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5 Must-dos While Visiting the Italian Dolomites

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The Italian Dolomites are one of the most fantastic mountains in the world.  Their sharp pointed pinnacles and steep pale stony cliffs plunge steeply down to green valleys, creating some of the most incredible landscapes in the world.  There are eighteen summits that extend beyond 3,000 metres in height with Marmolada being the highest.

The Dolomites (meaning ‘pale mountains’) are sturdy in contrast.  Rough crags, pinnacles and towers encircle magical green meadows, multi-coloured forests, fields and lakes.  These striking contrasts are at its best in Cortina – ‘the pearl of the Dolomites’.   The whole region has been designated a UN Heritage Centre.

Dolomites article

There are many reasons to visit the area.  Here are our picks on the most satisfying things you can do while touring the Dolomites.

Adventure Activities
The Dolomites are renowned for skiing, mountain climbing, hiking, base jumping, paragliding, hang gliding and free climbing.  The Alte Vie or ‘Alpine Trails’ are world famous and, in some instances, really challenging treks. These mountains are a rock climbers’ dream with different sorts of climbs for all – novices, skilled as well as the seriously professional types.

Soar like an eagle under a parachute or glider’s wings from one of the mountains and thrill to the feeling of weightlessness – and live your dream.  You will get a view which only a few others do – above the spectacular peaks of the Dolomites.

The Dolomite region is a skier’s heaven.  Short summers and long winters make it ideal for extended skiing seasons.  The most famous and best skiing town is Cortina d’Ampezzo.  The 1956 Winter Olympics were held there.

Visit The Tunnels And Galleries In The Dolomites
In the early 20th century the border between Germany, Austria and Italy passed through the Dolomites.  During World War I, it was the frontline.  Soldiers on both sides excavated several series of tunnels in the mountains in order to fire at each other and wrest control of the heights.

Hiding places in the Dolomites (World War I)

Hiding places in the dolomites

These tunnels and galleries contain the remnants and artefacts of that period till date.  You can explore and see the still preserved barrack rooms (complete with sleeping bunks and heating stoves), storerooms, machinegun emplacements and other war relics.

Take Cable Car/Ski Lift Rides
The experience of a cable car or ski lift ride in the Dolomites is unlike any other.  They provide spectacular views unequalled in the world.  Even in this picture postcard world, some locations stand out from the others.  Just to name three – Lagazuoi near Cortina, Pass Pordoi and Mont Seuc.  The Dolomites, with the light on them constantly changing, are a photographer’s delight.  Once viewed, the scenery from the lifts will be sure to drag you back.

The ‘queen of the Dolomites,’ Marmolada is the highest peak in the Dolomites.  The entire journey in getting up to the top is an experience not to be missed.  As your gently swaying cable car lifts you towards the peak and above the clouds, you feel like you have wandered into a movie set.  The views are awe-inspiring and on a clear day you can see Venice!

Tour The lakes
If the sight of peaks of this region leave you in awe, their counterparts, the placid clear waters among the Dolomites are just as captivating.  These numerous pools of magic are flanked by golf-course like meadows and groves of trees while reflecting the pale peaks rising above them.  The picturesque little towns and villages that sit on their banks add to their allure.

Lake Auronzo di Cadore is an outstanding example.  Its fairy-tale surroundings are further enhanced in winter when the waters totally freeze up to the point where polo is played on it.  Another serene and tranquil lake is Misurina which is worth a visit.  Lake Misurina is where the speed skating events were held during the 1956 Winter Olympics (it was the last time Olympic speed skating events were held on natural ice.)  The spectacular scenery of Lake Misurina features in most photos of the area.

Spend The Night In A Mountain Hut (Rifugio)
To round off your Dolomites adventure or make it even more memorable, you should stay at a traditional alpine hut.  You can really soak in the magical atmosphere of the mountainous landscape.  The long history of mountaineering in the Alps has seen the building of many huts (rifugios) along the trails and throughout the high Dolomite massifs.  These wonderful wooden or stone cabins are very often perched precariously on the rocks.  The vistas from here are extraordinary.  There is no greater feeling than the camaraderie of other walkers, sharing an excellent dinner, a good night’s sleep and a generous breakfast before you set off again.

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Fun things-to-do in Ibiza

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When the Phoenicians came to Ibiza around 654 BC, they sensed something of the island’s nature and named it Ibossim and dedicated it to their god of music and dance, Bes.  Since the middle of the 20th century it has lived up to its ancient name.

Young people, in their thousands, come from all over the world to gyrate and groove to the insistent pounding of electronic music genres like trance, rave, techno and house.  Ibiza’s fame as the party capital of the world is confirmed by night clubs that can take in over 12,000 dancing guests and 40 DJs.  Starting at midday these parties go on all night.

Ibiza

Flashing strobe lights aside, Ibiza town and the surrounding area is absolutely gorgeous.  You can either rent a cycle or a scooter to discover this amazing island at your own pace and off the beaten track.  Several portions of Ibiza including the Old Town are UNESCO World Heritage listed sites.  Some of these sites include the Phoenician settlement at Sa Caleta and the Ses Feixes Wetlands.  A stroll through the Old Town reveals why it was chosen.

Despite the numerous fabulous beaches on Ibiza, the Aguamar Water Park is one of the island’s most popular attractions.  A family destination, the Water Park offers a number of pools and bars and an excellent cafeteria.

On the historic side there is quite a bit to see in Ibiza.  For instance there is the 14th century Ibiza Cathedral, an excellent study in Gothic architecture.  Inside, the walls are covered with some fine religious art.  You can visit the well-preserved Phoenician tombs in an ancient burial ground.  The hypogeal (burial caves) contain over 3,000 tombs and are remarkable as they have been cut deep into the hillside.   There is also an on-site museum that contains amulets and other artwork that were found in the tombs.

Just 6 kilometres to the south lies Ibiza’s quiet island cousin, Formentera.  This is a really flat island and the sea can be seen from anywhere on it.  It is world famous for its pristine white beaches.  While most people come for the beaches, its crystal clear blue waters are ideal for snorkelling and sailing.  Cycling is a popular way to get around its 19 kilometre length.

formentera ibiza

Formentera also has a few pre-historic Stone Age sites and an ancient Roman road.  It is also famed for its beach restaurants that serve seafood platters, grilled fish and paella, which are among the best in the islands.

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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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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

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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

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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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