Saturday, 19 June 2010

Tasmania | Latitude 42.00 S Longitude 147.00 E

This island of South Australia is one of the Oceania’s jewels and yet it is generally not included in the itineraries of the country. Geologically speaking, Tasmania is a young island; however it retains a very old world history and a truly intense human history. Tasmania was the prison of the unwanted English convicts in Britain and that fact forged a wilderness character in their descendants. Aborigines were extinct and only a few are recognized as great-grandchildren of those who survived the extermination.

You will find the island to be very complete: you can visit cosmopolitan cities (such as Hobart with its Victorian houses, stone warehouses and old buildings or Port Arthur, witness of convict past of its population), the English style countryside of the Midlands, St. Helens dunes, beaches (such as Strahan beach) but mostly parks (such as the National Park of Hartz Mountains with glacial lakes and forests, or the Southwest National Park with its lush and dense green forest or the Cradle Mountain-Lake Saint Clair National Park with a 80km trail through peaks and alpine meadows).

The best way to get to know the island is by road, watching the contrasting landscapes, immersing in its ancient nature and enjoying the leisurely pace.

  • On Friday afternoons, everything closes around 6 until Monday. The Tasmanians take refuge in their homes. No bars, no shops, no cinemas... nothing. So you need to have alternative activities planned. 
  • Due to its proximity to Antarctica, the winters are very cold, so avoid this time of the year.

  • In the Southwest National Park, the trees reach heights of up to 260 feet and trunks are up to 6.5 feet wide. Its forest seems rescued from the novels of Jules Verne. From there are the celery-top pine that takes 400 years to mature or the King Billy pine that takes a 1,000. 
  • The Tasmanian Tiger or Thylacine officially became extinct in 1936 when the last known specimen died in Hobart Zoo on, although some biologists claim to have seen one recently.  
  • If you want to see the only Tasmanian Devil that doesn’t live in Tasmania, then you should go to the Copenhagen Zoo in Denmark. This Tasmanian Devil was a gift from the Government of Tasmania to the Danish Royal Family.


Friday, 21 May 2010

Tallinn | Latitude 59.26 N Longitude 24.44 E

Here I am again with a new post; I have to say sorry to all those followers that kept asking me why it was taking me so long to write a new article, well I have been really busy lately though I was able to take a couple of days off to visit one of the most beautiful places in Europe, the medieval city of Tallinn, the capital of Estonia and the jewel of the Baltic Sea.

It is unbelievable that not until recently the incredible beauty of its historic centre was recognized as World Heritage and that tourism was no longer considered curiosity of a few.

In my opinion, Tallinn is a mixture of Copenhagen, Helsinki and London blended together with a hint of Germany, a Russian aroma and a Southern Europe atmosphere.

The first impression you will get of Vanalinn, that’s how the Old Town is called, is the uniform red roofs, the multitude of pointed cone-shaped towers, the strokes of Russian architecture, the cleanliness of the streets and the sobriety of the facades. Start your route by crossing the old wall by the Viru Gate, you'll see the Town Hall Square (Raekoja Plats), the Sajakang Street full of souvenir shops and bakeries, the St. Olaf Church, or the houses of the wealthy merchants in Pikk Street. Be sure to stroll around, you’ll find thrilling surprises.

From the Toompea hill you can see the best panoramic view of Tallinn. There you can visit the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, the Lutheran Church of Toomkirik or relax at the Long Boot (Pikk Jalg) cafe.

  • Seize the opportunity to visit other locations in the Estonian coast. Whether you rent a car or if you prefer the ferry, go to the city of Haapsalu (one of the favourite’s cities of Tchaikovsky and Tsar Nicolas II), the island of Hiiumaa and its Ornithological Reserve of Käina or the islands of Muhu and Saaremaa (pure nature). 
  • You can visit Lai Tanäv Street in the centre, there you will find plenty of restaurants where to taste typical dishes. 
  • If you are looking for something more than just a nice meal, then I must recommend you to go to Troika Restaurant in the Town Hall Square where you will enjoy a truly Russian experience.
  • Although the feeling that their inhabitants transmit is cold and distant, do not be misled by the topics because at night the city changes and its character opens more easily than you might think initially.

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Dahab | Latitude 28.29 N Longitude 34.30 E

Some of my followers have requested me to write an article about an exciting destination located in the northeast area of Africa, in Egypt to be precise. The place I am talking about is Dahab, a town renowned among the windsurfers due to its winds and calm water conditions. It is also the paradise for diving; you will love the reefs and the amazing underwater scenery.

But there is more than that, the Dahab must do’s also include camel rides, surfing, snorkelling, shopping, and indeed enjoying the sun and the beach. This small coastal town in the southern Egypt has been gaining importance and relevance during the last years. It has a recently restored beach, some hotels, restaurants, bars and diving centres.

If you are a surfing or windsurfing fan then I suggest you to visit The Lagoona, a long stretch of sandy beach near the town of Dahab where you can practice swimming, kite surfing, and other water sports. If you want to explore the area, kayaking is a very popular way to do it.

Diving is very popular in Dahab and the reefs are still in relatively good condition. The best dive sites include Abu Helal, the Blue Hole, the Bells, Coral Garden, Eel Garden, the Lighthouse, Moray Garden, and Three Pools. You should know that the Blue Hole is one of the most dangerous dive sites in the world, therefore only well-trained and experience divers should attempt this site.

If you are into climbing, then you must try the Sinai Tour. There are two different ways to do it: climbing the peak at night to see the sunrise from the top, which is not recommended during the winter because of the cold temperatures and the strong wind; or climbing the peak during the day, you will visit the Saint Catherine's Monastery and begin the ascent in the afternoon to watch the sunset at the top.

Backpackers will find the popular desert excursions irresistible. They allow you to see the wonders of the beautiful desert and you will get the chance to meet some of the Bedouin people. If you like yoga you may want to try in the desert.

  • Go to the bazaars, Dahab is a good place to buy oriental pipes, rugs, lamps, shirts, board games, silver jewellery, etc. The prices are geared to tourists, so bargaining is mandatory.
  • In Egypt it is rare to see women wearing little clothing. In Dahab that situation is less stringent and bathing suit is not frowned upon as long as you are a tourist.

Monday, 10 May 2010

Kathmandu | Latitude 27.43 N Longitude 85.22 E

Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal, is located in Asia at the foothills of the Himalayas. It is very common to travel here after visiting India and actually turns out to be a sweet after the chaos, misery and contrasts of the neighbouring country.

Seen from the rooftops, with the mountains on the background it looks like a typical Alpine postcard, however the reflection of the Buddhist temples’ decorations will remind you where you are.

The oldest known building is almost 1992 years old. The Kirat are the first known rulers of the valley and the remains of the palace built by them are in Patan near Hiranya Varna Mahavihar.

In the historic centre you can see crowded streets knotted together around Durbar Square, where years of history blend with monks, ancient Buddhist temples, tourists  and stands where you can buy food, goods, handicrafts, etc. Ason Tole and the Swayambhunath Stupa are a must see.

The city of Kathmandu is named after a structure in Durbar Square called Kasthamandap. This temple was built in the year 159 AD by King Laxmi Narsingh Malla. It is built entirely of wood without any iron nail or support of any kind. A legend says that all the wood required was obtained from a single tree.

  • From Kathmandu you have the possibility to make excursions to Patan (second largest city in the valley and more relaxed) Bhadgaon, Pashupatinath (one of the most important Shiva temples in Asia and sacred place of cremation) and Boudhanath Stupa (one of the biggest in the world and rallying point for Tibetans) 
  • The best time to go is October to November or March and April when the dry season starts and ends respectively.
  • Look at the size of the doors. 
  • By mid-afternoon, devotees come to the Buddhist temples and begin to circle the monument clockwise. I urge you to join this group because you will live a truly special moment.

Saturday, 8 May 2010

Pipa | Latitude 6.13 S Longitude 35.20 W

I always had the idea that there was no other place in Brazil as wonderful as Rio de Janeiro or Bahia. I was wrong.

The colourful, secret and romantic town of Pipa can be found just 80 kilometres south from Natal, it is also vital, peaceful and it has a special charm. Many foreigners looking for a peaceful place to live are now living here after escaping from the noise of the big cities. A craft store for tourists, a bar or a store for surfers -there are many- have been more than enough to make a living and relax in this South American village.

At night there are always several restaurants where to eat and bars that open their doors to entertain with their music.

The beaches that you will find in Pipa are Praia do Madeiro, Bahia dos Golphinos, Praia Central -the most crowded-, Praia do Amor which is the one preferred by the surfers due to its large waves and Praia das Minas.

My favourite is Bahia dos Golphinos. It is called that way because it is common to see dolphins playing in the waters of the bay within walking distance from the swimmers. It's a great feeling. In addition, the sand is soft and it is surrounded by wild vegetation. How nice!

  • If you are a girl and intend to buy a Brazilian bikini you should know that, in fact, they use no bikinis, but extremely tiny pieces of cloth attached together with threads. 
  • No wonder it is forbidden to be top-less, it isn’t necessary ;) 
  • The late night parties organized in Praia de Amor are definitely a must do.
  • In Praia das Minas, large turtles come during their spawning season to bury their eggs there. 
  • The ‘Bossa Nova’ is a musical style that is usually accompanied with guitars, drums and percussion. Elis Regina and Gilberto Gil are among the artists who popularize this rhythm.


Friday, 7 May 2010

Quebec | Latitude 53.45 N Longitude 71.59 W

Today we are going to North America, to the city of Quebec, one of the cities with more personality in the whole Canada. It is located on the eastern coast of the country, it was once a French colony and thus its language, cuisine, customs and even its architecture are tightly related to the ones of France.

The old town and the ramparts that still surround it are a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1985. Some of the places that you must visit are The Church of Notre-Dame-des-Victoires, the Porte St-Jean -one of the main gates of the wall-, the Place Royale, the Basilica of Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré, the Champlain Boulevard and the Château Frontenac.

The edge of the Vieux Quebec -old town- is dominated by the massive Château Frontenac, perched on top of the Cap Diamant. The hotel is situated opposite the Terrasse Dufferin, a boardwalk at the edge of the cliff, offering beautiful views of the Saint Lawrence River.

If you fancy doing some shopping, then you should know that the city of Quebec offers an infinite variety of possibilities for purchases at any of its hundreds of stores and warehouses. In the old town, the main shopping streets are the Ste-Anne, De Buade and St-Jean, which are mixed tourist shops, clothing boutiques and craft shops.

The shopping area of the Champlain Boulevard is famous for its cobblestone streets lined with boutiques and shops selling handicrafts. The Verrerie La Mailloche is especially interesting because it offers a glass blowing workshop, craft exhibitions and a shop where you can buy the finished products.

  • Quebecoise cuisine is influenced by French, Indian and various European communities’ cuisines. You can just take a walk around the old town and find that kind of cuisine that fits you the best, you will get good value for money. 
  • The Musée de la Civilisation is a good starting point to learn more about the history and identity of the city of Quebec.  
  • The Quebecoise has many differences compared to the French language that is spoken in France. For example, they don’t use ‘ne’ for the negative form and the pronoun ‘il’ becomes ‘y’. 
  • The island of Orleans can be seen from the city of Quebec and it is one of the haunts of poets and artists.  
Exploring Old Quebec: Walking Tours of the Historic City

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Ayers Rock | Latitude 25.20 S Longitude 131.20 E

Today I remembered a trip that I made a while ago to a beautiful and impressive place in Oceania. You've probably seen thousands of times that famous picture of an earth-red coloured mountain in the middle of a desert. This big rocky formation with such peculiar shape is the Mount Uluru, also known as Ayers Rock. It is located in the north of Australia, in the Uluru - Kata Tjuta National Park. It has 348 meters high and 9 km boundary.
It is one of the most famous icons of Australia, a sacred symbol to the aboriginal Australians. The main feature of this formation is its change of colour depending on the inclination of the sun, both during the day and during the different seasons. The most shocking moment of the day is at dusk, when it turns bright red. During the rainy season, the rock acquires a silvery gray tone with black stripes due to algae growing in its streams.

When you go visit it you will find the contrast of the blue sky against the earth-red colour of the mountain extremely thrilling.

  • ’The place you are about to climb to is a sacred symbol for us. You should not do it. It is not the most important thing to do here. What is really important is to stop and listen. Be aware of everything around you. Listening and understanding. Please do not climb!’
  • These are the words that aboriginal Australians use to receive and warn the traveller, however climbing Ayers Rock is after all still perfectly legal. Therefore it is your own decision.
  • So? Do you still feel like climbing it? Then, take plenty of water and remember that it is only for very fit people, and many deaths have occurred in the past, not only from people falling, but also from heart attacks.
  • Find a place where you can be alone and enjoy this experience that is sure to shake a spiritual reflection on you.
  • Aborigines call it the navel of the Earth; they believe that is the source of everything they know.
  • When William Gosse discovered the formation, he gave it the name of Ayers Rock after the Australian Prime Minister Sir Henry Ayers.
  • It is considered to be the largest loose rock on the face of the Earth.