Saturday, February 28, 2009

Ryanair considers charging passengers to pee

Source: CNN

LONDON, England (CNN) -- The ever budget-conscious boss of Ryanair has suggested the discount airline may start charging passengers for using the toilet on board its flights.

Michael O'Leary said the airline had revived inquiries into whether the airline could install coin-operated toilets on its fleet.

"People might actually have to spend a pound to spend a penny in future," he said in a BBC interview, adding "We're always in Ryanair looking at the ways of constantly lowering the costs of air travel and making it more affordable and easier for passengers to fly with us."

Asked by the incredulous presenter what passengers would do if they found themselves without money mid-flight, O'Leary replied: "I don't think there is anybody in history that has got on board a Ryanair aircraft with less than a pound."

The Irish airline is renowned for its cheap flights and regularly advertises competition-crushing deals to boost capacity on its short-haul routes.

The company has made no secret of its quest to boost revenue by any means possible. It already charges for food and each bag checked into the hold is subject to a fee.

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Monday, February 23, 2009

Beijing, China (II)

Destination #9: Beijing, China (II) [Quick Facts]

Year of Visit: 2006 (Before Beijing Olympic Games 2008)

In this second edition of my Beijing post, another historical marvel awaits.

On our third day in Beijing, we visited a jade factory in the outskirts of Beijing. As usual we were given a bilingual introductory briefing about jades and the various types of jades available in the market. We were then treated to a guided tour of the factory to witness for ourselves how jades are polished, treated and cut into shapes. Then of course, they will unveil to you the final product gleemingly displayed under the spot light and try to talk you into buying one.

After the jade factory, the bus took us further out from Beijing to the magnificent Great Wall of China (长城), the Badaling section. The walls were first built in circa 202 BC by the first Emperor of China Qin Shi Huang Ti.

It was used by the Chinese to protect their land, this section of the wall has had many guards to defend China’s capital Beijing. Made of stone and bricks from the hills, this portion of the Great Wall is 7.8 meters (25.6 ft) high and 5 meters (16.4 ft) wide.

The Great Wall was overflowing with tourists!

There were so many local Chinese tourists who came from all parts of China.

On our way up the wall, we came across this little corner off the Great Wall offering pony and camel rides, not up the Great Wall but within that encirclement.

The Great Wall of China that stretches over 6,400 km beyond sight.

If I remember correctly you will receive a certificate if you managed to walk on the Great Wall for a few kilometres to a checkpoint. Don't despair if you can't make it, you can always purchase the certificates at the souvenir shops at the foot of the hill.

The autumn wind was so strong and chilly especially when we you are at the Great Wall so I felt compelled to purchase a 'Great Wall of China' windbreaker for a bargain only to discover later that the pockets were filled with holes!

Boy meets girl, Oriental style.

and the dogs fell in love with one another first.

Modern China - another Starbucks Coffee seen at the vicinity of the Great Wall of China.

The buildings near the Great Wall were nicely refurbished.

There was a sense of accomplishment to have set foot on one of the most magnificent structures ever built by mankind. We then traveled back into the city centre for lunch. On our way back we passed by an eye-catching structure which looked like a Disneyland themepark sitting abandoned. Never mind for Beijing folks, they now have the Shijingshan Amusement Park.

Lunch in Beijing.

Be warned: Chinese dishes in China are generally more oily and salty compared to Chinese cuisine served outside China. You may instruct them to put less oil and salt or soy sauce in your food.

After lunch we proceeded to visit the Beijing Wax Museum of Ming Dynasty.

Apparently they now charge a fee for photo-taking. I don't remember paying a fee for photo-taking back in 2006. Anyway, here are some of the photos from the wax museum depicting some of the major events that happened during the Ming Dynasty.

An attack by a certain chieftain on Shanxi Province in the 1400s.

The palace guards look intimidating as if unhappy that their photos were taken.

A depiction of a banquet organised by the emperor to welcome a Mongolian tribe leader.

Just before sunset we were on our way to the Ming Tombs. It is a tomb cluster of the Ming Dynasty(明十三陵) (1368-1644), including thirteen emperor's mausoleums, seven tombs for concubines and one grave for eunuchs. 13 great Emperors of China were buried here. It is also a World Heritage Site. By now I have lost count of the number of World Heritage Sites in Beijing.

The carvings on the outer wall.

One of the Imperial China shoes worn by the Empress of China.

My great grandmother wore a similar miniature shoe just before she left China for Singapore.

A breathtaking view of the mountains visible from the Ming Tombs.

I thank God for the lovely autumn weather.

The day ended with a good dinner at this restaurant

The restaurants we go to only get better each time!

Watch this space for the third post of Beijing!

Related post: Beijing, China(I)

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

14 Romantic Destinations Around the World

CNN International/Travel

Images from Wikipedia.

With Valentine's Day around the corner those of you who have extra cash to spare might have started looking high and low for a romantic getaway. Here are 14 romantic destinations around the world compiled by CNN Travel.

1. Iguazu Falls - Argentina-Brazil

Iguazu Falls extend over 2,700 metres in a semi-circular shape and are made up of 275 individual falls. This is one destination sure to get pulses racing.

2. Bali - Indonesia

The island of Bali offers the perfect combination of romantic surroundings topped with beautiful and luxurious resorts.

3. Venice - Italy

Venice is Italy's city on water.

Enjoy a gondola ride which takes you through its narrow waterways and if you are there on Valentine's Day, you'll catch the spectacular Venice carnival.

4. Bora-Bora - French Polynesia

Ranked third on the list of the New Seven Wonders Islands.

A perfect romantic getaway if you're looking to spend some quality time on a bed of cobalt blue sea.

5. The Alps - Switzerland

Fondly known as 'Honeymooners' Paradise', Switzerland offers the seduction of a picturesque country and a splendor of the magnificent Alps.

6. New York City - U.S.A

A walk in the Central Park on summer's day, kissing your loved on in Time Square, or simply watching the world go by from atop the Empire State building - there's something for everyone in New York City.

7. Santorini - Greece

It has been said that the sunsets in Santorini are the best in the world.

The breathtaking view of the island against the sunset make Santorini a favourite with couples looking for an ideal romantic getaway.

8. Huanglong Cave - China

Huanglong is Asia's largest cave.

The valley is surrounded by snow-capped peaks, waterfalls and hot springs and has a population of endangered species, including the giant panda

9. Dalmatia - Croatia

Dalmatia is the coastal region of Croatia.

The turquoise blue waters are surrounded by little islands and mountains., making a stay in Dalmatia a scenic adventure.

10. Udaipur - India

Udaipur is also known as the city of lakes.

Set amidst the Aravalli Ranges in Rajastan, the high mountains and serene lakes provides a beautiful backdrop for romance.

11. St. Lucia - Caribbean

St. Lucia is a very destination among honeymooners and those planning a Caribbean wedding.

The natural beauty of the tropical island makes it a magnet for the amorous.

12. Niagara Falls - Canada-US

The world-famous waterfalls have been a favourite attraction for decades.

To make your time there more memorable, you can take an elevator to the foot of the falls and visit the cave behind the falling water.

13. Ring of Kerry - Ireland

Ireland offers breaktaking scenery, the serene life of the country side, and the buzz of larger cities. Pictured above are the ocean cliffs in Portmagee, County Kerry.

14. Paris - France

No list on romantic cities would be complete without the perennial favourite, Paris.

Every year the city attracts thousands drawn to its beauty and grandeur.

Related Entry: Veligandu Island, Maldives

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Beijing, China (I)

Destination #9: Beijing, China (I) [Quick Facts]

Year of Visit: 2006 (Before Beijing Olympic Games 2008)

My family and I have not gone for a family holiday for a decade since our trip to Australia in 1996. As my grandparents were getting older and a travel fair in town, my mom proposed that we sign up for a trip to China and bring my grandparents along. They are first generation Malaysian Chinese but i reckoned they would love to have glimpse of their parents' motherland.

As for me, travelling makes me happy!

If I were to go back to my ancestors' roots of origin, i will make a trip to Fujian and Fuzhou Province. That can wait. I have to brush up on my Mandarin and Foo Chow dialect first.

Anyway, we signed up for a 10 days guided tour to Beijing, Tianjin and Chengde!

I didn't know what to expect from my paternal grandparents' country of origin. I only heard unpleasant and moving tales from my late great grandmother and other older relatives about life in this massive nation.

We arrived at the spanking new Terminal of Beijing International Airport. Beijing was a lot more developed than the China i had depicted from my late great grandmother's tales. Clearly, China has transformed over these years. Only if my great grandma could see it for herself.

The wide roads in Beijing were dominated by cars these days instead of bicycles although there were still a significant number of bicycles on the bicycle lane. Yes, now they have bicycle lanes for bicycles!

And there are so many cars in Beijing that they have to stack up their cars like this at the car park!

Our first destination was none other than the famous

Tiananmen Square
(天安门广场/Tiān'ānmén Guǎngchǎng)

It was supposed to be the beginning of autumn when we were there but the northern Siberian wind blew into Beijing bringing the temperature down to around 10 degrees Celcius. I wasn't properly attired thus i had to endure the chilly wind. brrr.

The Tiananmen Square is the largest open urban square in the world.

It is also infamous as the site for the 1989 Tiananmen Square Protest.

Modern Beijing.

Everything here is massive, that includes the public buses.

A stone's throw away from the square is the Forbidden City

It is the Chinese imperial palace from the Ming Dynasty to the end of the Qing Dinasty. Built in the 15 century, it is also listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

This is the gate leading into the Forbidden City.

That's Chairman Mao on the portrait.

I find this officer of the People's Liberation Army quite amusing.

Only North Korea and China have such uniforms nowadays i think. Somehow their uniforms seem to suggest that they are from a communist country. I know it makes no sense. Ignore me.

Inside the massive Forbidden City.

I was impressed by the size of this palace! I'm a fan of ancient China's history and all its dynasties. I was ecstatic to be able to walk around the Chinese imperial palace.

We walked from one gate to another, and another. It's huge!

The mythical creatures on the eaves represent the social ranking of the building occupant in ancient China. Twenty-four emperors lived in and ruled China from the Forbidden City over nearly 500 years.

Parts of the Forbidden City were closed for the Olympic Games refurbishment during my time of visit. Nevertheless, there were plenty to see in the imperial palace. From the throne of the emperor to the Hall of the Supreme Harmony.

There are a few beautiful gardens in the Forbidden City as well.

What do you see? Use your imagination.

After a few hour's walk around the Forbidden City, we arrived at the last gate of the imperial palace. From this gate I saw this beautiful structure sitting on top of the hill. Not sure what it is though.

The modern city of Beijing.

You must visit the giant pandas if you are in China. They are like Kangaroos to Australia.

The giant panda and another endangered animal in some small zoo in the Beijing suburb.

Next, the Summer Palace (颐和园, Yíhé Yuán)

The summer palace dates back to the 16-17 century and served as a summer resort for members of the royalty.

A statue of a dragon at Summer Palace.

The natural landscape of the hill and the lake together with the palaces, bridges and temples give this place an outstanding aesthetic value as the UNESCO puts it when it was declared a World Heritage Site in 1998.

I have no doubts as to the truth of that statement.

I let you judge from the photos.

After the trip to Summer Palace, we headed back down town for a sumptuous Chinese cuisine and then back to our hotel. Hotels were mushrooming everywhere in Beijing when we were there, in anticipation of the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games.

Beijing traffic jam, just as bad as in Kuala Lumpur.

Our hotel.

Beijing is massive so I am going to have to put up several entries on Beijing alone.

Watch this space for more of Beijing, Tianjin and Chengde.

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