Sunday, January 6, 2013

13 places to visit in 2013

With a stunning location and a beautiful climate on the Elbe close to the Czech border, coupled with Baroque style architecture, art collections and museums galore, Dresden has been nick named ‘Elbflorenz’ aka Florence of the Elbe. Since the German reunification in 1990, Dresden has re-emerged as a cultural, educational, political and economic centre of Germany. Though the city still bears many wounds from the bombing raids of 1945, today you can see a fairly well rebuilt old city with its famous opera house, palace (it used to be the royal residence of Saxony), castle and church and a thriving new city on the northern bank. 

The finest views of Europe’s longest glacier can be had via a spectacular walk from the top of cable cars off the Goms valley, and a boat tour of Europe's largest underground lake is one of the more unusual journeys in a canton full of pleasant surprises.  The Valais is a well-kept secret, totally undisturbed, and a paradise for walkers. One can hardly see another soul, just great herds of chamois and ibex, or shepherds in their ancient transhumance chalets, still producing fresh milk and cheeses from their cows. One can walk through fragrant, gentle pastures that sway with dozens of rare wild flowers including alp roses, hairy daphnes and white asphodel, as well as numerous unusual butterflies that inhabit the valley.

Situated just three hours from Paris by TGV (high speed train), with services to Montpellier International Airport, the region boasts a wealth of different landscapes, traditions and talents waiting to be discovered. It is filled with breath-taking coastline, some of France’s best cuisine, rich medieval history and amazing architecture like chateaux (castles) and cathedrals. Bordering Provence, the Languedoc Roussillon is just as charming and beautiful, also touches the Mediterranean, but is less tourist-ridden and less expensive. France’s most up and coming wines are from this region. It is also a far cry from the Provence or the Cote d’Azur vacation spots many tourists flock to.

Hidden behind the plains of the Masai Mara, the beaches of Mombasa, and the peak of Mt. Kenya , Lamu does not appear on package tours or safaris, hence seems to have remained under the radar of most mainstream tourism. One would arrive on this tropical island in sunshine, and witness the white sand beaches and turquoise sea and will be mesmerised at once. The town has earned itself UNESCO world heritage site status owing to its mysterious narrow pathways and beautifully carved wood and traditional houses. It feels like being in another world, in fact more like Islam than Africa.

Autumn it’s arguably the best time to visit the region and feel the crunch of leaves underfoot while one walks and in spring one can enjoy the famous Tulip time festival. After a browse in the treasure cove of specialty shops, cafes and galleries in beautiful historic Berrima one can stop by at “Whitehorse Inn” for some English Tea and scones accompanied with blueberry and raspberry jam and fresh cream. To stay, the “peppers Manor House” commands one of the prime positions and all rooms reflect the ambience and character of an intimate country retreat.

A world heritage site in Sri Lanka, it is Asia’s best preserved city of the first millennium. Showing complex urban planning around the base of a rock and sheer bravado in the palace perched on the summit. The summit of this rock is 180 m (600ft) above the surrounding jungle and was the location for a courtly paradise of pavilions, gardens and pools. It’s a good approx. 1500 steps climb to the top of the rock.  Sigirya Village is a beautiful concept hotel situated against the backdrop of the Sigiriya Rock. Vast gardens and lotus pools are everywhere – a natural antidote to an exhausting day spent sight-seeing.

With 56 number 1 singles hits, the first being 1953’s, Lita Roza’s, ‘How Much is that Doggy in the Window’, Liverpool is also the Pop Capital of the World. It was an extremely wealthy centre of shipping during the 19th century, and the buildings downtown are magnificent. Down the main street there is some classic architecture around such as St George Hall. The cathedral is massive, as are the civic buildings and museums. They’re mostly built in neo-classical styles so you have gigantic columns, grand entranceways and ornate exteriors. The museums are world-class and the admission is, in most cases, free. And of course there are all the Beatles sites and attractions.

Beautiful, tranquil, mesmerizing with its historical flair and traditional sensibilities Kyoto’s status as the cultural capital of Japan is well deserved. Grab a 500 yen all day bus pass which gives access to all the major historical sites and areas. ‘Kinkakuji’, the Temple of the Golden Pavilion is a must see where each floor represents a different style of architecture. The gilded pagoda is itself beautiful, and one would enjoy walking the path as the garden utilises the sight of a local mountain with selected rocks placed in the pond coupled with a lookout area along it. A visit here is incomplete without a tofu meal. Fresh tofu in Japan is far better than it is anywhere else, and Kyoto is deemed the place in the country to eat quality tofu, so don’t miss that either.

Most of the shops are around little waterways and greenery is all around, it wasn’t a wonder why Cork has an ‘Irish’ feel to it. It’s a city with some character that’s for sure, and a much more recent history and greatly rewards the visitor who grabs a map-not that you can ever really get lost in the ordered grid of roads. A small entrance housed in a large, brick-and-cast-iron Victorian building, is huge and a mecca for foodies. The official name being Princes Street Market, though locally known as the English Market is a must visit and yes there’s lot more to explore like the ‘Blarney Castle’ and history of the famed ‘Claddah Ring’

Take a walk through the quaint town surrounded by misty mountain landscape and lush green tea plantations to familiarize you with the layout. Interestingly this capital of West Java province, in ancient times was known as Parijs van Java (Dutch) or “Paris of Java”, needless to add you can spend the entire day browsing the different Factory Outlets of expensive brands (read Louis Vuitton, Burberry etc.) starting off with Cascade and moving on to the best one in the evening which is Rumah Moda, for the best designs and prices. Do not forget to down thirty kilometres north to the fabled crater of Mt. Tangkuban Perahu (translates into upturned boat in Sundanese), which happens to be the only ‘drive-up’ volcano on the island.

Spread over an area of 50 acres, near Victoria on Vancouver Island, the Butchart Gardens Keep it vibrating all throughout the year from the summers to the chilly winters. It is hard to put into words just how beautiful the gardens are and the brochure doesn’t exaggerate when it says, ‘ravishing floral splendour greets you at every turn.’ If you happen to visit Vancouver Island I would highly recommend this especially if you appreciate a lazy afternoon strolling the paths, enjoying the scenery, and simply relaxing! The Butchart Gardens has been recognized by The Gardens being named as a National Historic Site of Canada on the occasion of its Centennial Year in 2004.

I have realized that Singapore is an ideal destination if you enjoy bonding with your family with all the cultural diversity and impressive bigness you would expect, and there is something new to do in each visit. The country offers the promise of a deeper and more engaging experience beyond a usual holiday; through experiential and shared learning activities, which can get one drawn to an emotional connection between you and the destination. You would return home enriched, as you get to explore an ‘experiential touch-do-and-engage holiday’ instead of the mere ‘checklist holiday’.

Howdy! If you're planning a holiday to Dallas & Fort Worth area I highly suggest you go to the Stockyards in Fort Worth to get a real Texas (aka Tejas) experience. The Stockyards which is about 125 acres was of one of the biggest sale yards in America at one time. Now it’s a small town with businesses, houses and in the centre of it all they have kept the heart of the old time alive.  I would say that while so many destinations let you play cowboy for a few days, a visit to Fort Worth gives you a chance to see the “Cowboy Way of Life” up close and personal.

 published in fnl