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Today was Italian Labour Day, a big national holiday that presented the perfect opportunity to do a little out of town excursion: a drive around Mount Etna. So together with Jill, a co-student of mine from England, we rented a little two-door Lancia to go on a country driving tour. At 50 Euros the rental was not exactly inexpensive, but we figured it would be worth it to be able to explore the countryside around Taormina.First we had to deal with fuelling the car: our ren...

Hello From Sicily A Fantastic Driving Tour Around Mount Etna

Hello From Sicily  A Fantastic Driving Tour Around Mount EtnaToday was Italian Labour Day, a big national holiday that presented the perfect opportunity to do a little out of town excursion: a drive around Mount Etna. So together with Jill, a co-student of mine from England, we rented a little two-door Lancia to go on a country driving tour. At 50 Euros the rental was not exactly inexpensive, but we figured it would be worth it to be able to explore the countryside around Taormina.First we had to deal with fuelling the car: our rental car was essentially empty and we were supposed to only put about as much fuel into the car as we thought we would use up so wed be able to bring the car back empty as well. The gas stations were officially closed on this holiday, and unlike in North America, there was no option to use a credit card for payment at the pump. The pump, however, did have a little slot where you could feed in bills and one of the local drivers patiently took his time to explain the system to me.With enough fuel to get us a couple of hundred kilometers we set off on our country excursion. At Giardini Naxos we turned inland towards our first destination: the Gole di Alcantara, the Gorge of the Alcantara River which is cut from black basaltic rock. The signs on the country road pointed towards the parking lot for the Alcantara Gorge, so we parked our vehicle and entered the complex. A simple 20 minute tour to see the river and the strange rock formations would cost 3 Euros, while longer tours and wading tours through the river are available also. We descended several sets of stairs to get down to the riverbed from where we got a good look at some of the interesting rock formations. Unless you wanted to walk through the river, there was no other place to go than back up through another set of stairs.Once at the top we found out that if we had taken this entrance we would have been able to view the gorge for free. We were a couple of hundred meters away from our parked car and by the roadside there was a little stand which actually was the tourist information booth for this inland area. Two ladies supplied us with a range of brochures and information about the villages surrounding "Mount Etna" , and I have to admit that the service was better and more knowledgeable than the tourist office in Taormina, which happens to be a much bigger tourist centre.We decided to explore a few of the gorgeous hilltop towns which are patched up against the rocky outcrops, providing an amazing vantage point of the surrounding countryside. Following a sign for a village called Motta Camastra we turned into a winding narrow road that was slowly taking us to the top of this crag. At the bottom of the town there was a public parking spot and we figured it was better to park our car there and walk up than to try to navigate the unimaginably narrow roads that were snaking through this little hilltop town.Just as we had parked our car a local resident in his fifties started shouting at us in Italian from his balcony and waving at us. It took us some time to realize that he was actually inviting us up into his abode for a beer. We graciously declined, and continued our walk. Jill commented that local Sicilians had been showing a marked amount of interest in her and attributed it to her noticeably pale English complexion. After about a 10 minute walk through tiny cobble-stoned walkways we reached the main square which featured a bar with about 20 older men sitting outside. Most of them were wearing caps similar to French berets and they were engaged in a very spirited discussion. Not a woman was to be seen.Our walk continued to the ancient church and from there we followed a walkway past narrow houses to a lookout point overlooking the entire mountain area. Sleepy cats were lounging lazily on the pavement, here and there women were watering flowers in front of their apartments. The vista towards Mount Etna, the Alcantara Valley and various mountaintop villages perched precariously against different rocky outcrops was breathtaking.After Motta Camastra we decided to explore another one of these hilltop towns and following a beautiful drive through a countryside full of vineyards we reached a place called Rocella Valdemone about 45 minutes later. We parked the car right next to the old town church and strolled across the piazza. At the other end of this public square we saw the obligatory bar which again featured about 15 to 20 older gentlemen fully engrossed in an animated discussion. My guess was they were probably discussing soccer. We got the definite impression that tourists dont come here very often because we certainly stuck out like a sore thumb and the locals were looking at us a bit as if we were a novelty. Again, women were conspicuously absent, with the occasional exception who was sweeping the pavement in front of the house and then disappeared inside again.Nature was calling and we asked at the bar if we could use the bathroom. One thing about Italy is that there are very few public washrooms, but fortunately local bars are quite easy-going about their facilities being used by non-paying strangers. This particular facility was in rather abysmal shape, though, and when I came out of it I instructed Jill to make sure not to touch any of the surfaces for fear of contracting a horrible communicating disease. The facility did the job, but it certainly was everything but a shining example of hygiene and cleanliness.Our driving tour continued with a drive into the mountain area. Tree cover got sparser and all of a sudden we were in a mountain area that must have been about 1500 to 2000 m high with a beautiful 360 degree view northwards and eastwards down to the sea and southwards and westwards towards Mount Etna. Hundreds of local Italian families had their cars parked in small side roads that were leading onto what looked like pasture lands for goats and they were having picnics. We didnt seem to see any tourists at all, and we realized that this is what Italians do on a public holiday in Sicily: they go for a picnic in the high mountain areas surrounding Mount Etna.We had come prepared before our departure we had picked up some prosciutto, cheese, fresh buns, fruits and drinks at the local supermarket in Taormina and this was our time for our very own little picnic. Due to the chilly wind that was blowing on this high mountain plateau we actually stayed in the car to eat our lunch, but nevertheless our view out the windshield was simply gorgeous.After a very satisfying improvised meal we drove back down from the mountains towards Mount Etna, past a large number of parked cars whose owners had gone hiking somewhere in this mountainous terrain. At an intersection a local woman was selling home-made cheeses and sausages, evidence of Italian culinary craftsmanship. We neared a town called Randazzo, with the volcano majestically draped in the background which impressed us with its Cathedral of Santa Maria, which was started in the 13th century and rebuilt several times. The bell tower dates from the 18th century, an example of the various different styles composing this imposing church.We started our leisurely drive around Mount Etna, at times right next to the Ferrovia Circumetnea, a small-gauge railway that encircles Mount Etna for about 90 km between Catania and Riposto. Terraced vineyards spread far in front of our eyes, and the drive through little towns like Maletto, Bronte, Adrano and Paterno was enjoyably peaceful. Once we approached the coastal side east of Mount Etna things got a lot busier. We started realizing that this was indeed a public holiday and all the locals were out and about. The traffic was starting to get crazy. Continuing through Nicolosi, Trecastagni, Zafferana Etnea (where saffron used to be cultivated, introduced by the Arabs), we continued through Giarre and Fiumefreedo di Sicilia towards Gardini Naxos, located right on the Ionian Sea.The traffic in the coastal areas was now enormous and beside the road along the shoreline stretching north of Giarre, thousands of cars were parked, belonging to people who had been enjoying a sunny day at the waterfront. We continued through Giardini Naxos at a crawling pace. This resort town south east of Taormina was founded in 735 BC by the Greeks and represents one of the oldest Greek settlements in Sicily. We drove past Isola Bella and Mazzaro and took the northern entrance into Taormina and got into a major traffic jam where we sat virtually without moving for about 45 minutes, a distance that should have taken us about 5 minutes under normal circumstances. No doubt everybody was on the road.It was a relief to finally have reached Taormina when we drove through the tunnel underneath town to reach the rental company on the western side of town. Just like the roads had been full of people, the town of Taormina was now packed with people strolling. Thousands of people were milling up and down the main strip, Corso Umberto, and we were literally rubbing shoulders with the other walkers. We decided we would have dinner outside of the city gates on Via Pirandello, where the pedestrian traffic was not quite as crazy and grabbed a nice table on a terrace at Trattoria Da Linos, a little restaurant where I had already had a couple of chats with the owners who recognized me and gave me a friendly hello. From the terrace we had a great view over the northern part of town and the Ionian Sea below us. After a filling pasta dinner we received a little free treat: a tasting of Amandola liqueur (made from almonds) on the house a great way to cap off an exciting day to catch a rest for another day of Italian lessons

Exploring The Diverse Supply Of Hotels In The Caribbean

Exploring The Diverse Supply Of  Hotels In The Caribbean

The Caribbean Hotel Association (CHA) was formed in 1959, as a committeee of the Caribbean Tourist Association. It was intended to promote the Caribbean region, and became an autonomous body in 1962. The Caribbean Hotel Association focused on the tourism market and aspects such as the airlines controlled access, hotel reps controlling communication with travel agencies, and wholesalers which controlled traffic and payments. At that stage, the hotels themselves were not a part of the Association's operations.Eventually, it was realized that in order to fix any problems, the entire Caribbean hospitality industry would have to work together, and hence the Caribbean Hotel Association developed and implemented several programs over the years. Caribbean hotels offer acommodations that suit all tastes and budgets. They offer everything from inns and guesthouses to private villas and luxury resorts. Families have the option of self catering, or full service hotels that offer special meals, programs and activities targetted towards children. There are also resorts that cater towards singles interested in meeting other singles, and small quiet resorts for those seeking solitude, relaxation, peace and serenity.Another growing trend is eco-tourism, with environmentally friendly resorts springing up throughout the Caribbean. Another grat option are the all-inclusive resorts, where you pay once and forget it. These are high-service activity filled vacation ersorts with something for everyone, from mom and dad, to grandma to baby Jill. Then there are resorts with a thriving nightlife, where you can party until you drop!The high season in the Caribbean is December through to April, where the weather is at its best with little to no chance of rain. Prices during this time period are much higher, and it can be difficult to find accommodation unless you book well in advance. There is no time like the present, so if a caribbean vacation is in your future plans, the best time to book your caribbean hotel reservation is now! Get ready to add some spice to your life. Your piece of paradise awaits!

Luxury Cruise Vacations

Luxury Cruise Vacations

Get up, go to work, go home, and go to bed. Repeat. Your lifestyle is a recipe for disaster. All work and no play make Johnny, and Jane, perfectly miserable.When you've had enough of the rat race and just need to get away, a luxury cruise vacation is just the ticket. Luxury cruise vacations offer pure paradise for a week, a month or even six months. Nothing to do but lie back, relax and let the ocean carry you away.Choosing to take a luxury cruise vacation is one of the easiest decisions you'll ever make. The tricky part is deciding when to leave, and when to come back. Chances are, you'll want to leave tomorrow and never return. Unfortunately we all have to return to reality at some point, but even a few days on a luxury cruise vacation is better than none at all.Work with your travel agent in planning your departure and return dates. You'll be surprised at the difference a week can make in rates and availability. If cost is a factor, take advantage of off-season discounts and you can save a bundle. Booking well in advance can help you to save a few bucks. Adventurous types who are in a position to drop everything can sometimes catch a break with last-minute bookings.Think about where you'd like to go for your dream getaway. There are countless options available, depending on where you'd like to travel and what you'd like to see. Check the itineraries of different cruise packages to determine which ports of call you'd like to explore. Of course, you may decide the perfect vacation activity for you is simply basking away on the ship's pool deck. If that's the case, you can just book the cruise without worrying about day trips along the way. The time you have available plays a big role in deciding when and where you will travel. Even the shortest luxury cruise vacation can be packed with fun and excitement.The fun part is actually booking and preparing for your vacation. Once you've made the arrangements, you can get up and go to work with smile on your face, as you count down the days till your luxury cruise vacation. Bon Voyage!

Benidorm Apartments: Your Home Away From Home

Benidorm Apartments: Your Home Away From Home

Benidorm apartments come in all shapes and sizes, but most that you will find in this Costa Blanca city are located in high rise buildings. The cost depends of course on the view -- city side or ocean view, but each provides comfort and convenience for extended stays to the city.Weighing the Cost vs. AmenitiesThe cost of the average Benidorm apartment is about what you would pay for an inexpensive hotel room. There are restrictions on the visits; generally a property manager wont rent an apartment for less than one week, but you can negotiate great rates for month-long stays. Some apartments can be leased for less than a week, but you can expect a short-stay surcharge.Most high rise apartment buildings will have balcony with exquisite views of the surrounding beaches. This birds eye view can give you a perspective of the size of this bustling city.Also in the apartment buildings you will often have access to pools, patios, shopping, laundry, and of course your own kitchen. Sometimes on long vacations you can tire of restaurant food, so it is always nice to have a few home cooked meals. It will also save you money if you only have to eat out once in a while.With the reputation of a party city, most apartments in Benidorm will require a breakage deposit to cover any damage to the furnishings or apartment itself. This refundable deposit will cover major breakage, but normal wear and tear is not a chargeable offence.The size of an average Benidorm apartment will be one or two bedrooms. Often there will be pull-out sofas where additional guests can bunk. Managers listing properties will describe the size and also how many people it sleeps. They will most likely have restrictions on adding guests beyond their own recommendation of how many people the apartment is intended to sleep.Tourism Close ByBenidorm is one of the most visited cities along Costa Blanca and therefore caters to the tourist. This is equally as true for the apartment rental business of tourism in Benidorm. The biggest advantage to renting an apartment versus a hotel is the apartment buildings are generally closer to the action than the hotels on the outskirts of the city. From your apartment you can visit the old town streets of Benidorm or walk a few blocks to the beach. If you are in town on business, perhaps to open yet another restaurant or disco, your apartment rental will keep you close to both work and fun.Travel To BenidormBenidorm is conveniently reached by the Alicante Airport and then by bus or taxi to the heart of the city. Within the city you can rent a car, and your apartment rental will have adequate parking either underground or at an adjacent garage. There are at least 20 different car rental offices in downtown Benidorm and around the city. Within the city travel by bus is also affordable and convenient.What to BringWhen you rent one of the Benidorm apartments, you need only pack as if you were staying at a hotel. The apartments leased to week-long guests are fully furnished with linens and kitchen necessities. Once you arrive, you can purchase your fresh foods but all of your cooking utensils are stocked. You may also want to bring your own laundry soaps, toiletries and a few DVDs to watch since these are some of the items hotels may provide, but you wont likely find at the apartment.The options of where to stay in Benidorm are not just limited to hotels. Apartment life offers more space at an affordable rate. You wont necessarily have daily maid service or even room service, but people dont travel to Benidorm to stay indoors. Its worth making your own bed for the week to enjoy the relaxed, family-friendly atmosphere of a Benidorm apartment.

Visiting Murcia, Spains University City

The capital of the Costa Calida is Murcia, Spain located south of Alicate along the Mediterranean Sea. It has been named the University City. Over 30,000 students attend its university at any given time, but the city offers much more than just the university. This typical Spanish city blends the past with the modern day and has many points of interest for both tourists and locals. You can best reach the city by the Murcia-San Javier Airport in San Javier, approximately seventeen miles from Murcia. From the airport, you can reach your hotel and the many sights and interests throughout the city by the bus, a taxi or car hire services. There are plenty of accommodations available, but hotels in the area do book quickly during graduations and other university events. It is even more important to make hotel and car hire reservations early if you plan to travel during these times. There are sights and interests for everyone whether a history buff, an art lover or an outdoor fan. Besides the university itself, there are beautiful cathedrals and churches, museums ad nearby outdoor sports. Along the northern part of the Mar Menor near the airport is a great location for sports such as water skiing, swimming, fishing and sailing. The Cathedral of Murcia is a must-see stop on any sightseeing tour and is known by its landmark tower that can be seen from a distance away. The cathedrals outside doors are exceptionally crafted, with the main entrance know as the Puetra del Perdon. The north side door called the Portada de das Cadenas and Portada de los Apostoles also allow entrance to the chapel. Once inside the cathedral, you will find beautiful embellishments and wealth of gold adding to its sacredness. You can also enjoy a spectacular view of the city from the top of the tower. Anyone with an interest in art or history will want to visit the Almudi Art Palace and the Museo de la Ciudad. The Almudi Art Palace was renovated in the mid-1980s and is now the city archives and art center. The art, history and industry of the culture can be found by the many artifacts held at the Museo de la Ciudad. Nearby, there is also an orchard from the Moorish period. Sightseeing is not the only thing to do in Murcia. There is plenty to do for some good fun such as the Gran Casino Murcia, for example, where you can play slot machines in the beautiful ballroom. Later, you can head to the Spa La Manga Club at the Hyatt Las Lomas Village and Spa for some relaxation and quiet recreation. The spa offers massages, manicures and pedicurs, reflexology, steam rooms and Jacuzzi tubs. There is also a lap pool on the premises with a separate pool for the children.

Mozambique Holidays On The Island Of Benguerra At A Beach Front Luxury Lodge

Mozambique holidays at Azura on Benguerra Island will shortly become a well known destination and Hotel, although Azura is really more a luxury eco boutique lodge than an hotel. It opened its doors in the latter part of 2007, and to some extent it is still work in progress, but it has immediately caught the attention of people looking for a romantic beach getaway or a beach front vacation on a Mozambique Island in the Indian Ocean.Azura is a brand new addition to what are an increasing number of lodges and hotels in the fantastically beautiful Bazaruto Archipelago in Southern Mozambique.It consists of 3 luxury Villas, 11 infinity villas and a Presidential Villa with private plunge or infinity pool. They are extremely spacious and designed with a combination of traditional Mozambique furniture and ultra modern chic, and the effect is spectacular. Speechless is one word already used to describe the accommodation, each with its own butler who is there purely to pander to your every whim.Each villa has a "beach front" cabana style roundel to shelter from the heat of the sun, and is well supplied with comfy plump cushions. The huge beds are very comfortable and the outside showers a great reminder of how great life in the tropics can be, particularly when friends at home in Europe are either soaked and cold or under several meters of snow whilst you are standing under the stars in the open air enjoying a shower.Azura luxury lodge is a real beachfront location, and the views of the Indian Ocean from the public areas of the Lodge will take your breath away, with the searing blue of the Indian Ocean contrasting with the lovely beach.What this is saying in effect is that there are just totally idyllic absolutely uninterrupted views everywhere you look of white sand beach which just seems to stretch for miles in both directions, and is invariably empty. The water is warm and totally clear, but when the tide goes out, you have to go a very long way if you want to swim but it makes for great exploring.As you would expect in a far off isolated spot like Benguerra much of the hotel is open to the cooling breezes, and this kind of design with the cool contemporary cottons used in the furnishings oozes quality allied to relaxation.The food at Azura is also of very high quality, especially when you remember it all has to be brought from the mainland, although of course the superb fish came from the nearby ocean. There is a lot of fish on the menu, and you will be able to eat on the beach, and dont miss the seafood buffet cooked over an open fire. There is a meat option, and in fact you will get pretty well what you fancy with a good wine list as well.The Azura is heavily involved in an upliftment programme, where they have to help to improve the lives of the local people. They are training locals in a variety of ways, and this principle of helping the local community, even as a guest because you are giving people the opportunity to take part in the programme makes it all see so much more worthwhile.You can access Benguerra Island via the international airport at Vilanculos and it is then ten minutes by plane and 30 minutes by boat.The normal activities that you would expect are available, and as you can imagine snorkeling, scuba diving and fishing are popular favorites, but many guests are content to sit, read, walk on the deserted white sand beach, and perhaps swim with dolphins who visit on occasions.You might just prefer to lie around on your deck, have your butler serve tea, or cool off in your own plunge pool. Just enjoy the peace and total relaxation that make "Mozambique holidays" on Benguarra Island at Azura unique.For more information go to http://www.worldwidevacationspots.com/categories/Indian-Ocean-Hideways/

Summary

Today was Italian Labour Day, a big national holiday that presented the perfect opportunity to do a little out of town excursion: a drive around Mount Etna. So together with Jill, a co-student of mine from England, we rented a little two-door Lancia to go on a country driving tour. At 50 Euros the rental was not exactly inexpensive, but we figured it would be worth it to be able to explore the countryside around Taormina.First we had to deal with fuelling the car: our ren...