World Guides Travel Blog

March 2012

This is where we let you know all about what's going on with our website and the world of travel, with destination reviews, current travel news and topical travel-related stuff to discuss with your friends. Please let us know if you want to comment on anything - Contact us.

March 25, 2012


Every summer, an army of schoolchildren descend on unknown families all over the world. As they travel nervously to meet their partners, clutching their passport in one hand and a gift for the host family in the other, they must wonder exactly what they've let themselves in for.

This is the world of the school language exchange. A well-managed exchange is worth its weight in gold. At the end, students feel that they've finally got to grips with the foreign language they're learning at school. After all, there's no better place to do so than in a place that's full of native speakers. All students have to do these days is resist the temptation to chatter with friends back home on their mobile phones.

Above all, a language exchange is a great opportunity to practice speaking a language without having to worry too much about tricky things like grammar. No one's going to worry if you don't get verb endings quite right. It's more about making an effort. Likewise, you can get to learn some great informal expressions that will liven up your conversations no end. And you don't just pick up language straight from the native speaker's mouth - you also get to sample their culture and cuisine first hand.

Of course, to be truly successful, it helps to be able to get on with your partner. A love of rock music by one partner and breakdancing by the other may not lead to a harmonious exchange. Well-matched partnerships can lead to more than just a better grasp of tenses - they can lead to lifelong friendships.

Posted by Sue at 15:54:52 on 25/3/2012

March 16, 2012


Photo of Pisa's iconic Leaning TowerThis St. Patrick's Day, it's worth keeping an eye out for buildings that suddenly start to glow green. It's nothing to do with the environment, sustainability or indeed anything else that's eco-related. Rather, it's to do with celebrating Ireland's national day.

The latest landmark destined to get the illuminated green treatment is, by all accounts, that Italian tourist icon, the Leaning Tower of Pisa. It will join a long list of internationally famous buildings, bridges and natural wonders, including the Niagara Falls, the London Eye, the Table Mountain in South Africa, the Burgtheater of Vienna, and New York's Empire State Building. The initiative was launched last year, when cities all over the world were first asked whether they wouldn't mind turning green for the day.

All of which can't fail to remind the 70 million-odd people around the world with links to Ireland that the 17th of March is a very special day. It certainly won't harm to remind everyone else that Ireland might be a fun place to visit this year, too. Which all goes to show that a little Irish magic goes a long, long way.

Posted by Sue at 21:28:48 on 16/3/2012

March 9, 2012


Picture of the distinctive cafe parasols alongside the RiverwalkThis week I was reminded that when you have a food allergy, heading out of the house can sometimes feel like a tricky business. In this case, it was a simple visit to a small cafe in a nearby town. Peanuts are the culprit for us, so a few questions are usually in order as to whether nuts are included in the ingredients. Sadly, the cafe was less than brilliant at handling the situation. A short walk further down the road, although, and we fared much better.

My encounter reminded me that whilst public knowledge of allergies is much better than it used to be, there's still some way to go. Travelling anywhere - whether it's home or abroad - can still be more of a challenge than it should be.

Over the years, we've learned that self-catering is the most stress-free way to go on holiday. It avoids the daily grind of broaching the question of 'what's on the menu' with nervous waiting staff. Instead, you get to check the packaging in the comfort of your own rented kitchen.

Photo of riverside dining in San AntonioThere are times, although, when you look forward to the prospect of someone else doing the cooking for a change. If you're camping, that usually coincides with a sudden downpour. In such situations, we've learned to make sure that the necessary words in the right language are already written down. Otherwise, that easy-to-learn phrase you got from the Internet before you set off just seems to fly out of your head when sat in some far-flung restaurant. If your pronunciation makes you completely unintelligible, it also helps to be able to point. I know that pointing at a piece of paper isn't ideal, but it does at least mean you get to eat.

It goes without saying that we never dine out without the right medication being to hand. A letter from the family doctor stating that the Epipen in our luggage is necessary and does not make us dangerous passengers helps at airport security. Getting the right insurance should anything go wrong is also an essential part of travelling. Some insurance companies can deal with allergies better than others. It's always wise to find that out before you need to claim. Finally, careful choice of destination helps. Some countries have food cultures that just aren't compatible with certain allergies, because the risky food item plays a major role in many of its dishes.

When we first had to deal with the whole food allergy scenario, it was easy to imagine that our travel horizon had suddenly narrowed. We've learned that's not the case. With a bit of forethought and experience under our belt, it's clear that our horizons are exactly the same as everyone else. Except, of course, we're usually better prepared.

Posted by Sue at 19:09:01 on 9/3/2012

March 5, 2012


In Britain, we're mad about a tiny white flower. It bursts into bloom in January or February and the sight of a woodland sprinkled with them is enough to set cameras clicking. I'm talking of course about the humble snowdrop - or not so humble, as it turns out.

For several years now, 'galanthomania', as it's popularly known, has been growing in Britain. It seems that the craze knows no bounds. Rare snowdrop bulbs change hands at the sort of prices you'd normally associate with something found glistening in a jewellery shop window. The Scottish Elizabeth Harrison snowdrop sold for £725 on an online auction site last month, making it the most valuable snowdrop bulb on record. It was found by an elderly couple in their Perthshire garden. Others regularly change hands for large sums of money, such as the Galanthus elwesii, rather quaintly known as 'Grumpy'. Found in an old Cambridge garden in 1990, it does indeed seem to resemble a miserable face.

Reports of snowdrop stealing and snowdrop security abound. There's even talk of bulb tagging. Then there are snowdrop festivals, like the one staged every year in Scotland, snowdrop displays and whole weekends that are dedicated to mile upon mile of snowdrop trails. Also throughout the United Kingdom, much to the delight of visitors, swathes of snowdrops can be found at National Trust properties such as Stourhead, Wiltshire and Chirk Castle, Wrexham.

Of course, flower mania isn't a new occurrence. Tulips were equally lauded back in the 17th century. However, for me - and I suspect for most people, perhaps what's best about them is that they celebrate the passing of one season to the next. They make me think of gentle walks along tree-lined paths, stately home gardens and clear winter skies. Above all, they're a spectacular reminder that sunny days are (fingers crossed) just around the corner.

Posted by Sue at 10:40:18 on 5/3/2012