September 2008 Archives

Sitges, Spain

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Several of us have just got back from the 2008 Advantage Conference, which was held in the pleasant town on the coast of Catalonia. It's about half an hour from Barcelona airport, and it looks like this:

SitgesSitges promenadeChurch - Sitges

Sitges is a cultured, middle-to-upper market and very gay-friendly resort with some 17 sand beaches. Advantage attendees were impressed, and most people I spoke to pointed out the attraction of twinning it with a few days in Barcelona.

Look out for FC Barcelona players, by the way, some of whom apparently have boltholes in the area.

More Sitges photos in my Travel Weekly photo gallery...


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barbados 001.jpgDid you know that Barbados has 1,500 rum shops - and the same number of churches? Or that there is no McDonalds on the island? The reason? The fast-food joint opened a restaurant there a few years ago, but it was shunned by the locals who favour fried chicken to burgers - and it went bankrupt within a year (hee hee)

I visited Barbados with 100 travel agents as part of the the tourist board's yearly educational trip, Gimme 5 and Fly. The Bajan people are the friendliest you'll ever meet, it's totally safe and the music (calypso and soca) is addictive. For after-dark haunts, check out St Lawrence Gap (known as The Gap but it has nothing in common with the chino-selling clothes store), a mile-long strip of clubs and bars which throbs 'til the early hours. Watch the locals shaking their booty - the Bajan people know how to move! 

We took part in an island treasure hunt where we could explore the island in jeeps - giving us the chance to see the rugged and unspoilt east coast, famed for its surf beaches, as well as the lush interior, awash with fields of sugar cane and surprisingly, forests of mahogany. It also gave us the chance to see how safe and easy it is to drive there - they even drive on the left hand side of the road :)

Other highlights included swimming with turtles and taking part in our own carnival while glammed up in proper carnival garb, pounding the streets to soca tunes while tourists and locals looked on. We even made it into both island newspapers, who ran double page spreads on the whole event.

Getting out of the city

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    pic.JPGOn a sunny weekend such as this, the overwhelming temptation is to grab an overnight bag, get on a bus, and drive as far away from Accra as possible.

The reasons for this are two-fold: firstly, with its open sewers and conjested traffic, hot days in Accra tend to be steamy and smelly; secondly, upon reaching the city limits, the landscape instantly transforms, and all around is scenery that looks as if it has been plucked out of the pages of National Geographic.

Unfortunately, this weekend I seem to have missed the boat rather, and am stuck exactly where I don't want to be: in the middle of Accra. I was supposed to be lying on a beach somewhere in the Volta region, but, due to the unfavourable weather forecast (ha!), some bright spark suggested that we stay in the city and avoid the rain (her name is Fiona - she is actually very nice, if a little too trusting of BBC Weather).

So, here I am, sitting on the veranda of Mrs Djan's house, writing my postcard.

Zimbabwe: Finally, an alternative to the air kiss

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I've moaned in the past about social kissing and I think I've found the solution: the African handshake.

This is one thing I'm definitely bringing back from Zimbabwe. It starts out conventionally enough, then goes a little bit street. It usually ends by holding hands for slightly too long. If you're lucky it might incorporate one of those gangster style hugs, or maybe an Obama style fist bump.

Perhaps I romanticise too much, but the whole thing seems to bring the warmth of Africa to any greeting. A definite improvement on the double mwah of the air kiss.

Matthew Hampton

  Ghana photos - house.jpgIn 1952, when he was 21, my grandfather left London to start a new life in Ghana.  As a relatively junior bank clerk, his early life in Africa was far from one of colonial luxury, and he lived in a small flat above his office in Accra.

Later, whilst on leave in England, he met my grandmother, fell in love, and took her to Africa with him shortly after they married.  They lived there for 12 years.

In 1959, my grandparents returned to England on leave for the birth of my mother, who they brought back to Ghana shortly afterwards, and in 1962, my uncle was born in the western town of Takoradi

Day one in Zimbabwe and we're off to a predictably surreal start.  

You'll be pleased to hear TW takes a starring role in a press conference, seated next to Zimbabwe Tourism Authority CEO Karikoga Kaseke.

Members of the local media document the proceedings, and we're treated to some legendary rhetoric, worthy of Bob Mugabe himself (I'll save that for the report), before ending with a slightly dubious photo opportunity.

Sensing a Jack Straw moment I manage to extricate myself from a handshake. Good thing too.

Zimbabwe: Preparing for the off

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My one-man relief effort is already going awry. It's not every day I try to buy five packs of aspirin. But it's not every day I go to Zimbabwe.

Six months into my freelance career, this is one of the last trips I expected to make. Putting any ethical concerns aside, I've sold it to myself on the strength that it might do some good for ordinary Zimbabweans.

A friend at the Christian charity Tearfund advised me to take a few hard to obtain items and distribute them discretely.


Ghanaian Food

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  P1010006.JPG 2.jpgFood, and the preparation of it, can be seen everywhere in Accra

In the markets, women line the pavements selling every imaginable foodstuff, both inanimate and live, to hoards of shoppers all day long.  Walking down the street, men and women pass by selling sweets, crisps and biscuits, and fruit-sellers sit on road-side stalls freshly preparing mangoes, pineapples and papaya.

Hot food is also prepared on the streets, with 'chop shops' - small shacks containing basic cooking equipment - selling a range of hot meals throughout the day.  Although meat can sometimes prove a little risky when bought at such vendors, in most places, the food is cooked in front of you, lessening your chances of picking up any unwelcome germs.