Category Archives: Travel

Experience traditional China: Kunming

China is an extraordinary place, and I think a major part of its appeal among tourists is the fact that there are just so many experiences you can have here. If it’s traditional China you’re keen to discover, the city of Kunming should definitely be high on your to-do list.

All about Kunming

Kunming is the capital of the Yunnan province, which is in south-west China. One of the things I like most about it is that, despite having all the features you’d expect of a modern city (skyscrapers, massive shopping centres and such), it’s also got heaps of more traditional attractions. So, in my opinion there are few places to get a better experience of China’s past and present.

Another thing I like about it is that it somehow feels quite a bit more laid-back than many Chinese cities – something to do with the mild climate, perhaps, or its beautiful green parks.

What to see and do

Of course, no doubt what you’re most interested in is finding out what you can see and do while you’re here. Below, I’ve highlighted three of my favourite attractions, each of which I think has something quite different (and special) to offer. It’s worth bearing these in mind when organising your holiday to China to make sure you get an itinerary that works for you.

Visit the Bamboo Temple

Dating back to the Tang Dynasty, the Bamboo Temple was rebuilt in the 15th century following a fire. It is later restoration work, carried out in the 19th century, that has really helped to put this place on the map though.

You see, back in the 1800s, Chinese sculptor Li Guangxiu helped out with the temple’s restoration, and when he did he created 500 amazing life-size – and incredibly lifelike – figures, including a series of surfing Buddhas riding on things like unicorns and crabs. It’s rumoured he modelled these creations on people he knew, almost like a caricature – and that these people were none too happy about it!

I should probably warn you that tourists aren’t actually allowed into the room with the statues these days – but you can still catch a glimpse of them as you meander around.

Green Lake Park

Green Lake Park is one of the best places to go if you want to relax a little. As well as being a lovely place for walks, it’s also a great place for nature-spotting – especially if you’re planning to travel in November, since this is when the red-beaked seagulls are around.

If birdwatching isn’t your thing, though, people-watching is a popular pastime here too. Alternatively, the roads along the park have a lot to offer too if you fancy something a little more lively, with plenty of shops and cafes located here.

Yunnan Provincial Museum

My final suggestion is Yunnan Provincial Museum, which is a great place to learn more about local early cultures. There are around 50,000 artefacts to peruse, including 7,000 bronze items and 4,000 handicrafts.

While all these are very impressive, I think the highlight for most people is the fossilised humanoid teeth, which are around 1.7 million years old!

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Discover the geological wonders of Iceland

When it comes to natural beauty, it’s fair to say Iceland takes some beating. After all, this magical land is largely unspoilt by human civilization, with visitors able to dive into volcanic pools, explore lunar-esque landscapes and spot a massive range of fascinating wildlife. And, as if that’s not enough, Iceland’s towns and cities are also fully deserving of their reputation as progressive cultural hubs, with tourists able to join locals in enjoying some of the best contemporary music or vibrant nightlife after a long day getting back to nature.

blue lagoon Iceland
Booking a cruise from Liverpool is a good way to see the country’s most spectacular sights. Here are just a few of the natural wonders it has to offer:

Godafoss Waterfall: Located just off the main highland road, which runs to the north of the country from bustling Reykjavik, Godafoss is a true force of nature. Here the river Skjalfandafljot falls from a height of around 12 m across a width of more than 30 m. Not only does this make for a spectacular sight, especially since the waterfall is surrounded by the natural beauty of the start of the Icelandic highlands, but the noise is also something few visitors are ever likely to forget. The fact that the falls loom large in the mythical history of the Icelandic people, with the first Christians alleged to have thrown their statues of the Norse Gods into the waters following their conversion, only adds to the sense of wonder.

The Blue Lagoon: One of Iceland’s biggest geothermal spas, the Blue Lagoon is also one of its most popular, both among visitors and locals. And it’s not hard to see why. The naturally warm waters are rich in a range of minerals, and as such are said to be highly beneficial to the health, and especially to the skin. Even if you’re fit and healthy, a bathe in the lagoon is still the ideal way to spend a lazy afternoon, with a waterside bar and café meaning you can make a whole day of it.

The Blue Lagoon is just a 40-minute trip from downtown Reykjavik, making it a popular destination among tourists stopping off in Iceland on cruises from Liverpool, plus, in a country where tourists may be shocked by the price of things, an afternoon in the therapeutic waters also represents excellent value for money.

Geysir: Easily one of Iceland’s most breathtaking sights, The Great Geysir, from where we get the English word geyser, is capable of hurling boiling water up to 70 metres in the air. Eruptions are by no means guaranteed (in fact, they have been known to stop altogether for weeks, if not months at a time) but nature-lovers needn’t worry, as the geyser at nearby Strokkur is much more reliable, putting on a spectacular show every few minutes. Additionally, there are dozens more smaller geysers dotted across the Haukadalur Valley, just a short drive from the Icelandic capital.

Skaftafell: Now part of a larger national park, Skaftafell has been inspiring awe in locals and travellers alike for centuries. Here you are able to get close to Europe’s largest glacier and, if you’re into ice-climbing, you can even try your hand at scaling its frozen walls. If, however, you prefer to take it easy, the meadowland surrounding the glacier itself is perfect for walking through some of Iceland’s most beautiful scenery, with dozens of small waterfalls to stumble upon and plenty of native wildlife to spot. Skaftafell is also famed for its mild climate, with the weather warm and sunny in the spring and summer.

 

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Explore the Maori Culture of New Zealand

While no longer the dominant culture of New Zealand, many people still take an avid interest in the Maori way of life and their fascinating way of life. With so many opportunities for you to experience this unique culture, you may be at a loss of where to start, so to help you along your way, here’s a guide on how to explore the Maori culture of New Zealand!

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Maori Kai Festival

The Maori Kai food festival is extremely popular with locals and tourists alike due to showcases of delicious natural and local foods from the Maori culture. Previously, the traditional foods that you can try in these festivals were reserved mainly for Maori functions and events!

With the increasingly popularity and the awareness it raises, the Maoris are more than happy to let everyone experience their way of life, providing the perfect opportunity to ease yourself into the cuisine side of the culture. Furthermore, you’ll also be able to appreciate the traditional clothes and jewellery that will be worn by the Maori locals.

Lonely Planet has described this festival as one of the highlights of the year for people in New Zealand, with it being held around the month of February. Different areas of the country give the festival a different twist, so even if you have done it before and find yourself in a different area, you will have a whole new experience!

Pasifika Festival

This annual festival is a celebration of everything in the Maori culture, from music to food, arts to dancing. It is without a doubt one of the most significant cultural festivals in the South Pacific and helps preserve many of the old practices of the Maori.

The festival generally lasts for around two days and on the first day you will be treated to a concert of Pacific songs, dances and stories. The following day sees the Auckland’s Western Springs Park transformed into 10 villages, one village from every Pacific Island. This is a great opportunity to sample so many different kinds of Maori culture in a couple of days and should not be missed.

Rotorua

The entire area of Rotorua is steeped in Maori culture and history, making it a great place to experience! Rotorua is famous for its geothermal activity, and Maori legend states that two fire demons searching for a lost tribe leader are the cause of the heat coming from the Earth. Here, you can explore the geysers, mud pools and steam vents while there are plenty of signs and information points explaining the importance of what you see in the Maori culture.

Te Puia

While many of the Maori cultural festivals give you a taste of the cuisine, none of them can give you cuisine cooked in one of the most ancient Maori methods, the Steambox. The Steambox uses a favourite Maori technique of cooking the food from the hot geysers that spray out from the Earth. You simply choose what you wish to eat for lunch and watch as the Maori chefs cook the food with the heat from the geyser!

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The Churches of Munich

There are few places that can match Bavaria for architectural beauty, with the castles, churches and other iconic buildings appearing like something out of a fairytale. The famous Cinderella Castle of Walt Disney’s Magic Kingdom was even based on one of Bavaria’s 19th-century palaces, and if you want to discover the charm of this amazing region for yourself then you can’t go wrong with a trip to Munich.

Some of the area’s best towers and castles – including the dreamlike Neuschwanstein Castle – can be found sprinkled around the countryside and in small villages, so if you want to see them all then you may want to hire a car at Munich airport. However, there are also plenty of amazing structures to see within Munich itself, and in this guide we’ll introduce you to a few of them.

Frauenkirche

The two domes of the Frauenkirche have become something of a symbol of Munich since this church was built in the late 15th century. Located in the Old City, or Altstadt Lehel, its twin towers stand at a height of 99 m and offer amazing views of the city and the surrounding countryside – stretching all the way to the Alps – from the top.

Officially called Dom zu Unserer Lieben Frau, meaning Cathedral of Our Dear lady, the building is a perfect example of the Gothic style for which Munich is so famous, and is home to the legendary devil’s footprint, which is impressed into the floor of the church.

Kirche St Peter

Also in the Altstadt Lehel is the Church of St Peter, which sits on the Petersbergl hill and provides a view that can rival that of the Frauenkirche. You’ll have to ascend 299 steps to enjoy it though, but the reward more than makes up for the effort.

Originally constructed in the 11th century, the church has been expanded, redeveloped and redecorated numerous times throughout history, and is home to a number of wonderful pieces of art from various periods of Munich’s past. Large ceiling frescoes cover the church’s nave, while each side of the tower also features two clock faces.

Theatinerkirche

Inspired by Rome’s Sant’Andrea Della Valle, the Theatinerkirche sits in Odeonsplatz and was designed by Italian architect Agostino Barelli in the high Baroque style, with construction taking place between 1663 and 1690.

Further features were later added by a succession of other architects, including Enrico Zuccalli who added two towers, as well as Francois de Cuvillies, who completed the Rococo-style facade in 1768.

Asamkirche

Perhaps the most fascinating thing about this particular building is the fact that it was built by a pair of brothers as their own private church. However, shortly after its completion in 1746, owners Egid Quirin Asam and Cosmas Damian Asam were forced to open their place of worship to the public under pressure from Munich’s staunchly religious citizens.

Located on Senlingerstraße, near Sendlinger Tor (one of the three remaining city gates), the Asamkirche is a great example of late Baroque architecture and is typical of the sorts of buildings that can be found throughout Bavaria.

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Top tips for booking a last minute travel deal

So you’re looking to book your annual holiday and you realise that the best deal that you will get is by booking one of the last minute vacation deals like from ClubMed. This is when people can get a little nervous, they don’t like to leave everything to the last minute. There is little to worry about, if you are flexible then you will not be disappointed, you will more than likely save money and keep within your budget. Booking a last minute deal is not as simple as going on line and clicking a few buttons, there are several things for you to consider before committing to a last minute deal.

Summer_earlybooker_13_visual-sliderPlan ahead

If you plan ahead and do your homework then you will be well prepared when it comes to making a last minute booking. You should make yourself familiar with the type of fares that are offered by the airlines, make sure that you search through the comparison websites to find the best deals. You can also set up email alerts so that you are informed when the price either drops or increases. It’s also a good idea to sign up to newsletters from airlines, this way you will know when there are flight offers. By looking at airfares and hotel costs regularly you will know what is a good deal and what isn’t.

Pick the best time to travel

There will be more expensive times of the year to fly such as during holiday season, this does not mean that you have to pay astronomical prices to travel during these times. You will be able to get discounts if you choose your day carefully. For example, fridays and saturdays are more often than not the most expensive days to travel on. If you travel on the actual day of a holiday the price will be lower; christmas day and new year’s eve are usually cheaper to fly on. Check in advance to see when the most likely savings will be offered.

Be flexible

The secret behind successfully booking a last minute holiday is to be as flexible as possible, remember you are planning on saving money so you can’t be too picky. Of course you can have your ideal holiday in mind but be willing to compromise. Those that are most open minded are the people that will be enjoying the best last minute holiday. You may have to compromise on location, departing airport and accommodation, but that will all be forgotten when you have a fantastic family holiday!

 

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Local knowledge when you travel

Advice Blog Travel Travel Tips

European cities have a lot to offer and are very diverse. One city might be known for it’s create architecture, whilst another is more seen as a ‘Mecca’ for musicians and artists. One thing they have in common and that is the fact that most of them have a lot of history going on and that they are culturally rich. Looking at Paris or London, both places to be for fashionistas and artists. Copenhagen with it’s Freetown of Christiania which was founded by a group of hippies in the 70s. And Prague with is wide assortment of cheap and tasty beer.

So Europe seems to be a great place to go. Momondo created this amazing interactive cheat sheet so you that provide you with all the local knowledge you need to know: trendy areas, club scene hotspots, and local knowledge such as what food to taste and what to drink.  Check it out!

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Preparation Tips for a Long Distance Trek

Part of the fun of travel is the spontaneity and freedom it provides. However, if you’re planning a long-distance journey on foot, you’ll need to take the time to prepare a little. A long distance trek could mean anything from a two-week hike through the Andes to a six-month long journey backpacking through Southeast Asia. No matter how long the distance may be, there are a few tips that can help you start off on the right foot.

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Choosing a Route

The first step towards planning your trek is to choose an itinerary. The terrain, distance, and climate will help determine what you need to do to prepare, so it’s important to research these aspects of the trek before you begin. Think about the type of scenery you’re interested in exploring. Do you prefer a gentle walk around a series of lakes and valleys, or would you prefer a more challenging hike up the side of a mountain? How far do you plan to travel to get to the beginning of the hike? It’s best to narrow the route down by region and preferred terrain before you begin. You can then read reviews, books, and blogs about the trail. Be sure to stock up on hiking guides and maps for your journey.

Getting in Shape

With a good idea of what your route is going to look like, you’ll be able to start training for this endurance challenge. Remember that you’ll not only need to be walking for eight hours a day, potentially on steep inclines, but you’ll also need to be carrying a heavy load for much of this distance. Focus not only on building your leg muscles, but the body as a whole. Cardio exercises will help build your endurance, while weight lifting can help you prepare for heavy lifting. Even if you’re in top shape, prepare to start slowly on your hike and build up to more gruelling days, particularly at high altitudes.

Preparing your Packing List

What will you need to bring on your journey? If you’re travelling abroad, how will you get in touch with people? One option is to get a prepaid international SIM card from a provider like lebara.co.uk, which you can use in case of emergency. Yet in remote areas, you’ll also need to be self-sufficient. Think about health and beauty items like toilet paper, sanitary supplies, and soap, as well as adequate food and water. Dehydrated food is ideal for the trail, as it weighs less and doesn’t take up too much room. Powdered beans, vegetables, and soups can help keep you going on the trail.

Final Preparations

As you get closer to your final preparations, think about how you will stay in touch with the real world on a long distance journey. If you’ll be gone for several months, don’t forget to cancel your subscriptions and turn off media services. Prepay your bills or even switch over to a prepaid phone like the ones at Lebara, particularly if travelling abroad. You’ll also need to research your destination and find out if you need visas, permits, or vaccinations before entry.

By taking the time to research your journey in advance, you can ensure that your trip runs smoothly while still enjoying the spontaneity of life as a backpacker. You’ll then be free to enjoy the renewal of mind, body, and spirit that a long distance trek can provide.

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Saas Fee

Located in the Swiss Kanton of Valais, Saas Fee is one of Switzerland’s finest ski resorts. I went on a skiing holiday in Saas Fee last February, and the skiing there turned out to be very good indeed. Saas Fee is close to the Dom and Allalinhorn glaciers which provide very high quality snow as well as skiing opportunities during the summer. Due to Saas Fee being surrounded by more than ten mountains which are higher than four thousand meters; the quality of snow is naturally very good. In fact, Saas Fee won a HolidayCheck Destination Award this year for the family holiday’s category.

Saas Fee also has some famous movie heritage; the James Bond film, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service was filmed partly on the Mittelallalin Mountain just below the Allalinhorn glacier.

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Staying and Skiing in Saas Fee

When you get to Saas Fee, one of the first things you will notice is that there are no cars in the town. Saas Fee is a car free town! You can get around on the small buses which ferry you about the town. The only real issue I found was getting around the other villages in the Saas Valley, as when you got to one of the villages, you sometimes had to get a bus back around to Saas Fee, instead of getting a lift back up and over the mountain, and personally I’m not a huge fan of getting on buses in my ski boots, with skis and poles falling about the place. After a day’s skiing, there is not quite like anything than getting to the bottom of the mountain and having a beer in one of the après ski bars, then retiring to the hotel. The hotel I stayed in had steam room and sauna facilities, which is ideal after a day’s skiing to loosen all your leg muscles off and to warm through.

Saas Fee is also home to the world’s highest underground funicular railway, which is one of the ski lifts and goes up to a height of 3500 meters. At the top of the railway, there is another record breaker, the world’s highest revolving restaurant, although this was expectantly overpriced – as are most restaurants up the mountains in ski resorts. The town also has good restaurants and nightclubs, a few of the local specialties which you can eat in the restaurants are Saas sausage and fondues, which can be found all over Switzerland.

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Essential information about Saas Fee

In general Saas Fee has a snow safe reputation, and the Swiss are also pretty impeccable at grading their runs correctly (I mention this, as when I have skied in France before, some of the run grading’s were questionable). The ski pass prices were not too bad either; I paid around 400 Swiss Francs for a week’s ski pass, which works out as around 440 dollars. If you do drive to Saas Fee they have large multi-storey car parks, where you have to park your car before you go into the village. This cost only 97 Swiss Francs with the Saas Fee pass, which isn’t too bad, realistically most hotels I’ve stayed at in the French Alps charge more for a week’s parking.

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Exploring Dinosaur Island

Hear the term ‘Dinosaur Island’ and images of the jungle-covered isle from the film The Lost World will probably spring to mind. At any rate, you probably won’t think of the Isle of Wight, although – drumroll, please – this actually is Dinosaur Island.

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While this nickname is a relatively recent development, its history does of course go back millions of years – 130 million, to put a rough figure on it – when dinosaurs freely roamed the Isle of Wight. Today, I’m going to be talking all about the local dino heritage, as well as clueing you in to a few of the dinosaur-themed things to do and see while you’re here. Meanwhile, you can get information about places to stay on this website.

The lowdown on the Isle of Wight’s dino days

The Isle of Wight has earned its title of Dinosaur Island thanks to the impressive level of dino-based finds here. Fossils and footprints have fascinated paleontologists and locals alike, not to mention captured the imagination of tourists. It’s down to this heritage that the island has even been named the Dinosaur Capital of the UK on the new Dinosaur Map of Britain (created by a researcher from the Natural History Museum).

Evidence of a host of different species have been uncovered on the island, and it’s this diversity – as well as the volume of finds – that have helped give it its prestigious position.

Attractions

Since 2013 has been named as the island’s Year of the Dinosaur, this year is a particularly good time to visit. Alongside the island’s year-round attractions, you can take part in specially organised fossil hunts and even dinosaur appearances!

Dinosaur Isle

For anyone coming to the island with an interest in dinosaurs, Dinosaur Isle is an absolute must-visit. This is the first purpose-built dino attraction to open its doors in Britain, and you’ll find it on Culver Parade in Sandown (home to the famous Sandown Beach).

What’s lovely about this museum is that the inside has been decorated to mimic the kind of landscapes the creatures would have walked through on the Isle of Wight all those years ago. And, nestled within this landscape, you’ll spot incredible re-creations of dinosaurs built to scale, including the polacanthus and iguanodon.

Of course, you’ll no doubt be keen to see some real remains, and you’ll be in luck because you can check out authentic dinosaur skeletons. What’s more, you can see both skeletons and fossils arriving at the museum as and when they’re found by the museum’s researchers. Amazing!

Fossil walks

You don’t need to be visiting during the Year of the Dinosaur to go on guided fossil walks, but there are some special ones taking place for those of you travelling before the end of 2013. Whether you are or not, though, there are several companies that offer regular excursions, including Footprint Tours and Dinosaur Fossil Hunts.

The latter, for example, is run by an expert in Cretaceous fossil crustaceans, who offers two-hour long tours. These cost very little, but are an excellent chance to discover fossils for yourself and learn a lot.

Dinosaur Island app

Just to finish off, I’d like to point out that to celebrate the Year of the Dinosaur there’s a special Dinosaur Island app for smartphones and tablets. Definitely download it before you go, because at six coastal locations on the Isle of Wight it’ll activate and give you the chance to snap pictures of your family or friends (or whoever you’re travelling with) in the local landscape as it would have looked 130 million years ago – dinosaurs and all!

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Exploring Dinosaur Island

Hear the term ‘Dinosaur Island’ and images of the jungle-covered isle from the film The Lost World will probably spring to mind. At any rate, you probably won’t think of the Isle of Wight, although – drumroll, please – this actually is Dinosaur Island.

While this nickname is a relatively recent development, its history does of course go back millions of years – 130 million, to put a rough figure on it – when dinosaurs freely roamed the Isle of Wight. Today, I’m going to be talking all about the local dino heritage, as well as clueing you in to a few of the dinosaur-themed things to do and see while you’re here. Meanwhile, you can get information about places to stay on this website.

The lowdown on the Isle of Wight’s dino days

The Isle of Wight has earned its title of Dinosaur Island thanks to the impressive level of dino-based finds here. Fossils and footprints have fascinated paleontologists and locals alike, not to mention captured the imagination of tourists. It’s down to this heritage that the island has even been named the Dinosaur Capital of the UK on the new Dinosaur Map of Britain (created by a researcher from the Natural History Museum).

Evidence of a host of different species have been uncovered on the island, and it’s this diversity – as well as the volume of finds – that have helped give it its prestigious position.

Attractions

Since 2013 has been named as the island’s Year of the Dinosaur, this year is a particularly good time to visit. Alongside the island’s year-round attractions, you can take part in specially organised fossil hunts and even dinosaur appearances!

Dinosaur Isle

For anyone coming to the island with an interest in dinosaurs, Dinosaur Isle is an absolute must-visit. This is the first purpose-built dino attraction to open its doors in Britain, and you’ll find it on Culver Parade in Sandown (home to the famous Sandown Beach).

What’s lovely about this museum is that the inside has been decorated to mimic the kind of landscapes the creatures would have walked through on the Isle of Wight all those years ago. And, nestled within this landscape, you’ll spot incredible re-creations of dinosaurs built to scale, including the polacanthus and iguanodon.

Of course, you’ll no doubt be keen to see some real remains, and you’ll be in luck because you can check out authentic dinosaur skeletons. What’s more, you can see both skeletons and fossils arriving at the museum as and when they’re found by the museum’s researchers. Amazing!

Fossil walks

You don’t need to be visiting during the Year of the Dinosaur to go on guided fossil walks, but there are some special ones taking place for those of you travelling before the end of 2013. Whether you are or not, though, there are several companies that offer regular excursions, including Footprint Tours and Dinosaur Fossil Hunts.

The latter, for example, is run by an expert in Cretaceous fossil crustaceans, who offers two-hour long tours. These cost very little, but are an excellent chance to discover fossils for yourself and learn a lot.

Dinosaur Island app

Just to finish off, I’d like to point out that to celebrate the Year of the Dinosaur there’s a special Dinosaur Island app for smartphones and tablets. Definitely download it before you go, because at six coastal locations on the Isle of Wight it’ll activate and give you the chance to snap pictures of your family or friends (or whoever you’re travelling with) in the local landscape as it would have looked 130 million years ago – dinosaurs and all!

 

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