Thursday, 16 December 2010

How geography swots can win a weekend in Europe

I've more prizes (and some Chrismassy muzak) from Radisson to share.

Their latest competition, which focuses on the Radisson Blu brand, has been giving geography swots an opportunity to win money-off voucher or a weekend for two in some of my favourite European cities - Milan, Madrid, Berlin, Helsinki and Hamburg.

All you need to do is visit their snowy competition website, which has the obligatory snowman, igloo and snow shaker. There's even a choice of three muzak tracks, albeit three versions of Rudolph the Reindeer.

Once you're feeling all festive, put your quiz hat on and take a stab at the three triviatastic questions. Don't worry, you can click for extra hints if you're struggling with the answers. Your reward for getting all three correct is the chance to spin the wheel of fortune and win instant prizes including €100 Radisson Blu gift cards.

Swot or not, everyone can enter their weekly prize draw for the weekend hotel stay. The prize, worth €400, comprises two nights accommodation for two people in a standard room including breakfast at a Radisson Blu Hotel.

Remaining draw dates and destinations are:

21 Dec - Helsinki, which really does have one of the freshest art and design scenes in Europe, as well as fantastic shops.

28 DecMadrid, where I walked and walked for days, fuelled by tapas and glasses of red wine mixed with cola.

3 Jan Hamburg, where the Beatles got creative and it's difficult to resist saying 'Ich bin ein Hamburger'.

If you are aged 18 or over and live in the EU (but not Sweden) give it a whirl at

Radisson Blue Quiz

Radisson Blue Quiz

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Thursday, 9 December 2010

Regular Red Sea divers not worried by shark attacks

I've just spoken to a UK-based Dive Master who is travelling to Hurghada, on Egypt's Red Sea coast, tomorrow. He'll spend the run up to Christmas with a group of divers and local guides on a 'live-aboard' trip from Marsa Alam. They'll dive some incredible offshore sites including Sha'ab Aiman and Sha'ab Mahrus, in the hope of seeing grey, silver tip and white tip reef sharks.

Divers on live-aboard trips average three dives per day, each lasting around an hour, so he'll be spending around 20 hours in the Red Sea. In light of the four recent shark attacks in Sharm el Sheikh, that could sound like a long time to be underwater.

But he told me: "Regular Red Sea divers won’t be worried by the attacks or the idea of continuing to dive with sharks. They are used to them, as are other warm water divers from elsewhere. But if it turns out that several oceanic white tips carried out these attacks it may mean their feeding practices are undergoing radical changes, and that is a concern."

Shark attacks are very unusual in the Red Sea, particularly attacks by the species in question this time - the oceanic white tip. Still, the FCO travel advice for Egypt, which was updated today, continues to read that 'most diving and water sport activities in the Sharm El Sheikh area remained suspended'.

See the latest statement from Egypt's Chamber of Diving and Watersports here
(Image by Diving Mullah)

Read more like this:
Scuba dive to escape - Top 5 Emotional Escapes
Golden Blocks Shore Dive - For The Independent

And here is the rest of it. Read more!

Monday, 6 December 2010

Face the muzak and defeat the Park Inn hotel manager to win iPads and free accommodation

I wish that Santa existed, that hotel rooms were always free and that iPads grew on Christmas trees, so that I could just pluck off the perfect present for my loved ones. Because unless I win an iPad in Park Inn’s addictive ‘4 in a row' competition, my boyfriend is going to be the proud owner of a pair of crazy pants and a year’s supply of bbq sauce rather than the gadget he really wants to find in his stocking.

Because I'm greedy, I also want to win the grand prize: a week's worth of free accommodation. I'd pick the Park Inn Alexanderplatz in Berlin, where we’re heading to in January. Close to the Brandenburg Gate and the TV tower, it would be perfect base for the sightseeing itinerary I’ve devised – one packed with art, history and nightclubs, daily Currywursts and ein oder zwei biere.

So if you’re anything like me (a competitive lover of freebies with an addictive personality) you’ll relish the opportunity to get one over the Park Inn hotel manager in a battle of the key cards. Pick a colour and keep going and going until you win. Two competitors each week will win an iPad or a £250 voucher to use in any of the 200 Park Inn hotels worldwide (also includes Radisson Blu). Visit to start playing.

And brilliantly, every player – winner or loser – can enter the final grand prize draw. So even if you have to get back to work or reality before you’ve beaten the smarmy manager to 4 in a row, you could still win a week’s holiday at the Park Inn Manchester, Park Inn Berlin, or Park Inn Ulysse Resort (in Djerba, Tunisia) plus a £300 gift card.

The competition runs until 18 December and the winner of the seven nights’ accommodation will be announced by the end of December. Entrants must be at least 18 years of age and the week’s holiday must be taken by 31 December 2011. For full terms and conditions visit the competition page at

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Friday, 3 December 2010

Please forget Christmas and plan me a Valentine's Week in Bora Bora

Boyfriend, today's post is written especially for you.

As talented as the snow is at making the cars and wheelie bins in my British suburban street sparkle, and as much as I love Christmas for giving me an excuse to devour huge quantities of Port, turkey and stuffing, I've already had it with winter.

If I see one more 'Guide to Europe's Best Christmas Markets' or another 'Spotlight On The Best (read 'Most Snobby') Ski Resorts of the World', I'll scream into my woolly indoor snood. Arghg! What I really want to be reading about and planning for is next year's sunshine holiday. Scuba diving, drinking a beer with my feet dangling into the sea, open air yoga, a tanned face...

Perhaps you're thinking about these things too, lovely boyfriend of mine. Perhaps you really want to surprise me with a special Valentine's Day holiday to the sun, but you've been waiting for me to point you in the right direction via my travel industry tit bits.

So if that is the case (and I know it will be), here's some info I hope you'll find interesting. While you read it, I'll get on with sourcing my beachwear for 14th Feb 2011.....

The Four Seasons Resort in Bora Bora will be celebrating Valentines for the whole of February. (

Their new Valentine's Package includes a complimentary fifth night, champagne and chocolate-dipped tropical fruits on arrival, daily breakfast buffet, a 50-minute Couple’s Polynesian Massage and a sunset cruise.

General Manager Rajiv Malhotra said:
“Romance is always in the air here. However, we could not resist allowing our guests to experience even more romance and value through the most romantic of holidays.”

The Four Seasons Bora Bora have 100 overwater bungalows and seven beachfront villas, all with traditional thatched roofs. There's a full service spa and their restaurant serves a range of dishes from Polynesian to French to South Pacific fusion.

Prices start at £575 per room per night for a Beach View Over Water Bungalow.

Go on boyfriend, forget Christmas and make my Valentine's Day instead!

Read more like this:
Top 5 Emotional Escapes
Trips that will kick start your spirit
Magic Real Travels in Fiji
Not the most romantic proposal idea in the world (Barcelona Bans Gut Wrenching Bullfights)

And here is t
Read more!

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

29 April 2011 - watch the British Royal Wedding or experience something more interesting?

Kate Middleton and Prince William have set the date. Their big day at London's Westminster Abbey is Friday 29 April 2011, which has been declared a bank holiday in England and Wales.

However, if the pomp and circumstance of a Great British royal romance isn't for you, here's a rundown of festivals and events happening around the world on and around the 29th. Getting sucked into watching the TV footage in a bar during your travels isn't a foregone conclusion. Especially when there's cheese tasting and rice cooking contests around instead. Any other ideas? The more the merrier.

(Image of Dana Point, California by Alex E. Proimos)


Showa Day (Showa no hi), National holiday (29 April)
Marks the birthday of former Emperor Showa (Hirohito).

Australian Celtic Festival, Glen Innes (28 April - 1 May)
Celebrate Celtic culture, food, dance, history and music.

New Zealand
Arrowtown Autumn Festival, Arrowtown, South Island (29 April- 8 May)
Visitors and residents line the footpaths to cheer on the floats, highland pipe band, vintage cars and street entertainers.

California Wine Festival, Dana Point (29-30 April)
One of California's most popular wine events, perhaps because of the food, music, sea and sunshine. Hundreds of California's red and white wines, live music, dozens of top chefs and specialty food stalls.

Astoria Warrenton Crab, Seafood and Wine Festival, Oregon (29 April-1 May)
The Oregon Coast's largest festival of northwest cuisine, wines, arts and crafts.

Colleton County Rice Festival, Walterboro, South Carolina (April 29-1 May)
A heritage festival with an arts and crafts, parades and rice cooking contests.

UK & Ireland
Paignton Bike Festival, Torbay, South Devon (29 April-1 May)
A three-day charity event with live music, entertainment, stunt bikes and motorbikes, organised by BMAD (Bikers Make A Difference).

Bristol Folk Festival (29 April-1 May)
Making a comeback after 32 years, to Bristol's Colston Hall. Folk sensation Seth Lakeman will feature, as will Morris Dancers and most intriguingly 'indoor camping'.

International Choral Festival, Cork (27 April-1 May)
This festival in its 57th year celebrates choral and vocal music with a programme of competitions, galas, fringe concerts and public performances.

South Africa
SA Cheese Festival, Sandrigham Estate, Stellenbosch (29 April-2 May)
A weekend treat for cheese lovers who want to sample South African fromage alongside wines, nuts and olives.
And here is the rest of it.
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Monday, 22 November 2010

Travels in Texas, 2002 - from the vaults

On the 47th anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy, I wanted to share some memories of Texas from the Sandwagon vault.

Be gentle with me. It did write this eight years ago!

Perfectly horizontal streams of pulsing smoke floated 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. There were workers heading home for dinner standing alongside families. Everyone was taking time out to share this wonder of urban wildlife. Half of the crowd lent 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 delicate, continuous drum beat of several thousand flapping bat wings filled the air.

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 had to fight 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 to see houses the size of Southfork. Perhaps the closets inside them spewed forth a lifetime’s supply of Stetsons. However, the roadside hazard of a fast-food chain selling ‘Chicken and Biscuits’ did surprise me. Visions of chicken nuggets 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 fast-food discovery was matched a few evenings later by truly gargantuan jacket potatoes as long as fish and chip shop-style battered cod. Since then, neat rotund spuds back home in the UK have never quiet looked the same.

Finally, Fort Worth’s train station became as memorable a hallmark of my Texan adventures as the incongruent Phil Collins soundtrack played by the local radio stations. I arrived for my train during what should have been the morning rush hour, but the entrance hall was eerily empty. It was 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.

These memories of Texas are as vivid in my memory as seeing Dallas’ Dealey Plaza, its book depository and that grassy knoll. And here is the rest of it.
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Thursday, 18 November 2010

Magic Real Travels in Fiji

Yes, I'd prefer to have written this from experience. But with imagination and some destinational facts for reference, being home or office-bound isn't a barrier to anyone's writing and dreaming.

Magic Real travel is nearly as much fun as the real thing, don't you think?

It's 19.23 in Fiji. We've spent our paralleled-life day island hopping in a small wooden boat that we brought from a fisherman. He was by the beach shack, the day after we arrived in the islands. We've had enough rowing and paddling for today, so I've decided that the Mamanuca Islands are the best place for us to stop and sleep tonight. My justification being, the Mamanuca Islands are a collection of small coral islands, with some great surfing sites. What more could we want?

He says: 'Would you mind sleeping under the stars again tonight? Perhaps the boat would be a restful place to curl up and snooze, among the dozens of flowers that we've gathered throughout the day.'

Me: 'It would be relaxing to sleep on the boat. But, while the lapping waves would relax my mind, I think I'd miss running my finger tips through the sand as the sun rises and the birds pipe up.'
Umm, why am I worrying about this decision now, when we'll have the boat and beaches for many weeks to come? Boat, beach, boat, beach, boat..? I've made far tougher choices in life than this.

He says: 'Did you realise that I was gazing back at the beach, watching you watching me as you tried to fathom what it takes to surf.'
Me: 'No, you know I'm short sighted'.
Night surfing appeals more to me because no one would see me falling.
'Are there sharks...?'

[A couple of hours later...]
Me: 'Ok, I agree with your boat idea. I can't imagine ever sleeping more soundly than I will with you on the water tonight. I'm guessing that the sweet scent of the tropical flowers will be unbelievably intoxicating too.'
Perhaps even more so than the palm wine we've been living on since we arrived...just the two of us, on the other side of the world.

Me again: 'Do you think I could learn to ... feel the surf properly?'
I think I'd ask too many questions of it..why, when, how ...instead of submitting to it and letting it carry me along, coalesced within its natural instinct to rise, grow and rush to shore.

Me again: There must be millions of fireflies here. They've come out for the dusk, to dance. They're flitting around and along the sand.
...'Ooh watch out! Mind you don't crush that bright orange flower. There. By your elbow. I'm saving it to wear in my witchy, sea-salty curly hair tomorrow. Post-surf lesson.'

Read more like this:
Does travel writing style rule over substance?
Real life travels in Texas - from the vaults

Here is the beginning of my post. And here is the rest of it. Read more!

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

More inspiration from Tripbase ... 100 of their favourite travel writers

Travel research website Tripbase who 'save users the hours, days or weeks that it takes to search for a perfect personalized vacation' recently listed 100 of their favourite travel writers.

Anyone who has already visited Tripbase knows that their simple search criteria [to Fly or Drive?; depart when?; for how long; how important are the following things? Nightlife, Dining, Shopping, Nature, Attractions] is great for directing internet-fatigued holiday-seekers straight to a top ranked hotel in a suitable mainstream destination. Useful information, such as the local climate and links to travel articles are offered too.

By circulating a list of their favourite travel writers, Tripbase have gone a step further in the supply of online travel inspiration: they've added passionate and knowledgeable voices to their travel machine.

The 100 writers from around the world are randomly numbered, rather than ranked, and include:

UK-based Jeremy Head whose Travelblather blog gives informative and entertaining reflections on travel writing today.

Record breaking ski journalist Arnie Wilson

Toronto-based Lucy Izon

Journalist Alexis Grant who is backpacking solo through Africa.

Balkans expert Chris Deliso

(Thank you Tripbase for including me at No.62)

Read more like this:
Travel writers take over bmibaby's Twitter stream
Travelling without a safety net
Do travel websites inspire travellers or just the 'geeks'?
Does travel writing style rule over travel writing substance? Read more!

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Travel writers take over bmibaby's Twitter stream

bmibaby's 2,571 Twitter followers, as well as anyone with a Twitter account, are invited to join the latest live Q & A session from the budget airline. Today the expert travel writers Lara Dunston and Terence Carter will be sharing their knowledge and experience of bmibaby's European destinations, particularly Venice, Paris, Barcelona, Amsterdam, Lisbon, Majorca, Verona and Munich.

Lara and Terence are currently completely their Grantourismo project - a contemporary grand tour of the globe, during which they are reporting back from 24 destinations over 12 months. For more, check out their Grantourismo website and the Twitter pages @gran_tourismo @laradunston & @terencecarter.

The live online Q & A will run between 15.00 and 16.00 at To join what is likely to be a fast and furious conversation end your tweets with the hashtag #askbmibaby.

bmibaby's previous rounds of Twitter tennis gave the travel community the chance to chat directly with Managing Director Julian Carr and Network Development Manager Simon Moore.

Lara told me, 'We applaud bmibaby for connecting travellers and travel writers and travel industry folks in one-to-one conversation this way, in the very spirit of what Twitter is all about.'

She added, 'We already communicate with travellers this way... we're very active on Twitter using it all day every day, and for Grantourismo we use it to tap into local knowledge, to connect with locals, get local tips, etc. I've been a strong advocate and user of Twitter since the beginning, and travelled around the Arabian Gulf last year meeting tweeps for a story I wrote on Twitter use for an in-flight magazine'.
And here is the rest of it.
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Is Baghdad's tourism future looking brighter?

Iraq's tourist board have returned to World Travel Market in London, for the second year in a row, hoping to encourage ongoing investment in the country's tourism infrastructure. Their attendance begs the question: realistically, when can travellers look forward to worry-free tourist tours of Iraq and its ancient historical sites including the biblical city of Babylon?

At the moment, it's an impossible question to answer. Trips to former war zones such as Vietnam, Beirut and Sarajevo have become the norm but Iraq obviously has a long way to go in tourism terms. The UK Foreign Office's advice for travellers is that the situation in Iraq remains 'highly dangerous with a continuing high threat of terrorism throughout the country' and they advise against all and all but essential travel.

That said, details from World Travel Market's Global Trends Report indicate that Iraq's travel and tourism infrastructure has shown signs of recovery since the end of the war in 2003. There are direct flights to Iraq from European countries such as Austria, Germany, Greece, Norway, Sweden and the UK. For example, international airlines Lufthansa and Austrian Airlines operate flights into Iraq's fourth largest city, Erbil in Kurdistan. This region in the north of the country has experienced less violence than the rest of the country and its attractions include adventure tourism, mountain resorts and a mild climate. The fact that the Ministry of Tourism in Kurdistan employees around 500 employees might also be considered evidence of increasing inbound travel.

The travel agencies Sharaf Travel (from the UAE) and Terre Entière (from France) are also reported to have set up in Iraq early this year, and 700 hotels are also expected to be open by 2014.

World Travel Market Chairman Fiona Jeffery said, “Iraq’s decision to bring a delegation to World Travel Market last year was well timed for the destination’s tourism resurgence. The country offers a diverse mix of history, culture and unique experiences all paving the way for its place as an exciting up and coming destination.”

UK-based tour operator Hinterland Travel arrange tours of regional highlights including Baghdad, Babylon and the Mesopotamian ancient cities, in minivans with armed security guards. According to their website, 'the mood in Iraq is upbeat, vibrant with the security aspects improving all the time'.

Have you already travelled in Iraq? Or are you planning to visit soon?
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Monday, 8 November 2010

Top 5 Emotional Escapes

Spending a wodge of cash on a one-way ticket and taking off with a rucksack and a couple of travel guide books is often considered the coward's way out of a sticky situation or a disenchanting existence. Occasionally that's fair comment. But sometimes, finding space to be yourself and stringing together a few days or weeks of unstructured time can be all it takes to save your sanity.
Travelling is seeing how the rest of the world lives. It always helps me put my circumstances back into perspective. And I'm a believer in travel's ability to boost your confidence; whether you've just been handed a redundancy pay off or you need to rediscover some self worth at the end of a drawn out, toxic relationship.

Some suggestions if it's time to take an emotional escape:

Scuba diving
Let the underwater world take your mind off life's let downs

Classics: Egypt's Red Sea (Dahab, Sharm El Sheikh or Marsa Alam), Thailand, the Caribbean, Australia's Great Barrier Reef (if your budget allows).
Lesser known: Oman, Madeira, Malta, Vietnam.
Great for: Physical exertion, a sense of achievement when you pass your course or expand your experience, a lively social scene with like-minded people, visual stimulation from reef, wrecks and fish.
Travel tip: The mental and physical demands of the Open Water course leave no time or energy for wallowing!

Try: Diving the World, Footprint Guides

2 Spas & yoga retreats
Far-flung recovery stations for bruised minds, bodies & souls

Classics: Bali, Thailand, Italy (Ischia), India, Ibiza.
Less obvious: Turkey,
Budapest (thermal baths), Tunisia, Switzerland, Germany, yoga diving (Dahab, Egypt).
Great for: Reviving a body exhausted by disappointment and a mind wrought with rage.
Travel tip: Make sure you avoid any resorts with even the slightest hint of honeymoon about them!
Try: Kuoni (spa packages)
; Sunray Yoga (yoga diving, Dahab)

Safaris & wildlife watching
Wild reminders that life's ups and downs are just part of the cycle

Classics: Kenya, Zambia, Canada, Australia, South American rainforests, The Galapagos Islands, whale watching (New Zealand, Sea of Cortez, Mexico, The Azores, South Africa).
Lesser known: Isle of Man, Norway, bear watching (Transylvania, Spitsbergen, Finland, Sweden), Patagonia.
Great for: Focusing on a creature other than yourself, appreciating the social habits and the habitat of animals, how to approach and watch peacefully, memories that last a lifetime.
Tip: If you pick a conservation holiday, the satisfaction that you have spent your time and efforts doing something worthwhile.
Check out:

4 City breaks
Urban inspiration to enliven your spirit away from stagnant routines & relationships

: Tokyo, New York, Sydney, London, Berlin, Amsterdam, Rome, Barcelona.
Less obvious: Soeul, Sarajevo, Dusseldorf, Gothenburg, Beirut, Porto.
Great for: Finding inspiration in the legacy of great thinkers who converged on your city of choice, for example in their architecture, their sculpture and art work in public galleries or in the bars and cafes where they did their thinking and drinking. Transforming your image with clothes from the boutiques of up coming fashions designers.
Travel tip:
Stand at the top of the city's tallest tower and enjoy the freedom of knowing that you are just another ant, like all of others below. You and every one of them are living, breathing and rolling with circumstances as best they can.
Try: A Hedonist's guide to... (city guide books)

5 Road trip, river cruise or rail journey
Traversing great distances, p
hysically & figuratively
Classics: Road: Australia - The Australia Way, The Great Ocean Road, The Great Tropical Way, Mereenie Loop (including Uluru). USA - Pacific Coast, Border to Border, Route 66. Rail: Trans-Siberian Railway, Inter-rail Europe. Rivers: the Nile, Amazon and Yangtze.
Less obvious: Road: The Basque Circuit (Spain and France), Bergen to Oslo, Republic of Ireland's coastal roads. River: Mississippi, Danube.
Great for: Carefree Thelma and Louise moments (before things turned ugly), the freedom of the open road, the wind in your hair, driving off into the sunset, the people you meet along the way, the sights and scenery that you wouldn't have seen otherwise.
Road Trip USA by Jamie Jensen; Australian Road Trips

What has worked for you?

Read more like this:

Trips that will kick start your spirit
The Geography of Bliss by Eric Weiner
Amsterdam - 4 random reasons to love this city. Just incase you need them
World's Greatest Cities
Unforgettable walks to take before you die
101 Weekends in Europe

Here is the beginning of my post.
And here is the rest of it.Here is the beginning of my post. And here is the rest of it. Read more!

Monday, 11 October 2010

Leicester, England - no place for the EDL

On Saturday 9 October I was covering a couple of events for Leicester's Everybody's Reading festival. In the morning I visited Belgrave Library where the entertainment journalist and children's author Puneet Bhandal talked about her background and her series of Bollywood themed books. To get the blood pumping and the Bollywood magic wafting through the library at the end of her talk, Puneet taught the small crowed of adults and children some Bollywood dance steps. We danced our way through a whole song and left with smiles on our faces.

A few hours later en route to the second event of the day - A Taste of Somalia, at Highfields Library - my car was brought to a standstill by two hundred thugs. The English Defense League (EDL) were in Leicester to perform a static protest. Perhaps it was their members who had broken through the police lines and were storming across six lanes of traffic on the ring road, towards St Georges retail park and the Highfields area. Highfields is home to a large proportion of the city's Muslim community, many of whom were also outside on the streets, seemingly to defy and defend against any possibility of EDL presence around their mosque.

What I witnessed on the ring road distressed and disgusted me. Angry men wearing the St George cross, running at speed and chanting. Their threatening behaviour included kicking and thumping the cars right beside mine. Innocent individuals and families were in those cars. Scared stiff, they made u-turns over the central reservation and they turned around and drove straight through the stationary traffic, hitting wing mirrors in the rush to get out of there. The cars that were attacked belonged to people who were not white. I'm still struggling to define how it felt to be involved in this event and not be attacked, presumably just because I am white.

Following instructions, I reversed along the pavement and behind two buses, while a line of riot police in front regained control. I admire the job that they did and thank them. I was scared. But my fear was probably nothing compared to those attacked around me during those few minutes. The ring road and the cityscape of my home town had become alien. Certain sections of humanity became hideous beasts.

The One Leicester festival on 10 October was celebrated as a direct response to the visit from the EDL. The streets were rid of anger and hatred. There was nothing to fear. No sirens, no helicopters, no closed roads or marauding idiots. We had Billy Bragg, Egyptian and Bollywood dancing, a Gospel Choir and a Chinese dragon. Leicester was once again the friendly, diverse, fun place we know and love.

I was too frantic, reversing my car and following police advice to take any photos of what I saw on Saturday. Here, however, are some pictures I took at the One Leicester event on Sunday. A true representation of what Leicester is all about.
Read more!

Monday, 6 September 2010

World Travel Market 2010

Registration for the industry event of the year, World Travel Market, is still open. Between the 8th and 11th November at London's ExCel centre, industry (46,000 senior travel industry professionals, government ministers and international press) set up shop to promote destinations, products and services, discuss issues and shake on deals. Hopefully the press will have plenty to report back on to the travelling public.

The latest news is that Tony Juniper, one of the world’s best known ecologists, will headline the opening ceremony (10.30 on Wed 10 Nov, Platinum Suite 4). Juniper is the former director of Friends of the Earth UK, is currently involved in the writing of the book Harmony (authored by HRH Prince of Wales), while also writing for two leading UK newspapers and working as editor-in-chief of National Geographic’s Green magazine.

It's a clear commitment to World Travel Market's responsible tourism stance and the continuation of it's World Responsible Tourism Day. Fiona Jeffery, Chair of World Travel Market said, “In opening WTM World Responsible Tourism Day 2010, Tony Juniper will bring fresh ideas, extensive knowledge and boundless enthusiasm to the cause of responsible tourism. He is frank and honest about how we need to use the planet to ensure travel and tourism has a tomorrow”.

The latest on World Responsible Tourism Day (Wed 10 Nov 2010) is that 100 companies (which is more than ever before) have applied to participate in the campaign that helps to inspire and educate the industry on how to stay in business while protecting the environment. If deemed sufficiently dedicated to the cause, they can use the official WTM WRTD logo on their marketing and PR material throughout 2010.

Fiona Jeffery said on the subject, “Consumers are demonstrating their concern and I am delighted that the industry is beginning to respond positively.”

Accredited WTM World Responsible Tourism Day businesses include:

Africa Africa Inside Out; Cape to Cape Adventure Ltd; The Dreamcatcher Foundation; Karibu Rwanda Ltd; Nyore Tourist Village; West Africa Discovery.

Americas Exploring Horizons Ltd; ICRT Belize; Red de Turismo Responsible; Tropic Journeys in Nature; TrotaMexico; Mayaland Resorts; Consulting 27; ICRT Belize; and Pure Brazil by Venturas.

Asia Agri Tourism India; Community Action Treks; ConCERT; Footprint Vietnam Travel; Grass Routes; Malaysian Discovery; Rimo Expeditions; Selena Travel.

Australia and New Zealand Crystal Creek Meadows; Ecotourism Australia.

Europe Eco Turkey; La Fundación Ecoagroturismo; GreenStep; Ruka and Phya Ski Resorts, Finland;, Finland; Viator Travel, Dubrovnik Tourist Board; Villa Pape, Croatia.

UK Travelbound, part of TUI Travel; Traveltalk; Adventure Alternative; CHILLOUT 365 Ltd; Future Sense; SkiBound; Way Out Experiences Ltd; Celticos Ltd.
Read more!

Sunday, 13 June 2010

World Cup 2010: the local bloggers to watch

Here's just a few suggestions for football loving blog readers. What these bloggers lack in majestic panoramic views of Table Mountain (as per the BBC's pricey Cape Town studio), they're already making up for in local insight, diverse coverage and plenty of personal opinion, seemingly unfettered by editorial sanction. (image © Diskioff)

In the words of Diskioff's Proffessor Khumalo, this blog is, "a place to read all about soccer news from the fans around the country. People share their diski (township slang for soccer) opinions with the world and speak their mind freely and without fear. Freedom of expression is priceless, feared by many dictators around the globe".

World Cup coverage
Diskioff will be blogging about fans and uploading videos from every possible location, including the games themselves, fans' homes, sports bars and shebeen (once or still illicit bars/clubs) to their own YouTube channel.

6000 Miles
Written by 36 year old '6k' (a male British expat), '6000 miles' refers to the approximate distance from the UK to South Africa. Having lived in Cape Town for six years, he says, "Life in South Africa takes a little getting used to, but I think I’m getting there now. Yes – it took a while. I hail from Sheffield, deep in the Republic of South Yorkshire and thus, I tend not to hold back with my opinions. I say what I like and I like what I say – on politics, sport, music, life - anything really."

World Cup coverage
At 6000 Miles you can expect to see diverse coverage of the tournament, basically whatever interests him, including fans, media coverage, games (he's going to several of them) and organisation.

Fred Hatman
A blogger and journalist, Fred sits on his sunny 'Blogorandah' (veranda) at Hatman Mansions in the village of Stanford in the Western Cape (two hours’ drive from Cape Town) and dreams up “SA-positive” things to write about The Beloved Country. Contented Fred said, "I love South Africa. I love Stanford. I love blogging. I love my new life!"

World Cup coverage
Fred plans to blog about the World Cup almost every day. In his words, "As is my usual approach, I'll leave the match reporting to the football reporters and pick up on the issues, personalities and dramas around the World Cup and give them the usual humorous twist, dressed with more than a drizzle of satire and irreverence. All cooked up in an "SA-positive" style... showing off my amazing country at its very best!"

Cape Town Travel
Not so quirky, but promising wide coverage.

Mike Metelerkamp, eMarketing Coordinator for Cape Town Tourism said,
"We’re the official destination marketing organisation for the City of Cape Town and will be the best source of information for the Cape Town and the World Cup."

He continued, “Cape Town Tourism has dedicated blogging teams to provide the world and those in South Africa with the latest news around what’s hot in Cape Town, what’s happening at the World Cup and feedback from the fans.”

They also run the I Love Cape Town Facebook fan page which has in excess of 60,000 fans.

World Cup coverage
Teams of bloggers taking photos, capturing video and reporting the results of each game will be stationed to Fan Parks, Fan Walks, games and must-see tourist hot spots across Cape Town and all other host cities.

Enjoy!Vuvuzela! Read more!

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Footprint's New Website - a travellers' community, resource & shop

The team at Footprint Guides have siphoned their combined passion, expertise and nouse into a brand new website. certainly seems to be up to the challenge of meeting the evolving needs of travellers in the digital age.

Footprint's new Homepage, where Flickr, Twitter and Facebook badges set the scene for social networking, has plenty of attention grabbing content in the form of scrolling images linking to topical travel features, a 'must-see destination' feature and a list of the publisher’s latest releases. A self-explanatory Footprint in the Media link showcases the authors’ On The Road blog published by The Independent and articles published in the travel press. There's also a searchable listings directory of places to eat, sleep and play around the world, which, when fully functional, promises to be a very handy travel resource.

Breadcrumbs (the tabs laid out horizontally along the top) lead through Footprint’s publishing portfolio region by region, with the addition of the Lifestyle & Activities titles. Travellers navigating through the Latin America section and into the Belize pages for example, will find a substantial amount of free information available; including such essentials as Where and When to go, Suggested Itineraries, Getting There and Getting Around. It’s all edited copy lifted from Footprint’s Handbooks.

The site also encourages interaction between travellers via social networking platforms including Footprint’s pre-existing Facebook and Twitter networks, and in a travel forum that is in the offing.

As Marketing Manager, Liz Harper said, “The site will include links to our social networking sites as well as feeds from them. It will also be far more dynamic and interactive than the previous site.”

Footprint's authors can also get involved. Author and traveller forums, feeds to and from authors' own blogs and updates from authors in the field – especially around breaking news stories – will all be possible.
Publisher, Alan Murphy said, “We are hoping that the forum on the site will become not only a great place for travellers to share information and advice, but a platform for authors wishing to share their knowledge and expertise of an area, providing real added value to visitors to the site.”

Naturally, the site is equally focused on the business of selling travel guides and it looks like Footprint's web developers have been just as busy with the shop as they have with the social networking. Each page of travel content has links through to related books, PDF downloads and digital products (Footprint's new iPhone app, available from June 2010). Complementary gizmos sit alongside each product’s bibliographic details. For example, travellers can look inside their chosen guidebook, and hear the virtual paper pages turning, before buying. And if you can’t buy your book on the spot there's the option to Bookmark or Share it as a link in countless social networks (including the obvious; Twitter, Facebook, Reddit and Blogger) - all at the click of a 'social networking’ button. Very nifty.

Footprint confirmed today that their iPhone app and first guides have been submitted to the Apple Store, ready for early June. (The Cape Town guide is included for free - perfect timing if you're heading to the World Cup).

They expect to launch the travellers' forum in July. Read more!

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Thomson / Headline partnership brings top-selling authors to the beach

Thomson Gold customers can bypass the airport bookshop this summer and buy signed copies of beach books from top-selling authors in person, at the hotel poolside.

The tour operator's 'Audience With' events, running from May through to September at selected Mediterranean hotels, give holidaymakers the chance to meet high profile authors signed to the publishing house Headline. Following a successful trial event with the award-winning Victoria Hislop in September 2009 at The Sensatori hotel in Crete, the arrangement between tour operator and publisher was expanded to feature six authors at six hotels this summer.

Hislop, author of The Return, a novel set against the backdrop of Granada’s cobbled streets and the events of the Spanish Civil War, met with Thomson's guests once again, on May 15th, at the Hotel Yaramar in Fuengirola on Spain's Costa del Sol.

"The first event was extremely well received. Those that attended had an afternoon that left them with a memory they would never forget. Everyone that came had a wonderful time and commented on the intimacy and personal connection they all felt with Victoria. After the event, everyone bought a book and took even more away as presents for family and friends," said Thomson.

Also visiting the Hotel Yaramar, Fuengirola, is Sheila O’Flanagan, the ultimate holiday-read novelist with 15 titles to her name. Sheila is expected there on June 26th.

Meanwhile, across the water on the Balearic island of Majorca, chick-lit favourite Jill Mansell will tour three hotels in mid-September (Hotel Picafort Park on 14th; Hotel Levante Park on 15th; Grupotel Playa Camp de Mar on 16th). No doubt Jill who writes her books "by hand on the sofa in our living room" watching daytime TV is looking forward to meeting her readers outdoors in the Mediterranean sunshine.

Romantic fiction heavyweight Penny Vincenzi and the historical fiction writer Simon Scarrow will visit guests at the Grand Hotel President in Sorrento, Italy, on June 6th and September 4th respectively.An 'Insight Talk' from Scarrow on Pompeii, Herculaneum and Roman life is planned for September 5th.

Martina Cole, whose novels are set in London's gangland, brings her Hard Girls to the softly padded sun loungers of the Atlantic Golden Beach in Cyprus on July 13th.

As expected during what could be considered an extension of Headline's usual book signing tours, copies of the authors' latest titles will be on sale to hotel guests. In some cases, older titles may also be available.

Ed Sumner, General Manager of Lifestyle Product Development for Thomson, added,
“We are really excited to be giving our Thomson Gold customers the opportunity to meet top-selling authors in this way while on their holiday. It’s a fantastic chance for them to get up close and personal to these novelists, and is yet another example of Thomson offering unique holiday experiences for customers.”

Thomson have not confirmed if the 'Audience With' programme will be extended to any more of its 20 'Gold' hotels or if the arrangement will continue beyond summer 2010.

(Image © Tamlyn Rhodes via SXC)
Read more!

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Jarvis Cocker, Eurostar Cultural Ambassador

"TV, films and the internet may be great at showing you what something looks like but they're no substitute for seeing works of art with your own eyes." So said Pulp's frontman Jarvis Cocker this morning, in his new role as Eurostar's Cultural Ambassador for the Culture Connect programme.

I agree with you Jarvis. Certainly without the convenience and affordability of no-frills flights from London to European cities, I might still be saving up for the chance to stand in the air locked refectory of Santa Maria delle Grazie, Milan, appreciating the glorious composition, cracked plaster and faded oil-painted vision that is da Vinci's, The Last Supper. And the weekend in Florence, when I ducked into the Academy to check out the bod on Michelangelo's David before touring the Uffizi, could still be a pipe dream if Ryanair didn't fly into nearby Pisa.

It's been a while since I took one of these culturally-focused weekends away, probably due to a mixture of guilt about my carbon footprint and a desire to take longer trips. However, the launch held by Eurostar this morning - enter Jarvis Cocker - at St Pancras station stirred up my cultural urges.

If travellers can pilgrimage to Europe's greatest galleries, chapels and museums by train, all the better. And if the companion that I drag along with me can get free entry, all the better for them.
What is Culture Connect?
It's a new and unique partnership of 15 major museums and galleries in London, Paris and Brussels that highlights the wealth of art within some of the finest museums and galleries in the world (those listed below). It offers Eurostar travellers 2 for 1 entry to all paying exhibitions on their inbound journey at the following institutions:

In London the National Gallery, the National Portrait Gallery, Tate Modern, Tate Britain, British Museum and Victoria and Albert Museum.

In Paris Le Musée du Quai Branly, le Jeu de Paume, Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, Cité de la Musique, and les Galeries Nationales du Grand Palais.

In Brussels Bozar, the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium (including the Museum of Ancient Art and the Museum of Modern Art) and the Musical Instrument Museum.

How does it work?
The Culture Connect offer is available for up to five days after a traveller arrives at their destination, and only one person needs to have a Eurostar ticket to qualify for 2 for 1 entry.

What does Jarvis have to do with it all?
In the words of Eurostar’s Director of Communications, Mary Walsh,
“This initiative is designed to encourage people of all ages to visit these iconic museums and galleries. With his passion for music and art, Jarvis makes the perfect Cultural Ambassador. Going back and forth between London and Paris as he does, Jarvis knows better than anyone the enjoyment to be had from getting to know the museums and galleries of another city."
Read more!

Thursday, 22 April 2010

Volcanic Ash Journeys - how epic was your journey home?

Were you grounded by volcanic ash but able and willing to travel home overland? Why not share your epic tale with Travelex and be in with the chance of winning some prize money.

Julian Neal, Director of Travelex comments,
"There have been some absolutely inspiring stories about ways in which travellers have covered thousands of miles and taken the initiative to make their way home against the odds. Travellers have also clubbed together to get home, even using Twitter and Facebook to find unique methods of transport and locate fellow travellers stranded at the same destination. Travelex wants to reward these tales of creative travel plans and sheer determination."

The foreign exchange provider is spreading the word among travellers, asking them to post their epic journeys on their official Facebook page. The winning ‘volcanic legend’ will receive a Travelex prepaid currency card, Cash Passport, loaded with £1000 to spend on their next holiday. 10 runners-up will also receive £100 loaded onto a Cash Passport.

You've got until 18th May to take part in Travelex’s ‘Volcanic Legends’ competition, then fellow Facebook fans will vote for the winning journey.

Tell your story now and bask in the glory of your adventurousness (rather than whinging about getting your expenses refunded by Ryanair) at

Image (Camel caravan)from m_bartosch
Read more!

Monday, 12 April 2010

'Luxuriate' no more. Forever 'Escape'.

Next time you flick through a glossy holiday brochure or search for a deal on a travel website, note the frequency with which certain verbs are crammed into the headers, captions and hotel descriptions. 'RELAX and UNWIND', 'BASK' and 'INDULGE', you'll be encouraged. These fluffy verbs may well be overused in travel copywriting, but by tapping into physical factors (stress, warmth, imbibing) they'll probably work their magic and have you heading off to the sun to do just what they suggest.

But can I ask? Am I the only traveller (and travel editor) who can't help but recoil, quickly retracting my credit card, at the sight of that most fiendish of travel-related verbs...LUXURIATE (vb: enjoy as a luxury)? Certainly, we can all 'enjoy as a luxury' a fragrant bubble bath at home on a wet Wednesday evening, or a cheeky glass of champers before catching a train from London St Pancras. But for me, the act of travel deserves more substantive verbs - those that span the breadth of the linguistic spectrum, from the majestic to the downright primal.

Travel for most of us will always be a financial ‘luxury’, but portraying it in bling, diamond encrusted terms alone does a disservice to travel and to the destinations visited. Better to use 'escape' - perhaps a primal verb that rings the truest in even the soapiest of travel copy. Escape from the city, escape from the winter, escape the kids, escape the daily grind, escape the artificially-lit hanger where you work your nine-to-five, or escape the fallout from a very messy break up.

The urge to escape is nothing short of instinctive. Running away often feels like the only available option. Travel is that escape, allowing space to regroup, pick up the pieces and let the infinite opportunities that are available out there, in the big wide world, smack us between the eyes and lift us out of the latest dark, dank pit of despair.

Feeling claustrophobic; incarcerated by your everyday life? Look out for Sandwagon's short and sweet list of classic escapes, picked for those times when getting away is less of a want and more of a need. Coming next.

Read more!