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

Posts in ‘Family, Kids & Senior Travelers’

Where To Go This Summer – Part II

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Scotland

The highlands, Glasgow in particular, will be putting its best foot forward and donning its party dress this summer.  This is a mountainous, heather covered land of mists, the Loch Ness Monster and other myths, kilts and football mad natives!  It has hundreds of miles of wild, beautiful windswept coastline.   It is a magical land famous for its whisky blended with plenty of history.  So much of Scotland’s treasures are accessible – for free.  Except the whisky!

Scotland Castles

There is so much action on the calendar that it is really difficult to decide what to see and do.  For instance…

The 2014 Commonwealth Games – Glasgow
The XXth Commonwealth Games will see the world’s top athletes compete over 11 days of competition from 23 July to 3 August.  The ancient city of Glasgow dominated by the impressive People’s Palace will host the largest ever athletic gathering of its kind for the first time in Scotland’s history.   This multi-sport event will see the likes of Usain Bolt giving off their very best during the Games.

Homecoming Scotland 2014
The first edition of 2009 Homecoming was marvelously successful.  Following on that success, Homecoming Scotland 2014 is designed to bring people of Scottish ancestry from all over the world back to the country.  It is also an open invitation to people from all over the world.  Homecoming will gain an added significance and poignancy this year because in September the Scottish people will vote in the Scottish Independence Referendum to decide if “Should Scotland be an independent country?”

Edinburgh Fringe Festival
The Edinburgh Fringe Festival will be set against the backdrop of the Royal Mile, the Old Town, Edinburgh Castle, Holyrood Palace and ancient Parliament Hall.  For nigh on three weeks, this annual cultural festival will showcase artists of all hues as they perform and delight us with their creative and manic best.

The Ryder Cup

Scotland

After many a long year the Ryder Cup, that pinnacle of golf competition, pitting the best of Europe and the US will come back to Scotland.  The legendary home of golf will see the world’s best golfers swinging their clubs on the magnificent greens and fairways of the PGA Centenary Course in Perthshire where the Highlands and the Lowlands meet.

For all these reasons and more Scotland will be the centre of the world’s attention in the coming months!

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Brazil is Wild, Wonderful and World Cup Mad

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This huge and vibrant country is a wonder world and just cannot help itself.  It is blessed with thousands of miles of beaches, humungous tracts of rainforests, historic and futuristic cities fed by great rivers. Then there are the people whose blood seems to be pumped by a machine called “party.”  Add to that the elixir of football and you have all the ingredients for a super carnival.

Great!  So you are going to Brazil to watch the FIFA World Cup football matches.  Remember that this exhilarating and beautiful game takes under two hours to unfold, which is simply wonderful from a sight-seeing perspective.  When not in a stadium cheering your team, you will have so much time at each city to taste the spicy and fabulous banquet that is Brazil.

For instance…

Full Day Tour of Rio
Rio de Janeiro is one of the most exciting cities to visit.  However, it is huge and doing it on your own will eat up your limited time.  So taking an organized full day tour of Rio, also called the Marvellous City, is a great time-saving sightseeing idea.  It will take you to all the main highlights of historic downtown Rio; including Cinelândia Square with its historical buildings, the Municipal Theater, the National Library, the National Museum of Fine Arts, the Metropolitan Cathedral and the famous Sambadrome.

Christ the Redeemer Brazil

You then go through the solid rainforest of Tijuca to get to Corcovado Mountain.  Taking the cable car up is a great introduction to the astounding Christ the Redeemer statue on top and the fabulous views of Copacabana Beach, Ipnema and Leblon.

All in all it is a great programme.

Walking Around Historic Rio
Take a walking tour through the historic Rio and you will get a totally different flavour of this often turbulent city.  Rio’s legacy is impressive and very much in evidence as you wander through its cobbled streets to see the lovely colonial Portuguese influence in the form of the Imperial Palace, the France-Brazil House and the Benedictine Monastery.  Other architectural gems include the Candelária Church, the Banco de Brasil and the Casa França-Brasil and the hugely impressive Arcos da Lapa, which were part of the aqueduct that brought water into Rio.

Imperial Palace Rio

This walking tour is a fascinating one that will forever change your perspective of Rio.

Guanabara Bay Cruise
Another terrific way to see Rio is to take a boat cruise out onto the beautiful and vast Guanabara Bay.  Slowing cruising on its blue waters, you will get a panoramic view of all Rio’s landmarks without the hustle and bustle. Sugar Loaf Mountain and Corcovado dominate an impressive skyline. Flocks of seabirds wheel over your head as you sit down to a delicious meal consisting of delicious Crab Cake and Fettuccine with Pomodoro or Fish with Shrimp Sauce and Risotto.

Guanabara Bay Cruise

Historical Salvador – Capital of Happiness
One of the oldest cities in the Americas, Salvador seems to be in continuous party mode.  It has earned its nickname, “Brazil’s capital of happiness” for the numerous street parties.  But just as attention-grabbing is the long, tumultuous and interesting historical side to this lovely coastal city.  The best part is most of its past is preserved in the music, cuisine and architecture.

Taking the historical tour will reveal many gems of Salvador’s chequered past such as the lively, narrow streets of Pelourinho and its pastel hued houses that are about 300 years old.  Salvador’s colonial heritage shows up in the Forte de São Pedro, the Barra Lighthouse, the church of São Francisco and a thousand homes, churches and monuments built since the 16th century help make up the greatest collection of Baroque architectural heritage in Latin America.

Salvador is proof that there is a whole lot to Brazil you never even imagined.

Bahia By Night
There is an overwhelming perception that Portuguese culture and influence is what makes up Brazilian culture.  That is not the whole picture.  It is the African-Brazilian cultural-mix that puts the pop, crackle and sexiness in to what we perceive of Brazil.  It is the influence of African associated cultural practices that are celebrated and define Salvador.

Imacon Color Scanner

The best time to experience this hedonistic and outrageously colour culture is at night.  The many different expressions of the culture can be experienced if you take this wonderful tour.  Watch capoeira (traditional slave battles), or beautiful performances of Candomblé, Maculelê, Puxada de Rede, Dança do Caboclo and Samba de Roda and you will get a much deeper sense of what drives Brazil and its people.

Manaus And The Amazon Rainforest
Take a break from all the cultural aspects of Brazil because there is a more natural and wilder side to the country.  The incredible Amazon Rainforest, with all its spectacular animals, birds, plants and rivers is enough to take you by the heart and never leave you.

Manaus, in the heart of the Amazon forest region, is the best jumping-off place to explore this fascinating side to Brazil.  Not far from the city is one of nature’s most remarkable sights – the confluence of the Negros and the Solimões rivers.  Their differently coloured waters, which don’t mix as if kept apart by an invisible barrier, are worth every effort to see.  You could get really adventurous and go deep into the jungle and experience the Brazilian Amazon and all its flora and fauna face-to-face.

Victoria Regia Manaus

Another terrific draw is the Victoria Regia.  This is an extraordinary giant floating lily for which Manaus is famous.  Its leaves are over fifteen feet in diameter with a submerged stalk that can grow to over 25 feet in length.  The flowers are white on the first night they open subsequently changing to pink.

With all this and exciting football to immerse yourself in, you are going to find it difficult to return home.

Desfrutar Brasil!  (Enjoy Brazil)

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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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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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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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Getting to Disneyland Paris by Train

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One thing we often hear from our customers is that they would love to spend a day at Disneyland during their time in Paris, but have concerns about how to get there.  While at first glance the Parisian transport network may seem overwhelming, it really is super-simple and with these basics you will easily plan your journey to the Parks.

If you have not bought your tickets yet, check out our great price for the Disneyland Paris 1 Day Hopper Ticket.  Or if you would rather go for a transport-inclusive package we also have this day trip with transport.

family

What train do I take and where do I board?

Disneyland Paris is easily connected to central Paris using the RER A.  This suburban railway service runs every 10-30 minutes depending on the time of day and will get you to Disneyland Paris in just 30-40 minutes.

You can get a direct train from the following Paris Stations:

Charles de Gaulle Etoile:  Located at the top of the Champs-Élysées, there are several entrances which surround the Arc de Triomphe.  Anyone staying west of the city centre should use this station. 

Auber:  Located on Rue Auber, close to the Opera Garnier and the department stores of Boulevard Haussman.

Chatlet Les Halles:  One of Paris’ major interchanges is convenient for those staying near the Louvre, Île de la Cité and the Latin Quarter.

Gare de Lyon: Convenient for those with hotels in the south east of Paris, near Gare d’Austerlitz or Bercy.

For Disneyland Paris you need to get off at Marne-la-Vallee – Chessy.  The park gates are less than 5 minutes’ walk from here.

What tickets do I need?

When using the ticket window, you can simply explain you need a ticket for Disneyland (Billet pour Disneyland). You will find that most ticket office staff will be able to help you in buying the correct ticket.

Alternatively, you can use one of the self-service machines, all of which have the option to be used in English. One of the first questions you are asked is if you want tickets to “Paris” or “Ile de France” – choose Ile de France and from here the machines are very easy to use.

Boarding the train

No matter which of the stations listed above you board at, look out for the signs for RER A towards Marne-la-Vallee – Chessy or Boissy Saint-Leger. For Disneyland Paris you need the train towards Marne-la-Vallee – Chessy, be sure to board the right train as from the same platform trains also go to Boissy Saint-Leger. 

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Touring Bathurst Island, Australia

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Bathurst IslandBathurst Island lies in Australia’s far north.  Bathurst is one of nine that make up the Tiwi Islands, which lie about 80 kilometres north of Darwin. There are two ways to get to the island either by a light aircraft or the thrice weekly ferry from Darwin.  Both transportation modes are wonderfully scenic.

You have to remember that tourism is restricted and so are visitors.  You need to get a permit to visit and even then you have to go on a pre-arranged tour with an Aboriginal guide.  You can apply for your permit online or from the office of the Tiwi Land Council on Bathurst Island.  It is far more convenient to let the tour operators organise your visit and permit.

You can do a one or two day tour of the island.  The facilities and amenities on the island are rather basic and there are no hotels or places to stay except for a couple of remote fishing lodges.  While there are food and general stores, the locals still follow the traditional fishing and hunting customs to meet their food needs.  It is an important part of their community lives. Tour operators however, do provide meals and camp-style accommodation for overnight stays.

Once on the island, the experiences are absolutely terrific. The pleasures of Bathurst Island can be placed in two distinct categorises.  One is the natural and scenic side and the other is the people.

The Aboriginal population call themselves the Tiwi, which translates to people, so saying Tiwi people is a redundancy.  One of the treats in visiting Bathurst Island is the arts and crafts of the Tiwi.  The main community is Wurrumiyanga, previously called Nguiu.

You get a first hand and close-up feel for the art and everyday life of the Tiwi.  You can watch and marvel at the artists while they work.  Their batik and silk clothes, woven bangles, vividly painted conch shells, wood carvings and pottery are splendid.  Wood carvings generally have birds that are sacred and meaningful to the Tiwi.   Some really good carvings are on display at the Mission Heritage Gallery and the Tiwi Designs Art Centre.

The Tiwi culture is rather unique.  Back in 1911, Father Gsell, a Catholic priest convinced the government to give him land on the island to build a mission.  Fortunately he did not carry out too many conversions and what has evolved is a very unusual mix of Tiwi Aboriginal traditions and customs and Christian doctrines, signs symbols and texts.

An outstanding representation of this cultural mash-up is the lovely wooden church built sometime during the 1930s.  Another is the beautifully decorated and colourful burial poles, called pukamanis that dot the countryside.  They mark burial sites and some of them are more than 10 feet tall.

The scenic part of your tour takes you along beautiful coastlines, sandy beaches, through rainforests, waterfalls and inviting rock pools where you can take a dip if you are so minded.  Some of the plants and animals are totally unique to Bathurst Island.  One of the most enduring sights is the cycad trees.  They look like a cross between ferns and palm trees, with a single thick trunk and a crown of large green feather-like leaves.  In fact the name Wurrumiyanga means “the place where cycads grow.”

I found out Bathurst is a privately owned island.  In 1978 ownership was formally handed back to the Tiwi people.  Today the island is run by the Tiwi Land Council and they have done a good job of it.

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Holidaying in Turkey – Antalya

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Duden waterfall in Antalya

Antalya, the city and the surrounding area, is one of those places that seem tailor-made for sightseers and holiday makers. It has to have everything. The area is backed by the Beydaglari? and Taurus Mountains that come right down to the sea creating numerous idyllic and picturesque coves and bays. Oh yes, there are plenty of lovely sandy beaches.  The best known are Konyaalt? and Lara Beaches.

The picture is further coloured by the fact that Antalya is located on the Eastern Mediterranean coast of Turkey. That means it has a lovely warm climate all year round. The city mirrors its mixed and rich history. There are plenty of reminders of that past including Lycian, Pamphylian, Hellenic, Roman, Byzantine, Seljuk and Ottoman architecture and cultures.

The modern too is well represented in Antalya. It has a modern and busy airport, reportedly handling more than 10 million visitors a year. The port and marinas are always filled with yachts, boats of all descriptions and cruise liners. There are plenty of luxury hotels – several belonging to international chains – hotels, bars, clubs, chic restaurants and shopping avenues. No wonder the area is referred to as the Turkish Riviera.

For those looking to get a glimpse of Antalya’s history there is plenty on offer. Antalya has been restored to retain much of its historical character. The work won it the Golden Apple Tourism Prize.

These following are some of the prominent sights and monuments of Antalya:

  • The Atatürk Monument at Cumhuriyet Meydan? (Republic Square).
  • Kaleiçi: The old centre of the city with its narrow cobbled streets of historic Ottoman era houses.
  • Hadrian’s Gate (also known as Triple Gate) was built by the Romans in the 2nd century.
  • The City Walls and Hidirlik Tower also date back to ancient times.
  • Iskele Mosque: A 19th-century Mosque near the Marina.
  • Karatay Medrese: A Medrese (Islamic theological seminary) built in 1250 by Emir Celaleddin Karatay.
  • Kesik Minare (Broken Minaret) Mosque: Once a Roman temple which was   converted into a Byzantine Panaglia church and then the present mosque.  
  • Tekeli Mehmet Pasa Mosque: An 18th-century mosque built in honour of Tekeli Mehmet Pasa.
  • Yat Limani: The harbour goes back to Roman times.
  • Yivli Minare (Fluted Minaret) Mosque: Built by the Seljuks and decorated with dark blue and turquoise tiles, this minaret eventually became the symbol of the city.

Antalya is not all history, architecture, beaches and beauty spots. It has a vibrant cultural life. The main square, Cumhuriyet, is often used to host open air exhibitions and artistic and cultural performances.

To name a few of the events:

  • Antalya Golden Orange Film Festival: Turkey's largest national film festival, last week of September.
  • International Eurasia Film Festival: International film festival held annually
  • Mediterranean International Music Festival: October, 6 days
  • Antalya International Folk Music and Dance Festival Competition: Last week of August
  • Aspendos International Opera and Ballet Festival: June and July
  • Flower Festival May

The mixture of modern and ancient and the sheer variety create a tapestry and character that endures itself to all who come to this wonderful part of Turkey.

 

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Bodrum – From Greek Outpost to Opulent Hotspot

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Bodrum is a port city on the south-western Aegean Sea Coast of Turkey.  Its location is beautiful and so is the weather.  Unlike many, once picturesque, fishing villages that were ‘discovered’ by holiday makers and mutated into a hotel/motel and garishly lit tourist-targeted towns, Bodrum has retained its original character.

The local authorities have played a big part in Bodrum retaining its charm.  Building regulations and town planning control the height of buildings and preserve the traditional whitewashed houses with their distinctive blue-trim. The surrounding green-clad hills, numerous coves, bays, marinas and winding backstreets make this once unknown seaside town a very attractive place to spend a few days.

However, Bodrum has changed.  It is now the favoured retreat of the wealthy and powerful.  It has a number of high-end boutiques, salons, and elegant restaurants that cater to them.  There are also petite cafes, dressed with bright flowers, several excellent museums, shopping areas and other attractions that draw the package tourists too.

Despite the million or so tourists who pack its streets, beaches and hotels every summer, Bodrum has managed to keep its essential nature.  The Ottoman era mosques, ancient relics and the Crusader era castle have helped retain that lost-era flavour.

While the town has essentially become a ‘getaway’; a place to relax there are several historical attractions for the sightseer.

Before he died King Mausolus (376-353 BC) planned and started to build his own tomb.  It was designed by Pythius and Satyros.  When he died, his wife (who was also his sister) Artemisia completed it.  It was a massive and impressive temple-like structure.

It consisted of tonnes of white marble crowned by stepped pyramids and decorated with carvings and statues.  The tomb was among the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. It survived for 1700 years till earthquakes brought it down.  Today, only its foundations and few bits of statuary can be seen.  It is from this man and his tomb that we get the word “mausoleum.”

The Crusader Knights Hospitallers showed up in 1402 and began to build a castle in 1406.  They used the marble and stones from Mausoleum’s ruins for their construction.  They finished it in 1437 but kept adding fortifications, a cistern and a moat.  It is still a very impressive and well-preserved structure.  They named it The Castle of St Peter and the town around it Petronium.  Over time the name was turkicised to 'Bodrum.'

Within Bodrum Castle is the French Tower containing the tomb and remains of Queen Ada (died sometime between 360 and 325 BC).  Along with her body were buried a gold crown, necklace, bracelets, rings and an exquisite wreath of gold myrtle leaves – all incredibly valuable.

Bodrum Castle is also home to one of most important museums of the world.Bodrum castle  The Museum of Underwater Archaeology houses items collected from underwater missions.  The exhibits are creatively displayed and include maps, drawings and murals.

Another relic from ancient times is the Myndos Gate – now restored.  It the only remaining portion of what was once a 7km wall built by King Mausolus.  In 334 BC many of Alexander the Great’s soldiers perished at the wall and the moat around it.

Fate and forethought has been kind to Bodrum and saved it from becoming like other Turkish fishing villages that have become touristic nightmares.

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The Fairy Tale Land of Mont Saint-Michel

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One kilometre off the northwest Normandy coast of France sits the unique little island of Mont Saint-Michel. It is cut off from the mainland at high tide while vast sandbanks are exposed at low tide, which can be just as deterring as the powerful water flows. Today there is a motorable causeway connecting it to the mainland and unaffected by high tides.

All of 247 acres in area and 300 feet at its highest, this strategically situated rocky island embodies the expression that ‘life is stranger than fiction.’ The ancient monastery, massive stone fortifications, winding climbing streets, houses with sloping roofs and tiny quaint shops give Mont Saint-Michel an ambience that could very easily be the setting for a fantasy tale with dragons, elves and wizards in it.

Mont Saint MichelFor most of its history, Mont Saint-Michel has been a redoubtable fortress. It was a Roman outpost till the 460 AD, followed by Gallic occupation till the Franks came along and pushed them out. Sometime in the 8th century the island’s role changed when the first religious buildings were constructed.  However, its strategic importance remained and is even featured in the famous Bayeux Tapestry. It was the Normans however who were the architects of the grand and imposing abbey that gives the town and the island so much of its character.

In the 11th century William de Volpiano, an Italian architect was charged with building the Abbey. He designed the Romanesque church seen today. In the early 12th century Philip Augustus paid for the construction of new Gothic-style sections, which included a refectory and cloister. Thereafter Charles VI added more fortifications, built the towers and added courtyards. Today many of them are filled with flowers that make the place very pretty.

For many centuries Mont Saint-Michel was an important pilgrimage centre but that function slowly declined and by the time of the French Revolution the abbey was almost abandoned. The Republicans converted into a prison.  In the nineteenth century such luminaries as Victor Hugo petitioned to restore the buildings, resulting in it being declared a historic monument in 1874.

In 1979 Mont Saint-Michel and its Bay were declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The isle attracts more than 3 million visitors every year. Compare that with the permanent residents who number only 44, at last count.

That is Mont Saint-Michel for you – tiny in size but large in history and heart.

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