Big City Tales

New Zealand’s Treasure Trove of Cities

April 4, 2013
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Image of Hobbit shire

The Shire may be the home of fictional hobbits, but in reality most New Zealanders live in big cities.

If you thought New Zealand was just a land of shires, sheep and seashores, it may come as a surprise that the country is actually heavily urban-based.

In fact, over 50 percent of the population resides in the country’s four largest cities (Auckland, Christchurch, Wellington and Hamilton) that have historically ranked amongst the world’s most livable places, and there is nary a shire (or hairy-toed hobbit) to be found!

What you will discover, instead, is a treasure trove of cities boasting modern amenities and beautiful panoramas that rival the picturesque pastures outside of their municipal borders.

Of course, no trip to New Zealand would be complete without venturing out into said rural pastures, but to get a sense of what life is like for the vast majority of people be sure to head to the cities for a Kiwi-style urban experience.

Auckland

According to the Maori, New Zealand’s indigenous people, Auckland is a city desired by many and full of riches to be had. Little wonder, then, that it is the country’s largest urban centre and a major tourist destination.

Auckland also has the distinction of being the yacht and launch capital of the world, earning it the nickname ‘City of Sails’. Indeed, with one in three Aucklanders owning a boat, it is sometimes hard to see the water in Waitemata Harbour through the sea of boats bobbing on its surface.

The city’s mild climate and sheltered harbour contributes to boating being a popular leisurely activity, but Aucklanders also enjoy other outdoor pursuits such as rugby, cricket, soccer and netball.

Image of Waitemata Harbour in Auckland, New Zealand

Waitemata Harbour in Auckland hosts many nautical events throughout the year.

Shopping is also a favourite pastime with a number of upscale markets and mega malls providing a myriad of options to purchase goods at. Queen Street, High Street, and Karangahape Road are the main retail areas in the central business district drawing the socialite crowd; while those looking for more affordable wares head to the suburbs. Auckland’s three largest malls are: Sylvia Park, Botany Town Centre, and Westfield Albany.

Aucklander’s love of shopping is matched by their love of cultural activities. The Auckland Art Gallery boasts a collection of over 15,000 works and is considered to be the home of visual arts in New Zealand. In the realm of music, the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra performs its own repertoire of concerts as well as accompanies visiting artists.

Yes, when it comes to things to see and do in Auckland, the Maori had it right…there’s truly an abundance of riches in a city of abundant natural beauty!

Image of Auckland, New Zealand

The “City of Sails” earned its nickname for having more yachts per capita than any city in the world.

Christchurch

Famous for its historic Cathedral Square area and its one-time status of ‘Garden City of the World’, in recent years Christchurch has been in rebuild mode following a series of damaging earthquakes.

Despite the destruction and loss of some significant heritage buildings in Cathedral Square, the city remains a garden oasis with Hagley Park and the Christchurch Botanical Gardens being two of the largest and most popular green spaces.

Christchurch’s inner city is also noted for the Avon River that winds through its midst, offering long stretches of tree-lined banks where people can commune with nature in all its glory.

Given the city’s mild weather and close proximity to the ocean and nearby mountain ranges, Christchurch has the added perk of offering a diverse array of outdoor activities.  From skiing to hot-air ballooning to whale watching, there’s much to enjoy be it on land, in the air, or at sea…all of which can be accomplished within a two-hour drive of the airport!

Image of Cathedral Square

Although damaged by major earthquakes in recent years, Cathedral Square is still the geographic centre and heart of Christchurch society.

Wellington

As New Zealand’s ‘Capital of Cool’, Wellington’s appeal lies in its hip cafe culture, arts scene, ‘Wellywood’ film district, and eclectic architectural styles.

The Wellington Cable Car is another of the city’s iconic features, taking passengers from the Lambton Quay shopping area out to the suburbs. With a total length of 612 km and rise of 120 m, the cable car offers a great city view and a peaceful, gentle ride.

Along the waterfront, the Museum of New Zealand (Te Papa Tongarewa) is world-renowned for its interactive exhibits celebrating the country’s natural history. Meanwhile, just outside the city core is Zealandia, a protected wildlife sanctuary home to birds, lizards and other rare creatures unique to New Zealand’s landscape.

Whatever your pleasure, it’s hip doing anything in the ‘Capital of Cool’.

Image of Wellington Cable Car

The Wellington Cable Car is a recognized city symbol.

Hamilton

With its large student population, Hamilton boasts a vibrant entertainment scene along its main street with bars and eateries that rival similar offerings in other New Zealand cities.

Outside of the city, the Matamata region attracts legions of Lord of the Rings and Hobbit fans to the Hobbiton Movie Set. From Bilbo Baggins’ house to the Party Tree, a tour around the Shire is a treat for everyone.

Back in town, Hamilton Central is where most of the action takes place, but other attractions include:

  • The Base – New Zealand’s second largest shopping centre with 190 stores.
  • Hamilton Gardens – A series of public gardens designed around the theme of ‘the story of gardens’.
  • The Waikato Museum – Exhibits tell the story of Hamilton’s history from its visual art to Maori traditions.
Image of Hamilton, New Zealand

Hamilton is New Zealand’s fastest growing urban area.

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Every Day is a G’Day in the Land Down Under

April 2, 2013
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Collage of Australia

Crikey, there’s A LOT to see and do in Australia!

Ah, Australia!

What’s not to love about this country/continent dual entity where natural wonders abound on land and sea, and one glorious city after another populates its coastlines?

Indeed, the stomping grounds of koalas, kangaroos and Crocodile Dundee is also renowned for its world-class metropolitan centres where wildlife and people are learning to live in peaceful co-existence.

From the cricket grounds in Melbourne to the coral reefs in Cairns, to Sydney’s iconic Opera House and Brisbane’s famous Australia Zoo, there is much to explore (and enjoy!) in this corner of the world.

Melbourne – The Culture Capital of Australia

As the birthplace of the Australian film and television industries, Melbourne also lays claim to the place where Australian rules football, the Heidelberg School of Australian Impressionism, and the Melbourne Shuffle and New Vogue modern dance styles came to be.

The city’s creative energy is palpable and is especially evident in the network of laneways, alleys and arcades that make up the central business district. At Centre Place, for example, patrons are treated to an array of shops, restaurants and bars that are enhanced by the unique street art/graffiti showcased in this district.

Cultural images in Melbourne

Melbourne is a cultural hot spot where you can wine, dine and enjoy all things fine.

Sydney – History, Harbour, and Hinterland

Established by the British in 1788 as a penal colony, Sydney has come a long way from being a barren wasteland for criminals to waste away in. Back then people were not clamouring to Australia’s first port of call, but nowadays the city ranks as one of the country’s top tourist destinations, and a “long stay” in Sydney is definitely not a bad thing!

Even if you’re not a fan of the arts or the water, a trip to the harbour is a must to see the highly unusual designs of the Sydney Opera House and Sydney Harbour Bridge. These iconic structures have contributed to the city’s reputation as a world-class arts, entertainment and architectural centre.

Equally awe-inspiring is Sydney’s hinterland region that is blanketed with national parks, and its coastal region famous for attracting the world’s best surfers to ride the waves at Bondi Beach. In particular, the “Backpackers’ Express” is a notorious stretch of rip current located along the beach’s southern side that continues to draw visitors to its shores despite its high hazard rating.

Images of Sydney, Australia

From penal colony to one of the world’s most visited cities, Sydney has come a long way, mate!

Brisbane – Home of Kangaroo Point Cliffs and Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary

Australia’s “New World City” offers up the thrills of outdoor pursuits in the heart of its central business district. Adventures are many to be had along the Brisbane River, where tour boats, kayaks and beach balls are perfectly at home alongside city streets and skyscrapers.

Thrill-seekers will relish in the opportunity to cascade down Kangaroo Point Cliffs, Brisbane’s 20 million year old natural wonder that also is a great city vantage point.

Meanwhile, wildlife lovers will delight in the chance to cuddle up close with koalas and other species native to Australia at the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary. This haven for abandoned and misplaced animals allows visitors to hand feed kangaroos, wallabies and lorikeets, and photo ops are a plenty holding your favourite homegrown creature.

Image of Brisbane River

More than business is conducted along the shores of the Brisbane River…it’s also a place for all sorts of outdoor fun!

Cairns – Gateway to the Great Barrier Reef

The locals “Love It!” and you will, too!

With its tropical climate and close proximity to the Great Barrier Reef, the north-eastern based city of Cairns is a mecca for tourists who enjoy a host of marine activities above and below the surface.

From sailing to scuba diving and snorkeling, whatever your favourite water pursuit you’ll find ample opportunities to splash about in nearby inlets and bays, as well as further offshore in the Coral Sea.

Image of coral reefs

The Great Barrier Reef is a marvel of colour, texture and exotic marine life.

Sing a Happy Song for Australia

When it comes to singing the praises of Australia, there’s really no end to the chorus of happy refrains about its vast beauty and endless wonders. So, grab your mates and get ready to have a “Waltzing Matilda” good time and “Advance Australia Fair” for every day is a g’day when you’re in the land down under!


Fall in Love with Life (and Colour!) in Lima

March 29, 2013
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Image of traditional Peruvean dancers

A parade in downtown Lima features traditional Peruvian dancers and costumes.

Bustling with life and full of colour at every turn, there’s a lot about Lima to fall in love with!

From its rich cultural heritage to its modern-day status as the Gastronomical Capital of the Americas, the city oozes with energy and excitement, and good eats are easy to find.

Sample a mouth-watering ceviche offering (raw fish, spices and lime juice), lovingly prepared by top chefs at local cevicherias, top it off with a punchy pisco sour, then set out to soak up the rest of Lima’s vibrant atmosphere.

Historic Centre of Lima

One of the best places to capture the city’s essence is at the Historic Centre of Lima where lavish colonial architecture celebrates the influence of Spanish royalty from centuries gone by.

Thousands of elaborately decorated balconies add to the unique look and feel of this district, along with the abundance of historical buildings and monuments. Some of the most popular to visit include:

  • The Archbishop’s Palace – Built in the 1500s, the palace is home to the Archbishop of Lima and its patron is Saint Rosa of Lima.
  • The Basilica and Convent of San Francisco – Beyond its pretty yellow baroque-style stone exterior, this building is known for its extensive underground catacombs.
  • The Cathedral of Lima – Visited by Pope John Paul II on two occasions, the Cathedral is also the burial-place of Francisco Pizzaro, the Spanish conquistador who established the city of Lima in 1535.
Image of Cathedral of Lima

Flowers and fountains add to the splendor of the Historic Centre of Lima.

Miraflores

For the best city views, shopping and eating areas, head to Miraflores where the shores of the Pacific Ocean are lined with beaches, hotels and walkways. While enjoying the ocean view, be sure to stop by the shops in Larcomar or the pubs in Pizza Street.

Miraflores is also a district to explore history and contemporary culture in. The Huaca Pucllana is a pre-Inca pyramid constructed of adobe and clay that was used for ceremonial games and administrative purposes by the earliest members of the Lima Culture between 200-700 AD. Jump ahead to modern times, the theaters, cinemas and art galleries of Miraflores are where tourists and locals still come out to play.

Speaking of places to play, Lima also has its fair share of parks and pathways to enjoy.

Image of Miraflores district in Lima

Miraflores is a major tourist hub in Lima.

Park of the Reserve

Lima is known as “The Garden City” for good reason. The Miraflores district is chock-full of elaborately landscaped green spaces and expansive parks, but many happen to be located in the downtown core.

One of the largest and most visited is the Park of the Reserve. A main attraction in this park is the Magic Water Circuit, which features a series of 13 fountains that are fully lit up and best viewed at night.

For daytime water fun that offers a similar cascade of colours, check out the Lima beach scene.

Image of Rainbow Fountain in Lima

The Rainbow Fountain is one of thirteen installations making up the Magic Water Circuit.

The Beach Scene

While Lima’s climate is not overly hot, in the summer months the place to be is the beach. That is, of course, if you can find a spot to lay your towel, raise your umbrella, and wade out into the Pacific surf.

If a mass of humanity is not your idea of a “day at the beach,” refuge can be found south of the city at remote white sand dune beach areas that are less-populated and more peaceful.

Image of crowded beach in Lima

A sea of people, umbrellas and towels makes up the Lima beach scene.

Where Life and Colour Collide

Aptly described as a “mosaic” of smaller towns that makes up a larger megacity, the landscape of Lima glimmers with an array of natural attractions and manmade enhancements that seemingly contradict, yet complement each other. Contrasting  styles aside, what is crystal clear about Lima is that it truly is a city full of life and colour that inhabitants and visitors alike have come to know and, yes, love!

Image of homes on the hill of Cerro San Cristobal

The colourful hill of Cerro San Cristobal.


On a Clear Day in Santiago

March 27, 2013
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Image of Santiago's cable car ride

Take a ride across the Santiago sky in the Cerro San Cristobal Cable Car.

Nestled high in Chile’s central valley and set against the backdrop of the towering Andes mountain range, on a clear day the city of Santiago is a sight to behold.

Modern skyscrapers, neo-classical cathedrals and art deco hotels make up the city’s eclectic architectural style that pops at every turn against the vivid blue hues of the southern hemisphere sky and stark white snow-capped mountains.

The Metropolitan Cathedral of Santiago is hard to miss on picture-perfect days, as are other historic landmarks and, of course, the ever-present Andes that loom ever so large to the city’s north.

Image of Metropolitan Cathedral of Santiago

In late afternoon sun, the Metropolitan Cathedral of Santiago takes on a warm hue.

The irony and sad reality is that clear days are hard to come by in Santiago–particularly during the winter months–and said majestic mountains and the city’s evolution to a major urban centre have actually contributed to a smog problem.

The good news is that the city’s air quality is improving and there are three other seasons where blue skies can, and thankfully do, appear.

Image of Santiago

The majestic Andes mountain range looms large north of Santiago, Chile.

Yes, when winter passes, and the smog clears and cloud cover lifts, the landscape of Santiago comes to life. And it’s not just the Andes capturing all the attention.

By day, green spaces in the inner city such as Parque Forestal located along the Mapocho River attract legions of nature and art lovers clamouring to the park for a walk or museum tour. Just outside the city, sprawling vineyards are easily accessible; while the aforementioned mountains also provide ample opportunities for outdoor pursuits such as climbing, skiing and kayaking.

At night, the soothing sounds of jazz chords can be heard from clubs in the Bellavista district, and lasers and flood lights occasionally fill the sky around the Gran Torre Santiago, the city’s and Latin America’s tallest skyscraper.

As the old song goes: “On a clear day (you can see forever),” and when the conditions are ideal in Santiago, this sentiment rings oh so true!

Image of Gran Torre Santiago

Look up, way up…the Gran Torre Santiago lights up the night sky.


Mexico City: An Artist’s Playground

March 26, 2013
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Image of Mexico City

Art takes many forms in Mexico City, including colourful roof tops and stylized landscaping.

It may be the centre of political power in Latin America, and may be better known (at least in recent years) as a hub for drug cartel activity, but Mexico City is also where artists like to come out and play.

Murals, Murals and More Murals

As a major contributor to the government-sponsored Mexican Mural Movement, Diego Rivera was at his height between 1922-1953 when he completed many elaborate frescos that are still revered and celebrated.

Chief among his works are the series of vibrant, bold and larger than life murals that adorn the walls of the Palacio Nacional in Mexico City. Depicting scenes from Mexican history, Diego used large, colourful and simplified figures to tell the country’s story leading up to revolution in 1910.

Other notable Diego murals in Mexico City can be found at the National Preparatory School and the Secretariat of Public Education.

Image of Diego Rivera mural

Diego Rivera’s murals in the Palacio Nacional depict aspects of Mexican history.

Self-Portraits as a form of Self-Expression

If one artist in the Rivera household wasn’t enough to merit the attention of art critics and patrons, the painter’s wife–Frida Kahlo–was also gifted with the brush and demonstrated a penchant for the medium of self-portraits.

Shocking to some, inspiring to others, Kahlo’s unique style incorporated elements of folk art and Surrealism.  She drew upon traditional aspects of Mexican culture and religion and was not one to shy away from bold colour or controversial subject matter, including her perceptions of women in Mexican society.

Kahlo’s volatile marriage with Rivera and the home she grew up in (known as the “Blue House” or La Casa Azul) also provided fodder for her extensive portfolio of work. After Kahlo’s death, La Casa Azul was converted into a museum and remains a popular tourist destination in the Colonia del Carmen district of Mexico City.

Image of Frida Kahlo Museum

The Museo Frida Kahlo is the famous “Blue House” where she grew up in Mexico City.

Building Exteriors become Art Installations

On the campus of the National Autonomous University of Mexico, the Central Library looms large, and it’s not just because of its extensive collection of books!

The building’s exterior, painted by Juan O’Gorman, is a series of historical murals comprised of coloured tiles gathered from around the country. From Mexico City’s pre-Hispanic era to modern times, the murals offer a glimpse of how the city came to be and has subsequently evolved into a major urban centre.

Along with other campus buildings, the area is a designated UNESCO World Heritage site.

Image of Central Library in Mexico City

The Central University Library serves a dual function as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Take me out to the Market

The best place to get a full sense of the traditional Mexican arts and crafts scene is at local markets such as La Ciudadela, which offer clothes, blankets, handbags, jewelry and a host of other handmade merchandise.

While you’re spending your hard-earned dollars, enjoy the sights of cempasuchiles (marigolds) piled high in the sky and the sweet sounds of aspiring musicians looking to be discovered.

Be it amateur or established artisans displaying their wares, everywhere you turn in Mexico City there is bound to be something creative and fun that captures your eyes – so be sure to do as the artists do and get out and play!

Image of oudoor market in Mexico City

Who needs backup singers when a colourful chorus of cempasuchiles is available for free at the market?


All Hail to Helsinki

March 22, 2013
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Image of Helsinki

Dusk settles over Helsinki, Finland.

As the northernmost urban centre with a metropolitan population of over one million people, there is much to herald about Helsinki, Finland.

Having recently celebrated its 200th anniversary as capital of Finland, this fact alone is worthy of a hearty cheer, but the fanfare doesn’t stop there. Helsinki boasts a number of world-class museums and restaurants, and is also highly regarded for its contributions to the fields of architecture and design.

Image of Helsinki

Nordic design in all its simple, refined glory!

The city is an eclectic mix of Neoclassical, functionalist, modernist and Art Nouveau buildings making it a haven for architectural hounds. Additionally, Helsinki’s use of design as a tool for social, cultural and economic development earned it the title of World Design Capital in 2012.

Here are some Helsinki landmarks that best represent the city’s quintessential style:

Helsingin Tuomiokirkko/Helsinki Cathedral

Located in Senate Square, the Helsinki Cathedral is a showcase of Neoclassical architecture. Designed by renowned German architect Carl Ludvig Engel, the cathedral’s massive green dome dominates the city’s skyline. Built in the 1800s, the cathedral was intended as a tribute to Tsar Nicholas I of Russia who, at the time, was also the Grand Duke of Finland. The cathedral is presently the Diocese of Helsinki for the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland.

Image of Helsinki Cathedral

Detail of the Helsinki Cathedral.

Tennispalatsi/Tennis Palace

Now an art museum and entertainment complex, the Tennis Palace was originally created in 1938 as a sports facility with four tennis courts. When Helsinki hosted the 1952 Summer Olympics, the venue was used for preliminary round basketball games. The multi-purpose aspect of the building makes it a good example of functionalist principles and style.

Image of Tennis Palace

Functionalist style at its finest in the Tennis Palace.

Katajanokka

The colourful facades of the Katajanokka residential district showcase the essence of Art Nouveau design. Both decorative and dynamic, at the turn of the 20th century the distinctive style began drawing the attention of Helsinki’s upper class with politicians, composers and the like calling the area home.

Image of Art Nouveau residences

The signature Art Nouveau residences of Katajanokka.

While Art Nouveau is Katajanokka’s signature style, the area is also known for the Russian Revival/Byzantine-inspired Uspenski Cathedral. Sitting high on a hillside, the cathedral is the largest of its kind in Western Europe and draws thousands of visitors every year.

Detail of Uspenski Cathedral

The Uspenski Cathedral is an example of Russian Revival/Byzantine architecture.

Finnish Flair

Three cheers to Helsinki on reaching its bicentennial in such fine style and here’s to two hundred more years of design excellence!


Island Hopping in Stockholm

March 20, 2013
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Image of Stockholm

Stockholm is a city of connected islands and islets.

As capital cities go, Stockholm ranks as one of the world’s most beautiful but an even greater claim to fame is its highly unique geography.

Spread over a series of 14 islands connected by 57 bridges, the mix of natural waterways and lush green spaces, along with a temperate climate makes island hopping in Stockholm a ‘must-do’ activity!

While some islands are mainly residential hubs not worth a look-see, others are full of attractions that shouldn’t be missed.

Stadsholmen/Old Town

A good place to start is Stadsholmen, Stockholm’s City Centre, which is literally located on the water in Riddarfjarden Bay. Along with three smaller islets, Riddarholmen,  Helgeandsholmen, and Stromsborg, this area is designated as the Old Town of Stockholm (Gamla stan) and is home to a plethora of historical buildings. Here are three to check out:

  • Stockholm Stock Exchange – Before entering the peaceful halls of the Nobel Library and Museum, take a stroll outside through Stortorget Square where the site of the 16th century Stockholm Bloodbath paved the way for revolution and the coronation of King Gustav I.
  • The Royal Palace – The elaborate Baroque design of Kunliga slottet is befitting of the Swedish monarchy, serving as both its official residence and administrative offices.
  • Stockholm Cathedral – Famous for its Brick Gothic architectural style and statue of Saint George and the Dragon, the cathedral is also the oldest church in the area.
Image of Stockholm's Royal Palace

The Royal Palace in Stockholm’s Old Town district.

Djurgarden/Royal Game Park

Popular with locals and tourists alike, Djurgarden is the place to go for all sorts of recreational fun. As part of the Royal National City Park, which extends into the municipalities of Solna and Lidingo, this island features scenic footpaths and waterfront promenades along with a host of museums, an old-fashioned amusement park (Grona Lund), and a public garden (Rosendals Tradgard) noted for its rose blooms.

Image of swans in Royal National City Park

A family of regal-looking swans graces the waters of Royal National City Park.

Kungsholmen/Functionalist Style

Once considered to be primarily an industrial district, Kungsholmen underwent a significant transformation in the early 20th century. Residential complexes and public institutions replaced factories creating a new vitality and introducing a new architectural style – functionalism – at the same time.  According to the principles of functionalism, buildings should be designed based on their purpose. The series of residential buildings located along Norr Malarstrand are a good example of functionalism at work.

Image of functionalist buildings

A row of residential buildings along Norr Malarstrand.

Sodermalm/Bohemian Alternative Culture

Fans of Swedish mystery/crime writer Stieg Larsson will want to head to Sodermalm, where many of the events contained in his Millennium series of books take place. The island has also provided fodder for other distinguished Swedish writers and poets, and the famous actress Greta Garbo hails from this area.  The Sodra Teatern is the oldest theatre in Stockholm and with seven functional stages is able to offer a diverse range and large number of cultural events.

Image of street in Sodermalm

A charming side street in Sodermalm.

Here an island, there an island…

Whether you visit all 14, or just one or two, island-hopping is part of the Stockholm experience (not to be confused with Stockholm syndrome!) and should be fully embraced. For those who do, the reward is a copious amount of gorgeous landscapes and the best possible views of the Capital of Scandinavia…’Yo ho ho, an island hopping we will go!’

Image of Kastellholmen island

So many islands, so little time!


Norway’s All-Season Wonderland

March 19, 2013
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Winter image of Oslo

A dusting of snow adds to the mystique and charm of Oslo’s ‘Winter Capital’ designation.

Oslo may hold the title of the world’s ‘Winter Capital,’ but it is truly a city that offers year-round fun!

Winter Wonderland

For those who revel in the chill of crisp Nordic air and the thrill of the great outdoors, winter is the ideal time to visit Oslo.

Fill your day with activities such as alpine skiing at Oslo Park, sledding at brake-necks speeds along the Korketrekkeren toboggan run, or ice skating at Spikersuppa Skating Rink.

Image of toboggans in Oslo sled park

Get ready for a wild slide ride at Korketrekkeren Toboggan Park.

At night, head inside and enjoy the vibrant nightlife the city has to offer. The Frognerseteren serves up hot and cold entrees in both a casual cafe and formal restaurant setting, with the added bonus of boasting one of the best views of the city and coastal shores along the fjord.

With so many options to consider, Oslo is a perfect place to pass through the depths of winter onto the delights of spring.

Spring Delight

Oslo’s festival scene kicks off in a big way in the spring months with international theatre front and centre, along with the reggae, heavy metal and jazz musical genres being celebrated.  In June, Oslo marks National Music Day and holds an annual children’s festival.

The city’s many parks and outdoor venues come alive at this time of year: Birkelunden and Bygdoy are two of the most popular to visit and marvel in the wonder of nature as it blooms in spring and fully blossoms come summer.

Image of Birkelunden Park

Spring has sprung at Birkelunden Park.

Summer Oasis

As the temperatures begin to climb in early July, it’s time to hit the beach at Huk or Paradisbukta, or set sail on an Oslo Fjord cruise aboard the Christian Radich, an old-fashioned tall ship.

Image of Huk Beach

Take a walk along a wooden boardwalk at Huk Beach.

Art enthusiasts will appreciate the outdoor sculptures on display at Vigelandsparken, which features over 200 pieces created by Norwegian sculptor Gustav Vigeland. The park is one of Oslo’s most popular attractions with over one million visitors every year stopping by to admire Vigeland’s body of work.

In the summer months, you can walk, jog or cycle to your heart’s content. Like other urban centres in Scandinavia, Oslo is very bike-friendly with inner city bicycle lanes and surrounding area off-road trails providing plenty of opportunities for fans of two-wheel transportation.

Fall Refuge

When it’s time to put the bikes away and seek shelter inside, Oslo’s 50 museums are a great way to be both entertained and educated. Here are just a few to consider:

  • The Ibsen Museum pays homage to Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen and includes a restoration of the home he lived in for the last years of his life.
  • Expressionist art is on full display at Munch Museum celebrating the unique perspective of Nordic painter Edvard Munch.
  • The Nobel Peace Center features permanent and rotating exhibitions celebrating the winners (present and past) of the annual Nobel Peace Prize and highlighting issues pertaining to war, peace and conflict resolution.
Image of Nobel Peace Centre

The Nobel Peace Center features permanent and temporary exhibitions.

Whatever your personal interest, chances are you will find a museum in Oslo that will keep you happily occupied during the cool fall months and well into winter, especially for those looking for a warm refuge until they’re ready to heed the call and head back outside when the ‘Winter Capital’ beckons again!


A Danish Delight

March 18, 2013
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Image of Nyhavn district

Colourful townhouses in Copenhagen’s Nyhavn district date back to the 17th century.

Denmark has long been regarded as one of the happiest countries in the world and a big reason why is the many delights found in Copenhagen, its capital city and main cultural centre.

Offering the best of old European charm and new world conveniences, visitors to Copenhagen can experience a taste of both with the added bonus of not having to travel a great distance to do so. Additionally, whether traversing by foot, bike, boat, or a combination of these and other readily available transportation options, the city is easy to get around.

Take a walk through Tivoli Gardens, the second oldest amusement park in the world that features a roller coaster first opened in 1915 and a ferris wheel from 1943 – both still operational! Or, for the shoppers out there, make your way over to the Stroget area, which also happens to be the world’s longest pedestrian street. Shop for bargains or splurge on high-end goods, all while getting your fill of exercise!

Image of Tivoli Gardens

Night view of Tivoli Gardens, the world’s second oldest amusement park.

For those who like to take a spin on two wheels, rent a bike downtown and join the thousands of cycling enthusiasts in Copenhagen who take advantage of an extensive system of paths and bike-friendly practices to get around the city.

Images of bikes in Copenhagen

Here a bike, there a bike…there’s no lack of bikes, paths, and riders in Copenhagen.

Water enthusiasts can hop on a boat in the Nyhavn historical district along the waterfront and admire the myriad of colourful townhouses and local businesses that line the city’s inner corridor of canals.

Landlubbers can hop off at the Memorial Anchor and pay respect to the Danish officers and sailors who lost their lives during World War II.  Travel back further in time with a visit to one of the many homes formerly occupied by beloved children’s writer, Hans Christian Andersen.

Image of Memorial Anchor

The Memorial Anchor pays tribute to the lives of officers and sailors lost during World War II.

No trip to Copenhagen would be complete without stopping by another landmark associated with Denmark’s beloved writer of fairy tales.  The Little Mermaid statue, located in the Langelinie waterfront area, celebrates its 100th anniversary in 2013 and is one of the city’s most identifiable icons.

Whatever the icon and whatever the mode of transportation used to go see it, you’ll be sure to get your happy on in Copenhagen while enjoying this city chock-full of Danish delights!


East Meets West in Hong Kong

March 14, 2013
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Image of Hong Kong harbour

Hong Kong Harbour is spectacular ANY time of day!

Not unlike other large urban centres in SE Asia, Hong Kong has a definite space problem! As one of the world’s most densely populated areas, it boggles the mind how seven million people are able to function and thrive in only 426 square miles of total land mass. And thrive they do!

Indeed, it is a testament to the ingenious minds of city planners to think ‘vertical’ and build a highly efficient transportation system that has resulted in numerous accolades being heaped on Hong Kong. Here are just a few:

  • World’s Most Vertical City
  • World’s Highest Public Transportation Usage
  • World’s Longest Life Expectancy

Regardless of the space challenges, another thing working strongly in Hong Kong’s favour is the exotic blend of its ancient Eastern Chinese roots that complements the modern Western influences of being a British colony for many years.

East truly meets West in the best sense of this concept and is fully operational in Hong Kong’s vibrant financial district where corporations and entrepreneurs alike enjoy the fruits of free trade, low taxation, and a strong currency.

Hong Kong’s culture and entertainment scenes also reflect a desire to pay homage to traditional Chinese practices that is balanced with the desire to progress modern aspects of society.

What this equates to is a very unique and dynamic city vibe that emanates from the depths of the inner harbour straight to the top of Hong Kong ‘s tallest buildings. One can only hope the positive energy rubs off on and sticks with visitors!

Image of Chinese statue

A traditional Chinese statue overlooks Hong Kong’s modern skyline.


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