Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Iconic budget hotel plans refurb - Nefertiti Hotel, Luxor

Anyone backpacking around Egypt's Nile Valley during the 60s more than likely stayed at the Nefertiti. It was the first budget hotel in town and one that pre-dates the up market, up scale Winter Palace. But returning visitors will soon notice a change to their favourite rest stop's decor, although thankfully not its understated demeanour.

Owner Aladin Al-Sahaby told me of his plans to bring a fresh lick of boutique-style paint to his well-loved, but increasingly weary, four storey establishment. Working alongside a Dr. of Fine Arts, Aladin plans to siphon the energy and colour of Luxor into all of the hotel's public spaces, including the street restaurant and rooftop terrace. Aladin's enthusiasm for the project stems from a personal passion for interior decoration and an aversion to the staid surroundings found in chain style hotels the world over.

'Visitors come to Luxor in search of culture. The refurbished Nefertiti will provide an authentic experience that begins in your own hotel room.'

On the subject of investment, Aladin admits that this project is motivated by adding to the hotel's rich heritage, rather than making huge profits. The Nefertiti will remain a cheap sleep because Aladin enjoys the personalities of his backpacker residents. He just wants to make it stand out from a growing crowd of budget options.

New balcony's, stone flooring and a glass fence around the rooftop terrace - to maximise the hotel's views of Luxor Temple - were mentioned. Renovation work should begin next month, a floor at a time. Work could be completed by the end of summer 2009. Double rooms are planned to cost 100-120 EGP per night (currently 80/90)
Read more!

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

Communicarta Public Transport Maps - as used in Porto, Portugal

Make the most of a great local bus route, following the course of the River Douro all the way to Porto’s Atlantic coastline. Use Communicarta public transport maps

“Whilst you’re here, why not take the number 500 straight to the Atlantic coast?” That sounded far too good a suggestion to ignore, but also a little too good to be true. Could escaping Porto’s steep cobbled streets and marauding trams, and swapping them for crashing surf, really be as easy as flagging down a local bus? Or would I find myself stranded on a deserted suburban street corner kicking myself for believing what turned out to be just a rose-tinted travel tip?

Rose-tinted or not, I was sold. The thought of an invigorating walk along the sands in springtime, followed by a strong coffee overlooking the breakers was impossible to resist. And like most travellers, I like nothing more than setting off on urban adventures with just a public transport map for guidance. But first things first. Gripped by an urge to back up my guidebook with ‘the official’ local transport map, I headed for the nearest tourist office.

Twenty minutes of striding uphill followed by confused backtracking downhill, two blank-faced travel agents and one inside-out umbrella later, I made it to the tourist office at Porto’s Cathedral. Had I resisted that urge to find the official map, I’d already have been sat on the number 500 bus approaching surf central. Nevertheless, I reminded myself that this official map was my cartographical safety net. It would surely save me any more wasted time, trouble or angst later in the day. So at last, armed with the tourist office’s Mapa Intermodal, my guidebook and a Porto Card, I headed to the bus stop opposite the city’s São Bento train station.

It’s fair to sum up Porto's weather in early February as changeable. It can switch from soaking torrential downpours to gloriously blue, sunny skies in a matter of ten or so minutes. Unfortunately, my walk to the bus stop had coincided with the day’s latest downpour.

Cue the number 500. The modern, single story bus pulled up and filled up fast. Porto Card validated and window seat spotted, I slid into sightseeing position next to a local man who was weighed down by his saturated coat and a dripping umbrella. In such soggy elbow to elbow proximity as this, unfolding the A1-sized official map was as achievable and appropriate as unfurling a two-man tent. So, surprised by the bus’s stealth, wet and not wanting to lose my bearings, I scrambled for my guidebook. It contained a Communicarta map to Porto’s tram, metro and bus systems. Fitting neatly on a single page of the pocket-sized guide, it was much handier than the Mapa Intermodal.

The 500 bus took its scenic route downhill through the Ribeira district, Porto’s very own UNESCO World Heritage Site where ornately tiled and balcony bedecked six-story buildings cram into the streets, side by side. Soon it turned onto the riverside road to follow the Douro’s path as it widened out into the ocean. Flying past stops for Miragaia, Alfândega and the Museu Vinho Porto, it was obvious how user-friendly Porto’s buses are. Not only were the names of fast-approaching stops displayed on an electronic board beside the driver’s cab, they were also simultaneously announced by a chirpy recorded voice.

At the ninth stop, ‘Próxima paragem, Bicalho’ flashed up in red letters and was announced loud and clear in Portuguese. It’s failsafe. Whether you see or hear the name of your stop, there’s plenty of time to ring the bell and get off where you need to, rather than craning for a view and taking your best guess before scrambling for the doors.

Communicarta’s palm-sized transport map had plotted the names of each and every bus stop along the 500’s route. The tenth stop on their map is the Ponte da Arrábida, once the largest concrete bridge in the world. This was definitely a photo opportunity worth taking. Number 500s run from the city out towards the coast roughly every twenty minutes. That’s frequent enough to hop off the bus and capture the bridge in all its structural glory, before carrying onwards to the mouth of the Douro. Unhelpfully, the Ponte da Arrábida bus stop, along with those for several other points of interest, is not plotted on the tourist office’s Mapa Intermodal.

My guidebook’s map had also plotted – as stop number eighteen – Castelo da Foz. This was where I’d intended to swap public transport for my trainers, and walk along the coastal road towards the sands of Praia dos Ingleses. When the time came, Communicarta’s map coincided perfectly with the bus’s audio and visual announcement of, ‘‘Próxima paragem, Castelo da Foz.’ I was well and truly primed to ping the bell.

By the time I arrived in Foz, the rain was replaced again by those perfectly blue skies. Crossing over the road from the bus stop and cutting through a lush palm tree-lined park brought me onto Avenida D. Carlos I. Here the Douro empties out into the ocean. In contrast to the smooth surface of the river, the Atlantic’s waves rhythmically erupted in bright white foam as they battered the Foz do Douro Breakwater. Away to the left along Avenida D. Carlos I and beyond the imposing lines of Foz’s concrete, lighthouse-tipped pier, were the beaches. I’d made it to the Atlantic in no time at all and without transport snags.

In the near distance, along the first stretch of beach where the sand mixed with sea-swept rocks, was the dramatically set Restaurant Shis. Dark wooden terracing wrapped around this restaurant that overhangs the sand. The terrace is furnished with white tables, sofas and umbrellas, giving Shis a neutral minimalism suited to the tanned, beautiful people who drape themselves there in summertime. Fashionable outdoors and in, chic Shis serves up contemporary versions of oriental and European dishes along with uninterrupted sea views. It is open daily from 12 noon until 1am.

Walking further along Avenida D. Carlos I and rounding the road into Rua Coronel Raúl Peres, brought more expansive horizons and larger, darker rocks smoothed and shined by the waves. Café Praia dos Ingleses dominated this stretch of coastal road, and it called me in for coffee. Wooden steps led down onto a spacious decked terrace filled with white, unfussy tables and chairs. The sense of being at one with the waves was wonderfully tangible.

Indoors it also hit the laid-back surf atmosphere right on the head. The same unfussy tables and chairs filled half of the room, giving way to squidgy orange and brown leather beanbags set around low, dark wood coffee tables. Could there be a better place to spend the day working at a laptop or watching the turning of the tide through the café’s floor to ceiling windows?

For casual chilled out, beachside appeal, Café Praia dos Ingleses definitely fitted the bill. The music playing was unobtrusively ambient and the customers were totally at ease, gazing out of the windows and sipping hot or cold drinks. It was also impossible to imagine the young, friendly waiting staff that stood staring at the hypnotic rise and fall of the ocean, ever getting into a flap. My small coffee was cheap at €1, and satisfyingly strong. And the WIFI was free.

February rain returned abruptly, pelting and streaming down the sheet glass windows. Too laid back on my beanbag to bother unfurling and spreading out the official map that was buried in my rucksack, I planned my journey back upriver to central Porto using Communicarta’s map. This version had already proved itself to be user-friendly and comprehensive, so why would I want to disrupt my chilled, surfside mood by confusing myself with the official map?

As I reached for my guidebook and plotted my combined bus and vintage tram journey home, it was obvious that Communicarta’s transport map was the only cartographical safety net that I needed. And I decided that there was nothing at all rose-tinted about taking the Number 500 bus to the Atlantic. It really was as good a plan as it had first appeared.

Trip logistics
I travelled to Porto from London Stansted with RyanAir, stayed at the Rivoli Cinema Hostel and used the Communicarta transport map that is featured in Thomas Cook’s CitySpots Porto guide.

Read more!

Friday, 3 April 2009

Spreading Love for Lanzarote -

A warm Sandwagon welcome to Nick Ball, editor of Lanzaroteguidebook who lives on the island, in Tabayesco village. I'm happy to share Nick's article in an effort to help Lanzaroteguide's cause - inspiring travellers to visit and explore this uniquely beautiful Spanish island.

LanzaroteCésars' Empire by Nick Ball

Lanzarote in the Canary Islands, is best known as a bucket and spade beach destination. This small speck of Spain, located just off the coast of West Africa, attracts around 1.5 million foreign tourists every year(the majority of them from the UK)thanks to a clement year round climate and over ninety beaches.

But despite its enormous popularity Lanzarote still remains largely unspoiled – thanks to the work of a locally born artist and architect called Cesar Manrique.

Back in the 1730s around a quarter of the island’s surface area was submerged beneath a sea of lava, following intense volcanic eruptions which lasted for six years.

Fast forward to the 1960s and the island faced another type of burial – this time beneath a sea of concrete. As property developers and hotel chains eyed Lanzarote greedily. Package tourism was just starting to take off in Spain under the protection of General Franco and swathes of the Spanish coastline were starting to disappear – to be replaced by high-rise hotels and apartment complexes.

At this time, Manrique was studying and exhibiting in New York, where he was rubbing shoulders with contemporaries such as Andy Warhol and the Factory crowd. But by 1968 he resolved to return to Lanzarote instead – determined to fight for the island of his birth.

“Those of us born to you, Lanzarote, those of us who know about your magic, your wisdom, the secrets of your volcanic structure, your revolutionary aesthetics, those who have fought to rescue you from your enforced historical isolation and the poverty which you have always suffered, begin to tremble with fear as we see how you are destroyed and submitted to massification.”

The artist was already an influential figure in his own right on the island. But his trump card lay in the fact that his family enjoyed a close relationship with the governor of the island, Pepin Ramirez. Who shared many of Manrique’s fears about the advent of package tourism.

Together the pair successfully secured a ban on all high rise construction on the island. Meaning that only edifices no taller than a Canarian palm tree could be built. They also successfully secured the outlawing of advertising hoardings. Leaving Lanzarote largely as nature intended.

Manrique´s other master stroke was to create alternative tourist attractions to the eco-unfriendly water parks and golf courses that were favoured in most other Spanish sunspots at this time. Instead he resolved to “fuse art with nature” by uniting his own artistic aesthetic with the islands raw, volcanic scenery.

Initially, most locals thought we was nuts. What was he going to do with a mound of rocks? They soon changed their tune, however, when Manrique unveiled his first creation – the Jameos del Agua – the conversion of an underground volcanic tunnel into a breathtaking auditorium and grotto. Two years later he then built his own house and studio from five volcanic bubbles.

Manrique´s work rapidly garnered awards plaudits in the world of international architecture and this in turn started to attract some of the highest profile film stars of the day – such as Petter Sellers, Omar Sharif and Rita Heyworth – to this novel new holiday destination.

Thanks to Manrique, Lanzarote went on to be declared a UNESCO protected biosphere in 1994 – the first island in the world to enjoy such status. His creations are still the most popular tourist attractions on the island today.

About lanzaroteguidebook

Lanzaroteguide was set up to provide quality, original information about the island of Lanzarote for visitors and residents alike. It is written from the perspective of people who live, work and bring up children there.

Unlike many holiday based destination websites all of the articles featured are researched and written by the site's creators.
Read more!

Wednesday, 1 April 2009

Side Trips in #TravelTwitterLand - Tidal Bore Rafting

When does Twitter come into its own for travel lovers?
When it breeds diversity. Twitter makes comment free and available to everyone, which makes self-promotion a level playing field rather than one dominated by the highest bidder. For example, Expedia's Tweets carry no more weight on Twitter than those from authentic experiences site Tourdust. Not only are advertising hierarchies broken down, so too are those of travel journalism and publishing. In Twitter Land, travel articles published by Guardian Travel stand side by side with those from The Travel Tart. Such equality in advertising and publishing breeds diversity and with that comes an infinite stream of new travel stimuli and travelling options.

A Side Trip in #Travel Twitter Land took me to Tidal Bore Rafting, Nova Scotia, Eastern Canada
It's highly probable that even without Twitter I would have eventually stumbled across this long established rafting company set on the Shubenacadie River. A commissioned author writing about adventure travel holidays may have featured it in my Sunday newspaper's travel supplement, or perhaps Tidal Bore would have made it into the Sports or Accommodation listings of the guidebook that I'll one day lug around Eastern Canada.

But as it happened on Twitter, Tidal Bore followed Sandwagon, Sandwagon checked out Tidal Bore. I read all about them on their website, flicked through images of their wooden Rafters Ridge Cottages (overlooking the Shubenacadie River). Five minutes later I was left pondering the possibility of staying with them as soon as possible, to raft the world's highest tidal bores.

Who are Tidal Bore?
The original rafting company on the Shubenacadie river, Tidal Bore Rafting Park & Cottages have more than 25 years experience of riding the waves on this unique tidal river.They have thirteen cottages situated over 180 acres of peaceful riverside land.

What makes bores so exciting?
Every 12 hours a tidal bore forms in the Bay of Fundy as the tide enters the Bay and moves up river. The force of the incoming tide stops the river in its tracks and reverses it almost 40 km backwards. The bore gathers height and strength as it nears the head of the Bay and enters the Shubenacadie River at Maitland. It can speed up to 12km an hour and you'll hear it before you see it.

Rafting adventures are offered from May 1st to October 31st. The cottages are open all year round.

Follow Tidal Bore at Twitter
Visit their website

Tidal Bore have been Tweeting away on subjects like these
Nova Scotia has one of the largest populations of Bald Eagles in the world. Many nest along the Shubenacadie River

Riding the Tidal Bore in Brazil. The longest wave in the world.

Did you know approximately 100 billion tons of seawater flows in and out of the Bay of Fundy twice a day?

Do you have any inspiring side trips in #TravelTwitterLand to share?
Read more!