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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!

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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Orlando for Dummies

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My American friends call it Orlando, Florida, which means there are probably tens of other Orlandos across the US? But this one is the holy grail of consumer tourism. Theme parks have popped up like mushrooms with a symbiotic generation of hordes of hotels and restaurants to welcome fun hungry tourists.Beyond Disneyworld, EPCOT, Animal Land, Universal Studios, and Sea World, there must be other 20 parks: the pirate’s park, the water park, the fear park, the parrot’s park…And rolling across Orlando by car is an endless sequence: hotel, restaurant, hotel, restaurant, park, hotel, restaurant, t-shirt shop, restaurant, park, hotel..At the airport, I ask for a map to find out how to get to the hotel. I get offered a free, 150-page guide. The requested map is one on one thin page, and the other 149 pages are dedicated to ads for parks, restaurants and hotels. The last page is the pearl – a tipping guide, teaching Europeans how to tip! 15% for cabs and restaurants, 1 buck for suitcase handling, 1 buck for asking the concierge for directions, and 2-3 bucks if the directions are complex.Orlando, Florida: Land of the Tip.Restaurants are competing in a permanent race to put more stuff on your plate. We spent the first evening at a conference buffet. Great idea: you can pick, choose and pace your meal. But the second evening, we had a team dinner at a famous steak house, where obviously, they do steaks. The waiter carries a large tray full of fresh meat cuts – it’s the menu. WaiterShe goes on to tell us every detail about every cut: age, weight, texture, taste, most appropriate cooking method. She’s fighting for her 15% tip. (I should have recorded the speech).I go for a respectable, 23 ounce filet mignon (there are only 2 in each cow, I learn). It’s called “The Fabulous.” When I order, she nods in confidence: “The Fabulous – good choice.” I feel important. The slab of meat, which lands on my dish 5 minutes later, also looks important. Perfectly cooked, melts in your mouth.But my ears start buzzing half way through. My body can’t take a full Fab.

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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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New Hobbies: Photography Tours

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PHOTOGRAPHING EUROPE

 

Who says you need fancy equipment or specialized knowledge to enjoy the experience of photographing your favorite city?

For amateurs and professionals alike, these guided photography tours, led by local experts, provide the perfect platform from which to explore the sights, history and culture of Europe through your own, unique lens.

1. We Open in Venice
Venice is a great starting point for absolute beginners. I don’t think there is one corner of that city that isn’t aesthetically overwhelming! The Grand Canal alone will provide you with enough shots for an entire roll of film. Turn the corner and admire the friendly gondoliers, as they effortlessly coast down one of many peaceful, winding tributaries. Get lost in the maze of picturesque alleyways amidst colorful buildings and quaint cafes. Enter Piazza San Marco, and you are inundated with the largest concentration of pigeons that you have ever seen. It is seriously difficult to depart Venice without some satisfying images!

After becoming acquainted with the city and your equipment, you may want to expand your local knowledge and sharpen your newfound photography skills on the Hidden Venice Walking Tour.

2. History buffs to Berlin
Rediscover the history and culture of this fascinating city through the exciting process of imagining, framing and shooting. You will be led by a local expert through several key sites, including Nikolaiviertel (Nikolai Quarter), the city’s well-preserved medieval square. Enter the mindset of Prussian kings and architects as you snap away in front of the fascinating buildings of Museumsinsel (Museum Island). Explore the legendary narratives of Frederick the Great through your own vantage points.

You will depart with a new, enhanced understanding of this fascinating city along with unique photographs and stories to prove it!

3. Budapest for the Imaginative
This post-communist city has such diverse historical layers and architectural styles that no single visitor will leave with quite the same impression. A guided tour is the perfect way to kick-start your photographic adventure as you wander through the side streets and admire the city’s crumbling history alongside its contemporary reconstructions. One may be attracted to the famous “castle hill,” with its grand architecture, monuments and panoramic views over the Danube River. Another might focus on the worn façades of beige, red, yellow and brown and bits of crumbling detail that serve as a reminder of this city’s turbulent plight.

Though you won’t be able to take your cameras into the Gellert Baths, they are definitely worth a visit as well!

Now, snap away!

Venice Photography Tour

Photography Tour of Historic Berlin

Photography Tour in Budapest – Across the Danube

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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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Film Tours: Hollywood and Beyond

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The post-Oscar buzz has likely reached your office desk over the past few days. You have probably overheard the break room chatter. Who showed up with whom? Did George Clooney match his world peace accolades with a shiny gold trophy? Will Amy Adams outdo her 2005 Caroline Herrera getup with an ‘Enchanted’ fairytale gown? Oh, and who won the award for Best Sound Mixing? Right.

Whether you are willing to admit it to your co-workers or not, you do hold a place in your heart for Hollywood glamour. Many of you are still recovering from the all-nighter you pulled in order to catch a live feed of the 80th Annual Academy Awards. Some of you have since wasted hours of valuable work/Facebook time ogling red carpet wire images and fashionista ratings. Let’s face it, a noteworthy portion of your Google searches are dedicated to pop culture happenings (after all, how did you end up here?) .

More significantly, you may even dream of one day journeying to the motherland of fame and fortune—strolling down Rodeo Drive, embarking on a behind-the-scenes tour, and, if you’re lucky, spotting a celebrity or two in person.

It is here that I provide some new inspiration for adventure-seeking film buffs. Why not replace your celeb-stalking hour with a bit of online travel planning? A rapidly increasing number of Hollywood films are being made in beautiful and exotic destinations across North America and around the world. With some research and careful budgeting, you could turn your next trip abroad into a personalized, unique ‘Hollywood’ tour—without having to brave the Los Angeles freeway in a cheap rental car. I can get you started now with a few suggestions:

Some new frontiers for film lovers…

The American South: Berendt’s Mysteries Unveiled
If the U.S. is your vacation playground, you may want to forgo the usual big city jaunt for bit of southern charm. Savannah, Georgia is arguably the friendliest and most picturesque city in the country; over sixty motion pictures have been filmed amidst its captivating tree lined streets and majestic antebellum mansions. Take a guided bus tour and search for sites from Forrest Gump, Cape Fear and, most famously, John Berendt’s novel-turned-blockbuster film: Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. Trace the murder mystery plot (based on true occurrences) by visiting the Mercer House, former home of the legendary Jim Williams, and catch a performance by the real “Lady Chablis” at Club One. If you’re lucky, you may encounter other book and movie characters—old acquaintances of Berendt’s—who still reside in Savannah today. continue reading »»

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From Shamrocks to Coffins.

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My lucky number has always been 4.

To me this seems completely logical and natural. Perhaps you can relate: you may have, like me, dedicated a significant portion of your childhood dirt digging to four-leaf clover hunting. You would probably still get excited if you found one of these bad boys (I actually never have… I am pretty sure that my dad fabricated one for me next to the sandbox after one of my pouty tirades… i.e. “Daaah-deeeee, I’m never gonna be lucky!”…not kidding).

Many people are drawn to 7. Not quite sure why? I’m sure there’s a historical reason for this? A mystic once told me that we live our lives in cycles of 7 years, after which we experience a “rebirth” of sorts. Hence the hormonal awkwardness of 14 and the sloppy drunkenness of 21. Can’t wait for the maternal yearnings of 28, the “holy crap, I’m old” of 35, and the mid life crisis of 42. Maybe the “luckiness” begins after 7 of these so-called cycles, with an early retirement to the Canary Islands at 49.

For whatever reason, people remain dedicated to their lucky digits. Some prefer the number 9. The more rebellious folk will sometimes go for the universally unlucky 13.

I, however, remain dedicated to 4. After all, it was just over 24 years ago, on the 14th day of November, that I first flailed and kicked my 4 stubby appendages into my mother’s arms to become the 4th member of a loving domestic unit of 4 (our family name also begins with the 4th letter of the alphabet, if you want to get super technical). I use this glorious digit in all guessing games, gambling ventures, and online usernames. Four has been good to me. 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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