Archive | September 2014

Swiss Land of Luxury

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It might have something to do with the fact that Zurich has around 1,500 world-class restaurants and a thriving nightlife scene; or that it has 15 cinemas, 150 or so museums and about 100 art galleries. It might be because of the city’s impressive list of high-end shopping boutiques and malls; or that it lies next to the much loved and picture-perfect Lake Zurich (the main source of drinking water for the city). It could also be due to its super-efficient public transport system; or even the Zurich Street Parade, which is arguably the largest techno-dance street party in the world, and which takes place in late summer. It might also have something to do with Zurich being one of the top financial centers of the world, and home to several global financial companies and banks including UBS and Credit Suisse. Or that a reported 43% of the city’s rubbish gets recycled. Whatever the reasons, Zurich offers some of the best quality of life in Europe and the world – not only for residents, but for travellers too.
The above are the big things that make the city a liveable and luxurious place to be in. There are some world-famous little things that also make Zurich a luxurious place to be, “Swiss Made’ watches, Swiss chocolate, Swiss Cheese, and Swiss Army knives? You won’t be travelling to Zurich just because of these, but as they say, the simple, little pleasures in life are very often the real luxuries, and in Zurich, the watches, chocolate, cheese and knives are luxuries that cannot be ignored!

Watches: ‘Swiss Made’ mark of quality
Swiss watchmakers have a reputation for absolute precision. The Swiss-made ‘Calibre 89’ Patek Philippe watch, which was made for the brand’s 150th anniversary in 1989, is a good example. It contains 1,728 parts, and four people spent nine years working on it from initial research and design to final assembly. In Zurich, most of the watch dealers are located on the Bahnhofsstrasse – the city’s exclusive downtown shopping street. At places like Türler, which is one of Switzerland’s oldest authorised watch dealers; and Les Ambassadeurs, which stocks the largest selection of timepieces and jewellery in Switzerland, you’ll find watches from brands like Patek Philippe, Piaget, and Omega. Swatch watches, with their popular, contemporary-styled designs, and more affordable pricing, are modern classics, and can be found in stores all around Zurich. The phrase ‘Swiss Made’ marked onto a watch face is a sign that whatever is around your wrist is a top class time instrument and a luxury piece of equipment. You’ll find hundreds of handsome and beautiful watches that you’ll dream of having around your wrist in Zurich.

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For the love of chocolate
‘If nine out of ten people love Swiss chocolate. Then the tenth person is lying!’ says a Swiss travel brochure. Swiss chocolate is as much a part of Zurich culture as, well, Swiss chocolate. Over the years, the Swiss have been responsible for several key advancements in chocolate making – like the invention of a special mixing device which combined sugar and cocoa powder; the invention of various techniques to create much smoother chocolate; and the creation of special flavouring combinations like hazelnut chocolate, milk chocolate and chocolate fillings. For Swiss chocolate to be officially referred to as Swiss chocolate, the actual production of the chocolate must take place in Switzerland (the ingredients can be sourced from other countries). And the ‘Swiss Chocolate’ reference is jealously (and legally) guarded by the Swiss. In Zurich, chocolate lovers can visit famous chocolatier factory shop outlets like Frey, who are responsible for the majority of Swiss chocolate being produced these days, and Lindt – the much-loved brand whose origins stretch back as far back as 1879.

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Swiss cheese: Zurich Foodie’s luxury
The most famous Swiss cheese is Emmental – the cheese with big, distinct holes in it, which are due to carbon dioxide gas bubbles that are given off by the bacteria in the cheese while it is being made. Different regions of Switzerland have their own regional cheese specialties and many of them are available in the delicatessens and food boutiques around Zurich (together with a delicious selection of freshly baked Swiss breads). Zurich is also famous for its cheese fondue, which is made from combinations of Vacherin and Gruyère melted cheeses, and used as a dip for small pieces of bread. You will be very disappointed if you don’t have some on your travels around the city!
Located in Stein, which is about 90 minutes by train and bus from Zurich, is the Appenzell cheese dairy – where you can witness age-old cheese making traditions being combined with modern technology to produce a range of top class cheeses. Appenzell also has a restaurant with a large terrace that serves regional specialties and hearty cheese dishes.

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Swiss Army Knives: Practical little luxuries
‘Swiss Army Knives’ – represented by the Victorinox and Wenger brands – are the ultimate in handy, practical luxury. These famous pocket knives have an infinite amount of uses – and have been saving the day (and even saving lives) for people since they first started being produced around 1891. They look good too – and all these attributes combine to make Swiss Army Knives one of life’s practical little luxuries. If you don’t already have one, many stores in Zurich stock a range of different kinds. Some have up to 80 functions, although the most popular model is the ‘Swiss Champ’ which has a very handy 33 functions.

Swiss-style street shopping
Normally, street shopping is equated with exciting bargain hunting and finding great deals on quirky consumer items, clothes, and street-style food. The complete opposite scenario presents itself in Zurich. The Bahnhofstrasse, for example, is where some of the most exclusive and expensive shopping streets in the world are located. Here, you can get anything from diamond rings to fur coats to luxury watches to high-end fashion accessories. Of course, Bahnhofstrasse is also just a popular promenade for locals and visitors to meander around – spending their time people watching from the numerous public benches, or exploring the parks and alleyways just off the main road. There are also restaurants, coffee shops and eateries in abundance here. During the day Niederdorf, in the Old Part of Zurich, is a pedestrian zone and a shopper’s paradise with lots of boutiques hidden away in the alleys. At night the many restaurants and entertainment venues turn the Niederdorf into an exciting centre for Zurich’s younger crowd. Lowenstrasse, which runs west of Bahnhofstrasse from the main train station, has a selection of department stores and shops, which are definitely worth a visit. Zurich really is a land of luxury.

Travel Token: Swiss Cow Bell?
Swiss cow bells have been used by Swiss farmers to locate their herds in the country’s open Alpine meadows for centuries. They are a symbol of Swiss culture and are often hung on walls inside homes as decoration. The cow bells that can be found around Zurich feature colourfully embroidered leather straps.

Oman Air flies four times a week between Muscat-Zurich.

Kuala Lumpur: Head East for Adventure!

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‘An established and emerging first world city with old world charm,’ is how one travel agent describes Kuala Lumpur. The description is just about spot on. Kuala Lumpur is a place where uber-modern high rise buildings, shopping malls, street markets, restaurants, and a constantly pulsating night life all combine with a beautiful ‘old world’ selection of historical and cultural relics.

But while many tourists see Kuala Lumpur as more of a city stopover for a few days – from which to explore the rest of Malaysia from – ‘KL’ should be considered a destination in its own right. It especially provides the chance for travellers to organise and be involved with some world-class outdoor adventure experiences – either in the city itself, or a short drive away. Here are a few of them. Malaysia is definitely worth doing – but don’t miss out on Kuala Lumpur. This is where the action is!

White Water Rafting
Just outside the city are some of Malaysia’s most exciting rivers for white water rafting and kayaking. Sungai Selangor, for example, contains sections of up to grade 4 whitewater rapids. It is just over an hour’s drive outside Kuala Lumpur, and the best sections of the river – with rapids, waterfalls, and rainforest scenery – can be rafted in a few hours, before you return to the city.
Also, a bit further away, but still within easy range of Kuala Lumpur, are the Sungai Telom River, which runs near the beautiful tea plantations of the Cameron Highlands; and the Jeram Besu River near Benta (where there are eco-tourism operators that also organise caving, trekking, and 4×4 off-road adventures).

Jungle Trekking
There are dozens of short and multiple-day treks in and around Kuala Lumpur. One of the highlights is the Bukit Tabur trek in Klang Valley, which is on the outskirts of the city. After three or four hours of strenuous (but not overly difficult) trekking and rock scrambling, you get a breathtaking view of the Klang Gates Dam and surrounding areas of jungle. Another top trek is the hour-long Broga Hill, which is also on the edge of the city, and a popular spot to hike up at dawn to watch the sunrise. Of course there are many outdoor adventure operators based in Kuala Lumpur that can advise where and how to trek in the region.

Paragliding
The hilly terrain surrounding Kuala Lumpur and the weather conditions associated with these lend themselves perfectly to the to the sport of paragliding – either for experienced pilots who want to fly by themselves, or visitors (with no previous flying experience) who can meet up with one of a handful of adventure operators based in Kuala Lumpur for a tandem paragliding flight. Flights from the hills at Bukit Sendayan, which are a few minute’s drive south of the city, are especially popular.

Kuala Lumpur Nature Trail Tour
Located along the Selayang-Kepong highway, about a 45 minute drive north from the city centre, the Forest Research Institute of Malaysia (FRIM) is a 600 hectare tropical rainforest filled with thousands of flora and fauna species. As much a recreational park as a forest reserve, its nature trails give visitors an excellent opportunity to learn more about the many plant species in this part of the world. Part of the tour includes the rather scary Canopy Walkway – a 200 metre long suspension bridge, raised 30 metres above the ground, that offers breathtaking views of the of surrounding forest flora and fauna.

Fireflies?
This might be more for the curious than the adventurous, but the best known attraction at Kuala Selangor (the coastal village an hour’s drive north from Kuala Lumpur) are fireflies. Locally known as ‘kelip-kelip’ these incandescent bugs are a truly beautiful sight as they glow and light up the night skies of Kuala Selangor Nature Park.

Skydiving
The simplest way to experience skydiving in Kuala Lumpur without the worry of training is by signing up to do a tandem skydive. After a short 20 to 30 minute briefing, first time skydivers hop in a small aeroplane with their jumpmaster, and head up to an altitude of 10 000 feet to do a tandem jump, which includes a long, 35 second freefall period and spectacular views during your canopy ride back to earth. There is more than one skydiving school that operates from Taman, just outside the city.

Rock Climbing
The 400 million year old Batu Caves, located 13 kilometres north of Kuala Lumpur is a popular Hindu site and boasts a beautiful temple in a cave within the 150 metre high limestone hill. The site is popular with tourists, but it is also a top class rock climbing destination, with over 170 established routes on the crags and cliffs near the caves. There are also a few well maintained and popular indoor rock-climbing gyms in the city itself.

Scuba Diving
While there are plenty dive schools based in Kuala Lumpur, most divers use the city as a base from which to explore other parts of the country. Tioman Island is off the east coast of Peninsula Malaysia, and very easily accessible from Kuala Lumpur. As a dive destination, it is famous for its big schools of fish, turtles, rays and reef sharks – and occasionally, whale sharks.
Redang Island, which is also off the east coast of Peninsula Malaysia (and easy to get to from Kuala Lumpur), is well known for its white sand beaches and superb water visibility. The coral reefs here are home to a huge variety of smaller tropical fish species and marine life. At the slightly more out-of-the-way Perhentian Islands (they are still close to Tioman and Redang) there are plenty coral and fish, but also sea turtles and many species of sharks.

Kuala Lumpur: ‘Urban Adventures’
Some of the more popular ‘city adventures’ and experiences in KL…
Markets: For street-market style shopping, the Central Market, near Chinatown, is a must-visit, as is the Petaling Street market. The modern Pavilion Kuala Lumpur mall sets the golden standard for mall shopping in the city.

Petronas Towers: At a height of 451.9 metres, these twin stainless steel towers represent the best of what modern Kuala Lumpur is about. The 421 metre high Kuala Lumpur Tower is another landmark mega structure in the city (and the highest viewpoint in Kuala Lumpur that is open to the public).

Islamic Arts Museum: Home to collections of Islamic decorative arts – with prominent displays of textiles, carpets, jewellery and calligraphy-inscribed pottery. (The building itself features beautifully decorated domes and glazed tilework).

Merdeka Square: The huge open square where Malaysian independence was declared in 1957 is the usual venue for the annual Merdeka National Day Parade.

Kuala Lumpur Bird Park: The ‘World’s Largest Free-flight Walk-in Aviary’ offers a literal ‘theme park’ of birds – and is located on just over 29 acres of green, verdant valley terrain.

Bukit Bintang shopping and entertainment district: The area has long been Kuala Lumpur’s most prominent retail belt that is home to many retail outlets, cafés, night markets, and hawker-type eateries.

MAP galleries: The MAP art hub consists of the ‘White Box’ gallery and ‘Black Box’ new media space, and provides a place for artists from the region from multidisciplinary backgrounds to share their works.

Oman Air flies seven times a week between Muscat – Kuala Lumpur.

Global recognition puts Oman Air in the awards spotlight!

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Farnborough Air Show, in England, was the setting in July for a glittering ceremony which brought together 250 of the greatest names in aviation to recognise the very best that 21st Century air travel has to offer.
And to Oman Air’s delight, it won one category, was placed second and third in two others and achieved top ten positions in a further seven categories of the World Airline Awards.
The World Airline Awards are sometimes referred to as theOscars of the airline world and are organised by independent airline quality experts Skytrax. They are decided following a year-long global survey of nearly 19 million air travellers, drawn from more than 100 countries and covering more than 200 airlines.
So, with each category effectively decided by airlines’ most exacting judges, their customers, it was with a genuine sense of pride and gratitude that Oman Air’s General Manager Marketing, Mohammed Al Shikely, and its Acting Country Manager for the UK, Jamal Al Azki, took to the stage to receive the award for Best Staff Service Middle East from Skytrax CEO Edward Plaisted.
After collecting the award, Mohammed Al Shikely said, “It was a great honour to accept the award of Best Airline Staff Service Middle East on behalf of Oman Air especially since this award represents the most important element in our industry – the service that our staff give to our customers, on the ground and in the air – making this an award that belongs to every member of the Oman Air family.
“We are particularly proud to receive this award, as it confirms the bond that we have developed between our customers and our staff, both on the ground and in the air. The interaction between staff and customers lies at the heart of the high levels of service we offer and is an important reflection of the legendary culture of hospitality for which Oman, and Oman Air, is famed. We are delighted that, as this year’s World Airline Awards have shown, Oman Air’s hospitality has been recognised and valued so highly by the industry’s most exacting and demanding judges – air travellers themselves.”
In addition to the Best Staff Service Middle East award, Oman Air was placed second in the Best Onboard Catering Business Class category and third in the Best Airline Seat Business Class category. Top ten places we also achieved in the World’s Best Airline in Business Class, Best Airline in the Middle East, Best Airline Seat Economy Class, World’s Best Airline in Economy Class, Best First Class Airline Catering, Best Economy Class Airline Catering, and Best Airline Business Class Comfort Amenities categories.
This year’s success builds on previous recognitions at the World Airline Awards that includes winning World Best Business Class Airline Seat in 2011 and 2012, as well as gaining a range of top ten, top five and top three placings in other categories. And earlier this year, the World Travel Awards named the airline World’s Best Business Class Airline Middle East and World’s Best Economy Class Airline Middle East. Further acclaim has been received from American Express Executive Travel magazine, which in May named Oman Air as the second best airline in the world, from Business Insider, which listed Oman Air in the top ten of its World’s Best Airlines 2014 list. Travel trade publications TTG and BMI Selling Travel have also hailed Oman Air’s quality, with both titles shortlisting the airline for awards which will be announced later this year.
Oman Air’s Acting Chief Executive Officer, Salim Al Kindy, expressed his delight at the airline’s performance in so many award programmes, saying, “As Oman Air approaches its next phase of rapid expansion, which will start later this year with the arrival of the first of the 20 aircraft we have on order, it is immensely satisfying to know that air travellers feel that the service we offer is amongst the best in the world.”

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