Twinkle, Twinkle: See the Northern Lights

They sparkle, flash and dance in the winter skies like the fires of heaven itself, or, if you prefer, the lights of Valhalla, or Nirvana… What, exactly? The Aurora Borealis of course: the Northern Lights. Those who have been lucky enough to see them do indeed frequently refer to the experience as a near-religious one, or at the very least a very up close and personal encounter with the mystical wonders of Mother Nature.

The lights and colors, shapes, streaks and sounds of the Aurora Borealis are never the same twice. The vibrant hues of light – pinks, azures, greens, bright golds and countless more – can often appear quite otherworldly, unearthly. Seeing the Northern Lights is on the bucket list of many an everyday adventurer – but where are the best places to go to see this wonder of the natural world? Here is the lowdown on the Northern Lights, plus some tried and tested viewing places where you can go to experience this unmissable phenomenon…

What are the Northern Lights?

Commonly known as the Northern Lights, the official name of Aurora Borealis was named after Aurora, the Roman goddess of the dawn. The phenomenon occurs when highly-charged electrons emitting from the solar wind collide with a variety of atmospheric elements within the ring that surrounds the North Pole.

The Northern Lights do not appear in the same way each year. They tend to work in an 11-year cycle with highs and lows of activity. The best time to see the lights is undoubtedly starting from December into the New Year. There is of course no way of predicting the exact dates the Aurora Borealis will appear, but there are certainly a number of key places to visit where you will have the best chances of seeing the light show of your life.

1. Norway – The Frozen North of Svalbard

As a rule, the higher the latitude of your destination, the more likely you are to be able to get a significant glimpse of the sought-after lights. The first thing that you need to know is that Svalbard is incredibly far north. It is located between the 74th and 81st parallel, all the way into the Arctic itself. The Northern Lights may appear here at any time between November and February.

This part of the word has many other wonders too, not least the manifestation of the Polar Night. From the middle of November until the end of January, Svalbard has no daylight. There is only a blue twilight when the day is at its lightest, which means that everyone has a far greater chance of seeing the Aurora. Even if you don’t get lucky enough to catch the Aurora Borealis, then you still have the option of trying to spot reindeer, walrus, polar bears and other Arctic life: if you loved Frozen Planet, you’ll love Svalbard.

You can reach Svalbard by flying from the UK to Oslo, then flying onto Longyearbyen which is the primary settlement on Svalbard and the best base from which to visit the region. There are a number of viable hotel options. Alternatively, make your way up from Tromso.

2. Finland – Your Own Igloo in Kakslauttanen

The Kakslauttanen Arctic Resort is the best Northern Lights location to visit in Finnish Lapland. Enjoy the pleasure of lights-gazing as you stare out of the sky from a glass igloo; stay in a traditional log cabin which will warm your deeply chilled cockles with its sauna and open fire. Should the lights fail to flicker into life, then try a thrilling reindeer safari, or hiking through Urho National Park to fill in the time.

You can fly from Manchester, London and Edinburgh to Ivalo, stopping off in Helsinki, or if you prefer, sly straight into Helsinki and make your own way up north.

Northern Lights City Break

3. Sweden – Bond with the Ice in Jukkasjärvi

Have you heard of this remote village? You may, as Jukkasjärvi. in the Kiruna region of Sweden, is home to the country’s first ice hotel. There are night flights which you can take to see the Northern Lights that operate from Jukkasjärvi and when the stars align so that you can actually see them it is truly remarkable.

However, should they fail to appear, then take a tour of the Esrange Space Center. From there you can gaze across Sweden’s starry, starry nights and wait for the Aurora Borealis to appear. Alternatively, you could go wild and indulge in a little snowmobiling. Also, you should note that you don’t have to stay in an ice hotel, there are other options. To reach Jukkasjärvi you have to get to one of the more remote areas of Sweden, arrange a flight to Stockholm then fly, drive or catch the train to Kiruna.

4. Iceland Easy Ride to Reykjavik

One of the great advantages of heading off to Reykjavik to see the Northern Lights is that it is far more accessible than the above sites, which in turn makes it more affordable than the more remote locations. Moreover, while the lights are clearly one of the main attractions, you can find other things to keep you happily occupied in Iceland. The Blue Lagoon is a treat whatever the time of year; there are many places where you can go snowmobiling and skiing. As much of Game of Thrones was set there, there is also a whole industry catering to showing the super-fans the key sights.

Hotels aren’t cheap, but you can shop around on Skyscanner hotels. There are also many reasonable flights from EasyJet and other budget airlines. Oslo, if you are so inclined, visit Greenland afterwards by flying there from Reykjavik. This is far more hard-core lights hunting, but the Aurora Borealis is visible from late September to early April.

5. Fly Off to Northernmost Canada

Long-haul flights are rarely cheap, which, for most people, makes Canada far more expensive compared to the other Norther Lights destinations. However, the Aurora Oval covers the provinces of Yukon, Northern Saskatchewan, Newfoundland, Nova Scotia and British Columbia, Northwest Territories, which makes you highly likely to see the lights in this magical, faraway spot. Plus there are amazing accommodation options, lots and lots of snow sports. Fly to Canada with any major airline, such as British Airways.

Wine Tasting: Season of Good Cheers!

Christmas is the season of many glorious colors. It is the season of goodwill to all men, ‘tis the season to be jolly and ‘tis definitely the season of a little over-indulgence. What better way to toast the most wonderful time of the year than with a spot of the very best vino or, as the immortal line from that fabulous film, Withnail and I, goes:

“Bring me the finest wines available to humanity!”

Most of us love to enjoy a spot of the good stuff at Christmas. But how can we decide what the best wines are within our budget range? Easy, simply go along to a festive wine tasting and sample, sample, sample away to your heart’s content. There are a whole range of wine tasting experiences to have fun with out there. We take a look at three of the best in the UK, all of which will ensure you end up with a cellar from heaven with which to celebrate all 12 days of Christmas… and possibly beyond.

1. Alternative Office Party – Virgin Wines

You may be looking for something a brilliant night out with a difference for your staff to enjoy this year. The standard office party can be fun, but after a few years of dull nibbles, dodging the mistletoe held by that guy from accounts and sipping tepid mulled wine by the photocopier, you might want to step things up a gear.

Whether you are a group of colleagues or friends, there are many companies out there who will build a wine-tasting package to suit your needs. A company such as Virgin Wines excels at this. They offer tastings which feature what they describe as “great quality, boutique wines”. Their ethos is based on working directly with small independent wine makers who focus on hand crafted wines.

One of their main types of wine event is the Wine Challenge Tutored Tasting. These tasting are a world away from what some people imagine wine tasting to be like – there is nothing stuffy or too formal about them. Instead, Virgin Wines engage guests by splitting them into teams and taking them through fun wine-related tasks during which the teams compete against each other. At the heart of this competition lies the tasting element: the event, which typically lasts from 1.5 to 2 hours and includes all the required equipment, will take the guest through the experience of tasting 8 hand crafted wines.

With Virgin Wines there are Gold Standard Tastings of 8 wines worth between £8 £12 per bottle for £30 +VAT per person and Gold Premier Tastings of 8 wines worth between £8 £20 per bottle plus welcome bubbly and prizes for the winners (max. 6 people per team) for £45 +vat person. They also offer bespoke tastings.

2. Unhurried Sampling Vinopolis

You had better hurry if you want to grab a chance to experience a festive wine tasting at the celebrated Vinopolis, the venue which allows you to discover new wines at your own pace.
When you arrive at Vinopolis in London you’ll be given your “key to wine”, a pre-loaded debit card with electronic tokens which you will use throughout the experience. Next a dedicated wine host will welcome you with a 15-minute ‘How to Taste’ introduction where you will learn the basics of tasting wine with a free glass of white wine. As you sniff, swirl and slurp you’ll learn about the bouquet of the wine, or the variety of aromas that you can smell.

Then once you’ve completed the introduction you’ll be free to make the most of all the eight wine tasting and educational zones at your leisure. If you register your wine debit card at one of the touch screens you will have the added bonus of receiving your tasting notes by email after each visit.

You can use Vinopolis’ electronic tokens to sample 25ml of the wines or enjoy a taste of spirits from Enomatic machines which ensure the drinks are always fresh tasting, of the ideal aroma, body and color and served at their optimum temperatures.

The Vinopolis experience gives visitors the opportunity to sample wines that they might not otherwise find in their local supermarket. In addition, there is a Champagne bar and expert wine hosts are always on hand to help with questions and recommendations based on your taste profile.

Remember you will have to hurry. The last ever Vinopolis Festive Wine Experience is open from 2nd to 20th December (closed Mondays and Tuesdays) before the doors close on this unique experience for good.

Home Tastings Pieroth

Finally, you may prefer a wine tasting that you can enjoy in the comfort of your own home. Pieroth first introduced home wine tastings in 1953. Nott surprisingly then, Pieroth’s wine representatives genuinely are passionate about wine and will expertly guide you through your Home Wine Tasting in a relaxed, convivial manner.

Spend an enjoyable evening looking into choosing wines, pairing wine with food, storing wines and simply learning a lot more about wines from their vineyards in France, Italy, Australia, South Africa, German wines from the Nahe region. The Pieroth consultants are both friendly and knowledgeable.

Evenings like this can go a long way towards ‘demystifying’ wine – in other words, you will finally be able to ask any questions that you were reluctant to ask in other you can always rely on the sound advice of our committed and knowledgeable team of wine consultants.

The world of wine can appear daunting, full of jargon and somewhat intimidating. Your personal wine tasting is your opportunity to learn everything you always wanted to know about wine but were too afraid to ask.
Plus, in your group of two to eight people, you will have the opportunity to sample at least 10 quality wines during a 60 90 minute session, at a location of your choosing.

Cheers! Happy Wine Tasting

So, hurry now to book a tasting that will get your office party swinging or help you select the finest wines for your Christmas table. Whichever type of tasting you choose, it is bound to be great fun. Bottoms up!

7 Handy Ways To Make Some Quick Cash For Christmas

The Christmas season is almost upon us. And while this is traditionally a time for giving, it is also notoriously expensive. Sometimes that early December paycheck just won’t cover all the expenses of the Christmas festivities. Well, fear not. There are a multitude of ways to shuttle some extra cash into your bank account in time for some last minute shopping.

These ideas won’t replace your day job, but as handy side earners you can certainly earn some quick cash for Christmas and make the holidays a little merrier.

1. Sell Your Services Online At Fiverr

Do you have a skill that can be useful to someone else? Chances are the answer to that question is yes. Whether you can draw a mean portrait, write like Stephen King, or you just have a nice voice, Fiverr has the potential to be a nice little earner for you. This is a platform where buyers pay $5 dollars for “gigs” offered by sellers and there are endless possibilities on the types of services you can offer.

Most buyers on Fiverr are online business owners looking to have small projects completed. This commonly includes blog posts, logos, and graphic design work. But, you can also find success doing something as simple as posting a video review.

It is quick and easy to start earning with Fiverr. Simply sign up on the website, post a gig describing the services you offer and sit back. If your service is in demand you will soon see the orders rolling in.

2. Get Creative On Etsy

If your skills are of a more hands-on nature, you prefer to make stuff, then Etsy is the place for you. Billed as “the world’s most vibrant handmade marketplace”, Etsy allows individuals to sell their crafts online and get paid quickly. There are other places to sell such items, of course, but few are as niche-specific and well-established as Etsy.

The proves is quite simple. List your item for sale and as soon as someone buys it you get paid via PayPal. There are Etsy service fees to consider, but you can easily factor those into your pricing to ensure you make a nice profit from your sales.

3. Trade Your Old Stuff On Amazon

Like many people, you probably have a pile of old electronic devices, books and video games gathering dust in a cupboard – most of it probably from last Christmas. Well, why not use the Amazon trade-in store to get rid of this stuff and earn a little coin in the process.

The trade-in process at Amazon works like this: submit your items to see how much Amazon will pay you for them if the price is satisfactory, ship the items for free and receive Amazon gift card credits. Okay so it’s not cold, hard cash, but you can trade in goods that you hadn’t previously purchased at Amazon, plus the they sell pretty much everything you will need for Christmas anyway.

4. Throw A Virtual Yard Sale On Facebook

Let’s face it, you probably already spend an unmentionable amount of time on Facebook – hey, we all do! We’re not judging. But the popular social networking site is not just about cute cat pictures and other people’s babies. You can actually use it to fuel that much-needed cash injection.

You do this by taking advantage of virtual yard sale groups on Facebook, which most cities now have. Here, people buy, sell, and trade all manner of things in their local area. This can be a lucrative opportunity if you have a lot of unused things laying around. The groups are a way to quickly offload unwanted goods while earning a pretty penny.

Head to Facebook search and type in “[name of your town] online yard sale” to see what comes up. If nothing comes up for your town, expand your search to a neighboring town and beyond to the county if necessary. You are sure to find a group to ply your wares.

Make sure you practice safe trading, though. Do your due diligence on any sale you make – ensuring the person you are selling to is legit – and always meet people you do not know in a public place.

5. Teach The World To Speak English

The English language is one of the most sought after in the Western hemisphere, and thousands of non-English speakers head online every day hoping to sharpen their linguistic skills. This is an area where demand outweighs supply and represents a nice money-making opportunity for you.

At Cambly, you can get online and tutor others in the art of speaking English and get paid a little pocket money for your efforts. To be precise, you get paid $10.20 per hour and twice per month directly into you PayPal account. What’s more is that you don’t need any previous teaching experience to begin. Work whenever and wherever you want.

You will need to have a computer with decent internet connection and a webcam, as well as a Smartphone with recording capabilities. Sign up quickly if you want to make the Christmas payout, though.

6. Test Websites And Get Paid

Companies are willing to pay for people to test their websites. This helps them to better understand how people interact with the site and spot any need for improvement. The work is usually very simple and testing a website doesn’t take a lot of time. However, the pay is very generous.

There are numerous companies you can sign up with to become a website usability tester (and it is recommended that you sign up with a few). The remuneration will vary between $8 to $12 for 15 to 20 minutes of work. You can also expect a quick payout too, typically within a few days of test completion.

The downside of this work and the reason we recommend signing up for a few different companies is that the work might not be regular. Most tests are announced via email and will be on a first come, first serve basis. It can prove challenging to grab as many gigs as needed to fill the hole in your paycheck with this opportunity alone.

If you are interested in testing websites for money, check out the following companies:

• What Users Do – Pays $8 per test
• User Testing – Pays $10 per test.
• TruMyUI – Pays $10 per test.
• YouEye – Pays $12 per test.

7. Make Money From Your Idle Computer

Lastly, why not put your idle computer to good use by selling its power when it’s not in use. Yes, that is actually a thing. The company is called SpotCloud, and they allow people like you to sell unused cloud capacity. You can essentially earn a little extra change from your idle computer while you are out Christmas shopping. Head over to SpotCloud to find out more about how this works.

Hopefully, you will find at least one of these ideas fruitful in bringing in some extra cash for those costly Christmas expenses. Why stop at just one idea? Try a few and enhance your chances of earning a fistful of cash in time for the Holidays.

How to Keep Your Credit Card Info Safe Online

Companies go to great lengths to keep their data safe, but data breaches still happen. When they do, it can be devastating for the victims whose personal or financial information has gotten into the wrong hands.

But don’t be scared away from shopping online this holiday season – just take some steps to up your security and reduce the chances that your data will get stolen. Here are some simple, non-techy DO’S and DON’TS to help keep your credit card safe online.

DO keep systems and software current

Make sure all your programs and software – including your internet browsers and your operating system – are up to date on your computer and your phone. It can be annoying to stop and update everything, especially if you’re right in the middle of something, but it’s important, as updates often fix security holes and address other potential problems. It only takes a few minutes, so be sure to do it.

Your computer may check for updates automatically, or you can do it manually and install any available updates. You might need to restart your computer or phone after updating so the changes can take effect.

DO screen for viruses
Install an anti-virus, anti-spyware, anti-malware program on your phone or computer if you don’t already have one. If you already have one, make sure it’s updated! There are lots of free and low-cost programs that offer great security features.

DO check the address

If you’re entering sensitive information like a credit card number, make sure the URL starts with “https” rather than the regular “http.” The “s” stands for “secure” and means that data transmitted will be encrypted.

DO avoid if it looks fishy

Avoid scammy pop-ups and too-good-to-be-true email offers. Don’t click on links in emails sent from addresses you don’t recognize, and never, ever download anything sent to you from suspicious email addresses, either. If you’re not sure whether something is legit, search online to get more information or ask for a second opinion from someone who’s internet savvy.

DO opt for double verification when possible

Some websites and programs let you do a two-step process where, for example, you not only have to login with your password, but you also need to enter a code sent to your phone. If this option is available, take it.
DON’T pick debit over credit

If you’re trying to decide between paying with a debit card and a credit card at checkout, choose the credit card. While both have many security features, the simple fact is that someone with your debit card information can clear your account leaving you with no cash until the matter is sorted out by the bank. Also, depending on the laws where you live, you may find yourself liable for a larger amount of fraudulent charges racked up on your debit card versus your credit card, even if you didn’t know your information had been compromised.

DON’T visit shady sites

Many browsers will warn you if the website you’re about to visit poses a security risk. If it does, avoid it! If you click through, you may be the victim of a “drive-by download,” where malware installed by hackers instantly downloads on your computer. It’s not worth it.

DON’T store credit card numbers online

It’s so easy to just pay with a single click! But storing your credit and debit card numbers online is riskier than taking the three extra minutes to get your card and enter in the number new each time you shop.

DON’T use public networks for online shopping

Entering payment information and contact details on your computer using your password-protected network is the safest way to shop online. Even if you’re on your Smartphone, connect to your own password-protected network if you’re at home before putting in payment details. Information transmitted via an open network – like the free Wi-Fi at your local coffee shop – can be intercepted. What if that coffee shop’s network is password protected? It’s still a no-go. Hundreds or thousands of other people may have the same password, so it’s not doing you any favors. Stick to casual surfing when you’re out and save the shopping for home.

DON’T download just any app to your phone

Some clever hackers create apps that look like apps of legitimate companies but are just a way to get your info. If you’re not positive that the app you’re about to download really comes from the source, check the store’s website online, as it will probably have information and may even send a link to your phone that leads to the real app.

One final DO: DO keep an eye on your statements

Regularly check your credit and debit card statements to make sure everything looks right. If it doesn’t, call your bank or credit card company immediately and tell them what happened.

Stay safe and happy shopping!

Around the World: 7 Can’t-Miss International Holidays and Where to Celebrate Them

There’s nothing like St. Patty’s Day in Dublin or Carnival in Rio. But where else should you go to do holidays up right? Here are 7 can’t-miss celebrations and the cities to experience them in.

Chinese New Year in Beijing, China

February 8, 2016
January 28, 2017
February 16, 2018
February 5, 2019
January 25, 2020

Based on the Chinese lunisolar calendar, the date of this holiday changes every year. Celebrations are held all over China but you can’t get much better than the capital city for pulling out all the stops.

It starts with a traditional New Year’s Eve dinner featuring fish, dumplings, rice cakes, and spring rolls. Many people wear red clothes and decorate their homes (after cleaning them) in red for good luck. Fireworks outside top off the evening.

But that’s not the end. The celebrations last another 15 days, and in Beijing you can take part in popular temple fairs featuring market stalls and entertainment. Although traveling in China at this time can be challenging, those who have done it say it’s worth it.

Mardi Gras in New Orleans, Louisiana, U.S.A.

February 9, 2016
February 28, 2017
February 13, 2018
March 5, 2019
February 25, 2020

Mardi Gras, or “Fat Tuesday,” is always the day before Ash Wednesday, which is the start of Lent in the Christian calendar. As Lent is a 40-day period during which many Christians give up alcohol, sweets, or other indulgences, Mardi Gras is a celebration of the last day before lent where you can really party.

New Orleans is known for its Mardi Gras celebrations because of the incredible floats that travel the parade route. “Krewes” are in charge of creating the floats from which they toss out colored beads, toys and novelties to the festive crowds.

After the parade, adults can live it up in the French Quarter, where they can drink, marvel at the wonderful costumes, and continue to give and get beads. (There are many ways to get beads, but let’s just say that some are not kid-friendly.)

Holi in Mathura and Vrindavan, India

March 24, 2016
March 13, 2017
March 2, 2018
March 21, 2019
March 10, 2020

This Hindu festival celebrates the spring and occurs around the time of the vernal equinox every year. The main event is an unstructured free-for-all where adults and kids run round getting people with colored powder or colored water. The holiday has religious significance as a time of forgiveness and thanksgiving and is also a time for people to just have fun.

Experience Holi in Mathura and Vrindavan, towns in the north between New Dehli and Agra, where celebrations last for a week. Holi has special significance to towns in this region as they hold a strong association with Lord Krishna.
Festival of San Fermín and Running of the Bulls in Pamplona, Spain
July 6 – July 14

The Festival of San Fermín celebrates one of the patron saints of Navarre but is best known for the incredible “running of the bulls” spectacle, where hundreds of brave souls run down the streets of the city being chased by six bulls and six steers. Ernest Hemingway’s description of this deadly event in The Sun Also Rises is largely responsible for making the festival famous outside of Spain.

While the running of the bulls is the centerpiece, the festival also features a rocket launch on the first day, nightly fireworks, a parade featuring “giants” and “big-heads” costumes, a procession, and an event called “El Struendo” whose only focus is to produce as much noise as possible for hours on end. Around a million people come to Pamplona in northern Spain to celebrate.

Oktoberfest in Munich, Germany

Oktoberfest in Munich

September 17 – October 3, 2017
September 16 – October 3, 2017
September 22 – October 7, 2018
September 21 – October 6, 2019
September 19 – October 4, 2019

The other celebrations on this list date back hundreds if not thousands of years and are rooted in religious or pagan rituals. Not so with Oktoberfest, which became a yearly tradition after the 1810 celebration of the marriage of Crown Prince Ludwig to Princess Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen featuring horse races and wine and beer tastings.

These days, the two-week-plus festival opens with a twelve-gun salute, the tapping of the first keg, and parades. Only certain types of beer can be served at Oktoberfest, and only if it’s brewed in Munich. Just as famous as the beer are the enormous beer halls, the folk music bands, and the traditional Bavarian costumes.

Day of the Dead in Oaxaca, Oaxaca, Mexico

November 1 – November 2

On Día de Muertos or Día de los Muertos, people remember and pray for loved ones who have died. Rather than being a sad and somber affair, it’s a chance for people to enjoy the memories of those who died and celebrate their lives with flowers, food, and gifts for the deceased. Children may dress up in costume, and people may build altars at home. The striking visual element of highly decorated, grinning skulls is the hallmark of The Day of the Dead.

The best place to celebrate is in the south of the country, in cities like Oaxaca, which features a parade full of singing, dancing, and people in costume.

New Year’s Eve in Sydney, Australia

December 31

Like all major cities, Sydney celebrates the New Year with fireworks. What makes it different from other major cities is that it’s one of the first in the world to do so, being so close to the International Date Line. Plus, because it’s in the southern hemisphere, it’s summertime in December in Australia, so you won’t freeze yourself waiting for midnight.

Sydney celebrates with an incredible fireworks display over the harbor, but that’s not the only entertainment. For 2015, the city also wowed revelers with an aerial show, a heritage display, and a light parade of illuminated boats.

Dream Honeymoon: Top Destinations

Planning your nuptials in 2016? Congratulations: as if a wedding was not enough to get excited about, brides and grooms get to look forward to the best holiday of all time too!

When it comes to picking where to go on honeymoon, there can be a seemingly endless choice of continents and countries, regions and resorts, but in the end there is only one question you and your future spouse need to ask yourselves. If you could close your eyes, click your fingers and be whisked off somewhere together in an instant, where would it be?

While you are making your mind up, here are some dreamy destinations to consider

Caribbean Hideaway Honeymoon

Well, let’s start with a favorite area of the world for beach lovers. The Caribbean is famously blessed with hundreds of miles of white-gold sands, azure seas, tropical temperatures and locals with a brilliantly laid-back attitude.

The islands of the Caribbean are a fantastic place to consider for a honeymoon, providing you are careful to go at the right time of year. Although temperatures only vary slightly and remain at between 75°F and 85°F (24°C-29°C) in both winter and summer, there are rainy seasons and hurricane season is from 1st June to 30th November.

Outside of these times, you can pick from an array of beautiful islands which truly feel like paradise. Each island has its own flavor: laid-back fun and friendly St. Lucia, super-cool tourist-savvy Jamaica, French chic Martinique, Dutch haven Aruba where it barely rains, Dominica the nature island, glamorous Grand Cayman… the list goes on and on.

The trick with the Caribbean when it comes to a perfect honeymoon is to research a little about your ideal island, then simply go for the resort that you adore direct or choose a reputable honeymoon specialist. As newlyweds you are bound to be spending more time than average alone, so make sure it is in surroundings that hugely appeal to both of you. If you’re lucky enough to have two weeks to play with, then factor in some activities, like water sports, rainforest trips or golf, as you may need a little break from staring deeply into each other’s eyes. Whatever your preference, you will be in a part of the world where Bob Marley sang about One Love and Usain Bolt learned to sprint fast and stay cool. There are worse places to start a marriage.

European Tour Honeymoon

If you long to spend some romantic time in the greatest cities and romantic hideaways in Europe and you have at least couple of weeks to spare, why not enjoy your own tour?

The continent has a lot to offer newlyweds, with plenty of scope for romantic candlelit suppers and cherished monuments by world-famous monuments. Go in summer when weather can range from pleasantly warm to seriously hot, although you always take your chances with rain in Northern Europe. If you would rather enjoy a kiss at the Eiffel Tower or throw three coins into the Trevi fountain together than lounge on a beach, put together your own itinerary of must-see cities and hotspots.

One tour, for example could start at London, which offers some of the best, old-fashioned, truly grand 5-star hotels such as the Ritz, the Savoy or Claridges. The capital of the country that gave the world real butlers knows a thing or two about refined service. Soak up the grandeur of Buckingham Palace, Hyde Park, the Houses of Parliament and enjoy a show. Then take the Eurostar to Paris, city of love, to stroll along the Seine, see the Mona Lisa in the Louvre, marvel at the Eiffel Tower, flirt with your new spouse in pavement cafes and visit Notre Dame.

A short hop to Rome will offer the Colosseum, the Pantheon, the Spanish Steps and of course the majestic Trevi Fountain. Dine in the Piazza Navona and if you are starting to feel that you have had your fill of city life, spend time luxuriating in Tuscany, or on the Amalfi coast…

You get the picture – and we haven’t even started on Barcelona and Seville or Monaco yet! If you are a regular to visit Europe, you may want somewhere more culturally exotic, but if Europe is new to you then is offers the chance for you to spend some very special time together.

African Adventure Honeymoon

African Adventure Honeymoon

You may wish to begin married life with an exotic adventure that the two of you will never forget. Some travel companies offer the chance for couples to spend a few days in the bush of Kenya, followed by a few more on the lush island of Zanzibar (that name always sounds impossibly exotic).

In Kenya, if you book with The Turquoise Holiday Company for example, you can stay in luxury tents that have been decorated like something from Out Of Africa. The rest on a rocky promontory at Ol Seki and give stunning views of the Mara Plains. You will have the opportunity to see monkeys scampering and may even catch sight of the Big Five if you are lucky (lion, elephant, buffalo, leopard, rhinoceros). With all that and the wildebeest migrations, this is truly a walk on the wild side for a nature-loving twosome.

The fabulous news is that you can follow up the thrills with some real luxury in Zanzibar. The Residence Zanzibar offers 66 private villas, served by butlers on tricycles. There is delicious Swahili or Omani cuisine and the chance to enjoy a massage or swim with dolphins, all set in the exquisite surroundings of this spice island. It really is a marriage of the best that Africa has to offer.

Indian Ocean Honeymoon

For many, the first time they get to experience the magic of the Indian Ocean is indeed on their honeymoon. The region offers three world–class paradise retreats in particular: the Maldives, Mauritius and the Seychelles.

Each offers perfect tropical islands nestling like hidden treasure in vast expanses of crystal, turquoise waters. Atolls invite you to explore breath-taking underwater coral gardens. It is a great destination for keen divers and snorkelers, or indeed anyone who wants a rip-roaring time indulging in their favorite watersports. On the other hand, it is made for strolling along the white sands of a beach hand in hand, with beautiful private vistas to admire with a sundowner cocktail.

Mauritius has 5-star resorts such as Trou aux Biches and Heritage LeTelfair which boasts, fine dining and top service, beautiful accommodations and spas and sports like tennis or golf. The Seychelles offer luxury villa-style accommodation at the Four Seasons and uber-luxe privacy with butlers at North Island, where the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge went to unwind after starring in the wedding of the century. The Maldives boasts equally luxurious places to stay, such as the villa hideaways of private island Velassaru. The islands themselves are so totally and utterly beautiful that you will be hard pushed to choose between them. Just opt for the most tempting resort and relax in the knowledge that you will be honeymooning in one of the most heavenly places on earth.

British City Breaks: The UK Top 10

Great Britain is truly great, for many reasons that stretch well beyond the historic and firmly into the present day and future. The UK is amazing for its well-documented diversity, not just of the population and co-existing cultures, but also for the huge variety that you can experience as you travel from city to city.

Top British City Trips

Here we take a look at the top ten cities that Brits and tourists alike love to visit, with all their unique, interesting sights and must-sees, in ascending order

1. Cardiff

The bustling Welsh city, home of the Millennium Stadium, is enjoying a new lease of life at the moment. Full of great cultural events, hotels, restaurants and pubs, the popular city is receiving more visitors than ever before, around 15 million per year. Enjoy Cardiff Castle in the heart of the city, the redeveloped waterfront with cafes, bars and eateries. You can go the theatre or a live gig; there are plenty to enjoy, as well as of course, plenty for rugby fans to enjoy.

2. Cambridge

Celebrated for its famous university, which is ranked the best in the world, this city is full of bright young things and much more besides. Top restaurants make the setting for gourmet meals, in the case of Midsummer House, or relax in one of many gastro pubs. Nestling on the river Cam, the city’s famous punting is always good fun in spring or summer. You can also enjoy the lively theatre scene and the massively popular Cambridge Folk Festival.

3. Glasgow

You just think you know this city and then it changes all over again. At present Scotland’s largest city is known as a previous European Capital of Culture for its lively contemporary arts scene. Also known for its brilliant shopping, from the modern Buchanan Galleries to the historic Argyll Arcade, it makes a great base for exploring the Scotland that lies beyond the normal city boundaries.

4. Liverpool

Another previous European Capital of Culture, the Beatles’ home town is famously fun and lively, with a very close-knit community. The live music scene is still exceptional and the locals show a pride in their city that is outstanding. With good reason: there is plenty to be proud of in this unique city. The trendy Albert Docks are worth visiting; they are full of up market shops, hotels, restaurants and clubs, not to mention the fabulous Tate Liverpool.

5. Edinburgh

A fantastic Scottish city, home to the hugely popular Edinburgh Festival Fringe which is hosted all over the thronging city in August each year. Visit the beautiful, prominent castle which stands as both great building and vast monument over this ancient city. Alternatively, spook yourself silly on a ghost walk through the higgledy piggledy streets. Gorgeous, historic, welcoming and quite simply one of the best places to spend Hogmanay, if you’re already planning for New Year 2017!

6. Leeds

Full of stunning Victorian arcades, Leeds is the fastest-growing British city. It boasts an amazing music scene with new talents emerging all the time. Forward-thinking and positive in its general ambiance, Leeds boasts a thriving IT business community its very own Harvey Nichols. It is a superbly confident and stylish Yorkshire city and always well worth a visit.

7. Oxford

City of Dreaming Spires, with its world-leading university, Oxford has bags of personality. Truly great architecture, good restaurants and pubs abound, with great shows at the New Theatre that have come hot from the West End stage, as well as other more alternative offerings. Punt on the Isis, which is the name that the Thames is given at Oxford, enjoy the shopping which includes up market boutiques and quirky independents as well as large malls (Westgate is being remodeled for 2017) and familiar chain stores. In fact, if shopping is your major preoccupation then you might well like to pop to the fabulous nearby Bicester Village to enjoy a large up market shopping centre where you can enjoy the best of the top designers’ discounts.

8. Birmingham

Hugely multi-cultural, the second largest British city and the home of bona fide British curry is a vibrant place to visit. The Jewellery Quarter is swish and inviting, grand architecture butts up against the modern and there are plenty of first-rate nightclubs, pubs and restaurants. Out of the centre there is the magnificent NEC, the huge National Exhibition Centre where major industries hold events and top acts perform from all over the Globe, from Beyoncé to The Rolling Stones.

9. Manchester

Full of theatres, museums and galleries, including the Museum of Science and Industry and the eponymous Art Gallery, Manchester is a cultured northern British city that boasts some of Britain’s best architecture. Moreover, its huge music scene has spawned successes from Morrissey to some of the greatest clubbing hits to Take That. With plenty of students to ensure a thriving nightlife, there is no shortage of fabulous clubs.

London

10. London

The capital: biggest and loyal Londoner’s would say the best British city. A globally-loved metropolis with architecture ranging from the ultra-modern Shard, London Eye and Gherkin to the ancient Roman remains of the London Wall, via the Houses of Parliament and Buckingham Palace. Bursting with outstanding shopping, theatre, restaurants, comedy and music gigs, hotels and bars, art and culture of every possible kind… No wonder Samuel Pepys reckoned “tired of Londontired of life.” He was right – this is one city that knows how to throw a world-class party, be it for a Royal Wedding, Diamond Jubilee or indeed the London 2012 Olympics. Make sure you visit – it’s simply omissible.

Book Your British City Break Today

If you wish to come to the UK from overseas, you can fly into London (main airport Heathrow and Gatwick, plus Luton or Stanstead), Manchester, Edinburgh or other major cities. Visit British Airways or Virgin for more information. Alternatively, zoom in across the Channel on the Eurostar.

Whichever city you visit you are bound to receive a warm welcome and, if you would like further cities to try, there is historic York, friendly Bristol, ancient Canterbury with its remarkable cathedral and many more, so book now to beat the Brit-loving rush!

99 Items to Add to Your Bucket List

Now that you know some strategies to achieve goals, it’s time to start coming up with some goals to achieve! If you haven’t yet made a bucket list, a list of things you want to do before you kick the bucket, make one now so you can start chipping away at it in 2016. Since this list is everything you want to do over the course of the rest of your life, don’t be afraid of adding very ambitious goals! Here are 99 ideas to add to your own list.

Travel goals

Travel is one of the first things to make it on to anyone’s bucket list. It’s a big, wide world and there are a lot of wonderful things to see and do.

1. Take a motorcycle trip or car trip cross country
2. Take a last-minute flight to a surprise destination
3. Fly first class (or business class) on a transatlantic flight
4. Take a cruise somewhere
5. See the Northern Lights
6. Go to the Southern hemisphere
7. Stand on the equator
8. See the cherry blossoms in spring in Japan
9. Get involved in the Running of the Bulls in Pamplona, Spain
10. See the pyramids of Egypt
11. Go on safari in Africa
12. Stay overnight in an igloo or ice hotel
13. Ride in a gondola in Venice
14. Visit an ashram in India
15. Spend Carnival in Rio http://qooton.com/636
16. Spend Mardi Gras in New Orleans
17. Spend St. Patrick’s Day in Dublin
18. See the New 7 Wonders of the World (Christ Redeemer in Rio, the Great Wall of China, Machu Picchu in Peru, Petra in Jordan, the Roman Colosseum in Italy, Chichén Itzá in Mexico, the Taj Mahal in India)
19. Visit all 50 U.S. states
20. Visit all seven continents (North America, South America, Europe, Africa, Asia, Australia, Antarctica)

Sports and adventure goals

Are you an adrenaline junky? Or is your idea of an “adventure” getting off the couch for another bag of potato chips? Add some items to your bucket list that give you butterflies in your stomach when you actually contemplate carrying them out.

21. Do a mud run or color run
22. Run a marathon, half-marathon, or ultramarathon
23. Do a biathalon or triathalon
24. Swim the English channel
25. Swim with sharks
26. Surf in Hawaii
27. Get scuba diving certification
28. Scuba dive in the Great Barrier Reef in Australia
29. Learn how to sail
30. Bungee jump
31. Parachute, skydive and/or base jump
32. Climb a mountain (Everest or Kilimanjaro)
33. Fly a plane
34. Take a helicopter ride
35. Earn a black belt or excel in a martial art
36. Swim with dolphins
37. Ski a black diamond slope
38. Zipline through the rainforest in Costa Rica
39. Go hang gliding or paragliding
40. Go paintballing

My Ultimate Bucket List

Education and culture goals

Earning a degree is a wonderful thing, but the learning doesn’t stop just because you leave the classroom. Make sure your bucket list has items on it that will challenge you and help you grow your skills.

41. Graduate high school
42. Graduate university
43. Get an advanced degree
44. Learn a second (or third, or fourth) language fluently
45. Learn to play an instrument
46. Learn to sing
47. Learn glass blowing
48. Learn metalworking
49. Learn to draw
50. Learn to take good pictures
51. Learn to develop your own photos from film
52. Learn to fold origami cranes
53. Learn to handle a firearm and fire a gun
54. Learn how to invest in the stock market
55. Learn to do DIY projects around the home (installing flooring, painting, basic plumbing, spackling, etc.)
56. Learn woodworking and make a piece of furniture for your home
57. Learn to knit, embroider, or do needlepoint
58. Learn to sew and make an item of clothing for yourself or your family
59. Learn one dance – tango, salsa, swing – really, really well
60. Learn to cook really, really well

Goals for fun

The sillier, the better. You should definitely be able to cross some of these off your list in 2016!

61. Fly in a hot air balloon
62. Build a Rube Goldberg machine
63. See an opera at La Scala in Milan or the Metropolitan Opera in New York
64. See your favorite living musician in concert
65. Go to a high school or university reunion
66. Create a treasure hunt for someone around your city
67. Lucid dream http://www.lucidity.com/LucidDreamingFAQ2.html
68. Solve a Rubik’s Cube
69. Take a vow of silence for a week
70. Dye your hair a totally different color
71. Cut all your hair off (if it’s usually long) or grow your hair out (if it’s usually short) [bonus = cut off your hair all at once and donate it to an organization that makes wigs] 72. If you can, grow a beard (if you’re normally clean shaven) or shave your facial hair off (if you’re normally hairy)
73. Take an improv and/or acting class
74. Commission an artistic work
75. Do the splits
76. Throw an outrageous costume party
77. Throw someone a surprise party
78. Make ice cream
79. Send birthday cards to all your friends and family for one whole year
80. Start a website, podcast, YouTube channel, or Instagram account and share what you love

Life goals

Some of these you may have no control over the timing. Some of these will be ongoing. But make sure some lifetime goals are on your bucket list, too.

81. Grow a garden
82. Plant a tree
83. Move to a new city
84. Move to a different country
85. Take a trip by yourself
86. Get your driver’s license
87. Learn to touch type
88. Start a business
89. Start a non-profit organization
90. Volunteer – give your time to others
91. Donate – give your money to others
92. Build habits of good health like regular exercise, ample sleep and meditation
93. Get married
94. Have a family/become a parent
95. Get a cat, dog, or other pet
96. Buy a home
97. Do something that scares you
98. Write your novel, make your movie, paint your paintings, or do whatever it is that you keep meaning to do but keep putting off, the thing that won’t leave you alone
99. Leave a legacy

New Year: Start 2017 in Europe

As the New Year approaches it may well be time to turn your mind to partying on the big night itself. The first and most important question is: where would you like to spend New Year’s Eve itself? If you are resolved not to have a quiet night in with friends, then you might well be thinking about dream locales for the night. Most of us are familiar (from the TV or otherwise) with the glamorous New Year’s Eve shennanigans of London, New York or Sydnay. But how do they do things on the Continent? We take a look at the main ways in which some of Europes major cities welcome in the New Year.

Paris

Ah, Paris. The focal point for the night, as with other French major events, is gaining a glimpse of the illuminated Eiffel Tower, which joyous crowds can do from the magnificent Champs-Elysées, providing a great view of the midnight lights. Locals go to parties and set off bangers to cries of “Bonne Année!” so that at least your ears ring in the New Year. Meanwhile, on New Year’s Day the Grande Parade de Paris bring a cheerful riot of colour and sound to the Parisien streets

Prague

Silvestr is the name given to 31st December in Prague. A lively throng weave through all the streets to enjoy the fun, which culminates on Wenceslas Square and Old Town Square. There are fireworks all over the city, some of which are recklessly set off with careless abandon even as heaps of champagne bottles are smashed. Šťastný Nový Rok!

Amsterdam

Not for the faint-hearted, Oudejaarsavond in Holland’s capital sees champagne corks popping, oliebollen, or apple and raisin doughnuts, and enough fireworks to scare Guy Fawkes, even though they officially only go on sale the day before New Year’s Eve. Revellers congregate in the countdown to midnight in particular in the famous Nieuwmarkt and Dam Square. There is often a major public concert in Dam Square with live music and DJs. Or go clubbing in this major party town: let your hair down at at nights like ERA at NDSM-werf, the Roast Room (eat a full roast dins before dancing it all off), or Bam Boe Nye at the Sugarfactory.

Stockholm

You cerainly know when you are enjoying a bona fide Nyårsafton (New Years Eve) celebration in Sweden. It is an unfailingly lively, public celebration after the quiet contemplation of Christmas. Every year since 1895, crowds have flocked to Skansen on the big night and 2015 will be no different. At midnight, a national celebrity reads Tennysons Ring Out, Wild Bells and the thronging crowds eat their fill of seafood delicacies, moving from restaurant to bar to club. Midnight sees joyful celebrations with party poppers, streamers and fireworks.

Budapest

Szilveszter sees the population take the streets in grand style. Huge crowds gather in the main squares, all building up in excitement until midnight when the national anthem is played and then everyone enjoys galleons of bubbly, fireworks and lots of kissing. At Vörösmarty Square a three-day celebration is held from 30 December to 1 January, with live music. Public transport runs all night and most bars and restaurants join in the fesitivities. On New Year’s Day everyone’s fvourite hangover food is kocsonya (a pigs’ feet delight). Tuck in a unwind from a riotous three days – little wonder Budapest is the conoisseur’s party town over the festive season.

New Year 2017

Brussels

If you would like to shout “Gelukkig Nieuwjaar!” with fairly civilised abandon, then the Grand Place in Brussels may be the perfect place. The atmosphere is exciting but well-meaning and normally feels pretty safe as people tend to be friendly if a little wilder than usual on 31st December. If you don’t want to be at the heart of the Grand Place, soak up the less intense atmosphere from around the streets leading off the square. As the night progresses people start to dance and the atmosphere is fantastic. Stare up at the sky to enjoy the celebrated firework display from the Parc de Bruxelles.

Berlin

Silvester in Berlin is a bit dangerous and crazy, but normally in a very good way. Locals seem to enjoy tossing firecrackers and launching rockets from windows, which can be alarming even when you are bracing yourself for the racket. Huge crowds celebrate at the Brandenburger Tor while many more trek up to the Teufelsberg or the Viktoriapark in Kreuzberg and spend the night marvelling at the fireworks all across the city. If it’s your first time in Berlin, make sure you don’t miss the whacky wonder that is the Berliner Silvesterlauf which is the New Years Eve Pancake run. It starts at Grunewald, where Waldschulallee meets Harbigstrasse.

Madrid

Spain is a great place to celebrate a Noche Vieja with a different. The locals have bags of enthusiasm and typically celebrate with family, as the Spanish enjoy most celebrations this way. Most families eat a superb meal, all washed down with the preferred ocall bubbly, cava. As the clock chimes midnight, each person eats 12 grapes, one for each strike, to see in the New Year. Thousands of Spanish revellers head to Puerta del Sol, although this is not the most family-friendly option. Parties tend to start no earlier than 12.30am in this late-night town.

Rome

Finally, when in Rome… On San Silvestro many thousands of Romans flock to piazza del Popolo to enjoy an oustanding celebration that includes a free public concert and a first-class official fireworks display. There are typically those who enjoy their own fireworks displays too, or the wild popping of bubbly corks into the air, not to mention the somewhat crazy tradition of chucking obsolete household goods of their balconies: you may be well advised to take a fireproof, cast-iron umbrella!

Ready, Steady… Plan Your New Year!

Wherever you go to celebrate this New Year’s Eve, get stuck in to the best fun that your European city (or indeed wherever else) has to offer. Stay safe and we wish you all the fun in the world. Here’s to a totally fabulous 2017!

Bizarre Christmas Traditions from Around the World

Traditions are an important part of the holidays. Can you imagine Christmas without the big guy from the North Pole? Good old Santa Clause has been the star of Christmas since the 19th century. However, to some, the idea of a fat guy delivering gifts to children on a sled pulled by flying reindeer might seem odd.

That is before you describe how he gets into each home, and the amount of cookies and milk he is expected to consume in one night! Best not to dwell on our own Christmas traditions too long. After all, there are far more bizarre celebrations to marvel at right?

From hidden Christmas tree spiders to hairy goat-beasts beating bad children with sticks, the following traditions will make you glad you only have the fat guy in the red suit to contend with.

Finland – Candles at the cemetery

While most of us would be accustomed to spending Christmas Eve at home with some eggnog, the Fins prefer to head to the graveyard on this special night. Whole families visit the graves of their relatives and ancestors with lighted candles. Even those that don’t have family members buried at the local cemetery will still go to place candles in honor of kin buried elsewhere.

A trip to the graveyard on Christmas Eve might seem a little morbid, but it said that all those candles all lit up in the snow creates an unexpectedly uplifting mood.

Ukraine – Spidery Christmas tree

For some, seeing a spider web on the Christmas tree might be a sign that it has been left up too long. But in Ukraine it is a symbol of luck. The reason for this is local folklore about a poor woman who could not afford decorations for the family tree. According to the story, the children awoke on Christmas morning to see the tree covered in cobwebs.

The threads of the web were turned into gold and silver as the first light of the Christmas morning sun shone through the window. After that, the family were truly flushed, never wanting for anything ever again.

And so now, instead glittering tinsels, the Ukrainians cover their trees with artificial cobwebs and spiders in the belief that it will bring good luck.

Austria – Goat-beasts armed with sticks

An Austrian Christmas has some similarities to what most of us are accustomed to; all the good children can expect presents from Santa Claus, for example. However, if you’re on the naughty list in Austria you can expect some very different consequences.

It is difficult to conceive that any child would ever be bad in Austria. Not with the threat of a goat-beast with pointy tongue and horns looming heavy. If a child is unfortunate enough to end up on the naughty list, Krampus, as the beast is known, will beat them with chains and sticks before hurling them into the fiery pits of hell.

Christmas Traditions

Iceland – Yule Cat sacrifice

A Christmas cat might sound a little more appealing than a goat-beast. That is until you learn more about Iceland’s Jólakötturinn. or Yule Cat. In Iceland, those that finish all their work have nothing to fear of the Yule Cat. These hardworking individuals can expect some nice new clothes for Christmas as a reward for their efforts.

However, for those who didn’t finish their work no new clothing would be forthcoming. The Jólakötturinn is able to tell who was lazy by the fact that they didn’t receive any new clothes and if you didn’t get any new garments you would be sacrificed to the Yule Cat. Children are reminded of this story so they will keep doing their chores.

South Africa – Emperor’s deep-fried caterpillars

I am not particularly fond of turkey. I know it is traditional to dine on this fine fowl at Christmastime, but I just can’t bring myself to enjoy it. However, given the choice between that traditional Christmas meal and this one in South Africa, well, never has turkey seemed so appetizing.

On Christmas days, some in South Africa dine on a traditional cuisine of deep-fried Emperor Moth caterpillars. Apparently these insects are quite nutritious and taste like tea. I wonder if they go well with cranberry sauce…

Greenland – Raw whale skin with a side of blubber

On the same theme of traditional Christmas cuisine, Greenland has some odd recipes that could make a plate of Emperor Caterpillars look very appealing. For starters, how about a plate of Greek Mattak – raw whale skin served with a generous helping of blubber.

No? Well, how about a portion of Kiviak seal skin stuffed with 500 dead auk birds and fermented for 7 months My guess is you would need plenty of spiced tea to wash all that down.

Greece – Evil underground-lurking Gnomes

In Greece, the Kallikantzaroi wreak havoc during the winter solstice. According to Greek legend, the Kallikantzaroi are a race of evil gnomes that live at the center of the earth. During the twelve days of Christmas, however, they come to the surface of the earth to cause all manner of mischief.

They are, however, afraid of holy water, fire, and the sun so only come out at night. Creeping into houses, the small, mostly blind creatures indulge in their favorite pastime; wreaking havoc. In order to prevent this madness, Greeks find a large log and burn it for twelve days until the Kallikantzaroi head back to whence they came.

And there you have it, folks. A glimpse into what other people will be doing this holiday season. Do you find them bizarre or useful? Spiders in your Christmas tree could make an interesting change to your usual glittery trimmings…