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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’

Mexico”s ”Day of the Dead”: one of the world”s unique festivals

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Millions of Mexicans will celebrate the annual Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, between November 1st and 2nd.

This national holiday is when all of Mexico, as well as Mexicans living elsewhere in the world, come together to remember and pray for departed friends and family.

In its present form it is a mixture of early Aztec ritual and Catholic influences, but traces its origins back to the indigenous tribes of 2,500 to 3,000 years ago.

Traditional altars are built and graves are visited with gifts of the favourite foods of the deceased, all in the belief that the spirits of the dead will find it easier to visit the living during the festival.

When first arriving in Mexico, the Spanish Conquistadors saw the locals practising the festival dancing in honour of their dead loved ones while wearing wooden masks, and thought they were mocking death itself.

Originally its timing was determined by the Aztec calendar, but to incorporate the development of Christianity in Mexico under Spanish rule, the festival was moved to coincide with All Saints” Day and All Souls” Day.

Now Dia de los Muertos is known all over the world and while other countries such as Brazil have comparable festivals, Mexico”s is as unique and captivating an experience.

Culture and Sightseeing – City Tours – Whichever city you are in these tours will help to ensure you do not miss a thing.ADNFCR-1652-ID-18790825-ADNFCR

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Mexico”s ”Day of the Dead”: one of the world”s unique festivals

0

Millions of Mexicans will celebrate the annual Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, between November 1st and 2nd.

This national holiday is when all of Mexico, as well as Mexicans living elsewhere in the world, come together to remember and pray for departed friends and family.

In its present form it is a mixture of early Aztec ritual and Catholic influences, but traces its origins back to the indigenous tribes of 2,500 to 3,000 years ago.

Traditional altars are built and graves are visited with gifts of the favourite foods of the deceased, all in the belief that the spirits of the dead will find it easier to visit the living during the festival.

When first arriving in Mexico, the Spanish Conquistadors saw the locals practising the festival dancing in honour of their dead loved ones while wearing wooden masks, and thought they were mocking death itself.

Originally its timing was determined by the Aztec calendar, but to incorporate the development of Christianity in Mexico under Spanish rule, the festival was moved to coincide with All Saints” Day and All Souls” Day.

Now Dia de los Muertos is known all over the world and while other countries such as Brazil have comparable festivals, Mexico”s is as unique and captivating an experience.

Culture and Sightseeing – City Tours – Whichever city you are in these tours will help to ensure you do not miss a thing.ADNFCR-1652-ID-18790825-ADNFCR

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Mahiki’s Famous Treasure Chest

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My sincere apologies for the delays in posting photographs—I’ve been having some technical difficulties…

If you missed yesterday’s blog about Mahiki, which is, apparently, Prince Harry’s favourite London night club, you can read it here.

Right, so I’ve decided that a photograph doesn’t do Mahiki’s signature concoction much justice, but, nonetheless, here it is:

Mahiki Treasure Chest London

…those straws are about to do a lot of damage!

Crazy, right?

End story: Mahiki is a fantastic venue for a hen party or a stag, if you can foot the bill?

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Prince Harry, Part II: Mahiki Madness

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I was pumped when my close friend from college announced that she would be having her “hen party” (British term for bachelorette) at MAHIKI (reportedly Prince Harry’s favourite club).  We thought for sure that we would have some royal/celeb sightings at this famous London hotspot.  What geeky American tourists we are…

You know, in all honesty, we could have seen Madonna, Harry and the Dalai Lama by the time we finally hit the dance floor…that is, after emerging from our tropical “submersion” in champagne-filled treasure chests, flaming booze lava fountains and enormous conch shells, spilling over with red rum fruity goodness…

But let’s back up for a minute…

Mahiki Hens: the adventure begins…

9:33 pm:  Eleven, dolled up twenty-somethings arrive to the door of London’s most famous club.  One sparkling bride-to-be, flanked by eight fellow Americans, one Canadian and two authentic “hens” (only one Brit and one Aussie in attendance…but we called it a hen party anyway…). Three are giggling, one is hobbling on crutches (me), and two are scheming re: the fact that we have missed the free entry cut off time by 3 minutes—how to get around this?

9:34 pm:  “Ten pound entry fee, five hundred pound minimum per table” asserts chic, blonde woman at door. 

I repeat, woman at door. We definitely aren’t getting around this…

9:35 pm: Julia Allison, long time friend of bride-to-be reveals her true colors as celeb. mag columnist and lifestyle/entertainment guru.  So much for her night of undercover debauchery with the girls.  Julia flashes biz card, dishes PR schpeel to chic blonde woman, who, after 38 seconds of conversing with Julia, officially loves us.  “Such lovely girls…’ she coos.  Free table, complementary drinks—yes, yes can all be arranged.

We’re in.

9:40 pm:  We are escorted to a large, tropical bungalow-esque table by a camp cabana boy waiter.  We keep our eyes peeled for Harry and co.

9:50pm: Against our better judgement, we order THE TREASURE CHEST (pictures to come ASAP).

10:00pm: THE TREASURE CHEST arrives, filled with ice, fruit, an unidentifiable concoction of hard liquor and 11 straws.  A pirate queen’s dream come true.  Camp cabana boys pour champagne into chest.  We assemble into a giggling circle and sip.

10:10pm: Still sipping…

10:20pm: Still sipping…

10:30pm: Is this a bottomless chest?

Circa 10:40pm: Cabana boys arrive with two flaming “volcanoes” of booze.  And, of course, 11 straws.  We’ve just (barely) finished our treasure chest, and the bride is drunk.  My fractured foot is, magically, “all better!”……

??:??pm: Cabana boys return with two of  the largest conch shells I have ever seen, filled with red, fruity mystery punch.  One of which is now the centrepiece of the bride’s work desk back in Oxford.

??:??pm: Dance floor…

Circa 12:15am: Bride and her crew from Oxford realize that they are not going to make it to the station in time for their 12:15am train home (why they booked a 12:15 train, I will never know….).

??:??am:  … ???

Right, so, in conclusion, Mahiki is an absolute blast; however, I will probably never be able to go there again: I’ll never be able to top our amazing hen party adventure—I’ll never again receive the same, superb degree of service (thank you, Julia!)…  

Well…maybe I’ll go when I get married.  Or next time Harry comes to town.  Or both, if you catch my drift? J

 

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PERFECT HOLIDAY CONTEST FINALISTS

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Thanks to those who participated in the 2008 isango! ‘Perfect Holiday’ Contest! We were overwhelmed with enthusiastic responses and sincerely apologize for the delay in posting the finalists. But we’ve finally done it! Hooray! The top 5 entries have been selected, and it’s time to VOTE!

FYI: though we could only select 5 finalists, we truly enjoyed reviewing your (100!) entries. We admire your imaginative efforts; thus, the majority of this blog is dedicated to the bulk of entries that did not make it through to the shortlist. We have explained why certain types of entries were not selected and have included some relevant travel tips to assist you in actualizing your dream getaways!

If this sounds boring to you ( – it’s not, actually!), you can skip straight to the action, and:

CLICK HERE to VOTE for one of the TOP FIVE ENTRIES

…as selected by our team of travel writers and product specialists. Go ahead, do it! But remember, you can vote once, and once only!

SOME TRENDS AND TIPS:

(By the way, we’ve listed the finalists at the bottom of this blog in hopes that you will actually read the rest of what we have to say!)

…right, so we learned a great deal about your travel desires and needs from reading your entries—namely that most of you are in need of a good, long holiday! There were also some recurring themes:

1. “It’s not where you are, it’s who you are with…”
A large number you would prefer to spend your precious time away from the office on a romantic getaway with your significant other. Your descriptions of destinations were often very imaginative, but also quite vague, as you focused on the experience that you would have with the love of your life—just the two of you—isolated in paradise. These entries were fantastic (and heartwarming) but were also, unfortunately, more difficult to judge as sometimes we were not sure where, exactly, you aimed to go on your holiday! We suggest visiting the Romantic Retreats section of the isango! website to transform your, ahem, ‘daydreams’ (wink!) into reality.

2. Family First.
A large percentage of you have young children and thus face difficulties with planning to please multiple parties. For you, the ‘perfect holiday’ is one that is free of logistical nightmares: your entries thus tended to be long lists of things that you wanted to avoid (long queues, large crowds, flight delays), rather than of things you actually wanted to do. Though we can do nothing about rubbish airlines (except to complain right alongside you) we can help you to avoid ‘on the ground’ family feuds by encouraging you to plan a detailed itinerary prior to departing. Start with our list of Family Tours under the Activities section of our website, which can be narrowed down, for example, to theme parks and self drive tours.

Others of you focused on the needs of your parents and grandparents, wishing to fulfill their dreams by taking them to parts of the world that they have always wanted to see. We suggest starting with our Seniors category and narrowing your options down by country, or city, from there. (You can also always contact one of our friendly customer service reps if you have any questions!)

3. Some of you are, well, CRAZY…
Really, wow. You submitted some fantastically wild travel ‘plots’ (- you know who you are!). Check out some of our quirkier blogs for more unconventional ideas and inspiration.

Now, it’s the moment you’ve all been waiting for!

THE FINALISTS:

1. Hanlie Burger, ‘Shipwrecks, Sand Dunes and Desert Elephants’.

2. Louise Brown, ‘Northern Solitude’

3. Sarah Berl, ‘Spelunk!!’

4. Marian Redmond, ‘Campania Felix’, and

5. Sarah Stocks, ‘Tropical Rainforest? Or is it?’

A huge CONGRATS to Hanlie, Louise, Sarah, Marian and Sarah—and all of our participants—for dreaming up such fabulous ‘perfect holidays’! We cannot thank you enough.

Please vote here, and to pass this email along to all of your family and friends!

You can also check out more blog coverage of the contest here.

Thanks again for participating!

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Jess celebrates 2 years with isango!

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We held a small do last week to celebrate Jess’s two years with isango! Fearless in Biz Dev, she also nearly brought the ceiling down with her enthusiastic champagne popping technique.

Jess celebrates with champagne

Of course, the prospect of a little bubbly on a Thursday afternoon has got the rest of the isango! team thinking of other causes célèbres to announce: a sunny afternoon, a British Olympic medal, an upcoming bank holiday!

Some of us will be off to Edinburgh, Norway, Hastings, and the rest will simply enjoy an extra day to cook, drink wine, and enjoy the Notting Hill Carnival.

Where will you go and what will you do? Let us know!

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The Counting Crows are ‘back’, apparently.

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Yesterday, while the rest of London was immersed in the sporting event of the year—the final, epic match of Wimbledon 2008—I had the privilege of attending the city’s (equally as epic!) music event of the year—the 02 Wireless Festival in Hyde Park.

From Queensland-bred rock band Powderfinger, to Guyana-born reggae star Eddy Grant…to hip hop icon Jay-Z…London was, literally, booming with the festival’s diverse lineup of performers…especially with this year’s headliner: the Counting Crows.

After the band’s 5 year hiatus from album production, UK fans were ready to rock out—to both old favourites and new hits: in other words, we were ready for a CC comeback!

Counting Crows at O2 Wireless, London

As lead singer Adam Duritz expressed towards the end of the show: “we’ve been gone for a while, but now, we’re back…and we thank you for being here for us.”

And a welcoming, patient crowd we were…

All I have to say to is: Adam, it’s time to lay off the booze, really. You were more lucid when I encountered you belting Madonna covers in a Bourbon Street bar during Jazz Fest ’03 (a memorable moment, to say the least…)

We love your music, we love your voice, and we even love your wild antics…your flailing appendages…your crazy dreads…but last night was too much—you were falling all over the place! (that must have hurt?). I nearly left after the third song…

However, I (reluctantly) stayed, and I am glad that I did: the band did, miraculously, pull their act together in the second half—Duritz managed to somewhat sober up; he even threw in a few British tunes for audience kicks…but still, I am skeptical regarding this performance’s degree of ‘comeback’ worthiness…

Either way, for die hard fans that missed the London show, the Crows will spend another week taking the UK and Ireland by (a drunken?) storm…at the following venues:

Liverpool Arena, Liverpool, UK (July 7th)

Ambassador Theater, Dublin, Ireland (July 10th)

Oxegen Festival Punchestown, Kildare, Ireland (July 12th)

T in the Park, Scotland (July 13th)

But, whatever you do, beware of the front row: you may well end up cradling a flailing, drunken fireball of a lead singer…

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Wimbledon – my freebie 2 hour taster

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I’ve lived in London now for 10 years. I’ve been a tennis fan for over 20. I’ve never been to Wimbledon. Go figure! The excuses to date have ranged from ‘tickets are too hard to get hold of’ or ‘I can’t afford the time of work’ to ‘I hate crowds’ (when I’m at my most curmudgeonly). And if I’m totally honest, my interest in tennis peaks and dives with the attractiveness of the top 5 male seeds…. (The Agassi and Pat Rafter years saw my tennis interest become a mild obsession. I digress…)

So finally, after all these years, I get an email from a friend at 4pm on a rainy Wimbledon afternoon, with the faint prospect of tickets to the late afternoon Murray quarter final. I’m all about the spontaneity (and the ‘free-ness’ of free tickets of course), so I jumped at the prospect, tied up my loose inbox ends and ran up and down tube escalators and train platforms to get to Wimbledon station from Oxford Circus in a record 32 minutes.

It wasn’t until my friend and I were sat on the shuttle to the ground that she revealed her failure to get anything resembling a ticket – but by which case I thought ‘what the hell’ and started window gazing for my first sight of Centre Court. To my surprise, at 7pm on quarter final Wednesday of Wimbledon, gate staff aren’t as attentive as they can be, and it’s fairly easy to slip into the Wimbledon ground unnoticed and free of charge. Bonus! Next stop the bar. Next stop, the famed ‘Murray Mound’ or ‘Henman Hill’ of yore. Huge screen, 1000s of people, not an inch of grass to be seen.

We perched ourselves on the concrete right at the front, next to the over-officious ‘No stopping! Move back!’ stewards and settled in for the final 2 sets of the match. I would have said the atmosphere was electric amongst the passionate masses but that would be a lie. Murray lost in 3 straight sets and the Murray Mound masses were fairly quiet, a bit despondent and at one point, much more interested in the ejection of 2 fairly harmless drunks by an unnecessary 8 policemen. I wasn’t disheartened, I thoroughly enjoyed my free 2 hours at Wimbledon (and I don’t really like Murray anyway – he’s anti English). I cheered the 3 points or so he won with everyone else, groaned at the dubious line calls and just soaked up the sights and sounds of something I’d only ever seen on TV: the pleasant sounding ball-thwacks, player grunts and polite applause, the well-behaved, well-dressed spectators, strawberries and Pimms.

We wondered around the different sections, picked up a free (normally £9) souvenir programme off the floor, got a glance at John McEnroe punditing from a roof top above us, and even wondered into Court 1 (ticketless, again) to watch the final points of the other quarter final. Wimbledon’s got atmosphere. You can’t deny it. Even just wandering around outside of the courts you can soak it up, and it’s all so very civilised and English.

The sun had returned and on leaving at 8.30pm, we looked back to see the ground framed by the most gorgeous pink sunset. As I weaved my way past the polite, orderly taxi and shuttle bus queues, my taster experience felt all too brief and I resolved to return. Next year: tickets (paid for), a day or two off work even and fingers crossed for some better looking top seeds.

Wimbledon Murrays Mound

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Oktoberfest 2008: Plan Ahead!

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One of the biggest mistakes that I made when I was living in Florence back in 2004 was not preparing myself—mentally and logistically—for the craziness that is Oktoberfest. I decided to travel to Munich, Germany for the beloved international beer-a-thon on a last minute whim…fun and exciting, I know. But also…stupid. Young people actually do end up sleeping in train stations, and hotel owners do actually check to make sure you haven’t crammed 14 people into your two double bed shanty…..

Don’t get me wrong—my weekend at Oktoberfest was one of the most amazingly fun weekends EVER. I highly recommend going if you have the energy and the funds!

If you are aching to prost the night away with a group college pals and local, lederhosen-clad brethren this year, then don’t put off organizing your excursion until the last minute. There are a few details that you must consider…now!

First of all, Oktoberfest doesn’t really happen in October: the festival runs for sixteen days up until, and including, the first Sunday in October (it starts on September 20th this year). Most of the “regulars” have their accommodation and traditional costumes sorted out months in advance (the costumes, I learned, are actually a big deal for German participants, serving as important markers of cultural status/pride), if not on the day that they left the festival the previous year.

The most resourceful students on my study abroad program had booked their flights/trains and hostels the previous July …i.e. NOW, if you are planning to travel to Munich this September/October. I made the mistake of waiting until September to plan my trip, and, by this time, there were virtually no flights left. The few available seats that remained were outrageously priced, so I ended up taking a long, expensive overnight train. Book your flights now!

By the time I looked into accommodation, there was not one single hostel bed free in the city. I definitely do not recommend the “figure it out when we get there” approach—over 6 million visitors will be sleeping in and around Munich when you visit. Fortunately, someone in our group was resourceful enough to find us a reasonably-priced hotel room (reasonably priced because we split it 9 ways! And – eek – almost got caught! I do not recommend this approach!) …just two weeks before our visit.

Once you are finally at the fest, another useful tip: instead of gulping down a breakfast beer, start the day with a shandy (a tasty mix of beer and lemon soda), rather than overflowing steins of potent booze. The locals have already caught onto this trick, and they will be the ones that start at 10am and are still table dancing at dusk. Mix it up! You have all morning, afternoon, night, followed by the next afternoon, morning, night… afternoon…

Lastly, after a few days of tabletop debauchery, I realized that there was so much to see in and around the beautiful city of Munich! I definitely recommend planning a few excursions and activities; I thoroughly enjoyed exploring the city on a bike tour, which was led by a lively guide and, of course, included pub stops!

Also, though it feels strange, and even ‘wrong’, to abandon the world’s largest drinking festival to visit serious and solemn historical landmarks, you must consider: what is the likelihood that you will ever be in Munich, or for that matter, Germany, again? I personally chose to spend a day exploring the history of the region and took a trip to nearby Dachau; my visit to the Memorial Camp was life-changing, and I definitely do not regret it.

Well, that’s all on Munich/Oktoberfest for now! Do post a message if you have any questions or insights, and I will get back to you as quickly as possible.

I do hope that you make the most of your German adventure by planning smartly and traveling safely…

Good luck, and have fun!

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A Summer of Shakespeare

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Celebrate Shakespeare’s 444th birthday in London and Stratford-Upon-Avon.

This summer marks the celebration of two important milestones:

1. William Shakespeare’s 444th Birthday.

2. Somewhat reasonable English weather…

…which means that it’s time to get into the Shakespeare spirit…by witnessing his creative genius…at some of the most authentic of venues…

1. The Globe Theatre, London.

Start by paying a visit to the one and only Globe Theatre, located on London’s South Bank; I had the pleasure of witnessing the ‘official’ celebration of Shakespeare’s Birthday here on April 23rd. And from the spontaneous, mid-afternoon “Happy Birthday” serenade by a lively group of pub crawlers…to a vibrant musical performance, staged on a floating Elizabethan theatre in the middle of the Thames…it was an event not to be missed!

There are still plenty of opportunities to immerse yourselves in this unique, historical celebration in the coming months…namely, by attending a Shakespeare play at the Globe!

As stated on their website:

“This year we perform his most searching tragedy, King Lear; his most wild and inventive comedy, A Midsummer Night’s Dream; his most thrilling and savage satire, Timon of Athens, and his invention of a new form, the sit-com, in The Merry Wives of Windsor…”

Join in on one of the Globe’s most exciting theatrical runs to date!

2. The Royal Shakespeare Company, Stratford Upon Avon.

After experiencing the wonders of the Globe, you could take an overnight trip to Stratford Upon Avon—the birthplace of Shakespeare—to get a feel for his earliest sources of inspiration.

Wander through the town’s quaint, cobblestone streets, visit Anne Hathaway’s cottage, and see a Shakespeare play, performed by the world-renowned Royal Shakespeare Company.

This summer’s RSC productions include: Romeo and Juliet, Don John, Love’s Labour’s Lost, The Merchant of Venice, The Taming of the Shrew, and Hamlet.

The Oxford, Warwick Castle and Overnight in Stratford Tour departs from London daily and includes lodging at a 3 star hotel—a fantastic way to experience some of England’s most famous historical landmarks.

Happy Birthday, Will!

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