Monday, March 3, 2008

Winter resort: Whistler, British Columbia, Canada

Whistler, what and where it is

Whistler is a popular winter in British Columbia, Canada. It is located about 125 km north of Vancouver in the Pacific Ranges of the Coast Mountains. It seems the resort was named after the hoary marmots which live in the area. Hoary marmots are squirrels and is one of the largest squirrel. Its nickname "the whistler" originated from its habit of issuing high-pitched warning to alert other hoary marmots of danger.

Whistler as a ski resort

According to Wikipedia, Whistler has been voted among the top destinations in North America by major ski magazines for the past 15 years and its pedestrian village has won numerous design awards. Whistler will host the 2010 Winter Olympics. If you plan to go for the 2010 Winter Olympics, my opinion is that you book your Whistler accommodation as booking is expected to be heavy and if you wait till the last minute, you will probably not be able to find the accommodation you want.

Whistler attractions

However, you don't need to wait for the 2010 Winter Olympics to enjoy Whistler winter resort and you don't even need to wait for winter. In summer, you can go hiking in mountain paths (guided), fishing in various attractive fishing locations, go boating, mountain biking, whitewater river rafting, practice your golfing skills, perhaps even try horseback riding.

However, the major attractions of Whistler is during winter when you can go for skiing or snowboarding, tubing, dog sledding, snowshoeing, snowmobiling (as an environmentalist, I hope you wouldn't go for that), fishing, horse-drawn sleigh riding and cross-country skiing if you have the stamina and the patience.

Whistler accommodations

Whistler accommodation, British Columbia, CanadaAmong various kinds of Whistler lodging are condos, slope side luxury homes, town homes and ski chalets. Many of them are ski-in, ski-out accommodations located right at the edge of the snow covered slopes from which you can just step right out of the door and be a few steps from your skiing pleasures. An example is the Benchlands Marquise which also offers common hot tub and pool. However, description of this accommodation says it has "ski-in/ski-out access just across the street, so it is not exactly ski slope right at the door steps. However, search hard enough or make some enquiries, I am sure you will find something.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

London, a world City?

There are cities and there are cities. What I mean is, most cities are run-of-the-mill cities but others are international cities which are center of commerce, finance, education and great tourist attractions. These are what I would call world cities much visited by businessmen, government and other officials, diplomats, and of course, tourists.

London, once capital city of the world

There was a time when London was the center of an empire on which the sun never set, and my country was a part (colony) of that empire. When my country did not have a Patent office, I had to file (and successfully obtained) for a patent from the London Patent office via a London patent agent. My country still has plenty of ties with London. Many of our important personalities and leaders obtained their tertiary education form London, including many of the royalties and former Prime Minister. Many parents from my country send their children to London for their education. When it comes to graduation time, expect them to make a bee line to attend their children's graduation ceremony (convocation).

For them, I would suggest that they book their accommodation in advance, preferably online via websites like London Hotels. I am giving this advice from personal experiences from travel around Europe during the time when the word Internet or World Wide Web hadn't even been coined yet.

One hotel I may consider would be Covent Garden Hotel London. From this site, the hotel had been described the City’s business center, Soho and the Royal Opera House being within walking distance. Plus it seemed to be furnished with lots of modern gadgets like CD system, cellular telephone, voicemail, etc. as well as having spacious rooms and luxurious bathrooms, etc. However, that is a 5 star hotel, and I doubt I can afford or be willing to pay its room rates although those with deeper pockets and/or willing to pay for what they want may have different perception.

Maybe I would go for 1 star hotels like Ascot Hyde Park Hotel London. It is near the famous Hyde Park and not very far from Oxford Street.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Vacation in the sun on the beaches in Turkey

Childhood memories are sweet memories. Vivid pleasant memories of childhood times when I and me fellow Boy Scouts camped by the seaside. I also remembered the time when I and my childhood friend cycled 20 plus miles to be by the seaside. For we folks who don't live by the seaside, sight of the sea and the beaches are a fascinating change from the monotonous sight of concrete buildings.

Now still city bound, you will no doubt understand why city bound folks will like to experience a beach holiday from a rental beach villa. I don't think they, after getting used to the comforts of their urban "palaces" will want to enjoy the fun we had camping by the sea shore while young, budget constrained and hardy.

Vacation on the beaches in Muslim majority countries

I live in a Muslim majority country and can understand why they would prefer to travel to Muslim majority countries for their vacations. I think the major reason will be it will be much easier for them to get halal (kosher) food, food suitable for Muslims. What the possible Muslim majority countries they can go to for a vacation on the beaches?

Now while we may be discussing vacations in Muslim majority countries, I am sure many world citizens do not uses religion as a criteria as to where they want to go for their vacations, so the countries listed below are not exclusively for Muslims.

Vacation on the beaches in Muslim majority Turkey

Turkey, or more accurately, the Republic of Turkey is located in the Anatolian peninsula in western Asia and Thrace (Rumelia) in the Balkan region of southeastern Europe. According to Wikipedia, 99.8% of the Turkish population is Muslim, of whom over 75% belong to the Sunni branch of Islam.

Now where can you enjoy Vacation in the sun on the beaches in Muslim majority Turkey? Well, the Turkish Aegean Coast is one possibility. In fact, tourism industry is increasingly an important industry for Turkey and other than the variety of archaeological and historical sites, the seaside resorts along its Aegean and Mediterranean coasts are its principal attractions for tourists. Among many possibilities, one of the possibility is to bask on a sunny beach from a villa on the Turkish Aegean Coast. If you prefer the Mediterranean coasts, you can easily book a beach front villa for a Turkish Mediterranean holiday and enjoy the Turkish Mediterranean cuisine at the same time.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

My Europe tour in the 70's

I had the good fortune of getting a Belgium government scholarship to do my post-graduate studies at the University of Ghent, Ghent, Belgium, in the 70's. I was married then with a child. My family accompanied me for the whole duration of my studies. The Belgium government and the University were generous. Not only was my fees paid for, I was given ample allowance plus married students accommodation at a married students apartment plus meal vouchers to eat for free at the nearby University canteen. I enjoyed the food there.

Not only that, I was able to take my family on tour to various European cities, including London and Rome.

Tour to London

For the tour to London, we went to Ostend on the Belgium coast, took the Hovercraft over the English Channel to Dover, then a train ride to London. There was no such thing as Internet then, so I had to waste precious tourist time hunting for accommodation upon arrival. Had Internet been invented before then, I would probably have used an online accommodation booking site like Easy to Book London Hotels. I was a student then traveling on a budget, so had to stay at budget Bed and Breakfast accommodation then. Had I the funds, I might have stayed in luxury 5 star hotels like Connaught Hotel London located in the fashionable Mayfair district with many antique shops, churches and public garden. On the other hand, I wondered if I would really have as I hate waste and even if I am a millionaire, my not pay top dollars for such luxury which will be seldom used as most of the time, I probably be out visiting places of interest instead.

Tour of Rome

I and my family visited Rome with a stop-over at Switzerland. If I remembered correctly, we traveled on a train using the Eurorail pass and stayed at what they called pension. Can't remember exactly what that means except probably cheap. I can also recall the time wasted hunting for suitable accommodation upon arrival then. If I ever get to visit Rome again, I will probably use Easy to Book Rome Hotels to book my accommodation online.

What else do I remember of our Rome tour. The most vivid memories are those of food - Italian food. I remember eating at the roadside, watching my meal come out direct from the oven. I remembered calzone, the fold-over pizza that looks like a giant version of my country's bit size curry puffs. I remember the delicious lasagne, alternate layers of white pastry and fillings baked in the oven. The white pastry looks pretty much like our "chee cheong fun". Other places I remember visiting are the catacombs, the run-down Colloseum, Pantheon, the Roman Forum, the Trevi fountain. Don't think I threw any coins into the Trevi fountain though, so if the legend that says you will return to Rome if you throw a coin into the Trevi fountain is true, then the chances of me returning to Rome is not too good. We didn't miss the Vatican City, but that is supposed to be another country, not a part of Rome although it is situated right in the middle of Rome.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Driving in Scandinavia: Tips and Tricks

Scandinavian Countries

Scandinavia ia located on the Scandinavian Peninsula in the northern part of Europe. The countries which make up Scandinavia include Denmark, Norway and Sweden. The "borderline" Nordic countries are Finland, Iceland and the Faroe Islands which have close historic and cultural relations to Denmark, Norway and Sweden and thus some considered as part of Scandinavia.

Driving in Scandinavia

The first time I got tangled with a Scandinavian country is I think Sweden found that by getting all cars to have their headlights on even during daytime, the number of accidents were reduced. My country followed partly by requiring motorcyclist, which bear the highest risk of fatal accidents, to also keep headlights on at all time, including daylight. Now I found out that this rule of keeping headlights on 24 hours don't only apply to Sweden, but throughout Scandinavia. However, headlights must be dipped, meaning no highlights. In my country, only the front driver and passengers are required to belt up. In Scandinavia, passengers in the back seats are also required to use seat belts. Driving in my country follows United Kingdom, on the left. In Scandinavia, vehicles have to drive on the right. I have had a taste of it in Belgium when I had to hire a car to fetch my family from the airport in Brussels. They too drive on the right. It felt pretty strange and one have to try hard not to end up on the wrong side of the road. Plus in crossing the street, one have to be extra attentive as pedestrian crossing a road have to pay extra attention to different direction of the road. Requirements for motorcyclists are the same. All must wear safety helmets, although many in the rural and less accessible areas in my country ignore this rule.

As in many countries, driving under of influence of alcohol, drugs, euphoriants, plus using a hand phone while driving, all are an offence. Difference is, if you are caught in Scandinavia, the penalty is very heavy.

Speed limits on highways differs from country to country. It is 130km/hr in Denmark, 90km/hr to 100km/hr in Norway, 110km/hr in Sweden. Where traffic are heavy, roads near cities or for treacherous roads, lower speed limit will apply. Speed limit On smaller roads throughout Scandinavia is between 70 to 80 km/hr. It is 30 to 50 km/hr within residential areas.

Why drive in Scandinavia

Yes, why bother to drive around Scandinavian countries. Very simple answer. They have excellent roads with easy to understand traffic signs.The scenery is beautiful and makes for a very memorable experience. See example in the photo below:

Scandivania countryside
Photo of Scandinavia countryside is property of Johnny Knoxville

Nearly all highways in Denmark and Sweden are free. Motorists only pay toll for using the Great Belt Bridge between Sealand and Funen in Denmark, and the Öresund Bridge between Malmö in Sweden and Copenhagen, Denmark.

Oresund Bridge between Copenhagen in Denmark and Malmo in Sweden
Photo of Oresund Bridge is property of Emil Erlandsson

The Oresund Bridge carries a two-track rail plus a four-lane road across the Oresund strait joining the Danish capital of Copenhagen with the Swedish city of Malmö. How much you pay to use the Oresund Bridge depends on the type of vehicle.

Toll collected from tolled highways in Norway, however, is used for maintaining the quality of the roads and tunnels. As of 2007, there are 45 road tolls in Norway.


The Kingdom of Sweden is a Nordic country on the Scandinavian Peninsula in Northern Europe bordering Norway in the west and Finland in the northeast. Sweden is a member of the European Union. If I were to visit Sweden, I would not repeat the mistake of the past and only start hunting for accommodation upon arrival. I would book accommodation ahead of arrival from websites like Sweden Hotels.

Stockholm is the capital of Sweden, the seat of the national Swedish government and the Swedish Parliament. The official residence of the Swedish monarch is also in Stockholm. Here is an interesting part of Stockholm: Skeppsbron. Skeppsbron is as street and a quay in Gamla Stan, the oldest part of Stockholm. Skeppsbron starts from the bridge Strömbron in front of the Royal Palace and stretch southward to Slussen.

Skeppsbron Stockholm SwedenPhoto of Skeppsbron, Stockholm, is property of Etienne Cazin

Online booking of accommodation is available from Stockholm Hotels.


The Kingdom of Norway, a constitutional monarchy in the western portion of the Scandinavian Peninsula of Northern Europe is neighbor of Sweden, Finland, and Russia. It is a long and narrow country. Norway has a long coastline along the North Atlantic Ocean its famous fjords.

Sunrise Oslo Fjord, Norway
Photo of Sunrise Oslo Fjord is property of Jim G

Online booking of accommodation in Norway is available from Norway Hotels

Oslo is the capital city of Norway and the third-largest Scandinavian city after Stockholm and Helsinki. The City Hall of Oslo is where the annual Nobel Peace Prize ceremony is held, and is a world event. The Holmenkollen ski jump is the venue for the Holmenkollen ski festival and was where the 1952 Winter Olympics was held. At Bygdøy, a peninsula on the western side of Oslo, is the Fram Museum where the ship Fram is housed. Fram was probably the strongest wooden ship ever built and was used in expeditions in the Arctic and Antarctic regions by the Norwegian explorers Fridtjof Nansen, Otto Sverdrup, Oscar Wisting, and Roald Amundsen between 1893 and 1912. Fram It was designed by the Norwegian shipwright Colin Archer for Fridtjof Nansen's 1893 Arctic expedition. At Bygdøy you can also find the Viking Ship Museum with ships from Gokstad, Oseberg and Tune.

Among the other attractions of Oslo are Akershus Castle and Fortress, Norsk Folkemuseum, the Norwegian Museum of Cultural History at Bygdøy, The Armed Forces Museum, The Historical Museum, The Museum of Modern Art, The Holmenkollen Ski Museum, Holmenkollen, The Kon-Tiki Museum, Bygdøy, The Munch Museum, Tøyen, The river Akerselva, The National Gallery, The Norwegian Maritime Museum, The Oslo City Museum, The Royal Palace, The Henie-Onstad Art Centre, Oslo Cathedral, Norwegian Museum of Science and Technology, The Storting, parliament building, The Vigeland Park in the Frogner park (Frognerparken), Tryvannstårnet, Hovedøya and Ullevål Hageby.

Online booking of accommodation is available at Oslo Hotels.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Cheapskate guide to cheap flight tickets

I am shouting to the world, I am a cheapskate. I hate waste and have no use for expensive air tickets for luxurious air travel. Actually I am no stranger to air travel on full service (and obviously not so cheap ticket) airlines. One was to Los Angeles, but that was a sponsored ticket for which I paid $0.00. Another one was to London, but that was a necessary trip to the United Kingdom Patent Office to conduct patent search. Online patent search plus budget airlines were non-existent then. Now both are available, and that is good news for cheapskate like me.

Budget air tickets for Australian residents

I don't reside in Australia, but I have some relatives in Melbourne and Sydney plus my sister and family often travel to our "home" country recently for our niece wedding plus of course, to see their grandchildren. They looks like they are well-to-do enough to visit other countries for holidays not too infrequently. Further, I have a brother-in-law plus sister-in-law who frequently travel to Sydney to visit their children in Sydney and their children often come back to our "home" country for holidays, etc. I don't know if they are a cheapskate like me who is on the lookout for cheapskate air tickets, but I would definitely draw their attention to this Australian website which claims they have recently massively overhauled the flights section making it easy to find cheap flights from Australia without having to click through too many painful search fields.

Cheap flights to Los Angeles

Los Angeles (L.A.) is the largest city in the state of California and the second-largest in the United States of America. That is where I went on a sponsored ticket (nothing can be cheaper to a cheapskate like me $0.00). According to Wikipedia, the Los Angeles–Long Beach–Santa Ana metropolitan area is home to nearly 13 million people who hail from all over the globe and speak more than a hundred different languages!!! 100 languages. I think that beats even India. Like a little boy, I wandered over to Anaheim Disneyland to enjoy the wonders meant for children. I would love to visit the Crystal Cathedral started by Reverend Dr. Robert H. Schuller and his wife, Arvella, practically from scratch. Dr. Schuller is not only a Christian pastor, but a great motivator as well. I missed that as at the time I visited Los Angeles, I did not know about the Crystal Cathedral, or more likely, it wasn't built yet. It has an appealing mission statement: "Find a need and fill it; find a hurt and heal it" and I believe Crystal Cathedral is doing exactly that.

Crystal Cathedral Orange Grove
Photo of Crystal Cathedral is property of Ilpo's Sojourn

If you are an Australian, Cheap flights to LA says they can help you quickly find cheap air flight tickets to get there.

Cheap flights to London, United Kingdom

London too is no stranger to me, and I visited London in an almost cheapskate way too. I had a Belgium government scholarship to do my post-graduate studies in Ghent, Belgium. So my plane tickets are fully paid, accommodation plus food and allowances, fees, are provided for by the Belgium government. I just need to add a little for a trip to Ostend, took a Hovercraft to Dover and a train to London. Allowance paid for that, so it is cheapskate enough. However, if you are an Australian and you don't have a Belgium government scholarship, I am afraid you will have to depend on Cheap flights to London.

Cheap flights to Fiji

Fiji (Republic of the Fiji Islands), is an an archipelago of about 322 islands west of Tonga, east of Vanuatu, and south of Tuvalu, and not too far from Australia. With prediction of rising ocean caused the the environmental problem of the century - global warming, if you want to visit Fiji, you may have to be fast before it is partially of fully submerged. Again, if you are an Australian in a hurry, Cheap flights to Fiji. May I wish you all the best. From a confirmed cheapskate and hoping you don't get offended by this frequent reference to "cheapskate" as I see nothing wrong in being a cheapskate. In fact, I hate those who waste our Earth limited natural resources or squander money unnecessarily.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Portugal, a country I missed during my European tour

Why I would like to visit Portugal if I get the chance

One thing forever etched in my mind about Portugal is the Portuguese professor whom I met at a student hostel in Ghent, Belgium. He asked me: "Do you know what is the Portuguese term for tea. When I plea ignorance, he gave me the answer - cha. Hey, that is exactly the Chinese word for tea!!! Further, he offered to share his piece of Camembert cheese with me (anyway, I believe it is Camembert cheese, those that have a white coating over the cheese). He cut a piece of it and offered it to me. I ate the whole piece. No, he said. You are not supposed to eat the white coating! Alarmed, I ask him if I will remain alive. No worry, I should be OK. He was right. Here I am preparing this post about Portugal for publishing.

Anyway, it aroused in me an interest in Portugal and things Portuguese. Here are some of the things I know. Portugal is of course right next to Spain in the Iberian Peninsular. Portugal has what they call Oceanic climate in the north and Mediterranean climate in the south and one of the warmest European countries. Just nice for people like me who hates to wear winter clothing to go outdoor. The islands of the Azores in the Mid-Atlantic and the Madeira archipelago in the north Atlantic Ocean are also part of Portugal.

Portugal is a popular tourist destination for European countries and have been attracting more than 12 million tourists annually. Lisbon, the Algarve and Madeira are the major tourist draw, but new areas like the Douro Valley, Costa do Sol, Porto Santo Island, Douro Sul, Alentejo, Templários, Dão-Lafões, Costa Azul and Planície Dourada are being developed, although still relatively unknown.

I wished I had visited Portugal when I was in Portugal, but being a poor student, have to limit my travel. After experiencing the hassle and time wasting task of hunting for suitable accommodation, especially those that suit my limited budget, I will always depend on online accommodation booking sites like Portugal Hotels to reserve where to lay my sleepy head when it is time to sleep before I even step out of the front door.

Lisbon, capital city of Portugal

Lisbon is the capital city, and like any capital city, is also the largest city of Portugal. If mild climate is what you like, Lisbon has one of the mildest climate of all European capitals. If you are interested in heritage, visit Baixa (Downtown or city center) which is currently being considered as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. You may see old hands still practicing their crafts like the Baixa shoemaker you see in the photo below:

Baixa Lisbon Portugal shoemaker
Photo of Baixa shoemaker is property of Andy Weisner

Among Lisbon attractions are the historic neighborhood of Belém with its grand Mosteiro dos Jeronimos, Bairro Alto, a residential, shopping and entertainment district with its nightlife, Punk, Gay, Metal, Goth, Hip Hop and Reggae scenes and thus the center of Lisbon's youth, Gare do Oriente, the main transportation hubs of Lisbon for metro, trains, buses and taxis and the distinct 1930s Lisbon Trams and Funiculars, the Elevador da Glória, Elevador da Bica, and Elevador da Lavra.

A website to book cheap hotels is Lisbon Hotels.

Algarve region of Portugal

The Algarve region is the southernmost region of mainland Portugal in which is located the towns of Albufeira, Faro, Olhão, Lagoa, Lagos, Quarteira, Loulé, Portimão, Silves, Tavira, and Vila Real de Santo António. Its main industry is the tourism industry, followed by fruit production, which includes oranges, carob beans, figs and almonds, plus fishing. Nature lovers will love the Ria Formosa lagoon, a nature reserve and a stopping place for hundreds of various birds. It is also popular with tourists because of its beaches, safety, Mediterranean climate and relatively low costs. Women football fans will love Algarve because it host the annual Algarve Cup invitational tournament for national women's football teams.

Algarve Island Portugal
Photo of Algarve cliffs is property of YXO

Booking of accommodation can be done online at Algarve Hotels.

Madeira archipelago

The Madeira archipelago is located in the north Atlantic Ocean and one of the Autonomous regions of Portugal. Of all its islands, only Madeira Island and Porto Santo Island are inhabited. Because of its climate, it is a popular year-round resort. Madeira is well known for its New Year's Eve celebrations accompanied by a spectacular fireworks show. Its fireworks show has entered the Guinness World Records as the largest in the world. Madeira is noted for its wine, flowers, and embroidery artisans.

Madeira beach Portugal
Photo of Madeira beach is property of Don Amaro

Being a relatively isolated region, it is advisable to book accommodation ahead of arrival via online accommodation websites like Madeira Hotels.