Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Cotswolds


Cotswolds
Cotswold - An Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty

Cotswolds is located in south central England with the Cotswold Hills which is a range of rolling hills that rise from the meadows of the upper Thames to escarpment such as the Cotswold Edge. This is above the Severn Valley and Evesham Vale and the area is defined by the bedrock of Jurassic limestone creating a kind of grassland habitat which is rare in U.K, and is quarried for golden coloured Cotswold stone.

In 1966, it was designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and is considered to have some amazing features from the local Cotswold stone and the rural landscape have some stone built village, stately homes and gardens as well as historical towns. The Cotswold is an area of England somewhat the size of greater Tokyo which is popular with English as well as tourist from all across the globe.

The name Cotswold is attributed to the meaning `sheep enclosure in rolling hillsides where the term `wold’, means hills though the English Place Name Society, for several years have accepted the term Cotswold derived from Codesuualt of the 12th century or other variation, the etymology of which was given as `Cod’s-wold’, which is Cod’s high open land.

Gentle Hills/Sleepy village/Typically English 

It is well known for its gentle hillside, sleepy villages and being typically English. One will find some of the famous cities like Bath, well known beautiful towns – Cheltenham with hundreds of amazing villages like Burford and Castle Combe.

The local honey coloured limestone found here is used for everything right from the stone flooring in the houses to the tiles on the roof and the area has a magical uniformity of architecture. The amazing honey coloured towns and villages of the Cotswold appear as if from the 21st century from another era which is characterized by gentle dynamism together with vibrant festivals and lively galleries with liberal endowment of intriguing museums.

Occupying an area of around 800 square miles across five counties like Wiltshire, Gloucestershire, Oxfordshire, Warwickshire and Worcestershire, the region of `wolds’ or rolling hills as it is called, is one of the biggest of the thirty eight Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty –AONB in England and Wales.

Drystone Walls in Fields

One will find the `Drystone walls’ all over in the fields and most of which were built in the 18th and 19th centuries as a matter of considerable skill since there is no cement to hold the wall in shape.

These represent a unique historical landscape with a major conservative feature which is still used by farmers to enclose their sheep and cattle. During the medieval period between the 13-15th centuries, the native Cotswold sheep were very popular throughout Europe and were known for their heavy fleeces with high quality wool which were priced very high.

The revenue generated from the wool trade enabled the wealthy traders to leave their mark by building fine houses together with beautiful churches which were known as `wool churches’.Besides the amazing countryside, one will also find interesting places to explore which include magnificent castles, ancient churches, stately homes with historic houses and glorious gardens.

You could shop at some of the oldest chartered weekly markets and also visit some market towns to shop or indulge in some leisurely ramble or have a traditional meal at the pub. Cotswold is an amazing destination with plenty to explore.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Cook Island, New Zealand


Cook Island
Cook Islands – Formed by Volcanic Activity

The Cook Islands is an island country in the South Pacific Ocean in free association with New Zealand located in Polynesia between French Polynesia to the east and Tonga to the west. This archipelago comprises of 15 inhabited islands which are spread out over 2.2 million square km of ocean with no land between the tropical Cook Island and the Antarctica.

Its main population centres are on the island of Rarotonga which has an international airport. One will also find larger population of Cook Islands in New Zealand especially in the North Island. These islands were formed due to volcanic activity and while the northern group tends to be older, it consists of six atolls that are sunken volcanoes topped with coral growth.

The climate here is moderate to tropical. The islands are self-governing in free association with New Zealand which holds the primary responsibility with regards to external affairs, in consultation with Cook Islands government. The Cool Islands nationals are the citizens of New Zealand who can obtain New Zealand government services, though the New Zealand citizens are not the nationals of Cook Islands.

Not a United Nations Member State

Cook Island1
Besides, the Cook Islands is also not a United Nations member state, though with Niue, have full treaty making capacity which has been recognized by United Nations Secretariat and is now a full member of the WHO and UNESCO UN specialised agencies.

It is also an associate member of the Economic as well as Social Commission for Asia as well as the Pacific – UNESCAP, together with a Member of the Assembly of States of the International Criminal Court.

The languages of the Island include English, Cook Islands Maori or Rarotongan and Pukapukan. The dialect of Cook Island Maori are Penrhyn, Rakahanga-Manihiki, the Ngaputoru dialect of Atiu, Mitiaro and Mauke, the Aitutaki dialect and the Mangaian dialect.

Cook Island Maori and its dialectic variants are somewhat related to both Tahitian as well as to New Zealand Maori while Pukapukan is closely related to the Samoan language. Cook Islands Maori and English are the official languages of Cook Islands.

Economic Base – Tourism/Agriculture 

Music here is varied with Christian songs which are quite popular though traditional dancing and songs in Polynesian languages also remain popular. Its economic development is hindered due to the isolation of the country from foreign markets, limited size of domestic markets, periodic devastation from natural calamities, lack of natural resources together with inadequate infrastructure.

 Tourism and agriculture is the economic base with major exports made from copra and citrus fruit and manufacturing functions are limited to fruit processing handicrafts and clothing. During the 1980s and 1990s, the country had lived beyond its means and maintained bloated public service incurring a large foreign debt but with subsequent reforms which included the sale of state assets, the encouragement of tourism, the strengthening of economic management and a debt restructuring agreement, they managed to have some investment, growth and progress.

Cook Islands’ currency is the New Zealand Dollar though they issue their own banknotes and coins which include two varieties of highly unusual $3 banknotes and the triangular $2 coins. Cook Islands money can be utilised only within the Cook Islands.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Iowa, United States


Grotto Arcade
Iowa – American Heartland

Iowa, a US state in the Midwestern United States is a region which is called the `American Heartland’. It is lined by the Mississippi River towards the east and the Missouri River and the Big Sioux River on the west. Iowa is the only U.S. state which has the eastern and the western borders entirely by rivers where it is bordered by Wisconsin and Illinois to the east, Missouri to the south, South Dakota and Nebraska to the west and Minnesota to the north. Iowa was part of French Louisiana, in colonial days and its current state flag is designed after the flag of France.

After the Louisiana Purchase, the settlers laid the foundation in the heart of the Corn Belt for agriculture based economy. Its agricultural economy in the latter half of the 20th century, expanded to manufacturing, processing, financial service, technology, information, biotechnology together with green energy production. It is the 26thmost extensive land area as well as the 30th most populous of the 50 United States. Iowa has been listed as one of the safest states and its largest city is Des Moines.

Natural Lakes & Manmade Lakes

Iowa is not generally flat and most of the state comprises of rolling hills. It is divided in eight landforms due to the glaciation soils, topography and the river drainage. Along the western border of the state lie the Loess hills, some of which are hundreds of feet thick.

Towards the northeast area along the Mississippi River lies a part of the Driftless Zone with steep hills and valleys which appear to be almost mountainous. Many natural lakes will be found in Iowa like the Spirit Lake, West Okoboji Lake and East Okoboji Lake towards the northwest area of Iowa while to the east is the Clear Lake, Some of the manmade lakes are Lake Odessa, Saylorville Lake, Coralville Lake, Lake Red Rock, Lake MacBride and Rathbun Lake. Towards the northwest area of the state are a considerable number of remnants of the common wetlands like the Barringer Slough.

Foremost State in Farming

Iowa is one of the foremost states in farming in the United States and one fifth of the nation’s corn harvest comes from Iowa. Iowa stands first in the nation in grain harvest. It produces food, clothing, fuel; medicine for the world and agricultures is one of the leading industries, having more than 100,000 farms in the state.

Each Iowa farm family produces enough food and fibre to feed around 279 people where one-fourth of which live overseas. The wet springs together with the warm summers provide an appropriate environment for plantings of corn as well as soybeans in the top grade farmland. Though agriculture is the main economy, Iowa also encourages the growth of manufacturing and service industries.

Iowa leads the country in the production of corn and has also been called the `Land where the Tall Corn grows’ and the nickname pays tribute to Iowa’s corn crop. Iowa has also been referred to as the `Land of the Rolling Prairie’, due to the vast rolling prairies which cover the state.

Its largest source of income comes from manufacturing, followed by services, wholesale or retail trade and government while 24% of America’s pork and 4% of the nations’ grain-fed beef are raised in the state of Iowa.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Zakynthos – Largest Island in the Ionian Sea


Zakynthos Island, Greece
Zakynthos, one of the largest islands in the Ionian Sea is in fact the second most visited isle besides the Corfu. Like the other Ionian Islands, it is quite mountainous with a number of valleys which are fertile with amazing green landscape on the isle.

The island has vast coast some of which are around 123 km long together with craggy and rocky ones towards the north while they are very sandy towards the southern area which have a number of gulfs like the Laganas gulf. The highlight of this area is towards the West coast that has a spectacular view which is the blue caves.

These are also known as blue caves of Volimes, which is the picturesque village. The most impressive element of the blue caves is that they reflect the vibrating and striking blue colour of the waters and at the same time captures and reflects the shine of the sky which is seen reflected on their surface. The bright reflection creates a magical atmosphere which is at its best at the time of sunrise or sunset. The blue caves have interesting arches which have been created by erosion thousands of years ago making it possible to go through these caves and have an experience of being surrounded in this amazing environment.

The Blue Caves – Natural & Famous Attraction

The blue caves is also one of the soft spot for those interested in diving and getting here into the waters to experience the beauty of the blues caves is a once in a lifetime experience.

Besides this, once underwater, the darkness in several of the caves is interrupted by a few rays of light that dye the water with turquoise shade.

The blue caves are one of the islands natural and most famous attraction which was discovered by Antonio Komouto in 1897 and attracts thousands of visitors annually which are located below the lighthouse at Cape Skinari. The cave gets its name due to the blue waters inside them and objects below the water tend to appear blue.

This also includes people who get into the water inside the caves to take a swim. The blue caves can be visited only by boat Small boats are a good choice in navigating inside the caves and some boats have glass bottom which helps to see the marine life below. 

Shipwreck Cove/Smugglers Cove – Navagio Beach

Several boat trips are conducted to the blue caves which can be boarded at the areas surrounding the island which includes the Skinari Lighthouse as well as St Nikolas Port. Towards the North West coast of the Greek Ionian island of Zakynthos is the Shipwreck Cove or the Smugglers Cove which is also called Navagio Beach and is a famous beach in Greece which can be accessed only by boat.

Shipwreck Beach is within the enclosure of steep cliff which gives it a remote inaccessible feeling. It is also impossible to walk to the beach and one would need to take a boat to visit it. There are frequent boat services to shipwreck Cove from nearby Porto Vromi which is located to the south or from the Harbour of St Nikolas in Volimes situated to the north of Shipwreck Cove.

Besides these, there are many more interesting sites worth exploring providing the tourist with an amazing experience at this remarkable destination.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Newgrange, Ireland


Newgrange, Ireland
Newgrange – Prehistoric Monument 

Newgrange, a prehistoric monument is best known Irish passage tomb in County Meath, Ireland, which dates back to 200 BC.

It is located around one km north of the River Boyne and was built during the Neolithic age thus making it much older than Stonehenge and the Egyptian pyramids. The site comprises of a large circular mount which is approximately 80m in diameter.

The circular stone has a stone passageway with interior chambers and has a retaining wall at the front which is ringed by engraved kerbstones. For what purpose the site was used is not known though it is presumed that it had some religious significance and it is aligned with the sunrise with its light flooding the chamber on the winter solstice.

It is the most famous monument in the Neolithic Bru na Boinne complex together with the similar passage tomb mounds of Knowth and Dowth and is a part of the Bru na Boinne UNESCO World Heritage Site. The highly decorated Entrance Stone is the most impressive of these stones seen at the site.

Large Kidney Shaped Mount

Newgrange has been classified by archaeologist as a passage tomb though it is now recognized to be more than a passage tomb and ancient temple could be a much more fitting classification, a place of spiritual, astrological, religious and ceremonial importance similar to the present day cathedrals which are places of prestige and worship wherein dignitaries are placed to rest.

It seems like a large kidney shaped mount and the time and labour taken in constructing it indicates a well-organized society having specialized groups who could have been responsible for the various aspects of construction.

Visitors can access Newgrange only through guided tours from the Brun na Boinne Visitor Centre towards the south side of the river Boyne while Newgrange is towards the north area of the river Boyne. Visitors need to cross the river through the pedestrian bridge after which they can take a shuttle bus to Newgrange.

No direct public access by road to Newgrange is available with the exception of mornings around the Winter Solstice and if intending using Satellite Navigation one can head to Bru na Boinne Visitor Centre.

Known for Illumination of its Chambers – Winter Solstice

Newgrange is well known for the illumination of its chamber and passage by the winter solstice sun where above the passage is an opening known as roof-box. This amazing orifice was a great surprise for those who discovered it where its purpose is to permit sunlight to penetrate inside the chamber on the shortest days of the year, towards December 21, the winter solstice.

Towards dawn from 19th to 23rdDecember, one will find a narrow beam of light penetrating the roof-box which reaches the floor of the chamber which gradually extents to the rear of the chamber and as the sun tends to rise higher, the beam begins to widen within the chamber and the whole chamber gets dramatically illuminated.

This entire scenario lasts for seventeen minutes which begins around 9 am. The winter solstice is a great attraction at Newgrange drawing many to witness it, who gather at the ancient tomb to wait for dawn.

Its demand is so great to be inside the chamber during the solstice that there is free annual lottery for the same. However the event depends on the sunshine and if the skies are overcast, not much can be seen at that time though it is worth the wait if the sunlight shows up.