Saturday, 12 August 2017

Niagara Falls, Canada

First View of the Niagara Falls from Canadian Side ©Solange Hando


Here they are: the American Falls to the left and the thin Bridal Veil, with Luna island between them, and to the far right, beyond the long Goat Island, the (at times disputed) Canadian Horseshoe Fall. 

The Niagara Falls are neither the highest nor the most scenic -within sight of the road and tourist developments- but they are the most powerful in North America and claim the highest flow rate in the world with an average of four million cubic feet per minute.



The Horseshoe, Niagara ©Solange Hando


With its 2600 foot wide crescent, the Horseshoe is the most expansive of the three falls, boasting up to 90% of the water. There are vantage points behind the fall, accessed via elevators and tunnels and that is one way to feel the full force of the water tumbling over 160 feet.

It may be a good place too to reflect on the many daredevils who defied the falls, the first one a 63 year old school mistress who went over in a barrel or the Frenchman Blondin who walked across on a tightrope, carrying his boss, top hat and all, on his back.




Getting up Close to the Horseshoe ©Solange Hando


But most exciting is the boat trip to the base of the falls where you can fully appreciate the height as well as the power and thundering roar.

The Horneblower on the Canadian side and the Maid of the Mist on the American side constantly ply the turbulent waters  with a full load of excited passengers. Plastic ponchos are handed out, red or blue respectively but expect to get wet nevertheless. Be careful with cameras.



The Upper Niagara approaching the Falls ©Solange Hando


After the boat trip, you can stroll  along the cliff-edge promenade, part of the parkland created to beautify the scene and prevent further developments.

Draining  Lake Eerie, the Niagara river flows north for 36 miles to empty its waters in Lake Ontario. Some 12,000 years ago, the falls were located near Queenston but due to erosion, they gradually receded south towards Lake Eerie.



Looking Downstream ©Solange Hando


Canada to the left, USA to the right and in the distance the Rainbow Bridge which forms the border. Nowadays walking across the bridge is subject to strict control and not as straightforward as it used to be.

Downstream, beyond the falls, the Niagara enters a gorge, over six miles long. It is too dangerous for kayaking but there is a rambling trail and an exciting aerocar to take you across the river, suspended in mid-air over a whirlpool. Nearby is the helicopter base for bird's eye views of the falls but if this is beyond budget, go up the Skylon Tower at the Falls and enjoy the panorama from the observation deck.


Aerocar downstream from Niagara Falls ©Solange Hando









Saturday, 29 July 2017

Toronto, Capital of Ontario

Welcome to Toronto ©Solange Hando

With a population 4½ times larger than Ottawa's, Ontario's capital almost feels like a dream, a true cosmopolitan city where all 'new Canadians' are welcome, regardless of origin, religion or culture.

It's Canada at its best, open, tolerant and caring under the guidance of its young liberal PM Justin Trudeau. The New Toronto City Hall (above) reflects success.



CN Tower and Harbourfront ©Solange Hando

Rising to 553 metres above lake Ontario, the communication tower has been the city's icon for over 40 years. In less than a minute, elevators whizz you up to the main observation deck (346 metres)  with a glass floor section, outdoor terrace and indoor refreshments.

If you really love heights, take the next lift and enjoy an even more dizzying panorama from 447 metres above the city and the white dome of the Roger's stadium. In season, adrenaline seekers can try the 'hanging over the edge' experience.




Toronto Islands on Lake Ontario ©Solange Hando


The CN tower also guarantees one of the best bird eye's views of the Toronto islands, 15 altogether interconnected by bridges or pathways across 5 km.

Just 13 minutes from downtown, it's a lovely escape from the bustling streets with nature trails and leisure activities, including boating and swimming. Spend a whole day if you can or book a tour from the harbourfront, worth it for views of the city's skyline on one side and the vast expanse of lake on the other.



Toronto from the CN Tower ©Solange Hando

On the north bank of Lake Ontario, Canada's largest city is hemmed in by ravines on the land side and an urban forest of 10 million trees. The economy is booming and developments are ongoing. 

This is a modern provincial capital with vibrant universities, thriving businesses and myriad tourist attractions from stunning museums and its world famous aquarium to vast shopping malls or the alleyways of China town and markets brimming with local produce.



Quaint and Stylish in Toronto ©Solange Hando


Wander around and you may well come across an old building or two tucked among the tower blocks or a quiet tree-lined district and brightly-coloured houses which seem to belong to another age.

Look out for Cabbage Town, originally an Irish working class settlement, now an attractive place with restored houses, or the Kensington area with colourful ethnic lanes and gentrified houses just steps away. Set on a grid pattern, the city is easy to explore, pick up a map and you can't get lost.




Cherry Blossom in Toronto ©Solange Hando

Toronto may have extremes of temperatures but it is nevertheless on the same latitude as the French Riviera and from spring blossom and tulips through to autumn, the many parks and gardens are simply delightful.





Saturday, 1 July 2017

Lisbon, Day Trip to Portugal's Land's End, Cabo da Roca and Sintra

Surfing Beach West of Lisbon ©Solange Hando

Less than an hour away north west of Lisbon, sheltered coves and beaches give way to the wild Atlantic coast battered by breakers and wind.
It's too cold for swimming but ideal for surfing, scuba diving and fishing away from the crowds.


Cabo da Roca ©Solange Hando

Then you reach Cabo da Roca, a precipitous headland marking the westernmost point in continental Europe. The red and white lighthouse rises to 165 metres with spectacular views all around,
There is a small tourist office on the site where you can buy a certificate to prove you were there.


The Rocky Coast ©Solange Hando

On this stretch of coast, the water is all shades of blue, jagged rocks glow in the setting sun and trails strewn with wild flowers meander along the clifftop.
Check the weather before venturing too far as fog and wind can sweep in from the ocean when you least expect it.


Sintra in the Hills ©Solange Hando

Beyond the cape, this popular tour follows the scenic road heading inland, meandering up and over the wooded slopes before tumbling down to Sintra, a touristy but beautiful world heritage site tucked in lush greenery.
Stylish buildings and mosaics line the colourful streets and if you don't feel like walking, you can take a ride in a horse-drawn carriage.


Lunch in Sintra ©Solange Hando

After a morning exploring the coast, there's plenty of time to relax in an outdoor restaurant,  hunt for souvenirs in the steep cobbled lanes or ramble in the hills in search of gurgling springs and wooded ravines.


The National Palace ©Solange Hando

Visit the National Palace, the best preserved royal residence of its kind in Portugal, with its white conical chimneys peeping above the trees or if time allows, you could climb up to the hilltop castle for a bird's eye view of Sintra and the forested hills all around.
Or stay overnight and when the crowds have gone, Sintra is simply magical.















Saturday, 10 June 2017

Douro River Cruise, Portugal

The Douro River in Portugal ©Solange Hando

The Douro takes its source in northern Spain but only the 130 km section from the Portuguese border to the estuary is navigable.

Starting in Porto, the river promises one of the most scenic cruises in Europe, a great way to relax and a spot of excitement when you sail under low bridges or through one of the deepest locks on the continent. The return journey follows the same route but offers a different perspective.




Clear waters on the Douro ©Solange Hando

The scenery is for ever changing as beyond the wooded slopes of the lower reaches, the river meanders towards the rolling hills, the red-roofed villages sprinkled here and there and vineyards stretching as far as you can see.

The Douro has many moods,widening out like a lake, narrowing like a fjord to squeeze through a towering gorge, skirting an island or two or ochre-coloured rocks. Emerald or blue, the water is clear with lovely reflections of land and sky.



A Chance to Taste in the Vineyards©Solange Hando

Wine lovers couldn't dream of a better place to sample Portuguese wine, be it the ubiquitous Porto, red or white, the Mateus rosé, the sparkling Vino Verdhe and many more. Every cruise includes optional visits to wineries with tasting and buying if you wish.

A few vineyards still plunge straight down to the river but today most follow the curve of the hills, on horizontal terraces retained by stone walls. Put them end to end, they say, and you could build two Great Walls of China.



Pinhoa in the Douro Valley ©Solange Hando

There are daily opportunities to visit some of the pretty villages in the valley or up in the hills, with  ample time to sample the local gastronomy, and seek out a cultural site or two, such as the Lamego shrine or over the Spanish border, the Unesco city of Salamanca.

As this is a linear journey, most boats will schedule different opportunities on the return trip.


Sunset on the Douro in Barca d'Alva ©Solange Hando

Close to the Spanish border, Barca d'Alva is the last port of call on the Douro before the journey back to Porto and new places to explore along the way.

From the river to the villages and vine-covered hills, the unique landscape of the Douro is protected by Unesco.



All aboard, enjoy! ©Solange Hando








Saturday, 27 May 2017

Lisbon, City Attractions

Lisbon, the Belem Tower ©Solange Hando

First built in the 16th century to guard the estuary of the river Tagus, the tower was strengthened over time and fully restored in the 1990s. Listed by Unesco, it remains an iconic gateway to the Portuguese capital.
The tower gives its name to the nearby pastry shop where some 20,000 traditional custard tarts are baked every day.



Jeronimos Monastery in Lisbon ©Solange Hando

Across the road, this former monastery is also a Unesco site, built on a grand scale in the early 16th century and funded through taxes, raised from the maritime trade and paid in gold.
It is one of the finest examples of late Gothic Manueline architecture and hosts major events and exhibitions.


Rossio Square, Central Lisbon ©Solange Hando

Lisbon loves its squares, from small secluded plazas tucked under the trees to spectacular open spaces where tourists pose for the camera and locals gather to put the world to rights.
The elegant Comercio Square leads down to the river, with cool arcades and gourmet restaurants, while Rossio is known for its statues, Baroque fountains and cobblestones arranged in wave patterns.




Traditional Transport in Lisbon ©Solange Hando

In this city of seven hills, quaint old-fashioned trams add plenty of charm and nostalgia. The network in and around town includes 93 lines and covers 76km.
Number 28 allows you to hop on and off at all main tourist sites but it can be very crowded. Start early to avoid the queues.



Sao Jorge Castle ©Solange Hando

The largely rebuilt medieval citadel rises on a hilltop right in the town centre. It's a lovely place to explore, picnic under a tree or stroll along the ramparts with superb views of the old city and the river Tagus.



Discoveries Monument ©Solange Hando

Inaugurated in 1958 and shaped like the prow of a caravelle, this 52 metre high monument celebrates the early navigators and explorers who set sail from this spot, under the patronage of Prince Henry the Navigator.






Saturday, 29 April 2017

Images of Devon, Torquay Riviera

Paignton in Torbay ©Solange Hando

Paignton is all you would expect from a traditional seaside resort, fine sands, a pier and a lovely little marina, at its best when the tide is in.
In the rolling hills of southern Devon, Paignton has plenty of flat land, appreciated by families and  seniors, and a quaint Victorian shopping arcade with an old bus shelter to match and tall façades across the green.



Paignton for Families ©Solange Hando


Playground, amusements, lawns to run around, picnic tables and plenty of affordable eating venues, there's lots to keep the little ones happy besides the sea.



Torquay, Queen of the English Riviera ©Solange Hando

Just around the bay to the north,Torquay is different, hilly, slightly upmarket with its seafront promenade, its pier to breathe in the sea air and a vast beach which all but disappears at high tide.
There's a pleasant marina with a lifting pedestrian bridge, cliffside gardens and a waterfront park where you will find the Princess Theatre and the Big Wheel,offering superb views of the bay, all the way to the cliffs at the southern end glowing red and gold in the sunset. 



Cockington near Torquay ©Solange Hando

A short drive up a hill above Torquay, this small thatched village is truly delightful, even though most of its colourful cottages are now tea rooms or craft shops. It's a picture postcard sort of place and probably at its best when the crowds have left.
You will find a watermill, a thatched forge and a mansion set in parklands twittering with birds. Next to the mansion are a rose garden and a craft centre where in the former stables, you can watch blacksmiths, glassblowers and other artisans at work.



Goodrington Sands ©Solange Hando


South of Paignton over a panoramic headland, you reach the colourful sands of Goodrington fringed by exotic cliff gardens and red rocks.
It's a great place to paddle, build castles or look for devil crab or pipe fish in the rock pools. Most commercial outlets are set well back from the beach and only the whistle of the steam train breaks the peace now and then on its way to Kingswear.



Beach Huts, Goodrington ©Solange Hando


Goodrington likes to be on the wild side but Goodrington loves colour, red sand and rocks, gardens in all shades of green and pristine beach huts in pastel colours neatly tucked below the cliff.
They lend Goodrington that special little touch which lingers in your mind long after you have left.




Brixham Harbour ©Solange Hando

Brixham may come last on the English Riviera coast but you can't beat it for charm, scenery and character. See the fishing harbour packed with crab and lobster pots, the long breakwater sheltering a glistening marina, the picturesque lanes climbing up the hill and right by the quay the statue of William of Orange and the replica (above) of the Golden Hind.


 Devon Coast from Berry Head ©Solange Hando


Beyond Brixham harbour, a trail leads up through the woods to Berry Head, a windswept headland with superb views of Torbay and the red cliffs to the north and to the south the ever meandering limestone cliffs, the wild meadows and rocks and islands sprinkled into the sea.





Saturday, 1 April 2017

Travel Writing? Three Easy Steps to Perfect Pitch

Taxi Ride Cuba Style ©Solange Hando

LESS IS MORE

What do editors want?
Original ideas
How do you do that?
Focus
Exotic or at home, the tighter the angle the more unique it's likely to be
It also means you can sell several features on a single destination

Examples:
Cuban taxis or London cabs
Free attractions in Paris
A day on the river
Quirky hotel / restaurant
Climbing Ben Nevis, 3 generations to the top

What about the city breaks, the best beaches, the paradise islands, the walking holidays?
Fine but you will have to make it pretty special to compete with staff writers



 Fit for Purpose ©Solange Hando

MAKE IT FIT

Just like these monks sheltering from the sun
Now what's your purpose?
Sell your work?

How?
Right idea, right market
What sort of readers would this appeal to?
Consider budget, age, interest, social status
Find the perfect fit
Before you pitch

But sometimes...
You might need to think laterally
Example: 
Chinese embroidery
No luck with obvious markets?
Favourite design?
Cats, sold to Cat magazine



Tenerife, Shepherd's Leap ©Solange Hando

PERFECT PITCH

This shepherd says it all
Check before you jump
One chance, no room for error

Top tips
Spend time on your query
Check correct editor's name, contact by email
Get straight to the point
Grab the editor's attention
Keep it brief
Offer images
Show you are familiar with the publication
Use similar style and term of address


Would you like to read more?

 'Succeed in the best job in the world' (endorsed by Hilary Bradt)















Saturday, 18 March 2017

Mexico San Cristobal de las Casas, Hotel Casavieja

San Cristobal de las Casas ©Solange Hando

In the highlands of Mexico south of the Yucatan peninsula, San Cristobal de las Casas is an attractive prosperous town with an impressive cathedral, stylish colonial buildings and quiet lanes, such as this one, where character hotels are tucked away behind traditional colourful façades.



Casavieja, Cool Arcade in Inner Courtyard ©Solange Hando

One would never guess what hides beyond the plain entrance of Casavieja, the 18th century building converted into a boutique hotel with rooms to suit a range of budgets. Character aside, the hotel top attraction is its central location in a quiet lane, just five minutes walk from the cathedral and downtown pedestrian area.



Standard Room in Casavieja ©Solange Hando

Guests can choose from 4 suites and 36 rooms furnished in colonial style with a few artefacts from the Chiapas region. Room size and facilities range from basic to luxurious according to price. 
Accommodation is on two levels around the inner courtyard. Heaters are provided in the rooms and free coffee is available in the lobby.



Quiet Corner in Casavieja ©Solange Hando

Brightened up with flowers and plants, reading areas and cosy corners are scattered around the building so guests can relax, meet friends and enjoy quiet times away from the hustle and bustle of downtown.
It's a little haven and even conference guests appreciate the peace.




Cool escape in the Courtyard, Casavieja ©Solange Hando

The courtyard is definitely a bonus filled with flowers and greenery, decorative features and convivial seating in the shade. Warm colours befit the traditional character of the hotel.
The Casavieja has a well-stocked wine cellar and two restaurants serving Spanish and Chiapas specialities.



Casavieja, Cristobal de las Casas, Mexico ©Solange Hando





Saturday, 4 March 2017

San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico

San Cristobal de las Casas, Cathedral ©Solange Hando

In the central highlands of southern Mexico, this stunning cathedral in San Cristobal de las Casas draws locals and visitors alike from morning to night. With its warm colours and slender minaret-like turrets, it's the most striking legacy of colonial times in the ancient capital of the Chiapas state.



Weaving in Chiapas State ©Solange Hando

But alongside the Catholic faith, the indigenous culture is alive and well and the tourist market outside Santo Domingo's church is a great place to bargain for local craft. Chiapas is known for hand-made textiles -head for the villages to see weavers at work-, amber and jade but you will also find the usual assortment of tourist trinkets from hats and gloves to dolls or water bottles.



Southern Mexico Central Highlands ©Solange Hando

At 2,200 metres, Cristobal de las Casas nestles in a valley framed by pine-covered hills where streams,waterfalls and springs babble in fragrant greenery. Up in the mountains indigenous communities often live in isolation, following their own set of rules and even laws. 
Chiapas may be part of Mexico but as proved by its turbulent past and frequent unrest, the descendants of the Maya are their own boss and do not appreciate any kind of interference.


Market Day in San Juan Chamula ©Solange Hando

Up in the hills, roughly 10 km from San Critobal de las Casas,  the weekly market of San Juan Chamula attracts a fair number of visitors keen to enjoy the bright local colour and have a look in the unique temple-church. There, families who gather to pray sit around candles on a floor covered in pine needles; no pews or chairs, only indigenous gods and Catholic saints jostling side by side along the aisles.

As long as you are prepared to respect the rules, it is well worth a visit. No photos in the church or market except from one specific spot on the square. Don't try it on, you will be caught, shamed in public and unless your guide has untold patience and connections, you can say goodbye to your camera. Same applies to most of the of nearby villages.


Colonial Style, San Cristobal de las Casas ©Solange Hando

Back in town, the atmosphere is far more relaxed as you wander past elegant villas and cool arcades or head down the pedestrian street with its enticing restaurants and café-terrace, its food vendors and balloon sellers, giggling children and Maya women who do not shy away as long as you're prepared to bargain and buy.
On the town square, elders and weary-eyed tourists doze under the trees while the hypnotic notes of a traditional xylophone -played by three pairs of hands- drift in the evening air.



  San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico ©Solange Hando

Meanwhile in the back lanes just minutes away, lovely character hotels hide among the colourful local dwellings which line the paved alleyways, heading straight as arrows towards the wooded highlands. 
Cristobal may be a city these days but it is still called 'the most magical village' and in the fresh mountain air, it truly feels like it.