Yes, pray, but also travel for Nice

France is yet again in mourning after the horrific attack in Nice on Bastille Day, which left at least 84 people dead and 200 injured. One Irish man was left in a critical condition but has since stabilised.

The motive for the attack is still unclear, even though ISIS has claimed that it inspired it.

There have been contradictory reports about the assailant, Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel, who is not thought to have been radicalised. So far, there is nothing to verify that this was an extremist attack. His intention was to kill as many people as possible, but probably not on behalf of any militant organisation.

Regardless, his actions will be a cause of alarm for security officials. Even in France’s state of emergency, which has been extended by at least three months, the nature of the attack was unprecedented. Weaponising a truck infringes grossly on our freedom to travel and celebrate public events in other countries.

Security will become more of a hassle than it already is for tourists, with heightened levels of anxiety and more pressure on already overworked gendarme and military officials. Armed police will have a more visible presence, which will unsettle some visitors. It will be enough to convince many people to defer their travel plans and stay at home—even Irish citizens, who are among the most well-travelled in Europe.

But who benefits from that kind of reaction? We must defy barbarism by properly evaluating risk. We should not let fear unnecessarily dictate our freedom to explore the world.

Around 200 Irish people die abroad each year. Even in light of Thursday’s awful tragedy, travellers are still more likely to die from things that would have killed them at home anyway, such as underlying heart conditions, rather than murder.

We should travel with the same amount of precaution as ever: Follow travel advice given by the Department of Foreign Affairs; be aware of local laws and customs; have an emergency contact for the nearest Irish or EU embassy; and make sure you have bought travel insurance.

Be wary, as well, of reports from mainstream media. Many outlets were quick to report the attack as an act of terror, even before there was enough information to verify the assailant’s motives.

According to UNWTO figures, France is the world’s most popular travel destination. And rightly so. There is so much to love about France, so why should we let an act of hate control our desire to visit it?

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Jamaica review: A rum time

How long is a Jamaican minute? As long as it takes.

The living is easy on this island, to quote its most famous son. And yes, the sun is shining too.

But the biggest selling point for Jamaica is its people. They have a wild sense of humour and a graceful flair for words, thanks mostly to their flirtations with Patois, a lively language that is part English, part French, part Spanish, part everything.

“There is a mystic vibration around this island indeed,” our bubbly Thomson rep Pauline says.

The vibrations are created by the language and the luscious landscape; Mother Nature went to town on the Caribbean’s most mountainous island.

Montego Bay’s biggest asset is Dunn’s River Falls, a short ride from Ocho Rios.

We arrive at the falls on the Cool Running’s catamaran, which Thomson guests have priority over on Saturdays.

She stops off at a reef where guests jump into the warm waters and snorkel if they wish.

As experiences go, there aren’t that many sea creatures in this spot, but the turquoise waters are glorious and make the juicy beef patty served afterwards all the sweeter.

When we disembark, we split into groups of 10, join hands and are led up the falls by a guide.

The terrain is rocky and slippy, but relatively easy to climb as a big group.

As with a lot of tourist experiences here, we are trailed by a daring camera crew, who snap footage of us spluttering in the water and dunking ourselves into the “crystal punch”.

Of course, there is a $30 DVD for sale afterwards. If you’re not interested, turn to your Patois phrasebook and say “Me no want it, man.” It is the only way to give a definite no.

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The climb takes just over an hour-and-a-half to complete and it is a joyous experience, one that you will definitely recommend to clients — especially because the journey home is topped with limitless servings of rum punch.

Locals say of Jamaican rum: One shot will open your eyes. Two shots will close them. Three shots will bring you closer to heaven. Apparently, they start their cars with the stuff.

There are rum bars beside every church, we’re told, so the wife can get the holy spirit on a Sunday while the husband gets the distilled spirit. Bear in mind, the island holds the world record for the most churches per square mile.

If you ever need to sober up, Blue Mountain coffee is the best option.

We take the Freewheelin’ bike tour of Blue Mountains. It takes a three-hour bus ride to get to the top, but our driver Woney puts on a fantastic performance to keep us entertained en route.

He says there are two sets of drivers on the island. CDs and CJs. CDs are careful drivers. CJs are crazy Jamaicans.

Woney is certainly the former: He has been driving since he was nine years of age.

He says that driving is a legal gambling in Jamaica, but he takes it easy and skilfully navigates the narrow roads.

“The left side is the right side,” he says, “and the right side is suicide.”

Bond legacy

Our journey takes us from one end of St Mary parish to the other.

We pass through Portland town, where Jamaica’s tourist trade was founded, and James Bond beach.

007 has had a lasting legacy in Jamaica. Three of the books were set here — Dr No, Live and Let Die and The Man with the Golden Gun — the first Bond film was shot here, and Ian Fleming resided here at his Goldeneye residence, which is now a luxury boutique hotel.

As we pass through the farmlands, we see graves on residential properties, a common sight in Jamaica. It is legal to bury your loved ones at their home place.

“They are the best neighbours you could ask for,” Woney says. “They don’t complain about the noise and they never ask to borrow anything.”

When we get to the top of Blue Mountain, a trailer load of bicycles awaits. They are varied in size — and in brake power. Take your pick as quickly as possible.

Most of the journey down is spend looking at the gravel and loose rock rather than the surrounding landscape, but there are plenty of pitstops along the way to explore the coffee plants and coconut trees.

Coconuts are used for everything in Jamaica: Soap, rum, sun tan lotion. If you go to your doctor with heartburn, they’ll prescribe you with coconut water.

We also stop at a primary school, where the children shake hands with the group and perform two songs. A slip of paper is handed out afterwards, with an address to send pencils, paper and other supplies.

The finish line is at a waterfall, where local teens are eager to guide us into the deep waters — of course, you are expected to show your appreciation here as well, but with cash.

As with every transaction of this nature, the price is negotiable and it is up to you to argue a reasonable fee.

Vendors on the road will offer you something to drink — and something to smoke.

Here is a point of contention: We are given five variations of the marijuana law that was introduced in Jamaica last year.

Some say it is totally illegal, others say it is permissible to carry two ounces of the drug, the rest say three ounces.

The real Rasta man

If you are so inclined, the best thing to do is visit Bob Marley’s birth and final resting place in Nine Mile, a Rastafarian village where the drug is openly used.

You roll up to the village in the battered Zion Bus, which has a livery designed in the colours of the Ethiopian flag and is plastered in photos of the world’s first reggae superstar.

On the bumpy ride, our guide intermittently sings snippets of his songs while telling the story of the Honourable Robert “Nesta” Marley and the Rastafarians.

She also makes it clear that her company does not endorse the use of cannabis, but doesn’t prevent guests from doing so either.

Pauline, the Thomson rep, said there are four ways the drug is consumed in Nine Mile: Spliff, ganja tea, brownie — and by simply breathing the air.

While there is a distinct waft of the stuff, consumption is only visible at the bar. Two spliffs are circulated around our group. Our youngest companion, a 20-something year old from Brazil, decides to consume an entire joint by himself.

The inevitable happens: The drug here is very potent, so it doesn’t take long for him to start convulsing and breaking out in a sweat — the undesirably reaction is known as a whitey.

The only cure is sugar and sleep, and he is prescribed fruit punch and a nap. The Zion Bus guide acts fast — I am sure she is used to this.

Our Rasta guide at Nine Mile is called Crazy. We were warned that the guides here are from another planet — Crazy was on another planet as we shuffled our way to Bob Marley’s mausoleum.

Some people find the experience emotional. I found it baffling, each of us on edge waiting for Crazy to pick on us for the butt end of one his cryptic jokes, even as we walked sombrely around Bob Marley’s grave.

We see the single bed that Marley sings about in ‘Is This Love’ and the rock where he liked to meditate with a joint in each hand: “Have you ever seen a bird fly with only one wing?” Crazy reasoned.

It’s a shame that the overall product was a little disjointed. Perhaps with a more sober guide, we would have been able to embrace the experience.

Oh well. It is difficult to get stressed on this island. Everything is “irie” — Patois for “ay okay”.

When Bob Marley sang “everything little thing’s going to be all right,” you know he truly meant it.

Jamaican me crazy: Travel tips

  • Tell your client to book into the Club Mobay Lounge before departure. The $30 fee alone is worth booking for the immigration fast track alone. Plus it will spare them from the extortionate snacks on sale in the airport (a Mars bar costs around $6).
  • A new toll road is being built from Ocho Rios to Kingston, which will mean the journey time to the capital will be cut from nearly two hours to 40 minutes. There is some controversy about the route: The company constructing the route is claiming ownership of the land that includes Dunn’s River Falls.
  • Ireland has a strong connection with the island: A community of Irish immigrants came to live in a settlement in Blue Mountain. There are villages with a clear Irish influence: Dublin Castle, Kildare, Belfast, Ulster Spring and Irish Town. And the island’s first prime minister was part Irish.
  • When you mention that you are Irish, the first thing that comes to a Jamaican’s mind is Ireland’s three wicket win against Pakistan in the 2007 Cricket World Cup.

Conor McMahon travelled to Jamaica courtesy of Falcon Holidays. He stayed all inclusive at the Riu Ocho Rios resort in Mammee Bay. Prices from €1,559pp.

A version of this article first appeared in Travel Extra magazine.

A hard day’s night in Merseyside

The view across the Salthouse Dock towards the UNesco awarded skyline of Liverpool's Pier Head in January 2012.
The view across the Salthouse Dock towards the UNesco awarded skyline of Liverpool’s Pier Head in January 2012.

Virtually every bar, every hotel, every street in Liverpool claims some connection, however small, to the local tourist trade’s biggest asset, The Beatles.

Their legacy has helped establish Liverpool in each of its main markets —and across different generations, especially now that their hits are available to stream on Spotify and other services.

But the tourist board is keen to show us that there is more to Liverpool than just the sound of the sixties.

Down by the docks

Albert Dock is a great starting point for visitors to the city. Located on the city’s waterfront near Pier Head, it is home to a host of attractions, many of which are free to enter, as well as restaurants and bars.

It is easy to spend an afternoon simply doing a loop of the dock.

My first stop is Tate Liverpool, where the Constellations display joins together the stars of the contemporary art world.

You’ll find Grayson Perry alongside Paul Cézanne; Marcel Duchamp paired with Jasper Jones.

The exhibition spans multiple decades and movements, but it is possible to complete in less than an hour, so you can still get your cultural fix if you are tight for time.

There are also regular lectures and activities in the museum, many of which cater for children and families.

Liverpool travel review
Tate Liverpool

Next door, the Museum of Liverpool documents the city’s social history, while the Merseyside Maritime Museum and the International Slavery Museum tell the story of the city’s trading history.

Mop top memorabilia

The Beatles Story charts the rise and demise of the aforementioned Fab Four through a series of elaborate replica displays and genuine memorabilia.

The tour is narrated by Julia Baird, John Lennon’s half sister, with snippets of interviews from key voices from The Beatles’s history.

Visitors can peep through the music shop where the boys bought their first instruments — and left producer Brian Epstein to pay off the £200 debt, the equivalent of thousands of pounds in today’s currency.

They’ll see George Harrison’s first guitar and John Lennon’s glasses, bent at the nose after he through them to the floor during a heated argument with Yoko Ono.

They can stand on a recreated Mathew Street, where the band played the famous Cavern Club 212 times.

Disappointingly, the “real” Cavern Club is in fact a replica itself. The original structure was foolishly demolished, meaning there are now two Caverns that both profess to be the first.

Razzle Dazzle ferry, livery designed by Peter Blake
Razzle Dazzle ferry, livery designed by Peter Blake

While you are down by the dockside, you should take the ferry on the Mersey. Dickens used to do when his visited the North “for the air”.

The current livery was designed by Peter Blake, the co-creator of The Beatles’ famous Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Heart Club Band album cover.

Back in the city centre, there are lots of opportunities to shop, especially in the enormous Liverpool ONE district, where the nightlife is legendary.

The aspirational market would enjoy a girlie or lads weekend away in the district, which is home to the Roja Pinchos bar, one of the city’s hippest drinking spots.

Liverpool is small enough to navigate by foot, so if you are looking to repent after a night out, you can take a walking tour to the city’s two cathedrals.

The enormous Cathedral Church of Christ, Britain’s largest, is magnificent with its high gothic arches.

There is a beautiful neon sculpture by Tracey Emin arced over the Great West Window, and the Lady Chapel offers solitude to the footsore traveller.

There are a host of interesting sites nearby that Beatles fans should check out, including the famous Philharmonic pub with its  and Ye Cracke bar on Rice Street. Both were often frequented by the band, who used to sit near the ladies’ toilets to catch sneak peeks of women in the various states of undress.

Arthur C Clarke’s mysterious church

Down the road, the Metropolitan Cathedral is the Catholic Archidiocese’s mother church — but it looks more like the mothership.

The mother-of-God ship
The mother-of-God ship

It reminds this writer of a spacecraft that Arthur C Clarke would have dreamt up for one of his science fiction novels — an interpretation of what the future would look like from a 1970s perspective.

The interior, on the other hand, is beautiful, with circular seating and marble grey floors. Visitors can slowly wander around the nave and explore the vast collection of sculptures and iconographies.

No trip to Liverpool would be complete without a visit to the Scouser’s holy ground at Anfield.

The stadium tour is worth taking, even if you’re not a fan — although it might be a bit of a stretch to expect an Everton supporter to enjoy it.

Tour groups must now to stick together — the week before, a wandering tourist triggered a security alert by veering away from his group. You’ll never walk alone indeed.

We’re told that there is a 20 year waiting list for season tickets, and thousands of punters are left ticketless at every home game. That’s why the club is building extra seats and corporate boxes, which cost £80,000 a year.

The 1989 Hillsborough disaster isn’t far from mind. Unsurprisingly, there is no reporter from The Sun on this press trip. Even the Irish edition is boycotted.

Conor McMahon travelled to Liverpool as a guest of Aer Lingus and Visit Liverpool. He stayed at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel, Liverpool. Aer Lingus flies Dublin to John Lennon International Airport 15w with fares from €19.99  one way.

This article first appeared in Travel Extra magazine.

My top 7 travel tech start-ups

Exhibitors at Web Summit 2015
Exhibitors at Web Summit 2015
Image: Sportfile

More than 2,000 start-ups exhibited at this year’s Web Summit, all vying to become tech’s next big thing. Over 100 registered as travel start-ups.

Here are the top seven that caught my attention.

1. RunGo

The ultimate travel tool for joggers, RunGo offers turn-by-turn voice navigation, so you can easily explore a city without having to consult a map. You don’t have to disrupt the flow of your run, and the app will give you additional tips on the best pubs, cafes and attractions. Plus creating and sharing running routes is really easy. The RunGo team is interested in partnering with hotels. Visit rungoapp.com.

2. BimBim Bikes

An online booking platform for bike rentals, BimBim Bikes is already live in 39 countries. It’s a straightforward system that allows you search for biking options, make your payment online, book particular tours and request specific bikes. BimBim is interested in becoming an ancillary add-on to the existing travel trade. Visit bimbimbikes.com.

3. 360Visualizer

A sophisticated tool for hoteliers, 360Visualizer allows its users to control visual content and communicate products to clients. If you want to entice a guest to buy a room upgrade, why not give them a 360 degree tour of what you can offer them? The technology is already live in certain Radisson Blu, Barceló Hotels & Resorts, and Holiday Inn properties. Visit 360visualizer.com.

4. Sitata

The travel trade is constantly having to battle with scaremongering in the media, so Sitata is a welcomed project. It offers travellers localised safety information and other nuggets, like advice on vaccinations for particular areas, routes to hospitals and advice for what to do in an  emergency. Visit sitata.com.

5. Gaybrhood

An Irish start-up, Gaybrhood is looking to establish itself in the growing LGBT tourist market. Very simply, it offers gay-friendly guides to cities, with tips created by its users, presented in a visually pleasing way. Visit gaybrhood.com

6. Muzenly

For the more adventurous traveller, Muzenly allows music festival-goers to source lifts, extra tickets and shared accommodation. Visit muzenly.com.

7. Fripito

How many travellers have bought a ridiculously expensive camera, but have no idea how to use it? Fripito offers professional advice for amateur photographers. It tells you the best sites to take pictures in any listed location. It tells you the best time of day to shoot and what settings to use on your camera so you can create amazing photographs. Visit fripito.com.

Also worth checking out

Travel Translation, easiway, Wapple, Valido, ParkingSlot, Sure, and Gypsy Circle.

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Is the future of travel in the past?

Jacki Ford Morie speaking at the Web Summit
Jacki Ford Morie speaking at the Web Summit
Image: Sportfile

There is little doubt that virtual reality will become an  increasingly advanced tool for exploring the world, but what purpose will it serve when it comes to physical travel?

Jacki Ford Morie thinks VR is here to enhance travel.

With her project, the Augmented Traveler, she hopes to make history come alive on your smartphone, tablet and, eventually, see-through wearable device:

“When you’re travelling around, you don’t want to be putting something on your face to experience a location,” Morie says. “I mean, after all, you go to the location so that you actually can absorb some of the atmosphere of that place. But what if, when you went to these historic places, you could travel back in time and actually see characters from a distant time appear as if they were in front of you, talking as if they were living their lives and doing the things they did back then?”

That’s where the PastPort app comes in. It’s your — you guessed it — passport to the past.

The characters in the app will appear fully rendered and animated and will perform a three-minute story with some narration to help you understand the history of a specific site.

“So, say it’s Leonardo [da Vinci] and his assistant Salai, and they’ve come to Venice in 1499 to sell the prince a war machine. Now, there’s a lot of historical facts that are correct there, but we take some liberties and we say he’s sitting there in the courtyard with this machine and he sets it off. He goes ‘Let’s test it now, Salai.’ So, they set off the crossbow — which doesn’t shoot arrows, unbelievably, it shoots firey cannonballs — and the firey cannonball goes over you head and out to the bay where the Turks are moored. You’re living the story a little bit.”

Eventually — Morie says five or six years down the line — the characters will be intelligible agents. In other words, you’ll be able to ask Leonardo to take a selfie with you.

These things take time, and the technology is not up to scratch just yet.

“We have a lot of challenges with this particular application because augmented travel is not at that level of sophistication yet,” Morie says. “There are a number of technologies that still have to be created for this.”

But what stage are we at now? How real is this virtual world?

“We’re working on the first story for Leonardo and Venice,” Morie says. “We’ve had him modelled in 3D and his assistant. We’ve had them dressed and we’ve had them rigged, so we’ve got an animator working on the animation… We’re working on the user interface design for the application on your mobile device, and then we’ll put it all together…

“We want to show the viability of the product, we want to take it to Venice and do a focus group there, but we really need some venture money to go into full production. I’m planning eight story vignettes for the launch.”

The Augmented Traveler is intended to be a travel companion, not a replacement for real-life travel.

“It gives you that little bit of information that makes you feel like an insider. And people want to know, they want these cultural experience… I think it’s going to change our expectations for travel. It’s going to make it much more personal and much more real and make it more memorable.”

For the travel industry, the same technology could be used to allow a client to “try” a location or hotel before they buy. It could also create new possibilities for disabled travellers who otherwise wouldn’t be able to take part in certain activities.

“I think we haven’t even started to scratch [the surface],” Morie says. “I mean, it’s me and a team of three people. So that’s it right now. But the dream is pretty cool. I really hope it comes true.”

Jacki Ford Morie in conversation with Mary Aiken
Jacki Ford Morie in conversation with Mary Aiken
Image: Sportfile

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Hailing the eternal taxi ride

Jorge Pilo is co-CEO of Easy Taxi, the  e-hailing app that has seven million users in 30 countries. 

Founded in 2011, the service currently has 155,000 taxi drivers on its books, 50,000 of which are based in Brazil alone.

In fact, most of the business is focussed in Latin America, where Easy Taxi holds the dominant position as a safe and reliable tool to hail a cab.

“Supply is plentiful in Latin America,” Pilo says. “There are enough taxis in Lima, in Mexico City, in Sao Paulo. So the question is, how do you pick the best? The solution we’re bringing people is: we give you a taxi fast, which is safe and which you can trust. And you can pay with a credit card. It’s all about safety and convenience.”

Users can also monitor where their taxi is and check that it has been dispatched.

The service benefits the drivers too. They can take safer passengers, work less hours and get more rides.

“No-one becomes a driver in Latin America without going to Easy Taxi and registering,” Pilo claims. “And they come to us for a good reason. We’ve managed to get them to work 30 per cent less and make 30 per cent more. So, for the driver, the benefit is marvellous. He doesn’t have to be sitting by the road waiting for somebody to show up or driving around empty looking for a fare.

“They might start the day going to their spot where they’ll pick up their first passenger. Most of the time, they never come back [to their spot]. They just drop the first passenger off, and turn on the app. We call this the ‘eternal ride’.”

The app also gives them the chance to handle company accounts that have largely gone to local taxi firms in the past.

“A big percentage of rides are paid by companies…There were a bunch of taxis that didn’t have access to those rides. Now we have an agreement with these companies and [they can access] our entire base of taxis. So taxis now have access to more demand.”

The key to Easy Taxi’s success is its ability to diversify itself to local markets.

“Taxi is not a country business; it’s a city business. So Abuja is going to be different from Riyadh, which is going to be different from Sao Paulo, which is going to be different from Lima. What we’ve been capable of is localising our business… It’s a process that we’ve been able hone and improve and learn from every city.

“One of the things we’ve done particularly well is allowing cash payments in our ecosystem. Because of the regions we are in, cash payments are still very, very relevant. Credit card penetration is not there yet, so you have to allow people to request taxis and pay in cash. That’s the only way you can massify the business.”

Easy Taxi is now available in 300 cities, but you won’t find it in Ireland any time soon.

“In terms of Latin America, we’re really focusing on strengthening our position. We are already in a very large region, so we’re focussing on getting all the supple. We are now in all of the capitals and most of the second tier cities in all of the countries — in Brazil we’ve even gone to third tier cities — so I think the expansion will come from maximising those cities. The penetration  of e-hailing is still limited. there is still a huge potential. The process now is getting the word out and convincing more  people to stop hailing off the street and instead going through the app.”

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Até Logo, Dublin — Web Summit Leaves for Lisbon

Paddy Cosgrave makes his closing remarks at the final Web Summit in Dublin Image: Sportfile
Paddy Cosgrave makes his closing remarks at the final Web Summit in Dublin
Image: Sportfile

Perhaps it wasn’t the biggest show in town, but Web Summit is a major cultural loss for Dublin.

Paddy Cosgrave’s closing speech at the final Web Summit in Dublin for the foreseeable future was much more hopeful than the earlier squabbling on the airwaves would have suggested.

“Ireland will always be in our hearts,” he said, promising that Web Summit will remain an Irish company, headquartered in Dublin.

“We’re leaving, but we’re very hopeful that the door will remain open, and I hope that some day we return.”

He seemed genuine, but it might be too late for the Government to pick things up; there was a lot of potential bridge-burning after the discourse reduced to nothing more than an embarrassing slagging match.

One thing is for certain, Cosgrave jabbed a hole in Dublin’s aspiration to win big events. Despite the heavy criticism, Web Summit is worth reclaiming as a Dublin event. But if it has outgrown the capital in 2015, what will things be like in three years’ time?

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Travelling on Tanzanian time

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Butterfly is a tree hugger. A coconut tree hugger.

Using only a piece of rope for grip, he wraps his arms and legs around the trunk, and scoots his way to the top, 90 feet off the ground.

He is like a rockstar mounting the stage.

“Hello!” he cries to his audience below, with more sass than Zanzibar’s estranged son, Freddie Mercury.

When he reaches the peak, he performs a couple of daredevil tricks, just to make sure he’s got your attention, and when all eyes are on Butterfly, he launches into his rendition of the Swahili pop song, ‘Jambo Bwana’.

He shimmies his way back down as he sings. “Zanzibar’s got talent,” one of our American companions says. Indeed.

Butterfly is the star of the Kizimbani Plantation, where visitors are introduced to the plants that gave Zanzibar the nickname, the Spice Island. Cocoa, lemongrass, ginger; the smells in the humid forest are magnificent.

It’s the sort of experience you can’t bottle, although they did try to turn it into a range of fragrances and soaps.

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On the far side of Masingini Forest is the island’s main city, Stone Town. It is a bustling marketplace with street sellers on every corner flogging t-shirts, knick knacks and CDs. Some of them follow us on our walking tour, making their pitch as we pass through the streets.

The constant invitation to haggle can be irritating, and some visitors might find it a little overwhelming, especially if the seller puts on a particularly emotional performance.

Luckily, we have two Middle Easterns with us to teach the art of bartering.

First of all, the items are always overpriced, so if you are looking to make a starting bid, at least halve the price the merchant offers and work from there.

The sellers are happy to let you handle the items beforehand, so inspect them to get a feel for what you’re buying.

Stand your ground; don’t pay a shilling more than you think it’s worth, even if the seller insists you will put him out of business next year; you won’t. And make sure you both agree on the final offer before parting with your money to avoid any disputes.

Sometimes it is best not to think of these situations as a hassle, but as a bit of fun. It certainly gives your boring old souvenirs more of an edge if you’ve had to argue for them.

Of course, Stone Town was a centre of commerce in the 19th century, and was home to one of the world’s last open slave markets.

Visitors are invited to tour the remaining slave cells near St Monica’s Hostel.

Stepping into the chambers is a frightening experience, and when it quickly becomes claustrophobic with our tiny group, it is hard to imagine how the cell could hold up to 75 women and children.

The slaves would have spent two weeks here without food or water. Many of them died of starvation or suffocation.

Clara Somas’s monument in front of the anglican cathedral is harrowing: Statue prisoners are chained together in a pit using real chain.

Clara Somas's monument to the slaves
Clara Somas’s monument to the slaves

Our visit to Stone Town concludes at Mercury House, where the aforementioned Freddie Mercury spent his very early years.

Apart from a plaque and a collage of faded photographs, there is no real commemoration to the Queen singer, but the local trade relies a lot on his name to attract visitors.

The city’s connection with Mercury is as faded as the photographs: He spent most of his youth in India, and briefly returned to Zanzibar as a teenager before fleeing to England with his family during the 1964 revolution.

Then again, if Offaly can claim Barack Obama, Zanzibar can claim Freddie Mercury.

Pictured outside Mercury House
Pictured outside Mercury House

We take the ferry to Dar Es Salaam. The sea was choppy, not at all like the smooth sailing over to the island. Luckily, the journey to Tanzania only takes 90 minutes.


Even in the capital, everything runs on “Tanzania time”. A good Swahili phrase to bear in mind is pole, pole—  slowly, slowly — because the traffic is always hideous.

Hakuna matata will be your mantra; as the Disney song says, it means no worries.

From Dar Es Salaam, we take a domestic flight to Arusha, where we set on a four-hour drive through the desert to Ngorongoro Crater.

The highway was built by the recently elected Tanzanian president, Magufuli, when he was works minister; his road projects earned him the nickname the Bulldozer.

The roadway is smooth, so we glide through the landscape, passing villages and marketplaces. We pass the coffee fields and Mount Meru, the introductory climb for novices who have set their sights on Kilimanjaro.

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Maasai boys line the road, whooping at tour buses. They wear black cloaks and white headdress after taking part in a maturity ceremony and know that foreigners would like to take a photograph. It is safe to stop, but you must be respectful and ask for permission before taking their picture.

You will be expected to pay as well — they strike our jeep with rungu sticks when one of the passengers takes a sneaky photo without permission or payment.

You should not pay any more than 500 shillings for the privilege and make it clear exactly who you are paying, especially if you meet a group of boys.

We stop for lunch in the Mto Wa Mbu district, home to 120 tribes and 24,000 people. The name, unnervingly, translates as River of the Mosquitos.

We are told that Tanzania is home to 30 species of banana, available year-round. The banana is used to make a range of foods and drinks: curry, soup, beer.

The delicious meal energises us for a game drive in Lake Manyara National Park, where baboons are in abundance.

Blue monkeys, zebras and elephants also make an appearance.

Pole, pole is also an phrase for a safari; the experience is all about slowly scanning the landscape in search for hidden creatures.

It’s not just about the big animals. There are all kinds of interesting life worth looking out for; birds, insects, and flora.

We can only go so slowly though, because we are under pressure to get to the Ngorongoro Crater gate before it closes at 6pm.

Our driver and guide Crispin puts the boot down, but we are still too late.

We arrive at 6.15pm. By that stage, the park rangers have lowered the barrier and are pointing to their imaginary wristwatches, indicating that it is hyena time.

After thirty minutes of negotiation, they let us in. We are reminded that the park belongs to the animals, so we have to keep the windows closed until we reach our resort.

“Anything can happen,” Crispin says ominously. And so we set out on an unscheduled — and illegal — nighttime safari.

Sadly, our safari in the dark is largely uneventful. We don’t encounter any big cats looking for prey, but we do catch a glimpse of a buffalo, a hyena and an enormous porcupine.

We stay at Sopa Lodges, which provides visitors with a nightwatchman to protect them from hidden predators. It is a gentle reminder that, although you are experiencing luxury, you are in the wild.

One of the perks of staying inside the crater is that you can start your safari early.

We set out at 6am, and start the morning with Thomson’s gazelles, ostriches and a herd of wildebeest.

Ngorongoro doesn’t have as many animals as the Serengeti, but the it is still a thrill.

We watch the drama unfold as a herd of naughty jackals tease the mooching lionesses as they guard a buffalo’s carcass.

We spot hippos lounging in the water, giraffes on the horizon and an amusing warthog couple.

Two of the Big Five made an appearance; a lion and an elephant stand near each other, setting up a perfect photo op for the long lenses.

We have lunch at Lake Magadi where we compare pictures and soak up as much of the landscape while we can.

It is not until long afterwards — when you are repeating the stories for the hundredth time and remembering the sights, the sounds and the smells — that you fully realise what you have experienced. And is for memories like this that we travel in the first place.

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I was hosted by the Tanzanian Tourist Board in Tanzania and Zanzibar. I flew from Dublin to Dar Es Salaam via Istanbul with Turkish Airlines, and from Dar Es Salaam to Kilamanjaro Airport with Fastjet.

 

Travel Tips

  • In Zanzibar, the all inclusive Mélia resort is ideal for couples. The rooms are fresh, and include a semi-outdoor shower, and the private villas are impressive. The food is good, but not does not live up to the overall experience. That being said, there is a fantastic floating bar where you can enjoy sushi and cocktails.
  • If you are staying in Dar Es Salaam, your best bet is the Ramada resort. The next best option is Hotel White Sands.
  • For agents: Never sell Dar Es Salaam as a beach destination; the water is polluted even though the resorts insist that it is safe to swim in the sea.
  • Sopa Lodges in Ngorongoro are old, but still offer plenty of comfort. They also boast the best views of the crater.
  • Pack a jumper if you are staying in the crater. It gets very cool in the evenings, especially because you are at a higher altitude.
  • Mosquitos are rife in the crater. Give yourself peace of mind and take your anti-malarial medication.
  • When you are on safari, be sure to charge your camera batteries and bring a back up. There is a lot to see, and your long lens or zoom will double-up as binoculars.

Destination Kerry

I am wearing a wetsuit for only the second time in my life, but I feel ready to conquer the Atlantic Ocean on a stand-up paddleboard.

The reason for my confidence? My companion for the afternoon is former pro windsurfer Jamie Knox. He has been teaching awkward punters like me watersports in Castlegregory for 25 years.

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He is on-hand to feed me compliments throughout our two-hour session. He makes me feel like I’m James Bond, gliding out to sea. In reality, I am more like Inspector Gadget, clumsily splish-splashing in the water.

The point is, he keeps me moving, he keeps me motivated, and makes me feel like I am really doing something worthwhile.

It’s easy to see why he has a high return rate.

Stand-up paddleboarding is easy to get the hang of, so it’s perfect for children. And it’s safe, something Jamie clearly prides himself on seeing as he gets a lot of business from families.

“Everything is controlled and in a safe environment,” he says. It’s obvious that water safety is paramount for Jamie and his team, but the rules don’t spoil the experience. There are activities for all ages and abilities, so nobody gets left out and nobody is put in a situation that they can’t handle.

Jamie Knox teaches watersports in Castlegregory
Jamie Knox teaches watersports in Castlegregory

Back on land, I feel refreshed and I am badly in need of sustenance. Luckily, Kerry is home to some of Ireland’s best food experiences, two of which I can find back in my hotel, Ballygarry House in Tralee.

Last night, I ate a mighty four-course meal in the Brooks Restaurant. Tonight, I dine across the corridor in the Leebrook Lounge. Both menus, though distinct, complement Ballygarry House’s high-end, four star experience.

A family-run country hotel with a modern twist, Ballygarry House is all about attention to detail. The staff’s little touches and observations make the visitor experience seamless — it’s a trait that comes with having a fourth-generation proprietor for a manager.

Located just off the N21 and surrounded by the Slieve Mish Mountains, Ballygarry House is in a good spot for visitors on the Wild Atlantic Way, and their Nádúr spa offers a range of unique experiences. Last month, the hotel launched its Wild About Kerry brochure and packages, capturing little gems this end of the route.

Grainne Kavanagh of the Coach House interior design shop literally introduces me to Dingle’s little gems when she takes me on a whistle stop tour of the Kerry Craft Trail.

There is a diverse range of products and artwork on the route, from the leather-bound notebooks at Holden Leather Goods, to the scarves at Fiadh Handwoven Design, to Lisa McIntyre’s papier mache sculptures. Everything is distinctly Dingle and comes with a story.

Sandra Cremin’s eco-friendly, soy-based Dingle Candles and scented sachets are inspired by the mountains and changeable weather — fragrance number one, my favourite, is Dingle Rain.

Goldsmith Niamh Utsch also sources her inspiration from the landscape, which can change dramatically. It has an impact on Utsch’s creativity and mood, leading to a range of pieces that can be intricate and complicated or very simple.

Jewellery maker Abi Dillon, the latest addition to the craft trail, sources her raw materials from the sea. She collects shards of glass that wash up on the shore and turns them into necklaces, bracelets and earrings. The pieces are made up of complementary greens and blues, frosted by the sea. They are precious — they really are something else.

Abi Dillon makes jewellery from sea glass
Abi Dillon makes jewellery from sea glass

My next stop is Dingle Distillery for a tour with Eamon Dowd and Gillian Sheehy, and for quick a drop of Dingle Original Gin. The whiskey isn’t quite ready yet — the first batch will roll out next year.

Artisanal alcohol is definitely trending and the Porterhouse Brewing Company, the parent of Dingle Distillery, helped shape the independent brewing movement in Ireland.

The first thing you notice is the delicious aromas. It’s enough to get the group salivating. But patience is key in the art of distillery, so we have to control ourselves as we make our way along the production line, watching the magic slowly happen.

The distillery is a modest affair — the output is two casks a day — so you really do have to come here taste their products yourself. It’s worth the journey.

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“How much do you know about Fungie?” Bridget Flannery asks me as we pull away from Dingle pier, her husband Jimmy at the helm. “It’s a bit like the national anthem,” I say. “I know enough to get me by.”

Fungie the Bottlenose dolphin is synonymous with Dingle tourism. He gave the town a much-needed boost 30 years and has been a big contribution to the local trade ever since.

DSC_0358I was hoping to solve the mystery of Fungie’s attachment to the town’s harbour, but I had no luck. There are plenty of theories — he has little competition for fish, he loves the human interaction, the waters are more accommodating — but nobody really knows why he has stayed here for so long.

One thing I did learn was that he works overtime — even long after the last tour, he made an appearance for Travel Extra. And what an exciting moment that was.

Jimmy uses a number of techniques to tap into Fungie’s sonar and nine times out of ten, he pops up to say hello.

It’s rare that he doesn’t make an appearance. The Dingle Dolphin Tour payment model is no Fungie, no fee, and it has kept them in business for three decades.

They have a saying in Kerry: “Ar scáth a chéile a mhaireann na daoine.” We live in each other’s shadows. It resonates throughout the Kingdom’s tourism trade. There is a sense of camaraderie, of commitment to their business. It is a motto for any budding tourism co-op.

This article first appeared in Travel Extra magazine.

Travel talk: Lots of competition for Disney’s Chinese enterprise

Here are some snippets from the travel industry. See Travel Extra’s Sunday Supplement for more news.

From around the globe

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Disney unveiled details of its $5.5bn Shanghai Disneyland theme park, planned since 2009 and due to open spring 2016.

The park promises six themed lands and attractions based on Star Wars and Marvel characters, a Mandarin-language production of the Lion King live show, two resorts — Shanghai Disneyland Hotel and Toy Story Hotel — Disneytown shopping and entertainment district, and an Enchanted Storybook castle.

There’s going to be lots of competition: The number of Chinese amusement parks is expected to reach 850 this year, and Universal Studios and Dreamworks have their own Chinese attractions in the pipeline.

Thanks to the one-child policy and the Chinese trend of travelling with extended family, adult visitors will outnumber children 4 to 1, which means there will have to be more of everything: seating areas, restaurants, open spaces for older family members.

And since most Chinese companies do not provide paid holidays, visitor numbers will surge around national holidays, so there will have to be a system in place to avoid excessive queuing.

This will be Disney resorts’ largest foreign investment. It will be interesting to see how they adapt to suit the Chinese traveller.

Swim city

London docks

East London’s Royal Docks near London City Airport will be open for casual and competitive swimmers, but only during set periods on weekdays and Sunway mornings.

There will be 400m, 750m and 1,500m stretches for those looking to train and a separate area for doggy-paddlers.

Water temperatures promise to hover around 18C, but there are wetsuits available to rent if you need them. There are also showers and hot and cold food on site.

My complaint? It seems a bit too nannied. Punters can’t just pop down for a lunchtime dip like they can in Stockholm. They are restricted to Wednesdays 4-8pm, Thursdays 6-9.30am, Fridays 4-8pm and Sundays 7-10am.

Plus it costs £8 to use and children as old as 16 must prove that they can swim 200m without stopping, and, most embarrassing of all, wear a wetsuit and tow float. What’s more, they can only swim with a parent and within a set course.

I understand the importance of safety, but sometimes it’s better to relax some of the rules.

Parlez-vous touriste?

Paris launched the Yes I speak touriste mobile app. It helps visitors find shops, hotels and attractions where their native language is spoken.

The business

business traveller

A report by travel expense management company Certify suggested that business travellers in the USA are warming to alternative travel options.

The survey claimed that 31pc of ground transport receipts in Q2 were from Uber, compared to 24pc from taxis and 45pc from rental car.

Receipts from Airbnb are small, but the room rental site grew 143pc over Q1.

Another survey by laterooms.com found that 60pc of business travellers suffer from homesickness, but only 8pc said this resulted in a drop in productivity. In fact, it might even be good for productivity: A third of the respondents said the cure for homesickness is — you guessed it — keeping busy. Just don’t tell your boss that.

Pillow talk

Dublin docks

Trivago’s Hotel Price Index shows that average hotel prices in Ireland increased 15pc YoY this month to €124.

Unsurprisingly, Dublin topped the list with an average price of €168, up 9pc YoY. Belfast is up 46pc YoY largely thanks to the weakening of the euro. Limerick had the lowest price at €99. Galway and Kinsale saw the biggest increase compared to last month, both up 7pc MoM.

EUROPE

Geneva

The usual suspects topped the European index: Geneva’s average price for July is €284, followed by London at €263, and Venice at €250.

As expected, the lowest prices can be found in Eastern Europe: Warsaw €62, Sofia €62, Bucharest €70. Paris prices are up slightly by 1.4pc YOY to €181. Berlin is up 5pc to €102. Rome up 5pc to €136.  Barcelona up 7pc to €160. Lisbon up 5pc to €114.

WILD ABOUT KERRY

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Ballygarry House Hotel & Spa in Tralee — which hosted me on a press trip last month — launched their Wild About Kerry packages and brochure, capturing hidden gems along Kerry’s Wild Atlantic Way. See the brochure.

This week in the sky

Dublin Airport T1

Dublin airport passenger numbers were up 15pc in the first six months of they year. That means Dublin is on course for 25m passengers in 2015. The current record is 2008’s 23.4m passengers.

Average ancillary revenue per passenger is $17.49, up 8.5pc, according to a study sponsored by Dublin-based CarTrawler. Sixty-three airlines participated in the study, with low cost carriers alone seeing a 32.8pc jump in ancillary revenue to $2.9bn.

Aer Lingus Regional reported a 4pc YOY increase in load factor to 74pc for June. Passenger number on the Kerry-Dublin route was up 39pc and Donegal-Dublin up 11.3pc.

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Fashion brand Wunderkind designed two elegant, unisex amenity kits for Air Berlin’s long haul flights.

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Architecture graduate Alex Sutton won a distinction for his design of an airport above the streets and canals of Stockholm. Sutton proposed a short runway, city-wide baggage system, taxi-track system to move aircraft and self-service baggage kiosks.

Travel tech

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ID2015 launched their Design Ireland app. The app features recommendations for design-focused attractions around Ireland. Download the app for free on Google Play or the App Store.