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Saturday, February 02, 2013

How to Have Fun on a Cruise in Spite of the Kids

By Yazmin Gary

Wooohoo! Your family has just booked a fabulous cruise ship vacation! Wait. Uh oh. Is it possible that your delight has turned into a small feeling of dread? How are you going to relax with the kids on board? Take a deep breath, it will be fine.In fact, it will be great. Just keep these tips in mind and your cruise will be memorable and fun for the whole family.

Cruise on a Line that Caters to Families

Cruise on a Line that Caters to Families
Image via Flickr by Sonny Side Up

Today’s cruise lines, whether you’ve booked one of those often dreamed of Asian cruises or Bahamas getaways, have gone overboard (no pun intended!) to market their vacations to families. Many cruise lines offer kid-friendly activities during the entire cruise so they will have no lack of diversions, and you’ll probably never hear, “I’m so bored, there’s nothing to do.”

Utilize Onboard Programs for Children

Image via Flickr by Klobetime

When you book your cruise, investigate what types of onboard activities are available. You’ll find cruises that have many activities for children of all ages. You will find cruise lines such as Celebrity Cruises, which have special programs just for children. With these special services, you’ll be able to spend some quality alone time at some more adult activities, such as comedy clubs, or even a romantic dinner

These services are designed and geared toward youngsters and often have programs designated for certain age groups, so each child will receive age-appropriate entertainment and activities. These programs are usually run by staff that includes trained counselors, so you’ll be able to feel that your children are safe and secure.

Take Advantages of All Activities

Image via Flickr by Sean and Lauren

There are also many other shipboard activities that can keep your children occupied such as:

  • Movies and theaters – Your children can enjoy an afternoon at the movies, or even live theater. Many ships also offer acting classes, for a hands-on experience.
  • Pools and miniature golf courses – What kid wouldn’t enjoy a day frolicking in the pool while the ship glides through the waves, or an afternoon round of putt-putt golf?
  • Creative activities – This can include activities such as painting or arts and crafts, even cooking classes. It will be a fun and educational time.
  • Supervised playrooms and day care – These services will keep your children occupied while you enjoy the ship’s activities geared toward adults.
  • Bring Things from Home

    Image via Flickr by Scazon

    To make the trip more comfortable for your kids, don’t forget to pack their favorite pajamas, or even that ever-important security blanket or toy. They will be away from their familiar home surroundings, so the comforts of home will make cruising an adventure away from home.Consider bringing along their favorite portable video game. This can keep them occupied if there are wait times in the airport getting to your port, or just for an afternoon on deck.

    Of course, you’ll all want to spend a lot of family time together on the cruise and with just a little planning, you and your family will enjoy a vacation of a lifetime.


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Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Virginia Beach, Virginia

By Jane Buckley
Virginia Beach

If you’re looking for the perfect summer time vacation, you may want to consider Virginia Beach, Virginia. There are just so many things to do and see, the whole family can have fun; yes even the kids. Virginia Beach is a nice place to visit any time of the year, but the summer time is an even better time to visit due to the fact that the weather will be nice and you can actually get out and enjoy it.

What to Do?

Virginia Beach is of course home to the Virginia Beach. The beach does have some minor rules, but that is just to keep everything in working order.  The beach is located in an area of town known as the “oceanfront”. On the ocean front you can of course relax and soak up some sun or get in the water, but there are also loads of other fun things to do as well. The oceanfront is known for its nightlife, restaurants, hotels, shops and fun. You may want to buy some souvenirs or eat some of the giant snow crab legs that most of the restaurants on the oceanfront seem to have on offer. Then if you’re into the whole nightlife scene, there are clubs and bars available all up and down the strip. The ocean front also has bike rentals available and there is even a go-cart/fun world not too far away either.

Where to stay?

If you’re visiting in the summer time the best area to stay in is definitely the ocean front, so you can see a beautiful view from your room and not be too far away from the beach at the same time. There are a ton of hotels to choose from, ranging from luxurious ones like the Tropicana, to cheaper ones like the LaQuinta. All of these hotels and motels can be booked online. However, it is best to book during the winter time because during the summer time the area does book up rather quickly. Also, when you book in winter you’ll have a much better chance to get a great deal on a fabulous room.

Other Information about Virginia Beach

It is perfectly normal to want to know about a place before you go for a visit. So here is a little history about Virginia Beach, Virginia. Virginia Beach is considered to be one of the seven cities in the Hampton Roads Area. It is located between the towns of Norfolk and Portsmouth. Also, several military bases are located in the area. To get to Virginia Beach you will have to go through one of the tunnels, either the Hampton Roads Tunnel, the midtown Tunnel or the Monitor Merrimac Tunnel. However, there are no tolls to cross through the tunnels at this time. In the summer Virginia Beach can be crowded due to all of the tourism, locals, military and business men.  However, this does not make visiting this popular tourist area any less fun. You should definitely check it out for yourself.

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Sunday, October 16, 2011

Darjeeling, India

By Jane Buckley
Toy Train

Darjeeling is one of the most famous hill stations in India, having served as the most sought after summer retreat by the English during the colonial rule. It is situated at a height of 7001 feet (3.134 meters) and is flanked by some of the world’s tallest mountains, including the famous Kanchenjunga (the K2 peak).

The views are exquisite, offering an image that your eyes will never tire of. One of the best ways to fully experience the magic of this wondrous place is to take a trek in the surrounding country side.

How to get there

The best and the most story-book like way to get to Darjeeling is to take the famous ‘Toy Train’, which is the narrow gauge train that has been part of the Darjeeling-Himalayan railway since 1881. The train starts at Siliguri from the New Jalaipaguri station, then after just six and a half hours through the Indian landscape you are in Darjeeling. It is possible to reach Siliguri from any of the major international airports such as Mumbai and Delhi, though it is recommended to book rides in advance. Other ways to get to Darjeeling are by bus, taxis and Share-jeeps (which frequent the tourist towns like Darjeeling and Siliguri).

Getting Around

Most of the lower sections of Darjeeling are navigable by foot, while elevations can be explored through the cheap and comfortable share-jeeps or slightly more expensive (but private) taxis.
Major Attractions

The journey to Darjeeling itself is a marvel. Riding the Toy Train is a chance to take in one of the world’s most beautiful and scenic routes. Once in Darjeeling, one can look into the process of tea-making, at the Makaibari Tea Estates, who also offer tours, lodging and mountain and jungle treks. Tea to be taken home can be purchased at Nathmulls Tea Cosy, selling a wide variety of tastefully packaged products.

About eight miles south of Darjeeling you can find Tiger Hill, which offers breathtakingly beautiful views of the surrounding mountains including the Kanchenjunga. It is even possible to catch a distant glimpse of the famed Mount Everest. The best time to visit Tiger Hill is at the crack of the dawn, since the sunrises here are almost perfect and feel absolutely magical.

In the vicinities of Darjeeling, one finds some notable 19th Cenury Buddhist monasteries that hold some very beautiful murals.

One of the most sought after experiences is the white water rafting expeditions. These last from a couple of hours to two days, with prime rafting seasons from September to November and March to June. It is advisable to make advance bookings in order not to miss this one.

Places to Eat

There are some excellent places to eat, with local restaurants offering a wide variety of International cuisine from Mexican and Italian to Tibetan. However one of the things to note is that most of the restaurants here close early, at around 8 pm. So make sure to not dawdle when looking for dinner.

Places to stay

From April to June and October to December, the prices are unbelievably high, so it is advisable to come at other times if you are looking to save money. There are some very good hotels available, such as the Historical Colonial Elgin, with its open fire places and rustic charm and the beautiful and elegant Mayfair Hill resort. There are great options in mid priced range such as the Bellevue, offering great views of the Kanchenjunga.


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Friday, October 07, 2011

Marvellous Marrakech

By Jane Buckley

Marrakech is the second-largest city in Morocco, located against the wonderous backdrop of the Atlas Mountains. It is an ancient walled city, characterised by narrow streets, medieval buildings, bustling markets and mosques, where your senses are assailed by exotic smells, sights and sounds.  Morocco is not a destination for beach lovers, being almost 2-hours’ drive from the coast, but it is the perfect place to visit for those who wish to experience a completely different way of life and a culture that is a mixture of Arabic, African Berber and European influences.

Marrakech is a year-round destination, although it can get very hot in summer.  Winter months are pleasantly warm during the daytime, but can get a little chilly in the evenings. The Moroccans are a friendly and hospitable people, for whom nothing seems to be too much trouble.

There is plenty to see and do in Marrakech, but tourists tend to flock to the Medina quarter, the oldest part of the town, whose palaces and ramparts are relics of the city’s bygone imperial golden age. Towering over the entire city is the 77-metre high minaret of the 12th century Koutoubia Mosque.

The 16th century El Badi Palace is long abandoned, and few traces of its former glory remain, but it is still worth visiting.  There are spectacular views from its rooftops, and in summer it is the venue for the National Festival of Popular Arts.

The Bahia Palace is more modern, dating only from the end of the 19th century.  Its name means “brilliance”, though to modern eyes it may merely appear tawdry.  The harem, set around a vast, beautiful courtyard is still worth seeing, as are the lovely gardens.

If you need to relax after a long day sight-seeing, there are numerous spas in Marrakech, Alternatively, you could refresh yourself with the local speciality drink of mint tea, or take a stroll around the Menara Gardens and lake to escape the hustle and bustle of the city.

Marrakech has a lively nightlife, which is mainly centred around Djemaa el Fna Square in the Medina.  Although dull during the daytime, the square comes alive at night with food stalls, street entertainers, musicians and dancers, snake charmers and fortune-tellers. Bars stay open until midnight, and clubs until dawn. You can also barter for bargains such as carpets, leather goods, ceramics and spices in the souk until very late. Moroccan food tends to be spicy, but the square has numerous hotels and restaurants where you can find European cuisine.

Many tour companies offer accommodation in “riads”, which are small, intimate hotels with traditional Moroccan architecture, furnishings and artwork. One of the most famous hotels in Marrakech is the historic La Mamounia, which Winston Churchill described as “the most lovely spot in the whole world”. More contemporary hotels include the Islane, which has all modern conveniences, including en-suite rooms with wi-fi, air-conditioning and satellite TV.

The local currency is the Dirham, and both Arabic and French are widely spoken.  No visa is required for UK and US citizens.

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Thursday, October 06, 2011

Alaska Salmon Fishing Lodge: A Fisherman’s Dream

By Jane Buckley

Many fishermen spend a great deal of time looking for that one perfect place to kick back and relax while they dream of hooking the big catch that will turn them into a local legend. If that sounds like you, why not try out a good old fashioned Alaska fishing lodge? Alaska is well known for their fishing lodges and for their Alaskan salmon fly fishing vacations, both of which make excellent holiday destinations for the avid fisherman.

So which Alaska fishing lodges are the best? Let take a look and see.

Alaska Luxury Fishing Lodges

We’ll start by checking some of Alaska’s luxury fishing lodges. There are many guides that can help you find out all the information you need online, so make sure to check out the various areas thoroughly. Due to the fact that Alaska has so many fishing adventures to choose from, it is impossible for me to list all of the various options for you now.

There are Alaskan lodges for fishing and hunting, wilderness lodges, water fishing lodges, sportfishing lodges and a whole lot more.
Another good resource is the Alaska Travel Lodge website, as they should be able to refer you to some of the places that best fit your specific needs. Some people prefer a certain location, a certain type of fish, or even someplace with a bit of variety for those who fish but have to bring their families along for the ride. Whatever you need, they have a place for you. Nothing beats an Alaskan lodge in the wilderness.

If you’re more small country you can try the Alaska Backcountry lodges (that give you more woods then you know what to do with).

Finding the perfect Alaska lodges for fishing may also mean knowing what your fish preference is. If you have preferences as to what you catch do some searching on that. Chances are Alaska will have some lodges dedicated to just that specific type of fishing.

For example, those who like to catch Salmon (for which Alaska is very well known) should look into Alaska King Salmon Fishing Lodges and sign up for the Alaska Salmon fishing lodges guided fly fishing tours.
Alaska Destination Lodges

Now, what if you’re looking for some good places and already have a destination in mind? Fear not. There are always Alaska Destination Lodges. You could try the Alaska Yetna River lodges, Alaska View Lodge Queen Charlotte Islands, Alaska and Kaliakh River and those fishing lodges, or the Alaska fishing lodge on the Kenai River Vacation Rental. It’s all about knowing where to begin looking.

A Few More Starting Points

Allow me to give you a few references as to where to begin looking for the places that you can turn to. Your best bet would be the Alaska Salmon Fishing Tour and Fly Fishing Lodge link page.

Another good resource to try is the Alaska Sport Fishing Grosvenor Lodge Travel Tips as well as the Alaska Fishing Guides Charters Lodes and Reports. Overall, the Alaska Adventures Resources for Fishing Lodges is the best to look at, unless you are on a budget and then you might want to look into the Alaska Fishing Affordable River Lodge Guide.

Some of these offer Alaska lodge remote vacations, so you don’t have far to go for anything you are looking for. Keep in mind, some places require Alaska lodge reservations as spots fill quickly. Of all the Alaska fishing lodges I have seen though, they all have one thing in common: they go by the Alaska Lodge Mission to ensure that every customer is well satisfied and has the best experience. You ask and you receive, as there are plenty of Alaska lodge jobs to cater for you!

Your retreat is just a click away. To know how to search the internet means to know what is available to you and ladies and gentleman there is nothing left to the imagination when you believe in the state of Alaska!


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Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Coco Cay

By Jane Buckley

Royal Caribbean is synonymous with vacation cruising, after all, their ships ply all of the seven seas and are some of the most recognizable in the cruise liners in the world. Yet, it is on one of their quiet and out of the way cruises that you can find the most relaxation and truly find the space to have some fun. Several of their ships stop at their private island of Coco Cay, and believe me the place is well worth a visit. Yes, it has the tourist-trap shops, but what place doesn’t nowdays?

Its true charm comes from the efficient yet luxurious layout of the island: food, seating, fun and sand; all within easy reach of each other. It was in July of ’07 that my husband Stew’ and I went there. Very often, he doesn’t bother going ashore to beach-type excursions. You see, he has MS, and as a result must use an electric wheelchair to get around. Well, wheelchairs (even ones as powerful as his) and sand do not generally make a good mix. So he was going to stay on the ship and I’d go ashore to go snorkeling. But, the crew assured us that he could be able to get around on his own and have a good time doing it.

As I recall, I think there had been a bit of rain that morning and Stewart was a little worried about his chair getting wet. Still, we knew there was shelter on the island, so he decided to go for it. Getting on the tender boat was a bit of a bother, but not as bad as on some other cruise lines. At the dock, the gangplank lowered and it was an easy roll out onto the sand. Here it was - the first test. As it turned out, the paths and trails were very tightly packed, so Stew’ had no trouble getting around.

I went off to snorkel and he went sightseeing. He picked up some great bargains and gifts for the family. When I got back, having had a great time, he announced that he wanted to try and get down to the water’s edge. Well I wasn’t too sure about that, but he seemed confident that the sand would support his chair. So, off we went. Down the main “road” past the picnic area and around the lounge chairs. We found a narrow path to the beach and he pushed his chair into high gear. To my delight and surprise, he made it; not getting stuck once.

At the water’s edge he turned his chair off and I helped him to stand. Slowly, cautiously, we made our way into the water. For the next hour, we reveled in the simple joy of swimming; the water’s buoyancy negating his physical limitations.

I know people aren’t supposed to do commercials for a particular product or business when talking about vacation spots, but I have to compliment Royal Caribbean for their private vacation spot. People who are whole and hearty almost never stop to think what disabled people go through to have a bit of fun. That there is a place where they can, warms my heart.



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Friday, September 30, 2011

Hurghada, Egypt

By Jane Buckley

Hurghada is a modern resort on the Red Sea coast. Once a small fishing village, its popularity with both Egyptian and European holidaymakers has led to the building of so many hotels, bars, shops and restaurants that it now stretches along 20 miles of coastline, which has necessitated a major expansion of the local airport. Today it is one of Egypt’s premier holiday destinations.

The Red Sea climate is consistent throughout the year, with daytime temperatures of around 30oC, which makes it a popular choice for winter breaks. In fact, many Europeans choose to spend their Christmas break in Hurghada.

Hurghada’s main attraction is its excellent range of aquatic sports: snorkelling and diving around the beautiful coral reefs, wind-surfing, swimming, kiting and deep-sea fishing. Even non-swimmers can enjoy the underwater gardens and colourful fish species that live on the coral reefs via glass-bottomed boats. For even more fun, there are also several aqua parks in the town – Titanic, Jungle and Sinbad – with water slides, pools and rides.

It should be noted that most of the beaches in Hurghada are owned by the hotels that face on to them, and most of these strictly forbid non-residents to use them. However, a few stretches, such as the Elysees Dream Beach and the Hed Kandi Beach Bar, are accessible to holidaymakers for a small daily fee.

The principal tourist area of the town is El Sakala (or Sheraton Road). This street is lined with hotels and apartments, shops, bars and restaurants, banks and night clubs. Nearby is the new Marina, surrounded by luxury apartments and designer shops. This is the place to enjoy fine dining, or to take an evening stroll and admire the beautiful yachts in the harbour.

For lively nightlife, there is the El Memsha (Village Road) district, with its nightclubs – including the world-famous Little Buddha - bars, international restaurants and the Hard Rock Café.  There are also lots more hotels and shopping malls round about.

For a more authentic glimpse of Egypt, El Dahar is the area of Hurghada where most of the locals live, so here you will find bazaars, coffee shops where you can sample a ‘shisha’ pipe, and mosques, as well as a large food market.

It is possible to visit either Cairo or the temples of Luxor from Hurghada; but for a slightly more unusual excursion you could take a desert safari by jeep, and enjoy an Egyptian barbecue in a real Bedouin camp, or go horseback riding amongst the sand dunes at sunset.

There is a huge range of places to dine out in Hurghada.  Most of the well-known fast food chains are represented, but for something a little more sophisticated, there are sushi bars, seafood diners, Thai, Indian and Italian restaurants and – of course – traditional Egyptian eateries.

Shopping opportunities are equally varied, ranging from modern shopping malls and boutiques to bazaars where you will be expected to haggle. Evening is the best time to shop, when the temperature cools, and local specialities include alabaster, papyrus, perfumed oils, jewellery and cotton.

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Thursday, September 29, 2011

Rajasthan, India

By Jane Buckley

Rajasthan is a province in north-west India that is often referred to as “The Land of Kings” due to its historic royal associations. It is the largest state in India, occupying an area of approximately 343,000 sq km, and its capital city is Jaipur.

Summertime temperatures can often reach 45oC, so it is advisable for people accustomed to cooler climates to visit Rajasthan during the winter months of October to March. This is also the best time to enjoy local festivals and traditional fairs.

The region is served by the Sanganer international airport in Jaipur, as well as several domestic airports. The major towns and cities are also linked by road and rail networks, making it easy to explore.

Not surprisingly, given its size, Rajasthan is very diverse. The Thar Desert is the seventh largest in the world, and has a rich animal and bird population, including a number of rare species that are not found anywhere else in the world, such as the Blackbuck and the Indian Buzzard, which live under the protection of the Desert National Park. The best way of exploring this region is by camel safari, following ancient trade trails and experiencing the simple lifestyle of the rural Rajasthan villages.

In contrast, there are areas of lush deciduous forest, grassy meadows, lakes and rivers, and the freshwater wetlands of the Bharatpur Sanctuary. The variety of the topography is matched only by the multiplicity of flora and fauna that flourishes in the state. Rajasthan is a haven for endangered species, with numerous wildlife reserves and sanctuaries. One of the largest of these is the Darrah Sanctuary, which was once the hunting ground of maharajas, and is now the home of tigers, leopards, sloths and chinkaras.  Numerous wildlife tours are available around the state, including jeep safaris and horse treks.

For those of a more cultural bent, Rajasthan positively bristles with temples, forts, palaces and monuments. The magnificent palaces are a reminder of the grandeur and splendour that epitomised the lifestyle of the maharajas, with beautiful gardens, breath-taking architecture and exquisite decorations. Today, many have been turned into hotels or museums, although the current royal family still lives in a wing of the City Palace in Jaipur.

Almost every major town had a fort to protect the Rajput rulers, and there are a number that merit a visit, notably the imposing Mehrangarth Fort in Jodhpur, which dates back to the 15th century.

Hinduism is the region’s predominant religion, and the ubiquitous temples and holy shrines are not only places of worship and pilgrimage, but meeting grounds for celebrating local festivals and traditions. It is difficult to pick out any one of these inspired works of architectural design in particular, but the 14th century Brahma Temple in Pushkar is unique in the whole world in being dedicated to the Creator, Lord Brahma.

Rajasthan is one of the most colourful, vibrant and diverse regions in India, and has something to appeal to almost everyone: beautiful architecture, culture, spectacular scenery, rare wildlife and – of course -  authentic Indian cuisine!

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Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Reykjavik, Iceland

By Jane Buckley


Founded by the Vikings in the first century AD, Reykjavik means “smoky bay”, named for the natural geysers and geothermal springs which today provide much of the city’s heating. It stands on a peninsula beside Faxaflói Bay in the south-west corner of Iceland, looking out into the Atlantic Ocean. Rising behind the city is the imposing Mount Esja, which dominates the skyline.

Reykjavik is quickly becoming a popular year-round destination, and is an ideal place for a short-break holiday. No visa is required for British or US citizens; there are no major health risks, and very little crime.  The locals are friendly, and most of them speak English.

Reykjavik is a fascinating mixture of historic and contemporary architecture, characterized by whitewashed buildings and colorful houses.  In spite of being Iceland’s capital city, it has a homely, “small town” feel, and can be explored on foot.

There is a large, thriving artistic community, with dozens of galleries, theatres and museums, as well as stunning modern street art.  The National Museum celebrates national culture and folklore, with thousands of artefacts on display, including Viking relics.

Another major attraction is the Hallgrimskirkja, a 20th century church of unique design: modeled on basalt pillars created by volcanic eruptions. Its spire is the tallest building in Iceland.

The Botanical Gardens is well worth a visit, with displays of Icelandic indigenous plants, a children’s park and zoo. However, one of Reykjavik’s most unusual attractions is Perlan (“The Pearl”), which consists of six enormous silver tanks that store naturally-heated water, topped by a glass dome containing a revolving restaurant that offers world-class cuisine and stunning night-time views of the city.

Reykjavik’s modern city center co-exists with the Old Town district. Austurvollur, the Old Town square, is a thriving area which in summertime is ablaze with colorful floral displays, and is a favorite place to sit and enjoy the national drink – coffee. It is also the location of the city’s oldest church, Domkirkja, the Parliament building and the famous art deco Hotel Borg.
The Laugavegur district houses most of the city’s bars and clubs.  Reykjavik is famous for its nightlife, which in summer starts late and goes on until breakfast time.  It is also where the up-market stores are to be found. For those who cannot afford designer prices, however, there are two shopping malls in the city centre, and a flea market at Laugardalur, which is a great place to pick up souvenirs.

One cannot stay in Reykjavik without visiting the geysers, and bathing in the geothermal springs. Another “must” during summer months is a whale-watching trip; while autumn and winter visitors can experience the dazzling Northern Lights.

There are numerous excursions available.  Thingvellir, the site of Althingi - the oldest functioning parliament in the world - is the meeting point of the European and American tectonic plates. Also worth a visit is the glacial lagoon Jokulsarlon, which features in the films “Die Another Day” and “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider”; and to the south of the city is the Blue Lagoon, a geothermal spa in a lava field, which supposedly has curative powers.

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Friday, September 23, 2011

Seeing Salzburg

By Jane Buckley

Picturesque Salzburg is located in central Austria, close to the Bavarian border, and straddling the River Salzach.  It is familiar to many of us as the setting of the popular film The Sound of Music and it is also famous for being the birthplace of the composer Mozart.

Archaeological evidence suggests that the earliest settlement dates back to the Neolithic era, and in Roman times, the town was known as Juvavum. In the 14th century, Salzburg became the capital of an independent state ruled by duke-archbishops, who became fabulously rich from the local salt mines and spent immense sums on creating the beautiful baroque-style buildings and monuments located in the Altstadt (old town) area.  This is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site.

There are several notable buildings that should be on the “must see” list of any visitor.  It is impossible to miss the Hohensalzburg Fortress, which towers over the town from atop the imposing Monchsberg (Monk’s Mountain). Accessible by funicular railway, there are magnificent views of the city and a museum of medieval weaponry and torture instruments. In summer, there are often evening concerts within its walls.

Schloss Hellbrun, former summer residence of the Archbishops of Salzburg, is open to the public from April to November. When strolling through its beautiful gardens, one needs to remain alert in order to avoid a soaking from one of the quirky “trick” fountains!

Salzburg Cathedral is one of the city’s most beautiful landmarks. In summer the surrounding squares are an open-air concert venue, and in winter become home to the annual Christmas Market, selling decorations, candies, winter clothing and local craft wares.

Schloss Mirabell is a fairytale castle on the banks of the river, with exquisite gardens and a stunning marble hallway that is in great demand as a wedding venue.

There are a number of museums around the city, the most noteworthy of which are Mozart’s Geburthaus (birth-house), a museum dedicated to the composer and his family; the Natural History Museum and the Museum of Modern Art.

One of the best-known streets is Getreidegasse, a long, narrow thoroughfare which runs through the town centre, parallel to the river, whose many shops all display old-fashioned signs of profession on their frontages. Other historic shops can be found in the Alter Markt area.

There are many excellent places to dine in the city, including the Restaurant Mediterrane, serving Italian fare, and the K & K Restaurant for traditional Austrian cuisine. For true gourmets, the world-renowned Obauer Restaurant, 45 minutes south of the city, is unmissable.

Beer lovers can visit one of the small, local breweries to sample their wares; but there are also many beer gardens, bars and cafes where one can while away a pleasant evening.
Depending on your budget, you can pitch your tent in the Nord Sam campsite, enjoy a budget stay in one of the city’s youth hostels, or splash out on a hotel room.  These range from small, family-run guesthouses, such as the Pension Adlerhof, to the luxurious, 700 year-old Hotel Elefant.

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Thursday, September 22, 2011

Ithaka an Ionion Paradise

By Jane Buckley

If you’re looking for a sunshine holiday in a tranquil, unspoilt beauty spot, you might consider Ithaka for your next summer holiday.  One of the smallest of the Ionian Islands, it is separated from Kefalonia by a narrow channel.

In reality, Ithaka is virtually two islands, separated by a narrow ridge. The western side of the island is fairly rugged, but the eastern side is fertile, with numerous small bays and sheltered harbours, which were once the haunt of bloodthirsty pirates (don’t worry they are long gone!).

Ithaka’s main claim to fame is that it is reputedly the birthplace of Odysseus.  Several locations mentioned in Homer’s Odyssey, including Laertes’ Field, the Cave of Nymphs and Arethusa’s Spring are supposedly found on the island.

The capital is Vathy, a small, thriving port in the southern part of the island, overshadowed by Mount Neritos. It’s not really a tourist resort, although there are several hotels, and the waterfront is lined with tavernas and kafenions. This is one of the most spectacular natural harbours in Greece, with a narrow entrance resembling a fjord. Vathy was once a Venetian settlement, and the remains of their gun emplacements still guard the two headlands. The town is characterised by narrow alleyways and stepped paths, lined with the ruins of Venetian buildings destroyed in the 1953 earthquake, which have been taken over by trailing wisteria.

There are numerous picturesque towns and villages and over 100 beaches, some of which are only accessible by boat. One can hire a car from Kefalonia in order to properly explore the island. However, it is also possible to book a week’s organised walking tour with a local guide.

Kioni, in the north, is the largest resort. Built on a hillside, overlooking a harbour which, in summer, is filled with luxury yachts, it has elegant Venetian buildings and authentic Greek cafes and tavernas serving local cuisine. Three ruined windmills overlook the town from the top of the promontory.

Other popular seaside resorts are Polis, one of the few beaches equipped with sunbeds and parasols, and from where one can take boat trips around the island; Frikes, a charming fishing village nestling around a picturesque harbour; and Filiatro Bay with a pretty pebble beach that enjoys all-day sunshine and is ideal for swimming and snorkelling with its warm, shallow waters.

Some other places on the island that merit a visit can best be seen on a car tour.

Exoghi is one of the island’s oldest villages, and is chocolate box-pretty, with breathtaking views over Aphales Bay. Captivating views are also available from the bell tower of the 16th century monastery of Kathara on the slopes of Mt Neritos. From here one can stare out across the Gulf of Corinth to the Peloponnese Mountains. Just along the road is Anoghi, an isolated village which has an unexpectedly magnificent set of 15th century frescoes in its church.

Accommodation is available in small hotels, private villas or apartments, and there is a small campsite at Filiatro Bay. The island has no airport, so visitors have to come in by ferry from Athens, Kefalonia or Corfu. However, the trip is well worth while. So if you’re planning on visiting Greece anytime soon make sure to check it out.

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Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Golf Resorts in Florida

By Jane Buckley

If you love golf, than Florida may just be the place for your next vacation destination! Why does Florida have so many golf resorts? Well for a start the weather is perfect for golfing! Florida has very mild and pleasant temperatures, typically hovering at around seventy degrees. Just the right kind of heat to be playing golf in!

Another reason that Florida is home to so many golf resorts is that Florida is of course a world renown vacation spot! Many people like to golf as a way to relax, so what better way than to provide them with some dream courses in the sun.

So where are the golf resorts in Florida?

Destin, Florida is home to over six golf courses and resorts! They are all beautifully landscaped! One of the best ones is the Regatta Bay Golf and Country Club, which is probably one of the most popular courses in the whole state.

Jacksonville is also home to many golf courses and resorts. Many of Jacksonvillesʼ golf courses are full of lush foliage and greenery. There is also the Ginn Ocean Course at Hammock Beach. It has won some very impressive awards, including the triple A, four diamond award!

Daytona Beach is not just the home of NASCAR. It is also home to several great golf courses. Most of the resorts there have won many awards in excellence.

Orlando, Florida has several golf courses. These courses are a bit more pricey, but they are very good ones. You pay more, but you definitely get what you pay for. No losses there!

Tampa Bay has a lot of great golf courses too. If your wish is to play near the ocean then you should choose the Bardmoor G &TC course. It is the closet golf resort to the beach! That way you can smell and feel the fresh air of the ocean while you are out playing a few holes!

Space Coast, Florida is aptly named for it’s impressive space port. However, there’s more than rocket ships at this location! You guessed it, Space Coast is home to several golf courses. All of these are on the more economical end of the local golfing spectrum, but just because they are cheap don’t think they are any less impressive. The truth is that these golf courses and resorts are just as good as most of the higher priced ones.

West Palm Beach is somewhere to check out as well. Palm Beach of course is very popular! Naturally, there would be a place for golfers to reside too! These golfing locations are really great because they are near the ocean and make for fabulous golfing!

Really when you go to Florida on vacation, you are spoilt for choice. Make sure to do your research of the local area in advance of booking your course, as that way you can plan your dream trip down to the very last piece of perfection (or at least figure out the best way to get rid of the wife and kids so you can play golf to your hearts content).

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Friday, September 16, 2011

A Beginner’s Guide to Train Travel

By Jane Buckley

Everyone uses the train these days because lets face it, train travel is easier and at times cheaper than other travel options, especially with the price of gas to fill your car these days. So, what if you’re like me and haven’t used train travel before? We Hoosiers are somewhat new to the train travel system. It just depends what part of Indiana you are from as to how familiar you are with train travel. So, I decided on my last trip, that I was going to use the train travel system and here is what I’ve learned thus far.
With the way the world is today, train travel may be affordable, but the people running the show will want ID. I can’t blame them for this with how much stuff has happened before in subways and airports. Mostly any picture ID will work for train travel and hey, it’s keeping people like you and me safe so it should be no problem to carry some photo ID and put up with the slight delay.
Just like you can from airlines, you can buy your tickets for train travel ahead of time so that you can feel confident you have your means of travel and you can make plans. You can normally do this by phone or by internet. I trust the phone more now as more and more people are stealing identities online. You just need a credit card handy because you will have to buy it. You can’t place tickets on hold without buying them. Another way that train travel is much like the airline system is that you find the times for you to board the train by looking on the screen. This will tell you the time when your train is due to depart and will notify you of the soonest time that you can start boarding the train. Due to how noisy it is in train stations, though, when you use train travel, they don’t announce it as much.
When you buy two single tickets when using train travel, it can be cheaper. This tends to open up more time to travel and you don’t have to buy a return. Of course though, this is just a suggestion, you’ll need to check this out before you use train travel. To get the best train travel ticket though is to be patient and not picky. This will allow you to sometimes get better rates as some trains will be looking to fill a train that they have sold little seats. If you do this, the train might be leaving rather quickly or at an odd time for affordable train travel time.
Some trains have rail cards that give discounts on the fares making them even more easily affordable. Some give them to young people and can take a third off the cost of a regular ticket. Others may give discounts to senior citizens. Then, you can always get a group discount. Most of these group discounts will allow a group of four people to travel for the price of two train tickets.

Lastly, you can always try online reductions if you are still looking for something a bit cheaper to try out.

So, all aboard who’s going on this train ride. This train is about to leave and I’ll be seeing you there as I take my first train ride. Are you ready? I sure am and I just learned a few things that might help me get the best deal for my money. Hope you enjoy train travel as much as I’m about to.

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Thursday, September 15, 2011

Bansko Summer Vacations

By Jane Buckley

Bansko, situated within the borders of the Pirin National Park, possess incredible natural beauty and is acknowledged as a World Heritage site by UNESCO. Ringed in by the Rila, Pirin, and Rhodope mountains, the community is already becoming one of the top ski locations of Europe, with many people from across both the EU and US beginning to congregate in the region to relish the facilities and attraction to be had there all the year long.

Once you come to Bansko, your concept of what a summer vacation needs to be fun will be changed forever.

Do you love fine food? In Bansko you can watch the world amble by as you sit at a cafe sitting on the tree-lined strip located immediately off the central main square. There are more mehanas located around and on the city’s cobbled streets, and many have wonderful gardens. You just have to go to “The Hoe”, it has its own stream trickling right from one end to the other of its garden! It’s cheap to drink and eat in Bansko, with a glass of wine or a large beer usually not costing more than two Levs ($1), and as a three-course meal (drinks included) tend to cost only slightly more than $10 per person, you won’t break the bank! Here’s a little tip: the local Shopska Salad is definitely worth a try.

Dobrinishte is about four miles from Bansko, and you can reach it in about ten minutes by car. The place has a giant, free-form open air swimming pool. Dobrinishte is a spa resort; it has seventeen mineral springs and the water temperature is between 30C to 43C. The swimming pool gets its water from the same mineral water, and the water is said to possess Healing Powers. While you’re there, try taking making use of the poolside snack bar and/or swim-up bar. Getting in costs about $4, and that price includes a parasol and sun bed!

A visit to Bansko isn’t complete without riding the Dobrinishte chair lift up the mountain. The ride is 3.7 kilometer, takes about twenty-five minutes, and lifts you up to an altitude of 2020 meters. It’s not an exaggeration to state that the scenery will absolutely take your breath away. This is where a number of the hikes in the area start, and then allow you to find incredible lakes of crystal clear water, Bezbog Lake being merely several steps from the point the lift delivers you. The place is all the rage for a barbeque or picnic. Adults can ride the lift for ten levs, children get a discount, and you can ride it anytime of the year.

The Bansko International Jazz Festival is great for lovers of music, especially fans of jazz; it’s one of the most prominent, and the oldest, music events in all of Bulgaria. The five-day festival is held every year and usually begins during the second week of August. Famous jazz musicians from around the world come together for the festival. It doesn’t matter if it’s in a bar or nightclub, or the huge main stage in the town’s square; jazz appears to fill nearly all areas of the community. A lot of the musicians can be seen carrying on jam sessions in the local mehanas, when not performing on stage. The festival is a free event, which makes it even better!

Bear Park, located at Belitsa, is quite well-liked by families, and it’s only about thirty miles from Bansko. The park has twenty former dancing bears supported by the Brigitte Bardot Foundation, saved from their previous masters and brought to the park to live the remainder of their lives with respect and dignity. There’s no charge to enter the park, but they appreciate any donations.

There are endless opportunities for enjoyment in the mountains. This is just a small taste of what a Bansko summer vacation can offer you.

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Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Take a Trip to the World Bird Sanctuary in Valley Park, Missouri

By Jane Buckley

Originally known as the Raptors Rehabilitation and Propagation Project, the World Bird Sanctuary is a feather in Missouri’s cap.  This sanctuary sits on 305 acres of Missouri’s hardwood forest just next to the Lone Elk County Park. Open from 8 am to 5 pm daily,  the sanctuary is closed on Christmas and Thanksgiving.

Free seasonal nature shows are part of the sanctuary’s schedule.  Educational programs are offered as well as indoor and outdoor exhibits.  There are picnic pavilions on the property.  So feel free to bring a picnic lunch with you for those lovely days in the Spring, Summer or Fall.  Missouri’s weather will have some moderate winter days, but only once in a while.  Bring the hot chocolate.

While you are visiting the World Bird Sanctuary in Valley Park, you will see the Eurasian Eagle Owl which is the biggest owl species in the world.  You will walk the trails and maybe get a glimpse of the female white necked raven.  Listen to her talk or she might whistle like an owl.  The thick billed parrot is the only native American parrot and the Sanctuary is home to one.

Walk the wonderful trails (handicapped accessible and easy to manage for all to enjoy) and see the Raptor’s Exhibit, the Nature Center and Amphitheater and Owl Row to name few of the places on the Sanctuary’s map.  The trails are well lighted and designed with safety in mind. This stroll along the path is great for the kids as well as the grandmother or granddad.  There are railings for holding on and the trails are well kept.

The visitor center within the sanctuary is open for 10 am to 4 pm.  The winter hours are from 11 am to 3 pm. This is the place to inquire about the many programs the WBS has to offer.

Become a World Bird Sanctuary friend by making a donation to the organization.  It receives no state or federal funding and depends solely on its supporters. It was founded in 1977 by ornithologist Walter C. Crawford, Jr.  who wanted a dedicated organization for helping to educate the public and rehabilitate and help propagate the birds of prey.  He still dedicates his time to working along with the 25 staff members who work to make dreams and mission statements come true.

Another way you may want to help support the WBS is by “buying a brick”.  This program will help in repairs for the amphitheater.  Brick are 4”x8” and can be engraved with 3 lines of text.  Company logos are popular because WBS relies on companies for support.

Volunteers are very welcome.  There is a page on the Internet at that lists some volunteer openings currently available.  Volunteers are an important part of this 501(c) 3 organization and the man hours given by them are precious.  Volunteers are asked to work a minimum of 16 hours per month.  Time and training is necessary for the volunteer to learn the job and then that person is a vital part of the operation. If you live near Valley Park, Missouri, consider being a volunteer.

There are other creatures beside birds of prey at the sanctuary.  With all the hardwoods there, you will surely see some birds that are native to Missouri.  Bring you binoculars and your field guide.  This adventure is a terrific way to get out of the car and commune with Nature.

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