Archive - 2012

PurpleHearts destinations of the year
Off the Beaten track: Great Rift Valley
A Night Less Ordinary: Hotel Made of Ice
Purple 10: Theme Parks USA
The Ultimate Christmas Song Playlist
City break: Holidays Sofia Bulgaria
The Dreamliner has landed
Bugarach, A.K.A. The Doomsday Destination
The world’s highest suspension bridge in the Swiss Alps
Top tips on what to avoid in Thailand

PurpleHearts destinations of the year

Our most visited destination guides, Purple Hearts…

Koh Samui, Thailand

Image by @ mjhbower

Playa del Carmen, Mexico

Image by @ daryl_mitchell

Montego Bay, Jamaica

Image by @ sackerman519

Marrakesh, Morocco

Image by @ sharif

Albufeira, Portugal

Image by @ Timo_w2s

Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt

Image by @ womeos

Prague, Czech Republic

Image by @ Aigle_Dore

Paris, France

Image by @ Aigle_Dore

Rauris, Austria

Image by @ MostlySeven

Off the Beaten track: Great Rift Valley

The Kenya Lake System in the Great Rift Valley has to be seen to be believed. It’s made up of three shallow lakes– Bogoria, Nakuru and Elmenteita. Each of the alkaline lakes is a a protected area and is home to different ecosystems filled with flowers, fauna, birds and animals. The best bit, (we think!) is the huge influx of flamingos that arrive en masse every year. The lesser flamingos arrive in their millions to breed creating one of the world’s most spectacular displays.

flamingosimage by Ludovic Hirlimann 

This pink bird loves to eat the blue-green algae found at the lakes and it is virtually alone in its taste for this rich harvest. And it’s not just flamingos, the lakes are home to 13 endangered bird species, and larger animals, like the black rhino, wild dogs, lions and cheetahs who wander the shores of the lake.

flamingos by ForsterFoto

image by ForsterFoto

white pelekans by beonetheroad

image by beonetheroad

rhinos by Sara and Joachim

image by Sara&Joachim

A Night Less Ordinary: Hotel Made of Ice

In our weekly series, we go around the world to find the most beautiful, weird and wonderful hotels. From caves to converted prisons, expect the unexpected. This week, we’re celebrating Christmas with a cool hotel made of ice.

What’s the gimmick? Newly rebuilt every year the IceHotel is created from tonnes of snow and ice, in the village of Jukkasjarvi, in Lapland. Although it can drop to -30 C outside, it never gets colder than -5 to -8 degrees inside. The hotel is filled with art made from ice, the beds are made of igloo style blocks of ice and every morning, hot lingonberry juice is offered to warm you up.

ice hotel 1

Image via @ Charley1965

Why stay? The IceHotel has everything. On arrival you will be given special insulating clothes and reindeer blankets to fight off any cold. You’ll get your own locker for your luggage and you are advised to pack long johns! Some guidelines from the hotel include leaving your luggage at reception: “Your luggage will be stored in a locked luggage room during your stay. If you bring it to your room, it will freeze during the night.”

One of the pleasures of staying is the surrounding areas, there are night trips to discover the Northern Lights, dog sledding transfers from the airport and evening sauna trips to warm you up. The IceHotel is also offering space travel, having partnered with Virgin Galactic with reservations on the world’s first private space expedition.

Eread more: Marie Antoinette Hotel Room

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The hotel also offers technical trips, where you can learn about CO2 emissions and the technology used to create and manage hotels like this. It’s got an onsite chapel for the coolest wedding imaginable. Oh and a trip to the legendary Ice Bar is a must: it’s so popular it’s been licensed all over the world

Read more: hotels to watch the Northern Lights

The wow factor: It’s a hotel made of ice! What more can we say?

ice hotel 2Image via @ bjaglin 

Purple 10: Theme Parks USA

theme park

Image via @ nikonvscanon

Not only does the US have more theme parks than there are cows in Wales (well not exactly…) but each and every one of them have a little piece that make them quite alike, particularly in regards to food, fun, and roller coasters. We’ve narrowed down a list based on which theme parks USA offer the most for your money and are the most popular of the year.

#1 Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio

Known as the best amusement park in the world, it’s no wonder Cedar Point makes it to the top of our list. With 75 rides, ten shows, a water park and seventeen roller coasters, Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio packs more thrills per square foot than anywhere else on the planet, let alone America.

#2 Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida

No list of theme parks would be complete without a mention to the largest, most-attended recreational complex in the world. Home to some of the most iconic landmarks, characters and imagery on the planet, Walt Disney World is an American favourite.

#3 King’s Island in Mason, Ohio

As the largest amusement park in the Midwest, King’s Island is humongous, with 364 acres of park grounds boasting over 80 rides and attractions. The all-new Soak City water park alone offers more than 50 water activities, including 30 slides, tropical lagoons, rushing rivers and surfable waves.

#4 Schlitterbahn in New Braunfels, Texas

Featuring three incredible parks (for one admission), more than 40 rides, 17 slides, nine tube chutes, uphill water coasters, three lazy rivers and more than three miles of tube rides, Schlitterbahn is a huge, thrill-seekers paradise. Home to the longest water park ride in the world, The Falls, Schilitterbahn is one of Texas’ main attractions.

#5 Disneyland Resort in Anaheim, California

For hundreds of thousands of theme park fans, Disneyland could never be anything but #1, but even in fifth position there’s no question that Disneyland Park and the larger resort, with 20 million annual visitors combined, is simply one of the best.

#6 Busch Gardens Williamsburg in Williamsburg, Virginia

Well-maintained with a unique design, this African themed adventure park offers something for everybody. This year, Busch Gardens Williamsburg has built an electromagnetic multiple-launch roller coaster on the former site of the Big Bad Wolf called Verbolten, which opened in May.

#7 Universal Studios in Orlando, Florida

Arguably even more exciting to than Disneyland or Six Flags Universal Studios in Orlando is a must-visit for all age groups.

#8 Knoebels Amusement Resort in Elysburg, Pennsylvania

Knoebels offers free admission and parking, with more than 50 rides available either a la carte or through an all-day pass. Enjoy the Grand Carousel, two world-class roller coasters and The Phoenix, voted the second best wooden coaster in the world.

#9 Six Flags Great America in Gurnee, Illinois

Six Flags is a dependable brand for thrill-lovers. Chicagoland’s own Six Flags Great America features eight themed areas, each highlighting a different aspect of Americana.

#10 Legoland in Carlsbad, California

This theme park takes you right back into childhood, amusing both the children and the adults. It’s known for its sculptures made of Legos, from rides to cars, from the New York skyline to Mount Rushmore.

The Ultimate Christmas Song Playlist

Only 5 days to go before the man in red pops down the chimney, so here are our top 5 Christmas songs to get you in the festive mood!

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Feliz Navidad – Jose Feliciano

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Blue Christmas – Dean Martin

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White Christmas – The Drifters

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The Little Drummer Boy / Peace On Earth – Bing Crosby and David Bowie

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All I want for Christmas – Michael Buble

City break: Holidays Sofia Bulgaria

Bulgaria’s biggest city, Sofia, is the perfect location for one of these ‘do it in a weekend’ getaways. While many choose Prague, Amsterdam or Warsaw, Sofia is a fairly underestimated city break, despite being one of Europe’s most compact and walkable locations. Those travelling to Bulgaria tend to opt for its many beautiful ski resorts or picturesque coastal towns, unknowingly missing out on the charm and cosmopolitan vibe of this rich and dynamic city.

Sofia-BulgariaHolidays Sofia Bulgaria

Situated at the foot of the Vitosha mountain, Sofia is made up of streets lined with domed churches, Ottoman mosques and Red Army monuments. These are married with extravagant shopping malls, luxury hotels and some of Europe’s coolest bars, creating a distinctly east-meets-west vibe throughout the city. Rapid development has led to an increase in trendy international boutiques and an innovative restaurant scene, that rivals some of Europe’s biggest cities. Affluence is apparent on every corner, from the flashy cars whizzing around the city to the well-heeled women carrying Vuitton bags – a far cry from the Bulgaria you may have envisaged. Yet, despite being a modern, urbanized city, Sofia is also surprisingly green, with huge, winding parks holding the buildings in embrace.

Things to do in Sofia

Although no grand metropolis when compared to places such as Rome, Paris or London, Sofia is nevertheless an attractive and cultured city with many museums, art galleries and theatres to keep you entertained…

Take a free walking tour of Sofia: Twice a day, local tourism volunteer NGO sets off from in front of the Palace of Justice to give tourists a free tour of this beautiful city. Welcoming, English-speaking volunteers will lead you on a two-hour walk through the city’s main sites, and fill you in on all the interesting background details. From students to backpackers to businessmen, this tour is an excellent introduction to Sofia and a great way of making friends if travelling alone.

Picnic in a park: Borisova Gradina is Sofia’s finest patch of greenery and home to the Vasil Levski Stadium, CSKA Stadium and Maria Luisa Pool, as well as a gigantic communist monument built in 1956, known as the Mound of Brotherhood. Why not pack up some strawberries and fresh bread and have a unique walk in the park, where you can admire the countless statues and flowerbeds.

Soak up some culture: If you’re looking for some historic insight, the National Museum of National History is the place to go. The musty halls of this old-fashioned museum present a didactic collection of animal, plant and mineral specimens, whilst the ground floor focuses on rocks, crystals and minerals. The stuffed animal collection in the upper floors even includes a brown bear dangling a Nazi hunting medal from its claw. Equally impressive is the Royal Palace museum, which was originally built as the headquarters of the Ottoman police force. The Palace was also the place where Bulgaria’s national hero, Vasil Levski, was tried and tortured before his public execution in 1873. After the Liberation, the building was remodelled in Viennese style and in 1887, it became the official residence of Bulgaria’s royal family until the communist takeover. Today, the Royal Palace houses the National Art Gallery and the Ethnographical Museum, which contains a collection of regional costumes and crafts, as well as varying temporary exhibitions on topics ranging from traditional festivals or carpet-making. Even the rooms of the Museum are a sight in themselves, showcasing marble fireplaces and ornate plasterwork and don’t forget to pause at the old dining room to view a lobster, fish and dead duck on the ceiling.

Sofia-vitoshaGet your architectural fix: There’s no better place to do this than at the outstanding domed Sveta Nedelya Cathedral, one of the Sofia’s major landmarks. Built in the mid 1800s (on top of the foundations of several older churches) the cathedral’s interior is is a montage of Byzantine-style murals. A glass case holds the body of Sveti Kral Stefan Milotin, a medieval king of Serbia, wrapped in a velvet robe, whose bones are said to have miraculous healing powers.

Restaurants in Sofia:
Dream House: A vegetarian restaurant with a colourful menu, serving up dishes such as grilled tofu, algae soup and vegetable stir-fry. Itsa best to visit on a Sunday, when there’s an all-you-can-eat buffet with beer and wine available.

Egur-Egur: Armenian cuisine, featuring kebabs, steaks, stews and other meaty offerings for a much-needed bit of stodge after a night drinking in the Sofian bars.

BeSo: Here you’ll find an open sushi bar of excellent quality. Pair this with a “see and be seen” atmosphere, netted off VIP booths and an impeccably designed interior and you have more than enough reason to visit.

The Dreamliner has landed

The ‘jet-lag busting’ Boeing 787 Dreamliner has taken to the skies. The first flight took place from Doha to London Heathrow earlier in December, as Qatar Airways became the first airline to use the plane for scheduled flights.


Qatar Airways Chief Executive Officer Akbar Al Baker, pictured left, with Qatar’s Consul to Britain, Mr Fahad Al Mushairi onboard the airline’s new Boeing 787 at London Heathrow.

The revolutionary plane is seen as the next step in travel; it’s made from a special new material and offers the best in comfort for passengers, there is wi-fi and texting, Android powered screens and entertainment options.

Qatar will feature five daily flights between Doha and Heathrow on the Boeing 787, while from February, the plane will bring travellers from Britain to Australia.

You can watch footage of the Dreamliner’s landing at Heathrow here:

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Bugarach, A.K.A. The Doomsday Destination

Now a local legend, the tiny, but beautiful village of Bugarach, lies in the foothills of the Pyrenees, among other-worldly landscapes and soaring eagles. Once, it was only the locals who knew about this hidden village, but today, this ‘chosen’ destination has become one of the most famous in France, named by CNN as “the doomsday destination.”

The village of Bugarach attracts many  who believe that it will survive the  end of the World 21 December 2012

Allegedly, there is only one place on earth that will be saved from Apocalypse (or two if you count Sirince), and that is the quiet village of Bugarach. It’s no surprise then that this miniscule retreat, with just two narrow streets, 176 residents, and virtually no agriculture, has seen a mammoth increase in one-way flights in the weeks preceding 21 December (the Mayan end of the world prediction).

Mayor Jean-Pierre Delord (a farmer in his mid-60s), noticed the apocalyptic forecast on the Internet a couple of years back and suggested at a council meeting, that the village take special security measures with which to handle an influx of visitors in December 2012. A member of the meeting then told the local press, who told the national press, who then went global, and it wasn’t long before huge news agencies and TV crews had set up camp on the village cobbles, asking confused locals about their thoughts on the looming Armageddon.


“The village has always attracted people with esoteric beliefs, they were here before and they will come afterwards, but this is something quite different,” Delord said in a recent interview with The Guardian. Speaking of the nearby town of Rennes-Le-Chateau, described as “the vortex of Da Vinci Code madness”, Delord’s comments are not wrong. This corner of France is renowned for its riddles of hidden treasure and even a believed cover-up of Jesus and Mary Magdalene’s married life in France. What’s more, Jules Verne wrote about Bugarach and the existence of an underground civilisation and Nostradamus is said to have spent some of his childhood nearby.

The Bugarach mountain, with its 1,320m peak is said to have inspired the mountain in Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Known as the “upside down mountain” or “the magic mountain”, its lower layers of rock are mysteriously younger than those at the top, making it a complete geological mystery. Home to a staggering amount of caves, from which strange sounds and odd light effects have emerged, it’s more than just Verne that has questioned the mountain’s underground activity, often called a “UFO underground car park”. UFO hunters are often led here, searching for pieces of spaceship to prove the theories correct.

We found this recent sighting on YouTube particularly interesting:

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The world’s highest suspension bridge in the Swiss Alps

The world’s highest (and scariest) suspension bridge has opened above a glacier in the Swiss Alps. This pedestrian walkway is suspended 1,500ft high, around 10,000ft above sea level. The bridge was built to mark the 100th anniversary of the opening of a cableway that joined the towns of Engelberg and Gerschnialp in January 1913.

The construction, named the Titlis Cliff Walk, has just been completed after five months of intense building development by engineers. Costing a whopping £1 million to make, the bridge is 330ft long, but just 3ft wide, emphasising its extreme, vertigo-inducing height.


What’s more, on the grand opening of the suspension bridge, a mammoth snow storm meant that visitors could not see the drop below the bridge, reducing it to a mere few feet. Such weather conditions proved a challenge for the engineers, whose working hours depended upon the dangers of their surroundings. And with snow storms common place, visibility can be reduced to almost zero on the bridge, adding to the terrifying effect. “Everyone was very impressed by the bridge,” said Peter Reinle from Titlis Cable Cars, “It opened in a real snow storm which made it an adventure for everyone who crossed it.”


Do you dare to cross it?


Book your holidays to the Swiss Alps with


Top tips on what to avoid in Thailand

So you’ve booked your awesome trip to Thailand, you’re heading to the beautiful island of Koh Samui, your bag is packed and you’re ready to go. Perfect!

ThailandImage via @ RevStan

But wait! Before you jet off, have you thought about how much you know about this tropical country? Here are some top tips on what to avoid in Thailand to stay safe and happy on your holiday of a lifetime.

Beware of:

No matter what the situation you won’t get anywhere or make yourself very popular if you yell. So, just stay cool and smile, it’s the only way forward.

Touching a Thai on the head
Never touch or pass anything over anyone’s head. The head is considered sacred in Thailand and must be respected.

Pointing with your foot
Feet are regarded as unclean and symbolically the lowest part of the body.

Nudity and public displays of affection
Thais find this very offensive so please keep your swimmers on and keep your slushier moments for your hotel room.

Being anything other than complimentary about the King and members of the Royal Family
The King is highly revered in Thailand so if you can’t think of anything good to say just don’t mention the monarchy, it could land you in jail.

Cover up in temples
Make sure you wear appropriate dress in temples.
For ladies, long sleeves and below the knee skirts
For men, shirts and long pants

Jet ski and bike hire
If you hire a jet ski or a bike, or a car, make sure you have a good look at it first, take pictures and document any scratches or damage already caused before you take it unless you want to pay for it on its return to its owner!

Dehydration and sun burn
This is very easy to achieve if you are on a boat that feels cool, but really you are in 100 degree heat. Drink plenty of water day every day, bottled only, and grab a packet of electrolyte powder from the chemist and definitely use your sun screen!

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