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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’

To be in Edinburgh during its Edinburgh Festival

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It is worth gearing up for, for the annual August festival of Edinburgh; which is also the largest annual cultural festival in the world. There are just so many things you can do at this time; with foreigners descending to the streets, the city is buzzing. In short, there is a lot of cheer and excitement everywhere.

The Edinburgh Festival is a collective term for many arts and cultural festivals put on by various unrelated organisations and are therefore officially separate events, but regarded as the same event as a whole, as it’s all taking place at the same time. There are so many festivals you’ll enjoy; out of which the Edinburgh International Festival and the Edinburgh Festival Fringe are the largest and original components of the festival. I personally love the Military Tattoo and the buzz and excitement I had in the Princes Street garden waiting for the fireworks display to start and setting up my camera to capture the night.

Fireworks on display

Fireworks on display

Edinburgh International Festival: This festival of performing arts takes place over three weeks from around the middle of August; and includes top class performers of music, theatre, opera and dance from all around the world. It also hosts a series of visual art exhibitions, talks and workshops.

Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo: Don’t be misled by the term ‘tattoo’ here. There is no ‘ink’ involved : -) but rather it is used to describe the ceremonial form of evening entertainment performed at the esplanade of Edinburgh castle each year by Military musicians that composed of British Armed Forces, Commonwealth and International Military bands. It is Scotland’s best-selling spectacle and so is not a surprise that tickets for this big event is always sold out in advance; hence the need to be alert about it couple of months prior to the event. The Tattoo activity will entertain you with its high-tech illumination, imaginative graphics, thundering sounds of drums and bagpipes, impressive marching and specially commissioned fireworks.

Edinburgh Festival Fringe (or simply The Fringe): The Fringe is the world’s largest arts festival. It is an unjuried festival, meaning there is no selection committee and therefore any type of performance can participate; and includes a street fair which is located on the Royal Mile. Other shows include Music, Dance & Physical Theatre, Musicals and Opera, and Children’s shows, in addition to assorted Events and Exhibitions.

Other popular festivals include iFest, Edinburgh Comedy Festival, Edinburgh Interactive Festival, Edinburgh People’s Festival, Edinburgh International Book Festival, Edinburgh Mela, Edinburgh International Film Festival, Edinburgh Art Festival and a whole lot more. Enough of reading and hearing about it; only when you have been a part of this big event can you say you have really seen the best of Edinburgh!

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Top 5 Things to do in Singapore

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Singapore is one of the most culturally diverse cities in the world, with four official languages, and 62 surrounding islands, the main island of Singapore (or Pulau Ujong) has been a top destination for residents and travelers alike. The city promotes itself for medical tourism (yup, plastic surgery), which surprisingly attracts more than 200,000 clients each year. Instead, I like to think that Singapore is better known as being the “Garden City” and has more than enough things to do on your holiday, without going under the knife.

Botanical Gardens
gardens As I said, Singapore isn’t called the Garden City for nothing. The famous Botanical Gardens are home to the some of the rarest and most beautiful plants. It’s open from 5am to midnight every day, so you can enjoy the gardens during sunrise, sunset, or all the time in between.

Having numerous different specialty gardens within, the one you cannot miss is the National Orchid Gardens. Housing more than 1,000 different species of orchids, visitors can appreciate these easily distinguished flowers. Even more spectacular is how the orchids are separated, which is by color. Separated into four different sections meant to portray the four different seasons. The golds, pinks, reds, and blues are all blended together expertly to show-off the flowers in a most unique way.

Because the gardens are developed on what they call a three-core system, there are other sections of the gardens all portraying and representing something different. The Tanglin core is to represent the history and the features that have been in the gardens the longest, including Swan Lake, Sun Garden, and many sculptures. The Central core is for impressing tourists with the Ginger Garden, Rainforest, Healing Garden, Evolution Garden, and of course the National Orchid Gardens. Finally, the Butik Timah core is meant to serve as an educational branch of the gardens, featuring bamboo, fruit trees, nut and beverage crops, herbs and spices, as well as the children’s garden.

With so much to see and do, it’s definitely a good thing the park hosts such long hours–you’ll need the whole day to explore!

Chinatown
Although Chinatowns are common in any major city, with the largest ethnic group in Singapore being Chinese, this Chinatown is unlike any other. The large neighborhood dedicated to showing off Chinese food, culture, shopping, and nightlife is divided into five different districts so you don’t have to feel like you’re wandering around aimlessly in a sea of chopsticks and sculptures of chinese dragons.

chinatown The five districts are called Telok Ayer, Bukit Pasoh, Tanjong Pagar, Kreta Ayer, and Ann Siang Hill. Over time they each became known for specializing in different areas. If you’re interested in unique bars, cafés and boutiques then Ann Siang Hill, and Telok Ayer have plenty. Telok Ayer is also known for housing many of the city’s old temples and mosques offering a bit of history to your excursion. Bukit Pasoh has mastered blending the old and the new with posh hotels and restaurants, but also history on many clans and cultural associations. A more residential area also sprinkled with traditional pubs, and karaoke bars is Tanjong Pagar. Finally to feel super-immersed in the culture, head over to Kreta Ayer for traditional trading and shopping (meaning you can bargain with vendors!), and the best cuisine.

If you stop by at night make sure to visit the Chinatown Night Market running through three of the major streets. In these old world shops you’ll find everything from food, to clothing, to opera masks! This area is especially busy during Christmas with extended shopping hours and ridiculously good sales, you might just need to buy another suitcase to fit all your purchases…

Singapore Flyer
This could easily be Singapore’s greatest tourist attraction. Standing at 165 meters tall gives it the title of the world’s tallest observation wheel. The views themselves could set some world records, as the 30 minute rides takes you high up in the air you get bird’s eye view of the city and can even catch glimpses of Malaysia and Indonesia on a clear day.

flyer Although the stunning views are the main attraction, the Singapore Flyer offers much more to complete your experience. The main terminal offers many food options on all three floors, from Subway to four star dining. There is also shopping available for Flyer memorabilia, and even a retail store specializing in leather and exotic skins. One of the most interesting additional parts of the Singapore Flyer are all the activities available for visitors. If you’re not quite ready to leave after your ride there is karaoke, racetrack rides, reflexology and fish spas all located in the main terminal. And to stay in the “flyer” spirit, there’s a flight simulator where you can view a flight through a pilot’s eyes.

The Singapore Flyer is an international icon of both engineering and appreciation of beauty. Appropriate for all ages and with a myriad of activities and things to see on the site as well, this proves to be Singapore’s hottest tourist spot for a reason.

The Singapore Zoo
zoo Like me, you might think that the concept of zoos are sometimes overdone, they’re a good idea and I love being able to see the animals, but why go all the way to Singapore for that? Well, besides the fact that 3,600 different animals, including rare and endangered species call Singapore Zoo their home, the zoo is set up in a nature-friendly way. That means that instead of looking through glass enclosures, or jail-like fences, the animals can be seen in open exhibits, being separated by hidden barriers, stone walls, and moats. Not only is this a more natural way to see the animals, but it creates a better living environment for them too, and who doesn’t want the animals to be happy?

Speaking of animals, theres tons of different areas to see all different types of mammals, reptiles, birds, and fish. From Cat Country to the Australian Outback, to the Rainforest Kidzone, there’s something for everybody. If you’re feeling brave you can go see the world’s largest snake, which can grow up to 10 meters! The Singapore Zoo is also known for housing orangoutangs, which are highly at risk of extinction, luckily they’re kept safe and sound in their new home.

Shows at the zoo are definitely one of the highlights, and with Singapore’s conservation attempts, the Rainforest Fights Back show can help you learn about the little things you can do to help, which make big differences. If you’re looking for a little more action, there’s the show with the jackass penguins, but I promise, they’re not as bad as they sound.

Finally, what would a tourist spot be without some food and shopping? The Singapore Zoo has food from snack stands, to pizza and ice cream, to even dining with the animals at a Jungle Breakfast! Don’t leave without checking out the gift shop, for adorable stuffed animals or even educational gifts. With such a wide variety of animals, shows, and ways to explore the park, Singapore Zoo is a must-see for animal lovers.

DUKw Tours
To ease up any confusion, I’ll tell you right now that it’s pronounced “duck”. Maybe it was just me who couldn’t figure out the pronunciation, but however you say it, DUKw tours are not something to miss. Originally used in World War II as a means of transporting goods and troops over land and water, this vehicle is unique in its amphibious functions.

dukw Now remove the troops, weapons, and fighting, and what would you do with the vehicle? Well of course make a one-of-a-kind tour bus! Unlike the mainstream hop-on/hop-off, or coach bus tours, switch it up and see Singapore by land and sea. Perusing through the city you can pass by all the major buildings and monuments like the new and old Parliament Houses, and City Hall. Then you can make a splash in Marina Bay and cruise through the water for even more sights of Singapore.

Whoever thought to turn a military transportation system into a fun tour bus certainly understood the benefits of recycling. So if you’re in Singapore and want an unconventional way to tour the city, DUKw Tours are both entertaining and educational.

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Top 5 Things to do in Rio de Janeiro

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With a city so full of culture and a location filled with beauty, it’s hard to narrow down what you should do in Rio de Janeiro.  That’s why we’ve compiled a list of the top 5 things for you to consider on your holiday, whether you’re looking to relax, party, explore, or all three!

Ipanema
Whether you’re looking for some leisure time in the sun, or a shopping excursion, the neighborhood of Ipanema is the perfect place to unwind after a long day exploring in Rio De Janeiro. The beautiful beach unfolds displaying people enjoying the sun in all different ways. If you’re looking to nap in the sun, surf and play in the water, or have a friendly game of volleyball, you’ll have company in whatever you choose to do. The locals are known for being as beautiful as they are friendly, and with what seems like endless supplies of beer and the traditional cachaça, you might want to become a local yourself.
ipanema-beach
Once you get off the beach, there’s streets upon streets of trendy shopping, and since Ipanema is known for being one of the most expensive places to live, these stores are top of the line. If you’re a bargain hunter or looking for something more unique, fear not–on Sundays they hold a “Hippie Fair”, which is a market proudly displaying homemade crafts, clothing, and souvenirs. Also on Sundays, the roadway closest to the beach is closed to motor vehicles allowing visitors and residents alike to enjoy an open area for jogging, roller blading, skateboarding, or however else they choose to get out and enjoy the town!

Copacabana
copacabana The first thing I think of when I hear “Copacabana” is, unfortunately, the Barry Manilow song. Don’t worry though, there’s much much more to the name.  Most recognizably, the southern area of Brazil, home to a beach community that’s as beautiful as it is famous. Attracting the best looking beach-goers, Copacabana is a perfect spot for unashamedly people-watching. Although many people assume that Copacabana and Ipanema are similar, they have their distinctive features. While Ipanema is known more for being a sexy, young, lively, and high end atmosphere, Copacabana holds similar values but proves to be a little less ritzy for those who want to enjoy the local culture in a more laid-back fashion.

Another amazing feature of this area is the promenade. Spread over four kilometers and housing endless restaurants, bars, shops, and clubs, this strip has also hosted numerous concerts. One of the most noteworthy being the New Years Eve Rod Stewart concert garnering 3.5 million, making it the largest concert crowd ever.

Rio de Janeiro has a specifically laid back lifestyle, and if you’re looking for a beach area to enjoy the sunset and a drink, no place is more appropriate than Copacabana.

Carnival
Held 46 days before Easter and traditionally being seen as a way to indulge in some crazy behavior before the start of Lent, Carnival is known as Brazil’s biggest party, and why wouldn’t you want to attend?  Carnival is four days and four nights of partying, dancing, drinking, and parades. Most importantly, the Samba parades, which feature shows and competitions of numerous Rio Samba schools. Often with preparations starting months in advance to impress the judges and spectators, this is no ordinary street parade, and definitely recommended as a must-see during Carnival. All regions are brought together for this parade, not only increasing competition but also displaying a wide variety of costumes, techniques, and design of their parade.

carnival After watching such talent through the streets, you won’t have to be just a spectator for long. Another great event of Carnival are the numerous Balls that you are able to purchase tickets to.  There is samba dancing all night, and if you’re feeling up to the challenge of meeting the high standards for Carnival costumes, you can dress up and become truly immersed in the culture.

The Balls and the Parades are just two of the many events that express the vibe of extravagant glamour, but no matter which events you choose to see, they’re guaranteed to blow you away. It is said that Carnival accounts for 70% of the annual tourism and 80% of the annual beer consumption, so if you’re looking for a good way to party like a local, Carnival is something you shouldn’t miss.

Corcovado
This mountain that lies west of the city, is so spectacular that it is still visible from miles away. However this is not just another mountain gracing Rio de Janeiro’s geography, it is also topped at the peak by a thirty-eight meter statue of Jesus, known as Cristo Rendenter. The homage to religion portrays this statue of Christ with open arms, which is a symbol of peace representing the local culture and their religious values.

corcovado The peak of the mountain and the base of the statue is accessible on a narrow path if you’re driving, or you can opt for the Corcovado Rack Railway. When you reach the top, you then need to ascend to the very top via the 223 stairs, also available are elevators and escalators if you’d rather preserve your energy.

Religious or not, this is an attraction that is popular for a reason. Whether you know it from the appearances it made in the Twilight films, or because you want to see one of the “New” seven wonders of the world, Corcovado is a moving way to appreciate natural beauty. The view from the peak looking out on the city and surrounding area is just as breathtaking as the inspirational view looking up at the statue from sea level.

Sugar Loaf Mountain
sugar-loaf-cable-car 396 meters high, Sugar Loaf mountain towers above the Atlantic Ocean on the beautiful coast of Rio de Janeiro. In history, it was seen as a landmark to travelers as the entrance to the Guanabara Bay, today however it gives tourists endless amounts of spectacular views of the surrounding city.  Although it is similar to Corcovado in how it overlooks Rio, visitors to Sugar Loaf can experience the glass enclosed cable cars which bring them to the peak of the mountain offering an even more unique aspect to this experience. At the top there are souvenir and refreshment booths so you can both relax, and browse some of the shops before returning to sea level.

For all you explorers out there, hiking is an option, but it is highly discouraged as the trails are rugged and extreme. If you do choose to hike however, it is encouraged to buy a one way ticket before you ascend so that you can take the cable cars on the way down – hiking down the steep granite exterior is more dangerous than you’re trip up.

There is no doubt that Rio de Janeiro is graced with beautiful geography.  Mountains like Sugar Loaf let you look down on the beaches you may have been laying out on the previous day, and allow you to appreciate the beauty of the city.

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The Best of Amsterdam

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amsterdam-houses1 Amsterdam, the Dutch capital is known for its fascinating history and even more intriguing present day culture. Naturally, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to visit one of the top tourist destinations in Europe. Even though there is so much to see and do in the city, one of the best parts was simply walking alongside the many beautiful canals that run through Amsterdam. In addition to the natural beauty of the canals, Amsterdam is filled with unique architecture, and I was easily entertained by the charm of what residents see as mere housing.

amsterdam-bikes Another aspect that seems simple to residents but interesting to visitors (or, to me at least) is the bike culture. With such small streets that are always filled with people, many opt for bike riding as their main transportation instead. And when I say “many” I really mean 90% of the population. Every road you could turn down had tons of bike racks, but it never seemed like enough as the bikes piled up wherever there was space. One of the most interesting parts of this bike culture is the high level of theft – our tour guide told us that on a lively Friday or Saturday night, people will leave their bikes on any random street, and often, in their inebriated state will forget where they leave them and take whatever bike is next to them when they’re ready to turn in for the night. Of course their original bike will be long gone as well by the next morning, so I saw it as more of trading service.

Although there are more than enough museums to fill your trip, my favorite by far was the Anne Frank museum. Both moving and informational, I was able to walk through the very rooms that the Frank family resided in. In many rooms they were able to preserve original parts of the house, like wall paper, or even the pencil lines on the wall to mark the heights of the children over the years. Despite the sadness that can overwhelm you by visiting a part of history like this, it is truly a once in a life time experience, and something you shouldn’t miss.

coffee-shops On a lighter note, two of Amsterdam’s most notorious attractions lived up to all their expectations – the Red Light District, and the city’s many “coffee” shops. The Red Light District, located through a network of back alleys and roads, are filled with Amsterdam’s working girls. Even though most of the people walking through were only there to say they had walked through the infamous District, we learned there was a surprisingly high amount of business that comes along with the legalization of prostitution. Next, the coffee shops. One of Amsterdam’s oldest traditions surprised us all by the laid-back nature of their business (or should I be surprised everybody was so relaxed?). Despite popular belief that Amsterdam will be shutting it’s coffee shop doors to tourists, we were told that it was very unlikely that the legislation would be passed as it brings in a large amount of the city’s tourism.  I think this pretty much goes without saying, but both of these activities are more suited for adults, so if you’re traveling with small children I’d highly recommend skipping this part.

clog-making windmills After spending time in the center of the lively city, I was able to go to the outskirts and visit a traditional Dutch town, Zaanse Schans. This town was the definition of charm, with the windmills, small shops, farms, and once again with the adorable housing, I almost considered joining the Dutch-life. However, my experiences in Zannse Schans was the next best thing. They had a cheese making demonstration, and then you could visit the shop with endless amounts of cheese and chocolate for you to sample. Next they shared all their secrets of the traditional wooden clog with a clog-making demonstration.

Overall, the combination of the dynamic city and the charm of the small town proved to be the ultimate experience in Amsterdam, hopefully you too can have a trip that’s just as enjoyable!

canals1

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By Land, Sea and Air: The Best Things to do in Cairns, Australia

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CairnsCairns, Australia is a magnificent fusion of sea, land and air. Its close proximity to the Great Barrier Reef and the rainforest make it a fantastic destination for travellers from all over the world. There are plenty of things to do and after travelling to Cairns and being swept off my feet by its beauty, I’ve realised that the best way to get the most out of your trip to Cairns is by designating time for activities on land, in water and in the air.

Land

Cairns is nearby some of the most majestic rainforests in the world. Daintree Rainforest is the world’s oldest surviving rainforest and the largest continuous stretch of rainforest in Australia. Having said that, it only takes up about 0.1% of Australia’s land mass, yet is home to 30% of the country’s frog, reptile and marsupial population. Daintree is part of the Wet Tropics of Queensland World Heritage Site, in particular because some of the oldest species of plants grow here including 7 families of ancient fern. Daintree is also unique in that its dense tropic forest ends on the very edge of white sandy beaches leading to crystalline sea water. If you are interested in exploring this exotic and ancient rainforest, we offer a Cape Tribulation & Daintree Rainforest Tour From Cairns that takes visitors on a life changing trip through the primordial forest.

For those animal lovers out there, a trip to Cairns offers several opportunities to come into close contact with some of the strangest creatures in the world. The Cairns Zoo presents the unique opportunity to explore the zoo at night and meet its nocturnal residents. Late-night visitors are treated to a true Aussie barbeque and then led by torch through the dark zoo. It’s a spooky adventure that I would do again in a heartbeat. I even got to pet a koala, which made my night.

Petting a Koala

For those who want to see animals in the daylight, there are plenty of ways to do that too. The Rainforestation Nature Park is an excellent option because it combines exploration of the rainforest with Australia’s largest Koala and Wildlife Sanctuary. Rainforestation is part of a 100 acre World Heritage Park and offers visitors truly unique activities such as riding an army duck through murky rivers under the canopy of one of the most beautiful rainforests in the world. While I was there I held a koala, threw a boomerang (I ran away instead of trying to catch it when it came hurtling back at me) and tried my best to play the didgeridoo.

If you happen to have an unappeasable desire to see some crocodiles up close and personal, then head over to Hartley’s Crocodile Adventure. At Hartley’s, you get the opportunity to see the terrifying head shake and death roll of some of the largest crocodiles you’ll ever see. You also get the chance to hold a crocodile (I opted to take a picture kissing the nose of a baby croc…of course, his mouth was rubber banded shut so it wasn’t the scary ordeal that it sounds like it could be.) You can also go to the Snake Show and discover some of the most deadly snakes in the world, including the Australian Brown Snake, one of which slithered by my foot while hiking in the outback on a separate trip to Australia. I highly recommend seeing one at the Snake Show instead… Crocodile

Sea

Underwater World
Of course, what Cairns is best known for is its location right on the Great Barrier Reef. Visitors from all over the world come to swim with the thousands of tropical fish, explore the islands just off the coast from Cairns and cultivate their tan in the hot Australian sun. The number one thing to do, at least in my opinion, is to explore the aquamarine depths of the reef. It is an entirely foreign aquatic world down there, just waiting to be explored. There are plenty of ways to get to the reef, one of which is by a Quicksilver Catamaran which boasts an impressive Underwater Observatory and acts a platform from which you can go snorkelling. The observatory is perfect for those wanting to see all of the brightly-coloured fish without getting wet (some of my friends staying on the boat and actually watched us swim up to the window of the observatory).

For those wanting to dive a bit deeper into the good ol’ ocean blue, diving expeditions are the ways to go. Whether you are diving at night, diving with sharks or just plain old diving, the experience is sure to be one you will never forget. Inky blue water below, turquoise water above and thousands of fish all around comprise the traditional dive. If you want to stay out on the water for longer than an afternoon, 3 and 4-day Diving and Marine Life Cruises are available. They are essentially aquatic hotels that allow you to get the most out what is sure to be a surreal diving experience. Boat

If you are simply looking for a romantic and relaxed time on the water, Cairns is the perfect place to be. There are a number of Evening Dinner Cruises that are perfect for a dreamy night with your beloved. Gaze at the mangroves that line the water as you sip on champagne, let the delicious food and gentle rocking of the boat lull you into contentment and gaze at the stars in the arms of your sweetie on the deck. It certainly will be a delightful evening not soon forgotten.

Of course, not all of the things to do in Cairns are stress-free. Thrill seekers can get their adrenaline pumping on a Tully River Rafting Excursion. The tour takes you on an incredibly fun white water rafting excursion through the rainforest. It’s led by expert guides and concludes with a delicious meal cooked on the ‘barbie’.

Air

Who doesn’t dream about flying every once in awhile? To be honest, I can’t imagine a prettier place to fly over than the emerald jungles and hypnotic turquoise waters of Cairns.

Plane

Now, there are two main ways of seeing Cairns from above. The first is with a Scenic Flight that takes you from the wild rainforests to the white cays and aquamarine ocean. The flight will take you over the Great Dividing Range in the rainforest near Cairns. You may feel like you are flying through a scene from Jurassic Park (I know I did). The rainforests really do look as ancient as they are. From the sky above the rainforest, you will travel to the coast. It is a surreal experience, looking out at the reef from your plane and seeing the shimmering colours of the coral refracted by the water above them. For those who, after seeing the water, need to be in the water, there are also flights that will then stop and allow you to go Snorkelling at Sandy Cay.

Another, more leisurely way to explore the sky space above Cairns is via Hot Air Balloon . Of course, in true Aussie fashion, the balloon flight isn’t entirely relaxed. While up in the balloon, you will get to experience a balloon chase, which is essentially exactly what it sounds like: Your balloon will chase another balloon across wide open country and vice versa. It’s a very fun time and not stressful in the slightest, but it does add a bit of pace to the otherwise lovely, leisurely and scenic flight.

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The Perfection of the Piazza Del Duomo

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Looking back on my week long, mid-semester break to Italy I simply can’t shake the feeling I got at the top of the Piazza del Duomo, so I thought I’d share, and hopefully inspire some other travelers.

First, I should probably mention that I was traveling with my four other friends, and it was our last day of our five day Italian extravaganza. Nobody wanted to leave Italy, the land of pasta, pizza, wine, and gelato (four things that will never taste the same to me again), the place where people relax and enjoy simple pleasures like coffee, which we normally find more of a necessity than an indulgence.  Where real leather was as common as the authentic Venetian masks.  But enough of my Italian tangents, the point is just when we thought it couldn’t get any better we came across the infamous Duomo.  The entire week we were running around Italy we had been so focused on seeing everything that the cities had to offer, I realized we rarely took a moment to stand back and take in everything that was around us.

Piazza del Duomo proved to be the exception. duomo

Totalling 463 steps to the top, we were surprised that the staircases were windy, narrow, and very dark, not exactly user friendly.  About half way to the top you find yourself on a walkway, inside the church walking around the circumference of the dome giving us an up close view of the painted dome.  And if anybody’s wondering, looking from the top tier down onto the inside of the church was just as stunning as standing on the floor of the church and looking up.  After the brief break on a flat surface we continued climbing.  If we thought the stairs before were cramped, it only became tighter!  With a large school group in front of us, and other visitors squeezing by to get back down, I would give up your values of personal space for a couple minutes while you wait to get to the top.

And just as quickly as I felt bombarded by people, I felt overwhelmed by the sweeping views as we stepped out of the stairs into the open air on top of the Duomo.  It’s a small area, but you can walk around in a complete circle getting the full 360º of Florence.  It’s weird how at only 90 meters high, we were able to overlook all of the city, from the people below us at the market, slowly stretching out to the rolling hills and mountains in the countryside.

duomo 2 After getting our pictures from all sides, and constantly repeating how we were never leaving, the exhaustion from a week of walking, combined with a whole lot of stairs seemed to hit us all at once.  If you find yourself in the same position, we found there’s no better place to regain your strength than on top of the Duomo.  We sat down by the fences on the perimeter and watched as the sun set over the city–another suggestion I would make would be to go at this time because watching the sun set on the infamous Italian terracotta houses was truly breathtaking.

duomo32

The Piazza del Duomo was the perfect ending to our perfect trip, and I hope that you have an experience that’s just as memorable.  Happy traveling!

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Exploring the Dreaming Rock: The 5 Best Things to Do at Uluru (Ayers Rock), Australia

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Uluru To the aborigines of the wild and desolate Australian outback, Uluru is a sacred and mystical site. To travellers from around the world, Uluru, also known as Ayers Rock, is a thing of wonder and mystery. Uluru is one of Australia’s most distinctive landmarks. The giant red rock rises out of the land like the sun rises above the horizon, inspiring photographers, painters and nature-lovers with its exquisiteness. When I first gazed upon the Dreaming rock, I was astounded by the natural beauty and spiritual energy vibrating through the air.

Uluru towers above the earth, reaching 318m at its highest points. It is made of arkrose sandstone and is 8km in circumference. It is considered an inselberg, which literally means “island mountain” and stands along with the nearby Kata Tjuta formation as the only two testaments to the evolution of the earth in an otherwise flat landscape. Archaeological findings suggest that humans first settled in the area around Uluru approximately 10,000 years ago. Europeans first explored the area in 1872 when Ernest Giles first mapped Uluru and named it Ayers Rock.

The Anangu, the aboriginal people who have lived near the formation for hundreds of years, consider Uluru a sacred dreaming site. The Dreamtime was when the great spirits created everything upon the earth. The concept of ‘Dreaming’ can refer to several things; it can be an individual’s spirituality, such as when a man or woman says they are part of Kangaroo Dreaming or Dingo Dreaming. ‘Dreaming’ is also the place where each person’s spirit lives eternally. The aborigines believe that every spirit existed before its time on earth in the Dreaming and that it continues to exist after the death of the body. The Dreaming pervades every aspect of an aboriginal Australian’s life. It is a complex and unique network of stories, faith, knowledge and practices. The aborigines believe that there is a hollow space beneath Uluru that houses Tjukurpa, the Dreamtime.

1) Discover the Legends surrounding Uluru- Visit the Museum

In order to visit Uluru, visitors must buy passes to enter the park. These can be purchased through our Uluru Pass. Once you have entered the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, it is best to begin your adventure by visiting the cultural centre located near Uluru’s base. Not only does the centre have an extensive list of all of the activities happening in the park but also introduces you to the culture of the Anangu. The centre presents material relating to traditional culture and park history. The entrance to the cultural centre tells the story of the Anangu people and the various aboriginal beliefs and stories that involve Uluru. There is also an art centre in the vicinity that sells incredibly intricate aboriginal art. It’s nearly impossible to resist buying the incredible pieces they have in the store (I bought a hand-woven aboriginal pillow cover that reminds me of Uluru every time I sit down on my couch). Uluru

2) See Uluru from Every Angle

When you see Uluru, you realize why the aborigines believe it to be the centre of their spiritual existence. The sheer size of it is enough to inspire awe in anyone. The colour of it reminds me of the embers of a fire; the oranges and reds seem to intensify as the sun moves on its path through the day. To really experience the majesty of Uluru, you need to get up close and personal with the giant monolith. Our Uluru Pass, besides getting you into the park, also includes several walking tours. Visitors to the park can walk around the entire base of Uluru, while also witnessing the flora and fauna of the beautiful Outback. Keep a sharp eye out for Malu (red kangaroos) and echidnas as they are not found anywhere else in the world outside of Australia. Explorers and adventures can also discover the rugged beauty of the Kata Tjuta formation. Kata Tjuta is close to Uluru and with its deep gorges, unique rock colouring and exotic flora it is not a destination to be missed.

3) Experience Night-time in the Outback

A night in Uluru There is nothing like the outback after the sun has gone down. Stars blaze brightly above, the air gets cool and refreshing and if you listen closely, you may hear the lonely sound of a dingo’s far-off howl. Star gazers and romantics will find the Sounds of Silence Dinner particularly entrancing. Diners get to sample real bush tucker, including kangaroo, emu and barramundi, and sip on champagne as the sun sets on Uluru. After the delicious dinner experience, explore the heavenly stars above with an experienced Star Talker who will walk with you through the net of constellations hanging in the sky. Night in the Red Centre is an otherworldly experience; my friends and I felt as if we had travelled through the mists of time back to a primordial land.

4) Take to the Skies above the Red Centre

The Anangu consider Uluru to be one of their most sacred sites. When tourism began in Uluru, they were dismayed to witness visitors climbing up and down Uluru’s lofted peaks. Today, the local indigenous community requests that visitors do not climb Uluru. The path that leads to the top of the monolith crosses a sacred dreaming path, a fact that has caused the traditional owners of the rock much anguish. Though the path is still accessible, it has become smooth over the years from visitors’ feet and the path remains closed for most of the year. Those who wish to see what Uluru looks like from above but desire to respect the wishes of the Anangu will delight in a breath-taking Helicopter ride over Uluru and Kata Tjuta. If you choose to see the formations this way, you will witness some of the most awe-inspiring views Australia has to offer.

5) Experience the Bushman Lifestyle

A trip to the outback is not complete without experiencing the bushman’s lifestyle. Bushmen are the wild cowboys of the outback; they drive cattle, work farms and sheer sheep on a farm circuit they call the Wallaby Track. Needless to say, Bushmen are a fiery bunch (think Hugh Jackman’s rough and tough portrayal of a drover in the blockbuster Australia). Bushmen, after a long day’s work droving cattle, often sit around the campfire telling stories and eating bush tucker. You too can experience this sort of lifestyle, albeit in a slightly more comfortable way, by setting off on the Uluru, Kata Tjuta and Kings Canyon 3 days camping safari. Campers will explore Uluru, Kata Tjuta and Kings Canyon over the course of three days, with two nights lodging in the permanent campsites at Uluru and Kings Canyon that boast off-the-ground beds and a hearty supply of bush tucker.

The Outback

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Sunny European Get Aways.

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It’s official as Metro reported that UK’s summer 2011 is the coldest since 1998. The Met Office has concluded that the average temperature this summer was a mere 14C .  The report called the British summer ‘somewhat pitiful’… Hmmm, we can think of a stronger synonym or two for this appalling weather! So search for the sun elsewhere as September is looming and summer is officially at an end. Here are our suggestions to get your portion of Vitamine D in Europe.

by Flickr - Moyan Brenn

Rome, Italy. Temperature: 29C

Friends have recently returned from Rome describing it as epic but hot! (Perhaps this should be: epic and hot.) In any case Rome does tick the sun box as well as all the culture boxes. You can see ruins of the old Roman Empire, the Coliseum, the Forum and Palatine Hill. Admire the riches of the Baroque movement in Bernini’s architectural work at the Piazza San Pietro, his sculptures and a mix of both the Fountain of the Four Rivers at the Piazza Navona. Book for the Vatican and skip the line: walk through the Papal post and its surroundings and view the world famous works of painter Michelangelo in the Sistine Chapel.

by Flick- Justin Knabb.

Cote d’Azur, south France. Temperature: 25C

Madonna was spotted jet skiing there and the French Riviera has always had it’s attraction for celebrities as Cannes, where the famous film festival is held, is conveniently located there. One of the most popular destinations is Nice, the capital of the Cote d’Azur.  It has 15 private and 22 well-kept public beaches for you to lie on and top up that tan.Speaking of which, you could also visit the seaside resort of  St Tropez. We offer a wine-tasting tour from Nice, we bring you to the lovely village of Port Grimaud and St Tropez. On the way back you make a stop for a wine tasting session. Sun, beach and wine: who could wish for more?

by Flickr - Wendjie Zhang

Seville, Spain. Temperature: 25C

How do you think the Seville oranges get their colour?  Seville in southern Spain is the crown of Andelucia. Relax, while walking through the city admiring the architecture. Their famous Gothic Cathedral was a former mosque and the largest Gothic building in Europe. After some sightseeing, enjoy some local tapas and visit a flamenco show in the evening all while on tour in Seville.

Photos by Flickr: Rome by Moyan Brenn/ Nice by Justin Knabb/ Seville by Wendjie Zhang

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‘The Right Way to Climb Masada – Looking After Your Feet and Surviving the Heat!

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When visiting Israel, an excursion not to miss out on is a visit to the fascinating and ancient desert fortress of Masada. Having never been before, I booked a tour to visit and hike the 2000 year old fortification, the scene of a deadly Roman siege against the Jewish rebels in 72 AD that resulted in the mass suicide of nearly 1000 Jewish men, women and children. Masada rises majestically above the Judean and Negev deserts, overlooking the Dead Sea; the lowest point on Earth and although it is possible to take a cable car the 400 meters to its summit, and also the gentler Roman Ramp path, it is highly recommended to hike the side-winding snake-paths up the side of the mountain. This gives you spectacular views over the stunning, raw and arid landscape and a real appreciation of the magnitude of what was involved in the siege.

Hiking Masada, it has to be said, is not an easy task. Although the height and incline aren’t the most imposing or arduous, it is the searing desert heat which begins very shortly after sunrise that makes the hike all the more difficult. It is imperative that no matter what time of the year you visit, you take hydration very seriously. I used a 3L Source Hydration pack and I can tell you, was thankful for every last drop of those 3 Liters by the time I had hiked to the top. Just as important as keeping yourself hydrated, is making sure you bring the correct footwear too. This was obviously not a concern to the two middle aged Russian women I saw hiking in stiletto heels, but for the rest of us, wearing the correct footwear will help you get the most out of your Masada hike and prevent the blister and unwanted smells comparing that seemed bewilderingly popular on the bus at the end of the day. Considering the rocky terrain and the unforgiving sun, I opted for a pair of men’s Source sandals giving me comfort and sturdiness without the weightiness and lack of ventilation found in hiking shoes/boots. In this kind of environment, I always go for a good pair of hiking sandals as I find they don’t weigh you down like boots and shoes tend to do.

Once the hydration and choice of footwear has been sorted, it’s time to slip on a hat, slap on some sunscreen and enjoy your historical hike to the summit of ancient Masada. There, you are greeted with unique and interesting antiquities and a view that will simply take your breath away.

About the Author:

Samantha Wilson is a blogger who writes about travel and tourism. She enjoys visiting new places and getting the best deals.

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isango! Customer review: Vintage Car Tour

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We thoroughly enjoyed this trip and Don our driver kept us well informed all of the way. He queued up for our Alcatraz tickets.
The weather was not to good on the day but Don said that if we were here in the Summer the Golden Gate bridge would most probably be shrouded in mist.
He was a mind of information and kept you listening.
Would we recommend this excursion our answer would be a definite yes.

Edward, United Kingdom

Edward booked: Vintage Car Tour

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