Tuesday, 18 February 2014

A TRAVELLERS TALE TO INSPIRE WOMEN OF ALL AGES

IF  you only buy one travel book this year, make it Christine Osborne's Travels with My Hat - an amazing and exhilarating story of one rather unique woman's travels through lands strange and wonderful
I am fortunate enough to have met the author,travel photographer and writer Christine,in London and have heard first hand some of the stories she has collected over some 40 years of travelling the world. This book brings all those together, and adds some more in what is an energetic account of her adventures in the Middle East and Africa
Christine Osborne left her native Australia where she was a young nurse with a burning desire to travel. But not for her the sunbeds and parasols of the Cote D'Azur or the well-heeled chic of the Champs D'Elysee. Instead she chose to visit Ethiopia during the 1970s famines at one of the bleakest times of its history. She chose to stay in filthy accommodation in Iraq as she explored The Middle East and Pakistan at a  time when tourists of any type were a novelty, let alone an attractive young blonde in a jaunty blue hat
Her recollection of her time spent as part of the royal press corp with HRH The Queen during her 1974 tour of the Gulf States is probably the most insightful you will ever read. But it is not just royalty but all humankind which  intrigues her, and all her stories are told with a gentle wit and a fascination for human nature and the beauty of the world
Buy it for your daughters to inspire them to travel, to write and to look at the world. Buy it for your mothers and sisters to make them smile, and for yourself to lose yourself in.
Travels with My Hat is available as an e book  through Amazon 

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

LAS VEGAS BEYOND THE STRIP

I spent New Year wih my three grown up sons trying to discover if there was a Las Vegas beyond the casinos

 


It means ‘The Meadows’ in Spanish, but it is difficult  to see anything pastural about Las Vegas which was recently voted their ‘least favourite city’ by a group of leading  travel writers.

True, it is short of beautiful buildings, natural beauty, world heritage sites and cathedrals (although there are any number of tacky ‘chapels’ where you can marry in haste for under $10) But stepping  back from the bling of The Strip and the ker shing of the gaming machines I admit to a  certain fascination  for  Sin City

Visiting with three grown up sons is a challenge in itself – last time we holidayed together The Boys were all under 21 and  considered minors in the USA, so none of them were old enough to drink or gamble . Now they don’t seem to want to do anything else but as we were there to celebrate the a 21st birthday of the youngest, it seemed churlish to cramp their style.

However by day two   when the sight of three  Elvises and a couple of Michael Jackson look a likes before breakfast, nonstop  one-armed bandits and wall to wall burgers were  beginning to lose their charm    I was eager to discover if there was any more (or was it less) to Vegas

And then, when on day 3 all of the boys had been propositioned before 9 a.m. (note, gaming is legal in Nevada but prostitution is not, although one wouldn’t know the latter) I vowed to find out what made this place the way it is

What better place to find out about the roots of evil in Sin City than The Museum of The Mob. Also called the National Museum of Organized Crime and Law Enforcement we find it housed in the former 1920s courthouse downtown in a quiet, less frequented part of Las Vegas.  As well as charting the story of how Vegas grew from a sleepy stop on the railroad in the middle of the Nevada desert to the glitzy sleazy city it is now, it dwells on some of the unsavoury characters whose bootlegging and illegal activities helped fund the building of Las Vegas

It’s not an easy museum to visit as  it spares no detail when  confronting  the violence and harshness of ‘The Mobs’ and includes graphic images  of their handiwork including deceased victims and weapons. The gangs who began their criminal lives in the cities of New York and Chicago and who developed networks all over the USA in the early 20th century made money out of on prohibition, drug-use and prostitution.

The Museum’s key exhibit is the brick wall from Chicago’s Valentine’s Day massacre in 1929 and there is an explanation of the murder of a gang led by Al Capone’s South side Italian gang. The wall includes a 38-calibre Colt Detective revolver, the only gun related to hs shooting

Another grisly object on display is the barber’s chair where mobster Albert Anastasia once sat. He was brutally shot and killed while getting a haircut and shave

The museum is interactive, and so the three sons were able to ‘enjoy’ shooting with an FBI forearms training simulator and taking part in a police line-up where they were photographed as suspects. Definitely one for the album

 

Easier on the eye is the Neon Museum, which showcases Las Vegas bright distinctive signage as an art form. It is situated in Old Vegas, or Downtown where we find one of the most famous neon signs in the USA, Lucky Strike’s waving cowboy who grins down at a street of souvenir stalls and barsof Freemont Street. The Neon Museum has more than 150 vintage Las Vegas neon signs from the 1930s to the present including the Golden Nugget and the huge Treasure Island skull

Golden Nugget is one of Vegas’ quainter hotels, although it impossible to explore without walking through the ubiquitous casino The first thing we noticed about  Vegas is the number of electric shocks you get, literally non-stop and even from just touching another person.  This is quite widely documented and is caused by the dry air and the static from the carpets.  Shocking as this is, it is just one of the many side-effects of 24-hour gaming. Everything, from the cool fragrant air pumped into the casinos, carefully regulated temperatures and bright, but not too bright, furnishings are designed to keep the punters awake, alert and gambling. 

 

Back on the Strip, the boys take a ride on Stratosphere Hotel’s Insanity ride. It proves to be aptly named as they are spun in the open air on a mechanical arum extending over 60 feet over the edge of the Stratosphere tower.

Coming down to earth we took a more leisurely stroll from Venice to New York. Only in Vegas can you see the statue of Liberty at New York New York hotel, the Venetian gondolas and St Mark’s square at the Venetian, the Eiffel Tower at Paris and the roman statues of Caesars palace.  Of course they are not a shadow of the real thing but for a while if you can suspend belief you can imagine are in one of those travel writers’ favourite cities.


www.neonmuseum.org

 

 

 

Thursday, 14 November 2013

CHARMING SHARM - EGYPT'S RED SEA GEM



As the Foreign office gives the all-clear for travel to Egypt, I fled to the lively Red Sea Resort of Sharm El Sheikh for a welcome burst of winter sun.

Best known for its fantastic diving, Sharm has grown up over the last few years into a sophisticated destination with lovely winter tmeperatures and a vast collection of resorts ranging from five-star luxury to small family friendly hotels.

I was staying at The Savoy, one of the area’s top hotels which also owns the Sierra next door and the Royal Savoy, an even more exclusive hotel. It also includes an array of exclusive villas which I was invited to inspect. The Villa  Queen Farida and Cleopatra are fabulous, opulent and spacious houses which you can hire for private use.I understand various international royal and celebrity families have stayed there.

But for me, the Savoy is perfect for now. Travelling with a group of close female friends for a change, we found everything we wanted here, starting with the welcome massage which relaxed us after the flight. Although at five hours, the flying time from London Luton makes this a leisurely ‘medium haul’ holiday.

Once settled, we tackled the serious business of indulgence. The Savoy has 414 rooms, including twin triple and family rooms.  The beach stretches along the beautiful coastline and there are also 3 adults’pools and two for children. This is a fantastic place for families, even though we are without them on this visit.  Theres a Kids Club and playground, plus film shows and discos.

But the Savoy’s crowning glory is Soho Square, the rather unlikely name for the complex which sits in front of the resort. Very unlike its namesake – the rather unassuming little square off London’s Tottenham Court road – this is a glitzy collection of restuarnts (they range from Japanese to Italian, Egyptian to Chinese) activitis which include the rather invongruous ice-skating, bowling and even ‘dancing waiters’ and bars. After a lovely evening spent in the decadent sounding Caligula restaurant in the Savoy (its designed to look like a Roman brothel and serves ‘Hot Rocks’ – meals cooked on piece of sqyare stone at the table) we head to the Ice Bar in the square for frozen vodka in ice glasses served from an ice bar. Cool
And we also found time for camel riding, quad biking, a boat trip with snorkelling and an evening Bedouin feast in the desert.

FACTS:Monarch, the scheduled leisure airline, operates flights to Sharm El Sheikh from London Gatwick, London Luton, Birmingham and Manchester airports with fares, including taxes, starting from £57.27 one way (£176.26 return) (lead fares summer 14)For further information or to book visit www.monarch.co.uk

Packages include bed and breakfast at the Savoy Hotel including  flights from London Gatwick,  leaving on 29 March 2014  are :  For 2 adults £681pp or 2 adults 2 children £793pp

FOOTNOTE:From next year the Savoy will be offering Yoga holidays which will include daily yoga sessions covering both beginners and advanced yoga  More to come!



 

 

 

 

 

 

Friday, 1 November 2013

FEEDING HUBBY TO THE SHARKS - A BAHAMIAN ADVENTURE

My husband and three sons all enjoy scuba diving. Sadly the boys were not old enough for the Shark dive in Nassau, so we let Dad be the guinea pig. Here's my report......
 


I say goodbye to my husband of 25 years as he dons his wetsuit and prepares to dive into the ocean to feed sharks. He applies a dab of sun cream to his nose  “Mayonnaise for sharks,” I think.

The setting for the experience is Stuart Cove’s in Nassau, the Bahamian capital.  Just down the coast is the worryingly named Jaws Beach.
 Stuart Cove, it turns out,  is a person, not a place, and his claim to fame (apart from sending humans to the sharks on a daily basis) is that he taught Sean Connery to dive. Ladies’ pulses went racing during  the opening sequence of Goldfinger where 007 appears wearing a fake duck on his head and  unzips his wet suit to reveal perfectly styled hair and a white tuxedo, but  I find myself dwelling on Sir Sean’s  heart-stopping confrontation with Larco’s killer sharks in Thunderball

The sharks  waiting for lunch at Stuart Cove today are not  the killer variety but Caribbean Reef Sharks (although Bahamian waters lie in The Atlantic Ocean) Kate, the jolly guide, gives a short talk to the divers, describing the display sharks make in anticipation of their meal. “Sharks are excited by the sight of blood,” she tells us, and demonstrates how she will be waving some bloody fish around to get them to perform For her meeting with these Draculas of the deep she is wearing a strange outfit of chain mail over her wetsuit to protect herself.  Looking like some underwater Sir Lancelot she instructs the divers that they must group in a circle on the ocean floor with their heads bowed, as if taking part in some pagan ritual. They must keep their arms by the side all the time and, she stresses (unnecessarily, I feel) “Don’t chase the sharks”

The female sharks are strapping girls, weighing in at 400-500 pounds and 8 to 10 feet long.

The males, she adds, are about 6 foot and have two penises

 

Husband surfaces some time later in one piece, but looking slightly inadequate after an afternoon spent with the well-endowed boy sharks.

He describes some 40 or so sharks swooping around him, brushing against his arm and leering at him with their macabre bared-teeth grin. At the bottom of the sea was a rusting abandoned cage, the owner of which one hopes has lived to dive another day

 

We hail a taxi to drive us back to downtown Nassau. The driver enquiries how we have spent our afternoon and the steering wheel shudders when we tell him. “Shark and DIVE” he enunciates slowly. “Thems two words I don’t care to hear in the same sentence”
 
I originally wrote this piece for REAL TRAVEL magazine  

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

STRICTLY AWFUL - MY CARIBBEAN SALSA CLASS




With Strictly Come dancing back on TV, I was reminded of a wonderful Caribbean experience in Puerto Rico's old San Juan


LEARNING  TO SALSA IN OLD SAN JUAN
‘If you can walk you can dance,’ said Raffi the salsa instructor although he looked sceptical as our group shuffled in. Raffi teaches salsa   to’ anyone and everyone’ from judges and accountants to students, tourists, locals and visitors alike, and he claims it can change lives. The power of the dance can, he says, turn the friendless into party animals and the lonely into Red hot lovers. An eco-lawyer by day, he has taught hundreds of people to salsa, and our group was his latest challenge.

 
Although the debate still rages as to who invented the salsa, the Cubans or the New York Puerto Ricans, (Nuyoricans)there’s no getting away from it in the streets of Old San Juan,  Puerto Rico, and with the beat pulsating from every doorway, its impossible to keep your feet from tapping.

 Our first salsa session took place upstairs at old San Juan’s Noyorican café which is tucked in an alleyway of San Francisco Street. Many a famous face has  shaken a leg here , including the Rolling Stones who apparently inisted on coming here to experience the laid back atmosphere, the great music and, of course, the dancing.
For those who are beginners to the world of dance, Salsa is  said to be one of the more accessible forms of partner dance  and is the salsa dance is, in essence, no more than a step forward and a step back, with a rock in between.  Raffi mades it look effortless as he spun his lithe partner around the room.

After this mesmerising demonstration, Raffi started to put us through our paces. The dance is done with three weight changes (or steps) in each four-beat measure. The beat on which one does not step might contain a tap or kick,.. One of the steps is called a "break," which involves a change in direction. When we reach this point,
Raffi shouted ‘prepare’ as a cue for us to be ready for the turn. Desperately trying to mimic his smooth moves and effortless twirls, we lurched gracelessly around the room. But Raffi allows us some false moves and, taking each of us in turn, passes on a little of his stylish kno-how. By the end of our lesson, we can execute a passable salsa.

 It hadn’t changed our life, but we left with slightly more rhythm than we arrived with and headed downstairs to see how it really should be done. In the Nuyorican, dozens of gyrating bodies were hitting the floor at the famous café, The live music is infectious and the salsa party continues well into the small hours.
If you can walk you can dance, claims Raffi. But after an evening of salsa dancing  at The Nuyorican, you cant necessarily walk that well. We stumbled home to bed and dreamt in Latino.

 

We were experiencing a taster session, but to learn to salsa in style Raffi’s classes come in  a series of 10 sessions which typically last 1 hour 45 minutes.

 

Nuyorican Café

312 San Francisco

San Juan

Puerto Rico

Phone

787-977-1276

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

LORD LICHFIELD'S CARIBBEAN - ON SHOW IN LONDON


An exhibition of fabulous photographs taken by royal photographer and friend of the Caribbean the late Patrick Lichfield, is on show in London.

 The son of Viscount Anson and Princess Anne of Denmark, Patrick Lichfield - the 5th Earl of Lichfield - was the Queen's first cousin once removed.  He had a lifelong love affair with the Caribbean, and travelled around the islands snapping glamorous people and stunning vistas until his death in 2005 at the age of 66.  

 

He was devoted to his Mustique home, Obsidian. a typical ‘gingerbread house’ built in charming Caribbean style after the designs of Oliver Messel. With beautiful whitewashed wooden walls decorated with turtle shells, a stunning view of the sea, the sprawling six bedroom house had pretty tiers of lower bedrooms, terraces, orchards and two cottages tumbling down the hillside.
When not staying there himself with his three children or friends, he would rent the house out to the likes of Hugh Grant and Pierce Brosnan.
The photographs on show at The Little Black Gallery in Chelsea, London is the first exhibition of his Caribbean images and represent all genres of his photography; landscape, portraiture, fashion and nudes.  Some of the pictures have never been seen before. They reflect the passion he felt for the islands and show some of the people and places that made the Caribbean his spiritual home

 
Patrick Lichfield's Caribbean is at The Little Black Gallery, 13A Park Walk, London SW10 0AJ from 29 October - 7 December. www.thelittleblackgallery.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Friday, 25 October 2013

FOOD TOURISM - DO WE TRAVEL TO EAT?


 
New research has shown that food tourism is one of the fastest growing sectors for the discerning traveller.Enjoying local food and drink is becoming one of the dominant ways that Brits interact with a local culture,  according to a survey by Caxton FX. While 14% of people said that they spend most of their budget for a holiday experiencing tourist attractions and going on day trips, a staggering 53% said that eating out in local restaurants was an essential part of experiencing the local nuances while abroad.

Top tourist destinations tend to have unique gastronomy that is rooted to their origins, and this research proves that Brits are some of the most experimental and gastronomically curious of all Europeans, putting food as a consistent factor that contributes to a good holiday.
This should be good news for anyone heading to a winter sun holiday in Barbados this November.World renowned chefs including Marcus Samuelsson, Jose Garces and Anne Burrell are set to return to the Caribbean island for the fourth annual Barbados Food & Wine and Rum Festival, 22 – 25 November 2013.
Marcus Samuelsson - the man who made Ethiopian food sexy - is one of my favourite chefs. His Red Rooster restaurant in New York's Harlem is regularly packed out and is one of the few places which manages to combine African, European and American cuisine