Wringing praise from critics for Guy Ritchie’s King Arthur: Legend of the Sword has been as challenging as, well, wriggling that stubborn blade from a stone. But the mythical landscape, filmed entirely in the United Kingdom, proves to be just the ticket…or at least, worth the price of one.
Here’s a quick look at the highs and lows of a movie which, at times, can be as challenging as the terrain.
If you’re a fan of Ritchie’s films, you probably won’t be disappointed in this action-packed popcorn gobbler. True to form, its filled with fast-paced banter, a throbbing modern soundtrack, and manic, crime caper-style energy, as Arthur (played with tough guy bravado by Charlie “Sons of Anarchy” Hunnam) and his merry band of miscreants have fun stormin’ the castle.
Admittedly, I could’ve done without the improbably oversized evil elephants. Ditto Ritchie’s dystopian vision of Camelot, which has nothing in common with the most congenial spot for happily-ever-aftering regaled in the 1960s musical Camelot, where “the rain may never fall ‘til after sundown.” (In England? If only.)
Ritchie’s kingdom, by contrast, is more akin to Mordor. It’s a dungeons-and-dark-magic fortress where you half expect an army of ornery orcs to charge in to aid Jude Law’s villainous King Vortigern, usurper to the throne.
The director’s decision to bequeath David Beckham a cameo as a scar-faced soldier has attracted a few derisive sniggers, but there’s one bit of casting Ritchie did get undeniably right. Namely, awarding some of the most magnificent settings in England, Scotland and Wales a guest starring role as Arthur’s legendary landscape.
VisitBritain has prepared an interactive map for those who wish to walk in Arthur’s footsteps and see the best of Great Britain for themselves. Read on below for the filmmakers’ top pick of UK film locations and behind-the-scenes scoop.
Behind the Scenes
Filming in the UK might seem a natural decision, but as location managers Amanda Stevens and Lottie Mason reveal, it almost didn’t happen.
There are few occasions on the British social calendar more sartorially daunting than Royal Ascot. The Queen herself is in the habit of attending this legendary thoroughbred racing meet, scheduled for June 20-24 this year, and the bold and the beautiful have been flocking here for the big event for more than 300 years. (Well, not the same people, mind you, although a few attendees appear so well-preserved that you might wonder).
Rocking up in the proper attire is essential. In fact, Ascot has devoted an entire section on its website to the dress code, which varies according to where you sit.
For the coveted Royal Enclosure, men must wear a top hat, and everything from the size of a lady’s headpiece to the width of her dress straps is specified down to the inch.
Exposed midriffs are verboten in the Royal, Queen Anne and Village Enclosures.
“Fancy dress” (as in costumes, not “fancy dresses”) are forbidden everywhere…and Daisy Duke cut-offs are, presumably, right out.
But that doesn’t mean that you can’t have a bit of fun and stand out in the crowd.
If your feathered fascinator needs refreshing and last year’s dress is looking bedraggled, Danish-born designer Isabell Kristensen has the couture cure for what ails you.
Kristensen, whose clients include Nicole Kidman, Kate Winslet, Katy Perry and Monaco’s Princess Charlene, recently debuted her 2017 Royal Ascot collection at the Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park in London.
Here are a few of my favourite looks from Kristensen’s show.
Lexington, Kentucky may be best known for bourbon and betting on the horses, but it’s fast gaining a reputation as a magnate for some of the world’s most talented street artists. PRHBTN, which hosts an annual mural festival, is transforming this hip Southern city into one super-sized, graffiti-covered canvas. You’ll find a map of their locations here. Or, just kick back in your armchair and scroll through a gallery of some of my favourites.
Honey-hued villages. Historic old mansions. Towering cathedral spires, and woolly white sheep grazing in green fields or upon snow-dusted slopes, a terrestrial reflection of cotton candy clouds suspended in a cerulean sky.
The bucolic beauty of the English Cotswolds is so improbably alluring at any time of year, they might have been built on a Hollywood backlot. It’s hardly surprising, then, that filmmakers flock to this photogenic swathe of twee stone towns. The region dips and rolls across south central England, encompassing Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire as it unfurls over 90 miles from south of Stratford-upon-Avon to just south of Bath.
Oxford is the main setting for the British crime mystery drama “Inspector Morse,” and its two spin-off series, “Inspector Lewis” and “Endeavor.” The nearby village of Bampton doubled as Downton, where the Grantham family’s triumphs and tragedies played out over six seasons on “Downton Abbey,” and Winston Churchill’s ancestral home, Blenheim Palace, appeared in The Young Victoria and Disney’s 2015 remake of Cinderella.
In fact, Gloucester Cathedral has appeared in so many productions, including the Harry Potter franchise, Alice Through the Looking Glass, and “Sherlock,” that I expect it’s now demanding its own dressing room complete with an albino monkey named Gary, two dozen rare orchids gathered by Tibetan monks under the light of a blood moon, and a hypoallergenic solid-gold toilet that flushes pure Evian.
That list barely scratches the celluloid surface of the Cotswolds’ impressive reel of credits.
The roses are wilted. That decadent box of heart-shaped chocolates has morphed into a flabby albatross around your waist, and the giddy high of champagne has burst like a bubble, leaving only a hangover behind. How do you pump new life into a flaccid relationship after Valentine’s Day is done and Cupid has flown the coop? Read on for four prescriptions for passion that last a lot longer than Viagra.
Travelers hoping to pinch pounds in Great Britain are in luck. With the uncertainty surrounding Brexit—the UK’s decision to leave the European Union—the pound has plummeted. Here are my top tips for squeezing the Queen’s sterling until it squeals.
If you’re looking for an afternoon of cheap thrills in London, it’s as easy as a walk in the park…or, rather, beside the river. As I’ve discovered while entertaining visitors in the city I’ve called home for a decade, one of the best (and most affordable) ways to acquaint yourself with the capital’s iconic sites is by pounding the pavement along the Thames.
With this four mile, self-guided walking tour, you can experience 1,000 years of history, without the aid of Dr. Who’s TARDIS. You might opt to spring for admission to some of the sterling attractions along the way, but you aren’t obliged to burn a lot of cash…just calories. Read on to view the map and key stops along the way. (more…)
With so many outstanding hotels opening around the world this year, the question travelers face may not be so much “where to go,” but rather, “where to stay.” We’ve compiled a list of ten of the hottest properties debuting in 2017.
Alila Fort Bishangarh
If you always imagined that you were a royal warlord in a past life—and frankly, who hasn’t entertained the notion—this is the place for you. The 59-suite Alila Fort Bishangarh, opening in Jaipur, India on February 28, is centered around a historic hilltop fortress with six-foot thick walls and views of the Rajasthani countryside. A new addition houses guest accommodations and lavish public spaces.
Amenities include indoor and outdoor dining, a turret filled with cigars and cognacs, a pool, bar, lounge, library, fitness center, children’s club, expansive lawns and an organic garden, as well as a spa, where the pressing of the flesh is no doubt much more enjoyable than in the old days when this space served as the dungeon. Rates from $280. (more…)
Whether you’re after an epic train journey, a camel trek through the desert, or just want to kick back on some of the world’s most beautiful beaches, I’ve compiled a list of five of the best—and occasionally unexpected—destinations for 2017.
Thanks to the UK’s vote to leave the European Union—a political exodus popularly dubbed “Brexit”–the pound sterling has plummeted. While that might be bad news for our British brethren, it’s sparked a “Brenaissance” for American tourists who want to make their dollars stretch further across the pond.
With a few more pounds in your pocket, you might consider checking into one of London’s hottest luxury hotels. We’ve compiled a list of some of the best, all of which have something new to offer, from recent renovations to restaurant debuts and the latest in technological innovations. (more…)
This holiday season, forget elvish slave-labour. Consider planet-friendly presents that let you stuff those stockings with a clear conscience. Check out these shops for 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. (more…)
An evening spent mingling with the pink-cheeked crowds at festive fairs throughout Europe could transform the most curmudgeonly Scrooge and the greenest of Grinches into stocking-stuffing, carol-crooning converts.
Imagine rustic chalets overflowing with handicrafts that might have been fashioned by elves themselves; historic town squares illuminated by twinkling strands of lights; and local delicacies, from bratwurst to pastries, washed down with mugs of mulled wine.
Here’s a look at five of the best cities to stoke your holiday spirit.
While continental Christmas markets are typically twee, “Olde Worlde” affairs, London’s Winter Wonderland goes for the glitz. Set in the 350-acre Hyde Park, it’s a neon-drenched Las Vegas-style fever dream — the bizarrest of holiday bazaars. This year marks its 10th anniversary, and you better believe it’s bedazzling.
Two footmen in powdered white wigs and red and gold livery stand at attention beside a pair of French doors, through which Great Britain’s royal family is expected to enter at any moment to greet the press. But when those doors finally do open, it’s not Queen Elizabeth and her House of Windsor posse who parade through the regal portal. It’s the UK’s other royal family—Queen Helena, King Cyrus, Princess Eleanor, Prince Liam and their bodyguard, Jasper—stars of the E! hit television show “The Royals.”
The cast is here on an elaborate stage set near central London to promote the upcoming third series, which debuts on December 4. For those unfamiliar with the show, it’s like “Dynasty” meets Buckingham Palace, replete with scheming, bed-hopping, cheeky humor, gorgeous clothes…and Joan Collins, as an imperious matriarch.
Elizabeth Hurley stars as Queen Helena, Collins’ daughter and the mother of Alexandra Park’s Eleanor (a.k.a. Len), the rebel princess who never met a substance she wouldn’t drink or snort, and William Moseley’s Liam, a down-to-earth prince of the people. Jake Maskall is the deliciously devious King Cyrus, brother of Queen Helena’s late husband, King Simon. Tom Austen rounds out the main cast as the secretive Jasper, the hunk with the steely blue gaze who is keen to guard Len’s body in the most intimate way possible.
Hurley takes the lead as they enter, working her way down a receiving line of reporters, with a beaming smile, a handshake (a familiarity which the “real” Queen Elizabeth would never permit), and a few friendly words. “Didn’t I meet you before on the red carpet?” she asks one journalist, leaving her slack-jawed with surprise. “Uh, no,” the woman stammers, both flattered and flustered. “That wasn’t me.”
While Hurley’s posh tones and impeccable elegance mirror that of her character, her manner is far from Queen Helena’s icy haughtiness. As I sit down for a chat with Hurley, who is pristine in a white knee-length lace dress, she’s quick to dish about some of her favorite moments on set, recalling one “killer line” from Season Two. (more…)
Two girls nestle inside a rusting bathtub, each languidly puffing on a hookah like the louche, heavy-lidded caterpillar from Alice in Wonderland. A six-foot tall green rabbit squats at the entrance of their ramshackle den, a figment of a fever dream conjured into concrete form, while a child’s rocking horse dangles upside down from the ceiling, impassively surveying the scene through black button eyes.
Deeper in the heart of this graffiti-splattered cavern, half-a-dozen hipsters crowd into a defunct car retrofitted with wooden benches, Beverly Hillbillies-style, and a young woman dances with an inflatable doll beneath the rainbow glow of Christmas lights.
Gradually, the tangle of tattooed limbs blurs into a mind-bending illusion—that of a multitentacled, beer-clutching Kraken grooving to a persuasive techno beat.
Whatever I might have expected from Budapest, I couldn’t have imagined the dystopian utopia of Szimpla Kert.
It’s a surreal standout among a warren of “ruin pubs” that transform the Hungarian capital’s Jewish Quarter into a party-hearty hub after dark.
These lively bars—some little more than open-air courtyards strung with hammocks and furnished with old barrels, park benches and even a “shipwrecked” boat—line the roads and fill the courtyards of buildings that lay neglected long after World War II.
Now, the neighborhood is a haven for street artists, students and backpackers basking in the hedonistic vibe that pervades former Eastern Bloc cities like Budapest and Prague, which are still reveling in their freedom after casting off the Communist yoke towards the end of the 20th century.
Some visitors come to Budapest seeking a better understanding of its turbulent history, including its World War II Axis alliance and post-war Soviet rule, which ended in 1989. (more…)
For thrills and chills on Halloween, pack up your pumpkin and your Ghostbusters’ proton pack and check out this spirited trio of historic escapes.
There is a death match brewing between the English cities of Chester, Durham and York, the likes of which the (nether)world has never seen before. While most places try to tempt tourists by touting themselves as “lively” destinations, these three cities take pride in vying for the title of the most (un)dead.
The Ghost Research Foundation International once named York “Europe’s most haunted city,” but HauntedChester.com insists that Chester “can rightly and justly claim to be the most haunted city in England,” thanks to a series of turbulent and tragic events. (While “Chester: Famine, plague, war—and more!” is hardly the sort of tagline you’ll find on promotional t-shirts and bumper stickers, it would seem to serve as a veritable primordial soup for spooks).
But if you think Chester and York are swamped with specters, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet. According to ParanormalDatabase.com, Durham has been besieged by dozens of phantoms, including a Pekinese, flying pitchforks, an impregnating chair, and the, um, “limbless worm.” (Is there any other kind?)
Aside from being “limbless,” this critter is described as “a long, hostile worm which inhabited an oak wood, attacking man and beast,” much like the killer rabbit from “Monty Python and the Holy Grail.”
I only hope that my tour of Chester, Durham and York will finally allow the whole matter to, er, rest in peace. (more…)
From hair-raising tours of a haunted royal mansion to creepy cabaret, fiendish fancy dress parties, and a spook-“tea”cular twist on the UK’s classic culinary afternoon tradition, here’s a list of five fang-tastic places to get your ghoul on around London this autumn. (more…)
On my way to breakfast my first morning at St. John’s Caneel Bay resort, I pass several wide-eyed deer, an iguana basking in the sultry Caribbean sun, and a herd of donkeys, casually scratching their backsides on the trunks of palm trees. But something’s missing here. There’s not another human being in sight.
Just as a vague sense of panic sets in—have I missed the Rapture?—I near the waterfront breakfast pavilion, where I catch a reassuring whiff of bacon. So unless Noah’s menagerie has learned to use opposable thumbs and toss a skillet—or a wayward boar has spent too much time tanning in the sun–I’m relatively certain there are at least a few lost souls lingering about.
If a haven of such solitude seems improbable in the ever-popular Caribbean, consider this. More than half of St. John is devoted to national parklands, making it arguably the wildest and most pristine of the U.S. Virgin Islands.
St. John encompasses only two actual towns: Coral Bay, a quiet crossroads centered around a harbor where sailboats bob in sapphire-blue waters, and its brasher, bolder sister, Cruz Bay.
Yet even Cruz Bay, the main port, hardly signifies as a big city, with free-range hens shepherding their chicks along a spaghetti-like labyrinth of roads.
But don’t imagine for a minute that being swaddled in the bosom of Mother Nature is boring—because this hot mama also knows how to party. I’ve visited more than half a dozen times in ten years, and I’ve always found something new to entertain me.
Read on to discover the best bars, beaches, snorkeling spots, and hotels that St. John has to offer. (more…)
Tom Cruise. Kevin Spacey. Beyoncé. Jay-Z. John Malkovich. Richard Gere. Catherine Zeta-Jones. Michael Douglas. Oh, and pretty much the entire cast of “Game of Thrones.”
No, that’s not a list of celebrities who have been papped tumbling tipsily out of taxis, or who eat only organic macrobiotic algae or insist on traveling with an albino pet monkey named Zoolander. Rather, it’s a red carpet rundown of stars who have been spotted in one of Europe’s hottest destinations—the historic walled city of Dubrovnik, abutting the Adriatic Sea. (more…)
It’s that time of year again. The dazed and confused wander London’s streets in rumpled, slept-in clothes, cradling their heads, clutching their stomachs, and uttering agonized groans. Are they extras auditioning for “The Walking Dead,” or…could it be…the actual ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE?
No, my friends. It’s something far more dangerous. It’s London Cocktail Week.
Through the 9th of October, 250 bars around the city will be offering £5 cocktails to folks who have purchased a £10 wristband—and that’s not even counting all the free samples. If you’re familiar with the usual prices in London’s bars, you’ll recognize that’s a small price to pay for a very big hangover.
One of the key venues is Old Spitalfields Market, which has been transformed into a “Cocktail Village” with nearly 40 stands. I don’t know about you, but that sounds like a village where I’d like to live FOREVER…which might not be that long, considering how quickly my liver would give out.
Louche lingerie. Naughty knickers. Silky slips. And bras? Your cup(s) runneth over. Have I got your attention? I thought so.
These aren’t the sort of treasures you typically find in an esteemed public institution, but London’s Victoria and Albert museum is renowned for its sartorial showcases of wearable art. With well-received exhibitions of Hollywood costumes and last year’s cadre of haute couture fashions from Alexander McQueen under its belt, the design museum now dares to go (almost) bare with “Undressed: A Brief History of Underwear.” (See what they did there?)
This assemblage of unmentionables, on show until March 12, 2017, date from the 18th century to the present. It’s an eclectic collection ranging from the rather mundane, such as a package of Y-front men’s underwear and ladies’ panties emblazoned with the days of the week, to the decidedly more exotic.
Imagine, for instance, strapping yourself into a 19th century steel crinoline resembling the skeleton of a starved and stunted dinosaur, or lubing up to squeeze into a red and black rubber ensemble of matching bra, corset, thong and stockings (below, second from right, released by House of Harlot in 2015). Neither would look out of place in the Marquis de Sade’s torture chamber.
“Not again,” I thought, when I heard about the terrorist attack at Turkey’s Ataturk airport. “Not Istanbul.” I have friends there, you see–some of whom I keep in touch with on Facebook, and others whose names I never knew, but who treated me with unexpected kindness I’ll never forget.
I don’t know what your perception of this city might be, but I admit that the first time I visited on a brief cruise ship stopover, I felt I’d been there, done that, bought the rug.
Yet I’d heard so many people rave about Istanbul, I wondered if they were simply smokin’ from a different hookah, or if perhaps I had missed something during my whirlwind tour of “must see” sites: the Hagia Sophia, Topkapi Palace, Dolmabahce Palace. It was architectural overload, like staring at the sun.
Don’t get me wrong. Istanbul’s wonders are worth visiting, particularly the Blue Mosque, where worshipers pray five times a day. But for the most part, the de rigueur list barely scratches the surface of what I had come to suspect might be the true spirit of this city, where residents respect their history, but live, love, work, dance, play and party in the present.
So I went back. I slowed down. I walked. I wondered. I got lost…more than once, actually…and I let Istanbul weave its spell around me. Most of all, I took time to meet the locals, and I was utterly charmed by their warmth, hospitality, and joie de vivre.
I want to share a few of those random moments with you. These are the memories I cherish from my last visit, and the reasons why my heart breaks now when I hear how its citizens have suffered yet another tragic blow.
When I saw him sitting in the shade of a busy street, I paused to ask why youths were performing at a bandstand in traditional Turkish dress, and why television cameras were set up across from his stand. But here we reached an impasse, because I speak almost no Turkish, and he spoke almost no English. “German?” he asked, struggling for some common language. I shook my head. “French?” I suggested. He shrugged helplessly. (more…)
With glorious Glastonbury descending on the fields of Worthy Farm once again, here’s a photo essay of some of my favourite moments from Glasto 2014. You’ll laugh (I hope). You’ll cry (probably not). But you will, undoubtedly, be very grateful that you have indoor plumbing.
For some, the ideal holiday means rest and relaxation, where “shop ‘til you drop” is regarded as a legitimate form of exercise. For others, R&R translates as “ready and raring to go”…on challenging up-hill trails, if possible.
Italy’s Sorrentine Peninsula offers the perfect setting for both extremes. If six-inch stilettos are your style, choose Sorrento. If your “good shoes” are the pair least caked with mud, you’ll probably prefer Positano. Read on for tips on making the most of la dolce vita, however you define it.
On the north, overlooking the Bay of Naples, Sorrento is a civilized little city, filled with interesting stores, scores of restaurants, and cafes tailor-made for a sunset aperitif. Above all, it is beautifully, blessedly flat.
Walking more than 100 feet without encountering a steep slope or an even steeper set of stairs is something you’ll quickly learn to appreciate when you cross over the Lattari Mountains, the spiny backbone of the peninsula, and arrive on the Amalfi Coast.
This is perhaps Italy’s most scenic stretch of coastline. The road is curvier than Marilyn Monroe in a bikini, with hairpin turns that snake between jagged mountains on one side and eye-popping drops to the sea on the other.
Even more impressive than the road are the villages themselves, which cling to cliffs with the tenacity of cacti in the desert.
Some seem to have been designed by an especially sadistic fan of M.C. Escher, with endless staircases leading to, well, more endless staircases, as epitomized Atrani, one of the tiny gems along the coast.
But the most famous of them all, with its Jenga-like jumble of gravity-defying bungalows, bougainvillea-draped terraces and jaw-dropping views, is postcard-perfect Positano. (more…)
New York, New York: It’s hard to upstage a dress made from plastic drinking straws or a bridal bikini composed of strategically placed roses—two of the more far-fetched creations at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s new Costume Institute exhibition, “Manus x Machina: Fashion In An Age Of Technology.”
Yet somehow, the ladies who walked the red carpet at the Met’s Costume Institute Gala managed it.
Kim Kardashian’s metallic ensemble drew comparisons to Star Wars’ C3PO. Taylor Swift was mocked for rocking up in a cocktail dress that looked like a swath of aluminum foil, and social media mavens suggested that Beyonce’s figure-hugging, flesh-colored latex gown was actually the skin of her husband’s alleged mistress. WHOA.
Now that the stars have receded back into the heavens, it’s time to take a closer look at the equally outrageous outfits actually on display through August 14. “Manus x Machina,” which showcases more than 170 designs, examines how innovations like 3-D printing, computer modeling and ultrasonic welding (whatever that is) are blurring the lines between haute couture and avant-garde ready-to-wear styles.
Want to see what else is a la mode in Manhattan? Here are the top ten ogle-worthy fashions I spotted at the Met during my recent visit. (more…)
Flash back to the last millennium. (Wow, that makes me feel old). I’m standing on an Atlanta street corner outside the Metroplex, a grimy mosh pit of a music venue that never aspired to a title as noble as “nightclub,” waiting to see a punk band with a rude name that I wouldn’t repeat in polite company…if I ever kept any.
I’m drinking clear rot-gut fluid—ostensibly vodka, which tastes as though it was brewed in the bathtub of a flophouse—out of a Coca-Cola can. Why? Well, I’m technically a wee bit underage to be seen drinking alcohol, and hiding the contraband liquor in a soda can seems somehow classier than slurping out of a bottle in a paper sack. Not that anyone else cuing at the Metroplex is terribly bothered about keeping up appearances. They’re more concerned about keeping up their spiky, gravity-defying mohawks in the Southern humidity.
Fast forward to last Friday. Now I’m sitting beside a marble fireplace in the Donovan Bar at Brown’s Hotel in London. This Rocco Forte property is a paean of wood-paneled elegance, lit by flickering candles and bright laughter.
Once again, I’m drinking vodka—but this time, it’s served in a respectable shot glass emblazoned with a sturgeon, and the fluid is so smooth, it slips past my lips and glides over my tongue like a warm, breathy whisper.
While the stuff I guzzled outside the Metroplex may well have been poured from a gasoline can, this nectar comes in a limited edition bottle with an embossed silver and gold label.
It’s sealed with wax and opened with a tiny, Barbie-sized hammer and brush, for heaven’s sake.
This, my friends, is Beluga Gold Line Vodka.
It’s made by the Mariinsk Distillery in Siberia, and it’s not even the same species as any vodka I’ve tasted before. It is, quite simply, dangerously delicious stuff. (more…)
With the airing of Downton Abbey’s final episode, avid viewers may be feeling bereft. But take heart. You can still follow in the footsteps of your favorite footmen, comely maids and high-spirited heiresses when you head to England to tour this hit series’ most atmospheric film locations.
Tallinn is making up for lost time. After being bandied about by the USSR and Nazi Germany before finally gaining independence 25 years ago, the Estonian capital today is like a freshman at university, relishing a taste of freedom, revved up on Red Bull and ready to party.
Yet wherever you go, there’s history, smacking you on the back of the head like that last ill-advised shot of Jagermeister at one of the city’s late-night dance halls, all juxtaposed against a kind of frenetic, youthful joy and capitalist ambition. If you want to experience a society teetering at a cultural and temporal crossroads, this is the time to visit Tallinn. (more…)
Dishoom is, apparently, the Indian equivalent of “kapow”–and I can confirm that breakfast at the Bombay-inspired eatery certainly packs a punch. In fact, it’s so popular that, even on a cold winter’s day, crowds are lined up thirty deep outside the King’s Cross location in London, waiting for their chance to belly up to a heaping plate and bottomless tumbler of warm spiced chai.
Here’s a top tip, though. Make a reservation, and you can breeze past the crowds. Don’t forget to channel the graceful spirit of Princess Di, offering a bashful, apologetic smile as you sidestep the queue, which may collectively raise a frozen finger or two in what you could opt to interpret as a “salute” to your clever forethought. (more…)
Some seasoned travelers may cast a weary eye upon Europe. London, Paris, Rome…check, check, and check. But if you think you’ve “been there, done that,” it may be time to consider Croatia.
Since joining the European Union in 2013, this slice of the former Yugoslavia has officially hit the big time. Twenty years after the Croatian War of Independence, its once battle-scarred cities have been beautifully rebuilt, and the country wants the world to know: it’s open for business.
If you haven’t yet dipped your toe in the sapphire Adriatic Sea abutting its shores or discovered the museum-packed capital of Zagreb, Abercrombie & Kent’s nine-day Connections tour–“Croatia: Jewel of the Coast”–offers a tantalizingly moreish taste of this croissant-shaped nation. (more…)
Whether you want to know where to go to see Scotland Yard’s original evidence and artifacts from London’s most notorious crime scenes–or if you’re curious about the best Scottish single malts to whet your whistle with (something I’d never attempt to say after a wee dram or two)–check out my interview with the world’s most charming Travel Detective, Peter Greenberg.
To hear my first interview with Peter, where we discuss the words you should NEVER say in Britain, click here.
To learn more about “The Crime Museum Uncovered” exhibition at The Museum of London, click here.
If anyone out there was wondering, the website ABroadInBritain.com was already taken. D’oh! Guess I’m sticking with AmyLaughinghouse.com. There’s only one of those!
Dozens of hardback tomes, as big and sturdy as a fleet of family Bibles on steroids, line theatrically lit shelves. Banquette sofas fill one corner of the double-height room, which is cushioned underfoot by a plush Persian rug. A barman is slinging cocktails behind a polished mahogany bar, and on this particular night—a special event for the luxurious Aman resorts—waiters are circulating with bijoux nibbles.
And, oh yes, a nude, nubile nymph pores over the pages of a book in the midst of it all. (more…)
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.
Located half an hour south of Torquay, the “English Riviera” town where Christie was born on September 15, 1890, Greenway will look familiar to fans of the Hercule Poirot mysteries. David Suchet, who played the brilliant, mustachioed Belgian detective for 13 seasons, filmed one of his last episodes, “Dead Man’s Folly,” here in 2013.
But beyond the macabre thrill of finding yourself at a fictional murder scene, visitors to the home have a rare opportunity to read between the lines and ferret out fascinating clues about the famous—and famously shy—Dame Agatha. (more…)
With its silky beaches, chic shops, luxury marinas, and eclectic dining scene, Calvia is a favourite European escape. Discover the top ten attractions of this sun-soaked municipality on the southwestern coast of Mallorca, one of the hottest hideaways in Spain’s Balearic Islands.
“So, what do you like to…do…when you travel?” my mother asked me recently. She posed the question with a slightly furrowed brow, in the sort of dubious tone you might otherwise reserve for quizzing the man next to you on the Tube about why he’s wearing a lime green mankini and clutching a jar filled with human hair and toenail clippings—except, of course, you would never speak to that man, or even look him in the eye. (more…)
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.
Up at the O2 (more…)
The Museum of London is giving amateur sleuths and clued-in fans of television mystery dramas an unprecedented opportunity to see how real British detectives have solved some of the UK’s most infamous crimes.
“The Crime Museum Uncovered” exhibition, which opened on October 9, features around 600 artifacts from notorious cases involving the likes of Jack the Ripper and London gangsters Ronald and Reggie Kray, portrayed by Tom Hardy in the new film Legend.
The objects are culled from the London Metropolitan Police’s Crime Museum, founded in 1875 as an educational resource for the police. For more than a century, its contents have been shrouded in mystery, earning it the nickname “the Black Museum.” Access to this facility in New Scotland Yard is strictly controlled and typically reserved for members of law enforcement. Mere curiosity seekers need not apply.
Now, for the first time, the Museum of London is shedding light on this collection, enabling the public to see how actual cases were investigated and examine damning evidence used to secure convictions.
If you’ve never walked into a hotel room and burst into tears—of joy, that is–then it’s time you visited the newly refurbished Ashford Castle in Cong, Ireland. The 800-year-old stone stronghold, recently named “Hotel of the Year” by the Virtuoso luxury travel network, reopened in Spring 2015 following a US $75 million dollar roof-to-cellar renovation.
Frankly, its super-luxurious makeover has left some folks feeling a bit verklempt. Duty Manager Emer Mulcahy has actually seen guests cry when they’re shown to their rooms, “because they’re so beautiful,” she explains. “They’ve got the ‘wow’ factor.”
Amsterdam is best known for its risqué Red Light District, where working girls pose in neon-lit windows and “coffee shops” sell substances substantially more mood altering than a Starbucks’ triple venti no foam latte.
Veer west off the tourist trail, however, and you’ll encounter a completely different city. Picture buzzing local restaurants and cafés, one-of-a-kind shops and hipster havens that have brought previously derelict areas back to life.
During the last weekend of every August, approximately one million punters rock up for Red Stripe and revelry at London’s Notting Hill Carnival. Originally introduced by Caribbean immigrants in the mid-60s, the event has evolved into one of Europe’s biggest street celebrations. Think of Mardi Gras…on steroids.
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, snaking through the streets of one of London’s buzziest multicultural neighbourhoods. 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 most memorable moments were about to unfold in the neighbourhood I felt fortunate to call home.
Here are some of the strangest moments from Carnivals past.
Approaching my table at The Turk’s Head pub on St. Agnes with a glass of Cornish Rattler cider in hand (for who can resist a pint pulled from a tap shaped like the head of a snake–wearing sunglasses), I’m shocked to hear that the conversation has turned to talk of a murder here on the Isles of Scilly, a tranquil beach community off the southwestern coast of England.
“1976,” replies Katharine Sawyer, an archeologist who leads guided walks around the islands.
Considering that the islands’ second most notorious incident in nearly four decades was the case of the Knicker Nicker—a man who was convicted of stealing ladies’ underwear in 2005—it’s hardly surprising to learn that the Scillies claim the lowest crime rate in the country.
When Police Sergeant Colin Taylor posted a Facebook advertisement for a new constable on the Isles of Scilly this past April, candidates from as far away as Thailand, Australia, South Africa and the Philippines threw their cap in the ring for “quite possibly the most enviable policing post in the UK or even the world.”
As Taylor explained, this “unique opportunity” requires the ability to “issue a parking ticket to your spouse so tactfully so as not find dinner in the dog thereafter” and “unflinching confidence to know what to do when you are alerted to an abandoned seal pup making its way up the main street.”
Growing up in the Southern United States, I learned the fundamental fashion rules from my mother. Never wear white after Labor Day. Always match your shoes and your handbag. There’s no such thing as a bow that’s “too big.” And do not, under any circumstances–not even on a triple dog dare–sport a duct-taped box on your head. (Like I said…the basics.)
But when I moved to London eight years ago, I found folks around every corner who not only broke the rules. They burned them, smashed them, and jumped up and down on them in Doc Martens that–get this–clashed with their handbag.
I have a couple of theories about Londoners’ funky fashion sense. One is that you’ve got to push the boundaries if you want to stand out in a city of more than eight million.
Another is that closets here are so small, you’re pretty much forced to mix and match the few items you own with maximum…let’s just call it “creativity.”
Or maybe it’s down to the city’s unofficial motto: “London: The City Too Busy To Do Laundry.” So just wear whatever smells least like stale sweat and spilled beer. Even if that means donning a sombrero and flippers.
Eric Rychnausky, head mixologist at The Stafford London, divulges his secrets for a trio of truth serums created especially for the Spring.
Pack your trunks. Round up your rats, and get ready for a new wand-waggling adventure. On March 19, 2015, Harry Potter’s own Hogwarts Express steams onto a resurrected Platform 9 3/4 at the Warner Bros. Studio Tour London.
I had a track-side chat with Mark Williams, a.k.a. Mr. Weasley, about movies, memories and magic.
For more info on the Warner Bros. Studio Tour London and “The Making of Harry Potter” experience, check out my story: http://amylaughinghouse.com/?p=770
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 bucking Nimbus 2000 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.
Unlike the The Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Orlando, Florida, the U.K. doesn’t feature theme park rides like roller coasters.
Instead, Leavesden offers a true behind-the-scenes look at the Harry Potter movies, which were primarily shot on a soundstage next door.
It embraces 170,000 square feet of space bursting with the actual sets, costumes, props and magical machines, including the original Hogwarts Express steam engine, parked alongside a recreated Platform 9 3/4.
It was an honor and a privilege (and a heck of a lot of fun) chatting with Peter Greenberg yesterday about my favorite walking tours of London.
This globe-trotting legend and his crew produce a Worldwide Podcast airing from a different location every weekend, in between Peter’s duties as Travel Editor of CBS News and his television appearances.
I’ll let you know when our most recent interview will air. In the meantime, you can check out my last chat with Peter, touching on everything from Scotch whisky to the “F” word. (That would be “fanny,” folks. Be forewarned; it means something very different in Britain than it does in the US!)
That interview starts at 38:30 here:
For more expert travel revelations from around the world, subscribe to Peter’s podcasts here:
For more on London’s top five walking tours, check out my article on LonelyPlanet.com:
From “Prêt-à-Portea” repasts offering catwalk-worthy cakes to, well, cakes with cats, London is reinventing this traditional culinary indulgence.
So forget stuffed shirts and raised pinkies. Today’s teas feature everything from fishnet stockings to whisky and gin. (And suddenly, your boyfriend is expressing an unprecedented interest in copping a cuppa, am I right?)
Here’s a taste of what’s brewing around the city. (more…)
This year, as England commemorates the 50th anniversary of his death, a host of new exhibitions prove his droll prophecy has held true.
Key sites around the country form what might be dubbed “the Churchill trail.” From his labyrinthine War Rooms to the baroque palace where he was born, visitors can take a closer look at the legacy of one of Great Britain’s most revered statesmen—and perhaps still catch an ethereal whiff of his cigar. (more…)
It’s the suitcases that finally reduce me to tears. A pile of suitcases behind a glass wall in one of the endless cell blocks at Auschwitz. Each is carefully labeled in bold letters with a name—the names of men, women and children who probably thought that they had already experienced the worst that life could deal them, being forcibly relocated from their home.
“Jews were told they were going for resettlement in the East,” explains my guide, Dagmara Wiercinska. They couldn’t have imagined the horrors that awaited them here, about 40 miles west of Krakow, Poland.
I’ve already seen too much. Touring block upon block, Dagmara has explained how Holocaust prisoners here were treated like commodities. Whatever few possessions they brought with them—things they thought they would need to build a new life—were taken from them upon their arrival and stored in warehouses which guards called “Canada,” because that was viewed as a place of enormous wealth. What remains here now are those items that the Nazis had not yet sold when Auschwitz was finally liberated on January 27, 1945. (more…)
This New Year, resolve NOT to resolve. Beer and chocolate can be good for you, and there’s no better place to start your “health” regime than Bruges.
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. (more…)
I’m not even halfway up Gros Piton, the taller of St. Lucia’s signature twin peaks, and I’m already starting to perspire from places where I didn’t even know I had pores. My shins. My elbows. My earlobes.
It’s an inauspicious start to what I’ve dubbed my “Surf and Turf” tour of St. Lucia, a lush 238-square-mile isle in the West Indies’ Lesser Antilles. Over the course of a week, I plan to scale the 2,619-foot summit of Gros Piton, scuba dive along the coral reefs, and horseback ride through the waves. But at this moment, my body is screaming, “Abort! Abort!”
“Please tell me this is the steep part,” I gasp, scrambling up yet another massive pile of rocks behind my guide, Chad William, a lean, taciturn man with a sparse, bushy beard. “If not, just lie to me, man,” I implore him. “Keep hope alive.”
Hailing from the tiny village of Fond Gens Libres, founded at the foot of the mountain by freed slaves more than 200 years ago, William hardly breaks a sweat as he negotiates the trail, which was carved centuries ago by villagers seeking high ground as the invading British threatened to capture and re-enslave them.
But it’s not just the mountain’s historical relevance that has brought me here today. It’s the promise of unparalleled panoramas. (more…)
“Berlin is not Germany. It’s a very important sentence. Berlin was always something special.”
Christian Tanzler would know. Although he’s a spokesperson for Visit Berlin, Tanzler isn’t just a media mercenary hired to promote the city, which recently celebrated 25 years since the fall of the infamous Berlin Wall. He’s one of the many whose family was torn apart by those cruel miles of concrete erected in the 60s. But even during those darkest days, Tanzler says, Berlin’s denizens on both sides of the wall harboured a rebellious, irrepressible spark.
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. (more…)
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.
“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.
If you’ve got the Beatles’ bug, read on for a list of five fabulous attractions you can rock up to year round. (more…)
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 more than 1,700 stalls sprawled over 10 hectares 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. (more…)
“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. (more…)
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. (more…)
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. (more…)
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 eponymous film release with Kit “Jon Snow” Harrington, 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. (more…)
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. (more…)
“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. (more…)
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. (more…)
In 2007, 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. (more…)
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? (more…)
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.
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.
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. (more…)
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. (more…)
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 on for details about some of the best foodie offerings in this hip west end neighbourhood. (more…)
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. (more…)
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.
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. (more…)
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. (more…)
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. (more…)
“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. (more…)
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. (more…)
New Year’s Resolution: 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 2013, 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. (more…)
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. (more…)
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. (more…)
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. (more…)
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. (more…)
I’m sitting beside a pool in the Bay of Biscay, sipping a gin and tonic as a Thai band plays a vigorous rendition of Van Halen’s “Jump.” A life-sized Barbie in a black-fringed thong bikini has just lowered herself into the water, no doubt inducing heart palpitations and several cases of whiplash among the men relaxing on the Lido Deck loungers around me.
That might seem like sufficient excitement for one afternoon, but all eyes are directed upwards when a crimson-coloured helicopter appears overhead, dangling two black-clad men from cables. For a moment, I wonder whether our ship—Crystal Cruises’ Crystal Serenity—is being commandeered by airborne pirates. But no, these two naval ninjas are deposited aboard the bridge to navigate our vessel up-river to Bordeaux.
If anyone feared that our days at sea might be, well, a bit too serene, we’ve just discovered that shipboard life is full of the unexpected. Perhaps they should consider rechristening the boat the Crystal Surprise. (more…)
Barcelona – Gripping a pair of long, lethal-looking tweezers, chef Tristan Lopez is hunched over a plate of pale anchovies, painstakingly applying tiny silver-powder-coated potato paper “scales” to each slender sliver. Beside him, waiter Manel Vehi Mena dispenses “liquid olives”—just one at a time, presented on its own plate. He serves them with such reverence that I sense, even before tasting star chef Albert Adria’s invention, that they aren’t snacks to be absent-mindedly gobbled, but miraculously soft, melt-in-the-mouth bursts of flavour that deserve to be savoured.
Watching the action at prep stations around the restaurant is all part of the “show” at Tickets. One of Barcelona’s most revolutionary tapas bars, it’s the brainchild of Adria’s brother Ferran, head chef at Spain’s legendary El Bulli. With that three-Michelin-starred establishment having closed in 2011, tastemakers turned their attention to the brothers’ Barcelona venture, where reservations are among the hottest tickets in town. (more…)
Peter Island, BVI–Yo ho, yo ho, a pirate’s life for me. As Johnny Depp so convincingly depicted in the “Pirates of the Caribbean” films, there was an undeniable allure to the life of those seafaring swashbucklers in centuries past: the freedom, the adventure, the really cool clothes.
Sure, there was a downside. It was a cut-throat profession (har!), and there was always the chance you might be doomed to sail the ocean forever as one of the insatiable undead, like the crew of Jack Sparrow’s ship–or in a far more likely scenario, be abandoned on a lonely spit of land.
Pirates poetically dubbed the latter punishment “being made governor of your own island.” But, as I’ve discovered, that’s not such a terrible fate after all–if you happen to be marooned on Peter Island. (more…)
Boyd. Bill Boyd. Okay, so the name may not ring a bell—yet—but British author William Boyd is certainly stirring up a media storm with the recent publication of Solo, the 45th novel featuring the world’s sexiest superspy, James Bond. (Sorry, Jason Bourne).
Solo is set in 1969, the same year that “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” starring George Lazenby was released. Eager to undertake my own double-O exploits, I head to the jagged Swiss Alps to follow in the stealthy footsteps of Lazenby’s Bond.
Interlaken, Switzerland–“Okay, get ready. Run!” Heart pounding, I heed the command, leaning forward as I break into a jog, feeling the hot breath of a stranger on my neck. Seconds later, as my orange-and-white paraglider catches the breeze, I’m like a cartoon character treading thin air.
The rolling foothills of the Alps quickly recede beneath me, and the palm-sweating terror I felt just moments ago is replaced with goggle-eyed awe. As the silent pilot strapped in behind me maneuvers us towards an updraft, following a pair of circling hawks, the only sound I hear is the wind rushing in my ears.
At 7,500 feet above the chilly blue-green waters of Lake Thun, the quaint Alpine chalets below resemble Monopoly houses on a field of velvet, and my feet dangle above–ABOVE!–snowcapped peaks. Glancing down, I feel as if I’m orbiting the earth in a swing.
Just as I’m beginning to feel at home in my airborne perch, strapped atop the lap of a blue-eyed enigma who holds my life in his hands, he motions to the right. There, fifty yards away, another paraglider has swooped alongside–and he is SHOOTING at us. (more…)
In one of my earlier posts, I wrote about a few “essentials” I never travel without, but there was one very personal item (yes, even more personal than the nose hair trimmer) that I didn’t mention—a delicate sliver of a silver charm.
On one side, it bears my name. (“Amy,” that is. “Laughinghouse,” as you might imagine, would be a bit unwieldy). The other side is embossed with three hieroglyphics which supposedly signify my name’s meaning. It’s elegant, unusual, and most importantly to me, a gift from my sister, Kimberly.
Kim passed away on June 10, 2009, but wearing that pendant, hooked around my neck on a slender chain, I felt that she was there, seeing the world with me.
I could imagine her wicked cackle of a laugh, the expressive arc of her eyebrows, which communicated her thoughts like semaphores, and the hilarious stories that she could have woven from even the most commonplace event.
So when I happened to notice the chain dangling, unhooked and bereft of its charm while wandering around the tangled maze of Barcelona’s Barri Gotic quarter one day, I felt the weight of a loss much greater than the actual mass of that feather-light talisman. (more…)
Being a travel writer, you might expect that I’d be an aficionado of efficient packing, able to cram enough gear for a trek to Mt. Everest in a bag no bigger than a lunchbox. “Just the essentials,” you might suppose—a camera, a spare pair of socks, and a handful of breath mints to stave off Donner party hunger pains and simple chronic halitosis.
In fact, over the years, I’ve become what you might call a “disaster packer.” My suitcase overflows with obscure items meant to slap a Band-Aid (metaphorically and otherwise) on any problem, however improbable, that I might encounter on the road. (more…)
“If all your friends jumped off a bridge, would you do it, too?” Well, probably, Mom–if I thought it would make a good story…and if I was sure the bungee cord was tied on really, REALLY tightly.
To that end, and to my mother’s chagrin, I’ve paraglided 007-style in the Swiss Alps, walked with lions in Mauritius, swum with sharks in French Polynesia, dangled from chains on Scotland’s Fife Coastal Path, and–my most terrifying challenge ever–taken ballroom dance lessons in London. (Fortunately, that’s the only incident that nearly ended in a bloodbath).
As a London-based globetrotting freelancer (and natural coward attempting to conquer my fears through my travel adventures), I’ve contributed stories to Qantas Airlines’ in-flight magazine, Australia’s Vacations and Travel magazine, The Irish Times, The Scotsman, The New York Post, The Toronto Star, The Toronto Globe and Mail, The Dallas Morning News, The Houston Chronicle, and Virtuoso Life magazine, among other publications.
Beyond travel, I’ve written about historic homes for BRITAIN magazine, and I previously worked as a television news producer in the Cayman Islands, as a freelancer for People and Teen People magazines, and as a regular contributor to Better Homes and Gardens and other architectural magazines while living in the U.S. I also wrote “The Orvis Book of Cabins,” which was published by The Lyons Press.