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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’

Unique Learning Holidays

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Are you aching to break free from the office mundanity?

Do you ever daydream about that hobby, vocation or artistic skill that you never took the time to pursue?

Then why not combine relaxation and leisure with personal development on one of these unique learning holidays………

1. Get Creative in Paris

If you’ve ever strolled through the bustling Montmarte area of Paris—and witnessed the artists happily immersed in their craft—then you’ve probably romanticised your own potentials as a painter.Next time you’re in Paris, rather than purchasing a postcard of a painting, why not paint a pretty postcard yourself!

Get creative in Paris on a half day painting tour, through which you will learn the compositional basics of watercolor painting as you replicate a charming Parisian scene on a postcard.

Make mum proud!

2. Learn to Cook in the Mediterranean.

Do you dream of the fresh fish, cheeses, olives, and fruits of the Mediterranean? Want to learn how to recreate the deliciousness of Eastern Spanish cuisine in your very own kitchen?Then I suggest first embarking on a trip to Malaga, Spain, where you can partake in a Mediterranean Cooking class.

Shop for fresh veggies at a local market, learn to make authentic dishes from a local chef, and at the end of the day, enjoy a nice sit down meal, as you taste your very own creations—and some delectable wines—with your new friends.

3. Pottery Making in Africa

Get down and dirty…behind the pottery wheel…in Tunisia. Immerse yourself in the culture of Nabeul, known for its pottery and ceramic making, as you develop talents of your own!

You will not regret having immersed yourself in the therapeutic process of pottery making; the beauty of this course is that it runs daily—you can pick and choose which days you want to learn and how much time you wish to relax and soak in the beautiful scenery of the Tunisian coastline…It’s time to get creative!

Other Courses:

Photography Tours

Cooking Lunch with the Countess in Paris

Bumbu Bali Cooking Class

Belly Dancing in Tunisia

Blue Elephant Cooking School in Bangkok

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Father’s Day 2008: The Gift of Adventure

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Do not underestimate the crazy types of things your father would do with his free time: those receding silver streaks mean nothing. In fact, they were probably, unavoidably, caused by you.

You see, a protective dad’s biggest fear is that his kids are secretly behaving half as stupidly as he was during the dumbest moment of his own youth. Most dads are just giant kids, really. And this Father’s Day (Sunday 15 June 2008!) is the perfect opportunity to make your old man feel like a young lad again. Give him the father’s day gift of a lifetime! It’s time to send dad on one of these…

Big Kid Adventure Tours

1. Four Wheeling through the Australian Outback.

Your mother will hate it (thus he’ll love it even more) when you sweep your dad away on a vacation Down Under, where he can trail blaze through rugged, open plains on his very own 4×4 motorbike! He will delight in pioneering the breathtaking landscapes and beloved fauna of Oz.

(You can assure mother that the tour is led by experienced local bikers!)

2. White Water Rafting on the Ganges

The ultimate adventure. A two-day excursion to India’s prime rafting spot—a most thrilling (and beautiful!) stretch of the Ganges River in the north.

After a refreshing afternoon and overnight stay at the Ganges Nature Camp, your favorite Big Kid will brave the rapids full force (mothers: helmets are provided, and the rapids are interspersed with calm swimming spots and picturesque scenery).

The bravest dads may opt for a quick cliff dive before completing the five-hour journey in Rishikesh.

The excursion includes hotel pick up and drop off, transportation to camp in an air-conditioned vehicle, accommodation in safari tents, rafting equipment, trained and professional guides, and various adventure activities (jungle walking, body surfing, cliff jumping, etc.).

3. Helicopter Ride over Grand Canyon

Who wouldn’t love it? (Actually, I think my acrophobic mother would hate this one, too…).

Suitable for the busy businessman, this exhilarating flight will give your deserving dad a breathtaking vantage point of the grand, cavernous expanse of striated rock that he dreamed about as a boy.

The tour commences at the Southern Rim and will bring him soaring through the center and across to Imperial Point, which boasts spectacular views of the Canyon, the Painted Desert and the Colorado River.

4. Everglades Safari Park Tour

Perfect for all the binocular-clad dads out there, this (affordable!) airboat ride excursion through the Everglades National Park, the “largest subtropical wilderness in the US,”will bring ‘em face-to-face with mother nature.

Dad will relish in the abundant flora and fauna as he watches the gators in action, explores the marshes by foot and truly immerses himself in one of America’s most precious ecosystems.

This most affordable Father’s Day gift includes: a wildlife nature show, reptile cave exhibits, an alligator wrestling show, and, of course, an airboat ride!

5. Bungee Jumping in New Zealand

For the craziest Big Kids out there, this one is pretty self-explanatory:

1. Climb (200 ft up the stunning Auckland harbour bridge),

2. Strap (on the appropriate gear), and…

3. JUMP!

He will even get a complimentary t-shirt and bungee certification…

The Gift of Adventure

This Father’s Day, forget the gardening gadgets and golfing shirts, and ignite dad’s inner child—send him on the Big Kid Adventure of a Lifetime!

Excursions:
Quad Biking in Australian Outback

White Water Rafting on the Ganges

Helicopter Ride over Grand Canyon

Everglades Safari Park Tour

Bungee Jumping in New Zealand

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Dating Advice from Birdman

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It’s springtime, and love is in the air…

My undergraduate biology professor was, I recall fondly, the most eager ornithologist alive; I’ve never, ever experienced a person with such passion for his field. His descriptions, slideshows and enactments of Bowerbird courtship nesting rituals were more animated than the dances of a Broadway ‘Simba’ on acid. I just wish I could remember his name….let’s call him Birdman.

“He’s a bird watcheeer…he’s a bird watcher…watchin’ birds go by: my, my, myyyy…”

I learned a thing or two from Birdman; first of all, that, if all men behaved like Bowerbirds, the world would truly be a better place—meaning that women would constantly be showered with attention, affection and personalized, heartfelt gifts (sigh!). The elaborate nest-constructing rituals of the Bowerbird are like none other on the planet.

Picture this scenario:

It’s a warm, bright spring afternoon on beautiful Fraser Island, Australia, and romance is in the air. Benny, the blue Satin continue reading

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Wine and Cheese, Please?

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If I had a billion dollars, I would transform all tedious errands into luxury weekend getaways. For example, instead of going to Wal-Mart for basic household supplies, I would just hop on a private jet to China. For new work clothes, I’d skip the Zara sales rack and head to Spain. And to gather refreshments for my upcoming housewarming party, I’d bypass the supermarket crowds and take my shopping list straight to the hillside villages of Tuscany.

But then again, if I had a billion dollars, I probably wouldn’t be shopping for my own wine, cheese and canapés to begin with. I also wouldn’t be lying about the housewarming party and, in reality, while writing this, be sipping boxed wine atop my luxurious, fifth floor air mattress in my shared London “bedsit” …

Regarding Tuscany, I can actually vouch from personal experience: I have been, and it is one of the most breathtakingly beautiful and relaxing places on the planet. If I have managed to make it over there, you easily can, too.

So let’s just pretend that my bedsit is actually a newly refurbished, mansion block split level, in need of some freshly imported Italian flavours. Here’s where I would go…

A Taste of Tuscany

Firenze

If you have never been to Tuscany, or for that matter, Italy, you will likely want to see Florence. With direct links to a variety of countryside tours and villages, this well preserved historic (and delectable!) city could, with good planning, could be the perfect kick-start for further sightseeing and gastronomic adventures.

Prepare for sensory overload: you will be inundated with the highest concentration of Renaissance art and architecture in the world, along with bustling markets, crowded shopping streets, zipping vespas, outdoor concerts, and tourists galore. Yet happily, you will drink loads of Chianti and get your first taste of authentic, delicious Tuscan cooking.

So go ahead and hit all of the main sights (you can do this in a day, on a private tour, if you like), and then, for bit of local flavor, head to the south of the Arno river to some of the quieter and more residential areas. Be sure to spend an afternoon at Piazza Santo Spirito, which is arguably the most delightful, friendly and laid back square in the city. With several cafes, a beautiful Augustinian church, frequent specialty markets, and plenty of shady places to sit, it is the perfect place to sip a glass of wine and admire the easy pace of Florentine life.

Turn the corner and grab a delicious panini and a (deliciously inexpensive) bottle of Chianti and from Gustapanino—the best sandwich shop in town, hands down (trust me, just go). For some home style cooking with a creative twist, you could wander a few blocks north to friendly, family-owned Trattoria 4 Leoni. Try the Fiocchetti di pere con salsa di taleggio e asparagi, and change your understanding of pasta (and pears) forever (I’ll let you discover the deliciousness for yourself). I recommend sticking to their own-label house Chianti, but they do provide an extensive selection of wines from all over the region.

Feeling full? The adventure has just begun! Now it’s time to grab your posh party “grocery lists” and head to….

Montepulciano

Florence isn’t for everyone, and neither is Chianti. But it is impossible not to fall in love with the Tuscan countryside. Picture miles of quiet open road, surrounded by endless rolling meadows, lush vineyards, wild flowers and olive orchards. And suddenly, when life couldn’t be more beautiful, you are faced with a majestic, tiered hillside village that looks like a giant medieval castle from a fairy tale book. You find out from the tour guide that you are about to go frolic through its cobblestone alleyways and into its cavernous, 13th century vaults to sip some of the best wines that Italy has to offer. Magic.

Enter Montepulciano, an enchanting cascade of renaissance and medieval architecture, which, perched high upon a hill and surrounded by bountiful, endless countryside, is one of the most memorable and magnificent places in Tuscany.

And most importantly, its wines are world famous.

Wander through the village until you reach the 1000-year old Contucci enoteca, where thousands of barrels preserve the delicate balance of its renowned Vino Nobile. You can then savour the fermented richness of Italy’s finest Sangiovese grapes, with hints of vanilla oak and red berry that will tempt most wine novices (like me!) into connoisseurship.

Emerge from your tasting spree to bask in the afternoon sun and admire breathtaking, panoramic views of the region.

Pienza

I have been to a ritzy party or two and am accustomed to the occasional brie and stilton platter, but I had never delved into the nuances of cheese tasting before visiting Pienza. This tiny village actually smells like a giant wheel of Pecorino Toscano and is indeed famous for its unique, sheep’s milk (or to get technical, ewes’ milk), herb-infused concoction.

A short distance outside of Florence, this tiny hilltop village, unique in its “pure” Renaissance design and layout, can be easily navigated in a matter of hours. With its friendly shop owners, quaint cobblestone streets, and seemingly trouble-free lifestyle, Pienza, in my opinion, captures the true essence of Tuscany.

Wander in and out of the many food shops on the main street to taste the different varieties of pecorino, reflective of seasonal changes and the unique plants and herbs scattered throughout the surrounding pastureland.

view-of-tuscan-countryside-from-pienza.jpg

What next?

Well, that’s a start. You could then return home ready to schmooze it up with your bottiglie di Vino Nobile di Montepulciano Riserva, to be authentically complimented by the savoury taste of 100% ewes’ milk Pecorino Toscano. Or you could carry on adventuring. Or even better, stay in Tuscany forever. I know I could…

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DANCE Around the World…

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Everyone needs a little bit of song, dance and frivolity to break up the monotony of the daily grind. When’s the last time you let loose on the dance floor? Experimented with a hot, new set of moves?

Did you know that, for some people, the daily grind actually centers around such activity?

No, I’m not just talking about the West End cast of Joseph and the fictional plot of Hairspray.

Or the hardcore, hard drug club-goers with the glow-in-the-dark thingies…

I’m talking about groups of people all over the world—from Durban to Tjapukai—who use dance as a key form of communication in their daily lives.

This is not to say that you—the occasional club-goer—are exempt from such behavioral classifications.

Though I will be focusing on cultural immersion trips and dance excursions (below), I would like to first note few examples of cultural expression via dance that are a bit closer to home. continue reading

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Nintendo Wii Fit Launch, London’s South Bank

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Has anyone else in this city experienced the thrills and joys of the Nintendo Power Pad?

Europeans may recall its sister product, the colorful, interactive Family Fun Fitness mat, which, like the Power Pad, was wired with (then) cutting-edge movement sensors. Both devices provided competitive, humorous exercise outlets for the whole fam. Born in the late 80’s, these wonderful gadgets were, to my knowledge, the first and only of their kind.

“Power Pad Day” used be the highlight of my week—my friends and I would gather in front of the basement TV, ceremonially unroll the sleek, smooth electronic mat and stomp our ways to virtual Track and Field victories. Indeed, it was the classic Nintendo Entertainment System that provided us with our favorite form of indoor fun. We would scheme for hours on end: how to master the triple jump? The hurdle relay? Can we “trick” the system by sneakily stepping off of the Pad, thus extending our Long Jumps to superhuman distances? Oh, the possibilities…

After its seven year tenure, the Power Pad was (circa ’95) sadly discontinued (in conjunction with its game system counterpart). But I, of course, proudly looked after our NES and beloved PP through my late teens; for, though my brother and I were privy to the graphic wonders of N64, nothing compared to a bit of old-fashioned, World Class Track Meet fun. continue reading

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UK Cultural Festivals

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Hidden away in the most seemingly ordinary of countryside villages and isolated of coastal towns are some of Britain’s best kept secrets—unique cultural traditions that can be witnessed nowhere else in the world.

My advice for the whimsical and curious traveller in search of new sights: it’s time to think beyond location. Seek to experience. The most fascinating things can happen in the most unexpected of places, many of which are easily accessible, affordable and perhaps even a short car or boat trip away.

Think eccentric; think outlandish. Make 2008 a year of cultural adventure, and discover some of Europe’s most bewildering and unconventional pastimes…

A guide to some of the UK’s greatest cultural secrets. continue reading

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My First Day in Oxford.

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I will never forget my first day in Oxford, which was arguably one of the best days that I had during my year amidst the dreaming spires.

I was fresh off the plane from the USA—wide eyed, eager and ready to rock.

Except I didn’t know anyone… or how to get anywhere…

All I knew was that I had just entered the most majestic, fairytale land of a town imaginable: I was ready to experience everything.

As I wandered aimlessly around the enchanting grounds of Magdalen College, hoping toMagdalen College, Oxford locate the graduate common room, I spotted a friendly-looking young man and approached him in hopes of directions. I was in luck: he happened to be on his way to the “MCR” (graduate or Middle Common Room) at that very moment – said I should certainly come along and check it out. Great! I introduced myself, asked him for his name. He told me. Again, please? I must have misheard. continue reading

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Exciting New Hobbies II: Hot Air Ballooning!

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I was never good at sports when I was a little girl. Always the smallest, always last picked, always first out. Always feigning injuries…

It’s weird: I was terrified of the fast pitch but never afraid of heights. Send me parasailing or put me on a plane, and I am the happiest girl in the world. Force me onto the playing field, and I still cringe.

If only Lewes Middle School had a hot air ballooning team, I used to dream, I would have been the coolest kid in town.

So Marching Band it was…

Seriously, though, how cool would it be if you could get your varsity letter in Hot Air Ballooning? And travel with your team to all of the best ballooning spots in the world?

I’d do it in a second. And here’s where I’d go:

 

BALLOONING AROUND THE WORLD.

 

1. Tropical Queensland

 

 

In Mareeba, Australia, the sun shines at least 300 days a year…

Imagine waking up every morning to an 85% chance of clear blue skies?

Or even better—floating into a seamless horizon as the sun rises over northeastern Australia?

This hot air balloon excursion begins in Cairns and will take you drifting over the lush greenery and fertile agricultural plots of the Atherton Tableland (famous for its food and wine trails, including a mango winery… yummmm…), landing just in time for a freshly prepared tropical breakfast at Tjapukai Cultural Park.

You will then continue your sky high journey on the world’s longest cableway as you coast through the jungle and above picturesque, rushing waterways.

End your day by basking in the late afternoon sunshine.

 

2. East Africa

 

Wings Over Kenya” …it doesn’t get much more poetic than that. My next ballooning destination of choice would definitely be the Masai Mara Game Reserve (also discussed briefly here), which boasts an abundance of lions, elephants, buffaloes, zebras, hippos, leopards, and, for the lucky adventurer, wildebeasts!

What better way to experience this world famous wildlife refuge than to soar above it with the vultures, marabous and pygmy falcons?

The ballooning segment of the safari ends with a “bubbly bush” champagne breakfast…most intriguing…

 

3. Angkor Wat

 

Only from far, far above can you come close to understanding the historical presence of Angkor, Cambodia, which was the largest pre-industrial society in the world!

On an awe-inspiring balloon ride over the remains of Angkor Wat, you will behold the powerful legacy of the Khmer Empire from a truly unique vantage point. An architectural masterpiece, the remaining, towering temples exude the religious and political purposes that they once served.

 

Fly Away!

Hot Air Balloon Tours

If you are aching for a new hobby (or want to pitch a “Diversity in Athletics” campaign to your school), I can only hope that you will indeed consider the exciting past time of…

Hot Air Ballooning.

 

 

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Unique Food and Wine Tasting Experiences in Paris

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For food lovers, no better place to start than Paris, of course. The city is so rich with culinary delights, that any list of “top picks” would be far from complete. But a few unique and unknown experiences do exist for those who want to experience something truly authentic and special.

Cuisine, a key aspect of French culture, is deeply interlinked with French society. The Ecole Polytechnique is France’s most selective and top-ranked educational institution, offering an equally prestigious dining experience to the public. It is possible to take a tour of the Orsay Museum, combined with a gourmet meal at the university’s Maison des Polytechniciens.

Or, if you are looking for something even more intimate and educational, you can take a private cooking class , led by a Countess in her private mansion in the charming Montmarte area.

Perhaps you are a wine lover? I recommend taking this small group wine tasting tour through central Paris. An expert guide will take you to a few specialised wine bars, or bistrots, allowing you to taste some of the finest wines produced on country.

Here is another small group wine tasting itinerary in the Latin district (rue Mouffetard).

Paris is also well-connected to the unique, delectable experiences of neighbouring cities and regions. Try any of these:

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