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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!

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Diwali Lights Up The World

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Diwali, the festival of lights, is the largest in the Hindu calendar.  It is celebrated on a grand scale all across India.  On a religious level, Diwali is the celebration of the Hindu deity Ram and his victory over Ravan and symbolises the triumph of good over evil; light over darkness.

Among other things, it marks the beginning of the New Year – both fiscal and calendar.  It is a time when business people close their accounting books and invoke the blessings of Lakshmi – the goddess of wealth.  Each year Diwali’s popularity grows around the world with people of all faiths joining in enthusiastically.  This year Diwali will be celebrated on 23rd October 2014.

Such is the size of the Indian diaspora that Diwali is rapidly becoming a recognized national festival in many countries around the world.

Let’s take a quick whirl around the globe to see how Diwali is celebrated in some other countries.

 Diwali in Britain

Diwali in london

In Britain, where Indians are the second largest ethnic minority, the festival starts with Lakshmi pooja at the temple, blowing of the conch shell and other devotional rites.  Small oil lamps called diyas are put out on windowsills and doorways, which is a part of the Diwali traditions.  London usually puts on a big spectacle in Trafalgar Square with musicians and dancers performing on stage for free.  Diwali is also celebrated in the House of Commons.

Diwali in the United States of America

Another country with a very sizable Indian population is the United States.  The affluence of the Indian community is reflected in the grand scale that it is celebrated all across the country.  Traditional diyas are lit, Vedic mantras chanted and other ceremonies performed much like in India.

Diwali in Thailand

The Thai name for Diwali is Lam Kriyongh.  The Thai customs have their own local flavour.  The people make the diyas out of banana leaves and candles and float them on the river.  This provides a gentle and colourful spectacle.  Customarily sweets are also distributed.

 Diwali in South Africa

Home to one of the larger Indian communities the South African version of Diwali is pretty much the same as India.  However, since most of the Indians originally came from Gujarat and Tamil Nadu their celebrations more or less mimic their regional parent communities back in India.

 Diwali in Trinidad, Tobago and Guyana

Diwali (1)

Indians comprise a large percentage of the population of the Islands.  As such Diwali is a national holiday for these states with official functions and celebrations attended by government ministers.  Just like in India the festivities include, distribution of sweets, illuminating the inside and outside of houses, cleaning of houses and wearing of new clothes.

Diwali in Bali

While Indonesia is a Muslim dominated state, Bali is of a different texture – it is Hindu.  Several thousand temples dot the island, which are decorated and dressed with umbrellas placed in and around them.  Diwali is celebrated in much the same way as in India but with a delicacy all its own.

Diwali is also celebrated in Fiji, Malaysia, Nepal, Mauritius, Myanmar, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Japan and Australia.

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Halloween In London -2014

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The chill is already in the air and occasionally there is the hint of mist.  More noticeably the days are getting shorter and the nights longer. Halloween is now almost upon us.  It’s that time of year when the ghouls are out and about and the souls of the departed are restless.  It is time to get out the costumes, attend parties, go trick-or-treating, carve pumpkins into jack-o’-lanterns, light up the front porch and get the bonfires going.

If you are looking for something more organised, which you don’t make or prepare yourself that is entertaining and social, then you might want to dip your Halloween itchy feet into the Halloween activities pool that is London.  They range from dark, dank and scary haunted houses to terrifying tours with plenty of choices in between.   Whatever your thrill, plenty of horror can be found on the historically dark and bloody streets of London.

You could dress up in your best and most imaginative costume and head off to enjoy an evening at fancy dress clubs or watch all night screenings of the scariest movies ever to hit the big screen.  The London Dungeon is putting on Sweeney Todd specials to frighten visitors into a Halloween funk. A sure thing to get you scared is the Jack the Ripper Ghost Walks where you will follow the path of one mans killing spree.  Many of these London alleys and streets have not changed since Jack stalked them back in 1888.

It is not just the streets that will be the setting for spooky events.  The waters of the fog shrouded Thames will be awash with boats and pirate ships hosting all night parties, themed events and special ‘nights.’  Rock and shriek till dawn along with a shipload of zombies, ghouls, witches, vampires and other horrid fiends.

All you need is to get your spook on ‘cause there will be no shortage of chills, thrills and spine-chilling deeds to make this your best All Hallows Eve

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Amman – A City For All Ages

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Amman has been around ever since man settled and built communities.  It is one of the world’s few continuously occupied cities.  It would be true to say that this wonderful city has seen it all and been close to the centre for much of human history.

There are many splendid remnants of this cities long and colourful existence.  For a visitor that this is wonderful.  Like Rome, Amman was built on seven hills; however it has grown to take in 19 today! Amman’s great feat has been to incorporate and blend the ancient with the modern.

Amman is a hilly city with traditionally white stone houses, kebab stalls and tiny cafés perched along steep, winding cobbled stoned streets. The area evokes imagery from Arabian folk tales.  It is also a city of towering, shimmering, glass skyscrapers, modern thoroughfares and brightly lit shopping malls.

The part that attracts the visitor is the el-Balad (downtown eastern Amman).  It is the older part of the city and the location holds many historical attractions.  Here one will find the Citadel on Amman’s highest hill, this is the location of ancient Rabath-Ammon and many other buildings within its walls.  The hill has been used for thousands of years stretching back beyond the Bronze and Iron Ages.

Remnants of Roman and Byzantine periods are plentiful.  The most impressive building is the 8th century Umayyad Palace.  Another building of interest is the National Archaeological Museum, which houses artefacts from every civilisation and period of Amman’s past.  It is also the home of the famed Dead Sea Scrolls.  Just to the north of the museum are the striking pillars of the Roman Temple of Hercules.

Another dramatic structure in Downtown Amman is the Roman Theatre.  It is cut and built into the hillside.  It is huge with a capacity for 6,000 people and its magnificent acoustics allow spectators sitting in the highest seats (still called “The Gods”) to hear even a whisper of the actors below.  It is still occasionally used for performances.

Not to be missed is the striking blue-domed King Abdullah I Mosque.  It is the only mosque in Amman where non-Muslims are welcome.  Another lovely mosque, in the western part of Amman, is the King Hussein Bin Talal Mosque.  It is a wonderful example of modern Islamic architecture.  Besides the rich vein of historical and archaeological sites there are plenty of art galleries and antique shops.

The Western section of Amman is a lively, modern city with shopping malls.  Amman is also one of the emerging world cities with an unrivalled economic growth index and multinational corporate activity.

Added to her attractions, the city enjoys a relatively temperate climate with September probably the best time to visit.

Once you have had your fill of Amman city there are other amazing places, close by, that are must-see.  The likes of Petra, the Dead Sea, Bethany (site of Jesus’ baptism), the gorgeous Wadi Rum, Jerash and Pella are also worth a trip.

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Morocco Travel Guide

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Morocco is every tourist’s dream. It is exotic, exciting and unpredictable.  It is a land of outstanding beauty – both the rugged and picture postcard kind – attracting adventure enthusiasts, seekers of the unusual, foodies and the regular ‘been there, seen it’ types.  Vast stretches of desert sands compete with the fabulous beaches on the Atlantic and Mediterranean, deep wooded valleys and orchards.  The tall craggy Atlas Mountains contrast beautifully with the green and flower bedecked Rif Mountains.  Morocco is also blessed with weather that is wide and varied.

Many of the sights, sounds and activities on offer are in or fairly close to Morocco’s cities.

Marrakech

To the Berbers Marrakech is the “Land of God” and it is easy to see why. The nearby Atlas Mountains dominate the skyline and the true Sahara is not far away.  To Europeans, Persians and Asians, it is still Morocco. Marrakech’s magic is its seamless blending and fusing of myriad influences and cultures.  For instance the elegant and towering Koutoubia Minaret, so symbolic of Marrakesh, it is a mix of Moorish and Andalusian architectural styles.  So are the 16th century Saadian Tombs, the Private Museum and Bahia Palace.

The raucous calls of food stall owners vie with the castanets of the water-sellers.  The attention-grabbing snake charmers, acrobats, dancers and other entertainers battle potion-sellers at the world famous Djemaa el Fna Square.  The aroma of spices wafts through the air along with scent of the mouth-watering street food that stays with you long after you have left the country.

The labyrinth souk alleyways are crammed with shops and stalls selling everything from hand-crafted Moroccan goods such as babouche slippers, woodworks, brass works, ironworks, bronze works, jewellery, kaftans, carpets, spices, and pottery. You will find the best leather, antiques and hand crafted gold jewellery.  Amidst all this, there are beautiful landscaped gardens filled with fruit trees and flowering shrubs.

saadin tombs

Agadir

Agadir is considered the gateway to the tall rugged Atlas Mountains, which are only a short distance away.  Tucked into their rocky folds is the breathtaking and untouched beauty of Paradise Valley.  The word Agadir in Berber means “wall enclosing a fortress or town”.  Part of the original fortress still remains at the top of the hill just outside the current city.

Agadir has gained a reputation of being a resort town with visitors from all over Europe descending upon it.  One of its major attractions is a fabulous 10km long beach/bay and a carefully planned waterfront promenade.  The weather is magnificent all year round and so is the surfing.  This in turn has spawned a large surfing community of schools and camps.  Agadir offers plenty of cafés, bars and live music and the evenings are great for unwinding after a hard days touring.

atlas mountains

Fez

If ever a place really deserved the adjective ‘legendary’ it is Fez!  More than 1200 years old it was the ancient capital of Morocco and is home to the world’s oldest university – Qarawiyyin.  Its ancient roots still exist in the walled city and the twisting, complex maze-like lanes of the medina Fez el-Bali.  Here goods are still transported by donkeys and handcarts adding to its timeless atmosphere.Fez has the best examples of ancient Islamic arts and architecture preserved in the 14th century Bou Inania Madersa (a college), two forts (Borj Nord and Borj Sud), the Merenid Tombs and the Moulay Idriss II tomb.

Fez

Tangier

Tangier is where the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea meet.  This beautiful city, also known as White City, has been the playground of millionaires and the retreat of writers for over a century.  It exudes charm and sophistication aided by beautiful beaches and a vibrant beach café culture.

Tangier’s various cultural influences abound in its architecture and nightlife.  There are many excellent restaurants serving a wide range of cuisines, street cafés, attractive bars and interesting cabarets. The Grand Socco is a great market where you can get nearly everything you could think of and the surrounding Mendoubia Gardens are an inviting place to spend an afternoon.

Not far out of town are the Caves of Hercules.  It is supposed to be the place that the mythical hero rests while on his labours.

Tangier

Casablanca

Casablanca is a European city transplanted to North Africa.  The architecture is a mix between French Colonial and Moorish.  It is a very cosmopolitan and liberal place with French still widely spoken.  Originally built by Berber fishermen in the 10th century it has been visited and ruled by the Phoenicians, Romans, Portuguese and the French.

Casablanca is Morocco’s largest city and economic capital.  One of its most notable features is the Hassan II Mosque and its 210-metre minaret is the world’s tallest.  Another man-made marvel is the port, which is the largest artificial port in the world. With all of this and the mild Mediterranean climate Casablanca attracts visitors all year.

 

 

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The Titanic Belfast Experience

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14 April, 1912 – 11:40 ship’s time.  This is probably one of most memorable dates and times in modern history.  It was the start of the ‘unsinkable’ Titanic’s tragic demise in the freezing seas south of Newfoundland.

Her all too brief life has become a heart-rending legend and inspiration for a plethora of films, books, exhibits and memorials.  One of the best and largest testimonials to her and her ill-fated passengers is The Titanic Experience in Belfast, which opened in March 2012.

belfast

Fittingly this interactive and visual tribute to the Titanic stands 100 metres from where her hull was fabricated in Belfast Harbour and is not even ten minutes from the Belfast City Centre.  The Titanic Experience is as tall as the Titanic and the futuristic silver building is comprised of four hull-shaped wings.

The memorial (or exhibition if you like) is arranged into 9 fascinating and interactive galleries that take the visitor sequentially from the Titanic’s conception/design to birth, premature end to high-definition images of her remains.  The use of interactive displays, special effects, photographs, a large number of objects and relics makes the Titanic story come to life.

Boomtown Belfast

This gallery tells of Belfast’s premier position as an engineering, ship building and manufacturing hub.  This expertise was crucial in acquiring the contract of building the world’s most luxurious and largest ocean liner, the Titanic.

The Shipyard Ride

The highlight of the whole exhibition, this gallery is an electronic ride that will take you through the whole process of constructing the Titanic.  It uses animations, special effects and reconstructions.  A part of this gallery also has a life-size plan of the Promenade Deck and you get an inkling of the tremendous size of the Titanic.

The Launch of Titanic

You get to share the sight of nearly 100,000 people who watched the launching of the Titanic over a century ago.  A high-tech glass window provides a superimposed image of the Titanic onto the slipway below the centre, giving you a fabulous vision of how it must have looked on the day of its maiden voyage.

the launch

The Fit Out

The Fit Out segment houses a large range of exhibits, artefacts and virtual imagery of the Titanic’s interior. This includes replicas of the first, second and third class portions of the ship.  The authenticity and immense detail of the illustrations is simply amazing and lets you into what life was like on board, as both a passenger or crew member.

4668

Maiden Voyage

This gallery rouses mixed feelings, because knowing that the pomp and splendour that accompanied the Titanic’s launch would just be a prelude to tragedy.  This section contains recovered passengers’ photographs and those by Francis Browne.  These photos give a glimpse of individual passengers and the conditions aboard the ship.

The Sinking

Here you will share the experience of the passengers during the two and a half hours from the time the iceberg struck till the Titanic’s submergence.  With the final hours of the Titanic captured by mood atmospherics, sound, lighting and images you will feel the chill of the icy North Atlantic waters. This is an extremely poignant section.

The Aftermath

The Titanic Belfast Experience is unique as far as world-wide Titanic exhibitions go.  It is the sole exhibitor of the findings and details of the many inquiries and investigations carried out in the aftermath of the Titanic’s sinking.  These are presented, to visitors, in the form of re-enactments, recordings and artefacts.  It also includes a 30-foot long diagram/plan produced to assist the British Wreck Inquiry.  It is known as the Holy Grail of Titanic Artefacts/ Memorabilia.

Myths & Legends

The story of the Titanic has made her one of the most famous ships in history.  She features in movies, books and songs.  She has spawned legends and myths and is embedded in modern and popular culture.  Her name is now synonymous with ‘disaster’ and ‘catastrophe.’  This interactive section debunks falsehoods while detailing the truths about this vessel.

Visit & Explore

The last gallery focuses on the dramatic findings of American oceanographer Dr. Robert Ballard and French diving engineer Jean-Louis Michel.  They and their team discovered the Titanic’s final resting place more than two miles underwater.  You can explore the wreckage through their high-definition footage and interactive learning pods detailing the discovery.

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New On isango! In September

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We, at isango!, are always where the holiday action is.  Australia is the flavour of this month.  Of course we also have things happening in other countries and cities.  Here are our vacation picks from all across the world.  You will enjoy these activities we have chosen to highlight.

Rottnest Island Express Tour from Perth

Rottnest Island Tour

If you’re a visitor to Perth, Rottnest Island is a must see destination and we would love to take you there.  Perth is sunny but cool with occasional light showers this time of the year – ideal for a day trip out of the city.

Just 19 kms off the Perth Coast, Rottnest Island was created for sightseers with its great scenery, azure waters, wonderful marine life and super beaches.  You will also meet the quokkas (relatives of the kangaroo) after whom the island was originally misnamed.

The Rottnest Island Tour will take you right around the island and get you to it with plenty of time to explore the beaches, bays and the picturesque Wadjemup Lighthouse.  Your return will include a cruise up the lovely Swan River.

Wine and Dine at McLaren Vale, Adelaide

mclaren vale wineries

If wine appreciation is your thing, then a trip out to this wine region is a must.  If it is not, it is still worth the effort.  McLaren Vale wineries are a mere 45 minute drive from Adelaide’s airport.  The weather at this time is ideal for a comfortable drive out of the city down the coast via the Fleurieu Peninsula and on to McLaren Vale.

Mclaren Vale is known for its rolling vineyards, quality restaurants serving gourmet foods made from local produce, olive oil and all things related to viticulture.  The region is a fabulous blend of beach lifestyle, culinary brilliance and artistic outpourings.  Your tour will include a splendid lunch accompanied by some fine wine.

Hunter Valley Wine Tasting Tour with Optional Gardens Tour

Hunter Valley Gardens

The Hunter Valley region is Australia’s oldest and best known wine producing region.  Many among its 150 wineries have been in the trade for more than 180 years.  The Valley is just a couple of hours out of Sydney.

The Hunter Valley Wine Tasting Tour ensure you get a personalized tour and private wine tastings at some of the finest boutique wineries Australia has to offer.  You could also learn about the process that goes into making wide range of styles including semillon, shiraz, chardonnay, gewurztraminer, cabernet sauvignon and pinot noirs.

You could also opt to have lunch and a tour of some of Hunter Valley’s Gardens.  The gorgeous countryside and the wonderful weather makes the Formal Garden, the Rose Garden, the perfumed Oriental Garden and the fairytale land of Storybook Garden, a really great add-on to your day out.

London i-Venture Card

i-venture Card

The i-Venture Card is one of those amazing money and time saving devices.  It is a smart card that gives access to a whole lot of attractions and experiences in London.   It allows you cash free entrance to West End theatre meals at well-known restaurants and all of London’s major attractions.

The i–Venture card has a wide range of flexible package options, amazing discounts, money-savers and up to one month validity built into its features.  With it, you can avoid long waiting lines at many of the attractions.  It caters to everyone’s requirements and at the same time gives you free entry to places like the London Eye, Tower of London, St. Paul’s Cathedral and tours to Stonehenge and more.

All you have to do is select your package.

San Francisco Segway Night Tour

San Francisco Segway Night Tour

Many of San Francisco’s major attractions are world famous.  Its hilly nature, Victorian architecture, ethnic and cultural diversity and pleasant weather make it a very attractive city and a popular destination.

At night its famous neighbourhoods and districts are illuminated by café, restaurant and store lights.  It is the time when North Beach, Little Italy, Chinatown, Fisherman’s Wharf and Waterfront and other areas turn into a magical fairy land.

The San Francisco Segway Night Tour is the best way to get around to all the landmarks and attractions scattered across this wonderfully compact city.  Your guide will show you parts of the city you would never have seen on your own.  Zip through hidden Chinatown and Little Italy alleys where wonderful smells of cooking emanate.  Enjoy the thrill of gliding across a blazing Golden Gate Bridge and up steep hills in a fraction of the time and effort otherwise needed.

It is a super way to experience San Francisco.

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Oktoberfest 2014, Munich

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It began, bang on time, at 12:00 noon.  Munich’s mayor Herr Dieter Reiter used a wooden hammer to pound a tap into the first Oktoberfest beer barrel at Schottenhamel Beer Tent.  It was the opening act of the Oktoberfest 2014 at Theresienwiese on September 20, 2014 in Munich, Germany.  It was the 181st such occasion of one of the world’s most famous and largest fairs.

The show then kicked off in earnest with a large and colourful parade put on by the tent operators and breweries. Their horse-drawn wagons loaded with huge beer barrels decked with flowers rolled sedately by.  The parade was led by the traditional Münchner Kindl (Munich child) mascot.

Oktoberfest1
Six days into the festivities and about 6 million visitors are expected to attend by the time it ends on Sunday 5th October.  It is also estimated that 6 million litres of beer will go down their thirsty throats.  Somehow that doesn’t seem excessive when you consider the numbers and the drink or bust attitude of attendees.  Folks ‘sleeping it off’ in parks and gardens is one of the more common sights, in the mornings, during Oktoberfest.

Not wanting to give a false picture that Oktoberfest is all about drinking and falling over, there is plenty of other interesting stuff going on all the time.  There is a parade of some kind nearly every day, dancing (traditional and a la carte), music and lots of costumes.  On the fourth day there was the usual special lunch for senior citizens.  The next day there was the solemn yet moving religious Oktoberfest mass.

The men donned their Bavarian best, with hats, braces, Wadlstruempfe stockings and lederhosen and participated in the Parade of Costumes and Riflemen on the second day of the fest.  The ladies on the other hand showed up in traditional Dirndi garb at the funfair tent “Festzeit Tradition.”  They hitched up their pretty bright red skirts and vigorously twirled and kicked their heels on the stage to lively music.

Beer oktoberfest
Comes the evening and night you would be forgiven for thinking that Munich was one overgrown fun fair and theme park.  As dusk gathers, the whole place is lit up by thousands of coloured lights from the beer tents also the blinking and flickering ones from various rides and roller coasters.  It is almost fairytale and Disneyland-ish and looks very pretty.

All this festivity and gathering of people from across the globe was actually sparked off in 1810.  What happens every October began as a wedding celebration for Prince Ludwig and Princess Therese from Saxony-Hildburghausen (hence the name of the Theresienwiese).  The commemoration soon morphed into the Munich Beerfest lasting for 16 days up to the first Sunday in October.

If you are fortunate enough to have got hold of accommodation during the fest and looking to plunge into the action here is what to expect in the coming days.

Sunday      28/9/2014    Traditional concert of brass bands
Tuesday    30/9/2014    Family Day:  All rides and performances are cheaper
Sunday      05/9/2014    12 noon: Traditional gun salute at the Bavaria monument

Timings:
Beer Serving Hours
Opening day 12.00 noon – 10.30 pm
Weekdays 10.00 am – 10.30 pm
Saturday, Sunday & holiday 09.00 am – 10.30 pm

Stall Opening Hours
Opening day 10.00 noon – midnight
Monday – Thursday 10 am – 11.30 pm
Friday 10.00 am – 12.00 midnight
Saturday 9 am – midnight
Sunday 9 am – 11.30 pm

More activities to check out while you are in Munich for the Oktoberfest-

Neuschwanstein Castle

A trip to the Neuschwanstein Castle
A visit to the Oktoberfest Museum
Road trip to Harburg and Rothenburg

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5 Things You Can Do In Sydney Under AUD50

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Sydney is one of the world’s most exciting, multi-cultural and best looking cities in the world.  There is always something happening no matter what your interests and objectives are.  You could see a show at the Sydney Opera House, take a harbour cruise, visit Madame Tussauds, take a walking tour or head off up to the mountains to enjoy the views there.

You don’t need a large wallet to do these things.  isango! brings you 5 activities that you can do in Sydney under AUD50.

Sydney Opera House Tour

Opers house sydney

This tour of one of the most iconic buildings in the world is an eye-opener.  Your perspective will be from the inside out.  Did you know that the Sydney Opera House became a UNESCO World Heritage Site on 28 June 2007?  Your guide will take you through the interior of the Sydney Opera House giving the facts, figures and drama that make up the story behind it.  You will see the 10,000 pipe Grand Organ, the Concert Hall and the massive glass windows of the Opera Wing that give you unbeatable views of Sydney Harbour.  Sydney Opera House comprises of multiple performance venues that hold about 2,500 performances every year.

Sydney Harbour Cruise
Get on board your ship at the famous Circular Quay and set out for an hour and a half of sheer night-time Sydney magic.  After a hard day of sightseeing it will be great to sit down and relax with a refreshing drink in hand.  Start your Sydney evening with a sunset cruise across the city’s world famous harbour.  Your cruise ship will drift smoothly past some of Sydney’s iconic sights such as the Sydney Opera House and under the unmistakable Sydney Harbour Bridge.  All of them enchantingly lit up.

Madame Tussauds

madame tussauds sydney

Where else could you get up close and cuddly with the likes of Nicole Kidman, Leonardo DiCaprio, Albert Einstien, Ned Kelly, Captain Cook or Marilyn Monroe?  Maybe even sit next to Queen Elizabeth II?  Only at the newly opened Madame Tussauds Darling Harbour branch, Sydney of course!

Once again Madame Tussauds’ unbelievably real wax models provides an eclectic mix of stars from history, sport, film, music, culture and science.  With 75 iconic personalities from the past and present you won’t get a better opportunity to interact, mingle and pose with your favourite celeb.

Kings Cross Razorhurst Walking Tour
What a time!  What an era!  Sydney in the 1920s and 30s was a heck of a town.  Explore that seamy, violent underworld driven period when Tilly Devine, Kate Leigh and Nellie Cameron ruled most of Sydney through their razor-wielding henchmen.

Your Razorhurst tour will take you to the places where these ‘ladies’ operated.  Kate Leigh ran more than 20 sly groggeries.  Tilly famed as the ‘Queen of the Bordellos’ ran the biggest and most profitable brothel network in Sydney while Nellie Cameron refined the art of ‘gingering.’  For two hours you will learn about a Sydney that very few Sydneysiders know.

Hop-on-Hop-off Blue Mountain Explorer Bus Tour

Blue mountains sydney

After the frenetic pace of Sydney you should take off for an easy, relaxed trip to the fabled Blue Mountains.  On a clear day you can see them from Sydney – inviting you to explore.  Declared a World Heritage site, a visit to the Blue Mountains National Park is a perfect day trip.

The best option is the Hop-on Hop-off Bus Tour.  You drive through some magnificent country with the option of stopping off so you can explore tempting forest trails, plunging waterfalls and a ride on the Katoomba Scenic Railway – the steepest in the world.  Then there are the towering Three Sisters and the Everglades Gardens to make your day full, wonderful and totally idyllic.

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5 Of Bali’s Most Interesting Temples

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There are an estimated 10,000 (or even 20,000) temples in Bali.  There is one at every turn and corner.  You will also find that Balinese temples come in an amazing variety of sizes and descriptions – from tiny little personal shrines to large elaborate complexes.  There are “puras” (Balinese for temple) on the top of rugged cliffs, besides lakes, in the middle of lakes, in the midst of jungles, in caves, at the seaside and on islands.  So it is no wonder Bali is called “the island of a thousand puras.”

Here is a selection we found fascinating.

Pura Besakih

Besakih Temple Bali

This is Bali’s holiest and largest temple.  Considered the “Mother Temple,” Pura Besakih is actually a grouping of 23 temples and pavilions.  The temples are situated near the village of Besakih on the slopes of Mt. Agung, Bali’s largest volcano and tallest mountain.  Many of the temples are over 1,000 years old and serve different purposes.  The largest and main one, Pura Penataran Agung, is really impressive as its meru (tower) consists of six levels.

Pura Taman Ayun
Pura Tamn Ayun was built by King I Gusti Agung Putu of the Mengwi Empire in 1634. It is a Royal Family temple.  Its name means “beautiful garden” and fittingly so.  It is definitely one of the loveliest temples in Bali.

It has a moat around it, a picturesque landscaped courtyard, gardens and merus rising up several levels within its precincts.

Pura Goa Lawah (Bat Cave Temple)

Goa Lawah Temple Bali

This temple is radically different from the others in Bali.  It is a cave temple.  It has inherited its name from the thousands of bats that inhabit it.  The temple is also a preferred cremation site for the Balinese.  Bathing in the temple’s pool is supposed to purify worshippers.   Located in south eastern Bali, it was established as a temple early in the 11th century.

Pura Luhur Lempuyang
Luhur Lempuyang is not on the regular tourist trail but it is definitely worth a visit.  For the Balinese, it is an important shrine because it is one of the six “temples of the world” (sad kahyangan) and one of the nine directional temples offering a defense against evil spirits.

To get to the temple visitors and worshippers have to walk up 1,700 steps cut into the mountainside with a jungle all around.  Once atop, the location also provides some really awesome views of the island.

Pura Tanah Lot

Pura Tanah Lot Bali

This temple has a spectacular setting.  It sits on a rock outcrop just off the shore, in the sea.  Its name aptly means “land in the middle of the sea.”  It is also a very pretty one, especially at sunset when it can turn magical.  You can only get to it at low tide.  It was built in the 15th century by local fishermen under the guidance of the priest Niratha.

Dress Tips
Balinese temples are functioning places of worship and it would be advisable and respectful to dress properly when entering any one of them.  Legs should be covered and tops should not be too revealing.  You may have to wear a sash in some temples, which you can rent at the entrance.  Sarongs are also available to cover the legs.

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Cappadocia: An Astounding Oddity

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Located in the Anatolian region of Turkey, Cappadocia is an unusual and truly unique area. It is a rugged land of deep ravines, bizarrely shaped rocks, cliffs and pinnacles that don’t look earth-like. It is an extraordinary landscape that will make your jaw drop and imagination lift off.

Here are some interesting facts about this odd place that seems to have come straight out of a sci-fi movie. Human imagination, though, would find it difficult to conjure up such a setting.

Fairy Chimneys Cappadocia

Name Calling

Cappadocia has been known by several names through the centuries. The ancient Scythians called it Khepatukha, meaning “the country of the people of the great god Hepat.” One can hear echoes of that name in the present one. The early Persians called it Katpatuka, which is thought to mean “the land of the beautiful horses.” The name could also have come from the Hittites, who ruled this area, meaning “low country.”

The Ancient Greeks gave it their version and called it Kappadokia. When the Christians came along it was renamed Cappadocia, which is the widely used name today. The locals however still call it Kapadokya.

Home

Despite the harshness of the area Cappadocia has been important in the history of the region and human beings have lived here for a long, long time. The rock is volcanic and soft, ideal for tunneling and carving. Complementing the work of nature, humans have cut and burrowed a vast network of living quarters, monasteries, churches, stables, and storehouses. So extensive are the connections that they have formed entire towns with as many as eight underground stories. Some of these amazing underground cities are Derinkuyu, Ihlara Valley, Selime, Kaymakli and Belisirma.

Surprisingly this moon-land has excellent agricultural soil. Many vegetables and fruit are grown here. It is also the main grape-growing area for the Anatolian region with many prolific vineyards.

and Sanctuary

It used to be on the boundaries of one the of the Greek, Persian and Roman empires. These competing powers created an unsettled situation for the Cappadocians who needed a refuge and found them by tunneling into the rock itself. The inhospitable landscape and isolation were perfect conditions that kept them safe from outside power struggles.

The early Christians also escaped to this place to shelter from the persecution of the Roman Empire. They created a large defence network of traps leading to their caves and in them too. The traps included large round stones that could block doors and ceiling holes from which they could hurl spears and other weapons on attackers.

Fairyland

The Cappadocian region is made up of sedimentary rocks and also material from volcanoes of 9 million years ago. The land has been eroded by strong winds and water action into amazing shapes. The harder elements of the rock have turned into pillars, minaret-like towers, cones, pinnacles, fairytale chimneys (over 130 feet tall) and mushrooms. Nature’s handiwork has been added to by humans.

Cappadocia turkey

Such has been the forces – human and nature – at work that the area has been declared a World Heritage site. Nature continues to do its magic, converting human action into more magical conditions.

Cappadocia in the Movies

The extraordinary topography and landscape of Cappadocia has made it a cinematic magnet for many filmmakers from across the world. So far more than 193 movies, shows, series and documentary films of 32 countries have been shot here.

The Turks do a lot of shooting here and so do the Japanese. Some of the notable films using Cappadocia as a location are Nicolas Cage’s Ghost Rider II, Jean Reno’s Empire of the Wolves, the sci-fi movie Slipstream and Pasolini’s Medea. The region also features in many popular video games such as Vampire: The Masquerade, and Assassin’s Creed.

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