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The Travel Map - May 2007

I love Whistler

May 30th 2007 23:30
The ski season in the Northern Hemisphere will soon be underway and I am hoping to be able to pay another visit to my favourite skifield, Whistler in Canada. In my opinion it’s the best ski field in the world. You don’t need to take my word for it either; TransWorld magazine readers voted it number one ski resort in North America.

Even getting to Whistler is great especially if you are coming from Vancouver as I always do. You get to Vancouver airport then get on a transfer bus to Whistler Village. It is about a two hour drive, but it is two hours of stunning scenery. On one side you have beautiful views of the sea with a number of small islands, on the other side high cliffs.

The skiing of course is magnificent. With over 200 runs catering for all ability levels you can ski for a whole week without doing the same run twice. There are a total of 38 lifts that can move over 60000 skiers an hour so even on the busiest weeks of the year you never have to wait long.

In the evenings Whistler Village is alive with a number of great restaurants and bars for all those aprčs ski activities. There are also plenty of places to shop in the pedestrian only centre. My best tips for those visiting the village is stop at Roger’s Chocolate and try their Victoria Creams. They are the best I love them so much I order them online.

I have tried Banff for skiing and Sunshine Village and Lake Louise are both beautiful but it I have to say I prefer Whistler still because it has a better climate.

Looking down over Whistler Village
Looking down over Whistler Village



May 12th 2007 06:43
In a lush green valley in central Vietnam under the imposing glare of Cat’s Tooth Mountain rests one of the most important archaeological sites of the ancient kingdom of Champa.
Unassuming, resilient and rich in history and beauty. One could well be describing Vietnam itself. In truth, the crumbling temples of My Son are just a speck on Vietnam’s kaleidoscope of indulgent cultural experiences.
But to walk through the secluded sanctuary of My Son, where the ancient monuments still stand proudly amongst the suffocating tropical growth, clear running streams and thick scent of surrounding coffee plantations, is a true test of the sensory overload that must be endured by all visitors to Vietnam.
My Son may not be one of the country’s most well known attractions but it can be one of its most rewarding. It is highly atmospheric, dramatic and dripping not only in tropical humidity but also the ancient spirit and architecture of Indian Hinduism, blended into a typical South-East Asian terrain.
My Son is one of the smallest members of South-East Asia’s extended family of ancient grand cities of former Indian-influenced civilizations, headed by the sprawling Angkor Wat in neighbouring Cambodia.
It does not attract the tourist hordes, headlines or movie sets of Angkor Wat but it still pays to get there early to enjoy some solitude. We arranged for a driver to pick us up pre-dawn at our Hoi An hotel and we were at My Son with just a handful of others as the first rays of sun soak into the valley.
Being a UNESCO World Heritage site there are rules to be followed and mini-bus transfers are required to access marshalling points from which you approach the temples on foot. Guided tours are available although it is easy enough to self navigate given that archaeologists have divided the temples into 10 main clusters in alphabetical order.
The temple-towers of My Son are thought to date back to the late 4th century and together formed the most significant intellectual, religious and political centre of the Champa kingdom, which controlled what is now contemporary Vietnam until the 13th century.
The Champa people were raised to be masters at the art of building rock and My Son is the greatest surviving example of that talent. Their advanced building technique was based on tightly packed smooth bricks, without any form of securing mortar, and it proved to last many centuries.
The remaining temples are a showcase of a unique cultural exchange of the architecture and art of Hinduism into South-East Asia, with the red brick structures still bravely fighting off the all-consuming growth of the dense tropical climate. Many bricks also boast fine carvings, depicting a range of images from deities and priests to dances, plants, animals and sacrifices.
Although much of what was once a city is now in ruins, My Son still paints the picture of a civilization now extinct but to which you can transport yourself by entering those temples where candles light up the darkness and history within. Steeping inside is to open your senses to another time when the temples were used for ceremonial, worship and even burial purposes.
My Son provides a fascinating insight not only into an ancient culture but also the powerful effects of time and vegetation that stops for no man-made object, even ones obviously constructed with such expertise and care as these all those centuries ago.
The damage to My Son has not all been natural though, as the site was subjected to heavy bombing from Americans during the Vietnam War. Fortunately, archaeologists alerted President Nixon to the damage being done to the ancient temples and he duly ordered bombers to avoid the temples where possible while continuing to attack the surrounding VC strongholds.
Strolling the ancient valley of the My Son sanctuary, steeping over ruins, plants and roots as you go, it is hard to picture any such destruction being wrought on what is a perfect blend of man and nature’s beauty in the most peaceful of settings.

Swedish Sauna

May 8th 2007 07:20
Maybe I’d watched too many of the wrong type of movies but the words ‘Sweden’ and ‘sauna’ immediately conjured up certain images in my mind. So when the opportunity arose to do just that - a sauna in Sweden - I wasn’t going to pass it up.
We were on a small camping and hiking tour in the far northern reaches of Scandinavia, high above the Artic Circle where the reindeers outnumber people and the locals love a sauna and a drink, even at the same time.
Our Swedish campground adjoined a ski resort, which in summer was a haven for hikers, nature lovers and anyone keen to soak up the long, bright days before the impending onset of an equally long, dark winter.
Having access to any sort of facilities was pure luxury after our recent run of open-field and seaside camping, so the hot showers, shop and bar were gratefully welcomed. After indulging in all of these, my excitement levels rose even higher when we were informed these facilities also included a traditional communal Swedish sauna set on the resort’s picturesque lake.
I couldn’t express my interest quick enough. With just one other male volunteer from our group, we were ‘sauna brothers’ united in our quest to live the dream. The protocol, we were told, was females for the first hour, males for the next hour and then all-comers at the end. The last option seemed easily the best, particularly when our guide’s instructions finished with the declaration that it was traditional Swedish custom to sauna in the nude. I was willing to put my body on the line – all in the name of cultural appreciation, of course.
I walked down to the lake to meet my sauna brother from Scotland at the designated time. Only an Aussie and a Scot shared the toughness to take on such a challenge. But this Aussie bought some insurance in the form of a trusty pair of speedos (aka budgie smugglers) slipped on beforehand.
As I revealed them, and my sauna buddy revealed a lot more, the communal hot box began to fill with a steady stream of young locals. They were all blond, tanned, fit and attractive, with enough girls in the mix to cancel out the weirdness of sweating with a group of nude males. Fantasy part one – check. And they were all decked out in swimwear. Fantasy part two – not quite but still pretty good.
They were also all drinking, passing around beers as freely as they were cranking up the heat in the sauna. As we sweated silently, the crowded sauna was steaming up with hot Swedish bodies drinking. The problem with this was? Well, we were hot, and thirsty. Everyone else had beers and we didn’t and Braveheart next to me was turning red, most probably due to being the only naked person in the room.
So the lake was the only option for cooling off. We took the plunge and the ice cold water sent me running out almost as soon as I got in. We were joined down by the lake by some of the bikini-clad sauna girls. This is where the trusty speedos were worth their weight in lycra.
I was back on the shore, while my Scottish friend was stuck waist deep in the near-freezing water, too proud to come out in his nude, shrinkaged state. Eventually, the girls hit the water too and he made a run for it and we were soon back in the warm confines of the sauna. The dip must have broken the ice because we were now in the social circle and feted with beers and conversation.
At one point I looked out the steamy window across the lake and reminded myself that I was sitting in a sauna in the remote far north of Sweden full of Swedish girls in bikinis, drinking free beer – you gotta love travel.
The moral of the story? Try anything once and pack some speedos, just in case. And maybe all Scandinavians having a sauna in the nude is right up there with Australians riding kangaroos to school in the cultural myths stakes. Also, the effects of alcohol are dramatically multiplied when consumed in a sauna – a valuable lesson that we continued to apply throughout the trip to combat the astronomical prices in these parts.

The Big Bucket

May 6th 2007 11:58
There are a lot of ‘big’ things in Australia. From the Big Banana and Pineapple to the Big Gumboot, Merino, Prawn, Cod, and so on and so on.
Australia’s ‘big’ culture has its own iconic status and is often the highlight of any road trip, along with the accompanying souvenir ruler that comes with a visit to one of these landmarks.
Of all the ‘big’ things in this big country (estimated at more than 145), some are well documented, some not so

[ Click here to read more ]

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