Monday, February 25, 2013

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Thursday, February 21, 2013

8 places to go before you have kids

Having kids doesn't mean you can never travel again, of course. Yet once you've gone from packing a suitcase and two carry-ons to dealing with travel cribs, car seats, strollers, and diaper bags (not to mention the snacks, changes of clothing, and toys needed to make it through a six-hour flight), you'll be asking yourself—why didn't we do this before we had kids? These are not babymoons, per se, which are best spent relaxing on the beach. These eight places are where you'll want to be on your own schedule to get adventurous, sample the local wines, and stay up into the wee hours.

Paris, France

Is there anywhere more romantic than Paris? It's a city where you want to embrace the clichés and roll with them. Strolling the streets, hand-in-hand? Yes! Taking a sunset boat ride down the Seine? Mais oui! Trying to keep the kids from hurling frites at each other at the quaint outdoor café? Not so much. Go now and get all the nuzzling under the Eiffel Tower out of your system. Bring your future children back in a few years to see the amazing museums and historic sites—once they are out of their food-throwing phase, that is.

(Photo: Ruth Lawton/Dreamstime)New Zealand

The spectacular natural wonders and cool towns of New Zealand should be at the top of your pre-kids bucket list. Especially since they are a 13-hour flight away—and that's if you are coming from the West Coast (not to mention those flights typically cost more than $1,000 per person). Long haul flights are hard on everyone, and it will likely take kids longer to adjust to such a significant time change, cutting into your actual vacation time. Plus hopping between the North and South Island is mandatory if you want to see all the country has to offer. Do you really want to spend half your vacation repacking all the suitcases and searching under hotel beds for a lost lovey (or worse, realizing it's missing once you're at the next stop)?

Do it: You have a lot of ground to cover, so be sure to give yourself a lot of time see the sites. Start in Auckland on the North Island, where you can take the unbelievable elevator 610 feet up the Sky Tower for 360-degree views. Then either head north to the Bay of Islands for sailing and hiking, or you can go south to the town of Wellington. On the South Island, meet the locals in Christchurch and go wine tasting at the surrounding wineries. Get to know a different type of local in the town of Oamaru, where you can watch the blue penguins march back to their nests in the early evening.

(Photo: Alila07/Dreamstime)Disney World

Think the magical realm of Mickey and Minnie is just for kids? Think again. Going to Disney as an adult is a totally different experience than if you have toddlers (or even teens) along for the adventure. Some are obvious—not being relegated to the kiddie rides, not having to push a stroller around. Then there's the not having to go back to the hotel for nap and not having to decide between getting the kids dinner, bath, and into bed on time (and avoiding potential meltdowns) versus staying late for the awesome Main Street Electrical Light Parade. Disney has also caught on that they need to keep adults happy, too. That means things like gourmet restaurants. You can now even get a glass of wine with your dinner at Be Our Guest in the new Fantasyland section of the Magic Kingdom.

(Photo: trekandshoot/Dreamstime)Route 66 Road Trip

There are lots of great scenic road trips in the U.S. (California's Route 1, the Blue Ridge Parkway), but why not go back to the original and travel along Route 66. Well, what's left of it (see below). Road trips may not scream romance for some, but there won't be much time after kids to really just enjoy each other's company—and control what's coming out of the car speakers. This also means no kids rolling their eyes at every retro diner you want to stop at for a patty melt and a milkshake. And, most importantly, no chorus of "are we there yet??" 

Do it: To really, truly do this trip, you start in Santa Monica, California and drive the more than 2,000 miles to Chicago. It goes without saying that there is a lot to see along the way, from the Grand Canyon to the St. Louis Arch. The midpoint is the town of Adrian, Texas, home to the MidPoint Café and its famous pies and kitschy decor. The longest section of the original Route 66 starts northeast of Oklahoma City. Be sure to stop at the Route 66 Museum in OKC before you head out.

(Photo: Thomas Barrat/Dreamstime)Napa Valley, CA

Quick—why do people go to Napa? The wineries, of course. And there are more than 400 of them. That means days filled with sampling the Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Merlot. Which doesn't exactly scream "kid-friendly." Those tastings are best accompanied with the other local bounty. Munch on artisanal treats from Oxbow Public Market during the day, then have dinner at Thomas Keller's Bouchon Bistro. It's not French Laundry, of course, but entrees start around $20.

(Photo: Lance Lee/Dreamstime)Macao

In general, trips to destinations where casinos are a big part of the draw are hard with kids (since this is an 18-and-up activity done in smoky surroundings, after all). Chances are there will be a chance for a guys' weekend or a girlfriend getaway to Vegas in the future. So why not go for it and try your luck in Macao? This former Portuguese colony is about 40 miles from Hong Kong and has grown to be one of the top gambling destinations in the world (a cameo in the latest Bond flick helped raise its profile, as well).

(Photo: Daniil Timofeev/Dreamstime)Angkor Wat

The world's most sacred temples are meant for quiet contemplation and obviously should be treated with the utmost respect. Something that even the most angelic children might find difficult. Which is why now is the time to take a journey to Angkor Wat, outside Siem Reap in northern Cambodia. The complex spreads over a stunning 494,000 acres with archaeological relics dating back to the 9th century and iconic Cambodian Khmer architecture. You will want to give yourself three days to see the complex, and keep in mind that heat and humidity will keep your days short.

(Photo: Ian Whitworth/Dreamstime)Transatlantic Cruise

Cruises usually make the top of lists for family travel. But a transatlantic cruise is different. They are usually more than a couple weeks in length, and involve many days and nights at sea. While to you that means more time to lay by the pool and do absolutely nothing more strenuous than ordering a cocktail, the kids could get a little stir crazy (no matter how awesome the kids' club is). The shore excursions are obviously minimal with these cruises as well, of course, but they often stop at lesser-used ports, adding to the adventure.

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Best off-peak destinations for spring

Tallinn, Estonia. (Photo: Shutterstock)

Spring: It's that magical time of year when the cost of travel to key destinations stays affordable, while warmer, temperate weather breezes in.
There may not be a better time to visit certain places, whether you're eyeing excursions to vibrant European cities, charming U.S. towns, or sun-soaked islands. Ready to give winter an icy kiss goodbye? Bring in the warm weather with a budget-friendly shoulder-season trip to one of the following five destinations.

Tallinn, Estonia

We love colorful, medieval Tallinn—the capital city ofEstonia, one of Europe's tiniest countries. And we particularly adore Tallinn during spring, when pleasant weather arrives and a packed calendar of events, from the Tallinn Flower Festival to Tallinn Music Week to Tallinn Day, makes a springtime visit all the more special.

(Photo: Greenwich Photography …

Istanbul, Turkey 

One of the most cost-effective ways to see large swaths of the European continent is by train. And this year, country-hopping Europhiles can finally factor Istanbul onto their rail itineraries. T.C.D.D., the Turkish railway, has joined Eurail, thus setting the stage for the inclusion of Istanbul (as well as other Turkish cities and towns) on the ever-popular, budget-friendly Eurail Global Passes and Select Passes.

(Photo: Milton Jung via Flickr)

Sao Paulo, Brazil

Brazil's biggest metropolis is on our radar this spring for several reasons. First, US Airways is launching new Sao Paulo service from the carrier's biggest U.S. hub, Charlotte, this spring, making it easier for U.S. travelers to get to Sao Paulo. Additionally, the city's improving its infrastructure by leaps and bounds and setting up free public Wi-Fi, which should be in place by mid-2013.

(Photo: Rhode Island Tourism)

Rhode Island 

Travelers seeking Gilded Age glamor (Downton Abbey fans take note) should consider a trip to the Ocean State, where grand mansions sit beside the sea and opulent hotels evoke a bygone era. While a stroll past the mansions on Newport's storied Cliff Walk is free, accommodations in some of Rhode Island's best historical hotels will typically cost a tiny fortune during the summer high season. But budget-minded travelers who want to live a baron's life for a night or two will find relatively more affordable accommodations during spring.

(Photo: kansasphoto via Flickr)


Bermuda's high season starts in spring—generally in April, when the weather is right for beach-bumming. But if you go early enough, you can cash in on some fine spring deals, including cheaper accommodations, especially through late March and the beginning of April.

The Bermuda Department of Tourism regularly runs some pretty enticing deals during the low and shoulder seasons, like this free-night offer, which is valid through the end of March. Complete a stay of three to five nights at select hotels and get an additional night on the house.

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Midwest swaddled in blanket of snow; travel tough

Braden Center jumps his sled over a mound of snow on Thursday, Feb. 21, 2013 in Wichita. Kan. Parts of Kansas have received over a foot of snow since a strong winter storm moved through the area. (AP Photo/The Wichita Eagle, Travis Heying)
ST. LOUIS (AP) — Powdery snow bombarded much of the nation's midsection Thursday, leaving as much as 17 inches in some places, shutting down airports, schools and state legislatures.
The storm system swirled to the north and east Thursday night, its snow, sleet and freezing rain prompting winter storm warnings fromKansas to Illinois. Forecasters say the storm will continue its crawl overnight, hitting the upper Midwest by Friday morning.
The system has already left impressive snow accumulations, especially in Kansas, where a foot and half of snow fell in Hays. Farther east in Topeka, 3 inches of snow fell in only 30 minutes, leaving medical center worker Jennifer Carlock to dread the drive home.
"It came on fast," Carlock said as she shoveled around her car. "We're going to test out traction control on the way home."
Numerous accidents and two deaths were being blamed on the icy, slushy roadways. Most schools in Kansas and Missouri, and many in neighboring states, were closed and legislatures shut down in Kansas, Missouri, Arkansas, Nebraska and Iowa.
National Weather Service meteorologist Scott Truett said it was "pouring snow" earlier Thursday, with it falling at a rate of 2 inches per hour or more in some spots.
All flights at Kansas City International Airport were canceled for Thursday night, and officials said they'd prepare to reopen Friday morning. In St. Louis, more than 320 flights at Lambert Airport were canceled, and traffic throughout the state was snarled by hundreds of accidents.
Northern Oklahoma saw between 10 and 13½ inches of snow. Missouri's biggest snow total was 10 inches, shared by the Kansas City metropolitan area, Rockport in the northwest corner and Moberly in the central part of the state.
But the highest amounts were in Kansas, where snow totals hit 14 inches Hutchinson, Macksville and Hanston, and 13 inches in Wichita.
Transportation officials in affected those states urged people to simply stay home.
"If you don't have to get out, just really, please, don't do it," Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback said. Interstate 70 through Kansas was snow-packed, and a 200-mile stretch between Salina and Colby was closed. The Kansas National Guard has 12 teams patrolling three state highways in Humvees to rescue motorists stranded by the storm.
For those who needed to drive, it's wasn't a fun commute.
Richard Monroe, a technology manager and marketing representative for the Missouri State University bookstore, said he arrived with eight of his colleagues in Kansas City, Mo., on Wednesday for a conference. He said a shuttle bus taking them on what should have been a five-minute trip got stuck in the snow. Then it ran into a truck.
The vehicle was incapacitated for nearly two hours.
"We saw today that Kansas City is just shut down. I've never seen a big city like this where nothing is moving," the 27-year-old said.
Others people came down with cabin fever, including Jennifer McCoy of Wichita, Kan. She loaded her nine children — ages 6 months to 16 years — in a van for lunch at Applebee's.
"I was going crazy, they were so whiny," McCoy said.
In Iowa, cases of wine and beer — along with bottles of scotch and whiskey — were flying off the shelves at Ingersoll Wine and Spirits ahead of the storm's arrival in Des Moines.
"A lot of people have been buying liquor to curl up by the fire," wine specialist Bjorn Carlson said.
The storm is expected to drop 3 to 9 inches of snow in Iowa overnight, while Nebraska will see another 2 to 5 inches.
Heavy, blowing snow caused scores of businesses in Iowa and Nebraska to close early, including two malls in Omaha, Neb. Mardi Miller, manager of Dillard's department store in Oakview Mall, said most employees had been sent home by 4 p.m., and she believed "only two customers are in the entire store."
Back in Kansas, Katie Nungesser of the People's City Mission says her shelter is over capacity, so people are being placed in the shelter's chapel, lounges, and even a kitchen nook.
"When it gets like this, we just stuff every part of this building," she said of the 24-hour shelter. "We'll have people sleeping everywhere."
The storm brought some relief to a region that has been parched by the worst drought in decades.
Vance Ehmke, a wheat farmer near Healy, Kan., said the nearly foot of snow was "what we have been praying for." Climatologists say 12 inches of snow is equivalent to about 1 inch of rain, depending on the density of the snow.
Near Edwardsville, Ill., farmer Mike Campbell called the precipitation a blessing after a bone-dry growing season in 2012. He hopes it is a good omen for the spring.
"The corn was just a disaster," Campbell said of 2012.
Areas in the Texas Panhandle also had up to 8 inches of snow, and in south central Nebraska, Grand Island reported 10 inches of snow. Arkansas saw a mix of precipitation — a combination of hail, sleet and freezing rain in some place, 6 inches of snow in others.
Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon declared a state of emergency Thursday morning. All flights at Kansas City International Airport were canceled for Thursday night, and officials said they'd prepare to reopen Friday morning.
More than 320 flights at Lambert Airport in St. Louis were canceled by Thursday afternoon. Traffic throughout the state was snarled by hundreds of accidents and vehicles in ditches.
The University of Missouri canceled classes for one of the few times in its 174-year history. At a nearby Wal-Mart, some students passed the ice scrapers and snow melt, heading directly to the aisles containing sleds and alcohol.
"This isn't our usual Thursday noon routine," Lauren Ottenger, a senior economics major from Denver, said as she stockpiled supplies.
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Tuesday, February 12, 2013

26 famous places in London

Image for 26 famous places in London

London may not be the best place in the world to live (apparently that’s Vienna), but it is one of the most interesting to visit. Even if you’ve never been and have no intention of going, you can’t escape its influence on world history, culture and language. English language materials our students are exposed to (and I don’t just mean course books, but newspapers and other media) will contain cultural references. It’s good for us to be aware of them so here are some of the most famous places in London. Can you match the numbers to the letters? (Don’t look at the answers yet!)

1. Baker Street
2. Big Ben
3. Bloomsbury
4. Brixton
5. Camden Town
6. Covent Garden
7. Docklands
8. Downing Street
9. (the) East End
10. Fleet Street
11. Hampstead
12. Harley Street
13. Islington
14. Kew Gardens
15. Knightsbridge
16. Madam Taussaud’s
17. Notting Hill
18. Oxford Street
19. Piccadilly
20. Soho
21. Stamford Bridge
22. (the) South bank
23. St Pancras
24. Tower Bridge
25. Trafalgar Square
26. Westminster

A. The area on the other side of the Thames to the Houses of Parliament noted for its cultural venues.
B. The home of Chelsea football club.
C. An area of London synonymous with artistically-inclined middle-class left-wingers.
D. Culturally diverse predominantly working class area of South London.
E. Traditionally the poorer, most ethnically mixed part of London – home to Cockneys.
F. A trendy area of north London famed for its market.
G. A fairly new mostly commercial development to the east of the city.
H. An ex-flower market – still home to the National Opera House and a good place to see street performers.
I. A central area of London famous for the statue of Eros and theatres.
J. The title of a film starring Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts. It also hosts a summer carnival.
K. The residence of the Prime Minister.
L. A train station from which you can travel direct to Paris and Brussels.
M. The place to go for expensive medical consultations.
N. A waxworks museum near Baker Street.
O. The official centre of London, famed for pigeons, Nelson’s column and the National Gallery.
P. An area near the British Museum associated with Virginia Woolf and her artistic circle.
Q. A rich central area – home to Harrods Department Store.
R. The one which can open to let through ships.
S. Street on which of the fictitious detective Sherlock Holmes resided.
T. Area south of Oxford Street traditionally associated with immorality.
U. This is actually named after one of it’s bells, although it’s clock face is more famous.
V. In the past, where all the national newspapers had their offices – the term is still used to mean the press.
W. Leafy suburb to the north – an area inhabited (not exclusively) by those involved in the Arts.
X. A popular botanical gardens west along the river.
Y. The most crowded shopping street in London.
Z. The location of the Houses of Parliament.

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London's Big Ben

The Houses of Parliament's iconic clock tower is one of London's most famous landmarks. Don't leave London without visiting Big Ben!

The Houses of Parliament and Elizabeth Tower, commonly called Big Ben, are among London's most iconic landmarks. Technically, Big Ben is the name given to the massive bell inside the clock tower, which weighs more than 13 tons (13,760 kg).  The clock tower looks spectacular at night when the four clock faces are illuminated.

 Big Ben Facts

  • Each dial is seven metres in diameter
  • The minute hands are 4.2 metres long and weigh about 100kg (including counterweights)
  • The numbers are approximately 60cm long
  • There are 312 pieces of glass in each clock dial
  • A special light above the clock faces is illuminated when parliament is in session
  • Big Ben's timekeeping is strictly regulated by a stack of coins placed on the huge pendulum. 
  • Big Ben has rarely stopped. Even after a bomb destroyed the Commons chamber during the Second World War, the clock tower survived and Big Ben continued to strike the hours.
  • The chimes of Big Ben were first broadcast by the BBC on 31 December 1923, a tradition that continues to this day.
  • In June 2012 the House of Commons announced that the clock tower was to be renamed the Elizabeth Tower in honour of Queen Elizabeth II's Diamond Jubilee.  

The History of Big Ben

The Palace of Westminster was destroyed by fire in 1834. In 1844, it was decided the new buildings for the Houses of Parliament should include a tower and a clock. 
A massive bell was required and the first attempt (made by John Warner & Sons at Stockton-on-Tees) cracked irreparably. The metal was melted down and the bell recast in Whitechapel in 1858. Big Ben first rang across Westminster on 31 May 1859. A short time later, in September 1859, Big Ben cracked. A lighter hammer was fitted and the bell rotated to present an undamaged section to the hammer. This is the bell as we hear it today.
You can visit the Whitechapel Bell Foundry and discover more about Big Ben's origins.

London's Favourite Landmark: Why Ben?

The origin of the name Big Ben is not known, although two different theories exist.
  • The first is that is was named after Sir Benjamin Hall, the first commissioner of works, a large man who was known affectionately in the house as "Big Ben".
  • The second theory is that it was named after a heavyweight boxing champion at that time, Benjamin Caunt. Also known as "Big Ben", this nickname was commonly bestowed in society to anything that was the heaviest in its class.

Visiting Big Ben in London

You can take a tour of the Houses of Parliament. The Elizabeth Tower is not open to the general public although UK residents can arrange a visit by writing to their MP. Applications should be made in writing, as far in advance as possible, to:
House of Commons
It is not possible for overseas visitors to tour the clock tower.
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Sunday, February 3, 2013

Lost And Found: How Uncertainty Makes Travel Memorable

As the bus begins to pull away from the bus stop in Chania, I catch the old man's eye again, giving him a thumbs-up through the window. He stares back blankly – then leaps to his feet, waving his arms, pointing, shouting. I raise my hands in an uncomprehending shrug, keeping the palms turned inward to avoid flipping him a mountza, the traditional Greek insult. He shouts louder, as if volume alone could break through the language barrier that had us miming to each other a few minutes ago. Then his body slumps into a pose recognizable the world over – "Oh, you bloody fool" – and that's when it hits me in the stomach.

I'm on the wrong bus.
I have an hour before my ferry leaves the port of Souda, taking me away from Crete and back to mainland Greece. If I don't hit that ferry, my carefully engineered schedule slithers through my fingers and I'm left untethered, without local knowledge, a decent enough grasp of spoken Greek or the money for new tickets. Without that ferry, I'm lost.
I sit down, by order of my knees, and stare out at the dusty, baked scenery as we rattle God-knows-where-wards. And then something strange happens. Panic ebbs away. I start to appreciate how lovely the light is, the rose-fingered sunset fading through the spectrum into that special glowing blue that enlivens domed roofs and door-frames right across Greece. I'm warm, I'm well fed, and I have no idea what is going to happen next – and it's this last feeling that is so intoxicating right now.
Perhaps this is the wrong question. Perhaps it's really this: why do I want travel to be easy?
When most people travel, they seek the unknown – either in a familiar, packaged, piecemeal form with the help of guides and tour operators, or the raw, improvised version that's so popular with people young enough for their nervous systems to take it. I go off the beaten track using a third approach, which I like to call "Oh You Bloody Fool." Somewhat appropriately, it's a way of travel I accidentally fell into. I go places, things go wrong, and I fall through space, screaming. This is usually, but not always, a metaphor.
There's a perverse joy in having your travel plans collapse around you. I've missed many flights and will doubtless miss many more. Once I get over the initial shock, once I've leaned against the nearest wall and cursed everyone up to and including the Wright Brothers, a calmness steals over me. I change. Lacking any alternative, I'm forced to become the person who can deal with this mess. My senses fly open, taking great gulps of the world around me, collecting data for my suddenly hyperactive brain to sift through in search of Life Or Death Answers. My heart thumps. My jaw sets. No time to waste – and off I go.
In "A Field Guide To Getting Lost" (2006), Rebecca Solnit says:
"The thing the nature of which is totally unknown to you is usually what you need to find, and finding it is a matter of getting lost."
I've spent a lot of the last decade getting lost. I've been lost on England's North York Moors in the middle of a rainstorm with the light fading – one of the few times I've genuinely hated not knowing my location. I've blundered across Berlin at 4 a.m. in search of my hotel, clutching a rain-dissolved paper map. I've suffered a thousand deaths of embarrassment in front of strangers, and I've eyed other travelers – so competent, so self-assured – with a mixture of envy and hatred. Why can't I land on my feet instead of my face? Why does it all have to be so hard?
Perhaps this is the wrong question. Perhaps it's really this: why do I want travel to be easy?When it's easy, it's a non-experience that our memories can't get a grip on. Thanks to the miracle of GPS, we need never be lost. We can get from A to B knowing exactly what B looks like and having a machine dictate the entire route to us. Our technological support networks are vast and all-powerful, and our guides, physical and virtual, know more about the places we're going than we ever will. We are mired in certainty and we need never put a foot wrong. But what if that's not what we need – or why we travel at all?
I'm not pondering any of this as my bus takes me away from Chania. I'm fully in the moment, hunting for clues to where this bus is going, scanning the horizon for landmarks that tally with the map in my "Rough Guide." There are 11 people on that bus. One lady is wearing a brown hat; one man has spectacularly hairy ears. These details are unforgettably burned into me by an elevated level of awareness ...
I'm having the kind of travel experience I left home in search of.
Ten minutes later, the port of Souda hovers into view, and I realize, with curious disappointment, that I'm saved. I'm on the right bus after all. I unwittingly compensate by getting off the bus far too early, forcing me to sprint the final mile with a fully-laden backpack, and then I spend the first hour of my ferry ride lying semi-naked on the cool metal floor of my cabin, trying to bring my temperature down. The rest of the journey is a self-recriminating haze.
These days, being lost is at the heart of the kind of travel I love, filled with stories I don't know in advance, positioned along the uncomfortable line between serendipity and disaster. Occasionally wild uncertainty is thrust upon me, as when I was robbed of my passport inDüsseldorf, seven hours before my flight home to England. (Ever wondered how long a UK emergency passport takes to put together? About six hours.) I've learned to appreciate these experiences for what they are – a living hell at the time, a treasure-trove of travel memories afterwards. All that said, I give myself lots of leeway nowadays, spacing out connections and over-budgeting where I can. I may be a bloody fool, but I'm not stupid.
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