Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Easter Island from our guest blogger and client Alan Anderson

Alan Anderson
Hi Harry,

Just to let you know that we were able to go ashore by tender in somewhat rough conditions yesterday for a wonderful tour of Easter Island. Our tour guide Nikolas Hotu was excellent - he spoke English well and knew his history and the legends of the Island etc. so many thanks for arranging the tour. Below is a draft blog you may wish to use:

Easter Island
My wife and I are cruising across the Pacific to South America from Sydney via Auckland, Tonga, American Samoa, Tahiti, Pitcairn Island and finally the mysterious Easter Island on board the Sea Princess. The ships tours of Easter Island were all booked out so Harry Zaharopoulos from Depth Travel arranged an independent tour.

This was all well and good until the ships rumour mill cranked up about whether we would even be able to get off the ship. One woman claimed that this was her fifth attempt at landing on Easter Island - all the others were cancelled due to rough weather. So anticipation and apprehension were high among the passengers and there was much cheering when the captain finally announced we were going ashore even in spite of 1.5 metre swells.

The tender vessel took us into the small dock at the main (only) village of Hanga Roa. After paying the $80US Rapa Nui National Park entrance fee (each) we met our guide Nicholas Hotu and set off for our adventure with 4 others. All visitors have to pay this fee and I calculated that the Island collected a cool $120k for the day.

The tour commenced with a view of the Rano Kau volcanic crater and a walk around the ancient Orongo Village set atop high cliffs. The village comprises several houses made from slabs of stone all looking out to sea (waiting for the first arrival of the sooty terns). The village was only used once a year for about 3 days by competitors in the bird man
"challenge" where young warriors had to scramble down the high cliffs, swim 2 miles out to an island, collect a birds egg, swim back through shark infested water, climb the cliff and present the birds egg intact to the chief. Rumour has it that the warriors prize was a virgin! Apparently this competition was stopped in late 1880s after too many warriors were lost to sharks or fell off the cliffs.

The rest of the tour involved visiting moai sites all over the island. The weather was hot, humid and mainly bright and sunny so the views were uninterrupted with spectacular coastal vistas. The main moai site is the quarry at Rano Raraku where the hillside is dotted with the famously huge statues, with several still in a state of being carved when the practice stopped abruptly for reasons unknown but it is speculated that there was a civil war and the carvers lost!


The other sites where the statues were placed near the sea are all fascinating, picturesque and mysterious - how did they move these massive statues so far and what do they mean anyway? Conjecture is part of the fascination of Easter Island.

What lessons did we take from this tour:

1. Put Easter Island on your must do bucket list as it far exceeded our expectations - the seascapes are amazing with the sandy beach at Anakena outstanding
2. If you only have one shot at getting there then consider flying from Santiago - ship is too risky
3. Definitely get a tour with a guide as the locals add so much more value
4. There are a couple of high end expensive resorts and there's lots to see and do in a few days.
5. Do some research beforehand- I read "The Island of Giants" which is about Thor Heyerdahl's archeological experiences on the island.

Cheers
Alan

Tuesday, 15 November 2016

Greek Islands



What is the difference between Mykonos, Santorini, or for the Australian market - Kythira!

We Australians love Greece, whether it is from our family history, a love of fabulous Villas with 'to die for' views, past memories of Greek boyfriends (or girlfriends) or the love of Greek food!   What ever our reason - we do love Greece!

Below is a run down of the 3 most popular Islands preferred by the Australian market.

Image result for islands of greece

Mykonos 


Mykonos is one of the most popular Greek islands all over the world. Tanning on the sandy, golden beaches, blue and greenish transparent waters, beach bars lying in the coastline and specially made drinks, make the scenery of the perfect holiday destination. And if we add a Luxury Villa to this description, we have the absolute place to spend some days resting and having fun!

However, don’t just have the impression that Mykonos is only a place “dedicated” to party lovers! Mykonos provides all sorts of entertainment choices to its travellers. Party lovers, romantic souls and explorers can fulfill their needs while staying in Mykonos.

All over the island, there are amazing places to have a romantic dinner while enjoying the sea view. Also, you can have a relaxing time by the beach reading your beloved book or magazine and finally enjoy a peaceful walk in the pebble streets of Mykonos town.


Image result for mykonos







Santorini

Visually spectacular. Thira is touristy, Oia is a little quieter but the island is the most popular in Greece and for good reason. The daytime action is at the beaches, Perissa and Kamari. Good Raki and domatokeftedes (fried tomato-balls) are culinary favorites. 

Ruins of Ancient Thira are worth the trip if you are unimpressed by the most spectacular sunsets on this planet. Most people want to stay in the beautiful hotels overlooking the caldera but if you have children you will sleep a lot easier a few meters inland rather then on the edge of a 1000 foot cliff, and save money as well. 

Great nightlife, excellent beaches, spectacular scenary and romance make this one of the world's top destinations for honeymooners and weddings too. 

Image result for santorini




KYTHIRA
In the early 20th century many islanders emigrated to Australia (or “Big Kythira” as it is known). Many of their descendants return each summer, the island receives few tourists. It is a secluded Island with a relaxing atmosphere with wonderful beaches, lovely
monasteries and even ghost villages, like the abandoned town of Paleochora.

It’s an island that offers much –astonishing deserted beaches, old legends, lovely little towns and the traditional way of island life.

Image result for kythira



Monday, 17 October 2016

Etruscans Italy

On one of my previous Travel Talk Radio segments on ABC Radio 612 Brisbane, my guest was the lovely Kylie Lang, who had recently spent a month in the Umbria area of Italy. 

Listen to the podcast if you are interested. 612abc Brisbane - Umbria

Most of us know of the region of Tuscany but not a lot of people know about it's neighbour Umbria. 






Orvieto, Umbria is a great base, it is around 1.30hrs from Rome, 2hrs from Florence and around 4.30hrs from Milan.




ETRUSCAN CIVILISATION

Etruscan civilisation is the modern name given to a civilisation of ancient Italy in the area corresponding roughly to Tuscany, western Umbria, and northern Lazio. The ancient Romans called its creators the Tusci or Etrusci. Etruscan civilisation is the modern English name given to a civilisation of ancient Italy. Its homeland was in the area of central Italy, just north of Rome, which is today called Tuscany. 


Image result for etruscans italy

The ancient Romans loved to pile stone; today, Tuscany is full of their ruins. But much more remarkable and intriguing are the necropolises, tombs, and engineering feats left behind by the Etruscans—a people who thrived in Tuscany five hundred years before the first Roman stones were laid. Whereas the Romans piled, the Etruscans dug. They created vast, 60-foot-deep chambers for their dead; erected enormous half-buried domes; cut long canals through stone hills; and sliced 100-foot-deep roads into cliffs. They also built the first architectural arches, and invented roof structures the Romans only copied.



But above all, the Etruscans had what D.H. Lawrence much later called, “a religion of life.” They had a deep love for food, music, dancing, sex, and wine. 

This is why their art was so elegant, and why we still strive to emulate their ancient cuisine and wines today. It’s little wonder that the archeological sites they’ve left behind are some of the most spectacular in Tuscan.

The Etruscan civilization lasted from the 8th century BC to the 3rd and 2nd centuries BC. In the 6th century the Etruscans expanded their influence over a wide area of Italy. 

They founded city-states in northern Italy, and to the south, their influence expanded down into Latium and beyond. Early Rome was deeply influenced by Etruscan culture (the word "Rome" is Etruscan). The Etruscans also gained control of Corsica.

Only since the nineteenth century has the extent of Etruscan civilization been brought to light, and the Etruscans restored as ‘true ancestors’ of modern Italy.

The ancient Etruscans were the first civilization native to ancient Italy & a dominant power on the peninsula for some 300 years, during part of which time Etruscan kings ruled Rome & bestowed on it the attributes of a city. The Etruscans have been regarded as a mysterious people, a misleading label, because most of the mysteriousness is simply a product of the paucity of information that archaeologists & historians have succeeded in wresting from very meager sources.



SUGGESTED ITINERARY

Here is a suggested itinerary to see this wonderful area.

DAY 1
Visit Villa Giulia, National Etruscan Museum, the world's foremost collection of Etruscan art & artifacts. It is housed in a Renaissance villa created from an earlier villa by Pope Julius III shortly after 1550 to entertain his guests & to get away from the pressures as head of the Church & of the Papal States, which covered much of central Italy.

DAY 2
Drive out to Cerveteri, site of one of the most powerful of Etruscan city-states, to the necropolis which furnished some of the objects in the Villa Giulia Museum. See the tombs & large burial mounds laid out along streets forming a true city of the dead.

DAY 3
A full day in Tarquinia, another important Etruscan city a bit further to the north of
Cerveteri, which is largely unexcavated and is famous for its frescoed tombs dating from the 6th to 2nd centuries B.C. These are unmatched in the ancient world for their sheer number, their engaging color, and their vitality. They amply reveal the Etruscan outlook on life and death.

Tarquinia has a local Etruscan museum, which is housed in a Gothic-Renaissance palace and is truly a jewel. In the museum's very fine collection, there is a truly unique piece, a sculpted terracotta decorative plaque depicting a pair of winged horses. This sculpture once adorned the pediment of an Etruscan temple, visit the ruins at the site of the ancient city on a nearby plateau.

DAY 4
Visit San Giovenale, one of only a handful Etruscan town-sites so far excavated in central Italy. The site was excavated in the late 1950's and early 1960's by the king of Sweden and a team of Swedish and Italian archaeologists. San Giovenale another site, Acquarossa, have provided Etruscologists with most of the available information on Etruscan houses and are among the very few sites where ruins of Etruscan houses can be seen.

On your way to San Giovenale make a brief stop at Blera to walk down to a small Roman bridge which spans a brook lost in a ravine far below the modern road. Then a brief stop at the gracious medieval town of Barbarano Romano, after which proceed to Viterbo, a gracious provincial capital north of Rome with one of the most picturesque
medieval quarters in central Italy.

But first a visit to the unique exhibit on Etruscan houses, the only one of its kind in the world. All the material on display has come from the San Giovenale & Acquarossa.

DAY 5
Visit to Orvieto, a gracious medieval town with a past reaching back to Etruscan times. It
was the Etruscan Velzna, called Volsinii by the Romans, before they destroyed it in the 3rd century B.C.

If driving from Rome you would approach Orvieto from the west offering stunning views of the city atop its high outcropping with sheer cliffs on all sides. It fills the high outcropping on which it sits right up to the sheer cliffs that dominate the valleys on all sides.

Orvieto's table-like plateau, made of soft tuff stone is riddled with underground chambers and drainage channels carved out by the Etruscans. They can be visited on a tour of "Underground Orvieto." Also of particular interest is the cathedral begun in 1290 following a miracle that occurred in nearby Bolsena, while the Pope was in residence in Orvieto.
The real treasures of Orvieto are the frescoes in a side chapel of the Last Judgment painted by Luca Signorelli, an exquisite work which provided the inspiration for Michelangelo's Last Judgment in the Sistine Chapel. These frescoes were re-opened to the public after a 9-year restoration. A walk down the 34-meter deep well built at the time of the sack of Rome in 1527 illustrates how far below the surface the water table is. Just a short drive from the well which is at one end of Orvieto is a necropolis with a number of inscriptions in the Etruscan language, which identify the ancient occupants of the tombs.Image result for Last Judgment painted by Luca Signorelli




Saturday, 15 October 2016

Las Vegas


Image result for las vegas


The Town that never sleeps!

One of our clients the wonderful Alan Anderson and his gorgeous wife Mandy recently visited Las Vegas.  He is our Guest Blogger, enjoy!




My wife and I visited Las Vegas for 3 nights in late September 2016. The Vegas visit was arranged by Depth Travel and followed a cruise that ended in Montreal, Canada, so we were keen for a relaxing break. After collecting our luggage we decided to catch a cab to our hotel rather than the cheaper option of a shuttle. Beware the long taxi queues but they are efficiently managed and cleared in about 15 minutes.



Having never been to Las Vegas we were completely in the hands of the Depth Travel 
staff. Their recommendations were spot on. 


Displaying IMG_5589.JPG

We had a spacious “Strip View” room at the wonderful Bellagio Hotel overlooking their famous fountains which erupt for 5 minutes every half hour from 3pm to 8pm every day. Bellagio is right in the middle of the strip opposite Planet Hollywood and the “Magic Mile of Shops” and next door to the famous Caesars Palace Hotel. The Bellagio is huge and cost $US1.2b to build.

Image result for bellagio las vegas

We had dinner that evening outdoors in a Mexican-themed bar/restaurant outside Planet Hollywood so we looked straight down the strip. It was people watching par excellence and as the sun set the people seemed to get crazier. Just below us we watched two men in Army trousers but no shirts and amazing “six packs” offering to have their photo taken with women whom they raised above their heads while sporting the US flag. We were not sure how much they received for each photo opportunity but they never stopped for the two hours we watched them.



Displaying IMG_5592.JPG

The next day we went to the Grand Canyon with Grayline. We were originally booked on a bus but were offered seats in a twelve seater Mercedes “Sprinter” for an extra $US200.00 (plus taxes of course). We jumped at the opportunity to spend more time at the Grand Canyon while getting back to the hotel several hours earlier than the bus. The Grand Canyon is a breath-taking must see and the Skywalk is sensational even for those who hate heights (its only 4,500 feet straight down!) Guano Point probably has the best views of the Colorado River so don’t miss that one.

Image result for grand canyon

On the last day we walked along the strip and went up in the (faux) Eiffel Tower which has amazing views, watched the gondolas in the amazing Venetian Hotel and had a drink in the incredibly atmospheric Margaritaville Bar at the Flamingo Hotel. We also shopped at the Magic Mile of Shops before reluctantly leaving the Bellagio.

Las Vegas Strip Map

Friday, 14 October 2016

Japan Family Travel Blog by Jaz!


Our wonderful Jaz, currently on maternity leave did a family trip to Japan prior to the current baby.  Below is her story on their fabulous trip.


Japan? At this time of year? With a 1 and 3 year old? Are you crazy? My husband and I thrive off adventure, so the challenge of travelling on a 9 ½ hour flight with our two babies in to Japans chilly winter seemed very appealing. Japan has always intrigued me……. The people, the culture, the shrines, Temples, gardens, busy cities and delicious food. We spent 12 amazing days in Japan and it never failed to impress.

The biggest challenge when travelling with young children is finding the perfect balance between what makes them happy and what makes you happy! Number one priority is ensuring they were comfortable for our long days out most being from 8am to 6pm. We purchased a very basic small double stroller which was a godsend, we also bought the children their own special blankets each from home that they used daily in their strollers for comfort and sleeps when required.






Japan train stations are quite easy to manoeuvre through once you have the handle of it, 95% have lifts (those which do not there are endless people wanting to help carry the pram up the stairs with you). 

Pedestrian space is large and Japanese are very welcoming to families. Even over the New Years holidays, deemed the most busy time in Tokyo, we were able to navigate our way through the crowds seamlessly with our double stroller. 

The only recommendation I have moving forward is ensure your children are awake at lunch time, our dream of having a quiet lunch whilst they slept in the pram was crushed on day one when we realised that seldom can you find a restaurant that can accommodate a pram with sleeping children! Best you wait till they are awake and fold it up at the door!

The second is research into activities for the children. 

Each day we chose one special thing for them to do such as feeding the monkeys outside of Kyoto. This involved a 45 minute uphill hike for mum and dad with children in ergos on our backs to get them to their monkeys! But the smiles on their faces were worth the pain and the views were spectacular! 

Seeing the snow for the first time in Nagoya, hiring a toboggan for a few hours and building their first snow man. Investigating local festivals……..

We were fortunate enough to be a part of a community festival to make sticky rice, the children loved it. It is amazing to watch your children interact with other children when they both speak different languages. The language barrier does not hinder like it does adults, my three year old spent the day playing with children who all spoke Japanese to her and she loved every moment of it, at the end of the day they are all children and if they are playing and smiling…….. they are happy!



Letting them walk and explore food markets, tasting new and unusual food…………. A quick stop at Tokyo's best toy shop to let them play…….. a morning at the zoo, aquarium, tallest building in Tokyo….. all these things give them something to look forward to and they enjoy it! My husband and I want our children to fall in love with travelling so we have found the best way is to find a balance. 

We wandered through museums and shrines when they are asleep (as best we can!) Plan one very special kids day, ours was Disneyland which was absolutely fabulous!!!!

Accommodation can be tricky in Japan to accommodate children. 

There are endless children friendly hotel but some of them have quite a high price tag on them. We opted for privately owned apartments where we had the convenience of a fridge and microwave for our one year olds bottles. 

We also stayed in home stays which was a very unique experience. Staying with a Japanese family gives you the chance to really experience Japanese culture. We slept as one big happy family on a large floor futon, which is very common in Japan.


We ate meals on the floor at a traditional style Japanese dining table. We shared storeys back and forward about how life in Japan is so different to Australia. 

My children played with their children. It was a lovely way to travel for those who don’t need their own space and want to meet new people. 


The biggest benefit over a hotel room was being able to put the children to bed in the room, then head downstairs to adult company. Something which you are unable to do in a hotel room. Parents would know the world of tiptoeing and whispering around small children once you get them to sleep in a small hotel room, does not make for a very nice evening time for mummies and daddies!

Are we exhausted after our 12 days?…….. Yes!........ Would we do it all again?..... Yes!

Letting your children run free in a new country, asking questions about why this is like this, why do they wear that and what are they doing……….. is exciting! 

My three year old was constantly excited about the heated toilet seats…… she was not too happy when she zapped her bottom with a thick stream of water from hitting the bidet button when I was not watching! 

Receiving gifts and attention where ever they went by warm and welcoming people. 

Catching endless metros, trains, busses, escalators only added to the adventure! It was my one year olds 3rd country and my 3 year olds 5th country. 


They may not remember everything they have experienced, but I do believe it is shaping the adults they will become. I can only hope they continue in life to be adaptable, worldly and full of adventure! 

If anyone would like help in planning an amazing, life changing family holiday to Japan or any other fabulous country I would be more than happy to assist! I pride myself on being able to cater to the needs to the individual and deliver once in a lifetime holidays.




Travel Etiquette



“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”


It’s pretty simple stuff, right, well not for all!

I think we have all experienced people who really just do not get it or just don't care. So here is a general run down of Travel Etiquette as a reminder to all of us.




Flights

Personal Space
Think you are in a bubble which extends 9 inches x 20cms around you and this is the area you stay in. Respect the areas and people are you.

If listening to music or talking to friends, try to keep the volume down.

When eating meals, keep your elbows tucked in.

Personal Hygiene
Ensure you shower and use personal deodorant.

Be mindful if removing your shoes.

Take it easy with perfumes or aftershaves. Some can be way too smelly or people could have allergies.

Jetblue have some very funny videos regarding Flight Etiquette and also Boarding Etiquette


Seating

Do not recline as soon as you get onboard a flight. Instead, allow other people to settle in.

Once you do recline, do it slowly.

Check who is behind you. If they’re 6’5ft then you may have to make some considerations.

Image result for children travel etiquette images

Children


Be mindful, whether too loud, pushing seats in front etc

Take lots of things for them to do whilst onboard

Think of where you can be seated, get the back near the toilets may have more standup space.

To Recline or not to Recline
If the airlines stopped trying to jam everyone in like sardines we would not need this question.

In reality, if can recline then it is our right to recline them. But there are instances of it being uncomfortable for the person behind.

Knee Blockers: a device to stop the person's seat in front of you from reclining.


Did you know? Last year a United Airlines flight was diverted and police were brought on board to take off two folks from a feud over the use of a seat blocker. How bad did it get? The businessman using the device had a soda tossed in his face by the disgruntled woman sitting in front of him.


Airport

Security
The only word you should ever use in an airport when asked to do something is YES!
When asked for a security check be polite, patient and answer the questions truthfully.


Know the Rules
If you are only allowed 100mls of liquid then make sure you only have that and it is labelled.

Have them ready in clear plastic bags before clearing immigration.
Take note of the signs and have your passport ready and your immigration form completed and ready to go.

Customs
Complete forms truthfully and if you can keep all of the items in question in the one area or in one bag.




Country Etiquette

Understanding other people's languages, cultures, etiquette and taboos is of great value to the traveller or visiting business person. Here’s a few tips to help you through.

Singapore
When sitting, make sure soles of feet face down and not directly point at anyone as this can cause offence to them.

Body language is important. Be mindful of where you place your hands, eg: on the hips is considered aggressive posture or touching your head may cause offence as the head is considered sacred.

When communicating silences are not considered uncomfortable. Instead display a degree of consideration, allowing the other party to contemplate what is being said.

Japan
Japanese society is ruled by stringent codes of behaviour and these should be respected. Age, seniority, honour and understanding the subtext of what people are saying are some of the most important aspects of Japanese culture.

Standard form of greeting is to bow from the waist, the lower the more respectful.

If in a formal situation, address by their title eg: Mr, Mrs, Dr then name.

Personal space is very important so keep a good 3 feet away.

Do not retain too long an eye contact (eye contact should fall below head to neckline).

If sitting down, make sure that your feet don’t directly point at anyone, as this can be perceived as very offensive. Keep the soles of your shoes or feet flat against the floor.

Saving face is import, so never, ever publicly disgrace or humiliate someone in Japan. This kind of dishonour will only serve to humiliate and shame both you and the you will become the target of ill feeling.

Burping at the table is considered vulgar, but slurping your food is not.

Make sure that you don’t stick your chopsticks upright in your food at any time during the meal; and

When eating, never talk or laugh with your mouth open.

Blowing your nose publicly, especially at the dinner table, is considered to be extremely bad etiquette.



United Arab Emirates
Drinking alcohol in public is an offence as is drunken outlandish behaviour. Drinking in restaurants, nightclubs and hotels is ok.

Shake hands with right hand as the left hand is considered unclean as traditionally thought to be used for more unsanitary purposes!

In public you should make an effort to dress moderately.

For women, the proper etiquette is to try and cover up as much as you can. Skimpy tops and short skirts are not very appropriate. It is best to at least cover your shoulders and the tops of your arms.


Even the most well travelled globetrotters can sometimes get it wrong and if we do then let's apologise and try to reconcile the situation. We want our travel memories to be wonderful happy ones, not ones of conflict.


Happy Travels.
Sandra Skelton




The Most Annoying Travellers


The Most Annoying Travellers

Image result for annoying travellers


If you haven't already watched Sir Patrick Stewart (better known as Captain Jean-Luc Picard in the Star Trek and Professor Charles Xavier in X-Men) re-enacting the most annoying people you find on a plane, make sure you do. The hilarious sketch on Jimmy Kimmel showcased just some of the annoying people you find at 35000ft in the air (check it out here).


Sir Patrick Stewart as the 'Most Annoying Traveller' 

On one of my Travel Talk segments with Radio 612ABC Brisbane we talked on people's experiences and how we can avoid the 'Most Annoying' guests. 


If you haven't had the misfortune of meeting these travellers already, here are some of the top 10 Expedia Hotel  'Most Annoying' ... 

Inattentive Parents – 67%
The Hallway Hellraisers – 64%
The Complainers – 54%
The In-Room Revellers (noisemakers nearby) – 52%
The Bickerers – 26%
The Poolside Partiers – 22%
The Loudly Amorous (indiscreet lovemakers) – 21%
The Hot Tub Canoodlers (affectionate couples in a public hot tub) – 20%
The Business Bar Boozer (drunk business travellers) – 12%
The Elevator Chatterbox – 6%

The odd one or too makes for a good laugh but frequenters of faux-pas habits can be downright annoying. While little can be done to avoid the annoying traveller - they can surprise you in even the most luxurious hideaways - you can avoid bad hotel experiences. My recommendation? Do your research.

Start by knowing exactly what type of holiday you are after - whether that be romantic, adventurous, family focused, etc. Next, consider what time of year you are travelling - school holidays will send prices high, while seasons also dictate standard prices. Lastly, consider the destination and location of your accommodation.






Let's take Thailand for example. There are plenty of options for any kind of traveller - the family, the couples and the party-hungry.

Families would naturally be driven towards the resorts. Thailand offers a number of highly rated, deeply family orientated family resorts that will keep the kids and mum and dad happy all week long. Of course, this isn't ideal for couples who would trade slippery slides for a Singapore Sling cocktail. In which case, always be sure to ask your hotel if they are family focused, kid friendly or strictly adult only. You'll see the party-goers step it up one further and trade long days for long nights on the beach partying til dawn in the Full Moon parties. This draws lots of crowds and brings with it plenty of noise. Not ideal for families or couples after an intimate affair.

A bit of your own research will do wonders or better yet, dealing directly with a travel agent or someone local and in-the-know is the easiest way to find the right property and holiday for you. 


Image result for annoying travellers