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Berlin Travel

Whether traveling by cruise, bus, bike or foot, Berlin, Germany’s largest city, has a multitude of guided tours to satisfy any traveler. From the Berlin Wall to Checkpoint Charlie, guided tours provide travelers the means to see the highlights of the city while providing captivating historical accounts.

Travel by bike for a four-hour tour of the Berlin Wall, Hitler’s Bunker, the Brandenburg Gate, and other exciting destinations, including a rest in one of Berlin’s most popular beer gardens. If biking isn’t your travel choice, perhaps a bus tour could showcase all this city has to offer. Transform from tourist to travel guide and choose one of the fifteen different landmarks at which to disembark from the bus and explore at your leisure, or remain on the bus for the full two-hour tour of the city. For a more personalized tour, travel by foot to feel the full impact of the history contained in this beautiful city. Each walking tour can be customized to meet the needs of the tourist, ranging from pub crawls to the historic Berlin walk. Choose from a variety of museums including the Altes, the Pergamon, and the Deutsch Guggenheim. After a long day of walking around the city, relax on a three-hour river cruise under the stars. See the city illuminated at night while enjoying a glass of your favorite German beverage.

Continue relaxing at one of the many hotels of Berlin. Stay at the Grand Hotel Esplanade, a five-star hotel located within a short walk of the Tiergarten Park, the Victory Column, and the Schloss Bellevue Palace. The Swissotel Berlin, another five-star accommodation, sits in the heart of the famed shopping district of the city. The underground car park can accommodate up to 150 cars, ideal for those tourists with rental cars. Enjoy the luxury of The Ritz-Carlton, Berlin, located adjacent to the Sony Center, with check-in 24-hours a day and most attractions within walking distance.

If five-star lodgings would break the budget, perhaps a three-star hotel would fit the bill. Express by Holiday Inn Berlin City Centre is located just a short distance from Potsdamer Platz Square. From Mark Hotel Meineke take a mere 6 minutes to walk to the Kurfürstendamm, Berlin’s famous shopping area, and only 10 minutes to the Zoologischer Garten train station and zoo. Utilizing the city rails, easily navigate to any destination quickly and effortlessly.

Choose a hotel near one of the many top destinations, such as Alexanderplatz, Potsdamer Platz, or Kurfürstendamm. Park Inn Berlin-Alexanderplatz offers a wonderful view of the city from the 39th floor, and is directly in the center of the historic center of Berlin. The Mandala Hotel is located strategically near the new central train station at Potsdamer Platz, and within walking distance of numerous attractions such as the Holocaust Memorial, the Philharmonie, and the Berlin Cathedral. Across from the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial church sits Hotel Boulevard Berlin, with a rooftop garden and public transport links at the doorstep. This hotel is conveniently located in the Kurfürstendamm shopping district, and conveniently near the Tegel Airport.

Regardless of the type of tour or accommodations, Berlin is a spectacular destination that should be at the top of anyone’s travel list. Whether business or pleasure, Berlin has the resources to satisfy the needs of each and every visitor.

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June 1, 2010 Posted by | Travel & Tourism | , , | Leave a comment

5 Great Summer Literary Festivals

Looking for a smart, bookish destination this summer? Build a trip around these five great literary festivals, from Mexico to Prague to Brooklyn.

When President Bill Clinton called the Hay Literary Festival the “Woodstock of the Mind” in 2001, he was on to something. These days, literary festivals have so eclipsed their rock equivalents as places to hear the big names, to see and be seen, to pitch tents and to eat hamburgers (albeit organic ones), that it’s hard to remember what all that fuss over music was about. Authors are the new artists.

HP Main - Literary Festivals

The summer season starts this weekend with two very different kinds of celebration. The Guardian Hay Festival, held in the otherwise sedate village of Hay-on-Wye in Wales, is a 10-day hubbub of discussions and readings, featuring big names and big ideas: Martin Evans and John Sulston on the human genome; Ian McEwan on climate change; Nick Clegg—giving his first public presentation since becoming U.K. Deputy Prime Minister—on the Rule of Law. Meanwhile, the Calabash International Literary Festival in Jamaica, now in its 10th year, offers a more intimate gathering—three days of presentations by a small but select crew of authors, including Colson Whitehead, Russell Banks and Sudeep Sen. Where Hay is an industry unto itself, Calabash has struggled to raise funding. Where the Hay website induces mild panic (think of a schedule akin to SXSW), its Jamaican counterpart features one single list of events, gently spaced out over three days, and a picture of the director having a snooze on a sofa.

Whatever kind of groupie you are, it isn’t too late to join the party—as our list of the top five literary festivals this summer will testify. But before you book, remember: If you’re looking for somewhere to actually read, you’d be more likely to find a quiet corner in Woodstock.

May 29, 2010 Posted by | Travel & Tourism | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Africa – China ( Cultural Revolution ) part 1

The railroad—known as the Tazara line—was built by China in the early 1970s, at a cost of nearly $500 million, an extraordinary expenditure in the thick of the Cultural Revolution, and a symbol of Beijing’s determination to hold its own with Washington and Moscow in an era when Cold War competition over Africa raged fierce. At the time of its construction, it was the third-largest infrastructure project ever undertaken in Africa, after the Aswan Dam in Egypt and the Volta Dam in Ghana.

Today the Tazara is a talisman of faded hopes and failed economic schemes, an old and unreliable railway with too few working locomotives. Only briefly a thriving commercial artery, it has been diminished by its own decay and by the roads and air routes that have sprung up around it. Maintenance costs have saddled Tanzania and Zambia with debts reportedly as high as $700 million in total, and the line now has only about 300 of the 2,000 wagons it needs to function normally, according to Zambian news reports.

Yet the railway traces a path through a region where hopes have risen again, rekindled by a new sort of development also driven by China—and on an unprecedented scale. All across the continent, Chinese companies are signing deals that dwarf the old railroad project. The most heavily reported involve oil production; since the turn of the millennium, Chinese companies have muscled in on lucrative oil markets in places like Angola, Nigeria, Algeria, and Sudan. But oil is neither the largest nor the fastest-growing part of the story. Chinese firms are striking giant mining deals in places like Zambia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and building what is being touted as the world’s largest iron mine in Gabon. They are prospecting for land on which to build huge agribusinesses. And to get these minerals and crops to market, they are building major new ports and thousands of miles of highway.

In most of Africa’s capital cities and commercial centers, it’s hard to miss China’s new presence and influence. In Dar, one morning before my train trip, I made my way to the roof of my hotel for a bird’s-eye view of the city below. A British construction foreman, there to oversee the hotel’s expansion, pointed out the V-shaped port that the British navy had seized after a brief battle with the Germans early in the First World War. From there, the British-built portion of the city extended primly inland, along a handful of long avenues. For the most part, downtown Dar was built long ago, and its low-slung concrete buildings, long exposed to the moisture of the tropics, have taken on a musty shade of gray.

“Do you see all the tall buildings coming up over there?” the foreman asked, a hint of envy in his voice as his arm described an arc along the waterfront that shimmered in the distance. “That’s the new Dar es Salaam, and most of it is Chinese-built.”

I counted nearly a dozen large cranes looming over construction sites along the beachfront Msasani Peninsula, a sprawl of resorts and restaurants catering mostly to Western tourists. Near them, sheltered coyly behind high walls, lie upscale brothels worked by Chinese prostitutes. In the foreground, to the northwest, sits Kariakoo, a crowded slum where Chinese merchants flog refrigerators, air conditioners, mobile phones, and other cheap gadgets from narrow storefronts. To the south lies Tanzania’s new, state-of-the-art, 60,000-seat national sports stadium, funded by China and opened in February 2009 by President Hu Jintao.

“Statistics are hard to come by, but China is probably the biggest single investor in Africa,” said Martyn Davies, the director of the China Africa Network at the University of Pretoria. “They are the biggest builders of infrastructure. They are the biggest lenders to Africa, and China-Africa trade has just pushed past $100 billion annually.”

Davies calls the Chinese boom “a phenomenal success story for Africa,” and sees it continuing indefinitely. “Africa is the source of at least one-third of the world’s commodities”—commodities China will need, as its manufacturing economy continues to grow—“and once you’ve understood that, you understand China’s determination to build roads, ports, and railroads all over Africa.”

Davies is not alone in his enthusiasm. “No country has made as big an impact on the political, economic and social fabric of Africa as China has since the turn of the millennium,” writes Dambisa Moyo, a London-based economist, in her influential book, Dead Aid: Why Aid Is Not Working and How There Is a Better Way for Africa. Moyo, a 40-year-old Zambian who has worked as an investment banker for Goldman Sachs and as a consultant for the World Bank, believes that foreign aid is a curse that has crippled and corrupted Africa—and that China offers a way out of the mess the West has made.

“Between 1970 and 1998,” she writes, “when aid flows to Africa were at their peak, poverty in Africa rose from 11 percent to a staggering 66 percent.” Subsidized lending, she says, encourages African governments to make sloppy, wasteful decisions. It breeds corruption, by allowing politicians to siphon off poorly monitored funds. And it forestalls national development, which she says begins with the building of a taxation system and the attraction of foreign commercial capital. In Moyo’s view, even the West’s “obsession with democracy” has been harmful. In poor countries, she writes, “democratic regimes find it difficult to push through economically beneficial legislation amid rival parties and jockeying interests.” Sustainable democracy, she feels, is possible only after a strong middle class has emerged.

In its recent approach to Africa, China could not be more different from the West. It has focused on trade and commercially justified investment, rather than aid grants and heavily subsidized loans. It has declined to tell African governments how they should run their countries, or to make its investments contingent on government reform. And it has moved quickly and decisively, especially in comparison to many Western aid establishments. Moyo’s attitude toward the boom in Chinese business in Africa is amply revealed by the name of a chapter in her book: “The Chinese Are Our Friends.” Perhaps what Africa needs, she notes, is a reliable commercial partner, not a high-minded scold. And perhaps Africa should take its lessons from a country that has recently pulled itself out of poverty, not countries that have been rich for generations.

“I would say this is a transformational moment for Africa,” Moyo told me from London last spring. “I see the explosive development of infrastructure. I see people producing more food and having more jobs … And besides, I don’t see how otherwise you are going to get a civil society, except by building up a middle class.”

Even taking the recent global downturn into account, this has been a hopeful time for a historically downtrodden continent. Per capita income for sub-Saharan Africa nearly doubled between 1997 and 2008, driven up by a long boom in commodities, by a decrease in the prevalence of war, and by steady improvements in governance. And while the downturn has brought commodity prices low for the time being, there is a growing sense that the world’s poorest continent has become a likely stage for globalization’s next act. To many, China—cash-rich, resource-hungry, and unfickle in its ardor—now seems the most likely agent for this change.

But of course, Africa has had hopeful moments before, notably in the early 1960s, at the start of the independence era, when many governments opted for large, state-owned economic schemes that quickly foundered, and again in the 1970s, another era of booming commodity prices, when rampant corruption, heavy debt, and armed conflict doomed any hopes of economic takeoff.

China’s burgeoning partnership with Africa raises several momentous questions: Is a hands-off approach to governmental affairs the right one? Can Chinese money and ambition succeed where Western engagement has manifestly failed? Or will China become the latest in a series of colonial and neocolonial powers in Africa, destined like the others to leave its own legacy of bitterness and disappointment? I was heading south on the Tazara—through the past and into the future, to the sites of some of China’s most ambitious efforts on the continent—to try to get some early sense of how the whole grand project was proceeding.

May 29, 2010 Posted by | Africa, China, Travel & Tourism | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Frugal Travel Tips For Istanbul, Turkey

Istanbul is one of my favorite cities in the world. A mix of new and old, history and shopping, Europe and Asia, Istanbul provides something for everyone, especially the frugal traveler. 

The Blue Mosque

When I think of Istanbul artwork, I think of the beautiful blue and white tiles and no where will a traveler find more beautiful examples of 17th century Blue Iznik tiles than in the Blue Mosque. The entrance fee is free but as it is a religious site, women should bring a head scarf (I always walk with one) and dress modestly.

The Grand Bazaar

This, one of the largest covered markets in the world, is where the frugal traveler finds souvenirs. Favorites include tiles, carpets, and apple tea sets. Haggling is a must and shopkeepers are quite persistent (though cheerful). The concept of personal space is different than in North America so expect to get up close and personal. That is part of the fun.

Hagia Sophia

Hagia Sophia was first a basilica, then a mosque, and today a museum. Often when travelers see photos of Istanbul, this building is featured. There is an entrance fee (about $10 U.S.) but the view of the 9th to 10th century mosaics are worth it. This site is rather crowded so time accordingly.

Carpet Shopping

Carpet shopping in Turkey is an experience. Shoppers are served the delicious apple tea in beautiful tea sets while carpets are unrolled before them. In the good carpet shops, travelers may see one of a kind silk carpets from places such as Hereke, each signed by the artist.

Fish Sandwiches

Along the Bosphorus, under the Galata Bridge, are tiny little restaurants specializing in the must eat local food in Istanbul, the fish sandwich. It is exactly as it sounds, fish in bread, and eaten by both locals and travelers. And they are very inexpensive.

Istanbul, one of my favorite cities in the world, has something to interest everyone. There are great cultural sights, unique shopping experiences and inexpensive eating options.

May 23, 2010 Posted by | Travel & Tourism, turkey | , , , , , , | Leave a comment