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Monthly Archives: April 2017

The Weekend in Philadelphia

The great thing about Philadelphia is that downtown is less than 30 minutes from the airport. Add that it’s only around seven hours from the UK on a direct flight with Delta Air Lines, then the city definitely becomes viable for a long weekend.
It has all the buzz of New York, but is obviously smaller and that means you can walk everywhere. There’s lots to see including the birthplace of US independence, some great art museums and a unique submarine experience.
Independence National Historical Park
Start with the Constitutional Walking Tour. It has nothing to do with your health, but takes you around the Independence National Park area, the heart of historic Philadelphia. Independence Hall, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, built in 1753, where the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution were debated and adopted in the late 18th century is the star attraction.
Across the street is the Liberty Bell, originally in the steeple of Independence Hall, and paraded around the US for 25 years as a symbol of American independence. The park also contains the first US bank buildings and the 1775 Carpenters’ Hall, the venue for the First Continental Congress of the United Colonies of North America. At the opposite end is the modern interactive museum, the National Constitution Centre.
National Museum of American Jewish History
Just off Independence Mall is the only US museum dedicated exclusively to exploring and interpreting the American Jewish experience.
Four floors tell the story, starting with the first Jews who came from Brazil, escaping persecution by the Portuguese in 1654, through the migration of millions of immigrants from Europe in the late 19th century, to post WW2 stories of refugees from war-torn Europe, the Middle East, the Caribbean, and the Soviet Union.
The ground floor has stories of real people and their artefacts – including Steven Spielberg’s first camera, Irving Berlin’s piano and Even Einstein’s pipe.
Independence Seaport Museum
A short walk from here is the waterfront area along the Delaware River, Penn’s Landing, home to the Independence Seaport Museum. It tells the history of seafaring in Philadelphia, but moored outside are two vessels well worth a visit.
The 1892 Cruiser Olympia is the world’s oldest floating steel warship and the sole surviving naval ship of the Spanish-American War. It was decommissioned in 1921 and is a must-see.
Below it is the 1944 Submarine Becuna which prowled the Pacific for Japanese ships, sinking three of them. A narrow ladder leads you down into the cramped bowels of the crew quarters, engine room and the torpedo tubes. It can’t have been much fun spending time underwater.
The Philadelphia Museum of Art
Philadelphia is noted for the quality of its art collections and city’s Museum of Art is the third largest in the country. You may remember seeing it in the 1976 movie Rocky when Sylvester Stallone ran up the front steps, and there’s a statue to commemorate the occasion.
Inside there are Renaissance masterpieces, an excellent French Impressionist collection and works by Picasso, Duchamp and Matisse. The American art gallery has fine examples of paintings by Winslow Homer and Thomas Eakins.
Nearby is the Rodin Museum which houses the largest collection of the sculptor’s works outside Paris.
The Barnes Foundation
If you are still craving art, head for the Barnes Foundation. Between 1912 and 1951 wealthy chemical engineer, Albert Barnes, built up this collection of impressionist, post-impressionist and early modern paintings.
Among its 3,000 masterpieces, are 181 Renoirs, 69 Cézannes, 59 Matisses, 46 Picassos, 16 Modiglianis, and seven Van Goghs. Although it only moved to its present site in 2012, the rooms are laid out exactly as Barnes intended. He mixes time periods, geographic areas, and styles to create his “wall ensembles” which lead to a certain amount of artistic indigestion by the end of your visit.
Murals
It’s good to get out into the fresh air, yet there’s no escaping the art. This is the mural capital of the world and the city has more than 4,000 examples, painted over thirty years and still being added to. You can get a map from the tourist office but it’s more to to take a two hour Mural Mile Walking Tour and learn the stories of the people, places, and themes of each mural.
Reading Terminal Market
Established in 1892, this is the nation’s oldest continuously operating farmers’ market and is home to over 80 merchants. You can buy fresh produce, meat and seafood here but the main attraction is the wide variety of local and international cuisine. As well as a range of Pennsylvania Dutch specialties, there’s Mexican, Thai, German, Cajun, and Chinese on offer. If you just want breakfast, then there are five bakeries to keep you happy.
Frank Lloyd Wright Synagogue
Beth Sholom is located in the Philadelphia suburb of Elkins Park and is the only synagogue designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. Completed in 1959, the glazed glass pyramidal tower reflects two dominant metaphors, the tent and the mountain to convey a sense of collective sacredness. The pyramidal glass tower fills the interior with natural light and the sanctuary’s chandelier, made of panels of coloured Plexiglas resembles a three dimensional kite – Wright called it a “Light Basket”.

Trip to Seoul, South Korea

Since the end of the Korean War, the country of South Korea has been continually progressing towards its current status as a global economic force and major player in the worlds of technology and culture. Currently there are around 10 million inhabitants in Seoul, making it one of the world’s most densely populated cities.
The Han river provides calm, placid views in an otherwise cluttered city. It flows through the city with twenty-nine bridges that span its waters enabling people to shuttle from north to south of the city via trains, buses or cars.
One of the Seoul’s accolades is that it is home to four UNESCO World Heritage Sites: Changdeokgung, Hwaseong Fortress, Jongmyo Shrine and the Royal Tombs of the Joseon Dynasty.
Here’s a round-robin of what to do when you get there:
The Palaces
Glimpse Seoul’s 600-year-old history and culture at one of the five royal palaces built by King Taejo at the end of the fourteenth century.
Gyeongbokgung Palace, or the Palace of Shining Happiness, is considered one of the grandest. It is located on the city’s main boulevard, Sejongro, close to the Blue House, the President’s residence. It was built in 1395 and is a stunning complex. A walk through the grounds of this Joseon Dynasty palace is a walk back in time. It is connected to the Jongmyo, a Cofucian shrine to kings and queens of the Korean Josean Dynasty. English tours can be booked in advance, or simply look out for one of the ‘greeters’.
Located inside the palace is the National Folk Museum. It comprises three tall interconnecting buildings and they house artefacts, relics and paintings from the different periods of Korean history ranging from pre-history right through to occupation by the Japanese. Entry is free. Metro line 3, Anguk Station, exit 1
Digital Media City
Seoul is considered to be the most wired city in the world but most people don’t know that South Koreans were enjoying touch screen cell phones and video calling long before Apple launched the iPhone. One of the greatest examples of South Korea’s dedication technology is Digital Media City. A former massive city dump was paved over in 1993 when the height of the landfill rivaled Seoul’s neighboring mountains. In 2002 it was transformed into a sprawling network of buildings housing everything from major technology and communications firms, like LG, to museums and apartments.
The Markets
Noryangjin Fish Market
This market was established in 1927 and today remains Seoul’s oldest and largest indoor seafood market. Over 800 vendors sell the day’s catch, which ranges from delicious to downright curious. Noryangjin is a great place to sample some of Korea’s most famous seafood dishes. Purchase any item from a vendor and have it prepared for you at one of the numerous restaurants located in the basement and on the second floor. If you’re really looking for an authentic experience, order Korea’s famous sannakji (live octopus) and pair it with a bottle of Soju. The market is worthy of a visit, if even just to take in the sights, sounds and smells of the massive facility. Seoul Metro Line 1.
Gwangjang Market
Gwangjang Market was Seoul’s first market. Today, its second floor serves as a massive textile market, but the real draw is the food vendors packed throughout the main floor. Gwangjang Market is one of the best places to sample Seoul’s eclectic street and snack food options. Be sure to keep your eyes peeled for the famous saxophonist who is often filling this lively market with his music. Seoul Metro Line 1 or 2.
Namdaemun Market
Namdaemun Market is Seoul’s largest traditional market. Open daily around the clock, it is massive and hosts over 10,000 vendors spread through a maze of intertwining streets. Many of the shops sell handmade items. From leather belts, jewellery to ginseng, the market has a little bit of everything including camping gear. Though it is very crowded, and you will get bumped around, it’s a great place to wander, people watch and perhaps pick up a souvenir at a bartered price. Seoul Metro Line 4 to Hoehyeon Station. Tourist information line: 02-752-1913.
Yongsan Market
The Electronics Market, great for gadget nuts, has over three thousand stores housed in over twenty buildings (as well as bootleggers in tents) open from 10 til 7.30, with discounts of up to 50% over other retail outlets. You could build a computer from scratch and buy all the games you could ever want to play on it. Don’t forget to haggle if you want a great deal; some vendors will drop prices drastically, while others won’t budge.
Seoul Folk Flea Market
You’ll find everything from Korean antiques and taxidermy to military paraphernalia and all kinds of randomness. While amongst these treasures, take a minute to try some fresh honey tea that’s made with honey fresh from the comb. If that’s too sweet try a refreshing concoction of milk, Korean red ginger, honey and a plant mountain ma.  Places like these have a lot of historical significance in Korea and this particular market has been moved around more than once in its 100+ years of existence. Who knows how long it will stay in its current form, so enjoy it while you can and don’t be surprised if you are the only foreigner in the place.
Itaewon District
If you are in Seoul long enough you will likely end up here at least once. Situated near the main US army base in Korea, Itaewon attracts both foreigners and locals alike. Trendy restaurants, imported food stores, nightlife and shopping are just a few of the many reasons so many people flock to this part of Seoul. It might not be the most traditional of places but it’s a prime example of the way foreigners have weaved their way into the fabric of Korean society and what makes expat life in Korea different from anywhere else.
Must shop department store
Between Namdaemun market and the Myeongdong shopping areas is Shinsegae’s flagship downtown store. It is the place to go for top notch, if expensive, shopping. Join Korean women in the basement, in buying prepared dishes and fresh fish at the end of the day. Be sure to sample Korea’s beloved kimchi, a spicy cabbage normally fermented in huge jars dug into the earth. Upstairs, you can buy the latest designer shoes and clothes. For time out, visit the store’s roof garden. Metro line 4 to Hoehyun Station.
Explore Insadong Street

This is arguably one of Seoul’s most famous and historic thoroughfares. The main street and the alleyways intersecting it are a great place to window shop Korea’s culture. Storefronts are flanked with hanging calligraphy paintbrushes and have Korean traditional paper (hanji)
and the Korean traditional dress (hanbok) for observation or purchase. Be sure to visit one of Seoul’s famous tea houses or sample Buddhist temple food. Seoul Metro Line 3.

Go to the theatre
Chongdong Theatre, in the heart of downtown just around the corner from Deoksugung palace, offers a spectacular, dynamic show of traditional dance and music every day at 4pm and 8pm except Mondays, as well as the opportunity to try out royal costumes for yourself.
In the last few years, energy-filled and highly accessible ‘non-verbal’ shows have been entertaining international audiences. Nanta combines cooking with drumming in a comedy that sold out for a month at the Edinburgh Fringe, while Jump turns acrobatics and Korean martial arts into fast slapstick humour for all ages.
Relax in a spa
Chill out in a bath house or jjimjilbang. Dragon Hill Spa is a popular one but most neighbourhoods have a spa and many are open 24 hours with a very modest entrance fee. You can even sleep in some of them – popular after a long night of drinking. Just ask at your hotel for one nearby.
Take a hike
The city is ringed by mountains and one of the best things in South Korea is the hiking in national parks where you can also visit working, traditional Buddhist temples.
Bugaksan Mountain
Bugaksan, is the highest and most well known of Korea’s mountains. While there you can also visit the nearby Cheongwadae or “Blue House” where current President Lee Myung-Bak lives.
Bukhansan National Park
Bukhansan National Park is accessible by a metro ride and then a bus or taxi to the entrance. You can choose a short trail and get to see how many city dwellers spend their leisure time.
Seoul Seonggwak
Seoul Seonggwak is a 18.7 km fortress encompassing inner-Seoul. The fortress connects the four cardinal mountains of the city, Inwangsan, Bugaksan (the peak behind the Blue House – home of the president), Naksan, and Namsan. The hike will take a day and requires some endurance. Walking Seoul’s fortress will take you through quiet neighbourhoods and provide aerial views of Gyeongbokgung Palace. The hike is free but on site registration is required with a passport. Seoul Metro Line 3 or 4.
Best view in town
Back when Madonna’s Like a Virgin first debuted and Mikhail Gorbachev had just become the new Soviet leader; a pink glass tower known as the 63 building had just become tallest building in the world outside of North America. Today it is still the tallest building in Korea and the headquarters for some of Korea’s biggest companies.
It is also the place where you will find the world’s highest art gallery, an aquarium, wax museum, convention center, restaurants overlooking the city and a state of the art IMAX theater. The 63 Building also known as 63 City is a great spot for those traveling with younger children or those young at heart.
Must-visit museum
The state-of-the-art National Museum of Korea, the largest in Korea, houses masterpieces including a massive marble ten-story pagoda, a gold crown from the 5th century and stone dagger from the prehistoric period andlarge Buddha statues. It is arranged over three floors and has several restaurants and coffee shops. The surrounding grounds are a park with a large Reflecting Pool. Get there via subway and exit at Ichon subway exit and walk over about 400 meters to the museum. Entry is free and an audio guide costs 1000 won.
Fun by the river
The Cheonggyecheon was once a natural stream running through the heartof Seoul. In the 1950’s it was paved and made into a highway. Today it has been restored beyond its original state. The Cheonggyecheon is 8km long and its banks serve as a gallery for an array sculptures, architecture, fountainsand art. Through the year it plays host to a myriad of festivals and exhibitions, as well.

Travel to Palm Springs, California

Crafted out of the desert, Palm Springs still rocks nearly a century after it was created. Just ask Obama. The former US President is a regular visitor and he is just one of a long list of superstars who have holidayed or indeed lived here.
Glitterati of yesteryear would escape to Palm Springs from their gruelling filming schedules to enjoy some rest and relaxation reassured that they were less than 2 hours away from Hollywood should they be called back urgently.
This is the kind of town where you can spend a swell night in Twin Palms, the house where Sinatra threw his legendary cocktail parties or rent the home on Ladera Circle, where Elvis honeymooned with Priscilla. Or take a spin along freeway Bob Hope Drive. Turn up here in January and you could spend your time star spotting when the Palm Springs International Film Festival attracts the Clooneys of the world into town.
This celebrity-imbued region and its nine manicured resorts has in recent years, become thought of as a pensioners paradise; albeit, vitamin-boosted, healthy, wealthy silver-haired city refugees. For many it’s the dry desert climate and guaranteed sunshine for at least 10 months of the year that keeps them coming back. But things are changing with swanky restaurants and funky hotels now filling up to the brim with the next generation of holiday-makers.
Things to do in Palm Springs
Palm Springs is set in a tea-cup shaped valley and is completely surrounded by mountains that rise to nearly 11,000 ft at an angle of 75 degrees. In between the peaks are 54 miles of lush hiking trails, interesting rock formations and lovely waterfalls that nature lovers adore.
You can see it all when you alight onto Palm Springs Aerial Tramway. A rotating gondola rises 8,500 feet across two and a half miles of amazing views on its way up and down. Or stay at the top to explore, as this is the gateway to the cliffs of Chino Canyon.
On ground level there is the designer shopping especially in the palm-lined, highly manicured El Paseo, dubbed the Rodeo Drive of the Desert. In the town centre the art scene is thriving. Antique shops and those selling arty interiors unfold along North Palm Canyon drive.
The Backstreet Art District is easy to miss yet worth seeking out on South Cherokee Way. A community of a dozen or so acclaimed artists have opened up shop offering an opportunity to spend an hour or so milling and perhaps buying unique artwork.
The townsfolk have cleverly turned its last century provenance into a tourist trade. It simply loves to show off its quaintly retro architecture – the largest concentration of mid-20th century architecture in the world.
Get there in December and the boutique hotels and historic inns throw their doors open for public Walk of the Inns tours. Walking from one retro-designed hotel to another gives an interesting peek into the minds of past architects and their creations from 100-year old adobe inns to Mediterranean inspired villas. I particularly loved the motel with a kidney-shaped pool and ornamental pink flamingos. Apparently, Marilyn Monroe did too.
Those with a penchant for history and culture may find the Palm Springs Historical Society of interest. It is housed in an adobe house built by John McCallum who was the first white settler in Palms Springs. It is full of antiques and Indian artifacts, tools and images. Also, check out the Art Museum and the Architecture and Design Center.
If like Obama you love to play golf, there are several to choose such as the championship Indian Wells golf course looking lovely with its mountain backdrop and water features.
Proof Palm Springs used to be the desert
I had to pinch myself to remember that this land had been desert for more than 11,000 years and by the time I had wined, dined, spa’d and tee’d off with the local trendies it dawned on me that I had no choice; I had to go on a jeep tour to get a glimpse of this region’s true nature. The tour was a fascinating drive to the lands where the Cahuilla people lived 400 years ago.
I could see the San Andreas Fault where the collision of Pacific and North American plates have created a twisted and tormented landscape that would not look out of place at the Tate. Our guide tells us that palms are not trees, they are monocots – “think grass on steroids” she said. The landscape here is phenomenal and this is where you actually get to see the palm springs.
Where to eat in Palm Springs
The town is full of designer-diners such as the amazing and plushly decorated, three-levelled Lulu on South Palm Canyon Drive.
In the town centre located on the corner of South Indian Canyon and Arenas Road the Johannes restaurant offers some truly tasty Austrian dining. The menu has a Schnitzel lover’s menu including the classic Weiner or chicken varieties alongside more unusual offerings such as Mama’s with tomato and gruyere and fonina cheese. Traditional deserts include a sumptuous strudel, tiramissu and chocolate mousse.
In El Paseo, the region’s shopping area, a lively joint is the Tommy Bahama shopping and restaurant combo – a retail recipe that seems to be popular in the US and for a little more authenticity I nipped out to the Coachella Valley to dine in the Jackalope Ranch restaurant where meat dishes are served with live entertainment in its wild west style saloon.
When to Go to Palm Springs
From January to May the weather is warm but not too hot and sunny. During the summer months, the weather can be extremely hot, but then again, some like it hot.
Palm Springs – need to know
Where to stay: Ace Hotel – a funky, retro style, motel-cum-hotel with some great mod cons and a pleasant, come-as-you-are vibe. Read our review here.

Trip to Barbados, Caribbean

Name: Barbados
Location: The most easterly in the Caribbean chain of islands in the North Atlantic Ocean, northeast of Venezuela. It sits almost a hundred miles east of its closest neighbour.
Population: 285,000 (UN, 2016). The ethnic mix is primarily African descent (90%) followed by Asian and mixed races (6%) and Caucasian (4%).
Capital: Bridgetown in the parish of St Michael on the southwest coast.
Other key cities: Speightstown in St Peter, Oistins in Christ Church and Holetown/Sunset Crest in St James.
Language: The official language is English but the Bajan dialect is widely spoken.
Airport: Grantley Adams International Airport
Area: 430 sq km (166 sq miles): 21 miles long (34km) and 14 miles (23 km) wide.  It is divided into eleven parishes ranging from St Lucy in the North to Christ Church in the south.
Major religion: Christianity – Mostly Anglican but there are also 100 other religions practised.

Life expectancy:
 71 years (men), 78 years (women) (UN)
Monetary unit: 1 Barbadian dollar = 100 cents is tied to the US $. US dollars are accepted island wide. Expect an exhange of $2.00 Barbadian dollars for each US dollar. Other currencies fluctuate so check with thelocal banks.
Credit Cards: Most stores and restaurants accept major credit cards and traveller’s cheques.
Banks: Banks are generally open Monday to Thursday from 8am-3pm and Friday 8an-5pm.
Shop Hours: Supermarkets are open daily from 8am and close close between 7pm and 10pm in the evenings. Other retail outlets are generally open Monday to Saturday at 9am and close at 5pm (2pm on Saturday). Shops are only open on Sunday in December.
Tax: 15% VAT is usually included in prices. Hotels will add 7.5% VAT and 10% service charge to your final bill.
Tipping: Usually 10-15%
Internet domain: .bb
International dialling code: +1246
Electricity: 115/230V 60Hz
Water: Water in Barbados is pure and safe to drink from the tap.
Temperature: Average daytime temperature ranges between 80-87°F (27-30°C).
When to go to Barbados
Barbados has two seasons: the rainy season and the dry season. The rainy season lasts from May to November. The weather is hot but there are short spots of heavy rain. The busiest time is from December to April. Rates are a little higher at this time and some hotels may require you to buy some kind of meal plan, which is usually not required in the low season.
In mid-January, the Barbados Jazz Festival is a weeklong event jammed with performances by international artists, jazz legends, and local talent.
In February, the weeklong Holetown Festival is held at the fairgrounds to commemorate the date in 1627 when the first European settlers arrived in Barbados.
Gospelfest occurs in May and hosts performances by gospel headliners from around the world.
Dating from the 19th century, the Crop Over Festival, a monthlong festival similar to Carnival beginning in July and ending on Kadooment Day (a national holiday), marks the end of the sugarcane harvest.
Getting Around Barbados
Public Transport
Public transport comprises buses and minibuses readily available. The fare is $1.50 and it is best to have the exact money ready.
Government-owned Transport Board buses are the largest on the road – blue with yellow stripes and license plates with ‘BM’ prefixes.
Privately-owned minibuses are yellow with blue stripes and license plates have ‘B’ prefixes.
Privately-owned Route Taxis are white with burgundy stripes and license plates bearing the ‘ZR’ prefix.
Bus stops fall into two categories are are marked : (1) ‘To City’ meaning that the end of the route will be in Bridgetown and (2) ‘Out of City’ meaning that the bus is driving away from Bridgetwon and will complete its route before returning to the City.
When at the bus stop put out your hand to stop the bus.
Bus terminals are found in Bridgetwon, Oistins and Speightstown.
Taxis
Regular taxis have license plates with ‘Z’ prefix. Many have set fares for most routes, but do enquire beforehand.
Mini vans have license plates bearing the ‘ZM’ prefix. As they charge their own fares be sure to ask in advance what the fare will be.
Driving around
The UK style drive on the LEFT rule applies.
Traffic at many major intersections is regulated by roundabouts. Traffic in roudabouts flow in a clockwise direction and where there are two lanes, stay in the inner lane until you are ready to exit – then move with caution to the other (leftmost) lane to exit.
You need a valid national or international driver’s licence to be able to obtain a temporary Barbados driver’s licence from Police stations, licensing authorities and authorised car rental companies. Fees are US$5 for a 2-month permit and US$50 for a 1 year permit.
Need to Know
If you buy duty free cigarettes, you will be taxed on arrival in Barbados. Each 200 carton will attract $10.10 duty free tax, $37.60 Excise tax plus and Environmental tax of 3% and a further 15% VAT.
Warning
Narcotics are widely smoked on the island but be aware that all drugs, including cannabis, are illegal. Penalties for possession can be up to 20 years. So though you may be offered cannabis on the streets and on the beaches, you accept at your peril.
Highlights
  • Tyrol Cot Heritage Village
  • Bridgetown
  • Holetown – the oldest town in Barbados
  • St Lawrence
  • Barbados Wildlife Reserve
  • Harrison’s Cave
  • Welchman Hall Gully
  • See also: What is there to see and do in Barbados