Around the Planet

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Keith Floyd – a man who made a natural marriage of travel and cooking

September 18th, 2009 by Carol Ferndale · No Comments

I first had the pleasure of meeting Keith Floyd when I was living in Kyoto, Japan. I was in my lounge, a six-mat tatami room graced with a 29-inch Victor TV which appeared almost oversized in the tiny room, but is pretty commonplace in Japan, where tiny rooms and huge tellies are the norm. I was tuned to NHK, and it was an unremarkable stiflingly hot Kyoto summer day. But through the sultry heat I suddenly heard refined English tones, and glancing in the direction of big Victor, I caught my first sight of Keith Floyd. This was the point where I first came face to face with this great cook.

Keith Floyd was in Australia as I recall, and was showing us a rather nifty way of heating up a steak under the bonnet of a jeep. Probably what I was seeing was the last episode of Floyd on Oz. I made sure I didn’t miss the same slot the following week, and was rewarded with Far Flung Floyd, which I watched avidly week after week, as he created delicious dishes in Hong Kong, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam, with his delightful aromas gently wafting through the TV screen into my little Japanese room – well, that’s how it seemed anyway.

Forget boring kitchens - the cooking was often outdoors, and frequently involved great quantities of mouth watering coconut milk, making for a great sauce along with the lemongrass, coriander and other delights. And the programmes were not just about cooking, but about travel and people too. At one point Floyd was shown sitting behind the pilots in the cockpit as they painstakingly negotiated their way down into Hong Kong’s Kai Tak Airport, greasing a wing against a skyscraper here and there. Flying into Kai Tak, as Floyd mentioned, is like flying into the mouth of a dragon.

And it wasn’t just about putting ingredients together, but about shopping, eating and enjoying too, with trips to the local markets to buy spices, and Floyd and local people tucking into the food after the cooking.

Floyd created dishes with irrepressible gusto, and frequently seemed to hijack the direction of the filming, telling the camera crew where to focus, and what to get a shot of. You were never bored with Floyd, who would frequently toast his audience with a glass of wine. You felt like you were right there with him. He was like a good friend that you could have a laugh with.

Cooking with Floyd was about enjoying, experiencing, and learning something new, which is very much what travel is about. I’d never become glued to a cookery programme before, or avidly followed a cookery series, and I don’t believe I ever have since.

Latterly Floyd lived in Provence, another favourite haunt of mine, and he couldn’t have picked a better place to complement his love of good food and wine.

He will be sadly missed. He certainly will be missed by me.

→ No CommentsTags: General

Lowlands 2009 - A Campingflight to Lowlands Paradise

August 10th, 2009 by Carol Ferndale · No Comments

Keane at Lowlands 2004

If you couldn’t get tickets for the Reading or Leeds Festivals, then you might be pleased to hear that there are still tickets available for Lowlands 2009 in the Netherlands. Another plus for the Lowlands is that all the stages are under cover, ie: in tents, which is great if rolling around in the mud is not quite your thing. Given the fact that the summer around northern Europe has been pretty much rain, rain, rain, a festie in tents sounds perfect.

At the Lowlands you haven’t just got alternative music, pop, rock, dance, and hip hop, but also stand-up comedy, theatre, street theatre, and movies. The festival goes under the full and rather strange name of A Campingflight to Lowlands Paradise, and has been described as being the Dutch version of Glastonbury, attracting some 60,000 aficionados every year to see over 200 acts on more than ten stages.

Lowlands started in Utrecht, but now takes place at Biddinghuizen, next to the Walabi World amusement park. This year Lowlands is happening over 21-23 August with a stunning line up, including Sheffield’s own Arctic Monkeys, Leeds lads the Kaiser Chiefs, and Leicester alt rock band Kasabian. There’ll be electropop with Little Boots, English indie band The Maccabees, alt rockers Maxïmo Park, and some high energy sounds with The Prodigy. There will be Dizzee Rascal, Razorlight, Enter Shikari, Vampire Weekend, and also Reverend and the Makers, who are playing at a fair number of the UK’s summer festivals this year, and have thus far been very well received. There’s some American garage sounds with Eagles of Death Metal, and that spiky guitar stuff with Bloc Party. The stunning and inimitable Grace Jones will also be there. But there is even more than this – just take a look at the program.

Tickets for Lowlands 2009 are 150 euros, and that includes camping and a shuttle bus from the railway station. If you’re not so keen on camping given the wet summer we’ve been having at this end of Europe, then you could always go up the luxury end of the market and rent a PodPad, which in case you didn’t know is a cute little wooden hut which is actually a bit more like a tent than a hut, but certainly keeps you dry.

And of course Lowlands is not just about music – there’s theatre, movies, and comedy in both English and Dutch. There will also be visual arts, and even literature events. The whole thing promises to be a real feast of enjoyment, and if you need to wet your whistle at any time of the day or night there is even a 24 hour pub. The festival is sponsored by Grolsch, so you may well find a bottle or two of their excellent brew around the place.

The tents housing the performances are pretty spacious, with the largest one covering an area the size of a football pitch, so no worries about all being crammed in.

So if you head for Lowlands 2009 you can’t go wrong, and the fact that it’s taking place in one of the coolest countries on the planet just makes it even better.

→ No CommentsTags: Europe · Music · The Netherlands

Coldplay at the Palace

February 15th, 2009 by Carol Ferndale · 1 Comment

Coldplay. Crystalspman, Wikimedia Commons.

Coldplay, the world’s biggest-selling musical act for 2008, have confirmed that they will do a gig in the UAE for the first time as part of their current world tour. They’ve certainly chosen an impressive venue, none other than the Emirates Palace, Abu Dhabi. This will be the final stop on the world tour for their critically acclaimed fourth album, ‘Viva Le Vida’ which has earned the band three Grammys.

Emirates Palace is an experience in itself, being a magnificent structure on the shores of the Gulf with its own 1.3 kilometre stretch of private beach. Emirates Palace is more than just a hotel - it is fast becoming the cultural hub of the UAE, and over the past year has hosted performances from names such as Bon Jovi, Justin Timberlake, Shakira, Christina Aguilera and Elton John.

Speaking on behalf of Live Nation (Middle East), co-promoters of Coldplay live in Abu Dhabi, Elissa Murtaza, Managing Director commented, ‘Coldplay’s debut performance in the Middle East is set to attract one of the biggest attendances in the UAE. Regional fans of the band have waited a long time for this show and they won’t be disappointed. With limited tickets available this is definitely the concert of the year and is not to be missed!’.

Those wanting to catch Coldplay at this one-off gig had better be quick - the concert is predicted to sell out of its 15,000 tickets in record time.

Tickets go on sale 15th February 2009 and are available on www.timeouttickets.com, www.ticketingboxoffice.com and www.boxofficeme.com. A limited amount of offline tickets will be available from Virgin Megastores in UAE.

→ 1 CommentTags: Music · United Arab Emirates

Travel Republic offer discounts to those unwelcome at Activities Abroad

February 7th, 2009 by Carol Ferndale · 22 Comments

Calis Beach. By Carol Ferndale.

If you feel that your given name makes you unwelcome with holiday firm Activities Abroad (if you’re not up to speed with this, see my previous post Green adventure holiday company claims its holidays are “chav-free”), then Travel Republic are welcoming you with a cool 10% discount on your holiday, which in these times of economic doom and gloom will help ease the pressure on the coffers.

In response to Alistair McLean’s proud boast that people with names such as Britney, Kylie, Bianca, Tiffany, Dazza, Chardonnay, Chantelle, Candice, Courtney and Shannon do not go on an Activities Abroad holiday, you may well not want to book with that company if your name is one of the above.

Online travel giant Travel Republic has slammed Activities Abroad for its snobby stance on names, with managing director Paul Furner saying: “For a business to come out publicly, with such blatantly biased and offensive comments, and to describe their holidays as ‘chav free’, is simply outrageous.

“We actively encourage bookings from everyone, irrespective of their name and its perceived social standing.

“In fact we’re delighted to have 1600 Shannons, 1100 Courtneys, 600 Chantelles, 500 Kylies, 400 Tiffanys, 300 Candices and 200 Britneys on our database, and to have two Candices, a Chantelle and a Dazza among our staff.”

In an attempt to offer some comfort to those affected by the blatant insult from Alistair McLean, Travel Republic is offering a 10% discount on hotel bookings made by customers with one of the ten names identified by Activities Abroad. You’ll have to be quick because the offer ends at midnight on Wednesday February 11th. To take advantage of the discount, you need to enter the Promotional Code DAZZA when booking.

Well done, Travel Republic – a company I would be happy to take a holiday with.

→ 22 CommentsTags: General

Green adventure holiday company claims its holidays are “chav-free”

February 1st, 2009 by Carol Ferndale · 8 Comments

Stereotypical British Chav, by J.J. Wikimedia Commons.

Shakespeare once asked, “What’s in a name?” Well, quite a lot if we are to believe one company, as it seems that a fine row has been kicked off in the travel world by holiday company Activities Abroad claiming that the trips it offers are “chav-free”.

For anybody not familiar with the word, “chav” denotes a certain stereotype of young person in the UK, somebody clad in branded sportswear and baseball cap (often Burberry), with bling jewellery, and into hip-hop. It is often implied that this person is a bit aggressive, and I have actually heard the term “chav” used to describe anybody of an aggressive persuasion, tracksuited or not, young or old, and regardless of taste in music. But back to the main point.

It seems that it all started when someone at Activities Abroad read an article in that eloquent rag The Daily Mail about teachers stereotyping children (on the Times Educational Supplement website no less), according to their names, with the dear teachers dreading certain names such as Dwayne, Shane, Paige and Britney, which they believe indicate troublesome children.

This was all in the wake of research which suggested that pupils’ names are linked to their exam success, with children that have supposedly “middle-class” names such as Katherine and Duncan being up to eight times more likely to pass GCSE’s (exams taken at age 16), than children with names such as Wayne and Dwayne.

This prompted the guys at Activities Abroad to run the set of names purportedly associated with “chavs” through its database, and I imagine that they mopped the sweat off their delicate little brows when they found that no Britneys, Dazzas, Biancas, Chardonnays or Candices had ever been on any of their trips, but plenty of Johns, Sarahs, James’s, Charlottes and Lucys had.

In celebration of this fact they sent out an email to the 24,000 people on their database claiming their holidays to be “chav-free”, signing off with the words, “Nuff said, innit?”.

But Activities Abroad hadn’t reckoned on the power of the blogosphere, and the stinking prejudice really hit the fan when one of the recipients of the email posted it on her blog. Margaret of A Different Voice had previously had a fantastic holiday with Activities Abroad inside the Arctic Circle in some of the beautiful wilderness of northern Finland, but felt sure that she would not be holidaying with Activities Abroad again, and has had her name removed from their database.

Alistair McLean, founder of Activites Abroad who authorised the email, has added his comments to Margaret’s post, saying “… I simply feel it is time the middle classes stood up for themselves.

“We work hard to make a decent home and life for our families and we pay our taxes to contribute to our society and economy. Unfortunately, everybody else in our society seems to take from us whether it is incompetent bankers or the shell suited urchins who haunt our street corners.

“Last year Activities Abroad paid: corporation tax, income tax, PAYE, national insurance contributions, VAT and contributed to Aids projects in South Africa and other charitable organisations. We make a positive contribution to our economy and watch it all be frittered away by people who simply can’t be bothered (”bovvered”).

“So regardless of whether it is class warfare or not I make no apology for proclaiming myself to be middle class and a genuine contributor to our society.”

I’m not sure how  stigmatising people with certain names has anything to do with standing up for anybody – bullying people more like.

Does Alistair really believe that it is only people such as himself who work hard and want a decent life for their families? What about nurses, teachers, firefighters, factory workers, office workers and other people? Are incompetent bankers the type of people he had in mind when he ran the set of names through his database? I’ll keep my eyes open for shell suited bankers hanging around on street corners in future.

Further on in the comments of A Different Voice is the following comment from a lady named Candice:

“Speaking as a Candice myself, I would like to say the following:

“I own my own business, have a Post Graduate Degree an Undergraduate Degree, 4 A-Levels, an Advanced Diploma in Life Skills, a Diploma in Performance Coaching, GCSE’s, speak French and Italian and drive a Merc. Happy slap that you idiot.

“How dare you define and typecast people by their name. I work with the NSPCC and produce communication tools on preventing bullying behaviour and child protection. We aim to help kids grow up in a safe environment regardless of their background. It is hard enough for kids this day and age without applying more prejudice because of their name.

“Your response was also shocking customer service saying that you would not apologise for your views even though you have offended and upset people. 11 it may stand at the moment, but perhaps the others just deleted your message in disgust.

“Shame on you!”

The poor beleaguered Mr McLean has now even been interviewed on Radio 5 Live, saying, “All this publicity has stemmed from one blog written by one person,” – more power to the blogosphere, eh?

The Northumberland-based Activities Abroad, which claims to promote responsible and green tourism, offers trips such as dog sledding, searching for the northern lights in Lapland, and white water rafting in Slovenia. Just the sort of holiday I would go for in fact, but they have truly shot themselves in the foot with this ill-advised little episode.

So what does the word chav really mean? Is it people who dress up in sportswear and baseball caps? The only person I know who fits the sportswear stereotype is one of the most kind and helpful people I know – very public spirited, helps his neighbours – all things I would have thought Alistair McLean might value, (or claim to value). Does it mean working class? Well, if working class means anyone who has to go out and work for a living, then most working class people, (eg: careworkers, call centre workers, shop assistants, health workers, IT geeks, and just about everyone), actually don’t really fit the sportswear-and-gold-jewellry stereotype. I once heard somebody use the term to describe an aggressive bully - her boss in fact. Obviously the term “chav” means different things to different people.

The term chav has so often been used in a derisory and undeserved way in recent years that some writers have happily claimed the name for themselves - for example columnist Julie Burchill has described herself as a chav and feels that anybody who uses the term is really saying far more about themselves than about other people. I would say this is definitely so in the case of Mr McLean.

Political journalist Pat Stack has also claimed the title, though I am inclined to think that most people would not regard the rather patrician Mr Stack as such. But never mind, Pat, it’s the thought that counts.

For anybody who enjoys reading a juicy online debate I highly recommend the comments over at A Different Voice for this post, which cover a lot of angles bringing in everything from newspapers to natural selection, from lists of achievements to torrents of abuse that have had to be partially deleted. To his credit Alistair McLean handles the debate himself, but there is a bit of a mystery: why does he feel he knows so much about “street corner kids” and their aspirations? McLean does give the impression that he somehow feels himself to be under fire from all sides, which is an attitude frequently found with small business people, who do not possess the power and influence of the big corporations, and often feel that they are being hammered tax-wise.

Regardless of how we feel about Mr McLean and his views, his foolishness with the email provides a great lesson in how not to run a travel business, or any business where you are offering a service to customers, and that is not to use your customer base as an audience for the airing of your own personal gripes. If what you have on offer appeals to a wide range of people, your customers and potential customers may well have different views. If you offend people, they will quite happily take their custom to your competitors.

A lot of the debate has focussed on whether certain behaviour is acceptable or not, and I am among the first to condemn mindless aggressive behaviour when I come across it. In this case it is clear that the only person who has indulged in a bit of brainless aggro is Mr McLean himself. Let’s hope we don’t run into him on any street corners.

Nuff said, innit?

→ 8 CommentsTags: General

Ankara - where East meets West

December 2nd, 2008 by Carol Ferndale · 3 Comments

Standing famously at the crossroads of East and West, and established over 3,000 years ago, Ankara is a city truly steeped in history, and offering a fine blend of Eastern and Western culture. If you are feeling the pinch of the credit crunch, yet yearning for a city break, the plethora of cheap hotels in Ankara, makes a trip to this exciting city affordable.

The city first came into being because it was at the intersection of two major trade routes, and having been under Hittite, Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman influence, before finally becoming the capital of the new Turkish Republic, Ankara has both a European and an Asian feel, with plenty to see and do.

Located on top of a hill in the Old City, the Ankara Citadel has had changes made to it by all the different peoples who have had influence here. Athough the foundations were laid by the Galatians, the Romans, Byzantines and later the Seljuk added to the structure, making it a fine and interesting piece of architecture. Nearby you will find the Museum of Anatolian Civilisation which houses a great archaeological collection that takes you through the history of the city. Other museums here are the Ethnographical Museum, the Painting and Sculpture Museum, Museum of Liberation, Museum of Republic, Presidential Mansion museum, and the Natural History Museum.

A must see of Ankara is Anitkabir, the mausoleum of Ataturk, which also comprises a museum showcasing the belongings of Ataturk and an exhibition of photographs related to the life of Ataturk and Turkey’s freedom struggle.

The Temple of Augusts is a temple dedicated to Emperor Augustus, and dates back to the 2nd century BC.

Ankara is a university town, and with that comes all the culture and nightlife that you expect of university towns the world over. Just walk down the streets of Kizilay and Sakarya and you will find bars, cafes, eateries and bookshops full of brightly dressed students. Being a capital city, the place has a very cosmopolitan feel, and you will find all nationalities here.

So if you are tempted to head for this fine city you will find accommodation available of all types from posh hotels to plenty of cheap hotels in Ankara.

→ 3 CommentsTags: Asia · Budget accommodation · Europe · Hotels · Turkey

The sparkling city of Las Vegas

October 25th, 2008 by Carol Ferndale · 7 Comments

If you are looking for a city that is as bold as brass and a never-ending source of excitement and novelty, then take a look at Las Vegas, which has so much neon that its warm glow can actually be spotted from space. If you enjoy a bit of a flutter, then Las Vegas has everything from rows of slot machines, to sophisticated casinos where you can try your luck at the gaming tables.

However, if you thought that Las Vegas was all about gambling, you’d be wrong, there is loads more besides – the city has a fantastic array of sports on offer, fine and fashionable shops, some great theme parks, and wonderful fairground attractions, including rollercoasters and simulator rides. There is also tons of good entertainment that is inimitably Las Vegas with performers and bands from all over the world. There are fabulous nightclubs, and places where you can take in comedy, cabaret and music of just about every genre.

Not surprisingly, the glitz and endless nightlife of Las Vegas makes it a popular spot for stag and hen parties, but the city offers a lot for families as well, and children will love its many exciting attractions that make the whole city itself a bit of a funfair. There is nothing like walking down the vibrant Las Vegas strip where everything is going on. You can see replica skylines of Manhattan and Paris, with a mini-Eiffel Tower, and the pyramids of Luxor all lit up in multi-coloured lights. Walk down here and you feel like you are on a movie set - there is so much attention grabbing stuff.

Yet there is more to this city besides glitz, glamour, and bright lights. There are botanical gardens, a branch of the Smithsonian which showcases classical art and modern works, and there are exhibitions of natural history, anthropology and several automobile museums.

People tend to think of Las Vegas as the ultimate in urbanization, but in fact it is a city that is surrounded by wonderful natural wonders and beauty. From here you can take a helicopter ride over the Grand Canyon, take a look at the Hoover Dam, or visit many of the national parks that are nearby.

The city also has some spectacular hotels that are sights worth seeing in themselves. See The Bellagio with its beautiful fountains, the Venetian where you can glide on a gondola down the Grand Canal, or experience ancient Rome at Caesar’s Palace.

So how do you get the best deals at these snazzy hotels? The best deals are often found by booking directly with the hotel, and if you want to find the best discounts that are currently available you might take a look at Las Vegas Hotel Discounts which provides up-to-the-minute detailed listings of the promotions being offered by hotels on the Las Vegas Strip.

Good deals can be found at Luxor, where you can currently find a Luxor offer code that, in addition to low hotel rates, also gives you 25% off to see Comedian of the Year Carrot Top, and the fantastic performance Zumanity from the Cirque du Soleil. Booking this offer will also get you VIP admission to the luxurious state-of-the-art nightclub LAX and the thrilling rock nightclub Rok Vegas. The site is also good for spotting deals at your favourite casino. With the current slow-down in the economy the hotel and entertainment deals are just getting more and more irresistible.

So if you want to take some time out from the current economic woes that are gripping the planet, a trip to Las Vegas could be just the antidote you are looking for.

→ 7 CommentsTags: Hotels · North America · USA

An interview with David Rogers of Last Train to Lhasa

October 25th, 2008 by Carol Ferndale · 1 Comment

Following my post on David Rogers’ on-the-road travel blog Last Train to Lhasa, I was very happy to finally catch up with the man himself, who has just had a very hectic few months setting up his new web design company. We had a bit of a chat, and I asked David about some of the details of his trip, from good pubs to hostels, from favourite places to laptops, from jamming sessions to crashing wedding parties:

CF: Which was the best bar/pub you came across during the entire journey?

DR: I loved Sun Island Café in Dali, China. It is a chilled out place where they offered some beds in a basic room in the courtyard out the back. It is run by a group of Japanese who know how to put on a party, inviting their friends round with instruments every night for impromptu jamming sessions sat on the floor.

CF: Which places would you recommend for a good night out?

DR: We had some great nights out in Siem Reap and Phnom Penh in Cambodia. In Phnom Penh there are some good bars by the lakeside for early evening, and then people head off to the riverside for the late night bars. Siem Reap was a small place, so all the bars were within easy walking distance of each other.
Other highlights were Helsinki, Shanghai, Hong Kong and Bangkok – which was quite an experience.

CF: Are there any places that you would leave out next time, or that you wouldn’t recommend to other travellers?

DR: Battambang in Cambodia. The boat ride adventure was worth the trip alone I guess, but once there everything closes after 9pm on a Saturday. We ended up crashing a wedding party due to pure boredom. I was not too impressed with Hanoi, dut to the rudeness of the people, but the vibe of the city in general is worth the trip.

CF: How did this trip compare with others you have made?

DR: I did an eight month trip around South America four years ago. There is no way to compare them really - different cultures, different music, different everything. I can’t decide which trip I enjoyed the most.

CF: You seem to have met some characters on the Trans-Siberian and Trans-Manchurian railways. How would you rate the safety aspects of travelling on these railways? Any advice to offer people thinking of doing the same trip?

DR: I have met a lot of people who have done the Trans-Siberian railway. Most people had completely different experiences to us. In general it is safe as long as you don’t get into vodka sessions with large Russian mafia-looking guys. The carriages are safe as they double lock from the inside. We are still unsure how Alan kept getting into ours though! At the end of each carriage is an attendant - they can be moody but do not put up with any trouble.

CF: So did you go about getting the TEFL qualification you were thinking about? Or the NGO work, or continuing the web design work but from afar?

DR: I am working on getting the business on it’s feet before I consider the other options. I can work from afar doing this, but when I eventually get bored of it I will be looking at the other challenges listed.

CF: What sort of laptop did you take? Where did you mostly hook up to the internet? Was it usually easy to get online?

DR: I took a Dell XPS m1330. The screen packed up in Bangkok, so I left it with a friend and bought a Sony Vaio. Wifi was available in most places. Estonia, China and Vietnam had free Wifi in most places. Thailand surprisingly was shocking, and where there was Wifi it was expensive and poorly connected. Cambodia had a lot of places that had it after 7pm due to prices, (most are connected by satellite). Laos, forget it!

CF: Which websites did you find useful in planning and making the trip?

DR: Mainly Lonely Planet’s Thorn Tree, and the excellent Man in Seat 61 for the train planning.

CF: I understand from the blog that Hostelling International hostels are not your favourite! What do you think to Hostelling International hostels as opposed to hostels that do not come under this organisation?

DR: Too many rules and regulations, far too clean, far too similar to the next one, like the McDonald’s of hostels. You sometimes find a gem, but that is not the norm.

CF: You mention couchsurfing.com – how do you find it? Useful?

DR: I found it very useful when I went to Australia and used it a lot. You get to meet the locals and they can show you places a guide book can’t. You always have a group of new friends every time you use it!

CF: Were there any guidebooks that you found particularly useful or would recommend?

DR: I used lonely Planet’s South East Asia on a Shoestring. Unfortunately it was a three year old edition which was a little out of date. The new one came out towards the end of my trip.

CF: Which sights did you find the most memorable on the trip?

DR: Snow and ice covered Siberia, magical. Vang Vieng for beautiful scenery, Angkor Wat for the monuments, Pai in Northern Thailand for the laid back atmosphere and scenery, and Koh Phi Phi for the beaches, (in particular ‘the Beach’!)

CF: Do you think you’ll still go to Lhasa one day?

DR: Oh yes!

CF: Are there any particular gadgets, or items of equipment that you recommend to other travellers?

DR: If you take a laptop make sure it is small and very light. Lugging a heavy one round will do your head in. A PDA also does the job. A mobile phone with GPS is always handy. Most people lost their phones though, and were buying up cheap £10 nokia, which were basic and did the job nicely. A compass is a must for getting your maps the right way round, and a music player of some some sort is good to have. Most hostels had stereo systems you could plug an ipod into. Take a cable for it. It is nice not to have to listen to bar owner’s terrible music, and they love to let you play yours. If you are regularly drinking in a bar with bad music, burn some decent CDs for them. They really appreciate it!

So there we have it! There’s nothing to get you more inspired to go on a trip than to hear about other people’s journeys, and hearing about this one has certainly added a few places to my list for future trips. The tech advice is handy too.

→ 1 CommentTags: Asia · Budget accommodation · Cambodia · China · Denmark · Estonia · Europe · Finland · General · Hostels · Laos · Nordic countries · Norway · Russia · Scandinavia · Sweden · Tech stuff · Thailand · Trains · Vietnam

Last Train to Lhasa - a fascinating traveller’s tale

October 11th, 2008 by Carol Ferndale · 5 Comments

It was almost exactly a year ago, with another English winter on its way, that David Rogers decided that it might be more fun to spend winter in Tibet than in his usual London habitat, and so, travelling overland, he headed off east in the direction of Lhasa, Tibet. Thus, Last Train to Lhasa was born, which catalogues a monumental, six-month backpacking trip which took in Scandinavia, Estonia, Russia, China, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, and Laos.

Travelling first to a freezing cold Copenhagen with expensive beer, and then on to Stockholm with its sub-zero winter temperatures, David then got the ferry to an even colder Helsinki, which did at least offer a good night out. Then it was the ferry on to Estonia, where, after a bit of a strange time in Tallinn, the sleeper train took him over the Russian border, to St Petersburg. From there it was the midnight train to Moscow, where, while enjoying an evening with a few fellow travellers in a bar near the hostel, a crowd of neo-nazis turned up with baseball bats, and they had a lucky, and very narrow, escape through the kitchens, into the alleyway at the back.

Leaving all that behind, David boarded the trans-Siberian and headed further east. He disembarked at Ulan Ube in Siberia, in the hope of getting a Mongolian visa, which would allow him to take the beautiful trans-Mongolian route. Despite enduring finger numbing temperatures of minus twenty degrees Celsius for a few days, it turned out that the Mongolian visa was not to be, and David’s Russian visa was running out fast. So there was nothing else for it but to take the trans-Manchurian route.

Meeting several memorable characters on the train, including a vodka loving Polish businessman, and a rather rough and terrifying guy named Vlad, David travelled across Manchuria, crossed the Russian-Chinese border, and arrived in Beijing. Here, he spent Christmas, having a rather good, and, in some ways, unusual time in the bars with crowds of travellers and ex-pats.

After Christmas 2007 he got the night train to Shanghai, where he stayed to see in the New Year, 2008. After some good New Year revelries, he went on to Kunming, and took the bus to the little walled town of Dali by a lake at the foot of the mountains.

After a comfortable sojourn in Dali, where there were plenty of chilled out travellers, bars, and parties, David took the train to Guilin, followed by the bus to Yangshou, where it was really freezing, and one of the worst winters China had had in half a century. Then it was the train to Hong Kong, to see in the Chinese New Year, where he stayed in the salubrious Chun King Mansions.

From Hong Kong, David took the ferry to Macau, and then flew to Bangkok. After a pleasant short stay in Bangkok, it was a flight to the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh. He travelled on to Siem Reap, being offered fried spiders along the way, and then took a river boat to Battambang, but due to lack of water, the boat had to be abandoned, and the journey finished by SUV. He went to see the truly awful Killing Caves, where you can see the bones of Khmer Rouge victims, and also the Killing Fields, and this part of his blog makes for sobering reading.

Onwards over the Mekong River into Vietnam, David headed to Saigon, which turned out to be full of motorcycles, and low on nightlife. Four hours north on a bus driven by a manic driver, with several near misses and the horn blaring for most of the way, David reached Mui Ne Beach, with the relaxing sound of waves crashing on the shore. Later moving on to Dalat, David didn’t find this Vietnamese mountain town to be the Bohemian paradise that the Lonely Planet guidebook had cracked it up to be. So from Dalat it was on to Hoi An, with its streets of fine old French colonial buildings, shaded by jacaranda trees. Having fallen asleep on a pool table, to the delight and comment of all and sundry, Dave then took a sixteen hour ride on a sleeper bus to Hanoi. Getting stuck in the stinking bus toilet Dave was dramatically rescued from death-by-smell by a young Irish woman.

After a short cruise in a traditional junk boat, it was then a bus to Vientiane in Laos. Then the beautiful town of Vang Vieng, then the French colonial town of Luang Parang on the banks of the Mekong. A two day trip up the Mekong took him to the Thai border, where he went to Chiang Mai, where he narrowly missed the cyclone that hit Burma.

From here it was back to Bangkok, followed by a plane back to London. And so it was that David completed the journey told in Last Train to Lhasa without ever quite reaching Lhasa, or even Tibet, not that that matters one bit.

David’s blog includes some excellent descriptions of bars and nightlife, from a bar in Stockholm where the whole interior, including the glasses that you drink out of, is made of ice, to a bar with its very own crocodiles. He describes good mates met along the way, and some amazing hostels. Dave spares some time for thoughts and reflections on Cambodia and its history, the children met along the way trying to sell books and trinkets to the tourists, and the amputees with no social security to help them.

David’s blog reinforces the experiences of many solo backpackers, that you may set off alone, but you quickly meet kindred spirits along the way, and, while enjoying the freedom of independent travel, you are never actually on your own at all.

If the credit crunch has left you homebound recently, then reading David’s blog is one of the next best things to being on the road.

→ 5 CommentsTags: Asia · Budget accommodation · Cambodia · China · Denmark · Estonia · Europe · Finland · General · Hostels · Laos · Nordic countries · Norway · Russia · Scandinavia · Sweden · Thailand · Trains · Vietnam

Learning to cook the local food in great locations

September 27th, 2008 by Carol Ferndale · 1 Comment

On the Menu

Have you ever fallen in love with the local food of the place you were visiting, but then come home with no idea of how to prepare it for yourself? Then it looks as though On the Menu, established in 2004, have something for you. On the Menu offer specialist cooking holidays that will appeal to people who love a holiday with something to do, especially if that something involves gastronomic delight. On the Menu was established in 2004, and offers a selection of cooking holidays that allow you to sample, and learn to cook many of the lovely foods around the planet. With the express aim of delivering a hands on cooking experience in sublime locations, they have now partnered with seventeen carefully selected cookery schools in destinations all over the world. The classes are small, the recipes authentic and regional, and the produce fresh and local. The teachers at the schools range from renowned chefs to local people who are experts in their local cuisine. All the holiday itineraries include trips to nearby markets to see first hand the type of produce that is available locally.

Currently On the Menu run trips to Australia, France, India, Indonesia, Ireland, Italy, Jordan, Mexico, Morocco, Portugal, Spain, Thailand, Vietnam and within the UK. The latest innovations include fusion cooking with Tina Pemberton in Norfolk, discovering new cuisine in County Fermanagh in Ireland, a gastronomic adventure through the olive groves of Andalusia and the wonders of modern and traditional eating in Portugal. On the Menu are now also offering tasting only tours to the Rioja region for a fiesta of tapas and fine wines.

If you like to get really up close to the food of the place you are visiting, and learn all the local secrets – then this looks like a good sort of holiday.

→ 1 CommentTags: Activity holidays · General