theSundaily.my Travel http://www.thesundaily.my/sites/default/files/images/thesundaily_logo_google.png theSundaily.my Travel http://www.thesundaily.my/rss/lifestyle/travel http://www.thesundaily.my/rss/lifestyle/travel en Cars, castles and communism: Things to know about the Czech Republic http://www.thesundaily.my/news/2018/01/11/cars-castles-and-communism-things-know-about-czech-republic
Here are five things to know about the central European country of 10.6 million people that kicks off a two-round presidential election on Friday.

Prague, an architectural gem

Its capital is a popular tourist magnet, boasting a picturesque historic centre that entered the Unesco heritage list in 1992.

Under the dominating Prague Castle, the old town – which is split by the Vltava river – is rich in architectural jewels, Renaissance and Baroque palaces, Gothic cathedrals and art deco buildings that illustrate its 1,000-year history.

Every year millions of tourists cross the Vltava on Charles Bridge, the city's most popular medieval site. The bridge's foundation stone was laid on July 9, 1357 by Czech King and Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV.

The 'Czech Trump'

Pro-Russian, pro-Chinese and anti-immigration President Milos Zeman is targeting a second five-year term.

His prime minister, billionaire populist Andrej Babis who is dubbed the "Czech Trump", has failed to form a coalition and instead composed a minority government.

The government, expected to lose a confidence vote on January 16, largely comprises members of his anti-corruption and anti-euro ANO (Yes) movement and non-partisan experts.

Car-driven economy

With its flagship Skoda, the Czech economy is heavily dependent on car production and exports to the eurozone.

It recovered in 2014, after a long crisis, and in 2017 the Czech National Bank forecast growth of 4.5 percent – up from 2.6% in 2016 – with 3.4% expected for 2018.

Unemployment fell to 3.5 percent in Nov, the lowest level in two decades.

Nazi, Soviet occupation

The republic has its roots in Czechoslovakia, which declared independence from the dying Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1918, and comprised Czech and Slovak people.

From 1938 Nazi Germany annexed various parts of the country but Czechoslovakia regained its autonomy in 1945.

Three years later a Communist coup brought the country under the yolk of the Soviet Union.

Moscow crushed a 1968 attempt at liberal reform, the "Prague Spring". In 1989 the Velvet Revolution ended four decades of Soviet domination, propelling dissident playwright Vaclav Havel to the presidency.

In 1993 Czechoslovakia split into two states, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, and Havel became the first Czech president.

Firmly European

The Czech Republic has turned its back on its Soviet past, joining the NATO transatlantic military alliance in 1999 and the European Union in 2004.

It is also a part of Europe's Schengen border-free area but has resisted adopting the euro, favouring its own koruna currency. — AFP]]>
Travel Thu, 11 Jan 2018 04:11:58 +0000 theSundaily 518091 at http://www.thesundaily.my
Where to travel in 2018 if you're on a budget http://www.thesundaily.my/news/2018/01/04/where-travel-2018-if-youre-budget
After comparing the average price for flight bookings departing the US in 2017 and 2018, Hipmunk estimates that international booking prices have dropped six percent in 2018 compared to last year.

Likewise, the average price of domestic flights have dropped up to 18 percent for US travelers.

For budget-conscious travelers already looking forward to planning out their escapades for 2018, here's a look at some of the cheapest international and domestic destinations this year:

International destinations from the US:

La Paz, Bolivia, average airfare in 2018: US$737 (RM3k), -26% change from 2017

Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, $US816 (RM3.3k), -24% change from 2017

Nice, France US$1,231 (RM5k), -19% change from 2017

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, US$1,051 (RM4.3k), -19 % change from 2017

Bergen, Norway, US$790 (RM3.2k), -16% change from 2017

Phuket, Thailand, US$1,028, -14% change from 2017

Frankfurt, Germany, US$1,036 (RM4,136), -14% change from 2017

Rome, Italy, US$917, 12 percent change from 2017

London, England, US$762 (RM3.7k), -11% change from 2017

Copenhagen, Denmark, US$751 (RM3k) , -11% change from 2017

Cheap destinations within US for 2018:

Atlanta, GA, US$250 (RM1k), -18% change 2017

Key West, FL, US$475 (RM1.9k), -16% change from 2017

San Antonio, TX, US$340 (RM1.4k), -16% change from 2017

Washington DC, US$333 (RM1.4k), -15% change from 2017

Richmond, VA, US$390 (RM1.6k), -13% change from 2017

Cincinnati, OH, US$347 (RM1.4k) , -13% change from 2017

Minneapolis, MN, US$289 (RM1.2k), -13% change from 2017

Reno, NV, US$426 (RM1.7k), -13% change from 2017

New York City, NY, US$299 (RM1.2k), -12% change from 2017

Albuquerque, NM, US$341 (RM1.4k), -11% change from 2017

— AFP Relaxnews]]>
Travel Thu, 04 Jan 2018 02:25:56 +0000 theSundaily 516409 at http://www.thesundaily.my
Tropical island paradise with a cautious eye to growth http://www.thesundaily.my/news/2018/01/04/tropical-island-paradise-cautious-eye-growth
Tourists to Sao Tome and Principe, a scattering of islands off the coast of western equatorial Africa that once served the slave and sugar trades of Portuguese colonial rulers, are rare.

And though this paradise has been dubbed "the islands in the middle of the world" – because of their proximity to the zero point on GPS, with the prime meridian just six degrees to the west and the equator crossing one island – it rarely features on any radar for investors.

Eyes to the East

In 2002, Sao Tome's then president Fradique de Menezes announced a deal with the United States to create the deepwater port his country lacks and to build a US military base.

Washington never confirmed the plan, despite stakes in the booming oil industry of the region.

Today – like many other African nations – the country has turned to China to help its development, especially infrastructure.

In December 2016, Sao Tome renewed diplomatic ties with Beijing to the detriment of its rival Taiwan, which had cooperated with the African archipelago since 1997.

"Our country wanted to join this group of countries that is benefiting from Chinese funding," Finance Minister Americo De Oliveira Ramos told AFP after the pact with Beijing.

Economic sectors such as health, oil or China's primary interest here – fisheries – are earmarked for development, according to the finance minister.

China is also pursuing the deepwater port proposal that went into abeyance as the Pentagon waged the Iraq War.

In June, Sao Tome signed an agreement to let Chinese trawlers ply the country's waters alongside those of Japan and the European Union.

'Smart tourism'

China's arrival has raised concerns among environmentalists, particularly opposed to illegal and intensive shark fishing.

But paradise is unspoilt in rural areas that are home to almost 600 recorded species of plant, not to mention those that remain undiscovered and unidentified.

The government is keen to encourage tourism to provide jobs and income – two-thirds of the population live below the poverty line – but without harming the islands' natural beauty.

Renowned local chef Joao Carlos Silva – also a celebrity in Portugal – is pounding the drum for low-volume ecotourism.

He uses organic produce in his kitchen, most of which he gathers and grows in the garden of his farm.

"We live in a country with an interesting biodiversity and where we can grow crops without chemicals and with traditional techniques," Silva says, advocating "smart tourism", a far cry from mass arrivals.

Toll of development

Among the obstacles to growth in tourism, entrepreneurs cite the sky-high cost of lending.

Manuel Nazare, the owner of the Praia Inhame hotel in Porto Alegre, told AFP in 2016: "I borrow money from the local bank at very high rates, 24%".

Another hindrance is the price of a trip, which makes visiting Sao Tome a luxury for Europeans though the cost of living is low.

A return air fare from Lisbon costs at least 850 euros (RM4,107) and connecting flights are sparse, via Gabon, Ghana or Portugal.

While officials plan growth, including expansion of the international airport, the toll of development on the environment is an issue.

A veteran figure in the tourism sector said he had observed a worrying degradation of the sea floor over the past two decades.

"The big question is whether the public will benefit from development, and whether nature in Sao Tome will be preserved," he said. — AFP]]>
Travel Thu, 04 Jan 2018 04:15:43 +0000 theSundaily 516471 at http://www.thesundaily.my
India gets its first contemporary sculpture park http://www.thesundaily.my/news/2017/12/16/india-gets-its-first-contemporary-sculpture-park
Madhavendra Palace, within Nahargarh Fort in Jaipur, Rajasthan, in northern India, is now home to a sculpture park — the first of its kind in the country.

This magnificent palace, built at the end of the 19th century and located within an 18th-century fort in the hills surrounding Jaipur, has been turned into a gallery for sculptures. The Sculpture Park at Madhavendra Palace opened Dec 10 with a collection of works by 24 artists, including 15 Indian artists.

Curator Peter Nagy, director of Gallery Nature Morte in New Delhi, said: "For most of my career as a gallerist and curator, I have been trying to break away from the whitebox exhibition space. With this project, I am able to indulge my passions for art, architecture and décor, into a marvelous synthesis of the past and present".

The exhibition, which runs until November 2018, is the result of a collaboration between the Rajasthan government and the Saat Saath Arts Foundation, a non-profit organization seeking to support international exchange between India and the rest of the world through the visual arts and education.

The Sculpture Park at Madhavendra Palace's inaugural exhibition runs until November 2018 at the Nahargarh Fort, Jaipur, Rajasthan, India. — AFP Relaxnews]]>
Travel Fri, 15 Dec 2017 20:05:54 +0000 theSundaily 512438 at http://www.thesundaily.my
Tesla secures big order for its electric trucks from Anheuser-Busch http://www.thesundaily.my/news/2017/12/11/tesla-secures-big-order-its-electric-trucks-anheuser-busch
Although it's not the first order Tesla has received for its new truck, the deal for 40 of them for the brewing company is one of the largest, and definitely one of the most high-profile so far. So, as well as being a significant order for Tesla in financial terms, it could also be some of the best advertising possible for its electric trucks having a fleet of them emblazoned with the Budweiser logo.

Tesla only unveiled the trucks last month, and it's believed around a dozen orders have already been placed by companies including the likes of Walmart.

This isn't a move by Anheuser-Busch that comes out of the blue though, and that's because the company has already revealed plans to make significant efficiencies in its supply chain, including reducing its carbon footprint by some 30% by the year 2025.

James Sembrot, the head of logistics at Anheuser-Busch, said of the order, "At Anheuser-Busch, we are constantly seeking new ways to make our supply chain more sustainable, efficient, and innovative. This investment in Tesla semi-trucks helps us achieve these goals while improving road safety and lowering our environmental impact."

But being all-electric and emitting zero emissions is just the start of the revolutionary nature of the trucks AB will be taking delivery of. They will also be configured for autonomous driving or what's known as platooning, which is a series of trucks daisy-chaining and being led by a single human driver at the front.

AB is looking at autonomous hydrogen-electric long-haul trucks as well, which are currently being developed by a company called Nikola, in conjunction with Otto and Uber. — AFP]]>
Travel Sun, 10 Dec 2017 20:06:26 +0000 theSundaily 510955 at http://www.thesundaily.my
Tesla secures big order for its electric trucks from Anheuser-Busch http://www.thesundaily.my/news/2017/12/10/tesla-secures-big-order-its-electric-trucks-anheuser-busch
Although it's not the first order Tesla has received for its new truck, the deal for 40 of them for the brewing company is one of the largest, and definitely one of the most high-profile so far. So, as well as being a significant order for Tesla in financial terms, it could also be some of the best advertising possible for its electric trucks having a fleet of them emblazoned with the Budweiser logo.

Tesla only unveiled the trucks last month, and it's believed around a dozen orders have already been placed by companies including the likes of Walmart.

This isn't a move by Anheuser-Busch that comes out of the blue though, and that's because the company has already revealed plans to make significant efficiencies in its supply chain, including reducing its carbon footprint by some 30% by the year 2025.

James Sembrot, the head of logistics at Anheuser-Busch, said of the order, "At Anheuser-Busch, we are constantly seeking new ways to make our supply chain more sustainable, efficient, and innovative. This investment in Tesla semi-trucks helps us achieve these goals while improving road safety and lowering our environmental impact."

But being all-electric and emitting zero emissions is just the start of the revolutionary nature of the trucks AB will be taking delivery of. They will also be configured for autonomous driving or what's known as platooning, which is a series of trucks daisy-chaining and being led by a single human driver at the front.

AB is looking at autonomous hydrogen-electric long-haul trucks as well, which are currently being developed by a company called Nikola, in conjunction with Otto and Uber. — AFP]]>
Travel Sat, 09 Dec 2017 20:08:03 +0000 theSundaily 510733 at http://www.thesundaily.my
Santa's creepy chum gives Austrians a scary thrill http://www.thesundaily.my/news/2017/12/08/santas-creepy-chum-gives-austrians-scary-thrill
His troupe is just one of an estimated 850, with 10,000 members around Austria marauding through towns and villages over the Christmas period in "Krampuslauf" parades.

"We are spreading the tradition of scaring away evil spirits," Eigner told AFP as he donned his outfit before one such event in Schwadorf near Vienna.

"Just symbolically though of course," he said, resplendent in his shaggy Roman centurion-cum-zombie costume, animal bones dangling here and there.

It starts off innocently, with Santa — or rather Saint Nicholas — giving out sweets. But fear is in the air because soon come his satanic sidekicks, dozens of them.

Wave after wave bound in, stomping around a roaring fire that sends sparks into the night sky, clanging cow bells attached to their backs and brandishing whips and blazing red flares.

With heavy metal blaring, the several hundred spectators in the market town watch behind safety barriers as the demonic creatures prowl around menacingly, leering at the public.

But apart from one tearful little girl, everyone has fun. The monsters high-five with kids as they slope off back to their lair — actually the local school — to get changed.

"We are trying to make it look brutal but our whips are only made of horse hair," Eigner assures us. "People can hardly feel it if we hit them".

Black angels and orcs

It's a booming trend, with ever more groups springing up to satisfy a seemingly insatiable demand, and not just in Austria but in southern Germany and further afield too.

One of Austria's biggest parades, in Schladming south of Salzburg, involves some 800 monsters and attracts 8,000 spectators paying 12-15 euros (RM57-72) per adult.

Yet, while it may be inspired by past customs, the phenomenon has moved and evolved far beyond its supposed origins in the remote valleys of the Alps.

Head-to-hoof in dark fur with horns, a tail and a lolling red tongue, from the 16th century Krampus traditionally appeared on Dec 5, the eve of Saint Nicholas Day.

"Children would be tested on religious knowledge by Saint Nicholas. He would reward them but couldn't punish them. That was Krampus's job," ethnologist Helga Maria Wolf told AFP.

"Even into the 1960s, the pair would visit families on request," she said.

"Perchten" meanwhile, figures of good and evil whose origins are possibly pagan, would emerge in early January or in the carnival season before Lent, the Christian period of fasting.

Traditional Perchten processions still exist, such as in Gastein in western Austria where 140 creatures from mythology and legend "drive out winter" every four years.

But in recent decades, Krampus and Perchten have merged into hybrids, incorporating other influences from horror movies to heavy metal music, and appearing from early Nov onwards.

In Schwadorf there was Death himself and an assortment of witches, monks, red-faced Satans, black angels and other beasts resembling "Lord of the Rings" orcs.

Confronting fears

Every Krampus season however, Austrian newspapers are full of stories about drunken young men dressed up as monsters causing injuries and mayhem.

In one such recent event in the town of Voelkermarkt, police were called after at least six people were injured, reportedly after two rival Krampus groups clashed.

One therapist near Salzburg, Andrea Hammerer, runs a yearly seminar helping people who are scared to go outdoors at this time of year.

"The sound of the bells goes right to the unconscious," Hammerer told AFP. "We get people to confront their fears, we bring in people dressed up as Krampus".

Krampus performers say spectators can be the problem, grabbing their horns and throwing beer to wind them up.

Some groups held a demo in Klagenfurt recently to protest against negative media coverage.

But a whiff of danger is perhaps also part of the fun.

"There's a nice word for it — 'angstlust'," the pleasure of fear, Wolf said. "People love rollercoasters for example. There's a kind of comforting frisson about it".

"When I was little I was a tiny bit scared," said Lukas, 13, getting ready in Schwadorf to appear in his Krampus disguise. "But then I became one". — AFP]]>
Travel Thu, 07 Dec 2017 20:07:10 +0000 theSundaily 510229 at http://www.thesundaily.my
Disney to open Japan-themed park in Tokyo http://www.thesundaily.my/news/2017/12/03/disney-open-japan-themed-park-tokyo
Currently, the country boasts two Disney theme parks – Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo DisneySea.

According to news site Mainichi.jp, construction on a third theme park is slated to begin in 2025, at a price tag of US$2.7 billion, (RM11.04 billion).

Though details on the theme park are scarce for now, developers said the Japan-themed park aims to distinguish itself from Hong Kong Disneyland and Shanghai Disney Resorts.

More details are set to be revealed next May.

The newest addition could be modeled after Disney California Adventure Park, which originally opened to showcase California's history and culture with rides that simulate flying over California wilderness and trolley rides inspired by the historic Pacific Electric Railway from the 1920s, which criss-crossed the Los Angeles area. — AFP Relaxnews]]>
Travel Sat, 02 Dec 2017 20:04:57 +0000 theSundaily 508610 at http://www.thesundaily.my
This luxury hotel brand has the highest approval rating among wealthy guests http://www.thesundaily.my/news/2017/12/02/luxury-hotel-brand-has-highest-approval-rating-among-wealthy-guests
That's according to a global survey that polled 3,900 consumers from seven countries around the world who represent the top 10% of households by annual income.

In the 2018 Global Hotels Luxury Brand Status Index, published by the New York-based Luxury Institute, respondents in China, Japan, the UK, Germany, France, Italy, and the US were asked to rate 40 luxury hotel brands on quality, exclusivity, social status and the ability to make guests feel special.

For example, respondents were asked to assign a rating of 0-10 on statements like "This hotel is truly unique and exclusive," and "This hotel is visited by people who are admired and respected".

More than the Four Seasons, Fairmont, Oberoi, Mandarin Oriental, Peninsula and Waldorf Astoria, the Ritz-Carlton received the most favorable rating.

The report also shed light on the travel habits of the world's most affluent travelers, for whom money is no object.

On average, wealthy travelers spend an average of 11 nights per year in luxury properties. The countries most likely to report having stayed at a luxury hotel in the past year are China (88%), Italy (83%) and the UK (81%).

The majority cited leisure as the primary reason for their stay (82%), and 66% reported traveling with a spouse or partner, while 9%said they travel for business and 14% said they were solo travelers. — AFP Relaxnews]]>
Travel Fri, 01 Dec 2017 20:05:05 +0000 theSundaily 508375 at http://www.thesundaily.my
India's 'Miami': Putting Mumbai's Art Deco on the map http://www.thesundaily.my/news/2017/11/28/indias-miami-putting-mumbais-art-deco-map
Bombay, as the Indian city was formerly called, is known more for its Victorian Gothic edifices than the sleeker architectural designs that swept Europe and America during the 1920s and '30s.

But now, a group of enthusiasts are making Mumbai's hundreds of Deco structures, which include residential properties, commercial offices, cinemas and even hospitals, as famous as their 19th century counterparts.

The ambitious Art Deco Mumbai project aims to document every single one and educate residents about the buildings' origins to ensure the "style moderne" architectural legacy of India's financial capital is preserved.

"Bombay has one of the largest collections of Art Deco buildings in the world. It's an incredible heritage," Atul Kumar, keen conservationist and founder of Art Deco Mumbai, tells AFP.

Palm trees blow gently along the three-kilometre Marine Drive promenade where Soona Mahal, a symmetrical, yellow-painted building with orange vertical lines and elaborate turret, sits proudly on the street corner.

"It's an iconic building that looks like a ship pushing through waves," says 70-year-old Mehernosh Sidhwa proudly. He is the third generation of his family to live in it after his grandfather had it built in 1937.

Around the corner, five-storey buildings sporting elegant Deco fonts, marble floors and spiral staircases line the Oval Maidan playing field while nearby are the popular Eros and Regal cinemas.

- 'Aspirations' -

The areas make up the heart of Mumbai's Art Deco precinct which in 2012 was submitted to UNESCO for world heritage recognition. A short distance up the coast is Breach Candy hospital, also in Deco style.

"There's an interesting amalgamation of classical European Art Deco and Bombay Deco. You have ziggurats, rounded locomotive balconies, tropical images, streamlining, speed lines and Egyptian motifs as well as Indian designs," enthuses Kumar.

The buildings were constructed between the early 1930s and early 1950s after wealthy Indians sent their architects to Europe to come up with modern designs different to those of their colonial rulers.

They visited as Deco was taking the West by storm following the 1925 Paris exposition.

"Mumbai's Deco buildings have always lived in the shadow of the Victorian Gothic structures built by the British," such as the main railway station, museum and high court, says Kumar.

"But Art Deco is no less. It's a colourful, vibrant, free, sophisticated style that represented the aspirations of a whole new class. India was under oppressive colonial rule and this was a very unique statement through architecture."

Tour guides are fond of telling foreign visitors to Mumbai that only Miami has more Deco structures internationally. Local legend says the coastal Indian city has 200 such buildings.

Kumar and his small team, which is not-for-profit, are working hard to come up with a precise tally for the first time by documenting the entire city and adding all the Deco buildings to a Google map on their website.

Conservation

"We want to establish the accurate number and therefore position Bombay's relevance correctly across the world," explains Kumar, who says they've already counted 136 in 18 months, with several neighbourhoods left to investigate.

"It's definitely going to be way more than 200," adds the finance professional confidently, before cautiously speculating that the final number could be around 300.

The team talk to owners to establish which structures are Deco. They record building and architect names, dates of construction, coordinates and Deco features.

Key specifics and photos are then uploaded to an inventory on www.artdecomumbai.com. Images with captions are also published on Twitter and Instagram.

"We have 100 percent accuracy. If we are doubtful then we don't include the building," says Kumar, who also organises walking tours to spread the word.

He laments that a lack of awareness has led many Deco buildings to be demolished or compromised by alterations. Property developers offering lucrative sums to replace them with luxury apartments have also caused destruction.

"Ultimately our objective is to conserve this tremendous collection. As we talk to people they become fiercely proud and that translates into a desire to preserve," concludes Kumar. — AFP Relaxnews]]>
Travel Mon, 27 Nov 2017 20:07:06 +0000 theSundaily 507081 at http://www.thesundaily.my