Raja Ampat, the Paradise Island of Indonesia

Located off the northwest tip of Bird’s Head Peninsula on the island of New Guinea, in Indonesia‘s West Papua province, Raja Ampat, or the Four Kings, is an archipelago comprising over 1,500 small islands, cays, and shoals surrounding the four main islands of Misool, Salawati, Batanta, and Waigeo, and the smaller island of Kofiau. The Raja Ampat archipelago is the part of Coral Triangle which contains the richest marine biodiversity on earth.

Raja Ampat Regency is a new regency which separated from Sorong Regency in 2004. The population of the Regency was recently (January 2014) put at 49,048. It encompasses more than 40,000 km² of land and sea, which also contains Cenderawasih Bay, the largest marine national park in Indonesia. It is a part of the newly named West Papua province of Indonesia which was formerly Irian Jaya. Some of the islands are the northernmost parts of the Australian continent. Raja Ampat is considered the global epicenter of tropical marine bio-diversity and is referred to as The Crown Jewel of the Bird’s Head Seascape, which also includes Cenderawasih Bay and Triton Bay.

The name of Raja Ampat comes from local mythology that tells about a woman who finds seven eggs. Four of the seven eggs hatch and become kings that occupy four of Raja Ampat biggest islands whilst the other three become a ghost, a woman, and a stone.

History shows that Raja Ampat was once a part of Sultanate of Tidore, an influential kingdom from Maluku. Yet, after the Dutch invaded Maluku, it was shortly claimed by the Netherlands.

The first recorded sighting and landing by Europeans of the Ampat Islands was in the person of the Portuguese navigator Jorge de Menezes and his crew in 1526, en route from Biak, the Bird’s Head Peninsula, and Waigeo, to Halmahera (Ternate). The English explorer William Dampier gave his name to Dampier Strait, which separates Batanta island from Waigeo island. To the east, there is a strait that separates Batanta from Salawati. In 1759 Captain William Wilson sailing in the East Indiaman Pitt navigated these waters and named one strait Pitt strait, after his vessel; this was probably the channel between Batanta and Salawati.

The main occupation for people around this area is fishing since the area is dominated by the sea. They live in a small colony of tribes that spreads around the area. Although traditional culture still strongly exists, they are very welcoming to visitors. Raja Ampat people are more like Ambonese than Papuan people and now some of them are Muslim and some of them are Christian.

The islands have a tropical climate with temperatures ranging from 20 to 33 ºC.

The territory within the islands of the Four Kings is enormous, covering 9.8 million acres of land and sea, home to 540 types of corals, more than 1,000 types of coral fish and 700 types of mollusks. This makes it the most diverse living library for world’s coral reef and underwater biota. According to a report developed by The Nature Conservancy and Conservation International, around 75 percent of the world’s species live here. When divers first arrive here their excitement is palpable. It’s common to hear people praise God as they take in the remarkable scenery. Others prefer to remain in silence taking in the overwhelming sight of so many islands with crystal clear water that softly brushes over the white sandy beaches.

Commonly, divers will join a tour and live in a diving resort during their stay in the Raja Ampat Islands. To access diving spots, please contact and use the professional diving organizers, who can be conveniently found in Sorong. You may rent a small boat if you wish to stop and make personal discoveries along the line of the beaches. You can also trek around the islands to find hidden beauties, like waterfalls and ancient caves.

If you are flying from Jakarta, you can take a six hour flight to Sorong with a stopover in Manado.  Alternatively, you can join a diving tour in Bali and fly from there. Flying from Jakarta/Bali to Sorong, with connecting flights in Makassar or Manado are offered by various airlines.

There are also daily ferries available between Sorong and Waisai, capital of the Raja Ampat district on the island of Waigeo. The journey takes between 1.5-2 hours. There are also speedboats for rent  at Sorong.

The Unusually Popular Summer Travel Spots for Each State

Someone living in Arkansas is far more likely to visit the Marshall Islands than the average American. In Kansas, they’re more likely to visit Germany. And for Virginians? Bolivia is the top destination.

These are the findings in new data from Facebook, which has tracked where users “check in” when they’re traveling abroad during the summer since 2012.

The results don’t necessarily reflect the most popular destinations outside the United States — those are overwhelmingly Mexico and Canada — but instead show which locations are unusually popular with people in a given state, compared with where most Americans travel during the summer.

For many states, the most distinct travel spots are simply whatever is nearby, namely Canada and Mexico. But for others, it’s tied to immigrant populations in the state. Tonga might seem like an unusual choice for Utahns, but there are more Tongans living there than in any other state, which helps explain why the tiny Polynesian island ranks so high.

Viewed together, the distinct destinations reveal the hidden patchwork of global travel that can be found only in a country as big and diverse as the United States.

Below, select your state to see the top-five list and more details about travel habits during summer months.

90 minutes at the manor house in england

England is truly a magnificent keeper of its heritage, one that lives in the bricks and mortar of these amazing manor houses. And you can visit them.

Ightham Mote, Kent

Six miles south of Sevenoaks, this 14th-century moated manor house is one of the Garden of England’s hidden gems. A former home to Medieval knights and Victorian society figures, it’s surrounded by the most tranquil of gardens with an orchard, small lakes and woodland walks that meander off into the surrounding countryside.

The historian David Starkey, impressed by its atmospheric central courtyard, the house’s Great Hall, crypt, and Tudor painted ceiling, has described it as “one of the most beautiful and interesting of English country houses”.

Owned by the National Trust since 1985, it’s worth a visit for the estate that surrounds it alone. Three designated walks take in all the flora and fauna of the Kent countryside, through an ancient bluebell wood or past 19th-century hopper’s huts and even the natural spring that feeds the moat.

A particular delight is to wander south, away from the house, climb a five-bar gate and stumble across one of the most charming village cricket pitches imaginable. The English countryside at its best.

Hatfield House, Hertfordshire

It’s all too easy to step into what was the childhood home of Queen Elizabeth I and imagine you’re on a film set.

The grand Jacobean manor house has served as the backdrop for scenes from major movies including Harry Potter, Tomb Raider, Shakespeare in Love and The King’s Speech.

It sits in a vast swathe of land only 20 miles north east of the capital and a few minutes’ drive from the A1, encompassing formal and informal gardens complete with a maze, a children’s farm and play area, endless acres of rolling countryside to lose yourself in and even its own 12th century church.

The house itself promises everything you’d expect; from chandeliers and tapestries to a vast library and armoury and one of the finest examples of a Victorian kitchen in the country.

But the hidden bonus here is the fabulous stable yard and the period roads and buildings that lead to it. Flanked by an eclectic mix of buildings converted from the days when the royal stud lived there, is a café that spills outdoors when the weather’s fine and sits among cobbles and a circular fountain in which children toss coins to make wishes.

Blenheim Palace, Oxfordshire

Blenheim is an awe-inspiring 18th century country house in the heart of the fairy tale town that is Woodstock. It is the principal home of the 12th Duke and Duchess of Marlborough and, more significantly, the birthplace of Sir Winston Churchill.

A true Baroque masterpiece, the house, seen by many as the greatest of its kind in Britain, sits amongst more than 2,000 acres of Capability Brown parkland and the most elegantly landscaped formal gardens. There’s a miniature train that transports families to pleasure gardens with its adventure playground, tall-hedge maze and butterfly house.
But everything about the palace is vast; from its 180ft library to its 67ft high hallway.

And outside, it’s on the same scale; big enough, in fact, to host events like the International Horse Trials. So if you’re looking for room to ramble, be warned: you’ll need to be fit to enjoy it fully and have serious amounts of time.

Best time to visit? Other than Spring when the daffodils are in full bloom, it’s Christmas when for more than a month the gardens are turned into a wonderland of light to create an hour-long circular walk past singing trees, a scented fire garden and lawns set ablaze by thousands of colourful fibre optics.

Syon House, Essex

This is where the Duke of Northumberland lives when he’s in London and the closest of the country houses in terms of distance from the city centre. Built in Tudor times, it underwent a thorough transformation at the hands of the neoclassical architect Robert Adam and bears many of his hallmarks. Portraits by Van Dyck and Lely hang on the walls on what is the last surviving ducal residence and country estate, in Greater London.

Only nine miles from Charing Cross, you can quickly find yourself immersed in gardens renowned for their extensive collection of rare plants and trees, all of which surround a spectacular conservatory which dates back to the 1820s and was long known for housing plants from all over the world.

There’s even a frozen spectacle that is an ice house, built over 48 hours when the lake froze over, a formal Italianate garden and a Capability Brown lake overlooking water-meadows. So, even if you don’t want to step foot inside the house, it’s worth the trip for the chance to stroll in 100 acres of parkland and among some of the most spectacular trees in the country, including ancient oaks that date back to the 1600s.

Woburn Abbey, Bedfordshire

Woburn itself is about 40 minutes from drive up the M1 and about five miles south of Milton Keynes. It’s best approached from junction 12 where you can head towards Flitwick and detour off through some of the most charming villages in the county.

That’ll bring you to a small rise that opens up to spectacular views of the deer park. There’s a 20 mph speed limit to help you avoid them and enjoy the view. The Abbey entrance is on the left (the wildlife park is on the right) and, once through the entrance, you’ve a two-mile drive through the grounds, past the house, a lake and an avenue of trees to the main entrance.

Again, there’s no need to go into the house to enjoy the most relaxing of times strolling a multi-faceted array of landscaped gardens, visiting the various historic exhibitions housed in the courtyards, or taking in the scents from the orangery.

The far corner, over a wooden bridge, houses a maze and the entrance yard houses one of the most charming cafes where ducks will snap at your feet for scraps on the terrace on warm days.

Having come all that way, it’s probably worth doubling back through the deer park afterwards into the town, just for a stroll through the high street. A bonus: the car park is free.

Club Chinois in Mayfair, London

Second dates are notorious minefields aren’t they? Go softly softly, or all out to entertain?

Glitzy, spritzy, sexy and highly entertaining are the words that spring to mind when I think back to my evening at Club Chinois last week.

Located on the lower level beneath the already well-established Park Chinois jazz dinner and dance restaurant on Berkeley Street, it’s an altogether different style of evening out.

The simple brown doors are held open by a curiously dressed door man and give no hint to the immediate change of scene once you enter.

Lots of deep red, plush fabrics, smiling faces, a world apart and reminiscent of a bygone age once lived during the 30’s in Shanghai. We followed the red carpet downstairs to Club Chinois where the shimmering space stretches out to the dimly lit yet dazzling dining area.

Club Chinois is the latest creation by Alan Yau, the gourmet maestro who produced diverse and highly successful establishments such as the Michelin-starred Hakkasan and Yauatcha, Soho’s Duck and Rice and, yes, Wagamama. Yau’s vision for Club Chinois is to get away from the jarring atmosphere of modern club culture. It certainly does that.

Once seated on a purple velvet banquettes aside a gold mirrored table, it wasn’t long before a lady wearing a trench coat and a pink bob hair-do indicated to say nothing. Then she whispered “have you brought the money”.

Beside her was an opium smoking vixen who passed by every so often, as did a pair of usherettes selling who-knows-what. All were smiling knowingly. It was ridiculous but so funny. And unexpected.

I double-checked and no this wasn’t a Mayfair speak easy – we were blending into the entertainment. Huge columns of gold leaves reached from wood floors to carved wood ceilings, while subdued lighting and well-mixed DJ music in between acts, all worked to create a highly ambient boudoir-style décor feel.

Follow the Jane Austen trail across Britain

It’s the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s death and Britain is celebrating. Even the Bank of England has produced a new £10 notewhich features a portrait of this most prolific writer.

After all who has not heard of “Pride and Prejudice” and “Sense and Sensibility”. two of her all time greats that have inspired generations of readers and indeed TV viewers.

We suggest ways to follow in this great author’s footsteps.

Jane Austen and Hampshire

Jane was born in Steventon in Hampshire. She is also buried in the county’s Winchester Cathedral. She did most of her writing in Hampshire and even penned her first novel, Sense and Sensibility, here. So, it makes sense that this county is the focal point for the Jane Austen 200 commemorations.

It’s the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s death and Britain is celebrating. Even the Bank of England has produced a new £10 notewhich features a portrait of this most prolific writer.

After all who has not heard of “Pride and Prejudice” and “Sense and Sensibility”. two of her all time greats that have inspired generations of readers and indeed TV viewers.

We suggest ways to follow in this great author’s footsteps.

Jane Austen and Hampshire

Jane was born in Steventon in Hampshire. She is also buried in the county’s Winchester Cathedral. She did most of her writing in Hampshire and even penned her first novel, Sense and Sensibility, here. So, it makes sense that this county is the focal point for the Jane Austen 200 commemorations.

Follow in Jane’s footsteps in Bath

The South West Spa city of Bath is a great place to get to know Jane Austen, where she lived between 1801 and 1806. The city’s perfectly preserved Georgian architecture remains unchanged from the streets depicted in Northanger Abbey and Persuasion.

Visitors can step back in time with a free downloadable audio walking tour of the city In the footsteps of Jane Austen, that includes extracts from her novels and letters, which brilliantly describe Bath as it would have been in its Georgian heyday. Be sure to stop off at the Jane Austen Centre, located in a Georgian town house just a few doors down from where she once lived and home to an exhibition of costumes, manuscripts, and film clips to bring the author’s world to life and explore the city’s influence on her work, as well as the all-important Regency Tea Rooms (£11 per adult and £5.50 per child).

The Tour de France

This summer the world’s most famous cycle race pedals off from Dusseldorf on 1 July. For the next three weeks, elite cyclists will compete stage by stage as they loop around Germany, Belgium, and France. Glory awaits whoever crosses the finishing line first in Paris on 23 July. All those who come behind can at least say they completed the gruelling 104th Tour de France.

The Tour de France itself is open only to professional cyclists, but that’s not to say that you can’t get a taste of the action. You can bike the same route, or follow stage by stage as a spectator. Here are the highlights you can expect to see if you follow the route, plus our practical tips to make it happen.

Dusseldorf

The very first stage of this year’s Tour de France starts and ends in the German city of Dusseldorf. It’s a flat 13 km time trial through the city streets, mostly along the banks of the Rhine and therefore wonderfully flat. You can follow a similar route on a guided bike tour of the city, or meander your own way through the Old and New Towns. The parks and tree-lined promenade by the riverside are particularly pretty, and a great way to ease yourself into cycling, especially if you’re not terribly fit.

Liège

Stage 2 of the Tour de France is a long distance stage: 203 km from Dusseldorf across the border to Liège in Belgium. There are two short climbs along the way, and you’ll see a great deal of western Germany’s countryside as you cycle.

Though this section of the route is not overly arduous, you will be spending a lot of hours in the saddle. It’s essential you wear the right shorts or tights to avoid chafing. Jack Wolfskin’s Gravity Flex Tights are stretchy and breathable, and importantly are also waterproof — helpful for the unpredictable weather in Northern Europe!

When you arrive into Liège, don’t be deceived by the first industrial appearances. Climb the Montagne de Bueren steps for a rewarding city view, and treat yourself to a well-earned beer at the top.

Troyes

Cycling and drinking wine may not always go together, but there are few things more pleasurable in life than biking through French vineyards. The organisers of the Tour de France know that well, and so Stage 7 runs 213 km through the vineyards of Burgundy from Troyes to Nuits-Saint-Georges. Champagne and Rosé des Riceys are just two of the local specialities: you can also keep your energy levels up with Troyes andouillette, Chaource cheese, and Prunelle de Troyes, a particularly potent prune-based liquor.

Bergerac

Competitors in the Tour de France take a much-needed rest day in the Dordogne before starting on Stage 10, the 178 km leg from Perigueux to Bergerac. The terrain here is a little hillier, but the rewards for visitors are ample: the famous cave paintings of Lascaux, truffles and foie gras for the foodies, and the attractions of Bergerac.

Bergerac’s Old Town looks as if it was made for tourism. The timber framed houses are medieval, there are lively markets in the squares, and you can wander along the bank of the Dordogne River down to the historic quay.

Rodez

By the time you reach Stage 14 (182 km), you’ll need to raise your game. The hills here might look photogenic, but as they rise higher and higher, your legs will start to burn.

Be grateful that you’re on a modern, lightweight bicycle. The first time that British riders competed in the Tour de France was in 1955, and their equipment and clothing looked very different indeed. The Wearwell Cycle Company, who sponsored riders in that first British team, have relaunched their collection in 2017, combining a hint of 1950s vintage style with the latest materials and designs. You can look the part whilst riding in complete comfort.

When you do get to Rodez at the end of the stage, inevitably you’ll be exhausted. Once you’ve recovered, do allow some time for sightseeing, however. Rodez’s cathedral is a masterpiece of gothic architecture; there’s an excellent circular walking tour around the Old Town; and the local park, Domaine de Combelles, covers 300 acres.

Road Trip through Ukraine

Ukraine, the country famous for banning Hollywood Steven Seagal from visiting, is opening up to tourism with visa-free travel. Add to that direct flights from the UK and the fact that it is still remarkably good value for money, this is as good a time as any to visit. We suggest you get behind the wheel or a hire car or indeed to hop on a train.

Lviv

Situated in the far west of the country, just 50 miles from the Polish border, Lviv was known as Lemburg when it was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire from 1772 to WW1. That’s reflected in its quaint cobbled streets, proliferation of churches and architecture reminiscent of those other Hapsburg cities like Vienna and Budapest. Of course it also has trams, trolley buses and coffee houses. Indeed they say that the first coffee shop in Vienna was opened by an Ukrainian from Lviv in 1686.

It’s a pleasant place to wander round, with street musicians on every corner, and the Market Square in the old town is lined with renaissance houses. The elaborate Lviv Opera House still stages productions of opera and ballet and imposing Cathedrals beckon you inside. My visit coincides with National Embroidered Blouse Day so everyone is sporting one, men and women alike.

Outside the old town, the 18th-century Lychakiv Cemetery has ornate tombs, chapels and shrines plus a special section dedicated to those who are still being killed in the armed struggle on Ukraine’s Eastern borders. Most Ukrainians I speak to believe that it’s Russian mischief making and can’t understand why their former ally is making trouble. Central and Western Ukraine show no signs of the war, so travellers shouldn’t be alarmed.

Carpathian Mountains

The Carpathians form an arc running roughly 1000 miles across Central and Eastern Europe, making them the second-longest mountain range in Europe. They occupy the South West of Ukraine, separating the country from Romania, with the highest peak, Mount Hoverla, reaching over 2000m. Life carries on here much as it’s done for centuries and during the Soviet period was left almost untouched. Even guerrillas fighting their Russian oppressors stayed holed up here for years.

British Airways cabin crew on strike for 16 days

Yet another British Airways Cabin crew strike will take place from July 1 to 16 July thanks to long-running pay dispute.

The airline, who has already suffered 26 days of strikes since January this year, insists that this industrial action will not stop them from getting passengers to their destinations.

How are British Airways preparing for the strike?

The airline has managed to limit the cancellations to just a number of flights that depart from Heathrow, while operating a full schedule at Gatwick and London City airports.

But some Heathrow flights are being merged. Passengers who are being affected by the cancellations are being contacted by BA and rebooked on separate flights.

Are British Airways obliged to pay compensation?

As these flights will be cancelled under “industrial action” this is one of the few grounds where airlines are able to refuse compensation.

Nevertheless, if passengers experience disruption as a result of the strike, British Airwaysmust provide meals, refreshments and in some cases, accommodation depending on the delay.

Why are British Airways cabin crew going on strike?

The issue behind the strikes this year has been pay and conditions of work. Unite Union say that crew who have joined the airline since 2010 earn less than other staff. There are claims of “poverty pay” with the average salary is £16,000.

Jade Norwegian newly revamped

Norwegian Cruise Lines offer some of the world’s biggest, jolliest ships. They’re ships that you might never want to get off, now termed ‘cruise resorts’, filled with children’s activities, top name shows and more (in some case water parks and high-ropes courses). Alongside the main restaurants are a string of niche eateries where you can treat yourself to something extra.

Now that Norwegian Jade has been completely refurbed and refitted, the ship is based in Southampton for the first time since any Norwegian ship has done so since 2008. So, what’s she like?

The Ship

Norwegian Jade, for 2,400 passengers, arrived in early May straight from dry dock and a multi-million-pound bow-to-stern, top-to-bottom makeover.

All staterooms have been refurbished and are airy and modern – and there’s The Haven.

Hidden away at the top of the ship is The Haven by Norwegian. These are rather special suites in a private setting with tucked away pool, lounge and restaurant.

The public areas have a cool new look – contemporary yet with an Art Deco touch.

Restaurants

There are eight free restaurants, with the Grand Pacific at the helm – warm, wood-panelled with huge colourful paintings that reflect jade’s time sailing from Hawaii.

The Jasmine Garden with Chinese cuisine fused with Thai and Japanese, has a smart new look and is free for the first time. There is, of course, a buffet (The Great Outdoors), plus a 50s diner, poolside dining and the 24-hour O’Sheehan’s Bar and Grill.

Extra-cost dining includes Cagney’s, revamped into a sophisticated city-style steakhouse and Moderno Churrascaria, a sleek South American-style barbecue.

The Cruises

Norwegian Jade will be heading, fittingly, for Norway. There’s a classic 10-day Norwegian Fjords voyage (August 9), and the mega 15-day Norway, Iceland & UK trip (August 19) combining fjords with Iceland (a night in Reykjavik), the Orkneys, Shetlands and even Newcastle.

An eight-day Northern European Cities (September 3) features Oslo, Copenhagen, Rotterdam and Hamburg. Get a taste with a two-day sailing to Hamburg (June 2, from £149), where Jade takes a short sojourn for a 12-night Norway & North Cape adventure.

The Clincher

Norwegian’s cruises are from this season all-inclusive (or Premium All-inclusive as they call them) adding, it’s reckoned, £600 in value for each passenger. That’s because you get top-name drinks (previously a Premium Drinks Package would have cost around £60 a day, plus 18 per cent service charge on anything you ordered), plus bottled water (often a costly extra on cruises) and posh coffees. And the 18 per cent service charge and daily tips (about £10 per day per person) are covered too.

The new bed bar opened in Madrid

As the Spanish sun reaches its peak around midday, shops and businesses traditionally close for an hour so for their siesta – a short slumber – before opening again late afternoon. It’s part of the Spanish culture.

However, modern businesses and professionals working long hours such as lawyers and bankers, have had to forgo this tradition for some time.

That is about to change thanks to a new nap bar – Siesta & Go, that has opened in Madrid. Located in Azca, Madrid’s financial centre, high flyers from nearby HSBC, Google and Deloitte can rest their heads for an hour for €14 (£12.32) for a revitalising power nap in a private bedroom returning to work better for it. If they are happy to share, a bunk bed is available for €8 (£6.60).

Maria Estrella Jorro de Inza, the founder of Siesta & Go said: “It’s funny that we’re known for the siesta, but we haven’t been professional about it.”

Siesta & Go have 19 beds and there’s no chance of oversleeping as they will wake you up when your allotted time has passed.

This concept of a nap bar is not new

Tokyo, Japan’s capital, has been offering “capsule hotels” for years offering exhausted businessmen and travellers tiny spaces to enjoy some snooze time.

In China, workers have, what’s considered a Constitutional right, to take a break after lunch and put their heads on their desks for an hour-long nap.

In Italy the riposo may begin anytime between noon and 1:30pm and lasts a couple of hours. Businesses, museums and churches lock their doors so their employees can go home for a leisurely lunch and a snooze.

At Siesta & Go, it’s not all about getting some shut-eye though. You could pop in just for a cuppa, to read the papers, use their free Wi-Fi and even store luggage if you happen to be a tourist.