Goa Beyond the Beaches !

So, you’ve been to Goa so many times that you’re curious if there is more beyond the beaches. Or maybe you like the sea but hate the sand, especially the ickiness of wet sand all over the bathroom floor. Or, you are a heritage and culture geek. Do you fit into any of those three types? If yes, this article is perfect for you.

 

We often forget that Goa is a state and not just a line of beaches, shacks and endless parties. The winters are trembling around the corner and this time when you visit our favourite beach state, maybe you can be more than a beach-bum! Munch on our top 10 suggestions to experience Goa beyond the sea and sand.

Spend a day in historic Panaji.

If you thought Panaji was a boring capital of this party-state, think again. Spend a day here: walk along the small roads, follow the banks of the Mandovi River, choose the house you wish to live in at Campal and watch the sunset at Miramar or even further at Dona Paula. If you want an art break then head to a restored Portuguese house in Altinho that houses Sunaparanta—an art gallery-cum-workshop space. Don’t forget to have a bite in their cafe. Psst… they offer free wi-fi!
panjim


 

Drive across the state to Budbudi Tali & Dudhsagar Falls.

Imagine a small temple tank with bubbles rising to the surface. There is no reason why this pond has bubbles rising to the surface, theories float around but nothing has been proved, or so I’ve read. Any budding scientists want to take a pot-shot? Nearby is the famous Dudhsagar falls—with milk-like white foamy water cascading down from great heights. Go just after the monsoons if you don’t want to be disappointed. Make the long drive count with a visit to the old houses near Quepem and Margao like Palacio Do Deao.

budbudi tali


 

Go Book shopping in a quaint little book shop Literati at Calangute.

This bookstore is set in an old Portuguese house. The owners have donated half their house to this enterprise and even run a mobile book library. You can buy new books or scavenge in the racks of seconds. You know you’ll find me! If you are lucky, the resident labrador might keep you company.

 


 

Visit one of the oldest temples in catholicGoa.

Almost adjacent to the border between Goa and Karnataka, lies a 12th century temple popularly called Tambdi Surla. This temple is dedicated to Shiva. Black basalt rocks rise out of the verdant green setting, with the gentle sounds of the river as the background score. These large rocks that form the temple structure have carvings that have weathered over time yet shine in their simplicity.

tambdi surla 1


 

Immerse yourself in the Portuguese past at Old Goa.

Around 10 kms from Panaji, lies the older, one could say original, capital of the Portuguese Colony in India. Towering ruins of a bell tower, perfectly maintained facades and landscaped gardens are but a small glimpse of what it all must have looked like during its heydays. 2014 is also the year of the Exposition of relics of St. Francis Xavier at Bom Jesus Basilica; be warned it will be crowded!

Old Goa


 

Take a walk around the Latin Quarter or Fontainhas

Fontainhas is a good reminder of the history embedded in Goa. Stroll down narrow roads with names like Rua 31 de Janerio and Rua de Natal, ogle at houses inspired by Portuguese architectural styles and immerse yourself in the atmosphere till you forget which country you are in. End with a bite at Panjim Inn’s Verandah Cafe or Hotel Venite, not for the food but for the atmosphere.

fountainhas 2


 

Grab a drink at Cantare in Saligao.

The shacks of Goa are top priority to most visitors, but if you’ve tired of them, head to Cantare. You drive up a tiny road, park in a lane, and hardly expect to chance upon a resto-bar in a village, but then, that’s Goa! Set in a restored heritage house, Cantare, has live music, a gracious owner who welcomes you like his personal guest, good food and tonnes of atmosphere. Hog the corner table in the balcony and dream a Goan dream.

 


 

Visit to the Islands of Chorao and Divar.

There is something about visiting the past without having a time-machine! These two river islands can do exactly that. Connected to the mainland only by ferry even today, a short drive through these islands transports you to a time long past. Meandering roads with expansive bungalows on either side, the camera clicks away as if possessed. If you thought life in Goa was slow, well, this is even more susegado. Time just l i n g e r s.

divar & chorla 1


 

Eat your way to heaven at Vivienda dos Palhaços at Majorda.

This is a restored Portuguese house that is now a heritage hotel. Even if you aren’t staying there, you can experience it with a meal; book in advance. Delicious Portuguese and Goan cuisine will leave you unbuckling that belt under the table. The meal is set in a community dining room with all guests huddled around a large wooden table. Vegetarians don’t fret, there’s brilliant food for you too. Don’t forget to check out the decor of the common toilet and ask Simon, your host, for the photograph album of the restoration of this house.

 

vivienda dos palhacos


 

And with that we’re at the end of our list of places to get you off the beach and experiencing the heart of all things Goan. Discover more on your next trip and help us add to our list!

Speaking from Experience: Tips for Concert Goers.

We all have been going to concerts for the past few years, since the international music scene in India has exploded, people have been spending on such experiences. Especially, with the likes of Sunburn, and VH1 Supersonic constantly raking in, developing, and showing off new talent.

 

Globally, dominant festivals like Ultra Music Festival, Sensation, Electric Daisy, Woodstock and Tomorrowland, are the large scale social gatherings that unite hundreds of thousands of people who dance to the rhythm, catch the beat, and are mesmerized by the DJ “pushing the buttons of happiness” , some great words by Carl Cox (Veteran Techno DJ)

 

Everyone is fundamentally there to have a good time, but things do get ugly at times, here’s a few tips from a an experienced rave-monkey (The Author) to keep things going without skipping a beat, I will quote from my personal experiences, that if you follow these tips, there’s hardly any concert you won’t enjoy!

Featured Image: Inthemix.com

 

THE DO’s

 

  • Wear Comfortable Clothing: I’ve been to local and international festivals, and the one thing I know is that the energy is always high, forcing you to jump! and I have seen ladies in tight dresses, and men in tight pants not being able to join the crowd precisely because of the uncomfortable clothing. Now I’m not an advocate of skimpy or scanty clothing but the lesser layers you wear, the more you can jump around, shorts and a t-shirt are always safe bets, they work for both guys and girls, and if you feel adventurous, why not break into a costume? Remember, it’s not how you look but how you feel that counts.

 

  • WEAR SHOES: When I tell you to wear less layers given the heat, and the inevitable suffocation, the only exception should be your feet, unless you want to come back with gangrenous, broken nails because people kept stomping on you (accidentally and unapologetically) A nice pair of shoes can save you lots of pain, post the adrenaline rush.

 

  • Learn a few dance moves: It always works to your advantage to know a few dance moves, you’ll get bored with your hands constantly up in the air while you jump, a little bit of shuffling, the robot and what not can help you break the monotony, your moves might even get you to in the aftermovie!

 

  • Know the songs: Don’t get hot on my trail now, I know it isn’t fully possible to know or predict each and every track that’s going to be played, but keeping up to date with the latest hits, a few old ones, and the artist’s own music will only make you enjoy more, imagine yourself feeling blank when everyone roars the lyrics around you, you sure won’t want that, would you?

 

  • Go with an open mind: You will see a few things that don’t go right with YOUR perception of the world, like a little bit of public affection, nudity, drugs and what-not, but it’s all part of the experience, the magic lies in soaking up your differences and being united by the lights, the sounds and the good vibes around you.

 

  • Embrace P.L.U.R: I’m talking about the concept of Peace, Love, Unity and Respect (PLUR), putting it simply, it’s about being good to everyone, loving them, and not messing around with anyone, in the temple of bass, everyone is equal.

Time for the don’ts, festivals and concerts are about finding your footing, feeling liberated, so there’s hardly any do nots, but there’s always “the things you’d rather not do” and those are what I’ve listed here.

 

THE DON’Ts

 

  • Judge: Don’t judge anyone, no matter how weird their attire, or how offbeat their dance, this works as life advice too.Unlike a lot of people in my peer group, I’ve been to gigs alone and enjoyed them just as much, so everyone is different and you should respect that.

 

  • Force yourself on to people: We get it, you’re a front row fan and just neeeeed to go forward, that’s cool, but pushing people, swearing your way and fighting to get ahead isn’t. Find an open spot, walk to it, repeat; it’s much faster and less violent.

 

  • Annoy People: I’ve been going on and on about being free and doing what you please, but annoying people doesn’t serve you right, don’t force anyone into drugs, drinking, don’t get physical with anyone (unless they’re willing), and most importantly, DON’T eat into other people’s space. If you’re a person who likes to dance with lots of space, stay at the back, it’s a personal choice, because I can see the whole crowd and lights and the DJ and the whole set-up in front of me.

Think about this, the best photos of any concert don’t come from the front row, do they?

 

Having said that, there’s one last thing I strongly discourage,

 

  • Live it through the phone: Wanting to relive such crazy nights is understandable, so you’ll probably take a few photos and videos, to show them off on Instagram and Facebook, or you’ll keep them to yourself, but no excuse can make up for the experience you’re losing out on. Living through your phone is a waste of time, waiting to click the perfect image, looking at the concert through the camera screen, constantly checking phone power all seem like tasks that don’t take more than a second but in reality, they waste lots of those magical moments you could have seen from your very eyes instead of a screen.

 

Speaking from experience, I used to record full concerts, then I learned about burst mode, clicking lots of pictures in split second, then I finally grew to the point where I prefer seeing the event from my eyes as opposed to my phone’s. If I had to attend such events from a screen, I’d watch them on YouTube.


 

5 Best Festivals of Light around the World

Now that Diwali is over, we are probably going to sink into “work mode” till New Years’ and Christmas come, but that doesn’t hold true for many parts of the world. Different cultures have their own Festivals of Lights, which make night seem like day. Hindus have Diwali, Jews celebrate Hannukah,  light has always acted as a symbol of hope, and happiness and that’s what makes it uniform around the world. People use light for and as celebration.

 

Here is a list of 5 festivals other than the Hindu festival of Diwali that revolve around light.

 

Loy Krathong Festival
Where: Thailand, When: November

The festival’s name literally translates to “floating a basket” because it revolves around doing the same, people make decorative floating baskets and float them on the river. The festival falls in November, this year it is going to be held on November 7th, in Chiang Mai.

 

The festival coincides with Yi Peng festival of launching sky lanterns into the air, so one is found celebrating two festivals at once, the water and the sky is lit up with millions of lanterns. It’s truly a sight to witness, one that won’t escape your memory.

 

The popularity of this festival has spilled into certain parts of Laos too, and sky lanterns are widely available in many places thanks to the popularity of the festival, people know the festival but not it’s name!

Image: businessinsider.com

The stars weren’t enough, so we sent up our own!

 St. Lucia’s Day

Where: Sweden, Where: December

This Scandinavian festival is responsible for ushering in Christmas and is widely celebrated across the region on December 13th, the day believed to be the shortest of the year (Or Winter Solstice), what comes as a surprise is that it isn’t a public holiday as a major festival should be!

 

St. Lucia’s day is considered a festival of light because it is celebrated in preparation of the long, dark winters yet to come. The eldest daughter of a family dresses up in a white gown with a red sash, wears a crown of 9 candles on her head and then sings festive songs and takes care of her family, this is customary across Scandinavia.

 

St. Lucia’s candles represent the light that’ll help one through the darkness and is also a reference to the horrible treatment she was subjected to, the fire that couldn’t burn her is symbolised in the candles. It is celebrated in parts of Italy too.

Image: Travelfreak.com

St. Lucia's Day in Sweden
St. Lucia’s Day in Sweden.

Las Fallas

Where: Spain, When: March

The name falla is given to both the sculptures at this festival, and the festival itself. It is widely popular in Valencia, Spain. The festival comprises of many puppets built with firecrackers to be built, be paraded around the city and be set up at a place where they can be set ablaze. This festival hold uncanny similarities to Dussehra, in India.

 

It is a festival where creative juices flow, the sculptures here have peaked up to five stories, the designers are at liberty to design anything they feel grasps their attention and affects them somehow.

 

This 5 day celebration in March is unique because it is noisy, and because most of the fireworks start in the afternoon itself! There’s prayers, band performances and then at the ultimate moment on the final day, the burning of the sculpture at town hall.

Image: Diego Moreno Delgado

Destroying evil, like Dussehra

Festivals of Lights

Where: Lyon, France, When: December

The commemoration of Virgin Mary couldn’t have been brighter than the one in Lyon. It is funny to note that many people in Lyon don’t know why this festival is celebrated, there are many theories behind it, from being spared by the plague to creation of a Basilica, however, the same is beautiful because people are united by the light.

 

Statistically speaking, 4 million tourists flock to Lyon annually, in December, to see the lights, making it the third most attended festival after Carnaval (Brazil) and Oktoberfest (Germany)

 

The beauty in this festival lies in the fact that every household and shop is supposed to place candles and artistic pieces of glass on their windowsills to add to the beauty and shed light, while this is small scale activity, the town arranges for special, professional lighting and light shows to be held near the Basilica de Fourviere. It’d give great joy to anyone just walking about in these streets!

Image: LyonCultureLand.com

If you think this isn’t real, you are probably right, we don’t believe our eyes either.

Lantern Festival

Where: China, When: February/March

The best new years’ celebration comes in the form of the Lantern Festival in China. The Chinese New Year celebration (Varying between February and March) lights up the sky, the ground and the seas. The lanterns are red, a Chinese symbol for good fortune and ornate, ranging from designs of animals to the conventional shapes.

 

The festival is a symbol of letting go of the past too, and people celebrate by cracking riddles on the lantern and by eating gelatinous balls of rice. Again, like the Lyonnaise festival, there are many theories behind this one, ranging from: it was celebrated by uniting lovers, or to pay tribute to a great warrior who died in battle, to even being celebrated to avoid being burnt down by God, looking at the red, he would believe the village is already ablaze! Irrespective of what you believe, or are told. You NEED to witness this.

Image: AndyTailor.com

Lights on the ground, in the air and on the water

 

 

Property Review : Governors Camp, Masai Mara, Kenya

The joy of a wildlife safari is to see the unseen, hear the unheard and feel the unfelt. It is a surreal experience to venture out in the jungle at the crack of dawn.The thrill of waking up to yet another action filled day, to feel the cool crisp air , to listen to the sounds of nature from rumbling of elephant, skittish cry of zebra to the roars of lion is addictive. It is truly an overwhelming experience for your senses and once you get used to it, it will be really difficult to enjoy anything else as much.

 

For an enjoyable safari experience, it is important to choose your game park and lodge carefully. It can really make or break the experience. I chose Masai Mara because of the open savannah, ‘big skies’, density of game, variety of bird life, tall red- robed Masai people and the spirit of the place. The Masai Mara lies in the Great Rift Valley, which is a fault line some 3,500 miles (5,600km) long, from Ethiopia’s Red Sea through Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi and into Mozambique. It’s a great place to see the Big Five of African game in their natural surroundings. We researched many properties and finalised Governor’s Camp in Masai Mara.


The Setting

On a safari holiday it seems that the animals are roaming freely, but there are usually barriers within which they have to stay if they are in a game park. In Masai Mara there are no fences because it is a game reserve. This means that you are seeing the animals in their most natural state, behaving as they have since time immemorial.

 

The Governors camp is situated within the reserve and is not fenced, which means animals prowl around freely and its like watching a live version of Discovery, right from your tent. The camp is situated right in the middle of forest, literally surrounded by wildlife and amazing scenery with river flowing past the camp, somewhat disconcertingly with a few crocs on the guard; we could not have asked for a better setting.

 

Camp is luxurious with total of 37 tents lining the riverbank, with uninterrupted views over the Mara River, its water teeming with bird-life, hippos and crocodiles. Some tents also have views across the sweeping plains. The spacious and luxurious en-suite safari tents have large comfortable beds and hot shower in the bathroom. Each tent has its own private verandah, where you can watch and listen to birds and you may even see larger animals , which wander into camp. It is quite possible to wake up to the sound of hippo feeding on the grass outside your tent.


 

Service

The camp was set up to host and entertain the governor’s guests, and the service till date is par excellence . The key are the rangers who know their craft extremely well . Our ranger literally had eyes of a hawk and was completely aware of the animal sounds and movements. He was with us on all safaris so he ensured that we saw the big 5 and explored a new terrain and had new experiences on every safari. The safari was an enriching experience with his in depth knowledge of the animals from their diet to their mating habits.

 

While swapping stories in the evening over drinks , the manager ( and your host) of the property speaks to each guest and makes sure they are comfortable. He had stories to last for days and you never miss the TV and internet. Manager also takes pain to introduce you to other guests, who are almost as keen as you, to discuss safari sightings of the day.

 

Askaris (security guards) escort you back and forth from your tent to the reception area. They ensure that we or animals don’t interfere with each other and no problem is caused, but it is quite an experience to wake up in the night hearing a munching noise from hippo or feel elephants scratching themselves against the tent.  Governors camp has a very well oiled machinery to give you the best possible Safari experience. It works like clockwork, where you will always find someone to :-

 

Wake you early in the morning with a hot beverage —– Escort you to your jeep for morning safari —– chase a kill or sparring elephants for you—– arrange bush breakfast overlooking a crocodile infested river —— guide you to local tribe village —– serve you lip smacking cocktails and sumptuous lunch —- plan your sun downer by the river —– lay down a lavish spread of dinner—- Escort you back to your camp.

Governors Camp


 

Food

Imagine enjoying a breakfast or lunch al fresco dining under a refuge of large old trees, when suddenly you notice giraffes grazing on shrubs literally a few meters from you or in the distance, catching a glimpse of lone elephants slowly making their way ahead. This is a routine affair for this camp. In the evening, hippos walk through the camp, while diners savour their evening meals. The dining tent and the bar tent are the centre of the camp. A traditional campfire is lit at sunset every evening and after dinner, you enjoy sitting around the campfire, reminiscing about the safari. Gas and paraffin lamps are used for lighting. Setting is captivating.

 

Excellent variety available for breakfast from cooked English breakfast, french toast, fresh hot bread, condiments, pancakes, good choice of fruits to lovely blend of freshly squeezed juices. But, I would recommend the bush breakfast – which combines the 2 morning safaris and breakfast is served along a crocodile infested river or under a tree on top of a plateau. Your ranger will prepare a picnic box for you, as per your request. Lunch and dinner are feasts made up of tasty choices. Eating a 5 course meal on a white cotton table cloth whilst overlooking the Mara river, watching hippos and baboons. It is hard to imagine such an elegant setting in the middle of a game park. On Sundays Indian curry is served for lunch.


 

Facilities

Governor’s camp offers 3 game viewing safaris in custom built 4WD vehicles, per day- departing early morning, mid morning as well as in the afternoon with experienced ranger in the Masai Mara Game Reserve.   Following excursions are also available from all Governors’ Camp properties in the Masai Mara.

  • Hot Air Balloon Safaris,
  • Masai Cultural Visits,
  • Lake Victoria day trips, Great Wildebeest Migration,
  • Specialist guiding: ornithology,
  • Champagne Bush Breakfasts, Bush Dinners and Sundowners.

The camp has a great bar perched on a cliff, overlooking a watering hole, which attracts lot of animals. It is an excellent spot to watch animals, relax, play board games, sway to african beats. They serve almost all cocktails and prices are reasonable too. You can also opt for a spa treatment in camp. In tents, beds are extremely comfortable and they place hot water bottles during night to keep you warm throughout. Shower has hot and cold water both.

Lioness

 


USP
The setting of the property within the main reserve with no fence ensures a wholesome safari experience. We saw many things on our three day visit to the masai mara reserve :-

 

–  Massive herds of wildebeest and zebra were grazing out on the grasslands, its an extra ordinary sight to see these ordinary animals in wild. All acting in synch to the slightest of roar from distance.

 

Baby zebra pulled down by crocs into the river, while crossing it. Mommy, kept looking for its brood for atleast an hour and crossed this river twice to find the missing baby. We could feel the emotions in its grunts. The sight evoked mixed emotions and the reality of life ” survival of the fittest ” !

 

Rare sighting of leopard taking its kill to the top of tree. Leopard is known to be the only animal, who can feast on rotten carcass. It takes its kill to the top of tree and survive on it for weeks. What, we saw was a full belly leopard going back to its carcass and rest, before it could start eating again.

 

Up close and personal with tigress and her cubs. It was endearing to see , tigress being protective for her little ones. They just finished their meal and were too lazy to move

 

Masai village, met the local tribe, chatted about their culture and rituals.

 

Highlights of Governors Camp

 

But what remains unbeatable is the Sundowner. It was made special by our ranger.On our last safari, he parked the vehicle at a secluded spot with sweeping views of the plain alongside the crocodile infested river. He set up a table cloth on a rock and placed champagne with flute glasses and cheese over it. Thats it , so simple ! We still talk about the experience, when we silently sat there on the rock with glasses in our hand, hippos playing in the river, crocs lying on land with their mouths wide open and setting sun. Nature at its glorious best, albeit the wine in our hands. We stayed mildly inebriated throughout the evening, not sure on wine or on nature.

Sundowner at Masai Mara

 


 

We headed back to a tiny airstrip to board our flight back to Nairobi (surprisingly piloted by the Manager)  carrying a plethora of unforgettable memories and new-found respect for nature & Wildlife. The three days passed away rather quickly. Now that you are convinced, lets bring you up to speed with the practicalities. Know more about Governors Camp

 

Get there :-

Governors Aviation operates flights twice daily flights from Nairobi Wilson Airport to Musiara Airstrip (duration approx. 45 minutes). Clients are met on arrival and transferred by vehicle to the camp (duration approx. 15 minutes). Return flights from Musiara Airstrip to Nairobi Wilson Airport twice daily. Road transfer:  From Nairobi is possible. Duration approx. 6 hours (depending upon road conditions)

 

Hole in your Wallet :-

Rates start from 331 USD per person per night. It varies hugely during The Great MIGRATION ( goes to USD 575). Do check their offers. Currently they are running 3 nights for the price of 2.  This includes your safari, meals and accomodation. Transfer from Nairobi to Masai Mara is extra.

 

Internet/ Television :-

There are no televisions and Wi-Fi signal is limited to the main reception area. They do have a laptop with internet connection, which can be useful for some urgent work or transferring photos.

 

What else
– Staff speaks excellent english  and is extremely polite

– Visit to Masai village and bush breakfast is must.

– Insist on one ranger for the full trip to ensure continuity

– Carry wide lenses for your camera and binoculars.

– Mornings and evenings can be cold. Temperature changes drastically. Carry layered clothing

 


The author of this article only profiles properties he has visited and where he would like to go again, without blinking an eye or changing anything about it.  Author paid for himself, during the visit. Any property is reviewed on five parameters, which are:

  • Setting :- The property needs to have its own personality.
  • Service:- I like being looked after,  without the staff being intrusive.
  • Food:- Has to be sumptuous, even if there are limited options.
  • Facilities:- No minimum requirement but should have basic comforts that should add to the character of the place.
  • USP:-  There has to be one unique quality, which makes it different than the other offerings out there.

 

Four days in Queenstown, New Zealand

Dubbed as the “Adventure capital of the world”, a “place fit for the Queen”, and “heaven for thrill seekers”seem to be synonymous with the beautiful town of Queenstown, New Zealand. Queenstown is surrounded by the majestic mountain ranges and is nestled on the shore of beautiful Lake Wakatipu. This lakeside settlement packs a punch in the form of world class wines, excellent accommodations, art galleries, lively cafes and the most extensive bouquet of exhilarating adventure activities.  Featured image by 

It comes as no surprise when Sir Ian McKellen (Gandalf in the LOTR series) says this :- 

 

“I feel I know Queenstown quite well.  I’ve been to places that have the same sort of spirit elsewhere in the world but nowhere in quite such a magnificent setting.”  

 

Speaking of the setting, it is not easy to beat the remarkable alpine scenery, idyllic lakes, clear air and rugged mountains and if that was not enough, you have an entire gamut of activities for adrenaline junkies like bungee jumping, jet-boating, rafting, hiking and skydiving. Centrally located, Queenstown also serves as a gateway to Fiordland and destinations such as Te Anau, Wanaka , Milford and Doubtful Sounds. Other destination spots such as Glenorchy, Arrowtown are all an easy drive.

 

It is clearly a problem of plenty, when it comes to plan your trip in Queenstown. We present to you a definitive guide on how to relax, unwind and rejuvenate in the beautiful city of New zealand. The sheer breadth of activities available here is impossible to list, let alone cover in a few days. So to spend less than 4 days in Queenstown is strongly discouraged.

 

Day 1 

Arrive by noon and settle down in your accommodation. We would recommend taking a self catering service apartment vis-a vis a hotel room, to imbibe the spirit of town and feel like a local. One such apartment facing the lake Wakatipu and the Remarkables and just outside the town centre is  Villa Del Lago Apartments.  It is a perfect place to base yourself, it comes with amazing views and all the peace you want, just a stone’s throw away from the town centre. Image Source :– Shobhit Agarwal

Villa Del Lago Apartment
View of the Remarkables and Lake Wakatipu from the Villa Del Lago

 

Need to know : Rates starts from USD 195. It comes with free wi-fi, parking, complimentary laundry, a decent DVD collection and very hospitable host. More details from the website.

 

Once you have admired the setting of your villa, step outside and walk towards town centre along the lake side promenade. It is a ten minute walk but takes way longer as you cannot resist frequent breaks to capture the beauty of Lake Wakatipu in your camera and memory. Lake Wakatipu has an unusual rhythmic rise and fall in its water level every five minutes. A Maori myth says it is the beating of a monsters heart lying in the depths of Lake Wakatipu!

 

Explore the town on your foot, book your excursions for the following days, before you take the Skyline gondola up to Bob’s Peak. Located an easy five minute walk from central Queenstown, Skyline Queenstown, offers awe-inspiring views of the region and an abundance of entertainment and adventure for the whole family. It gives you a bird’s eye view of the whole city. Try to be there before six as sunset is amazing from the peak.  Luge ride deserves a special mention. Skyline Restaurant at the peak has a very interesting buffet with a great spread, but the best part of the restaurant is the view of Queenstown. No doubt it is a must do activity in Queenstown but I would insist on doing it first to get an idea and feel about the town. Image Source : Nicolas Coupet

Skyline Gondola
Bird’s eye view of Queenstown from Bob’s Peak

Need to know : Family Luge Pass – Return Gondola ticket and 10 luge rides comes for USD 125. Dinner costs upwards of USD 80. Lunch is cheaper. More details from the website.  

 


 

Day 2

An action packed combo of Shotover Jet and White-water rafting awaits you. But first you need to tank up. Head straight to Vudu Cafe, for their banana bread, brownies, ginger crunch and excellent coffee. It is located right on the edge of Lake and is rated best cafe for successive years. One look at the menu and ambience and you will know the reason for its formidable rating on Tripadvisor.

 

Post breakfast, proceed to the Shotover Jet office. Upon reaching the shore, you will be briefed and given raincoats and before you know it, the red boat will be off at a speed of over 80 km/ph, twisting, turning in a terrifyingly narrow canyon. After crossing the canyon, the driver raises one finger above his head and moves it in a circular motion — it’s time for a 360-degree turn. This process repeats a handful of times and you pass through the narrow canyon walls at least 4 times. It is a complete adrenaline rush replete with laughter and delight as the large boat spins around again and again. You may have done plenty of water sports before, but the Shotover jet is something else. At the end you will be left with a churn in your stomach and an unparalleled adrenaline rush. Image Source :– Shobhit Agarwal

Shotover Jet
After this, you will be taken for a guided, White-water rafting journey through the canyon. The bus ride to the top of the mountain, is also thrilling as the bus travels through narrow mountain roads with the incline on one side and the steep valley on the other. It’s a 3 hour activity where you would float through the peaceful waters of Deep Creek before heading to the exhilarating rapids of the lower canyon. The raft goes over appropriately named, adrenalin-pumping rapids—Rock Garden, After Shock, Sharks Fin, Toilet, Pinball, and Jaws. The thrills will continue as you raft through the 557-foot Oxenbridge Tunnel before shooting the Cascade Rapid at the end. Rafting is more relaxing and a wonderful way to enjoy the splendid New Zealand outdoors in the day.

Need to Know :- Check out this website for various combo passes. 

 

The town’s centre in Queenstown offers an array of bars, cafes and restaurants and no two meals need to be the same. We really liked the cosy ambience and pizza in Cows Restaurant. Their garlic bread is must try. Image Source :– Shobhit Agarwal

Pizza
Highly recommended Pizza at Cow Restaurant

 

There is no better way or time to end the day filled with adventure activities then immersing yourself in the Onsen Hot Pool at Arthurs Point. It is constantly rated as  one of the top activity in Queenstown. Picture a hot/cold water tub (depending on your preference), a bottle of wine, candle light, a glass roof and a glorious sunset in Arthurs Valley. With a click of button, water gushes out from the top into the tub and another button, windows that retract into the roof. This private pool will relax your body and mind, like nothing else. The experience is just as lovely as the thought.

 


 

Day 3

Start your day with the classic Fergburger in town centre. It is known for serving head size burgers, the menu is limited but the burgers are yummy, wash it down with the fresh smoothies and reach the Nzone Skydive counter in town at time.

You will be briefed at the Nzone HQ , which will be followed by a 20 minute drive out to the drop zone. Tension and exhilaration is palpable, when you reach the site. You will be briefed again on the flight and safety instructions in the Hangar and will be given sexy boiler suits.  The rush and utmost fear hits everyone at some point. For some it will be when you take that long walk towards the deafening sound of a tiny fixed-wing airplane, for some when the plane goes up, for some when you look down at the time of jump and for rest, when they have jumped. It is a tandem dive, where the expert dives with you, attached to your body suit.

NZone Skydive
Skydive or game of chess ?

 

After the 30, 45 or 60 seconds of free fall (depending on which option you choose) and absolutely breath-taking scenery, your pilot will pull the parachute and everything will go silent. For several minutes, you would hear a noisy plane and then gusty wind blowing past your ears at a high velocity…but after some time, nothing, complete peace! Free falling in warm air, incredible views of Queenstown, for one full minute, will be difficult to describe in words. It is an experience that can spark hour long conversations! After a perfect landing, with your heart going faster than trance music, its time do high-fives, thump your chest, as you strut back to the hangar.

 

Let the feeling sink in for sometime, after all, you don’t jump from the sky everyday and live to tell the story. Collect your thoughts, emotions and limbs, take a short trip to the nearby Gibbston Valley wine region to enjoy lunch at one of its renowned vineyards. It is a 20 minute scenic drive from Central Queenstown. The high altitude region is known for its Pinot Noir and its fine selection of cheeses. The Gibbston Valley, also known as the ‘Valley of the Vines’, is one of the most scenic wine growing areas you’ll ever encounter. Vineyards are sandwiched, sometimes precariously, between rugged schist mountains and the rocky Kawarau River gorge. Spend the afternoon sampling the local vintages on a boutique wine tour of the region and lunching in one of the wineries. Laze around, stroll on the rolling hills, shop for the cheese hampers and have a relaxed afternoon.

 

Need to know :- We really liked Gibbston Valley Restaurant and would recommend them for cave tours, private wine tasting and lunch. More details from the website.  At the western end of Gibbston Valley is the Kawarau Bridge (birth place of bungee jumping), where you can watch bungy jumpers leap into space above the turbulent river from the viewing deck or you can take the leap yourself, if the adventure spirit in you permits.

 

In the evening, drop your car at the Villa and hit Winnies in town centre for drinks and their famous Gourmet pizzas. It offers the best pizza and casual dining experience in the town and as the sunsets, this place transforms into one of Queenstown’s busiest nightclub.

 

Need to know :- Don’t drink and drive in New Zealand, they are pretty strict about it. There are at least 2-3 checkpoints at night to check for drunk driving. It can ruin your whole trip.

 


 

Day 4

After two action packed days it is time to take it easy. You may opt for one of the Lord of the Rings tours, where they will take you through locations in which the trilogy of LOTR is set. You will be taken to the countryside of Glenorchy, where you can view breathtaking scenery of an ancient beech forest, braided rivers and glacier carved valleys or venture out on short walks or take photos with movie props and listen to the commentary of personal guides. These are leisurely conducted tours and you sure are going to have fun, even if you are not a huge fan of LOTR. Image Source :- Scott-Pudwell

Glenorchy

 

Need to know :- Tour departs around 10 AM from Queesntown and come back by 5 PM. You may like this tour company, which is rated quite highly.

Come back to town, spend rest of the evening strolling in the garden of main square and in the Queenstown wharf. It is laidback yet bustling and the sunset is magical. Head to Sombreros Mexican Cantina (Mexican cusine) or Bombay Palace Indian Restaurant ( for Indian cuisine). Both places serve delightful and spicy meals, welcome change from the Italian and continental meals.

 

Post dinner, spend some time on the jetty in front of your villa, which protrude into the lake. Come back to the villa, grab a bottle of wine and a tub of popcorn and enjoy rest of the night, catching up on a movie, wrapped in a blanket by the fireplace in your living room.


 

It will be the best four days you can spend while travelling. As said in the beginning, it is difficult to find this combination of spirit and setting.  If you staying longer then you have many other options of playing golf, going for long treks, surfing and snowboarding (in the winter) or do day trips to Arrowtown, Wanaka and Milford Sound.

Property Review : Ametis Villa, Bali

Bali is an exotic cocktail for the body, mind and spirit, with a heady combination of beach (perfect for surfing), verdant rain forests (perfect for wildlife), volcanic mountains (perfect for hiking), rice terraces (perfect for idyllic stroll) and vibrant nightlife (perfect for losing yourself). Bali has a very strong cultural personality, which manifests itself in its cuisine, traditions, art and temples.

 

It takes you on a spiritual journey, which vitalises all your sense. Bali attracts visitors with its bohemian and friendly personality. It is also called  “The Paradise Island” due to its reputation as a tropical paradise of untold beautiful nature, idyllic mood and never ending fascination. But this post is not about Bali, it is a review of a property in Canggu Beach area. I chanced upon this property, while looking for something, which imbibes Balinese feel completely, is central and close to tourists spots yet not over run by foot traffic. Property is Ametis, a collection of exclusive villa compounds. 

 

Echo Beach

 

The Setting

Canggu is quiter and offer lovely views of rice fields and is great for sunset watching. Ametis is a boutique property, which is nestled in a quite lane leading to the sandy beach. Ametis Villa ticked all the right boxes to exude that perfect,  elusive and authentic Balinese Feel. Unparalleled hospitality, exotic pool villa, natural materials, tropical cabanas, plenty of space, vaulted ceilings and sumptuous food. Our first impression of the villa was wow! Almost all our plans of touring beaches, temples, mountains melted as soon as we laid our eye on our home for next 3 days.

Open Architecture works wonderfully to give you a feel of your private sanctuary
Open Architecture works wonderfully to give you a feel of your private sanctuary

 

There was no point of leaving this paradise. Our villa had an exquisite private 13 metre pool!! It is central to the villa with massive open space one one side, which has seating and dining area and the other side of the pool lead to the large bedroom and huge bathroom with rainforest shower. Landscaping is lush and furnishing is luxurious. Tidbits like TV loaded with content, open bathroom and lounge area,  from where you can directly jump into the pool and exquisite silverware added dollops of excitement. It is an open plan architecture and you can fulfil your dream of skinny dipping under the full moon light without any inhibition. It is like your private sanctuary, with ample space to relax.  

 


 

Service

Excellent service is hallmark of Asian hospitality. We had a dedicated butler, Augus, who was assigned to look after us and he did a fabulous job! He contacted us before arrival and received us at the airport. Augus planned our days, served dinner in our villa, booked our excursions. He was not at all invasive, being there when we wanted him and leaving us alone at all other times. He would always magically welcome us whenever we were back from our excursions. He treated us like royalty; nothing was too difficult, always happy to serve with the biggest smile in-spite of falling sick one of the days ! Absolute customer delight. It is like your own private mobile concierge desk.

Service at Ametis Villa

 

Free wi-fi, welcome drink, complimentary snacks are the norm these days but Ametis went to great length to give us phones with local sim to stay in touch with our butler, newspaper of our choice ( based on our language preference) every morning, 8 pieces of laundary service every day and complimentary cocktails and canapés at sunset. We were also treated with complementary spa treatment at the in house Ruby Spa and fresh fruits and flower were arranged daily at our villa. It was luxury in true sense and rightly put by Coco Chanel, “Luxury must be comfortable, otherwise it is not luxury.”

 


 

Food

We had breakfast in the restaurant – Eternal as well as enjoyed breakfast in the villa – I loved the fresh strawberry pancakes and the Nasi Goreng. Ametis has its own small garden growing many of the herbs and species used in preparation of food. It sources fresh ingredients from the cool hills of Bedugul and seafood from Jimbaran Bay. If you don’t intend to venture out, Ametis is well equipped to satiate your hunger for spicy Balinese cuisine.

Strawberry Pancakes and Nasi Goreng. Yummm...
Strawberry Pancakes and Nasi Goreng. Yummm…

 

Otherwise, this area has some excellent eating out options. Legendary barbecue at the Beach House ( at Echo Beach), juicy steak burgers and watermelon Gazpacho at Deus Bali ( by the team behind Sydney’s Deus ex Machina), excellent patisserie in  Monsieur Spoon. I have eaten at all of these places and food is really fresh and tasty.  World famous clubs (Potato Head, Kudeta) are in Kuta and 20 minutes drive from Ametis Villa.

 


 

Facilities

If you get tired of lounging by the pool or exhausted all your supplies of preloaded films on television, you can

  • go for a massage in their in-houe spa, Ruby
  • join a surfing or sailing session,
  • go for scuba diving, white –water rafting or horse riding
  • have a romantic lunch at Canggu Beach, arranged by Ametis.
  • Explore the surroundings on complimentary bicycles

 

Just returning from Canggu Beach !
Just returning from Canggu Beach !

 

Ametis Villa is only 100m from a major sandy beach and a few minutes ride on cycle to Echo Beach. Echo Beach is perfect for surfing because of high waves. Beautiful surf side location and freshest food on the island, makes this a great place for breakfast, lunch, sunset, dinner and party nights. Beach House restaurant sets up amazing barbecue every evening as sun sets.

 

NIght Scene

 

You can visit Tanah Lot either in the car driven by Ametis or rent a scooter and venture out independently. Tanah Lot temple is one of Bali’s most celebrated attractions where travellers gather daily to experience a breathtaking sunset. This small temple, which is perched on a rocky islet and surrounded by pounding surf, is also a site of spiritual reverence for followers of the Hindu faith.

 


 

USP

Canguu has a very relaxed atmosphere compared to the hectic nightlife of Kuta. There is no rush to be anywhere and when you step out, you will find yourself in beautiful setting all around, sans the crowd. For us, the main highlight of our trip was a “Bali by Candlelight” romantic dinner in our villa. I would definitely stay again in a heartbeat!

 


Now that you are convinced, lets bring you up to speed with the practicalities. Know more about Ametis Villa

Get there :- It is a 45 minute drive from the Ngurah Rai International Airport. For extra charge, Ametis Villa will arrange transfer from airport.  Seminayak is 15 minute drive from the Villa in ideal conditions.

 

Hole in your Wallet :- We paid around USD 1000 net of taxes for 3 nights in a shoulder season. Rack rates are higher, (USD 500 per night). Credit cards are accepted. Ask for discount during lean season, it will not hurt and you may land a vacation of lifetime.

 

Internet/ Television :- Wifi works just fine and television is a bigh 55 inch plasma screen with huge volume of preloaded audio/ video content.

 

What else

– Staff speaks excellent english  and is extremely polite

– Bar is stocked daily, rooms come with iphone dock, pre-loaded ipod, speakers in bedroom and in lounge

– Good collection of wine

– Car drop till Seminayak and Kuta is compliementary. You have to pay extra for Tanah Lot. They will happily arrange car, scooter for self drive or rental.


 

The author of this article only profiles properties he has visited and where he would like to go again, without blinking an eye or changing anything about it.  Author paid for himself, during the visit. Any property is reviewed on five parameters, which are:

  • Setting :- The property needs to have its own personality.
  • Service: I like being looked after,  without the staff being intrusive.
  • Food: Has to be sumptuous, even if there are limited options.
  • Facilities: No minimum requirement but should have basic comforts that should add to the character of the place.
  • USP: There has to be one unique quality, which makes it different than the other offerings out there.

Glimpses of India by Kristian Bertel

India is a destination of discovery for those who love to see the world differently and the photographer Kristian Bertel spends his time photographing this amazing country with its rich cultural life and many colours. In this guest post,  he shares some of his travel moments with us from the second most populous nation in the world.

 

Happy-Tripping-kristian-bertel-01
There is a sense of vulnerability in the photographers work, where people are portrayed and the streets in India.

 

Street portraits in India

India is one of the world’s most multidimensional countries, presenting a wildly diverse spectrum of travel encounters. Some of these can be challenging, particularly for the first-time visitor, where the poverty is confronting and the sights, sounds, tastes and smells are all parts of what makes India a unique travel destination. Kristian photographed the man above in Pushkar, India.


 

Happy-Tripping-kristian-bertel-02
From the glorious Mehrangarh fort in Jodhpur, you can see the blue city.

 


Happy-Tripping-kristian-bertel-03
A happy girl in a village near Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh, India.

 

Village life in India

Most of India’s people live in villages, where the most villagers are farmers who work in nearby fields. A typical Indian village is a collection of mud-and-straw dwellings. These homes are generally small, consisting of one or two rooms with mud floors. Wealthier families live in brick or concrete houses. Most villagers own few possessions and these belongings typically include brass pots for cooking and clay pots for carrying water and storing grain. Village people cook foods on a chula, which is a clay oven that burns coal. People sit and sleep on cots of woven string, which are dragged outside on warm days and a local well or nearby pond or river provides water for most villages, but some of the larger villages have running water.


 

Photo of woman wearing a sari in Varanasi. A sari fills a practical role as well as a decorative one. It is not only warming in winter and cooling in summer, but its loose-fitting tailoring is preferred by women who must be free to move as their duties require.
Photo of woman wearing a sari in Varanasi. A sari fills a practical role as well as a decorative one.

 

The spiritual life in India

One of the first things travellers are likely to observe about India is how everyday life is intertwined with the spiritual. From the housewife who devoutly performs puja, which means prayers each morning at a tiny shrine set up in a corner of the home, to the shopkeeper who, regardless of how many eager-to-buy tourists may have piled into the premises, rarely commences business until blessings have been sought from the gods.


 

Photo of a vegetable seller in Varanasi, India. Vegetables are served at every main meal, and sabzi which means vegetables is a word recognised in every Indian vernacular.
A vegetable seller in Varanasi, India. Vegetables are served at every main meal.

 

A wide variety of Indian food

Indian cuisine encompasses a wide variety of regional cuisines native to India. Given the range of diversity in soil type, climate and occupations, these cuisines vary significantly from each other and use locally available spices, herbs, vegetables and fruits. Indian food is also heavily influenced by religious and cultural choices and traditions.


 

Kristian Bertel

Kristian is the author of the post above, he was responsible for clicking these great images and describing them, Kristian is a photographer, and a traveller, who loves photographing people and landscapes. He has a keen interest in photographing people. Because all people look different, they will probably be his most interesting subjects also in the years to come. He chooses his subjects based on many things, for example if they are dressed in traditional clothing or if a subject has a great expression or is standing in a great scenery.

 

Kristian’s website http://www.kristianbertel.dk/

Follow him on Facebook: www.facebook.com/kristianbertelphotography 

Follow him on Twitter: www.twitter.com/kristianbertel

Most Whacky Museums around the World

Museums, the centers of knowledge and lovely exhibits, hangout spots on school trips, are the only place which bothers sharing information on a particular subject in great detail. Museums have their fair share of people who love and hate them, and we agree that there’s lots of them out there which are downright boring, but these museums will blow your head off, put on your seat-belts, because this is a ride through the most whacky museums around the world. Even if you’re not particularly interested in learning what they are all about, the exhibits will probably make for some lasting memories. Featured Image by :- Srikanth Kolli

Make way dinosaur in the museum, there’s weird exhibits to see.

 

Museum of Death,
Where: Los Angeles, The US

Walk in to this museum, for a self guided educational tour on death, where you will find photos, recreations of crime scenes, artwork based around serial killers and even pet taxidermy. It is said the have the guillotined head of notorious Frenchman who went by the name of Blue Beard. If you are into serial killer movies and thrillers of the sort, you should make a visit. Their specialty is recreations from the Charles Manson case, hugely popular in the US.

Image: mycaliforniadiaries.blogspot.com

The real “Final Destination” to your itinerary

Top Secret Spy Museum
Where: Oberhausen, Germany

This museum is dedicated to the real Ethan Hunts and James Bonds of the world, those we might not be able to recognize, as you go through a cliched setting of where spies may operate and what their missions are like, you get to learn about the evolution of espionage and even a chance to look at all the gadgets (real world gadgets, not flying cars) that spies in the world have used. This is a must if you eat, sleep and breathe covert.

Image: topsecret-oberhausen.de

Your mission, should you choose to accept it…

Teddy Bear Museum,
Where: Seoul, South Korea

We all love the cuddly teddy bears we used to sleep with, as babies. There’s a soft corner (pun intended) for these things no matter how old one may be, and that becomes evident in this museum. The museum has teddy bears from different places, of different sizes. They essentially send out a message of “The evolution of life in Korea” using teddy bears.

Image: teddywanders.wordpress.com

Cue: “Awwwwwwwwww”

Icelandic Phallological Museum,
Where: Reykjavik, Iceland

This museum is dedicated to phalluses of all mammals found in Iceland, they house more than 215 different phalluses and penile parts. They recently got human specimens too, and as dirty as it may sound, you can get your hand on a few of the exhibits. What makes it unique other than the fact that it is a museum dedicated to penises is that they treat phallology as a proper field of study and so their exhibits are full of information.

Image: thefourofusiniceland.blogspot.com

Cue: All the inappropriate puns

Museum of Bad Art,
Where: Boston, Massachusetts

Why would you want to visit a museum with bad art? Well, the guys at MOBA (that’s what they call it) believe that this museum is meant to make people feel better about themselves, When they look at all the bad art, they generally have fun making fun of the works and claiming that they can do better. This temporary confidence boost goes a long way, apparently. If you find yourself in Boston with mere minutes to spare, you can feel better about yourself and your art by going here.

Image: The Independent

Yes, even an 8 year old version of you could do better!

Sulabh Toilet Museum,
Where: New Delhi, India

Yes, there is museum on toilets. It documents the evolution of toilets and other than that they’ve got a few fancy exhibits that we surely wouldn’t mind in our bathrooms. Who wouldn’t want to do their business, on a throne!?

This museum shows us that there is beauty in all things, given the intricately decorated toilets. The aim of Sulabh has been to improve sanitation and awareness of the same in India, currently they’re compiling an encyclopaedia on toilets. That ought to be something that finds a place on your coffee table. There are similar museums in the US and Ukraine, but this is the most popular one, when it comes to toilets.

Image: The Mirror

Lots of **** to give!

Museum of Broken Relationships,
Where: Zagreb, Croatia

This museum plucks at the broken strings that still play a painful song in your heart, the idea behind this came from two artists, they now take donations (symbols of a special relationship that don’t exist anymore and put them up on display, with a heartbreaking story behind them. If you are into romance and drama, you might want to see the happy ever after that never came.

Image: AOL Travel

What you let go of, will find it’s way here.

Momofuku Ando Ramen Museum,
Where: Osaka, Japan

Momofuku Ando, that’s the man you should thank for saving you during your college days, the inventor of cup noodles has a museum after his great invention that works wonders at filling people up, at low costs. The ramen museum traces the roots of the product and talks about how it is made, what it has and so and so forth. The most notable thing here are the stories behind ramen being used in the World War as a source of energy for soldiers.

Go to this place when you’re hungry, after you’ve built up an appetite and finished your tour,  you can make and eat a custom bowl of ramen.

Image: atravellerssong.wordpress.com

What’s inside cup noodles? Noodles.

Museum of Medieval Torture Instruments,
Where: Amsterdam, Netherlands

We agree, there’s torture instruments in museums around the world, but is there a museum dedicated only to these painfully crafted, damage inflicting goods? This museum is a gut wrenching tour filled with imaginary pain, as you see the items on display, clamping your genitals or impaling your heart. If you find time from you Van Gogh Museums, bridges and underground clubs, make a visit to this place when in Amsterdam.

Image: tannaleaf.blogspot.com

That ought to hurt!

Kansas Barbed Wire Museum,
Where: LaCrosse, Kansas, The US

What’s so special about barbed wire that it deserves it’s own museum? Well, here in Kansas, there’s more than 2400 varieties of barbed wire, the museum is specially focused on barbed wires because it has been a key product in demarcating boundaries and territory in America, since the 1860s.

The barbed wire museum sheds light on the different types of wire that are used to keep out (or fence in) people, cattle, small animals etc.

Image: wheresliz-2012.blogspot.com

“Really?” was our first reaction too!

Cancun Underwater Museum,
Where: Cancun, Mexico

This is less of a museum and more of an art gallery, 6 Mexican sculptors have built these statues out of pH neutral clay, and submerged them in water at depths of 3 to 10 meters. The material they are built of supports marine activity so one day there will be a thriving coral system around these works of art, and one will be able to enjoy them by diving, and soaking in the beauty of an underwater stone community as well as marine life.

Image: gopixpic.com

Beautiful, isn’t it?

Condom Museum,
Where: Nonthaburi, Thailand

Thailand happens to be the world’s largest producer of condoms and it’s no surprise that there is a museum dedicated to this product. The small museum has Thai condoms dating back to the 1950s. This museum has other things to see other than condoms, such as condom strength tests and even funny posters advertising their use. The museum was opened to eliminate the negative sentiment around using condoms in Thailand.

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Who knew there was a museum for these?

Mini Bottle Gallery,
Where: Oslo, Norway

This 3 storeyed building is a museum of miniature bottles, with 50,000 miniatures on display. Some of the bottles are downright weird, holding mice and worms while the others hold fruits and berries and then of course, alcohol. The museum also has a slide (weeeeee) that slides down to a “horror room”, we’re still wondering what would bottles in a horror room hold, any guesses?

Image: Minibottlegallery.com

Worth a visit for sure.

The Bunny Museum,
Where: Pasadena, California, The US

This home converted into museum houses 30,000 odd bunny related items, and even though it’s all messy and haphazard, your little daughters are bound to go crazy here! The bunny museum is among the weirdest attractions of the US and is constantly growing in size and popularity. You’re guaranteed a hoppy day (get it?) once you come here.

Image: offbeatla.wordpress.com

That’s a rather messy museum

Museum of Vampires,
Where: Les Lilas, France

Yes, it is a vampire museum, but thankfully you won’t find any white men with glowing skin or emotionless girls here. The museum, not far from Paris is a treat to those who are fascinated by the vampire folklore. Filled with the traditional crimson and black color scheme, this museum has memorabilia from every actor that has every played a vampire, as well as documents (credibility unknown) on vampirism and related folklore about rituals in Paris.

Image: Atlasobscura

Make sure you carry garlic and silver bullets, just in case

Museum of Food Anomalies,
Where: Online!

This museum is the funniest yet, and it is online! You can access it herethe museum of food anomalies has funny images of food that ended up looking a lot like different faces and things. Watch out for the same when you are eating and you can send them your contribution too! Watch out for the captions they are immensely funny.


Salt and Pepper Shaker Museum,
Where: Gatlinburg, Tennessee, The US

Plenty of salt and pepper in this little town in Tennessee, the salt and pepper shaker museum is the only one of it’s kind (with a sister museum in Spain) and holds 20,000 pairs of Salt and Pepper shakers, from feet to hugging shakers, there’s something of each type.

For a mere 3$ fee and countless features on TV, go for it, we know you won’t take this advice with a pinch of salt.

Image: Donttouchmypoodle.wordpress.com

You’re gonna have a hard time differentiating your S and Ps

Kunstkamera,
Where: St. Petersburg, Russia

The Kunstkamera is Russia’s oldest museum, with over 2 MILLION specimens. The main features here are disturbing, fetuses with rarities and anatomical deficiencies. The museum has been active since the 1880s and has a collection of painfully curated fetuses in jars, only to enlighten the world that monsters don’t exist and that deformities are a “gift of nature”

WIllem Mons’ severed head is still preserved here in a tank full of alcohol for the world to see the punishment of treason and betrayal in Russia.

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Russia’s first (and creepiest) museum!

Sewer Museum, 
Where: Paris, France

What could possibly be so interesting about sewers that they made a bizarre museum around it? This museum is one that sheds light on the sewage network and it’s growth since the 1300s, unlike the stereotypical sewer, these are surprisingly airy and spacious. Ignore the signages and historic but uninteresting presentations and take a stroll through the network admiring the massive machines, this wouldn’t be the highlight of your trip but it’ll surely help cool off in the summer. It is also among the cheapest attractions in otherwise expensive Paris.

Image: ragpickinghistory.co.uk

It’s dark, it smells, but it’s worth a visit? The French certainly think so!

Museum of Witchcraft,
Where: Cornwall, The UK

Okay, bring your brooms and cauldrons out, this is where you can be your true self. The museum of witchcraft in Cornwall has the largest set of witchcraft related artifacts, some of them being controversial. If you are fascinated by voodoo dolls, spells and everything evil you shouldn’t miss this. Witchcraft was taken seriously till the early 90s so you might as well check this place out and know why.

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Hiding in plain sight.

Vent Haven Ventriloquist Museum,
Where: Fort Mitchell, Kentucky

Have you seen the movie Saw? Great, then you’re about to get scared. Ventriloquism seems completely harmless and entertaining, but it’s reputation has been tarnished thanks to Annabelle, and the doll from Saw and what-not, seems like these dolls are easy targets when it comes to making them seem creepy. The Vent Haven museum has over 800 such dolls and while that is in good spirits, your spirit will surely be disturbed here. I’ve always thought there’s something about those rosy cheeks that sends chills down my spine.

Image: cincywhimsy.com

Nothing creepy about a bunch of dolls with that smile, nothing creepy at all.

Hash Marijuana & Hemp Museum,
Where: Amsterdam, Netherlands

This museum will take you back to your college days, where you probably smoked a doobie with your friends and had a good time not caring about the world. The Hash, Marihuana & Hemp museum has exhibits, paintings and artifacts all related to cannabis. From production to consumption across the ages, this museum has ancient pipes, plant species specimens, and even sheds light on different ways of getting high. Now you must be thinking to yourself it’s high time (pun intended) you went here!

Image: gran-angular.net

Hide that sly grin from your face now, will you?

Museum of Human Disease,
Where: Randwick, NSW, Australia

Ever wanted to dig deeper into how diseases cause death, what their effect is on our body? You can do that here. The Museum of Human Disease allows visitors to see real life bionic implants and other medical marvels while simultaneously educating themselves about how diseases affect human bodies. It’s a great way to learn about death, if put in good humor. Who wouldn’t love to see how a virus multiplies within the body?

Image: museumofhumandisease.wordpress.com

Here’s is where you get to apply your WebMD knowledge

Burlesque Hall of Fame,
Where: Las Vegas, Nevada

This museum is a permanent exhibit focused on burlesque, it’s evolution in America and how it goes on today, behind closed doors and curtains. Burlesque is what put sin in sin city when people thought of Vegas, and with so much seuxality brewing, it is easy to see why. Once you witness this you’ll have memories that won’t stay in Vegas anymore. Burlesque has been a key constituent to the Vegas experience since the beginning of time.

Image: burlesquehall.com

You can look but you cannot touch

Poe Museum, 
Where: Richmond, Virginia, The US

The master of macabre has a bizarre museum dedicated to him, not far from where he once lived and worked. The Poe Museum is the only one of it’s kind with a rare memorabilia, works, artefacts that belong to him or were, in any way, related to him. Sure, you may not be interested in seeing his wife’s sewing kit or his socks, but you would want to see the original mass produced copy of his work, only 18 of which remain in the world today, and of course, who wouldn’t want to know more about the raven?

Image: exhibitfiles.org

As morbid as his works, I’d say

Scuba Diving : Best sites in Asia !

“There is nothing wrong with enjoying looking at the surface of the ocean itself, except that when you finally see what goes on underwater, you realize that you have been missing the whole point of the ocean. Staying on the surface all the time is like going to the circus and staring at the outside of the tent.”  – Dave Barry

 

For some, there is no greater adventure than diving and for some, it is something still in their bucketlist but you will hardly find someone who didn’t find it refreshing, fascinating and challenging about venturing into the underwater world. As a general idea, people roughly know that scuba diving is a pleasurable water sport that involves diving into the deep sea with advanced and convoluted breathing equipment wearing oil skins. Many even consider scuba diving and snorkelling to be one and the same thing. To a great extent, the former is right but the latter is wrong; both these activities vary in many aspects. Featured Image : Niels-christian-wulff
The history of scuba diving is quite interesting; but still people hardly know of it. The biggest advance on the path to scuba diving came in the 16 Century, when people started using diving bells to pump air from the surface to the people underwater. Scuba diving as we know it materialised during and after the World War II.  SCUBA stands for Self Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus. Scuba diving refers to breathing compressed air from a tank and then exhaling it into the water.  Inventor of Scuba Diving, Jacques-Yves Cousteau has this to say about it :-

 

“From birth, man carries the weight of gravity on his shoulders. He is bolted to earth. But man has only to sink beneath the surface and he is free.” 

 

A highly adrenaline-pumping, invigorating water sport; scuba diving is popular and amiable for many reasons. It gives you a first-hand access to an “underwater paradise” in the sea; i.e. the enchanting coral reefs, schools of fishes of innumerable shapes, species, sizes and colours, pristine; clear and turquoise water. It gives you rare chance to encounter and play with dolphins; whales, feed sharks, explore old, mysterious remains of ship wrecks at the sea bed.

 

Generally the clichéd scuba-diving destinations are the Caribbean islands or Australia; but for an authentic, in depth experience (quite literally) one should turn towards Asia! Asia is not only the ideal destination in terms of underwater beauty; but an experience that comes at an economic price. With huge coastlines in two major oceans at its disposal (Indian and Pacific), there is wide ranging scope of options to grab at and well-functioning infrastructure pertaining to the same. The five ideal scuba-diving destinations in Asia are:

 

Raja Ampat Islands, Indonesia
There’s a simple reason to dive here: the islands have the highest recorded biodiversity of fish and coral on Earth. Slip below the waters here and you could see a huge number of the total 1,074 fish species and 537 coral species during your dive time. Pygmy seahorses, turtles and sharks are all commonly sighted.

 

There are loads of different dive sites offering different experiences: there are some where soft corals and sea fans dominate and others where hard coral and sea grass beds are the main attraction. Corals can be found surprisingly close to the surface here, showing off their colours in all their glory. Image : Roy Singh

Raja Ampat Islands

 

The ideal time to go is in the spring-summer months; i.e. the general breeding season of underwater animals of this area. The rainy season must be avoided as waters get murky and aggravated. Hotels here may not be that good as this is a budding tourist destination. However the culture of home-stays and back packing is common here amongst those who are vacationing off a strict budget. Those who wish to shell out a little more should go for resorts; they not only provide the decent equipment and training regarding scuba diving but are good value for money.


 

Andaman and Nicobar Islands, India

The coastal water surrounding the white sand islands of the Andaman are a heavenly abode of one of the richest coral reef ecosystems of the world. Here the coral reefs and underwater formations have been left untouched by human activities. It is a kaleidoscope of colours and coral. The elusive ribboned sweetlips is one of the colorful habitants of the Andaman Islands. These fish can grow up to 50 centimeters in length. They live alone in deep water and feed on crabs, shrimps and sea snails.

 

Feeding is facilitated by their bright colours, which camouflages them against the corals. To protect marine life that includes big game fish such as black marlin and sailfish, the Indian government has banned commercial fishing around the 572 islands that make up the Andaman Islands. Image : Yuri-Shlerin

Scuba at Andaman Islands
The best time to go is from December to April. Barefoot scuba and Dive India are two famous and well-established diving centres present on the “Havelock Island”. As Andaman is the ideal location for all types of water and adventure sports; the equipment and training provided here is good-quality state-of0the-art at really affordable prices. It is the ideal and economic location for a memorable scuba-diving experience.


 

Pulau Sipadan, Malaysia
Pulau Sipadan is the only oceanic island in Malaysia, and before 2002 was the subject of an intense territorial dispute between Malaysia and Indonesia. It’s rated by many dive journals as one of the top dive destinations in the world. One of the island’s unique features is a turtle tomb, an underwater limestone cave that features many narrow tunnels and chambers containing the remains of green sea turtles that have become trapped and drowned.

Walls crammed with colourful life and activity, sharks, turtles and vast schools of fish such as barracuda and jacks, and all the while the possibility of seeing something really exciting such as hammerheads or thresher sharks; this is what scuba divers from across the world flock to Pulau Sipadan to see. What makes the island special is the density and variety of marine creatures in such a small location. Image : Soren Egeberg

Green Seaturtle swimming over the reef
Any time is a good time at Sipadan, but April to December is the best time to plan a visit. In order to visit this tiny island, tourists stay on either of the nearby islands of Mabul or Kapalai, or on the more distant mainland of Sabah in the port town of Semporna. From Mabul Island and Kapalai, guests are taken the 25 to 30 minutes to dive at Sipadan. Both of these islands offer some exciting macro dives themselves with many unusual critters to discover, and they complement the spectacular main attraction of Sipadan very well.


Similan Islands, Thailand

The Similan Islands, located about 50 Kilometers west of Khao Lak, Thailand; are composed of nine granite islands washed by a clear blue tropical ocean and blessed with some of the world’s finest beaches. Listed as one of the ten best Dive sites on earth, Similan Diving is quite simply the best dive region Thailand has to offer. Famous for huge rocky dropoffs on the Western side, long coral reefs on the East side, and everything in between!
Staying on the Similan Islands can be done three ways. Tents and bungalows provided by the Similan National Marine Park, On a diving liveaboard or an overnight tour boat. As the only place to stay on the Similans are run by the National Park system, bookings can be hard to obtain – in which case, one must stay in Khao Lak and do daytrips. Image :- Matcenbox

Similan Islands Scuba Diving
The best time to visit (for consistently great weather if one loves the sun) is between October and May. The summer months of July and August are customarily very pleasant, although it tends to rain in the evenings. September is not usually the best time on the islands, as the seas are usually too rough for swimming (or diving) and rain fall is widespread. With regard to water clarity on the Similan Islands, the water is actually clearer during the summer months; the islands are too far offshore to be effected by freshwater run-off.


 

Tubbataha Reef National Marine Park, Philippines

Declared a world heritage site by UNESCO in 1993, the Philippines’ Tubbataha Reef National Marine Park is crawling with marine life. Sharks, turtles and reef fish can often be found congregating around the atoll. The UN describes the area as “a pristine coral reef with a spectacular 100-meter perpendicular wall, extensive lagoons and two coral islands.”
Since divers discovered Tubbataha in the late 1970s, it has become recognised as one of the most remarkable coral reefs on our planet. The CNN travel website, cnngo.com, ranks it among the top eight dive sites in the world.
Because of its isolated location, Tubbataha can only be visited on a liveaboard boat. Divers can experience the reefs’ dramatic underwater terrain, awe-inspiring biodiversity and encounter large marine animals such as sharks, turtles and manta rays.  The park contains roughly 10,000 hectares of coral reef, lying at the heart of the Coral Triangle – the global centre of marine biodiversity. Scientists have been visiting these reefs since the 1980s, and their research has shown that Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park is home to no less than 600 species of fish, 360 species of coral (about half of all the coral species of the world), 11 species of sharks, 13 species of dolphins and whales, 100 species of birds and nesting Hawksbill and Green sea turtles. Phew !! Image :- Venera Varbanova

Scuba Diving
Tubbataha’s dive season is just three months long, running from mid-March until mid- June. At this time of year diving conditions are usually optimum – clear skies, calm seas and visibility between 30 and 45 meters. From Manila, divers take one of the regular flights to Puerto Princesa. Dive operators’ usually transport their guests from the airport to the pier, just minutes away, where their boat awaits.  It takes around 10 hours to get to the Park from Puerto Princesa. Most dive boats leave after dinner and arrive in Tubbataha early the next morning. Some slower vessels leave the wharf earlier in order to arrive at Tubbataha by first light.


 

Northern Lights, Top places to see them and everything else!

We are delighted to bring you this detailed post for the northern light fans from Natalia Robba.  After several years of research, kilometers travelled, multiple destinations visited, dark drives down foreign icy roads, snow storms, disappointment, exhilaration, several failures but more successes, Natalia shares her knowledge on Aurora Borealis.  Written and Photographed by Natalia, Edited by Shobhit. For more, check out her Blog 

 

Over the last 6 years, I have seen the Aurora Borealis many times in many varieties and intensities. Those places include Yellowknife (Canada), Skibotn (Norway), Tromso (Norway), Kiruna (Sweden), Abisko (Sweden) and Ivalo/Inari (Finland). I’ve also experienced some failures along the way, and while you can never be guaranteed Aurora displays, I have learnt a few useful things along the way

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MY TOP 5 PLACES TO SEE THE NORTHERN LIGHTS

Here are some of my suggestions for where to best see the Aurora Borealis from. These are tried and tested.

 

Ivalo, Finland

River Ivalo behind Hotel IvaloI visited Ivalo and the surrounding area in March 2012 when working with Aurora Hunters for a week. The landscape in this part of Finland is vastly different to that of Abisko in Sweden and parts of Norway. It is much flatter, but so beautiful in a different way!

The landscape has a very winter wonderland type feel to it, with snow capped trees, and snow mounds everywhere.  Really beautiful =) The people in Ivalo and the Inari region are so friendly and welcoming. Ivalo itself is a relatively small town, with everything you need, supermarket, local pub all within walking distance.

I stayed at the Hotel Ivalo for a week. The hotel is basic but more than adequate, with clean rooms and decent food. The best part about this hotel is its lovely location in Ivalo. It sits right off the River Ivalo, literally, 20 seconds walk behind the hotel down a gentle slope onto the beautiful frozen river (On the picture to the right the Hotel is on the left hand side!) Not only is this a hub for daily activities such as snowmobiling and cross country skiing, but makes a good location to view the Northern Lights if you cant get out of the city!

One company I can highly recommend myself is Aurora Hunters. Andy Keen and his team of Aurora hunters will do their utmost to drive you to clear skies and Auroras, even if it means driving for hours to the Russian border! They provide entertainment, warm drinks and will help out with your photography equipment too!

  • Pros – Winter wonderland landscapes, amenities in town, low light pollution, plenty of activities, Aurora tour guides. Furthern inland, therefore colder with more stable weather patterns.
  • Cons – Staying inside the city does have some light pollution, but as long as the Aurora Borealis isn’t too weak you will see them. So tours may be required.

 

Abisko, Sweden

Abisko Mountain LodgeAbisko is a lovely little arctic town in the North of Sweden, nestled between Kiruna and Narvik in Norway. The scenery is beautiful with the famous Lapporten mountain range in sight, and wonderful frozen lakes nearby. The small town is offered some protection from cloudy weather due to the Norwegian mountain range, so some say there are clearer skies in this region than others in the area. I myself have noticed that it can clear up in a very short space of time in Abisko!

I stayed at the Abisko Mountain Lodge and I really can’t say enough good things about the place. Service, food, location is all top notch, and the best part of all? You just need to step outside your room/cabin into darkness to see the Northern Lights, so you can be ready at a moments notice. So there is no need to pack  your car and head out into the dark night and sit in the cold for hours on end (as I’ve done many times!). If you’re up for something special, you can also take a chairlift up to the Aurora Sky Station for some amazing views over the beautiful Abisko region, and hopefully a great view of the lights!

  • Pros – Beautiful scenery, excellent food, wonderful hosts, no need to go anywhere to see the lights, activities organised from the lodge.
  • Cons – Can’t think of any!

 

Kiruna, Sweden

My family and I under the Aurora in KirunaKiruna is a quirky mining town in the North of Sweden. It’s a wonderful base as from here you can get to Jukkasjarvi (where the Icehotel is) or to Abisko (my first choice).

Kiruna itself isn’t the most picturesque town, but does have a large selection of hotels, and many activities. My recommendation here if you’re not planning on staying in Abisko, is to head out to the Ice Hotel which is just a 15-20min taxi/drive from Kiruna. Alternately you could stay in Kiruna and take nightly tours out to see the lights. But that will prove more expensive.

  • Pros – Good base, lots of activities leave from Kiruna, plenty of hotel selection. Easy access to Abisko and Ice Hotel.
  • Cons – Kiruna is a relatively large city and suffers from moderate light pollution, so you’d need to find a darker spot, either by tours, or renting a car and driving outside the city.

 

Tromso, Norway

It’s almost a little painful for me to place Tromso 4th on the list. Tromso as far as cities go is an absolute gem. It is a gorgeous city nestled in the Arctic North. I’ve been there 4 times and loved it just as much as the time before. Some call it the Paris of the North and this title is well deserved. It is a beautiful, bustling town with every possible amenity you could think of. Restaurants, hotels, pubs, cinemas, shopping malls the lot.

City of Northern Lights

The Clarion Collection hotel is a lovely nautical themed hotel (ask for a room with a view of the harbour they’re wonderful). Very fairly priced, good food, and free chocolate waffles and coffee all day are a real plus when you return from the cold.

My personal reservation with Tromso is twofold, it is the largest Arctic city I have visited, so has the worst light pollution. It is also a coastal town, and close to the Gulf Stream, therefore temperatures are milder than you would expect, but as a result suffers more from cloudy skies.

You would likely need to drive outside the city limits to find darker skies, and further inland  if cloudy, to find clearer skies (along the E8). Alternately you could take nightly tours outside the city of which there are many. But I personally have had great success with Kjetil Skogli, a local photographer and Aurora hunter who also works tirelessly to find clear skies and Auroras if it’s at all possible. He drove us 3 hours out to Skibotn where I was treated to one of the best displays I’ve ever seen, despite a snow storm back in Tromso.

  • Pros – Beautiful city, all amenities, numerous tours and tourist activities, good Aurora guides.
  • Cons – Heavy light pollution, tends to suffer from cloudy weather

 

Yellowknife, Canada

Blachford Lake Lodge groundsI’ve placed Yellowknife 5th on my list mostly because it’s across the pond from me ;)So for us Europeans perhaps it’s slightly more out of reach, but for all of you over on the other side of the Atlantic I can’t say enough good things about this place, in particular the Blachford Lake Lodge which is where I spent my 5 nights in Yellowknife.

The lodge is on its own private plot of land and is accessible only by Bush plane, but oh my was it worth it! The landscape is absolutely astonishing. So beautiful and desolate at the same time, with wonderful safe forest trails surrounding the property. The lodge itself is top notch and has all the luxurious commodities you would need. The Chef is professionally trained and apart from the Abisko Mountain Lodge, I don’t remember the last time I’ve eaten better!

  • Pros – Amazing location with stunning scenery, private (no chance of overcrowding tourists), food to die for.
  • Cons – Hard to get to, no roads so you’re completely at the mercy of the weather.

 

Some other recommended locations are:

  • Norway – Lyngen, Alta, Kirkenes, Malangen
  • Finland – Inari, Nellim, Utsjoki
  • Sweden – Jukkasjarvi
  • Alaska – Fairbanks, Bettles
  • Canada – Churchill (Manitoba), Gillam (Manitoba)

 

WHAT IS THE BEST TIME TO SEE THE AURORA BOREALIS ?

Although the Aurora Borealis is always present at the northern and southern magnetic poles, we can’t always see them because of daylight hours getting in the way during the summer months at such extreme latitudes. Therefore the best time to try and see this natural phenomenon is anytime between late August – early April when the window of opportunity with regards darker skies is higher. My personal preference is February/March, due to the fact weather tends to stabilize in Northern Scandinavia after December.

 

HOW MANY NIGHTS DO I NEED TO SEE THE NORTHERN LIGHTS ?

The more the better! This is a little obvious, but really I always say the same thing. For most people, trips to the Arctic Circle are a rarety, and expensive. All things considered I feel that since we’re going through the effort to travel so far, we might as well give ourselves the best shot! I strongly advise anyone that is serious about wanting to see the Aurora, to stay ATLEAST 3-4 nights. More really is better. There may be activity, but cloudy skies, or clear skies, and no activity, so stay as long as is possible.

 

According to the scientists in Kiruna, Sweden, you have about an 80% of seeing the auroras if you stay in the area for at least 3 days. This is likely too for any destination at similar latitudes (like those listed above).I tend to spend between 5 and 7 days in any one location, and I’ve had a lot of success with this timeframe.

 

CAN YOU SPOT IT WITH NAKED EYE OR IS IT A CAMERA TRICKERY ?

The definite answer is YES! Yes you absolutely can see the Aurora with the naked eye. You can more than see it, when it’s active enough it’s so bright, intense and fast that your eyes won’t be able to keep up! You’ll want to stop time just to take it all in.

 

The problem is, there’s a common misconception that because Aurora photography can sometimes use long exposures to enhance the Aurora’s, that this is infact untrue to life, and it isn’t. When the Aurora borealis is weak, long term exposure photography is handy because it allows the camera to capture light over time, and as result you get a nice green band in your photos, much brighter than perhaps you can see yourself.

 

But this is just because the Aurora is weak. Infact it may appear to you (when your eyes have fully adjusted to the dark) as a pale green/ almost white band of light in the sky, immobile, and very faint. SO much so that you might think to yourself, is that it? Is that the famous Aurora Borealis?

 

Take the two shots below as examples, the left shot was a 2 second exposure, the right an 18 second exposure!

Aurora Borealis over Nellim, FinlandWeak Aurora over Skibotn, Norway

 

The left hand picture looks almost identical to the naked eye as the photo, whereas the right hand picture really looks nothing like it did in real life and infact appeared to me as a very VERY faint, and pale band in the sky. Just remember, photos with short exposures are more true to life, longer exposures enhance what we see.

 

It’s important to note, the Aurora Borealis is present in a great variety of intensities, from it’s lackluster weaker form, to it’s in your face, vibrant, dancing from one side of the sky to another in 2 seconds flat form. The latter will literally take your breath away, so much so the camera might be the last thing on your mind. You will just want to stare and take it all in. So please, don’t be put off by any weak Aurora’s you may have seen, or any stories about how it’s all long exposure trickery. The Northern Lights are by far the most beautiful natural phenomenon I’ve witnessed. You just have to be lucky and catch her right ;)

 

WILL THE FULL MOON AFFECT MY AURORA VIEWING ? 

Short answer, not much. I used to be put off by the Full Moon, and always booked my Aurora hunting trips around the New or Crescent Moon, but there really is no need for this and it really limited the times I could travel!

 

Contrary to popular belief and suggestions, the Full Moon or Gibbous Waning moon will only affect your viewing of the Northern Lights if they are WEAK. In which case, it will make it harder to see the pale green bands in the sky. But honestly? If the Aurora has any decent level of activity it really matters very little, and it’s those impressive Auroras you really want to see =)

 

I actually PREFER the brighter moon phases as the Moon lights up the landscape beautifully and brings out all the details in my photographs. Just remember, even the Full Moon pales in comparison to a moderate to active Aurora, and it gives beautiful photographs

 

WHAT COLOUR ARE THE NORTHERN LIGHTS ?

The most common colour of the Aurora Borealis is shades of green. Different colours start to appear depending on what elements are interacting with our Earth’s magnetic field. As the Solar Wind becomes trapped in our Magnetic Field at the poles, the solar particles collide with atoms and ions in our atmosphere and become ‘excited’. It is the settling down of this excited state that results in the emission of ‘light’. If the excited particles in question are Oxygen, we typically see the green/yellow light, however, if the Oxygen particles are at very high altitudes, a more seldom seen Red light colour is emitted at the top of the Aurora. If it’s Nitrogen particles, we are more likely to see a blueish tinge to the Aurora. Purples, whites, blues occur often in coronas (coronas appear as almost spindle looking shapes directly above, as if reaching directly down to you), but overall green is the most common =) There isn’t a geographical place where specific colours occur, its all totally random and depends on the activity of the Auroral oval over different parts of the world.

 

CAN WE PREDICT AURORA BOREALIS ACTIVITY ?

A lot of people message me with dates they have in mind to travel to certain destinations, and they ask if there’s anyway to know if there will be Auroras (often times these dates are months in advance!). The truth is, predicting the Northern Lights is a tricky business and there’s never an absolute guarantee. Predictions are always most reliable the closer we are to the dates in question (much like the weather).

 

To be specific, it takes approximately 24-48 hours for solar wind to travel the distance from the Sun to Earth (depending on the speed of the Solar Wind or Coronal Mass Ejections (CME). So relatively accurate predictions can only really be made in that time frame, 2-3 days ahead. Here are a few useful resources for gauging general Aurora activity currently and over the next few days:

 

Geographic Institute at Fairbanks University – A popular general prediction model. Good used as a general guideline but not updated everyday. Predictions are made for 5-6 days ahead, however if an event occurs on the Sun, this prediction model will not account for new activity due to it’s update intervals. Take with a pinch of salt.

 

SWPC Prediction Center – Ovation Model – A good realtime model showing the Aurora Borealis’ current oval over the Earth. The brighter the green (or white) in the model, the more intensely the Aurora can be seen over the estimated geographical location underneath.

 

Astronomy North – These guys tend to be pretty accurate with predictions and likely monitor events on the sun as well as current solar wind data.

 

Aurora Borealis activity is never guaranteed, unfortunately it’s a little like playing the lottery. Many people are blessed with days of fantastic displays, while others leave their holiday destinations only to hear of Auroras the day they left. (Personal experience! Very frustrating). The most important thing to remember with the Aurora is that you need to be patient. She could make you wait hours but it will be totally worth the cold and frustration when she finally puts on a show for you.

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I personally use a combination of current Solar activity and Solar Wind readings from the ACE satellite, and generally know when to head outside to within an hour of activity. But the above should get you on the right track.

WHAT CAUSES THE AURORA BOREALIS ?

The Aurora Borealis happens due to the interaction between the Solar Wind and the Earth’s magnetic field. There are a few terms worth remembering just so it’s a little easier to understand.

Solar Wind – A stream of particles originating from the Sun that travels towards us (and other planets alike). It can vary in density (i.e number of solar particles i.e. protons/electrons in the stream), and in speed.
Interplanetary Magnetic Field (IMF) –  This is the magnetic field carried with the solar wind. Remember the sun has it’s own Magnetic field, and as the particles leave the Sun, they carry with them magnetic field lines.
Magnetopause – This is a boundary between the Earth’s magnetic field and the Solar Wind. Think of it as a sort of barrier stopping the Solar Wind from reaching us.

 

The Earth’s magnetic field is pointed North at the Magnetopause (this is illustrated in the image below). Think of a magnet for a second….If the IMF is in a Northern direction, then it will ‘clash’ with our own Northern Magnetic field at the Magnepause and it will repel the solar wind.  However, think of the opposite. If the IMF contains Southern facing magnetic field lines, it will ‘link’ up with our Northern facing Magnetopause and both field will cancel each other out! This in essence opens a portal for Solar wind to enter our atmosphere.
So to sum up, as the Solar Wind approaches and strikes the Earth’s Magnetopause, it causes it to bend and flex. If the IMF in the Solar wind has a southern facing direction, the Solar Wind will eventually causes a ‘break’ in the Magnetosphere and creates two Magnetotails that swing around and behind the Earth. When the Magnetotails from both sides meet up on the otherside, they ‘snap’ and slingshot the Solar Wind particles towards our poles.

 

magnetosphere-1024x482

 

The Solar wind particles collide with the Oxygen/Nitrogen atoms in our own atmosphere. These collisions ‘excite’ the Oxygen atoms. When these ‘excited’ Oxygen atoms return to their previous calm state, they emit light in the process. This results in the Northern (or Southern) Lights.  This is slightly over simplified, but illustrates the process by which Solar Wind particles reach our poles.
I hope you enjoyed my article! Feel free to get in touch with me at natalia.robba@gmail.com

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