As we pause and look behind us at the year gone by, let’s just remind ourselves that the origins of the word ‘travel’ lie in the Old French word ‘travail’ – a note back to the times when journeys were arduous. We have indeed come a long way, and will endeavor in the new year, to continue taking the ‘travail’ out of travel.

A Greek Holiday in Santorini

The volcanic island of Santorini (Thira) in the southern Aegean Sea, part of the Cyclades group of Greek islands located between the Ios and Anafi islands, is a paradise retreat with breathtaking views, balmy seas, splendid sunsets and phenomenal beaches. Santorini is the remnant of a volcanic caldera, formed after an enormous volcanic explosion destroyed the island’s earliest settlements.

Best Time to Visit

September is one of the best months to visit, with warm sun and lesser crowds. April to June is also a warm, dry period to enjoy the island.

Getting There

Travelers can get into Santorini by air or by sea. Catch a 30 minute flight from Athens and arrive at the Santorini Airport, located at Kamari village. There are also ferries to Athinios available from the port of Piraeus past Paros and Naxos, and from the port in Crete during the tourist season. From Athinios, buses and taxis are available to get to other parts of the island. High speed catamarans are also available to get here.

For those tourists who wish to take a longer Greek vacation in style, there are also cruise ships that venture to the island and dock at its old port, a couple of miles away from Athinios.

What to See

The small island of Santorini comprises a surprising multitude of villages, vistas and landscapes.

The island’s capital Fira is the busiest place, with cobblestone streets lined with restaurants, shops, taverns and clubs. It is also the hub for public transportation and taxis and has direct access to the mooring points for cruise ships via the elevator. It is noted for the mixture of Venetian and Cycladic architecture evident in several buildings. The Archaeological Museum has several artifacts from the Classic and Roman periods of the area’s history. This area is unique in that it clings at the side of the cliff 900 feet above its port. Get there by taking the cable car from the port or by taking a mule up the slope.

Oia at the northernmost tip of the island is more quiet and considered to be more romantic. This small, dramatic village with whitewashed houses snuggled in the volcanic rock is built on a steep slope of the caldera. There are shops selling handmade ceramic art, paintings and jewelry. Perched on the edge of the cliffs, Oia also offers striking views of Fira and the volcano that gave birth to the island. The sunset views from here are magnificent. It has access to the caldera via road and stairs and is a good point if you actually want to take a dive. Hot springs created from volcanic activity are said to be therapeutical, so you can try a spa there.

The Akrotiri is a historical site with ancient ruins of a city that was covered by volcanic ash. At the excavation site are the remains of one of the most important prehistoric settlements of the Aegean region. The Red Beach next to Akrotiri is a spectacular place for a swim, or just to sit and enjoy a day in the sun. Among the other beaches on the island, there is the unique Kamari black pebble beach and another black beach at Perivolos. Perissa is popular for its Greek fish taverns. Monolithos is a nice shallow beach that is ideal for families with children. Caldera is a great spot to dive or snorkel.

The Profitis Ilias is the highest peak on the island, home to a namesake monastery which began in 1806 as a school and is one of the oldest on the island. At 1,853 feet (565 meters) above sea level, the monastery holds an important collection of bibles and icons of the Greek Orthodox religion, and offers terrific panoramic views.

To appreciate the traditional island architecture, visit any of the numerous small villages, notably Mesa Gonia. Another notable village is Pyrgos which still has some of the grand old houses as well as remnants of a Venetian castle and Byzantine churches.

What to Eat and Drink

The wineries are worth a visit. Try popular varietals such as assyrtiko, nykteri and the rich vinsanto, and enjoy a platter of local delicacies including cheese, salami, bread and olives to complement and balance out the flavors of the wine in a Wine Tasting Tour. The Boutari and Antoniou Winery offer tours and presentations about the wineries and vineyards and you can actually see the work that goes into making your glass of favourite wine.

Indulge in fresh, healthy Mediterranean-Greek food, especially the cherry tomatoes and grilled eggplant, but also try the fried tomato kefides.

For a long, relaxing and refreshing vacation, Santorini is just the place. Sun-kissed and friendly, it always beckons you back for more.

Arc de Triomphe

The Arc de Triomphe de l’Etoile atop the hill of Chaillot in the heart of Place Charles de Gaulle in Paris, is the acme of the Champs Elysées avenue, forming the backdrop for an impressive urban portfolio in Paris. The last leg of the Tour de France race also finishes here.

Dedicated to the glory of all French Armies, it commemorates the triumphs of Napoleon I, under whose decree it was commissioned. Construction began in 1806 based on the design by Jean Francois Chalgrin (which is inspired by the Arch of Titus template) and was carried on after his death by L. Goust, J. N. Huyot, and G. A. Blouet consecutively, who brought the arch to completion in 1836, 30 years after it was started.

Carved around the top of the Arch are the names of major victories won during the Revolutionary and Napoleonic periods. However the names of less important victories, as well as those of 558 generals, can be found on the inside walls. There are bands of ornamental stonework on the upper third of the structure. At the bases of the Arc’s pillars are four massive relief sculptures honoring The Triumph of 1810, Resistance, Peace and the Departure of the Volunteers, which is commonly known as La Marseillaise. On the day the Battle of Verdun started, the sword carried by the figure representing the Republic broke off from La Marseillaise. The relief was immediately hidden to conceal the accident, so that it would not be interpreted as a bad omen.

One can climb the 280 steps on the narrow, winding stairway to the top of the Arc De Triomphe to enjoy the views of the city. Inside the arch, at the top, there is a small museum on the historical past of the arch and a souvenir shop. If you walk around, you can see all the twelve avenues that make up the “star”. In the mid-19th century, Baron Haussmann established a program to develop and modernize Paris. The 12 arterials radiating from the Arc de Triomphe were part of this plan for the formation of a series of major boulevards intersecting at monuments.

Since 1920, the tomb of France’s Unknown Soldier has lain underneath the arch. Its eternal flame honors the dead of the world wars, and is rekindled every evening at 6:30pm. On every Armistice Day, the President of the Republic lays a ceremonial wreath on it. On July 14, Bastille Day or the French National Day, a military parade begins at the arch and proceeds down the Champs Elysées. For main occasions of state, and on national holidays, a huge French tricolor is draped from the vaulted ceiling inside of Arch, illuminated by red, blue and white lights.

One of the most significant symbols of Paris, this incredible arch is an essential element of this City of Art.

Living it up in Monte Carlo

Overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, Monaco is a picture perfect country to the east of the French Riviera, dominated by the city of Monte Carlo. Everything in the principality caters to the affluent, and Monte Carlo exudes glamour and panache.

Historically, the royal House of Grimaldi has and continues to head Monaco. Their influence is everywhere and they have managed to stay in power for hundreds of years turning Monaco into the expat haven of Europe through favorable tax laws. Once considered as just another European retreat, Monaco was transformed by Prince Rainier into one of Europe’s best known getaways, blending sophistication with an income-tax free policy that has attracted millionaires and billionaires to the principality for the last four decades. As well as being a tax haven, Monaco hosts the best known Formula One Grand Prix of the year around the streets of Monte Carlo and Fontveille in May. In recent years, Monaco has also become a preferred holiday destination for the wealthy in September, when it hosts the annual Monaco Yacht Show, during which the most elite yachts in the world berth at the harbour in Fontvieille

The central village of Monaco-Ville, located high on “the rock” as referred to by the residents, is a picturesque town with shops and cafes and an incredible view of the sea. Eze is a small medieval village located on a hill, which draws both tourists and artists during the summer months because of its beautiful setting and magnificent views.

Of course, Monaco’s most famous town is Monte Carlo, drawing in the uber rich crowd with its casinos, boutiques and exotic gardens. A 15 minute train ride from Nice, hotels here could cost a bomb, so you could stay in Nice and make the short trip into the city. Nestled above the ocean and remarkably spectacular, there is an old Europe charm. A charming combination of chic city ambience and fabulous sun-kissed beaches, Monte Carlo is a compact city best explored on foot.

Within a day, you could walk around Monte Carlo easily, from the yacht-dotted Harbour, through the Monaco Cathedral and the Change of Guard at the Prince’s Palace to the Japanese Gardens. The Azur Express is a fun ride. If you want to try your luck, have the bucks to splurge, and care to wear strict formals, you could head to the Monte Carlo Casino (Joseph Jagger-style). You could catch a performance at the Opera in the evening. There are also afternoon shows on some weekends, so you should check out the schedule before you leave.

Walk your way around and find some interesting things to do –

1. Monte Carlo Casino

Built in 1863, this architectural masterpiece overlooks the Mediterranean and must be a priority on your sightseeing list. It has a remarkable gold and marble atrium designed by the legendary architect Charles Garnier. Formal attire will get you in.

2. Grand Prix Racing Route

The Monaco Grand Prix ranks among the top sporting events in the world, and for good reason. The conjunction of Formula One cars street racing and the influx of celebrities to the playground of Europe make an intoxicating cocktail for the annual event which was started in 1929 by the founding president of the Automobile Club de Monaco, Anthony Noghes. The circuit passes by the Casino Square and the renowned Hotel de Paris in Monte Carlo, making it one of the most well-known hotels in the world.

3. Prince’s Palace

The palace is open to the public from June to October. The courtyard is paved with over 3 million colored pebbles, beautifully arranged in geometrical patterns. Built in 1215, the palace was originally a fortress before being transformed into a luxury residence.

4. Monaco Cathedral

This glorious cathedral was constructed in 1875 and is the final resting ground of Princess Grace. The cathedral’s fabulous organ was painstakingly restored to its former glory in 1988.

5. Monte-Carlo Thermes Marins

For over a century this luxury spa has pampered and delivered the ultimate in relaxation. Treat yourself to a day you will never forget.

6. Metropole Shopping Centre

Filled with designer stores to match those in Paris and Rome, the Metropole is a shopper’s paradise.

7. The Old Town

A variety of premium bistros and bars line up the more traditional parts of town. Here you can tuck into local specialties such as Monegasque cuisine.

8. Café de Paris

Located in Casino Square, Café de Paris is the place to be seen. The mingling of locals and travelers creates a lively atmosphere, and the international menu caters to a wide variety of palates.

9. The Grimaldi Forum

The magnificent Grimaldi Forum is home to a host of cultural events. Watch concerts, opera, ballet, as well as festivals and exhibitions, including the Monte-Carlo Masters tennis.

10. Stade Louis II

What the home of AS Monaco Football Club lacks in size, it certainly makes up for in quality. Despite a capacity of only 18,500 (smaller than most top football clubs), the ground’s architecture make it one of the more memorable stadia.

Monte Carlo is a fabulous city of glitz, glamour and a little over the top indulgence. In fact, if you’re in the mood to splurge, you can even drive a Ferrari around the Riviera. Picture perfect and luxurious, it is the ideal mini-vacation getaway in Europe.

Warm Christmas Wishes

What does Christmas remind you of? Christmas tree, lights, pudding, crackers, reindeer, mistletoe, holly and of course, eggnog. A joyous time for feasting, giving gifts and having fun.

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Here’s our favourite eggnog recipe for the season.

Essential Ingredients:

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Optional Ingredients:

  • Pinch of ground cloves
  • Few drops Vanilla extract
  • Pinch of Cinnamon powder
  • Cognac/ Brandy/ Dark Rum
  • Pinch of salt

Traditional Method:

  • Separate egg yolks from whites.
  • Beat egg yolks with ¼ cup sugar.
  • Whip egg whites till foamy and stiff. Slowly add remaining ¼ cup sugar while whisking.
  • Add milk, cream and bourbon to the egg yolks slowly, while whipping lightly.
  • Gradually stir this into the whipped egg whites.
  • Sprinkle nutmeg on top.

Raw eggs are Salmonella friendly, and to avoid the risk of upsetting your tummy, the FDA advises people to use a cooked egg base, made by heating the eggs, milk and sugar at 160 °F, stirring constantly.

Origins of Sydney

Sydney, the cosmopolitan capital of New South Wales also known as the “Harbor City”, has a great deal to offer, from the renowned Bondi beach and the spectacular Blue Mountains to the elegant Opera House and Harbour Bridge.

The history of the Sydney region has been traced back to the prehistoric times, when the place was inhabited by Australian Aborigines whose ancestors had come to Australia about 50,000 years ago. In the past, there were three different languages spoken there: Darug, Dharawal, and Guringai, with distinct dialects for different tribes and clans.  These languages may be dead, but rock carvings and stone tools survive as reminders of the tribes, as can be seen in the Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park in the city.

While their numbers are believed to have dwindled prior to the arrival of Briton Arthur Phillips in 1788 who appended it to the English Crown, they still inhabited the region. In 1770, James Cook was the first outsider to discover the existence of the Australian continent which led to the British convict settlement as founded by Arthur Phillip.  Founded in Sydney Cove, this settlement was named after the British home secretary.  A few years later in 1789, a virulent disease spread over the land, killing the Aboriginal population— some believe that this was the result of smallpox. Living conditions during the early settlement years were hard, with droughts and disease.

By 1820, there were few Aborigines left and the period of civilization began: the education and Christianization of the natives.  With the leadership of Governor Macquarie, the city of Sydney began to take a more organized form.  Roads and wharves were constructed and local development was rapid.  People began arriving from Britain and Ireland in order to find a new life for themselves. In 1851, the discovery of gold 150 km west of Sydney can Bathurst triggered off several gold rushes.

This influx of people led to some of the first villages and later towns in Sydney.  As the era of gold rushes came and went, the suburbs evolved and infrastructure got upgraded, with the construction of railways and tramways in the 19th century.  By the 20th century, Sydney already had a population of over a million people.  While the Great Depression hit Sydney hard, the Harbor Bridge was still completed during that time.

With a whopping immigrant population, Sydney is truly a melting pot of varied cultures and indeed cosmopolitan at heart.

Camping in Virginia

Virginia may be recognized for its beaches being the ultimate spring break destination in the east, with several establishments for relaxation and water sports and a scenic Boardwalk, but it is also a terrific destination for camping in the lap of wild and gorgeous nature. As John Denver once sang – 

Almost heaven, West Virginia
Blue Ridge Mountains, Shenandoah River.

One of the great places to go camping in Virginia is Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park. If you need some comforts from home, this campground will provide all that. They have a lounge for the TV watcher and nightly movies. Play some tennis or some volleyball, but always take some time for relaxing by a nice cozy warm fire at night.

One of the good places to go camping in Virginia is the American Heritage RV Park. Situated around the popular town of Williamsburg, this heritage area is not just for camping, but for adventure as well.

Stay at a campground surrounded by the Blue Ridge Mountains and enjoy a stunning view of the hills all day long. Heavenly Acres Campgrounds with incredible views of the mountains as you sit and listen to the wildlife and enjoy real outdoors adventures, provides travelers with a sense of peace.

The Bethpage Camp Resort is another spectacular campground with several activities. You can try your hand at volleyball or get a group together for some horseshoes. You will see some beautiful scenery as you look out over the Rappahannock River.

If your plan is to experience camping at its best with just a tent and basic necessities, Shenandoah River Outfitters’ Camp Outback fills this desire. Just a short distance from the Shenandoah River, you can sit and relax by a crackling fire and listen to the river waters run wild.

Virginia offers camping options for all kinds of campers – from the ones seeking full comfort to the ones who like to get totally lost in nature. Just take your backpack and go!

Sonoma Wine Country

The Sonoma county wine region is a part of the famous California vineyards, 30 miles North of San Francisco and close to the Napa Valley. Sonoma County has a span of 1575 square miles containing about 100,000 acres of lush wine growing land. Having over 200 award winning wineries and about 60 miles of Pacific coastline, the mystical Russian river, museums, shopping avenues, botanical gardens, galleries, camping locations, golf courses, bike and hiking trails and numerous festivals all year around, Sonoma county is the place you should definitely visit.

Sonoma Valley offers authentic California wine tasting experiences, great weather and friendly staff. It is the perfect place for wine lovers, people searching for relaxation, leisure and charming ambience.  Sonoma has 5 distinct wine-growing districts: Los Carneros District, Sonoma Valley, Russian River Valley, Dry Creek Valley, and Alexander Valley, with small towns in each. Excellent white and red wines are produced, including the notable Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pino, Syrah, Zinfandel, Shiraz and some distinct home specials. Winery hospitality staff are knowledgeable, friendly and eager to discuss the wines and how they were made. Winery tours take visitors behind the scenes to barrel rooms, crush pads, bottling lines, cellars and caves. You will find vineyards all around the county, just driving around the place is very pleasant and soothing.

Discover fun, exciting things to do in the beautiful Sonoma Wine Country in Northern California and get blown away.

1. Drink in Golden California

Take a tour of the most renowned vineyards and discover how your favorite vintage is made—from how the grapes ripen under the golden California sun, to the centuries-old fermenting process.

i.   Sonoma Valley Wine Trolley – Experience the Sonoma wine region in a unique way – on the Sonoma Valley Wine Trolley. Jump aboard this historical replica of a San Francisco cable car and grab a seat on a special wine tasting adventure you will never forget. This open-air trolley will let you experience the picturesque vineyards like no other tour. On this tour, your friendly and knowledgeable guide will take you to four family-owned wineries for tastings. You will visit Sonoma’s top historic landmarks and enjoy a gourmet picnic lunch during one of the scenic stops.

ii.   Wine Country Tour by Horse and Carriage – Travel through the vineyards of spectacular Sonoma County in a charming horse-drawn carriage to premium tastings at three award-winning Healdsburg area wineries. In addition to exploring a wine cave and indulging in a barrel tasting, a sumptuous lunch is served in a breathtaking setting. Enjoy an entertaining perspective of local history as well as information regarding vines, grapes and wine-making. Savor the relaxed pace, stunning scenery and world-class wines, while leaving the traffic far behind.

2. Pt Reyes’ Hiking Trails

Point Reyes offers about 140 miles of hiking trails— and a view that displays Nature at its most pristine and magnificent. Escape from the noise and pollution of the city, and imagine how California looked centuries ago.

Get a trail map, which shows both the hiking and the biking trails (however, those who go on foot will be able to explore the wilderness area, for the complete ‘pioneer’ experience). You can also ride horses. The terrain is quite diverse, shifting from pasture lands to chaparral rides and forests and meadowlands.

3. Armstrong Redwoods

Armstrong Redwoods, an 805-meter park filled with ancient tree groves, nature trails, and numerous recreational facilities is a popular picnic spot. Here you’ll find some of the oldest and tallest redwoods in California—over 300 feet high, and dating back to over 1,400 years.

4. Art

California has a thriving artists’ community, and some of the best works of today’s most promising creative minds are on display at the Arts Council of Sonoma Country Gallery.

The Sonoma Valley Museum of Art displays works by regional, national and international modern and contemporary artists.

5. Performing Arts

Performing arts venues include the famous Wells Fargo Center for the Arts, the world-class Green Music Center at Sonoma State University, Cloverdale Performing Arts Center, Sixth Street Playhouse in Santa Rosa, Spreckels Performing Arts Center in Rohnert Park, Main Stage West in Sebastopol and many others. Sonoma has a vibrant nightlife with live music venues, funky dance clubs, cool lounges, and relaxed pubs such as Barley and Hops Tavern.

Overall, Sonoma is the perfect Californian luxury getaway, relaxing and invigorating.

Holiday Gift Ideas

We live in a wonderful world that is full of beauty, charm and adventure. – Jawaharlal Nehru

For something more than just a phone or a tab, gift your loved ones an unforgettable trip this Christmas to experience the beauty and charm of a new city. We have hand-picked 5 experiences that you could buy this festive season.

  1. 2 days in Amsterdam – From US$242 pp. With a fascinating cruise through the canals of Amsterdam and a visit to the Rijksmuseum displaying works of Vermeer and Rembrandt followed by a pub crawl through Leidseplein Square, gift a fun and vibrant time in this city that never sleeps.
  2. Barcelona in 3 days  – From US$262 pp. Explore this beautiful Gaudi’s city and FCB’s home through Catalan lanes and Modernist architecture.
  3. 4 day trip to Tokyo – From US$493 pp. For a thrilling, different experience, gift a trip to the Orient and your receiver will be dazzled by the Tokyo Robot Evening Cabaret with pandas, dinosaurs, ninjas and robots. The package includes a glimpse into Japanese culture at the Imperial Palace and Edo Tokyo Museum. Cherry blossom season in April is one of the best times to visit this futuristic city.
  4. Weekend in Dublin – From US$134 pp. You can gift this to yourself too! Spend a sober day at the Dublin Castle and the Christ Church Cathedral’s crypt and in the evening, bring down the roof at a Traditional Irish House Party.
  5. 2 days in Frankfurt – From US$100 pp. Gift a Sightseeing Cruise on the Main, covering Frankfurt Cathedral, the skyline of Frankfurt’s financial district and Europaturm.

Find other amazing individual experiences on Holidayen and have a great holiday.