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December 2007

Japan-Moving Forward, Preserving the Past



Very few places in the world offer travelers the chance to visit some of the most well-preserved and beautiful historic sites and then just across the street, ultra-modern sights, buildings, and futuristic diversions, but Mount FujiJapan does. Few countries can manage to pull off the peaceful serenity of the ancient temples, centuries-old Zen gardens, shrines, and palaces, right alongside totally mechanized and automated convenience stores, bullet trains, and buildings and museums dedicated to the commercial and technological enterprises that have defined Japan since the Second World War. Whether a spiritual, relaxing time in the gorgeous natural world that Japan offers, or an electric, cosmopolitan experience in one of the country’s major urban centers, visitors can find whatever they are looking for. . .if their wallets and credit cards can handle the beating that a trip to Japan will surely incur.

In Japan, all roads go through Tokyo, the country’s capital city, and one of the great cities in the world. Tokyo is at once a cultural mecca, exciting and electric consumer center, and historical and traditional seat of the Japanese people. The city is a eclectic mix of classical Japanese architecture alongside the glossy, mirrored post-modern skyscrapers that house some of the world’s biggest companies, such as Sony, Toyota, and Fuji TV. The Japanese are a people crazed and consumed with sports and gaming, and the city offers amusement parks, such as the Tokyo Joyopolis, which is videogame maker, Sega’s, high-tech wonderland, featuring games, indoor roller coasters, and virtual reality amusements. Also wild about baseball, Americans will especially enjoy seeing the Japanese version of the American pastime at the Tokyo Dome, where fans sing together during the games, and have a variety of cheers that liven up the games. Cultural buffs will find their share of sights in the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Art, Metropolitan Museum of Photography, and the National Museum. The Japanese are also known for their romantic trysts held in secret ‘love hotels’. For the more daring souls, a trip to Love Hotel Hill on the top of Dogenzaka will yield the largest number of these special hotels which can be rented by the hour. For late night partygoers, the Hill is located near many bars and clubs, and can be a good place to crash for a few hours before heading home.

Japan has a fairly mild climate, but does have four seasons, none of which are insufferable. Winters in most parts of the country are cool to cold, with occasional freezing temperatures and snowfall. Rainfall comes fairly regularly throughout the year, but mid-summer sees an increase. Summer temperatures can get up to 30 Celsius in parts of the country, but average summer temperatures are around 23 degrees.

Japan has a new law that travelers should be aware of. In an effort to fight terrorism, foreigners entering the country will be fingerprinted and photographed, and this data can be cross-referenced against records from around the world. Travelers from most Western countries and Australia do not need visas before traveling, and will receive a 90 day stamp upon arrival.

Japan is one of the few places in the world where the future and the past coexist in relative harmony. Travelers can spend their day visiting some of the most beautiful Zen gardens in the world, centuries-old temples, and shrines to ancient gods and goddesses, then have a bite to eat in a fully automated sushi bar, where the dishes come around on conveyor belts, and then go to sleep in a futuristic sleeping cube in a ‘capsule inn’, a hotel designed to maximize space by offering quality, yet extremely tiny rooms. Japan is a country of extremes, which makes it tops on the list of places to visit. The electricity and action of the cities are so omnipresent and almost overwhelming, that when you do find some peace and serenity in a park or garden, it just seems that much more relaxing!

Vietnam-Tropical Mountain Haven



Vietnam lies in the heart of the Indochinese region and is composed almost entirely, of hills and mountain ranges. The climate in Vietnam is one of moist, tropical heat, making it a vast haven for flora and fauna of Sappa Vietnamdiverse beauty, and an array of species that are native to very few other environments on the planet. Hanoi is the capital city of Vietnam, and there are sixty-four provinces located in the country, each with its own people, and colourful traditions. The country itself is actually shaped somewhat like an ‘S’, and is neighboured by Laos and Cambodia, as well as the Pacific Ocean to the East and South, and the East Sea to the East of the country as well. Because of its convenient location in both the Pacific and Indian Ocean, the ports in Vietnam make up a very important trading environment for many countries.

Some of the most popular activities for tourists in Vietnam are the colourful traditional festival of the region; as well as the shopping in the country’s cities and villages for exotic souvenirs, and ethnic clothing.

  • In Hanoi there are large shopping districts, for the tastes of anyone’s interests, whether it’s food, outdoor produce markets, clothing, figurines, traditional artwork, or sculpture. Anything for anyone can be found in the busy streets of Hanoi.
  • The Christmas festivals in Vietnam are popular amongst tourists and natives alike. In Dam Sen, locals build an enormous Christmas cake and celebrate from December 22nd, all the way through New Years Day.
  • Spring and Summer festivals, such as the Chol Chnam Thmay Festival, and Tet Doan Ngo celebrate the coming of spring, and warmer months, as well as the warding off of bad spirits that may harm crops or good fortune.
  • Tet Trung Thu and the Cau Phuc Festival occur in the autumn months and are occasions where prayer and celebration takes place for the welcoming of the harvest season, as well as prayers for good fortune in the months to come.
  • Vam Sat, part of the Can Gio mangrove forest region, is a very popular place for those interested in eco-tourism, or viewing the native wildlife in the mangroves from the perspective of a slow moving boat, or guided nature hike, as well as viewing beautiful and rare flora.

The foods found in Vietnam have been mistaken over the years by many people; for instance, depending on what region you’re in, you may encounter a lot of vegetarian dishes, because of the high population of practicing Buddhists. Another fact is that duck, goat, and lamb, despite being used frequently as meats in neighbouring countries in the Indochina region, are not popular and used very rarely in Vietnamese dishes. Instead, beef, chicken, pork, tropical fish, and prawns are the most popular meats to use in cooking in Vietnam. When attending cocktail parties in Vietnam, it’s very wise advice to pay special attention to the appetizers and hors d’oeuvres. Snake and soft-shell turtle are considered delicacies at cocktail parties. And in Northern Vietnam, if you find it offensive or unethical to eat dog meat, pay plenty of attention to the menu.

In smaller villages, or crowded cities, you may want to rely either on transportation by bicycle, or on foot. When it comes to larger urban areas, such as Hanoi, be patient, if you’re driving a car, riding in a bus, or taxi. There will be traffic. However, driving in the country, if you plan to see much of Vietnam, can be relaxing; or if you don’t plan to drive, you can always travel city to city by rail. As for accommodations in Vietnam, it’s always good to plan a reservation at a hotel in advance, and usually stick to commercial lodging instead of that offered by private residences, for hygiene and safety reasons.

Seychelles-Life In The Archipelago



The Seychelles are located very near the equator, in the Indian Ocean off of the coast of Africa and is actually made up of 115 islands, both coral and granite. Forty-one of the islands are large enough to be called Cousine Island Seychellesthe Inner Islands, composed entirely of granite, as well as being the oldest oceanic granite islands in the world. The seventy-four Outer Islands are actually composed entirely of coral atolls, that have formed islets. One of the most famous natural and geographical attributes is also the world’s largest raised coral atoll, called Aldabra, and was first discovered thousands of years ago, by Arabian sailors. There are three main islands, Mahé, Praslin and La Digue, where the culture and economy of Seychelles are centred. The other islands in which can be found accommodation are Bird Island, Cerf, Chauve, Souris, Cousine, Denis Island, Frégate, North Island, Round Island (Praslin), Silhouette, Ste. Anne.

The islands in Seychelles are a great opportunity to share various activities with your family, relax, or go out and discover the islands on your own.

  • Visitors can enjoy snorkeling, swimming, lounging on the famously gorgeous, and uncrowded beaches of Seychelles.
  • Hop from one island to another by boat, with guided tours, or rent a boat, and take yourself and your family on an adventure.
  • Go bicycling, horseback riding, walking, or hiking on some of the natural trails found throughtout the lush forest in Seychelles.
  • Take a tour through the famous Vallee de Mai, where you’ll discover the rare, and legendary Coco-de-Mer, which can only be found in Seychelles, extinct in all other parts of the world.
  • Lounge in the laid back atmosphere of Seychelles casinos, bars, and nightclubs. Enjoy the local company, music, and cuisine.
  • Tour the cities in Seychelles, and discover authentic Creole homes, and lifestyles, street-side markets, the studios of local artists, and much more.

The majority of cuisines you’ll find when in Seychelles is Creole, or International; International basically means a little bit of this and that for the tourists. Creole cuisine has been made famous in the United States by where it is usually served in New Orleans, Louisiana. Creole cuisine is a fusion of different ethnicity, such as French, Spanish, French Caribbean, African, as well as some Italian influences. Many people are confused between Cajun and Creole, and usually conclude that they’re the same; this is inaccurate. Cajun is more an American development, whereas Creole leans more towards its European origins. Popular Creole dishes that you’ll find in Seychelles are Crabmeat Ravigote, Gumbo, Chicken Creole, Maque choux, Bread pudding, Grillades and Grits, as well as some exceptional Creole drinks, such as Hurricanes, and Sazerac cocktails.

Getting around in Seychelles in generally hassle-free, there are domestic flights for getting back and forth between the major islands, and ferries as well, which will take you to other islands as well. Visitors can also take advantage of buses, and taxis in Seychelles; public transportation is modern and clean. There is also the option of renting a vehicle; Seychelles isn’t especially over-populated and driving from place to place doesn’t involve a lot of waiting in traffic. Accommodation options in Seychelles are numerous depending on tastes; visitors can patronize five star luxury hotels and spa resorts, cozy beach-side cottages and bungalows, or stay in more rustic campgrounds or lodges.

Ivory Coast-The Paris of West Africa



The Côte d’Ivoire or Ivory Coast is located on the southern coast of the rounded northwestern area of Africa, with beaches facing the Atlantic Ocean. The Guinea Highlands to the east are the only actual geological rise, other than Ivory Coastthat, most of the Ivory Coast is a great plateau of land, that slightly dips down to the Atlantic Ocean. The three main regions of the Ivory Coast, are the savanna, the forest, and the coast. Climates in all three areas can differ either greatly or slightly, depending on the time of year. It’s always best to check with your travel agent on what the weather will be like where you plan to spend the duration of your visit. The coastal region does in fact get the most rain, but in the dry period, from December to April, the skies are clear, and further towards spring the climate is at a level of comfort most can enjoy without being too hot or cold.

Despite the popular opinion, Western Africa is not purely culture-oriented, while South Africa is of course, not purely wildlife-oriented either. The most popular attraction to the Ivory Coast, aside from her beautiful shoreline, terrain, and natural surroundings, is the wildlife preserve within, called the Tai National Park, which was originally criticised because it boasted a jungle atmosphere for wildlife, whereas most believe that real jungles can only be found in South America. The Tai area does contain jungle ecosystems, and actually covers almost half of the land in Western Africa. Going for a tour, or a taking a safari through the Tai National Park, is a jungle fantasy come true for many visitors.

The traditional and native tongue in the Ivory Coast region is French, so the cuisine in that area does have some French influence, but the flavours of course are mainly African. Grains and tube vegetables, –potatoes, carrots, yams, sweet potatoes, etc., make up a large portion of the Ivorians’ diet. A popular dish served by street vendors and corner stores, is called “aloco” which is made from spiced banana, cooked with palm oil, with chili or served with fish. Other favourite dishes are chilled avocado soup, Sauce Claire and Fufu, Cucumber zucchini salad, halibut fresh from the Ivory Coast. The restaurants most commonly found on the Ivory Coast are called ‘maquis’ which are basically open air establishments, that combine indoor and outdoor for a pleasing dining experience.

As far as accommodations go in the Ivory Coast, the safest places to spend the duration of your stay is in hotels. Guest houses and other lodging is available, but more often than not are prone to crime, and theft. Getting around by car is the best possible way to travel throughout the Ivory Coast, and also the safest. It’s best to arrange a car rental before hand, rather than be in an urban area on foot. If necessary, be sure to get a cab to wherever you’re going, if in a heavily populated area. When traveling on highways, military checkpoints can slow things down quite a bit, however.

Majestic India



India is one of the most attractive, and alluring travel destinations on the planet because of its geography, and terrain. From the Himalayan Mountains, to the golden expanse of beaches, running for endless miles along Shanti Stupa at Leh, Ladakhher shores, and the tropical retreats within the misty jungles further inland, India continues to enchant visitors from all over the globe. India also happens to be the most densely populated democracy in the world, and it continues to grow, while the economy takes small steps in relieving the poverty, and hardship that many of her natives suffer from. In the mean time, over sixty percent of the world’s tiger population resides in India, where the species continues to grow, thriving along with the people of India, in both population, and health.

India’s various wildlife, and natural attractions also bring visitors from all over the world, to visit almost one hundred different natural parks, and over four hundred wildlife preserves, where tourists and respectful travelers can view wildlife behaving naturally, tigers behaving in their own eco-structure, far removed from zoos, and other restricted care facilities. Several heritage festivals as well, are also an attraction to India, where travelers can watch timeless celebrations of life and harvest. If visitors properly schedule their stay, they’ll find a festival or holiday to celebrate each day. There are also historical museums, where families can share and learn the colourful tapestry that is Indian heritage, as well as art galleries, in which visitors can view some of native India’s finest art.

Indian cuisine is world renowned for its spice, and creativity. Curry, the word used by America today, in India is actually called “kari” which is not a powder, but instead a blend of many aromatic and flavourful spices such as turmeric, cardamom, ginger, coriander, nutmeg and poppy seed. Kari is not the only seasoning found in India, although it is used frequently; most Indian cooks keep over twenty-five exotic spices and spice blends in their kitchens. Vegetarian dishes are most of the far in South India because they are grown bountifully, and in many areas, therefore also cheap; however, vegetable dishes are also cooked wonderfully. In Northern India you’re likely to eat more grain based and meat dishes, seasoned just as well as vegetable dishes found South India. Some examples of North Indian cuisine are specialties like Parsi Dhan Sak, which is chicken or lamp, that has been cooked with lentils, or pomfret, which is Indian salmon.

MunnarWhen traveling in India, whether from city to city, or staying in one area, usually, it’s a good idea to rent a vehicle, unless you plan on shopping in unpaved or no-vehicle areas, like street markets, or a row of vendors. Public transportation in large cities such as Mumbai are ill-advised, however, in other smaller cities, it can be safer. Riding a bicycle or walking is a good idea, so long as you travel in daylight, and not for long distances in the heat. Hotels in India are also the best places to stay; there are rooms for travelers of every size budget as well. Staying in guesthouses or in the homes of others is a little less than ideal because of the risk, unless they are personal friends.

Poland-Tradition and History in the Heart of Europe



Poland is located in Central Europe, and bordered by several countries, including Germany, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic, and is also considered to be part of Eastern Europe at times. Because of the way Poland Tarta Mountains in Polandhas been situated between so many countries, it’s history is rich with struggles, and wars, and the Polish people have learned through the centuries to battle for the ownership of their country. As a matter of fact, Poland was the first “state” in Eastern Europe, when it was considered to be in Eastern Europe, to escape from communism. Once the bonds were broken between the communist states, Poland has since undergone many cultural and economic changes.

The most popular destinations in Poland are The Royal Castle, in Krakow, The Royal Way in Gdansk, The Concentration Camp, in Auschwitz, The Old Town, in Warsaw, and The Old Town, in Wroclaw. The Royal Castle on Wawel is one of the most beautiful sites in Poland to visit because of its rich history, and mash-up of different architectural styles, including both Gothic and Roman. The Royal Way, is actually only five hundred meters of street, however, the antique architecture sights located along the way are treasures unto themselves, and combined with the stone street make a very picturesque scene to walk along. The concentration camp in Auschwitz is a sight that all should see, a very sobering destination, where the tragedy, and solemnity can truly be felt. The Old Town, Warsaw, called “Stare Miasto” is famously popular for its architectural beauty, after it was restored after World War II, where tourists will find both stylish cafes, and ancient cathedrals.

Travelers visiting Poland for the food may have a few surprises in store for them, with so many different countries surrounding their borders, and the mix of cultures in the country itself, the traditional foods served are a mix of Jewish, Slavic, and other foreign cuisine. Most of the dishes in Poland include pork and cabbage, like the national dish, called “bigos” which is basically cabbage with pieces of beef and pork. Lunches consist usually of three courses, starting popularly with beet soup, or sour rye meal mash, then an appetizer of either salmon or herring, and the main course might be the national dish, or another favorite, breaded pork cutlet.

The best times to visit Poland are usually in the summer, however, these are also mixed with rain, but are all in all, the best season for travelers, since autumn generally begins in September. Just like visiting any other country, when traveling in the off-season, visitors and tourists can expect much smaller crowds, but activities are much more limited due to the change in season, not to mention, travel becoming more difficult due to winter weather as well.

Hitchhiking-Tips, Information, And Awareness



Hitchhiking is by far the cheapest way to travel across countries, all over the world. Basically, hitchhiking is the custom of procuring a ride by standing next to a road, extending a thumb, and hoping someone that Dont Pick Up Hitchhikersisn’t an axe-murderer stops and picks you up. Surprisingly, hitchhiking is actually overly exaggerated as being risky. There are risks, but it’s not absolutely and completely deadly as most seem to believe. In Europe, Asia, and many other parts of the world hitchhiking is much more common than it is in the United States. Hitchhikers can become very frustrated though, regardless of where they travel, as more and more drivers refuse to stop, because hitchhiking has become less popular and more frowned upon than it was in the past. Most of the people who pick up hitchhikers are friendly; few are unsafe, but it’s important to remember that there are unsafe drivers. However, there are some basic safety precautions that you can take when hitchhiking, to both ensure a safer ride, and a more efficient one.

Before you start hitchhiking, it’s a good idea to know the language of the region, at least a little bit. English is actually spoken in quite a few places, however, knowing the language of the country you’re traveling to helps with some important communication issues; such as where you’re going, and what you’re not willing to do for the ride. Also have a map of the area; know where you’re going. Also, carry plenty of food and drink with you; gas stations may be a tad too expensive. Also, hitchhiking is sometimes illegal along certain stretches of road, so make sure you’re aware of any signs that prohibit hitchhiking. Also, wear brighter colours; black and dark colours might not win you much credibility in the eyes of drivers. Be sure to bring a parka, or raincoat, and a jacket, in case of unexpected rain, or cold winds. If you have one, some more seasoned hitchhikers recommend bringing along a folding bike as back-up transportation.

Location is very important to getting a ride; you want to be in a safe position, where drivers can see you early enough to have time to think it over, and then pull off and stop. Don’t try getting a ride off of busy highways, where drivers can’t stop, or are travelling at high speeds. Also, catching a ride in a downtown city should be avoided as well; most drivers are going short distances, and inner city areas can be dangerous, as criminals tend to single out foreigners as prey. Instead, take a bus to the edge of town, and hitchhike from there. Catching a ride at night isn’t particularly easy, because wariness of drivers is much higher. Instead, if you remembered to pack a small tent and sleeping bag, set up camp somewhere a safe distance from the road, preferably a public camping ground, where you won’t be fined for trespassing. There are also websites where you can find ride connections, which some find to be much safer; you can request the person’s ID card number, and give it to someone at home, for safety reasons, then ask to see the ID when meeting your ride. If the driver is genuine, they’ll understand the precaution.

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