Archive for October, 2008

Ditch the City and Head to South Bohemia, Czech Republic

Traveling to the Czech Republic should demand some attention away from the delightful city of Prague.  After all, Prague is certainly worth a visit but it is not the entire country. Exploring the fairy-tale like South Bohemia region with its many assets will have you gain insight as to what makes the Czech Republic tick.

South Bohemia is plentiful in historical sights with numerous castles and untouched nature.  The perfect way to enrich yourself in everything it offers is to choose one town and use it as your base to explore the rest; whether by car, on foot or on a bicycle.
 A vacation rental affords you the flexibility in discovering the entire South Bohemia region or just settling in for a quiet retreat type of vacation. Either way, you certainly will have numerous choices to rent including this 3 bedroom, Haus Fürst, that sleeps eight and is just 200 meters from a lake. Not only that, it is close to some of the best historical sights and terrain around.

One of the most beautiful towns nearby should not be missed and it is a pinnacle of the area.  Known as Cesky Krumlov, near the Austrian border, its fortress is listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. Certainly considered a cultural destination town; it can boast, besides its heritage site, an international art gallery, seven museums and four private galleries.

The city’s castle is the second largest in the Czech Republic with the fortress and castle complex built over six centuries. There are 40 buildings concentrated around five courtyards and well maintain gardens that demand a visit. The oldest structures are the winter riding hall and Baroque Castle Theater. This theater is one of most preserved halls in Europe.

With so much to investigate, if walking is not your thing, then you could always rent a Segway to transport you around the town.

Whether villages, heritage sites or nature; it is all in South Bohemia.

Whether villages, heritage sites or nature; it is all in South Bohemia.

Another dominant feature of South Bohemia is the amazing geography of rolling hills, rivers and forests. If you are yearning for the countryside, you are surrounded by the best Mother Nature could present anyone. Day trips can be easily arranged or head out on your own to one of the largest National Parks, Sumava National Park, within easy reach from most anywhere in South Bohemia.

As active the park is in the summer with visitors who love to trek and partake in summer activities; the park is simply as popular in the winter with a winter sports center that offers a number of ski runs and cross-country trails, cable-cars and a ski jump bridge.

Your options are limitless in South Bohemia with such activities as medieval festivals, a graphite mine, parachute jumping, beer tasting in the local brewery and historical wooden rafting along the Vltava River. There is no doubt the there is something that will appeal to everyone in your family and you can be assured to see more than the average visitor to the Czech Republic.

Seclusion on the Italian Riviera: Tellaro and the Gulf of Poets

Maybe you only think of pesto and the Cinque Terre when you think of Liguria. Well, stop it. The pencil-thin region of Liguria is loaded with places tourists don’t know about. Of all those places, Tellaro might just be my favorite.

It’s a small, seaside village . Houses spill down the hillside toward the tiny, secluded harbor that you can swim in, topless if you’d like. Tellaro’s main piazza is a wide spot in the road. But that piazza has a number of bars and restaurants nearby. One, the Miramare, even has a Michelin star. Still, you don’t have to be squished in with the tourist hordes when you visit Tellaro.

Because it’s not the Cinque Terre.

Tellaro and its harbor

Tellaro and its harbor

Ok, I shouldn’t be telling you all this stuff. Tellaro should remain a secret. And if small town life seems dull, well, take off in the ferry in the summer for Lerici with its fine castle or go to the Cinque Terre or Portofino. The marble quaries of Carrara aren’t far away, and Lucca beckons from the Autostrada. It’s seclusion with options, the smart choice.

You’ll want to stay in a place with a view of the sea. Clio is just such a place. Your view of the sea will be unobstructed.

Percy B. Shelley, with his wife Mary, the creator of Frankenstein, along with Lord George G. Byron were known to meander through the streets of Tellaro, at least when they weren’t swimming in the Gulf of Poets. What better recommendation than from poets? Isn’t it about time poets rose to social prominence again, perhaps displacing tee-vee stars and warmongers as our guides to the intellectual good life?

Understanding the Glaciers of Fjærland, Norway

Here’s the scoop. For a place to reflect on the positive side of the world around you, than a visit to Fjærland, Norway is in order.  Revel in the rich and awe inspiring scenery back dropped with the mountains and Fjords. This area has been molded by glaciers through succeeding ice ages during several million years.

Between the majestic  mountains and valleys beneath them, surrounding glacier waterways creates amazing fishing. The small villages that dot throughout the Sogndal municipality bear historical churches. However, one of the most interesting museums, Norsk Bremuseum, is located right in Fjærland.

What makes the Norsk Bremuseum or Norwegian Glacier Museum so unique, is it is museum with “hands on” activities based upon snow, ice and glaciers. Since you are visiting a glacier area, it is nice to appease your curiosity and learn everything you need to know about glaciers but did not want to appear uninformed about. 

Norwegian Glacier Museum  is complimented by the newly opened exhibit, ‘Our fragile climate –  experience past and future climates’.

Your vacation cottage overlooks scenery that you will never see back home.

Your vacation cottage overlooks scenery that you will never see back home.

Having a fully equipped vacation cottage that sleeps 4 right along the waterway is a convenient way to visit all that the museum offers.  Not only that, you have a place in which you can cook the catch of the day! It only makes sense to totally immerse yourself within the beauty of the area in a holiday home that the whole family will enjoy, especially with the Jostedalsbreen Glacier within your reach.

The base of Jostedalsbreen Glacier is where the Norwegian Glacier Museum is located in Fjærland. The museum can arrange glacier walks with experienced guides from the Norwegian Mountain Touring Association. You can observe first hand, real time data from weather stations on the glacier and by the glacier river.

The museum is affilated with scientists from the International Glaciological Society, who monitor the surrounding glaciers as a climate record. The ice cores are of special interest, as they contain information on past climates.

Back indoors, the exhibits at the Norwegian Glacier Museum, are based upon the history of natural changes in the climate. Introducing the birth of Earth five billion years ago, the displays are highlighted by largest mammal that ever lived in Norway; the mammoth, whose tusk on display is 30 000 years old.

Live, learn and explore Fjærland, Norway

Live, learn and explore Fjærland, Norway

The exhibit follows with man’s appearance and how his entrance influenced the climate. Only your imagination will be the limit as different scenarios are created for the years 2040 and 2100 with the upcoming challenges.

“We still have time to act to make changes that will secure the life of this planet. This is the only home we have!” as quoted by Sir David Attenborough, who ends this demonstration of the potential future.

Once you have been enlightened on glaciers and climates, head back to your vacation rental and appreciate what nature offers any time of the year in Fjærland, Norway.

Bicycles, Cheese, Windmills and Volendam! – Netherlands

Be close enough to enjoy all of what a great city has to offer, while maintaining the country and seaside lifestyle. Sounds impossible?

Traditional ways are strong in Volendam.

Traditional ways are strong in Volendam.

You can actually have both with a visit to Volendam. Being only 20 kilometers away from the capitol of the Netherlands, Amsterdam; Volendamis a fishing village with the picturesque traditional Dutch architecture along the waterfront.

Among its bridges and channels, known as Doolhof(similar to a Labyrinth), this small village is an ideal holiday choice. Amsterdam can boast many activities but Volendam can take you away from the far and maddening tourists within the city and let you experience Dutch rural life. It is here where many of the natives actually still don traditional Dutch attire. 

Volendam, from its humble beginnings in 1462, began as the small rural borough and gradually developed into a prosperous fishing-village. The old village is left intact near the harbor, but to view what life was really about, a visit to the Volendam Museum located near the old quarter and the Volendam dyke. This small building is built on stilts at the edge of the main harbor. The stilts are there to protect the building from frequent flooding that occurred before the Zuider Zee was cut off from the ocean in the early 20th century.

Within its confines, the Volendam Museum offers exhibitions that include a wonderful display of traditional Dutch clothing, gorgeous original Dutch genre paintings, furnishings and interesting historical displays. 

A modern vacation rental at a Marinapark Volendam rowhouse.

A modern vacation rental at a Marinapark Volendam rowhouse.

Your accommodations of a vacation rental is a modern row house in Volendam, where you can enjoy all of Holland at its best. It is a perfect location to share with the entire family in a 3 bedroom at the brand-new Marinapark Volendam, located right on the water with its own marina and views of windmills in the distance.

Broaden your knowledge of Volendamand its history, not only at the museum but along the countryside and waterfront.  At the harbor, view the long-established fishing boats leaving in the morning and returning with their catch later on in the day. Purchase some before the catch heads to the market. Much of the attraction of Volendam is to sample fresh seafood, such as salted herring and smoked eel. The outcome is reminiscing of past centuries fishing atmosphere that you can not easily find elsewhere anymore.

Sample the very best of Dutch cheese on a traditional farm, in Edam, located only 2 km away. Of course you can always rent a bicycle, as biking is the preferred mode of transport. Go on a trip of discovery along scenic routes and if you happen to arrive in the spring, the colorful bulb fields are in full bloom. Don’t forget to balance your time with a visit to Amsterdam; its bustling city centre offers an abundance of culture with an air of cosmopolitan and is easily accessable by train.

Afterwards, it will be pleasure to return to the wholesome and hearty Volendam; where time seems to have stood still, except in your vacation rental.

Be a ‘burra sahib’ in scenic hill station Shimla, India

Shimla is a beautiful scenic town, covered in forests of pine,oak and rhododendron which is located in the state of Himachal Pradesh in North India. This charming town is nestled in the north western Himalayas at an altitude of 6,988 ft( 2130 metres) and is an extremely popular summer and winter destination with both foreigners and locals alike.

Shimla like another Himalayan town, Darjeeling was designated as a ‘summer capital’ during the years of the British Rule in India as Shimla also enjoys a rather agreeable climate. The summer temperatures in Shimla range between a minimum of 14ºC and a maximum of 20ºC, though it does have quite a cold winter when temperatures can fall below freezing to -7ºC.

It was this agreeable summer climate and the natural beauty of this mountain town that drew the British to Shimla. Shimla came under British rule when they annexed it after the Gurkha war in 1819. The British then went about establishing it as one of their summer capitals, so that the British residents who were stationed in India at that time could enjoy its pleasant summers and escape from the scorching heat that roasted the plains during the summer months. Even today, there is much evidence of British rule in Shimla in the form of the many tudorbethan and neo-gothic structures that dot Shimla’s landscape. Some of these magnificent colonial buildings are the Viceregal Lodge, Auckland House, Gorton Castle, Peterhoff house, and the Gaiety Theatre.

To access Shimla easily, the British also constructed one of the longest narrow gauge railway routes which connected Shimla to the city of Kalka in 1906. The construction of this railway was an engineering marvel and the railway at that time was called the “British Jewel of the Orient”. The Shimla Kalka railway line operates until today and provides easy access to Shimla from the closest major city, Chandigarh which is located in the state of Punjab.

Your picturesque vacation rental at Shilon Bagh

Your picturesque vacation rental at Shilon Bagh

Your vacation rental in Shimla will enable you to enjoy the unique ambiance of this old-world town which is also known as the Orchard of India as much of India’s apple crop is grown here. You have a choice of two vacation rentals in Shimla, the first of which is located in the mountain village of Shilon Bagh which is located at height of 7200 ft in the Himalayan Mountain range. The Shilon Bagh resort is especially picturesque as it is set in the midst of a large apple orchard and offers gorgeous views of the surrounding mountains and forests. Your vacation rental at this resort enables you to enjoy the various recreational facilities offered by the resort all year round as well. Your vacation rental at Shilon Bagh is ideally located and is easily accessible from the main city of Shimla and other popular locations like the winter sport destination, Kufri and the picturesque mountain village of Chail ,which was actually the summer residence of the Maharaja of the state of Patiala before independence and which today is home the highest cricket ground in the world.

In fact the second choice for your vacation rental is actually located on the road that connects Kufri to Chail and from your vacation rental located here you can easily access the many attractions of main Shimla City as well as its neighboring areas like Mashobra which is a popular picnic spot, Naldhera which is famous for its well maintained 9 hole golf course and Tatapani which is renowned for its natural sulfuric springs whose waters are believed to have medicinal values.

Your vacation rental on the Kufri Chail Road

Your luxurious vacation rental located on the Kufri Chail Road

No matter where you choose to have your vacation rental you will be able to explore the many attractions of the main town of Shimla, like The Mall which is Shimla’s main street on which many restaurants, clubs, banks, bars, Post Offices and tourist offices are located . The Mall which is the main meeting spot of the people of Shimla also has the historic Gaiety Theater located on it. Other attractions in Shimla include the Christ Church which is one of the oldest churches of North India, the Annandale recreation ground which is located at height of 6117 feet and is considered to be the playground of the people of Shimla, where picnics and polo matches are a regular occurance, the Shimla State Museum which has displays of miniature Pahari paintings which are native to Shimla and other displays of magnificent sculptures, bronzes wood-carvings and costumes, textiles and jewelry of the region.

The term ‘Burra Sahib’ was actually coined by the Indian people to describe the British colonists so when you choose to spend some time at your vacation rental in scenic Shimla, you will actually be able to experience how the ‘Burra Sahibs’ spent their summers at this summer capital all those years ago.

The Blues Won´t Get You Down in Kinsale, Ireland

Even if you are not Irish, your eyes will be smiling with a visit to Kinsale, Ireland. Just a stroll along the river, by the harbor, on the upper side of the town consisting of its charming shops and of course, Irish pubs will exhilarate you.

Besides the pubs, Kinsale is known as the “Gourmet Capitol of Ireland,” and you will find wonderful cuisines that will suit all palates. It is said by many that the best tasting meals you have ever had will be here! You can even learn some the specialites at the Kinsdale Cooking School, featuring guest chefs each week.

Desmond castle is a short walk uphill and was a 15th century Custom and Town House that has had a checkered past with many stories to tell. Besides serving as a Customs house from around 1500, it became a prison for French prisoners during the Napoleonic Wars and relief centre during the famine. It is now finally converted to The Irish Wine Museum, where you become a connoisseur or perhaps just a little more knowledgeable than you were before.

Kinsale can easily claim its place among being one of Ireland’s more historic locations, as the town with its castle, can boast two historical forts, Charles Fort, and James Fort.

Dating from 1677, Charles Fort  can give visitors a good chance to familiarize themselves with the history of the town. A wealth of information is supplied by the Exhibition Centre and do not miss the chance to view the fort from a vantage point at the mouth of the harbor.

The pentagonal shaped fort with a covered walkway leading to it, is James Fort, constructed between 1601 and 1603. Here, again, you will hear the tales behind the walls.

A vacation rental in Kinsale, Ireland is the way to go.

A vacation rental in Kinsale, Ireland is the way to go.

No wonder so many visitors head back year after year. With great food, wonderful shops, and amazing views, Kinsale will be one of your favorite places to vacation. Stay at a vacation rental overlooking the River Bandon, sleeping six, so bring the whole family to explore.

This little Irish village nestled between the hills and the shoreline hosts and coincides with Cork’s well-known jazz festival with one of their own. The best of Jazz and Blues takes place in Kinsale, Ireland featuring international acts from the US, UK and Ireland. The music spills out on October 24th to the 27th.

Among maze of narrow picturesque streets, never far from the water, Kinsale will resound to the sounds of this party during four days of live jazz performances. Live it up and then after the festival, enjoy this small quaint city when it returns back to its normal flavor.

Although Waterford reigns with its crystal, Kinsale Crystal is gaining fast. Take a peek inside and you will even find that you can watch some of this beautiful work being done on the premises and not mass produced. Kinsale Silver is another shop, where the craft is made with pride  as the silversmiths create one of a kind silver jewelry.

A visit to kinsale can be yours, with or without jazz. So when will go head there?

Pitigliano: An Odd Tuscan Paradise

You ever heard of Pitigliano? It’s “down there” in Tuscany, in the Maremma, near the Lazio Border. That border has some important implications. It used to be the border to the Papal States. Jewish people, fleeing the worst of the misbehaving Papals, settled in Pitigliano. There’s a 1598 synagogue to visit, although Pitigliano doesn’t have a significant Jewish population these days.

Outside the hill upon which Pitigliano is built is another interesting feature. Lots of rock-cut channels, said to be fashioned by the ancient Etruscans, run randomly through the countryside. Nobody knows what they are, although some, usually without basis, have strong opinions, just like politicians. So the whole area has this sort of mystical appeal. You can make up what you want about it. Like the ancients made this cool slot-car track and used to drive visiting Papals nuts with their little cars whizzing by all the time. This is a good story to tell in a bar. It almost guarantees an empty seat on either side of yours.

So I’d get me a partner who might laugh at my stories and we’d stay at Le Ortenzie to explore this extraordinary area. The kind folks that run the place say “Le Ortenzie is a small paradise midst in the beautiful landscape, near the towns Pitigliano and Sovana, which are famous for there ruins and discoveries from the etruscian time. Saturnia, with the wondrous water for the skin is 25km and the lovely sea by Monte Argentario is 60km away.” Ah, I’d forgotten to mention the wondrous water. Yes, a spa visit is recommended.

And really, Pitigliano is a wonderful walled hilltown with a fortress, called Orsini Fortress that you’ll want to visit for a day–or a week if you like ancient riddles.


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