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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.

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.

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