Spending a gap year in America

If you’ve made it to the end of school, congratulations! But maybe you’re now looking to take a break before you start university or take on another course back home. Perhaps you fancy breaking free from education just for a year to try something new.
 
How about a gap year?
Some people may scoff at the idea and say that it’s just another year of deferring life in the real world; putting off getting a job. But those who take one will invariably come back and say that the experience was invaluable and that it’s actually helped them get a job – giving them skills and a confidence that’s pushed them on to achieve greater success. Leading colleges recognise a gap year as a useful tool, and many allow students to defer a year.
 
Mind the gap year – it’s not for everyone
When it comes to the crunch, you may decide that a gap year isn’t for you, and that you’d rather crack on with the next step in your learning so you can more quickly get earning. A particular note of caution should be sounded to those who are planning to take a break mid-course, as you may enjoy your break so much that you never return to your studies – a waste of your time and money. If you do make the decision, make sure you arrange your finances – head to http://www.worldfirst.com.au for advice on that front.

It’s a good idea to know what you want to get out of your year out. Be clear on what you want to achieve, and how it will help you going forward. Will you volunteer, work, explore, teach…? Where will you go?
 
So you’re sure you want a gap year? OK – where will you go?
 
London not calling
In the past, the UK was a popular choice for young Australians wanting to get away, with a trip to London being a particularly well trodden path. While there, they would work by day and party by night, but the number of visitors from our shores is falling. In seven years, the number of Australians coming to the UK to work has halved, and although this doesn’t relate exclusively to ‘gappers’, it’s a striking statistic.  
 
So why the drop? Well, real wages – pay adjusted for inflation – are falling, and living costs have risen. The cost of accommodation and rent in London has gone through the roof, and it’s increasingly putting people off making the trip. Add the frequent cloud and rain that befalls the UK, and young Aussies have been looking for alternatives.
 
US a new favourite
The US is gaining in popularity, and New York City is fast becoming a firm favourite. It’s got a great atmosphere and despite the cold, people like the fact that there are defined seasons.
 
The US has plenty to keep intrepid gap year students satisfied. There’s a load of things to do and see – the only problem is choosing which ones! Rather than just working and playing, this is a chance to do some serious exploring.
 
Breathtaking sights are on offer at the Yosemite National Park, California – home of incredible peaks and majestic valleys. More awesomeness is available in the form of the Grand Canyon, with its drama, sunsets and jaw-dropping landscape.
 
Hawaii’s an option for those looking for all the action – snorkelling, diving and hiking – with the downtime too.
 
If it’s out-and-out history you’re after, head for the nation’s capital, Washington DC, to see the Washington Monument, White House and Capitol Building.
 
Be dazzled by the bright lights of Vegas, or, on the other end of the scale, make for one of the least developed places in the US – Cumberland Island, Georgia – where you’ll practically have the place to yourself, beaches included. Think of the exploring you could do there?
 
Or make it a road trip – drive down the west coast on Route 1 from California to New Mexico, or across the country from New York to Los Angeles, beating a path from ocean to ocean, passing old style cowboy towns and glitzy cities on your way.
 
And that’s without the buzz you’ll get from Pike Place Market in Seattle, the amazingly unique music scenes in Nashville, New Orleans or Memphis. Not mentioning the faces of the presidents at Mount Rushmore or the food and history of the Deep South.
 
Whatever your budget, there’s something for everyone, and the perfect gap year for you.
 
If you want to mix the exploration with volunteer work, you’ll be surprised at the variety of things you could get up to, from wildlife rescue projects to conservation work with gibbons, or even working on a ranch.

We hope this guide has given you some ideas for a gap year to remember. You may never want to come home!

Alligator Alley and Life without the Giant Mouse: Why Florida is Universally More than Just Disney

by Oliver Todd at Kenwood Travel Florida Holidays.

Interstate I-75 is a highway in Florida. There’s a famous stretch of this road, between Weston on the East coast and Naples on the West, dubbed Alligator Alley. Most of the road traverses the Everglades and is flanked by waterways. One evening, on a road-trip from Atlanta to Miami, I found myself driving along this causeway-like strip of road in a tropical rainstorm. I had heard tell of Alligator Alley but dismissed it as an urban myth. I mean, it sounded so far-fetched, so exaggeratedly ‘American’. (What would be the equivalent in the UK, Squirrel Lane?) Could there really be a road that was inhabited by gators?

Sure enough, as I peered out of the car window, windscreen wipers barely coping in the downpour, there they were. Dozens of them were crawling out of their brown, murky river-dwellings, pummelled by the rain, slithering onto to the tarmac, seeking what? Refuge? A snack? I’d like to say I wasn’t afraid, safe within the moving metal box that was our hired Chevy Cavalier, but that wasn’t entirely true. The severe weather had reduced our speed to a crawl that would have allowed the beasts to attack should the urge have taken them. An onslaught of gnashing teeth seemed possible, if not exactly imminent. We proceeded with trepidation. Perish the thought we’d brake down.

Despite the fear factor it was an unforgettably awesome sight. As thrilling as swimming with sharks in the Great Barrier Reef or Komodo trekking on Rinca Island (not that I’ve experienced either of these).

It lead me to question whether Florida could be as genuinely challenging a holiday destination as it is a fun and vivacious one. Most people look upon the Sunshine State as a light-hearted, crowd-pleasing centre of surface-level entertainment. Causing a splash on the log-flume and taking a selfie with Mickey hardly constitute the pinnacle of self-discovery. But that’s fine. That’s not what we sign up for. ‘Profound Experience Guaranteed’ it does not say on Florida’s tin. And yet, yet…
I thought I’d take a look at some of the more potentially enriching ways to spend your Floridian holiday. Here’s my top 5 Guide to Florida Without The Theme Parks.

#1 Take a Kayak Eco-Tour, Grand Lakes – A journey as exhilarating as any roller-coaster, but rather more tranquil, this twice-daily tour on Shingle Creek puts your paddling power to the test while exposing you to nature at its most beautiful: watch out for gators sharing your water, and marvel at bald eagles in the skies above.

#2 Play Golf, Orlando – This sounds obvious, but few activities are as enriching as sport, and golf in Florida gains extra kudos from taking place in such picturesque surroundings. Central to all sport is the personal achievement of overcoming difficult challenges combined with the physical feeling of the action itself. Theme parks may be fun but they come up short in these respects. Tee off in one of the world’s most varied golf destinations: Orlando alone is home to over 170 courses.

#3 Watch a Skateboard Competition, Tampa – Since 1993 the world’s most prestigious Pro Skateboarding event has been held at the Skate Park of Tampa (SpoT). Hard to imagine with the influx of Street League and the X-Games, but before their arrival this contest was number one on the skate circuit and so it remains among the hardcore pros. This contest is about pride, not pay-outs and as such produces the highest level performances. Fantastic for spectators. This year’s show-down takes place 21st – 23rd March.

#4 Go Gator Trekking, Everglades – If official estimates are to be believed, Florida’s myriad waters are home to over 1.25 million wild alligators. Head to Everglades National Park, rent a bike and see how many you can spot. The creatures like to bask in the sun along the concrete pathways and are accustomed to cyclists whizzing by. Do use your common sense though: don’t get too close and never try to touch them!

#5 Experience Art by Moonlight, Miami – Educational programmes at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Miami are inventive and varied. MOCA by Moonlight is a new series of art classes, forums and lectures held when the sun goes down. Alternatively, Jazz at MOCA performances are very popular and the gallery hosts up to 10 different innovative and provocative annual exhibitions which challenge the way we view modern art.

5 places to visit on your dream India holidays

India is an incredible country with so much to see and do. If you’re lucky enough to have a large budget, then holidays to India can encompass an amazing range of sights and activities, all blended into one, breathtaking worldwide tour. Below are some of our favourite spots to stop off…

GOA
Goa is a place to retreat after you have seen it all in the crowded cities. Here the cityscapes of urban India are replaced with coconut groves and the fuel fumes replaced by the sweet smelling cashew nut blossoms and ripening mangoes. The honking of irritated motorists is replaced with melodious chirping of birds which reminds you that you can slow down and take in the beautiful landscapes of the lush river valleys and sandy beaches. Goa is pleasantly peaceful and dream destination in India with its alluring landscapes and slow pace of life.

KERALA
The tropical backwaters of Kerala remain one of the top destinations for many; it is a place of contrasting religious ideologies and where the salty and fresh waters mix yet the magical charms of Kerala are never diminished. A lot of activities go on along the banks, men waiting patiently for their nets to trap fish, women wash clothes as flotillas of ducks merrily drift by. Lots of vessels cruise the Kerala waters including ferries, fishing boats and the famed Kerala boat houses each headed to its designated destination creating a spectacle to behold. The area is also teeming with rich wildlife and beautiful scenes of paddy fields, mosques, churches and coconut groves.

AGRA
Agra may not sound as popular but the Taj Mahal is the most recognized of the two nouns. The Taj Mahal is a highlight of every Indian itinerary but it is found the city of Agra and if India is a princess then the Taj Mahal is her beautiful crown. The city of Agra may not appeal to the eye due its high levels of pollution but its magnificent Mughal architectural pieces makes one make just one more stop to admire the ancient beauty. There are many attractions such as ancient tombs, the ghost town of Fatehpur Sikri and gardens within the city for you to explore.

DARJEELING
Darjeeling is high in the eastern Himalayas where tea plantations crown the hill stations with their leafy shrubs spilling the mountain sides. Brightly painted cottages jut out of the valleys of terraced fields, cascading waterfalls dot the valleys and the astonishing variety of orchards blooming in the fields add the beauty and romance of Darjeeling. The misty hills are attractive to those on honeymoon seeking secluded places, hikers and those who are bewildered by natural beauty. The higher you climb up the hills the better the views become opening up to high peaks, lakes and beautiful homes owned by people of different ethnicities.

VARANASI
Varanasi sits majestically along the banks of the sacred River Ganges. It is a place to witness a myriad of activities especially at sunrise when different kinds of people take a dip to be cleansed from their sins, perform rituals, meditate and pray. It is a place where spirituality feels so real and tangible while yet the ancient traditions of the Hindu culture are still practiced here. It is believed that Varanasi is the home town of Lord Shiva whom the pilgrims you see crowded here come to seek his guidance or to worship.

3 place you have to stop on Cyprus holidays

PAPHOS

Paphos is one of the six districts in Cyprus with a fascinating history: it is claimed the goddess of love and beauty Aphrodite was actually born here. It was once the capital city of the entire island during the reign of the Greco Romans and with this it has a wealth of ancient treasures that have earned the old part of the town a UNESCO World Heritage site. As a coastal town in the Mediterranean it enjoys fine sunny weather throughout the year. Its white sandy beaches have caught the attention of many turning it into a destination of choice for many travelers.

Stop over at the Aphrodite Rock where the goddess of love chose to be born as human. If you are a couple you can swim around the rock to ensure that your love endures forever, perhaps like the rock or the myth! The habor of Paphos is a hub for numerous activities but you can slow down at the Adonis bath or the Baths of Aphrodite which are scenic and mysterious. This place is a must on holidays in Cyprus.

LIMASSOL

Limassol is the second largest city in Cyprus with one of the busiest ports in the Mediterranean and the center for wine making in the island, so you are assured that drinks of the finest wine will not run out. It is also a center for festivities such as the wine festival and many more carnivals. It is generally very vibrant with lots of activities going on. The Troodos Mountains form the background of this gorgeous city and provide a cooling effect due to pressure during hot summer months.

It also has a host of archeological treasures of Greek and Roman eras such as Kourion which includes theater and stadium, the Limassol Castle turned into a weaponry museum and the Cyprus wine museum which displays the islands wine history. There are beautiful mountain villages such as Lofou village whose traditional architecture is listed by UNESCO as architecturally important. If have spent your day exploring the architectural sights and need a break the Fasouri Water Mania gives you thrilling water rides.

NICOSIA

Nicosia is centrally located on the island of Cyprus and has been the capital since the 10th century; it also remains as the only divided capital in the world after the collapse of the Berlin wall. The 400 year old Venetian wall divides the city into two parts, the ancient part of the city and the modern part of the city along with its suburbs. It is a well preserved city with an efficient transport system. It has a lot to offer in terms of cultural heritage and vibrant night life.

The museums here are numerous each displaying important treasures; they include the Byzantine museum, the municipal museum, the National Struggle museum and the folklore museum. Some of the largest venues in Cyprus are also found here such as the NEO GSP stadium and the Makario stadium which hosts numerous sports activities in Cyprus.

5 work abroad programs that are super worthwhile

BUILDING HOMES IN BRAZIL FAVELAS

There is an area in Brazil where some families from the Favela community live in despicable living conditions in huts made of scraps of different kinds of materials from plywood to canvas. These families are in desperate need of decent shelters which will protect them from the harsh elements of weather especially the young and the elderly who suffer from illnesses as a result of cold and damp conditions. You do not need to be an expert to participate in the project but your willingness to help and add an extra hand is worthwhile. This program helps you make a difference in the lives of other people and also helps you develop skills you never knew you had.

WORK ON SUMMER CAMP IN AMERICA

Summer camps in America offer various volunteer and paid work abroad programs open to applications from all over the world. In the summer camps you can develop your skills by working full time with the kids, supervising their daily activities and even staying in the same sleeping areas with them; this role is for camp counselors. If you like working behind the scenes then you can apply for different roles such as maintenance of camp facilities, cooking, cleaning or become an administrator. After completing the programs you will find that your everyday skills such as leadership and management will improve and your CV will be appealing.

SURF OUTREACH PROJECT IN SOUTH AFRICA

Surfing is one of the thrilling water activities and if you like surfing then you can apply your skills in this project. It involves teaching kids from ages 9 to 15 how to surf and impacting their lives with valuable life skills. Surfing is not such a popular sport in Africa but this project seeks to reach out to kids and help them learn. The duties of surf volunteers include cleaning the wet suits, preparing sandwiches for kids, planning activities and teaching the kids how to surf. It is a great way of making use of your skills as well as impacting the kids lives positively.

TURTLE CONSERVATION IN COSTA RICA

The turtle conservation program in Costa Rica is a worthwhile program to participate in, involves protecting different kinds of endangered turtle species, collecting data along the beaches, patrolling the beaches and ensuring that the turtle population continues to thrive without any dangers. It is a fulfilling job as you get to spend time along the beaches, you become aware of the importance of conservation, you get to meet with different kinds of people and you gain skills concerning research and management.

ORPHANAGE WORK IN MEXICO

There are millions of orphaned children in Latin America and the Caribbean, if your heart feels touched to help some of the kids then you can enroll in one of the orphanage programs and help make a difference in the kids’ lives. You can help in daily running of the programs in the orphanages, teaching, cooking and generally being a role model to the young children. It is a worthwhile program that will open your eyes to extreme situations in life.

3 top locations for holidays in Portugal

Portugal is a winning holiday destination: its combination of sandy beaches, dramatic scenery, fine weather and championship golf courses which makes it ideal holiday destination for anyone from families to groups and even solo travelers.

LISBON
Lisbon is a city of a kind, one that lures you to get lost in discovering its numerous distinctive sights and images which have survived the passage of time. The World Heritage Belem Tower should at least top up your list. It is the most photographed landmark in Lisbon; its significance is like that of Big Ben in London or that of Eiffel Tower in Paris.

It is a city of different yet magnificent architectural designs each representing different eras and times; the 16th century elaborate and distinctive designs and the 18th century uniform yet elegant structures. The history of the city is well preserved in the museums where unique artifacts are displayed in the Gulbenkian Museum and the one of a kind Tile Museum.

If you want to see the city from a different angle, the ancient St. Georges Castle gives you an opportunity to stretch your eyesight as far as you can see. Here you can check out the traditional village of the Alfama from a vantage point.

ALGARVE
Algarve is Portugal’s southernmost province and the most popular touristic destination. Its plate is full with Europe’s most beautiful beaches, magnificent cliff sceneries, fantastic grottoes and warm all year round weather making it a destination for anyone and everyone.

Though it may have lesser cultural attractions than most parts of Portugal, Algarve prides itself in its array of spectacular sandy beaches. Most visitors are so struck with the magical sceneries of the beaches that they never leave their resorts to explore other parts of Algarve. The beaches are not only alluring but also cleanest in Europe some even awarded Blue Flags; they include Praia da Marinha, Dona Ana, Ilha de Tavira, Meia Praia and the list goes on. Some of the best championship golf courses are also found here. It is also home to some of the best holiday villas in Portugal with pools and without, so you can leave the sand behind and relax in your own privacy whenever you want.

Take some time to explore the ancient towns such as Sagres, Faros and Lagos and be amazed by the ancient architecture of different eras.

MADEIRA
Madeira is a sub tropical island of Portugal and one of the most popular touristic destinations. It offers extraordinary beautiful natural sceneries, excellent all year weather and some of the world’s most luxurious hotels. It is a hub for exotic plants that were left here by ships that navigated this area during their voyages which has earned the island names like “Gods Botanical Garden” and “The Floating Flower Pot”.

The mountain scenery here is awe inspiring; the Pico De Arieiro is a place you can stop over and meet the clouds as you admire the beautiful volcanic rocks. The Lavado trails are magical and lined up with gardens and vineyards; you can ride a toboggan through the channels.

Traditional villages in Madeira are also stunning with thatched roofs but a trip to the World Heritage forest of Lauri Silva should not be missed.

Amazing places to visit for an African safari

BOTSWANA

Botswana offers luxury adventure safaris with a guarantee of spotting the Big Five. With is variety in landscapes and parks one is spoilt for choice when it comes to choosing a safari destination in this African safari heaven. Here, you have destinations such as Chobe National Park where you can experience exceptional game rides and the great Okavango delta with its amazing water deposition in the desert creating wet lands in the area thus supporting all kinds wildlife from flamingoes during some seasons to the predators and the smaller bush animals. It is here that you can experience all the jungle action as animals such as antelopes, zebras and wildebeest try to keep safe from the big cats and also the birthing seasons where young ones see light of day.

The Kalahari Game Reserve gives you a different kind of safari right in the desert where the numerous water holes attract all kinds of animals. It is amazing to find such extra ordinary flora and fauna in such harsh wilderness conditions. Other places of interest include the Makgadikgadi pan.

NAMIBIA

Namibia is one of the most unique safari destinations in Africa offering picturesque landscapes. It is a photographer’s paradise with numerous beautiful locations that lure photographers to take just one more shot. From the dazzling golden sand dunes in the harsh Namib desert to the mysterious skeleton coast with its scary tales and the less visited but dramatic Dramaland Namibia gives you an unforgettable safari experience.

However the remarkable scenes should not divert your attention from the spectacular wildlife, Namibia is host to a number of wild animals including the black rhino, elephants, giraffes and much more including birds. The Etosha National Park is one of the most popular safari destination with a variety of animals of over a hundred and fourteen species. It is here where you can experience being so close to animals that you will feel like you just stepped into a scene from National Geographic.

TANZANIA

Tanzania is a fantastic destination for African safari holidays offering you some of Africa’s most spectacular phenomenon such as the great migration of the wildebeest. It is a place of marvelous natural beauty offering any kind of safari or a combination. You can take an animal and a cultural safari to the Serengeti National Park which is also home to local tribes such as the Masai. It is amazing how such tribes co-exist in the jungle with such large concentrations of wild animals; the tribes are part of the ecosystem.

The Ngorongoro Crater is a caldera with jaw dropping natural beauty and hosts a variety of wild animals. It is one of the most visited game reserves in Tanzania as it has a lot to offer, from natural beauty and animal diversity not forgetting it is a birdwatchers paradise. The Mount Kilimanjaro is a hiker’s paradise, though it is the highest peak in Africa it is also very walk able without any equipments or expertise.

Italian villa holidays that will knock your socks off

TUSCANY

Tuscany is undoubtedly an excellent choice for a villa holiday destination. It is endowed with rich cultural heritage, mind blowing natural landscapes and special cuisines. The rustic countryside offers a relaxed environment for the weary traveler and a scavenger hunting ground for the treasure seeking traveler. For one seeking to taste every kind of wine, the verdant vineyards are reassuring that the last glass of the tastiest wine is yet to be served.

There is a wide variety of luxury villas to rent in Tuscany ranging from country style to modern luxury, with varied spectacular views that will definitely knock your socks off. Here you have the rare yet pleasurable opportunity of staying in a rustic farmhouse with swimming pools and amenities which you have until now dreamt about. You will enjoy the charm and scenic beauty of the rural countryside in the privacy of your farmhouse. You can also enjoy exploring the ancient towns, the wineries, churches, eateries and monuments prevalent in Tuscany.

AMALFI

The Almafi coast is an exceptional mixture of history and nature which have been inspirational to many. The beauty is indescribable, words would do no justice to the Amalfi coast; it is a dazzling mix of sunshine, cobalt blue church bells and the aroma of ripe juicy lemons.

The impossibly steep cliffs of Positano are dotted with houses and terraces that decorate the 50 km of the spectacular coastline. If you stay in a villa here you will be overwhelmed by beauty of the cobalt blue waters and the sandy beaches below. The coastline is so stunning that it is a listed UNESCO World Heritage Site. If you want to climb to higher ground you can head to the mountains for a better view and secluded piece.

There are various activities you can indulge in such as hiking, sunbathing, hopping from one coastal town to the next and visiting the nearby islands of Capri. The Amalfi coast offers varied villa accommodations with excellent sea views that would make you want to cancel your trip back home.

SARDINIA

Sardinia is a unique island of Italy offering a different twist of architecture hailing from different kinds of emperors who stopped over here during their sea voyages around the Mediterranean. It acted as a natural stop for ships along this route and the Phoenicians, Vandals and Byzantines: all left their indelible marks on the island in form of churches and monuments. However it is the Spanish Catalans who colonized the region and their impact is still evident with some road signs still written in Catalan.

If you stay in a villa along the north coast you will be rewarded with enticing stretches of sandy beaches, waters as clear as gin suitable for snorkeling and numerous coves to explore. The fishing village of Issora Rosa boasts of seductive sandy beaches where you can sunbathe and enjoy fresh sea food. Treat yourself to tasty recipes such as stuffed wild boar and suckling pig which are some of the islands top meals.

Top things to see in Istanbul

Turkey has the sole distinction of bridging two continents, Europe and Asia, with one of the worlds great cities straddling the two. In Istanbul, discover a wealth of historical and religious structures, ancient ruins, volcanic cliffs, and hospitable people. Marvel at the attractions you can find around its famous waterway, the Bosphorus flows straight to the majestic Black Sea.

Here are are some of must see highlights when in Istanbul, Turkey (and you can see the full list in this page.)

Hagia Sophia Museum / Church of Ayasofya

Hagia Sophia is a museum and one of Istanbul’s famous landmarks. It was built as a cathedral in the A.D. 500’s and was converted into a mosque towards the end of the 1400’s. It has a long history behind it as it served as the first seat of the Greek orthodox religion. Afterwards, it became a Catholic cathedral, then a mosque and now a museum. This is reflected in its architecture which is a great mix of all styles. The interior is lavish yet elegant. You have to go early in the morning to attend the holy mass and to avoid the long line of tourists that explore its religious importance and history.

Suleymaniye Mosque

The humble and beautiful mosque is impressive both inside and outside. You have to walk a bit from the center of Sultanahmet to get to this mosque where the view is really amazing. At the exit there is a terrace from which to admire the Golden Horn. The location of this mosque is right on the Bosporus and the view from the Galata Bridge at sunset is amazing. Inside, it is very large and bright and stands outside the city. On the back you can visit the mausoleums of the tombs of Süleyman and his wife Rosseana.

Sultanahmet District

Sultanahmet is the heart of Istanbul City. It is a cluster of shops, kebab diners, mosques (Ayasofya and the Blue Mosque) and friendly people. It represents the spirit of Istanbul restaurateurs who are stationed outside their restaurants and invite you to come and walk while stray cats stroll lazily in city traffic, voices, tourists, hawkers of Sahlep (a delicious concentrated milk that is served warm with cinnamon) antique stores, lamps of colored glass, the tram that runs and the Grand Bazaar of luxury where the precious gold and jewelry shops never fails to fascinate tourists and locals alike.

Topkapi Palace

The Topkap Palace is a place of great splendor where every guest is welcomed with an entry to the tower like castle and a glimpse at how the great sultans once lived. The various buildings decorated with colorful tiles are very beautiful as well as the grounds and pavilions. A section is dedicated to jade jewelry, daggers of gold, the cradle of gold and large diamond. A visit to the sultan’s harem is highly recommended. The greatness of this place will take your breath away and learn to understand all about the Turkish and Byzantine empires that once dominated this great nation.

Bosphorus Strait

The scenery along the Bosphorus Strait and the boat tour gives a good chance to evaluate the colors of the city lights in both the European side and the Asian horizon. The ship sails from the first pier to Galata bridge (Sultanahmet side) and drove along the Bosphorus to the bridge of Euro-Asia, take a quick pass to the shores of the Black Sea and then return. A good guide can give a brief history of Istanbul and share a detailed description of the various buildings to see during the one and a half hour cruise. The return to the port is fabulous with a view of the mosques getting silhouetted against the horizon at sunset.

Turkey is a mix of charm and a unique aesthetic beauty. From a historical point of view, it represents a wealth of ancient history that must not be missed. The knowledgeable guides of the tourpackagesinturkey.com offer private guided tours of Istanbul and package tours around Turkey. Please check out their website for advanced bookings and reservations.

The Pacific Northwest’s Best Kept Secrets

There is no escaping the fact that the Pacific Northwest has some of the most beautiful beaches and mountains in the United States. It is also no secret that when it comes to livability, the Pacific Northwest also scores very highly. If you are looking to live and work here, then here is our quick guide to some of the best kept secrets the Pacific Northwest has to offer.

Florence, Oregon
Located at the mouth of the Siuslaw River on the central Oregon coast, Florence is tucked away at the northern end of a 48 mile run of sand dunes most of which forms the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area. The whole green valley stretches out east before meeting the forested Coast Range foothills. This magnificent setting is a joy to behold and so it is no wonder that it’s what the residents love most about their town. Florence has a real sense of community and this makes a big difference to the quality of life. In Florence you can have it all, a different hike every day, a walk on the beach and a beautiful garden to call your own. With low crime rates and a low cost of living, Florence scores 77 for ‘livability’ from AreaVibes, a site that focuses on all the best places to live in the US.

Langley, Washington
A 20 minute boat ride is all it takes to reach the beautiful Whidbey Island and suddenly you find yourself transported to a gem of a place. Filled with acres of green grass, rolling farmland and outstanding views of the Puget Sound, you’ll think you have been transported to another world. Just one hour north of Seattle, Langley has all the charm of New England and is a perfect town at the edge of it all. Despite the island’s easy access, the town has retained a small town feel and local character, making this one desirable place to live. Smaller is smarter according to the residents here and as of yet, houses prices have not yet reached astronomical heights.

Port Angeles, Washington
Once an ageing mill town, Port Angeles is on the rise due to the fact that it is accessible, appealing and very affordable. Port Angeles might just be the next big thing when it comes to America’s great coastal towns. It boasts an enviable position sitting bang in the middle of the Strait of Juan de Fuca and lying in the shelter of the graceful Olympic Mountains. This sheltered spot means that Port Angeles escapes much of the rain which troubles other regions and residents here can expect a good 300 days of sunshine. The town has struggled in the past, but all that seems to be on the change as the town’s potential for growth takes hold. Scoring 74 with AreaVibes for livability, Port Angeles offers a low cost of living and has high graduation rates.

Hood River, Oregon
The hood river has been drawing windsurfers and kite boarders to the area for years and lately they have been joined by mountain bikers and white water paddlers, all keen to enjoy some of the best outdoor activities in the Pacific Northwest. If you love the great outdoors, then the Hood River is a must. This place is on the up judging by the superb range of new restaurants, bistros, bars and sushi joints popping up in the neighborhood. Just an hour east of Portland, Hood River is tucked between the huge basalt cliffs of the Columbia River Gorge. This recreational boomtown however also has a serious side and offers potential residents low crime, a stable housing market and high graduation rates. AreaVibes score Hood River at 80 for livability.

Do you know of any Pacific Northwest’s hidden gems which we might have missed? If so let us know in the comments box below.

David Wilson is a writer discovering the best places to live, work and play in the United States.