Sunday, 19 October 2008

Moving site

The content on this site is due to be moved over to Once the site is up and running, it will be better organised, and a far more suitable format than the blog. This may take a couple of months, unfortunately, but it will be worth it in the long run.

Thursday, 16 October 2008

Hiroshima Peace Park and Atomic Bomb Dome, Japan

Hiroshima in Japan - the site of the world’s first atomic bombing - isn’t exactly the first destination on a traveller’s list for a cheerful holiday. But it sure is moving.
The spot where the first atomic bomb used in warfare exploded is now known as the Hiroshima Peace Park, with the most striking sight being the Atomic Bomb Dome. This was a former exhibition hall, and it has been deliberately left as a ravaged shell to remind visitors of the destruction wreaked.
Also in the park is the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, which goes into depth about the horrors of the atomic bomb and the effect it had on the city.

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

The Gold Souk in Dubai, United Arab Emirates

The Gold Souk in Dubai is the world’s biggest gold market, and the greatest jewellery superstore a visitor could possibly wish for.

300 jewellery shops
With 300 jewellery shops, the Gold Souk in Dubai is the world’s biggest gold market and it’s pretty damned close to being the world’s biggest diamond market too.
At every turn is yet another window filled with enough sparkling chains and rings to weigh down even the most muscular rapper.

Not as plush as the rest of Dubai
Ironically, however, it’s one of the few places in Dubai that doesn’t strike as shiny, new and all that rich.
A few shops seem a little run down, while the touts attempting to sell fake watches detract from glitz.
That said, for the magpies amongst us, it’s heaven.

Getting to the Gold Souk in Dubai, United Arab Emirates

Nearest International Airport: Dubai

Using public transport: The Gold Souk is in Deira – a short taxi ride from the airport, and walking distance from Dubai Creek. If in Bur Dubai, get an abra across the Creek.

More information: Dubai Gold Souk

Tuesday, 14 October 2008

San Marino – the oldest country in the world

Possibly because it’s too small and insignificant for anyone to worry about invading, the tiny Republic of San Marino has been in existence since AD301.
Surprisingly, this makes the 61 km² state, entirely landlocked by Italy, the oldest country in the world.
Whilst other nations have been busy invading each other, changing names and having revolutions, sleepy San Marino has stood by and watched, untroubled.
It doesn’t have an airport or railway station (try nearby Rimini in Italy for that), and shopping is the main attraction for the three million tourists that visit every year. This is largely because items are not subject to the 20% sales tax imposed by Italian law, but novelty collectables such as stamps and coin sets are also big earners.
However, it’s not all souvenirs and duty free shopping, with the three mountain fortresses overlooking the Adriatic coast providing views that far bigger nations would be insanely jealous of.

Getting to San Marino

Nearest International Airport: Rimini in Italy is the closest, although Bologna is not far away and that gets more flights.

Using public transport:
Buses go reasonably regularly from outside Rimini’s train station.

More information: San Marino tourism

Monday, 13 October 2008

World’s biggest cave – Sarawak Chamber, Malaysia

If size of cave was a status symbol, then only a Stone Age King would be able to claim the Sarawak Chamber in Malaysia.
Discovered only in 1981, this huge cavern on the island of Borneo is the biggest in the world, and is part of an extensive cave system.
To get some idea of scale, it takes an hour for even experienced cavers to get from end to end, and headlamps usually aren’t strong enough for them to see the walls.
In terms of what could fit in it, then think St Peter’s Basilica in Rome or a decent collection of jumbo jets.
To get there, you’ve got to make your way through a few tricky passageways, so the guides at Gunung Mulu National Park insist that anyone they take must have previous experience.
However, they do allow you to get that by doing a trip to other caves in the recently-declared World Heritage Area.

Sunday, 12 October 2008

Port Macquarie Koala Hospital, New South Wales, Australia

Athletic koalas?
It’s always nice to have your illusions shattered. Given that koalas aren’t exactly renowned for their non-stop athleticism at the best of times, you’d hardly expect the unfortunate ones beset by blindness, permanent disabilities and venereal diseases to be little hubs of pure energy.
Well, try telling that to Paddy, who has discharged himself from hospital, and is haring up and down a tree in a bid for freedom.

Koala hospital for chlamydia sufferers
Paddy has chlamydia, an unfortunately common complaint for these sleepy little furballs, and he has been placed in isolation to stop him infecting others. However, the security at the Port Macquarie Koala Hospital, on the North Coast of New South Wales, Australia isn’t watertight, and he’s managed to make his break.

Volunteers give chase
The escapee has caused quite a commotion too, as a troupe of volunteers attempts to stop him running amok. Sending someone up the tree after him would be an obviously fruitless pursuit, so more cunning tactics have to be brought into play.
Apparently, koalas can’t stand things being wafted around their head, so Chris, the hospital’s habitat officer has attached a plastic bag to an extremely long pole.
As he waves it above Paddy’s head, the miscreant scarpers down the tree trunk with surprising speed, and this process continues until he’s near the bottom.
Waiting there to pounce are two volunteers with a sack, hoping to bundle him into it and take him back to the ward.

Benny Hill Show
Paddy is having none of it though, and as soon as he spots a brief respite from the plastic bag of unimaginable terror, he races back up the trunk to the highest branch he can find. The whole process, now beginning to look like something straight out of The Benny Hill Show, is repeated again – and again – until finally the prisoner is dragged kicking and screaming away, clawing his Hessian cage.

Australia’s koala capital
Port Macquarie is arguably Australia’s koala capital. It is surrounded by prime habitat, a gum tree heaven if you will, and the dozy marsupials still thrive here, even though the town is growing at a rapid rate.
The human expansion has been costly for the koala population. As more housing springs up, more trees are cut down, and many of the patients at the hospital are there for man-made reasons.

Mauling and drowning
According to Anne, the volunteer who guides us round, car accidents, maulings from pet dogs and drowning in swimming pools are just three problems the urban koala faces. They may have sharp claws, but they’re hardly likely to win a fight with a narky bull terrier or Holden Monaro. The swimming pools are a more eyebrow-raising problem as, although hardly the Ian Thorpes of the animal world, they can actually swim reasonably well.

Getting out of the swimming pool
The issue, says Anne, is that once in the pool, they can’t get out. The walls of the pool are too steep, and they can’t get a grip on the tiles at the top, so they just tread water and flounder about until they run out of energy and slowly drown.
It’s a pretty horrible way to go, and the hospital is encouraging local residents to put a small rope dangling in their pools so that the wayward adventurers can pull themselves up. Whether it will take on remains to be seen, but the staff at the hospital are determined to prove that not all human interaction with koalas has to be bad.

No Government funding
Set up in 1973 and run almost entirely by good-natured people donating their time, the hospital receives no Government funding. The $140,000 a year it takes to keep operations going comes entirely from donations, be it from visitors, generous benefactors or its adopt-a-koala scheme. Over 100 people volunteer their services in various roles, be it in conducting tours, running the shop or going out at dawn every morning to collect fallen branches from the bush to feed the koalas with.

Hand-reared like a newborn child
The most dedicated of all are those who take the youngest and most needy home with them. They are hand-reared as if a newborn child – including feeding sessions in the middle of the night – until they are of sufficient weight and health to be transferred to the hospital. It’s quite clear that these people care an awful lot about their eucalyptus-munching friends, and this shines through as you’re led through the pens in which the recovering koalas are housed.

Getting to Port Macquarie

Nearest International Airport: Port Macquarie has an airport, but international visitors will have to get a connecting flight from either Brisbane or Sydney

Using public transport: Port Macquarie is 510km south of Brisbane, approximately a seven hour drive, and 450km north of Sydney. It is connected to both by train and bus.

More information: The Koala Hospital can be found in the Macquarie Nature Reserve on Lord Street, a 15-20 minute walk from the city centre. It’s open every day, with feeding time tours conducted at 3pm. Entry and the tours are free, although donations are greatly appreciated.

Saturday, 11 October 2008

World's oldest restaurant - Casa Botin in Madrid, Spain

Those authoritarian chaps at Guinness World Records have attempted to silence the bickering over who gets the honour of being dubbed the world’s oldest restaurant, and have declared the Casa Botin in Madrid, Spain the winner.
Tucked away on Calle de Cuchilleros near the main square in the Spanish capital, this has become something of a tourist trap, but it has been open since 1725 for a very good reason.
Whilst most diners are visitors, it is not one of those places that the locals conspicuously avoid because the food isn’t up to scratch.
Quite the contrary, in fact, with the house speciality of roast suckling pig reputed to border on the divine and well worth the few extra Euros you’ll pay for location and gimmick factor.

More information: Casa Botin

Friday, 10 October 2008

Robert The Bruce’s Cave in Kirkpatrick Fleming, Dumfriesshire, Scotland

This is thought to be the place that inspired a legend. The story goes that Robert The Bruce, King of Scotland way back in the early 14th century, retreated to it after a series of crushing military defeats.
With the hated English well on top, Robert had considered giving in. It was then that he saw a spider repeatedly trying to spin a web over the entrance of the cave, and he realised that perseverance would bring rewards.
So he left the cave, probably breaking the poor spider’s web again on the way out, and began to wage a successful guerrilla war against the English.
Bruce’s Cave (or at least the one with the most plausible claim to being it) is now controlled by a nearby caravan site in Kirkpatrick Fleming, Dumfriesshire, Scotland.
Visitors can enter, although arachnophobes would be well advised to steer clear – spiders still inhabit it.

More information: Bruce’s Cave

Thursday, 9 October 2008

World’s oldest hotel – Hoshi Ryokan in Awazu, Japan

Shrouded in ancient Japanese mysticism, the Hoshi Ryokan in the village of Awazu, Japan dates back to AD717. This makes it the world’s oldest hotel.
The story goes that Buddhist monk Taicho Daishi was ordered to the village on the foothills of Mt Hakusan, Honshu, to find a divine spring and show it to the locals.
Find it he did, and the hot spring baths are now the central point of this popular retreat.
The hotel has passed through 46 generations of hosts, amazingly from the same family. It’s the second oldest family business in the world.
Awazu is two-and-a-half hours on the train away from Osaka.

Wednesday, 8 October 2008

Stromatolites at Hamelin Pools in Shark Bay, Western Australia

Oldest living things on earth
Whilst they’re about as interesting to watch as a mime version of Dances With Wolves, stromatolites are fascinating.
Made up of single cell organisms called cyanobacteria, they have been around for 3.5 billion years. In fact, they are the oldest living things on earth, and without them, we probably wouldn’t be here.

Creating oxygen
Stromatolites have played a huge part in creating an atmosphere that we can survive in. They create oxygen as a waste product, and without that, we’d quite frankly be long gone.
Until 1956, scientists thought they no longer existed. Fossilised examples had been found in old rocks, but none still alive.

Hamelin Pools at Shark Bay
That was the year that millions of living stromatolites were found in the Hamelin Pools of Shark Bay in Western Australia. More have since been found in the Bahamas, but the extremely salty water of Hamelin Pools has allowed this ancient life to survive undetected.

World Heritage-listed
They are the main reason that Shark Bay is World Heritage-listed, and whilst they don’t exactly entertain, such history has an incredibly mesmerising quality.

Getting to Shark Bay
A viewing platform, board walk and information about the Hamelin Pools stromatolites can be found 105km from Denham in Shark Bay. Denham is 842km north of Perth, Australia and Hamelin Pools is on the way. Try the Shark Bay office of the Department of Conservation And Land Management to find out more.