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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 ‘Hobbies, Courses & Interests’

10 Interesting Facts about Wimbledon

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Wimbledon Logo

The Championships or simply Wimbledon is the oldest, and perhaps the most prestigious tennis tournament in the world. This annually-held tournament is also the only Major (Grand Slam) still played on grass (the game’s original surface – giving the game its original name of "lawn tennis").

When not in the game, you can visit the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Museum or go for the Wimbledon Tour experience.

Here are 10 fast facts about the Wimbledon:

1. The tournament is distinguished for the absence of sponsor advertising around the courts.

2. Players are required to bow or curtsy if Her Majesty the Queen or the Prince of Wales is present.

3. The Wimbledon has a tradition of having a strict dress code for competitors, as well as the eating of strawberries and cream by the spectators and   Royal patronage.

4. All trophies are usually presented by The Duke of Kent, the President of the All England Club.

5. During World War II, a bomb ripped through Centre Court, damaging 1,200 seats.

6. A team of 45 ground staff tend the 19 courts that are all made of 100 per cent rye grass – chosen for its ability to stand wear and tear.

7. Wimbledon is also the only Grand Slam tournament where fans without tickets can queue up and still get seats on Centre Court, Court 1 and Court  2. Although, you’d normally have to queue overnight!

8. The Ladies' Single Trophy of Wimbledon is called 'Rosewater Dish' or 'Venus Rosewater Dish'.

9. A wooden racket was last used at Wimbledon in 1987.

10. Highest attendance ever recorded was in 2001 with 490,081 spectators turning out to watch the event.

11. The longest ever Wimbledon match lasted 11 hours and 5 minutes (between Nicolas Mahut and John Isner on 22nd, 23rd and 24th June, 2010); while the shortest match ever lasted only 37 minutes (when William Renshaw defeated John Hartley in 1881).
 

Oops…that’s 11 facts! Feeling a bit generous or over-excited are we? What other facts do you know about The Championships? Please share with us on the comments section.

Here’s to a great summer and a great Wimbledon!
 

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Downton Abbey Country Location Tour

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Highclere Castle

The movies and travel and tourism are becoming inextricably entwined. One would say the two industries are almost symbiotic. Where movie-makers go, it seems that tour and travel operators are quick to fill bus loads of folks and show them ‘the scene.’

From Braveheart to the Da Vince Code new tourist trails are being blazed in the UK. Now it is the turn of the global hit TV series, Downton Abbey to get in on the act. The series has inspired fans to go traipsing through picturesque Oxfordshire villages and down a pint at rural pubs. So great is the demand of Downton Abbey fans to follow in the footsteps of the aristocratic Crawley family and their staff that tours by one or two companies are sold out for the 2013 season!

The Downton Abbey Country Location tours are very comprehensive. They are generally of three days duration. They take visitors to Dower House, home of Cousin Violet aka Maggie Smith, Swan Inn, Downton Hospital, and the pub at Kirkbymoorside. The tour buses play excerpts and episodes of the series more or less relating to the location you will be visiting – just so that your memory is refreshed on the locations and characters.

You have to remember that though the setting for the fictional Downton Abbey is Yorkshire, many of the key film locations are not actually in that county. Highclere Castle is in Hamphire and used for all the exterior shots and most of the interior scenes. The exterior shots were taken in the picturesque village of Bampton in Oxfordshire, including St Mary’s Church. World War I battle scenes, in France, were filmed in the Suffolk countryside.

Haxby Park (featuring in the second season) is actually Waddesdon Manor in Buckinghamshire and Greys Court, Oxfordshire was used as the family’s secondary property mentioned in the third series. Another historical mansion featuring in the series is Lincoln Castle, just south of York, where the prison scenes were filmed.

So if you are a Downton Abbey addict you could sip afternoon tea and stroll in the beautiful gardens of the elegant homes that feature so prominently in the movies.
 

Image credit: zen whisk

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The Last Supper

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The Last Supper

The Last Supper is one of Leonardo da Vinci’s most well-known works; and along with the Mona Lisa, could be said to have established his fame as a painter. The painting represents the scene of The Last Supper of Jesus with his 12 disciples where he announced that “one of them would betray him”.

The painting is located at the Santa Maria delle Grazie church in Milan, covering the wall of the dining hall. In it, Leonardo grouped the apostles in four groups of threes, with Jesus in the middle sitting calmly.

The remarkable thing about this composition is how Leonardo brilliantly depicts identifiable reactions of the apostles with varying degrees of shock, outrage and disbelief when Jesus dropped the bombshell announcement.

Deterioration and restoration

Leonardo’s decision to use oil paint rather than the more reliable, fast-drying and stable watercolour fresco technique meant that the painting deteriorated soon enough. Several painters attempted to repair and major restoration works were done from 1978 to 1999, but the popularity of the work remains.

It could be argued though, that very little of the original paint now remains after all its repairs.

The fascination continues…

The painting continues to mystify and fascinate nonetheless. Speculations by writers and historical revisionists centre around supposed purported hidden messages or hints—and plenty other such-like interpretations —within the painting.

The fact that it plays the central role in Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code does little to quench the spurring of new wave of research and interpretation of one of this world’s most famous artworks.

The Last Supper Tickets

It is advisable that you book your ticket well ahead because of it being a very popular attraction…or simply prepare to be disappointed! Also be warned that visitors are not allowed to stay long.

The excellent audio guide will help you make the most of this must-see painting.

Image credit: Waiting For The Word
 

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What to know about Venice Gondola Rides

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Venice Gondola Ride

We’ve all seen the movies and pictures and are aware of the romantic power of a gondola ride on the canals of Venice. The enchantment of the experience changes the girl’s mind…‘and they live happily ever after.’ Beguiling, enchanting, romantic, magical etc, are standard adjectives to describe a tour of Venice in a gondola. It is a must-do thing.

True a Venice gondola ride is maybe that or maybe more but there are some practical things you need to know before you get on one of them. Some of these pointers may be a bit of an eye opener for you.

There was a time when about 10,000 gondolas plied the canals of Venice carrying goods and passengers across and around the city. Today there are roughly 400 of them and they are primarily used to ferry tourists. Though the number of gondolas is seemingly small the routes are limited. So you could find yourself in a prow to stern gaggle of gondolas – a veritable traffic jam!

The gondolas of today are all painted black as per the city’s regulations. However, many of them have colourful, individualistic and ornate decorations with comfortable seats, cushions and blankets.

The gondoliers have to wear a uniform of sorts, which are black pants, a striped (generally black and white) shirt and closed dark shoes. They also have a special hat but very often they don’t wear it. I suppose many a hat has been whipped off the gondolier’s head by the wind.

Not all gondoliers can sing nor are they required to. Some do but you may be disappointed by the results. Also it would be pretty hard to hear them over the chatting of your co-passengers and the calling and shouting among the other gondoliers. The night rides, though could be better for the singing. Some of them will give you information on the bridges and palaces of Venice as you pass them by.

Venice gondola rides are between 20 and 40 minutes duration. They also seat six people so if you are thinking ‘exclusive’ and romantic forget it as you will be sharing the boat with others.

The Grand Canal is perpetually crowded so take a ride along the quieter back canals, away from the more touristy places. It will give you a different view of Venice and a much better experience. Actually the smaller canals (you can touch the walls of the palazzos) will give you the feel of what makes Venice – Venice.

To hire a gondola to take you on the quieter routs look for one away from the main streets and the Grand Canal. If you have a particular route or places in mind then discuss it (and the price) clearly with the gondolier before you sit down.

Getting back to the singing gondoliers, several tour companies arrange a 40-minute Gondola Ride and Serenade. The glitch is that there is not one singer for each gondola. They travel in groups. Several gondolas will be listening to the same singer/musician as you glide along.  Another drawback is that you will be sharing the gondola with other people. So, maybe your Gregory Peck, Audrey Hepburn moment may not be the same.

The trickiest part is the fare. Gondola rides and fares are regulated. The standard day time 40 minute ride costs €80. The night ones are €100. However, you will be very lucky if you ever get one for those rates. Haven’t met or heard anyone who got a ride at the official rates.

This piece is not intended to turn you off a Venice gondola ride. You have to do it, no question. Just don’t go in starry-eyed.
 

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Touring Brussels’ Chocolate District

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Brussels Chocolate

Strolling through Brussels’ city centre on the chocolate trail has got to be one of the sweetest (pun fully intended) experiences of your life. Be prepared to have your sweet tooth totally saturated. Locally chocolate is often referred to as “Le Chocolat, L'Or Noir Des Bruxellois” or Chocolate, the Black Gold of the People of Brussels. The chocolate guided tour is a rather unique way to see and experience this self-proclaimed ‘chocolate capital of the world.

It is not all about titillating your mouth and filling up on the sinfully good stuff. If you take the four hour Brussels Walking and Chocolate Workshop Tour you will see and learn about the chocolate making process, the history of chocolate and even get to make some yourself under the guidance of a "Master Chocolatier". The tours generally take you to some of the premier chocolate shops in Brussels. A part of the tour experience is the free tasting of chocolate samples.

This is also pretty good tour because you see a whole lot of Brussels’ historical landmarks too including some very pretty art noveau houses. The old historic city centre of Brussels is livened up by the iconic and famous statute of Manneken Pis (Little Man Pee).

The statute, made from bronze, is part of a fountain depicting a naked little boy peeing into the basin. It was sculpted by Hiëronymus (Jerome) Duquesnoy and installed in 1618 or 1619. It is amazing how many folks from all over the world come to this see chubby little fellow and photograph his non-stop urinating. There will be lots of giggles! Oh yes replicas of the 2 foot tall boy can be found cast in chocolates and lollipops.

Just around the corner from little Mannekin is the Grand Place or Brussels’ central square. The area is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is enclosed by the Town Hall, The Breadhouse (King’s House) and a number of Guildhalls. Begun around the late 11th century with buildings being added at intervals, it was rebuilt after being destroyed by artillery fire in the 1700s. The Square, today, is a mix of Gothic, Baroque and Louis XIV styles. How it attained its current attraction despite the architectural mish-mash is a wonder.

Getting back to the chocolates… two stops are a must. One is a visit to Brussels’ oldest chocolate shop the Neuhaus. Started by Jean Neuhaus in 1857, they are the inventors of the praline or chocolate bonbon. The company is now a manufacturer of luxury chocolates, biscuits and ice-cream and the shop is bound to make your mouth water. If you make purchases here be ready to have your wallet emptied or credit card dented.

The other stop is the delightful Museum of Cocoa and Chocolate. They give you a history lesson on the origins of chocolate, the production process, chocolate sculptures and chocolate clothes. There are praline-making demonstrations several times a day so check for timings. The museum also contains and displays porcelain cans and cups relating to chocolate. The place is literally filled with the strong aroma of hot chocolate.

Tip
Most of the guides on these tours are supposed to be multilingual but you need to be clear when booking, which language you want or else you could find yourself in amongst a group that speak another tongue. The guide will obviously focus predominantly on them and you could be left out.
 

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Macau Travel Guide

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Macau

Macau’s skyline is spectacular! The myriad glittering commercial skyscrapers and glittering residential towers are like a futuristic sci-fi movie setting. At night the place turns into a modern fairy-tale land. However, little Macau is not all lights, steel and glass. There are lovely twisty cobbled-stone streets, old churches, colonial-style villas, temples and great eating places and cuisine. The first European community in China, Macau has a couple of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Some highlights of Macau’s sightseeing attractions are:

Historic Centre of Macau:  Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2005 because of a “meeting of aesthetic, cultural, architectural and technological influences from East and West.” The Centre is an attractive and unique mixture of Chinese and Portuguese cultures that includes monuments, streets, churches and temples.

One of the most outstanding examples is the ruins of St. Paul’s Church. These remnants are a collection of 16th century buildings that made up St. Pauls College and Cathedral. The detail on stone carvings and sculptures are remarkable for their beauty and intricacy. Other excellent specimens include the churches of St. Augustine, St. Lawrence and St. Joseph.

The statue of Kum Iam, dedicated to the Goddess of Mercy is a bronze statue, 66 feet (20 m) tall. Then there is the elegant A-Ma temple built in 1488 to honour Matsu, the Goddess of sailors and fishermen. Another lovely section is the charming cobblestone streets and quaint buildings shops leading in and out of Senado Square.

Macau Tower Convention & Entertainment Centre: Standing at 1,109 feet (338 metres) the Tower was modelled on Auckland, New Zealand’s Sky Tower. It has an observation deck, restaurant, theatres and shopping malls.  One can also do a Bungee jump from the Tower. It is also the world’s second highest commercial skyjump.

Casinos: Probably the biggest attraction, Macau’s casinos draw in the visitors from mainland China in their droves. Gambling is the largest revenue earner for this special administrative region (50% of the economy).The region has 33 casinos, which operate under government franchise. The three largest and most well known are The Venetian Macau, Casino Lisboa and the MGM Macau.

Grand Prix Circuit: You could stroll through some sections of the twisting and winding road route that makes up the famous and historic Macau Grand Prix. Known as the Guia Circuit, it is the site of one of the world’s oldest events on the racing calendar.

Eating: You cannot visit Macau without sampling some its cuisine. The region has evolved some unique dishes and locally specialised preparations that are a treat. The eating options range from the wide selection of street side eateries and take-away to the more formal restaurants. Whatever the choice, the food is really finger-licking delicious.

Macau is a small enclave but it has a world of experiences and sensations to offer to the visitor.
 

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Skiing in Rossland

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Skiing in Rossland; Credit - Alarobric

Deep in the heart of the Canadian Rockies sits the little big town of Rossland. Located in the Monashee Mountains, it was a former gold mining town. Rossland is just about 5 miles (8 kms) from the US and south-eastern British Columbia border. It is only a 2.5 hour drive from Spokane.

What is outstanding about this little nook in the mountains of West Kootenay is that it is a fabulous destination for all snow related sporting activities. The region is blessed with an annual snowfall of about 300 inches (750 cms). It is light, dry and powdery.  

The Rossland area offers nearly every grade of slope and trail for enthusiasts (professional and amateur) of hiking, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, ice skating, downhill skiing, snowboarding and cat-skiing. The diverse, challenging and magnificent terrain is magnet for many other sports fans too including mountain bikers. Of course the main activity is skiing.

The Rossland Ski area comprises of two main summits – Red Mountain and Granite Mountain. The base is 3,888 feet (1,185 metres) above sea level. It has a terrific vertical drop of 2,919 foot (884 metres). There are also superb glade tree skiing and wide-open groomed runs, terrain parks – all of which are easy to access.

Red and Granite Mountains are serviced by four chairlifts and a T-Bar. This affords nearly 4.5 square miles (6.8 square kilometres) of skiable area. Then there are vast skiable areas not serviced by chairlifts. Overall the Rossland Ski Area has more than 10 square miles (17 square kilometres) and 88 runs of for winter sport activities.

A third summit, Grey Mountain, is being expanded and developed. It should be ready for the 2013 season. That means there will be an additional 900 odd acres of ski slopes; a Sno-Cat shuttle and a quad chairlift.

Rossland is the oldest skiing area in North America. Skiing in Rossland has a history that is closely tied up with the Norwegians who came here during the gold rush of the 1890s.  Olaus Jeldness, a mining engineer, who came to Rossland in 1896, was responsible for starting and popularising the sport.

The first recorded skiing competitions in Canada were held here. These were held as part of the Winter Carnival, held from as early as 1896 until 1918. The Carnival still takes place every year.

The Rossland and Red Mountain region has been voted as “Best Powder,” “Best Steeps” and among “Top 5 Free Ride Spots.”  To cater to all the skiing enthusiasts and just plain holiday makers there are modern and fine ski schools, equipment rentals, free shuttle services, ski inns, cafes, spas and pubs.
 

Photo Credit: Alarobric

 

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Top 5 Reasons To Visit Belgium

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            Best known for it’s authentic beer, rich chocolate, and delightful waffles, Belgium’s food reputation over powers its historic character and diverse atmosphere. A destination filled with history, food, sightseeing, and relaxation, Belgium is one of Europe’s most unseen countries. If you are still contemplating on whether or not Belgium is for you, here are 5 reasons as to why Belgium is a must see European country.

1.     Notorious for it’s chocolates, waffles, and fries, Belgium has food that is easy to find in any other country but more authentic when found in Belgium. From unique fry toppings to flawless chocolate shops, the cultural food of Belgium is one of a kind.

2.     You might have tasted Belgian beer before in a country of your own, but nothing compares to an actual Belgian beer in Belgium! From strong beers that will knock you off your bar stool to over 400 different types of Beer at the Delirium bar, make sure you pace yourself when experiencing this part of the Belgian culture.

3.     Hidden in the shadows of Brussels, are the marvelous cities of Bruges and Ghent. Just a short train ride away from the countries capital, these two cities will astonish you with their medieval architecture and serene demeanor.

4.     Compared to Bruges and Ghent, Brussels is a modern city that not only is the capital of Belgium, but the European Union as well. However do not let its modernism fool you, Brussels has some medieval secrets of its own.

5.     Giving Berlin a bit of competition, Brussels’ nightlife has been emerging over the years. With many bars and restaurants open until 6 in the morning, you can find anything from tequila bars to seafood restaurants to put up camp for the night.

So before you plan your next trip to an overpopulated city or a remote island, think about the distinctive beers you can try in Brussels, the delectable chocolates in Bruges, the great waffles in Ghent, and the medieval secrets residing beneath your feet and book Belgium!

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Hiking in Vancouver

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Hiking in Lynn Valley

Vancouver has some of the best places to go hiking in Canada. This is mainly due to the availability of trails for all skill levels and interests – from seaside hiking to mountain hiking to urban wilderness hiking. Let's have a look at some of the interesting hiking places:

Stanley Park Seawall: The most famous place in Vancouver, Stanley Park is famous for its recreational facilities and its natural attributes. It attracts 8 million visitors a year – including locals and tourists. The Seawall stretches 8.8km and loops around Stanley Park, running along the park's northern, western and southern coastlines. The Seawall is fully-paved and is an ideal pathway for hikers of all skill levels. Its route is undoubtedly beautiful with views of the city, northern mountains, and Lion's Gate Bridge.

Lynn Canyon Park: The park has lots of free activities for all ages, including the suspension bridge, waterfalls, mini hikes, and a swimming hole – all connected by hiking trails. Its most famous feature is of course, the Lynn Canyon Suspension Bridge. The Suspension Bridge stretches 50 feet above the churning waters. The park also boasts of the popular Twin Falls, where a wooden bridge stretches over the river in view of the two gorgeous waterfalls. Another popular feature of the park, the 30 Foot Pool swimming holes is an ideal spot to keep cool in the summer months.

Burnaby Lake: A home to a large variety of wildlife – at least 70 species of birds making it their home – the lake occupies 3.11 square kilometres of land. The lake also has a 10km hiking path that loops around the entire park area.

Deer Lake: Located in the east of Vancouver is Deer Lake that offers nice scenery, a viewing tower, a beach area and pier. It is popular with locals walking dogs as well as for an afternoon stroll through the park. In the summer you can rent a boat, launch your own canoe or sailboat/rowboat on Deer Lake or enjoy sunbathing on the beach. There are also hundreds of rhododendrons blooming every spring.

Baden Powell Trail: Named after Lord Baden-Powell, the founder of the world Scouting Movement, the trail is about 48 kilometres long and has lots of switches. It extends from Horseshoe Bay in West Vancouver to Deep Cove in North Vancouver. The hike takes you through an amazing range of vegetation – Oaks, Jeffery pines, Sugar Pines, Incense Cedar, White Fir and Limber Pines etc.

Iona Beach Regional Park: Located north of Vancouver International Airport, the park is made up of a long, narrow jetty of sand and grass along the mouth of the Fraser River. You will have a fairly unobstructed view of the Georgia Straight. Sea birds are visible throughout the area as well.

So there, you have our best hiking places in Vancouver. What about yours? Do share us your favourite hiking places.

Happy Hiking!

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Christmas Shopping in the Fashion Capitals of the World

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The Christmas season is upon us once again, and you know what that means- shopping! No matter how much you love to shop, at this time of year, it can get tedious. But why not combine travel to a fantastic city with that little bit of pleasure and pain? Here are some great ideas for your Christmas shopping:

Paris: Paris is well known as the city of love and lights, but it is also one of the oldest cities in the world.  In the Antique Shopping tour, you can acquire little pieces of its past! This tour ensures you do not go into Paris to face the many shopping options alone. Your guide will pick a market in Paris for you to visit, where you can either enlist your guide’s help in shopping, or go around on your own. Whether you’re looking for antique furniture, jewellery, or clothing, you’re sure to find it while on this tour. Antique items make a great and unique Christmas present for anyone, and you will be satisfied with the great prices!

Dubai: Dubai is not an ancient city like Paris, but it has been climbing the ranks in one of the most fashionable cities in the world. So why not treat yourself with a shopping tour with an expert guide? This tour will take you to some of the best malls and souks where you can get some amazing bargains! You will not only get to visit the more conventional malls, but also the more traditional markets and really get a feel for the city of Dubai.

Milan: Everyone knows that Milan is the capital of fashion, but Serraville Outlet is the capital of brand names. It’s the first designer outlet in Italy and the largest in Europe, and only 50 minutes outside the fashion capital! It is a huge area with 180 shops and boutiques of the most prestigious brands in a very pleasing surrounding.

London:  I’ve only been in London for a couple of months, but I’ve noticed that Londoners love their markets! The markets are absolutely amazing and provide unique and great presents for family and friends, and at great prices! You also don’t have to brave these London markets on your own; a guide can be with you. What’s even better, the tour is not the same every day, so you can go on the same tour twice, but get two totally different experiences!

New York City: New York City is well known worldwide for being a great destination for tourists, business, food, and of course, shopping. So it is no surprise that there is a Fifth Avenue Shopping Tour! On this tour you get to visit some of the most popular stores in the Big Apple. Not only that, but an expert stylist is your tour guide- so you can get clothes that fit your body and budget! This tour also includes coffee and cake at the famous Trump Tower. No matter what place you decide to visit for your Christmas shopping, you can be guaranteed a great shopping experience, a beautiful city, and great tours besides!

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