TRAVEL IN UNIQUE PLACES
NICARAGUA MANAGUA GRANADA - Where the Streets have no names- SANTORINI-Grecian Beauty-SWITZERLAND- Ultimate destination for honeymoon makers-Soaked in romance and myth, this Scottish island with its breathtaking  natural beauty, is a paradise -The YARRA VALLEY in Victoria,Australia-Picture Postcard Moments- CAVE HOLIDAY IN Malaysia,New Zealand,Australia,Turkey

WAYFARER - Nicaragua is a country of contrasts with breathtaking natural beauty and crumbling shanty towns-

                                    The Town Hall in Grenada is reminiscent of Spanish colonial architecture

Managua,the capital city of the central American country Nicaragua,is a strange place.

The city was completely destroyed during a severe earthquake in 1972,with all its Spanish colonial heritage ground to dust and rubble.The capital was quickly and cheaply rebuilt to look like an overgrown and unattractive development with just a couple of pretty streets housing the elite and the diplomats.Alarge modern square with various statues of the stalwarts of the revolution is a place of pride for the residents.

                                                              Musicians play near Lake Masaya

A very strange thing about : Managua is that it does not have street names ! The French cultural centre's address for instance is 1/3rd kilometre from the Embassy of Mexico ! Which in turn has the address - 2km from the road to Masaya.

Managua is beautifully located atop Lake Managua which is the second largest lake in Nicaragua _the largest being Lake Nicaragua) and u can see little hills in the distance of which some are active volcanoes.Large cutouts of the Sandinista revolutionary Daniel Ortega are all over the city.

For a largely poor nation it is strange to see the huge gas guzzling pick-ups crowding the streets that are the preferred mode of transport.Also,the local buses all seem to be American school buses that have discarded by the US and sent over to the Nicaraguans to use as public transport,Gas guzzlers again.The other very popular mode of transport is unbelievably our very own autorickshaws - and some are even in familiar black and yellow colours.

A few miles out of Managua and the landscape gets interesting.U can actually visit several active volcanoes which are a pretty formidable sight.Masaya,a little town an hour away from Managua,is one of the country's top craft centres.Hammocks and rocking chairs are their craft of choice and can be found in large numbers everywhere - perhaps they tell u a little about the laidback Nicaraguan lifestyle.Granada,a beautiful,clean and very quaint town a couple of hours away has retained almost all is Spanish colonial architecture.This is a town which is a favourite with travellers and it's dotted with delightful restaurants and cafes.U could almost be in Spain.

Horse-drawn carriages can take you for a ride around this lovely place and a must-stop would be the shop that sells the best cigars - they are one of the country's chief exports.Nicaragua is bordered by the Pacific Ocean on one side and the Caribbean on the other and therefore seafood abounds.However,the cuisine of choice seems to be rather unappetising and simple rice and beans is a flavourite dish.

The Caribbean coast is one of spectacular beauty and offers an inexpensive holiday to worshippers of the high waves and many a surfer from the United States and other nations prefer the pleasant Nicaraguan beach resorts to their rather more expensive and overcrowded neighbour Costa Rica.Nevertheless,this Spanish-speaking nation seems to be in a somnambulant state after many years of hardship and civil wars.

Ready Reckoner :

Getting there : American airlines,Continental and Taca airways have regular flights to Managua from various American cities.Taca airways,and Iberia also connect to Managua from Europe via Costa Rica or Panama city.Domestic flights on Taca are available easily from Managua to the Caribbean coast.

Where to stay : There is plenty of accommodation available fortourists at various budgets.Granada,Leon and the coast offer charming small family-owned guest-houses as well as resorts.

Best time to visit : June to January is the best season to visit as this period has a pleasant weather.

Currency : 1 Nicaraguan Cordoba Oro = Rs 2.20

Web watch : For more information log onto : www.visitanicaragua.com

Travel trivia :

The Vulture Dance is one of the oldest dances in Nicaragua.The vulture is dressed in a black bird outfit with a vulture mask.The female dress is a traditional,orange dress with black lines and flowers decorating the hair.The dance represents the death and the burying of the 'vulture',a negative person personified by the carrion bird.

 

WAYFARER : The island of Santorini is picture perfect and lives up to its tourist guide hype-

                                                                    A view from the cliff side 

Santorini,an island in the Aegean Sea,about 240km from Athens.Santorini does knock you out with its beauty - at once picture perfect pretty and ruggedly spectacular.And taken with a goodish dose of the Greek dolce vita,this island can really put u in touch with your inner sybarite.It is officially called Thira.Fira,the island's capital,which is a tiny town dug into the face of a cliff.

                                                        A view from La,highest village in Santorini

Santorini's famous caldera,a submerged volcano and with a little distance,Kamari Beach.There are quite a lot of churches too - quaint white buildings topped with bright blue domes.

Truth be told,one need never do much else in Santorini.Just loll about in one of the countless cliff-hugging cafes or tavernas-their prices rise in direct proportion to the quality of the view they afford-look endlessly at the shimmering expanse of the caldera and the towering cliffs all around.It is the perfect place to bea lotus eater and while away slow,violet evenings,sipping local wine and nibbling mezedes (starters) like saganaki (fried cheese) or dolmades.U can go on a caldera cruise to the volcanicislets of Nea Kameni and Palea Kameni and the island of Thirasia.On your way back,u can have lunch at a delightful little seaside taverna in Thirasia.U can have a visit to the Fira museum which has stunning exhibits from the excavation site at Akrotiri,some of them as old as circa 3000BC.And u can also visit to La,the highest and prettiest village in Santorini,to watch its famed sunset.

At topmost rimof the caldera,the view is heart-stopping,almost other-worldly.As sunset time approached,trippers crammed into an eagle's eyrie of a lookout point.

                                                                        The Kamari Beach

Ready Reckoner :

How to get there : u can fly from Athens to Santorini (50min).Or,u can take a ferry from Athens' Piraeus port (10hrs),or a hydrofoil (5hrs).

Where to stay : Santorini has a range of options to suit every pocket - from cheap,clean,B&B to top class hotels and service apartments.Places with good views are more expensive.

Travel trivia : The eruption of Santorini in Greece in 1,650 B.C. was one of the largest in the last 10,000 years,resulting in the break out of about 30 cubic km of rhyodacite (an intermediate volcanic rock ) magma.The vertical column of volcanic ash and smoke over the volcano during the initial phase of the eruption was about 36km high.

 

SWITZERLAND is the perfect location for an idyllic love story

 

From time immemorial,one bewitching land has cast a spell on the world.

Switzerland,a land of lush countryside and gentle rolling hills,of medieval towns and idyllic villages.A land with stunning snow-capped Alpine peaks,where picturesque valleys,majestic mountains and heart-stopping glaciers never fail to take your breath away.

Visit the stunningly beautiful Gstaad valley,surrounded by icy peaks.Ski down to a one-of-a kind igloo hotel,right after you spend the evening nursing an exotic cocktail in a mountainside bar.Board the Glacier Express at St. Moritz to reach Zermatt,where you can take in the incredible Matterhorn.Pay a visit to the Olympic Museum on the shores of Lake Geneva in Lausanne,with its stunning collection of olympic memorabilia.Go Italian in Switzerland on a visit to Lugano.Switzerland's Italian quarter,where the unique Swiss Miniatur Park on the shores of lake Lugano will have you hooked.

 

Switzerland is the ultimate honeymoon destination.To experience it for yourself,log on to www.mercurytravels.co.in

 

 

Reaching For The Sky!

Soaked in romance and myth, this Scottish island with its breathtaking natural beauty, is a paradise  The Isle of Sky is a paradise for anyone who wants to experience the Scottish Highlands. The largest of the Inner Hebrides, Sky can be reached by the bridge linking Kyle of Lochalsh and Kyle akin. Cross the soaring arc of the SkyBridge, with its breathtaking views over the Minch and rocky islets and youre on the Isle of Mists, soaked in romance and myth.

   The islands ragged peninsulas offer different points of interest—remote seclusion, clan history, mountaineering on The Cuillin, Britains only real mountain range, plus beachcombing, spectacular wildlife and sea life, distinctive crafts, ancient landscapes and castles. Sky is also a stronghold of Gaelic culture. Youll hear plenty of Gaelic songs and see bilingual signs everywhere.

   We put up for the night at an enchanting B&B in Portree, Skys capital. Portree—The Kings Port—is set on a pretty natural harbor surrounded by crags and cliffs. The nerve center of Sky is an attractive fishing town with a string of whitewashed hotels, restaurants and shops lining the harbor.

CLANS AND CASTLES: Skys history is dominated by two clans, the MacDonalds and the Mac–Leods. Our first stop was DunveganCastle, an uncompromising stone fortress facing Loch Dunvegan that has been the seat of the MacLeods since 1200.

   The MacLeod crest is inscribed with a bulls head and the family motto is Hold Fast’. This origin–ates from Malcolm, a chief in the 14th century who was confronted by a mad bull in Glenelg. He managed to kill the beast and retained one of its horns as a souvenir of his prowess.

   The castle also contains the Fairy Flag, a fabled piece of magical silk treasured for its protection. The flag was thought to possess miraculous powers and legend has it that when it was unfurled in battle, the clan MacLeod would defeat their foes.

   A favorite with children is the seal colony on Loch Dunvegan. Visitors may take a boat and observe the playful creatures up close. If they are lucky, they may also spot herons. 

FACT FILE: 

How to go: Take a plane to London and then fly to Edinburgh or Glasgow. Proceed to the Isle of Sky by bus or rent a car.

Best season: Summer (June-Sept)

What to see and do: Embark on a hik-ing expedition. The Cuillin should test your stamina;Scotland is home to fas-cinating flora and fauna. Learn to tell the gorse from the thistle, thyme from heather; Using the term British is fine, but the Scots understandably dont like being called English. Do think before you speak; learn to say hello in Gaelic. Or, better still, purchase a few records of Gaelic songs to take back home buy a tweed cap and complete the Scottish look with a kit jacket and tartan trouse-rs.

Where to stay:

1.  Portree Hotel. Singles $30-40, doubles$60-80.

2.  Tor Nan Gillean, View field Road, Portree. Singles from $30, doubles from $60.

Where to eat:

1.  Harbor View Seafood Restaurant—One of Portrees most popular eateries. Enjoys a huge following.

2.  Bayfield Chip Shop—Good for takeaway fish and chips.

FISH AND CHEESE:

Fish and chips are the all-time favorite for foodies here. Every Scots person has his favorite chippy and it is a source of local pride! Cod and haddock constitute the definitive fish supper. Made before your eyes, fresh and hot in your hands—its an incomparable take-away feast.Scotland also has some of the worlds finest cheeses, made from cows, ewes and goats milk.

FINDING FLORA: Next we visited the grave of Highland heroine Flora MacDonald, who gained fame for helping Bonnie Prince Charlie escape his defeat at the Battle of Culloden. In 1745, the prince landed in Scotland in an attempt to replace the Hanoverian monarchy and restore a Stuart king to the British throne. Flora, who spent most of her life on Sky, helped the prince escape from Benbecula to Sky and eventually to France disguised as her Irish servant. She was arrested on her way home and imprisoned in the Tower of London for a year. She returned to the Highlands in 1747 and became a cult figure at the age of 25.

   We had lunch at a very homely inn with an inviting, beamed room and affable hosts. Lemon sole, halibut, haddock,Dover sole, monkfish, cod, plaice and lobsters were on the menu. Of course, the delicious food came with several bonuses—the heart-stirring landscape with cows grazing languidly on the hillsides carpeted with golden gorse.

   After lunch, we proceeded towards two of Skys most famous rock formations, the Old Man of Storrs and the Quiraing. There are hardly any cars on the roads and no motorways that fill the air with acrid fumes and noise pollution. North of Portree, the Trotternish Ridge is the edge of an ancient lava sheet that stretches for around 20 miles creating a line of continuous cliffs and unusual rock format–ions. The Quiraing, located on the ridge, is perhaps one of the most amazing landscape features in Scotland.

SHOPPING

Jewellery and cashmere knitwear are top buys. Jewellery is unparalleled in quality and design and sweaters are the finest money can buy. For lovers of adventure sports, there are some great companies selling gear for walkers and anglers.    

   The Storrs, a rocky hill on the Trotternish peninsula, consists of a number of weirdly shaped rock pinnacles, the remains of ancient volcanic plugs. Look out for the rocky spike of the Old Man of Storrs, the spectacular Kit Rock and the ruins of DuntulmCastle.

   Our last stop was the picture postcard village of Stein at Waternish. Waternish magic begins with the FairyBridge and the spell-bounding panorama of LochBay. Top-quality accommodation and hospitality facilities make this spectacular peninsula the perfect place for exploring the rich history and wildlife of the area. Grownups can also enjoy the Talisker Distillery, the only one on Sky with an exhibition of the history of distilling in the area.

  The unsurpassed natural beauty and crisp clean air continue to draw thousands of visitors to Sky year after year. Despite this, the area retains its sense of wide open space and no matter how busy it gets through its numerous cultural festivals and galas, it is always possible to find peace and quiet some–where on the island. 

 

WAYFARER : The YARRA VALLEY,in Australia's Victoria state is a bubble of picturesque,old-fashioned Englishness-

                                                       Tourists ride the Puffing Billy as it puffs merrrily through the Dandenong hills

Travelling in Victoria u feel morph,shift shape,coalesce and reorganise on the inside.

The upper Yarra Valley - Victoria's wine-growing,cheese-making region,a couple of hours out of Melbourne.Part of the journey is aboard Puffing Billy,the Valley's much-loved steam engine ,a relic from the early 19th century when the Aboriginal upper reaches were opened up to white settlers.

                                                                                       A swipping view of Yarra Valley

Puffing Billy looks like something out of a Noddy book as does the silver-haired,twinkle-eyed engine-driver.In fact,the drive through the Dandenong hills passes through a world that's part Agatha Christie,part Hallmark,mostly Enid Blyton.

Little timber-houses with picket fencing,picturesque teashops with cuckoo-clocks and logfires,and faux antique shops,with names like Nanna's Place,Snooty Fox,Tessie Bear...Puffing Billy puffs its way merrily at 20km/hr along the narrow metre-gauge rail through the misty green Dandenong hills.These forests are fern,wattle and red gum - a variety of eucalyptus.The drive through the Dandenongs takes you past tall trees,washed and glistening after a fine wind-blown spray of rain.U can stop at a village called Sassafras where u will be served Darjeeling tea and scones at a cafe called Miss Marple's Tea-Room.Lacy curtains,timber rafters,a cosy fire and Yuletide decor (in July)-the theme thing is clearly taken very seriously in the Dandenongs.

                                                                    Miss Marple's Tea Room is a cosy cafe in Sassafras villga

                                                                        Children pose for a snap at the Healesville Sanctuary

In the picturesque-book village are little curio shops selling tea-towels,china animals,wind-chimes,Victorian dolls and all manner of period English kitsch.Lunch is at an even more droll place 'The Cuckoo' further up in Olinda.It has a Bavarian theme - with a crackling log fire,yodeling ,accordion-laying musicians and cow-bells tinkling,it is an instant ticket to high mountain passes,lonely goatherds and edelweiss in bloom.The tall tress and fern gullies of the Dandenongs open onto the rolling hills of the Yarra Valley,Victoria's wine-producing countryside.There are vineyards everywhere,some 500 of them,from small family holdings to large estates like the 320-acre Domaine Chandon veneyard.The region's cool climate makes it just right for producing Chardonnay and Pinot Noir and even sparkling wines.

Now cheese,that's a different matter entirely.Yarra's fresh cheese is reason enough for a gourmet pilgrimage.Happy cows make good cheese and the plump Jersey cows that graze this sunlit valley are a blissed-out lot.

At the HEALESVILLE SANCUARY- a misty green world where animals lounged and snoozed in an almost wild environment.At the cafe shop here u can have didgeridoo-an aboriginal wind instrument  and a music CD to play as background score to the stories u could tell your children of kookaburas,possums and platypus.There is art in these hills as well as.The Tarrawarra Museum,quite apart from its collection of modern Australian art,and its gifted curator Jenna Blyth,is an inspired piece of architecture.

Atop a green hill and overlooking a lake,every window ceiling is high,framing the landscape like it are a living oil-on-canvas.

 

READY RECKONER

Getting there :Yarra Valley is only an hour's drive Melbourne and is surrounded by The Great Dividing Range and the Dandenongs.

Where to stay :There is plenty of accommodation available for tourists at various budgets.Renting private apartments is also a popular option amongst tourists to Yarra.

Best time to visit :November to April is the best time to visit Australia.Visiting Yarra Valley during the annual Grape Grazing Festival in February makes for a beautiful experience though.Guests are encouraged to "graze" - visit several wineries and sample the wine and food at each winery.For more information visit www.grapegrazing.com.au

Currency :The Australian dollar or A$=37.74 INR approximately.

Web watch : for more information,log onto www.visitvictoria.com

TRAVEL TRIVIA : Yalumba is Australia's oldest family-owned winery in Angaston in Barossa Valley.Samuel Smith,British migrant and English brewer founded it on 30 acres in 1849.Smith and his son began planting the first vines by moonlight and Samuel named his patch "Yalumba" - aboriginal for "all the land around".

 

A ROCKING TIME

If u are tired of beaches,mountains and historical monuments,try a cave holiday-

How about holidaying like never before ?Without mountains or beaches,water sports or even a gondola ride.Instead,how about plunging into the heart of darkness and winding your way through mysterious networks of caves ?If u are game for a little adventure and are willing to put on your walking shoes u could head off to exotic corners of the world - think Malaysia,Australia,New Zealand or even Turkey.In Malaysia u can trek along the long and exotic Mulu Caves known for their archaeological finds and numerous underground rivers.

If u are headed  to New Zealand,the magnificent Waitomo Caves in Rotorua may cast a spell on u.Also Australia's Jenolan Caves about 175km west of Sydney with underground rivers could be your exciting holiday retreat.Or perhaps u could visit Turkey's chimney-like caves in Cappadocia - famous for the soft rock formations created by arid climate and slow erosion.

MALAYSIA

U must have visited the Petronas Twin Towers and Genting Highlands but u have not explored Malaysia yet if u haven't been to the famous caves in Gunung Mulu National Park in Sarawak,declared a World Heritage Site in 2001.Almost 200km of the caves in Mulu have been surveyed - but u have to go in with a guide,of course.

Another attraction at the site is the 151km Clearwater Cave,the 10th longest in the world.With its subterranean river,it is Southeast Asia's longest cave passage and can be reached by a longboat.Another popular destination is the Niah Caves famous for their prehistoric paintings and rock formations.This is Malaysia's oldest archaeological site.

HOT TICKET !

TRAC :A three night and four day package to Mulu Caves inclusive of return airfare with taxes on Singapore Airlines,airport transfers,accommodation in three or four star hotel with breakfast,and half-day city sightseeing costs Rs.28,999 along with a chance to visit Penang.

NEW ZEALAND

Try and imagine a boat trip where u travel through caves with millions of glow worms emitting spots of light from all around.A trip to Waitomo Glowworm Caves,Rotorua in New Zealand promises just that.And u get to do an adventurous rafting trip too.Another must visit is the Aranui Cave just 3km or a short five minute drive from the Waitomo Glowworm Caves,known for its beautiful limestone and cave coral formations.

HOT TICKET !

Cox & Kings :A seven-day and six-night trip to Bay od Islands.Rotorua and Auckland will cost u Rs.56,500.This includes return  airfare,three-star accommodation,airport transfers,transport by self-driven rental vehicle with standard vehicle insurance and pick-up fees.The only additional cost is airline tax/airport tax of Rs.22,500 per person.

AUSTRALIA

Ideal for a day trip,Jenolan Caves are located 182km west of  Sydney.There are nine caves open to the public with spectacular lighting,underground rivers and cave formations.Jenolan Caves also offer adventure tours,picnic facilities and bush walking tracks.There are two large caverns here-the Devil's Coach House which is about 49m high while the other is called the Grand Archway which is 137 m long.Another interesting feature here is the large window-like cave remnant called Carlotta Arch looking out high above the Devil's Coach House.

HOT TICKET !

Jenolan Caves House : Day tour per couple will cost u Rs.64,366.This includes limousine service,scenic railway,morning tea,lunch,wine and cave tour.An addition of cave house dinner,bed and breakfast will cost Rs.81,000.

TURKEY

Cappadocia in Turkey and is famous for its rock formations.The Cappadocia Caves are known for their moon-like landscape,underground cities,cave churches and even houses carved in the rocks.There are also a number of cave hotels.

Another major attraction in Turkey is Pamukkale if u want to find yourself holidaying amidst spectacular white cascades.Water deposited on white terrace-like plateau is said to have healing effect on the eyes and skin.U can also visit the resort town Kusadasi which has a number of restaurants and good markets,or even head for Canakkale known for its great archaeological museum.

HOT TICKET !

Cox & Kings : A seven day and six night stay and visit to Istanbul,Cappadocia,Pamukkale,Kusadasi and Canakkale will cost Rs.53,999 per person(exit Mumbai).This includes return airfare,accommodation,overseas Mediclaim policy,meals,coach tours,airport transfers,entrance fees,sightseeing and a guided tour.

 

NEW ZEALAND is the most beautiful country in the world

Even you will want to take a closer look-

See New Zealand like you've never seen it before.Catch a bird's eye view of the stunning countrysude from atop a hot air balloon.Paraglide into the sunset,or meet a live volcano at White Island.Create your own private spa at the Hot Water Beach in the North Island.Visit the Royal Albatross Colony in Dunedin,or go fly fishing in Taupo and Southland.Explore the Abet Tasman National Park on foot,or drive through some stunning pastoral countryside in a luxury car.Stay in New Zealand's finest lodges like Huka,Azur,Millbrook,Remarkables or Matakauri.Experience the thrills of kayaking in Queenstown.Luxuriate in one of nature's finest creations,the Bay of Islands,or pamper yourself in some of the most authentic spas in the world.Why breeze through New Zealand,when you can savour every moment on a specially customized holiday with us.

For a trully unforgettable holiday experience,log on to www.mercurytravels.co.in

 

 VISIT MALAYSIA ----

LANGKAWI UNPLUGGED

Ride the cable car over sun kissed islands.Feed eagles on a mangrove tour.Go island hopping.Take a romantic cruise at dusk.

CROCODILES AND BUTTERFLIES

Greet the crocs at the Crocodile Park.Wander through orchid gardens,butterfly farms and tea plantations.Meet lions on your safari,and orangutans on your jungle trek.It's Malaysia gone wild.

COCKTAILS AT 282 METRES

Drop by at a snake temple in Penang.Cruise down the Malacca River.Sip on a cocktail at dinner on the KL Tower,with a superb view over Kuala Lumpur.

NOTHING LIKE HOME

Stay at the most opulent hotels,including The JW Marriot in KL and the Pangkor Laut Resort in Pangkor.And did i mention,private transfers everywhere.

UNDISCOVERED MALAYSIA

The waterfall trail at Kota Kinabalu.The night safari at Taman Negara.A trishaw ride at Penang.Malaysia is so much more than beautiful beaches and buzzing cityscapes.And here's your chance to discover it.Kuoni Holidays has wandered deep into the heart of the country's jungles and villages to bring u the real Malaysian experience.

Luxury at fabulous value ! To customise your holiday to Malaysia,visit www.kuoniholidays.co.in