Kington Langley Scarecrow festival

Things to do in England: Village Fetes

British countryside feteWhether you’re visiting the UK on your travels or you’re a local, often overlooked is the fun of a village fete.

Over the spring and summer you can find village festivals, fayres and fetes held across the UK and I wouldn’t miss them for the world.

For a taste of a quintessentially English event I wouldn’t recommend you miss one either.

Easy to spot, you can find out about events near you by checking online, picking up a local newspaper or simply going for a country drive;

I love going out hunting for a hand painted sign that will lead you to another random event!

Village fete funFor the uninitiated, let me provide an introduction to what must be added to the ‘must see’ list of any traveller in England. These fetes usually take place on the village green or high street. Although this implies they’re quite small, you’ll actually discover that there’s enough there to keep you busy for an entire afternoon.

Stalls come out with games galore, such as crockery smashing, the coconut shy (try to knock a coconut off a stand and take it home as a prize!) and skittles.

I’ve discovered some new ones myself recently, including bash the rat: where you have to try to hit a toy rat as it falls out of a tube, ferret and even duck racing, and an interesting game where you have to try to throw toilet rolls into a toilet cistern.

It’s a very strange sight indeed, but still good fun.

One of my favourites has to be watching a village tug-of-war fight, where the local men team up and try to prove their masculinity in a show of brute strength. Whichever team pulls the other across a line marked on the ground gets a cheer from the village ladies and goes off to the local pub for a well earned pint!

Kington Langley Scarecrow festivalJust this month I took part in the Kington Langley Scarecrow Festival, a great event in a beautiful village in Wiltshire.

The villagers get into the spirit by spending the weeks (and possibly months if you look at the detail some put into them!) running up to the event building their masterpieces. Then, over the weekend you pick up your guide and wander the village trying to guess what the themed creations are.

With a prize of £100 for the most guessed correctly, even the rain didn’t keep people away, and it’s brilliant to stroll down the ‘children’s street’ and see that even the little ones have given it a good go too.

Food at a village feteOnce you’re tired out from all the fun, games and exploration, there’s always some great food and drink on offer, and you’ll definitely want a snack after you’ve walked past the Victoria spongecompetition stand.

Us Brits love a good Pimms tent so there’s something for those that like a little alcoholic tipple, but for a good old English cuppa, look out for the signs for cream teas. These are heaven on earth – a lovely cup of tea, complete with an English scone and lashings of clotted cream and jam. It’s a great way to recoup, fill yourself up and a chance to people watch.

There’s a real sense of camaraderie at these fetes, which always leaves you warm and fuzzy inside. It’s a time when the entire local community comes out together to have a giggle and raise funds for the village, which is where the cash usually goes. You can see neighbours have a good old chat and anyone new to the area is made to feel as welcome as those that have lived there all their life.

It’s a place of happiness and fun, and a great way to see what English country life is like. Throw in the fact that every good British village has an excellent pub to stop off at during your explorations, I can’t think of anything else I’d rather do during a weekend in the British countryside!

Best places to visit in Qatar

The State of Qatar is a small country in Gulf Area in Middle East. Although not as grand and famous compare to its neighbouring country UAE, it offers variety of attractions that global travellers would surely love to visit.

Souq Waqif

If you love shopping in traditional way, then you will love this part of Doha, the capital city of Qatar. Souq Waqif literally means “the standing market” dating back at least a hundred years. This shopping destination is renowned for its souvenirs, handicrafts, spices and traditional garments. It is also home to several restaurants serving cuisine from all over the world. And if you love Shisha, this is the best place to try. Souq Waqif also became the hotspot for art galleries and workshops and local concert during holidays. Gold Souq is also a must visit place if you love gold, jewelleries, precious stones, silver or pearls. Here, little shops vie with each other to provide the best prices and hand-made designs.

Museum of Islamic Art

Just a short walk away from Souq Waqif, you can find this interesting place. It is built on the sea surrounded by beautifully maintained landscape. Aside from the precious collections it houses, the building is an attraction itself. It is an architectural masterpiece designed by Pritzker Prize laureate, I. M. Pei. MIA houses magnificent collection of artworks dating from 7th to 19th century including manuscripts, precious stones, ceramics, glass, metal, textiles etc. from three continents. From the building you can find a spectacular view of the West Bay Area with its one-of- a-kind buildings. The museum also houses a library with a vast collection of books and electronic materials.

West Bay Area and Pearl Qatar

This is the new part of the city and home to magnificent buildings, large international hotels, and the country’s largest mall, City Center Mall. West Bay Area is like a large art center with its uniquely designed buildings including bullet shaped Burj Qatar, tornado shaped Tornado Tower, pyramid shaped Sheraton Hotel and many more.

Pearl Qatar is the counterpart of The Palm in Dubai consists of residential buildings, shopping arcades and world class restaurants.

Aspire Zone

This extravagant project has been intended for the 2006 Asian Games. This state-of-the-art and leisure complex boasts some of the world’s finest stadiums and sporting facilities which continue to attract and accommodate local and international events. It also home of many shopping selections like the famous and artfully decorated Villagio Mall which design is inspired by Italian city of Venice.

Khor Al Adaid

Located in the southern part of the country, also known as the Inland Sea, is one of the Qatar’s finest treasures. This wonderful art of nature provides breathtaking view for the local and international travellers. The towering crescent-shaped sand dunes soaring from the water’s edge make a magnificent photo opportunity. The sea surges west in a narrow channel and divides Qatar from Saudi Arabia.

The burning of the clocks festival in Brighton

There are some weird and wonderful festivals and parades in the world. Once such oddity is “The burning of the clocks” which takes place every year in Brighton, England. The festival takes place on the winter solstice, the point at which the nights are at their longest and daylight is in short supply. Started in 1993, this is a new tradition rather than any ancient festival, pagan or otherwise. It’s growing popularity within the town has ensured it continues and hopefully will do for many years to come.

The burning of the clocksThe parade involves many local school children and adults who create lanterns from cane and tissue paper, often in the shape of clocks. There’s usually also dragons, mythical monsters, aliens and goblins. With each year they get more ornate and more impressive in size too. The parade also plays host to a number of local samba bands which are a growing fashion in this town. They seem to be part of a lot of parades in Brighton now and a welcome addition to liven up the atmosphere with music and dancing.

Paper lanternsStarting at the famous Royal Pavilion gardens in Brighton, the parade marches through the busy streets and along the sea front, past the Brighton Pier and down to an area along the beach known as Madeira drive. Thousands of people congregate here to watch the parade arrive.

The climax of the Burning of the clocks festival is the collection of the amazingly crafted lanterns in to large containers which are wheeled out on to the beach to a large cage adorned with more clock shaped lanterns. This process can take some time as each year there seems to be more and more lanterns! It must have taken days to create some of the amazing lantern structures, but after a few pyrotechnics the entire mountain of lanterns is set alight and burns ferociously for 2 minutes max.

The burning of the clocksThe crowd cheer and celebrate the last day of long winter nights and the dawn of shorter nights ahead. Fireworks explode in the sky above the burning pile to extend what would otherwise be a very quick burning. Tissue paper tends to ignite quickly and burn out in seconds!

The burning of the clocks is now a firm fixture on Brighton’s social calendar. A chance to take part in a relatively new tradition.

For more information check out the burning of the clocks website and the wikipedia page.

Top 7 Natural wonders of New Zealand’s South Island

The South Island of New Zealand is full of some of the most spectacular scenery on earth. You could easily spend months to explore the island, visiting every single gorgeous spot. It’s hard to narrow it down, but here are the seven natural beauties of the island you won’t want to miss when you are there!

1.Milford and Doubtful Sounds

Most of the people that have visited the South Island of New Zealand can’t reach this conclusion: Is Milford Sound the #1 most stunning place in the South Island, or is it Doubtful Sound? The two sounds are located not too far from each other, but you won’t be able to cover them in the same day by land and water. Both places could be accessed from a small town called Te Anau. I’ll speak for Milford Sound, actually a misnamed fjord, since it’s the one we ended up going. The drive from Te Anau to Milford Sound is the most beautiful drive we’ve ever taken and fjord itself is the most beautiful place we’ve ever seen! Just imagine cruising along the fjord where gorgeous mountains plunge straight down to the water, waterfalls pour down everywhere, and fur seals playing all around.

2. Fox and Franz Josef Glacier

Both Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers are stunning and easy to access. There are various ways to approach the glacier, from helicopter rides, walking yourself to the mouth of the glaciers, or joining one of the glacier expedition where you can clamber on it with an experienced guide. The helicopter rides usually have an option to visit Mount Cook too, the highest peak in New Zealand, in the setting of gorgeous Southern Alps.

3. Queenstown, the Southern Alps and the Lakes

Queenstown is a charming city located in the middle of the Southern Alps and the lakes. It’s home to many adventurous activities and the gateway to many sight seeing destinations. My personal favourite thing to do around Queensland is the drive between Queensland to Glenorchy, followed by picnic lunch somewhere off Glenorchy, facing the river and snow capped mountains. Following the road along the Lake Pukaki, you can reach the Aoraki/Mount Cook, the highest mountain in New Zealand, that sits in the Southern Alps. In one edge of Lake Tekapo, there’s a little charming stone-walled Church of the Good Shepherd that together with the turquoise lake and alps surround it, looks very beautiful. Cross your fingers for good weather there.

4. Punakaiki Pancake Rock Formation

Located in the western beaches of the island, the Punakaiki rocks is an intriguing gigantic pancake pile-like rock formations. If you are lucky to be there in the high tide, you can witness giant water sprays from the big blow hole among the rocks, like maple syrup squirting out high from the middle of your pancake stack.

5. Oamaru Penguins

Apparently you don’t have to go all the way to Antarctica to observe penguins in their natural habitat, there are many penguins that live in New Zealand. Oamaru is home of two kinds of penguins, the rare yellow eyed penguins that look like bandits with yellow eye masks, and the little blue penguins, that are only a foot tall. The best time to observe the penguins in nature is around dusk, when they are coming home to their nest from feeding in the ocean.

6. Moeraki Boulders

Moeraki beach in the East Coast, not far south of Oamaru, offers you the natural oddity Moeraki Boulders. Moeraki Boulders are naturally-formed unusually large and almost perfectly spherical boulders, with diameters up to 2 meters. They are just scattered around the beach, which is best observed during low tide. This is one of the best places to see this type of intriguing large and spherical boulders.

7. Kaikoura Whale Watch

Just two and a half hours north from Christchurch is Kaikoura, a very popular location for whale watching. Because of its unique underwater geographical feature that direct massive flows of nutrients and their attendant marine life, the ocean around Kaikoura is a natural habitat for the giant sperm whales. There are many of these sperm whales in the area, so many that the Kaikoura’s Whale Watch Company guaranties 80{bec4beb4183ddc16376e6eff89836f2abe3407e857522bf84005ba0ad48d654d} of your money back if there’s no whale spotted on your tour! Not only sperm whales, you will also see many fur seals, dusky dolphins, and many different kind of sea birds, including the endangered albatross. If you are lucky, you can also see the other types of whales. When the sky is clear, you can enjoy this with the snow capped Southern Alps in the background.

Vietnamese customs, cultures and quirks

The greatest highlight of Vietnam is its people. Vietnamese are universally renowned for being kind, friendly, helpful and very respectful. But there are many other wonderful things about Vietnamese people that can only be uncovered by living and working amongst them.

Everyone is family

Preparing dinnerVietnamese people address others as if they are part of their family. For example “anh” means older brother, “chi” older sister and “bac” means uncle. You often hear Vietnamese on the streets shouting “Anh oi! Anh oi!” at people passing by. While it sounds rude to tourists, this is a very respectful way for Vietnamese to call attention. In addition, people address others as if they are older than them as a sign of respect.

Have lunch then shop!

Curious passengerYou should only ever go shopping from lunchtime onwards. The reason for this is because Vietnamese people believe the first sale of the day determines their luck for the rest of the day. Good luck is created when zodiac animal signs align between the consumer and the owner, which means tourists usually generate bad luck. If you enter a shop in the morning, you are likely to receive an angry reception from the owner.

Holding hands

Best friendsIt is not uncommon for women and men to hold hands. I recently went for a walk with my new friend, Thu, and was surprised when she grabbed my hand and continued to hold it for the journey around Hoan Kiem lake in Hanoi. It was very sweet.

Getting personal

Hand gestureIt is normal for Vietnamese people to ask very personal questions during first encounters. For example, I have been asked my age, hometown, marital status, the reason I am in Vietnam, salary and religion. The reason people ask such personal questions is to determine how others should be addressed (anh, chi, bac, etc.) and to learn enough about people to introduce them well to others. Introductions are big in Vietnam.

Costa Rica Nature

5 top tips for backpacking in Costa Rica

Costa Rica has become one the top countries backpackers and eco-tourists love to visit.  It’s no surprise that this country’s natural diversity has made it one of the world’s most popular destinations to have active adventures like whitewater rafting, hiking, canyoning, and others.  When visiting Costa Rica, there are some things you should know beforehand that will help you understand or simply be aware of this country’s characteristics and customs.   Here are 5 things you should know when going to Costa Rica.

1.  The greenest place in the world can also be ridiculously hot.

Costa Rica NatureCosta Rica is considered the “greenest” country in the world and it ranked first in the Happy Planet Index.  As an initiative to protect this title –as well as their country’s ecosystem– the Costa Rican government plans to turn Costa Rica into the first carbon neutral country by 2021.  Yayy!

But, even being the greenest place in the world, Costa Rica is not spared of the intense heat.  The mid-day sun can be a “killer”, giving you an instant tan and making you sweat even when standing still.  The combination of the intense tropical sun with the heat of many active volcanoes and the humidity; can raise the temperatures to over 100 degrees Fahrenheit.  Always wear sun protector and stay hydrated.

2.  You need some guts to drive here

Costa Ricans are very “creative” when driving.  They usually pay no attention to traffic laws and drive like they are “kings of the road”.

If you rent a car here, you should know there are few or no street signs.  The highways are clearly marked, but as soon as you get off them, it’s time to ask for directions.  There are also no street addresses in many areas.  How do they get their mail?!

Always plan for more driving time than the usual.  Even though the distance might look short on the map, most roads aren’t in good condition or are rural roads that go up and down the mountain, requiring you to drive with more caution and less speed.

3.  “White” crimes are common in San Jose

Although violent crimes are unlikely to happen to you, be very careful of petty theft like pickpockets, grab and run, and scamming.  They do happen often, especially in San Jose.  Never leave your stuff unattended and when in the bus, always have a grip of your backpack.

If possible, try not to carry your passport.  If not, try hiding it in a “safe” pocket.  Try to have a copy of the front page and entry stamp of your passport.  If police are in the mood, they might consider it as a valid ID.

4.  Roadside restaurants serve the best food, and tap water is safe to drink.

Roadside Market in Costa RicaCosta Rican cuisine is delicious. Some of the best eating spots are little roadside local restaurants and ‘sodas’.  Not only the food is good, but they tend to be cheaper.  Try their typical meals –comida tipica.  It will certainly be made of black beans and rice, mixed with a combination of some meat.

Tap water is safe to drink in most places.  Although San Jose’s tap water is safe, I don’t recommend it for the high chlorine content.

5.  Pura Vida has many meanings

Pura Vida literally means “pure life”, but Costa Ricans give many meanings to this phrase like: full of life, purified life, this is living, going great, or cool.

Costa Ricans love to use it both as a greeting and a farewell, to express satisfaction, to say thank you, or to express acknowledgement of something.  They also love when tourists respond back with this phrase.  It’s a polite gesture.

In a way, this expression reflects the friendliness of Costa Ricans and the leisure lifestyle associated with this country.