23 December 2012

The Souks of Marrakech

Marrakech is one the more famous Moroccan cities – an exotic and lively hub of cultures that feels as though time itself, is leaving it behind. At the heart of the city is the Djemaa el Fna square, which plays host to a manic swathe of entertainers, locals and tourists alike. Behind the square however, lies the labyrinthine soul of the city – the souks.




Atmosphere       

                                                                             
This maze-like market will leave you dizzy – this is no exaggeration; the heat of the sun will leave you parched and hungry, so it’s best to set out in the early morning or at dusk. Bearing that in mind, once you’ve embarked on your journey, navigated through the seemingly endless train of beggars of the square and stepped into the souks, there is only one direction in which you will want to head – forward. The narrow lanes of the souks are lined with shops whose wares spill out onto the half-cobbled streets. Above is a make-shift wooden canopy that lends itself to the other-worldly, dimly-lit aesthetic of the place – a welcome break from the tiring midday sun and indeed, an intelligent way of luring customers in with shade.


What can you buy?


The hundreds of specialist shops leave nothing to the imagination, as they stock an almost unimaginably large catalogue of Moroccan ‘specialities’. There are many guides (and opinions), online that all differ, though the general consensus seems to be the same; don’t buy anything unless you have a very good reason for doing so - In times gone by I would imagine that the things on sale were of genuine value and masterfully crafted, however this is no longer the case – everything feels cheap and a true value for money items are few and far between. Many of the items are Chinese imports and sold as ‘authentic’. Buyers beware.


Bartering


Remember, that entering the souks as a tourist, means that the prices of most, if not all items, will magically increase… dramatically. It also, as considered by many of the locals, gives shopkeepers a proverbial ‘license’ to harass you – a common technique used to pressure tourists repeatedly until you give in to parting with your cash (usually more than you’d like to have paid). The bartering itself can have some quite interesting consequences too, for example, if you enter into a negotiation with a seller and don’t agree on a price, you’re likely to receive a murmured ear-bashing in the local tongue!

All that said, my words are not to be misunderstood – Marrakech and the souks are not to be missed. A place with such a stark cultural contrast is an experience everyone should have, even if it does push you beyond the limits of your comfort zone. There are tourist police operating in the souks and the locals know this, so a firm but polite ‘no thank you’ or two (or three), should suffice.

This post was written by Izzy Gardener on behalf of Heathrow Airport. The views expressed in this post do not necessarily reflect the views of Heathrow Airport. Izzy claims:
Getting to Marrakech couldn’t be any easier – non-direct flights from Aberdeen leave frequently and as it’s difficult to park in this area of Aberdeen, parking facilities at the airport are a welcome stress-reducer. Get your bags packed!

Travel light and enjoy the sights.

19 December 2012

Secret Spots in Melbourne to Have Fun

Melbourne is known for a bunch of tourist attractions – Federation Square, Chinatown and the Greek Precinct, and the Australian Centre for Moving Images (ACMI), just to name a few. However, if you’re looking at real estate in Melbourne or you’re visiting Australia’s cultural capital, you have the option to uncover some of the city’s best kept secrets.



Here are some hidden gems, waiting to be found by those who seek them - beyond Federation Square in Melbourne...


Seamstress/Sweatshop


There’s no shortage of hip, small bars in Melbourne, but this one is tucked away in a small side street, and you’d be pretty lucky to stumble across it accidentally. Downstairs is the bar – Sweatshop, and above it, the restaurant – Seamstress. Though the names sound a little shady, the food and beverages served there are anything but. Sweatshop has an impressive range of cocktails, and Seamstress changes its menu seasonally. Check out the website for a full menu.


Seamstress is perfect for a nice meal with a bit of a grungy atmosphere, while Sweatshop is the place to go if you want to grab a quick drink and impress your friends.


Local Shop


It’s always good to shop local, and there’s nowhere more local than the Local Shop in Northcote, Melbourne. Populated with gorgeous handcrafted goods and one-of-a-kind trinkets, Local Shop is sure to please thrift-shoppers and those who love having unique items. It’s a good stop-off if you’re looking to decorate your new real estate venture, or find a quirky gift for a friend. The shop is always filled with sweet-smelling bouquets of local flowers, which are also for sale, so you could end up walking out with a hand-stitched tea cosy and a bright floral arrangement. Who doesn’t love the sound of that?


Blackhearts & Sparrows


For the sophisticated wine lovers out there who know about tannins and noses, or those who are just casual fans, there is Blackhearts & Sparrows, Wine Purveyors. They have stores in East Brunswick and Windsor, but their main store is located in North Fitzroy with welcoming, wooden farm doors. The store has a recommendations board, written by the staff and based on the wines they drank the previous week. The staff are very friendly in person as well, and are more than happy to advise you on your wine purchase, or let you sample their wares. Whether you are a seasoned lover of wine, or just want to know more, Blackhearts & Sparrows is a treasure trove of knowledge and wine.


Grub Food Van and Grub Hole


If it’s coffee and a bit of food you’re after, look no further than the Grub Food Van. Unlike most food vans, this one is stationary and only operates during the summer months. It’s parked next to the Grub Hole, whose décor is kitschy but homely, and unlike its van counterpart, is open through the colder months as well. Stop by for a hearty meal and a lovely cuppa; the menu changes frequently, so you’ll have to head on over to see what they have in store – but rest assured, it’s well worth the trip.
Weekend nights, the Grub Hole turns into a bar where you can pick your poison until fairly late. Like the menu, the café/bar’s opening hours are subject to change, so be sure to check out the website to avoid disappointment.


Laneways


This isn’t necessarily a secret, but being scattered about the city rather than one destination, the Melbourne Laneways can get overlooked and only visited as an afterthought on the way to somewhere else. But these are so much more than just cracks between the buildings; the laneways and arcades have been refurbished to showcase the local artistic talent, and gives a whole new meaning to street art. It’s definitely worth setting aside some time dedicated to walking around the Melbourne Laneways to check out the local talent. Don’t forget to bring your camera!


These are just a few of the secret treasures Melbourne has to offer. The real pleasure comes in stumbling upon a gem of your own. Don’t be afraid to take a wander around the city – you never know what you might find!




Alicia Moore is a Melbournite at heart and a realtor by profession. Currently, she’s looking for real estate in the western suburbs of Melbourne – to see what she’s considering.

18 December 2012

The Windiest Travel Destinations On Earth

The windiest place on Earth is Cape Dennison at Commonwealth Bay, Antarctica, where winds can exceed 150mph. Obviously, Antarctica isn't everyone's first choice of travel destination and there are a selection of other locations dotted around the globe that, for certain reasons, feature an incredibly wild climate, making them popular with some whilst others travel there to merely test themselves against some of the world's most brutal weather conditions.


Wellington, New Zealand

Wellington is the southernmost capital of the world and its location prompts it to be known as arguably the windiest city as well. With winds reaching speeds of 40 knots, the winds can be challenging and a massive nuisance to those looking to visit. The location of the city doesn't help and is known to sit on a River of Wind, a large corridor of wind where the speed is known to severely pick up at certain times of the year. In spite of all this, Wellington is constantly seen as one of the most popular travel destinations around.

Punta Arenas, Chile

Translated as 'Sandy Point', Punta Arenas is found in the Chilean/Antarctic region in South America, not too far away from the windy conditions of Rio Gallegos. Chile is a popular tourist destination and this city, with winds reaching over 20 mph on a daily basis, is a charming location and one of the only cities to be directly affected by the Ozone layer. Like the majority of the locations down in this part of the world, December is the windiest month of the year whilst June is usually a lot calmer, with winds lower than 15 mph being the fastest.

Rio Gallegos, Argentina

Rio Gallegos' windy conditions are explained by the city's location at the southern tip of Argentina, right at the bottom of the world, not including Antarctica. Though the average wind speed within this windy city is around 20 mph, it's known for some days in this coastal city to see winds of up to 53 knots which equates to about 60 mph; perfect weather for windsurfing perhaps. The winter months usually see the harshest weather conditions and December in particular is known for its brutality with a normal day seeing winds of around 35 mph sweep through the city.

Cape Blanco, United States

The only location on this feature that is situated in the northern hemisphere, Cape Blanco lies on the Pacific coast in Oregon. Whilst it's fairly well kept during the majority of the year, the winter months can play havoc with the western US coast with winds out to sea reaching 125 mph, making windsurfing a real danger due to the rocks off the coast. These winds usually constitute storms and aren't frequent in the location but are certainly a lot faster here than anywhere else in the States. It's an overlooked spot usually but holds many delights for the budding tourist.

Cape Point, South Africa

The South African coast, a haven for windsurfers and those looking for the most scenic beauty on the globe, is situated in the southern hemisphere and can be subject to quite adverse weather conditions. Cape Point at the southern tip of Cape Town has become a tourist attraction for its association as the most southern point of the continent. Studies into the station at Cape Point have shown that about 42% of the wind there blew at more than 8 metres per second. It's a great hiking area and offers some sublime beauty but due to the wind, can be considered dangerous.


Brad Chambers wrote this post on behalf of Sealskinz.com, a leading UK stockist of wind resistant gloves, hats and socks. Brad blogs about sports, travel and can be followed on twitter here.

13 December 2012

Christmas in Madrid: the Heart of Spanish Festivity

The festive season in the Spanish capital is saturated with Christmas cheer and that elusive holiday spirit. There’s nothing better than wandering through the light adorned streets with the hum of happy, chattering families and stores brimming with tempting treats.

Here is a tiny taster of Christmas the Spanish way and what you should expect if you are planning to party with the Madrilenos over the winter season. 

Christmas Sweets


Classic Christmas food in Spain is made up of hunks of delicious steaming meats, fresh fish dishes and generous sides but the festive frivolity really seeps in with the sweet treats. Spanish Christmas sweets are unparalleled pieces of sugary heaven. There is a plethora of syrupy delights, which include a variety of nougats, marzipans and crumbly, moreish things. No hamper is complete without dates (datiles), walnuts (nueces), turron (almond flavoured nougat) and mandarins (mandarinas).


Christmas Markets in Madrid


The main Christmas market each year in Madrid is in Plaza Mayor. It officially opens in the first week of December and the abundantly laden stalls sell all sorts of nibbles, drink, arts, crafts and really a whole host of delightful Christmas bits and bobs.



If you are planning on a good old shopping binge while you are away, being surrounded by all the new markets and shops, you might want to consider getting some insurance. Don’t forget to compare travel insurance prices just like you would when on anything else while shopping.

The Show to start Christmas


In Madrid, apparently, Christmas officially begins on December 15 and to celebrate this joyous occasion there is a magical show in Plaza de Oriente (Metro Opera) at 8pm, which shouldn’t be missed on account of its festive exuberance.


Ice Rinks


For the past two years there has been an outdoor ice rink in the Retiro Park and the tradition is sure to continue. Set in the luscious gardens of the Parque del Buen Retiro, which is scattered with marble monuments, landscape lawns, stretching pathways and unusually beautiful buildings, is the huge ice skating rink. You will feel like you are ice-skating with royalty as the regal buildings and snow dusted trees over look the rink. If you are planning on paying this a visit it might again be a wise idea to purchase travel insurance to Europe for you and the family. Absolutely no one wants to be spending their hard saved holiday money on expensive hospital bills abroad. 
 

Christmas Lights


The whole of Madrid is generously blanketed in dazzling lights however, having said that, the most spectacular displays will be on Gran Via and of course the department stores in Sol, which always make a gargantuan effort with sparkles.

Nativity Scenes


Unfortunately not so popular in the UK, the nativity scenes, called Belenes, are carefully placed throughout the city and instil the very essence of Christmas into the streets. The town council's nativity scene will be in Plaza de la Villa, which is possibly one of the grander scenes. 

Christmas Eve for Kids


On Christmas Eve there is a wonderful animal parade in Retiro Park, which even the tiniest tots will enjoy and the atmosphere is utterly jovial. 

Three Kings Procession


The Three Kings day is just as big as Christmas in Madrid and warrants special consideration. On the evening of January 5th, Noches de Reyes, thousands of children, parents and friends gather to watch the cabalgata (parade) where giant colourful floats, music and dancing light up the streets. Riders scatter handfuls of shiny sweets as they pass and the atmosphere is full of effervescent anticipation. The following day is the day of the kings and traditionally families group for hearty feasts and present giving.

09 December 2012

Great Places to Take the Kids in London this Christmas

For kids, Christmas is the most magical time of the year: the time Father Christmas comes with his reindeer to deliver gifts to all those lucky enough to be on the ‘good list’.  As the days count down their thoughts turn to all these wonderful gifts beneath the tree and their excitement can barely be contained. So what to do if you’ve got a house full of excited kids and need to get out? Well, thankfully, there’s plenty going on in London this Christmas season to keep them occupied.

Panto

The traditional Christmas pantomime is a must for the young and old alike. It’s a uniquely British tradition and despite being called old hat by some, each year theatres up and down the country put on spectacular new shows sure to keep the kids entertained for hours. Even after all these years, we all still love to shout ‘he’s behind you!’ and have a good old sing-song with some strictly Z-list celebrities.

Ice Skating


Lots of temporary outdoor rinks are put up especially for the festive season in London at such stunning venues as the Natural History museum and Somerset House, as well as the many permanent ones already here.  There’s nothing quite like taking to the ice to show off your skating skills and in many cases making a mess of it. Ice skating really is a truly magical Christmas experience you’ll remember long after the bruises have disappeared!

Kempton

The world-famous Kempton racecourse may not be the first place you think of when it comes to Christmas but with reindeer racing and lots of other Christmas activities on this festive season it’s sure to be a hit with both parents and kids alike. Conveniently located just outside of the hustle and bustle of central London, Kempton boasts excellent food and drink set in gorgeous countryside surroundings and with a little bit of luck, some snow to set the whole scene off.

Santa’s Grotto

If your kids are still young (and lucky) enough to be brought gifts from Father Christmas then there’s not much better than seeing the man himself in person. His elves guide you through Santa’s magical grotto where the children get to sit on Santa’s knee, make their wishes and, most importantly, get photographic proof that they’ve met the man in red. There are lots of grottos around London with major department stores such as Harrod’s taking part in the festive cheer.


Shauna Price is a mummy blogger that loves to take her kids to new and exciting places, especially over Christmas.

06 December 2012

Deira - Historic & Cultural Dubai

Deira - The historic & cultural community of Dubai


Deira is the historic neighbourhood of Dubai and a showplace of the United Arab Emirates. The venue is outlined by the Persian Gulf and the Emirate of Sharjah. It falls on the east side of Dubai Creek and opposite to Bur Dubai, which is renowned for its modern architecture, commercial centres, lavish business zones and ornate homes. On the contrary, Deira is known for its old town area, narrow streets, traditional courtyard houses, historic trading areas and trademark souks and is frequented by tourists from all over the world.



The area features numerous upscale restaurants, smaller shops and modern retail stores making traveling to Deira Dubai, a colourful and memorable experience. If you’re already thinking about paying it a visit, then the following post is for you as it explains detailed information about Deira Dubai – from how you can get there to things to do in Deira, you will find everything here. 
 
How to get there

Deira Dubai is at a short drive from Dubai International Airport and Deira Abra train station. Not to worry, if you do not want to hail a taxi, as you can catch a bus from the airport or ride the metro to Union Station. You can also take a water bus to Al Sabkha Marine Transport Station if you like and check out the creek.
 
Where to stay

Deira offers a number of accommodation options from upscale to budget and mid-range hotels including Sandras Inn and Rafee Hotel, respectively. To save your budget for sight seeing and traveling, I suggest you pick an economical hotel. If you have no budget constraints then you can go for other centrally located and upscale hotels like Sheraton Deira Hotel, Crowne Plaza Dubai, Deira, Radisson Blu Deira Creek and Desert Palm Resort. Other than hotels, Deira also features short stay apartments and serviced apartment hotels such as the chic Al Jawhara Hotel Apartments.

Things to do in Deira

Deira Dubai contains a plethora of traditional and modern souks and shops offering everything from gold to spices. One can say that shopping is the biggest attraction of Deira. Other than shopping, you can find several small cafes along the narrow streets that usually remain open from early morning to early evening. To avoid the scorching heat of Dubai during the day, you stay indoors or visit Deira City Centre Shopping Mall featuring branded shops along with traditional ones, several restaurants and a cinema.
 
To enjoy everything in a traditional way, you can also opt for camel racing, desert dune buggy rides and water taxi ride across Dubai Creek. At Al Nasr Leisureland, you can enjoy ice skating. A must visit picnic and barbeque spot in Deira is its public beach at Al Mamzar Park. Nightlife is Deira vibrant a good time to go out on the streets to shop and to hangout.
 
The attractions are

To epitomize the modern Middle Eastern architecture, you’d find many modern buildings amongst older structure sand traditional mosques in Deira. For example, Etisalat Telecommunications building, the twinkling glass National Bank of Dubai building and the promenade or Corniche by the British Embassy, all of them offer a slice of the modern architecture on the skyline of Deira. Dhow Wharfage at Port Saeed is the most notable attraction of Deira. Across the Creek, lies the historic Bastakia district with its ancient forts and wind towers and the Sheikh Saeed Al Makhtoum House, which is now a history museum.

Other than these, the area features numerous shopping, dinning and entertainment options that you will surely enjoy.

This post has been written by Julie Robert, she has wide knowledge of Dubai real estate, Dubai Properties and Dubai Agents.

Holiday Destinations in December

One way to mark the end of a year and get recharged and ready for the next one is by indulging yourself in a little (or large) December vacation. It’s the perfect Christmas treat for your family or a way to escape with a group of friends, and with so many great destinations on offer there’s a place just right for you, whatever you’re into. Here are some picks to get you started.


Egypt

There are many great holiday destinations throughout Egypt, which will allow you to choose from a trip spent with total relaxation or one that involves seeing some fantastic ancient sites. A week or two in the traditional tourist destination of Sharm el-Sheikh, where average temperatures in December reach a high of almost 25C, will allow you to develop a great tan. Meanwhile, Cairo offers all the wonders of ancient Egypt within easy distance.

Hit the Slopes

But for a true adventure holiday you should grab your skis or snowboard – or anything else you might want to travel on down the slopes – and head to one of the great European skiing destinations. The Arlberg Ski Circus in Austria is one of the largest ski areas in Europe, catering for everyone from experts to complete beginners. Only the stoniest of hearts would fail to feel a bit of the Christmas magic they felt as a child in such picturesque settings.

How About a Little Further Afield? Goa Perhaps?

If the thought of having to wrap up warm for winter feels too much like staying at home, and you’re looking for something stronger than the Egyptian sun to get you hot under the collar, how about the Indian tourist hotspot of Goa? While temperatures get below freezing back at home you’ll just be worrying about reapplying the sun-tan lotion on some gorgeous beaches as temperatures hover above 30C.

Escape the Humdrum of the UK

There’s no better time to escape than December, when Britain experiences its darkest days of the year. A holiday to a beautiful destination abroad can leave you feeling revitalised, whether from having some much deserved me-time relaxing next to the sea or getting the blood well and truly flowing on an adventure holiday. What's more, if you plan it well, you can escape the manic lead up to Christmas but actually make it back for the good part of December - the festivities of Christmas!


Thanks to Jane Firston for this post. Jane writes on behalf of Travelbag.co.uk and loves nothing more than travelling abroad during the winter season.

04 December 2012

A Costa Rican Getaway Will End Your Winter Blues

As the year begins to draw to a rapid close and the weather turns consistently cooler, our minds may begin to wander. For those living in areas that are known for harsher temperatures, thoughts of warm destinations may come to mind. We have the ability to travel to many warmer locations in a variety of different ways. Some of us may choose to drive or even fly to the warmer regions. Those who want to look outside the boarders though may choose to travel to other regions of the world including Central America.  This region can be accessed by flights or even cruise ships depending on the traveler’s preference. For those who are looking to spice up their typical vacations a variety of destinations beckon. An example would be a Costa Rica adventure.


Geographic Location

The location of Costa Rica is what makes it such a popular vacation destination. This Central American nation has a mix of boarders. To the north you will find the country of Nicaragua. To the southeast you find the nation of Panama. The boarders don’t stop there though. For those looking for a large body of water to relax by you have two choices. In the north you will find the Caribbean Sea. Heading south you will find the Northern Pacific Ocean.  Now that we have the location established let’s look into another topic that may weigh on your mind, the weather. As with any location this variable can change on daily basis. Typically though most of the island sees its dry season arrive for the winter months. There is however some areas that will see the rainy season move in during this time of year.  The temperatures can vary depending on which part of the country you are in, however they are certainly warmer than those found in most of the United States during the winter. These two factors lead to the winter months being the high season for Costa Rica’s tourism industry.

Start Planning Your Trip

Are you interested in joining the high season and escaping the colder temperatures? Awesome! Once you have your international travel documents sorted out and find a place to stay your attention can turn to the more fun side of your vacation. What are you going to do while in country? As with any tourism destination this question can be answered in a variety of different ways. There are plenty of opportunities for those who want a calm, peaceful vacation.

The same can be said for those who want to add a little spice to their trip. Do you find yourself in this category? Perfect! A Costa Rica adventure may be just the ticket you are looking for. This type of vacation can include things like a canopy tour or even an ATV tour or a 4x4 UTV tour.  No matter what your ideal version of a vacation is, make sure you do your research and above all enjoy your trip.


Stephen Craig is a part of an elite team of writers who have contributed to hundreds of blogs and news sites. Follow him @SCraigSEO.

02 December 2012

Christmas Shopping in Victoria British Columbia

Christmas Shopping in Victoria

Work had been horrendous the past two weeks, and I needed a break. Specifically, I needed to go shopping. So I combined the two concepts, and snuck up from Seattle for a weekend in Victoria BC, to explore the shops for Christmas presents. Was that ever a great idea!

I had stayed at a wonderful family hotel in Victoria before, and they were glad to hook me up with a room for a couple of nights. I needed to unwind first, so I spent a long time soaking in the hot tub at the hotel, followed by a wonderful dinner. Having slept really well and already much refreshed, I was ready to explore Christmas shopping in Victoria. The staff’s suggestion for shopping nearby had been Uptown Mall, but I could find those in Seattle, and I wanted to experience local stores if possible.

Christmas in Victoria




To enjoy a Victoria Christmas, Lauren at the hotel had enthusiastically told me that Government Street downtown was the place to be. She said it had lots of small and quaint shops, souvenir places, gift shops, and even a Christmas store. I took the short bus ride to Government Street, a narrow, quaint street with tons of personality. There were stately red and tan brick buildings fronted by wide cobblestone sidewalks, with lots of trees, and people walking around or seated at tables outside restaurants. It felt like streets in Tribeca, when we visited New York City. There was just a really delightful energy, and everyone looked contented and like they would have a happy Christmas in Victoria BC.

I started exploring around 11 AM to get the lay of the land, but soon my stomach signaled I needed food. I stopped off at Bard & Banker for some really tasty fish and chips. I didn’t want to take long on lunch – I was having too much fun. I walked quickly past Roger’s Chocolates, lest I get distracted, but just south of View Street I ran across Old Morris Tobacconists. I wanted to find a pipe for Uncle Eugene, but looking at the extensive selection, I quickly realized that I didn’t know what kind of pipe to choose. The helpful staff asked me a few questions about his smoking habits, and quickly put me onto a custom blended pipe tobacco they said he would like very much. I had made my most difficult purchase for Christmas, in Victoria.

I walked outside, and two doors down was Munro’s Books, housed in an old building just bursting with class and atmosphere – a white stone exterior framed by tall columns, heavy brass lamps and murals on the walls inside. A clerk told me the building was a bank in the early 1900s, and carried over 35,000 books. Just walking the aisles was relaxing. I made a mental note to watch the time – but it was difficult while surrounded by all those fine books. Then I found a hardcover copy of Hemingway’s For Whom The Bell Tolls that I knew would delight my husband. Score!

Ten Thousand Villages. A sign said handcrafted products from around the world, and I knew this was my kind of place. The wonderful staff told me that being in their store was like a trip around the world, and that they sold artisan crafted personal accessories, home décor items and gifts. They offered me a coffee to sample before I visited the Rug Room. I glanced at my watch, and saw that it was now 5 PM. I was tired and knew I had lots more to explore as I was shopping for Christmas in Victoria. I hadn’t even made it to the Christmas store yet.

I came home to the hotel that night tired, yet renewed, and excited about tomorrow’s adventure Christmas shopping in Victoria – straight back to Government Street for me. I already knew that when I was done, I would reward myself with a stop at Roger’s Chocolates.

Carol Atkins has been traveling the globe for much of her life. She loves of all types of travel adventures including island hopping, hiking, cruising and being lazy on the beach :). She plans on spending next Christmas in Victoria, BC. Follow her on twitter @atkins_carol