Get Personalized Guides For Food And Drink With Eight Spots

personalized guides for food and drink - EightSpots.comIf you are traveling in a big city and want restaurant recommendations, it can be overwhelming to turn to online review sites like Trip Advisor or Yelp that list hundreds of places, many of which are irrelevant to your tastes and preferences. A new website launches today, giving you personalized guides of where to eat and drink, focused on spots you’ll like. Eight Spots gives you just that: a list with recommended spots for breakfast, coffee, lunch, dinner and drinks. Take the fun 10-question “taste survey” (think: night owl or early bird), and tell them a few of your favorite spots, and it will generate a personalized guide for any of the featured cities. The more spots you review or add to your go-to lists, the more tailored your recommendations become. You can also integrate Facebook to further filter your guides based on friends’ recommendations. The current range of cities include Berlin, London, New York, Paris, Perth and Sydney, with plans to expand to 90 cities worldwide.

Get your picks at EightSpots.com

[Photo credit: Eight Spots]

Crystal Cruises Hobbit Experience Brings New Adventure To Sea

crystal cruises hobbit experience

Crystal Cruises are always looking for unique experiences to stand out from the crowd and an upcoming New Zealand sailing is no exception. Bringing adventure from the big screen to cruise passengers, Crystal Cruises has a new dinner experience this December, on the “Hobbiton” set used for the Lord of the Rings trilogy and new prequel film.

Just days after “The Hobbit

opens worldwide, Crystal Symphony calls in Tauranga in the Bay of Plenty region of the North Island of New Zealand, home of the “Hobbiton” set used for the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy and new prequel film. On the December 20 sailing, Crystal Symphony guests can have a private, guided tour from Frodo and Bilbo Baggins’ Hobbit holes to the Brandywine Bridge, featuring local wine and beer and a traditional Kiwi barbeque served by wait staff in Lord of the Rings costume.

“We are always looking for unique, boutique ways for our guests to immerse themselves in a world different from their own,” said Crystal’s Vice-President, Land & Port Operations, John Stoll in a Popular Cruising report.A second “Lord of the Rings“-themed adventure is also offered on both cruises, visiting Edoras’ home, Mt. Potts Station and Lodge, and New Zealand’s Southern Alps from Christchurch.

The 16-day Christmas/New Year’s sailing voyage overnights in Auckland before sailing through Tauranga, Napier, Christchurch, Dunedin, Sydney (double overnight), Melbourne (overnight), and Dusky, Doubtful, and Milford Sounds.

“With ‘The Hobbit’ opening mid-December, this is an extraordinarily timely opportunity for Crystal guests to be transported to a place that many fantasy-fiction genre fans, movie buffs, as well as wine and foodies, and off-the-beaten-path travelers, from around the globe can only dream of visiting,” said Stoll. The Hobbiton dinner and village exploration fee is $265 per person.

Hobbits Take Flight in Air New Zealand's New Safety Video


[Photo credit: Crystal Cruises]

How To Hike Australia’s Blue Mountains

blue mountains “Does anyone know why we call these the Blue Mountains?” asks Tommy, our hiking guide.

My friends and I look at each other unsure. I feel silly I hadn’t bothered to research such an obvious question.

“They are covered in Eucalyptus Trees, which spritz Eucalyptus oil from their leaves,” Tommy explained. “In the sun, the mist creates a haze that appears blue from a distance.”

The Blue Mountains comprise a mountainous region in New South Wales, Australia, and are part of the Great Dividing Range, the third longest mountain range in the world. The Blue Mountains themselves are actually longer than the Rocky Mountains, although not as high. Dramatically cut by deep chasms, hikers have the ability to explore the trails along the mountain ridges and down into these gorges.

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When To Visit

When hiking through the Blue Mountains, you’ll experience climatic shifts as you traverse through the different areas of the region. Whether it’s summer or winter, prepare for both seasons, as the weather can change rapidly. While you can visit anytime of year, Australia’s spring, which runs September to November, is when adventure sports like canyoning, rock climbing, abseiling and mountain biking begin their peak season. Additionally, you’ll also be able to experience an array of festivals in the area like the Festival of Walking, a nine-day event featuring everything from street walks to advanced treks, and The Capertee Challenge mountain biking event, where participants ride among sandstone cliffs and abundant wildlife. Other seasons also have perks, like vibrant foliage in the autumn, refreshingly crisp air in the winter and golden warmth in the summer.

blue mountains Getting There

There are many ways to get to the Blue Mountains from Sydney. Depending on which area of the Blue Mountains you are going to, the drive will take about 45 minutes to two hours by car. The nearest point is Glenbrook, while the farthest is Jenolan Caves/Oberon. Most visitors choose to spend their time in Leura or Katoomba, which is about 90 minutes from Sydney.

Taking the train is another option. City Rail offers trains directly from the city center or airport. This option is quicker than driving, and also includes access to the hop-on hop-off bus in the Blue Mountains, which visits more than 30 attractions. Trains run every hour, sometimes more than once.

Many travelers also opt to go by coach bus. Generally, buses leaves from Circular Quay. There are numerous companies, which you can browse by clicking here.

Hikes

You don’t need to be an athlete to hike in the Blue Mountains. Trails range from easy to experienced, and some paths are even wheelchair accessible. First you should choose your home base(s), which includes Glenbrook/Warrimoo, Springwood/Faulconbridge, Lawson, Wentworth Falls, Leura, Katoomba, Blackheath, Lithgow, Megalong Valley, Mount Victoria/Mount York, Bells Line of Road, Mount Wilson or Oberon.

While most of the previously mentioned areas contain an array of trail levels, some are more proportionate to one skill level. For example, those looking for an easy, scenic stroll should head to Glenbrook/Warrimoo, Leura or Katoomba. Moreover, experienced hikers will enjoy Blackheath, Katoomba and Wentworth Falls.

blue mountains Katoomba

During my trip, I explored a few of the areas, and have my own personal recommendations. There is a reason Katoomba is thought of as the “must see” area of the Blue Mountains, as there are many noteworthy natural sites. The hike from Echo Point to Katoomba Falls is easy/moderate and is about 2.5 miles to return. You’ll get to view the iconic Three Sisters, a unique rock formation that was created by erosion and now appears to be three distinct but concise rock towers. Orphan Rock, Jamison Valley, the ridges of Kings Tableland and Mount Solitary are other sites you’ll take in. You can easily add on to the trek to be able to see Furber Steps, the Scenic Railway and a large boulder outcrop known as the Ruined Castle.

In Katoomba, you should also visit Scenic World for a chance to experience the Scenic Skyway, Scenic Railway, Scenic Cableway, Scenic Walkway and Scenic Cinema. According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the Scenic Railway is said to be the steepest funicular in the world, with an incline of 52 degrees.

Wentworth Falls

The Wentworth Falls area has everything from the leisurely 3-mile, round-trip “Charles Darwin Walk” to a difficult 4-mile circuit with exceptional views, waterfalls, rain forests and bird watching. On the “Charles Darwin Walk,” you’ll follow the babbling Jamison Creek and will get to sit at the top of Wentworth Falls. Other waterfalls on the trek include Queen’s Cascades and Weeping Rock. If you’d like to make your hike more difficult, start at the Wentworth Falls picnic area and make your way to the Conservation Hut. You’ll pass numerous waterfalls as you walk fenced cliff edges. Keep in mind that while scenic, much of this trail is uphill, so you’ll need to be fit.

Blackheath

Trekking in Blackheath will allow you to discover the top area of the Blue Mountains for all-encompassing views of the area. One simple yet historical hike I recommend is Walls Cave. You’ll start at the end of Walls Cave Road where there will be a sign guiding you down a dirt path to Greaves Creek. Crossing over a small bridge, continue downstream until there is a bend in the creek. Here you will find Walls Cave, which was once inhabited by aboriginals.

if you’ve got a few hours to spare and want something more challenging, Walls Ledge-Centennial Glen-Porter’s Pass is a worthwhile trek. The beginning of the trail can be found near
the Centennial Glen Road parking lot. Right at the beginning, you’ll traverse winding hills following the cliff line where you will be able to look out into the valley. Follow the Porter’s Pass arrows, and along the way you’ll take in Kanimbia Valley, descend into a canyon and enjoy Centennial Glen Waterfall.

What’s your favorite Blue Mountains hike?

[Images above via Shutterstock; Gallery images Jessie on a Journey, Shutterstock, nosha, Jeremy Vandel]

Favorite Travel Destinations: Where’s Your ‘Happy Place?’

maroon bellsLong ago, a friend of mine referred to Colorado as my “spiritual homeland.” I frequently jest that I’m spiritually bankrupt except when it comes to the outdoors, and she was referring to my long-held love affair with the Centennial State.

My friend was right. There are parts of Colorado that are my “happy place,” where I immediately feel I can breathe more deeply, shelve my neuroses and just live in the moment. Places like Aspen’s Maroon Bells, Telluride, and Clark, near Steamboat Springs, are my cure for existential angst. I love the mountains and rivers, but when combined with shimmering aspens, wildflower-festooned meadows and crystalline skies and alpine lakes, it’s pure magic.

There are other places in the world that have a similar soporific effect on me: Hanalei, Kauai; almost anywhere in Australia; Krabi, Thailand; Atacama, Chile.

I’ve been in Colorado for work the last two weeks, and have devoted a lot of thought to this topic. Everyone, even if they’ve never left their home state, must have a happy place. Not a hotel or spa, but a region, town, beach, park, or viewpoint that melts stress, clears the mind and restores inner peace.

I asked a few of my Gadling colleagues this question, and their replies were immediate. Check them out following the jump.

Ruby BeachPam Mandel: Ruby Beach, Olympic Peninsula, Washington.

Kyle Ellison: Playa Santispac, Baja, and Kipahulu, Maui.

Grant Martin, Editor: “Happy place number one is a fifth-floor patio in the West Village with my friends, and a few beers. A garden and a quiet spot in a city surrounded by madness. Number two is at the sand dunes at Hoffmaster State Park in Muskegon, Michigan. Hop over the fence in the large camping loop head up the hill and towards the lake and you’ll find the quietest row of sand dunes in West Michigan. It’s a great place to camp out and gaze over lake, and also a good spot to take a date.”

Jeremy Kressman: “There’s a tiny little park buried in the Gothic Quarter of Barcelona – one side of it is flanked by a Roman wall and there are balconies all around. It’s far enough off Las Ramblas that there’s not a lot of tourist foot traffic and the little side alleys off it are lined with little tapas bars and fire escapes thick with little gardens. I’d like to be there right now!”
lake cabin
Meg Nesterov: “Lake Winnipesaukee, New Hampshire. My family has a 100-year-old cabin on the lake with very basic plumbing and a very wonderful view. I’ve spent many childhood summers there and honeymooned there, like my parents did 35 years ago. I travel a lot to find great beach towns, but few match the bliss of bathing in the lake and eating fresh blueberries from the forest.”

Jessica Marati: The banks of the Tiber just outside Castel Sant’Angelo in Rome.

David Farley: “I grew up in the Los Angeles suburbs where the gridded streets were flanked by nearly identical houses and the stripmalls were dominated by the same chain stores that were in the next town (and the next town and the next ..). Few people walked anywhere. The civic planning implicitly left little room to stimulate the imagination.

So when I moved to a medieval hilltown near Rome, I felt like I’d found the place – my happy place, the spot I’d been looking for. Calcata, about the size of half a football field, is a ramshackle of stone houses, a church and a diminutive castle that sits atop 450-foot cliffs. There’s only one way in and out – which is not even big enough to fit an automobile – making the village completely pedestrian free. I would often stroll its crooked cobbled lanes or sit on the bench-lined square thinking that I was literally thousands of miles, but also a dimension or so from my suburban upbringing. I don’t live there anymore but I’ll be going back later this year to participate in a documentary that’s being made about my book (which was set there).”
calcata
Melanie Renzulli: The National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC.

Chris Owen: “Predictably, mine would be at sea, on any ship, completely surrounded by water in all directions as far as the eye can see.”

Jessica Festa: Sydney, Australia.

McLean Robbins: Telluride. “Descending into town on the gondola, in the middle of falling snow and pure silence, felt like heaven.”

Alex Robertson Textor: “My happy place is La Taqueria, at 2889 Mission Street in San Francisco.” To which I add, “Hell, yes.”

Where’s your happy place (keep your mind out of the gutter, please)? Let us know!

[Photo credit: Maroon Bells, Laurel Miller; Ruby Beach, Pam Mandel; cabin, Meg Nesterov; Calcata, David Farley]

Advanced technology brings mandatory full-body scans to Australia

advanced technologyUsing advanced technology that makes passengers appear as stick figures, mandatory full-body scans are being rolled out at all of Australia’s major airports. Successful trials at Sydney and Melbourne airports last year signal the end of a loophole in legislation that had allowed passengers to request a pat-down instead of having to pass through a metal detector.

“I think the public understands that we live in a world where there are threats to our security and experience shows they want the peace of mind that comes with knowing government is doing all it can,” said Transport Minister Anthony Albanese in the Australian.

The new scanners, part of a $28 million overhaul, tested successfully year on more than 23,000 passengers in trials from August 2-19 in Sydney and September 5-30 in Melbourne.

The Australian government is touting the technology as the most advanced available, with the equipment able to detect metallic and non-metallic items beneath clothing with few radio waves emitted.
Made by L-3 Communications, the same company used in the United States to supply the scanners, the unisex images are discarded after each passenger has been cleared, satisfying privacy concerns.

The proposed Aviation Security Amendment (Screening) Bill 2012 will make it mandatory for any passenger selected, except those with serious medical conditions, to participate in a body scan and will be rolled out at a total of eight international gateway airports including Adelaide, Brisbane, Cairns and Gold Coast Perth.



TSA Eliminates Nude Body Scans With New Software



Flickr photo by DWissman