Category Archives: Exotic destinations

R is for Russia

As an avowed non sporting person the whole soccer world cup mania is not my idea of a good time, but the chance to see even a little of Russia is definitely on my to do list.

I have just had clients spend four nights in St Petersburg and they made the most of their time there by booking a personal tour of The Hermitage, the world famous museum where they boast that if you spent one minute in front of every item in the museum it would take you eleven years to see it all.  With over three million things to see your head will spin.  Fortunately only a fraction of the collection is on show.  While there the guided tour of the Treasury is worth a look for the gold room among other things.

Hermitage Museum

St Petersburg offers majestic churches, the Nevsky Prospect to walk along, and trips to Peterhof.  Try to avoid the ship loads of cruise passengers all trying to squeeze into the city of you can.

You can cruise on the river between St Petersburg and Moscow and take in the Golden Ring that takes you to ancient towns and wooden churches and a very different Russia from the two big cities.  The train will also get you between the cities efficiently.

If trains are your thing, the Trans Siberian railway is a once in a lifetime experience.  This will allow you to see the sheer scale of this vast country, meet the locals who depend on the train for communication, supplies and contact, and allow you a glimpse into a very different way of life.

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Q is for Qatar

 

First let me say that the closest I have come to the actual city of Doha is the airport.  I transited there is September last year en route to Europe whilst flying with Qatar Airlines.  Coming down the ramp from the plane the city sits a tantalising distance away on the horizon.

Belgium 112

If like me you did not have time to make Doha a stop, what you will see is Hamad International Airport.

It is huge, very modern, and very expensive.  A small Greek salad and a small orange juice cost me over USD20 so be warned.   If you do have time and you are lucky, you can join a free city tour.  By lucky I mean you cannot pre-book, they only run at set hours and if they are full you can’t go.  If the hours don’t work because of your flight times you are going to get a comprehensive look at the airport facilities.

The trains to the far concourses are fun and will give you something to do after duty free looking gets boring and they do have nap rooms to stretch out in.

If you have a long layover you can book a tour of the city.  The company will pick you up from the airport and you will have a chance see the city.  The free city tour, the museum of Islamic art and the souks will give you a brief introduction to the city.  If you actually make Doha a stop you can obviously see much more.

As with all the Emirati states a trip into the desert will connect you with what is still the heart and soul of the country.  The silence, the vastness of the desert forces you to re-examine your relationship with the natural world.  It is salutary and humbling.

 

P is for Peru

South America as a continent is vast.  To give you a sense of scale, Australia fits inside Brazil which is just one of the many countries in South America.   Peru lies on the west coast of South America and is home to Spanish influenced cites, the Quechua people and the fascinating Inca culture.

Fly into Lima, the capital and you are on the coast of the Pacific.  Try the local seafood restaurants for a range of delicacies from the sea that goes way beyond fish and crustaceans.  The history of Peru, as with much of the continent is strongly influenced by the Spanish conquistadors who came seeking gold and trading opportunities.  They left behind some horrific actions, but some beautiful architecture especially the 16 and 17th century churches. See the royal palace and the main square.

For most people seeing the Amazon is a must, and Peru offers the river at its beginning.  Unlike the famous Manaus wedding of the waters, in Peru you can still see the one side of the river from the other.  Go upstream from Iquitos and stay in one of the jungle lodges and there is a good chance of seeing the pink river dolphins.  Try your hand at pirahna fishing but keep your hands well clear of their teeth.

Pink dolphins Amazon

The jungle is amazing.  Green everywhere,  insects the size of cricket balls and tarantulas the size of the bottom of a bucket.  Birds abound, as do monkeys, snakes and even the occasional jaguar.  It pays to have a very good guide.  If you are lucky you may experience a tropical storm.  Experienced at night, I saw the jungle lit green by lightning.  Incredible.

Jungle lodge Peru

The other must see, and for most the reason to travel to Peru in the first place is to see the Inca culture at Cuzco and Machu Picchu.  Only the most experience pilots fly the Cuzco route and only in daylight – and when you see the airport runway you realise why.  Cuzco perches 11000 feet up in the Andes, surrounded by mountains,  and you need to rest and acclimatize when you arrive.  The city is beautiful – red tiled roofs and stunning drystone walls dating to Quechua times.  On the town tour you will see the stone that has 14 sides and fits perfectly with its  neighbours.  The skill is breathtaking, and it is not just the thin air.  In Cuzco you can try the local speciality of guinea pig – think stringy and quite tough.

Cuzco

From Cuzco the train takes you down 3000 feet through Ollyantaytambo and the sacred valley where the corn is delicious to Aqua Calientes.  This is the town at the bottom of the hill that the once lost city of Machu Picchu sits on.  Undiscovered for several hundred years this spectacularly well preserved ruin raises as many questions as it answers.

machu Picchu

Walk to the Sungate for the view as the locals would have seen it from the Inca trail.  If you want to do the walk make sure you book through a tour company as the numbers are controlled by permit.  The bus takes you up a switchback road to the top.  There are still flower beds planted by the inhabitants that bloom.  And definitely stay overnight so that you have the city at its best in the quiet of early morning and you can explore at your own pace.

There is so much more to see in Peru, but this will have to serve as a taste.  Peru is a smorgasbord to be savoured in all its colours.

O is for Oman

Where do the people of the Arabian Peninsula go for holidays?  To Oman.

And why wouldn’t they?  Oman is a hidden treasure of delight and unexpectedness that beckons travellers with the promise of something truly special.

The capital is Muscat.  Unlike its neighbour to the west Muscat does not have high rise buildings scraping the stratosphere.  In Muscat the buildings may not be taller than the famous towers guarding the city, so it is user friendly and not overwhelming.  The souqs will delight and if you have a platinum card it could get a workout!

Muscat souq

But there is so much more to see than just the capital.  To the north is Musandam.  Explore the mountains here and go on a dhow cruise to visit Telegraph Island and swim in warm waters.  Take the ferry down to Muscat and the cruise is very like the fjords of Norway.

Musandam

South of Muscat you can visit the nesting sites of the green turtles in the right season (September) and south again is Salalah that I will return to.

Most people think of the Arabian Peninsula as desert.  Oman will confound that expectation.  While the Empty Quarter will give you the desert experience (and sleeping under a million stars in the desert sky in a tent having been feasted by the local tribespeople is an experience that will remain with you always),  there is so much more than that.  Oman boasts mountains over 3000 metres high.  Apricots, dates and nuts are grown along with many others and the wadis offer refreshing waters.  Ancient towns like Nizwa with give you an insight to a history that dates back millenia.

Empty quarter Oman

And if that is not enough, Salalah in the south has rainforest!  The place the Muscovites escape to in the heat of summer Salalah offers green vistas and great birdwatching.  It is also home to the frankincense trade that has linked the Arabian Peninsula to Europe.

Boswellia trees frankincense

Bu most of all, Oman offers warm and welcoming hospitality to everyone.  Travellers and tourists will be welcomed, western culture is accepted, and the hotels and resorts are to die for.  Put it on your bucket list now!

Safe Places to travel in 2018

As we draw towards Christmas and some much needed downtime, thoughts turn to plans for 2018 and travel.  In a world increasingly beset by terrorist attacks, volcanic ash and other disasters it can be difficult to pick a place you feel is safe and worth seeing.  So it is good to have an independent source name the top 5.

A recent survey has named the following countries as the world’s five safest to visit.

The latest top 5 safest places are as follows
1. Finland – 6.65
2. UAE – 6.6
3. Iceland – 6.57
4. Oman – 6.49
5. Hong Kong – 6.47
All great destinations. Oman and Iceland are at the top of my list with Finland close behind. I have been to the UAE and Hong Kong so I can give you first hand knowledge and experience here.

Finland offers elegant modern design, fascinating culture and easy proximity to Russia and the rest of Scandinavia, and Finnair hubbing through Helsinki is one of the most efficient airports on the planet.

Many people have hubbed through Dubai especially since direct flights began several years ago out of Adelaide, but take the time to visit.  Plan your visit for November to February for the coolest time of year, but even in summer – which can be brutally hot, everything is air-conditioned right down to the bustops.  A desert dinner under the stars will reconnect you with the vastness of the night skies and the silence of wild places.

Iceland has been on my list to see since I discovered Game of Thrones use it for a great deal of their filming, but fan or not, this is a spectacularly beautiful place.

I put together a tour to Oman a couple of years ago that did not gain traction, but it is time to revisit and put this on your list.  Beautiful, surprising, welcoming and safe, it is  FABULOUS destination.

And Hong Kong is Asia writ large – tall building, tiny villages, a bustling harbour, incredible shopping and fantastic food.

Let me help you plan a great trip to a safe place.

Have a wonderful Christmas and a safe happy break and see you in the new year.

 

M is for Mauritius

 

For many people Mauritius is one of those destinations you may have heard about but really don’t know very much if anything about, let alone where it is.  So lets start with a few basic facts.

Situated in the Indian Ocean west and south of the Maldives, the next landfall west is Madagascar and then Africa.  The island has a temperate climate and is quite small.  With an exotic blend of African culture, French colonial influence, a visit from the British and quite a marked Indian influence, Mauritius has a richness of culture and food that will entice and enchant.

Whilst the indigenous fauna was delicious and consequently is now extinct, you can still see a taxiderm-ied dodo bird, and there are lots of souvenir options in the markets in Port Isaac the capital.  The island is all about coastline, water sports, relaxation and great food.  The French influence is particularly strong in the food offered in the very many resorts around the island – and the sauces are to die for.

For those with a sense of history, Matthew Flinders was imprisoned on Mauritius on his way back from charting the coastline of South Australia and Victoria where he ran into Nicholas Baudin the French explorer doing similar things.  And Mauritius is home to the second oldest botanical gardens in the world, and is well worth a wander. (You will have to go to Padua to see the world’s oldest botanical garden.)

The African influence can be seen in many resorts with thatched roofs and boma style meeting areas.

A tip – the island is influenced greatly by the prevailing winds at various times of the year, so be sure to check where the best side of the island is for the time you are visiting – and enjoy the spectacular sunsets on the western side.

Walk and dodo 004

K is for Kenya

If Africa is on your bucket list, Kenya may well be at the heart of it, and for good reason.

The annual migration between Kenya and Tanzania and back again sees literally millions of animals and birds follow the rains to fresh water.  It is a sight few will forget.

The main point of entry to Kenya is the capital Nairobi.  You can stay at the Giraffe Hotel and have these lanky giants pop their heads in the windows to join you for breakfast. The very long almost prehensile blue tongues will make short work of anything left nearby.

Giraffe Hotel Nairobi

Most travellers will head out quickly from Nairobi to explore the  Serengeti plain, and experience life as it has been lived for thousands of years.   The grass eaters – antelope, impala, wildebeest and zebra, to name just a few graze the plain and gather in the Ngorongoro Crater, and with them the predators.  Lion, cheetah and leopard  lie in wait and help cull the weak and old of the vast herds, strengthening the rest for the survival of the fittest.  And behind then come the scavengers, cleaning up the plains.

Ngorongoro crater

On the lakes enormous flocks of flamingos turns the blue to pink.

Flamingos Lake Nakuru

The Masai Mara have lived traditional lives on the plains of Kenya for thousands of years. Wealth is measured in cows, but water is the most precious gift of all.  Experiencing the red clad warriors performing their high jumping dances will remain with you.

Masai Mara

The migration follows the rains, but most likely viewing is between July and September.

Known as one of the seven natural wonders of the world, the wildebeest migration in Kenya and Tanzania will leave you awestruck, and amazed.