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Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Spice Up Your Relationship In Jamaica


The third largest island in the Caribbean, Jamaica is a cultural paradise, bringing out any couples’ spicy side.  From music, to romantic sunsets, adventure and famous jerk dishes, Jamaica features ‘love’ as the main course.  It started out as a Spanish colony, but in 1655 it became English, and later a British colony, achieving full independence in 1962.  It remains in the Commonwealth realm with Queen Elizabeth II as head of state and Kingston, which is located on the Southern coast, as the country's capital and largest city.

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After arriving through Montego Bay, the second largest city in Jamaica and the gateway to tourist activity on the North Coast, my husband and I stayed at Gran Bahia Principe Resort in Runaway Bay (http://www.bahia-principe.com/BP/resorts/resort/Jamaica). This was the spot that the Spanish "ran away" to Cuba when the British invaded the island. Cuba is only about 90 miles off the coast of Jamaica. The Gran Bahia Principe is known for their beautiful ocean view rooms, immense pool, a private beach and a picturesque gazebo (on its own stretch of beach) specifically for weddings and vow renewals.  A variety of specialty a-la-carte restaurants are also available, making for the start of a romantic evening.

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Jamaica is the birthplace of reggae, ska and other popular musical genres. Whether you are out on the town, hanging out at your resort’s bar or in for the night, these artists can always add to the romantic mood.  Such artists as Bob Marley, Shaggy, Notorious B.I.G. and HeavyD are of Jamaican descent; their music is a key cultural phenomenon.

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DSC00317There are several tourist attractions scattered across the country, including Dunn's River Falls in St. Ann, near Ocho Rios, a common port destination for cruises. Dunn’s River Falls, a 600-foot waterfall which drops down to the beach, is one of the most photographed and visited waterfalls in the world. It can be extremely crowded as people climb up through a series of "staircase" waterfalls -- but it’s still worth the experience.  Visitors form into groups and receive a guide. The guide will instruct everyone to hold hands and together the group ascends the falls linked in a zig-zagging line. It’s a perfect spot for some photo memories because the guides helpfully carry cameras and make time for photo opportunities.

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The Luminous Lagoon (or Glistening Waters) is a top romantic excursion. Your guide will take you on a boat after the sun has set to the town of Falmouth, a pivotal port in the 18th century when sugar was the number one export. The water is home to a phosphorous microorganism called dinoflagellates, which thrive in the layers where salt and fresh water combine and glow brightest in shallow, warm water. Located where the Marta Brae River meets the Caribbean Sea, this natural wonder is one of only four locations in the world and is regularly studied by Johns Hopkins University. The boat ride is about 45 minutes and they allow people to jump into the water which is about 4-5 feet deep in the center. As your body swirls, bright white and florescent blue lights shimmer around its movements. For those who did not want to get into the water, the guide kindly filled a bucket with water and let everyone move their hands around.  As the water dripped off; it illuminated. This excursion on a clear night was particularly beautiful because there were few lights nearby and the stars were easily seen, making everything sparkle below and above.

 

 


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A highlight to any Caribbean vacation is the beach. There are many resorts with man-made beaches, but nothing tops a natural sun-kissed white sandy beach. In Negril, about an hour and a half West of Montego Bay, lies 7-Mile Beach. Spending time with a loved one at 7-Mile Beach is definitely a relationship re-charge. If you are staying on one of the resorts near Montego or Ocho Rios and wish to visit the beach, Kenny Tours (www.kennytours.com) is a recommended method of transportation. They have been traveling in and around the island for 30 years.  Clarkey was more knowledgeable than anyone else we met in Jamaica. The turquoise water at 7-Mile beach goes out for yards before getting past the hips. The Jamaican culture is very flexible, with many helpful people, but do keep an eye open for the constant barrage of locals selling goods on a beach. They can sometimes be pushy, so being on a private part of the beach is sometimes beneficial.


On the Western most tip of Negril, the The Rockhouse Resort and Spa (www.rockhousehotel.com), deserves to be called a tropical paradise. The Resort was built using nature as their guide so that all the rooms, villas, restaurants and pools are situated along the cliffs. When the sun sets you can see it dip beyond the water without anything blocking the line of sight. The Rockhouse is on the more expensive side, but they have some of the best food on the island, and the view is worth every penny.


Save some of those pennies for the traditional jerk cuisine. Jerk is typically found on chicken, pork and fish. It’s made up of scotch bonnet peppers and allspice which includes cloves, nutmeg, garlic, cinnamon, scallions, thyme, salt and pepper. If you love it, as most do, make sure to bring some home. Jerk is sold all over the island as marinades, dry spices and hot sauces. It makes great gifts for people back home too. The Scotch Bonnet Pepper sauce is a real spice experience, among the hottest peppers on the Scoville scale of chilies, so make sure to use that one sparingly!


DSC04406Jamaica is a prime location to spice up your relationship with a variety of resorts, tantalizing food, romantic beaches, sunsets and adventurous excursions.  Jamaica has a lot to love and makes it easy to love the one you’re with!



© Stephanie Hiltz


Published in in love
Monday, 25 October 2010

Budget Greece Tour

Article Athens TheatreBefore visiting Greece, my first thoughts always consisted of the islands when thinking of the country, but the Cosmos’ “Best of Greece” historical tour (www.cosmos.com) opened my eyes to the beauty and wonder of the mainland. After visiting such places as Athens, Olympia, Delphi, Sparta and Metero on the mainland, I realized Greece’s culture, cuisine and history equals its recognized beauty.

Article TourGroupOur tour of Greece had a range of travelers from Australia, England, Canada, Cuba and the United States.  People signed up in singles, pairs and with their families, so the age-range spanned anywhere from 13 to 65. In the 10-day period of the tour, our group of 22 people (which I found out is on the smaller side of most tour groups) were able to bond in a way I haven’t remembered since overnight camp.  More than just the tour itself, the people were also an experience.

Yanni, our tour director, was a wealth of information. Every day we would stop the coach bus for lunch, and Yanni would excitedly tell us the restaurants specialties, which I always made sure to try. On our way from Athens to Epidaurus, Yanni Article GoatSoupsuggested we try the fried small fish plate, a dish in which the fish become so soft that the bones are completely edible. Traveling between Kalambaka and Athens, on Yanni's suggestion, I had a spectacular goat soup.

Our first and last stop was the bustling city of Athens. There are 10.5 million people living in Greece and almost five million of them live in Athens. And within Athens, the Athenian Acropolis is a sight to behold: Although there are restorations currently around the Parthenon, you can still get a real feel for the size of the area and of the surrounding buildings, treasuries and theaters. "Acro" in acropolis means highest point, and "polis" means city. Many of the larger cities in Greece each have their own acropolis, although none is as large as the Athens acropolis.

Article AthensAcropolisMuseThe Acropolis Museum, which is situated nearby, was built only a year ago and holds multiple ruins and preserved statues. It's impossible to dig anywhere in an ancient city like Greece and not discover a new ruin, which is exactly what happened when the Acropolis Museum was erected. In order to preserve their new findings, the museum was re-designed to stand on concrete stilts with multiple glass floors to see straight through to a preserved history.

Article CorinthCanalFrom Athens we toured the Peloponnese, a large peninsula south of the Gulf of Corinth. It forms most of southern Greece and is known for its ancient wonders and mythical triumphs. After crossing the Corinth Canal (completed in 1893), we journeyed west to Nafplion, the 1830’s center of Greece and the current capital of the province of Argolida. According to legend, the city was named after its founder, son of the God of Poseidon.

On the way to Nafplion we stopped at Epidaurus, known for its natural springs; It was the most brilliant center of healing in the ancient world. Worshiping the gods of healing in Epidaurus goes back to the prehistoric Mycenaean period. The site contains a Greek theater which seats 14,000 people and is one of the best preserved theaters from ancient Greece.

Yanni told us a fact about of the theater’s ancient construction: that you can sit in the furthest row and hear a coin drop on the stage floor so clearly that you would think it was three feet from you. Needing this to be proven, I climbed the rows of stone seats to the highest point and listened hard when someone dropped a euro on the ground floor. Amazingly, the resounding “cling” that rang through the theater was crystal clear, like I dropped the coin at my own feet.

 

 

In the city of Sparti, there are many stories about the Spartan clan, most well-known for their aggressive nature and devotion to their city. There is even a monument marking the spot where 300 Spartans, along with 700 other Grecians, fought an estimated one million Persians (this war was recently highlighted in the movie “300”, starring Gerard Butler). The city of Sparti comes alive at night with lots of restaurants, café’s, and shopping.

Mystras, a fortified town on Mt. Taygetos, overlooks the ancient town of Sparta. In Medieval times, during the 14th and 15th centuries, Sparta flourished and served as the capital of the area. Our entire tour group walked to the top of this mountain although the summer heat outside was intense, marveling at the preserved city composed of a church, a palace, city streets and water ducts. It was inhabited through the Ottoman period and was abandoned in the 1830s when the new town of Sparti was built.

Article CoastalGreekTownCoastal Greece is mesmerising: The water is royal blue, and driving around the coast past mountain ranges, fishing farms and olive groves reveal how the Greek people have learned to live off their environment. I was under the impression that Italy had the cornerstone on the olive market, but olives are big business in Greece. Each olive grove is named after the city in which it resides. For example, the popular dark aubergine Kalamata olive often used in Greek salad grows in the city of Kalamata. On the way to Delphi, we passed a grove containing 13 million olive trees.

Olive oil has long been considered sacred; it was burnt in the sacred lamps of temples as well as being the "eternal flame" of the original Olympic Games. Before medals were provided to Olympic winners, victors in ancient games were crowned with olive tree leaves.

The original Olympic grounds area is a vast space now in ruins in the Greek city of Olympia, and held in honour of the Greek God, Zeus. Part of the ancient Olympic grounds consisted of a large temple for Zeus, which housed a massive statue of the God to watch over the games. It is one of the great seven wonders of the ancient world. Unfortunately, only the Great Pyramid of Giza is left standing out of the original seven wonders.

The exact start of the Olympic Games is shrouded in myth and legend, but records show they began in 776 BC. The ancient Olympic Games continued until AD 393, after which it was moved to different cities around the world. The torch tradition was always done in front of the Goddess Hera’s temple and continues there before each modern Olympics. There were much fewer sporting events held during the ancient Olympics, and originally only free Greek men were allowed to enter. Many sports consisted of gymnastics and were completed naked. The Greek etymology of the word ‘gymnos’ means exercising and competing in the nude.

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There are few modern wonders in Greece, but recently the Rion-Antirion Bridge was completed, connecting the Peloponnese with continental Greece, which is where the tour progressed towards Delphi. The bridge’s original vision was designed in 1889 and finally became a reality on Aug. 7, 2004 to the final tune of 770 million euro ($978.5 million). It is one of the only bridges worldwide built over a tectonic plate and therefore uses the latest technologies to hold up its length of 1.4 miles. The true glory of the bridge was celebrated the day after its completion as the Olympic Torch passed over the bridge on its way to Athens.

 

 

Article Delphi OracleTempleWhen traveling the mainland of Greece, it’s imperative to see the city of Delphi, the location of the ancient, all-knowing Oracle. The sanctuary of the god, Apollo, extends over a series of terraces in the foothills of Mount Parnassos. The area was originally inhabited during the Mycenaean times (14th – 11th century BC), when “Ge,” or “Earth,” was the main deity worshipped. From the 9th century BC to the 2nd century

AD, this settlement began worshiping the god

 

Apollo, whereby stone temples were built and people from across the lands, including other countries, would visit to get answers from the Oracle.

Some worshippers, like peasant women, would ask the Oracle, “Am I having a boy or a girl?” While Kings of nations might ask, “Should I go to war?” The answer would come in time depending on the wealth of the asker: The wealthier you were the longer your answer took. Payment would come in the form of animal sacrifice, jewels, food, gold, bronze and silver statutes, and each day, worshippers would take their offerings to the god of Apollo. But it was worth it because the Oracle was always right. Priests and their helpers would listen carefully to the worshippers and answer in such a way that they were never wrong. For example, to answer a woman’s question about her pregnancy, the Oracle could answer “Boy not Girl,” and it depended on where the listener placed the comma that decided the outcome. Many decisions and initiatives were made because of the Oracle’s answers.

Article MeteoraOur last stop before returning to Athens was the city of Kalambaka, where the majestic rock formations of Meteora are. Geologists say this area was completely underwater seven million years ago, forming an array of grey rising rocks full of caves, which are now topped with monastic buildings. This area is also a well-known site for rock climbers to test their skill and take in the scenery, which to me truly resembled “a land before time.”

The buildings house monks, priests and nuns who live a simple life above the land. Anyone who wants to shed their past lives are allowed to live amongst the monks in exchange for helping their new community with whatever skills they have to offer for however long they choose to stay there. And if living with the monks is not enough solitude, visitors can go one step further and live as a hermit in one of the many caves, six of which were occupied when I was there.

We visited St. Stephen’s Monastery, which included two churches: one old and one restored with amazing accuracy and beauty. The older church was last used just before World War II when, during the war, the paintings in the church were defaced and left that way.

Before heading home, there was one last thing to do: tipping your tour director and driver is an added expense to remember. From my research anywhere from two to four euro a day for your driver and three to five euro a day for your tour director is considered fair.

When taking a tour, it’s important to take into account the importance of schedule. Tours often include early mornings and only pockets of free time. This tour of Greece did allow for more free time than other tours by giving a great balance of excursions versus down-time, but each day started with a 6:30 a.m. wake-up call. And similar to being on a cruise ship, many excursions cost extra. It’s important to find out which museums, excursions and meals are included in your original tour price to get true understanding of cost.

Article Athens Acropolis

An educational tour becomes a perfect way to see it all and get more value for your money. And at the end, I realized that Greece really is much more than just the Greek Islands and the ruins of a distant culture.

©Stephanie Hiltz

Stephanie Hiltz, food and travel writer; www.chefytephi.com

Published in inexpensive

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