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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 ‘Nature & Wildlife’

Squirrel Mania!

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Once upon a time, two naïve, young Americans resided in an isolated garden amidst thousands of Britons. For years, they cohabited peacefully, frolicking through the flowers, making the most of available resources, scavenging what they could and protecting themselves from the inclimate weather with drab, grey (yet functional) attire.

They remained blissfully unaware of their neighbouring British brethren, who, steeped in age-old tradition, upheld their distinctive, refined set of food and fashion tastes…

Then, one day, some idiot let those Americans loose.

The Yankees invade.

The Grey Squirrels have taken over— ‘those big, ugly rats’, as some of my British friends call them, are destroying the native population of beloved, beautiful Red Squirrels.

continue reading

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The Republic of Happiness.

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“We have the friendliest border police in the world,” the officer smiled as he handed me back my landing card, “you can start your story with that?”

I’m in love with Ireland. And I’m not just saying this because I still have traces of Guinness lurking in my synapses (folk ballads ringing in my ears, 40 shades of green flashing through my hazy subconscious…). I just met some of the warmest, most welcoming people on the planet. It was their personalities—their enthusiasm for life and for those around them—that defined my travel experience. My most vivid memories of the Emerald Isle will thus linger as a series of encounters with lively locals, namely the following…

1. Michael O’Leary

Not the famed, fiery chief executive of Ryanair—or his son, as insinuated by friends (unless Mike Sr. secretly spawned at age 10)—but nonetheless a most charismatic guru of Dublin nightlife.

Mr. O’Leary’s mantra—“those who have no fear are truly free” (repeated several times, over several pints)—will never be forgotten. Amen, brother. Amen…

“The way I see it, girls,” he grandly gestured toward the window of The Bailey, a trendy, laid back Dublin watering hole—a crossroads for pub-going lads and cocktail-sipping ladies (a good place for the former to take and (attempt to) impress the latter), “is that you have two choices—two potential paths, if you will.”

We sipped our glasses of chardonnay in anticipation.

“But you must first tell me,” he leaned forward: “What is it that you truly hope for?”

In life…or from the bartender? We just wanted to know which, uh, pub we should go to next?

“You see, you have choices.

choices?

“Yes, choices. You can either walk through that door, and turn left…”

He grabbed a pen from his pocket and quickly charted a hyper-detailed route to Café en Seine, a posh French café-turned-disco, on my damp napkin.

“Or, you can go…right.”

The difference being…?

“Well, if you choose left, you choose…suits.”

French cafes and suits? You’ve gotta be kidding. We want a banjo-picking, sham-rocking hoe down. This is Ireland for G’sake…

“But if you turn right…”

He carefully folded the napkin map into my friend’s palm.

“Well, that’s for you to discover.”

Two paths diverged in a green, drunken wood…

And we obviously chose right.

2. Mary O’Sullivan

Mary O’Sullivan was genuinely concerned with our well-being from the moment we stumbled into her Killarney Bicycle Shop—we appeared as two lost, giggling (hung over) tourists on an eager quest to “discover the Ring of Kerry” by bicycle…in four hours…right.

Mary saw how excited we were, though, and graciously offered us extra cycling time—she would come back to meet as after evening mass at 7.15pm on the dot (the shop closed at 6pm that night).

We had no idea where we were going, what to do with our bulky handbags or how to strap on our helmets. But Mary had us covered—she took care of everything. It took her 15 minutes to get us situated on our pink-trimmed town bikes, an amount of time in which, she informed us, “I can usually get 30 people out the door and on the road.” But she didn’t seem to mind mothering us—in fact, I think she really enjoyed it. She pointed out that she had good training for this type of thing, having raised 3 sons.

“Sorry, all married!” She responded…before I could even ask…while fastening my helmet (for the second time). Damn, she was good.

I should note that our cycling tour of Killarney National Park—a topic for another blog—was the unquestionable highlight of our trip to Ireland. Despite a *tiny* setback (we got lost and had to backtrack 15km to a vaguely familiar cow pasture, from which we miraculously navigated our ways back to the main road and into the city center), we had an amazing, scenic, and exhilarating journey through the enormous park and surrounds.

We even managed to make it back to Mary’s shop on time; actually, we were early. Mary informed us that our good fortune was a result of the prayer she said for us at mass.

Honestly, what would we have done without her? Mary O’Sullivan = our saviour.

3. Crazy Tom

Crazy Tom was the acoustic guitarist that stole our hearts with his country ballads and quirky cover selections at that little pub on College Street in downtown Killarney. I’ve spent the last 30 minutes doing crafty Google searches, trying to track down the name of the rustic little venue in which Tom’s musical magic transpired on the evening of May 25th, 2008. But I have failed miserably. Sorry kids—I just don’t remember where I was. But I remember the music…promise.

Fortunately, Killarney is the type of town where you could go door to door and say something like: “Do you know where I can find Tom, the crazy old, guitarist with the crazy hair? He’s incredibly talented and really nice to tourists? He sometimes plays Bob Marley…” And you would probably figure out a way to catch one of Tom’s gigs in less than an hour.

But if you can’t manage to track down Tom, fear not: the Killarney nightlife scene is live music. Just stroll through the city center on a weekend evening—you are bound to encounter tons of traditional/folk + country + rock cover bands in various little pubs and bars. I’ve never seen so many banjos in one weekend. Greatness.

We listened to Tom play for nearly three hours—he dedicated a song to us. We love Crazy Tom. And Irish music. And Killarney. And Ireland. And life…

Your turn

These are just a few of the many wonderful people that I met on a weekend trip to Ireland. I am still shrouded in a happy, boozy haze; I vow to return to the friendliest, leafiest little land in Europe as soon as I possibly can.

‘Tis the perfect season for an Irish jaunt. Get involved!

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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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Exploring THE HEATH

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It’s difficult to imagine, as you are pinned against the window of a stuffy underground car at 8:30 am on a Wednesday, your nose embedded in a strange man’s cheap, polyester pinstripes, that vast, wide open spaces, full of oxygen and trees actually exist in this world.

It’s also easy to forget, while you are charging through a rush hour umbrella war, what all the rain actually does (besides ruin our ‘dos) in the first place. It keeps things GREEN.

London is actually one of the greenest cities that I have seen (in leafy terms), especially in comparison to New York and Paris. Most famous for its Royal parks—Hyde Park, Kensington Gardens, St James’s Park, Green Park, Regent’s Park, etc.—it also boasts a range of commons, greens, greenways, and, perhaps most significantly, Hampstead Heath—a 791 acre (3.2 km²) expanse of woodlands, ponds, sports grounds, rolling meadows, sandy ridges and untamed foliage—all nestled just a few tube stops away from central London.

Now, with bits of spring (summer?) sunshine teasing the damp crowns of 6 million Londoners, the tubes are getting stuffier, the beer gardens are overflowing, and the green spaces are becoming increasingly…pink.

I’d been hearing so much buzz about ‘The Heath’ ever since moving to London, that I had to go up (yesterday) before the beautiful weather streak ended (today)…though tourists often find their ways to Hampstead (Parliament Hill) to catch a famous, stunning panoramic view of the city, it seems that only Londoners and extended-stay visitors (one in the same?) find the time to fully experience The Heath.

Even if you are on a short visit to London, I definitely, definitely recommend spending at least a day exploring this gorgeous expanse of green, which offers, truly, ‘something for everyone’—from pond swimming and picnicking…to lido lounging and garden dining…to cycling, kite flying and even bird watching (a skill that I am now ‘quite keen’ to master—they even offer educational sessions for beginners on some weekends).

I should quickly emphasize that the region commonly recognized as ‘The Heath’ actually contains several sub-areas and parks, each with its own ‘personality’.

Most prominent is the private, English Heritage site of Kenwood, which, with its stately mansion, intricately-manicured flower gardens, immaculately-trimmed lawns, sparkling ponds and upscale garden cafés, poses a lovely contrast to the untamed wilderness of the surrounding Heath. The Kenwood Estate and Gardens tends to attract older visitors (and nearby residents) seeking a picturesque spot for an afternoon tea and stroll. (I couldn’t help but notice that it would be a fantastic spot for a wedding. Sound good, Harry? xx).

Right…

Also worth a visit is Golders Hill Park, which, with its deer park, animal enclosures, playground equipment and huge picnicking lawns, is the perfect place for a family day out.

But, the best way to fully discover The Heath, in my opinion, is to grab a little map from the park office by the Parliament Café (southeast corner, accessible from Kentish Town Tube station) and embark on a quasi-aimless trek; the park office even has a few trails mapped out—I chose the 6 mile (9.7 km) route and inevitably strayed from the red dotted line about halfway through. But getting a bit ‘lost’, in my opinion, allows you to really experience and appreciate the beauty and tranquility of the wooded areas—to observe the lively movements of the squirrels and (as cheesy as it may sound) to listen to the songs of the birds.

Within thirty minutes, you will find it hard to believe that, just a few kilometers down the road, thousands of passengers are crammed into a stuffy, dark underground tunnel…

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A Lake I LOVE

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I’m an eternal beach girl. Give me a list of vacation choices, and I’ll always opt for sun, sand and turquoise blue over the mountain cabin or the big city jaunt.

And lakes? Who needs ‘em. They’re always murky, always still—lakes are perfect hiding places for sneaky snakes and nasty crocodiles, as far as I’m concerned. And the ones that are clean/clear are usually freezing 11.5 months a year.

What can you even do in a lake? Ok, watersports, fine. Again, there is the lurking creature issue. Sunbathe? Sometimes, if you find a nice muddy patch or a big, hard rock to sit on.

Soft, fine sand + warm sunshine + gentle, crashing waves = my idea of relaxation.This had always been my rationale until just over 3 years ago, when my friends convinced me to take a weekend trip to Lake Como on the northern border of Italy. I wasn’t really into it—I wanted to go to Amalfi. “But Carrie, George Clooney has a house by Lake Como!” Oh, well why didn’t you say something sooner? Sadly, I was sold.

I was in love upon arrival, and not just with George. The Lake Como region is, by far, one of the most beautiful patches of natural scenery in Italy. My experience there remains one of the most serene and invigorating that I have ever had.

Lake Como and flowers

I was traveling with 5 girls—that’s usually a recipe for disaster! But, I don’t know, maybe it was something in the mountain air; we had one amazing adventure.

Not only is the shimmering lake simply stunning, but it is surrounded by quaint, romantic, colorful little villages—we visited Varenna, Menaggio and Bellagio—which are set off by magnificent views of the Swiss Alps.We spent our time hiking:

Hiking in Lake Como

Exploring:

Hiking in Lake Como

Rock gathering (there were some amazing pieces of worn, smooth and colorful glass nestled in the pebbly beaches):

Managgio, Lake Como, Italy

Discovering the charming little towns (here is Varenna):

 

Varenna, Italy on coast of Lake Como

And we even went kayaking:

Kayaking at dusk on Lake Como

No lake monsters, but the water was, indeed, freezing.So we obviously had to warm ourselves up on a lakeside village bar crawl (I’ll withhold the photographic evidence…)

So maybe the entire trip wasn’t exactly “serene,” per se. But overall, it was an active, relaxing, and, importantly, affordable weekend. (If you do decide to travel with a group, I recommend the Ostello Menaggio. Great rates and cheap kayak rentals.)

In conclusion, Il Lago di Como é piú bello di George Clooney.

Ciao, grazie! :)

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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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A GL/OBAMA TRAVEL ADVENTURE.

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The presidential candidate’s multicultural roots are all the rage. What could this fiery, young senator do for America’s international image? Does it matter that he was born in Hawaii, has roots in Africa, snapped some snazzy school photos in Indonesia, may or may not have absorbed some fragments of Muslim teachings between the age of 6-8 in Jakarta, and probably has a 7th cousin, twice removed from, I don’t know, northwest Mongolia?

I’m not going to get (too) political. This is a travel website! But, oh man, would it be an adventure to trace the life and times of the world’s most scrutinized political figurehead.

From Kenya to Kansas, it’s time to embark on the international, multicultural, hip, happening Globama Tour.

 

1. Ireland:

Surprise! You thought I would start with Kenya, but did you know that Obama’s great, great, great, great grandfather may have been an Irish shoemaker? (I know: stop traffic). Indeed, once upon a time, long, long ago, at a rural crossroads between Dublin and Limerick, Mr. Fulmuth Kearney awoke to the ways of the New World and abandoned his father’s trade for the land of the free. continue reading

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Pond Hoppers Unite in Reykjavik, Iceland.

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Did you know that North America is moving away from Europe at a rate of 2cm per year? When’s the last time you saw your cousin in Boston? Your best friend in London?

Why not meet up halfway at the famed point of continental divergence?

Just three and a half hours from London and five hours from Boston, Reykjavik, Iceland is the perfect pit stop for young working professionals and university students seeking a spring or summer getaway. Literally bubbling over with steam and energy, this up-and-coming European hotspot sits directly above the Eurasian and American tectonic plates, which, in parting ways, propel massive amounts of geothermal energy upwards through earth’s crust. Hence the bursting geysers, bubbling hot springs and raucous nightlife that characterize this unique and vibrant city.

Go wild.

Reykjavik is one of Europe’s most happening party spots: its trendy cafes are many, its music scene is bustling, and its clubs can turn your weekend into a 72-hour party. Begin your wild escapade with some local cuisine at the world renowned Siggi Hall restaurant, where you can indulge in traditional Icelandic food with a contemporary twist. Try the tasty smoked salmon dish, which, craftily soaked in gin and tonic, will prime your palette for the festivities in store. After shaking hands with Chef Siggi himself, venture to the easily navigable downtown streets to Gaukur á Stöng—Reykjavik’s oldest pub. Enjoy some live music as you soak in the beauty and charm of the local crowd; after a few vodka spiked beers (yes, vodka spiked beers!), your inner Viking will guide you forth on an all night clubbing adventure…that you will never remember to forget.

Get natural.

Reykjavik’s surrounding natural features—to the historic and ongoing fascination of geologists, environmental engineers, writers and artists—are some of the most unique and awe inspiring on the planet. If you’re craving a bit of rejuvenation and serenity, you should embark on the Golden Circle Tour—the most popular and efficient way to witness the steaming geysers, volcanic craters and magnificent waterfalls that characterize the island’s landscape. Stop off at the greenhouse village of Hveragerði to witness innovative methods of natural energy use. Or, if you desire a bit of creative inspiration, you might take the excursion to Snæfellsjökull National Park, a “radiating” energy hub that attracts some of the world’s most ardent mystics, mediums and dreamers. Experience the luminous, glacier-capped volcano that captivated the imagination of Jules Verne in writing his famous Journey to the Center of the Earth. Harness a bit of earth’s energy yourself, and return rejuvenated.

Choose your own adventure.

Whether you’re pub-crawling Londoner or a club-hungry spring breaker…a nature-knowing scientist or a beauty-loving artist, you will find your niche in Reykjavik. So go ahead and explore: journey to the Mid-Atlantic Ridge for a bit of culture, nightlife, nature and renewal.

 

Other tour ideas:

Northern Lights Tour

Romantic Evening at the Blue Lagoon Express.

On the Trail of the Icelandic Sagas…

 

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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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