Europe and North America - Spain, Turkey, Ireland, Hawaii, Bermuda, Turks and Caicos
A rendezvous across Europe certainly seems very promising. The cobbled streets, the mesmerizing architecture, unearthly gastronomical pleasures, the prized art collections - this is Europe. The sandy beaches, a humming cosmopolitan culture, the grand citadels and flamboyant nightlife - this too is Europe.
I have chosen 3 countries in Europe for now - the outrageously flamboyant Spain, the enchantingly beautiful Turkey, and the land of fairies Ireland. Have a read:
Europe at night (Source: Phil Plait)
Da la bienvenida a España! Spain Welcomes you! One of the most visually stunning countries in the world, the awe that it inspires comes not only from nature's extravaganza but also from the myriad of tastes, colors and fragrance that run a riot with one's senses.
Albarracín (XVI) (NO HDR) (Source: José Luis Mieza)
Weather is Spain usually reminds us of a sun-soaked afternoon withe the soft humming of bees, a soothing breeze and the heady aroma from the vineyard yonder.
The Alhambra or the Calat Alhambra meaning "the red fortress" gives you a glimpse of the Oriental. Built by the Moorish Empire of the Emirate of Granada in the mid 14th Century, it is a tribute to medieval Islamic architecture and grandeur.
Granada - Alhambra Corner - Shoes on Wires (Source: Justus Hayes)
Also nearby in Granada is the La Catedral de Granada and the Capilla real.
A 16th century cathedral containing the tombs of Ferdinand and Isabella (the famed Catholic Monarchs who conquered the city), Juana la Loca, and Felipe el Hermoso.
Seville, the capital of Andalucia is the 4th largest city in Spain, with a population of about 1.4 million. With all the people, this city is also the very charm of Southern Spain. Located on the banks of the placid and smooth Guadalquivir River, the city is divided into two, on on either side of the river - Sevilla and Triana.
Plaza de España de Sevilla (Source:Alquiler de Coches)
Must-sees here include the Cathedral of Seville, once judged the third largest cathedral in the world, it is now considered to be the largest, at least when measured in terms of volume as opposed to area. This 15th Century facade is built atop a mosque which was built during the 12th century and is the final resting place of Christopher Columbus.
Cathedral of Seville (Source: Parthiban Amarasigamani)
Walk around the Cathedral which makes up the ancient Jewish Quarter also known as the Barrio Santa Cruz. The place is a maze of small winding lanes and is by far, the most charming part of the city. Also noteworthy are the Plaza de España, the site for the 1929 Spanish exhibition.
Cuentos cortos de pura espeluznancia (Source: peribanyez)
Wine in Spain is as renowned as its sparkling twin is from the Champagne district of France. The heritage, the aroma, the rich color and the silk smooth taste..not to mention the almost sinful allure in the grapes even before they are plucked. A walk in the morning in the vineyard, and often poetry makes a lot more sense.
The capital and largest city of Spain; Madrid. This city is a wonder onto itself, from the awe-inspiring architecture and frescoes of El Prado museum to its buzzing with world famous nightlife, it is a city that never sleeps if there ever was one. Home of Real Madrid, football is a religion here and one should be careful what colors he wears on the streets, specially on match days.
The largest palace in Europe and certainly also one of the most beautiful. Palacio Real also houses a vast plain of concrete around it and the Real Armorial (Royal Armory), a two-story collection of medieval weapons and armor.
El Prado finds its rival only in the form of the Louvre. This place is an art lover's mecca. And even if one is not particularly an art enthusiast, the Prado is worth visiting just for the sheer feel of the place. Over 7000 masterpieces from the masters spanning centuries. The wealth of this place is staggering. Naked Maja, Velázquez, Las Meninas, you name it. Particularly notable are the works of Goya.
Cuadros en El Prado (Source: Antonio)
Barcelona, heart of the Spanish country, is one of the most exquisite cities that you can visit in all of Spain. This city is a Gothic and at the same time a Modernist marvel that makes the Mediterranean Sea, to give birth to it.
Las Ramblas - the central most boulevard that cuts straight through the middle of the Barcelona. The vibrant colors and lively atmosphere will make you want to sing and dance.
Malabares en Las Ramblas de Barcelona (Source: Kom bo)
Tibidabo is one place that's very hard to miss. No matter where you'll be standing in Barcelona, you'll always be able to see the mountain with the church on top. Tibidabo is the tallest mountain in the Serra de Collserola at 512 meters. It gives you absolutely fantastic views of the city while rising towards the north west.
Parc Guell was constructed by Antoni Guidi, a Catalan architect. It is a garden with architectural elements all around located on top of el Carmel hill in the Gracia district of Barcelona. Built between 1900 to 1914, Parc Guell is a part of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites, "Works of Antoni Gaudi".
Parc Guell (Source: Robert Young)
While entire Europe is replete with things to see, Turkey has a charm of its own that is quite unique. You could say that Turkey is the most fought after country in the world. Something not to be too proud of, I guess. But we are talking about knights, and majestic swords and immense ships here. They were bound to leave some marks.
The country's landscape is dotted with ancient battlegrounds, ruined palaces of once great empires, and mighty castles. Alexander the Great battled the Gordion Knot here. Achilles himself had his way with the Trojans in Homer’s Iliad. The fight of the Ottomans was here that went on to shape the world. That's something to pique anyone's interest.
Feeding Mill... (Source: KÄ±vanç NiÅŸ)
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Troy was destroyed and rebuilt nine times. And each of these have left a different layer of its own among the ruins. It has taken well over a century to undo the damages from amateurish archaeological excavations done by Heinrich Schliemann. However, the progress made in the last 10 years is really commendable.
Located 16 miles (26 km) from the Aegean Sea, perched atop a promontory upon the north bank of the Caicus river, is Pergamum - the older than the mountains Greek capital of the Kingdom of Pergamon which ruled in its glory during the Hellenistic period (of the Attalid dynasty, 281–133 BC).
Temple of Traian at Pergamum (Source: Julian Fong)
The acoustics were certainly better 3000 years ago, but that does not take anything away from this majestic place. From the upper tiers you get to see the sprawling vistas of the ancient Hierapolis - a place for the bards, and thanks to UNESCO, the glittering white terraces of Pamukkale.
Sacred Thermal Pool, Hierapolis (Source: Ming-yen Hsu)
The Blue Mosque has been Turkey's mascot to the world for many years. Standing majestically over the Sultanahmet Park, it proudly proclaims its stature. Under the glorious dome are hundreds of brilliant stained-glass windows that sparkle like jewels. Although called the Blue mosque, the facade is as likely to be orange, red or yellow, depending on the time that you choose to visit it.
Blue Mosque from Hagia Sophia (Source: decadence)
Down at the Cesme Peninsula is the Alacati Bay and this bay harbours a small beach so pristine that the very sand is smooth beyond belief. The aquamarine and shallow water without any obstructions and lofty winds are what characterizes this place. Beyond the beach are hills till as far you can see.
The hammam, or the Turkish bath which stems its roots from the Islamic ritual dictating cleanliness is the grand mother of all spas. Decorated with amazing artistic finesse, wooden details, candle lights, blissful and euphoric aroma, enchanting candles and a feel of royalty. The Hammam is vacation in itself.
hamam al malek al thaher (Source: Hussein Alazaat)
Ever thought of crossing over from one continent to another in 15 minutes? The silver line to Europe and quite literally, a boat ride up the Bosphorus gives you just that. Feel the breeze caressing you the way it must have caressed the likes of Constantine, Jason and Argonauts. Look upon great Ottoman domes and think of the ages gone by.
Bosphorus Bridge at night (Source: erenkumcuoglu)
The ethereal natural sights, the lingering Viking spirit, the cobbled stone streets of quaint little towns and cities still etched with medieval links - welcome to Ireland.
Galway - a quaint but thriving artsy city on Ireland's rugged western coast. The city's labyrinth of beautiful lanes, some dating back to the medieval times, still remain intact. At the same time, Galway has progressed to be a rich cosmopolitan city. Here you will find stone-walled cafes and enchantingly pastel-colored boutiques at the Quay Street. Traditional Ireland still lingers here; do not miss out on a sip of creamy Guinness at any of the numerous pubs where you will witness many a fiddler and singer hold court beside turf fires. Add to that the pristine coast and the seaweed-decorated shore of the Galway Bay.
Perch yourself at the Salmon Weir Bridge and watch the fishermen do their thing at the River Corrib down under. Catch the same river meet the Atlantic Ocean beyond the Spanish Arch at Claddagh district, where marvelous sunsets and whitewashed cottages amidst wild swans bring out a very lovely scene.
River Corrib from Salmon Weir Bridge (Source: Rowan Townsend)
In Limerick, you will notice two things almost as soon as you enter the city. First - that in a country as tiny as Ireland, an otherwise mediocre population of 90,000 is quite enough to make Limerick the third-largest in the Republic. Second - that it has worked hard to shed the image that Frank McCourt's best-selling book Angela's Ashes bestowed it with; a city where a childhood was spent in excruciating poverty.
Limerick (Source: William Murphy)
The riverside Medieval Heritage Precinct and the overshadowing 13th-century King John's Castle are a must visit. Apart from that, the place's real beauty lies in its outskirts; no matter in which direction you go, you will find lush green river sides and pleasant farmlands. Nearby is the postcard perfect village of Adare.
Adare (Source: Edward O'Connor)
Kenmare, however, has more to it than its landscapes. Elegant streets and some fantastic restaurants fan out from Fair Green. Be warned though, it can get busy in the summer. Try out Prego (Henry St, Tel.: 064-664 2350, Price: mains US$ 11.59 - 36.22) for some delightful dodgy black pudding and their renowned salads and soups.
Kenmare, Ireland (Source: Kathy)
Cork offers a long and rebellious history. Wholly and intrinsically tied to Ireland's fight for independence, the city today is fast developing a reputation for its growing restaurant scene and its flamboyant people, ones who delve in the perks of an urban life. Being a university town, the population keeps young and the arts' scene continues evolving.
Liam Ruiseal Teo (Book Shop) - 49/50 Oliver Plunkett St. Cork (Source: William Murphy)
For something quirky, head over to the castle-like Cork City Gaol where the ghosts of prisoners from a past long gone are known to make themselves eerily felt.
Don't miss out on all the fresh seafood. Even if you are not a vegetarian, the intimate Cafe Paradiso (16 Lancaster Quay, Cork 1, Tel.: 00353214277939, Price range: $32-$158) is a must visit; the food is beyond match. For meat lovers, and if you are willing to splurge, try out The Ivory Tower (Centre Princess Street, average price: $88), where chef Seamus O'Connell dishes out one gastronomical delight after another.
While you move around, keep a look out for the city's engaging and sometimes bizarre wall art.
Street Art - Crosses Green, Cork. (Source: William Murphy)
Well, what can I say about this country! Yes, the adage "God bless America" does ring a bell, of course. One must remember that it is after all, the United States; 50 different locales and states of mind, sprawled across about 3.6 million square miles. It is 2,500 miles from New York to Los Angeles, and the same to Hawaii.
If one decides to call it a night in Louisiana, there will be a different horizon, a different time zone, different urban culture, and have a different local favorite team than if he decides to wake up in Albuquerque.
What I have done here is picked 3 of the most popular destinations and given you a collage of varying things to do in each of those. Take a pick:
The yellow toys of manhattan! (Source: Vinoth Chandar)
In Kauai, Big Island and Oahu you will be touching the very best of the Hawaiian islands. The sand, the surf, the unmistakable Hawaii air, all promise to make this trip a truly memorable one. So, without further ado, here's the best of what they have to offer:
China Walls Hawaii (Source: Justin De La Ornellas)
KAUAI: Call it the Pacific Ocean's Jade temple. Lush, serene and country like, Kauai is definitely the panacea for the city fatigue. One could say that a beach is a beach which is a beach. But not in Kauai. Here's what Lonely Planet has to say:
carving the unbelievable fluted cliffs of the Na Pali Coast and the tremendous ragged gash of Waimea Canyon. A mecca for hikers and kayakers, Kauai is beloved by outdoor enthusiasts of all stripes, and it has been the darling of honeymooners ever since Elvis tied the knot here in Blue Hawaii. Forget coddling resorts, decadent shopping or bustling nightlife. Come to Kauai for its heavenly art gallery - the one you find outdoors. The price for these works? Just a pair of boots and a little sweat.
(Source: Lonely Planet)
A entire day full of natural vistas amidst legends and stories of Kauai, the Garden Island. Take a tour through some of the most beautiful sites in the Kauai Waimea Canyon and the Wailua River. A fully guided tour, a local tells you of all the interesting tales that this place has come to be associated with. Rates are at USD$88.39 Book here now.
Wailua River (Source: Christopher)
Would you say the coasts of Jurassic Park were beautiful? At least before our reborn predator friends wandered in? The Na Pali Coast is one of the most beautiful coast lines in the world! The government restricts all forms of cars and even bicycles here. The only way to get around and soak in the beauty of the place is to hike on foot. Bliss, I would say!
Na Pali coast (Source: Brian Snelson)
No visit to a place is complete without catching a glimpse of its culture. Let's go watch a local coconut market in all its originality, which I might add, is fast depleting owing to all the tourist influx. Keep a look out, as it is easy to miss. Between the mile markers 6 and 7 on Kuhio Highway (Hwy. 56) you'll find this little gem. There's a local show that runs every Wednesday at 5pm, the kahiko (ancient) hula!
Self Portrait (Source: Earl McGehee)
O'AHU: There are numerous beach resorts in the world, where a fantastical world is created to match your postcard requirements. And there is O'ahu; pure and pristine.
Don't miss out on the Diamond Head (Admission $1 for walk-ins, $5 for cars), a bird's eye view that the 560 foot crater offers is majestic - all the way from Waianae Mountains to Koko Crater and the Barbers Point.
Diamond Head Lighthouse (Source: Brian Burger)
Sunset at Ala Moana Beach Park (Source: RKHawaii)
BIG ISLAND: The entire island of Hawai'i comprises of more than half of the total area of the state of Hawaii. To avoid confusion with the state, it is almost universally called the Big Island.
Come home to the world's largest volcano - Mauna Loa standing at 13,677 feet and the world's most active - the Kilauea (continuously erupting since 1983). I would say enough said!
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park (Source: Bill & Vicki Tracey)
Here's what Wiki has to say about the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park:
Drive around Crater Rim drive to see the massive two mile diameter Kilauea crater and steam vents, and down the Chain of Craters road to see the fresh lava flow covering the highway and the active lava flowing into the ocean. Also tour the Thurston lava tube. Be advised that the total time for the trip from the Kona side of the island to the Volcano and back will take at least nine hours. You should leave enough time to exit the park before sunset to avoid driving after dark. In the park, be careful not to hit any nenes, the endangered Hawaiian goose on the roads.
Hawaii: Thurston Lava Tube in the Volcano National Park (Source: Eli Duke)
One of the most beautiful beaches on Big Island with a dash of archaeological importance thrown in, 'Anaeho'omalu Beach Park's Beach is a must-see. Lonely Planet says:
'Anaeho'omalu Beach Park's beach is a narrow strip of sand with shady palms that separates an extremely calm bay from two ancient fishponds. Popular with families, swimmers and picnickers. This is perhaps the only beach suited to windsurfing; snorkeling is decent at the north end, directly in front of the sluice gate; and drinking water, showers and bathrooms are available.
Archaeologists have found evidence of human habitation here dating back more than 1000 years. A short footpath with interpretive plaques starts near the showers and passes fishponds, caves, ancient house platforms and a shrine.
Sights in Hawai'i (The Big Island) (Source: Lonely Planet)
Nap Time in Turtle Town | Big Island (Source: Phil Price)
Nestled amidst the dreamy and balmy Gulf Stream, this enchanting little oasis of pink-sand beaches and azure blue waters is a heady mix of Brit, American, and very Bermudian. A trip to Bermuda promises to be full of life, color and lots of sun and sand.
Bermuda (Source: Joshua Davis)
Conveniently located in the Flatt's Village, the Bermuda Aquarium it is a 15-min bus ride from Hamilton. The zoo has a wide range of animals and birds like flamingos, tamarins, giant tortoises and wallabies. But the aquarium steals the show with over 200 beautiful species including Parrotfish, Groupers, Triggerfish and Puffer Fish. It also has the first living coral reef exhibit in the world. Cost for entry is $10 for Adults, $5 for 5-12 year olds, under 5's are free. It is open from 9am to 5pm.
Flamingos at the Bermuda Aquarium & Zoo (Source: Robyn Fleming)
The Crystal Caves are a labyrinth of stalactites and stalagmites 120ft underground. The floating pontoon pathways cover the large 55 feet deep underground lake. The Formations at the bottom of the azure blue lake are clearly visible. The Fantasy cave is a virtual jewel box covered with rare chandeliers os soda straw formations. The walls seem to be covered with frozen waterfalls. There is a network of passageways connecting the caves with the ocean. It is a must see natural wonder. Cost to see both caves is $20 for Adults, $10 for 5-12 year olds. Under 5's are free.
Crystal Caves, Bermuda (Source: Grace)
The town of St. George is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is the site of the first settlement in Bermuda. The place consists of many landmarks like the Town Hall which dates back to 1782, the Bermuda National Trust Museum, the Tucker House Museum, St. Peter's Church (an unfinished church building) Tobacco Bay Beach, the famous Fort St. Catherine and so much more. There are plenty of shops and restaurants along the beautiful narrow streets. History practically oozes from the streets of St. George. A must see on your trip to Bermuda.
Unfinished Church (Source: Joshua Davis)
Gibb's Hill Lighthouse is the oldest cast iron lighthouse in the world. It provides breathtaking views of Bermuda city and its shores. Perched at 245 ft and consisting of 185 steps to the top, it has eight floors with mini exhibits which depict the history of the tower as well as Bermuda. It consists of a gift shop and tea-room inside which remains open 7 days a week from 9am to 5pm. Entrance Fee: 2.50$ per person, under five free.
Looking Up (Source: Brett Weinstein)
Quiet, azure waters, pristine beaches, soulful breeze. Brilliant coral reefs and arguably the world's best diving sites, a trip to this British Overseas Territory of Turks and Caicos Islands promises to be that alluding perfect Caribbean vacation.
Turks & Caicos 2008 (Source: Ben Ramirez)
Located southeast of Mayaguana in the Bahamas and just north of the island of Hispaniola, the capital of Turks and Caicos Islands is Cockburn Town, 647 miles due east-southeast of Miami. The archipelago is a little over 170 sq miles in total land area. Although politically a separate entity, geographically speaking, they are contiguous to the Bahamas. It is a wonder that this place has stayed hidden with all its out-of-the-world charm and beauty.
Turks and Caicos (Source: scott cassidy)
With 12 miles of pale sands and magnificent azure waters, Grace Bay is by far the most popular beach in the Turks and Caicos islands. Awarded the 'World's Leading Beach' at the 2007 World Travel Awards, this place is a pure delight. As it is more exposed compared to the other bays in the region, it is also the most populated, with an increasing number of condos and resorts coming up by the day. However, in spite of all the growth, it is still largely untouched and thankfully so. Like most of the TCI, Grace Bay is blessed with an amazing coral reef system, perfect for diving and snorkelling.
Grace Bay Turks & Caicos 2008 (Source: Ben Ramirez)
If you have ever searched for a perfect description for the colour turquoise, look no farther. The waters of the 3 mile bay of Chalk Sound National Park is placid, of an ethereal electric-blue. The bay is dotted with numerous tiny islets that look quite like mushrooms and a slender peninsula keeps the roar of the ocean subdued adding to the feeling that you are in a postcard.
The Sapodilla Bay, as it is called, has a rocky hillock with many slabs of flat rock that bear the carvings of the names of those shipwrecked, some of them dating back to 1844.
The salient clarity of the water contained with Chalk Sound is no accident of time or chance, nor is it guaranteed to subsist for all eternity. The extraordinary hue of the landmark is a harbinger of the crystalline sandy substrate beneath the surface, the clear blue skies above, and most significantly, water of impeccable quality.
Chalk Sound National Park: Beauty and ecology (Source: fpti.com)
Turks & Caicos 2008 (Source: Ben Ramirez)
The only one of its kind in the world, the Caicos Conch Farm is located at the northeastern tip of the Providenciales, It was installed to provide a safe home to the exotic Caribbean queen conch which is sadly facing extinction. Take a 20 minute tour of this place to get to know our aquatic friends up, close and personal. Price : Adult: US$6.00, Child US$3.00 | Hours : Mon-Fri 09:00-16:00, Sat 09:00-14:00 | Location: Leeward Hwy Providenciales | Tel.: 649 946 5643
Turks And Caicos-conch on railing (Source: Kim Carpenter)
Hope these help. If you'd like to know about anything else - more destinations or more information on the above - do write back. Once you've picked out a destination, what about accommodation, local markets and food joints, or even some off-beat attractions there? Until then,
Wakeboarding Art (Source: Arturo Donate)
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