July 3, 2015

Geneva’s best museums and attractions

With a reputaiton of a world class city in a spectacular setting around an Alpine lake, renowned for its complement of global institutions, Geneva museums and other attractions are in generous supply. The culture on offer includes fine art in several venues, notably the Musee d’Art et D’Histoire. A surfeit of striking architecture includes the mighty Cathedrale Saint-Pierre, its spire rivalled by the towering Jet D’eau water fountain out on the lake. Other famous buildings include the Palais des Nations, a monumental 20th-century edifice now occupied by the UN. Nearby, the range of museum choices encompasses another ground-breaking humanitarian institution, the International Red Cross. Options for day trips extend to the museum at CERN, where you can explore the mysteries of the birth of the universe, and the Salève mountain where you can sit in one of its cafés and contemplate the views. Read on for details of all these and many more.

CERN
Straddling the Franco-Swiss border is the laboratory of the European Council for Nuclear Research – better known as CERN – the world’s largest physics lab and a place that’s frequently in the news for the activity (or not, as the case may be) of its Large Hadron Collider. The unfathomable LHC is an accelerator which sends particles shooting round a 27km underground ring in the hope that some of them may hit each other and recreate the big bang (or something). For a better explanation and a guided visit of the lab’s facilities (though not, sadly of the LHC itself) book yourself onto a tour – but think ahead as English tours fill up months in advance. Near the main lab, visitors can also stop by a spherical building called The Globe of Science and Innovation, CERN’s outreach building which hosts a small free permanent exhibition helping you get your head around particle physics. Perhaps the most relatable exhibit here is the computer on which Sir Tim Berners-Lee created the world wide web.
Musée d’Art et d’Histoire
The Paul Amlehn statues above the entrance of Marc Camoletti’s palatial neo-classical pile of 1910 depicting painting, drawing, sculpture and architecture are barely half the story. In Geneva’s largest art museum, you’ll find everything from Mesopotamian artefacts to modernist masterpieces by way of ancient suits of armour, ornamental musical instruments, Coptic wall hangings and a colossal statue of Pharaoh Ramses II. A collection of more than half a million exhibits spans four floors and 15,000 years of history, inviting visitors to explore archaeology, applied arts and fine arts. Signposting could be better, especially for non-French-speakers, although limited audioguides and suggestions for themed tours are available on the way in. These are a handy way to ensure you catch the vast collection’s real highlights, representing everyone from Picasso to Monet to Rubens to homegrown master Giacometti, and the museum’s acknowledged centrepiece, Konrad Witz’ 1444 altar painting ‘The Miraculous Draught of Fishes’ which masterfully balances Italian and Flemish influences. Unusually for Geneva, entrance, apart from for temporary shows, is free.
Cathédrale Saint-Pierre
Surprisingly small for a major religious centre (Lausanne’s is far bigger), Geneva’s cathedral was built during the 12th and 13th centuries in a combination of romanesque, gothic, and neoclassical styles. It later became a place of protestant worship during the Reformation, brought to Geneva by John Calvin. Explore the rather austere interior – but for an elaborately gilded 15th century chapel – and then climb the 157 steps of the north tower for great views over Geneva’s Old Town and beyond. Don’t miss the archaeological site beneath the cathedral, which contains the remains of previous churches on this site as well as pre-Christian remains dating back to the third century BC.
Palais des Nations
It’s worth playing the tourist and joining the sometimes long queues to visit this huge 1930s building which houses the European headquarters of the United Nations – the largest UN centre after New York. Over 100,000 people a year take an hour-long guided tour of the place (available in 15 languages, natch) which, depending on availability, provides a glimpse of the Assembly Hall, the Council Chamber and the Human Rights and Alliance of Civilisations Room with its incredible ceiling painted by Spanish artist Miguel Barcelò. Combine your visit with a trip to the Red Cross Museum, just up the road.
Jet d’eau
Don’t fight it: as possibly the most recognisable image of Geneva (you can even see it from the plane), it’s practically the law to get your photo taken in front of the city’s giant water fountain. Originally built as a pressure release valve for Geneva’s water supply, rather than for any aesthetic reason, the jet d’eau spurts 500 litres of water per second some 140m (459ft) into the air, before thundering back into Lake Geneva. You can get up close to the refreshing spray by walking the path to the fountain from the lake’s left bank. The jet really comes into its own during the city’s annual August fireworks display, when the colours are reflected and refracted in the spray. The fountain is occasionally switched off in high winds.

Le Salève
Known as Geneva’s local mountain, the Salève is actually just over the border in France. But the Genevois are justified in staking their claim, as this natural haven is just 20 minutes by bus from the city centre. It’s refreshing to slip out of Geneva’s money-focused commercial centre and head so easily into nature. From the cable car at Veyrier it’s a short ride up to 1,379m from where you’ll gape at the city and lake sprawled far below. A number of hiking paths meander over the mountain, including one which leads through the woods and on to an open meadow, the perfect spot for a picnic or snooze in the sun with a view of Mont Blanc. The mountain is popular with bikers and paragliders, while the less adventurous can content themselves with eating and drinking in several restaurants and cafés dotted around the hill.
International Red Cross and Red Crescent Museum

It’s a fascinating and rather humbling experience to visit this museum, which documents the work of the Red Cross from the humanitarian vision outlined by founder Henry Dunant in 1863, through its work during so many conflicts and natural disasters since then. Completed renovated in 2013, the museum’s permanent exhibition, entitled The Humanitarian Adventure, divides the experience into three sections: the first deals with the agency’s founding principles; the second explores how the Red Cross helps families separated by war or genocide; and the third details its work during and after natural disasters. Using an audio guide is essential, as the exhibits are based around hugely affecting video interviews with 12 'witnesses' to the Red Cross's work – from child soldiers and genocide survivors to doctors, volunteers and journalists. The immense scale of the work involved is drummed home by the museum’s extraordinary collection of six million record cards containing the fate of prisoners of war during World War I.

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July 2, 2015

The 15 best things to do in Geneva

 

1. Explore the Old Town
The most traditionally scenic part of the city is Geneva’s Old Town, clustered on a hill around the Cathédrale Saint-Pierre and the pretty pedestrian Place du Bourg-de-Four. It’s well worth a potter for its independent boutiques including La Muse, Jill Wolf Jewels and Septième Etage, itspretty architecture, its numerous cafés and restaurants and the chance to people-watch over a coffee at La Clémence. Delve into Geneva’s history with a visit to the archaeological remains beneath the cathedral, before wandering along the promenade for lovely views of the Bastions park below and the Jura mountain range in the distance.

2. Take an iconic selfie
It’s hardly the leaning tower of Pisa, but Geneva’s jet d’eau is impressive in its own way. Visible from the air as you fly into Geneva airport, this enormous water fountain in Lake Geneva spouts its froth 140m into the air. The best spots for a photo are the Pont du Mont-Blanc and the Promenade du Lac alongside the lake’s left bank. You can get closer still by riding a boat on the lake – jump on a Mouette taxi-boat for a short hop from right bank to left bank or take your snap from a CGN ferry as part of a day trip to any number of destinations around the lake.

3. Hike on Geneva’s local mountain
One great thing about Geneva is how easy it is to escape the clutches of the city and disappear into the hills. Frankenstein’s monster thought so too. The creature in Mary Shelley’s thriller fled to the Salève mountain and was seen hanging off its cliff-face in chapter seven. It’s an understandable move, as the Salève is a peaceful retreat just a short bus ride away from the city centre – so close in fact that it’s known as Geneva’s local mountain even though it’s actually just over the border in France. From the cable car base station at Veyrier it’s a short ride up to 1,379m for a superlative view of the city and lake – the jet d’eau looks pretty small from up here. On the summit, you can hike, paraglide, bird-spot, picnic or just sit in one of its cafés and contemplate the view. On a clear day Mont Blanc looms large.

4. Explore Geneva’s role in the world
For various reasons – its famed neutrality, its location in the centre of Europe – Geneva is the seat of many international organisations, some of which are open to visitors. Head up to Nations to visit two of the best. The outstanding International Red Cross and Red Crescent Museum is unmissable for its moving and sometimes shocking permanent exhibition which charts the vital humanitarian work carried out by the organisation for the past 150 years. Combine this with a guided tour of the Palais des Nations, the European seat of the United Nations, for an insight into how the biggest issues facing the world today are tackled.

5. Take a walk in Bastions park
The swatch of leafy loveliness that is Bastions park is a tranquil spot to stretch the legs. Popular with students, whose university buildings sit nearby, it’s a happy atmosphere at all times of year. In summer, stop for coffee at the pretty Café Restaurant du Parc des Bastions, while in winter the outdoor terrace of the same café is transformed into an ice rink popular with families. The park is also home to the Reformation wall, a giant sculpture depicting the forefathers of the Reformation movement which transformed Geneva into a protestant heartland in the 16th century.

6. Explore Geneva’s shops
It’s not hard to flex your plastic in Geneva’s shops, even if it may be safer to stick to window shopping. If you’ve got the reddies, head for the flashy Rue du Rhône to browse the high-end clothes boutiques, watchmakers and jewellery shops including designer emporium L’Apollinaire, or to Bon Génie, the Harvey Nicks of Geneva, which is crammed with labels. A more realistic shopping experience in the city centre is department store Globus, where you could spend hours browsing the clothes, homeware and cosmetics. If you’re not into shopping, it’s worth visiting Globus anyway for the incredible food hall, offering gourmet focaccia, a noodle bar, sushi, freshly flipped crêpes and upmarket burgers from Swiss celebrity chef Philippe Chevrier. Meanwhile vintage seekers should head to Plainpalais to pick out vintage homeware at Les Enfants Terribles and Le Panapé de Caméla, affordable retro dresses and bags at Le Grand Magasin and high-end vintage brands such as Ossie Clark and Chanel Couture at Julia’s Dressing.

7. Rummage in the Plainpalais fleamarket
On Saturday mornings there’s no better place to be that at the Plaine de Plainpalais, which hosts one of Switzerland’s biggest and best flea markets. From bric-a-brac to vintage clothes, second-hand toys to ethnic jewellery, plus larger pieces of furniture, a regular rummage among the hundreds of stalls could rustle you up a real one-off. When you’ve worn yourself out, prolong the vintage vibe by heading to 1930s café and ice-cream parlour Remor to watch the world go by from its outdoor terrace.

8. See Geneva’s Italian side in Carouge
Just a short tram ride from the centre of Geneva it feels as though you’ve stepped into a different country – and you kind of have. This area was developed by Italians from Turin in the 18th century, and as such is architecturally Italian in style, all stone archways, painted shutters and red roofs. Its outsider status attracts artisans and bohemians in droves, and a wander around its streets will throw up second-hand bookshops, markets, antique restorers, glass blowers, watchmakers and indie clothes designers. Hunt out vintage designer togs at posh second-hand shop Numéro 6, get interior design ideas at Teo Jakob and find classy children’s clothes and treats at Boutique O-Little-Top. When you’re all shopped out, the area has a vast number of bistros, cafés and restaurants offering a much more relaxed vibe than the centre of town, including tapas and cocktail bar Le Cheval Blanc.

9. Learn about particle physics at CERN
Geneva makes the news for more than just tax evasion and skiing accidents. It’s also remarkable for the 27-mile ring of superconducting magnets somewhere beneath our feet which is accelerating particles at the speed of light. It seems incredible that a world-renowned physics laboratory that is attempting to solve the secrets of the universe should be open to the likes of us, but it is. A tram ride out of town in the district of Meyrin, CERN is open for guided tours, and while you may not see the Large Hadron Collider itself (it’s closed to the public when operational), a visit round the lab takes in various other accelerators and is fascinating none-the-less.

10. Go out for cocktails
If there’s one thing Geneva does well, it’s cocktails – and not in the way you might imagine. Yes, you can pretend you’re royalty and sip a martini in the bar of one of the city’s most exclusive waterfront hotels. But there are more imaginative ways to go about it. Instead, delve into the less tourist-centric neighbourhoods of Eaux-Vives, Carouge and Plainpalais and you’ll turn up a few surprises, from the well-priced and inventive drinks at L’Atelier Cocktail Club to the wonderfully eccentric creations at the speakeasy-styled La Verre à Monique. Dress in your best spats/flapper dress and you’ll fit right in.

11. Pamper yourself at the Bains des Pâquis
Geneva has tons of spas way more luxurious than the Bains des Pâquis, but none are as interesting, kitsch or reasonably-priced as this 1930s public swimming baths right on Lake Geneva. Open year-round, it’s great for a dip, a sauna, a massage, a fondue or a cheap lunch in friendly, casual surroundings. Plenty of events are laid on year-round, including early-morning music and poetry readings in summer. Best of all, it attracts Genevois of all ages, professions and wallet-sizes, making it a prime people-watching spot, with a view of the jet d’eau to boot.

12. Head into the mountains
Geneva’s proximity to numerous ski resorts in Switzerland and France is one of its main selling points, but you don’t need to neglect the city altogether on a skiing break as it’s entirely possible to head off for a day’s skiing and be back in town by the evening. The pretty French resorts of Samoëns, La Clusaz and Chamonix are just an hour away, while St Cergue, in the Swiss Jura, is even closer. And they’re not just good for skiing. Head off in summer to sample hiking, paragliding, summer tobogganing and mountain biking, or cast off your downhill skis in winter in favour of snowshoeing, sledging, cross-country skiing or ice skating on the frozen Lac de Joux, just 90 minutes drive away.

13. Celebrate in the streets
Geneva likes a good knees up like anywhere else. In winter the Escalade, held on the second weekend in December, is a pre-Christmas party in honour of a failed siege of the city in the early 17th century. As is tradition, join the crowds to watch costumed revellers parade through the Old Town before warming your cockles with a glass of vin chaud and some melted cheese. In summer don’t miss the huge fireworks display on the second weekend in August which marks the end of Geneva’s summer festival. This is one time when you’ll thank the banks and hedge funds for their presence in the city, as the display’s copious corporate sponsorship translates into one of the biggest and brashest fireworks displays you’ll likely see anywhere. Even party poopers have been known to be impressed.

14. Tap into Geneva’s live music scene
There are myriad opportunities to watch live music in Geneva, from top-quality orchestras to big name international bands. But away from the norm, it’s possible to search out something a bit more alternative, too. The eclectic L’Usine is about as far from Geneva’s mainstream as its possible to get. A multi-purpose arts venue, its diverse programme covers everything from rock to reggae, metal to punk, disco to house. It’s loud, cheap and rather grubby, but so much the better for it. If jazz and soul is more your thing, head out to the Chat Noir in Carouge, a brilliant laid-back venue with a friendly crowd of locals who flock to regular live music and comedy nights held in the basement.

15. Eat a fondue
Practically compulsory in Geneva, twirling chunks of bread in a pot of melted cheese isn’t just for tourists, it’s a real thing. There are many places in town serving a good moitié-moitié (half gruyère, half vacherin), but one of the best is Les Armures, the restaurant attached to the five star hotel of the same name which serves a top-flight caquelon(fondue pot) in an appropriately traditional environment. Better for families, kids love the cheerful decor at Le Gruyèrien, whose fondue is reliably good, while La Buvette des Bains des Pâquis serves a decent, reasonably-priced pot in its cosy cabin.

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June 30, 2015

Best things to do nuwara eliya

Nuwara-Eliya the 'heart' of the tea country located at an elevation of 1980 meters in the central highlands of a tropical island, it offers the best both worlds advantages, of tropical abundance and pleasant cool mountain climate. While the time climate is sub-tropical, night temperature plunge low enough to produce frost.

Haggala Botanical Garden
Haggala Botanical Garden10 km on the Badulla Road.The Garden was first established in 1860 under the curatorship of three Britishers of the same name – William Nock, JK Nocl and JJ Nock. It lies under the Hakgala Peak, between 5000-6000 feet in elevation – the highest set Botanical Gardens in the world. It boasts 100 year old Monetary Cypress trees from California, Japanese Cedars, Himalayan Pines and English Oak.

The Botanical Garden is first as a cinchona plantation andHaggala Botanical Garden then adapted to an experimental garden for the acclimatization of plants from temperate zones in the tropics. Here can be found all the flowers of an English cottage garden in spring and summer, and much else besides – such as the oldest tea-bush in the island, an ornamental pond and quaint summerhouse. Hakgala (Jaw Rock) rises a sheet 1500 ft/460 meters and offers one of the most stunning views ever. Legend says it was part of the Himalayas carried here by the Monkey God – Hanuman in his quest to help God-Rama rescue Goddess – Sita from the demon king – Ravana. Sita-Eliya, site of Sita's imprisonment, stands a mere mile away, with the 'Sita Amman Kovil' close by.

Queen Victoria Park
The Victoria Park of Nuwara Eliya said to be named to comorate the 60th Jubilee Coronation of Queen Victoria in the year 1897. Originally the park was used as the research field of Haggala Botanical Garden which is located about 04 km away from the city centre. It is known that this park was established by planting an Oak tree by a German Princes who visited Nuwara Eliya at the latter part of the 19th Century.

The park is 27 acres in extent and about 90% of the treeQueen Victoria Park species available are those of foreign plants. Nanu Oya which flows through the park and a number of lakes within it enhances its beauty. A large number of rare bird species can be found in the park. The park is a great tourist attraction in Nuwara Eliya. It was estimated that over 100,000 local visitors as well as around 4000 – 5000 foreign tourists visit the Victoria Park every year.
Victoria Park is an attractive and well-used oasis. It is popular with birdwatchers at quieter times because of the good opportunities it gives to see Indian Blue Robin, Pled Thrush or Scaly Thrush lurking in the denser undergrowth. Kashmir Flycatcher is another attractive bird species found in the park.

Horton Plains
Nuwara-Eliya is the town base for visits to Horton Plains National Park. The journey from Nuwara-Eliya to Horton Plains only takes an hour. Horton Plains National Park is the only Nations Park situated in the hill country and the highest plateau in the island consisting of grassland interspersed with patches of forest, with some unusual high altitude vegetation and an excellent excursion and a paradise for nature lovers, hikers and bird watching.
It falls within the Nuwara-Eliya District 200Km away fromHorton Plains Colombo, the capital city. The panoramic beauty of the hill country is witnessed within the park. The Plains are a beautiful, silent, strange world with some excellent walks.

The grassy plains still host many other wild lives. Species found here include Leopard, Sambar and the endemic Purple-faced Langur. Endemic highland birds include Dull-blue Flycatcher, Sri Lanka White-eye, and Yellow-eared Bulbul.

The most stunning place is the World's End, where the southern Horton Plains suddenly ends, and drops off to nearly 1050 meters, when is an awesome sight indeed. This shear drop offers a breathtaking view of the land below on clear days. This is a favorite place fro trekkers, as there are plenty of soft and hard trails.

Early morning visits are essential, both to see the wildlife and to view World's End before mists close in during the later part of the morning.

Flora – Trees & shrubs; up to now 744 species of flowering plants has been identified in the area out of which 112 species are endemic, and 78 species are identified to be endangered. Being a grassland more than 50 species of grass has been identified, majority of which are endemic.

Fauna – 460 species of birds are recorded to be found in Sri Lanka, out of which 33 species are endemic – out of this number more than 100 species are confined to Horton Plains. 12 endemic species of these birds can be seen in Horton Plains. Mammals – more than 10 species of mammals could be seen in the area, and apart from these, some species of reptiles, amphibians and butterflies could be seen in the area.

The Ceylon Breweries
The brewing of beer was started in Nuwara Eliya by Sir Samuel Baker in 1881 at Lover's Leap. It is an interesting visit, for the brewery is one of the finest in the island. It's been in business since 1884.

Sri Pada (Adam's Peak )
Sri PadaHill climb of a different type to witness a spectacular sun rise or just for the thrill of the panoramic views of Sri Lanka or for pleasure. Not just a trail but a pilgrimage to a summit sacred to all of the world's major religions. The most popular hill trail in Sri Lanka. Its about 2200m above from sea level. The season is between December and April when the summit is not misty and relatively dry. The base of the climb on the Hatton side is about 2 hours from Nuwara Eliya.

Pedro Tea Factory
This factory is the only factory in such close proximity to the town of Nuwara-Eliya. One of the most modern factories, producing the highest priced tea that is popular all over the world, manufacture of which could be observed at Pedro Tea Factory.

Single Tree Hill
Single tree is the best vantage point to observe the beauty of Nuwara-Eliya. Easily accessed by use of the road across the tea estate. This vantage point one could enjoy the panoramic view of Pidurutalagala Mountain rang, Haggala Mountain, Lake Gregory, and the entire town of Nuwara-Eliya as well as Northern section of Horton Plains.

Gregory Lake
Gregory LakeLake Gregory is one of the significant tourist attractions in Nuwara Eliya. It was built by the Governor William Gregory during 1872 – 1877 periods by utilizing the water from the Nanuoya which runs across the town. It is about 91.2 hectares in extent. It was said to be used for water sports and for re-recreational activities during the British rule. Gregory Lake

A boat yard now allows visitors to go boating and rowing.

Galway’s Land Bird Sanctuary
A beautiful land area covering an extent of 57.6 hectares of land in Nuwara Eliya had been gazetted as a Bird sanctuary in the year 1938. This bird sanctuary attracts about 20 species of very rare foreign birds and about 30 species of Sri Lankan birds. Most of the endemic bird species as well as migrant bird species could be seen at this sanctuary. In addition to the birds this park has valuable tree species of both foreign and local.

Nuwara Eliya Golf Club
Walking distance from the town center spread over 90 acres, over a hundred years old (built in 1891), the 18 holes golf course is one of Nuwara Eliya’s biggest attractions. It is reputed to be the only Golf Course where all the holes are visible from the Club House or accessible by car. In the old British cemetery at the rear of the Club House is theNuwaraEliya Golf Club memorial to Major Rogers, the elephant hunter credited with killing around 1500 elephants.

British Tombs
Tombs of some distinguished Englishman who lived in Nuwara Eliya can be seen in front of the Golf Ground just few meters away from the existing bus stand of the town. A tomb has been erected in memory of a young person called Ebenisher Golder Manro (born 01st November 1814) and was killed by a wild buffalo on 24.01.1841 at Elephant Plain. He was identified as a son of Lt. John Manro who lived in Sri Lanka.

There is another tomb erected in memory of Sir William Rock who served the country as a Judge. He died at the age of 64 on 19.05.1838 in Nuwara Eliya. There is also an important tomb erected for an Englishman called Major Thomas Rodger who had a habit of hunting white elephants. He was said to be killed by an elephant in the jungle. Legends say this tomb had been continuously damaged over every four years due to highlighting on it which people believe has a mysterious curse. The tomb is now seen as cracked stone pieces.

Oliphant Estate
A visit to this estate, entrance from the road at the Ramboda end of Nuwara Eliya, is significant because it was here that the first thirty tea plants sent from China to Sri Lanka were planted by Mr. Laurence Oliphant, increasing his tea acreage to 100 acres.

Labookelle Tea Centre
The Labookelle tea center on Kandy road offers guided toursLabookelle Tea Centre of the factory free of charge and also runs a sales outlet and a restaurant on site.

The Tea Cup
Enroute to Colombo via Hatton, about 10km from Hatton town towards Colombo The Tea Cup is easily recognizable by the large teacup in the front. Maintained by the Watawala Plantations Limited The Tea Cup offers brewed tea and snacks in addition to being a tea sales center. Toilets here were superbly clean.

The Tea Factory
An old tea factory turned into a fine hotel is about 30-45The Tea Factory minutes away at Kandapola. Managed by one of the largest hotel chains it offers good food and excellent accommodation.

St. Clair's Tea Centre
Another sales outlet and a restaurant which also offers open seating, on the Hatton Road at Talawakale. Just above the St Clairs falls. There is a good viewing platform from the location.

Tracking and Hiking
Nuwara Eliya offers good adventure sport locations because of its landscape.
Pidurutalagala (2550m) highest mountain peak of Sri Lanka is just north of the town. Though the summit is not open to the public, hiking is possible up to 7000ft. There are several water falls along the track.

Mountain – Piduruthalagala
This is the highest point in Sri Lanka, overlooking the town to the north. You cannot walk to the top anymore but there is a small path off Water field Drive that leads to a waterfall. From there, the hikers can follow the river up via seven more waterfalls – a neat hike for adventurous folk! This journey goes as far as the 7000 foot marker.

Sri Pada (Adam's Peak ) – The Pilgrim Path
This is through Gampola and Ginigathhena and you will find the story of this old path carved on two rocks off the 28th milestone on the Nawalapitiya – Ambagamuwa road. The spot is called Akuruketupana and the inscription dates to around 1100AD. Today there are four other roads to the peak, the shortest being via Maskeliya and the most popular. Other roads are on the Sabaragamuwa side.

The Nissangala Lena on the road to Sri Pada (Adam's Peak)
This is believed the cave in the mountainside, where King Keerthi Sri Nissanka buried a great treasure, including his regalia. It is only after one passes this cave and enters the forest that one comes to the Sita Gangula, a holy river of ice cold water, where pilgrims bathe and put on white garments, before continuing their journey to the peak.

City Viewing Point – Shanthipura
This is marvelous point to view the entire Nuwara-Eliya city. Shanthipura is the village which is situated in highest spot of Sri Lanka.

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June 29, 2015

8 Interesting Places To Visit In Mount Abu

Located near the Sirohi District, Mount Abu is the only hill station in the desert state of Rajasthan. It lies in the Aravalli mountain range at an approximate elevation of around 1,220 meters above sea level, with its highest point being ‘Guru Shikhar’ which is at a height of 1,722 meters above sea level. Being the only hill station in Rajasthan, it has been a popular retreat for the residents as a place away from the scorching desert heat. The place also has a significant place in the Hindu mythology as it is mentioned as the place where the Sage Vashistha retired. Today, the place is a great tourist destination, a hill station with the distinctive blend of the flavors of Rajasthan. It totally deserves a visit. Here is a list of 8 interesting places to visit in Mount Abu:

1. Dilwara Jain Temples

Located at a distance of just 2.5 kilometers from mount Abu, the Dilwara Jain templeswere built between the 11th and the 13th century. The feature that makes it a must visit is the amazing and brilliant use of marble in the architecture. The ornamental carvings and the flawless stone laying technique make it one among the most beautiful pilgrimage spots in the world. The temple complex consists of 5 temples which are unique to the Jain culture in India namely Vimal Vasahi, dedicated to the first Jain Tirthankara, Adinath; Luna Vasahi, dedicated to the 22nd Jain Tirthankara, Neminatha; Pithalhar, dedicated to the first Jain Tirthankar, Rishabha; Parshvanath, dedicated to the 23rd Jain Tirthankara, Parshva and Mahavir Swami, dedicated to the last Jain Tirthankara, Mahavira. The lotus like engravings on the ceilings and the different scenes from the Jain and Hindu mythology represented through carved marble sculptures are sure to leave you awestruck.

2. Wildlife Sanctuary

The Forest located between the Aravalli mountain range was declared as a wildlife sanctuary in 1980 and covers an area of approximately 288 sq kilometers. It is a sub tropical forest which has an abundance of various species of flora and fauna. While there are traces of past dwellings of the lion and the tiger, but as of now the prime feline predator found here is the Leopard.  The rare species found here are sambhar, common langur, wild boar, bear, pangolin, common mongoose, jungle cat, wolf, hyena, jackal, Indian fox, Indian hare, porcupine and hedgehog. These forests are also said to be the home to around 250 species of birds but the most special one is the grey jungle fowl which is unique to this area.

3. Nakki Lake

One of the most popular attractions in mount Abu, Nakki Lake is an ancient and sacred lake. According to Hindu mythology the lake was dug out by the Gods by simply using their nails to gain shelter from the Demon Bashkali, however many such mythological stories exist leading to the creation of this lake. Nevertheless, the place is a great spot for picnic with friends and family alike. The lake is also famous as mahatma Gandhi’s ashes were immersed here leading to the construction of Gandhi Ghat, which is also a popular monument located here. There are plenty of hotels, restaurants and eateries located near the lake which offer some great local food at really cheap prices. The fountains in the lake add to its natural beauty.

4. Abu Road

Although this is a totally different town, situated near the Banas River, Abu road is a must visit. It normally refers to a railway station which is located in a picturesque surrounding. The weather is generally pleasant; however, to enjoy this place to its fullest, one must visit it between November and December. The place is a home to several different temples which are significant in the Hindu mythology and display an amazing work of Indian architecture.  The Banas River is also a great picnic spot and can be enjoyed during mild rainfall. Many Indian tourists can find this place as dull and boring, with not many things to offer, but for a lone traveler this place can unleash a variety of surprises. Do not forget to taste the amazing and silky ‘Rabri’ which is a famous local sweet dish.

5. Achalgarh

The name refers to a fort and an ancient kingdom, which was originally built by the Paramara Dynasty rulers. The fort was reconstructed in 1452 by Maharana Kumbha the ruler of the Mewar kingdom and was renamed as “Achalgarh’ or the immovable. The fort however stands in ruins to this day, leaving behind many remnants which make this place a tourist attraction. The main entrances are characterized by two towers carved out of grey granite, which still stand as a memorial of this once pompous and majestic fort. The place is located at an amazing location and is famous for its ancient temple dedicated to Lord Shiva known as the Achaleshwar Mahadeva Temple. The temple is said to have a foot impression of Lord Shiva himself and also has a brass Nandi and 3 sculptures of buffalos near the pond. The fort walls and the amazing location give an amazing panoramic view of the surroundings.

6. Guru Shikar

As mentioned in the prologue, Guru Shikar is the highest point in mount Abu and forms the highest point in the Aravalli mountain range. The place is perfect to get a panoramic view of the whole region and is famous for its temple of Guru Dattatreya an incarnation of the Hindu Deities ‘Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva’ in one.  Do not forget to pack food and beverages but preferably not any alcohol as the place is considered as sacred. 

7. Trevor’s Tank

Trevor’s tank or Trevor’s crocodile park is a man made crocodile breeding spot located 5 kilometers away from mount Abu. The entrance to this place was amazing and gave me a fresh and relaxing feel. Make sure you visit this place during mild winter months of November and December. It is a great picnic spot which will only be enhanced by the good company of your family or friends. The place also house various fauna like the black bear and obviously the various crocodiles resting on the rocky shores. The birdwatchers and the shutterbugs can get plenty of amazing shots. Interestingly, this place is like an Indian-ized version of Rivendell. If there’s one place you must experience in mount Abu, it’s got to be Trevor’s tank.

8. Sher E Punjab

The restaurant/Dhaba is located in the main market, near the Sabzi mandi and it offers some great recipes that cater to both vegetarians and non-vegetarians alike. You can place yourself outside or in the cleaner and more comfy room inside. The food is amazing with non vegetarian recipes like Dhaba Gosht, Kadai Chicken, Chicken 65, butter chicken etc.

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May 28, 2015

West Hollywood – Los Angeles

West Hollywood is at the cultural and geographical heart of the Los Angeles region, surrounded by must-see hotspots in every direction. If you want to experience Los Angeles, booking a hotel in walkable West Hollywood will give you convenient access to everything—and situate you in one of the metropolis' hottest neighborhoods.

Go west to the beaches, north to the Hollywood Bowl and the Hollywood Walk of Fame, south to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the La Brea Tar Pits on Museum Row, or east to Downtown’s Disney Concert Hall and LA Live. In the mood for a hike? Travel a few miles east to Runyon Canyon, nestled into the famous Hollywood Hills. No matter if you walk, bike, drive or take public transit, WeHo is the perfect jumping-off point to see LA’s hottest attractions. After a day of adventures, come back to West Hollywood's thriving restaurant and nightlife scene—and go wherever the night takes you!

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May 27, 2015

Top 10 Things to Do in Amsterdam

Take a Canal Tour

No visitor should miss out on a water-borne tour of the splendid canals of Amsterdam. The canals, which were declared a UNESCO monument in 2010, aren't just a picturesque attraction, but were essential to defense and transport in 17th-century Amsterdam. With the arrival of the automobile, hundreds of canals were filled in nationwide to accommodate the new mode of transport, but Amsterdam has retained 165 of its historic canals, more than any other Dutch city.A canal tour makes for a wonderful first impression, as the tour boats take in much of the monumental architecture that lines the Canal Belt, the four concentric semi-circles that loop around the the historic Center. While any canal tour will be an experience to remember, the options are plentiful: hop aboard an open-top boat from the  St. Nicolaas Boat Club , or charter a private boat or a special themed or catered tour.

Explore Dutch Art, from the Old Masters to Mondriaan

Dozens of Amsterdam museums are devoted to the fine arts, which the Netherlands has pioneered for centuries. Rembrandt, a household name, has his own dedicated museum, the Rembrandt House Museum (Museum het Rembrandthuis), whose restored interior reproduces the atmosphere of the artist's former residence. But it's the Rijksmuseum, one of Amsterdam's top museums, where his classic De Nachtwacht resides, beside thousands of invaluable masterworks across the scope of Dutch art history.Amsterdam promises just as much for lovers of modern art: its most-visited museum, the Van Gogh Museum, is a tribute to the post-impressionist painter whose inventive technique and sympathetic subject matter has earned him countless admirers. The Stedelijk Museum, recently re-opened for another temporary exhibit despite its renovation, is another can't-miss destination for modern art enthusiasts; its Erezaal ("Hall of Honor") is bedecked with classic canvases from Henri Matisse, Piet Mondrian, Yves Klein and other celebrated artists.

Remember Anne Frank and the Dutch World War II Experience

The Netherlands was not exempt from the horrors of World War II, and its memory remains in the minds of all those who experienced it. World War II memorials like the Dutch National Monument, the Homomonument and others commemorate the victims of this war, and three spectacular museums are devoted in whole or in part to this period.

The Anne Frank House is one such museum, where visitors can explore the "secret annex" where Anne hid for years with her parents, sister and three others as she composed her famous diary.Even the Gestapo soldiers who found them could scarcely believe the cramped existence lived out in these clandestine rooms. Brave individuals like the couple who harbored the Franks were part of the Dutch Resistance movement, and to them a museum is also dedicated: the Verzetsmuseum, voted the best historical museum in the Netherlands, which documents the tireless attempts of the resistance members to thwart the Nazis. The Jewish Historical Museum, too, retells how the Holocaust devastated Jewish communities in the Netherlands, and how these communities have rebuilt themselves in its wake. Few visitors are left unmoved by the powerful exhibits at these museums.

Stop and Smell the Flowers

Tulips and other bulb flowers are the pride of the Netherlands, and nowhere is this more evident than at Keukenhof, the world-famous bulb flower park in Lisse (35 to 40 minutes by bus from Amsterdam Airport Schiphol). Stroll past rows upon rows of vibrantly-hued tulips in this outdoor wonderland, where flower lovers come from far and wide to admire the seasonal blooms.

Explore De Wallen

Take a stroll in De Wallen, Amsterdam's red light district, to see what all the fuss is about … and learn that there's more to this fabled district than the sex tourism it attracts. The red-lit windows where sex workers primp are often attached to historic townhouses, and monumental architecture abounds in this sliver of the city. The Oude Kerk (Old Church), established in 1306, presides over its own square, while Museum Ons' Lieve Heer op Solder ("Our Lord in the Attic" Museum), a former clandestine church sequestered in a townhouse attic, testifies to a time when Catholic worship was forbidden — before the Netherlands became known worldwide as a beacon of tolerance.

De Wallen is also home to a number of fine restaurants, and just a stone's throw from the diverse eateries of Amsterdam Chinatown.

Hop on a Bicycle

Just about everyone cycles in Amsterdam, and not just for fun: 50% of Amsterdammers use their bikes daily, and rush hour bike lanes teem with office workers in suits, students headed to class, and parents with tots piled onto children's seats. Join the locals for a taste of this daily ritual, and discover the city on its favorite means of transport.

Rental bikes are available all over town, from inconspicuous Dutch omafietsen (also known as "Dutch bikes"), to ones that clearly hail from a rental company — an effective device to warn locals of the possibly inexperienced cyclists behind the handlebars.

Specialized bike maps, like the Amsterdam op de fiets map ("Amsterdam by Bicycle"; available for EUR 4 at the VVV tourist information center), are an indispensable resource for first-time cyclists in Amsterdam.

Taste Traditional Dutch Cuisine

Traditional Dutch cuisine typically consists of comfort food to warm one's insides in the cold season, which on some years can feel eternal. Favorites like erwtensoep (split pea soup) and stamppot boerenkool, mashed potatoes streaked with curly kale, are eaten year in and year out. Pancakes are treated like pizza, loaded with extras like ham and bacon; wheels of artisanal Gouda stare out at window-shoppers from the best cheese vendors; and French fries are consumed in abundance.

For all this splendor, sometimes it's nice to dip into more exotic fare. This is where two of the Netherlands' former colonies, two vastly distant countries, come in: Indonesia and Suriname. The rijsttafel, a Dutch colonial invention that assembles dishes from all over Indonesia, is a veritable attraction in itself; dozens of tapas-sized portions allow diners to sample a variety of Indonesian recipes. Surinamese, by comparison, is a South American cuisine spiked with Afro-Caribbean, South Asian, Indonesian and Chinese flavors, courtesy of its intensely multicultural population; Surinamese eateries are typically casual affairs that dole out impossible portions for moderate prices. Both cuisines are rare outside their home countries, and the opportunity to experience them is one that shouldn't be missed.

Get out of Town

The most populous cities in the Netherlands are concentrated in the central west, the so-called "Randstad", and train travel to these cities — Haarlem, Delft, Leiden and others — is a cinch.Most cities in the Randstad are less than an hour from Amsterdam by train, while hardly any city in the Netherlands is further than three hours; this makes the capital a convenient hub for day trippers to anywhere in the country.

One day trip I like to recommend to first-time visitors is Zaanse Schans, a town that's chock full of traditional Dutch crafts and architecture, with six windmills, a wooden shoe workshop, a cheese farm and more. Travelers who are here for tulip season will want to take the bus to Lisse, site of the Keukenhof tulip and bulb flower park. Ceramics lovers shouldn't miss the historic center of Delft, where the beloved "Delft blue" porcelain is produced. The list of wonderful cities and towns to see in the Randstad alone is endless, so read up in advance to find your ideal day trip from Amsterdam.

Experience the Cannabis Coffeeshop Culture

Amsterdam is one of the rare places where you can purchase reputable quality weed and/or hash, in a public transaction, and not be branded a criminal for it — a fact that clearly holds wide appeal. Almost half a million travelers come to Amsterdam each year expressly because of its cannabis coffeeshops, and a quarter of all visitors step into a coffeeshop at least once on their trip.

But these establishments haven't turned the city into a den of depravity; far from it — for cannabis smokers, coffeeshops are simply a laid-back alternative to cafes, where you can relax with a joint and a cup of coffee, share a "space cake" with friends, or sometimes even have a full post-smoke meal.

Buy Yourself Happy at Amsterdam's Retail Hot Spots

Paris and Antwerp, but it sure is fun place to shop. From the exclusive labels whose retail outlets line the P.C. Hooftstraat — think Prada, Gucci, Versace — to the unique, independent boutiques of the Nine Streets area, Amsterdam administers retail therapy to shoppers of all stripes.

Besides fashion, Amsterdam also has an abundant share of specialty shops — from toiletries to interior decor.
Stroll down Nieuwendijk and Haarlemmerstraat, both just minutes from Central Station, for a sample of the fine specialty food stores in town — from cheese, oil and salt specialists to international importers.

Some locals will claim that there's no better place to drop a few euros than at the beloved outdoor markets of Amsterdam. From fashion, to art and antiques, to food, there's a market for it. Most markets are open year-round, but April to September is obviously peak market season thanks to the abundance of sunny days.

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May 26, 2015

Art museums, boat trips and Sunday brunch: Five things you must do in Zurich

 

Zurich is the best city in the world in which to live. It's good for tourists, too – visitors can buy a single ticket to make use of Zurich's extensive tram system and gain entry to museums and galleries.

1. JUST THE TICKET

Buy a ZurichCARD after landing at the airport and use it to travel by train to the city's central station, the Hauptbahnhof – a splendid neo-Renaissance sandstone building with elegant lobbies and halls. A 72-hour ZurichCARD costs 48 Swiss francs (£33) and will also give you access to most museums, trams, cable trains and regular boat services on the 22-mile-long Lake Zurich. Smart and slick trams rule in Switzerland's largest city, while cars creep meekly behind. The consequent low traffic levels in the city centre contribute to a noticeable lack of stress.

2. EASY GOING

Zurich is very visitor-friendly. Swift public transport lets you tick off attractions easily.Wander through the twisting Old Town, with Alpine swifts chirruping high above us, to find two exceptional examples of stained glass. Fraumunster church has windows by Marc Chagall, while Sigmar Polke's work in the Grossmunster is equally striking. St Peter's Church boasts Europe's largest clock face. Meanwhile, the Kunsthaus is a world-class art museum that holds the largest collection of paintings by Munch outside Norway.

3. TAKE TO THE LAKE

Zurich is a city on the water. The Limmat river bisects it, distinguishing many a view in the Old Town, while the Sihl river refreshes Zurich West. This area was once derelict but now boasts a host of specialist shops, boutiques and lively restaurants. Look out for Viaduct, a parade of shops under 36 arches. For pure relaxation, try a 90-minute boat trip on Lake Zurich (use your ZurichCARD).

4. COACH CLASS

The first thing you see in the Swiss National Museum is an original, bright yellow Gotthard stagecoach, from the days of epic travel through high mountain passes. The museum's eclectic collection also includes a Christ figure astride a wooden donkey from a 1,000-year-old Palm Sunday procession, and an introduction to the Swiss financial system. Star items from the archaeological collection feature one of the heaviest gold bowls ever found in Europe, and golden amulets pressed into a rock thousands of years ago to win favour with the gods' during those perilous mountain passages.

5. HIGH TABLE

For Sunday brunch, take the steep hillside railway to the fabulous Dolder Grand and ask for a table overlooking the lake. In the city centre, Confiserie Sprungli still rules the roost with its sumptuous macaroons and hot chocolate. At Restaurant Zeughauskeller, built in 1487, we were served wholesome local fare by smiling waitresses, while at the more formal Zunfthaus zur Waag, a marvellous set menu costs 45 francs (£31).

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May 22, 2015

Reasons Which Make Ladakh Completely Irresistible

 

Leh-Ladakh is a land like no other. Bounded by two of the world’s mightiest mountain ranges, the Great Himalaya and the Karakoram, it lies athwart two other, the Ladakh range and the Zanskar range. The beauty of the place can not be expressed in words. Right from gompas to the sensational momos, the superabundance of attractions to visit makes this city make it heaven on earth. It is said that only in Ladakh can a man sitting in the sun with his feet in the shade suffer from sunstroke and frostbite at the same time. The place holds so many surprises together that one can’t help but be awed.

The large mountain ranges of Zanskar and Ladakh will be your companions through most of your trip to Ladakh. They may even be intimidating at times. These huge mountains can make anyone feel small. However, the key is to enjoy the beauty that these mountains have to offer. The steep terrains covered with snow reflect the heavenly skies. The loud rivers rush through these mountains making for an absolutely beautiful combination of view and sounds. Every point here is an echo point so if you find yourself in a safe area, you may want to risk a shout to hear the echos ricocheting from the hills.

Remember the breathtakingly beautiful lake from 3 Idiots where Chatur lost it all? It’s the Pangong-Tso lake that traverses the boundary international boundary to stretch from India to Bhutan. The lake offers awesome site for camping and is the current hotspot for all people traveling to Ladakh. The rules do not allow boating on Pangong-Tso Lake but when the lake freezes in the winters, if you’re feeling too brave, you might want to ice skate at just the bank of the lake.

Managed by the Border Roads Organization, Kardung-la Pass is the gateway to the north and can be considered by many as a tourist spot in itself. However, being at such a height, one has to take extreme care of health while traveling through the pass. On the fun side, the numerous Tibetan flags that are said to ward off bad spirits and keep you safe set up a beautiful contrast with the white snow.

A desert is probably the last thing one expects while planning a trip to Ladakh but there it is. The sand dunes of the Nubra Valley offer the tourists a very much Arabian Nights like experience. The famous two-humped camelsare also found in the region and are often the highlight of the trip for those interested in animals. The origin of the desert is supposed to be from the Tethis Sea from the depths of which the Himalayas are said to have risen.

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May 21, 2015

Chicago

Poet Carl Sandburg described Chicago as the "City of the Big Shoulders" in 1916, and the city carries that moniker proudly to this day. With world-class museums and cultural attractions alongside thriving commercial and industrial ventures, Chicago hums with energy.

Shedd Aquarium

With more than 2 million guests every year, John G. Shedd Aquarium is Chicago’s most visited cultural attraction.

What to Do
Curious explorers can roam through more than 80 habitats, acquainting themselves with some 1,500 species.

What to See
The recently "reimagined" Abbott Oceanarium, which brings beluga whales, Pacific white-sided dolphins, Alaska sea otters and California sea lions up close, while the 90,000-gallon (340,687 liters) Caribbean Reef installation offers a 360-degree view of the sea life found in warm waters.

Art Institute of Chicago

Well-known treasures beckon inside the Art Institute of Chicago.

What to Do
Devote an entire day to this magnificent Beaux-Arts building — with two stone lions guarding its Michigan Avenue entrance — that is home to works of art that span 5,000 years of human history, as well as the globe.

What to See
The recently unveiled Modern Wing, which opened in 2009, that houses contemporary art and modern European paintings and sculpture in a breathtaking setting. This is one of the places to visit in Chicago that you just have to take the time to see!

Adler Planetarium

Adler Planetarium, which appears ready to launch itself into Lake Michigan from its lakeside perch, brings the universe to its visitors.

What to Do
Spend time in an exhibition where intrepid explorers can occupy a life-size model of a Mars rover.

What to See
The Galaxy Wall — the largest and most complete view of our Milky Way. The Adler encourages us to break the bonds of earth and look to the heavens.

The Field Museum

The Field Museum is your passport to travel the world and back in time with 4.5 billion years under one roof.

What to Do
Journey through 4 billion years of life on Earth in the Evolving Planet exhibit and marvel over precious stones — from their rough beginnings to sparkling jewelry — in the Grainger Hall of Gems.

What to See
The remarkable Sue — the world’s largest, most complete, and best-preserved Tyrannosaurus rex. Find her holding court in The Field Museum’s grand Stanley Field Hall. Every trip to Chicago should include a date with Sue.

Skydeck Chicago

The tallest building in the Western Hemisphere beckons with its eye-popping views of Chicago and beyond. Located atop the Willis Tower (formerly the Sears Tower), Skydeck Chicago attracts nearly 1.3 million visitors each year to its 103rd floor observation deck, which rises 1,353 feet (412.4 meters) above street level.

What to Do
The brave of heart can step out onto The Ledge, a glass-enclosed balcony, for a view unlike any other.

What to See
On a clear day, you can spot many of Chicago’s landmarks and scan the horizon to Michigan, Wisconsin, Indiana and Illinois.

360 CHICAGO

Located in the heart of the Windy City’s tourist district, 360 CHICAGO — with its one-of-a-kind open-air Skywalk — is open until 11 p.m. daily. The fastest elevators in North America zoom to the 94th floor — 1,000 feet (305 meters) up — in only 40 seconds.

What to Do
Guests can enjoy a multimedia Sky Tour and can contemplate Chicago’s history on the 80-foot (24 meters) history wall. CityPASS holders can take in the view while sipping a complimentary coffee from the on-site café.

What to See
The real fun is spotting Chicago landmarks, such as Wrigley Field, Navy Pier, and glamorous marinas.

Museum of Science and Industry

The largest science center in the Western Hemisphere, the Museum of Science and Industry was the first museum in North America to offer visitors the chance to touch and interact with exhibits.

What to Do
Continue that tradition to this day with exhibits that encourage people to do more than spectate: you can make a giant heart beat in time to your own or open a Chicago River drawbridge for a model train.

What to See
Examine your moves on the basketball court with the help of a virtual instructor.

Navy Pier

Encompassing more than 50 acres (20 hectares) of prime Chicago lakefront territory, Navy Pier is truly a city within the city. With shopping, restaurants, parks and gardens, museums, stages and attractions galore, this Chicago landmark attracts millions every year.

What to Do
Ride the 150-foot (45.7 meters) Ferris wheel operates year-round, weather permitting.

What to See
Fireworks light up the Chicago skyline twice a week during the summer months. It's no wonder that Navy Pier is often considered one of the top things to do in Chicago.

Millennium Park

With hundreds of free concerts and performances offered throughout the year at the dramatic Jay Pritzker Pavilion, this may be one of Chicago’s newest places to visit, but Millennium Park has quickly become a destination of choice for travelers and locals alike.

What to Do
Explore a 5-acre (2.2 hectares) garden, which confirms that Millennium Park lives up to the Chicago’s official Latin motto: Urbs in Horto — City in a Garden.

What to See
An immense, walk-up-and-touch sculpture known affectionately as "The Bean."

The Magnificent Mile

Aptly named, the Magnificent Mile is a mecca for tourists and business people, and bolsters Chicago’s claim as one of the great cities on the world stage.

What to Do
Try not to miss a single storefront! -Start on Michigan Avenue, at the Chicago River and head north for, yes, 1 mile (1.6 kilometers) to Oak Street.

What to See
Observe this district of architecture, shopping, dining and business that has few peers.

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May 19, 2015

Best beaches in Vietnam

Bai Sao beach, Phu Quoc Island, southwest coast
Ringed by bright white sands, the triangular island of Phu Quoc down in the Gulf of Thailand, is home to some of Southeast Asia’s best beach beauties. Bai Sao on the south of the island might be tricky to get to – ask an ever-friendly local – but the isolation of this tropical treat is exactly what makes it worth the trip. Add to the island’s blindingly beautiful beaches some of its stonking seafood – with Phu Quoc’s famed fermented fish sauce – and you have a seriously scrumptious beach break.

My Khê aka China beach near Danang, east coast 
Just south of the city of Danang, China beach found infamy when hordes of US Marines set down their GI boots here, stomping history, and their entrance in the Vietnam War, into its white sands. Almost 50 years on and free from the shadows of one of Vietnam’s darkest periods, China Beach is a place for glistening green waves and postcard-perfect soft sands. If you want to do a tad more than top up your tan, bring your board – the waves here pull surfers from around the world.

Lan Ha Bay, Halong Bay, northern Vietnam 
The archipelago of Halong Bay, with its iconic limestone karsts – the towering natural sculptures that rise out of the below to define its landscape – is the stuff that Southeast Asian dreams are made of. Saying that, decent beaches are far from plentiful. But nestled in the surrounding Cat Ba National Park and a half-hour boat-ride from its main, eponymous island is little Lan Ha Bay. More than 130 bijou beaches dust the island, most of them too tiny to be weighed down by an official name. So take a kayak and paddle your way from one nameless speck of sand to the next, and claim each one as your own.

Minh Chau beach, Quan Lan Island, northeast coast
North of Halong Bay and a four hour sail from the mainland (or a two-hour speedboat ride if you like to live in the fast lane) brings you to the cluster of islands of Bai Tu Long Bay, and it’s every bit as beautiful as its big sis. Unpolluted and undeveloped, think amazing karst formations, 11th-century Buddhist pagodas and, when it comes to little sliver of Quan Lan Island, secluded, silky beaches. Our favourite, just 6km from the Quan Lan’s major (but in reality, very minor) town, is Minh Chau. It’s all a tropical paradise should be – chalky-soft sand fringed by wild pines, views of rocky outcrops protruding from the shallows and a collection of coral coves that can’t be missed.

Ong Dia beach, Mui Ne, south-central coast
Tipped as Southeast Asia’s next big beach spot, the palm-lined stretch of Ong Dia beach, takes the suitably-sparkly crown in this Mui Ne parade of local beach beauties. In an area that sees some of the lowest rainfall in Vietnam, the Mui Ne coastline is famed for its rolling red and gold dunes – take a jeep ride over them, take a sand-sledge down them (avoid the temptation to smile or you’ll get a mouthful) or simply stand on top of one, sea-breeze sweeping your face as the coconut palms sway and the sun sets.

Non Nuoc beach, Danang, central coast
Stretching to the foot of the majestic Marble Mountains and touching the shade of an age-old forest is Non Nuoc beach, one of the most stunning in the Danang coastline. It’s a stretch of gently sloping sand where you can spend all day and night, safely sleeping beneath the jade branches of the native shrubbery once the sun sets. Amongst Non Nuoc’s claims to fame is its rare seaweeds. Perhaps you can make a nice facemask while you’re there.

Ca Na beach, south of Nha Trang, south-central coast
Ah, the lovely Ca Na beach. So good they named it twice. Well, three times actually. Legend has it that an ancient kind and queen came here to bathe in its crystal-clear waters, and believed the place to be so magical, they christened it ‘Fairy Fish’. Nowadays it more commonly goes by the nickname ‘Sleeping Princess’, awarded because of the sheer grace and beauty of the place. Its 10km of white sand slopes into the glimmering green waters, and flanked by the mighty Truong Son Mountains, come spring its undulating backdrop is out in full apricot-blossom bloom.

Thuan An Beach, near Huế, central coast
They say that the original is usually the best, and in the case of Thuan An beach, near the UNESCO-hailed city of Huế, they were right. A strong storm more than a decade ago, left a section of Thuan An wiped out and the locals thinking that it was a particularly unlucky spot of sand – so they decamped further down the coast. Frankly their loss is our gain, and this virtually empty beach is well worth seeking out. Ask the locals to point the way, and then stretch out on the smooth, neighbour-free sand.

Cua Dai beach near Hoi An, central coast
The literal translation of Cua Dai means ‘Big Sea Mouth’ – the Big part being particularly relevant (so is Sea, admittedly. Mouth, not so much). The sheer, sweeping breadth of Cua Dai, and its 20 miles of sweet, silky sand, means that this is a beach where personal space comes as part of the package. It starts at the ancient, romantic, lantern-lined town of Hoi An and threads along the coast to the city of Da Nang. Kick back, fresh pineapple in hand, taking in the awesome panorama of white sand and tranquil waters.

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May 18, 2015

TOP 10 AMAZING THINGS TO DO & SEE IN MONGOLIA

Mongolia is one of the world’s last unspoilt destinations. It is a land of mystery, of extremes, of immeasurable space, where shamanism is still practised and people hunt with eagles. This is a land as diverse as it is dramatic, from the rugged mountains and dense forests of the north, to the lush grasslands of the central plains and the rolling desert dunes of the south. This is a land where culture, history and landscape are inextricably entwined, where nomadic herders still roam the vast steppe as they have since the time of Genghis Khan, and where the hospitality of its people is as boundless as its terrain.

These are Top 10 Amazing Things to Do and See in Mongolia:

1. Countryside Naadam Games at Khatgal

This is favourite Naadam – none of the queues or crowds of the big festival in UB. The atmosphere is fantastic, buoyed by the legendary hospitality of the Mongolian people. In traditional dress, the colourful spectators watch competitors take part in the three ‘manly’ sports of archery, wrestling and horse racing.

2.Camel Riding at Khongoryn Els

Khongoryn Els (the Singing Sands) are some of the largest sand dunes in Mongolia, 180 kilometers long and up to 800 metres high. A climb to the top gives amazing views across the surrounding desert. This area is inhabited by traditional camel herders and is a great place to learn about these fascinating animals and ride a ‘Ship of the Desert’ in their natural habitat.

3. Stargazing in the Gobi Desert

This has to be the ultimate experience of peace and tranquility. Enjoy time and space to think under a glittering canopy of endless stars…

4. Visit the Tsaatan Darhad Valley

Home to the Tsaatan Reindeer People, the Darhad Valley is in the remote Northwestern corner of Mongolia but boasts the most spectacular scenery – crystal clear lakes and rivers, lush green meadows and the larch and pine forests of the Siberian Taiga. The tiny nomadic community of reindeer herders number only about 60 families and have an ancient culture which depends on the reindeer for all aspects of survival.

5. Fishing on the Mongolian Rivers, Khentii Aimeg

While away a few hours on a sunny afternoon, fly fishing for Trout, Grayling or the elusive Taimen, known as the Siberian Salmon. Relax beside meandering rivers in the valleys below the Khentii Mountains and enjoy the magnificent landscape, truly an anglers paradise.

6. Climbing Altan Ulgii, Khentii Aimeg

The second highest mountain in the Khentii range, at an elevation of 2646m, Altan Ulgii (meaning Golden Cradle) offers hikers unforgettable walks through large forests of pine and cedar, past clear mountain streams and meadows of wild flowers, and affords breathtaking views of the protected Khan Khentii from its peak.

7. Riding Horses at Lake Khovsgul

Explore the beautiful countryside around the shores of Lake Khovsgul . Ride through peaceful forests with spectacular views, and enjoy discovering the incredible landscape on horseback, as Mongolians have done for thousands of years.

8. Tsaagan Sar with a Mongolian Family, Terelj National Park

Celebrate the Mongolian New Year – Tsagaan Sar – with a nomadic family at our refugio in Khentii. Enjoy their legendary hospitality and being part of their community at this time of great festivity. The traditional Tsagaan Sar feast includes dairy products, mutton and horsemeat, rice with curds, buuz (dumplings) and a ‘mountain’ of cookies stacked high and of course, airag (fermented mare’s milk). Immerse yourself in the Mongolian culture and experience first hand the ceremonies and customs of this special festival.

9. Watching Mongolian Horsemen round up horses in spring ,Countrywide

Nowhere is the relationship between man and horse as celebrated as in Mongolia, where it has been central to the nomadic culture for thousands of years. Watching Mongolian horsemen round up the herds of wild horses in the spring is both magical and humbling. Testament to the extraordinary skill and horsemanship of the herders, the experience will leave you in no doubt that their nomadic culture still thrives and that their understanding of all things equine is truly remarkable.


10. Eagle hunting with Kazakhs on horseback, Bayan Ulgii

The ancient art of falconry as practised by the Kazakhs has remained unchanged for millennia. Admire the speed and power of the noble eagle and marvel at the close relationship that exists between her and her master. Set against the majestic Altai mountain views, this is an experience that truly epitomizes Mongolia.

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May 16, 2015

6 Great Day Trips from San Diego

San Diego is a great place to visit year ‘round, especially in the winter with its balmy days. This southern California city offers great golfing, miles of Pacific Ocean beaches, a quaint historic district, a first-class zoo and fine dining. San Diego also makes a great base to explore the region, from the desert to wine country to the Mexican border city of Tijuana. For sure, this city and its environs, easily reachable on day trips from San Diego, have something for everyone.

Borrego Springs

Borrego Springs, located in northeast San Diego County, is a place to escape from the hustle and bustle of big city life. This town offers a slower pace of life, a community that is not defined by how many big-box stores it has (none), and where the nearest stop light is 50 miles away. It is surrounded by the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, making it the county’s only desert community. Placed in the open stretches of land, visitors will find large, metal sculptures of prehistoric animals. Built by sculptor Ricardo Breceda and financed by benefactor Dennis Avery, the fanciful sculptures have become popular tourist attractions.

Legoland California

Located about 30 miles (50 km) north of San Diego, Legoland California is an amusement park in Carlsbad that is mainly geared for children ages 2 to 12. The park is based on Legos, a children’s toy that originated in the 1930s in Denmark. Legoland does, however, have more than 60 rides the whole family will enjoy as well as plenty of hands-on exhibits. The themed resort also offers lots of shopping opportunities and a chance and a SeaLife Aquarium that is designed to teach children (adults, too) about the sea and its inhabitants.

Julian

Julian is an historic town in San Diego County, famous for the California gold rush of 1870. Soon after, a settler brought in a wagonload of apple trees for an orchard; today, Julian’s apple pies are world-famous. Located about an hour drive from San Diego, it is also well known for being a mountain resort town. Exploring Julian’s old mines is a top tourist activity as is visiting the California Wolf Center, which provides an opportunity to see wolves in a controlled environment. Other fun activities include visiting the Julian Pioneer Museum and local wineries, hiking in the Cuyamaca Mountains and going horseback riding.

San Diego Whale Watching

Visitors with sturdy sea legs might want to cruise out into the Pacific Ocean on a whale-watching expedition. While whales swim along the San Diego coastline throughout the year, the best time to see gray whales that are as wide as a basketball court is December through April as they migrate between Alaska and Baja California. Blue whales, the largest creature on earth, can be seen from mid-June through September. Good places for landlubbers to see the whales are Birch Aquarium and Torrey Pines State Reserve.

Temecula Wine Country

Wine aficionados won’t want to miss the opportunity to taste wines in Temecula Wine Country, located in Riverside County about an hour from San Diego. Southern California’s wine country vintners produce award-winning wines in more than 50 varietals – white, red or in between – so everyone is sure to find a wine that matches their taste. Most tasting rooms are open daily, usually from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., providing an opportunity to taste wines produced at the winery from estate vineyards. Most tasting rooms charge fees for sampling their wines.

Tijuana

Located right across the border, this Mexican city of 1.3 million people is a shopper’s paradise, especially in the downtown Zona Rio. The historic district is located in the Zona Centro. Its proximity to the US has made it a very popular tourist destination, especially for day-trippers. Taking a taxi to Baja California’s largest city is one way to get there or visitors can take a Blue Line trolley from San Diego to the border crossing at San Ysidro. American citizens can just walk across the border on a day trip from San Diego, but need passports or passport cards to return to the United States.

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May 15, 2015

Famous Underground Caves in the World

Eisriesenwelt Cave

The Eisriesenwelt (German for “World of the Ice Giants”) is largest ice cave in the world, extending more than 42km (26 miles). The cave is inside the Hochkogel mountain in the Tennengebirge section of the Alps in Austria. Eisriesenwelt was formed by a river, which eroded passageways into the mountain. The ice formations in the cave were formed by thawing snow which drained into the cave and froze during winter.

Reed Flute Cave

Reed Flute Cave known as “the Palace of Natural Arts” is located in the northwest of Guilin in southern China. According to a legend, Reed Flute Cave got its name because people believed that the reed by the cave’s mouth could be made into flutes. The limestone cave offers a majestic fairyland of stalactites, stalagmites, stone pillars, stone curtains, birds, plants and animals in fantastic shapes and colors.

Cave of the Crystals

The Cave of the Crystals was discovered in 2000 by miners excavating a new tunnel for the Naica Mine in northern Mexico. The main chamber contains some of the largest natural crystals ever found in any of the underground caves around the world. The cave’s largest crystal found to date is 11 meters (36 feet) in length, 4 meters (13 feet) in diameter and 55 tons in weight. The crystals became so large because of the extremely hot temperatures inside the cave, reaching a steamy 58 degrees Celsius (136 degrees Fahrenheit), that allowed microscopic crystals to form and grow. The result is an underground cave that  Superman fans  have been looking for.

Puerto Princesa Underground River

The Puerto Princesa Underground River is located in a jungle covered mountain range on the northern coast of the island of Palawan in the Philippines. Until the 2007 discovery of an underground river in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, the Puerto Princesa Underground River was reputed to be the world’s longest underground river and is still the longest navigable underground river. The underground river is 8.2 kilometer (5 miles) long that winds through a spectacular cave before emptying into the South China Sea.

Waitomo Caves

The Waitomo Caves are one of New Zealand’s top tourist attractions, located just outside the main Waitomo township. The underground caves are home to the famous Waitomo glowworms, tiny creatures that radiate their luminescent light. These glowworms are found exclusively in New Zealand and around the size of an average mosquito. Formed over 30 million years ago, Waitomo Glowworm Caves have majestic and ornate cave decorations, deep limestone shaft known as the Tomo and the equally magnificent Cathedral cavern known for its superb acoustics.

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May 14, 2015

10 Best Luxury Resorts in the Maldives

Perhaps the ultimate luxury destination, the Maldives has become a synonym for paradise whether it is for honeymooners, sun worshipers or scuba divers. Aside from the capital Male, there are no hotels in the Maldives, only resorts. Most resorts take up their own island, so the ratio of beach to guests must be one of the best in the world.

Soneva Gili Resort

The Soneva Gili Resort offers 45 luxurious over-water villas, including several villas that can only be reached by boat. Every villa has been designed and built with the utmost attention to detail. Each has its own private water garden and sun decks. The bathrooms have a separate shower accessed along an open-air walkway. Guests have the option to dine on the villa deck under moonlight and enjoy the sunset.

Lily Beach Resort & Spa

The Lily Beach Resort & Spa offers piece, serenity and beautiful natural surroundings combined with excellent resort facilities. After an extensive renovation the resort was reopened in 2009 as an all-inclusive 5 star luxury resort.

Naladhu Resort

Naladhu is a small Maldives Resort with just 19 villas. The villas feature lavish floor to ceiling glass sliding doors and a large living and bedroom area. Rooms are equipped with bathrooms that have their own outdoor area with both a rainshower and infinity edge terrazzo bathtub.

Veligandu Island Resort

The Veligandu Island Resort is the only 4-star hotel on this list of luxury resorts in the Maldives. The designs of the resort’s architecture, right down to the final touches, are authentically Maldivian. The resort offers 76 rooms, including 54 Jacuzzi Water Villas, 10 Water Villas and 12 Jacuzzi Beach Villas.

Mirihi Island Resort

Perhaps the most affordable on the best luxury resorts in the Maldives, The Mirihi Island Resort offers 36 villas that are equipped with the standard amenities of a 5 star-hotel. Blessed with white beaches, turquoise blue waters and one of the most amazing house-reefs, this is truly a great resort.

Four Seasons Resort Maldives at Kuda Huraa

The Four Seasons Resort Maldives at Kuda Huraa contains several thatch-roofed bungalows stretching over a pristine beach. The resort offers several swimming pools, water sports, restaurants, lounges, a library, and spa facilities. Many of the guest bungalows at the Four Seasons Resort Maldives at Kuda Huraa offer glass floors for observation of the sea below. Each guest room boasts a balcony or terrace with views of the Indian Ocean.

Four Seasons Resort Maldives at Landaa Giraavaru

The Four Seasons Resort Maldives at Landaa Giraavaru offers 44 acres of unspoiled wilderness in the heart of the Baa Atoll, the only UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve in the Maldives. Snorkel with turtles, manta rays and whale sharks in one of the Maldives’s largest natural lagoons. Guest accommodation is in thatched beach villas and over-water villas. Resort facilities include 3 dining options, an infinity pool and a serene spa located on its own island.

Taj Exotica Resort And Spa

Most of the Taj Exotica Resort And Spa’s luxurious villas are perched over the lagoon with nothing but blue ocean waters and glorious sunsets to block the view. All the villas are palm-thatched, and the interiors are designed in classic Maldivian style. The villas offer sun-decks, and some offer private plunge pools, outdoor showers, and verandas with day beds and private spa rooms.

Baros Maldives

There are 75 wooden villas at the Baros Maldives Resort which are comfortably styled and all offer a variety of amenities. Guests of the hotel will have many amenities offered to them, including an on-site spa that offers Swedish massage, body wraps and tropical fruit facials, waterfall plunge pools, in-house restaurants and bars and scuba diving lessons.

Cocoa Island Resort

Rated as the best luxury resort in the Maldives, Cocoa Island Resort is ideally located along crystal-clear waters, white sandy beaches and breath-taking sunsets. Most of the rooms are uniquely inspired by dhoni boats, the style of vessel used by local fishermen in the Maldives. They are adjoined by simple wooden walkways built above the shallow lagoon. The view from the wide platform bed is directly out to the ocean. The bathrooms share the horizon views.

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May 13, 2015

10 Best Islands in Thailand

The islands off the coast of Thailand in the Andaman Sea and the Gulf of Siam are some of the most popular places for tourists to Southeast Asia to visit. Some of these islands are famous throughout the world for their beautiful beaches and party atmosphere. But the best islands in Thailand also offer numerous opportunities for recreation, spiritual exploration, and relaxation.

Ko Lipe

Settled by sea gypsies, Ko Lipe is located in the Adang-Rawi Archipelago in southwest Thailand. It is a small island and visitors can walk around the island in little over an hour. Ko Lipe is just outside the jurisdiction of Tarutao National Park, and as such is exempt from certain laws prohibiting development. Its three main beaches have plenty of accommodations ranging from grass huts to air-conditioned bungalows.

Ko Lanta

Ko Lanta is made up of a group of islands off the coast of Thailand in the Krabi province. The largest island of the group is called Ko Lanta Yai also known as simply Ko Lanta. Several beaches on the west coast of Ko Lanta Yai are each strung with a line of resorts and bungalows. This region is an important destination for snorkeling and scuba diving enthusiasts, who come to the islands to view the coral reefs and the ocean life, including manta rays and whales. There is also an abundance of tropical plant life, including the remnants of the ancient rainforests.

Ko Samet

Ko Samet is known for being a favorite respite from the bustle of Bangkok. Though the majority of the island is a national park, there are a number of vacation spots located there with different amenities depending on the type of experience sought. One of the great attractions of Ko Samet are its white sand beaches. Visitors can choose from peaceful and relaxing settings or popular beaches with lots of activities. Ao Noina, Ao Phutsa, Au Nuan, and Ao Wai are known for being more serene, and feature cozy accommodations and stunning sunset views. Hat Sai Kaeo and Ao Hin Khok are busier, and visitors to these beaches frequently come to sunbathe, swim, windsurf, or enjoy nightlife.

Ko Tarutao

Ko Tarutao is one of the 51 islands that belong to the Tarutao National Marine Park archipelago in southern Thailand. This island offers accommodations including campsites and bungalows that can be rented. Tourists to this island can enjoy the pristine and quiet atmosphere of the area, and can also view the rugged mountain and jungle scenery, including the limestone cliffs for which this part of Thailand is famous. Visitors can have a good chance of catching a glimpse at some exotic wildlife, particularly if they visit the beach on the western part of the island, which is frequented by large turtles.

Ko Samui

Ko Samui is one of the most visited islands in Thailand. There are abundant accommodations for travelers ranging from small bungalows to exclusive villas on the island. There are several festivals that take place every year on Ko Samui, including the Buffalo Fighting Festival, the Ten Stars Samui Art Party, and several street fairs with vendors selling local delicacies, clothing, and souvenirs. Sailing enthusiasts also gather for the yearly Samui Regatta, and triathletes and their supporters flock to Samui for the annually Triathlon Event.

Ko Phangan

Ko Phangan is an island in the Gulf of Thailand, halfway between the islands of Ko Samui and Ko Tao. It is a famous destination for the backpacking community, who come to immerse themselves in the island’s natural beauty including rainforests and beaches. Every year the island holds an electronic dance festival known as the Full Moon Party. Those tourists who would like a more serene getaway are keen to visit Ko Pha Ngan’s numerous Buddhist temples. The island is also known for its spas and meditation retreats.

Phuket

Phuket is the name of both a Thai province and the main city of that province. The province of Phuket covers a large island and several smaller islands off the western coast of the mainland. Outside of Bangkok, it is the most popular tourist area in the country, and many of its scenic beaches feature numerous resort accommodations for visitors. Close to these beaches, tourists will find thriving nightclubs and shopping areas. Some of the other attractions on Phuket include golf courses, historical museums, and monuments.

Ko Chang

Located near the border with Cambodia, Ko Chang is the third largest island in Thailand and the biggest in the Ko Chang Marine Park archipelago. It is a mountainous island known for several waterfalls, thriving coral reefs, rainforests and long white sandy beaches. In less than ten years, Ko Chang has become a major tourist destination in Thailand although still far quieter than islands like Phuket or Ko Samui.

Koh Tao

Ko Tao is fast becoming the favorite destination of those who come to Thailand for recreational purposes. The island’s caters especially to scuba divers, rock climbers, and hikers. Around 7000 new divers get certified on Koh Tao each year making it one of the most popular destinations in the world to learn to dive. Fishing enthusiasts also visit the island in increasing numbers, hoping to catch a specimen of one of the abundant marlin, snapper or barracuda. With the exploding tourist population of Ko Tao, a number of resorts, bars and nightclubs have opened up, though it is still possible for those seeking a more relaxed vacation to find quieter, less developed areas of the island.

Ko Phi Phi

Ko Phi Phi is a small archipelago in the Krabi Province in Southern Thailand. Ko Phi Phi Don is the largest island of the group, and is the only island with permanent inhabitants while the smaller Ko Phi Phi Leh is famous as the filming location for the 2000 movie “The Beach”. Ko Phi Phi was severely hit by the Indian Ocean tsunami of December 2004, when nearly all of the island’s infrastructure was destroyed. Redevelopment has, however, been swift, and services are back with building regulations in place to limit the height of new hotels and other buildings to preserve the island’s stunning views.

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May 12, 2015

10 Top Tourist Attractions in Chile

Cerro San Cristóbal 

Cerro San Cristóbal is a hill in northern Santiago with a beautiful view over the city and, on a clear day, the Andes. At the peak, there is a church and a 22 meter (72 feet) statue of the Virgin Mary. The summit can be reached by cable car or a long hike. Cerro San Cristóbal houses the Parque Metropolitano, Santiago’s largest public park. In the park there is also a botanical garden, zoo and two swimming pools.

Los Pingüinos Natural Monument

The largest penguin colonies in southern Chile, Los Pingüinos Natural Monument is home to more than 120,000 Magellanic penguins. Located on the small Magdalena Island, just one square kilometer and topped by a pretty red lighthouse, it lies 35km (22 miles) northeast of Punta Arenas. In September or October each year, the birds migrate back here and find their mate. By the end of March the penguins have returned to sea again.

Chiloé Island

The Chiloe archipelago is an isolated group of islands, best known for a number of unique churches that boast a particular architectural style called Chilota. This style is a very unique combination of aboriginal and European Jesuit influence, and was reflected in more than a hundred wooden churches in these islands that were created in the seventeenth century. The churches fell into disrepair, but almost two dozen restored sites are now available to tour, and serve as a gorgeous representation of this unique mestizo style combination.

Valparaiso

Located on the Pacific coast of the central region of Chile, Valparaíso is known for its brightly colored houses, bohemian culture and beautiful seaside views. Built upon dozens of steep hillsides overlooking the Pacific Ocean, Valparaíso boasts a labyrinth of streets and cobblestone alleyways, embodying a rich architectural and cultural legacy.

San Rafael Glacier

Located within the Laguna San Rafael National Park, the San Rafael Glacier is a giant glacier that calves into the Laguna San Rafael. The glacier is accessible only by boat or plane. The journey by boat is a spectacle in itself, passing through the narrow channels of the isolated Aisén region. What you can see from the boat is in fact just the end of the glacier’s, which extends some 15km (9 miles) from its source.

Valle de la Luna

Valle de la Luna is located in the Atacama Desert. This breathtaking desert landscape is the result of centuries of winds and floods on the sand and stone of the region. The large sand dunes and stone formations mimic the surface of the moon, giving the region its name, which translates to “Valley of the Moon”.

Torres del Paine

Torres del Paine is a national park in the Extreme South region of Patagonian Chile and features mountains, lakes and glaciers. The centerpiece of the park are the three Towers of Paine, three spectacular granite peaks shaped by the forces of glacial ice. The highest peak is about 2,500 meters (8200 feet).

Pucon

Pucón is a small touristy town in the middle of the southern Lake District. The unrivaled location by a beautiful lake and imposing volcano makes it one of the most popular tourist attractions in Chile. Pucón offers a variety of sports and recreational activities including water skiing, snow skiing, white water rafting and kayaking, horseback riding, natural hot springs and climbing the Villarrica volcano.

Lauca National Park

Lauca National Park is located in Chile’s far north, in the Andean range and is one of the top tourist attractions in Chile. The most spectacular feature in Lauca is the beautiful Lago Chungará, one of the world’s highest lakes. Looming over it is the impossibly perfect cone of Volcán Parinacota, a dormant volcano with a twin brother, Volcán Pomerape, just across the border with Bolivia.

Easter Island

One of the most isolated islands on Earth, Easter Island is located in the southeastern Pacific Ocean. Officially a territory of Chile, it lies thousands of miles off the coast roughly halfway to Tahiti. The island is famous for its 887 extant monumental statues, called moai, created by the early Rapanui people centuries ago. Not surprisingly, the well-publicized moai have overshadowed the island’s other tourist attractions. But Easter Island also offers some great diving and surfing as well as two volcanic craters and several sandy beaches.

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May 11, 2015

15 things to do on Isla de Ometepe

 

Isla de Ometepe is made of twin volcanoes that rise dramatically from Lake Nicaragua. Lava flows created a base that joins them. Local legend would have you believe that the volcanoes were formed from the breasts of Ometeptl, a daughter of the Niquirano tribe who fell in love with Nagrando from the rival tribe, Nagrandando. In that time, the area was a dry and fertile valley. When the lovers decided the only way they could live in peace together was to die together, they slit their wrists. As Ometepl died she arched her back in pain and despair, her breasts swelling to form the twin peaks, and the valley flooded, forming Lake Nicaragua.

The northern-most volcano, Concepción, is a near-perfect cone rising to an altitude of 1,610m above the lake. It is still active and emergency evacuation routes are signposted around the island, although the last major eruption was in 1957. To the south, less-impressive Maderas reaches a height of 1,394m. Its slopes are covered in cloud forest and there is a popular hiking route to the top for the view of Concepción.

The volcanoes are ringed by a rough road that is only paved in parts and plied by slow buses or expensive taxis, horses, bicycles, mopeds and cattle. Small villages are dotted around the island. The affable locals make a living from farming, fishing and tourism.

15 things to do on Isla de Ometepe

1. Laze away an afternoon in a kayak on the River Istian.

2. Go horse riding to San Ramon waterfalls, canter along one of the island’s beaches or trot the ring around Maderas Volcano.

15 things to do on Isla de Ometepe

1. Laze away an afternoon in a kayak on the River Istian.

2. Go horse riding to San Ramon waterfalls, canter along one of the island’s beaches or trot the ring around Maderas Volcano.

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May 8, 2015

Best Attractions & Activities in Santiago

Cerro San Cristobal
Named for Catholic Saint Christopher, this hill in the centrally located Parque Metropolitano offers a choice spot in the city for panoramic views on clear days when the smog that often blankets the region dissipates. Walk or ride to the summit where the views of Santiago below are a patchwork quilt meeting the breathtaking peaks of the Andes beyond. Travelers will want to be sure to visit the Virgen de la Imaculada statue at the peak and stop by the zoo and wine museum on the trip up.

Parque Forestal
Santiago's city planners built this expansive and welcoming preserve along the Mapocho River as a bastion from the neighboring concrete jungle for residents and visitors alike. A variety of flora and fauna is planted here and draws scores of people on weekends for relaxing walks and people-watching. The park is also home to the Estacion Mapocho train station and is just a short jaunt from nearby dining, shopping and sightseeing destinations. Take a couple of hours to sightsee here on nice days and escape the bustle of the city.

Plaza de La Constitución

This plaza's claim to fame is the Moneda Palace that borders it. Moneda is the seat of Santiago's government and is an architecturally appealing symbol of the history and development of Chile. After a walk around the Plaza, go on a short tour of Moneda and the surrounding grounds. Be sure to begin the visit here promptly before ten in the morning to ensure seeing the rousing changing of the guards.

Bellavista
This chic neighborhood on the south bank of the Mapocho River is a lovely locale to enjoy Santiago's culture and social life all mingling along colorful tree-lined streets. By day, visitors to the area can shop and barter for trendy items in the small shops and boutiques that populate the street, while at night, socialites can party into the wee hours of the morning at the clubs and bars that are quickly cropping up in the area. Bellavista is also awash in the creative scene from neighborhood theaters and art houses. This diverse neighborhood is also home to Parque Metropolitano (the largest green area in Santiago with 2 public pools), La Chascona (the house of Pablo Neruda), and the National Zoo.

Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes
Designed to mimic a Parisian palace, this art gallery and museum is one of the finer architectural displays in traditionally sedate Santiago. This oldest arts museum in South America displays pieces from a range of regional and international artists. The museum also houses extensive archives and reproductions of artworks from around the world. There are also regularly changing traveling exhibits that represent some of the best schools of world art as well as a high-quality study of South American artists' work.

La Chascona
One of Chile's most famous native sons was Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Pablo Neruda. This popular tourist attraction situated in the Bellavista neighborhood was one of the famed wordsmith's homes. Modern architecture distinguishes the residence, and tourists can experience the world of Neruda through its design. Neruda's home showcases art and craft pieces he brought back to Santiago from his international travels. Guided tours (offered in Spanish, English, French and German) give visitors the best opportunity to get the back-story on this fascinating landmark.

Estación Mapocho
This turn-of-the-20th century former railway station is a massive structure that today hosts a diversity of live concerts, cultural events and festivals. In addition to playing host to events throughout the year, the converted station houses a show space where local and regional artists often display their work. There are also an on-site café, bookstore and shop selling handcrafted items. The Mapocho Station is located across from Santiago University.

Iglesia San Francisco
The Church of St. Francis is among the oldest and most historically significant buildings in Santiago and is a centerpiece of the city and a definite must-see for visitors. The church dates from the earliest Spanish settlements in the late 1500s and is representative of Spanish Colonial architecture. The church's tower dates from the 19th century and is the most striking feature of the historic site. A museum showcases historic works of art and artifacts. The legendary statue Virgen del Socorro carried by Spanish conquistador Pedro de Valdivia when he arrived to colonize the region is prominently displayed.

Plaza de Armas
This city-center square is a must destination for travelers to Santiago, whether visiting for a weekend, a week or longer. The plaza was founded in the mid-16th century by conquering Spaniards and was designed to be the heart of the city. As Santiago grew, the Plaza continued to be the center of urban life. The square is surrounded by the Palacio de los Gobernadores, the Palacio de la Real Audiencia and the Municipalidad de Santiago. While here, take a bit of time to relax amid the trees and watch the mix of people who make this South American capital an ever-growing, well-traveled d1 estination.

Museo de Arte Precolombino
Arguably the best cultural showplace in Santiago, the Pre-Colombian Art Museum is housed in a restored government building and showcases historic artifacts from the rich history of the area. The museum showcases artifacts from both Central and South America and includes textiles and ceramics, art and metalwork. There is also an on-site café and museum shop that sells reproductions of pieces displayed here. History buffs will thoroughly enjoy an afternoon here, especially on a Sunday when there is no entrance fee and most restaurants and shops are closed.

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May 7, 2015

Top ten places to visit in Venezuela

 

Venezuela has countless beautiful beaches because it has a Caribbean coastline of 2,800 km (1,740 miles) – the longest of any nation. However this country is not just a beach bum’s paradise. Inland there are areas of astounding biodiversity and awe-inspiring landscapes. Here is my top ten list of traveller destinations in Venezuela.

1. Angel Falls and tepuis of Canaima National Park

Angel Falls, or Kerepakupai-Meru as it was officially renamed in 2009, is one of the natural wonders of the world; a waterfall which drops from a table top mountain of over 1000 meters. The park has many other table top mountains or tepuis and is located in the jungle and savanna region of Gran Sabana in the south west of the country. The park, which can only be accessed by air, is home to diverse fauna – such as the giant anteater and the giant otter – and the Pemon indigenous people.

2. Los Roques Archipelago National Park

With clear blue waters and white sands this archipelago of 350 islands is a hidden gem of a destination for scuba-divers and snorkelers. The string of coral islands is home to a wide variety of bird and sea life and is located 170km (106 miles) north of Caracas.

3. Coro and the Sand Dunes

Coro is one of Venezuela’s first colonies and here colonial earthen construction buildings can still be seen to this day. The town houses over 600 building which demonstrate a fusion of Spanish and Dutch architectural techniques. Close by are the sand dunes which are located between Coro and the Paraguana Peninsula. The dunes, which can reach 40 meters (130 feet) in height, are the habitat of cactus and a small number of animals such as lizards and foxes.

4. The Orinoco Delta

The longest river in Venezuela reaches the Atlantic Ocean at the eastern tip of the country and split into numerous smaller rivers or distributaries at the Orinoco Delta. On a boat trip you can see piranha catfish and small crocodiles, and the Warao people who live in houses built on stilts.

5. Margarita Island

With Margarita Island, visitors get two destinations in one place. The eastern part of the island is famous for its clubs, duty free shopping, big hotels, colonial towns, and beaches to suit everyone from surfers to sunbathers. The western side however offers travellers a paradise of arid mountains as well as mangrove swamps and lagoons abundant in wildlife like seahorses and turtles.

6. Mochima National Park

The little village of Mochima and the big city of Puerto la Cruz are the jumping off points for boat trips around the countless islands of Mochima National Park. The activities on offer in Mochima include dolphin-spotting, swimming, snorkeling and scuba diving.

7. Henri Pittier National Park

The country’s first national park – created in 1937 – is a favourite weekend getaway for capital-city dwellers or Caraqueños. Choroni, a coastal village, is a popular starting point for treks into the park which stretches from the coast to Lago Valencia. The highest point in the park is 2430 meters (80,000 feet) and there are many bathing pools throughout the park if you get tired from climbing all those hills.

8. The Plains – Los Llanos

The grassland and woodland plains, which stretch from Colombia into Venezuela, act as a geographical buffer between the Andes and the Amazon. Los llanos are home to the hardy llanero cattle herders, as well as anteaters, capybara, caiman or small crocodiles, river dolphins, monkeys, anacondas, and numerous birds. It is worth visiting in the wet season (May-October) which is the best time for bird-watchers and again in the dry season (November-April) when the animals huddle around the few remaining drinking holes.

9. Sierra Nevada National Park and Merida

Merida, is the main city of the Venezuelan Andes and the most tourist-friendly metropolis in the country. It is also where visitors set off to ride the world’s highest cable car which ascends 4,776 meters (15,700 feet) to Pico Espejo. Throughout the Sierra Nevada National Park there are treks to various peaks ranging from a few hours to a few days. During these hikes visitors can enjoy the stunning scenery of lakes and snow-capped peaks including Pico Bolivar, the county’s highest at 4981 meters (16,300 feet).

10. Caracas and El Avila

Some might say that Caracas is best appreciated from a distance which is where Monte Avila, which borders the city to the north, comes in handy. Visitors can either hike up one of the three trails, take the cable car, or a 4WD to the sealed up Hotel Humboldt at the summit. There you get an amazing view of the city and the air is refreshingly cooler than it is in the capital.

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May 6, 2015

Things to do in Toronto

1. Go over the edge
It may be a 90-minute drive from Toronto, but Niagara Falls is well worth the trip. Watching close to 750,000 gallons of water a second hurtle down the curved cliffs is sure to impress. Take in the view from the top – the Table Rock site allows you to stand barely a metre from the edge of Horseshoe Falls – or head into the falls themselves with the Journey Behind the Falls, descending 38 metres through solid rock in a lift to stand next to the curtain of water. If that still doesn’t grab your attention, take flight with Niagara Helicopters and soar over the falls. As an added plus, you’re standing on the Canadian- United States border, the longest international border in the world.

2. Survey the wide blue yonder
It’s impossible to visit Toronto without seeing the CN Tower, mainly because at 553.33 metres high (1,815.4 feet) it dominates the landscape. Once the world’s tallest tower, it’s still impressive. Take in the view from the LookOut Level at 346 metres (1,136 feet), walk on air on the Glass Floor and outdoor SkyTerrace at 342 metres (1,122 feet), at check out the views from the highest perch of all: the SkyPod at 447 metres (1,465 feet) above the city!

3. Root for the home team
Hockey is more than a sport in Canada, it’s a national obsession, and Toronto is no different. And even though they’re currently having the longest dry spell in NHL history (the last time they won the Stanley Cup was in 1967), the Toronto Maple Leafs still draw a crowd. Maybe if we cheer hard enough, Torontonians will get to see the Stanley Cup somewhere other than the Hockey Hall of Fame.

4. Then join a home team
Every winter, over 50 outdoor ice rinks take over the city, the most popular in Nathan Philips Square where the fountain becomes a skating spot. So get your skates on.

5. Take in some history
Toronto is full of museums, like the Royal Ontario Museum, which houses a massive collection of cultural and historical items, as well as rotating exhibitions, or the Bata Shoe Museum, with over 13,000 footwear items in their collection.

6. Scare yourself fit
But why not get out and explore? It might not be 100 per cent the truth, but the Haunted Walk offers up some spooky tales and gory facts from days gone by. It’s also a great way to acquaint yourself with the place’s nooks and crannies.

7. Shop until you drop
Toronto has a handle on shopping. Toronto Eaton Centre is jammed with shops, from high street brands to more chi chi designers. Grab some fresh produce and antiques at the St. Lawrence Market, before scouring Toronto’s many independent bookstores for a good read. Still looking for that special buy? Twice a year the One of a Kind Show, the largest consumer craft show in North America, takes over. Everything sold at the show is hand made in North America, much of it local, and all of it awesome.

8. Eat your way around the world
Almost half the population of Toronto was born outside Canada, so it is entirely possible to take your tummy on a trip around the world without ever leaving the city limits. Head to Chinatown, Little India, Little Italy and more to stuff your face, or sample fusion cuisine like the Hungary Thai. It’s so popular, every summer Taste of the Danforth celebrates it’s Greek history with a celebration of everything Greek—especially the food. But make sure to leave room for that oh-so-Canadian favourite, poutine.

9. Behold delusions of grandeur
Every city needs a castle, and Casa Loma is Toronto’s! Designed by grandiloquent architect EJ Lennox for Sir Henry Pellat and finished in 1914, this ostentatious masterpiece includes marble floors in the stables and room after lavish room. And if you’re still craving the lifestyles of the rich and famous, check out Spadina Historic House & Gardens , financier James Austin’s lavish manse.

10. See a big show
Toronto bills itself as ‘North Broadway’, and with many touring companies coming through town, the city has an impressive theatre scene. There are theatres aplenty but two of the most popular are Elgin & Winter Garden Theatre, North America’s only double-decker theatre complex and Young Centre for the Performing Arts – three stages in 19th-century tank houses in the Distillery District.

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