Thursday, October 25, 2007

Eurostar Train - Glide Between London, Paris & Brussels with Eurostar

By Peter Halpin

The Eurostar is a high speed train service connecting London and Kent in Britain, with Paris and Brussels in Europe. It is the world's most advanced train, whisking you under the sea through the famous Channel Tunnel in luxurious surroundings, taking just 20 minutes at a record speed of 186 mph.

The first trains ran in November 1994 and since then, Eurostar has established a dominant share of the market on the routes it serves. With the announcement that the Channel Tunnel Rail Link will open into London St Pancras station on November 14, 2007 the service will enjoy "High Speed 1" status.

Eurostar claims the journey times match or beat air flights, thus making it an alternative to air travel for holidays in Europe. Fares include the price of the ticket and seat reservation. Meals are included for Business Premier and First Class fares. The service is also non-smoking!

Food in first class is better than that served in the economy seats of a plane and comes served separately with metal cutlery and complimentary half-bottles of wine.

There is also the convenience factor. If you live in London, instead of enduring a 40 minute trip to Heathrow, you can make it to Waterloo Station in just 10 minutes, thus shortening your trip.

If you get a seat in the first class (not premium first), not only does the leg-room double, but seemingly, so does the seat size.

From those who have travelled on Eurostar for weekend leisure visits to Europe, comes a trick for getting cheaper tickets. The idea is to book your tickets in reverse to take advantage of leisure fares coming in from the French side. So instead of booking London to Paris Monday to Friday, book Paris to London Friday to Monday. You will see a massive difference in price.

Some say it's cheaper to buy an air ticket, but if you add on airport taxes, the cost of getting out to one airport and then finding your way into the city from another airport, then all the drinky snacky things you'll buy on the way, you'd be hard pushed to do the trip for less than the Eurostar ticket. It will also take you much longer and be a much less pleasant journey.

A day trip from London to Paris, or vice-versa? No problem. By plane? It would be a nightmare! The Eurostar also caters very well for disabled people, so if you're disabled, there's another plus.

There are another few useful things worth knowing about Eurostar: they sell gift vouchers, which make nice presents. All their timetables are available on the internet, as are booking facilities and even details of how to book onward journeys if you want to transfer to another train to go elsewhere in France.

The downside at present, is that Eurostar's rail network is not very extensive, which means finding more train connections if you're going anywhere other than London, Paris and Brussels. But there are plans ahead for the service to extend across Europe. The day may come when you can catch a sleeper from London and wake up in Rome.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

An Overview of Asia

By Richard Monk

Asia is the largest continent when measured by landmass and human population. Following is an overview of Asia.

Asia is considered one of the seven continents. This continental definition, however, is far broader than many people think. Under the seven continent methodology, Asia stretches from Japan in the East through Russia in the West. It encompasses Saudi Arabia and everything above Asia. While it doesn’t always make practical sense, there is no denying this definition of Asia makes it the home of over 60 percent [4 billion] of all humans. China and India, of course, are the locations of a vast majority of these people.

In modern times, geographers recognize there really is no dividing line between Asia to the west and Europe to the East. This has resulted in the entire area being called Eurasia, but thousands of years of terminology aren’t about to pass into antiquity. Today, most people refer to Europe as a continent so far as it extends to the Ural Mountains in Russia. Everything to the east of that mountain range is considered Asia. For instance, Israel is considered a country in Western Asia!

Russia has even picked up on this theme with the two heads on the national flag. The west facing head refers to the European part of Russia while the East facing head refers to the Asian part of the country. Within Russia, it is almost as if there are two countries with Moscow and St. Petersburg having heavy European influences. Cities in the Far East, such as Vladivostok, are much more oriented to China and such.

To resolve the boundary issue, the powers that be have started defining Asia subcontinents. The areas are:
  1. Central Asia - Kazakhstan Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan.
  2. East Asia – China, Japan, Mongolia, Taiwan, North and South Korea.
  3. North Asia - Russia.
  4. India Subcontinent – India, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka.
  5. Southeast Asia - Brunei, Cambodia, East Timor, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar [Burma], Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.
  6. Southwest Asia – The Middle East including Turkey, Iran, Cyprus, Israel, Lebanon and sometimes Egypt.
Given the problems defining the boundaries of Asia, you can imagine it is also difficult to define certain characteristics regarding the continent. After all, life in Turkey is much different than in China. Conversely, customs in India are completely different than those in China. In fact, most people living in Asia take offence when someone uses the word “Asians” to refer to them. The word implies a similarity among all people in Asia, which simply isn’t true.

Economically, things are a bit easier to categorize. The largest economy in Asia is China as a measure of gross domestic product. Officially known as the People’s Republic of China, this country remains communist in name only when it comes to economic issues. With massive economic growth over the last 10 years, China is the second largest economy in the world after the United States. Another heavily populated area, India, is now the fourth biggest economy in the world, while relatively small Japan is the third. Put in practical terms, Asia is home to three of the four biggest economies on Earth. The three dominant financial centers are Hong Kong, Tokyo and Singapore.

With so many countries, it is hardly surprising to find a wide variety of religious practices in Asia. There are a wide variety of belief systems, but Hinduism, Buddhism and Islam have the largest number of adherents.

Figuring out exactly what constitutes Asia is largely a matter of opinion. Among many assertions about Asia, the undisputable one is it is the home to the largest percentage of humans on the planet.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Asia - The Best Travel Destination

By Brian Bees

If the time has come for your vacation or a holiday getaway, read this article before making your plans. There are many places of great beauty and interest to be seen in the USA and Europe. But, whether transportation, touring, theme park, or food and lodging, it is expensive. This article is written for every traveler, whether a backpacker on a budget, or a first class - five star traveler.

Travel in Asia is inexpensive and opens the door to different cultural experiences. Planning can be for a short holiday, an extended stay, or choices of laying the groundwork for the ultimate stay, retirement. Nowadays, with so many opportunities to make money using the Internet it is not out of the question to "retire" early.

Medical Tourism in Asia growing in popularity. It is high quality and affordable. Just one of International standard hospitals in Bangkok serves 400,000 international patients annually, In the USA cataract surgery for one eye runs around $8,000. At a prestigious International hospital in Thailand cataract surgery can be performed on both eyes for around $2,500. It is possible to have quality medical care, and an Asian holiday, for a fraction of the cost of the same procedure in the USA.

Let us take a tantalizing glimpse at just some of the countries.

Thailand - Land of Smiles. Often referred to as the most exotic country in Southeast Asia. A visit to the Grand Palace in Bangkok for sure. Trips to a floating market or to the Bridge on the River Kwai. From pristine beaches in the Southern Islands to the Northern mountains with its waterfalls, elephants bathing in mountain streams, and Hill Tribe villages.

India - Delhi is one of the oldest continually inhabited cities in the world. India Gate, an imposing structure, has emerged as one of the most popular tourist spots in Delhi. The Red Fort Delhi, a masterpiece of architecture, is a popular spot. A trip to India would not be complete without a visit to Agra, famous as the site of one of the world's most romantic, graceful and photographed buildings, the Taj Mahal.

Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos - Three small countries neighboring Thailand. Each opens a different world of exploration. Cambodia - the highlight is visiting Angkor Wat, an architectural masterpiece constructed in the jungle in the early 12th century. Vietnam - is a varied country, offering beaches, mountains and hundreds of years of history from the ancient Cham Towers to remnants from the Vietnam War. Laos - savor the crafts, culture and hospitality of Laos with a river trip, visits to ancient temples, gorgeous palaces, and traditional villages.

Nepal - Adventure, travel, trekking, birding, wildlife, and cultural & overland Safaris. Take an air flight along the Himalayas and view magnificent Mount Everest. Nearby, discover the serene beauty of Tibet, the country which inspired the Dalai Lama. .

Indonesia - Jakarta, the capital city of the world's fourth most-populous nation. Bali is Indonesia's main holiday destination. Flores is a pretty lush green island with forests, palm and banana trees, rice fields and many volcanoes. Highlights are the three small offshore islands of "Gillis" that invite snorkeling, diving and relaxing. For hikers, a climb to the top of the volcano Rijani.

Philippines - An island nation comprising over 7,000 islands in the western Pacific Ocean.
Manila, the bustling capital has powerful reminders of the country's past, along with attractive parks, fine museums, and exhilarating nightlife. The Ifugao Rice Terraces
are a testimony to the early technological advancement of the Ifugao people. Take a jeepney ride to the market. Be brave, try balut, a Philippine delicacy. Go diving in the Visayas.

Singapore - Shopping on famous Orchard Road, the dream of every woman. The Night Safari at Singapore Zoo is fabulous. Chinatown, a little glitzy, but you can buy all the souvenirs you want there. Interestingly, one of Singapore's most beautiful Hindu temples is smack dab in the middle of Chinatown. Decide if a Singapore Sling is worth the hype in the Long Bar at Raffles Hotel. There's more to Singapore than urban glitz, like rambling in the rain forest of Bukit Timah Nature Reserve.

Japan - Tokyo is the capital city and home of the Imperial Residence and Emperor's Palace. Select a popular destination or region in Japan and explore its attractions. Ride the Bullet Train to the magnificent city of Kyoto. Visit Hiroshima and the Peace Memorial Park. Castles, temples, gardens, the list of top destinations in Japan is too long for this article..

Taiwan - Taipei, the country's booming, vibrant capital remains steeped in Chinese, Japanese and native Taiwanese cultures. Some of its most impressive sights include the Grand Hotel, topped by the largest Classical Chinese roof in the world, the Shihlin Night Market, the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial with the National Theater and Concert Hall located directly across from each other on the grounds. A popular day trip is Tailuge (Taroko Gorge), considered one of the natural wonders of the world.

Hong Kong - the Pearl of East and jewel of The Orient. Nathan Road is lined with shops, restaurants, nightspots and cheap places to stay. If you're in Hong Kong with the little ones, they'll probably appreciate Ocean Park (aquarium), Water World (swimming pools and water slides), and of course Disneyland. If you're in Hong Kong for more than a few days, then there's plenty of outlying islands to discover.

It is often said that for the traveler that has seen it all and done it all, there is still Katmandu, Nepal. And, that too is in Asia!

If you do not visit Asia, you will be missing not only a paradise of affordable travel, but the chance to see an alternative living location. For retirees, it is luxury living for pennies, not just getting by on their pension. Asia, a paradise experience is waiting for you.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

The Seven Wonders Of Havana - Things To Do In Cuba's Glorious Capital

By Emma Lelliott

Recently, for the first time in over 2,200 years the seven wonders of the world were reassessed. Over 100 million people voted and decided that the Great Wall of China, Rome’s Colosseum, Chichen Itza in Mexico, Petra in Jordan, Machu Picchu in Peru, Rio’s Christ the Redeemer and the Taj Mahal would make the best new wonders.

Certainly narrowing down the finalists from an initial list of hundreds can have been no easy task – most countries can probably compile a list of seven themselves. Cuba, which is of course my specialty (I am the general manager of Captivating Cuba), has many architectural and cultural triumphs worthy of celebration. Hell, even Havana itself has enough aesthetic wonder and cultural heritage for me to wax lyrical for several pages. In the interests of brevity and in matching the arbitrary figure placed on the number of wonders allowed in one world, I shall limit my list to seven sites worth examining on a Havana holiday.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I present (in no particular order)

The Seven Wonders of Havana

Plaza de la Revolución

The enormous square has seen many political rallies and the feel of history and importance of the area is tangible. The square’s podium has seen many important political speeches from Fidel Castro and other prominent figures on important days in the Cuban calendar. While Castro is infamous for his long speeches, the public events always prove popular, attracting over 1,000,000 Cubans over the years.

The square is dominated by the impressive José Martí memorial – a tower in honour of a national hero killed in the 1895 Second war of Independence. At 138 feet high, the imposing structure is the highest point in the city and visitors may take a lift to the very top of the building. Behind the memorial are the offices of Fidel Castro himself, and opposite is the iconic image of Che Guevara that marks the Ministry of the Interior’s building – a staple sight on any Havana holiday.

Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes

This modern art museum is divided into two distinct part. The Collección de Arte Cubano is dedicated to Cuban art created between the 16th and 20th century, while The Collección de Arte Universal has a far wider scope. It includes art from Italian, French and Dutch painters as well as including artefacts from Latin America and ancient Greece.

Cigar Factories

Cuba is practically synonymous with the word “cigars” and a visit to one of the three major Cuban cigar factories in Havana can give a good indication as to why. The three main factories give tours which allow the visitors to see the hand rolled cigars in production. Partagas is the oldest factory (founded in 1827) and keeping with tradition hires a reader to entertain the workers by reading aloud. Partagas and the two other main factories, La Corona and Romeo y Julieta have shops attached which allow visitors to purchase cigars as souvenirs.

Museo de la Ciudad

The building that now houses Havana’s museum treasures has a past that predates the revolution and evokes images of when Cuba was a non-Communist state. The building once housed the island’s colonial governors and was the palace of the Captains General. Built in 1791, the museum’s exhibits give a feel of the history of Havana – from the city’s foundation to the present day. The museum naturally devotes a sizable section to the Cuban wars for national independence, but also houses a diverse range of other exhibits showcasing the island’s art, porcelain, paintings, furniture, folklore and archaeology.

Capitolio Nacional

An important landmark in the centre of Havana, the Capitolio Nacional is an impressive site. It looks remarkably similar to the US Capitol in Washington DC, and is now home to the National Library and Academy of Sciences. Some of its rooms are also used for state events, in a nod to its history where it once seated members of the Cuban congress. Directly underneath the memorable dome, an imitation 24 carat diamond is set into the floor, which measures the distances between Havana and all Cuba’s other sites.

Habana Vieja

The old city was founded in 1519, and was often a target for pirates which explains the dilapidated, yet still imposing, remains of Havana’s city walls. Nowadays the old city includes museums, hotels, shops and restaurants to line the picturesque cobble stoned streets. The plazas are marked by meticulously restored colonial buildings and attractive churches, which make the perfect backdrop for Havana’s old city life as it goes by. The region also includes La Bodeguita Del Medio – a bar made famous thanks to its patronage by Mr Ernest Hemingway.

Museo de la Revolución

What used to be the Presidential Palace and Cuban Government’s HQ is now fittingly a museum of the revolution that saw them ousted. The building is still aesthetically astounding, but the insides have changed to house pieces, photography and documents pertaining to the Cuban Revolution. The building isn’t the only imposing sight upon approach to the museum – out the front is the tank driven by Fidel Castro during the Bay of Pigs battle, and behind is the yacht that brought Che Guevara and Fidel Castro from Mexico to Cuba in 1956.

Aside from these main aesthetic Cuban wonders, there are countless other things to do in Havana. It is truly a magnificent city – a one of a kind mixture of 1950s America and Caribbean lifestyle. If you are considering a holiday to Havana, this list will really help you get into the Cuban spirit and gain an insight into the rich history of the city.

Emma Lelliott is the general manager of Captivating Cuba (, an independent Cuba holiday specialist. With offices in Havana and the UK, Captivating Cuba offer expert local knowledge for island visitors looking to explore Havana and Varadero and Cayo Coco as well as lesser known resorts including Jibacoa and Trinidad.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

10 Interesting Places In Europe

By David Dutton

From the rolling greens of Scotland to the beautiful ancient ruins of Greece, there are a variety of interesting places to visit in Europe. Take a trip to Europe and your most difficult decision is going to be which places to visit during your vacation.

Some of the major cities on this diverse continent include London, Paris, Venice, Rome, Madrid, and Frankfurt.

Since there are so many interesting places to visit in Europe, you may need a bit of help deciding where to go. The following are 10 of the best places to visit for a great time.

Eiffel Tower - Known as one of the most famous landmarks in the world, there is no structure that has ever been built like the Eiffel Tower. The tower is 984 feet high and one of the tallest buildings in the world. The view of Paris from the tower is a definitely must see if you are in Europe.

Acropolis - If you are interested in history, one historical site in Europe that you won't want to miss is the Acropolis. Located in Athens, you'll see sites such as the Parthenon, sites built as far back as the 5th Century BC. Not only will you get to have a close up look at all these ancient buildings and ruins, but you'll also get a great view of the city of Athens from here as well.

The Roman Coliseum - Another of the many interesting places to visit in Europe is the Roman Coliseum. This grand site was originally a huge amphitheater that could seat more than 50,000 people. With amazing ancient architecture, even in disrepair, this is a magnificent site that you definitely have to see.

Tower Bridge - Since 1894, this beautifully designed bridge has been standing over the River Thames in the city of London. From the bridge's beautiful walkways you can see some breathtaking views of London. You can also visit the engine rooms containing the steam engines that power the bridge. Whether you go in the day or at night, this is a breathtaking must-see.

Edinburgh Castle - Edinburgh Castle is another of the most interesting places to visit in Europe. It is over 1,000 years old and once you see this magnificent castle you'll soon understand why more than a million people visit it each year. You can tour the castle, enjoy the views and visit the surrounding gardens as well.

Buckingham Palace - Since 1837 Buckingham Palace has been the residence of British royalty, and what would a trip to Europe be without taking the time to see the home of the Queen of England. If you visit during August or September you'll even be able to see inside the State Rooms of Buckingham Palace.

Big Ben - The world's largest turret clock tower, Big Ben is one of the best known landmarks in London and definitely one of the most interesting places to visit in Europe. Although it is not open for public tours, it looks spectacular, especially at night when it is all lit up.

La Sagrada Familia - While in Europe, another must see is the unfinished church La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, Spain, designed and worked on by the famous architect Antoni Gaudi. Unfortunately, he died before the structure was completed. With amazingly designed towers and innovative architecture, however, this is an excellent place to visit while in Europe.

Cathedral Notre-Dame - No visit to France is complete without stopping by the Cathedral Notre-Dame. History buffs will enjoy the rich history of this attraction while art lovers will enjoy the beautiful statues, columns and windows.

St. Michaeliskirche - Right in Hamburgh, Germany, is the beautiful St. Michaeliskirche, known locally as Michl. During the day you can enter the church for free. However, if you choose to go up to the top of the spire, you will have to pay a small but worthwhile fee for its beautiful view of Hamburg.