Friday, 9 October 2009

Frankfurt Book Fair goers drop the cab, buy the app - Q Mapp interactive transit map available for iPhone and iPod Touch

Back in April I was commissioned by the cartographers Communicarta to chase vintage yellow trams around and around in the rain, up and down the hilly streets of Porto - it's all in a day's work when you're helping to update one of their public transport maps. On the same weekend, I also wrote about how my experience of using a Communicarta public transport map to get around the city and out to the Atlantic coast compared to using the local transport resources I gathered at the tourist information office. Read more about that here.

Today I was excited to receive a note from Ken Chui, Communicarta's Business Development Director, announcing that their painstakingly researched and logically drawn maps are now available digitally.

Want to have an interactive version of a city's underground map on your phone and to be able to zoom in and out on the lines you need to take? Want to keep track of your most frequently used stations, or locate the closest station to where you are? Now ...(and you know what's coming)...there's an app for that. The Q Mapp Frankfurt Interactive Transit map is available for the iphone/ipod touch from the iTunes store.

With perfect timing, Ken tells me that this is, "the one and only app of its kind geared towards the Frankfurt Book Fair", which takes place next week (14th-18th October).

He goes on to say that it will give book fair visitors the confidence to go anywhere in Frankfurt using the U/ S- Bahn and will help them make full use of their travel pass rather than spending too many euros on cab fares getting to and from their hotel to Messe and back again. The Frankfurt book fair is the largest international gathering of the publishing industry, so of course this public transport application comes in English, French, German, Italian and Spanish.

If you're off to Frankfurt on business or pleasure it's well worth spending 59p to have this trustworthy and easy to use travel resource in the palm of your hand, that is unless like me you're more of a Hero Android girl and don't have an iPhone!

The Q Mapps Munich Interactive Transit map is also available from the iTunes store.

Q Mapps Ltd is a subsidiary of Communicarta Ltd.

Read more!

Monday, 21 September 2009

Do travel websites inspire travellers or just the 'geeks'?

There's no denying it and increasingly no escaping it. The travel industry is obsessed with harnessing the infinite possibilities afforded by ever-evolving online technologies.

Just a quick scroll through the last ten minutes' worth of #travel tweets or a brief visit to a trusted travel website (be it traditional media or off-beat blog) would illustrate that point.

Currently everyone is talking about the use of sideWikis in travel sites, and there's a new business to business website ( for us to devour that's dedicated to travel technology news. And I'm sure that tomorrow will send me a link to another 'experience' website that can seemingly read my mind and sell me a holiday as I navigate through their inspiration pages doubt they'll be able to summon up my dream trip via the magic of algorithms and targeted marketing. Thank God for them! Without their site I'd be stranded, incapable of thinking and dreaming up my next adventure for myself.

There's certainly no denying that blogging, tweeting, Google maps mash ups, downloadable content and travel apps for smart phones have delivered a whole new source of relevant, instantly updatable information to techsavy travellers. Something that the travel genre is certainly richer for and something that I hope travel publishers in particular can increasingly invest in (if not monetarily, at least in terms of time and effort).

But my question today is - and I've Tweeted it too - can anyone point me towards uses of travel technology/online development that are truly inspirational for travellers (ie not just another way to increase sales of holidays and/or compete with other travel sites in the geek stakes)?
Read more!

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

What in the world would your first documentary explore?

I hate to admit it, but there has been far too little blogging going on here lately. That said, in between working on freelance projects, travelling and fighting the small yet persistent battles of everyday life, I've still managed to Twitter away uproariously with travellers and the travel community. Off the back of some of these twitterings, Sandwagon's blog is back.

On Monday, inspired by the BBC's Future of Food series, I tweeted the question, 'What would you make your first documentary about?

In episode 2 of Future of Food, George Alagiah hopped from Senegal to India, and Kenya to Kent, investigating the changing nature of the global food chain and pondering the real prospect of demand for meat, fish and corn outstripping what the planet can realistically supply. This is my kind of documentary. The kind that confronts the global issues that the majority of us, struggling to juggle work and personal concerns, will let slip to the back of our minds, even though we are directly involved and implicated in the causes and consequences of that issue.

And there's no getting away from this issue. We all eat. If enough individuals chose to eat less meat and only bought locally grown veg, humans might stand a small chance of one day evening out of the world's edible resources. This documentary made me think about the small part I play in that collective choice, and as a result of it I'll be steering clear of imported fish or vegetables from now on (I've already given up meat and I also grow some of my own veg). What more can a documentary maker hope for?

So back to the question. Assuming that you are a novice too, what would you make your first documentary about?

'Agriculture and politics in Argentina,' replied @argentinatours

@alexbainbridge of TourCMS threw in, 'I would make a documentary about how companies make travel websites - so consumers can see the work required and understand. As young consumers get taught about farms, about engineering etc - but few have experienced inside of an online travel company.'

@Travelrants was thinking along the lines of, 'the life of a consumer travel blogger, but I think people would get bored quickly (my family & friends do when I talk about it) :)'

And me, at the moment it would probably have to be about diving, including the psychology of learning to dive, instructor training courses and the ins and outs of the scuba industry from a novice's perspective.

What do you think of these ideas?
What would your first documentary be about?

Also worth checking out are The Future of Food (2004, a film by Deborah Koons Garcia)

8-week Documentary Making Course at the London Academy of Media, Film & TV.

Read more!

Saturday, 18 July 2009

Luxor's West Bank - if travellers had all the time in the world

It's the age old travelling frustration. You only had a limited time in a city, town or country. En route to all of the unmissable attractions, that you simply must pack into one or two days, your eyes wandered off to the less tourist-ridden spaces. Perhaps you pressed your camera up against the car window (just like I did for this picture), an attempt to secure enough of a visual prompt to include these places in your plans next time you're here. But often, there isn't a next time.

This happened to me in Luxor. Obviously, I was itching to descend, Lara Croft-style, into ancient tombs in the Valley of the Kings and then stand belittled by the Colossi of Memnon, those stoney faced mega-men. But...if only there was time to stop alongside the sugar cane fields, smell the bright pink flowers (first, finding out what they are) and colourfully painted mud brick houses that the taxi whipped by.

Next time in Luxor I'll be -

Booking a room on the East Bank rather than the West. Perhaps the Marsam Hotel and/or the Beit Sabee.

Hiring a bike and cycling around the sugarcane fields that I only viewed from altitude in a hot air balloon.

Stopping to shop at those fruit and veg stalls that appeared out of nowhere.

Watching the sun set from the Mortuary Temple of Ramses III, rather than from the terrace of the Winter Palace.
The frustration of time constraints do fuel future travel plans and force return visits.

And because things spotted en route leave their mark in your mind, a curious traveller will never be done travelling.
Read more!

Sunday, 7 June 2009

View from the Sandwagon - Colossi of Memnon, Luxor

Read more!

Thursday, 21 May 2009

LEAVE THE HANGER! Landcare Australia

Landcare Australia are calling all travel writers and photographers to write for a reason.

They need your help to get the general public engaged with the task of saving our planet. There are prizes for winning contributions!

Landcare’s Your Planet Needs You campaign is asking individuals to register the skills they are happy to offer for a local environmental project. They need you to write a compelling argument for getting involved and registering interest in saving our planet.

Written submissions should be no more than 100 words, visual submissions should be a 30 second video or a compelling image with caption.

Five finalists will be invited to a fancy lunch in Sydney on June 5 – World Environment Day – where the winner will be announced. There is a $500 cash prize for the winner and runner up prizes for the finalists.

Submit your entry to the Your Planet Needs You Facebook Page: And here is the rest of it. Read more!

Thursday, 14 May 2009

New Feature: Lost In ....

..not Space, but various locations around the globe. Here's the low down on the feature as recently pitched to a travel website. I'll run it myself on Sandwagon, so that the idea lives on.
Travel content, be it in print or online, has always showed us how not to get lost. Heaven forbid that we wandered off with just our sense of discovery guiding the way.

The big questions are:
• Are trips doomed to disaster without the aid of a travel writer’s ‘Top Ten Must-See List of Unmissable Sights To See Before You Die’?
• Do travellers disappear into black-holes if they leave their hotels unaccompanied by a guidebook’s ‘indispensable’ colour-coded, waterproof, rip-proof, detachable fold-out map?
• Without a Google maps mash-up on their Smartphone would they all stand frozen to the spot – flibberdygibbets in a foreign land?

I think not. Be gone, generic travel content overkill.

Here’s my idea
My ‘Lost in ...’ series of content will back up my call to forego the safety net that is generic travel content, if only for one day, one morning or one hour of a trip. My first hand experiences and photos will inspire travellers to indulge in the sensation of getting intrepidly and truly unforgettably lost. It will have a light tone, reflecting the cult sci-fi series Lost in Space.

Travellers will still see the obvious sights and they’ll still immerse themselves in local culture. But they’ll also give themselves the chance to stumble upon experiences that are individual to their trip. These are the experiences that travel content cannot choreograph, such as... being invited into an artist’s studio on an anonymous backstreet ...or ordering the best fillet steak that you’ve ever tasted, in the restaurant that you took a chance on just because a fat furry tabby cat guarded the door.

Related post Travel without safety nets

Read more!

Sunday, 10 May 2009

Golden Blocks Shore Dive: my piece for The Independent

Yet to perfect your giant stride entry or the throwing yourself backwards off a boat method? Then the Dahab way is for you.

The laid back Egyptian village set on Egypt's Sinai Peninsula, around an hour north of Sharm El Sheikh, has enough shore diving sites to keep divers busy for at least a week or so.

In fact shore diving seems to satisfy visitors' demands so much that none of the local dive schools have yet invested in a Zodiac boat for off-shore diving.

Read about my shore dive at Dahab's 'Golden Blocks' as featured by On The Road at The Independent:Travel.

Read more!

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Iconic budget hotel plans refurb - Nefertiti Hotel, Luxor

Anyone backpacking around Egypt's Nile Valley during the 60s more than likely stayed at the Nefertiti. It was the first budget hotel in town and one that pre-dates the up market, up scale Winter Palace. But returning visitors will soon notice a change to their favourite rest stop's decor, although thankfully not its understated demeanour.

Owner Aladin Al-Sahaby told me of his plans to bring a fresh lick of boutique-style paint to his well-loved, but increasingly weary, four storey establishment. Working alongside a Dr. of Fine Arts, Aladin plans to siphon the energy and colour of Luxor into all of the hotel's public spaces, including the street restaurant and rooftop terrace. Aladin's enthusiasm for the project stems from a personal passion for interior decoration and an aversion to the staid surroundings found in chain style hotels the world over.

'Visitors come to Luxor in search of culture. The refurbished Nefertiti will provide an authentic experience that begins in your own hotel room.'

On the subject of investment, Aladin admits that this project is motivated by adding to the hotel's rich heritage, rather than making huge profits. The Nefertiti will remain a cheap sleep because Aladin enjoys the personalities of his backpacker residents. He just wants to make it stand out from a growing crowd of budget options.

New balcony's, stone flooring and a glass fence around the rooftop terrace - to maximise the hotel's views of Luxor Temple - were mentioned. Renovation work should begin next month, a floor at a time. Work could be completed by the end of summer 2009. Double rooms are planned to cost 100-120 EGP per night (currently 80/90)
Read more!

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

Communicarta Public Transport Maps - as used in Porto, Portugal

Make the most of a great local bus route, following the course of the River Douro all the way to Porto’s Atlantic coastline. Use Communicarta public transport maps

“Whilst you’re here, why not take the number 500 straight to the Atlantic coast?” That sounded far too good a suggestion to ignore, but also a little too good to be true. Could escaping Porto’s steep cobbled streets and marauding trams, and swapping them for crashing surf, really be as easy as flagging down a local bus? Or would I find myself stranded on a deserted suburban street corner kicking myself for believing what turned out to be just a rose-tinted travel tip?

Rose-tinted or not, I was sold. The thought of an invigorating walk along the sands in springtime, followed by a strong coffee overlooking the breakers was impossible to resist. And like most travellers, I like nothing more than setting off on urban adventures with just a public transport map for guidance. But first things first. Gripped by an urge to back up my guidebook with ‘the official’ local transport map, I headed for the nearest tourist office.

Twenty minutes of striding uphill followed by confused backtracking downhill, two blank-faced travel agents and one inside-out umbrella later, I made it to the tourist office at Porto’s Cathedral. Had I resisted that urge to find the official map, I’d already have been sat on the number 500 bus approaching surf central. Nevertheless, I reminded myself that this official map was my cartographical safety net. It would surely save me any more wasted time, trouble or angst later in the day. So at last, armed with the tourist office’s Mapa Intermodal, my guidebook and a Porto Card, I headed to the bus stop opposite the city’s São Bento train station.

It’s fair to sum up Porto's weather in early February as changeable. It can switch from soaking torrential downpours to gloriously blue, sunny skies in a matter of ten or so minutes. Unfortunately, my walk to the bus stop had coincided with the day’s latest downpour.

Cue the number 500. The modern, single story bus pulled up and filled up fast. Porto Card validated and window seat spotted, I slid into sightseeing position next to a local man who was weighed down by his saturated coat and a dripping umbrella. In such soggy elbow to elbow proximity as this, unfolding the A1-sized official map was as achievable and appropriate as unfurling a two-man tent. So, surprised by the bus’s stealth, wet and not wanting to lose my bearings, I scrambled for my guidebook. It contained a Communicarta map to Porto’s tram, metro and bus systems. Fitting neatly on a single page of the pocket-sized guide, it was much handier than the Mapa Intermodal.

The 500 bus took its scenic route downhill through the Ribeira district, Porto’s very own UNESCO World Heritage Site where ornately tiled and balcony bedecked six-story buildings cram into the streets, side by side. Soon it turned onto the riverside road to follow the Douro’s path as it widened out into the ocean. Flying past stops for Miragaia, Alfândega and the Museu Vinho Porto, it was obvious how user-friendly Porto’s buses are. Not only were the names of fast-approaching stops displayed on an electronic board beside the driver’s cab, they were also simultaneously announced by a chirpy recorded voice.

At the ninth stop, ‘Próxima paragem, Bicalho’ flashed up in red letters and was announced loud and clear in Portuguese. It’s failsafe. Whether you see or hear the name of your stop, there’s plenty of time to ring the bell and get off where you need to, rather than craning for a view and taking your best guess before scrambling for the doors.

Communicarta’s palm-sized transport map had plotted the names of each and every bus stop along the 500’s route. The tenth stop on their map is the Ponte da Arrábida, once the largest concrete bridge in the world. This was definitely a photo opportunity worth taking. Number 500s run from the city out towards the coast roughly every twenty minutes. That’s frequent enough to hop off the bus and capture the bridge in all its structural glory, before carrying onwards to the mouth of the Douro. Unhelpfully, the Ponte da Arrábida bus stop, along with those for several other points of interest, is not plotted on the tourist office’s Mapa Intermodal.

My guidebook’s map had also plotted – as stop number eighteen – Castelo da Foz. This was where I’d intended to swap public transport for my trainers, and walk along the coastal road towards the sands of Praia dos Ingleses. When the time came, Communicarta’s map coincided perfectly with the bus’s audio and visual announcement of, ‘‘Próxima paragem, Castelo da Foz.’ I was well and truly primed to ping the bell.

By the time I arrived in Foz, the rain was replaced again by those perfectly blue skies. Crossing over the road from the bus stop and cutting through a lush palm tree-lined park brought me onto Avenida D. Carlos I. Here the Douro empties out into the ocean. In contrast to the smooth surface of the river, the Atlantic’s waves rhythmically erupted in bright white foam as they battered the Foz do Douro Breakwater. Away to the left along Avenida D. Carlos I and beyond the imposing lines of Foz’s concrete, lighthouse-tipped pier, were the beaches. I’d made it to the Atlantic in no time at all and without transport snags.

In the near distance, along the first stretch of beach where the sand mixed with sea-swept rocks, was the dramatically set Restaurant Shis. Dark wooden terracing wrapped around this restaurant that overhangs the sand. The terrace is furnished with white tables, sofas and umbrellas, giving Shis a neutral minimalism suited to the tanned, beautiful people who drape themselves there in summertime. Fashionable outdoors and in, chic Shis serves up contemporary versions of oriental and European dishes along with uninterrupted sea views. It is open daily from 12 noon until 1am.

Walking further along Avenida D. Carlos I and rounding the road into Rua Coronel Raúl Peres, brought more expansive horizons and larger, darker rocks smoothed and shined by the waves. Café Praia dos Ingleses dominated this stretch of coastal road, and it called me in for coffee. Wooden steps led down onto a spacious decked terrace filled with white, unfussy tables and chairs. The sense of being at one with the waves was wonderfully tangible.

Indoors it also hit the laid-back surf atmosphere right on the head. The same unfussy tables and chairs filled half of the room, giving way to squidgy orange and brown leather beanbags set around low, dark wood coffee tables. Could there be a better place to spend the day working at a laptop or watching the turning of the tide through the café’s floor to ceiling windows?

For casual chilled out, beachside appeal, Café Praia dos Ingleses definitely fitted the bill. The music playing was unobtrusively ambient and the customers were totally at ease, gazing out of the windows and sipping hot or cold drinks. It was also impossible to imagine the young, friendly waiting staff that stood staring at the hypnotic rise and fall of the ocean, ever getting into a flap. My small coffee was cheap at €1, and satisfyingly strong. And the WIFI was free.

February rain returned abruptly, pelting and streaming down the sheet glass windows. Too laid back on my beanbag to bother unfurling and spreading out the official map that was buried in my rucksack, I planned my journey back upriver to central Porto using Communicarta’s map. This version had already proved itself to be user-friendly and comprehensive, so why would I want to disrupt my chilled, surfside mood by confusing myself with the official map?

As I reached for my guidebook and plotted my combined bus and vintage tram journey home, it was obvious that Communicarta’s transport map was the only cartographical safety net that I needed. And I decided that there was nothing at all rose-tinted about taking the Number 500 bus to the Atlantic. It really was as good a plan as it had first appeared.

Trip logistics
I travelled to Porto from London Stansted with RyanAir, stayed at the Rivoli Cinema Hostel and used the Communicarta transport map that is featured in Thomas Cook’s CitySpots Porto guide.

Read more!

Friday, 3 April 2009

Spreading Love for Lanzarote -

A warm Sandwagon welcome to Nick Ball, editor of Lanzaroteguidebook who lives on the island, in Tabayesco village. I'm happy to share Nick's article in an effort to help Lanzaroteguide's cause - inspiring travellers to visit and explore this uniquely beautiful Spanish island.

LanzaroteCésars' Empire by Nick Ball

Lanzarote in the Canary Islands, is best known as a bucket and spade beach destination. This small speck of Spain, located just off the coast of West Africa, attracts around 1.5 million foreign tourists every year(the majority of them from the UK)thanks to a clement year round climate and over ninety beaches.

But despite its enormous popularity Lanzarote still remains largely unspoiled – thanks to the work of a locally born artist and architect called Cesar Manrique.

Back in the 1730s around a quarter of the island’s surface area was submerged beneath a sea of lava, following intense volcanic eruptions which lasted for six years.

Fast forward to the 1960s and the island faced another type of burial – this time beneath a sea of concrete. As property developers and hotel chains eyed Lanzarote greedily. Package tourism was just starting to take off in Spain under the protection of General Franco and swathes of the Spanish coastline were starting to disappear – to be replaced by high-rise hotels and apartment complexes.

At this time, Manrique was studying and exhibiting in New York, where he was rubbing shoulders with contemporaries such as Andy Warhol and the Factory crowd. But by 1968 he resolved to return to Lanzarote instead – determined to fight for the island of his birth.

“Those of us born to you, Lanzarote, those of us who know about your magic, your wisdom, the secrets of your volcanic structure, your revolutionary aesthetics, those who have fought to rescue you from your enforced historical isolation and the poverty which you have always suffered, begin to tremble with fear as we see how you are destroyed and submitted to massification.”

The artist was already an influential figure in his own right on the island. But his trump card lay in the fact that his family enjoyed a close relationship with the governor of the island, Pepin Ramirez. Who shared many of Manrique’s fears about the advent of package tourism.

Together the pair successfully secured a ban on all high rise construction on the island. Meaning that only edifices no taller than a Canarian palm tree could be built. They also successfully secured the outlawing of advertising hoardings. Leaving Lanzarote largely as nature intended.

Manrique´s other master stroke was to create alternative tourist attractions to the eco-unfriendly water parks and golf courses that were favoured in most other Spanish sunspots at this time. Instead he resolved to “fuse art with nature” by uniting his own artistic aesthetic with the islands raw, volcanic scenery.

Initially, most locals thought we was nuts. What was he going to do with a mound of rocks? They soon changed their tune, however, when Manrique unveiled his first creation – the Jameos del Agua – the conversion of an underground volcanic tunnel into a breathtaking auditorium and grotto. Two years later he then built his own house and studio from five volcanic bubbles.

Manrique´s work rapidly garnered awards plaudits in the world of international architecture and this in turn started to attract some of the highest profile film stars of the day – such as Petter Sellers, Omar Sharif and Rita Heyworth – to this novel new holiday destination.

Thanks to Manrique, Lanzarote went on to be declared a UNESCO protected biosphere in 1994 – the first island in the world to enjoy such status. His creations are still the most popular tourist attractions on the island today.

About lanzaroteguidebook

Lanzaroteguide was set up to provide quality, original information about the island of Lanzarote for visitors and residents alike. It is written from the perspective of people who live, work and bring up children there.

Unlike many holiday based destination websites all of the articles featured are researched and written by the site's creators.
Read more!

Wednesday, 1 April 2009

Side Trips in #TravelTwitterLand - Tidal Bore Rafting

When does Twitter come into its own for travel lovers?
When it breeds diversity. Twitter makes comment free and available to everyone, which makes self-promotion a level playing field rather than one dominated by the highest bidder. For example, Expedia's Tweets carry no more weight on Twitter than those from authentic experiences site Tourdust. Not only are advertising hierarchies broken down, so too are those of travel journalism and publishing. In Twitter Land, travel articles published by Guardian Travel stand side by side with those from The Travel Tart. Such equality in advertising and publishing breeds diversity and with that comes an infinite stream of new travel stimuli and travelling options.

A Side Trip in #Travel Twitter Land took me to Tidal Bore Rafting, Nova Scotia, Eastern Canada
It's highly probable that even without Twitter I would have eventually stumbled across this long established rafting company set on the Shubenacadie River. A commissioned author writing about adventure travel holidays may have featured it in my Sunday newspaper's travel supplement, or perhaps Tidal Bore would have made it into the Sports or Accommodation listings of the guidebook that I'll one day lug around Eastern Canada.

But as it happened on Twitter, Tidal Bore followed Sandwagon, Sandwagon checked out Tidal Bore. I read all about them on their website, flicked through images of their wooden Rafters Ridge Cottages (overlooking the Shubenacadie River). Five minutes later I was left pondering the possibility of staying with them as soon as possible, to raft the world's highest tidal bores.

Who are Tidal Bore?
The original rafting company on the Shubenacadie river, Tidal Bore Rafting Park & Cottages have more than 25 years experience of riding the waves on this unique tidal river.They have thirteen cottages situated over 180 acres of peaceful riverside land.

What makes bores so exciting?
Every 12 hours a tidal bore forms in the Bay of Fundy as the tide enters the Bay and moves up river. The force of the incoming tide stops the river in its tracks and reverses it almost 40 km backwards. The bore gathers height and strength as it nears the head of the Bay and enters the Shubenacadie River at Maitland. It can speed up to 12km an hour and you'll hear it before you see it.

Rafting adventures are offered from May 1st to October 31st. The cottages are open all year round.

Follow Tidal Bore at Twitter
Visit their website

Tidal Bore have been Tweeting away on subjects like these
Nova Scotia has one of the largest populations of Bald Eagles in the world. Many nest along the Shubenacadie River

Riding the Tidal Bore in Brazil. The longest wave in the world.

Did you know approximately 100 billion tons of seawater flows in and out of the Bay of Fundy twice a day?

Do you have any inspiring side trips in #TravelTwitterLand to share?
Read more!

Friday, 27 March 2009

Travel writing and photography medley - Marrakech, May 2009 with Travellers' Tales

The latest newsletter from Travellers' Tales recently hit my inbox. Here's the news...

Kick start or improve upon your travel writing and/or photography skills on the following 3-day trips to the souks and kasbahs of Morocco.

Atlas Mountain Photo Adventure(May 6-10)
Shoot the top sights of the Atlas Mountains - dramatic ruins, Berber villages
and lush oases - based at an enchanting auberge with swimming pool, half-way to
the Sahara Desert.

Marrakech Writing Weekend(May 10-13)
Make like a travel writer on location in the vibrant souks and medieval streets of the fabled pink city, based in a beautiful riad in the ancient medina.

No experience required. For full details and to book click here
Read more!

Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Porto's Atlantic Coast - surfside coffee at Praia dos Ingleses

I caught the number 500 bus from Porto's São Bento train station. About 18 stops later at Castelo do Foz, I'd reached the Atlantic Ocean.

Walking from Foz pier, along Avenida D. Carlos I, I
rounded the road into Rua Coronel Raúl Peres. Cue expansive horizons and large, dark rocks smoothed and shined by the waves.

Café Praia dos Ingleses dominat
ed this stretch of coastal road, and it called me in for coffee. Wooden steps led down onto a spacious decked terrace filled with white, unfussy tables and chairs. The sense of being at one with the waves was wonderfully tangible.

Indoors it also hit the laid-back surf atmosphere right on the head. The same unfussy tables and chairs filled half of the room, giving way to squidgy orange and brown leather beanbags set around low, dark wood coffee tables. Could there be a better place to spend the day working at a laptop or watching the turning of the tide through the café’s floor to ceiling windows?

For casual chilled out, beachside appeal, Café Praia dos Ingleses definitely fitted the bill. The music playing was unobtrusively ambient and the customers were totally at ease, gazing out of the windows and sipping hot or cold drinks. It was also impossible to imagine the young, friendly waiting staff that stood staring at the hypnotic rise and fall of the ocean, ever getting into a flap. My small coffee was cheap at €1, and satisfyingly strong. And the WIFI was free.

I travelled to Porto from London Stansted with Ryanair. I stayed at the Rivoli Cinema Hostel, and used the Communicarta transport map that is featured in Thomas Cook’s CityS
pots Porto guide. Read more!

Friday, 6 February 2009

Teach English in Castile-Leon, Spain - Escape The Hanger!

New Year, newly inspired to escape your mind-numbing hanger of an office? Then this opportunity to escape to Spain for a while might grab you.

The Spanish Government and Vaughan Systems are currently seeking Volunteer Teachers for a new English Language Education Project. Native English speakers are being offered the chance to teach English for two months while living in the northern Spanish region of Castile-Leon.

Working with pre-school children and early elementary school students, volunteers would help teaching assistants bring English Language studies to life in the classroom. The Spanish curriculum for pre-school and elementary school is almost identical to that found in primary education around the world. The students are aged between 3 and 8, with classroom size between 25 and 35.

In exchange, the project offers housing and a small monthly payment, plus insurance and opportunities for weekend excursions and activities. The maximum stay for the volunteer would be three months.

Available in various locations throughout the Castile-Leon area, these limited positions are open from 13th April 2009. For more information and to apply contact Project Coordinator Mayte Ziga at or visit

Vaughan Systems, founded by American Richard Vaughan, is the largest in-company language training firm in Spain, with over 300 trainers providing more than 350,000 hours per year of language training to over 5,000 executives and technical personnel in more than 520 companies, with such names as Microsoft, Ericsson, Accenture, Citibank, Ford, Pfizer, Coca Cola, etc. Vaughan Systems already brings some 1,500 volunteeers to Spain every year for a locally-famous adult English-learning program called VaughanTown.

Thanks to travelwriters.comfor all of the information above.
Read more!

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

Side Trips In # TravelTwitterLand

Since joining Twitter about a month ago, I've become privy to some of the most up to date and insight travel conversations online. I'm currently following 413 other travel obsessed micro-bloggers based around the world.

Some are bloggers looking to share their news, some are journalists spreading and hunting the latest buzz, and others are tour operators using Twitter to promote their products. It's a friendly world where conversation is encouraged yet kept manageable by a 140 character limit per Tweet. Updates and replies just trip off the keypad.

From now on I'll be sharing my experiences of Twitter, once a week. It might be a travel news story or a profile piece on one of the many new websites, businesses and blogs that Twitter has exposed me to. And, in the spirit of Sandwagon, I'm avoiding the travel bandwagon in favour of the new, the different and the spirited.

And Sandwagon has just hit the 300 Followers mark. Follow Sandwagon here!
Read more!

Saturday, 31 January 2009

Trips that will kick start your spirit

Maybe it's the time of year or maybe it's because I'm fast approaching the big three-zero, but I've recently been pondering life changing trips...a lot. You know the ones I mean. These are breaks from real life that pull back your eye lids to a vision of life's infinite possibilities. Possibilities, so exciting, that when you head home (if you do) there's no more scratching around working out what to do next with your fleeting existence. These are the trips that cause a paradigm shift in your very being and set you away on a next stage in life.

Mine, so far, haven't been showstopping exotic or obscure but very influential.

1997, Ibiza - two weeks spent the friends on the Mediterranean's White Isle. Floating the day times away on clear blue water, watching the sunset and fire eaters at the Cafe del Mar, then dancing in the open air to uplifting house music until the sun came up again. There was something a little spiritual in the air that year - the sun and the sea energised me. My first taste of travel hedonism left me wanting much more...

1999, Interailing In Europe - It was the last year of the 20th Century, my final year at University, I was turning 21 and I wanted some damn direction! A month travelling around certainly sorted that out, immersing me in the variety of life's opportunities that were available right on my doorstep: Continental Europe. My dedication to the travel publishing industry was decided on that trip, as was my path to the nearest capital city. And so to London...

2002, Central Park, New York - Much needed affirmation came sitting on a bench, in the snow, overlooking Central Park's ice-rink, appreciating the iconic architecture that surrounded me. I would continue working in the travel industry. I wouldn't give it up for a better salary and an easier life because moments like these are priceless....

2007 - Sarajevo - Press trip on British Airway's inaugural flight to the Bosnian capital. Experiencing and writing about a city very much emergent on the tourism scene, confirmed my passion for travel publishing and writing...

2009, Destination To Be Confirmed...but I'm looking for ideas.
Suggestions so far, via Twitter include
Authentic Sea Coast suggested Nova Scotia, at the head of the largest bay on the Atlantic Coast with more than 500km of shoreline.

Travelguru pointed me in the direction of their walking and cycling holidays. The Catalan Coast break appeals.

What would you suggest? Which travel experiences have proved pivotal in your life?
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Friday, 30 January 2009

Destinations, London 2009 - six days until it opens for the business of travel inspiration

If I'm honest, Destinations always arrives a little too early for me. I'm only just about back in a swimming routine and my inbox is still bursting at the seams as I carry on ploughing through emails in an attempt to catch up after Christmas and New Year festivities.

The hard working travel industry, however, wake up to the new year far more swiftly than me. Because the period of time from Boxing Day morning, through January and into February is the traditional Peak selling time for holidays. 'Peaks' are all about hitting challenging booking targets, capturing as many deposits as possible: basically banking lots of cash before the holiday season begins and the emphasis switches to 'late' sales.

Destinations: The Holiday and Travel Show, comes to London's Earl's Court on 5 - 6th February (27 Feb - 1 March at NEC, Birmingham). The show gives tour operators and tourist boards the chance to display their wares face to face with the consumer, rather than via lead-in prices online, in shop windows or with expensive, eye-catching TV advertising campaigns.

Now in its 15th year, Destinations' raison d'être is to provide a stage for a more varied mix of travel options and heaps of inspiration to help uncommitted holidaymakers get booking. Special discounts are often offered to incentivise bookings during the show.

Increasingly active at Destinations are travel publishers Bradt and the travel magazine Wanderlust. This is no bad thing at all. I'd much rather see the infectious passion of these two independent travel publishers entertaining the crowds than the flashy stands and soapy strap lines of any multi-national travel conglomerates in the vicinity.

Bradt's stage-stealers at Destinations 2009
Peter Lynch, author of Wildlife and Conservation Volunteering: The Complete Guide, will offer advice to anyone who's contemplating a career break ( 5th Feb, 13.00, Theatre 1)

Adrian Phillips, Bradt's Editorial Director, will interview world affairs correspondent Allan Little ( 5 Feb, 14.00, Theatre 1 )

Bradt's David Horwell, an expert on the Galápagos Islands, will explain how tourism can protect this unique archipelago. It's a chance to learn more about these enchanted islands and see David's stunning photography ( 5th February at 5pm;Theatre 2 )

Bradt's Polly Evans chairs the 'Going Solo' panel (6th Feb 14.00, Theatre 2)

Bradt's founder, Hilary Bradt, interviews BBC presenter Kate Humble on her travels and her pioneering website, (6th Feb, 16.00 Theatre 1)

Mike Unwin
, series editor of Bradt's wildlife guides, author of Southern African Wildlife and co-author of 100 Animals to See Before They Die gives a talk on Swaziland (6 February at 4pm; Theatre 2)

Activities Abroad won't be exhibiting (just in case any chavs happen to make it into Earl's Court), but these Sandwagon-spotted operators are just a few of those waiting to inspire you:

Addicted To Travel - Online portal specialising in experiential, adventure and different travel experiences.
Arctic Wild Adventures - Family-run adventure holiday tour company providing tailored holidays in Arctic regions
Away From The Crowds - Two brothers' desire to enjoy real travel experiences, whilst remaining in touch with nature and local culture resulted in these original ways to discover the Spanish heartland
Fulani Travel - Tours that do justice to the world’s most culturally rich and diverse continent. Countries visited include Libya, Senegal, Ghana, Benin, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia and Sudan.

The Times are producing a 16-page Destinations and Show Guide which will be inserted into The Times tomorrow.

Grab a copy, buy your tickets and plan your trip to Destinations.

Related Sandwagon posts
Destinations 2008

Image courtesy of Destinations: The Travel and Holiday Show
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Saturday, 24 January 2009

Free Mobile Application/E-guide to Les Deux Alpes - NEW from Ski-Ride Productions

The barefoot sand dancing nomad inside me hankers after the traditional wonders of travel: an invaluable tip from a cheerful bus conductor or a philosophical point to ponder etched onto a wooden bench top by the ocean.

But even I have to admit that there's room in my rucksack for destination e-guides. That long as the content held by the e-guide is really worth the effort of scrolling and scrolling and scrolling some more to get the info I need.

I carry my mobile everywhere and because it definitely attracts less attention than whipping out a floppy and flapping fold out city map when I'm lost, I'm all for using my mobile for navigation and information purposes when travelling. However, if an e-guide for mobile phones delivers a mere edited down version of guidebook content, rendered devoid of depth following the transfer from print to digital media, then I'd much rather pass on this technology until it offers a little more substance.

But enough about me. Here's more about Ski-Ride Productions' latest TXTguides™ - mobile guide to Les Deux Alpes, France written and updated monthly for ski and snowboarders.

If the SkiSpot guidebooks written by Francis Johnson and published back in 2005 are anything to go by, the content of his e-guides will be far from factually thin on the ground and won't waste travellers' time with superficial and spindly sentences. The SkiSpots guidebooks were densely packed with destination facts and useful piste information, right down to how many snowboards fitted in the lockers at certain ski stations. Reading these original guides from cover to cover, I was stunned by Francis' attention to detail.

Francis Johnston (director & executive author at Ski-Ride Productions) announced:

"I’m delighted to add this great resort and ski area to the Ski-Ride series. Les Deux Alpes is one of the biggest and most popular ski resorts in the Southern French Alps, and a particular favourite with freestyle enthusiasts, with a well-deserved reputation for guaranteed snow and lively apres ski.

Now, anyone planning to visit this great area can use this in-depth guide to fully plan their visit, and then take it with them on the slopes. Since virtually everyone carries their mobile phone with them wherever they go, they don’t actually need to pack anything extra in order to carry masses of up-to-date information at their fingertips".

The resort-specific guides are published in a specially-developed electronic format that allows them to be saved/read on mobile phones with no need for a network signal in order to use them at home or abroad. Plus there's the added bonus of no additional weight in your ski jacket.

All TXTguides™ are licensed free-of-charge rather than sold and readers can freely share the guides with friends via email & Bluetooth. Crucially, the content is also updated every month during the European ski season.

Other titles include:

Val d’Isere & Tignes (Espace Killy, France), Soldeu-El Tarter & Pas de la Casa (Grandvalira, Andorra); plus Arcalis & Pal-Arinsal (Vallnord, Andorra).

There's lots more detail at

Look out for my full review of Les Deux Alpes TXTguide

Related posts
Frommer's Travel Guides - New For Apple iPhone and iPod Touch

Lonely Planet Guidebooks on Nokia Mobiles
Read more!

Writing & Photography Holidays from the Experts - NEW at

Read on if you've always fancied swapping your home office or the local wi-fi enabled coffeeshop for some on-location writing and photography training.

Authentic tour and accommodation website, Tourdust have added two very tempting creative holidays to their site. Both of these professionally-run vocational holidays are set in locations inspirational enough to unblock even the most frustrated writers and photographers.

More to come on, but for now...

1. Creative Writing with freelance journalist and writer Gillian Bouras - Ancient Olympia, Greece
Having lived in a Peloponnesian village for twenty-five years, this published journalist and author of six books is more than qualified to help you deliver your words to the world.
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Thursday, 22 January 2009

Travels in Texas, 2002 - an article from the Sandwagon vaults

Perfectly horizontal streams of smoke, consistently dense and pulsing, were floating along the Colorado River. As I walked closer, it became obvious that these were not physics- defying smoke signals but streams of Mexican Free-Tail bats, storming off down river to obey their daily instinct to feast on clouds of flies.

I watched the show with locals and visitors, workers heading home for dinner alongside families sharing this wonder of urban wildlife. Half of the crowd leant over the Congress Avenue Bridge, looking down onto the flux of Free-Tails in flight, while the rest stared up from the river banks into the concrete arches that make such perfect roosts. The audience’s collective ‘wow’ mixed in the air with the delicate and continuous drum beat of several thousand flapping bat wings.

Guidebooks had recommended a visit to the Texan state capital on a summer’s evening to see the world’s largest urban bat colony in action. The reality exceeded my expectations – as did the Lone Star State itself. Texas revealed itself to be as much of an unknown culture for me as an indigenous Amazonian tribal village, and I fought off the distractions of my superficial research and those subconscious flashbacks to TV’s Dallas. There were genuine adventures to be had here, beyond the fiction.

I’d been prepared for houses the size of Southfork with closets spewing forth a lifetime’s supply of Stetsons. The roadside hazard of a fast-food chain selling ‘Chicken and Biscuits’, however, was a surprise. Visions of chicken nugget and Garibaldi combo meals with a side of HobNobs amused me so much that I swerved my hired Grand-Am. Thankfully a Texan friend saved me from more near misses.

“Yes, biscuits,” she said, bemused. “What’s so funny? They’re just the bread part of a fried chicken sandwich, you know.”

I didn’t know that, until I came to Texas.

This culinary discovery was matched a few evenings later by truly gargantuan jacket potatoes as lengthy as fish and chip shop-style battered cod. Since then, neat rotund spuds have never quiet looked the same. Neither has aging soft-rock star Phil Collins!

My Texan driving adventures should have been accompanied by strains of Country music played by chirpy local radio station DJs. That was until – hours into the Austin to Fort Worth leg – I gave up station surfing and gave into the Genesis front man. There was no escaping Phil.

Lastly, Fort Worth’s train station became as memorable a hallmark of my Texan adventures as the incongruent soundtrack. It was rush hour at Trinity Station. The entrance hall was eerily empty and so devoid of activity that the stunning aqua and steely grey of Art Deco pillars, walls and ceiling bore down ominously on me, as if mourning busier times before air-conditioned cars replaced train tracks.

This and all of my memories of Texas still surprise me, and they all remain as vivid as those of my destination that day at the station – Dallas’ Dealey Plaza, its book depository and that grassy knoll.
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Thursday, 15 January 2009

Cat and Dog Lover needed for Free Accommodation in Syros - Escape the Hanger now!

When SandWagon kicked off its first leg of this round and round and round the world journey of off-beat travel news, I ran a feature called 'Escape the hanger!'. Back then I inhabited a hanger of an office devoid of natural light, views or personality. This didn't sit well with my creative tendencies and undeniable travel urges. It took being 'penned in' to the extreme.

Anyways, 'Escape the Hanger!' was my little way of inspiring other claustrophobes to swap the day job for a freer lifestyle overseas working with travel companies, tour groups, volunteering, whatever caught my eye and set me dreaming of a life less tethered.

Escape the Hanger is back for 2009 with what could well be a gem of an opportunity in Greece.

Stray animals Lover Required - Syros, Greece

- approximately 3 hours work per day, caring for stray dogs and cats
- Cleaning out and feeding needed. Walking not obligatory but much appreciated.
- Non-smokers are preferred.
- One month minimum (or longer)
- Super market 5 mins away, also bus to main town.

Call Mrs Bates on 0030 22810 42054 between 6-8pm Greek time and she will call you back. Or write to Pagos 113, Syros 84100, Greece. (Letters can take up to 2 weeks).
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Monday, 5 January 2009

Queen Mary, Long Beach, California - All (Californians) Aboard For FREE ADMISSION

Californians who've found themselves all spent up after the Christmas festivities are being offered a Happy New Year present of unlimited free days aboard this famous local landmark, throughout January 2009. General Admission is normally $24.95.

"Realising that we are all living through difficult economic times, we thought that offering free admission to California residents during January would be our small way of helping to ring in 2009 on a positive note," said Queen Mary General Manager Jay Primavera.

Fully-subscribed Golden State residents should head along to the Queen Mary's box office with their documentation of residency and photo ID at the ready. Awaiting visitors on board is the largest collection of Art Deco artwork in the US plus the 1930's glamour of 307 original staterooms spread between three decks. It's all available to discover courtesy of a free self-guided tour that's thrown in alongside the open-house admission.

The Queen Mary has been a Long Beach resident for the last 40 years, so if you've yet to pay homage to this old girl of the seas January 2009 is a prime opportunity to get well-acquainted with her....or plan your royal wedding aboard...or make a dinner reservation at the Five-Star Sir Winston's restaurant...or scope out the scene ahead of the Queen Mary Scottish Festival.

All (Californians) aboard!
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