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Sunday, May 31, 2015

Long haul flying made easy

The world’s most glittering destinations tend to be just that little bit further away. This can be a pain in terms of the amount of time you have to spend flying, but think of the end result!
Long haul flying can be made easier if you follow a little advice.

Pre-planning

Making sure you’re well rested before you leave the house is the best way to start your travel adventure, and for this I would always stay in an airport hotel the night before departure. This cuts out the need to get up super early to get to the airport, and it means your holiday starts a night earlier, which is always a bonus. AirportHotels.com offer fantastic rates on nationwide hotels, and I recently found a real bargain for one of the Manchester Airport hotels, so certainly check this idea out.

Distraction

Keeping yourself occupied will help time pass faster, so before you go, download some books, films, games, and apps, and make sure your tablet battery is seriously charged up. Remember your headphones, and you’re good to go.

Grab some snacks

Airline food on long haul flights is quite good these days, however I don’t think you can beat grabbing yourself a few of your favourite sweets and snacks in the airport and taking them with you. A few home comforts will cheer you up when you start to hit the half-way boredom wall.

Be comfortable

I always take some warm socks, a cardigan, and a neck pillow with me, because then I can make myself comfortable. I have known people also take pyjama bottoms and get changed prior to getting on the flight! If this is a little too far for you, travel in something you are comfortable sitting in for long periods of time, and in which you can move freely. I don’t like traveling in jeans for this reason, so I always stick with leggings.

Remember to freshen up

When landing is imminent, I like to freshen myself up, so I don’t feel terrible when I get off the plane. Wet wipes, hand cream, a light make up session, these are all things I do before I get off the plane, helping me feel more awake for the next part of the journey.

Focus!

At some point during the flight you are going to get a little fidgety and bored, so get up and have a wander down the cabin, have a chat with your friends, change up your routine a little so you can pass your boredom phase quicker. Remain focused on what is to come when you land, and you’ll find your time on-board passes easier.

About the Author: Jenny is a travel writer from UK who has traveled all over Europe. While traveling, she loves to indulge in food and art.

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Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Travel Video: Rimba Tubes Music from Santa Monica

California is full of street artists and some of them are so good they can’t do much but stop and appreciate their skills. Be it awesome dance or mind blowing music, it has it all. Some days back, I was at Santa Monica and was exploring the 3rd street Promenade, a beautiful walking street a couple of blocks away from the open ocean. I was walking through this street when I came across this street musician who was playing some unbelievably good music.

Rimba Tubes Street Musician at 3rd street Promenade, Santa Monica

This music was so different from anything I had ever heard in my life and when I saw the musical instrument, I was totally captivated for this was an instrument was made from PVC pipes. Snubby J, the street musician calls his creation ‘Rimba Tubes’. It is a homemade instrument that he made after being inspired by the Blue Man Group.



This musical instrument, which is a maze of PVC pipes makes such a cool hollow sound that I was entranced for the entire duration of his performance. I have never heard such kind of music before. Have you?

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Life Lessons that Travel Taught Me

And then, in the blink of an eye, the vacation is over and you are back to where you started. The first couple of weeks is when you are deeply philosophical, playing the vacation like a recorded video in your mind, smiling at the memories that you will more likely than not, relish for the rest of your life. All the missed trains, lost bags and muddled bookings will now become amusing (and fond) anecdotes that you will tell whoever makes the mistake of asking you about your vacation!

Lessons learnt from travel

As I go through this phase right now, I also reflect on all the lessons that travelling has taught, and some of them the hard way :)

1. The journey is more beautiful than the destination:

As clichéd as it may sound, the journey is often more beautiful than the destination. We often traveled at night, just so that we could spend the entire day on something more fruitful, like exploring local cuisine or searching for that hidden treasure that no guide book speaks about. Our perspective changed, when we took the picturesque drive from Shimla to Manali along the river Beas, stopping every now and then, to admire the stunning landscape. The pristine blue river separating the road from the mountains and the snowy peaks that looked so within reach was our awakening.

2. We make wrong choices, but what’s wrong with that?


Well, taking a non-Malayalam speaking driver to Kerala heartland is faux pas. But then you have to make this mistake to learn. And rest assured you will find a way out of this minor inconvenience, either calling your malayali friend to translate over phone or serendipitously finding a local who speaks your language. We make wrong choices, more often than we want to, but will we dwell on those wrong choices or find our joys, is a choice we make!

3. The world is full of friendly and interesting people:


Whether it was the young student from Scotland who decided to take up an online certification from India, the auto driver who turned out to be our guide for the 3 days we spent in Jaipur or the security guard who went out of his way to overcome the language barrier and tell you about this wonderful place that you should not miss, the world is full of friendly and interesting people who you will hardly notice on your home ground.

4. Patience is a virtue:


How many times have you assumed that a distance of 200 kms translates to 4 hours of travel time and fretted because of the extra hour that you had to spend on the road only to be rewarded with a beautiful orange sunset over the desert horizon?

To be frank, it has happened to us more times than we care to count. As countless photographers swear, patience is a photographer's best friend; We have learnt that it is a traveler’s best friend too!

5. A dark cloud with a silver lining is a real thing, not a myth:


All dark clouds have silver linings. When we did not spot a tiger in Ranthambore, we did witness the rare sight of a spotted deer chewing on the calcium rich discarded antler of a Sambar deer, not to mention the thrill of a close encounter with a nilgai!

When we did not find the elusive sunset at Azhikkal ferry (that boasted of a km long granite walkway, at the end of which you are surrounded by the sea), we ended up finding a hinterland ferry that ferried locals from one island village to another. And spending a whole hour island hopping, talking to locals and watching the sunset from the ferry was just as blissful and exciting!

6. Always have a story to tell:


A missed/misplaced bag might seem an un-surmountable problem when you realise it 100 kms later, but once you have scaled impossible odds to retrieve it, it is an amusing tale that you will never tire of sharing with anyone who is willing to listen. Whether it was about how we outsmarted the unreasonable cab driver in Kochi or how we made a smart move that saved a couple of thousands on that hotel room, you always have a story to tell.

This is a guest post by Pradeep Roonwal, a constant dreamer, passionate traveler, avid reader, inconsistent writer, movie freak, yoga student and lastly an IT guy! When you don't find him preparing project plans or planning his next travels, you will probably find him deeply engrossed in a book, blissfully unaware of all the chaos around. His idea of a perfect getaway - A beach home with an exhaustive library and a bicycle.

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San Antonio: Home to Festive Riverside Texan Culture

When we think of Texas, we think of the Lone Star, it being oil rich, longhorns, cowboys, cowgirls, guns, motorcycles, choppers and wide open spaces. And with this thinking I was in for a serious surprise when I arrived at San Antonio in Central Texas.  This city has so much character. It has a big heart. The people are nice. And it has great whiskey bars. And it also has the Texan charm. In simple terms, it is my kind of city.

T shirt souvenirs at San Antonio, Texas 

Once my train landed here, I was all excited to explore this city. Through the maps, I found out that the city was of petite size and hence decided to explore it by foot.

The Alamo - one of San Antonio's iconic landmarks

Started off with the visitor center to get my bearings right and to get a street level map so that I could afford to get lost. My first stop was the San Antonio river walk, which is like the heart of the city and where all the action is.

Colorful San Antonio Riverwalk Atmosphere

I took a 30 minute boat cruise to give me a good idea of the river, the city’s history, its founding people, its character, its top sights and much more.

Tourist attractions and bold Attitude of Texas

It was during this boat ride that I found out that in its past, this city of San Antonio used to be affected by a lot of floods, but with a lot of local help and some good architectural planning, it got itself a flood system that prevented it from flooding and a riverside atmosphere that makes this city really special.

Beautiful bridges on the SanAntonio river canals
Most of the city weaves its way in and out of these various canals and flood channels. The nature around these water channels adorns itself with night herons, pigeons and ducks on 300 year old trees. Amidst all this nature lies the Alamo, one of San Antonio’s iconic landmarks, a Baroque German and a Catholic Church, the Tower of the Americas, the Commerce and other city administration buildings, sensational bridges, modern looking hotels, great restaurants and bars.



San Antonio Riverwalk
Boats give people a quick tour of the city from the river, the river walk sees brisk action, the restaurants dish out great local food, the local artists share their art and craft with the people and then there are also so many avenues to shop from.

Vibrant San Antonio Riverwalk
For entertainment, one can try Ripley’s believe it or not, the Wax museum, the Mirror Mania, the San Antonio Open Tour Bus or simply watch the world go by from a restaurant. The whole town wears a festive look almost everywhere by the riverside and even at the street levels. There is live music almost at every street corner.

A colourful salad and Sangria at San Antonio for Lunch

Food, Music and Drinking are like the main focus points of this lively, yet laid back city. A colourful drink and nice hot meal overseeing all this action in this vibrant atmosphere is perfect for a relaxed holiday. And this is precisely what I indulged in when I was in the city. I had a colorful lunch by the riverside and with great live music.

Guitarone played by street musician at San Antonio

If you wish for more, there are taverns and breweries where one can try out the local beers and whiskeys. San Antonio is home to some fantastic bars and if you are a bourbon or rye whiskey fan, this place can offer you some serious value for money.

Bourbon at the Esquire Tavern, San Antonio

I got a taste of this when I tried out some local bourbon whiskey at the Esquire Tavern, the oldest bar on the San Antonio river walk and one that has the longest table in the whole of Texas. It is quite an experience to drink great whiskey in a classic looking bar.

Boat Cruise on the San Antonio River

Whatever you end up doing in this city – exploring like a typical tourist, indulging in its food and beverages, participating in its music and dance or simply visiting its key landmarks, San Antonio is one city that you will fall in love with. It certainly has all the ingredients of a relaxed holiday destination and I hope to return to it some day soon as 12 hours doesn’t do justice to this city at all. San Antonio….I hope to see you again!

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Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Hints and Tips for Traveling the Holy Land

If you have booked yourself on a trip to the Holy Land, for instance through the Journey Through the Holy Land – Faith-Based Travel with Globus Tours, then it is important that you know how to get the most out of your journey. This means understanding a bit more about the local customs of where you will be going, and what you can expect. Hopefully, the following information will be of assistance to you. On any journey through the Holy Land, you will have an opportunity to be in five different countries, being Israel, Palestine, Egypt, Jordan and Syria. Each of these countries has a number of particularities.

Business Hours


· In Israel, opening hours will be dictated by the faith of the shop owner. Jewish stores will be closed for the Sabbath, Muslim stores close on Friday, Christian stores close on Sunday.

· In Egypt, some shops will be closed on Saturday and Sunday, whereas others close on Thursday and Friday.

· In Jordan, most businesses are closed on Friday and Saturday.

· In Syria, the majority of businesses close on Friday. Banks close on both Friday and Saturday. Christian stores are usually closed on Saturday and Sunday.

Communication


In most countries that make up the Holy Land, mobile communication is very good and you should be able to use your cell phone. It is unlikely that you will be able to travel to Syria under the current conditions, and Palestine might be more difficult to reach as well. In both areas, mobile telephone networks are much weaker than elsewhere.

Documentation


Because many of the countries in the Holy Land continue to be at war or under significant political tension, a lot of documentation is generally required to travel through them. You must make sure, therefore, that you have a passport that will not run out within the next six months. You will usually not require a visa to go to Israel, but if you receive a stamp from Israel, it is unlikely that you will be granted access to the West Bank. For Egypt, you can purchase a visa on arrival, which is also the case in Jordan. Your tour operator may be able to arrange this for you. At present, it is virtually impossible to obtain a visa for Syria.

Etiquette


A number of important traditions and cultural beliefs must be upheld when traveling the Holy Land. These include:

· Never accept any type of gift, food or drink with your left hand. This is simply not done and Muslims in particular consider the left hand as unclean, as it is used for bodily hygiene.

· Do not have any public displays of affection with someone of the opposite sex, even if you are married.

· Never show the sole of your foot and make sure that your shoes do not touch things. You are likely to have to take your shoe off in many locations as well.

· You should never decline any offer of hospitality. It is classed as incredibly rude to do so.

· Do not express an opinion on the political tensions.

· Do not eat or drink anything in Muslim hours during the hours of sunrise and sunset when it is Ramadan.

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Sunday, May 24, 2015

A Train as a Home for the Next 10 Days!!

I find train journeys romantic. Landscapes passing by, the feeling of being on the move, meeting interesting people, creating new memories and discovering the world from a whole different dimension is something that I absolutely love. It is such a strong adrenaline rush that I wake up before the sun rises and am so energized that I surprise myself.

My work space on the dome car with a 180 degree view

I am on one such train journey. I am sitting in the dining car of a vintage 1950 coach as I am typing this article out. In between my writing, I look out and soak in the sights of the desert landscape and mountains of the state of Arizona. Sometimes, I even get lucky and spot some coyotes.

Enjoying the Millennial Train Journey
It has been love at first sight since I stepped foot onto this train. We are 3 train cars attached to the Amtrak train service and are headed to Washington D.C from Los Angeles. All 3 cars are vintage cars from the 1950s that are owned and maintained by passionate train lovers. These train cars go by the names of Salisbury Beach, Pacific Sands and the Silver Splendor.

My train bedroom for the next 10 days

My home for the next 10 days is a private 2 bed bunker bedroom in the Salisbury Beach car. It has super comfy beds, lots of space and an attached bathroom and sink. I have been on innumerable train journeys before, but I have never slept on a train bed that is more comfortable than this one. And when I woke up this morning, I got treated to a gorgeous sunrise over the shrub desert somewhere in Nevada or New Mexico. These train cars have so much history that I can’t wait to learn more about them.

Enjoying the train ride
And giving me company on this train are such an interesting bunch of people, each with their own stories and dreams. All of us in our own sweet way are looking to change the world for the good. I have been connecting with some of them and am loving their philanthropic vision. Each one of them are looking to make the world a better place. As I talk to more of these lovely people, I will share their stories here on the blog so that you can also appreciate their vision as much as I do.

Breakfast in the dome car of the train

And Tyson Foods have been stuffing us with their delicious food. I am looking forward to staying full and happy with their food creations for the next 10 days.

Millennial Train Project looking to build leaders of tomorrow

We call ourselves the Millennial Train. It is the brainchild of Patrick Dowd who was invited by the rail journeys in India while he was there on a project. This is the 3rd Millennial Train ride across the United States and right now we are somewhere in Arizona and headed towards San Antonio in Texas. Our final destination is Washington DC.

If you wish to follow our journey closely, you can look up the hashtags #MTPTrain, #RoadTripUSA and #DiscoverAmerica on Facebook, Twitter and/or Instagram. You can also follow any of my social channels or keep checking the blog for updates. More stories, pictures and update to come…

Trip Courtesy: Discover America, the tourism board of the United States of America.

Trip Hashtags: #DiscoverAmerica #RoadTripUSA

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Friday, May 22, 2015

10 Reasons to Love Beautiful Budapest

Budapest is 2 cities in 1. While most places you go have a defined sense of their central location, Budapest has two. On one side of the Danube river there is Pest - busy and bustling, with many streets that easily match Paris for the sheer style and grandeur of their architecture. And over the bridge there is Pest, which has hills, greenery, and such a profusion of old buildings that it almost feels like a film set.

A city for all ages.
There's no denying that Budapest is a hip and groovy place. It's laid back, buzzy and cultural. But while here are many areas that could be a match for Shoreditch in terms of the hipster count, the city is so big that no matter your age or your cultural tastes, you'll find places that suit you down to the ground. Whether it's the tranquil, classical parts of Buda or the crazy and fun nightclubs of Pest, you'll find your groove here very quickly indeed.

High quality at low prices.
If you're travelling from the UK or Scandinavia you may be in for a shock when when you visit Budapest. But it is a pleasant one indeed - this city, while offering all the delights a major European capital offers - is very inexpensive. Top notch restaurant food is often around half the price (or even less) than in London, while many bars stock a great range of beers and other drinks at much lower prices than you'd expect. Every day out feels like a succession of bargains. However, while things are cheap they are mostly great quality. The fruit, vegetables, meat and dairy on sale in supermarkets is generally of superior quality - so if you're self-catering there's no need to skimp at mealtimes.

Superbly located. Being right in the centre of Europe means that Budapest is easy to get to. Whether you're travelling from London (approx 2.5 hours), Moscow (same) or Tel Aviv (3 hrs 15 min), the flight time isn't a major chunk of your day. This centrality also adds to the buzz of Budapest - being easy to get to means it has a diverse and dynamic tourist population, and on many streets you will see cars from neighbouring countries such as Ukraine, Slovakia, Serbia, Romania, Austria and Croatia.

History. And LOTS of it! Hungary doesn't just have an interesting story to tell from times far past - its 20th Century story is as compelling as just about anywhere else on earth. Observant tourists will even spot the occasional Trabant rolling along the street. It seems that there are little parts of history that are still in the present.

Nightlife.
A lot of kudos is heaped on Budapest for its so-called 'ruin pubs'. And rightly so. They're unlike any other pubs in Europe. Essentially lots of buildings that would otherwise be derelict have been turned into vibrant and fun places to go for a drink, meet with friends and listen to music. In many cases there's been no attempt to refurbish -with exposed brickwork covered in graffiti, flaking paint, no sign on the door. Interestingly, this makes these places all the more fun - they provide an environment that's all about the people and the fun, rather than bowing down before the gods of trendy interior design.

Public Transport.
For such a big city, Budapest is very easy to navigate thanks to its extensive tram and metro networks. And if you're really stuck, there's always the bus.

Weather.
Being in the middle of a giant land mass has its advantages in spring and autumn - without the cooling influence of surrounding seas, Budapest can be pleasantly sweltering in what feels like high summer heat in months where more northerly capital cities are experiencing the odd snowfall.

Accommodation.
Whether you want your stay to be five star luxury or something a little less fancy, you'll find what you want here. There are some really reasonably priced apartments on airbnb if you want to experience city life in spacious tenement rooms, plus there are some great hostels for backpackers from all over, as well as your Grand Budapest Hotel style establishments.

People.
If you're from one of the more effusive parts of the world, Budapest may seem a little reserved at first. But if you attempt (however badly) to speak Hungarian, people respond very positively. Sure, Budapest is laid back- but there's just the right amount of European decorum going on too.

When to go: All year round. But be aware that the winter can be bone-bitingly cold!

Health: if you're an EU citizen, your EHIC should cover emergency basics (although they won't necessarily be free). Travel cover is advised. For longer stays (e.g. working holidays) then international cover is recommended - more on what's covered here.

Currency. If you use ATMs in Hungary you may not get the best exchange rate. There are plenty of reputable currency exchange outlets in the centre of Budapest. But as with anywhere, be very discrete with your cash and make sure you keep it secure.

Staying safe: Read up on scams and areas to avoid. Being sensible (as you would in any big city) is a must. See this guide for Hungary travel advice.

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Thursday, May 21, 2015

Drinking Coffee the Parisian way

Every city has their interesting set of culture and traditions. When I was in Paris recently, I discovered their unique culture of drinking coffee. Now, you might wonder what is so curious about the way the Parisians drink coffee. Well, the answer lies in its many cafes. If you look closely at these cafes, you will notice that all their chairs outside face the street and not inside or around the table. 

The Parisian Way of drinking Coffee

This is the layout that the Parisians prefer as they can enjoy the sun (if it is not a grey day), look at the people passing by and enjoy their morning or afternoon coffee with their favorite croissant and/or cakes. Well, if you are drinking an espresso, cappuccino or a coffee alonge, you should try it the Parisian way. And it will definitely help if you are  street photographer. Even if you are not, it is a great way to feel the strong vibe of the city of light.

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Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Mexican Delight at Los Angeles

Los Angeles has a deep Mexican connection. In fact, it is one of those American cities where you tend to hear more Spanish than English. It is also one of the official languages of the city. And as a visitor to this city, it becomes a no-brainer when it comes to understanding this Mexican connection. For me, my understanding of the local connection begins with food. That is the best way for me to enjoy their culture, history and traditions. And that is precisely what I did today at Los Angeles.

Margarita, Tortilla Chips and Salsa

After exploring Hollywood and its myriad of attractions and Universal Studios, I arrived at Olivera street, an ancient street in downtown LA, which is where this city really took form. When I reached this street, I was a bit jaded from all my walking and exploring and hence I needed no second invitation when I saw a very popular and inviting Mexican restaurant here.

Fresh guacamole salad at a restaurant in Los Angeles

Pretty soon, I found myself with a nice cold glass of classic margarita and some tortilla chips with fresh salsa. After a couple of sips of the margarita and some snacking of the sumptuous tortilla chips, I ordered myself a guacamole salad and was pleasantly surprised when they brought the ingredients (avocado, chillies, tomato, onion, salt pepper, line, cilantro) to my table and started making the salad right in front of me.



The end result was a lip smacking salad, but the fact that they came and made the salad in front of me made for an enriching experience. And it was a great Mexican delight to celebrate my first day in Los Angeles and a great way to reward myself for all the walking I did in the Hollywood district.

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Monday, May 18, 2015

6 Places Active Seniors Love to Travel

Due to the vast improvement to geriatric care during the past few decades, most seniors of retirement age enjoy incredibly active lifestyles. In fact, most research indicates that the more socially and physically engaged you are as you age, the longer you live.

However, even if the facts didn’t point to activity level as an indicator of later-age health, just because you are over 65 doesn’t mean you want to sit in your robe and slippers all day watching the shopping network. Now that you have the time and resources, you should absolutely explore the world and all its glory. Here are the six places seniors like you most often visit during their retirement years.

1. Florida
Holidays for Active SeniorsFlorida is convenient and comfortable, but this much-visited state likely still has some hidden secrets you have yet to explore. Instead of heading directly for your favorite beaches in Miami or Key West, you might want to visit the Everglades, which are drying up fast due to human encroachment. While in the area, you can also poke around the Kennedy Space Center, where the famous shuttle launches you watched decades ago took place. Then, you can settle down for some rest and relaxation in the Florida sun.

2. Arizona
Quickly growing in population due to the myriad benefits of its arid climate, Arizona is also rapidly becoming a top winter getaway for all sorts of travelers. This Southwest state offers plenty of thrilling outdoor escapades; the Grand Canyon is an outstanding spot for hiking, camping, and even white-water rafting, while Sedona is a healthful city with incredible scenery and powerful spirituality. As you explore, you may also encounter a few of Arizona’s famous ghost towns, which Wild West settlers abandoned long ago when the wells ran dry and the heat set in. If nothing else, you can always lounge by a pool in Phoenix any time of year.

3. New Mexico
If you live in a region plagued by rain and snow, perhaps no destination sounds more desirable than sunny Santa Fe, New Mexico. Praised for its age-old art scene — ignited by none other than Georgia O’Keefe — Santa Fe is a hotspot of arts and culture. Additionally, the city remains a shelter for countless Native American sites and relics. New Mexico has other amazing sights besides its sun-drenched capital. Carlsbad Caverns are some of the most extensive caves in North America, and the White Sands Natural Monument is a barren sandscape that is chillingly beautiful.

4. Niagara Falls
Niagara Falls
For centuries, Niagara Falls has captivated the minds (and hearts) of travelers around the world, so it is high time you pack your bags and journey to see this world wonder. While the Falls no longer boast the title of the tallest in the world, Niagara Falls continues to hold the title for largest waterfall; more than 6 million cubic feet of water crash down every minute. Plus, the city around the falls has expanded to offer visitors all sorts of luxurious amenities, including world-class dining and theater.

5. Hawaii
More likely than not, you have already visited Hawaii at least once — but that doesn’t mean you’ve seen it all. Each island in Hawaii’s chain has distinct culture and scenery, which means you must crawl all over the tropical paradise to truly understand the island lifestyle.

Kauai.
Often touted as the lover’s island, Kauai offers stunning natural beauty ideal for romantic outdoor adventures.

Oahu.
Home to the capital and most of the state’s population, Oahu is Hawaii’s cultural hub, where arts and entertainment flourish. Lanai. Nearly bereft of locals — and many modern amenities — Lanai is a true island getaway.

Maui.
Known for its gorgeous and extensive beaches, Maui is the most laid back island in the chain.

Hawaii. Bigger in land area than the other islands combined, Hawaii is excellent for exploration of tropical biodiversity.

6. Alaska
To many, Alaska is as distant from reality as it gets, which makes the state a fascinating and fantastic destination for travel. Plenty of luxury cruise liners journey up the Pacific coast to show travelers the majesty of Alaska, from the salmon-rich fishing towns to the massive, glimmering glaciers, which makes a vacation to the frozen north easy and enjoyable. However, you can also see Alaska by driving the Alaska Road, a legendary highway that takes travelers through some of North America’s most deserted (and beautiful) country.

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Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Train Journey through the United States of America

I am going on a train journey through the breadth of the United States of America. Yup! You heard me right! Next week, I will be on a train journey from Los Angeles to Washington DC and then onto New York.

Train journey through the breadth of the United States of America

The time has come for me to jump continents. After a lovely couple of summer weeks in Europe, I will be soon heading to North America after a gap of 7 years. I have invited by the Brand USA and Discover America team to travel as an international travel blogger and influencer with the Millennial Train Project, a mobile community  that fosters forward thinking and enables learning opportunities.

People who are part of the Millennial Train Project

This journey will take me from Los Angeles to New York via Austin, San Antonio, New Orleans, Atlanta and Washington DC. During this 3 week long journey, I will be rubbing shoulders with an interesting group of deeply passionate people and discovering the charms of America.

This is the first time, I am being a part of a crowd funded effort and definitely the first time, I will be going on a crowd funded train journey. I am so excited about this journey that I am at a loss of words. Can’t wait to hear those new ideas and definitely can’t wait to discover parts of America that I have never been to.

If you are either interested in my journey through the USA or interested in the new ideas that are being discussed on the train journey, you might want to follow me here on my blog or through my various social channels. I will be bringing you a daily update from the train journey.

More on this once I set foot on the US soil!!

Trip Courtesy: Discover America, the tourism board of the United States of America.

Trip Hashtags: #DiscoverAmerica #RoadTripUSA

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Behind the Magic of Kenyan Coffee

Coffee has been produced in Kenya since its introduction in 1893 on British-based farms. In 1933, the country established the Coffee Act, and in turn the Coffee Board of Kenya and Kenyan auction system, which helped to ensure regulation. The Mau Mau uprisings in the country placed the control of nearly all coffee production in the country in the hands of the Kenyans.

How does it grow?
Most Kenyan coffee is produced on small farms between Mount Kenya and Nairobi, as well as close to the Ugandan border on the western side of the country. The area has a particularly good climate for cultivating Arabica coffee, thanks to a warm climate, nutrient rich soils and high altitudes of between 3000 to 6000 feet. It takes around three to four years before a coffee tree will begin to produce a usable crop.

How to ensure quality?
Ripe Coffee Beans
Kenyan coffee’s quality is measured after milling, the process of removing the remaining fruit from the bean. A grade is given to the crop, dependent on bean size, shape and weight amongst other factors. In other countries and on the international market, bean density, region, species and cup quality are all contributing factors to the grading system. The top grade AA Kenyan coffee is considered to be one of the best worldwide.

How is it well-known?
Kenyan coffee is well known and loved around the globe for several reasons. The sweetness, full body and flavour offer a balanced finish in terms of acidity. The quality of Kenyan coffee also comes down to the production process. Many people believe that the best millers are based in Kenya, and the farmers are experts at ensuring the freshness of their crop.

How to make the perfect coffee?
The first part of the process is to start with whole beans and freshly grind them. Coffee grinders are handy for this, which you can purchase from Tesco. If possible use bottle or filtered water to ensure cup quality, which can be tainted by chemicals in treated water. Aim to use one to two tablespoons of ground coffee per every six ounces of water. You’ll want to brew you coffee at around the 200 degrees Fahrenheit mark. If you’re using a dip system, brew your coffee in water for no longer than five minutes (for a cafetiere, three minutes) and when you’re making an espresso around 30 seconds.

Kenyan coffee is drunk and transported around the world. There are many regions to discover, but why not start with the best and give a cup of Kenyan coffee a whirl! Understanding the process behind your cup of Joe should help you to appreciate it that little bit more, whether just chatting with your friends over a casual coffee or taking it easy with a good novel.

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Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Explore or chill out? The choice is yours!

Sometimes you don’t want to spend time solely on the beach when you’re away on holiday, in fact maybe you’re not a fan of beaches, and instead you’d prefer to get out and see the scenery or explore the culture of the destination you’re basing yourself in, rather than baking your skin or enjoying water-sports. This is a personal choice, but no matter how you choose to spend your holiday, you won’t struggle for activities to keep you busy, no matter where in the world you visit.

If you’re wanting a holiday full of exploration then obviously this is going to cost a little more than simply relaxing on the beach would, so it’s important to cut costs wherever possible. I find driving myself to the airport and booking airport parking is a good way to cut out the expense of public transport, and to this aim I regularly use Stansted Airport parking, always finding a great deal, and cutting out the stress of public transport at the same time. It’s basically a much more leisurely way to get to the airport door, and when it comes to holidays, I like to cut out the stress!

A city break could be the ideal choice if you really want to explore the culture and history of a place, rather than the leisure activities. Of course, you could combine the two and choose a destination that is very close to a beach resort, perhaps Majorca, with plenty of popular touristic resorts on the island, but close proximity to the city of Palma, where you can easily get your fill of culture and history.

Of course you could be more about nature, in which case maybe a walking holiday could be your ideal choice, or even rainforest trekking somewhere a little more exotic. You don’t have to spend hours on a beach to enjoy a holiday, it really is about tailor-making the experience to suit you, your interests, and your needs. Having the best of both worlds is a great idea if you are traveling with a family, because most children love a bit of beach time, so having close proximity to both is the best idea.

However you choose to spend your time on holiday, you do have infinite choice, and you don’t have to follow the pattern of the norm if that doesn’t suit your tastes. Do a little research online before you jet off to arm you with all the knowledge you need of your destination’s activity roster, and you’re good to go.

About the Author: Lucy West is a 27 year old creative writer. She loves words and the power they can have. She thrives on knowing her work is being read and enjoyed. After working for years in a job she didn't enjoy, she decided to travel, which in turn lead to a major career change. Upon returning she enrolled at Westminster University to study Creative Writing and so her new found love began. If you don't find her writing, she'll be in a yoga studio.

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Monday, May 11, 2015

The Black Forest in Travel Pictures

The Black forest is one of Germany’s hidden gems. Apart from its insanely beautiful nature, it was the place were the first Mercedes Benz trial runs were held. It is the birthplace of cuckoo clocks and musical clocks. It is home to the world’s largest and smallest cuckoo clock. It is the place where the Grimm’s fairy tales are based. It is where the famous cherry brandy cake originated that we know in India as the “Black Forest” cake. Glass making is still an art here. And one of Germany’s largest waterfalls tumbles down 7 levels from the mountains of this region.

Here are some pictures from this fabulous region which I had the privilege of exploring a couple of days ago.

World's largest cuckoo clock near Sconach, Black Forest, Germany

World’s Second Largest Cuckoo Clock near Schonach. – This was one man’s passion and hobby. 

Gear Mechanism of a Cuckoo Clock

Gear Mechanism of a Cuckoo Clock. Its Heart and Soul. – 16 gears and lots of hard work went into getting this cuckoo clock work!

Beautiful mountain landscpapes of Triberg

Beautiful mountain landscapes of Triberg – a lovely mountain town with baroque churches, pine and spruce trees and cooler weather.

Cuckoo Clocks on display at the Schwarzwald Museum, Triberg

Cuckoo Clocks on display at the Schwarzwald Museum, Triberg – each one has tiny bits of innovation, making you want all of them in your home.

Blow your own glass vase at the Dorotheenhutte Glass Factory

Blow your own glass vase at the Dorotheenhutte Glass Factory – a sensational experience of playing with molten glass.

Super Delicious Black Forest Gateau

Super Delicious Black Forest Gateau – full of cream, chocolate, cherry brandy and fresh cup of cherries too. Goes very well with a cup of coffee especially in the afternoon.

Black Forest Open Air Museum Vogtsbauernhof at Gutach

Black Forest Open Air Museum Vogtsbauernhof at Gutach – See the beautiful farm houses here!

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Saturday, May 09, 2015

Farm Houses of Black Forest, Germany: A Travel Photo

South West Germany has so many hidden gems. One of them is the Black Forest or Schwarzald region. Primarily known for its world famous cuckoo clocks, fairy tales and dense forests, it also has a lot of deeply rooted traditions and culture. Everywhere in this region, you will come across these farm houses that are filled with food produce, cattle stables, homes and much more. And these farm houses are as many as 500 years old.

Farm houses of Schwarzald, Germany

It is a sight that is very difficult to miss when you travel in this black forest region and if wish to explore all of the types of farm houses, you will either have to go to different parts of the black forest or go to the  Schwarzwälder Freilichtmuseum at Vogtsbauernhof where all the different varieties of farm houses of yester years has been relocated here. And these are complete with houses, stables, carriages, water system, mills, carpentry workshops and much more. And while you are here, you can enjoy some of the lovely cherry brandy cake that is special of this region.

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Why You Should Visit Japan This Year – Just Some Of The Many Benefits

If you’ve never visited Japan before, you should definitely give it a try. Not only will the culture shock blow you away, but there is just so much to experience that it would be a shame not to visit The Land of the Rising Sun at least once. Yes, it can be a long and potentially expensive flight, but you can solve the latter by using something like Bravofly’s iOS app to get a surprisingly affordable deal – it just depends on when you book. As for the former, it’s worth the 12 hours sat next to a screaming baby. Seriously.

The Festivals
Whether it’s the slightly alarming Hadaka Matsuri (naked festival), or the beautiful spring Hanami (flower viewing), Japan’s festivals are wonderfully unique, and it’s always worth trying to coincide your trip with one of the annual celebrations. Almost without exception, there are amazing street food stalls to open up your taste buds to new flavours and there are beautiful traditional ensembles to see too.

The Karaoke Karaoke is big. Some other countries see this sing-a-long as a cheesy way to spend a Friday night, but there is a huge culture surrounding it in Japan. Some karaoke bars are open until the wee hours of the morning, and serve all-you-can-drink beverages, as part of your initial (inexpensive) payment. Leave your nerves at the door; nobody minds if you have a bad singing voice – it’s all part of the fun.

The Beautiful Hilltop Temples
There are so many beautiful temples in Japan, but Mitaki-dera (三瀧寺) in Hiroshima gets a special mention. The natural surroundings are stunning and there are three waterfalls. It was founded in the Daido era (809), and is now often used for ceremonies for those who died during the atomic bomb. This temple is particularly stunning during the spring and autumn months, because of the lovely trees.

The Safety
Crime is almost non-existent in Japan. You hear lots of scary stories in the West, but the police here do their job exceptionally well, and the culture is just very different. If you are a female lone traveller, it’s amazing how safe you will feel in Japan. This may not be a huge plus for everyone, but travelling in a place with seriously low crime rates never hurts, and cat-calling here is pretty rare. There are even women-only carriages on trains during rush hour.

Novelty Trends
Japan loves novel trends, when it comes to their snacks and drinks. Seasonally, big brands will flavour their products with different flavours, and these can even change depending on your region. For example, during spring, there are so many sakura (cherry blossom) flavoured items, but huge companies – such as McDonalds – even cater their produce to this single country. You can find squid ink burgers that are completely black!

What would be your number one site to see in Japan? Let us know!

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Tuesday, May 05, 2015

Persian Carpets: Definite Souvenir from Iran

Persian carpets are pretty famous across the world and are a collector’s delight. While the fine silk ones with intricate patterns cost a bit, the woollen ones with simpler designs cost lesser. If you are looking for one authentic souvenir from Iran, this has to be it. They make for great decorative accessories for your house and also as gifts. Personally, I got one for my own house and gifted one to my sister.

One can either buy these carpets from the bazaars of Iran across its many cities or from tribal people (women from the smaller desert towns and villages) who make these on their own. It will always be cheaper to procure these carpets directly from the weaver, but you will get variety to choose from at the bazaars. To give you an idea of price, a 5 feet by 3 feet silk carpet would cost upwards of USD 1500 and a similar sized one made out of wool would cost you anything from USD 100 onwards. Based on my experience with carpets from Kashmir, I found that Persian carpets were priced slightly higher than the ones at Kashmir. May be a 30% difference. But, the local people at Iran offer a counter argument that it depends on the silk. Chinese silk is the cheapest. Then Indian. And Persian silk is the most exquisite and hence the most expensive.

Carpets to choose from at the grand bazaar of Isfahan, Iran

Isfahan is the hub for most carpet bazaars, but be prepared to shell out a premium as a lot of tourists pick up their carpets from here. Shiraz, Tehran, Yazd or even Mashaad offer cheaper carpets, especially the woollen ones. But, if you have your eye on silk carpets, Isfahan is your best bet.

The thing to note with purchasing carpets with Iran is that you have to pay in cash (USD or Iranian Rials). Only some shops accept credit cards and that too charge an additional fee for it. It is best to get the silk carpets shipped directly to your country as custom officials have been known to prevent tourists from carrying silk carpets back to their own country. A similar check was carried out for me, but since I was carrying only woollen ones, they let me bring it to India.

The silk carpets are much lighter than the woollen ones and are easier to maintain. It is best to have an expert with you or at least do some background research before buying a silk carpet, which are the most expensive ones.

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Monday, May 04, 2015

Invited by the German National Tourism Board

After some quality rest time at home with family and friends, it is time to hit the road again. This time, the destination is Germany and it is my first visit there. I have been invited by the German National Tourism Board to explore the Baden-Württemberg region, especially Stuttgart and Schwarzwald (Black Forest). The idea behind this visit to explore some of the highlights, traditions and unique cultures of this region.

During this visit, I will be exploring the city of Stuttgart where I will be seeing the Mercedes-Benz museum, the Museum of viniculture and participating in the Stuttgart Spring festival. And from Stuttgart, I am heading to the Black Forest, a dense forest region that is home to the famous Grimm’s fairy tales. Here at Black Forest, I will be visiting places which follow an ancient way of making glass, the Black Forest Open Air Museum, the Black Forest farmhouses, Triberger waterfalls (one of the highest waterfalls in Germany), see traditional and modern cuckoo clocks and the world’s largest cuckoo clock.

After exploring Stuttgart and the Black Forest region, I will be taking off on my own and explore the fairy tale town of Heidelberg and around. Have not made any specific plans for Heidelberg, so will go with the flow like I usually do.

I am very excited about this trip to South Western Germany and will be providing regular updates on my blog, Facebook, twitter and instagram channels. If this part of the world interests you, you can follow my travels through the channel of your choice.

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Saturday, May 02, 2015

Top 9 Interesting Things to do in Pokhara, Nepal

Nepal has been severely affected by the recent earthquake, but that shouldn’t stop us travelers from visiting this lovely country. After all, a good many people of this country survive on the revenue generated by tourism. And it is not that all parts of have affected by the earthquake.

I have friends who are in Pokhara and are happily exploring the charms of this gorgeous mountain country, which is why I have put together this list of top 9 things to do in West Nepal’s Pokhara. You can take a look at it if you are either in Pokhara or planning a trip to Pokhara in the near future.

Trekking the mighty Annapurna

Green paddy fields at the Tashi Palkiel Tibetan Refugee Camp, near Pokhara, Nepal
When people think of Nepal, they think of Mount Everest and the Everest Base Camp, but the Annapurna ranges are possibly the most trekked range in the whole of Nepal and Pokhara is the launching point. Between the Annapurna circuit, the Annapurna sanctuary and the Annapurna Base Camp, there is about 2 to 3 weeks of trekking for you where you can romance with the mountains in your own way. From lush green forests to dry and cold deserts and from snow capped peaks to icy glaciers, you will come across so much variety on your treks here. And the tea houses and the small villages on the trails are you only connection with civilization.

Volunteering at Tibetan Refugee Camps and Monasteries

A village scene at a Tibetan refugee camp near Pokhara, Nepal
At about 30 minutes from Pokhara are many Tibetan refugee camps and monasteries where you can go and volunteer. You could either work in the fields with the people or work in the monasteries. Either way, you will get exposed to a rich Buddhist side of Nepal that is also extremely scenic and spiritual in nature. The places I recommend are the Tashi Palkiel Tibetan Refugee Camp, Pema Ts’al Sakya Monastic Institute and Jangchub Choeling Monastery.

Paragliding from Sarangkot

Sensational Pokhara view from World Peace Pagoda
When the weather is clear, Pokhara offers some of the most surreal mountain views in the whole world. And the experience goes up a notch when you paraglide from the tallest hill overlooking Pokhara, which is at Sarangkot. At sunrise, you see the first golden rays of the sun shining over the snow capped Himalayas as you glide your way down to the valley. Sounds fabulous right? Well, it is an even better experience when you you are gliding through the thin mountain air in the early morning hours.

Trek to World Peace Pagoda

A monk at World Peace Pagoda, Pokhara, Nepal
The world peace pagoda or Shanti Stupa that towers over Pokhara is one of Pokhara’s iconic places. Most of the tourists prefer to take the winding road way to reach here, but if you wish for a different experience, you should take a boat, cross over to the other side of the Phewa lake and start climbing the steep green trail to the top of Shanti Stupa. This trek is steep for sure, but it continuously offers great views of the Pokhara town as you keep ascending and there comes a moment when you are right in the middle of the clouds or sometimes even above it.

Boating on Phewa Lake

Colorful boats on Phewa Lake, Pokhara
The Phewa (Fewa) Lake dominates the landscape of Pokhara to such an extent that everything in this town revolves around this lake. The largest out of the many mountain lakes in this region, the Phewa Lake is a great one to go on a long boating trip. You can go boating on the lake, dine by the lake side, do some fishing or interact with the locals who will keep walking the lakeside all day long.

Mountain Biking at Roop Tal

Scenic view of Rup Tal from the view point
One of the most remote lakes in the region, Roop Tal is also one of the most beautiful. Covered by rice paddies and dense forests, the only way to this lake is by a dirt trail. You can either reach here by mountain bike, dirt bike or by foot. Once you are here, you can indulge in canoeing, more mountain biking or camping by its super remote outdoors.

Canoeing at Begnas Tal

Fishing at Begnas Tal, near Pokhara, Nepal
Another of the beautiful Himalayan lakes of this belt, this one with its spectacular mountain backdrops make for that romantic boat or canoe ride. It is not as remote as Roop Tal or as busy as Phewa Lake. It is right in the middle, but pretty exotic in its own right. Perfect for couples and those who wish for a quiet, relaxed and scenic holiday.

Picnic at the Devi’s Falls

Devi's Falls, near Pokhara, Nepal
Formed from a small mountain stream, the Devi’s Falls is anything but small. If it has rained in the near past, this waterfall carries so much water that it will instil fear in you. Nature’s raw power or brute force, however we call it can be seen live in action here. At just outside the town of Pokhara, Devi’s falls has easy access and can also be clubbed with the nearby temples and cave temples. A great picnic spot for families. It does get busy during holidays and weekends here.

River Rafting at the mountain rivers nearby

Lovely river view from Pema Ts'al Sakya Monastic Institute, Nepal
During summers and the monsoons, the mountain streams turn into raging rivers and present great river rafting opportunities. The rivers near Pokhara offer class 3, 4 and 5 rapids at different portions of the ride and offer a super adventurous experience.

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Friday, May 01, 2015

Sand Dunes of Verzaneh: Travel Photo of the Day

Happy May Day to all of you! I am hoping you all must be relaxing and enjoying yourself with family and friends during this holiday. I am definitely in a relaxed mood. And here is one image from my travel photography collection to inspire you to travel and induce more relaxation. I hope this destination finds a place in your upcoming holiday itinerary.

Enjoying the view of the sand dunes of Verzaneh, Iran

The place is Verzaneh and it is located in Central Iran. It is known for its rolling sand dunes and it might be the highest and the largest sand dunes in the whole of Iran. It is quite a sight during sunset here and you could also indulge in some adventure here through quad biking, dune surfing, dune bashing and more. The best part is that this place is only a couple of hours from Isfahan, the heart of Iran’s rich culture and definitely its most popular tourist attraction. Happy holiday again!

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