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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

Canary Island windsurfing at the wind factory

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Many of the world”s biggest events in the windsurfing calendar take place during the summer at Playa de Pozo Izquierdo – known within the water sports fraternity as ”The Wind Factory”.

The Gran Canaria PWA Grand Slam 2008 took place here in July taking advantage of the perfect conditions the location provides for professionals and holidaymakers alike all year round.

Locals are born into windsurfing and the area is home to the renowned International Centre for Windsurfing; considered to be second only to Hawaii for facilities.

Its reputation precedes it as ”a brutal proving ground where scores are settled” and the sport”s biggest names do just that regularly here.
This year”s events include competitions such as men”s slalom, women”s freestyle, and the wave event where spectators are treated to spectacular, gravity defying aerial jumps.

Visiting competitors will be looking to gain entry to the windsurfing hall of fame by trying to out-do the local hotshots who have the luxury of being able to train here all year round.

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-18773315-ADNFCR

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St Louis provides top archery

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The Gateway Arch in St Louis is America”s tallest man-made monument and the short tram ride to the top treats visitors to unforgettable views across the city and the mighty Mississippi.

Looking East, Illinois is just across the river and to the west, the best view of downtown St Louis.

Every year, more than four million people visit the arch which is as high as it is wide – 630 feet – and is St Louis”s most popular landmark and attraction.

It also provides a fascinating insight into waterfront life through the years.

St Louis as it was in the 1800s is depicted in the entrance to the south leg of the arch showing images of the riverfront packed with fur traders, merchants and steamboats.

The story of the construction of the arch itself – which was completed in 1965 – is displayed in the north leg; a fascinating feature made even more so by the knowledge that, to ensure that the arch would meet in the middle at the top, the margin of error was 1/64th of an inch.

To eliminate expansion caused by the heat of the sun, all survey work was done at night.

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-18773210-ADNFCR

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Cabaret but not as we know it in Marrakech

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The traditionally Islamic city of Marrakech would be the last place you would find a European style extravaganza like Les Folies de Marrakech.

But Claude Thomas” cabaret revue show in Morocco”s "Red City" has been artistically redesigned to remove the possibility of offending patrons.

Launched in May 2008, Les Folies de Marrakech is an unusual and refreshing marriage of western decadence and Islam.

The 49-year-old entrepreneur arrived in Marrakech in 2006 after selling his cabaret in France and with some help from his cousin he bought a sizeable plot of land.

According to News 24, construction then began on a 2,000 square metre hall capable of hosting 1,100 for a dinner-show costing 550 dirhams (£39).

Thomas auditioned over 300 people from across Morocco before picking 47 performers – of which 12 were women aged 17 to 32 – to take part in the production which lasts around 90 minutes and includes acrobats, magicians, acrobats, dance, music and comedy.

The troupe also serve as consultants giving important suggestions as to what is acceptable and what to avoid but on the issue of gender equality, Thomas had a clear opinion and refused a directive to have only women clear the tables.

"I respect your religion. I”ve created a prayer room. But here everyone is an artist regardless of their gender," he said.

The end result is 100 per cent Folies and 100 per cent Moroccan.

Marrakech – Be entertained by snake charmers in the old Medina or take a day to explore the Atlas Mountains.ADNFCR-1652-ID-18773105-ADNFCR

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Really low fares from London to Paris? Try the train!

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I have been flying across Europe for years, both for business and leisure, and I have to admit I have never had any amazing flight experiences. Not one single great story to tell about equipment, food or service. Sure, I have a slight preference for major carriers due to greater amount of leg room and (usually) easier to reach gates, but I most often end up travelling on low-cost carriers due to the price difference.

But now, I have something to say. Since my move to Paris I have been using the Eurostar train very frequently. THIS is travel!!!

To start, obviously, the train goes from Paris city center to London city center, so I avoid wasting time and money to reach remote airports terminals.

Next big thing: the Eurostar check-in is fully automated and takes about 10 seconds. Security is slightly faster than in airports but a similar process.

The next step is simply to sit down in your comfortable, wide seat and enjoy (or work, as I often do). No queuing up at the gate, no queuing up at the aircraft, no seatbelts, no security demonstrations and, more specifically, if you have to work on a laptop or can’t live without music (or both), no downtime switching off during take-off and landing. No complimentary coffee spilling over your book, no toilets for contortionists, no shaky situations.

Even more significantly: there is relatively little engine noise, so you can enjoy music, focus on work and have real conversations. Not to mention a large bar/restaurant area, where you can stretch and walk around.

The Eurostar booking process is also quite easy. The website is not top notch modern and sometimes goes bezerk, but it allows you to find the best fares and to select your own seat. You can pay online and just pickup your ticket at the machine once you show up for departure.

The Eurostar fares can be just as dramatically low as they can be high. Booking 3-4 weeks in advance gives you fares for 77 euros (60 pounds) Paris-London or London-Paris round trip! But booking within one week can take you north of 600 euros (500 pounds). If you’ve missed the good fares, try to search for ‘secondhand’ tickets on Google: there is one French website where you will easily find tickets. The fine print says that Eurostar tickets cannot be resold (the name is printed on the ticket). In practice, check-in and passport control are separate, and I have never heard of anyone being caught.

The only bad news is there can be queues at peak times.  If you’re travelling on a Friday evening London to Paris, for example, the station will be full of cosmopolitan commuters going home for the weekend.

Bottom line: I am surprised there are still flights operating between London and Paris at all. Unless you live or work next to an airport, or are on a connecting flight, there is no doubt in my mind: you should book early and ride the train.

Oh yes, and one more advantage: at arrival, get off the train, and you’re done! No taxing to gate, no shuttles, no luggage belts, no passport checks, not even customs….

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Malta stages regular fighting

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Malta”s fateful geographical position has, down the years, unavoidably invited the unwanted attention of several countries which recognised a good strategic military position when they saw one.

Not least the blink-and-you-miss-it Napoleonic tenure which lasted from 1798 until 1800.

But visitors to the island can get regular doses of history repeating itself as several of the military encounters between the French invaders and the Maltese rebellion troops are re-enacted regularly throughout most of the year.

The Historical Re-enactment Group of Malta is proud to present their production of ”Alarme!”

Performances are given on the third Sunday of every month from February to November and last around an hour.

This truly authentic depiction includes the spectacle of battle with war cries and gun-fire and the smell of gunpowder.

The battle takes place in an unchanged setting within the walls of the historic Fort St Elmo where these events originally took place.

Uniforms have been faithfully recreated and weapons have been loyally restored to provide a colourful spectacle for the small admission fee of €5 (£4).

Visitors should note however that the scale of the battle has had to be reduced as Napoleon originally sent nearly 30,000 troops to conquer the island.ADNFCR-1652-ID-18771937-ADNFCR

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Nashville offers a universal experience

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Since its opening, the Adventure Science Center in Nashville has been determined to generate interest in the sciences among children and rarely will visitors find an establishment that does it better.

Their modern, interactive philosophy and hands-on approach means that the exhibits are just as much fun for adults as they are for kids.

In turning handles and pushing buttons children from four to 94 can absorb information on technology, physics, health and the environment providing a fun way of introducing people to the inner and outer mechanics of the world around them.

Visitors are particularly encouraged to set aside two hours of their trip to see the wonders of the Universe at the Sudekum Planetarium where regular shows project over six million stars and enhanced animations against a state-of-the-art dome.

The atmosphere is generated by the 5.1 surround sound system and gently sloped seating creates a genuinely unique night-sky experience from horizon to horizon.

The Universe is waiting at 800 Fort Negley Boulevard, Nashville TN.

The Adventure Science Centre is open from 10:00 until 17:00 every day except Monday.

Special Interest – Nightlife – From an extravagant meal to an eerie ghost walk – plenty of things to keep you entertained after the sun goes down.ADNFCR-1652-ID-18771761-ADNFCR

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London Tourists: Mind your Beckham Bones

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About six weeks ago, on the way home from my office in London, I realized that I could no longer walk; that is, I shifted my weight from the side of my right foot (which, I suddenly/finally acknowledged, had been unnaturally stabilizing my gait for two weeks) and began to consciously move forward as human beings naturally should: by actually pressing the ball of my foot into the ground. Heel-toe, heel-toe, heel-ouch! Ouch! Ouch!  (Of course, when something hurts, you want to do it over and over…) OUCH.  Limp.  GP.  A&E…Stress fracture.”A fracture to my right second metatarsel,” I now casually spout off to any curious passerby who (skeptically) observes me hobbling on crutches without a plaster/cast…or any visible sign of injury.  For I have discovered that the word ‘metatarsel’ actually triggers a psychological mechanism in (most) members of the British public, whereupon glamourous images of David Beckham limping across the football field—sweat dripping from his brow as he winces in pain over his Achilles toe—flash across their mental television screens.  And suddenly, I become cool.  I have a seat on the tube, a hand with my handbag, a pint on my table…Really.At least 1/3 of the ‘Second metatarsel bone’ Wikipedia page is devoted to Beckham’s fatal fall in the 2002 Champions League match + subsequent media sensationalism.  The ‘Beckham Bone’, we now call it. Way to pave your eternal legacy, Big D.  Your heyday may have passed, but you will certainly have at least a photo caption in your great, great grandkid’s anatomy textbook (…Wikibook?).  May the Beckham Bone live on…Potential for increased sex appeal aside, having a stress fracture—albeit a small chink off the BB—actually sucks, and big time.  Especially in a big, expensive city like London.  Take my advice: if that dull-yet-concentrated pain in your foot seems to be worsening by the day, bin the fancy footwear and shuffle your trainers over to the GP (American translation: trash your stilettos and sport those sneakers to the doctor’s office…).Tourists Beware.The doc at the A&E’s first question: how long had I been ‘touring’ Europe? Ignoring his brash assumption that I was not, in fact, a well-adjusted Londoner (hmph!), I listened to what he had to say about tourists.  His insights were rather interesting; for apparently, tons of sightseers (usually Americans) visit UK hospitals each summer, reporting similar such pains in their feet.  Stress fractures are, in fact, common injuries among travelers that depart sedentary lifestyles to embark on a series of extended walking tours through Europe.  And to the utter dismay of the high-energy, culture-hungry tourist, the only treatment for a stress fracture is to sit still.”You must rest your foot for six to eight weeks.”Say wha…?Yes, one week of trapseing around Europe in bad footwear can (especially in the case of women with family histories of Osteoperosis) can lead to two months of lockdown.(FYI, metatarsel stress fractures are also common in army recruits, ballet dancers, and, of course, athletes.  In my particular case, the initial cause of the stress fracture was likely my participation in a weekly, high-impact dance class; walking around London in poor footwear certainly exacerbated the problem, though.  It’s all about the footwear!)Good-bye, Big Ben…Hello, Beckham Bone.Stress fractures seem like minor injuries but can actually become chronic problems if not properly treated: I’ve learned this the hard way, having prolonged the healing process by ignoring the doctor’s orders to sit still.  But the longer you don’t sit, the longer you won’t play.  So, “let pain be your guide”—and not the public eye—unless, of course, you can squeeze a few more pints out of the bartender with your polished Beckham banter…

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Take a liberty in New York

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What stands 92.99 metres high and has an index finger measuring eight feet in length?

Just over 38 years after it was dedicated on October 28th 1886, this landmark was declared a national monument in 1924.

The structure contains 125 tonnes of steel and 31 tonnes of copper and yet it sways six inches from side to side when the wind blows in excess of 50 miles per hour.

It has been covered entirely in snow, a tidal wave, buried up to its torch in sand and destroyed by aliens, in the movies at least.

This universal symbol of democracy was given by the people of France to the people of the United States and has a twin in Paris.

It is hard to imagine a visit to New York without following in the footsteps of the millions of people who have made the trip from the southern tip of Manhattan Island to one of the most iconic landmarks in America.

Indeed it could be classed as pointless as giving the Mona Lisa a miss on a visit to the Louvre but if you remain unsure as to what this tourist magnet could be, perhaps you should take a trip to the New York Public Library to find out.

New York – From the dizzy heights of the Empire State Building to the serene Central Park New York has it all!ADNFCR-1652-ID-18769859-ADNFCR

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The only way to bathe in Turkey

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Many countries and civilisations possess their own interpretation of what a traditional communal bath experience should be, but a very good benchmark can be found all over Turkey.

Known locally as hamams, Turkish baths began to appear in the Byzantine and Roman periods and stuck closely to the Islamic emphasis on bodily cleanliness.

The building of communal bath houses was seen as a central element to the community and its doctrine and they were often very ornate in their design.

A classic bath experience is typically split into three parts; the changing rooms where you decide which service you require, a hot room and a cold room.

Having entered and chosen your service, visitors exchange clothes for a towel and proceed to the gobek tasi, a large heated stone slab where you are encouraged to socialise and perspire while taking advantage of an optional rub-down.

When the heat gets too much, you can move to a cooler room – or cold halvet – which is usually found furthest away from the boiler.

Several different packages exist but the luxury Ottoman package deal at Cagaloglu Hamami is hard to beat as it includes music, a buffet and a belly dancer.

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-18769571-ADNFCR

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Must see Milan

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Milan can lay claim to being the fashion capital of Europe, if not the world, and is so well served by air links in the UK that it is very difficult to avoid or ignore when choosing a weekend break.

The northern Italian city may be perceived as a centre of opulence and expensive taste but the wide choice of budget flights and reasonably-priced hotels means you may be able to afford more once you”re there.

Its skyline is a rich combination of new and old with contemporary towers punctuating the ancient architecture and, such is its diversity there is no shortage of things to do.

The Fiera di Milano, on a huge site around the Porta Genova station, is an exhibition centre which is rarely quiet and attracts massive crowds to its regular trade events from boat and motor shows to house and garden exhibitions.

Culture vultures should visit the splendour of il Duomo before spending an evening at La Scala where some of the finest classical performances in the world regularly take place.

Milan also has an enviable nightlife with its abundance of elegant bars and cafes for those who like to watch the world go by.

And then there”s the shopping.

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-18769300-ADNFCR

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