CD-Traveller tells you what’s hot and what’s not in the travel world.  Read on to find out why it’s a good month for Sri Lanka, if not Scunthorpe…


Pampered Pooches

Want to pamper your pooch? Look no further than the House of Mutt (houseofmutt.com) in Suffolk. The dog only hotel can arrange long country walks, bespoke portrait painting and indulgent spa sessions for £39.50 per night.

Screaming in Norway

2013 marks the 150th anniversary of Edvard Munch – aka Norway’s best-known artist. To celebrate Munch’s most famous painting, The Scream, the Norwegian tourist board is asking people to record themselves screaming in Norwegian locations – and then upload their wail to visitnorway.com. The prize for one lucky winner? A week-long trip to Norway.

Corruption Tours in Prague

The Corrupt Tour agency in Prague has launched a tour taking in the Czech capital’s sites of sleaze and scandal. “We have corruption in our cultural heritage. We want corruption in Prague to be listed by Unesco” commented Petr Sourek – the founder of the CorruptTour agency. The Czech Republic was ranked 57th on the Transparency International’s corruption index.

Rio decoded

Rio de Janeiro is providing tourists with information about the city by embedding QR barcodes into Rio’s iconic black and white mosaics. The codes have so far only been installed at Arpoador – a massive boulder that rises at the end of Ipanema beach. However, there are plans to install 30 of these QR codes at popular tourist sites across Rio. All tourists with a QR reading app on their smartphone need to do, is to take a snapshot of the mosaic and a map will appear showing your exact location and providing you with information about that area.

Sweet dreams in space

NASA is testing an inflatable bedroom for astronauts at the International Space Station. The 13ft pod which Nasa aims to install by 2015, has been designed by Las Vegas-based company Bigelow Aerospace. The price is pretty perturbing tho: a 60-day stay will cost £15.6m. Ouch!

Surf’s up!

Surfer, Garrett McNamara, who holds the title for the biggest wave ever surfed, broke his own record in February when he surfed an incredible 100ft wave off the coast of Nazare in Portugal. This was the spot where the 45-year-old Hawaiian set his last record on a wave measuring 90ft, back in 2011.

March 16 will see Alton Towers launch its biggest ride to date. The name of the new ride isn’t yet known (insiders are using the code name, Secret Weapon 7,) but it promises to have a drop of 30m.

Forking out for fresh air in Beijing

So bad is Beijing’s smog (the American Embassy reported that concentration of polluting Airborne particles went past the ‘hazardous’ range and off the chart last month), that one Beijinger has started selling fresh air in a can! Multimillionaire businessman Chen Guangbiao is selling cans of fresh air for 5 yuan (80 cents). Chen said he wanted to make the point that China’s air pollution is now so foul that the idea of selling bottled air makes perfect sense. Proceeds from the sale of green and orange cans of ‘Fresh Air’ are sent to the poorest regions of China.

Sri Lanka

March is the month that British Airways starts flying from Gatwick to Sri Lanka. The flight may be 12 and a half hours but at the end of the journey, you’ll find palm-fringed beaches, treasured temples, verdant vegetation, happy herds of elephants, and brightly colored saris, in spades.



Sorry Scunthorpe but you’ve been named and shamed, as the least romantic place in Britain. The North Lincolnshire industrial town was voted the most unromantic place to visit in the UK in a poll by booking website Hotels.com. Bradford and Blackpool claimed a second and third place, respectively.

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America’s love affair with the automobile is being replaced by rail writes CD-Traveller’s managing editor, Adrian Lawes

You’d be forgiven for thinking that there is a typo in the headline. Don’t we mean America’s love affair with the car? But times are changing in the US and trains are becoming more popular.

Over 33 states are investing in train options. to try and relieve congestion.This nugget came from Bob Stewart who is chairman of the National Association of Railroad Passengers.

We haven’t got a similar body in the UK. NARP, founded in 1967, is a charitable body that lobbies and educates about the advantages of rail travel. Some states like South Dakota don’t even have a passenger rail system. While many of us think of the US as just a country of cars and freeways, at one stage rail travel was the main way travelers crossed the vast expanses. But after WWII, the car became dominant.

Today rail is having a resurgence. Why? Are Americans wearying of the delays, the petrol costs and the accidents that interrupt car journeys? The answer, according to Stewart, is yes. But they aren’t turning to airlines either. Security issues, increasing add-on costs to base fares, delays at airports and the sheer time it takes to get through airports before you even get on a plane are putting Americans off.

When I first went to the US 30 years ago, not many cities had their own rail systems. Boston, Chicago, New York and San Francisco did, but it didn’t always link to airports. To get to New York’s JFK you took a bus or the train to Howard Beach and caught the bus from the long-term car park.


So much has changed, as Bob Stewart explained. Los Angeles has installed a light railway system, Portland in Oregon has integrated the airport with bus and train systems. In the central part of Portland, the light railway system is free. Denver has 39 miles of railway. In Miami in Florida, a new rail system links the airport to the Tri-State railway system. Rail is the flavor of the month!

So how does the NARP operate? Each week of each month some of its 25,000 members write and submit rail reports on their journeys. Any issues raised are taken up by rail companies be it the national company AMTRAK or the smaller locally run networks. But it isn’t really like our Consumer Focus that represents rail passengers to the railway companies. NARP does take ups individual cases sometimes if it is a serious issue, in which case they will contact their sources at Amtrak. As Stewart says: “we are Amtrak’s cheerleader and critic depending on the issue.”

When Mr. Obama announced support for high-speed rail links and found most of the money to go ahead, it looked as though a new renaissance in rail travel might occur. But three states, Florida, Wisconsin, and Ohio actually turned down the money! Can you imagine a county doing that in the UK? We might argue over the route of HS2 as it plans to link London and Birmingham and then splitting to go to Leeds and Manchester but a route would be found.

But, just as in the UK, Stewart says it is politics that determines some the rail services. AMTRAK doesn’t even have the luxury of being able to plan years ahead because it receives its $1.5 billion subsidies each year. Until it gets that vote, it doesn’t even know whether it will be in business next year! And this is a company that moved over 32 million people last year on sold-out trains.

Infuriating as this must be to AMTRAK, it grieves Stewart too. “Give me $15 billion,” he says, “and I could construct a reasonable, truly national rail network.” Given how much money is wasted federally and how much has been spent on quantitative easing, this is a tiny sum. In the UK, we subsidize our railway network three times over the US figure.

When we visit the USA, many of us use public transport because we are used to it and the thought of driving through places like New York or Chicago makes us wary. So rail is a real option for the visitor. Jokes made about the rail network 30 years ago are no longer valid. Every sort of person uses rail. Trains are clean, well maintained and as punctual as most trains are in the world. What hasn’t happened is frequency unless you are visiting the north east of the US where trains running from Boston through New York to Washington DC run many times a day.

As airlines have faced changing consumer demands and higher costs, many have stopped services to cities with populations of 25-30,000 or so. Can railways step in and fill this breach? There is a route from Chicago to Los Angeles but only eight percent of passengers travel the whole route. All others just use it for linking city visits. And, as Stewart says, what will happen in 2050 when the population of the US is expected to have grown by another 100 million people? Freeways won’t be able to cope. Rail may be the answer. And some of it will be high-speed rail.

California, which likes to espouse its green credentials, is probably going to be the first state to implement a high-speed rail system. Oddly enough the second state is Texas – the state we most associate with the oil industry especially since the late JR Ewing used to try to corner the market in those old episodes of Dallas. And it is from the city of Dallas to the other large city in Texas -Houston – that the first high-speed line, after California, will probably run. North Carolina and Illinois are just two states implementing the increased use of rail.

Stewart, not surprisingly, is all for this but he is more concerned by new legislation which comes into force in October 2013. From that date, individual states will have to fund any railway system up to 750 miles long. They will have control. For those states that moaned about federal parsimony for years, now they and they alone will take the responsibility and the blame for establishing and keeping those lines going. They will have to come up with the funds to run the trains. And that is his concern. Will they find the money? Will the network continue to exist as it does now? Or will it expand and states jump at the opportunities that a bigger railway system might bring to their economies

Going through the Cascades on Amtrak

For the visitor, there must be endless possibilities if new railways come to pass. In cities, we’ll be able to get around more easily. New rail links will offer tourism potential. I have written of the AMTRAK service between Los Angeles and Portland Oregon and the wonderful combination of sunshine on Californian beaches contrasting with the snows of the Cascade Mountains in the north of the state and in Oregon. My train had not only visitors on it, but those who were traveling because rail is relatively inexpensive.

Stewart pointed out to me that there are many freight lines. Could passenger services be brought back there? Could the freight line that goes part of the way through the Mojave Desert be opened so that visitors can see what the desert is really like? And could there be stopovers so we can be taken to see the old mining towns and the old Western heritage in places like Ridgecrest? Since AMTRAK provides holidays as well as rail travel is this something we could look forward to? Stewart thinks that’s for the future. At the moment he just wants more services, more routes, and more members to strengthen his hands in twisting the arms of politicians that hold a tight rein on the money coffers.

And for us visitors, it would give us a chance to see more of this huge country without the hassle and tiredness caused by driving or flying.

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The 18th London Turkish Film Festival is taking place from today (February 21) until March 3. Read on for the low-down.

What’s it all about?

The 18th London Turkish Film Festival runs from February 21 to March 3, 2013, at The Odeon West End, The Rio Cinema Dalston, The Institute of Contemporary Arts and The Cine Lumiere.

The festival celebrates another year of outstanding achievement that has seen Turkish films honored at festivals around the world from Sundance to Berlin. Over its 18 year history, the festival has screened over 250 feature and 350 short and documentary films.

What are this year’s highlights?

* The World Premiere of The Butterfly’s dream, the new film from writer/director Yilmaz Erdogan starring popular heartthrob Kivanc Tatlitug at a glittering Opening Night Gala at The Odeon West End.

* A masterclass with internationally renowned Turkish director, Reha Erdem.

* Films from veteran names of Turkish cinema as well as the debut features of an exciting new generation of Turkish moviemakers.
A diverse selection of short films, with many of the filmmakers themselves on hand to meet their audiences.

What are the Golden Wings awards?

Five outstanding films will compete for the unique Golden Wings Digiturk Digital Distribution Award, worth £30,000. The winning film will be distributed in cinemas throughout the UK and made available via home digital platforms.

This year’s competing films are:  Night of Silence – Reis Çelik’s 2012 Berlin Film Festival prize-winner; Jin– the latest film from Reha Erdem, direct from Berlin 2013; Can – Raşit Çelikezer’s Sundance Jury Award winner; Beyond the Hill directed by Tepenin Ardi andSomewhere in Between directed by Yeşim Ustaoğlu.

The Golden Wings Lifetime Achievement Award

This year the festival will honor legendary actor and director Kadir Inanir, who will be the special guest at the Opening Night Gala and will be attending a Q&A screening of his new film Farewell Katya. In previous years the festival has recognized the life and work of such cinematic greats as Türkan Şoray, Şener Şen and Hülya Koçyiğit.

Golden Wings People’s Choice Award Voted for by visitors to the Festival at venues across London. This year more than 20 features will be competing.

The Jury

Wendy Mitchell, editor of Screen International and ScreenDaily.com.
Edward Fletcher, joint managing director of Soda Pictures.
Tony Grisoni, writer Tony Grisoni has worked with many of the finest contemporary filmmakers including Michael Winterbottom, John Boorman, Rankin, Julian Jarrold, James Marsh and Anand Tucker. He is best known for his collaboration with Terry Gilliam on a number of projects including Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and the ill-fated Don Quixote. He has written and directed a number of award-winning short films. His latest screenplay is the four-part series Southcliffe, produced by Warp Films, which will be screened on Channel 4 this year.

Sedef Ecer, Turkish actress, journalist and playwright Sedef Ecer’s plays have been staged in some of the world’s most renowned theatres and have been acclaimed with major awards. She is currently working with the Oscar-winning director Randa Haines on two feature-length films.

A word from festival director, Vedide Kaymak

“Over the last decade, Turkish filmmakers, not only in Turkey, but also those living in the rest of the world, have found new creative directions, making critically acclaimed films, and winning awards all over the world. The LTFF has always had an inclusive approach towards programming, and I am especially excited by our expanded programme this year.”

The 2013 line up

Feature films



CAN (Raşit Çelikezer)




JIN (Reha Erdem)





OTHER ANGELS (Emre Yalgın)

PRESENT TENSE (Belmin Söylemez)

SAINT AYSE (Elfe Uluç)


THE STRANGER (Filiz Alpgezmen)

TO BETTER DAYS (Nihat Seven)

THE TRACE (M. Tayfur Aydın)

WHAT REMAINS(Çiğdem Vitrinel )


Documentary films


I FLEW YOU STAYED (Mizgin Mujde Arsian)


SIMURGH (Ruhi Karadağ)


TURKISH A+ (Murat Bayramoglu)

Short films:

A COOKIE TALE (Ilkyaz Kocatepe)


LANDESCAPES (Damla Kirkali)

MIRROR (Bedirhan Sakci)

RESTING ROOM (Hakan Burcuglu)

SHIFT 12-48 (Fatih Ozdemir)

TURKISH DREAM (Oguzhan Akalin)

VELVET SOCKS (Ahmet Baturay Tavkul)

For further information on the festival please visit: www.ltff.co.uk

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In January we undertook a survey of what you – our readers – were like. Was it to Spain and Portugal that you visited on your overseas holidays? Were you young or free from the cares of children? Did you come from all parts of our countries or were there pockets of Traveller fans concentrated in certain areas.

In learning more about you we hope to be able to gear our stories and comment to the things which interest you. It doesn’t mean to say that we won’t include other features and stories but if your interests include abseiling down Mt Everest or sailing the Mediterranean on a plastic duck then we probably won’t include them in the future. Or too often at any rate.

A sample of 49,611 of you who had looked at CD-Traveller in the last few months of 2012 were analyzed and this is a summary of what we found.

To get an instant snapshot of readers we used Travel XRay, a system developed by our sister company – Consumer data – and Arkenford that groups similar holiday types of people together. This system categorizes people into thirty groups and we found that you are more likely than average to fall into three groups. These are the Work Hard, Pay Hards, theFree and Easies and a group called Life’s for Living. All three groups are characterized by the fact that you are self-driven. When you have leisure time, (you all seem to be pretty busy people) you like to make the most of it. As one group says in its name, you’ve worked hard and now you are going to make the most of your holiday and traveling time. You like your breaks and you will take them as often as you feel you can. And when you do, you explore.

Two other groups of variety seekers also shone through in the survey. There are those of you that want to relax but also explore and want fairly active holidays both for your mind and your body. You still want to lounge for some of the time but a beach isn’t enough for you. The other group of your plans, researchers, talks to friends, studies and then decides what to do and where you will go. Traditional destinations will appeal like the Algarve, Greece, Italy, Turkey, France and, of course, Spain.

All of you share two things in common. You are busy and want to make the best of your free time and you all love holidays. Well, why else would you read CD-Traveller?

You come from all parts of our countries but, memo to circulation people, we must do more to attract readers in Mid Wales, Falkirk, Sunderland, and Liverpool were fewer of you than average seem to come from!

The biggest destination for Britons is Spain and its islands. But CD-Traveller readers also like to travel further afield. Appealing destinations to you include Canada, Cape Verde, Cuba, ( anywhere in the Caribbean is a big draw for you) Egypt, Gambia, India, Jamaica, Kenya, Maldives, Mexico, Morocco, Tunisia, and the USA. Far-away is what seems to appeal but you also like short breaks and places like the Netherlands have been popular with you for a quick break when you can find the time. You can be adventurous too. Last year more than an average number of you holidayed in Iran and Azerbaijan, not countries that regularly top the best holiday destinations lists! You want to explore the world that’s out there so you are just as likely to visit some of the less well-visited places in NorthAmerica like Colorado (skiing?) and Calgary. (the stampede?)

Holidays don’t come cheaply and whilst a larger number than average of you have the money to indulge the holidays and travel you want, many of you are prepared to save tighten your belts, probably believing that you worked hard enough and that you really do deserve a good break. A greater number of you will also react rapidly. If a TV programme, an interview or, dare we say it – a CD-Traveller story – excites your interest you are one of those people who will go out and book it. The world is split between planners and “do-it-now’s." Many of you are “do-it-now’s."

As the publisher, what I found particularly interesting about you is that we seem to appeal to all ages. Whether you are 22, twice or three times that age, our stories appear to interest you. We found out a great deal about your interests as well. You have lots of them but a few stood out head and shoulders above the rest such as food and eating out, visiting gardens and the outdoors, our heritage wherever it is in the world and wanting to give something back to your commu ities and the wider world. So in the next few months, we will introduce some e-zines and website information that we hope will appeal as much as it seems CD-Traveller does. The first launches this week, Just about Food and you can find it from Wednesday onwards at www.justaboutfood.net.

On behalf of all of us at CD-Traveller, thanks to all of you that helped.

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There are lots of Welshmen around, but I wasn’t the one. I was talking to Stephanie Abrams, the nationally syndicated US radio travel journalist, about the UK and her thoughts on the UK when the story of this elusive man arose.

Stephanie has a two-hour travel radio show on Saturdays and a three hour one on Sundays. Here she was at the New York Times Travel Show, headphones clapped to her ears, interviewing various travel industry figures. I was sandwiched in between her recordings which were taking place on a small stage at the end of one of the aisles at the show. She is forever traveling so it came as little surprise to learn that her recently published novel, Rumors, was a decade of gestation. Even then I’m surprised she found time to write it (it’s available over here via Amazon)

Stephanie has a wide radio audience: she has been to the UK many times and I thought who else could give me a good view of what Americans like about the UK. Especially since whatever she thinks is relayed to that large radio audience. But hardly had we started, when this anonymous Welshman loomed large in the conversation.

Who is he? She doesn’t know and that’s the problem.

The story goes that in 2010, she had been visiting Ireland from a London base and was catching the ferry back to Holyhead. After a day’s delay due to bad weather, she caught the train back to London arriving in Euston, tired after the long journey and not having her usual “Joie de vie.”

Waiting in a long line for a taxi, jaded and perhaps a little irritable at the delay in getting to the front she heard a man say: “I could never do this with my wife. But then, she’s always drunk.” As a conversation opener, this was pretty good. Stephanie laughed and the Welshman cheered her up with other witticisms until she felt more relaxed and less fed up with the world. As she took her taxi, he remarked that he lived on a mountain and she was welcome to stay because she was from Massachusetts and not one of those Brits that he’d instantly turn away. Laughing, she left without bothering to learn his name. And since then, she has been trying to find this man. So if you happen to know someone who lives up a Welsh mountain, is about 60 and six feet tall with pepper and salt hair who remembers a laughing American in a taxi rank at Euston…

Normally Stephanie collects details like names. She mentions good service on her programmes. Here is one other of her stories that reflect the very best in service we would like, but so rarely get, when we travel. Her husband is the photographer(I should have asked why a radio broadcaster needs a photographer, but listening to her stories it just slipped me by!) He had left his camera either on a train or in the taxi taking them to their hotel. The fact that there were hundreds of photographs sitting on the camera from their recent travels was much more important. They contacted lost property and had left details, but heard nothing before they left. A few weeks later on a return trip, they were reunited with the camera and the all-so-important pictures. What had happened was that the taxi man discovered them, took them to the hotel but because Stephanie and her husband had left he wouldn’t leave it there so he left it with lost property. The hotel contacted Stephanie and her husband, saying they would collect them if she would authorize it. She did, they did and then drove and met her at Heathrow’s terminal 5 to hand them over when she transitted in London, on the next trip.

Both the taxi driver and the hotel went that extra mile in customer service that warrants a hefty congratulation. Unfortunately, the name of the taxi driver isn’t known, but if he happens to read this Stephanie gives her very grateful thanks. The hotel is known: it is the Cranley in Bina Gardens in London. That is the sort of service that all of us would like to think was available and certainly would make us prefer the Cranley over another hotel. Hats off to both of them.

By this time I was wondering where this interview was going. She was supposed to be telling me her thoughts about the UK but so far all I had were two – albeit interesting – stories.What was her philosophy for traveling for example?

She believes that her role is to present destinations so that visitors will return from them enriched, inspired and uplifted. And she believes that when people travel they should aim at the luxurious. But not everyone can do this I suggested, only to be told that visitors should pick a destination or attraction where they can afford to visit in luxury. She contends that it will make it more memorable, more of a break and more of an experience.

So where does she rate highly in the UK? It was unsurprising to find that they were luxurious places as well – such as the Cannizaro House Hotel, near Wimbledon.She likes it because it is close to London but has the advantage of being within spitting distance of the upmarket restaurants and cafes in Wimbledon Village. But don’t during Wimbledon fortnight, she advises.

Again, the hotel goes the extra mile for its guests which is something that Stephanie obviously remembers and repays in loyalty. She also speaks highly of the Samling Hotel in the Lake District and Dalhousie Castle which is also a luxury hotel on the outskirts of Edinburgh. Glenapp Castle in Ayrshire, which has been developed into a luxury hotel by an ex-vet and his wife, is another of her favorites. It only goes to show what can be done by a couple as has been done at another of her haunts, the Michelin starred Boath House Hotel in Nairn.

You will notice that not one of her suggestions was in Wales. Could that be because she is still waiting to find her mysterious Welshman and to see whether he has a luxury hotel?

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Chinese New Year in England brings an explosive celebration of color and noise to this green and pleasant land. Tomorrow the nation’s Chinatowns will fill with spectators to watch the music and pageantry of the occasion, including Chinese dancing dragons and brightly colored New Year lanterns adorning the streets. A person born in the year of the snake is said to be the wisest and most enigmatic of all. Here are some of the best spots to see in Year of the Snake


Each year, London holds the biggest Chinese New Year celebrations outside Asia. The city’s celebrations are centered in the West End. See performances from Chinese artists in Trafalgar Square and explore the richly decorated Chinatown. Enter through the red gates and discover a brilliant red and gold pocket of Chinese food, music, architecture, and shopping. Strung with banners and lanterns, Chinatown for many generations has been home to a Chinese community who’ve turned the area into a hotspot for authentic cuisine. You’ll find specialty duck restaurants, delicious dim sum, and traditional Chinese pastries at the Kowloon Bakery. You’ll also find some of the best Chinese food in London at Hakkasan (www.hakkasan.com), a Michelin starred restaurant in nearby Bloomsbury. For more information, visit www.chinatownlondon.org


Birmingham’s Chinese New Year celebrations will take place from 12.30pm to 5.30pm in the Arcadian Centre in the city’s Chinese Quarter and promise to be bigger and better than ever. The celebrations will start with a bang, with an extravagant dragon and lion dance. Acrobatic and cultural displays will fill the rest of the programme, which will conclude with a spectacular Firework Finale. A wander around Birmingham’s Chinese Quarter will reveal a myriad of restaurants and cafés offering authentic menus from Northern China all the way to Malaysia, with some of the city’s hippest nightspots in between. If you feel like dancing after your dinner, the area offers funky house, electro, and some fun-filled karaoke. For more information, visit www.cnybirmingham.org.uk


Liverpool has one of the oldest established Chinese communities in Europe since a line of steamers connected the city directly to China, trading tea, silk and cotton wool. Today, there are around 10,000 Chinese residents living in Liverpool and its surrounding areas. Here, Chinese New Year is celebrated in style and the city features a spectacular ceremonial arch — the largest outside of Asia — which is decorated with over 200 dragons to commemorate the city being twinned with Shanghai. Celebrations take place from 11 am to 4 pm in the Liverpool Chinatown area including Nelson Street, Berry Street, Great George Street, Great George Square and Bold Street. For more information, visit www.liverpoolchinatown.co.uk. Just an hour away, Manchester is home to the Chinese Arts Centre (www.chinese-arts-centre.org), an institution which promotes Chinese contemporary art in Britain. It’s a fantastic space which holds a lively programme of exhibitions, events, residencies, and festivals, and is the place to go if you’re interested in the Chinese art and artists of today.

Newcastle Gateshead

2013 will see the return of one of the biggest celebrations of its kind in the North of England, as NewcastleGateshead welcomes in the Chinese New Year. The Year of the Snake will commence with a day of free events and performances for all the family, including traditional crafts, dance, music, martial arts and food and drink, with festivities commencing around Newcastle’s Stowell Street and Chinatown from 11 am to 5 pm. There’ll be a unique opportunity to witness the ceremonial ‘Eye Dotting’ of the new lion. This tradition brings the year’s beast (a traditional costume) to life by adding color to its eyes, giving it sight, taste and power, and awakening its spirit while bringing good luck and plentiful fortune to all who take part. Once ‘awake’, the lion performs a colorful street dance alongside the Chinese dragon and unicorn. The captivating ceremony will take place beneath the ornate ceremonial arch at the entrance to Chinatown. For more information, visit www.NewcastleGateshead.com/ChineseNewYear


For a Chinese New Year with a twist, visit Bristol Zoo Gardens (www.bristolzoo.org.uk) and learn more about snakes in their special year. The zoo’s reptile house is home to some of the fastest, biggest and most venomous snakes on earth. Housing over 400 species and nine animals houses under cover, this is a great day out in Bristol whatever the weather. Combine your trip with a visit to Wai Yee Hong (www.waiyeehong.com), the place to usher in the Chinese New Year in Bristol. The firecrackers will be lit at 11.15am to scare away the evil spirits. This will be followed by a kung fu demonstration from the Yi Quin lion dance troupe, who will bring luck and prosperity through a traditional Chinese Lion dance.

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This year, for the first time, a team from Wales competed in the Budweiser International Snow Sculpture Championships. Along with 14 other international teams, the team entered the championships in the picturesque, historical mining-now-ski resort town of Breckenridge, Colorado, about a two-hour drive from Denver.

The Welsh team (called Great Britain-Wales) created the “Seven Deadly Sins,” an enormous snow sculpture depicting caricatures of the so-called seven deadly sins, each responding to each other. “Envy is reacting to Greed, while Lust is observing Pride and Sloth and Wrath are both being affected by Gluttony,” the team spokesperson explains.

Held since 1991, the Championships have just ended with 2013 providing the most international of championships as only two teams competed from the US. The “Events Business News” has named the International Snow Sculpture Championships as one of the top 200 events internationally.

Invitations went out last June to over 250 organizations which had until August to submit their designs. The Organizing Selection Committee decides who will attend the event. Teams provide their own transportation to Denver and are supported by a travel stipend supplied by the Town of Breckenridge. The Organizing Committee, with the help of many local sponsors, provide all meals and lodging for artists.

Team Great Britain-Wales was made up of a group of architectural stone carvers who live and work in South Wales. The members create snow sculptures in the winter as a hobby and have previously competed as a team in snow sculpting events in Sweden, Russia, Canada, and Italy. Original team captain Ollie Annaly suffered an injury before arriving and was replaced by Jake Savage. “I’m devastated that I have to stay home with a broken arm,” says Annaly, “but I am sure the lads will do their best with my design.” Other team members include Thomas Kenrick, Will Whitmore, and James Wheeler.

Each team consists of four sculptors and one member who is not allowed to sculpt. The teams carve unique sculptures, often depicting cultural influences, proud heritages and aspirations of those whose skills are involved. Only hand tools are allowed in the competition. The huge, approximately 20-ton sculptures are made from snow from the Breckenridge Ski Resort and the Breckenridge Public Works Department loads it onto trucks and hauls to the event site. The snow is blown into the blocks by a huge snow blower. The blocks of snow are almost a three-meter cube.

Front-end loaders take the snow from the dump trucks and load up the square wooden frames. The snow is blown into the blocks by a huge snow blower. After a couple of loads, about five to ten people climb into the blocks and stomp the snow to pack it into the blocks. The people then climb out of the block and another load gets dumped in and the people get back into the block and stomp the snow.

At the end of the five-day period (65 hours total), a panel of artist judges finds a favorite on the basis of theme, style, and technique. The winners were announced on the 27th January. Sadly, the Welsh team was not among the winners. First place went to Team Mongolia, Second to Team Catalonia-Spain and Third to Team Estonia.

Talking to me, Thomas Kenrick said, “We all absolutely loved taking part in the competition; meeting people from all over the world with a passion for sculpture. It transcended any language barriers and really was a joy. The organizers of the festival were fantastic. Team GB will make every effort to come back next year, and we will soon be working hard on next year’s design.”

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Featured, Travel Destinations

Tomorrow will see a new icon on the London skyline, open its doors to the public for the first time. The View from the Shard – the visitor attraction at the tallest building in western Europe – will offer visitors a whole new perspective on the capital.

England has quite a history of thinking big. In celebration of all things great and not so small, Visit England looks up at some of the nation’s tallest attractions that are putting this country on top of the world.

The Shard, London (224m tall)

The View from the Shard takes visitors up 224 meters to the viewing platform on Level 69, the only place you can see all of London, all at once. Twice the height of any other viewing platform in the capital, the 360-degree view extends more than 40 miles (64 km) out to the coast and Windsor Castle on a clear day. Closer to the building is some of London’s most famous landmarks including Buckingham Palace, Tower Bridge, St Paul’s Cathedral, the London Eye and Westminster. Before entering lifts to ascend the Shard, visitors pass through a multi-media experience that gives background information on London’s history. Once upon Level 69, visitors can use Tell: scopes to learn more about the city. This high-tech, interactive telescopes can be used to zoom in on the view in real time or to find out more about the city and its history. Those who dare can further their experience with a climb to Level 72, the highest habitable point of The Shard, to stand in the open air above ground. Tickets must be pre-booked cost £24.95 for adults and £18.95 for children. To book, visit www.theviewfromtheshard.com

Arcelor Mittal Orbit, Olympic Park, London (115m tall)

130,000 visitors, three proposals, and one queen… Rising over the Olympic site, the ArcelorMittal Orbit, a bold statement of public art, presented a new perspective on London life during the Games. Literally lighting up London’s East End the UK’s tallest sculpture took 18 months to construct and required 560 meters of tubular red steel to form the sculpture’s lattice superstructure. A total of 2,000 tonnes of steel has been used to build the ArcelorMittal Orbit, equivalent to the weight of 1,136 London black cabs. Anish Kapoor’s creation will open again to the public at the end of March as part of a new programme of tours designed to showcase the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. For more information, visit www.arcelormittalorbit.com

Scafell Pike, Lake District (978m tall)

Did you know that this country has over 200 mountains? Of all the peaks of England, the majority can be found in the Lake District. These include Scafell Pike, England’s highest mountain, which sits majestically just waiting to be tackled and once described as “every inch a mountain” by legendary guidebook author Alfred Wainwright Characterised by crags and jaw-dropping views, Scafell Pike is no walk in the park. Pack a picnic and climb to the summit for an exhilarating sense of achievement. If you’re considering the challenge, visiting www.scafellpike.org.uk is the best place to start. After all that hard work why not relax at the Cuckoo Brow Inn, Ambleside. Enjoy a two-night winter getaway for £119 per person, Dinner, Bed, and Breakfast (offer valid until the end of February).

Spinnaker Tower, Portsmouth (170m tall)

Soaring 170 meters above Portsmouth Harbour and the Solent, the Spinnaker Tower is taller than the London Eye and Big Ben and has already established itself as a national icon. Situated on the waterfront at Gunwharf Quays, it offers panoramic views of Portsmouth Harbour, the south coast and out to the Isle of Wight, with views stretching for up to 23 miles – breathtaking by day and a glittering sea of lights by night. View Deck 1 boasts a glass floor, where visitors of all ages can dare to ‘walk on air’; View Deck 2 is home to a Café in the Clouds, while View Deck 3 – The Crow’s Nest – is open to the elements, enabling visitors to feel the wind in their hair. Tickets cost £8.25 for adults and £6.55 for children. To book, visit www.spinnakertower.co.uk

Big One, Blackpool Pleasure Beach (72m tall)

Brace yourself for the Big One, the UK’s tallest roller coaster. Feel the adrenaline rush as you climb to a nail-biting height of 72 meters over Blackpool Pleasure beach. The attraction’s first drop boasts an inclined angle of 65 degrees and at speeds of up to 87mph – this roller coaster is an experience like no other! The Big One is also one of the longest rollercoasters, measuring over a mile in length. An unlimited rides wristband for Blackpool Pleasure Beach costs £17.50 for adults and £15 for children. To book, visit www.blackpoolpleasurebeach.com

Weymouth SEA LIFE Tower, Dorset (53m tall)

Weymouth Bay is part of England’s most scenic coastland. It’s also home to some of the country’s best sailing waters and hosted the Olympic and Paralympic sailing events last summer. Soaring high above the resort, Weymouth SEA LIFE Tower provides stunning panoramic views of the Jurassic coastline – England’s first natural World Heritage Site – and out over Weymouth Bay, Chesil Beach, and Portland. Turning through a full 360 degrees and climbing to over 170 feet above sea level, this is an experience not to be missed! Tickets cost from £13 per person. To book, visit www.visitsealife.com/Weymouth

Up at the O2, London (53m tall)

Ever climbed an icon? Now’s your chance! This breath-taking attraction combines an exhilarating active outdoor challenge with a completely unique perspective on the capital. The unforgettable 90-minute experience takes visitors on an uplifting guided expedition across the roof of The O2 via a tensile fabric walkway suspended 53 meters above ground level. An observation platform at the summit will enable climbers to take in spectacular 360-degree views of the city and its many landmarks, including the Olympic Park, Thames Barrier, The Shard, Historic Royal Greenwich and Canary Wharf, before descending back to base. Tickets start at £22 for adults and children. To book, visit www.theo2.co.uk/upattheo2

Angel of the North, Newcastle Gateshead (20m tall)

Up in Gateshead, Anthony Gormley’s The Angel of the North spreads its iron wings to 54 meters wide. After a controversial start in 1998, ‘The Angel of the North’ is now almost universally loved, and it seems the feeling is mutual; the sculpture’s wings are angled forward 3.5 degrees to create, in Gormley’s words, “a sense of embrace”. Free to view. For more information, visit www.angelofthenorth.org.uk.

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World-renowned chef, Jose Pizarro – aka the ‘godfather of Spanish cuisine’ – talks travel

What do you like to do on holiday?
I love trying out the local restaurants, wherever I am. I also enjoy sightseeing: I am obsessed with a good view.

Where did you last travel to?
I went to Morocco and it was fabulous.

Do you know where you’re going this year?
I am off to St Lucia for a week to cook for guests at Cap Maison hotel and I can’t wait. I am also off to New York and San Francisco.

Of all the places you’ve been to, which was your favorite and why?
Hong Kong was an unforgettable place for me. An amazing culture, friendly people, and the food are just wonderful. I had one of my best meals there in fact, at the Four Seasons Hotel but the street food is also out this world.

Which destination do you wish to travel to, but haven’t yet been?
I am really keen to go to Japan. It’s all about the fish there! I would also love to know more about the Japanese culture.

In your own country (Spain), what would you recommend tourists to see that isn’t in the travel guides?
Always go to the villages around a city. Get out to the countryside and you will see a fantastic, welcoming Spain that just isn’t in the guides. Good tapas and good wines are plentiful.

How do you plan a holiday?
I am terrible at planning holidays. I tend to contact the clever people I know in the country I’m visiting, and ask them to recommend places for me. To have lived in London for a long time has helped me to meet people from all over the world.

How often do you go away?
Four or five times a year if my schedule allows.

Who do you travel with?
I normally travel with my partner, but I also love traveling alone or with really good friends.

Where do you see tourism in your country (Spain), in 10 years?
I think, thanks to the Spanish Tourist Office, Spain will continue to be cool and cultural and a top place to visit for sensational food.

Thanks, Jose!
Jose Pizarro is attending the third annual ‘Guest Chef Series’ on 1 and 2 March 2013 at The Cliff at Cap, the award-winning restaurant of the boutique luxury resort Cap Maison in St Lucia. The international star-studded line up also includes Julian Marshall of Bleeding Heart in London between 25 and 26 January 2013 and Joe Truex of Watershed in Atlanta, USA, between 15 and 16 March 2013.

Cap Maison is now offering an exclusive 20 percent discount through the new ‘Guest Chef Foodie Holiday”’ package: £2335 (plus taxes) for two people- which includes seven nights in a Garden View Room with daily breakfast at the Cliff at Cap, private lunch on ocean-front deck Rock Maison to experience the new Tapas menu, invitation to both Guest Chef events (Friday and Saturday) on a selected ‘series’ weekend, a Castries market tour and cooking class with local ingredients, round-trip airport transfers in a private car. Call UK reservations on 0208 977 6099 for more information, or to book.

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Today the London Underground, the world’s first subterranean rail network, celebrates its 150th birthday. The once unthinkable concept of ‘trains in drains’ is now a celebrated engineering marvel and one of the capital’s most recognizable icons, stretching more than 250 miles and carrying over one billion passengers every year. But it’s not just the capital which lays claim to enviable engineering feats – up and down the country there’s a whole host of engineering achievements to marvel at. From the British Engineerium, which opens for sneak previews in Brighton this weekend, to the fastest car in the world on display in Coventry, VisitEngland takes a look at some of the best.

The world’s oldest underground network, London

Dating back to 1863, the London Underground is the world’s oldest underground network. On its first day of operation, the Metropolitan line carried a total of 40,000 passengers from Paddington to Farringdon in the newly constructed tunnel via Edgware Road, Baker Street, Portland Road (now Great Portland Street), Gower Street (now Euston Square) and King’s Cross. The train took 18 minutes to make the 3¾-mile journey. By 1880 the line was carrying 40 million passengers a year. A range of events and activities is planned to mark the anniversary, including a special exhibition at the London Transport Museum, commemorative stamps, and coins, and a series of steam train runs.

The British Engineerium, Brighton
Steeped in history, the Grade II listed British Engineerium asserts itself as an impressive landmark in Brighton and Hove. The collection of Victorian bricked buildings and imposing chimney demands historical and architectural recognition. But inside this polychrome exterior is where the real action is: the restored Corliss steam engine and 1890s steam-powered fire engine stand proudly amongst an array of gleaming exhibits and nineteenth-century engines. Such grand equipment boasts of engineering mastery and the adjoining workshop indicates the Museum’s emphasis on craftsmanship and invention, breathing life back into British industry. The Engineerium is being renovated and is due to reopen later this year, however, a series of Open Days run throughout the year, starting on 6 January.

The steepest funicular railways in England, Hastings
The East and West hill funiculars are superb examples of Victorian engineering, built to attract tourists and transport people to the glorious hills of Hastings. The West cliff railway, close to the ruins of Hastings Castle, was opened in 1891 and built by the Hastings Lift Company. A 363 feet brick-lined tunnel was driven through a natural cave at an inclination of 1:3. The 500 ft. journey to the top, taking in panoramic rooftop views of the Old Town squeezed between two hills, takes a few minutes and the original carriages are still in use today. The East hill funicular is the steepest of its kind in England. The water balance lift, at a gradient of 78 percent, opened in 1902 – Coronation Day. Today it’s an electric operation and the carriages, new in 2010, are replica versions of the handsome mahogany-framed cars with oak strip flooring and arched roofs. A return ticket costs £2.50.

The fastest car in the world, Coventry

Thrust SCC is the current Land Speed Record-holiday car and is on permanent display at the Coventry Transport Museum. The car was designed and built by an English team headed by the charismatic Richard Noble OBE and was driven through the sound barrier by RAF Wing Commander Andy Green in 1997. Visitors to the museum have the opportunity to experience the land speed record-breaking run for themselves, in the ThrustSSC simulator. This incredible feat of English engineering is still appreciated today: the same team is now in advanced stages of building a new car, ‘Bloodhound SSC’, which it is hoped will break the 1,000mph barrier.

The oldest surviving turning shed in the world, Derby

The crumbling remains of Derby Roundhouse, the oldest surviving turning shed in the world, have been restored into a truly unique learning center. The world’s first railway roundhouse, built by Robert Stephenson in 1839 for the North Midland Railway, contained 16 lines of rails, radiating from a single turn-table in the center. The turntable was a genius invention because it allowed a locomotive to be turned around for the return journey. The Derby Roundhouse was endorsed by the Guinness World Records in 2012 and you can track down Derby’s rich railway heritage on a Roundhouse tour, taking in true-life stories of the men, women, and children who pioneered Derby’s railway industry. Tours cost £6 per person.

The largest bell foundry in the world, Leicestershire

John Taylor Bell Founders has been casting bells in Leicestershire since the 13th century. In 1881 John Taylors cast the largest bell in Britain, ‘Great Paul’, for St Paul’s Cathedral in London. John Taylors are now the largest bell foundry in the world and have a museum which tells a remarkable story of one of the oldest manufacturing industries in the world. Don’t miss the room full of bells from different ages and different founders – this display has a wooden mallet so you can sound the bells and see for yourself which sounds best. Ding dong!

The oldest windmill in Britain, Buckinghamshire

Dating back to 1627, Pitstone Windmill is believed to be the oldest windmill in the country. Pitstone ground flour for the village for almost three hundred years until a freak storm in the early 1900s left it badly damaged. It was later donated to the National Trust and restored. As you walk around, wonder at the way the mill and its machinery balance on the head of a massive wooden post, discover the tail pole the miller had to wrestle with to turn the huge structure to face the wind and explore the surrounding Chiltern Hills with stunning views from nearby Ivinghoe Beacon. Entry costs £2 for adults and £1 for children.

The world’s first passenger train, Manchester

Attend steam school and learn how to ride and operate the world’s first passenger train at the Museum of Science and Industry. MOSI is housed in the original buildings of Manchester’s Liverpool Road station, which was part of the world’s first passenger railway – the Liverpool & Manchester Railway – built in 1830. Once used to transport goods between the port of Liverpool and the industrial powerhouse of Manchester, this huge engineering feat revolutionized travel and is now the oldest surviving passenger railway station in the world. Visitors to the museum should also check out the Revolution Manchester Gallery for more engineering feats, transport revolutions, and the computer age. MOSI is free to enter. The 4.5-hour Steam School experience is run monthly and costs £250.

The longest, highest and deepest canal tunnel in Britain, Huddersfield
The Standedge Tunnel, England’s longest, highest and deepest canal tunnel, passes under the Pennines between Diggle and Marsden. Built over 200 years ago, the tunnel is nearly three and a half miles long and took 16 years to build. The final section was overseen by renowned engineer Thomas Telford in 1811. It’s one of the Seven Wonders of the Waterways and visitors can explore deep into the tunnel on a family-friendly guided boat trip, stop for a bite to eat in the local cafe and let kids explore the wildlife garden. Entry to the tunnel is free. 30-minute boat trips cost £4.50 per adult and £3.50 per child.

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