I’m cringing on the edge of a tiny wooden platform less than one meter square, contemplating a leap from the equivalent of a three-storey building.
I’m not suicidal, only slightly insane. In theory, you see, the cable that a fresh-faced young lad strapped to my harness will allow me to make a controlled, but nonetheless stomach-churning, descent into the abyss.
The “Skydive,” one of the most popular attractions at Landmark Forest Adventure Park in Carrbridge, Scotland, didn’t look so high from the ground.
But as I stand frozen to my perch, where I’m treated to a bird’s eye view of energy-sapping pursuits guaranteed to exhaust even the most hyperactive children and their parents (a rock-climbing pillar, water slides, mini-racetrack and the like), I’m beginning to regret the black pudding I had for breakfast.
Now I know what it feels like to be a penguin swaddled in a girdle…not that I had given it much thought before. But as I waddle into the cool shallows of Lamlash Bay on Scotland’s Isle of Arran, lumpily sheathed in neoprene and dragging my bright red kayak behind me, I feel as awkward as that klutzy, egg-shaped comic. I’m hoping that when I finally reach deeper waters and launch myself into my craft, I, like the stubby-legged polar bird, will take on some measure of aquatic grace—but in my heart, I know better.
Just as I feel a chilly trickle filling my rubber booties, my jovial guide, Bruce Jolliffe with the Arran Adventure Company, suggests we board our crimson kayaks, and soon we’re gliding across the gunmetal gray bay. Well, my companions may be “gliding,” but my idea of an upper-body workout is brushing my teeth (flossing, too, when I’m feeling particularly hale), and I soon start to feel the burn.Read more: Safari, Scottish-style, on the Isle of Arran
Devon, England: On an isolated promontory above the River Dart, a Georgian mansion hunkers down amid dense, tangled woods and gardens.
Tucked well away from any major road, it seems like the perfect place for a murder. In fact, it’s been the scene of several.
One man perished of hemlock poisoning in the garden. A girl was strangled in the boathouse, and a body was once concealed in a studded chest that dominates the hallway.
Fortunately, those dark deeds took place only in the fertile imagination of Agatha Christie, who featured her holiday home, Greenway, in Five Little Pigs, Dead Man’s Folly, and Ordeal by Innocence. The trunk was also a key element in her short story The Mystery of the Spanish Chest.
A visit to Greenway is an obligatory pilgrimage for mystery fans headed to Devon for the annual Agatha Christie Festival, scheduled for September 14-21 this year. The festival itself will be headquartered a 30-minute drive north at Torre Abbey in Torquay, the “English Riviera” town where Christie was born on September 15, 1890.Read more: Christie Country: Celebrate the Queen of Crime’s Birthday in Coastal England this September 14 – 21
Heading to Reading for the music festival this weekend? Sure, there are plenty of amazing acts lined up, from Queens of the Stone Age to Vampire Weekend and the Arctic Monkeys. But sometimes the most amusing entertainment isn’t on the stage; it’s in the fields around you.
Here’s a peek at some of my favourite examples of Reading Festival freakiness.
This weekend, the Notting Hill Carnival celebrates 50 years of Red Stripe and revelry. Introduced by Caribbean immigrants in 1964, the carnival has evolved into Europe’s biggest street festival, drawing up to one million party-hearty punters. It’s like Mardi Gras…on steroids.
On the bank holiday Sunday and Monday every August, this throbbing beast snakes through the streets of one of London’s buzziest multicultural neighborhoods. Picture parades of scantily clad dancers, undulating in sequins and feathers as they writhe and wiggle among the crowds or hover above the fray on elaborate floats. Clouds of smoke rise up from BBQ stalls, perfuming the air with eau de jerk chicken and curried goat.
Giant speakers blast steal drums and reggae so loudly that the sound waves vibrate your very bones. Meanwhile, Gaz’s Rockin’ Blues Bandstand (the best free show you’ll ever see, or your money back) features live performances by costumed musicians on a set worthy of a West End theatre.
For the three years I lived in Notting Hill, I had a front-row seat for the carnival, taking in the action from atop the porch outside my window. (My rear windows overlooked the dumpsters of a Tesco loading dock, but I tend not to brag about that so much).
While some folks boarded up their shops and ground floor flats, fleeing the crowds, I locked and loaded my camera, knowing that many of the year’s wackiest events were about to unfold in the neighbourhood I felt fortunate to call home.
Here are some of the strangest moments from Carnivals past.
“So, are you a Beatles fan?” Normally, this would seem an easy enough question to answer. Sure, I like their music. Yes, I burned through a cassette tape of their greatest hits as a teenager, twisting and shouting as I tootled around town in my second-hand wheels. But when you’re talking to a man who carries a British Beatles Fan Club Card in his wallet, displayed with pride of place in the little plastic window typically reserved for a driver’s license, it comes across as rather a loaded question.
This is Liverpool, after all—the Beatles hometown, a Mecca for Fab Four aficionados—and I’d bet the contents of my own wallet (expired receipts, a few empty gum wrappers, and a video rental card for a chain that’s gone bust) that half the tourists in town are carrying similar Beatles-branded ID.
So if you say, “Yes, I’m a fan,” then you’d better be prepared to go toe-to-toe on band trivia. For instance, did you know that Paul McCartney used to play a right-handed guitar strung left-handed, because it was cheaper–or that George Harrison was actually born on February 24, 1943, NOT February 25, as noted on his birth certificate? Nope, me neither.
Beatlemania reaches epidemic levels in the city every August during International Beatleweek, when fans from across the universe—or at least around the world—come together for exhibitions, memorabilia sales, guest speakers and live music by Beatles tribute bands.
This year, the event is scheduled for August 20-26, coinciding with the Liverpool International Music Festival, which includes a free concert series at Sefton Park, August 22-25.
If you’ve got the Beatles’ bug, read on for a list of five fabulous attractions you can rock up to year round.Read more: Fab Four Fever Hits Liverpool at International Beatleweek 20-26 August 2014
There may be only one place on the planet where you can find ancient French tapestries, intricately carved African fertility statues, a moth-eaten orangutan and a copy of Barry Manilow’s “Paradise Cafe” (on vinyl, no less). With a selection of antiques even the Smithsonian might envy, France’s Marché aux Puces de Paris/St-Ouen beckons bargain hunters, interior decorators, and the just plain curious.
Widely considered to be one of the largest antiques and second-hand markets in the world, the marché embraces thousands of stalls sprawled over 75 acres in Paris’ 18th arrondissement.
Flea market aficionados flock here to snap up deals on everything from silverplate to crystal balls to 17th-century suits of armor.
Need a medieval crown from the South of France? Chances are, they’ve got that, too.
Even if your expense account doesn’t cover jewel-encrusted headgear, it’s an amusing way to spend an afternoon.
Lose yourself in the labyrinthine alleyways and simply soak up the atmosphere as you browse for deals on some of the strangest stuff to ever clog a closet.Read more: For Weird Souvenirs, You Can’t Beat Paris’ Super-Sized Marché aux Puces
“Caution! Fast Rising Tides! Hidden Channels! Quicksand!” The simple white sign, with its bold black lettering, seems oddly out of place posted along the Victorian-era Promenade of Grange-Over-Sands, a sleepy seaside town on the southern border of England’s Lake District National Park. While the warnings might evoke the sinister setting of an Indiana Jones action flick, the broad paved path which skirts the grassy marshland of Morecambe Bay would appear to provide the perfect family day out.
There’s a little girl with blonde pigtails wobbling along on her Pepto-pink bike, pint-sized roller-bladers as padded against bumps and bruises as the Michelin Man, and proud parents pushing prams plumped with mewling babies. With all the lolling-tongued canines straining at their leashes, there might, admittedly, be a slight risk of stepping in a steaming pile of unpleasantness—although with plaques threatening £1000 fines for “non-removal” of dog droppings (illustrated by a stooping stick figure with a shovel poised beneath his pup’s pert behind), I would wager that is unlikely.
Yet as I discover on a seven-day walking tour with English Lakeland Ramblers, during which we’ll meander nearly 40 miles on foot through the southern part of the rural county of Cumbria, the Lake District isn’t as blissfully serene as it might seem on its surface. Read more: Wading Through the Lake District: Bring Your Hiking Boots—and Maybe Your Flippers
A photo essay of some of my favourite moments from this year’s glorious Glastonbury. You’ll laugh (I hope). You’ll cry (probably not). But you will, undoubtedly, be very grateful that you have indoor plumbing.
A flock of photographers, myself among them, is gathered on the roof of the Queen of Hoxton pub in London’s hipster Valhalla of Shoreditch. As each of us elbows for a better angle—now on one knee, then doubling-back for a view from behind–you might well wonder what could inspire such a frenzy among snap-happy paps. Kim and Kanye? Brangelina? Britney Spears gone commando again?
As it transpires, the object—or rather, objects—of our intense interest are a bevy of wine bottles and a table topped with delectable looking platters.
No one cares that the feast has gone cold. We know chef Daniel Ashley will be providing plenty more plates later on, all washed down with a tipple (or ten) of Rosé d’Anjou Loire Valley wines.
For the moment, however, our focus (ahem) is on a food photography tutorial. Our host Douglas Blyde, himself a writer and sommelier, has invited Paul Winch-Furness, one of London’s most sought after food photographers, to share his tips with us this evening.
Douglas Blyde–food writer, photographer, sommelier, and professional bon vivant—demystifies (and amuses) with his tips on the proper way to taste wine.
Every May, thousands of spectators gather alongside a steep and daunting slope in Gloucestershire, England to watch competitors from across the globe battle to become the big cheese. Or rather, to try to win it.
In an event dating back to the 1800s, hapless participants, outfitted in everything from Spiderman suits to Borat-style “mankinis,” run and tumble head-over-heels down the 650-foot-long Cooper’s Hill after an 8-pound wheel of Double Gloucestershire. The first to reach the bottom takes home the cheese. Runners-up (or rather, other rollers-down) go home with bruised pride—and the occasional broken bone.
This year’s event, held on May 26, drew an estimated 5,000 people, with some hailing from as far away as Australia. There were four downhill races, interspersed with presumably less perilous uphill races for children.
There has been no “official” event since 2009, due to health and safety concerns (high-cholesterol and lactose-intolerance being the least of them.) But that hasn’t deterred dairy-devils from turning up to spin the wheel.
In 2013, when police ordered the usual supplier to withhold her cheese, a plastic version was drafted as a substitute, and races commenced as usual at midday.
In Britain, that’s just how rebels roll.
For photos and a detailed account of this year’s winners, visit www.cheese-rolling.co.uk/index1.htm.
It’s a blazing, blue sky day in London, and I’m hanging on for dear life inside a speedboat that’s whipping the Thames into a rabid froth. If both my hands weren’t locked in a death grip on the metal bar in front of me, I could easily dip my fingers into the water, which spritzes me and my fellow passengers like a well-shaken bottle of celebratory champagne.
This certainly isn’t your typical pleasure cruise. It’s the Thames as only London RIB Voyages offers it up—a wet and wild white-knuckle tour that tackles the river at 35 miles per hour, leaving passengers as giddy as kids on a roller coaster.Read more: Get Wet and Wild on the Thames
If you’ve ever dreamed of walking in the wingtips of the world’s sexiest super spy–or tottering along in the sky-high stilettos of a Bond babe–read on for a list of Great Britain’s most 007-worthy adventures. Whether you’re burning up the road in an Aston Martin—or burning big bucks on London’s aptly-named Bond Street–these top six tips will leave you feeling more stirred than shaken.
As the French Riviera celebrates the 67th annual Cannes Film Festival, fasten your seat belts for a whirlwind ride along the Cote d’Azur.
“Belle! Belle!” a man calls out from a corner café as I round a bend in my 1956 Porsche 356 Speedster. Whether his hoot of approval and accompanying wolf whistle are for me or, more likely, for my rented wheels hardly matters. With the top down and the sunshine of the French Riviera casting a golden glow across the landscape, I’m smiling ear-to-ear either way.
I only hope I’m out of sight when I stall the car on a slope, the gears grinding and growling like an angry grizzly as I try to cajole the temperamental stick shift back into first.
Never mind. I’m going to enjoy my movie star moment, ensconced in a red bucket leather seat as I clear the coast and head into the pine-scented hills.
This is silver screen country, after all, where dozens of seminal films have been shot since the 1950s.
My hired ride from Rent a Classic Car is the same model favored by James Dean, and my hair is pulled back into a wind-defying blonde bun, a la Grace Kelly. All that’s missing from this picture is Cary Grant…and a snazzy score by Henry Mancini to drown out the carnage I’m inflicting on the motor.
Cruising in a vintage car is the perfect complement to my cinematic tour of the Cote d’Azur, which will take me from Cannes to the ridiculously picturesque mountaintop village of Eze, with stops in Antibes, St. Paul de Vence, Nice, and Villefranche-sur-Mer along the way.Read more: A Film-Themed Tour of the Cote d’Azur
From phallic signposts to quirky personal hygiene, here are five facts which your high school textbook never revealed…
Unless you’ve been living under a rock (volcanic or otherwise), you will have certainly heard of Pompeii.
I’m referring not to the widely-panned recent film release, which even the actors probably hope you’ll soon forget, but to the ill-fated Italian city which was covered with up to 20 feet of ash and pumice when Mt. Vesuvius blew its lid in 79 AD. An estimated 16,000 people died in the cataclysmic eruption.
Every year, 2.5 million tourists make the pilgrimage to walk among the ruins north of Naples.
Last week, I joined the throngs, treading the same cobbled streets as this city’s ancient denizens, touching the two-thousand year-old bricks and marveling at the wealth of recovered artifacts, including casts of many of the volcano’s victims, frozen in time as they drew their last breaths.
The man who really made the city come to life for me was my guide, Salvatore Spano, who has been leading tours of Pompeii for 42 of his 66 years.
He’s a walking Wikipedia, a master of historical minutia, but I’ve boiled down his wealth of knowledge to a wee list of “Top Five Entertaining Facts,” which you can whip out at your next cocktail party to amaze and delight your friends…or bore them into a hasty retreat if they overstay their welcome and threaten to empty your liquor cabinet.
I’ll let you be the judge.Read more: Five Facts You Never Knew About Pompeii
You don’t have to throw yourself on the sartorial sword by dressing in a hemp sack and eucalyptus bark sandals to cosy up to Mother Nature’s good side. Check out these six shops around the world, where you’ll find fashions and gifts that are as chic as they are eco-friendly.
NEW YORK, USA
Recycling old fabric into new fashions isn’t limited to tying on a tattered bed sheet and calling it a toga. At Geminola in New York’s trendy Greenwich Village, London transplant Lorraine Kirke is taking salvaged style to a whole new level.
Remember the scene from Gone With The Wind where Scarlett O’Hara, in the throws of poverty but eager to make a good impression, eyes her green velvet drapes and envisions a gorgeous new gown? Well, Geminola is a bit like that, but with a fizzy dose of Sarah Jessica Parker’s alter ego Carrie Bradshaw thrown in.Read more: Ch”eco” Friendly Shops Around the World
Listen up, Downton Abbey fans. If you thought you had missed your opportunity to visit Highclere Castle this summer, now hear this. Tickets have gone on sale for a one-day only event on August 3, 2014.
As most folks who follow the trials and tribulations of England’s most famous Edwardian family know, the 19th century stone mansion doubles as the Grantham’s ancestral home. Many of the interior and exterior scenes of the hit period drama are shot right here, 70 miles west of London.
Regular tour tickets sold out months ago, but to commemorate the centenary of the First World War, Highclere is opening the grounds (although not the castle itself, unfortunately) for a special fundraising extravaganza.
In the spirit of an old-fashioned fete, “Heroes at Highclere” will feature vintage planes performing aerial acrobatics, a “living history” village with fairground rides and vintage shops, hot air balloon rides, a “give it a go” assault course and climbing walls, and live bands like the Spitfire Sisters singing classic swing tunes. Proceeds will benefit a variety of armed forces charities and humanitarian organisations.Read more: Heroes at Highclere: August 3 only!
Maui is a renowned beach-lovers’ paradise. With more than 30 miles of sandy oases, it’s the perfect isle to kick back and soak up some rays. But…what do you do if you don’t want to baste yourself on the shore?
That is exactly what my husband and I set out to discover during a visit to Hawaii’s most popular escape. You see, the boy simply can’t abide sunbathing.
Oh, you might be able to teach a penguin to tap dance while juggling flaming batons. You could, given enough time and a government grant, potentially train a chimpanzee to recite all 21 stanzas of Don McLean’s “American Pie” by blinking them in Morse code. But the odds of convincing my better half to spend a week lying on the beach are about as likely as winning the lottery or being flattened by a meteor in your backyard. You would sooner spot Dracula surfing in a Speedo.
Fortunately, much of Maui’s beauty lies inland—and up. The island was formed by eruptions issuing from two volcanoes—West Maui Mountain, located (you guessed it) on the west side, and Haleakala, to the east.
If you’ve ever considered swallowing the worm in the bottom of a tequila bottle or smacked your lips while watching “Fear Factor” contestants gobbling African cave-dwelling spiders alive, then Fortnum & Mason has a special section just for you.
This iconic British department store, founded in 1707, is renowned for its elegant food halls. It was the birthplace of the legendary Scotch egg (a hard-boiled egg swathed in sausage and bread crumbs), and during the Crimean War, Queen Victoria supplied Florence Nightingale’s hospitals with the store’s beef tea–no doubt inspiring many a wounded hero to get back on his feet, if only to escape another cuppa bovine brew. It also claims the distinction of being the first store in Britain to stock tins of baked beans, which have since become the culinary wind beneath the wings of the empire, as it were.
These days, Fortnum & Mason is perhaps best known for its gorgeous food hampers, which range from £27.50 for two quarter-bottles of champagne to £1,000 for the colossal St. James Hamper, containing a right royal spread including caviar, foie gras, and a magnum of vintage champagne.
It’s like Harry Potter’s Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes come to life. But instead of the Weasley twins’ Puking Pastilles and Nosebleed Nougat, displays include dubious delicacies like Edible Toffee Scorpion Candy and Thai Curry Crickets.
Here’s a look at some of the best…er, at least the most unusual foodie fare Fortnum & Mason has on offer.Read more: Fortnum & Mason Meets Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes
Normally, I write about travel–worldly adventures and destinations. But today, I feel compelled to write about a different sort of journey, because I want, I need, to honor my friend Michelle Taylor Shutzer. She passed away in San Francisco yesterday, April 9, 2014, after battling Stage 4 cancer for nearly four years.
Yes. Stage 4. That’s the “last” stage of cancer, meaning it has spread to more than one organ. That was the state of things when she was diagnosed…yet she lived with it for nearly four more years.
When I say lived, I mean lived, and through her incredible bravery, determination and humor, she showed her friends how to live by example.
I’d known Michelle since high school. She was the girl with the big red hair, the big bold laugh, at the center of our big group of friends. She was larger than life, even then.
But I don’t think I really got to know her until her diagnoses. That’s when she emerged as the Butterfly Queen, head of a devoted butterfly nation, whom she called upon to lift her up.Read more: Saying good-bye to the Butterfly Queen
The first meal of the day typically consists of a giant waffle served with a pitcher of chocolate sauce and gobs of whipped cream—and that’s just a warm-up.
Chocolate shops and beer halls vie for space along virtually every cobblestone block and market square in this impeccably preserved medieval Belgian town, tantalizing tourists with scented tendrils of cocoa and hops that waft into the streets, playing tug of war with your taste buds.
Resistance is futile, but here’s the good news. You needn’t bother trying.
According to the locals, chocolate and beer can actually be good for you…when consumed in moderation, of course.Read more: Welcome to Bruges, Where Beer & Chocolate Are Good For You
“Do you get the feeling,” my husband hisses in my ear, “that maybe we shouldn’t BE here?”
We are standing in the middle of Kilauea Iki Crater in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on the Big Island of Hawaii. Steam vents issue super-heated mist that rises, wraithlike, from the barren, lunar-like surface.
Here and there, giant slabs of crust are piled upon one another like asphalt after an earthquake, and deep fissures create jagged scars across the face of the crater.
I cautiously sidle up to the rim of one nasty gash and peer down, half expecting to see a river of red-hot lava, but it’s dark and seemingly bottomless. There are no barriers, no ropes, nothing to keep me from falling in but my own common sense.
Of course, if I had common sense, would I be hiking across a volcanic crater? I’m forced to concede that my husband may have a point.
That’s the Big Island for you. Bewitched by its wild beauty, you find yourself pushing your limits, drawn—quite literally—to life on the edge.Read more: Taking Big Risks On The Big Island Of Hawaii
This hair-raising notice was printed discreetly atop the third page of my Tahitian tour itinerary. No exclamation point. No bold type. No suggestion that I complete my last will and testament before embarking on such an adventure. Just a note about donning suitable apparel.
But what, I asked myself, is “appropriate attire” for feeding a shark? A chain mail bikini? A Kevlar wetsuit?
This subject has never, to my knowledge, been broached between the pages of Vogue.Read more: Swimming with Sharks: Fear & Fashion in French Polynesia
Seven years ago, I kissed my grits good-bye. My husband had received a job offer in Great Britain, and after giving this international upheaval careful consideration (possibly the longest 10 seconds of my life), we made a tearful decision to leave our home in the warm and sunny South. Cheerio, Atlanta. ‘Ello, London town!
Do you speak English?
Okay, so nobody in London actually says “Cheerio,” unless, perhaps, they’re asking for the breakfast cereal. And that’s just one of the linguistic surprises we’ve encountered.
You might think we share the same tongue with our British brethren, but the first time you utter the words “fanny pack,” you will realize, to your shock and horror, that you are indeed VERY much mistaken. (Suffice it to say, a purse worn around the waist is called a “bum bag,” and let’s just leave it at that).
Except you should also know that pants are called trousers, underwear are called pants, and if something is deemed unsatisfactory, then it’s also called “pants” (pronounced with a sneering curl of the lip).
Presumably, when the elastic finally goes on the “pants” you’ve owned since the last millennium, they are “pants pants!” Confused? Me too.Read more: A Southern Belle in Britain
There are few things in this world which chocolate can not improve, and those which it can not are probably not worth eating. Pigs’ feet, for example, would not be any more edible dipped in chocolate. Ditto for chicken livers, ox tongue, and jellied moose nose. (Yes, apparently, that IS a “thing.”)
While cucumbers would never have made the list of my top five “Fear Factor” foods, I would have thought them equally impervious to the embellishments of any incarnation of the cocoa bean. But then again, I’m not visionary chocolatier Paul A Young, who has been lauded five years running by the Academy of Chocolate. (Sorry to disappoint, but no, you can’t earn a degree at the academy by eating bonbons. I checked).
Young’s chocolate and cucumber sandwiches were among a host of delicious revelations revealed today at a preview tasting of Young’s new “Chocolate Inspired Afternoon Tea,” which officially launches 14 April at Grosvenor House, a JW Marriott Hotel on London’s Park Lane.
In the early noughties, Dublin’s aptly named Temple Bar district was the stuff of legend. It was a Mecca for bachelor and bachelorette parties, and there were tales of cobblestone streets that ran with a river of Guinness and girls who would flash more than a smile. It was like Mardi Gras every weekend.
But given the state of the economy, how is Dublin faring today? Is Temple Bar still a hotbed of hormones, and what, in their soberer moments, is there for tourists to do elsewhere around the city?Read more: Dublin: To the Bars…and Beyond
If 007 were looking for a sultry lair where he could hole up with one of his sexy Bond babes, he could hardly hope for a more sensuous escape than ME London. Domino would certainly appreciate the black-and-white colour scheme of the 157-room hotel, tucked into the elbow-shaped intersection where Aldwych meets the Strand.
From the moment you enter the Marconi Lounge lobby, with it’s bed-sized curvilinear sofas, hula-hoop-style lighting fixtures and forest of floor-to-ceiling chrome poles, you feel as though you’re stepping onto one of the super-spy’s futuristic movie sets.
Whisky draws 1.3 million visitors and brings in £26 million to Scotland every year. “But above all,” says Fergus Ewing, Scotland’s Minister for Energy, Enterprise and Tourism, “it allows people to see the world as a slightly kinder place, for at least an hour or two.”
Check out www.homecomingscotland.com/whiskymonth for details–and don’t forget to raise a wee dram “World Whisky Day,” May 17.
But why wait to get into the, er, spirit? Click http://amylaughinghouse.com/?p=1825 to read about the Scotch Whisky Trail—and find out why every day is whisky day for me.
Greek fire was one of the most powerful and mysterious weapons of Byzantium, almost mythical in its power to subdue and overpower enemies of the empire. The recipe for this legendary liquid flame—a highly combustible compound that was hurled through the air and could not be quenched with water—has been lost in the ensuing centuries.
Modern historians believe it may have been a form of petroleum, but personally, my money’s on Scotch whisky.
Pour a finger of Scotch, swirl the tumbler, and watch as light plays across the amber fluid like dancing flames encased in glass.
Inhale the heady fumes, which may fill your nostrils with the smoky perfume of peat.
Finally, take a sip. Careful now, because this is where whisky really earns its reputation, searing your throat and warming your belly, tracing a course through your body so intense that you would swear it left a mark on your flesh.Read more: Following the Scotch Whisky Trail: A Spirited Tour of Scotland
I’m soaking up the warm Italian sunshine on a terrace at Villa Jovis, a Roman villa built for the Emperor Tiberius more than two thousand years ago on the isle of Capri. A lone cloud mars an otherwise faultless blue sky, hovering theatrically like a whiff of smoke above Mount Vesuvius, which towers over the mainland Amalfi Coast.
“That was put there by the tourism office,” quips a French tourist, who fell into step alongside my husband Scott and I on our arduous trek to the ruins. Considering all the huffing and puffing we had to do to reach this impressive maze of crumbling walls and archways, I wonder if there’s not a nimbus of steaming perspiration rising from my sizzling flesh, as well.Read more: Capri: Italy’s “StairMaster Isle”
With the fourth season of Downton Abbey having just wrapped up in the US, avid viewers may be feeling bereft. But take heart. While you’re whiling away the months until your favorite footmen and high-spirited heiresses return to the airwaves, head to Merry Ol’ England to visit the actual Downton Abbey film locations.
The ITV/PBS MASTERPIECE hit series is shot largely at Highclere Castle, the ancestral seat of the Carnarvon family, 70 miles west of London. This year’s summer visitors’ dates are already sold out, with the exception of a special fundraising event on the grounds on August 3. But fevered fans can still visit other key locations on a variety of tours.Read more: Touring the Real World of Downton Abbey
When my diminutive bottle of Dà Mhìle seaweed gin arrived this week in the post, I wasn’t sure what to expect of it. I know that it’s organic, that it’s made from seaweed gathered on the beach at New Quay in Ceredigion, Wales, and that this boutique brand officially launches on 1st March.
Yes, yes, yes…but would I actually like it?
So for two days, it has sat on my kitchen shelves amongst the half-filled (okay, mostly empty) bottles of whisky, cachaca, elderflower liqueur, absinth, rum, Campari, more gin, and Harvey’s Bristol Cream of questionable origin. (For the life of me, I don’t remember where the sherry came from, but there it sits, gathering dust and daring me to pour it down the kitchen sink).
But now it’s Friday, and I’m feeling that familiar weekend recklessness coming on.
Time to pop the cork—or rather, unscrew the little gold cap—on my mysterious sample of gin. Dà Mhìle has been drafted for active duty.Read more: Soon, We’ll All Be Drinking Sea & T
If you think that “British cuisine” is an oxymoron, think again. There may have been a time when the Brits’ four basic food groups were “fish, chips, boiled and fried,” but an influx of immigrants has introduced English taste buds to a rich variety of food from around the world.
Ethnic minorities comprise approximately 30 percent of London’s population, and Notting Hill is one of the metropolis’ most popular melting pots. In this funky multicultural community, you can practically circumnavigate the globe in terms of cuisine without walking more than 20 minutes in any direction.Read more: Noshing in London’s Notting Hill: A mix of native tongues yields exotic ethnic fare
Down a narrow alleyway about a ten minute walk from London’s Kings Cross station, it’s all kicking off inside a former police station. A young man strums a guitar just inside the entrance, while another shaggy-haired fellow tickles the ivories of a white piano emblazoned with a rainbow-hued outline of the city’s iconic skyline. Across the room, two 20-something girls giggle inside a photo booth, and a DJ will be spinning tunes later inside a red Routemaster bus that seems to have burst through the corner of the bar.
Welcome to Generator London, one of the UK capital’s hottest hipster hangouts. But it’s not a club. It’s a new generation of hostel.Read more: For Cheap, Cheeky Bunks, Check Out Buzzing Generator London
Okay, children of the 80s. Does anyone out there remember those old Reeses Peanut Butter cup commercials featuring improbable mishaps between slippery chocolate bars and peanut butter jars?
“Hey, you got your chocolate in my peanut butter!” “You got your peanut butter on my chocolate!” the offended parties exclaim after colliding on a random street corner, tumbling down a flight of stairs, or bumping into a robot on a space ship’s elevator. (Indeed, it beggars belief, but I’ve got YouTube to back me up here).
The only thing more unlikely than any of these pratfalls actually occurring—while one party is nose deep in a tub of peanut butter, no less—is that anyone could ever have doubted that the culinary union of these two delicacies would result in gastronomic bliss.
The notion of mixing chocolate with gin, however, requires considerably more imagination. Yet a G&C (gin and chocolate, that is) may be equally destined to become a classic, as I recently discovered.Read more: Unexpected Pairings for the Palate: G&C, anyone?
Want to feel like you’re part of James Bond’s posse–without the risk of being fed to sharks, cremated alive, or sliced in half by lasers?
“SPY: The Secret World of Espionage,” draws you into the realm of 007’s real-life contemporaries, getting you as close to this dangerous occupation as possible…without signing an insurance waiver, at least.
The traveling attraction, which features more than 200 historical spy gadgets utilized by the CIA, FBI and KGB, is on display at the Pacific Science Center in Seattle, Washington through September 1.
I had a chance to peek behind the veil of this shady profession when “SPY” premiered in Manhattan. Here’s what I uncovered.
Given the United Kingdom’s biblical rainfall recently, this week’s preview of P&O Cruises’ extravagant new “ark” couldn’t be more timely. Of course, Noah never dreamed of the luxury awaiting passengers aboard Britannia, the largest ship built for the British cruise market.
Although the ship’s maiden voyage isn’t scheduled until March 14, 2015, P&O offered a glimpse of on-board life at the Britannia launch party, held on Wednesday night at Foreman’s riverside restaurant in East London.
With a length of 1,082 feet and a capacity of 3,647 passengers, Britannia’s got a big ol’ bow, oh yeah.
As you might imagine, squeezing the 141,000 ton boat into the River Lea would’ve been akin to stuffing an elephant into a kangaroo’s pouch—awkward, and incredibly painful for all involved. So guests were greeted instead by a dazzling recreation of the ship’s key public spaces.Read more: Need a bigger boat? P&O’s Got You Covered with Cool Britannia.
This is a story about public toilets. And food.
Right. Is anyone still with me here? Because I promise, it’s not as unsavory as it sounds. In fact, it’s both sweet and savory–and a downright terrific spot for a cup of coffee.
I’m referring to “The Attendant.”
It may seem a bit potty, but this pocket-sized bistro, serving breakfast, lunch and afternoon tea, is tucked into a renovated gents’ restroom under the streets of London’s borough of Westminster.Read more: The Attendant, London: You’ve Really Got to Go
When I began plotting my escape to Mauritius, all I wanted was sun, sand, and fruity drinks served beneath an umbrella on the beach. Potential maiming by lions wasn’t on the itinerary.
But here I am on an open-air bus, bumping along a dirt road on a steamy isle off the southeastern coast of Africa, quite possibly on the way to being mauled by predators.Read more: Born To Be Wild, If Not Wise: Walking with Lions in Mauritius
Hotel restaurants often fall into one of two categories: break-the-bank celebrity chef affairs, reserved for expense account dinners and special occasions (birthdays, anniversaries, celebrating your new multi-million-pound winning lottery ticket), or dreary courts-of-last-resort, when the thought of wading out into the rain after a transatlantic flight is only slightly less appealing than facing whatever warmed-over goulash is on the (sticky, plasticized) menu.
The new Lanes of London, which opened last month in the 5-star London Marriott Hotel Park Lane, is neither of the above–and thank heavens for that. Not only are the prices reasonable, but the atmosphere of low-key sophistication is inviting enough to tempt clientele beyond the captive audience of the hotel, especially given its location across from Hyde Park, around the corner from Oxford Circus Tube station.Read more: Lanes of London: Embracing Culinary Diversity
“I’m not boasting, but I know practically everything about Malta,” says Charlie Micallef, gunning a seen-better-days jeep along the bumpy back roads of Malta. “You’re very fortunate.”
So I must remind myself, as Charlie, a ringer for Robert DeNiro, steers us down a spine-jarring Second World War-era runway—complete with the original asphalt, judging by the potholes.
“This tour is like a medical exam,” my guide says, his sunburned face etched with a wicked grin. “If you survive it, you know you’re in good health.” And like some medical exams, your backside might be a bit sore afterwards, I reflect with a wince.Read more: Explore Malta on a Mediterranean Jeep Safari
A fierce wind is wailing in my ears, buffeting me back from Cornwall’s cliff tops and a deadly drop to the sea with all the force of a nightclub bouncer. Still I lurch stubbornly (stupidly) onward along the muddy path toward my goal, the slope-shouldered stone giants known as the Bedruthan Steps, hunkered menacingly on the beach below.
England may be better known for the gently undulating hills of its more civilized interior, but here on the isle’s extreme western edge, nature is altogether more wild and unpredictable. With 300 miles of the South West Coast Path hugging Cornwall’s wave-lashed shore, it’s heaven for surfers and a haven for hikers.Read more: Cornwall: A Walk on the Wild Side of England
This Year, Resolve to Improve Your Foreign Language Skills. But Beware Those Slips of the Tongue.
As a traveller with a love of foreign lands, I’ve often wished for a Babel fish.
This ingenious invention, proposed by Douglas Adams in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, would enable anyone to understand anything being said around them, no matter what the language.
While I’m waiting for reality to catch up with Adams’ imagination, I’ve turned to Duolingo. Named Apple’s App of the Year in December, this free tool offers instruction in French, Italian, Spanish, German, Portuguese and English.
With cartoon-like graphics and cheerful trumpets rewarding every minor triumph, it exudes all the fanfare of a video game, albeit with considerably less violence than most…unless you count the broken hearts that crumble when you fail a lesson.
I signed up for Duolingo’s French tutorial in early January, and so far, très bien. I don’t expect to find myself waxing poetic, Parisian-style, over the collected works of Victor Hugo and Gustave Flaubert anytime soon. But I do think that when travelling in another country, it’s only polite to learn the most basic phrases.
“Hello,” “thank you,” “good-bye,” and “another beer, please” (which quickly necessitates the question, “Where is the bathroom?”) will go a long way, baby. And no, speaking English loudly and slowly doesn’t count.Read more: Say WHAT? On the Road with Foot in Mouth
From Burma’s Buddhist temples to the blazing beaches of Brazil, here are my top picks for this year’s hottest holidays.
Mankind seems to possess an innate desire “to explore strange new worlds.” Just ask Captain Kirk–or Lewis and Clark, for that matter. While there aren’t many places left where you can “boldly go where no one has gone before” (without the aid of a warp drive, at least), 2014 promises plenty of novel experiences to satiate your inner-adventurer.Read more: Top Destinations for 2014
Phang Nga, Thailand–How do you mount an elephant? It is not, as you might imagine, a conundrum I’ve often considered, but as I survey the vast acreage of a 6,500 pound female at an elephant camp in Phang Nga, I realize this is not going to be a walk in the park.
In fact, it’s supposed to be 90 minute-long ramble along a dirt and gravel road threading through a rubber plantation a few miles inland from Thailand’s famous golden beaches.
A mahout—as the elephant guides are known—makes it look easy, of course.
Using the animal’s bended knee as a step, he’ll swing himself up, Tarzan-like, with a rope. Fortunately for greenhorns like myself, Sairung Elephant Camp—where half a dozen mahouts squat in the shade of primitive huts, their laundry flapping damply in the humid breeze–provides a wooden platform the approximate height of the elephant, allowing you to step right onto the back of your ride.
My husband, Scott, sensibly ensconces himself on a bench strapped upon the back of our lumbering beast, Boa-Thong (which I believe is Thai for “tiny underwear”), and while it would easily accommodate two, I’ve decided I want the “real” experience, riding on Boa-Thong’s neck.
Gingerly, I scoot forward until I’m planted just behind her ears—and instantly regret it.Read more: One Sweet Ride: Forget flat tires. Just hold onto your (Boa) Thong.
LEAVESDEN, ENGLAND: I’m whizzing over the Thames, the wind in my face, so close that I can dip my hands in the water. Then suddenly, not of my own volition, I’m soaring heavenwards, only to rocket back down to earth moments later, dodging cars and buses on London’s busy streets. Oh, and did I mention, I’m riding a broom?
Boarding a bouncing broomstick in front of a special effects green screen is just one of the hands (or in this case, bottoms) on attractions at the “Warner Bros. Studio Tour London: The Making of Harry Potter” experience in Leavesden, 20 miles northwest of London.Read more: Off To See The Wizard: Harry Potter Studio Tour
For natives, who practically roll out of the womb on two wheels, it’s no problem. They view their bikes as an extension of their bodies, and they’re able to engage in any activity you can imagine without taking their feet off the pedals, from texting on their mobiles to cycling in high heels while tweezing their eyebrows and juggling chainsaws.
According to statistics, there are more than a million bicycles in the city—far more than the population of 700,000, suggesting that some residents can actually ride two bikes at one time.
For me, however, it’s a different story. Having rarely saddled up since my training wheels came off, I’m attempting to stay within a narrow bike lane while simultaneously avoiding oncoming cars, women ambling along with baby carriages, and little old ladies stepping blindly off the curb.
If I live through this, I reckon I’ll be ready for anything life might throw—or wheel—at me in the future. (If I have a future, that is).
While cycling in the Netherlands’ capital isn’t for everyone (and definitely not for me), there are plenty of less death-defying ways to experience Amsterdam.
Here are a few of my top picks.Read more: Free-wheeling Amsterdam
Gstaad: It’s hard to imagine Satan in bowling shoes. But whoever named the stony pinnacle atop Glacier 3000 the “Quille du Diable” (The Devil’s Tenpin) must have managed it. Maybe he was affected by the thin air here in the Swiss Alps, 3,000 meters high in the sky–or perhaps he had imbibed too much gluhwein.
Drinking in the views atop this icy moonscape, I find it puts me more in mind of heaven than hell. Fog fills the valleys below, while snow-capped mountains serrate the blue sky in every direction.
The openness of the landscape—from the glacial expanse where I stand now to the wide vales that stretch out like fingers at its base—set Gstaad and the surrounding Saanenland apart from other popular resorts in the Alps.Read more: Glitzy Gstaad: Swish Swiss ski resort not just for celebrities.