Tag Archives: Travel

A Heart is like a Compass

A Heart is Like a Compass

A heart does not understand boundaries
A heart is like a compass
It only knows what it feels
and points that way

A compass needle knows only to point to true North
A heart only points in a direction it feels True
My heart only points, without shame, to you
The same, no matter where I turn, or what I do

Loving you seems the only thing to do

By James T Adair

Boxed compass - photo zoedawes

“Life is a journey” is seen as a cliché these days yet, as with many clichés  it has a resonance to which we can all relate.  The compass is a tangible symbol for the adventure that is life and the different paths and directions we take along the way.   Continue reading

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Travel Writers & Photographers London Weekend

“It’s amazing to be standing here in this place where  such great explorers as Livingstone and Shackleton stood before.”  Benedict Allen, a quirky traveller if ever there was, opened this year’s  inspiring Travellers’ & Photographers’  Tales Festival last weekend at the Royal Geographical Society in London. He was so funny and self-deprecating about his time as an idealistic young  man sharing the inaugural Manhood ceremonies of the Amazon tribes and living with indigenous peoples of Papua New Guinea, from whom he learnt so much.

What a brilliant line-up it was. Just a few of the people I saw …

  • Impish DERVLA MURPHY, now in her 80s and as feisty as ever, talking about her youth in Ireland and how it inspired her love of travel
  • Moving FERGAL KEANE sharing his stories as a BBC foreign correspondent and the impact on him of the horrific war in Rwanda
  • Hilarious CHRIS STEWART, author of ‘Driving Over Lemons’, keeping us amused with his tales of how he got into writing and his tales of life in rural Spain
  • Internationally renowned (tho rather long-winded!) photographer FRANS LANTING, sharing with us ‘The Life Project’ and his visualisation and musical realisation of the Cerne Hadron Collider project in Switzerland
  •  Thought-provoking NEEL MUKHERJEE, sharing the genesis of his award-winning Indian novel, ‘Past Continuous’
  • Creative world-renowned photographers CAROL BECKWITH & ANGELA FISHER, sharing with us their magical images of African tribal body painting 

The absolute highlight for me was seeing and hearing one of my absolute Travel Heroes, Jan Morris, reading from her latest book  of travel reminiscences, ‘Contact!’  As a young English teacher in the West Midlands, I hankered after foreign climes. I yearned to live in another culture and be not just as a tourist but to really experience what it was like to be a ‘foreigner’.  One day I heard Jan Morris speaking about her travels in Europe and I just knew I had to follow my dream …

… And so I told her as she signed my slightly battered copy of ‘Venice.’  “What shall I write?” she asked. “Can you put ‘In search of Letitia’ please,” I said. “I recently discovered she is my Venetian Gt Gt Gt Grandmother, and I am trying to find her. You inspired me to give up my teaching job and follow my heart …”  She smiled vaguely and wrote as requested.  No doubt for her I was just one more ‘star-struck fan’ but for me it meant a huge amount and I shall remember that moment forever …

I am Travel Editor for Wandering Educators. In this article you can read about Virginia Woolf’s birthplace, in the same road that Winston Churchill lived a died, just round the corner from the Festival venue.

A Winter Break in Prague …

This time last year I spent a magical week in Prague. It’s a perfect time to visit – not too many tourists, wintry weather which fits with the scenery, lots of cultural things to go to ie opera, ballet, concerts and theatre – and you can get a table at any bar or restaurant with no hassle. We were there during Obama’s inauguration and spent a memorable evening with locals & foreigners at the American-run Globe Bookstore watching the historic event on a huge screen and celebrating with excellent local ‘champagne’.

Here are five things to do in that wonderful city …

1. Indulge in the glories of Art Nouveau. Visit the Mucha Museum and learn about Alphonse Mucha, one of most famous exponents of the form. You can find wonderful original examples of his work, including his Four Seasons posters and those he did for his Muse, the English actress Sarah Bernhardt. There’s a beautiful stained glass window by him in St Vitus Cathedral (See pic above) and many fine examples of Art Nouveau architecture and design all over the city. My favourite building was the Obecní dům (Municipal Building), a fabulously ornate concoction to delight the senses.

2. Walk around medieval Staroměstské Náměstí (Old Town Square) and look at the fantastic collection of buildings from over 400 years. One of Prague’s most atmospheric Churches, Our Lady Of Tyn is beautifully silhouetted against the sky. Find a table at one of the restaurants (expensive but what a view!), watch the world go by and wait for the most beautiful Astronomical Clock in Europe strike the hour.

3. Slow down and get into the Cafe society. This city must surely rival Paris for the variety and quality of its Coffee houses. One of my favourites was the Grand Cafe Orient with its unique Cubist decor. Its other name is the House of Black Madonna, in honour of the statue on the corner. Behind Our Lady of Tyn is another gem – the Cafe Ebel Coffee House; very cosy and quirky – with excellent carrot cake. If you fancy trying the local tipple that drove Toulouse Lautrec and others mad – Absinthe – then go to the Art Deco gem Cafe Slavia and have their Seksinst Cocktail. It’s a potent mix of champagne and Absinthe – you have been warned …

4. For a slightly different perspective visit the The Vysehrad Cemetery Vysehrad, the burial place for many famous and important Czech people. You’ll find the composer Dvorak just round the corner from Smetana and in the large Slavin Memorial many illustrious Czechs including the Art Nouveau artist, Alphonse Mucha (see above). The cemetary is in the grounds of the Vysehrad ‘Castle on the Heights’ and there are great views over the city from its ramparts. To get there, you can walk there along the river, get the Metro or try the excellent tram system.

5. Watch the Changing of the Guard at Midday Prague Castle In the winter the Guards wear great-coats and furry hats (unlike their powder blue & decidedly fey summer uniform!) and at Midday when they do the Banner exchange, they march about to music that sounds vaguely reminiscent of the Thunderbird Theme tune. You can then go round Prague Castle, a glorious hotch-potch of buildings from different periods and also see the magnificently Gothic St Vitus Cathedral.

There are lots of great websites and guide books to help you enjoy your stay, but I found the best things of all was to simply relax into the rhythm of the city, take time to absorb the multitude of glories that this city presents and let it work its magic …

For a longer version of this article with a few more quirky things to do in Prague visit my Blog site at Wandering Educators

Quirky Christmas Past …

I recently wrote this article for a Twitter friend, Stephanie @TravelDesigned. You can see the original here   If you have a quirky Christmas memory please do share it … Leave a Comment below.

Aswan, Egypt

In the early 80s a group of us spent one Christmas and New Year in Egypt.  On Christmas Day so we left our VERY basic hostel to find a cheap restaurant open which served festive fare and a drink. As you can imagine, in a predominantly Muslim country on a Saturday, that was not so easy … Eventually we found a little place by the Camel Market (not on that day), with a big table outside.  We were offered Roast chicken and chips with local beer… Perfect.

Whilst we waited (for hours) for the chicken, we drank warm beer and relished the hot sun, safe in the knowledge that back home in the UK it was probably raining and definitely cold.  The chicken was the toughest, ropiest old bird you could imagine – but we enjoyed it anyway as we reminisced about our favourite Christmas holidays, exchanged REALLY cheap and fun gifts, toasted absent friends and congratulated ourselves on having a very unChristmassy Christmas Day.

 Pattaya, Thailand

In 1990, a friend and I escaped from Hong Kong to stay at a luxury hotel in Pattaya, which looked absolutely dreamy. What we didn’t know was that during the Vietnam War, Pattaya had been a favourite place for soldiers to chill out and ‘relax’ – and their legacy lived on …

 Having arrived on Christmas Eve we decided to eat out in Pattaya the next day, so after a relaxing day by the pool we wandered into the town.  What a shock that was.  It was late afternoon and still daylight but all the bars were busy and it was obvious what delights were on offer for Christmas here… We wandered up and down Soi 6 barely able to contain our amazement. Some of the bars and clubs had festive decorations amidst the neon – I’ll never forget one sign which read ‘A Merry Christmas to all our Customers’ above a lap-dancing club offering some very exotic acts …

 Eventually we found a vaguely respectable bar where we had Pad Thai noodles and fended off the attentions of some very drunk Australian guys who’d clearly partaken of a fair bit of Christmas cheer.  As their propositions got more extreme we decided return to our hotel and leave Pattaya red light district to its own unique Christmas festivities!

 Queenstown, South Africa

“We’re having a Braai on Christmas Day – just family and a few mates …” thus was I introduced to Christmas Dinner, South African style. I was staying with my boyfriend’s family on their farm just outside Queenstown. The weather was fantastic; warm, sunny and fresh. On Christmas morning we exchanged presents, drank sparkling wine and opened cards showing Santas and snow-covered carol singers outside typical English churches; all very incongruous with the African veldt outside the back door.

 A Braai is a BBQ, SA style. On the biggest grill I’ve ever seen, was every kind of meat imaginable, including ostrich and Boerewors, a spicy sausage.  Huge buckets were filled with ice and beer, boxes of red wine stood outside the kitchen door next to a tall fridge full of white wine, soft drinks & mixers.  Two trestle tables were loaded up with all manner of salads, dips, breads and fruit, with a smaller table for the kids – and not a turkey or Brussel sprout in sight.

 By 4pm the party was in full swing and it was time for carols and the Christmas pudding. The farm workers joined us and as ‘Hark The Herald Angels Sing’ rang out into the African sky from over 50 voices, it seemed the best way ever to celebrate this wonderful season.

Whatever you do, wherever you are and whoever you are with, may your Christmas be quirky and bright 🙂

Passage to Indian dreams …

Last month The Big Journey Company moved in to my office. It is great to be sharing space with this up and coming tour company; they were nominated for The British Travel Awards 2009.  India & Sri Lanka

I’ve always wanted to visit India and in November the Big Journey Company is planning a tour there, The Golden Triangle and Ranthambhore Park  and fingers crossed I will be joining them!  As a lover of the Alastair Sawday books, I was delighted to discover Sawday’s India & Sri Lanka Special Places To Stay, and I spent a magical time looking through the book and dreaming of the trip.  (A version of this appears in an Amazon review for the book – see link.)

There are loads of wonderful choices – from palaces and luxury hotels to homely B&Bs, tree houses and tents – to suit every budget, including a fairly limited one like mine. All the places are chosen with Sawday’s unique approach to accommodation – “We look for comfort, originality, authenticity and reject the insincere, anonymous and the banal.”

I fell in love with exotic locations like Neemrana Fort-Palace built over 6 centuries and spread over 11 levels, Devra Udaipur with its organic farm and views across Lake Pichola, Savista Retreat and its musical preformances on the amphitheatre steps and Dev Villas with 7 ‘stylish safari tents’ and India’s most famous tiger reserve nearby.

(A version of this appears in an Amazon Review for the book – see link.)

Having indulged in a myriad of fab places to stay, I then spent a while wandering around the websites giving info about the region, including Rajasthan Tourism site which gives loads of helpful info and ideas for travel. What a fascinating place to visit – I can’t wait.

If you have any hints or tips for India travel, do let me know …

Remembrance of things … when?

This week I spent a lovely couple of days relaxing in the Lake District, taking time out from a very hectic schedule to reflect and consider what next.  I stayed overnight at the luxurious Waterhead Hotel on the shores of Windermere, near Ambleside, Cumbria.  I will be writing about that another time but I just wanted to share with you a brief snippet of conversation I overheard in the queue for the Lakes Ferry last Wednesday.

The Waterhead Hotel from Lake Windermere

Elderly gent to his elderly lady companion: “Where’s my camera?” “I don’t know. Is it in your pocket?” “No, I’ve looked there. Where is it?” “Maybe we left it in the hotel room.” “No it’s not there. Where is it?” “I don’t know. Perhaps it’s … maybe it’s back home.” “Where’s the camera. I never go out without my camera?” “Oh, I don’t know – why can’t we remember things these days?  We used to be able to remember things … We used to have a memory; now we don’t have one between us.”

Five minutes later the elderly gent asked his lady companion, “What day is it today?” “I don’t know. Just a minute – let me see …” She go out her mobile phone, peered at it and said, “It’s the 11th of November. Oh, it’s Remembrance Day. It’s 11.30 on the 11th of November.” “I said, ‘What day is it?'” “I told you dear, it’s the 11thof November. Remembrance Day.”  “NO – what DAY is it. I mean, what DAY is it?” “I’ve TOLD you, it’s the 11th of November …” “NO… what DAY…? “Oh, what DAY? Oh …”  She looked at her mobile again. “Oh, I don’t know … What day IS it? …”

I whispered “Wednesday” to her and she told her husband.  “Thank you dear. So silly, but I am 88 and he’s 91 and we can’t remember much these days.  But we’ve been coming here since 1946 and we do know we love it here… So many happy memories.”

And I pondered on the companionship these two have shared as their collective memories gradually fade away … What happy memory might you share today?

Cumbria’s very first TweetUp!

“Excuse me, could you tell me where the … er… people from Twitter are meeting?”  Well, you feel a … Twit,  asking that, don’t you!  I was meeting up with a group of complete strangers, some of whom I FELT I knew from our connections, but still – a rather strange, definitely quirky and slightly daunting prospect.  The venue was The Lounge, a very chic hotel bar in the centre of Penrith (with great food – thank you!).  Linda Mellor, a local photographer,  had organised the event and about 12 of us turned out last Wednesday evening to meet the personal face of Twitter.

Lovely LindaM and Nick in Cumbria

 It was a really enjoyable evening.  We were from all walks of life, with a wide range of jobs and interests.  Tweeps included Julie, a friendly bee fanatic, there with her husband Graeme, ubiquitous John the writer, my mate Ali the apostrophe obsessive (quite right too IMHO!), Lee the bag fetishist and even a very friendly representative of Cumbria Police – (who did not seem able to get me off my fine for overtaking a Penrith copper with my mobile jammed to my ear, in spite of blatant attempts to bribe him with extra peanuts …)

 Nick, a journalist from a local newpapaper group, interviewed everyone about why they had joined Twitter and what they got from it.  I think I told him that I couldn’t remember why I had joined, but it brought me lots of new friends, information and advice, that it is a very generous place to connect and that it was also helping me to create a completely new business around the Quirky Traveller persona … 
Friendly Twits relaxing ...!

Friendly Twits relaxing ...!

 By the time we left, there had been a lot of laughter, some great connections made and a renewed enthusiasm for the phenomenum that is Twitter.  Don’t ask me HOW it works, but it does – and last Wednesday proved that.  Nick has written a great article all about our night out in Cumbria News & Star so you can read it for yourself!

I am very much looking forward to the next TweetUp, whereverand whenever it is… and if you have any Twitter tales do share them here.