A Travellerspoint blog

48 Hours in Hong Kong

Hong Kong is not all about bargain shopping and transit stopovers, a vibrant and proud culture has developed on the many islands and new territories which comprise Hong Kong, amid the rich spirit of the Cantonese background which abounds on every main street and down every shadowy alley in equal measure.

Any stay in Hong Kong naturally revolves around the hectic metropolis of Tsim Sha Tsui; bordered by Chatham Road to the East and Canton Road to the West, the district is intersected by Nathan Road - the lifeblood of Kowloon.

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Known as the golden mile and famed for its high rents and ability to suck money from the pockets of tourists, this thoroughfare with it’s heady mix of high-end boutiques and billboards is the vein which pumps life all the way from the New Territories in the North, through the Kowloon Peninsula, to the Star Ferry terminal linking the mainland with the island of Hong Kong.

Head down any number of the hidden alley ways to find vendors selling fresh goods and going about their daily lives seemingly unaware of the thousands of unsuspecting tourists holed up in hotels all over the tiny peninsula. Such is the sheer volume of pedestrian and vehicle traffic circulating and crammed into this tight area, that one could be forgiven for being unaware of anything happening farther than 10 feet away.

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The handover of Hong Kong to China in the late 90's did not produce the monumental changes the world had awaited, although it did create an environment of uncertainty and insecurity for those who wished to see Hong Kong remain the independent economic power it had become over the years.

Since then many hundreds of thousands have come out onto the streets in solid shows of solidarity and protest to demonstrate to those in Beijing's central government and their appointed local officials in Hong Kong their desire to retain the democracy they had come to enjoy for many decades.

One can gain a glimpse of Hong Hong’s colonial past in the Wanchai port area nestled aboard the waters of Causeway Bay on Hong Kong island. This portside district famous for its trams, which cruise laboriously along Gloucester Road to central, looks more to the past and former glories than its modern cousin Kowloon across the water which stares defiantly into the future with an air of Eastern sophistication.

Wanchai contains old - and in some instances rather derelict residential buildings - jostling for limited real estate with daunting office blocks from the Central Business District, all overlooked by the imposing Victoria Peak, which can be reached by a steep ten minute tram ride from Garden Road.

The extremely efficient and convenient MTR provides a simple means of traversing Hong Kong and discovering the many and varied areas of this unique region. Being one of the busiest and surprisingly, cleanest, underground systems in the world it is a must for any visitor to Hong Kong, the eight colour-coded lines certainly make life easy.

Experiencing the bustling street markets around Sai Yeung Choi; Tung Choi; and Fa Yuen streets in Mong Kok is a must for any avid bargain hunter. Haggle for a deal on anything from counterfeit bags to electronics, as your senses are bombarded with the familiar sights of modern capitalism and the sometimes unusual scents of Asian sidewalk cuisine.

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One can only stand in utter bewilderment as the whole scene coalesces into a mélange of unrestrained excitement and utter disorientation at the frantic pace of life on the crowded streets.

Further on from Mong Kok toward the lower tip of Kowloon in Jordan, the temple street night markets can be found, enclosed by Kansu street on the border of Ya Ma Tei and the busy Jordan road which divides the peninsula in two as it heads toward To Kwa Wan and Ma Tau Kok in the North East.

A more secluded and slower paced market than those of Mong Kok, come here to find oriental ornaments, miniature statues of the Buddha and other objects of interest.

If all the shopping and commerce possibilities presented by this tiny region become too overwhelming, perhaps consider escaping to one of the many temples dotted throughout Hong Kong for dose of calm and serenity amid the chaos and confusion.

Po Lin Monastery on Lantau Island – one of Hong Kong’s largest outlying islands – forms part of the culturally-themed Ning Pong village, focused around a 40-metre high giant bronze Buddha and the wisdom path, which replicates the Heart Sutra one of Buddhism’s most famous prayers, the Heart Sutra.

Visitors can take a soul-cleansing walking tour around the tranquil natural park area, while enjoying stunning views of the South China Sea, before heading down to the airport.

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Posted by Luke Mc 07:57 Archived in Hong Kong Tagged tips_and_tricks

5 Best Medieval Europe

A Lonely Planet Susmission

Rhodes (Dodecanese Islands)

The Order of St John of Jerusalem transformed Rhodes into a city stronghold during the occupation of 1309 to 1523, before the town subsequently fell under Turkish and then Italian rule. Mosques, public baths, grand Ottoman buildings, and beautiful Gothic architecture all coexist in the 'upper' and 'lower' towns. Rhodes offers a feast of Aegean charm.

San Gimignano (Italy)

The towering San Gimignano, near Florence, is the 'belle' of Tuscany. An important stop on the Via Francigena pilgrim route, it retains a feudal atmosphere and appearance. Here culture, beauty and agriculture combine to create a masterpiece on high.

Cuenca (Spain)

Built defensively by the Moors and lying in the heart of the caliphate of Cordoba, Cuenca is suspended from sheer cliffs above the Huécar river. Visit the famous Casas Colgadas (hanging houses) in this former Castillian royal town and Bishopric.

Bellinzone (Switzerland)

Bellinzone is an ensemble of late medieval fortifications which guard a key alpine pass. The Castelgrande, together with the Montebello and Sasse Corbaro, protect an ancient town in the Ticino valley, through a series of castles and fortified walls.

Tallin (Estonia)

The crusading knights of the teutonic order built a castle here in the 13 century and Tallin was born. It developed as a major centre of the Hanseatic League and an important North European trading town. Replete with opulent merchants' houses and public buildings, Tallin's old town is superb.

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Posted by Luke Mc 10:45 Tagged tourist_sites

The Louvre, Paris - Intrepid Express

A Parisien palace for the people

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Having stood firm in the heart of the city of light for over 800 years, the Louvre has at various times served as a medieval fortress, the palace of the kings of France, and for the past two centuries as one of the world's most famous museums.

Extending along the right bank of the Seine and overlooking the expansive Tuileries gardens in the French capital Paris, the Louvre palace has a remarkable past which intertwines the histories of the former ruling classes and the French people as a whole.

From its vast, grand halls, adorned with captivating works of art, to the intricate detail of the many immaculately frescoed ceilings, the louvre is a masterpiece in its own right and houses one of the most impressive collections in the world tracing back to the birth of the great antique civilisations.

It was not until Louis XIV chose the natural beauty and relative safety of Versailles for his centre of power in the 17th century that the idea for a 'palace of the arts' emerged amongst artists and academics alike.

The Revolution advanced plans to make the existing royal collections once displayed by Henri VI to a privileged few, accessible to the public, as the victorious Napoleonic armies seized masterpieces from across Europe, bringing them to Paris amidst great ceremony.

Once a symbol of power reserved for the ruling elite, the Louvre has been transformed through the centuries to become a palace for the people of the world to enjoy.

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Posted by Luke Mc 10:29 Archived in France Tagged tourist_sites

Flam to Oslo - Australian Times Feature

Luke McCormick discovers the waters of Norway and explores the appeal of this magnificent Scandinavian country.

Luke McCormick discovers the waters of Norway and explores the appeal of this magnificent Scandinavian country.

Tucked neatly between a seemingly endless concertina of snow-crowned mountains cut by the deep glacially-fed, green waters of Norway's most majestic fjord, lies the quaint village of Flam.

The postcard-perfect village is blessed with a superb location where the waters of the Aurlandsfjord - a main arm of Norway's longest and deepest fjord: the Sognefjord - are brought to a definitive halt by the natural barrier of the mountains and the man-made, reinforced Flam port complex.

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In days gone by, Flam was put on the map as an important trade junction and served as the conduit between the great western fjords of the Atlantic and the Oslo-Bergen railway, the connection only made complete after the construction of the impressive Flamsbana railway in 1927.

As engineering feats go, the Flamsbana stands in unique company as one of the steepest gauge railways on earth, rising a staggering 863 metres in just 20km, at a gradient of 55%, from the Flamsdalen valley to Myrdal, high on the alpine pass above.

The incredible stretch of track was opened in 1940 after engineers spent 20 years cutting 6km of tunnels - erecting 20 separate tunnels in total - into the sheer-faced mountains, the workers even diverted a river during the unprecedented construction.

Today the Flamsbana is one of the most spectacular railway lines in the world and the stunning Norwegian landscape awes: alpine farms clinging dizzily to the slopes above; powerful waterfalls cascading down cliffs; the criss-crossed river coursing toward the fjord; and the ever-present, precarious vertical-drop beside the steel carriages leaves you clutching the platform rails on disembarking the train.

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Flam is divided between the railway station and marina area, a purpose-built complex designed to handle the large crowds offloaded by cruise ships and tour operators in summer, and old Flam village which hugs the river further up the valley and is centred around a charming stave church.

Clearly marked walking trails make discovering the village and surrounding valley a delight and the Brekkefossen waterfall cuts a neat arc down the mountainside providing the perfect natural feature to keep bearings in check.

Other popular pursuits in the Flamsdalen area include hiking, cycling, kayaking and fishing, which are encouraged by all the local hotels, and of course organised ferry trips along the magnificent fjords themselves.

Norway's famous fjords are the result of ancient glaciers receding into the depths of the Atlantic Ocean, creating a heavily-indented coastline - one of the longest and most rugged in the world - with over 50, 000 islands scattered throughout the territory and countless fjords snaking majestically throughout the country.

A ferry trip along the western fjord system, culminating at the Naeroyfjord arm, is a sure fire way to produce much neck straining, and a possible visit to the local physio on return to London town, from gazing upward as the imposing 1200-metre-high peaks are virtually squeezed on top of one another (as the name suggests) into a narrow passage.

Here, villages remain cut off from the world in virtual isolation. The lingering mist and silence do nothing to stem the eerie atmosphere created by this private, secluded location reached exclusively by water.

A local fisherman and former merchant navy sailor from the area said it was these very waters that 'make this place the most beautiful in world'.

''I have been all over the world with the Norwegian navy, but I was always happy to sail back to these fjords, to my home,'' he said.

''It is the water from this place you know'', he explained as the reason for the distinctive and wonderfully invigorating atmosphere of the place.

''We have the best water in the world, it flows down from these mountains above us and provides us with everything we need,'' he concluded before devouring the remainder of his lunch, a dish made up of local seafood and off-looking meat.

What Flam seemed apparently to lack in the culinary stakes was more than made up for by the view outside across the sparkling waters and toward a landscape containing innumerable natural treasures.

To gain a glimpse of the source of these waters it was necessary to again ascend to the high mountain passes above these valleys and join with one of the most picturesque and stunning stretches of railway in Europe, the Oslo-Bergen line, which cuts an East-West traverse across the country.

The journey back toward Oslo over Northern Europe's highest mountain plateau included a stop at the highest train station on the line at Finse (1222m), the alpine outpost overlooked by the sparkling blue ice of the Hardangerjokul glacier.

This followed by a cannonball run through Geilo, where snowmelt quenches the thirsty valley lakes, creating a speckled tundra-like landscape of ice-melt and rock, the surrounding mountains morphed effortlessly into the grey, horizon-less sky above.

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Back in the Oslo environs, a fairytale scene of red-timbered, A-frame farmhouses set amidst rolling green meadows and pine-bunched forests signaled a return to life in the low country of Norway.

Oslo is a great finish to any visit to Norway, and taking a drink in one of the many brasseries dotted along the cobble-stoned Karl Johans Gate is a treat, with trams and pedestrians jostling gently in the background.

The main district of the capital is manageable, cosmopolitan , and very sure of itself, with plenty of shopping, museums, mainly dedicated to the countries rich viking past, and palatial residences for the sightseer in us all, it is a great base for a few laid-back days in one of Europe's more pleasant capitals.

The compact city's port area is a find and a real pleasure; enjoy a lazy lunch in one of the boardwalk cafes; stroll up to the once impregnable Akershus fortress; or simply kick back and watch the tall ships, ferries, and ocean liners come and go, while all around a richly-coloured blue blanket of crystal clear water.

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Posted by Luke Mc 17:34 Archived in Norway Tagged train_travel

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