The Magic of San Francisco

San Francisco is one of the biggest players in terms of must see American cities and funnily enough – it’s one of the smallest at only 49 square miles. Within that small space, lays an absolutely magnificent city that offers a vast amount to see and do and better yet – it’s all very easy. Compact, easily to commute around and no time constraints – San Francisco is hiving.

It would be very easy to stay in San Francisco and spend weeks covering very little of what the city has to offer. To help make this easier for you if you are planning a trip to ‘The City by The Bay’.

Things to do in San Francisco

 

1. The Golden Gate Bridge

Upon visiting San Francisco – you are not only expected to see the Golden Gate Bridge, you are obliged. One of the most famous bridges in the world – it’s a sight to behold and will amaze even the most experienced travellers. It’s a huge – 1.7 miles long and it’s estimated that 120,000 vehicles drive across it every day. You can also cross the bridge on foot via the pedestrian walkway and for the keen cyclist – bikes are allowed on the western side. And if you don’t fancy travelling across, you should go and see it anyway as it is said to be one of the most photographed attractions on Earth.
San Francisco, CA, USA
Image Source: Rant Lifestyle

2. Alcatraz

Although a bit of a strange tourist sight – this notorious former prison is a popular choice for the historian and curious traveller among you. Located on an Alcatraz Island in the middle of San Francisco Bay, this prison was formally home to some of the United States’ most notorious criminals. The prison was closed in the 1960’s and stories about Alcatraz are legendary and a visit to Alcatraz is truly captivating.  Recorded cell-house tours are available, allowing you to experience the entire history from an educational point.  To reach the island, take an Alcatraz Cruises ferry from Pier 43.

Alcatraz IslandImage Source: Protails

3. Sample the Culture

San Francisco is a cultural hub and a visit to San Fran would not be complete without experiencing all this wonderful city has to offer.  Home to internationally recognized symphony, opera and ballet companies – you’ll never be short of a thing or do to do and see.  Museum’s come in abundance – The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Asian Art Museum, the de Young Museum and the Palace of the Legion of Honor. The city is dedicated to the finest of classical and contemporary arts and of course is home to California Academy of Sciences which homes an aquarium, a planetarium, a natural history museum, and a 4-story rainforest all under one roof.

 

4. Take a cable ride

One of the best ways to explore the city of San Francisco is by cable car and the city’s cable car system is the world’s last manually operated cable car system.  These cable cars can take you from Union Square to Fisherman’s Wharf, two of the most popular areas of the city.  They are mainly used by tourists and are an iconic site of the city as they travel along the many famous streets and lanes – many of which have appeared in Hollywood movies down the years.

A-cable-car-San-FranImage Source: Fun Cheap SF

5. Sample the cuisine at Fisherman’s Wharf

The last thing to do when in San Francisco is to make the most of the quality local produce and fine cuisine on offer across the city, none more so than in the many restaurants and cafes of the popular Fisherman’s Wharf.  Pier 39 is another popular area for food lovers among you, but if you want to sample some of the best seafood dishes in the world, then take a walk around Fisherman’s Wharf – you’ll be spoilt for choice.

Fishermans-WharfImage Source: Wikipedia

 

 

The Dingle Peninsula – one of Ireland’s most beautiful destinations

Once described as the most beautiful place on earth by National Geographic, The Dingle Peninsula is amongst the most stunning, written about, photographed and talked about places in the whole of Ireland. If the dramatic scenery isn’t enough to tempt you into visiting, then there are a few other fine reasons why you should visit Dingle this year.

5 Reasons to consider a trip to Dingle, Ireland this year

1. History & Language

If you want to experience a true piece of Ireland, there is no such better way than visiting Dingle. As one of Ireland’s Government-protected Irish (Gaelic)-speaking areas, called “Gaeltachts,” you’ll be amazed by the beautiful sounds of the Irish language that surround you here. Dingle is also historically rich; there is no other landscape in Western Europe with the density and variety of archaeological monuments as the Dingle Peninsula. Due to the peninsula’s remote location, and lack of specialised agriculture, there is an extraordinary preservation of over 2,000 monuments. Visit Dingle for a chance to see and experience a history that is very much alive.

 

Dingle-Kerry

 

2. Swim with Fungi; Dingle’s own Dolphin

Not many places in the world can claim to host a dolphin the natural way, offering visitors the chance to see these beautiful creatures up close and personal in their natural habitat, but Dingle does! Fungi is a male bottle nose dolphin who has taken up residence in Dingle Harbour, for reasons unknown, but many suspect he too was lured by the harbours beauty. In 1984, Paddy Ferriter, the Dingle Harbour lighthouse keeper, first began watching the lone wild dolphin escort the town’s fishing boats to and from port. He has remained here since, during which time he has become something of a local celebrity. Boat trips run from Dingle to see Fungi, which are fee refundable if he doesn’t show up. Wet suits are also for hire, so it is possible to swim with Fungi.

3. Explore Dingle

With so much beauty and scenery, it’s only right to fully explore the area and there are a few very wonderful ways of doing so. Mount Brandon is the largest mountain in the area and the 9th largest mountain in Ireland and so climbing up here will give you an excellent view point, as well as the chance to appreciate some of Ireland’s finest greenery and unusual flora and fauna.  The town of Dingle is also a must see for all those stopping by, filled with tradition, friendly faces and great nightlife – you’ll be in awe of your surroundings.

Traditional-Shop-Kerry

4) Visit the Dingle Brewery

You don’t have to go all the way to Dublin to experience firsthand brewery craft. Dingle opened its brewery doors in 2011, on an historic site which was formally a creamery. You’ll get the chance to experience this beautiful old building, situated just outside Dingle and enjoy all the brewery has to offer. Fine beer is a strong tradition in Ireland and the Dingle Brewery lives up to that tradition.

5) Visit the Great Blasket Island

A trip to the Dingle Peninsula means you have access to so much more around you. A fine example of this is the Great Blasket Island, another beautiful island close to Dingle. Now uninhabited, this scenic island was once home to some of the finest writers Ireland produced, who told great tales in their own Gaelic language.

Whatever your reasons for visiting Ireland this year, be sure to consider Dingle in Kerry along the way. You won’t be disappointed by the warm and hospitable people and the scenery that draws both Irish people and visitors from around the world year after year.

Chinese New Year: The best festival in the world!

Chinese New Year is without question the best New Year festival in the world, forget the night of December 31 because this fifteen day festival is much more fun, colourful and interesting. We all know that our traditional new year celebrations can be a let down, we build it up so much and then it always seems to not live up to our expectations! Well, with Chinese New Year you have more than one night to have fun so you are guaranteed to have a lot of fun on at least one day I am sure. It’s great that we can now see Chinese New Year being celebrated throughout the world, this is because more people are now able to experience this fantastic festival. Enjoying the food and learning about a new culture is always good, it allows us to get an insight into another country without having to fly all of the way there. If you haven’t been lucky enough to see Chinese New Year for yourself then click here to watch a great video, the visual you get will make you want to find next year’s celebrations. I am sure that you will be able to find one near you because the festival is growing throughout the globe each year.

The Chinese New Year celebrations are all focused on welcoming in the new Lunar year and making sure that you have as much luck as possible. A lot of things are related to health, wealth and family. When it comes to money and finances the Chinese believe that you should not go into the new year with any debts, so it is tradition to pay off any money that you owe to friends or family – this is perfect the cousin you only see once a year owes you some cash!

Usually the festival is the only time that a family will be together during the year. The majority of families will not all live together in the same city or town, so the festival gives families the opportunity to site together and have a reunion over a fabulous feast of food. You will see some tasty food on offer, if you have any Chinese friends then make sure you try and get an invite to the party so you can eat as much amazing food as possible!

This year is the year of the horse, to find out which animal represents the year you were born then enter your date of birth of below, you will also find out some other great insights into you and your future.

The Thomas Cook Chinese New Year Horoscope Finder

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!

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.

 

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!

Local knowledge when you travel

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!

Where are the cleanest toilets?!

Traveling the European countries is incredible. It has something to over for everyone. Whether you are a sun and beach worshiper or a cold winter and snow lover, a historian or party animal you’ll find something to do around Europe! Europe is many things for sure but two of them are definitely culturally rich and beautiful.

But is very thing as beautiful in Europe as you think? Not according to Zoover’s research that showed that public toilets in some countries are not as clean as they could be. 48% of British voters declared that France’s public toilets are the dirtiest in Europe, followed by Turkey’s with only 19%.

 

If that put you off going to France, why don’t you try another popular destination like Playa de las Americas in Tenerife. Zoover has plenty reviews to offer to ensure you find the perfect destination for you!

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Fun before the sun

I am a firm believer that every second of your holiday, including the moment you leave your house, should be enjoyed as much as humanly possible. It’s easy to let ‘have I turned the gas off’ worries plague the beginning of your journey, but stop right there! You’re on holiday, you have turned the gas off, worry not!

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I used to dread the journey from home to the airport, as I’m not the most coordinated of people and whenever I have a heavy item with me, i.e. my suitcase, there is always a comedy moment of some kind, that usually leaves me or some poor unsuspecting person victim to an accidental bruise or two. Trains never fared me well, and coaches were a disaster, not to mention all of the above being quite pricey, so I took to driving myself to the airport and leaving the car for the duration of my holiday.

This turned out to be one of the best holiday decisions I ever made, and is now a service I book repeatedly. I recently looked into Heathrow parking for my upcoming trip to the airport and the price was so low, I booked it immediately. In the past I’ve also used Luton Airport parking, the facilities for parking at both of these airports were great in terms of customer service, the service itself, and the price, I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Once you’re safely at the airport, parked up, checked-in, through security, and you’ve felt that magical sensation of widened eyes when you see the array of glittering duty free stores, you’re raring to go, perfectly placed to enjoy your holiday.

I always head straight to a restaurant, as I think a well-fed person is a happy person, and much less stressed! A great idea to kick start your holiday is a delicious meal, a few drinks, and a nosey around duty free, which should take you right up to when you need to head to the gate, to board your plane.

Of course, airports can be stressful places, and if you want to remain in a calm environment, then why not pre-book time in an airport lounge, where food and drink are generally complementary and you can relax whilst waiting for boarding. Most airports have this facility, and are at a competitive price, so certainly research this idea for a bit of pre-flight R & R.

Enjoying the airport experience is all part of a happy start to a holiday, and a bit of food, drink and shopping is the perfect way to kick-start your summer or winter break. Don’t fault victim to pre-holiday stress, firmly enjoy every second, after all, we work hard for our holidays.

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.