Oman

Oman FlagThe sultanate of Oman is a land of friendly people and magnificent landscapes--so the world is finding out as this corner of the Middle East emerges from a long period of isolation. Oman is one of the most traditional countries in the Middle East, but as it slowly comes out of its shell, it's beginning to look more toward the future than the past. The many forts were built during the years when Oman was an imperial power tied to Portugal and later Britain. When the British left the region, Oman pulled the covers over itself, keeping the eyes of much of the rest of the world away. But in 1970, with the ascension of Sultan Qaboos bin Said, Oman began a "makeover" period, during which modernization and a spirit of openness came to define the sultanate. Oman's varied landscape includes rugged coastlines, beaches, mountains, salt flats, oases, and deserts. The sultanate has one of the world's most ecologically friendly governments, and a wide range of wildlife thrives in many protected areas. Sanctuaries have been set aside for Arabian oryx, giant sea turtles, the Arabian tahr, Arabian wolf and leopard, striped hyena, and the sooty falcon. Protecting plant life is important to the government as well: coastal areas are preserved and there are National Protected Areas scattered around the country. Oman is considered a safe, secure destination, but you would not want to find yourself in the midst of demonstrations--either political or religious. Traveling in Oman Oman Air flies to many cities within Oman, and for closer travel there are intercity buses. You can also rent a car, but this is not cheap. There is also an extensive system of microbuses and taxis. Find one get in, but don't be surprised if you don't go anywhere right away: usually the driver will wait for a few more passagers before hitting the road. You can also hire a cab privately, but this means you are "paying" for all the seats, so expect the fare to be a lot more. Unless you are a citizen of the GCC (UAE, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain or Qatar), you need a visa to enter Oman. It is valid for one entry and cannot be extended. It's recommended that you have an Omani travel agent or hotelier arrange your paperwork--primarily the No Objection Certificate (NOC). A road pass is necessary if you plan to travel by car. As is the case for many Middle Eastern countries, if your passport shows any evidence of travel to Israel you will be denied entry to Oman. What to Know Oman MapWhen traveling to Oman, keep in mind that you will either have to travel first class or low budget--there's almost nothing for the midrange traveler. First-class travelers will spend a lot for better accommodation, around $100 to $150 dollars a day. Whereas the low-end traveler will likely spend $50 dollars a day on accomodations and eating. Don't be surprised to shell out up to $200 a day on food, transportation, souvenirs, and a bed. Site seeing and other places of interest are generally free; domestic travel and eating can be relatively inexpensive, so you should decide in advance whether nicer accomodations are something you're willing to pay for. Tipping is typically not expected--many restaurants will include an additional 10%-15% gratuity in the bill. Haggling at markets may get you a modest break in prices, but it's not as widely appreciated as in many other countries. Traveler's checks are easy to change, and ATMs are available most places, though they're often not linked to international systems. Weather in Oman The best time to visit Oman is between October and March--the temperate months when the weather is the best. June to September is the monsoon season, so it's best to avoid visiting during these times. Oman Information Middle Easy Map Population: 2.5 million Government: Sultanate Square Miles: 82,000 sq mi (212,500 sq km) Capitol: Muscat (population 380,000) Official Language: Arabic (official), English, Farsi, Baluchi, Urdu People: Arab, Asian, African, Baluchi Religion: Ibadi Muslim (75%), Sunni Muslim, Shiite Muslim, Hindu Major products/industries: Oil, natural gas, agriculture, fishing

Ireland

Irish FlagIreland is more than just the land of Guinness and Shamrocks, it is a land of mythic beauty that is hard to forget. From the ancient Celts to the early European Christians, Vikings, and finally the Normans, Ireland has seen more history than many other places on earth. But the country has emerged from tumultuous past into the modern world as a leader in technology and economic development. The Irish have come a long way over the past few generations, but don't let the new modern ways fool you--you can still expect to find that good old Irish hospitality all over the country. Ireland MapWhile the Republic of Ireland gained its full independence in 1949, the long struggle against England is still alive, as seen daily in Northern Ireland. But despite what happens in the north, the Irish have never lost their spirit. When you travel around the countryside you will quickly learn why so many people believe this is a purely magical place. From the juxtaposition of the ultra-chic with poignant history in Dublin, to the ancient limestone-armored hillsides at The Burren, to the dramatic soaring coastlines and solemn quietude of the western isles, Ireland bears many faces. And every  one of them is fascinating and fun. Traveling in Ireland There are many ways to get to Ireland, depending on where you originate. Major airports are located in Dublin; Shannon; and in Northern Ireland, in Belfast. A number of major cities around the world have flights direct to these cities, and there's plethora of options if flying through England. Also, ferry service runs between England; Scotland; Wales; and even Cherbourg and Le Havre, France, to various cities in Ireland. Most sights in Ireland are not accessible by public transportation, which means that the only way to truly see all of the countryside is by car; however, renting a car can be very expensive, and if you do plan on driving in Ireland remember to stay on the left. There are trains and buses that can get you around the country, but they do not travel to all places and their schedules can vary. If you do plan on traveling around Ireland extensively, it's best to have a good plan before you head out--getting from hear to there is typically not as easy as on continental Europe. Weather in Ireland The weather is best in July and August, when it's warm and the days are long. This is also the most crowded time to visit Ireland. In the winter, weather can be miserable, and the days maddeningly short. This, combined with the fact that a lot of tourist facilities are closed, makes traveling to Ireland in the winter hard on many tourists. If you're looking for fair weather and smaller crowds, it may be wise to go there in June or September. Ireland Information Europe Map Population: 3.9 million Government: Democracy Square Miles: 43,575 sq mi (70,282 sq km) Capitol: Dublin (pop. 1.5 million) Official Language: English, Irish (around 83,000 native speakers) People: Irish Religion: 95% Roman Catholic, 3.4% Protestant in the Republic; 60% Protestant, 40% Roman Catholic in the Northern Ireland Major products/industries: Computer software, information technology, food products, brewing, textiles, clothing, pharmaceuticals, tourism

Falkland Islands

Falkland Islands FlagBest known for the war that was fought in 1982 between Argentina and the British, this colony of Britain is still a lonely outpost of only about 4000 inhabitants, mainly consisting of British military personnel. The residents of the Falkland Islands are typically decended from the British, and culture there--while unique in many ways--is, itself, British through and through. The Falkland Islands were uninhabited until the late 17th century, when the Europeans stumbled upon them during an exploration of the southern Atlantic. In 1690 a British expedition landed at the Falklands and claimed them for the crown. They named the sound between the two main islands after British naval officer, Viscount Falkland; later the name was applied to the entire island group. Falkland Islands Map The first official settlement came in the mid-1700s, when the French set up camp, but they soon turned over their claim to Spain. Since that time, the Falklands have seen a great deal of territorial conflict--first between Spain and Britain, and then between Britain and Argentina. In 1833 the United Kingdom established a military garrison on the Falklands, effectively snubbing the Spanish claim to ownership, and in April of 1982, Argentina invaded the islands, sparking brutal violence between Britain and Argentina that ended in British victory just a few months later. Initially sustained by agriculture (mostly sheep farming), fishing currently accounts for the largest contribution to the Falkland Islands' economy--including the sale of fishing licenses to foreign trawlers and exporting vast quantities of squid. Other contributing industries include export of wool to the U.K., coin and stamp production, offshore oil exploration, and limited dairy production and crops to sustain the islands' population through the winters. The Falklands are self-sufficiant except for the military, which is provided by the British and, itself, makes a large contribution to the local economy. Traveling in Falkland Islands The only way to get to the Falklands is by air. There are biweekly civilian flights from RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire, England. You can also fly there from Santiago or Punta Arenas in Chile. Visa requirements are typically the same as those for entering the U.K. Citizens of the U.S., Canada, Australia, and New Zealand are generally allowed to stay six months without a visa. Once in the Falklands there are really only two ways to travel around to the different parts. The first is on the Falkland Islands Government Air Service (FIGAS), which flies on demand to grass airstrips throughout the islands. There are also boats for day trips that can be chartered throughout the Falklands. You could also rent a car, but remember to drive on the left. Tourism continues to increase in the Falklands, with an estimated 30,000 visitors in 2001. Since the local population is tiny, and festivals on the Falklands are of a different breed than elsewhere in the world (the most spectacular of which are the annual "sports meetings" held throughout the summertime, which include horse racing, bull riding, and sheepdog trials), people traveling to these islands usually do so to check out the wildlife. Though they are also the wettest months in the region, December through January tends to be the best time to view the islands' migratory birds and marine mammals. For anglers, sea trout season runs from September through April. The islands' "high season" last from October until April--although, that doesn't say very much, considering the dearth of tourists. Weather in Falkland Islands October through March is the rainy season with the wettest months being December and January. However, it rains fairly steadily throughout the year, so be prepared. Between May and September is the Southern Hemispheric winter, and not a good time to visit the Falklands. Falkland Islands Information: Population: 2805 permanent residents, plus 2000 British military personnel Government: Colony of the United Kingdom Square Miles: 4700 sq mi (12,170 sq km) Capitol: Stanley (pop 1750) Official Language: English People: British Religion: Anglican, primarily Major products/industries: Fishing, wool processing, offshore oil exploration