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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!

Exploring Philadelphia

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Philadelphia

Whether you are in the mood for food, culture, sports or history, the City of Brotherly Love has it all. Better known as Philadelphia, the large American city, which lies beneath the shadows of New York and Boston, is filled with fascinating events and activities.

 
1. If you are looking to experience the food in Philadelphia, then look no further than the Philadelphia South Street Walking Tour. Located in South Philly, the tour takes you through one of the cities unique and diverse neighborhoods. Starting at a Jewish deli and ending at a popular "cheese steak" shop, the tour includes food markets, street art, historic buildings and more. 
 
2. Need some romance in the City of Brotherly Love? Then take your sweetheart on the romantic Spirit of Philadelphia. A 3-hour cruise that offers a live show, buffet dinner, and a spectacular view of the Philadelphia skyline. With the option of lunch or dinner, spend the rest of your day visiting the Penn’s Landing area. 
 
3. Interested in sports? Philadelphia is one of the most unique sporting cities in America. With wild fans that are passionate about ice hockey, football, basketball and baseball, take the opportunity to go to a game. Make sure you arrive early enough for the parking lot tailgate! Food like hot dogs, sausages and hamburgers are very popular, and inside the event Chickie's & Pete's is a favoured Philadelphia restaurant. 
 
4. Looking for a little bit of education while on your trip, or do you just love history? Either way Philadelphia is one of America’s most historic cities and there is no better way to see it than through the Colonial City Walking Tour. From the Betsy Ross house to Independence Hall, the tour takes you back in time to where the city of Philadelphia began. 
 
5. Lastly, if history, food, or sports is not for you, give the King of Prussia Mall a try. Philadelphia is home to one of America’s largest shopping malls, located just outside the city, the King of Prussia Mall has over 400 stores to delight your shopping interest. Made up of a Court side and a Plaza side, the mall is easy to navigate and has a little bit of something for everyone. 

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Paris Bus Tours are a Perfect Family Activity

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We’ve now made it easier then ever for you to look for the Paris bus tour to suit you with our new page. Find out what you need to know to make your holiday the best it can be and book now!

Paris bus tours have been popular in Paris for years and can make a holiday something to remember if you pick the right one for you. That’s not hard to do with a wide range of routes and bus types on offer, you could get on an open top Paris tour so you can get some great photos of the city without having to get on and off or relax on a warm coach as the sights pass you by.

You can even use the tour to learn you’re surrounding or to take you to the sights you really want to see without getting lost. This is one of the great points about the hop on hop off Paris tour, if you don’t want to see the whole tour route just get off at what you want to see and have a great day.

No matter who you are and who you’re going to be in the city with there is a Paris bus tour for you. It’s a great way to spend the day no matter the weather. If you’re a large family the Paris in a nutshell tour will be a great day with lunch at the Eiffel tour, your Paris bus tour around all the main attractions and to end the day a relaxing tour on the Seine river so you can chill out while the children are exhausted you will get the most out of your holiday.

There are also romantic night tours designed for couples on a romantic holiday, so no one can say there is nothing in Paris for them.

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Memories of C.S. Lewis

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Why is it that we remember the most tangential and hyper-specific scenes from our childhoods (personal examples: playing with the lace trim on my red and white polka dotted crib bedding; the yellow raincoat decal that I used to attach to my nursery school class’s ‘weather bear’ on rainy days)…yet we so often forget the name of an acquaintance that we discussed the election with last week? Or, even better, which drawer we placed our keys in 3 minutes ago?

Do you actually remember the design on your 4th birthday party cake, or have you just watched the home video 50 odd times?

What about your favourite childhood book? Do you recall what the cover looked like? Where the characters lived?

Last weekend, I was exploring the quaint, picturesque streets of Malvern, England—the town where C.S. Lewis (who happened to be favourite author as a child) went to school—when my knowledgeable guide asked me if I had enjoyed the recent film adaptation of The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe.

Having just listened to his engaging overview of the famous Lewisian haunts and Narnia landmarks scattered throughout this lovely countryside town, I wanted to discuss a range of parallel cinematic moments. But I quickly realised that, actually, I couldn’t. Yes, I had seen the film (in fact had rushed to the cinema like an excited child when it came out 3 years ago), but I could not even cite my favourite scene.

I realise now that my wires had gotten crossed. I could not answer because I could not differentiate between two visual memories—the first being the imagery that I had generated in my 8-year-old mind whilst reading The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe and the second being the imagery that Disney had delivered to my local cinema, 14 years later.

To add to my moment of mental convolution, this was the second Brit lit expert, in the second quaint, historic English town that had made enthusiastic claims regarding Lewis’s sources of creative inspiration.

Hmm…

You see, I’d been told that Lewis devised his plots whilst wandering the streets of Oxford. But now, it seems to me that perhaps Malvern had an equal, if not greater, impact on his writings. For, apparently, the Narnia gas lamp is located in front of a Malvern College dormitory…

So, then, which is it? What town, which landmarks, and which people inspired C.S. Lewis to create the allegorical fantasyland that continues to engage children, adults, filmmakers and tourists today?

We can only speculate which memories and life experiences may have, consciously or subconsciously, inspired Lewis in his vivid creations. I will now trace some of the most famous landmarks that I have encountered, which have been linked to his writings….

Tracing the footsteps of C.S. Lewis…

1. The Malvern Hills.

This most picturesque area of Worcestershire, UK is the perfect daytrip destination from Birmingham, Oxford or London (1, 1.5 and 2.5 hours by train, respectively). It’s no wonder that Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien and co. embarked on frequent retreats to the Malvern Hills for years after Lewis completed his schooling at Malvern College 1916.

It has been said that the friends enjoyed leisurely walks through the hills to soak in the stunning panoramic scenery of the region, which has doubtlessly inspired artists for decades. (Apparently, on a clear day, you can see all the way to Wales!)

2. The Unicorn Inn, Malvern.

Lewis’s scenic treks typically ended at this charming, hillside pub, presumably with all of the activities that we would imagine—philosophical debates, pints of ale, visions of white, magical, single-horned creatures, etc.

Unicorn Pub Malvern

Sadly, when I visited, the plaque commemorating Lewis’s visits had been dismounted. Hopefully this was just a temporary move, and you will have better luck!

3. The Eagle and Child Pub, Oxford.

The informal, weekly meeting place of the ‘Inklings’ literary discussion group (comprised of Lewis, Tolkien, Charles Williams and several others), this popular watering hole is one of Oxford’s most famous landmarks.

Definitely worth stopping here for a pint to check out the framed ‘Inklings’ memorabilia…but often difficult to secure seats, especially for large parties. Though I suppose if you drop in on a for some Tuesday morning rounds, as the Inklings often did, you won’t have much of a problem.

4. Magdalen College, Oxford.

Last, but certainly not least…a place that I cannot stop writing about.

magdalen-cloisters_resized.jpg

The idyllic meadows, the lazy tributaries, the stunning architecture, the gorgeous spring foliage…all of the wonderful things that comprise this 550-year-old Oxford College make it feel like a fantasyland.

I can only imagine what Lewis, a former fellow of Magdalen, was dreaming up when he strolled around the college’s deer park…alongside the gondola-esque punts…through the weeping willows…perhaps pausing to gaze back at the colourful sunset framing the college’s majestic bell tower…

It’s no surprise that Lewis stayed at Magdalen for nearly 30 years!

The trail continues…

These are only a few, noteworthy places that I have personally experienced: the list of landmarks goes on, including sights in Belfast, Lewis’s place of birth, and Cambridge, where he served as a departmental chair until a few months before his death in 1963.

Your ideal Narnia adventure will, of course, depend on the way in which you imagine or remember Lewis’s stories. You’ll never see the world as he did, but you sure can try to match your memories of his work with an interesting travel experience.

In honour of my Malvern adventure, I (re)watched The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe last night. I now remember (or at least, I think I remember…) exactly what I was thinking when I watched it the first time: I must go to the place where these beautiful Narnia landscapes were filmed.

New Zealand, anyone?

A blog for another day…

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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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The Peacock Parade…

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Peacock Ruffled Feathers

It wasn’t until I started writing blogs that I realized just how fascinated I am with wildlife; indeed, I spend more time staring at lizards, bugs and squirrels than I do learning about important monuments and historical landmarks. 

If you’ve already read the birdwatching blog, you know just how fascinating Bowerbird courtship behavior can be (check that blog out here  here if you haven’t!). Yet sometimes animal behavior is inexplicable—it was just last week that I experienced my most surprising, amusing bird encounter of the year: I was strolling through the Fountain of Youth Park

 …when I was almost attacked by a Peacock.

While I don’t have photographic evidence of the bird’s sweeping dive towards my forehead, I did, after coming to terms with the insanity of the situation, manage to photograph his beautiful feathers from afar:

 

Peacock Feathers Fountain of Youth

The Peacock Parade…yes, indeed…it’s on display, every day, at the Fountain of Youth Park in St. Augustine, Florida

You should go there and check out these beauties for yourselves:

Beautiful White Peacock St Augustine

 

Peacock Open Feathers

But be sure to watch your heads!

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The Fountain of Youth.

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Fountain of Youth Ponce de LeonFountain of Youth Ponce de LeonFountain of Youth Ponce de Leon

“When I arrived, I was 135 years old, and now I feel 60 again!” remarked my father after tasting some authentic, sulphur-saturated water from the Fountain of Youth in St. Augustine, Florida.  Our tour guide assured us that, had Spanish explorer Ponce de León not been shot in the thigh during battle circa age 60, he surely would have, given his daily Fountain bathing regimen, lived to be at least 100, too…

And no, the sexy diorama above—complete with a statue of old Juan in his fatal, thigh-exposing get up (“the shorter the skirt, the higher the nobility!” –  our tour guide)—is, sadly, not the actual Fountain of Youth, but rather, a tourist mock up.  The actual historic site of the famed, bubbling source of vitality, as sought and discovered by Juan Ponce de León in 1513, now appears as a pit in the ground; the rejuvenating “Water of Life” is currently filtered through a man-made tap for tourist-consuming purposes.  Ever smelled and/or tasted warm sulphur water on a scorching summer day? Yummm…

Fountain of Youth tour guide

The Fountain of Youth Park in St. Augustine actually provided several hours of amusement for my not-so-keen-on-sightseeing parents (and for my super touristy self!).  I actually did—as cheesy as it sounds—feel somewhat connected to my country’s 400 + year old history of European inhabitation while perusing the 15 acre grounds. 

Upon entering the Park, you will be brainwashed—i.e. “America is so old” and “La Florida came first!”—as the resident historians emphasize their favorite take home lesson: Chris Columbus may have “discovered” the “New World,” but it was good old Juan who established the first European settlement on American soil—St Augustine.

And what a charming little city he left behind!

Do take the St. Augustine historic trolley tour and stop off at the Fountain of Youth Park, which provides enough activities to entertain a family of 10— an archaeological park, a planetarium, and a discovery globe, to name a few.

Oh yeah, and there are tons of beautiful peacocks (which are actually kind of scary, in my opinion…).  Stay tuned for the upcoming peacock blog if you would like to view some more images of these fascinating creatures!

In conclusion:

Gracias, Sr. Ponce de Leon….queremos beber de la fuente de la juventud cada día!

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The best long haul flight option? London – Florida.

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I would firstly like to note that this blog reflects only my personal views regarding certain air carriers and not necessarily the views of my colleagues; I write in hopes that you will find my experiences useful in planning your next trip from the UK to the American Southeast (specifically, to Florida) and that you will share your own pond hopping insights and experiences by commenting below.

 

Right…so, I was recently faced with the task of booking a last minute flight from London to America.  As, previously, I had only flown between Heathrow and Philadelphia or Baltimore (and subsequently travelled by car to my home in Delaware.  And yes, Delaware is a state…in which there are no major airports…), I never had to worry about domestic flight connections upon arrival to the US.  But, this time, I was going to visit family in Jacksonville, Florida.  Had I been visiting one of the major southeastern destinations—say, Atlanta, Miami or Orlando—a non-stop flight would have been feasible.  But for other popular vacation spots, such as St. Augustine, Charleston, New Orleans (and, in my case, Jacksonlle)—finding an affordable, low-hassle flight becomes quite difficult.

The point here is that you shouldn’t narrow your US travel destinations to cities that seem to pose the least complicated flight routes.  There are so many lovely, coastal spots in the southeastern states that require just a bit more effort—a few more minutes of crafty internet searching and an extra hour or two of travel time.  In my case, Delta Airlines provided the most affordable, reliable and comfortable way of getting from London to Jacksonville. 

First, a note on baggage…

Perhaps some of you, like me, have made the pond hop several times: then there’s a good chance that you, or people that you know, have experienced problems with recovering baggage.

Last time I flew from Philadelphia to Heathrow, using a certain air carrier that shall remain nameless, over $300 worth of valuables were stolen from my suitcase in transit, for which, the airline refused to compensate me.  The incident was, the customer relations agent informed me, not the airline’s fault, for I, the traveler, had chosen to place valuables in my suitcase.  Point taken, but with all of the hand baggage restrictions these days—and all of our technological obsessions—it is nearly impossible keep every digital device, Apple gadget, and Nintendo gaming accessory slung over our shoulders for a 17 hour door-to-door journey.

The moral of this story: proceed with caution when indulging in the dollar discount…

(My friend Natalie also wanted me to add: “mind the gap between the airport employee, and the conveyer belt: next stop, ‘Charring Loss’”—I can’t take credit for her genius).

Finding an affordable flight with easy connections…

With my normal go-to airline out of the question, I had to start from scratch. As always, my first points of research were skyscanner.net, and lastminute.co.uk.  Between these two sites, I was able to get a general idea of which airlines flew directly from London to Jacksonville…none!

 

I first considered taking a direct flight to Miami or Orlando…and then switching to a US low cost air carrier such as Southwest to get to Jacksonville (Florida is much bigger than it seems: Miami is a 5 hour + drive from Jacksonville).  The combined cost of these flights was way, way, way beyond my budget.

 

After about 2 hours of online research, I concluded that Delta Airlines was my best option: they offer several routes—with changes in Atlanta—to cities across the southeast, including Jacksonville.  Their prices were also the lowest, and, significantly, they offered plenty of layover flight times.  This is key, as, depending on the size of your travel party—and your country of citizenship—you may require more time to get through passport control and through customs before embarking on your domestic flight.  As a solo traveler with a US passport, 45 minutes probably would have been enough, but I chose a 2-hour layover, just to be safe.

The actual flight:

…was great!  We departed on time, my meals were decent (a choice between chicken and pasta, followed by pizza), and the movie selection was good.  We landed on time, and the Delta representatives were very specific and concise in their instructions for passengers needing to board transfer flights in Atlanta.  The route from the plane gate, to passport control, to baggage claim, through customs, to baggage re-check, and back through security was clearly mapped out and jet lag/idiot proof.  I was back through security with enough time to purchase a Father’s Day gift and to relax and stretch before boarding my connector flight to Jacksonville, which actually arrived early.

The take home advice:

Don’t be put off from planning a holiday to a non-major US city because of complicated flight routes.  Chances are, if you are traveling to Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, Louisiana, or Tennessee, that Delta offers an affordable route through Atlanta

Good luck and happy planning!

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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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