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.