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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, 2011

London in Summer Series: Culture vultures

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London in the summer is perfect for the culture vultures. London has always been a capital full of culture and there are enough things to do in London if you are looking for that culture fix during your summer break. London has a wide variety of museums, exhibitions, cinemas and theatres. There are a lot of cultural events to choose from but here are some off-the-beaten- track options.

Tour a Theatre

Tour the backstage area of the National Theatre and see all the work that is done to make the magic on stage happen. Tours happen up to six times a day on Monday-Friday, twice on Saturday and once on Sunday. Tickets cost £7.

The Shakespeare Globe has an exhibition about theatre in Shakespeare’s day: from Elizabethan Special effects to dressmaking. Tickets are available at the door from 9am and an adult ticket cost £12.50

Cinema on the Rooftop

For an alternative cinema night, keep an eye on the Rooftop Filmclub website. Films are shown on the roof of Queen of Hoxton in Shoreditch from July to September. Food, drink and free blankets are available. Tickets cost £9 but there are only 100 places so you have to book early.

Museum

The Jameel Prize is an international award for contemporary artists and designers whose work connects the traditional Islamic culture to modern day. The work of the shortlisted nominees is shown in the V&A museum. The exhibition is on from 21st of July -25 September and the entrance is free.

London Shows

For a London theatre break see the play War Horse with magnificent puppetry. The horse Joey is sold to serve the cavalry in France during World War I. His boss Albert is too young to enlist but heart-broken by the loss of his friend he goes on a dangerous journey to save him.

Another show full of puppetry and masks is the musical the Lion King. Based on the Disney film of the same title, the show is now in its 10th year and wows audiences from every age.

Stay

Insert a little bit of glamour into your stay in London and book you theatre break to stay at the newly decorated St Ermins Hotel. It is situated in central London, close to St James’ Park but is protected by its beautiful courtyard, making it an oasis of calm.The modern yet classy decorated rooms and the gorgeous Crystal ballroom will make your London stay something unforgettable.

Drink

Gordon’s Wine Bar is the oldest wine bar in London and was established in 1890. It is a cosy little place thanks to the dark wooden furniture and ambiance lighting but it also has an outdoor terrace.

The Book Club in East London mixes all kinds of cultural events with food and creativity. The beautiful open space is perfect for live music nights, speed-dating and craft sessions. Enjoy breakfast and lunch here or share some platters in the evening and play some pool.

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‘The Right Way to Climb Masada – Looking After Your Feet and Surviving the Heat!

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When visiting Israel, an excursion not to miss out on is a visit to the fascinating and ancient desert fortress of Masada. Having never been before, I booked a tour to visit and hike the 2000 year old fortification, the scene of a deadly Roman siege against the Jewish rebels in 72 AD that resulted in the mass suicide of nearly 1000 Jewish men, women and children. Masada rises majestically above the Judean and Negev deserts, overlooking the Dead Sea; the lowest point on Earth and although it is possible to take a cable car the 400 meters to its summit, and also the gentler Roman Ramp path, it is highly recommended to hike the side-winding snake-paths up the side of the mountain. This gives you spectacular views over the stunning, raw and arid landscape and a real appreciation of the magnitude of what was involved in the siege.

Hiking Masada, it has to be said, is not an easy task. Although the height and incline aren’t the most imposing or arduous, it is the searing desert heat which begins very shortly after sunrise that makes the hike all the more difficult. It is imperative that no matter what time of the year you visit, you take hydration very seriously. I used a 3L Source Hydration pack and I can tell you, was thankful for every last drop of those 3 Liters by the time I had hiked to the top. Just as important as keeping yourself hydrated, is making sure you bring the correct footwear too. This was obviously not a concern to the two middle aged Russian women I saw hiking in stiletto heels, but for the rest of us, wearing the correct footwear will help you get the most out of your Masada hike and prevent the blister and unwanted smells comparing that seemed bewilderingly popular on the bus at the end of the day. Considering the rocky terrain and the unforgiving sun, I opted for a pair of men’s Source sandals giving me comfort and sturdiness without the weightiness and lack of ventilation found in hiking shoes/boots. In this kind of environment, I always go for a good pair of hiking sandals as I find they don’t weigh you down like boots and shoes tend to do.

Once the hydration and choice of footwear has been sorted, it’s time to slip on a hat, slap on some sunscreen and enjoy your historical hike to the summit of ancient Masada. There, you are greeted with unique and interesting antiquities and a view that will simply take your breath away.

About the Author:

Samantha Wilson is a blogger who writes about travel and tourism. She enjoys visiting new places and getting the best deals.

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London in Summer: London for Romance.

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Summer is a magical time for romance: from country weddings to holiday flings, love is truly in the air. Now is the time to start looking for the perfect break to spend some quality time for two.

When you are planning a romantic break, all you want is quality and London is a great choice for lovers. There are so many things to do in London that you will definitely find something that you will both enjoy.

Theatre

Romance was still alive in the 1960s where the musical Dreamboats and Petticoats is set. Norman and Bobby decide to enter a song writing-competition to impress their girls Sue and Laura. This London musical is filled with classic hits from the golden era of the 1960s.

In the classic musical Phantom of the Opera a mysterious man mentors the young singer Christine. He is in love and will do anything for his muse to shine on stage. When his love turns to jealousy disaster strikes the opera. This wonderful show with its beautiful music and elaborate staging has entertained audiences for the last 25 years.

Museums

Visit the exhibition Glamour of the Gods at the National Portrait Gallery. The pictures of legendary stars from Hollywood’s golden age (1920 -1960) will set the mood for old-fashioned romance. The exhibition is on until the 23rd of October and tickets cost £6.

You can check your chemistry in the Science museum; they organise an adults-only evening last Wednesday of the month (except December). The evening starts from 18:45 to 22:00 and include themed hands-on events; there is a bar, a DJ and you can even dance to a Silent Disco! Entry is free but some events maybe ticketed.

Stroll in the park

London has some of the most beautiful parks and if you walk to the top of Primrose hill close to Regents Park, you will have a stunning view over London. You will easily recognise some on London’s most famous landmarks.

Find some tranquility when walking through the Kyoto Gardens in Holland Park. This part of the park is designed in Japanese style complete with a pond and waterfalls.

Candle-lit dinners

You can never go too far wrong with some European fare served at a table at the Oxo Tower restaurant, while you overlook the Southbank and the Thames.

The Blue Elephant in Fulham offers a completely different view: its stunning interior and gorgeous Thai food will transport you straight to Thailand.


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Book it like Beckham

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David and Victoria Beckham have welcomed daughter Harper Seven to their family! Beckham’s baby-name nicely complements their sons’ who have already being christened Brooklyn, Romeo and Cruz.

Now his daughter has arrived, David might want to give his wife some mother-daughter quality time and take his boys out for a break.

What better city to entertain the children than our capital London. There are plenty of things to do in London that will keep the kids busy and smiling. For all the fathers (and mothers!) who are looking for some ideas in the capital this summer, we have compiled a list of things to do:

Many free museums in London offer special activities for children and families. National History Museum has plenty of impressive interactive displays from dinosaurs to an earthquake room that children will love. Same goes for the Science Museum next door where they have opened a special Space Exhibition for the summer. The Tate Modern on the Southbank offers Summer Holiday sessions with games and map-making on Thursdays and Fridays for children and an accompanying adult.

If the summer weather holds there are outdoor activities plenty in London. The Diana Memorial Playground in Hyde Park has a Peter Pan theme with a pirate boat to climb, teepees to explore and a sensorial trail. Kew Gardens have complemented their Climbers and Creepers an interactive botanical playground with a brand new outdoor Treehouse Towers playground.

No visit to London is complete without a visit to the West End and there are a variety of theatre shows suitable for children. Take your kids on a London theatre break for memories that will last a lifetime:

Energetic children will be mesmerised by the by this show’s power and creativity of STOMP. Performers have used everything from bin-lids and pipes to even kitchen sinks to create rhythms to dance, move and grove on.

War Horse is an epic theatre production with astonishing puppetry and a story that will appeal to everyone in the family. When the First World War starts and horse Joey is sold to the cavalry, his young boss Albert goes on a journey to find him.

Superhero fans will love Batman Live at the O2 Arena. Gotham City will come alive with stunts, aerial acrobatics and theatrical illusions. Batman and Robin will have to take on his enemies Catwoman, Two-Face and of course his nemesis The Joker.

Contrary to popular believe, London is a family-friendly city. The capital has a lot of entertainment to offer to children of all ages so you can make the most of your summer holiday.

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Los Angeles like Royalty

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William and Kate are flying back from Los Angeles where they have ended their first tour abroad. During their stay they have been visited deprived children on Skid Row, played polo and have been thrown a party attended by the Hollywood stars like Nicole Kidman and Jennifer Lopez. If the Cambridges (as Stephen Fry them so lovingly called them) have inspired you to visit the city of angels, here are some suggestions to help you plan your trip:

Hop through town

Choose a 24-hour or 48 hour ticket for the ultimate hop on – hop off tour in Los Angeles, giving you flexibility to explore the city in your own time. There are four different routes that explore different parts of Lost Angeles. Each loop has a different duration varying from one to two hours and you can join busses at the various stops along the route. This way you can see the highlights of Hollywood, Beverly Hills, Downtown and Universal all at your convenience.

Walk this Way

The Walk of Fame is made out of tiles with names of the rich and famous, which runs all along Hollywood Boulevard and along Vine. Search for the names of the legendary like Lawrence Olivier and Nat King Cole to more recently Penelope Cruz. Once there visit the Chinese Theatre where stars have left hand and footprints in cement, see the small hands of Shirley Temple and last week Jennifer Aniston joined the honours. Don’t forget to have a peek the Kodak Theatre next door: it is the location for the annual Oscars!

Life’s a beach.

Los Angeles has amazing beaches like Venice beach. Spend a day relaxing or people watching on the beach, you might even see some dolphins, or walk to along the boulevard where you can find stalls with souvenirs, restaurants and entertaining street artists.. Santa Monica offers entertainment in the shape of the Santa Monica Pier with rides and attractions that will keep children of all ages happy.

Eat

Food in Los Angeles can be healthy conscious: Mexican chain Sharky’s offers excellent organic food. Everything is freshly made on the premises and so you can eat delicious Mexican meals for a very reasonable price. Popular restaurant Kate Mantilini specialises in American food and is open until late during the week.Choose from burgers to salads, but what you really want to try is the rotisserie chicken.

Alternatively…

Should America not be on the cards for you this year, book a London theatre break and experience a little bit of the American Dream with Legally Blonde the Musical. California girl Elle Wood loses the love of her life when he dumps her to go to Harvard. Determined to get him back Elle follows him and enrols to do read law in her own well-manicured style! The musical is a perfect show for the summer.

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London Theatre land for Children

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It is July and the weather is horrible. Most parents will already be despairing at the thought of the nearing summer holidays. Pouring rain outside, bored children inside and you have got the ingredients for a six-week nightmare!

There is a simple way to keep the children entertained: take them on a break to the capital. London has a plethora of activities just for children. A fun-filled London theatre break with packages starting from just £48pp, doesn’t have to break the bank. A matinee or evening experiencing the thrill of live-theatre will guaranteed give the whole family something to smile about and remember for a long time.

We have made things even easier with some suggestions for children in London theatre land:

Have tea with a Tiger

See the classic story of The Tiger Who Came to Tea by Judith Kerr come to life against a backdrop of beautifully drawn sets. When Sophie and her mummy sit down to have tea at the table, the doorbell rings. Who could it possibly be? Imagine their surprise when a real stripy tiger joins them for tea! Your little ones will love this sweet show filled with songs and theatrical magic. The show is suitable for children 3 years and up.

Sweet Treats

Closeby the small shop of Hope and Greenwood on Russell street looks like a quirky version of the old- fashioned sweetshop. These self-proclaimed purveyors or splendid confectionary will have something the whole family! Glass jars and bowls filled with boiled sweets, gummies, bonbons and the like will bring out the child in everyone. You can buy prettily pre-packed and gift wrapped sweet treats or pick and mix yourself at the counter.

Swing with Shrek

Everyone favourite ogre now has his own musical! Shrek and his talkative sidekick Donkey set off to rescue Princess Fiona played by Amanda Holden. This musical has true theatrical magic as all the fairytale characters, including a 25ft dragon, will be making an appearance on stage. Even the evil but very short Lord Farquaad will have you laugh out loud.

Lion King

Based on the Disney film, Lion King the musical will be a live-experience you’ll never forget. When lion prince Simba’s father dies in an accident, his mean uncle Scar makes Simba take the blame and the young cub flees from his pride. Years later the pride is starving and they all look for a miracle return of the prince. The mix of music, songs, dance and the spectacular puppetry is breath-taking and will transport you straight to the African savannah.

Good Ol’ Fashioned Fun

In the heart of theatreland, on the first floor of Covent Garden Market, you can find Benjamin Pollocks Toyshop. It is a small shop but it specialises in theatre models and traditional ‘old-fashioned’ toys. Marvel at the detail with which the theatre models are made from simple ones to techinal ones. You can even buy matchbox theatres to recreate your favourite musicals or make up your own stories at home! From pretty little tea-sets and miniature toolkits to toys for pocket money prices: everyone will love this shop.

Don’t despair, get booking and give the children a summer to remember!

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Celebrate Independence Day in London

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It’s Independence day! It is 235 years since the Americans have declared their independence from the United Kingdom. Luckily international relations have long since cleared so get out your star-spangled banner as we highlight the All American options one has when visiting London.

Go for Dinner

Every year on Independence Day there’s a hot dog eating competition in New York’s Coney Island. The current record stands at 54 hotdogs in 10 minutes! For the first time in history there will be a Women’s Only division this year. If you want to take your other half for a more relaxed dinner, there are restaurants aplenty serving traditional American dishes. Recreate the 50’s vibe jukebox and all at Ed’s Diner and get a tasty burger too! For ribs and the like try Bodeans that has four branches spread over London or go to a Byron restaurant for another quality burger.

Celebrate  Jeff “The Dude” Bridges

If America has given us anything, it is Hollywood. One of  best American screen-icons is Jeff Bridges, who created a cult when portraying The Dude in the film The Big Lebowski. He’s been an actor for decades starring in films as The Fabulous Baker Boys, Crazy Heart for which he finally won and Oscar, and last year’s Coen western True Grit. The British Film Institute, BFI, is celebrating his life in film until the end of July.

Fall in Love with an American Sweetheart

In the original movie the bubbly Elle was played by American sweetheart Reese Witherspoon. This Legally Blonde musical adaption follows the same story line of the first film and Elle follows her boyfriend to Harvard to study law. Elle’s determination and style will have you cheering for the red, white, blue and pink!

Raise a glass

Find yourself an American bar: smack-bang in Covent Garden you find the classy Christopher’s American Bar and Grill, they serve beers as well as celebratory cocktails and conveniently located if you want grab a drink after the theatre too! Or go to All Stars they have a bars in Holborn, Bayswater and Brick Lane. Not only do they serve beer,they offer bowling and karaoke too: a full night’s entertainment in one – result!

Live the American Dream

See how the American Dream came true for Frankie and his buddies in Jersey Boys the Musical. The musical the Jersey Boys is based on the true story of the rise to fame of Frankie Valli and the Four seasons, you will no doubt sing-along to all the classics: December 1963 (Oh What A Night), Walk Like a Man and Can’t Take My Eyes of You.

What ever you do, have an awesome day this Independence Day!

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A Royal Tour of London

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As William and Kate tour Canada, London celebrates Canada Day on Trafalgar Square! This 1st of July 2011 also marks what would have been the 50th birthday of William’s mother: the late Princess Diana.  When you tour London this summer or just go sightseeing in London, you will come across plenty of sights that still bear the popular princess’ mark.

Take a Royal Tour

Follow the route taken by the wedding procession of William and his new bride Kate last April. This London sightseeing tour will lead you past landmarks like the Royal Albert Hall and Westminster Abbey all the way up Kensington palace. Make pictures of the changing of the guards at Buckingham Palace and view the impressive features of the Houses of Parliament and Downing Street.

Kensington Palace.

Visit Kensington place up close, where Princess Diana lived in Apartment 8. This palace has housed several members of the Royal family: Princess Victoria lived there until she woke up Queen on 20 June 1837. Due to refurbishment only the State Apartments are currently open and have been turned into the exhibition The Enchanted Palace.

Play ground in Kensington Gardens.

Next to the palace lie the Kensington Gardens, the perfect place to go for a walk during a sunny day. Keep the children entertained on the Princess Diana Memorial Playground, designed especially for little adventurers! Inspired by Peter Pan, the playground has a huge pirate ship to climb, teepees to explore and a sensorial trail to experience. Accompanying adults can relax in the seating spaces among the trees and plants.

The Memorial Fountain in Hyde Park:

Beat the heat in the Diana Memorial Fountain in Hyde Park this summer. Its design represents Lady Di’s life with water flowing from the highest point into two directions until meeting in a calm pool at the bottom. See Londoners and tourists mingle, refreshing their feet while sitting on the fountain edge or crossing the water using one of the three bridges that lead you straight to the heart of the fountain; again symbolizing the openness and quality of Diana herself.

Harrods

Shop or window-shop in Harrods, London’s high-end department store that specializes in luxury goods. The biggest shop in the UK lives up to its motto, Omnia Omnibus Ubique: All Things For All People Everywhere. It was founded 1834 and stayed on the same Kensington site since 1849. In its time the shop had five different owners: one of them was Mohammed Al-Fayed. He built the magnificent Egyptian escalators that will lead you past a memorial for his son and Princess Diana.

Even if you are not a prince or princess touring Canada this summer, you can still enjoy a right royal time London!


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