Friday, March 30, 2012

Queensland - Where Australia Shines

There’s no better place than Queensland to experience the best of Australia’s very special lifestyle. Queensland has plenty of sunshine, spectacular beaches, natural wonders and unique nature and wildlife. A holiday in Queensland is all about freedom, fun and full, active days.

Home to five World Natural Heritage Areas including one of the Wonders of the World the Great Barrier Reef, Queensland is a big state with lots to see and do.
Queensland’s capital Brisbane is located 1200 kms north of Sydney, a short 90 minute flight. The Gold and Sunshine Coasts are only an hour drive from Brisbane, while tropical Cairns, 1700 kms to the north, is two hours flying time from Brisbane.
A modern, sophisticated city with world class shopping, dining, entertainment and cultural facilities, Cairns is also the gateway to the two World Heritage icons of the Great Barrier Reef and the ancient Daintree Rainforests. The magical Great Barrier Reef is the only natural wonder visible from space and is an easy day trip from Cairns.
Explore the waterfalls, rainforests and crater lakes of the world’s oldest surviving tropical rainforest in the Daintree. Take a hike, join a guided canopy walk tour, or climb aboard the historic scenic railway to the rainforest village of Kuranda. Visit Tjapukai Aboriginal Culture Park to learn about the culture and watch dance performances of Indigenous Australians before returning through the tree tops on the award-winning Skyrail Rainforest Cableway.
Set off on an early morning Hot Air Balloon ride for fabulous aerial views of the city and the surrounds with a champagne breakfast upon descent. Then for an excursion on the Quicksilver Cruise Liner including the Ocean Walker and the Seawalker Helmet Dive experiences which are simply exhilarating.
Located midway along the Queensland coast about 630 kms south of Cairns in the heart of the Great Barrier Reef is the Whitsundays, a stunning collection of 74 tropical islands! Hamilton Island, the largest inhabited island of the Whitsundays, offers glorious weather, azure waters, brilliant beaches, awe-inspiring coral reefs, fascinating flora and fauna, fine food and wines, and activities almost too numerous to mention.
A day trip on the Fantasea Cruise offers a tour of the Reefworld in a semi-submarine with an underwater viewing chamber. But the more adventurous can experience the magic of an Introductory or Certified dive with fully qualified dive instructors. 
Southern Queensland is home to the very best of Australia – the vibrant capital city Brisbane, World Heritage-listed National Parks including Fraser Island, and the stunning Sunshine Coast and Gold Coast.
Soak up sophisticated Brisbane’s relaxed outdoor lifestyle. Explore it on a guided walk, bike in the City Botanic Gardens, cruise down the Brisbane River or laze next to the lagoons of South Bank. Visit the Queensland Cultural Centre or explore Fortitude Valley’s cafes and boutiques. For an adrenalin-pumping experience with great views of the city and its surrounds, try a bridge climb, abseil down Kangaroo Point Cliffs or go sky diving.
Learn to surf world-class breaks on the Gold or Sunshine Coast beaches. Rightly called the Disneyland of the South Pacific, Gold Coast is famous for its Theme Parks with the various characters and myriad rides. From Dreamworld with its thrilling rides to Sea World with its marine life wonders, from Warner Bros Movieworld to the splashtacular Wet’n’Wild Water World and the extreme waterslides at WhiteWater World.
A far cry from the thrilling rush of the theme park rides is a peaceful evening spent enjoying a Glowworm Night tour that includes a guided walk through the rainforest for viewing glowworms and star gazing.
Drive to O’Reilly’s situated in the centre of the cool rainforest of Lamington National Park, with spectacular panoramic views to the McPherson Ranges. Explore the many arts and crafts shops on Gallery Walk at Mount Tamborine. Enjoy wine tasting at the Canungra Valley Vineyards.
Add some unique adventure experiences, year-round sporting and cultural events, world-class accommodation and spa retreats and you’ve got the perfect holiday spot.
Come visit Queensland with Mercury Travels its where you’ll feel welcome and alive. It’s where Australia shines. And you’ll shine too, from the moment you arrive.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Egypt – Where it all begins

Egypt is the perfect destination for a family holiday amid all the culture, adventure and exotica. Enjoy a city experience in ancient Cairo, a romantic cruise down the Nile, a luxurious indulgent experience in Alexandria, an adventurous desert experience in Bahariya and an idyllic beach and water experience with varied  water sports like deep sea diving, yachting and snorkelling in the Red Sea.

Egypt, the land of the Pharos, is one of the oldest vacation spots in the world visited by the early Greeks and Romans.  But Egypt is much more than Pyramids and monuments.
Cairo, a mega global city and the capital of Egypt, is known as the city of a thousand minarets for its multitude of Islamic architecture. Set in the backdrop of the magnificent Pyramids of Giza, the Valley Temple and the Sphinx, Cairo offers an incredible city life experience complete with shopping, leisure and nightlife activities. From ancient temples, tombs, Christian churches, Muslim monuments, Antiquities Museum to the famous Khan-el-Khalilli market bustling with a plethora of Egyptian artifacts, spices, perfumes, gold, silver, carpets, brass, leatherwork, fabrics, ceramics and other wares, Cairo is a shopper’s paradise. 

Alexandria, called the "The Pearl of the Mediterranean", is the second largest city in Egypt and has an atmosphere that is more Mediterranean than Middle Eastern. Located 225 km from Cairo, it is a Greco-Roman city founded by Alexander the Great. In ancient times, the city was known for the Lighthouse of Alexandria (one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World) and the Library of Alexandria (the largest library in the ancient world). A thriving and cosmopolitan city, Alexandria is today the hub of archaeological treasures including the Citadel of Qait Bey, Ras el-Tin, a royal fortress overlooking the Mediterranean Sea and the city; Roman Catacombs with a fascinating mix of Roman and Egyptian iconography; Pompey's Pillar constructed in honor of the Emperor Diocletian in AD 297; and the magnificent Roman theatre.  
A luxurious cruise of the Nile is an experience of a lifetime. Board the cruise at Aswan to see the many beautiful cities alongside the River Nile. Visit Kom Ombo that stands on the bank of the Nile between Edfu and Aswan. A beautiful old city, it houses the 180 BC Kom Ombo Temple dedicated to the two Gods Sobek and Haroeris. Edfu is home to the Temple of Horus, built during the reigns of the Ptolemies between 237 BC and 57 BC. The cruise also halts at the famed Deir el Bahari - a complex of mortuary temples and tombs, the temple of Hatshepsut, the Valley of the Kings and Colossi of Memnon.
From a relaxed cruise to the thrill of the desert. Hop onto a 4x4 vehicle and drive on the Bahariya desert road towards the Bahariya Oasis. Then towards the Black and White Deserts whose landscape is dominated by dozens of small black-topped mountains. The ground is overlaid by colourful limestone and basalt from the Eocene period. Drive onward to reach the Farafra Oasis, the smallest oasis in the Western Desert, and the setting of the ancient town of Qasr al Farafra. The desert experience is truly thrilling. 

The Red Sea, where the desert meets the ocean, is truly one of the most exotic and fascinating natural seascape environments on earth. The underwater wonder of the Red Sea remains a living tapestry of vibrant corals and exotic fish. The warm waters of the Red Sea are ideal for many varieties of rare fish and coral reefs, which can be observed through glass bottom boats. There is nothing to beat the thrill of experiencing the depth of the reef and the abounding marine life to be found there. Visit Hurghada or Mersa Alam to experience the Red Sea and its fabulous activities. Relaxing at the beach, lazing in the pool, yatching in the sea, snorkelling in the coral reefs or enjoying the exciting night life are among the many options.
Experience Egypt, the cradle of civilization, on an exotic and unforgettable holiday with Mercury Travels

Monday, March 12, 2012

Japan: A singular destination

From bowing to conveyor-belt sushi to ninjas, Japan is a special place. Here are some of the admirable things about the Land of the Rising Sun that haven't changed and indeed make Japan a singular destination.

The entire cabin crew aboard the flight bows in unison before the safety announcements. This collective gesture of welcome and appreciation is repeated everywhere: from the attendants putting you on the limousine bus at the airport to the staff of the ryokan (inn) as you check out.


Onigiri. These little triangles of rice, with a dollop of salmon, kelp or tuna inside, and wrapped in nori seaweed, were once road snacks for samurai. Now, road warriors and corporate workers buy them at convenience stores to put in lunch boxes or eat onboard long-distance trains. You haven't officially arrived in Japan
until You've eaten one.


Buddhist temple gardens. A temple garden is more than a green space: It's a place to draw inspiration. But you don't need to know anything about Buddhism to experience the peace that comes from clearing your mind. Sit on the temple's tatami and focus on a rock, lantern or leaf in the garden, and let the rest of the world disappear.


Hot spring baths. Whether it's in mosaic-muraled bathhouses, cedar tubs in the countryside or stone baths on a mountaintop, Japan is all about bathing in onsen, natural mineral waters said to be good for rheumatism, high blood pressure and general relaxation.


Vending machines. Sure, we have vending machines in the States, but machines that sell hot and cold canned drinks, with temperatures that can be changed seasonally? All kinds of awesome. Vending machines are a way of life in Japan, selling subway tickets, Coke on a mountainside by a middle-of-nowhere hiking trail, beer, toys, even underwear.


Hospitality. It must be an unwritten law that ryokan room attendants are prohibited from saying, "No." Any attempt to carry suitcases that seem bigger than the bell clerk, are routinely and politely declined. All this, and never a thought of a tip.


Luggage shipping. Nobody likes fussing with luggage at airports and train stations, and Japan's amazing door-to-door shipping system means it will travel cross-country — overnight! — for less than the cost of checking it on your flight. Ship to a hotel, and it's a good bet that the staff will have delivered it to your room before you've checked in.


Haiku: Daringly simple. Remarkably expressive. You can do it too.


Ramen. If the only ramen you've ever known is from those plastic packets, you won't know what hit you when you have your first taste of real ramen. It starts with the broth — soy sauce, salt, miso, pork bones and more — and the noodles topped with bamboo shoots, half a hard-boiled egg and strips of roast pork. The obsession extends to a ramen museum (with plenty of tasting opportunities).


Tatami rooms. Minimalism may have been discovered by the rest of the world over the last 50 years, but it goes back ages in Japan. A traditional Japanese room has tatami (mats) on the floor, simple stucco walls supported by wooden posts, and an alcove called a tokonoma, used to display your changing selection of hanging scrolls, pottery and seasonal ikebana.


Harajuku girls. Sassy though they may look in their manga-inspired cosplay (costume play) outfits, beneath the makeup, they're basically sweet kids. If one bumps into you, it's a good bet she will raise a palm in apology and say, "Sumimasen" (excuse me).


Conveyor-belt sushi. Two obsessions: sushi and automation, mashed together with style and fun. It's taking the world by storm from Kyoto to Koreatown.


Taxis. Sorry, America
has us beat on this, white-gloved hands down. Taxi doors open and close automatically, lace doilies cover the seats, drivers are unfailingly polite and tipping never enters their mind. If you don't know the route or can't speak Japanese, it's a good idea to have a map to your destination. In the unlikely event that the driver takes the wrong route, I've had instances where he (or, increasingly, she) will shut off the meter.


Contemporary architecture. Certain Tokyo districts look like galleries of modern architecture. The five Japanese Pritzker Prize winners (the second most in the world, after the U.S.) have quietly influenced design worldwide, yet the Japanese are happy to be schooled by architects from elsewhere. Case in point: Uruguay-born, New York-based Rafael Viñoly designed the Tokyo International Forum, by my reckoning (and many others'), Japan's greatest modern building.


Tokyo subways. Other cities only wish they had a Metro. Tokyo's amazing train network is the envy of the world, spotless, punctual and genteel. With 13 lines below ground and a tangle of additional lines above ground, it's the life blood of the city. If you hear anyone talking loudly on board, it's almost certainly not in Japanese. Those images you've seen of packers shoving folks into cars — only at certain stations during rush hour.


Tea ceremony. Yes, there's tea involved, but that's only one part of it. In the tea ceremony (Preferably a direct translation of the Japanese word sado, the way of tea), the setup is as important as the action: fresh picked flower in the tokonoma, calligraphy scroll conveying a precise emotion, bowls and vases selected specificly for the season. It's all about making the most of this one moment — it sounds very Zen, and in this case that's not a cliché.


Tsukiji fish market. Times Square has nothing on the bustle of the world's largest market for fish and seafood, some 450 varieties in the heart of Tokyo. It's difficult to view the auctions, but browsing the hundreds of wholesalers is a fascinating peek at where your fish comes from. Warning: Fast-moving motorized carts take no prisoners. Afterward, browse the Outer Market for produce and pottery, then indulge in a sushi breakfast at one of dozens of tiny shops.


High-tech toilets. Are heated toilet seats necessary? Maybe not, but they sure are nice on a cold winter morning. Japan has elevated plumbing to an art, and the graphics on the push buttons are adorable.

100 yen stores.


is famously expensive, but more and more (not just) Japanese are shopping at the equivalent of dollar stores. You're not going to get top-shelf stuff, but the wares — rice bowls to rice crackers, neckties to knickers — are often equal to what you'd buy elsewhere. Where else can you outfit your entire kitchen for the equivalent of $50?

 Experience the exquisite culture that is Japan with Mercury Travels