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Favourite Travel Experiences of the Month #38 – August 2014

Greetings! We are hope you are having an awesome summer thus far, we certainly are. The Not Just a Holiday team have been on trips to Munich, Chicago and Vancouver alone in the past few weeks and are busy planning future travels for August and beyond!

This month we continue to feature a range of summer based articles, including exploring the Alps highlight’s, and America’s top 10 ice cream parlors. In addition we look at how to manage phone costs when abroad, five reasons to go to Zimbabwe, and Ryanair’s improving customer service.

In the second half of this months post we adopt an ‘escape / wilderness’ theme featuring trekking in the Bhutanese mountains, hotels that cant be reached by road, and the beautiful Scottish highlands. We then conclude with our holiday of the month; Bled, Slovenia. A stunning destination that is much more accessible than you may have considered, read why it should be your getaway this summer.

Firstly, enjoy our top ten travel experiences of the month:

Victoria FallsPhoto courtesy of Christiann Triebert.

1. Zimbabwe has long been on our list of must-visit destinations, Rough Guide’s five reasons to go to Zimbabwe reminded us why! It’s not just about the Victoria Falls; the wildlife and ancient architecture are sublime.

2. If you don’t have any summer trips planned just yet, consider the Alps for a vacation. The Guardian put together a neat guide on the area’s highlights for the summer months, showing you can have just as much fun as in winter in the Alps!

3.  When we travel, one of our favoured indulgences is fine ice-cream, it is one of the few things we like to regularly splash out on. Trip Advisor kindly compiled America’s top 10 Ice Cream parlors in time for our American road trip. We will attempt to make it to at least 5 over the duration of the summer!

4. If you are a budget traveler in Europe, chances are you have flown Ryanair at some stage, an experience that took ‘no frills’ to an extreme. The Independent reports Ryanair has ‘turned on the charm offensive’ with a new campaign to promote its improved customer service, it might be time to add Ryanair back to your travel resource list!

5. Since featuring Den Haag as our holiday of the month back in February 2013, we have been keen to return. CNN Travel’s 7 reason’s to visit The Hague reminded us why, hopefully it will inspire you to visit the royal Dutch city.

BhutanPhoto courtesy of Kartlasarn.

6. The hidden kingdom of Bhutan is one of the least discovered nations in terms of tourism, kept so by their strict entry regulations. Once you are in, you will appreciate why they want to protect this fascinating land and you will have plenty of space to explore, away from typical Himalayan tourist meccas such as Kathmandu. Taking a trek into the foothills of the Himalayas in search of the tiger trail is an excellent way to see this magical country.

7. The perfect getaway hotels are usually those most remote, Lonely Planet has found an extreme end to this market; hotels that can’t be reached by road! Access varies from train rides in Hungary, by foot in Nepal or speedboat in India; these are hotels that really allow you to escape!

8. Similarly, the Scottish Highlands can provide a wonderful escape into the wilderness and late summer can provide some of the finest weather to visit with. Hundreds of miles of trails and national parks provide a prefect location to lose yourself in!

9. The Ukraine’s tenure in world news has been overwhelmingly negative in the past 12 months, understandably so. However potential travelers should not be dissuaded from an excursion to the Ukraine as plenty of the country is adequately safe, as The Washington Post reports.

10. Managing your phone abroad can often be a costly affair. National Geographic compiled a helpful guide on how to pay less to phone home on your travels, could save you a few dollars!

Holiday of the Month – Bled, Slovenia

Situated in Slovenia’s northwest Bled is less than an hour from Ljubljana, the Slovene capital. Tucked just under the Karavank mountain range bordering Austria and less than an hour from the Italian border, Bled is easily accessible from all directions, something reflected by its popularity. Although it is a prominent destination year-round, the summer is the best time to enjoy it’s most famous attraction; Lake Bled. Locals and visitors alike take to the water to enjoy the lakes beauty or to trip to the Assumption of Mary Pilgrimage Church which occupies the small island in the centre of the lake. From any shore of the lake the views are spectacular, with hills providing natural vantage points. However a trip up to Bled Castle is worth the entrance fee for the views alone. Historically it’s the oldest building in Bled and allegedly the oldest castle in Slovenia, dating back to the 11th century.

The town itself has a bustling centre, especially in the high tourist months, but the surrounding outskirts can provide a tranquil setting for a calmer Bled experience. Following the road north of the town towards the Vintgar Gorge there is an array of smaller accommodation allowing for a more localised feel. The Vintgar Gorge itself is an absolute must-see, the Radovna river winds its way through this intricate canyon accompanied by a series of walkways and platforms above the miniature waterfalls and rapids. At under an hours walk to the start of the gorge from central Bled, it makes for an excellent day trip.

Bled, SloveniaPhoto courtesy of jsouthorn.

Favourite Travel Experiences of the Month #37 – July 2014

In this months blog post from the Not Just a Holiday team we scour through the world of travel news to find our top ten travel articles from the month gone by. We take a look at the worlds most remote airports, Croatia on a budget, and a fascinating post on buzzfeed listing 20 spots to see in Colorado, one of our favourite states.

Also featured this month includes; family vacations on Greek islands, world food in Sao Paulo and Paul Salopek’s 780 mile journey through the Hejaz desert in Saudi Arabia.

We conclude with our holiday of the month; Austin, Texas. A creative city with a liberal feel that seems somewhat out of place in Texas.

First, enjoy our top ten travel experiences of the past month:

 gotg1Photo courtesy of snowpeaks.

1. A great buzzfeed article caught our eye recently; 20 Colorado place that will take your breath away. It was especially appealing to us as we are off to Colorado this month to explore the beauty!

2. The world’s most remote airports compiled by Lonely Planet is a thrilling read, with Nepalese airports on mountain sides and runways made of ice in Antarctica; you are guaranteed to gasp at the thought of landing at one of these!

3. The World Cup is still under way in Brazil and has been dominating media across the globe throughout June. Some of the more interesting articles to emerge include Rough Guides’ article on searching across Sao Paulo for cuisines from nations playing in the World Cup. From Spanish tapas to Japanese sushi, there is plenty to keep world cup revelers busy in Sao Paulo.

4. Summer is in full swing and soon kids across Europe will finishing school for the summer break. The Guardian lists 10 top family vacations on Greek islands for families to discover over the next few months. Some are obvious such as Crete and Corfu but there are also some hidden gems to be found.

5. National Geographic recently featured an article on Paul Salopek’s 780 mile journey through the Hejaz desert in Saudi Arabia. Salopek has become one of the first travelers in a century to make this journey – this truly is traveling in it’s epic extreme end!

Sheikh Zayed Grand MosquePhoto courtesy of M. Khatib.

6. Trip Advisor named their top 25 rated landmarks in 2014 from around the world. Whilst many are familiar names such as Angkor Wat, Machu Picchu and the Lincoln Memorial making the top 15. There were a few surprises with the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi grabbing the #2 spot!

7. Over the past decade, Croatia has strongly emerged as a top destination for a Mediterranean trip and with their accession into the EU a year ago this has only strengthened. Thus a cheap trip to Croatia is a lot harder to come by than at the turn of the century. Rough Guides feature an article of where to stay in Croatia on a budget, worth a read if you are considering a trip!

8. Thanks to NY Times, we now know that there is a bustling art scene on the coast of Uruguay! The article depicts a variation of different galleries and street art that show the region to be a mecca for the arts.

9. Our favourite Trip Advisor compilation from the last month was their ‘14 natural swimming pools‘ from around the globe. Havasu Falls in Arizona and Nanda Blue Hole in Vanuatu particularly caught our collective eye!

10. An interesting read to conclude from Stephanie Dandan via the Huffington Post on ‘the truth about travelers - why we travel’. We shall say no more, give it a read.

Holiday of the Month – Austin, TX

Very much an anomaly in Texas, the city of Austin is a liberal oasis amongst a traditionally conservative state. This has seen the city grow rapidly in the last 30 years and in turn become a popular destination for visitors from across the States and beyond. Known for it’s vibrant and alternative music scene, Austin is home to arguably the globes best festival for new music, SWSX – pronounced south by south west. This has helped put Austin on the map musically with tourists and visitors alike frequenting the bars along 6th St and Red River St in downtown Austin. However Austin has a lot more to offer than just music fans. Arts in general is prominent across the city, it is home to several alternative galleries and independent cinemas for instance.

Barton Springs provides an awesome natural escape minutes from the city. Fed by natural spring water, it’s a great spot to cool off from the often harsh Austin heat. It is also close by to the bohemian South Congress district home to countless independent stores, bars and the food trucks Austin is known for. Congress St is also home to one of the stranger attraction Austin has become infamous for, the largest urban bat colony in the US. During the summer months they can be seen flying from under the bridge at dusk in their thousands, a unique sight in such an urban location.

austin1Photo courtesy of Charles Henry.

Favourite Travel Experiences of the Month #36 – June 2014

June is almost upon us, meaning we can finally report on summer themed articles without feeling guilty! The days have grown longer in the Northern Hemisphere and the everyone is firmly fixated on their summer holidays, as are we! This month we look at articles covering; The best summer trips for 2014,  European music festivals, 7 of the riskiest roads to drive this summer, as well as closer to home; UK’s top 10 hidden beaches.

It is of course the start of the soccer World Cup in Brazil, it would be wrong for us to not incorporate this at some point. We look at Manaus, Brazil’s 7th largest city and see what else it has to offer on top of the 4 World Cup group matches this summer. Also featured; is it safe to travel to Thailand?, tourism in Oman, and a suitcase scooter!

Here are our top 10 travel articles from the month gone by:

LofotenPhoto courtesy of Wizkamp.

1. National Geographic provide an excellent summer focus with an article featuring The Best Summer Trips for 2014. Whether it be cruising through Norway in their 24 hour daylight, or high altitude horseback riding in Ecuador, Nat Geo provides awesome ideas to inspire you to travel this summer.

2. Every summer there are an abundance of music festivals across Europe, growing in number each year. Venturing a little further than the staple UK festivals such Glastonbury or Reading, can provide value, stellar line-ups, and a chance to experience a fascinating European City. Lonely Planet list a bunch of the best festivals from across the continent, we can personally vouch for Sziget in Hungary, and we have heard great things about Exit in Serbia.

3. Europe appears to be the beach destination of choice for the summer if you are after clean beaches! The European Environment Agency declared the continents 22,000 beaches are getting cleaner on average, with over 95% at acceptable levels of water quality. Time to get in the European seas!

4. Traveling overseas is not the only way to experience great beaches, there are some hidden gems around the UK coastline waiting to be explored this summer. The Guardian lists ten of the best hidden beaches in the UK ranging from deep Cornwall up to the Scottish Highlands, there should be at least one beach anyone in the UK can make it to this summer.

5. Planning a road trip this summer? You may want to avoid, or indeed drive some of the most perilous roads on the planet. BBC Travel looks at 7 of the world’s riskiest roads featuring hazards including deadly mudslides, cliff-side hairpin turns, and wandering wallabies.

manausPhoto courtesy of @petra.

6. Manaus, Brazil’s 7th largest city, will be hosting a bunch of World Cup games this month including England’s opener against Italy. For those heading that way anytime soon, Rough Guides put together an awesome guide of things to do in Manaus showing the city has a lot more to offer visitors than the soccer!

7. Oman is not a name commonly associated with tourism, but this is beginning to change. The Independent reports on a new luxury hotel built in the remote outpost of Jabal Akhdar high in Al Hajar mountains. The surrounding views are simply breathtaking.

8. If you are hitting the road in the States this summer, beware lots of others are too! USA Today reports travel bookings across the US this summer are up on 2013, with Hawaii topping the list. After a long and bitter winter across the States, Americans seem to be looking to make the most of summer this year!

9. With the renewed political unrest in Thailand, potential tourists may be put off visiting. Lonely Planet explores the question ‘is it safe to travel to Thailand?‘; it is worth a read if you are considering booking or indeed cancelling a trip there anytime soon.

10. A lighthearted finish to our top 10; a Chinese inventor has designed a suitcase scooter, capable of a whopping 12mph, you have to see it to believe it!

 

Favourite Travel Experiences of the Month #35 – May 2014

The NJaH team are fond of May for many reasons – the Northern Hemisphere is in full flow and ready to kick into summer, our many friends in New Zealand are dusting off their snowboards ready for the snow season, but most importantly we are one month closer to the World Cup in Brazil! This month we feature some articles relevant to the month gone by, such as a nature-lover gallery to celebrate Earth Day, Airbnb’s success at the recent Webby Awards and the Invisible Men of Everest – a tribute and insight into the tough and all-to-often fatal work of the Nepali Sherpas.

Also this month we look at replicas of famous monuments around the world, an exciting new hotel in Berlin, 10 clifftop hotels that will take your breath away, and many more fascinating reads. Concluding in regular fashion with our holiday of the month, arguably Canada’s most exciting city; Vancouver.

Here are our top 10 articles from across the world wide web:

St Peter's JapanPhoto courtesy of malfet_.

1. The imitation Eiffel Tower in Las Vegas is known as one of the world’s  biggest fakes, but there are many less replicas of iconic monuments scattered across the globe. At first glance ‘Foamhenge’ in Virginia almost looks like its been lifted from Wiltshire and placed conveniently in Virginia! Other amusing replicas to check out include the Statue of Liberty in Kosovo or St Peter’s Basilica in Japan!

2. The annual Earth Day last month often throws up related travel articles each year. The best one we came across was a blog post featuring 16 nature-lovers travel photos accompanied by a short background of each. Although every day should be Earth Day, sometimes posts like this remind us of the true beauty and grandeur of nature.

3. Following the recent Everest avalanche disaster, National Geographic features a special article on The Invisible Men of Everest. A thought-provoking insight into the lives of the Nepali Sherpas who risk their lives daily, catering for the Western tourists wanting to climb the world’s highest peak at any cost.

4. Hotels that capture a man’s heart! Check out these 9 hotels that every man should stay in, they include hotels that; overlook the Monte Carlo Grand Prix, offer bathing in beer in the Czech Republic, or a Jumbo Jet Hostel in Stockholm!

5. Berlin is a city we love to visit over and over again and the variety of interesting accommodation available leads us to try and stay somewhere different each time. The brand new 25 Hour Bikini Hotel caught our eye courtesy of The Guardian; the latest hip accommodation to spring up in the city it is a must see!

bagan1Photo courtesy of KX Studio.

6. Easily the most fascinating blog post we came across this month was via Distractify; 40 Incredible Secret Places Most Travelers Don’t Know About. A long winded title but deservedly justified, some of the locations look absolutely mesmerising, we had been to less than a quarter – the remainder instantly jumped on our must visit-list! Our top 3: Bagan in Burma, Chefchaouen in Morocco and Meghalaya in India.

7. Every month Trip Advisor manages to provide a unique ‘top 10 list’ that captures our attention and pushes inspiration around the office. This month it was their ‘10 unbelievably spectacular clifftop hotels‘ that had us marveling and then attempting to fit a few in our future travel plans!

8. April saw the 18th edition of the annual Webby Awards and Airbnb was the big winner in the travel industry. Scooping best travel website and best mobile travel app, remarkably in just 6 years Airbnb has become a market leader in its field. Also of note, Trip Advisor took the Peoples Choice award.

9. June 28th sees the 100th anniversary of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo, leading to World War One. Rough Guides explores what the centenary means to Sarajevo in 2014 and what is happening there later next month.

10. Follow Benjamin Haworth’s mountain bike ride across the Basque region of Northern Spain as he makes his way to San Sebastian along one of the most beautiful tracks in the region. You will quickly see that the riding almost comes second to the food he discovers along the route known for its sublime cuisine.

Holiday of the Month – Vancouver

Situated on Canada’s Western coast, Vancouver is almost as far as you can go West in North America without heading to Alaska. Hosting the 2010 Winter Olympic Games gave Vancouver a tourism boost that is still continuing with tourists coming for the outdoor lifestyle in the surrounding areas, even in the built up areas Vancouver is a city focused on nature; the impressive forest area of Stanley Park at the edge of the downtown area is a prime example of this. There are countless beaches minutes walking distance from the city which make the summer in Vancouver a truly unique experience. It is also an extremely diverse city, the neighbourhoods of Chinatown, Commercial Drive, Kitisilano and North Vancouver all have completely different vibes to one another and could each be classed as ‘typical Vancouver’ in their own right.

Vancouver also acts as an ideal gateway city to a number of surrounding areas. Vancouver Island, less than 2 hours by ferry, is the ideal getaway for those who enjoy the outdoors, it is almost a mini New Zealand in terms of adventure opportunities and geography. Similarly Whistler, Canada’s largest ski resort, is just 2 hours north of the city, whilst its less than 30 minutes to the border of the States linking to Seattle, Portland and beyond. For these reasons, Vancouver makes for a popular stop-over destination, but it is definitely worth exploring more than the airport waiting room!

VancouverPhoto courtesy of peo pea.

 

Favourite Travel Experiences of the Month #34 – April 2014

April has always been a good month in the world of travel for the team at Not Just a Holiday, we always seem to find ourselves on an epic adventure somewhere in the world. The changing of the seasons into Spring fills us with a renewed optimism that warmer weather and outdoor fun is on its way. This month we feature a few season related articles including Nat Geo’s 10 magnificent gardens, Best Beaches in the world, and The Guardian’s warm weather finder!

We also look at articles featuring; technology’s impact on travel, unknown European towns, on the road in Kyrgyzstan amongst others, before signing off in our usual fashion with our holiday of the month. This month we look a little closer to home at the beauties on offer in the British coastal town of Brighton.

First, we present to you our top ten articles of the month!

dubai1Photo courtesy of the_dead_pixel.

1. An insightful post by Lonely Planet reveals the truths behind 10 of the world’s wonders. Find out the stories behind ancient wonders such as Stonehenge, Angkor Wat and Machu Picchu, or the more recent tales behind modern marvels such as the Burj Khalifa.

2. Through April we hopefully start to see glimpses of summer in the Northern Hemisphere, thus focus in the world of travel begin to move on to summer themes. Trip Advisor are on the ball with their Best Beaches in the World 2014 list; featuring 25 top spots from across the globe, it is topped by Baia Do Sancho in Brazil.

3. The BBC Travel series, On The Road covers a fascinating blend of destinations over its 20 episodes. One that stuck out for us was the Central Asian destination of Kyrgyzstan, from trips to local livestock markets to home-stays near the Uzbekistan border it makes a captivating watch.

4. With Spring upon us, the natural world enters arguably its most beautiful stage, flowers begin to blossom and landscapes are transformed. It is also an exciting time for the gardening world and National Geographic has compiled an article featuring 10 magnificent gardens, our number one is Kenroku-en in Japan.

5. Remember the world of travel in those pre-internet days? We often take for granted the ease of travel in the modern age but it has only been 25 years since the birth of the internet. The Guardian offer a fascinating article on 25 years of the web creating a travel revolution, where would we stay in a world without TripAdvisor!

 bavaria1Photo courtesy of John-Morgan.

6. We stumbled across an interesting blog post on walking in Bavarian mountains, author Andy Jarosz depicts this mystical landscape in South Germany, complimented with a couple of majestic photos. Worth 5 minutes of your time for sure.

7. With such a great quantity of the world’s population moving and holidaying more than ever, eco-tourism ventures have emerged offering tourists the opportunity to offset some of their carbon footprint and give something back while traveling. Eco-accommodation is a large factor of this new trend and Lonely Planet list their top 10 eco stays around the globe; from tree houses in Tanzania to solar-powered ‘earthships’ in New Mexico, it is most definitely an inspiring article!

8. A useful tool we discovered this month was The Guardian’s ‘destination finder’ tool. Allowing you to search by temperature it is perfect for seeing where in the world to head for sunshine and warm weather right now.

9. Ever felt like escaping to the middle of nowhere, thousands of miles from a neighbouring country? Ascension Island is your answer; situated in the Atlantic Ocean midway between South America and Africa it is an extremely remote island. Getting there isn’t easy, flights from a military base north of London offer 10 civilian spots per flight, but for this tropical paradise it seems worthwhile.

10. With so many countries and cities packed into a relatively small area, some of Europe’s smaller cities often get overlooked in the world of travel. Trip Advisor has compiled a list of 10 breathtaking European destinations you may never heard of, and we must admit a few even stumped us! We shall be adding Dolceacqua, Hallstatt and Gruyeres to our must-visit list!

 

Holiday of the Month – Brighton, UK

One of our favourite British destinations is the seaside classic; Brighton. Drawing visitors for centuries, it is still a popular spot for a multitude of reasons and appeals to a diverse mix of visitors. Although it has a year-round appeal, we believe the best Brighton days are in the sunshine and as we push on through Spring, a warm day on Brighton beach is hard to top in England.

Famous for its iconic piers, Brighton seaside is a quintessential British sight enjoyed by locals and visitors alike. Brighton’s significant LGBT community gives the city a unique and liberal feel which attracts a mix of visitors keen to embrace the friendly atmosphere. Steer clear of chain stores and pubs on West Street and Western Road and you will experience the true unique nature of Brighton’s boutique and bohemian shopping and nightlife. The Lanes and North Laines are two enchanting shopping regions crammed full of one-off stores along winding lanes, at the weekends its hard to move but its worth the venture.

Brighton Pier is a must-see, although some elements feel almost cheesy, it provides outstanding views across the beaches and out to sea and is a prime example of nostalgic British tourism. Away from the seaside the main sight is the impressive, Royal Pavilion with its Indian influenced architecture and accompanying gardens. Built in the 18th century as the official summer residence for the British Royal family, it has since become a museum and a unique site in Brighton that is extremely easy on the eye. All in all its hard to top Brighton for a local weekend getaway.

brighton pierPhoto courtesy of Bev Goodwin.

 

Favourite Travel Experiences of the Month #33 – March 2014

March is upon us, spring will soon start to set in and we can finally say goodbye to this grey weather! Wishful thinking somewhat, for now the Not Just a Holiday team are enjoying the tail end of winter. This months post has been one of our most enjoyable to write in a while, some awesome articles have found their way onto our laptop screens and our holiday of the month filled us with joy reminiscing over an old favourite destination.

Following the Sochi Olympic Winter Games that caught the world’s focus last month, we look at a few Russian themed articles including Nat Geo’s guide to exploring the largest nation, and Kronotsky Zapovednik nature reserves in East Russia. Also featured this month; The Independent’s guide to Memphis, the most beautiful countries in the world,  a submarine hotel, and much more!

We conclude in our usual style with our holiday of the month, which this month sees us reviewing one of our favourite Asian mega-cities that draws us back time and time again with its variation of appealing factors; Hong Kong.

Lets get the ball rolling with our top ten travel experiences of the month gone by:

BezengiPhoto courtesy of Ilya Schurov.

1. Russia was firmly in focus throughout the world of travel in February due to the Sochi Olympic Winter Games. It is a huge country to explore with an incredible range of scenery, National Geographic’s Russia Guide and gallery is an inspiring read and has us itching to explore the worlds biggest nation.

2. Another Russia themed article that caught our eye was BBC Travel’s guide to Kronotsky Zapovednik nature reserve. Restrictions have only recently been eased to allow visitors to begin to explore the largest complex of protected nature reserves on the globe. Home to a stunning valley of geysers, and countless brown bears, Kronotsky is itching to be explored!

3. Experience some sunshine this Winter without having to endure a long-haul flight. The Guardian lists a range of top destinations just a few hours away from Western Europe to escape the winter blues.

4. With the world of travel becoming ever more competitive, innovation is often used to differentiate and appeal to consumers. One travel company has taken this to a new extreme, offering a night in a submarine hotel. Unfortunately we have been priced out, at nearly $300,000 a night, it is a little out of our reach!

5. During some downtime in the office we stumbled across this gallery of travel photos on Pinterest. Images of lakes in Japan, houses in Italy, rock pools in Canada, fields in China, we could go on – check the album out for yourself!

ScotlandPhoto courtesy of Eusebius.

6. Rough Guide readers recently voted their most beautiful countries in the world. The accompanying slide-show showcases the beauty of each country, the top spot took us by surprise but we think its deserved.

7. Anyone who has road-tripped across the States will have certainly noticed the countless roadside advertisements attempting to draw you off the road to capitalise on passing trade. Some however are worth pulling over for, CNN lists 8 roadside curiosities you shouldn’t miss. We will attempt to tick a few off the list on our USA road-trip this summer.

8. If you are going to splash out on a luxury hotel, make sure it houses an epic swimming pool! Trip Advisor has compiled a captivating list of jaw-dropping hotel pools from around the world . Our personal favourites included the mesmerising pool in the Maldives and the impressive complex in Udaipur, India.

9. Memphis, Tennessee is one of our favourite American cities, a fascinating 20th century history shaped by the civil rights and rock and roll movements, there is heaps to see. The Independent’s guide this month had us reminiscing past trips and planning future ones, its a must-visit on any Stateside jaunt.

10. The ‘top 2014′ themed lists are still circulating the world wide web, our favourite from the last 28 days was Lonely Planet’s top 10 extraordinary hotels for 2014. Our top choice would be the Free Spirit Spheres in BC, Canada.

Holiday of the Month – Hong Kong 

An urban metropolis as concentrated as Hong Kong may not suit everyone’s idea of a short break, but Hong Kong has a lot more to offer than its seemingly endless sprawl of skyscrapers. On the south side of the main ‘Hong Kong Island’ there are an array of beaches providing the perfect escape from a day shopping in Central HK or a night meandering through the bustling streets and night-markets of Kowloon.

Hong Kong harbour is one of the most iconic sights associated with Hong Kong and its easy to see why, from any angle the reflections across the body of water dazzle from the towering skyscrapers looming over both banks. Victoria Peak, known locally simply as The Peak, offers unforgettable views across the harbour towards Kowloon and is worth seeing both during the day and after nightfall when the landscape is lit up with lights and neon advertising signs in every direction. A trip on the Star Ferry across the harbour is a must do, it is outrageously cheap and gives another perspective on the harbour in a locals style setting.

HK HarbourPhoto courtesy of Roger Wagner.

Favourite Travel Experiences of the Month #32 – February 2014

This month we feature major February themed articles including visiting the host city of the Winter Olympics; Sochi, as well as National Geographic’s list of worldwide February events. There are more 2014 themed ‘to-visit’ lists appearing every day, we take a look at a few of our favourites; 52 destinations to visit and Lonely Planet’s top 10 USA destinations for the current year. This months featured Holiday of the Month is the Serbian capital of Belgrade. We give our view on why it is emerging as an Eastern European favourite with great value for money and a fascinating history.

Kicking things off in our usual fashion, here are our top 10 travel experiences of this year so far:

Sochi, RussiaPhoto courtesy of Gregory Smirnov.

1. The world’s attention this month will be focused on Sochi, Russia for the 2014 Winter Olympic Games. Often referred to as the Russian Riveria, gaze through a beginners guide to Sochi courtesy of the Huffington Post, to see why you should visit even if you can’t make it in time for the Olympics.

2. Sapporo Snow Festival in Japan, Kala Ghoda Arts Festival in India or the New Zealand Fringe Festival in Wellington. All are happening this month and are just some of the top events worldwide in February as listed by National Geographic, do something unique this February.

3. Easily the most stunning photo gallery we have seen this year is Rough Guide’s ’20 of the worlds most impressive natural phenomena’. Astonishing shots of wildlife across the world it will be sure to have you gasping in amazement, our top snap had to be the Scandinavian Northern Lights.

4. Aeon Film features an incredible time lapse video travelling along the Panama Canal from the Pacific to Atlantic in under 5 minutes of footage. Definitely worth 4 minutes and 34 seconds of your day!

5. The USA is prominent in the world of travel and destinations across The States continue to feature in varying top travel lists. Lonely Planet go one step further with their Top 10 USA destinations for 2014, we are going to try and make it to them all over the next 11 months.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/seanpritchard/Photo courtesy of Sean Pritchard.

6. Continuing the 2014 ‘to-visit’ theme, check out NY Times’ 52 destinations for 2014. If you are likely enough to have the spare time, this will give you a weekly travel fix for the remainder of the year! A few we would like to tick off included; Seychelles, Quang Binh – Vietnam, & the Mekong River – Southeast Asia.

7. The so-called Tornado Alley of the USA’s Midwest is hit by hundreds of Tornadoes annually, its often hard to get a good shot however. BBC Future has put together a gallery of phenomenal photos taken over the last decade by local photographer Mike Hollingshead.

8. Another spectacular photo gallery we viewed this month featured 50 mind-blowing undiscovered destinations. Displaying countless inspiring photos from around the world, our bucket-list just increased ten-fold.

9. When travelling on a budget, gaining value with eating out is always a bonus. The Guardian features an article listing 6 pay-what-you-want restaurants from across the globe! From as far afield as Melbourne, Vienna and New Jersey, hopefully you will find you way to one this year.

10. With the World Cup this year and the Summer Olympic Games in 2016, Brazil is ever becoming a more popular destination with travellers from all corners of the globe. Trivago’s recent top 10 places to visit in Brazil is worth a read if you are planning a trip anytime soon.

Holiday of the Month – Belgrade, Serbia.

Serbia’s capital has not always been the subject of positive news in the past two decades, however the situation has stablised in the 21st century and the bustling city has emerged as an Eastern European favourite with backpackers. There are of course relics of communist rule still scattered throughout the city and on the surface Belgrade can seem gritty and hostile in places. The city centre however is over-flowing with cafes, restaurants and Western retail outlets, nestled between an abundance of historic architecture from Belgrades colourful past. Kalemegdan Citadel has dominated the city for centuries, the impressive fortress dates back to Celtic times, it is now a popular destination with tourists and locals alike relaxing in its park surroundings.

One absolute must-see for Belgrade is the Nikola Tesla Museum close to Tasmajdan Park and the towering Sveti Marko Church. The museum provides a fascinating insight into arguably one of history’s most important scientists, there are even interactive demonstrations of his work.

Despite its size and stature, Belgrade is an extremely affordable destination to visit, especially for Western tourists. Its renowned nightlife draws party goers from across Europe, keen to take advantage of the cheap drinks in Belgrades many bars and clubs, notably along Skadarska and by the banks of the Sava River. Serbian cuisine, like many neighbouring regions, has been shaped by various occupying empires throughout the ages, mainly Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian bringing their own cultural dishes. This gives Serbia an exciting blend of tastes for visitors to sample, often found for incredibly good value, adding to Belgrades all-round affordability.

Cathedral of Saint SavaPhoto courtesy of Brian Pocius.

Favourite Travel Experiences of the Month #31 – January 2014

Welcome to 2014! Happy New Year from all at Not Just a Holiday, we are excited for all of our travel prospects this coming year, we hope you have a prosperous 2014 wherever your travels may lead you! This month we feature a range of end-of-year themed articles from across the world wide web, such as; National Geographic’s favourite 2013 photos, and the best 10 islands to visit in 2014.

Other articles examined this month include; Thailand’s top budget beach hotels, 20 abandoned places across the world, and 15 charming Italian villages. We conclude with our first holiday of the month for 2014; The Canadian Rockies.

We kick things off as usual with our top 10 articles of the month gone by.

Havana

Photo courtesy of gustaffo89.

1. Trip Advisor concluded last year by compiling a list of destinations on the rise in 2013. The top 10 includes destination as far apart as Kathmandu, Havana and Fortaleza in Brazil. Several have made it on our 2014 bucket list.

2. In a photo summary of 2013, National Geographic featured their favourite photographic memories from the past 12 months. Our personal favourite was an arial shot of a lake in Poland, the collection is definitely worth 5 minutes of your time.

3. 2014 has been declared the International Year of Small Island Developing States by the UN. To coincide with this, Lonely Planet has posted their top 10 Islands to travel to this year. See for yourself the beauty these islands possess as well as some of the environmental issues that have caused the UN take note.

4. This year is of course the 2014 Football World Cup in Brazil, featuring 32 nations from across the globe. The Independent looks at these nations in a different light and has started a series listing their to visit each of the 32 countries this year, starting with the host country.

5. Technology has vastly changed the world of travel, especially in the last two decades. Embracing technological advances can often be handy on the road and with a large quantity of Western travellers equipped with SmartPhones, apps have sprung up for nearly everything. Check out these top 10 travel apps to take with you on the road in 2014.

Hashima Island - Japan

Photo courtesy of chrisluckhardt.

6. 20 cool abandoned places in the world on imgur is one of the most fascinating photo collections we have seen in a long time. From Siberian mines to Japanese theme parks, the photos are simply breathtaking and often remarkable and hard to believe!

7.  A relaxing hotel on a budget? They are in abundance across Thailand’s beach resorts, check out The Guardian’s 10 best-value Thai beach hotels.

8. Italian countryside provides some of the finest culture in Western Europe, small villages rich in history dot the hillsides across the North and South alike. Explore 15 charming small Italian towns listed on Buzzfeed last month.

9. Sweden’s world famous Icehotel in the village of Jukkasjärvi, Swedish Lapland has opened for its 24th season with a range of new sculptures from over 1,600 tonnes of ice! See a full gallery of photos with The Guardian for the certain inspiration to visit.

10. BBC Travel’s ‘Around the World’ series has shown some truly inspiring destinations in its 11 episodes so far. Episode 9 really stuck out for us as the team visited Chile; a fascinating blend of old and new.

Holiday of the Month – Canadian Rockies – Western Canada

The Canadian Rockies provide some of the finest mountain scenery and skiing anywhere on the globe, so it’s no surprise that thousands flock to its renowned resorts each year. Fortunately due to the mountains vast area it rarely feels overcrowded especially at the larger ski resorts such as Lake Louise and Sunshine Village. Banff and Jasper National Parks form a large chunk of the region and their respective towns of Banff and Jasper form ideal bases to explore from. The Icefield Parkway that connects the two regularly makes top scenic driving lists and its easy to see why with endless mountains on either side, stunning lakes such as Peyto and Bow, and the magnificent Columbia Icefields keeping your eyes entertained throughout.

The town of Banff is just a 90 minute drive from the city of Calgary, home to the nearest international airport, making it a popular initial destination in the Rockies. Featuring the best range of accomodation, shops and nightlife, Banff is perfectly equipped for travellers on a range of budgets and needs.

The impressive mountain range is not just a winter destination, during the summer the abundant wildlife and breathaking hiking trails attract another section of the tourist market to marvel in the beauty.

Banff - Canadian RockiesPhoto courtesy of irakshiv.

Favourite Travel Experiences of the Month #30 – December 2013

With just two weeks left of 2013, the world of travel is focusing firmly on the coming new year. This month we feature a few of these articles as Lonely Planet lists their top cities for 2014, the ultimate adrenaline bucket-list, and an increased chance of catching the Northern Lights this winter.
Cape Town

Photo courtesy of coda.

1. As we enter the final weeks of the year, one eye is firmly on the prospects for 2014. Lonely Planet compile their top cities for 2014 featuring old classics and upcoming gems, between us we are going to try and visit all 10.

2. Despite being the second largest country in the world, Canada is often left in the shadow of its southerly neighbour when it comes to travel talk. Discover 50 Canadian places of a lifetime  spanning across all of the ten provinces.

3. Alternative sights of Brighton, as listed by Rough Guides. Head to the south coast for a range of cocktails, cabaret and a new haircut!

4. Despite how well connected the modern world is in terms of being able to sample food from across the globe without leaving your hometown, nothing quite beats sampling local cuisines. Trip Advisor have put together a top 10 of travelers favourite restaurants from around the world, not surprisingly France appears more than once!

5.  Every city has its gritty areas but often with a little investment these areas transform into über popular districts for instance Soho in New York or Camden in London. Have a look at some recent revamped districts from cities across the world.

hanoi

Photo courtesy of sebadella.

6. South-east Asia is synonymous with backpacking and the majority of long-term travelers have passed through the likes of Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam at some point. Yet it is still worth writing home about and The Guardian’s guide to backpacking in the region has us eager to book a trip out there again!

7. In recent years there has been a significant emergence of conservation tourism across lesser developed nations. Discover how the two mix in Namibia as the New York Times show the positive affects occurring.

8. Are you an adventure or adrenaline junkie? You may wish to take a look through the ultimate adventure bucket-list. If you are into heights, snow, water or mountains you will find yourself adding these to your list.

9. With winter imminent, the possibility of catching the Northern Lights increase ten fold. This year NASA are predicting increased solar activity making it a great winter for the Aurora Borealis.

10. Beautiful and bizarre bridges – more than just for practical use, there are many bridges that have become artwork in their own right. Check out BBC Travel’s top 6.

Holiday of the Month – Sydney, Australia

Despite the distance, Sydney makes a perfect city break, year round. Iconic sites, world famous beaches and a renowned nightlife ensure that any trip to Sydney will be action-packed from start to finish. Scale the habour bridge, marvel inside the impressive opera house and explore the highlights of Darling Harbour, before retreating to Manly or Bondi for some afternoon surf. Complete each day by letting loose in Kings Cross or Oxford St for some of Sydney finest bars and clubs. The only thing you will be short of in Sydney is time to fit everything in!

The Olympic park from the 2000 summer games makes is a worthwhile excursion, tours of the unique ANZ stadium are insightful to say the least. The stadium has the capabality to alter pitch size so to suit AFL, rugby and cricket, plus it’s also where England lifted the 2003 Rugby World Cup! A tour of Sydney harbour offers the perfect opportunity to catch those postcard shots of the bridge and opera house, whilst also offering some background history of the area. With the Southern Hempisphere entering the summer season, now is an ideal time to visit Sydney if you want to enjoy its fine climate and utilise the profound beaches.

Sydney HarbourPhoto courtesy of Lao Wu Yei 2.

Favourite Travel Experiences of the Month #29 – October 2013

October represents a change in the mindsets of most people, the summer is definitely gone, its starting to get chilly and the high street is beginning to focus on Christmas! October does however represent a beautiful period in the natural world as the autumn is setting in and the trees become a mix of oranges, reds and browns. Not Just a Holiday is embracing that this month with a look at spectacular sunsets across the globe and the top spots to photograph in Canada this autumn. 

We also look at tours of the Holy LandHans Kemp’s Burmese gallery, and the worlds strangest hotels. We conclude as usual with our holiday of the month, which last month saw us travel to the Czech capital of Prague to remind ourselves why it is so popular!

Firstly here are our top 10 travel articles from across the world wide web this month:

5323297773_5ab7d0e59f_z

Photo courtesy of MarkinMonko.

1. Discover the Holy Land with National Geographic’s local expert Aziz Abu Sarah on his recommended 12 day itinerary. Famed for its rich history you will find that Israel has plenty to offer to the modern day traveller as well.

2. With autumn imminent landscapes across the northern hemisphere transfer into a sea of red, brown and orange. Add to this a beautiful sunset and you are left with a spectacular sight. Trip Advisor lists 10 of the most spectacular sunset locations across the globe, try and get to one this fall.

3. Fancy staying in a hotel shaped like a dog or in a hotel for one with an underwater bedroom? Check Rough Guide’s gallery of the worlds strangest hotels and marvel at unique accommodation they have discovered, we would personally like to try out the Mirrorcube in Sweden.

4. With an abundance of nature and wilderness, Canada can provide some of the finest autumn scenery possible. Read 8 top spots to capture the best scenery, courtesy of Toronto based newspaper The Globe and Mail.

5. Spending money helps the economy wherever you are in the world, so when you are abroad especially in lesser developed nations make sure you indulge in what the locals have to offer. Liz Boulter did exactly that in Vietnam; see the beautiful pieces she picked up and the good it is doing for Vietnam locals.

Kerala Beach

Photo courtesy of mehul.antani.

6. Escape to the Indian coast this winter for some budget sun revelling. The Guardian gives their guide to the top budget accommodation along the Kerala coastline.

7. Ever been watching a movie and wished you were actually there? Check out Lonely Planet’s guide to the locations of your favourite films and tv shows. You could find yourself reliving Breaking Bad in New Mexico or Lord of the Rings in New Zealand or many others!

8. Photographer Hans Kemp’s collection of shots from across Burma is truly breathtaking. He portrays the definitive beauty of the hidden Asian paradise as well as capturing Burmese people in their everyday life from working the fields to worshiping at one of the many elegant temples.

9. If you are looking for something closer to home this autumn, hop over to France to what is described as France’s best kept secret; the central province of Beaujolais. It is a producer of many exquisite fine wines and some very pleasant scenery!

10. Finally this month, have a look at some delicious dishes that aren’t the easiest on the eye, the list includes our Canadian favorite, Poutine.

Holiday of the Month – Prague, Czech Republic.

Despite its growing reputation as a party city, the stunning architecture and rich history make Prague a fascinating capital to visit. There are of course stag-do parties attracted by the cheap and quality Czech lagers, but venturing further than Wenceslas Square will eradicate most of that! Plus early autumn is a great time to visit, the summer prices have dropped back to more pleasing rates, whilst the weather is still mild in comparison to the bitter winters the Czech capital is subject to later in the year.

The city is dominated by the Vltava River which cuts through Prague creating a natural centre point, helpful for gauging your bearings. The east side of the river is home to the old town and some of the most impressive architecture on offer. On the west side of the Vltava is the Mala Strana district at the foot of Prague Castle. The castle itself makes for incredible viewing but the views across the city are truly spectacular, worth the hike up the hill. The John Lennon wall is also found in the Mala Strana district and is definitely worth a place on any Prague itinerary to read through the endless messages of peace from fans who come from every corner of the globe.

Lennon Wall

Photo courtesy of Mataprada.

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