Whether you fancy getting away to enjoy the summer sunshine or are planning a weekend break in the autumn once things have cooled down, I’m happy to announce my summer hotel-stay giveaway in partnership with HotelsCheap.org. I’m giving away a HotelsCheap.org voucher to one of my readers, worth $250 (or equivalent value of £145/€185) which you can use to book yourself a stay in a lovely hotel and treat yourself and that special someone to a relaxing summer break. The voucher can be redeemed for a hotel booking on the HotelsCheap.org website up until spring next year, so if you prefer you can wait until the autumn or even next spring to enjoy your hotel stay.
HotelsCheap.org is a hotel booking website that specialises in finding discount hotel rates for travellers worldwide and you can use the voucher to book a hotel stay in the UK, US and Canada, Europe and many other destinations worldwide. To inspire you in your choice of hotel getaway, I’ve come up with a few ideas, based on destinations and hotels I can personally recommend. If you’d like to enter this giveaway, please follow the details at the bottom of the article to find out how you can gain the maximum chances to win the HotelsCheap.org voucher.
A historic getaway in Winchester
The best of England packed into an ancient market town, Winchester has a very walkable historic centre, plenty of green spaces, river walks, interesting artizan shops and great places to eat. If that’s not enough, you have the beautiful Hampshire countryside on your doorstep, with walking and country houses to explore within a short drive of Winchester.
Where to stay?
What to see?
Wander around the medieval market town and visit the famous cathedral where Jane Austen is buried – perhaps you’ll find a farmer’s market in full swing. Shop in the craft markets or artizan shops that line the narrow lanes, walk along the river to the city mill where you can see flour being ground as it has for centuries and perhaps spot some otters in the mill stream. The South Downs Way starts at Winchester so you may like a hike in the lovely Hampshire countryside or walk to the top of the town and visit the medieval Great Hall with King Arthur’s round table.
Read more about Winchester here: 10 ways to spend a wonderful weekend in Winchester
A lively stay in San Antonio, Texas
This town is one of the most historic in Texas, set on the San Antonio river, with some buzzing bars and restaurants along the Riverwalk making it a great choice for a relaxing getaway.
Where to Stay?
Hotel Valencia Riverwalk is an elegant boutique hotel on the Riverwalk and has Saturday night stays in August and September for under $200 although you may prefer to wait until the sweltering Texas heat and humidity reduces and take your hotel break in October or November. Read my review of Hotel Valencia Riverwalk
What to see?
Take a boat tour along the Riverwalk or stroll on foot as evening falls and the area buzzes with bars and restaurants. Of course you will want to visit the Alamo, a landmark in the struggle for Texan independence and perhaps drive out to some of the other historic Spanish missions in the area. You can hire bikes and cycle on the path beside the San Antonio river or shop for local crafts and artizan souvenirs in the La Villita Historic district.
Read more about our stay in San Antonio here: Texas Podcast Part 1, Houston, San Antonio and Picosa Ranch
A cool weekend in Copenhagen
Haven of Scandi-cool, Denmark’s capital has a compact centre that is easy to explore by bike or on foot and in summer you can take in the party atmosphere as locals enjoy the summer in the parks and around the harbour.
Where to Stay?
The Ibsens Hotel is a stylish hotel near the Copenhagen lakes that is furnished with quirky finds from neighbourhood shops and local artizan businesses and has Saturday night stays available in August and September for €130-180. Read my review and video of Ibsens Hotel here
What to see?
A boat tour of the canals and harbour will help you get your bearings and locate some of the major Copenhagen landmarks, such as the Opera House, Royal Palace and the Little Mermaid statue. Stroll along Stroget where you’ll find luxury Danish design stores and climb the medieval Round Tower, for views over the city. You’ll want to enjoy the food scene too, with some of the best restaurants in the world where Michelin stars abound, but you can also find inexpensive snacks and deli-meals in the Torverhallerne food halls.
Read more about Copenhagen here: In photos: Our weekend stay in Copenhagen
A spa break in Budapest
Hungary’s capital has all the sophistication of Paris but with far more affordable prices and warm, friendly locals. There’s so much to see whether you love sightseeing, relaxing in the numerous traditional and trendy cafes or visiting one of the thermal spas.
Where to Stay?
The Intercontinental Hotel is a 5 star hotel that’s centrally located for sightseeing by the Chain Bridge with views of the Danube and there are dates in August and September available from €100 per night. Read my review and video of Intercontinental Hotel Budapest here
What to see?
Take the funicular up to the top of Castle Hill to visit the colourful Matyas church and take in the views from the Fisherman’s Bastion over the Danube and Hungarian Parliament building. You’ll want to visit one of the Hungarian spa baths such as the Gellert or Szechenyi complexes to enjoy a massage or a soak in the warm baths and perhaps afterwards have coffee and cake in an elegant cafe. The House of Terror is a compelling reminder of Hungary’s communist past, while a visit to the Hungarian State Opera House for a concert or ballet is a must for culture lovers.
Read more about Budapest here: 48 hours in Budapest, top things to see on a weekend break
HotelsCheap.org specialises in finding discount hotel rates for travellers worldwide operating in 75 countries for hotels, bed-and-breakfasts and holiday apartments. On HotelsCheap.org you can find anything from hostels and popular brand hotels to boutique hotels to luxury resorts, so getting the best hotel price doesn’t mean compromising on where you stay. You can also find more tips, traveller interviews and accommodation guides on the HotelsCheap blog
About the giveaway
I’m giving away a voucher to one of my readers worth $250 US (equivalent value £146 or €185) which can be redeemed on HotelsCheap.org any time before June 2015. The giveaway is open to all readers regardless of your location although the voucher will be redeemed in $US. The giveaway will run for 2 weeks and end on Monday 4 August 2014. To enter the giveaway all you have to do is;
- Leave a comment below telling me how you’d like to spend your HotelsCheap voucher; which destination would you love to visit, who will you be going with, where would you like to stay?
You can also add 5 additional chances to win by doing any of the following through the Rafflecopter widget below;
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In this article, our guest writer Rohit Agarwal explores some of the bizarre Hindu temples to be found in India, where rats are made welcome, Chinese food is offered and a motorbike is on show.
India is land of different cultures, accumulated through its history and characterized by their distinctive customs. Many of these customs can come across as bizarre to the people who are not native to these rituals. Hinduism is the most widespread of all the religions in India and it is a home to some of the most magnificent of the temples or shrines found anywhere in the world. But being a land of strange customs many temples in India are enshrined with mysticism and are often associated with a lot of bizarre myths, legends and customs. Here are some of the most bizarre temples in India;
1. Brahma Temple, Pushkar
Considered to be the only Brahma temple in the world by many, this temple however, is the most famous of the few Brahma Temples that really exist in other parts of the country. It is situated in the holy town of Pushkar in the State of Rajasthan. Pushkar contains over 500 temples most of which were destroyed under the reign of the Mughal Ruler Aurangzeb. The Brahma temple structure as we see today dates back to the 14th century but the temple site is said to be over 2000 years old. The town of Pushkar is said to have been created by the falling petals from the Lotus held by Lord Brahma and due to his wife Savitri’s curse, he was only worshipped in this place. However the effects of the curse were nullified by Gayatri (a Gurjar girl who Brahma married and was endowed with the powers of the Yajna or fire sacrifice performed by Lord Brahma). This temple boasts of its marvelous architecture and is built with stone and marble slabs.
2. Karni Mata Temple, Deshnoke
Deshnoke is a small town located near Bikaner in the State of Rajasthan. While it is a rural town, Deshnoke is famous for its prime attraction, The Karni Mata Temple. This temple is dedicated to Karni Mata the incarnation of Goddess Durga and is the ancestral deity of the royal families of Jodhpur and Bikaner. The temple is known for its distinctively bizarre population of approximately 20,000 black rats. The rats are said to be the children of Karni Mata who drowned in a lake while drinking from it and upon Karni Mata’s implorations were allowed to be reborn as rats by Lord Yama, the Hindu deity of Death. Various versions of this story exist however, including the one where the rats are considered to be the 20,000 soldiers who deserted a battle and upon realizing the sin they have committed, took shelter in the temple and were turned to rats by Karni Mata and vowed to serve her for atonement. The visitors are not bothered by the rats and usually offer sweets and milk as an offering. The sight of any white rat is also considered a very auspicious moment. This is one bizarre temple indeed.
3. Chinese Kali Temple
This temple is located in a small town called Tangra near Kolkata in the State of West Bengal. Tangra serves as the Chinatown and is populated by the Chinese inhabitants in India. The temple is dedicated to the Hindu Goddess Kali that is surprisingly worshipped by the Chinese inhabitants. Although, the Temple’s architecture is not that special or noteworthy, the surprise lies in the offerings that are made. The Chinese people that live here offer rice, noodles, chopsuey and other vegetable dishes. This aspect alone makes the temple famous in the country as many people visit the temple to worship the Goddess and receive noodles, chopsuey and the other Chinese cooked vegetables as the ‘Prasad’. Another great aspect of this temple is that the Chinese who live in this area are Christians or Buddhists but they still worship the Goddess Kali devotedly. This place totally exemplifies the cultural bond between India and China.
4. Om Banna Temple, Pali
Yet another strange temple located in Rajasthan, ‘The Om Banna Temple’ or the ‘Bullet Baba’ shrine is located in Pali district near Jodhpur. The temple is characterized by a strange deity that is represented in the form of a 350 CC Royal Enfield Motorcycle or ‘Bullet Baba’ that is worshipped by people for a safe journey especially when bearing liquor. The legend of the temple goes back to 1988, when a rider named Om Singh Rathore was travelling from Pali to Chotila and met with an accident that resulted in him falling into a ditch where he died. The Motorcycle was recovered by the Police who kept it in the nearby police station. However, the next morning the motorcycle was miraculously found at the accident spot again and even though the police tried defueling and locking or chaining the vehicle, it would be found again near the accident spot. This was seen as a miracle and the motorcycle was placed in a shrine built near the accident spot which serves as a temple and a memorial for Om Banna. The place is revered by hundreds of riders and travelers who visit the place to pray to the Motorcycle Deity for a safe journey.
5. Mehandipur Balaji Temple, Dausa
The Temple is dedicated to the Hindu deity, Lord Hanuman and is located in the Dausa district near the ”Pink City” – Jaipur in the State of Rajasthan. The deity, Lord Hanuman is usually worshipped by the Hindus as the Monkey God is said to quell the powers of evil and exorcise the influence of any evil spirit. Owing to this, the Mehandipur Balaji Temple is nicknamed the ‘Witch Temple’ of India. The place can be one of the most thrilling and spine chilling experiences you would come across in India. The temple is frequented by hundreds of people who seek the head priest of the temple to get their painful experiences nullified which are said to be caused by the influence of evil spirits. One can witness various people who have been prescribed therapies like being shackled in chains or placing heavy stones on various parts of the body to ease the pain. Many people who visit the place for the first time might find these customs as strange, inhumane or anachronistic but there are many who claim to have been cured by these bizarre therapies.
On a trip to India, one might often encounter such strange and bizarre customs and traditions. Many tourists often find such rituals as revolting and outrageous but in order to derive the true cultural depth, experiencing these is a must. The temples mentioned not only define the strong sense of religion that the country possesses but also how religion in general influences the people in this mystical and magical country.
Photo Credits: Bramha Temple in Pushkar by Lukas Larsson , Le temple de Karni Mata (Deshnoke) by Jean-Pierre Dalbéra , karni mata rats by Koen, Chinese Kali Mandir in Kolkata, India by Flippy Whale, Om Banna Temple by Studio Matino Reserved (with permission), Mehandipur Balaji by amitk227
Rohit Agarwal is an Architect by profession and a travel blogger. Having travelled to various places in the country and the world is often intrigued by the various cultures and traditions in different parts of India and the world. Rohit is a blogger at Trans India Travels that provides an insight on the various attractions in India.
Day six of our Mediterranean Cruise with MSC Cruises took us from Europe to Africa in just a few hours as we arrived in Tunisia. The modern port of La Goulette where the MSC Splendida docked was a 15 minute drive from the centre of Tunis and we had pre-arranged a private taxi to take us sightseeing for the day.
Just outside the cruise port we met our taxi driver, Mr Faouzi who took us first visit the pretty village of Sidi Bou Said, which was a 15 minute drive up the coast. The village is known for its picturesque white houses with blue painted doors and windows and is known as the Santorini in Tunisia. We arrived before most of the coach excursions with the souvenir stalls in the pedestrianized main street just starting to open.
Walking up street, we admired the pretty white and blue houses, every so often exploring down a side alley to investigate a hidden courtyard, old studded door or building draped with pink bougainvillea. We could see below us a small harbour area and the MSC Splendida at the port in the distance. We passed a few cafes and smart hotels with terraces overlooking the sea and at the end of the road was a viewpoint, where the path continued down the hill to the harbour. We retraced our steps, just as the cruise excursions were arriving and took a look around the small Dar El-Annabi Museum (€2.50 entrance).
I hope you enjoy the video below of our day visiting Sidi Bou Said and Carthage on our cruise stop in Tunis
This traditional house was built at the end of the 18th century and used as a family summer residence, but is now open to the public showing scenes from Tunisian life. The house had been set up as if preparations were underway for a wedding, with figures in Tunisian costume showing the bride being decorated with henna and receiving guests with her family. The internal patio at the entrance was decorated in Andalucian style, with a central fountain, flowering jasmine and bougainvillea and stairs up to a terrace with a panorama over the town. Through the big studded door were sitting rooms with figures in costume, leading to a large open courtyard where an underground cistern collected rainwater from the roof. We really enjoyed this insight into Tunisian life and highly recommend the museum for those interested in local culture.
Next on our taxi tour was the visit to Carthage, which is not a single site like Pompeii but a succession of different sites with residential and shopping areas in between, so it would be difficult to see them all without a car. The legendary city of Carthage was founded in 814BC as the capital of the Punic Empire and exerted influence over the whole Mediterranean for many centuries. The empire’s power waned during the Punic wars, fought between 264 and 146 BC when military commanders such as Hannibal were unable to avoid defeat by the Romans. Although Carthage was destroyed during this conflict, it was later rebuilt by the Romans and became the third largest city in the Roman Empire. Later the city was conquered by the Vandals, Byzantines and Arabs and fell into oblivion until archaeological excavations were begun in the 19th century and it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Our tour started at the Carthage Museum where the ticket (cost around €5) gave us entrance to all the different sites. The museum is situated at the top of the hill of Byrsa that was the site of the Roman Forum, with a commanding view over the ancient city and the sea. We had a look around the museum with some fine mosaics and larger statues from the site. Outside were gardens with fallen columns and their decorative pediments and we could also see the remains of Punic houses built on the slopes of the hill.
Next we drove to the Roman Amphitheatre, which had a capacity of 40,000 people and was used to stage gladiator combats, circus games with wild animals and mock naval battles. Only the perimeter of the arena remains today, with some of the internal walls, broken columns and the underground tunnels.
The Antonine Baths was the largest of the archaeological sites we visited, in a beautiful location beside the sea. The baths covered a very extensive area, including the cold frigidarium, sauna or tepidarium and hot calidarium in a large complex with a central hall supported by columns and domed roofs. The site that you can see today consists mainly of the underground portions of the building made up of storage rooms and boiler rooms, with only a single column showing where the ground level would have been.
The final stop on our tour was the Punic port which was considered a feat of engineering in ancient times. There were two communicating basins which can still be seen and we took a walk around the circular one with a central island where we could see the remains of the berths where war ships could be drawn up out of the water on wooden rollers. Now the basin is surrounded by desirable houses overlooking the water, with small boats moored up all around the perimeter and a few fishermen sorting out their nets.
After our visit to the various sites of Carthage, we drove the 20 minutes into the modern town of Tunis, for a look at the old town or Medina. We stopped for lunch in a café on one of the boulevards in the centre of town, planning to afterwards walk into the Medina. The weather had been overcast and showery all day, but since it was now raining heavily we decided against our walk and asked our driver drop us back at the cruise port, where we spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing on board.
Tomorrow we have a day at sea as MSC Splendida sails back to Barcelona where we will end our week’s cruise.
Options for visiting the main sites of Tunis
- The main things to see on a cruise excursion to Tunis are the various sites of Carthage, the blue and white village of Sidi Bou Said and the Medina or old town of Tunis. The Bardo Museum with ancient mosaics is also recommended but is situated in the suburbs of Tunis, so you may not have time to see this as well as the other places.
- Booking a cruise excursion is probably the most convenient option, but as always you will be in a large group of around 50 people, and will probably have to choose two of the sites above, as there is not time to see them all.
- Another good option is to hire your own taxi for the day to take you to the main sites of Carthage, Sidi Bou Said and the Medina. There are taxis waiting in a rank as you exit the cruise terminal and prices are posted on a board. The prices posted were €60 for Medina/Carthage/Sidi Bou Said for 4 seats, €80 for 6 seats, €100 for 8 seats. As I did not take the taxi from this rank I can’t confirm whether these were the fixed prices, but my general experience in North Africa is that even when the price is shown, you should agree a price with the driver before setting off and may need to bargain to achieve a price you are comfortable with.
- If you turn right out of the terminal and walk down the road to the port exit, you will pass a parking area where other taxis are waiting and some drivers may approach you to offer a taxi tour. Again, if you wish to take one of these you may need to bargain and agree a fair price before setting off on your tour.
- Once you reach the exit of the port (turn right and 10 minutes walk from the cruise terminal) immediately ahead of you there is an Oil Libya gas station and beside it is another rank of taxis. These are public taxis that do not have a permit to come into the port and many of these will also offer to take you on a tour. Again you may need to bargain to agree a fair price, and the price here may be lower than in the port.
- Because we wanted a private taxi tour but also the certainty of a pre-booked service and a pre-agreed price, we contacted a Tunis based travel agent that I had seen recommended in the Cruise Forums, Ben Jebara M. Tahar through his website http://www.expertraveltunisia.webs.com Twitter: @expertravel Although he was not able to offer us on a personal tour, he arranged a taxi for the day with an English-speaking driver at around the same cost as the official cruise excursion. Although this probably cost more than bargaining ourselves for a taxi, we were very happy with the service, which was arranged by e-mail, with a follow-up phone call via the driver’s mobile. This gave us a tour that was more flexible than the official excursion and with a less crowded experience, since most of the sites were empty when we visited them.
- If you are on a budget, there is a train that runs from outside the port to the centre of Tunis in one direction and to Carthage and Sidi Bou Said in the other direction. I did not take the train but you can find information about it on Cruise Forums.
MSC Excursion Options
The Historical and Cultural tour (4 hrs, £49 Adult) of Tunis features the archaeological ruins of ancient Carthage, ancient baths and a visit to Sidi Bou Said. The Beach Tour (4.5 hrs, £35 Adult) is trip to Gammarth, a lovely seaside resort a short drive from Tunis. If it’s shopping you’re after try the Shopping Tour (4.5 hrs, £45 Adult) to the old medina quarter and its traditional spice market with hundreds of stalls selling a huge variety of local produce. For a dose of colour there’s the History & Colours of Tunis (4.5 hrs, £42 Adult) tour to the Bardo Museum, a former 13th century palace famous for its outstanding collection of mosaics. Finally, choose Exploring the Colourful Souks of Tunis (4 hrs, £42 Adult) where you can stroll the streets of the medina for Arabian style shopping, admire the handicrafts and spices and visit a traditional carpet shop to learn about the history and traditions of the Berber people.
Other articles in my Mediterranean Cruise series
Join me on a week’s Mediterranean cruise with MSC cruises
All aboard at Barcelona – Day 1 of my MSC Mediterranean Cruise
Bonjour Marseille – Day 2 of my MSC Mediterranean Cruise
Palazzo and Gelato in Genoa – Day 3 of my MSC Mediterranean Cruise
Naples and an excursion to Pompeii – Day 4 of my MSC Mediterranean Cruise
Messina and an excursion to Taormina – Day 5 of my MSC Mediterranean Cruise
Tunis and Carthage – Day 6 of my MSC Mediterranean Cruise
A day at sea and back to Barcelona – Day 7 of my MSC Mediterranean Cruise
Thanks to MSC cruises who hosted Guy and Heather’s Mediterranean cruise. Heather and Guy travelled on MSC Splendida from Barcelona on a 1 week cruise calling at Genoa, Marseille, Naples, Messina, Tunis. Prices for a similar cruise start at around £700 per person. For more information, visit the MSC Cruises website or follow them on Twitter @MSC_Cruises_UK or on the MSC Facebook page.
You’ll also find our sister blog with tips on how to build a successful travel blog at My Blogging Journey