Tuesday, May 19, 2015

GUEST POST - Top 5 Must-See Sites in Lhasa

The capital of Tibet is the enchanting city of Lhasa. This is where many of the local attractions can be found. On any Tibet tour, your adventure will start in Lhasa and these top 5 Lhasa attractions.

Potala Palace
The Potala Palace looks down on Lhasa from a lofty mountain. This huge complex is now a museum and UNESCO site but for hundreds of years since its construction in 1645 it was the home of the Dalai Lama. The massive structure is 13 stores high and has more than ,1000 rooms. At the heart of the complex is the crimson colored “Red Palace” where the shrines of past Dalai Lamas are kept and where religious study is conducted. The White Palace is where the Dalai Lama actually lived. A yellow courtyard separates the Red Palace from the White Palace.

Jokhang Monastery
Jokhang is the heart of Tibetan Buddhism. It is located in the center of Lhasa on the popular shopping street, Barkhor. This sacred temple has architecture reminiscent of the Indian Vihara style and the Tang Dynasty architecture as well as elements of Nepalese architecture. The temple was built to hold the religious artifacts brought to Tibet from Nepal and China by King Songtsan Gampo’s two brides Princess Wencheng and Princess Bhrikuti. The temple has four floors and is topped by an iconic statue of two gold-colored deer standing on either side of a Dharma prayer wheel. Inside the temple is a labyrinth of chapels with the most precious Jowo Shakyamuni Buddha statue housed within the main hall.

This is a beautiful palace constructed in 1755 and surrounded by the largest park in Tibet. For almost 80 years the palace was the official summer residence of the Dalai Lama and the administrative hub of the region. The UNESCO property covers 3.4km² and the palace is one of the finest examples of traditional Tibetan palace designs. Within the palace are more than 30,000 cultural relics from a number of ethnic groups living in Tibet. The gardens are the highest in the world. They include open pastures, forested areas, lawns and landscaped flower beds. In the summer the surrounding gardens play host to entertainment, dancing and singing especially during the Shodun Yoghurt Festival in July/August.

Drepung Monastery
Just 5km west of Lhasa is the largest monastery in Tibet covering 250,000m². Drepung lies at the foot of Mt. Gephel and together with the Ganden Monastery and Sera Monastery it is one of the three great Gelukpa University Monasteries. Gelukpa is a form of Buddhism founded in the late 1300s by Je Tsongkhapa. It focuses on ethics and monastic principles as well as using yoga and the teachings of the Indian master Atisa. When you visit the monastery you may see some of the 300 monks who still live here. The monastery complex buildings are centered on two magnificent white pagodas. One of the highlights is the vast Sutra Hall with 83 pillars. The monastery is intricately decorated with bright colored tapestries, wall paintings, carvings, statues and flags.

Sera Monastery
This monastery got its name from the roses which grew on the site, the literal translation is “Wild Rose Monastery.” It is one of the three great Gelug (or Gelukpa) university monasteries together with the Ganden Monastery and Drepung Monastery. It was established in 1419 by a follower of Je Tsongkhapa and is responsible for about 19 hermitages in the foothills just outside Lhasa. The main structure in the monastery complex is the four-storey Great Assembly Hall which was built in 1701.

GUEST POST - Terracotta Warriors and Horses

Located in Lintong County, the Terracotta Warriors and Horses is a huge underground military museum and is known as “the eighth wonder of the world”. It was discovered in 1974 and includes two parts: the bronze chariots and horses and the three pits. Among the three pits, the first one is the largest, with an area of 14260 square meters.
Among the two parts, the bronze chariots and horses is very valuable, so don’t miss it and please listen to the guide carefully since there is no text description in the Museum.

The debris of the terracotta figurines was discovered in 1974 by local farmers when they were digging a well. The accidental discovery has been given great attention by the archaeological department, and from then on the underground cultural treasure buried 2000 years ago began to be known by the world. The first and third pits were discovered first, followed by the second one in 1976.

The three pits were arranged in a triangle shape, and they have 8000 pieces of terracotta figurines and horses in total. The Museum has received nearly 30 million visitors since the opening of the first pit. More than 10 heads of states have been here and all of them spoke highly of it. In 1978, the former French President Jacques Chirac praised: “it is the eighth wonder of the world”, holding that one has never been to China if he didn't take terracotta warriors army tour, just as one has never been to Egypt if he didn't go to see the pyramids.

The first pit is a rectangle in shape, covering an area of 14260 square meters. There are 6000 pieces of terracotta figurines and horses in total and all of them look extremely lifelike. In the east side, three lines of infantry figurines stands here, which is the vanguard, followed by the cavalry and chariots, which are the main military array. On both the left and right sides, there are 180 terracotta warriors respectively, which are the flank guard. In the west side, three lines of terracotta warriors stand here, which are the real guard of the troop. The whole military array is well-distributed, and it seems that they are ready to fight. All the terracotta warriors are armed with bronze weapons in their hands, which are still sharp after 2000 years of erosion.

The second pit locates in the northeastern side of the first pit and the east side of the third one, covering an area of approximately 6000 square meters. The buildings here are the same with the first one, but they are more complicated in the lineup and there are more arms. It is the most spectacular one among the three pits. There is a exhibition hall covering an area of 17000 square meters within it, which is the largest and most fully-functional modern site hall in China. The second pit has over 1300 pieces of terracotta figurines and horses, 80 chariots and tens of thousands of bronze weapons.

The third pit, located in the west side of the first one, covers an area about 520 square meters. There are 68 terracotta figurines. Seeing from the layout, we could know maybe it is the headquarters of the whole troop.

The Terracotta Warriors and Horses was built around the establishment of the Qin Dynasty, which represents the prosperity of the Qin Dynasty. Walking into the hall of the museum, we can see thousands of life-size warriors, which are 1.8 to 1.97 meters tall. They look magnificent and mighty. The mould of the Terracotta Warriors and Horses was based on the real life. The warriors look different in their clothes, postures and facial expressions, and from these aspects we can tell whether they are officials or soldiers.

The Terracotta Warriors and Horses has its distinctive characteristics of the times and they are the treasure of the statuary art. They not only glorified the brilliant culture of the Chinese nation, but also added a glorious page to the art history of the world.

It also provided a wealth of materials for people to study the military, culture and economy of the Qin Dynasty. The excavation of the Terracotta Warriors and Horses is known as one of the greatest discoveries of the archaeological history in the twentieth century.

Country or City? Either One Suits me Fine

I grew up in a small, rural village in eastern Nova Scotia on the small island of Cape Breton.  Lingan has all the makings of a country paradise complete with deep forest, sprawling coastline, large yards and a wharf with some fishing boats and colorful shacks overlooking a scenic bay.  With this picture in mind, you may be saying to yourself “now she must be a typical small-town country girl”.  And, in some ways, you are right.

I spent the first 19 years of my life in that picturesque little village.  I had the best childhood anyone could ask for.  My city friends would become jealous when they heard about my adventures in the country.  Summer days spent swimming at the beach or fishing off the wharfs.  Summer nights spent playing spotlight with endless possibilities for hiding places or roasting marshmallows over an open fire near the shore.  Winter was just as fun with days spent building snow forts in the woods, skating on the pond or sledding down the apple orchard.  Growing up in the country certainly had it’s advantages and I couldn’t imagine having any other kind of childhood. 

As I got older, the country life started to bore me and I longed for adventure in the big cities.  When I moved away from my childhood home at the age of 19, I didn’t feel sad.  I was excited.  I headed for a big city and a new, completely different life than the one I was used to.  Homesickness didn’t even set in until much later because I was too busy immersing myself in my new city life, meeting new people and doing new and exciting things.

I adjusted well to the big city and was having so much fun in my new surroundings that I hardly gave my old country life a second thought.  I immersed myself in the George St. bar scene, hung out in artsy coffee shops and learned the ropes of public transportation.  Having lived in the country all my life meant my family had a car to get around because there are no buses in the country!  In the city, many people don't own cars because it's more convenient and cheaper to take the bus and my first bus ride was quite embarrassing; I didn’t know how to make it stop at my stop so I just yelled to the bus driver to stop when he passed it!  It wasn’t until after I observed other commuters pulling the rope above the windows that I realized this was what made the bus stop on command!

Over the next ten years, I grew accustomed to city life and almost forgot what it was like to be a country girl.  When I returned home for a visit, my friends and family commented on how I changed.  They thought I dressed differently, talked differently and even developed a bit of an attitude!  My interests certainly changed.  My old friends who still lived in Cape Breton still spend weekends hanging out in the same places we hung around in high school.  I wanted more excitement and variety but they were content in just doing the same ol’ thing. 

During the last two years of my life in the city, things started to change. The party scene got old, the city streets were suddenly too loud, my neighbors were too close (literally – I lived in a townhouse that was a part of a long row of attached houses) and I started to long for my childhood home in the country.
In 2011, after being laid off from my job among other things, I decided a change of scenery might do me good.  I love St. John’s but, ultimately, I decided to head home for a while.  I was excited at the prospect of going home to spend time with my family while I figured out what the next big step in my life would be.  But, as the day of my departure loomed closer, I started to have second thoughts.  I was used to living in the city with everything at my fingertips.  It was familiar and it was the life I had become accustomed to.  I didn't think I would remember how to be a country girl.

In January of 2011, I boarded a bus to Port Aux Basques where I caught a ferry that was headed for Cape Breton and to the next chapter in my life.  Even though I grew up there, I knew it would be much, much different than I remembered it as a child.  I had been living as a city girl for my entire adult life up to that point and adjusting to living in a small village proved to be harder than I ever thought it would be.. 

The first couple of weeks were great.  I spent time with my family and got reacquainted with some of my childhood friends.  I went for long drives in the country and watched the sun set at the beach down the road.  I went on long walks in the woods behind my house and watched deer, fox and rabbits roaming about.  Those first just felt like a vacation.  But in reality, the shock of leaving St. John’s behind hadn’t sunk in yet…and when it did, it sunk in good and I became quite the sad wreck.  I missed my lovely downtown, top floor apartment that overlooked The Narrows.  I missed the sights and sounds of the bustling city and the never-ending excitement and endless things to do.  And most importantly, I missed my friends.  It took me a long time to readjust to life in the country.  The quietness, the loneliness, the lack of people, the lack of things to do… it was quite overwhelming!      

I’ve been back in Cape Breton four years now and, although it has been quite the adjustment, I must say, I am enjoying this peaceful, remote little piece of heaven on earth.  Do I miss the city life? Sure, from time to time.  But having lived both the rural and urban life, I can most definitely say that I would have no problem adjusting to either in the future.  Both come with their pros...and both come with some cons too.

Some of the pros to living in the city:

Everything is easily accessible.  I didn’t even need a car the entire time I lived in the city.  My work was right across the street, there were coffee shops and restaurants within walking distance, the grocery store was nearby and there were a number of parks right in my neighborhood. 

People are more open-minded.  You can be whoever you want, dress how you want, and believe in what you want without people judging you.  City dwellers are not as conservative in their beliefs and are more accepting of others who are different from them.

Cities don’t sleep.  Stores are open later and there is always something going on somewhere no matter what time of day it is.

Cities are more diverse.  Most cities have a large population of people who come from other areas of the region and even other countries.  Some come for work, others come to further their education and others simply come for a change of scenery.  Whatever the reason, this mixture of people from so many different places results in a very diverse environment of people from different backgrounds.

Everyone minds their own business.  Unlike in the country where everyone knows what you are doing at all times, in the city, no one cares. 

Some of the cons of living in a city

The lack of privacy.  Houses are located close together and there are always people everywhere you go…lots of people.  Even in parks, it's hard to find a quiet to relax.  There are always children, dogs or lonely/over-friendly people who invade your personal space.

The lack of space.  My yard in the city consisted of a concrete stoop in front of the sidewalk large enough for one person to sit on and my neighbors were, quite literally, on top of me.  Parking a car is a chore as everyone on the street fights for the few spots that are available because hardly anyone has driveways.

Sometimes it can feel lonely.  Although you are constantly surrounded by people in the city, it can, surprisingly feel lonely.  In the country, I sometimes find it annoying that everyone always knows where I am or what I'm doing.  I missed that in the city.  There were times I wanted someone to be looking out for me.

The good things are far away...like beaches and remote hiking trails and woodsy areas.  And for a person like me, who loves to escape the hustle and bustle from time to time, not being able to go to those places as often as I wanted to resulted in cabin fever.  Sometimes I felt a little confined by the crowds and busy streets.

Some pros of living in the country

There's lots of space. Large fields, deep forests, long and deserted beaches....the country is full of large, open spaces that provide freedom and privacy.

Beautiful sunrises and sunsets. Of course the sun rises and sets in the city but how can you see anything when you are surrounded by buildings.  And to actually enjoy the peacefulness that should come with watching a sunrise or sunset?  Forget about that in the city too because it's hard to find any peace and quiet with the constant sound of traffic!  In the country, sunrises are worth getting up for and sunsets are worth dropping everything for.

Peace and quiet.  Traffic is light, people are relaxed, houses are far apart, parks and beaches are almost vacant...need I say more?

Familiar faces. Everyone knows everyone in the country and someone always has your back.  In the city, I've literally gone days without seeing a familiar face.  In the country, everyone is a familiar face.

Driving is actually fun.  When I lived in the city, I dreaded commuting by car so much that I didn't even own one for almost ten years.  In the country, you pretty much need a car to get around but driving is enjoyable and even relaxing when you have the whole road to yourself! 

Some Cons of living in the Country

Lack of privacy.  In the country, everyone knows one another and that means that everyone knows everything about you and what you are doing at any given moment.  There is always someone trying to dish out information on you for their next gossip fest at the local Bingo hall.

Long commutes.  While traffic is light in the country, commutes to the grocery store, work or anywhere else can be quite long depending on how far away you live from the nearest town.

Lack of social activities.  Living in the country certainly allows one to spend some quality time alone but when loneliness sets in, it can be hard to meet to new people and social events are not as common as they are in the bigger centres.

I am still not really sure where I fit in most.  I do miss the city but I've gotten used to being in the middle of nowhere again and I really like it.  I think young people should spend some time in the city when they first start out but there is nothing wrong with going back to your roots.  Will I ever live in a city again?  It's hard to say.  I may have to for work purposes or I may just want a change of scenery in the future.  I feel I can adjust to any living arrangements at this point.  When I first switched from country to city and city back to country, it was hard to adjust but now I am an ol' pro.  I was born a country girl but spent most of my adult life in the city and now I am back in the country so I don't really know what you would call me!

Friday, May 15, 2015

GUEST POST - Broadening Your Horizons In Melbourne – Between April and June 2015

Have you considered Melbourne as your next holiday destination? No? Well read on, we have a few things that may well change your mind…Australia isn’t all spiders and snakes you know!

In fact, in recent years, Melbourne has become a cosmopolitan hub boasting culture and a range of things to stretch your body and mind – no matter what your tastes.

In the next few months alone there are several really exciting fixtures appearing on Melbourne’s social calendar…yes you’ve guessed it, read on:

The Melbourne International Comedy Festival runs from March 25th to April 19th and as it embarks on its29th year it has become an established addition to the local diary. It has also earned its stripes on the global stage - right alongside fellow comedy titans Edinburgh Fringe Festival and Montreal's Just for Laughs Festival.The program is eclectic and consists of everything from stand-up comedy, to street performance, to visual arts…one not to be missed!

Design Week (May 11th – 18th) is a celebration of design from home and abroad.An internationally respected event, Design Week is a platform in which members of the global community showcase the numerous benefits afforded by innovative thinking – both for individuals and the economy.If forward thinking excites you, you will really enjoy this programs.

The Human Rights Arts and Film Festival runs from May 7th to May 21st. As one of Melbourne’s leading not-for-profit organizations the jewel in the crown of its event calendar is the annual film and arts festival. The festival takes a topic that often gets overlooked by the masses and makes it entertaining through employing accessible mediums that resonate with the every-day-man. Whether you are a fan of art or an advocate for social change this is a real treat.

The Melbourne International Jazz Festival takes place between the 28th of May and the 7th of June and is an annual, world-class jazz festival.Jazz invades the city in this vibrant festival with programs that appeal to all the family. The ambition of this festival is to become one of the number one international jazz events and by all accounts it is well on its way to realizing this ambition.

The Good Food & Wine Convention will be tickling taste buds between the 5th and the 8th of June and will be pooling all of the country’s best food and drink exports so that they are all in one place, for your delectation. There will be a wealth of things for you to sample – some old favorites and some things you have never heard of before (but wish you had!) Celebrity chefs will be on hand to show you how to re-create their masterpieces in the comfort of your own home (we cannot guarantee the cast from Masterchef Australia but it is a possibility). Whether a seasoned foodie or a novice keen to learn more you need to make a beeline for this event.

One of the top reasons for booking a holiday is to recharge your batteries – if that is your motivation the Mind, Body and Spirit Festival (5th – 8thJune) could be the very thing! Here you will be able to learn about, sample and buy a vast range of natural therapies and remedies for some of life’s trials and tribulations.

So, how are you feeling about Melbourne now? Ready to experience its many festivities? We thought so…. what are you waiting for? After all it’s just a case of looking at flights from London to Melbourne(link: http://flights.etihad.com/en-gb/flights-from-london-to-melbourne) and taking the plunge, if you don’t book you will never go (wise words I know).

GUEST POST - The Ultimate Luxury Holiday

I love travel. I love seeing new places and experiencing new things, that’s why I spend my quiet hours at home scouting new destinations on the Internet and sketching out an itinerary of things to do when I get there. So it may surprise you to hear that I plan not to travel for a while as I plan to do some serious saving up, for my next trip, which will be the thing dreams are made of.

Sorry for going all Shakespeare but, for me, my next trip will be a massive undertaking worthy of any of the “Great Bard’s” protagonists, as I plan to go on the greatest luxury trip I can imagine. Okay, that may not sound like a chore to you but I am a man that prides myself on his backpacking credentials, my normal trip has been hitting hostels and experiencing the local culture to the full. Not to say that it hasn’t been a great way to travel and explore, for the most part, it has, however, I’ve yet to experience the life of a true jetsetter.

Maybe it’s my ever-increasing age making me less suited to the hustle and bustle of backpacking or maybe it’s the idea that holidays should be a reward for the long hours you spend at work to earn that pay cheque. Whatever the case, I feel that it’s about time that I indulge myself, so here’s my guide to the perfect opulent vacation, which I’ll be attempting, hopefully some time very soon:

The destination maybe the ultimate goal, but to me, how I arrive is of equal importance. Riding coach just won’t do and quite frankly neither will first class. For, you see, in the world of air travel, there is a class even higher than first and that is “residence class”, according to Etihad Airways anyway. Instead of a mere seat, residence travelers are treated to a lavish suite with a double bed and en suite bathroom. Moreover, each resident is afforded a butler trained at the savoy that caters to their every whim as well as a classically trained chef that can create a custom menu for those with a demanding pallet.

As you can tell by my sub heading, I plan to make this a multi-destination trip, after all, variety is the spice of life! That being said where will I begin my holiday? Paris, Rome, maybe New York? No, I’ll begin my journey in the modern home of extravagance…

UAE: Taking the residence flight from London to Abu Dhabi (link: flights.etihad.com/en/) is the most fitting way to start. This city has gradually built itself a reputation of being the premier destination for the wealthy. Most of its grandiose architecture is a testament to its economic might, boasting artificial islands that were constructed with the explicit purpose of housing its wealthiest residents and visitors. Whilst I am in the UAE I will also visit Dubai (of course). One of these man-made archipelagos off the Persian Gulf will provide accommodation during my time in the UAE metropolis. Frontrunner being The World, a group of islands shaped like a map of the globe, I quite like the idea owning a miniature British isles – a decadent home away from home. I’ll be spending my days shopping at the most decadent stores housed within the Dubai Mall, the world’s largest shopping mall. After my urban adventure, I think I’ll decompress on a serene beach in the…

Maldives: I used to watch travel shows religiously as a child. I was captivated by the exoticism of the foreign and picturesque locales that drove home the mundane nature of my native environment. Non more so than the Maldives, a paradise in the middle of the Indian Ocean, so it’s no surprise that my ideal luxury jaunt across the globe would have a stop there. The Maldives is home to some of the plushest resorts in the world. With each high-end resort sitting in its own shallow lagoon populated by coral, I can’t make a wrong decision. However, if I’m forced to make a choice it’ll be the Ocean Haven suite at the W Maldives & Spa. A two bedroom villa situated in a private lagoon (perfect for some private scuba), it has all the modern amenities and yet retains that all too essential island charm. After getting my fill of sun I’ll head to my final stop on the trip…

London: Okay this may seem like cheating since I’ll be essentially be coming back home (capital boy born and raised) but after the paradise I’d have just experienced I’m expecting a need to re-acclimatise. That being said London is no slouch when it comes to providing a luxury experience. The city is home to the world famous Dorchester Hotel; this sumptuous accommodation has hosted generations of royalty, political leaders and celebrities. It also boasts the only 3 Michelinstar restaurant in the UK, Alain Ducasse at the Dorchester, providing the perfect staycation after my vacation.

This is the type of holiday most people dream of and very few experience, but in all honesty, isn’t that what a holiday should be in modern times? A rare experience that can be cherished for years to come! So why don’t you start planning your ultimate luxury trip?

Friday, April 24, 2015

Up-to-date Travel Deals for Spring

Well, now that the peak Spring Break season is behind us, it's time for those of us who couldn't get away (or couldn't afford the steeper Spring Break prices) to take advantage of the upcoming off-season for many places around the world and the lowest prices of the year! Sure, there is always a risk of a bit of rain but who cares if you are getting a good deal and getting away from home. I traveled to the Caribbean and to Central America 3 times during the rainy season and it was sunny 95% of the time on every trip! But dropping prices for beach destinations is not the only good thing about spring; places you would never think of traveling to in the winter are now gearing up for the start of their peak season!
This is what the weather looked like most of the time during my rainy-season trip to Mexico. This was taken at Playa Santa Fe in Tulum.

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Thursday, April 23, 2015

A Long Walk, A Deep-Sea Swim and a Journey to one of the Most Remote Islands in the World - These are my Top 3 Bucket List Destinations

Almost everyone has a bucket list- a list of places they want to visit and things they want to experience. While some people only dream of making seeing their list realized, I have been slowly but surely making my way through mine...and it's lengthy. It was hard to narrow that list down to my top three destinations and experiences but I did it, I put it to paper, edited it and posted it for all of you to see. Now I just have to work on making them a reality!

The Camino de Santiago

I've recently taken an interest in the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage. Traditionally, it was a religious pilgrimage but it seems that, today, thousands of people each year are doing this long trek for various reasons both religious and non-religious. I personally would love to set out on this pilgrimage for a number of reasons.
1) Endurance and accomplishment. I must say, I would be quite proud of myself if I could complete a 791-kilometre trek through all kinds of weather and terrain. Throwing myself into an unfamiliar place and walking into the unknown would be the ultimate mental and physical test.
2) The experience. I'm imagining the interesting places where I would spend the night, the people from all over the world I would meet, the stories I would hear, the things I would see, the languages I would try to converse in, the things I would learn, the new foods I would eat...
3) The memories. Completing such a trek would be something I'd never forget as long as I live and it would provide me with endless things to write about and share with others.
4) The escape. What better way to escape the mundane. I'd be immersing myself into a new adventure that would provide me with a complete change of scenery for an extended period of time and allow me to see life from a new perspective.
5) A way to clear my head and start out fresh. Some people head to their local pub and slam back a few dozen beers, some people change careers and some people do a walkabout in the Australian Outback. One day, I will trek the Camino de Santiago. I've taken in a lot the last few years. I lost my mom, I lost a job I loved, I made a big move to another location away from a place I loved, I had to readjust to a lot of new things and frankly, at times, it was hard. I need to regroup, think long and hard about the next step, rediscover myself and set some new goals...a long walk should do the trick!

Swimming with Whale Sharks

I can't think of a better way to become one with the natural world than to share such a close encounter with one of the largest creatures on the planet. They look so peaceful and graceful despite their size and it would be an honor to share the same space with them for even a short time. I love to swim, I love the ocean, I love animals and I love a good one-of-a-kind adventure. Since whale sharks are not a threat to humans like some of their other more dangerous cousins, I think a trip to the Caribbean Coast of Mexico is in order for the near future!

Easter Island

I once thought this island was just a rock in the middle of the ocean with a bunch of ancient statues on it. It still intrigued me but once I learned more about it, I became more intrigued and now I want to go there more than anything! The remoteness of the island, the isolation of the people and their almost untouched culture and way of life, the history behind the Moai statues...all of it is so intriguing to me. I'm picturing myself venturing out to explore the island and its mysteries. I would hear stories passed down from generation to generation, I would sleep under the stars, I would visit remote and almost untouched beaches, I would sit in silence with my eyes closed in the fresh, clean air and try to picture what it was like hundreds of years ago. To me, traveling to Easter Island would be the trip to end all trips...well not really. I will never stop traveling but it would be hard to top off a trip to one of the world's most remote places and one that has so much culture and history despite the fact that only 5700 people live there.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

GUEST POST - The Greenbuild International Conference and Expo

The Greenbuild International Conference and Expo will be held between 18 November 2015 and 22 November 2015. The Trade Show, Fair and Exhibition venue will be at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington, DC. USGBC is committed to a prosperous and sustainable future through cost-efficient and energy-saving green buildings. USGBC works toward its mission of market transformation through its LEED green building program, robust educational offerings, a nationwide network of chapters and affiliates, the annual Greenbuild International Conference & Expo, the Center for Green Schools and advocacy in support of public policy that encourages and enables green buildings and communities.

In 2015, Greenbuild will showcase the latest in innovative products and services. Join them in Washington D.C. to learn, network, do business and participate in one of the greenest and most sustainable conferences in the world. USGBC’s Greenbuild International Conference & Expo is the world’s largest conference and exposition dedicated to green building, and it’s the place where over 23,000 attendees and 800 exhibitors from the green building industry come together to do business. Greenbuild is the world's largest conference and expo dedicated to green building. The ideals and passion of the green building community come alive at Greenbuild. The buzz is contagious. Greenbuild brings together industry leaders, experts and frontline professionals dedicated to sustainable building in their everyday work, and a unique energy is sparked. Participants are invigorated. Inspired. They find themselves equipped to return to their jobs with a renewed passion and purpose. Greenbuild features three days of inspiring speakers, invaluable networking opportunities, industry showcases, LEED workshops and tours of the host city's green buildings. Launched in 2002, Greenbuild is a great opportunity to build new relationships and connect with colleagues from throughout the industry and around the world. Join thousands of other people who agree that green building is a good idea and good for business.

Washington DC is a hub for American politics and history. Attracting as many school field trips as it does travelers the district offers a peek into the country’s democratic origin. There are plenty of free museums to take advantage of but the real draw here is the memorials and monuments dedicated to great American leaders. Spend some contemplative time at the Reflecting Pool within the National Mall, among the most patriotic places in the country.

As one of America’s top conference destinations, travel to Washington D.C. can often be expensive, but it doesn’t have to always break the bank. EventBlocks, a hotel comparison site for large events, has a great comparison page for different hotel options near Greenbuild 2015, featuring not only the event’s specially-negotiated group rates, but also a few other hidden gems that can save conference goers a lot of money. Though group rates range from $289 to $219, attendees can also book a room at the nearby Cambria Suites for only $165, which is less than a half mile from the convention center and sports 4.5 stars on TripAdvisor. If you are looking for a more intimate D.C. experience, the Mt. Vernon Square Bed and Breakfast is currently offering rooms starting at $195, a 33% savings over the top group rate!

Saturday, April 18, 2015

GUEST POST - Lazenne – the Leader in Wine Luggage Accessories.

Picture this: you are at a fantastic vineyard, and you are savouring a delicious glass of wine. Wouldn’t you like to take a bottle, or maybe 12, home with you? Now you can, with Lazenne – the leader in wine luggage accessories .
Transporting wine is easier than ever before with Lazenne's collection of Wine Check Luggage. The Wine Check Luggage Collection provides space for up to 15 bottles of wines that also include their Bottle Protectors . Bottles of various sizes can easily fit into the collection and the luggage conveniently comes with straps, rollers and is also environmentally friendly. Your valuable wine purchases are protected against major impacts and is crush resistant. The luggage also keeps steady pressure and temperature levels. With Lazenne Wine Check Luggage, you will be able to check your wine like normal luggage for European and international destinations.

Are you surprised to know that you can check wine at the airport? It is a common misunderstanding but passengers can check in bottles of wine exactly like they would for a suitcase. The following list makes travelling with Wine Check Luggage much easier:
• Keep wine alcohol content under 24%. If you want a higher alcohol percentage in your liquor, keep it to 5 liters per person. Content over 70% alcohol is not allowed.
• Lazenne Bottle Protectors are perfect for packing your wine safely and securely.
• For international flights, keep the total Wine Check Luggage weight to below 50lbs or 23 kg to avoid overweight charges. Confirm your baggage weight limit policy with your airline.
Make sure you are familiar with the customs regulations of your destination country. Within the European Union, up to 90 litres of alcohol is allowed without additional fees for duties or taxes. The policies for alcohol in excess of duty-free quantities is generous in many countries, make sure you know what the policy is beforehand.
• Check out Lazenne.com for more details, particularly Flying with Wine 101.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Dreaming of the Warmer Days Ahead

Wishing I was here right now looking over that spectacular view of the Pacific!  No snow, no wind, no rain, no sub-zero temperatures...just me in this hammock I was relaxing in two years ago on this date just after my arrival at Anamaya Yoga Retreat in Montezuma, Costa Rica.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

So You want to be A Travel Writer? MatadorU Can Help get You Started!

Travel writing sounds like a dream job and in many ways, it is. To many people pursuing an interest or seeking a career in the field, it sounds like it could even be an easy career path to follow. After all, all you have to do is visit some cool places, compile some notes and photos, write some interesting stories and submit to travel publications, right? Wrong. While travel writing can be a fun and adventurous endeavor, it’s a job that require hard work, long hours and lots of dedication and patience and there is more to the business than just writing cool stories if you want to be successful at it at all!

When I first started writing about travel, I thought it would be easy. Reality hit hard and I discovered I didn’t have a clue how to be a real travel writer! I continued to write over the years but my writing was going nowhere. No one was taking an interest in it, no one was offering to publish any of my articles and hardly anyone was even reading, let alone following, this blog. As I was surfing the net one day looking for articles and tutorials on how to be a better travel writer, I came across some information about the. MatadorU Travel Media School

I was intrigued enough to learn more so I kept reading but, like most things I read about on the net that sound to good to be true, I passed it off as some sort of scam or money-grabbing gimmick. It wasn’t until months later when someone recommended the school to me that I started to look into it again but this time with a more open mind.

In the end, I threw caution to the wind, took my friend’s advice and signed up for the travel writing course. It wasn’t a lot of money anyway and what did I have to lose? I started the course immediately and finished it within a couple of months (I was working full-time at that time so it took a little longer than average for me to complete it) and I can 100% honestly say that it is the best thing I’ve done so far to enhance my travel writing.

When I first signed up, I thought the program materials would be riddled with things that I already knew. I was wrong. The course taught me things I had not even thought about. Things that cannot be found simply by doing searches in Google. And I think the reason the course is so effective and full of helpful material is because it is developed by other travel writers and professionals in the industry who have first-hand knowledge of what works and what doesn’t.

Since graduating from the course, I’ve had articles accepted for a number of publications, I improved my blog and gained a large following, I won several travel photography competitions, I’ve secured freelance work with several well-known travel companies and I won two travel blogging competitions…and my writing is much, much better!

So by now, you may be wondering what the course has to offer. Keep reading to learn more!

First of all, each course costs $475.00 (but there are promotions and deals available for students who sign up for more than one course at a time and sometimes there are other promotions throughout the year). With each course, you will receive one-on-one feedback on your work to help you discover what you could be doing better. You will also become part of a large community of other aspiring and professional travel writers, photographers, filmmakers and journalists and faculty consisting of award-winning professionals who have worked with well-known publications including National Geographic. You can complete courses at your own pace. Once you complete a course, you receive a certificate that you can print off along with code you can paste to your own website or blog to let everyone know you are a MatadorU Graduate. And my personal favorite – you will have access to a database filled with up-to-date jobs, contests and press trips that you can apply for. Most importantly, you have lifetime access to all course and website materials which means you can go back again and again.

Here are the courses that are available and a rundown of what they offer:

MatadorU Travel Photography Program

Course outline:
Advanced Travel Photography

Learning the different functions of your camera
Understanding exposure: Aperture, Shutter Speed, ISO
How to optimize lighting for your photography
Building a portfolio and publishing it online

Advanced Travel Photography
Creating photo essays that tell a story
Preparing to work in the field
Advanced techniques in post-processing
Developing your brand and marketing it
Pitching to editors and getting published

MatadorU Travel Writing Program

Fundamentals of Travel Writing
Crafting a travel story
Learning different forms of travel writing such as social commentary, narrative and personal essay
Researching, interviewing, quoting and citing
Developing your personal brand and gaining a following
Pitching editors

Advanced Travel Writing
Tips on writing about controversial topics
Best practices while on assignment
Pacing, structure, and transitions feature stories

MatadorU Travel Filmmaking Program

Learning about the gear of a travel filmmaker - cameras, lenses, filters, gear, accessories, and software
Composition and getting good exposure
Capturing high-quality audio
Learning about the different styles of travel films
Post-processing procedures such as importing, organizing footage; trimming and cutting; editing sound/music; transitions, effects and titles
Conducting field work
Building your online brand and getting hired

Start your journey into the world of travel journalism here

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Lucky Breaks: Win a trip for two to Florence worth $8,000

HERE'S WHAT YOU COULD WIN: A Trip for two to Florence - Includes roundtrip airfare, $3,000+ in shopping sprees, and more!
HERE'S HOW YOU GIVE BACK: For every 1,000 people that sign up within 24 hours, donations will be made to Good Shepard Women's Shelters*.
You and a lucky friend will get a three-night retreat at the gloriously historical Il Salviatino Hotel. Spectacular views of Florence surround the 15th-century restored villa, where you'll enjoy dinner for two alfresco and luxury spa treatments in the Tuscan gardens.
We're making this dream vacation extra memorable with:
  • $2,000 shopping spree at Luisa Via Roma. Based in Florence, the high-fashion haven offers collections from Kenzo, ChloĆ©, Givenchy and more.
  • $1,000 shopping spree at travel bag line Floto. The collection features leather duffels, messengers and wallets—all crafted by Italian artisans—that only get better with time.
  • An HP Stream 8 Tablet worth $179: Sleek and lightweight enough to take with you everywhere; just try to resist checking your e-mail every hour.
  • Round-trip airfare for two, courtesy of RetailMeNot.
No purchase necessary.
See the official rules and enter the contest at http://bit.ly/18MNHzr

*The Cause: Good Shepherd is a worldwide women's shelter that takes a holistic approach to ending violence against women. Good Shepherd is a 501c(3) operating across the US and abroad.
Their mission: Ending Violence - Reclaiming Lives.
Their Story: Good Shepherd is dedicated to offering the best approach to ENDING the GENERATIONAL cycle of violence. It is unique in that it is the only shelter with separate family apartment units, full schooling for the children, an Adult Learning Center, therapeutic services and legal advocacy— all on site.
The Give: The women at Good Shepherd need everything from legal counsel, to new clothes, to care for their children and so much more. Klickly will make a donation of $500 for every 1000 people that sign up within 24 hours!
See the official rules and enter the contest at http://bit.ly/18MNHzr

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Inspiring Graffiti

A couple of years ago while making my way around the Cabot Trail, I noticed that someone (or perhaps a number of people) penned the words "Happy Trails" in various places.  I spotted these same words on a hand dryer in a washroom at the Englishtown Ferry, on a picnic table on top of Cape Smokey Mountain and in this location on a handrail leading to the bottom of Maryanne Falls in Ingonish.  From that day onward, I always made a point to stop at these places to glance at those words.  The person who wrote them probably thought nothing of it but to me, this is probably some of the most inspiring graffiti I've ever come across :)  Who knows, maybe the person who wrote them will see this and the mystery will be solved once and for all!  

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Long, Deserted Highway through the Mojave Desert

I spent three days driving aimlessly around parts of the Mojave Desert in Nevada and loved every second I spent on that lonely, open road! 
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