5 Top Things to Do in California

Few places occupy a more important place in pop culture than the vast state of California on America’s west coast. Forever associated with sun, surf, and Hollywood, this is the place where America dreams. Home to Hollywood, Silicon Valley, and the second largest city in America, California has tons to offer.

Here, we will take a look at some of the best things to do in California:

1. Go Camping in Yosemite National Park

America is the land of national parks and bio reserves, and Yosemite in central California, is one of the most beautiful among them. Spanning an area of 3,100 square kilometers, this gorgeous park is one of the best places to explore America’s natural beauty. Rent a car, get some camping gear, and spend a magical week in Yosemite’s beautiful wilderness. Just make sure to get car excess insurance direct to save yourself some cash in an emergency!

2. Visit Venice Beach in Los Angeles

It’s clichéd, expensive, and probably not even worth the hype, but the truth is, no visitor to California should ever leave the state without strolling down Venice Beach in Los Angeles. This storied beach has been the location for countless movies and television shows. This is where Los Angeles’ dreamers and artists and would-be celebrities come out to see and be seen. Visit it for its pop-culture appeal alone.

Golden Gate Bridge, California.

3. Visit the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco

The vast orange steel stretch of the Golden Gate bridge rising through the fog over San Francisco Bay is one of the most iconic sights in the world. The view from Fort Point on the south side of the bridge is absolutely breathtaking. Pack a picnic basket and have a long, lazy lunch in the Golden Gate Park overlooking the bridge (entry is free). The city that houses the bridge – San Francisco – itself is home to alternative culture in the US and one of the best places you’ll ever travel to.

4. Go Wine Tasting in Napa Valley

Napa Valley is one of the biggest wine-producing regions in the world. It is also breathtakingly beautiful, with vast vineyards stretching across hills and mountainous valleys. A weekend sampling the many wines of the region, including Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, in a cozy villa nestled amid rolling hills is one of the finest holiday experiences you can have in California.

5. Tour Universal Studios Hollywood, Los Angeles

If there is one theme park in California you must visit, it is Universal Studios Hollywood. Once one of the most important studios in Hollywood, it has now been converted into one of America’s finest theme parks with tons of movie based rides. Here, you can hop aboard the Simpsons Ride, catch Shrek in 4D, head into the popular Despicable Me: Minion Mayhem ride, or take a tour of the iconic Jurassic Park: The Ride. In fact, the theme park is so popular that it ranks no. 17 in the world in terms of overall audience attendance!

This is just a very small sample of the many, many things to do in California. Besides the studio tours and theme parks in Los Angeles, you should also take a road trip along the Big Sur coastline, tour the huge San Diego Zoo, visit the Hearst Castle, and visit America’s lowest point in Badwater, Death Valley.


Words: Catherine de Beauvoir
Image: Golden Gate Bridge by Kevin Cole.

When a Child Is Tired of Italy….

It’s a truism of travelling Europe that – just as in Asia one becomes tired of temples, jungles and even pristine beaches – the allure of churches, castles, and seminal works of classical art can rapidly start to pale. In the Middle East, the issue tends to be ruins and desert – most notably, we found, the ruins.

Yet, as we pootled around Italy, much of it by train, last summer, I like to think I did a rather good job of keeping my spawn unbored. Here’s a few tips on how to prevent tedium on the road, which come to you courtesy of Rail Europe, the Europe train tickets people.

1: EAT – LOTS
Food is a major part of why we travel, and the main reason why we visited Italy in the first place. Taking the time to eat properly, and eat lots, and do lots of foodie tourism worked perfectly for us. As did regular gelato breaks (see below).

2: BRIBE WHEN REQUIRED
I’m sure one day my son will thank me for seeing all the wonderful mosaics at Ravenna, though that time has yet to come. In the meantime, if it takes a gelato or granita as a bribe for every single church, that’s what it takes.

3: GO EASY ON THE CHURCHES
To guard against church fatigue, pick churches really carefully. Some, for example, you might wish to see only from the outside; others you might want to whizz round quickly; very, very few should be compulsorily lingered in.

4: LET YOUR CHILD LEAD WHEN IT COMES TO ART
There’s no way anyone can do the Uffizi, the Accademia or (heaven forfend) the Louvre in a single day, or even several, and there’s no reason to try – particularly not with a child in tow. Pick a few things you want to see, get them to pick a few things they want to see, and otherwise just amble round gawping at what looks interesting. I’m not a fan of group tours, and, unless they’re tailored for kids, they’re an absolute disaster area when it comes to family travel.

5: TAKE POOL AND BEACH TIME
It’s important for anyone to have days off cultural self-improvement, in Italy or anywhere. And it’s particularly important for kids to have down time, where they’re just splashing in a pool or, for that matter, gaming on the dreaded devices.

6: LOOK FOR ALTERNATIVES TO THE OBVIOUS
My son didn’t want to climb the Duomo in Milan. He wanted to go to the science museum instead. And it was bleeding excellent. So, too, was our impromptu tour of modern art hangouts in Florence. And I’m very pleased we went to see the Crypt of the Capuchins in Rome.

7: BUT DON’T MISS THE WOW MOMENTS
Arriving in Venice by train is one of the ultimate travel wows, as you step out of a perfectly ordinary train station onto the Grand Canal. So, too, is one’s first encounter with the Sistine Chapel, and one’s first encounter with the Coliseum. Do the wow stuff – but do it quickly. Because, like you, your kids can always go back, and if you do it right, they will.

How to Choose a Beach Resort with a Teenager

Most family beach resorts can seem focused on younger families.

Kids’ clubs are targeted at the primary school age range; kids’ pools are designed for tots and toddlers; and no self-respecting teenager would be seen dead at most of the kids’ activities in a typical resort.

If you’re planning on visiting a beach resort with a teen – and you don’t want them to spend the entire time on their phone – here’s a few things to look out for.

Good Watersports Facilities
A plain old beach won’t necessarily cut it for most teens. Look for a beach that has a range of both powered and (particularly for the budget-conscious) non-powered watersports – and even tuition. A windsurfing course can be a great skill to take away from a holiday, while children as young as ten, let alone teens, can learn to scuba dive.

Family Suites
Younger children may be more than happy staying in the parents’ room. But the old extra bed approach won’t cut it with teens, who need their space – but if they have a room of their own, you’ll likely only see them at meals. Look for a resort with reasonably priced family suites, or interconnecting room options.

Teen-Friendly Spas
Spa treatments are a great option for some mother-daughter time when travelling with teen girls – and there are plenty of teen boys who won’t turn their noses up at a massage, either. Look for a resort with a spa that’s open to under-18s – not all of them are.

Reasonable Nightlife
It’s a little clichéd, but meeting new people of their own age – and, hell, even the odd holiday romance – can be a major attraction of any holiday for older teens. A resort where dining finishes at 9 and the place is shuttered by 11 might be fun for parents of younger children, but it’s no good for the typical teen.

Close to Town
Some families may be happy spending all their time in a single resort, but that’s typically not the case for older teens. Look for a resort that’s in reasonable reach of a town with some nightlife, or other resorts with nightlife, to allow older teens a little bit of space to grow.

Drive the Two Faces of Adelaide, the City of Churches and Pubs (Depending On Who You Ask)

St Peter's Adelaide

Adelaide is different things to different people. The capital of South Australia has long been known as the “City of Churches,” its skyline dotted by religious gathering places. But, for some, that could be seen as a misnomer.

Despite its buttoned-down reputation, Adelaide has a lot to offer visitors in terms of pubs and nightlife. Some of the region’s finest drinking spots and restaurants are found in Adelaide. Luckily for you, the convenient layout of the city’s streets makes it easy to get around no matter what you’re trying to do. So rent a car if you are in town (try Drivenow.com.au, they’ve got pretty cheap deals) and hit the streets.

Perhaps the most impressive building in the entire city is the Holy Trinity Church. Built in 1838, it was the first Anglican church in South Australia and is the oldest one still open for visits in Adelaide. Located in the heart of the city on North Terrace, it’s a great way to get a glimpse of a beautiful, historic structure in the middle of town.

Just about a kilometre and a half north sits another breathtaking church. St. Peters Cathedral is a five-minute drive up King William Road in the Pennington Terrace part of town. The intricate symmetry of the front of the church is definitely worth a peak, as are the steeples pointing skyward.

Once you’re finished there you might be ready to hop back in the car and shift gears. Maybe you need some fuel of your own after taking in such stunning sights. Adelaide may be known for its churches, and rightly so, but as previously mentioned, there are plenty of popular pubs and eateries that are worth a visit when you’re cruising around town.

For example, you’ll forget all about your more religious experiences of the afternoon when you step into La Bohème. Even though it’s in the middle of Adelaide, you’ll feel like you’ve been transported to a swanky French joint from years past. Cabaret shows complete the experience and pair well with the eclectic decor and drink options.

Just four blocks north of the faux French spot sits the Apothecary. Like the churches and La Bohème, it pays homage to a time gone by. Set in an old pharmacy, it utilises original wooden cabinets and amenities. The Apothecary is definitely a swankier place than your average pub, with an extensive wine list and more refined dining options.

But if you’d also like to work in a hotel stay into your road trip plans, Austral hotel will suit many tastes. It’s hard to go wrong at the Austral, just a few blocks east of the Apothecary on the corner of Bent and Rundle, the Austral has ample outdoor seating in front that serves as a great people watching hangout spot. And if you’re feeling a bit fancy, you can head into their white-tablecloth dining room.

Church and fun don’t have to be mutually exclusive concepts when in Adelaide. Hop in the car and cruise around to see what everything the capital of South Australia has to offer.


Words: Jessica Xu

Fun Fitness

Staying fit and active is an essential factor to healthy living. The only thing is, running on a treadmill or pounding the cross trainer doesn’t exactly scream “fun times” to most people.

If you’re looking for inspiration on how to make fitness fun again, look no further. Here are the best options that are readily available and easy to get hooked on.

Hula Hooping
We all remember it from childhood; the classic hula hoop was always a fun, if frustrating, activity. For adults, though, spinning a special weighted hoop is a great way to tone up. It works your core muscles and is ideal for toning your abs, glutes and thighs, as well as being highly addictive and entertaining.

Bouldering
Climbing walls have become popular recently, even popping up in gyms as more and more people are discovering the benefits of climbing for building strength and staying fit. Bouldering is a form of rock climbing that involves some tactical thinking as well as careful planning, making it a work out for your brain as much as your body.

It’s safest, and most convenient, although possibly less fun, to do this indoors, which is also cheaper than traditional bouldering as you don’t have to hire heaps of equipment and an instructor to take you out, or invest in the stuff up front.

Snowboarding
You don’t need to live near the mountains to enjoy snowboarding: there are plenty of dry slopes to practice on, but these can be a little rough, quite literally, if you fall, and really aren’t much good for anyone but beginners. Slopes with fake snow, also, are very little like the real thing and tend to be crowded.

Some great destinations to get a taste for boarding that won’t break the bank? Bulgaria, Slovenia, Poland and Andorra.

Kitesurfing
This super fun water sport is something everyone must try at least once. It’s constantly growing in popularity, which reflects just how awesome it is.

A lot like surfing but even better, kitesurfing adds wind power into the mix meaning you can really fly high above the waves and soar through the sea as you cling to a huge kite. There are loads of places you can try this sport but one good choice is Morocco.

The weather here is perfect with reliable winds, sun and waves. Check out the Explora Morocco website to find out more about kitesurfing in Essaouira, on the north-west coast of Morocco.

Doga
Everyone knows about yoga, most of you probably even do it or have tried it. But have you tried Doga?

What’s that? I hear you ask.

It is Doggy Yoga. It makes perfect sense (sort of). We all love our dogs; they make us happy; so why not do yoga with them?

Ok, jury’s still out on this one…

Discover Crete

imagesEven in Greece, a country of unique natural beauty, Crete stands out. The largest island in Greece, it’s more like a small country than another Greek island, complete with its own long-lost civilisation, the Minoans.

The island is divided into four regional units: Chania, Rethymno, Iraklio and Lasithi. So to help you find your ideal holiday destination in Crete, here is a little more about them all… (And here’s more information about holidays in Crete.)

Chania
The region of Chania, found on the western side of the island, is home to the Samaria Gorge, which carves its way through the White Mountains and is an iconic day-hike (be aware of the risk of flash floods in season).

Chania city overflows with charm and character, and is packed with shops, market stalls, restaurants and tavernas. Along with Minoan ruins, Byzantine churches, Venetian merchants’ houses, a Turkish minaret and a 17th century lighthouse, there are a handful of discos and an open-air theatre.

Iraklio
Iraklio (or Heraklion, Hiraklion, Iraklion, Heraclion…) city is the capital of Crete, and the surrounding district is the most major, densely populated and modern region on the island. Yet it’s also home to Crete’s most famous ruin, the mysterious city of Knossos, where Theseus fought the Minotaur in the labyrinth.

The Iraklio region is the tourist capital of Crete, and home to the intense nightlife of Malia, as well as other major British package tour destinations, though inland it’s possible to explore olive groves and vineyards, and some villages along the coast have not yet been transformed by mass tourism. Whatever beach resort you opt for, there will be watersports aplenty.

Lasithi
Crete’s easternmost regional unit, Lasithi offers contrast aplenty: Agios Nikolaos, its capital, offers a beach-to-bar party scene, yet the Lasithi Plateau remains tranquil and green, and uninhabited Chrysi Island boasts pine and juniper forests. Vai, another popular mass tourism destination, is home to Europe’s only palm forest beach.

The Lasithi Plateau would have been a stunning sight in the 17th century when it was dotted with thousands upon thousands of windmills with white canvas sails, which the Venetians built for irrigation purposes. Today, a few iconic groups remain.

Rethymno
Rethymno is Crete’s smallest regional unit, and the little capital town still maintains its old noble appearance, with its buildings dating from the 16th century, arched doorways, stone staircases, Byzantine and Hellenic-Roman remains, a small Venetian harbour and a lovely long sand beach.

Mount Psiloritis, better-known as Mount Ida, is a star attraction in the region, with vaulted stone shepherds’ huts and beautiful monasteries, plus a wealth of gorges and caves. Ayia Galini makes a great spot for islet-hopping.


Text: Flavio Long

Five Iconic Hiking Routes

IMG-CF-logoThere are great places to hike all over the world, but a few spots stand out as truly iconic hiking trails. Trekkers who want real challenges and memorable experiences may not be able to find that within a short distance from their homes, but if people are willing to travel for an adventure then they can be rewarded with memories that will last a lifetime.

Here’s five top hikes that merit the flight from the UK.

1. Annapurna Circuit, Nepal
Hiking enthusiasts don’t have to face Everest to enjoy an unbelievable experience in Nepal. The Annapurna Circuit offers stunning views of mountain peaks, Sherpa villages and greenery that merit spending the full three weeks to complete the circuit.

A string of lodges are set up for trekkers to stay in, while visitors can see Buddhist temples and meet friendly locals. The trail has some of the most brilliant scenery in the world, but it pays to take it slowly for fear of altitude sickness: the trail caps out at the Thorong La pass, which stands over 5400m above sea level.

2. Camino de Santiago, Spain
The Camino de Santiago, which roughly translates as the Walk of St. James, leads to the tomb of Saint James in Santiago de Compostela. The routes have been used since medieval times by religious people performing a pilgrimage, and today pilgrims gather from around the world to complete the route. Although there are several trails, the primary route is Camino Francés (the French Way), an 800km trail that begins in the Pyrenean town of St-Jean-Pied-de-Port. Over 20,000 pilgrims took this path last year.

3. Great Wall of China
The Great Wall of China is one of the wonders of the world and can provide some incredibly rewarding hiking — particularly if you eschew the most-touristed stretches close to Beijing. The trail boasts spectacular views and, as the isolation grows, an incredible sense of space.

Hikers should be prepared for steep inclines and stepping on moving stones. There are few places to get supplies, so packing snacks and water is essential. For the ultimate experience, start at Jianshanling and head all the way to the Yellow Sea at Laolongtou, in Shanhaiguan.

4. Mount Kilimanjaro, Tanzania
Few people are motivated and brave enough to climb to the very top of Mount Kilimanjaro, but most hikers can make it up what is frequently referred to as the world’s tallest walk able mountain. At almost 6,000 metres, the trail to the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro is not without challenge — and altitude sickness is, of course, a real risk.

But there are a variety of trails, and each offer unique challenges, progressing through different climate zones on the route to the top — with the ultimate reward of an icy wonderland within spitting distance of the Equator. While rock climbing gear and expertise is not needed, the trail requires reasonable fitness, and it’s worth taking more than the typical six days to avoid altitude sickness.

5. Baltoro Glacier & K2, Pakistan
If Mount Kilimanjaro isn’t quite challenging enough, hikers can travel through the icy corridor from the Baltoro Glacier up to K2 — well, its base camp, at least. At an elevation of 8,611 metres, K2 is the second-highest mountain in the world, and the journey up to base camp shows trekkers gorgeous scenery unmatched anywhere else.

Unlike at Mount Kilimanjaro, the trail to K2 starts out cold and takes trekkers past icy rivers, through a glacier, and up enormous mountains during the 15-day trip. The nearby glaciers offer additional hiking for folk who like challenges and own crampons.

Be aware, however, that most governments currently advise against travel to this part of Pakistan, so this is one adventure that may have to wait until the nation settles down.

Travelling to these iconic places may not be as simple as hopping into a motor-car and driving somewhere close, but the effort it takes to plan a trip makes the experience more worthwhile. Cheapflights.co.uk can help travellers find the best deals to get to the hiking destination of their choice.

Things You’ll Need to Cope with While Travelling Abroad

Summer is upon us, and for many Americans that means a vacation overseas. Traveling abroad requires months of planning and although it can be rewarding, it can often be stressful as well. By recognizing a few obstacles you may encounter and facing them ahead of time, your trip can be enjoyable and worry-free.

#1 The Language Barrier
Think you don’t need to worry about this because you are visiting an English-speaking country? Think again. Sure, you may have your visum usa esta sorted, but anyone who’s been to England or Australia will agree that there will still be confusion when communicating with the locals. Be sure to research the local lingo so that you avoid using offensive words or phrases. For example, in the U.K. a “fanny pack” is called a “bum bag.” If you want to know why, a quick internet search might help you out. If English is not the language in your destination, make an effort to learn a few key words and phrases to get you by.

#2 Crime
Crooks are often on the lookout for tourists because they’re in a foreign place and it’s easy to catch them off-guard. Be aware of any travel advisories before you go, and do not take any valuables you don’t need. Keep your cards and cash in a money belt under your clothes instead of in a wallet in your back pocket, and pay special attention in crowds. It can be easy to have your pockets picked without realizing it because so many people are bumping into you. Try to dress in plain clothes and leave the flashy jewellery at home. Don’t be an easy target!

#3 Culture Shock
You may have to live without air conditioning during your trip and the local coffee shop may not make your latte just the way you like it. You will also at some point most likely have to pay to use a restroom that you wouldn’t use stateside if someone paid you. That’s just part of the charm of traveling abroad. Many aspects of your trip will be so remarkable, and others will make you cringe. Try to leave your judgement behind and enjoy “roughing it” for a while.

#4 Trouble on the Homefront
You’ve taken care of the mail, hired a housesitter and found a kennel for Fido, but is that really enough? Are you covered if there’s an emergency at home? Make sure all of your bases are covered before you leave and there will be no need to worry. Let someone know your itinerary and keep in contact with them. Inspect your home prior to departing and see that everything is in order. You may also want to set lights on a timer so that it isn’t obvious to would-be thieves that no one’s home. Taking just a few precautions can avoid a lot of headaches that could cut your trip short. Being prepared is half the battle!


Author: Phil Porter

6 Family-Friendly Weekend Breaks in Britain

There are a great many destinations in the UK that are ideal for family weekend breaks. When you have only a couple of days at your disposal you’ll want to research the place as thoroughly as possible in advance and then focus on the highlights when you get there, so here are just a few ideas to get you going.

Dig for Dinosaurs on the Jurassic Coast
All along the southwest coast of Britain there are numerous hotels, hostels and B&B accommodation catering for the thousands of visitors who come here each year to enjoy the unrivalled beaches. One of the biggest attractions however, at least for inquisitive and excitable kids, is the chance to dig up a genuine fossil from the coastal rocks.

This is an ancient shoreline that contains fossils from the Age of Dinosaurs and there’s every possibility that your kid will be the next Mary Anning and unearth a real monster. At the very least it will keep them happily engrossed for a few hours.

Explore the Old Castle in Newcastle
Newcastle in the North East of England is steeped in history and packed with interest for people of all ages. The old quayside has been turned into an art and entertainment centre to more than rival London’s South Bank, and there are numerous great museums and galleries such as the Museum of the North which has interactive and imaginative displays on all aspects of natural history. There’s also one of England’s oldest castles, whose surviving Norman keep overlooks the river and has a good museum at ground level.

Swim with the Dolphins in Wales
Wales has numerous Blue Flag beaches and anyone interested in wildlife will head straight for the Cardigan Bay Marine Wildlife Centre for its dolphin displays, whilst offshore they can hire a boat to see the dolphins, seals and puffins for themselves. Apart from horse riding, swimming and exploring paths along the coastline of regions such as Anglesey, Wales has some of the most magnificent castles in the world at places like Harlech and Caernarfon which kids and adults alike will love to explore.

Visit the Vikings in Yorkshire
Yorkshire is ideal for outdoor activities, with its bracing landscape and fresh air bywords for vigorous health. Nowadays there are extensive facilities to cater for the many hundreds of families who take both short and long breaks here.

From long sandy beaches to romantic castles and abbeys, Yorkshire has it all, and in York itself attractions such as the state-of-the-art Jorvic Viking Centre are hugely popular with the kids. There’s nothing like a brush with the Vikings to set the imagination alight, and it works every time.

And don’t forget the Sealife and Marine Sanctuary in Scarborough and the National Children’s Museum (Eureka!) in Halifax, West Yorkshire.

Ride with Robin Hood in Nottinghamshire
Robin Hood country is packed with great things to do for all the family. Whether or not the great man actually existed, Nottingham Castle is still standing as proudly defiant as ever with a statue of him outside it.

Dads may be more interested in the Trip to Jerusalem Inn below the castle’s walls, which is reputedly England’s oldest pub, but the city is full of attractions and also fun festivals like the annual Goose Fair held in the city centre in October, and there are numerous destinations around the city as well such as Lord Byron’s old home at Newstead Abbey.

See a Show in London
Apart from London Zoo, Buckingham Palace and the numerous other iconic attractions of the capital, coming to London to see a show in the West End can give a special zest to any short family break here.

Book in advance, take the train down on the Friday and you’ll have all day to explore at least a few of the famous landmarks before heading out on the town for a matinee or evening performance.


David Elliott is a freelance writer who loves to travel, especially in Europe and Turkey. He’s spent most of his adult life in a state of restless excitement but recently decided to settle in North London. He gets away whenever he can to immerse himself in foreign cultures and lap up the history of great cities.

No, Virgin Does NOT Have a Glass-Bottomed Plane

65057-4I love a good April Fool. I also have limited tolerance for stupidity and, after time in China, where People’s Daily picked up The Onion’s tale that Kim Jong-Un was its Sexiest Man Alive for 2012 and ran it, briefly, as a front page story, I was kind of pleased when my Facebook feed lit up with the news that Virgin Airlines had launched a glass-bottomed plane.

It was, of course, an April Fool, set up by that great British prankster, Richard Branson.

While glass-bottomed boats are a common occurrence, a glass-bottomed plane would be a lot more difficult. In a normal plane, as opposed to a private jet, the bottom of the hull is a hold used for storing bags, as well as machinery.

So any glass bottom (fnarr, fnarr, snk, snk) would have to cover not only the cabin floor but the bottom of the hull.

Aeroplane hulls are made of high-tech plastics, rivets and sophisticated metallics, designed to be light and flexible. Even the most high-tech glass wouldn’t be safe to fly with, because it’s heavy, and it breaks too easily, and it would require millions of dollars worth of aeroplane redesign to achieve any such breakthrough.

That didn’t stop the Chinese picking up on it, mind. CCTV, China’s biggest TV channel, took a break from game shows, Voice of China, and pictures of generals and politicians in expensive watches, and led with the amazing tale of the airline that was debuting its fantastic plane on routes from – wait for it – London to Scotland, on one of its evening compilations.

Hmmm. State-owned media not checking its facts? Who’dathunkit?

And it’s not only the Chinese that have a problem. Over in Iran, the official FARS news agency, run by the Revolutionary Guard, ran another Onion story, this time claiming that Caucasian voters in the US preferred Ahmadinejad to Obama, as fact.

In a rather sulky apology, the agency explained that it might have been wrong but it stood by its story – that most Americans would prefer anyone outside the US system to the guys they have right now.

Byee!