Category: Travel Destinations

Great things to do in Venice

Great things to do in Venice

From the Grand Canal, Venice’s magnificent two-mile-long main street, to the empty reaches of the saltwater lagoon, every inch of Italy’s sight-rich city warrants exploration.


Thrumming with life along the Cannaregio Canal, quiet and echoing in its alleyways and understated campi, this sestiere of surprises conceals the original Jewish Ghetto and some great nightlife on the fondamenta della Misericordia.


A sestiere of many parts, Castello stretches from luxury hotels on the lagoon-side riva degli Schiavoni to glorious churches such as Santi Giovanni e Paolo in the west. Further east, beyond the monumental Arsenale, lie the quiet streets of residential workaday Venice.


Artsy Dorsoduro is home to the Peggy Guggenheim Collection and the new Pinault gallery at the Punta della Dogana. But there’s lots of nightlife, too, around campo Santa Margherita, plus a vibrant student scene further west in the former industrial zone.

Great things to do in Venice

La Giudecca & San Giorgio

With a character all of its own, the Giudecca has an industrious past and an alternative future: from boatyards to galleries, this island just gets trendier. Palladio’s San Giorgio is a Venetian icon.

The Grand Canal

No other city in the world can boast quite such a magnificent main street as Venice: a graceful backwards-‘S’ sweep of water, flowing between sumptuous churches and historic palazzi of breathtaking beauty. Whether you’re doing it for the first time or the 1,000th, making your water-borne way down the Grand Canal is always an extraordinary experience.

Lido & Lagoon

There’s a whole other world in the lagoon, from the rather fin-de-siècle beach resort on the long, sandy Lido to misty waterlands dotted with characterful islands.

San Marco

The eponymous piazza and basilica are the beating heart of this sestiere. Many of Venice’s major attractions are situated here including Doge’s Palace, Campanile and Torre dell’Orologio. In the alleys that wind from this hub towards the Rialto and Accademia bridges are snazzy shops (Ottico Fabbricatore, Daniela Ghezzo Segalin Venezia and Perle e Dintorni), a great opera house (Teatro La Fenice) and glowing Madonnas in awe-inspiring churches.

San Polo & Santa Croce

The hectic produce and fish market at the foot of the Rialto Bridge sets the tone for these busy residential sestieri, packed with the kind of intimate restaurants and cafés frequented by true Venetians. At the sestiere’s heart is the magnificent Frari basilica.

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Pub Culture and Pub Life in Ireland

Dingle, Ireland. Postcard
Dingle, Ireland. Postcard by NationalGeographic
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Irish Pub Culture – more than drinking.

Irish Pub Culture and Irish Pub Life is a much talked about subject at home and abroad. While the number of pubs in Ireland is falling dramatically because of the current economic crisis, a smoking ban and changing lifestyles, the pub as an institution remains an important part of Irish tradition. Below is an introduction to Irish pubs and pub etiquette in Ireland.

Background to Irish Pub Culture

For all its fame and excesses, the best part of Irish drinking pub culture is the social aspect. Traditionally, the church, pub and the local football club were the three main social outlets for people in rural Ireland. The pub had the habit of following the other two. By that I mean that people went to the pub after Mass or after a football match. The pub was where the village met, stories were exchanged and the ‘craic’ (fun) was had.

Irish People rarely drank at home until recent years, because the social aspect was a vital part of enjoying alcohol. The atmosphere, warmth and friendliness of Irish pubs is such that the idea has been exported around the world. There is hardly a city anywhere on the planet that does not have at least one, if not several, Irish pubs.

While it is hard to put a value on the contribution of the pub to the social fabric of Ireland, it is just as hard to measure or ignore the fact that a lot of alcohol comsumption can be over the top in Ireland and binge drinking is all too common. Nevertheless. enjoyed sensibly with good company, a social drink in an Irish pub among friends or friendly strangers, can be hard to beat.

Origin of Word Whiskey

The word whiskey comes from ‘uisce beatha’, meaning ‘water of life’ in Irish Gaelic. Scottish people spell whiskey without the ‘e’, ‘whisky’. While there are hundreds of Scotch whiskies there is a much smaller number of Irish ones, the most well known being Jameson and Bushmills.

Pint Drinking in Ireland

If you simply ask for ‘a pint’ in an Irish pub, you will be given a pint of stout, the black beer called Guinness . However, in Cork, Murphys or Beamish are more common stouts than Guinness .

While common in England to ask for a half as a ‘half pint’, in Ireland the term is a ‘glass’, so you may ask for a ‘glass of guinness’

A common beer or ale in Ireland is ‘Smithwicks’ (which you pronounce ‘Smithicks’) which a lot of my foreign non Guinness drinking friends prefer.

Ordering a Drink in Ireland

You pay for drinks after receiving them unless you are ordering food at the same time. It’s a normal part of Irish pub culture for a barman will expect to be paid after he gives you a drink or round of drinks, so to stay on his good side, have the money ready. But don’t make a big display of showing your money to all either – nothing annoys Irish people so much as someone showing off.

Tipping in Irish Pubs

You generally do not tip barmen in Irish bars but if there are waiters, often called lounge girls or lounge boys, tip them occasionally. Don’t expect to find waiting staff in small or country pubs. You may have to go to the bar to order.

While in England it is customary to pay for an occasional drink for the barman, in Ireland it is much less common.

Irish Round System

If you are in company, it is customary for each person to buy a round of drinks. This round system is still a very strong part of Irish pub culture but if the group is very large, it is also increasingly common to split into small groups of three or four for the purpose of buying rounds. It’s common to hear the expression ‘Whose round is it?’ or ‘It’s my round’.

If you do not feel like another drink, then don’t skip when it’s your own time to buy. Do it on someone else’s round. Leaving the pub before buying your round can be considered bad form, depending on the company you are in. You will get away with it once but it will be frowned upon at best after that.

Don’t try and keep up with round system if you don’t feel like drinking anymore. Most people are understanding and you shouldn’t feel pressured to keep on drinking though you may have to put up with a little slagging (teasing). For that reason, however, it’s a good idea to buy your round early!

Irish pub culture experience

It’s common to begin a chat with the barman, the guy beside you in the pub or even with the stranger standing beside you at the urinal in the toilet (restroom).

Yes, Irish people do not say ‘bathroom’ except in a house and do not use the word ‘restroom’ at all. Very occasionally you will hear the word ‘lavatory’ but the word ‘jacks’ is particularly common around Dublin.

Sunday afternoon is a common time to see a Gaelic football or Hurling match on TV in an Irish pub. It can be a very passionate affair particularly in the middle of summer as the All-Ireland Championship gets in to full swing.

‘Slagging’ is a big part of Irish pub culture. It really means making fun of someone and can be hilarious at times. Occasionally it can seem very close to the bone. Listen rather than participate but if you become the victim, remember that most of the time the aim is not too offend but to have fun, so just laugh it off.

If you offer to buy someone a drink, it is polite in Ireland to reply ‘Ah, no’ even though a person may be dying to accept. So you may have to offer at least twice if not two or three times.

Ireland’s no smoking ban

While the smoky Irish pub is a much exported image, it is no longer a part of Irish pub culture. Since 1997, there has been a smoking ban in almost all public buildings. The law is respected (surprisingly) almost everywhere. Hence, Irish pubs now often provide a sheltered area for people to smoke outside.

It is also quite common to see a group of smokers standing in front of a pub smoking. If you are a smoke, you can take it as an excuse for chatting to strangers as you light up.

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Challenges for the first time solo travelers

Challenges for the first time solo travelers

Setting out on your own adventure is a great chance to expand your horizons and to see the world, but there are many aspects of international travel that become different when you are away. While traveling with friends or family can be positive in terms of providing you with support, they can also be a burden as the schedule will be chosen to suit everybody, and you won’t get to meet as many new people. There are however a few things that the solo traveler will have to face that can often make or break the trip, so here is a look at a few of the challenges and how to face them.

Discussing The Trip With Worried Parents

This will be one of the first challenges, as many people who set out on their first solo trip, whether they are young and just out of school or college, or more mature adults, will often have to discuss the trip and why they are doing it with their parents. Parents will have a natural concern, so try to be reassuring and assure them that you will be cautious and do your best to stay safe, and try to think about any of the questions they may ask you so that you have an answer ready.

Missed Flights Or Connections

Getting used to travel will often mean that you will have to deal with a late airplane or a missed travel connection from time to time. This isn’t anything to panic about, and while it is recommended that you give yourself plenty of time, it can still happen. Try to take the rough with the smooth, and be ready to adapt and to re-plan when things do go wrong.


One of the biggest issues that many solo travelers will have when they are not busy is homesickness, as it is in the quiet times that this really becomes something that people can think about. You won’t always be busy as you travel, so make sure that you are keeping in touch with family and friends regularly, and that you remind yourself of the positives of travel.

Noisy Dorm Rooms

There are some things that you can’t account for, and the number of people in your dorm or how noisy they are is one of those factors. Try to pick beds that are in the corners or in quieter areas of the dorm, while carrying ear plugs may also help you to get some sleep.

Explaining Something To Locals Using Sign Language

Unless you are proficient in many languages, there will inevitably be a point where you struggle to communicate with local people. The international sign language of pointing and gestures is what to use here, so try your best if you get in such a conversation, and enjoy the interaction.

Food Poisoning

This is something that can be a serious problem in some countries, and as most solo travelers will often eat from street stalls and fast food places. If you start to feel the symptoms coming on, make sure you have Imodium or something similar and dioralyte in your first aid kit, and consider getting a single room to ride out the storm. If things get worse or you don’t recover in a few days, seek medical help.

The Fear Of A Foreign Bus Journey

Taking the bus in a foreign country can be challenging, and having to converse with the locals to get your ticket, and having to ask which bus is yours can also be difficult. Try to get there well in advance, and see if the tickets can be booked online, and once you are on the bus try to get a seat in the middle of the bus, so that you aren’t too far back but don’t have to watch every turn the driver takes.

The Single Traveler Supplement

This is one of the biggest frustrations for anyone who is dealing with international travel on a regular basis, and particularly with cruises or packages, the additional supplement can be a serious bone of contention. Try to book the individual segments yourself, and haggle if there is only one company offering what you want – they will rather have you along than traveling with an empty space.

Leaving Luggage With Someone You Don’t Know

One of the biggest issues that solo travelers face when they are moving from place to place is that the rucksack is not always convenient if you have to cram into a toilet cubicle or need to get into a small phone booth. Sometimes the only option is to leave your bag with the staff, and hope for the best. Make sure you take any valuables out and stuff them in your pockets where possible!

Asking For A Table For One

Eating out is one of the great pleasures of travel, but asking for a table for one, where restaurant style seating is in place can be a little uncomfortable. Remember that everyone has to eat, and most waiters will be used to such requests, but in some places women may get some unwanted attention, so if this happens just be clear that you are only there for food.

Unwanted Male Attention

Along with those sitting alone in restaurants, women may get attention if they dress differently to the local women or if they are just out and about. Make it clear that you have no interest in any men that approach you, be ready to raise your voice, and do not be ashamed to shout for help if you feel that the attention is escalating too much. If you are just being hounded a little, walk into a shop or restaurant where you can ask for help.

Adapting To Make The Next Leg Of A Journey

Whether you naturally like to micro manage your trip planning, or you proceed with just a rough idea in your head, at some point you will get to a location where you have to figure out the next step in the journey. Be prepared to look at all the transport options, and consider multiple leg journeys to get you to where you want to be.

No Cell Phone Signal In Rural Areas

The coverage that local mobile networks will have can vary, particularly in countries that are quite poor, so don’t pin all your hopes on being able to call for help or navigate using the sat-nav app on your phone. Have a backup plan, and be ready to use it if you have no cell phone signal.

Surviving On A Small Daily Budget

A great thing about solo travel is that it really helps you to develop resilience and self sufficiency, and even if you’ve never had to manage your budget, solo travel will make you think about this. You don’t want to blow all your money in the first two weeks if you are traveling for three months, so be ready to calculate how much you can spend a day, and find ways to live within that budget.

Should You Accept The Offer To Join Others On An Activity?

One of the things about traveling solo is that you will make friends easily, and you will sometimes be offered the chance to join them for an activity or side trip. Make sure you are keeping to your budget, but if you feel comfortable then some of the best memories will come from the spontaneous choices.

Having To Wash In Unpleasant Surroundings

Not all bathrooms in every country will have the hygiene standards to be found at home, so be prepared to lower your standards, and accept that sometimes you will have to wash in unclean bathrooms. Soap will always trump any dirt in the bathroom or taps where you will be washing!

Hostels Without Plugs To Charge Your Gadgets

This will often force you to become more reliant on traditional methods of dealing with travel challenges, as some of the older hostels may not offer enough sockets to allow everyone to charge their devices. Be ready to survive without your cell phone for a day or two if this happens.

Getting Up For Early Morning Bus Journeys

Backpackers especially will come to know this particular dilemma, and getting out to catch that 8am bus will often require you to get up early order to make it. Hostel rooms will usually have a few people getting up early, so you will not be alone stumbling out of the door bleary eyed to get to the bus.

Communicating With Family In Different Time Zones

Waking up your parents at 5am will usually be a mistake that only happens once, and having to calculate what time it is at home is often a problem for communication. Some people will agree that email or social media messages may be a better way of communication, or will pre-schedule calls.

Not Knowing The Foods On The Menu

If you intend to travel in many different countries, then there is a strong likelihood that you will come across a restaurant that has a menu that doesn’t have an English translation. If you know a few words then you can take an educated guess at different items, but sometimes just picking out a few words that look interesting and asking the waiter for those is a learning experience in itself!

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All About Giza Pyramid Complex in Egypt

Giza, Egypt. Canvas Print
Giza, Egypt. Canvas Print by NationalGeographic
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The Giza pyramid complex is an archaeological site on the Giza Plateau, on the outskirts of Cairo, Egypt. This complex of ancient monuments includes the three pyramid complexes known as the Great Pyramids, the massive sculpture known as the Great Sphinx, several cemeteries, a workers’ village and an industrial complex. It is located approximately 9 km (5 mi) west into the Libyan Desert from the Nile river at the old town of Giza, and about 13 km (8 mi) southwest of Cairo city centre.

The pyramids, which have historically loomed large as emblems of ancient Egypt in the Western imagination, were popularised in Hellenistic times, when the Great Pyramid was listed by Antipater of Sidon as one of the Seven Wonders of the World. It is by far the oldest of the ancient Wonders and the only one still in existence.

The Pyramids of Giza consist of the Great Pyramid of Giza (also known as the Pyramid of Cheops or Khufu and constructed c. 2560–2540 BC), the somewhat smaller Pyramid of Khafre (or Chephren) a few hundred meters to the south-west, and the relatively modest-sized Pyramid of Menkaure (or Mykerinos) a few hundred meters further south-west. The Great Sphinx lies on the east side of the complex. Current consensus among Egyptologists is that the head of the Great Sphinx is that of Khafre. Along with these major monuments are a number of smaller satellite edifices, known as “queens” pyramids, causeways and valley pyramids.

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Having an Amsterdam Good Time

Having an Amsterdam Good Time

Arrive in Amsterdam exhausted; leave feeling rejuvenated, and for so many reasons: a heady mix of culture and funky good times, fresh air and healthy exercise, a high-protein diet

The typical Dutch breakfast is bread with cold meats and cheese. The typical lunch is salads, sandwiches, soups in the wintertime, and coffee. Dinner means more meat and protein. (Heaven in your mouth is raw or pickled herring, which you slide down your throat and then wash down with a swig of beer or jenever–juniper-flavored 70-proof Dutch gin.) Simple, nourishing and filling meals leave you bristling with the energy to experience central Amsterdam by foot.

Your agenda dictates your pace. An enthusiastic trot will slow to a stroll along the mesmerizing canals–colorful and alive by day; just as alive, but also romantic, by night. The canals were critical to the survival and wealth of this port city centuries ago; today they distinguish it from all other cities, dividing it into 90 islands linked by picturesque bridges.

When you are not strolling along the canals, you can explore one of Amsterdam’s distinctive districts or squares, to shop, to dine, or to go club or museum hopping. In the city’s many marketplaces, your stroll might slow to a shuffle as you become reluctant to leave. You might then skip through the expensive shopping districts, for fear of losing your wallet to the exquisite diamond jewelers for whom Amsterdam is famous.

Having an Amsterdam Good Time

Once you are safely past the glittering stones, you may find yourself bobbing and swaying to the outdoor sounds of Amsterdam’s frenetic street life, unless you prefer neighborhoods where the mood is quiet and serene. Once again, you increase your speed, this time to a brisk strut as you pass through the red-light district. Though it’s safe here, there’s no need to look like a tourist, feeling your way around.

Rasta Baby: owned by an Amsterdamer from Surinam. When the words “coffee” and “shop” are strung together on a sign over a shop, they indicate that the establishment is a smoking cafe — one that serves pot or hash, by the gram or in prerolled joints. Coffee is available, too, but nothing stronger, as far as beverages go. Coffeeshops are mainly for tourists, who find them alluring. To Amsterdamers, they are strictly hohum.

A spiritual visit to the countryside. Windmills are worthy objects of artistic attention, as Rembrandt found. (The windmill was said to be his muse.) De Kat, the last remaining wind-powered color mill in the world, produces “antique pigments” from dyewood.

The Netherlands–a center of trade and business–is one of the most affluent nations in the Western world, and much of that wealth was built on the slave trade. The colonial power that once exploited its African and Indonesian colonies now welcomes immigrants from them. Today, 129 different nationalities live within Amsterdam’s city limits, and 1 out of 5 Amsterdamers is of other than Dutch origin. Following the independence of Surinam (formerly Dutch Guyana) in 1975, Amsterdam became home to the second-largest Surinamese community in the world. There are also large Moroccan, Indonesian and Turkish communities on the outskirts of the city.

Having an Amsterdam Good Time

Cafe de Kroon: spacious, elegant, trendy. You can’t do Amsterdam without visiting its cafes, but first you must be able to distinguish among the various types. “Modern cafes” and “grand cafes,” like this one–where two friends(one Curacaoan, the other Surinamese) have settled for a cool drink–have come into vogue in the past two decades.

At first, they posed a threat to the traditional “brown cafe”–a holdover from the 17th century. Fortunately, the brown cafes–cozy neighborhood bars with dark interiors of wood paneling, wood floors and wooden tables–provide a comfort and service that trendiness can’t match. And then there are avant-garde cafes, theater cafes, lefty cafes, media cafes, music cafes, film cafes, chess cafes, women-only cafes, beer cafes, karaoke cafes and gay cafes, just to name a few.

Albert Cuyp Market: Amsterdam’s largest. Trade flourishes in the cosmopolitan atmosphere of the De Pijp district. The old section of the district, built between 1860 and 1890, is more ethnically diverse than other neighborhoods: Of 40,000 inhabitants, 3,000 are Moroccans, 2,500 are Surinamese, and 1,500 are Turkish.

At the Albert Cuyp Market–colorful, lively, noisy–the fun is in the hunt, and hunt you must for the black shops: The Moroccan and Surinamese vendors struggle to hold their own against fierce competition from Dutch stallholders. But when you’re ready to quit, it’s easy to find good Surinamese (and Indonesian) restaurants in this district.

Red Light District: provocative. The square around the Oude Kerk (the oldest church in Amsterdam, built in the 14th century, and one of the most beautiful) is right next to the official prostitution district. Scantily clad women sit in the windows of 17th-century gabled houses, reading, knitting, flirting, doing their nails. Red lights flicker above their windows. At night, the underworldly maze of narrow streets, crowded bars, trendy shops and dark, smoky, dimly lit coffeeshops supports a dizzying abundance of activity.

At the Roxy: one of Amsterdam’s most famous nightclubs. Amsterdam’s world music scene has benefited from the influx of immigrants from Surinam, Turkey and other countries. Jazz is easy to find in the city, but look harder and you’ll also find hip-hop, rock, salsa, soul, ska, punk, disco, folk and more. Of course, the scene is always changing, but at last check, Margarita’s (a Latin dance club) and The Industry (a rhythm-and-blues and hip-hop club) were popular among the young sophisticated black crowd. Outside of the clubs, 14,000 concerts are held in various concert halls, museums and churches and in the open air every year.

Merciless! Bicyclers in Amsterdam will whirl you, twirl you, and knock you off balance as if you’re in slapstick comedy. Then they whir away as quickly and quietly as they came. Bicycles have been a popular mode of transportation on narrow canalside streets since the 19th century. Today, the 825,000 inhabitants of this bustling city possess more than 550,000 bicycles.

Untitled, 1961, by Samuel Middleton. Middleton, a black American painterprintmaker from New York City, has lived and worked in Amsterdam for so long (since 1962) that some consider him a Dutch painter. His works are in the eclectic collection of the Stedelijk Museum of Modern Art–the most striking modern art gallery in Europe–which contains 19th- and 20th-century classics as well as works by contemporary modern artists, photographers and printmakers. Within walking distance of the Stedelijk, in Amsterdam’s Museum Quarter, are the Rijksmuseum (National Museum) and the Vincent Van Gogh Museum. No visit to Amsterdam is complete without a stop at least one of these three famous museums.

Heineken: Here, there, everywhere. Heineken–the world’s best-known brand of Dutch beer and the second-largest brewer in the world–last year celebrated its 125th anniversary. The recipe (which owes its success to the A-yeast, a secret fermenting agent developed by a student of Louis Pasteur) and the method of brewing the beer are the same now as they were then.

The brewery is open for fascinating tours that start in the kitchen (where the beer’s basic ingredients are on display) and end in the bottling plant (where one really, really large room contains 36 hours’ worth of consumption by Amsterdamers). Presented in a fermentation-tank-cum-museum are a slide show, a film and an exhibit that describe the evolution of the machinery, bottles and other materials related to the mass production of beer by Heineken.

Related Link: Amserdam Travel Guide

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Canary Islands: The joy of the fiesta in Las Palmas

Canary Islands: The joy of the fiesta in Las Palmas

During fiesta time, seemingly the entire population of La Palma dresses in white from head to toe and parades the streets of its tiny capital, Santa Cruz.

The most north-westerly of the Canary Islands is the place to be – especially in February during fiesta time, when seemingly the entire population dresses in white from head to toe and parades the streets of its tiny capital, Santa Cruz. Talcum powder is thrown over the unsuspecting, while young men sport cigars and pockets bulging with money to recall the Fifties when returning workers from Cuba displayed their wealth.

We visited its highest peak, Roque de los Muchachos: at almost 8,000ft, it makes La Palma one of the steepest islands in the world. Near its snowy summit are a series of observatories, placed here because of the clarity of the night skies, and from where one could see Mount Teide on neighbouring Tenerife. In contrast, we explored the vast crater in the island’s centre, Caldera de Taburiente, which was hot, forested and fertile.

Canary Islands: The joy of the fiesta in Las Palmas

In spring there is a short international theater and concert season. Nightclubs and discotheques abound and many hotels have dinner dances and cabarets. Try to find your way to a most unusual and little known nightspot which is built in an underground galley near the Verdes cave on the coast of Lanzarote. Other nightspots are Mirador Vista Bella, Santa Cruz, Tropicana, Plaza Patriotismo, Santa Cruz, Tenerife; Rosaleda and Rega, Santa Cruz de Tenerife. An excellent discotheque is Monte del Moro in San Augustin, Grand Canary.

The Canaries calendar has many purely Spainish fiestas: the Cavalcade of the Three Wise Men, on 5 January in both Santa Cruz and Las Palmas; the Holy Week festivals on all islands and the celebration of Corpus Christi in March.

Food and Restaurants, Drinking Tips

Drink is cheap, no licencing restrictions. Single women welcome in most bars. In Las Palmas you can dirink in Santa Catala Square and at Terrazo de las Canteras on the beach. In Tenerife try Plaza del Charco in Puerto de la Cruz and Las paraquites in Santa Cruz. Local wines are good. Beer and rum are made locally.

Canary Islands: The joy of the fiesta in Las Palmas

Fish (octopus, squid, sardines, mussels, prawns and shrimps) is the islanders’ staple diet, especially delicious served with mojo picon, a hot spicy sauce made with herbs and peppers. Another speciality is potage de berros, a watercress and herb soup. Sanciocho Canario is salt fish in a piquant sauce. For desserts there are local grown bananas, melons and almonds.

For international cuisine in Las Palmas try the grill at the Hotel Reina Isabel (Alfredo L Jones 10) and the Pampa Grill (Columbia 6) well known fine steaks. For Spanish paella, try the Lberia or El Cortigo, both at Puerto de la Cruz, Tenerife. Another restaurant there, Patio Canario, is good for shellfish. In Las Palmas the Restaurante Ikea has a Basque kitchen and good medium-priced meals can be found at Juan Perez, Tenerife and in restaurants around Santa Catalina Square and in Puerto de la Cruz, Tenerife, Las Palmas.

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Times Square: Crossroads of the World

Times Square: Crossroads of the World

You have often heard this place called the “Crossroads of the World” and you find yourself wondering if a crossroads of the world can really look so very much like Coney Island. You answer your own question with an emphatic negative, but you have given the wrong answer.

People have always had the wrong picture of the Roman Forum. It was not exclusively populated by crowds cheering Julius Caesar on his return from Gaul. It is not true that wherever you turned in that great central plaza of the Roman Empire your eyes fell on the great Pompey exchanging a few kind words with the poet Vergil, or the brilliant young Mark Antony congratulating Marcus Tullius Cicero on sending away the racketeer Catiline to the penitentiary. It is certainly not true that the public squares in old Athens were exclusively occupied by Socrates and Plato lecturing to Alcibiades and Aspasia.

Actually the philosophers in the Athenian market place must have been many times outnumbered by the cold drink vendors and the peddlers of woolen undervests to be worn under the tunic; and sometimes the philosophers were hard to tell apart from the peddlers. It is fairly certain that Vergil or Cicero could have crossed the Roman Forum a dozen times without being recognized. Most of the time the really interesting sight to the Roman crowd in the forum was the crowd itself, exactly as in Times Square on election night.

Times Square is not a crossroads of the world where famous explorers just back from the Amazon greet South African aviators on leave from ferrying new American bombers to Great Britain. Neither does it happen very often that motion picture magnates from Hollywood find themselves blocked by the red light on the traffic island at Forty-third Street in the company of Professor Einstein and Joe Louis on their way to a war relief luncheon.

Much more frequently the encounters on Times Square are by appointment between good housewives from North Bergen, New Jersey and their girlhood friends from Washington Heights. They may be seen any day in the week, especially around the matinee hours, waiting for each other at the corner of Broadway and Forty-third Street in front of the Paramount Theater. They look slightly forlorn until the familiar face turns up, when they greet each other merrily and trot off to lunch and a movie. Girls frequently wait for their boy friends. In this matter of the theater or the movie the law of nature which holds for shopping appointments is reversed for young people; nearly always it is the woman who waits for the man.

There are occasions when the population of Times Square would seem to consist chiefly of junior high-school girls in slacks with their boy escorts in Byronic shirt collars. They are most numerous on the first two days of the week when the new bill goes on at the picture palaces, and particularly if it is one of the famous band leaders. Tall women of riper years may be seen crossing Times Square at all hours of the day, but they are in the minority. In the main the swing-band female audiences give every impression of being turned out in a standard five foot one inch model by mass production methods.

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48 Hours in Amsterdam

48 Hours in Amsterdam

Amsterdam… city of Rembrandt, red lights, canals, cannabis and… bicycles. The slowly whirring sound of wheels is the soundtrack to a city constantly on the move on models that haven’t changed since the 1940s. Well, why bother with gears when everywhere is so flat? But then who needs even two wheels when you can walk from one end of Amsterdam to the other in 40 minutes? That’s how long it takes to fly there from the UK too, so Chris Drew gets on his bike for a two-day trip to Holland’s biggest city…

Friday Morning

First surprise is Schipol Airport, which has the look of a 21st Century shopping mall. And every sign is in English. Not much of a shock really, as you almost have to beg the Dutch to speak their own language. A 20- minute ride on a double-decker train (pounds 2.10) and you are at Centraal Station. Stop off at Platform 2 for a 48-hour Amsterdam Pass. For pounds 28 you get unlimited travel on the metro, buses and trams, free entry to more than 20 museums and two canal boat trips.

Save your feet by catching the No.2 or No.5 tram to the Rijksmuseum (Jan Luijkenstraat). It’s undergoing a major makeover but all the masterpieces of the golden age of Dutch art are housed in the Philips Wing. Star of the show is Rembrandt’s Night Watch.

48 Hours in Amsterdam

Next, take a 60-minute cruise along some of Amsterdam’s 150 canals. The Golden Bend is the stretch where you’re sure to grow green-eyed gazing at the double-fronted mansions once owned by the city’s most opulent merchants.

Back on dry land, head for the Van Gogh Museum (Paulus Potterstraat) which has more than 200 of his paintings and 500 drawings. Expect to queue. Van Gogh has a lasting appeal, especially with the Japanese and most leave with a Toblerone-shaped box containing one of his posters from the impressive bookshop.

Friday Afternoon

For llunch sample Holland’s contribution to fast food, a cone of chips with a dollop of mayonnaise. Wash them down by visiting the nearby Heineken Experience (Stadhouderskade). You have to pay pounds 6.50 for the brewery tour but this includes three glasses of beer and even the glass. There are also interactive rides which see you as a Heineken bottle careeering around on a drayman’s wagon. Unsteadily weave your way back towards Dam Square, stopping off to gawp inside the luxurious Magna Plaza (Nieuwezijds Voorburgwal), a shopping mall that used to be the general post office.

Friday Evening

AT 5pm Amsterdammers stop for a borrel (drink). At De Drie Fleschjes (Gravenstraat) you get a free jenever or Dutch gin with your Amsterdam pass. The Dutch don’t trust optical measures and the small bell-shaped glass will be filled to overflowing. Just lower your chin to the bar and slurp.

To eat, try the Jordaan, an enticing backwater criss-crossed by canals, streets and alleys with plenty of pub restaurants. Cream potato soup with shrimp followed by guinea fowl and a glass or two of beer costs pounds 16 at De Reiger (Nieuwe Lekiestraat).

Saturday Morning

Visit some houses. The Willet-Holthuysen Museum (Herengracht) is a peep behind the curtain of a 17th Century canal house with its imposing dining room and magnificent ballroom. Rembrandt did everyone a favour by going bankrupt in 1656, because the authorities took a full inventory of the contents of his house on Jodenbreestraat – a historical record which has allowed the curators to refurnish it just at it used to be.

Our Lord in the Attic (Oudezijds Voorburgwal) is the oldest museum in Amsterdam and the most surprising. A church with two galleries was hidden away on the top floors of a canalside house in the 17th Century when Catholics could not openly celebrate Mass.

There’s nothing secret about the services offered by the girls standing in the windows of the house a few doors away. And there is the same openness about the cannabis cafes with their appeals to “support your local dealer”. But Amsterdam’s drug connections have been overstated – you won’t be tripping over discarded syringes.

Pick up some bargains at the Albert Cuyp street market. Eat lunch as you browse – another Dutch delicacy is raw herring and pickle for pounds 1.50. Then try a wheat beer at De Engel, a huge pub in what was once a church. The plastic swizzle stick with crusher, by the way, is for dunking the slice of lemon hanging on the side of the glass.

Saturday Evening

BE sure to visit the Anne Frank House (Prinsengracht). There is a hushed silence as visitors disappear behind the moveable bookcase and enter the hiding place where ske kept her diary for 25 months before her family was betrayed and sent to the Nazi death camps.

Finish off your break with a meal overlooking a canal at Luden (Spuistraat), a French restaurant that does excellent fixed price menus for pounds 12 and pounds 14.

The Essentials

Where to Stay: Hotel Fantasia (Nieuwe Keizersgracht, is run by a guy crazy about cows with pictures and models of the beasts everywhere. Basic rooms with B&B from pounds 60 for two per night.

Getting There: have flights from Belfast, Bristol, Edinburgh, Gatwick, Glasgow, Liverpool Luton and Stansted, with bargains if you book early. We flew for pounds 31 each return. You could also try Amsterdam Travel Service.

Related Link: View more Amsterdam travel tips on Amsterdam Travel Guide

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Focusing on San Francisco

Focusing on San Francisco

Take in the sights… and take home your best pictures ever. Go ahead, leave your heart. You can’t help leaving a piece of it, anyway. It will get lost in the crowded, bustling streets of Chinatown, the picturesque Victorian “painted ladies,” the vast green expanse of Golden Gate Park.

San Francisco is a photographer’s paradise, with its endless array of impossible-seeming angles, ever-changing show of light and shadow and treasure trove of old and new architecture. It is also a city that will make a photographer out of the uninitiated – one simply must capture a part of San Francisco.

Reduce the country’s most beautiful city to a mere few images? Impossible. But for starters, here are a few favorite shots from photographer J’vIark E. Gibson-who’s lucky enough to make a living at it. Gibson has been using Canon equipment for 22 years. “It’s performed extremely well for me-I’ve never been tempted to switch,” notes Gibson.

Cable Cars… Poetry in Motion

They are the only National Historic Landmarks that move-and perhaps the single most recognizable icon of the City by the Bay. The cable car system represents the charming contradictions of San Francisco at its best: functional frivolity, 120-year-old remnants of the old world stubbornly and happily bustling along with the new. Adventurers can still ride along on the outside-just hold on tight around those curvy streets and plunging hillsides.

Focusing on San Francisco

California Street, at the crest of Nob Hill

Gibson explains, “The perspective is from the top of Nob Hill, looking downtown. From here, you can get a great front end view, because tbe cable car runs up and down California. And, if you’re at tbe right cross streets, you can get wonderful sideviews of other moving cars, or people getting on and off. In the background, tbe view stretches all the way downtown, and beyond to the towers of the Bay Bridge. It’s a fantastic mixture of visual elements.”

According to Gibson, time of day is important for this shot. It’s best with good frontal lighting, so make sure the sun is behind you.

Fisherman’s Wharf… The Fabled Dock of the Bay

The pungent aroma of fresh seafood and the irrepressible pulse of seafaring commerce beckon us to discover the sights and sounds of the incomparable Fisherman’s Wharf. The Wharf draws in 87 percent of San Francisco’s visitors-unquestionably its perennial catch of the day. Enjoy the teeming humanity right along with the succulent crab, shrimp and fresh sourdough, as you stroll through the waterfront marketplace. But calm tranquillity is always as near as the water’s edge, where colorful fishing boats punctuate the horizon.

Docked fishing boats

“The vantage point of this shot is from the pier, approximately eight feet above the water. This tight close up shot emphasizes the repetitive pattern of the fishing vessels. Use a slow shutter speed and a tripod or pier railing to prevent camera movement and to get a clear sharp-focused shot,” advises Gibson.

Golden Gate Bridge… Gates of Heaven

“I don’t know who decided to paint it orange, but God bless them,” declared the author Susan Cheever, speaking of the Golden Gate Bridge. And whether it provides your doorway into the great city or your conduit to the neighborly delights of Sausalito and Marin County, the sight of its 4,200 foot expanse at sunset is not one you’re likely to forget. But bring your camera just in case.

From north of the Bridge-Marin headlands road

“Drive across the bridge and get on the elevated road that goes along the Marin headlands shoreline,” says Gibson. “As you drive west along that road, looking back you can find a spot on the road where you align the north pair of towers of the Golden Gate Bridge with downtown San Francisco-it’s a great shot with the bridge in the foreground and the skyline behind it. You can get a detail of the Bridge tower with the Bank of America and the Transamerica Pyramid behind it. It’s a very popular shot for people who want both elements.”

When conversing with Mark Gibson about shooting San Francisco, his excited reverence is irrepressible. “Visually, this is an incredibly rich place. There is such variety, with the hills and the water, the bridges and the architecture. And the lighting is phenomenal-fog, clouds and clear blue skies in rapid succession. There’s always another perspective. How could anyone get tired of it?” Here are a few tips for shooting in San Francisco:

Don’t let San Francisco’s trademark fog make you camera-shy. It can add a dramatic mood to your shots, but use a fast film for clarity. When photographing a moving cable car-or from a moving cable car-be sure you’re holding the camera steady and press the shutter release gently.

Here on the Marina Yacht Harbor jetty at the foot of Baker Street, our feathered friend offers a slightly different angle of a familiar landmark: the majestic Golden Gate Bridge.

Related Link: View more travel tips and ideas >>

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This Is Las Vegas?

This Is Las Vegas?

Though Celine Dion is pretty private, David Sun knows when his Lake Las Vegas neighbor is around. The clue? “Golf balls embossed with her name on them” land in his yard, says the Shady Canyon resident who, six years ago, bought his Vegas-adjacent second home, which faces fairways on two Jack Nicklaus-designed golf courses.

Sun and his wife, who have two young children, started coming to Las Vegas primarily to play golf about ten years ago and liked it so much they bought their 3,700-square-foot Mediterranean-style vacation home 15 minutes after seeing it. Originally the Suns did the four-plus-hour drive out to the desert about once a month. Now they spend about a quarter of their time at the 2,600-acre residential and resort community 17 miles from the Las Vegas Strip, with its 320-acre lake, three private golf courses, a marina, and four- and five-diamond hotels, the Hyatt Regency and The Ritz-Carlton, respectively.

“We feel spoiled out here,” says Sun. “It’s very beautiful and relaxing with the golf courses and things to do on the water, but we can also be on The Strip in 20 minutes.” It’s that close-but-not-too-close aspect of luxury developments like Lake Las Vegas that evidently appealed as well to Dion, who lives with her husband and manager, Rene Angelil, and their 5-year-old son, Rene Charles, in a stylish three-bedroom villa across from hole 11. Their house’s contemporary design, in muted beiges and grays, is replicated in the private apartment dressing room at Caesars Palace, where Dion of ten performs. With the short commute to The Strip, she can be home before 11 p.m. after her 90-minute show.

Comedienne and playwright Rita Rudner has an even shorter commute to work. From her residence in Turnberry Place, one of the first luxury high-rises built near The Strip, she could walk to the New York-New York casino where she has been performing in the Cabaret Theatre since 2002. One of her neighbors, Carol Russell, of Newport Beach, does too, sometimes. But part of the appeal of Turnberry Place is free limo service to The Strip or McCarran International Airport three miles away. “We tend to take the limo,” Russell says.

The cosmopolitan aspect of Turnberry Place, which includes a European-style spa and fitness center, indoor and outdoor pools, a tennis complex, and the Charlie Palmer-directed restaurant in the private Stirling Club, was such a hit that most of the million-dollar-and-up units were sold out before construction was completed. “It’s about 90 percent second or third homes,” says John Riordan, Turnberry Place’s sales and marketing vice president. And most of those buying have been from Southern California.

Luxury tower residences like Turnberry Place are literally on the rise in Vegas. The W Las Vegas hotel, casino, and residences (opening in 2009) and the George Clooney and Rande Gerber $3 billion condominium, resort, and casino project Las Ramblas (first phase slated for 2008) appeal in their proximity to all things Vegas-shows, dining, shopping, and, of course, gambling-and the fact that Nevada doesn’t have a state income tax. “More and more people are making Vegas their primary home and their residence in Brenrwood or Palm Springs their second home to take advantage of the tax situation here,” says Riordan. “Luxury condos in Vegas are a bargain, particularly compared to Southern California.”

Developers of Turnberry Place are now building Turnberry Towers, where residences will have the same elegant amenities-Italian cabinetry by Snaidero, Gaggenau appliances, and marble bathroom floors and showers, as well as access to his-and-hers spas, pools, tennis courts, and gourmet restaurants-but will come in smaller packages of 1,400 to 1,500 square feet at the Towers compared to 3,000 square feet and up at Turnberry Place. “The desire, regardless of income, is for smaller places,” says Riordan.

Meanwhile, Vegas realtors like Gene Nonhup, who moved to Lake Las Vegas from Southern California, believes the real growth in Las Vegas vacation homes will continue in nearby communities outside the city. “I take people out to Lake Las Vegas or out to MacDonald Highlands, near the mountains at the southern end of the valley, and they don’t believe that they’re in Nevada. It’s absolutely gorgeous. It’s a relaxed atmosphere with everything to do, but at the same time, there are all the resort services to manage everything for you, from stocking your fridge with wine and cheese to heating the Jacuzzi before you arrive. I mean, what more could you ask for?”

Cary Krukowski, director of marketing for Lake Las Vegas, agrees. “We look at ourselves as the candlelight to the neon of The Strip.” Which makes Lake Las Vegas the perfect solution to living close-but not too close-to Sin City. Within walking distance to The Strip, Turnberry Place, with its private Stirling Club for residents, is popular with Southern Californians.

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