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We’re funny (usually), controversial (sometimes) and insightful (always!). Our travel experts share their experiences below in hopes of hearing back from YOU. So read, comment and enjoy!

Posts from July, 2008

Holidays are Brits’ number one priority

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Britons say that a holiday is more important than anything elseBritons consider holidays to be the most important factor for their happiness new research has revealed.

A Kayak.co.uk poll of more than 1,000 adults found that 90 per cent of respondents said taking at least one holiday a year is one of the five most important factors that contribute to their overall happiness.

In contrast, 73 per cent said owning their own home was important, 63 per cent listed being in a relationship as one of their five main issues while just 42 per cent named starting a family.

Meanwhile, more than a third of those questioned said they would ditch dining out and shopping for clothes and household goods to afford their holiday.

Annie Wilson, business development director of Kayak.co.uk, said: "As a nation, we’ve always been much more likely to explore the four corners of the earth than to buy the latest flat screen TV.

"There’s just something intoxicating to us about being somewhere else – whether it’s visiting a familiar hideaway or checking off a personal list of ‘must sees’."

Culture and Sightseeing – City Tours – Whichever city you are in these tours will help to ensure you do not miss a thing.
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Dubai Atlantis set to open on time

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Dubai's new hotel might rival Burj Al Arab The long-awaited Atlantis hotel and entertainment complex is right on schedule to open on September 24, according to reports.

Located at the head of The Palm Jumeirah, with sweeping views both out to the Gulf and down the spine of the Palm back to Dubai, the development is valued at around $1.5 billion (£7.25 billion), Gulf News said.

Atlantis has 1,539 rooms spread between the East and West towers. There are a total of 150 suites, including two presidential suites and 35 regal suites. Average prices start at around $454 (£227) per night.

The connecting bridge between the two towers is the 924-square metre Bridge Suite, which costs a massive $25,000 (£12,600) per night and is still under construction.

There are also 17 food and beverage outlets and around 23 boutique shops, and a waterpark which houses 28 dolphins brought to Dubai from the Solomon Islands.

Jim Boocher, president of development at Kerzner International, the managers of Atlantis, told Gulf News that the difference between the complex and other hotels is that it can be considered a "destination hotel", rather than simply an accommodation provider.

Dubai – A true modern metropolis Dubai boasts a fine range of tourist facilities including the refined Burj al Arab hotel.
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Belfast Bap Festival

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The festival has several walking toursRunning from July 7th to 10th, the Belfast Bap Festival is in memory of liberal and reformer Bernard ‘Barney’ Hughes, Master Baker, famous for feeding the city’s people with his loaves during the famine.

Events at Belfast’s newest festival include walking tour of Friars Bush Cemetery on July 8th, where people can visit the graves of Barney Hughes and his wife among others.

That evening the best of Belfast’s Irish folk musicians perform at a traditional Irish music session.

On July 9th there is another walking tour, this time of Belfast City Centre where people can see the many of the sites associated with Barney Hughes.

A special concert featuring the songs, stories and poems of Old Belfast with Jane Cassidy and Maurice Leyden takes place that evening.

All music performances take place at the John Hewitt.

During the festival a special menu will be available, while Hilden Brewery will produce a very special one-off beer, made from the same ingredients of the first Belfast Bap.

Seniors – Historic Tours – From the Roman Empire to the second world war, these tours bring world history to life.
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Brits opt for driving holidays to cut costs

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Nearly 12 million Britons are choosing driving holidaysNearly 12 million Britons are choosing to go on driving holidays in order to save costs, research by AA Personal Loans has found.

Almost half of Britons (46 per cent) are opting to spend at least one of their holidays in the UK this year, with three out of four (75 per cent) saying they plan to use their car for trips within the UK and Europe in order to cut costs or avoid travel stress.

Some respondents also said they were opting to avoid air travel this year because they are concerned about the impact this has on the environment.

Mark Huggins, head of AA Personal Loans, said: "Our survey shows people are being smart with their money when booking holidays this summer. People are also thinking carefully about buying smaller cars to save money but it is important to make sure the car you choose is suitable for going on long holiday journeys, with enough room for all your passengers and luggage."

Londoners were most likely to opt for driving holidays to avoid stress, while the Welsh would choose them to cut costs.

Culture and Sightseeing – City Tours – Whichever city you are in these tours will help to ensure you do not miss a thing.
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The Counting Crows are ‘back’, apparently.

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Yesterday, while the rest of London was immersed in the sporting event of the year—the final, epic match of Wimbledon 2008—I had the privilege of attending the city’s (equally as epic!) music event of the year—the 02 Wireless Festival in Hyde Park.

From Queensland-bred rock band Powderfinger, to Guyana-born reggae star Eddy Grant…to hip hop icon Jay-Z…London was, literally, booming with the festival’s diverse lineup of performers…especially with this year’s headliner: the Counting Crows.

After the band’s 5 year hiatus from album production, UK fans were ready to rock out—to both old favourites and new hits: in other words, we were ready for a CC comeback!

Counting Crows at O2 Wireless, London

As lead singer Adam Duritz expressed towards the end of the show: “we’ve been gone for a while, but now, we’re back…and we thank you for being here for us.”

And a welcoming, patient crowd we were…

All I have to say to is: Adam, it’s time to lay off the booze, really. You were more lucid when I encountered you belting Madonna covers in a Bourbon Street bar during Jazz Fest ’03 (a memorable moment, to say the least…)

We love your music, we love your voice, and we even love your wild antics…your flailing appendages…your crazy dreads…but last night was too much—you were falling all over the place! (that must have hurt?). I nearly left after the third song…

However, I (reluctantly) stayed, and I am glad that I did: the band did, miraculously, pull their act together in the second half—Duritz managed to somewhat sober up; he even threw in a few British tunes for audience kicks…but still, I am skeptical regarding this performance’s degree of ‘comeback’ worthiness…

Either way, for die hard fans that missed the London show, the Crows will spend another week taking the UK and Ireland by (a drunken?) storm…at the following venues:

Liverpool Arena, Liverpool, UK (July 7th)

Ambassador Theater, Dublin, Ireland (July 10th)

Oxegen Festival Punchestown, Kildare, Ireland (July 12th)

T in the Park, Scotland (July 13th)

But, whatever you do, beware of the front row: you may well end up cradling a flailing, drunken fireball of a lead singer…

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Wimbledon – my freebie 2 hour taster

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I’ve lived in London now for 10 years. I’ve been a tennis fan for over 20. I’ve never been to Wimbledon. Go figure! The excuses to date have ranged from ‘tickets are too hard to get hold of’ or ‘I can’t afford the time of work’ to ‘I hate crowds’ (when I’m at my most curmudgeonly). And if I’m totally honest, my interest in tennis peaks and dives with the attractiveness of the top 5 male seeds…. (The Agassi and Pat Rafter years saw my tennis interest become a mild obsession. I digress…)

So finally, after all these years, I get an email from a friend at 4pm on a rainy Wimbledon afternoon, with the faint prospect of tickets to the late afternoon Murray quarter final. I’m all about the spontaneity (and the ‘free-ness’ of free tickets of course), so I jumped at the prospect, tied up my loose inbox ends and ran up and down tube escalators and train platforms to get to Wimbledon station from Oxford Circus in a record 32 minutes.

It wasn’t until my friend and I were sat on the shuttle to the ground that she revealed her failure to get anything resembling a ticket – but by which case I thought ‘what the hell’ and started window gazing for my first sight of Centre Court. To my surprise, at 7pm on quarter final Wednesday of Wimbledon, gate staff aren’t as attentive as they can be, and it’s fairly easy to slip into the Wimbledon ground unnoticed and free of charge. Bonus! Next stop the bar. Next stop, the famed ‘Murray Mound’ or ‘Henman Hill’ of yore. Huge screen, 1000s of people, not an inch of grass to be seen.

We perched ourselves on the concrete right at the front, next to the over-officious ‘No stopping! Move back!’ stewards and settled in for the final 2 sets of the match. I would have said the atmosphere was electric amongst the passionate masses but that would be a lie. Murray lost in 3 straight sets and the Murray Mound masses were fairly quiet, a bit despondent and at one point, much more interested in the ejection of 2 fairly harmless drunks by an unnecessary 8 policemen. I wasn’t disheartened, I thoroughly enjoyed my free 2 hours at Wimbledon (and I don’t really like Murray anyway – he’s anti English). I cheered the 3 points or so he won with everyone else, groaned at the dubious line calls and just soaked up the sights and sounds of something I’d only ever seen on TV: the pleasant sounding ball-thwacks, player grunts and polite applause, the well-behaved, well-dressed spectators, strawberries and Pimms.

We wondered around the different sections, picked up a free (normally £9) souvenir programme off the floor, got a glance at John McEnroe punditing from a roof top above us, and even wondered into Court 1 (ticketless, again) to watch the final points of the other quarter final. Wimbledon’s got atmosphere. You can’t deny it. Even just wandering around outside of the courts you can soak it up, and it’s all so very civilised and English.

The sun had returned and on leaving at 8.30pm, we looked back to see the ground framed by the most gorgeous pink sunset. As I weaved my way past the polite, orderly taxi and shuttle bus queues, my taster experience felt all too brief and I resolved to return. Next year: tickets (paid for), a day or two off work even and fingers crossed for some better looking top seeds.

Wimbledon Murrays Mound

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Oktoberfest 2008: Plan Ahead!

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One of the biggest mistakes that I made when I was living in Florence back in 2004 was not preparing myself—mentally and logistically—for the craziness that is Oktoberfest. I decided to travel to Munich, Germany for the beloved international beer-a-thon on a last minute whim…fun and exciting, I know. But also…stupid. Young people actually do end up sleeping in train stations, and hotel owners do actually check to make sure you haven’t crammed 14 people into your two double bed shanty…..

Don’t get me wrong—my weekend at Oktoberfest was one of the most amazingly fun weekends EVER. I highly recommend going if you have the energy and the funds!

If you are aching to prost the night away with a group college pals and local, lederhosen-clad brethren this year, then don’t put off organizing your excursion until the last minute. There are a few details that you must consider…now!

First of all, Oktoberfest doesn’t really happen in October: the festival runs for sixteen days up until, and including, the first Sunday in October (it starts on September 20th this year). Most of the “regulars” have their accommodation and traditional costumes sorted out months in advance (the costumes, I learned, are actually a big deal for German participants, serving as important markers of cultural status/pride), if not on the day that they left the festival the previous year.

The most resourceful students on my study abroad program had booked their flights/trains and hostels the previous July …i.e. NOW, if you are planning to travel to Munich this September/October. I made the mistake of waiting until September to plan my trip, and, by this time, there were virtually no flights left. The few available seats that remained were outrageously priced, so I ended up taking a long, expensive overnight train. Book your flights now!

By the time I looked into accommodation, there was not one single hostel bed free in the city. I definitely do not recommend the “figure it out when we get there” approach—over 6 million visitors will be sleeping in and around Munich when you visit. Fortunately, someone in our group was resourceful enough to find us a reasonably-priced hotel room (reasonably priced because we split it 9 ways! And – eek – almost got caught! I do not recommend this approach!) …just two weeks before our visit.

Once you are finally at the fest, another useful tip: instead of gulping down a breakfast beer, start the day with a shandy (a tasty mix of beer and lemon soda), rather than overflowing steins of potent booze. The locals have already caught onto this trick, and they will be the ones that start at 10am and are still table dancing at dusk. Mix it up! You have all morning, afternoon, night, followed by the next afternoon, morning, night… afternoon…

Lastly, after a few days of tabletop debauchery, I realized that there was so much to see in and around the beautiful city of Munich! I definitely recommend planning a few excursions and activities; I thoroughly enjoyed exploring the city on a bike tour, which was led by a lively guide and, of course, included pub stops!

Also, though it feels strange, and even ‘wrong’, to abandon the world’s largest drinking festival to visit serious and solemn historical landmarks, you must consider: what is the likelihood that you will ever be in Munich, or for that matter, Germany, again? I personally chose to spend a day exploring the history of the region and took a trip to nearby Dachau; my visit to the Memorial Camp was life-changing, and I definitely do not regret it.

Well, that’s all on Munich/Oktoberfest for now! Do post a message if you have any questions or insights, and I will get back to you as quickly as possible.

I do hope that you make the most of your German adventure by planning smartly and traveling safely…

Good luck, and have fun!

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