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Posts from March, 2014

Game of Thrones – A Tourism Tsunami

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For three seasons, the Game of Thrones has been enthralling the world as they follow the often violent and provocative tale of the seven clans engaged in a war to claim the Iron Throne.  The television series has gathered an avid and faithful following interested in all things related to GOT.

As the fourth season of the gripping fantasy tale approaches, public expectation is rising with the release of teaser trailers.  Similar is the case with the interest in the dramatic and beautiful countryside seen on screen. Much of the outdoor shooting has been around the stunning Northern Irish landscape. The brilliant natural backdrop has contributed greatly to the success of the TV series.

So much so that many visitors to Northern Ireland are keen to explore and see for themselves the location and settings where their favourite characters play out their roles.  There are some exceptional, organised tours that do just that.

In fact the most popular tour is run by the company that provided transport to the crew and cast of all four seasons.  Their close association with the television project has given the staff plenty of behind-the-scenes tales about locations and cast for you to feast upon.

The tour will take you out of Belfast, through Antrim and along the Causeway Coastal Route.  There is no better way to be introduced to glorious Ireland.  It is a region of superb natural beauty, which includes beautiful glens, steep, rugged black cliffs and tiny picturesque villages, enhanced by the ever changing colours of the land.

Ballycastle

Ballycastle

The serene little seaside village of Ballycastle is a setting often featured in the Game of Thrones.  The home of Lady Catelyn Stark, Ballycastle’s green and rolling hills overlook a sweeping bay, a sandy beach and a marina populated by colourful bobbing boats.

You then wind your way along a more rugged coastline to the caves of Cushendun, the setting for the birth of the ‘shadow baby.’  However, this beautiful little rocky section of the tour is not as dark and gloomy as the story.

Another memorable stop on the tour is the steeply descending, rocky and timeless Ballintoy Harbour.  Just five miles away from Ballycastle, Ballintoy is the setting for Pyke Harbour featured several times in the Game of Thrones.  The village itself plays the role of Lordsport in the series.

The chalk quarry of Larrybane is featured in the second season of the series and is the setting for Renly Baratheon’s camp and the Stormlands.  The location also has a duelling scene and a meeting between Renly and Lady Stark.  The area comprises of dazzling chalk cliffs and a tight cove just a short distance from Ballintoy Harbour.

Larrybane

Larrybane

The culmination of your trip is a walk along the dramatic and starkly beautiful Giant’s Causeway.  While this amazing place is not part of the Game of Thrones scenery, it should be as it seems to be made to order.

The Game of Thrones has been credited with giving Antrim and Northern Ireland a great deal of favourable publicity.  When you take a trip along the now famous settings you can understand why.

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Football 2014 World Cup Venues – Brazil

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The 20th FIFA Wold Cup will be held in Brazil from the 12th of June till the 13th of July 2014.  It will be one of the largest and most spectacular events of the year.  Being Brazil, there is sure to be plenty of colour and excitement in this football mad nation.  There will be several new or redeveloped stadiums built specially for the World Cup in the twelve selected cities across the country.  The locations are spread out across this vast country stretching from the Amazon basin in the north to the banks of the River Guaiba in the south.

brazil wc

Here are the cities and what you can expect in and around them – besides football.

Sao Paulo – Areana De Sao Paulo

Capacity: 65,807
Climate: Highs of around 20ºC and chances of rain.

Fixtures: 12 June, Brazil v Croatia, 21:00; 19 June, Uruguay v England, 20:00; 23 June, Netherlands v Chile, 17:00; 26 June, South Korea v Belgium, 21:00; 1 July, Second-round, Winner Group F v Runner-up Group E, 17:00; 9 July , Semi-final, Winner Quarter-final 3 v Winner Quarter-final 4, 21:00.

Located on a plateau in the south-east, on the Atlantic coast, Sao Paulo is the financial and business hub of Brazil.  It has over 64 parks around the city, the largest and most symbolic of which is Ibirapuera Park, a beautiful leisure centre.  Sao Paulo is home to the fabulous Modern Art Museum.

Belo Horizonte – Estadio Mineirao

Capacity: 62,547
Climate: Dry and warm with temperatures around 25ºC most days.

Fixtures: 14 June, Colombia v Greece, 17:00; 21 June, Argentina v Iran, 17:00; 24 June, Costa Rica v England, 17:00; 17 June, Belgium v Algeria, 17:00; 28 June, Second-round, Winner Group A v Runner-up Group B, 17:00; 8 July, Semi-final, Winner Quarter-final 1 v Winner Quarter-final 2, 21:00.

Belo Horizonte (Beautiful Horizon) is surrounded by the Serra do Curral mountains, which are part of the Parque das Mangabeiras – a protected reserve.  An unusual tourist attraction is a street optical illusion at the Rua do Amendoim. When looking at the street from the side, it appears to slope upwards, when in fact it is a downward slope.  Thousands of visitors flock here every year, turn off their car engines and watch in astonishment as their vehicle starts rolling up the street.

Fortaleza – Estadio Castelao

Capacity: 64,846
Climate: Daily temperatures of 30ºC throughout the year, benefiting from sea breezes.

Fixtures: 14 June, Uruguay v Costa Rica, 20:00; 17 June, Brazil v Mexico, 20:00; 21 June, Germany v Ghana, 20:00 24 June, Greece v Ivory Coast, 21:00; 29 June, Second-round, Winner Group B v Runner-up Group A, 17:00; 4 July, Quarter-final, Winner Second-round 1 v Winner Second-round 2, 21:00.

A 'fortress' port on the north-east coast of Brazil, Fortaleza (Portuguese for ‘fortress') has 16 miles of beaches.  Its best known beach is the Praia do Futuro packed with restaurants serving up delicious regional cuisine.

Rio de Janeiro – Estadio Do Maracana

Capacity: 76,804
Climate: June and July are Rio's coolest months, with a peak typically 25ºC. Those months tend to be dry, but humidity remains fairly high all throughout the year.

Fixtures: 15 June, Argentina v Bosnia-Herzegovina, 23:00; 18 June, Spain v Chile, 20:00; 22 June, Belgium v Russia, 17:00; 25 June, Equador v France, 21:00; 28 June, Second-round, Winner Group C v Runner-up Group D, 21:00; 4 July, Quarter-final, Winner Second-round 5 v Winner Second-round 6, 17:00; 13 July, World Cup final, 20:00.

rio de janeiro stadium

Located on the Atlantic coast and home to the iconic Estacio Do Maracana, Rio is situated on the Guanabara Bay.  The statue of Cristo Redentor dominates the skyline and is perhaps the best-known of Rio de Janeiro’s tourist attractions.

Brasilia – Estadio Nacional

Capacity: 68,009
Climate: Dry and fairly warm. Temperatures tend to peak at 25ºC most days.

Fixtures: 15 June, Switzerland v Ecuador, 17:00; 19 June, Colombia v Ivory Coast, 17:00; 23 June, Cameroon v Brazil, 21:00; 26 June, Portugal v Ghana, 17:00; 30 June, Second-round, Winner Group E v Runner-up Group F, 17:00; 5 July, Quarter-final, Winner Second-round 7 v Winner Second-round 8, 17:00; 12 July, Third-place match, 21:00.

The capital of Brazil, it sits in the central highlands and is an ultra-modern city.  It has some amazing monuments, many of them tourist attractions located on the Eixo Monumental. Iconic buildings, designed by Oscar Niemeyer, such as the Palacio do Planalto (Presidential headquarters), the Supreme Federal Court and the National Congress with its two towers can be found in and around the area.  The Praca dos Tres Poderes connects the three buildings and is an attraction in itself, containing museums (the Brasilia History Museum, the Lucio Costa Space and the Oscar Niemeyer Space).  Other attractions are the sculptures, such as Os Candangos, the Marco de Brasilia and the enormous 286 metres high Flagpole.

Recife – Arena Pernambuco

Capacity: 44,248
Climate: Wet. It rains in Recife on average 224 days a year.  Temperatures tend to peak at 28ºC in June and July. Humidity is also usually high during these months.

Fixtures: 15 June, Ivory Coast v Japan, 02:00; 20 June, Italy v Costa Rica, 17:00; 23 June; Croatia v Mexico, 21:00; 26 June, United States v Germany, 17:00; 29 June, Second-round, Winner Group D v Runner-up Group C, 21:00.

Recife is located on the Atlantic coast and close to the equator amidst tropical forests.  Some of Recife’s most interesting sights are the 17th-century buildings of Dutch heritage. The Torre Malakoff, built in 1855, the Praca do Marco Zero, containing the “Rosa dos Ventos” floor mural by Cicero Dias and the new Centro de Artesanato (Handicraft Centre). A short walk away is the narrow Rua do Bom Jesus, formerly Rua dos Judeus, one of Recife’s main streets, adorned with its peculiar Dutch houses and art galleries. Other attractions include the Embaixada de Bonecos Gigantes (Embassy of Giant Dolls) and the Esculturas de Francisco Brennand Park on the port pier.

Salvador – Arena Fonte Nova

Capacity: 48,747
Climate: June and July are Salvador's coolest months, with peak temperatures at 26ºC.

Fixtures: 13 June, Spain v Netherlands, 20:00; 16 June, Germany v Portugal, 17:00 20 June, Switzerland v France, 20:00; 25 June, Bosnia-Herzegovina v Iran, 17:00; 1 July, Second-round, Winner Group H v Runner-up Group G, 21:00; 5 July, Quarter-final, Winner Second-round 3 v Winner Second-round 4, 21:00.

salvador

Salvador is the largest city on the north-east coast and the first area to be urbanized.  Pelourinho, the historic centre of Salvador, is just one of ten locations in Brazil to be declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It boasts of many fine monuments, 17th-century Portuguese colonial houses, churches, museums and art galleries such as the Fundacao Casa de Jorge Amado, Museu Abelardo Rodrigues and the Instituto de Artesanato Visconde de Maua. Known locally as “O Pelo”, Pelourinho is a pleasing mix of indigenous, European and African influences.

Cuiabá – Esatadio Pantanal

Capacity: 42,968
Climate: Hot. The temperatures in Cuiabá are consistently high in June and July, rising to daily highs of over 30ºC. High humidity and thunderstorms.

Fixtures: 13 June, Chile v Australia, 23:00; 17 June, Russia v South Korea, 23:00; 21 June, Nigeria v Bosnia-Herzegovina, 23:00; 24 June, Japan v Colombia, 21:00.

The chief attraction in Cuiabá is the Parque Mae Bonifacia on Avenida Miguel Sutil. The park has five paths running through it, five recreational areas complete with gym equipment. Its greenery is typical of the Cerrado (the vast tract of tropical savannah that covers most of the state of Mato Grosso) and it is home to animals that live in this habitat, such as the sagui monkey and a host of other small primates.

Curitiba – Estadio Da Baixada

Capacity: 41,456
Climate: Relatively cool and comfortable with the temperature usually peaking around 20ºC.

Fixtures: 16 June, Iran v Nigeria, 20:00; 20 June, Honduras v Ecuador, 23:00; 23 June, Australia v Spain, 17:00; 26 June, Algeria v Russia, 21:00.

Curitiba is one of the cooler cities in Brazil which even saw snow fall this year.  It has a charm of its own. Nowhere is this more evident than in the historic part of this town, with ‘pedestrian only’ Rua das Flores and the lively Largo da Ordem square – right in the colonial heart of the city.  One of the main tourist attractions is the Museu Oscar Niemeyer, a wonderfully imaginative eye-shaped building.

Manaus – Estadio Amazonia

Capacity: 42,374
Climate: Difficult. Tropical heat with tropical storms. Highs of 40ºC and thunderstorms.

Fixtures: 14 June, England v Italy, 23:00; 18 June, Cameroon v Croatia, 23:00; 22 June, United States v Portugal, 23:00; 25 June, Honduras v Switzerland, 21:00.

The capital of the state of Amazonas, Manaus is the furthest north of the host cities.

Confluence

The location of the city of Manaus is one of its most remarkable attractions: the confluence of the rivers Negro (Black) and Solimões (how the Amazon River is known in this part of Brazil).  The Encontro das Aguas is where the black waters of the Rio Negro meet the muddy yellow flow of the Rio Solimoes.  The two rivers flow side by side for more than 6 km, their waters divided as though by an invisible barrier.

The Teatro Amazonas is a symbol of the golden era of the city and is the city’s leading cultural and architectural landmark and easily recognisable, thanks to its dome, which is covered with 36,000 green, blue and yellow glazed ceramic and glass tiles, all of which were made in Alsace, France.

Natal – Estadio Das Dunas

Capacity: 42,086
Climate: Humidity is a major problem with an average of 97% humidity in the middle of June.

Fixtures: 13 June, Mexico v Cameroon, 17:00; 16 June, Ghana v United States, 23:00; 19 June, Japan v Greece, 23:00; 24 June, Italy v Uruguay, 17:00;

The unique and special attraction of Natal is its stunning dunes.  A fact reflected by the stadium’s name – Estadio das Dunas. Then there is the magical coastline, a delightful beach complete with cliffs, great surfing conditions, crystal-clear lakes, dolphins and sea turtles.

Porto Alegre – Estadio Beira-Rio

Capacity: 48,849
Climate: It can get chilly 10ºC at Porte Alegre in June and July with highs of 19ºC.

Fixtures: 15 June, France v Honduras, 20:00; 18 June, Australia v Netherlands, 17:00; 22 June, South Korea v Algeria, 20:00; 25 June, Nigeria v Argentina, 17:00; 30 June, Second-round, Winner Group G v Runner-up Group H, 21:00.

Porto Alegre sits on a huge freshwater lagoon called Lagoa dos Patos (Lagoon of the Ducks), which is 174 miles long.  From the subtropical climate to the cultural habits, Porto Alegre is fairly different from the other state capitals in Brazil. It was the destination of thousands of immigrants from Portugal and Italy – like many other cities in Brazil – but also from other European countries, particularly Germany and Poland.

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Holi – Is A Colourful Time

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The Hindu festival of Holi is celebrated on the last full moon day (or Poornima) in the Hindu Lunar calendar month of Phalgun.  The days and dates vary every year.  This year, 2014, the dates are March, 16th (Sunday) and 17th (Monday).

HoliWhile Holi is a universal festival, in India it goes by different names with variations in the theme and the way it is celebrated.  This facet of Holi mirrors the numerous linguistic differences and distinct cultural identities of India.

A popular and widespread origin for the festival revolves around Krishna.  Krishna had a mischievous nature and often played pranks on people around him.  He would drench the village girls, including Radha in coloured water.

To commemorate his pranks the women gather at the Radha Rani Temple in Barsana, Mathura (close to Agra) and drive away men by beating them with sticks just as Krishna was chased away when he tried teasing Radha and her friends.  It is called Lathmaar Holi (lath: meaning stick).

In Maharashtra the highlight is when young men make a human pyramid to climb up and break a pot suspended high above the streets.  The practice harks back to the child Krishna who used to steal buttermilk from the houses in his village.  It is truly a spectacular scene.

Bengal does it a little differently.  It is known as Dol Jatra or Dol Purnima.  Idols of Krishna and his consort Radha are put in an extravagantly decorated palanquin and paraded around the streets.  Wherever it goes, people throw coloured powder (gulal) on the carriers and vice versa.

Holi 2

The Shekhawat region of Rajasthan has its own peculiar style.  When Holi is celebrated and people smear gulal on each other it is a manly affair with no women participating.  This custom has evolved because in previous years women used to be physically harassed by drunken men, which led to plenty of conflict and violence.  A result of this social restriction is that now the young men and boys dress up like girls during the week long celebrations.

However one theme unites them all.  Holi is the celebration of the triumph of good over evil.

Holi is also enthusiastically celebrated by the vast Indian Diaspora around the world, especially London.  It will be celebrated on different dates at different places like Richmond and Watford and go on right through the month of March.  The final big bash will be in June at the Holi Festival Of Colours London on the 28th of June at Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park.

Wherever it is celebrated though, Holi is bound to be full of colour, excitement and good times.

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Homecoming Scotland 2014

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Homecoming Scotland 2014 is the follow up to the highly successful first edition of 2009. The initial Homecoming was designed to encourage people of Scottish ancestry to visit the area and to celebrate all things Scottish. Of course, it also served as an open invitation to visitors from all over the world.

Homecoming Scotland was originally born from the idea of celebrating the 250th anniversary of the birth of Robert Burns; the famous national poet. The event grew into showcasing Scotland’s other significant contributions in the realms of culture, heritage, innovations, golf and of course, whisky. 

The year-long programme for Homecoming Scotland 2014 will feature the same attributes as it did the first time around. The two main events this year are the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow and the Ryder Cup in Pertshire. The other events spread over the year focus on activities, ancestry, creativity, food & drink and nature, celebrating the very best that Scotland has to offer. Here are our favourite picks from the vast selection of events:

Highland Games

highlandsmall

There will be staging of the traditional Highland Games in towns, villages and castles across the country. The exciting games, where contestants compete in some truly unique activities such as caber tossing and competitive dancing, are a combination of culture, sport and social entertainment with a uniquely Scottish twist! Some of the more well-known locations for the games are Cowal, which stages the largest Highland games in the world, Braemar, attended annually by members of the Royal Family, and the Ceres Highland Games, the oldest free games.

Stirling – Battle of Bannockburn

28 Jun 2014 – 29 Jun 2014

The medieval city of Stirling in Central Scotland will host a number of exciting events that will recreate and commemorate the 700th Anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn, a significant victory for the Scots in the Wars of Scottish Independence. Here you will see extraordinary re-enactments choreographed by Clanranald, known for their work on Hollywood blockbusters such as Gladiator and Thor II. Walk amidst interactive medieval encampments of 14th century Scotland; kitchens, blacksmiths and armouries with a real feel of the excitement before the great battle. There will also be hundreds of tartan clad pipers, drummers and Highland dancers providing a real Scottish atmosphere.

Edinburgh

edinsmall

Edinburgh will once again be at the heart of cultural activity and festivals by running the renowned Edinburgh Festival Fringe, the largest arts festival in the world. There will be a number of activities to choose from revolving around music, books, art, traditional storytelling, comedy shows and much more.  The annual festival is truly the peak of this artistic gathering and outpouring, and the sweet dish at the end this feast of performing arts will be a spectacular fireworks display at the iconic Edinburgh Castle. The Fringe Festival runs between 01 – 25 August 2014.

Of course there is more to Edinburgh than all the arty stuff.  Not far away from the city are the fabulous Highlands of Glencoe and the legendary Loch Ness – if you are the sporty type, you might even consider taking part in the popular Loch Ness marathon.

Whisky

Homecoming Scotland 2014 will be big on celebrating and imbibing the uisge beatha (water of life).  World Whisky Day will no doubt be a very spirited affair while there will be month-long celebration at the Spirit of Speyside Festival (1 – 5 May 2014), and also at The Islay Music and Malt Festival (23 May – 1 Jun 2014).  There will be eating aplenty too at farmers’ markets and food festivals, all inevitably washed down with a wee dram of good Scottish whisky or draft beer. If you want to combine the beauty of the highlands with a tipple or two, you could take a day tour exploring the best of both worlds. 

Nature

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Beyond Scotland’s cultural and gastronomical fame, are its natural and scenic wonders made famous in song, verse and painting throughout centuries. The Scottish landscape is one of the most dramatic in the world with rugged mountain peaks, thousands of miles of coastline, fairy-tale forests and glens populated by thriving wildlife and plants.  Majestic deer and vast colonies of seabirds have made Scotland their home, and a trip up the spectacular highlands is an unforgettable experience.

Scotland is a place of ancient legends, grand scenery, amazing people, a unique and rich culture and producer of great minds that will be well represented in all the events of Homecoming Scotland 2014. If you’re still hungry for more Scottish wonders in 2014, take a look at our offering, from sightseeing tours to ghostly walks in the eerie Edinburgh vaults to touring the wonderful highlands.

For more information on Homecoming Scotland 2014, go to Visit Scotland.

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