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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’

Xel-Ha – No Ordinary Water Theme Park

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Xel-Ha is one of those brilliant accidents – where nature’s handiwork meets man’s creativity.  It is located on Mexico’s Caribbean coast and 75 miles (122km) south of gorgeous Cancun.  The drive to Xel-Ha is just an hour and a half down the coast from Cancun.  It is a wonderful, breath-taking scenic trip.

Named after the nearby Mayan archaeological site, the Xel-Ha theme park opened in 1984.  Since then, the popularity of its facilities and attractions has never flagged drawing people from all over the world.

The Xel-Ha park area is created by the ox-bow curve of the coast and peppered with numerous tiny islands.  The area is pockmarked with numerous caves and grottoes.  The incredibly blue waters are populated by innumerable varieties of fantastically coloured tropical fish and underwater plants.  The waters are a mix of fresh underwater springs and the ocean’s salty variety adding to its amazing allure.  It is without doubt the world’s largest and most beautiful natural aquarium.

The sea-side of the park is protected by a shark fence making it safe for snorkelling, scuba diving and swimming.  The top attraction in Xelh-Ha is the opportunity to swim and interact with the super-friendly dolphins. You can hug these endearing creatures, which are not averse to giving you kisses or a speed thrill by pushing you over the water on their snouts.

There are other thrills to be enjoyed at Xel-Ha.  For the daring there is the Trepachanga, a river crossing activity where you hang on tightly to one rope while trying to keep your balance on another.  Then there is the zip-bike ride that has you soaring over the jungle giving you a bird’s eye view while making your heart race.  Test your grit at the Stone of Courage as you jump off a rock into the crystal clear waters below.

The fun and adventure is topped off with a trip to the buffet tables for a mouth-watering breakfast and lunch.  The choices are huge – international cuisine, sea foods and Mexican foods.

Spending the day at Xel-Ha is an experience that will beat most others hands down.

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Architecture of Vietnam

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Vietnam has endured decades of war, civil unrest and deprivation.  Despite its tumultuous modern history many architectural and scenic gems have survived all across this beautiful country.  In fact so well preserved are some of these locations that they are UN World Heritage Sites.  They include Phong Nha-Kè Bàng National Park, Hôi An, Halong Bay and M? S?n.

The beauty of Nha Trang and the Marble Mountains has also been attracting visitors for quite some time.  The Binh Durong tourist complex is being developed and will become the largest artificial sea in Southeast Asia.

The Vietnamese diet relies largely on fresh herbs and vegetables making it one of the healthiest cuisines in the world.  Vietnam’s reputation as a rewarding cultural, historical and picturesque destination has been growing since the late 1990s.

Hanoi

Hanoi is over a thousand years old and for 800 of those it has been Vietnam’s premier city.  Hanoi’s ancient past and French occupancy have coalesced into a unique cultural and architectural purée.

Sitting on the banks of the Red River, Hanoi also has many lakes, prompting it to be referred to as the “city of lakes”.  The historical and cultural heart of Hanoi lies in the Old Quarter, along with Hoàn Ki?m Lake, also known as Sword Lake.  Other prominent lakes are West Lake, Halais Lake (H? Thi?n Quang in Vietnamese), and Bay Mau Lake.

The Old Quarter of Hanoi still retains the original street layout and architecture.  Most of the streets were named for the specialised trades carried out on them.  For the most part that still goes on today.

Hanoi contains some wonderful architectural examples of its history such as the Temple of Literature, which is a 1,000 year old university and the One Pillar Pagoda and Flag Tower.  French colonial influence can be seen in the National Museum of Vietnamese History, the Fine Arts Museum and the Medical College.

Halong Bay is not too far from Hanoi.  Legend has it that this wonderful collection of about 1,600 forest clad rocky islands, was created by dragons. The pillars of limestone rocks rising straight out of the emerald seas has fashioned a spectacular marine wonderland. These elements have contributed to UNESCO designating it a World Heritage Centre.

H?i An

H?i An is a wonderfully preserved city, for many centuries it had the largest harbour in the region and was an important trading centre.  It also controlled the spice trade bringing its citizens much wealth and power.  In the course of time the Chinese, Japanese, Dutch and Indians settled here. Their cultural influences are everywhere – in the centuries old wooden buildings, street layouts, quays, canals and gardens.  An outstanding example of this eclectic heritage is the 16th century Japanese Bridge.  It is a red-pillared and roofed bridge, uniquely, the only one, with a Buddhist temple at one end.

The wonderful fusion this has wrought prompted UNESCO to recognise it as a World Heritage Site, ensuring that it stays intact.  The acknowledgment has further added to the reputation and attractiveness of this charming and delightful city.

Ho Chi Minh City

This is Vietnam’s hot spot, affectionately referred to as the ‘Diamond of the Far-East’ it was previously called Saigon (and still commonly known as such).  Once a small fishing village, it was the capital of French Indochina. Today it is one of Asia’s fastest growing cities and the heart of a booming economy.

Its historic past and future aspirations to live happily side by side.  HCMC has managed to blend speeding modernity and French Colonial rule with its Vietnamese qualities.  A large number of classic Western buildings and villas reflect its recent past.  Some of its most notable buildings are the War Remnants Museum, Ho Chi Minh City Museum, the Reunification Palace, Notre Dame Cathedral and the Hotel de Ville, Quan Am Pagoda and the Jade Emperor Pagoda.

Ho Chi Minh City is the best place in Vietnam for entertainment.  Its vibrant nightlife is propped up by a large number of colourful bars, clubs and restaurants.  Vietnamese style tea houses host live music performances.  HCMC is an exciting city.

Best Time To Visit

Vietnam is a tropical country with a hot and wet climate for most of the year.  Winter however can be chilly and windy.  Mid May to September can be oppressively humid.

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Hidden New Zealand

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There are few places on Earth with as much natural grandeur as the small island nation of New Zealand. Although it is only a small country located off the coast of the much larger Australia, groves of people have discovered the beautiful bays, towering cliffs, and expansive forests that stretch across this seemingly under-the-radar island. But what most visitors don’t know is that there are many unique and off-the-beaten path experiences to be had in this country that has now topped the must-travel list of nearly every traveler on the planet. To help you find and experience the best that New Zealand has to offer visitors, we have outlined four of the most interesting and rewarding excursions you can take on your trip to New Zealand.

Mount Cook and Tasman Glacier

If you are not far from Christchurch, NZ, you would be doing yourself a disservice if you didn’t experience a tour of Mount Cook in the Aoraki National Park. Not only will this tour include breath-taking sights of New Zealand’s highest mountain, but the tour also makes notable and equally as captivating stops along the way.

See the turquoise blue waters of Lake Tekapo as the sunlight reflects off the waters while you have your morning tea. View and hear the history of the Church of the Good Shepherd that provides spectacular panoramas of the nearby Southern Alps. Head to Lake Pukaki and take in the natural beauty of the national park. And lastly, climb the incredible Tasman Glacier where you can see the beauty that nature causes all on its own. This New Zealand tour of Mount Cook is like no other you’ve ever seen!

Waiheke Island

Another under-the-radar but incredibly worth doing trip in New Zealand is exploring Waiheke Island for a day. The island is only a short 40-minute ferry ride from Auckland, NZ, and the ride itself provides stunning views of the New Zealand coast and islands around Auckland. While on the island, discover Waiheke’s beautiful beaches, where you can go swimming and sea kayaking. Witness the brilliant sands, pristine coastline, and seaside villages while walking around the island. You can even go wine tasting on one of the 30 vineyards on the island or mountain biking in the nearby mountains. If you are looking for a day of taking in beauty and relaxation on your trip, book your Waiheke Island ferry!


Waiheke Island ferry

Rotorua

If you’re interested in the arts and cultural roots of New Zealand and the Maori People, a morning tour around Rotorua is exactly what you’re looking for! Enjoy a sightseeing tour around three of Rotorua’s iconic attractions: Te Puia, the Rainbow Springs Nature Park, and the Agrodome. Visit Te Puia and the Maori Arts & Crafts Institute to see boiling mud pools, geysers, and the traditional culture and arts of the Maori people. Trek to Rainbow Springs and discover the unique wildlife and vegetation that covers New Zealand. And learn about New Zealand’s history at the Agrodome Sheep Show. Along with all of this, see five of the beautiful lakes surround Rotorua, Mount Tarawera and the Buried Village. There is no better tour for the history lover in you.

Rotorua Tour

Bay of Islands and Cape Brett

Last but definitely not least, for a unique New Zealand excursion the Bay of Islands and Cape Brett are a must-see! The tour heads out from Auckland and takes you by coach across Auckland Bridge and along the Hibiscus Coast to the Bay of Islands. Experience both natural beauty and compelling history on numerous legs of this tour! Visit Paihia, one of the earliest towns in New Zealand, and Waitangi, dubbed the “birthplace of the nation” where the Treaty of Waitangi was signed between the Maori’s and Europeans. Cruise in the Bay to Cape Brett Lighthouse on Motukokako Island where you will see the fames Hole in the Rock and Grand Cathedral Cove. This tour is led by expert crew that will help you appreciate the historical significance wrapped in the natural grandeur around the Bay of Islands.

Bay of Island Tour

If you’re looking for a truly memorable and out-of-the-fox trip experience in new Zealand, these four excursions provide all of that and more!

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Visiting Cape Town in November

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Cape Town is located around the shores of Table Bay and the iconic Table Mountain in South Africa. Table Mountain has an amazing biodiversity with an estimated 2,200 species of plants, found nowhere else in the world. The region is proud to be apart of the World Heritage Site status. Nature has blessed the Cape Town area with land-based natural beauty of every kind, including abundant exotic fauna and flora. Even the sea shows off the city best here. Marine life reveals its dramatic side in the waters around the Cape.

All this natural wealth provides many opportunities for adventure/ sports enthusiasts and regular sightseers. The weather too, plays a large hand in the attractiveness of the Cape. November through March is summertime and the weather is known to be beautiful- ideal for holidaying and outdoor activities.

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In November, the gentle and cool southeasterly winds prevail, which make for perfect whale watching conditions. Probably the best shore-based place in the world for whale watching is the waters around Hermanus, a pretty little seaside town tucked in between the protective mountains and the sea. Whole pods of massive yet graceful Southern Right Whales often come within 20 metres of the shore.  A counter point to the awe-inspiring whales, is the antics of the loveable and delightful penguins crowding the shoreline and rocks.

The piece of land stretching south from Cape Town to Cape Point, jutting out into the Atlantic Ocean is known as Cape Peninsula. The Cape Town is a wonderfully scenic region with a rich and unique biodiversity. Much of this area and its rare plants are protected by the Table Mountain National Park and Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve.  A drive down the meandering and picturesque roads offers stunning views of the coastline. The charming fishing village of Hout Bay offers plenty of photogenic spots. You will see plenty of seals, ostriches, penguins and other wild life during the drive.

Table Mountain is also a majestic piece of real estate. Taking a hike up its slopes will bring you up close and personal to the wonderful wild plants and flowers along the way.  You only have to be reasonably fit to negotiate the climb.  From its summit the eye-popping vistas of the city, the Cape and the surrounding ‘fynbos’ will be a well-earned and fulfilling reward for your efforts.

The Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens is a jewel in the glittering tiara of Cape Town’s attractions. This wonderful place, neatly tucked away at the foot of Table Mountain, transforms into a musical paradise.  Every Sunday afternoon, from November till April, it becomes an outdoor concert venue with a wonderful line-up of South African musicians gracing the stage. This year will be the return of some old favourites as well as new acts like The Soil, Barbara Hendricks, the SA National Youth Orchestra, Jeremy Loops, Johnny Clegg and Goldfish.

You can take your picnic basket and a couple of wine bottles, spread your blanket on the magnificent lawns sloping towards the stage and get your groove on as the brilliant sun sets behind the mountains.

Some other great activity options you could indulge in are a speedy and hair-raising trip down South Africa’s first summer toboggan track at the Cool Running’s Park.  You could also roar across the trails of the beautiful Cape countryside on a powerful quad bike. Or else there are more sedate yet just as fulfilling activities like taking a wine tour through some scenic Cape Town wine-growing areas like Paarl, Franschhoek and Stellenbosch.

There is much that to recommend about Cape Town, but the place sells itself!

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Sydney – Tops Down Under

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The city of Sydney and its suburbs are spread around of the world’s largest natural harbours.  Its near perfect characteristic curve is located on the south-east coast of Australia on the Tasman Sea.  It is one of the most ethnically and culturally diverse cities in the world.  It is also one of the most beautiful.

It is a city that has it all – a boisterously interesting history; great natural features and a vibrant art, fashion and cultural scene.  It is the site of two of the world’s most famous and outstanding man-made structures in the world – the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Sydney Opera House.  To crown it all, it sits alongside miles and miles of fantastic golden sandy beaches, which are visited by some of the best surfing waves in the world.

SydneyBridge

For a visitor, Sydney has a bewildering choice of things to see and do.  Just touring the harbour area will take days.  There are other things to do as well though such as climbing the Sydney Harbour Bridge  or taking a guided tour of the Opera House. This is a fascinating way to spend the day as you explore the unique design and engineering of the building, the Concert Hall and its acoustics.

Harbour cruises are a terrific way to experience the city because you get to visit Fort Denison, Taronga Zoo, Luna Park, Shark Island (so called for its shape), Darling Harbour and the Maritime Museum.  Night cruises across the harbour with a gourmet dinner are an exquisite experience too.

Once you have done the harbour you could make your way to the glorious shimmering sands of Bondi Beach.  A dip in Bondi’s clear blue waters alongside the beautiful people should be top of your list of things to do.  The other major attraction is the Royal National Park, known by Sydneysiders as the ‘Nasho’

 Sydney’s nightlife is enviable and must be sampled.  It is effervescent yet laid back in true Oz style.  Its bars, clubs, performing arts and other entertainment options are as diverse as its people and very often on the cutting edge.  But it’s the traditional beer and ‘tucker’ along with the warming friendliness and great charm of its people that sets this magnificent city apart from all others.  Whatever your style, sparkling Sydney is always entertaining.

SydneyNightlife

 Best Time To Visit

From a weather perspective the best time to visit Sydney is September to early December.  Other times to visit are February to April.  During both these periods, the weather is pleasant and the temperatures moderate.  December to February is the peak tourist months.

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Popular Australian Wine Tours

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Australian wines are now well-established around the world.  They compete for space with the best of European wines on the racks of bars, restaurants, and household tables.  It has taken a little while but the vintners and vineyards from Sydney to Perth and places in between have a large world-wide base of loyal tipplers.  Some of these wine producers have a history going back 150 years and more.

 Now that it’s spring down under hop on to one our comfortable air-conditioned coaches and come along with isango!  Get a tour of some of Australia’s most popular wine-making regions.  While on them you can pleasure your palette with a variety of heavenly wines.

Hunter Valley

The wonderfully lush green and picturesque countryside of Hunter Valley is just a two hour drive north from Sydney.  This is the oldest wine making region in Australia and home to more than 80 wineries including such renowned names as Lindemans, McWilliams, Rothbury, Hardy’s, Wyndham Estate and McGuigan. There are also several independent family-owned boutique wine makers like Tyrells and Draytons.

This tour not only takes you through picturesque Hunter Valley but also gets you a-behind-the-scenes view of wine making.  Since it is spring you will get the added visual pleasure of seeing the ‘budburst’ on the vines.

 Your expedition will involve 3 to 5 wine tastings when you sample up to 30 delicious premium wines.  You will also sit down to a gourmet lunch at one of Hunter Valley’s best restaurants.  The meal will feature fresh local grown produce.  Post lunch you will have a chance to indulge in postprandial snooze under a shady tree.

HunterValleyWine

 Swan Valley

Swan Valley is the oldest wine producing area of Western Australia.  It is just a 25 minute drive from the centre of Perth city but the best way to get there is to take a cruise up the Swan River on a wine tasting tour.  The tour incorporates the best of all worlds – a gentle cruise on a beautiful river, stunning scenery, plenty of fine wine and delicious food.

 Many of the wineries are award winners, producing a wide range of speciality whites, full-bodied reds and some of the world’s finest fortified wines.  This tour focuses on one of the best known and finest wine makers in Australia, Sandalford Wine Estate.  The house is one of the oldest and largest family owned winemakers.

 You get to see how they conjure up their liquid magic in a behind-the-scenes tour.  This is followed by a tasting of 6 varieties of their finest premium wines.  While sipping, choose your favourite wine to accompany your sumptuous two course lunch.  Fresh bread rolls, roasted free range chicken and Mediterranean salsa are just some of the treats on your lunch menu.

 The Swan Valley Cruise and Wine Tasting is such a memorable experience you may want to repeat it.

Barossa Valley

The Barossa Valley lies 60km Northeast of Adelaide.  It is a premier wine producing region of Australia.  This picturesque valley is distinguished by the vast acreage of vineyards.  It is one of Australia’s oldest wine regions and started by German settlers.

 It is famous for excellent red Shiraz and other varieties such as Reisling, Semillon, Grenache and Cabernet Sauvignon and several fortified wines.  It is also renowned for its over 80 Cellar doors and 160 wineries.  Some are still owned and run by the original families.  It is also famed for its food, cultural experience and the biennial Barossa Valley Vintage Festival.

 A Barossa Valley wine tasting tour is a must and the isango! tour covers five of the best world renowned names including the Wolf Blass, TeAro Estate, Kellermeister,  Pindarie and Saltram Wine Estate.  The tour also includes a delicious gourmet lunch at the Wolf Blass Visitor Centre with wonderful views of the spectacular Barossa Ranges.

This is a perfect tour for wine enthusiasts.

BarossaValleyWines

Yarra Valley

Just an hour from Melbourne is the wine-producing region of the Yarra Valley.  The entire area is pristine, dominated by gorgeous views and stunning mountains.  It has a richly deserved reputation as one of the world’s great wine and food regions.  The Yarra Valley has a relatively cool climate allowing for the production of excellent Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and sparkling wines.

 Our tour is a special, guided one with an expert accompanying you to three top wineries – Yering Station, Yering Farm and Balgownie Estate.  You will learn how to swirl, sniff, slurp and then taste a wine.  You will also find out how they put the ‘bubbly’ into sparkling wines along with being able to sample them.

 In the Yarra Valley many of the wineries have world-class restaurants attached and Balgownie Estate is no different.  At the tasting you can make your wine selection and have it with an à la carte lunch at the restaurant.

 Your tour ends on a brilliant note with a visit to Domaine Chandon, who are the Australian producers for Moet & Chandon, the French Champagne company.  They also produce fine quality sparkling and cool-climate wines.

YarraValleyLandScape

Margaret Valley

It has been only 45 years since viticulture began in the Margaret Valley.  Yet its superb weather and other growing conditions have seen it become one of the great wine regions of the world.  The wines from here sit right next to the finest in the world.

Margaret Valley is conducive to producing Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon.  Cabernet blends from here are valued because of their fruity and multi-layered flavours.  Many other varieties including Shiraz, Semillon blancs, Sangioves, Merlot, Verdelho and Viogniers are produced too.

Our Margaret Valley Wine Tours leave from Perth and visit four of the world’s best wineries.  Also part of this pleasurable experience is a two-course gourmet lunch at the Voyager Estate plus a barrel room wine-tasting session at Moss wood.

The superb wine tasting tour ends with a thoroughly sinful flourish. You stop off at the Margaret River Chocolate Factory where you can indulge yourself in rich chocolate.  This tour is a wonderful experience for the connoisseur and the novice.

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Morocco – Exotic and Unusual

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Morocco is every tourist’s dream. There are various exotic, exciting and unpredictable things to do in Morocco.  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.

Atlas mountains morocco tours

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.

traditional market morocco

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Hassan II Mosque Casablanca tours

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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