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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 ‘Relaxation & Romance’

Ireland: Poetry In Everything

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Ireland inspires superlative, yet you will run out of them very quickly when trying to describe it.  It is an island whose beautiful countryside and long history have inspired more songs and poems than any other place on earth.  The green of this Emerald Isle is not just the colour of its landscape; it is an apt description of a jewel.

There is much to Ireland beyond her scenic wonders.  Ireland’s magic is also largely due to her history and culture.  It is a land of legends and mystery.  There is a story to every rock and glen and even more in the pubs!

Geography & Climate

Liffey River

Ireland has mountains running along most of its coast making a ring around a central plain and several lakes.  It has a number of rivers including the Liffey, Barrow, Boyne, Bann and Shannon which is the longest.  Ireland’s landscape has a range of moods such as wild Donegal, lonely Connemara and the soft, gentle hills of the southeast.  The western coast is famous for its rugged cliffs, islands and beaches.

Ireland has a relatively mild but very changeable climate because of the influence of the Atlantic Ocean, the Irish and the Celtic Seas.

Culture
Irish culture is broadly defined as being Gaelic but it is a combination of influences going back for more than 1200 years.  The Vikings, Normans, Welsh, English and Scots came, stayed and made significant imprints that are distinctively ‘Irish.’  Ireland has contributed mightily to the world but most extensively to literature, theatre and music.  Religion too has a strong sway on the Irish nation.  Thus, leading it to be called, “the island of saints and scholars.”

At almost any given time of the year, there are lively arts, theatre and music festivals in full swing – particularly in Dublin.  At almost every pub you will hear traditional (or “trad”) music full of upbeat jigs, clever lyrics and heart-tugging ballads.

Cities
Without exception Irish cities are beautiful.  They are packed with history, great architecture, pretty houses and winding cobblestoned streets making them sightseers’ and photographers’ treat.  Every city emits a lively atmosphere, has good food, warm, welcoming pubs and festivals aplenty.  The names themselves are poetry to the ears – Dublin, Cork, Kilkenny, Killarney, Galway, Sligo, Waterford, and of course Limerick.

Places to See

cliffs of moher ireland

Ireland has three World Heritage Sites: Brú na Boinne (superb Neolithic monuments), Skellig Michael and the Giant’s Causeway.  There are loads of other fabulous and fascinating locations to check out such as the Cliffs of Moher, the Aran Islands and County Galway.  Ireland is awash (forgive the expression) with impressive forts and castles.  Bunratty Castle, the Rock of Cashel, Holy Cross Abbey and Blarney Castle are just some outstanding structures and historically important. One could go on and on…

Best Time To Visit
Weather-wise, summer of course is the best time to travel to Ireland.  Also because it is the theatre, fashion, arts and music festival season.  However, late spring and early autumn are also lovely times on the island – without the crowds.
Whatever time of year you visit, a must-drink pint of Guinness at a thatched roofed pub; some trad music floating through the air; postcard scenery and you will find the Ireland you came to experience.

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Iceland: Travel Guide

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Iceland: where landscapes teem with hot springs and geysers, where wildlife is as interesting as in many equatorial regions, and where modern cities and captivating natural scenery meet. It is also arguably the country with most misleading name on the planet (although it may be a toss-up with Greenland). It appears the folk tale that Iceland was named as such to keep people from invading its beautiful landscapes reigns somewhat true, as far as those landscapes are concerned.

Anyone who has visited Iceland is likely to say that their trip is highly ranked in a list of all their travels, and there is no better time to go than in the summer when temperatures vary between 8°C at night and 15°C during the daytime! We’ve outlined five of the most spectacular places to visit and things to do in Iceland this summer:

Blue Lagoon

Blue Lagoon Blog

Hit the ground running as soon as you arrive in Iceland with a relaxing spa getaway at the Blue Lagoon! Sink into the reviving waters while wisps of steam dance on the surface, unwind under a soothing waterfall, or choose from a range of luxurious spa treatments. You can travel to the Blue Lagoon from the airport or from your hotel. There is no better way to combat the discomforts that come with international travel (jet lag, uncomfortable plane rides) than to soak your stresses away in Iceland’s famed geothermal hot springs at the Blue Lagoon Spa.

Golden Circle

Another must-do in Iceland is venturing along the Golden Circle rated as Iceland’s top attraction! This ever-popular sightseeing route showcases some of the most dramatic natural features of the ‘Land of Ice and Fire’ as well as important historic sites. Witness the majesty of Gullfoss waterfall and visit the geothermal areas of Geysir and Strokkur, where geysers and hot springs span across the landscape.

If you so desire (and we recommend it), you can even do Iceland in a Nutshell for a day on a visit to both the Blue Lagoon and Golden Circle!

Whale Watching

Whale Watching Blog

Although originally the only wildlife on land native to Iceland was the arctic fox, that is not the case with the sea life that fills the waters surrounding Iceland. Iceland whale watching is an incredibly popular pick for things to do while in this island country. Take an unforgettable boat ride on Faxaflói Bay and see whales, dolphins, and porpoises in their natural environment with a Whale Watching Tour, followed by a trip to the Blue Lagoon, because it is that good.

Reykjavik

What trip to any country is complete without a tour of its capital city? Iceland is no exception. Reykjavík city, also known, as “smoky bay”, is the world’s northernmost capital and is full of life at any time of the year! In order to get the most out of the city, we recommend taking the Reykjavik Sightseeing Tour. This tour is a detailed and comprehensive introduction to Reykjavik’s past and present and includes visits to the main landmarks.

Landmannalauger

Landmannalaugar blog

Lastly, explore the thrilling Wonders of Landmannalaugar on your trip to Iceland. Even in a country known worldwide for its beautiful scenery, the landscapes of Landmannalaugar are in a class of their own with the waterfalls, warm natural pools, and active volcanoes dotting the landscapes. Whether you are an adventure seeker, a nature lover, or a combination of the two, this is the tour for you!

Although Iceland is a fantastic country to visit year-round, there is no doubting that the weather in the summer provides a more pleasant atmosphere to enjoy all of the beauties offered to visitors by the natural landscapes that cover Iceland. Get going!

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4 Unusual Things To Do In Paris

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The usual path for most visitors to Paris is the Arc de Triomphe, Notre Dame Cathedral, with the Louvre, the Champs Élysées and the Eiffel Tower in between. While these are must-see and iconic sights there are other subtle and intriguing ways to see and experience the City of Lights. Such as…

Taking a Horse and Carriage Ride through Paris
It’s an absolutely regal experience! You feel like royalty riding in the beautiful polished open wooden carriage driven by a top-hatted, liveried guide handling the reins. The sound of the horse’s hooves clip-clopping along the streets of central Paris; people stopping to wave and photograph you along the way will transport you to a different world.

Horse Carriage Tour in Paris

That world is filled with the wonderful landmarks like the imposing Eiffel Tower and the grand and wonderful bridges of Pont Alexandre III and Pont de l’Alma. As you traverse the Avenue Montaigne and slowly ride past the Petit and Grand Palais’ and through the Champs de Mars you cannot help but feel a special affection for Paris!

The romanticism is heightened with a warm blanket covering your knees and a glass of bubbly champagne in your hand.

Taking a Wine Tasting Tour
Wine and Paris go together like bread and butter. Taking a wine tasting tour through this city combines two wonderful experiences – wine and unseen Paris. You will get an intimate feel that most visitors miss. Paris’ many bistros date back a long, long time and some of them are iconic. These traditional drinking and social gathering places with their tiled floors, wooden chairs, and old black and white photos on the wall will give a strong taste of what the real Paris is like.

Wine tasting

You lose your sense of time in the atmosphere in these surroundings. You almost feel history being played out when you walk past the Pantheon, or the 12th century Church of Saint Medard or the Church of Sainte Geneviève and its lovely stained glass windows. The wine and history are a heady combination!

Taking a Revolutionary Tour – Vive la Republic!
Paris, we all know, witnessed the creation of the modern ideal of government by the people. The birthing of these revolutionary concepts was long, often violent and bloody but led to significant and permanent changes in the world.

As you walk past the monuments and sites associated with the revolutionary period and the establishment of the Republics you cannot help but imagine those terrifying nights. The imposing Hotel Les Invalides, ransacked by the revolutionaries for guns and ammunition, which they then used to storm the Bastille, a symbol of oppression. The Conciergerie, Tuileries Palace and the Place de la Concorde will forever be connected with the beheadings of Marie Antointte, King Louis XVII and more than 2,000 others.

Paris at night

The most important site of all, of course, is the Assemblée Nationale, where the revolutionary parliament first held their deliberations and governed France.

Shopping For Antiques
You cannot come to Paris and leave without mementoes of your visit. Sadly most people end up buying cheap knock-offs of Eiffel Tower replicas and other touristy knick-knacks. What you should really do is check out the marvellous flea markets around Paris. The largest and most famous flea market in the world is the Les Puces de Saint-Ouen. It is also the world’s largest antique market.

Antiques

They are a shoppers’ and collectors’ paradise. You are very likely to pick up great bargains in antique furniture, art, decorative pieces, architectural elements, porcelain, vintage clothing, jewellery, bizarre items or anything else you can imagine. Or a treasure!

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Croatia – A Traveler’s Guide

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The Republic Of Croatia emerged in the late twentieth century from a tumultuous, violent and chaotic history.  Once part of the greater Republic of Yugoslavia, it has very quickly established its own authentic cultural and historic identity.  Croatia has that very rare quality.  It is a terrific mix of the ancient, medieval and modern with a good dollop of authenticity.

Geography
Croatia has a climate to die for, being Mediterranean in character and, moderated by the brilliant blue waters of the Adriatic Sea.  Thickly forested mountains and forests vie for attention with beaches, the sea and a thousand picturesque islands that cry out to be explored.  This treasure house has winding roads that go through the picture-postcard countryside and ancient pretty villages that haven’t changed in generations.

Places to See
Croatia has several fantastic national parks that are carefully protected. Plitvice Lakes National Park is a World Heritage Site.  These parks have spectacular scenery, achingly beautiful lakes, sparkling streams, musical waterfalls and are home to hundreds of bird species and numerous wild animals.

Plitvice

Croatia is wonderful but the southernmost county of Dubrovnik-Neretva is outstanding.  The region is an encapsulated and distilled version of all Croatia.  It has quiet villages; sheltered fishing hamlets; hidden coves; tiny secluded isles and some very, very beautiful and historic towns.

Dubrovnik, the county capital, known as the “pearl of the Adriatic” is a historic walled city and a World Heritage site.  The forts, gates, monuments, market places and 300 year old houses, still intact are a visitor’s delight.  The Renaissance era squares of the city are packed with historical gems like the 11th century Town Hall, the Sponza Palace, the Baroque Cathedral and its magnificent Treasury, the fortress-like Dominican Monastery and the Baroque Church of St Blaise.

Some of the most beautiful islands in the Adriatic Sea are just off Dubrovnik town.  Called the Elafiti Islands they can be reached (among other means) by taking a trip on an old time wooden Galleon.  Each island has its own unique attraction.  Kolocep has its carob and pine woods and neat citrus groves, while Sipan has medieval churches and the opulent summer palaces of Dubrovnik’s departed aristocracy.  Lopud is a bather’s dream with its bath-like waters and superb beaches.

Kor?ula Island is a short drive up the beautiful Adriatic Coast from Dubrovnik.  It has lovely forests, vineyards (wine tasting tours are popular here), colourful and lively markets, quaint timeless villages and sandy beaches.  It is easy to see why the ancient Greeks holidayed here.

Croatia small

Kor?ula has many superb Renaissance era architecture buildings.  The most notable is the 15th century Saint Mark’s Cathedral.  The island also has numerous Ancient Greek and Roman remains.  Korcula has unique folk traditions and festivals that show up in their dances, music and clothes.

Best time to travel
The ideal time to visit Croatia is between mid April to end September.  Croatia has managed to keep a check on mass tourism and there are plenty of budget options.

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5 Reasons Why You Should Visit Italy This Summer

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Summers might be a perfect time to sit and plan that vacation which is long overdue. While you are still thinking about where to head for that perfect holiday, why not give Italy a try? After all, there are few countries in the world that offer the kind of variety and diversity that Italy does, with its ancient history, majestic mountains, sumptuous cuisine and glittering coastlines.
Still undecided?  Let us help and give you 5 reasons on why Italy will be your best pick this summer.

 Venice Gondola Rides

Venice Hero Image
A Gondola ride is a must when in Venice. Take in the views and transcend to another era as you lie back on cushions and feel the rhythm and movement of intricate waterways. With a partner, nothing can be as romantic as cuddling up in the boat as it passes through the old Venetian towns. If you go solo, then all you would need is a nice, romantic novel.

Florence
If the heat is too overbearing, get indoors. With Brunelleschi’s masterpiece at the centre, a number of museums and monuments dominate the city. For art lovers, no European city can come close to Florence. Admire the vast art collection of Uffizi gallery or plan a visit to the Galleria dell’Accademia, renowned for being the home of the famous statue of David by Michelangelo.

Florence, Accademia Galary

You can also simply stand at the centre of the churches of San Lorenzo, Santo Spirito and the Cappella dei Pazzi, and feast your eyes by looking at the intricate frescoes painted by the Renaissance artists.
You will surely feel the chill in the heat, when you gaze at the vivid works of art.

For people who like to explore under the sun, head to the Cinque Terre, the five small ancient coastal villages, and see some of Italy’s finest scenery.

Pompeii

Pompeii Day
The recent movie Pompeii featuring Kit Harrington and Kiefer Sutherland brought the wrath of Mount Vesuvius live on screen. It took just one day – 24 August, 79 AD, for it to get buried for the next seventeen centuries, under the volcanic ashes of the fierce Mount Vesuvius. Visit the ruins and get a glimpse of the life led by the people of Pompeii before they were swallowed by the lava of Mount Vesuvius.

So, pick your sunglasses, an umbrella and explore the lost city. It is indeed a fulfilling summer retreat.

Rome

rome colosseum
One can be in loss of words while talking about this great city. Italy’s capital city is so vibrant that even if you spend months here, you will get the feeling that there is a nook or corner of the city which still remains unexplored. Its existence since time immemorial makes it unique and offers a diverse culture, a mélange of culinary wonders and a range of historical edifices like the mighty Colosseum, Vatican structures, Romanesque churches et al.

Tuscany

Tuscany
Leave the bustle of the city and escape to the glorious Tuscan countryside. Its quaint hill towns and lush vineyards, make it a popular summer destination. Also, it is in this season that you could be lucky enough to witness a series of local festivals, which are being celebrated through the ages.

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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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5 Must-Have Madrid Experiences

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Madrid is one of the prettiest cities in Europe. It has a wonderful mix of the modern and the historic with many classic buildings rubbing shoulders with the finest examples of modern architecture. The Manzanares River runs through its centre making it even more attractive.

Right from Roman times the city has been a colourful, vibrant and happening place. Performances of classical and rock music concerts, cultural festivals, artistic and fashion events are held quite frequently here. Sports, especially football, is given a lot of importance in Madrid. There is never a dull moment in this city and with so much on offer it can be difficult to decide on what to see and do.

Our pick of Madrid’s foremost activities and attractions should help you out.

Flamenco Dancing

flamenco twitter

This iconic Spanish art form should be on their postage stamps or currency notes. The body-swirling, foot-tapping, high-tempo, pulse-raising baile (dance) is dramatically enhanced by the music and rhythmic palmas (clapping). Once experienced, a flamenco show is never forgotten.

Madrid has hundreds of flamenco dance academies and many of them put on regular shows. Flamenco can be seen and heard in theatres, tablaos, taverns and bars so finding a performance is not a problem. A few places such as Corral de la Moreria, Cardamomo and Las Carboneras are deservedly famous for the quality of their performances. At one of these premier tablaos you can sit down to a plate of tapas, a glass of wine and soak in the flamenco atmosphere.

The Gardens of Madrid

Madrid has more than 33 million square metres dedicated to 40 parks and gardens. The amazing amount of acreage makes it Europe’s ‘greenest’ city. When the day grows warm, these oases provide a wonderful sanctuary from the sun. However, Madrid’s gardens contain some remarkable sculptures and statues making them open air museums and art galleries. Some also house aquariums and a planetarium.

While locals have their favourites, the larger and better known parks are El Retiro (with its own lake) and the Palace of Velasquez; Casa de Campo (Europe’s largest park), which encompasses the Madrid Zoo and an amusement park and the Campo del Moro and the Sabatini Gardens. The last mentioned are actually the Royal Gardens opened to the public in 1978. The beauty and diversity of Madrid’s gardens ensure that you come away with a hugely satisfying experience.

The Estadio Santiago Bernabéu

Bernabeu stadium

This enormous stadium (the second largest in Spain) is a temple to the beautiful game – football! Just as significantly it is home to the legendary Real Madrid Football Club. As one of the most famous and sought after football venues, the Bernabéu has seen many a thrilling competition finals including that of the 1982 FIFA World Cup.

Besides the magnificence of the stadium itself, there is a museum and gallery filled with portraits of past (and present) football greats, club trophies and a wide collection of memorabilia that recall glorious occasions from the club’s history.

The Prado Museum

Prado Museum Blog

The Museo del Prado is definitely one of Madrid’s finest attractions and one of the world’s greatest art galleries. The museum has a stunning collection of artworks for its visitors to enjoy. The museum is a magnificent 18th-century Neo-Classical building and houses some 7,600 paintings, 1,000 sculptures, 4,800 prints and 8,200 drawings.

This enormous collection includes masterpieces by Velasquez, Titian, Picasso, El Greco, Raphael, Rubens, Bosch, Dürer and Botticelli. The standout compilation, though, is by Goya. It is his works that make up a large part of the museum’s collection. The most famous (and controversial) Goya painting, The Naked Maja, hangs on the museum’s walls. This along with Velasquez’s Las Meninas is among the most popular works in the place.

Fiestas

Madrileños don’t need much of an excuse to get into party mode. And when they do, they dress up bright and fancy and give of their best. Some of the big festivities happen during celebrations for Dos de Mayo, San Antonio de la Florida and La Paloma. The largest and most frenetic festival is that of San Isidro (Madrid’s patron saint). Extravagant floats, bands, colourful costumes, street dancing and a series of bullfights are organised during the fiesta San Isidro.

Guaranteed great fun and excitement during all these celebrations!

Venga a Madrid!

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Ten Reasons To Visit Cairo

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Cairo is a bustling, vigorous city and touring it feels like a journey through time.   A modern city with ancient roots, it straddles the River Nile, blending the old and modern in exhilarating and surprising ways.  With so much to see and do, we thought a few helpful suggestions would come in handy.  Here are just some of Cairo’s exciting attractions.

The Great Pyramids
Great Sphinx and iconic Pyramids of Giza are the foremost reason people come to Cairo.   Those huge and amazing stone constructions, which are the only surviving wonders of the Ancient World, put you in awe of what the ancient ones achieved!  They are not very far from the city centre.  Go early in the day to avoid the crowds and the heat cause you want to have time to explore the chambers within the pyramids without being jostled.

GIZ6

Arabic Roots
Cairo wasn’t built in a day!  It took many centuries to come together and Fustat, founded in the 7th century AD, was the first Arab settlement in Egypt.  The remnants are on display in the Museum of Islamic Art.  They reveal just how influential that period was on today’s Cairo.

The Nile – Life-giver
For all its wonderful sights and monuments, nothing defines Cairo like the mighty Nile.  For thousands of years this waterway shaped and nourished civilizations and people; created a history and culture that is absolutely unique.  Herodotus called Egypt ‘the gift of the Nile.’  The river attracts romantic lovers to its banks every evening while visitors from far and close drift down on it in modern ferries, brightly lit cruisers or ageless feluccas.   A sunset viewed from a vessel on this timeless river; the soft glowing lights from countless minarets; a quiet time just drifting or enjoying a lovely dinner will give you a sense of what the Nile means and has meant to countless generations of Egyptians.  A generous giver indeed!

NILE4

Mosques & Minarets
You just cannot miss out on the Al-Azhar Mosque.  This magnificent complex with a vast marble paved interior courtyard and several iconic minarets exemplifies the very best in Islamic art and culture.  It also houses the Al-Azhar University of Cairo, the second oldest university in the world and an influential Islamic institution.  Islamic Cairo has the greatest concentration of historical monuments of Islamic architecture in the world. The hundreds of mosques are the reason why it is nicknamed “the city of a thousand minarets.”

Treasure Chest of History
Everything about The Museum of Egyptian Antiquities, commonly known as the Egyptian Museum is incredible.  It is the largest treasure house of ancient Egyptian antiquities in the world.  No visit to Cairo and Egypt is complete if you have not been to the Museum and gazed on the priceless, haunting golden face mask of Tutankhamen and other relics of a glorious past.

TUTANKAMON MASK
The Living Dead
This is like no housing colony you have ever seen!  Qarafa or the City of the Dead, a Necropolis is an amazing four mile area of tombs and mausoleums in Cairo.  Uniquely, the area is inhabited by a sizeable community of people.  It is not a creepy place to explore; rather it is quite an eye-opener.

Old Cairo – Really Old!
The Romans came, saw and made their mark.  Inveterate builders they left behind the Fortress of Babylon, the oldest structure in the city.  The Fortress sits in Coptic Cairo, which is at the very core and most intriguing part of Cairo providing a distinctly different environment that contributes and enhances Cairo’s diversity.

Symbol of Power
First built by Saladin between 1176 and 1183, the Cairo Citadel is a massive and imposing structure. Originally it was the site for a pavilion to catch the cool breezes.  The Citadel has gone through numerous changes, improvements and renovations – each one adding to its splendour and glory.  Its walls that once enclosed Cairo and Fustat, still dominate the Cairo skyline.  It is the most visited and impressive non-pharaonic monument.  A half day spent in its massive corridors and passages is well worth the time and effort.

Islamic Cairo1.jpg

Shop the Traditional way
Khan el-Khalili is an ancient bazaar dating back to 1385.  It is the most well-known and historic market in Africa and the Middle-East.  The intricate network of streets, lanes and alleyways are the romantic template of what a souq should look like.  Khan el-Khalili had such a stranglehold on the spice markets, that circumnavigators like Columbus were motivated to find alternate routes for goods from the East.  You will find everything from jeans and essential oils to expensive and cheap jewellery made of gold and silver.  You can pick up traditional Egyptian glass, accessories, T-shirts and unique souvenirs.  Remember to bargain and you will come away a very satisfied shopper.

Food
Cairo is not just about pharaohs, tombs, pyramids and mosques.  There is a tasty side to the city.  The cuisine, a product of geography, relies heavily on vegetables, legumes and grain grown in and around the Nile.  Egyptian food is justly famous because it incorporates contributions from all the different peoples and civilizations that came here.  It was then made it deliciously Egyptian.

For example Kushari, considered to be Egypt’s national dish is made from pasta, tomato sauce, rice, lentils, caramelized onions, garlic and chickpeas.  For over a hundred years, it has been the most popular food in Egypt.  However, it was brought in by the British army and relies on pasta from Italy, tomatoes from South America and rice from Asia.  The Egyptians mixed them all together into one amazing dish.  Similarly there are many, many such combinations and permutations.  Oh, the deserts, sweets and cakes are to die for.

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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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Enter our Valentine’s Day competition to win a £100 gift voucher!

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We think travel is best shared with those you love. What is the best trip you’ve ever taken with your significant other and why? Be it your partner, friend, mum or parrot, whoever you hold dear in the world – we want to hear from you.

Drop us a few lines at valentines@isango.com and you’ll enter the competition to win a £100 gift voucher to spend at isango.com. Share the love and surprise your loved one with a tour of your choice!

Competition closes on 14th February at noon. Winner will be announced on the same day. 

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