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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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Game of Thrones – A Tourism Tsunami

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For three seasons, the Game of Thrones has been enthralling the world as they follow the often violent and provocative tale of the seven clans engaged in a war to claim the Iron Throne.  The television series has gathered an avid and faithful following interested in all things related to GOT.

As the fourth season of the gripping fantasy tale approaches, public expectation is rising with the release of teaser trailers.  Similar is the case with the interest in the dramatic and beautiful countryside seen on screen. Much of the outdoor shooting has been around the stunning Northern Irish landscape. The brilliant natural backdrop has contributed greatly to the success of the TV series.

So much so that many visitors to Northern Ireland are keen to explore and see for themselves the location and settings where their favourite characters play out their roles.  There are some exceptional, organised tours that do just that.

In fact the most popular tour is run by the company that provided transport to the crew and cast of all four seasons.  Their close association with the television project has given the staff plenty of behind-the-scenes tales about locations and cast for you to feast upon.

The tour will take you out of Belfast, through Antrim and along the Causeway Coastal Route.  There is no better way to be introduced to glorious Ireland.  It is a region of superb natural beauty, which includes beautiful glens, steep, rugged black cliffs and tiny picturesque villages, enhanced by the ever changing colours of the land.

Ballycastle

Ballycastle

The serene little seaside village of Ballycastle is a setting often featured in the Game of Thrones.  The home of Lady Catelyn Stark, Ballycastle’s green and rolling hills overlook a sweeping bay, a sandy beach and a marina populated by colourful bobbing boats.

You then wind your way along a more rugged coastline to the caves of Cushendun, the setting for the birth of the ‘shadow baby.’  However, this beautiful little rocky section of the tour is not as dark and gloomy as the story.

Another memorable stop on the tour is the steeply descending, rocky and timeless Ballintoy Harbour.  Just five miles away from Ballycastle, Ballintoy is the setting for Pyke Harbour featured several times in the Game of Thrones.  The village itself plays the role of Lordsport in the series.

The chalk quarry of Larrybane is featured in the second season of the series and is the setting for Renly Baratheon’s camp and the Stormlands.  The location also has a duelling scene and a meeting between Renly and Lady Stark.  The area comprises of dazzling chalk cliffs and a tight cove just a short distance from Ballintoy Harbour.

Larrybane

Larrybane

The culmination of your trip is a walk along the dramatic and starkly beautiful Giant’s Causeway.  While this amazing place is not part of the Game of Thrones scenery, it should be as it seems to be made to order.

The Game of Thrones has been credited with giving Antrim and Northern Ireland a great deal of favourable publicity.  When you take a trip along the now famous settings you can understand why.

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Football 2014 World Cup Venues – Brazil

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The 20th FIFA Wold Cup will be held in Brazil from the 12th of June till the 13th of July 2014.  It will be one of the largest and most spectacular events of the year.  Being Brazil, there is sure to be plenty of colour and excitement in this football mad nation.  There will be several new or redeveloped stadiums built specially for the World Cup in the twelve selected cities across the country.  The locations are spread out across this vast country stretching from the Amazon basin in the north to the banks of the River Guaiba in the south.

brazil wc

Here are the cities and what you can expect in and around them – besides football.

Sao Paulo – Areana De Sao Paulo

Capacity: 65,807
Climate: Highs of around 20ºC and chances of rain.

Fixtures: 12 June, Brazil v Croatia, 21:00; 19 June, Uruguay v England, 20:00; 23 June, Netherlands v Chile, 17:00; 26 June, South Korea v Belgium, 21:00; 1 July, Second-round, Winner Group F v Runner-up Group E, 17:00; 9 July , Semi-final, Winner Quarter-final 3 v Winner Quarter-final 4, 21:00.

Located on a plateau in the south-east, on the Atlantic coast, Sao Paulo is the financial and business hub of Brazil.  It has over 64 parks around the city, the largest and most symbolic of which is Ibirapuera Park, a beautiful leisure centre.  Sao Paulo is home to the fabulous Modern Art Museum.

Belo Horizonte – Estadio Mineirao

Capacity: 62,547
Climate: Dry and warm with temperatures around 25ºC most days.

Fixtures: 14 June, Colombia v Greece, 17:00; 21 June, Argentina v Iran, 17:00; 24 June, Costa Rica v England, 17:00; 17 June, Belgium v Algeria, 17:00; 28 June, Second-round, Winner Group A v Runner-up Group B, 17:00; 8 July, Semi-final, Winner Quarter-final 1 v Winner Quarter-final 2, 21:00.

Belo Horizonte (Beautiful Horizon) is surrounded by the Serra do Curral mountains, which are part of the Parque das Mangabeiras – a protected reserve.  An unusual tourist attraction is a street optical illusion at the Rua do Amendoim. When looking at the street from the side, it appears to slope upwards, when in fact it is a downward slope.  Thousands of visitors flock here every year, turn off their car engines and watch in astonishment as their vehicle starts rolling up the street.

Fortaleza – Estadio Castelao

Capacity: 64,846
Climate: Daily temperatures of 30ºC throughout the year, benefiting from sea breezes.

Fixtures: 14 June, Uruguay v Costa Rica, 20:00; 17 June, Brazil v Mexico, 20:00; 21 June, Germany v Ghana, 20:00 24 June, Greece v Ivory Coast, 21:00; 29 June, Second-round, Winner Group B v Runner-up Group A, 17:00; 4 July, Quarter-final, Winner Second-round 1 v Winner Second-round 2, 21:00.

A 'fortress' port on the north-east coast of Brazil, Fortaleza (Portuguese for ‘fortress') has 16 miles of beaches.  Its best known beach is the Praia do Futuro packed with restaurants serving up delicious regional cuisine.

Rio de Janeiro – Estadio Do Maracana

Capacity: 76,804
Climate: June and July are Rio's coolest months, with a peak typically 25ºC. Those months tend to be dry, but humidity remains fairly high all throughout the year.

Fixtures: 15 June, Argentina v Bosnia-Herzegovina, 23:00; 18 June, Spain v Chile, 20:00; 22 June, Belgium v Russia, 17:00; 25 June, Equador v France, 21:00; 28 June, Second-round, Winner Group C v Runner-up Group D, 21:00; 4 July, Quarter-final, Winner Second-round 5 v Winner Second-round 6, 17:00; 13 July, World Cup final, 20:00.

rio de janeiro stadium

Located on the Atlantic coast and home to the iconic Estacio Do Maracana, Rio is situated on the Guanabara Bay.  The statue of Cristo Redentor dominates the skyline and is perhaps the best-known of Rio de Janeiro’s tourist attractions.

Brasilia – Estadio Nacional

Capacity: 68,009
Climate: Dry and fairly warm. Temperatures tend to peak at 25ºC most days.

Fixtures: 15 June, Switzerland v Ecuador, 17:00; 19 June, Colombia v Ivory Coast, 17:00; 23 June, Cameroon v Brazil, 21:00; 26 June, Portugal v Ghana, 17:00; 30 June, Second-round, Winner Group E v Runner-up Group F, 17:00; 5 July, Quarter-final, Winner Second-round 7 v Winner Second-round 8, 17:00; 12 July, Third-place match, 21:00.

The capital of Brazil, it sits in the central highlands and is an ultra-modern city.  It has some amazing monuments, many of them tourist attractions located on the Eixo Monumental. Iconic buildings, designed by Oscar Niemeyer, such as the Palacio do Planalto (Presidential headquarters), the Supreme Federal Court and the National Congress with its two towers can be found in and around the area.  The Praca dos Tres Poderes connects the three buildings and is an attraction in itself, containing museums (the Brasilia History Museum, the Lucio Costa Space and the Oscar Niemeyer Space).  Other attractions are the sculptures, such as Os Candangos, the Marco de Brasilia and the enormous 286 metres high Flagpole.

Recife – Arena Pernambuco

Capacity: 44,248
Climate: Wet. It rains in Recife on average 224 days a year.  Temperatures tend to peak at 28ºC in June and July. Humidity is also usually high during these months.

Fixtures: 15 June, Ivory Coast v Japan, 02:00; 20 June, Italy v Costa Rica, 17:00; 23 June; Croatia v Mexico, 21:00; 26 June, United States v Germany, 17:00; 29 June, Second-round, Winner Group D v Runner-up Group C, 21:00.

Recife is located on the Atlantic coast and close to the equator amidst tropical forests.  Some of Recife’s most interesting sights are the 17th-century buildings of Dutch heritage. The Torre Malakoff, built in 1855, the Praca do Marco Zero, containing the “Rosa dos Ventos” floor mural by Cicero Dias and the new Centro de Artesanato (Handicraft Centre). A short walk away is the narrow Rua do Bom Jesus, formerly Rua dos Judeus, one of Recife’s main streets, adorned with its peculiar Dutch houses and art galleries. Other attractions include the Embaixada de Bonecos Gigantes (Embassy of Giant Dolls) and the Esculturas de Francisco Brennand Park on the port pier.

Salvador – Arena Fonte Nova

Capacity: 48,747
Climate: June and July are Salvador's coolest months, with peak temperatures at 26ºC.

Fixtures: 13 June, Spain v Netherlands, 20:00; 16 June, Germany v Portugal, 17:00 20 June, Switzerland v France, 20:00; 25 June, Bosnia-Herzegovina v Iran, 17:00; 1 July, Second-round, Winner Group H v Runner-up Group G, 21:00; 5 July, Quarter-final, Winner Second-round 3 v Winner Second-round 4, 21:00.

salvador

Salvador is the largest city on the north-east coast and the first area to be urbanized.  Pelourinho, the historic centre of Salvador, is just one of ten locations in Brazil to be declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It boasts of many fine monuments, 17th-century Portuguese colonial houses, churches, museums and art galleries such as the Fundacao Casa de Jorge Amado, Museu Abelardo Rodrigues and the Instituto de Artesanato Visconde de Maua. Known locally as “O Pelo”, Pelourinho is a pleasing mix of indigenous, European and African influences.

Cuiabá – Esatadio Pantanal

Capacity: 42,968
Climate: Hot. The temperatures in Cuiabá are consistently high in June and July, rising to daily highs of over 30ºC. High humidity and thunderstorms.

Fixtures: 13 June, Chile v Australia, 23:00; 17 June, Russia v South Korea, 23:00; 21 June, Nigeria v Bosnia-Herzegovina, 23:00; 24 June, Japan v Colombia, 21:00.

The chief attraction in Cuiabá is the Parque Mae Bonifacia on Avenida Miguel Sutil. The park has five paths running through it, five recreational areas complete with gym equipment. Its greenery is typical of the Cerrado (the vast tract of tropical savannah that covers most of the state of Mato Grosso) and it is home to animals that live in this habitat, such as the sagui monkey and a host of other small primates.

Curitiba – Estadio Da Baixada

Capacity: 41,456
Climate: Relatively cool and comfortable with the temperature usually peaking around 20ºC.

Fixtures: 16 June, Iran v Nigeria, 20:00; 20 June, Honduras v Ecuador, 23:00; 23 June, Australia v Spain, 17:00; 26 June, Algeria v Russia, 21:00.

Curitiba is one of the cooler cities in Brazil which even saw snow fall this year.  It has a charm of its own. Nowhere is this more evident than in the historic part of this town, with ‘pedestrian only’ Rua das Flores and the lively Largo da Ordem square – right in the colonial heart of the city.  One of the main tourist attractions is the Museu Oscar Niemeyer, a wonderfully imaginative eye-shaped building.

Manaus – Estadio Amazonia

Capacity: 42,374
Climate: Difficult. Tropical heat with tropical storms. Highs of 40ºC and thunderstorms.

Fixtures: 14 June, England v Italy, 23:00; 18 June, Cameroon v Croatia, 23:00; 22 June, United States v Portugal, 23:00; 25 June, Honduras v Switzerland, 21:00.

The capital of the state of Amazonas, Manaus is the furthest north of the host cities.

Confluence

The location of the city of Manaus is one of its most remarkable attractions: the confluence of the rivers Negro (Black) and Solimões (how the Amazon River is known in this part of Brazil).  The Encontro das Aguas is where the black waters of the Rio Negro meet the muddy yellow flow of the Rio Solimoes.  The two rivers flow side by side for more than 6 km, their waters divided as though by an invisible barrier.

The Teatro Amazonas is a symbol of the golden era of the city and is the city’s leading cultural and architectural landmark and easily recognisable, thanks to its dome, which is covered with 36,000 green, blue and yellow glazed ceramic and glass tiles, all of which were made in Alsace, France.

Natal – Estadio Das Dunas

Capacity: 42,086
Climate: Humidity is a major problem with an average of 97% humidity in the middle of June.

Fixtures: 13 June, Mexico v Cameroon, 17:00; 16 June, Ghana v United States, 23:00; 19 June, Japan v Greece, 23:00; 24 June, Italy v Uruguay, 17:00;

The unique and special attraction of Natal is its stunning dunes.  A fact reflected by the stadium’s name – Estadio das Dunas. Then there is the magical coastline, a delightful beach complete with cliffs, great surfing conditions, crystal-clear lakes, dolphins and sea turtles.

Porto Alegre – Estadio Beira-Rio

Capacity: 48,849
Climate: It can get chilly 10ºC at Porte Alegre in June and July with highs of 19ºC.

Fixtures: 15 June, France v Honduras, 20:00; 18 June, Australia v Netherlands, 17:00; 22 June, South Korea v Algeria, 20:00; 25 June, Nigeria v Argentina, 17:00; 30 June, Second-round, Winner Group G v Runner-up Group H, 21:00.

Porto Alegre sits on a huge freshwater lagoon called Lagoa dos Patos (Lagoon of the Ducks), which is 174 miles long.  From the subtropical climate to the cultural habits, Porto Alegre is fairly different from the other state capitals in Brazil. It was the destination of thousands of immigrants from Portugal and Italy – like many other cities in Brazil – but also from other European countries, particularly Germany and Poland.

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Holi – Is A Colourful Time

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The Hindu festival of Holi is celebrated on the last full moon day (or Poornima) in the Hindu Lunar calendar month of Phalgun.  The days and dates vary every year.  This year, 2014, the dates are March, 16th (Sunday) and 17th (Monday).

HoliWhile Holi is a universal festival, in India it goes by different names with variations in the theme and the way it is celebrated.  This facet of Holi mirrors the numerous linguistic differences and distinct cultural identities of India.

A popular and widespread origin for the festival revolves around Krishna.  Krishna had a mischievous nature and often played pranks on people around him.  He would drench the village girls, including Radha in coloured water.

To commemorate his pranks the women gather at the Radha Rani Temple in Barsana, Mathura (close to Agra) and drive away men by beating them with sticks just as Krishna was chased away when he tried teasing Radha and her friends.  It is called Lathmaar Holi (lath: meaning stick).

In Maharashtra the highlight is when young men make a human pyramid to climb up and break a pot suspended high above the streets.  The practice harks back to the child Krishna who used to steal buttermilk from the houses in his village.  It is truly a spectacular scene.

Bengal does it a little differently.  It is known as Dol Jatra or Dol Purnima.  Idols of Krishna and his consort Radha are put in an extravagantly decorated palanquin and paraded around the streets.  Wherever it goes, people throw coloured powder (gulal) on the carriers and vice versa.

Holi 2

The Shekhawat region of Rajasthan has its own peculiar style.  When Holi is celebrated and people smear gulal on each other it is a manly affair with no women participating.  This custom has evolved because in previous years women used to be physically harassed by drunken men, which led to plenty of conflict and violence.  A result of this social restriction is that now the young men and boys dress up like girls during the week long celebrations.

However one theme unites them all.  Holi is the celebration of the triumph of good over evil.

Holi is also enthusiastically celebrated by the vast Indian Diaspora around the world, especially London.  It will be celebrated on different dates at different places like Richmond and Watford and go on right through the month of March.  The final big bash will be in June at the Holi Festival Of Colours London on the 28th of June at Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park.

Wherever it is celebrated though, Holi is bound to be full of colour, excitement and good times.

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Homecoming Scotland 2014

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Homecoming Scotland 2014 is the follow up to the highly successful first edition of 2009. The initial Homecoming was designed to encourage people of Scottish ancestry to visit the area and to celebrate all things Scottish. Of course, it also served as an open invitation to visitors from all over the world.

Homecoming Scotland was originally born from the idea of celebrating the 250th anniversary of the birth of Robert Burns; the famous national poet. The event grew into showcasing Scotland’s other significant contributions in the realms of culture, heritage, innovations, golf and of course, whisky. 

The year-long programme for Homecoming Scotland 2014 will feature the same attributes as it did the first time around. The two main events this year are the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow and the Ryder Cup in Pertshire. The other events spread over the year focus on activities, ancestry, creativity, food & drink and nature, celebrating the very best that Scotland has to offer. Here are our favourite picks from the vast selection of events:

Highland Games

highlandsmall

There will be staging of the traditional Highland Games in towns, villages and castles across the country. The exciting games, where contestants compete in some truly unique activities such as caber tossing and competitive dancing, are a combination of culture, sport and social entertainment with a uniquely Scottish twist! Some of the more well-known locations for the games are Cowal, which stages the largest Highland games in the world, Braemar, attended annually by members of the Royal Family, and the Ceres Highland Games, the oldest free games.

Stirling – Battle of Bannockburn

28 Jun 2014 – 29 Jun 2014

The medieval city of Stirling in Central Scotland will host a number of exciting events that will recreate and commemorate the 700th Anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn, a significant victory for the Scots in the Wars of Scottish Independence. Here you will see extraordinary re-enactments choreographed by Clanranald, known for their work on Hollywood blockbusters such as Gladiator and Thor II. Walk amidst interactive medieval encampments of 14th century Scotland; kitchens, blacksmiths and armouries with a real feel of the excitement before the great battle. There will also be hundreds of tartan clad pipers, drummers and Highland dancers providing a real Scottish atmosphere.

Edinburgh

edinsmall

Edinburgh will once again be at the heart of cultural activity and festivals by running the renowned Edinburgh Festival Fringe, the largest arts festival in the world. There will be a number of activities to choose from revolving around music, books, art, traditional storytelling, comedy shows and much more.  The annual festival is truly the peak of this artistic gathering and outpouring, and the sweet dish at the end this feast of performing arts will be a spectacular fireworks display at the iconic Edinburgh Castle. The Fringe Festival runs between 01 – 25 August 2014.

Of course there is more to Edinburgh than all the arty stuff.  Not far away from the city are the fabulous Highlands of Glencoe and the legendary Loch Ness – if you are the sporty type, you might even consider taking part in the popular Loch Ness marathon.

Whisky

Homecoming Scotland 2014 will be big on celebrating and imbibing the uisge beatha (water of life).  World Whisky Day will no doubt be a very spirited affair while there will be month-long celebration at the Spirit of Speyside Festival (1 – 5 May 2014), and also at The Islay Music and Malt Festival (23 May – 1 Jun 2014).  There will be eating aplenty too at farmers’ markets and food festivals, all inevitably washed down with a wee dram of good Scottish whisky or draft beer. If you want to combine the beauty of the highlands with a tipple or two, you could take a day tour exploring the best of both worlds. 

Nature

glencoesmall

Beyond Scotland’s cultural and gastronomical fame, are its natural and scenic wonders made famous in song, verse and painting throughout centuries. The Scottish landscape is one of the most dramatic in the world with rugged mountain peaks, thousands of miles of coastline, fairy-tale forests and glens populated by thriving wildlife and plants.  Majestic deer and vast colonies of seabirds have made Scotland their home, and a trip up the spectacular highlands is an unforgettable experience.

Scotland is a place of ancient legends, grand scenery, amazing people, a unique and rich culture and producer of great minds that will be well represented in all the events of Homecoming Scotland 2014. If you’re still hungry for more Scottish wonders in 2014, take a look at our offering, from sightseeing tours to ghostly walks in the eerie Edinburgh vaults to touring the wonderful highlands.

For more information on Homecoming Scotland 2014, go to Visit Scotland.

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The Sun is Shining on Brazil

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The title may sound rhetorical.  The very mention of the name Brazil and sunshine springs to mind.  During the coming year it will be very much in the global limelight.

Three of the world’s largest events are due to be held in Brazil.  In a few days the Rio Carnival will begin.  The FIFA World Cup 2014 will kick off in a few months from now – in June to be precise.  This will ensure that thousands of football fans from around the world will pack the stadiums and beaches of Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo.  Barely will the dust and excitement have settled when the 2016 Olympics will put Brazil right back on the world’s front pages.

football

Brazil is a large country stretching roughly 4,800kms from north to south and 2,700km from west to east.  This is a vast country of golden beaches, lengthy stretches of ocean front, towering mountains and millions of acres of jungle.  Her boundaries cover an amazing array of geographical features that can be broadly categorised as the Amazon River Basin in the north and the Brazilian Highlands in the south.  The mighty Amazon, and its tributaries, serve more than a third of this area, which is so large that ocean-going ships can travel 3,700kms upstream.

The other watery aspect to Brazil is its coastline that runs for about 7,500kms.  This is probably the most popular and well-known feature of the country.  The indigenous Tupi-Gurani Indians call Brazil “Pindorama,” which aptly means “land of the palm trees.

While Brazil’s naturally diverse landscape is rich and varied, it is her beaches that make it such an attractive and magnetic tourist destination.  These sunny, sandy havens can be found the length of the country but it is the south-central regions that have the most famous and highly visited beaches including the legendary Copacabana.

rio

Copacabana is located in the city of Rio de Janeiro.  Its beautiful sands extend for miles.  However, it is the 4km stretch known as the ‘balneiro’ that is world famous because of its hedonistic and totally relaxed social traditions.  That, by the way, is only the day to day feature of this amazing beach.

Rio de Janeiro and by association Copacabana celebrates New Year every year in the most sensational way.  It is among the largest in the world.  The fireworks display runs for almost half an hour, while the revelry involving music and dancing can continue till well past dawn.  In fact, the spectacle bringing in the New Year is the single largest Brazilian attraction.  It is estimated that more than 2 million people from Brazil and all over the world pack the sands during that night.

Another massive event is the Rio Carnival.  This flamboyant, colour splashed, over the top six-day party brings the whole city (and country) to a standstill.  From 28th February to 4th March nearly 5 million people will watch, dance and sing through the streets of Rio de Janeiro.  These huge displays of fantasy played out on the streets are fuelled by time, effort and money.  So large has the event become that it is probably “The Greatest Show On Earth.”

carnival

The Copacabana is not the only attraction in Rio de Janeiro.  There is also the iconic Sugar Loaf Mountain, the Christ Statute (one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World) and numerous historic parts of the city.

A visit to Rio de Janeiro is always a high-spirited affair.  It is also stunningly beautiful and full of contradictions.  Rio de Janeiro is a captivating city and worth every moment spent in discovering it.

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Touring The Nausori Highlands, Fiji

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When you travel the length of the Fiji Islands you find that every island – inhabited or uninhabited – seems to be just as magical as the other.  Each of these 300 or so of the Fiji Islands is a jewel set in the perfect blue South Pacific Ocean. Even among so much beauty, here are some fantastically scenic places in the Fijian archipelago that, simply, stand out from the rest.

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One of these exquisite places is the Nausori Highlands.  The Highlands are located on Fiji’s main island, Viti Levu.  The area is relatively unspoiled by modernity and development.  Here the traditions and culture of the Fijian people has not changed in millennia.  The customs and practices of the local inhabitants are untouched by the outside world.

The best, to my mind, and only way to encounter firsthand the true Fijian experience is to take a trek through one of the most beautiful places on Earth.  A walking tour is a fantastic opportunity for the casual and also the ‘I want the authentic local feel’ visitor.  The cultural and eco-tourists will also be hugely thrilled with a trek up into the Nausori Highlands.

The trek will take you high up to almost 5000 feet to the mist-shrouded mountains.  They can be surprisingly chilly during the evenings and early mornings.  So packing a warm sweater or a jacket is a good idea.  

The mountains are covered with luxuriant rainforests.  Numerous clear streams and rivers that flow across the landscape invite you to bathe in their cool waters.  The jungles are populated with plenty of very raucous and brightly coloured tropical birds.  Walk along trails that have been used by the local villagers for untold generations and have not changed in all that time.

The journey up into the highlands will also give you amazing views of Viti Levu‘s rural countryside and of Nadi Bay.  You will also have uninterrupted views of the Mamanuca and Yasawa Island groups stretching out into the distance.

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The sheer beauty of the Nausori Highlands is not the only enjoyable aspect of a trip up there.  It is also the amazing people who live here and their gentle, warm and uninhibitedly inviting ways.  You will come across a number of long-established Fijian villages and a fantastic opportunity to experience their traditional rituals and courtesies.

The people are all too willing to teach you about their unique culture.  You can get a chance to peek into the tribal ways of Fijian villages tucked away and out of sight of the world.  The greeting involves a drink of Kava, a ceremonial beverage, which is quite significant to Fijians.  Guests are invited to an open kitchen and to participate in preparing an authentic Fijian meal.

The food is cooked over a firewood stove and comprises of coconut milk, spinach or Taro leaves stuffed with fresh water prawns or beef with a sprinkle of coconut cream cooked in a green bamboo trunk.  The meal also includes yams and taro along with a drink of freshly squeezed lemon juice or “yaqona” (Fijian traditional drink made from grounded pepper roots).

No interaction with Fijians is complete without singing and on that front one is never disappointed.

The magnificent scenery, the beauty of the islands, the timeless village life and the warmth of the people will add up to an experience like no other.

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Shotover Jet Boat Rides Nadi, Fiji

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Like so many of its South Pacific cousins, the Fiji Islands were formed by volcanic activity.  Its incredible beauty lies in the balmy climate, spectacular mountains, warm incredibly blue waters, fabulous beaches and tropical rainforests.  The Fiji Islands are still a blessed paradise for visitors.

It is the relationship between the innumerable coves, inlets, creeks and the land that make it a water sports paradise.  From indulging in surfing and kayaking to sedate fishing or heart-stopping jet boat rides, there is no place that quite gives you the same experience or excitement as Fiji.  One of the most exhilarating activities you can hope to get into, while in Fiji is a ride on a jet boat.  Fiji’s weather also makes the ride a year-round activity.

The boats are all fabricated and brought in from New Zealand who is the world-wide leader and pioneer of this high-powered sports technology.  Its big V8 drives provide the gut-wrenching acceleration, unbelievable manoeuvres and 360 turns executed at over 80 kmph, which are the highlights of the experience.

Jet boat rides can be booked from the docks of Denarau Island in Nadi.  They also start from there.  Typically the ride lasts for about 30 minutes.  You roar across Nadi Bay, along the Denarau waterfront and past mysterious mangrove forests.  The thrills and water spray come in equal measure as your jet boat speeds under bridges and flirts with the rocky banks of the Nadi River.  The grab handles along the sides of the boat usually get a good working over by passengers.

Taking a Shotover Jet Boat ride promises to be the ride of a lifetime and an experience you will not forget – ever!

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Museums In Cardiff

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Cardiff has so much going for it, yet remains unpretentious. The city has a long history and a rich cultural heritage, which is amplified today as the city grows with an increasing number of prestigious national and international institutions. Cardiff has attracted people (many of them students) from all over Europe and the world. So bountiful is Cardiff’s diversity that about 94 languages are spoken in the city currently.

Cardiff’s attractiveness has seen it rise to become one of the top 10 destinations in the UK. Spread across the city, the museums and galleries showcase its historical, industrial and cultural past.

National Museum Cardiff
Cathays Park

National Museum Cardiff
 

The National Museum Cardiff contains exhibits of art, natural history, geology and archaeology.  There are some outstanding examples of paintings, drawings, sculptures and ceramics from all over the world.  There are thousands of other exhibits including insects, fossils and Bronze Age weapons.

The Museum houses a fantastic collection of Impressionist paintings.  The Marine gallery section has the world’s largest Leatherback Turtle and a skeleton of a Humpback Whale.  The Evolution section has superb depictions of the evolution of early human beings, the Big Bang origins of the universe and the formation of the Earth.

There are a series of regular events, guided tours and exhibitions.

Entry to the museum is free.

St Fagans: National History Museum
4 miles west from Cardiff City Centre
Just off the A4232

st fagans national history museum

The National History Museum is located within the wonderful grounds of St Fagans Castle.  This spectacular 16th century building is the centre piece of an open-air museum. The beautiful 100-acre grounds enclose forty carefully re-created buildings from different periods.

These are living, working-place buildings that include houses, a farm, a school, a chapel and a Workmen’s Institute. You can see and experience what it was like to work and live in times gone by. The museum has galleries filled with costumes, farm implements and other Welsh cultural artifacts. Outdoors you can see various native farm animals and witness daily farming tasks, while indoors craftsmen demonstrate traditional Welsh skills.

The museum conducts traditional musical and dance festivals throughout the year.

Entry to the museum is free.

Big Pit National Coal Museum

Nothing epitomizes Wales like the mining industry and the Big Pit National Coal Museum is the best place to experience and understand that aspect of Welsh history. A trip 300 feet down the exciting yet scary mining pits will give you a close and up-front feel of what miners had to face every day.

The museum includes tours of the famous Pithead Baths, mining galleries and original colliery buildings. You can walk down the tunnels that once were the working places of miners. The Big Pit National Coal Museum is one of the UK’s best mining museums.

Entry to the museum is free.

The National Roman Legion Museum
High Street
Caerleon (30 minutes from Cardiff City Centre)

The Welsh region was once the westernmost outpost of the Roman Empire. The Romans built the Caerleon fortress in 75 AD to guard its boundaries and for more than 200 years it did so. The fortress is one of just three permanent fortresses built by the Romans in Britain. It has the best remaining amphitheatre in Britain and also the only remains of  legionary barracks in all of Europe.

The fortress was turned into a museum in 1850 so that people could see and learn what made the Romans rulers of the world. The museum has some half a million superb artifacts of that period. It also puts on exhibitions that show how Romans lived, fought, worshipped and died. The museum has an important collection that gives insights into the evolution of civilian settlements around these Imperial strongholds.

Entry to the fortress and museum is free.

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