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Top 5 exotic holiday destinations in 2012

With the Olympics coming to the UK this summer, many London families will choose to holiday at that time to avoid the mad crush of the crowds and festivities. Or, if they are sport fans they might prefer to stay for the Games and travel abroad later in the year to brighten up those cold, dreary winter months.  Here are five exotic destinations worth considering whatever time of year you decide to take a holiday.

1.       Traveling with young children can be challenging during any season.  Long flights, airport delays and difficult travel conditions can make some holiday destinations less attractive to families, being better suited to the more adventurous visitors. For a traveller from the UK, Malta holidays can be a great choice. From leaving the house to the point of booking into a luxurious hotel suite can take less than five hours.  This fact alone makes Malta a perfect get-away destination for those traveling with small children. With a huge entertainment centre to be found in St. Julian’s, as well as the Playmobil factory, and shops and restaurants that cater for children, Malta is an ideal destination for families.

malta1 Top 5 exotic holiday destinations in 2012

2.       The Indian Ocean offers a number of exotic destinations to travellers from the UK. Sri Lanka’s scenic coast is lined with luxury resorts and has sparkling white beaches. Home to the Kosgoda Turtle Hatchery, Sri Lanka offers water sports including jet skiing, scuba-diving, windsurfing, parasailing and, of course, bathing. The fishing village of Negombo is a must-see stop with its beautiful churches and the Elephant Sanctuary.

ri lankla 7 Top 5 exotic holiday destinations in 2012

3.       Orlando in Florida is a popular destination for UK holidaymakers, featuring six huge theme parks as part of the Disney chain. The Magic Kingdom, Epcot and Animal Kingdom are great choices for young families. The water parks, Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach, and the Hollywood Studios theme park are a good choice for those traveling with older children. Visitors should allow a full day for each park that they plan to visit. Package holidays that are inclusive of accommodation and all meals are a popular way to save when visiting the Disney parks, so be sure to seek out the best deal. If you choose to stay at one of the Disney Resort hotels, a shuttle will carry you to and from the parks.

Disney Blizzard Beach Walt Disney World Top 5 exotic holiday destinations in 2012

4.       Prefer a cooler destination for your holiday? Nepal, in southern Asia is a spiritual mecca for many tourists. Travellers should be in good physical shape before attempting to tackle Nepal’s altitudes and rugged terrain, but adventurous types will be well rewarded by the amazing architecture and beautiful scenery. Trekking is a popular way to see Nepal. Visit the Vishnu shrine of Ichangu Narayan, near Swayambhunath, for some of the best trekking in the world. At sea level, there is white-water rafting, kayaking and mountain biking. Visit Chitwan National Park to have a chance to see tigers or rhinos in their native habitat. Note that this is a destination choice more suitable for adults and older teenagers, not small children.

Nepal Himalaya Top 5 exotic holiday destinations in 2012

5.       The final pick for our top-five countdown is beautiful, pristine Fiji. Luxury package holidays are common in this exotic nation with its azure skies and sparkling, crystal-clear waters. Friendly natives, colourful marketplaces and the variety of experiences to be had, make Fiji one of the most popular holiday destinations to make for in 2012. Who could resist paddling around in the warm Pacific waters or scuba diving off the coast?

fiji Top 5 exotic holiday destinations in 2012

Closer to home or across the world, exciting and exotic holiday destinations abound and some great and memorable experiences await you.

10 Great Honeymoon Ideas for Any Travel Style

You’ve tied the knot, taken the plunge, looked deep into the eyes of your loved one and said “I do”. You do! And now with the love of your life on your arm, all the rice on the ground behind you, where to? Granted, just about anywhere would likely be a blast, but this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to do something exotic, to get crazy, forget the budget (well not entirely), and go on that dream trip you said you would, someday, eventually take. So what’s out there?

1. New Zealand

NewZealand 10 Great Honeymoon Ideas for Any Travel Style
High atop the list of most sojourners already, New Zealand boasts more natural wonders than just about any place on the planet. Rugged peaks adjoin translucent blue ocean water. Fjords and archipelagos, volcanoes and basalt deserts – you’re as likely to brush-up on your high-school geographical terminology while visiting this gorgeous country as you are likely to have a blast exploring it. Visitors here enjoy the area’s extensive wine tasting, the rich flora and fauna of the region, and, of course the beautiful outdoors which are as well-suited to those thrill-seekers as they are to those who just want to enjoy the mud baths and hot springs.

2. Cape Town, South Africa

CapeTown 10 Great Honeymoon Ideas for Any Travel Style
South Africa? Yes. Combine a beautiful waterfront, an active nightlife, and the winds blowing in from the plains of the African brush, and you’ve got the getaway of a lifetime. Here, you can dive with great whites, walk on white-sand beaches, roam across the brush on safari, and experience the local and poignantly diverse culture. For the adventurer, there’s plenty, even what they call “blokarting”, in which the sails of little buggies are pushed to near warp-speed by the winds of the ocean. Try one out and hold on, or meander at a snail’s pace down through the vibrant bazaar and “slow” food markets, historic walking tours, or enjoy a leisurely coastal train ride if you’re more interested in this being a laid-back honeymoon.

3. Hawaii

hawaii honeymoon packages 2011 5 10 Great Honeymoon Ideas for Any Travel Style
Of course Hawaii would make the list. Any place commonly referred to as “paradise” is sure to be a good bet. But Hawaii makes the list for honeymooners for a variety of reasons. There’s the bright, sunny, unbelievable weather year-round; there’s the warm ocean downright resplendent with life; there’s all of life’s modern amenities to assure you that you’re not too far away from anything; and the inner jungle and unique landscape of this little archipelago make for a diverse array of activities to engage in.

An example? Head to Waikiki to rent beachfront bungalows and be pampered with massages and spa treatments, mai-tais and pina coladas. Then head for ATV riding on Kona, or pop-over to Kauai and explore the Na Pali coast were no man is said to have tread, yet where kings are buried.

4. The Dalmatian Coast, Croatia

Croatia Honeymoon 10 Great Honeymoon Ideas for Any Travel Style
Croatia is fast-becoming a destination hotspot. From Dubrovnik to Hvar to Split, no beach anywhere compares to the blue of the Croatian coastline. For rampant partying at can’t-believe-it prices, the Croatian islands have it all—mainly for the younger sect. For relishing in 1500 year-old white marble palaces, shopping, and exploring the ancient, Split and Dubrovnik take the cake. Here, it’s best to stay in the old towns and venture out for day trips to experience all that the Croats have to offer.

5. Salvador da Bahia, Brazil

ibirapuera park sao paulo brazil photo gov tourist ministry 10 Great Honeymoon Ideas for Any Travel Style
Fancy the beauty and romance of tropical beach escapes without the crowds or tourism? Consider Brazil, specifically the city of Salvador da Bahia. Pastel-colored houses line cobble-stone streets in a confluence of what appears to be a mix of Nicaraguan and Caribbean influence, but is purely Brazilian. Here you can dance the night away to bossa nova music, sip on authentic caipirinhas, and shop the best of local craftsmen.

6. St Lucia, Caribbean

St Lucia White Beaches in Caribbean Sea 10 Great Honeymoon Ideas for Any Travel Style
A beautiful Caribbean escape is second to none when it’s time to get away. Unrivaled and empty white sand beaches, aquamarine water so clean you can see the trigger fish swimming 75 feet down, and all the rum you can stomach make the Caribbean an ideal honeymoon escape. What makes St Lucia special, however, is its mountainous terrain, offering visitors the ability to have panoramic vistas from their resort deck down to the glassy waters below. This, and lush tropical gardens make St Lucia a lazy lovers’ paradise.

7. French Polynesia

French Polynesia 10 Great Honeymoon Ideas for Any Travel Style
If the idea of gazing through a glass-floored bungalow into the crystal-clear water beneath you doesn’t entice, perhaps this escape is best reserved for the more docile crowd. Here, the biggest plans of the day might include swimming with endangered turtles or lazing about on your own private beach. Other thrills might include scuba diving some of the best reefs in the world, getting spa treatments, feeding sharks, or walking the cute and quaint French Polynesian beach-side island towns.

8. Telluride, Colorado, US

colorado 1.1 800x800 10 Great Honeymoon Ideas for Any Travel Style
If snow is more your bag than sand, consider the rocky escapes of Telluride, Colorado to be your calling. Ski across the mountainous forested escapes, breathe deep the pristine air, or snuggle up fireside with a cup of warm mocha. Cross-country skiing, snowmobile riding, or attending some of the rife mountain culture in this small town makes it high atop many coveted ski-retreat lists.

9. Galapagos Islands

1gal 10 Great Honeymoon Ideas for Any Travel Style
If you and your newly acquired spouse are nature lovers, then there’s no better place to go see untouched, pristine wilderness than the Galapagos Islands. Tours of these islands are selective, as space is numbered and therefore at a premium, but specialty catamarans can come fully equipped with hot tubs and spa-like rooms and showers. Here in Galapagos, you can swim with sea lions and marine iguanas or hike the island with free-roaming peacocks, blue-footed boobies, and red bats. See nature as nature intended it.

10. Paris, France

eiffel tower fb 45351876 10 Great Honeymoon Ideas for Any Travel Style
The city of lights is made for lovers. There’s no mistaking Paris’ charms, whether you’re a first-timer or a seasoned veteran of these wandering, narrow cobblestoned streets. Morning croissants, afternoon crepes, dinner aperitifs, and delicatessen pastries make eating in this iconic city an adventure in itself. Then there’s the oodles of cheap yet good French wine, the soft French cheese, the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, the Sacre Coure, and about a hundred other good, notable, and postcard-worthy reasons to honeymoon in Paris. And don’t forget all of Europe that is now lying at your doorstep…

5 Ways to Enjoy the Water in Hanoi, Vietnam

wpid 5 Ways to Enjoy the Water in Hanoi Vietnam 5 Ways to Enjoy the Water in Hanoi, VietnamJunk Boat, Halong Bay, Vietnam

Certainly one of the most interesting places to visit in Southeast Asia, Hanoi has come a long way in preserving its colonial and Chinese influence since the 70?s. With a great many places to soak in culture, namely, the Ho Chi Minh Museum, the Presidential Palace, or the Museum of the Vietnamese Revolution, the country’s history and foreign interpretation of it are on its own reasons to visit, but there is so much more, including its famous cuisines and natural landmarks.

When you break it down, many items on a Hanoi to do and see list bare the same essential theme–water–so here are our top five.

1. Halong Bay

Ha Long Bay is a spectacular natural landmark featuring thousands of limestone karsts and islets. Interestingly enough, Ha Long Bay does not belong to Hanoi, but Ha Long City in Quang Ningh province, about 3 to 3.5 hours away from Hanoi by bus, but it is so beautiful that its proximity alone from Hanoi warrants mention.

From the Thein Cung grotto to the floating fishing villages, the Unesco World Heritage Site is the main reason many visitors even come to Vietnam. Snap photo after photo during a sunset, as the impressive towering rock formations loom over the picturesque boats and blue waters beneath. It is as breathtaking as you think.

5 Great Winter City Break Destinations

When planning a winter city break you have some great options, whether you are looking for a winter sun holiday with sandy beaches and relaxation, or a chance to visit famous museums and monuments without the tourist crowds you inevitably have to cope with in the height of summer.

Below, we look at :

Paris, France

Paris is a great city destination at any time of year for those looking for romance and culture. During the winter months, the queues for attractions are often shorter and you can explore at a more leisurely pace. You can either take a guided tour of some of the more popular attractions such as the Eiffel Tower, the Gothic masterpiece which is Cathédrale Notre-Dame or the Louvre, or strike out on your own to find some of the many museums and galleries here.

The oldest area of the city is Cite Island, on the Seine River. Here you will find the some of the oldest buildings in Paris along with les Arenes de Lutece, a Roman Arena. During the winter, ice skating rings appear at the Montparnasse and the Hotel de Ville.

Find great designer shops at the Marias as well as the many boutiques and concept stores throughout the city. There are also some great markets, such as the Porte de Clignancourt, Marché aux Puces de Vanves and St Ouen flea market. There are also many speciality markets including a book market and a stamp market.

Paris is famous for its jazz scene and there are plenty of venues where you can enjoy live music from local talent as well as internationally renowned artists. Alternatively, enjoy the best of cabaret at the Moulin Rouge. Getting around Paris is simple by Metro or bus. Taxis are also readily available.

St Petersburg, Russia

St Petersburg in Russia is a magical place to visit in winter. Made up of many islands connected by ornate bridges, it is a perfect romantic setting. There are many galleries and museums here, including the State Hermitage Museum, which is a stunning collection of art housed in the palace once occupied by the Romanov Tsars, rulers of Russia.

Soak up some culture at the Mariinsky Theatre, home to the Kirov Ballet and Opera Company, either enjoy a live performance or simply take in the beautiful interior. Visit the Mendeleev Museum, the building where Dmitry Mendeleev compiled the periodic table of elements. You can see the study where he worked and some early drafts of his completed work. The city’s oldest monastery is the Alexander Nevsky Monastery. It is still a working Russian Orthodox Monastery and many famous Russian figures are buried here.

Miami, USA

For an escape from the winter chill, Miami is an ideal city break with plenty to do for couples, groups and families. With over fifteen miles of sandy beaches, it is great for those who want to relax in the sun.

For the more active, there are plenty of water sports such as surfing, jet skiing and sailing. You can also take a tour of the famous Cape Florida Lighthouse, which is located in Bill Baggs State Park.

Miami is also famous for its shopping, the most well known being Miracle Mile, although there are many others. If you are looking for great family days out, then Miami has many options. Miami Metro Zoo allows you to experience exotic animals from Australia, Africa and Asia as you would on a safari. Instead of cages, the animals are enclosed by a system of moats in the 300 acre park.

At Miami’s Seaquarium, close to Biscayne Bay, you can visit sea turtles, seals, sea lions as well as see performances by resident dolphins and killer whales.

Dubai, UAE

The stunning city of Dubai is a great winter break due to its warm weather and great architecture and is home to the tallest building in the world, the Burj Khalifa. This is a shopper’s paradise, with huge malls providing much more than shopping and restaurants. The Dubai Mall also plays host to an ice rink, a theme park, a children’s world, an aquarium and live entertainment. The Mall of the Emirates boasts a ski slope and a snow park for children.

Along the beach front in the Dubai Marina lies the Jumeirah Beach Walk, where you can enjoy shops, restaurants and cafes. This, along with water parks, public parks with children’s playgrounds and aquariums, make this a great locations. Thrill seekers can try desert surfing or skiing, or take a camel ride or tour of the desert. If you want to find out more about Dubai’s history, visit the Dubai Heritage and Diving Villages.

Sydney, Australia

Australia’s capital city, Sydney, is a great destination. With a year round warm climate, winter is a great time to visit. Among the great beaches here, Bondi Beach is the most popular, with sunbathing and water sports such as body boarding and surfing.

The iconic Opera House and Sydney Harbour Bridge are must see stops during your visit. Go on a Bridge Climb tour for fantastic views across the City. Alternatively, visit Sydney Tower, which is 260 metres above street level.

The botanic gardens are well worth a visit, an oasis of calm in the city centre and a great way of finding out about local flora. There are also fascinating wildlife centres here as well as museums, theatres and galleries. Along with great shopping opportunities, fantastic food and a great night life, Sydney offers something for everyone making the long haul flight well worth it!

Torquay has spectacular beaches

wpid Torquay has spectacular beaches Torquay has spectacular beachesTorquay is located in Devon in southern England. The place is known for its beautiful views which include spectacular skies as well as clear waters. There are numerous accommodation options in the area and many people choose to stay in the luxury cottages that are located close to the beach.

The area has plenty to keep visitors busy and it also has spectacular beaches. Those visiting should be prepared to pack picnics and get ready to enjoy some sun and sand. Staying in one of the cottages near the beach will mean that you have easy access to the ocean as well as the local tourist attractions.

The holiday cottages that are available in Torquay can suit all needs. They come in many sizes so if you are visiting with just a partner or a large group of family, you will find something spacious enough to suit your requirements. Torquay is very much a destination for those who enjoy water sports as there are many activities that you can partake in on the beaches local to the holiday cottages.

The beaches and waters make for perfect condition for doing some water skiing. There are experts in the area who have speedboats which will be able to organise the whole activity for you. This will be a safe and thrilling activity for all those who take part.

Under the waters there are other  activities too. Snorkelling is popular and being able to see some of the marine life of the area will be astounding as it is rich and diverse. For those who are feeling a little more adventurous, then diving is also an option. As with the water skiing there are many operators on the beach who will ensure you have a good time while looking out for your safety.

If you travel a bit further away from your holiday cottage, you will discover Water Sports Torquay. This is a centre that offers visitors a great deal of water based activities. For adrenaline junkies there is the extreme donut boat ride – where you are pulled at high speed in an inflatable ring across the water.

For those who are more into relaxing rather than white knuckle activities, taking a banana boat ride is an enjoyable alternative. Whatever water sport you are into, or even if you just want to enjoy a picnic on the beach, Torquay will certainly provide everything you need.

A Day Trip to Niagara Falls from Toronto

Day Trips, North America

I suspect that even Chuck Norris would quiver a little at the sight of Niagara Falls. I’m sure many turn up thinking they’re about to see one of the highest waterfalls in the world, but that’s a mistake. The Falls at Niagara aren’t particularly lofty, but they sure are powerful. It’s the force and volume of water passing over the brutalised escarpment that are spellbinding, not where the water is dropping from.

The falls at Niagara have the power of four Great Lakes behind them. The water is bottle-necked in the Niagara River after passing through the system in Lakes Superior, Huron, Erie and Michigan. It will eventually make its way to the Atlantic Ocean via Lake Ontario and the St Lawrence River.

And this bottleneck, coupled with the need to drop elevation over the escarpment, has created what is justifiably one of the world’s greatest natural tourist attractions. Standing by the side of the falls, you can feel the ferocity as well as hear it. You’re constantly spat at from the angry, watery snake pit beneath the Horseshoe (or Canadian) Falls, where the river smashes and explodes after being thrown over the edge.

You can forget everything else at Niagara – it’s worth coming just to watch this constant bombardment, which is a reminder of how nature can easily pummel man’s best efforts into oblivion.

Niagara’s Fury: The Creation of the Falls
Niagara Falls isn’t a peaceful spot (which perhaps befits the falls themselves). It has been turned into something of a resort town over the years. There are all manner of things to do – some great, some tacky. Fitting somewhere between the two is Niagara’s Fury: The Creation of the Falls. This ‘4D experience’ is divided into two parts. First up, you’re given a cheap plastic raincoat and shepherded into a room to watch a film about how Niagara Falls came to be on a big screen. It’s clearly aimed at the kiddy audience, with far more emphasis on graphics and talking animals than on the science.

Following that, you’re ushered into a separate room, where a screen stretches 360 degrees around the wall. The images flashing up on those screens – glacier, melting ice, lightning strikes and tumbling water – mirror the broad history. But the experience is multi-sensory – temperatures drop, snow blowers create a wintery storm, the floor jolts around in time to the lightning flashes and liberal amounts of water are repeatedly thrown over the mugs in the middle.

It’s good fun, if not exactly great value or what going to Niagara Falls is really about. If you’ve only got a limited time there, it’s probably best skipped.

Journey Behind The Falls
The same applies to the Journey Behind The Falls. Tickets for the two attractions can be bought as a combo, but the timed ticketing system is a shambles. I was given a 12.20 ticket when I needed to be back at the bus for 12.45. I got to the queue at 12.10, and it was so long that I didn’t get to the elevator that takes you down to the fall-side lookout until 12.30. Essentially, I had about three minutes down there before having to queue to get the elevator up again. Selling timed tickets is staggeringly pointless if they’re not limited or enforced.

Anyway, you’ve got a couple of holes to look through where you can see the water thundering down before your eyes, and another viewing platform where you can brave a forceful barrage of spray to sidle up right next to the falls. If you’ve got the time and the money, it’s possibly worth doing, but if it’s a case of picking one thing to leave out, this is probably the option to skip.

Maid of the Mist
On the flip side, if you’re choosing one thing to leave out on a visit to Niagara, it should on no account be the Maid of the Mist boat cruise. It may only last twenty minutes, and the boats may try and fit far too many people on for prime viewing comfort , but the experience is incredible. Again, everyone is given a cheap blue plastic raincoat – it looks disturbingly like a marker for those about to be sent to their death by an evil harbourmaster.

You soon stop worrying about not being able to get room at the edge of the deck as the boat takes off towards the American Falls. These are, in a way, more picturesque. The water rages over the top, then cascades its way through the fallen rocks at the bottom. The boat gets up pretty close, and you get a proper perspective on the ferocity of the water thrown over the edge. But only 10% of the water goes over the American Falls, and it’s when the boat starts inching its way into the chasm created by the Horseshoe Falls that the excitement really builds. Position doesn’t matter, as people soon realise that trying to take photos is an exercise in futility. The angry squall of the fracturing water plumes ensures a good shower for all. Cameras go away to the safety of pockets and the thrill of being sucked into an apocalyptic maelstrom becomes the joy. It’s one of those classic experiences where living in the moment is far more important than trying to capture it.

The journey back to Toronto
It takes ninety minutes to two hours to drive back to Toronto, but there are a couple of worthwhile stops on the way. The town of Niagara on the Lake is everything that the town of Niagara Falls is not. The latter is a mini-Vegas, all giant hotels, casino resorts and rather tacky tourist attractions. Niagara on the Lake is a cute little 19th century time-warp, where no shop can sell too many antiques or too much fudge.

It’s also noticeable that there are a fair few vineyards on the outskirts of Niagara On The Lake. Believe it or not, Canada does have a wine industry and it has to be remembered that Niagara is roughly level with southern Oregon or the South of France. White varietals do best, but ice wine is the regional specialty. This is ultra-sweet and is made when the water inside the grape is frozen – the grapes have to be picked and pressed in the middle of night during the coldest hours of winter.

On the way back to Toronto, we stop at the Niagara College Teaching Winery, where students learn about viticulture and help with the wine-making process. We get three glasses to try, including an ice wine. I can’t say I’m overly impressed with any of them, but I can see who the ice wine would work for. There’s potential there.

Of course, wine is just the ticket to make everyone sleepy for the drive back. It’s a fairly long day, but it’s unquestionably worth it. In fact, it’s worth it just for the falls and the Maid of the Mist Cruise. Anything else is just a bonus.

Jordan: The Baptism Site, the Dead Sea, Mount Nebo and Madaba

Day Trips, Middle East & Africa

Amman  to the Dead Sea

The first thing you notice when you drive down from Amman to the Dead Sea is that your ears suddenly pop. That’s hardly surprising when you consider that you are dropping from 780 metres to 423 metres (1118 feet) below sea level, the lowest point on the earth. The second is the sudden change in the landscape. Gone is the sprawling, heavily congested metropolis that Amman has become, home to some 2 million people.  In its place is a landscape of almost biblical proportions with brown, sun-baked hills sweeping down to the rich Jordan Valley below with the West Bank and Jericho shimmering in the distance. Lastly, is the sudden increase in temperature. 30 in Amman rapidly gives way to 45 in the space of little less than an hour.  You can understand why the Dead Sea shrinks by over a metre a year through a combination of intense evaporation (10 million tons of water a day) and over-exploitation. If you decide to venture on this journey, make sure that you wear a hat, factor up to the maximum level possible and take a plentiful supply of water. It is also advisable not to follow the mad dogs and Englishmen out into the midday sun.

The Baptism Site

It is not possible to visit Bethany, also known as the Baptism Site, alone for security reasons, and you have to take the state-controlled guided tour at a cost of 12 Jordanian dinars (equivalent to approximately US$17). Fortunately, the Jordanians have recently invested in air-conditioned buses, a major improvement on the old trucks that were formerly in use. They have also gone high-tech, and with your ticket you are presented with a black plastic card with numbers on it and a pointed metal device that looks very similar to an electronic hair remover. All you have to do is to point it at one of the numbers, place it by your ear and you have a running commentary in beautifully pronounced English or one of the other 6 major languages.

You set off through an almost lunar landscape, extremely dry and barren with no signs of any water whatsoever and very little vegetation save for brush. After a stop at a security checkpoint, you are driven to Elijah’s Hill where the venerable prophet was reportedly driven up to heaven in a chariot drawn by horses of fire. An arch made up of 63 stones, one for each of year of the late King Hussein’s life, has been erected over the remains of a Byzantine church.

Shortly after, the bus parks and the rest of tour is on foot and takes approximately 45 minutes. It consists of a walk to the famous Baptism Pool blessed by Pope John Paul II himself on his visit to the Holy Land in 2000. There you can see some ancient stone foundations, a pool that was designed to hold over 300 pilgrims, and a large wooden structure called the Pilgrim’s Station. All that is left of the Jordan River is a small brackish, brown pool since Israel, Syria and Jordan itself have diverted its waters for irrigation. Gone are the wonderful springs and waterfalls described by the adventurers in the last century. Nevertheless, there is something very reverent about being in the place where Jesus was baptised by John the Baptist.

The tour continues along a meandering path through tamarisk bushes past St John’s Spring and leads on to the very ornate, modern, and gold-domed Church of St John, which was inaugurated in 2005. From here, steps lead down to a wooden platform erected by the River Jordan, which provides the frontier between Jordan and Israel. Here there is some semblance of a real river and visitors can dip their feet in the brown, murky water for absolution and gaze across at the Israeli pilgrims immersing themselves under the watchful eyes of their nervous guards. The large, fortified structures on the other side of the river contrast sharply with the simplicity of the Jordanian side, and are a stark remainder of the volatility of this area and its troubled past. Before the Peace Accord, this area would have been land-mined.

The Dead Sea

Leaving the Jordan Valley, you turn right towards the Dead Sea some 15 minutes away. The Dead Sea is 377 metres deep (1,237 feet) and the deepest hyper-saline lake in the world with a salinity of 33.7%, which is over 9 times saltier than the ocean. Hence, you are unable to sink and there is a complete absence of any aquatic life at all. It is, however, possible to purchase caps and T-shirts inscribed with Dead Sea Fishing Club, which is guaranteed to raise a smile from the folks back home.

It is an enormous sea (42 miles long and 11 miles wide), and it has a stillness that is overwhelming. There are no boats of any kind and very little activity apart from at the water’s edges. Access to it can be made via the public beaches but if you really want to indulge, take a half day at one of the many hotels (Movenpick or Marriott) dominating its coastline and indulge in the mud baths, hydrotherapy, or many of the other treatments readily available. A shower after any swim, however, is essential to remove the layer of gluey saline solution that sticks to the body.

Mount Nebo

From the Dead Sea, the road climbs steeply up to Mount Nebo (3300 feet above sea level), twisting and turning through a wild landscape populated only by Bedouins. There are magnificent views of the Jordan Valley below, the Dead Sea, and the West Bank beyond. Occasionally, a small oasis will appear and you will see olive groves clinging to the rugged hillsides. After 30 minutes Mount Nebo appears in the distance. This is the place where Moses saw the Promised Land after 40 years in the wilderness and before dying at the grand old age of 120. No one knows the exact location of his burial, but the Memorial Church of Moses, currently under reconstruction, claims to be the burial site. Pope John Paul II visited it during his pilgrimage to the Holy Land in 2000 and planted an olive tree next to the Byzantine chapel as a symbol of peace. A serpentine cross sculpture has also been erected on top of Mount Nebo. Designed by the Italian artist Giovanni Fantoni it symbolises the serpent held high by Moses and the cross on which Jesus was crucified.

MadabaFrom Mount Nebo, it’s only a short drive to Madaba, once the ceramic capital of the Roman world and famous for its mosaics. Although it is the 5th largest town in Jordan with a population of 60,000, it is small in comparison to Amman and has small twisting streets packed with shops and small schools selling mosaics, many of them made to order. Its most important tourist attraction, however, is the Greek Orthodox St. George’s Church famous for the Madaba Map. This was discovered in the nineteenth century when the church was under reconstruction and provides the oldest map of the Holy Land dating back to the 6th Century. The map covers the whole region including Jordan and Palestine in the north to Egypt in the south and provides a detailed map of Jerusalem itself with its many gates and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Originally measuring over 25 by 5 metres, it is comprised of over 2 million individual ceramic pieces, but only a quarter of it still remains. The Church of the Apostles is a short distance away and also has extremely well-preserved mosaic floors dating back to AD 578. A visit to the Archaeological Museum is a must to see the scale of the artistry and the legacy of the Romans.

Madaba is also famous for Haret Jdoudna, one of the most renowned restaurants in Jordan. A former clinic and residence owned by one of Jordan’s leading doctors, this Ottoman house has been transformed into a culinary paradise with every variety of oriental food presented in an atmosphere of calm tranquillity. A stone’s throw away from the town centre, the service is warm and friendly and the prices are ridiculously low for such a high quality of food. Mingle with the locals, relax, and take a brief respite from the heat. If you arrive later in the day, sit on the rooftop patio and absorb the atmosphere of this once prosperous town with its multitude of minarets and the call to prayer echoing through the alleyways.

As you drive back to Amman along the 5000-year old Kings Highway, olive groves straddle the hills, verdant lands stretch to the horizon, and you are reminded of the historical significance of the route you have just taken and of the countless pilgrims that have gone before you in search of peace, tranquility and absolution. Jordan has that effect on you.

Leave Orlando Behind for Lovely Clearwater Beach, Florida

Destinations, Family & Kids, Travel Videos, USA, Canada, Mexico

There is a lot going on in Clearwater, Florida. At the Clearwater Marine Aquarium you can meet Winter, the cousin of famous TV dolphin, Flipper, or if you are there at the right time of year, you can watch the world champion Philadelphia Phillies swinging away at their spring training facilities – but these are bonuses. The real allure of Clearwater Beach is the sun, the beach and the water.

The Clearwater Beach Day Trip from Orlando gives you the opportunity to explore the Gulf of Mexico in a way not many people get to. With a range of wonderful activities available in the package you can choose to take a cruise on the water or go deep-sea fishing.

Clearwater Beach Day Trips from Orlando: Video

As you can see from this short video, there are a number of reasons to visit Clearwater Beach on a day trip from Orlando – though if you’re a big sun and sea lover, you’ll be tempted to stay longer. A great way to treat the whole family, with the cruise option you get 1-hour on the open water aboard the yellow and pink adorned Sea Screamer where, if you keep your eyes peeled, you may get to see leaping dolphins.

The deep-sea fishing option on the other hand gives you the chance to get into the depths of the Gulf, where you may catch some of Florida’s most prized fish, including the gray snapper or sea bass. And do not be too shocked if you catch yourself a shark!

The full-day package also comes with pick-up and drop-off from your Orlando hotel, and even includes a delicious beachside picnic, where you can dine as the waves roar and crash in front of you. All taxes and fees are included and if you are looking to just catch some rays for most of the day, you can be taken to rent umbrellas and purchase other beach equipment. Whichever option you choose, Clearwater Beach is a relaxing place to spend time away from the grind!

Barbados Top 10 Things to Do

Caribbean, Destinations, Guest Bloggers

Barbados packs a punch (not only the rum kind). This small island welcomes over 1 million visitors annually and shows them all a good time. Whether you’re a gourmet diner, water sports nut or shopping addict, you’ll find plenty to please you here.

The rich and famous migrate here like clockwork. But there are activities for every budget. And no matter how deep your pockets, you’ll have a warm welcome in Barbados.

#1 Beaches

The beach is the place to be seen in Barbados, and all beaches in Barbados have public access. So however exclusive the hotel clientele, you too are entitled to walk along the beach and paddle in the water.

The West Coast is the major draw. It’s classic Caribbean beach territory: golden sands, palm trees, azure seas and glorious sunsets. Oh, and top-end hotels (think Sandy Lane).

On the Atlantic (East) Coast, trade winds blow and surf crashes. If you’re not worried about sun-loungers or waiters, you may enjoy this. Some beaches (e.g. Bath Beach) have lifeguards, but otherwise it is not ideal for swimming.

#2 SportsCricket
Bring your picnic box to the Kensington Oval, dance in the ‘Party Stand’ and relax in the pools. This is cricket, albeit Barbados-style.

Match tickets are reasonably priced and usually available on the day. If you’re new to cricket: Test Matches last for 5 days. One-Day Internationals are more manageable.

Horse-Racing
For people-watching, gambling and cheering, head to Garrison Savannah racecourse in the Garrison Historic Area outside Bridgetown, home to the Barbados Gold Cup for Thoroughbreds and the Barbados Triple Crown series.

Sailing
May sees the Mount Gay Rum Barbados Regatta. Mount Gay also sponsors the Round Barbados Race in January.

#3 ShoppingForgotten your Gucci or Ralph Lauren? Fear not, Barbados’s duty-free shopping malls will soon have you kitted out. Broad Street in Bridgetown can solve most high fashion dilemmas, but there’s also a mall in Holetown (shop in between cocktails).

For souvenirs, the ‘Best of Barbados’ stores sell beach towels and t-shirts (etc). The Pelican Craft Centre in Bridgetown sells handmade jewelery. Otherwise, vendors will approach you on the beach. Expect to haggle.

#4 FoodSun-bathing is hungry work, but Barbados food is up to the job. Whatever cuisine you like, it’s here. Seafood is the big draw. It’s very fresh and very high quality. Tuna, snapper, barracuda, mahi-mahi and shrimp feature highly.

Dress codes are mostly low-key. “Day-time beachy, night-time peachy,” as they say.

The West coast is the big restaurant hub. Here are a few favorites:

?Daphne’s: Italian-Caribbean fusion
?Elbow Room: DIY stone-grilling in Holetown, then go on to Lexy Piano Bar or Angry Annie’s
?Lone Star: Sunday roasts and shepherds’ pie
?Groots: Curries and seafood in a traditional chattel house – add your signature to the walls
Cafes advertise traditional Caribbean food on Saturdays (“Pudding & Souse” and “Cow Heel Soup”). Sundays see the Caribbean buffets at hotels, accompanied by steel bands.

#5 Rum (and Other Drinks)They make the world’s best rum (and a lot of it) in Barbados. Mount Gay, Cockspur and Rum Sixty-Six are all manufactured here. How you drink your rum is a personal choice (I’m a Rum Sour gal), but do try different brands to see how the taste varies. The Mount Gay Extra Old and 1703, in particular, are worth a shot.

Visit a factory to learn about rum-making: Mount Gay for the large-scale operation or St Nicholas Abbey for a more personalized view.

Banks is the local beer of choice. For soft drinks, there are fruit juices, punches and the usual sodas. Tamarind is a particularly tasty drink.

#6 Hitting the RoadSelf-drive is the best way to see Barbados. Car rental is reasonably priced and it’s impossible to go very far or very fast. So just relax and enjoy the drive!

Head a few miles inland and you’ll be surrounded by banana trees and sugar cane. You’ll see immaculate cricket pitches and a multitude of churches. And, of course, you can stop just to admire the scenery.

Expect to get lost – road signage is unpredictable. But you will find your way again, even if you have to follow the local bus!

#7 St Nicholas AbbeyIf you only leave your sun lounger once, then do so to visit St Nicholas Abbey. This 17th Century plantation has beautiful gardens, a Jacobean mansion and a rum-making operation.

To get to St Nicholas Abbey, you drive up Cherry Tree Hill. At the top, you’ll have a fantastic view of the Atlantic coastline. You then proceed along an avenue lined with mahogany trees towards the plantation.

A short black-and-white film, shot in 1935 by a former owner, records the sea passage from England to Barbados and life on the plantation. It was labor-intensive: 10 men were needed just to turn the windmill.

The rum-making operation here is small. Rum is distilled in the traditional batch still process and aged in bourbon oak casks. 8- and 12-year-old spirits are bottled in individually-etched glass decanters.

The Great House is decorated luxuriously, as befits a home of its status. A 1936 Gentleman’s Chair dominates the study and the dining room is laid for dinner.

#8 Harrison’s CaveHarrison’s Cave is a 2.3km stream cave system located under the central highlands. Come here to find out about Barbados’s geological history.

The Cave Interpretation Centre tells you the history of the Caves. Outside on the valley floor, admire the bearded fig trees (“Los Barbados” in Portuguese) that gave the island its name.

Then it’s onto an electric train and into the caves. While you “wow” over the limestone structures, the constant ‘drip-drip’ sound will remind you that this is an evolving cave system.

#9 Barbados MuseumThe Barbados Museum is housed in the former military prison. The galleries here provide a wealth of information on the flora, fauna and social history of Barbados. Even the building is historical – the shady courtyards once rang to the sounds of working prisoners.

Find out about Barbados wildlife, including the 19th Century ecological disaster when mongooses were imported to control rats. Social history includes a song to “Jin Jin” (Queen Victoria), sung after emancipation in 1838. There are also map collections and descriptions of plantation life.

#10 BridgetownLocated at the mouth of the Constitution River, Barbados’ capital has little in the way of tourist attractions, but is a pleasant city. The British founded Bridgetown in the 17th century, in the area now called the Careenage. Head there to see government buildings and a picturesque marina. The square at the end of the Careenage used to be called Trafalgar Square. Although the (official) name is now “National Heroes Square,” the statue of Nelson remains – for now.

By the cab rank is a memorial plaque: this is a description of the ‘Cage’, where runaway slaves were kept until their masters came to claim them.

Broad Street is lined with colonial-style buildings (think Scarlett O’Hara). Most are now banks or duty-free shopping malls. They provide scope for attractive photographs, even if the shopping doesn’t appeal.

Handy Tip: Buy rum here to take home. The shop takes your flight details and you collect the bottles at the airport. Now that’s what I call service!

A Family Holiday in Corfu

Family Holidays, Greek Islands

When a family sits around and tries to decide on a nice family vacation, they want to go somewhere that has activities for the young and old. One place that caters to many people, and tourists, is Corfu in Greece. This sunny city has a beach and beautiful trees and land. It has been a family vacation spot for many years, and people from all over the world come here to spend some quality vacation time with their families. There are five star hotels and more affordable hotels for families on a budget. The great thing about Greece is how much family means to the people.

Weather and Timing

Greece is kid friendly, and the sunny skies and warm weather make the summer months the best time of year for a family to take a holiday. Usually this a time when tourists from all over the world come to visit, but the abundance of people make the experience even more fun. If, however, the family is looking for more quiet time, then May or October are months with less commotion. These months are also a little cooler than July or August.

Activities for the Whole Family

Kids can take strolls around the city and experience history at the archaeological museum. There are resorts that have many water sports and night life activities for adults. Motorboats can be rented out and used to visit the coves in Corfu. It is also possible to visit nearby islands because Corfu is close to the sea. Aqualand is a water park that has activities for everyone inside and outside the water. Water skiing, windsurfing, jet skiing, kayaking, parasailing, paragliding and scuba diving are some activities adults can participate in while on their vacation. Mount Pantokrator is a beautiful spot for family and friends to spend some fun time. There are tours that take people around Corfu to see the gorgeous scenery consisting of olive trees, orange trees, grape vines, wildflowers and cypress trees.

Hotel and Car Accommodation

Families can stay in one of many luxurious hotels in Corfu. However, if they are looking for something more private and just like home, they can rent a villa or beach side apartment. There are many accommodations for places to stay while on vacation. Transportation is another factor that needs to be thought out prior to arriving in Corfu. Making these arrangements ahead of time can save time and money. Car rentals or taxi numbers can help a family smooth out their vacation.

Why Corfu, Greece?

This tourist filled vacation spot attracts people for a reason. Many adults would like to take children with them on their vacation. Greece loves children and welcomes them to have fun, swim and learn about their beautiful country. The scenery is gorgeous and there are plenty of activities for people to take part in. There are private villas or apartments families can rent out to feel more at home on their vacation. It can make a family feel more at home.