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Experiencing Rio’s Carnival

It was around seven in the evening when we gathered at the back of Rio’s enormous Sambódromo, on Avenida Presidente Vargas. We numbered in the thousands, all scrambling to locate our precise positions in the parade: which area, which car, which platform was it? Dozens of singers, drummers and dancers, outlandishly dressed with feathered hats, wings and plumes, hurrying to position themselves along the procession… plenty of others gathered around food and drink stalls, waiting for their schools to parade later in the night. The place was buzzing with excitement: we were all soon to samba in the world’s greatest parade stadium.

Rio Carnival

This was Carnival season in Brazil’s leisure capital: the beginning of two days where fourteen samba schools would compete for the honour of being elected the top school for the year. The competition here started in 1932, and since then the names of the escolas have been mythical: Mangueira, Mocidade, Grande Rio, Imperatriz, Vila Isabel, Beija-Flor, … Thanks to a friend’s friend who designed some of the costumes for Vila Isabel, I managed to get into the action as a participant rather than as a spectator: the only way to feel the soul of what was the most extravagant samba show in Brazil.

The clock was ticking. My friends and I were to dance right at the front on the opening carriage of the Vila Isabel show. Having identified my position, I went up the ladder to step onto an 8-meter high platform, on top of our silver-and-blue, neo-baroque float! My fellow dancers and I were all escorting the astonishing near-naked women that were amongst us. I remember looking down at the glittering, vibrating procession behind us along Avenida Vargas. The view was astounding. Our parade stretched for hundreds of meters, with thousand of participants. There was the bateria, a section of 200 drummers, the commissão de frente, with elderly people to be honoured, dancers with elegant blue and white hoopskirts, and other elaborate allegorical floats.

Vila Isabel’s theme (enredo) for this year’s parade was the work of Niemeyer: “Oscar Niemeyer, o arquiteto no recanto da princesa”. The theme is chosen by an art director, Carnivallesco, who is also responsible for the ways the messages are conveyed visually. Niemeyer was the architect of the capital city Brazilia but also of numerous famous structures in Rio. Everything in the procession reflected what he had built: the colours, the props, the floats, the theme song. As my friend was explaining to me, “This is like theatre. But we show it all through dance!” It was like a giant popular opera. Themes picked by other schools were extremely varied, some with socio-political themes (poverty and hunger) and others with historical and biblical (the Old Testament) references.

Shortly before 8pm, our carriage started to move slowly forward towards the entrance of the Sambódromo, pushed by a maintenance crew. The other carriages and foot dancers were following behind us. There was a sense of anticipation, but also of anxiety. Those parades were fiercely competitive. A year of preparation went into them to select themes and design costumes, to write songs and rehearse steps, to choreograph dancers and train percussionists. These samba schools were much more than musical groups – they were neighbourhood associations. Money to be rewarded to the top schools would then trickle down to the supporting favelas, those miserable Brazilian ghettos with no safety nets. Winning the samba competition meant better healthcare for many. So community pride and a sense of responsibility led most participants around me to stay concentrated ahead of the one-hour official parade in front of the judges. There was much more at stake than having a good time. Costumes, rhythms, designs, music had all to be of top quality.

The specialist judges rated the presentation and substance of the parade, but even the public in the stands had scorecards! In Rio, everyone seemed to get into the competitive spirit of the Carnivall. I looked at the categories: bateria (the band), samba enredo (the song), harmonia (co-ordination and unity), evolucao (spirit of the participants), enredo (the School’s theme), alegorias e adereços (floats and props), fantasias (Costumes), comissão de Frente (vanguard dancers), mestre-Sala e Porta-Bandeira (dancing master and flag carrier). There was no room for error to be elected champion.

Precisely at 8pm, we entered the stadium and began to enact an amazing samba show in front of thousands of people in the stadium, and live for millions of others on TV across Brazil. We were dancing ecstatically to the pulsating rhythm of the samba, provided by the school’s percussion orchestra, while the puxador was singing the school’s song:

“… Entre os frutos e o reconhecimento deste primeiro grande trabalho, uma missão maior, a nova capital. O sonho de Juscelino, teria projeto urbanístico de Lúcio Costa, e em Niemeyer, o artista principal . O Palácio da Alvorada, a Catedral de Brasília, o Congresso Nacional, o Palácio do Planalto, o Ministério da Justiça e o Palácio dos Arcos, levaram sua assinatura. Sendo difícil precisar qual seria o mais bonito, arrojado e sinuoso… Viva Niemeyer, Viva a princesa, Viva o povo, Viva a Vila” !

There was a sentiment of collective delirium and abandonment, of feverish intensity, of physical mayhem. Voices joined drummers, dancers moved sensually with percussions, costumes shimmered and glittered. The atmosphere was humid. We were sweating, smiling relentlessly to the spectators and to the cameras. Our carriage was making slow progress through the Sambódromo, using its one hour to reach the majestic Niemeyer’s Arch which marked the end of the procession. Upon reaching the other side of the stadium, cranes dismantled the procession to allow the next samba school to do its show. It was a year of meticulous preparation for only one hour of collective pride and glory!

But what an experience! The crossing was completely surreal for me. Not only because I found myself dressed up in a flamboyant, uninhibited Carnivall costume, amongst three thousand performers, dancing on a 8-meter high platform in Rio’s Sambódromo (although that in itself is quite a sight) … but also because less than two weeks earlier, I was in full winter gears watching penguins on the frozen sea of Antarctica, a thought which actually did cross my mind whilst dancing the samba. The contrast was bizarre, but it crystallized my craving to experience the world to the fullest.

For Cariocas (Rio inhabitants), this time of the year was a cherished and effective way of escaping their often grim day-to-day reality. Balls and parades alongside the beaches of Ipanema and Copacabana cultivated feelings of folly, playfulness and sensuality. This was the street Carnivall, enjoyed by everyone throughout the city. It was a time of the year to look forward to. Most Cariocas, particularly those from favelas, identified themselves with particular schools: there was a sense of belonging deep in their blood. The community that supported Beija-Flor, this year’s winner as announced on Ash Wednesday, expanded their Carnivall for a few more days to celebrate their victory.

When you step back from this madness, it is clear that the Carnivall plays an important social purpose in preserving Brazil’s cultural traditions, as captured in the costumes, the dance and the music. My Brazilian friends had various explanations for the roots of Carnivall in this country. But it seemed that it began with African immigrants from the Northeastern State of Bahia (as an aside, a state unknown to many tourists but graced with green tropical hills and broad beaches… probably just the way the Portuguese navigator Cabral had discovered it in 1501). I had visited the historical, colonial city of Pelourinho in Bahia’s capital, Salvador, in 2001 and seen those Baiana women dressed in typical white robes and turbans. It is those same women that participated in the Carnivall processions in Rio, singing and moving in circles with their skirts.

And so this is what I would remember most about Rio de Janeiro which they call themselves Cidade Maravilhosa – the marvellous city: its exotic drinks, its vast beaches, its sensuous bodies, its tantalizing drums, and its samba dancers.

Ski Vacations at Solitude Mountain Resort, Utah

Solitude Mountain Resort, Utah

If you are looking for the ultimate Utah ski vacation, Solitude Mountain Resort has everything that you could want or need. During the early 1900’s, the  area was full of silver miners, who gave the area its  famous name. Today, the area is covered with  skiers – but the crowds are rather light.

The area became a skier’s paradise in 1957. It was developed by Robert Barrett, who made his fortune as a uranium miner. He basically started developing the resort because he was denied restroom privileges at the ski area in Alta – because he was not a guest.

Now owned by a different family, the resort features 1200 acres of 63 runs for beginners, intermediate skiers, and experts. There are eight lifts, including seven chair lifts and one surface lift. The top elevation at Solitude Mountain is 10036 feet, with a vertical drop of 2048 feet.

There are five lodging options for guests, and activities and events take place all throughout the year. The resort looks like a Tom incaide painting, and one can’t help but wonder if this is where some of his inspiration came from.

 

Exotic walking holidays in Costa Rica

If you like the idea of a holiday involving some pretty exotic walking, Costa Rica in Central America has a lot to offer. This country was once part of the vast Spanish Empire and today its language remains Spanish and much of its culture retains a strong Amero-Spanish basis.

walking holidays in Costa Rica

Unlike some other parts of Central and South America, during the colonial period, Costa Rica had comparatively few natural resources, such as gold and silver, to justify being the centre of Spanish and later regional attention. As a result, it largely escaped the mass exploitation that was seen in other parts of the region of Central and South America.

The country has been relatively insulated from much of what has gone on both north and south of it. Although for many years this may have hampered its economic development somewhat, it did mean that the country also for the main part escaped the political turmoil and conflict that characterised the early years of independence for many Central and South American countries. It has remained a peaceful and relaxed country and has become increasingly popular as a tourist destination.

Attractions

Just a glance at the map will show you that Costa Rica is fortunate in having extensive coastal areas sitting on both the Caribbean and the Pacific oceans. Down the centre of the country runs a large range of volcanic mountains and there is also heavy forestation – much of which is protected by enlightened conservation laws. The people of Costa Rica have long been recognised as some of the most vociferous supporters of ecological and environmental conservation, and have often set the pace in that respect for other countries – both regionally and globally.

If you are visiting this great country you’ll have plenty to see. There are trails through and up the mountain ranges where you’ll be able to see rainforests, volcanic formations and volcanic lakes. You’ll also be sure of seeing a phenomenally diverse range of unique wildlife in many of the protected areas. There are also stunning areas to explore along both coastlines and you can, of course, participate in some beach leisure while you are there.

For walking, Costa Rica offers a wide range of opportunities and terrains to suit all interests and walking abilities. The guided walks are led by expert tour leaders, who know the countryside and the wildlife extremely well. From start to finish you will be thoroughly looked after and benefit from an experience that is different to most forms of normal holiday.

If you like holidays that involve walking, Costa Rica won’t disappoint.

Don’t be fooled by stereotypical images. You won’t be sleeping overnight in flimsy tents, your accommodation will be in extremely comfortable hotels with modern facilities. Some may be a little simple and with few frills, though you will find them perfectly adequate. Your itineraries will be constructed for you so that you don’t have to worry about logistics, administration and phoning around to make your own arrangements. When you are walking, Costa Rica doesn’t forget that you are on holiday and that you are here not only to explore the country – but also to enjoy yourself!

Bird Watching Tours in South Africa

With its amazing biological diversity, thriving ecosystems and wonderful climate, it is no wonder that South Africa has emerged as one of the top global destinations for bird watching tours. South Africa has around 850 recorded bird species, 725 of them resident or migrant and 50 endemic. These numbers make bird watching tours supremely satisfying for birders of all levels who flock together (pardon the pun!) from all over the globe to catch a glimpse of beautiful, rare and endangered species – such as the blue crane and black African oystercatcher.

bird watching

Hundreds of nature parks and game reserves throughout he country provide excellent opportunities for bird watching. Tours to the coastal areas, the grassy wetlands, and even the interior regions and cities with their high density of birds per square kilometre, allow bird watchers of varying ages and levels of expertise countless hours filled with sightings. Here are just a few of the important birding areas of South Africa:

Western Cape

Many say that Cape Town offers the best sea-birding and pelagic bird watching tours in the area. Certainly, many varieties of gulls, frigate birds, tropic birds, boobies, petrels, cormorants, albatrosses, and terns abound. For those who manage to schedule their bird watching tours during the Sardine Run that occurs around June or July, the incredible sight of Cape gannets diving into the seas to catch fish is definitely something to remember and record in birding journals. And did we mention the African penguins? Make your way to Boulder Beach, and you’ll be delighted at how close they come to you.

Bird watching tours in the Western Cape will take you where the fynbos are, and that’s where you’ll also be able to spot some of South Africa’s favourite endemics such as the orange-breasted sunbird, protea seedeater, Cape siskin, Cape sugarbird and Hottentot buttonquail. The rocky cliffs are home to the Cape rockjumper, while the Knysna and Victoria’s warblers prefer damper valleys.

Kwazulu-Natal

Freshwater lagoons, tidal estuaries, marshes and flooded grasslands make this province a perfect habitat for a large variety of birds. It is one of the most species-rich spots to visit on South Africa bird watching tours. In Tembe Elephant Reserve alone, about 340 species of birds can be found, including some rare one such as the Rudd’s apalis, Natal nightjar and the Woodward’s barbet Others you may be lucky enough to see include the palmnut vulture, African broadbill, Neergaard’s sunbird, Delegorgue’s pigeon, Livingstone and Knysna turacos, and the southern banded snake eagle.

Mpumalanga

The central grasslands – an area of high grasses, marsh and wetlands – are a popular destination for organised bird watching tours to spot a wide variety of birds such as Rudd’s and Botha’s larks, yellow-breasted and African rock pipits, the bush blackcap, blue and white-bellied korhaans, Stanley’s bustard, the blue, grey-crowned and wattled cranes, the southern bald ibis, and the white-winged flufftail. Lowveld, on the northeastern part of the province, and low-lying bush areas (such as that taken up by Kryger National Park) serve as home to a large number of South African raptors such as the martial eagle, tawny eagle, brown snake eagle, African hawk eagle, Walhberg’s eagle, steppe eagle and lesser spotted eagle. Other great birds of note are the saddle-billed stork, ostrich, southern ground hornbill and the Kori bustard.

Nightlife on your Bali holidays

A night out in Bali usually begins much later than one might expect, so while on Bali holidays ensure you are prepared and don’t go out to early. Be aware that generally the bars and clubs begin to fill up from about 11pm, and it is often hard to find a good restaurant to eat in before 8:30pm. On Bali holidays, your choices for a night out are endless, the people are friendly and you are sure to have a good time.

bali nightlife

Bali Bars and Clubs

The place that should be on the top of your list for a night out while on Bali holidays is the world renowned Kuta area which today extends 4 miles from the original village of Kuta, through Legian, Seminyak and even Basangkasa. One of the most popular bars in the area is the ubiquitous Hard Rock Cafe which is a great venue to see local bands perform. Or try the ever popular Grace Kelly’s Irish pub which is popular with both travellers and locals alike.

A little later in the evening clubs such as 61 Legian which offers three distinct clubs in one, The Club @ The Wave with the largest marble bar in Bali and the Kama Sutra Bali are sure to be heaving with crowds and a fun-loving atmosphere. These are perhaps the three most popular night clubs for anyone on Bali holidays and with no dress code your only worry will be deciding on where to go first.

While Kuta is the largest area for bars and clubs in Bali, do not discount the rest of the island while on Bali holidays. If you are staying in Nusa Dua the Borneo Pub and Trophy Pub are both very popular. There are also a good range of discos found in the luxury hotels of Nusa Dua. Usually attached to the restaurant or bar of the hotel, the crowds in these discos are predictably touristy and are great for meeting fellow travellers if you don’t wish to travel the thirty minutes into Kuta. However, beware if you are visiting Bali in the low season as these discos are often fairly empty as the majority of patrons who frequent these discos are from the nearby hotels.

For those who stay in Ubud while on Bali holidays, the options are more limited than Kuta, but no less enjoyable. Expect a slightly more relaxed and traditional atmosphere and first on your list should be the Beggars Bush bar, a British pub that has been on the Ubud nightlife scene for more than 20 years. Make sure you are there early though as it closes at 10pm. Other popular bars that are worth a visit include: Ozigo Bar, Barandi and the Sai-Sai Bar.

While you are on Bali holidays you are sure to find a bar or club that suits you, no matter what your preference is. Whether you wish to relax in a beachside bar, sip on perfectly crafted cocktails or dance the night away in one of the plethora of clubs, the nightlife you will experience in Bali is hard to beat.

London’s Top 5 Attractions

London is not short of an attraction or two, in fact you could spend weeks sightseeing in the city and still not get to see everything on your “must see” list. For this reason a little forward planning and prioritising is essential to get the most out of your time. If you book a stay in a Hyde Park hotel, London city gems are easily accessed and you will be well placed to dive into the action. Here are the top five London attractions that should shoot straight to the top of your sightseeing list.

London Eye

Get a bird’s eye view of the city with a spin around the London Eye. This is the world’s largest Ferris wheel and soars 135 metres above London, providing spectacular views of the Houses of Parliament, Westminster Abbey, Big Ben and all the way out to Windsor Castle. From a Hyde Park hotel, the London Eye can be reached by taking the tube from Green Park station to Waterloo station along the Jubilee Line.

St Paul’s Cathedral

One of London’s chief attractions is the stunning St Paul’s Cathedral, a masterpiece by Sir Christopher Wren. The cathedral was built in the reconstruction effort following the Great Fire in 1666 and is today still one of the London cityscape’s most recognisable features. One of the highlights of a visit to the cathedral is scaling the internal stairs to the top of the dome and looking out over the City of London. The whispering gallery is another key feature of the extraordinary architecture. The closest tube station is St Paul’s on the Central Line.

The Tower of London

The Tower of London represents more than a thousand years of the city’s (sometimes grisly) history. Used throughout its long existence as a fortress and prison for high profile prisoners such as Elizabeth I and Anne Boleyn, it does not boast a happy history. Construction was first commissioned by William the Conqueror in 1078 (the White Castle) and was built up gradually over the following centuries. The biggest draw card to this UNESCO World Heritage Site is the Crown Jewels. From your Hyde Park hotel, London’s most famous tower can be reached by taking the tube from Hyde Park Corner Station along the Piccadilly Line to South Kensington, and then change to the District Line to Tower Hill station.

Tate Modern

The Tate Modern is an artistic wonderland with some of the world’s most exciting modern art collections and exhibitions. It is particularly child-friendly and popular with people who appreciate art while not being mavens of artistic knowledge. Works displayed at the museum include Matisse, Bacon and Warhol. To get to the Tate Modern from your Hyde Park hotel London, get on the Tube at Green Park and take the Jubilee Line to Southwark or London Bridge station.

Buckingham Palace

One of the most instantly recognisable landmarks of London, Buckingham Palace is the permanent residence of Queen Elizabeth II. Each morning, one of the major attractions is the ceremony of the changing of the guard, which takes place at 11:15. During the summer the palace’s state rooms are open to the public and you can see where the queen entertains foreign dignitaries and other guests.

Looking for a Hyde Park hotel London? Roberta Stuart is the Travel Manager for World Hotels, a company offering the best rooms at a Hyde Park hotel London and a selection of unique four and five star hotels around the world.

Fashion Island Newport Beach

The Fashion Island, located at the Newport Center in Newport Beach is the ideal place to go if you like adventure and shopping.  Proving to be one of the premiere establishments in Newport Beach, Fashion Island is one place you simply must go if you crave a fun and exciting time during your trip here or your stay here.

Fashion Island Newport Beach

Centrally located between Los Angeles and San Diego, stopping here won’t put you out of your way.  Offering shopping, beaches, theme parks, museums, parks and other events, this is an absolute treasure.  On Fashion Island itself, there are more than 1,300 hotel rooms within the Newport Center.

On Fashion Island kids love the carousel.  The carousel is a custom made Venetian-themed ride with 32 antique horses and other  animals, perfect for riders of nearly any age.  With animals such as the rabbit, tiger, bear and fish, the carousel is a must see for anyone who enjoys theme parks and amusement rides.

For younger children, Fashion Island offers the whimsical Kiddie Train.  For younger children of the area, the train has become a tradition.   If you are visiting here, you can find the train between Bloomingdale’s and Marcus.

On the island, two of the most signature elements are the splashing fountains and the well known sparkling koi pond.  Located adjacent to Macy’s, you’ll find the Pop Jet, and near Island Terrace you’ll find the also well known Iris Fountain.  Both were created in 1989 and
custom made for Fashion Island.  The koi pond was also custom made in 1968 and holds 15,000 gallons.

The entire area of Fashion Island is surrounded by top class hotels, including the Hotel Newport Beach.  Minutes away from the island is the Orange County airport and several beaches.  During the summer, the sandy beaches provide the ultimate relaxation from a day of shopping and fun on Fashion Island.

Throughout the year, there are many events as well.  With summer concerts, a project playhouse, and seasonalactivities for the children, Fashion Island proves to be more than just shopping. On the shopping side of things, as the name implies, you’ll find hundreds of shopping stores and several fine restaurants to dine in here.  Fashion Island on Newport Beach is the place to be for anyone visiting the area looking to see the best in shopping and entertainment.

If you’re looking to visit Newport Beach, make sure you pay Fashion Island a visit.  You can find almost anything to buy here along with plenty of activities to keep the kids happy as well.  A visit to Newport Beach isn’t complete without stopping here – making Fashion Island a very important part of the entire beach experience.

Snorkeling in Akumal Mexico

Snorkeling in Akumal mexicoAkumal Bay is known for its assorted species of sea turtles which use the beaches for breeding, feeding and rearing their young. This provides an optimal opportunity to see the animals in their natural habitat, including the many different species of fish and plant life.

Snorkeling and scuba diving are perhaps the favorite activities to pursue during a trip to Akumal, but snorkeling is a less physically demanding and technical option. With a brief instruction course and a smart location choice, snorkeling is very easy for even first-time novices.

One popular location for snorkeling in Akumal is the Yal-ku lagoon. This location is an extremely rare environment where fresh water meets with salt water from the sea. The combination of the two types of water is called a “halocline” effect.

Only very specific species can live and thrive in this halocline lagoon, and the mixture of salt and fresh water supplies creates an changed appearance of the water itself. Many fish found in this area are not found anywhere else in the world, and have been shown on many travel channel specials in recent years.

Casa Cenote is a lagoon featuring mangroves and bright fish displays. Many snorkelers find the fossils in Cenote at Dosojos quite worth while for a day of exploration. Many of the fossils seen at Dosojos date back to original civilizations that once occupied the area.

Snorkel lessons are always a good idea forfirst-timers prior to going to one of these sites. Although the activity is simple, some find that they are uncomfortable with the equipment or unsure how to best view the underwater scenery while safely using the snorkel.

A fun activity for locals and tourists alike is night snorkeling. Typically, a light is used in conjunction with traditional snorkeling equipment for this activity.

Many fish which are not observed during daylight hours can be observed when snorkeling after nightfall. This is usually because they are night-feeders or resting during the day.

The octopus is a perfect example of this phenomenon. Octopuses only come out to feed at nighttime, and change color when a light is focused on them. Virtually all of the life seen at night are safe for snorkelers, so night snorkeling is a safe activity also.

Plant life and some types of fish are also luminescent after dark. This creates greenish lights shining either continuously or flashing at night – quite a view for one who is only accustomed to snorkeling during the day!
Author Resource:-> M Gravlee

Facts About San Diego

Considering how San Diego is one of the best cities in the United States, its really easy to tell how popular the city is for tourists.  Among the many accomplishments behind San Diego, let’s take a look at several facts behind this amazing city.
san diego
Fact 1
Inside the city limits of San Diego, more than 1 million people live there.  This makes the city the second largest in California and the sixth biggest in the entire United States!  For the city to be this big, the residents still have that hometown experience – which is quite amazing!

Fact 2
No matter what type of year it is, it’s never the wrong time to visit.  The weather is near perfect year round, giving you the chance to experience everything to offer here.  With an annual high of 70 degrees and a low of 55 degrees,  you can pretty much go swimming year round.

Fact 3
If you visit between December – March, you can catch some  glimpses of the impressive gray whale.  All along the coast or on a cruise, you can catch this very amazing mammal.

Fact 4
If you travel just 23 miles south, you’ll be in the beautiful city of Tijuana.  What was once thought of as dangerous,  happens to be an amazing place of Mexican hospitality,  with great restaurants, shopping, and a pleasing nightlife.

Fact 5
San Diego offers an amazing array of flowers and roses.  With the climate being dry, it’s the perfect conditions for roses,  wild daises, and other exotic flowers.  With different flowers in the winter and summer months, avid flower lovers will fall in love with everything San Diego has to offer them.

Fact 6
It’s no secret that one of the biggest attractions to San Diego are the beaches.  Make sure you read the signs though, as the beauty behind the beaches vary almost as much as the rules do.

Fact 7
When it comes to nightlife, San Diego has something to please everyone.  From country dancing to singing in a bar, the city has a very happening nightlife.  No matter what you like to do at night, San Diego has it all – and probably a bit more.

Fact 8
The most attractive feature to San Diego is the zoo.  The 100 acre zoo here houses almost 4000 animals all of which who have  plenty of room to roam around.  With pandas for everyone to see, the San Diego zoo is reason enough to give the city a visit.

For more reasons than one, San Diego is the perfect city to visit.  You can visit here with family or friends and know that
you’ll always have places to go and things to see.  Winter or summer, San Diego is the one place you’ll never find boring.