New York Christmas: best trees, windows, shopping and shows

The Rockfeller Center tree is the largest Christmas tree in New York City

The Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree in the heart of New York City

Ah, Christmas in the Big Apple…nowhere does it better. Elaborately decorated trees; ornate department store windows that look like they are right out of a movie set; carolers at every corner; roasted chestnuts from street vendors. And of course, the best place to go Christmas shopping and see the best shows. If you’re lucky, there might even be a dusting of snow for a carriage ride through wintry Central Park.

After living in New York for 12 years, ten of them with little kids in tow, I have the lowdown on the best ways to soak up the Christmas cheer.  Here is my must-do list.

 New York’s Best Christmas Trees

* The Rockefeller Christmas Tree is the crown jewel of New York’s Christmas trees. In fact the 25-meter Norway spruce is crowned with a three-meter Swarovski-crystal star in addition to its 30-000 energy-efficient LED lights...

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Photo Friday: Sega Dancers on the Beach in Mauritius

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I took this photo of Sega dancers on the beach at a small island off Grande Baie in the Northeast of Mauritius. It was a special event for international journalists as part of the annual Kreol Festival of music and dance in December.

Sega Dancing forms a strong part of Mauritian national identity and when you visit Mauritius you must try and see a performance, although the hotel offerings tend to be rather touristy.  Families love to relax and picnic by the beach on the weekends and you will often see people dancing Sega together. If you are lucky to see some of this dancing it will offer a much more authentic experience.

In her book on Mauritius entitled Culture Shock!: Mauritius, Roseline NgCheong-Lum describes the Mauritian Sega in the following terms:

“It is both song and dance...

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Japan’s Hidden Secret: Tourist free Kanazawa or “Little Kyoto”

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Japan’s Hidden Secret: Kanazawa

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The Japanese describe Kanazawa, located by the Sea of Japan in Western Honshu, as “little Kyoto” because it offers an artisanal tradition akin to Kyoto’s as well as beautifully preserved traditional neighborhoods. Put more accurately, while Kyoto is the much older Japanese Imperial capital, Kanazawa is the best-preserved Edo (or Shogun-era) city in the country. As an added bonus, it is a City of Crafts and Folk Art and forms part of the UNESCO Creative Cities Network. It offers many of Kyoto’s charms without its tourist hordes.  In short, it is a gem that has largely been under the radar for most Western tourists.

The Maedas ruled the remote Kaga region (of which Kanazawa is the center) during the Shogun era, when power emanated from the Edo Castle (today’s Tokyo). Rather than challenge the Shogunate in war, the Maedas poured their efforts into cultural pursuits and channeled their vast wealth from local gold mines into arts and crafts, many of which are still nationally renowned. The name “Kanazawa” means “marsh of gold” and the castle town was famous early on for Kaga gold-leaf, inlaid work and calligraphy. Indeed, the gold leaf that covers Kyoto’s Golden Pavilion was produced in Kanazawa.

Being the richest domain outside the Shogunate, Kanazawa’s population swelled with samurai retainers, artisans, merchants and, of course, geisha courtesans. Since the town was located along a remote sheltered coast across the mountains from Tokyo, it was protected from being ravaged both in the feudal wars as well as during World War II, where it was spared from US bombing. As a result its samurai and geisha districts are remarkably intact.

Here is the lowdown on its six...

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The World’s Best Rock Art at Max Davidson’s Arnhemland Safaris

Mount Borradaile guards remarkable indigenous rock art

Mount Borradaile is a sacred site in Australia’s Aboriginal Arnhemland overlooking a tropical Garden of Eden

East of Kakadu National Park across the crocodile-infested East Alligator River my family and I go deep into Aboriginal Arnhem Land in search of some of the world’s best rock art plus a tropical Garden of Eden teeming with birds, fish and exotic reptiles. We are visiting Max Davidson’s Arnhemland Safaris at Mount Borradaile, a comfortable collection of tree-shaded cabins encircling an airy dining room with deck and swimming pool.  It is the only tourist operation in Australia located on a sacred Aboriginal site.

Mount...

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Ten Top Tips to Save on International Car Rental

TOP TEN TIPS FOR INTERNATIONAL CAR RENTAL

Renting a car when you’re travelling internationally can give you the freedom of going where you want when you want but it can be a little more complicated than at home. Here are some tips to make it easier.

  1. BOOK AND PAY BEFORE YOU GO. It is best to book and pay for your car rentals before leaving Australia especially for Europe or, at the very least, book on line before renting in North America. Lock in your rate in Australian dollars and also avoid overseas transaction fees on your credit card. Don’t just turn up at a car rental desk and expect either to get a good rate or in fact any car at all no matter how much you are willing to pay, especially during July/August high season.
  1. TYPE OF CAR: Don’t waste time choosing specific cars as you will only be guaranteed a similar model. In the US, the cars are automatic and generally larger than in Australia. In Europe, the cars are smaller and more-often-than-not manual transmission...
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The Best Oahu Adventures Outside of Waikiki

Swimming with Turtles on Oahu's North Shore

Oahu is Hawaii’s most visited island and it has so much more to offer than the high-rise resorts of Waikiki along the island’s south coast.

Sure the big winter waves on Oahu’s North Shore have a huge reputation in the professional surfing world but there are also many and varied outdoor experiences all over the island for the rest of us mere mortals.

Here is a guide to the best natural adventures. Oahu is actually bigger than you might think and quite mountainous so it is best to group your experiences in the four quadrants of the compass.

Oahu’s West Coast (Leeward side)

Just six of...

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The Nine Best Aboriginal Experiences in Australia

Learning to spear fish at Kooljaman at Cape Leveque

Indigenous tourism is flourishing all over Australia as visitors and locals alike are keen to learn more about the ancient wisdom and cultural traditions of the world’s oldest living culture.  Here is a sampling of intriguing offerings that range from short bush tucker walks, didgeridoo lessons and guided rock-art tours to multi-day cultural immersions.  For more information, check out Aboriginal Tourism Australia.

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What to Do in Cebu in the Philippines

Cebu has warm water and great underwater life to explore on day trips such as to Nalasuan Island

Cebu is oldest city in the Philippines and now a thriving port and manufacturing center. Cebu is the country’s epicenter of Christianity and a gateway to more than 160 white-sand-rimmed islands and islets. For visitors, it offers a heady mix of Spanish-inspired culture, fabulous food, and interesting design stores as well as access to terrific snorkeling and diving.

Here are 12 must-do adventures in this friendly Queen City of the South.

  1. Eat suckling pig. Anthony Bourdain followed his taste buds to Cebu and pronounced that they make the best lechon (Spanish for “suckling pig”) in the world on his television show No Reservations. His lechon consultant was Cebu native Joel Abueca Binamica, a retired banker who writes the Market Manila blog. After the broadcast, people begged Binamica to sell his lechon commercially and now he has five bright red and white Zubuchon restaurants...
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Insider tips on exploring the Komodo Islands

Three Komodo dragons up close

Three Komodo dragons sunbake at the waterhole. Each is three-meters-long with prehistoric claws, beady eyes and scaly skin, which looks like woven metal armor. It feels like I’ve done a Dr Who and dropped into a dinosaur convention. Our diminutive guide is armed with nothing but a pronged stick.

One heaves itself up and lurches towards me, so close I can hear its guttural hiss. A foot-long pink forked tongue darts in and out of its mouth. Meanwhile, saliva is drooling from the other two. Even DreamWorks couldn’t have come up with scarier looking creatures. Suddenly, my walk in the Komodo Islands National Park doesn’t feel like…well…a walk in the park anymore.

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Kasbah de Toubkal is an Authentic Berber Lodge in Morocco’s Atlas Mountains

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The Kasbah de Toubkal is a beautifully restored stone and thatched-roof village compound that offers guests an insider’s experience of Berber life in the heart of Morocco’s Atlas Mountains.

I love hotels that help you engage with the locals while still enjoying a touch of luxe. National Geographic Traveler writer Daisann McLane captured the sentiment perfectly when she wrote a piece about her favorite South American hotels. “A hotel is a threshold to an unfamiliar culture…Good hotels have a strong sense of place.” The Kasbah de Toubkal in the Atlas Mountains of Morocco is a perfect example. And to emphasize this fact, it isn’t even called a hotel but rather ‘a Berber hospitality center.”

Re-imagined by British adventure guide Mike McHugo and his friend and fellow guide from Morocco, Hajj Maurice, who grew up in these mountains, the Kasbah de Toubkal was a crumbling fortified village at the top of the Imlil Valley, which at the time had no electricity...

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