World Travel Diaries

Distinct Culture and a Taste Sensation

Monday 29 December 2008 | By Ros Bulat |

Sri Lankin Journal

Brimming with colonial grandeur the beautiful island of Sri Lanka (previously known as Ceylon) is emerging as one of the world’s great new luxury holiday destinations. Hanging like a pendant from the ear of India this is an island truly blessed. Sri Lanka’s main languages and religions were inherited from India, but her culture and society have unique and distinct qualities. Signs of Portuguese, Dutch and British influences linger in institutions such as Churches, tea estates and forts, not to mention music and food.

Six years on from the devastating affects of the Boxing Day Tsunami – Sri Lanka is a true survivor. Most of the West Coast beach hotels have long reopened and have also benefited from a full refurbishment looking better than they have done for years. In fact in a clear vote of confidence several international hotel and luxury resort brands have moved to establish presence here.

Sri Lanka offers many varied experiences!

The coastal south of Colombo has magnificent palm lined beaches. Try the Kandyan dances, a procession of elephants, or the masked devil dance. Explore the temples and 60m high solid brick dagobas (Buddhist shrines) of the ancient capitals of Anuradhapura and Polonaruwa. Head for the hill country where the heat of the plains and the coast fades away to reveal gorgeous rolling hills carpeted with tea plantations. Many rave about the surfing breaks at Arugam Bay, Kirinda and other beaches, if that is your thing! There are a dozen major national parks inhabited by elephants, leopards, monkeys, crocodile and deer. As Sri Lanka is but a relatively small Island a lot can be covered in a compact time period.

Recipes brought in by traders & invaders have left there mark and naturally there is an Indian influence but there are also Dutch, British, Arab and Portuguese flavours. Unlike the increasingly informal consumption of food in many countries, eating in Sri Lanka is still a ritual. To truly enjoy a Sri Lankan Curry you must forget any thoughts of cutlery and prepare to dine with your fingers – but remember not to use your left hand!

If wildlife in particular is of interest, perhaps consider a visit to the Pinnewala Elephant Orphanage, set up to save abandoned or orphaned wild elephants. Roaming freely around the sanctuary there is no where else you are likely to see so many elephants at close quarters.

If you offer the Manhouts (keeper) a few Rupee, he will let you jump in for a swim with one of the giants – a wonderful experience!  

For more information on any of the areas featured in this blog, contact World Travel Professionals to speak with one of our consultants. We encourage and welcome all user comments and aim to use our blog to interact with our interested readers!    

Winter In Europe

Tuesday 23 December 2008 | By Ros Bulat |

Exploring Europe during the winter is one of the best-kept secrets in travel!

Winter is such an enchanting time to visit Europe; in fact it should be mandatory that at least once in your lifetime you experience the magic of a White Christmas in this part of the world.

If you are worried about going to Europe during winter – don’t be! You will find the weather is often surprisingly mild, the city streets and attractions less crowded than during the summer, and the local shops filled with incredible winter bargains. Not to mention the great deals you can get on airfares and tours before you leave.

How about a visit to the Christmas Markets in Rothenburg, where you are plunged back into the 16th century as you enter through medieval walls and follow the narrow cobblestones streets to the market square with its town clock, or what about the sparkling festival lights of Prague and Budapest? Or a Mozart and Strauss concert in Vienna. 

Winter offers you a chance to see Europe in a whole different-albeit dimmer-light. The season presents you with a chance to put on your woollies and hike snow covered peaks, or squeeze into a tux and go to an opera gala.

Winter has charms of its own. Instead of a seat at an outdoor cafe, think of wandering through Venice's wintry fog, peering into the city's steamed-up windows in search of a cosy café or, better yet, think of eating rich, winter foods beside a roaring fire beneath the intricately carved timber-beams of an historic guild hall restaurant in Basel, Switzerland. 

In winter, European cuisine changes dramatically. Southern Mediterranean dwellers wouldn't think of eating heavy cream sauces in summer. But once the leaves fall off the trees, European kitchens burst into winter mode. Creamy, long-cooking sauces, preserved duck and goose, root vegetables, and the roasting of wild game all contributing to aromas that will leave you wishing you could stay in Europe forever. 

Of course some places are indeed quite chilly. But the south of Italy, Spain, Portugal and most of Greece are pretty balmy in winter. Winter is a great time to visit Spain's Andalucian trio of Seville, Cordoba and Granada. Or perhaps you'd rather take a winter visit to almost deserted Pompeii with a stopover in Naples in order to eat some of the best food in Italy. So Why not travel in winter? Hotels and airfares are cheap, and sweaty summer crowds are a dim memory!

For more information on any of the areas featured in this blog, contact World Travel Professionals to speak with one of our consultants. We encourage and welcome all user comments and aim to use our blog to interact with our interested readers!      
  

Niseko Japan, International Ski Destination

Wednesday 17 December 2008 | By Ros Bulat |

Japan Ski, Gaining Momentum

Japan is a country with extensive mountain ranges, literally hundreds of ski resorts and plentiful snow, yet a language barrier and the country's distance from Western markets have long prevented it from becoming a major international ski destination.

That's starting to change, especially at a resort called Niseko. Situated on Hokkaido, the northernmost of Japan's main islands, Niseko has become wildly popular among Australians, who are attracted by the chance to ski world- class snow without suffering the jet lag they associate with North American and European resorts.

Especially from mid-December through February, the resort gets socked with winter storms that blow off Siberia and bury the mountain in some of the lightest, driest powder on the planet. The town of Kutchan, the seat of local government, records an average of nearly 12.7 meters - about 42 feet - of snow a year. On- mountain averages are harder to come by, but local ski businesses say that Niseko frequently gets more than 15.2 meters a year.

When most people visit Niseko, they come to a conglomeration of three separate ski areas - Grand Hirafu, Higashiyama and Annupuri - which offer a common lift pass and connect near the top of the mountain they share. A few smaller resorts also operate in the Niseko area but do not connect with their bigger neighbors or participate in their shared lift ticket.

Most of Japan's biggest and best-known resorts sit on Hokkaido, the north island, or on the northern half of Honshu, Japan's main island. Hokkaido currently has most of the buzz, but the 1998 Winter Olympics took place at several well- regarded resorts in Nagano Prefecture, on Honshu. Some of the Honshu areas, like the mammoth, multi-resort Hakuba area, are also starting to attract international attention. The sheer numbers of Australians in Niseko's streets, bars and restaurants surprised even visitors from Down Under.

Niseko can still be charming - a small, once-sleepy resort not quite accustomed to the spotlight. In addition to its slopeside hotels, Hirafu village has two main streets, a few lodges and some bed- and-breakfast-style pensions. The restaurants tend to be intimate, and the best book up days in advance during the high season. There's sushi, naturally, but also izakayas (a sort of Japanese tapas bar), bakeries, pizzerias and even a restaurant housed in a Mongolian-style tent.

And Niseko has plenty to do off the slopes. Hot springs, or onsen, are among the best things about many Japanese resorts, and each has its own personality. At the rustic Yukoro onsen, for example, Japanese and Australian visitors sipped beers while leaning against pleasantly rough rocks near a snowbank. For those who can pull themselves out of the water, large swaths of the slopes are also lighted until 9 p.m.

Discover more about winter in Japan here.

For more information on any of the areas featured in this blog, contact World Travel Professionals to speak with one of our consultants. We encourage and welcome all user comments and aim to use our blog to interact with our interested readers!   
  

Heron Island

Monday 8 December 2008 | By Stephanie Harms |

Nature at its Very Best - Heron Island

Having been lucky enough to visit Heron before, when our friends from the UK came to visit us in our new home of Australia at Christmas They asked us to recommend somewhere special.  Our first thought was immediately Heron Island.                                               

Located at the very bottom of the Great Barrier Reef Heron Island is great to travel to this time of year. After your flight to Gladstone you have the option of travelling 1.5 hours by launch or 20 minutes on the helicopter. We decided on the Helicopter transfer as the approach to Heron is one you will never forget. The views of the Great Barrier Reef are truly amazing and wet your appetite for exploring once on the island with shoals of parrot fish, rays and black tipped sharks clearly visible from the air.

Once on the island your luggage is taken to your room which you may feel are perhaps a little basic but the no locks or shoes policy that is adopted together with the ecological feel of the island soon wins you over. You immediately feel that you are not the most important thing on the island, nature is, and after all, this is what you have come to experience. Having said that I have got to say that the standard of food is really 5 star and was a wonderful surprise. Even though we are all well travelled, the seafood buffet on Saturday nights is the best we have all ever experienced anywhere. 

Our day on heron begins with a great breakfast and then you walk 2 minutes through the trees which are laden with Mutton birds and Noddy turns to the waters edge. The sand is white and the sea the most amazing turquoise, the barrier reefs coral comes so close to the shore that you can just snorkel straight from the beach. In fact John a man of some years and who is really well travelled snorkelled for 5 minutes then stood up he was only thigh high in clear water and shouted "its too much” and “I must be dreaming, I am surrounded by at least 5 rays, 10 black tips sharks and countless fish“ it wasn’t even 9 o’clock in the morning yet. We then joined a diving/snorkelling group who take you approx 20 minutes off the island to get an even better view of the amazing reef in all its glory and explore the underwater canyons and sea life.

After the most amazing 3 course lunch with snorkels in hand it is time to walk the island. It takes approximately 20  minutes to walk around and you soon find you have a beach all to yourself. Just you, on a white beach and mother nature at its best.... Wait, the best is yet to come.

At this time of year you get to experience one of lifes truly amazing experiences. Hundreds of turtles travel back to Heron this time of year to lay their eggs. In one night when we were there over 130 turtles edged their way out of the water in the dark the beach lit by the moon and stars as there is no light pollution  and up the beach they struggle they dig their hole and lay their eggs and we were privileged enough to share in this experience. The environmentalists who are permanently stationed on the island explain the age of the turtles and give you detailed information on the process.

I have got to say, our friends were not disappointed in their Australian island experience and travelled home with memories of this beautiful country that they will never forget.

For more information on any of the areas featured in this blog, contact World Travel Professionals to speak with one of our consultants. We encourage and welcome all user comments and aim to use our blog to interact with our interested readers!