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Archive for the ‘Travel of the Week’ Category

A few weeks back I mentioned attending the STA Australia event. They filmed us asking various questions about Australia, and now the lovely Claire has our answers! Check it out, but listen closely. Claire talks really quickly.

Not exactly a Travel ARTICLE technically, but some helpful information about Oz, and a TAW is way overdue.

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Black Tomato recently released a pretty cool old-school newsletter with loads of great tips on where to travel and what to do when you’re there.

There’s some pretty nice, upmarket hotels that maybe not all of us can afford, but it’s a great way to get some inspiration for your next holiday!

I really recommend looking at it, even if you’re not looking to travel right now, I just love the design!

Download it here

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I’m sure I’ve mentioned this before, but at my work I get to write about all these crazy travel experiences that we organise for our clients, and some of them are AMAZING. I love getting to write about it all, but it also just makes me really jealous.

Our big publicity trip at the moment is this weekend away in Morocco where participants get to climb the Atlas Mountains with Bear Grylls (of ‘Man vs. Wild’ fame). No big deal. Leave the office on Thursday, come back on Monday…. “So McPhee, what did you do this weekend?” “Oh, I climbed this mountain with Bear, it was fun I suppose.” “Bear who?” “Bear Grylls, I think he has a television show or something… I don’t know.” Unreal. Of course, it costs around £6,000 but you are spending the weekend at a lux hotel called Tigmi and there’s the whole climbing a mountain with a (rather attractive if you ask me…but you didn’t…) celebrity. Check it out here.

I’ve been to Morocco before, just for a few days in Marrakech and it was fantastic. If you are in Marrakech for a short break, there are few things not to be missed.

The Majorelle garden is a colourful, peaceful place to relax. The green plant life and bright blue paint separates this space from the red-walled city outside. The colours are really vibrant; I really felt like I wasn’t in Marrakech anymore. All the hectic bustle outside completely fades away, it was a nice break after a day at the markets.

Inside the city walls is the medina. This ancient town is a labyrinth of alleys. In the souks – the old market, stalls sell goods like handmade leather items and beautiful jewelry, and you can see vibrantly coloured pyramids of spices. Behind corners, family run medicine stores sell natural herbal remedies to cure any ailment. I bought a cream for my mother’s eczema and apparently it worked miracles.

If you are shopping in the souks, don’t be afraid to haggle; sometimes the best way to get a bargain is to walk away and watch the salesmen run after you! I got really into the haggling…my Scottish family has taught me how to get a good deal. I bought these two leather suitcases for my friends who were there with me. I think I paid less than half the original price for one…and got two. I also got an awesome handmade leather belt that I love plus way too much other stuff.

In the evening, after you hear the call to prayer from the Koutoubia Mosque, head to Djemaa el Fna. After sunset, the square fills with the steam of cooking food made by the best chefs in Marrakech, according to themselves… Grab some supper and see the snake charmers, musicians and storytellers; it can all feel like something out of Arabian Nights. Me and the girls were worried about going on our own with no men around; we were a little overwhelmed sometimes with how aggressive the local men could be, but then we met a few young German guys at our hotel so we all went together. It was amazing, and I am so happy I didn’t miss out on it. At the beginning of the year, the NY Times did an article about the food in Marrakech focusing on the Djemaa el Fna. It’s worth a read and is already making me hungry. May be appropriate that I had cous cous for lunch today…

If exploring ancient ruins is your thing, then visit the remains of El-Badi Palace. Once covered in gold and marble, the walls are now bare and crumbling. But you can climb to the top of the walls to get amazing views over the city, or crawl underneath into the labyrinth prison where the king kept his prisoners. Just don’t get lost…

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Sorry for the gap in postings, I’ve been dealing with getting a new job and moving house all in the same week but I’ll try to get back to regular posts.

For now, this post doesn’t actually include an article so it’s probably cheating calling it the Travel Article of the Week, but it IS about somewhere I’ve never been. I personally spent this week writing about Mexico, so here is some information from what I learned in the last few days.

The only thing I’ve ever associated with Mexico is immigrants coming into the US, tequila, MTV Spring Break…and not much else. Not the case.

One hotel that I wrote about last week- Las Ventanas – has a Department of Romance to create your own personal holiday for two, ideals for honeymooners or just an escape with your love. One of the suggestions that the DoR had was to hire your own personal Mexican Caballero to ride up on his white horse to your private picnic dinner on the beach where he would present your partner with an engagement ring, or whatever else. Or you could take a horse-drawn carriage ride with a picnic meal through the Mexican deserts. The list goes on, literally – if you can imagine it, this place makes it happen. And I won’t even go on about the hotel itself which is the height of luxury. I know this sounds like a cheap plug but trust me I have nothing to do with Las Ventanas hotel, I was just completely blown away by the degree of luxury provided at this place. You could have a private lift to your room where you also had a private chef and butler on call just for you whenever you need it. What?!

My other favourite, for a totally different reason, was Hotel Basico. This place is really quirky and cutting-edge. Definitely caters to a younger crowd, closer to my age, and I would definitely go here could I afford it (although I think it was on the lower end of the price range compared to the other places I was writing about). The rooms kind of look like they’re in an observation tank from the outside although you can put blinds over the windows. Each room comes with a Polaroid camera and it’s own random decorations like massive tires and vintage Coco-Cola paraphernalia. The roof top pools by the bar are actually old petroleum tanks that were cut and filled with water. I’m not sure I would be cool enough to stay, even the website has an exclusive feel to it, like if you’re not good enough to figure out the site then don’t bother coming here.

As it happens, one of my evenings was centred around the Hispanic-Latino vibe as well when I attended salsa dance lessons last Thursday. Although I think salsa has its roots in Cuba possibly, but I’m not sure.
But last Thursday I went to Salsa! on Charing Cross Road with my friends Robin and Olly who go every week. I had wanted to go, although the exterior did not make me feel confident about my decision. The outside looks a little gaudy with poorly coloured neon lights and a rather cheesy sign. But once inside down in the basement, this place is actually not bad. With a bar, some tables and a somewhat small dance floor, the place has just the right atmosphere for an underground dance club. As a beginner I learnt my steps in the centre of the dance floor with the teacher on a mic up on stage where a live band would perform later. I had a surprisingly good time and would definitely think about going again. £8 for two hours of lessons is pretty reasonable in my opinion and I’d say it was worth the money spent! Later on, after the two hours of lessons is over, it becomes a salsa dance club with live music, drinking and dancing, and I believe that if you show up later then you have to pay a cover. So until I go again I’ll be practicing my 1, 2, 3, 4’s in the privacy of my room.

UPDATE 14/09/2009: Hotel article is up, check it out!

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I know that my last Travel Article of the Week featured Scotland, and I promise I will branch out, but I wanted to stick to the Scottish theme for one more week for two reasons.

First – regarding my post last week about Glasgow trying to get ‘Protected Designation of Origin’ status for chicken tikka masala. The issue actually got quite heated with different groups of Indians claiming it as their own (click here for the article in The Telegraph). A chef who is a descendent of Indians from the Mughal period claims that the tikka masala dish has been passed through the generations for hundreds of years. A food expert says the dish is about 50 years old and has its roots in Punjab. Who knows! But this is just more reason why MP Sarwar should stop wasting time over something so silly. If there hadn’t been such a big fuss about it, Glaswegians could have happily gone on claiming it as their own invention with little challenge and everyone would be happy. Oh well.

Second – On to the new topic of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. About an hour by train from Glasgow, Edinburgh is a much smaller city. I happen to be partial to Glasgow but I will admit that Edinburgh has a certain old world charm to it. The Royal Mile and the Edinburgh castle are both beautiful sites to see. Unfortunately, if you walk the other way down the Royal Mile you come to the Scottish Parliament building which is perhaps one of the biggest eyesores in Britain. Sorry, but it is.

Every August, Edinburgh puts on the biggest arts festival in the world with singing, dancing, theatre, comedy and much more including some very entertaining street performers. Even if you don’t have tickets to see any of the evening shows, you can walk up and down the Royal Mile enjoying the dozens of street acts then find a place in one of the crowded pubs or restaurants – it’s quite likely that you’ll get a mini-performance here too as acts go around promoting their shows with songs and short versions of their plays.

I’ve attended the festival a couple of times myself. I saw a low budget versian of ‘A Chorus Line’ my first time there, I’ve seen singers, a man juggle basketballs while ride a unicycle and a couple of comedians. I once saw a guy swallow a massive sword…yummy

This piece in The Guardian gives some locals tips on how to go about your festival holiday. I’d say the tips in that link are pretty good. I definitely agree that the more people you talk to the better. The Scots are a very friendly chatty group of people and they’ll be happy to share what they know with you!

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For the last few days, I have been in my family’s home city of Glasgow, Scotland to see my oldest cousin get married in my first traditional Scottish wedding. It was fantastic and I wish them all the best, especially while they enjoy their honeymoon in Mexico.

While the focus was on my family and the wedding, it was hard to avoid talking about all that great Scottish food. My parents, flying in from the States, are much more deprived of British treats than myself since it is pretty easy to get almost everything in London that you can get in Glasgow.

But let’s take a look at the food Scotland is known for these days. First, the TAW (Travel Article of the Week) talking about a Scottish invention, the Chicken Tikka Masala. Okay, this isn’t a TRAVEL article, but Scottish food has been on my mind lately, and if you’re ever traveling to Scotland, surely you will want to know what the traditional dishes are!

I think most British people are aware these days that this ‘Indian’ dish has never set foot in India or any other Asian country for that matter and was in fact made by Asian immigrants in the UK trying to make their native dishes appealing to western palates.
But now, one MP has gone further and is trying to get Protected Designation of Origin status for the curry. It is suggested that the dish was invented in a West End Indian restaurant in Glasgow. I know that Scotland is very proud of all the things it has invented, but I’m not sure if putting a motion through the House of Commons about Chicken Tikka Masala is the best use of any MPs time.
Just a thought. Here’s the article.

Another MP, Kerry McCarthy mentions it on her blog and there are a few interesting comments, particularly pointing out the cost of things like this. I think that those commenters may feel the same way I do – makes for an interesting news article, but not a great way to spend your time when you are being paid by the public perhaps? McCarthy says, “I think it falls into the category of things that you know perfectly well you’re not going to achieve, but you’re going to have some fun in the meantime.” Read her blog here. True statement I imagine, but is having fun what MPs are supposed to do? Don’t we have other problems that should be more time consuming? Like…unemployment for instance? Okay fine, I happen to be unemployed and rather apathetic to tikka masala’s protection status so my opinion may be biased…

I personally prefer a more spicy curry instead of the mild taste of tikka masala, a preference probably solidified by spending six months eating food covered in red chilli flakes in Southeast Asia. But, I do find it interesting that an Indian inspired dish is one of the most popular meals in all of Britain. I won’t try to prove here that Britain is a place where all cultures mix harmoniously and nobody cares what colour your skin is because I’d be fooling myself and you, but the popularity of this curry must say something about how much eastern cultures have changed and influenced our own ‘western’ ways, right?

This post is supposed to be about Scottish food, so lets move on. My parents and I ate haggis, sausage rolls, Scotch pies and sticky toffee pudding, all of which I associate with Scotland although some may just be British. Sausage rolls are my personal favourite and I buy them for £1.49 for two, at Greggs just down the road from my house in London.

My American friends all think haggis, along with black pudding, is strange and rather disgusting, but I think they just haven’t given them a chance. Haggis has become a sophisticated dish these days apparently. At a lunch in Princes Square my mum and dad both had ‘Haggis Gâteaux’ and then later that night at Mitchells for dinner, my dad and I enjoyed a ‘Haggis Tower.’ My dad believes the Princes Square lunch haggis was better, I enjoyed tasting both; they were more or less the same dish. I didn’t know haggis could be included in such a fancy menu item however, and it just goes to show you how far it has come. If you’re really interested there is a whole list of Scottish food complete with descriptions here.

I think my winner for highest fat and sugar content might have to be the deep fried Mars bar. I always thought this was an urban legend, I had heard about these things, but never once in my life had I seen it appear on a menu. Until Dublin. I was under the impression that this pudding was traditionally Scottish as well, but while visiting a friend in Dublin, Ireland over a year ago, I discovered the deep fried Mars bar on a pub menu. Obviously I ordered it. Just try to imagine a warm Mars bar, soft enough to melt in your mouth, covered in hot, crunchy, sweet, fried dough, accompanied by a cold scoop of ice cream. I’m pretty sure that covered my caloric intake for the entire weekend.

This is getting rather lengthy so I’ll end it here by asking what your favourite British food is? My vote is definitely for the sausage roll, as long as it’s hot and the pastry is flaky. Although I do like a good fish and chips once in awhile. Preferably wrapped in newspaper with tartare sauce for the fish and chips drowning in vinegar. And they wonder why the Brits are getting fatter these days… Is there such a thing as a healthy British meal??

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Going Back in Time in Old England, Sip by Sip
New York Times: Henry Shukman

Since I can’t always be traveling myself and I sometimes need inspiration when trying to think of what to write about next about the place I am living in, I’ve decided to add this weekly posting to my blog.

I’ve just returned to the UK and will be finding things to write about concerning this country, and especially London, so I thought I’d start with a New York Times article on England and the English pub. The article starts by pointing out England’s difficulty in defining its culture, and what better way to define English culture than by its pubs. Old English pubs are a dying breed, but check out this article for some recommendations and a story of one man’s tour through some English establishments including the Hook Norton Brewery in the beautiful Cotswolds villages of England.

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