Posted on June 24th, 2009 No comments
Read about Czech Republic Trips
Few destinations can claim to have the variety and abundance of sightseeing attractions as the landlocked Czech Republic. A region inhabited since the Stone Age, its long and fascinating history is well recorded in the architecture of its cities, be it in: the UNESCO World Heritage Sites of the Old Town in Prague or Telc, the best preserved Renaissance town north of the Alps; the mediaeval town of Cesky Krumlov; or one of the literally thousands of fortresses, monasteries or chateaux sprinkled across the land. With styles and designs ranging from Gothic to Renaissance, from Classicist to Baroque and from Romanesque to Art Nouveau, the cities of the Czech Republic feature greater diversity in and superior preservation of architecture than most countries far larger in size and reputation.
If wandering the narrow streets and gazing at spellbinding architecture sounds like a lot of work, you can always head for some relaxation at one of the dozen or so spa towns that lie peppered between the borders of the Czech Republic. Each drawing from different springs and having its own methods of hydrotherapy, balneotherapy and relaxation techniques, the spa towns, such as Karlovy Vary or Marianske Lazne, are the ideal means to replenish yourself or simply make the most of your relaxing holiday.
Man-made attractions aside, the Czech Republic lays claim to a natural environment that is of equal note. The Czech Greenways, a corridor of 100-year-old hiking trails that stretches the 400km from Vienna to Prague, gives travellers the opportunity to take in the best of the country’s landscapes, as well as providing plenty of choice as to how energetic the journey should be. Looming mountains, shimmering lakes, fertile valleys and lush forests are but a few of the fantastic natural wonders in the Czech Republic, all of which lend themselves to a variety of more strenuous activities like skiing, climbing, mountain biking or watersports.
Eastern Europe is a travel destination with a huge array of fascinating historical monuments, a varied and highly memorable breadth of sceneries and a wide range of diverse and welcoming peoples, each with their own unique culture. Though the more affluent Western Europe is, for the most part, favoured over the East by the majority of travellers looking to Europe to provide a tour destination of distinction, the East can often be the more rewarding option. A region with a history as long and as intriguing as any other on the planet, Eastern Europe also caters to a range of holidaymaker. Magnificent cities like Prague and Budapest offer the luxury that discerning travellers crave, where more remote destinations sacrifice a degree of comfort for the opportunity for travellers to see the real faces of the countries and people.
Posted on June 4th, 2009 No comments
Only recently has Albania become accessible. In ages past, the territory that is now Albania was invaded, plundered and re-invaded countless times by a host of foreign powers. Among those who had a lasting influence on the country were the great Roman and Byzantine Empires, but Goths, Visigoths, Huns, Bulgars and Turks all ventured into the borders of Albania at various points in history, more often than not bringing with them destruction and persecution. Few other peoples have endured such perpetual torment over the years and the Albanians’ ability to keep their traditions and language alive throughout the onslaughts speaks volumes about their nature. Perhaps it is not surprising, then, that in more recent history, authorities in Albania effectively shut the doors on the Western World and Albania became isolated until its communist regime collapsed in the 1990s. Only then were the Albania borders re-opened to the outside world. Albania today is a country under reconstruction, a nation in the throes of trying to adapt to a democratic system and a country still licking its wounds after a volatile past. A tour here is a tour to a beautiful nation with a plethora of sights and attractions and a proud, unique and welcoming people.
Albania has a mixed topography: unspoiled, sandy beaches; rugged, picturesque mountains; green, plentiful forests; and placid, enticing lakes. Travellers satisfied with admiring the Albania scenery alone will not be disappointed, but those seeking a more active tour have on offer a wide range of activities: sunbathing, hiking, sailing, football (soccer), fishing and cycling, to name but a few.
Albania is an enigmatic country boasting some wonderful Greco-Roman sites and a distinct culture politically isolated from mainstream European society for generations. The mountain scenery is also spectacular, with small villages and remote valleys that have been cultivated for centuries. This country is a living museum—visit before it is discovered by mass tourism. With its fascinating history, along with its hitherto inaccessibility, Albania is a truly distinctive tour destination and well worth a visit.
Posted on May 26th, 2009 No comments
The country the highest population of all Persian countries (with about 65 million inhabitants), Iran is also a land of incredible cultural diversity, with dozens of languages, several recognised religions and a broad spectrum of ethnicity in its people. Religion, the dominant faith being Islam, pervades every aspect of Iranian life, an aspect that the majority of visitors find one of the most fascinating features of the country and its people—for Westerners, few other destinations can provide a cultural experience that lies so many leagues away from the familiar. Although Iran does display some similarity to the West in that its governance incorporates a degree of democratic process, the fact that this ideology is balanced against, and often outweighed by, a theocratic authoritarian rule means that trying to draw parallels between the two is sometimes hard to reconcile. Regardless, as a traveller in the country, Iran’s similarity to the West in any sphere seems unimaginable.
Iran lays claim to the largest population of nomads in the world, the vast majority of whom continue to dress in traditional attire, live in traditional housing and follow customs handed down through countless generations of their ancestors. It is a country wherein a unique tribal culture has survived over millennia, leaving a legacy that allows travellers an intriguing sneak-peek into ancient Persian life, and a land that brings the past to life in a contemporary setting. In a similar vein, the remnants of eras gone by dot the Iranian landscape and even the most modern cities, like the capital Tehran, make concerted efforts to preserve the beautiful monuments, art and architecture from the country’s long and fascinating past. Ancient ruins, a plethora of colourful, exquisite mosques and magnificent palaces dating from a multitude of different dynasties lie in wait for the traveller who chooses Iran as a tour destination, sights that only add to the irrepressible impression that Iran is a land of great historic importance.
The enigma that is the Arabian Gulf will cause you to ponder societal directions and intentions. The rapidly modernizing Middle East is in a constant tug-of-war between the traditional past and the pressures of our times. Oil is big business, but trade is much bigger, leading to an awful appropriation of resources and workforce into stunningly ambitious projects. Some of the wealthiest countries on the planet are oases of excess, founded on under-appreciated foreign labour. The surprises continue along the gulf until we reach Oman; jaw-dropping scenery, exciting remoteness, and unspoiled beaches seemingly presented solely for you.
This is a unique opportunity to explore a corner of the world previously misunderstood and almost ignored.
Our Middle East Tours journey to where it all began; to the Cradle of Civilisation and to the birthplace of four of the world’s major religions. Often misunderstood and seldom given the credit it deserves, the Middle East’s recurrent troubles in recent history have seen it relegated to one of the last alternatives when it comes to opting for a tour destination. What lies in wait for travellers on tours to the Middle East, however, is an ancient land of richness and plenty and one whose bounties yield incredible rewards.
Posted on May 14th, 2009 No comments
Italy the southern European peninsula, along with its offshore Mediterranean territories Sicily and Sardinia, boasts the highest number of UNESCO World Heritage Sites on the globe. There remain to this day the visible traces left by the hosts of foreign peoples who have crossed the nation’s borders over the ages-with the result that the traveller is rewarded with sight of some of the most remarkable architecture of a variety of cultures, including Roman, Greek, Germanic, Celtic and Norman. And for those uninspired to tour to historic attractions, there are always the options of taking to the mountainous areas for a spot of hiking, mountain biking or skiing, or reclining in the brilliant yellow sand on the Mediterranean coastline.
Italy’s climate only enhances the allure of the country. Perhaps one of the most hospitable places on the planet due to its comfortably warm and dry summers countering its mild winters, Italy is a prime location for those looking to tour a destination without uncomfortable extremes of temperature. Where the north is home to more temperate climes, the south is decisively Mediterranean, and though there is some regional variation across the country, Italy is mostly predictable when it comes to weather-the only difficulty in planning a tour there is choosing what climate is preferred.
Just as Italy shares a border with, among other countries, France, so too does it share a common mountain, and the Italian Monte Bianco, or in French, Mont Blanc, serves as the highest peak for both nations. Though the 4,810-metre giant of the Alps is world-famous in itself, Italy is perhaps more often associated with the two volcanoes of Etna and Vesuvius, situated on Sicily and near Naples respectively. A tour to these natural wonders yields sights to behold, indeed. For those with an interest in architecture, a visit to the leaning tower of Pisa is a tour not to be missed to see in all its glory perhaps the most blatant and comedic engineering blunders in the world. The major cities of Venice, Rome and Florence house some of the most unforgettable architectural marvels and the works of Italian-born artists Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo and Botticelli are must-see attractions.
Posted on May 5th, 2009 No comments
Over the millennium and a half since France came into being, its global contributions have been immeasurable. From gastronomy (and of course, viniculture) to architecture, literature to fashion, politics to art and science to philosophy, France’s influence on modern cultures and societies around the world runs as deep as any other civilisation in history and deeper than most. Moreover, the country manages to retain a mystique as a land of romance and love, a place where everything from the language to the lifestyle and the setting brings immediate associations in the minds of travellers. The intangible aspects of so favourable an association serve to transform the country from simply a geographical landmass between borders into an ideal whose abstract qualities prove more alluring than the draw of any site of interest; of which France has more than its fair share.
France’s natural environment encompasses virtually every topographical form, thereby simultaneously lending itself to a multitude of activities and satisfying many diverse tastes. The mountainous regions of the Alps and Pyrenees in the southeast and south respectively are of perpetual interest to hikers and skiers alike; the over-3,000 km coastline provides ample opportunity for beachgoers and sun-worshippers to bronze themselves in quiet relaxation or among fellow, active travellers; the lush, plunging valleys of the Loire or the Dordogne offer the most picturesque setting for ramblers and explorers to discover the wealth of flora and fauna; and the lapping waters of the Mediterranean Sea off the south coast or the more raucous Atlantic Ocean off the west allow seafarers and water-enthusiasts to get their feet wet. It is little wonder that France is often described as a microcosm of Europe for its spectrum of landscapes.
Sign up for our escorted tours of Europe and experience a face of the world like no other. Though the second-smallest continent in the world by landmass (the smallest being Australia), Europe is as diverse as they come; its spectrum of topographical, ethnic, cultural, linguistic and political nuances is truly extraordinary and an escorted tour here promises a tour-of-a-lifetime through an unceasingly fascinating destination. It’s not hard to understand why escorted tours to Europe are becoming an ever-more popular choice for travellers, as they offer a highly entertaining, stress-free and informative way to get the most from this unique continent whose opportunities for exploration and discovery are virtually without end.
Posted on April 9th, 2009 No comments
CROSSING THE DIVIDE: HVAR, CROATIA (Drvenik Mainland)
A beautiful day greeted us upon our last day on the island of Hvar. My plan was to leave early to make the long trip across the spine of this island, one of 1185 of them. This would allow extra time for keen photographers to stop and take advantage of the soft, early morning light. We made our way from the harbour-side hotel toward the bus stand at the edge of Hvar Town, motorized luggage-cart in tow. Our day was going to be a long one, but very rewarding. Our route took us across the beautiful terrain of Hvar to the ferry port on the eastern tip of the island and then back across to the mainland of Croatia. From there, we were to make our way to the border point of Bosnia and Herzegovina and on to Medjugorje (pronounced Med-joo-gor-yeh), the site where six school children claimed to have been visited by the Virgin Mary, and then onward to Mostar, where the stunning Old Bridge, destroyed during the Bosnian War of the Nineties, has now been rebuilt.
It being an early Sunday morning, the town was particularly quiet and we drove out along the main west-east road, encountering very little in the way of traffic. Stupendous views down toward the coast from our high vantage points allowed us to stop for some very scenic photos of the gorgeous island landscape. However, on one such break our bus gave us a couple of signs that it wasn’t up to the task at hand. A bit of sputtering and hiccoughing later, we were off again, but with fingers crossed.
It should be noted at this point that we did need to make it to the ferry point by a certain time and time was not a luxury that we had much of, despite the earlier than usual departure. There were only two ferry departures per day from Sucuraj to Drvenik on the mainland. We were aiming for 11 am, while the next wasn’t until 5 pm. Our progress across the island soon necessitated another stop, for more pragmatic means than photos, and that is when things got a bit more complicated. As we prepared to set off again, our bus decided that it had had enough. I guess it thought it should have the Sunday off. Now we sat stuck in the middle of the island with another hour or so to get to the ferry point and with a couple of hours before the ferry actually left. Finding a replacement bus would not be easy at the best of times. And it was Sunday, of course.
With the sun getting higher in the sky and the bus interior heating up, everyone grabbed the chance to catch some fresh air. Some pontificated on the nature of the bus problem, scratching chins. Some sheltered in the nearby shade; Hvar is the sunniest island in Croatia and, according to the tourist brochures, in Europe too. Some wandered over to a nearby family-run winery: the local family thought that it was Christmas come early.
In the meantime, my driver and I called for a replacement bus. Time was of the essence after all. Being a Sunday, the replacement bus was not as quick as we would have liked. It eventually arrived and I gathered the much happier winery visitors and the others into our new bus and off we went, as fast as we dare, to Sucuraj.
Alas, we missed our ferry by 10 minutes. Ten! Sigh. Our next ferry wouldn’t be for another six hours. That would mean no Medjugorje and a very late arrival into Mostar. Such is the nature of travel. But, wait! What if that fisherman across the way could take us over to the mainland in his boat? With new plan of action in mind, I phoned our agent to organize a bus to meet us at Drvenik over on the mainland, negotiated with the fisherman to take the 16 of us over in his boat, and took the opportunity to have a leisurely lunch by the water in this tiny village. The sense of adventure had seized everyone and all agreed to the exciting, if unorthodox, means of transport off of the island. Meanwhile, our original, newly serviced bus and trusty driver arrived at the port and we planned to have them meet us in Mostar after it took the later ferry.
With plan in place and everyone nourished after a fine meal, we boarded the boat and set off across the narrow strait to Drvenik. The wind was in our hair, the smell of sea salt filled our noses and the potentially catastrophic day had turned into an adventure! Engine puttering along, our vessel leisurely crossed the water, captain peering out from his little window in the stern. The group grinned at one another as they soaked in this rather novel addition to the itinerary. In very little time, we arrived at the mainland and waited very briefly before we were picked up by our new bus sent down from Split. We jumped on board and headed to the Croatian/Bosnia and Herzegovina border. With easy border formalities we left the coast behind us and drove into the dramatic hills and beautiful landscape that the region is famous for.
We arrived at Medjugorje with enough time for people to explore the town whose tourist industry has benefitted greatly from the sightings (although the Catholic Church has declared the sightings of the Virgin Mary to be unsubstantiated). Curiousity satisfied, we again boarded our bus and headed to Mostar, arriving as darkness fell, as we drove past lasting evidence of the Bosnian War with bombed out buildings lurking like ghosts. Tired but elated, we arrived at our hotel and checked in, happy to have made it safely to our home for the night. The cherry on the sundae to this exciting day showed up 15 minutes later with our bus, driver and luggage. Perfect.
I suppose it’s one of the funny things about travel. It would be nice if everything went to plan, but if everything went to plan, then it doesn’t allow for the freedom of spontaneity. Ever Garrison said “Adversity enhances this tale we called life” and I was fortunate to have a great group of travelers ready to seize the sense of adventure that adversity had laid in our path. And we all came out the better for it with a tale to tell.
Our group makes the trip across the strait from Hvar to Drvenik on the mainland of Croatia.
Our group makes the trip across the strait from Hvar to Drvenik on the mainland of Croatia.