Monday, October 1, 2007

Kew Palace (London) – A Royal Residence once upon a time

Part of the famed Royal Botanical Gardens of Kew, in London, the Kew Palace is actually one of the Royal Palaces in use by the British Royal Family, though it now opened to the public as a museum.

Originally constructed a private manor by a Dutch trader, Samuel Fortrey in 1631, it was called the Dutch House. Later on King George II and his wife, Caroline lived here while King George was extending the Richmond Gardens. In 1781, their son, George III, who moved his extended family here, purchased it.

The building, which is noted for its distinctive, decorative carved brickwork and rounded gables, is constructed in what is known as the Flemish Bond style with bricks arranged with sides and ends alternating. The front entrance, which is gabled, gives a house a very ‘Dutch’ appearance, but later alternations have changed certain original installations especially the original sash windows.

In 1818, when the lady in residence, Queen Charlotte died, Kew palace was closed down. In December 1896, the palace was included into the Kew Gardens properties, with the consent of the then monarch, Queen Victoria.

In the 1960s the Queen Gardens were constructed by then Director Kew Gardens, Sir George Taylor, in 17-century style that includes only those plants that existed in that era.

Administered separately by the Historic Royal Palaces department, the palace recently underwent a major restoration and was re-opened to the public in 2006 like many other royal palaces.

Homely tourists’ destination at Mafia Island, Africa

Mafia Island is a cluster of islands, one major island and numerous islets. Apart from the main one, only a few islets are inhabited, with approximately 41,000 locals calling these islands home. Many of which are fisherman and others subsistence farmers cultivating various spices.

With its deep-water anchorage and numerous sandy beaches, the Mafia Island cluster is an excellent place for scuba diving, game fishing and other water sports.

For all those thrill seekers and active gamer fishing enthusiasts, these islands provide the ultimate experience. These visitors on arrival can find these great accommodations:

Pole Pole Bungalow Resort:
Mafia Island, Tanzania

Kinasi Lodge:
Mafia Island, Tanzania

Mafia Island Lodge:
Mafia Island, Tanzania

Saturday, September 29, 2007

The many attractions of ancient Cusco, Peru

The ancient city of Cusco and its ancient monuments plays host to whole lot of ancient and not-so-ancient monuments.

Some of these are:

Sacsayhuaman: This ruined complex of a military fortress dating back to the Incan civilization is a marvel of construction. It is composed of large boulders, some weighing more than 300 tons each, fitted together without the use of cement.

San Blas: This is an old living area of Cusco, that is home to narrow and steep streets, colonial-styled houses and various art workshops.

Santo Domingo Church (Iglesia de Santo Domingo): This is a 17 century church which is located on the site of the Incan’s Temple of the Sun.

Temple of the Sun (Coricancha): This ruin was once the most important temple of the Incas, which was later used as a base for the Church of Santo Domingo when the Spanish plundered the city.

Cusco Cathedral: This magnificent renaissance-style, 16 century building is built in the shape of a Latin cross and contains about 400 colonial paintings including the famous ‘Last Supper’ by Marcos Zapata. It dominates the skyline of the Plaza de Armas.

Some of the Iceland’s beautiful waterfalls

Iceland, the island literally, middle of nowhere, is ideally suited for waterfalls. The rocky island, which is home to countless glaciers that melt, in summer, feeds equally countless rivers and streams, it is only natural that somewhere along the routes of the river, there will be ravines, and hence, a waterfall.

Some of its spectacular waterfalls are:

Dettifoss: Located in the northeastern Iceland, Dettifoss Waterfall is one of the largest waterfalls of in the country. It is situated on the Jokulsa-a-Fjollum River, which flows from the Vatnajokull Glacier. The Glacier, which itself is the largest glacier in Iceland is situated on the southeastern coast of the country.

It is also said to be the most powerful waterfalls among all of its mainland European counterparts.

Selfoss: A few hundred meters downstream from Dettifoss lie the Selfoss Waterfall whose width is 100 meters and the fall, 44 meters. The water comes from the Jokulsa-a-Fjollum River that originates from the Vatnajokull glacier. After passing through a gorge, it flows into the Artic Sea.

Gooafoss: One of the most spectacular waterfalls in Iceland is the Gooafoss Waterfall. Located in the north of the country, in the Myvatn district, the water of river Skjalfandafljot falls from a height of 12 meters, spread over range of 30 meters.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Malmo Castle - Last of the Scadanavian castles of the renaissance

One of the oldest renaissance castle left in this part of the world (Scandanavia), Malmo Castle was originally constructed as a citadel by King Eric of Pomerania in 1434.

Later in the 16 century, it was demolished and rebuilt in the newer style by then King Christian III of Denmark, as the area was part of the then Kingdom of Denmark. For many years after that the castle remained a stronghold of the kingdom, defending the land against foreign aggressors.

Malmo Castle also once served a prison, with one of its famous inmate was the Earl of Bothwell, third husband of the Mary Queen of Scots, who served a prison sentence of 5 years from 1568-73.

Surrounded by moat and lots of greenery, Malmo Castle is now ‘serving life’ more as a museum than a prison fortress. Currently it houses the Art Museum, City Museum, the Natural History Museum, Aquarium & Tropicarium, and the Konstmuseet.

The latter one contains one of the largest collections of old Scandinavian masters. It also houses a large Russian painting collection dating around to 1900 – the largest outside Russia.

Located in the western side of the city of Malmo in Sweden, Malmo Castle is easily accessible by anyone wishing to visit it. It lies west of the area of Stortorget, the castle can be easily reached on foot.

Preston: A market town with a historic past

Preston, a small cosmopolitan city has always been a center of trade and commerce - even during the Middle Ages.

Located halfway between London and Glasgow, the city is still carrying out its commercial duties acting as not just as a shopping center for the whole Northwest England region but also as an exporting center, trading goods, with many mainland European countries.

Preston, a small town with a population of 129,000 souls started out as what can easily be described as a Church Town, or as historians would have us believe, Priest Town; hence, the name, ‘Preston’.

Situated on River Ribble, Preston is the administrative center of Lancanshire and was recently inducted in the ‘city hall of fame’, when it became the nation’s 50th city. This honour was bestowed in 2002, the Golden Jubilee Year of Queen Elizabeth II accession to the throne. Since then, the city is known by its new title, “Queen’s Golden Jubilee City”.

Preston has always been a significant town during the ages. In the Roman times, a major road ran just north from the then city. In 1179, the village of Preston, received the Royal Charter, and thereafter became a town. The Middle Ages saw the town developed into a major commercial center as it sat on a main route from England to Scotland, contributing to its growth.

Then later on during the 16 and 17 centuries, it got embroiled in a political situation due to which it became the scene of the last major civil war fought in England in 1715. Aptly named, ‘Battle of Preston’ took place when Preston town-folk, sympathizers of Scottish Army loyal to James III of Scotland and England took on English army who were against his accession.

Preston during the ages, has not just been a commercial centre but also a tourist destination. It is more so evident as mentioned by an 18 century writer who visited it and described the city as a pretty town with lots of rich people.

Preston has a lot to offer to visitors. It’s main attractions are St. Walburge’s Church, Miller Arcade, Town Hall, Harris Building, St. John’s Minster, former Corn Exchange, Fishergate Baptist Church and beautiful Georgian buildings at Winckley Square.

Australian Bush tucker: Lets put on a barbie

Australians are very fond of their ‘bush tucker’. Bush tucker is associated with food cooked outdoors either on camping sites or at out-of-station trips.

These usually include cooking or rather, barbequing meats of their iconic animals such as Kangaroos, Emus (a flightless bird), Barramundi (fish) and yabby (crayfish).

The famous Aussie slogan, ‘Let’s put on a barbie’, cannot emphasize their love of cooking outdoors anymore than this.

Their modern-day, but traditional food items include vegemite (a black yeast spread); meat pie (minced meat pie); Tim Tams (chocolate coated biscuits); Anzac Biscuits (large wheat biscuits).

Then there Vanilla Slice (a custard pie slice topped with vanilla icing); Lamingtons (pieces of sponge cake coated with chocolate and any other flavoured icing and coconut); and Peach Melba (slices of peach served with whipped cream and sometimes with a scoop of ice cream).

Wonderful resorts at Minorca Island (Mediterranean Sea)

The lesser known but equally famous, Minorca Island is the second largest of the Balearic Islands, the autonomous island group of Spain.

Famous for its many pristine beaches, both of sandy and rocky nature, as well as several sites of prehistoric, monolithic stone monuments, it isn’t require any sense of brilliance as to why this small island (only 15 km wide and 52 km long) is chock-a-block full of visitors all-year round.

With over 60,000 permanent inhabitants, Minorca plays host to a half a million visitors every year. But even with such large numbers, it is not as overrun by them as its nearest neighbours, Ibiza and Majorca are.

Apart from its beaches, there are various sites and monuments for those interested in history, archaeology, music and art. It also has a great nightlife too.

For all those thinking of making a beeline to Minorca, can stay in either one of these hotels:

Hotel Princesa Playa:
Gran Via Son Xoriguer 17, Minorca, Balearic Islands 07760, Spain

Hotel Sant Ignasi:
Carretera Cala Morell, Ciudadela, Minorca, Balearic Islands 07760, Spain

Sol Menorca:
Playa de Santo Tomás, s/n (Re-opens April 27, 2007), Migjorn Gran, Minorca, Balearic Islands 07749, Spain

Blanc Palace Aparthotel:
Urbanización Sa Caleta Menorca, Ciudadela, Minorca, Balearic Islands, Spain

Menorca Sea Club Apartments:
La Mar s/n Cala'N Forcat, Minorca, Balearic Islands 07760, Spain

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Gotland (Sweden) – A biking paradise in the Baltic Sea

If anyone ever wishes to cycle along the coast during night-time at 10 pm in the shade of the setting sun, all the while enjoying the solitude of the serene environs, then Gotland Island is just the place to be at.

Often called the ‘Pearl of the Baltic Sea’, Gotland is truly a magical place. It is a natural wonder, with miles long bicycle tracks, limes gravelled road, dramatic coastlines, sandy beaches and flowery meadows.

Part of Sweden the island is about 75 miles long and 35 miles wide at its widest point and it boasts more sunny days in the year than the whole of Scandinavian region.

For those interested in history, would be happy to note that it is rich in historical monuments including magnificent stone churches from the 12 & 13 centuries that bear testament to the islands’ once glory.

According to a local legend, a man named ‘Tjelvar’ discovered the island. At the time of discovery the island was jinxed, such that that it used to sink into the sea at day and rise out the water at night. The man, Tjelvar on discovering it, brought back ‘life’ into the island and it never sank again.

Gotland gained a lot of prominence during the Viking age, when it became a major trading port of the region. There are boulders marking graves in the shape of old Viking Ships visible even today along the roadsides.

Minorca Island: Small in size, but more beautiful

One of the major tourist attractions in the Mediterranean Sea is the island of Minorca.
Part of the greater Balearic Islands group, Minorca belongs to the Spanish nation and lies not far from another of Spain’s island attractions – Majorca.

The name, Minorca comes from the Latin term, Minorca, meaning small or not so significant. The name corresponds with the size of the island, as it is just 15 km wide and 52 km long.

Though, it is the second largest of all the Balearic Islands, Majorca being the larger one, it is the most beautiful of them all. With miles of beaches, it has more beaches, than those of Majorca, Ibiza and Formentera combined. These beaches range from miles-long silver or golden crescents of sand to rocky bays.

The island itself is a set on a rocky bluff, overlooking an ancient port, which was a reason that saw French, Spanish and even British fighting over the island, and hence, for the control of the Mediterranean region (the island lies near the entrance to the Med. Sea).

Minorca Island is famously known for its large collection of megalithic stone monuments, including navetes, taules and talaiots that speak volumes of its early, prehistoric human settlement.

Though, tourism is a major industry at this island, it, unlike its nearby neighbours it not completely dependent on it. It’s other industries include leatherwork, costume jewellery production, dairy farming and gin manufacturing.

Malmo: Sweden’s third largest metropolitan centre

Malmo is one the biggest cities in Sweden. In fact, it is its third biggest metropolitan centre and the largest in the southern area of mainland Sweden.

Located adjacent to the Oresund Strait, Malmo has a rich historical background, thanks to its importance as a old trading post of the region. With quarter of a million inhabitants, Malmo is also one of the major tourist attractions, which is now made more accessible by the recent construction of the Oresund Link.

Malmo’s attractions include the Malmo Castle that dates back to the 15 century as well as many other stone structures that are left standing from the Middle Ages. Then there is the City Centre, Stor Torget Square - said to be the largest square in the whole Scandinavian region - is also five centuries old.

For tourists, there are these wonderful hotels to reside in:

The Mayfair Hotel:
Adelgatan 4 (formerly Ramada Mayfair Hotel), Malmo 21122, Sweden

Clarion Collection Malmo:
Engelbrektsgatan 16, Malmo 211 33, Sweden

Hotel Baltzar:
Sodergatan 20, Malmo 21134, Sweden

Hilton Malmo City:
Triangeln 2, Malmo 200 10, Sweden

Radisson SAS Malmo:

Ostergatan 10, Malmo 211 25, Sweden

Sigmaringen Castle – Home of the Hohenzollern Princes

One of the main castles in Germany is Sigmaringen Castle. Situated high on the Swabian Alb hills in the province of Baden-Wurttemberg, Sigmaringen Castle dominates the skyline of the town of Sigmaringen.

The manor, which was reconstructed in 1893, was the palace of the princes of the House of Hohenzollern. Constructed on a limestone ridge had been in use since a millennium, though it has been through various alternations ever since.

Though, it isn’t clear as who commissioned it originally, but from 1535 onwards, counts and then princes of Hohenzollern has been occupying it. The structure, which was originally constructed as a fortress, was later transformed into a beautiful and comfortable stately manor.

The castle, which is now, a museum is home to one of the largest collection of medieval weapons and armours. It also houses the local 16 and 16 German painters’ works that are considered outstanding works of arts in Germany.

Part of the collection consists of ancient carriages, sleighs and sedan chairs that provides a hindsight on the ways of travelling by the royals and nobles. Then there is the private library documenting the life and times of the Hohenzollern family.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Heart of the French Riviera is in Nice (France)

Often called the heart of French Riviera, which is a part of coast of southern France stretching up to Italy. Nice is literally, a cultural behemoth along the Mediterranean coast. It lies between the cities of Marseille and Genoa and is one of the major metropolitan centres of France.

Capital city of the County of Nice, Nice (the city) is one of the leading tourist vacation spots. One of its main attractions or in many cases, its main identity is the ‘Promenade des Anglais’, meaning, the ‘Walkway of the English’. It is a semi-circular boulevard that runs parallel to the Mediterranean coast and is home of some of top entertainment spots like clubs, restaurants and shopping areas.

Nice, being closer to Italy has a long of Italians among its population, which numbers less than a million inhabitants. Recently, with lax government policies on immigrants, Nice has seen a rich influx of migrants workers, mainly from northern Africa and Middle East, all bringing with them their rich cultural aspects, contributing to the city’s cultural development.

A cherished London’s hallmark goes green

One of London’s famous attractions, those bright red double-storey buses, found so often roaming about the tight old streets of London, have just gone green.

Among all the hype of going green, created by the media of rich countries, it is the City of London that has taken the first step. Or, in this case, a double-decker step.

The city’ Transport Department has introduced a first-ever hybrid public bus – a double-decker that runs on both electric power and diesel oil.

The bus will ply the route 141 between the famous landmark – London Bridge and Palmers Green, via the business districts of Bank and Monument and Moorgate.

The city plans to introduce more such buses in near future and mayor hopes to have all public vehicles running on electric power by the end of next decade.

Maui – A Hawaiian wonder

The four largest of the eight main islands of the State of Hawaii, Maui is a treasure trove of natural beauty and choice of outdoor activities. Being closer to the main island of Hawaii or the Big Island, as it is referred to, also makes it easier to visit.

Discovered by Captain James Cook in 1778, these islands are originally named by a Polynesian explorer who named it after his son, who in turn was named after the Demigod, Maui. Maui in Hawaiian mythology is considered as the ‘creator’ of Hawaii Islands by raising them from the sea.

Inhabited by Tahitians who are considered as the first settlers of the whole of Hawaii. It was they, who introduced the main order of every aspect of life, called the ‘Kapu’. It was basically, their constitution, and foundation of their culture.

During the 18-century, many Europeans started arriving on the island. Missionaries came to convert the residents, and whalers and loggers came for their own business needs.

Catering to almost 2.3 million tourists, Maui is a favourite destination for tourists from European and US destinations.

Dinning houses of Naples, Florida

If you ever have to go south to Florida and if you get to pass by a charming little town, call Naples, then I would suggest, you should at least stop by any of these eateries to have your lunch or supper – depending on the time of day.

Old Naples Pub:
255 13th Ave. South, Naples, FL 34102
Cuisines: American

Chops City Grill:
837 5th Ave South, Suite 200, Naples, FL 34103
Cuisines: Sushi, Seafood, Steakhouse

BHA BHA Bistro:
847 Vanderbilt Beach Rd, Naples, FL 34108-8709
Cuisines: French, Persian

853 5TH Ave S, Naples, FL 34102-6605
Cuisines: Italian

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Lichtenstein Castle: A very fairy-tale styled castle

One of the most impressive, not to mention beautiful structures and among the stately homes is Lichtenstein Castle in Germany.

Located atop a cliff in the hills of Swabian Alb, in the province of Baden-Wurttemberg, the castle is only about 165 years old. Though, the current castle is quite young in terms of the general age of mainland European Castles, it is built on the site of the original castle that was constructed during the 1200s.

Unfornately, the original castle was twice destroyed in wars but during the reign of city-state Reutlingen in 1381, it was allowed to fall into despair by its then owners.

During the 1800s the land came into possession of King Frederick I of Wurttemberg who constructed a logde on the site. Then it passed down to his nephew who later on in 1842 reconstructed the current castle in a very fairy-tale style.

Currently its owners are the family of Duke of Urach.

Yap Islands: Where giant stone money rules the roost

One of smaller islands of the Caroline Islands, Yap Island lies in the western Pacific Ocean. It is part of a cluster of islands that collectively called Yap Islands. These four islands are though, appear as separate islands to a naked eye but are joined together underwater as a large coral reef.

The islands are mostly covered with local flora, dotted with mangrove swamps and surrounded by reefs. It encloses a lagoon that is part of the giant coral reef on which the islands are based.

Though, it is one of the most traditional of the four main states of Micronesia, it is popular in the region for its one unique item – stone money. Giant, hollow, carved stone disks are used as currency in this tiny nation.

These ‘stone money’ are like every other world currency includes different sized-disks indicating different denominations. Not only the size but the stone and the age of the disk also determines its worth. And like everywhere else on earth, the more disks a person or a family posses, the higher is his status among the locals.

The islands’ locals called Yapese are one of the most expert navigators of the Pacific region. There are legends of locals travelling in canoes thousands of kilometres navigating only by starts and patterns in ocean waves.

Where to stay in Baden-Baden, Germany

If you ever plan to visit the Black Forest in Germany, then do drop by Baden-Baden too.

A quaint little town, more famous for its Roman Era hot Baths then anything else, is situated on the western foothills of the magical and famous woodland, called Black Forest.

If you ever plan to drop by, then you can stay at either of these hotels:

Hotel Am Markt:
Marktplatz 18, Baden-Baden 76530, Germany

Hotel Der Kleine Prinz:
Lichtenthaler Strasse 36, Baden-Baden 76530, Germany

Dorint Sofitel Maison Messmer Baden-Baden:
Werderstrasse 1, Baden-Baden 76530, Germany

Hotel Merkur:
Merkurstr 8, Baden-Baden 76530, Germany

Brenner's Park Hotel & Spa:
Schillerstrasse 4-6, Baden-Baden 76530, Germany

Fine Dining in Positano, Italy

If you are passing through Positano, then it is advised, as well as good sense, to stop by to taste some of the finer elements of the great Italian local cuisine. And those finer elements are easily available at these places.

Da Costantino:
A family owned restaurant, not very fancy, in fact lacks a proper ambiance. Prices are reasonable. It is out of way, so you would need to call them up for directions. It can be reached via Montepertuso 107.

La Sponda:
Situated in Le Sirenuse Hotel, it is very pricey but the food’s serving is very inventive and quite fresh. Price range from 30 euros for starters, and main dishes are somewhat 40 odd euros. Deserts will be another 20 euros each.

Donna Rosa:
A beautiful restaurant with a couple of dinning rooms and a terrace, this small restaurant is also a family business. The head chef is the owner’s wife. Dinner at Donna Rosa for a couple can cost up to 100 euros, including starters, entrees, deserts and drinks.

Il Ritrovo:
The great service that this restaurant provides a pick and drop service for its patrons. It is too, a home-styled establishment, with accompanying atmosphere. The food is quite delicious and a bit cheaper too, costing some 70-80 euros for a couple.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Scone Palace: The crowing place of Scottish Kings

Built on a place, where ancient Scottish Kings used to be crowned, Scone (read: Skoon) Palace, is a category A listed historic house. Situated at Scone, hence the name, near the eastern town of Perth, Scotland, this palace was built commissioned by the Earls of Mansfield in 1808.

During the Middle Ages, the land was the site of an ancient Abby, called Scone Abby, where Scottish Kings were used to be crowned. This tradition was followed till the days of Alexander III in 1249. During the ancient times, the area of Scone was a gathering place for the tribes of Picts.

Currently the Scone Palace like many of UK’s stately homes are partially open to public. The home of the Earls of Mansfield, contains some of the finest collection of furniture, ceramics, ivories and clocks.

The Palace grounds are best known for breeding Hawfinch, a specie of bird normally found in Asia. There are also a number of peacocks as well as albino males. The grounds are also home to ancient woodlands that contain certain fir trees which are reputed to be at least 250 years old.

Prince Edward Islands: Home to the King Penguins

Lying almost halfway between South Africa and Antarctica, the two islands that form part of Prince Edward Islands are a spectacular cluster of volcanic rocks and peaks.

Home to four types of Penguins and many other types of birds including Petrels, Albatrosses and King Cormorants, both the islands, Prince Edward and Marion are barren except ferns and mosses growing, as the sub-antarctic winds also call the ‘roaring forties’ doesn’t allow for growth of trees.

With limited sunshine and rain and strong winds, both islands are more suitable for winter retreats than sunny resorts. The two islands are nothing but clusters of volcanic peaks and small lakes. Though, they have sandy strips along the coast, most of their coastline is rocky and home to thousands of Elephant Seals and King Penguins.

Both islands were recently designated as ‘Special Nature Reserve’ by the South African Government.

Natural rock formation in Sedona, Arizona

Cradled with an amazing array natural beauty and having one of the best climates in US, Sedona in the state of Arizona’s main attraction, however, is the red stone formation. Surrounding by rugged rocks that glows brilliantly, in hues of orange and red during sun rise and sunset each day, these rocks offer some of the best hiking and biking trails in the US.

Some of the rock formations are of various strange shapes which among other things attracts tourists more than ever. The popular comic strip, Peanuts’ fans would be happy to see two of their favourite characters depicted in the rock formations. One formations resembles Snoooy the dog, laying on top of his doghouse. Another nearby rock is said to resemble "Lucy", also from the Peanuts gang.

Apart from the rocks, Sedona offers something for everyone. It has offers several resorts, golf courses, even full-service spas, music and film festivals, and even an Indian reservation nearby for those seeking knowledge about the original settlers to this great country.

Where to eat in Maui, Hawaii?

If you prefer enjoying a siesta on the beach, while watching the sun setting behind a 10,000 feet high volcano, then Maui is definitely the place to be, for you.

With outdoor activities in abundance for thrill seekers, building up an appetite is not much of a problem for anyone. All you would have to do is go snorkelling a few kilometres, hike up a few cliffs and play a few rounds of golf.

Here are some eateries for all those, who have already built up an appetite just reading this:

I O Restaurant:
505 Front St Ste 114, Lahaina, Maui, HI 96761-1172
Cuisines: Hawaiian
Price range*: $12-30
Special features: Romantic, Outdoor seating

Four Seasons Resort Maui at Wailea, 3900 Wailea Alanui Dr., Kihei, Maui, HI 96753
Cuisines: Italian
Price range*: $35-50
Special features: Romantic, Outdoor seating

3850 Wailea Alanui, Kihei, Maui, HI 96753
Cuisines: Japanese
Price range*: $50-75
Special features: Romantic

Swan Court:
200 Nohea Kai Dr, Hyatt Regency, Lahaina, Maui, HI 96761-1942
Cuisines: Continental, Eclectic
Price range*: $20-75
Special features: Breakfast/Brunch, Romantic, Outdoor seating

David Paul's Lahaina Grill:
127 Lahainaluna Road, Lahaina, Maui, HI 96761
Cuisines: American
Price range*: $50-75

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Guttenberg Castle - A knight’s castle, high on the hill

The best part of visiting the Guttenberg Castle is that your host is none other then the current Baroness Gemmingen, 18the descendent of the first Baron Von Gemmingen, who moved here in 1449, and his successive generations have called this majestic castle, home.

Situated near the historic city of Heidelberg, Guttenberg Castle was originally called the Guttenberg Knight’s Castle and dates back to 1200s. It is one of the few castles in Europe that has occupation from the beginning and hence escaped destruction, both natural and man-made.

Built on top of a hill that hugs two valleys from either side: Neckar valley and the Muhlback valley. With its imposing tower, walls and guard towers, the castle is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the Neckar region.

Visitors coming here can visit its various areas, including the kitchen, spinning rooms, library, guard towers as well as the torture chamber. Bird lovers will definitely love the German Falconry show at the castle, which includes the great wing-creatures as vultures, eagles, owls and falcons.

The castle is opened to visitors from April to October. Those wish to visit it during the other months; they may have to make an advance request for visitation.

Positano, Italy – A ‘chic’ attraction

Considered as among the most ‘chic’ destinations of the world by frequent visitors, Positano’s main beauty lies in its symmetry. It lies not horizontally but vertically. As visible from the picture, this port city is based on a hill, overlooking the harbour.

It lies on the Amalfi Coast in Campania, Italy.

What began as prosperous port in the 16 and 17 centuries, suffered economically during 19 century as many of its migrants migrated to other countries especially to the US. Regenerated due to an article published in Harpers Bazaar in 1953, saw it to re-emerge as a major tourist destination.

One main attraction, other than the port, is the Church of Santa Maria Assunta, located in the centre of the town. With domes and its stucco-work, the construction of the monument is atypical of the area. One of its wooden artwork dates back to Byzantine, depicting Virgin Mother and Child.

Moreton Island – A sandy gateway to the Great Barrier Reef

Situated on the northeastern coast of Australia, Moreton Island is unlike a normal, natural island, but is more of a large sand dune. It is part of the Great Barrier Marine Park and lies to the east of Brisbane, on the southeast coast of the state of Queensland.

Protected as a natural park, which was designated in 1966, Moreton Island was also, once a military zone, with Australian Navy and Army having military installations during the World War II. Between 1952 to 1956, it saw its use as a major whaling station, where humpback whales would use to be harvested during their annul track northwards.

Though, it is mostly a sand island, its main and only rocky outcrop is its major peak Cape Moreton, to the north eastern tip which was named Cape Morton by Captain James Cook in 1770.

For those who are bit adventurous, Moreton Island provides a range of activities like biking and hiking trails. Then there are snorkelling areas where one can view various marine creatures like dolphins and even discover and explore various ancient shipwrecks lying on the ocean floor.

Iberian Peninsula: Home to the Spaniards, Portuguese and Andorreans

Iberian Peninsula is not only the southern-most peninsulas of the three European peninsulas but also the largest of them all.

Iberian Peninsual, or Iberia, as the region is called is the area, south of France, on which, Spain, Portugal and Prinicpality of Andorra are situated. To the south is the Mediterranean Sea and to its north are the Pyrenees mountain range.

It is one of the most ancient of all regions in the main Europe, with according to some estimates, our ancient ancesters settled and crossed this area to move upwards into the mainland Europe.

The original or civilized people of this region are said to be the ‘Iberians’. These are said to be ancester of modern day Basques, a sub-celtic tribe of Spain that survive to this day as an ethnic group.

Also called ‘Hispania’ by the ancient Romans, Iberian Peninsula has been witnessed to a a very colourful history, ranging from ancient Neanderthals to modern day civilizations, mentioned above.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

The Picturesque Phuket (Thailand)

With its amazing beaches and picture-perfect landscape, Phuket or ‘Pook-get’ as pronounced locally is more famous as a tourist destination of Thailand than its famous capital, Bangkok.

Lying to the south, Phuket is an island as well as a province of Thailand. With its mountains and lush green forests, the state has a wide variety of offerings for various types of visitors.

Destroyed to quite an extent during the 2004 Tsunami, the island has gotten back to its feet and has seen its economy booming. Apart from tourism, its traditional business has been tin-mining, which from 16 century till recently, was done by Chinese businessmen and workers and whose involvement can been seen Phuket’s culture and architecture.

Among the main tourist places at the island is Patong Beach on central western coast. Most of island’s nightlife and shopping centres are also located in Patong, making it as the most developed areas. Other beaches are located to the south of Patong Beach. Some of these are Karon Beach, Kata Beach, Kata Noi Beach and Bang Tao Beach.

Sultan Qutub-uddin Aibak – Subcontinent’s first Muslim Ruler

While Shalimar Gardens are famous partially for being the final resting place of their founder, the late Mughal King, Jehangir; Anarkali Bazaar, the other famous landmark of Lahore, plays host to another great muslim ruler- Sultan Qutub-uddin Aibak.

Born into a Turk family in Central Asia, Aibak was sold into slavery to a local chieftain as a young boy. The chief treated Aibak like his own son and taught him the fine art of military maneuvers and horsemanship. After the chief’s death, his sons, jealous of Aibak’s special treatment, sold him to Mohd Khan Ghauri.

As Ghauri started conquering parts of India, he appointed Aibak, who had rapidly risen through the ranks to become Ghauri’s most trusted general, as his Governor to oversee the new territory.

In 1191, Aibak took control of this land and administered it till his master’s death in 1206, after which he became the supreme ruler of the region till his own death four years later and in doing so, he became the first-ever Muslim ruler the Indian subcontinent.

Aibak initially chose Lahore as his seat of command, but later on moved the capital to Delhi. Hence, his rule came to known as the Delhi Sultanate. Being originally a slave, he was succeded by nine other ‘slave’ kings and in due course the ruling dynasty became famous as the ‘Slave Dynasty of Northern India’.

Qutub-uddin Aibak was a keen builder and in his short reign, managed to erect some of the finest architectural monuments in current day India and Pakistan - two of which are the Qutub Minar and Quwat-ul-Islam mosque, both in Delhi.

Though the Qutub Minar was partially constructed by him, it not named after him as commonly believed, but in honour of Khwaja Qutub-ud-din Bakhtiar Kaki, a saint from Baghdad, who came and settled here.

An avid polo player, Aibak died while playing the game, in Lahore in 1210 A.D. His original tomb was destroyed during the Mongol attack in 1241 but was reconstructed during Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s government in 1971.

Best places to stay in Malta (Mediterranean Sea)

The best part of being a Mediterranean Sea island is, that is gets year-round sunshine and is surrounded by crystal clear. Likewise, Malta and its sister islands of Gozo and Comino too, with their natural treasures, coupled with the unique cultural elements including the rich, local cuisine promises to deliver a unique and a unforgettable holiday experience.

For accommodation, travellers can choose from a variety of hotels and resorts. The recommended ones are mentioned below:

Hilton Malta:
Portomaso, Saint Julian's, Island of Malta STJ 02, Malta

Hotel Juliani:
12 St. George's Road, Saint Julian's, Island of Malta, Malta

Calypso Hotel:
Marina Street Marsalforn Bay, Marsalforn, Island of Gozo XRA 105, Malta

The Victoria Hotel:
Gorg Borg Olivier Street, Sliema, Island of Malta SLM12, Malta

Le Meridien Phoenicia:
The Mall Floriana, Valletta, Island of Malta VLT 16, Malta

Daydream Island – For all those daydreamers out there

Daydream Island is one of the many favourite holiday destinations for the Queenlanders in the Whitsunday Islands archipelago. One of the seven islands of the ‘Molle Group’ in the Whitsundays, Daydream is a small island measuring only 400 meters at its widest point.

With ever-present tropical waters and white-sandy beaches, supplemented with plenty of under-age activities, it is not hard to see why this tropical paradise is famous among the residents of the sunshine state.

There are only two resorts that cater to ever growing tourist population. The one, which is at the north-eastern end mainly, caters to day tourists, while the newer one, Daydream Island Resort and Spa, have all the facilities for over-nighters.

Similarly, all the tropical islands, Daydream too, offer a plethora of activities to suit all ages. Some of the popular ones are snorkelling, water polo, kayaking, tennis, beach volleyball, mini-golf and even yoga sessions.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Majorca: Best hotels on this Island

If you ever decide to travel to the Spain’s Majorca Islands, and wish to get pampered, (well, who doesn’t), then here are five excellent hotels, for you to choose from:

Aparthotel Bonaire
Ctra.Cala Bona-Costa los Pinos s/n, Cala Bona, Majorca, Balearic Islands 07559, Spain

Hotel Alicia – Cala Bona
Na Llambies, 26, Cala Bona, Majorca, Balearic Islands 07559, Spain

Grupotel Valparaiso Palace - Palma
Calle Francisco Vidal Sureda 23E La Bonanova, Palma, Majorca, Balearic Islands 07015, Spain

Hotel Esplendido - Soller
Es Traves 5 Puerto de Soller, Soller, Majorca, Balearic Islands 07108, Spain

Hotel Son Baulo – Ca’n Picafort
Ronda del Torrente 8, Ca'n Picafort, Majorca, Balearic Islands 07458, Spain

Kot Diji Fort: Guarding the Indus (Pakistan)

The Kot Diji Fort, formally known as Fort Ahmadabad, dominates the town of Kot Diji. It comprises of a 12ft wide mud wall with bastions throughout its length and a huge iron gate.

The fort is constructed on a limestone hill with kiln-baked bricks. Bricks were used because the locally available limestone rock was brittle. The hill is over 100ft high, with walls rising another 30ft. It has three 50ft towers.

Many bastions segment its walls. On the east, three elephant proof gates divide the fort. The walls and bastions have slits in them allowing attack from two levels; from on top and from within the wall.

The design of the fort suggests that it was built when cannons were commonly used. It includes a multitude of stations for cannons and situated high on a narrow ridge disabling enemy cannons to reach the fort with accuracy.

Today the fort is in government custody ad is serious disrepair. Most of the lime mortar plaster has fallen off the walls, leaving the bricks exposed. About 192 cannons and mortars are stolen or destroyed.

Joshua Tree National Park - California, US

One of the newest parks – if it can be called that – is ‘Joshua Tree National Park’ in California. It is basically a desert park that incorporates two American deserts – Mojave and Colorado.

Before 1994, when it achieved the special status of a park, it was more of a monument, and not very known among the more famous natural treasures such as the Grand Canyon or the Great Mississippi Basin.

Joshua National Park has some ancient petroglyps and is home of endangered desert tortoise and bighorn sheep. For some night time stay, there are about nine campyards, which can accommodate around six people, two tents and two cars each.

The ‘national park’ is open all year round, but this being a desert, it is advised that the best times to visit is either spring or fall, when the temperatures are bearable. It can be reached via Highway 62 or Interstate 10 towards the south. The paved roads leading towards the park are narrow but well maintained.

Gastronomic Turkish Delights

Without doubt, all the dished mentioned below are among the most famous and ‘most-turkish’ of all Turkish dishes. And no matter which even country you visit, if there is a sizeable population then you will definitely come across these Turkish delights.

Turkish Coffee: Known locally and even in literature, both regional as well as nation, as ‘Kahve’ it is literally not for the mild taste buds.

Meze: This is mostly a starters dish and consists of hummus, feta and stuffed grape leaves. It is served with an anise-flavoured drink call ‘raki’.

Doner Kebab: This is more of a sandwich with thin leaf of meat, including (upon choice) of either beef, chicken or lamb served in either a flat bread or a bun with yoghurt, sauces and salad.

Baklava: This sweet pastry stuffed with all kinds of dry fruits and cooked in syrup, literally, melts in your mouth.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Thornbury Castle: A castle steeped in history

This impressive 16 century Tudor castle was once the residence of Henry VIII and his wife Anne Boleyn. Queen Mary I also lived here for many years. The grand manor cum castle is literally steeped in history.

Thornbury Castle, or rather its predecessor, the Thornbury Manor dates back to the days of King Athelstan, grandson of King Alfred the Great, circa 945 A.D, when the Count of Flanders, Brictric, owned it. Later on, William Conqueror seized the manor along with the Count’s properties in Thornbury.

After William died, his successor, William Rufus, granted the castle and its adjoining properties to Robert Fitzhamon, in reward for this support, and henceforth, the building passed onto this successors till in came into the hands of Edward Stafford, the third Duke of Buckingham in the early 16 century.

Edward Stafford then fortified it into a castle and redeveloped the surroundings including the hedge gardens. In year 1521, the development work on the castle came to a halt as the Duke was beheaded by the King on charges of treason. It then passed onto this son and later to his successors.

In 1727, the 28the descendant of the first Duke of Buckingham, William Stafford Howard sold it to his cousin, Thomas Howard, 8 Duke of Norfolk. In 1959, the Thornbury Castle changed hands again, but this time it was as a private hotel into the von Essen collection of hotels and resorts.

Observing the ‘Biggies’ in their natural habitats

Do you get a tingling feeling while watching the big beast of the wild so close, when you watch them behind the glass at your local zoo? If you do, then imagine what would happen if you get to see them out in the wild.

But this time, they will be free to gaze at you, and you will be the one, behind protected glass. Interesting isn’t it?

Private game reserves, the North-West, Mpumalanga, KwaZulu-Natal: This is one place, where you can play host to the big white cat to lunch.

Simply leave a big piece of meat onto your front porch of your lodge, and soon you will see a leopard casually strolling towards it. While wild animals roam freely in this area, just make sure, that you yourself do not become their lunch, or even dinner.

Kruger National Park, Hluhluwe-Umfolozi Reserve: Now this is a heart beating experience. Tracking an animal that can grow as large as a small tank and weighing approximately the same, can literally, be a dangerous activity, if you are not careful.

Rhinos can smell humans up to 800 meters or 2,600 feet away. So, if you want to get home, safe and sound, then it is advisable to remain a great distance from the great beast.

Enjoying the sun and surf at Istanbul’s beaches

While not touring the great monuments of the Byzantium Empire or the great mosques built by various Sultans, then why not head towards any of these great beaches in the city.

Burc Beach: This is more of a family (read: Children) oriented beach. If you have children then you must definitely head towards it, otherwise, ignore it. It is located about 10 miles or 24 kms from the city centre.

Solar Beach: Located, literally, walking distance from the Burc beach, this is a good spot for all those tan-lovers. One of its famous spectacles is the night-time beach party that takes place here every night. Frolic during the day, tango during the night.

Dalia Beach: This is more of a private beach than a public one. A small, natural inlet ensures the visitors to privacy from the general public. Located about 38 kms from the city center, it houses an excellent fish restaurant.

Delectable South African Cuisine

South African cuisine is a rich combination of many cultures, with three main cultures of Africa, Netherlands and India dominating it.

Being an African country, it is only natural that its staple diet would consist of local agricultural products such as dishes made of corn, ground maize and whole grain.

Though, Africans usually keep cattle as a sign of progress and wealth, they usually slaughter them on special occasions. But nowadays, cheaper meat like chicken is becoming more and more popular as the main dish.

Some of the few dishes that are popular in this part of the world is ‘bobotie’ – a delicious baked meatloaf; ‘bredie’ – a tomato stew; ‘melktert’, which is a cinnamon flavoured custard tart; koeksisters, similar to donuts; and ‘malvapudding’ - a brandy soaked sponge cake.

And then there are the staple and well-known Indian dishes like biryani, samosas, chutney and rusks, which has now favoured intensely by the locals and visitors alike.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Galápagos Islands: Charles Darwin’s ultimate discovery

Often called Darwin’s Biological lab, it is here, that Charles Darwin, the great Biologist made his famous conclusion – ‘the theory of evolution by natural selection’.

Galápagos Islands are home to a range of endemic species (native only to this set of islands) that include the Land Iguana (giant lizards), Marine Iguana, the famed Giant Galapagos Tortoise, the Giant Galapagos Green Turtle, Vampire Finch (specie of birds) and the Sea Cucumber (marine species) - a delicacy among many South Asians.

Galapagos Islands is an archipelago, made up of 13 volcanic islands, 6 isles and 107 rocky outcrops or islets. With the oldest one dating back to some 5 – 10 million years ago. This group of islands are part of South American country of Ecuador.

During the centenary year of Charles Darwin’s main publication of ‘The origin of species’ in 1959, the Ecuadorian Government preserved the 97.5 percent of archipelago’s land as a natural park. The remaining part was left to the locals who inhabited them.

Later in 1986, about 70,000 sq. km of surrounding ocean was declared a marine reserve, second only to the size established by the Australian Government for the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.

Enjoying the southern French hospitality at Marseille

One of the major cities lying on the Mediterranean Sea, Marseille has the distinction of being designated as the European City of Cultural for a year. This honorific title is bestowed every year on a city, which by virtue of its cultural venues and events, is given a chance to promote itself to the world.

Marseille has among some wonderful architectural monuments, has a rich cultural venues. There are museums dedicated to the city’s history, a maritime museum, as it is nation’s largest port and a art museum, among whose inventory, is a major Picasso exhibit.

For tourists, there are many hotels to cater to their relaxation. Some of the major ones are:

Mercure Marseille Beauvau Vieux Port:
4 rue Beauvau, Marseille 13001, France

New Hotel Vieux Port:
3 Bis Rue Reine Elisabeth, Marseille 13001, France

Sofitel Marseille Vieux Port:
36 boulevard Charles Livon, Marseille 13007, France

Exclusive Hotel Du Palais:
26 Rue Breteuil, Marseille 13002, France

Villa La Pinede:
Bouches-du-Rhone Maussane Les Alpilles, Marseille, France

Great Belt Fixed Link: Linking the Danish nation

One of the greatest engineering feats carried out by the Danes is the construction of the Great Belt Fixed Link in Denmark. So called, as it is a combination of a suspension bridge, an underwater tunnel and a box girder bridge. The whole combo spans the strait of Great Belt, connecting the two main islands of Zealand and Funen.

The link consisting of the Eastern Bridge, or the suspension bridge has provisions for both rail and road. It connects the connecting, man-made islet of Sprogo to the city of Halsskov on the island of Zealand.

The Western Bridge or the Box Girder Bridge is a road and rail bridge that links the city of Knudshoved on Funen Island with that of islet of Sprogo. From there onwards, the rail tracks then goes underwater through the eastern tunnel towards the island of Zealand.

The suspension bridge, also called the Eastern Bridge, has the world’s second longest free span of about 1.6 km. The longest is that of Akashi-Kaikyo Bridge in Kobe, Japan, which has a ‘suspension of 1.99 km. The total length of the Great Belt link is a little over 6.6 kilometers.

Previously, the strait would be crossed using ferries that would take as much as an hour, but nowadays with two bridges and the tunnel, it only takes 10 minutes.

This link is the biggest development project ever undertaken in the Danish nation. It cost some 21 billion Danish Kroner. The construction, after much debate, started in 1991 and finishing in 1997. It was formally inaugurated on June 14, 1998.

Flying within budget but in style

Fancy owning a private Gulfstream Jet, but doesn’t have enough dough! Well, you may just be in luck.

With private travelling in such a high demand with each passing year that companies have sprung up offering manageable options where executives and even others can travel in fancy styles.

If you do not a cool 12 million dollars to splash out for a brand-new Cessna, if you do have, say, half a million to spare, then you can very well become a partial owner of such an aircraft.

But you will still need to fork out monthly fees, as well as hourly rate of flying time, if and when you travel.

Companies like Netjets, offers deals, which in their parlance, is called fractional ownership. Having a fleet of over 600 aircrafts, ranging from seven-seater Cessna to a 20-seater Boeing Business Jet, NetJets can offer a choice in 15 types of small aircraft.
Or, if you do not wish to bog down with a princely asset, then you can always opt for a jet-card. Jet cards are like debits cards but of different values. These offer a range of flying time, though, mainly within the continental US, but for a wee extra charge, can take you anywhere in the world.

Enjoying the sun and the sea-breeze in the Aegean Sea (Cyclades Islands)

With approximately 60 percent of the tourists visiting Greece, make a detour towards Cyclades, it is no wonder that it is a tourist haven.

Cyclades are a group of islands in the Aegean Sea, south of the mainland Greece. With some 200 islands of various sizes in close proximity, anyone who visiting here, often gets spoiled for choices for relaxation and enjoyment.

Though, they do have landing strips for small airplanes, but almost all the islands are accessible via speedboats, though, some many may be reached via rowing boats, given the sea remains calm.

For tourists, there a number of splendid hotels and resorts to stay in. Some of these are:

Anastasis Apartments:
Imerovigli, Santorini, Cyclades 84700, Greece

Ikies - Traditional Houses:
Oia, Santorini, Cyclades 84702, Greece

Hotel Tagoo:
Tagoo Area, Mykonos, Cyclades 84600, Greece

Santorini Princess:
Imerovigli, Santorini, Cyclades 84700, Greece

Petasos Beach Hotel & Spa:
Platis Yialos, Mykonos, Cyclades 84600, Greece

Fredensborg Castle: Danish Royals’ spring residence

One of the main royal residences, Fredensborg Castle is where Denmark’s royal family spends most of their spring and autumn months.

Located on the island of Zealand, on the eastern shores of Lake Esrum, Fredensborg Castle or Palace is also used to host important royal and state dignitaries.

The term Fredensborg literally means, Palace of Peace as this where Denmark and Sweden signed a peace treaty to end an eleven year conflict called the Great Northern War between the two neighbours.

The palace was designed by a Royal Gardener, on behalf of King Frederik IV, who himself took keen interest in its contruction. The construction took place during 1720 – 1726.

Though, the main building was constructed by 1726, it continued to receive various extentions in forms of a church, a Court Chancery building, which is now known as the Chancery House.

Dettifoss waterfall – Iceland’s largest falling body of water

Located in the northeastern Iceland, Dettifoss Waterfall is one of the largest waterfalls of in the country. It is situated on the Jokulsa-a-Fjollum River, which flows from the Vatnajokull Glacier. The Glacier, which itself is the largest glacier in Iceland is situated on the southeastern coast of the country.

Dettifoss is counted as amongst the powerful waterfalls among its mainland European counterparts. It’s flow is estimated, though, not properly documented, is somewhere between 200 – 500 cubic meters of water falling down per second. But then this all depends on the weather-wise ice melt.

The fall, a part of the Jokulsargljufur National Park, is 100 meter wide and has a drop zone of 44 meters towards the Jokulsargljufur canyon.

Sicily (Italy): Home of the ‘Mafioso’

Lying at the ‘toe’ of Italian peninsula, Sicily as some wrongly believe is not a province but an autonomous region of Italy. It is the largest island in the Mediterranean Sea, with a population of 5 million inhabitants.

With early settlement going back to some 8century BC, Sicily has a long and rich cultural diverse history. The very first settlement was at Syracuse in 734 BC. The first settlers were the Phoenicians and early Greeks.

From its early times, Sicily has seen tug of war over its possession by many empires of the region. It has swayed between Roman and Greek empires, between Italy and even Spain. It even changed hands from the Byzantine Empire into Arab conquerors during the ninth century AD.

The island is hence, dotted with architectural treasures and monuments, a testament to its rich history. It is also quite famous for being the ‘home’ of the Mafia or Mafioso.

Due to its rich historical background, it was only natural that the land gave birth to many artists of various types. Many poets, writers, artists, and sculpturers were born here. Notably among them were Luigi Pirandello, Giovanni Verga, Salvatore Quasimodo, Gesualdo Bufalino, Sigismondo d'India and Salvatore Sciarrino.

The other famous Sicilians were: Archimedes, ancient scientist; Frank Capra, actor and director; Giuseppe Sergi, anthropolist; and Vincenzo Bellini, opera composer.

Cylcades Islands: Pearls in the southern Aegean Sea

One of the many prefectures or ‘junior’ administrative units of Greece, Cyclades are a group of some 220 islands in the Aegean Sea. The islands are usually peaks of a submerged mountain range, with only two of these islands are volcanic in nature.

Though, it is not proved as to which specific civilization inhabited these group of islands, but carbon dating of the various female idols chisled out of the island cliffs suggest that there were people living here during the late Neolithic and Early Bronze period. Certain excavated sites at Saliagos and Kephala on the island of Keos showed the residents were familiar with copper.

Cyclades’ climates is generally dry and mild, with a great deal of mixture in its native soil, ideally suitable for agricultural crops like fruits, wheat, olives and even tobacco.
Therefore, some of its major exports include wine, olive oils and tobacco in various forms.

Historians suggest that the early Cycladic culture usually evolved in three phases between 3300 BC and 2000BC. It was this time that the other dominating Minoan culture of the Aegean Sea was at its peak and maybe, their influenced phased out the island’s initial culture.

Recently, tourists, other than from Greece, have ‘discovered’ the unique charm of the Cyclades island, along with those of others in the vicinity.

Derawar Fort: Guarding the eastern frontier

One of the oldest forts in this part of the former British India Empire, the Derawar Fort history goes back to almost 800 years (this age is disputed though).

An impressive part of our cultural heritage, the name Derawar is the corrupted term of its builder’s name Raja Rawal Deoraj whom is said to have it built to protect the area from invaders.

The imposing stucture is situated on the edge Cholistan desert on the top of the ruins of ancient Harappan civilization. It has been the ancestral seat of the rulers of Bahawalpur for decades.

The present building was built by Abbasi family or the Nawabs in 1733. Its walls are 30m high and there are 40 bastions, 10 on each side. The front area is guarded by a huge defensive tower at the main entrance. The boundaries were constructed from gypsum blocks transported from Uch some 65 kilometers away. The walls are built in mud tiles plastered and fresco painted.

The lofty and rolling battlements made of thin red bricks, ten on each side of the fort are visible from miles around. There are two old vintage guns mounted on pedestals in the dusty courtyard of the Fort.

The buildings inside include the Harem, Subedar's quarters, arsenal and a mosque. There is also a multi-roomed subterranean summer rest house of Nawabs called Sard Khana. The remains of a watchtower, a prison, the granary, a guard house and some 100 inaccessible tunnels and the rumored subterranean chambers with buried treasures of the former rulers. The once gaily painted rest house or baradari on top of the north-eastern bastion still flies high the flag of the former ruling family of the former Bahawalpur State as a symbol of their authority over the area.

However the fort nowadays is in very perilous condition mainly due to ravages of time and partially due to the negligence of authorities. There are huge ditches in and around the main boundary wall and the gates. Most of buildings have developed huge cracks. The underground cells and wooden structure is now infested with bats and being destroyed by termites. The day doesn’t seem to far away when the whole structure may crumble in one giant sand dune.

Derawar and Sadiq Garh are both crumbling as are the countless other palaces and villas that make this part of Pakistan unique. A call to preserve Bahawalpur's architecture is long overdue, but given the expense involved, it is perhaps more realistic to urge others to seek out and record what barely remains.

Desert Oasis – Al Areen Resort in Manama, Bahrain

Housing the biggest spa in the Middle East, the Al Areen Desert Resort in Manama, Bahrain is truly an oasis.

One of the newest resorts to be constructed by the Banyan Tree Group, Al Areen is one of the most luxuriant. With individual villas with their own pools going for US $ 1,500 a night, those with a few wads to spare, will be more than happy to indulge themselves here.

Situated in ones of most mystifying and Arabesque settings, with ancient mud forts in the vicinity and one of the oldest mosques in the region, close by, Al Areen resort offers a unique blend of luxury and tranquillity amid natural desert environment.

Guests can either frolic in their private pools, or tour the nearby, well-preserved forts or just go and visit the nearby wildlife preserve, where they will come to face with Arabian gazelles.

A picturesque town - Carmel-by-the-sea (California)

A beautiful, serene seaside town, south of Berkeley and San Francisco, Carmel in short, is a place, which once visited, a visitor may never want to leave. With its white sandy beaches, rocky, jagged cliffs, beautiful coastline, quaint little shops and trendy restaurants, Carmel has been attracting visitors for over 100 years.

Carmel is so small that it is literally spread in a one square mile radius. Originally developed as a colony for creative artists such as artists, writers and poets, it still posses a certain bohemian charm. Keeping that tradition alive, it still doesn’t, by law, allows any house numbers neither it allows anyone to put up street lights, lest, that people starting flocking to any particular artist house.

It all started in the late nineteenth century when James Devendorf, an attorney drove down in his horse buggy and mesmerised by the pristine white beaches and virgin land, that he vowed to create a haven for artists.

Time it seems has stood still since first house was built here in 1902. There are many activities for those with a love of outdoor. Its main scenic point, Point Lobos State Reserve offers hiking trails, scuba diving enclaves and a chance to get a bit comfy with the local sea lions.