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A Bibliophile’s Guide to Britain & Ireland

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1.    Oxfordshire, England

Oxford University

Explore the rich heritage of the city that has long been a haven for authors, poets as well as dozens of note-worthy journalists, writers, politicians, and artists. As is typical of a university town, Oxford is packed full of great pubs, however unlike most university towns, Oxford’s pubs are famous. The Bear is one of England’s oldest pubs, Tolkien and C. S. Lewis regularly drank at The Eagle and Child, and The Lamb and Flag was frequented by the likes of Thomas Hardy and Graham Greene. Go on a hop on hop off tour to get a genuine flavour of Oxford’s glorious literary past and vibrant present. Visit the hallowed portals of the University which inspired Lewis Carol’s Alice in Wonderland and Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy among others. In the University the historic Bodlein Library is one of the oldest and largest libraries in England. 

2.    Bath, England  

Roman thermal spril at Bath

Bath’s most famous resident, Jane Austen set two of her books Northanger Abbey and Persuasion in the city and lived there in the 1800s. Bath has year round events and activities for Austen fans to enjoy. Every summer people dress-up in Regency finery and attend the annual Netherfield Ball to dance like Darcy, Lizzy, Bingley and Jane. In the Fall, Bath holds a nine-day festival celebrating all things Austen. This includes a world famous Grand Regency Costume parade where 600 Austen fans from all over the world descend on Bath in Regency era costumes to open the festival. If you can’t make it for the festival, the Jane Austen Centre is open all year with exhibitions on Austen’s time in this city and a Regency themed Tea Room. While in Bath, be sure to take a dip in its ancient open-air thermal springs like they did in the 18th century. 

3.    Dublin, Ireland

Oscar Wilde statue in Dublin

Dubliners love words and Dublin has given the world such towering literary figures as Joyce, Yeats, Beckett, Shaw and Wilde to name but a few. Designated UNESCO City of Literature in 2010, Dublin’s written tradition stretches back to 800 A.D. with the Book of Kells, one of the most beautifully illuminated manuscripts in the world on display at Trinity College Dublin. One Merrion Sqaure is the home of Oscar Wilde, a beautiful example of Georgian architecture restored to an approximate version of their appearance in Oscar’s day and can only be visited on a guided tour. Across the road, is a flamboyant statue of the man himself, reclining on a huge granite stone seemingly without a care in the world! Prose and pints go together in this city which has produced four Nobel Prize laureates in Literature. Participate in the popular Literary Pub Crawl on the cobbled streets of Dublin which promises to give you “the pleasant notion of simultaneously replacing brain cells as you drown them…” 

4.   London, England

London at dusk

London has cemented its reputation as the culture capital of the world and for good reason. A bibliophile or an aspiring writer can spend a lifetime in London and still not see everything! For Londoners and tourists there are all kinds of walks to trace the literary legacy of some of English language’s greatest writers from Chaucer to Dickens, Shakespeare to Virginia Woolf, J.K. Rowling to Arthur Conan Doyle who have lived in London or been inspired by the city at some point in their life. Though an obvious choice to include, The British Library cannot be denied by bookworms. It houses one-of-a-kind manuscripts including hand-written excerpts from Beowulf, King Henry IV and many more. A highlight is Jane Austen’s personal notebook as well as her writing desk. The mix of the old and the new is what captivates thousands of visitors. No literary buff's educational adventure would be complete without taking a tour of the fashionable Bloomsbury area in the London Borough of Camden. It's a great way to learn the literary history of the neighbourhood. The Lamb bar and pub in the heart of Bloomsbury district has long been frequented by Charles Dickens, Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes. Another landmark is the Charles Dickens Museum, where the permanent exhibition is a representation of what the house looked like while Dickens resided there and is home to an extensive collection of surviving possessions. 

5.   Edinburgh, Scotland 

Edinburgh Old Town

Edinburgh has been the home of many well respected and popular writers such as Robert Louis Stevenson, Walter Scott, Robert Burns and Arthur Conan Doyle; along with contemporary authors J.K. Rowling, Ian Rankin, Irvine Welsh and Alexander McCall Smith. Edinburgh's streets are steeped in literary history and there is never a dearth of inspiration in this awe-inspiring Scottish capital. In the centre of Edinburgh is St Andrew Square, Edinburgh's Poetry Garden where you can float poetry written on paper lotus across the square's pond and make it part of the garden permanently. A must see for Pottermaniacs is The Elephant House, a gourmet tea and coffee shop, where J.K. Rowling wrote much of her early novels in the back room overlooking the Edinburgh Castle. Walk down the West Port street in Edinburgh’s Old Town which features taverns that have opened their doors to William Wordsworth, Robert Burns and Walter Scott. An essential part of Scottish culture are these pubs and taverns where famous literary figures would go and mix with the common people over Scottish ales and whiskies.

6.    Stratford-Upon-Avon, England

Anne Hathaway childhood home

This delightful little town is famous as the birthplace of England’s greatest poet and playwright, William Shakespeare. Home to the Royal Shakespeare Company, five historic houses linked to the Bard and a wealth of other tourist attractions, there is a lot to see in this Heritage city. Visit the house where the world’s most famous playwright was born and grew up. Tour Mary Arden's House, the childhood home of Shakespeare's mother and learn about Tudor life on Palmer’s Farm, an experience that transports visitor’s back to the 1570’s. Also visit the picturesque family home of Anne Hathaway where young Shakespeare courted his future bride Anne. Watch a play at the historic Royal Shakespeare Theatre situated on the western bank of river Avon. The best time to visit Stratford is between April and July when there are plenty of festivals, parades, concerts, and workshops for young and old to take part in.

7.    Wales, England

Medieval castle ruins in Wales countryside

2014 marks the centenary of the Welsh poet, author and legend Dylan Thomas. Explore the vast seascapes, village tracks, dusky moorlands, brimming meadows and lush parklands that have inspired his works. At the Dylan Thomas Centre in Swansea, see the permanent exhibition, ‘Man and Myth’ which includes Dylan Thomas' worksheets, recordings, artwork and even the suit Dylan wore in New York in 1953, the year he died. They also conduct the annual Dylan Thomas Festival that takes place each year from 27th October to 9th of November. Social historian Raymond Williams often embedded his work in Wales and Welsh cultural themes. Malcome Pryces noir novels set in Aberystwyth, Eve Green by Susan Fletcher and The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle have all used Wales as a setting. 

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Romantic Winter Getaways (Part 2)

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This is the second and final part of our feature on romantic experiences around the world. You can read part one of this feature here

1)    DINNER ON THE GRAND PEARL FLOATING RESTAURANT, BANGKOK

Wat Arun Temple at sunsetLeave Bangkok’s chaotic traffic behind and whisk your loved one for a delightful cruise along the Chao Phraya river in Thailand’s capital city. On board the luxurious Grand Pearl floating restaurant you will be able to marvel at famous Thai landmarks – Wat Arun (Temple of Dawn), Wat Phra Kaew (Temple of the Emerald Buddha) and the Grand Palace; shimmering in the night while you enjoy sumptuous Thai and international cuisine with your partner in a candle lit ambience.   

2)    PORTRAITS IN PARIS PHOTO SHOOT, PARIS, FRANCE

Portrait in ParisWrap yourself in the beauty and romance of the City of Love by booking a professional vacation photographer to capture your love story. Packed with charming vintage locations, Paris is a lover’s fantasy and a photographer’s delight. Get your photos taken in the most eclectic neighbourhood of Paris. Latin Quarter is situated on the left bank of the Seine, in the 5th and 6th arrondissement of Paris. There is no better setting to capture your engagement, honeymoon or anniversary photos.  

3)    MOUNT PILATUS EXCURSION FROM LUCERNE, SWITZERLAND

Cable car to the Swiss AlpsWith the snow-capped Mount Pilatus towering over the city, and the pristine Lake Lucerne in the heart of it, Switzerland is everything that a romantic getaway should be. After you and your partner are done gallivanting through picture perfect Swiss villages, medieval walled towns and enchanted castles, take a panoramic cable car ride (40 minutes) to Mount Pilatus, at an altitude of 2132 metres. Enjoy the vibrant skyline of the Swiss Alps and the snow decked slopes of Mount Pilatus while you savour traditional Swiss cuisine from the delectable restaurants or on the terrace where the views are to die for.

4)    METROPOLITAN OPERA & DINNER – WITH PRIVATE TRANSPORT, NEW YORK

When in New York City, a visit to The Metropolitan Opera is a must for Opera lovers. Make it extra special for our beloved by booking a luxurious package that includes a limousine pickup from your hotel, a meal at the popular Frankie & Johnnie’s Steakhouse, drinks, and opera tickets for your favorite production. This is perfect for an elegant proposal or a Valentine’s Day treat!

5)    ROMANTIC PRIVATE HELICOPTER TOUR FROM QUEENSTOWN, NEW ZEALAND

Lake Wakatipu in Queenstown, New ZealandThe magnificent scenery and views around Queenstown can only truly be experienced from the air via a scenic helicopter flight which will fly you over the highpoints of Lake Wakatipu. Look down on snow-capped peaks, dense forests and gleaming blue waters. The highlight of the luxury helicopter tours has to be shutting down on a remote alpine peak to take some time out to enjoy a delicious gourmet picnic and sparkling wine while you take in the pristine beauty of the alpine landscape. Perfect for couples looking to celebrate a special occasion. 

6)    ALHAMBRA PALACE GUIDED TOUR AND HAMMAM EXPERIENCE, GRANADA, SPAIN

Hammam in Granada, SpainThe city of Granada has one of the most dramatic locations in Spain, poised right below the magnificent “snowy range” Sierra Nevada. It is the perfect setting for one of Europe's most stunning monuments – Alhambra Palace, a romantic palace-fortress of the Nasrid Sultans, rulers of the last Spanish Muslim Kingdom. This red castle in Granada contains some of the world's finest examples of Moorish architecture. Relive the charm, magic and opulence of Alhambra’s glorious past by dipping in Arab-style public steam baths or ‘hammam’ where you and your partner can unwind in warm thermal baths complete with an exotic oil massage. 

7)    NEW YEARS EVE IN GRINZING – TOUR FROM VIENNA, AUSTRIA

Celebrating in a traditional tavernCelebrate the end of the year in one of the most famous wine growing villages in Austria. Just minutes from Vienna lies the wine hamlet of Grinzig with its traditional taverns serving local wine and hearty food, often accompanied by live Viennese music. The district of Grinzing is full of such beautifully preserved establishments that lend the whole district a magical feel. Numerous vineyards are located nearby and make a great place for a tranquil, romantic walk. Welcome the New Year in a traditional tavern, with "dinner à la Grinzing", sparkling wine and classical Viennese music.

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Romantic Winter Getaways (Part 1)

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In this first of a two part series, we feature romantic experiences around the world, handpicked by us for you and your loved one to experience in the cold cold months. We’ve covered all geographies and topographies so you have a diverse set of experiences to choose from. We’ve hit the Arctic Lapland, glamour capital Miami, canals of Venice, sunny Mexico, Scottish Highlands and artistic Budapest. 

1) SEEING THE NORTHERN LIGHTS AND REINDEER SLEIGH SAFARI, FINLAND

Northern Lights in FinlandCreate memories of a lifetime as you and your partner witness nature’s finest lightshow in Finnish Lapland.  Aurora Borealis or the northern lights paints the night sky in greens, violets and blues in the darkest winter months. Be part of this mystical phenomenon by chasing the lights between December and April, when all you have for company is the frosted forest, a blanket of snow, stories of the Arctic from your guide and Finnish style hot berry juice by the campfire.  For more fun in the Arctic wilderness, be sure to visit the reindeer farm and dash through the snow on a reindeer sleigh safari

2) PRIVATE GONDOLA RIDE FOR TWO, VENICE, ITALY

Venice by eveningA private gondola ride for two in Venice is the perfect occasion to pop the question. Wait till early evening when the crowds are gone and the light is right. On this gondola ride you glide through your own private Venice far from the hubbub of modern tourism. Glide through hidden canals, cross landmark bridges amongst Venetian gothic architecture and reflect on once upon a time grandeur. Prebook your gondola ride without having to haggle for the price at the destination.


3) LOBSTER DINNER CRUISE CANCUN,  MEXICO

If your perfect romantic getaway involves being surrounded by clear turquoise blue waters and walking on white sandy beaches then head to Cancun - Mexico’s premiere coastal destination. Opt for a sunset cruise on board the Spanish Galleon Colombus where you and your partner can enjoy gorgeous views of the Caribbean sea while you dine on delicious seafood and unlimited fine wine as the relaxing music of saxophone fills the air.  

4) MIAMI BEACH WEDDING, FLORIDA, USA

Tropical beach weddingIf you both love the outdoors, why not exchange your wedding vows in an outdoor wedding ceremony with soft sand under your feet, gushing ocean waves and cool sea breeze for company? The warm glow of the setting sun will give you lush photo opportunities to capture your special day. 

 

5) LOCH NESS, GLENCOE AND THE HIGHLANDS DAY TOUR FROM EDINBURGH, SCOTLAND

Scotland castlePerfect getaway for couples who relish myths, folktales and legends – Scotland is abundant with such stories. Experience the rugged beauty of the Highlands as you walk through ancient ruins of magnificent palaces and fortresses strewn along the coast. Soak yourself in the misty beauty of Glencoe, voted as Scotland’s most romantic glen in a poll. Centuries of Scottish history shall come alive as you pass from one charming town to another, crossing many a lochs in the stunning Scottish landscapes.

6) THE CHAMPAGNE REGION: TASTINGS AT MOET & CHANDON AND HOUSE OF MUMM, CHAMPAGNE, FRANCE

Champagne in the vineyardWe know that Paris never gets old, however a short day trip from Paris to the  Champagne-Ardenne region encapsulates a quintessential French experience unlike no other. Start your day exploring the quaint streets of Reims, known throughout the world for its sparkling wine, Champagne and follow it up with a guided tour of Reims UNESCO World Heritage Cathedral. Journey through Rheims Mountain Regional Park in the Epernay region where you can get a tour of the Moët & Chandon wine cellars. Get a real sense of the history and how the champagne is produced, along with tasting sessions and plenty of opportunity to stock up on your favourite champagne! 

 

7) NEW YEAR’S EVE CELEBRATIONS IN BUDAPEST

What can be more romantic than welcoming the New Year on a boat on the Danube? Partake in the bonhomie created by live Hungarian gypsy music, and traditional folk dances. Watch the illuminated landmarks of the city from the comfort of your boat, while you tuck into some delicious Hungarian food. A boat trip on the river ensures a memorable New Year's Eve party in the Hungarian capital.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of this feature…

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Happy Thanksgiving!

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Millions of Americans are set to celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday on November 28th this year. The festival marks homecoming for many who come together to share this holiday with their families. A hearty thanksgiving dinner of roasted turkey, butternut squash, cranberry sauce, corn on the cob, green beans, carrots and pumpkin pie is shared with loved ones. It is the time when families thank the Lord for what they have and remember their ancestors for providing them with bountiful harvest.

Thanksgiving DayIn 1621, the European settlers and Native Indians shared an autumn harvest feast that is acknowledged today as one of the first Thanksgiving celebrations in the colonies. For later generations of Colonists, Thanksgiving was more of a religious holiday descended from Puritan days of fasting, prayer and giving thanks to God. The Governor of each colony every year would declare certain days of Thanksgiving for plentiful harvests, victorious battles and timely rains. In 1777, George Washington decreed a national day of Thanksgiving to celebrate America's victory over the British in the Battle of Saratoga. By the 19th century, every state was celebrating the holiday with varying dates and months. Soon writer Sarah Josepha Hale began a one woman letter writing campaign, urging politicians to establish an annual day of Thanksgiving to help the country heading towards strife and Civil War. In 1863, her efforts were rewarded when Abraham Lincoln declared the last Thursday of November to be the Thanksgiving Day.

Thanksgiving has now became a welcome day of leisure from a six day work week. Some people have a four-day weekend so it is a popular time for trips and to visit family and friends. Thanksgiving day football game, celebratory parades and early Christmas shopping have since become part of this great American tradition.

Thanksgiving paradeWatching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City has become a beloved Thansgiving custom for New Yorkers and outsiders who come to witness this grand spectacle. This annual extravaganza has over 3.5 million people attending the parade along the parade route, and over 50 million people watching it on television. The parade works its way through the 2.5 mile route in Manhattan from Central Park West to Macy’s flagship store in Herald Square. This year's line-up will see family favorites such as Hello Kitty, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Spider Man, Ronald McDonald, Pillsbury Doughboy, Pikachu, Buzz Lightyear, Smurf, SpongeBob and others. Giant baseballs, stars, pumpkins, and candy canes will be among the novelty balloons. Floats will include Santa's Sleigh, True Spirit of Thanksgiving and Winter Wonderland in Central Park. The line-up of music performances include Carrie Underwood, Ariana Grade, Gavin Degraw and Fall Out Boy among many others.

We wish you all a very Happy Thanksgiving!

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