Sunday, 27 January 2008

Polly Evans quirkily adventures, online

I met Polly Evans - a successful author of chick-travelling Lit - in Sarajevo, in the back of a people carrier en route to a gala dinner held by the Bosnia and Herzegovina tourist board. We were off to celebrate British Airways' new flight from Gatwick to the Bosnian capital and to learn more about this emerging eastern European destination.

Polly has now launched her own website and it's a good one to watch for inspiration as well as news of her recent travels.

No doubt she'll soon be adding posts soon on her latest book Mad Dogs and an Englishwoman, in which she shares trial and tribulations of driving sled dogs in Canada's Yukon Territory. Published by Bantam Books, £7.99 on Feb 11th.

See Polly Evans' website here Read more!

Mona Lisa Museum Pass turns 20

En Juin 2008, le Paris Museum Pass fêtera son 20e anniversaire ... it's no wonder that this particular tourist pass - first sold in 1988 - is still going strong.

Time spent queuing up for numerous galleries and musuems will take up valuable snogging/shopping/vin rouge swilling time during a city break in the French capital. So before parting with those euros for un sandwich au jambon, you're first purchase should be the Paris Musueum Pass.

Organising a suprise romantic weekender? Buy your passes in advance - click here - to have your beau falling into bed at the end of the day's sightseeing, amazed at your sauve city-savvy.

Good for 2, 4 or 6 days' culture-vulturing, the Pass will have you queue jumping and bypassing ticket booths at famous cultural must-visits ranging from the Louvre to the Château de Versailles.

Click for complete list

2-day pass costs 30euros
4-days 45euros
6-days 60euros

Paris Museum Pass Official website Read more!

Thursday, 24 January 2008

Keep 'doing' Italy. Travel Weekly article

It's good to see that Travel Weekly are encouraging the travel trade to promote and sell Italy - and not just the obvious parts.

Click for Alternative City Breaks article
Read more!

Italy - not for travel snobs

Yep, travel snobs will probably be closing this page….about ... right now… at the sight of the 'I' word. I'm glad. I’d rather send them through to this 'Cycle Iraq' article Click if you're too well travelled for Italy than try to convince them that The Boot will always deserve as high a position on the 'must visit' list as possible.

And Italy isn't just a 'must visit' destination. It's a visit, visit again and keep visiting until you’ve visited it all - and then go live there - destination. I've been indulging my Roman Catholic by inheritance-meets-food, fashion, art loving side in the homeland of the Pope, on average, about three times a year for the last eight years. And it all began on a slow day at a former workplace (Travelbag: Nov 00) when Colette booked cheap flights on a whim... Buzzair (swallowed up into Ryanair empire) to Milano Linate airport. (Linate airport is actually in Milan). These days Ryanair drops off at Milan-Bergamo; an hour-ish coach journey from the central Milan.

Me. Hooked? Yes - not to the degree of a surgeon who could afford to buy a retreat in Tuscany - but enough to have sat beneath the Leaning Tower of Pisa three times; walked the Duomo roof in Milan at least four times; watched Inter Milan and Juventus play; critiqued da Vinci's The Last Supper, Michelangelo's David and Sistine Chapel, Botticelli's Venus and enough works of art and architecture to fill the British Gallery five times over.

Then there’s Mussolini's train station in Florence and the square where he was hung (yep, in Milan); the night I drunkenly steered a passenger ferry across Lake Como, invited by the captain because we (three girls) were wearing England shirts with Beckham on our backs; walked the rooftop test track in Turin, the one from The Italian Job; climbed Mount Vesuvius and tiptoed around Pompeii’s ruins.

I'll go again this year I’m sure, and experience something completely different all over again. Travel snobs. You miss out. You are not missed.

(I hate this verb in relation to travel) ‘Do' Venice, Rome and Florence. Then go back again and again; Turin, Bologna, Genoa, Milan, Cinque Terre, Positano, Amalfi, Capri, Naples, Verona...

Read more!

Tuesday, 22 January 2008

Netvibes makes internet research no hassle

Once upon a time, after walking 60 miles, barefoot, t'nearest mill (aka commuting to an open-plan hanger office) my working day kicked off with 30mins, tops, immersed in Guardianunlimited's travel site...often I’d catch a piece on emerging destinations or stumble across Ryanair's latest flight path. Ooh, wasn't this systematic … me, a responsible editor, with the travel industry’s pulse pounding beneath my typing fingertips. Then, I just didn't know better.

In May-ish 2007 I logged into Netvibes. I worked it out (ok, so it's a repository for web feeds. Tabs per subject; live lists of headlines, per site, updating whenever web content updates. So, how do I add a feed that I want to view?) and went from ad hoc surfing - now and then striking gold - to being an utter know-it-all.

Pre-Netvibes, my view of online news was equivalent to looking across the Fenland horizon at a couple of trees, a tractor and a wind-beaten scarecrow - the occassional hawk gliding or hot-air balloon floating across the sky if timing was right. Post-Netvibes, I see from the top of the Empire States Building; high above, surveying a pulsing network of existence.

Headlines update alongside each other on one web page. It's invaluable for assessing the days/mths/year's travel trends, and comparing mainstream media against obscure networks or individuals’ blogs. My example ... I keep an eye on BBC News headlines alongside posts by a stranger who gave up the rat-race to live by the sea in Positano, Italy. Thanks to her, I've seen summer, autumn and Christmas on the Amalfi Coast, from my desk. Click for that blog: The Life I Chose

‘Thank you Netvibes’, for channelling constant streams of inspirational content to my hanger-office.

Add Sandwagon to Netvibes to see articles as they appear (see them without even looking). Sign in ,then copy my url and 'add content' to Netvibes by pasting it in.

Click for easy internet. Netvibes Read more!

Sunday, 20 January 2008

Earth Pilgrim - a year in the life of Dartmoor

Aired Fri Jan 18/Sat 20th on BBC 2. Part of the Natural World series.

'A year in the life of''s not a new concept for a natural history documentary and neither is the spirit of conservation that its narrator seeks to impress upon us. But this particular narrator's considered, softly annunciated descriptions and reflections - simultaneously peaceful yet powerfully engaging - takes wildlife documentary to a new level. Earth Pilgrim sends nature soaring: transcending to a spiritual level.

Satish Kumar aged 71, formerly a Jain monk, is a unique narrator whose words work in harmony with the incredible visual expressions of camaraman Warwick Sloss and producer Andrew Graham-Brown (of Emmy award winning AGB Films). Layered upon such oratory and cinematography are a rich body of references pulled from fields of human brilliance, such as poetry and science. And more .... all this is set against the backdrop of Satish Kumar's life story.

Satish, aged four, after watching his father die and despairing at the concept of death, needed answers. As he walks through Dartmoor's purple blooming heather, he speaks of how Jainism brought him to see death as a continuum of life, just as autumn comes full circle in springtime. He left his monastic life in Rajasthan where he had meditated upon life since the age of nine, to walk empty-handed from Gandhi’s grave in New Delhi to the tomb of John F. Kennedy in Washington DC. Having walked 8,000 miles in peaceful protest against the assassinations of both world leaders, we see him today celebrating nature as he walks through Dartmoor, an earth pilgrim.

Watch the kestrel sequence to see where I'm coming from on the complementary layers of this film. As a hovering kestrel fills the entire frame - tail fanned, splayed wings oscillating - Satish appreciates its very existence. He recalls kestrel numbers dwindling in the early sixties when he arrived in the UK and celebrates that through the spirit of conservation its numbered stabilised. The frame remains filled with glorious kestrel as Satish reads from Ted Hughes'poem The Hawk in the Rain,...'his wings hold all creation in weightless quite.'

The documentary's accompanying music might, at times, feel a step too far - perhaps heading into the realms of religious instruction or mind, body and spirit videos. But this said, via genuine sentiment and visual stimulation the importance of conservation is undoubtedly imparted to us viewers. As humans we must be modest and come to accept that we are just another part of Nature’s whole. Take Satish’s example,lean back against the truck of an oak tree and reconnect with the earth. Satish rounds off the film by reminding us that,'Earth is borrowed from the future of our children'.

Earth Pilgrim - a year on Dartmoor is a memorable and spiritual success.

Buy the Natural World series (when released) at the BBC Shop

Satish is editor of Resurgence Magazine Read more!

Friday, 18 January 2008

Work in a hanger of despair? F*ck It with Wanderlust JobShop

Just spent another soul-sapping day in an open plan hanger office devoid of humanity; trudged across a pitch black tarmaced carpark through puddles, too exhausted to head to the pub? Are you sitting there right now, surfing and pulling your hair into stressed/anxiety fuelled/ tedium- tired tendrals?

ummmm. Empathy resides here at SandWagon. Action, however, flits and flirts on the freedom breeze at Wanderlust magazine's website. Travel to their JobShop, wake up and have a seriously good think about why you're not going to F*ck It and apply for a job overseas...tonight.

Spontaneous F*cking It is one thing - blowing any savings you have on a plane ticket and a whim, or sticking them on the plastic with a vision of becoming a working nomad to pay it all back. But Wanderlust JobShop....this gives you watertight excuses for buggering off and reclaiming your time, your percentage of the world's fresh air; your sanity. If you've worked in a hanger of despair for even one pitiful week you're due your time in the F*ck It pre-flight lounge.

Two career options:

Intrepid Travel is now recruiting group leaders to join their teams in Europe, Russia and Indochina. If you think you have what it takes to be a fantastic Group Leader and want to share your love of travel then...
F*ck It. Click here to apply

Greenforce Expedition leader - Ecuador
An amazing opportunity to lead groups of volunteers to Quito, Banos, the Amazon, Andaluz (coastal Ecuador) and work on Red Cross school projects. Other activities, projects and locations include Ice climbing, scuba diving, TEFL placements, Galapagos islands and more.
F*ck It. Click here to apply

Salary: visual, physical and mental stimulation. Location: the outside world.

Wanderlust Jobshop
Read more!

Sunday, 13 January 2008

The Geography of Bliss by Eric Weiner

On August 23rd 1999 I was killing time in Paris, waiting for the 22.55 overnight train to Barcelona. We were inter-railing our summer holiday from university away - four weeks characterised by baguette eating in city parks and on beaches, red wine drinking in dorm rooms and endless days with nothing more pressing to do than appreciate the minutiae of our fellow Europeans' lives as they lived them out in the places that we killed time between sights, baguette picnics and train departures.

Determined to soak up every possible Parisian minute by the Seine and not waste them away on the platform, so we wandered along the Left Bank. Sharing out the wine, we watched dinner-dance bateaux cruising up river and down river, illuminated with tiny white fairy lights,. Gooey couples, gazing through the glass at us landlubbers. Us, gazing back. Then we stumbled upon two, three, even four impromptu dance floors. It remains one of my most joyful memories of European travels; sound systems playing jazz and swing music by the river, Parisian couples displaying spirit and romance.

In 1999 I wrote: ‘The Parisians know how to live: relaxing in parks, working at pavements tables of cute cafés and dancing to rigged up stereos at impromptu dance floors by the Seine. How to be happy the Parisian way - dance in the open air, free and easy. It brought tears to my eyes to see this gathering of people being so happy. The darkness, the Seine and the reflections of passing boats created this final experience of Paris. Expectations are high for the Catalans in Barcelona. What's their version of happiness?'

I kept this issue of happiness in mind on the whole journey and imagined the book I could write if I researched the recipes of happiness across the continent, tasting tit-bits of joy like tapas dishes washed down with dry fino.

But that book plan was in my mind nine years ago. I'm sure, in the time that has since passed, I could have - should have - written that book. But Eric Weiner has pipped me to the post. I'll be buying The Geography of Bliss: One Grump's search for the happiest places in the world to see if those Parisians get a mention.

The Geography of Bliss (hardback). Buy it at Amazon Read more!

Friday, 11 January 2008

Friday's F*ck It - get booked for Aug 1st

One for Druids, Druids-at-heart if not in dress and with tambourine, sky-watchers and travellers who know a bona-fide F*ck It when they read it. On August 1st 2008 the lights go out; first in Canada, then Greenland, then central Russia, Mongolia and finally China. This total eclipse of the sun promises to surpass 1999's event. Then, I slept in a Cornish lay by, woke up to a sea view on a hillside near Mevagissy, bleating along with nearby sheep, in awe of the solar spectacle.

Cornwall felt primeval that day; nothing mattered but the cycle of celestial spheres and the rise and fall of the sun. But that eerie moment of pitch blackness experienced in Russia or among Arctic snow fields...that promises to be a tale to tell to the great-grandkids. You'll be celebrating your 156th birthday telling this travelling tale in a time when the sun has been replaced by nuclear reactors suspended on bubble clouds and tethered to Mercury, never again to be eclipsed.

I'm in.

August 1st 2008.

Best bets for clear skies and accessability are...
Siberia- Novosibirsk's at 10.45 UT; Barnaul 10.48
China - The city of Xi'an where totality lasts 1min 35s at sunset

NASA's Solar Eclipse page Read more!

Thursday, 10 January 2008

Friday's F*ck It Feature

The definition of ‘f*cking it’, when it comes to travel, varies in shades of frivolity. Depending on the season or what the year on Earth holds, and influenced by available funds or – more likely – available credit limits, f*cking it can be a flight, a train, a ten hour drive to the other end of the country or legging it at the last minute down a jetty for a ferry journey you never planned to make. It's definitely a deposit, drunkenly placed, for a trek to Everest Base Camp when surfing the net with friends.

The Friday F*ck It feature feeds upon the flesh of frivolity. It sows the seeds of spontaneous booking behaviour. Admit it. If you’re already a travel addict there’s no need to convince you to spend whatever cash you have (or don’t have) on worldly experiences rather than nurturing a nest egg or even budgeting for next month’s bills. Jaunt to the other side of the world on whimsy or sensibly stay at home? I know the answer. So, I feel no guilt in offering ideas and justifications... you’d only find them somewhere else anyway. Read more!

Tuesday, 8 January 2008

Destinations. More experts confirmed

Travel writer Simon Reeve is confirmed - his latest travels are published in Tropic of Capricorn in February
Also, Nicholas Crane, explorer, writer and broadcaster of BBC 2 Coast and Great Birtish Journeys fame Read more!

Monday, 7 January 2008

Destinations, Earls Court 31Jan - 3 Feb

January makes me shiver with every flight I should have booked by now and every plan I wish I was wrapped up inside, warm and excitable. The cash point isn't anyone's friend this month but try to raise the cost of return travel Earls Court from it and also the ticket price to Destinations: The Times Holiday & Travel Fair 2008.

Tickets £8 in advance, £10 on the door.

It's not as thrilling as trekking in Bhutan but a day or two spent collecting ideas at Destinations is probably as good as January is going to get ...until travel plans become bookings, become guidebook reading, become packing and life begins again.

Highlights are always the Wanderlust Travel Photography exhibition and the expert talks that take place in dark pseudo-secret, oversubscribed theatres tucked away at the back of the exhibition centre. Start queuing early if you're a fan of celebrity travellers and them talking.

This year, I'm looking forward to seeing,
North Korea Unveiled. Thursday 31st Jan @ 11am
Mongolia - Land of the Blue Sky. Friday 1st Feb @ 4pm
The Art of Travel Writing with Jane Knight of Times Travel Magazine. Sat 23nd @ 1pm

Travel luminaries on display in the theatres include David Skukman (BBC News); Lyn Hughes (Wanderlust); Hilary Bradt; leaf-tailed geckos; Big Cats and Big Bears; the Trans-Siberian Railway and more.

... then visit in for real. I guarantee you'll be inspired by something, someone and definitely somewhere. Read more!

Saturday, 5 January 2008

earth: the movie

Earth is the feature length version of BBC’s Planet Earth series. It was released in November 2007 so I’m behind the times with these thoughts and worse still I’m more than likely one of very few people in the UK to have missed the series when it aired on terrestrial TV. I didn’t see even one episode.

But I’m no freak. I’d go as far as to say I’m cursed – as are many – to work for the travel media or within travel as a wider industry. I'm always working, reading and recovering from deadlines. I forget to engage with my TV when i really should. Plus, when passion for the next new journey fires your imagination and makes your blood simmer with adrenaline, it’s impossible to feel anything short of regret for another day of your life spent holed up inside the publishing department’s hanger of an office, missing everything.

Yes, I love editing guidebooks, picking cover shots and chit-chatting with authors. In theory it’s my dream profession. But the world, our planet Earth, in the flesh and with all its wonders feels as far away as Mars. Nothing compares to smelling the air of a new country and feeling an unfamiliar humidity or chill on your skin.

This Saturday lunchtime Earth brought solace. More so, it set my skin tingling and eyes watering with its beautifully captured narrative of a year on our planet. Spectacular cinematography filmed in HD took me as close to the chill of the Artic seas, to the thermals that whip majestic Himalayan heights and the eye-stinging desert sand storms as I fear I’ll get in 2008.

Earth’s year was displayed, not from a human point of view but from that of stars cast from the animal kingdom. The A-List: a polar bear family, a herd of elephants and mother humpback whale with her calf. Uniting their stories is their migrations for food: their shared tragedy is global warming, the effects of which could change their environments to the point that their tragic-comedic narratives will be cut short – more bluntly, their species become extinct.

I cried at the obviously tragic parts but also at the staggering beauty of the planet played out in large screen. The innovative cinematography brought me closer, more intimate with the animals’ stories and habitats than I’ve ever experienced from any wildlife documentaries to date. Earth has to be seen for its own beauty and for planet Earth’s beauty to be believed.

Remain apathetic to travel, wildlife and the plight of the planet after this and you deserve to see out your days at a desk, stagnating beneath the fluorescent lighting in a hanger of an office. Today I vowed to myself that year 2008 will be my last one spent penned in.

BBC's LoveEarth site Read more!