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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 ‘Sightseeing & Culture’

Diwali Lights Up The World

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Diwali, the festival of lights, is the largest in the Hindu calendar.  It is celebrated on a grand scale all across India.  On a religious level, Diwali is the celebration of the Hindu deity Ram and his victory over Ravan and symbolises the triumph of good over evil; light over darkness.

Among other things, it marks the beginning of the New Year – both fiscal and calendar.  It is a time when business people close their accounting books and invoke the blessings of Lakshmi – the goddess of wealth.  Each year Diwali’s popularity grows around the world with people of all faiths joining in enthusiastically.  This year Diwali will be celebrated on 23rd October 2014.

Such is the size of the Indian diaspora that Diwali is rapidly becoming a recognized national festival in many countries around the world.

Let’s take a quick whirl around the globe to see how Diwali is celebrated in some other countries.

 Diwali in Britain

Diwali in london

In Britain, where Indians are the second largest ethnic minority, the festival starts with Lakshmi pooja at the temple, blowing of the conch shell and other devotional rites.  Small oil lamps called diyas are put out on windowsills and doorways, which is a part of the Diwali traditions.  London usually puts on a big spectacle in Trafalgar Square with musicians and dancers performing on stage for free.  Diwali is also celebrated in the House of Commons.

Diwali in the United States of America

Another country with a very sizable Indian population is the United States.  The affluence of the Indian community is reflected in the grand scale that it is celebrated all across the country.  Traditional diyas are lit, Vedic mantras chanted and other ceremonies performed much like in India.

Diwali in Thailand

The Thai name for Diwali is Lam Kriyongh.  The Thai customs have their own local flavour.  The people make the diyas out of banana leaves and candles and float them on the river.  This provides a gentle and colourful spectacle.  Customarily sweets are also distributed.

 Diwali in South Africa

Home to one of the larger Indian communities the South African version of Diwali is pretty much the same as India.  However, since most of the Indians originally came from Gujarat and Tamil Nadu their celebrations more or less mimic their regional parent communities back in India.

 Diwali in Trinidad, Tobago and Guyana

Diwali (1)

Indians comprise a large percentage of the population of the Islands.  As such Diwali is a national holiday for these states with official functions and celebrations attended by government ministers.  Just like in India the festivities include, distribution of sweets, illuminating the inside and outside of houses, cleaning of houses and wearing of new clothes.

Diwali in Bali

While Indonesia is a Muslim dominated state, Bali is of a different texture – it is Hindu.  Several thousand temples dot the island, which are decorated and dressed with umbrellas placed in and around them.  Diwali is celebrated in much the same way as in India but with a delicacy all its own.

Diwali is also celebrated in Fiji, Malaysia, Nepal, Mauritius, Myanmar, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Japan and Australia.

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Amman – A City For All Ages

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Amman has been around ever since man settled and built communities.  It is one of the world’s few continuously occupied cities.  It would be true to say that this wonderful city has seen it all and been close to the centre for much of human history.

There are many splendid remnants of this cities long and colourful existence.  For a visitor that this is wonderful.  Like Rome, Amman was built on seven hills; however it has grown to take in 19 today! Amman’s great feat has been to incorporate and blend the ancient with the modern.

Amman is a hilly city with traditionally white stone houses, kebab stalls and tiny cafés perched along steep, winding cobbled stoned streets. The area evokes imagery from Arabian folk tales.  It is also a city of towering, shimmering, glass skyscrapers, modern thoroughfares and brightly lit shopping malls.

The part that attracts the visitor is the el-Balad (downtown eastern Amman).  It is the older part of the city and the location holds many historical attractions.  Here one will find the Citadel on Amman’s highest hill, this is the location of ancient Rabath-Ammon and many other buildings within its walls.  The hill has been used for thousands of years stretching back beyond the Bronze and Iron Ages.

Remnants of Roman and Byzantine periods are plentiful.  The most impressive building is the 8th century Umayyad Palace.  Another building of interest is the National Archaeological Museum, which houses artefacts from every civilisation and period of Amman’s past.  It is also the home of the famed Dead Sea Scrolls.  Just to the north of the museum are the striking pillars of the Roman Temple of Hercules.

Another dramatic structure in Downtown Amman is the Roman Theatre.  It is cut and built into the hillside.  It is huge with a capacity for 6,000 people and its magnificent acoustics allow spectators sitting in the highest seats (still called “The Gods”) to hear even a whisper of the actors below.  It is still occasionally used for performances.

Not to be missed is the striking blue-domed King Abdullah I Mosque.  It is the only mosque in Amman where non-Muslims are welcome.  Another lovely mosque, in the western part of Amman, is the King Hussein Bin Talal Mosque.  It is a wonderful example of modern Islamic architecture.  Besides the rich vein of historical and archaeological sites there are plenty of art galleries and antique shops.

The Western section of Amman is a lively, modern city with shopping malls.  Amman is also one of the emerging world cities with an unrivalled economic growth index and multinational corporate activity.

Added to her attractions, the city enjoys a relatively temperate climate with September probably the best time to visit.

Once you have had your fill of Amman city there are other amazing places, close by, that are must-see.  The likes of Petra, the Dead Sea, Bethany (site of Jesus’ baptism), the gorgeous Wadi Rum, Jerash and Pella are also worth a trip.

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Morocco Travel Guide

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Morocco is every tourist’s dream. It is exotic, exciting and unpredictable.  It is a land of outstanding beauty – both the rugged and picture postcard kind – attracting adventure enthusiasts, seekers of the unusual, foodies and the regular ‘been there, seen it’ types.  Vast stretches of desert sands compete with the fabulous beaches on the Atlantic and Mediterranean, deep wooded valleys and orchards.  The tall craggy Atlas Mountains contrast beautifully with the green and flower bedecked Rif Mountains.  Morocco is also blessed with weather that is wide and varied.

Many of the sights, sounds and activities on offer are in or fairly close to Morocco’s cities.

Marrakech

To the Berbers Marrakech is the “Land of God” and it is easy to see why. The nearby Atlas Mountains dominate the skyline and the true Sahara is not far away.  To Europeans, Persians and Asians, it is still Morocco. Marrakech’s magic is its seamless blending and fusing of myriad influences and cultures.  For instance the elegant and towering Koutoubia Minaret, so symbolic of Marrakesh, it is a mix of Moorish and Andalusian architectural styles.  So are the 16th century Saadian Tombs, the Private Museum and Bahia Palace.

The raucous calls of food stall owners vie with the castanets of the water-sellers.  The attention-grabbing snake charmers, acrobats, dancers and other entertainers battle potion-sellers at the world famous Djemaa el Fna Square.  The aroma of spices wafts through the air along with scent of the mouth-watering street food that stays with you long after you have left the country.

The labyrinth souk alleyways are crammed with shops and stalls selling everything from hand-crafted Moroccan goods such as babouche slippers, woodworks, brass works, ironworks, bronze works, jewellery, kaftans, carpets, spices, and pottery. You will find the best leather, antiques and hand crafted gold jewellery.  Amidst all this, there are beautiful landscaped gardens filled with fruit trees and flowering shrubs.

saadin tombs

Agadir

Agadir is considered the gateway to the tall rugged Atlas Mountains, which are only a short distance away.  Tucked into their rocky folds is the breathtaking and untouched beauty of Paradise Valley.  The word Agadir in Berber means “wall enclosing a fortress or town”.  Part of the original fortress still remains at the top of the hill just outside the current city.

Agadir has gained a reputation of being a resort town with visitors from all over Europe descending upon it.  One of its major attractions is a fabulous 10km long beach/bay and a carefully planned waterfront promenade.  The weather is magnificent all year round and so is the surfing.  This in turn has spawned a large surfing community of schools and camps.  Agadir offers plenty of cafés, bars and live music and the evenings are great for unwinding after a hard days touring.

atlas mountains

Fez

If ever a place really deserved the adjective ‘legendary’ it is Fez!  More than 1200 years old it was the ancient capital of Morocco and is home to the world’s oldest university – Qarawiyyin.  Its ancient roots still exist in the walled city and the twisting, complex maze-like lanes of the medina Fez el-Bali.  Here goods are still transported by donkeys and handcarts adding to its timeless atmosphere.Fez has the best examples of ancient Islamic arts and architecture preserved in the 14th century Bou Inania Madersa (a college), two forts (Borj Nord and Borj Sud), the Merenid Tombs and the Moulay Idriss II tomb.

Fez

Tangier

Tangier is where the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea meet.  This beautiful city, also known as White City, has been the playground of millionaires and the retreat of writers for over a century.  It exudes charm and sophistication aided by beautiful beaches and a vibrant beach café culture.

Tangier’s various cultural influences abound in its architecture and nightlife.  There are many excellent restaurants serving a wide range of cuisines, street cafés, attractive bars and interesting cabarets. The Grand Socco is a great market where you can get nearly everything you could think of and the surrounding Mendoubia Gardens are an inviting place to spend an afternoon.

Not far out of town are the Caves of Hercules.  It is supposed to be the place that the mythical hero rests while on his labours.

Tangier

Casablanca

Casablanca is a European city transplanted to North Africa.  The architecture is a mix between French Colonial and Moorish.  It is a very cosmopolitan and liberal place with French still widely spoken.  Originally built by Berber fishermen in the 10th century it has been visited and ruled by the Phoenicians, Romans, Portuguese and the French.

Casablanca is Morocco’s largest city and economic capital.  One of its most notable features is the Hassan II Mosque and its 210-metre minaret is the world’s tallest.  Another man-made marvel is the port, which is the largest artificial port in the world. With all of this and the mild Mediterranean climate Casablanca attracts visitors all year.

 

 

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5 Things You Can Do In Sydney Under AUD50

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Sydney is one of the world’s most exciting, multi-cultural and best looking cities in the world.  There is always something happening no matter what your interests and objectives are.  You could see a show at the Sydney Opera House, take a harbour cruise, visit Madame Tussauds, take a walking tour or head off up to the mountains to enjoy the views there.

You don’t need a large wallet to do these things.  isango! brings you 5 activities that you can do in Sydney under AUD50.

Sydney Opera House Tour

Opers house sydney

This tour of one of the most iconic buildings in the world is an eye-opener.  Your perspective will be from the inside out.  Did you know that the Sydney Opera House became a UNESCO World Heritage Site on 28 June 2007?  Your guide will take you through the interior of the Sydney Opera House giving the facts, figures and drama that make up the story behind it.  You will see the 10,000 pipe Grand Organ, the Concert Hall and the massive glass windows of the Opera Wing that give you unbeatable views of Sydney Harbour.  Sydney Opera House comprises of multiple performance venues that hold about 2,500 performances every year.

Sydney Harbour Cruise
Get on board your ship at the famous Circular Quay and set out for an hour and a half of sheer night-time Sydney magic.  After a hard day of sightseeing it will be great to sit down and relax with a refreshing drink in hand.  Start your Sydney evening with a sunset cruise across the city’s world famous harbour.  Your cruise ship will drift smoothly past some of Sydney’s iconic sights such as the Sydney Opera House and under the unmistakable Sydney Harbour Bridge.  All of them enchantingly lit up.

Madame Tussauds

madame tussauds sydney

Where else could you get up close and cuddly with the likes of Nicole Kidman, Leonardo DiCaprio, Albert Einstien, Ned Kelly, Captain Cook or Marilyn Monroe?  Maybe even sit next to Queen Elizabeth II?  Only at the newly opened Madame Tussauds Darling Harbour branch, Sydney of course!

Once again Madame Tussauds’ unbelievably real wax models provides an eclectic mix of stars from history, sport, film, music, culture and science.  With 75 iconic personalities from the past and present you won’t get a better opportunity to interact, mingle and pose with your favourite celeb.

Kings Cross Razorhurst Walking Tour
What a time!  What an era!  Sydney in the 1920s and 30s was a heck of a town.  Explore that seamy, violent underworld driven period when Tilly Devine, Kate Leigh and Nellie Cameron ruled most of Sydney through their razor-wielding henchmen.

Your Razorhurst tour will take you to the places where these ‘ladies’ operated.  Kate Leigh ran more than 20 sly groggeries.  Tilly famed as the ‘Queen of the Bordellos’ ran the biggest and most profitable brothel network in Sydney while Nellie Cameron refined the art of ‘gingering.’  For two hours you will learn about a Sydney that very few Sydneysiders know.

Hop-on-Hop-off Blue Mountain Explorer Bus Tour

Blue mountains sydney

After the frenetic pace of Sydney you should take off for an easy, relaxed trip to the fabled Blue Mountains.  On a clear day you can see them from Sydney – inviting you to explore.  Declared a World Heritage site, a visit to the Blue Mountains National Park is a perfect day trip.

The best option is the Hop-on Hop-off Bus Tour.  You drive through some magnificent country with the option of stopping off so you can explore tempting forest trails, plunging waterfalls and a ride on the Katoomba Scenic Railway – the steepest in the world.  Then there are the towering Three Sisters and the Everglades Gardens to make your day full, wonderful and totally idyllic.

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5 Of Bali’s Most Interesting Temples

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There are an estimated 10,000 (or even 20,000) temples in Bali.  There is one at every turn and corner.  You will also find that Balinese temples come in an amazing variety of sizes and descriptions – from tiny little personal shrines to large elaborate complexes.  There are “puras” (Balinese for temple) on the top of rugged cliffs, besides lakes, in the middle of lakes, in the midst of jungles, in caves, at the seaside and on islands.  So it is no wonder Bali is called “the island of a thousand puras.”

Here is a selection we found fascinating.

Pura Besakih

Besakih Temple Bali

This is Bali’s holiest and largest temple.  Considered the “Mother Temple,” Pura Besakih is actually a grouping of 23 temples and pavilions.  The temples are situated near the village of Besakih on the slopes of Mt. Agung, Bali’s largest volcano and tallest mountain.  Many of the temples are over 1,000 years old and serve different purposes.  The largest and main one, Pura Penataran Agung, is really impressive as its meru (tower) consists of six levels.

Pura Taman Ayun
Pura Tamn Ayun was built by King I Gusti Agung Putu of the Mengwi Empire in 1634. It is a Royal Family temple.  Its name means “beautiful garden” and fittingly so.  It is definitely one of the loveliest temples in Bali.

It has a moat around it, a picturesque landscaped courtyard, gardens and merus rising up several levels within its precincts.

Pura Goa Lawah (Bat Cave Temple)

Goa Lawah Temple Bali

This temple is radically different from the others in Bali.  It is a cave temple.  It has inherited its name from the thousands of bats that inhabit it.  The temple is also a preferred cremation site for the Balinese.  Bathing in the temple’s pool is supposed to purify worshippers.   Located in south eastern Bali, it was established as a temple early in the 11th century.

Pura Luhur Lempuyang
Luhur Lempuyang is not on the regular tourist trail but it is definitely worth a visit.  For the Balinese, it is an important shrine because it is one of the six “temples of the world” (sad kahyangan) and one of the nine directional temples offering a defense against evil spirits.

To get to the temple visitors and worshippers have to walk up 1,700 steps cut into the mountainside with a jungle all around.  Once atop, the location also provides some really awesome views of the island.

Pura Tanah Lot

Pura Tanah Lot Bali

This temple has a spectacular setting.  It sits on a rock outcrop just off the shore, in the sea.  Its name aptly means “land in the middle of the sea.”  It is also a very pretty one, especially at sunset when it can turn magical.  You can only get to it at low tide.  It was built in the 15th century by local fishermen under the guidance of the priest Niratha.

Dress Tips
Balinese temples are functioning places of worship and it would be advisable and respectful to dress properly when entering any one of them.  Legs should be covered and tops should not be too revealing.  You may have to wear a sash in some temples, which you can rent at the entrance.  Sarongs are also available to cover the legs.

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Cappadocia: An Astounding Oddity

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Located in the Anatolian region of Turkey, Cappadocia is an unusual and truly unique area. It is a rugged land of deep ravines, bizarrely shaped rocks, cliffs and pinnacles that don’t look earth-like. It is an extraordinary landscape that will make your jaw drop and imagination lift off.

Here are some interesting facts about this odd place that seems to have come straight out of a sci-fi movie. Human imagination, though, would find it difficult to conjure up such a setting.

Fairy Chimneys Cappadocia

Name Calling

Cappadocia has been known by several names through the centuries. The ancient Scythians called it Khepatukha, meaning “the country of the people of the great god Hepat.” One can hear echoes of that name in the present one. The early Persians called it Katpatuka, which is thought to mean “the land of the beautiful horses.” The name could also have come from the Hittites, who ruled this area, meaning “low country.”

The Ancient Greeks gave it their version and called it Kappadokia. When the Christians came along it was renamed Cappadocia, which is the widely used name today. The locals however still call it Kapadokya.

Home

Despite the harshness of the area Cappadocia has been important in the history of the region and human beings have lived here for a long, long time. The rock is volcanic and soft, ideal for tunneling and carving. Complementing the work of nature, humans have cut and burrowed a vast network of living quarters, monasteries, churches, stables, and storehouses. So extensive are the connections that they have formed entire towns with as many as eight underground stories. Some of these amazing underground cities are Derinkuyu, Ihlara Valley, Selime, Kaymakli and Belisirma.

Surprisingly this moon-land has excellent agricultural soil. Many vegetables and fruit are grown here. It is also the main grape-growing area for the Anatolian region with many prolific vineyards.

and Sanctuary

It used to be on the boundaries of one the of the Greek, Persian and Roman empires. These competing powers created an unsettled situation for the Cappadocians who needed a refuge and found them by tunneling into the rock itself. The inhospitable landscape and isolation were perfect conditions that kept them safe from outside power struggles.

The early Christians also escaped to this place to shelter from the persecution of the Roman Empire. They created a large defence network of traps leading to their caves and in them too. The traps included large round stones that could block doors and ceiling holes from which they could hurl spears and other weapons on attackers.

Fairyland

The Cappadocian region is made up of sedimentary rocks and also material from volcanoes of 9 million years ago. The land has been eroded by strong winds and water action into amazing shapes. The harder elements of the rock have turned into pillars, minaret-like towers, cones, pinnacles, fairytale chimneys (over 130 feet tall) and mushrooms. Nature’s handiwork has been added to by humans.

Cappadocia turkey

Such has been the forces – human and nature – at work that the area has been declared a World Heritage site. Nature continues to do its magic, converting human action into more magical conditions.

Cappadocia in the Movies

The extraordinary topography and landscape of Cappadocia has made it a cinematic magnet for many filmmakers from across the world. So far more than 193 movies, shows, series and documentary films of 32 countries have been shot here.

The Turks do a lot of shooting here and so do the Japanese. Some of the notable films using Cappadocia as a location are Nicolas Cage’s Ghost Rider II, Jean Reno’s Empire of the Wolves, the sci-fi movie Slipstream and Pasolini’s Medea. The region also features in many popular video games such as Vampire: The Masquerade, and Assassin’s Creed.

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What’s New On isango! – August 2014

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Well, the travel season has really taken off and isango! has some fine offerings for you to check out.  So pack up your travel bags and come fly with us to a variety of destinations around the world.

Vienna Evening Bike Tour
Vienna has managed to preserve its architectural landmarks that make it such a charming city.  One is swept away to an older elegant time after walking or cycling down its unsullied boulevards.  The beauty of the Ringstrasse, flanked by an unbroken stretch of magnificent buildings including the Burgtheater, is matched by the unhurried flow of water in the Donaukanal or the soaring spires of St. Stephen’s Cathedral.

The Historic Centre is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  Once, the capital of the Hapsburg dynasty, Vienna retains much of the cultural cross pollination of its heyday.  Its imperial past is there for all to see, especially in such fine buildings as the Oper and the Börse.  All these are illuminated in the evening adding to their appeal.

The Singapore Flyer with Free Hop-On Hop-Off ticket
Getting on the Singapore Flyer is really going for the heights.  Till just a short while ago, it was the tallest observation wheel in the world.  It has now achieved the status of a Singapore icon.  With 28 air-conditioned capsules mounted outboard, you enjoy unobstructed views on the entire 32 minute ride.

Singapore Flyer 1

The best time to ride the Flyer is probably around sunset when the light gives the skyscrapers a mystic feel.  The Flyer is the best place to see and get a feel for the beauty of Singapore.  As a bonus you get views of Malaysia and Indonesia. Also, you get a free Hop-On Hop-Off Sightseeing pass with this tour!

Sydney Harbour Tall Ship “Convict” Cruise
This tour is not what it sounds like.  You don’t sweat it out in the galley.  You get to do it in style with a glass of champagne, wine or beer and a grand buffet lunch while sailing past Sydney’s magnificent skyline in a genuine 1850s tall ship.

Sydney harbour convict cruise

The journey around beautiful Sydney harbour also includes a tour of Goat Island, which witnessed important events in Sydney’s history.  Your guide will give you very entertaining and interesting facts about the history of the convicts.

At the Top: Burj Khalifa
The view of Dubai and the surrounding area is simply spectacular from the 124th floor of the world’s tallest man-made structure.  In conjunction with the other attractions, the Burj Khalifa has put Dubai on the world tourism map.  Even the journey to the top of the building is an adventure.  From the reception you get on to a ‘travelator.’  This 65 metre trip is a history lesson of Dubai.  The ascent to the observation deck is via a high-speed elevator that does funny things to your tummy.

burj khalifa day 1

The Burj is an engineering and urban masterpiece.  Once you are on the observation deck and looking at the vista spread out, you get a real understanding of Dubai’s remarkable vision and achievements.

Lunch at the Berlin TV Tower
One of the really great places to see all of Berlin is from the TV Tower.  The tower (also known as the Berliner Fernsehturm) is the city’s tallest structure at 368 metres.  There is a panoramic viewing level at 203 metres that gives you a fabulous view of Berlin.

Another great and unforgettable experience is to sit down and have a meal at the elegant revolving restaurant.  Located just above the viewing area, the restaurant revolves once every hour – just the right amount of time for you to have your meal and admire Berlin from your table.

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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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Greece – An Enchanting Palette

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Greece is like a painter’s palette with (to my mind) two primary colours – astounding natural beauty and four thousand years of history. Mix and blend these two and you get an incredible rainbow of idyllic landscapes, a sophisticated yet languorous culture, artistic and architectural treasures, superb food, great wines and a warm friendly people.

Greece is the oldest tourist destination and has been since before the rise of Rome. It still remains one of the world’s most popular travel destinations.

Natural Features

Broadly speaking Greece consists of the mountainous mainland and thousands of islands.

The Mainland

Eighty percent of Greece is mountainous. Mytikas (9,570 feet) is the highest peak and also the location of the mythical Mount Olympus – home of the Greek Gods. The northern mainland portion is defined by majestic mountains and abundant forests. The central and southern region has vast distinctive wine-producing valleys and olive orchards. Not commonly known is that Greece has some of the best skiing slopes in Europe. The rugged landscape also offers great hiking and rafting opportunities.

The Islands

If ever the colour blue was considered an invention, then the waters around its islands would surely be the place it was created. At last count, there were between 1,200 and 6,000 islands in the Greek archipelagos. The number depends on how you describe an island because many are just rocks thrusting straight out of the water. That aside, 227 of the isles are inhabited with Crete being the largest followed by Euboea, Rhodes and Lesbos.

The Greek islands comprise of seven groupings – the Peloponnese, the Argo-Saronic Islands, the Cyclades, the Dodecanese, the East and North Aegean, the Sporades and Évvia, the Ionian Islands – and Crete. Whatever their location or size, the islands are epitomized by clear blue waters, dazzling white sandy beaches and idyllic villages.

The Cities

Greek cities are widely disparate. Each one is uniquely different from the other. Athens, sophisticated, modern yet firmly rooted in its magnificent past. The mother of western civilization, it is a treasure house. The Acropolis, the Parthenon and the Temple of Zeus are still its dominant landmarks.

Thessaloniki, Greece’s second largest metropolis, in the north, is crammed with Byzantine monuments while elegant Corfu is reminiscent of Venice. Rhodes is renowned for the Colossus, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. The city is now home to the best preserved medieval town in Europe, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Culture

Four millennia of history and legend have made Greece a delectable melting pot. Starting from the Minoans, Romans, Arabs, Latin Crusaders, Venetians, Slavs, Albanians and the Turks, all have left their mark, and almost every town or village has a link to the past. The Greek experience is also about food, which is fresh, uncomplicated, simple and fulfilling just like the warm, genuine and welcoming people.

Festivals

Greece may not be as famous as some other countries for festivals but happily you will never lack one on your visit. Greek festivals are religious based and the largest one is Easter, which does not coincide with the rest of the Christian world. The Good Friday, Saturday night vigil, climaxed by a glorious midnight mass is memorable for the beautiful and moving rituals. If you find yourself in a small town or village the people will warmly include you in the days of feasting and celebration that follow.

Another reason for festivities (paniyíria) is when towns or villages celebrate the local patron saint. There is plenty of music, dancing and drinking that accompany these celebrations. With 330 in the Greek saintly pantheon, the chances of you getting to participate or witness such a happy event are really good.

Weather

Even with the weather, the Gods played favourites and gave Greece the balmiest and gentlest of climates. When exploring the islands, the best time to visit Greece is from mid-to-late May up to the end of August. Though, it is still excellent during September. May is perhaps the best time to visit the Peloponnese and Cyclades islands but the waters will be rather cool.

The northern mountains are usually covered with snow by early November and lasts till May. The long winter makes for great snow sports and skiing conditions.

Off season travel services and facilities are reduced but fear not for you will find at least a couple of hotels and taverns open in any but the smallest town.

Greece will surprise and you are bound to discover something terrific in this land of incredible historic sites, gorgeous beaches and imposing mountains.

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5 Fantastic Pop Culture Tours Of London

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With iconic sights like the Buckingham Palace and Big Ben, travelers visiting London often pack their entire trips with popular sights before they even arrive. But London isn’t just the city of unflinching guards, crown jewels, and enormous clock towers. It is the city of dueling wizards, dwindling aristocracy, and names and faces that the public will always be interested in. London is a city of pop culture, and it offers travelers a chance to interact with the stories and people they know and love through its numerous London attraction tours.

Harry Potter

Arguably the most popular of London’s pop culture attractions is its handful of Harry Potter tours. There are two different tours that allow both long-time and new fans to experience the magic that is the world of Harry Potter.

Harry Potter

Visit the bridge destroyed by death eaters in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, see the famed Platform 9 & ¾, and discover numerous other notable locations along the way on a tour of London. See the magic that lies hidden in plain sight all around London! Participants can take the Harry Potter Walking Tour of London or the Harry Potter Bus Tour of London.

On the Harry Potter Warner Bros. Studio Tour, visitors can go behind scenes to view sets, props, and costumes from the record-breaking Harry Potter movies. There’s nothing quite as surreal for a fan of the series as seeing the Great Hall, Dumbledore?s office, the Ministry of Magic, and more. This Harry Potter tour includes transportation by coach to and from London.

Downton Abbey

Downton Abbey

The Oxford and Downton Abbey Film Locations Tour is a must-do for fans of the hit period drama series Downton Abbey. Not only will you be able to see the iconic sights from the series, but you will also explore some of the most beautiful parts of UK. This tour from London takes you on a picturesque journey to Oxford, Bampton Village, where most of the outdoor scenes have been shot, and Basildon Park, where you will see Grantham House from the Downton Abbey Christmas Special episode. This Downton Abbey tour will satisfy even the most dedicated of fans.

Jack the Ripper

Jack the Ripper

If you are looking for a thrill while in London, embark on the chilling Ghosts of London and Jack the Ripper Tour. This tour is great for both London locals and incoming travelers. You will get goose-bumps when you see London’s most ghostly places, visit a haunted London pub, and see where Jack the Ripper murdered his victims. After this tour, you can consider yourself bravest of all your friends, and share your chilling and exciting stories with whomever you’d like. There is no better thrilling London tour!

Celebrities of London

Sherlock

Celebrity experts and novices alike agree that London is the place to be in Europe to spot and learn about the famed and noteworthy. Where else could you tour Abbey Road, see the Sherlock Holmes museum, see celebrity homes, and take stunning pictures of film sights? Only in London! Visit the capital’s greatest celebrity homes, famous film locations, music landmarks, superstar hangouts, tourist attractions, and much more on this Celebrity Tour of London.

Doctor Who

Doctor Who

Allons-y and experience the fantastic Doctor Who Walking Tour of London. Discover over 15 locations from the show that help recount the series’ past 50 years. Follow in the Doctor’s footsteps across London, a city that he visits again and again to either save it from villains like the Daleks and Cybermen or visit any of his companions. The tour has a strong focus on the classical series before the recent reboot and is a great way to relive the days of the past or learn about the history of the series and how it grew from its beginnings to today.

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