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Posts in ‘Isango’

Entertainment at the Benidorm Palace

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Night show at Benidorm Palace

Benidorm is a town that sits on the coast of Spain’s western Mediterranean region. It was once a sleepy fishing village. But today it is a whole different kettle of fish. It is now a playground with a large hotel and tourist industry catering to visitors who come for the beaches and the entertainment. Make no mistake entertainment is the main attraction here. And no one provides more excitement, razzmatazz and fun than the Benidorm Palace.

Benidorm Palace is a nightclub, cabaret, restaurant and variety show venue all rolled into one. Spending the evening and night there is a great way to get best of all entertainment worlds. The various acts and performances at the Benidorm Palace change every year, which is terrific because you are in for a different treat on every holiday. It has also earned itself the reputation of having one of the top shows in all of Europe.

The Palace is large, spacious and stunningly decorated (a trifle too loud for me – but then it is a nightclub!) and fitted out. It would seem that no expense was spared.   

The dances are spectacular with the beautiful exotic dancers feathered, fabulously costumed and most times topless (joy for the boys!). Shows typically last for about two and a half hours and feature several different acts. There are laser light shows, juggling feats and choreographed dances with styles including Flamenco and influences ranging from Ireland to Egypt. There are comedians, acrobats and live bands.

It would be advisable to make an advance reservation for a good table. Otherwise you could have a long wait to get it and that takes away from the fun. At €5 a head it may seem steep but the measure is worth the price as the place can get rather crowded and good viewing places can make the difference in your enjoyment.

Besides the regular entertainment the Benidorm Palace regularly engages a variety of top artistes from around the world to perform concerts. Do check before you go or you might find that you are not going to get the famous regular nightclub reviews.

A few tips to take into consideration in order to enhance your enjoyment. You get one free drink on your ticket – after that you pay. You could have a meal at the Benidorm but the food can be a bit of a mixed experience. It is sometimes excellent and other times the quality slips. It also takes a long time between ordering to arriving at your table. If you are vegetarian you could have a very restricted choice and you have to request it. The focus is non-vegetarian.

The Benidrom Palace opens on Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays all through the year. In the summer they also open on Wednesdays.

Doors Open at 8.30pm; dining commences at 9pm and its – Showtime at 10pm!
 

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Aguamar Water Park, Ibiza

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Aguamar Water Park

Ibiza is blessed with many beautiful sandy beaches and the glorious azure waters of the Western Mediterranean Sea lap its shores. So you have to ask yourself, what earthly reason could there be for spending a rather expensive day at a water park? The answer, for me at least, is that this Ibiza attraction is for the kids and young adults. And it has several conveniences that make for a pleasant (or exciting) day.

The park has a wide variety and levels of water slides and pools that will keep you occupied.  The Aguamar Waterpark has seven series of water slides for older children and adults.  Some are fairly regular in that they are straight and are a relatively gentle ride down. Then there are the water spewing, scream-inducing fast, twisty slides with unexpected corners that have you spinning around with your heart in your mouth.

They even have names for them, which are pretty indicative of what the slide has in store for you.  Judge for yourself – The Kamikazee, The Black Hole, The Spiral, Rio Ventura and Spiro Tubo – and ride. Then there are several gentler, smaller slides for the little ones. Just in case hurtling down a slide on your rear only to end up in a crazy frothy wet splash is not your idea of having fun, then you could just float or stroke around in the swimming pool.

The add-ons that give the Waterpark little edge over beach is the excellent bar and a cafeteria with a fairly interesting menu choice. A great thing (and a money-saver) is that they allow you to bring in your own lunch or snacks.

Another enticement that the park offers is that your ticket is valid for the whole day. That means you can wander off into Ibiza town or walk down to the beach and return later without having to pay admission again.

There is one hidden cost though that is not mentioned anywhere or told to you at the time you buy your ticket or enter the gates. After you have spent a couple of hours in the facility a member of the staff will approach you and charge you €2.50 for every sun bed you have taken! If you have gone with the family then it could seriously lighten the wallet. So be warned.

Taking all this into account, the Aguamar Waterpark is a great place to spend half a day and give the kids a good time.
 

Image credit: shelly-jo

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Touring Bangkok in a Tuk Tuk

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Bangkok Tuk-Tuk

Travelling in a tuk tuk through Bangkok at any time can be thrilling. Or it can turn out to be the nerve-wracking, white-knuckle experience of your life. Either way it won’t be dull. These three-wheeled motorised rickshaws, a World War II, throwback, is a fairly cheap way to get around the city. The drivers are somehow able to wriggle through Bangkok’s legendary stand-still traffic.

If you don’t have too much time to spend in Bangkok (a sacrilegious situation) then taking a half day (between 4 and 5 hours) tour of The Big Mango is the best way to get around and see the main sights and monuments. However, don’t try to randomly pick up one on the streets or at the tourist points or even worse let some friendly stranger (a tout in disguise) help you to hire one. The tuk tuk scams in Bangkok are legendary and can be quite distressing.

One of the best options is to walk into a large/brand name hotel and ask the concierge or the travel desk to hire one for you. The staff will get you a ‘reliable’ English speaking driver and the scam possibilities are reduced as they don’t want to get into trouble. The other option is to book the tour from your local travel agent before you leave home.

Anyway once you clamber aboard these iconic little Formula 1 wanna-be’s you will be in for an adventure. Weaving through traffic and the crowded lively back streets of Bangkok you will be taken to the Phra Sumeru Fortress, the Buddhist temple of Wat Po and the Golden Mount.  Along the way you have to spend a little time in colourful Little India, the Amulet Market and that of Woeng Nakom Kasem, the famous “thieves market.”

During any form of tour in Bangkok stopping at textile/cloth, gem and jewellery shops is like a rite of passage. There is no escaping this part of the sightseeing in the city – unless you walk around on your own. Even the itineraries of world-renowned tour companies will have an obligatory showroom/shop stop.

Sightseeing Bangkok in a tuk tuk is a different kettle of fish. There are innumerable scams that are aimed at getting you into gem stores, massage parlours or the like. If you are trapped by one of these sweet talking tuk tuk drivers you could wind up having a harrowing time at a store and bullied into buying some cheap stuff that you don’t really want.
 

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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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Things to see at the Alhambra

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Gardens of The Alhambra
The Alhambra is a beautiful collection of buildings and gardens. Its location is one of rare natural beauty that commands a view of the city and plains of Granada. It remains the most perfect example of Moorish art.
 
The Palace is made up of numerous beautiful courtyards, fountains and buildings that served as living quarters for monarchs. The shady tree-lined walks, abundant streams and fountains are blended with extraordinary architecture and embellishments.

Broadly speaking, the Alhambra is composed of three parts:  The Royal Palace, The Gardens of Generalife and the fortress of Alcazaba.

The Royal Palace, the most famous building of the complex, consists of the Mexuar – enclosing the striking Golden Room – where the sultans conducted every day business.  The Serallo, which served as a reception area and its very attractive Patio of Myrtles and its view of the Comares Tower, and the intriguing Lions' Court. The Hall of the Ambassadors is the largest and finest room in the palace, where King Fernando discussed Columbus’ attempt to find the sea route to India. The Palacios Nazaries is the high point of the palace. It has ensured that the entire edifice is one of the finest Islamic architectural compositions in Europe.

The inspiration for The Gardens of Generalife is supposed to be the Koranic description of Paradise. Running water and plenty of shaded areas together with all sorts of plants reminded the rulers of Granada of their past in the hot deserts of Africa. A 700 year old cypress tree shades The Patio of the Cypresses. The Walk of the Cascades consists of a superb piece of hydraulic engineering that has water flowing along a shaded staircase. The ticketed areas are basically the 'garden palace', but huge sections of the garden are free and don't require tickets. The gardens are absolutely gorgeous with all kind of herbs, roses and myriad scented plants and flowers growing. Water is a key theme.

The fortress of Alcazaba (the Citadel) is the oldest part of the Alhambra and consists of the impressive Torre de la Vela (watchtower).

The massive, if out of harmony, Carlos V Palace (Palacio de Carlos V) was built by destroying an original wing of the Alhambra. The building is of the Renaissance style and was built after the Reconquista (reconquest) by the Christians.

Overall this tour is a treat for gardeners: the designs are fantastic; the symmetrical Arab features have been copied around the world.

Tickets:  Are strictly limited, so booking in advance is highly recommended.

Night Visits:  Entry from 20:00 to 21:30 from November to February, 22:00 to 23:30 at all other times. Price: 12€
 

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Sightseeing in Amritsar

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Golden Temple
From a historical, architectural and religious perspective, there is plenty to see and admire in Amritsar. Two themes dominate this city’s cultural and historical landscape – war and the Sikh religion. Amritsar has a glorious history but it is of violence and spirituality. In this city, they do not seem at odds.

A vast majority of the monuments in the city are dedicated to religious events and incidents.  Many a religious shrine is a memorial to heroes and martyrs of various conflicts with the Afghans, Mughals and the British. The city is inextricably linked with Sikh religious and political history.

On another level it is also a hub of tourism in Punjab. Its commercial activities include light engineering, producing superb carpets and handicrafts. It is also a fabric manufacturing and farm producing centre.

The highlights of Amritsar’s sightseeing attractions include among others:

Golden Temple (Harmandir Sahib)
Inevitably this is the first and most visited site in Amritsar. The sheer beauty of the structure, its silvery holy water tank and marble walkways is worth every minute spent. The building is three storeys high with the first floor white marble. The upper two are gold plated and topped off with a dome shaped like an inverted lotus.

Akal Takht
Right next door to the Golden Temple is the Akal Takht, which is the temporal seat of the Sikh governing body. The Sikh Holy Book or the Adi Granth is housed on the ground floor and taken out in procession every morning to the Harmandir Sahib and returned at night.

Jubbi Trees
There are three ancient jujube (ber) trees within the precincts of the Golden Temple. Older than the temple there are stories attached to each of them and have individual names – Lachi Ber, Ber Baba Buddha Ji and Dukh Bhanjani Ber.

Wagah Border
Not strictly in Amritsar city, the Attari-Wagah Border post is 28 kilometres away. It is the border between India and Pakistan.There is a daily routine colourful flag-hoisting and lowering ceremony.  A barely suppressed aggressive and dramatic changing of the guard by army personnel of both countries adds plenty of interest to the proceedings.  

Jalianwala Bagh
An enclosed park, accessible only by a narrow lane, it is the site of the mass killing of Indians by General Dyer in 1919.  It contains the memorial and Martyrs’ Gallery, which is open every day from 9am to 5pm. The bullet-ridden walls stand as testimony of that gruesome day.

Maharaja Ranjit Singh Museum
A little distance from Amritsar’s main railway station are the Ram Bagh Gardens. They enclose the Maharaja Ranjit Singh Palace, which has been turned into a museum. There is a rather interesting bathing tank installed by a French General.

Durgiana Temple
Modelled on the nearby Golden Temple this massive 16th century Hindu temple is dedicated to the goddess Durga. The goddess Lakshmi and god Narayan are also worshipped. The temple sits in the middle of a lake.

The Old City
Amritsar’s Old city area is a revelation and a treat!  Its narrow streets date back to the 17th century with nothing having changed very much. It is divided into ‘katras’ or independently run units. Trades and crafts practised for centuries are still handed down from generation to generation. Entire streets with rows of shops are given to specialised trading and selling just one particular product. Some of the items are gold jewellery, steel and brass utensils, papads, Indian jams, pickles, dried mango slices, dry fruits and glass bangles.

There are more things and places to see in Amritsar. Take a walk around and discover your own particular gems.
 

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Cristo Redento Statue in Rio de Janeiro

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Cristo Redento

With wide eyes looking out from a serene art-deco concrete and soapstone face, Cristo Redento stares out across the vast urban sprawl that is Rio de Janeiro.  The statue faces Sugarloaf Mountain and Guanabara Bay while keeping an eye on the golden sands of Copacabana and Ipanema beaches.

The 30 metre tall statue of Christ the Redeemer stands at the top of Corcovado Mountain overlooking Rio de Janeiro.  Its arms spread out, symbolically embracing the whole world; the statue is the 5th largest, of Jesus, in the world.

Otherwise known as Christ the Redeemer, this icon of a city and symbol of a country is considered one of the new wonders of the world.  The panorama that the location affords is breathtaking for the two million people who make the trip up to the statue every year.

The idea of building a religious monument was first suggested, in the 1850s, to Princess Isabel of Spain by a Catholic priest, Father Pedro Maria Boss. It did not get very far. The statue idea came up again in the early twentieth century with several designs being put forth. The open-armed statue representing universal peace was chosen. The French-Polish sculptor Paul Londowski began sculpting it in 1922. It was completed in 1931 at the (then) cost of US $250,000 (equivalent to $3,200,000 in 2013).

In 2006, a chapel was built under the towering statue and its pedestal. It is dedicated to the patron saint of Brazil – Nossa Senhora Aparecida or "Our Lady of the Apparition".

The statue has been the target of nature and humans. In 2008 lightning struck it during an electrical storm. The head, fingers and eyebrows suffered damage. To repair it soapstone from the quarry where the original material was sourced was used. New lightning rods were installed.

Two years later Paulo Souza dos Santos, a house painter, took his trade a bit too far. He spray-painted graffiti on the statue’s head and right arm. He was arrested and convicted for his delinquent artistic ‘crime against the nation.’  Besides these two incidents, maintenance work needs to be regularly done because of the strong eroding winds to which the statue is subjected.

The statue has featured in several films including Alfred Hitchcock’s Notorious and numerous video games. It was controversially blown up in the disaster movie 2012. It also has songs dedicated to it.

Views of the statue and from it are spectacular and almost otherworldly – especially on cloudy nights. The face of the city is one of the most amazing structures and landmarks of the world.
 

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Two New Vatican Tours, Just in Time for the New Pope’s First Easter

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Well, Easter is over and that can only mean one thing for Pope Francis- relief. The newest pontiff conducted his first Easter Mass in front of over 250,000 people in St. Peter’s Square this past Sunday. Already unusual for following the first pope, Benedict XVI, to abdicate his position in over 700 years, the first Latin leader of the Catholic Church has further raised eyebrows when he visited a youth detention center in Rome to wash the feet of 12 children- including Muslims and girls on Holy Thursday. Previous popes had only performed this traditional Christian rite with other priests.

 

The Easter ceremonies in the Vatican are infamously gruelling, involving week-long celebrations that have the Pope ritually conducting masses and interacting with the worshippers. Processions, parade and ritual kept the pope and the many Vatican visitors busy throughout the holiday. Many have noted that Pope Francis has been characteristically energized for most of the ceremonies, choosing to speak outside of scheduled events even, in regards to battling poverty and promoting peace.

 

Still- it is unlikely that he will join in the traditional Easter celebrations that are held throughout Italy around the holiday. Instead, it is likely that Francis will continue to settle in to his new lifestyle and home in the Vatican. Surrounded by all that the neighborhood has to offer, from the St. Peter’s Basilica to the Square I can’t imagine he will be missing out!

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Delhi’s Spice Market

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Delhi Spice Market

Delhi’s spice market lies in Khari Baoli road in the old city. It is the quintessentially touristy picture of a bustling, crowded, colourful Eastern bazaar. I think it’s probably the original model for all bazaars of the world! Called Khari Baoli, the name has nothing to do with spice.  The place got its name from khari or khara (salty) and baoli (step well). There used to be a salty, brackish water well in the area. It was used for bathing only.

You need to have dancer’s feet and the alertness and agility of a cat when you go down to Delhi’s centuries old spice market. It is crowded and busy; a narrow street made narrower with sweating men pulling or pushing long, narrow barrows filled with sacks of produce.  You better watch your toes or you will have them trod and your elbows bruised.

The place is amazing, as sweaty labourers lift and carry sacks of stuff up dark, narrow stairs on to carts, long barrows and other transport vehicles. In a way, Delhi’s Spice Market – Khari Baoli – is a sensual place that strikes the nose and eyes. It is a place of kaleidoscopic colours and thousands of unrecognisable, exotic, exciting smells.

Khari Baoli is Asia’s largest spice market. It came up around 1650 when the Fatehpuri Masjid was built by one of the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan’s wives. The marvellous thing is that not much has changed in the centuries since. It is still manpower intensive. The trading methods are the same. The suppliers, traders, sellers and buyers have been in the trade for generations.

There is plenty of history here but of the hard-nosed kind. Transactions in this seemingly old-world, low-tech market run into the millions of rupees (or dollars). Even today, businessmen and traders come here from as far away as Jammu and Kashmir, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan. Everyone is looking for a good deal and the best bargains and get them. Technically it is a wholesale market but one can still buy small quantities for the home.

Occupying the western end of historic Chandni Chowk and the Red Fort, Khari Baoli is filled with the colours and aromas of myriad spices, chillies, lentils, chutneys, pickles, nuts, lotus seeds, dried mango slices, dried mushroom and teas. Items that, for centuries, have been transported to other parts of Asia and Europe by camel, horse and heaven knows what other transportation means. Just to add a bit of more spice to the locality, Delhi’s red light district (G.B. Road) operates at one end of the market.
 

Photo Credit: *_*

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