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Umea: European Capital of Culture 2014

Umea: 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. Today we present you with our highlights for the year 2014 in Sweden’s Umea. You can check out our post about Riga here. 

Umea, unlike Stockholm, which lies some 600 KM south Umea, is relatively unknown on a world scale, but don’t let that put you off, as this charming city is awash with attractions, rugged natural beauty, and things to do- especially intriguing is its geographical location in the far north of Sweden, as this means that in summer – you’re very likely to see the midnight sun - almost constant daylight, while in the winter months you can easily see the Northern lights. In true capital of culture style, Umea has a year long itinerary planned with everything from interactive storytelling and photography exhibitions, to alternative music exhibitions, dance and workshops.

Aside from the obvious swathes of natural beauty and rugged wilderness that surrounds the city – you’ll find quaint cafes, riverside restaurants and plenty of galleries to spend your time in. If you feel like getting to grips with the art scene then you could head to the Rock Art exhibition – where you can discover the conceptual world of the stone age man and try your hand at rock carving, the Land use exhibition, which is an art project on land exploitation, or the Leonor Fini - Pourquo pas? exhibition – all of which will run on various dates throughout the year. Sweden’s influence in music can be seen from the world of jazz to metal and hardcore – if you’re a fan of the latter then you simply shouldn’t miss the Umea – The European Capital of Hardcore 1989 – 2000 exhibition, where amongst other things will show press clippings and memorabilia from famed bands from Umea such as the hugely influential Refused. If your taste is a little different then don’t fear as there will be opera, jazz and a variety of performing arts taking place around the too.

To learn about Umea’s natural side then head to the Vindelfjällen nature reserve which, though primarily for children, promises to be enlightening and fun – with reindeer sleighs, fairytales and crafts. If you prefer to explore the terrain then perhaps a guided birdwatching tour in the Umeälven delta will be for you, or for something a little different, try the Umea Ghost Walk which promises to unveil Umea’s most haunted houses and places of interest.  

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

Things Not To Miss In Dubai

Things Not To Miss In Dubai

Dubai, one of the seven ‘emirates’ which make up the United Arab Emirates, is a modern city – luxurious to the extreme and a site to behold; its main aesthetics are of course the incredible collection of futuristic skyscrapers and vast stretches of deep blue glittering coastline all surrounded by miles of desert.

Some of Dubai’s more unique aspects include the artificial island – shaped like a palm tree and home to around 100 islands – especially beautiful from the sky, the Burj Khalifa tower – otherwise known as the tallest building in the world and the worlds only seven star  hotel – the Burj Al Arab. Outside of the city you’ll find vast deserts to explore, where you can indulge in sand skiing and an evening feast under a shimmering desert sunset, though if water is more to your taste, then a day cruising the creek will be an ideal way to explore and appreciate this vast city from a different perspective – the marina is inspiring from the water and if you’re looking for a way to spend a romantic evening then consider a dinner cruise, with the neon skyline as a backdrop.

The vast stretches of white sandy beaches that come complete with crystal clear azure waters are perfect for swimming and snorkelling. Jumeirah beach is home to the Burj Al Arab hotel, which provides a unique backdrop to a day on the beach while the luxurious Al Mamzar Beach Park is home to four beaches and two swimming pools. The man made harbour and beaches in Jebel Ali are where you’ll find some of the better water sports such as wind surfing and surfing, and you’ll find them to be less crowded than others. Away from the beaches you’ll find luxurious spa’s, award winning architecture, world-class shopping with an Armani hotel to match (Dubai is after all the ‘shopping capital of the Middle East), quaint markets (or souq’s) like the Bur Dubai Souq and the colourful Deira Spice Souq, indoor skiing and incredible restaurants where you’ll find everything from western haute-cuisine to Asian style street food. For a fun bar experience head to the Skyview Bar on the 27th floor of the Burj Al Arab – where you’ll be welcomed by truly incredible views out over the city, excellent service and a bar tab to match – but it’s worth it for the experience alone – from there you’ll be able to admire the entire city from the sky – and that is what Dubai is all about. 

Exploring the Costa Blanca

Exploring the Costa Blanca

Just a single thought of the Costa Blanca (white coast) and suddenly your mind is swept away by a flurry of never ending white sand beaches, sweeping blue waters and idyllic sunsets. For good reason too, as the Costa Blanca beaches are some of the finest Spain has to offer, though along with the first rate beaches, one of the most wonderful things about the Costa Blanca is it’s fantastic climate. The year round good weather that it offers is one of the main draws for travellers from all over the world.

The best way to explore the Costa Blanca is to gear up with a car and drive the length of it, exploring hidden coves and sleepy villages as you go, and you’ll find that no matter where you go, from Alicante beach all the way down to the Torrevieja beaches you can easily find something perfect for everyone. One of the longest and widest beaches is the Playa san Juan de Alicante which is north to the city of Alicante, it’s 7km’s long and provides a beautiful clean beach, suitable for the family. El Carabassi is a beautiful beach of pale gold sands, while the sweeping beaches of Benidorm are long and beautiful with the city just moments away. Tabarca island is empty in comparison with miles of unspoiled white sands that are home to a quaint Spanish town – head there for a little peace and quiet.

The Costa Blanca is a nature lovers paradise, just moments from the beaches you’ll find trails that lead you over hills and mountains and into lost coves where you can explore caves and clamber rocks to experience the full beauty of this Mediterranean gem. A trip to the Serra Galda nature park is well worth anyone’s time – if only to gaze out to the sea and indulge in sea faring fantasies that will make you long to never leave. You could of course spend your whole time on the beach, but then you’d be missing so much of what this fascinating region has to offer. A trip to the fascinating Agar falls – high up in the mountains in Altea makes for a fantastic day trip  - though you may need to hire a car from a nearby town such as Benidorm, if you don’t already have one, to get there.

What To Do In London This Easter Weekend

What To Do In London This Easter Weekend

Easter is as good a time as any to jump in a car and head to the capital – it’s vibrant with events all over the city – from parties, easter egg hunts and crafts activities for the kids to the usual round up of markets, museums and attractions – many of which a special Easter twist.

If you’re looking to get your hands a little dirty then head to the colourful toy store Hamley’s on Regent Street on Friday and have a go at their Easter Bonnet decorating workshop. Keeping in with the family spirit – head to Rosebery Avenue and the Sadlers Wells’ Family Weekend where as well as watching some captivating, Rapunzel themed, family theatre, you can also take part in games and activities before and after the show. Though make sure you book ahead. If you find yourself in the Hampstead area without a trail to follow – then you could try heading to the beautiful 17th century Fenton House – which will be hosting the Cadbury Easter Egg Trail. The trail is included in the admission price and will take you around an easter themed trail of the gardens with a (chocolatey) surprise at the end.

If that doesn’t satisfy your craving for Easter eggs, then we suggest heading to the always lovely Kew Gardens, who this year will be hosting a plethora of Willy Wonka themed activities alongside an easter egg hunt. This hunt will see you traversing the Royal Kew gardens, collecting tokens as you go which later on you can swap for eggs! It’s free with entry to the gardens but is immensely popular so we suggest booking ahead. There are of course plenty of other egg hunts going on around the city for you and your family to get involved with too – our pick of the rest would be the egg hunts at Kensington Gardens and The Cutty Shark, Greenwich. There are a range of activities going on around London’s museums too though the most intriguing will be at the Foundling Museum where you can make a Handel inspired 3D badge.

It’s true of course that Easter has become very much a family affair – but if you’re in the mood for something a little more adult-orientated, then look out for some ping-pong balls that have been hidden around the capital. Inside you’ll find special prizes such as membership to the London dating site Doing Something, free ping pong and entry to several London attractions. Every egg will include entry to a special Easter Sunday dating event – it will be an attempt at the largest ever ping-pong date.

Exploring Wales

Exploring Wales

Wales is a country full of  physical beauty with serene mountain ranges, lush valleys and ragged coastline mixing with old-fashioned market towns and ancient castles.  Wales isn’t as internationally renowned as the rest of the UK, and as such has retained much of its diversity, not bowing to tourism like areas of Ireland and Scotland – so you’ll find there are plenty of fascinating places to visit – many of which still speak the native Welsh language and range from the beautiful to the quaint.

If you’re crossing the border from England into Wales, the differences in appearance and culture are immediately clear. Wales shares similarities with the other Celtic lands such as Scotland, Ireland and Cornwall in the south of England. The landscape is rocky and mountainous, predominantly green with a largely rural population and a culture rooted in folklore and legend. Though the most obvious difference between the two countries is the Welsh language, and you’ll note as you drive through the terrain, Welsh village names and bilingual signposts marking your route. Don’t fear though as everyone in Wales speaks English. 

There are a wealth of places to visit in Wales, from prehistoric sites and crumbling castles to wild landscapes and rocky but beautiful coastline. The cities throughout the country are vibrant and offer lots to the traveller. The capital Cardiff is of course a good place to start with its impressive architecture and buzzing nightlife, but the university town of Aberystwth can be beautiful too – tucked away on Cardigan Bay, it’s home to a mix of cultures – with cheap bars and restaurants mingling with a traditional pier, and quaint backstreets lined with boutiques and cafes as well as pastel coloured Georgian houses and the castle which dates back to the 1200′s.  If you feel like getting into Wales’ renowned countryside then head to Snowdonia – home to beautiful green hills and the highest mountain in Wales – Mount Snowdon. You can climb the mountain by taking one of 6 dedicated pathways that range from the easier Llanberis path to the Watkin Path which takes around 6 hours to complete.

It’s not all about seeing and doing though, instead you may find that interactions with the Welsh people will remain in your memory the longest – whether just sitting in a cafe listening to the ancient British language being spoken all around you or standing amongst a throng of people in a pub – screaming at the Rugby.

A weekend in Dubrovnik

A weekend in Dubrovnik

The calm blue waters of the Adriatic sea leading upwards through beautiful white sands, baroque architecture sliding down emerald hills and marble streets that fade into the brick of the old city wall, set the pace for what is one of the world’s most beautiful intact walled cities. You’ll find it the south of Croatia and once there – you will find a beautiful historic city in perfect condition – in thanks to the resort being listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. What’s more – the weather in Dubrovnik is perfect for an early spring break and thanks to the Mediterranean climate – you can safely visit for most of the year.

The pedestrian only old city is of course the highlight with its Baroque churches and eye-candy red roof houses. It’s a pleasure to just walk around here, spotting nice cafe’s and centuries-worth of fascinating architecture such as the fascinating Gothic Sponza Palace, the Bell Tower and the historic pharmacy, which is actually one of Europe’s oldest, and it dates back to 1317 and is still in use to this day. Trace Dubrovnik’s, and indeed Croatia’s history in the museums and then head to the harbour for a Mediterranean lunch and watch the world go by at a decelerated pace – for the Mediterranean atmosphere in Dubrovnik is chilled to say the least.

If you feel like taking to the beach while you’re in Dubrovnik then you’re in luck as it’s home to several beautiful beaches including Lapad Beach, which is a  sandy beach area on the Lapad Peninsula, just a short way from the old town, Banje Beach, which is a pebble beach with a great central location.  There are two part to this beach: one with an entrance fee, and a public part – take the paid option for something a little quieter.  Finally you can also take a ferry to Lokrum Island,  it takes just 10 minutes by boat – but be careful as the last ferry is at 8pm during summer. There are a number of charter agencies too – so if you feel like sailing the coastline in a yacht – head to the harbour!
If you intend to drive into the city from the airport with your car hire, then take advantage of the wheels and head into the Croatian countryside that surrounds Dubrovnik – a drive over the coastline is sure to unravel some fascinating treasures, lost beaches and intriguing villages.

King’s Day in Amsterdam

King’s Day in Amsterdam

This year mark’s the first King’s day (Koningsdag) in the Netherlands’ – now taking the place of what was the annual Queen’s day, which, celebrated since 1885 on the 31st of August and later on the 30th April to coincide with the appropriate monarch’s birthday, is a nationwide celebration of the King’s or Queen’s birthday. This year the celebrations will be held on Saturday the 26th of April and will see the people of Amsterdam head to the streets, the canals, the parks and everywhere in-between to help Amsterdam become a giant party of colour, alcohol and flamboyance.

There’s an awful lot that happens during King’s day – not just merriment, there’s also a free market or vrijmarkt, which give everyone the opportunity to head to the streets of the city to sell their wares – expect second hand goods and homemade foods to take centre stage. The celebrations that last the entire night are of course the main event – with all night club nights, gigs and street celebrations. Perhaps the best place to head is to one of Amsterdam’s canals where you’ll find literally thousands of brightly decorated boats all packed into the narrow waters with streams of revellers dancing and drinking in celebration. Even the bridges are packed out on King’s Day – head to one to watch the boats slowly bustle by and join in the fun.

One thing you’ll notice when you’re there is the vast armies of orange-wearing people. Orange is of course the national colour and Amsterdammers don’t mind donning it when the occasion presents itself. You’ll find plenty of markets in the city selling costumes and orange Amsterdam t-shirts – in particular around Waterlooplein and Vondelpark,  just incase you find your wardrobe is bereft of the right colours. If you want to experience one of the huge concerts in the city then head to Museumplein or Rembrandtplein, though if you want something a little more chilled out, then head to the urban oasis of Vondelpark or to one of the (few) open museums which often put on special events.

King’s day isn’t limited to Amsterdam of course – just head to any of Holland’s city such as Rotterdam or Utrecht  and you are sure to find a party as well as lots and lots of orange.

SONGKRAN: New Year in Thailand

SONGKRAN: New Year in Thailand

There are a lot of things that Thailand just gets very very such as the paradise beaches found at places like Koh Kood, Phuket and Krabi or the wonderful views afforded over the jungle in Chiang Mai and the delicious foods that set your taste buds alight. But where Thailand truly excels is in it’s new year celebrations – Songkran this year starts on the 13th of April so there’s still time to book tickets!

The festival turns the streets of Thailand into a water-based battleground for what is easily the worlds largest water fight. You will be soaking wet as families perform drive by soakings from their cars, you’ll get buckets of water over your head as you head onto the street and feel the colds explosion of water-bombs on your back as you try to escape, but the best way to enjoy it is grab a water gun and join in. Thailand’s new year festivities are enjoyed anywhere from 2 days to up to a week – so check the dates of celebrations around the country – we suggest heading to Chiang Mai in Northern Thailand which has some of the best celebrations in the country.

The ancient traditions associated with Songkran are of still observed too such as when the younger Thais pour scented water over the hands of their elders in a ceremony known as rod nam dum hua – in a bid to gain their blessings. Another part of the celebrations is to release birds and fish from captivity and one of the best places to see this is by heading to Phra Pradaeng in Phuket where the winner of the Miss Songkran beauty contest is given the responsibility of letting the first of the fish go free. However, celebrations happen all over the country – from Khao San Road and Banglamphu (which generally has a nice mix of performances to enjoy) in Bangkok to the islands of Koh Chang and Koh Phangan.

However we think that the best place to join in the revelry is in Chiang Mai, where in addition to the pandemonium of the water fights that are generally centred around the moats of the city, you’ll have a chance to be witness to the enthralling Songkran procession of Buddha images and floats that pass through the town as well as celebrations around all the city’s temples that include offerings of food. But for those that just want to get to the fun, or ‘sanook’, you’ll find literally thousands of people ready for the fight!

A Weekend in Istanbul

A Weekend in Istanbul

The capital of Turkey, Istanbul is the urban home to a maze of palaces and bazaars, perfect to lose yourself in amongst intoxicating scents and mesmerising sights. The Byzantine churches and Ottoman mosques in the city provide a striking backdrop to escapes in the city, a city where romance is heightened as the sun sets behind the Blue Mosque, casting shimmers of light over the sea.  These days though, a wealth of trendy bars, clubs and restaurants have sprung up around the city – making Istanbul the ultimate destination city for throngs of travellers – both young and old.

There’s a lot to see in Istanbul,  but if you’re heading to Istanbul for a weekend then make sure that you see the Sultanahmet old city district – which is home to the Blue Mosque, the Tokapi palace and the former Greek Orthodox basilica Hagia Sophia, to name but a few. Another must see here is the underground Basilica Cistern – one of the cities most romantic attractions. This sixth century construction once brought water to Istanbul from Thrace in the Balkans but is now an enchanting underground maze of Byzantine intrigue. The soft notes of classical music that plays inside compliments the beautiful interior excellently, itself made up of some 336 columns and plinths scavenged from ruined buildings from eras past. Look out for the two columns that are supported by Medusa heads (relics from the Roman Empire) – one upside down and the other on its side, and the ghost-like fish that have found their home in the water lining the cistern.

Nightlife in Istanbul is on the rise – and it’s one of the most eclectic parts of city life – you can catch a live band at the notorious Babylon or the student favourite Araf, which has it’s own resident Gypsy band, or dine and dance in the ultra-chic Ulus 29, but if you just want a good place to dance into the early hours – then head to the Indigo club, which generally has an impressive roster of guest DJ’s. An ideal way to spend an evening in Istanbul is to take a trip through time, on an evening cruise on the Bosphorous – travelling past the Old City and to the new – you’ll pass under vast lit bridges and see castles, palaces and the opulence of the beautiful Ottoman villas that jewel the coasts of the two continents.

Istanbul is quickly gaining in popularity – many new bars, clubs and hotels are springing up around the city and it’s quickly becoming a firm favourite with travellers the world over – but it still retains the charm and grandeur that first made it appealing – 2014 is a perfect time to head to Istanbul to see the transition in action.

The Oxford-Cambridge Boat Race

The Oxford-Cambridge Boat Race

The Boat Race between Oxford University Boat Club and Cambridge University Boat Club is a much loved annual event that takes place on the River Thames at the beginning of April. First launched in 1829, the race now attracts thousands of visitors who all hunt for great spots to watch along the River Thames and its bridges.

Whether you’re just visiting England or you’re a resident – you really should make it your mission to catch at least one of these exhilarating events This year, the race falls on Sunday April the 6th and  the four and a quarter mile course that runs from Putney to Mortlake is littered with great places to watch from. Just a little down river from Putney bridge, you’ll find spectators in droves hoping to catch the two teams as they warm up – and ultimately begin the race, while The Dove Pub or the Old Ship pub are nice places to head for both views of the race and for a nice light refreshment. Elsewhere in Bishop’s Park there will be a ‘Boat Race in the Park’ event with screens showing the race, beer tents, food and live music or you could simply head to the banks of the (usually very crowded) Thames with friends and a bottle or two of wine and find a spot of your own.

It doesn’t matter if you have no particular allegiance to either team – as this is a social event as much as anything, though if you’re wondering who to shout for, then consider the facts: Oxford have won 77 races to Cambridge’s 81 – so perhaps the underdogs Oxford would appreciate the moral support.

 

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