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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 June, 2014

Where To Go This Summer – Part II

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Scotland

The highlands, Glasgow in particular, will be putting its best foot forward and donning its party dress this summer.  This is a mountainous, heather covered land of mists, the Loch Ness Monster and other myths, kilts and football mad natives!  It has hundreds of miles of wild, beautiful windswept coastline.   It is a magical land famous for its whisky blended with plenty of history.  So much of Scotland’s treasures are accessible – for free.  Except the whisky!

Scotland Castles

There is so much action on the calendar that it is really difficult to decide what to see and do.  For instance…

The 2014 Commonwealth Games – Glasgow
The XXth Commonwealth Games will see the world’s top athletes compete over 11 days of competition from 23 July to 3 August.  The ancient city of Glasgow dominated by the impressive People’s Palace will host the largest ever athletic gathering of its kind for the first time in Scotland’s history.   This multi-sport event will see the likes of Usain Bolt giving off their very best during the Games.

Homecoming Scotland 2014
The first edition of 2009 Homecoming was marvelously successful.  Following on that success, Homecoming Scotland 2014 is designed to bring people of Scottish ancestry from all over the world back to the country.  It is also an open invitation to people from all over the world.  Homecoming will gain an added significance and poignancy this year because in September the Scottish people will vote in the Scottish Independence Referendum to decide if “Should Scotland be an independent country?”

Edinburgh Fringe Festival
The Edinburgh Fringe Festival will be set against the backdrop of the Royal Mile, the Old Town, Edinburgh Castle, Holyrood Palace and ancient Parliament Hall.  For nigh on three weeks, this annual cultural festival will showcase artists of all hues as they perform and delight us with their creative and manic best.

The Ryder Cup

Scotland

After many a long year the Ryder Cup, that pinnacle of golf competition, pitting the best of Europe and the US will come back to Scotland.  The legendary home of golf will see the world’s best golfers swinging their clubs on the magnificent greens and fairways of the PGA Centenary Course in Perthshire where the Highlands and the Lowlands meet.

For all these reasons and more Scotland will be the centre of the world’s attention in the coming months!

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5 Reasons Why You Should Visit Italy This Summer

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Summers might be a perfect time to sit and plan that vacation which is long overdue. While you are still thinking about where to head for that perfect holiday, why not give Italy a try? After all, there are few countries in the world that offer the kind of variety and diversity that Italy does, with its ancient history, majestic mountains, sumptuous cuisine and glittering coastlines.
Still undecided?  Let us help and give you 5 reasons on why Italy will be your best pick this summer.

 Venice Gondola Rides

Venice Hero Image
A Gondola ride is a must when in Venice. Take in the views and transcend to another era as you lie back on cushions and feel the rhythm and movement of intricate waterways. With a partner, nothing can be as romantic as cuddling up in the boat as it passes through the old Venetian towns. If you go solo, then all you would need is a nice, romantic novel.

Florence
If the heat is too overbearing, get indoors. With Brunelleschi’s masterpiece at the centre, a number of museums and monuments dominate the city. For art lovers, no European city can come close to Florence. Admire the vast art collection of Uffizi gallery or plan a visit to the Galleria dell’Accademia, renowned for being the home of the famous statue of David by Michelangelo.

Florence, Accademia Galary

You can also simply stand at the centre of the churches of San Lorenzo, Santo Spirito and the Cappella dei Pazzi, and feast your eyes by looking at the intricate frescoes painted by the Renaissance artists.
You will surely feel the chill in the heat, when you gaze at the vivid works of art.

For people who like to explore under the sun, head to the Cinque Terre, the five small ancient coastal villages, and see some of Italy’s finest scenery.

Pompeii

Pompeii Day
The recent movie Pompeii featuring Kit Harrington and Kiefer Sutherland brought the wrath of Mount Vesuvius live on screen. It took just one day – 24 August, 79 AD, for it to get buried for the next seventeen centuries, under the volcanic ashes of the fierce Mount Vesuvius. Visit the ruins and get a glimpse of the life led by the people of Pompeii before they were swallowed by the lava of Mount Vesuvius.

So, pick your sunglasses, an umbrella and explore the lost city. It is indeed a fulfilling summer retreat.

Rome

rome colosseum
One can be in loss of words while talking about this great city. Italy’s capital city is so vibrant that even if you spend months here, you will get the feeling that there is a nook or corner of the city which still remains unexplored. Its existence since time immemorial makes it unique and offers a diverse culture, a mélange of culinary wonders and a range of historical edifices like the mighty Colosseum, Vatican structures, Romanesque churches et al.

Tuscany

Tuscany
Leave the bustle of the city and escape to the glorious Tuscan countryside. Its quaint hill towns and lush vineyards, make it a popular summer destination. Also, it is in this season that you could be lucky enough to witness a series of local festivals, which are being celebrated through the ages.

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Where To Go This Summer – Part 1

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This summer, travel destinations will not be about temperatures – Celsius and Fahrenheit that is.  The locations for mega sporting events and entertainment will be the hot spots this year.  The biggest inspiration for travellers in 2014 will be sports!

From Golf to Football and the entire athletic spectrum, it is sports that will have folks packing their bags, booking their tickets and accommodation for such diverse lands as Brazil and Scotland.

Brazil
The ‘beautiful game’ has kicked off in one of the most beautiful countries of the world.  The 2014 edition of the FIFA World Cup has generated huge excitement across the globe.  It is not entirely because of the game either.  This is one terrific opportunity to combine passion for the sport and the chance to see Brazil.

Brazil article
The country has amazing beauty that includes huge tracts of forests, stunning white beaches populated by beautiful people, iconic mountains, thundering rivers and ultra-modern cities.  While the football matches will be played in 12 different stadia across the country it is two cities that stand out for their uniquely attractive features.

Rio de Janeiro
The very mention of the city’s name sets the blood racing and raises the pulse rate.  This huge metropolis is dominated by the iconic, gigantic mountain top statue of Christ the Redeemer and Sugar Loaf Mountain.  They look down upon the marvellous Guanabara Bay and Botafogo region.

Every year the city goes mad to the throbbing beats of samba that drive the Carnival parade as it winds its way through the streets to the Sambadrome.  It’s possible to catch some of that ‘Carnival’ spirit, when not watching the football, at the Plataforma Samba Show. The show is famed for its brilliant costumes, infectious rhythm and dazzling footwork – its samba time all year round!

The World Cup Final will be played in Rio on 13th July.  The world will be watching and the city will surely put up a super show – footballing and otherwise.

Manaus
Manaus is the capital of the state of Amazonas and the furthest north of the host cities.  It sits on 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.  This is one of the most remarkable sights in the world.

Victoria Regia Artcile
If that is not astounding enough there is the Victoria Regia.  This is an extraordinary giant floating lily for which Manaus is famous.   Another famous highlight of the city, man-made this time, is the fabulous Teatro Amazonas.  The dome of this architectural and cultural landmark is covered with 36,000 green, blue and yellow glazed ceramic and glass tiles, all of which were made in Alsace, France.

Four World Cup matches will be played at Manaus’ Estadio Amazonia.  Other than football, you could explore the nearby jungles of the Amazon with its amazing flora and fauna.  There are scenic river banks and serenely beautiful lakes where you could spend a lazy afternoon away from ‘it all.’

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Paris Cabaret Guide

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Paris has always known how to put on a show and have fun especially at night.  The city is one giant seething mass of bars, cafés, lounges, esoteric drinking cellars, factories-turned-rave-dance-halls, barges converted to snooty restaurants and fancy cocktail bars.  Just about everywhere there are drinking places, clubs and bistros that attract with the pounding beats of electro, retro rock, reggae, jazz, you name it.

‘Life’ Liza Minelli once warbled, ‘is a cabaret, old chum.  Come to the cabaret!’  That urge to taste its pleasures still rings out loud and shines bright in gay Paree.  Paris, always a ‘good time city’, was one of the first in the world to put up street lighting, which only served to extend those good time hours.  The sheer numbers, variety and quality of entertainment choices can, at times, be overwhelming.

But nothing says Paris like cabaret!

Moulin Rouge
Moulin Rouge is probably the most famous cabaret nightclub in the whole wide world and the spiritual birthplace of the can-can.  Its cabaret featuring ladies dressed in feathers, sequins and not much else draws people from all over the world like moths to its bright gaudy iconic red windmill entrance.  The very name and the images it conjures up gets the heart racing.

Moulin Rouge

The Moulin Rouge is about 125 years old; the can-can and cabaret has evolved but the sheer seductiveness of the place has just kept growing. The decor still harks back to those carefree hedonistic days captured by Tolouse-Lautrec’s fabulous posters. The thought of watching a show with a glass of champagne in hand at the Moulin Rouge is inspiration enough to pack one’s bags for Paris.

Lido Cabaret
There is nothing modest about the Lido.  From its grand facade, its opulent interiors, a panoramic theatre style that seats over a thousand people, its six floor height to its Champs-Elysées address – it shouts out flamboyance.  It is over-the-top in a spectacular and glamorous way.

Revue Lido

The Lido puts on amazing shows because it has the space to install lavish sets including a skating rink, water curtain and a swimming pool.  The Lido specializes in jaw-dropping effects and absolutely gorgeous and talented performers.  The current show, Bonheur is a stunning and exotic example of what they are capable of.  It involves 70 performers, 23 sets and 600 costumes with lots of sparkles, feathers and beautiful bodies.  You will not lack for visual stimulation.  Oh yes, the food is superb too.

Paradis Latin Show
The Paradis Latin claims to be the oldest cabaret venue in Paris having been around since 1802.  What is certainly indisputable is that they put on really risqué shows.  Located in the legendary Latin Quarter in the 5th arrondissement of Paris, the Paradis Latin has glamour by the bucket-load highlighted by classy decor that is reminiscent of late nineteenth, early twentieth century Paris.

Paradis Latin Hero

Looks aside, the Paradis Latin puts on sensual shows with unrestrained energy and spectacular settings.  The choreography is breathtaking and involves ballet, tap dancing and even circus-type acts.  They rope in some of the best known talents from around the world who are capable of making you forget the glass of wine in your hand.  At the Paradis, you will never sit back and relax.  It’s all edge of the seat ‘naughty’ entertainment.

Crazy Horse Show
Avant garde, sensual, risqué!  Those are just some of the terms you could use to describe the performances at the Crazy Horse.  It is fairly young (in terms of age) among Paris’ cabaret venues with all the brashness and vitality of youth.  The Crazy Horse puts on a wide variety of turns including musical, magic, juggling and mime but its worldwide reputation is based on its “aesthetic celebration of the female form as an expression of art.”  It is one of world’s most famous burlesque theatres focusing its creative energies to celebrating the female body.  The current revue is a new show called Désirs.

spectacle désirs

A converted wine cellar, The Crazy Horse resides in an imposing building on Avenue George V.  The interior is relatively small in scale with tables, comfortable armchairs and mood lighting providing a cozy atmosphere.  The whole effect and design is to make the experience intimate for the audience and get them close up to the stage and performers.

Mugler Follies
To the Mugler Follies goes the title of the ‘baby of Paris cabarets.’  The brainchild of Theirry Manfred Mugler, the cabaret at this venue is both innovative and enchanting.  Mugler brings all his experience, as an haute couture designer and his work with the Cirque de Soleil, to the revue.

©MTML-Manfred T. Mugler (1)

He has taken over the Comedia, a 1930s theatre and imbued it with his rather unique vision.  He has put together a show that is ultra-modern, giving a fresh spin to the classic French cabaret.  The shows are total entertainment, combining glamorous characters, sophisticated erotic scenes, whimsical dances, fantastic lighting and other eye-popping effects.  They can also be beautiful and shocking at the same time.  The Mugler Follies has acrobats, singers, dancers and choreography combining original scripts, music and songs.

Mugler Follies is Paris’s newest and most mind-expanding while also being the best value Cabaret show!

Remember though when you start out on your aventures nocturnes Parisiens, that attire is very important.  A tie and jacket is not compulsory.  However, short-pants, jeans, sport shoes and sportswear are prohibited.

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Brazil is Wild, Wonderful and World Cup Mad

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This huge and vibrant country is a wonder world and just cannot help itself.  It is blessed with thousands of miles of beaches, humungous tracts of rainforests, historic and futuristic cities fed by great rivers. Then there are the people whose blood seems to be pumped by a machine called “party.”  Add to that the elixir of football and you have all the ingredients for a super carnival.

Great!  So you are going to Brazil to watch the FIFA World Cup football matches.  Remember that this exhilarating and beautiful game takes under two hours to unfold, which is simply wonderful from a sight-seeing perspective.  When not in a stadium cheering your team, you will have so much time at each city to taste the spicy and fabulous banquet that is Brazil.

For instance…

Full Day Tour of Rio
Rio de Janeiro is one of the most exciting cities to visit.  However, it is huge and doing it on your own will eat up your limited time.  So taking an organized full day tour of Rio, also called the Marvellous City, is a great time-saving sightseeing idea.  It will take you to all the main highlights of historic downtown Rio; including Cinelândia Square with its historical buildings, the Municipal Theater, the National Library, the National Museum of Fine Arts, the Metropolitan Cathedral and the famous Sambadrome.

Christ the Redeemer Brazil

You then go through the solid rainforest of Tijuca to get to Corcovado Mountain.  Taking the cable car up is a great introduction to the astounding Christ the Redeemer statue on top and the fabulous views of Copacabana Beach, Ipnema and Leblon.

All in all it is a great programme.

Walking Around Historic Rio
Take a walking tour through the historic Rio and you will get a totally different flavour of this often turbulent city.  Rio’s legacy is impressive and very much in evidence as you wander through its cobbled streets to see the lovely colonial Portuguese influence in the form of the Imperial Palace, the France-Brazil House and the Benedictine Monastery.  Other architectural gems include the Candelária Church, the Banco de Brasil and the Casa França-Brasil and the hugely impressive Arcos da Lapa, which were part of the aqueduct that brought water into Rio.

Imperial Palace Rio

This walking tour is a fascinating one that will forever change your perspective of Rio.

Guanabara Bay Cruise
Another terrific way to see Rio is to take a boat cruise out onto the beautiful and vast Guanabara Bay.  Slowing cruising on its blue waters, you will get a panoramic view of all Rio’s landmarks without the hustle and bustle. Sugar Loaf Mountain and Corcovado dominate an impressive skyline. Flocks of seabirds wheel over your head as you sit down to a delicious meal consisting of delicious Crab Cake and Fettuccine with Pomodoro or Fish with Shrimp Sauce and Risotto.

Guanabara Bay Cruise

Historical Salvador – Capital of Happiness
One of the oldest cities in the Americas, Salvador seems to be in continuous party mode.  It has earned its nickname, “Brazil’s capital of happiness” for the numerous street parties.  But just as attention-grabbing is the long, tumultuous and interesting historical side to this lovely coastal city.  The best part is most of its past is preserved in the music, cuisine and architecture.

Taking the historical tour will reveal many gems of Salvador’s chequered past such as the lively, narrow streets of Pelourinho and its pastel hued houses that are about 300 years old.  Salvador’s colonial heritage shows up in the Forte de São Pedro, the Barra Lighthouse, the church of São Francisco and a thousand homes, churches and monuments built since the 16th century help make up the greatest collection of Baroque architectural heritage in Latin America.

Salvador is proof that there is a whole lot to Brazil you never even imagined.

Bahia By Night
There is an overwhelming perception that Portuguese culture and influence is what makes up Brazilian culture.  That is not the whole picture.  It is the African-Brazilian cultural-mix that puts the pop, crackle and sexiness in to what we perceive of Brazil.  It is the influence of African associated cultural practices that are celebrated and define Salvador.

Imacon Color Scanner

The best time to experience this hedonistic and outrageously colour culture is at night.  The many different expressions of the culture can be experienced if you take this wonderful tour.  Watch capoeira (traditional slave battles), or beautiful performances of Candomblé, Maculelê, Puxada de Rede, Dança do Caboclo and Samba de Roda and you will get a much deeper sense of what drives Brazil and its people.

Manaus And The Amazon Rainforest
Take a break from all the cultural aspects of Brazil because there is a more natural and wilder side to the country.  The incredible Amazon Rainforest, with all its spectacular animals, birds, plants and rivers is enough to take you by the heart and never leave you.

Manaus, in the heart of the Amazon forest region, is the best jumping-off place to explore this fascinating side to Brazil.  Not far from the city is one of nature’s most remarkable sights – the confluence of the Negros and the Solimões rivers.  Their differently coloured waters, which don’t mix as if kept apart by an invisible barrier, are worth every effort to see.  You could get really adventurous and go deep into the jungle and experience the Brazilian Amazon and all its flora and fauna face-to-face.

Victoria Regia Manaus

Another terrific draw is the Victoria Regia.  This is an extraordinary giant floating lily for which Manaus is famous.  Its leaves are over fifteen feet in diameter with a submerged stalk that can grow to over 25 feet in length.  The flowers are white on the first night they open subsequently changing to pink.

With all this and exciting football to immerse yourself in, you are going to find it difficult to return home.

Desfrutar Brasil!  (Enjoy Brazil)

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5 Must-Have Madrid Experiences

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Madrid is one of the prettiest cities in Europe. It has a wonderful mix of the modern and the historic with many classic buildings rubbing shoulders with the finest examples of modern architecture. The Manzanares River runs through its centre making it even more attractive.

Right from Roman times the city has been a colourful, vibrant and happening place. Performances of classical and rock music concerts, cultural festivals, artistic and fashion events are held quite frequently here. Sports, especially football, is given a lot of importance in Madrid. There is never a dull moment in this city and with so much on offer it can be difficult to decide on what to see and do.

Our pick of Madrid’s foremost activities and attractions should help you out.

Flamenco Dancing

flamenco twitter

This iconic Spanish art form should be on their postage stamps or currency notes. The body-swirling, foot-tapping, high-tempo, pulse-raising baile (dance) is dramatically enhanced by the music and rhythmic palmas (clapping). Once experienced, a flamenco show is never forgotten.

Madrid has hundreds of flamenco dance academies and many of them put on regular shows. Flamenco can be seen and heard in theatres, tablaos, taverns and bars so finding a performance is not a problem. A few places such as Corral de la Moreria, Cardamomo and Las Carboneras are deservedly famous for the quality of their performances. At one of these premier tablaos you can sit down to a plate of tapas, a glass of wine and soak in the flamenco atmosphere.

The Gardens of Madrid

Madrid has more than 33 million square metres dedicated to 40 parks and gardens. The amazing amount of acreage makes it Europe’s ‘greenest’ city. When the day grows warm, these oases provide a wonderful sanctuary from the sun. However, Madrid’s gardens contain some remarkable sculptures and statues making them open air museums and art galleries. Some also house aquariums and a planetarium.

While locals have their favourites, the larger and better known parks are El Retiro (with its own lake) and the Palace of Velasquez; Casa de Campo (Europe’s largest park), which encompasses the Madrid Zoo and an amusement park and the Campo del Moro and the Sabatini Gardens. The last mentioned are actually the Royal Gardens opened to the public in 1978. The beauty and diversity of Madrid’s gardens ensure that you come away with a hugely satisfying experience.

The Estadio Santiago Bernabéu

Bernabeu stadium

This enormous stadium (the second largest in Spain) is a temple to the beautiful game – football! Just as significantly it is home to the legendary Real Madrid Football Club. As one of the most famous and sought after football venues, the Bernabéu has seen many a thrilling competition finals including that of the 1982 FIFA World Cup.

Besides the magnificence of the stadium itself, there is a museum and gallery filled with portraits of past (and present) football greats, club trophies and a wide collection of memorabilia that recall glorious occasions from the club’s history.

The Prado Museum

Prado Museum Blog

The Museo del Prado is definitely one of Madrid’s finest attractions and one of the world’s greatest art galleries. The museum has a stunning collection of artworks for its visitors to enjoy. The museum is a magnificent 18th-century Neo-Classical building and houses some 7,600 paintings, 1,000 sculptures, 4,800 prints and 8,200 drawings.

This enormous collection includes masterpieces by Velasquez, Titian, Picasso, El Greco, Raphael, Rubens, Bosch, Dürer and Botticelli. The standout compilation, though, is by Goya. It is his works that make up a large part of the museum’s collection. The most famous (and controversial) Goya painting, The Naked Maja, hangs on the museum’s walls. This along with Velasquez’s Las Meninas is among the most popular works in the place.

Fiestas

Madrileños don’t need much of an excuse to get into party mode. And when they do, they dress up bright and fancy and give of their best. Some of the big festivities happen during celebrations for Dos de Mayo, San Antonio de la Florida and La Paloma. The largest and most frenetic festival is that of San Isidro (Madrid’s patron saint). Extravagant floats, bands, colourful costumes, street dancing and a series of bullfights are organised during the fiesta San Isidro.

Guaranteed great fun and excitement during all these celebrations!

Venga a Madrid!

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