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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 ‘Things to do in Europe’

Nintendo Wii Fit Launch, London’s South Bank

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

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

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

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

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Honouring England’s Patron Saint (a valiant American attempt)

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Yesterday, I decided to take on St. George’s Day in full force. My approach: to immerse myself in the day’s festivities and absorb as much English tradition as possible, all the while remaining in tourist “stealth mode”—i.e. no white sneakers, no camera flashes, and only soft-spoken enquiries, so as to draw minimal attention to the good old American accent.

What better place to go, I thought, than to London’s South Bank, home of lively street performances, history, art, culture and oodles of bustling pubs/cafes?

I started off at what I presumed would be a central hub of activity—a sacred edifice dedicated to the man of the day: St. George’s Cathedral in Southwark.

George, was I wrong! The cathedral was virtually empty when I arrived 15 minutes prior to the “special” guided tour. Where were all of the church-goers? The pride-filled locals? The curious tourists? continue reading

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Cultural Adventures, Part II: Spain

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Following my guide to eccentric past times in the UK, I have outlined some of the most intriguing traditions and festivals to experience this year in España.

As I noted before, there is still time to make 2008 a year of cultural adventure! So take a chance, and discover some of Europe’s most bewildering and unconventional pastimes.

A guide to some of Spain’s most unique celebrations.

1. La Diada de Sant Jordi (Lovers’ Day).
What
: Like Valentine’s Day, except boys get books (?)
Where: Barcelona, Spain.
When: 23 April 2008.

Get ready for a little spring sunshine…and lots of Latin love!

This April, hopeless romantics will unite in the streets of Barcelona to honor Saint George, who, like our man Valentine, inspires thousands of young lovers to make their passions public via reciprocal gift giving. Stroll down Las Ramblas, and immerse yourself in the amorous buzz as you delight in street performances, quirky architecture, and, of course, the colorful merchandise of nearly every florist and book seller in Catalonia! Join in on the tradition: gentleman, woo your novias with roses, and ladies, make your men blush with some heartfelt selections of prose. continue reading

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UK Cultural Festivals

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

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

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

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

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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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Salzburg: a destination for the whole family.

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The planning, booking and execution of a family vacation/holiday can often be a complete nightmare. I can remember, as a little girl, only ever wanting to go to the Magic Kingdom in Disney World and not understanding why my fairytale frolicking had to include, by my dad’s rules, some historical or educational component. Why should I care about the life and times of a dead cartoonist? No, I don’t want to go to the museum, and Epcot Center is boor-riiiing…

My mother (like most) played martyr, trying to make everyone happy with stupid road games and chocolate bars. The only thing she required in a destination was a place to shop. And no one was to interrupt mom’s sacred retail ventures (we learned this the hard way!). My big brother, of course, crafted his vacation interests in direct opposition to mine, demanding to ride the rides that I was too short for and refusing to indulge me with “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah” sing-a-long. (Cruel, I know).

When selecting a place to haul your family away to for a week, or even just a weekend, you need to ensure a diverse range of convenient tours and activities. You probably want to include an educational component in your itinerary: good luck drumming up enthusiasm for Historic Williamsburg or Auschwitz. You need to find a destination that you can easily sell to your children—a place that, like Disney, has some fantasy or adventure appeal. If, mixed with all the frivolity and merriment of your chosen locale, there is lots of history to be absorbed, even better!

Planning an exciting, yet culturally enriching, family trip is like experimenting with a healthy recipe: if you succeed, then you can delight your children with a tasty batch of Deceptively Delicious brownies. They won’t pick up on the well-masked, pureed vegetable ingredients, and you probably will even savor a few yourself.

Salzburg, Austria is the perfect such destination in which you can create a full proof family “recipe.” Simply mention the Sound of Music Tour, and you’ve got the attention of your youngest. Ask your “Sixteen going on Seventeen”-year-old daughter about Summer Strallen’s recent departure from the hit TV show Hollyoaks to play Maria von Trapp on the West End stage, and she’s all ears. And what movie-loving kid wouldn’t be delighted to visit a real Hollywood film location?

Now that everyone’s on board, you, as a parent, will be delighted to learn that Salzburg is one of the most culturally rich, and easily navigable of European cities. It is much smaller and more manageable than nearby Berlin and Vienna. And it is the birthplace of Mozart, for crying out loud. Walk through the charming Old Town district, and you will be immersed in the historical sights and melodious sounds. Turn a corner, and behold the famous Baroque cathedral (with its Romanesque basilica remains) and perhaps even a Mozart string quartet. And of course, there is the unforgettable, medieval Hohensalzburg Fortress, which towers the city, offering fantastic views of the surrounding countryside.

“The hills are alive…”

Perhaps most significantly, you can let your children’s imaginations run free as they trace the footsteps of the von Trapp family through several of the actual sites used in the making of the Sound of Music on a behind-the-scenes tour. You will visit the Mirabell Gardens, where Julie Andrews (as Maria) can be seen singing “Do-Re-Mi” with the children in one of the film’s most memorable scenes. Also included is a trip to Leopoldskron Palace, which was used in the movie as the von Trapp family home. For the more active and restless among us, there are plenty of walking tours and excursions to the surrounding mountains, indeed climbed by Julie Andrews while singing the title song.

And to all the shop-a-holic mothers out there: the historic city center boasts a range of jewelry, high fashion, book, music and souvenir shops.

Oh, and one final thing: Mozart Chocolates = deliciousness. Nothing deceptive lurking in the green colored nougat centers—just 100% sweet marzipan, pistachio and chocolatey goodness!

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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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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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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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