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Travel Guide To The Grand National

2015 April 10
by Scott

This week, horse racing fans from throughout the UK and Europe will descend on Aintree and Liverpool for the 2015 Crabbies Grand National. Known as one of England’s most prestigious horse races, the Grand National always provides world-class competition. But its atmosphere, and the ways in which the event involves its spectators, keep it among the best sports tourism opportunities in the world.

Unfortunately it’s a little late to arrange a trip to the Grand National this year. But if you do happen to live within short distance of Aintree, or if you’re keeping tabs on this year’s event in the hopes of going in the future, here’s our quick guide to enjoying the races.

 photo AintreeRacecourse_1_zpsrttdijqe.jpg

Plan Your Outfits In Advance

It may come as a surprise if you’re not one for horse racing in general, but fashion is a major part of live spectatorship. Speaking in general terms, men and women alike tend to use prestigious races as chances to dress up in stylish and flashy attire. For women, this means oversized hats, bright dresses, and attention-grabbing accessories. For men, it means tailored suits with bold complements, such as pocket squares or stylish hats. It’s primarily geared toward women, but The Telegraph’s photo recap of last year’s event does a good job of showing just how much fun spectators have with fashion.

Place Your Bets

Unlike most spectator sports, in which betting is an option, at major horse races betting is almost part of the game. An incredible number of live spectators and worldwide viewers will be placing bets on the outcomes of races—some in a legitimate attempt to make money, and some simply to be involved. But another reason to bet on the races is simply to educate yourself on the horses and trainers competing. Betfair’s section on the Grand National 2015, a high volume page for horse race betting, provides as much in the way of competitor analysis as it does in actual race odds. Even top trainers like Paul Nicholls write in occasionally with their thoughts or predictions on the races. Reading through content like this while placing bets is a great way to prepare yourself for the races, particularly if you don’t regularly follow horse racing.

Make Time For Liverpool

The Grand National is a three-day sporting event, and while the races and the spectacles at the tracks certainly don’t get old in that short time, it can be nice to spend an afternoon away from the tracks if you’re not a diehard horse racing enthusiast. For this reason, it’s wise to look into Liverpool attractions when visiting Aintree. Liverpool is only a short distance away from the tracks, and while it’s not often mentioned among the UK’s top urban travel destinations, it’s a nice place to recharge after a day at the races. Planet Ware has a handy list of Liverpool’s top attractions, and we’d emphasize interesting indoor options like the Beatles experience or the maritime museum.
Really, that’s about all you’ll need! If you’ve planned your race track outfits, educated yourself on the competition, and planned for some additional recreation away from Aintree, all that’s left is to enjoy the event. Once at the Grand National, you’ll find an enthusiastic crowd of fun-loving spectators, top-notch horses and trainers, and all of the pleasant food and drink venues located at the racecourse. It’s a very easy occasion to have fun with

Paper Dragons in Prahran

2014 November 26
by Scott

Found these guys down by our apartment in Prahran, Melbourne. Cant believe they haven’t been vandalised yet!

blue-dragon

red-dragon

Have a walk down to Greville Street if you want to see them.

Oh, in other news i’ve been working on a little project called Dwell Kept. It’s kinda like Airbnb for home cleaning. Check us out!

How to get a Visa on Arrival (VOA) for Vietnam

2014 October 26
by Scott

We are just back from Vietnam and Cambodia and like a number of others on Tripadvisor and we had some questions about the Visa process for entering Vietnam. It’s not particularly straightforward on the official embassy website. As we recently breezed through passport control with little hassle, I thought i would lay out the details for you.

Lets get a few things straightened up first:

– The most simple process is to get a visa at your local Vietnam Embassy or get a Visa on arrival (known as a VOA). The process is a little clunky, but if you have plenty of time in advance its relatively straightforward.

I prefer not to post off my passport and was a little short on time, so went for the VOA route. There can be delays at the airport if you share an inbound flight with lots of other people using VOA.

– You cannot obtain a visa on the Vietnam embassy website. However, you can go through official channels such as making an appointment with your local office or mailing in your passport and the correct forms, but this will cost more. Be wary of a whole bunch of fake government style websites that suggest you can get instant Visas etc, but are purely resellers of Visa approval letters or fake sites.

– You will need a visa for Vietnam if you want to travel through the country. This comes in four forms (1 month single entry/1 month multiple entry and 3 month single entry/3 month multiple entry.)

– Visas do cost a fair chunk of change and is often easiest to pay in US Dollars! The visas cost $45USD for a one month (30 day) or 3 month (90 day) single entry visa, and $65USD for a 30 day single entry and $95USD for a 3 month multi-entry.

If you are travelling on a multi-entry for less than 30 days like we were (Saigon > Cambodia and back), ensure you state this on the VOA form, so you get the $65 rather than $95 rate.

My advice is get a couple of hundred US before arriving as you can often pay for most things in USD at an exchange rate of 20,000 VND for 1 USD.

– There are a number of travellers who may not need a Visa, but check first!:
Stays of not more than 30 days: citizens of Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Cambodia and Laos.
Stays of not more than 21 days: citizens of Phillippines.
Stays of not more than 15 days: citizens of Japan, South Korea, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland, Russian Federation.
Stays of not more than 14 days: citizens of Brunei.

There is an extensive and useful FAQ on tripadvisor explaining this whole process for future reference.

How we did it:

Because our Vietnam trip was booked with only a week or so to gather visas, we went for the VOA route.  A little riskier in our minds, but seemed fine when we went through with it. The Vietnamese embassy suggests against the VOA route, but this is likely due to them making less money that way.

We got our Visa approval letter from a site called Hotels-in-Vietnam.com (not going to link directly to them, but search for ‘hotels in vietnam visa’) and filled out their form and paid with PayPal. There are also a number of other recommended sites on Tripadvisor, but this site worked the best for me.

The visa approval letter was 16$ each and came within 3 days. It is simply a pre-approval for travel letter from a Vietnamese travel agency that is stamped. You hand that over to the immigration officer with the following:

– 2 passport photos
– completed visa application form
– payment for the visa in USD (they do have change for bigger notes, but bring smaller if you can)

visa-application

 

(the visa on arrival form we received – comes with official stamp etc)

Timings:

Once they receive that the immigration officer takes your passports and ask you to sit down. Don’t worry this is normal and should be expected. They will then process everything and call your name out when it is ready.

On our way through immigration, we waited roughly 5 minutes to get our visas, but as we passed through HCM City airport for the second time we saw a long queue for Visas, so it seems like this can be hit and miss depending on the time of day you arrive.

Good luck and enjoy Vietnam! Don’t hesitate to comment if you have any questions :)

Skiing at Mt. Hotham

2014 September 20
by Scott

If you knew me, you would realise i was born with two left feet. But for whatever reason this didnt stop us travelling to one of Melbourne’s ski detinations – Mt. Hotham. (I realise the concept of snow in Australia is a bit strange, but believe me – you can find it!)

We caught the last good weekend of snow in early September and tripped up the nearly 400km journey into the hills. It was a longish drive, but wow – was it worth it. I had never been to a snow resort before, so everything was extra exciting. And that view… Although there was some bush fire damage, things were regrowing slowly.

mt-hotham-1

We stayed in a chalet for 8 people, sharing with 6 other friends. It was great as we could all sit around a warm fire and play card games and drink the night away. Mt. Hotham makes it easy for you to enjoy yourself. The bars are not too expensive, we just chose to self-cater this time around to save some money.

em-hotham

(Emily showing me the perfect hill for sledging down)

Emily and I took a beginners ski lesson, which was around 150$ for hire equipment, lessons and lift pass for 24 hours which was enough for a newbie like me. Although i was probably the worst skier in the class (i fell over alot on the hills) it was much easier second time around.

Skiing newbie essentials:

– Snow chains in the car for certain times of the year, which can be rented from most ski shops.

– Sunglasses as the sun is very strong

– Aspirin

– Sunscreen

– Walking boots or water resistant clothing (jeans are not good…)

– Beer if you have it ;)

mt-hotham-2

(a view from just below our chalet)

Its the off season now, but they still have activities for BMXer and hikers. Check out the resort site here. http://www.mthotham.com.au/. I’m not a born skier, but ill certainly be back.

A hilarious recap of advice for women on bicycles

2014 July 20
by Scott

The guys at Headwater have put together a hilarious recap of the big ‘no-nos’ for women on bicycles from a vintage newspaper. I think they also missed one of the rules Emily broke : “thou should not take photographs in Vietnam whilst riding into oncoming traffic”!

womens-cycling

Golfing trip in Edinburgh

2014 January 4
by Scott

You might not associate the historic city of Edinburgh with golfing, but it boasts several excellent choices. Many of which offer stunning views of the city and surrounding countryside as you play. I’ve been getting to grips with the game recently, so will look to make my way around all of these if possible… Some of the most popular courses are:

Braid Hills

A real gem in the crown of this stunning city. Braid Hills offers amazing views of Edinburgh Castle and the imposing Arthur’s Seat. With two courses and its number one course being one of the most vertically challenging in Edinburgh, this is a place to tee off that simply can’t be missed. Not a particularly long course and surrounded by beautiful purple heather, it’s more about testing shots from one hilly ridge to the next than long play. The view from the 14th hole in particular is fantastic, thanks to its elevated position high above the city. While this course isn’t renowned for first class facilities, it’s simply a wonderful place in which to enjoy the game and the breathtaking views.

Bruntsfield

The fourth oldest golfing society in the world and located less than six miles from central Travelodge hotels in Edinburgh, Bruntsfield offers spectacular views over the Firth of Forth. Set in mature parklands, and with high standards that ensure its members and visitors enjoy a great game of golf no matter when they visit, Bruntsfield has been the venue for numerous championships, and in 2011 it was the Regional Qualifying Venue for the Open Championship. A historic course boasting top class facilities, high standards of service and a warm welcome.

Duddingston

Known as one of the most outstanding parkland courses in the Lothians, at 6525 yards, Duddingston is a real test of golfing skill. This historic golf course is built on the site of a former deer estate and adjoining the area in which Bonnie Prince Charlie, Charles Edward Stewart, kept his cavalry prior to the battle of Prestonpans. With a gently hilly landscape, this course offers a first class game and fantastic facilities, combining a mix of old and new that just adds to the beauty of the experience.

Outside the City

A little further afield are some truly fantastic golf courses, including Gullane which offers three championship links golf courses, affording spectacular views of the Firth of Forth and the surrounding countryside. The three courses are simply numbered rather than named to reflect their age. Number one has a long history of hosting International championship events, most recently this included hosting the Local Final Qualifying for The Open at Muirfield. Number two has been used for the Seniors Open Amateur as well as Open Championship Qualifiers. Lastly number three, the shortest of the courses, provides a challenge for golfers of every ability.

Gullane is renowned throughout the world for its golfing. The third hole on the number one course was voted one of the top 500 holes in the world, and the view from the 7th tee, which is the highest point on the course, is renowned the world over – it’s simply breathtaking! If you’re a fan of the sport staying in Edinburgh you simply can’t miss this fantastic course! The pretty village of Gullane with its windswept beach, pretty stone cottages, huge mansions and quaint shops and tea rooms is well worth a visit too.

If golf is your thing, a visit to Edinburgh and its surrounding areas should definitely be on your ‘to do’ list.

Paddington – Entrance to London’s Christmas Stores

2013 November 22
by Scott

I have been Christmas shopping to New York City on a couple of occasions and enjoyed picking up some unique gifts for the family back home in the UK. To return the favour here is a quick guide to doing that in reverse – travelling over from the US into London, it is easy to enter through Paddington, drop off your empty suitcases at a hotel in the area and follow this store guide.

Harrods and Knightsbridge

One of the most famous and exclusive stores in the UK capital, Harrods’ Christmas World opened in July this year! Situated in Knightsbridge – just a short walk across Hyde Park from Paddington – the department store may not sell so many elephants now (if that story was ever true), but is full of a host of other gifts. The Knightsbridge area as a whole is lined with high-end and unique shopping venues.

Oxford Street

Not a single outlet, but the world-renowned Oxford Street offers a wide choice of the typical store brands of the UK. Familiar to locals, so by definition then; a great selection of unusual shops for the overseas Christmas shopper!

Regent Street

Running south from halfway along Oxford Street through to our next stop of Piccadilly Circus, Regent Street also has its fair share of quintessentially English retail stores. One of the highlights for a shopping list with children in mind must be Hamleys Toy Shop. The flagship store on Regent Street is the largest of its kind in the world – with 6 floors of delights – and this is a place where you can buy a life-sized elephant, if you can close the suitcase.

Just a short detour about a quarter of the way along Regent Street is Carnaby Street – still a brilliant example of “swinging London” today as it was in the sixties and with a new musical playing, still as influential as ever.  Drop in to Liberty on the way – it’s conveniently located on route.

Piccadilly Circus

After stocking up on stocking fillers from the luxury end of the spectrum of London shopping, Piccadilly Circus has a wealth of fun souvenir style shops to raise a smile and revive a memory of your trip.

So, after trick or treating and Thanksgiving celebrations, check off the next holiday to do list with a Christmas shopping trip to London.

 

Flying to Fiji on the cheap

2013 November 12
by Scott

The other half and I been keen to hop on a flight over to Fiji for a while now. And with views like this on offer – who wouldn’t? Being in Australia, it seems only right to have a look at what the world has to offer this side of the planet.

Its roughly a 5 hour flight from here in sunny Melbourne, so not too much of an arduous trip.  And, while there aren’t a huge number of airline carriers flying those routes, you can still find a few bargains if timed well.

One thing travelers ( i am included here) will struggle with however, is timing the purchase of flights correctly. Get this wrong and you could end up spending upwards of 50% more on a flight than necessary, so heres a couple of things to consider before making a purchase.

Seasonal demand

There are times when a destination is more likely to be booked than not, say for example during their peak summer months. This is a simple concept to understand, so plan a trip just outside of these months for decent weather and much more reasonable pricing.

A simple search for ‘weather fiji’ in Google gives you the following website from the Fijian government. http://www.met.gov.fj/

Simply cross check your desired weather with flight details and see where you can balance the best bang-for-your-buck.

Public and school holidays

Not having kids, this is one factor i rarely consider but it really does affect prices for popular destinations within reach of your locale. Check the local government websites for details on local school holidays, along with public holidays. Families will of course like to travel during this time, raising flight pricing significantly.

Savvy workers will also normally book trips away during public holidays to minimise the amount of annual leave they need to use in on their holiday. A top tip is to book flights outside of public holidays and mid week at unusual times, as the more undesirable a flight time, the better value it normally is.

Of course, this works better if you are flexible with your travel schedule, so may not suit everyone.

Cookie based pricing

*Bear with me here – Geek speak imminent* 

Whenever you search on certain airline and flight websites, cookies are stored on your computer that log your activity. Cookies are simply small data files which keep a record of what you have been doing on a website, so the website may customise the next visit based on your activity. If we clear these from our computer we can avoid the website hiking prices to Fiji, as they know we are keen on that destination. Lastminute.com was notorious for this – so watch out for them especially.

To clean these up in Google’s Chrome browser, Go to settings > privacy > clear browsing data and click ‘delete cookies and other site and plug-in data’. I like to delete these ‘from the beginning of time’ just to be sure, but a month or two will probably also work.

This effectively wipes your click data from Chrome, ensuring that you are not served prices based on previous activity on a website. This is particularly true for big flight comparison sites. Alternatively, you can surf the page in incognito mode (Cntrl + Shift + N to open a new incognito window in Chrome), to browse without any historical data affecting your flight quotes.

With a couple of these areas to consider, you can quickly make savings on your flight purchases. You just have to be savvy about it and you will get a great deal.

 

Ibiza’s best nightclubs

2013 September 2
by Scott

The best clubs in Ibiza

Ibiza is renowned as one of the party capitals of the world. But, with so many clubs and music nights to choose from, how do you find the ones that are perfect for your taste and style? Here’s a rundown of some of our favourite venues on the White Isle.

 

1. Pacha

Beginning life as a humble old finca in 1973, Pacha is now one of the globe’s biggest nightclub brands, with the Ibiza venue being the jewel in its stylish clubbing crown. Now in its 40th year, this summer promises to be one of celebration. With its iconic double cherry logo, Pacha attracts thousands of international hedonists who flock here to party with resident superstar DJ’s including David Guetta, who plays every Thursday at the F*** Me I’m Famous night.

Avenida 8 de Agosto, Ibiza Town

Image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/robertocastano/3622941562/

2. Ibiza Rocks

Why worry about getting home after a night out, when your home for the week can be right at the heart of the party? This legendary hotel plays host to superstar DJs, and some of the world’s biggest bands play on its main stage. So far this summer, some of the big names to perform or confirm are Jake Bugg, Example, DJ Wire, Ellie Goulding, Rob da Bank, Zane Lowe, Rizzle Kicks and The Vaccines. You stay right in the centre of the action, meaning you simply need to walk upstairs when you can tear yourself away from the party. You can even stay in a stage view studio where you can soak up the atmosphere even before you head downstairs to join in.

Calle Cervantes 27, 07820 Sant Antoni de Portmany, Ibiza, Spain

Image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/robfox/1104650244/

3. Amnesia

One of the best loved clubs on the island, and the planet, Amnesia is currently under the umbrella of the legendary Liverpool club Cream. With an eclectic programme, it covers the best of techno, house, trance and dubstep. Matinée every Saturday is one of the island’s most popular LGBT nights, and Amnesia is also famous for its messy foam parties, which heiress Paris Hilton recently took to the decks to perform at as part of her sell-out residency. Other acts who have played here include Calvin Harris, Chase & Status and Nero to name but a few.

San Antonion Road, San Rafael

Image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/amnesiaibiza/9448865759/

Privilege

Built like an aircraft hanger, Privilege is the world’s biggest nightclub and everything here is on a grandiose scale. There’s a huge swimming pool inside, erotic shows and a garden with a chill-out zone. Tourists and locals mix with A-listers like P Diddy, Jade Jagger and Madonna at its famous nights. The Face on Tuesdays is one of the most colourful nights on the island. Sexy and snazzy, house music comes from DJ Oliver while this year’s theme is Psychodelic Dream In the Jungle. Or head there on Thursday for The Arena, featuring larger-than-life sets and cutting-edge DJs.

Urb. San Rafael, 07816 San Rafael

Image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/robertocastano/3863637089/

Sankeys

A relative newcomer to the island, Sankeys is already making a name for itself as the nerve centre for lovers of underground dance music. In Play D’en Bossa, Sankeys has an impressive sound system, three rooms and a roof terrace. While the brand had been a clubbing institution in Manchester since 1994, it only took off in Ibiza in 2012 and owner David Vincent is now concentrating solely on the Ibiza venue. The flagship room is the Basement, decked out in black to create a truly underground feel.

Carrer de les Alzines 5, Playa d’en Bossa

 

 

The best events to enjoy in August in the US

2013 August 9
by Scott

The month of August is a great time to visit the US, with a multitude of events and activities ensuring that there’s something to suit visitors of all ages and tastes.

With many locals looking to get away from the big cities at this time of year, it can often feel like the entire country is in holiday mode, ensuring that there’s often a relaxed, inviting atmosphere. Whether you are interested in cars, rodeo, fairs, or other unique American events, you certainly won’t be disappointed.

The Payson Rodeo

If your view of America has been influenced by novels and movies set in the American West, then the lure of a rodeo may simply be too much for you to resist. The famous rodeo in Payson, Arizona, was first established back in 1884.

It’s regarded as the world’s oldest rodeo and features a range of activities, including bull riding. There’s also usually a fantastic accompaniment of traditional music and local food.

The Payson Rodeo takes place in the middle of August each year.

The US Open of Surfing

One of the world’s most significant surfing competitions takes place annually in Huntington, California. The music of The Beach Boys makes it clear that California is at the heart of the surfing world and the first week of August sees surfers gathering from all over the planet.

Professionals compete throughout the week and the event provides a great opportunity to enjoy the spectacle, watching leading surfers demonstrate their skills and bravery.

The Sturgis Motorcycle Rally

Held in the town of Sturgis, North Dakota, the famous Motorcycle Rally brings together motorcycle enthusiasts in a unique setting. When the rally was originally established, it was primarily viewed as offering a showcase for stunts and tricks.


These days, it’s a gathering point for bikers from all over the United States, with many riding along the Black Hills Run on their way to the event.

The Sturgis Motorcycle Rally usually takes place during the first week of August. Many visitors choose to stay in motor homes at the event site.

State Fairs

A number of State Fairs take place during August too, with many people suggesting that Iowa hosts the best fair in the entire country.

With more than a million visitors heading to the Iowa State Fair every year, you may well be wondering what attracts them. The event lasts for 11 days, bringing visitors a real taste of Iowa.

Within its Des Moines setting, visitors are treated to a huge livestock show, countless stalls selling food and a double Ferris wheel. In addition, local companies display a range of new products and innovations on a site that covers more than 450 acres in total.

Other fairs hosted during August occur in New York, Minnesota and West Virginia.

A ride at the Kentucky state fair

If you’re planning on investigating your car rental US options, then it may even be realistic for you to visit multiple locations. You can then judge for yourself when it comes to finding out which State Fair has the most to offer.

Restaurant Weeks

Many cities host a Restaurant Week at some point during the month of August, with special offers from leading restaurants. These events provide the perfect opportunity to reveal what a city has to offer, meaning that they can also tantalise visitors.

August sees Restaurant Weeks being hosted in Boston, Indianapolis, New York City and Seattle. In all cases, it’s recommended that you should make reservations in advance. As might be expected, the best restaurants do tend to get booked up some weeks before the event.

Baseball

The baseball season is at its peak during the month of August, with many cities hosting their own team. Although you may not yet be familiar with the rules of the game, you’ll undoubtedly enjoy the experience of watching leading teams in action.

Tickets can be bought online, with games taking place at regular intervals. Those who prefer American Football may be able to take the opportunity to watch pre-season games at this time of year, with a number of the franchises usually in action.

August is a great time of year to visit the United States. With numerous special events to choose from, you can ensure that your visit will be truly memorable.

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