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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 in ‘Hobbies, Courses & Interests’

Pflasterspektakel Festival 2013, Austria

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Pflasterspektakel Festival

The Pflasterspektakel (pavement spectacle in German) is a very popular street art festival celebrated annually in Linz, the capital of Upper Austria. It is truly a world-leading art festival with participants coming from more than 30 countries.

The festival is a 3-days event that takes place every second half of July – with artists performing at around 40 locations throughout the city of Linz – around the mains square and the Landstraße. Only in case of rain does the event move to the old city hall and other indoor locations.

In its very first year in 1987, about 150 musicians took part. Today, there are more than 400 different acts, coming from all over the world.

Features of the street festival

The event starts with an opening ceremony on a Thursday at 4 p.m.; and at 2 p.m. on the following Friday and Saturday until midnight. Partying and other informal activities carry on into the morning hours.

The main features of this festival include musical acts, juggling, acrobatics, pantomime, magic shows, improvisational theatre, clownery, fire dancing, painting, puppet shows, samba parades, theatre in caravans, wooden marionettes etc.

It also has various small parades and a variety of events and programmes for children.

Sponsorship and Donations

The event is funded by the municipality along with Radio Oberösterreich, local newspapers, and a bank.

The artists derive their main income from the visitors’ donations; except for their travel costs, accommodation, breakfast, and 25 Euros of cash for their expenses per day. So make sure you donate generously so that we can keep this unique event alive for the future generations to enjoy.

This year’s event will make its 27th festival edition; and will take place from the 18th to 20th July 2013.

 

Image credit: Gnal

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Algarve Safari Tour

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Algarve Safari Tour

Taking a jeep or 4×4 buggy safari through the Algarve feels like you are bumping along some remote dusty North African desert region. That sensation is in the name too. Algarve is a translation from the Arabic meaning “the West.” The Algarve is at the southern tip of Portugal and you could be forgiven for thinking that you were not in Europe.

That exotic feeling is further accentuated by a sense of adventure as you jolt and jounce in your jeep across pebbly streams, through sandy, dusty and scrub dotted tracks. It doesn’t matter from where you start your Algarve Safari you have about 2,090 square miles of potential fun and excitement. It is also the best way to see this region and get you away from the beaches and the crowds.

There is one thing you learn very quickly as your open vehicle roars through the fabulous scenery – you shouldn’t have worn white! The dust thrown up your jeep and the others in the convoy will soon change it.

Going on an Algarve safari is an opportunity to see spectacular parts of the country you would not otherwise have seen or imagined. Adventure and thrills aside the safari will take you into the interior with its winding un-metalled roads; tiny white-washed villages that pop up out of nowhere; past orange and lemon orchards interspersed with stands of eucalyptus.

Another one of the attractive aspects of getting on an Algarve tour is the chance to have lunch in a traditional village or a local restaurant – a meal that includes the famous chicken piri-piri. If you are up to it you could try out a glass of medronho – the potent local “firewater.” You will see how the rural people of Portugal get along and glimpse their way of life.

There are several versions of an Algarve safari. Some will combine a boat trip along with the jeep ride. Others include a day surfing and swimming in the itinerary. There is a half day tour that starts in the evening. This one is best enjoyed if there it is a moonlit night.

There are plenty of photo opportunities along the way as the jeep drivers make regular stops when you can sip some refreshment and (possibly) give one’s bottom a break from all the bouncing. It is also a great time to bond with your fellow safari travellers.

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San Fermin Festival in Pamplona, Spain

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San Fermin

The fiesta of San Fermin is a deeply-rooted celebration —held from 6 to 14 July every year—in the city of Pamplona, Spain. It is celebrated in honour of Saint Fermine, patron of Navarra, and is locally known as Sanfermines.

The festival is a celebration of many traditional and folkloric events including the most popular encierro, or 'the running of the bulls'. Its events and worldwide fame, along with its attraction of a vast number of visitors from around the world are closely related to the description in Ernest Hemingway’s book, The Sun Also Rises.

The rave-up basically is about the consumption of large quantities of alcoholic beverages (sangria), music, bullfighting and partying.

The ceremonial process

The San fermin Festival starts at noon on 6 July each year and is marked by setting off the pyrotechnic chupinazo – a ceremonial rocket or the explosion of rocket from the balcony of the city hall at midday.

From the 7th to the 14th, the encierro – letting loose the bulls through some of the streets of the old part of the city take place when the clock on the church of San Cernin strikes 8 o'clock in the morning. From then on risk and excitement go hand in hand with high spirits and non-stop fun.

Running with the bulls is free but extreme caution must be exercised as it is an extremely risky sport, even considered male-only tradition. It has had 15 deaths since 1925 and most insurance don’t cover it – so you may only participate at your own risk.

The fiesta carries on with clear broth chocolate (caldico), long doughnuts (churros), the ceremonial giants (Gigantes), the aperitif and the fireworks at night; which then give way to all-night partying.

The dress code for the festival is red and white. And so for the next nine days, the streets turn into a celebration — of friendship, music, non-stop partying and open-air dances to the rhythm of the charangas and the peñas.

Tickets for the bullfight can cost anything from 25 to 70 Euros.

Closing

On the final day, i.e 14 July, thousands of people once again gather in the Town Hall Square with lighted candles and singing "Pobre de mí" (Poor me), to send off the Sanfermines until the next year.

Although most tourists know the festival as ‘The Running of the Bulls’, it is actually the party atmosphere, the celebration of life and the overall experience of the full-on Spanish fiesta that makes visiting Pamplona during San Fermin such an exciting and memorable one.

Have you booked your tickets yet?

Image credit: Rufino Lasaosa

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British Summer Time Hyde Park

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Barclaycard British Summer Time Hyde Park

We aren’t even done nursing the hang-over from the Glastonbury festival yet, but there’s gonna be another exciting mini-festival at London’s Hyde Park already! How about 10 awesome days of music and entertainment?! Yep, that’s right; be prepared – for there will be entertainment galore over back to back weekends!

Barclaycard presents the first-ever British Summer Time Hyde Park – a fabulous summer concert series – from Friday 5th July to Sunday 14th July 2013; with Bon Jovi headlining followed by The Rolling Stones.

In addition to these headliners, top-class support acts will be performed across 4 different stages by such artists as Elton John, Jennifer Lopez, Kaiser Chiefs, The Vaccines, Palma Violets, Bush, Tribes, Jake Bugg, Tom Odell, Chic. Featuring Nile Rodgers, Eliza Doolittle, Beverley Knight, Charlie Simpson, The Temper Trap, Gary Clark Jnr, All The Young, Leogun, Rival Sons, Little Barrir, The Coronas, The Virginmarys and many more…

The event includes a village green with a pub and farmers’ market. There will be four themed zones across the park, each with its own installations and entertainment including restaurants, bespoke salons, pubs, cocktail bars, cafes, bistros and food stalls.

What’s unique about this BST Hyde Park event?
Each live music-packed weekend will be sandwiched by a midweek programme of various entertainments. From Monday to Thursday, visitors will get the chance to be involved with smaller events including film, music, sport, literature, specific family day etc. to expand the Barclaycard presents British Summer Time Hyde Park experience to genuinely appeal to the whole family.

There will be three zones during the week: The Village Green (that offers a rural retreat in the city), the Piazza (that captures the atmosphere of a buzzing European square) and the Carnival (appreciation of the spirit of Hispania, South America and the Caribbean), which will all be free to access from 8 to 11 July.

There will also be four nights of live comedy in The Barclaycard Unwind Theatre that will include such big name as Russell Kane.

For full line-ups for the concert, check out the official website.

When: 5th to 14th July 2013
Where: Hyde Park, Rangers Lodge, Hyde Park, London, W2 2UH
Nearest Tube: Knightsbridge Station

ARE YOU READY FOR MORE FUN, LONDON?!

 

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10 Interesting Facts about Wimbledon

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Wimbledon Logo

The Championships or simply Wimbledon is the oldest, and perhaps the most prestigious tennis tournament in the world. This annually-held tournament is also the only Major (Grand Slam) still played on grass (the game’s original surface – giving the game its original name of "lawn tennis").

When not in the game, you can visit the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Museum or go for the Wimbledon Tour experience.

Here are 10 fast facts about the Wimbledon:

1. The tournament is distinguished for the absence of sponsor advertising around the courts.

2. Players are required to bow or curtsy if Her Majesty the Queen or the Prince of Wales is present.

3. The Wimbledon has a tradition of having a strict dress code for competitors, as well as the eating of strawberries and cream by the spectators and   Royal patronage.

4. All trophies are usually presented by The Duke of Kent, the President of the All England Club.

5. During World War II, a bomb ripped through Centre Court, damaging 1,200 seats.

6. A team of 45 ground staff tend the 19 courts that are all made of 100 per cent rye grass – chosen for its ability to stand wear and tear.

7. Wimbledon is also the only Grand Slam tournament where fans without tickets can queue up and still get seats on Centre Court, Court 1 and Court  2. Although, you’d normally have to queue overnight!

8. The Ladies' Single Trophy of Wimbledon is called 'Rosewater Dish' or 'Venus Rosewater Dish'.

9. A wooden racket was last used at Wimbledon in 1987.

10. Highest attendance ever recorded was in 2001 with 490,081 spectators turning out to watch the event.

11. The longest ever Wimbledon match lasted 11 hours and 5 minutes (between Nicolas Mahut and John Isner on 22nd, 23rd and 24th June, 2010); while the shortest match ever lasted only 37 minutes (when William Renshaw defeated John Hartley in 1881).
 

Oops…that’s 11 facts! Feeling a bit generous or over-excited are we? What other facts do you know about The Championships? Please share with us on the comments section.

Here’s to a great summer and a great Wimbledon!
 

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Downton Abbey Country Location Tour

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Highclere Castle

The movies and travel and tourism are becoming inextricably entwined. One would say the two industries are almost symbiotic. Where movie-makers go, it seems that tour and travel operators are quick to fill bus loads of folks and show them ‘the scene.’

From Braveheart to the Da Vince Code new tourist trails are being blazed in the UK. Now it is the turn of the global hit TV series, Downton Abbey to get in on the act. The series has inspired fans to go traipsing through picturesque Oxfordshire villages and down a pint at rural pubs. So great is the demand of Downton Abbey fans to follow in the footsteps of the aristocratic Crawley family and their staff that tours by one or two companies are sold out for the 2013 season!

The Downton Abbey Country Location tours are very comprehensive. They are generally of three days duration. They take visitors to Dower House, home of Cousin Violet aka Maggie Smith, Swan Inn, Downton Hospital, and the pub at Kirkbymoorside. The tour buses play excerpts and episodes of the series more or less relating to the location you will be visiting – just so that your memory is refreshed on the locations and characters.

You have to remember that though the setting for the fictional Downton Abbey is Yorkshire, many of the key film locations are not actually in that county. Highclere Castle is in Hamphire and used for all the exterior shots and most of the interior scenes. The exterior shots were taken in the picturesque village of Bampton in Oxfordshire, including St Mary’s Church. World War I battle scenes, in France, were filmed in the Suffolk countryside.

Haxby Park (featuring in the second season) is actually Waddesdon Manor in Buckinghamshire and Greys Court, Oxfordshire was used as the family’s secondary property mentioned in the third series. Another historical mansion featuring in the series is Lincoln Castle, just south of York, where the prison scenes were filmed.

So if you are a Downton Abbey addict you could sip afternoon tea and stroll in the beautiful gardens of the elegant homes that feature so prominently in the movies.
 

Image credit: zen whisk

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The Last Supper

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The Last Supper

The Last Supper is one of Leonardo da Vinci’s most well-known works; and along with the Mona Lisa, could be said to have established his fame as a painter. The painting represents the scene of The Last Supper of Jesus with his 12 disciples where he announced that “one of them would betray him”.

The painting is located at the Santa Maria delle Grazie church in Milan, covering the wall of the dining hall. In it, Leonardo grouped the apostles in four groups of threes, with Jesus in the middle sitting calmly.

The remarkable thing about this composition is how Leonardo brilliantly depicts identifiable reactions of the apostles with varying degrees of shock, outrage and disbelief when Jesus dropped the bombshell announcement.

Deterioration and restoration

Leonardo’s decision to use oil paint rather than the more reliable, fast-drying and stable watercolour fresco technique meant that the painting deteriorated soon enough. Several painters attempted to repair and major restoration works were done from 1978 to 1999, but the popularity of the work remains.

It could be argued though, that very little of the original paint now remains after all its repairs.

The fascination continues…

The painting continues to mystify and fascinate nonetheless. Speculations by writers and historical revisionists centre around supposed purported hidden messages or hints—and plenty other such-like interpretations —within the painting.

The fact that it plays the central role in Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code does little to quench the spurring of new wave of research and interpretation of one of this world’s most famous artworks.

The Last Supper Tickets

It is advisable that you book your ticket well ahead because of it being a very popular attraction…or simply prepare to be disappointed! Also be warned that visitors are not allowed to stay long.

The excellent audio guide will help you make the most of this must-see painting.

Image credit: Waiting For The Word
 

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What to know about Venice Gondola Rides

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Venice Gondola Ride

We’ve all seen the movies and pictures and are aware of the romantic power of a gondola ride on the canals of Venice. The enchantment of the experience changes the girl’s mind…‘and they live happily ever after.’ Beguiling, enchanting, romantic, magical etc, are standard adjectives to describe a tour of Venice in a gondola. It is a must-do thing.

True a Venice gondola ride is maybe that or maybe more but there are some practical things you need to know before you get on one of them. Some of these pointers may be a bit of an eye opener for you.

There was a time when about 10,000 gondolas plied the canals of Venice carrying goods and passengers across and around the city. Today there are roughly 400 of them and they are primarily used to ferry tourists. Though the number of gondolas is seemingly small the routes are limited. So you could find yourself in a prow to stern gaggle of gondolas – a veritable traffic jam!

The gondolas of today are all painted black as per the city’s regulations. However, many of them have colourful, individualistic and ornate decorations with comfortable seats, cushions and blankets.

The gondoliers have to wear a uniform of sorts, which are black pants, a striped (generally black and white) shirt and closed dark shoes. They also have a special hat but very often they don’t wear it. I suppose many a hat has been whipped off the gondolier’s head by the wind.

Not all gondoliers can sing nor are they required to. Some do but you may be disappointed by the results. Also it would be pretty hard to hear them over the chatting of your co-passengers and the calling and shouting among the other gondoliers. The night rides, though could be better for the singing. Some of them will give you information on the bridges and palaces of Venice as you pass them by.

Venice gondola rides are between 20 and 40 minutes duration. They also seat six people so if you are thinking ‘exclusive’ and romantic forget it as you will be sharing the boat with others.

The Grand Canal is perpetually crowded so take a ride along the quieter back canals, away from the more touristy places. It will give you a different view of Venice and a much better experience. Actually the smaller canals (you can touch the walls of the palazzos) will give you the feel of what makes Venice – Venice.

To hire a gondola to take you on the quieter routs look for one away from the main streets and the Grand Canal. If you have a particular route or places in mind then discuss it (and the price) clearly with the gondolier before you sit down.

Getting back to the singing gondoliers, several tour companies arrange a 40-minute Gondola Ride and Serenade. The glitch is that there is not one singer for each gondola. They travel in groups. Several gondolas will be listening to the same singer/musician as you glide along.  Another drawback is that you will be sharing the gondola with other people. So, maybe your Gregory Peck, Audrey Hepburn moment may not be the same.

The trickiest part is the fare. Gondola rides and fares are regulated. The standard day time 40 minute ride costs €80. The night ones are €100. However, you will be very lucky if you ever get one for those rates. Haven’t met or heard anyone who got a ride at the official rates.

This piece is not intended to turn you off a Venice gondola ride. You have to do it, no question. Just don’t go in starry-eyed.
 

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Touring Brussels’ Chocolate District

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Brussels Chocolate

Strolling through Brussels’ city centre on the chocolate trail has got to be one of the sweetest (pun fully intended) experiences of your life. Be prepared to have your sweet tooth totally saturated. Locally chocolate is often referred to as “Le Chocolat, L'Or Noir Des Bruxellois” or Chocolate, the Black Gold of the People of Brussels. The chocolate guided tour is a rather unique way to see and experience this self-proclaimed ‘chocolate capital of the world.

It is not all about titillating your mouth and filling up on the sinfully good stuff. If you take the four hour Brussels Walking and Chocolate Workshop Tour you will see and learn about the chocolate making process, the history of chocolate and even get to make some yourself under the guidance of a "Master Chocolatier". The tours generally take you to some of the premier chocolate shops in Brussels. A part of the tour experience is the free tasting of chocolate samples.

This is also pretty good tour because you see a whole lot of Brussels’ historical landmarks too including some very pretty art noveau houses. The old historic city centre of Brussels is livened up by the iconic and famous statute of Manneken Pis (Little Man Pee).

The statute, made from bronze, is part of a fountain depicting a naked little boy peeing into the basin. It was sculpted by Hiëronymus (Jerome) Duquesnoy and installed in 1618 or 1619. It is amazing how many folks from all over the world come to this see chubby little fellow and photograph his non-stop urinating. There will be lots of giggles! Oh yes replicas of the 2 foot tall boy can be found cast in chocolates and lollipops.

Just around the corner from little Mannekin is the Grand Place or Brussels’ central square. The area is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is enclosed by the Town Hall, The Breadhouse (King’s House) and a number of Guildhalls. Begun around the late 11th century with buildings being added at intervals, it was rebuilt after being destroyed by artillery fire in the 1700s. The Square, today, is a mix of Gothic, Baroque and Louis XIV styles. How it attained its current attraction despite the architectural mish-mash is a wonder.

Getting back to the chocolates… two stops are a must. One is a visit to Brussels’ oldest chocolate shop the Neuhaus. Started by Jean Neuhaus in 1857, they are the inventors of the praline or chocolate bonbon. The company is now a manufacturer of luxury chocolates, biscuits and ice-cream and the shop is bound to make your mouth water. If you make purchases here be ready to have your wallet emptied or credit card dented.

The other stop is the delightful Museum of Cocoa and Chocolate. They give you a history lesson on the origins of chocolate, the production process, chocolate sculptures and chocolate clothes. There are praline-making demonstrations several times a day so check for timings. The museum also contains and displays porcelain cans and cups relating to chocolate. The place is literally filled with the strong aroma of hot chocolate.

Tip
Most of the guides on these tours are supposed to be multilingual but you need to be clear when booking, which language you want or else you could find yourself in amongst a group that speak another tongue. The guide will obviously focus predominantly on them and you could be left out.
 

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Macau Travel Guide

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Macau

Macau’s skyline is spectacular! The myriad glittering commercial skyscrapers and glittering residential towers are like a futuristic sci-fi movie setting. At night the place turns into a modern fairy-tale land. However, little Macau is not all lights, steel and glass. There are lovely twisty cobbled-stone streets, old churches, colonial-style villas, temples and great eating places and cuisine. The first European community in China, Macau has a couple of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Some highlights of Macau’s sightseeing attractions are:

Historic Centre of Macau:  Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2005 because of a “meeting of aesthetic, cultural, architectural and technological influences from East and West.” The Centre is an attractive and unique mixture of Chinese and Portuguese cultures that includes monuments, streets, churches and temples.

One of the most outstanding examples is the ruins of St. Paul’s Church. These remnants are a collection of 16th century buildings that made up St. Pauls College and Cathedral. The detail on stone carvings and sculptures are remarkable for their beauty and intricacy. Other excellent specimens include the churches of St. Augustine, St. Lawrence and St. Joseph.

The statue of Kum Iam, dedicated to the Goddess of Mercy is a bronze statue, 66 feet (20 m) tall. Then there is the elegant A-Ma temple built in 1488 to honour Matsu, the Goddess of sailors and fishermen. Another lovely section is the charming cobblestone streets and quaint buildings shops leading in and out of Senado Square.

Macau Tower Convention & Entertainment Centre: Standing at 1,109 feet (338 metres) the Tower was modelled on Auckland, New Zealand’s Sky Tower. It has an observation deck, restaurant, theatres and shopping malls.  One can also do a Bungee jump from the Tower. It is also the world’s second highest commercial skyjump.

Casinos: Probably the biggest attraction, Macau’s casinos draw in the visitors from mainland China in their droves. Gambling is the largest revenue earner for this special administrative region (50% of the economy).The region has 33 casinos, which operate under government franchise. The three largest and most well known are The Venetian Macau, Casino Lisboa and the MGM Macau.

Grand Prix Circuit: You could stroll through some sections of the twisting and winding road route that makes up the famous and historic Macau Grand Prix. Known as the Guia Circuit, it is the site of one of the world’s oldest events on the racing calendar.

Eating: You cannot visit Macau without sampling some its cuisine. The region has evolved some unique dishes and locally specialised preparations that are a treat. The eating options range from the wide selection of street side eateries and take-away to the more formal restaurants. Whatever the choice, the food is really finger-licking delicious.

Macau is a small enclave but it has a world of experiences and sensations to offer to the visitor.
 

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