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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’

Oxford May Morning 2008: Behind the Scenes

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On the evening of April 30th, there’s no better place to be than inside Oxford’s Magdalen College.

The institution has been leading the surrounding community in May Day tradition for over 500 years. And tomorrow morning, hundreds of locals and tourists will, once again, flock to Magdalen’s picturesque High Street buildings just before dawn to be serenaded from above.

At 6:00 sharp on May 1st, the Magdalen College School Choir will sing the Hymnus Eucharisticus from atop the college’s majestic Tower.

Magdalen College Tower in Oxford, UK

In a beautiful, sweeping moment, the buzzing crowds will be silenced. The choir’s hymn will take over, enchanting the entirety of the crowded city block below.

And then the much anticipated performance will end, just like that.

But the festivities will carry on for several hours, with Morris Dancing and impromptu street performances scattered throughout the city centera truly memorable parade of fun for the whole family…

And that’s the fairytale, glossy brochure version of Oxford’s May Morning.

As I mentioned, no better place to be than inside Magdalen College on the eve of May Morning, when the fun really begins…

The party usually starts around 9:00pm in the college’s common rooms and bar, with students dancing, drinking and celebrating the coming of May (and summer!) until the wee hours of the morning.

Why sleep? A champagne breakfast awaits on the rooftop terrace at 5:45am, from which students can listen to the choir in hazy solitude, away from the crowded High Street.

Magdalen College Tower on May Morning

And of course, we can’t forget the traditional May Morning daybreak toast on the Cloisters lawn…

Oxford May Morning champagne toast

No point in leaving college grounds prior to the toast/breakfast, as most gates have been locked; the police have also blocked off the Magdalen Bridge from 3:00am and will refuse crossings until 2 hours after the event, so as to prevent drunken crusaders from leaping into the shallow waters of the Cherwell…

The famed jumping tradition used to be quite common, with hundreds impulsively plummeting over the walls each year; however, now, only a few sneaky stragglers are able break through the barricade. Last year, I (sadly) only witnessed one courageous jumper.

But rumor has it that students will actually be leaving the college this year for a VIP party at Club Escape ; we’ll see if they are re-admitted for breakfast in their intoxicated stupors.

Who knows, maybe they will band together in drunken revelry and rekindle an age-old tradition…

Come on, you crazy Magdalenites, let’s start the summer off with a splash!

Happy May Day.

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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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Lisbon: a city for everyone!

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The westernmost capital city of continental Europe is more than just a rowdy cluster of nightclubs and beach bars. With its lively summer schedule of cultural festivals, unique, kid-friendly events and oceanfront activities, Lisbon, Portugal is the perfect destination for young singles and extended families alike.

Kick off your summer with a rockin’ getaway.

It’s true—thousands of party-seeking youths will flock to the city in late May for the third annual “Rock in Rio Lisboa—For a Better World” Concert. But come on mom and dad—live a little! The concert is, after all, for charity. With appearances by Rod Stewart, Bon Jovi, Lenny Kravitz, and Alanis Morrisette, there’s a little bit of rockin’ fun for everyone.

Not convinced? Not to worry—your family will find its niche in this beachfront cultural mecca. Where else in the world can you find sun, sand, nightlife, experimental theatre, international dog shows, fresh seafood and delicious pasties de nata??

Family Adventures

Upon arrival, you may want to slap on your sunscreen and head straight for the shore. Go right ahead—there is much to do and see on the beaches surrounding Lisbon. You might consider a coastal tour, complete with an excursion to Cabo de Roca, Europe’s westernmost point, where you will capture a stunning, kaleidoscopic sunset. Or get active: join in on the Praia Grande Beach games (ongoing, for all ages) or embark on an Atlantic Coast bike adventure.

Be sure to explore the diverse city sights on a guided historical and cultural tour, which will take you to the famous, 15th century BelémTower, along with the burial site of explorer Vasco De Gama. Then, capture the picturesque cityscape and its natural surrounds on a cruise down the Tagus River.

Depending on when you visit, you will encounter a range of family-friendly activities, including the Ericurea Seafood Festival (June), the Equestrian Show at Queluznate Palace (weekly) and the Estoril International Dog Show (August).

Culture, culture, culture.

The arts are booming this summer in Lisbon. With an extensive calendar of music, theatre, dance and film festivals occurring between late May and mid September, there are copious opportunities to experience both local culture and international collaborations through a variety of mediums.

You are bound to encounter something of interest during your stay, from the experimental street “encounters” of the Alkantara Performing Arts Festival (22 May – 8 June) to the classical and contemporary jazz performances of the Estoril Music Festival (2 July – 3 August). Also popular are the FIA Lisboa International Handicrafts Fair (June – July), the Almada International Theatre Festival (July), and the Gay and Lesbian Film Festival (September).

The city, of course, truly comes alive at night! Get a taste of local culture on an evening tour, complete with a traditional dinner and folkloric show. Then, head to the oh-so-chic Bar do Rio and join the fiery locals on the dance floor at Lux until the wee hours of the morning.

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New Orleans Jazz Fest — April 25th-May 4th, 2008

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Mardi Gras is definitely not for everyone. Though I had am amazing time overall, indulging in King Cakes, beer and colorful revelry (and apparently phoning my mother several times to thank her for the gift of life), I can distinctly remember attending the Endymion parade on Bourbon Street (despite prior warnings not to enter the heart of the downtown area on Saturday night of Mardi Gras) and actually being pinned between 2 people, lifted 3 inches off the ground, and transported for a good solid minute with the whims of the crowd. I had no control over my arms, legs, or personal possessions. There was no space to breathe.

Mardi Gras is one of those memorable, “once in a lifetime” experiences but is definitely not the best way to experience New Orleans. I always recommend to anyone interested in absorbing some of the culture, music, history (and cuisine!) of this amazing city to come in the Fall or late Spring, when they can actually walk through and appreciate the French Quarter…and breathe! Not to worry—the partying never stops—there is always something crazy happening on Bourbon Street. Always a group of middle aged men throwing beads over a balcony, always lots of Hurricane Cocktails to be consumed, always the odd tap dancer or quirky “statue” gracing your path and even, occasionally, a celebrity or two across the bar (Britney Spears, for example, is from nearby Kentwood and has been spotted several times in Pat O’Brien’s Piano Bar).

For the adventurous, music-loving, party-going traveler, who wants a well-rounded experience of The Big Easy, I suggest heading down at the end of the month for Jazz Fest. This is arguably the best event that the city has to offer—many locals actually prefer Jazz Fest to Mardi Gras.

The festival takes place over 2 weekends on late April/early May at the Fair Ground Race Course, just 10 minutes outside of the French Quarter. Though there are doubtlessly hundreds of thousands that come to witness the diverse, extensive line up of performers (over 1000—jazz, blues, R&B, gospel, Cajun, zydeco, Afro-Caribbean, folk, Latin, rock, rap, country, bluegrass and more), there is also tons of open space, making the experience a lot more bearable than that of claustrophobic Canal Street on Lundi Gras (Fat Monday). Some will spend the day lounging on blankets to the tunes of Widespread Panic; other more energetic types may partake in some 3rd row moshing (as I did when L.L. Cool J started throwing $20 bills into the audience during his 2003 performance). This year, the headliners include: Stevie Wonder, Billy Joel, The Neville Brothers, Jimmy Buffett, Tim McGraw, Santana, Sheryl Crow, and Irma Thomas, among many others.

The Fest definitely doesn’t end on the fair ground at dusk. There are countless evening shows lined up at venues across the city—some advertised, some not. My personal favorite was a $5 Counting Crows “performance” that I stumbled across one evening on a French Quarter side street. Picture an intoxicated Adam Duritz belting Madonna covers to 40 drunks in a small room on a Tuesday night. It was fantastic.

Another highlight was the (sold out) 3am G. Love and Special Sauce jam session at Tipitina’s, followed by the ? ? ? . . .

And of course, for the ardent sightseer, there are plenty of interesting excursions, including walking tours, voodoo/ ghost tours, and river cruises.

(To answer the big, burning question on your minds, you can indeed view some of the worst hit sites of Hurricane Katrina on this guided tour.)

For those of you lucky enough to be venturing down to the Big Easy in the coming weeks, please do have some crawfish jambalaya and a drive-thru daiquiri (yes, a drive thru daiquiri) for me.

Enjoy the Fest!

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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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The Hunt for Easter Cheer.

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I have barely recovered from the overwhelming sea of red Hallmark that was Valentines Day. I haven’t even thought about which Irish pub I will be visiting on March 17th, but nonetheless, this morning, I was jolted into the future by the ultimate Americanization of Easter Cheer: an advertisement for a McDonald’s Cadbury Creme Egg McFlurry. ‘The hunt is over’, it read.

If the hunt is really over, then I’d better forget my planned spring beach trip and go get fat on some ice cream blended with chocolate, sugary Easter goodness.

Now don’t get me wrong, I am just as fond of chocolate eggs as the next girl with a sweet tooth. In fact, I kind of love them. But not for a third of the year, and especially not the third that falls before prime swimsuit weather. The consuming public does not need to be chased with bunnies and creative milkshakes just days after stowing away their Christmas wreaths.

And what is all of this sneaky rhetoric? Is the ‘hunt’ really over? The hunt for what? Fast food chains? Cadbury Eggs? Happiness?

As joyful as I feel after the occasional Happy Meal, I would rather make my personal quest for Easter Cheer a bit more mysterious and exciting. How fun is a holiday hunt if you can spot the glowing yellow prize from 3 blocks away…every 3 blocks? Not so much.

So today I have decided to embark on a global Hunt for Easter Cheer. Do join in! There are over 31,000 McDonald’s franchises worldwide. The least we can do is find a dozen or so interesting places to spend our Easter and/or summer holidays. Here’s what I’ve found so far: continue reading

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College Spring Break 2008

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I know, I know—you want your Mexican rendezvous to involve the least amount of planning possible. It’s Spring Break, for crying out loud, and as long as there’s booze, sun, sand and some like minded crazy kids, you’re fine. The only thing you need to “plan” is what kind of plastic container you are going to hide your coconut rum in when packing your suitcase. Trust me, I’ve been there.

But before you hop on the plane in a few weeks (or, if you’re kicking it old school, jump in a van), I want you to do two things:

  1. Remember your passport or photo ID (the real one!), whichever you need for your chosen route of debauchery. And don’t lose it.

Put it in one of those dorky Samsonite pouches or something. Trust me, the overworked people at the airport/border do not care how much you’ve spent on your ticket/hotel, or who your dad is. They don’t. Forget/lose your ID, and you are screwed.

  1. Take 30 minutes to actually think about what is going on in and around the place you are visiting, and book a few things to do.

By this I mean: there are going to be plenty of opportunities to get drunk and sunburned. There are going to be thousands of people running around you all day long doing just this. At first it will all seem fantastic (and it is). But by the third or fourth day of non-stop drinking up with the Joneses, you will crash. There are plenty of cool and exciting day excursions that you can do to switch things up a bit. Many are cheap and take only a few minutes to sign up for.

You may be thinking, “oh, I’ll just figure it out when I get there…they will be selling tours to see the Mayan ruins left and right.” Yes, they will, and no, you won’t. After 72 hours of spending all of your saved up dough on daiquiris, forgotten toiletries, and expensive burgers, the last thing you will want to do is fork over a wad of cash for an overpriced tour to a perky sales agent. It will be even harder to talk a friend into doing it with you. So take a few minutes, and plan. continue reading

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Lucky Irish Getaways

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Feeling lucky this St. Patrick’s day?

Hungry for a bit of Irish culture?

Why not plan an adventurous getaway to the land of g’ luck and greenery?!

1. ‘Tis the season of abundance
Lucky you: we’re now approaching peak salmon fishing season! Embark on this 7 day, 6 night journey to the rivers of the gorgeous Shannon region to try your hand at salmon and trout fishing. You will stay at the charming, historic Millbank House, along the banks of the Mulcair River—one of the best places to reel ‘em in while immersing yourself in the lush, natural landscapes of the region. Your trip will include various salmon and trout fishing excursions, as well as a unique visit to the Castleconnell Salmon Fishery, where you can hone your current skills and experiment with new fishing techniques.

Minutes away from the shops, amenities, and outbound tours of Limerick, your lodgings in Shannon will be the perfect, peaceful travel base for a family with diverse interests. Be sure to double your luck at one of many nearby golf courses!

2. A lucky kiss!
For a bit of magic and mystery, you may want to embark on a trail to the famous Blarney stone near Cork. Bend over backwards and pucker up to the famed “Stone of Eloquence,” and you will, according to Blarney legend, never be at a loss for words. Explore the mystical, 600-year-old castle and lovely surrounding grounds—the perfect place to spend the afternoon with your family.

And if you make it on Sunday, March 22nd, you will get to partake in the Annual Easter Egg Hunt!

3. Sláinte (Cheers!)
Perhaps your heart lies in the most happy and humble place of all—the Irish pub. Why not experience Dublin’s most famous landmarks, on a three day sightseeing trip through beer and whiskey tasting paradise?

Explore the birthplace and brewing process of your favorite pint at the Guinness Storehouse; discover the step-by-step procedure of whiskey malting, milling, mashing, fermenting, distilling and maturing at the Old Jameson Distillery. Sip your way through the evening, and embark on a lively, downtown pub crawl!

Right now is the perfect (and lucky!) time to experience the nature, magic and welcoming vibrancy of the Emerald Isle.

G’Luck and Happy Planning!

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Ladies: now is your chance.

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One of my closest friends prays for a husband every night (let’s call her Lena…for her sake). You may laugh, but Lena is dead serious. Has been since the age of 18, when ‘the one’—her childhood confidant and first love—unexpectedly broke it off, hurling her into a long cycle of failed relationships with men from all walks of life and corners of the world. From Guadalajara to Melbourne, her spiritual quest for love has been an intercontinental roller coaster of false hopes and nightmare endings, yet she will not give up. Day in and day out, Lena dreams of the perfect engagement weekend: prince charming bursts through the doors of her fifth floor bedsit with an armful of roses and sweeps her off to Paris, diamond ring in back pocket and Seine cruise tickets in hand. And they live Happily Ever After, etc.

You may still be smirking at the notion of nightly candlelit séances and wistful chants for a Hollywood happy ending, but Lena’s prayers are not far from the concerns of many late twenty- and thirty-something working professionals with maternal ambitions and not-so-responsive male companions. Yes, this is 2008, and there are ‘no rules’, per se, in an era of Las Vegas whims and three-way ‘unions’, but, for women like Lena, tradition is king. He has to do the legwork; she has to sit pretty. Ladies, if that’s your mindset, then maybe the occasional offering to your deity of choice isn’t such a bad idea…

Okay, so maybe St. Valentine (or rather Cupid, Venus and, more importantly, Tiffany’s) let you down this year. And like Lena, your wilting roses are now staring you in the face—along with your barren ring finger. With no foreseeable milestone events on the calendar until your November birthday, you begin to panic. But let’s be honest, you can only casually escort your man past the ‘first kiss’ landmark so many times before he will begin to catch on.

My advice to Lena (and to all of you with similar, yet perhaps less overt, matrimonial aspirations): channel your energies towards patron St. Patrick. Not only is his holiday about good luck, but also, according to folkloric legend, it was this innovative bloke who first declared an official calendar date for female marriage proposals back in the fifth century. This once bizarre concept has since evolved into a leap year tradition, making this February 29th your big chance to make a move. continue reading

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