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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 ‘Holidays & Festivals’

To be in Edinburgh during its Edinburgh Festival

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It is worth gearing up for, for the annual August festival of Edinburgh; which is also the largest annual cultural festival in the world. There are just so many things you can do at this time; with foreigners descending to the streets, the city is buzzing. In short, there is a lot of cheer and excitement everywhere.

The Edinburgh Festival is a collective term for many arts and cultural festivals put on by various unrelated organisations and are therefore officially separate events, but regarded as the same event as a whole, as it’s all taking place at the same time. There are so many festivals you’ll enjoy; out of which the Edinburgh International Festival and the Edinburgh Festival Fringe are the largest and original components of the festival. I personally love the Military Tattoo and the buzz and excitement I had in the Princes Street garden waiting for the fireworks display to start and setting up my camera to capture the night.

Fireworks on display

Fireworks on display

Edinburgh International Festival: This festival of performing arts takes place over three weeks from around the middle of August; and includes top class performers of music, theatre, opera and dance from all around the world. It also hosts a series of visual art exhibitions, talks and workshops.

Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo: Don’t be misled by the term ‘tattoo’ here. There is no ‘ink’ involved : -) but rather it is used to describe the ceremonial form of evening entertainment performed at the esplanade of Edinburgh castle each year by Military musicians that composed of British Armed Forces, Commonwealth and International Military bands. It is Scotland’s best-selling spectacle and so is not a surprise that tickets for this big event is always sold out in advance; hence the need to be alert about it couple of months prior to the event. The Tattoo activity will entertain you with its high-tech illumination, imaginative graphics, thundering sounds of drums and bagpipes, impressive marching and specially commissioned fireworks.

Edinburgh Festival Fringe (or simply The Fringe): The Fringe is the world’s largest arts festival. It is an unjuried festival, meaning there is no selection committee and therefore any type of performance can participate; and includes a street fair which is located on the Royal Mile. Other shows include Music, Dance & Physical Theatre, Musicals and Opera, and Children’s shows, in addition to assorted Events and Exhibitions.

Other popular festivals include iFest, Edinburgh Comedy Festival, Edinburgh Interactive Festival, Edinburgh People’s Festival, Edinburgh International Book Festival, Edinburgh Mela, Edinburgh International Film Festival, Edinburgh Art Festival and a whole lot more. Enough of reading and hearing about it; only when you have been a part of this big event can you say you have really seen the best of Edinburgh!

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Soaking up winter sun in the Canary Islands

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Chilly foggy weather, shorter days, looming dark evenings – just plain cold and depressing! Could we all do with a bit of sunshine this winter to get us through until spring; and what better place for a family holiday than the Canary Islands to do just that! It is close to the UK, meaning low-cost travel; and for guaranteed heat where rain is rare during winter and where temperatures range between 20 and 30 degrees, it is a no-brainer. The Canaries can also provide you with that sought-after summer tan in January.

Costa Teguise, Canary Islands

Costa Teguise

With a whole lot of beaches to choose from, you are sure to find the perfect location from the choice of beaches the Canary Islands have to offer. Miles of golden sands are the greatest attraction of Fuerteventura, while the beaches at Costa Teguise in Lanzarote are man-made and are a firm favourite for the windsurfing community. If naturist/nudist type of beaches is your thing, Tenerife’s Santa Cruz, San Miguel, Granadilla beaches are for you. However, if you are like me looking for less-visited and quiet islands, the islands of La Palma or La Gomera are ones to check out for!

Of course, some of the islands have more than just beaches. You can’t miss the Teide National Park in Tenerife, the highest peak in Spain. Or, you can take the family to the Camel Safari and Oasis Animal Park near Costa Calma in Fuerteventura. There are just simply loads of other things you can do on the Canary Islands; beaches, nature, wildlife, nightlife, restaurants, culture, activities and many more – you have it all here. My only regret is I didn’t have enough time!

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Brrrrr-lin in the Winter

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Berlin is certainly one of the most beautiful cities to explore, but once winter hits, you might find that walking and bike tours are more fitting for the warmer months.  Don’t rule out winter as a time to visit, as Berlin’s charm is still visible, if not accentuated by freshly fallen snow, Christmas decorations, and multiple activities reminding you that wintertime isn’t just for hibernating.

Christmas Markets

With over 50 different Christmas markets spread over the large squares and smaller allys, Berlin really captures the spirit of the holiday season wherever you run into them.  And you won’t be running into the same products over and over again, each market seems to specialize in different areas offering you a wide variety of gifts, gadgets, and goodies to browse through.

christmas-market You can go to the Gendarmenmarkt which features not only local embroidery, woodwork, stonemasonry, and food, but also there are shows which include performances by acrobatics, jugglers, musicians, and artists.  Or if you’re looking for something more low-key (relatively speaking to the glitz and glamour that can take over these markets), you can try the international Market of the Continents which supports social and structural projects from around the world.  When the native, handmade products are purchased from these traders it goes to their community to help their development.  Even better, this market is held indoors so even the snow can’t stop you.

Shows and Ballets

Outside may be snowy, dark, and cold, but what better way to capture the spirit of the holidays than a show by a world-renowned ballet, soothing orchestra, or fantastical entertainment?

candlelight-dinner I’ll be the first to admit that anything with the word “palace” sparks my interest, and this experience wouldn’t fall short of any expectations.  Enjoying a sumptuous dinner by candlelight in the Charlottenburg Palace Orangery, followed by what feels like a personal performance from the Berlin Palace Orchestra couldn’t make me feel better about escaping the cold in the warm and cozy comforts of this palace.

stage-show The Friedrichstadt Palast Stage Show is another alternative, less emphasis on the romance and instead, a complete focus on putting the audience in awe.  It’s safe to say that goal is always accomplished at the state-of-the-art theater where the stage is a show in itself.  With the addition of talented dancers, acrobatics, singers, and musicians, you’re mind will be in disbelief at what is presented in front of you.  Just call it a Christmas miracle.

Who could forget the Nutcracker?  Follow the classic story of a young girl and her doll on a Christmas Eve adventure.  Music by the infamous Tchaikovsky, and performed by the internationally acclaimed Russian National Ballet, this is one show that is sure to put you in the Christmas spirit!

Pubs

berlin-pub Finally, there is no better way to warm up than having a drink at a local pub.  With authentic taverns and numerous choices of drinks at the cocktail lounges, live music and even rooftop gardens over looking the city, there is no shortage to your options.  Berlin is filled with a wide variety of relaxing pubs and lively clubs, but they all give you a taste of the nightlife culture.

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Landing in Lapland

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What do reindeer, Santa Claus, dog-sledding, and the Northern lights all have in common? Besides indicators that winter is near, they all call Lapland their home. Located in the arctic circle in Finland, Lapland may not be an expected vacation spot, however it offers way more once in a lifetime experiences than the typical euro-trip. northern-lights
Not only does Lapland stand out because of its isolated but stunning geography, but also because of its charming society. Being influenced from Finland’s surrounding regions including Norway, Sweden, and Russia, the customs and traditions can vary depending on the part of Finland you find yourself in creating a truly unique culture. However it doesn’t matter where you are, in this seemingly magical country, the experiences are consistent in the exceptional memories they will leave you with.

reindeer-ride_lapland In a land epitomized by Christmas, this is certainly the time organize a holiday. Although this time of year may be too cold for the extensive network of hiking trails, there’s still more than enough outdoor adventures that won’t threaten you with frost bite. You can get to know more about Santa’s transportation with a visit to reindeer farms where you can go on a sleigh ride and even get your international reindeer license!

santa-claus

Travel to Rovaniemi which is also know as the official home of Santa Clause, a place where Santa becomes more than just a character. In Santa’s Village where the elves do all their hard work, you can meet the big man himself, and even send out mail from Santa’s post office. There are plenty of interesting shops with authentic elf craftsmanship, Santa Park, the Christmas Exhibition and much more.

husky-safari For more adventurous options, what seems like always freshly fallen snow provides a perfect foundation for a variety of snow sports. Snowmobile through frozen forests, work up an appetite with cross-country skiing, or go on a dog-sled safari, it’s clear that all of Lapland’s activities serve as unforgettable experiences for their visitors. Remember that during Christmas and the winter months, there are very few hours of daylight, but don’t worry because what seems like eternal darkness is really the perfect backdrop for the Northern lights, reflecting beautifully on the pure white snow.

Lapland may not be the first thing that pops into your mind when thinking of a winter holiday, but the experiences and memories certainly won’t be leaving your mind anytime soon!

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The origins of Hallowe’en

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The 31st of October is Halloween or Hallowe’en. The celebration is becoming increasingly popular in the UK following the American example. Children dress up in costumes and go ‘trick or treating’ in the neighbourhood and there are special Halloween costume parties.

Souls and Soothsaying

bonfire-lee-j-haywoodThe origin of Halloween goes as far back as Celtic times when Samhain was celebrated, marking the end of harvest and beginning of winter. On the eve of the new season the borders between the living and the dead dissolved and the souls of the dead returned to the world. This was a perfect condition for soothsaying apparently, so Druids build bonfires to make sacrifices and dressed in animal skins to tell each others fortunes.

Later this celebration was mixed with Roman festivals, one that commemorated the dead and the other to honour Pomona the goddess of fruit and trees. When Christianity was in place, the 2nd of November was declared All Souls Day and 1st November became All Saints Day or All Hallows. The evening before All Hallows became All Hallows Eve or Halloween.

Trick or treating

halloween-costume-by-infrogmationTreating started from the tradition of souling – the poor would knock on doors and in exchange for soulcakes ( a sweet spiced bun) they promised to pray for the family’s dead. Over time children took over souling and as the religious aspect disappeared the soulcakes where replaced by sweets.

The tricking might come from Mischief Night still upheld in some parts of the UK on the 4th of November where people play tricks on each other (though this mainly consisted of putting things in the wrong place…)

People dress up in costumes for Halloween because it was believed that ghosts returned to earth and to avoid being recognised and attacked, one would dress up to fool the evil spirits.

Pumpkins, Nuts and Apples

pumpkins-by-manitou2121Before pumpkins became popular, the lanterns were carved out of turnips: they were named the Jack O’Lanterns. Poor Jack was not allowed into Heaven because he was a miser but also not allowed into Hell as he had played tricks on the Devil – so he was doomed to walk around with his lantern until Judgement day.

Single ladies (pre-Beyoncé’s anthem) used the magical night to get a glimpse of their future husband. They would name hazelnuts after men of interest and throw them in the fire: the one that popped and not burned would be The One. The girls could throw an apple peel over their shoulder and it would land into the initial of their future spouse.  Alternatively they could eat an apple or light a candle in front of the mirror whilst combing their hair and the future husband will peak over your shoulder… Spooky!

Special Event

chicago-by-nimesh-mThis whole month you can have a Halloween party on our  special Seadog Haunted Chicago Cruise. During the 75-min cruise the Captain will tell you creepy tales and ghostly stories about people and places in Chicago. The city will never be the same again. If you have children who like spooky stories they are welcome to come along in their costumes!

Photocredits: Flickr Bonfire – Lee J Harwood, costumes- Infrogmation, pumpkins-manitou2121, Chicago – Nimesh M

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Autumn Activities

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The days are getting shorter and the temperature a little colder: autumn has truly begun. Still there is enough natural splendour and activities to be found during this season,  so here are few events from around the globe.

Germany Oktoberfest

In Munich the infamous Oktoberfest is currently in full swing. Last year it celebrated its 200th year anniversary and the beer festival is still going strong. Stroll along the Theresienwiese, visit the different beer tents and try local delicacies like the Weisswurst (veal sausage), Knödel (dumplings), enjoy a Mohrenkopf ( a chocolate covered cream cake) as desert. There are also rides to keep children of all ages entertained.

brotzeit_munich_4728_4Tips:

  • Go early, as you cannot reserve a place in a beer tent and you won’t be allowed in a tent when it’s considered full.
  • Your pram and buggy might be refused on peaktimes and young children will have to leave after 8pm even when accompanied by their parents.
  • Be prepared to dig deep: entry might be free
    but a liter beer will cost you around the €9.

The Oktoberfest will last until the 3rd of October and will beer serving hours are 10am-10:30pm on weekdays and 9am-10:30pm on the weekends.  If you can’t make it to the Oktoberfest now throughout the year you can still visit the Beer museum and go on a beer and food excursion in Munich.

stlouisby-markgstohlUSA Halloween

Halloween gains popularity in the UK but a very special place to celebrate Halloween is New Orleans, the most haunted city in America.  In the run-up to Halloween you can visit haunted houses in the French quarter and learn more about the dark art of Voodoo.
Celebrations are held on Frenchmen street where everyone takes to the street in costume and you can enjoy the annual Halloween parade where Halloween royalty takes to the floats.  The very brave book a cemetery tour in New Orleans. You will roam the St Louis Cemetery, learn about the evolution of voodoo and even visit the tomb of the Voodoo Queen of New Orleans.  Come along if you dare!

gatineau-by-dionetianCanada Thanksgiving

Another very North American festival but Canada celebrates Thanksgiving earlier than the US: this year it will be on the 10th of Oct. Originating from the Harvest Festival in Europe and the first Thanksgiving celebration in North America actually took place in Canada when Martin Frobisher arrived from England to Newfoundland in 1578.

Canada famed for its spaciousness and nature is still very popular among the modern day explorers.
The Gatineau Park is a woodland and Lakeland district close to the capital city Ottawa. Every autumn the Canadian capital organizes Fall Rhapsody, an event that runs through the Gatineau Park and covers over 90km of trails. There are also activities planned to keep the children entertained, so it is perfect for the whole family. You can also take a tour in Gatineau Park with a guide who will expertly lead you to the most awe-inspiring places like the Mackenzie King Estate, the gorgeous country home of the 10th Prime minister, William Lyon Mackenzie King.

Whatever you do: keep exploring this autumn!

Photocredits: Flickr St Louis cemetery- Mark Gstohl/ Gatineau Park- Dionetian

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August Bank Holiday is coming!

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Hoorah! Another Bankholiday is coming! Are you already thinking of the long weekend even though it’s just Monday? Have you not made any plans yet? Here are some some suggestions to make the most of that extra day off.

from zsl.org

London
“Someone told me it’s all happening at the zoo” sang Simon and Garfunkel. We do believe it’s true: visit London Zoo by Regents Park. New this year is the Penguin beach, where you can see the penguins from upclose! Don’t forget the rest of the animals, the gorillas, the lions the butterflies etc. Opening times 10-6pm daily book your London Zoo tickets here and skip the line.

Take a Street Art Walking tour: it was voted the London Tour for Londoners. See Shoreditch and Brick Lane in a completely new light as a guide leads you through the streets of London. Discover painting, installations and posters by artists where you were meant to see it: on the street.

Liverpool
the-cavern-club_liverpool_4119_1Spend your weekend in Liverpool, city of the Beatles and so much more. The Liverpool waterfront is an UNESCO World Heritage site, so take a Mersey Ferry and explore the Merseyside. Art lovers can visit the Liverpool Walker Art Museum, the national gallery of the North, or The Tate Liverpool . Antony Gormley has a public installation by Crosby beach consisting of 100 life-size sculptures of himself. You also have to visit the Cavern Club and discover how the legendary Beatles started. In a rush, see all the best bits with a hop on hop off bus tour of Liverpool.

royal-crescent_bath_5111_1Bath
Another UNESCO heritage site, Bath is indeed a very pretty part of England. Hollywood star Nicolas Cage fell so much in love with the Bath, that he bought a home there and switched on the Christmas lights. Already famous in the days of Jane Austen, Bath Spa is home to Britain’s only natural thermal spa. Relax in the warm waters and indulge in some spa treatments. You can easily spend the day admiring the beautiful architecture or go for some shopping in the city centre. Explore the hightlights of the city with an hop on bus Bath tour.

kings-college_cambridge_5106_4Cambridge
Cambridge came fourth in the UK TripAdvisor’s Traveller Choice Awards. It placed behind London Edinburgh and Bath (see above) but beat rival Oxford. You can visit the university and tour the ground of the infamous colleges daily. Still Cambridge is more than just a university city, there are plenty of things to do: enjoy some leisurely punting on the Cam, take afternoon tea in the Orchard Tea Garden or just explore the beautiful city centre. Visit our site to book a quick tour of Cambridge.

Make the most of the August Bankholiday, visit isango.com and book your own travel experience.

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Don’t be Scared of an Alternative Halloween Across the Channel

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Does the thought of having to find a costume for Halloween fill you with more dread than the haunting face of a man wielding a chainsaw? If so, Europe could be the answer. With some semblance of a cultural festival still being celebrated across the Channel you can take advantage of an excuse for a holiday without the dodgy eye make-up, fraying bandages and the handing out of ‘treats’ to hungry teenagers.

For a last minute trip Paris is the perfect option, and easily accessible. The city of love is slowly becoming one of horror for one night of the year only, but like the rest of Europe celebrates All Saints Day on November 1st, where the dead are honoured and the graves of loved ones are visited to pay respects. This also constitutes a national holiday so many attractions will be closed. The Paris Hop-on Hop-Off Bus takes in all the sights and runs all year, so while Parisians are paying their respects, the city can be explored. The route takes in all the most popular sites such as the Louvre, Champs de Mars, Notre Dame and the Champs-Élysée. continue reading

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How to pick the best holiday for you

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Different destinations appeal to different travellers for different reasons. We all fall under categories that determine where in the world we may end up. The categories are usually quite simple and obvious in most cases. Are you the traveller who can’t be bothered to do anything but sunbathe? Are you the one who wants to do everything active that every website, brochure, hotel clerk tells you is available? Are you all about culture and sightseeing or just abroad for the hot weather and a fancy hotel?

Destinations will always tell you they have everything but are you really going to go to Marrakech for beach life, The Great Barrier Reef or Uluru for old ruins, or Brooklyn for a taste of the Middle East? No, you’re not. They all have their own magic but it takes a specific type of traveller for each, to bring the magic to life. continue reading

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Happy Diwali India!

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It’s that time of the year again, it’s Diwali. For many, Diwali in India is often compared to Christmas in Western countries. It’s a national holiday, children go home and spend time with parents, houses are cleaned, people go to temples, traditional food flows free and people think back at the year behind. Diwali is called the festival of lights because in most parts of India people light up traditional lamps or crack fireworks. 

The social role of this holiday is very similar to what happens during Christmas/New Year, and in other similar “end of the year cycle” festivities in other part of the worlds. We take stock of what we’ve accomplished and we get prepared for the new cycle. In practice, Diwali is scheduled around the end of the harvesting season where farmers look back at the goods in stock and pray for good harvesting in the next cycle. Takeaway: we all need to stop and look back every once in a while.

The religious roots of Diwali are based on the victory of good over evil, or light over darkness, with different winner/loser gods in different faiths (Rama/Ravana, Krishna/Narakasura) (*). The Christian symbol of the birth of Jesus also suggests the time of a new beginning and a new hope for the year to come. Takeaway: we all keep hoping for a better future.

In London, there is obviously a long stream of celebrations of which the most important one is Diwali in the Square, held in Trafalgar Square with traditional dances, ceremonies and free concerts. This year (2009) it was held on Sunday Oct 4th.

In Paris things are less established but the House of India (Maison de l’Inde) will host a free Diwali buffet dinner with concerts and traditional dances on Sunday Oct 18th at the Cite’ Universitaire.

Plenty of Diwali activities and events also in New York, including a dance and music performance at the Metropolitan Museum of Arts.

So to all our Indian friends around the world, happy Diwali!

 

(*) Thanks Wikipedia.

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