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Whenever you travel to a country, it is important to avoid the tourist traps and get to know the locals. Here are my impressions of Russia.

Impressions of Russia

Impressions of RussiaWhenever you travel to a country, it is important to avoid the tourist traps and get to know the locals. Here are my impressions of Russia.Created in the 12th century, Russia was originally a much smaller country. Known as Muscovy, the country was formed in the golden ring area surrounding present day Moscow. After being dominated by the Mongols for a few hundred years, the country began to slow start conquering lands and expanding. Russia as we know it today didnt really form until Peter the Great came on the scene. A very tall man, Peter the Great could be considered the first great real estate investor of Russia. During his reign, Peter conquered all of the lands between Moscow and the Pacific Ocean. Russia is simply a huge country. From east to west, the country is so big you can travel for seven days on a train and still not make it all the way across. During the 20th century, Russia converted from a rather corrupt monarchy to communism. Alas, communism didnt turn out to be much better with leaders such as Joseph Stalin indiscriminately slaughtering much of the population through ill advised planning. Eventually, the Russians changed their mind and converted to a rough form of Democracy in 1991. Thereafter, the various satellite companies controlled by the former Soviet Union began breaking off and claiming independence. Democracy has been an up and down prospect for Russia. While Ferraris drive the streets of Moscow, the rest of the country can go months without heating. This contrast brings up a unique aspect of the cultural heritage of Russia. In Russia, it is all about Moscow. Moscow gets everything first, while the rest of the country is really left to fend for itself. If you travel through Russia, youll be stunned at the differences including infrastructure and standard of living. Russia has gone through fits and starts in the change to Democracy. The Russian Mafia is legendary and has its hands in everything. At one point in the late 90s, only 7 percent of people paid taxes. Fortunately, things have begun to turn around under the reign of President Vladimir Putin. The mafia has lost some of its power or at least become less obvious. The foreign debt while represented 90 percent of the gross domestic product is now down into the teens. Real income for ordinary Russians is growing at about 12 percent on average. All and all, the country finally seems to be getting its ducks in a row. Having lived in Russia for a year, I can tell you the country is a magnificent place. Russians are fairly formal in business and initial interactions. Once youve broken through the formality, they are perhaps the warmest, friendliest people Ive had the pleasure of every meeting. If you get a chance to go to Russia, I highly recommend you do so!

A new Look, A new Name! Philadelphia gets it's first Real Boutique Hotel!

A new Look, A new Name!  Philadelphia gets it

A new look, a new name: The Rittenhouse Square Bed and Breakfast transforms into Philadelphia's prmiere luxury accommodation -- Rittenhouse 1715, a boutique hotel. With the completion of the first phase of renovations, The Rittenhouse Square Bed and Breakfast embraces its fresh, innovative look with a distinct new name -- Rittenhouse 1715, A Boutique Hotel. One of Philadelphia's most exclusive and luxurious hotel accommodations, Rittenhouse 1715 guarantees impeccable service infused in a locale of refined and sophisticated style. Intimate surroundings, unique design, a dedication to detail, and the highest standards of hospitality will define the boutique hotel experience at Rittenhouse 1715. Located off Philadelphia's world-renowned Rittenhouse Square, Rittenhouse 1715 is a boutique hotel of sixteen stately rooms outfitted in the finest furnishings and decorated with exquisite artwork. The original Walter Cope designed carriage house and adjacent Georgian townhouse have been combined to enhance the hotel with an inviting drawing room, and an elaborate, two-story presidential suite. Led by famed masterminds of design, Peter Salgado and Kip Saucier of Salgado Saucier, traditional and eclectic styles reminiscent of the Rittenhouse Square area have been uniquely intertwined throughout the establishment to create an ambiance of chic elegance and modern comfort. Perfectly complimenting the historical foundation of Rittenhouse 1715, the design updates provided by Salgado Saucier introduce a new level of style and tranquility that truly makes each guest feel that have checked-in to their own personal sanctuary. Upon entering the new Rittenhouse 1715, the reception lobby welcomes guests with stunning yellow and white striped walls, sleek black granite floors, a sparkling chandelier, plush floral couches, and eclectic antiques. Beyond these walls lies the newly appointed, open drawing room with fireplace and mirrored flat-screen television. Guest are invited daily to enjoy an intimate wine reception hosted by the property's general manager in this beautifully decorated open oasis of warm, inviting shades of rust, gold, and brown. All rooms are uniquely designed to include such exquisite amenities as handsome fireplaces, over-sized flat-screen television, and top-of-the line pillow-top mattresses outfitted in the finest of Egyptian linens. As a perfect compliment to the antique furniture and fine artwork of each boudoir are private, luxurious Italian marble and tile bathrooms finished with large, chrome Grohe waterfall showerheads, modish Rudy Art Glass doors, and premium Frette towels and robes. The premiere highlight of the renovation, however, is the grand presidential suite where a sleek spiral staircase transcends from the loft, king-size bedroom down to an elegant black and green-hued living space complete with comfortable couches, powder room, bar and large screen television. Ideal for the romantic couple's coveted weekend escape, the savvy businessmen's retreat to Philadelphia, or the vivacious young adult's hideaway, Rittenhouse 1715 offers a dynamic experience just a few steps away from world-class cuisine and culture. Permeated by the prestigious history and character of Philadelphia, this boutique hotel encompasses all that could possibly be desired in a five-star oasis. Transformed and enlivened by exquisite renovations, Rittenhouse 1715, A Boutique Hotel, is truly exceptional in every way. Plans for Phase II of Rittenhouse 1715 highlight the addition of seven new bedrooms, including a large, two-room suite. Completion of Phase II is slated for the end of 2006.###

Travel to Morocco: Mavens of the Maghreb

Travel to Morocco: Mavens of the Maghreb

Morocco is the essence of North African charm and the land of commingling horizons. Glittering Saharan deserts of the south and east quickly become snow-capped mountains of the Atlas range, followed by the rolling green heartland, which drops down to the sparkling Atlantic and Mediterranean coastlines. Travel to Morocco and wrap yourself in the warmth of the enduring Berber, Arab and African people and 10,000 years of their most fascinating history; a history that could only occur where the spheres of Africa and Europe meet intimately and unavoidably upon the Strait of Gibraltar.Charmed as a SnakeOne distinctive layer of Morocco is its great imperial Islamic cities. The central medina (old town) of each city is typically still walled in and houses the most ancient part of these treasured towns, including a minaret-tipped mosque. Open-air markets, snake-charmers, music performers and cafs are all spilling over with life every day of the week except Friday. Fez (or Fs), Moroccos former capital, is one of the largest and oldest medieval cities in the world and a perfect place to begin your journey through Moroccan history. The medina, Fez el-Bali, is an intricate piecework of 9400 twisting alleys where you may come across some of the finest leather and hand-craftwork among the many bazaars. The modern and traditional city of Marrakesh is home to the ancient square of Djemaa el-Fna, which outshines the rest of the medina at dusk with rhythmic drumbeats, women offering henna tattoos, aerial acrobatics and snakes aplenty. Make sure to catch a glimpse of the soaring Koutoubia Mosque minaret, visible from the square.Sea Breeze, Sand Dunes and SnowBeyond Moroccos imperial cities, this Arab nation tends to be more relaxed about Islam than its eastern neighbors, particularly among the mountain and coastal regions. Casablanca is a giant metropolitan port city with unmistakable Moroccan flavor and international appeal. Casablanca is also a mixture of old and new, with the recently completed Hassan II Mosque, the second largest in the world, and a notably historic medina of its own. For a more Mediterranean flare, venture to the north where Tangier stands as the gateway for arrivals from Spain. French colonization of Morocco in the first half of the 20th century has left a large imprint on the culture here, which is intriguing against such backdrops as the fortified Kasbah at the top of the citys medina. Tangier is a fashionable and convenient resort destination for North Africans and Europeans alike, creating a unique cultural blend any time of year.Get close with the people and the land on a unique adventure that begins in the Saharan settlement of Merzouge. From here you can ride a camel out into the sand dunes and spend a night or more under the luminous stars of the Saharan sky. The serenity of Moroccos desert is not lost among the Atlas and Anti Atlas Mountain Ranges either. Visitors are attracted to these largely impenetrable mountains for the isolation and tranquility of their many Berber towns and the authenticity of Moroccan life they provide, not to mention some great skiing and trekking. At Benhaddou is most famous for its cinematic appearances, such as Lawrence of Arabia. The red walls of the Kasbahs, fortresses and village squares illuminate in an orange glow just as the sun finds its way to settle upon the ocean in the remote distance.You Simply Dont Know Til You GoWriters and film makers have attempted to capture the romance and charm of Morocco for centuries. The true essence of the nation and people is so distinctly defined by so many elements. Only once you have experienced Morocco can you really walk away with that indescribable understanding, at which point you may sit down at a caf and sip your sweet mint tea in peace.

Living In Siberia Lenin's Revenge

Living In Siberia  Lenin

In 1999, I moved to Chita, a city in Siberia, Russia to teach for a year. After seven days of planes, trains and, well, more trains, I was ready to experience Chita in all its glory.Day 1 Lenins RevengeRiding on a train for three plus days does weird things to your equilibrium. You tend to develop a natural compensation for the swaying. Unfortunately, your body doesnt just snap back when you finally get on solid ground. As I stepped off the train, I did this sort of forward, sort of sideway shuffle. I can only image I must of looked like I had been investigating the better brands of Russian vodka. On top of this, I hadnt had a shower for three days. Things quickly got worse.Awaiting Grae, a fellow American, on the train platform and me were our hosts Natasha, Oleg, Dima and a few others. They were in formal wear. They didnt smell. In retrospect, I have to give them an incredible amount of credit. Upon seeing us, they continued to smile, didnt roll their eyes and nobody grabbed their nose. Heck, I was holding my own nose. Greetings were made and off we went to promised food and showers.Being a San Diego local, I had often warned out of town friends about Montezumas Revenge if they drank water when visiting Mexico. There isnt anything wrong with the water. It just has different bugs than ours. You would think I would be smart enough to follow my own advice. [Dont say it.] Yep, I was suffering from Lenins Revenge by the early afternoon of the first day. My hosts were kind enough to leave me in peace once they noticed my distress. If only I had learned the Russian word for Pepto!As seems to happen all to often, I had made a less than stellar first impression! What the heck, I was only going to be living in Chita for a year.

Tallahassee Entices Ladies To Enjoy Art, Antiques And Appetizers

What do women want? For many, it's the array of eateries, galleries and specialty shops that can be found on an Art, Antiques and Appetizers tour. More than 20 museums and galleries featuring folk art to fine art stay open late the first Friday of every month in Tallahassee, Fla., with the new First Friday Gallery Hop. A three-hour trolley tour can help take it all in as the state's capital city offers a conglomeration of cultural complements.Whether donning T-shirts and jeans or high heels and pearls, ladies get a chance to catch up and laugh during antique-hunting side trips to nearby Havana, Fla., or travel the town boutique bopping for stylish new accessories. When it comes time to sit back, relax and savor samplings, Tallahassee has diverse dining choices, from fine French restaurants featuring appetizers such as sauted foie gras to rustic farmhouses, known for complimentary boiled peanuts. With its mixture of tree-lined roads, deep-rooted history, rolling hills, moss-draped oaks, cool climate and Southern-style hospitality, Tallahassee is an excellent location for a girlfriends' getaway for the weekend. The city features a variety of other sights and adventures, including the site of America's first Christmas, a wildlife habitat, capitol buildings, civil rights monuments, fascinating museums of history, highly acclaimed fishing, hunting adventures and nearby beaches.

Alicante A Jewel In Spains Crown

Copyright 2006 Utopia Creative Solutions LtdAlicante or Alicant (Valencian Catalan) is the largest city in the Costa Blanca region of Spain and is one of the most beautiful places you could wish to travel to if you take the time and the effort to explore the region and some of its sheer beauty.Located between Murcia and Valencia, Alicante has some of the best beaches in Spain with San Juan, Muchavista and Campello beaches being real gems with beautiful, clean sea and sand which appeal to both families, couples and surfers alike with calm days and days when the waves can be quite high due to strong winds of late.Amongst the many varied and more popular attractions are the Castillo de Santa Barbara (Alicante City), Terra Natura (Benidorm), Terra Mitica (Benidorm) and Mundomar (Benidorm). There are also areas of outstanding beauty such as the mountains of Busot village situated just outside of Campello (also known as El Campello). Not only does Busot have its popular attraction Cuevas de Canelobre (Canelobre Caves) but it also has vast amounts of stunning scenery in complete tranquillity. To get to these spots you need to do some investigating, but it is well worth it because you will find yourself all alone on some breath-taking trails overlooking Campello and surrounding villages.To see all that is on offer, you have to arrange car hire in Alicante from either the airport or from a local town or city and prices start at 10 per day for a small car and reserving before your visit is essential in busy periods of the year.Where else but Alicante can you find such a diverse amount of activities, places of interest and things to do. In the morning you could travel to the Sierra Nevadas (Grenada) and be snowboarding and in the afternoon soaking up the sun, sea and sand on a beautiful, spacious beach. Not only this, but you can also get ferries to Majorca, Ibiza and Tabarca Island from Alicante harbour, so you will never have a lack of options available to you.Real estate property in Alicante is another reason for visitors to come and like the rest of Costa Blanca, is a popular place where expats come to invest or to emigrate to. Property prices have rapidly increased over the years due to demand and the Euro being introduced, but if you are prepared to move inland slightly, or away from popular areas such as Benidorm and Javea, you can find some real bargains in comparison to the UK property market. Purchasing property in Spain is more expensive tax and legal-wise but it is still worthwhile as long as the Euro is weaker than the Pound.Alicantes hotels are varied and you have a wide variety of choice when coming to this region of Spain and if you do some research you will get a hotel to suit your budget and requirements, just remember to book early in high-seasons to ensure a beach-side location.Getting cheap flights to Alicante has never been easier thanks to Alicante airport being such a popular international destination and it is expanding continuously with new airlines operating from there.

Summary

Whenever you travel to a country, it is important to avoid the tourist traps and get to know the locals. Here are my impressions of Russia.