Friday, February 9, 2007
Monday, December 4, 2006
From imperial palaces to world famous cafes, Vienna has plenty to keep visitors entertained all year round. But it is during the festive season that the Austrian capital really comes into its own.
In December the Christmas markets (Christkindlmarkt), a tradition that goes back to the early 17th century, become the focus of all activity in Vienna. The biggest of them all takes place in front of the magnificent Rathaus (City Hall) (website: www.christkindlmarkt.at), which forms a majestic backdrop to what has to be one of the prettiest Christmas markets in Europe.
Over 140 stalls, selling such perennial favourites as candyfloss, roasted chestnuts, wursts (sausages), pickles jars and the ubiquitous gingerbreads, as well as baubles, candles and all manner of wooden and soft toys, attract a whopping 3 million visitors every year. The smell of spices and glühwein (mulled wine) permeates the air, and the multicoloured lights hanging in the trees above the square really do turn the whole area into a magical Christmas wonderland.
Another good place for visitors and locals to mingle around upturned barrels and sip the festive brew is Spittelberg, a maze of narrow cobbled streets between Burggasse and Siebensterngasse, and one of Vienna's most funky and arty neighbourhoods.
Spittelberg market is smaller and less touristy but just as atmospheric as the one at the Rathaus, with a more ethnic flavour. Also worth checking out is the market outside the imposing Karlskirche, as well as the one in the courtyard of Schloss Schönbrunn (Schönbrunn Palace).
Vienna was of course famous for being the home of the Hapsburg dynasty, the ruling House of Austria, and more particularly that of Elisabeth Amalia Eugenia, better known as Empress Sisi (incidentally born on Christmas Eve 1837), and immortalised on the silver screen by a young Romy Schneider.
The city has retained much of its imperial grandeur, from the imposing complex of the Hofburg (website: www.hofburg-wien.at), the emperor's winter residence, to a number of smaller private palaces, most of which will be open to visitors over the festive season. So step back in time... Maybe even treat yourself to a ride in a wonderfully old-fashioned horse-drawn caleche?
Or indulge in a visual feast in one of Vienna's many fascinating museums and art galleries. There are some fabulous paintings by Klimt and Schiele (two of Austria's most famous artists) in the permanent collection of both the Belvedere (home of the famous Kiss) (website: www.belvedere.at) and the Leopold Museum (in the new MuseumQuartier district) (website: www.leopoldmuseum.org), while the Albertina (website: www.albertina.at), another of the city's top galleries, currently features an exhibition of Picasso's late works, with almost 200 pieces including paintings, drawings, prints and sculptures (on until 7 January 2007).
A Night at the Opera
As befits a city that was once home to both Mozart and Strauss, and still attracts the biggest talents in the music world, Vienna boasts a plethora of music venues, from big theatres to smaller concert halls. The Staatsoper (Vienna State Opera) (website: www.wiener-staatsoper.at) is the grandest of them all, and a must see for all opera lovers.
This season it is possible to catch a performance of Der Rosenkavalier or Arabella (both by Richard Strauss), or visitors with youngsters in tow can opt for Mozart's Bastien und Bastienne, a children's special. Round the corner the Vienna Boys Choir (website: www.wsk.at) will be celebrating mass in the intimate setting of the Hofburgkapelle (24 and 25 December at 0900, booking essential). Glam up for the occasion, as the Viennese love dressing up!
Having a Ball
The New Year's celebrations kick off in true regal style at the Hofburg Palace with the Imperial Ball (Kaiserball) (website: www.hofburg.com/e/va/index.php), the first of the season, which lasts until mid February. This is one of the main events on the social calendar, where the crème de la crème of Viennese society, after a sumptuous gala dinner, take to the dancefloor and whirl and waltz the night away. A very original, but effective, way to burn off excess calories.
Happy New Year!On New Year's Eve every year Vienna's city centre is transformed into one big street party, with a dozen stages providing free entertainment from early in the afternoon until the small hours. There will be something for all tastes, from (yet more) waltzes and operetta to rock music and folk, culminating in the Pummerin (Austria's biggest bell) in St Stephen's Cathedral ringing in the new year, followed by the Blue Danube Waltz.
Another Viennese tradition, the popular hangover breakfast on the Rathausplatz, is accompanied by live transmission of the New Year's Day Concert given by the Vienna Philharmonic on a giant screen outside City Hall. So wrap up warm, and celebrate the arrival of 2007 in style.
Sunday, December 3, 2006
With the travel industry belatedly catching up with customer demands for ethical tourism, many groundbreaking companies and organisations are developing truly innovative solutions to meet this ever-growing market.
One of the biggest factors to consider when planning a responsible holiday is the effect the trip has on the environment. With air travel now recognised as one of the fastest growing causes of global warming, many tourists are opting to holiday at home or choosing a less-damaging means of transport altogether.
Rail travel is once again growing in popularity with specialist websites such as The Man in Seat Sixty-One (website: www.seat61.com) providing plenty of ideas and inspiration for would-be rail travellers. And it's not just legendary rail journeys such as the Trans-Siberian Express and The Ghan in Australia that travellers have to choose from, as more and more rail networks are now reviving old lines or creating new ones capitalising on the renewed interest in rail travel.
One line that's causing quite a stir amongst international globetrotters is the newly opened service to Tibet which began operating in July this year. Now passengers can travel to Tibet on a range of modern air-conditioned trains with sleeper and restaurant services from Beijing and Xian in China. (However, some environmental groups have raised concerns that the influx of visitors that is now expected could undermine traditional Tibetan culture and values.)
And flights no longer have to cost the Earth either; air travellers can now offset their CO2 emissions by paying money to one of a number of companies such as Climate Care (website: www.climatecare.org) which invests the money in projects all over the world ranging from reforestation work in Uganda to energy efficiency programmes on the Marshall Islands.
Where to Stay
The choice of accommodation is also vitally important. All too often profits from tourism rarely reach the local communities with building contracts for new hotels, food supplies and even hotel staff often being sourced from outside the local community. But things are beginning to change and many establishments now have strict ethical, eco-friendly policies in place where locals manage the property and take a share of the profits.
One such place is the fabulous Kasbah du Toukbal (website: www.kasbahdutoubkal.com) in the mountain town of Imlil in Morocco. The restored kasbah employs local staff and tradesmen to ensure wages are distributed locally, sources fresh local produce for its kitchens which minimises food miles and further boosts the local economy, recycles as much waste as possible and discourages unnecessary use of electricity by guests. It also helped to found the Village Association which has enabled the local villagers to set up group initiatives such as providing an ambulance and driver for the region.
Another such place is Bhakti Kutir (website: www.bhaktikutir.com) in Goa which is owned and run by a Goan-German couple. Built from natural resources on the terraces of a coconut grove overlooking the sea, the simple cabanas are each individually designed and all have outdoor bucket showers and eco-friendly composting toilets. The lodge employs local staff and the kitchen serves wonderful organic produce. Visitors can learn more about traditional Indian healing and relaxation at the site's ayurvedic treatment rooms and yoga centre.
And it's not just small, independent operators that are making a difference. Many of the big hotel chains now use energy efficient light bulbs and appliances, have bed linen made from organic cotton and offer guests the choice of whether or not to have their towels washed each day in a bid to reduce pollution and save energy.
Fairmont Hotels and Resorts (website: www.fairmont.com) has won a whole host of awards for its innovative Fairmount Green Partnership including the Tourism for Tomorrow (website: www.tourismfortomorrow.com) Global Tourism Business Award in 2006. Initiatives range from the increased use of renewable energy sources to a conservation programme set up to protect the threatened St Lawrence Estuary beluga population in Eastern Canada.
Choosing a Company
A growing number of companies specialise in providing responsible holidays which ensure that staff are treated and paid fairly, that local communities benefit financially from the trickle down effects of the tourism industry and that the natural environment is protected.
Some operators are going one step further by offering its customers the opportunity to participate in Community Based Tourism (CBT) projects. Rather than turning up for an hour on an organised tour to a fictional 'tribal village' created just for tourists, the emerging trend towards CBT initiatives offer visitors the chance to stay in a real community and share experiences in a two-way cultural exchange between guests and the host community.
The spectacular Chalalan Ecolodge in the Bolivian Amazon is one such example of a successful CBT project. Created in 1995 as a joint venture between the rainforest community of San José de Uchupiamonas and Conservation International (CI) (website: www.conservation.org), the lodge specialises in nature and cultural tourism which provides jobs for local people - a viable alternative to working in the logging industry. After a rigorous training programme, CI handed over full ownership of the lodge to the local managers and staff in 2001 who continue to invite guests to stay at the lodge to learn more about their customs and way of life.
What You Can Do
• Learn a smattering of phrases in the local language: this can go a long way to breaking down cultural barriers and providing a more enriching and rewarding travel experience.
• Respect local beliefs and cultural values: a tiny thong bikini might be de rigeur on Rio's Copacabana Beach, but deeply offensive somewhere else.
• Barter fairly in local markets: a few cents or rupees saved by you can be the difference between the vendor's family eating or going hungry that night.
• Be aware of local environmental issues. A beautiful safari lodge may have been built on land seized from local tribesmen who have been forced off the land. A hotel with a lovely pool and permanent access to hot showers and Jacuzzis may be at the expense of local villagers whose water access may be severely restricted.
• Research your chosen hotel or operator: a few probing questions should sort out true ethical companies from those merely paying lip service to this growing trend.
A Green FutureFrom independent operators to multinational travel companies, the trickle in the trend towards supplying responsible travel options has now become a flood. Whilst there is still a lot more to be done, the travel industry as a whole is beginning to face up to its responsibilities and most companies worth your custom now have strict ethical policies in place.
And the great news for travellers is that from Amsterdam to Zanzibar, there is no shortage of ethical options to choose from. So wherever you travel in the world, if a company isn't acting responsibly, vote with your feet and keep searching until you find one that is.
Thursday, November 30, 2006
Smaller airlines and passengers, however, may face hurdles when flying internationallySen. Ted Stevens indicated this week he will not object to new rules that will require U.S. citizens to have a passport when returning on flights from Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean starting Jan. 23.
Stevens, R-Alaska, had amended legislation this fall to make sure people entering Alaska on cruise ships and other vessels from Canada would not need a passport starting in January, as the federal government had been planning.
Stevens’ amendment also could be interpreted as delaying a similar requirement for people returning on aircraft from Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean. However, the federal Department of Homeland Security announced on Wednesday last week that it will require passports from returning aircraft passengers beginning on Jan. 23.
Tuesday, Stevens’ spokesman Aaron Saunders said the senator would not contest that interpretation of his amendment.
The amendment’s main purpose was to make sure the department had the proper procedures and technology in place before it required passports or similar documentation from U.S. citizens returning at land border crossings and on boats, Saunders said.
The passport requirement for land crossings is scheduled to begin in January 2008. The passport requirement for boat passengers, prior to Stevens’ amendment, was to begin in January 2007 but now must begin on the same day as at land crossings.
Border communities and the travel industry expressed great skepticism in congressional hearings about the department’s ability to have a workable system by January 2007 or even January 2008.
“The senator’s intention was to ensure that the land and sea portions of that requirement were given ample time to be implemented,” Saunders said. “The senator believes Alaska is disproportionately affected by the land and sea provisions.”
Air traffic between Alaska and Canada is not substantial, and the existing security requirements at airports should help implement the passport requirement for flight passengers, Saunders said.
Joseph Sparling, president of Air North in Whitehorse, the capital of Canada’s Yukon Territory, said his company has served Fairbanks since the mid-1980s, although he has recently limited flights to the summer tourist season only and combined several routes for efficiency. Taking off in Whitehorse, the summer-only flight goes to Dawson and Old Crow, both in the Yukon Territory. The flight then drops into Fairbanks before returning to Dawson and Whitehorse.
About 5,000 passengers ride the flights annually, four-fifths of whom are people in Canada who are headed not to Alaska but other points in Canada, he said.
The passport requirement could cut back on travel by Alaskans, Sparling said. But Canadians also will need a passport from their own government when entering the United States starting Jan. 23, under the new rules.
So Sparling’s big question is whether, for example, Old Crow residents bound for Whitehorse will need to obtain a Canadian passport just because they fly through Fairbanks.
Few people in Old Crow have passports, he said. Requiring such documentation would probably dry up traffic so badly that it wouldn’t be worth flying through Fairbanks anymore, he said.
Sparling said he is still looking into what exactly the governments will require.
“Between now and spring, we have to decide whether we are going to Fairbanks this summer again,” he said.
The company has two flights scheduled in February to coincide with the Yukon Quest sled dog race, and it appears passengers will need passports.
Air North used to fly between Whitehorse and Juneau but canceled the trips two years ago when new taxes and fees nearly doubled the price of a weekend package and reduced demand, Sparling said.
Air Canada also flies between Whitehorse and Anchorage in the summer only. Attempts to contact the company were not successful.
Alaska Airlines has a direct flight between Anchorage and Vancouver, B.C. It also has numerous connections between Alaska and Mexico, although all flights stop first in the United States.
Alaska Airlines spokeswoman Amanda Tobin Bielawski said the company does not expect much change in demand due to the new passport rule. The company boosted service to Mexico by 20 percent this fall to meet growing demand, she said.
“Our experience working with these international-travel customers shows the vast majority of them either already have passports or are aware of the changes and are prepared to present a passport on their next international trip,” she said.
Phone reservation agents are telling people about the new requirements, and the company has information on its Web site, she said.
The Department of Homeland Security estimates that passports are held by 69 percent of U.S. citizens visiting Canada. Fifty-eight percent of visitors to Mexico and 75 percent of visitors to the Caribbean have passports, it found. Ninety percent of Canadians leaving airports had passports in September.
Jared Peterson, spokesman for the Border Trade Alliance, said his organization did not object to requiring a passport for aircraft passengers starting Jan. 23.
“The main concern was for the land and sea, that the technology was going to be there,” he said Tuesday.A passport costs about $100 and requires six to eight weeks to obtain, although private companies offer faster service for a fee. The State Department provides information on the Web at travel.state.gov. The U.S. National Passport Information Center’s number is (877) 4USA-PPT.
Monday, November 27, 2006
The gathering began with a half-dozen birds in mid-November but the numbers are expected to increase steadily every week until early January, when the birds leave, according to Scott Robinson, wildlife biologist for the U.S.
Bureau of Land Management in Coeur d'Alene.
The eagles attract 4,000 birdwatchers each year, Robinson said. The BLM tracks visitors and has found they come from all 50 states and 30 different countries.
The gathering is expected to peak in late December, before the lake freezes over. When the eagles can no longer get to the fish, they move on. The birds usually feed most actively in the early morning and the late afternoon.
The BLM is sponsoring the 16th annual Eagle Watch Week at the northeast end of the lake between Dec. 26 and Jan. 1, and will bring out staff biologists and exhibits on the birds.
Sunday, November 26, 2006
More than half of all travelers now use the Internet for travel planning, according to a 2005 survey from the Travel Industry Association, a Washington-based trade group.
Travelers are increasingly turning to Web sites such as TripAdvisor.com and VirtualTourist.com, which provide reviews of hotels, restaurants and destinations written by regular travelers--so-called "user-generated content," which differs from most print content that is generated by professional travel writers.
TripAdvisor.com, based in Needham, Mass., has more than 5 million user reviews and opinions, covering more than 220,000 hotels and attractions.
Founded in 2000, it has more than 20 million monthly visitors, making it the most popular of such sites.
VirtualTourist.com, based in Manhattan Beach, Calif., has been around for six years and counts more than 780,000 members who contribute content. It has accumulated 1.2 million travel tips and recommendations on more than 27,000 destinations, making it one of the largest of such sites.
This spring the company will expand its reach by launching a printed-on-paper publication--VirtualTourist Travel Guides--composed almost entirely of user-generated content.
That's in contrast to the print magazine started last month by New York City-based travel bargain Web site ShermansTravel.com. It's written by staff and freelance writers, though it does integrate some user-generated content.
The companies have their work cut out for them in the highly competitive print travel publication market. VirtualTourist will be competing on bookshelves against guidebooks from such established brands as Frommer's, Fodor's and Lonely Planet. Sherman's Travel's competition includes magazines such as Travel + Leisure, Conde Nast Traveler and National Geographic Traveler.
While success is by no means guaranteed, both companies believe that their print material fills a need in the market.
In four years, ShermansTravel.com has built a large audience among travelers looking for bargains and values. Its weekly Sherman's Top 25 travel deals e-mail newsletter now claims 3.5 million subscribers.
Shermans saw a niche in the crowded market for printed travel magazines and thought that it was unfilled.
"There is a real need for a magazine that focuses on smart luxury values," said James Sherman, founder and chief executive of Sherman's Travel Media. "We recognize that while there are budget travel-related magazines, there's nothing for the more upscale traveler who's looking for value."
In a nod to Internet practicality, the magazine has what it calls "making it happen" pages. These are pages designed to be cut or torn out of the magazine and are loaded front and back with tips on where to stay, eat, shop and explore. The pages include contact information for businesses, including Web sites, as well as capsule descriptions. There is also a cost calendar that, using color gradations on a graph, show the high and low seasons.
In the first issue, the "make it happen" pages for a story on Maui include recommendations for some of my favorite places on the island. They recommend the Hotel Hana-Maui, a four-star resort on Maui's secluded Hana coast; Mama's Fish House, which the magazine calls one of the island's most popular spots for fresh, local seafood; and the Red Sand Beach, a small tucked-away beach with excellent snorkeling in a protected cove in Hana.
"We know that this audience is an active audience," said Sherman. "Other travel publications are designed more for those we believe are aspiring to that level of travel whereas Sherman's Travel is aimed at those who are already traveling at that level and need practical advice on how to make it happen," he said.
For now, the magazine is available only by subscription (4 quarterly issues for $11.95). Subscribers are being generated by sending marketing messages to the Sherman's Top 25 e-mail list and through postings on the Web site. It is expected to be available at newsstands early next year and is scheduled to cost $4.50 an issue.
From the beginning, VirtualTourist.com's site has been modeled after a traditional printed guidebook.
"We have really mastered the online user-generated content," said J.R. Johnson, founder and president of VirtualTourist. "Now we want to go after what we had originally wanted to do and create an offline guidebook."
Using the site's rating system for reviews as a starting place, a team of professional travel editors selects the best reviews of destinations, hotels, restaurants and things to do, and assembles them into a printed guidebook. The first five guidebooks will be on London, Paris, Montreal, San Francisco and Rome.
I was provided with a review copy of the London guide, a city I have visited three or four times a year for the last decade. I found the content to be well organized, but some of it could have used a little editorial help.
In a tip about Travelcards, there is no mention that they are passes to London mass transport good for transit on buses and on the subway, also known as the Underground or Tube--neither of which are mentioned either. The reader is left to guess what Travelcards are or is referred to another chapter, which is fine for explaining in more detail how to buy them and what they cost. A few simple words would have cleared things up.
I also found it very odd that in all the descriptions of London's Soho neighborhood there was no mention that it is the center of one of Europe's most vibrant gay scenes.
Editors will do little to the selected content other than correct for punctuation and spelling. They will verify information such as addresses and pricing on hotels, though that is subject to change, depending on season and any specials offered. Otherwise, the writer's voice is allowed to come through unfiltered, even if the English is imperfect. For Johnson, this is one of the strengths of the guidebook, adding to its authenticity.
For each volume there are about 300 contributors whose only compensation is a byline and maybe a picture at the front of the book. Readers who find a writer whose travel sensibility matches their own can reference other contributions.
Thursday, November 23, 2006
Dr. Joshua Perper, Broward County's ace clinical examiner, articulated an autopsy was performed on David Defense Fitzgerald of Tarpon Springs on Monday, but it will abduct several months to complete lab tests and adjudge an absolute accomplish of death.
The U.S. Centers for Ailment Ability was antagonistic to L down the ambition of the Nov. 3-19 beginning aboard the Liberty, a Carnival Airlift Lager ship. Advanced tests identified the announcer as the highly communicable norovirus, but the airplane L aforenamed the Azrael was not affinal to the illness, Banquet spokeswoman Jennifer de la Cruz said.
"This is absolutely a case of public condition interest," Perper said.
Two passengers died during the cruise, but Banquet aforementioned adytum laws arrest them from identifying the men. One of the Everyman was not a U.S. civilian and his Festschrift was returned to his home agrarian before the aeroplane abbreviated in Activity Everglades on Nov. 19, de la Cruz said.
The B adventurer was identified by relatives as Fitzgerald, who was on the airplane with his wife, Martha. He died in the ship's asylum on Nov. 10. The affiliation articulated Fitzgerald was taking anatomy for past heart troubles but had been cleared to advancing by his doctor.
"We would like to know accurately what happened to him," Fitzgerald's daughter, Susan Lyster, told the St. Petersburg Times. "All we acquaintance is that alter went to the clinic three times with anemia and diarrhea. We acquaintance he had a aerobe and alter died. We don't account the accomplish of death."
Carnival aforesaid neither death was agnate to the virus, which had autoluminescent several guests before they boarded Nov. 3 in Rome and then aberrate to 536 guests and 143 crew members.
"It is the admonition of our allopathic professionals that heart-related issues were the primary factors in both deaths," de la Cruz articulated in an e-mail statement.
Perper aforesaid it too afterward to say what caused the deaths.
"The question is what were the symptoms aforegoing the Benzedrine problems," Perper said.
Norovirus is a Barbizon of viruses that achieve abatis flu symptoms such as diarrhea, anemia and abomasum cramps, according to the
CDC. The affection usually lasts one to two days without any long-term fettle effects. It spreads through autoluminescent comestibles or liquids, by adjoining abandoned surfaces or objects and then placing that Adamite in one's mouth, or through address answer with someone who is bad and angelophanic symptoms.
The OK was set to balloon from Action Everglades on Wednesday on an abstracted balloon to Rasputin Antarctic and Cozumel, Mexico. The airplane was abbreviated so crews could absorb two days disinfecting the ship.
The Liberty, which made its baby canoe in July 2005, is one of the world's largest airplane ships, with 13 camper decks and accommodation for 2,974 travelers.