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  1. Morag@BarrheadTravel

    Why you should visit Lanzarote in the winter

    Autumn has officially hit the UK and the cooler nights are setting in. So you’d be forgiven if you find yourself browsing holiday destinations looking for winter sun. If you are looking for a quick holiday to break up the darker nights, we thoroughly recommend the island of Lanzarote. It’s fantastic all year round, but there are a few things that make the winter season extra special. 1. The weather The most obvious reason to visit Lanzarote in the winter months is the weather. Daytime temperatures in winter vary from 19 to 26 degrees, falling only to 16 to 19 at night. Even the surrounding ocean doesn’t dip below 19 degrees. There’s also a chance that you’ll get a better tan during the winter too, as the UV factor isn’t as fierce so you can stay out in it longer. 2. Hiking Lanzarote is an outdoor enthusiasts dream, and many energetic visitors prefer the later months of the year when the air is a bit cooler. Hillwalking and hiking are especially popular in the winter. 3. Watersports Lanzarote loves watersports, and they are available all year round. Windsurfing, kayaking, and paddle boarding are especially popular. 4. The landscape Lanzarote is famous for its breath-taking lunar-esque landscapes. But something changes about them in winter, aka the start of the island’s growing season. The hills tend to blossom with the most amazing wild flowers, and you’ll see blossoms and fruit all over the hills. 5. Whale-watching More than 26 species of whales and dolphin reside in the warm waters of Lanzarote – many of them permanent residents. 6. Carnival February is Carnival time in Lanzarote. It is a huge affair with outlandish costumes, music, dancing in the streets, drag queen competitions, a Carnival queen contest and performances. A new theme is selected every year, but there’s always a float and the Burial of the Sardine Parade - where locals pretend they are actually at the ‘funeral’ of a sardine, where it gets cremated in a huge bonfire, marking the end of the Carnival celebrations. 7. Gastronomy-themed festivals The island’s biggest food festival, Tasting Lanzarote Enogastronomic Festival, is held every November in La Villa de Teguise with many visitors booking their holiday to coincide with the dates. Lanzarote boasts a delectable local foodie scene – including fresh Atlantic seafood, award-winning cheese, and volcanic wines – so it’s well worth visiting when the locals bring it all together. 8. The Three Kings Parade Christmas works a little differently in Lanzarote. On the 5th of January, Lanzarote has a camel procession that includes the Three Wise Men (who bring the children their gifts) who will go through the towns handing out sweets to children. You’ll also find a variety of cakes available, some with a king hidden inside and some with a bean. If you get the king you get the cake for free (but pay if you find a bean). Have you ever visited Lanzarote in the winter? What was your favourite thing about the island in the later months?
  2. Morag@BarrheadTravel

    Staff Travel: Celebrity EDGE Naming Ceremony

    It feels like it’s been a long time coming, but the Celebrity EDGE is finally here. Our Cruise Business Development Director, Catriona, was lucky enough to be invited along to her recent Naming Ceremony. Here are her thoughts on the futuristic new ship. Did you know that the 5 points of distinction of Celebrity Cruises are: Destination Culinary Accommodation Design Service On Celebrity Edge all 5 are not only met but exceeded. The design of the ship is unlike anything I have ever seen in that the attention to detail in everything they do is exceptional. The ship feels like a Luxury Hotel at Sea. Their position of Modern Luxury is unique and ‘on point’. The ship feels like a hotel. The ceilings are higher and the flow of the ship is easy and everything is accessible. The soft furnishings are exquisite and - if you were inclined - you could spend your entire holiday just looking at the artwork, the sculptures and the chairs. The accommodation and ‘Edge balconies’ are not the traditional builds and that is what makes them so special. The staterooms look longer and more spacious. At first, I have to say I wasn’t sure but you know what? I love this design. The food is exceptional and the venues are entirely different and special from each other. This ship is so different: it pushes the boundaries of cruising. So who is it for? Luxury land lovers looking for a new experience or experienced cruisers looking for a blow-your-mind experience. You need to see this ship, once the secret is out I’m sure it will be inundated with guests trying to secure their ‘Edge experience.
  3. Morag@BarrheadTravel

    Living vegan in the Caribbean

    Today we have a very exciting guest blog that comes all the way from Jamaica. Natalia Welsh is Founder & Head Cook of Hungry Eyes Vegan Foods, a vegan catering service in Kingston. She's here today to introduce you to all the tasty vegan and vegetarian food available in the Caribbean. Take it away Natalia! The connection between palate, people and culture is the bedrock of Jamaican gastronomy. Our food tells stories about Africans, Spaniards and Asians who have migrated their own spices and cooking methods with them to the island since the 1800s. These influences infused Jamaica’s culinary culture with effervescent flavours that tantalize taste buds and mirror the spirit of our people. Building community, sharing stories, and exploring common ground is at the heart of it all. Growing up in Gordon Town, a rural district in the foothills of the Blue Mountains, bush life offered much in the way of homegrown fruit, produce and the freedom to go outside and pick what you need at that moment. Coffee, mint, bananas, tangerines, the juiciest pineapples, and the biggest, creamiest avocados were among the bounty. Real food, grown the way nature intended, is the normal way of life for many people in Jamaica. Living in the countryside, where you literally eat what you grow, ‘organic’ is the only option. If you grew up with your grandmother, you’ll probably never taste something more delicious than dinners she slow-cooked in a dutch pot over her outdoor fire. Caption: Farm fresh whole foods grown in Jamaica, including breadfruit, yam, plantain and coconut. (IMG_7784) Today, the evolution of Jamaican cuisine is in full swing. Traditional ingredients are being combined in new ways and infused with global flavours. New eateries seem to pop up every month, and the menus are proof that chefs are reimagining conventional Jamaican fare. There’s also an increase in the availability of plant-based fast-food - and I’m not just talking about Ital Stew. So, if you’re wondering how you’ll maintain your plant-based lifestyle while visiting Jamaica, fret not...yuh nice. These are some of the foods you have to look forward to: Ackee is one of the main ingredients in Jamaica’s national dish. It’s a yellow fruit that’s relatively bland and really versatile. Ackee is available almost all year-round. We love it! Ground provisions, which include yam, potato and cassava, are collectively called ‘food’ in the Jamaican vernacular. This is our way of referring to produce that keeps us grounded and full for hours. So, if you go to a cookshop and see ‘food’ as a side order for your ackee and saltfish, you know what we’re talking about. Greens and leafy veggies like callaloo, pak choi and cabbage are in abundant supply and are popular breakfast dishes. Other vegan delights you’ll find at the market and in most local supermarkets are pumpkins, breadfruit and avocado (which Jamaicans call pear). Fruits and fresh herbs are also in abundant supply. Be sure to try coconut water to ‘wash off yuh heart’ (with the jelly!), jackfruit, guava, guinep and star apple if they’re in season. Jamaica is abundantly blessed with foods that taste good and are good for you. Caption: A traditional (vegan) Jamaican breakfast with sautéed ackee and callaloo, boiled banana, fried breadfruit and ripe plantain served in a calabash bowl. We’re seeing a rise in the number of farmers’ markets focused on providing fresh produce. They’re growing some interesting things too, like oyster mushrooms, swiss chard and a variety of other greens. Farm-to-table dinners are also popping up everywhere. When it comes to eating out, Kingston has a few dine-in vegan restaurants, while most offer take-out only. Browse this “Vegan Jamaica Directory” compiled by Marianna, blogger and author of Nana’s Kitchen, for an islandwide listing of plant-based restaurants and caterers. >When it comes to street food, look out for giant soup pots atop roadside coal stoves. Order boiled corn with a piece of dry coconut. Be sure to ask what the corn was boiled in though! Crayfish and chicken feet are regular suspects. When you’re driving the streets of Kingston, listen for a loud, piercing whistle then look out for a man pushing a cart of freshly roasted peanuts. If you’re lucky, you’ll spot a coconut vendor around the corner and just like that, you’re fueled up for another couple of hours. Don’t skip dessert! A slice of sweet potato pudding with ‘hell-a-top, hell-a-bottom and hallelujah in the middle’ is enough for two people - trust me, they’re huge. Look beyond the cruise ships and all-inclusive resorts. If you’re vegan or vegetarian, the shop painted red, green and yellow is the one you’re searching for.
  4. Morag@BarrheadTravel

    A beginner’s guide to Chicago

    People tend to fall in love with Chicago very quickly – and it’s not hard to understand why. The city has plenty to do: including sports, shopping, fun fairs, museums and even a beach! But there’s a vibe about Chicago that you can’t mistake. It’s buzzing, but it’s also friendlier than your average large metropolitan. We recommend that every city-lover stops by Chicago at one point in their life – and here’s our guide to making the most of any visit. What to see and do Chicago’s vast size can be daunting for first-time visitors with so many attractions to pick from. While we’d encourage you to research everything Chicago has to offer and decide what’s right for you, we’ve pulled together a selection of Chicago’s best sights. Boat tour One of the most relaxing ways to take in the beautiful sights of Chicago is on a boat tour along its river and lake. Choose between Chicago’s First Lady and Shoreline Sightseeing, or get adventurous with Kayak Chicago. Stroll through Millennium Park You’ve probably seen the pictures of a bean-like structure in Chicago? You’ll find it here in Millennium Park. Amongst the 25-acres of public space, you’ll find FREE art installations, outdoor concerts, film screenings, outdoor workouts, and tours. In winter there’s also an outdoor ice-rink. Shop along Magnificent Mile Chicago is home to a very eclectic and stylish shopping scene, with the Magnificent Mile as its epicentre. This cosmopolitan, history-packed strip on downtown Michigan Avenue (between the Michigan Avenue Bridge and Oak Street) is home to department stores, multi-story megamalls, luxury boutiques and brand name retail chains. Visit larger-than-life galleries The world-renowned Art Institute of Chicago hosts one of the biggest collections of late-19th-century French art in the world. While the Museum of Science & Industry is the largest science museum in the Western Hemisphere. Oh, and The Field Museum is home to Titanosaur, the largest dinosaur to roam the Earth. You could spend a week just exploring the museums and art galleries. There’s museums that document and celebrate African-American heritage, Jewish tradition, Mexican art, Lithuanian culture, Ukrainian history, Puerto Rican culture, military history, maritime history, and even an American Writer's Museum. Catch a sports game Chicago loves its sports, particularly soccer, baseball, football, basketball, and hockey. There’s always a game happening in Chicago so it’s worth searching for one while you’re in town. Eating Chicago is famous for its deep-dish pizza, and while there is more to the city’s food scene than this – you will still find a lot of pizzerias. Lou Malnati in the River North area is generally regarded as the best place to stop by for a slice of this famous dish. Other foods that are quintessentially Chicago include their own style of hot dog (it’s topped with vegetables), Italian beef (a style rarely found outside the city), and steak (Chicago is the meat-packing capital of the world). For something a little different, you can visit the old haunts of Al Capone, such as the Green Mill Cocktail Lounge or the Green Door Tavern. LGBTQ+ Chicago Chicago was once awarded "City of the Year" by GayCities.com, and its gay district Boystown was named “best gay neighbourhood in the world" by Out Traveler magazine. It’s no wonder though as Chicago boasts a rich and proud LGBTQ history, which you can learn all about with an LGBTQ+ Landmarks Tour, or by strolling the Legacy Walk in Boystown. There’s also a selection of LGBTQ+ businesses, ranging from bookstores to nightclubs. Getting to Chicago and finding your way around Chicago is the home of United Airlines, so there’s no shortage of flights. There are several flights to Chicago a week from the UK, including a new service from Edinburgh to O’Hare International Airport. O’Hare International Airport is home to an on-site hotel, a yoga room, mother’s room, and an aeroponic garden. Once you’re in Chicago, The El (short for the CTA's elevated train, which also includes subway trains) offers a quick and inexpensive public transportation option. If you need to get out to the suburbs, Metra Trains from Union, Ogilvie, and La Salle Street stations provide several convenient routes. If you’re not going very far and just want to explore the city centre, it’s easy enough to hail a cab. Lyft and Uber also have a presence within the city. If you’re a keen cyclist, you can also make use of the city’s bike-share service, Divvy. Their bike rental stations can be found across the city, where you can pick up one of their unmistakable blue bicycles. If you’re walking, Chicago’s streets are laid out in a handy grid system. Other important information: Chicago is at its best during the summer months (though we recommend wearing layers) You’ll need a US Visa and US Dollars Tipping is customary in Chicago
  5. Morag@BarrheadTravel

    5 family-friendly attractions in Tampa Bay

    The perfect family destination is somewhere that expertly combines excitement and relaxation. In Tampa Bay on Florida’s Gulf Coast, you’ll stumble upon a pleasant mixture of both. Whether it’s roller coasters, museums, or nature – families will discover plenty of attractions where they can create memories that will last a lifetime. 1. Busch Gardens® Tampa Bay Busch Gardens® Tampa Bay offers the perfect blend of theme park and animal adventures. Within its 300 acres, you’ll find thrilling rides, one of the country's premier zoos with more than 12,000 animals, live shows, restaurants, shops and games. Admissions: Adult tickets are $84.99, while children aged 3-9 get in for $76.99 (children 2 and under are admitted for free). 2. Adventure Island® Just across the street from Busch Gardens® Tampa Bay you’ll find Adventure Island® waterpark. It’s perfect for all the family with thrill-seeking water-rides like Colossal Curl™ (the tallest ride at Adventure Island® at nearly 70 feet and 560 feet in length) and private cabanas where quieter members of the family are able to relax with a book. Admissions: Adult ticket prices are $44.89 plus tax, and children ages 3 to 9 are $40.61 (children ages 2 and under free). 3. Florida Aquarium The Florida Aquarium is one of the most celebrated aquariums in the United States. Here you can immerse yourself in interactive programs like Dive with the Sharks, Shark Swim and Swim with the Fishes or take a Wild Dolphin Tour on board the Bay Spirit II (a 72-foot powered catamaran). And after exploring all the exhibits inside, make sure you visit the Aquarium's new water play area The Splash Pad! Admissions: Adults are $24.95, seniors (60+) are $22.95, and children under 12 are $19.95 (Children 2 & under are Free). 4. ZooTampa at Lowry Park ZooTampa at Lowry Park is home to more than 1300 animals and famous for having one of the most beautiful, tropical zoological settings in the world. The Zoo brings together animals and visitors to create unforgettable, natural connections. Guests get closer to wildlife than ever before by touching a giant tortoise, feeding a giraffe, getting nose-to-horn with an Indian rhino, hand-to-fin with slippery stingrays and more! Families can also splash in water play areas, feel thrills on rides and take in educational shows. Admissions: Adults are $34.95, and children 3 to 11 $25.95. 5. TECO Manatee Viewing Centre Manatees are a unique marine mammal local to Florida – but they are endangered. This viewing centre is a state and federally designated manatee sanctuary. During the centre’s open season, Nov. 1 through April 15, displays, interactive exhibits and more educate visitors of all ages about the life cycle of the manatee and the challenges this animal faces. Admissions: the centre is run by volunteers and is completely free. Have you been to Tampa Bay with your family? What attractions do you recommend they visit first?
  6. Morag@BarrheadTravel

    How to spend 48 hours in Paris

    Paris is a delightful city full of stylish boutiques, striking architecture, and cobbled streets lined by coffee shops. It’s also expansive and, without proper planning, it can be easy to miss some key monuments, attractions and sights. One of the simplest ways to explore Paris is by using the Hop on-Hop off bus, where you’ll be provided with headphones with an audio commentary. The tickets are usually valid for 48 hours so you’ll have time to explore the city at your own pace. There’s also a well-maintained Metro system, which we’ve written a How to Guide on before . As we’ve said: it’s a big city with a lot of offer. In order to make the most of it you need to decide for yourself what sights you want to see the most. But if you need some inspiration, we’ve rounded up this two-day itinerary. Day 1 Explore the Louvre You can’t visit Paris and not stop by the world’s largest museum. A slight inconvenience, however, is that this is the opinion of everyone else who visits Paris. So you need to make it your first stop before the crowds build up. For extra speediness, book your tickets in advance and avoid entering through the famous glass pyramid and instead opt for one of the side doors. We also recommend researching which pieces you would like to see in advance, instead of getting lost within the eight miles of corridors. Admire the Notre Dame You’ll find the famous Notre Dame Cathedral just 20 minutes away from the Louvre. This 853-year-old church is considered the country’s finest example of French Gothic architecture. The Cathedral is open every day of the year from 7:45am to 6:45pm, entry is free and tours are available. Lunch in Le Marais La Merais is one of the oldest areas of Paris and remains one of the most striking. It’s the sort of place you spend a few hours strolling, but its Jewish Quarter is home to some of the best food in the city. We recommend the world famous Falafel Special Sandwich from L’as du Falafel. Experience the nightlife along Canal St. Martin After all that exploring, you’ll need to let your hair down in the evening. Canal St. Martin is one of the best places to do so thanks to its selection of bars, restaurants and street performers. You can choose to pack it in early with a meal and a few drinks or stay out dancing until the early hours. Day 2 Catch the sunrise from Montmartre The walk up towards Montmarte is tough but well worth it. At the top, you’ll find a charming collection of cobbled streets that will make you feel as though you are in a sleepy French village, rather than a bustling capital city. The view from here is also second-to-none and is at its best in the morning. Once you’ve watched the sunrise over the Paris skyline, take your time to explore the streets of Montmarte before you head back down into the city. They are buzzing with artists (perfect place to get a quick caricature), street art, and quaint cafés. Shop like a Parisian Paris is known as a fashion capital, so spending some time engaging in retail therapy is a must. Walk down the ever-glamorous Avenue Montaigne, the streets of Saint Germain and the Champs Elysées for a great Parisian shopping experience. If you like your shops local and independent, we recommend heading to Rue de Charonne. Over the last few years, a wonderful shopping village of fashion boutiques has gradually emerged here. The quirky boutiques include wares for girls, boys and little ones! For lunch, we recommend eating at Le Souk: a North African restaurant that will make you feel like you’ve been transported to a Moroccan market. Watch the Eiffel Tower glitter at night Did you think we weren’t going to include the iconic Eiffel Tower in our itinerary? Crowds can build up quickly, which is why so many travel guides recommend getting there first thing. And while you can totally do that if you want, we still think it’s worth waiting until Paris’s most famous building is lit up at night. We reckon that it’s the perfect way to end your 48 hours in Paris.
  7. >Hi Rachel, tell us a little bit about yourself and your role at Barrhead Travel? Hi my name is Rachel and I am the Recruitment Assistant Manager. I have been at Barrhead Travel for more than a year now. I first started as a Modern Apprentice within the recruitment department and have since progressed on. I oversee the recruitment team and manage the end to end recruitment process. What does an average day look like for you? Every day is different in the recruitment department. We work with candidates, agencies, hiring managers, schools and colleges. My day can vary from speaking to candidates, making an offer of employment, running reports and supporting my team. When did you join the company? I joined Barrhead Travel back in July 2017. What did you do as part of your Modern Apprenticeship? As part of my apprenticeship, I learned how to telescreen candidates for different positions, I talked them through the recruitment process and I learned how to make offers of employment. My duty was to look after all apprenticeship applications and liaise with the hiring manager to ensure we are bringing on the right people. What was it about working in recruitment that appealed to you? I knew when I was leaving school that I wanted a career within the recruitment industry. I love speaking with people and giving advice when needed. No two days are the same and I knew I wanted a new challenge and the best part is I get to help change people’s lives. What kind of person would you say is suited to a career in recruitment? And what advice would you give them? I think you need to be a confident person, resilient and you need to be able to take constructive criticism as things can change instantly. My advice would be to not give up at the first hurdle and keep at it. Recruitment can be tough going but if you work hard, it can be extremely rewarding. And finally, what’s your favourite thing about working at Barrhead Travel? My favourite thing about working for Barrhead Travel is defiantly the people. I never knew how many times I would need to ask someone for help in the social media or IT department. There are also great progression opportunities for people who want to work hard and achieve the best as there’s not a limit at Barrhead Travel.
  8. Every passionate traveller’s worst fear is the thought of not getting to visit every destination on their bucket list. Which is understandable given how many incredible destinations there are in the world. A solution to ticking every place off is a rail itinerary that takes you through multiple cities and towns within one holiday. We’ve recently teamed up with Railbookers to create some new multi-stop rail journeys that include hotel accommodation and transport (including return flights to the UK). Here are six itineraries that you can book now for 2019. 1. Venice via the Alps You’ll firstly make your way to Paris via Eurostar, where you’ll transfer to your onward rail travel. Then it’s time to enjoy one night in Geneva, before setting out on your journey through the Swiss Alps, riding along the Simplon Pass. Your final destination is Venice, where you’ll get to enjoy the beautiful sights for three nights. To return to the UK you can choose between flights or a return rail journey. 2. Switzerland’s Lakes and Mountains Explore Switzerland at a leisurely pace with this five-night itinerary. Start with an overnight stay in Montreux before you continue along the Golden Pass Line to Interlaken. Take a quick detour to the highest railway station at the top of Jungfrau Mountain, before travelling through the Swiss Alps on-board the Glacier Express to Chur. Complete this incredible journey with a day trip across spectacular viaducts past impressive glaciers on the Bernina Express to Tirano. 3. Ultimate Canada Coast to Coast On this itinerary, you’ll start with a flight to the Atlantic Canada gem of Halifax in Nova Scotia. Then, using the VIA Rail network, you’ll enjoy stops (and hotel accommodation) in Quebec City, Montreal, Toronto, Jasper, Banff, and Vancouver. The flight back from Vancouver to the UK and three meals are included. 4. The All American This journey highlights some of America’s most popular destinations. Starting and finishing in New York City, you’ll travel on-board Amtrak® to New Orleans, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Denver, and Chicago. Overall it is 18 days including flights, with 10 nights spent in hotel accommodation and 5 nights on-board the train. 5. Jazz Blues and Rock ‘N’ Roll If you’re a big music lover, then this USA rail itinerary will be up your street. Start your journey in Chicago, with its famous blues scene, before heading down the colourful Deep South. Here you’ll stop by Memphis, the birthplace of rock ‘n' roll and home to Graceland. Then you’ll move onto New Orleans, where you can enjoy a jazz brunch at the famous Court of Two Sisters restaurant. 6. Ultimate Berlin, Prague, Vienna and Budapest With this itinerary, you’ll enjoy 2 nights each in Berlin, Prague, Vienna, and Budapest – as well as rail travel in between. In Berlin, Prague, and Vienna you’ll also be treated to a Hop on Hop Off bus pass, while in Budapest you’ll be invited on-board a Danube River Cruise. Eurostar transport between London and Brussels and return flights from Budapest are also included.
  9. If you’re looking for somewhere in Abu Dhabi that will keep every member of the family happy, then we recommend Yas Island. Whether you’re a thrill-seeker, sun worshipper, or a parent with young children – you’ll find something in Abu Dhabi’s premier entertainment district. It’s only 30 minutes from downtown Abu Dhabi, too! Here are 10 unmissable things on Yas Island. 1. Yas Marina Circuit Yas Island is home to the venue for the annual Formula 1 Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. But it’s much more than just a motorsport venue. It also offers a series of track day packages, including Driver Experiences, Passenger Experiences, Private Driving Tuition programmes, and Racing License Courses as well as a unique - and free - venue for both running and biking. 2. Yas Hotel, Abu Dhabi The circuit’s centrepiece is the breathtaking Yas Hotel - a five star, luxury hotel with the distinction of being the only one in the world to straddle an F1 race track! 3. Yas Marina Yas Marina is the centre of Abu Dhabi’s yachting community. The 227-berth marina features seven licenced restaurants and lounges that cater to all tastes and budgets, with every outlet along the waterside promenade boasting iconic views of the Yas Hotel and race track. 4. Ferrari World Abu Dhabi Ferrari World Abu Dhabi is the world’s first Ferrari-branded theme park. The park tells the Ferrari story and features more than 20 rides – including the fastest roller-coaster in the world and the ride with the highest loop in the world. It also boasts interactive activities, exclusive shopping and authentic Italian dining experiences. 5. Yas Waterworld Yas Waterworld spans an area of around 15 football pitches, with 43 rides, slides, and attractions – five of which are one-of-a-kind, including the 238-metre long, hydromagnetic-powered, six-person tornado waterslide. Adrenaline seekers will also find three-metre high waves at Bubble’s Barrel, which has the world’s largest surfable sheet wave for flowboards and bodyboards. Then there’s the Bandit Bomber, the first water-coaster with onboard water and laser effects. Riders can shoot jets of water at targets, drop water bombs and trigger special effects, while people below can spray them with water as they pass. 6. Warner Bros. World™ Abu Dhabi If you’re a fan of DC Comics or Looney Tunes then you’ll love Warner Bros. World™ Abu Dhabi. The theme park is split into five immersive lands: Metropolis, Gotham City, Cartoon Junction, Bedrock, and Dynamite Gulch. The theme park also includes retail outlets featuring a wide collection of merchandise inspired by Warner Bros. franchises as well as a full range of dining options from full-service sit down to ‘grab and go’. 7. Yas Links Abu Dhabi On the western shore of Yas Island you’ll find Yas Links Abu Dhabi - an award-winning golf course, designed by Kyle Phillips, one of the world's leading golf course architects. Voted amongst the 'Top 10 New International Golf Courses' by the Golf Magazine, Yas Links features a 7,450-yard par 72 course, with beautiful ocean views as a backdrop. 8. Yas Beach Found on the island’s southern shore you’ll find Yas Island’s only beach. Open daily from 10am – 7pm, it is a great spot to relax and enjoy sun, sea, sand, food and drink. It also features a full range of watersport activities for all ages and proficiency levels. 9. Yas Mall Yas Island also houses Abu Dhabi’s biggest (and the UAE’s second largest) shopping centre; Yas Mall. This shopping mall offers three floors of leading international and regional retail brands, with 370 stores and more than 60 indoor and outdoor restaurants and cafes. Yas Mall also offers endless entertainment, with a 20-screen state-of-the-art cinema operated by VOX Cinemas and a family entertainment zone by Fun Works, as well as direct access to Ferrari World Abu Dhabi. 10. MAD on Yas Island Let your hair down in the UAE’s biggest indoor nightclub. Over the years it has hosted the biggest names in pop and dance music – including Tinashe, Jeremih, W&W and Tinie Tempah. With 360-degree projection mapping, huge LED screens, and the latest sound technology, it’s the place to dance till you drop.
  10. Morag@BarrheadTravel

    Cruise Comparison: NCL vs Carnival Cruises

    If you’re looking for a fun, family-friendly mega-liner that is available for budget cruisers, you can’t do go wrong with Norwegian Cruise Line or Carnival Cruises . Both cruise lines offer a generous selection of onboard activities ranging from waterslides to adult-only restaurants. When deciding which cruise line is right for you and your family, the difference really is in the details. The Ships Carnival Cruise Lines currently owns 25 cruise ships, with another two due to set sail next year. Their newest ship is the Carnival Horizon, which cruises to the Caribbean and is homeported in Miami. Its stand-out amenities are the Havana Pool & Bar, IMAX Theatre, Dr. Seuss WaterWorks, Serenity Adult-Only Retreat, Cloud 9 Spa, and Lip Sync Battle. Many of these features are new, but older ships are regularly going back to into dry-dock for upgrades (Carnival Legend, for example, has just returned from dry-dock). NCL has a smaller number of ships at just seventeen. Their newest is Norwegian Bliss, which sails around Alaska and will move onto the Caribbean. And next year the Norwegian Encore will set sail for the first time and will sail around Bermuda and the Caribbean. Full details haven’t yet been announced, but we know the ship will be home to a 180-degree Observation Lounge. NCL’s ships also regularly enter dry-dock and all its ships have been refurbished within the last 5 years. Entertainment Both cruise lines boast nightly entertainment, with plenty of variety to keep your eyes and ears wowed throughout your time on-board. On-board NCL you’ll enjoy Broadway-style shows, theatrical performances from ballroom and Latin dance company Burn the Floor, dinner while acrobats dance above you, bars with live bands, and comedy from the Levity Entertainment Group (who have worked with Daniel Tosh, Amy Schumer, Gabriel Iglesias and Jeff Dunham). What is exactly available will depend on the ship and the itinerary. On Carnival, it is much the same though there is more shows aimed exclusively at children. Depending on the ship, there’s a combination of Lip sync Battle, murder mysteries, The Punchliner Comedy Club, the 4D Thrill Theatre, movies on the pool deck, Broadway-style shows, karaoke, and bars with live music. Children will also love the live-version of the Hasbro board game. On-board activities Both cruise lines are famed for their adventurous on-board activities, and it’s unlikely you’ll get bored on any of the ships in their fleet. Norwegian Bliss is NCL’s newest ship, released earlier this year. On-board you will find the largest race track at sea, as well as laser tag, mini-golf, fitness centre, casino, and Aqua Park. While its sister ship Norwegian Escape is home to the fastest waterslide at sea, a multi-level Sports Complex and The Plank - which extends 8 feet over the side of the ship! Carnival doesn’t boast anything record-breaking, but still has much of the same type of activities. For the adrenaline-junkies, there is the SkyRide (a bike ride high above top deck – but you’re strapped in), mini-golf, a water park, IMAX cinema, basketball, and a video arcade. They also offer low-key activities such as cooking demonstrations, bingo, art exhibitions, a spa, and a library. For kids Both cruise lines offer great amenities for children, with little difference between the two. On-board Carnival you can drop your little ones off at Camp Owl, a kids club that is split into three age groups: Penguins (2 to 5 years) Stingrays (6 to 8 years) Sharks (9 to 11 years) Run by experienced counsellors, your mini-me will enjoy activities like arts and crafts, songs, games, toys, dancing, movies and video games. The kids also eat together and get their own menus. There’s also an evening crèche so the kids can stay up late while the parents enjoy a night at the bar. Kids (and even adults) will also love the Build-a-Bear Workshop at Sea, Hasbro Game Show, and Cherry on Top candy store. But Carnival’s unique family-fun feature is Seuss at Sea, which includes a special onboard character parade, interactive story time, arts & crafts activities, and breakfast featuring their favourite Dr. Seuss characters. Over on Norwegian Cruise Line, families are also well catered for. Their complimentary youth programme is split into five age groups: Guppies Programmes (6 months - under 3 years) Turtles (3-5 years) Seals (6 – 9 years) Dolphins (10 -12 years) Entourage (Ages 13 – 17) Depending on which age group your little ones fall into, they will enjoy a wealth of activities ranging from circus skills, arts & crafts, sensory play, treasure hunts, and video games. There’s also a nightclub for teenagers. There’s also a Late Night Fun Zone where parents can leave their kids between the hours of 10:30 p.m. and 1:30 a.m. This involves a fee and the centre will close if no kids are registered by 11:30pm. Dining NCL have long been champions of Freestyle Dining with no fixed times, while Carnival offers both fixed and flexible dining. But all ships in NCL and Carnival’s fleets offer numerous dining options. Norwegian boasts one of the industry’s largest selections of onboard restaurants, with as many as 25 dining choices. Complimentary choices include buffets, supper clubs, and standard pub grub. But, if you’re willing to pay a fee, you can choose from Japanese teppanyaki grills, steakhouses, Italian spots, Brazilian restaurants, French, sushi bars, and Asian noodle houses. Carnival also offers 20+ dining options, though it will depend on which ship you are on. Complimentary dining includes the Main Dining Room, a Mexican cantina, a burger joint, a salad bar, pizzeria, ice cream parlour, room-service and a Mongolian restaurant. Complimentary restaurants include a Dr Seuss themed restaurant for kids, a sushi bar, a coffee bar, and a steakhouse. Carnival also has a partnership with American chef Guy Ramsay Fieri. He has opened three different restaurants on-board Carnival Cruise Line ships: Guy’s Burger Joint, and the Guy’s Pig & Anchor Bar-B-Que Smokehouse. Both of these restaurants are included in the price. There is also a Brewhouse that is an additional cost. Cabins Both NCL and Carnival offers a range of room and suite types. On board an NCL cruise, you can choose between the following (depending on the ship): The Haven by Norwegian® Concierge Suites Suites and Penthouses Spa Staterooms Mini-Suites and Balconies Oceanview Inside Studios for solo cruisers Connecting staterooms The first option, The Haven by Norwegian®, is a yacht-with-a-ship concept where can enjoy the perks of an exclusive area with butler and concierge service but still reap the benefits of a superliner. Inside the Haven there is a lounge, restaurant, and sundeck with small pool. There are also six room types to choose from in The Haven, but for something extra special there’s the 3-bedroom Garden Villa that can fit up to 8 guests and comes with an outdoor terrace with a hot tub and a private dining area. Carnival takes a more no-frills approach to their staterooms with four basic categories: Interior, Ocean, Balcony and Suite. Connecting rooms and wheelchair accessible rooms are also available. There are, however, four other options (depending on the ship) for families who need extra room and couples looking for something special: Family-friendly Staterooms Cloud 9 Spa Staterooms Family Harbour Staterooms Havana Staterooms Carnival doesn’t have their own version of The Haven by Norwegian® or any penthouse suites. Itineraries Out of the two cruise lines, NCL offers a wider range of destinations with a selection of Caribbean, Bermuda, Bahamas, Mexico, New England/Canada and Alaska itineraries. They also offer seasonal Mediterranean and seasonal Northern Europe itineraries. There’s also occasionally exotic sailings including South America, as well as Asia, Australia, India and the Arabian Gulf. Carnival Cruise Line, however, only offers standard Caribbean, Bermuda, Bahamas, Mexico, Alaska and Hawaii itineraries. There’s no European sailings or exotic itineraries. They do however offer the occasional Australia itinerary. Pricing Price wise, Carnival is more purse-friendly than NCL and offers some of the most competitive rates out of all the major cruise lines. For example, both cruise lines have a November 2018 Caribbean cruise that leaves from Miami. Our price with Carnival is £391.71pp on-board the Carnival Sensation. While our price with NCL for a similar cruise is £590.05pp on-board the Norwegian Getaway. Both cruise lines include accommodation, entrainment, and complimentary restaurants within the cost of the cruise. Guests on-board NCL who opt for The Haven by Norwegian® will also enjoy gourmet dining options in speciality restaurants, 250 minutes free WiFi per Suite, and US $100 onboard spending money per suite. NCL do occasionally offer all-inclusive sailings, but it’s not the norm. So which one is best for my family? If it’s a fun ship with exciting activities to keep your children busy that you're looking for, both cruise lines hold up. The two major differences between the NCL and Carnival are the price point and the itineraries on offer. If you want to cruise around Europe, NCL is the only one between the two that offers this. However, Carnival is cheaper if you are looking for a Caribbean cruise. Minor differences include the accommodation options and the onboard activities. NCL offers a wide range of high-end suites and penthouses (and a 3-bedroom villa) if you are looking to treat yourself. And there are the themed Dr Seuss activities for children on-board Carnival, though NCL still has a lot to offer families.
  11. Morag@BarrheadTravel

    How to make the most of Black Friday in New York City

    New York City is one of the world’s most notorious shopping destinations. So it’s no surprise that it knows how to celebrate Black Friday in style. Long before the annual shopping extravaganza hit UK shores, NYC was dishing out bargains - with famous department stores opening up early and 70% discount tags being the norm. If you’ve booked yourself an NYC shopping break that spans over Black Friday (or the days that follow – bargains can still be found weeks later) here is our quick guide to getting it right on the day. Arrive at the department stores early The department stores of New York City are world-famous and, as a result, everybody heads there first. Many of them open up early, so it really is a case of “you snooze, you lose”. Macy’s, Saks Fifth Avenue, Lord & Taylor, Barneys, Bloomingdales, JCPenny, and Century 21 will all have a line of people waiting to get in (make sure you’re one of them). Macy’s will be open all night On the topic of department stores – the iconic Macy’s has recently dropped the news that they will be open throughout the night. The doors will open at 5pm on Thursday, just hours after the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Stores will stay open until 2am then close for a few hours. The doors will re-open at 6am on Black Friday. Get out of Midtown Manhattan After you’ve grabbed some bargains from the big department stores, it’s time to escape Midtown Manhattan. This is the perfect excuse to head to Manhattan’s newest (and shiniest) shopper’s paradise: Brookfield Place. You’ll find even more high-end brands here, including Louis Vuitton, Lululemon, Saks Fifth Avenue, and J Crew. Visit the Winter Villages If you’re looking for some unique Christmas gifts, make your way to one of NYC’s Winter Villages. You’ll find them in some of Manhattan’s most famous public squares, though Bryant Park Winter Village is the most well-known one. There you’ll find jewellery, artisan soaps, home-made candles, art prints, and other unique gifts for your loved ones. Follow the stores and brands on social media Several brands and stores will offer exclusive offers on social media – including discount codes that you can show at the checkout. Leave the British brands alone While the shops of NYC boast many incredible deals, the big savings only really apply to American brands. Many British brands sell goods in America at a higher price – so if you’re looking for some Burberry or Vivienne Westwood, you’ll make bigger savings in London.
  12. Loved-up couples looking for a destination wedding that is fun and original shouldn’t look any further than Las Vegas. Weddings are a big deal in Las Vegas, with more than 115,000 of them taking place every year. It’s not just 3am Little White Chapel weddings either. Most of the major hotels have chapels and you can even get married outside the city with the striking Nevada landscape as your backdrop. Plus, planning a Vegas wedding is simple: you can literally arrive, obtain a marriage license, and be married before sunset! The venues There are hundreds of venues to say “I do” across Las Vegas. It’s also possible to marry in Las Vegas on the cheap with several chapels offering dress and tuxedo hire. Though a big wedding with professional photography, beauty treatments, and a large reception dinner can also be easily organised. Here are just four of the most iconic wedding venues and locations available. Graceland Wedding Chapel Do we need to introduce the Graceland Wedding Chapel? It has been a prominent part of the Las Vegas Strip for 50 years and stays true to its 1950s routes with the option of hiring an Elvis impersonator! The Little White Wedding Chapel While this has gained a reputation over the years for “drive-in weddings” – many loved-up couples have held daytime ceremonies here with all the trimmings. Their complete package includes wedding coordinators, photographers, a flower shop, and tuxedoes for hire (plus an Elvis impersonator!). Grand Canyon Imagine getting married surrounded by one of the world’s greatest natural wonders. You’ll be whisked away by a helicopter where you’ll enjoy magnificent views of the Grand Canyon, before landing on the canyon floor to exchange your vows. You can also organise for a limo to take you between your hotel and helicopter base. Red Rock State Park If you fancy getting married with the striking Nevada landscape as your backdrop, but aren’t sure about a helicopter tour of the Grand Canyon – we recommend Red Rock State Park (the ground is flat and you’ll be driven there by limousine). We recommend booking it morning or late afternoon when the landscape is at its most dazzling. Legal Info Getting married in Las Vegas is a straightforward process and is legally recognised in the UK. You’ll firstly need to bring the following documentation with you to Las Vegas (and to your wedding). A marriage license application (we’ll speak about this in a minute) A valid 10-year passport A birth certificate Decree Absolute (if divorced) Death Certificate (if you are a widow or widower) Change of Name Deed (if you have changed your name) Written consent from your parents or guardians (if either of you are under 18 years of age) To obtain a marriage license in Las Vegas both individuals need to visit the Clark County Marriage Bureau along with all the documents mentioned above and $77. The marriage license is issued immediately and is valid for 1 year. You can save time by filling in a pre-application form online, but you will still need to stop by in person (the office is open 24/7). After you are married, you’ll need to pick up your marriage certificate from the Clark County Marriage Bureau for $15 (you can also order a copy online, but you’ll need to pick up the real thing). The wedding officiant has 10 days of performing the ceremony to file the marriage certificate It’s rare that a taxi driver won’t know where the Clark County Marriage Bureau office is, but here’s the address for safe keeping. Clark County Marriage Bureau 201 Clark Ave. Las Vegas, Nevada 89155-1603 And voila – you are legally married! Have you got any more questions about getting married in Las Vegas? Leave them in the comments below.
  13. Morag@BarrheadTravel

    Things to do in Sarasota (aside from visit the beach)

    Sarasota boasts an interesting backstory. In the 15th Century, Spanish explorers expelled the Calusa people – leaving the place virtually empty until the Seminole Wars. While the place was once again populated – it was isolated until 1902 when the Tampa railroad was built. Sarasota then grew popular as a winter resort for the affluent, and the city’s arts institutions followed. Then circus magnate John Ringling decided to relocate his circus here, building a winter residence, art museum and college, and setting the town on course to become the artistic hub that it is today. This all led to Sarasota rising as one of Florida’s most diverse holiday destinations – which offers a lot more than just a pretty shoreline. It is also just south of Tampa, and is easy to reach from the UK. Here’s your guide to making the most of your time in Sarasota. Ringling Museum of Art If you’re looking to discover the local art scene, you can’t get much better than the official museum of Florida. Established in 1927 - in memory of Mable and John Ringling – it offers twenty-one galleries of European paintings as well as Cypriot antiquities and Asian, American, and contemporary art. The museum is in total home to more than 10,000 objects, but it’s most celebrated items in the museum are 16th–20th-century European paintings, including a world-renowned collection of Peter Paul Rubens paintings. The museum is open daily 10:00am - 5:00pm, Thursdays until 8:00pm, and can be found in north Sarasota towards Bradenton. Sarasota Ballet The Sarasota Ballet has been around since 1987, but it was in 2007 that is became a big player on the world stage. This is when the renowned English ballet dancer and choreographer, Iain Webb, was appointed director and revolutionised The Company’s catalogue, introducing 146 ballets and divertissements through the 2017 - 2018 Season. Ballets by Sir Frederick Ashton are his personal favourite, but under his watchful eye The Sarasota Ballet has become recognised for orchestrating American premiers of international pieces, and commissioning new works (both from budding choreographers from within The Company and established choreographers from around the globe). 2019 performances include The Sarasota Ballet Gala, Transcending Movement, The Sarasota Ballet - Martha Graham Dance Company, and Giselle. You’ll find the Sarasota Ballet near Indian Beach / Sapphire Shores. Visit the art galleries on Palm Avenue Palm Avenue is known amongst locals for its collection of art galleries – and they are definitely worth visiting. If you’re in Sarasota on the First Friday of the month, stop by Palm Avenue between 6pm and 9pm for Palm Avenue’s First Friday Walks, when members of the Palm Avenue Arts Alliance sing, dance, and serenade the community and guests. Marie Selby Botanical Gardens Since 1973, scientists from Selby Gardens have ventured into some of the world’s wildest places to identify, study, collect and learn from exotic and remarkable plants – which has led to the gardens becoming a world-leader in the study and conservation of plants, particularly epiphytes. Some of the highlights at the gardens include Ann Goldstein Children’s Rainforest Garden, Tropical Conservatory, Towering Bamboo Garden, and the Koi Pond. Shop till you drop Sarasota also boasts some incredible shopping opportunities. To start with, there are a few outlet malls within the area. The new Mall at University Town Center, located at Interstate 75 and University Parkway, is a shopping and dining destination, with more than 125 stores and restaurants. The Mall at UTC's anchors are Macy's, Saks Fifth Avenue and Dillard's. Westfield Southgate in south Sarasota features retailers like Talbots and Chico's, and even has a movie theatre. But if you’re looking for something independent and distinctive, Pineapple Avenue offers a row of antiques shops. While Main Street, also downtown, is home to boutique clothing stores and other fun shops. Sarasota Orchestra If you require any more convincing that Sarasota is the centre of Florida’s cultural scene – it is home to Florida’s oldest continuous orchestra. Opened in 1949, the 80-member Orchestra performs more than 100 classical, pops and family concerts each year. Upcoming shows in the 2018-2019 schedule include Legends, Perfect Pairs, Tis the Season, and La La Land in Concert. Play a round of golf The golf courses in Sarasota are the perfect balance between being well-known enough that keen players will be impressed that you’ve teed-off there, but not so famous that they’re overrun. University Park Country Club is a members-club that also allows members of the public to play. All three nines (all are Ron Garl designs) are top notch, with speed and true rolls, and the course is noted for its great overall condition. And with all the different sets of tees you’ll feel like you are playing a different course every visit. Taste the local cuisine Sarasota County is home to award-winning chefs and 21 Zagat-rated restaurants – so a trip round its local restaurants is definitely in order. If you’re in Sarasota with your other half, Euphemia Haye on Longboat Key is known as one of America’s Top 200 Most Romantic Restaurants. While Michael’s On East is Sarasota’s only AAA Four Diamond Restaurant. However, if it’s really important that you have a nice bottle of red with your dinner, The Crow’s Nest Restaurant & Tavern boasts 950 varieties of wine and has been awarded the Wine Spectator Award of Excellence and the “Best Of” Award of Excellence. While The Bijou Café claims the largest collection of South American wines in Florida. For something a bit more unusual – how about a trip to one of Sarasota’s two Amish restaurants? Both Der Dutchman and Yoder’s restaurants are the epitome of casual, home-cooked dining and are perfect family-friendly restaurants. The Amish pies have been recognized as some of the best in the country. There are also several food-based festivals throughout the year. Savor Sarasota Restaurant Week during the first two weeks of June offers a multi-course culinary experience at more than 60 restaurants. Let’s Eat, Englewood in the fall also celebrates dining, with multiple restaurants offering special menus. Forks & Corks Food and Wine Festival, a multi-day event by the Sarasota-Manatee Originals, includes food and wine seminars at various restaurants. The Whiskey Obsession Festival showcases more than 200 spirits to taste, ranging from the elegant to the sublime. Finally, the Suncoast BBQ & Bluegrass Bash in Venice brings award-winning pitmasters to Venice. Enjoy a night out in Downtown Sarasota Finish your holiday by letting your hair down in the centre of Sarasota nightlife scene, where you’ll find craft beer, cocktails, light bites and unique characters. Some of the most popular places include Jack Dusty at The Ritz Carlton, Selva Grill, Social Eatery & Bar, and State Street Eating House + Cocktails. Have you ever been to Sarasota? Leave us a comment letting first-time visitors know what should be first on their list.
  14. Morag@BarrheadTravel

    A foodie’s guide to Japan

    Japanese food is renowned the world over for its subtle taste, exotic textures, and meticulous presentation. Part of the fun of visiting Japan is indulging in this delicious culinary concoction. In fact, it might be the ultimate destination for a foodie traveller. But while dishes such as sushi and tempura have made an international impact, there are hundreds of other local Japanese recipes ready for visitors to sink their teeth into. Breakfast Breakfast is an entirely different situation in Japan. The most common Japanese breakfast is a combination of miso soup, grilled fish, pickles, and rice. Saying that Western-style buffets are also available in most tourist hotels. Sushi and Seafood It’s a myth that sushi and seafood are synonymous. What makes sushi, well, sushi is the way the rice is prepared with vinegar. It can then be served with meat, fish or vegetables. The most common varieties of sushi are described below: Maki – the seaweed is on the outside of the rice and other ingredients Temaki – seaweed is wrapped loosely around all other ingredients in a cone shape Uramaki – sometimes called ‘inside-out’ sushi, you’ll find the rice on the outside of the seaweed (and other ingredients in the middle) Sashimi - slices of raw fish and seafood on their own Nigiri – hand pressed rice topped with an ingredient, this is the oldest type of sushi and was created in Tokyo Rice Dishes Rice is considered an essential part of Japanese cooking, and many main meals come with a side-serving of rice. Rice-based snacks are also very popular. Such as Onigiri, which is a palm-sized triangle of rice filled with soy, tuna, salmon roe, or sour umeboshi (pickled plum), all wrapped up in a sheet of crisp seaweed (also called nori). Noodle Dishes Noodle dishes are also very popular in Japan, and three main types of noodles you’ll come across are: soba, udon and ramen. Soba are thin noodles made of brown buckwheat flour and can be served hot or cold. Typically hot soba noodles are served with tofu, vegetables and chicken – combined with a hot broth. Cold soba noodles are laid on a bamboo screen bed, with a cold sauce for dipping. Udon noodles are much chunkier and made with plain wheat flour. Yakisoba and yakiudon are the most common dishes udon noodles are found in, where the noodles are fried (often in a thick soy sauce) along with seaweed flakes, meat and vegetables. Ramen noodles, made from yellow wheat-flour, are usually served in big bowls in a steaming oily soup and typically comes in three varieties: miso (flavoured with fermented bean paste), shio (a salty soup) or shōyu (a broth made with soy sauce). Vegetarian and vegan While Japan might have been the country that brought the world tofu, plant-based diets are not that common in Japan. While it is easy to avoid dishes with meat or fish in them, it’s hard to find something where the broth doesn’t contain a by-product. Like most international cities, however, Tokyo has a splattering of vegetarian restaurants and more restaurants are creating 100% vegetarian dishes. You just need to plan ahead. Kyoto, however, is the most vegetarian-friendly place in Japan. It’s an ancient city that has deep Buddhist routes – where Zen Buddhist temple cuisine, which is entirely vegan, is still served today. Desserts Japan has a sweet tooth and dessert is a big part of its culture. However, Japan was making desserts before sugar was readily available in the country and, as a result, fashioned unique desserts that were based on rice and sweet beans. One of the most popular desserts in Japan is mochi – which can be a dessert in its own right or mixed with something else. Daifuku is mochi with a sweet filling, ranging from black sesame to strawberry. Mochi can also be turned into an ice-cream. Another popular option is Dango: chewy Japanese rice dumplings served on a stick that can be toasted over a campfire. Small crepe shops are also a common sight in Japan, with their crepes usually served as a cone containing elaborate fillings. Drinks Japan’s most famous alcoholic beverage is undoubtedly sake (also known as nihonshu). If you’re not familiar with it, officially it is a rice wine but tastes more like beer. Two varieties exist - sweet (amakuchi) and dry (karakuchi) – and while there’s technically three grades of sake, these grades are mainly used for tax purposes and don’t indicate the quality of the beverage. Sake is traditionally served in small square bowls and drank with a meal. You might be asked if you want your sake heated up but most sakes taste best cool. As a final note, sake is 15% alcohol and one small box is more than enough to get someone tipsy. You’ll also spot the beverage shōchū, which is a cheaper version of sake. It’s potent, ranging between 25 to 50 per cent alcohol. Premium brands can be served straight like traditional sake, while budget-friendly bottles are served with cocktails. While sake might be Japan’s official drink – beer is the most popular alcoholic beverage. Ironically the first ever brewery was set up to please American expats, and Japanese locals had to be bribed into drinking it. These days, Japan boasts four big-name breweries: Kirin, Asahi, Sapporo and Suntory – each of which churns out several varieties of lager and ale-type beers. Local craft beers are also becoming more popular. If you’re not drinking alcohol, tea is very common. Green teas in Japan are graded. Bancha, the lowest grade, is for everyday drinking. While Sencha is medium-grade and served in upmarket restaurants. While gyokuro, the highest grade, is served during special occasions. Ordering and etiquette Restaurant and dining etiquette is different in Japan. When you are initially seated, you’ll be handed an oshibori (a damp, folded hand towel, usually steaming hot though sometimes cool in the summer) and a jug of water will usually be automatically brought to the table. Most Japanese restaurants will give you chopsticks by default, but in tourist places, forks and knives are usually available (though you might have to ask for them). Chopsticks, however, come with their own rules of etiquette. You should use different ends for your own plate and taking food from communal dishes, and shouldn’t use them to point at things. Also remember to not stick your chopsticks upright in rice, as this is an illusion to death. As for tipping, it is not usually expected and service charges are automatically added to bills. Have you been to Japan? Tell us about the best meal you ate and anything you think first-time visitors should know.
  15. Morag@BarrheadTravel

    10 spooky places to visit in London

    London is a city that has survived mad monarchs, unidentified serial killers, plagues, and a colossal fire – so it’s no surprise that a number of vengeful spirits haunt its streets. Whether it is eerie mansions, spooky cemeteries or creepy museums hosted in historical buildings, ghost hunters will find plenty of macabre sites to test their fear levels. Here are just 10 of the best. 1. Tower of London Not only is the Tower of London a prominent structure in London, it is also the home of several royal ghosts. Henry VIII had two of his wives executed there. While the young princes Edward V and Richard of York, Arabella Stuart and the famed White Lady are all believed to have met their end there (with their souls trapped forevermore). 2. Hampton Court Palace Catherine Howard – one of the wives Henry VIII executed at the Tower of London – is also said to haunt Hampton Court Palace. It is here that Henry put her under house arrest but she escaped from her guards and ran down the gallery, only to be dragged back to her room screaming. Many visitors have reportedly heard her screams. 3. Britain’s most haunted theatre While theatres appear to be a natural habitat for ghosts (there’s barely a theatre in Britain that doesn’t claim to have a resident spook) the Theatre Royal on Drury Lane has claimed more than its fair share. The theatre we know now was built in 1812, but it’s actually the fourth building to have been constructed on the site with underground foundations dating back to the 18th Century. It’s most famous resident is The Man in Grey. Legend says that the Man in Grey is the ghost of a knife-stabbed man whose skeletal remains were found within a walled-up side passage in 1848. He is also said to be dressed as a nobleman of the late 18th century: powdered hair beneath a tricorne hat, a dress jacket and cloak or cape, riding boots and a sword. He’s most commonly found haunting the upper circle of the audience seats. 4. London Dungeon When you’re done exploring London’s most haunted sites, it’s time for some live historical re-enactments. This Halloween the London Dungeon are switching up their legendary Jack the Ripper experience and exploring the theory that the infamous East End Killer was, in fact, a woman! Admission to The London Dungeon is included in Merlin's Magical London Ticket, which includes entry to Madame Tussauds London, Coca-Cola London Eye, SEA Life London Aquarium, and Dreamwork's Tours Shrek's Adventure! Price is £55 per adult & £40 per child (3-15yrs). You can order it through us when you book your London break. 5. Old Operating Theatre Museum Operating theatres are creepy at the best of times. Let alone an operating theatre that was in use before surgical anaesthetic was invented in 1846. It probably comes as little surprise that many of the patients died and are said to haunt the building. You’ll find this operating room on the top floor of St Thomas Church, not far from London Bridge Underground Station. 6. St Bartholomew’s Hospital Museum If hospital history really fascinates you, here’s another gruesome step back in time for you. Barts is the oldest hospital in Britain (dating back to 1123), and its left wing has been turned into a museum with displays of old surgical equipment, marble heads and dusty documents (including one signed by Henry VIII). You’ll it not far from the museum of London. 7. Highgate Cemetery This expansive graveyard opened in 1839 and eventually became the final resting spot of 170,000 people, including Karl Marx, Charles Dickens and Douglas Adams. There’s been a few ghostly sightings over the years, including The Highgate Vampire who is said to be 7 foot tall, dark, have piercing eyes and wear a long black coat and top hat. 8. Greenwich Foot Tunnel While the Greenwich Tunnel doesn’t officially have any resident ghosts – it’s still a creepy place. Constructed between 1899 and 1902, it runs under the Thames River for 370 metres between Greenwich to the Isle of Dogs – and even the lightest footstep produces strong echoes. Not somewhere you’d want to walk by yourself. 9. Bleeding Heart Yard Legend says the courtyard’s name memorialises the murder of Lady Elizabeth Hatton, whose family owned the area around Hatton Garden. The story says, that her body was found here on 27 January 1926, “torn limb for limb, but her heart still pumping blood.” There’s also a nearby French restaurant called The Bleeding Heart. 10. Liverpool Street Station While the station itself might look modern, in 2015 a suspected plague pit was uncovered underneath. Also, back in the year 2000, a Line Controller who was watching CCTV footage noticed a man dressed in white overalls standing on the East-Bound Central Line platform - despite the fact that it was 2:00am and the station was closed! The Station Supervisor went to the platform to investigate and once there, found no trace of the man whatsoever. He had simply vanished into thin air, never to be seen again.
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