Best time to visit Greece, is NOW!

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Travel at Greece in May 2015, just before the economic crisis

Travel at Greece in May 2015, just before the economic crisis

With alarm over a possible Grexit reaching near hysteria, there’s never been a better time to show solidarity with this beautiful, fascinating country. And the welcome will be warmer than ever, says Kevin Rushby There are some practical objections, however, to visiting during this particular crisis. I don’t want to carry so much cash. There’s money in the banks, but many operators are advising taking more cash. It might be necessary: time to dig out the old pre-ATM money belt? But many places, hotels included, are still accepting credit cards. Nothing will be open. Rational voices from within Greece say this is untrue. Food will be hard to find. Will the sardines not be in the sea? Social unrest could happen, I might get stuck. It can happen anywhere. It has happened in Mumbai, London, Paris, Bangkok, Istanbul…if you are scared of such events & fussy about food…better stay at home! Here are some images from our family holiday at Greece, just before the “crisis”. Itinerary & Travel tips at the end of the post.

Itinerary: Day1: Reach Dubai: 9W 816 IXE 1635 BLR 1725; EK 567 BLR 2045     DXB 2305 Day2: Dubai to Athens: EK 105 DXB 1005    ATH 1405, Stay at Fresh Hotel, Athens, Stroll in Plaka, Night out in Athens 1950hrs to midnight Day3: Delphi day tour 0750 (return to Athens by 2000hrs) Day4: Athens city tour (with Acropolis and Museum), Shopping at Plaka. 0750 PM Lycabettus- sunset Day5: Reach Santorini by flight. OA 6354 ATH 1015 JTR 1100, Stay at Andromeda Villas, Imerovigli, 84700 Santorini, Walk to Fira town, dinner at Fira Day6: Day Tour Santorini 0845: King Thira Tour with cruise (Volcano, Swim in hot springs, Thirassia island, Sunset at Oia) Day7: Car rental at Santorini & Island round trip (including the visit to Pyrgos, Kamari etc) Day8: Santorini: Walk in Oia, Evening at the Spa Day9: Santorini to Dubai: OA 6355 JTR 1140 ATH 1225EK 106 ATH   1300    DXB 2135 Day10: Dubai to Mangalore: EK 564 DXB 0330 BLR 0905, 9W 815 1505 IXE 1555 Tips for travel: Book Hotel, Ground transport & Packages on Prepaid basis, prior to leaving your country, Carry Euro currency for shopping and eating out. Credit cards & Cash cards should work in most restaurants. Stay tuned with news for latest updates, stay away from political protests. Travel plan: Alefiyah Motiwala (Zest Tours), Assistance during previous visit: Ms Barbara (Athens Express)

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Barcelona: Gaudi Magic at Sagrada Familia Basilica

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Nature versus Gaudi

Guilin, China

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Guilin (桂林; Guì lín) is a city in North Guangxi, China. It is a scenic town and one of the best-known tourist destinations in China. There are many scenic places within short traveling distance of Guilin. These include Longsheng with its famous Longji rice terraces; the Lijiang River, a scene of which is printed on the back of ¥20 bank notes; Yangshuo, a small county downstream from Guilin; Reed Flute cave and many other river formed cave formations…and much more. This makes Guilin an excellent base for exploring the northern end of Guangxi Province.

Guilin is a beautiful city. The town center is surrounded by two rivers and four lakes and studded with sheer sided karst mountains. Outside the city center, real village scene unfolds. The main industry in the city is tourism so the city is much cleaner than other Chinese cities.

Guilin itself is like most other medium size Chinese cities, other than that it has a large number of western-style hotels, tourists and is relatively free of air pollution. Many Chinese domestic tourists also flock to this area. What makes it special is its proximity to many picturesque limestone mountains and formations. What is disturbing is the construction of apartments in the outskirts of the city centre…

Reach by flight from Shanghai: 135 minsA simple three day itinerary can give an introduction to this stunning natural beauty! Day1: Explore Reed Flute Cave, walk around the lakes. Day2: Day cruise of Li River (fron Zhu Jiang Wharf 27 km from Guilin, drive of 40 min), Lunch on board, explore Yangshuo old town. Return to Guilin by evening. Explore elephant trunk hill, get the birds eye view of Guilin. Day3: Longji Rice terraces

Yang Shuo 20 RMB image Reed Flute Cave Reed flute cave Swan Lake Old town Ideal locale for photoshoot Guilin City Guilin city park Cruise braft Around the lake

Dead Sea: Float on water!

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FloatMap and sat image checkpost judaen desert coffee tent dinner food masada trek dead sea from masada harods palace ruins first view spa hotel mud bath sink hole cosmetics dead sea scroll

The Dead Sea, “Sea of Salt” is a salt water lake between the West Bank and Israel to the west, and Jordan to the east. Situated about 130 km from the historic city of Jerusalem, Dead sea is a “must visit” place for the tourist who visits either Israel or Jordan. Reasons are

  • Dead Sea is not a Sea…
  • At 420 metres (1,378 ft) below sea level its shores are the lowest point on the surface of the Earth that are on dry land.
  • With 30 percent salinity, it is 8.6 times saltier than the ocean. Anyone can easily float in the Dead Sea because of natural buoyancy.
  • Highway 90, runs along the Israeli and West Bank shores of the Dead Sea is the lowest highway in the world!
  • One of the earliest written documents (in Hebrew) of human life “dead sea scrolls” were found in caves at Qumran at the Dead Sea.

The Dead Sea is 67 kilometres long and 18 kilometres wide at its widest point. It is shared between Israel and Jordan. At 330 m deep (1,083 feet), the Dead Sea is the deepest hypersaline lake in the world. The Jordan River is the only major water source flowing into the Dead Sea. There are no outlet streams. Daily 7 million tons of water evaporate but the minerals remain, causing the salt content to increase. One of the most unusual properties of the Dead Sea is its discharge of asphalt. From deep seeps, the Dead Sea constantly spits up small pebbles of the black substance.

Healthy Water: It was one of the world’s first health resorts using water as a therapeautic agent (Sanus Per Aquam- SPA) , and it has been the supplier of a wide variety of products, from balms for Egyptian mummification to potash for fertilizers.The unique concentration of the Dead Sea waters has long been known to have medicinal value.  Aristotle, Queen of Sheba, King Solomon and Cleopatra were all familiar with this and modern doctors as well often prescribe patients with skin ailments to soak in the waters of the Dead Sea.

The Dead Sea area has become a major center for health research and treatment for several reasons. The mineral content of the waters, the very low content of pollens and other allergens in the atmosphere, the reduced ultraviolet component of solar radiation, and the higher atmospheric pressure at this great depth each have specific health effects.

Sufferers of the skin disorder psoriasis also benefit from the ability to sunbathe for long periods in the area due to its position below sea level and subsequent result that many of the sun’s harmful UV rays are reduced. Furthermore, Dead Sea salt has been found to be beneficial to psoriasis patients.

Dead sea water, black mud, salt have been attributed medicinal values.

Life at Dead sea: The sea is called “dead” because its high salinity means no macroscopic aquatic organisms such as fish or water plants can live in it, though minuscule quantities of bacteria and microbial fungi are present. Many animal species make their homes in the mountains surrounding the Dead Sea. A hiker can see camels, ibex (type of deer), hares, jackals, foxes. Hundreds of bird species inhabit the zone as well. Both Jordan and Israel have established nature reserves around the Dead Sea.

The Past: King Herod the Great built/re-built several fortresses and palaces on the Western Bank of the Dead Sea. The most famous was Masada, where, in 66-70 AD, a small group of rebellious Jewish zealots held out against the might of the Roman Legion. In Islam In Islamic tradition, the Dead Sea was about the land in which the Prophet Lut (Lot in the Hebrew scriptures) lived. His tribe had done wrong (act of homosexuality) and had therefore been given a punishment for such deeds. Thus, the lowest land on Earth was formed because of this punishment. The sinners were destroyed and the followers were saved. (an analogy to Paataal Lok?). According to some interpretation, the sura of ar-Rum of the Quran refers to the Dead Sea as the lowest place on earth. Bedouin tribes have continuously lived in this area, and have survived due to the presence of few oasis like En Gedi.

Industry: In the early part of the 20th century, the Dead Sea began to attract interest from chemists who deduced that the Sea was a natural deposit of potash and bromine. The Palestine Potash Company which supplied half of Britain’s potash during World War II, was nationalised and renamed as Dead Sea Works Ltd in 1952. From the Dead Sea saltwater, Israel produces tons potash, bromine, caustic soda, magnesium metal, and sodium chloride. The salt evaporation pans which have been created for these commercial ventures are visible from space.

Caution from nature: In recent decades, the Dead Sea has been rapidly shrinking because of diversion of incoming water. From an elevation of 395 m below sea level in 1970 it fell to 420 m below sea level in 2007, reaching a drop rate of 1m per year. The Dead Sea level drop has been followed by a groundwater level drop, causing saltwater that used to occupy underground layers near the shoreline to be flushed out by freshwater. This is believed to be the cause of the recent appearance of large sinkholes along the western shore – incoming freshwater dissolves salt layers, rapidly creating subsurface cavities that subsequently collapse to form these sinkholes.

One of the plans which were suggested as a means to stop the recession of the Dead Sea is to channel water from the Mediterranean or the Red Sea, either through tunnels or canals, to be officially known as the “Two Seas Canal”. The World Bank is supportive of the project. However, several environmental groups have raised concerns about possible negative impacts of the project on the natural environment of the Dead Sea.

Suggested 2 day sightseeing: The entire Dead Sea landscape is dotted with ruins of magnificent palaces, synagogues, monasteries and mosques. One can explore the traces of the Persians, Greeks, Romans, Christians, Muslims and Jews. Essentially one large nature reserve, it’s also a region where unique geological formations and a variety of animals, birds and plant life can be seen.

Day1: Jerusalem to Beduin camp near Masada:  Gives an opportunity to go through the “West Bank” and see the West Bank wall & check posts built by Israelis, to prevent illegal crossing. Visit the following on the way: Beit Hassofer Museum – Kibbutz Almog Audiovisual presentation featuring the history of Qumran. Qumran National Park Ancient caves and settlement on the northern shores of the Dead Sea where the famous Dead Sea Scrolls – the oldest biblical documents ever found (however the original scrolls are now kept in a museum at Jerusalem. Einot Zukim Nature Reserve Fresh water springs and pools, guided tours to the “Hidden Reserve”, picnic tables. Metzoke Dragot Center of desert tourism on the cliff, beautiful porch and coffee shop, provide extreme activities, Safari jeep tours and rappelling. Stay at Beduin tent camp at night: with local food, entertainment, belly dance, camp fire and sleep under a large tent in the chilling desert –unique experience!

Day2: Masada, Dead Sea:  Early morning trip to Masada which is also Israel’s second most popular tourist site after Jerusalem. This is accessed by a serpentine hiking path or a cable car ride. A mountain top fortress which King Herod transformed in 35 BC into a three tiered winter home, boasts two luxurious palaces, bathhouses, storage rooms and impressive water cisterns – now in ruins. An eternal symbol of Jewish history and heritage, it is the site of heroic defiance by a few Jewish zealots who took their own lives rather than surrender to the might of the Roman empire. Masada offers fabulous views of the Dead Sea and Judean Desert during sunrise. Also has Masada Sound and Light Show which runs for 40 minutes with fireworks. Return to the Beduin camp for bath and breakfast. Then visit Ein Bokek Site of most Dead Sea hotels. Features a few shops and restaurants. Go to the waterfront, change into bathing suit and float in the dead sea. Remember that one can not swim in this water, as the water irritates the eyes. Get photographed on the dead sea, floating! Also visit Ahava Visitors Center Ahava produces cosmetic and health products based on mud, minerals and salts found in the Dead Sea. On site are a presentation explaining the stages of production, a factory shop, a souvenir shop (to lighten your purse!) and a coffee bar. Upon return visit Ein Gedi – Desert Oasis and Kibbutz: An oasis situated in the heart of the Judean Desert. Within this oasis the establishment of Kibbutz  Ein Gedi and alongside its neighbour, the Nature Reserve, housing the desert fauna and the freshing, cool natural springs waters. One major product of this community is  Ein Gedi Mineral water, highest sold in Israel. It also has Ein Gedi Spa Hot mineral spring waters, natural water swimming pool, natural black therapeutic mud, Dead Sea and beach, massage treatment center, Ein Gedi Botanical Gardens More than 1000 species of flora, world wide. The combination of a growing population amongst the growing vegetation, Ein Gedi Nature Reserve Near the kibbutz. Visitors have access to the adjacent nature reserve for viewing bird sanctuaries and wildlife of desert, including the Nubian ibex(a deer). Return to Jerusalem for onward journey after a hectic two days of desert life, historic exploration and an unforgettable experience of floating on the Dead Sea!

Alternative: One can visit the Dead Sea on the Jordan side. Day trip from Amman/ Aqaba. Biblical sites of Bethany & Mount Nebo can be added in the itinerary.

Sigiriya Rock Fortress & the search for the “maidens in the clouds”

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Sigiriya is a proof of the rich civilization of SriLanka during the years of the reign of King Kassapa I (?Kashyapa). The site of the ‘Lion Mountain’ was visited from the 6th century AD, by passionate admirers. The frescoes of Sigiriya inaugurated a pictorial style which endured over many centuries. The poems inscribed on the rock by certain of these admirers, and known as the ‘Sigiri graffiti,’ are among the most ancient texts in the Sinhalese language, though now overlapped with modern graffiti by tourists.

In the heart of SriLanka, Sigiriya, a lofty rock dominating the otherwise green rain forest. At a height of 150 m, the neighbouring plateau, has been inhabited since the 3rd century BC, as attested by the graffiti which proliferate in the grottoes and the shelters of the Buddhist monks. The fame of the ‘Lion Mountain’ is, however, due to one single factor: during a short period in the 5th century AD, a sovereign established his capital there. King Kassapa I (477-95), son of Dhatusena, only came to power after he had engineered the assassination of his father and had, briefly, dispossessed his brother.

Fearing the vengeance of the latter, Kassapa had a fortified palace built on the rock of Sigiriya which was reputed to be impregnable. However, it was there that he was defeated after a short but cruel battle in 495, following which he cut his throat. After the death of Kassapa, Moggallana returned the site of Sigiriya to the monks, thus condemning it to progressive abandonment. During the eleven years that Kassapa resided in Sigiriya, he created a residence of exceptional splendour and founded his capital there, impressive vestiges of which are still exist.

At the summit of the rock is the fortified palace with its ruined buildings, its cisterns and its rock sculptures. At the foot of the rock are the two quarters of the lower city which are defended by a massive wall: the eastern quarter (5th century), which has not been sufficiently excavated, and the aristocratic quarter of the capital of Kassapa I, noteworthy for its terraced gardens embellished by canals and fountains, as well as for numerous monumental remains which have been disengaged from the forest which had invaded the ruins.

Halfway up the rock, within an inaccessible rocky shelter in the vertical wall of the western face are rock paintings which have brought universal acclaim to the site of Sigiriya – ‘The Maidens of the Clouds’, 21 non-identified female figures, comparable to the most beautiful creations of Ajanta. Thanks to the British, the rock paintings can be seen from close range, with a viewing platform.

Tips for an enjoyable Sigiriya Experience:

Plan: Reach Sigiriya by Road from Colombo (4-5 hours due to bad roads). En route stop at Dambulla (16km proximal to Sigiriya), explore cave temples (90minutes), Reach Sigiriya by check in time, relax in the pool after a lunch. Trek the rock in the late afternoon, return for a shower, massage at the spa (well earned after a trek), head for the extensive buffet dinner…

Where to stay: Sigiriya Village Resort (4*) a 32 year old well maintained eco resort, has pool with a view of the rock, dinner with live classical music, great local cuisine. (Alternative: Heritage Kandalama Dambulla, in an interesting Eco- Hotel designed by the famous SriLankan architect Bawa.)

Trek instructions: It involves a medium grade trek, walk on platforms anchored to the rock. If you are a photographer, choose an afternoon for the trek, to catch the golden hour of the evening. Light clothing, water/ isotonic drink, backpack, for hands free climb. There are no shops/ vendors en route. However upon descent, there are couple shops selling cold drinks and souvenirs. Carry your passport for entry ticketing. It makes sense to hire a certified guide.

Beware: of hawkers selling “ebony” carvings.

Travel planning & Bookings: Mr Tomton, Swastika Tours & Travels, Mangalore/ Fortune Lanka (an ideal introductory  package would be a 5 night package of Srilanka: Colombo-Kandy-Nuwara Eliya-Sigiriya).

Sigiriya was explored by me in 2010.

Laboe, Germany: seagulls and submarines

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Nostalgic, natural beauty, beach tourism, sea food restaurants, retirement heaven…all at Laboe!

Laboe is a municipality in the district of Plön, in Schleswig-Holstein, Germany. It is situated on the Baltic Sea coast, approximately 10 km northeast of Kiel. You can reach Laboe by ferry service from Kiel. Beach front has well laid walking, cycling and motor paths, with beach huts scattered all over. Apart from being a fishing port, Laboe has a beautiful Marina. Major landmark here are 1. Memorial for  World Wars: 72-metre high tower designed by architect Gustav August Munzer, who stated that the form was not meant to represent anything specific but was to inspire positive feelings in those who look at it. It is frequently associated with the stem of a viking ship or the conning tower of a submarine. The inside of the tower is absolutely empty – it’s quite bizarre. But it is worth to go up, because from the top You can see an excellent view to the Baltic See. You can see for kilometres and, in good weather, even as far as Denmark. The monument is composed in various parts: The tower, with a superb view of the surroundings from the observation deck; The base, with the numbers of losses in both wars; The underground chamber, a kind of sanctuary, with flags from various countries; The museum, with navigation related items. 2. WWII-era German submarine U-995, which houses a technical museum, both sit near the foot of the monument. U-995 is the world’s only remaining Type VII U-boat. Being one of the few submarine that survived the conflict, it’s very interesting to visit.It’s very impressive the technology they had then, and to think that men lived in those tight corridors for days…It’s fascinating… (common ticket available at the ticketing counter at the base of the tower. Tower closes at 1800 hrs).

If you ever visit Kiel in Northern Part of Germany, it is worthwhile visiting Laboe!

Rio!

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City of contrasts, Favelas (slums with fancy names) next to dense rain forest, tranquil Bossa Nova to heady Samba beats, friendly hangover waves on the beaches, but noisy beach restaurants…and much more!

Rio is the capital city of the State of Rio de Janeiro, the second largest city of Brazil, and the third largest metropolitan area and agglomeration in South America. Rio de Janeiro is the most visited city in southern hemisphere and is known for its natural settings, carnival celebrations, samba, Bossa Nova, and balneario beaches such as Barra da Tijuca, Copacabana, Ipanema, and Leblon.

Landmarks in addition to the beaches include the giant statue of Christ the Redeemer = Cristo Redentor atop Corcovado mountain, named one of the New Seven Wonders of the World; Sugarloaf mountain  = Pão de Açúcar with its cable car; the Sambódromo, a permanent grandstand-lined parade avenue which is used during Carnival; and Maracanã Stadium, one of the world’s largest football stadiums.

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