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Posts from April, 2014

isango! Travel Ideas for April – Spring Magic

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It’s spring in most of the Northern Hemisphere.  It is during this time, when the flowers bloom and the world is green and pretty with the promise of pleasures to come, that the travel bug bites.

Here are some exciting isango! picks of places to be this month.

Los Angeles, Southern California
The Oscar season is over but the stars will always shine in Los Angeles, the Entertainment Capital of the World.   Visit Mann’s Chinese Theatre’s to see nearly 200 Hollywood celebrity handprints, footprints, and autographs embedded in the concrete of the forecourt.  Stroll along the Hollywood Walk of Fame where some 2,500 celebrities are immortalised by stars on the sidewalk.  Take a tour of the incredible mansions of Hollywood’s superstars in the famous Bel Air, Beverly Hills and Holmby Hills districts and you will realise that the movies are really the biggest thing in this town.

los angeles

Glamour and beauty is all around whether you are relaxing at the Venice Beach or are window shopping at Rodeo Drive.  There is also charm and quaintness to be found in the small shops, stalls and cafés in the narrow passages of the Farmers’ Market.

Paris
‘I love Paris in the springtime,’ sang the poet and he had every reason to do so.  It is a magical time to be in Paris.  The Paulownia trees and lavender are among a myriad flowers breaking out, in all their glory, in every garden and park.  This is especially so of the Tuileries Garden and the Jardin du Luxembourg.

Spring also brings out the locals and kick starts the café culture.  The alluring aroma of coffee and hot croissants is simply irresistible.  The Paris springtime nights are magical and dinner in one of the many restaurants or cruise ships on the Seine will be etched long in the memory.

Paris

At this time of the year, the countryside around Paris is absolutely gorgeous.  Take a day trip to the Champagne region of France.  The geometrically ordered rows of grape vines marching across hillsides and encircling tiny picturesque French villages are the stuff of picture postcards.

Japan
The month of April is the best time to visit Japan.  The country will be blanketed by the beautiful, delicate pink cherry blossoms (sakura).  This collection of islands is absolutely packed with natural beauty and a gracious people who have created a unique and amazing cuisine.  Japan has 16 World Heritage Sites reflecting an ancient history and a rich culture.

japan123

Among its countless splendours are the centuries old shrines and temples of Kyoto, which are national treasures and the finest symbols of Japanese heritage.  A trip on the legendary Nozomi Bullet Train from Tokyo to Kyoto is an enthralling journey that goes past the iconic Mt. Fuji and scenic countryside.  Tokyo is an eclectic mix of the old and the futuristic, best exemplified by wild street fashions, inspired by (and often outdoing) anime comics, and the wonderfully sedate ancient Geisha traditions.

Turkey
Istanbul mirrors its vibrant history.  Straddling the Bosphorus Strait, it links Asia with Europe.  The city has evolved into a multi-cultural melting pot and the financial hub of the country.  The minarets of the Blue Mosque and St. Sophia Church easily rub shoulders with modern skyscrapers and look down upon bustling shopping malls and restaurants.

istanbul

The old city of Istanbul (once Constantinople) is where most of the famous historical sites of the Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman periods are located.  The new city is epitomised by the upmarket and trendy Taksim Square and Beyoglu in the Galata district (once home to Istanbul’s Jews), which are a hive of flourishing art galleries, museums, bars, nightclubs, entertainment centres and restaurants.  The action in Istanbul never stops and is in perpetual high-gear.

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Famous Easter Celebrations Around The World

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Easter is a really important time for Christians around the world.  It begins the week before on Palm Sunday and is called the Holy Week. It is the end of the 40 day period of fasting known as Lent.  Easter celebrates the resurrection of Jesus three days after he was crucified on Good Friday.

Christians around the world observe and celebrate Easter in many different ways.  There are sunrise services, Easter egg painting and parades. Two things are common though – church services and plenty of good food.

We show you how different cities around the world celebrate Easter.

Seville, Spain
The Holy Week and Easter celebrations in Seville are one of the most spectacular in the world.  The atmosphere is really terrific.  Every day there are huge colourful processions with masked participants and floats depicting scenes from Christ’s passion.  The floats are elaborately decorated and feature startlingly lifelike sculptures – some of which are several centuries old masterpieces.  It is a really important occasion for local Catholics and the many worshippers who come from across the world.

Easter 1

Jerusalem
As the Lenten period draws to a close, Jerusalem is packed with thousands of local and foreign Christians.  Celebrations in Christianity’s most holy city happens on a more emotional and spiritual plane.  Every year pilgrims come to join in processions that retrace the steps Christ took on the way to his crucifixion.  Known as the Via Dolorosa (Way of Suffering), it winds through narrow passageways from Lion’s Gate to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

The solemn yet joyous services at the Holy Sepulchre on Easter Sunday are especially important as Christians believe that this is the place where Jesus was buried and later resurrected.  A visit to the historic and picturesque Mount of Olives, Jesus’ favourite place, is not to be missed.

Rome
The spiritual and administrative centre of the Roman Catholic Church, Rome hosts a number of traditional and religious events.  For two weeks there are processions and church services (some candlelit/torch lit) to mark the most important event in the Christian calendar.  The Good Friday processions are particularly poignant as actors enact the Passion of Christ leading up to Christ’s crucifixion.

The Pope is involved in many of the services.  On Easter morning he will celebrate open air mass in St Peter’s Square with many thousands of worshippers.  After the mass he delivers the blessing known as the "Urbi et Orbi – to the City and to the World" from the balcony on the façade of Saint Peter's.

Buenos Aires
Argentina is almost 85% Catholic and so Easter is an important time for people.  There are numerous religious events around this time.   La Semana Santa (Holy Week) in Argentina is observed by candlelit processions through the streets accompanied by melodious choirs.  Easter in Argentina involves plenty of delicious foods and sweets.  It is a time when families get together and conjure some tasty dishes.

One of the most popular destinations in Buenos Aires during Easter is the Tierra Santa Religious Theme Park.  The park is a recreation of many Christian related sites and buildings of ancient Jerusalem that give you the feeling of being in that holy city even though you are many thousands of miles away.  During the Holy Week they put on special programmes re-enacting the important events in the life of Christ.

New York
This city likes to put on a show and Easter is just the occasion when New York puts its best foot forward.  The many churches have services all through the Holy Week.  The lovely and most famous church in the city is St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Central New York.

Easter parade

Aside from the religious observances, one of the most famous (and rather hilarious) events is the Easter Parade and Bonnet Festival.  The event takes place on the celebrated Fifth Avenue.  You have got to see (and join in if you want) the jaw-dropping bonnets, hats and outfits.  Some are elegant, some are interesting and many are just plain over-the-top creations.  Some people even bring their dressed up dogs!

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The Sights of Putrajaya

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Putrajaya is a showpiece city.  One cannot help but notice that.  This deliberately planned official federal capital of Malaysia is about 25km away from Kuala Lumpur.  The designers and planners have come up with an amazing blueprint.  

There are two very striking aspects to Putrajaya. One is the huge amount of area devoted to green spaces – like parks, gardens and botanical gardens.  The other feature is the magnificent buildings and monuments.  The city is traversed by broad and impressive avenues.

There is plenty to see and admire in Putrajaya and the best way to do so is to take a convenient tour from Kuala Lumpur.

Buildings

  • The Putra Mosque is outstanding for its pink colour and size and sits on the banks of the man-made Putrajaya Lake.  With a capacity of 15,000 worshippers, it is the principal mosque in Malaysia.

putra mosque 2

  • The Perdana Putra is a huge building housing the Prime Minister’s Office.  It incorporates Malay, Islamic and European neo-classicism architectural styles.  Massive and imposing, it is next door to the Putra Mosque.
  • The Putrajaya International Convention Centre sits at the head of Putrajaya Boulevard.  Looking like an alien spaceship, it is designed to resemble a Malay belt buckle.  The building can seat 10,000 people and is regularly used to host high profile conferences and conventions.
  • The Millennium Monument is a 68 metre tall obelisk with contributory architecture shaped like the hibiscus flower.  The pillar has etchings that mark important dates and events of Malaysia’s history.  At night when it is lit up, it looks very pretty.
  • The Putrajaya Landmark is located within the Taman Putra Perdana Park.  It’s a contemporary design with a high-technology theme.  Its overall impression is of a wizard’s hat from a Harry Potter film.  The Landmark site is surrounded by a maze of walkways and numerous scattered gazebos.
  • Jambatan Seri Wawasan Bridge is quite a visually striking one.  It is a combination of concrete, cables, and steel.  Lit up at night, it is very attractive.

When visiting the buildings and monuments in Putrajaya you need to keep in mind that there is a dress code.  T-shirts, shorts, sandals and “indecent” ladies wear are not allowed.

Parks and Gardens

  • The most important among the numerous parks and gardens is the Botanical Gardens (Taman Botani Putrajaya).  It is divided into three areas – flowers, ornamental plants and research.  It houses local plants as well as those from other parts of Asia, the Pacific and Africa.  It also has themed areas – Explorer’s Trail, Palm Hill, Floral Gardens, the Sun Garden and the Lakeside.

A visit to Putrajaya is worth the effort and time spent to see a beautiful ‘city-in-progress.’  It is a city that seeks to be progressive while striking a balance between the urban and the natural aspects of living.   So far it is succeeding.

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10 Things To Know About The Phi Phi Islands

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The Phi Phi Islands are the most iconic symbol of Thailand.  They are featured on nearly every poster promoting the country.  They are amazing pieces of rock with stretches of achingly beautiful white sandy beaches.  They are located just off Thailand’s western coast in the Malacca Straits and only 50kms south-east of Phuket.  For the vast majority of visitors, the islands are the main reason for going to Thailand.

Here are some interesting details about the Phi Phi (pronounced pee-pee) Islands.

  • There are six islands in all.  Most of them are just tall pieces of limestone rock sticking out of the fantastic blue waters of the sea and covered with scattered plants and shrubs.

Phi Phi Islands

Phi Phi Islands

  • The two largest islands are Ko Phi Phi Don and Ko Phi Phi Lee. Only Phi Phi Don is inhabited.  Ko in Thai means “island.” The name Phi Phi is Malay.  An interesting derivation for the name comes from the original name “Pulao Pi ah Pi,” which translates to “Fiery Tree” and refers to the local Grey Mangrove tree.
  • The islands first came to fame in 2000.  The beach of Maya bay was the setting for the movie The Beach.
  • The waters around Ko Phi Phi are fabulous for scuba diving and snorkelling.
  • The entire Phi Phi archipelago region is a protected area and part of the Thai marine National Park set up.  This has ensured that there is an abundant and varied marine life – and you don’t have to go far too out.  You can see large schools of multi-coloured fish swimming around your legs in the shallow water.
  • Ko Phi Phi Lee has many caves, one of which is world famous.  It is known as “Viking Cave.” The caves are the source of the thriving and profitable birds nest soup industry.

Maya Bay

Maya bay

  • The Phi Phi Islands were the earliest inhabited parts of Thailand.  Communities settled here as far back as pre-historic times. The local population is a good mix of Chinese, Thai and sea gypsies.  There are also Buddhists and Muslims, which means that there is always some festival being celebrated.
  • Longtail boat races and regular boat-launching ceremonies are held frequently, which are always colourful; a great time for music and traditional dancing.
  • The Phi Phi Islands have only two seasons – hot (January to April) and rainy (May to December).  The rain showers come in short but very heavy downpours.
  • Ko Phi Phi Don was devastated by the Christmas tsunami of 2004.  The restoration since then has been tremendous with the introduction of paved roads. The great thing, though, is that no motor vehicles are allowed.  Bicycling is the most popular and rewarding mode of transport.

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