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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 August, 2008

Auckland Heritage Festival coming up

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Auckland was founded in 1840
As a British colonial settlement Auckland came into existence in 1840 as the site chosen for his capital by the first governor, Lieutenant William Hobson.

From September 20th until October 5th, visitors to Auckland can celebrate the unique stories and secrets of the city during the 2008 Auckland Heritage Festival.

Packed with more than 100 exciting events and activities across the city, the programme will include guided walks and tours, exhibitions, open days, film screenings, harbour trips and other family-friendly activities.

With everything from art and architecture to fashion and music, the festival is suitable for people of all ages and interests.

The festival is part of Auckland”s campaign to protect heritage areas and buildings and to encourage the public to celebrate their city”s heritage.

Auckland is New Zealand”s largest city and is uniquely set between two harbours, amongst 11 extinct volcanoes and numerous islands in the Hauraki Gulf.

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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Plan family holiday well in advance, says AITO

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Families should plan their holiday up to a year in advancePlanning a family holiday well in advance can help secure the best deals, the Association of Independent Tour Operators (AITO) has advised.

Ian Bradley, a spokesperson for the AITO, said: "One thing is to plan well in advance if you can, don”t leave it as late as possible … If you are thinking of going on holiday next year start thinking about it now."

He said that families are tied to school holidays, and so it is a "real difficult period" to travel because everybody wants to go at the same time, which is what makes it so expensive.

"The airlines put up their seats, the hotels put up their rates and a lot of that is passed onto tour operators and they have no choice but to increase their prices as well to actually meet the prices that are being passed on to them," he said.

"It”s really a case of look ahead as far as you can as a family and decide what you want to do and get that booking in as early as possible."

In the 2008 ebookers Travel Opinion Report, 51 per cent of respondents said they were booking their holiday early as a result of the credit crunch.

Family – Theme Parks – Treat the family to a day at one of the Disney resorts or to a splashing day out at a Spanish waterpark.

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Bait Al Naboodah Museum in Sharjah

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The museum shows Sharjah life as it once wasThe Bait Al Naboodah in Sharjah is the former residence of the pearl-trading Al Shamsi family.

A two-storey house dating back to 1845, visitors enter through its grand doorway to explore and admire traditional Gulf architecture.

Built around a large courtyard you can see walls made from coral, learn about innovative methods of ”air conditioning”, and view decorative carvings in both plaster and wood.

Learn about daily family life and routines through work by Arabian craftsmen on display here.

In addition there are several themed rooms – the fashion room, for instance, has on display a collection of popular fashion items, jewellery and ornaments dating from the Al Shamsis” time.

The popular games room reveals the interesting games children used to play at that period, while the palm tree room informs visitors about the role of the palm tree in the life of the Sharjah people.

The museum is open from Mondays to Thursdays between 8:00 and 20:00, and on Fridays it is only open between 16:00 and 20:00.

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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Visitor information available in UK bookshops

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More than 20 branches will take part in the new scheme National tourist agency VisitBritain has partnered with high street bookseller Waterstone”s in order to provide visitors to the UK with information that may be useful to them during their time in the country.

More than 20 Waterstone”s branches will display free leaflets on local places to visit and events on a specially designed leaflet rack, Travel Daily news reports.

There will also be ”Enjoy England Information Point” signs on display in windows or doors, while staff will be trained to deal with frequently asked questions and enquiries about local attractions.

Amanda Smyth, general manager for England marketing at VisitBritain, told Travel Daily News: "This is an exciting initiative that supports our commitment to providing consumers with high quality tourist information ”on demand” – whenever and wherever they need it."

Stratford upon Avon, Southampton West Quay, Plymouth Drake Circus, University of Essex, London Science Museum, Lowestoft and Lincoln are some of the branches to benefit from the partnership.

While the number of visitors to the UK is down as a result of the credit crunch, VisitBritain forecasts an increase of two per cent for this year.

London – Ride the London Eye, visit the Tower of London or take a day out the city to see Stonehenge.
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Puke Ariki Museum in New Zealand

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The Puke Ariki Museum in New Zealand tells the stories of the Taranaki region and people, which gets its name from Mount Taranaki, the second-highest peak in the country.

Located in New Plymouth, Taranaki”s biggest city, the museum describes life in the region through exhibitions, displays, collections and technology.

Puke Ariki has four permanent exhibitions on display – Te Takapou Whariki o Taranaki, Taranaki Experience, Taranaki Life and Taranaki Naturally, all of which hold treasures that belong to and have shaped the history of the people and place of Taranaki.

Delve deeper into the stories of the region, some of which can be sourced to previously unpublished Maori writings – these accounts from the past are told using light, sound, and push-button interactives.

The museum is open from 9:00 to 18:00 on weekdays, except Thursday when it is open until 21:00.

On weekends, the opening hours are 9:00 to 17:00.

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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Sandcastles and bikinis banned in Italy

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Building a sandcastle in Eboli could cost you £200Mayors of several Italian towns who have recently been given extra law-and-order powers have introduced a number of bans on certain activities, in a move aimed at cracking down on crime.

For instance, wearing a bikini anywhere other than the beach is banned in Caprini, those who indulge in sandcastle-building in Eboli face up to a €250 (£200) fine, and public displays of affection can land you with a penalty of €500 (£400).

If you”re caught smoking on the beach at Oristano in Sardinia, you”ll have to pay a €360 (£285) fine, and anyone going to the mountains of Alto Adige should resist picking mushrooms – or face a charge of €113 (£90).

Feeding pigeons in Lucca, lighting fireworks in Positano, apart from on Saturdays, and mowing lawns in Forte di Marmi at weekends are all forbidden.

In July, Rome City Hall banned people from snacking near tourist attractions.

Rome – Visit some of the ancient landmarks such as the Colosseum or tour the opulent Vatican.
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Holidaymakers ”complacent” with credit/debit cards

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Britons travelling abroad on holidays are sometimes "a bit complacent" with their credit or debit cards, a card fraud expert has warned.

Kerry D”Souza of CPP said that when people are on holiday, "you”re relaxed and you”re not necessarily thinking about what”s going out of your bank account – you might not want to think about it".

According to CPP figures, instances of overseas card crime shot up by 77 per cent between 2006 and 2007, costing British holidaymakers a massive £207.6 million.

Ms D”Souza warned that implementation of the chip and PIN system does not mean that card fraud has stopped – it has just moved to other countries where a chip and PIN system is not in place.

She advised holidaymakers to seek some kind of card protection insurance before they go away.

The chip and PIN system has been in the news a lot, after last week”s police crackdown on a gang in Birmingham who allegedly found a new way to steal card details by tampering with chip and PIN machines in shops.

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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Small Town Getways (US and UK)

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TRUE OR FALSE:

In the past 30 days, you have:

1. ‘Accidentally’ elbow checked 5 or more fellow morning commuters in one 20 minute period.

2. Purposely umbrella-jousted a wandering sightseer to spite her for interrupting your morning commute, damn her tourist-idiot-who-gets-to-be-on-vacation…while you are stuck in flourescent lit basement office.

3. Submitted yourself to that recent Craigslist ad to become the poster child for the 2009 CACTS (Campaign Against Carpel Tunnel Syndrome).

4. Wished yourself away to an exotic beach and/or a vast expanse of desolate countryside.

5. Subsequently checked your bank statement and audibly cursed the ‘credit crunch’, Jesus, and your boss’s mother (in the middle of a conference meeting).

6. Gone and checked Craigslist—or Googled ‘CACTS’—after reading number 3.

If you answered TRUE to one or more of the above statements, particularly #6, I pity you. And I think it’s safe to say that you need a vacation (- holiday!).

Did you know that approximately 31% of employed US adults and 23% of employed UK adults will not use all of their vacation days this year? (See Expedia ‘Vacation Deprivation’ Survey, 2008.)

There’s something wrong here, people.

What’s the deal? ¿Que pasa?

¿Porque no nos vamos de vacaciones?

Why don’t you get out of that office and see some of the world?

Oh, right, because the world suddenly got a bit, er, A LOT expensive. But it is important that you break free from your ‘daily grind’ every once in a while, even if only for a few days…and even if you’re not going far. And EVEN if you think you can’t afford it. Because believe me, you can. Stop it with the grande lattes, walk/cycle to work, and pack your lunches. It’s time to plan your (affordable! nearby!) vacation.

Staycations?

…are great if you live in Maui, San Diego, West Palm Beach, Aspen, Savannah…Cornwall, Devon (…or even Thanet?). But what about those of us who are stuck in congested, landlocked metropolises? Who wants to join the tourists in museum queues (- especially the ones that you’ve been stabbing with your umbrella?) Not I…

Sometimes, all that you really need to recharge your batteries is a change of scenery and a bit of small town charm. When’s the last time you visited a mom and pop grocery store? A kite festival? A bog snorkelling championship? A craft show?

Yeah, that’s what I thought. It’s time to abandon the city chaos, and get rural.

small town getaways with Big Time Charm:

1. Saugatuck, Michigan, USA

Nationally renowned beaches? Check.
Thirty plus art galleries ? Check.
Music? Theatre? Internationally acclaimed film festival?
Check. Check. Check…

Midwestern village, population 1,000?

That’s right!

Having spent a large chunk of my childhood locked in ‘the middle’ (of Missouri, specifically), I can empathize with those who long to dip their toes in something other than the local chlorine pond. How to solve this without spending your annual bonus on gasoline/airfare? You’ll have to make do with the lakes (as in Great. Though we went to the Ozarks when I was a kid.)

Chi-towners: you’ve got options (and loads of them!). I know, I know, the urban backdrop of North Ave Beach is no Cinque Terre village. So then try something new: cruise up the coast of Lake Michigan for a bit of sun, fun and culture…in Saugatuck! This harbour town is the hub of Michigan’s ‘Art Coast’—apparently a culture vulture’s ‘seaside’ heaven—boasting Victorian B&Bs, steamboat cruises, outdoor exhibitions, fairs, festivals, nightly shows and, of course, a do-it-yourself ‘Art Barn’.

What more?

Distance? 127 miles from Chicago, 193 miles from Detroit.

During? Summer for beaches (though they claim to have ‘six seasons’)

2. Lewes, Delaware, USA:

Lewes, Delaware (pronounced like the name ‘Lewis’) is actually my hometown, so I can vouch for its loveliness…with about 12 years of experience to draw upon. This quaint, beachside gem’s claim to fame: it is, officially, the ‘First Town in the First State’, having been settled by the Dutch in 1631. Beyond the easily accessible beaches: Lewes Beach on the Delaware Bay ( = no waves!) and Cape Henlopen State Park on the Atlantic Ocean ( = waves!), the historic downtown area boasts a range of high quality, locally-owned shops and cafes, alongside fantastic eateries, canal front accommodation, and a handful of interesting, historic landmarks (including ‘The Cannonball House’, named for a British ‘gift’ that has been lodged into its foundation since the War of 1812…).

Tips: go outlet shopping (Delaware is one of two states with no sales tax), and check out the Kite Festival if you visit in March.

(If you want to know about specific restaurants, hotels, nearby bar scenes for young people, etc, post a message below, and I will get back to you with loads of info!)

Distance? 119 miles from D.C., 120 miles from Philadelphia, 203 miles from New York.

During? May, early June, or mid-late September (less people, less jellyfish).

3. Lewes, England, UK:

Okay, we’ve pond hopped to the ‘original’ Lewes! (not surprisingly, Lewes, Sussex County, Delaware was named after Lewes, East Sussex, England…oh, what a transnational blog this is…)

Right…so Londoners, have you ever sipped a pint of Harveys Old Ale on a Sunday afternoon?

Lewes, home of Harveys Pub and Brewery, is a lovely little market town that can be reached by train from London in under two hours. A welcoming bunch, the chirpy Lewesians take pride in their local and national culture, identifying with a range of historic sights (- including a castle!) and, famously, the most debaucherous Guy Fawkes Day celebration in the country, which they host each year on November 5th.

The canal-front town is set against picturesque, chalky white cliffs: catch a ride to the top for some amazing views. And don’t forget to take a tour—and a taste—of Harveys Brewery!

Distance: Under two hours from London by train.

During: …predict British weather? Your guess is as good as mine. I would avoid Guy Fawkes Day (but if you really want to go, you should find a local to stay with).

4. Llanwrtyd Wells, Wales, UK

Fancy a bog snorkel? In Wales’s, um ‘wildest’ peat bog?

Take an amusing—and last minute—break from the humdrum of city life by discovering the smallest town in Britain! Llanwrtyd Wells is known for its quirky annual festivals, the most popular being the annual Bog Snorkelling Competition, which will draw in competitors from all over the world and is happening THIS BANK HOLIDAY MONDAY AUGUST 25th.

If I didn’t already have plans to go to Edinburgh for the Fringe Festival, I would so be there.

Distance? 104 miles from Birmingham, 202 miles from London.

During? Now

May you escape the big city madness for one last summer adventure!

Cheers to small towns, quirkiness, and last minute whims…..

 

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2m Brits to fly this weekend

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Around 420,000 will fly out ot Heathrow aloneAround two million Britons will be flying out of the UK this bank holiday weekend, the Association for British Travel Agents (Abta) has estimated.

Between August 22 and 25, almost one million will be flying out of the south-east of England alone – around 420,000 will leave from Heathrow, 260,000 from Gatwick, 160,000 from Stansted and 80,000 from Luton.

In addition 85,000 will use the Eurostar for trips to the continent, while a further 400,000 people use ferry or Eurotunnel.

Abta president Justin Fleming said: "The August bank holiday is our traditional goodbye to the summer and is always very busy.

"This year is no exception with large numbers escaping to guaranteed sunshine, sandy beaches and warm seas."

Mediterranean destinations like the Balearic Islands and the Greek islands remain favourites, followed by Turkey, Cyprus and Portugal.

Recently, a spokesperson for Love Cyprus said that the country was a top tourist attraction because it boasts "52 blue flag beaches and high quality activities like golfing, diving, nature trails, cycling and much more".

Family – Theme Parks – Treat the family to a day at one of the Disney resorts or to a splashing day out at a Spanish waterpark.
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Record number of visitors to Israel

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More than 260,000 tourists visted Israel in July 2008 Israel is getting ready to welcome a record number of tourists this year, government statistics suggest.

Around 1.7 million people visited the country between January and July 2008, an increase of 41 per cent compared to the same periods last year when only one million tourists arrived.

Of the visitors so far this year, more than 260,000 came to the country in July itself (an increase of 22 per cent over July 2007).

These developments fit in well with the Tourism Ministry”s forecast of 2.8 million tourists in 2008 – a record year for Israel.

According to Lonely Planet, it”s best not to arrive with "preconceptions of spiritual epiphany".

But if you do, the travel guide says "you”ll almost certainly have them confirmed, but in doing so you run the risk of missing the best this fascinating place has to offer".

Lonely Planet recommends that holidaymakers visit Israel in spring (April and May) or autumn (September and October), as this is when the weather is at its best.

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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