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Subscribe to the Travel Notes Blog Travel Notes: Travel Notes Blog: December 2005

Ski Europe

Thursday, December 22, 2005

The Official Travel Notes Blog

Schussing Around The Ski Resorts

There's been good snow in Europe before Christmas this year, so choosing a resort for early skiing has been made a lot easier.

Normally, skiing in Europe at Christmas often means aiming high... smaller, lower ski areas -- like Appenzell (near St. Gallen, Switzerland) -- are often only suitable for grass skiers.

When I asked the lady in the Appenzell train station for a piste map, on Christmas Day a few years ago, I was looked at like I'd arrived from another planet.

Although it was obvious that there was no skiing in the area that Christmas, I already have a large collection of piste maps and like to add to it whenever I can.

The beauty of European resorts is still their quaintness and Appenzell is indeed very quaint. Even without the guaranteed snow of resorts like St.Moritz and Zermatt, Appenzell continues to draw the day-trippers for it's charm and authenticity.

The shops were closed that Christmas Day, but still the main pedestrian street was full of sightseers admiring the exquisite architecture of a place better known for its cheese than its ski slopes.

This year my sister, her husband and two boys have spent the week before Christmas skiing in Verbier and have been very pleased with the snow, they even called me to look at them on the webcam.

Just to be sure of the snow conditions before you book your skiing holiday, it's always wise to surf the webcams.

Swiss Webcams:
This is my favourite bookmark for looking at conditions around Switzerland.

Skiing in Austria
Austria has had its share of tragedies recently; with avalanches and the deadly fire in a train, carrying early season skiers up through the U-Alpin mountain tunnel, at Kaprun.

The country has put this all behind them and visitors to Austrian ski resorts can enjoy a good party atmosphere when the skiing is over for the day, with St. Anton still very much a party animal's favourite.

The best way to reach St. Anton is to use the train. There is limited car-parking in St. Anton itself and the train station is only a short walk from the ski-lifts.

St. Anton is also easily reachable from southern Germany or eastern Switzerland.

Train Connections
European Train Timetables.
Austrian Railways -- ÖBB.
Deutsche Bahn -- DB.
Swiss Federal Railways -- SBB.

And the regional train from the St Gallen/Lake Constance area of Switzerland: Bodensee-Toggenburg-Bahn.

Another popular venue in Austria, for the downhill fans, is Kitzbühel; where the famous Hahnenkamm race takes place.

Zell am See, located on the shore of a lake, is beautiful in Summer; although winter sports enthusiasts prefer the hills, near Salzburg, a fluffy white.

The Kitzsteinhorn ski area, at 3,000 metres, has plenty of runs open early in the season.

If you're staying in Zell am See, the Schmittenhöhe area is the most accessible, although a little lower. Almost half of the 500 acres of slopes have snow cannons, guaranteeing ski descents right down to the valley.

As Après Ski is considerably cheaper in Austria, than Switzerland or France, the country is very popular with party animals on a budget; the Kangaroo Bar in St. Anton is legendary.

Weather in the Region
Meteo Alpin provide graphical coverage of weather affecting the Austrian Alps, with text in English, German and Italian; you'll need to scroll down the small frame in the bottom right hand corner.

Skiing in France
If you like it bigger, better and higher, then it has to be Val Thorens; the highest ski resort in Europe and, with three ski areas, the largest skiing domain in the world!

Tignes offers year-round skiing, so the lack of snow is never a major problem here. They call it Espace Killy after the famous French skier. There's an excellent webcam page; with nine views of Tignes from various positions. The piste-map is huge and is available as a PDF download.

Chamonix is a gorgeous alpine town in the shadow of the Mont Blanc; famous for the Vallee Blanche ski tour and adventurous climbers.

Discover even more ski regions at Ski France (Alpes du Sud - Auvergne - Dauphiné Isère - Haute Savoie - Jura - Pyrénées - Savoie - Vosges).

Skiing in Italy
The Dolomites is my favourite ski region in Italy; skiing the Della Ronda and sipping an afternoon Grappa in Grappa is a wonderful way to pass a sunny Winter's day.

Sadly, the Dolomiti website was returning a lot of database errors when we looked. It used to be a very good site, with almost as many interconnecting links as the ski area itself.

If you'd like to discover the Rendena Valley, try the less touristed Madonna di Campiglio. The Skirama is well worth the journey.

Skiing in Switzerland
Switzerland really is the ski centre of Europe for me.

The Davos ski area is great for mileage seekers (315 km). It links to the elegant Klosters, where Charles and Princess Diana used to ski, and Prince Charles still does. When they separated, Diana preferred to go to Lech, in Austria.

Davos Webcam.

Saas Fee often loses out to its famous neighbour, Zermatt. The skiing in Saas Fee is more challenging, especially the Sommerski run.

Saas Fee Webcam.

Zermatt and the Matterhorn are synonymous with Switzerland.

I always have a soft spot for this car-free resort, since I worked there as a teenager. I have returned there many times and the magic never fades.

It gets very cold on the Klein Matterhorn, so wrap up well. If the snow is good, you can even ski over to Cervinia, in Italy.

Zermatt Weather.
Zermatt Webcam.

Verbier has always been a popular resort area with the English, for much longer than Prince Andrew's ex-wife has been going there.

The 4 Valley Ski Area is immense, at 360 kilometres, so you will have no problems getting away from the sloanie cries.

The nearby Portes du Soleil region is another wonderful ski area. From the quaint resort of Chambery you can ski over to the purpose-built, French resort of Avoriaz.

St Moritz:
Ski with the rich and famous in Switzerland's premier resort.

Well, we're running out of space here although I'd love to go on all night, so I'll leave you with a few more helpful links.

Alpine Skiing:
The best ski resorts online.

Events Calendar:
Follow the major ski races that are taking place this year.

Hotels in Austrian Ski Resorts
Arlberg, Gasteinertal, Kitzbüheler Alpen, Klagenfurt, Stubaital, Villacher Skiberge.

Hotels in French Ski Resorts
Chamonix, Megève.

Hotels in Italian Ski Resorts
Cortina d'Ampezzo, Courmayeur, Dolomites, Folgaria Lavarone, Merano, Sella Ronda, Val Gardena, Alta Valtellina.

Hotels in Swiss Ski Resorts
Crans-Montana, Davos Klosters, Les Quatre Vallées, St. Moritz, Zermatt.

Feel free to post your ski reports in the comments.

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Weather Service

Friday, December 16, 2005

The Official Travel Notes Blog

Weather in Cairo While trawling through the Travel Notes link submissions; trying to get the number in our inbox down from over a thousand, before I go away for Christmas and the New Year, I came across one site I'd really like to share with you all - Weather 2 Travel.

At first I opened the link with trepidation, expecting popular holiday resorts with Accu Weather maps embedded into the page and a list of hotels for each city, or a list of links to places on Weather Channel or Weather Underground.

We already link to those sites (and others) in our Weather Directory, so I really wanted to see something different.

Rather than show the current weather, this site uses a nice graphic approach to presenting yearly averages for: Maximum Day Temperature; Minimum Night Temperature; Hours of Sunshine; Number of Days with some Rain; Monthly Rainfall; Heat & Humidity / Chance of Frost; and UV Index (Sun Protection) for just about anywhere in the world - not just the popular tourist resorts.

What really sold the site to me was the Holiday Planner feature where you can search for travel destinations based on the sort of weather you would like on your holiday.

Just choose the month you wish to travel and at least one weather requirement. My search threw up Cairo for January, so that's the screenshot we've used in this post.

Currently the search checks some 1,400 travel destinations, although they hope to increase this number soon.

Let's hope so!


Travel to the 2006 World Cup Finals in Germany

Friday, December 09, 2005

The Official Travel Notes Blog

The major story of the day is the draw for the 2006 World Cup Finals in Germany.

Football fans can start planning their trip to Germany next summer, now that they know where their teams will be playing in the group stage.

Munich stages the opening game on June 9th, 2006 and Berlin hosts the final on July 9th.

If you're one of those fans or will be in Germany next summer, these are the cities to be in.

Tuesday, 13th June (Brazil vs Croatia)

Thursday, 15th June (Sweden vs Paraguay)

Tuesday, 20th June (Ecuador vs Germany)

Friday, 23rd June (Ukraine vs Tunisia)

Friday, 30th June (1/4 Final Match)

Sunday, 9th July (The World Cup Final)

Saturday 10th June (Trinidad and Tobago vs Sweden)

Wednesday 14th June (Germany vs Poland)

Monday 19th June (Togo vs Switzerland)

Thursday 22nd June (Japan vs Brazil)

Tuesday, 27th June (Group F Winner vs Group E Runner-up)

Tuesday, 4th July (Semi Final)

Saturday, 10th June (England vs Paraguay)

Tuesday, 13th June (South Korea vs Togo)

Saturday, 17th June (Portugal vs Iran)

Wednesday, 21st June (Holland vs Argentina)

Saturday, 1st July (1/4 Final match)

Friday, 9th June (Poland vs Ecuador)

Monday, 12th June (USA vs Czech Republic)

Friday, 16th June (Argentina vs Serbia and Montenegro)

Wednesday, 21st June (Portugal vs Mexico)

Saturday, 1st July (1/4 Final Match)

Saturday, 10th June (Argentina vs Côte d'Ivoire)

Thursday, 15th June (Ecuador vs Costa Rica)

Monday, 19th June (Saudi Arabia vs Ukraine)

Thursday, 22nd June (Czech Republic vs Italy)

Friday, 30th June (1/4 Final Match)

Monday, 12th June (Italy vs Ghana)

Friday, 16th June (Mexico vs Angola)

Tuesday, 20th June (Costa Rica vs Poland)

Friday, 23rd June (Switzerland vs South Korea)

Tuesday, 27th June (Group H Winner vs Group G Runner-up)

Monday, 13th June (Australia vs Japan)

Saturday, 17th June (Italy vs USA)

Tuesday, 20th June (Paraguay vs Trinidad and Tobago)

Friday, 23rd June (Saudi Arabia vs Spain)

Monday, 26th June (Group E Winner vs Group F Runner-up)

Sunday, 11th June (Angola vs Portugal)

Saturday, 17th June (Czech Republic vs Ghana)

Tuesday, 20th June (Sweden vs England)

Friday, 23rd June (Togo vs France)

Monday, 26th June (Group G Winner vs Group H Runner-up)

Sunday, 11th June (Serbia and Montenegro vs Holland)

Wednesday, 14th June (Spain vs Ukraine)

Sunday, 18th June (France vs South Korea)

Wednesday, 21st June (Iran vs Angola)

Saturday, 24th June (Group C Winner vs Group D Runner-up)

Friday, 9th June (Germany vs Costa Rica)

Wednesday, 14th June (Tunisia vs Saudi Arabia)

Sunday, 18th June (Brazil vs Australia)

Wednesday, 21st June (Côte d'Ivoire vs Serbia and Montenegro)

Saturday, 24th June (Group A Winner vs Group B Runner-up)

Wednesday, 5th July (Semi Final)

Sunday, 11th June (Mexico vs Iran)

Thursday, 15th June (England vs Trinidad and Tobago)

Sunday, 18th June (Japan vs Croatia)

Thursday, 22nd June (Ghana vs USA)

Sunday, 25th June (Group D Winner vs Group C Runner-up)

Tuesday, 13th June (France vs Switzerland)

Friday, 16th June (Holland vs Côte d'Ivoire)

Monday, 19th June (Spain vs Tunisia)

Thursday, 22nd June (Croatia vs Australia)

Sunday, 25th June (Group B Winner vs Group A Runner-up)

Saturday, 8th July (Third-Place Match)

I'm making dates in my diary already. It looks like it's going to be a good summer.

Which games would you like to see? Where would you like to be in Germany this summer? Let me know.

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Caribbean Cruises From $16 Per Night

Thursday, December 08, 2005

The Official Travel Notes Blog

You may remember we mentioned the Old Dominion Line campaign from 1908, offering a short sea trip to Norfolk and Old Point for $14 or Richmond and Washington DC for $15, in The Golden Age of Travel.

Well, how would you like to cruise at those prices today?

It sounds crazy but it's true. This winter you could be cruising Barbados and The Caribbean for less than the price of a winter coat.

Cruising on a budget is not new; it proved very successful in the Mediterranean, during the summer - with stops in Nice (Fridays), Cannes (Saturdays), St Tropez (Sundays), Monaco (Mondays), Genoa (Tuesdays), Portofino (Wednesdays) and San Remo, via Imperia (Thursdays).

Budget cruises are aimed at the younger crowd who prefer to spend time ashore, enjoying the destination's attractions and its nightlife, rather than being shepherded back on board in time for the evening meal and a waltz while the crew haul anchor.

Stelios was born in Greece on the 14th of February, 1967, the middle child of Loucas and Nedi Haji-Ioannou.The budget cruiser, easyCruiseOne, was launched in May 2005 by Stelios Haji-Ioannou (or Stelios); the entrepreneur behind the low-cost airline, easyJet.

The cruise ship has 75 double cabins, seven quad cabins, four suites and carries a total of 170 passengers and 54 crew.

On board there is a Sports Bar with restaurant and evening DJ, a Café Ritazza, an on-deck bar with hot tub (no swimming pool), a shop and a gym.

Rooms are basic and painted in the bright, trademark tangerine-orange of the easyGroup. Travelling light is advised as there's not a lot of storage space in the rooms, some with bunk beds.

On an easyCruise the staff will only clean your room if you pay extra, so keep it tidy yourself!

Prices will fluctuate depending on demand, so if you want to see The Caribbean at a fraction of normal cruise costs, then you're advised to book early and be flexible with your cruise departure dates.

Cruises From $16 Per Night with easyCruiseCruise passengers can join an easyCruise where and when they want, subject to a two night minimum, fourteen night maximum stay. With much more independence than conventional cruise lines offer, easyCruise attracts a genuinely young crowd.

Seven-day rolling itinerary for easyCruiseOne in The Caribbean this winter:

Cruise in The Caribbean with easyCruise.com for less than the price of a winter coat.Saturday: Barbados - one night in port on-board ship.

Sunday: Barbados - all day on the island departing in the evening.

Monday: St Vincent.

Tuesday: Martinique.

Wednesday: The Grenadines.

Thursday: Grenada.

Friday: St Lucia.

If you would like to Cruise in The Caribbean for Less Than the Price of a Winter Coat, visit easyCruise.com for more details.

Any maybe you'd like to tell us about your budget cruise experiences when you get back.

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The Golden Age of Travel

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

The Official Travel Notes Blog

The Golden Age of Travel
The 1920s and 1930s ushered in an unprecedented era of travel to exotic and romantic destinations. And nowhere was this more clearly expressed than in the travel posters of that time.

The Los Angeles Public Library's collection of travel posters perfectly captures this era. With this exhibition, the Library shares its bounty with the public for the first time.

These exquisite posters highlight travel by steamship, airline and railroad to exotic destinations all over the world. They are a celebrations of the optimism and heady exuberance of this bygone era.

The exhibition runs until May 7, 2006 at the Central Library, Getty Gallery, Fifth & Flower Streets, Los Angeles, California.

Or visit the Virtual Gallery.

And while we're on the subject of travel nostalgia, check out these historical travel ads at TravelHistory.org. There's an Old Dominion Line campaign from 1908 offering a short sea trip to Norfolk and Old Point for $14 or Richmond and Washington DC for $15.

Those were the days!


Ski Dubai

Monday, December 05, 2005

The Official Travel Notes Blog

If you want to be cool in Dubai, next time you jet off to the United Arab Emirates forget about the golf clubs and pack your skis.

While everyone else is sweating outside wrap up warm and head off to the first indoor ski resort in the Middle East, containing 22,500 square metres of snow - all year round.

Ski Dubai offers five slopes that vary in difficulty, height and steepness; the longest run being 400 metres with a fall of over 60 metres.

Test your skills on the world's first indoor black run or practice your turns on the gentle beginner slopes. There's even a 90-metre long quarter pipe for snowboarders.

Of course skiing wouldn't be complete without chalets and mountain restaurants.... but they've thought of that too. The St Moritz Café is located at the entrance to Ski Dubai and the Avalanche Café is at the mid-station; with views of the slope.

Ski Dubai is located on Shiekh Zayed Road, exit 39 (4th interchange) - direction Al Barsha.

Skiing in the desert no longer means hiking up a sand dune.

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Christmas Markets

The Official Travel Notes Blog

Germany is famous for it's Weinachtsmärkte.

Let's forget the nonsense about changing the word Christmas and concentrate on what a traditional Christmas market (Christkindlsmarkt) is about and where to find one, if you're visiting Germany.

While Austria and Switzerland also hold Christmas markets (marché de Noël in French) some Swiss even go on organised coach trips to Germany, Stuttgart in particular, around this time of year - just for the Christmas market.

If you like the taste of Glühwein and the smell of roasted chestnuts on a cold winter's evening, then you'll love the Christmas market atmosphere; the glittering lights in historic centres beckoning you to the wooden stalls offering a wide range of artefacts and local produce. Make a bulk purchase of hams and salamis and you could get a bottle of Schnapps thrown in.

Some Christmas markets start in November but I think the atmosphere of a Christmas market is better when you visit one in December, possibly on or after December 6th - the celebration of St. Nikolaus (the day St. Nicholas died in AD 342).

Augsburger Christkindlesmarkt: (Nov. 24 to Dec. 24)
Located on the marketplace in front of the Augsburg town hall. As well as the specialities found at other Bavarian markets, Augsburg is also famous for its Angel play and advent calendar. The first Lebkuchenmarkt was held here in 1498.

Berlin at Christmas:
Germany's capital is home to over 50 Christmas markets ranging from traditional markets, with handicraft and nativity scene, to extraordinary ones, with ice skating rink and Ferris wheel.

Christmas City Nuremburg: (Nov. 25 to Dec. 24)
While the earliest Christmas market was held here in 1628 and some two million visitors are attracted to Nürnberg’s Christmas market annually, it is neither the oldest or largest Christmas market in Germany.

Christmas in Lübeck:
Although the market in the northern province of Schleswig-Holstein has been held around the city hall since 1648, today there are a number of markets taking place in Lübeck during the build up to Christmas and into the New Year. Ice World (ice and snow sculpture festival) also runs from December 9th to January 29th.

Dresden Striezelmarkt: (Nov. 24 to Dec. 24)
Dating from 1434, Dresden's Striezelmarkt (named after the bread-like sweetcake made around Christmas time) is the oldest Christmas market in Germany.

Frankfurt am Main: (Nov. 23 to Dec. 22)
Frankfurt's Christmas market is set in the oldest part of the city, near the Römerberg. Specialities include Brenten (almond cookies), Bethmännchen (marzipan balls), and Quetschenmännchen (prune figures).

Munich Christkindlmarkt: (Nov. 25 to Dec. 24)
Munich's traditional Christmas Market is held on the Marienplatz. Originally called the Nicholas Market, the festive tradition dates back to the 14th century. The town’s annals first mention Christmas activity near the Frauenkirche (Church of our Lady) in 1642. The nearby Crib Market is also worth a visit.

Rothenburg ob der Tauber: (Nov. 25 to Dec. 23)
The medieval setting in the walled city of Rothenburg makes the Reiterlesmarkt a special event for those who like to feel as though they're stepping back in time. The German Christmas Museum is also located in Rothenburg.

Stuttgart Christmas Market:
First mentioned in a document in 1692, the Stuttgart Christmas Market contains more than 230 lovingly decorated stalls and is not only one of the oldest but certainly also one of the most beautiful and largest Christmas markets in Europe.

Weihnachtsmärkte in Köln:
Cologne’s oldest Christmas market is held on the Neumarkt although the most attractive Christmas market is the one on the Alter Markt, in front of Cologne's town hall.

And there's no worries about the trees being called holiday trees in Germany, here they're still traditional Christmas trees (Christbaum), or Weihnachtsbaume.

More Christmas Markets

Germany's Christmas Markets:
Large listing of Christmas Markets in Germany.

Christmas Markets in Europe:
Christmas article from Michelin.


Advent in Salzburg:
The Salzburger Christkindlmarkt is located in the historic city centre, near the Cathedral, and there's also a Christmas Market on Mirabell Square as well as other advent programs around the city.

Wiener Adventzauber: (Nov. 12 to Dec. 24)
Experience the magic of Advent in Vienna. The Christkindlmarkt, Vienna's classic Christmas Market, is located on the square in front of the Rathaus. Vienna's most authentic Christmas market, however, is at Spittelberg.


Marché de Noël:
Listings and links to Christmas markets in France.

Noël Strasbourg:
Just across the border from Germany, Alsace's major city has staged one of the largest Christmas markets in France for over four hundred years.

Les Marchés de Noël 2005 en Alsace:
Dates of other Christmas markets in Alsace.

Christmas Markets in France:
Kelby Carr has put a short article together on her France For Visitors slot.

Switzerland at Christmas

On December 6th, most restaurants will put out bowls of nuts, oranges and chocolates for their customers. The Christmas market itself is not as big an event as in neighbouring Germany, Austria or France but more places do have smaller markets that run for a few days. The more notable Christmas events in Switzerland can be found in Basel, Bern, Geneva, Luzern, Montreux (nicest), St. Gallen (largest Christmas tree in Switzerland) and Zurich (around the Hauptbahnhof). Bremgarten (AG) is said to be romantic and Beckenried (NW) traditional.

United Kingdom

Christmas Markets in the UK:
Christmas markets and holiday events are a festive way to get into the spirit of the season and do your Christmas shopping. Find one near you from this list.

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Google Maps

Friday, December 02, 2005

The Official Travel Notes Blog

Google Maps (or Google Local, if you prefer) might not be the first place to go for travel maps and driving directions, as there are plenty of other travel resources out there which have been providing the service longer: MapQuest, Maporama and Multimap among them.

I also like using ViaMichelin online, for planning my drives in Europe, as I have a whole collection of Michelin Maps in my car.

No, what really makes Google Maps interesting is that anyone can get the Google Maps API and embed Google Maps into their webpages using JavaScript (you will need to sign-up for an API key to get started) to pin-point the location of whatever data they chose.

Personally, I found the code a little cumbersome and maps with a lot of pins take a long time to load but I expect Google to make things simpler and faster, especially with the input from the many programmers using Google Maps.

There's also an API Help section, for frequently asked questions, and a Google Maps API Discussion Group.

If you feel overwhelmed when you look at JavaScript, you may want to take a look at Google Maps EZ. You'll still need to sign-up for an API key at Google.

Google Earth is also an interesting application, that you need to download, if you like having a bird's eye view of the world.

So Who's Using Google Maps?

More Google map mash-ups are appearing online every day but these are some of the interesting ones we found.

Celebrity Maps:
Combines the power of Google Maps with addresses found at Celebrity Web. Unfortunately, some of these addresses are the agent's building; like the Creative Artists Agency at 9830 Wilshire Blvd, Los Angeles.

A variety of maps, or 'communities', submitted by users. The locations displayed on a map can be enhanced with photos. Also, the creator of the community can allow visitors to comment on the locations or community as a whole, creating a community of users around each physical community.

Focuses on merging location-based services with social networks to help people connect with the people and places around them. (Acquired by Google on May 11th, 2005).

Google Maps Web Cam Locater:
Locations of webcams around the United States.

GMaps Pedometer:
This little hack uses Google's mapping application to help record distances travelled during a running, or walking, workout.

Google Sightseeing:
Not in any way sponsored by or affiliated with Google, this site takes you to some tourist spots around the world via satellite images and maps from Google.

New York City Apartments:
Could this be the future for estate agents and real estate brokers? Browsing property online just got a lot more interesting thanks to this mash-up by CityRealty.

New York City Subway Map:
After loading (it takes a while) you can run your mouse over the New York City subway map to reveal the names of each stop, then click on the icon for MTA info.

Paris Metro:
Click two points on the Paris Metro map to get the best route and estimated travel time.

Pixagogo Photo Maps:
If you don't have the time to code up your own map with photos, you could put your photos on another map online and just link to it.

The Bounty Network:
Find local products and services in the US.

Weather Bonk:
Real time weather information on a map with views of some of the places pin-pointed.

World Heritage Google Map:
Here is a typical example of too many entries on the map (over 800) slowing it down completely, even stalling the browser and locking it up completely in some cases. It's best to select 50 random sites, or choose one country from the drop-down list.

New Google Map Mash-ups

To keep informed on new mash-ups of Google Maps, visit and bookmark Google Maps Mania. Cool Google Maps runs with the same idea.

If you would like us to link direct to your Google Maps mash-up, from the Travel Notes Blog, just tell us about it in the comments.

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