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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!

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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Fringe Festival Highlights

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I hope everyone managed to get away, or to get into something interesting here in the UK, over Bank Holiday weekend. I just stepped off a plane from Edinburgh—it was my second weekend trip up to the Fringe Festival this year, and I had an absolutely amazing time. I wish that I could paint you a detailed picture of the museums, architecture and natural scenery that characterize this beautiful city (= next trip!), but I spent most of my time watching comedy, theatre, musicals and working on a show that I helped to put on (as choreographer). I got to meet talented and interesting young people from all over the world (and I even got to see some tele stars in person – ooh la la…)

Some Fringe Highlights:

  1. The Udder Belly

This local watering hole is the place to be during the month of August. With hundreds of performers, directors, producers and spectators running around at all hours of the night, you are bound to strike up some interesting banter; however, should awkward conversational pauses ensue, the venue has provided you with the ultimate chat-worthy icon—an enormous, inflated, upside down purple cow. I would pay someone for an Udder Belly t-shirt: this is the one thing I forgot to get before leaving. Seriously, get in touch if you have one (I mean it!).

  1. Comedy, Comedy, Comedy

The selection of stand up comedy acts in Edinburgh was HUGE: I am now, officially, convinced that trying to “make it” as a stand up comedian is perhaps the most trying (and humbling!) of paths within the performing arts industries. I saw dozens of stand up acts…from young, transatlantic favourite Matt Kirshen (you may have seen him on the American reality TV talent show Last Comic Standing) to Fringe regular Reginald D. Hunter, who delivered his signature, philosophical American wit. I was, overall, entertained, amused and satisfied.

Important to note: lots of people that I talk to think that the “Fringe Festival” is primarily a theatre-focused event, full of avant garde one acts and student-quality productions. Yes, you can certainly find these things; however, there are 7 big festivals occurring in Edinburgh during the month of August (13 in total throughout the year), including the International Book Festival, the Art Festival, the Mela Festival and the Military Tattoo Festival. The Festival Fringe is just one of many events to explore, within which comedy seems to be the entertainment category with the widest audience appeal.

  1. The Forest Café

We stumbled across this quirky little gem of a venue on our last night at the festival and ended up in a loft/attic-style room, full of eclectic pieces of furniture and oh-so-stylish hipsters. Only one type of local brew on sale at a little corner bar, served up by a man with a mini acoustic guitar. On stage was a freestyle rap group with a live percussion ensemble to complement their superb “beat boxing” skillz. A cultural experience, to say the least!

  1. Putting on a show.

Being a part of a Fringe production involves a lot of hard work, no to negative (monetary) compensation, shameless company promotion, and, if you are a performer, 20 + straight days of delivering the goods…sometimes to empty chairs. So then why do, literally, thousands of young artists flock to the cloudy little city every year to return home as paupers? Because the Fringe is fun, fun, fun, fun (did I mention FUN?). If you are lucky enough to get involved with a quality new writing project that has a solid cast + creative/marketing team, you are bound to draw some good, responsive crowds and supportive fellow artists (who you will, of course, join afterwards at the bars (which stay open until 5am…every night…for a month = FUN)).

Cheers to another UK cultural adventure!

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Small Town Getways (US and UK)

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TRUE OR FALSE:

In the past 30 days, you have:

1. ‘Accidentally’ elbow checked 5 or more fellow morning commuters in one 20 minute period.

2. Purposely umbrella-jousted a wandering sightseer to spite her for interrupting your morning commute, damn her tourist-idiot-who-gets-to-be-on-vacation…while you are stuck in flourescent lit basement office.

3. Submitted yourself to that recent Craigslist ad to become the poster child for the 2009 CACTS (Campaign Against Carpel Tunnel Syndrome).

4. Wished yourself away to an exotic beach and/or a vast expanse of desolate countryside.

5. Subsequently checked your bank statement and audibly cursed the ‘credit crunch’, Jesus, and your boss’s mother (in the middle of a conference meeting).

6. Gone and checked Craigslist—or Googled ‘CACTS’—after reading number 3.

If you answered TRUE to one or more of the above statements, particularly #6, I pity you. And I think it’s safe to say that you need a vacation (- holiday!).

Did you know that approximately 31% of employed US adults and 23% of employed UK adults will not use all of their vacation days this year? (See Expedia ‘Vacation Deprivation’ Survey, 2008.)

There’s something wrong here, people.

What’s the deal? ¿Que pasa?

¿Porque no nos vamos de vacaciones?

Why don’t you get out of that office and see some of the world?

Oh, right, because the world suddenly got a bit, er, A LOT expensive. But it is important that you break free from your ‘daily grind’ every once in a while, even if only for a few days…and even if you’re not going far. And EVEN if you think you can’t afford it. Because believe me, you can. Stop it with the grande lattes, walk/cycle to work, and pack your lunches. It’s time to plan your (affordable! nearby!) vacation.

Staycations?

…are great if you live in Maui, San Diego, West Palm Beach, Aspen, Savannah…Cornwall, Devon (…or even Thanet?). But what about those of us who are stuck in congested, landlocked metropolises? Who wants to join the tourists in museum queues (- especially the ones that you’ve been stabbing with your umbrella?) Not I…

Sometimes, all that you really need to recharge your batteries is a change of scenery and a bit of small town charm. When’s the last time you visited a mom and pop grocery store? A kite festival? A bog snorkelling championship? A craft show?

Yeah, that’s what I thought. It’s time to abandon the city chaos, and get rural.

small town getaways with Big Time Charm:

1. Saugatuck, Michigan, USA

Nationally renowned beaches? Check.
Thirty plus art galleries ? Check.
Music? Theatre? Internationally acclaimed film festival?
Check. Check. Check…

Midwestern village, population 1,000?

That’s right!

Having spent a large chunk of my childhood locked in ‘the middle’ (of Missouri, specifically), I can empathize with those who long to dip their toes in something other than the local chlorine pond. How to solve this without spending your annual bonus on gasoline/airfare? You’ll have to make do with the lakes (as in Great. Though we went to the Ozarks when I was a kid.)

Chi-towners: you’ve got options (and loads of them!). I know, I know, the urban backdrop of North Ave Beach is no Cinque Terre village. So then try something new: cruise up the coast of Lake Michigan for a bit of sun, fun and culture…in Saugatuck! This harbour town is the hub of Michigan’s ‘Art Coast’—apparently a culture vulture’s ‘seaside’ heaven—boasting Victorian B&Bs, steamboat cruises, outdoor exhibitions, fairs, festivals, nightly shows and, of course, a do-it-yourself ‘Art Barn’.

What more?

Distance? 127 miles from Chicago, 193 miles from Detroit.

During? Summer for beaches (though they claim to have ‘six seasons’)

2. Lewes, Delaware, USA:

Lewes, Delaware (pronounced like the name ‘Lewis’) is actually my hometown, so I can vouch for its loveliness…with about 12 years of experience to draw upon. This quaint, beachside gem’s claim to fame: it is, officially, the ‘First Town in the First State’, having been settled by the Dutch in 1631. Beyond the easily accessible beaches: Lewes Beach on the Delaware Bay ( = no waves!) and Cape Henlopen State Park on the Atlantic Ocean ( = waves!), the historic downtown area boasts a range of high quality, locally-owned shops and cafes, alongside fantastic eateries, canal front accommodation, and a handful of interesting, historic landmarks (including ‘The Cannonball House’, named for a British ‘gift’ that has been lodged into its foundation since the War of 1812…).

Tips: go outlet shopping (Delaware is one of two states with no sales tax), and check out the Kite Festival if you visit in March.

(If you want to know about specific restaurants, hotels, nearby bar scenes for young people, etc, post a message below, and I will get back to you with loads of info!)

Distance? 119 miles from D.C., 120 miles from Philadelphia, 203 miles from New York.

During? May, early June, or mid-late September (less people, less jellyfish).

3. Lewes, England, UK:

Okay, we’ve pond hopped to the ‘original’ Lewes! (not surprisingly, Lewes, Sussex County, Delaware was named after Lewes, East Sussex, England…oh, what a transnational blog this is…)

Right…so Londoners, have you ever sipped a pint of Harveys Old Ale on a Sunday afternoon?

Lewes, home of Harveys Pub and Brewery, is a lovely little market town that can be reached by train from London in under two hours. A welcoming bunch, the chirpy Lewesians take pride in their local and national culture, identifying with a range of historic sights (- including a castle!) and, famously, the most debaucherous Guy Fawkes Day celebration in the country, which they host each year on November 5th.

The canal-front town is set against picturesque, chalky white cliffs: catch a ride to the top for some amazing views. And don’t forget to take a tour—and a taste—of Harveys Brewery!

Distance: Under two hours from London by train.

During: …predict British weather? Your guess is as good as mine. I would avoid Guy Fawkes Day (but if you really want to go, you should find a local to stay with).

4. Llanwrtyd Wells, Wales, UK

Fancy a bog snorkel? In Wales’s, um ‘wildest’ peat bog?

Take an amusing—and last minute—break from the humdrum of city life by discovering the smallest town in Britain! Llanwrtyd Wells is known for its quirky annual festivals, the most popular being the annual Bog Snorkelling Competition, which will draw in competitors from all over the world and is happening THIS BANK HOLIDAY MONDAY AUGUST 25th.

If I didn’t already have plans to go to Edinburgh for the Fringe Festival, I would so be there.

Distance? 104 miles from Birmingham, 202 miles from London.

During? Now

May you escape the big city madness for one last summer adventure!

Cheers to small towns, quirkiness, and last minute whims…..

 

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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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Globe trotters unite: a journey with a purpose.

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Our ‘Perfect Holiday’ Contest entries have been rolling in! A few of you got very creative with your responses, crafting globe trotting itineraries with inventive themes. Here are some of our favourites thus far:

1. ‘Southern Music Odyssey’, by Greg Davies

A road trip with a difference—i.e. not your usual ‘Route 66’ or ‘Coast to Coast’ American Dream. Due to my late grandfather’s musical obsession that he passed onto me, my dream holiday would be to drive the southern United States, visiting and enjoying some of the famous sights and sounds of Country music—the Grand Ol’ Opry, Memphis, Tupelo, Austin, Nashville—all in an old convertible…staying at old-style motels along the way and enjoying southern hospitality and good ol’ time music, the way it’s meant to be enjoyed!

2. ‘A Taste for Travel’, by Lydia Houghton

I’d have lobster in Cancun, cocktails in New York, A balti in Bombay, A Guinness in County Cork, coq au vin in Paris, a pizza in fair Rome, a chop suey in Beijing, and Swedish meatballs in Stockholm.

It would be such a treat to take a break from all the cooking, but the only problem is… my tummy might need tucking!

3. ‘Natural World Wonders’, by Chris Woodroofe

My Perfect Holiday would be a tour around all of the natural world wonders: Serengeti Migration, Galápagos Islands, Grand Canyon, Iguazu Falls, Amazon Rainforest, Ngorongoro Crater, Great Barrier Reef, Bora Bora Cappadocia and Victoria Falls. All I would need would be a backpack, a diary, and a camera…this would be my perfect holiday—very simple, but very rewarding, as the natural world wonders are being destroyed…

That’s all for now!

The official shortlist will be posted on the isango! website very soon. Be sure to vote!

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Transform Your Dream Holiday into Reality…

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It’s FAMILY TIME!

We’ve gotten some fantastic Perfect Holiday contest entries so far—do keep ‘em coming!

And, after further perusing your travel whims and fantasies, I’ve discovered that many of you dream not simply about secluded, romantic getaways as discussed in a previous blog: you want to get your entire families on board. What a task…

I know it seems difficult to fathom actually leading your family on an Arctic fishing trip…or guiding them through a bustling north African market. So many things to worry about: the cost, transportation logistics, and accommodation… your daughter’s current vegetarian phase…your son’s incredibly fair skin…your mother’s bouts with vertigo…

But have you ever actually tried to translate one of your visions of paradise into a real-life family holiday? Why not give it a try? Just cast all of the logistical details aside for a moment, and focus on the actual on-the-ground experiences that you desire: you can do this by first compiling a concrete, feasible list of tours and activities.

To assist you in this process, I have pasted some descriptive and imaginative Perfect Holiday contest entries below, responding with some suggestions.

1. Debbie’s Arctic Adventure:

“I’d take the family to Iceland for the most exhilarating holiday ever. We’d go whale watching in Husavik where humpbacks, minke, orcas, sperm whales white-nosed dolphins and harbour porpoises leap in the waters of the North Atlantic. We could go snowmobiling on the Solheimajokull glacier. We’d visit spouting geysers, bubbling mud baths and bizarre rock formations and bubbling lava flows in the Golden Circle. I want to tee off at 3am in the Arctic Open where amateurs and professional golfers compete through the night under a spectacular orange night sky. My kids could swim in the sea at the geothermally heated beach at Nautholsvik Bay, and I could ease my bad back in the pure, mineral-rich geothermal waters of the blue lagoon, a bright blue pool in the middle of a lava field which is world renowned for it’s healing properties. On September 20th is the Summer Solstice, the apex of a month of 24 hour daylight when the country celebrates the magic of the midnight sun. (Of course they also experience an equivalent month of darkness so everyone makes the most of the spectacle and parties through the night.)”

Debbie, thanks so much for that insightful description of Iceland! There are plenty of structured, guided tours of these places that you could sign up for to keep your family happy and busy—most of them from Reykjavik. I suggest checking out the following:

1. The Golden Circle Tour

2. Excursion to Snæfellsjökull National Park (Snæfellsjökull Glacier).

3. Blue Lagoon Experience, Reykjavik.

Good luck, Debbie!

2. Karen’s Paradise:

“My perfect holiday is landing in a place where the views and the heat take your breath away from the moment you arrive. I stay in a place where the walls are white, the floors terracotta and the flowers, red. I throw cases on the bed, take out all I need and head out to the pool. I smooth sunscreen on my son and watch, smiling, while he plays and explores and squeals excitedly over the lizards he finds. I lie with my eyes closed behind my sunglasses, sipping a chilled cocktail while the sun makes my skin tingle. My little boy calls from the pool, so I get up, walk to the edge, take a breath and dive into ice cold, ice blue water that in that second makes me feel more exhilarated than I have ever felt before. Later, we visit hot, exotic, noisy markets and walk round, holding hands, buying fabulous things we’ve never seen before. We visit a restaurant and eat delicious, local seafood with velvety wines from a table that faces the ocean as the sun sets. Beautiful people in traditional dress play music and dance while night draws in on the first day of our holiday…”

Well, Karen, this could be a number of places! A few destinations come to mind…have you ever considered visiting the Strait of Gibraltar? You could stay on the Costa del Sol in southern Spain to get your dose of sun, sand and relaxation… and take an excursion to Tangier, Morocco for the ultimate, colourful and cultural experience.

Some organised tours that your son might enjoy:

Kayaking Excursion in Nerja (Costa del Sol, Spain)

5-Day Morocco Sightseeing Tour from Costa Del Sol (from Spain to Morocco)

Strait of Gibraltar and Tangier Sightseeing Tour (Daytrip from Spain to Morocco)

Thanks again, Debbie and Karen!

May your holiday wishes come true!

Happy planning!

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Mama Mia! Mania: Behind the Scenes in Greece

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“(I would) fly to the beautiful Greek Isles, to a quiet marina, where I could introduce my wife to the boat that would take us island hopping – sailing from fishing village to fishing village…local ports fringed with tavernas…seafood washed down with the native wine whilst the blood-red sun kisses the Mediterranean sea `good night’…”

– Fred Harper, ‘Perfect Holiday’ Contest Entrant

Sparkling blue water, rugged coastal terrain, sailboats, sunshine, serenity, and fresh seafood (mmm…..)

…not to mention a strutting, overall-clad Meryl Streep, a feisty Julie Walters, a singing Pierce Brosnan, a glowing Amanda Seyfried……and, of course, a non-stop ABBA marathon.

Who’s seen Mama Mia! And doesn’t want to go to Greece?

I’m always skeptical of movie renditions of musicals, but, in this case, the big screen certainly exploits what the West End can’t: the absolutely breathtaking scenery of the Greek Islands.

Behind the Scenes in Skiathos and Skopelos

Just over a year ago, Streep, Brosnan, and the rest of the multi-talented Mama Mia! cast were staging 1970’s ABBA mayhem on remote islands of the Aegean sea…

It’s time to follow in the footsteps of the stars (and as well as the imagination of our contest entrant Fred) on the following tours:

1. Romantic Sunset Cruise in Skiathos.

If you’ve seen the film, it’s impossible not to imagine yourself as a blissful, young bride or groom to be, sheltered from the realities of the world on a little Greek slice of paradise. The amorous atmosphere of the Sophie’s dream island wedding lingers on the island of Skiathos, where a Calypso fishing boat awaits the next pair of lovebirds that desire a taste of Aegean seaside culture, music, cuisine and scenery.

The Skiathos ‘Music and Moonlight’ Sunset Cruise departs Tuesdays from 15 May – 15 October and is the perfect romantic outing for the adventurous duo. Indulge in freshly prepared island cuisine, feel the rhythms of the traditional Greek folk music, and dance your way into the sunset…..

2. Tour of Skopelos

Explore the magnificent setting of Donna’s infamously ‘rustic’ hotel—‘the greenest island in Greece’—by embarking on the Sporades Island Hopping Tour, which includes a stop at ‘Kalokairi Island’, or rather, Skopelos!

Your adventure will begin as you board a boat in the harbour of Skiathos, where some of Mama Mia’s most lively scenes were created. Coast across the sparkling Aegean until you arrive at what was, just under a year ago, the central hub of ABBA action—where Pierce Brosnan’s flip flops are now on display…and where the film’s fairytale church, Agios Ioannis, juts out over the sea on a magnificent, towering rock formation.

Your day will end with a stop at neighbouring Alonissos; you will return to Skiathos in time for a relaxing sunset meal.

Mama Mia! Here we go again…

May your romantic, island hopping adventure leave you ‘stranded’ at an isolated taverna…complete with a staff that breaks out into spontaneous song and dance…

Other great behind-the-scenes film tour ideas:

The ‘Film Tours: Hollywood and Beyond’ Blog

The ‘Hollywood, Bollywood and Beyond’ Blog (a favourite!)

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WIN YOUR ‘PERFECT HOLIDAY’ (Seriously!)

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Ok folks, it’s finally that time of year – the time when you wake up on a rainy, chilly ‘summer’ morning and realise that you were a fool for economising in ’08 and using your holidays to visit Auntie Maeve in Birmingham for her mid-August birthday…boring!

There’s still time to plan an adventure, and there’s a way to do it…and cheaply.

Here’s how:

1. Dream up your wildest, most intriguing/ creative/ exotic/ romantic/ adventurous/ whimsical holiday EVER.

2. Write it down (before you share the idea with any of your friends/family—they will just think you are crazy, thus stifling your creative genius/globe trotting aspirations. For example, my mum wasn’t so keen on my brilliant idea to become a Bollywood dancer in Bombay, so I had to settle for a 4 week course in Mayfair. If only this contest had existed then! ).

3. While we are certain that you would all make fantastic novelists—and would love to jumpstart your careers as travel journalists—we ask that you please reduce the text to 200 words or less and come up with a short, catchy title.

4. Go to the contest website, paste your text in the entry window, and enter to WIN £500 of isango! credit towards your dream holiday.

Click here to enter the Isango! ‘Perfect Holiday’ Contest.

We will be posting our favourite entries on the blog throughout July/August, with the shortlist posted here for public voting in early August.

The Grand Prize Winner of the £500 isango! voucher will be announced at the end of August!

Good luck!

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Following the footsteps of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid – A Patagonian Adventure!

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After a very long stint in Buenos Aires (everyone I have ever known has gotten stuck there for weeks and weeks beyond their intended stay – might have something to do with the Argentinian Men, the electric atmosphere of the city, the incredible nightlife and….well, the Argentinian Men…) I decided it was high time that I head south and see what all the fuss was about.

The vast and hostile terrain that makes up Patagonia, the southernmost point in both Argentina and Chile is one of the most breathtakingly beautiful sights there is on this earth. Snow-capped peaks, vast mountain lakes, glaciers, fjords, not to mention the wildlife – penguins, whales, sea lions,…and did I mention the penguins!? They are so cute – like miniature black and white people with funny stumpy legs!!

In order to get a sense of the scale of the place – it takes 50 hours to get from Buenos Aires to the tip in Ushuaia by bus (luxury bus that is) – Immense!…I cheated, however and flew down to Punta Arenas on the Chilean side (in my defense… it was only just the end of winter, and many said it was the only way of getting there at all! Turns out wasn’t, but this made me feel slightly less guilty at the time).

Punta Arenas was a rather depressing little town – very grey, crumbling and weather beaten…perhaps what you’d expect from such a harsh climate. Puerto Natales (my actual destination) was the same. From a tourism perspective, it is simply a jump off point for Torres del Paine National Park and the ferry ride back up to Puerto Mont through the Chilean Fjords (a stunning trip, so I’m told). I was on my own at this point in my travels, and there was absolutely no one else around –well, apart from 3 incredibly brave German girls – only 13 years old – that were on the adventure trip of a lifetime in their school holiday exchange break. They adopted me as a ‘big sister’, and we decided to go off trekking in the Torres Del Paine national park for a couple of days. It was spectacular – despite our 8 hour trek yielding nothing but fog-ridden views and knee deep snow. Occasionally, I would drop back from the girls and take it all in – space, as far as the eye could see (which was a long way when the fog cleared intermittently!), beauty, nature at its most powerful, and there I was – practically at the end of the world!

I soon left Puerto Natales and made my way back into Argentina, anxious to see the Perito Moreno glacier. The nearest town, El Calafate was far more bustling and welcoming and the hostel (run by friends of friends back in Buenos Aires) was a home from home (the Argentine people are among the kindest I have met in my life – generous, hospitable and above all fun!).

I didn’t have much time to spare, so I organised an ice trekking trip for the very next day – a little expensive but something I had always wanted to do! It was one of the most exciting experiences of my life! There I was, trekking on a real life glacier, crampons and all! My little group followed the guide in single file as he took us on a walk up and around the glacier, explaining as we went about how they worked, the dangers, etc. I have never seen ice so blue, so pure, so white – and looking out from the top of the monstrous slab of ice that was moving, living, breathing: I felt like I was in another world.

Perito Merino Patagonia

I did a bit more trekking in El Chalten National Park and then, deciding to forgo Ushuaia (another 18 hours south-west), headed north to see the whales and the penguins in Peninsula Valdes, Puerto Madryn and the lakes and ski resorts of Bariloche.

I had never before been so close to such incredible animals – my little boat was entirely surrounded by whales as far as the eye could see – almost close enough to touch! When we got back to shore, I wanted to go out again and again! Instead, however, I headed over to a different part of the peninsula to see the penguins, sea lions and elephant seals – fascinating! I just sat and watched for hours until it was time to go home.

My final stop in Patagonia (for now, at least…) was Bariloche in the lake region. Probably the least ‘alternative’ stop of all – it reminded my of a Swiss alpine village with chocolate shops aplenty, beautiful mountain lakes and even a ski resort a short distance from the town. It was, in a word, idyllic; it was extremely hard to tear myself away from the ease and comfort of it all (I even indulged in a little spa activity while I was there!)

Patagonia is a nature lover’s paradise – its raw beauty is undeniable, and this, coupled with the simplicity of life within the boundaries of the region soothes the soul (without wanting to sound too cliché or cheesy). I felt refreshed, alive, and invigorated after my stint there and would recommend it to anyone travelling in the South America region. I myself have vowed to go back one day to the very tip of the world – Ushuaia – to experience the Ferry trip and perhaps even hop on a cruise to Antarctica.

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What’s your ‘perfect holiday’?

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Ladies and gentlemen, get excited!

TOMORROW (July 11th, 2008) marks the start of our first ever ‘PERFECT HOLIDAY’ CONTEST.

Basically, you will get the chance win a £500 isango! credit towards your dream holiday by sending us your inventive description of what, exactly, constitutes your ‘perfect holiday’.

Watch this space for more details.

***Update – 14 July 2008***

Official ‘Perfect Holiday’ Contest entry site:

 

http://www.isango.com/PerfectHoliday.aspx

In the meantime, to get your creative juices flowing (because I know you’ve all been dreaming of that perfect, exotic and adventurous getaway and thus will be entering the contest), here is a sample list of some perfect, exotic and adventurous ways that you could cash in that grand prize!

isango!’s 2008 Staff Picks…

1. Diving in the Red Sea

Diego’s love of wetsuits has drawn him to the warm waters, beautiful coral reefs and colourful exotic fish of the Red Sea. A haven for divers, the Sinai Peninsula coast offers some of the world’s finest underwater excursions; the chance to explore this rich biodiversity tops many travellers ‘must do’ lists. A truly unforgettable experience!

2. Golden Triangle Tour in India

This vibrant, picturesque journey takes you to three of India’s most fascinating cities, bringing the colourful history of the country to life. Delhi’s heady mix of cultures enthrals visitors, while the ‘pink city’ of Jaipur (which matches most of Bernie’s clothing—his reason for selecting this fine tour) is thought to offer the finest examples of Hindu architecture in the world. The unquestionable highlight is, of course, the magnificent Taj Mahal.

3. Amazon River Cruise

Single and sassy, Sarah likes to make the most of her (exotic!) holidays. Aside from Brazilian men, she enjoys a fair bit of rainforest adventuring.

Covering half of Brazil, the Amazon Rainforest is the largest tropical rainforest in the world and home to over a third of the world’s species. At its heart, the lifesource of the rainforest provides the intrepid traveller with a pathway through this region’s rich ecosystems.

4. Helicopter Ride Over Grand Canyon

When he’s not lounging in his leer jet, Ranjan likes to take fancy helicopter rides across America! He reports that photos, guidebooks and superlatives cannot do justice to the overwhelming landscape of the Grand Canyon. The only way to truly appreciate the scale of this natural wonder is to soar above its cavernous depths and majestic colours on an exhilarating flight.

5. The Inca Trail: Cusco and Macchu Picchu

An anthropology geek (yes!), Carrie’s excursion of choice must be, she reports, ‘enriching’ and ‘educational’. Among millions of other culture-hungry travellers, she is enthralled by the sacred legacy of Peru’s Inca civilisation.

This fascinating journey begins in the ancient city of Cusco and continues through the most significant of Incan archaeological sites (sigh!). Its climax and undeniable highlight is the dazzling, mountain top “lost city” of Machu Picchu.

6. Serengeti National Park and the Ngorongoro Crater

Ajay and Amrit are up for an African safari adventure!

Arguably the world’s finest nature reserve, the Serengeti National Park and the magnificent Ngorongoro Crater provide a refuge for a fascinating variety of wildlife. After encountering some wildebeasts, zebras, lions and elephants on a guided land excursion, take to the skies on a breathtaking hot air balloon ride! You will come to understand why the term Serengeti, meaning ‘endless plains’, is so apt.

7. Diving with the Sharks in Cape Town

This is one for the thrill seekers, like our globe-trotting Emma!

Leave behind Cape Town’s white sands, blue skies and rolling green mountains and dive deep into the ocean for an experience that is sure to stay with you forever. Nothing can prepare you for the rush of adrenaline you will feel when you come face to face with one of nature’s great predators (so we assume that she would have reported).

8. Great Barrier Reef Cruise

Like Sarah, Jess is constantly on the move. On a quest for friendly adventure (and Aussie love!), she has most recently set her sights on the coast of Queensland.

The largest single structure made by living organisms, the Great Barrier Reef stretches for over 2000km along the northeastern Australia. Home to an abundance of plant and marine life and blessed with year-round sunshine, the reef and nearby tropical islands attract divers, snorkelers, swimmers and cruisers from around the world (providing the perfect backdrop for some romantic dinners!).

9. Adventure Cruise in the Galapagos Islands

When Daniele is out of the office, we suspect that he is hiding on an exotic island with his blackberry. It was thus no surprise that he selected this remote archipelago off the coast of Ecuador.

Boasting some of the world’s most unique animal species, the Galapagos were long untouched by man until made famous by Charles Darwin’s natural selection studies. And though many have followed in his pioneering footsteps to explore the islands’ unique ecosystems, the natural habitats have been well protected and preserved.

Escape the office to join Daniele, and you may encounter some giant Land Iguanas and Blue-footed Booby birds!

10. Giza Pyramids Tour

Rish’s macabre fascination with embalming fluids has made Egypt his destination of choice. His obvious starting point: the alleged tomb of King Khufu.

Travellers will delight in the mystery and legacy of the Pyramids of Giza! Surrounded by a necropolis of ancient monuments, including the world famous Sphinx statue, the Pharoah’s tombs envelop some of the world’s fascinating secrets, as preserved for over 5000 years.

Excited? Inspired?

The isango! ‘PERFECT HOLIDAY’ CONTEST starts tomorrow! Stay tuned!

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