Archive for March, 2010

Dancing Round the Americas

tangoThe Latin America region is renowned for its ancient cities, spicy food and vibrant party atmosphere – which is ever present in cities such as Cancun and Rio De Janiero.

There are a wide variety of dances that originated in Latin America and are now know around the world – particularly for their high-energy, flowing movements that are usually accompanied by flamboyant costumes and music which has a high tempo and energy about it.

Dance tours are popular with those who are looking to take in the sights and sounds of the main tourist attractions as well as learning a few dance moves along the way

If you’re looking to backpack around the region, why not consider taking some lessons along the way? Here are a few ideas for when you’re planning your trip:

Samba In Brazil – this energetic dance style is one of the most famous cultural exports of Brazil, and if you’re passing through Rio De Janiero during your trip, joining in the festivities at the Rio Carnival is a must. The world famous event is known as being one of the greatest parties in the world, with a whole host of decorative floats and flamboyant outfits on show.

There are a multitude of samba schools throughout Rio De Janiero, and many of these offer lessons in samba to tourists. So whilst passing through Rio, why not drop by one of these and learn a few moves during your time in the city?

Salsa In Cuba – salsa is a vibrant and rhythmic dance style that is famous throughout Cuba, and there are a number of tours that allow you the chance to explore the sights and learn a few moves along the way. One of the most popular destinations for these salsa tours is the historic capital city of Havana – described by as being “colourful and full of character”, so why not try a combination of sightseeing and salsa during your Cuba holidays?

Tango in Argentina – the tango is one of the most well known dance styles around the world, combining precise and flowing movements with an upbeat music style. Tango tours in Argentina give you the opportunity to explore the spectacular sights of the many national parks – including the waterfalls at Iguazu Falls and the glaciers of Los Glaciares National Park – interweaved with daily tango lessons with qualified instructors.

Dance tours are becoming more popular amongst tourists who are looking to keep fit and learn a few moves in amongst the sightseeing, and with more of these tours now available, why not consider including such a tour as part of your holidays in Cuba or Argentine adventure?

Niagara is not only for Honeymooners

niagraIf your vision of Niagara Falls is one of a geographical area filled with honeymooners who spend all day inside with the shades drawn and come out in the evening for food and drink, you’re only partly right. Niagara Falls is a great place for memorable family fun. My wife and I took our two kids there when they were seven and ten years old, and had a great time. Keep in mind that Niagara Falls straddles the Canadian border, and it’s very cold in the winter. Unless you enjoy the cold and high winds, plan your trip during the summer months.

Niagara Falls really involves two cities that are separated by the Niagara River: Niagara Falls, New York and Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada. While my coming admission is bordering on the verge of traitorous behavior, I must say that the Niagara Falls experience is much better from the Canadian side. The falls themselves are mesmerizing. It’s one thing to appreciate the beauty and majesty of the falls in a photograph, but a totally different experience to feel the power of the water as it thunders endlessly into the lower river.

One of the most exciting family adventures at Niagara Falls is the Journey Behind the Falls, which is a series of tunnels that allow you to take a scenic tour of the waterfall from behind the falling cascade of water. Two tunnels penetrate to a distance of about 50 yards behind the falls where you can stand in awe while watching the cascading water, hearing the thunderous roar, and feeling the water’s enormous power.

When you’re not standing in awe before the falls, there are a number of other fine attractions to keep the family busy for days. The Niagara Parks Botanical Gardens is a must see with over 50 acres of beautifully maintained flower gardens. Louis Tussaud’s Waxworks provides a great learning experience for the kids, and if the kids are old enough, the Nightmare Fear Factory is a memorable thriller that can be talked about fun for the entire family.

And, of course, we can’t forget food. Niagara falls has some excellent restaurants, featuring fine foods from both the French and English Canadian cultures. The most visible restaurant is the space needle that sets so prominently in the skyline. It is a smaller version of the Space Needle in Seattle, Washington. The food is great and the view is spectacular, especially at night when the falls are illuminated. Niagara Falls is a visit that your family will enjoy immensely and will never forget. A lifelong memory.

Jazz up Life in the Big Easy

new-orleansTake it from me, you should never consider going to New Orleans for a rest. Our trip to New Orleans wasn’t a vacation; it was a fun-filled action-packed adventure from start to finish. From Louis Armstrong Park to the Mississippi River, the French Quarter is simply packed with fine food, music, and entertainment. Much of the entertainment is not from professional entertainers; it’s found by simply watching the people, especially in the evening when the night life defines the area.

We happened to visit at a time when the Big Easy was in the midst of one of its several jazz festivals. Each day, different jazz ensembles would play in Jackson Square in front of the beautiful St. Louis Cathedral. Jackson square is really the social center of the city during the day. Mimes and living statues provide mesmerizing entertainment. Caricaturists, portrait painters, and sketch artists abound around the perimeter of the square to formalize a memory of your visit for a reasonable, often negotiable, cost. Horse drawn carriage tours start from the river side of the park, and they are well worth the cost. With about one hour invested in a carriage tour, we became imbued with a feeling for New Orleans architecture and lifestyle.

We were fortunate enough to have great weather throughout our entire visit. One entire day was spent on a Mississippi Riverboat; a magnificent rear paddle wheel boat on which we took a tour down river to the site of the great Battle of New Orleans. Walking over the still pristine battlefield where Andy Jackson fended off the British was quite an experience for a history buff like me. The paddle wheeler itself was a marvel, with its excellent restaurant. Neither my wife nor I left the boat hungry.

But, then there is never any reason to be hungry for a moment in New Orleans. Restaurants lie next to other restaurants all around and emanating out from Jackson Square. Emeril, of Food Network fame, has several fine restaurants in the area. The Café du Monde, famous for its café au lait and beignets is just a few quick minutes walk from the center of Jackson Square. Jimmy Buffet’s original Margaritaville Restaurant is nearby.

We stayed for a full week at a fine hotel on the edge of the French Quarter. The city never sleeps. Each morning my wife and I would leave the hotel at sunrise and walk toward Jackson Square, having breakfast along the way. Each day, the square would be the center from which we would launch our day’s adventure, and each day was full.

Some true vacations are a time for relaxation and recharging your batteries for a return to the routine of life. Not so with our trip to New Orleans. We slept most of the way home on the return flight. Although we returned home nearly exhausted, we will always remember our New Orleans visit as an exciting experience.

Ireland: One Visit is never Enough

guinnessUsually, one visits a country to see some spectacular historical buildings or the location of famous battlefields or events, to view great natural wonders, or to bask in tropical warmth and splendor. With Ireland it’s different. People visit Ireland and return often just because it’s – well – Ireland. The country is an island packed full with history. It’s a virtual museum; just the right size for a two week visit.
It’s compact. Every place is easy to get to. There are an abundance of bus tours available, and driving by rental car is easy if you can remember to drive on the left side of the road. When driving on many back roads, it makes no difference on which side you drive as the roads are only one lane wide, and oncoming cars must gracefully move to the shoulder to pass by. It seems that every other home is a Bed and Breakfast inn, and the price of accommodations is quite reasonable.

The country is filled with historical wonders. You could spend a lifetime walking to them all, and you’d never be more than ten minutes away from the next historical marvel. In the United States, we are impressed with buildings built in the 1600s. Gravestones with dates in the 1700s seem ancient and evoke awesome looks from tourists. In Ireland the concept of time and the span of history are different.

My wife and I stood in quiet respectful awe as we looked at the large monolithic grave markers at ruins of an ancient abbey to see the date 400 AD carved into the wind worn stone. I stood on a stone wall built in the fourth century, a wall which is used to this day to keep sheep from wandering. And I still get a thrill when I remember moment when I placed my hand on a Stonehenge like structure, one of many that were built 3000 years before the birth of Christ.

Don’t think, just because I babble about historical treasures, that Ireland does not offer occasions to rock and roll. Dublin and Galway have a robust and active downtown scene. Dublin is delightful with its crowded pubs, fine restaurants, excellent shopping, and a choice of fine shows where you can sip a Guinness dark while enjoying great Irish comedy, music, and dance. When you’re not eating or being entertained, you’ll find that Dublin is a great walking city, with its assortment of street musicians, mimes, and jugglers. To revert to my historical affections, The grounds of Trinity college are always open for a stroll through, and viewing the stately Post Office where the 1914 uprising began is a powerful experience – emotional if you’re Irish.
If you plan a trip to Europe in the near future, you couldn’t do better than to start with a visit to Ireland, the European country that is closest to home. The only problem with a visit to Ireland – once is never enough.

© 2010 Pat Travels the World
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