Red Bull flies in the 2013 Dakar Rally

The world of motor racing makes its annual pilgrimage to South America in January for the 2013 Dakar Rally, with Red Bull taking an early lead.

Between 5th-20th January, over 300 determined drivers will make the arduous 8,000km trek over sand dunes, rocky terrain and mud. Speeding through Chile, Argentina and Peru, the Dakar attracts the very best from around the world, including the Qatar Red Bull Rally Team.

Offering an amazing and diverse range of geographic challenges perfect for rally racing, this will be the fifth time Dakar has taken place in South America.

Starting in Lima, Peru, the competitors will take in some amazing sights, encompassing the beautiful Pacific Ocean coastline, before visiting Argentina for some serious desert driving.  Finally, the teams will be squeezed between the ocean and the Andes Mountains for the final leg towards the chequered flag in Santiago, Chile.

Red Bull has already secured victory in the first four stages, with the buggy of Carlos Sainz making the win on days one and two. Teammate Nasser Al-Attiyah claimed victory over stages three and four in the same category.

Al-Attiyah spoke positively about the Rally and South America itself, saying:  “We are all so happy to be here in the Dakar and the start from Lima this morning was really special. There were so many people there to give us support in the city and also all the way along the 250km liaison route to Pisco.”

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Tourists still enchanted by Afghanistan

Despite the threat from the Taliban, adventurous tourists are still enticed by Afghanistan and the scores of attractions that it has to offer.

Even though the Taliban has banned tourism in the nation, especially for those tourists from the NATO nations, some tourists feel it is worth risking the danger to visit the intriguing country. Even though the number of tourists that gain access to the country are few, and dwindling each year, there are a small number who are willing to take the inherent risks. Those that visit the nation for its beauty and experiences, but do not want to take any chances, private bodyguards are available and they can ensure the safety of visitors for $1,500 a day. Such tourists normally travel in armoured cars and stay at the $356-a-night Kabul Serena Hotel.

Despite the dangers, Afghanistan offers exotic views with its rugged, snow-capped mountains in the Hindu Kush and Pamir ranges, as well as ancient Buddhist monuments and stunning Islamic architecture.

A tour operator who works in Afghanistan said, ‘We really tell them, don’t come on your own, come through a friend who works in an NGO in small groups or ones and twos. Security is the priority for us. We don’t want to ruin the reputation of our company. Pure tourists, I would say there are only 100 to 150 a year.’

Tourism in the country was totally wiped out by 2008, and there are few places in the nation that are safe to visit.

The Kabul Serena Hotel, which has five stars, has 177-rooms and runs at 64 per cent occupancy. Terrorists have twice attacked the Serena, and in 2008 Taliban insurgents killed six guests in an attack aimed at the hotel’s health spa.

London Hotel Prices Drop in 2013

Hotel prices in London are set to hit a low this year, after the record high prices seen in 2012 due to the Olympic and Paralympic Games.

A recent report by Pricewaterhouse Coopers (PwC) says that although the hotel industry has been very resilient in 2012, only four cities in Europe have reached a high RevPAR growth, St Petersburg (14.1 percent), Dublin (13.9 percent), Prague (13.1 percent) and Moscow (12.9 percent), with growth in Berlin (9.6 percent) and Paris (9.0 percent).

The report also suggesting that London’s hotel prices will fall by an estimated 2.7 percent in average daily rates (ADR), to £139.07 per room in 2013, from £142.95 per night in 2012. However, this will still be around 4.5 percent more than the hotel rates in London in 2011, which saw an ADR of £133.08 per room.

Robert Milburn, the hospitality and leisure analyst at the company, said, ‘A return to a steady state of economic growth is not likely in the short term and the hotel industry has to adapt to this ‘new normal’ as well as to new trends and challenges facing the sector. Our 2013 forecast depends largely on how the Euro zone crisis evolves. Whilst currently we expect steady growth in many cities, if the crisis escalates, we may see even less promising results for the hotel industry.

2013 may be largely about the economy, but it will also be about seizing the opportunities created by past investment, a clear strategy and skilful management.’

Liz Hall, the head of hospitality and leisure research at PwC, added, ‘2013 will see St Petersburg, Moscow, Paris, Frankfurt, Berlin and Dublin clear winners in terms of RevPAR growth (in Euros). For others we expect little or no RevPAR growth and some, most notably London, will see negative growth. For London coming off an Olympic high, this is perhaps expected and the city will still enjoy very high absolute trading and profitability levels.’

Take in world-class art along Manhattan’s Museum Mile

There’s nothing we like to do more in our free time than wander around galleries and museums, which is why New York is one of our favourite holiday destinations in the world. By coming to the Big Apple, you’ll get to check out dozens of great cultural landmarks, though we think the best are to be found along Manhattan’s Museum Mile.

This is the name given to a stretch of the world-famous Fifth Avenue in the city’s Upper East Side district that incorporates ten world-class museums and galleries. As it’s thought to contain one of the densest displays of art anywhere in the world, we believe it’s the ideal destination for any culture vulture to visit.

In fact, as it’s possible to spend an entire day exploring each museum along the strip, you could quite easily end up coming here several times during the course of your holiday. With that in mind, here is some information about a few of the institutions along the Museum Mile that you can visit.

Metropolitan Museum of Art

As it’s one of the biggest art museums to be found anywhere in the world, the Metropolitan Museum of Art (or the Met, as it’s often referred to) is one place that keen art lovers definitely ought to check out.

Indeed, as the institution contains some two million pieces of art we don’t think you’ll struggle to find something you love. If you’re into Oriental art, we recommend you visit the Florence and Herbert Irving Asian wing. Here, you’ll discover everything from Tibetan paintings to textiles from south-east Asia, as well as ceramics and calligraphy.

Alternatively, you may want to look at the armour galleries in the John Pierpont Morgan wing. Come here and you’ll get to see hundreds of weapons that form part of the Met’s extensive permanent collection, including pieces from America, Japan and Europe. While the museum’s collection has more than enough objects to captivate you, if you’re hoping to see something new you might want to consider look into what temporary exhibitions will be taking place during your time in the city.

If you’re planning on visiting the museum this summer, you’ll get to take in displays that look at the American Civil War and a retrospective of the life and work of Los Angeles-based sculptor and painter Ken Price, who died in February 2012.

Cooper-Hewitt National Museum of Design

As the only museum in the country to be devoted entirely to historic and contemporary design, the Cooper-Hewitt National Museum of Design is one institution that should not be missed.

Housed in the former mansion of industrial tycoon Andrew Carnegie, this museum has hosted hundreds of exhibitions since its launch in 1897, with a vast array of objects displayed in that time.

Among the items you’ll find in its permanent collection are designs for French parasols, postmodern glassware and 17th-century tsubas, a protective guard that is found on Japanese swords.

Museum Mile Festival

While you can visit the above institutions and the rest of the museums in this part of New York at any time of year, we think it’s a particularly good idea to do so in the summer. By taking a flight from the UK to New York in June, you may arrive in time for the Museum Mile Festival.

Taking place on June 11th, this fun event sees the museums offer free admission to visitors for three hours, while sections of Fifth Avenue are closed to traffic so that a fantastic block party can take place. With this spectacle consisting of live music, children’s activities and street performers, it’s a great option for those seeking a family-friendly day out in New York.

If you’re a culture vulture, which New York museums and galleries do you want to visit the most? We’d love to hear from you, so please share your thoughts and leave a comment below.

Cruise Companies Announce 2013 Wave Season Super Fares

Royal Caribbean Cruises, a cruise vacation company, has announced new offers on its cruises departing from the UK for the 2013 wave season.

The company is offering up to £62 onboard spending money to customers that book cabins on certain cruises departing from the UK. The company also claims that the sale offers customers outstanding benefits, including reduced flights, and complimentary balcony upgrades.

The company is offering a range of cruise options for passengers departing from the UK on board its fleet of ships, including the luxurious vessel, Independence of the Seas.

Travellers that wish to join cruises by taking connecting flights can do so for prices commencing from £59 per person on certain European departures.

The ‘Unbeatable Sale’ will be closing on February 28, 2013.

Silversea Cruises, another cruise operator that claims to offer luxurious ships and interesting destinations, has announced eight new short voyage cruises for the 2013 Wave Season. The company is offering short cruises for four to seven days, for prices commencing from £1,040 per person.

The short cruises include those in the Mediterranean and Northern Europe and are currently open for bookings at the company website.

Some of the short voyage cruises include –

The Voyage 2307 B, departing March 11, 2013, for five days sailing from Lisbon to Barcelona. The cruise prices commence from £1,190 per person.

The Voyage 2307 C, departing March 16, 2013, for four days sailing, from Barcelona to Civitavecchia (Rome). Cruise prices commence from £1,040 per person, based on cruise only.

The Voyage 5309 B, departing April 16, 2013, for seven days sailing from Lisbon to Barcelona, for prices commencing from £1,960 per person.

Heathrow Airport Records Highest Traffic in December 2012

London Heathrow airport has reported that around 5.6 million passengers passed through the facility in December 2012.

The airport’s December 2012 passenger traffic has set a record for the month and an increase of 2.0 percent compared to December 2011. This increases the yearly passenger traffic figure for 2012 to around 70 million, the most that the airport has reported for a calendar year in its history.

The 2012 surge in passenger traffic is led by North Atlantic traffic, which increased by 3.2 percent, compared to that in 2011. Traffic to Brazil has increased by around 21.6 percent when compared to 2011, due to increased flights from the airport in 2012, and a 3.4 percent increase in the passenger traffic from the Middle East and central Asia, is due in part to the recovery of key markets in the region.

European traffic at the airport has increased by 0.5 percent in 2012, over 2011. Traffic for Portugal, Italy, Greece and Spain has seen a decrease of 4.5 percent over the course of 2012. Cargo was reported to have reduced by 1.3 percent for the year. Load factors are 75.6 percent in 2012, against 75.2 percent in 2011, while there were more seats per aircraft in 2012, 197.4 against 194.8 in 2011.

The chief executive officer for Heathrow airport, Colin Matthews, said, ‘The figures for 2012 show Heathrow is delivering higher passenger numbers despite a tough economic climate. At the same time passenger satisfaction reached record levels. Over the next twelve months we will continue to improve the passenger experience and focus on our investment programme, as we move towards completion of the new Terminal 2.’