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A Quick Introduction to Japan

A Quick Introduction to Japan

A destination for all travellers – whether you’re a foodie or a family, a couple or a group of history lovers – there is truly something for everyone. It’s home to beautiful landscapes, historic towns with enchanting pagodas and colourful customs as well as one of the most unique and vibrant cities in the world – Tokyo.

If you’re a bit of an adventurist then ascend the majestic Mt. Fuji and explore nearby Lake Kawaguchi or roam Nagoya castle. If you want to explore Japan’s beautiful natural scenery, then head to the wonderful Peaceful Deer Park in Nara and afterwards visit the Vermillion-hued Kasuga Shrine or simply take in the colourful Cherry Blossoms that come into bloom all over Japan in March and April. If you’re more of an urban explore then the cities of Tokyo and Kyoto will suit you will. Tokyo offers a vast neon skyline Tokyo under which are lively districts such as Ginza – which is great for shopping, to the colourful Harajuku and Shibuya areas – great for spotting the weird and wonderful fashionistas that inhabit Tokyo and Roppongi, which is well known for it’s raucous nightlife. Kyoto on the other hand is bathed in history and home to no less than 17 World Heritage sites and thousands of temples, from Kiyomizu and Sanjusangendo Temples, through to the Kyoto Imperial Palace, and the UNESCO listed Nijo Castle. A must see is the glittering Kinkakuji buddhist temple – a former retirement villa, it’s perched on the banks of a pretty pond and surrounded by lush green gardens. It’s not uncommon to see a pretty Geisha girl in the streets of the Gion district of Kyoto.

If you’d like to get a taste of Japan’s wilder side – then you should visit one of its (literally thousands) festivals. The Tokushima Awa Odori is a gigantic citywide dance party in Tokushima City – it’s colourful and vibrant and attractions more than a million people each year and plays out on the city streets for several days. If you’re sticking to Tokyo on your holiday to Japan – then try the Asakusa Samba Matsuri festival (yes Samba) in the Asakusa area of Japan. kyoto has its own 1 month long festival known as the Gion Festival held in the Geisha district Gion. There are parades, street parties, markets and traditional Geisha dances. Japanese food is simply mouth-watering. From Osaka’s (nicknamed tenka no daidokoro or the nation’s kitchen) savoury pancakes, udon noodles and Takoyaki through to well-known staples of Japanese cuisine such as sushi, miso soup, tempura vegetables and fish – which is served raw such as in sashimi/sushi. Want to fit in? Learn how to use chopsticks!

Our Favourite Things to Do in Slovenia That Have Nothing to Do with Skiing

Our Favourite Things to Do in Slovenia That Have Nothing to Do with Skiing

Slovenia, though a small country is perfectly formed – replete with unspoiled countryside, exciting cities and quaint chocolate box villages – it’s also fantastic for skiing – but then you probably already knew that – so we’re going to concentrate on Slovenian attractions that you can enjoy in the summertime.

Ljubljana – the capital of Slovenia may not be quite as grand as other European capitals or as renowned as nearby Venice in Italy (you can drive between the two in just a little over 2 hours) but it’s a great city to travel to nonetheless. Take time to explore the galleries, museums, ancient building such as the beautiful hilltop castle and the pretty Roman ruins, but if you don’t spend much time here – (it is perfect for weekend breaks)  remember to spend much of it in the city centre, with the famous brick bridges and the calming river flowing underneath them. If you’re there on a Saturday then head to the centre for the Saturday market and spend a little time having a coffee al fresco to do a little people watching amidst the colourful old town facades.

Bled – with it’s stunning collection of mountain peaks that surround an emerald green Alpine lake with a picture-perfect church (complete with bell tower) sitting on an islet,  it is simply beautiful. It’s a wonder that Bled hasn’t already topped a few must-travel lists – though it is one of Slovenia’s most popular resorts – and not just for winter. It draws eclectic crowds in search of a picturesque backdrop for a romantic getaway to adventurists who are drawn to the boating and canyoning available in the area. It’s a pleasure to just float on the lake – enjoying the surrounds – and in the summer it makes for an exquisite picnic area. 

The Slovenian coast – it may be a short stretch of coastline but it’s certainly worth a trip. Piran for example is a beautiful and quaint coastal town that juts out into the Adriatic and is filled with charming Venetian style housing and the narrow alleys that are perfect to explore. The Port of Roses is Slovenia’s answer to Cannes and it comes with a luxurious collection of  hotels with large swimming pools and pretty views over the water. The main street is lined with restaurants serving a nice mix of cuisines from traditional to Mediterranean, and the beach is clean though it gets extremely full in summer. The old towns of Koper and Izola make fantastic day trip options as they are small but filled with nice architecture – Izola’s circular port is especially beautiful with the old town and the church spire looming in the background.

Top 3 Romantic Hotels in England

Top 3 Romantic Hotels in England

The UK is replete with beauty – both natural and man made –  from the rolling hills of the new forest and the scenic lake district to the beautiful rugged coastline of Devon and the historic cities at England’s heart, such as London and York. For city-dwellers, England’s countryside is a pleasant change of scenery, while those wanting a taste of city life and a tour of some of the most majestic buildings in the whole of Britain – cities like London provide the perfect setting. Of course there are plenty of hotels to match – some buried deep in the countryside with lakeside views and others soaring high into the skyline. We give you 3 of the most romantic hotels that England has to offer. Enjoy.

Linthwaite House, Windermere

The lake district often seems a little like England’s best kept secret, with its harmonious lakes that blend seamlessly with the rolling hills that frame them, there is no shortage of serenity. Linthwaite House takes advantage of this to the fullest – set on the infamous Lake Windemere and with 14 acres of private gardens – this is perhaps one of the best places to stay in the entire region. Each room is individually designed to luxurious standards; many come with lake views and some even with Hot Tubs to make your evenings extra-special. The hotel boasts in-room treatments, access to a spa in the nearby town of Bowness- on-Windermere and a restaurant that is in the top 150 of the UK. If you want to wake up each morning to the sounds of wildlife, views of the lakes, fragrant flora in the gardens and a fine selection of wines and award winning foods then Linthwaite House is for you.

The Portobello Hotel, London

While plenty of London folk are busy booking weekends away in the country – a savvy few are sticking to the capital where there is more romance than one would think. The Portobello Road hotel has a perfect location, tucked away on a quiet street in the centre of West London’s Notting Hill in a neo-classical mansion – it’s a little bit of serenity in the centre of London, and it’s just moments away from the infamous Portobello antiques market. The rooms on offer are just fabulous – complete with flamboyant decoration, freestanding baths and Juliet balconies looking out onto the pretty tree lined street outside. This is one for those that like good amenities, plenty to do and a quiet retreat after a day of exploring

The Horn of Plenty, Devon

This hotel is set in a beautiful country house amidst perfect rolling hills and not too far away from the port town of Plymouth. It’s a traditional English hotel at its heart – with classic décor and countryside views – some of which come with balconies – perfect for breakfasts. The hotel’s location on the edge of Dartmoor National Park makes it perfect for romantics who want to spend their time hand-in-hand exploring antique villages, old market towns and historic buildings like the nearby Buckland Abbey, though the hotel is home to an award winning restaurant and it offers in-room massages and other beauty treatments too – just in case you prefer to stay a little closer to your perfectly romantic room.

There are plenty more where these come from and some honourable mentions include the beachside Scarlet hotel in Cornwall, and the iconic (owned by Raymond Blanc) Le Manoir Aux Quat’saisons in Oxfordshire which is a perfect retreat for foodies too – not just romantics.

Exploring Hong Kong

Exploring Hong Kong

Hong Kong is simply fascinating – it’s where China and Britain combined to create a unique place made up of skyscrapers and temples, trams and Feng Shui. It combines stunning rural escapes with urban cities and coastal beauty – it’s dazzling and often mysterious but it is never boring.

The first thing on any visit to Hong Kong is to appreciate the phenomenal skyline – there is nothing like it in Europe. Whether you board a ferry and view it from the water or sip a cocktail and gaze out of the window in the Intercontinental’s lobby lounge – you just have to take a few minutes, if not hours – staring in awe – taking in the glistening rooftops and startling neon lights as the night fades into day – it’s a breathtaking experience. When it comes to exploring the city at street level you should head to Causeway Bay where there are plenty of shopping opportunities, intriguing historic sites and parks. Afterwards, you can take in the impressive buddhist and taoist temples that are dotted around the entire island. Head to the Wan Chai strip at night to greet the neon signage that hangs over every door, drink in bars that serve every kind of beverage and dance all night in the raucous nightclubs that the area is famed for.

If you enjoy exploring markets, sampling local delicacies and buying local arts and crafts then you’ll love Hong Kong’s street markets – where food sellers seat their diners on simple wooden stools under street side awnings and serve up fragrant dishes such as Cheong Fun, Egg Waffles and Stinky Tofu. Head to Yau Ma Tei and Mong Kok markets where you’ll find everything from intriguing trinkets and antiques to foods and fashions or if you prefer, wait until nightfall and explore the Temple Street Night Market in Kowloon which is a busy flea-market-esque night market offering everything from fashions to mobiles and watches to food. This is where the Hong Kong really shines.

When you want to get out of the main city – head to Hong Kong’s neighbour Macau – which offers a little bit of Mediterranean style on the China coast – with temples, shrines and tightly packed alleys, cosying up with neon skyscrapers and a flurry of Las Vegas-esque casinos. Alternatively try some  inner-city surfing or simply catch up on some sunbathing around the coves of Hong Kong’s coastline.

A Tour Through Poland

A Tour Through Poland

Poland is quite simply a pleasure to explore – it’s filled with medieval castles, log cabins, urban cities, heart-warming food (Bigos meat stew and a Blueberry Mazurka anyone?) and an utterly beautiful collection of woods, lakes, rivers and hills. A nice way to explore the country is by touring its major cities – if you want to indulge in Poland’s medieval side then head to Kraków or Gdańsk on the Baltic coastline – while if you want to get to grips with Poland’s urban-edge then make your way to Warsaw for a city that is equal parts modern and historic.

If you start your journey in the capital – then first take in the glittering skyscrapers that rub shoulders with grey communist-era office blocks and flats, then head north of the centre to explore the reconstructed Old Town and the pretty baroque palaces. Kraków is especially appealing to history buffs. It’s a treasure trove of overlapping architectural styles – with Gothic and Renaissance architecture taking centre stage though the baroque St Piotr and Pawel church is also worth a see. Follow the history trail taking in the Old Town’s Gothic churches and the huge market square (Rynek Glówny), then take a look at the old Jewish quarter and if you’re interested by WWII history then finish up with a tour to Auschwitz. Afterwards simply explore one of Kraków’s narrow alleyways and stumble into a more modern diversion in the form of a crammed restaurant – serving typical Polish cuisine - alongside more modern fusions, chic bar or a trendy music club. Similarly, Gdańsk is home to a large array of architectural gems in the form gothic churches, cathedrals and municipal buildings – though perhaps the most enthralling is the old town which is full of colourful houses, churches and even an old Polish Postal building. Head to Long Street (or Ulica Dluga) where you’ll find a number of pretty houses – many of which date back to the 1500′s, shops and bars. 

When the time comes to head out of the city – take a trip to Zakopane in the foothills of the Tatra Mountains. It’s especially beautiful in the winter months – when snow tops the mountain peaks and the ski resorts hit full flow – though it’s equally wonderful in the summer and perfect for hiking and escaping the cities. Of special note here are the the infamous wooden mountain villas that date back tot he 19th century and now act as hotels, museums and homes. If you can stay in one of those for a few days before in-between cities. 

What to do this May Bank Holiday

What to do this May Bank Holiday

It’s that time of year in England when we seem to have a bank holiday every other week – and with the current splattering of sunshine to enjoy – what’s better? If you’re in or around the capital – whether you’re a local or on holiday – make sure you check out a couple of the May Bank Holiday events that are taking place between Friday and Monday.

Chelsea in Bloom is a free festival that runs during the RHS Chelsea Flower Show –  shops and restaurants in and around Sloane Street, Sloane Square and Duke of York Square will be decorating with floral installations in this year with the theme of ‘Creation in Colour’.  There’ll also be pop-up ice cream sellers, champagne bars, plenty of flower displays, family friendly activities and even free rickshaw tours.

Hammer & Claw at the Farr’s School of Dancing on Saturday will be a bit of an American style foodie celebration. A crab feast. You’ll be able to enjoy everything from pork skins with chipotle dip, peanut butter ice cream, corn on the cob and of course the star – crabs in a spicy seasoning.

The Rite of Spring – The Great May Masquerade at the Coronet (Elephant and Castle) will be celebrating the one hundred and first anniversary of the Parisian premiere of Russian ballet ‘Le Sacre du Printemps’.  A Curious Invitation are hosting this enticing extravaganza, featuring live performances, cabaret, dance and music designed to transport you back to the wilder part of the early 20th century. You’ll find everything from The London Gay Symphony Orchestra playing live, a baroque buffet, a life-drawing room and even (hot tubs) with film screening.

Meantime Brewfest at the Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich is for those who feel like a drink in less extravagant, but none the less enticing, settings. This spring festival will see some 40 breweries from all over the world gather at The Old Royal Naval College for three days of beer tasting – afterwards, you can head into Greenwch park to soak up the sun.

Finally, if you feel like escaping the capital or if you’re in the south already head to Dover for Second World War weekend at Dover Castle. Dover castle is already a pleasure to explore, what with its underground tunnels and proximity to the coastline – but for this weekend you’ll be able to dress up in military uniforms, try some ration-time style cakes and dance to a live swing band.

 

Introduction To Cannes

Introduction To Cannes

Cannes Film Festival has taken place annually in Cannes since the 1930′s – and is now one of the most important showcases of European films. The setting is of course the beautiful French Riviera, blue waters hug tightly packed white sand beaches, whilst the shores are lined with luxury boutiques and hotels, delicious restaurants and an impressive list of attractions to explore.

This year, the 2014 Cannes Film Festival will begin on Wednesday 14 May. If you’re already planning a visit to the French Riviera this May, then you are probably interested in having a peek at Cannes yourself. You should know that Cannes is primarily a trade fair, something of a get-together for the movie industry –  films are shown – from typical Artistic European efforts to emerging american talents, but perhaps more importantly, deals are made.  If you’re there on the fly as part of a wider trip, or if you’re not part of the industry – you’ll find it almost impossible to get your hands on tickets for any film from the official selection of films as screenings are strictly by invitation only. But if you want to catch a flick whilst in Cannes, then head to the Cannes Cinephile booth next to the Palais which distributes tickets for fringe events such as Un Certain Regard. And there is the Cinema de la Plage with free open-air screenings of classic movies by the beach – there’s generally a great atmosphere.

If you’re a star spotter, your best chance is to join the crowds in front of the Palais des Festival, where the gala performances of the competition movies take place every evening. Get there early before six if you want to see anything. If you prefer to just get in the city and tour the sites then start at the magnificent La Croisette promenade and take a stroll around the beachfront – indulge in a a drink al fresco, do a little people watching and perhaps a little shopping, and afterwards hit the sites – one of the most prolific is Fort Royal – home to the cell that once was home to the Man in the Iron Mask - preserved for all to see. Then there’s the covered market, the impressive port – usually with a legion of Yachts bobbing on the water and on the hill there’s Le Suquet old town – the home to many of the fishermen that still work Cannes shores but also home to a few good old-fashioned restaurants and little souvenir shops.

Cannes Film Festival 2014 will be held from the 14th to the 25th of May. If you do want to visit Cannes during the festival, then take a look at the official website here.

Travelling to Brazil for the World Cup? Read This First!

Travelling to Brazil for the World Cup? Read This First!

If you were lucky, then you probably already have your World Cup 2014 tickets before the final batch were released last week. So by now you should be beginning the countdown to the big event. Considering that games will be held in 12 Brazilian cities, including the incredible Rio de Janeiro and São Paolo, now’s the time to get your travel plans together. Here are some tips to make sure you don’t get tripped up along the way.

Get your visa early.
You’ll need to visit your local Brazilian consulate to obtain the visa. As is the norm you’ll need to go through a tedious application process and present a plethora of documents, but one bit of good news for World Cup spectators is that if you have World Cup tickets, you’ll get your temporary visa for free, but be prepared to present confirmation of your ticket purchase to get it. The consular website has everything you need to know.

Don’t try to see everything in one trip.
Although it’s tempting  to try and fit in a visit to Rio de Janeiro, the Amazon rainforest and a World Cup match all in one go, it’s probably not going to happen. Remember, Brazil is a huge country and travelling between all of these tourist hot spots can take hours – especially by road, and even by air, you’ll still be looking at a good 2 hours of flight time.  If you do want to visit multiple cities then it’s probably best to keep the number down to two or three – especially if you plan to travel around by car.

Learn the transportation systems ahead of time.
It’s true that Brazilian traffic is very very hectic, and full of unspoken rules, but if you have the determination and the patience, navigating shouldn’t be too much of a problem.  Before you go make sure you research the websites of the cities you’re visiting, have a look at the public transport routes if you plan to use them, and get well acquainted with Brazilian road laws if you want to drive while you’re there.

Exchange your money before you go.
If you plan on using real (Brazil’s currency), make sure you get it changed before you leave the country, otherwise use your credit or ATM card, though use your common sense and be careful of your surroundings. If you are going to use cash then try and have smaller bills on hand, especially if you’re in a rural area where it may be harder to get change for larger notes.

Etiquette tips
Before you go, try and learn a few phrases of Portuguese. Nothing too in-depth just the basics such as Hello and Goodbye, My name is etc.  As with any country, there are some everyday customs that you should try and adhere to, too. You don’t need to add an additional tip on restaurant bills (nor do you need to tip your drivers), don’t sit on your towel while at the beach and don’t slam car doors.

If you do get a chance for a spot of sightseeing while in Brazil, then we recommend  the mighty Rio de Janeiro. Take a look at the beaches – spend a day there, or several if you can – on beaches like Ipanema, Copacabana and Arpoador – if you’re a surfer, then the latter should be your first choice. A must see in Rio is Christ the Redeemer, perched as it is more than 2000 feet above the city on the Corcovado Peak, it is an incredible site – his arms wide open, gazing serenely to the city and the swathes of blue sea below. Nature lovers head to the Tijuca national park – one of the largest urban forests in the world and a great place to hike. Ascend to the summit of Pico da Tijuca for some incredible views of Guanabara Bay and the city. Finally for those looking for some lively nightlife – take a look at the Lapa neighbourhood which has an electrifying energy at night, with clubs and bars spilling out into the 19th century streets – it’s a perfect place for a Caipirinha – the national cocktail. 

Riga: European Capital of Culture 2014

Riga: European Capital of Culture 2014

Each year 2 European cities are selected to be European capitals of culture. For 2014, the 2 cities are Umea in Sweden and Riga in Latvia. We’ve already made a post about Umea in Sweden so now we present you with our highlights for the year 2014 in Latvia’s Riga.

Riga is one of the Baltics’ more popular destinations, a big city with an atmosphere to match, and an old town that is on par with Tallinn’s and Prague’s; the city has a great collection of art-nouveau architecture and a number of inner-city parks, cultural spots, cafe’s and cobbled streets that will make a more than perfect setting for the events that Riga has planned for its year in the limelight.

The most striking aspect of the city is the cute fairy tale old quarter, with steeples and turrets looking down on small shops, boutiques and coffee shops where hot summers days are spent al fresco, watching the people go by. However, despite its charming demeanour, Riga is also home to a burgeoning nightlife, with lively clubs and bars, as well as top-rate restaurants, and amidst the old world charm of the old quarter, Riga has begun to place glass hotels and business centres, which give the city an otherworldly feel – where old meets new and charm clashes with glamour. As is the norm for the host cities of the European Capital Culture, Riga has drawn up an impressive list of attractions for 2014.

Art is, as always, the prevailing theme – with artists from all backgrounds and disciplines taking part. The Ukrainian artist Nikita Kadan, a member of the artistic association R.E.P. (Revolutionary Experimental Place)  is one of the artists taking part in the international contemporary art exhibition with the project “Procedure Room” about police torture, while street artist Dainis Rudens has created a mural on a facade on a small street in the Sarkandaugava neighbourhood – the colours of autumn.  There will be various theatre and ballet performances such as “Three Meetings”, a ballet to be held at the Latvian National Opera and look out for some interesting exhibitions such as the Skan II sound installation – an exhibition of sound art which aims to explore innovative art forms and remind onlookers of Riga’s architectural heritage. The events will take place throughout 2013 with dance workshops, opera, street fairs, live concerts, tours and even a circus. While you’re there, make sure you take a look at the old KGB building, that as well as being an attraction itself will be hosting a variety of exhibitions and installations – you can even take a tour of the KGB cellars.

For more info on Riga and the plan for 2014 take a look here.

Margate: The Original English Day Trip

Margate: The Original English Day Trip

Is there anything more British than sitting by the sea, eating fish and chips and watching the world go by? We think not. Reachable in less than 2 hours by car from London, you’ll find the little seaside town is full of sandy beaches, a European- esque cafe culture, retro shops and world-class art galleries, with the likes of the Turner Contemporary gallery, with its showcases of historical works of art side by side with ultra-modern art including pieces by the local, and internationally recognised artist – Tracey Emin. Margate is a little treasure trove of English curios.

From the galleries you could head to the Harbour Arm, which is home to the Margate Harbour Arm Gallery, as well as several studios positioned right on the arm – so you can see actual artists at work, with a soundtrack of the waves, seagulls and boats afloat in the harbour – it’s a poetic experience. Right next to the studios you’ll find the acclaimed BeBeached cafe and the Lighthouse bar – both of which are perfect spots for a meal or a drink while you take in the ambience of Margate’s harbour, and devour the aforementioned fish and chips.

The old town in Margate is full of cafe’s, chic eateries, galleries, pubs and vintage shops – it’s a nice place to unwind and contemplate the many cultures and contrasts that make up England. If you’re in the mood for something with a little faster pace – then try and visit Margate during the annual Jazz festival or the Margate Masters volleyball competitions over summer. Another great British past time is taking a book and an ice cream to the beach – so hit up one of the many ice cream vans or parlours and take to the beach, lay on the sand or in a traditional deck chair and basque in the south east coasts sunshine. The little town can be a joy to explore and is perfect for day trips – and can be enjoyed to the fullest over a weekend.

If you’re on holiday in the UK, then you’ll no doubt drive from London, when visiting Margate – which is easy if you take the A3211 from London followed by the A2, M2, A299 and finally the A28 to the Marine Terrace in Margate, where you’ll be confronted by the quaint fishing village like ambience of the docks.

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