Tuesday, August 31, 2010

A traditional music session on the island of Ireland is a must for any visitor – it’s a deep-rooted part of the culture of the land. It’s also no secret that some of the world’s musical legends hail from the Emerald Isle – has anyone ever heard of U2, Riverdance or Van Morrison? – so what better way to experience some true music culture than with a true Irish musician.

Kilkenny Traditional Music is run by two professional musicians, Joe Brennan and Trisha Hutton, who spend their time sharing the origins, instruments and influences of Irish music. For the two-plus-hour tour, guests will wind through the city streets of Medieval Kilkenny (and now also Waterford city) where they will be taken to some of the city’s iconic pubs and be treated to an ‘unrivalled session’.

Joe Brennan says the pair have been doing tours for the “past two years and still have fun doing it”. With a range of attendees, from families or youth to adults of all ages, Joe and Trisha will make sure everyone feels involved. They also guarantee it will be “unlike anything else you’ve been to – it’s not a concert, but there’s music; it’s not a class, but there’s lots of information; it’s not a comedy show, but there’s jokes”.

The duo can also cater private groups – just name the date and location and they’ll do the rest!

Irish people have had centuries of practice at music – legend has it that the Celtic bards travelled from village to village, trading their talents for bed and board, swapping new songs and tunes along the road, telling the stories of the people and recording them for posterity.

The smallest towns and the biggest villages throughout the island offer memorable musical experiences – you may find a céilí (an Irish dance) here, a ballad singsong there, a folk concert around the corner or a jazz festival over the hill.

It was Pete St. John who gave us ‘The Fields of Athenry’, a song so convincingly authentic that you might assume it comes from centuries back instead of from a modern Dublin songwriter, or for traditional Irish music you might think of internationally-acclaimed group The Chieftans. Is it any wonder that people come from around the world to discover the spirit of Irish music?

For an even deeper connection you’ll find fans visiting the Phil Lynott (of Thin Lizzie fame) statue off Grafton Street in Dublin, or the famous U2 Graffiti Wall where you’ll find heartfelt message from fans from as far away as Brazil or Japan. For Van Morrison enthusiasts you can walk the legend’s footsteps through the streets of Belfast as part of the self-guided tour using the Belfast iPhone application (see below).

Whatever the draw, music lovers are sure to find good craic (fun) on a musical adventure throughout the Emerald Isle.

From Tourism Ireland , http://www.discoverireland.com/

Posted by Anne Gordon on Tuesday, 31st August, 1010

Monday, August 30, 2010


The idyllic tri-island nation of Grenada is a romantic wedding and honeymoon destination, a place to live out your dream day against a backdrop of swaying palm trees and turquoise blue waters.

A destination wedding on the tropical island of Grenada takes all the stress out of planning a wedding and allows couples to focus on enjoying their special time together. Many hotels, inns and resorts throughout the Island offer special wedding and honeymoon packages which they will customize to fit each couple’s needs.

No two weddings are ever alike, as they are all designed to reflect the individuals getting married. Wedding packages will often include: transportation to and from the Registrar’s Office, ceremony decorations, bridal bouquet and buttonhole for the groom, services of a professional photographer, wedding cake and celebratory champagne.

“We warmly welcome couples to Grenada and are so pleased when they choose to spend their special day with us,” said William Joseph, director of tourism for the Grenada Board of Tourism. “We do everything we can to ensure they have a magical beginning to their marriage.”

Couples are required to arrive at least three days before their wedding and most properties will help with the necessary legal arrangements, (the cost is included in many packages). For information on planning an Island wedding and the legal requirements, visit http://www.grenadagrenadines.com/

How to Get to Grenada from Canada

Grenada can be reached via Air Canada Vacations that operates a seasonal direct flight from Toronto to Grenada (Sunday departure with easy connections from major Canadian gateways available at www.aircanadavacations.com) from December until April. AC operates year round daily flights from Toronto to Barbados (Saturday & Sunday departure from Montreal) with connections on LIAT to Grenada. Caribbean Airlines operate regularly scheduled flights from Toronto to Barbados and Trinidad with connections on LIAT to Grenada. GG Tours operates a seasonal summer charter services from July through to September with a weekly direct flight from Toronto to Grenada www.ggtours.ca, as well as Titan Tours www.titantours.com. West Jet operates a flight from Toronto to Barbados with connections on LIAT to Grenada year round.

From Grenada Tourism

Posted by Anne Gordon on Monday 30th August, 1010

Thursday, August 26, 2010


In 1974 Covent Garden's famous flower and vegetable market vacated one of London's prime pieces of real estate. 

Tops on the tourist trail, Covent Garden is now the place for trendy shops, restaurants and a great little pub called "Punch and Judy", named for the Punch and Judy shows reminiscent of my childhood.   When photographing the "Punch and Judy" pub sign recently, I had a distinct feeling that Judy in the white mob cap bore a remarkable resemblance to Sir John Major, who succeeded Margaret Thatcher as British Prime Minister in 1990!

In a big cheery bar with a wide balcony , diners at the 'Punch and Judy' have front row seats for performances put on by street entertainers in the Covent Garden Piazza.

The food is described as hearty - traditional pub fare including pies and sausage and mash at reasonable prices - and a variety of beers; Courage Best, John Smith's, Theakston, Foster's, Kronenbuourg and Beamish are all available.

Address: 40 The Market, Covent Garden, London. 
The nearest tube station is Covent Garden on the Piccadilly Line.

Posted by Anne Gordon on Thursday, 26th August, 2010.


Few places can claim such romantic beginnings as the Pushkar Fair on the fringes of the Great Indian Desert in Rajasthan.  Legend has it that a lotus flower slipped from the fingers of Lord Brahma, the God of creation.  It floated down to earth marking the site of what is now one of India's holiest cities.

As well as being an important religious centre for those of the Hindu faith, Pushkar is also the venue for India's largest and most colourful cattle fair.  In early November at the time of the full moon, thousands of desert nomads assemble on the sandy mela with their camels, horses and cattle.

Shopping at the Pushkar Fair is not for the timid
For those tourists who love to shop, the Pushkar Fair represents the epitome of Indian crafts.  Just minutes from the Rajasthan Tourist Office's tented village where we were staying, we could buy silk carpets, hand-woven cotton durries, Rajput miniature paintings, Rajasthani jewellery, saris, hand printed textiles and brassware.  On a street milling with both visitors and vendors one does not have to approach a shop to be induced to buy.  But a warning ... don't let your eyes linger on anything for more than a few seconds and don't say "How much?" unless you have serious intentions of buying.  In the language of Indian salesmen "How much?" means "Let's negotiate", and he is not finished until a sale is made.

Sampling the local fare and entertainment
Leaving the salesmen behind we stopped at a small stall and drank juice squeezed from long sticks of sugar-cane.  James bought and chewed betel-nut and I sampled oily pastries and Indian sweetmeats.  We watched a snake charmer weaving magic with a tasselled 'punji' (flute).  From a basket at his feet, a cobra with widespread hood rose sinuously and moved to the sound of his music.

As darkness fell and the Hindus gathered for prayers, the strident sounds of the fair were replaced by bells, music and song.  Nearby at Pushkar Lake worshipers observed tradition by setting adrift thousands of leaves, each carrying a minute flickering oil lamp, and the lake shimmered in the moonlight.

Posted by Anne Gordon on Thursday, 16th August, 2010

Monday, August 23, 2010


The Caracal lynx is an animal of sub-Saharan Africa, north Africa, Arabia, India and the near east. With its long tasselled ears, distinctive face markings and a lithe body it is a particularly beautiful animal. It is truly a delightful sight when driving through one of South Africa's game reserves to see one of these animals leaping at full stretch into the air in pursuit of a bird in flight. With its speed and precision, birds frequently fall to its outstretched claws. Snakes should also be wary at the approach of the Caracal lynx. Reptiles are one of their culinary favourites.

Sadly, in central and west Africa the Caracal Lynx is now frequently sought as luxury bushmeat. With gourmands and their sometimes macabre quest for the unusual, ape heads and hands are also falling into that unfortunate category of luxury bushmeat.

When travelling I enjoy trying out the local cuisine, but for a number of reasons luxury bushmeat, and that includes crocodile, is not to my taste.

Posted by Anne Gordon on Monday 23 August, 2010

Wednesday, August 18, 2010


No funds for a rendezvous in Paris? Get your fix in Québec City and finish off the end of summer and fall, until mid-October, by touring some of Québec’s most beautiful regions. There is no better time than now to experience the magnificence of a Québec summer, beginning with Canada’s most European city.

Only a 2.5 hour drive north east from Montreal and situated on the St. Lawrence River, don’t miss your chance to get a taste of Old Europe. With its beguiling architecture, winding cobblestoned streets, hidden courtyards, and exclusive eateries, Québec City is about 500 miles from New York, less than 400 miles from Boston, and feels centuries away. Route your trip through Montreal and you have two choices for the drive: Highway 20 or the more scenic Highway 40.

After passing through Québec, continue north east to your first stop: Parc de la Chute-Montmorency. With a spectacular view of the St. Lawrence River, Île d'Orléans and Québec City, feast your eyes on the enchanting 272 ft. waterfall higher than Niagara Falls! After that comes Charlevoix.

Do you enjoy discovering charming art galleries and craft boutiques? If so, be sure to stop in the pretty little town of Baie-Saint-Paul. See for yourself why it was nicknamed le paradis des artistes (“artists' paradise”) and why artists have flocked there for years attempting to capture its legendary beauty.

Be sure to continue past the area of Charlevoix, if you have the time, to discover the fascinating Whale Route, which begins in lovely Tadoussac. Flanked by the St. Lawrence River on one side and the mountains on the other, the drive itself brings you Québec at its most sublime. If you’re lucky, you may encounter some lazy seals sunbathing on the rocks or a whale frolicking in the water.

Once in Tadoussac, take the Fjord Route that brings you to the Saguenay-Lac-St-Jean region, which is home to a majestic fjord whose breathtaking rocky walls and magnificent topography were sculpted by glaciers 10 million years ago. Whether you are travelling as a couple or with your family or friends, take the Fjord Route to encounter a variety of wildlife, from belugas and Atlantic salmon to moose, waterfowl, black bears, brook trout and various amphibians – a real “Vallée de la Biodiversité” as they call it!

Begin your journey in Québec City and discover the province's natural beauty, outdoor adventures, unique festivals and events, wine and culinary experiences as well as the cultural and heritage attractions...only hours away.

With an endless array of activities to stumble upon, QuebecMusts.com will satisfy all your researching needs by providing detailed itinerary descriptions and route suggestions to help plan your vacation to several of Québec’s incredible destinations.

To learn out more about Québec, or download road trip itineraries to begin planning your summer vacation, visit http://www.quebecmusts.com/.

From Quebec Musts, 18 August, 2010

Papuan man from the Sepik River region


On the islands of Papua New Guinea off the north-west coast of Australia, dress or the lack of it is a distinguishing factor.  In the Highlands attire is often a bunch of leaves hanging from a bark belt to cover the buttocks and a lap lap (a small piece of cloth) in the front covering the genitalia.  A bow with accompanying arrows slung over one shoulder is not just a fashion accessory.  It completes the outfit of a modern day warrior.

But it's during ceremonies and festivals that Papuan males in particular take on a whole new persona.  For them, self-decoration is an art form, an exhibition of culture and a celebration that identifies them with a specific clan.

Huli men wear elaborate crescent shaped wigs similar to a toreador's hat.  Made from their own hair, their wigs are trimmed with yellow daisies and crowned with sprays of long silky Bird of Paradise feathers, yellow cockatoo feathers and red and yellow parrot feathers.  Faces are painted canary yellow with red accents.  Earrings fashioned from toolbox oddments, shell necklaces and a slender twig, or a two-foot long feather through a pierced nose add to their adornments.  Like the male bird when out to attract a mate, Papuan men - handsome at best - are most glorious when dressed for a sing sing.

A warrior elder from PNG's Sepik River region
 The men of the Sepik River area are equally striking. Teeth are often stained a fearsome red from a habit of chewing beetle nut. A mixture of lime and beetle nut produces a red juice that stains everything it touches and spitting streams of juice after a period of mastication is a common habit on the islands. Not quite so colourful but equally splendid with their earthy-toned head dresses decorated with feathers, pig's teeth and shells,  men of the Sepik are the epitome of the noble warrior at traditional sing sings.

Mud men from Komunwe village in the Goroka area in the Eastern Highlands are more intimidating.  They wear grotesque mud masks and sharpened bamboo claws on their fingers.  With bodies covered with a whitish clay they could be creatures from the underworld.  Their aggressive dance and shaking of clubs and spears conjures up images of imminent war.

Attending the Mount Hagen festival in August is to see Papuans at their most magnificent.  Thousands of clansmen from all of Papua New Guinea's islands gather in this small Highland town to enjoy three days of competition and fun.

For more on Papua New Guinea, its beauty and fascinating culture, watch my blog....

Images copyright Anne Gordon

Posted by Anne Gordon on 18th August, 2010.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010


"Don't touch", she bellowed as she smacked the outstretched hand of a prospective buyer.  "Stop messing with my display.  If you're not going to buy, leave!"  At best, her paste jewellery was hardly valuable. 

When she finally dispersed the French students whose valiant attempts to buy some of her trinkets had been sternly rebuffed, my husband, an onlooker known for his cheerful outspokenness, said teasingly, "Now have you finally got everything under control?"  The wild-eyed vendor, iron gray hair springing from her head like electrified steel, rolled her eyes alarmingly.  It was obviously time to move on.  Portobello antique market with its 1300 eager
vendors beckoned.

Since Roman times dating back to 43AD, London has been a trader's city; a center for buying and selling everything from horses to love potions, medicinal concoctions to objet d'art, including what today we consider to be antiques.  Local street markets, boot sales, flea markets and antique markets do brisk business in a wide range of collectibles of varying antiquity.  At any of these attractions the odds are good for a knowledgeable, and on occasion a lucky shopper, to find a rare and priceless 'jewel'.

Topping my list of favourites is Portobello in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea.  Considered to be one of the most famous tourist destinations in the world, business is brisk well before daybreak.  The 'Good Fairy' opens at 4 a.m.  Between then and first light, local dealers anxious to acquire the latest valuable finds, meet out-of-town dealers in a literal scramble of snatch and grab.  As the vans and trucks pull in, torch-wielding antique hunters, like hungry lions on a kill, invade before the drivers are out of their cabs.  Why all the tension?  As the saying goes, "the early bird gets the worm". 

It's not uncommon for museum grade antiques to change hands during these early morning exchanges; a brief and frenzied spell when dealers with luck or quick judgment frequently acquire something of value.

Posted by Anne Gordon on 17th August, 2010.


Favourite of Suleiman the Magnificent, Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, the darling of painters including Rembrandt and one of the most volatile investments of its time, the tulip ranks with the rose and lily in historic significance.

Descended from a wild flower of no particular beauty, tulips were first discovered growing in the mountainous regions of Turkey.  Before long the flower's simple beauty was to be seen as an enhancement in Suleiman's imperial garden and was even embroidered on the great man's underwear.  But it was in the small country of Holland that 'tulipmania' eventually reached stupendous heights in 1653.

Today, tulips are Holland's hottest property.  Hybridizers work in secret developing new varieties ensuring that millions of bulbs and flowers emanate from this country of gardeners.  In fact more flowers are sold by Holland each year than by any other country in the world.  Generous with their treasure, the Dutch have guaranteed that vast tulip gardens flourish in gardens worldwide in the spring, bringing colour and beauty to many a wintery landscape.

Tulips have not only brought great prosperity to Holland, they have also generated a massive tourist industry.  From March through to May garden afficionados come from Asia, Africa, the Americas and Europe to see the tulip extravaganza that takes place in the bulb fields, in Keukenhof Holland's famous bulb garden, and to witness the flower auctions that move apace in the auction houses of this kingdom of flowers.

Posted by Anne Gordon, 17 August, 2010

Monday, August 16, 2010


Happy Summer! Make the most of these last couple months of sunny weather and enjoy a luxurious picnic in one of London’s beautiful parks this summer.

You won’t need to worry about packing your own basket as there is a huge selection of decadent, ready-made picnic hampers on offer. Say good-bye to bland picnic tastings and open a basket of gourmet selections from some of London’s most notable places. Fortnum & Mason offers a fresh picnic hamper that includes the finest breads, salads, meats and fish, plus a bottle or two of wine or chilled wine.

Looking to take a British tradition outside? The Langham’s renowned afternoon tea complete with sandwiches, homemade scones, and pastries can be packed up and enjoyed under the sun in Regent’s Park.

Fortnum & Mason, telephone:  (44) 20 7734 8040, http://www.fortnumandmason.com/
The Langham (London's luxury hotel), telephone: (44) 20 7636 1000, fax: (44) 20 7323 2340, http://www.london.langhamhotels.co.uk/

From Visit Britain, http://www.visitbritain.ca/.

From Visit Britain


A South Africa safari is a blend of the civilized ‘Old World Africa’ and a modern developed nation. In South Africa you can escape into the solitude of the African wilderness and return within hours to cosmopolitan and vibrant urban environments where you enjoy the finest world-class accommodations and coastal cuisine complimented by select regional wines.

South Africa is a world in one country containing more species of native flowers on the Cape Peninsula than throughout North America or Europe.

One of the world’s oldest and biggest parks, Kruger National Park and the surrounding conservation reserves protect a diversity of ecosystems harboring the greatest variety of animals in Southern Africa including more than 500 bird and 49 fish species.

The Xhosa, Zulu and other ethnic groups present exciting cross-cultural opportunities, including emerging township tourism that takes you into the homes and schools of these communities.

Embraced by both the Atlantic and Indian oceans, the beaches are ideal for relaxation after your safari and snorkeling or SCUBA diving among the varied marine life. Travel to South Africa by joining one of Wildland Adventures scheduled departures or ask them to plan a custom trip.

From Wildland Adventures, telephone: (206) 365 0686, e-mail: info@wildland.com, http://www.wildland.com/


Derry~Londonderry made history recently when it won the bid to be the first ever UK City of Culture. The Northern Ireland City will take its prestigious title in 2013 after winning the judging panel’s vote, having been shortlisted among three other cities; Birmingham, Norwich and Sheffield.

The momentous win means that in 2013 Derry~Londonderry will play host to a year-long celebration of culture in the city, opening its doors to visitors from across the world. It is anticipated that people will come in their thousands to experience the cultural life that has been at Derry’s heart for generations.

The City got great support in its bid to showcase its potential as a cultural capital, not only from locals and politicians, but also from some of its most loved celebrities. Liam Neeson, Seamus Heaney and Gabriel Byrne, to name just three came out in support of their hometown, with Heaney noting “the strength of Derry’s application is based on more than words” and Byrne adding “Derry has emerged from the shadows of the recent past and is undergoing something of a renaissance and, for a city of its size it has an extraordinary array of arts and facilities”.

“A historic city with a modern outlook, the walled city of Londonderry is one of Northern Ireland’s most exciting destinations, and with this well-deserved title Canadians will have yet another reason to visit”, says Jayne Shackleford, Manager of Tourism Ireland in Canada.

From Tourism Ireland, Canada

Sunday, August 15, 2010



Home of the Messel family since 1890, Nymans is now one of the vast accumulation of holdings owned by the National Trust.

As we saunter along the ‘Lime Walk’ on a spring day, it seems as if Nymans is sleeping. Lowering clouds give the garden and the burnt-out shell of the manor house a haunted appearance. On a lawn, smooth as a bowling green, the spiky silhouette of a solitary Monkey Puzzle tree seems to pierce the clouds.

Along a winding path, flowering camellias in dense clumps grow beside a cherry tree heavy with blossom. Snowy white doves flutter overhead and alight on a dovecot to preen and twitter. Around us the grass is awash with daffodils and narcissi.

In the 'Wall Garden' liquid wisps trickle from the grotesque carved faces adorning the overflowing Verona marble fountain. With pouting lips and bulbous eyes, the faces have a strange but fascinating attraction.

In June the ‘Rose Garden’ will be transformed into a perfumed haven of old-fashioned roses collected over centuries from English, French and Italian gardens. At their peak their lush blossoms tumble from pillars, pergolas and arbors.

As the seasons change in the ‘Wall Garden’, the ‘Summer Border’ steals the show. Jewel-coloured dahlias, goldenrod, black-eyed Susan and globe flowers line the paths that lead up to the fountain and topiary sculptures.

For those who prefer a more natural garden there is 'The Rough'. This area as well as others was seriously damaged during the Great Storm of 1987. Four hundred and eighty six trees fell to the storm in the path of hurricane force winds that rampaged through Nymans and other English gardens. For decades these sheltered wild places had known only gentle rains and the occasional brisk wind.

But to every cloud there is a silver lining. For 200 years the woodland at Nymans had grown unchecked. The devastation of the storm allowed light and sun to penetrate those dark and shaded places beneath overgrown trees, and the forest soaked it in and flourished.

There is much to see in Nymans garden. ‘The Pinetum’, almost completely destroyed in the Great Storm but since replanted with maples, conifers and birch, lives again. The 'Heather Garden', designed and planted in the early 1900s by Ludwig Messel was one of the first of its kind in England. And the 'Knot Garden', in the style of the Tudors, is a planting of tall stately lupines and delphiniums with roses edged with box.

NYMANS GARDEN, Handcross, nr. Haywards Heath, West Sussex RH17 6EB. Telephone: 011 44 444 405250. Owned by the National Trust this garden is open weekdays, March - October from 11 am – 6 pm, weekends in January and February, 11 am - 4 pm.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Inverary Castle, seat of the Dukes of Argyll

As we approached Tulloch Castle black crows swept in a coordinated mass around the 13th century castle tower shrieking like banshees pursued by the devil. Tulloch Castle’s ghost is a young woman known as the Green Lady. Her place of haunting is Bedchamber 8 and she usually appears when it is occupied by a solitary male.

In the recent past a petrified guest burst into the castle’s public rooms late at night, sweating, trembling and hysterical. He awoke he said, to find the Green lady kneeling on his chest with her hands tightly clasped around his neck. He insisted on checking out of the castle immediately and subsequently sold his story to the News of the World where it appeared on the front page!

Glamis Castle, childhood home of the late Queen Mother and one of the most beautiful castles in Scotland was described to me by a Scot as ‘really weird’. Its phantoms are many and legendary and include Janet Douglas, wife of the 6th Lord Glamis. Running foul of King James V, she was accused of witchcraft. After a lengthy incarceration in a pit in Edinburgh Castle, she was burned alive on Castle Hill. To this day her spirit haunts the chapel at Glamis; the sun shining right through her transparent figure as she kneels praying in one of the chapel pews.

The crypt in Glamis Castle was for me a particularly eerie place. With its 10 foot thick walls, suits of armour, animal trophies and low barrel-vaulted stone ceiling it is straight out of the Middle Ages and an apt setting for a haunting. In a secret chamber within its walls, the Lord of Glamis and the Earl of Crawford, known as Earle Beardie are said to have played cards with the devil. 300 years after the infamous card game the chamber was sealed but the spectre of Earl Beardie continues to appear.

For those skeptics who believe that disembodied heads floating in mid-air, headless horsemen and drummers, phantom pipers and ghosts are merely a figment of the imagination, read those oft quoted words of the bard William Shakespeare,

 "There are more things in Heaven and on Earth than you have ever
  dreamed of in your philosophy”……

From Anne, “World Travel with Anne”

Friday, August 13, 2010


Clambering aboard a 10-metre long raft fashioned from bamboo, Nicole Boulanger and I settled on a seat for two on a raised platform. Our craft was a Jamaican style gondola; our 'gondolier', a cheery Captain Sewell positioned on the front of the raft wielding a four-metre long pole. Dressed in a floppy shirt and shorts, with a gap-toothed grin, our gallant man Sewell was an eloquent guide.

Sensing my interest in the environment as we floated in a haze of tranquility down the river, Sewell pulled over to the river bank. “See that little plant, touch it and something strange will happen”. I did, and its delicate leaves folded immediately. “It's a sensitive plant” claimed Sewell. “We call it ‘Shy Lady’”.

Puzzled about the black birds hovering overhead, Sewell explained. “They’re turkey buzzards. We call them Jancrow”. The birds were named for the Revd. John Crow who, when he preached a sermon leaned on his pulpit in a voluminous black gown, looking for all the world like a Jancrow spreading its wings to dry in the morning.

A loud creaking in a thicket of bamboo brought another snippet of enlightenment. “Hear that bamboo swaying in the wind. They grow up to three inches in 24 hours.”

Our tranquil reverie was soon to be disturbed. Was that a Bob Marley wannebe catching up on us? The familiar notes of ‘One Love’ floated on the breeze as two of our companions, Joe and Sophy, drifted around the bend on another raft captained by a Jamaican with Rastafarian locks tucked tightly into a bulging hat. Captain Murphy, head back and in full voice, was entertaining our friends with his repertoire of ballads composed by the greatest reggae singer of all time.

Goats, like curious children attracted by the song, flocked to the river’s edge to watch us go by. Surprisingly the animals seemed undeterred by a fire with flames leaping 10-metres into the brush beside us. Huge plumes of smoke billowed across the river. The heat swirled around us scattering ash on our clothes and hair. With its onslaught, trees and grass crackled, curled and blackened as we watched.

Seeking to alleviate an outbreak of fire phobia, Sewell reassured us with Jamaica's favourite saying. “ No problem mon. Burning is good here. We do it every year. It helps the grass grow.”

After an hour or so of poleing, Captain Sewell settled at our feet, opened a plastic bag tucked under our seat and proceeded to carve an intricate design on a calabash gourd. His work was beautifully executed with no more than a pocket knife.

Upon completion, he thumped his delicate-looking artwork against the raft's bamboo poles, showing me that it would be quite safe to take home in my suitcase. “Just stuff it with your underwear,” he said.

A daylight rafting trip on the Martha Brae is a special Jamaica experience, but for a truly magical encounter, an evening trip to the mouth of this mysterious river is guaranteed to take your breath away.

The Luminous Lagoon is one of only four places in the world where in its brakish waters millions of phosphorescent microbes are stirred to life by the movement of the tides, filling the dark surface with twinkling light. A swim in the Luminous Lagoon - and this is encouraged - could be likened to bathing in a sea of stars.

From Anne, “World Travel with Anne

Thursday, August 12, 2010


Dublin has been designated a city of literature by the cultural arm of the United Nations, UNESCO, making it just the fourth city in the world to receive this award!

“The city of Dublin attracts visitors from around the world for its heritage attractions, cosmopolitan feel and friendliness,” says Jayne Shackleford, Manager of Tourism Ireland in Canada. “Tourism Ireland is delighted that Dublin is now formally recognized for its rich literary culture and can now join Edinburgh, Iowa City and Melbourne as a recipient of this permanent title.”

This accolade recognises Dublin’s diverse cultural profile and international standing as a city of past and present literary excellence, with such literary greats as Oscar Wilde (his image in the above photograph), Shaw, Swift and Joyce, and contemporary writers Colm Tóibin, Roddy Doyle and Anne Enright to name a few. It also serves as confirmation of Ireland’s standing as a creative, vibrant and dynamic nation. To celebrate, the city has launched an official website – www.dublincityofliterature.ie – to showcase all of the exciting literary events, attractions and heritage available to visitors in Dublin and other towns and cities throughout the island.

Must-see events and attractions include the Dublin Book Festival (March), the month-long One City, One Book festival (April), the Dublin Writers Festival (June), Bloomsweek (June) and the Ulster Bank Dublin Theatre Festival (September). Book lovers can also enjoy the same ambiance as their favourite author or character at one of Dublin’s many literary pubs. For the full listing of festival and events throughout the island of Ireland visit www.discoverireland.com/festivals.

Centuries ago in the University city of Oxford in England, the farmers and townsfolk bought and sold their produce on the city’s cobbled streets and in its alleyways. Market days were chaotic. The pungent smell of unrefrigerated meat and over-ripe food mixed with animal and human odors, floated like an evil-smelling cloud over grand and ancient college buildings.

Today in Oxford's historic market now housed in a sprawling 18th century building, the plum contract for butchers is to supply the University with meat. The dons (professors) and their often illustrious guests; kings and presidents, oil sheiks and authors, wine and dine in a style unfamiliar to the ordinary man. The custom of these grand colleges cannot help but improve the cash flow.

With its eccentric ambience the market is an artist’s paradise. Students hone their sketching skills as they sit on rough cardboard in front of butcher’s shops deftly wielding pencils and pastels to produce startling likenesses to their sometimes macabre models.

The market’s sheltered passages attract buskers, drawn to the warmth and bustle like bees to honey. Over the hum created by busy shoppers one can hear the sounds of the sun-washed Mediterranean as a swarthy youth, probably an Italian language student plucks delicately at the strings of a mandolin.

Muted but persistent in the background is the bizarre music of that weird Australian wind instrument, the didgeridoo, blown with much huffing and puffing by a boy squatting Aborigine-style on a blanket.

The salty tang of seaweed and fishing vessels waft across your path as you draw level with the fishmonger’s stall. Lying on a bed of crushed ice a glassy-eyed shark peers malevolently at the shoppers. For sale too are soft pink squid, salmon fresh from the rivers of Scotland and prawns and crayfish from the coastal waters of Britain.

There are flower shops, cheese stalls, Belgian chocolatiers, French croissanteries, English bakeries, speciality tea shops, knitwear shops selling traditional Guernseys and Aran sweaters, secondhand bookshops and an Italian pasta shop where an untiring pasta machine churns out miles of delicious spaghetti.

The variety of products in the market reflect not only the cosmopolitan tastes of the British, but those of the constantly changing European tourist population that passes through the city year-round.

Oxford’s market has all the elements of an unforgettable experience. It is ‘Olde England’ at its most charming.  To Canadians and Americans used to pristine grocery outlets it may appear slightly unhygienic.  Congested, ancient and vulgar it may be, but it is truly fascinating and a stimulation to all one’s senses; sight, taste, sound and smell.

With its sawdust-covered floors and its cheery butchers wearing striped aprons and straw boaters, who would not be charmed by a warm “What catches your fancy today luv?” as you pass.

From Anne, "World Travel with Anne"

Wednesday, August 11, 2010


The Loire Valley in France is known as 'the garden of France' and 'the country of a thousand castles'. On a recent seven day visit I wondered through a glorious land of vineyards and flowers and explored at least eight of its 1,000 castles. Of those, I found the Chateau de Chambord to be the most spectacular.

A mere 2 hour train ride from Paris, the chateau is situated in the centre of a 54 square kilometre forest. Enclosed within a 32 kilometre-long wall erected in the 16th century, the forest was once the hunting preserve of Francois 1. Still a wildlife refuge, its hunting rights are one of the perks of the presiding French President.

For 25 years 1800 skilled artisans laboured on the building of the young French king's hunting lodge. This massive structure, France's second largest castle after Versailles, is crowned with a roof likened to the skyline of an Oriental city. Its upper terrace comprises an astounding array of lanterns, chimneys, cupolas, minarets and towers. During Francois' reign it was customary for ladies of the Court to gather on the terrace to watch the return of the hunt and for the King and his courtiers to enjoy spectacular events, many of them devised by Leonardo da Vinci.

One of Chambord's most famous attractions is a double-helix staircase attributed to the Italian artist/architect. After studying his design sketches, its present caretakers are of the opinion that Leonardo was likely responsible for the staircase's unique design. Built around a circular central core lit by an opening at its apex, the stairway is such that climbers ascending do not come in contact with those descending.

Although the origins of Chambord are uncertain, it is thought that Leonardo may have had more input into the castle design that just the staircase. He was a close confidant of the king, so much so that the king had an underground tunnel built from Amboise Castle to the artist's home so that he could visit for conversation with his mentor at any time of the day or night.

For further information on the Loire Valley and its castles visit www.canada@franceguide.com.

Anne, “World Travel with Anne”


Harrods in London is, without a doubt, one of the world's most famous department stores. Its name is recognised from New York to Tokyo, in Eastern bazaars and French boutiques.

This famous London landmark, third only after St. Paul's Cathedral and Big Ben in popularity with tourists, is a shopping extravaganza covering 330 separate departments. In its elegant surroundings you can arrange for the monogramming of all your linen, buy a wedding trousseau fit for a princess, or clothe yourself in haute couture to dazzle the finest in London.

In spite of its aura of wealth and glamour, Harrods' famous Food Halls are used by many Londoners living in the vicinity of Knightsbridge as a 'corner' store. Not only are the staples available in varieties unimagined by most, but gourmet luxuries such as Beluga caviar abound. For those with a passion for chocolate, indulge in a sweet moment at the 'Chocolate Bar' on the second floor where melted chocolate sipped through a straw facilitates the ultimate sugary fix.

Harrods specializes in providing culinary delicacies for its customers, but it also puts on great entertainment.

As I browsed in what must be the most opulent grocery emporium in the world, an elegant quartet dressed in black tuxedos and playing violins serenaded shoppers with well-loved classical melodies. And then, when the lilting strains of a Strauss waltz floated across the vast Hall, an Australian visitor, overcome by the music and the moment, grasped his teenage daughter around the waist and whirled her in a dizzy one two three, one two three, around the food counters. The staff looked on in astonishment.

Another musical event takes place daily in the store. A contingent of Scottish pipers, magnificently dressed in kilts of Harrod's own specially designed tartan, complete with sporrans, black jackets with gold trim and tall black bearskin hats, march through the store playing the wild music of the Scots. Mr. Al Fayed, the Egyptian Chairman of Harrods, is a great admirer of the Scots.

Is there ever a dull moment in this magnificent place? There is not. On a normal day Harrods can expect in the region of 300,000 visitors. But there is a time when the pace becomes even more frenetic. Twice a year, soon after Christmans and again in the summer months, Britain's most momentous sales take place. The events are advertised worldwide and as an additional crowd-puller there is always a celebrity to declare the sale officially open. Among the celebrities in years past have been America's Burt Reynolds and Charlton Heston, Britain's Roger Moore, famous for his James Bond roles, Australia's wickedly outrageous Dame Edna and Sarah Michelle Gellar of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” fame.

Eager shoppers start queuing the night before, bringing their sleeping bags and picnic hampers with wine, to while away the dark hours.

As opening time approaches staff members stand on the ready awaiting the signal that will start a flood of humanity through every one of Harrod's eleven entrances.

From then on close to 5,000 staff with 500 extra taken on for the sale, work with little respite until closing time at 6 pm.

The takings for the first sale day alone can be near the $9 million mark. With all those customers and all those parcels is it any wonder that the familiar green and gold shopping bag of Harrods has been seen in such places as the Serengeti Game Reserve in Africa and on the slopes of Mount Everest. It is extimated that 12 million of these bags leave the store each year.

Harrod's security guards are under special pressure on sale days. With close to 350,000 shoppers more intent on finding a bargain than looking after their money, all their ingenuity is needed to prevent a field day for the pick-pockets.

There are also the occasional flarings of temper when two customers, one on each end of a strained ballgown, are determined to get their own way. The timely mediation of a tactful security guard has on a number of occasions reminded the ladies of 'British Good Manners'.

Where there is money in quantity there is sure to be a 'con man'. At one of the sales an ingenious thief managed to get hold of a cash register identical to those used by Harrods. It was placed on a trolley and wheeled into the store where he mingled with the other temporary staff.

With 300 extra tills in use during the sale who was to know that he was there, not on behalf of Harrods, but intent upon his own enrichment. Before long he was directed to a busy department where he presented his fake I.D., set up his register, and started taking in money. When his till was full it was loaded onto a trolley and the cool-headed thief made for the exit. Thanks to Harrod's security guards, he and his cash register were apprehended in the nick of time.

From Anne, "World Travel with Anne"