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The Great Wall of China

Last Friday was the official start of the Chinese New Year celebrations. The holiday is a week long, and consists of festivals, traditional food, cleaning the house in preparation for the coming of the New Year, and the giving of gifts to family members and business partners. The Lunar Festival is a fantastic celebration that occurs every year in China, rocking the rest of the world by storm in a celebration that puts our New Years Parties to shame. So what better place to visit at this time of year, than the Great Wall of China?

great-wallFamous for its intense length, the original construction of the Great Wall of China was thought to be as early as the 7th Century BC. It is located across the hysterical northern borders of China and was constructed as a means to protect China from invaders. The Great Wall is a staggering 13,171 miles in length, and much of the original construction still remains standing today, although in various states of disrepair.

The Great Wall is a legendary hiking trail, as walking even part of the length of the Wall is considered to be a great feat, with certain sections of the wall thinning perilously out to only a few feet wide. Thousands of tourists attempt the walk every year, and there is even an annual event that has taken place since 1999, dedicated to running a marathon atop the Wall. It has also been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1987.

great-wall-2It is fascinating to see what areas of the Great Wall are oldest, as the Wall has been constructed of a variety of material, including bricks, and earth wood and stone, when bricks had not yet been discovered.  Later on larger stones cut into rectangular shapes were used, as they can hold under their weight for longer than brick. Walking across the Great Wall allows us to see the progression of construction types used in the history of China.

As well as being a rich cultural experience, walking the Wall is also a great way to see China from above, and a way to take in the stunning view of rugged mountains and beautiful woodland. The Mutianyu section of the wall is the most popular amongst tourists, and the walk across this section takes about a day. So why not? Next time you plan a holiday in China, definitely try to hire a car and visit the Great Wall!

 

50 States Road Trip – Wisconsin

Pack your travel bag, because Wisconsin is a relative treasure trove of hiking trails, adventure parks and fantastic locations ideal for fishing and camping holidays. Whether you love living in the great outdoors, or you just like visiting it on occasion, Wisconsin has so much to offer. Aside from the numerous hiking trails and camping locations, Wisconsin has a couple of other gems for those travellers looking for something a little different.

wisconsin-map

Cave of the Mounds

One of the most famous caves of America, Cave of the Mounds is a National Natural Landmark, created over hundreds of thousands of years to become the natural wonder you can go and see today. It is referred to as the ‘jewel box of America’ out of the major natural caves, due to its intricate and unique formations.

cave-moundsGuided tours of the cave are available all year round, and because the interior of the cave is always warm, the cave is a popular destination to take the family in the winter. Guests can wander around the intricate butterfly and prairie gardens, as well as participating in their own fossil dig. The gift shop of Cave of the Mounds contains rock and fossil specimens from all over the world, making it an essential tour stop.

Cheese and Wine

Wisconsin is a state famous for its dairy produce, its cheese in particular. With over 100 cheese factories, visitors are truly spoilt for choice when it comes to eating delicious cheese. For a unique experience, try the Cedar Valley Cheese Store where you can sample some 300 varieties of Wisconsin cheese.

Hire a car and drive south for around 20 miles where you will find the Cedar Creek Winery, a historic mill built in the 1860’s. This mill creates several award winning wines, made with a variety of spices and fragrances, ideal as an accompaniment to the beautiful cheeses of the Cedar Valley Cheese store, or on its own.

Milwaukee Art Museum

Milwaukee-Art-Museum

A giant art museum that holds over 30,000 stunning pieces of art. Located by Lake Michigan in Milwaukee this art museum is visited by over 350,000 people a year, and has a self states mission to ‘collect and preserve art, presenting it to the community as a vital source of inspiration and education’. The museum has also been praised for its extensive collection of individual architecture.

Various pieces of historical architecture include the 1957 War Memorial Centre by finnish-american architect Eero Saarinen and the Quadracci Pavilion created by Santiago Calatrava in 2001, a Spanish architect.

Next Stop…

Still heading East on our journey through the 50 states of America, we travel into Michigan next time, home to the largest crucifix in the world. Detroit, which is the state of Michigan’s most populous city, is also known as the car capital of the world.

Things To See In Moscow

Moscow is the capital of Russia, and the hub of much of the country’s financial and political activity. Along with St Petersburg, it is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Russia, and is known primarily for its long history, its spectacular architecture and its eclectic culture.

Moskva River

Moskva River

One of the first things you will likely see upon entering Moscow is the Moskva River, which flows through the centre of the city, followed by the famous ring road system with which you will need to acquaint yourself if you are planning on driving in Moscow, as much of the city’s layout is determined by these essential roads.

Red Square

Red Square

There are some beautiful sights to be seen in Moscow, and you’ll want to make sure you get as many of these in as possible. One of these sights you absolutely can’t miss is the Red Square, found at the very heart of the city. This is surrounded by some of Moscow’s greatest landmarks, including St Basil’s Cathedral, Lenin’s Mausoleum and one of the walls of the Kremlin.

St Basil’s Cathedral

St Basil's Cathedral

The 16th century St Basil’s Cathedral is one of the most iconic sites in the entire country, and is breathtakingly beautiful. This Russian Orthodox building is highly characteristic with its onion-shaped domes, golden spires and vibrant colours, and it is thought that the influences for the building were primarily Byzantine and Asian in origin, rather than European as many people thought.

The Kremlin

The Kremlin

The Kremlin is another significantly important site in Moscow, and is well worth a visit. This historic complex overlooks the river, and is the official residence of the Russian president. The Armoury certainly shouldn’t be missed, especially for its stunning diamond collection. You may also like to attend the ballet to see some world class performances, go on a guided tour or take yourself off to wander at your leisure.

Museums

Tretyakov Gallery

If you are interested in museums, you’ll certainly be in the right place in Moscow. The Tretyakov Gallery is dedicated primarily to Russian art, featuring the work of famous Russians through time. The Pushkin Museum, in contrast, displays an impressive collection of Western art, focusing particularly on Impressionism and Post-Impressionism. For Realism, the Institute of Russian Realist Art (IRRA) should be your first stop.

Summer Trips

Gorky Park

For summer visits when the weather is fine, take a trip to Gorky Park for a laid back afternoon of relaxing and exploring. There are cafes, open-air film screenings, public art projects and design and craft fairs taking place all the time in this buzzing park, and it’s a great place to sit and watch the residents of Moscow going about their daily business.

Things To Do In Toulouse

Toulouse is one of the many beautiful classical French Cities of the modern world. Its’ cultural and heritage sites are located mainly in the Old Town, and there are countless things to do for any tourist looking for a culturally rich experience while holidaying in the south of France.

Toulouse is known as the Pink City or La Ville Rose, and this is because of the huge number of red brick buildings located in Toulouse. Although Toulouse is a beautiful city in itself, it is important to make sure that you check out all the best cultural and popular spots for tourists, when visiting Toulouse. We have compiled a list of some of the best things to do while in Toulouse, so that you are sure to find something for everyone in the family!

Toulouse_by_night_with_Basilique_Saint-Sernin

Toulouse By Night

Museum of Toulouse/Botanical Gardens

The Museum of Toulouse is Toulouse’s National History Museum and contains much of Toulouse’s cultural history and the history of France itself. With Study Days specially made for students, and exhibitions on the native animals of France and their habitats, the Toulouse Natural History Museum is a great stop for any animal lover wanting to know more about the wildlife of southern France.

Toulouse_Grand_Rond_05195Plus with the Botanical gardens right next to the Natural History Museum, you can come along and walk amongst a variety of beautiful flowers and several species of birds native to France. It is a public area, with free entry, and tourists can picnic among the flowers and the birds, for a truly magical experience.

 

Jolimont Observatory

A great place to visit at any time of day, and surrounded by the beautiful gardens of Toulouse, the Jolimont Observatory is best visited in the evening at winter time, as stargazing is available, and you can get a fantastic view of the night lit city of Toulouse from the observatory as well. There are several sessions of covering stargazing taught throughout the week with lessons tailored towards children, conducted by the Popular Astronomy Society.

Space City

Toulouse holds the role as a capital city of the European Space Program, so the Space City includes exciting sights to see including model displays of ships as well as life-size replicas that include the Mir Space Station and the Ariane 5 Space Rocket.

Plus with hands on interactive displays, there is plenty to see for both children and adults, and there is even a virtual reality space experience available, if you think you are brave enough. The Space City entrance fee is around twenty Euros, depending on the age of your children, and the City is open daily from 9:30 until 5pm. It can be accessed by bus.

farmers-market-toulouse

Farmers Market in Toulouse

If you want a more casual, light-hearted day, you could always go for a brief walk or wander around one of the many small markets of Toulouse, as it is a beautiful city. Toulouse also has a number of professional restaurants to offer, many of which are popular with both tourists visiting the city and the natives living there. A sign of a good French restaurant is to see lots of native eating there!

About the Author

This post was written by Amy Jenkins who writes for a number of online publications about European travel and has provided the article on behalf of SFHV, the number one site for holiday villa rentals in the south of France.

50 States Road Trip – Minnesota

The state of Minnesota has a load of hidden gems for tourists of all ages to enjoy, whether you have young children looking to visit some famous theme parks, you’re a budding artist looking for inspiration, or if you just really love Spam, Minnesota has it all.

usa-map-minnesota

Nickelodeon Universe

Fancy a shopping trip and a half? hire a car and drive down to the Mall of America, located in the city of Bloomington, for a shopping experience like no other. A leading centre in retail, entertainment and attractions, Mall of America has a huge range of top brand shops, restaurants and cinemas. Plus it is also home to the Nickelodeon Universe, a unique theme park located inside the centre of the Mall.

Nickelodeon Universe

The park is a huge seven acres filled to bursting with unique attractions, entertainment and Nickelodeon characters. A number of themed rides will have your kids laughing and begging for more. Let them meet their favourite characters at character meet and greets, and get some fantastic souvenirs from the Nickelodeon gift shop. Plus there is always the rest of the mall to explore, if you wanted to leave Mum or Dad to watch the kids for a bit!

Franconia Sculpture Park

For a real hidden gem, why not drop by the Franconia Sculpture Park in the St. Croix River Valley region of Minnesota. It is a not-for-profits arts organization that encourages the participation of famous artists and sculptors across the globe in its 25 acre park in Minnesota. These artists will receive either a ‘fellowship’ or an ‘internship’ where they are given a budget, studio space, tools for creating the artwork and on site housing so that they can create their own masterpiece within the parks boundaries.

During your tour of the park you will meet artists at work, finished creations and artists in residence who are more than happy to answer your questions. It is a one of a kind  engaging, artistic experience.

Museum of Spam

Spam_wallHave you always dreamed of visiting a place where Spam reigns above all? Well now you can by visiting the National Museum of Spam, located in Austin! Packed with important information about the nations favourite blended meat, the Spam Museum includes a World War II Spam Exhibit, a Monty Python Spam Tribute, plus a gift shop where you can purchase every variety of Spam available on the market.

The Spam Museum is the self named most comprehensive collection of spiced pork artefacts all located under one meaty roof. Plus, admission is free! What more could you want, apart from maybe a fork…

Next Stop:

Our next destination in the 50 states is ‘America’s Dairyland’ made famous for its dairy producers and many different types of cheese. We are of course, talking about the state of Wisconsin.

National Penguin Awareness Day

Penguins are one of the world’s most well known, popular and sociable little creatures, and today is one of their days (The other being 25th April which is World Penguin Day).

emperor-penguin-family

Famous for their strange colouring, adorable walk, and the ability to come in literally all shapes and sizes, both adults and children can see a variety of penguins in zoos across the world.

One of the most famous zoos in the UK for penguins is Edinburgh Zoo, and these little birds are some of the most spoilt in the world, with the biggest outdoor penguin pool in Europe; a pool that is over 65 metres long and containing 1.2 million litres of water. The outdoor penguin pool has a selection of sandy beaches and rocky areas which provide diversity for the penguins, which is great for their feet.


Fun Fact!
The largest species of penguin is the Emperor penguin, which can grow as heavy as 90 lbs, whereas the smallest species is the fairy penguin, weighing in at a tiny 2 lbs. There are a total of eighteen discovered species of penguin.

Edinburgh zoo is also home to the world famous Penguin Parade, a gorgeous little activity that occurs every day at or around 2:15pm. It is situated just outside the Penguins Rock pool and animal participation is completely voluntary. This means that you may get more or less penguins coming out to parade on certain days. Some days there may be no participants at all in the parade, which is a shame for visitors looking to see the parade, but acceptable all the same. These are wild animals after all.

Aside from the number of voluntary participants, the Penguin Parade is subject to local weather conditions and can be cancelled due to bad weather, storms etc. If you want to visit the zoo purely to see the parade, make sure to check your local weather forecast!

Fun Fact!
A penguin’s colouring is known as ‘countershading’, and it provides the perfect level of camouflage from both above and below when penguins are swimming in the water. Penguins can spend up to 75% of their lives at sea. 

As well as the fantastic Penguin Parade, Edinburgh zoo offers a number of interactive activities, including Giant Panda viewings. The zoo is a mere 9 minutes drive from Edinburgh Airport, and it is also a 15 minute drive from the city centre. Why not hire a car and take the family for a fantastic day out?

Happy Penguin Awareness Day!

Hiking in Norway

Norway is a truly beautiful country. With a wide range of climates and some beautiful landscapes, vast open moorlands and snowy mountains Norway is an ideal hiking country. Norway has a number of different hikes suitable for hikers of all ages and skill levels. From beginner to expert, Norway has hikes to suit everyone. Norway is also a great country for hiking as there are several destinations made purely for hiking, with amenities, camping sites and even hotels set up for hikers, all available a short drive by hired car from the routes or even within walking distance. What more could you ask for? We’ll be having a look at some of Norway’s best hiking locations, both for beginners and for experts, to make sure that nobody gets left out.

Trollheimen_mnt_Trollhetta

Rondane National Park Hiking

Home to the famous triangle route, Rondane National Park has a huge variety of different tours, and where you go will depend on what you want to see. For the more dedicated hikers there are tours that loop around the mountains in the park, or that climb up steep valleys with rocky outcroppings.

Rondane offers hikes that can last any time between three and seven hours, the longest being the hike from Rondvassbu to Doralseter via Langholet which is a staggering seven hours. The Rondvassbu – Doralseter route is mainly for those looking for a hiking challenge, as seven hours can be extremely taxing, especially for those that are new to hiking.

Some easier tours are available, with walks through beautiful valley floors, or along the Ula River with views of the mountains that surround the park. The Mysusete to Rondvassbu hike is a good choice for first time hikers, as it is mainly hilly areas with views of the mountains as opposed to more dangerous, rocky climbs. Plus at three hours long, it can substitute for a nice long walk in the fresh air.

 

Dovrefjell

A massive stretch of wide open mountainous terrain, Dovrefjell is a sigh to see. With wild musk oxen roaming its hills and even the occasional rare reindeer, it is ideal for a steady days hike. Suitable for hikers of all ages, however it is a long hike, up to the top of mount Snohetta, which is one of Norway’s highest mountains. It stands at 2286 metres above sea level and is also considered to be Norway’s most beautiful mountain.

musk-oxen-norway
Seeing the wild musk oxen, which have lived in the mountains of Dovrefjell since the ice age, is a sight to behold. With thick shaggy fur and powerful antlers, they are not to be missed. If you hike up mount Snohetta, on a good day you might even get to see a wild reindeer, which is very rare nowadays.

 

Don’t Forget

Even if it is a sunny and warm day, you’ll need to remember to dress suitably for the conditions on high altitude hikes. Wrap up really warm, or you’ll regret it later! Wear strong sturdy walking boots, with more heavy set hiking boots if you plan to climb steep valleys. Always wear protective eyewear in winter, as the harsh winds can be bitter .

And remember to have fun!

Visiting Tunisia – Your Wife for 2 Camels

One year I was holidaying with my family in Tunisia, when a shady looking man standing by a sign that read ‘Camel Rides – 30 Dinar’ sidled up to my father, scratched his nose and muttered “2 Camels for your wife”. He simply laughed and we continued our way through crowded market stalls.  A little worrying but nothing out of the ordinary; the locals were always scaring us like that, using funny jokes and phrases in an attempt to coax us over to their stalls.

Tunisia is a very interesting country.  The vendors there are hilarious, using jokes and English phrases to sell their wares, which makes it a fun country. Hundreds and thousands of tiny markets spring up everywhere, and hotel complexes normally have one or two of their own as you walk down the hallway to just get your breakfast. They sell a huge range of things including fake ‘real’ Prada bags, sandals, pottery, glassware, children’s swimwear and naturally a plush animal or two.

Meester Camel

Visiting Tunisia is an experience in itself. You need to keep your wits about you as there are always people trying to sell you things. Try not to look too interested in anything if you don’t like talking to people, as they love tourists. However Tunisia has a vast range of fantastic activities for anyone looking for a culturally rich holiday.

From visiting carpet factories to camel rides to vast animal reservations, Tunisia is a great country to holiday in, as there is something for everyone. Camel rides are a highlight of Tunisian holidays as the camel is such a strange animal, it is almost impossible to sit on it comfortably without fear of falling off. Either you feel way too high for comfort, or your seat is actually placed to the side of the camel, like a strange human seesaw, and you sway precariously left and right with each step the camel takes. Still it is a fantastic, breathtaking experience.

The zoos and reservations of Tunisia are not to miss, the most iconic being Friguia Animal Park. The park is easy to get to, a mere 15 minute drive by hired car from Sousse city centre, Friguia has a huge collection of animals with a number of activities, including dolphin swimming, available to those daring holidaymakers. Plus Friguia offers an evening of entertainment with a traditional Zulu three course meal followed by dancing and singing.

For the more casual tourists, a simple walk along the beach is relaxing and beautiful. Many of the larger hotels in Tunisia are located along the coast, with the swimming pool and relaxation areas normally backing onto the beach itself, so it doesn’t take long at all to get to the sea.

The locals are generally very friendly, and the stunning desert vistas you will experience both through camel rides and through simply driving around are surprisingly beautiful in their bleakness. If you are looking for a different destination from Hawaii or Ibiza, but still want the fun and the sun, Tunisia is the place to go.

National Tempura Day – A Taste of Japan

Well yesterday was National Tempura Day! A traditional battered dish made in Japan, Tempura was originally brought over to Japan from Portugal in the sixteenth century. It is a popular dish because it is still delicious while being reasonably healthy.

fried-tempuraTempura is made by deep frying vegetables, fish, shrimp or egg in a light batter. The batter is made from cold water and wheat flour although other ingredients can be used such as eggs, baking soda, oil or spices depending on your taste to change the flavour of the tempura. It can be eaten on its own or as a side dish to a main course of noodles in soup stock or curry.

Because Tempura is only lightly fried, and the batter is made from a special grade of wheat flour which is normally low in gluten, it is still a healthy dish, while being delicious and easy to eat. If you are thinking of making your own tempura, why not try these few tips for extra crispiness and deliciousness!

Use cold or ice water when making the batter

As this prevents the batter from absorbing too much oil, which can lead to the tempura becoming soggy and greasy. Crispy tempura is better!

Make it up on the spot!

Sometimes it is good to prepare foods ahead of time. A lot of Japanese food has to be prepared beforehand so that it has enough time to mature, or so that the food is safe to eat. However with tempura, it is better not to prepare the batter beforehand. Making it right before you plan to cook it is best!

The ideal temperature for frying tempura is between 170 and 180 degrees Celsius (340-360 Fahrenheit), and a way to test this is to drop a little bit of batter into the oil. If the batter bobs down into the oil and then comes up, instead of coming straight to the top, it is at the right temperature.

The order and between batches

If you are frying vegetables and seafood it is better to fry vegetables first, then seafood. There will be leftover batter that will simply fry in the pan when you cover the vegetables or seafood. This is known as Tenkasu and should be scooped out with an Ami Jakushi or small strainer, in order to keep them from burning and thus ruining the flavour of the oil. These Tenkasu can be used in other noodle and soup dishes.

Try your hand at cooking your own batch of tempura, or if you are planning a trip to Japan, it is certainly a simple dish that most will enjoy! There are several thousand great restaurants within walking or driving distance by a Shinjuku hired car in Tokyo and other main cities in Japan, and as Tempura is such an easy dish it is normally included in a main meal or as a supplement in noodle or Udon dishes. Itadakimasu!

tempura-dinner-miso-soy-rice

50 States Road Trip – Montana

Heading into Montana, we see that there are a huge range of things to do including visiting national parks and plains, as well as having a look at some of the older nations of native America. Montana is a beautiful vast county full of natural beauties and it is also a cornerstone of ancient Native American history, with several traditional tribes dotted around the county in homage to ancient traditions.

usa-map-montana1

 

National and State Parks

geyser-montana

Choose from the Glacier National Park or the Yellowstone National Park, both of which are home to a stunning selection of natural beauty landmarks. For those who want a more scenic c vista, Glacier National park offers huge snow peaked mountains, waterfall studded hiking trails and fields of wildflowers, whereas Yellowstone National Park is host to a number or wolves, bison and bears (oh my!) as well as numerous hot springs and natural geysers. Yellowstone is also famous for being America’s first national park.

As well as the two national parks, the state of Montana is also home to 54 fantastic state parks where you can undergo a host of activities, including skiing, hiking, nature trails and camping, or simply relaxing in the great outdoors.

Sacred Lands

buffallo-bison-wagon-old-native-american

The Indian nations of America are extremely proud of their heritage, and there are seven main tribal sites around Montana, many of which speak their own indigenous language. Some Indian nations, such as the Apsaalooke Crowe Tribe, have their own reservation area including herding grounds and places for tourists to stay. Many of the tribes still use the same farming and animal rearing techniques today as they did hundreds of years ago before America was colonised, and you can have a hand at living with the land yourself, if you want an idea of what life was like surviving out in the plains of Montana, for the native American tribes of old.

High Plains

A stretch of land untamed by human hands. Prairie’s, badlands, buttes, all home to a vast array of natural wonders, plants and wildlife. Be prepared for harsh, sweltering days and cold nights as the High Plains of Montana shows the raw, bleak yet beautiful aspect of pure nature.

Montana’s high plains are also home to the C.M Russell National Wildlife Refuge; a million acre size of land home to 45 different species of mammals plus over 200 different species of birds. Plus with abandoned homesteads, wagons and tepee rings, the National Wildlife Refuge also captures a piece of native history that goes beyond visiting a museum, leave your hired car behind as you can walk through the remnants of an old village, treading the same soil as American ancestors trod hundreds of years ago.

Pack Your Bags

Because we are heading east next week into the state of North Dakota, known for its Norwegian and Germanic inspired cuisine, and the largest Scandinavian festival held annually in America; the Norsk Hostfest.