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Beijing joining the ranks of the world’s most liveable cities

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Every year, people all over the world tune in to see which cities make it onto the Economist Intelligence Unit’s (EIU) list of the world’s most liveable cities. And every year, a number of surveys look at the best and worst living conditions in the world’s major cities. For the EIU, each city is ranked across 30 factors – from acceptable to intolerable – and across quantitative and qualitative criteria.

The annual report, which measures quality of life, fires up the aspirations of many of the world’s greatest cities. Beijing is one city that is tackling its ranking, and its environment.

But what goes into these rankings and how much do environmental factors really matter to quality of life? And can a city grow in population and at the same time improve the quality of its air, water and public transportation?

Beijing is striving to do just that. The city has climbed four points on the EIU’s list in just a decade and is striding to do better.

What is “liveability”?

Beijing scores well on many of the EIU criteria. It has, low crime, low threat of civil unrest, high quality of private healthcare, consumer goods and services, and good quality of private education.

The city currently scores under 70 (out of 100) in the EIU’s “culture and environment” category.

Beijing is keen to improve its score and is taking steps to improve quality of water provision, quality of public transport, general healthcare indicators, humidity/temperature rating, discomfort of climate to travelers and quality of energy provision.

“Roxana Slavcheva, Head of City Practices at the EIU, explains how these domains are interlated: A dense public transport network cuts down on greenhouse gas emissions,”

Slavcheva cautions that EIU tries to refrain from being too prescriptive in their reports. “We aim to reflect the reality on the ground, and not produce a forecast or recommendations.”

But of course, ambitious cities are looking for signals that will help them develop a roadmap to a highly ranked future. It is no wonder that the city is looking to its scenario planning arm – and the international community – to help it.

Two factors that no doubt affect quality of life, are pollution and air quality. “These are included in the environmental category, as there is a strong correlation between pollution and climate”, says Slavcheva.

Building a pollution-free future

China is indeed ambitious. “Beijing wants to be one of the best livable cities in the world,” says Dr. Kijun Jiang, the head of the Energy Research Institute at the Chinese National Development and Reform Commission.

“Sydney, Vancouver and Vienna have won. And Beijing is asking ‘how do we get to this?’” To answer that, Jiang and his colleagues are busy creating scenarios for that “liveability future”.

On the sidelines of the recent GEO6 conference in Singapore, Jiang explained how Beijing aims to outperform some of the world’s most environmentally ambitious cities. A youthful, energetic scientist, Jiang projects optimism about the energy future of China – and the world.

Jiang started out as a computer science major at university in 1990, crunching national greenhouse gas models for the governmental Energy Research Institute. In 1998, when the Beijing haze had become notorious, he was given a new mission: China’s energy future.

Jiang responded to the challenge by coming up with concrete recommendations based on modeling and data. He and his team analyze air quality, energy consumption and climate change patterns, among other variables.

“We are looking to see what happens in 2030, 2050 and 2100 and giving advice on how to reach the highest ranks.”

Beijing became famous for its Olympics-related clean-up and this may just have been the beginning of a monumental effort to jump on the world’s clean air stage.

It won’t be easy, he acknowledges. “Beijing still has big trouble with air pollution.”

How has the GEO process helped Beijing?

Jiang has been involved in GEO conferences for more than a decade. “I’m very happy to join the GEO process,” he says. “I am looking forward to bring back to the Chinese government what we learn from the global environmental process” and adapt it to what he calls “the Chinese way, the Chinese road”.

Collaborations with processes such as the GEO-6, are also part of a new model of adapting to climate change. “China is releasing and sharing data with scientific entities, to help them make sense of and act on the data. I think there is this realization in China, that it serves them well to see where the problems are.”

How far has Beijing come and how far to go?

This isn’t the first time the city has worked to improve its environment. During the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics the city invested massively in infrastructure and improving air quality. This resulted in improving its rank by four points.

Contrary to popular perception, says Jiang, the Beijing air quality turnaround story did not just begin with the 2008 Olympics. It started eight-years earlier, where the city executed an action plan every six months to reduce pollution.

“Five years ago, China started an action plan on air pollution control. Today if you go to Beijing, it is much better than five years ago, and people are surprised by what we managed to achieve.”

Jiang says at times he has to deliver prescriptive messages to Chinese policymakers. “We tell them, if you want to be the best in the world, you should reach zero emissions by 2050, in air pollution, carbon emissions.”

No doubt, China and Beijing will rise to this challenge!

UN Environment

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4 Transportation Tips to Get Around in Switzerland

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switzerland

When someone said, “getting there is half the fun,” they must have been talking about Switzerland. This European gem has such a vast availability of public transport throughout the country.

Moving past the occasional traffic jams and road constructions, they know how to make traveling comfortable for everyone. Their public transit network is orderly, on time, pristinely clean, and much popular among the locals.

So, if you are in Switzerland and are planning to travel, the number of ways you can enjoy the serenity is endless. But the first step on this journey is to get travel from the airport to your desired destination.

Zurich airport transportation gives you three ways to enter the cities from the airport with much ease. You can either take the train for a view of nature or the tram if you want to enjoy the city’s sights or take a taxi, which is the most comfortable option but is also expensive.

Read on for some helpful tips that will make traveling easier for you in Switzerland. 

1. Utilize Free Public Transportation

If you are traveling to Geneva, Lucerne, Bern, Basel, or Lausanne, transportation will not be something you’ll have to worry about. Switzerland offers everyone free public transportation in their most traveled cities, including these. You can not only save taxi fares but also be able to explore the whole city for free. 

Most of the time, the hotel you’re staying at will provide you with a transport card which you can use to travel for free. So, if you are staying at a hotel, make sure to ask at the reception for potential freebies.

2. Don’t Purchase Travel Passes.

A travel pass should be your last option. It takes up a good amount of funds, and if you don’t end up using public transport a significant number of times, then the pass hasn’t been put to use well. 

Before you finally settle on buying a pass, you may ask yourself what all places you will travel to? Will you cover long distances at all, or will you stay around the same area? How frequently will you use the pass? These questions might help you understand if the pass is necessary or not.

3. Get a Free Bike

Geneva, Zug, Bern, Zurich, the Canton of Valais, and Neuchatel are some places that will offer you bikes for free. And if you are in one of these cities, you’re in for a treat. You can rent bikes for a few hours, a whole day, or for an even longer time. All you will need is your valid ID and a small deposit amount, which you get back after returning the bike. 

If you are not in one of these places, you can still rent out a bike. They may not be for free, but they are still cheaper than other public transports or taxis. 

4. Grab the Free Activities

You will be surprised to know that there are so many things that you can enjoy for free when you are in Switzerland. You have to pay attention and look in the right direction. 

Many free walking tours take place all across the country. You can visit the free wildlife parks in Winterthur, Interlaken, Zurich, St. Gallen, and other places. Museums, churches, hills for hiking, and Old towns are open and free to all.

Take a toll through parks, bridges, and botanical gardens. You can visit Europe’s largest waterfalls, that is, the Rhine falls in Schaffhausen.

Experience the cheese factories and enjoy all the free samples. Talk to people and explore, and you’ll find there’s always something left yet to explore. 

A few bonus tips to make your trip budget-friendly in Switzerland.

Avoid staying in major cities. No doubt staying in a major city has its perks, but it’s too expensive, and you also miss out on the scenic beauty of nature that Switzerland is all popular for. You can instead find a hotel or Airbnb far outside of the city and the postcard Switzerland you came for. 

Avoid high seasons. The high seasons are winter and summer when tourists flood this country. This is also the time when rates go very high because of the demand. If you want a good deal, then plan your visit during the spring or autumn when accommodations are cheaper, and there is a lesser crowd. 

Cook your meal. Carry mini gadgets that can help you cook your food, like a mini rice cooker. Stay in a place that has a kitchen, so you don’t have to buy your food.

Rent an apartment if you’re planning to stay for long. This way it is much cheaper, and you can cook your food. 

Take advantage of the Swiss Pass. If you do end up getting a Swiss Travel Pass, ensure you make full use of it. Visit the museums, castles, enjoy free rides as much as you can.

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Eight Hilton Hotels Located in Historic Buildings Around the World

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Waldorf Astoria Shanghai on the Bund, China

For more than 100 years, Hilton has spread the light and warmth of hospitality across the world, creating a portfolio of hotels that not only excel at offering world-class services and amenities, but also purposefully adopt local cultures, lifestyle and a general sense of place reflected in the architecture and designs. This philosophy of adopting the feel of a hotel’s surroundings is especially evident in properties that have a significant historical value; making Hilton keen to preserve the property’s architecture and décor while combining the modernity of offerings and amenities to offer travelers an authentic, artisanal experience.

From a historic train station in St. Louis to a colonial fort in the Bahamas, and a one-time bank headquartered in Amsterdam to a chocolate factory in Croatia, here are just eight of the many Hilton hotels that allow guests to indulge in culture and comfort.

St. Louis Union Station Hotel, Curio Collection by Hilton, United States

Built in 1894 in what was once the most ornate railway terminal in the United States, this National Historic Landmark in downtown St. Louis was converted to a hotel in 1985 and is well-known for its iconic Grand Hall, a lobby lounge area with 65-foot ornate vaulted ceilings on which a dazzling 3D light show is projected nightly.

Hampton Inn & Suites by Hilton Mexico City – Centro Historico, Mexico

The hotel is located in “Casa San Agustin,” a registered historic building in Mexico that was built in the 1800s by Bienes Culturales de Mexico, the Instituto Nacional de Antropologia e Hisotria, and the Nacional de Bellas Artes. Considered an architectural jewel, the building has been used for accommodation purposes since its beginning. Various restorations have preserved much of the original exterior façade’s style, including ajarcas—moldings and ornaments that were combined with tezontle exteriors in that period.

British Colonial Hilton Nassau, Bahamas

Sitting on the Old Fort of Nassau site dating back to 1695, British Colonial Hilton Nassau is the island’s oldest resort operating in a historic building. Demolished in 1873, the Old Fort was built to protect the Nassau Harbour’s western entrance, specifically from pirates. The original hotel was built by American industrialist Henry Flagler in 1900. The existing concrete building, known as the New Colonial, was constructed in 1923, after the original wooden building was destroyed by fire. The hotel’s western wing was built on these ruins.

Waldorf Astoria Amsterdam, Netherlands

The hotel’s 93 rooms and suites are housed inside six 17th– and 18th-century buildings facing the historic Herengracht canal. As the former headquarters of a bank, the hotel is still home to the original, thick-steel vault door, which stands in front of the aptly named Vault Bar. Behind the bar itself, a wall of safety deposit boxes is propped open, with some serving as bottle shelves.

DoubleTree by Hilton Lisbon Fontana Park, Portugal

Once the site of an ironworks factory dating back to 1908, DoubleTree by Hilton Fontana Park pays homage to the building’s former life, fusing modern design with original character. Complete with an open-air courtyard and beautiful waterfall, the hotel provides a calm oasis for travelers after a busy day of sight-seeing in the Portuguese capital.

Canopy by Hilton Zagreb City Centre, Croatia

Once home to the Union chocolate factory, the first chocolate maker in South Eastern Europe, the hotel is one of the Croatian capital’s newest lifestyle hotels, where guests are presented welcome gifts of handmade chocolates upon check-in. Finding themselves located in the heart of the city, travelers are encouraged to grab a Canopy Bike and follow the brown tourism signs throughout downtown toward the Croatian National Theatre, historic Upper Town, museums and the stunning Zagreb Cathedral.

Hilton Sydney, Australia

Housing the renowned Marble Bar—a 127-year-old underground bar—Hilton Sydney is built on the ruins of the Tattersalls Hotel. Marble Bar features authentic sheets of plate-glass mirrors, marble walls, pilasters and mosaic floors. Originally built in 1893, the Victorian structure was painstakingly dismantled, transported and reassembled in Hilton Sydney in 1973—where the restored mahogany bar and marble archways still awe guests to this day.

Waldorf Astoria Shanghai on the Bund, China

Once the renowned Shanghai Club, the hotel retains much of its original design, offering guests a unique taste of Shanghai’s heritage and culture, all while enjoying unparalleled service, award-winning cuisine and views of the majestic Huangpu River. The historic building was built in 1864 and used to be the principal men’s club for British residents in Shanghai. The hotel is suitably located near the iconic Bund, featuring waterside strolls and shopping.

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What can I do if I lied about my criminal history to travel to Australia?

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You’d be surprised to hear how many people actually lie when they apply for a visa to get to Australia. This is because Australia has very strict laws concerning visas and immigration authorities want to know about any type of offences the applicants might have committed in their country of origin or indeed in any other country where they have resided for a longer period, 12 months or more typically.

What sort of offences do you need to declare when applying for an Australian visa?

Short answer: Any offence on your record.

This is the part that baffles most foreign nationals applying for an Australian visa. Why would a minor traffic offence committed 10 years ago matter to Australian authorities? Well, it matters to them so deal with it.

Can you get away with it? Yes, if you apply for a tourist visa or a Working Holiday visa you can get away with it. You will be asked for a statement concerning existing convictions and if you say you don’t have any, they’ll most probably take your word for it.

What foreigners don’t understand is that having minor convictions doesn’t necessarily mean your visa application will be denied.

If you state that you have some offences on your record, you will be required to present a national criminal history record certificate. If your convictions total less than 12 months in prison you have no reason to worry your application will be rejected. In most cases, it is only people with lengthy prison terms on their record that have to worry and even then the immigration officer in charge of your case may grant you a visa after reviewing your circumstances.

So, why would you lie if you only have some minor offence on your criminal record?

What can you do if you lied on your visa application?

Many young people coming to Australia on a Working Holiday visa (417 visa) decide they want to stay longer if they’ve found a good employment. For that, your employer needs to sponsor you for a Temporary Skills Shortage visa (428 visa) and this is when that little white lie comes back to haunt you.

When you apply for a 428 visa you will need to submit a national police check from your country of origin which will include the offence you have lied about in your original visa application.

The only thing you can do is tell the truth this time and hope for the best. If you’re lucky, the officer in charge of your application might not notice you omitted to mention your past convictions when you first came to Australia and granted you the 428 visa no questions asked.

However, there’s a strong possibility your lie will be discovered and that’s pretty serious. Even if it was a stupid traffic offence, the Department of Home Affairs might deny your request simply because you lied in the first place.

If you really want to stay and work in Australia it’s best to seek professional migration assistance. There are various organisations that deal with such problems and they can guide you through the process.

It’s not a guarantee, but in many cases the lie in your first visa application can be forgiven provided you can offer solid character references, which are an essential part of the character assessment.

Bottom line – If you want to travel to Australia, better don’t lie to the immigration authorities, saving yourself a lot of headache!

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