Wednesday, September 16, 2009


The islands of the Indonesian archipelago are strung like beads across the equator. Clear blue seas lap pristine beaches, gentle breezes carry scents of spices and flowers, and divers are entranced by the ocean's riches. Inland, dramatic volcanic ranges tower above a green mantle of terraced hillsides and lush rainforest.

Bali, Lombok and Jakarta
Bali offers an image of paradise: stunning scenery, gentle sarong-clad people and sunsets of legendary glory. On peaceful Lombok, life moves at a slower pace, while bustling Jakarta exhibits Indonesia's cosmopolitan, modern face.


Komodo Island's‘living dinosaurs' and the entrancing ‘sea gardens' of Suwalesi invite exploration, as do Borobudur's architectural treasures, which include 5km (3 miles) of Buddhist relief carvings. Adventure-seekers head for Kalimantan's remote jungle interior or explore Sumatra, with its teeming wildlife and wealth of tribal groups.


Long-term president, General Suharto was forced to resign in 1998 after decades of keeping control of the country in his own hands. It wasn't until September 2004 that the first ever direct presidential election was held when Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono was elected. The government is taking a strong stand against terrorism and tourism is slowly returning to the numbers experienced at the end of the 1990s. Once again visitors are discovering the myriad marvels scattered throughout this intriguing archipelago.

Indonesia lies between the mainland of South-East Asia and Australia in the Indian and Pacific oceans. It is the world’s largest archipelago state. Indonesia is made up of five main islands – Sumatra, Java, Sulawesi, Kalimantan (part of the island of Borneo) and Irian Jaya (the western half of New Guinea) – and 30 smaller archipelagos. In total, the Indonesian archipelago consists of about 17,508 islands; 6,000 of these are inhabited and stretch over 4,828km (3,000 miles), most lying in a volcanic belt with more than 300 volcanoes, the great majority of which are extinct. The landscape varies from island to island, ranging from high mountains and plateau to coastal lowlands and alluvial belts.

The staple diet for most Indonesians is nasi (rice), which is replaced on some islands with corn, sago, cassava and sweet potatoes. Indonesia's spices make its local cuisine unique. Indonesians like their food highly spiced - look out for the tiny and fiery hot red and green peppers often included in salads and vegetable dishes. Seafood features highly on menus (with salt and freshwater fish, lobsters, oysters, prawns, shrimp, squid, shark and crab all available). Coconuts are often used for cooking. A feature of Jakarta is the many warungs (street stalls); each specializes in itsown dish or drink.

National specialties:

Rijsttafel (a Dutch-invented smorgasbord of 12 various meat, fish, vegetable and curry dishes, sometimes served by 12 ‘maidens’).
Sate (chunks of beef, fish, pork, chicken or lamb cooked on hot coals and dipped in peanut sauce).
Rendang (west Sumatra; buffalo coconut curry).
Gado-gado (Java; a salad of raw and cooked vegetables with peanut and coconut milk sauce).
Babi guling (Bali; roast suckling pig).

National drinks:
Es (ice drinks with syrups, fruits and jellies).
Brem (Bali; rice wine).
Tuak (palm-sap wine, a famously potent local brew).
Arak (rice or palm-sap wine).
Kelapa muda (young coconut juice).

Legal drinking age: 18 (minimum purchasing age: 16).

Tipping: 10% is normal unless service charge is already included in a restaurant bill.

Jakarta nightclubs feature international singers and bands and are open until 0400 during weekends. Jakarta has loads of cinemas and some English-language and subtitled films are shown. There are also theaters providing cultural performances.

Dancing is considered an art, encouraged and practiced from very early childhood. The extensive repertoire is based on ancient legends and stories from religious epics. Performances are given in village halls and squares, and also in many of the leading hotels by professional touring groups. The dances vary enormously, both in style and number of performers. Some of the more notable are the Legong, a slow, graceful dance of divine nymphs; the Baris, a fast moving, noisy demonstration of male, warlike behavior; and the Jauk, a riveting solo offering by a masked and richly costumed demon. Many consider the most dramatic of all to be the famous Cecak (Monkey Dance) which calls for 100 or more very agile participants. Many of the larger hotels, particularly in Bali, put on dance shows accompanied by the uniquely Indonesian Gamelan Orchestras.

Throughout the year, many local moonlight festivals occur; tourists should check locally. Indonesian puppets are world famous and shows for visitors are staged in various locations


Malaysia, which celebrated 50 years of independence in 2007, is one of the rising stars of South-East Asian tourism, a nation looking to the future while cherishing the ways of the past. Centuries of trade combined with a vibrant mix of Malay, Chinese, Indian and tribal influence have created a mix of peoples and culture that make it a colorful and intriguing place to visit.

Below: A typical scene in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia's capital. Kuala Lumpur is an 80 minute drive along sealed roads from Peninsular's projects.

Tropical island resorts and endless white, sandy beaches offer a taste of paradise, while beneath warm coral seas, world-class dive sites await exploration. Orang-utans, the oldest rainforest in the world, cityskyscrapers and majestic mosques and temples, plus a gorgeous coastline, are enough to tempt even the most jaded visitor. And if that were not enough, Malaysia's culinary credentials are among Asia's finest.
Malaysia Best Beaches

The British were relatively late arrivals to the region in the late 18th century, following Portuguese and later Dutch settlement, but they played a key role following the European wars of the 1790s and, in particular, the defeat of the Netherlands by France in 1795. The Federated Malay States were created in 1895, and remained under British colonial control until the Japanese invasion of 1942.

After Japanese defeat in 1945, the 11 states were once again incorporated as British Protectorates and, in 1948, became the Federation of Malaya. In 1963, the Federation of Malaya merged with Singapore and the former British colonies of Sarawak and Sabah, on north Borneo, to form modern Malaysia. Singapore seceded to become an independent state in its own right in 1965, leaving Malaysia in its present form.

Its convoluted history highlights why Malaysia is so ethnically and culturally diverse. Even better, the magnificent landscape is no less fascinating - dense jungles, soaring peaks and lush tropical rainforests harbor abundant and exotic flora and fauna.

Malaysia is situated in central South-East Asia, bordering Thailand in the north, with Singapore to the south and Indonesia to the south and west. It is composed of Peninsular Malaysia and the states of Sabah and Sarawak on the north coast of the island of Borneo, 650 to 950km (404 to 600 miles) across the South China Sea. Peninsular Malaysia is an area of forested mountain ranges running north-south, on either side of which are low-lying coastal plains. The coastline extends some 1,900km (1,200 miles). The west coast consists of mangrove swamps and mudflats which separate into bays and inlets. In the west, the plains have been cleared and cultivated, while the unsheltered east coast consists of tranquil beaches backed by dense jungle. The major islands are Langkawi (a group of 99 islands), Penang and Pangkor off the west coast; and Tioman, Redang, Kapas, Perhentian and Rawa off the east coast. In Malaysian Borneo, Sarawak has alluvial and, in places, swampy coastal plains with rivers penetrating the jungle-covered hills and mountains of the interior. Sabah has a narrow coastal plain which gives way to mountains and jungle. Mount Kinabalu, at 4,094m (13,432ft), is the highest peak in Malaysia.

Malaysia Food & Dining

In multiracial Malaysia, every type of cooking from southeast Asia can be tasted. Malay food concentrates on subtleties of taste using a blend of spices, ginger, coconut milk and peanuts. There are many regional types of Chinese cooking including Cantonese, Peking, Hakka, Sichuan and Taiwanese. Indian and Indonesian food is also popular. Korean, Thai and western food are available in restaurants throughout the country. Although the country is largely Islamic, alcohol is widely available.

Things to know: Table service is normal, and chopsticks are customary in Chinese restaurants.Indian and Malay food is traditionally eaten with the fingers, but western cutlery is generally used. Set lunches, usually with four courses, are excellent value for money.

Dining in Malaysia

National specialties:
• Sambal (a paste of ground chilli, onion and tamarind) is often used as a garnish or dip.
• Char Kway Teow (a dish of fried rice noodles with meat or fish) is a very popular and cheap quick meal.
• Ikan bilis (dried anchovies) are eaten with drinks.
• Satay (consists of a variety of meats, often chicken, barbecued on small skewers and served with a spicy peanut dipping sauce and a salad of cucumber, onion and compressed rice cakes).
• Gula Malacca (a firm sago pudding in palm sugar sauce).

National drinks:
• Locally brewed beers such as Tiger and Anchor.
• The famous Singapore gin sling.
• Sugar cane juice.

Tipping: 10% service charge and 5% government tax are usually included in bills, and added to the menu prices.

Kuala Lumpur has a good selection of reputable nightclubs and discos, most belonging to the big hotels. Nightclubs generally stay open until 0500 or 0600 and usually request a cover charge which includes the first drink free. Many of Kuala Lumpur's bars have a happy hour, offering two drinks for the price of one, between 1700-2000/2100. Bintang Walk is a lively spot and has a good selection of alfresco bars and coffee shops.

Penang is also lively at night, larger hotels having cocktail lounges, dining, dancing and cultural shows. There are night markets in most towns, including both Kuala Lumpur and Penang Chinatown. Malay and Chinese films often have English subtitles and there are also English films. The national lottery and Malaysia's only casino at Genting Highlands are government-approved and visitors are not supposed to gamble elsewhere.

Bhutan, means ’Land of the Thunder Dragon

The Kingdom of Bhutan has adopted a cautious approach to tourism to avoid any negative impact on the country’s culture and environment. All tourists, group or individual, must travel on a pre-planned all inclusive guided tour through a registered tour operator in Bhutan or their counterparts abroad. The basic rate is fixed by the government.

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Traditional Costumes

There are still plenty of takers wanting to explore the breathtaking mountains and valleys of this astonishing country. The tourism industry in Bhutan is founded on the principle of sustainability, meaning it must be environmentally friendly, socially and culturally acceptable and economically viable. The number of tourists is also kept to a manageable level by the limited infrastructure.

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Traditional Houses

The Bhutanese name for Bhutan, Druk Yul, means ’Land of the Thunder Dragon’. Much of Bhutanese history is lost in legends but the first major event was the arrival of Guru Rinpoche, believed to have brought Mahayana Buddhism from Tibet in the eighth century. Bhutan, the world’s last Mahayana Buddhist kingdom, became a coherent political entity around the 17th century and has never been conquered or ruled by another foreign power.

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Bhutan is a peaceful country with strong traditional values based on religion, respect for the royal family and care for the environment.

Bhutan is located in the eastern Himalayas, bordered to the north by China and to the south, east and west by India. The altitude varies from 180m (590ft) in the narrow lowland region to over 7,300m (23,950ft) in the Himalayan plateau in the north, and there are three distinct climatic regions. The foothills are tropical and home to deer, tigers, leopards and the rare golden langur monkey as well as much tropical vegetation, including many species of wild orchids. The Inner Himalaya region is temperate; wildlife includes bear, boar and sambar, and the area is rich in deciduous forests. The High Himalaya region is very thinly populated, but the steep mountain slopes are the home of many species of animals, including snow leopards and blue sheep.

Bhutan Food & Dining

There is a fair choice of restaurants in Paro and Thimphu but most tourists eat in their hotels where hygiene is good and chefs temper the spicy Bhutanese dishes to suit Western tastes. Rice is the staple (sometimes flavored with saffron or of the red variety) apart from in central Bhutan where the altitude makes rice cultivation difficult. Buckwheat is more common here. The country is replete with apple orchards, rice paddies and asparagus, which grows freely in the countryside and there are over 400 varieties of mushroom including orchid mushrooms.

Bhutan: The Namgay family of Shingkhey Village

Things to know: Meals are often buffet-style and mostly vegetarian. Meat and fish are now imported from nearby India, and Nepali Hindus living in Bhutan are licensed to slaughter animals. Usual precautions apply.
National specialties:
• Datse (cow’s milk cheese), sometimes served in a dish with red chillies (ema datse).
• Tshoem (curry), usually served with rice.
• Eue chum (pink rice), a nutty-flavored variety unique to Bhutan.

National drinks:
• The most popular drink is tea, sweet or Tibetan style with salt and butter. • Ara is a spirit distilled from rice.
• Chang (a kind of beer, cereal-based and generally home-brewed).
Legal drinking age:


Formerly known as East Pakistan, Bangladesh came into being only in 1971, when the two parts of Pakistan split after a bitter civil war which drew in neighboring India. Bangladesh spent 15 years under military rule and, although democracy was restored in 1990, the political scene remains volatile.

Most of the country is formed by the alluvial plain of the Ganges-Brahmaputra river system - the largest delta in the world; water flow is second only to that of the Amazon. To the east of the delta lie the Chittagong Hill Tracts. Flooding is normal and life has adapted totake account of this. Occasionally, excessive flooding, as in 1988, 1998 and 2004, causes widespread destruction and loss of life.

The landscape in Bangladesh is mainly flat with many bamboo-, mango- and palm-covered plains created by the effects of the great river systems of the Ganges and the Brahmaputra. The Sundarbans in southwest Bangladesh is one of the largest mangrove forests in the world and the area supports a variety of wildlife, including the Royal Bengal tiger, the national animal. Today, Bangladesh is one of the world’s most densely populated countries and poverty is deep and widespread, although the population growth has reduced and the health and education systems have improved.

However, there have been political tensions in recent years. As a result, travelers are advised against all but essential travel to the Chittagong Hill Tracts (this does not include the city of Chittagong) because of the risk of being caught up in clashes between rival tribal groups, settlers and the military.

The People’s Republic of Bangladesh, formerly East Pakistan, is bordered to the west and northwest by West Bengal (India), to the north by Assam and Meghalaya (India), to the east by Assam and Tripura (India) and by Myanmar (Burma) to the southeast. The landscape is mainly flat. A large part of Bangladesh is made up of alluvial plain, caused by the effects of the two great river systems of the Ganges (Padma) and the Brahmaputra (Jamuna) and their innumerable tributaries. In the northeast and east of the country, the landscape rises to form forested hills. To the southeast, along the Burmese and Indian borders, the land is hilly and wooded. About one-seventh of the country’s area is under water and flooding occurs regularly.

Bangladesh Food & Dining

There are plenty of good restaurants in Dhaka and main towns around the country. Western food can be found in most hotels and in some large restaurants.

Things to know:
Alcohol is expensive and strict Muslim customs severely limit availability and drinking times, although leading hotels have bars which will serve alcohol.
National specialties:
• Curries such as korma, bhuna, masala gosht, kashmiri and tikka.
• Dishes are usually served with rice, naan or paratha (griddle-fried flat breads).
• Kebabs arewidely available.
• Seafood and fresh-water fish are in natural abundance and smoked hilsa, fresh bhetki, chingri and prawns are definitely worth trying.
• Desserts tend to be sweet and milky, such as misti dhohi (sweetened yogurt), zorda (sweet rice with nuts) and ros malai (round sweets floating in thick milk).

National drinks:
Chai (milky sweet tea).
Lassi (yogurt drink).
• Coconut water.

Most services expect a tip in hotels; give 10% for restaurant staff.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

How to Get an EU Work Permit

Feature photo by wtlphotos Photo above by Panoramas

Acquiring a work permit in Europe comes down to doing your homework and plenty of paperwork. Don’t sweat it; just get it done.

I hightailed it to Europe and found a job that was willing to sponsor my work permit. The first few months however, I was working “black,” which meant that I could not get paid because my work and residency in the country had not yet been approved.

I was approaching the end of my legal stay in Europe (wherein citizens of the USA, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the UK are allowed to travel for six-months within the continent and three-months in one of the Schengen states. It was unnerving.

Getting a work permit was the constant topic of conversion amongst the expatriate crowd in Berlin. From exchanging visa horror stories to grand schemes of getting away with overstaying, we all shared the nightmare of being escorted to the Polish border by the immigration authorities.

Some contemplated proposing marriage to random Europeans, others gave up and returned to their home country, and then there were those who simply buckled down and dealt with the paperwork.

Acquiring a work permit in Europe is a challenge. It will make you feel like you’re perpetually banging your head against a wall, as you’ll often find that you can’t be granted a work permit without a job, but at the same time, most companies won’t hire you without this document.

Therefore, it’s important that you do your research and find the best kind of job for you. Check the companion piece to this article, last week’s How To Find Paying Work While Traveling in Europe.

You can also find out about the specific work and visa options and requirements by checking out the website Anywork, Anywhere and the Do it Yourself Expat site.

Photo by papalars

Key Aspects of a Work Permit

1) A work permit is a non-transferable legal document that allows a non-citizen to work in the country for a specific company.

2) Technically, it is illegal to enter the country to look for work without a permit. To get a permit, you must have a valid job offer.

3) The company that hires you must be able to prove that it has made an earnest effort to fill the position with an EU citizen. This is often the reason why foreigners have many opportunities in the TEFL field, but very few legal options within the service industry.

Applying from Home

You can save yourself a lot of stress and anxiety by applying for a permit before you leave for Europe. This document is country specific and not applicable for the entire continent. The first step is to find a job that is willing to sponsor your application for a work permit.

Photo by gaspa

Ideally, it will be the company that will be applying on your behalf. However, if they are unable (or unwilling) to deal with all the paperwork, you can also go through an immigration agency, such as

Remember to obtain the necessary documents from your home consulate, as well as check the employment regulations of the country in which you intend to work. A good resource is Yahoo’s directory of embassies and consulates all over the world.

Working Holiday

If you’re a commonwealth citizen between the ages of 17 to 30, and planning on working in the UK, you can apply for the Working Holidaymakers Scheme, which is valid for up to two years. This visa is issued under the presupposition that your main purpose for being in UK is for a holiday and work is an incidental aspect of your stay.

If you will be traveling as a student, you can ask your host institution if they can arrange for temporary work permits for specific countries. An excellent service is the British Universities North America Club or BUNAC which offers assistance regarding work and study programs in Ireland and the UK.

Residence/Work Permit
One of the most important steps is to register with the local district police within the first seven days of your arrival in the country.

Getting a work permit if you are already in Europe is a difficult yet not impossible feat. If you plan on living and working in a specific city for the long-haul, bear in mind that the work and residence permit are tied together.

One of the most important steps is to register with the local district police within the first seven days of your arrival in the country. If you’ve already found a flat, have your flatmate or landlord write a letter to the authorities stating your rental agreement and the duration of your residence.

The next step is to open a bank account in the country and bring along the accompanying bank statement showing that you would have enough funds to support yourself (amount varies depending on the country). If most of your funds have gone towards beer or train tickets, you can also ask your parents to write you a letter of support which states that they would be willing to support you financially.

Most European countries also require that you have health insurance. It is important to make sure that the country where you’ll be living accepts coverage from your specific insurance provider. Another option is to get a student, travel or public insurance plan from companies like International Student Insurance or Swiss Care.

It is also important to note that most companies in Europe are required to provide public health insurance for their employees.

Once you’ve accomplished all these necessary steps, you can then head over to the city labor office (along with your passport, legal documents, diploma, work contract) where they will review your case which can be approved immediately or take up to three months.

If you can’t speak the language, bring a friend who can serve as a translator, as people in the labor office either don’t speak any English or will refuse to do so. Once it goes through, you’ll be charged a small fee and can live and work in the country for up to a year. Please note however, that the permit is bound to the company that hires you and cannot be used for a job elsewhere.

Though its tempting to skip the mountain of paperwork that comes with getting an EU work permit, it is lot less difficult than being deported (you pay for the flight back), being banned from the country and paying the hefty fine.

Of course there are other options to getting this sought-after document, such as putting up your own business, applying for a freelance work permit, getting a dual citizenship if your parent or grandparents were born in the EU, or putting ads out for marriage (its been known to happen), but these options entail their own issues and mountains of red-tape.

I’ve met many people in my travels through Europe who were intent on avoiding the legalities of acquiring a permit, but unfortunately, many of them either ran out of money or had gotten in trouble with the immigration authorities. If long-term work in Europe is your goal, there really isn’t any getting around a work permit.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

San Marino

Every year, thousands of tourists flock to San Marino, a privileged point for observing the beautiful surrounding countryside. From the top of Mt. Titano breathtaking views can be enjoyed of the gently rolling hills of the Upper Marecchia Valley, with the mighty fortress of San Leo and Mount Carpegna; the view of the Adriatic coast is truly unique and stretches from Ravenna to Gabicce Mare. Some even say that on clear days, you can make out the coast of Croatia, the native land of the founder Saint.

Lopar Beach at Rab Island - bird's view

The old-city center of San Marino was heavily bombed during the Second World War, despite the country being neutral and having given exile to over 100,000 refugees. Many are the sights of interest: the three Fortresses that trace the profile of the mountain, the Basilica of the Saint, the Church of San Pietro, with the beds of the Saints Marinus and Leo, the Church of San Francesco with adjacent art gallery, the Church of the Cappuccini and the State Museum. Centrally located is the Piazza della Libertà on which stands the Government Building, recently restored by architect Gae Aulenti and home of the Parliament and Their Excellencies the Captains Regent - the two Heads of State of the Republic of San Marino. Walking through the narrow streets of the old-city centre can be pleasantly surprising: medieval houses, small hanging gardens, suggestive corners, balconies full of flowers, obelisks.

The world’s oldest Republic is one thousand seven hundred years old and is located in the heart of Italy, a real quirk of history. Popes, generals and even the emperor Napoleon have respected over the centuries the testimony of freedom of this land which today is a member state of major international organisations. At the UNO and at the Council of Europe, the Republic of San Marino is engaged in defending peace and the rights of man. Every year, on 1 October and 1 April, the streets of the old-city centre form a backdrop to the suggestive Captains Regent investiture ceremony, while on 3 September the country celebrates its founder, Saint Marinus, a native of the island of Arbe, with a great crossbow competition, flag-throwers, and performances of all kinds, during the day and evening.

San Marino Food & Dining

San Marino’s cuisine is very similar to Italy’s, especially the Emilia-Romagna and Marche region; however, it does contain several unique dishes – most famously ,a chocolate wafer cake, La Torta Di Tre Monti, which translates to the Cake of the Three Mountains/ Towers.

While San Marino is attempting to modernize, it is still largely Roman Catholic. While the ban on homosexuality was lifted in 1864, in 1974 a new penile code was adopted which contained Article 274. Article 274 states that punishment with imprisonment from 3 months to a year would befall those “regularly committing lustful acts with a person of the same sex, if from that act public scandal is derived.” Currently, the age of consent for heterosexual or homosexual relations is 14 years old.


Romania is the largest of the Balkan states, sitting at the crossroads of Europe, whose nationals are proud of being ‘an island of Latinos’ in a ‘sea of slavs’. The country has seen several empires come and go - Roman, Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian, all leaving their legacy.

Romania has a rich cultural and natural diversity. Its dramatic mountain scenery includes the densely forested Carpathian Mountains, the Danube Delta (the largest wetland in Europe) and 70km (43 miles) of fine white sandy beaches on the Black Sea Coast.

In picturesque valleysand on mountain slopes are many health and winter resorts. Romania’s cultural heritage can be experienced in the Saxon towns of Transylvania, also home to Bran Castle, of Dracula fame, the painted monasteries of Bucovina and the rural village idyll of Maramures.

The capital, Bucharest, earned the nickname ‘Paris of the Balkans’, but it is the stunning medieval city of Sibiu in Transylvania that was crowned European Capital of Culture 2007.

Romania Food & Dining

Romanian cuisine is a product of the influence of different cultures throughout the centuries - Greeks, Romans, Saxons, Turks and Slavic neighbors. The main ingredients used by Romanian chefs are meats such as pork, beef and lamb, fish, vegetables, dairy products and fruit. They excel in full-bodied soups. Breakfasts almost always include eggs, either soft-boiled, hard-boiled, fried or scrambled. Omelettes, filled with either cheese, ham or mushrooms, are also frequently served.

Things to know: Vegetarians may have difficulties, as most local specialties are meat-based. Althoughthere are inexpensive self-service snack bars, table service is the norm. There are no licensing hours.

National specialties:
• Soups: Ciorba de perisoare (soup with meatballs), ciorba tãrãneascã (vegetable soup with meat and rice balls served with sour cream), giblet soup and a variety of fish soups.
• Moldavian parjoale (flat meat patties, highly spiced and served with garnishes).
Mamaliga (a staple of mashed cornmeal).
Nisetru la gratar (grilled Black Sea sturgeon).
• Pasca (a sweet cheesecake).

National drinks:
Tuicã (plum brandy) and Tuicã de Bihor (strong brandy, generally known as palinca).
• Wines: Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Riesling, Pinot Gris and Chardonnay from the Murfatlar vineyards; Grasa and Feteasa from Moldavia’s Cotnari vineyards.
• Sparkling wines.
Glühwein (mulled wine).


Wales is a historic land of castles and mountains, sweeping beaches and strong national identity dating back to pre-Norman times and reinforced in 1999, when Wales was granted its own assembly.

The capital, Cardiff, has seen extensive regeneration, both in the city center and the nearby Cardiff Bay area, which is now seen as a major entertainment and administrative center. In the rural north, farming and tourism continue to be the main sources of income.

Populous south Wales incorporates Cardiff, the cities of Swansea and Newport, Carmarthen Bayand two national parks, Pembrokeshire Coast and Brecon Beacons. The Cambrian Mountains and the attractive coastal resorts of Cardigan Bay are highlights of mid Wales, while the north has popular seaside resorts like Llandudno and Rhyl, the island of Anglesey and the scenic delights of Snowdonia National Park.

Wales Food & Dining

Regional specialties:
Welsh rarebit (cheese on toast).
Bara brith (a type of tea bread).
• Laver bread, which is made with seaweed.
• Welsh cakes (made with sultanas or currants).
• Welsh cawl (a meat and vegetable broth).
Regional drinks:
Brains beer.

Bars, restaurants and cinemas are common in the cities and towns. Smoking is banned in all enclosed public spaces, including pubs and restaurants.


Scotland is famous primarily for its spectacular scenery, but it also offers a rich historical and cultural heritage, together with a wide range of activities. The populous central belt is the focus of most economic activity, centered primarily on the major cities, Glasgow and the Scottish capital Edinburgh.*wQKrqw1TBJoPhgIw0jmVuT5L-J2ILqpSQT3x-Akeswb6LfhlbjUJ/scotland.jpg

Scotland’s landscape is as varied as it is beautiful. Rugged peaks sweep down to breathtaking lochs, glistening in remote glens like Glen Affric near Inverness and Loch Trool in Galloway. A straggling coastline, with white sandy beaches, sheltered baysand rocky cliffs, looks out to the remote islands in the Atlantic. To the south, the rolling hills of the Borders, lush lowland pastures and extensive woodlands present a softer beauty.

Edinburgh is among the outstanding cities of the world, where the medieval Old Town contrasts with the elegant Georgian New Town. Other towns, notably Glasgow, display a wealth of Victorian architecture. Everywhere you can find ancient castles and houses. Prehistoric forts, stone circles and burial mounds can be explored, particularly at the Neolithic Heart of Orkney, Scotland’s latest UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Things to know: Licensing hours vary; basic hours are 1100-2300, but many pubs have extended hours, particularly in cities. A complete smoking ban in bars, restaurants, pubs, clubs and offices came into force in 2006. Designated hotel bedrooms are exempt.

Scotland Food & Dining
Regional specialties:
• Porridge (a traditional Scottish breakfast made from locally grown oats and either milk or water).
• Haggis (chopped oatmeal and offal cooked in the stomach of a sheep), neeps (turnips) and tatties (potatoes).
Cullen skink (fish soup).
• Smoked salmon.
Partan bree (crab with riceand cream).
Regional drinks:
• Whisky.
• Beer.
Irn Bru (carbonated soft drink said to be made from girders).

Monday, September 7, 2009


Sweden is a land of cultural contrast, from the Danish influence of the southwest to the nomadic Laplanders in the wild Arctic north. And while urban Sweden is stylish, modern and sophisticated, the countryside offers many simpler pleasures for those in search of tranquility.

 stockholm, sweden

Sweden’s scenery has a gentler charm than that of neighboring Norway’s rugged coast. Much of Sweden is forested, and there are thousands of lakes, notably large stretches of water between Gothenburg and the capital, Stockholm. The lakeside resortof Östersund, in the center of Sweden, is popular with Scandinavians, but most visitors opt first for the cities and the Baltic islands: the largest island, Gotland, with its array of ruined medieval churches, is a particular highlight. Another major attraction is the so-called ‘Kingdom of Crystal’, a forested area between Malmö and Stockholm boasting many fine glassworks.


Sweden Weather

In spite of its northern position, Sweden has a relatively mild climate which varies greatly, owing to its length. The summers can be very hot but get shorter further north. The midnight sun can be seen between mid-May and mid-June above the Arctic Circle. Winters can be bitterly cold, especially in the north.

Required Clothing
Light- to medium weights for summer, heavyweights for winter and rainwear all year.

Swedes like straightforward meals, simply prepared from the freshest ingredients. As a seafaring country with many freshwater lakes, fish dishes are prominent on hotel or restaurant menus.

Things to know:
Picnic sites can be found at roadsides. Top-class restaurants in Sweden are usually fairly expensive, but even the smallest towns have reasonably priced self-service restaurants and grill bars. Many restaurants all over Sweden offer a special dish of the day at a reduced price that includes main course, salad, soft drink and coffee. Waiter service is common although there are manyself-service snack bars. Wine, spirits and beer are sold through the state-owned monopoly, Systembolaget, open during normal shopping hours. Before 1300 on Sundays alcohol cannot be bought in bars, cafes or restaurants. After midnight alcohol can only be bought in nightclubs that stay open until between 0200-0500.

Swedish Food – Cuisine With A Scandinavian Flavor

Husmanskost - potatoes, minced meat with cabbage, berry jam

National specialties:
• Smörgåsbord (Scandinavian cold table. First pickled herring with boiled potatoes then perhaps a couple more fish courses, smoked salmon or anchovies followed by cold meat, pâté, sliced beef, stuffed veal or smoked reindeer).
Köttbullar (small meatballs).
• Smoked reindeer from Lapland.
• Gravlax (salmon that has been specially prepared and marinated).
Wild strawberries and cloudberries.

National drinks:
• Akvavit (a Scandinavian spirit that is traditionally drunk chilled with smorgasbord. Flavours vary from practically tasteless to sweetly spiced).
Vodka is also popular, as is sweet cider.


pain is, above all, a mosaic of cultures.Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia, Seville, Bilbao, Cordoba, and Granada are examples of the harmonious coexistence of tradition and modernity in each and every Spanish city.
Madrid, Prado Museum

More than 50 million tourists visit Spain each year, making it the second most visited country in the world, So ask us about Spain! Anything at all. A trip to Spain is a celebration of diversity, an opportunity to enjoy our excellent climate, excellent cuisine, and joie de vivre. But also, it is a chance to discover our exceptional monumental heritage. History has left its traces in a country with a unique legacy: Prehistoric caves, Roman remains, Jewish and Arabic architecture. Spain is one of the richest countries in the world with regard to monumental heritage; not surprisingly Spain has the highest number of UNESCO World Heritage sites and it is also home to the Camino de Santiago, Europe’s most important cultural itinerary.

There are artistic styles in Spain that cannot be seen anywhere else in the world, such as the Mudéjar. Monuments like the Segovia Aqueduct, the Alhambra in Granada and the Great Mosque of Cordoba, considered to be the most important Islamic monument ever built in the West, tell us of the Roman and Moorish presence on the peninsula. There are excellent examples of architecture of other styles, such as Renaissance, Baroque and Modernist, the last of which is summed up in the work of Gaudí. In present day Spanish architecture is universally avant-garde with artist s such as Calatrava or Moneo.

Art in Spain

You will also find the great masters of painting in Spain. The Prado Museum is one of the world’s best art galleries amongst others. As far as contemporary art is concerned, the Guggenheim in Bilbao is not to be missed. Although, on the subject of art, there is one you will want to sample for sure: the art of Spanish cuisine. Chefs like Ferrán Adriá, Juan María Arzak have put Spanish gastronomy at the pinnacle of the international scene.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

The miracle of Italy

The miracle of Italy is that all its treasures come packaged in a gorgeous country of majestic mountains, placid lakes, idyllic islands, splendid cities and wonderful walled villages. An ideal climate plus warm and gracious people make Italy a perfect destination for an active vacation, the art lover, the gourmand, the hedonist combined, why not, with business.

For thousands of years, Italy has been at the forefront of modern culture. The birthplace of the Roman Empire and fountainhead of the Renaissance, Italy has retained a prominent spot atop the global radar since long before the time of Caesar. While there are million of reasons to visit Italy, to list them all would take weeks. For those interested in historical architecture, the ruins that dot the countryside are a marvel to behold. The most famous are those of Ancient Rome, where the Roman Forum, the Colosseum and Pantheon are all within a couple miles of each other. Palaces, castles, villas and gardens spread throughout the finest cities in Italy, while famous cathedrals, towering cathedrals and glittering Renaissance structures dot the skylines of Florence and Siena, Rome and Naples.

Active Holidays
Doing nothing is not easy! For active holidaymakers Italy features a wide variety of distraction to choose from, when you want to gain new strength and energy from your adventures and activities.

Art Cities
The great artistic legacy of Italy, unequalled anywhere in the world, is not only distributed throughout the major cities and their famous museums; one can say in truth that there is no Italian city, however modest, which does not contain and cherish some share of this wealth of art. Indeed, many of them can be considered real treasures - so beautiful and valuable are the works they contain. The artistic riches of Italy's main cities have already been described.
For art lovers, trips to Italy are a must. The Uffizi Gallery in Florence holds many of the grandest treasures of the Renaissance, while the nearby Galleria dell"Accademia is home to one of the most famous sculptures in all the world: Michelangelo"s David. The Vatican Museums, located within the city limits of Rome, hold all of the Catholic Church"s immense treasures, capped off with the imposing St. Peter"s and one of the major highlights of many trips to Italy, the Sistine Chapel. There are many other artistic wonders to behold in nearly every Italian city, from the northern Venetian museums all the way down to the coast of Sicily. Italy vacations can also include the sophistication and pageantry of the theater. While operas are the main draw, there are many other musical options, not to mention the chance to watch famed plays that have stood the test of time in some of the most ornate and celebrated buildings in the world.

Food & Wine
The gentle lifestyle of Italy is partly a product of its civilized eating habits: eating and drinking in tranquility at least once a day are a norm here.


It is mainly people that have never been to Albania who are responsible for the country's bad press. Those who discover Albania for themselves usually return singing the praises of its friendly, tolerant people, its fascinating Ottoman cities and other historical sites and its magnificent mountain scenery and charming villages.

Albania has something to offer almost everyone. Hikers will love the Albanian Alps or the Tomorri massif, whilst cyclists will find a network of ancient tracks criss-crossing the country. Those who are interested in archaeology can spend hoursin the complex sites of Butrint and Byllis. History-lovers can explore ancient castles, Ottoman fortresses and the museum cities of Berati and Gjirokastra. Art connoisseurs should visit the little-known medieval churches, with their beautiful frescoes, and the icon collections in Tirana, Korça and Berati. And gourmets will enjoy the delicious seafood, mountain lamb, organic fruit and vegetables and, of course, Albania's excellent wine.

Fishing Lake Ohrid

Fishing Lake Ohrid

Beaches and coastline

Albania has 450 kilometres of coastline, with calm and sheltered waters for swimming. On the northern Adriatic coast centred around the large port of Durres, the beaches are sandy and shallow, making them ideal for families although they are crowded in high season. The unspoilt southern Ionian coastline, south of Vlora is more rocky, with the mountains coming down to the sea, and water sports and diving on offer. Further south, ferries from the Greek island of Corfu run to the seaside town of Saranda, giving access to the most southern stretch of coastline.

Albanian cuisine is excellent, with both Ottoman and Italian influences evident. There are many good restaurants everywhere, although obviously in smaller towns the choice is less wide than in the cities. Vegetarians will find themselves eating a lot of salad; luckily for them, Albanian tomatoes and cucumber are delicious.

Albanian Foods:

Albanian vineyards produce high-quality wine, some of it from indigenous grapes such as Kallmet (red) and Shesh (red and white). Grapes are also used to make raki, a clear spirit which is the country's national drink.

National specialties:

• Mediterraneanfish such as sea-bream and sea-bass, as well as eels.
• Koran (a species of trout unique to the Ohrid and Prespa lakes).
• Traditional dishes often use vegetables and yogurt or curd cheese to make the meat go further.
• Paçë koke (sheep's head soup).
• Kukurec (sheep's innards in a gut casing).

An image of stuffed peppers.

Traditional Stuffed Peppers

National drinks:
• Apart from raki (see above), Albania's other national drink is coffee. In bars and restaurants, this usually means espresso or cappuccino.
• In private homes, kafe turke is made in the traditional Balkan way, with grounds and sugar brewed together.