Italian artist, architect and designer of note has contributed to the Palace at some time or the other. The fires may have destroyed many masterpieces, but they only inspired later exquisite works. Frescoes, paintings, sculptures, staircases, ceilings and nearly every corner and cornice has the touch of some master. Listing them and their works in the Palace would require a separate article to do any justice.

Today the entrance to the Palace is from the Porta Del Frumento leading to the Museo dell’Opera containing a profusion of sculptures. The upper floors are where the Doge’s apartments are located. The second floor contains the Institutional Chambers, the Armoury and the attic prisons (immortalised by the escape by Casanova).

Venice, especially the Palace, was famed for its intrigues, conspiracies, plots, shady politics and assassinations. This led to the construction of a series of backdoors, stairways, secret chambers and hidden corridors running through the Palace. To visit these areas you have to book a scheduled tour in advance. It is called the Secret Itinerary Tour and can only be done in the company of a guide.

A visit to the overwhelmingly marvellous Doge’s Palace generally finishes with a walk-through the attic prisons onto the New Prisons, which is reached by the world-renowned Bridge of Sighs (Ponte dei Sospiri). The Bridge is reputed to have acquired its name from the sigh of the prisoners as they trudged across never to beautiful Venice or the world again.

As you walk out, you too sigh, wishing you had more time to really take in all the Palace has to offer.

Visiting Hours: Daily 8:30 – 7:00 (closes 5:30 in winter), last admission one hour before closing. Closed January 1 and December 25

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The Giverny Gardens

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It is said that many of Monet’s works were created twice – the first time at his garden and the second on canvas. And the gardens are really an artistic creation with profusion of flowering plants and trees randomly placed. Yet the beauty lies in its seeming randomness. Monet disliked regimented gardens and scattered flowering plants and trees randomly allowing them to grow without restraint. Monet’s garden is divided into two sections:

The Clos Normand
This section has a central alley of iron archways with climbing plants including roses, coloured shrubs and nasturtiums that cover the ground under the arches. There are also two yew trees. There are numerous flower beds of hollyhocks, daisies, poppies and other more exotic flowering plants.

The Water Garden
This distinct portion was inspired by Monet’s fascination with prints of Japanese gardens.  Ten years after he moved in, Monet started the Water Garden. Through this section of the garden runs a stream with the famous blue Japanese bridge and other smaller ones over hung with wisterias, weeping willows, a bamboo grove, nympheas and azaleas.

Monet painted The Water Lilies, a series of twelve canvases and based several others on the blue Japanese bridge. Monet’s house with its famous pink crushed brick deserves an honourable mention. The restored house is a faithful recreation.  None of Monet’s original paintings are in the house.

The house and gardens are open daily: From April 1st to November 1st, 2012
From 9.30 AM to 6.00 PM
Fees: Adults €9.50.  Children over 7 and students: €6.50

Tips:  Go early as crowds wanting to get in can be large. Take the guided tour and you will get the best out of your visit. 

About Giverny
The little village of Giverny is about 80 kms to the West of Paris and in the valley of the Seine. It falls in the Haute-Normandie region of France. The village has remained a small one though it gets a massive influx of tourists every day.

Besides the attraction of the Monet’s house and gardens, the village also boasts a Mechanical Museum dedicated to restoring old engines and machinery. Then there is the Museum of Impressionism Giverny dedicated to the history of impressionism. The village and surrounding countryside are lovely and begging to be explored.

About Claude Monet and his Giverny Connection
Claude Oscar Monet was born in Paris on 14th November, 1840. He travelled widely and painted many locations. He first saw Giverny from a train window. He moved to Giverny and rented a house in 1883, later buying it and an adjoining piece of land in 1890. He was totally captivated by the place. He would live there, creating some of his greatest works, many featuring his gardens.

Monet died on 5th December, 1926 and is buried in Giverny’s cemetery.

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First-timers’ Guide to Travelling to China

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Travelling to a new place can be a very daunting prospect for some. China, with it being so impossibly vast and diverse isn’t any easier. Being the most-populated land on the planet, it is imperative to know what to expect once you’ve decided to travel to China. To help you venture out to the unknown, here are some basic, important first-timers’ guide for you:

Use Public Transport: It is advisable to use public transport as much as you can. For one, China’s public transport systems are very extensive. And, ditching the taxis and airplanes in favour of bikes and buses let you see the place how the locals see it. You’ll see that many towns and cities are well set-up for cycling.

Toilet: When looking for a toilet, look out for the ‘WC’ sign. And an useful word to know at such times is cesuo, which means ‘toilet’ in Chinese. Some public toilets require a small fee, while others are free. 
Most public toilets are squatting ones; and be wary that most of them don’t have toilet paper.  So, it is highly advisable to always carry some tissue paper with you at all times.

Scams: Beware of the infamous ‘teahouse scam’ where unsuspecting tourists are charged exorbitant amounts for a cup of tea. Make sure you order only after verifying the prices. Another infamous scam is the ‘art student scam’, where scammers approach tourists and sell them mass-produced paintings misrepresented as original works to raise money for tuition fees and the like. There are also other scams you should be wary of, like the Black Taxi scams, and others.

ATMs:  There are tons of ATMs everywhere, and credit cards are widely accepted. At ATMs, check on the machine for a MC logo/Visa sign, as these machines accept overseas cards and have an English option. While AMEX is rare, Bank of China accepts Maestro.
When using an ATM, after you have entered your Pin, select Overseas, and then Savings (this seems to be the only option that works with overseas cards). If the Pin requires six digits and you only have four, add ’00′ to the beginning.

Medicines:  Make sure you bring basic medicines like Imodium/anti-diarrhoea pills and other over-the-counter medications you might need. While some of them are available in pharmacies, you’ll find that the names and dosage/instructions are in Chinese.

Consider your visiting time: Consider visiting the country during off-season, so as to avoid the huge number of people travelling in China. The numbers can be really overwhelming during these times:

Chinese New Year: Date varies but generally late January or early February
May Day: First two weeks of May
China National Day: Middle two weeks of October

Also, consider the weather too, as summers can be really hot in China; and the smog gets overwhelming.

Traffic rules: Traffic can be really rough; cars are allowed to turn right at red lights, so be particularly careful at zebra crossings. Also, look out for other cars that frequently ‘forget’ to stop. Silent electric bikes often travel the wrong way on the road and pavement too!

Hope these simple guides will make a long way to determining you have an awesome time in China. Happy travelling!

You are welcome to add more info/guides in the comments section that you think will help first-timers travelling to China.

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Things to do in Jamaica: Music and Good Vibes.

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Jamaica
Jamaica is known as the home of reggae, Bob Marley and jerk chicken. But there is more to Jamaica that meets the eye. The Jamaica Ocho Rios Jazz Festival celebrates music at its finest and is a definite can’t-miss for music lovers. It occurs during June, giving you a taste of summer in the Caribbean. Quick tip: bring a lot of sunscreen and mosquito repellent!

If you really want to cool down, you can always kayak in the White River Valley! This will give you a nice dunking in fresh water, a thrilling ride through rapids, and you will even get to see a riverside dwelling reminiscent of early inhabitants of Jamaica!  If river kayaking is not your thing, you can try the White River Valley Tubing – a more relaxing way to experience this river. It’s slower paced, giving you more time to appreciate the beauty of Jamaica and take pictures. Another great way to cool down is to take a Jeep Safari to Dunns River Falls. You will get to see a bit of Jamaica as the zebra-striped jeep takes you to some breathtaking sights. And, finally, the famous Dunns River Falls, where you can climb the 600-foot cascades!

Ocho Rios, despite its name, is not all about rivers. If you’re in the mood for something a little less conventional, you can always try Jamaican Dog Sledding. Yes, I know, dog sledding is usually done over snow and Jamaica never has snow. But why should that stop you? You will learn about the adventurous individual who decided to start the whole movement, meet the dogs, and harness them in preparation of your own ride! This is a great and rather unusual way to see Jamaica, and something to brag about to your friends.

If you cannot make it in June for the Jazz festival, or if Jazz just doesn’t tickle you the right way, you can always come down for the Reggae Sumfest in July. Eat some great food and soak in some of those ‘irie vibes’ as you listen to the music. To authenticate the experience even more, you can take the Bob Marley tour. Get the full history of the creator of Reggae and all the places he visited, lived, and is buried.

If you’re all ‘reggae-d out’ by the end of the Sumfest, there are many other things you can do in Montego Bay, like, let’s say, a zip-lining tour. This thrilling tour takes place in the canopy of Jamaica’s forests and will give you a fantastic bird’s eye’s view of the Jamaican rainforest- literally! And if you’d rather keep your feet on the ground, you can always try the ATV Safari in Sandy Bay. Sandy Bay is known as one of the most idyllic parts of this small island and you will get to experience and see some of Jamaica’s rich history while zooming along.

Jamaica is full of rich culture, fantastic music, beautiful sights and friendly people, and is a must-visit for everyone who wants a Caribbean holiday. Yeah mon!

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Christmas Shopping in the Fashion Capitals of the World

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The Christmas season is upon us once again, and you know what that means- shopping! No matter how much you love to shop, at this time of year, it can get tedious. But why not combine travel to a fantastic city with that little bit of pleasure and pain? Here are some great ideas for your Christmas shopping:

Paris: Paris is well known as the city of love and lights, but it is also one of the oldest cities in the world.  In the Antique Shopping tour, you can acquire little pieces of its past! This tour ensures you do not go into Paris to face the many shopping options alone. Your guide will pick a market in Paris for you to visit, where you can either enlist your guide’s help in shopping, or go around on your own. Whether you’re looking for antique furniture, jewellery, or clothing, you’re sure to find it while on this tour. Antique items make a great and unique Christmas present for anyone, and you will be satisfied with the great prices!

Dubai: Dubai is not an ancient city like Paris, but it has been climbing the ranks in one of the most fashionable cities in the world. So why not treat yourself with a shopping tour with an expert guide? This tour will take you to some of the best malls and souks where you can get some amazing bargains! You will not only get to visit the more conventional malls, but also the more traditional markets and really get a feel for the city of Dubai.

Milan: Everyone knows that Milan is the capital of fashion, but Serraville Outlet is the capital of brand names. It’s the first designer outlet in Italy and the largest in Europe, and only 50 minutes outside the fashion capital! It is a huge area with 180 shops and boutiques of the most prestigious brands in a very pleasing surrounding.

London:  I’ve only been in London for a couple of months, but I’ve noticed that Londoners love their markets! The markets are absolutely amazing and provide unique and great presents for family and friends, and at great prices! You also don’t have to brave these London markets on your own; a guide can be with you. What’s even better, the tour is not the same every day, so you can go on the same tour twice, but get two totally different experiences!

New York City: New York City is well known worldwide for being a great destination for tourists, business, food, and of course, shopping. So it is no surprise that there is a Fifth Avenue Shopping Tour! On this tour you get to visit some of the most popular stores in the Big Apple. Not only that, but an expert stylist is your tour guide- so you can get clothes that fit your body and budget! This tour also includes coffee and cake at the famous Trump Tower. No matter what place you decide to visit for your Christmas shopping, you can be guaranteed a great shopping experience, a beautiful city, and great tours besides!

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10 Interesting Facts about Portugal

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Portrait of Portugal FlagPortugal is one of the best value destinations on the continent offering outstanding landscape diversity as well as glamorous beach holidays destination. Below, we have collected 10 interesting facts about Portugal:

1. Portuguese is the official language of 9 countries.
 -  Portuguese is the official language of Angola, Brazil, Cape Verde, Equatorial Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Mozambique, Sao Tome, Portugal, and Principe.

2. Oldest country in Europe. It also has the oldest Bookstore in the World.
 -  Portugal has had the same defined frontiers/boundaries since 25 July, 1139 – making it the oldest nation in Europe. The oldest bookstore in the world, Bertrand is also in Portugal.

3. Portugal has the longest bridge in Europe.
 -  The Vasco da Gama Bridge in Lisbon is the longest in Europe, measuring 17 kilometres (10.5 miles).

4. Largest Cork producer.
 -  Portugal produces 70% of the world’s cork exports, making it the largest cork producer in the world. It also has the largest cork forest.

5. First colonial power to abolish slavery.
 -  Portugal abolished slavery – half a century before Britain, France, Spain or the US – in 1761.

6. World’s first commercial wave farm.
  -  Portugal established in 2006 the world’s fast commercial wave farm – the Agucadora Wave Park – to produce electricity.

7. Has largest casino in Europe.
  -  Estoril Casino, situated on the outskirts of Lisbon is the largest gambling outlet in Europe.

8. It is illegal to kill a bull in Portuguese bullfighting.
 -  Although bullfighting is legal in Portugal, actually killing the bull during the show is illegal.

9. Portugal was known as Luisitania.
 -  In Roman times, Portugal was called Luisitania.

10. Main religion in Portugal is Roman Catholic.
 -  Over 95% of the population practice Roman Catholicism.

 What else can you add about Portugal? Share it with us in the comments section.

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