So my latest travel adventure has just begun: three weeks in Sicily to get to know this beautiful historic island and to learn Italian in another cultural immersion experiment. My regular readers will know that I love to learn languages and in the last couple of years I have a chance to study Spanish in Havana and in two different language schools in colonial Cuernavaca, Mexico, all wonderful experiences. In the meantime my Spanish has become pretty presentable and I thought I would expand my linguistic and travel horizon a little bit and add Italian to the menu.My brother and sister-in-law, both of whom live in Austria, regularly travel to Italy and just simply rave about this country, and I thought that its been a long time since I traveled to Il Belpaese, so it was time to venture forth and explore this beautiful country. I had seen a bit of northern Italy, but what I really wanted to explore was Southern Italy, and over the last couple of months I had been reading travel books for a variety of travel regions south of Naples.What I settled on was Sicily I love islands, and for millennia Sicily has been at the confluence of many cultures. This was sure going to be an interesting place. So yesterday, after an extremely hectic day at work my husband finally took me to the airport in the early afternoon and I got off without a hitch on my flight with Alitalia to Milan. Ever the astute traveler, I had cashed in some Airmiles to get a free returnflight to Sicily, an excellent way to keep travel costs down.At the airport I had a nice chat with a young Italian engineer who regularly travels to Toronto to look after client projects. He was telling me about the long working hours at his company in Milan, and I realized that not everywhere in Italy does dolce far niente (the sweet doing nothing) reign supreme. Despite the laid back atmosphere that the tourists are seeking, Italy of course is a modern industrialized nation, with the same economic pressures every other Western nation faces.After a brief touchdown in Milan and another landing in Rome I was finally on the third and last leg of my trip to Catania, the second largest city in Sicily, after the capital, Palermo. All the formalities were quick and my suitcase arrived in no time, and just outside the airport I hopped into a bus that would bring me directly to Taormina, the destination for the first eight days of my 21 day trip.Taormina is one of Sicilys most popular and beautiful travel destinations. Perched on a mountain called Monte Tauro high above the Mediterranean, Taormina has been a popular vacation spot for over 100 years now. Its recorded history dates back to the fourth century before Christ. Naxos, a town close to Taormina on the seafront, was founded even earlier in 735 B.C. and is the oldest Greek settlement in Sicily.I had read so much about Taormina, and several of my friends had already been there and all agreed it was a beautiful place - a definite must-see during a visit of Sicily. Well, when I got there the weather was starting to cloud over, and I checked in at my abode for the next eight days. Hotel Villa Nettuno is a two-star hotel located on the north side of Taormina with a beautiful view of the Mediterranean. I dropped off my luggage and started to stroll into town to look for the Italian language school where I would be studying Italian next week.After a relaxing walk up Via Pirandello, past a variety one street vendors and several restaurants, I walked through the Gate of Messina past the large open space in front of historic Palazzo Corvaja, through a number of narrow winding side streets, and dodged a variety of Vespa riders who navigated the narrow passageways between the homes. Just seven or eight minutes after I left I had reached my destination, the Babilonia Language School, and met Angela, the schools accommodation coordinator. She showed me around and gave me a variety of useful local tips. I was also able to use the schools computers free of charge to access the Internet and found out about the excursions that the school was offering in the next few days.The schools location is great, on the southern edge of town, overlooking some clay tennis court with, what I was told, a beautiful view of Mount Aetna and the Mediterranean coastline. At the moment the famous volcano was completely shrouded in an increasingly dark set of clouds. The schools rooftop computer room and terrace provide a beautiful place for the students to gather. After Angela gave me a tour throughout the entire facility it was time to head out and satiate my growling stomach. I found a little corner caf called Mambar where I had a seat and enjoyed a foccaccia sandwich with cheese. From my comfortable spot on the outdoor terrace I was watching a variety of miniature delivery vans backing in an out of the narrow alleyway, all the while admiring their driving skills.But now the nice weather had ended and the sluices of heaven opened up. I kept sitting on the terrace because fortunately a large awning was keeping the patrons dry, but huge drops of water kept pelting the pavement. I started a conversation with a retired German lady from Hamburg who has traveled to this area numerous times. She and her husband used to go to Tuscany many times until they decided to explore Sicily. So they loaded their car onto the train and traveled this way to Northern Italy from there they embarked on a driving vacation to Sicily. Unfortunately her husband had passed away recently and due to her poor eyesight she is unable to drive any longer, so this year she flew to Sicily. This conversation illustrated to me that even advanced age and failing eyesight cant keep a real travel enthusiast at home, and this woman in her late seventies was still nurturing her quest for adventure.Jetlag was catching up with me, and I started my stroll back to the hotel. On the way I stopped at an ice cream stand and chatted a bit with Claude, the owner. At 1.25 Euros, his ice cream was not just delicious, but also very affordable, and Sicilian ice cream is a real treat. Claude added that he would feel guilty if he charged more than his usual price. He said hes never going to get rich as an ice cream vendor, but he definitely loves his job and enjoys interacting with the locals and the tourists.Well, my first day in Italy was a success, I had arrived safe and sound with all my luggage intact, found my way to Taormina, liked me hotel and hooked up with the school the will be my second home all through next week. I cant wait to start my discoveriesThis entire article including photos is located at http://www.travelandtransitions.com/stories_photos/sicily_taormina.htm
Cruising is a popular vacation choice for wheelchair-users and slow walkers, however some cruise destinations are just more accessible than others. Take Hawaii for example. For starters it's located in the US, so shore tour operators are bound by US access laws. Granted, not every shore excursion is wheelchair-accessible; however you'll find more accessible transportation options in Hawaii than you will in the Caribbean or Mexico.Of course, it goes without saying that as an island state, Hawaii is perfectly suited for cruises. Perhaps that's why Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) has two NCL America ships stationed there; the Pride of Aloha and the Pride of America. The Pride of Aloha first entered service as the Norwegian Sky in 1999, but was retrofitted and reflagged in 2004. It features six accessible inside staterooms located near the elevators on Decks 8 and 9. The larger Pride of America was launched in 2005, and includes 22 wheelchair-accessible staterooms in a variety of configurations. The accessible staterooms on both ships feature wide doorways, level thresholds and bathrooms with a roll-in shower, a fold-down shower seat, a hand-held shower head, grab bars in the shower and around the toilet and a roll-under sink.Because these vessels are registered in the US, they aren't required to call on foreign ports (such as Ensenada of Fanning Island) while they cruise the Hawaiian islands. This result in a true all-Hawaii itinerary, with more time ashore, including overnight stops on two islands. This is especially good news for wheelchair-users and slow walkers; because with more time in port, there's no need to rush. Passengers can relax and take things at their own pace, yet still have plenty of time to see the sights.Both vessels sail seven-day Hawaiian Island cruises from Honolulu; and as far as shore excursions go, there is at least one accessible NCL shore excursion in every port. And thanks to NCL's 2004 acquisition of Polynesian Adventure Tours, all accessible shore excursions feature lift-equipped transportation.If you'd like to set out on your own, Hilo Hattie has free accessible shopping shuttles at all the ports and Wheelchair Getaways has adapted rental vans available on Maui, the Big Island and Oahu. Additionally, the major rental car agencies can provide vehicles with hand controls with 48-hours notice.Here's a port-by-port rundown of some accessible sightseeing suggestions. Nawiliwili, KauaiWaimea Canyon is a must while on Kauai. The most accessible place to view the canyon is at the Waimea Canyon Lookout. Although there are stairs to the top of the lookout, there is also a cement path with numerous switchbacks, just to the right of the stairs. The path is 38-inches wide so you do have to mindful of oncoming traffic, but at the top you'll be rewarded with a spectacular view of the canyon. Kona, HawaiiKona is the only tender port on the itinerary. According to NCL's official policy, wheelchair-users must use a manual wheelchair in order to tender, so this a good port for power wheelchair-users to stay aboard and enjoy the ship. Those that do venture ashore will find lots of shops and restaurants around the port, most of which feature a level entry. Hilo, HawaiiVolcanoes National Park is a must-see while in Hilo, and you can do this on your own or on a NCL shore excursion. Your first stop in the park should be the Kilauea Visitors Center, which includes a number of interpretive exhibits. The Volcano Art Center, located behind the visitors center, is also worth a visit. For a great view, take the Earthquake Trail to the left of the hotel. This wide paved trail was a vehicle road until a November 1983 eruption closed it to traffic. At the end of the trail, you'll find a few picnic tables along with a spectacular view of the crater.Kahului, MauiA great way to really see the island is from the air, and Sunshine Helicopters offers a number of accessible flightseeing tours. Wheelchair-users are transferred to a portable lift to board the helicopter, and then transferred to the helicopter seat for the tour. Other Maui attractions that offer good wheelchair access include Maui Ocean Center, Maui Tropical Plantation and the Sugar Cane Train.And if you'd prefer to have some fun in the water, then check out Lahaina Divers or Ron Bass's Kayaking Adventures. Lahaina Divers operates a variety of dive trips on their wheelchair-accessible Dominion while Ron provides kayaking instruction to wheelchair-users. Either option makes for a fun day on a beautiful island.
Sutton Coldfield is located in the West Midlands and is a remarkably vibrant town within the City of Birmingham, in the West Midlands. It lies about 13 km (8 miles) from central Birmingham, in the northeast of the city, and has a population of about 105,452.The town of Sutton Coldfield has grown up around the periphery of Sutton Park.Sutton Park is one of the largest urban parks in Europe and the largest outside a capital city. It covers 900.1 hectares (2224.2 acres / 9.0 km), with a mix of heath land, wetlands and marshes, seven lakes and extensive ancient woodlands. Sutton Park is arguably the jewel in the areas crown boasting a handful of quality restaurants, several 18-hole golf courses, a number of children's playgrounds, a visitors' centre and even a donkey sanctuary! The park makes for a fantastic destination whatever the season and whatever the weather.Sutton Coldfield can also be described as a shoppers paradise. The famous Mall Shopping centre now boasts some of the finest shopping in the area and includes names such as House of Fraser, Marks and Spencer and Monsoon, to name but three. There is almost a continental caf feel about the Mall; where one can take a gourmet coffee on the flower lined pedestrianised pavement, whilst listening to street music watching the world go by. The monthly farmers market on the second Friday in the month is a huge draw and reminds the locals of bygone days.If you are looking for nightlife then Sutton Coldfield will not disappoint you having something for everyone. Whether its a sophisticated meal for two at the Boathouse or something more upbeat at the Ha Ha Bar, there is an abundance of options to suit all tastes and ages. There are some outstanding balti restaurants in the Sutton Coldfield area too; the standard of food served at these restaurants is first class and all are exceptional value for moneyThe area has always had an outstanding reputation for sport and Sutton Coldfield caters for all age groups and interest. There are numerous clubs and venues supporting the local community and just about every sport is catered for here. Whether it is rugby, soccer, hockey, swimming, athletics you name it -- Sutton Coldfield boasts a team of exceptionally high standing in that field.Schools in the area are some of the best in the West Midlands and because of this demand helps keep property prices high. Schools such a s Bishop Vesey Grammar School, Sutton Girls School and even junior school St. Nicholas, all regularly rank amongst the best in the nation in the annual league tables.Sutton Coldfield is an excellent centre for business and commerce too. There are numerous offices around the town and there are plenty of industrial units supporting manufacturing and service industries.All in all, Sutton Coldfield is a relaxed and friendly place that is just far enough away from the big city yet still retains all the charm of a small local town. It is certainly a great place to both live and visit.
Common wisdom tells us that a death of a loved one and moving house are the two most stressful events a person can go through in the modern world. Not being an estate agent or a funeral director, I cant really comment on either of these but I do feel qualified to discuss another stressful area planning a trip and preparing to go on holiday.Its ironic that a period of the year designed to promote rest and relaxation can actually be the cause of the most stress and strain present for the entire year. Things are usually completed in a rush, there is a lot to organise and theres packing time to consider and thats not even taking into account the stress families will go through looking after the kids during all of this! For this reason, Ive written a useful holiday check list to ensure you dont miss any of the small things which have a tendency to turn into bigger problems while youre away.Simply work through my holiday check list and travel with peace of mind:Before you go (planning your trip) Always make sure you have full travel insurance, fit for the purpose of your trip and if you have an annual policy - check that it is still valid. Sometimes people who have purchased annual travel insurance forget to renew it, and assume they are covered whenever they wish to leave the country. Checking your travel insurance is right for the task can save you a lot of stress and tears in the long run, should the worst happen. It is also essential that you make your travel insurance company aware of any pre existing medical condition you have before you travel although it may increase your costs in the short term, you may find yourself without cover if you later need to claim on such an illness without having warned them of it! If youre traveling within the European economic region, or in Switzerland, you should get a free European Health Insurance Card (EHIC). Its a common misconception that this is as good as travel insurance for giving you free health care, but it can entitle you to reduced costs, meaning you are not left out of pocket while you wait to be reimbursed on your policy. When planning a trip, make sure the vaccinations for both you and your family are up to date especially if youre travelling outside of Europe. Your health care provider can advise you of any additional vaccinations youll need depending on where youre going. Fill in the contact details at the back of your passport for the next of kin, or the details of someone who can be contacted in case of an emergency. Make sure you are aware of the immigration and custom laws of the country you are traveling to when planning a trip. A visa may take a little time to come through, so be prepared and allow enough time to complete this procedure. Also you should note that in many countries your passport needs to be valid for at least six months after the date you travel, so check this in advance. Tell someone where you are going and when they should expect you back. Try to leave an itinerary and details of where you may be able to be contacted during your time abroad, in case of emergency. If you are planning on driving in foreign climes, take your full driving license with you. Make sure you are aware of the driving laws, license requirements and driving conditions of your destination before you set off.When you are there Be aware of security and take sensible precautions. If an area is advised against travelling to, the chances are theres a good reason for it! Keep a note of the local embassy, high commission or consulate number. Although the chances are you will not need it, its always worth holding on to in the case of emergency. Stay in regular contact with your family and friends, especially if you are travelling alone. This will ensure theyre always aware of where you are and should be, and can ensure they can contact you in the case of emergency. Respect local customs and behave and dress appropriately. Although unlikely to cause disastrous problems, as a guest in a foreign culture, its only polite to try and fit in.On return Inform family and friends of your safe return, to end their worries and ensure no bogus emergency calls are made. If you need to make any claims against your travel insurance make sure this is done at the earliest opportunity, for maximum chance of getting a positive result.I hope this travel check list has been helpful. Although planning a trip in this much detail may seem like a lot of hassle, dotting all the Is and crossing all the Ts, it really is worth doing. In the end, following this holiday check list to the letter will ensure you are more relaxed and prepared to enjoy your holiday, and should the worst happen youll be well equipped to deal with it.
Below you will find a list of some of the better Spanish cities Ive visited outside of Madrid, with a short commentary on each:Granada- Old city with heavy Arabic influence definitely worth a visit. Check out the Alhambra, the Albaicin (the old Arab quarter), the Turkish baths, and the main drag off of the main plaza. Most bars give out free tapas if you purchase a drink (even soda), and the tapas in Granada are much better than those in Madrid. The nightlife in Granada is famous and most clubs dont close down until after 7 AM. There is a cool club called Kamborio in the Albaicin and another called Granada 10 (pronounced Granada Diez) off of the main drag.Barcelona- Much more cosmopolitan and fun than Madrid during the day in my opinion. I took the double-decker tour bus around the city and thought it was a good way to see all the sites in a short period of time. Check out the Barrio Gothic, Las Ramblas, the yacht harbor, the beach, La Sagrada Familia cathedral and all the other works by architect Gaudi. The restaurant crowds get huge at two pm for lunch, so try to beat the rush. Port Olympico is a good area for nightlife, filled with bars, cafes, and many English-speaking tourists. Its also right on the water, which adds to the atmosphere.Marbella/ Puerto Banus- Two of the nicest towns Ive visited in Spain. Within five miles of each other, both beach towns are filled with resorts, expensive homes, first-rate shopping, big yachts, and a wide variety of restaurants. After youve had enough traditional Spain, these areas are a nice change. Almost everybody speaks English, the buildings are relatively new, and youll feel like you are back in the first world.Tarifa/ Morocco- Tarifa is the windsurfing capitol of Europe, and the city resembles a California beach town. Its a great place to learn to kitesurf (two day minimum for lessons), windsurf, or go canyoning (climbing and sliding down water falls- with a guide). Tarifa is also a good jumping off point for a daytrip to Morocco. I took a guided tour of Tangier, which was really inexpensive and fun. The downside to the tour is that they push you into their own bazaars, rush you at times and try really hard to sell you carpets and spices. Even so, everyone on my tour agreed the day trip was worth doing. An overnight stay would give you a much better chance to see the city.What Id Skip on a Short VacationCadiz- Tacky beach town with a cool history. The city is pretty run-down and not really worth a special visit.Segovia/ Toledo- Unless you plan to spend a long time in Madrid, dont waste your time on either. Segovia was cooler than Toledo, although a little harder to get to. Segovia has good food, a cool castle, a Roman aqueduct, and not much else (5 hours worth of stuff max.). Toledo is similar to any other old village in Europe, and its museums are really lacking. There is a historic synagogue, a small museum dedicated to El Greco, and a big Cathedral.