Romantic destinations

There’s no doubt about it: travel can be romantic.

So, at this time of year when love is in the air, here’s some of our favourite romantic destinations:

1.Venice, Italy – if romance has an ideal backdrop, this is it. Venice seems to emit a romantic energy. No wonder it is known as the City of Honeymoons.

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2. Crete, Greece – what a wonderful island. Rugged scenery, friendly people, wonderful food and an amazing culture.

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3. Lattari Mountain villages, Campania, Italy – within sight of the Amalfi coastline, yet a land lost in time. These villages spell out romance with a capital ‘R’.

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4. Schafberg Mountain, Austria – rising up from the waters of the Wolfgangsee, this mountain takes you to a land above the clouds. In season, catch the Schafbergbahn train to the top and behold the Hotel Schafbergspitze on its snowy peak.

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5. El Maresme costa, Catalonia – Barcelona and the coast to its north are as romantic as anyone could wish

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6. The Gower, southern Wales – a misty and mystic wonderland of green lowlands, rocky peaks, beaches, ancient castles and standing stones, the Gower is good for the soul.

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 7. Lake Bled, Slovenia – commonly described as one of the most beautiful places on earth, Bled has all the ingredients for a romantic stay.  Simply stunning!!

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8. Florence, Italy –  To see the sun sink down, drowned on his pink and purple and golden floods, and overwhelm Florence with tides of color that make all the sharp lines dim and faint and turn the solid city to a city of dreams, is a sight to stir the coldest nature.” – Mark Twain

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9. Athens, Greece – the ancient wonders of this captivating city are matched by the warmth of its people, the superb food and the excitement of the bubbling metropolis.

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10. Rome, Italy – the Eternal City spells romance and excitement at every turn.

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11. Niagara Falls, USA – another honeymoon favourite for a reason. There’s something about Mother Nature at her grandest.

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12. London, United Kingdom – the ‘Capital of Capitals’ has an appeal that must be experienced to be fully understood. We defy anyone to step off the plane at Heathrow and not feel immediately that the city is special indeed.

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13. Prague, Czech Republic – a cobblestone wonder that is as romantic as you will find anywhere.

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14. The Isle of Capri, Italy – every visit to this emerald island will feel like falling in love.

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15. Utah’s national parks – The Coyote Buttes – and who didn’t love cowboy movies?

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16. Scotland, United Kingdom – a rugged landscape, where the air is crisp and the whiskey is smooth.

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17. Paris, France – a perennial favourite with lovers, lose yourself in the boulevards and architecture (but watch the drivers)

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18. Copenhagen, Denmark – the dock of the bay at Nyhaven, one of the many charming highlights of this elegant and friendly city.

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19. The Dolomites, Italy – this limestone mountain range in north-eastern Italy is a favourite with the ski crowd, but its beautiful, rugged landscape is dotted with romantic cabins where solitude comes free of charge.

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20. The North Coast of Cornwall, United Kingdom – scenery to die for.

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Barcelona Features Romance

Taking sustainable tourism seriously

There’s two sides to the question of sustainable tourism.

In Europe, there have been surges of resident concern about overcrowding and the impact of cruise ships on fragile ancient cities like Venice, Barcelona, Dubrovnik and Italy’s Isle of Capri.

Tourism contributes enormously to economies and job-creation, but also creates pressure on local cultures, the environment and energy resources.

Anyone who has visited the Greek islands, Venice or Capri in Summer will attest to the problems of cruise ships and coaches disgorging thousands of people into tiny, Medieval streets.

However, there’s another key side to the issue that doesn’t necessarily grab the headlines, but is even more important.

Positive action is being taken across a range of areas to ensure that mass tourism doesn’t destroy the attractions that draw people in the first place.

One of the most high profile measures occurred when the United Nations highlighted the issue by designating 2017 as the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development.

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This gave important impetus to a range of industry measures that were able to be highlighted during the year.

Its tourism body, the UNWTO, encouraged practices like minimizing the use of plastic; protecting natural and cultural heritage such as rain forests and historical sites; supporting local communities by employing local staff, buying local products and engaging in charity work.

However, sustainable tourism measures were well underway before 2017.

The airline industry, for example, has long been investing in new-age planes that burn less fuel and provide health and cost-saving benefits.

For example, we recently rated the Age-Friendliness of a Boeing 787 Dreamliner operated by Scoot Airlines between Australia and Athens.

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It was an eye-opening experience.

The Dreamliner is made of composite plastic, uses less fuel, leaves passengers feeling more refreshed upon arrival and seems much quieter than similar-size jets.

Scoot has set a tremendous example of sustainability and environmental consciousness by dominating its fleet with Dreamliners.

And, of course, that is only part of an important trend.

Treading in the right direction

10462890_747168288660125_7424016551669484611_n.jpgOther notable and praiseworthy steps toward sustainable tourism include the TreadRight Foundation, a joint initiative between The Travel Corporation’s (TTC) family of brands, which include prominent industry players AAT Kings; Trafalgar Tours; Red Carnation Hotels; Insight Vacations; Contiki Tours; Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection; and Creative Holidays.

TreadRight Foundation is a not-for-profit that encourages sustainability by providing grants to protect natural attractions and unique heritages. To date, TreadRight has helped support at least 40 sustainable tourism projects worldwide.

An example is the first-of-its-kind guide for sustainable river cruising. This guide suggests strategies for reducing water and energy use and waste generation on river cruises.

These type of positive initiatives allow travellers to select and support companies that are showing a commitment to sustainable tourism.

The cruise industry itself has also been involved in ocean conservation measures such as reducing exhause emissions – and has invested in fuel efficient ships and water and waste conservation.

And, importantly, cruise companies are increasingly looking beyond their ships to the places they visit – encouraging onshore tour providers to adopt sustainable practices.

The Centre for Responsible Travel (CREST) is a research organization with the aim of increasing the positive global impact of responsible tourism.

CREST says it helps governments; policy makers; tourism businesses; nonprofit organizations; and international agencies to find solutions to critical issues confronting tourism.

For the individual traveller, there are alsoa growing number of online travel purchasing platforms, such as Kind Traveler, claiming to help consumers choose companies that are giving back to their communites.

Air news Features Sustainable Tourism

Daisy the cow and the night Chicago died

As you walk down North Michigan Avenue in Chicago, Illinois, it’s impossible to miss the old water tower.

And, more than 140 years after the Great Chicago Fire, the tower is one of the few remaining links to this momentous event – along with the story of Daisy the cow.

The 47 metre limestone tower was one of only a few structures in the area to escape the inferno of October 1871. It’s now an eye-catching art gallery.

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Information board at the Chicago Water Tower

Mrs O’Leary’s cow wasn’t so lucky, but whether Daisy actually played any role in the fire that killed 300 people and destroyed three square miles of the city, is debated to this day.

City officials never discovered the exact cause, but a popular tale in Chicago blames Mrs O’Leary’s cow for kicking over a lantern in a barn off DeKoven Street.

Another theory is that men were gambling inside the barn and knocked over a lantern.

What is certain is that two-thirds of Chicago was made of wood and tar; that the area needed rain badly; and that southwestly winds carried embers into the heart of the city.

And whatever actually ignited the blaze, it spread rapidly through the timber buildings, wooden sidewalks and even some wooden roads.

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Photo courtesy Chicago Tribune archive

Once flames jumped the Chicago River and destroyed the waterworks, the mains apparently went dry and little could be done.

Within a couple of days, more than 100,000 people were homeless.

In the aftermath of the blaze, Chicago promptly began to rewrite its fire standards and soon created one of the country’s leading fire-fighting forces.

At the same time, business owners and land speculators quickly set about rebuilding the city, helped in no small part by generous assistance from across the US.

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Memorial at the spot where the fire started

The story of Mrs O’Leary and her cow continued to grow, despite denials by the family itself and a later newspaper confession that the tale had been fabricated.

In fact, it became so engrained in local lore that Chicago’s city council officially exonerated the O’Leary family —and the cow—in 1997.

Since then, it has also been suggested that the blaze – and others across the Midwest of the US – may have been sparked by a meteor shower – or that ‘Pegleg’ Sullivan, who first reported the Chicago fire, may have ignited hay in the barn while trying to steal milk.

Or perhaps Daisy acted alone.

Chicago Features

We can’t deny it: we’re clock-watchers

It may seem a bit lame and even a trite humorous, but we always try to take time out of travelling to see extraordinary public clocks

Here’s an updated list of some of the best we’ve come across. Let us know which beauties we’ve missed.

Westminster, London

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Obviously, the daddy of all clocks is this one in England.

Nick-named ‘Big Ben’ this is said to be the biggest four-faced clock in the world. The tower at the Houses of Parliament was built in 1858.

These days, you can get a great view of Big Ben from the London Eye, on the opposite bank of the River Thames.

Weltzeituhr or World Time Clock, Berlin, Germany

Weltzeituhr or Worldtime Clock, Berlin

Standing 10 metres tall, the World Time clock is also a popular meeting point in Berlin’s Alexanderplatz.

It features a revolving cylinder with the world’s 24 time zones. The current time in each zone is visible.

The clock is topped by a model of the solar system, which revolves once a minute.

Verdensur, Copenhagen, Denmark

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Jen Olsen’s World Clock  is an astronomical clock in the Copenhagen City Hall.

This beauty boasts 12 movements and more than 14,000 parts.

Displays on the world clock include lunar and solar eclipses, position of stellar bodies and a perpetual calendar.

Orion, Prague

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This is a medieval clock in the capital of the Czech Republic.

First installed in 1410, the clock is said to be the third eldest astronomical clock in the world and the oldest one that is still working.

Mounted on the wall of the city hall in Prague’s Old Town, the clock  features an hourly parade of figurines known as the ‘Walk of the Apostles’.

A skeleton representing death strikes the time.

Eastgate clock, Chester, UK

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This clock and gateway mark an entrance to the original Roman fortress of Deva Victrix.

The Chester landmark is believed to be the most photographed clock in England behind Big Ben.

The original East gate was guarded by a timber tower, which was replaced by stone in the 2nd century.

Today’s gate dates from 1768 and the clock was added in 1899 to celebrate the diamond jubilee of Queen Victoria two years earlier.

Grand Central Station, New York, USA

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This four-metre (13 foot) clock decorates the facade of Grand Central Rail Station facing 42nd Street.

The clock is a popular landmark and meeting place for New Yorkers and has appeared in many movies and television shows.

It is the world’s biggest collection of Tiffany glass.

Chronophage, Cambridge UK

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Located in the British university city of Cambridge, this clock is certainly eye-catching.

Opened in 2008, it is called the Corpus Christi Clock or Chronophage, which means ‘Time Eater’ in Greek.

If the gold-coloured disc doesn’t catch your attention, the big grasshopper certainly will

The grasshopper moves around the disc, gobbling up time right before your eyes.

 

Ankeruhr, Vienna, Austria

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This colourful clock was designed in 1911 and completed three years later.

It shows the time by moving different historical figures across the clock face every hour.

The best time of day to see this clock is noon, when all the figures are on display.

Ankeruhr is located in the Hoher Markt.

Others

Other notable clock that we’ve seen, but not photographed, include Saint Mark’s clock at Venice and the Olympic Torch and Clocktower at Barcelona, Catalonia.

We’ve been told that the Cosmo Clock 21 at Yokohama, Japan (shown below) and the Santa Maria Cathedral clock in Comayague, Honduras are well worth seeing. The latter is said to be the oldest functioning clock in the Americas.

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Photo courtesy Popular Mechanics

Share your favourite clocks

Do you have any favourites? Love to hear your thoughts.

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Underground secrets proving a hit

More of London’s secret underground world has been revealed.

After visiting the Churchill war rooms on our last trip to the English capital, we were fascinated to hear about guided tours deep beneath the city.

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The ‘Hidden London’ tour program has been organised by London Transport Museum and has proved a big hit.

According to the museum’s website, all but one of the tours has been sold out until September.

Apparently, the secret world beneath London has really caught the public imagination.

Some hints of this underground world can be seen at street level – the odd ventilation shaft or drain cover might lead to an abandoned military bunker or one of London’s 13 subterranean rivers.

Churchill secretly took refuge at Down Street station during the height of the Blitz bombing raids on London in World War II.
The station had operated as part of the Tube to 1932 before it became a bomb-proof bunker.

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Located between Hyde Park Corner and Green Park stations, Down Street was covertly transformed into the Railway Executive Committee’s bomb-proof bunker.

As well as a secret air raid shelter for the Prime Minister, the narrow tangle of tunnels also served as the nerve centre of England wartime railways.

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Photo: Memorable Destination

Additional photography tours of the dark and deserted passageways under Euston Station have also proved popular with Instagrammers.

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If the Hidden London tours are half as interesting as the Churchill War Rooms, it is a worthwhile venture indeed.

The program is yet another exciting initiative by London Transport Museum  and we are keen to review the tours and let you know the outcome.

Another prominent underground city exists beneath the countryside near the English city of Bath.

Photo credit: Photos courtesy London Transport Museum. Map courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Features Hidden London London, UK UK surprises

Pearl Harbour: moving and sombre

Hawaii is one of our favourite Pacific destinations, a scenic chain of islands that we regularly recommend as a ideal for travellers of all ages – and a perfect spot to meet up for a family reunion..

As well as its beaches, natural beauty, tropical climate,  volcanoes, melting pot of cultures and relaxed lifestyle, Hawaii also boasts a sombre slice of history at Pearl Harbour, Honolulu.

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Waikiki Beach

The USS Arizona Memorial – located on the harbour – marks the resting placed of 1,102 sailors and Marines killed during the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbour more than 70 years ago.

This attack – on December 7, 1941 – led to direct involvement in World War II by the United States of America.

The Arizona memorial – built in 1962 – can be reached only by boat across Pearl Harbour and straddles the sunken hull of the battleship without touching it.

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The Arizona Memorial

As we approached the striking white structure, it was explained that the design of a peak at each end joined by a sag in the centre represented the height of American pride before the war, followed by the sudden depression of a nation after the attack – and the rise of US power to new heights after the conflict.

The aim is to give an overall effect of serenity.

On arrival at the memorial, we walked from the boat to the central assembly room that features seven large open windows on either wall and ceiling, to commemorate the date of the attack.

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From there we moved to the shrine, pausing by an opening in the floor overlooking the sunken decks of the Arizona.

The floor opening is a solemn place where you can drop flowers in honour of the fallen sailors.

Directly below, a small amount of oil could be seen rising from the wreckage.

This oil, we were told, is sometimes known as the ‘Tears of the Arizona’.

The shrine at the far end is a marble wall bearing the names of those killed on the Arizona, protected behind velvet ropes.

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To the left of the main wall is a small plaque which bears the names of thirty or so crew members who survived the 1941 sinking.

Back on shore, we visited the USS Arizona Memorial Visitor Centre and sat in its theatre to watch a short information firm about the Pearl Harbour attack.

At the centre, we were told about the remarkable Pearl Harbour salute known as ‘Manning the Rails’.

Apparently, whenever a United States Navy, Coast Guard, and Merchant Marine vessel enters Pearl Harbour, personnel stand at attention at the ship’s guard rails and salute the USS Arizona Memorial.

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We also marvelled at one of the huge 19,585-pound anchors of the Arizona displayed near the doorway to the visitor centre.

The Arizona is officially regarded as an active U.S. military cemetery.

We were told that, as survivors of the attack on the Arizona pass away, many choose to have their ashes scattered in the water over the ship, or have their urns placed within the structure of the ship.

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Making our way from Pearl Harbour, we also took a quick look at the adjoining USS Bowfin Submarine Museum and Park.

We were pleased that we found the time to visit Pearl Harbour, which is only a short bus ride from Honolulu.

It is both humbling and moving – and we recommend it.

Features Hawaii

Some Time In New York City

Face drained of colour, voice wavering.

I remember my colleague’s words as if it was yesterday.

“John Lennon is dead.

“Murdered”.

Me with a blank stare. Say again!

“Shot”.

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That was 37 years ago, on December 8, 1980, but how clearly I recall how I felt.

Sad obviously – Lennon was only 40 and had so much more to give.

Unease that an idealism and hope had so easily been snatched away. The ugliness of violence had, once again, swiftly and abruptly triumphed.

So much for ‘Give Peace a Chance’ and ‘All you Need is Love’.

And, for probably the first time, I was forced to think about my own mortality.

Growing up with the Beatles, it was easy to convince yourself that the beat would go on.

That confidence, bred of the 60’s, had been ritually killed – and suddenly middle age was no longer something to be ignored.IMG_1405

And, finally, there was anger.

It took me a long time to forgive New York City. I’ll never forgive Mark Chapman, the killer.

Many years later, our daughter, Bree, took Sue and I to the Dakota building in Manhattan’s stylish Upper West Side, to see the area, outside the gates, where Lennon was felled.

What irony! What contrast!

A place of such infamy amid the undeniable beauty of the North German Renaissance building.

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Later, we crossed into Central Park and stood quietly at the Imagine memorial in Strawberry Fields.

It was also a place of contradictions. Someone playing a guitar in the background and softly singing Beatles tunes, while tourists trampled across the memorial to pose for photographs.

In the 37 years since Lennon’s assassination, his name and music has become a byword for healing of sorrow.

Only last month, the sounds of ‘Imagine’ gave a particular poignancy to public vigils in the aftermath of the Paris terror attacks.

Pause briefly today to remember what we had – and lost.

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