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  From the Galápagos Islands to the Amazon Rainforest, Ecuador boasts unique and varied landscapes.
  Part way along the street which encircles the bay in Puerto Ayora, on Santa Cruz Island, there is a small harbour, mainly for fi shing boats, and just above that is a tiny open air fi sh market.
  I am walking towards it on this, my fi rst day in the largest town in the Galápagos Islands, when I notice or rather hear some sort of a commotion in the distance around the market.
It sounds like a frantic barking, mixed with birds squawking.
  As I get nearer I can make it out a sealion, beside the fi sh counter. Just like a big dog, its head leans over the edge, desperate to get hold of the scraps being thrown to the birds; several pelicans stand beside the sea lion, waiting for their moment. It strikes me as a scene out of a cartoon, and also the only place on earth where a scene like this would be an everyday occurrence.
  A few yards further on and a pair of marine iguanas lay sunbathing on the pavement I have to step round them as they have no intention of moving for me. And at the jetty, where I am catching the boat to the Finch Bay Hotel, a huge heron sits on the quayside, from where he watches me impassively.
  I have never visited anywhere else in the world where animals are so indiff erent towards or less afraid of humans, and this  is just my fi rst day in the Galápagos!
 This year marks 60 years since the Galápagos Islands became a National  Park and the establishment of the Charles Darwin Foundation.
  The foundation, which is based in the capital Puerto Ayora and is one of the few places you can see the islands’ most iconic animal, the Galápagos Tortoise, will be commemorating the milestone with events throughout 2019, including the release of a fi lm in November.
  The Finch Bay Galápagos Hotel will open a new spa this summer, complete with gym equipment  and two treatment rooms on the ground fl oor and a yoga room on the second fl oor with views over the bay.
  Mashpi Lodge, which lies in the heart of the Choco Andean Cloud Forest, three hours north of Quito, is creating a Scientifi c Station for guests to learn about this unique biosphere and the ongoing conservation eff orts in the region. In addition, work starts this year to double the size of the protected area in which the lodge is built, from 2,500 hectares to 5,000 ha.
  Why not experience the country by train? While train travel is not a common form of exploration and travel in Latin America, Ecuador has a luxury train called Tren Crucero, which is an ideal way to see the stunning scenery in style and comfort. Latin Routes off ers this as part of its Ecuador tours.
  Ecuador is like South America in miniature you can visit the Amazon, the coasts, colonial cities and the Andes mountains, all in one country.
  “Ecuador is best  visited during our spring and summer months, when days in the Andes are warm, sunny and dry”.
  The Amazon off ers a unique insight into the region, its people, and its wildlife. Fly to Coca, just 25 minutes from Quito, and venture into the rainforest. Most stays in Ecuador are lodge based and will be a fully inclusive, incorporating guided walks, canopy walks, night treks, canoe trips, visits to local communities and piranha fi shing.
  Animals that can be spotted include various species of monkeys, pink dolphins, jaguars and capybaras, as well as plenty of birdlife.
  “The Cloud Forest is just a two and a half hour drive from Quito, the capital, and is home to more than 1,500 species of birds as well as jaguar, sloth, howler monkey, puma and spectacled bear”.
  Around 200 miles south of Quito, you’ll fi nd the ‘Avenue of the Volcanoes’, a breathtaking landscape of seven peaks rising to more than 17,000 feet. One of the best ways to see the Andes is by train, as Alexandra Waterhouse, Travel Consultant, Journey Latin America, 
  Explains: “Ecuador’s newly restored rail network now allows you to discover the verdant beauty of rural Ecuador and its tiny traditional hamlets. However, if your clients is short on time or the dates don’t fi t, fans of rail travel and spectacular scenery should at least do the worldfamous Devil’s Nose section of railway that zig zags its way impossibly down a near vertical Andean mountainside.”
  Ecuador borders the Pacifi c and has more than 1,000 miles of coastline, where you’ll fi nd the country’s biggest city, Guayquil (see below). The coast is largely unspoilt and is popular with backpackers and surfers, many of whom are drawn to the party town of Montanita. The coast varies in terms of geography and climate: lush and wet in the Esmereldas province in the north, to more arid and humid in the southern part.
  There are not many places in the world that can truly be described as unique, but the Galápagos is such a place. Lying a two and a half drive from Guayquil, the Galápagos Islands are top of many people’s bucket list and a mustvisit for anyone touring Ecuador. This  pristine natural wilderness is one of the few places in the world where animals are genuinely unafraid of humans. They are either indiff erent to your presence or,  in the case of the sealions, will naturally interacting with you.
  Tourism is strictly monitored and controlled and the only way to see the islands is by boat. There are a large number of operators off ering diff erent tours and routes, the longestestablished is Metropolitan Touring (, which also owns the Finch Bay Hotel. It operates the Isabela 2, Santa Cruz 2 and La Pinta ships.
  Quito is the capital of Ecuador and famously lies right on the equator, allowing you to step from one hemisphere to another. It’s chilly up here, lying some 9,350 feet above sea level and  has a year round temperature of just 16C. It’s small, too, with just 1.4m inhabitants, but has an abundance of architectural heritage and is, in fact, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It takes a day or two to get acclimatised to the altitude so be careful not to walk too far or too fast when you fi rst arrive.
  Guayquil is the biggest city in Ecuador, with around 2.5m inhabitants. Founded in 1538, the city played a key part in the history of the region: it was here that Simon Bolivar and Jose de San Martin met to map out the future of an independent South America. It is the nation’s most important port, but it’s not really a tourist  spot despite attempts to spruce it up. For most visitors it’s the jumping off spot for a trip to the Galápagos or to the party town of Montanita in the north.
  In the south of the country you’ll fi nd  the beautiful whitewashed university city of Cuenca. Sitting at a lofty 8,400 feet above sea level, the city centre has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site  due to its colonial heritage and many historic buildings.


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  Pioneering UK operators are among the first to open up a little known Central African nation that is attracting adventurous travellers.
  The young boys’ faces glisten with sweat as they dance under the Sahelian sun. They pogo in unison, chanting mesmerizing songs and pulling exaggerated faces to reveal the whites of both their teeth and eyeballs, the truest signs of classical male beauty in Wodaabe society. They are watched by gyrating young women with kohl edged eyes who have come to choose a man.
  Chad’s Gerewol celebration occurs every October. The Wodaabe nomadic  tribespeople congregate to watch the bachelor males sing and dance in the hope of being selected by the women for marriage or a night of passion.  
  I was among just 30 tourists camping amid the savannah grassland to watch this genuine cultural celebration.
  If you look at the travel advice on the Foreign and Commonwealth Offi ce website, it’s apparent why Chad, one of Africa’s largest countries, receives so few visitors.
  Over the decades it has battled with banditry, terrorism and poverty, keeping it off the tourist radar. Yet during two visits over the past year I never felt anything less than secure. Chad’s combination of Saharan landscapes and national parks is not going unnoticed as a handful of pioneering UK tour operators such as Native Eye and Undiscovered Destinations now off er a range of itineraries to this niche destination.
  The FCO still warns against all but essential travel for much of the country, so it should be recommended only to those with a real sense of adventure.
  Chad's capital, N’Djamena, has several international class hotels, such as a Hilton, but otherwise is a little dilapidated. However, every Sunday afternoon there is an unmissable spectacle of street horseracing when Arab thoroughbreds tearup an improvised circuit.
  The Gerewol itself lasts one week and most UK operators use the services of a long standing Italian DMC called Spazi d’Avventura, who have contacts with the Wodaabe and will drive guests by 4WD to where the gathering nomads congregate.
  Gerewol can be doubled up with one of Chad’s other two great highlights: a trip to the Ennedi Mountains or Zakouma National Park. Deemed the natural and cultural masterpiece of the Sahara Desert, Ennedi is designated a UNESCO World Heritage site famed for its ancient rock art.  
  Its rare wildlife includes barbary sheep and desert crocodiles that bury themselves away and hibernate without water for months waiting for the rains.
  Zakouma National Park is a two hour fl ight, in a small Cessna aircraft. Here I saw great knots of pelicans choking its main river, cheetahs with new cubs, over 50 lions in fi ve prides, a rare striped hyena at night, and was stared at by elegant nosey Kordofan giraff es, a rare sub species of the more familiar southern African variety.
  Chad may never become a fi xture like  Kenya yet for adventurous travellers this is off beat Africa in technicolour brilliance.

Cityscape to bubble lake

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Cityscape to 'bubble' lake

  From exploring Calgary’s urban playground to skiing, snowshoeing and even fl ying across mountains to explore frozen ‘bubble’ lakes, Alberta certainly proved an adventure for intrepid agents  who joined a recent winter fam trip hosted by Travel Alberta.
  Starting in Calgary, the agents enjoyed a walking tour where they learned all about the ways of Calgarians and the city's rich tradition of art and architecture.  
  The group then climbed one of its most iconic landmarks the Calgary Tower. The more adventurous had the chance to ‘step out into space’ by trying out the glass fl oor observation deck, which is 36 feet long and more than four feet wide apparently it can hold the weight of three hippos though!
  Their feet fi rmly back on land, the group visited Calgary Zoo, one of the top zoos in the world for conservation research and the best way to learn about Canada’s bears and cougars without a face to face encounter.
  Leaving the city behind, the group transferred to the snowy town of Banff , where they picked up SkiBig3 passes to use across three resorts Banff Sunshine, Lake Louise Ski Resort and Mt. Norquay.
  The spectacular views of mountains, glaciers, lakes and forests made partaking in winter sports a must even for novices. The agents enjoyed more than 3,300 acres of skiable terrain, ranging from gentle beginner runs to extreme mountain piste at Sunshine 4,200 acres spread across four mountain faces at  Lake Louise, one of the largest ski resorts in North America and learned that Mt. Norquay off ers the only night skiing in Banff , including a fully lit terrain park for boarders.
  They also tested their skills in Jasper's Marmot Basin, which off ers 45cm of natural snow from November through to May.
  Away from the slopes the agents were treated to the ultimate high in the form of a Rockies Heli Canada Bubbles Tour. They fl ew to a snowshoeing location in the Rockies and  then experienced the Abraham Lake ice bubbles a natural phenomenon which sees methane gas bubbles freeze under the lake surface to stunning eff ect.
  Also for non skiiers, a Johnston Canyon ice walk presented a great opportunity to get close up to a natural wonder. The agents walked among the gigantic pillars of ice with views into the gorge below before arriving at Upper Falls a glittering tower of ice that rises 30 metres above human heads!
  Following what was quite the active itinerary, there was just enough time to relax, unwind and refl ect at the Kananaskis Nordic Spa, complete with a relaxation lodge, fi ve outdoor pools, fi ve steam and sauna cabins, and massage therapists. The perfect way to ease away those boot aches.
  “Alberta in the winter is truly spectacular and dare I say it's even more beautiful than summer,” said Laura Kirton of First Class Holidays. “A personal highlight of mine was  taking a helicopter over the top of Rockies to get that amazing birds eye view it was simply breathtaking.”

walking holidays

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walking holidays

  Think walking holidays are for hardened hikers? Think again. A spate of new on foot tours include leisurely meanders with good food and boutique hotels. It’s a hot trend.
  In San Diego, California, a distinct  buzz fi lls the air. Office workers begin to fi lter out from their buildings, cars begin to choc up the highways, and one by one the lights start to twinkle against the skyline. But I’m watching  all this chaos feeling distinctly calm.
  That’s because around 15.00 I made my way to Cowles Mountain, for a walk. As a keen hiker, I’ve enjoyed a host of walking holidays around the world. I’ve undertaken a two week altitude battling trek to Everest Base Camp in Nepal I’ve walked innto inn along the Camino de Santiago in Spain section hiked chunks of the USA’s Appalachian Trail and climbed the highest point in Japan. But it doesn’t have to be an all encompassing multi day hike to make it worthwhile.
  The two hour stroll up Cowles Mountain was a happy add on to a city break that included the usual museums, excursions and good food. Yet, standing atop that small hill, being able to watch the cityscape fade  into the horizon, against the border with Mexico, a patchwork of wetlands and the Pacifi c Coast stretching out in front, gave me an instant understanding of the place.
  I spoke to Californians who were out walking their dog or going for a jog many gave me tips on where to eat or pointed out the American kestrel soaring overhead.
  Simon Wrench, Head of Marketing at Inntravel. says more people are discovering specialist operators. “They’re recognising that we can design holidays as much for leisure strollers as for hardened mountain hikers, where they can walk light as their luggage is transferred between hotels, go at their own pace instead of being part of a group, and where the standard of accommodation is a delight.”
  Andrew Turner, Head of Sales for Intrepid, adds: “Walking gives clients the chance to see a country up close, rather than from a tour bus window, local interaction, and a sense of accomplishment.”
  And, despite the feeling of uncertainty around Brexit, it seems that when it comes to hiking the numbers are not slowing down: “We have seen bookings growing for the last four years,” says Steve Berry, Managing Director of Mountain Kingdoms, which has off ered mountain hiking trips to the Himalayas since 1987 but now sells South East Asia, Central Asia, the Americas, the Middle East and Africa.
  But where are people going and why? “Japan has really taken off thanks to Joanna Lumley,” says Berry. “Uzbekistan is also a big surprise hit this year and again all thanks to Lumley’s programme on the Silk Road.”
  TV Adventurer Levison Wood, who walked through the Caucasus (Georgia and Armenia) in 2017, has impacted numbers on Explore’s trip to that region, according to its Walking Programme Manager, Caroline Phillips. She says it’s led to customers “looking  outside of Western  Europe for more  adventurous short haul destinations that are good value.” She adds: “Turkey and Jordan have made big comebacks in 2019 and further afi eld places like Madagascar are also doing well.”
  So, who is going on these walking trips? It may not be who you expect. Wild Frontiers’ Marketing Manager, Michael Pullman, says: “For the retired demographic, who are now staying healthier and more active for longer, walking trips are proving popular.”
  But he says there’s a growing number of young travellers interested too: “They want to get away from city noise and the all pervasiveness of technology,” he says.
  The UK is a great starting point, with trails like the popular seven day West Highland Way an achievable undertaking in Scotland.
  Europe also off ers the chance to sample some great routes while a ‘sherpa’ luggage  transfer service carries bags from hotel to hotel, making circular routes such as the Tour de Mont Blanc passing through  Italy, Switzerland and France and the Camino de Santiago in Spain easy even for newcomers to hiking (off ered by companies including Headwater, Explore and Ramblers Walking Holidays).
  For those nervous about committing to a whole week (or more) spent walking, there’s the option of self guided ‘centred’ walking trips, like those off ered by Inntravel, where the accommodation is located somewhere with plenty to do and provides the base for  several walks of diff erent levels.
  The itinerary is fl exible and self guided, that way if days off are required or one  member of the party wants to walk and one doesn’t, there’s plenty to explore from the hotel door or the option to do nothing at all.  
  Companies, such as Intrepid have noticed  that “many clients want to combine walking with other activities such as kayaking or cycling on multi activity trips”.
Or consider adding on hiking perhaps a section of the Amalfi Coast as part of a relaxing break to Italy. 
  Or a visit to Jordan to see Petra and the Dead Sea, with a two day hike and overnight in Wadi Rum.


  The country has unveiled 10 new hiking routes for 2019. These include the foodie themed 8km Rundweg Bussard in the Bavarian Forest, which takes in small, independent restaurants and local produce, and the art themed TalaueKunst Weg in Stuttgart, which circles the city in 4.5km  alongside rivers and half timbered houses.


  Camino Ways can work with agents to take clients on the established Camino de Santiago pilgrimage’s hottest new route the Sea of Arousa Camino Walk and Boat. It combines walking the dramatic coast of O Salnes with a boat trip across the Ria de Arousa and up the River Ulla to Padron where the boat carrying St James is said to have fi rst landed in Galicia.


  The Algarve’s popular Rota Vicentina coastal route has been extended to include 16 new circular side trails. Recommended is the Fisherman’s Trail, which will now continue on to Lagos.


  The fi fth Walking Festival takes place May 21 25 and enables participants to explore its volcanic scenery, ancient laurel forest and starlit skies on a series of routes aimed at families, couple and individuals.

Go RVing Canada: RV tripping in Alberta

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Go RVing Canada: RV tripping in Alberta

  A quintessentially Canadian experience, hiring an RV means freedom to roam Alberta’s wide open spaces and ge t off the beaten track.
  An RV based road trip of Alberta can save money as well as off ering a bespoke way  to see the province. With the value of the British pound uncertain, a value led holiday will be an attractive prospect for many, but for some the idea of being in the driving seat for their holiday will be the biggest selling point.
  Canada is the perfect introduction to this kind of holiday, with wide, safe roads, English language signs, and plenty of  high quality campgrounds to choose from although you need to book well ahead for the national parks. There’s a huge choice of RV operators in Alberta, all with multiple depots and a range of vehicles.
  An RV holiday can be tailored to almost anyone, but how it’s sold will diff er. For families it’s likely the value proposition, while the kids will be excited by the idea of a mobile home. Taking it with you means  that there’s no need for transfers or hotels and you can stock up on provisions and cook for yourself, saving the money you would have spent on restaurants for attractions and experiences.
  For couples, the romantic aspect is obvious. Really hone in on the privacy couples can expect and the chance to go at their own pace whether that’s the prospect of sitting out under the stars every night with a glass of wine, beating the tourist crowds at major attractions by setting off early or the freedom to change their mind, sleep in or stay another day and change the route.
  Younger travellers will love the savings it’s the best value way to spend the night inside the national parks themselves, where accommodation can stretch the budget. But do mention the fact that RVs off er the freedom to get off the tourist trail and stop at that quirky small town they pass through to take a picture.
Get your clients to Calgary or Edmonton and from there the open road is waiting!
  For some alternatives to the well trodden routes around Banff and Jasper, suggest  the De Cho Trail, which runs north from Edmonton to High Level, half way to Yellowknife! This drive is a wilderness adventure off ering the chance to spot the Northern Lights and explore historic sites which uncover the tough days of the pioneers like Fort Vermilion Trapper’s Shack. Clients can enjoy hiking, fi shing, swimming and kayaking at spots such as Fish RV Resort, explore Peace River while staying at the Hidden Lake Mile Zero Camper Park, or spot wildlife at Aspen Ridge Campground in High Level.
  Alternatively, head south from Calgary to the Alberta Badlands for unique weather whipped landscapes, lakes and dinosaur fossils.
  Highlights are the Royal Tyrell Museum and digging for bones at the UNESCO World Heritage Dinosaur Provincial Park. Classic RV stops include Dinosaur Camping Car Park, nestled in a valley by the Red Deer River, shaded by cotton wood trees and with its own amphitheatre, or the Ross Creek RV  Park close to quaint Medicine Hat.

Teyuna (Ciudad Perdida), Colombia

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Teyuna (Ciudad Perdida), Colombia

Hike hidden trails to a long lost pre Columbian capital in the mountains.
  Colombia’s far north is a land of secrets, guarded by a dizzying expanse of coastal mountains known as the Sierra Nevada. Much of it can only be accessed on foot, and for those who make the trek, deep within its interior lies the biggest secret of  all the city of Teyuna. Built around  AD700, it was once the centre of a Tairona empire that spanned the entire range. But like much of pre Columbian Latin America, it  was abandoned during the Spanish Conquest and only unearthed again  in 1972. Local troubles since then mean that travellers are just now discovering it for themselves.
  Teyuna still feels like a real ciudad perdida (lost city). Around 8,000 people make the trek from Santa Marta each year nearly as many as visit Machu Picchu in a day. Guided walks are the only way in, hiking 44km through forest draped in lianas and past Kogi villages whose residents are instantly recognisable by their starchy white hats.
  By the third day you’ll arrive at the foot of the 1,200 steps leading up to the ruins, where 200 or o terraces trickle down the mountainside. Climb to the cluster of carved platforms that marks the highest point and gaze out: what you see is only a fraction of the city still to be uncovered a thrilling taste of a forgotten world.

Hacienda Zuleta

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Hacienda Zuleta

  Ahome to former presidents, end angered birds andmore history than most nations can conjure this Andean stay offers a taste of old Ecuador.
  Ecuador’s Hacienda Zuleta may be hidden high in theAndes, but its celebrated history meansthatit’s never at risk of being lost.The Plaza family, have occupied this colonial era working farm for more than a century and counttwo ex presidents among their number.Yetstep inside their family home and itfeels almost cosy.
  Today,the Plaza’s descendantsstill helm the farm, which spans16 sq km. Travellers arrive to brightly painted antique rooms adorned with fresh wildflowers and crackling log firesto warm theAndean nights the kind of presidential welcome you’d expect.
  Part ofthe farm’s appeal isitslinks to community and wildlife projects. Guests can learn embroidery with local artisansor even spotr are Andean condors Zuleta is one offew places you can guarantee an encounter with the world’s largest flying bird due to itswork on the Condor Huasi Project. Both endeavours are supported by the Plaza foundation,which builds on the legacy of grandfather(and former  president) Galo Plaza Lasso, who is still revered for his social initiatives.
  Back on the hacienda, an on site cheese factory, a trout farm and the abundant produce from the gardens Galo and his wife set up offer fine ingredients for the many communal Getthere Connecting flights with Air France ( and Delta Airlines ( go  from London Heathrow to Quito via Paris and Atlanta respectively from around £556 return flight time is from 18.5 hours. Hacienda Zuleta is a two hour car ride from the capital, so either arrange a transfer with the hotel or rent a car and drive. dinners.And you’ll need all that food to build your strength for exploring.
  Another of the unique charms of Zuleta are the 100 or so Zuleteño horses stabled here. Treks to crashing water falls and cool valleys spotted with hummingbirds and pre Inca sites can be arranged for either experienced or beginner riders. Or just grab a bike and hit the mountain trails, looking out for spectacled bears and climbing to high alpine meadows.
  Atthe end of the day, though, you’ll look forward to returning to Zuleta a hot water bottle between your sheets and history on every wall.

Charleston, USA

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Charleston, USA

  As the firs tdirect flights from the UK bring the historic forts,genteel streets and cypress filled swamps of Charleston a step nearer,we discover a Deep South debutante more than ready for its close up.
  Rhett Butler knew the score. “I’m going back to Charleston... to see if, somewhere, there isn’t something left in life of charm and grace,” he declares at the end of the 1939 film version of Gone with the Wind.
  Even today, charm and grace are no strangers to South Carolina’s oldest city. Equal measures period buildings and old world manners, this is also an area with a story to tell  (plus a distinctive drawl in which  to tell it), spanning American Civil  War sites and antebellum riches.
  Charleston’s history is writ large on its streets. Stroll Rainbow Row to admire its old houses, daubed in hazy pastel shades since the 1930s. Some say this was done to guide rum soaked sailors back to their digs, others claim it was a cheap way of cooling the properties.
  Next, head to the harbour. Boat trips let you drift past stately homes on the Battery and pelicans  divebombing for fish. Further out lie the idyllic Sea Islands, where Gullah culture (Creole speaking  descendents of the freed African slaves that settled here) was born and where turtles clatter ashore to lay their eggs on the pristine sand.
  To learn more about the Gullah and the American Civil War that  shaped the region, take a history  tour. Fort Sumter was where the Civil War began, and guided visits plot out the Confederate siege and the surrender of the Union forces. Plantations (tobacco, rice, indigo) also lie on every corner; head to  Boone Hall for a look at the lives of those who worked the fields. Despite their tragic history, many of these sites are beautiful, and spying  the butterflies of Boone or blooms of Magnolia Plantation’s gardens a dreamy morass spotted with cypress and tupelo delights.
  A trip into downtown takes you through the busy French Quarter, a creative hub rife with galleries and home to the Charleston City Market, stuffed with savvy street vendors selling sweetgrass baskets (a Gullah tradition) and jewellery. Time your visit to coincide with  Spoleto, a performing arts festival (24 May 9 June) that takes over churches, parks and everything in between. A toe tapping finale for a city that marches to its own beat.

Britain's destinations aboard a vintage train

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Britain's destinations aboard a vintage train

Let yourself be spirited to some of  Britain's most beautiful destinations  aboard a vintage train.
  Modern trains might be convenient, but where’s their charm? They neither send out billows of smoke, nor whistle as they pull into stations. Meanwhile, Agatha Christie or her characters wouldn’t be seen dead on the carriages, as clean and functional as they might be. Where’s the crystal in the buffet car? Where is the buffet car?
  Fortunately, several hundred steam locomotives and, even better, their carriages, still run in Britain and on historic routes, too. Many are from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Most came out of regular service in the Sixties, and are now run by volunteers. Here, we chuff through some of the best of Britain’s  heritage railway lines.

Belmond Royal Scotsman

 Fancy a Highland fling? The sumptuous carriages of the Belmond Royal  Scotsman whisk you to the misty peaks and craggy valleys of the Scottish Highlands in luxury. The polished wood of the carriages gleams, and the interiors recreate a Scottish country house hotel on wheels. Even the cabins are clad in tartan.  
 Take in the sights Glamis Castle, Loch Lomond, Culloden Battlefield, Ben Nevis from the comfort of the dining car with a malt whisky in hand. There’s even a spa on board, so you can pamper yourself as you chug onward. If shooting and fishing’s more your thing, a raft of special itineraries allow you to get back to nature.

West Somerset Railway

  At 22.75 miles (36.61km), The West Somerset Railway is the longest heritage railway in England. And it has vintage appeal, too: parts of the line opened in 1862. Window seats offer views of the Quantock Hills, the sea and  myriad villages. Explore the countryside from Williton Station, near the Coleridge Way a 36 mile trail through landscape that inspired the 19th century Romantic poet. Or from Crowcombe Heathfield, where you can take a one and a half mile circular walk, crossing a  couple of railway bridges (look out for the flaming leaves of the beech trees in autumn). Bring a bike to recreate Beatle Ringo Starr’s appearance in A Hard Day’s Night, where he cycles down Crowcombe platform. Or a bucket and spade, if you prefer the seasidey lure of Minehead.

North Yorkshire Moors Railway

  You don’t get more historic than this route, if only because it was planned, in 1831, by George  Stephenson, the Father of Railways. Today, the 18 mile (29km) heritage line, from Pickering to  Grosmont, carries more passengers than any other in Britain. The heathery moors, marked by the  quaintest of stations, are the draw. Both Pickering and Goathland stations, built in Victorian times,  have been restored to their Twenties and Thirties glory. (The former appeared in Brideshead  Revisited.) The War Time Weekend in October will maximise the historical charm: expect actors in period dress to roam the area. Christmas will be even more spirited, with elves and mince pies. Even Santa thinks this railway is worth a visit, from Lapland, at his busiest time of year.

Bluebell Railway

  The Bluebell Railway started in the Sixties, but its locomotives and carriages are considerably older. Most of the latter are pre Second World War, and take it in turns to chug along the 11 mile (17.7km) route, largely across West Sussex.Trips are relaxed, starting or ending at Shffield Park station, its Victorian charm restored. For afternoon tea on a Saturday, take the “Wealden Rambler” serving retro classics such as Victoria sponge and chocolate eclairs. For a heartier meal, join the “Real Ale” train, offering a sausage and mash pub supper. Prefer to make your own trip? Buy an All Day Rover ticket. Look out for Horsted Keynes, on the way. The Victorian era station has been restored to its 1920s days and appeared in Downton Abbey.

Isle of Man Railway

  This railway is the longest narrow gauge steam line in the UK that still uses its original locomotives and  carriages. Want figures? It’s 3ft (914mm) wide and 15.3 miles (24.6km) long. Founded in 1870, it is, in fact, the remainder of a much longer network of more than 46  miles (74km). Today, trains chug away between Douglas, the capital of the British Crown dependency between England and Ireland, and the best of the island’s sites in the south, including Port Erin, a Victorian seaside resort. The train is the most atmospheric way to reach the remains of Rushen Abbey,  an ancient monastery, and Castle Rushen, a medieval castle. The highlight of the train itself is the restored dining car, built in 1905, with its maroon velvet chairs,  plush carpet and starchy white tablecloths.

The Jacobite

  The Jacobite gets its name from the 17th century political movement which fought for James VII of Scotland (James II of England) to be restored to the English and Scottish thrones after the Glorious Revolution. The Jacobite hasn’t been going for that long, although parts of the line do date back to 1901.
  The 41 mile route (66km) through the Scottish Highlands includes lots of highests and deepests and shortests from Fort William (near Britain’s highest mountain, Ben Nevis) to Loch Morar (Britain’s deepest freshwater loch) to Arisaig (Britain’s most westerly mainland railway station, where, on a clear day, you can see some of the Scottish islands). Could the line also be one of the most famous at least by sight? It’s the one in the Harry Potter films. The Hogwarts Express sits at the Warner Brothers’ Studio Tour in London, but you still get to experience part of Harry’s journey over the  21 arched Glenfinnan Viaduct. And you won’t have to fight a dragon at the other side.

Belmond British Pullman

  Looking for marquetry decorated with leaping antelope, deep pile carpet or cut glass tumblers?  You’ve come to the right place. The 11 carriages of Belmond British Pullman sister train to the Venice Simplon Orient Express were once part of the Brighton Belle and the Golden Arrow, celebrity trains of their time, and display Twenties and Thirties glamour. They even have names, including “Audrey”, which has carried HM The Queen, and appeared in the Agatha Christie adaptation Murder on the Orient Express.
  Destinations include Bath, York, Canterbury, Blenheim Palace and a new route to Stratfordupon Avon. Pop up dinners are hosted by Michelin star chefs such as Michel Roux, Jr and Raymond Blanc,while murder mystery lunches give you the chance to recreate those Agatha Christie moments.

20 Best Britain’s Greatest Palace to Visit

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20 Best Britain’s Greatest Palace to Visit

  Whatever your idea of the perfect historic house imposing architecture, beautiful interiors or glorious gardens you’ll find it in these page. We peek through the (gilded) keyhole at 20 of the country’s finest manors, palaces and estates.

Tredegar House, South Wales  

  This marvellous late 17th century house is one of Wales’s most beguiling architectural wonders, set within 90 acres of gorgeous gardens. For more than 500 years Tredegar was home to one of Wales’s most powerful families, the Morgans, later Lords Tredegar, and no expense was spared in its decor. The interiors feature plenty of flamboyant touches, from the glittering Gilt Room, once a venue for glamorous parties, to the exquisitely carved serpents, lions and  griffins in the Brown Room.

Petworth House, West Sussex  

  Inspired by European baroque palaces, Petworth is a stately ancestral seat with an astonishing art collection, including major works by Van Dyck, Turner, Reynolds and Gainsborough. Intriguing objects abound, such as the earliest English globe in existence, dating back to 1592. The grounds, designed by Capability Brown, hold a 700 acre deer park.

Dunrobin Castle, Scottish Highlands  

  The most northerly of Scotland’s great houses is also one of its most spectacular. Home to the Earls and Dukes of Sutherland since the 13th century, it resembles a French château with its whimsical spires and fairytale turrets. A fortified square keep for centuries, it was extensively remodelled by Charles Barry in 1845 the gardens, based on those at Versailles, were laid out in the 1850s.

Harewood House, Yorkshire  

  The 1st Baron Harewood, Edwin Lascelles, assembled a dream team to create his ideal home in 1759 interior designer of the moment Robert Adam, legendary furniture maker Thomas Chippendale and famous landscape gardener Capability Brown. Their extraordinary efforts provide a fitting showpiece for Harewood’s priceless collections of  Renaissance masterpieces and Sèvres porcelain, among much more.

Hardwick Hall, Derbyshire  

  One of the country’s most magnificent Elizabethan houses, crafted by the finest craftsmen of the age in the 1590s, Hardwick is quite a spectacle. Then there’s the backstory it was the creation of the formidable Bess of Hardwick Tudor England’s other great Elizabeth whose four marriages led her to become one of England’s most powerful and richest women. Towering turrets bear her initials, and her influence can be felt in every aspect of the extraordinary house.

Blenheim Palace, Oxfordshire  

  There’s something very special about Blenheim, seat of the Dukes of Marlborough. The only non royal or non episcopal house in Britain to be called ‘palace’, it has a regal air that lives up to the name. For some, it even eclipses the royal palaces on seeing Blenheim for the first time, King George III is reported to have said to Queen Charlotte, “We have nothing to equal this!”
  Blenheim was built in the rare English Baroque style for John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough, on parkland gifted to him by Queen Anne, as a reward for victory over the French in the Battle of Blenheim, Bavaria, in 1704. Almost two centuries later, the duke’s descendant, Winston Churchill, was born here.
  Each room of the palace is more spectacular than the last. The marble clad Great Hall with its frescoed ceiling and stone carvings makes a bold first impression, but the palace’s finest room is the aptly named Long Library, an incredible 55 metres in length.
  Rivalling the house for magnificence are the grounds 2,100 acres of parkland designed by Capability Brown. Churchill chose one of his favourite corners, the Temple of Diana, as a romantic spot to propose to his beloved, Clementine Hozier. They married just a month later.

Longleat, Wiltshire  

  Built by Sir John Thynne in 1580, Longleat is a spectacular Elizabethan house in parkland designed by Capability Brown. It is now occupied by Thynne’s ancestor, the 7th Marquess of Bath, who transformed part of the grounds into a safari park, complete with lions, tigers and giraffes, in 1966 the first drive through safari park outside Africa.  
  The family still live in part of the house, but 15 rooms are open to the public. Famous for a 40,000 strong book collection, Longleat’s seven libraries are a sight to behold.

Montacute House, Somerset  

  This magnificent Elizabethan Renaissance house was built to impress by Sir Edward Phelips, a member of Elizabeth I’s parliament. Built in 1598, it remained in the Phelips family until 1931, when it was acquired by the National Trust. Its hamstone facade with mullioned windows is imposing, though all is not as it seems the Tudor West Front was not designed for the house, but removed from nearby Clifton Maybank House and installed here in 1786. Inside, the 52 metre Long Gallery is the longest of its kind in England, holding 60 Tudor and Elizabethan portraits on long loan from the National Portrait Gallery.

Burghley House, Lincolnshire  

  A grand Elizabethan pile, Burghley was built by William Cecil, Elizabeth I’s most trusted minister, who designed the house as a grand tribute to his Queen. The  house’s splendid interior contains a fine collection of Italian Old Master paintings, as well as a celebrated ceramics collection. You can explore the evocative Tudor kitchens below stairs, as well as the breathtaking State Rooms furnished thanks to the efforts of two of  the house’s Earls, who travelled widely and purchased an incredible array of art and antiques. Their history and the hoard is examined in this year’s big exhibition, Treasures of the East.

Osborne House, Isle of Wight  

  “It is impossible to imagine a prettier spot,” said Queen Victoria of her palatial holiday home on the Isle of  Wight, and it’s hard to disagree. 2019 marks the 200th anniversary of Queen Victoria’s birth, and with a packed programme of celebratory events, it’s the perfect time to plan a visit.  
  Built specially for Victoria and Albert, the house reflects their style and passions. The sumptuous State Rooms, designed to impress the great and the good when Osborne was at the centre of the British Empire, are extraordinarily lavish, and you can have a glimpse into Victoria and Albert’s private world too their bathing beach and the play cottage built for their children. Prince Albert’s private suite was poignantly kept as it was in his lifetime by the devoted Queen, and many of the objects he used at Osborne still lie where he left them.

Barrington Court, Somerset  

  This handsome Tudor manor house lay neglected until the 1920s, when one Colonel Lyle visited and, moved by its sorry condition, bought it and painstakingly restored it with historic salvaged fireplaces, staircases and panelling, collected from derelict manors all over the country. The National Trust have kept it without furniture, so that you can appreciate the beauty of its features and the passion that went into its restoration. After wandering the atmospheric rooms, you can explore the beautiful gardens, planted after consultation with the famous garden designer Gertrude Jekyll.

Blickling Hall, Norfolk  

  This magnificent Jacobean pile stands on the site of the home of the Boleyn family, where it is believed Anne Boleyn was born. No documentation exists to back this up, but legend has it that one of the three ghosts that  patrol the house is that of Henry VIII’s second wife, who is said to appear every year on 19 May, the date of her execution, bearing her severed head.  
  Reliefs of Anne and her daughter, Queen Elizabeth I, can be seen on the staircase of the Great Hall. The Long Gallery is also worth seeking out. It holds the National Trust’s most important book collection, including the first complete Bible to be printed in English, and first editions of Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility,  Pride and Prejudice and Emma.

Castle Howard, North Yorkshire  

  The scale of Castle Howard, the residence of the Howard family for 300 years, is quite mind boggling with 145 rooms, it is one of England’s biggest stately homes. The house took over 100 years to construct, spanning the lifetimes of three Earls. The original architect Vanbrugh’s vision of a house of two identical wings capped with a central dome did not quite come to fruition changing tastes over the centuries meant that east wing was built in flamboyant baroque style, while the later west wing is all restrained Palladian elegance. The result, though, is nothing short of spectacular.  
  A fire devastated much of the building in 1940 and would have caused even more extensive damage but for the efforts of some quick-thinking schoolgirl evacuees, who were able to salvage some of the house’s priceless contents. The filming of  Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited here in 1981 helped pay for much needed restoration works, though a section of the building remains a shell.

Tyntesfield, Somerset  

  Conceived as a family home rather than a statement of wealth, Tyntesfield has an intimate, warm feel. William Gibbs bought Tyntes Place for his family in 1844 and remodelled what was then a simple Regency house into the stunning Victorian Gothic Revival house that you see today. It’s home to over 60,000 objects, from ornate furnishings and precious paintings to the evocative remnants of four generations of domestic life, from ice skates to picnic sets.

Ham House,London  

  Sitting on the banks of the River Thames in Richmond, Ham House is a 17th century treasure, full of fine paintings, furniture and textiles. Built in 1610, it was remodelled by the Duke and Duchess of Lauderdale in the 1670s. Richly transformed to impress London Society, it was one of the country’s grandest Stuart houses. 
  The interiors boast baroque ceiling murals by Antonio Verrio, rare damask hangings and a gilded staircase. Among the collections, you can see the Duchess’s own teapot, one of the earliest to arrive in Britain ever fashionable, she was quick to adopt the new tea drinking trend.  
  Keep an eye out for unusual happenings Ham is thought to be one of the most haunted houses in Britain. Some visitors even report catching a waft of the Duke’s  pipe tobacco in the Dining Room.

Chatsworth House, Derbyshire

  Another Pemberley stand in that featured in the TV adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, Chatsworth’s  creamy stone facade made an appropriately grand setting as Darcy’s ancestral home. Surrounded by  extensive parkland and backed by the craggy wooded hills of the Peak District, it holds many  priceless treasures.  
  Chatsworth has been home to the Cavendish family since 1549, but many of its grand rooms are open to the public. Be dazzled by the Painted Hall, the grandest room built by the 1st Duke; the Great Dining Room, dripping with gilt and swagged curtains; and the State Apartments, lavishly  decorated in preparation for a visit from King William III and Queen Mary II that never actually took place.

Mount Stewart, County Down

  Neoclassical Mount Stewart has been home to one of Northern Ireland’s most powerful families, the Marquesses of Londonderry, for 250 years. Edith, Lady Londonderry an author, designer and legendary hostess made Mount Stewart home in 1921, filling it with art and antiques and planting its exceptional gardens. Now in  the care of the National Trust, the house has been beautifully restored and is still dotted with family memorabilia and treasures.  
  Mount Stewart was only one of the family’s houses but was a firm favourite with Edith. As she wrote to her husband Charles, “This  is the most divine house, why do we live anywhere else!”

Hatfield House, Hertfordshire

  Some of our favourite stately homes are those still occupied by the same family that have been in place for centuries. Beautiful Hatfield House is a prime example home to the 7th Marquess and Marchioness of Salisbury, it was built in 1611 by Robert Cecil, 1st Earl of Salisbury and trusted advisor to Elizabeth I. Cecil used materials from the Old Palace, built in 1485 by the Bishop of Ely some of which can still be seen today to build the magnificent Jacobean house you see today.  
  Much of Hatfield’s fascination comes from the fact that Henry VIII purchased it for his children, Mary, Edward and Elizabeth, to use as a nursery. In 1558 a young Princess Elizabeth was resting under an oak tree in the grounds when she learned of her accession to the throne of England. Inside, seek out the Rainbow Portrait, an atypically vibrant Tudor portrait of steely eyed Queen Elizabeth marvellously clad in a coppery cloak, and holding a rainbow. An inscription reads, “Non sine sola iris” (No rainbow without the sun) portraying Elizabeth as a bringer of peace after stormy political times.

Lyme Park, Cheshire

  You might recognise Lyme or rather, its lake from the starring role it played in the 1995 BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, when Colin Firth as Darcy emerged from the lake and sent a million hearts uttering. Lyme’s glorious Italianate facade and lavish Regency interiors tend to have the same effect.  
  Visitors can dress up in period costume, take a peek at Truelove the butler’s rooms, and browse in the library, where the Lyme Missal prayer book is conserved. Printed by William Caxton in 1487, it is the National Trust’s most precious printed book. Outside, a medieval herd of red deer roam the estate, nestled on the edge of the Peak District.

Highclere Castle, Berkshire

  This beautiful ancestral  home is one of Britain’s finest. It has been the family seat of the Earls of Carnarvon since 1679, though its history stretches back centuries further.
  In 749 an Anglo Saxon King granted the estate to the Bishops of Winchester, who built a stately medieval  palace on the parkland here. Various rebuildings and developments later (including the landscaping of the grounds by Capability Brown), in 1842 it was transformed by Sir Charles Barry, architect of the Houses of Parliament, into the Italianate gem you can admire today.
  The twists and turns in the history of the house and its occupants could rival a Downton Abbey plotline. In one dramatic episode, the 5th Earl of Carnarvon discovered Tutankhamen’s Tomb with his friend and associate Howard Carter. His death soon afterwards led to the story of the ‘Curse of Tutankhamen’, though an infected mosquito bite is the likelier cause. Some of the Earl’s discoveries can be seen in the Antiquities Room.
  You can also wander the State Rooms for a glimpse of life above stairs. Highlights include the Saloon with its gilt leather wall hangings; the Drawing Room, decorated in watery green silk, and the sunny Music Room, hung with 16th century Italian embroideries.


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  Alaska is at the top of many a cruise wish list but how many lines can truly get you up close to the state’s natural wonders? 
  Someday you’re going to go to Alaska. You can say you hate the cold, but you’ll still go. There are puffins, whales, otters, bears, glaciers, and fjords in many places around the world, but eventually you’ll give in, because only Alaska feels like Alaska: vast, empty, disconnected, and, as you start to realise during your 10th hour in the air to Anchorage, farther away than you’d imagined. It’s the end of the line, and  not in a Key West kind of way.
  “Alaska isn’t a reserve. It’s wild,” I was told by Chris Srigley, the leader of the expedition team aboard my Seabourn Sojourn cruise last July. “Wild” is not quite the same as the pure, still majesty of Antarctica, which fills you with peace. Wild is a charge in the air. It’s the dark, ominous, infinite evergreens. It’s watching everything trying to eat everything else, while  keeping a respectful distance from the things that want to eat you. It’s  the nagging thought in the back of  your mind that the most powerful earthquake recorded in the US an incomprehensible 9.2 occurred where you’re standing. The ground in Anchorage shook for four and a  half minutes.
  Champagne flowed freely as the 450 passenger Sojourn explored the wild for two leisurely weeks, starting in the southern port city of Seward and then following the Inside Passage to Vancouver. I’d sailed Seabourn on expedition itineraries before and knew its cosseted take on adventure and the people it would attract. They came from around the world, and they weren’t boring an  Australian TV celebrity, a producer of Sharknado, a lawyer from Liechtenstein, who finally explained Liechtenstein to me. As always, the cabins were spacious and the bathrooms were marble, while the food ranged from country club solid to stellar. Chef Thomas Keller of the French Laundry has his own  handsome restaurant on board and also creates menus for the main dining room.
  Most ships do this itinerary in one rat a-tat week. Two weeks gave Sojourn the time to linger, to call on obscure ports, and to dig in with 116 shore excursions, many a part of Ventures by Seabourn. Available in Alaska since 2017, Ventures consists of more rigorous outings the kind you’d traditionally find on an expedition  cruise. The programme, now over three years old, has transformed this luxury cruise line in unexpected ways. Everything has become less formal, more youthful, and much more active. There’s not a lot of vegging in a deck chair anymore. You’re in a kayak, alone in silence, or in a Zodiac, racing along with a guide telling stories about bears and avalanches. You’re focussed on fishing, ethnography, nature photography, hiking,mindful living, or a zipline. You’re always wondering what you’ve missed: I’d go to dinner thrilled about my spin through the TracyArm iceberg field and leave envious of a new friend’s 10 kilometre, eight hour march in cleated boots across Davidson Glacier (after which he moaned in his cabin for a full day).
  Each of us really designed a personal cruise. The birders were attached to their binoculars perpetually, hoping for one more pigeon guillemot. The whale watchers would spend hours on deck, scanning  the water for the tip of a fin. The bear people would lose their minds over every brown speck in the distance. “Look, at two o’clock...” “Sorry, it’s a  rock...” “No, I saw it move...” “Too late, you missed it...”
  I a generalist chose one ice outing, one search for sea and bird life, and one bear trek, though I wasn’t quick enough to book the coveted  Ventures Anan Creek bear viewing, which sold out months in advance.  And I like dogs, so I signed up for a helicopter jaunt to go sledding. I didn’t fully grasp that I’d be dropped onto a glacier with 200 huskies in training for the Iditarod, the legendary thousandmile sled race from Anchorage to Nome. These weren’t the blue eyed glamour dogs I was expecting; they  were more like mutts, powerful,  affectionate, smart, and bred solely for endurance.    All they want to do is run, and if you make them stop, all they do is bark. Our musher had to spell out their commands I can still see his breath in the cold air as he mouthed the letters H…A…W… because if you even whisper the command “Haw,” every dog within earshot will take off like a rocket to the left. Within minutes of landing, I was standing on the rails of a sled with 10 ecstatic dogs that thought they were galloping for Nome, ready to bump for miles through a valley of  snow and ice. And then someone stuck a puppy in my arms. Total goner.
  The wild side of Alaska is less apparent when you’re docked in Juneau or Ketchikan along with 14,000 people from other ships. But walk over 150 metres beyond the shorefront stores, and you’ll find it. In Ketchikan, I spent an hour over reindeer sausage and eggs at the Pioneer Café, making futile small talk with the locals, who tend to answer in one word. Like most of the state, Wrangell (population 2,369) is accessible only by plane or boat, and the boat sometimes appears at 4.30 am. I found a cafe there that made Red Bull smoothies, and then reviewed a supermarket noticeboard where every kind of  bullet was for sale.
  Every day brought something a cruise brochure can’t quite capture the distinctly un touristy cultural demonstration by the First Nations people of Klemtu, British Columbia, where Seabourn is the only cruise line that calls, or the American Bald Eagle Foundation in Haines, where my heart was stolen by a bird named Arden that had been rescued after an encounter with a power line.
  But I always liked knowing what was waiting for me at the end of an exhausting day the yachtlike  Sojourn, its clubby atmosphere, a crew I looked forward to seeing  again, and what every cruise  revolves around dinner. Months later, I’m still thinking about a cut of prime beef Keller called a calotte, wondering if I’ll ever eat anything that good again. Two weeks of living like that goes to your head. 

Hello Kitty! ,Malaysian city of Kuching

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Hello Kitty! ,Malaysian city of Kuching

  The Malaysian city of Kuching loves its cats. Khursheed Dinshaw purrs at the sight of artefacts in a  cat museum, and learns a thing  or two about feline history.
  A cat’s head forms the entrance of the museum in Kuching, Sarawak. I enter  through its mouth. On my left side is a souvenir shop selling feline knick knacks, key chains, and fridge magnets. In fact, everywhere I look, a cat stares back at me. I am not being catty this is the world’s first cat museum. With almost 4,000 exhibits spread across 1,035 square metres, the museum purrs its way into the hearts of its visitors.
  Looking at posters of people hugging their cats,I wonder if the adage of a dog being a man’s best friend has got it all wrong. But such ideological dilemmas can wait cats in all their avatars, sizes, and moods beckon. Shy, small ones; big, ferocious ones and those happily playing with gnarled balls of wool.Ahand fan with a cat embossed on it gets the approval of a feline loverwho is visiting from the US.
  An article at the museum explains that the bond between cats and humans dates back centuries to the timewhen man began farming and had to stock his produce. Inevitably, rats attacked the grainwith gusto.This iswhen cats came to man’s  rescue.Through the ages, in some cultures, catswere considered good omens, in others theywere massacred over superstitions that proclaimed them to be the devil’s  accomplice.Therewas also a timewhen people believed that witches could turn into cats, and hence, burned the poor animals.
  In ancient Egypt, though, cats were  credited with bringing wealth and fortune. Bastet, or Bast, was the feline Goddess of protection. From Egypt, cats meowed their way to Italy and the rest of Europe. By the 18th century, it was common to see cats in homes. Sarawak itself has had a long association with felines. Dayak of the Orang Ulu tribe which hails from Borneo carried babies in a woven basket embellished with colourful beads and cowries that formed cat motifs. These designs were believed to protect the baby and repel evil spirits.
  Another article in the museum narrates a story of Lord Buddha. It says that all the animals were present  when it was time for Buddha to attain nirvana, all except the lazy cat that had fallen asleep. She lost her shot at nirvana, however, over centuries, the feline charmed her way back to such an extent that she came to be worshipped in some parts of the world.
  Cats and superstition seem to go hand in hand. In Japan, if a cat enters your home, then not only is it  unlucky but the event also signifi es impending poverty. In India, of course, it is said to be a bad omen if a black cat crosses your path. The Chinese believe that if they see a cat washing its face, it is a sign that a stranger will visit them soon. Many fi shermen traditionally believed that cats carried the souls of shipwrecked sailors, who could predict challenging weather at sea. Chinese paintings depicting cats with butterfl ies denote longevity. But there are practical reasons for the exaltation as well in the Chinese silk weaving  industry, cats are held in high regard since they kill vermin, which would otherwise eat silkworm larvae.
  Kuching’s cat museum has no guides, but the museum is easy to navigate. There are paintings,children’s play things, advertising material, and textiles with design centred on cats. Mugs, slippers, wallets and purses, and teapots wear feline symbols and pictures. If you’re someone who stalks cats on YouTube, this is your Disneyland.
It’s not just the museum, though the city of Kuching loves its feline residents. There are three prominent cat monuments in the city. A solitary white cat at South City Hall is clothed in traditional outfi ts during festivals like Chinese New Year and Ramadan. The second monument is on the border of the North and South City Halls, while the monument of Kuching North City Hall has nine felines.
  The waterfront market off ers various cat souvenirs, while the old courthouse has a wire structure as a tribute to their favourite animal. I have also noticed cat tattoos peeking from arms, shoulders, calves, and thighs of the locals. But it’s the cat museum that deciphers the provenance of the city’s name for me: the Malay word for cat is kucing. In olden times, cats were often spotted along the banks of the Sarawak River. Another river called Sungai Kuching fl owed through an area overgrown  with fruit trees locally known as Mata Kuching, or cat’s eyes fruit. We all know the  fruit as rambutan. It was Sir James Brooke, the fi rst white Rajah of Sarawak, who fi rst called the town Kuchin in 1839, and in 1876,  the city o¢ cially became Kuching. The cat museum then is not just a feline lover’s haunt, but a short history of a remarkable city that loves its cats.