6 Amazing Destinations for Christmas this Year

December 1st is officially the start of the Christmas festive period. For many it is a great time to catch up with friends or spend quality time with family. For some, it is time to travel. The weeks around Christmas provide a chance to get away, explore and have a break from normal life.

This year we are doing something a little different, we are spending Christmas at home! Normally around this time of year we have been either on opposite sides of the world, separated by work, or travelling through some far flung land. So this week we are looking at some of our favourite locations where we have spent Christmas.

1. The Holy Lands, Israel and The Palestinian Authority

Why not visit where the stories of the Bible actually took place? Wandering through the ancient cobblestoned alleyways of Jerusalem is an experience you will not forget in a long time. Watching the daily life of three of the world’s biggest religions intermingling also gives you hope that perhaps one day conflict based on different faiths may eventually be a thing of the past.

Looking down over Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives. Visiting the Holy Lands gives you a different perspective at Christmas

Looking down over Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives. Visiting the Holy Lands gives you a different perspective at Christmas

Of course that hope is almost dashed when you take a trip out to Bethlehem to where the Christmas story all took place. Situated in the Palestinian Authority, the journey is one of armed guards, tensions and large barbed wire fences. However, standing in the Church of the Nativity is, much like a visit to Jerusalem, an amazing experience.  Thousands of Christian pilgrims make the journey every year, and even if you are not religious you cannot help but be moved.

The Church of the Nativity in the Palestinian Authority

The Church of the Nativity in the Palestinian Authority

2.Rome and Vatican City, Italy

Thousands of people crowd into St Peters Square in Vatican City every year to celebrate Christmas Mass. The Vatican is an incredible mix of art, religion and politics but should be high on everyone’s travel bucket list. So much of the city of Rome was crafted by the Church over the centuries so a visit to the eternal city is the perfect destination over the festive season.

Looking down towards St Peters and Vatican City from the Bridge of Angels in Rome

Looking down towards St Peters and Vatican City from the Bridge of Angels in Rome

You can walk in the footsteps of the early Christians, former Popes and incredible artists all culminating in a tour through the Vatican Museums. The whole Roman Catholic world turns to St Peters over Christmas, and you can be a part of the celebrations.

The incredibly ornate interior of St Peters Basilica

The incredibly ornate interior of St Peters Basilica

3. In Search of Santa, Lapland Finland

One of Natalie’s favourite Christmas’ abroad was up into Lapland. A trip north of the Arctic Circle puts you deep into Reindeer territory and the perfect place to search for Santa. In fact the “Official” home of the big guy in the red suit is the town of Rovaniemi right on the Arctic Circle in Finland. The Santa Claus Village sells everything from local handicrafts and toys to the finest leather ware made from reindeer (you now know what happens to them if Santa is late!).

When in Lapland, reindeer boots are the height of Christmas fashion!

When in Lapland, reindeer boots are the height of Christmas fashion!

A trip to Lapland also gives you the chance to husky dog sledge or perhaps go in search of the magical northern lights! A true winter wonderland.

4. Somewhere Warm

Growing up in Australia meant for me that Christmas was normally at least warm if not hot. A summer  Christmas is a totally different experience than a winter one and could be the perfect change you are looking for. A walk along the beach, BBQ action and a celebratory drink in shorts and flip flops is about as foreign an experience as you could get for many people from the northern hemisphere, but it sure beats shovelling snow right?

Surf is up for Santa, it could be for you too!

Surf is up for Santa, it could be for you too!

5. In a culture that doesn’t celebrate Christmas

Why not immerse yourself in a culture where Christmas is not celebrated? Last year we spent the festive period travelling through China, and while many of the markets surprisingly sold Christmas lights, tinsel and inflatable Santa Claus’, Christmas is not really the done thing. In fact the majority of our Christmas Day was spent sitting around a rather isolated train station in Yichang waiting for our evening train.

Some of the markets in China trying to get festive

Some of the markets in China trying to get festive

Natalie spent Christmas in Egypt a few years ago (sadly for work not for fun) and again is a totally different experience than being back home. Imagine staring out over the pyramids which were already considered ancient 2000 years ago when the Christmas story took place!

Natalie at the step pyramid a few Christmas' ago

Natalie at the step pyramid a few Christmas’ ago

6. Home

For many travellers your home city is their exotic destination for Christmas. So instead of getting bogged down with the mad rush of Christmas shopping or the stress of trying to catch up with everyone you have ever possibly known, get out there and enjoy your hometown. From Christmas Markets to local Christmas Carols events, there is bound to be something amazing in your local area to help get you into the Christmas Spirit! Even for experienced travellers there is no place like home…

Where is the most random or exotic place you have spent Christmas? Drop us a line and share your Christmas travel stories.

– Merry Christmas, Dean

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The 7 Wonders of the World and Travel Checklists

The few wonders of the world only exist while there are those with the sight to see them”

– Charles de Lint

When groups of travellers get together comparisons of adventures are often made and countries visited and other numerous checklists are ‘ticked’ off. Sit in any backpacker bar around the world, or hostel common room and there is always one conversation between travellers trying to out do each other. On the seventh of December this year, a new list to compare will be announced.  The ‘New 7 Wonders Cities’ list, the top seven cities from around the world as voted by us, the citizens of the world!

Travel lists are nothing new, in fact ever since ancient times there have been travel ‘bucket lists’. The seven wonders of the ancient world, (not ancient to them), was probably the first must see travel checklist. In 2007 a new ‘7 Wonders’ was released, again voted for, by the world’s population. While when we travel we are definitely not ‘list tickers’, our overland adventure from London to Melbourne included a visit to several of the 7 Wonders, and for me, it meant a chance to have visited them all.

So in preparation for the release of the world’s top seven cities, this week we are looking back at our visits to the New 7 Wonders of the World, (in no particular order!).

1. The Colosseum: Rome Italy

The home of Rome's mighty gladiator battles and one of the symbols of the ancient city

The home of Rome’s mighty gladiator battles and one of the symbols of the ancient city

When you think of Ancient Rome, you instinctively think of the Colosseum. I first visited the Colosseum in 2004 and still vividly remember it. Exiting a relatively modern (by Rome standards) Metro/Underground station and there straight in front of you is this enormous imposing ancient structure. The Colosseum has been ravaged by earth quakes and pillaged for its marble throughout the centuries but nothing screams out, ‘I am in Rome’ more than a visit here. Word of advice, steer clear of the guys dressed as Roman soldiers offering to have your photo taken with them. They will use your camera and then charge you for the privilege!

Nothing says Rome quite like the Colosseum

Nothing says Rome quite like the Colosseum

2. Machu Picchu: Peru

The must have photo of Machu Picchu with the mountain of Wayna Picchu in the background

The must have photo of Machu Picchu with the mountain of Huayna Picchu in the background

I had built up Machu Picchu so much in my mind I didn’t expect it to meet my expectations, but in honesty it far exceeded them! My trip to South America was all a little last-minute so I was unable to get my hands on a permit to hike the Inca Trail. Instead I caught the train from Cuzco to Aguas Calientes and spent a full afternoon and most of the following day exploring this incredible site, and I am so glad I did. I was one of the first into the site before dawn and sat and watched the spindly fingers of fog draw away and finally unveil the ruins in all their glory. It felt like I had the entire area to myself.  After dawn broke I was able to climb to the top of Huayna Picchu which only allows a limited number of people to ascend every day, for a different perspective of the ‘Lost City of the Incas’. The dramatic surroundings and incredible history made for one of my travel highlights from around the world.

Looking down of the 'Lost City' from the peak of Waynu Picchu

Looking down of the ‘Lost City’ from the peak of Huayna Picchu

3. Petra: Jordan

Approaching the Treasury  of Petra from the 1.2km long Siq

Approaching the Treasury of Petra from the 1.2km long Siq

Ever since seeing ‘Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade’ I had wanted to visit Petra. I knew very little about the Rose City until I visited, thinking that Petra was only the Treasury (the most famous building) but quickly discovered it was a huge sprawling settlement that was not discovered until 1812! The highlight was definitely the walk through the narrow and winding 1.2km gorge called the Siq, a natural phenomena that not even Steven Spielberg and George Lucas could have imagined.

There is more to Petra than just the Treasury

There is more to Petra than just the Treasury

4. Christ the Redeemer: Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Christ the Redeemer towering over the city of Rio

Christ the Redeemer towering over the city of Rio

Like a beacon of hope, the statue of Christ the Redeemer towers over the city of Rio, arms outstretched embracing the City of God. A major drawcard for visitors and locals alike, Christ has been looking down on Rio since 1931. Stunning views of the of the city, beaches and surrounding hills including the famous Sugar Loaf Mountain.

Looking out towards Rio below

Looking out towards Rio below

5. Pyramid at Chichén Itzá: Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico

This Mayan Masterpiece is astronomically perfectly aligned

This Mayan Masterpiece is astronomically perfectly aligned

Chichén Itzá showcases just how advanced the Mayans were when it came to astronomy. All the structures in the complex perfectly aligned with the stars, the moon or the sun, none more so than Pyramid of Kulkulkan. During the spring and autumn equinoxes the fading sun lights up what appears to be a serpent descending from the top of the pyramid (there are some great YouTube videos showing this). There are also a number of other very impressive structures all linking up to the Mayan fascination with the universe.

Channelling the powers from above, El Castillo as it is know to the locals

Channelling the powers from above, El Castillo as it is known to the locals

6. The Great Wall of China: China

The Great Wall, the largest of the 7 Wonders

The Great Wall, the largest of the 7 Wonders

For as long as I can remember I wanted to set foot on the Great Wall. Maybe it had to do with the history or perhaps just the pure scale of the project but the wall has always amazed me. Easily accessible from Beijing and packed with both foreign and local tourists alike there are numerous sections to explore and hike this mammoth structure. Or perhaps just find a quiet (if you can) section and look out as the Wall snakes over the surrounding mountains.

There are literally miles of Wall to discover, but trying to get a quiet section is not easy!

There are literally miles of Wall to discover, but trying to get a quiet section is not easy!

7: The Taj Mahal: Agra, India

It is almost impossible to take a bad photo of the Taj Mahal

It is almost impossible to take a bad photo of the Taj Mahal

Perhaps we saved the best to last but words cannot describe what it is like to lay eyes on the Taj Mahal. It is such a contrast to the hustle, bustle and humanity of surrounding Agra, but as soon as you enter the compound and gardens it is like some serene peace descends on you, despite the mass throng of tourists. Considered to be one of the most beautiful buildings in the world, seeing the Taj Mahal for the first time is definitely one of those wow moments that don’t come along that often!

One of the most beautiful buildings in the world

One of the most beautiful buildings in the world

Do you have a travel bucket list to check off or do you think that there are other sites around the World that should be part of the 7 Wonders? Let us know what you think.

– Dean

Time to start planning our next travel bucket list!

Time to start planning our next travel bucket list!

SPECIAL NOTE: Before you all ask, the Pyramids of Giza were given honorary status as they are the only still surviving of the 7 Ancient Wonders of the World. This was very controversial in 2007!

Museum Showdown: Ferrari vs Lamborghini

I build sports cars, you build tractors. You should stick to building tractors!” 

– Enzo Ferrari to Ferruccio Lamborghini

 

They are two of the most desired car brands in the world. Both brands have armies of loyal fans, make jaws drop as they drive by and have a rivalry dating back to the 1960’s when Ferruccio Lamborghini suggested to Enzo Ferrari that his cars were good, but could be better!

For those of us who are not multi millionaire’s (and we assume that is most people who read our blog) the closest we will ever get to owning one of these monsters of engineering is visiting the museums. So, like on the track which company’s museum out performs the other? Well in recent times we have been lucky enough to visit both, and one brand is certainly the first past the finishing line!

The Ferrari Museum is everything you would imagine from a super car manufacturer. Big, bold and brash the pristine white interior of the museum is tempered by the racing red of the various makes and models throughout Ferrari’s history. Immaculately manicured staff in red jumpsuits parade through the gift shops and around the museum almost putting the cars to shame.

A chance to get up close and personal

A chance to get up close and personal

The museum also showcases the rich Formula 1 history with the Hall of Champions, a room dedicated to the world champion winning cars and a wall of trophies amassed by Ferrari over the years. A gift shop almost as large as the museum sells just about anything you could slap a Ferraro logo on, shirts, caps, even LEGO sets and recreated parts of a car all waiting for the fans to snap up.

Outside is your chance to drive one of these beasts. A ten minute drive will cost you around 70€ all the way up to 700€ for two hours! With a range of cars to choose from you can put into practice what you learnt in the museum. Ferrari also now offer tours of their test track and around the production facilities (you don’t get to go inside any buildings and photos are forbidden).

Fancy a spin?

Fancy a spin?

Without a doubt, Ferrari knows how to put on a show and cater to what their fans want.The museum is excellent, exhibitions well thought out and the Formula 1 area is a definite must for fans.

Natalie in the Hall of Champions

Natalie in the Hall of Champions

So how does their arch rival Lamborghini match up?

No where near as flashy as Ferrari

No where near as flashy as Ferrari

From the moment you arrive at the Sant’agata Bolognese factory it is a totally different feel. The building is dark and dank, no flashy flags, bright signs or over the top advertising like in Maranello. The museum is also incredibly small. Split over several floors the museum can easily be covered in about 45 minutes, even for die-hard fans. The museum showcases all Lamborghini’s major motoring achievements including a Lamborghini Police Diablo, allegedly once owned by a Mafia boss and turned into a Police car to show that the Police were not scared of them, (the Police crashed the second one they confiscated).

The Lamborghini Patrol Car, the Police crashed the other one!

The Lamborghini Patrol Car, the Police crashed the other one!

The museum feels more like someones private collection is on show rather than the flag-ship of one of the world’s premier super car manufacturers. Lamborghini does trump Ferrari in one major area though, their incredible factory tour.

This 45 minute tour takes you onto the production floor as you watch man and machine hand craft each individual car. From ladies stitching the leather seats and steering wheels to the computers perfectly aligning each of the 15,000€ ceramic disc brakes (each worth s much as a Toyota Yaris our guide told us) the factory tour is incredible. The highlight is without doubt at the end when you watch a technician start up each car for the first time. The grumble then roar of the engine not only sends shivers down the necks of the visitors, but every engineer working in the factory looks up, a knowing smile crossing their lips as they hear their newest baby roar to life! The lack-luster museum and expensive entrance costs are worth it just for this moment.

Lamborghini has most makes and models on show in their much smaller museum

Lamborghini has most makes and models on show in their much smaller museum

While the Lamborghini Museum lacks the flair of Ferrari there is still something appealing about it. You almost feel that the museum is an after thought, the real purpose of everyone being there is that moment that car is switched on for the very first time. That being said, in the museum showdown between two of Italy’s premier brands there can be only one winner.

It would be fair to say for the everyday traveller, the Prancing Horse has more to offer than the Raging Bull, but the factory tours make for a closer contest than expected. In today’s challenge, the Ferrari Museum takes the podium with Lamborghini second!

– Dean

First past the post...

First past the post…