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. australiancelticfestival.com

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. californiawinefestival.com

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. oldoregon.com

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

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). bmad.co.uk/festival.html

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'. bristolfolkfestival.com

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. corkchoral.ie

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. cheesefestival.co.za
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 jeremyhead.com whose Travelblather blog gives informative and entertaining reflections on travel writing today.

Record breaking ski journalist Arnie Wilson arniewilson.com

Toronto-based Lucy Izon canadacool.com

Journalist Alexis Grant alexisgrant.com who is backpacking solo through Africa.

Balkans expert Chris Deliso chrisdeliso.com

(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 twitter.com/bmibaby_com. 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 footprinttravelguides.com

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) kuoni.co.uk
; Sunray Yoga (yoga diving, Dahab) sunrayoga.com

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:
Naturetrek naturetrek.co.uk

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) hg2.com

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 roadtripusa.com; Australian Road Trips australianroadtrips.com

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!