GoNOMAD Travel https://www.gonomad.com Tue, 20 Feb 2018 01:06:07 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://www.gonomad.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/cropped-squarelogo-1.png GoNOMAD Travel https://www.gonomad.com 32 32 Fear of Flying: Strategies from Mary Renner https://www.gonomad.com/105885-fear-flying-strategies-mary-renner https://www.gonomad.com/105885-fear-flying-strategies-mary-renner#respond Mon, 19 Feb 2018 22:15:21 +0000 https://www.gonomad.com/?p=105885 Mary Renner is a flight attendant and an expert on conquering the fear of flying. On her website, FlyConfidently, she provides resources, new articles and advice to help nervous flyers.]]>

Coping with your Fear of Flying

By Mary Renner

Mary Renner, Flight Attendant and author
Mary Renner, Flight Attendant and author

You have enough on your mind before setting off on your adventure, and the last thing you want to deal with is flight anxiety. Still, fear of flying is an unfortunate reality for approximately one out of every four people.

Fear of flying stems from various underlying causes and it’s symptoms differ from person to person. For some, flying is unpleasant but manageable, while for others the fear is so intense that flying is avoided altogether.

But regardless of why we’re afraid or how much it affects us, the good news is that with some commitment and the right strategies, it’s entirely possible to overcome this fear.

Below I’ll share with you 3 common causes of flight anxiety and a practical technique to combat each.

Belief that Flying is Dangerous

While plane accidents are extremely rare, when they do happen, they are widely broadcasted; The graphic images of plane crashes can stay fresh and clear in our minds, and consequently trick us into thinking that flying is a dangerous activity.

The truth, however, is that even though it may feel unnatural to be 30,000 feet in the air, traveling at the speed of 700 miles/hour, flying on a commercial airline is one of the safest things you can do.

We know this by looking at the safety statistics for commercial flying:

  • Each year there are around 35 million successful flights, transporting 3.5 billion passengers.
  • In 2017 there were no commercial jet fatalities in the world.
  • There have not been any fatalities on a US airline in the past 9 years.
  • Your odds of dying in a car accident are around 1 in 5,000. Whereas the odds of dying in a plane crash are about 1 in 16,000,000.

Currently, commercial flying is the safest mode of transportation as it’s safer than traveling by car, bus, train, motorcycle, and ferry.

The following strategy will help you to challenge the incorrect belief that flying is dangerous:

Caption: Flight Radar 24 can be downloaded as a mobile app or viewed on desktop.

Strategy: Log on to Flight Radar 24

This strategy helps you internalize that flying is safe by giving you perspective on the high volume of flights that are taking place in the world all the time.

Flight Radar 24 is a free tool that visually displays all the planes that are up in the sky at any given second. At the time of writing this article, there were 12,679 planes in the air!

The visual of the thousands of planes en route, any given second, makes it easier for your mind to accept that flying is safe. Because if flying really was dangerous, then we would expect there to be hundreds of plane crashes daily.

In the weeks leading up to your flight, spend time checking out the Flight Radar 24 website or app to reduce flight anxiety. It’s also a good idea to do this right before your flight, in case you have any last-minute pre-flight jitters.

Inability to Let Go of Control

For many fearful flyers, the feeling of not being in control is what triggers flight anxiety.

To feel safe as a passenger you need to be comfortable in letting go of control. You need to mentally trust that your pilot is competent.

An effective way of establishing this needed trust is to meet the pilot before your flight. Commercial airline pilots are amongst the most experienced and qualified professionals in any field, and by personally meeting them, we’re able to build confidence in their knowledge and expertise. Talking to the pilot also allows us to see that their interests are completely aligned with ours – which is getting to the destination safely.

Having a mental image of the pilot also continues to reassure us during the flight. Anytime we start to feel anxious, we can just picture the pilot in the cockpit, in full control, and know that he or she is on top of everything. 

Strategy: Meet the Pilot

To coordinate a meeting with the pilot follow these steps:

  1. Write 2 letters: The first letter is for the gate agent in the boarding area to request permission for early boarding. The other is for the pilot, to explain that you’re an anxious flyer and are currently trying to overcome your fear. In the latter, ask if you’re able to visit the cockpit when you board.
  2. Arrive at the boarding gate early. Give the first note to the gate agent or simply tell them that you’re an anxious flyer and that you’re working to overcome your fear, and that it will be a big help if you’re able to meet the pilot before the flight. Ask for permission to board early.
  3. As soon as pre-boarding announcements begin, get on the plane. Ideally, you’ll want to be one of the first, if not the first on the plane. Then, give one of the flight attendants your letter for the pilot, and wait for them to call you up. Remember, flight attendants will only give your letter to the pilot if you’re on the plane during at the beginning of the pre-boarding process.
  4. Pilots are usually more than glad to meet with nervous flyers. And don’t worry about interrupting them, pilots complete all of their initial checks prior to boarding. When you chat with him or her, ask about the destination weather, and if there will be any expected turbulence. You can also ask if he or she would be able to make extra announcements about what’s happening during the flight.

Catastrophizing

When a trigger such as turbulence or an unfamiliar noise causes you to panic on a flight, your mind can go into a state of frenzy, and you may find yourself consumed with all the things that could go wrong. In this state, we can have difficulty differentiating between what is imaginary and what is real. As a result, we can start believing all the exaggerated fearful thoughts that pop up in our mind. Breaking away from these anxious thinking patterns is essential in overcoming flight anxiety.

Use this mindfulness strategy to calm your racing mind, by shifting attention away from scary thoughts to non-threatening stimuli in your environment:

Meditating can often help alleviate the fear of flying.
Meditating can often help alleviate the fear of flying. Focusing on your physical senses keeps you in touch with reality, and out of your imagination.

 

Strategy: Five Senses Grounding Exercise

To do this exercise sit or recline comfortably, and take a moment to bring your full attention to each one of your senses:

  1. Seeing: Scan your environment and bring your attention to 5 things that you can see. Try to notice things that you don’t normally pay attention to like the details of the seat in front of you.
  2. Feeling: Focus on 4 sensations that you are currently feeling like the texture of your shirt, the temperature in the air or the pressure on your feet from the floor.
  3. Hearing: Listen to your environment and note 3 sounds that you can hear such as the hum of the air conditioner, or the distant chatter.
  4. Smelling: Notice 2 things that you can smell right now that you usually filter out. These scents can be subtle like the lingering smell of cleaning products or the plastic aroma of the seat cushions
  5. Tasting: Focus on 1 thing that you can taste right now. If you have water or a drink by you-you can take a sip – or just notice the taste in your mouth.

 

Mary Renner

 

 

 

Mary Renner is an ex-fearful flyer turned flight attendant who currently helps fearful flyers overcome their flight anxiety. She blogs on all topics related to fear of flying on her website www.FlyConfidently.com. She’s from Vancouver, B.C. Canada. 

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Useful Travel Essentials for 2018 https://www.gonomad.com/105334-useful-travel-essentials-for-2018 https://www.gonomad.com/105334-useful-travel-essentials-for-2018#respond Mon, 19 Feb 2018 13:47:27 +0000 https://www.gonomad.com/?p=105334 The guide to all the latest travel luggage and technologies 2018 has to offer. From suitcases to universal adapters, make sure to include these on your next trip.]]>

The Latest and Greatest Travel Items

by Jill Webb and Jackie Cohen

Do you find your travel luggage and gadgets old and outdated every time you take them on a trip? Fear not, because companies in 2018 are putting out the latest innovations to make your travel go as smoothly as possible. Don’t zip up your suitcase without packing these items for your next getaway.

Eagle Creek Upright Roller Bag

This Eagle Creek carry-on bag has all the bells and whistles to create a seamless onboard experience, but the details fall flat when it comes to function. It can unzip into two bags if needed, but when the parts are zipped together, it is nearly impossible to access the middle of the bag. Pockets become tight without wiggle room when it is completely zipped.

The bag itself is sturdy and well built, but falls forward away from the wheels when packed, even with its stability stand, unable to stay upright on its own. The hardback case creates an awkward feeling when all of the features in use, the price for this bag is not worth the frustrating experience. EAGLE CREEK MORPHUS 22 ROLLING UPRIGHT AND DUFFEL BAG (BLACK)$399

Eagle Creek Global Companion Travel Pack

Eagle Creek’s Global Companion 40L Travel Pack is essential for a traveler who is juggling a lot of items. Doubling as a backpack and suitcase, you can unzip the front of the bag to fold out to show two separate mesh sections.

The variety of pockets and compartments in the backpack leaves a space for everything from a sleeve for up to a 17-inch laptop, phone compartments, and exterior pouches for drinks.  If you need to up your organization level during travel, this is the backpack for you.

Along with being convenient, the Travel Pack offers comfort with a padded back panel and hip belt. The moisture-wicking straps are designed with shoulder strap adjustors and top load adjusters, which can take some of the strain off for longer journeys. Additionally, use the top, bottom, and side handles to give your shoulders a break.

This bag is a great way to save some cash skipping luggage check and carry your Travel Pack directly on the plane. Eagle Creek Global Companion   $159

Adventure Tape

This unique product is great for outdoor enthusiasts and travelers of every level. The special formula of this mysterious tape helps repair devices and gear by sticking to itself and holding things together without annoying adhesive.

The product is so versatile that it can be used for almost anything, and is a new must-have to keep in your glove compartment or backpack.

Portable Oven

This product is far from your typical lunchbox. The portable oven allows users to reheat or even cook their food on the go. Users can cook their prepped food at the office in order to maintain the utmost freshness. The days of microwaving leftovers in the office kitchen are over! Now food can be freshly cooked from your desk.Hot Logic 9×13 Family Size Portable Oven $20-50 depending on size.

Hit Case Lenses and Photo Case

If you’re an adventurer, and you own a very delicate iPhone, then Hitcase is the ultimate protective case for you. Hitcase is as durable as they come, being waterproof, dust-proof, and mountable which is perfect if you plan on dirt biking anytime soon. They have a mount for about every situation, including a “ChestR” chest mount, a car/wall mount, and a ShootR, which is a pole with a magnetic end that easily sticks to the new magnetic Crio model of the phone.

Besides all the protective elements, Hitcase knew that rugged adventurers like to take pictures too– especially in the most intense climates. The attachable lens, which comes in macro, wide, and super-wide, are designed so you can capture the exact perspective you want to during your most-thrilling experiences.

The Hitcase is compatible with all models of the iPhone SE, 5, 6, 7, 8, and X.  HITCASE CRIO Slim iPhone 7 Plus / 8 Plus Mountable Lens Photo Case Compatible with Magnetic Wide Angle/Macro Lens and Mounting System 

Travel Plug Adapter

You get off the plane, exhausted, and head to your hotel to get some rest before you embark your latest destination. You go to plug your phone in to charge for the night, and to your horror, the plug won’t fit. You’re stuck in a foreign country with a dead phone. But packing the DuaFire Travel adapter will save you from that scenario.

The Travelba comes in a range of colors and is compact enough to fit in even the smallest of bags. With 4 different plugs, it works in over 150 countries. Don’t be afraid to share with friends, because the device can handle up to three people charging at once, and a built-in overload fuse will turn the charger off if the current goes over 6A.

DuaFire Travel Adapter, Universal Power Adapter Plug International Wall Charger with Dual USB Ports 

isAWallet

For just $9.95 you can ditch your purse for your next adventure. IsAWallet, with a pretty self-explanatory name, is a clear plastic pouch that sticks on the back of your smartphone. The pouch is tight enough to store credit cards, money, and licenses.

Great for travelers who are trying a more minimalistic approach to getting around, but still need to keep identification and cash on their person. The clear packaging even allows you to have your cards scanned right through the pouch.

 

 

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Flying a Small Plane Over the Pioneer Valley https://www.gonomad.com/1123-flying-small-plane-pioneer-valley Mon, 19 Feb 2018 05:00:00 +0000 http://gonomad.com/getting-a-bird-s-eye-view-of-the-pioneer-valley/ Kylie Jelley takes a flying lesson at the airport in Northampton, Massachusetts, through a website called Let'sGo Flying.org.]]>

Learning to fly a small plane from Northampton, Massachusetts.
Learning to fly a small plane from Northampton, Massachusetts.

Learning to Fly: A Bird’s-Eye View of the Pioneer Valley

By Kylie Jelley

Ready For Takeoff!

The sky was a shade lighter than sapphire with hardly a cloud in sight. It was the perfect day for flying.  The heat created just a touch of turbulence that left me with a hint of nausea. But other than that, a great flight lesson.

Before take-off, Ben Foster, my flight instructor, and I performed a routine check-up on the plane for safety. As we walked around, Foster, a college student with boyish features, skimmed his hand along the wing.

The author and her instructor, Ben Foster, aboard a Piper Warrior II N4302V at Northampton Airport - photos by Kylie Jelley
The author and her instructor, Ben Foster, aboard a Piper Warrior II N4302V at the airport in Northampton, Massachusetts – photos by Kylie Jelley

“What we look for are any dents or scratches that would indicate that the plane has been damaged. If there is evidence on the outside, it’s linked to the inside,” he said.

I trailed just steps behind him, peeking under the wings, and offering a second pair of surveying eyes.

The check-up took about twenty minutes. Once we made a full circle around the plane, Foster gave me the go-ahead to get in. I climbed up on the wing.

Gauges, Switches, and Buttons

My nerves were stimulated as soon as I stepped into the cockpit and sat down in the pilot’s seat. The instructor sat beside me with his own set of controls.

I was overwhelmed by the different gauges, switches, and buttons. Foster went through the checklist thoroughly. He touched on what every button and switch and gauge did, but my excitement left me mystified.

Ben conducts a safety check.
Checking each aspect of the small plane is a vital exercise before every flight.

Ben conducts a safety check.

“Ready for take off?” he asked.

I looked at him with wide eyes and nodded.

He gave me slow and simple instructions through the headset, and radioed to make sure everything was clear.

After taxiing, I pulled the yoke back towards me, and slowly increased the pressure. We were in the air!

A Spectacular View

We flew at an altitude of 3,000 feet along the Connecticut River, and above the lush green hills and farmland of the Pioneer Valley.

The lakes and rivers glittered as the sunbeams fell upon the surface. Mountains bordered the horizons in every direction. The soft hue of purple peaks blurred in the distance. The view was spectacular.

A bird's eye view of the Connecticut River Valley
An aerial view of the Connecticut River Valley

Snapping Shots

The buildings looked so small, and cars were the size of ants. I snapped some aerial photos.

The flight instruction lasted about an hour. I learned how to steer the plane, gently guiding the yoke to one side then to the other. It was a surreal feeling when Foster let go of all the controls and I was flying the plane myself.

Before I knew it we were back on the ground. We ended with a smooth landing.

Flying in the Piper Warrior II N4302V, a small plane, was very different from being in the air on a commercial airline. You don’t have to peek out of a small frosted window, you can see everything.

After the landing, Foster recorded my time in the air. I completed one-fortieth of the flight time necessary for a pilot’s license.

The author and the Piper Warrior
The author and the Piper Warrior

I jumped out of the white and yellow Piper. There were planes taxiing the runway, girls with sundresses and aviators approaching the hangar, and grease stained mechanics working on the aircraft.

I looked up into the endless blue highway and saw a glint of a distant airplane.

Try it Out!

Like most lessons, under the direction of an FAA-licensed instructor, I learned to taxi, take off, fly the plane for a while, and assist with the landing.

I used LetsGoFlying.org to find a local airport and set up an instruction. My flight was scheduled at Northampton Aeronautics, a flight school offered at the Northampton Airport.

LetsGoFlying’s flight directory searchable database matches users with all the nearest airports within a 25-100 mile radius to their hometown.

LetsGoFlying.org is sponsored by the nonprofit Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA). The organization works with flight schools across the country to offer introductory flights starting around $99.

Another view from the plane
Another view from the plane

The website lists more than 3,500 flight schools nationwide and provides information for beginner pilots. Most flight schools offer introductory flights for up to 50 percent off the typical lesson price.  These days there is a serious need for more pilots, every airline is scrambling to keep staffed with retirements and not as many students learning to fly. 

Those who are interested in attaining their private pilot’s license can expect to spend up to $10,000. Certified pilots can rent a plane for as little as $65 an hour (engine time) including fuel.

A Speedy Way to Take a Trip

With a plane, travelers can skip all the congested traffic headed to Cape Cod or other summer vacation areas. They can take a weekend trip to Niagara Falls and not have to worry about paying tolls.

Travelers who choose to rent a plane skip all the airport commotion, confusion with bags, and security checks. It’s a speedy way to take a trip.

This is a great innovative way to travel across the nation. And summer is a great time to begin training for a pilot’s license.

Flying allows you to connect easily with family and friends, explore new destinations, thrills, and adventures, challenge your skills, make smart business decisions and have more career options.

There are 5,400 public-use airports in the US. Many of these airports are located near fun recreational facilities and cultural activities such as skiing, hiking, golfing, parks art galleries and museums. Flying yourself, your friends, or family to any of these great destinations is easy.

Learning to Fly

Learning to fly is not all that difficult. If you can drive a car and read a map, you can learn to fly. And a Private Pilot certificate (license) is good for life; the pilot just has to pass an FAA-mandated biannual medical exam.

The cockpit of the Piper Warrior

There are some general requirements for a Private Pilot’s certificate. Students must obtain a Student Pilot certificate from a FAA-designated doctor, and be at least 16 years of age to solo, and 17 to get their license.

They also have to pass an FAA written and practical test administered at an FAA computer testing center. Under the FAA regulations students need a total of 40 hours of flight time.

Prospective pilots can start out by taking flight lessons at a local flight school and work their way up to being captain of a major airline.

There are many options, and even career opportunities, beyond attaining a Private Pilot certificate. The next few steps are, Instrument Rating, Multi-Engine Rating, Commercial Pilot Certificate, Instructor Rating, and ultimately Airline Transport Pilot (ATP) Certificate.

Helpful Links

LetsGoFlying.org

Northampton Airport

Kylie Jelley

 

 

 

Kylie Jelly

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Rotterdam: With Floating Farm, Urban Farming Is Put To Sea https://www.gonomad.com/105583-with-floating-farm-urban-farming-is-put-to-sea https://www.gonomad.com/105583-with-floating-farm-urban-farming-is-put-to-sea#comments Fri, 16 Feb 2018 21:22:59 +0000 https://www.gonomad.com/?p=105583 The groundbreaking plans for a new Floating Farm geared towards the sustainable food fanatics of Rotterdam is paving way for a new architectural revolution in the city.]]>

The Netherlands Is Reinventing The Way City-goers Can Shop For Their Produce– Atop A Floating Farm 

By Jill Webb

Most city-goers don’t know where their produce comes from, but at the world’s first floating farm, shoppers not only know where their dairy products come from but get to see the process up-close.

The self-sufficient, eco-friendly farm is due to start construction in Rotterdam, The Netherlands, in April 2018. The farm will produce dairy products from the cows that will graze on top of the farm.

The idea for the farm came from the growing international issue and concern of unsustainable food production.

Each year, the use traditional agricultural techniques dwindle, especially in cities where the relationship between citizens and farmers is getting pushed further and further apart.

“It’s important that you look for new opportunities to build,” said Minke van Wingerden, from the firm Beladon, a partner of Floating Farm.

“Our idea is why not build on water because 70% of the Earth is water,” Wingerden said.

And so, Floating Farm decided it was time to test the waters.

Farming as clear as day

As far as company transparency, the Floating Farm takes things very seriously– and they’re not afraid to show it. Their building is constructed out of glass windows, so when shoppers take a trip to pick up some milk, they can see the cows who produce it.

The entire process is transparent, both literally and metaphorically, to support the idea of consumers understanding the development and background of what they’re buying.

Their production method is dependent upon cycles of nutrients, energy, and water. They try to keep waste minimal, even reaching out to other Rotterdam businesses to reuse what they can for the farm.

“For example, we have a lot of beer breweries in Rotterdam, we use the waste products of the breweries to feed our cows,” Wingerden said. Reducing waste, shortening the logistics chain, and bridging the gap between customer and producer relations are some of the most important goals of Floating Farm.

The floating farm will be located in the harbor of Rotterdam.

A cash cow

If you’re worried about the cows adjusting to life at sea, don’t fret, because Floating Farm is completely animal-friendly.

The 40 cows grazing on the Floating Farm are Montbéliardes, a breed known for having excellent milk production and little health issues. Having a breed with a good health record is important because Floating Farm tries to use the bare minimum of medicine.

If the cows do get sick, their veterinarian will be contacted as soon as possible to target exactly what is wrong, ensuring a speedy recovery with minimal medication.

Calves born on the farm get handled carefully too. During the six weeks following their birth, they live in single boxes to promote individual care and deter any risk of spread of disease.

Once six weeks is up, the young calves take a trip to North Kethel, to roam the meadow polder all day and night long. When those calves are almost ready to become parents, they travel back to the Floating Farm to live and work as dairy cows.

The Montbéliarde will typically produce 25 liters of milk on a typical day and are tended to by a milking robot.

This technological upgrade allows cows to live comfortably and stress-free. They only get milked when they feel fit, unlike on a farm where human milkers are under the constraints of working hours.

There will be multiple layers in the Floating Farm once constructed.

More to come for the sustainable city 

Rotterdam is an inventive city, especially in terms of sustainability. It is the home to the Floating Pavilion, a Bobbing Forest, and the Aqua Dock. In 2018, the world’s first floating homes, the Habour Loft Apartments, are scheduled to open in the former city docks.

Like it’s ever-developing city, Floating Farm’s innovation doesn’t stop once construction is complete. Floating Farm wants to continue discovering new ways to be sustainable, along with promoting agriculture education.

They will invite students to help further research developments in urban farming, including feed production, residual dust processing, energy reduction and generation, and drinking water production.

And cows are only just the start for floating agriculture.

“This first one is with cows, and we will continue with chicken farms, and the next one will be a vertical farming greenhouse,” Wingerden said. “We are going to create and complete, as we call it, a complete floating food strip in Rotterdam.”

Next time you’re shopping for milk and are skeptical about the brand you’re choosing, just remember, there are plenty of other cows in the sea.

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Belfast: From The Titanic to “GOT,” Northern Ireland’s Hottest Spot https://www.gonomad.com/105645-from-the-titanic-to-game-of-thrones-northern-irelands-hottest-spot https://www.gonomad.com/105645-from-the-titanic-to-game-of-thrones-northern-irelands-hottest-spot#respond Thu, 15 Feb 2018 21:10:02 +0000 https://www.gonomad.com/?p=105645 Head to Belfast in Northern Ireland, home to the Titantic and the "Game of Thrones" set. The tourism boom happening there makes the city an interesting spot to take your next vacation.]]>
The bar at the Bullit hotel, Belfast.
The bar at the Bullitt hotel, Belfast.
The Titanic Experience is a highlight of Belfast, Northern Ireland.
The Titanic Experience is a highlight of Belfast, Northern Ireland.

The Titanic’s Legacy Gets A Modern Revival and Belfast’s Newest Hotels

By Jackie Cohen

With a newly revamped tourism scene, Belfast, Northern Ireland was voted Lonely Planet’s #1 Best in Travel Region of 2018.

Sprinkled with hip neighborhoods filled with cafés and bars, Belfast is attracting a new demographic of young tourists. Highlighted by its rocky waterways, Belfast’s famous Causeway Coast is a wonderful spot for sunrise before a day of golf and a night of Irish whiskey.

Belfast's oldest building, just a shell today.
Belfast’s oldest building, just a shell today.

Belfast’s Hotel Room Boom

Newly built hotels have popped up throughout the city; this expansion includes the opening of Bullitt, Titanic Hotel Belfast, and multiple Marriotts, Hiltons, and Maldron hotels. The demand for more hotel rooms has been driven by this burst of touristic interest.

In Belfast’s city center, the new state-of-the-art Bullitt hotel wraps around Victoria and Ann street. A project of the Beannchor Group, a development company who’s responsible for much of the city’s recent revamps, including a multitude of hotels and over 40 pubs across the nation, the Bullitt hotel opened for business in October of last year.

This creative new space offers 43 uniquely designed guest rooms with eccentric spirit and design. The hotel is complete with three bars of different themes, a botanical garden in the courtyard, an espresso bar, and fine dining restaurant.

A Titanic Resurgence 

The SS Nomadic is a dramatic site at the Titanic Experience in Belfast.
The SS Nomadic is a dramatic site at the Titanic Experience.

Known as the “Titanic city”, the world’s most famous ship was built in Belfast.

The Titanic Quarter of the city offers visitors their chance to unlock their own voyage of maritime discovery. Built in the former Harland & Wolff shipyard where the RMS Titanic was constructed, the  Titanic Belfast Museum is a visitor’s attraction reciting the story of the ill-fated ship whose maiden voyage came to a grueling demise after colliding with an iceberg.

Belfast
A colorful mural in Belfast.

After your day at the museum, settle into a night at the Titanic Hotel of Belfast, celebrating the city’s claims to fame as the birthplace of the infamous RMS Titanic.

This luxury hotel is also new to town, opening this past fall in the city center. The 119-room hotel is located at a historic address, the former headquarters of Harland & Wolff.

The accommodation is perfect for history buffs and glamorous travelers alike, in the heart of the Titanic Quarter.

The old offices of the company date back to the late 19th century and the architecture and design of the new hotel reflects those influences.

Irish Whiskey

If you’re in the market for a less gloomy remainder of the past, eating is always a great option.

Hundreds of widely acclaimed eateries have begun to pop up around the city. Hungry tourists should make their way to Belfast, with Michelin star restaurants to Victorian covered markets, enjoy your local beer, gin, or whiskey with a fabulous meal.

Echlinville Distillery in County Down, near Belfast Northern Ireland.
Echlinville Distillery in County Down, in Northern Ireland.

Check out Echlinville Distillery, Northern Ireland’s first licensed distillery in over 125 years. After pouring their first distilled spirit in 2013, Echlinville made a name for themselves as an industry leader in fine whiskey, as they were awarded a gold medal at the World Whiskey Awards and Irish Whiskey Awards in the first years of their existence.

After the success of their whiskey product, they began gin production in the same distillery. Situated in between rugged ocean coastline in County Down, the incredible view tops off a perfect visit to the distillery.

Westeros and Winterfell

Game of Thrones tour in Northern Ireland.
Game of Thrones tour in Northern Ireland.

Still, need more convincing to book your flight? Join “Game of Thrones” fanatics who are making their way to Belfast to see the set of the widely acclaimed HBO series.

Shot at Belfast’s Titanic Studios, the fantasy worlds of Westeros and Winterfell have spread knowledge of the rocky coastline to viewers around the world.

The 820-acre estate of Castle Ward, County Down in the series has made the city recognizable to a worldwide network of dedicated viewers.

New airfare routes from international airports around the world are heading to Northern Ireland’s capital making it accessible now than ever before to tourists. With direct flights from over 150 worldwide cities, the time to visit the Titanic City is now.

The land of green awaits!

Find out more about Belfast at their official tourism website.

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French Riviera in February: Menton Lemon Festival 2018 https://www.gonomad.com/80135-french-riviera-february-menton-lemon-festival-2017 https://www.gonomad.com/80135-french-riviera-february-menton-lemon-festival-2017#respond Thu, 15 Feb 2018 15:33:16 +0000 http://www.gonomad.com/?p=80135 In France's Provence region, the village of Menton is famous for its huge and delicious lemons, and hold a yearly festival with sculptures made of fruit.]]>
A church made of lemons and oranges in the Provence, France town of Menton.
A church made of lemons and oranges in the Provence, France town of Menton.
Lemons on the ground and made into buildings adorn the town every February in Southern France.
Lemons on the ground and made into buildings adorn the town every February in Southern France.

By Mike James

If you’re looking for the perfect excuse to visit the South of France in February, here it is. One of France’s most popular and quirky annual events, the 85th Lemon Festival (Fête du Citron) will take place between 17th February and 4st March 2018.

The charming and elegant resort of Menton on the French Riviera, close to France’s border with Italy, is the setting for this spectacular, colorful and fragrant festival which has a history dating back all the way to 1928.

The Pearl of France

Menton, nicknamed ‘the pearl of France’ (la perle de France), has its own microclimate and is rumored to be the sunniest and warmest town on the Cote d’Azur – the perfect conditions for growing lemons.

Legend has it that lemons first arrived in Menton from the Garden of Eden. When Adam and Eve were expelled, Eve reputedly took with her a golden fruit, deciding to plant it in the Bay of Garavan. The lemon tree flourished and Menton was born!

The history of the lemon in Menton can be traced back as far as the 15th century. The local fruit differs from Italian, Spanish and Corsican varieties through its bright golden yellow color and pronounced elliptical shape.

Yielding a great deal of juice, it is rich in essential oil and has a fresh, sweet fragrance. No wonder that the Menton lemon is loved by chefs and highly prized by gourmands all over the world.

The Lemon Festival is the second biggest event on the Cote d’Azur after the Carnival of Nice which happens around the same time every year. Why not kill two birds with one stone and visit them both while you’re in the area?

Even dinosaurs are created with the town's many lemons!
Even dinosaurs are created with the town’s many lemons!

250,000 Visitors a Year

Menton’s Lemon Festival is a unique regional event which attracts nearly ¼ million visitors every year – more than the Monte Carlo Grand Prix – and involves the hands-on participation of over 300 professionals. A staggering 145 tons of lemons and other citrus fruits are required every year to create a myriad of stunning citrus sculptures and decorations that are displayed all over the town for the duration of the Festival.

Come and see Menton burst into life with zest and color as fruity floats and street partying takes over for three weeks in February.

Festival highlights include:

Golden Fruits Parade

Come and watch the high energy Sunday parades and colorful celebrations which are the undisputed highlights of the Lemon Festival.

Street artistes, brass bands and folk groups keep crowds of onlookers entertained with high jinks while the magnificent fruit floats wind their way through Menton’s pretty streets all the way to the seafront. Expect to see giants, horses, dinosaurs, elephants, Buddhas and many other zany citrus creations, along with fanfares and confetti all the way.

Night Parade and Fireworks

In the evening, it’s time to party in the streets, with music and dancing and a parade that has a touch of mischievousness about it. At night, a spectacular fireworks display lights up the sky above Menton – a magical sight to behold.

Citrus Exhibition

During the Lemon Festival, the Jardin Biovès gardens are given a complete transformation with dazzling sunshine colors.

In a tradition going back to the 1920s, every year almost 15 tons of citrus fruit are used to create truly wonderful sculptures of giant proportions up to 10 meters high, all over the park.

It takes thousands of hours of painstaking work to complete these magical statues made entirely of individual ‘golden fruit’ – a truly astonishing sight you won’t want to miss.

Gardens of Lights

Take a walk through the Jardin Biovès gardens after dark and be captivated by the magic of the light. The Gardens take on a new look as the play of light sparkles and creates amazing visual patterns on the orange and lemon monuments and citrus sculptures to stunning effect.

Listen out for unusual sounds that combine with the strange creatures of the light – and marvel at this magical and enchanting place of wonder and surprise.

Arts and Crafts Show

The Lemon Festival wouldn’t be complete without a chance to taste the Menton lemon. Come and sample the citrus flavors and local foods that make up Menton’s gastronomic delights in a market setting.

See local artisans present their wares which include glass engravings, ceramics, pottery and wooden sculptures – and shop to your heart’s content.

Mike James

Mike James is a freelance writer from London, he works  for South France Holiday Villas.

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Casablanca, the Miami of Morocco https://www.gonomad.com/105417-casablanca-the-miami-of-morocco Wed, 14 Feb 2018 18:20:37 +0000 https://www.gonomad.com/?p=105417 During WW2, Casablanca was a large staging area for all American aircraft and the setting for the classic Hollywood love story. To take advantage of the publicity surrounding the Allied invasion of North Africa, Hollywood hastened the release of the motion picture.]]>

The Hassan II Mosque is the largest mosque in Morocco and one of the largest in the world.
The Hassan II Mosque is the largest mosque in Morocco and one of the largest in the world. Cindy Lou Dale photos.

Why we’ll always have Casablanca

A fruit stand in a back street.
A fruit stand in a back street.

By Cindy Lou Dale

The international jet-set claim to have uncovered a few Moroccan cities, waxing lyrically about the ‘real’ thing they’ve discovered in the narrow streets and complex passageways of medinas.

Yet none of them mention Casablanca, except as a transit point, dismissing it entirely, quickly moving onto Fes, Rabat or Marrakech, which is one of the many things that makes Casablanca appealing – the total lack of tourists.

Some 3,000 years ago, Casablanca began life as a Berber community. Through the centuries it’s been governed by Roman, Arab, Portuguese, Spanish, British and French regimes but gained independence in 1956.

Now it’s Morocco’s largest city and the country’s main port which explains a
few of its rough and industrialized zones. Yet it’s also one of Morocco’s most multicultural cities, with upmarket boutiques, fast-food chains and arguably some of the best nightclubs in the country.

The living quarters in the Old Medina.
The living quarters in the Old Medina.

Overshadowed Casablanca

Casablanca has long been outshone by the legendary alternatives of Tangier, the primitive ways of Fez and the exotic world of Marrakesh. A century ago, when the French ruled, they set about revamping the Portuguese-built seaport, converting it into a Parisian-styled showcase, demonstrating their colonial influence – an art-deco pleasure dome of European culture.

Now, other than the gorgeous sweeping curved balconies of its art-deco buildings, Casablanca is totally modern.

This is where money is being made, where young Moroccans come to seek their fortunes and where business and the creative industries prosper.

Despite its shaded arcades, chic shops, and lavish palm-lined avenues, art-deco Casablanca has not forgotten its roots. You don’t need to look to hard to find carts laden with seasonal vegetables and fruit, children playing with marbles, street goats grazing on scraps of tattered newspaper and old women sitting in doorways fanning themselves in the afternoon heat.

The sparkle of Casablanca is found in the souk.
The sparkle of Casablanca is found in the souk.

Door-to-Door Vendors

Industry of old still holds sway with door-to-door knife sharpeners, tailors in crumbling windowless shops, water-sellers and street stalls brewing tea infused with fragrant mint. This is what makes Casablanca appealing.

Flea markets, souks and antique shops overflow with loot left by the French. Like the treasure trove of the ‘Soco de Moina’ flea market where you’ll find grand pianos, mahogany sideboards, cast-iron safes, immense crystal chandeliers, champagne flutes, silver ice buckets from the 20s, gramophones, two-piece telephones, tinplate toys, accordions; and because Casablanca’s developers shun architectural salvage, you’ll have your pick of wide porcelain washbasins and 30s roll-top baths.

During WW2, Casablanca was a large staging area for American aircraft and is where, at the 1943 Casablanca Conference, Churchill and Roosevelt discussed the war’s progress.

Inside ABC Cinema and the start of the movie.
Inside ABC Cinema and the start of the movie.

The Movie

Just weeks after US troops saw their first WW2 action in, of all places, Casablanca, the now-classic Hollywood love story, Casablanca, premiered in New York City.

War-time Casablanca was in the news across the world and to take advantage of the publicity surrounding the Allied invasion of North Africa, Hollywood hastened the release of the motion picture.

Initially a box-office slow burner, Casablanca went on to win three Academy Awards. Gradually its reputation grew which, together with its pervasive theme tune and memorable lines of its lead characters, gained it a timeless status, remaining forever linked to that moment in history.

Movie buffs around the world will know that 2018 is Casablanca’s 75th anniversary and the best place to view it is on the widescreen of the restored art-deco gem, ABC Cinema, which again glitters with cinemas goers.

The story-line of Casablanca is iconic: it’s a romance featuring Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman, star-crossed lovers (reputedly, both on and off screen). Set in WW2, it focuses on an American expatriate who must choose between his love for a woman and helping her and her husband, a Czech Resistance leader, escape from the French-controlled city of Casablanca to continue his fight against the Nazis.

It puts each of its characters in a disparaging position, living under a dictatorial system which compels them to choose how they will react when faced with unthinkable evil. It charmed audiences during the darkest days of World War II, and its message is still relevant today.

 

The signage at the top of the stairs when entering Rick's Cafe.
The signage at the top of the stairs when entering Rick’s Cafe.

 

After the movie, take in a drink at Rick’s Café, the legendary ‘Gin Joint’ of Casablanca’s cinematic fame. It may be as clichéd as they come, but this tribute bar and restaurant, run by a former American diplomat, is both endearing and atmospheric. American crooners dominate the soundtrack when pianist Issam takes a break.

There's nothing that gives you more insight into a city than its street food.
There’s nothing that gives you more insight into a city than its street food.

Putting aside black and white thoughts of Bogart and Bergman, you cannot dispel Casablanca’s magic which draws you into its cosmopolitan art galleries, designer stores, cutting-edge nightlife and restaurants like Basmane, where statuesque belly-dancers pick up the pace.

You can spend time and money in the giant Morocco Mall, which is the largest in Africa, or better yet, visit the old medina and the souks which are a colourful and noisy explosion of skirts, laughter and baskets, of vibrant bolts of cloth and cards of bright, shiny buttons – your senses are crushed under the weight of it all.

Here buying and selling is not so much an economic exchange as an essential social transaction. This is where the past stays present.

Find out more about Casablanca

 

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Yellowstone in Winter https://www.gonomad.com/105778-yellowstone-in-winter https://www.gonomad.com/105778-yellowstone-in-winter#respond Wed, 14 Feb 2018 15:15:57 +0000 https://www.gonomad.com/?p=105778 Yellowstone: Visiting the nation's premier park during the less crowded winter season brings moments of silence, stillness, and great beauty. Contemplating the wilderness in winter.]]>
Seeing a wolf in Yellowstone, which can be a rare occurrence, can cause visitors to jump wildly for joy!
Seeing a wolf in Yellowstone, which can be a rare occurrence, can cause visitors to jump wildly for joy!

Winter in Yellowstone – Silence and Solitude in Abundance!

By Donnie Sexton

An overpowering stillness surrounds me.

The only thing I hear is the crunching of the snow beneath my feet and my labored breathing, having hiked around the Old Faithful area in Yellowstone National Park for a solid 45 minutes in cold

A series of boardwalks take visitors around all the colorful features of steamy Norris Geyser Basin.
A series of boardwalks take visitors around all the colorful features of steamy Norris Geyser Basin.

weather. All that stuff that normally clutters my mind on an hour-by-hour basis has taken a back burner to the steaming landscape, the rippling Firehole River and endless animal tracks punched into the snow. Yellowstone has me in her grip. 

Most of the snowcoaches that operate tours in Yellowstone now feature oversized snow tires that make for a sometimes bouncy, but quiet ride.
Most of the snowcoaches that operate tours in Yellowstone now feature oversized snow tires that make for a sometimes bouncy, but quiet ride.

Our Nation’s Oldest Park

Yellowstone, the first and oldest national park in the US, sees way too much love from visitors in the summer.   Over 4,250,000 visitors made their way to Yellowstone in 2016, and that number continues to increase. 

In the heat of summer, it can be frustrating to find a parking spot open in the many pullouts that provide access to the natural attractions.  But come winter, with roads closed, the crowd scene is all but gone.

If you’re willing to put in the effort it takes to explore the park in the offseason, you’ll find yourself in an otherworldly place steeped in beauty and rich in wildlife.

Exploring the Heart 

One road remains open in Yellowstone year round, and that is the section from Mammoth Hot Springs at the north entrance to the tiny hamlet of Cooke City, Montana.   From the comfort of your car, you’re likely to pass by herds of bison in Lamar Valley.  This stretch is also a favorite for spotting the wolves of Yellowstone. 

When you see a few cars and people out with huge spotting scopes, you can bet they are focused on a wolf pack. 

The wily coyote has ample room to roam in the 2.2 million acres of Yellowstone National Park.
The wily coyote has ample room to roam in the 2.2 million acres of Yellowstone National Park.

But I wasn’t about the drive.  I wanted to get into the heart of Yellowstone, and in winter, that’s only possible via snowcoach or guided and non-guided snowmobile tours.  There is something to be said about a ride in a warm snowcoach sans the bulky winter clothing, helmet, and clunky boots needed on a snowmobile. 

So, I opted for the snowcoach tour, starting at Mammoth Hot Springs, and day tripping to the Snow Lodge in the Old Faithful complex for an overnighter.  Like all other winter visitors to Yellowstone, I was hoping to see plenty of critters amid the wintery landscapes.

Bring On the Bison

Once aboard the snowcoach, we bounced along through forested land with sweeping views of distant mountains alternating with snow-laden meadows.  At one turn, a herd of frosted bison came ambling down the road toward us and passed mere inches from my window.   Score!  I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect shot of these massive creatures!

Norris Geyser Basin

Nothing like a herd of frosted bison hogging the road in Yellowstone to bring on excitement within the safety of a snowcoach.
Nothing like a herd of frosted bison hogging the road in Yellowstone to bring on excitement within the safety of a snowcoach.

The first stop was Norris Geyser Basin, where we negotiated the slippery boardwalks through this geothermal area thought to be over 115,000 years in the making. 

Norris is also the hottest thermal area in the park, with recorded temps of 459 degrees Fahrenheit. The colors at Norris are more varied than a giant sized box of crayons.  

Deep turquoise pools to brilliant green mats, along with rivers of gold, ochre and every possible shade of brown were fascinating.  A pungent sulfuric smell, akin to rotten eggs, added to the sensory experience of Norris.   

Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone

From Norris, we headed to the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. Here we would see the iconic Lower Falls of the Yellowstone River, likely the most photographed formation in the Park. 

The River typically plunges 308 feet into a deeply chiseled canyon, but in winter, it had turned into a massive green tinted icicle.

 

While it creates a notable roar in the warm season, The Lower Falls of the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone becomes a silent frozen beauty in the winter months.
While it creates a notable roar in the warm season, The Lower Falls of the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone becomes a silent frozen beauty in the winter months.

The Grand Canyon with its salmon-colored walls dusted in snow cradles the Yellowstone River.  This body of water remains the longest undammed river in the US.  I was feeling mighty small standing at the edge of this immense landscape.

Wolf Sighting

Mammoth Hot Springs serves as the park's headquarters and is home to a series of travertine terraces that are constantly changing in color and water flows.
Mammoth Hot Springs serves as the park’s headquarters and is home to a series of travertine terraces that are constantly changing in color and water flows.

All the snowcoach drivers stay in touch via radio to report anything noteworthy.  The excitement was building as news crackled through of a bison kill with a pack of wolves on it.  This was that killer shot I was hoping to get.

Sure enough, we rounded the corner to see both snowcoaches and snowmobiles stopped, spotting scopes set up and people eyeing something barely visible to the naked eye. 

Six wolves were feasting on a carcass all right.  Everyone was so excited to see wolves, except for me.   That darn kill was barely, I mean barely visible from the road.  Sadly, there was no need to pull out the camera.

Old Faithful Being Faithful

By late afternoon, we pulled into the Old Faithful complex.   Old Faithful, the granddaddy of all geysers, was due to erupt about an hour after our arrival.  She blows about every 90 minutes or so.  Except for our party of six, the place looked deserted. 

To kill time, I wandered off alone on a snowy path to explore and found myself enveloped in stillness. 

In those moments of solitude, I was overcome with an appreciation for nature – every track in the snow, every bit of rising steam from a vent hole, the undulating patterns of the Firehole River — seemed magnified in my senses.  I was truly “in the moment” and the satisfaction was almost surreal, having all my senses focused completely on Yellowstone.

On the average, Old Faithful erupts about every 90 minutes to heights that range from 106-184 feet.
On the average, Old Faithful erupts about every 90 minutes to heights that range from 106-184 feet.

I found my way back to watch Old Faithful start hissing and spitting up and finally erupting some 130 feet into a bluebird sky.  I had no idea where the rest of my party was. Seems like that geyser was putting on a three-minute show just for me.

A New Day and New Sights

The next morning, a new day brought softly falling snow from gray skies.  It was back in the snowcoach now headed towards the parks’ west entrance at West Yellowstone. 

Along the way, we stopped to explore lower Geyser Basin, where all sorts of geysers and fumaroles were spitting and spewing, along with mud pots gurgling like a pot of chocolate boiling on the stove. 

 At one point, I came eye to eye with a coyote on the boardwalk, who like a gentleman, stepped off and let me pass while he walked to the side.  We counted 152 bison on the last leg of our tour, some at close range swinging their large heads back and forth pushing the snow away to reach the grass.

In The Moment

Trumpeter swans can frequently be seen on the Yellowstone and Madison Rivers of Yellowstone, gracefully floating with the current.
Trumpeter swans can frequently be seen on the Yellowstone and Madison Rivers of Yellowstone, gracefully floating with the current.

Once back into civilization in West Yellowstone, I quickly reverted to my daily life of checking messages on my phone and responding to emails.   I used to think that working at the remote Snow Lodge all winter would be too desolate and lonely for me. 

Yet everyone I met there relished their job.   Perhaps they are the lucky ones – living in the moments of stillness and tranquility that the park affords during the winter and getting by without so much clutter of the mind.

Yellowstone Details

The winter season for park tours starts when enough snow has accumulated, usually by mid-December and ends in mid-March.  The only winter lodging available within the park is at Mammoth Hotel (which will close for the 2018-19 winter season for renovation) and the Snow Lodge at Old Faithful. 

The upscale Snow Lodge has a serious degree of coziness.   A large lobby with a roaring fire, restaurant, bar and gift shop with rentals of cross-country skis and snowshoes covers the bases for a great visit.   There are plenty of accommodations just outside the park both in the towns of Gardiner and West Yellowstone, Montana. 

A list of these businesses that provide guided snowcoach and snowmobile tours can be found at Yellowstone National Park.

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Google Flights: A Quick Way to Find Cheap Fares https://www.gonomad.com/6499-google-flights-virtual-travel-agent https://www.gonomad.com/6499-google-flights-virtual-travel-agent#comments Tue, 13 Feb 2018 02:22:16 +0000 http://gonomad.com/google-flights-virtual-travel-agent/ Google Flights has new features that allow travelers to plan their whole trip. This site publishes maps that show the costs of flights to go there. Now with My Trips you can access all of your reservations from Gmail and explore destinations you want to visit.]]>

Google Flights allows you to search by interest, date, and destination
Google Flights allows you to search by interest, date, and destination

Google Flights: A Game-Changing New Tool for Travelers

 Google Flights has changed the game of online booking.
Google Flights has changed the game of online booking.

By Jackie Cohen

Scattered over the internet are scores of flight-finding websites, all promising the same things—that they will find you the absolute dirt cheapest flight.

So the problem becomes choosing which website to use—Expedia? Kayak? Cheapflights? Travelocity?   Anyone who has had to do flight research is likely to have wished for a simpler and easier way to find this information. For many people, it’s that the sites give too many options, and it’s all confusing.

An internet giant has recently emerged, however as a serious competitor for these well-established sites. Google Flights doesn’t just find you the most affordable tickets—it assists in planning the entire trip, transforming the way that people travel.  This development may be bad news for people in the travel booking business, but for consumers, this makes your next trip a little easier.

Google Flights has been around since 2011, when, according to a Wired article,  they purchased ITA Software, a Cambridge, MA-based company responsible for Matrix, a public airfare search engine. While there were initial questions raised about antitrust issues (because ITA licensed software to several different flight search sites like Kayak), it was approved by the Justice Department that year

While Google Flights has existed for five years,  the site was revamped in 2015 to provide a more streamlined experience and was further updated earlier this month—so what’s new?

2018: a year for new features

Google Flights is by far the most user-friendly and all-encompassing trip planning platform available. Just when you thought they had added every possible feature you’d ever need, the enhance their site even more. This year, the tech giant has tweaked their software to create an even easier user experience.

Now, the Google Flights mobile interface now allows users to search and toggle between both flight and hotel options, for a more cohesive experience on the go when time is of the essence. The addition to new “Explore” and “My Trips” pages. These tabs allow users to seek out options for their next destination and neatly organize their travel plans, with the ability to check off completed tasks like flights, accommodations, and other reservations pertaining to one trip or another.

When it comes to travel tools, Google is making a shift from advertising based features to product-led ones, strategically advertising partner airlines and hotels via their travel booking platform.

While other travel metasearch websites like Kayak or Skyscanner are well established with an online base, Google Flights now lets you organize your trip from start to finish without leaving their site. Track your entire trip itinerary with Google Flight’s new travel tools and platform features.

Planning your perfect trip 

google flights
Google Flights

Most travel websites that focus on finding you the cheapest flight assume one thing in particular—that you know where you want to go, and when. But what if you were unsure of what you wanted to do, or didn’t have a specific week in mind?

This is where Google Flights comes in. On the landing page, there are options to plug in your airport, location, and dates of choice—like many other flight-finding websites. Below, however, Google Flights gives you some other options that users would be hard-pressed on other sites.

For example, if you wanted to go somewhere for a week in April, Google Flights would display a list of cities with the cheapest airfare available—flying out of Logan, you could go to London for $510, or Chicago for $90, or Montreal for $220.

Click on the link, and Google sends you through to the list of available flights—so even if you don’t like the details of the cheapest flight (maybe there’s a long layover or no free checked baggage)—there is a list of other competitively-priced flights also going to London or Chicago or Montreal that same week. Users can also search by continent—so if you are looking to jet off to Europe or South America, but are unsure of what country to visit, Google can help you decide which destination is the most affordable.

Another very interesting feature—one that’s perfect for people who don’t know where to begin planning their trip—is the ‘interest’ filter. Google provides several different options—Adventure travel, beaches, culture, ecotourism, food, honeymoon, islands, nature, outdoor recreation, shopping, wildlife and winter sports—and travelers can approach planning their trip through these options.

Looking for a one week trip to Europe, focusing in on eco-tourism? Google suggests going to Glaskogen or Drangedal, flying into Oslo April 8 for $389. Do you have two weeks in June free, to check out the culture of South America? According to Google, you can visit Bogota, Colombia from June 9-22, where there are concerts, culture, music, museums, architecture, and markets to keep you busy—for a mere $481.

Other features

In addition to trip planning, Google has a host of different features—little things that prove themselves to be very useful.

Travelers can see if their flight has WiFi
Travelers can see if their flight has WiFi

Each listing states whether or not the flight in question has wifi and plugs available.Some airlines, like Lufthansa, allow travelers to book directly through Google.

Travelers can see if their flight has WiFiTravelers can filter their search by alliances, in particular, Oneworld, SkyTeam, and Star Alliance, so that they can plan their trips depending on whether or not they have miles or points to redeem.

Google Flights also provides lists of hotels available in the area, which can be filtered by price, rating, amenities, and class. The page displays the list accompanied by a map, so travelers can see where the hotels are located and their price.

Feeling ambitious? Click “I’m Feeling Lucky” on the map and Google will choose the location for your next trip based on your search history, with a graph to show you when flights will be cheapest.

 

 

What are people saying?

Max Hartshorne, the editor of GoNOMAD, cited a few examples of his readers who have been using Google flights and are now enthusiastic fans. One fellow travel editor said he always used to use Kayak but that the interface was too complex, there were simply too many choices.

“The way Google Flights presents the different airline options is simpler and easier to use. And having the prices show up all over the map is new, something that really simplifies things and can point out alternative airports that might not come to mind.”

Hartshorne also said that one of their travel writers planned a recent trip to Guadalupe, simply because she found such an outstanding low fare ($99 roundtrip) to the island she could not pass it up.

“We never planned on going to Guadaloupe, but when we saw that killer fare from LaGuardia, we decided that was the island we would visit.  Combine the great fare with a fantastic Air BnB condo, and they got a sun-drenched winter vacation for peanuts!” She now uses Google flights to help her friend’s book trips!

What do the travel agencies say?

There is no question that Google Flights is transforming the way that people book their flights and plan their trips. But can a search engine replace the experience of a travel agent? Some say yes—Huffington Post even wrote a post titled “6 Google Flights Tricks That Are Better Than Any Travel Agent.” But Vicky Puza-Allen, a travel agent with Easthampton Travel, disagrees.

According to Puza-Allen, flight finder sites like Kayak, Hipmunk, and—yes, Google Flights—are considered third party search engines, meaning that travelers are not dealing directly with the airline, which, in some cases, can be problematic. If there’s ever a problem with a flight—cancellation, rescheduling, or overbooking—Puza-Allen said that travelers are usually out of luck.

“There is no phone number to call those websites,” she comments. “There’s no one to go to if something goes wrong.”

And travel agents, Puza-Allen argues, can help travelers rebook their flight and resume their vacation before other travelers using third-party sites can even find a way to begin to remedy their problem.

And, according to Puza-Allen, travel agents will never go out of style.  Forbes magazine agrees since they published this article “Ten Reasons why You Still Need a Travel Agent.

“People prefer a personal touch or service…who actually care, [instead of a] computer,” she says. “As a travel agent….we’re that person.”

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Macedonia: The Unfinished City of Skopje https://www.gonomad.com/105546-macedonia-the-unfinished-city-of-skopje https://www.gonomad.com/105546-macedonia-the-unfinished-city-of-skopje#respond Mon, 12 Feb 2018 21:56:06 +0000 https://www.gonomad.com/?p=105546 The city of Skopje, in Macedonia, is full of huge statues of men on horseback. Some of the attractions appear to a work in progress, but the city is worth a visit and looks wonderful in the evenings.]]>

Skopje, Macedonia: The path leading from Stone Bridge to the Warrior on a Horse.
Skopje, Macedonia: The path leading from Stone Bridge to the Warrior on a Horse.  Anne Marie Dimech photos

Skopje: a work in progress

By Anne Marie Dimech

With some places, you know exactly what to expect before you even get there. In other cases, you have no idea what awaits you. For one curious traveler, Skopje, Macedonia, fell into the latter

The author studies her guidebook on Skopje at a cafe in the city.
The author studies her guidebook on Skopje at a cafe in the city.

category and then surprised her with its unusual mix of the very old and the brand new.

Before my trip there last August, the only thing I knew about Skopje was that it is full of monuments and the only thing I knew about my visit was that it was going to be very hot.

The Main Square

I was right on both counts. As we got off the bus at the terminal in Skopje, we were greeted by an oppressive heat wave that would accompany us throughout our time there, and as our taxi drove us into the centre, I noticed one grandiose monument after another in the city’s squares and roundabouts, with one particularly recurring theme of horses mounted by men in various poses.

A suspicious lion guarding one of the many monuments.
A suspicious lion guarding one of the many monuments.

I soon found that these were, however, just a prelude to the real deal: the huge Warrior on a Horse that can be found preening on its pedestal in the sprawling main square, Plostad Makedonija.

This square is impressive, in part because of its vastness, but also due to the elegance of its buildings.

I found it especially atmospheric in the early evening when the lights come on and locals and tourists gather for drinks and dinner in the outdoor seating areas of the many bars and restaurants that line the square.

I especially enjoyed dining at the Pelister, where the outdoor restaurant area is embellished by plants and intricately wrought iron arches, the food is good, and photo ops of the Warrior on a Horse are just a few steps away from your table.

All those statues

My impression of the rest of the modernized part of the city center is more ambivalent. Walking away from the square towards the old bazaar there’s Stone Bridge (Kameni Most),  a plain, sturdy landmark which has for centuries served as a passage across the Vardar River. This deposits you into another, smaller square which has had two gigantic monuments squeezed into it.

Evening in the city of Skopje, Macedonia.
Evening in the city of Skopje, Macedonia.

One is a fountain topped by a statue of a victorious Philip II of Macedonia, standing tall and looking across the river towards his son Alexander the Great, the aforementioned warrior who occupies pride of place in Plostad Makedonija. The second is another large fountain, this time dedicated to the Mothers of Macedonia and adorned by a number of statues depicting different stages of motherhood.

It is impossible not to appreciate the beauty of the individual statues, however, the overall effect is bewildering. The monuments seem overbearing and garish in a space that feels more like a thoroughfare than an actual square.  In addition, when I visited there was a fair bit of construction work going on all around, which made the area seem dusty, untidy and unfinished.

Works in progress in Plostad Makedonija.
Works in progress in Plostad Makedonija.

The old soul

Thankfully, this ill-conceived development is soon forgotten as the old part of town is reached. Skopje’s old bazaar (Stara carsija) is the legacy of 500 years of Ottoman rule in Macedonia, and finally reveals a bit of the soul of the city.

Yes, there are parts that have been taken over by rows of dingy, dodgy looking bars blaring out offensive music, but for the most part, it still feels refreshingly authentic.

By this, I mean that rather than a tourist amusement park, it looks like a place where a Skopje resident might plausibly spend a morning shopping and running errands. While there are some souvenir shops, the majority of the shops sell household goods, clothes, shoes, jewelry and wedding dresses.

I visited once in the afternoon and once in the morning, and without a doubt recommend saving the exploration of this area for the morning, since in the afternoon it was nearly eerily quiet, with a good number of shops already closed or in the process of closing.

The morning brought with it a bustle of activity, which made wandering around the bazaar much more interesting. The streets weren’t as narrow and convoluted as I’d hoped they’d be but this was more than made up for by the complete lack of the hustlers which I’ve come to expect whenever I visit such bazaars in other countries.

The shop owners we spoke to were polite and helpful; one even walked us to the Church of the Holy Salvation (Sveti Spas church), one of the sights we wanted to visit but had trouble finding.

Historic landmarks

The bazaar, which has been around in one form or another since at least the 12th century, packs in a good number of places of interest. Through a mix of chance, design, and lack of time, we only managed to visit three: the above-mentioned church, the Mustafa Pasha mosque, and Kale fortress, all of which can be found just above the Old Bazaar, a short distance away from each other.

In case you’re wondering, these are all historic sites; the bazaar is recognized as cultural heritage and has thus been protected from the fanciful building of monuments to which the rest of the city has been subjected.

Both Sveti Spas church and Mustafa Pasha mosque are well maintained and worth a visit, not least because they incidentally both sit within charming, peaceful courtyards. While a small entrance fee needs to be paid to access the church, entrance to the mosque is free of charge.

The interior of the Mustafa Pasha Mosque.
The interior of the Mustafa Pasha Mosque.

At the church, one of the guides explained that the church was partially built underground in order to ensure that its tower was no higher than any of the minarets in Skopje, and he also pointed out the famous carved wooden iconostasis.

Once we got to the mosque, we didn’t come across anyone and were free to roam around and explore both the inside of the mosque and the surrounding garden. Kale Fortress was similarly unmanned, but unlike the mosque, it looks like it’s been more or less abandoned.

It sits on the highest hill in Skopje and provides sprawling views of the city below, but there’s nothing that indicates what any of the ruins are, and access to some parts is difficult and unsafe.

The Kale Fortress
The Kale Fortress

Back in the center of the bazaar, we stopped for a break at the kebab restaurant kebapcilnica Destan, which is situated on a busy corner, with its outdoor seating making it perfect for resting tired legs as you watch the world go by: the ideal way to wrap up a visit to the old bazaar.

Men at work

We spent our final few hours in Skopje walking around the newer part of the city, where various other places of interest, as well as a good number of smaller statues, are scattered among high street shops, hotels, and restaurants. Every now and again we encountered a large Skopje tourist map which indicated our location and included photos of the landmarks present in the surrounding area.

After a while, I noticed that quite a few of the pictures of these landmarks had little yellow ‘men at work ‘ signs next to them, which meant that these places of interest were still in the process of being built. And that’s when I understood how much of a work in progress the city truly is.

While Skopje is not an obvious tourist draw, I’d encourage anyone visiting the country to spend a day or two in the capital. I’m certainly glad that I did. My visit helped me to catch a glimpse of Macedonia’s past, get a good look at its present, and above all, feel the country’s eagerness to continue to grow and evolve into the future.

Ann Marie Dimech

Anne Marie Dimech is a pharmacist who has discovered that her wanderlust is incurable, so she alleviates the symptoms by traveling as often as possible. She lives on the island of Malta.

 

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Ireland’s Most Popular Tourist Attraction: Guinness https://www.gonomad.com/105410-irelands-most-popular-tourist-attraction-guinness https://www.gonomad.com/105410-irelands-most-popular-tourist-attraction-guinness#respond Fri, 09 Feb 2018 15:51:20 +0000 https://www.gonomad.com/?p=105410 The Guinness Factory at St James Gate is the most popular tourist attraction in Ireland, not only because the beer is so famous, but the interactive displays and history is very interesting and the tour includes beer samples.]]>
Inside the vast Atrium at the Guinness factory at St James Gate, the most popular tour in Ireland. Robert Archibald photos.

Through the Looking Glass – St. James’s Gate Dublin

By Robert Archibald

The museum contains many, many of the old posters promoting the beers over the centuries.
The museum contains many, many of the old posters promoting the beers over the centuries.

Like Alice through the looking glass, I passed through the entrance at St. James’s Gate, Market Street, Dublin. This is the Guinness Storehouse, Mecca to beer drinkers the world over and the number one visitor attraction in Ireland.

This seven-story warehouse is not the brewery, although it is located on the brewery grounds. It is a Guinness museum tracing the story that began over

View of Brewery and Dublin from The Gravity Bar
View of Brewery and Dublin from The Gravity Bar.

250 years ago and, as you proceed up the escalators, ends at the Gravity Bar with a spectacular 360 degree of Dublin. Here you can enjoy a pint of any of the Guinness growing selection of fine beers.

Interestingly, in Ireland, as in most of Europe, the floors of a building are counted with the first being “ground” and what we in the US would call the second floor is the “first” floor.

Looking up from the ground floor it can be seen that the central atrium extending up through the fifth floor is shaped like a giant pint glass!

See inside the Safe

The journey begins here with the basic ingredients of Guinness: the water, the grain, the hops, and of course, the yeast. Peek through the cracked open door of an old metal safe to see a vial of the proprietary yeast strain used to brew Guinness.

Hear the water dramatically cascading over a glass waterfall as you walk under the flow.

A Lovely Day for a Guinness!
A Lovely Day for a Guinness!

On display, under heavy tinted glass in the floor, is the actual lease signed by Arthur Guinness in 1759 granting the brewery the rights to the land and the water for an astounding 9000 years at an annual rate of £45. As their current advertising claims, “We still have a lot of beer to make.”

In 1775, the clause of the lease granting free water rights was challenged as described in this quote from the Guinness Archives:

“Arthur Guinness was a determined man, particularly in defense of his rights. The brewery lease granted him free access to a water supply. In 1775 the Dublin Corporation tried to make him pay for this access by sending the sheriff with a body of men to cut off his water source.

Arthur responded vigorously by seizing a pick-ax from one of the men and declaring ‘with very much improper language that they should not proceed’. He won his point and the brewery maintained its vital free water supply.”

A Woman Needs a Man Like a Fish Needs a Bicycle. One of the funny displays at the Guinness Storehouse in Dublin.
A Woman Needs a Man Like a Fish Needs a Bicycle. One of the funny displays at the Guinness Storehouse in Dublin.

Seems he was also a bit of a Mad Hatter!

Ultimately, this led to Mr. Guinness entering into a second lease agreement in 1784 granting the water rights for the brewery for the 8975 years remaining in the original lease at an annual rate of £10.

Making Beer Barrels

Proceed to the first floor where visitors learn about the manufacture of wooden cooperage (beer barrels) and the means by which Guinness has been distributed throughout the world over the years.

There are huge old wooden and copper fermentation vessels as well as large, scale models of Guinness freight ships and a locomotive once used to transport product and materials about the 50-acre brewery site. Some of the rails are still visible on the cobblestone streets outside.

Moving up to the second floor, the tasting experience begins. This is a multi-sensory introduction to what comprises the distinctive flavor of this iconic stout.

The Aroma Diffuser at Guinness.
The Aroma Diffuser at Guinness.

It starts with diffusers separating the aromas and flavors each being identified on their own to understand how they come together to produce the complete experience.

Then, at last, a sample of the stout. My first thought is, “What, this tiny little glass is all I get to try?” No, there will be more to come. In this tasting, the small glass is used to better display the color.

Most everyone will identify Guinness as black or very dark brown but, when viewed properly, it is discovered to actually be a dark ruby red color with the distinctive rich creamy tawny white head.

Guinness Advertising

On the third floor, discover the world of Guinness advertising. Originally, Arthur Guinness relied solely on his good name and the quality and reputation of his product to promote sales.

This continued as the company was passed down from father to son through five generations creating a brewing dynasty and the largest brewery in the world. It wasn’t until 1929 that an official advertising campaign was launched.

The perfect taste of fresh Guinness Stout.
The perfect taste of fresh Guinness Stout.

Here, visitors can browse through over 80 years of Guinness advertising history. From the first advertising slogan “Guinness for Strength” to “My Goodness, My Guinness” featuring the character, Gilroy, who watches over a collection of zoo animals, each bent on keeping him from enjoying his Guinness.

Many iconic characters were created. There was the Whistling Oyster, the Bicycling Fish, a kangaroo with a Guinness in her pouch, a seal balancing a Guinness on his nose, a pelican with a beak full of bottles, an ostrich swallowing a glass of Guinness and many, many more.

The most well known is the Toucan with his “Lovely Day for a Guinness” tagline which is still in use today. There are even quite a few of Lewis Carroll’s Wonderland characters!

Old Fermentation Vessels.
Old Fermentation Vessels.

The harp logo was first used by Guinness in1862 and was registered as the Guinness Trademark in 1876. The logo has been redesigned a number of times over the years.

The Famous Harp

The Guinness Harp over the years.
The Guinness Harp over the years.

The harp is also the official national emblem of the Republic of Ireland. However, the Irish Free State Government was established in 1922 and since the Guinness Trademark was registered in 1876, the Irish government had to turn their emblem around the other way to not infringe upon the Guinness Trademark. The Guinness harp always appears with the straight edge to the left and the government harp always has the straight edge to the right.

Original print and poster ads, television and today’s digital advertising are all there for visitors to relive or experience for the first time. Many of characters appear in larger than life sculptures, some, like the oyster and the fish, are animated.

Browse through the many different bottles, cans and the labels as they have evolved through the years.

Or peruse the computer screens to scroll through the many different print advertisements, many of them in the sophisticated black and white line drawing cartoon style of the time.

The Art of the Pour

The fourth floor houses the Guinness Academy where you can learn “The Art of the Perfect Pour.” The perfect pour of Guinness has been determined to take exactly 119.5 seconds from the first surge to the final settlement. How long it takes to enjoy the perfect pour is entirely up to you!

A waterfall in the Guinness Storeroom.
A waterfall in the Guinness Storeroom.

This is where you get your full pint of the “black stuff” and, you get to pour it yourself. First, you are shown by a Guinness professional how it is to be poured from the Nitro tap. Yes, draft Guinness is served on a nitrogen charged draft system as opposed to a more common CO2 (carbon dioxide) system.

Then, it is your turn. After you have poured the perfect pint, it is yours to enjoy and you are presented with a certificate bearing your name and the date you crafted “The Perfect Pint of Guinness.”

Fifth Floor Dining Hall

Go on to the fifth floor for the Brewer’s Dining Hall for a bite to eat featuring Guinness inspired dishes and desserts in a cafeteria style with an open kitchen. Or, try the 1837 Bar & Brasserie for a dining experience with a bit more hearty fare or, just enjoy your Guinness at Arthur’s Bar, a tribute to the traditional Irish Pub. No tea party here!

Finally, up to the top and the Gravity Bar for the panoramic view of Dublin. Here you can enjoy the full range of the Guinness products while looking out over the city.

The windows are posted with information as to what sights can be seen in the direction you are looking out. This is a great venue for getting pictures of both the city and the brewery grounds.

View from the Gravity Bar at Guinness, Dublin.
View from the Gravity Bar.

No fan of history, Guinness, or just beer in general, should miss the opportunity to visit the Guinness Storehouse. The history alone is worth the price of admission. And, while there is no tour of the brewery itself, you will leave fully satisfied with the experience.

Allow yourself plenty of time as there is much to see, hear, smell, and, of course, taste.

Before you leave the Warehouse, shop through the extensive gift and souvenir shop. Here you will find a wide assortment of Guinness merchandise; glassware, kitchenware, hats, sweatshirts, and t-shirts are just a start to what is available. Many of the items are exclusive to the Warehouse and cannot be found elsewhere.

Details for a Visit

Guinness Storehouse
St James Gate, Market St.
Dublin 8, Ireland

website

Stop #14 on the City Sightseeing Hop-on Hop-off bus tour

The Guinness Storehouse is open 7 days a week

9:30 am – 7 pm (last admission is at 5 pm)

During July and August: 9 am – 8 pm (last admission is at 6 pm)

Closed on Good Friday, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day & St. Stephens Day.

At the time of this writing, Adult Entry starts at €14.00 and children are welcome accompanied by an adult.

Robert ArchibaldRobert Archibald, of Colorado Springs, CO, is a freelance journalist and blogger. Bob has been homebrewing for over 20 years. Besides beer and brewing, his passions include gardening and travel. He worked at a craft brewery for several years where they used his homebrew recipe for their Christmas Ale. Follow his homebrewing blog, 100 Bottles of Beer, at cohomebrewguru.com and his travel blog, Travels with Bob & Deb, which he co-writes with his partner, Debbie Alexander at bobndebtravels.com

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Senegal’s Favorite Sport, La Lutte, with Mr President https://www.gonomad.com/105530-senegals-favorite-sport-la-lutte-mr-president https://www.gonomad.com/105530-senegals-favorite-sport-la-lutte-mr-president#respond Thu, 08 Feb 2018 16:09:38 +0000 https://www.gonomad.com/?p=105530 Senegal: Inside a 60,000 seat stadium, elaborate preparation and swagger as two contestants enter the ring for La Lutte, or The Struggle, a popular sport in West Africa.]]>
Inside a 60,000-seat stadium, fans of the Senegalese sport of La Lutte get ready for a match. Beetle Holloway photos.
Inside a 60,000-seat stadium, fans of the Senegalese sport of La Lutte get ready for a match. Beetle Holloway photos.

La Lutte: the simplest yet most confusing sport in Senegal

By Beetle Holloway

Two men fighting in a ring. As contests go, they don’t tend to come simpler. Whether ‘striking’, ‘grappling’ or a combination of the two, the general aim of submission is prevalent in all.

Across West Africa, the ancient practice of La Lutte (‘the struggle’) tends to fall into the wrangling end of the scale, but in Senegal, the rules are somewhat different.

Fighters get ready to grapple in the dirt ring in Senegal.
Fighters get ready to grapple in the dirt ring in Senegal.

Inside the 20-meter diameter ring, a heady mix of boxing, martial arts and sumo. Outside it, a cross between the Olympics opening ceremony, a talent show, and a political rally.

A Tannoy public address system wails at deafening volumes throughout. For what should be a very simple concept, it’s one of the most bizarre, confusing spectacles I have ever witnessed.

Getting in

The Stade Leopold Senghor is a vast, 60,000 capacity oval stadium in Dakar’s Grand-Yoff region and getting into it is as much an experience as what was to come. Vast swathes of locals mill around the edge of the stadium’s perimeter chanting, whooping and honking. Touts abound with red wristbands. Armed police angrily conduct the human traffic.

We are guided towards the official kiosk, a black-windowed SUV parked behind the stadium’s gated façade, before smuggling 10,000 CFA ($19) through the grills in return for a flimsy red wristband adorned with the President’s face and the main event: Modou Lô vs Lac de Guiers 2.

Modou Lô - the Roc de Parcelles Assainies - and his team in the build-up to the fight.
Modou Lô – the Roc de Parcelles Assainies – and his team in the build-up to the fight.

The intoxicating whiff of yassa (onions, garlic and lemon) from baguette vendors greet us as we make our way into the stands. We choose our seats behind chocka-block rows of Senegalese men in the half-full stadium; sporadic smatterings of fans roam around the concrete ledges of the ‘cheap seats’ at the stadium’s hips.

Modou, also known as ‘Le Roc de Parcelles Assainies’, is not due to don his loincloth for another two hours, but there is so much more to the Lutte than just the fight.

The Mayhem

A giant sand circle sits upon a square white tarpaulin like a coaster in the middle of a faded football pitch. A 400-meter running track encircles it all. There is movement everywhere. Tribal-dressed drummer packs play variations of bum dada dum as masked dancers gyrate to the crowd.

Rows of armed police, equipped with berets, boots, shields and truncheons, stand in non-uniform lines. Dignitaries clad in full Senegalese national dress, pace back and forth offering handshakes.

Some athletic individuals are jogging with a 20-strong entourage. Other athletic individuals are being swarmed by camera crews. The crowd is roaring at intermittent, seemingly random, intervals.

Refreshment vendors wander the rows of plastic seats armed with peanuts, tangerines and soft drinks. A make-shift TV studio welcomes VIPs on stage.

First, the Undercard Fights

The Leopold Sedar Senghor stadium at 6pm having just taken our seats. Two hours before the main contest.
The Leopold Sedar Senghor stadium at 6pm having just taken our seats. Two hours before the main contest.

The undercard fights dent the coaster. It’s like every circus act going on concurrently in one place. All to the clangorous din of tinny speakers – as if someone was remonstrating angrily with their radio whilst it was playing white noise.

The ineffable racket is temporarily halted to announce ‘President de la Republique Macky Sall’s arrival; the crowd on their feet. The President’s name was then flung across the stadium with careless abandon every minute or so.

The entertainment

The President took his pew on the perimeter of the running track in front of the ring. Throughout the preliminaries, he and his ministerial-esque entourage – a wave of western-style suits and full Senegalese boubous – were entertained by a variety of dancing troupes.

The first appeared like the cast of a Midsummer’s Night Dream, swiftly followed by medieval court jesters clad in Senegal’s red, gold and green.

Later, young men in multicolored tracksuits displayed their breakdancing prowess, before giving way to a line-dancing showdown: blue shirts and white robes squaring off against those in gold and brown checks.

The almost-exclusively male crowd provided another source of distraction, reaching a crescendo at apparently innocuous moments. A VIP waving afforded a booming clamor; a fighter stretching received two-fist air punches.

The fighting

When finally able to take stock of the fighting, the rules appeared straightforward. There is a ring, with two frames of bulging muscles clad in loincloths, and that’s it. Ancient and primal. A straight fight with no gloves or helmets. Get the opponent on the floor or out the ring. Or so we assumed.

The lutteurs would be introduced, the referee would step back, and the fighters would start pawing like cats with arms outstretched, attempting to distract their opponent. Then there would be a flurry of wild punches and feints, maybe a grapple, wriggle or entangling before a fighter would face the sand.

One ‘featherweight’ fight was over in seconds: a barrage of punches, jabs and hooks to all parts of his opponent’s body; an uppercut to the jaw landing him on the deck. The celebration: the victor sprinted 30 meters towards the stands, jumped over festival-style railings and beat his fists on his breastplate. Peanut shells ejected from laps in front of us.

The heavyweight fridge-freezers would find themselves locked together in attritive tussles. Shoulders contorting over the arms of their opponents. The bodies coming together to form a bridge or occasional Eiffel Tower. Then, it was over. No blow landed. Someone had won somehow. Seeds would be flung into the air. Wheelchairs would perform 360s.   

The build-up

The lingering scent of testosterone in the bleachers was worthy of the truculent battles down in the sand. But this was just the preliminary rounds. The Amateurs.

All the while, the confusion swirled. The angry male commentator was replaced by an even angrier female commentator, imposing involuntary grimaces every few seconds. Spectators threw bags of fruit to other spectators. More roars, more track-runners, more dancers, more VIPs, more police and more presidential shout-outs. You didn’t know where to look.

Yet, for so much going on, there was nothing really going on. As night drew in and a cool chill swept across the stadium, the occasional flare would light up the murky grey-blue sky. The tension was clearly building. A febrile atmosphere engulfed the stadium. The armed police started to take up positions facing the crowd; berets off, helmets on. The President’s stand moved from the running track to the pitch. The crowd was seated.

Any camera shot of Modou, the 18-time winner and fan favorite, was greeted by sacerdotal chanting of his name. A small child behind us wearing shorts and gloves started dancing maniacally: his wide grin never faltering as he interchanged punches, lunges and karate kicks.

A momentary rest bite from the wailing, as the Tannoy played a mix of the Games of Thrones theme and Europe’s The Final Countdown. If you didn’t know something epic was about to take place, you did now.

The main event

squaring off in the ring

The President, along with around 50 others, goes on to greet the fighters before battle. The National Anthem rings out; the stadium on their feet. Its finale kickstarts a wild frenzy. Small white birds are released by members of the crowd: as confused as us, they appear intoxicated by their surroundings, dipping and diving around the arena. The man in front starts to crouch and sway uncontrollably, his hands stroking his shaven head relentlessly.

In the ring, the two warriors stand meters apart. Achilles and Hector. The referee steps back. Howls, wails, peanuts, seeds, President Macky Sall! The cat pawing feints turn into swings into grappling into shunting into punching. The ref makes a call, the body of the gloved-boy becomes possessed.

Is that it? The preliminary fights had lasted just one round, but they go again. The emphatic music blares in the background as they embrace each other for most of a 15-minute second round. The ref’s call greeted with more seat smacking and snack-throwing. Destiny abounds.

One round, a fighter is on the floor, another, he is out the ring, yet still, they continue. I ask a nearby supporter shouting ‘Modou Modou’ what is going on: he replies energetically in Wolof and I pretend to understand.

Back to the grappling and then suddenly its over. Modou has won. Lac de Guieres 2 has his hands in the air. A virtual bomb detonates in the crowd – roars, hugs, deep breaths – then everyone rushes to the exit.

We stand stranded in the middle as a stampede of supporters hurry to the stairs. No-one stays to see any sort of victory belt or parade or interview; the stadium of around 20,000 empties within five minutes. The three referees are escorted off the coaster by armed guards. The President’s entourage disappears without a trace. The only people remaining in their seats are the few Westerners and those with small children.

I had no idea what I had just witnessed. I wasn’t entirely sure who’d won or how he won (supposedly fewer infringements). The only thing that I knew for certain was that President de la Republique Macky Sall was there. 

Beetle Holloway is a British freelance writer, copywriter and pseudo explorer, who likes to pretend he’s living off the beaten track.

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