Saturday, 25 March 2017
Monday, 23 January 2017
New Year and old rules – things to do and not to do during the Chinese New Year
Last year we celebrated the Chinese New Year on the 8th February and this year we are going to celebrate it on the 28th January! Why does it fall on a completely different date?
The reason is that the Chinese follow the lunar calendar and New Year is on the first new moon of the year which in 2017 is the 28th January.
The Chinese zodiac has 12-year cycles, each “characterised” by a certain animal, and this year will be the turn of the Rooster. Furthermore, the Chinese believe that each zodiac year correlates with one of five elements: Gold, Wood, Water, Fire or Earth. If you are good with mathematics you can calculate that for example the Fire Rooster comes once every 60 years!
Some people, including me, are confused why Chinese New Year is referred to as the Spring Festival. It’s nothing to do with spring if you celebrate it in the first and coldest month of the year – January! But then the Chinese believe the end of coldest part of the year is behind them and they can start looking forward to the beginning of spring. I think this view comes from the villages when impatient farmers couldn’t wait to get back in their fields and start working on their crops. Celebrating the Spring Festival in January gives them encouragement and hope that the long, cold winter days are drawing to an end.
The end of the Chinese New Year is marked by the Lantern Festival which is 14 days from the Chinese New Year itself and so this year will fall on the 11th February 2017. This day in China is equivalent to Valentine’s Day too.
The Chinese are very superstitious and here are a few things you should not do during Chinese New Year:
- Do not wash your hair or clothes – you may wash away good luck
- Do not eat porridge as it may bring poverty
- Do not take any medications or visit hospitals – it my bring ill health throughout the year
- The rice jar must be full to symbolise prosperity
- Do not wear black or white as these colours represent mortality
- Do not steal, borrow money or kill
Instead of all the above you should do the following:
- Give red envelopes filled with money, but avoid amounts such as 40 yuan or 400 yuan.The number ‘4’ in Chinese sounds like ‘death’.
- If possible put crisp, new banknotes inside. Giving creased banknotes is in bad taste.
- Eat fish, dumplings, rice cakes for wealth and prosperity, and don’t forget to eat Longevity noodles!
- Hang red lanterns todrive away bad luck.
- Paste slogans on your door such as Best Wishes for the Coming Year
- See the old year out and the new one in by setting off firecrackers. The tradition is to set off small ones first to see the old year out then the big ones for the new year – the louder the noise the better the year will be.
And the list could go on and on…. But if you forget one of “do’s” and “dont’s” don’t worry!
Xin Nian Kuai Le! (pronounced ‘sheen nian kwai luh’)
Monday, 28 November 2016
The drive was a testosterone-fuelled race along a two-lane motorway no wider than a country lane in Buckinghamshire. The driver, a stocky Chinese with a short military haircut and thick neck was high on adrenaline, his lips fiercely sealed in sheer satisfaction, his fat and sweaty hands grimly holding the wheel very tightly. The guide, a gentle and relatively assertive Tibetan boy who had been specially chosen for us, said nothing. He didn’t say anything because he wasn’t allowed to. The feeling was that none of us were allowed to say anything. The driver was in charge.
“I need the toilet.” I declared. The car, a spacious 4×4, produced by some nameless car company scattered around China and delivered to Tibet to ferry adrenaline-thirsty tourists from Lhasa to Kathmandu. It was 9 days into our 2 week adventure travelling from Beijing to Lhasa by train, then overland to Kathmandu. A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity which I couldn’t resist even with my lung condition – I had been afraid it was getting worse and seized maybe this last opportunity to climb to high altitude.
There are no petrol stations along the road from Lhasa to Kathmandu and there are no toilets as such. If you need to go you just end up behind a bush .Boys to the left side of the car and girls to the right. There was no sense of embarrassment as there was no time for it. The driver was keen to get to the hotel and get some rest after another personal record of the day, the guide to get rid of us and get a new group, we, I was desperate to catch a glimpse of Everest. Holly wanna be a photographer, to get the best angle for her next image. Four of us from four different cultures around the globe squeezed into the same car. Relieved, we continued to Tingri, a small Tibetan village, the last one before the first base camp, where we were supposed to spend the night before going to the North Everest base camp. It was the end of November and we were blessed with the weather. The days were sunny and crispy although the nights were cold.
By the time we entered Tingri it was dark. Very dark. There were no cars around and no street lights. You would hear people, animals and music but you wouldn’t see anything until you got very close. Before checking in to the Zhufeng Hotel for two nights the guide decided to take us for a meal. The restaurant looked like a shop with four tables at the end of long empty shelves. It was dark inside too but very lively. Lots of people who checked us out attentively. Holly decided to have omelette, the safest option in this kind of environment and I wanted just boiled potatoes. I wasn’t hungry; I was ecstatic to be so close to Mt Everest, but also tired and scared. Paranoid if I had altitude sickness even I didn’t know of any symptoms. The omelette was swimming in fat and made me nauseous just looking at it. My potatoes, squeezed into a pot, were pushed in front me – four of the biggest potatoes I have ever encountered in my life. They looked like jacket potatoes on steroids. I smiled and asked for a knife and fork. The waitress brought me a meat cleaver and I took the smallest potato, placed it on the table, and smashed it with the cleaver. I ate it with dirty fingers, beyond caring whether I was picking up some dreadful bug, while the waitress looked on approvingly.
The hotel, officially 3 star by Chinese standards, wasn’t far from the restaurant and we walked back through dark uneven streets. Waiting for the guide to check us in I looked around at the empty reception, restaurant…there was none of the usual hustle and bustle in the hotel. This one was quiet, actually quite dead, and with all the ornaments carved in stone you would be forgiven for thinking that you were in a graveyard. The receptionist, dressed for bed and in her flip flops, showed us a room on the first floor. We didn’t take the lift as it was out of order. And the room, although spacious, was cold. More on the frozen side.
“As it’s out of season there is no heating and the electric is switched off in most of the hotel.” Explained the guide apologetically.
I chose the bed near the window, because I was for some strange reason worrying about fire and thinking about escaping through the window. Holly, so adaptable, went straight to bed in her pyjamas and started snoring while I was still counting the number of layers I had to take off in order to get into my 95% cotton and 5% polyester jimjams. There was a sudden banging on the door – our guide had brought us a small electric heater, one which lights up the whole room but doesn’t produce much heat in the process. I took off only my shoes and carefully placed them in front of my bed, which I had never done before, in case there was a fire and I could run. Where to, I didn’t know. High altitude does strange things to your mind.
The dreams I had that night were hallucinations. I was the director of some move; I think it was Seven Years in Tibet as I saw Brad Pitt. We were pals, very good pals me and Brad Pitt. We didn’t sleep together or anything like that, it was a very professional relationship. I was in charge though, I was telling him what to do… Every time when I turned around I saw very bright stars popping out of nowhere. I was making a movie under a bonfire.
I couldn’t get back to sleep so I went to the window and firstly I thought I was in Greece seeing large shiny grapes in front of me and the crop was very good! Then my rationale brought me back and I released the grapes were stars hanging within easy reach. I lifted my arm to pick them as they were so close, only to hit the glass and wake up Holly. I stop breathing for a moment and tried to find Big and Little Dipper but because of the sheer volume of stars I got confused. Amazed, I sat in the window and watched the stars, dreaming and hallucinating until they gradually dropped into some unknown distance or simply disappeared under the sun’s own glare.
A loud bang woke me up in the car. My first thought was that one of the tyres had given up and my second one was worry about where we going to find a new one. The driver laughed and showed us his cigarette lighter which had exploded in his pocket. Holly and I looked at each other and we didn’t laugh. We were relived it wasn’t the car as we knew we would be stranded. We were in the middle of nowhere heading to the first base camp, and there was no phone signal available. We had just passed the last military ramp where a pimply youth dressed in too-big military uniforms and with nose full of hanging snot, vetted our Tibet permits and passports and let us pass. I don’t think he would come to our rescue. He had ogled Holly’s camera lenses, which were long even by my standards let alone for this boy trained to suspect anything out of the ordinary.
The sky was clear with beautiful patches of white and then suddenly the highest mountain on Earth appeared in front of us. The top was covered in the fast moving clouds and with occasional wind we would get a glimpse of its mightiness.
I stood there in front of this dragon of a mountain and I felt so small and everything I had felt about death, sacrifice, cold and suffer just evaporated. I felt angry for wasting my time on all this feelings and started cursing God for not bringing me here before my 26th birthday and letting me climb the highest mountain on earth. I felt a failure for never contemplating the possibility of climbing Everest until I was thrown in front of it.
Today I am happy just watching video recordings of my visit.
Tuesday, 25 October 2016
Can you identify today’s city without using Google?
1) In the last 100 years the city has been a member of six different states.
2) The city-wide tram service was the very first in Europe. Locals proudly insist that the Austro-Hungarians modeled Vienna’s tram system on theirs.
3) The first Winter Olympic Games in Communist country were held in the city winning over Sapporo, Japan and Gothenburg, Sweden.
4) This city is famous for its well-preserved old bazaar.
5) Locals believe that whoever takes a sip from the fountain near Gazi Husrev-Bey Mosque will come back to visit the city in question!
Leave your answers in comments below. Thanks!
Monday, 25 May 2015
1) The world’s longest and highest glass bottomed bridge is set to open in Zhangjiajie, Hunan Province in July 2015.
2) The bridge was designed by the famous Israeli architect Haim Dotan.
3) The length of the bridge is 430 meters (1410 feet) compared to the Grand Canyon Skywalk in USA which is 21 meters (69 feet).
4) Zhangjiajie Bridge is 6 meters (20 feet) wide.
5) The vertical drop of the Zhangjiajie Bridge is a staggering 300 meters (984 feet) compared to the 219 meters (718 feet) of the Grand Canyon Skywalk in USA.
6) The Zhangjiajie Bridge will be able to hold up to 800 people at the same time.
7) The bridge will be used as a runway for fashion shows and for bungee jumping.
Tuesday, 19 May 2015
It’s called a Palace but in the fact it’s a fortress -cum- military camp with huge gates and watchtowers, built on the shore of Adriatic Sea four miles from Salona, the capital of the Roman Province of Dalmatia. The palace was supposed to be a retirement home for the Roman Emperor Diocletian who was born in the Roman Province of Dalmatia to a family of low status, and who rose through the ranks to become emperor.
The grandiose Diocletian Palace, the UNESCO site, covers 30000 sq meters and is filled with history. The Palace is divided by intersecting streets – cardo and decumanus. While cardo streets lead to the main square of the Palace, the decumanus street divides the Palace into the northern part allocated for servants and the southern part reserved for the imperial family. Both streets lead to the Palace gates, four in total – Porta Aurea (Golden Gate), Porta Argentea (Silver Gate), Porta Ferrea (Iron Gate) and Porta Aenea (Brass Gate).
Within the Palace wall there is a court, called Peristyle, three temples and Diocletian’s mausoleum. Two out of the three temples are lost and third, originally known as the temple of Jupiter, became a baptistery. The Peristyle is decorated with granite brought from the site of the Egyptian Pharaoh Thutmose III.
The palace is built in a perfect rectangle, size 160 m x 190 m, with the southern part, open towards the sea, unfortified and used as the emperor’s private access to the sea or as the entrance for food supplies. The palace could house up to 9000 people and had a very good water supply from the Jadro River near Salona, the capital of the Roman Province of Dalmatia. Today the Roman pipes which were restored in XIX c can be seen along the road.
The Diocletian Palace was forgotten about in the West from the Middle Ages until 1764 when the Ruins of the Palace of the Emperor Diocletian at Spalatro in Dalmatia by the Scottish neo-classical architect Robert Adam was published in London and become the inspiration for a new style of neoclassical architecture in Europe.
Split, the second largest city of Croatia, is built around the Palace. You are allowed to wander around the remains of the palace but we would suggest you book a guide and see the excavated remains of the basement of the palace.
Friday, 13 March 2015
The fragile snowdrops scattered around West Wycombe Park were the first signs of spring even though the weather was cold and damp. We followed the map given at the entrance, passing the Manor House of the famous Dashwood family. The house, in a distinctive yellow colour, stands graciously on the top of a slope dominated by the whole landscape. Built between 1740 and 1800 by Sir Francis Dashwood the house is set within a landscaped park containing many temples and follies. The first temple, hidden behind the house and very easy to miss is the Temple of Apollo or Cockpit Arch where cock fights took place. Following the map, we passed a big ditch, a Ha Ha, a ditch to stop livestock straying onto the estate. At the end of the ha ha route there was the first folly, something we hadn’t seen on our previous visit, an octagonal tower built in the local stone, painted in the distinctive yellow and called the Temple of the Winds. The design of the temple resembles the Tower of the Winds in Athens.
From the temple we turned left towards the lake, created from the River Wye in the form of a Swan. In the middle of the lake, surrounded by calm waters and relaxing swans, lies the Temple of Music inspired by the Temple of Vesta in Rome. Sir Francis Dashwood , 2nd Baronet, embarked on an Italian Grand tour visiting villas of the Italian Renaissance which he wished to reproduce on his own estate.
After a short walk along the lake we came across another temple – the Temple of Daphne, modelled on a small temple on the Acropolis. It was surrounded by snowdrops in full bloom. I am sure there were more follies and temples scattered around the estate as we keep discovering them on each visit.
West Wycombe Park is an excellent place to get immersed into English history, learning about the past and how it shaped the present of West Wycombe. The Dashwood family still lives on the estate and you can see them occasionally. Entry to West Wycombe Park is £10 for adult and the price includes a visit to the Manor House which is open from 1 st April – 31 st August. During the winter time there are snow drop walks and the entry is £2.50 without a visit to the House. Dogs and picnics are not allowed.
Friday, 7 November 2014
It was pitch dark even with the candles that burned on the right, close to the entrance. The three of us deliberated whether to venture further into an unknown without any torch or light, worried how long the dark would last for and what was at the end of the dark. Suddenly we saw a spider creature walking towards us. The creature was huge and it was talking but not in a language we could understand. We decided to exit and find some comfort in the strong sunlight.
We were in Greece, on our annual holiday exploring Kasandra, the first peninsula of Halkidiki. It was the end of September and the mornings were overcast which gave us an excellent excuse to explore various villages. We went in search of the famous Byzantium Castle in Nea Fokea only to end up finding another church by mistake, when taking a wrong turn and seeing the entrance door with a cross on top. It looked like a church to us until we entered.
The small porch was covered in icons, with a place to light candles and a money box secured with a strong padlock, and was big enough for one person to stand up in. In the middle of the porch there were steep stone steps going down into the dark, the unknown.
After hearing the noise from the darkness and deciding to go outside, we sat under a fig tree discussing if we should go and find what was at the end of the black tunnel when the huge creature in the shape of a German appeared in front of us.
“Is the tunnel long?” – was our first question.
“No – but it’s dark. And you have to go on your knees at the end.”
“What’s at the end?”
“A prayer room.”
I was quick to dismiss the adventure as I consider myself mildly claustrophobic – I hate the noise of a plane door being shot or taking a lift to the 53rd floor (as in China). Crouching in the dark cave to see a prayer room wasn’t appealing to me…but then who knew when I might be going back to Greece and to this place?
You start walking through a narrow tunnel by standing, then crouching and gradually you end up on your knees. All the time you can touch the walls of the cave as it’s not wide. It’s not pleasant either as it’s pitch dark, and if there was rain you’d get covered in murky water. After 33 steps (my 33 steps) you end up at the spring or well, or holy water according to locals, I am not sure and on the right of it there is a prayer room where you can stand up as in a “normal” church. It’s quiet, solemn and I am sure there was some natural light as you could recognise some of the saints on the icons, but where the light was coming from, I am not sure.
I didn’t stay long as the fear of being underground was taking over me and I ran, if you can call it running, at a crawl and a crouch, just like the giant spider that had turned out to be the alarming German. The photos I tried to take came out black and you’d need a strong flash to take a good quality photo.
I know Greece is known for the Holy Mountain Mt Athos and the monasteries spread around it. I have heard about cave churches where monks spends their time in prayers, undisturbed by the outside world. While in Greece I wanted to go to Mt Athos but as a female I am not allowed. The only possibility is to see the monasteries from a distance, from a boat as women cannot set foot on the peninsula.
The best way to see a real prayer cave is to visit St Paul’s Church in Nea Fokea. According to locals, the Apostle Peter hid in the cave from his persecutors and the cave has more than the one tunnel and one room that I saw, but these are closed as tourists get lost in them.
The cave church of St Paul’s is not easily located on maps or Google but you can easily find it when you’re there– it’s opposite the car park of the small port near the Byzantine castle on the main road.
Every year 29 – 30th June, the villagers of Nea Fokea celebrate St Paul and the procession starts from the cave church.
Friday, 29 March 2013
“We used to swim here,” our sweet young guide proclaimed proudly, showing us the murky water. We were cruising gently around the West Lake in Hangzhou and this was my fourth visit in less than 7 years. Every time I come here the water looks darker and darker but the city whose tall buildings you can easily see from the boat, are getting taller and city is getting wider. It was November 2012 and we were taken on the cruise all the way to the Three Pagodas which were immortalised on the back of the 1 Yuan banknote, while huge oversized fishes you could easily mistake for whales were swimming close to the boat looking for food. Later during lunch one of the dishes was fish and for a short moment I was under the impression that the fish looked exactly the same as one seen in the West Lake. Not a very nice experience especially if you are hungry.
The evening was to be spent at Mr Zhang Yimou’s fantastic Impressions West Lake show. You might have heard of this excellent film director and I am sure you caught glimpse of The House of Flying Daggers. If not I am sure you didn’t miss the magnificent Olympics Opening Ceremony in Beijing in 2008 which was directed by him. My relationship with this director started a long time ago when I cried over the brutal destiny of Songlian in Raise the Red Lantern. Then during my travels around Shanxi Province I had a chance to visit the Qiao Family Mansion where the movie was shot. We “met “again after a few years and this time in southern China in Yangshuo where he directed an impressive Son et Lumiere show set against carst peaks and water. The year was 2004 and even at that time the rumour was that Mr Zhang Yimou would open two more performances in the open air – one in Hanzghou set on the West Lake and the other one in Urumqi set against the dunes. I was really looking forward to the West Lake show and I wasn’t disappointed – the colours, the light effects, the music, the choreography, the surroundings were a perfect match for the perfect performance. The number of participants wasn’t on the same scale as in Yangshuo but the overall experience was better. I am looking forward to the open air show in Urumqi!
The following day we spent visiting Lingying Temple which is not far from West Lake in the mountains. I love this peaceful temple and this was my first time to visit it early in the morning which gave me ample opportunity to be present during prayers. Surprisingly there were not many people around and the monks allowed me to record the whole ceremony which was a real treat. After the ceremony we walked through the Feilai Feng Grottoes which are sometimes closed to visitors but this time we were lucky as my favourite Buddha was there. My laughing Buddha, big, huge even but so happy! Just looking at him makes you smile.
During my visit to Hangzhou we stayed at the Sheraton Hotel in the Wetland Park which is not centrally located for downtown. The rooms are very spacious and bed more than comfortable. I didn’t like the open plan bathroom as I like my privacy and also when you open the bedroom door the first thing you see is a big bath tub! We had only breakfast in the hotel and the food was very fresh, cooked to very high standard and thoroughly international. I would recommend this hotel if you are staying with a family (because of the room sizes) or if you are on a business trip and have a car and driver at your disposal. If you’re on holiday you will need to stay a bit more centrally.
Friday, 22 February 2013
Plitvice Lakes National Park is set around a collection of 16 lakes which are all interconnected and cascade into each other, from the highest point at 636 m to 503 m. They are grouped together in two sets, 12 Upper Lakes and 4 Lower Lakes. There are also 2 waterfalls, the Big Falls or Veliki Slap at 78 m in the Lower Lakes, and Galovački buk at 25 m in the Upper Lakes. The lakes act as one big water reservoir surrounded by Mt Velebit in the west which divides the coastal area from Plitvice Plateu. To the east the Plitvice Lakes are protected by Mt Pljesevica which marks the border with Bosnia and Herzegovina.
The name Plitvice means shallow basin as the waters create these hollows in the limestone, although the depth varies from 1 to 47 m. Plitvice Lakes National Park became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979.
The Lakes are famed for their water – very clear azure with shadows of green and blue, changing according to the weather and the sunlight, as well as the quantity of micro-organisms, moss and algae in the water. The best time to admire the lakes is at sunrise which means before 7 am (during the summer months) so if you can stay at one of the hotels or guest houses within the park itself, you can simply wander out before breakfast and enjoy the magnificent scenery before the crowds arrive.
The Plitvice National Park offers eight different hiking routes, marked by letters. A, B and C start from Entrance 1 while routes E, F and H start from entrance 2 and K route can be started from either. The shortest is a route A and it takes you in a 2-3 hour circle from Entrance 1 and back, passing the Big Waterfall, Supljara cave and magnificent viewpoints of the Lower Lakes. If you are fit and have lots of time then you should go for K route which is the longest at 6-8 hours. Each route is supplemented with environmentally-friendly electric buses and boats. The boat runs across Kozjak Lake which is the largest one, one way and it takes 20 minutes, and there’s also a little shuttle bus called the Panoramic Train that runs every 20 minutes or so. At each of the stops are refreshments, toilets and information points.
The resulting seclusion of the lake and large altitude difference in such a small area contributed to a very diverse flora and fauna. One of the most representative animals of this area is the brown bear. I am sure you won’t encounter them on your walk through the Lakes as they come close to humans only when they are really, really hungry. But if you would like to meet a Brown Bear why not visit the sanctuary for orphaned young bears in Kutarevo which is only 75 km from Plitvice Lakes en-route to the coastal area. The park is also populated by boars, wolves, deer and rare birds.
If you are on a cruise along the coast of Croatia you will probably call at the ports of Split or Zadar and either of these are good starting points for a shore excursion to the magnificent Plitvice Lakes in the heart of Croatia, and one of its must-see sights. ReadyClickAndGo can arrange a private day trip from Zadar or Split to Plitvice with your own car and driver-guide.
- Try and go early so you can beat the crowds – stay overnight in the park if possible. There are several modest hotels and guest houses within the precincts.
- Wear comfortable shoes.
- Bring waterproof jacket for walking close to the waterfalls.
- The park has two different types of entrance tickets: one-day and two-day tickets.
- The entrance fee varies according to the season, one-day tickets are 80kuna between November and March, and 110kuna between April and October, and 2-day tickets 130kuna and 180kuna.
- Credit cards are accepted (MasterCard, Visa, American Express, Maestro and Diners).
- Guests from the park hotels in the have one-day tickets for the duration of their stay.
- Opening hours during summer time are 0700-2000, winter 0800 -1600, spring and autumn 0800-1800.
Croatia has invested a huge amount of money into the infrastructure of the National Park and the roads there are excellent, so Plitvice Lake is easily accessible on a day tour from most of the major towns on the Adriatic coast except maybe from Dubrovnik when you would need to either have an overnight stay or come back to Dubrovnik very late. A Plitvice Lakes tour from Split takes around 3 hours each way, a day trip from Zadar around 2 hours, and a day tour from Zagreb the same.
To arrange a private day tour to Plitvice from Split, Zadar or Zagreb email Tara@ReadyClickAndGo.com
Tuesday, 29 January 2013
How fast is the lift?” I asked
“6 meters a second!”
Someone behind me said they were Ferrari lifts and we laughed nervously. We were in one of these dark futuristic lifts with smouldering lights. It felt like we were about to take off to a different planet. There were no seat belts. I expected my insides to move around a bit once the lift stopped but nothing happened. I do remember some music playing in the background but I was too scared to notice what it was. We were heading to the 69th floor to experience London’s newest attraction, the vertical beauty of London called the Shard.
We were welcomed at Reception which looked like a modern cinema, behind it a screen showed ticket availability as there is a daily limit of 400 people to visit the Shard. If you simply turn up the ticket price could be very high, up to £100, you have to book well in advance. We were lucky as we were invited to experience the Shard on a preview organised for travel agents in the UK. The official opening for the public will be in February 2013.
On arrival at the 69th floor we were left to explore on our own and there was so much to see in 360 degrees. We were lucky with the weather too and could see almost as far as Dover! The only bad things was that London City airport is too close giving you a full view of British Airways planes registration numbers. It seemed like we were flying with the passing planes. The truth is that I am not a very good flyer!
Apart from that we walked around like kids in a sweet shop taking pictures of every single step. Almost 360 photos – one for each angle. The biggest game is to guess which part of London you are looking at. With such strict building laws, the London looks almost the same from the Shard as from the street. Very uniformed and well planned. It’s difficult to guess where are you so you have to follow some landmarks in order to orientate. St Paul’s looked so small from up here yet is so imposing on the ground. London Bridge is just an ordinary bridge painted blue. The Gherkin, once upon a time an architectural miracle, looks so unimportant now with the Shard in place. We had to make an effort to locate Buckingham Palace and Big Ben. And the Olympic Stadium at Stratford looks so weak from where we stood up! The most impressive thing from the Shard, for me, is the River Thames! You can sense why London was the epic centre of trade. By the following the Thames you can see history and the way London developed. The Thames was the artery of London and the best place to see that is by visiting the Shard.
We moved up to the next level and discovered a new toy – binoculars which project images in front of you. Forget about putting 20p into a machine then spending time finding the right focus – this is a different futuristic level of seeing through lenses. I still don’t know how it works but I think a laser is cantered onto a certain view and an image is projected onto a small screen built within the machine. The question is – is that image live or is everything pre-recorded as on Google maps? I don’t know but would like to find out….
We played for a while then started running around the observation desk again. As it was a preview workers were still around, one hanging above our head on one of the spires above floor 72…It looked scary and the last observation desk is semi-open so we could feel a draft. After so much excitement we decided to test the Ferrari lifts again and go down. In the shop on the ground floor we bought fridge magnets ready to brag about a new addition to the London skyline. The ever-so-friendly guide advised us to come in the evening when the London lights are switched on. Watch this space!
Facts: The Shard was built on the site of Southwark Towers and was designed by the Italian architect Renzo Piano, who faced huge opposition from English Heritage who claimed that “ the building would be a SHARD of glass through the heart of historic London”. Hence the name.
The Shard building is combination of residential areas (floors 53 -65), Hotel (floors 34 – 52), Restaurants (floors 31- 33), offices (from 2- 28) with an added Spa on the 52th floor, Observatory from the 68th – 72rd floors and the Spire from the 73rd to 95th floors.
The Shard is the tallest building in the EC, the second tallest in Europe (the tallest is Mercury City Tower still under construction) and the Shard has the tallest viewing gallery and open-air observation deck in the UK! And the best views!
More images on our Facebook.
Friday, 18 January 2013
Three times a year the Grand Sumo Tournaments are held at Tokyo’s Ryogoku Kokugikan, the national sumo stadium, which is close by Ryogoku Station on the JR Sobu Line or Toei Oedo Line. For 2013 the scheduled dates are as follows:
Sunday January 13 – Sunday January 27 2013
Sunday May 12 – Sunday May 26 2013 (tickets go on sale April 6)
Sunday September 15 – Sunday September 29 2013 (tickets go on sale August 3)
Tickets are from 2,100 Yen for unreserved seats at the rear of the upper floor on sale on the day, to 14,300 Yen for a ringside seat (where you are warned that you might get injured by a falling sumo wrestler!)
Matches start at 9.30am with amateur wrestlers, the more senior ones starting around 2.30pm – so tickets to the earlier bouts are easier to come by, and Friday and Saturday evening fights are the most difficult to secure. All matches are preceded by traditional Shinto ceremonies, and lots of leg-shaking and grunting designed to intimidate the opponent. Fights may last only a few seconds – the loser is the first to touch the ground with anything other than the soles of his feet, or who gets thrown out of the ring. There are no classes or weight restrictions in sumo so each tries to be the biggest and heaviest and can weigh up to 250kg – traditionally they eat chanko nabo, a rich meat, fish and vegetable stew, and you can try this dish for yourself in one of the many restaurants in the Ryogoku district.
Watching training sessions
Wrestlers live in residential ‘stables’ with up to 30 others, with every aspect of their lives and athletic training ruled by a ‘stablemaster’. Training starts at 5 or 6am most mornings – at some stables you can go and watch these early training sessions but you should ask your hotel to ring them the day before to check they will be open for visitors to watch the strictly disciplined sessions, and catch a glimpse into the lives of the junior and higher ranking athletes.
If you would like to attend a morning training session whilst you are in Tokyo please emailTara@ReadyClickAndGo.com for more details on arrangements that we can make for you. You might like to incorporate watching a morning training session with a full or half day private guided day tour of Tokyo with your own guide and using public transport, more details are here
Sunday, 12 August 2012
I am reading a very interesting book by Laurence Sterne called A Sentimental Journey written in 1768 about travelling through France and Italy. At one point in the book he divides “the whole circle of travellers” to one of these types:
- Idle Travellers
- Inquisitive Travellers
- Lying Travellers
- Proud Travellers
- Vain Travellers
- Splenetic (angry) Travellers
- The Travellers of Necessity
- The Delinquent and Felonious Traveller
- The Unfortunate and Innocent Traveller
- The Simple Traveller
- Inquisitive Travellers
- Lying Travellers
- Proud Travellers
- Vain Travellers
- Splenetic (angry) Travellers
- The Travellers of Necessity
- The Delinquent and Felonious Traveller
- The Unfortunate and Innocent Traveller
- The Simple Traveller
I can easily put myself in most of the categories including the Lying Traveller but I think nowadays the traveller category depends on the country and the type of holiday you take.
I am an Idle Traveller when I am lying on the beach by the seaside – you can’t be Idle Traveller for example in Hungary.
I am Inquisitive when served with some strange but delicious dish in the forests of Borneo. But if the dish is overcooked or burned I can be such a Vain Traveller.
During my last visit to Tunisia just before the “Arab Spring” I bought the latest edition of the guide book from a reputable publisher, carefully planning what to see and when. We stayed for a week and time was precious. On a hot day I uprooted the whole family insisting on culture instead of beach, to take them to the nearby Museum. It was listed in my “up to date” guide book and had very good reviews. Reluctantly my family came with me and we followed the guide book instructions only to end up in the red light district! The museum was never in that part of town! The Splenetic Traveller is an understatement of the way I felt at the time.
I haven’t been a Lying Traveller for a long time, since I was a student and forged train tickets to get to the seaside. I am a very Proud Traveller when natives ask me about my country.
I do travel out of necessity when going on long business trips and I have been a delinquent traveller, the last time during Rach’s stag night in Krakow when our drinking session ended with a handsome policeman’s caution. I can proudly announce that I have never ever been a felonious traveller.
Yes I have been an unfortunate traveller when my bunk bed was sold twice and I had to spend all night standing in the corridor as I didn’t have the heart to refuse an oldish lady and her plea that she bought her ticket well before me. Maybe that was my punishment for forging train tickets during my student days?
These days I am just a simple traveller.
Which kind of traveller are you?
Sunday, 18 March 2012
Some historians believe the reason behind the longevity of the Ottoman Empire lay in their strong military organisation – the Ottomans would conscript small boys from the occupied territories into their own army, train them and send them back to their country of origin as fully trained men. They were known as Janissaries and they represented the elite Ottoman corps. The Janissaries had their own military marching band called the Mehter whose only existence was to install terror in the enemy during battle. To hear the Mehter Band you have to be at the Military Museum at 3pm when there is a performance of 17th and 18th century Ottoman military music in full period costume. The special theatre built within the museumresembles an amphitheatre and has very good acoustics. The whole performance lasts for about half an hour and during this period you can learn why the Ottoman Army was so feared. According to the information at the Military Museum the Mehter Military Band is the oldest one in the world and all other military bands are an imitation of this one. Some believe that sound delivered from the Mehter had an influence on European classical music with composers such as Haydn (Military” Symphony), Mozart (The Abduction from the Seraglio) and Beethoven (Passage of the final movement of his Ninth Symphony).
Expect to spend a half day and even longer if you wish to go into great details at the Military Museum which is very centrally located at the Beoyoglu. Istanbul New Town and open Wed.-Sun. 9-5. Entry tickets are 4 TL (Turkish Lira)
For more information about day trips and shore excursions in Istanbul please email Tara@ReadyClickAndGo.com
Monday, 29 August 2011
|The Great Wall of China with ReadyClickAndGo|
Wrongly convinced that the Great Wall of China is visible from the Moon I was expecting it to be just here, in front of the car which dropped as at the base of the Wall. Overexcited and tired from the long flight, I was searching around looking for a glimpse of one of the top things to see before you die. It was hidden among the bushes another half mile up the hill. Luckily, we used the chairlift to take us to the top and even then we had to climb high, uneven steps to get on it. Once I stepped on the Great Wall I couldn’t hide my surprise at how wide it was. So wide that I could see Top Gear organizing racing on the Great Wall of China! The only problem would be the large number of watchtowers which I am sure Jeremy Clarkson would make disappear.
Once on the wall your mind starts wondering which way to go, left or right. My local guide, a very pleasant and knowledgeable Chinese specialist in hiking on the Great Wall convinced me to go to the right, towards Simatai.
It was December, one week before Christmas and luckily there was no snow in China yet. It was cold but not unbearable. The Great Wall of China was empty except for me, my guide and for one very stubborn hawker whose sales skills were developed under Mao’s strict regime where the word ‘no’ didn’t mean anything. She didn’t speak English and followed us all the way to Simatai. Occasionally, pushing one of the Great Wall of China books in front of me, usually when I sat down to relax. In the end, feeling sorry for her but also admiring her perseverance, I decided to buy a book from her. She took the money and before I could say good bye she was far behind me. Trotting in her high heels, her modern business suit and laptop bag bouncing to get back before it got dark.
I was wearing many layers, new trainers and had a new Sony camera. The weather was excellent for taking photos. The fact that I was on my own and didn’t have to wait for people to move out of shot was an added bonus!
|The Great Wall of China with ReadyClickAndGo|
At the beginning, the trek was easy but the further along we went from Jinshanling towards Simatai the Wall gradually diminished from wide to almost non-existent with very steep steps and with loose stones and bricks. At some point, my guide and I were discussing the possibility to leave the wall and walk alongside it until we reached Simatai. It was a good idea but the fact that you wouldn’t be able to get back up, made me instead get on my knees and hands and crawl up to the highest point of this part of the Wall – the Wangjinglou Tower. All my tiredness disappeared once we reached the Tower and saw beautiful views almost up to the outskirts of Beijing. According to my guide the main function of Wangjinglou Tower was to observe enemies in the far distance. If the enemy was on the move, the soldiers would light a fire to alert the next tower who would relay the message along.
Once you pass Wangjinglou Tower hiking gets easier. You are almost descending towards the Simatai section of the Great Wall of China and once you are there, you have the option to get a zip line over the river and get of of Simatai, or if you are wimp like I am then you can continue walking. The hiking route from Jinshanling to Simatai is about 10 km and it took me about 4 hours to complete. I didn’t have any training or any exercise before taking this hike. Bear in mind that I had lots of photo stops as the opportunity to be on your own up, there was too good to miss!
We passed 43 watchtowers and they are great places to relax and have a picnic or, as some people do, have a sleepover. If you are young at heart, I would always recommend you to stay an extra night in Beijing and do the hike on this portion of the Great Wall of China. Most tour operators take you to the Badaling section which is the closest to Beijing and the most commercialized! You don’t have a quiet moment on your own and most of your photos would be full of strangers jumping in front of the camera like flies! The second option would be the section at Mutiyunu which is very well-renovated and not as commercialized as Badaling.
For the ultimate experience, book yourself a private tour with guide and driver and do the hike from Jinshanling to Simatai - it’s closed for renovation until next year but if that fits in with your plans, all the better!
For more information regarding hiking on the Great Wall of China email expert Tara@ReadyClickAndGo.com or check our website.