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September 27, 2013
IT IS GOOD TO GATHER
So far, 2013 has been a great year for Irish tourism. Record numbers of American tourists have come in search of their Irish roots. In fact, plane lots of tourists from all over the world have set foot onto the Emerald Isle. Why the sudden surge in popularity? Well, it is no accident. It is all to do with the enigmatically named 'The Gathering'.
As a concept, The Gathering might sound as old as the hills, but it is actually only a recent creation. Five years ago, the idea of a tourist initiative that would bring people to Ireland from all the world - a sort of global homecoming - was first mooted. It was to be a sort of celebration of the bonds that link people together.
And a celebration it has certainly been so far. The Gathering is actually a very big party. It kicked off with a traditional New Year's Eve festival in Ireland's capital, Dublin
. Other high-level events have included the Rose of Tralee Festival in August and the All-Ireland Football Championship. Even Riverdance came home.
Individuals and communities all over Ireland also seem to have whole-heartedly embraced the idea. Towns and villages have celebrated anniversaries. Clan gatherings have brought together everyone from the MacKennas to the O'Neills.
So far, the more unusual get-togethers have included the Redhead Convention in County Cork
, which included a freckle-counting competition and carrot-tossing championship. In the Left-Handed Festival at Mullingar in County Westmeath, visitors celebrated their left-handiness with such activities as left-handed golf and pub games.
With a fair few weeks to go before the end of 2013, there is still time to squeeze in a few autumnal Gatherings - around 600, to be precise. They include Cork Rebel Week in October and the Sligo International Choral Festival in November. Then, of course, there is NYE Dublin, surely the party to end all parties. Which is perhaps why it is better known as 'the ultimate Gathering'.
Posted by Sue at 12:00:59 on 27/9/2013
September 20, 2013
TURKEY MAKES THE TOP SPOT
This summer, a handful of countries battled it out for the title of most-booked holiday destination in Europe. Greece and the Balearics came pretty close to winning, but it was Turkey that eventually came out on top. That is according to the European travel company TUI Travel, which this week released information about the habits of this summer's holidaymakers in over a dozen countries.
When we think of a holiday in the sun, Turkey fits the bill for most of us. Sunshine is, after all, guaranteed here from April right through until November. Turkey's sandy beaches and azure blue seas are a major draw; so too is the country's reputation as a centre for water sport enthusiasts. What is more, many of its resorts are perfect for families and are reasonably priced.
Above all, though, Turkey has something that many other summer holiday destinations lack - it boasts an impeccable and impressive cultural heritage. Amidst the natural beauty of its towns and villages are remnants of some of the world's earliest settlements and civilisations.
It is fair to say that, in Turkey, you are never that far from an ancient city or two. Take Bodrum
as an example. Home to the Tomb of King Mausolus, it is incidentally, also one of the Seven Wonders of the World. The historic resort town of Side is still surrounded by its ancient walls and is the site of an impressive Hellenistic theatre. Thousands of tourists venture each year up the slopes of Mount Nemrut to see for themselves the collection of huge statues that rise mysteriously from the side of this remote mountain. Fethiye is blessed with beautiful stretches of beach and ancient ruins that date back to Roman and Byzantine times.
Meanwhile, more and more visitors thinking about their next short city break destination are choosing to come to Istanbul
. In recent years, this ancient Turkish city has managed to reinvent itself to become one of the leading urban holiday destinations. Here, the past and the present are happily brought together to create an East-meets-West city that buzzes with Turkey's rich cultural heritage, as well as a fair amount of cosmopolitan chic.
Posted by Sue at 12:23:55 on 20/9/2013
September 16, 2013
IN PURSUIT OF A CHRISTMAS WITH A DIFFERENCE
As the last of the summer sun fades from view, I can't help but turn my mind to what comes next. Autumn brings woolly jumpers, golden leaves and cosy nights in. Winter brings the prospect of snow and ice and, of course, Christmas. In case you are counting, by the way, it is a mere 14 weeks away. Time to start making those all-important plans.
I love Christmas, with all its attendant traditions. I don't even mind the winter weather, so long as it doesn't go on for too long. For some people, though, the festive season - with all the tinsel and twinkling lights it entails - is a holiday that is best avoided.
Many reluctant Christmas revellers opt to throw off the winter woolies and head for a holiday in the sunshine. Bondi Beach in Australia attracts thousands of tourists who are keen to swap turkey and Christmas pudding for barbecued seafood and salad. Likewise, dancing the festive season away on a cruise ship might sound tempting. So, too, could spending your days lying under a palm tree on the Caribbean island of Cuba sipping a rum-based cocktail.
If none of those alternative Christmas ideas tickle your fancy, there is always the options of joining the thousands of people who converge on a beach in Goa
every December. 'Sunburn Goa' is an annual festival that combines a holiday in the sunshine with a beach-based electronic music extravaganza. It is widely regarded as the face of dance music in Asia. One thing's for sure - it certainly makes a change from carol singing.
Posted by Sue at 10:21:04 on 16/9/2013
September 7, 2013
This summer, I fell in love with Scotland. Or to be more precise, I came to appreciate the beauty and splendour of the Scottish Highlands and Islands. It is not as if this was my first visit to the area; I had, after all, ventured north several times. This summer though, the weather was unbelievably kind to us. We were granted superb views of mountain peaks and awe-inspiring vistas that were unfettered by low-hanging clouds. The fact that the infamous Scottish midge kept a low profile certainly helped, too.
We stayed in that most famous of Scottish valleys, Glencoe. In recent decades, Glencoe has won itself many accolades, from being Scotland's most historic glen to being its most romantic. It has also earned a reputation for being the most tragic, as visitors soon find out when they step through the door of Glencoe's visitor centre. After you've read about the Massacre of Glencoe, it is hard to stand and look down the glen without thinking about what happened on that fateful February morning in 1692.
For me, though, Glencoe and the surrounding area is all about the scenery and the fantastic opportunities for getting your hiking boots muddy. We scaled the heights of Ben Nevis - along with many other people that day - to be welcomed by unbroken blue sky and the sort of views that take your breath away. Inspired, we went on to bag the 'Munro' of An Gearanach, a magnificent ridge near the Glen Nevis gorge. Our boots took us to the Lost Valley, also known as Coire Gabhail, where the MacDonalds were said to have hidden their cattle. Battling against strong winds on the Devil's Staircase to Kinlochleven, we followed a thin but steady line of hikers on the West Highland Way.
After long days in the mountains, we were content to wander up the road from the Glencoe Independent Hostel to the nearby hiking-friendly hostelry, the Clachaig Inn, where we discovered that there was such a thing as vegetarian haggis (thankfully).
On wet days - yes, there were inevitably going to be a few of them over the course of the fortnight - we headed underground into the Cruachan Power Station, a marvel of Sixties' engineering buried deep beneath the 'hollow mountain' of Ben Cruachan. We took a trip to the pretty harbour town of Oban. Later, we sailed the choppy dark waters of Loch Ness. Sadly, Nessie did not put in an appearance.
At the end of the holiday, we drove back through Glencoe and watched as the mountains retreated in our rear view mirror. Then we started to make our plans for coming back next year.
Posted by Sue at 14:24:21 on 7/9/2013