Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Ski Vacations 2010 - The Choice Is Great

Before long winter holidaymakers will be looking at the latest ski holiday brochures to see what is available for 2010, and with the world in economic decline there's some good bargains to be had, in a great selection of ski holiday resorts.

Some skiers just want confirmation that the resort they loved last year is still the best place to go of course, while others like to change location every year, experiencing new ski challenges and collecting new stories to relate to their friends back home.

Either way, the choices are abundant and depend mostly on what the skier is comfortable with, whether it is a familiar resort or new ground.

If the annual skiing holiday includes beginners, Andorra, nestled in the Pyrenees, is a great choice. The interconnected resorts of Arinsal, Pal and Arcalis offer something for everyone. All three cater to beginner skiers and provide kindergarten facilities for the youngest family members not quite ready to don skis and take the plunge down the bunny slopes.

Arinsal and Pal in Andorra are actually now a single resort linked by cable car. One ski pass allows skiers to venture onto either set of slopes. In effect, wherever you are staying at the resort, you can ski from your backyard right onto the slopes. Snowboarders in Andorra will also feel quite comfortable whether they are beginners or experienced. Arcalis is about 20 kilometers by car from Pal and Arinsal but close enough to be considered part of the three-resort area. A fourth resort, Pas de la Casa, is also close by but tends to be much more crowded. However, it does offer very good value for ski holidays to Andorra if that is the major criteria in selecting a resort. With its numerous cafes, restaurants, happy hours and discos, Pas de la Casa tends to attract the livelier younger adult crowd.

For strictly family ski holidays the Kaprun resort in Austria is a good bet. With its beginner to expert slopes, myriad accommodation to fit every budget, restaurants and cafes, checking into Kaprun is the start of a great family holiday. Hotels and restaurants are noted for their child friendliness. Besides the skiing holidaymakers can snowboard, snowshoe, swim, play tennis and squash, ice skate, bowl and take a sleigh ride. Of the 59 runs, 31 are for beginners, and nine are expert runs.

Shops abound for those who want to take a break from other activities. You can even arrange to tour the Kitzsteinhorn glacier. One of the most welcome features is the short hop from the airport to the resort. Nothing is more tedious for skiers than to get off a plane and have to face a several hour ride to the resort. Not so in Kaprun.

With global warming and the environment a world wide concern, many skiers are beginning to make going green a criteria for their choice of ski holidays. If that is a concern, Les Arcs in France should be on your list of ski destinations. Take the Eurostar from London for example to Bourg-St-Maurice. From there it is a short hop to Les Arcs. The management is actively committed to maintaining preservation of the environment. At the same time the facilities are first rate, including accommodation for the youngest family members. Les Arcs has been awarded the Famille plus Montagne certification. Four star living quarters are the norm, and the restaurants and shops are among the best in the French Alps.

If the apres ski experience is what makes your holiday, then you may want to check out the Italian resort of Livigno or Austria's Bad Gastien. Livigno is just across the border from St. Moritz in the Italian Alps and through some quirk in geography enjoys tax free status. It offers excellent skiing because of its altitude. With 81 bars, restaurants and nightclubs, the apres ski possibilities are almost endless. Restaurants feature French, Italian, U.S. and traditional cuisine as well as the ubiquitous fast food. In other words, something for everyone's taste.

Bad Gastien is actually one of the grand spa resorts that just happens to be located in the midst of one of Austria's largest ski areas. The skiing is excellent, and the apres ski scene is more sophisticated than many deluxe resorts with its famous thermal spa and lively nightlife.

If you are looking for the perfect ski weekend, don't overlook Lillehammer in Norway. The site of a Winter Olympic, Lillehammer is a short hop from the airport. The hotels are first class and off slope activities include sleigh rides, tobogganing and ice skating.

Regardless of where you choose to spend your ski holidays, the choices are as varied as the splendid terrain. Take your family, take your spouse, go with friends. Whatever you do you will have a memorable experience to look back on for years to come - ski holidays can be great fun!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Travel Nepal - Food For Thought

Russian born, when I first came to Nepal, I wasn’t going to see the temples nor mountains that seem to capture the imagination of every traveler, and no, I wasn’t going for the food either. In fact, I was dragged here. You see, the first time Nepal caught me, was at the age of six, so the usual tourist highlights didn’t yet interest me. Frankly, Nepal didn’t interest me either. My mother and at the time her boyfriend were going to Nepal on vacation and to visit my aunt (mother’s sister) who had married a Nepali studying in Russia at the time. Though I do have a memory of the Nepal I saw in the 80s, it certainly didn’t leave on me as lasting an impression as the FOOD; for the little that I do remember, for the most part, had little to do with the Himalayas and Pagodas. My mother and I would later immigrate to the U.S. and I wouldn’t get a real taste of Nepali food, other than the occasional taste of achhar (a spicy Nepali pickle) or a rather "not the same" substitute Indian food, until I was 24 years old when the Nepali food, once again excited my memories and taste buds.

When I came to Nepal, this time in 2007, little had changed. My families view has been, that there was now more traffic, the cites were now more congested, but the core of Nepal remained the same. I loved it, but what did draw my attention were the tourists. Nepal certainly is more popular today, than it was then, and the flourishing tourist industry has sadly, in an effort to accommodate the Western tourist’s fear of trying anything new has obscured in my view the true taste of Nepal by making it too easy to abstain from Nepali food.

Not unlike the thousands of others that now come to Nepal to experience trekking in the Himalayas, I too ventured out to do the same. Granted, the area I was traveling through, the Annapurna Conservation Area, was the most developed trekking route in Nepal, but I was slightly put off by what I saw. The villagers that once only served traditional Nepali dishes were now offering pizza and Cesar salad among other typical Western items to accommodate the new age trekker tastes.

Maybe my views are different from most, but when I come to a country I wish to experience as much as that country has to offer. The people, sights and culture and certainly those that manage to achieve the above get a great deal of what is Nepal, yet at the same time, they are leaving just as much (pardon the pun) on the table.

I must say, that what to me is really close to fingernails on a chalk board, is the fearful tourist. I frankly fail to understand how people traveling thousands of miles to come to Nepal arrive with such fear of a bit of travelers diarrhea, which they will probably get anyway (treatable with simple over the counter medication and or over the counter antibiotics available in Nepal), that they dare not venture outside the Hyatt for a meal, all to miss out greatly. As diverse as Nepal is culturally, it is also just as diverse culinary. I think my aunt put it best, “the chances are, that the diarrhea that travelers get comes NOT from the Nepali food, but from the tourists asking a Nepali villager to prepare for them mushroom, sausage and olive pizza.”

I don’t know about you, but I trust a Nepali villager a lot more preparing what they know best and eat daily, much more than with trying to recreate Western food with intermittent refrigeration and ingredients “unnatural" to Nepal. Sadly, not everyone thinks alike, as I found myself, trekking along many dumbfounded travelers, who while on their trek, were questioning how they got the runs, after digesting a burger made from imported meat (beef or rather cows, are sacred in Nepal), swiss cheese and lettuce that got to their dining table along the same 5 day trekking route that they had just traversed. The moral of the story is, think with your brain, not just your stomach.

The issue alone, with not eating ethnic food native to an area would be of little importance had the problems associated with it been confined to frequent bathroom breaks for a passing traveler. Nepal is proud of it's cultural heritage, terrain and scenery and especially its food but it's the same "Eco-tourist" that comes to Nepal with notions of preserving all that is Nepal and "helping" the Nepali people (a questionable proposition as is), that is often the one seen eating the French Fires & Chicken Cesar salad for a meal totally unaware of how this affects the immediate (still largely trade based) local economy and the environment.

The extra preparation methods required in the preparation of these items certainly consumes more fuel, in an area where natural gas is often unavailable. If there is an increased demand for fossil fuels and uncommon food items, those materials have to be gathered or brought in from where available, increasing costs which eventually permeate through the whole economy.

Certainly those are not the only reasons to try Nepali food. The mere fact that it's delicious, has a lot to do with that. With so much to try, it's a puzzle in of itself as to why so many shy away.

Nepal sandwiched between China (Tibet) in the north and India to the south, has for thousands of years been the stopping point for travelers from both regions. With these travelers, came the food and the mixture of foreign influences along with local cuisine has created the Nepali menu but it doesn't stop there.

If one was to visit a website dedicated to travel in Nepal, they would without doubt find there a bit on how culturally diverse Nepal is as a country, having dozens of ethnic groups (a good place to learn about these groups is the “Ethnic Groups” page of Avia Travel Nepal), many with their own special food items.

There is the Newari, "sukuti" which is a delicious before dinner snack to have with drinks, featuring shredded dry meat (jerky), ginger, garlic, onion, tomato, salt, oil and some crushed green or red chillies for heat. Spooned out by bit into one's hand, the dish is eaten like one would eat peanuts, or chips.

Of course, it seems that every country has it's version of the dumpling. Called "mo-mo" in Nepal, it's a juicy, traditionally round shaped steamed dumpling stuffed with an number of things from chicken, goat (mutton), buffalo to vegetables and potatoes. Served with a spicy side sauce the dish is a favorite among Nepalis and travelers alike and is offered at what seems to be almost every food spot.

When traveling near and around rivers, you are almost certain to run into another delicacy that if found out in the west, would give the fish and chips fierce competition. This scrumptious snack, is the "tareko matza" (bam) an eel fish, usually no larger than 25cm (though other dishes use much larger specimens) battered in spices, deep fried and eaten whole. Truthfully scary looking at first, they are irresistible after the first bite after a dip into a side sauce. The fish is such, that there are no inedible bones and the smaller specimens can be eaten as is. The larger, can be easily rid of the backbone by simply pulling apart the flaky & crunchy fish once cooked.

Served with almost all traditional Nepali meals, is the Nepali staple of Dal Bhat Tarkari. A lentil soupy broth is poured over rice and served with any number of vegetables and or in some instances some meat. Usually vegetarian in nature, the dish, high in protein (lentils), carbs and vitamins is an important source of nutrition in Nepal. The usual meal in Nepal is either Dal Bhat and any number of side dishes to spice up the meal.

Nepal, like any other country, is not short on street food, the most popular of which in this case is either samossa or panipuri. Samosa, is a pyramid shaped pastry stuffed with a spiced potato filling and deep fried. Panipuris are golf ball sized crunchy, flower based, shells that are stuffed with the same potato filling that after being dipped into a flavorful sauce are consumed whole. Those in love with corn can at any time find husks being roasted on the open fire, turning the corn exterior a sort of chard, and crunchy consistency with a softer interior within the kernels, they are rubbed with salt and crushed chillies if desired. There also “chatpate” is the mixture of beans, corn, and any number of other ingredients that are mixed with spices and lime juice and eaten from a cone shaped paper cup.

Whatever the meal, they all have something in common. Spice! Nepali cooks are fond of spices, which are more often then not just that, spicy rather than hot. Of course hot is never off the options list. The Asan colorful market in Kathmandu, is popular with tourists and photographers for the wide range of spices for sale there. From curry, fungreek, ginger powder, garlic, cumin, the precious saffron and whatever you hearts desire.

Food carries with it a lot of the answers of what a culture is like. Nepali food is no different. Within it's tastes, textures and smells it carries history, reasons behind the Nepali daily life and many other answers if one was to simply look. There are religious festivals celebrated to welcome the monsoon season and it's no wonder when you consider rice farming and the fact that rice is the Nepali staple. Life revolves around food, and cultures are shaped by it. If you come to Nepal, immerse yourself don't be afraid to step out of your shell. Try the food it's good.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Where to go when you already live in a holiday destination

I recently returned from a holiday in Somerset. I have a friend who comes from the area and when he asked me how I found it and what I got up to, I smiled and cut straight to the chase, ‘the caves at Chedder Gorge are fantastic!’ At this point he began to smile. ‘Is it really?’ He replied. ‘I’ve never been, it’s for the tourists really.’

Consequently, this got me thinking. I’ve lived in Cornwall for 6 years now and I really haven’t made the most of the county being the prime holiday destination that it is. Take the Eden Project for example; it wasn’t until 2007 that I ventured the 20 miles to the eighth wonder of the world. And even then I have to admit that the draw for me was less than honourable.

I went for the ice skating.

My reasons for this are hard to pin down. One could presume that I am some kind of tourist-related anthropophobe, who simply can’t bear to mingle with those out-of-towners, all dawdling about, licking our ice-creams, and fuelling our economy with reckless zeal. Of course, this is not true. In fact, I believe the reason for mine – and my Somerset pal’s – inability to view our locality through a tourist’s eyes is due to two factors. One is quite simply to do with association, or familiarity to be precise. We associate the surrounding area with what we know well, and so there is a very little inherent excitement at the thought of playing in our own backyard.

But there are plenty of things to do in Cornwall. I know full well that the differences between a Somerset holiday and a Cornwall holiday are so slight (maybe the air temperature’s a little cooler?) yet I’m still subconsciously drawn to such aspects as the different place-names, the higher population, and the unmistakeable feeling of being a visitor.

Maybe my experiences of family holidays as a child have some bearing on this too? When I was nine I visited Disneyworld and wondered what it would be like to live next door. I could come here everyday, I thought to myself as we drove through Miami spilling pretzel crumbs onto the floor of our rented RV. But of course, once you’ve been on the Jaws ride four times it doesn’t take the novelty does begin to wear off.

Therefore I have decided to rediscover my own county. Even a quick browse of Cornwall tourist information highlights some starting points such as Tate St Ives, the National Maritime Museum at Falmouth and The Lost Gardens of Heligan. Cornwall deserves this old-friend status, like a schoolmate who reminds you of how you were the wittiest in Geography class. After all, what could be better than being surprised by what’s on your very own doorstep?

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Tips for Cheap Family Holidays

Nearly everyone is feeling the pinch in the current economic climate and unfortunately holidays and short breaks are one area that families are cutting corners with. Whether it is not going on holiday at all or staying in the UK.

Using Online Codes
Many travel websites where you book things like hotels and flights on the internet have boxes on their forms that allow you to put in promotional codes or loyalty/membership codes. There is a whole new generation of websites like hotukdeals and who keep track off these offers and let their readers know about them. So before you book anything online, it is worth having a browse and seeing if there are any promotional codes you can use.

Staying in the UK
This seems like an obvious tip and one you may have heard many times before, but there are a lot of great budget places you can visit in the UK which are just as good as overseas destinations. Places like North Devon and Cornwall are great for families who love beaches and coastlines. Granted the weather may not be as good as Spain, but there are some really stunning places to visit all around the UK.

Be sensible with your travel money
A lot of credit cards and banks will charge you a fee if you withdraw cash when overseas. But there are some exceptions to this as not everyone wants to take large quantities of money with them. Nationwide offer commission free money withdrawals with both its debit card and credit card. The post office also office a commission free withdrawal credit card.

Cheaper Flights with Supermarkets
Loyalty schemes such as the Tesco Clubcard allows you to convert points into British Airways air miles. So all that shopping you have been doing in the year can help you pay for your flights when the family head off on holiday

It's Business Time
There are a lot of hotels that solely cater for business clients so at weekends and in quiet periods like Christmas they end up reducing their rates to fill the rooms. This also works in some cities that rely on business customers like Berlin and Frankfurt, you can sometimes get five star accommodation for bargain prices.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Brazil Travel Guide: Glory Days At Interlagos, A Guide to the Brazilian Grand Prix

The Autodromo Jose Carlos Pace, better known as the Interlagos circuit, is one of the most notorious and talked about Formula 1 tracks in the world. A place where all the adrenaline of Formula 1 racing mixes with the buzzing atmosphere of Brazil’s largest city; a spectacle that, if you’re lucky enough to enjoy, will immortalize any Brazil travel experience.

The Brazilian Grand Prix in Sao Paulo brings a carnival atmosphere to an already frenetic city. This is one of the biggest annual events in the South America travel calendar; the streets leading to Interlagos are thronged with motor sport fans, international supporters from across the globe and hundreds of flag waving Brazilians.

Interlagos sits within a natural amphitheatre which offers spectators a clear view of the entire circuit, becoming a cauldron of noise and frantic activity during the build up to the race itself.

The track is considered unique for a number of reasons. Originally built in the 1930s on unstable land, the track soon acquired its characteristic bumps and inclines which put intense pressure on the precision engineered Formula 1 cars and their highly trained drivers.

The circuit is also one of the few in the world to follow an anticlockwise direction, putting even further demands on the drivers who are intensively trained to cope with strong centrifugal and gravitational forces pulling in the opposite direction.

As a result of the race’s special atmosphere, the physical and technical demands on racing teams and Brazil’s glorious weather, the Brazilian Grand Prix is unique in the Formula 1 season, guaranteeing to offer a constant barrage of entertainment.

The track is home to a number of challenging features, including the Senna “S,” a series of tight bends that were named in honor of Brazil’s own racing hero, Ayrton Senna after his tragic death behind the wheel of a Formula 1 car at the San Marino Grand Prix.

Also on the circuit is a long, flat straight known as Reta Oposta, a dangerous and thrilling stretch on which the cars frequently top 180 miles per hour.

It is this combination of features that makes the race at Interlagos such a thrilling experience, and which has given the Brazilian Grand Prix legendary status among drivers and fans alike.

But for those visiting on Grand Prix Packages, Brazil vacations offer much more than three days of motor sport excitement. The city of Sao Paulo is perhaps the most cosmopolitan spot on the entire continent, with many of the world’s communities and cultures represented in its population of 15 million people.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Museum hopping in Madrid, Spain

Most first-time visitors will see no immediate charm when visiting Madrid - the capital of Spain. Madrid does not meet the notions of either medieval stone cities or of mild summer night's passion. Madrid has sometimes been describes as being like Chicago, with Barcelona being more like San Francisco. This comparison is by no means taken out of thin air.

Madrid's second largest tourist attraction is its night life. This means the eating and drinking as well as dancing all night long. There are American tourists everywhere as they are a lot of them in Madrid. Madrid is quite an easy sell for American exchange students looking for a year abroad mostly due to the city's nightlife. In comparison, Barcelona becomes a chauvinistic mecca for Catalan culture. The smooth and happy Madrid surface hides - although you are able to see through it more and more - the old divides and deep unhealed wounds. It will soon be seventy years since the civil war ended, thirty years since Franco's death and the agreement to try to forget the past.

There are, however, plenty of interesting museums in Madrid for the culturally inclined to delve into. Here I will present three of the more interesting ones to visit.

Museo Sorolla - which is the home and studio of the nineteenth-century Spanish painter Joaquin Sorolla (born in Valencia, 1863) - is one of the most pleasant museums. It is large and comfortable with a beautiful garden. His paintings are mostly pleasant - not very capturing or deeply engaging, but not banal, or insipid. He represents in a way, the bourgeois exterior painting's height, and it is evident in almost every canvas that he loved what he did. The address is Calle General Martínez Campos 37.

Museo de America is housed in a massive building from nineteen fifty four, which retro style is supposed to resemble an old mission monastery, and is one of Madrid's more interesting but overlooked museums. Found here is a huge collection of objects from the Americas before Columbus, with everything from battle axes and shrunk heads to the beautiful art objects and precious illustrated manuscript depicting the Spanish conquest from the conquered side. On display are objects from South and Central America - lootings from the Spanish colonization and later donations from the new independent countries. The collection is presented thematically (the knowledge of America, reality, society, religion, etc.) which without prior knowledge makes it difficult to keep the different cultures and eras apart. The address is Avenida de los Reyes Católicos 6.

Museo del Traje - the clothing museum - opened in 2004 in the former Museo Espanol de Arte Contemporáneo, an architecturally interesting building from 1973, to host huge collections of Spanish fashion from the fifteenth century onwards. If you want you can skip the history part and go directly to the haute couture-room, but for those who want to get some background info there is lots to take in. There is also a reading room, a bookshop and a new-Spanish restaurant as well as areas for temporary exhibitions, where fashion photography is often on display. The address is Avenida de Juan de Herrera 2.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Short Break Ideas for this Autumn

Unfortunately the summer is starting to draw to an end and people will be starting to think what they are going to do in the Autumn period. Whereas in the summer, you are after sunny family holidays in seaside areas, Autumn is the perfect time to cuddle up with your loved ones in a cottage. In this article, we will look at some great ideas for Autumn short breaks.

Shropshire is a hidden gem that lies on the English and Welsh Borders. The Romans first discovered that Shropshire is an ideal place to stay and rest and visitors have been returning ever since. The county offers great food and proper ales, which are prefect if you have just been for an autumn walk in the countryside.

Northumberland is another great county for a short autumn break. Lovers of the outdoors will find that the Northumberland National Park a brilliant place to spend some quality time with family or friends. Many visitors come to the area for the great walks, the coastline and to visit Hadrian's Wall. One of the best forms of accommodation in the region is a Northumberland Cottage, as they provide an extremely warm and cosy stay for the Autumn season.

Scottish Borders
As you can tell by the places mentioned in this article, we are not recommended city breaks or the usual family destinations and the Scottish Borders are no different. We are looking at the best places to take a nice relaxing autumn short break.
The rolling hills and moorland of the Scottish borders allows you to escape the hustle and bustle of your busy life. The borders are filled with stunning country side, castles, museums and charming villages.

Pembrokeshire Coast
Our final recommendation is the Pembrokeshire coast. Pembrokeshire is home to the only National Park that sits on the coastline. This makes for stunning views that include islands, lakes, woodlands and beaches all in one area. If you are after a quiet break where you are more likely to see wildlife than people, then the Pembrokeshire coast is the place for you. If you are lucky, you may spot some Dolphins and even Whales.