Expat Partying in Brisbane, Australia

Moving to a new country can be exciting and filled with quality experiences, especially with digital nomads being “a thing” nowadays. That is no different in Brisbane than elsewhere.

However, it can also be lonely if you’re the new-comer in a foreign city. In this sense, throwing an expat party might just be the first step towards feeling homey and getting to meet new people.

And even if you’re not that great about planning, you can always join a party, not necessarily be the brain behind it. Here’s what to look for before making a party as memorable as it can get.

Cocktail Function Venues

For someone who started in a US or European city and is now on Australian territory, the hipster metropolitan look might be the right one. With its recent revitalization, cocktail function venues in Brisbane give a sense urban chic with exposed brick and metal.

These venues work well for larger parties and more formal events because they have their own meeting rooms. If you want to throw the biggest expat party in the city, this is the way to do it. Hard to believe? Take a few moments to stroll down to Factory 51 and get a feel for the venue.

Factory 51, Brisbane, Australia

The Sports Meetup

Some people just want to kick back like they did in their hometown bar. Getting a few friends together to meet for beers and sports is about as American as you can get. In fact, it’s about as human as you can get. Choosing a sports bar that has the right relaxed atmosphere is important. Even better, Brisbane has the American sports bar for those who just want some good old Sunday Night Football.

Buffalo bar is one of the rising stars among sports bars in Brisbane. You can meet many like-minded people, who are out for fun, fun, fun. But a picture says more than a thousand words.

Buffalo Bar, Brisbane, AustraliaClassy Cocktails

Rooftop bars are the perfect picture of urban living. If you want to get a little dressed up but have something less formal than a sit-down dinner, finding the classy rooftop bar is your best bet. The hip places to find the best mixologists and most original drinks are easy to find in a hip place like Brisbane. Eleven rooftop bar is just one of those places.

Eleven rooftop bar in Brisbane, Australia

Traditional Australian

If you’re looking to assimilate into the local culture while also meeting people from home, finding a traditionally Australian venue fits perfectly. Unlike other venues, these types of restaurants will have foods like:

  • emu
  • possum
  • lily pillies
  • kangaroo
  • crocodile
  • muntrie berries

Expats who want to hang out with other nomads and locals alike can’t do it any better than over some traditional dishes.

Not feeling the munchies? Better yet, combine traditional with a view above water, like in the case of Pacino Bar.

Pacino Bar in Brisbane, Australia

Whether you want to pretend you’re back in the States, Europe or just prefer to share a new experience with other nomads, Australia has something for everyone. Satisfying the soul can be achievable with the quality people and quality time.

Whale Watching in Flinders Bay

Whales and cetaceans have been a mystery for humanity since early days. If these beautiful creatures of the sea sound as captivating to you as they do to others, definitely give Australia’s Flinders Bay a chance for the encounter of a lifetime. Private Properties’ blog post gave us all an appetite to explore more of Australia’s underwater universe.

Fact Checking

Did you know that Australia was inhabited by indigenous people approx. 50,000 years before the Brits landed on the island’s shores? (Source: Fact Slides). Which more than justifies the connection between these lands and the vast amount of species of plants and animals that live there. Not only on the ground, but also in the waters surrounding it.

humpback whaleThe Humpback whale in Australia via Flickr

With more than 80% of its population living near or on the coast, the country also has the highest usage of water per person on a global scale despite being the most arid continent. No, really, have you seen their fibreglass pools? (Whale) jaw dropping, literary.

When it comes to whales, Australia shares a front row seat in terms of cetaceans: over 50% of them can be found in its waters. 45 species of whales and dolphins can often be spotted in the bay areas, including 9 types of baleen whales and 36 types of toothed whales.

Aboriginal people and whales share an ancestral connection along the Australian coasts. Historical findings such as stone engravings and local legends dating back at least 1,000 years ago talk about dream links the locals had with these sea mammals. To honour this strong bond, whale engravings can be found in totems across several clans. Totems are usually representations of nature and animals adopted as clan emblems.

How Whales Behave Around Company

The typical whale behaviour is the spectacular way in which they surface from the water, a real bliss for witnessing travellers. Some of the behaviour tourists observe is to

  • signal danger (for e.g., fin slapping of the water)
  • get rid of skin parasites (i.e. whales love launching their massive bodies out of the water and fall back with splashes)
  • have fun

Most of the time, they enjoy the attention in calm waters. If the whales seem a bit frazzled, that could be because of the weather. Their sensitivity is directly proportional with their weight.

Whale Watching in AustraliaWhale Watching in Australia, via Wikipedia

We know nothing for sure, apart from the beauty of the moment or just how difficult it is to capture all that beauty on camera.

Identifying Whales

Not all whales look alike, which makes it easier for tourists and watchers to identify them. Whale species differ in body length, location and weight of their fins, body shape, flipper size and shape, blow shapes, colour and swimming patterns and teeth. From May to August, the warm Western Australian coasts are home to the Humpback and Southern Right whales.

southern right whaleRight Whale, via Flickr

 Check out this cool video of whales watching in Flinders Bay Augusta:

And be amazed by the beauty of these gentle underwater beasts. Or a rare footage of whales feeding in the Australian waters, here:

Additional Information

There are several tours running from morning until afternoon (10am to 6pm) every day, Monday to Sunday in Augusta and on the West Australian Coast. Usually, the best time to book a whale watching tour is either June or July. Whales can also be seen in May and August, so there is still time!

Make sure to take with you blankets and warm clothes, plenty of sunscreen, some hot drinks in a thermos, water, food, eye protection, binoculars (as sometimes the whales are shy and don’t approach boats or the shore), a camera to capture the moment and stir some envy on Facebook and, of course, patience.

 

Author Bio:

This post was written by Roxanne, an avid fan of whale watching on the Australian coasts.

Where digital nomads go to work remotely

Thanks to the Internet, we have a world full of digital nomads. In the days of moat diggers and blacksmiths, it was important to live close to your work. Moats are not transportable, and if you tried transporting a customer’s horse, there was likely a hanging in your very near future. These days, a lot of work is geography independent.

Here are a few of the careers that will follow you no matter where your feet or a plane ticket will take you.  These are generally freelance careers, where you work for a variety of companies and individuals:
Continue reading

Confusing road signs – no trespassing

Every now and then we come across a confusing road sign, and we are left scratching our heads and wondering what a tourist must be thinking when he sees it.

If you take a look at the sign below, at all seems to make sense…at first.

No trespassing in English.  No trespassing in French.

No parking.

But, wait!  What’s that small print say?  In French, it says this applies from April 1 through November 1.  In English, it says it applies from November 1 through April 1.

What can this mean?  Is there a ban on English people parking overnight in winter, but it’s fine for them to park there in the summer?  And do French people have to stay away all summer, but are free to leave their cars there in the wintertime?

Sometimes, you really wonder how such an obvious mistake can happen.  But even worse, you wonder how long it will take for somebody in authority to notice their boo-boo.  Take a good look at the paint on the sign – any guess as to how long the sign has been up?

Confusing parking sign

Budgeting time and money for a family vacation abroad

Whether or not the family vacation is an annual event or a special occasion, traveling abroad is a great way to create quality memories, experience a different culture, and see amazing wonders that you can’t see at home. Travel broadens the mind, and global travel broadens it even more.

Traveling out of the country can be expensive in more ways than one, but with the proper budgeting, hotel choice, and especially the itinerary, even the busiest of traveling families can have a great time without breaking the bank. Planning and preparing makes all the difference. These days, online tools and travel guides simplify the planning process.

Time is valuable on a family vacation

Here are the three main aspects of an international family vacation that need planning well ahead of the trip: Continue reading

Fiction-based statues

When we think of statues, what probably first comes to mind are world leaders, famous generals or angels.  But statues from the pages of fiction can be found around the world, too.  Sometimes these can be the most exciting ones to discover.

Little Mermaid in CopenhagenProbably the most famous statue from the pages of fiction is Copenhagen’s Little Mermaid.  There are two reasons for its fame.  The happy reason is that it has become the city’s, and perhaps the country’s mascot – a symbol that people instantly recognize.

The less happy reason for its fame is that vandalism has kept it in the news on and off for the past 50 years.

Fiction-based statues have a very long history.  The ancient Greeks, Romans, Egyptians and other created statues from their folklore.  In fairness, most of these statues depicted deities, and so were not intended to represent fiction.  So we might not be able to include the Sphinx in this list. Continue reading

Butterflies on the loose in Montreal

Every spring (late winter, actually), Montreal is invaded by the most unusual horde of tourists.  What makes them unusual is that they have wings, for they are butterflies.  What else makes them unusual is that Montreal is buried under several feet of snow when they arrive in February, not quite butterfly weather.

This year “Butterflies Go Free” in Montreal from from February 20, 2014 to April 27, 2014, so you still have time to get in on the fun.  The Botanical Gardens host the event in their biggest greenhouse, but I suspect it is at least as much the Insectarium that organizes it.  They are run by the same agency.

Where butterflies go, other tourists follow.  This is the third time we visit the butterflies over the past decade.  We took a few snapshots (OK, my wife and daughters took most of them) and I am pleased to share some of them with you now.

The Asian Swallowtail was by far the most friendly:

Asian SwallowtailThis is my favourite photo.  The Paper Kite or Large Tree Nymph butterfly is one of the more numerous at the exhibit in Montreal: Continue reading

What to Pack on a Haunted Holiday

The main objective for most people on a haunted holiday is to a catch a glimpse of a ghost. Whilst many hotels are known for their frequent apparitions, sightings are never 100% guaranteed.

If you want to increase your chances of experiencing paranormal activity during your visit, consider packing something related to the resident ghosts in order to trigger the spirits. With the help of Wesley McDermott, we’ve put together a list of five of the most popular haunted hotels in the US, each of which includes an item you can bring along that might just turn a regular hotel stay into something extraordinary.    For more haunted hotel options, you can browse his Haunted Rooms directory. Continue reading

Europe’s Six Best Sports Festivals

The world is full of incredible sporting events.  Which ones to visit, depends largely on which sports you prefer. For example, a tennis fan might have Wimbledon at the top of his or her bucket list, whereas a golf fan would rather make a pilgrimage to The Masters in the United States.

There are some sporting events, however, that go beyond their particular sports and offer a total experience that anyone can enjoy – fan or not. Some of these events are even known as festivals due to all of the added entertainment beyond the sports arena! So if sports tourism interests you, and you’re looking for experiences anyone can enjoy, here’s a look at six of Europe’s best such events.

Wimbleton!

Wimbleton is THE brand name in tennis (the oldest, the most prestigious, the one everyone watches) and perhaps the most famous of all European sports festivals.  It is notably the only major tennis event still played on grass – those British love their traditions.  Hotel space in London is noticeably tighter each year as June fades into July and tennis fans flock to London. The whole city becomes one big party.

The Wimbleton courts are currently under construction, but it should be ready in time for The Championships 23 June – 6 July 2014.

Rebuilding Wimbleton

24 Hours Of Le Mans (France)

Think of this event as a Grand Prix racing party that literally lasts for 24 hours. Emphasis on “party”.

Held near Le Mans, France, this incredible event is a balancing act between car and driver endurance and speed, as a car must manage to complete the 24-hour circuit and still try to come in first. The event itself, for fans, is essentially a weekend-long party. “Mad Friday” kicks off the event and allows fans to get in and among the cars, drivers and tracks to take in the grounds before partying all night. The race itself begins on Saturday, and many fans will simply be walking over to viewing stands from nearby campsites. It almost has the feeling of a major rock and roll festival built around a race.

If you can’t wait for Wimbleton, the party starts 22 days earlier in Le Mans.

Four Hills Tournament (Austria & Germany)

The Four Hills Tournament is an incredible ski jumping event sponsored by Red Bull and taking place over the course of several days in both Austria and Germany (mostly Germany, but one of the two final events is in Innsbruck, a gorgeous town I visited on my honeymoon).

Attracting an enthusiastic bunch of winter sports supporters and stretching across two years between December and January, the event is always a great time, and features the kind of jumping competition many of us witness only every four years at the Winter Olympics.

The Rome Marathon (Italy)

A marathon is more likely to make many people yawn than feel like partying, but in Rome it’s a pretty incredible experience. Running a marathon in a city designed around some of the world’s most incredible historical structures and monuments – and the world’s most extravagant outdoor fountain museum! – is a fun way to host a marathon.

And there is a “fun run” for those who want to take part in the partying and site-seeing, and get a little running in without going as far as running a full marathon.

Furthermore, for those who aren’t running at all, it’s still a great occasion on which to sit down in a cafe and enjoy a few drinks and an afternoon off while the runners pass by the cleared streets.  Cheer them on!

Rome Marathon

The Cheltenham Festival (England)

The Cheltenham Festival is one of many outstanding horse racing events held throughout the UK – those Brits love their horses almost as much as they love their traditions! – but stands out for its particularly fun-filled atmosphere. Specifically, it’s the betting, the fashion, and the food and drink that steal the show. The Betfair sports exchange online traditionally posts news and betting odds for the high profile races for weeks in advance, which creates anticipation and excitement even before people arrive.

Meanwhile, once at the tracks, bold fashion statements, champagne and other fun drinks, and restaurants in viewing range of the tracks make for an incredible fun time. The races themselves are constant and top notch, explaining how Cheltenham came to be such a draw in the first place!

Champions League Final (Portugal)

The Champions League final is never in the same location for consecutive years, so it’s a bit different than the other events on this list. That said, it may just be the premier sporting event in all of Europe – you know how Europeans love their “football” – that’s soccer to those of us on this side of The Pond, but the rest of the world knows better.

This year’s final will be held in Lisbon, Portugal, the first European League Cup the city has hosted since 1967.  While it’s only a single event that lasts just over two hours  (just a few days before Le Mans, if you want to hop from one to the other!), there are few competitions in the world that can match the intensity and fan atmosphere of the Champions League final. And you just know that this, too, is an event that is frequently enhanced by a busy betting scene!

Top 12 famous statues in the world to visit

What is it about statues?  They don’t do anything; they just sit there (or stand there).  They are usually just grey, or off-white, or green – rarely very colorful.  Yet people seem to love to visit them.

Here is a quick tour of the world’s twelve most famous statues to visit.  Please keep in mind that any list like this is pretty subjective.  For instance, I could have filled the top 12 with giant Buddha statues that draw large crowds in Asia.  Possibly even with Rodin sculptures, as he has several famous ones under his belt.  Or various Greek or Roman antiquities.

Or I could have been more parochial, and listed a few Canadian statues.

So take this list for what it is, a great starting point for a Westerner to do a world-tour of some of the best known statues.

12. Terrace of the Lions, on the Greek island of Delos

Terrace of the Lions, Delos, Greece
OK, so I had to sneak in just one Greek ruins statue – or put more correctly, a suite of statues.  The Terrace of the Lions is so-named because it is guarded by a row of a dozen terrifying lion statues. Built in 600 BC, just seven of the lions remain on this Aegean Island.

Worth noting here is that this list draws the distinction between “statues” of people or animals and sculptures that could portray non-living things or nothing at all (like the Washington monument or the Great Pyramids of Giza).

11. Lincoln Memorial, in Washington, D.C.

The Lincoln Memorial, Washington, DCThis is the only statue on the list that I have seen close up, in person.  The Lincoln Memorial is in fact a building in the style of a Greek Doric temple, but in the very center it houses a huge seated statue of Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President of the USA, the man who freed the slaves.

Standing at 19 feet tall, the seated figure would be at least 25 – 28 feet tall standing.  The imposing image stares across The Mall to the Capitol from its seat on the banks of the Potomac.

10. The Terracotta Warriors, just east of Xi’an in Shaanxi province in China

Terracotta Warriors in ChinaIn university, I took a Chinese history class, just for fun.  Less than a decade earlier, a Chinese farmer had accidentally unearthed what turned out to be three fields containing over 8000 terracotta sculptures, mostly of soldiers, but also of horses, chariots and non-military people. The statues date back to around 250 BC – a vast collection that got Chinese historians all excited just in time for me to read about them in class.  You can read more here.

9. Nelson’s Column, in Trafalgar Square in London

Nelson's Column in Trafalgar Square, LondonThe most famous statue in the UK was built at Trafalgar Square to commemorate Admiral Horatio Nelson, who died at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805 – which I have just learned is a battle during the Napoleonic wars.  I suspect the statue is not famous so much for the man or the battle, as for being a towering pillar in the very center of London and being Hitler’s target in World War II (He had planned to move it to Berlin as a symbol of victory over the Allies).

8. The Little Mermaid, in the waters outside Copenhagen in Denmark

The Little Mermaid in CopenhagenThe Little Mermaid statue commemorates the fairy tale of the same name, written by Hans Christian Andersen, Denmark‘s most famous author.  Small and unimposing, the 1913 work of art attracts the attention of tourists and vandals alike.

7. David, by Michelangelo (Florence)

David by MichelangeloYou might notice something different about this entry.  Whereas the previous statues had a name and a location, this one has a name and artist – the artist being more important than the location).

And so divides the world of monuments and commemoration from the world of art and sculptures.  This is a list of statues, not sculptures.  Yet, it cannot be denied that this and a couple others you will soon be reading about are also statues.  And since they are tourist attractions, a travel blog must include them in its list of statues.

David was commissioned in 1501 as one of many statues to decorate Florence, but became a symbol of Florentine independence.  It has remained in Florence to this day, now housed at the Academia Gallery.

6. The Stone Moai, of Easter Island

Moai heads of Easter Island

I am sure you have seen pictures of the giant stone heads of Easter Island.  There are 887 of these monuments created by the Rapa Nui civilization in the first millennium AD, dispersed around this remote Polynesian island. These heads are at least iconic as any statue on this list.

5. The Thinker, by Auguste Rodin

The Thinker by RodinThis is the iconic image of philosophy, and other “sculpture” that happens to be one of the best known statues in the world.  From a travel perspective, we do have one little problem, though.  There are 28 full-size bronze casts of the sculpture in museums and outdoor spaces around the world, and well as an untold number of smaller replicas.

4.The Venus de Milo, by Alexandros of Antioch

Venus de MiloBruce Springsteen sang about her, but the Greek sculpture Venus de Milo dates back to at least 100 BC.  The beautiful lady with no arms, also known as the Aphrodite of Milos, stands today in the Louvre museum in Paris.

3. Christ the Redeemer, on Corcovado Mountain overlooking Rio de Janeiro in Brazil

Christ the Redeemer in Rio de JaneiroHere we go into the top three most iconic, most famous, most symbolic statues in the world. There are just two visual symbols that pop to mind when thinking of South AmericaMachu Pichu in Peru and Christ the Redeemer statue overlooking Rio de Janeiro.

Standing 98 feet tall (not counting its pedestal) and 92 feet wide, this is considered the largest art deco statue in the world.  Completed in 1931, it has come to symbolize Brazil.  You can climb up to the foot of the statue and get an amazing view of the city and of the famed Sugarloaf mountain in the bay.

2. The Great Sphinx of Giza, in Egypt

The Sphinx and the PyramidsNothing symbolizes the mysteries and the glory of antiquity more than the Great Pyramids of Giza and the Great Sphinx of Giza.  Although Egypt might not be the safest place to travel right now, almost everyone’s bucket list includes seeing these two wonders of the ancient world that share a common plot of land.

At 66 feet in height and 241 feet in length, it is one of the biggest statues in the world.  Yet we know nothing of how it was made or for what purpose.

1.The Statue of Liberty in New York City

Statue of LibertyNo statue in the world is as famous as the Statue of Liberty, mostly because Hollywood loves to set movies in New York City, and to show images of the Statue of Liberty to prove that they are really shot in New York City.

The Statue of Liberty is the most iconic statue of all, because it symbolizes at one time a nation, a city and a concept – liberty.  It is meant to be a welcoming beacon to immigrants landing from abroad as it stands on Liberty Island in New York City Harbor.

Standing 151 feet tall, but twice as high with the pedestal, it is one of the tallest statues outside of Asia. (It’s hard to top so many giant Buddhas!)

 

How not to get lost…no matter where you travel

If you’ve ever been lost when you travel, consider this article your map. Follow these tips to reduce your risk of getting lost next time around.

You know you're lost when...For some, it’s exhilarating.  You land in a new country and immediately get lost.  For others, it is terrifying.  Lost in the mountains or just on the other side of town – it can be enough to keep some people ever from traveling.

With today’s technology, people are getting lost much less often.  GPS tells people where they are and when to turn onto what road.  But not everybody is always connected, and people still do get lost.  This is a guide to help you avoid getting lost (unless you wish to).

Study ahead.  Before you go, study the maps online.  Learn about the places, the landmarks, the services – anything you might want to know about.  Take note of important phone numbers and addresses, including consular services and emergency services.

Leave bread crumbs.  Not literally, of course.  But when outside the city, always tell people where you will be going and for how long, so that rescue parties can find you.  This is as true when driving cross-country as when heading into the woods.  And especially when driving in possible snow storms or monsoons.

Get a map.  In the woods or on a mountain (my favorite place to get lost), technology doesn’t always work.  So having a map can come in very handy.  When you land in a new city, get a map right away.  Technology might help you find your way to a specific spot or tell you where you are, but you never get a bird’s eye view.  Maps unfold much bigger than smartphones.  Plus, you can often get free tourist maps that also point out local attractions and restaurants, and also include coupons for some of these places.

Ask for directions.   You can often find a police officer or some other public official.  If not, surely there’s a shopkeeper.  Failing, that, ask one of the locals.  Anybody can help, even in a foreign language.  Taxi drivers and delivery people are particularly good.  Lost in the woods?  Blow your safety whistle.  You did remember to pack a whistle before heading off alone into the woods, right?

Compass.  Need I say more?

Tourism office. Find the nearest tourism office, and they can set you straight.  Not only do they have maps, but they have guides to accommodations and restaurants, and if you chat up the information officers, you can discover a lot of wonderful little extras that are not in the guides.

Look for landmarks. You can usually orient yourself by landmarks.  Most cities have well-known tall buildings (like the Eiffel Tower in Paris or the cross on Mount Royal in Montreal).  In the wild, there might be mountains with which you can orient yourself.  The sun is also a handy landmark, as long as you remember that it moves across the sky from east to west.

Keep track.  As you’ve been walking or driving or pogo-sticking, have you been keeping track of landmarks along the way?  Trees and rocks?  Stores and churches?  If you take note of landmarks along the way, you should be able to retrace your steps.

But, of course, if you want to get lost, no need to follow this advice.  In a city, getting lost can be fun.  In the wilderness, you had better know what you are doing.  Enjoy your vacation, lost if you wish, and on-track if you prefer.

 

India for kids: Amazing facts about India

India Banner

India is the world’s second largest country, but one that remains largely unknown to most Westerners, and rarely taught to kids in school.  But what if they’ll be traveling to India?  Read on.

Shalu Sharma is a travel blogger from India, who has written a book entitled India For Kids: Amazing Facts About India.  I thought the idea was splendid, so I reached out to her and asked her about it.

“I tried to cover all aspects of India, its food, culture, history and the people. I want to share my own beautiful country with the children of the world.”

The book is geared to children seven years old and up, full of pictures to support the facts in it.  One of the best ways for children to maximize their experience in a new country is to read up on it in advance.

At seven years old, a child is likely to retain a few memories of the trip, although not everything, so reviewing a book like this, as well as photos of the trip, you can help them hold on to more, longer.

Here are a few of the questions that children will find answered in India For Kids: Amazing Facts About India.

Here are some of the topics covered in the book:
India for Kids book cover

  • What is India?
  • Where is India?
  • How did India get its name?
  • Why India is also called Bharat (How many people knew that?)?
  • What is the capital of India?
  • How big is India?
  • What is the flag of India?
  • Tell me about the geography of India?
  • Which is the highest mountain in India?
  • Which is the biggest river in India?
  • What type of money is used in India?
  • Who are India’s neighbours?
  • Why are Pakistan and Bangladesh separate from India now?
  • What language do Indians speak?
  • What is Sanskrit?
  • What is the population of India?
  • What are the seasons of India?
  • Is it really hot in India?
  • How old is Indian civilization?
  • Why was India under British Rule?
  • When did India get independence?
  • Who was Mahatma Gandhi?
  • What do Indians like to eat?
  • Why is Indian food spicy?
  • What is an “onion bhaji”?
  • What is a chapatti?
  • What is the national animal of India?
  • Where is it found?
  • Please tell me more about Indian wildlife?
  • What games do Indian kids play?
  • What is cricket?
  • Why do Indians like cricket so much?
  • Do Indians play football?
  • What is the religion of India?
  • How many other religions are there in India?
  • What are the festivals of India?
  • What is the story of Ramayana?
  • What is the story of Mahabharata?
  • What is the Taj Mahal?
  • Is the cow worshiped in India?
  • Why are there cows on the streets of India?
  • How do Indians travel?
  • What do Indians wear?
  • What is the national flower of India?
  • What is the national bird of India?
  • What is the national tree of India?
  • What is Bollywood?
  • What are the great Indian epics?
  • Did Indians in the past write books?
  • How big was India in the past?
  • Which are the Seven Wonders of India?
  • Which is the Pink City of India and why?
  • What is the national anthem of India?
  • What is the national symbol of India?
  • What kind of songs and music are there in India?
  • What kinds of dances are there in India?
  • What kind of musical instruments are there in India?
  • Why do Indians wear bright and colorful clothes?

India For Kids: Amazing Facts About India is available in eBook and Kindle format.

India culture

Celebrate Christmas Hawaiian style – in song and dance

Enjoy a musical taste of Christmas in Hawaii. You might just be tempted to book a flight to spend next Christmas there.

It seems to people in snow-stranded lands like mine inconceivable to have a Christmas without snow.  But most of the world does, and nobody has less snow than the fun folks in Hawaii.

In fact, Hawaiians even have their own version of the 12 Days of Christmas that does away with all those ridiculous lords a leaping and maids a milking.  Sometimes called “Numbah One Day of Christmas”, it is definitely something to sooth the snow-bound beast.

This video starts with some unrelated silliness, but at around 45 seconds into the video starts the song and dance routine that is really quite entertaining:

Lyrics to “Numbah One Day of Christmas”

Numbah One day of Christmas, my tutu give to me
One mynah bird in one papaya tree.

Numbah Two day of Christmas, my tutu give to me
Two coconut, an’ one mynah bird in one papaya tree.

Numbah Tree day of Christmas, my tutu give to me
Tree dry squid, two coconut,
An’ one mynah bird in one papaya tree.

Numbah Foah day of Christmas, my tutu give to me
Foah flowah lei, tree dry squid, two coconut,
An’ one mynah bird in one papaya tree.

Numbah Five day of Christmas, my tutu give to me
Five beeg fat peeg… foah flowah lei, tree dry squid, two coconut,
An’ one mynah bird in one papaya tree.

Numbah Seex day of Christmas, my tutu give to me
Seex hula lesson, five beeg fat peeg ,
Foah flowah lei, tree dry squid, two coconut,
An’ one mynah bird in one papaya tree.

Numbah Seven day of Christmas, my tutu give to me
Seven shrimp a-swimmin’, seex hula lesson,
Five beeg fat peeg, foah flowah lei, tree dry squid, two coconut,
An’ one mynah bird in one papaya tree.

Numbah Eight day of Christmas, my tutu give to me
Eight ukulele, seven shrimp a-swimmin’, seex hula lesson,
Five beeg fat peeg, foah flowah lei, tree dry squid, two coconut,
An’ one mynah bird in one papaya tree.

Numbah Nine day of Christmas, my tutu give to me
Nine pound of poi, eight ukulele, seven shrimp a-swimmin’,
Seex hula lesson, five beeg fat peeg, foah flowah lei, tree dry squid, two coconut,
An’ one mynah bird in one papaya tree.

Numbah Ten day of Christmas, my tutu give to me
Ten can of beer, nine pound of poi, eight ukuklele, seven shrimp a-swimmin’
Seex hula lesson, five beeg fat peeg,
Foah flowah lei, tree dry squid, two coconut,
An’ one mynah bird in one papaya tree.

Numbah Eleven day of Christmas, my tutu give to me
Eleven missionary, ten can of beer, nine pound of poi,
Eight ukulele, seven shrimp a-swimmin’, seex hula lesson,
Five beeg fat peeg, foah flowah lei, tree dry squid, two coconut,
An’ one mynah bird in one papaya tree.

Numbah Twelve day of Christmas, my tutu give to me
Twelve television, eleven missionary, ten can of beer,
Nine pound of poi, eight ukulele, seven shrimp a-swimmin’,
Seex hula lesson, five beeg fat peeg,
Foah flowah lei, tree dry squid, two coconut,
An’ one mynah bird in one papaya tree!

More Hawaiian Christmas song and dance videos

Here are some more renditions that are pretty good, just to sample the different styles of dance that go along with the song. By the time you’ve watched them all, you might be ready to book a flight to Hawaii.

Numbah One Day of Christmas dance

Six Cheaper Ways to Use Your Cell Phone Internationally

Even if you arrive home from an international vacation to find all your doors and windows intact and your belongings untouched, you might still have been robbed.  Just wait for that cell phone bill to arrive!  Here are six ways to protect yourself.

Cell phone use while travelingIt’s well known that international roaming charges from your phone company can ruin what is otherwise a perfectly wonderful trip. Stories abound of people returning home and finding a phone bill totaling hundreds or even thousands of dollars from their trip abroad. Like Matt Buie’s $22,000 in data roaming charges bill when he returned from Mexico. Or Wayne Burdick’s $27,000 bill for watching an NFL game from a cruise ship in the Caribbean. This is no way to travel, and certainly no way to remember one’s trip.

With a little pre-planning and research, you can stay connected to your cell phone without the enormous cost.

GSM and CDMA:

There are essentially two types of phone systems throughout the world: GSM and CDMA. CDMA is most commonly used in the U.S. and GSM is the main system primarily used worldwide. The most important thing to understand about these two technologies is that they are fundamentally incompatible.

Of the four major U.S. telephone carriers, AT & T and T-Mobile use GSM and Verizon and Sprint use CDMA. So, it is important to understand which system your provider uses and what system is being used in the area where you are traveling.

Call Your Phone Company:

Before you leave, call your carrier and discuss where you’ll be traveling and what international plans they offer. Each company has detailed international phone and data plans and it’s best to speak with an agent directly in order to get the best deal.

Yes, it might be worth your time and hassle to switch plans for the trip.

While most people only switch their plans for the month they plan to travel, check and be sure that your trip does not straddle a two month billing period. Otherwise, you could avoid higher costs for the first month and be hit with unpleasant charges in the second.

Put Your Data Stream on Manual:

You pay for data as well as calls with a smartphone. If your Blackberry is constantly retrieving your email, you could still end up with a surprising bill despite an international plan. Adjust the setting on your smartphone to manual for data retrieval and only gather your email once or twice a day (or pass on the email for a more relaxed vacation and a much lower phone bill). This goes for streaming movies as well. Streaming movies is just not a good idea on international data rates, even if you have an adjusted plan.

Yes, I know – this is stating the obvious, but people do forget to turn off their data and they do pay huge fees for downloading emails they don’t even read while on vacation.

Buy A SIM Card:

It possible to buy a local or international SIM card that works with your phone once you arrive at your destination. The local SIM card is generally the cheaper of the two and the international card is the easiest to use for international calling.

If you plan on using your phone a lot while away, a SIM card may be the best option for your trip. The local card is designed to work with the area’s local network and essentially gives your phone the connectivity of a native cell.

However, the local card doesn’t answer the problem of calling home from abroad. If you want to use your phone to stay in touch back home, you’ll need the international SIM card to get the best rates.  You might also prefer an international card if your trip takes you through several countries, such as when we traveled from Switzerland through Liechtenstein, through Austria, through Italy and back into Switzerland.

Buy A Local Phone:

Sara Wells of Protect Your Bubble mentions that if you find that you are still unhappy with the international rates offered to you by your carrier, it is a very reasonable proposition to purchase a local cell phone. You’ll find that rates are comparable at around $30 per month and inexpensive cell phones are readily available.

This option might be best if you plan to stay a long time, like for a full month, in a single place. However, wait until you arrive in the city you’re visiting, rather than buying a phone as soon as you arrive at the airport where costs are much greater.

When you’re done, you can just sell the phone and recoup much of your investment.

MiFi hotspots

In some countries you can buy a flat free mobile MiFi Hotspot.  This option could be best if you can find a reasonably priced flat-fee arrangement, and if your primary use for your mobile device is for data (as opposed to voice).

Of course, there is always the cheapest option of all – leave the cell phone behind.  See if you can suspend your plan altogether while you’re away.

Travel in North Korea – Yes, North Korea

It is possible to travel in North Korea, but it takes perseverance and planning.  No wandering off to explore the countryside.  Oh, and it takes a motorcycle gang.

The governments of both North Korea and South Korea agree on one thing – that Joanne and Gareth Morgan are the first people to travel from the far North of North Korea to the far south of South Korea. since those two countries divided up the peninsula in 1945. The couple from New Zealand have been touring the world by motorcycle, and despite assuming that it could not be done, they decided to try cycling the Baekdudaegan mountain range.

That they were given permission even to enter North Korea is a miracle in itself.  That this retired couple was able physically to ride the full length of the mountain range was equally amazing.  That they were allowed to capture it all (or much of it) on video…well, that pretty much defies credulity.

But, since we are in the mood for defying credulity, why not check out the video…

 More than just a vacation trip, the Morgans hoped to demonstrate how the two countries could find common ground.  They took stones from Mount Paektu, a holy mountain on the border of China and North Korea, and brought them to Mount Hallasan, an equally symbolic mountain in South Korea.

In the video, both Joanne and Gareth discuss the hospitality they received while in North Korea.  They point out that this is not representative of how the average North Korean lives, that they are receiving special treatment as a guest.  They also point out that this is no different than any guest anywhere – the fine china is always brought out when there is a guest at the table.

This picture she paints is particularly poignant in a country whose reputation is for letting its citizens starve rather than accept foreign aid.  However, it is a worthwhile reminder for us –  no matter what country we are traveling in, as tourists we take advantage of luxuries that the average resident rarely, if at all, has access to.

North Korea North Korea North Korea

Quite apart from the newsy side of this story, it is worth watching the video also to get a glimpse of the gorgeous scenery on the Korean peninsula. You can’t go wrong traveling through mountains, and the Baekdudaegan certainly do not disappoint.

One postscript note that I found Interesting: Google has maps of North Korea – but not of South Korea. But that’s another story for another day.

Korea Map

Discovering Dan Brown’s Florence from his bestselling “Inferno”

Inferno, by Dan Brown is not only a great thriller to read, but an introduction to Florence for arm-chair travelers who want to taste the rich textures of central Italy.

Dan Brown’s new thriller, Inferno is set primarily in Florence, Italy, and Brown shows his readers hidden spots of wonder in that well-known city at every turn of the page. Brown’s famous character, symbolist Robert Langdon, picks up after the “Da Vinci Code” and “Angels and Demons” and is asked once again to save the world. Readers immediately turned Inferno into a best-seller and even those familiar with Florence found exciting new places to explore through Langdon’s adventures.

Inferno, by Dan BrownBrown’s Inferno draws its inspiration from the epic masterwork of the 13th century poet, Dante Alighieri. The Divine Comedy tells the tale of Dante’s three day journey through Hell (Inferno), Purgatory (Purgatorio) and Heaven (Paradiso) and is considered a treasure among world literature. Florence is Dante’s city, even 700 years later, and his legacy is everywhere. To start, there are 30 plaques with quotes from Dante embedded in the walls throughout the city.

Porta Romana:
Langdon’s adversary in Inferno is obsessed with Dante. Once Langdon figures that out and realizes how many different people are trying to kill him, he decides to make his way to the old city where Dante’s history lies and the chase is on. Langdon tries to enter the city via the Porta Romana, built in the 14th century and part of the old city walls. Assassins are everywhere, so Langdon and his mysterious partner, Sienna, make their way to the Boboli Gardens to find the old city’s entrance elsewhere.

Boboli Gardens:
These beautiful gardens created in the late 1500s, serve as cover for our hero as he hides from government drones and men in black. When you visit the Boboli Gardens, do not miss the Buontalenti’s Grotto where Langdon and Sienna spend much of their time in  hiding. You probably won’t have the same luck at getting past the gate, but you can see the fountains that serve as protection for Langdon until he escapes through the Vasari Corridor.

Vasari Corridor:
Hiding in plain sight, the Vasari Corridor was built for Grand Duke Cosimo I de’ Medici in 1564, so he could move freely from his home to the government palace without being seen. His ruthless rise to power had left him many enemies and the corridor was a wise precaution. The corridor runs from Palazzo Pitti to Palazzo Vecchio, over the Arno and the Uffizi Gallery and is nestled within the upper reaches of the Ponte Vecchio. It was visible and yet, unknown to the citizens of Florence for many years. It is possible to tour the corridor, for a significant fee, and view over 1000 paintings from the Uffizi Gallery just as Langdon did, albeit on the run.

Vasari CorridorPalazzo Vecchio:
Langdon and Sienna reach the Palazzo Vecchio via the Vasari Corridor and spend much of their time in the walls of the building. The building offers a tour of these secret passageways which affords you a real sense of Langdon’s movements through the walls.

The Salone dei Cinquecento or Hall of Five Hundred is also housed here. This is where Langdon spies the small green flag with white lettering, “Cerca Trova” or “seek and find” in the Vasari painting. (It should be noted that to actually see the writing you need a great zoom lens on your camera or binoculars.) And finally, Dante’s death mask is housed here in a small hallway. There is very little fan fare except the ropes designed to keep visitors at bay – which Langdon ignores.

Tomb Of Beatrice PortinariBeatrice’s Grave:
In search of more clues and endeavoring to elude their adversaries, Langdon and Sienna make their way to Dante’s home. It is a reconstruction done in the 1900’s which serves as a museum… and is closed, because our heroes arrive on a Monday. They, then make their way to Santa Margherita dei Cerchi, which is thought to be Dante’s church. This is where the unrequited love of his life and his guide through heaven in The Divine Comedy, Beatrice Portinari, is buried. To this day, those tormented by love’s loss leave notes detailing their suffering in a basket at the foot of her tomb.

Baptistery of San Giovanni:
Langdon and Sienna’s Florentine journey ends in Florence’s oldest monument, the
Baptistery of San Giovanni which lies in front of the city’s Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore, also known as the Duomo. Similar in design to the Duomo, the Baptistry has three magnificent front doors known as the Gates of Paradise. Inside the building are beautiful works of art beginning with the wonder of the ceiling’s mosaic design, which scholars believe took over 100 years to create, and ending with the baptistery fountain -so central to Langdon’s journey. This is last stop in Florence before Langdon travels on to Venice and leaves Italy for Istanbul.

Guest Writer: Ken Ripoll is the founder of AllstarPassports.com, a Los Angeles Passport expediter specializing in passport renewals and visas to China.

Celebrating Christmas in New York City

I was reading about all the top places around the world to celebrate New Year’s Eve, and of course Times Square featured prominently, at the very heart of Manhattan in New York City. It got me thinking about whether people also go to New York City to celebrate Christmas.

Radio City Christmas Spectacular

Arriving at the Radio City Christmas Spectacular

Sure enough, I found that there are some really exciting Christmas events in new York City, too. The big extravaganza is at Radio City Music Hall, just a half-dozen blocks away. It’s called The Radio City Christmas Spectacular. Here is what Ticket Stub has to say about the show:

The show features over 140 performers, lavish sets and costumes and an original musical score. The 90 minute revue combines singing, dancing and humor with traditional scenes in spectacular stage settings. The star performers are the women’s precision dance troupe known as the Rockettes. Since the first version was presented in 1933, the show has become a New York Christmas tradition seen by more than a million visitors a year.

You can get tickets for The Radio City Christmas Spectacular at http://www.ticketstub.com/events/radio-city-christmas-spectacular/

I love skating, and since know many readers don’t live in the land of ice and snow, any visit to New York City at Christmas should include the chance to show off your skating skills and/or you ability to get back up to your feet. You probably want to be able to tell your friends you’ve been skating at the Rockefeller Center. That’s the rink you’ve seen in countless movies set in New York City, and located midway between Times Square and Radio City Music Hall. So it is easy to walk there (just don’t walk in your skates!).

Rockefeller Center Skating

Skating at the Rockefeller Center - just like in the movies

You might think this next one strange, but it has become quite a tradition in New York City to visit the Botanical Gardens at Christmas. That’s because of the   New York City Botanical Gardens Holiday Train Show. As you might have guessed, this is a display of model trains zipping around the Botanical Gardens. As you also might have guessed, this being New York City, they do it on a large scale. What you might not have guessed is that the trains zoom past 40 New York City landmarks made entirely from plant material – nuts, bark, stems and leaves.

Holiday Trains

The New York City Botanical Gardens Holiday Train Show - all buildings made from plant parts, like bark, seed and stems.

The Nutcracker Ballet, composed by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, is a Christmas tradition around the world. My daughters have danced in stage productions of the ballet locally. But the famous must-see edition is presented by the New York City Ballet, which calls it “the hottest holiday ticket in town.” Tickets for the New York City Ballet presentation of The Nutcracker are still available at http://www.ticketstub.com/tickets/new-york-city-ballet-george-balanchines-the-nutcracker/2111079/

The Nutcracker Ballet
The Nutcracker, performed by the New York City Ballet: “the hottest holiday ticket in town.”
Macy's Parade

Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade is a featured "Christmas" event.

More famous than any of these events is the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Although it’s name gives away that it is not technically a Christmas event, and it is obviously too late to cheer on the 2013 edition, no list of Christmas activities in new York City would be complete without mentioning it. The Christmas connection comes as the result of that timeless classic film, Miracle on 34th Street, a childhood favorite of mine.

 

And if you can’t make it to New York City for Christmas, there is always something close by to enjoy. For instance, around here there is the Winchester Parade of Lights, always worth an hour to see how your neighbors decorate their tractors for an after-dark Christmas parade.  I understand on good authority that this year they through some delicious cheese from the floats.

 

Where To Go On Your Trip To Los Angeles

Ah, Los Angeles — El-Lay, the City of Angels — for tourists this is not exactly the easiest city to make your way around. L.A. may be a huge city with a lot of famous (and not-so-famous) residents, but it is not the ground zero for most of their activities per se. There are many surrounding cities in the Los Angeles area, which include, but are not limited to chintzy destinations like Beverly Hills and West Hollywood, or surfer’s paradise-type cities like Santa Monica and Manhattan Beach. And, of course, don’t forget Anaheim, where Disneyland is located. This article is about Los Angeles‘ many surrounding cities, but we shall restrict the scope of this article to the five aforementioned cities and what they have to offer tourists.

Beverly Hills

Beverly Hills is known for celebrities and remarkable mansions where the rich and famous reside. You can visit the hotels the stars frequent and go shopping, maybe side-by-side with a favorite actor or actress! You get sunshine all year round in Beverly Hills and while you may not actually afford one of the gorgeous homes in this locale, you can still enjoy looking at them!

West Hollywood

West Hollywood is where you can find Sunset Strip, which is fairly close to the rest of L.A. and a great example of Angeleno culture and history. The Sunset Strip offers dining, shopping and nightlife that are legendary. For those who love the arts and graphic design, West Hollywood will be where you can find the Pacific Design Center, among hundreds of showrooms and art galleries which all have something for everybody.

Santa Monica

Among L.A.’s surrounding cities, one would be hard pressed to find a prettier and more trendy location than Santa Monica, which is well-known for its great-looking beachside backdrop and the number of bars and restaurants flocked to by Hollywood’s finest actors and musicians. Feel free to take in the nightlife by having a great time at one of the many bars and restaurants, but remember, parking can be a challenge! By riding a taxi or a limousine (yes, a limo), you don’t have to worry about the parking problem.

You should never be afraid of taking limousines for transportation because, contrary to what you might think, thay’re not expensive in Los Angeles. L.A.’s top limousine services would normally charge customers on an hourly basis. If you want to get the best prices, check with a couple of limousine companies for their rates. And if you book your limousine a couple of days in advance you may be able to get a good rate.

Manhattan Beach

A three-mile drive from Los Angeles International Airport, Manhattan Beach is the fourth on our list of top destinations near L.A. Go fishing at the pier, all 928 feet of it — it’s located at the end of Manhattan Beach Boulevard and offers wonderful fishing all year round. In addition, the pier’s aquarium and marine studies laboratory is open to the public free of charge.

Anaheim

If you’re on vacation with the entire family, then an hour’s drive south of L.A. would bring you to Anaheim. This is where the Angels play their baseball, the Mighty Ducks their hockey and for everybody in the family especially your kids, this is where you can find Disneyland. This is a great place to bring your family to spend the day with the Disney characters and riding classic rides like Space Mountain. And don’t forget to watch the parade and fireworks display at night.

 

Adirondack Mountain Hiking – Sawteeth, Pyramid and Gothics

Some of the best hiking in eastern North America is found in the High Peaks section of Adirondack Park, in upstate New York.  This trip took us past two waterfalls, one on the way up to Sawteeth Mountain and another on the way down from Gothics Mountain.  In between, we visited Pyramid Mountain.

Here are the pics…

Love the sign almost as much as the falls.  Pass this along to any teacher you know.

Storm moving in.  I think we took this atop Sawteeth, the first peak…but it might have been even earlier.

This one is atop Sawteeth.  The clouds were low.  The wind was vicious – as you can tell by how it’s blowing my hair all over the place!

OK, if the proof in my hair is not enough, here is the video:

This is a view of Gothics from atop Pyramid.  What?  “Move the cloud”, you say?  OK…

Better?  These two photos were taken seconds apart.  In fact, if I had had the presence of mind, I could have snapped a truly clear cloud-free shot about 15 seconds prior to the completely overcast shot – that’s how fast the clouds were moving back and forth, up and down.

This is a view from Pyramid.  I think this is the base of Gothics, if memory serves me well.  Sure looks like somebody was trying to carve out an amphitheatre.

You can see why they call it Pyramid Mountain.  This is the view looking back from Gothics.  We climbed down 30 meters, then up 80 meters and bridged the gap between the two in almost no time.

While being drowned in torrential rains, I stopped taking photos.  What a way to climb down a mountain!  But at the bottom, once the rain had pretty much stopped…you can’t help but love Beaver Meadow Falls.

This one is more impressive “live”:

Stowe Vermont in Pictures

Stowe and Smuggler’s Notch are best known as a ski resort.  But look what’s cooking there in September.

Quaint, isn’t it.  Well, the general store is typical of so many buildings in Stowe (the town, not the ski resort).  Well-kept with a historical Americana feel to them.

Yes, that is public art.  Lots and lots of public art dots the central few blocks of Stowe.  Even a poem written in  a store window is an official work of public art.

As for Smuggler’s Notch, it’s really just a very windy road carved out of the rocks.  They could have just blasted through the rocks, but what fun would that be?

Sort of makes me think of a fairy tale road.

Remember the Von Trappe family of Sound of Music fame?  Well, this is the lodge – a pretty swank hotel in the mountains above Stowe village.  With nicely tended gardens and…

…plenty of trails.  Even the most difficult isn’t all that tough, so it’s a great place for the family to play.  Rent a bike.  Go for a hike.  Or hop on a horse-drawn wagon.

Is any trip to Stowe complete without a tour of the Ben and Jerry’s ice cream factory.  My taste buds assure me that it is not.  And if for whatever reason you can’t find your favourite flavour, guess where it probably is?

In the flavour graveyard.  That’s right, where old flavours go to die.

Perhaps the strangest site was when we came across a pumpkin conference.  We believe these pumpkins were getting Halloween training, which would explain why the conference was being held at this abandoned ghost-town conference centre.

Of course, you can always count on me to find the rocks in the area.  Still climbing on rocks – I guess I never grew up.  These are just below Moss Glen Falls, a couple miles north of Stowe.

And these rocks take us up to the winding fairy tale road through Smuggler’s Notch, right beside a handy parking lot at the top of the notch.

Let’s close with a couple Vermont “postcard” shots I took just outside Stowe.  So typical of Vermont.

Yes, we came across plenty of covered bridges along the way.

And barns, too.