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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 September, 2008

The UK is a “cool” destination for holidaymakers

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Holidaymakers looking to get away for the weekend see the UK as a "cool" destination, research has indicated.

A survey conducted by visitbirmingham.co.uk indicates that the UK is a popular destination for short breaks, particularly among couples.

"I think the UK has also become cool, it really has done," says travel journalist Russell Amerasekera.

He added: "The major cities in the UK really do stack up against anything that you will get in any other major cities in the world."

The survey found that 75 per cent of people would be more likely to see the sights while on a short break in the UK than they were would in their own home town.

While some may be quick to blame the credit crunch on peoples” reluctance to travel abroad, Dave Hodgson of Market Birmingham disagrees.

"1.5 million more people visited [Birmingham] last year than the year before, it is growing and that was before we got into the difficult times we are in at the moment. People just want to have experiences as well," he said.

This year”s United Kingdom Travel Survey found that 32.9 million domestic overnight trips were made by UK residents in the first quarter of 2008.ADNFCR-1652-ID-18792718-ADNFCR

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Art and culture illuminate the city of lights

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In a city as well-known for its art as anywhere in the world, Nuit Blanche, or White Night, represents one of the latest additions to Parisian cultural history.

White Night is the nocturnal cultural festival [that] will again take place over the first weekend of October this year[does this have actual dates yet?].

It was founded in 2002 by the mayor, Bertrand Delanoe, who was also responsible for opening the Paris Plages – a series of urban beaches along the banks of the Seine in the same year.

Around the city centre art galleries, museums and other institutions open their doors and offer free entry to all in a celebration of culture.

Throughout the event other venues not normally associated with the arts are given over to the cause, becoming galleries and performance spaces for the duration.

Public transport is also specially extended until the small hours to make getting around the city easy, safe and affordable.

The idea has spread to several of destinations across the world, with such cities as Madrid, Chicago, Toronto and Sao Paolo all holding their own celebrations.

But the event in Paris stands as one the biggest and most famous of all night-time festivals.

Paris – Enjoy the view from the Eiffel Tower or see the Mona Lisa in the "city of light".ADNFCR-1652-ID-18792163-ADNFCR

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Edinburgh”s Hogmanay”s celebrations will be as popular as ever

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Scotland”s Hogmanay festivities will take place once again this year to welcome in 2009, with an open-air concert in Edinburgh as the focal point of the celebrations.

On December 31st thousands of revellers will brave the freezing temperatures and gather in the shadow of Edinburgh Castle to mark the passing of one year to the next with a chorus of Auld Lang Syne on the stroke of midnight.

The event dates back to the Norse winter solstice, which was celebrated during the occupation of what is now Scotland.

Following the Protestant reformation the celebrations were forced underground, but re-emerged towards the end of the 17th century.

Each area of Scotland has it own unique customs for Hogmanay, such as burning special symbolic bonfires, fireworks displays and torchlight processions.

The one custom performed all over Scotland is first-footing, where the first person to pass into the house immediately after midnight has a series of gifts, each bringing different kinds of luck to the household for coming year.

Last year almost 12,000 people attended Hogmanay in the centre of Edinburgh and this year the authorities are expecting just as many partygoers as the city prepares itself for the biggest night of the year.ADNFCR-1652-ID-18791139-ADNFCR

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Mexico”s ”Day of the Dead”: one of the world”s unique festivals

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Millions of Mexicans will celebrate the annual Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, between November 1st and 2nd.

This national holiday is when all of Mexico, as well as Mexicans living elsewhere in the world, come together to remember and pray for departed friends and family.

In its present form it is a mixture of early Aztec ritual and Catholic influences, but traces its origins back to the indigenous tribes of 2,500 to 3,000 years ago.

Traditional altars are built and graves are visited with gifts of the favourite foods of the deceased, all in the belief that the spirits of the dead will find it easier to visit the living during the festival.

When first arriving in Mexico, the Spanish Conquistadors saw the locals practising the festival dancing in honour of their dead loved ones while wearing wooden masks, and thought they were mocking death itself.

Originally its timing was determined by the Aztec calendar, but to incorporate the development of Christianity in Mexico under Spanish rule, the festival was moved to coincide with All Saints” Day and All Souls” Day.

Now Dia de los Muertos is known all over the world and while other countries such as Brazil have comparable festivals, Mexico”s is as unique and captivating an experience.

Culture and Sightseeing – City Tours – Whichever city you are in these tours will help to ensure you do not miss a thing.ADNFCR-1652-ID-18790825-ADNFCR

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Mexico”s ”Day of the Dead”: one of the world”s unique festivals

0

Millions of Mexicans will celebrate the annual Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, between November 1st and 2nd.

This national holiday is when all of Mexico, as well as Mexicans living elsewhere in the world, come together to remember and pray for departed friends and family.

In its present form it is a mixture of early Aztec ritual and Catholic influences, but traces its origins back to the indigenous tribes of 2,500 to 3,000 years ago.

Traditional altars are built and graves are visited with gifts of the favourite foods of the deceased, all in the belief that the spirits of the dead will find it easier to visit the living during the festival.

When first arriving in Mexico, the Spanish Conquistadors saw the locals practising the festival dancing in honour of their dead loved ones while wearing wooden masks, and thought they were mocking death itself.

Originally its timing was determined by the Aztec calendar, but to incorporate the development of Christianity in Mexico under Spanish rule, the festival was moved to coincide with All Saints” Day and All Souls” Day.

Now Dia de los Muertos is known all over the world and while other countries such as Brazil have comparable festivals, Mexico”s is as unique and captivating an experience.

Culture and Sightseeing – City Tours – Whichever city you are in these tours will help to ensure you do not miss a thing.ADNFCR-1652-ID-18790825-ADNFCR

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Mexico”s ”Day of the Dead”: one of the world”s unique festivals

0

Millions of Mexicans will celebrate the annual Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, between November 1st and 2nd.

This national holiday is when all of Mexico, as well as Mexicans living elsewhere in the world, come together to remember and pray for departed friends and family.

In its present form it is a mixture of early Aztec ritual and Catholic influences, but traces its origins back to the indigenous tribes of 2,500 to 3,000 years ago.

Traditional altars are built and graves are visited with gifts of the favourite foods of the deceased, all in the belief that the spirits of the dead will find it easier to visit the living during the festival.

When first arriving in Mexico, the Spanish Conquistadors saw the locals practising the festival dancing in honour of their dead loved ones while wearing wooden masks, and thought they were mocking death itself.

Originally its timing was determined by the Aztec calendar, but to incorporate the development of Christianity in Mexico under Spanish rule, the festival was moved to coincide with All Saints” Day and All Souls” Day.

Now Dia de los Muertos is known all over the world and while other countries such as Brazil have comparable festivals, Mexico”s is as unique and captivating an experience.

Culture and Sightseeing – City Tours – Whichever city you are in these tours will help to ensure you do not miss a thing.ADNFCR-1652-ID-18790825-ADNFCR

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Take a free birthday trip to Disney in 2009

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Anyone visiting a Disney theme park on their birthday next year will be admitted free of charge, Walt Disney Parks and Resorts has announced.

The offer will apply to the Disneyland Resort in California and Walt Disney World in Florida.

Disney”s giveaway is part of the company”s ”What will you celebrate?” promotion, aimed at attracting visitors to its parks on special occasions.

Visitors to Disney parks will also be given badges with phrases such as "Just Graduated" or "First Visit" as part of their celebrations.

Chairman Jay Rasulo said: "Our goal is to mark the special moments in your life in a way that your family will remember forever."

The first Disney theme park opened opened in Anaheim, California in 1955 and the company now has parks in France, Hong Kong and Japan.

Miley Cyrus, the star of Disney”s hit show Hannah Montana, has said she plans to celebrate her 16th birthday at Disneyland on October 5th.

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.ADNFCR-1652-ID-18790092-ADNFCR

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One in four Brits are to leave travel insurance at home

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This year one in four British people plan to go on holiday without travel insurance, new research suggests.In a survey by American Express, 24 per cent of respondents named travel insurance as the main financial product they would give up as the economic downturn continued.This suggests that as many as 14.5 million Britons take risks by going on holiday without cover as they are forced to tighten their belts and reduce expenditure.Chris Rolland, of American Express Insurance Services, warned against the dangers of such a risk: “Should something happen, the current economic market means that the last thing Brits need now is an unexpected bill”.He added that consumers should opt for an annual policy as this would represent better value and “help them to avoid being financially stung while they should be relaxing on holiday.”The research was undertaken by YouGov, taking a weighted representative sample of 2,082 people.A survey by private bank Cater Allen suggest British travel habits are changing.Result show 54 per cent of Brits intend on doing some kind of activity on their holiday and 20 per cent go on away primarily for adventure.Active and Adventure – Air Activities – Enjoy an exhilarating helicopter ride over New York or a serene hot air balloon ride over the Australian outback.ADNFCR-1652-ID-18788976-ADNFCR

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Happy holidays are technology-free, research shows

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Holidays are an essential way to relieve stress and break free from the demands of busy modern lifestyles, one travel expert has said.New research has found that the key to a relaxing, restful break is leaving technological devices at home or at the office.According to a survey by financial services provider More Than, 37 per cent of people had their holidays ruined by the interruption of technology, made possible by office workers taking their mobiles and email devices away with them.More Than PR manager Carmel McCarthy said: “Take time out and enjoy your holiday, leave the technology at home if you can.”The survey also found that 80 per cent of workers put in extra hours during the week before jetting off, suggesting worries about what might happen in their absence.”Write really good handover notes to your colleagues,” Ms McCarthy added, stressing the importance of keeping the contact with work while you are away to “a minimum”.The UK has long been renowned for having the longest working week in Europe, but the importance of a work-life balance and enjoying the time away from the office should not be under-estimated, Ms McCarthy suggests.”If you can walk away from your job, try and do so,” she said. “It”s really important to get those two or three week breaks in.”Relaxation and Romance – Wining and Dining – Dine in some unforgettable settings including the Eiffel Tower and in the shadow of the New York skyline.ADNFCR-1652-ID-18787933-ADNFCR

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Memories of C.S. Lewis

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Why is it that we remember the most tangential and hyper-specific scenes from our childhoods (personal examples: playing with the lace trim on my red and white polka dotted crib bedding; the yellow raincoat decal that I used to attach to my nursery school class’s ‘weather bear’ on rainy days)…yet we so often forget the name of an acquaintance that we discussed the election with last week? Or, even better, which drawer we placed our keys in 3 minutes ago?

Do you actually remember the design on your 4th birthday party cake, or have you just watched the home video 50 odd times?

What about your favourite childhood book? Do you recall what the cover looked like? Where the characters lived?

Last weekend, I was exploring the quaint, picturesque streets of Malvern, England—the town where C.S. Lewis (who happened to be favourite author as a child) went to school—when my knowledgeable guide asked me if I had enjoyed the recent film adaptation of The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe.

Having just listened to his engaging overview of the famous Lewisian haunts and Narnia landmarks scattered throughout this lovely countryside town, I wanted to discuss a range of parallel cinematic moments. But I quickly realised that, actually, I couldn’t. Yes, I had seen the film (in fact had rushed to the cinema like an excited child when it came out 3 years ago), but I could not even cite my favourite scene.

I realise now that my wires had gotten crossed. I could not answer because I could not differentiate between two visual memories—the first being the imagery that I had generated in my 8-year-old mind whilst reading The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe and the second being the imagery that Disney had delivered to my local cinema, 14 years later.

To add to my moment of mental convolution, this was the second Brit lit expert, in the second quaint, historic English town that had made enthusiastic claims regarding Lewis’s sources of creative inspiration.

Hmm…

You see, I’d been told that Lewis devised his plots whilst wandering the streets of Oxford. But now, it seems to me that perhaps Malvern had an equal, if not greater, impact on his writings. For, apparently, the Narnia gas lamp is located in front of a Malvern College dormitory…

So, then, which is it? What town, which landmarks, and which people inspired C.S. Lewis to create the allegorical fantasyland that continues to engage children, adults, filmmakers and tourists today?

We can only speculate which memories and life experiences may have, consciously or subconsciously, inspired Lewis in his vivid creations. I will now trace some of the most famous landmarks that I have encountered, which have been linked to his writings….

Tracing the footsteps of C.S. Lewis…

1. The Malvern Hills.

This most picturesque area of Worcestershire, UK is the perfect daytrip destination from Birmingham, Oxford or London (1, 1.5 and 2.5 hours by train, respectively). It’s no wonder that Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien and co. embarked on frequent retreats to the Malvern Hills for years after Lewis completed his schooling at Malvern College 1916.

It has been said that the friends enjoyed leisurely walks through the hills to soak in the stunning panoramic scenery of the region, which has doubtlessly inspired artists for decades. (Apparently, on a clear day, you can see all the way to Wales!)

2. The Unicorn Inn, Malvern.

Lewis’s scenic treks typically ended at this charming, hillside pub, presumably with all of the activities that we would imagine—philosophical debates, pints of ale, visions of white, magical, single-horned creatures, etc.

Unicorn Pub Malvern

Sadly, when I visited, the plaque commemorating Lewis’s visits had been dismounted. Hopefully this was just a temporary move, and you will have better luck!

3. The Eagle and Child Pub, Oxford.

The informal, weekly meeting place of the ‘Inklings’ literary discussion group (comprised of Lewis, Tolkien, Charles Williams and several others), this popular watering hole is one of Oxford’s most famous landmarks.

Definitely worth stopping here for a pint to check out the framed ‘Inklings’ memorabilia…but often difficult to secure seats, especially for large parties. Though I suppose if you drop in on a for some Tuesday morning rounds, as the Inklings often did, you won’t have much of a problem.

4. Magdalen College, Oxford.

Last, but certainly not least…a place that I cannot stop writing about.

magdalen-cloisters_resized.jpg

The idyllic meadows, the lazy tributaries, the stunning architecture, the gorgeous spring foliage…all of the wonderful things that comprise this 550-year-old Oxford College make it feel like a fantasyland.

I can only imagine what Lewis, a former fellow of Magdalen, was dreaming up when he strolled around the college’s deer park…alongside the gondola-esque punts…through the weeping willows…perhaps pausing to gaze back at the colourful sunset framing the college’s majestic bell tower…

It’s no surprise that Lewis stayed at Magdalen for nearly 30 years!

The trail continues…

These are only a few, noteworthy places that I have personally experienced: the list of landmarks goes on, including sights in Belfast, Lewis’s place of birth, and Cambridge, where he served as a departmental chair until a few months before his death in 1963.

Your ideal Narnia adventure will, of course, depend on the way in which you imagine or remember Lewis’s stories. You’ll never see the world as he did, but you sure can try to match your memories of his work with an interesting travel experience.

In honour of my Malvern adventure, I (re)watched The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe last night. I now remember (or at least, I think I remember…) exactly what I was thinking when I watched it the first time: I must go to the place where these beautiful Narnia landscapes were filmed.

New Zealand, anyone?

A blog for another day…

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