Thursday 13 January 2011 | By Rebecca Scaffidi |
Accommodation:Dynasty Resort, South Kuta
The Dynasty Resort has recently been renovated and had 312 newly refurbished guest rooms. This is a great family resort with plenty of activities for kids. The resort has 3 swimming pools, a spa and gym. There is also ‘The Den’ teen’s club and Kid’s playground. If you need some time away from the kids there is a child care centre and an adult area equipped with a Lazy pool and Sunset bar.
If you have a family and are looking to keep the kids entertained, this is the place for you.
Dine at:Ku De Ta
This is a beautiful bar/restaurant that is located right on the beach. You can go here for Dinner or Just cocktails and Nibbles. Either way, the time to get there is about 6pm as you will be in a prime location to witness a gorgeous sunset.
This is a fabulous Italian restaurant in Seminyak that has incredible food at very reasonable prices. You must book here as it gets very busy.
Bubba Gump Shrimp Co
If you’re after something fun you must stop past Bubba Gump’s. They specialise in Prawns, but they also know how to cook up a mean steak. The staff are very friendly and if you order a margarita you’ll get a special surprise.
Best Buy:The Discovery Shopping Mall in Kuta has everything from Brand shopping to hand-made goods. This is a must see if you love to shop. My best buy was a pair of coral coloured Guess sandals.
Highlight:I had 2 highlights on this trip. The first would be spending the day at Waterbom Park. This is a great day out for the whole family… You have adrenalin pumping waterslides for all ages, lazy pool for those who want to relax and a kid’s water playground area for the little ones. Waterbom Park will keep everyone entertained.
The second highlight would have to be going ATV riding. This was so much fun! You get on a 4-Wheeler motor bike and follow your instructors around the muddy and uneven terrain. Expect to get covered in mud.
You can organize this and many other outdoor activities through Bali Adventure Tours.
Monday 10 January 2011 | By Leigh Thompson |
After introducing you to Cardiff and some of the great things that it has on offer, I think that it's time to go a little further afield and explore some of South Wales. I’m hoping that you are adventurous enough to want to hire a car, in which case I have the perfect little ‘loop’ in mind to introduce you to South Wales!
Let's get you started in St Fagans, just on the outskirts of Cardiff - it's the perfect place to begin an introduction to Wales. Here you will find the St Fagans National History Museum of Wales, which, as the name suggests, offers a look back at the history of Wales. This isn't one of those 'everything behind glass' type of museums though, this is an interactive open-air museum set in the grounds of a 16th century manor with live demonstrations. Over the past 50 years, they have actually moved, a variety of historical buildings, brick by brick, into the grounds, and re-assembled them into a little historic 'village' of sorts. It's a great way of learning about the history of the Welsh and what makes this part of the UK so different.
From here, it's off to the village of Caerleon which was home to one of Britain’s’ permanent Roman Legionary Fortresses, and, what some believe, to be the location of King Arthur's Round Table. Set on the banks of the River Usk, Caerleon has some of the most intact Roman Barrack Buildings in all of Europe. It's up to you whether you park in town and do the little heritage walk which will take about an hour, or whether you just drive to the different sites. The amphitheatre and fortress remains are only a couple of streets from the centre of town, and are just lovely to walk around whilst trying to picture them in there original state, just be careful if there's been a little bit of rain, as it can get quite muddy! You must also visit the The National Roman Legion Museum in town which really gives you an idea as to what the ruins were in their prime. The museum also houses many artefacts that have been dug up through the excavations of the sites as well as some fascinating pieces that locals have simply dug up in their backyards! I would also suggest a little wander around the Parish Church yard which is just beautiful.
From Roman Legions to Cistercian Monks, we move east, just north of Chepstow to Tintern Abbey. One of my most favourite places in Wales, Tintern Abbey is a spectacular sight! Dating back to 1131, it was only the second Cistercian in Britain and thrived for 400 years until King Henry VIII’s reign, when he decided to seize control of all of the monasteries and take anything of value into the King’s Treasury! It wasn’t long until the Abbey fell into ruin, but thanks to poets like William Wordsworth, tourists fell in love with the romantic idea of the ruins and started to flock to the site, which forced the government to finally help with its’ restoration. Located in the Wye Valley on the banks of the River Wye, you can see why poets and tourists have been falling in love with the romantic setting for centuries. Whenever I visit the Abbey I am left in awe at the sheer size of it! I could go on and on, but I’d rather you just go visit it for yourself! I will finish off this introduction at the half way point of this suggested ‘loop’.
With its’ recent history built on the back of the Coal Mining Industry, no visit to Wales could be complete without a visit to a Coal Mine, and ‘Big Pit’ in the Brecon Beacon’s town of Blaenavon was the King of the Welsh Coal Mines. Closed in 1980, the mine re-opened as a Museum in 1983, and offers visitors a look at what was once a fully functional coal mine. Many of the guides that work there were actually miners at the site prior to its closing and offer stories and insight that are beyond those that you’d read in a book. The ‘inside’ museum offers photographs and a range of mining tools and trinkets that were used in Big Pit’s 120 year history which gives you a real sense of what life was like for the miners and their families, whilst the ‘outside’ museum offers visitors the chance to descend the depths of the 300 foot mine. Whilst I will never forget the feeling of being at the bottom of that mine and imagining how appalling the conditions would have been for those that worked in it, Big Pit will always be remembered by me as the first place that I ever saw snow!
Departing from Big Pit will have you driving through the Brecon Beacons National Park, one of Wales’ three National Parks. Soak in the splendour as you make your way East and then South through Wales’ famous ‘Valley’s’ on your way to Caerphilly. If you get the chance, try to stop in Merthyr Tidfil for a little wander and enjoy the fabulously melodical accents of the locals born in the Valley’s.
Your next stop will be Caerphilly Castle, the largest castle in Wales, located in the heart of Caerphilly town. To me, this is what a castle should be - big and imposing, with a drawbridge and a moat (there is even a turtle in the moat!)! Its history dates back to around 1270 when Gilbert ‘The Red’ de Clare ordered its construction in an effort to defend South Wales from an invasion by Llewelyn the Last, of North Wales. The Castle was a bit of a military marvel of its time, and thankfully, with few alterations to the core design, it remains a perfect example of 13th Century Medieval Architecture. Keep an eye out for ‘The Green Lady’ who is said to haunt the ivy-covered battlements!
Not too far from Caerphilly, almost back in Cardiff is the more fairy-tale inspired Castell Coch. Built on the site of a 13th century fortress, this castle is relatively new as far as castles go and was constructed from about 1871 by the 3rd Marquess of Bute (he was responsible for much of the newer construction in Cardiff Castle). Set in lush forest, with green conical roofs and a drawbridge, one could be forgiven for expecting a fairy Princess to come skipping out of the castle – it really is a bit of a fantasy location! My first visit here was when I was 12, and it remains one of my favourite castles!
Should the idea of doing all of this driving be a little daunting to you, I would recommend a locally owned Tour Company called ‘See Wales’ to take you to most of the sites that I have recommended. These small-group tours operate daily from Cardiff and showcase three separate parts of South Wales. The tour guide and owner of the business, Paul Harris is a wealth of knowledge and manages to bring the tours to life in a way that only a local, incredibly passionate about his country really could - you won't find any dry, boring moments in any of these tours!! I have done all three tours a couple of times and have had a ball each and every time - I couldn't speak highly enough about the experience.
See you in Wales!
St Fagans - http://www.museumwales.ac.uk/en/stfagans/
Monday 10 January 2011 | By Ruth Carlton |
Caerleon - http://www.caerleon.net/
Tintern Abbey - http://www.cadw.wales.gov.uk/default.asp?id=6&PlaceID=132
Blaenavon - http://www.museumwales.ac.uk/en/bigpit/
Caerphilly - http://www.cadw.wales.gov.uk/default.asp?id=6&PlaceID=39
Castell Coch - http://www.cadw.wales.gov.uk/default.asp?id=6&PlaceID=48
After 12 days of cruising from Venice to the Black Sea and back to Istanbul, in total luxury, the time had come to discover two more countries of the old Eastern Block, countries that found themselves left behind the Iron Curtain, for so many years, Bulgaria and Romania.
Even though I have visited many areas of the old Communist Bloc, I was not prepared for the interesting panorama and ancient historic treasures that were in store for me, the amazing mix between East and West, Europe and Orient!
Bulgaria is the smaller of the two countries and has gone through the troubled Communist Era better than its neighbour. Sofia is the capital, a very beautiful European small capital, with all the trimmings such as a host of eateries, cafes, a flea market etc. The 5th Century St Sofia Basilica is “in the shadow” of the magnificent Alexander Nevski Cathedral, but it is nonetheless one of the most important sights and symbols of this capital: St Sophia Church provided the name change of the medieval city of Sredets (ancient Serdica) to Sofia, in the late Middle Ages. The Basilica is dedicated to the Holy Wisdom (Hagia Sophia Istanbul!).
Plovdiv is about two hours South East of Sofia and is the second-largest city in Bulgaria. It is an ancient city dating back 8000 years built around seven hills and it was controlled by the Romans. What a sight to stroll through the Old Town seeing its 18-19th Century Bulgarian City architecture, Orthodox Churches, Muslim Mosques and a Catholic Cathedral! And then, to my surprise, there is the 2nd Century Antique Roman Amphitheatre “patched” on one of the seven hills - breathtaking! The Old Plovdiv with its colourful special houses nowadays is an original living museum showing so vividly the undying values of the cities six millennia long history! A mention needs to also go the the Etnographic Museum, one of the most interesting in the country. But let us not forget: Plovdiv is an old trade centre, hosting such events as an International Trade Fair since 1892 (one of the biggest in the Balkans), the Festival “A stage on a crossroad” amongst more.
Heading North is the Valley of Roses an area which has had a rose-growing industry for centuries and which produces 85 percent of the World’s Rose Oil. But do not expect a World Class or historical presentation! No doubt wonderful when the roses are in bloom, but in general very basic, except for the produce!
On the way to the Valley, SHIPKA is a must on an itinerary, for the visit of the Memorial Church, or better known as the Church of the Nativity. It was erected after the Liberation as a monument to both Russian and Bulgarian dead, during the Russo-Turkish War of 1877/78. Its location is South of the Stara Planina Mountains and its golden domes and the green and pink coloured façade look amazing against the mountains! The 50 m high spire houses 17 bells!
Further on the road North lies the City of Kasanlak, close by is a UNESCO World Heritage Site: the Thracian City of Seuthopolis, with the Tomb of Seuthus III. The Historical Museum Iskra is a must!
Veliko Turnovo, Bulgaria’s medieval capital and one of the oldest settlements in the country has a history of more than 5 millennia; the first traces of human presence date from the 3rd millennium BC on Trapezitsa Hill, one of the three hills that the town is built on. The Town is a living museum and the history is well documented it the nightly Sound and Light Show.
A good hour’s drive North is the mighty Danube, the border between the two countries. The Border Crossing Town of Ruse leads to Romania and its capital Bucharest. This European Capital with some 3 Million Inhabitants was called “Little Paris”, in the early 1900! Not surprising though when you travel through the wide tree-lined boulevards you are reminded one of the glorious Belle Eqopue!
Bucharest is today a bustling Metropolis. The recent history of Bucharest – and Romania – is nothing short of deeply troubled, and little shows the contrasts better than Calea Victoriei (Victory Avenue) linking the Arch de Triumphe with the monsterous Ceausescu Palace second largest only to the Pentagon! Only after the terrible Civil War in 1989 was Romania given the opportunity to re-establish itself as a World identity.
A few hours North of the capital lies the Carpati Mountain range, Romania’s Ski area, and on the way Sinaia and Peles Castle – a mountain area that made the German born King Carol I of Romania and his wife Elisabeth feel at home! Peles Castle could be in Bavaria! The Royal Couple kept well in touch with the rest of Europe, and in particular with Emperor Franz Joseph of Austria. Sinaia also has a 17th Century Monastery. Bran Castle is not far, and thus we enter the World of Count Dracula! Whilst Dracula is a fictional character in the novel, the people of Sighisoara will tell you differently: their local by the name of Vlad Dracula was born there in 1431 but resided and became the ruler of Walachia – and this despite the incredible legends that surround Transylvania! Sighisoara, by the way, is worth more than a quick stop on the way through: founded by Transylvanian Saxons during the 12th Century (when it was called Schassburg) is still one of the most beautiful and best-preserved medieval towns of Europe! It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, with 9 towers, cobbled streets, burgher hourses and churches which rivals the streets of Old Prague and Vienna!
Let me go back to the Southern Carpathian Mountains, and we find Brasov – Kronstadt at the time – which means Corona, Crown City (coat of arms of the city is a crown with oak roots). Brasov is the second-largest city in Romania, with a fortification around the city, with several towers that were maintained by different craft guilds. Brasov is also a big industrial center and was even more so during the Communist area. The Black Church is tha largest gothic church in Romania, with also one of the largest organs in Eastern Europe.
The German influence in Transylvania is enormous: the seven walled citadels populated by the Saxons were known in German as the Siebenburgen. The other Siebenburgen citadels were: Bistita (Bistritz), Cluj (Klausenburg), Medias (Mediasch), Sebes (Muhlbach), Sibiu (Hermannstadt) and Sighisoara (Schassburg).
And then Sibiu, the largest and wealthiest of the seven walled citadels – the guilds paid for the construction of both impressive building and fortifications for protection – the Old Town retains the grandeur of the earlier days and there is still a distinctly Germanic feeling. Sections of the wall still stand, narrow streets, steep-roofs 17th Century buildings with gable overhangs, church-dominated squares such as Great Square and Little Square! Cross the Liar’s Bridge, and another mention needs go to to the Bruckental Art Museum, one of the best in Romania!
The way back to Bucharest leads past Cozia Monastery built in 1388 and one of the country’s most valuable monuments of medieval architecture. The area of Wallachian’s old capital was Curtea de Arges, with its 6th Century Monastery, Dedication Day Assumption of the Virgin 15 August. The Monastery houses some very valuable paintings, and in the pronaoes, some of the country’s rulers are interred such as for instance King Carol I and his Wife Queen Elisabeth, King Ferdinand and Queen Maria and King Carol II.
If you are interested in History and Art, and if the mix between the West and the Orient fascinates you, a visit to Bulgaria and Romania is well worth a trip! However, in order to get the full benefit, it is most important to only join a very small group and professional local guides, in fact the best option is a private tour and private guide which makes it so much more satisfying!
Monday 10 January 2011 | By Rebecca Scaffidi |
Accommodation: Docklands Apartments Grand Mercure & Mantra 100 Exhibition. The Mercure in Docklands is in a great location and is a 10 minute walk from the city. The rooms are very specious and well furnished and also have great views of the City, Yarra River and Etihad Stadium. This hotel is perfect if you like a nice quite environment that is away from the hustle and bustle of the city center. The area is also surrounded with beautiful little restaurants and bars that are literally outside your door.
The Mantra 100 Exhibition is a great 4 star property that is very centrally located. It is only a stones throw away from Collins Street – which is great for all those shop-a-holics. The rooms are extremely specious and have plenty of room for all of your shopping bags. I must also note for all you shop-a-holics out there that Cartier is right next door. Overall, this is a really well rounded property and is great value for money.
Dine at: You cannot go to Melbourne without a visit to Lygon Street in Carlton. If you love Italian food, this is the place for you. It has the biggest selection of Italian restaurants and cafes in Australia so you’re bound to find something you like. Little Italy is one of my favourites and has a great selection of freshly made pastas.
Also, just off Lygon Street there is a gorgeous little restaurant called Brunetti (194-204 Faraday Street) that specialises in the most delicious desserts. This place is a must see! Lygon Street is only a quick 5 minute taxi ride from the city or if it’s a nice summer’s night, why not take a nice stroll down Russell Street and take in a bit of the Melbourne Atmosphere.
Best buy: You can’t go wrong with a Discount Factory Outlet (DFO). These have most of your normal retail stores with heavily discounted items. There is also Spencer Street shopping centre which was formally a DFO and is located right at the end of Bourke Street at Spencer Street Station. However, if you’re after that cute little boutique with one-off originals you can’t go past a stroll down the little hidden alleyways off Bourke Street mall.
Highlight: A sold out crowd at the MCG. If you are in Melbourne during Footy season, be sure to catch a game or two at the MCG. If you go to a high profile game the atmosphere is amazing!