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Posts in ‘Sightseeing & Culture’

Sightseeing in Amritsar

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Cristo Redento Statue in Rio de Janeiro

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Cristo Redento

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Top 5 Things To-Do in Finland

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     Hiding in the Northern part of Europe is the beautiful, Nordic country of Finland. Bordered by Sweden to the west, Norway to the North and Russia to the east, Finland has always lied beneath the shadows of its neighboring European countries. Known for it’s snowy climate, excellent education and peaceful economy, Finland is an ideal destination for relaxation and perfection. The following list is a countdown to the Top 5 things to do in Finland!

5. Husky Dog-Sled Safari
     If Cool Runnings is your favorite movie, then the Husky Dog-Sled Safari is for you! The tour begins with a heart warming meeting with you’re friendly husky team. Once acclimated with your crew, begin your journey through the majestic forests and magnificent mountains of Rovaniemi, Finland.

4. Find the North Pole
     Get as close to Santa as possible with a Reindeer Farm Visit and Sleigh Ride in Lapland. Santa might be hard to find at this time of the year, but his trust reindeer are there to lead the way. With a complimentary hot juice or coffee, this sleigh ride is a perfect activity for family and friends.

3. Rauna Wildlife Park
     If reindeer are not exotic enough for you, make sure you check out the Rauna Wildlife Park. Located in Rovaniemi, and is the northernmost zoo in the world, the park is filled with exotic and unique animals that you will not be able to find in the London Zoo!

2. Helsinki
     Opposite of Rovaniemi is the southern city of Helsinki. Filled with breathtaking artwork and the largest maritime fortress in the world, this city is filled with adventure and magic. The Helsinki card grants you access to all major sights and over 50 museums. This card is the best way to immerse yourself in the Finnish culture. 

1. Hunt for the Northern Lights
     You do not want to miss out on the chance to see the greatest light show on earth! Allow the moon to light up your path to the most radiant sky illumination in the world! The Northern Lights is a Finland staple and should not be missed! 

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Munich Attractions

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Munich

Munich is the capital of the German state of Bavaria and located on the beautiful and gentle River Isar. Munich is derived from the word munchen (meaning “near the monks place”). It was the Benedictine monks who founded the city in 1158 and thus the monk image on the city’s coat of arms. By many European standards it is a relatively young city.

For all its youthfulness, the city is a marvellous place to see many of Europe’s architectural masterpieces. What is also amazing, and thankfully so, is how many buildings and monuments survived the ravages of bombing and house-to-house fighting of World War II. Of course many were rebuilt including the city centre. The inner city looks the same as it did during the early 19th century.

Besides the architecture there is much that Munich has retained especially a gentle, warm, friendly and old-world atmosphere. It also has a vibrant and world exciting cultural scene. As a world city Munich is the base for many multi-national companies across a broad range of industries including being a financial and publishing centre. It is also a centre for engineering, research, studies (two universities) and museums. Oh yes! Its staid and proper image disappears during the annual Oktoberfest!

Residence
The Residence was originally a palace and now an important museum. For five hundred years its 130 rooms were the seat of Bavarian kings and dukes. Some of its highlights include the portrait gallery, classic apartments, the Antiquarium: a large and most beautiful Renaissance hall.

The Residence has large sections of unique and fabulous gold works dating from the Middle Ages. There are numerous pieces made from crystal, ivory and precious gems. Two outstanding pieces are a statuette of St. George and the Gisela Cross.

Nymphenburg Palace
Home to the Wittelsbach rulers, this baroque palace has sumptuous interior decorations of which the Gallery of Beauties stands out.  Then there is the banquet hall with its Zimmerman decorated ceiling. The palace is a series of beautifully symmetrical buildings that contain many finely crafted works. It also houses the Marstallmuseum, the Porcelain Museum and a landscaped park and Botanical Gardens.

Badenburg
One of Badenburg’s claims to fame is its heated indoor bathing pool – the first of its kind in the world. The pool and pavilion adjoins a beautiful stucco marble hall built in 1719.

Deutsches Museum
For over a century this has been one of the finest science and technological museums in the world. Covering 50,000 square metres it is also the largest of its kind. It houses an amazing array of sailing ships, models of atoms, windmills, space probes, diesel locomotives, industrial robots, organs, and lifeboats.  The museum also houses all kinds of vehicles – from a Formula 1 car to a bicycle. The Flugwerft section focuses on airplanes.

Around 1.3 million people visit the museum every year.

Marienplatz
In the heart of Munich city is a large open square, the Marienplatz. The square is named after an imposing column that stands at its centre. At the top of the column stands a statute of the Virgin Mary. The square also contains two impressive buildings, the Old and New Town Halls.  Three gates of the medieval fort that once stood there still remain. The square was once the site for jousting tournaments and markets.

BMW Museum
A futuristic bowl, shimmering and shining, the BMW Museum contains exhibits of pioneering technological and engineering achievements. The museum also highlights prototypes of cars, motorcycles and alternative and innovative propulsion methods.

Allianz Arena
The arena dominates Munich’s northern landscape. It is the first stadium that changes colour.  This arena (also known as the inflatable raft) seats about 69,000 spectators.

Oktoberfest
This beer drinking tradition first started as celebrations to mark the end of annual horse races presided over by the Bavarian Royal Family. Today it is a 16 day long orgy of beer-binging, called “die Wiesn” by Munich locals. It has become an integral and world famous part of the Bavarian cultural landscape. The ‘fest’ has been held since 1810. In those 200 it has only been cancelled 24 times – that too because of cholera outbreaks and war!

The 2013 edition will begin on 21st September and run till 6th October.
 

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Las Fallas – Festival in Valencia

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            In March Valencia is home to one of Spain’s largest celebrations called the Falles, which is a traditional celebration commemorating Saint Joseph. The celebration lasts for 5 days and 5 nights, and is a perfect reason for a vacation. From March 15th-19th the streets and small neighborhoods of Valencia will be filled with people of all ages throwing fireworks and noisemakers into the streets to celebrate the culture and history of Valencia. Known to Spaniards as Las Fallas, there are 6 main events that make up the popular festival that cannot be missed! La Despertà and La Mascletà are events that occur in Valencia’s neighborhoods and are large displays of fireworks, firecrackers and musical celebration. La Despertà happens at 8:00 am but if you are not a morning person La Mascletà is the larger celebration at 2:00 pm.

La Plantà is an event that happens on the first day of Las Fallas and marks the start of the festival. Neighborhood leaders, also known as the Casal Faller, produce a structure known as a Falla, which is eventually burnt down at the end of the festival. A good way to see the Falla's and the neighborhoods is through a walking tour around the city. A walking tour will also show you where the fourth event of Las Fallas is, the L’Ofrena Floral, which is the floral offering given to Saint Mary by the Casal Fallas. This event occurs on March 17th and 18th and is a larger event than described because by the end of March 18th Saint Mary is beautifully covered in flowers and floral arrangements. 

If the firework displays at 8:00 am and 2:00 pm are not enough for you, Els Castells and La Nit del Foc, the night of fire, are nighttime fireworks displays at the old riverbed in Valencia. They occur on the first four nights of Las Falles and each display gets progressively grander. If your looking for something to do in between the multiple fireworks displays, bike and tapas tours are an excellent way to learn about the culture and history of Valencia.

All of these events and information will get you ready and excited for the final event of Falles, which is held around midnight on March 19th, La Cremà. The Falles that were constructed by each neighborhood are burnt in a huge bonfire to symbolize the end of winter and beginning of spring. This tradition started in the Middle Ages when artisans disposed of their winter wood by burning them to celebrate the spring equinox. This ritual evolved over the years into Las Fallas, which is now one of Spain’s largest celebrations. So hurry up & book your trip, celebrate the coming of spring with the people and community of Valencia. 

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Hop-on Hop-off Sydney

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Hop-on Hop-off Sydney Bus Tour; Credit - express000
Whether you drive, stroll or take a bus through Sydney you cannot help but notice that it is a really beautiful city. It sprawls around one of the most beautiful harbours in the world – Port Jackson more famously known as Sydney Harbour. The presence of rivers and the sea; the numerous inlets and coves that make up the city all means that the place is chock-a-block with the sails of hundreds of boats. This makes for a wonderfully picturesque setting.

Research has shown that the Sydney area has been inhabited by humans for over 30,000 years but modern settlements came up after James Cook landed at Botany Bay in 1770. The site of the first town in Australia was at Sydney Cove in 1778, which was a penal colony. Today the city is spread out over the surrounding hills and coastal areas that include the famous Bondi and Manly Beaches.

Despite the dominating presence of water, Sydney also boasts some really attractive and well-maintained parks and green areas such as Hyde Park and the Royal Botanic Gardens. The city is also surrounded by several National Parks.

Along with natural beauty, Sydney offers great shopping and dining experiences. The best eating places are around the beaches and waterfronts. It also hosts many international sports events and arts festivals.

Sydney enjoys generally fine weather and is a great place to visit throughout the year. It has plenty of sunshine and fabulously blue skies. So the hop-on-hop-off open top bus tour is a great and most convenient way to see the city and that too at your own pace. It allows you to follow your own sightseeing plans.

The hop-on-hop-off bus tour includes stops at the following places:

•    Circular Quay
•    Wynard Arcade
•    Queen Victoria Building
•    Town Hall
•    William St
•    Kings Cross
•    El Alamein Fountain
•    Woolloomoolloo Bay
•    Sydney Opera House
•    Botanical Gardens – (Scenic walk to
•    Mrs Macquarie Chair)
•    Parliament House/NSW Library
•    Hyde Park
•    Australian Museum
•    Central Station
•    Power House Museum
•    Sydney Fish Market
•    Star City Casino
•    Maritime Museum
•    Sydney Convention and Exhibition Centre
•    Imax/Chinese Gardens
•    Sydney Aquarium
•    King St Wharf
•    Campbells Cove
•    The Rocks

Notes:
•    The tours include full English commentary. Some include entry fees to several attractions.
•    They don’t include meals, drinks, tips and gratuities.
•    Children below 4 years old are free of charge, provided they do not occupy a seat.
 

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Popular Tourist Attractions in Dubai

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Dubai at Dusk

Dubai is a city state and one of the seven emirates that make up the United Arab Emirates UAE. It is the second largest in terms of land and the largest in population. Dubai ranks 7th amongst the most visited tourist destinations of the world. It is expected to attract around 15 million visitors in 2015.It has liberal social policies and is the most modern of the emirates.

Just a few hours flying time from Europe and South Asia, it is ideally located for tourists looking for a convenient break. The emirate’s huge construction boom includes many superb hotels, world-renowned buildings and high-end luxury homes. The rulers have deliberately set out to create superb infrastructure and first-class tourist amenities. The goal is to achieve premier status in the tourist and trade sectors.

Dubai has very quickly established a name for itself as a great destination for shopping, partying, fine dining and sporting activities. There are many things to see and do in Dubai.  Some of its attractions are:

Desert Safari
Also known as Dune Bashing, you head out in an SUV/4×4/Hummer driven by specialist drivers.  The drive is an exhilarating roller-coaster off-road expedition over picturesque sand dunes.

Dubai City Sightseeing Tours
One fun way to see this modern city of soaring skyscrapers is to take a bus tour. Drive past or stop at the Dubai Museum, Al Fahidi Fort and the Spice Souk. You will get to see the world’s tallest building – the Burj Dubai, Burj Al Arab and visit the Palm Jumeirah. You could also take a Hop-on-Hop Off Tour of Dubai.

Dubai Fountains
This water feature is the work of the creators of the Fountains of Bellagio, Las Vegas. It spurts water as high as 500 feet and is synchronised to music. The fountains are located on the Burj Khalifa Lake and do their thing every day.

Burj Khalifa
The tallest building in the world, the Burj Khalifa has an outdoor observation deck on the 124th floor equipped with a telescope. The views of the surrounding desert and city are absolutely stunning.

Burj Al Arab
The Burj Al Arab is the fourth tallest hotel and (arguably) the only seven star luxury hotel in the world. The building resembles the dhow. The building stands on an artificial island just off Jumeirah Beach and opened in December 1999.

Wild Wadi Water Park
The Park is an ultra-modern water activity complex located in the Jumeirah area of Dubai and next to the Burj Al Arab. It has 30 rides including a hot and cool wave pool, water slides, artificial surfing machines and a waterfall. It also has shops, restaurants and snack stands.

Dubai Creek
The original settlement of the city came up around this picturesque creek, which is still the heart and lifeline of the place. You can take a small water taxi (abra) along the creek and see the old historic city and trading wharfs; weave among the dhows that still sail the Arabian Sea as they load and unload goods from India, Africa and other Middle Eastern ports; walk along the shores and get a closer experience of the heritage of this now modern city. You could rent a boat and have dinner whilst cruising up and down the creek.

Palm Island
This icon to luxury and everything fashionable has world famous hotels, shopping malls, spas, pools, gardens and wide selection of fine dining restaurants. There are miles of beach front lined with bars, clubs, theme parks and all forms of entertainment.

Dubai Marina
A recent addition to the Dubai attractions, the marina has great views, boat rides, casual and fine dining restaurants. Stretching along three and a half kilometres, the marina is the largest man-made marina in the world, where you will find the gleaming yachts of the super rich.  In the evening the marina turns into a magical place. The lights and shapes of some of the world’s most iconic buildings add to its allure.

Ski Dubai
Ski Dubai is the third largest indoor ski slope in the world. It has a chair lift and 6,000 tonnes of snow for your skiing pleasure. There are practice jumps, racks and other aids to help you learn the basics. You can also snowboard and toboggan down its slopes. All this snow – all year round!

Other attractions and activities can be accessed at Jumeira Beach and Park, Dubai Aquarium and Underwater Zoo and Dolphin Bay – the world’s largest dolphin habitat.
 

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Top 5 Reasons To Visit Belgium

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Visit Three Countries in a Day!

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Three different times of the day, three different activities and three different…countries? Yes, countries! It is very possible to visit three countries in one day, especially when on the Mediterranean Coast stretching between France and Italy. What some people don’t realise is how close these bordering countries are with each other- something I certainly did not understand until I crossed European country borders myself! I come from a small island, and the only way to get into another country is either to get on a plane or boat. With the Schengen Agreement, you are allowed to travel between a large number of European countries without having to whip out your passport every time you pass through the border. So why not try to visit three different countries in a day?

Your trip can begin in Nice, France and end in Ventimiglia, Italy. These towns are along the Mediterranean coast referred to as the French Riviera and are so close together you can stop by them all along your way north the coast. The French Riviera is the coastline of the south of France, and is an area that had the first modern resorts because of its natural beauty. Tours of this coastline are sublime, because of the splendour of the area and the good weather year-round. It has hot, dry summers and mild winters, making it a pleasant destination at any time of the year. You can spend a whole day (or more!) in Nice, for it has much to offer- such as shopping, ruins from Roman times, and charming views.

Monaco is the second smallest country in the world, and is completely surrounded by France on three sides, its fourth side facing the Mediterranean. It is directly between the French town of Nice and the Italian town of Ventimiglia, and will be your second stop on this trip. Monte Carlo is famous for its gambling and also has a large entertainment centre, featuring restaurants, nightclubs and sports clubs. I can promise that you would not want to spend merely a few hours there, for there is much to do! You can loiter there for a few days…but why would you, when you can travel onto Italy, making it your third country in one day?

Wrap up your hectic day with some pasta and wine in the charming seaside Italian town of Ventimiglia. Not as much of a tourist destination as Nice, it is more laid back but still has bits of its history scattered around…such as the remains of a Roman theatre, the medieval city centre, as well as other remnants of its ancient past. It’s a good end for an amazing journey, and if there is any town you want to revisit, it will be just a short car ride away.

Three countries in one day: didn’t think you could do it, huh? If you plan your day well, it is very possible along the French Riviera.

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New Year’s Kiss

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New Year's Kiss A friend once told me that her New Year’s resolution was to be kissed as the clock struck twelve on the first day of the New Year. So here are some great and different places that I would suggest for that magical kiss with that special someone:

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Famous for its Carnival, Rio is also great destination any other time of year. This is one of the few times of the year that the locals join the tourists for a great time! This celebration is on par with their Carnival and the fireworks are absolutely amazing. Dress up in white and share that New Years kiss on the beaches of Rio! And you cannot come all the way to Brazil without experiencing its rainforests, can you?

Venice, Italy

This small city in Italy is perfect for a New Year’s kiss. On the last night of the year, many restaurants in Venice have feasts starting from 9p.m. and lasting until midnight, with great food and cheap wine. Also, in St. Mark’s Square there is a huge celebration with music, fireworks and a huge group kiss at midnight. And nothing spells romantic like a gondola ride through the canals of Venice!

Cape Town, South Africa

Welcome the New Year dancing in Cape Town! Some of the hottest parties and celebrations are held in this seaside city, and you can have your special New Years Kiss while on the beach. You of course will have to try the wine while in South Africa, for it rivals even Italy for quality!

Hong Kong, China

Although the Chinese Lunar New Year does not coincide with December 31st, there are still celebrations held in Hong Kong! You will not be at a loss to find a popping party the night of. Top the Hong Kong experience off with your New Years kiss while LED lights count down the last 60 seconds of the old year! You cannot forget the wonderful beauty outside Hong Kong either, for China is home to some of the most breathtaking sights.

Sydney, Australia

Although not as typically romantic as European cities, Sydney has a lot to offer. Enjoy your New Year’s kiss as some of the first New Year’s fireworks in the world explode in the night sky amid music! The best part of being in Sydney at the end of the year is that it is not wintertime; you will be coming in the height of summer. You can spend your days at the beach, dolphin spotting and enjoying the Australian lifestyle!

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