Playing a Sound Around the City

I’m part of a band with a group of friends. We’ve been playing our instruments for over 9 years. We first met in a bar and were discussing music, when we talked about the different instruments that we played. We thought it would be a good idea to put our talents together and start a band. Recently, we had an even more brilliant idea of having a band on wheels. We rented one of the Toronto party buses from Diamond and rode around in it with our instruments. We made stops at locations with a lot of people and started playing for everyone.

Since none of our instruments use electricity, we can play without having to rely on an amp or microphones. We have some songs that we play on our stops, but sometimes we take requests from people who want to hear their favorite song. Continue reading →

Giveways That Include a Night on a Party Bus

I was trying to think of some fun prize packages that we could give away at this winter’s company party. My husband and I started our company nearly 20 years ago, and we could not have made it where we are today without the help of all of our employees. Because of that, we always try to outdo ourselves with prizes that we give away. I started to think about things that I enjoy, and I remembered the last time I was on a Toronto party bus. It was just a few months ago, and I was on it because of a friend’s bachelorette party.

We had such fun, and I thought that might be a nice gift to give away. While we used it for her final days of being a single woman, I knew that others could use it for whatever they wanted. Continue reading →

St Augustine’s Zero Milestone – A Not-So-Spanish Old Spanish Trail

One of the things that I love about St. Augustine is the endless array of historic sites and places of interest. There are hundreds if not thousands of interesting bits of history that tourists walk by every day. Only some make an effort to learn about the things that they see. Others simply create a set of facts that sound like they know what they are talking about. I get a kick out talking to the tourists about some of these historic landmarks and listening to their theories about the things that they are seeing.

The zero milestone marker is one of the most misunderstood landmarks in St. Augustine. The marker is a six foot diameter coquina stone ball with a bronze plaque attached to it. Only the year “1928” which is inscribed on the plaque prevents the visitor from including the stone with St. Augustine’s nineteenth or eighteenth century historic lore. The plaque simply states that the monument marks the beginning of the Old Spanish Trail between St. Augustine and San Diego, California.

Many tourists conjure up a vision of Spanish missionaries and soldiers slogging their way from this marker across the United States to San Diego. The fact that the marker is dated 1928 does little to change their speculations. However, the facts are that the Old Spanish Trail did not have its origins in Spanish St. Augustine but in Mobile, Alabama. The City of Mobile developed as a French, not Spanish colony at Fort Louise de la Mobile.

In 1915, two north-south highways were planned – the Dixie and Jackson. Both highways would develop traffic from Northern tourists to Florida and New Orleans. The Jackson road was planned to cross Mississippi rather than Alabama on its route to New Orleans. As a result the Rotary Club of Mobile Alabama mounted an effort to lobby for the route to go through Alabama rather than Mississippi based on some statistics that demonstrated that although the route through Alabama was longer, more people would benefit. They were unsuccessful with their lobbying attempt the urgency to build an east-west route through Mobile became more important than ever. As a result, a plan to create an east-west highway that would link Mobile to New Orleans and Jacksonville and thereby connecting to both of the north-south highways was conceived.

The effort on the part of the Mobile Rotarians gained momentum and their objective was announced in 1915. Palmer Pillans, President of the Rotary Club promoted it as a highway that would connect cities in Florida with Mobile and the coast of California.

To enhance and romanticize the road it was called the Old Spanish Trail. Although it is true that the road would connect many Spanish initiated settlements the purpose was what today we would call marketing hype.

In any case the effort gained momentum only to be stalled by the World War I and some serious logistical problems created by natural barriers. By 1918 the project was literally dead in the water. In 1919 the Old Spanish Trial gained new life when the leadership of the product shifted to Texas. New leadership was elected. Harral B. Ayers became the Managing Director of the Old Spanish Trail Association. Beginning with the Texas routes, he worked hard and provided the leadership and political influence necessary to bring the project its fruition in 1929.

To celebrate the completion, the Old Spanish Trail Association hosed a huge party in St. Augustine where the zero mile marker was dedicated. At the conclusion of the event – a motorcade departed for a trip to San Diego. There were some who made it all the way and some who did not. However, the road continued to be promoted with all the hype that its coincidental Spanish connection could muster well into the 1960’s.

How to Drive in Branson, Missouri, Like a Local

Vacations are a time for fun, not driving hassles. Getting around the live music show town of Branson, Missouri, can be confusing and frustrating to new visitors unless they learn the layout beforehand.

The main routes have only two lanes plus a center turn lane, which are adequate much of the time. But during peak seasons, cars inch bumper-to-bumper on the main thoroughfare, known as The Strip. A 10-minute drive in non-peak times can stretch to 40 minutes or more on busy days. Branson’s peak seasons are Spring Break, summer (Memorial Day to Labor Day) and Christmas (November and December).

You can minimize the aggravation of driving in peak season when you learn the general layout of the Branson and its system of color-coded routes.

Branson Layout

The main east-west route, State Highway 76, runs west from the historic downtown along The Strip (which is lined with theaters, attractions, restaurants and lodging) toward the area’s popular theme park, Silver Dollar City. The length of The Strip is about 5 miles. Interstate 65 runs north-south between the historic downtown and The Strip. Springfield, Missouri, lies to the north and Harrison, Arkansas, to the south. Most visitors arrive in Branson via I-65.

Branson’s Color-coded Routes

Branson has four color-coded routes: the Green Route along The Strip, the Red Route along Shepherd of the Hills Expressway, the Yellow Route paralleling most of The Strip to the south, and the Blue Route just to the north of the much of The Strip.

Green Route: This is the most popular road in Branson because it runs through the popular Strip. The Green Route runs from Interstate 65, just west of downtown to West Branson. During the summer and Christmas peak seasons, especially before and after shows, traffic is bumper-to-bumper. (Typical show times are 10AM, 2PM and 8PM, and run two hours.) You can minimize your time in heavy traffic when you bypass The Strip on alternate routes and take cross streets to get to your destination.

Red Route: This is a great way to get across Branson quickly. Known as Shepherd of the Hills Expressway (until it crosses Interstate 65), the Red Route roughly parallels The Strip to the north. You’ll find several theaters and other attractions along it, especially at the west end. Much of the route winds through scenic hills covered with woods. You can also use it to go to Historic Downtown Branson and Branson Landing without getting on The Strip. Peace of mind and saving time more than compensate for some extra miles.

Yellow Route: Paralleling most of The Strip to the south, the Yellow Route runs past a combination of lodging, restaurants and attractions, as well as residential and undeveloped areas. It follows Green Mountain Drive, Wildwood Drive and Fall Creek Road. Populated with lots of timeshares and motels, a large segment of Green Mountain Drive gets its share of traffic congestion. But the route usually saves considerable driving time. If your destination is on The Strip, find the closest cross street that also intersects the Yellow Route. Your drive will be much easier. If your destination is downtown, you’ll eventually have to get on the Green Route, also known as The Strip.

Blue Route: This route runs east-west between the Green and Red Routes, and starts and finishes on The Strip. Several cross streets also connect this route with The Strip, offering faster options for getting to specific points on the popular thoroughfare. Following Roark Valley Road and the west portion of Gretna Road, most of the Blue Route winds past scenic woods, with residences hidden from view.

When you familiarize yourself with Branson’s color-coded routes and major cross streets, driving in and around Branson becomes easier, faster and pleasant.

For more than 20 years, Rose Muenker has written for both professional fulfillment and personal joy. She is an award-winning author, columnist and feature writer whose works have appeared in scores of magazines and newspapers. She is also a a writer coach and mentor who shares her talents, tips and techniques with those ready to turn their writing dream into reality.

Grand Teton National Park And The History Of The Hatchet Ranch

Located just east of the Moran Junction (entrance to Grand Teton National Park) lays an historic tract of pristine land known as The Hatchet Ranch. This extends into an east/west oriented valley known as Buffalo Valley Wyoming.

The Hatchet cattle ranch was composed of five original homesteads and was named The Hatchet Ranch because the Hatchet Brand was used on the cattle. The Hatchet Ranch was purchased in 1950 by W.B. Campbell, a Kansas oil man. In 1954 upon completion of Highway 26/287 through his ranch that connected Dubois with Moran, Mr. Campbell built a very unique long-log structure on the property adjacent to the new highway.

All of the logs for the historical buildings are lodge pole pine and were logged from the surrounding forests, now the Bridger-Teton National Forest. It was a grueling task to bring out the number of logs needed for these buildings. The logs are laid in a unique manner not seen in many structures of that time. It is called “coped.” The logs are coped out the full length of the log to fit the curvature of the log beneath it to stabilize and seal the structure for maximum protection against the elements.

The ranch land begins at the cattle guard just west of the ranger station at the base of Togwotee Pass and extends for two miles on both sides of the highway toward the Tetons. It consists of approximately 800 acres and is bounded on three sides by the Bridger-Teton National Forest and on the west by other cattle ranches. Orientation of the valley is directly on Mt. Moran just north of The Grand Teton.

The five original homesteaders were John & Lucy Shive in 1892, Mary Wadama, the mother of Lucy Shive who was over 80 years old when she homesteaded in 1911, William Dunn, Mrs. Shive’s daughter’s husband in 1915, Ben Kilky, Shive’s hired hand and Johnny Cherry, a neighboring “squatter.” Lucy Shive was a colorful character in hatchet history. She loved to go visiting, but when it came to having visitors herself, she selected them with binoculars and gun in hand. It seems trust was not a household word when it came to strangers of that era.

The ranch has continued to operate as a working ranch until this very day. You can see cattle, horses, water fowl and other wildlife along the new fences either side of the highway. It also lies within the grizzly migration route and parallels the Buffalo Fork River known for its excellent fly fishing.

The Hatchet Campground (operated by the US Forest Service), the Blackrock Ranger Station and The Hatchet Resort (associated in name only), lie east of The Hatchet Ranch. Each of these facilities guard the gateway to the Continental Divide Trail and overlook The Hatchet Ranch.

Fall Foliage Scenic Drive – Kancamagus Highway New Hampshire

You can drive the 34 miles between Lincoln and Conway on Route 112 in just about an hour. But you’d miss experiencing one of the most colorful scenic drives in the entire northeast – and some would say the U.S. for fall foliage.

Route 112, or as its better known the Kancamagus Highway, is the only road that runs directly east and west through the heart of the White Mountain National Forest. This is a dramatic road built to show off the magnificence of one of New Hampshire’s best-loved scenic spots.

During the summer and fall foliage months you’re likely to have plenty of company on your drive. But if the weather is clear who cares if the going is a little slow – this isn’t a drive to rush anyway.

You’ll find plenty of pull-offs to admire the views and take a bunch of photos if the weather cooperates. Be warned though… the White Mountains are notorious for generating their own weather, especially in the Presidential Range, where many of the peaks are above timberline.

So what will you see?

At the western end of this drive where Interstate 93 meets Route 112, lies Lincoln. The Lincoln, and close-by Cannon Mountain, areas abound in gift and specialty shops, including Clark’s Trading Post.

Lincoln is your starting point on this fall foliage scenic drive, and as you head east towards the Kancamagus Pass you’ll be climbing to 2,860 feet in the first 10 miles.

Just east of Lincoln you’ll find Loon Mountain, a ski resort by winter and a playground in the summer and fall foliage months. Loon is worth a side trip to ride the Gondola to the summit for breathtaking views, and exploring the Glacial Caves, and the summit observation tower.

Continuing east on the two-lane highway you’ll enter the Pemigewasset wilderness region of the drive. Close to Hancock Campground is the parking lot entrance to the Lincoln Woods Trail. This popular and easy trail leads into the wilderness area and makes a great excursion to view the Pemigewasset River, and the wildlife that inhabits the area.

As you head out to the Sandwich Range Wilderness Area the road offers interesting turns and views through the Kancamagus Pass. You’ll find plenty of scenic overlooks to admire the mountain ranges, especially during the vibrant fall foliage season. Autumn is a spectacular time to travel this part of the road.

Another side excursion along this stretch of the road is the Greeley Ponds Scenic Area. Located about one mile from the highway and about 9 miles east of Lincoln this is a beautiful place to have a picnic lunch, and view the two ponds and towering cliffs.

Continuing east you’ll enter the Swift River valley region. This area abounds in scenic stops, and hikes through the forest offering stunning views of the valley and mountains. The hike offering the best views is the MT. Potash hike but at 4 miles requires a few hours to appreciate fully.

For a shorter and easier hike drive to the Rocky Gorge Scenic area and take The Lovequist Loop Trail. This is about an hours walk around Falls Pond and offers fishing and a marvelous window into the beauty of the natural plants and vegetation of the region. You’ll cross the gorge formed by the Swift River over a rustic footbridge.

Back in the car you’ll drive a short distance east to the Covered Bridge and the trailhead to the Boulder Loop Trail. If you’ve been saving your energy for only one hike then this is it. At about 3 miles round trip it can take you anywhere from 2-4 hours but you’ll get outstanding photo opportunities of MT. Chocorua and the Swift River Valley. The hike itself is mostly a gradual climb with some step pitches. This is one of the more popular hikes during fall foliage season.

The last piece of the Kancamagus Highway fall foliage scenic drive takes you to the eastern end of the drive where Route 112 meets Route 16 in Conway.

Look for other articles in this series of fall foliage scenic drives. Or if you can’t wait you can pick up the complete scenic drive free report containing these and other New England scenic drives, along with detailed route coverage and attractions, at his New England vacation site.

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Flats in Borivali East and Borivali West

Borivali, a suburb located in north-western part of Mumbai, is located approximately 11 miles from the Airport and 20.8 miles from Churchgate Railway Station. This suburb was developed combining little villages known as Eksar, Kandivali and Shimpoli, situated around Mount Poinsur, between the Tulsi and Poinsur rivers.

Sanjay Gandhi National Park on the Western Express Highway (NH 8) is located in Borivali East. The park houses lions and panthers and Kanheri Caves, which is an archaeological site from the 4th century BC.

Mandapeshwar Caves, located in Borivali West are historical and are an abode to Lord Shiva. A famous landmark of Borivali West is the Gorai Creek, which connects Essel World, Water Kingdom and Global Pagoda (Vippasana).

Borivali acts as the last city-limit station for all outbound trains on Western Railway. The station is a terminus for all slow, semi-fast and fast trains on the Western Suburban Railway System.

Habitants of Borivali West reside in colonoes, such as I C Colony, Saibaba Nagar, LIC Colony and Madonna Colony. Some of the renowned builders like Shree Laxmi Developers, Eveshine Builders, Karnani Builders and Rajesh Builders are constructing new apartments in Borivali West. The average rates for flats in Borivali West are INR 8,400 PSF for a 2 BHK to INR 8,600 PSF for a 3 BHK. Rental rates range between INR 21,000 PM for a 2 BHK to INR 100,000 PM for 3 BHK costs.

Tribal people, old residents of Borivali East lived in communities known as Padas. A few places, such as Dattapada, Devipada, Kajupada and Rawalpada are reminiscent of these communities. The average price for flats in Borivali East is INR 6,900 PSF, INR 8,050 PSF and INR 8,150 PSF for 1 BHK, 2 BHK and 3 BHK respectively. Developers in Borivali East include names, such as Bhoomi Constructions, Dhanshree Developers, Ellora Builders and Evershine Builders.

Borivali boasts of good educational institutions like Saint Francis D’Assisi High School, Mary Immaculate Girls’ High School, Don Bosco High School, St Anne’s High School and St. Xavier’s High School etc. Higher educational colleges, such as Gokhale College, Anandibai Kale College, MK College, St Francis College of Engineering and St Francis Institute of Management offer residents good options to complete their studies closer to home. Healthcare infrastructure is amongst the best in Mumbai with hospitals like Bhagwati, Karuna Vibha and Mangal Murti Hospital.

Under the Municipal Town Planning Scheme, Borivali is witnessing fast and rapid infrastructure development. Operation on a partial skywalk has made commuting easier from the station. A proposed sea link to Nariman Point will soon be underway. Because of the amazing site-seeing and other attractions, various people come and visit this place for having great time in the company of their friends and family. If you are looking for more information, you can get online and get information on numerous sites. This is the best place for having fun and frolic as you will have wide range of opportunities. It is recommended to plan well in advance to have more enjoyment.

Owning Flats in Borivali East [] offer the advantage of proximity to the Airport from the NH 8 and access to the rapid infrastructure development underway. The advantages of buying Flats in Borivali West [] include the proposed sea link to Nariman Point, which is the business hub of the city, access to entertainment centres and availability of educational and health infrastructure.

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Waltz Down the Matilda Highway

The Outback can be an unforgiving place – journeys need to be planned, supply stocks need to be fueled. Care and preparation is needed, but for all the effort the rewards come tenfold. And one stretch of highway where the rewards are exceptionally high is the Matilda Highway, which runs up the length of West Queensland and is often referred to as the ‘Backbone of the Outback’. The diverse of the landscapes you pass through is complemented by the diversity of the characters and larrikins you are likely to meet in the pubs and hotels and out on the road. See billabongs, rocky gorges, and miles and miles of wide open space. Park your campervan in outback towns that tip their hats to times gone past, when the wool trade turned this region into a prosperous and bustling region despite the hardships of living here. Enjoy the real outback!

The Matilda Highway starts in Barringun, which is on the Queensland/New South Wales border, and runs for 1700 kilomtres to Karumba on the Gulf of Carpentaria, way up in the north of Queensland. We shall start in Cunnamulla, which is the first major town on the highway, and a place with a delightful old world feel to it. Established to service the large livestock ranches nearby, a drive down the main street is like stepping into a world gone by or a scene from a historical film. Pay a visit to the Robbers Tree, a large tree at the end of the street where a bank robber called Joseph Wells once hid after fleecing the town of its cash. The Warrego River runs past the town and is popular amongst fishermen and boating enthusiasts. A number of the sheep and cattle stations nearby such as Aldville Station and Charlotte Plains let you camp at the station, giving you a great taste of the outback farming lifestyle.

Continuing north you get to Charleville, the largest town in the south west of the outback region. So far the drive will have taken you through the ‘Mulga Country’ that is typified by the sparse mulga vegetation that will survive all but the worst drought. The town itself is a hardy place too, with a long history that you can best experience on the Charleville Heritage Trail which gives you the historical take on the town. Charleville is probably the best place in the world for star gazing, and at the Cosmos Centre and Observatory it seems like you can almost reach out and touch them. Dont miss paying the Corones Hotel a visit either, which has provided elegant period style accommodation since the prosperous wool era.

One spot you shouldn’t miss as you continue on your journey is the teddy bear workshop at Tambo, whose teddies have achieved something of a cult status worldwide. Made from local sheep leather and wool, they are a true outback success story and a great souvenir of your trip. You can spend some time in Tambo or continue on to Blackall, where the statue of Jackie Howe greets you on the main street. He is famous for his world record sheep shearing skills, and you are bound to hear many stories of that night in 1892 when he blade shore 321 sheep in 7 hours and 40 minutes.

Longreach will probably be your next stop over, and it is undoubtedly the biggest town you will pass through. Named because of the ‘Long Reach’ of the Thompson River on which it sits, it is home to such landmarks as the Stockman’s Hall of Fame (which has recently undergone large renovations, and provides unparalleled historical insights into the outback) and to the Qantas Founders Outback Museum. This museum is a tribute to the efforts of those who overcame the problems of long distance travel in the outback, and is a popular means of exploring the history of our aviation industry.

You cannot traverse the Matilda Highway and not call in at Winton, the spot where Banjo Patterson conceived his infamous ‘Waltzing Matilda’ song. At the Waltzing Matilda Centre you can explore the life of the famous poet and the legend of the song for which he is best remembered. Its definitely worth a look. Another attraction that is worth your time is the Lark Quarry Dinosaur Trackway, which you need to take a one hour detour off the highway to get to. It is believed to be the world’s only preserved dinosaur stampede, and that reason alone makes the extra distance seem not so bad!

The town of Cloncurry was once one of the earliest bastions of wealth in the outback, having profited from the rich copper deposits under the earth here. Its known as ‘The Friendly Heart of the North West’ and there are a number of sheep and cattle farms nearby that use it as a sales point. You are sure to be entertained by some colourful characters!The town is at a crossroads, and you can continue north along the Matilda Highway into the Far Reaches of Queensland and the towns of Normanton and Karumba, where the highway ends, or you can head east or west along the Overlanders Way. Whichever way you choose, more of the beauty and wonders of outback Australia await you on your motorhome adventures!

Gavin Wyatt is a journalist with a passion for travel. originally from Zambia he has traveled around the world to end up on the sunny shores of Australia. For more of his articles visit Discovery Campervans

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Grand Cayman Beaches – East Or West, All Are Best!

My tour of Grand Cayman beaches begins at the north-west tip of the island, in West End, and wanders down to the south coast, then along the road to East End before turning back north and west to the end of the road at Rum Point.

Barkers National Park

Barkers National Park: Has some beautiful beaches, unspoiled by crowds or fast food litter. There’s a price to pay, of course, and that’s the lack of amenities, apart from a few BBQ pits and picnic tables, you’re on your own here. You’ll need transport to get to Barkers but it’s worth it for the tranquility, even on many weekends.

The West End

Of all the Grand Cayman beaches, Seven Mile Beach is the big one. This is where it all happens. The sand is a fine, almost white powder, the water’s shallow, and there’s all the activities people want from a Caribbean vacation. Seven Mile Beach is where you find

parasailing, helicopter rides, jet-skis, tubing, and the usual fast food restaurants to satisfy picky kids (of all ages). Although it’s huge, Seven Mile Beach is mainly given over to resorts so for locals or those staying elsewhere it includes a number of public beaches, like ‘Public Beach’ off West Bay road, right next to Marriott Courtyard and Calico Jacks. It’s a busy beach with plenty of amenities, such as BBQ pits, cabanas, a playground for kids, and washrooms. Then there’s ‘Cemetery Beach’, which may not sound too inviting (I can’t imagine an Ad Agency coming up with the name) but it’s a great beach for snorkeling. It’s also a great beach, with trees for shade and picnic tables to make your stay more pleasant. It’s at the north end of seven mile beach, further away from the big hotels, but it has everything the more mature beachgoer needs; shade, picnic benches, and great snorkeling. Public access is also from West Bay Road.

Below George Town, off South Sound Road, are a number of small beaches, though the water is too weedy for comfortable swimming. Heading east along the south of the island, brings you to small sandy beaches at Breakers, Cottage, or even quieter spots like Half Moon Bay and White Sand Bay. At the aptly named village of Breakers, the beach is quiet but the sea isn’t. There’s no offshore reef to calm the waves here so even on sunny, pleasant days, they roll in all the way from the Atlantic and send spray flying onto the road.

Another place the waves sweep right onto the beach is a little farther east at Frank Sound, a rocky beach of bare, sharp ironshore. Not a traditional beach, in the sense of sunbathing or swimming, but it’s an interesting spot if you like rocky beaches and the creatures that go with them. Frank Sound also has the ‘world famous’ (world famous all over Grand Cayman, anyhow) blowholes. These are natural fissures in the ironshore that squirt water high into the air when the waves crash against the shore. This is a place to contemplate nature rather than work on your tan.

Grand Cayman’s East End beaches are the place for chillin’ — with the exception of the resort beaches where you have everything you want and more. East End Resorts, such as Morritts Grand or Tortuga and The Reef at Colliers Bay, have fine beaches and they’re surprisingly quiet and unpopulated. Resort people come in two types — beach folk and pool folk, and there are lots more pool folk — so even big resorts at the height of the season have idyllic beaches that don’t crowd you. Staying at Morritts gave us ample opportunity to walk and paddle along beautiful East End beaches that didn’t seem to have names but did have white sand, warm shallow water and nobody but us enjoying them. The tranquility at the East End of the island is amazing when you consider how small the island is and how many visitors it gets each year.

Continuing along the Queen’s Highway and North Side Road takes you past many more secluded, empty beaches where you can own the sand for the day. We never saw anyone on some of them. For us, it was like being Adam and Eve on vacation. Stay near Old Man Bay and you can have lunch or dinner at the excellent beachside BBQ there.

If you want more water sports, the end of the road brings you to two more Grand Cayman beaches, Rum Point and Cayman Kai. Rum Point is a public beach with golden sand, warm shallow water, trees to provide shade, a rocky point so safe even children can snorkel round safely, and an excellent, very reasonably priced, beach restaurant, the Wreck Bar. Of all the Grand Cayman beaches, we liked Rum Point best. We didn’t recognize it as a public beach the first time we saw it because it looked so much like a resort. Once we got over that we found it a great place to go. Boats or jet-skis can be rented from the Red Sail Sports shop on site, as well as trips on the catamaran and the glass-bottom boat.

Cayman Kai is a small public beach with a playground for the kids, BBQ pits and picnic tables. Like the busier Rum Point across the road, it’s popular with locals as well as visitors.

At Cayman Kai, we’ve come to the end of the tour. Only North Sound, the big bay that looks like a shark-bite, stands between us and our starting point at Barkers, which we can see from here because it’s always a clear day on Grand Cayman’s beaches.

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A New and Popular Travel Destination – The Middle East

Once called the Middle East, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon and Israel have become popular travel destinations. Visited by themselves or in combination, most travelers return satisfied and surprised by their travel experience. For many, they have been on a truly remarkable holiday with a difference. So why is this so? To best answer this, we need to know a little more about these countries and how to travel to and within them.

*How to get there

Most travelers come by air. The national capitals of Damascus, Amman, Beirut and Tel Aviv all have international airports that are serviced by a range of international and Middle Eastern carriers. Both bus and private car travel is possible between most of the countries. Generally these are via a number of single crossing points like Syria-Lebanon and Syria-Jordan (at DerĂ¡ on the new highway that links the two countries). Land routes exist to bordering countries. Land travel into/from Israel is more restricted. The most common point of entry is via the King Hussein (Allenby) Bridge from Jordan. Syria has a somewhat dated rail network. Some services only run weekly but those on the popular central routes operate several services each day.

*How to get around

Trains, buses and taxi’s form the centerpiece of Middle Eastern travel services. Car hire with a guide is provided by many local tourist operators. They generally are cost effective and worth considering. Use Google to find them and always ask for (and check) references. Most will require half of the booking fee wired to them before they will confirm the bookings. A number of international companies including the overland companies offer tours. Again check with Google. A number of universities offer summer archaeological digs. Many of these are fee based and no experience is required.

*When to go

The Middle East enjoys a Mediterranean climate but the summers are hot and the winters cold, especially in the north. March to May is the best time to visit. Those who want to soak up the sun will find the coastal areas mid summer comfortable as temperatures are often influenced by cooler coastal breezes. The area suffers from winter rainfall that can make sightseeing difficult and snow covers the mountains between Lebanon and Syria mid winter.

*The Countries

Syria – Syria is modern, easy to travel in and relatively safe. It’s affordable if you keep away from the more expensive five star international hotels. It has a myriad of charms with excellent food, breathtaking scenery, tons of places of historic interest and friendly people. English is generally spoken in most hotels and markets in the major centers. Damascus is the major attraction with its wonderful markets and historic mosques and palaces. The Umayyad Mosque and the nearby mausoleum of Saladin (one of the greatest heroes of Arab’s history), are a “must see”. Plan a couple of days to enjoy Damascus. Consider at staying in one of the renovated boutique hotels that have sprung up in the past ten years. Many of these are ancient palaces in the Old City and are well worth the little extra cost. Do take the time to drive out to Palmyra for the site of the city that built to rival Rome. Homs with its water wheels in on the road to Apamea. This has an avenue of two kilometers of granite columns. Both are worth visiting and are part of 20 or more major archaeological sites that can be visited by tourists. Wandering around ruins of forts, mosques, churches and palaces provides a wonderful insight into what life was like two thousand years ago. Looping back towards Damascus is the most famous of the Crusader castles, Krak des Chevaliers. It is remarkably intact and it will be enjoyed by castle enthusiasts.

Jordan – Jordan has a huge selection of fascinating history to offer the tourists. It is steeped in the history of the Old Testament. The ancient cities of Petra and Jerash date back to Roman times when they were great trading cities along the Silk Road. Jerash is the “Pompeii of the East” and needs a little background reading to fully appreciate the historic context of the site. Take your time to explore it; you are walking through centuries of history. Although Amman is the relatively modern capital of Jordan, you’ll find the satellite city of Salt with its narrow streets and quaint houses is worth the visit. Jordan has a fascinating history of craft, Bedouin weaving, embroidery, pottery and ceramics, jewellery and glassblowing. These crafts are still very much part of Jordanian life today. The Bedouin hospitality and wonderful local cuisine is legendary.

Driving south from Amman you’ll find the now spreading town of Petra. To walk down the half mile long suq, you will be surprised by the beauty of the pink stone Treasury at the entrance of the old city of Petra. It will take your breath away. Read about Johann Ludwig Burckhardt, who discovered Petra in 1812, before you go. His is indeed an amazing story. South of Petra is the now modern port of Aqaba made famous by Lawrence of Arabia. West of here you’ll find Wadi Rum where the film of Lawrence’s war-time exploits was made. Here, an option is to stay with the Bedouins in their cloth covered black tents. They are remarkably comfortable. Take a camel ride out to the secret camp where Lawrence planned his desert campaigns. You might return a little saddle sore but you will have really “ridden” in the footsteps of history.

Lebanon – Lebanon is a relatively small country. The highlights are generally along the coast. Here is the colorful coastal town of Byblos and further north is the ancient Crusader city of Tripoli with it’s interesting souqs (markets), mosques and hammams (baths). Turning inland, you will pass through the picturesque villages of the Qadisha Valley, through the Cedars and on to historic Baalbeck which has magnificent Roman ruins said by some to be the best preserved in the world, The route continues through the vineyards at Bekaa and then Umayyad ruins of Aanjar. Nearby is the charming village of Deiral-Qamar and the Beiteddine palace with its wonderful gardens.

Israel – Don’t ignore Israel as a possible travel destination. Access difficulties can be overcome by careful planning or with the help of an experienced travel operator. It’s the Holy Land and steeped in history. Most visitors head for Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Jericho but there lots of little know archaeological sites like the old Roman capital of Galilee called Tzipori. In Jerusalem, the old City of David, The Citadel and Church of the Holy Sepulcher with the nearby Wailing Wall, draws the most tourists. What is believed to be the oldest church in the world is in Bethlehem. A silver star marks the place where it is believed that Christ was born.

Some tourists choose to visit the Dead Sea. It is off Highway 90 west of Jerusalem. Personally, although unique, I think that it is overrated. Those with more time might consider visiting Qumran where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found. Further a field you’ll find Masada with its spectacular ruined fortress.

Take care in Israel photographing or showing interest in border and military installations or personnel. You’ll get used the very obvious security presence.


All these countries have different visa requirements. Generally Israel does not require a visa for most western countries. Tourists are allowed a stay of up to 90 days. However, it is necessary to avoid getting your passport stamped upon entry or exit as this causes problems of entry into Lebanon and Syria. Ask the border officials to stamp your entry permit instead. Better still, put Israel last on your itinerary. Jordanian visas can be obtained upon arrival at the airport and at most border crossings. It is best to get Syrian visas in advance. USA, most EU, Australian, Canadian and New Zealand passport holders can get a visa to enter Lebanon at the border. Jordan allows entry/exit to Israel via the King Hussein (Allenby) Bridge without a multi-entry visa.


The countries of the Middle East are attractive and exciting travel destinations. The people that you’ll meet are friendly and if your leave politics aside, you’ll have a very enjoyable travel experience. Middle eastern cooking is a highlight and in all countries you’ll find an amazing array of low cost local restaurants. Try the local beers and wines and few of the specialized drinks like Arak (Lion’s milk) which is commonly served with mezze. Talk to your travel agent or check out travel sites on Google. You are guaranteed to have a holiday of lifetime.

The author was in the Middle East in 1986 and Syria and Jordan in 2007. You can read about his fascinating journey in his book Following Marco Polo’s Silk Road. It will make a great Christmas present for someone who loves traveling.

The author was born in UK, brought up in South Africa, married in London to a New Zealander and now lives in Sydney, Australia. He has travelled to more than 70 countries and is the author of a book that describes his travels along the Silk Road called Following Marco Polo’s Silk Road.

Brian lives in Sydney, Australia

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