Friday, 29 May 2009

Scenic Drives In Europe


When your body gives up and the soul is wrung dry then it means that you need to take a break from everyday hustle bustle and what better way than going for a long scenic drive across some of the most beautiful drives of Europe’s that are praised by adventurers and tourists all over the world?

If you have an international driving permit then do not wait, simply hit the road. However we suggest that you take a driver along with you and occupy the front window seat beside the driver to enjoy the full impact of natural beauty.

10 must-see museums in Europe


A World of culture awaits you
10 of the most interesting museums in Europe. One lifetime. You can do it!


1. Mauritshuis; The Hague, Netherlands
The Mauritshuis does not hold an extensive collection unlike some museums in the list, about 730 paintings, 50 miniatures and 20 sculptures. However, what it does exceptionally well is play to its strengths - in this case, pictures from the 17th-century Dutch Golden Age. Housed in one of the most beautiful examples of elegant 17th-century Dutch classical architecture, the museum is bordered on two sides by water, with a refreshingly calm 18th-century interior (the original interior was destroyed by fire). Seeing the works on display here makes for a warm and intimate experience.

The World’s sexiest beaches


We circled the globe to find the world's best stretches of sand. These sun-drenched locales offer dramatic landscape, romantic appeal, world-class sports action and, for some, a great place to party. They all have one thing in common - their unique sex appeal. So grab a towel and your sense of adventure as we list the 10 sexiest beaches.

Thursday, 28 May 2009

Outrageous Guest Requests



Although their service is not often heralded, concierges can make a hotel stay an experience to remember, whether the guest is a celebrity or a mere mortal. It’s the concierge’s job to fulfill guests’ requests, however outlandish. Take the Englishman staying at the Setai in Miami who asked its concierge to figure out how to move his girlfriend’s pet tiger to London. Not surprisingly, celebrities often demand the out-of-the-ordinary, like the well-known Australian rugby enthusiast who asked the Ritz-Carlton Georgetown to provide a special satellite dish so he could watch a 24-hour Australian rugby television channel.

Then there were the old stories about eccentrics like surrealist artist and animal-lover, Salvador Dali. He stayed regularly at the Meurice Hotel in Paris with his two pet ocelots, and asked the concierges to do things for him like catch flies in the Tuileries Garden.

Whatever the situation, top concierges usually have a variety of resources at their disposal to fulfill guests’ requests, no matter how wacky.

Concierges working at Four Seasons hotels, for example, meet regularly for what Jon Winke, chef concierge since 1982 at the Ritz-Carlton Chicago (which is a Four Seasons hotel), calls a “summit.”

Four Seasons concierges also often call upon concierges at other Four Seasons hotels for help; Winke, for example, said he recently was able to get accommodations at the Four Seasons Hotel Boston for one of his regular guests, despite the fact the Boston hotel was sold out.

The guest, he said, “knows I can get things done for him he can’t do on his own. The Boston hotel did something nice for me, and now it’s my turn to do something nice for them.”
Another important resource used by concierges is the Clefs d’Or, an international professional group of concierges. Tommy Dean, who has been a concierge at the Four Seasons Hotel Austin for almost 20 years, said the Clefs d’Or gives him access to concierges worldwide, and that networking through it has been invaluable. “It’s an extended family that goes all over the world,” he explained.

Veteran concierges also say the Internet has radically changed the nature of their work and the demands guests make. All concierges use it. As Winke explained, “The Internet makes things a lot easier. It’s a great resource and a godsend for me.”


Frank Laino, executive head concierge of the Stafford in London, finds the Internet has changed guests’ expectations.

“A lot of clients are now better informed, they come to you with a mass of information they’ve pulled off the Internet. But a lot of time it serves to confuse people. We try to simplify things,” he said.

To that end, Laino writes a monthly newsletter, “Frankly Speaking,” for the hotel’s Web site that lists his top picks for what’s on in London.

Nor can all guests’ wishes be fulfilled. For example, the concierge at the Beverly Hills Hotel was once asked to find replacement parts for an AK47 for a guest, a request that was turned down.

Wanting to surprise his wife on her 40th birthday, a guest at Parrot Cay in the Turks and Caicos asked the hotel to arrange for some fake sharks to appear while he, she and their friends were snorkeling; the concierge declined to do this.
And a marriage proposal by a dinner guest at the Ritz-Carlton, Key Biscayne, orchestrated with the help of a concierge there, failed.

Regardless, the best concierges continue to “try to make magic moments, something personalized,” as Matthew Daubenspeck, resort concierge at Topnotch Resort and Spa in Stowe, Vt., explains. “Sometimes we get people who want to have fun, and that’s why we’re here.”

Do you also have a request for the concierge? Go to www.medestino.com and book your hotel!

Croatia's Sexiest Beaches



Discover These Mediterranean Hot Spots
Croatia's main tourist attraction is, and always has been, its beaches. With miles of pristine continental Adriatic seaside and dozens of islands to visit, the sun and fun are endless. For this journey, leave the kids and your inhibitions home; we're taking you to Croatia's 10 sexiest beaches.

Zrcé Beach
Pag Island, Novalja

Located on Pag Island, Zrcé Beach is a white-pebbled beach, kissing the crystal-clear Adriatic. It's the only beach in Croatia with the Ibiza party spirit, and droves of locals and tourists flock here looking for a good time. After-hours action at this beach includes three popular open-air clubs; Aquarius, Papaya and Kalypso offer drink specials, hot DJs, and pools, Jacuzzis and hot tubs. No reason to change out of your bathing suit to party at these hot spots.


Hvar Islands
Hvar Islands, Pakleni

Island-hop from Pag Island to the Hvar, another hot and hip destination for tanned tourists. During July and August, the beaches here are packed which makes for body-bumping parties in the evening. When the sun goes down, head to some of the most popular bars on the Dalmatian coast like Korzo and Carpe Diem.

Sv. Jerolim
Hvar Islands, Sveti Jerolim

Don't leave the Hvar Islands just yet. Sv. Jerolim on Sveti Jerolim's coast, is isolated and beautifully preserved. A well-known nude beach, this isn't the place to go for large parties and a swinging singles' scene, but it is the perfect hideaway for you and someone special. There are a few restaurants on the beach and outdoor showers to wash away the day's heat.


Zlatni Rat
Brac Island. Bol

Zlatni Rat beach is home to a spectacular sandbar known as the Golden Horn. The bar is 580 yards long and provides this beach with a unique shape and unparalleled people-watching. The beach offers restaurants, cafes and a surplus of water sports. The nightlife is more relaxed than Zrcé beach, but there are plenty of open-air bars and nightclubs open for mischief.

Kandalora Beach
Frkanj Peninsula, Rab Island

Sure, parties and nightclubs are hot, but you can't get any sexier than a nude beach. And Croatia offers these in spades. Kandalora beach is divided into three pebbled and private coves where sunbathers dare to bare it all. There's a small fee to enter these beaches, but the coves are easily reachable if you're dropping anchor in the Adriatic.

Valalta Resort
Rovinj

If you're looking to add a little romance to your Croatian vacation, Valalta Resort near Rovinj is a perfect destination. Accommodations here include fully equipped apartments, luxurious caravans and intimate bungalows. The beach stretches for about three miles and offers many sandy and stone bays perfect for nude sunbathing.

Brela Beach
Vrulja

Brela Village is a Mediterranean dream; miles of white beach lined with fig trees and olive groves. Brela is the home to some of the most beautiful beaches in Croatia, with nearby Vrulja Cove topping the list. A desirable location for couples, it's best reached by boat and encourages swimming and sunbathing au naturale.

Baska Beach
Krk Island

Krk Island is the largest Croatian island and is located in the picturesque Kvarner Bay. The must-see destination on Baska is the Vela Plaza, or Great Beach, where bars, restaurants and cafes offer a reprieve from the sun. The Great Beach is the place to be seen, but Baska beach also offers plenty of coves for those seeking a more intimate experience.

Girandella Beach
Rabac, Istria Island

Once a quiet fishing village, Rabac is now a bustling tourists' resort with a spirited nightlife. At Girandella Beach, unique rock and jetty formations make diving very popular during the day. At night, the partying takes place right on the beach, where DJs spin house and techno music. Two summer festivals not to be missed are the Sunrise Festival and the Rabac Summer Festival.

Plat Beach

Dubrovnik

Number one on the countdown is one of Croatia's best-hidden beaches with kicking nightlife. This tiny beach is a balmy oasis of beautiful landscapes. The beach has very little shade, so an umbrella is a must to provide some shelter and a little privacy on the nude beach. In the evening, head to the best restaurants and clubs in Croatia. Click here for a full description of Dubrovnik's nightlife.

For more information about other interesting places in Europe, visit www.medestino.com!

Top Trips for Solo Travellers

Explore the Best Destinations for Women Travelling Solo
When it comes to women's travel, few experiences offer the inspiration for self-growth and discovery as does the act of hitting the road solo.

To be sure, the prospect of arriving in a foreign country all by one's lonesome is intimidating. But travelling on your own automatically opens you up to new people, places and experiences in a way that is not possible when you're buffered by the safety net of a travel companion.

Any experienced solo woman traveller will likely tell you the same thing -- you may start your trip on your own, but you'll rarely feel lonely along the way.
Travelling solo on a train while abroad, you're far more likely to strike up a conversation with your neighbour -- whether a fellow traveller or a local -- than you'd ever be when travelling with a friend or partner.

And in countries in the Middle East, North Africa and Asia, local women are quick to approach single female travellers with offers of hospitality (a home-cooked meal or an invitation into the family home, perhaps), which simply wouldn't be the case if you were travelling with others.

The result of such experiences is a far richer travel experience, with the added bonus of boosting your self-confidence and pushing personal boundaries along the way.
In general, Europe, Australia, New Zealand and Canada are very popular destinations for women travelling solo. In cities such as Amsterdam and Dublin, you won't even have to deal with the language barrier while making your way around (Dutch people speak English like it's their first language). And Australia and New Zealand are countries that are made for backpacking and solo travels, with affordable bus and train coverage, extensive hostel networks and outgoing populations of travel-minded people.

But just because different cultural norms and expectations for female behaviour apply in destinations in the Middle East, Africa and Asia, don't rule out a solo trip to a country that may be considered more of a man's domain.

Follow Travel Channel's lead to a few unexpected destinations for women looking to head out in the world on their own.

INDIA

One of the most colourful and calamitous countries on the planet, India is not for the fainthearted. And it's a common mantra along the backpacker circuit that once you've travelled on the subcontinent, you can make your way with ease anywhere else in the world. In fact, India, with its cultural riches and deeply spiritual framework, is one of the most rewarding destinations for women travelling solo. Getting around here isn't a cakewalk, but many women even find Italy more harassing than India when it comes to unwanted male attention. Truth be told, most of the unsolicited conversations likely to come your way will be from students looking for a chance to practice their English. There's even a growing trend of Indian women travelling alone in their own country, thanks to increasing economic independence. And if you hunger for companionship with like-minded Western women, consider settling in for a while with a yoga or meditation retreat in spiritual centres such as Dharamsala and Rishikesh.


MOROCCO

Yes, Western women may generate a good share of unwelcome interest from Moroccan men -- particularly in the big cities and touristy hot spots. But those hassles are really marginal when you consider the positive experiences that await solo female adventurers in one of the most exotic countries in the world. In many parts of Marrakech, the vibe is almost European, and fellow travellers abound. The Moroccan king's progressive crackdown on hassling in the markets here and in cities such as Fes, Tangier and Casablanca also means you'll encounter far fewer irritations than would have been the case just a few years ago. The seaside city of Essaouira, a three-hour bus ride from Marrakech, is one of Morocco's most laid-back and beautiful destinations, with a hassle level hovering near zilch. If you're still hesitant, consider pairing solo travels with a few days as part of a group tour with other intrepid women. Walking-tour outfit Country Walkers offers a women's adventure tour that takes in Kasbahs, Saharan sand dunes, the High Atlas mountains and indigenous Berber villages. Plan your activities for daylight hours, as most Moroccan women retreat to their homes in the evening, with Western-style nightlife and promenading really only playing out in cities like Marrakech and Casablanca. Remember to respect local culture by keeping your arms and legs covered with pants, long skirts and long sleeves as most Moroccan women do (a head scarf, however, is not at all necessary anywhere in the country).

ICELAND

For most women thinking about travelling solo in Europe, the plans usually involve a Eurail pass and a packed itinerary that keeps them moving from well-touristic countries such as Spain and Portugal to France and Italy. For something unusual, set your sights instead on one of Europe's lesser-visited locales and slow down your itinerary to dig deep into Iceland's allure. Make no mistake -- you're going to spend some serious kronas here, as Iceland is one of Europe's most expensive countries. But when it comes to natural attractions, such as magical glacier-wrought scenery and healing hot pools, balanced with cool urban fabulousness in cosmopolitan Reykjavik, Iceland's diversity is a Euro chart topper. For serious pampering, book into the Blue Lagoon, where healing waters pool in lava rocks in surreal Icelandic surrounds.

VIETNAM

After touristy Thailand, Vietnam gets kudos as the most female-friendly travel destination in Southeast Asia. Far-flung as the country is, you can be sure you won't be the only bold woman adventurer who's ever landed alone in Ho Chi Minh City. So friendly and curious are the Vietnamese people, it's even relatively common to see single Western female mothers travelling alone with young children. The language barrier is rarely a problem in big cities and larger towns. With more and more Vietnamese learning English from a young age, you're likely to elicit countless invitations for a drink so that an eager student can practice English with you. The biggest challenge for women travelling alone in Vietnam is reconciling the abject poverty in some of the most beautiful mountain villages, such as Sa Pa, home to indigenous hill tribes. If you're inspired to lend a helping hand during your vacation, consider signing up for volunteer work at an orphanage with the Global Volunteer Network.

Are you planning your solo holiday, don’t hesitate to visit our website www.medestino.com for other interesting destinations.

Gay Travel: Europe

When it comes to attractive destinations in Europe, these days the gay traveler is spoilt for choice, with many of the continent’s big cities proud of their flourishing gay and lesbian scenes.

We've picked four cities that are among the hippest, most cosmopolitan and urbane cities around. They lead the way as beacons of tolerance, diversity and inclusiveness, where everyone can find their own particular niche.

Gay Berlin

Berlin is just about the gayest city in Europe. In 2001 it even voted in a gay mayor, Klaus Wowereit, who, when he came out in the run-up to the mayoral elections, delivered the phrase that has now entered common gay parlance in Germany: "Ich bin schwul, und das ist auch gut so." - "I’m gay, and it's ok that way".

It has a Gay Museum, Archive and Library, in the Schwules Museum, which has excellent resources relating to gay cultural history, and during the summer a section of Berlin’s enormous central park is flooded with nude sunbathers, so many of whom are gays and lesbians that the park is fondly known in local circles as "Tunten-wiese" or "Queens' Meadow". It is clearly a city that is at ease with its gay identity.

Berlin is synonymous with wild, hedonistic parties, its gay scene spilling out from legions of gay and lesbian bars. Anyone who’s witnessed the full outrageous spectacle of the city’s CSD Pride parade will know it’s a city where pretty much anything goes. But because Berlin is such a tolerant town, the scene is not limited to exclusively gay bars or venues. In reality, gay life is just another feature of the richness, color and vibrancy of this amazing city.

Gay London

As a gay and lesbian destination, London needs very little introduction to the discerning visitor. Its scene boasts a sheer quantity of exciting bars and clubs that few other cities in Europe can compete with.

If Soho, London’s gay village in the West End, is undoubtedly the symbolic heart of the city’s gay community, then its backbone is Old Compton Street. A long strip of gay bars, restaurants, clothing and book shops, it is a haven of tolerance and laid-back al-fresco drinking and dining. Wandering down it is to follow in the footsteps of gay luminaries such as Oscar Wilde, Quentin Crisp and the film director Derek Jarman.

Whilst much of the action has historically focused on Soho, the city is also proud to say that gay scenes exist in Earl’s Court (for many years a hive of activity) and have more recently sprung up in the painfully trendy, nightlife-infused areas of Shoreditch and Hoxton to the east, and Vauxhall to the south.

Aside from the extensiveness of its gay nightlife, the city is, well, frankly a virtually unbeatable all-round destination: An incredible mixture of important historical monuments – reflecting its pre-eminent position as an historical world power – high culture and the arts, museums, and gorgeous oases of greenery and calm (away from the frantic pace) in its many parks and gardens.

Gay Amsterdam

More than any other city in the world, Amsterdam not only appears to tolerate gay and lesbian culture it actively seems to celebrate it. Truly this is a city upon which the mantle of gay mecca can sit comfortably!

The centerpiece of the event is the ‘canal parade’, which roars along the Prinzengracht in a frenzy of costumes and color. Every March, Amsterdam also hosts its Fetish Fantasy Weekend, whilst Amsterdam’s Leather Pride takes place in October.
The city’s gay action is broken down into a few distinct areas. To the north of the old town, tucked neatly in between Dam Square and Central Station, and in the heart of the red-light district, the Warmoesstraat is where you’ll find the majority of the city’s leather-bars and rainbow-flagged saunas.

Further south, the city’s Museumquarter is home to many of Amsterdam’s smartest shopping streets, the most exclusive of all being the P.C. Hooftstraat which positively drips with classy boutiques. It also contains the Reguliersdwarsstraat area, which, along with the Amstel and Kerkstraat districts (one of the city’s longest-standing gay areas) is the focal point of the gay and lesbian scene in Amsterdam.

On long summer evenings, drinkers spill out onto the streets from the area’s many heaving gay and lesbian bars, while its clubs are crammed with partygoers until well into the morning.

The Amstel area neighbors the Rembrandtplein, another of Amsterdam’s elegant squares named after the late Dutch master Rembrandt, and now a neighborhood of typical Dutch pubs playing authentic Dutch music. Whilst not perhaps as exclusively gay as it once was, it’s nevertheless a thriving hub of trendy gay bars and clubs.
Next to this is the ‘Homomonument’, a gay monument made of three large pink granite triangles. It stands, near the Anne Frank house, as a symbol of Holland’s continuing commitment to tolerance and inclusiveness for all.


Gay Barcelona

Barcelona is a chic, relaxed city and almost certainly the most liberal part of what is a very live-and-let-live, progressive sort of country.

Its broad, elegant boulevards are packed full of some of the best shopping in Europe, the narrow, winding alleyways of the Barri Gotic, the city’s Gothic quarter, rich in sights of historical interest. But it is as the sun sets that the city really comes to life, with a great deal to offer the gay or lesbian traveler.

The epicenter of Barcelona’s gay party scene is undoubtedly the glorious Eixample, (pronounced eshaumplay) and known locally as ‘gayxample’. But all across the city, from stylish dining by the marina, to scruffy local favorites where you can knock back a few drinks and stuff yourself with an assortment of choice bites, there’re more great eateries than you could possibly visit in the space of a quick holiday.

As well as being home to many of the best bars and clubs, the area also houses several of the city’s gay-interest shops and bookshops.

The Quadrat d’Or, or Golden Square, flaunts much of the city’s archetypically extravagant modernist architecture, including some particularly glorious examples from the Catalan architect, Antonio Gaudi.

A little to the south of the city the town of Sitges, long a haunt of artists – Miró was born there, and Dalí used to take his holidays in the town – is a hugely popular gay beach resort.
In addition to the Platja de la Bossa Rodona, there are also a number of places where nudism is permitted. The Calle de San Bonaventura, one of the town’s main thoroughfares, is lined with most of the town’s gay bars and clubs, and in the day, proves an ideal place to sit, have a coffee and watch the world go by.

Once a year, in February, mayhem descends on the town in the form of its carnival, an explosion of flamboyance, color and gay pride.

For more information about other interesting gay-friendly European destinations, visit www.medestino.com!

The Real Greek



To the east of Naxos, the largest (and most beautiful) of the Cyclades, lie four tiny, exquisite, virtually uninhabited islands, the Small Cyclades or Mikres Kyklades. These are Iraklia (not to be confused with Iraklion, the capital of Crete); Schinoussa; Koufonissia, which consists of two small islands, Ano, meaning upper, and Kato, meaning lower, Koufonissi, and Donoussa.

Everyone has a particular favourite: perhaps Iraklia because it is so laidback, or Schinoussa because it is so untouched. Or maybe it's Koufonissia for its fabulous beaches, or Donoussa for its walks and its air of having been forgotten by time. But one thing is true of all four: they have managed to remain unspoilt, by the passage of time and by the twentieth, or now the twenty-first, century.

Don't bother to go there if you are looking for luxury. You won't find it, except in nature - in the sea, the sun, the sand and the stars. Nor will you find much in the way of shopping or nightlife (except maybe something funky in hippy, chic Koufonissia). The accommodation is, on the whole, simple, but clean. The food the same, though there are some good tavernas and the local people go out of their way to be helpful and friendly. There are few cars and motorbikes, but plenty of mules, donkeys, cats, dogs and chickens. There is usually one public telephone and Iraklia had an Internet café, but, for the most part, they are supremely rural. For peace and quiet, for a sense of being miles from anywhere (but, unlike the Caribbean, at a practical distance and a reasonable price), they can't be beat.


Donoussa is the nearest to Naxos, a mere half hour by boat taxi to the north-eastern fishing port of Moutsouna where once they used to mine emery. But Iraklia is the most accessible because it is the first port of call for the Express Skopelitis, a small ship, which sets off from
Naxos six days a week in the early afternoon.

In July and August, the Cyclades are very crowded with tourist. By September, the Islands are more tranquil and the landscape is at its most typically Cycladic. Spring, when the land is green and the hills are full of wild flowers and the song of birds, is glorious and also the best time for walking, but the sun-baked harshness of the islands at the end of summer has a terrible beauty. Iraklia is beautiful, sleepy, low-lying Iraklia, the largest and most sparsely populated of the islands - its core population is just one hundred and twenty people. In Iraklia, as on the other three, there is not much to do, except read, sleep, walk and swim. The main town, Aghios Georgios, has one surprisingly well-equipped supermarket, the only one on the island, owned by Anna, a cheerful redhead.

Koufonissia, the smallest and most populated of the islands, is the St. Barts of the Small Cyclades, beloved of rich Athenians and trendy Italians in search of wonderful beaches and nude bathing. The island has a heliport. Doesn't that tell you something? And the fact that it is the only one of these islands that has a petrol station. Here the beaches are amazing. The atmosphere is subtly different.


Schinoussa, which people tend to adore, is often described as 'dreamy'. It is even sleepier than Iraklia with many more, even more beautiful, kittens, and a couple of dogs, but of its population of one hundred and fifty, few people were in evidence. On the track that leads to the beach at Tsigouri and the Grispos Tsigouri Beach Villas lies the Folklore Museum. The beaches in Schinoussa are not as highly rated as those on the other Mikres Kyklades as they are coarse grey sand, but still you can enjoy a nice swim here.

If you are interested in visiting the Cyclades or another Greek Island, visit our website www.medestino.com, to plan your holiday at reasonable prices.

My big fat Greek wedding



Considered as one of the most idyllic places in the world, Greece is certainly highly recommended for perfect honeymoons. If you are a couple wondering where to spend this special and wonderful time, then Greece offers itself more than willingly to host your happiness and give you the honeymoon of your dreams…

During the last decades, more and more couples from abroad choose Greece for spending their honeymoon. The popularity of Greece honeymoons has its reasons in the variety of romantic destinations found all over the Aegean Sea and Ionian Sea, including the Cyclades, Dodecanese, Sporades, Ionian and Saronic Islands such as Rhodes, Santorini, Paros, Naxos, Ios, Amorgos, Lefkada, Crete and of course, Athens. Blue skies and deep blue sea shining in the sun, whitewashed houses and exotic sandy beaches with crystalline waters create the most perfect scenery for this special vacation.


Many travel agencies offer various options for all budgets and all tastes, since you can choose between different kinds of honeymoons according to your personality and your needs. So, there are the romantic ones, a classic choice, but there are also the luxury honeymoons and the beach honeymoons. If you love romance, then gorgeous private Greek villas at amazing beaches are waiting to accommodate you and your beloved one. Moreover, numerous beach resorts in Greece are specially designed and provide many activities like sailing and snorkeling for those who wish to have a Beach Honeymoon, on the hot sand…
Whether you are romantic, nature or luxury lover, in Greece you can find exactly what you wish for having the time of your life and enjoying the most intense moments with your partner.

Finally, in case you are interested in seeing more than one island during this trip, Greece Island Honeymoon Cruises are recommended, so as to have the possibility of seeing as many islands as possible and enjoy the Mediterranean weather and sea in its maximum point. Your honeymoon over the tranquil waters will be something to remember of.
Ready to get married? Go to www.medestino.com and book you honeymoon!

Top 10 cities for art lovers


Vacations aren’t always about getting some R&R. In fact, visiting a city with a vibrant arts scene can be just as rejuvenating. Our top cities for art lovers are bound to stimulate even the most blasé of world travellers, as they're home to dozens of world-class institutions with influential collections of old and new masters. That said, our list also pays homage to a charming colonial town known for teaching people how to create their own works of art – we figure that, after seeing everything else on our list, you'll be ready to make your own artistic statement.

Berlin

In the 15 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall, the German capital has reinvented itself as a leading European arts venue, with superlative new architecture and cutting-edge exhibits.

Chicago

They might call it the Second City, but Chicago is second to none when it comes to its lively arts scene. The Art Institute of Chicago alone is reason enough for art enthusiasts to let the wind blow them towards this Midwest centre.


Florence

It’s easy to be overwhelmed by all the art in Florence – frescoes, paintings, sculpture, altar pieces, you name it, abound in Michelangelo’s hometown – and no self-respecting art lover would miss a visit to the birthplace of the Renaissance art movement.

London

The London art scene is a lot like the city itself: a hodgepodge of traditional and modern, majesty and tawdry. This fascinating mix is bound to tantalize with over 200 art venues offering something for every taste.

New York

In a city where everything is larger than life, one shouldn’t expect anything less from its art collections. Numerous museums bring their own distinct flavour to the cosmopolitan New York art scene, several of which are grouped together in the Museum Mile area bordering Central Park, along Fifth Avenue.


Paris

Where to begin in a city that is a work of art in itself? An art-lover’s dream come true, Paris’ many museums house some of the world’s most coveted works of art, ranging from fine antiquities to cutting-edge contemporary creations, with a magnificent mix of masterpieces from every century in between.

Rome

Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither were its stellar art collections, which showcase works spanning more than two millennia, from ancient B.C. sculptures to abstract modern installations.

San Miguel de Allende

Unlike the other cities on this list, San Miguel de Allende, a beautiful colonial town set in the mountains outside of Mexico City, isn’t renowned for its art collections per se, but rather, as a stellar place to create art itself.

Vienna

Vienna is one of the great art capitals of Europe, thanks, in large part, to the mighty House of Habsburg, Austria’s ruling family from 1282 to 1918, whose members invariably controlled extensive lands – and amassed their artistic bounties.

Washington, D.C.

It’s not all about politics in the US capital. Venerable art institutions like the National Gallery, Arthur M. Sackler and Freer Gallery of Art, the Corcoran, and the Phillips go toe to toe with national sights like the Lincoln Memorial, Reflecting Pool, and White House.
Ready to discover the vibrant art scenes of one of these cities? Go to www.medestino.com and book your hotel.

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Top 10 summer party destinations



Don't forget your dancing shoes! Our top summer party spots will have you dancing on rooftop decks, on the beach, and even in the streets!

The sun isn’t the only thing that sizzles between June and August – the season also ignites the hottest summer party spots around the globe, from bizarre desert gatherings to hedonistic bashes on azure-coasted islands. We’ve rounded up a fantastic list of must-visit cities, where revelry manifests itself in renowned cultural fests and over-the-top parades; sexy seaside towns, where celebrities and party-goers touch down – often by yacht – to enjoy long summer nights; and even a desert destination, where thousands converge to send off the season. Of course, our list had to include Scandinavia's coolest summer capital, where midnight golf, mineral spas, and hopping nightlife are just some of the season's remarkable bounty. So get ready to get your groove on when the summer party switch is flipped!

Berlin

There are more than a few reasons to head to Germany’s capital city for a raging summer jaunt you won’t soon forget. Not only is the “capital of cool” (its common moniker) hosting Europe’s most celebrated sports event, the World Cup, but it’s also the stomping ground for the Love Parade, possibly the world’s biggest street party. Even if you miss these two headline events, any summer night in Berlin holds endless opportunities for debauchery-laden fun – its mercurial nightlife scene is renowned for its underground clubs, beer gardens, and über-cool lounges.

Black Rock Desert

If you’re looking for a one-of-a-kind summer party, rest assured that the annual Burning Man festival held in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert is no mirage. This ultimate end-of-summer hurrah (it’s held the week leading up to and including Labour Day weekend) encourages everyone around to let go – don’t be surprised to see people getting naked, drunk, or high – and culminates with the burning of a 40-foot tall wooden effigy known as “the man”.

Chicago

Chicago’s nickname, the Windy City, may have been borne of excessive boasting during its bid for the 1893 World Fair – and have nothing whatsoever to do with the weather – but summertime in this Midwestern city definitely warrants bragging rights. In addition to its year-long attractions – think world-class museums, legendary jazz and blues clubs, 7000-plus restaurants, two stellar ball clubs (the Cubs and White Sox) – summer months bring a slew of seasonal events, including The Taste of Chicago; the critically-acclaimed Theater on the Lake; the Ravinia Festival; and the Magnificent Mile Arts Festival.

Côte d’Azur

Monte Carlo, Nice, Cannes, and St-Tropez – the quartet of French cities at the heart of this sexy Mediterranean strip – conjure images of well-heeled vacationers passing long days on the beach, and even longer nights at elegant casinos, fine restaurants, and hot nightclubs. A night of gambling at Monte Carlo’s famed casino is a must, but it you’re content to strut your stuff, the place to do it is Cannes’ palm-treed Croisette boardwalk. The paramount place to be seen after dark, mind you, is in St. Tropez.

Hvar

This up-and-comer on Croatia’s southern coast (a short boat ride from Dubrovnik, itself another bona fide summer hot spot) is considered by many to be the hippest island in the Adriatic – and we’d have to agree. It’s blessed with fantastic beaches, the hottest bars in southern Dalmatia, and a beautiful globetrotting crowd, all of which combine to create the chicest beach-party scene north of the Mediterranean


Ibiza

Listed as the “entertainment island of the world” by the Guinness Book of World Records, Ibiza, one of the three main Balearic Islands off the coast of Spain, has become synonymous with summer hedonism. Characterized by world-renowned clubs, where dance floors heave under the tracks spun by A-list international DJs, it’s quite possible you’ll spend more time dancing on this pleasure island than anywhere else on our list.

Montreal

Of course, you’ll have to forego beaches and bikinis in Montreal, but with alcohol consumption and casino gambling (check out the chic Casino de Montréal) open to the 18-and-over crowd, scintillating nightlife (try Boulevard St-Laurent or Crescent Street for the best action), strip-clubs galore, and a certain je ne sais quoi, this French-Canadian city reels in its fair share of summer party-goers all the same. Popular seasonal festivals also abound – two not to miss include the renowned International Jazz Festival and the Just for Laughs Festival.

Mykonos

Indeed, if your idea of paradise involves rambling white sands met by the deep-blue Aegean, beach bars bumping with Euro tunes, bikini-clad bodies dancing on tables, and topless girls sprawled on the sand, you’ll find it and more on Mykonos, where two adjoining local beaches, the appropriately named Paradise and Super Paradise, host full-blown parties along their shores. The music doesn’t typically die down before dawn – just in time for sunrise and a morning nap on fine Greek island sand.

Provincetown

This isolated New England beach town on the eastern end of Cape Cod has long been a magnet for summer-party seekers and all-around adventurers, attracting artsy types, gays and lesbians, and assorted free spirits to bask by its shores and soak up the culture of one of America's oldest art colonies. Long days spent combing the miles of protected beachfront – or exploring the high seas on the deck of a sailboat – tend to seamlessly merge into evening partying. One of the best places to get your groove on is at the town’s popular Tea Dance at the waterfront Boatslip Resort, (daily from 4-7 p.m.).

Reykjavik

Home to a legendary nightlife scene that’s actually a blast to partake in all year long, Reykjavik nonetheless really comes into its own in summer, when the fabled Midnight Sun crests the horizon – and heralds a season of midnight golf and white nights. June 23 marks the onset of “midnight madness,” with a Viking-inspired festival complete with bonfires and live music. Despite its chilly temperatures (summer highs barely top 65 degrees), there are plenty of thermal wonders to warm you up here too, like the hugely popular Blue Lagoon.
Ready to go partying? Go to www.medestino.com and book your hotel.

Snorkeling in Crete




Crete is ideal for snorkelling because:
• Visibility in the seas of Crete is excellent and it is regarded as some of the best in the world. In summer the average visibility is 30 or more meters.
• The water temperature in summer ranges from 22 to 27 degrees
• There is a great variety of fish and sea-plants
• There are no currents
• The seabed in most beaches in Crete is rocky and this means a wider variety of sealife.
Which beaches are more appropriate for snorkelling?
• All beaches with a rocky seabed. Sealife in beaches with sandy seabeds is significantly reduced
• Move away from the crowds. The fewer people on a beach, the better the snorkelling. People usually gather in sandy beaches and these are not ideal for snorkelling. Besides, the noise created by people can drive the fish away or make them allusive to spot.
• The beaches along the south coast are preferable to those on the north coast.
What time of the day is better for snorkelling?
It is better to go snorkelling early in the morning or late in the afternoon, one to two hours before sunset.
Which month of the year is better for snorkelling?
September and October are usually better for snorkelling in Crete. Certain species move close to the shores during those months. Needlefish are such a species and they approach the shores in September for reproduction. Their predators do the same too.
Fish hide when they see me. Any tips?


• Move slowly and limit noise as much as possible.
• Do not move your hands.
• When you notice a fish hiding in a cavity, stand still and wait. Fishes are as curious as you and sooner or later they will come out and take a better look at the big ugly creature, who invades their privacy.
• Feed them! Take a few cookies with you in a plastic bag and break them into small pieces into the water. Fish will smell the food and soon they will swim all around you. Do not offer them all the food at once. You don't want to fatten the fish, you want to keep them interested and close-by. Smelly and oily food is more effective.
Should I bring my own mask and fins?
Yes. You cannot rent such equipment at beaches.
Are there any snorkelling tours in Crete?
• Yes, there are. Most diving clubs offer such day-tours for non-divers. It is very easy to find such a diving center at your holiday destination. Just ask your hotel receptionist.
• There are also boat day-tours to Dia island. Dia is a small island 9 miles north of Heraklion. Its rocky seabed offers a great opportunity for snorkelling. Several boats depart from Heraklion and Hersonissos daily
• The island of Chrissi or Gaidouronissi, south of Ierapetra is a great place for snorkelling. Boats depart from Ierapetra port every morning.
Dangerous animals in the sea of Crete
There are some fishes and sea-animals in the seas of Crete or Greece that may cause some harm to you:


• Watch for Sea Urchins on rocks
• Do not play with the Moray. It may bite you if it becomes afraid of you
• Scorpion fishes and Weevers have poisonous spines that cause a lot of pain and a severe swelling. Scorpion fishes live on rocks and Weevers live on sandy or muddy sea bottoms. Sometimes swimmers accidentally step on them and can be stung. If such a fish stings you, then clean the area well, apply an elastoplast dressing to avoid secondary infection and look for a doctor to prescribe you the right medicine. Wearing jelly shoes or flippers may be a sensible precaution.
Ready to go snorkelling? Go to www.medestino.com and book a hotel in Crete!

Travel taboos, do’s and dont’s



When Iraqi journalist Muntadher al-Zaidi threw his shoes at President Bush during a press conference in December, 2008, news outlets scrambled to explain the incident to American viewers. Al-Zaidi hadn’t intended to hurt the President; he meant to demean him. In Arab countries, the soles of feet are unclean, so you never throw a shoe at a person. For his gesture, al-Zaidi was given three years in prison.

You travellers probably won’t toss a shoe across a crowded room, and not every insult—intended or otherwise—will lead to jail time. But whether you're abroad on business or pleasure, knowing the local etiquette is crucial for every traveller.

Consider the case of Michelle Palmer and Vince Acors. In July, 2008, the British couple were arrested for engaging in romantic activities on Jumeirah beach in Dubai. At first, it's hard to feel sympathy for such loutish behavior, but according to The Times, the Brits were convicted not just for indecency; they were given three months in jail for "having sexual intercourse outside marriage." Even off-the-cuff, seemingly harmless decisions can land foreigners in hot water. In Sudan, British teacher Gillian Gibbons faced 40 lashes for blasphemy in 2007. Her offense? Naming the classroom's teddy bear Mohammed. Gibbons was ultimately pardoned after eight days in custody, but she had to leave the country.

Some nations choose to guard the dignity of their kings and queens. Though a very popular party paradise, Thais are very conservative when it comes to their royals. Failure to mind the laws of "lèse majesté"—or, injury to the sovereignty—can lead to dire consequences.


Australian writer Harry Nicolaides discovered this the hard way when he was arrested for criticizing the monarchy in a self-published book. He was eventually pardoned—by the King, of course—but only after spending six months in prison. Visitors to Thailand are advised not to deface money or even lick stamps—both bear images of the King.

Getting to know local people and their customs is one of the greatest benefits of travel. Some would say, it's the very purpose of travel. But introductions vary around the world, leading to confusion for first-time visitors in just about any country. In the Mediterranean, for instance, family, friends and even strangers customarily exchange kisses on the cheek. The Maori of New Zealand, meanwhile, continue their traditional greeting of rubbing noses; the greeting is called a "hongi."

Get a greeting wrong in Spain, and you're little more than embarrassed. In Russia, the stakes are higher. There, you must never shake hands across a threshold or else you risk having a serious argument. Says Matt Taibbi, Rolling Stone contributing editor and longtime Moscow resident, "Shaking hands, 'cherez porok,' is a major no-no. When I went to college there and tried to introduce myself to my teacher, she flipped out."

First-time visitors to Middle Eastern and Arab countries are sometimes surprised by the close physical contact between men. "Arab men may be seen walking hand in hand," says Alinda Lewris, founder and executive director of the International Association of Protocol Consultants and Officers. "It is considered a sign of kinship and does not imply any sexual connotation." Lewris' company offers "peer-reviewed education for all professionals interested in civility, country-specific do's and taboos, and protocol." So, when your new Moroccan friend holds your hand on the way to afternoon tea, embrace the difference.
Equally important are how we say goodbye. In Arab and South Asian countries, thanking your hosts borders on insult. This runs contrary to Western upbringing, where "please" and "thank you" are often the first pleasantries we learn as children. But there, hosting is considered a privilege. In a sense, your hosts should be thanking you. It's a useful lesson to learn. As one expat living in Goa says, "I have felt far more integrated since I dropped all the 'please's and 'thank you's, and certainly attract far less curious looks." One needn't stop saying "thank you" altogether; just be less effusive.


Whether you're travelling on business to Singapore or home-staying with a family in Bangladesh, do your homework ahead of time. There's no quicker way for a traveler to endear him- or herself to the locals than by understanding their customs. And, conversely, there's no easier way to land in hot water than by ignoring local etiquette.

Ready to travel and explore the different cultures and habits? Go to www.medestino.com and book a hotel.

Belgian food and culture


In 1830, Belgium, a small heavily populated country bordering on France, Germany, and Luxembourg, detached itself from the Netherlands and became an independent nation. Its history is a long story of other nations marching over Belgian soil, each leaving an imprint upon the people and their traditions: Romans, Franks, Spaniards, Austrians, Dutch, and especially the French.

Belgium is made up of two main groups: the Flemings in the north, a Teutonic people who speak Flemish (a dialect of Dutch related to German), and the Walloons in the south who are primarily a Celtic people who speak a dialect of French. It is said that Antwerp, the northern Flemish business city, represents its people's character: "salty, stubborn and proudly provincial," while Brussels, located in the heart of Belgium, and about four-fifths French-speaking, seems to represent the more emotional and flamboyant Walloons.

But wherever one goes in Belgium, North or South, despite the differences, some things are universal. Almost everywhere, except in remote rural areas, English is spoken and understood; Belgian husbands become emotional on the subject of food and argue about whose wife is the better cook; and Belgians like their food in ample quantity and of good quality. But although good food well prepared is a priority, Belgians are not adventurous cooks. They have little interest in experimenting with "foreign" dishes, remaining happily confident that the best is Belgian home cooking and the best of restaurant food is none other than the haute cuisine of France. And although the Flemish favor foods masked with velvety sauces of cream and eggs, and the Walloons make extensive use of pork in their dishes, the overall tone of Belgian cookery is definitively French.


The meticulous care with which Belgian cooks select their foods can best be illustrated by a walk through a Belgian supermarket, where even every-day items like butter and cream are carefully labeled with the proud producer's name, where an incredible array of exquisitely garnished cold meats, pates, sausages, salads, and prepared appetizers delight the eye, and where varieties of canned, packaged, and bottled goods line up in colorful profusion unparalleled elsewhere. Advertisements proudly proclaim:
"Butter from Namur" ... "Asparagus from Malines" ... "Pork and pork products from Pietron" ... "Walnuts from Bastogne" ... "Strawberries from Wepion."

The tremendous Belgian sweet tooth is not gratified in simply one bakeshop alone. A distinction is carefully made between the daily baked goods, which may be purchased from a boulangerie, and party specialties, which are selected from a patisserie. Candies and confections are so important they are sold in specialty stores called confiseries, where even a wan-ton glance seems to add pounds.

Belgian chocolate


Chocolate lovers prepare yourselves! We are off to Brussels, Belgium for a taste of its culture and divine chocolates!

One of the best ways to experience Belgium is to take the Brussels Bike Tour! Fun for the whole family, this is a great way to explore the city. Also, be sure to visit the Grand Palace. This 17th century wonder will leave you in awe, as the architecture is truly amazing. Keep your camera handy, as you must capture a photograph of Manneken Pis. Dubbed Brussels’ “oldest citizen,” this statue of the little boy and the fountain is adorable and a must see! Interested in traveling outside of Brussels? A short fifty minute train ride will land you in Bruges, Belgium. Similar to the great city of Venice, Bruges consists of many canals and is another popular destination! Of course, don’t forget to shop around and taste one of Belgium’s main attractions, the chocolates!

Visit Belgium to see, feel and taste the beauty of this country. For more information about other interesting destinations in Europe, go to www.medestino.com!

Greece in July 2009


The heart of summer in Greece

Greece and the Greek Islands has a large variety of cultural events. July in Greece is generally a busy month, full of events. The major Greece cultural events are:
The Hellenic Festival takes place in Athens’ Herodes Atticus theatre and offers a large range of performances: modern and ancient theatre, ballet, opera, jazz and classical music, dances, symphonic music and great singers and many other special events. The festival takes place from June 2 to September 28.


The International Jazz and Blues Festival takes place in Athens, in June, is welcomed by the theatre of Lycabettus. Lycabettus also welcomes every year many other events such as music, dances and theatrical performances from the national and international scene.
The Epidaurus Festival: The ancient theatre of Epidaurus welcomes a festival of Classical drama performances every summer during the months of July and August. It is one of Greece’s top events which attract thousands of visitors every year.

July 2009 is also a great month in Greece for more modern music and dance festivals. Looking for Rockwave 2009, often held in July? It's at the end of June this year.


The Thraki Ethnic Festival runs in July. This is not the notorious old Samothraki Dance Festival, but a new, tamer fest devoted to world music; it left Samothraki for a new location on the mainland not far from Alexandropolis. On Folegandros, the Folegandros Festival ran from July 5th to July 20th in 2008. It included a film festival, dance exhibitions, and concerts by Chainides and other groups. 2009 dates are not yet listed as of April 2009, so you may want to double-check this one before you go.

From July through September, the city of Rethymnon on the island of Crete hosts a Renaissance Festival which takes full advantage of its Venetian past. Rethymno is often overlooked by visitors to Greece, which is a shame as it offers great historic sites, interesting architecture, fun shopping, and some top-notch restaurants and traditional music venues.
Up in the village of Anogi on Crete, the Yakinthia provides an unusual look at Greek life in late July. And on Corfu, Cricket Week draws international fans of the game, not the bug.
At Delphi, ancient drama is the subject of presentations, plays, and events; again, confirm this year's dates directly. This beautiful mountain town and its great archaeological site are must-sees any time; with this festival, it's even better.

Visit Greece and the Greek Islands. They are one of the most popular travel destinations in Europe. For more information, go to our website www.medestino.com!

Friday, 22 May 2009

Carnaval across the globe


The hedonistic bacchanalia of Carnival lets loose across the globe every spring, yet most people tend to think only of the plastic beads and floats at New Orleans’ Mardi Gras or samba and elaborately costumed (or barely covered) dancers at Rio de Janeiro’s Carnaval. And for good reason: Fat Tuesday in the Big Easy and Rio’s signature blowout are two of the planet’s biggest and best parties. There is, however, more to this age-old party—and ways to celebrate it.

To fully appreciate the variety of Carnival celebrations around the world, it is first necessary to understand the similarities. Carnival ("carnaval" in French, Portuguese and Spanish) is a public celebration that contains elements of parade, circus, street party, masquerade and music festival. It occurs in the lead up to Catholic Lent (usually during February or March) and ends on the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday, the official beginning of Lent. The origin of the name “carnival” is disputed, but the most commonly accepted theory is that the word comes from the Latin expression carne vale, meaning “farewell to meat.” It’s a party, therefore, that celebrates carnal pleasures prior to the 40 days of fasting and self-discipline of Lent.


Although Carnival may, in fact, date back to medieval folkloric festivals, the original recorded Carnival took place in 13th century Venice (and consisted of masquerade balls). The concept then spread to Spain, Portugal and France, from where it jumped onward to Latin America, the Caribbean and beyond. Each step that Carnival took beyond Venice transformed it, as other influences were absorbed and new traditions took root. Rio de Janeiro and New Orleans became two of the greatest sites for the celebration, but many others can lay claim to spectacular Carnivals. Some of the most far-flung cities are now home to the festival’s most vibrant incarnations, incorporating many African and indigenous South American traditions, foods and rhythms.

For example, Carnival in Trinidad and Tobago has its roots as much in West African festivals as it does in European masquerade balls. When slave owners banned the use of African religious practices, dance and drums in colonial Trinidad, the African slaves were only able to openly demonstrate their cultural traditions in those permissive few days leading up to Ash Wednesday. The end result is a concentrated burst of expression that is one of the planet’s most colorful and energetic Carnival celebrations. Even Mick Jagger has made an occasional appearance as a parade drummer.

The sultry port town of Veracruz hosts Mexico’s largest Carnival celebration, where spectators pack into stadium seats to watch more than 50 salsa dance groups. They fuel up on shrimp in a sauce of lime, capers and green peppers, then try their own salsa steps with locals in the zocalo.

In Colombia—one of the world’s largest exporters of flowers—the northern city of Barranquilla hosts a Carnival that’s known for La Batalla de Flores (the Battle of Flowers), a parade where floats try to outdo each other in terms of decorative floral excess. The music is cumbia—not Brazilian samba—and the elaborate costumes draw from both African and indigenous folklore. Barranquilla’s most famous daughter, hip-shaking Shakira, has used local Carnival music, costumes and imagery in her music videos.

French Guiana, the tiny South American overseas department of France, has a strictly organized theme for each of the final four days of Carnival. After the grand parade on Sunday is a cross-dressing marriage burlesque on Monday, when the men wear wedding gowns and women suit up as grooms. Tuesday is called Red Devil Day and everyone dresses in red and black—sometimes using little more than body paint. The celebration continues on to Ash Wednesday—attire is strictly black and white—to observe the burning of the effigy of Vaval, the King of the Carnival.


Despite the variety, Carnival’s attraction remains the same around the world. It’s not just a chance to show off local culture and music, but an opportunity to melt into the crowd and purge the stresses of daily life. Call it catharsis. Call it a cultural encounter. Anyway you slice it, it’s party time. In the mood for carnaval? Go to www.medestino.com and book your hotel.

World’s top dance spots


Stressed, tired, confused? Dance it out! The world over, dance preserves and shapes the history of a people. As a manifestation of a particular culture's rhythm and flavour, dance can be the best way for a traveller to get to the heart of a place. That is why music halls, nightclubs and ballrooms can be as alluring for curious visitors as magnificent landmarks or Michelin-rated restaurants.

Flamenco

There’s no better example of this than in Seville, unofficial headquarters of flamenco dancing. It may lay claim to having the largest Gothic cathedral in existence and they may be proud owners of an impressive ancient fortress, but the presence of flamenco permeates the city. Around every corner, you’ll find museums, schools, clothing stores and dance venues all dedicated to this passionate dance. To understand why, you need to take in a show.


Watching a performance is like being at a banquet of unadulterated Andalusia. As it evolved as a dance, each subculture in the region modified flamenco to better express their plights, anecdotes and even religious beliefs. Everyone, from gypsies crying the debla to prisoners moaning as they created the carceleras style, used the basic formula of one steady percussionist/guitarist and one singer, but they each created their own unique form of flamenco.

In Seville, you’re not just limited to watching world-class flamenco from one of the city’s unrivaled venues like El Arenal – you can also learn from the masters of the dance. Taller Flamenco offers classes for aspiring flamenco dancers or regular tourists passing through Seville.


Waltz

It may not seem like it at first glance, but the waltz, much like flamenco, traces its roots to the poorer, peasant classes. Over time however, the dance twirled its way out of the servants’ quarters and into the grand ballrooms of Vienna’s most powerful figures as it became increasingly refined.

Today, one glance at the city’s Baroque buildings and it’s obvious that Vienna is inherently elegant and genteel. Naturally, the waltz embodies both these qualities. “Like no other dance, [the] Viennese Waltz gives the dancers the sensation of floating across the floor. It is a combination of very dynamic movements with an unperturbed and aloof attitude that draws the immediate attention of the spectators,” says Thomas Schafer-Elmayer of Tanzschule Elmayer, a well-known school located in the very center of the city. Take a class there and you’ll get a taste of what it was like to be part of Austrian nobility. Of course, you’ll have to look the part. When it comes to the waltz, dressing to the nines is as important as keeping your feet moving in 3/4 time.

Bangra

When the waltz was in its nascent form and still alien to the Viennese upper-class, it was a loud, raucous spectacle. In many ways, its more frenetic tempo and the loose, less monochrome attire could have resembled bhangra. This dance originated in the Punjab region of India, grew quickly in popularity in the UK and is now slowly, but surely, picking up speed in North America. Rohit Bhambi from Boston Bhangra explains, “Through its high energy and fun nature, Bhangra is something that all people can relate to. The fact that Jay-Z worked with Punjabi MC on a bhangra track shows the mass appeal.”

Every Saturday, the Cobden Club in London’s Notting Hill neighborhood holds “Bollywood Nights” where contemporary bhangra makes the speakers hum. Patrons here trade in the bright pastels of the traditional kurta (a loose men’s shirt) or ghagra (Punjabi dress) for more familiar clubbing duds, but the essential bhangra elements are still very prominent. Driven by beats that use the time-honored dhol drum, dancers joyfully bounce from foot to foot, alternating arms as they reach into the air. Bhangra, thankfully, is an easy dance to literally jump into, especially with the less restrictive modern forms. “Anybody who loves music and loves to dance can learn how to do Bhangra,” Rohit assures.


Line dancing

Learning Bhangra may be a breeze, but it doesn’t compare to the simplicity of line dancing. A form of traditional dance throughout the world, there are many types of line dancing to be found across the globe, but the Country-Western style is easily the most popular form. Despite its peak in the '90s (thanks in part to hits like “Achy Breaky Heart”), people today still fill bars all across America to slap hands and boots in neat little rows.

Almost every bar in Nashville, Tenn. boasts a wide parquet floor where crowds can get their march on. Before indecision sets in, head to Wildhorse Saloon, one of the most popular spots in town. Dive into a group of 50 or so at Wildhorse and the locals will eagerly show you the steps without breaking their stride. It may sound like an overwhelming experience having dozens of impromptu instructors, but like an evening at Cobden Club, a show at El Arenal or a session at Tanzschule Elmayer, it’s also an utterly unforgettable one.

Want to join the dance? Go to www.medestino.com, book a hotel and start dancing!

Thursday, 21 May 2009

Seven Common Travel Myths



What to believe when you travel

• If you use your cellphone, the plane will crash.
• Cruise ships are all-inclusive.
• If you rent a car with a credit card, you don’t need additional insurance.
• Taking the train in Europe is cheaper than flying.
• Recirculated cabin air on planes will make you sick.
• X-ray machines at airport security checkpoints can erase your computer’s hard drive.
• Your hotel card key can be used to steal your identity.
These are just some of the things many travellers believe to be true. And, in fact, with a couple of qualifications, they are nothing more than the latest batch of travel myths.
• Let’s start with the Blackberry/cell phone myth. Every airline flight attendant makes more or less the same announcement, insisting you turn off your cell phones and Blackberries, blueberries, strawberries and other personal electronic devices because “they interfere with the plane’s navigational systems.” If you ask if it’s a rule, the flight attendant will tell you it’s

FAA policy. True or false?
False on both counts. First, the FAA has tested personal electronic devices, including iPods, Gameboys and laptops. Their scientists—for more than 25 years now—have bumped up the RF interference these devices give off, up to 100 times their normal levels, at distances of less than three feet from sensitive cockpit avionics. And guess what? Nothing happened. Nothing has ever happened. So did the FAA make a rule? Or a policy? Not exactly.
Under the current federal air regulations, the FAA simply states that it was unable to prove any connection or link between operating these devices and airplane system interference. But it hasn’t made a rule; it's left to each individual airline to set policy. So, if you insist on ignoring the flight attendant by using your Blackberry, you may be in violation of an airline’s policy (and subject to arrest for interfering with a flight crew). But no, the plane won’t crash because you were sending emails.
• First-time passengers like to think that “all-inclusive” cruise means you can put your wallet away for a week. True or False?
Keep your wallet with you. Not long ago, what you paid for your cruise (exclusive of liquor) was the sum total of expenditures. Not anymore. Think of cruise ships today as multiple floating revenue centers. Some cruise lines are now charging a flat fee for unlimited soda, and even a wine-and-dine deal that includes wine or champagne with your dinner (about $125 for a seven-day cruise). But the key to cruise ship profitability can be summed up in two words: onboard revenue. A new rule of thumb for budgeting your next cruise: Take the basic cruise fare and multiply it by 1.75 per person.
• Oops, you just backed into a parking meter. Not to worry, your personal auto insurance covers damages to your rental. True or False?

The answer in most cases is true, but with a big warning from us. Credit card companies promote their promise to cover your insurance if you rent a car using their card. As a result, a number of unsuspecting renters who don’t own a car—and thus don’t have their own insurance—think they are covered by their card. Not so. Almost all credit card companies offer something called “secondary insurance,” which only kicks in when you’ve exhausted all the limits of your primary policy. And if you don’t have a primary policy, then you are not covered at all. Even if you are covered, check your policy limits. If the car you own (for which you pay personal insurance) is only worth $5,000 and you total a car worth $20,000, you’re out $15,000.
• Trains are the way to go within Europe if you want to save money. True or False?
Definitely false. While I have always been in love with trains, and I think back fondly to my days using a student Eurail Pass, the dollars-and-sense truth today is that trains are not economical alternatives to air travel. Low-cost European airlines are now cheaper than intra-European train travel. On Ryanair, an off-season round-trip flight from Rome to Frankfurt can be as low as $90. By comparison, a point-to-point train ticket from Rome to Frankfurt starts at $326 each way and takes about 12 hours of travel time.
• Many travellers contend that the way cabin air is circulated makes the plane a prime breeding ground for colds and flu viruses. True or False?


In my experience, the answer is a qualified true, but there is no scientific proof. First, the cabin air: Modern jet planes were designed to bring in air from the outside at high altitude. In theory, the extremely cold air (about 40 to 60 degrees below zero) is then heated by the aircraft engines and circulated into the cabin, purging the old air. But there’s a problem. This procedure costs fuel and fuel costs money, so many airlines simply recirculate the air already onboard the cabin, bringing in a very small amount of new air. So you may well argue correctly that if the person in seat 2B has the flu, you’ll be breathing his air back in 35E. But to date, no definitive scientific studies have proven that allegation. Still, my advice is to hydrate yourself while on the plane, wash your hands often and turn off the air vent over your head.

Do you still want to travel? Go to www.medestino.com and book your hotel room.

How to beat jet lag?



Interrupted sleep, irritability, disorientation, lack of motivation—these are only a few of jet lag’s symptoms, and even the most seasoned travellers experience them to some degree when venturing across time zones.

Despite opinions to the contrary, the biggest cause of jet lag is not the number of hours travelled, but the time zones. Experts say that changing time zones throws off the body’s circadian rhythms, which control the release of hormones and chemicals that let you know when to eat, sleep and wake up.

Pre-flight

This is one of the most important aspects of combating jet lag. Before departing, make sure you have all your affairs, business and personal, in order. Ensure you are not stressed-out with excitement or worry, and not tired or hungover from a function the night before. Get plenty of exercise in the days prior to departure and try to avoid sickness such as the flu, colds and so on. If you have a cold, flying will probably make it worse - ideally you should delay the trip. Get a good night's sleep just prior to departure.

East or west?

There is much debate about whether it is better to fly eastward or westward. It may be largely a matter of personal preference, but there is some evidence that flying westwards causes less jet lag than flying eastwards.

Night or day flight?

Again it is largely a matter of personal preference based on experience. Most travellers think daytime flights cause less jet lag. We note that more daytime long haul flights are being added by major airlines.


Drinking fluids

The dry air in aircraft causes dehydration. Drinking plenty of non-alcoholic fluids counters this. Water is better than coffee, tea and fruit juices. Alcohol not only is useless in combating dehydration, but has a markedly greater intoxicating effect when drunk in the rarefied atmosphere of an airliner than it does at ground level.

Sleeping aids

Blindfolds, ear plugs, neckrests and blow-up pillows are all useful in helping you get quality sleep while flying. Kick your shoes off to ease pressure on the feet (some airlines provide soft sock-like slippers, and many experienced travellers carry their own).

Exercise

Get as much exercise as you can. Walking up and down the aisle, standing for spells, and doing small twisting and stretching exercises in your seat all help to reduce discomfort, especially swelling of legs and feet. Get off the plane if possible at stopovers, and do some exercises or take a walk. This also helps to reduce the possibility of blood clots and associated trauma.

Showers

During extended stopovers on a longhaul flight, showers are sometimes available. A shower not only freshens you up but gets the muscles and circulation going again and makes you feel much better for the rest of the flight. Trans-Pacific pilots have told us taking a shower in Hawaii helps them recover more quickly from the general effects of jet lag after the flight.
Sleeping pills (don't!)

Some people use sleeping tablets to try to alleviate jet lag. This is a dangerous approach as sleeping pills induce a comatose state with little or no natural body movement, and it is well known that prolonged immobility during flight can lead to fatal blood clots (deep vein thrombosis). This was reported as far back as 1988 in the Lancet, which said it was estimated "that over three years at Heathrow Airport, 18% of the 61 sudden deaths in long distance passengers were caused by clots in the lungs." Picture the leg veins as bags of blood. When this blood doesn't circulate there is a risk that it will clot. In addition, many so-called sleeping pills are variants on anti-histamines and they tend to dehydrate significantly, adding to the already significant problem of in-flight dehydration.

Ready for take-off? Go to www.medestino.com and book your hotel room.

Water sports in Greece



Greece offers a wide variety of water sport. These are very popular in the many resorts by the sea. Especially during the summer season you will find many people on rented jet skis, enjoying the view while parasailing or falling from the banana when it makes a sharp turn. Other water sports include:

Water ski

Water ski was “born” around 1900 from a group of young people who were having fun playing with the waters of a lake in the USA. The fashion spread quickly, and the stronger the boat engines became, the more the speed, the difficulty and the popularity of the sport grew.

In Greece, the Vouliagmeni Nautical Club (in the region of Attica) was the first club to found a water ski division in 1957; in 1963 the Hellenic Water Ski Federation was founded with the aim of spreading the sport all over the country.
Water ski is now one of the most popular modern water sports and no special training is needed when done by amateurs for fun. All over Greece there are private schools, which operate at organized beaches or at the facilities of big hotels.

Sailing

Sailing is a sport irrevocably connected with the Greek people throughout the country’s long history and centuries of nautical tradition. Today, it is one of the most popular sports and thousands of Greeks practise it systematically (in competitions or as a simple sport) using all types of sailing boats.


Windsurfing

Windsurfing is an exciting sport for everybody, irrespective of age and sex. No special body strength is needed, at least in the beginning, the most important part being played by correct technique.

Apart from being fun and an Olympic sport, windsurfing is a professional sport since 1985, as well as a demonstration and competition sport in indoor areas, where the necessary conditions are artificially created.

As the weather conditions in Greece are ideal (mild climate, appropriate strength of the winds etc), the popularity of the sport has increased spectacularly and more and more Greek people practise it systematically. Indeed, in recent years European and World competitions (tournaments), some of which rank among the most important international events, are held in various parts of the country during the summer. At most of the country’s organised beaches you have the opportunity to windsurf or attend lessons given by specialised instructors. Indicatively, some of the places where one can do organised windsurfing are listed below:
-Attica: Anávyssos, Várkiza, Lavrio, Loutsa, Rafina, Schiniás (Marathonas) and Galazia Aktí (Marathonas) beaches
-the Cyclades: Paros island (Chrysí Aktí, Nea Chrysí Aktí, Tsoukalia, Santa Maria and Pounda beaches), Mykonos island (Fteliá and Kalafatis beaches), Naxos island (Aghios Georgios and Mikrí Vigla beaches), Ios island (Mylópotas beach), Santorini island, et al.
-the Dodecanese: Rhodes island (Trianda, Fanés, Prasonissi and Theologos beaches), Kárpathos island (the Devil’s bay), Kos island, et al
-Patras (the Peloponnese): Drépano and Zacháro beaches
-the Ionian Islands: Lefkada island (Vassilikí beach), Zákynthos island
-Crete
-the Sporades islands: Skiathos
-Macedonia: Thessalonica prefecture (Aghia Triada and Nea Michaniona beaches and on Volvi lake), Chalkidikí (Sunny Beach).

Diving Tourism

The particularly clean Greek seas and the huge wealth of the deep are a pole of attraction for those wishing to enjoy the magic of underwater exploration. Diving using only a mask is allowed everywhere, but scuba diving using compressed air tanks is forbidden in areas with underwater antiquities.

Scores of diving schools operate in Greece under special license of the Greek Ministry of Mercantile Marine. All scuba divers are obliged to comply with and adhere to the regulations and restrictions of L. 5351/32 on antiquities. Underwater activities with diving equipment are allowed from sunrise to sunset.

More specifically, interested parties should be aware that the following are prohibited:
-fishing with scuba diving equipment (spear fishing with the use of bottles);
-photographing, removing or transporting antiquities. In case you spot any antiquities, you must immediately report this to the nearest archaeological department of the Ministry of Culture (or the Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities), or port or police authorities; and
-use or possession (on board of a ship) of special equipment for spotting antiquities.
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