October 2008 Archives

Video: Austin tips from a local tour guide

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Bit of local knowledge for you: this is Chris from Austin tour company Austin Overtures (who I wrote about briefly on TW Blog) with some daytime and after-dark tips.

We filmed this - a bit too late in the day, I have to admit - at the Mandola vineyard, which in daylight is a lovely spot, and has a great Italian restaurant.

Flower fights and wigs: Youtravel.com goes to Rhodes

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By chief reporter Juliet Dennis

There's nothing quite like a few drinks and a several hundred carnations to get a party going.

At least, that's all it took on a VIP travel agents trip to Rodos Palace, Ixia, Rhodes, hosted by bed bank Youtravel.com.

Flower-throwing: Okay in Greece, apparentlyDuring a special dinner at the hotel with Greek dancing, agents and their partners were told it was tradition to throw flowers at the dancers on stage as they performed.

But just think how much more fun you can have throwing flowers at fellow diners on the table next to you. After all, it's not often you get to pelt senior figures in the travel trade with a sodden carnation, now is it?

This comes from deputy features editor Joanna Booth...

Whilst cruising down the Croatian and Italian coast on Hebridean Spirit I was amused to hear how possessive the company's regular customers have become.

081016-hebridean-spirit.jpgThe ships are so small (30 cabins on the Princess and 50 on the Spirit) that many guests choose one cabin and stick with it religiously, even changing the dates of their holidays to ensure availability.

Hebridean staff have fielded tetchy phone calls from returning cruisers who ring to chide that the company hadn¹t informed them it had redecorated their cabin.

We really got a feel for the difference in scale between our ship and the larger vessels when docked in Venice. As we sat on deck enjoying an alfresco breakfast in the sunshine, the Costa Serena inched majestically by, bookended by tug boats. It was like a double-decker bus crossing paths with a smart car.

Why is Austin so good for music?

Someone put that question to the lovely Suzanna Choffel, who the Austin CVB had serenade us over a farewell lunch at local restaurant Moonshine.


Suzanna Choffel at Moonshine, AustinI didn't have a pad with me (I know - bad blogger) so I'll paraphrase all but one of her answers.

1. Music as a way of life

People say that all the time. But the support for musicians is such that nobody rolls their eyes when you say you're a musician - it's seen as a stable, worthwhile career choice.

And the support consists of...

2. Health Alliance for Musicians

Yeah, seriously.

3. Untold venues

"A lot of cities say they're big on music, and they have maybe eight or nine venues," said Suzanna (in the one bit I can remember verbatim).

"But you come to Austin and there are literally hundreds, and it goes on all the time."

She's not kidding. Later she and our tour guides talk about 'playing the airport'. Because there's even a stage there, for crying out loud.

4. The authorities support it

This is a nice one. Getting a gig playing to guests of the city isn't a rarity - Suzanna said she gets two or three similar spots a week.

Clearly, not to support and highlight local musicians would be marketing suicide on the part of the CVB. But looking around the table it's clear the Austin tourism reps have a genuine, and not just commercial, appreciation of this stuff. 

Here's a stream of Suzanna's track Hey Mister... and thanks our to hosts Austin CVB, San Antonio CVB and Continental


Video: Austin lake and skyline from the Hyatt Regency

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The Hyatt Regency Austin is on the south side of the lake just off Congress Avenue, which runs north right up to the Capitol, and passes through the SoCo area as it goes south. Map below.

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More from Antigua

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Emily Ashwell, TW's community editor on maternity leave, has just returned from a week in Antigua. Due to technical problems Emily did not get these posts and pictures on the site, so here they are

Post #1


I am staying at The Verandah Resort and Spa in Antigua (pictured).

It is part of Elite Island Resorts, a hotel group that also includes St James's Club and Galley Bay on Antigua.

The rooms are big, with a kitchenette area including a fridge and microwave. The hotel's kids' club was created by celebrity designer Linda Barker. It has a fantastic wooden climbing frame with huge towers and yellow tubes.

Post #2


It's raining in Antigua, so its 365 beaches - one for every day of the year - are empty. So what do you do in the Caribbean in the rain?

Most of the guests at The Verandah Resort and Spa are spending time around the pool bar, drinking cups of tea and chatting. It's an all-inclusive hotel and capacity is quite low at the moment as it's not peak season, so people get to know each other very quickly. In fact, after a couple of days it's easy to become completely institutionalised , as has happened to me - I can't imagine not having a buffet breakfast now.

Activities away from the black clouds include the hotel cinema - The Devil Wears Prada and Little Miss Sunshine are on this week, there are board games at the bar, people are working on their lap tops and there are organised activities such as walks, beach Olympics and beer drinking competitions. Otherwise there are excursions, such as shopping in St John's, the capital.


Is it the coliseum in Rome or an ampitheatre in Croatia?At a glance you may have clocked this as the Colosseum, but look more closely and you¹ll notice subtle differences.

This smaller look-a-like amphitheatre is actually in Pula, Croatia and was built in the 1st century AD when the city was the regional Roman HQ.

Although you can no longer hear the roar of wild animals and the cries of dying gladiators, this arena is still very much in use, as a theatre for plays, rock concerts and even the city¹s film festival.

I stopped off in Pula for the day on a cruise with Hebridean Spirit. The 'From Istria to Italy'programme gave us a real taste of some of the less obvious Balkan destinations, including Pula, Rab and Rovinj in Croatia and Koper in Slovenia before moving on to Venice and Trieste.

By Joanna Booth

Austin, Texas: Dancing at The Broken Spoke

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Tonight we - that's me and the party of tour operators I'm travelling with - drank and danced at The Broken Spoke, a honky tonk about 10 minutes' drive from the centre of Austin. It's an Austin institution, as you can see from the shot of the memorabilia room.

Sadly, even the joint's considerably talented dance instructor couldn't make much of us (beginners are welcome, by the way, and the lessons are genuinely very good) but it's a pleasure to sit around the dancefloor and watch the locals tear it up.

Below the photos there's a snatch of video. Apologies for the abrupt ending: I'd been called to the floor...

Broken Spoke, Austin, Texas


Broken Spoke, Austin, Texas

The band playing in the vid is The Derailers.

Photos: San Antonio, Texas

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The Alamo

The Alamo: The iconic bell-shaped facade of the chapel isn't original. It was added by the US Army in the 1850s (the mission was established before 1800, and the famous Battle of the Alamo took place in 1836).

House - King William district

King William district: This is a house by British-born architect Alfred Giles, who designed many of the properties in this historic part of the city.

River Walk

River Walk: Restaurants and bars are concentrated around the river, which runs one storey below street level.

The river walk is a feat of civil engineering - as well as forming an attractive feature of the city, it helps control the river, which until the walk's construction in the 20s and 30s had caused some devastating floods (this is limestone country, and doesn't drain well).

Thanks to hosts Austin CVB, San Antonio CVB and Continental.

  tro tro 2.JPGWhilst sitting on a bus at 4am, wedged between a woman with a baby and a policeman brandishing an AK47, it occurred to me that transport, in all its weird and varied forms, has been one of the defining features of my time in Ghana.

This particular journey was a long one: I was traveling back to Accra from a Travel Weekly assignment in Bolgatanga - a good 15 hour drive away.  Unfortunately for me, my 8am bus - which would have got me into Accra at a comfortable 11pm - had been moved to 1pm, resulting in my ETA being exactly four hours before I was due to start work the next morning.  Not one to whinge, I was stoically grinning and bearing it (well, sort of...) and had even given up my window seat without making too much of a fuss.

The reason for my relative calmness was probably down to the fact that, when put in perspective, this journey wasn't really that terrible after all.  For a start, I had my own seat, a seatbelt - which, admittedly, hadn't been used for so long that once I was clipped in, the chances of managing to remove myself in an emergency were decidedly slim - and I was protected from the outside elements. 

Just 24 hours before, I had been sitting on the lap of a stranger in the front seat of a crowded taxi, my bottom hovering precariously over the gear stick, on my way down a bumpy country road.  Once at my destination (a sacred crocodile pond in Paga), it transpired that I would require another taxi to take me a few miles down the road.  However, when no such taxi appeared, a local offered me a ride on the back of his push bike.  As I balanced myself on the metal ledge over his back wheel, giggling nervously, the rider turned to me, smiled, and said, "Welcome to Africa."

Old lady in CyprusWith the major tourist resorts arranged around the coast it¹s easy to forget that there's a whole other side of Cyprus.

Inland, away from the hustle and bustle, you can find peace, quiet and an insight into a traditional way of life that has been going on for hundreds of years.

I stayed in a sensitively renovated old stone house in the tiny village of Tochni, twenty minutes outside Limassol, courtesy of Cyprus Villages.

A quick glance around confirms that this is a world away from the beachfront hotels you might associated with the island.

Old gents while away hours in the Kafenion, drinking coffee and putting the world to rights. Venerable women with failing eyes sit in the street, making intricately patterned lace ­ or in one case, knitting a shocking pink furry cardigan. The voices of children playing elaborate games echo around village squares.

I visited villages and monasteries, tasted the local wine and ambled through the winding hillsides on the back of Milly, a long-suffering and sure-footed pony.  

It was relaxing and refreshingly Cypriot ­ and if you miss the feeling of sand between your toes, a quiet beach is only five minutes away by car.

By Jo Booth

Antigua here I come - with baby seat

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Last year, TW's Emily Ashwell won the Caribbean Tourism Organisation's writer of the year award. The prize was a week in Antigua. This week Emily is there and will be sending back occasional posts.  

Here is her pre-departure post . . .

As I'm travelling with my husband and six month old baby, I went to my local agent, Edwin Doran's Travel World in Twickenham, to book all the extras I needed for the trip.

The helpful agent booked us transfers with Holiday Taxis from the airport to the hotel, but said she needed to confirm that it could provide a car seat for the baby. She called back a couple of days later to say that Holiday Taxis had tried all of its taxis on the island and no one could provide a car seat.

Ghanaian Music

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      drums.jpgThe other week, I attended a conference marking the launch of a truck company in Accra.  Although the content of the speeches themselves weren't exactly thrilling (heavy-duty earth moving equipment never really was my thing) by the end of the event, I was in a great mood.

The reason for my enjoyment was the entertainment that had been provided in between the speeches: the event organisers had invited a local youth choir to sing.  As you can probably imagine, an African youth choir is a far cry from its British equivalents: these kids are born and bred gospel singers.

The choir sang about four times throughout the conference, providing a bit of light relief in between talk of the government's current road construction targets and the joys of waste removal.  At the end, the chairwoman beckoned over the conductor to made a request.