Self Hope For The Helpless !

5 Tips On Holidaying Abroad

Here are 5 tips to help your holiday flow more easily. I have ben lucky enough in my life to travel to many far off destinations. It could be that this is your first foreign trip, and you want it to go smoothly so you dont waste any time once you get there. Here are my 5 top tips to help you on your way.

Tip 1

Money : Make sure you have some currency and some travellers cheques, you may also need space on your credit card if you are not taking all of your spending money.

Do not take a high value of currency though - in most countries you can cash in travellers cheques anywhere for the local currency. As traveller's cheques are insured, if you lose them, or they get stolen you get some if not all of your money back. Currency on the other hand is not! Lose it and its gone for good! Bear in mind that you may need change, so do what you can on arriving at the airport to get some change from a large note. This will stand you in good stead should you need to tip a baggage handler or bell hop (you do not want to be giving away large value notes)

I got caught out once in America - I came out of the airport in my lovely hire car straight onto a toll road. I got to the first toll booth and need a quarter. All I had was a $10 bill, which obviously would not go into the payment machine. I was very embarassed when the alarms went off and I had to pull of to the office and explain myself!!!!

Tip 2

Research : Do your research before you go. You know yourself and your family and you know what you would like to be doing on your holiday - buy the guide books, or research on the internet. You don't need an exact itinerary of your trip, but you can gain an idea of what you would like to do or see during your trip! You may want to plan a day of activities followed by a day of rest on the beach, but if you have a rough idea before you go, then it saves you spending the first day or so of your expensive holiday, deciding what to do and where to go.

Its great fun to sit around as a family and have the discussion about what you would all like to do, because everyone is different and has different ideas it makes life easier to have any arguments or heated discussions before you are away.

On all my forays abroad, I have done this, and it makes life so much easier. Theme parks one day, followed by something interesting like a museum or art gallery the next, then a day at the beach or sight seeing . . . everybody is happy as they have their day. It is also useful to find out how much things cost, in order to plan your finances as well as possible - especially given today's economic climate.

Tip 3

Language : If there is likely to be a language barrier then also purchase a phrase book. The ability to say "yes" and "no", "please" and "thankyou", "hello" and "goodbye" in a foreign language (at least) will stand you in good stead with the locals! If you can order food, drinks and understand menus and signs, even better - this will serve two purposes, getting you respect from locals and allowing you to take a foreign holiday confident that you will not get ripped off because you cannot understand what people are saying.

If you learn the language and can ask "how much" and people claim not to understand, then walk away. I had this with a taxi driver in the Czech Republic. I had researched the cost of taxis, and approached a driver for a price. He claimed not to understand my question and proceeded to ask for 3 times the going rate. I walked away. Had I not done my research and learnt the language then I would have been ripped off big time. I also recommend that you take the phrase book with you.

Tip 4

Children : If travelling with children then make sure you have something to keep them entertained. You do not need something just for the flight, but also for the evenings when you are at base. Children are easily bored, and foreign TV (especially if in a none English speaking country) is not fun for children as the only English shows they have are news channels. You will maybe need a few toys (electronic ones are best - batteries are universal and electronic chargers can be used via adaptors you buy before you go away). And they do not take up a lot of luggage space as they can be carried in hand luggage. Also take paper and pencils to allow some time spent drawing.

Tip 5

Survival Kit : Put together a "survival kit" before you go away. Medical attention in a foreign country can be expensive, and if there is no English spoken, your experience could be worse. Include creams (antiseptic), plasters, bandages, antiseptic wipes, painkillers, anti bacterial gel, electrical adaptors, sewing bits, tweezers, etc. These items can be costly if purchased abroad, and also if you have not followed Tip 3, you may have difficulty obtaining them at all!

Other than this, make sure that your mobile will work in the country you are going to as you may need it and don't forget your chargers for electrical items such as mobile cell phones, hand held gamers, shavers, etc.

Follow these 5 tips and you will be assured of a safe and happy holiday.

(C) Copyright Dale Preece-Kelly August 2010

Origin Of The Speeches

The idea for this article came to me about a week ago, when somebody told me to "Break a leg". I was about to do a TV acting job the next day, and this is a saying that is often said to actors. I have been acting now for many years, and have never known the real meaning of this saying or why people say it to actors who are about to go out on stage, but now I do, because I have researched it.

"Break a leg" actually seems to have few origins. A superstitious origin - it is thought to stop evil spirits from deliberately spoiling a performance. To wish an actor "good luck" is thought to evoke the spirits to watch and put in an appearance when least expected, thus by wishing an actor "good luck" you would be giving them the opposite.

Another origin is traced back to the days of William Shakespeare (during the reign of Queen Elizabeth 1st) when to "break a leg" literally meant to bow with a bend at the knee. As at the end of a successful performance an actor would bow to the applause, it was used as a term to wish the actor luck for such a performance that they would be required to bow to their satisfied audience. Although a little later on it was also used as a term for giving birth to an illegitimate child and so it is hard to give this as an absolute origin of the saying.

Audiences in classical Greece would stomp their feet quite violently in order to add sound to their applause for a successful performance. This could be an earlier origin of the saying, although it is not certain whether any audience members actually stamped their feet so violently that they broke their leg! I would say though that if one did give such a performance, then it could be hailed as a great success.

There are more modern events that may have triggered the use of the term : when John Wilkes Booth leapt to the stage in the Ford Theatre after firing the shots that would assassinate Abraham Lincoln, he broke his leg. Although for obvious reasons this was not a successful performance, it could be linked to the comedian's term for "kiling" the audience, which describes a successful act.

Finally, getting into show business is always referred to as getting a "break" or "breaking" into the business. By being given your "break" you are getting a leg on the ladder and in the door. Hence "break a leg" could be a wish for the actor about to act, to do such a fantastic performance that they are given their "break" and "leg in" to the bigger world of acting (i.e TV and Film).

Personally I take the Shakespearean origin as my favourite for the origin of this particular saying - Shakespeare wrote plays, and acted in them. He is the icon of all actors, the super hero of the acting world. Every actor wants to be in a Shakespeare play. I have done three now, and look foward to more. I will tell you something, once you are dressed in those Elizabethan costumes, and you are in the open air about to go onto the plain stage in the clearing of an "Italian Garden", and your co-actor turns to you just before you make your first entrance and whispers "Break a leg", it just feels so so right!

Whatever the origin, there are thousands of these sayings and colloquialisms and who knows where any of them come from or who said them. I feel a research project coming on!

(C) Copyright Dale Preece-Kelly July 2010

Copin In Copenhagen

So you have decided on the destination for your short break this year, and you have chosen to go to Copenhagen in Denmark, Scandinavia. Here are a few ideas on what to do and where to go, and what sort of spending money you will need in order to have a good time.

The first thing you need to do, is find somewhere to stay. When I went, I chose to stay outside of the city - it's much cheaper and you get better accomodation for your money. Once there, you find the public transport system is excellent - clean, reliable and relatively inexpensive. I picked a lovely bed and breakfast hotel about 10 miles outside the city in a place called Glostrup. A beautiful little town, with shops and a very nice Scandinavian church, just half an hour by train to the city and a nice relaxing place to come back to after a full day out in the city.

Before you go you will need to save plenty of spending money. Copenhagen is very much more expensive than the UK. When I was there, a fast food meal from the usual place was around £7 in comparison to just under £4 here. For a pint of beer, expect to pay over £5 and for a meal at a mid range restaurant (for instance the Rock Cafe) expect to pay around £45 per person. If it's self catering you are doing then you will find most groceries are around the same as they are in the UK with the exception of bread (around 3 times the price) and wine which is about £7 a bottle. Beer from a grocery store, however, will cost a fifth of the bar price in the city, and cigarettes are about £3 a pack cheaper. It's bizarre how things work in different countries, but in Copenhagen you will benefit in some ways, but lose out if you want to eat and drink in restaurants every evening.

So what is there to do in Copenhagen ? Copenhagen is a beautiful city, that can take 4 days to explore on its own. It is clean, the people are friendly and there are all manner of stores, museums, galleries, architecture, and interesting things to see to keep even the most ardent traveller happy and begging for more. The city's train station in itself is an amazing place, but once outside you have so much to see and do.

Personally I took a walk down the river, in order to see the little mermaid, I visited the Kronborg Castle (see in Shakespeare's Hamlet), I visited the Round Tower exposing me to fantastic views of the city, I strolled along Stroget - the city's long long shopping street, I took in the city's museum of sex which anyone will find full of surprises and highly entertaining, and Tivoli Gardens - beautiful and picturesque, a hive of activity in the daytime and by night, where every Friday from April through September you are treated to free open air rock concerts, there is always something going on at Tivoli regardless of the time of year. I dined at the city's Rock Cafe once or twice, a fab place to sit and watch the residents of Copenhagen go about their daily routine, and just around the corner from the central train station.

This I did in 4 out of the 5 days I was there. On the other day, I did a really amazing thing - I visited Sweden! Yes it's possible to do - the Oresund bridge and tunnel connects Copenhagen to Malmo on mainland Sweden - it is possible to get there via car, train or ferry. The bridge combines a 4 lane motorway (the E20) and a train track, and it is possible to reach Sweden within 20 minutes! Once there you are free to explore some of Sweden and the Swedish way of life. Unfortunately Sweden is even more expensive than Denmark, and although very nice, clean, and full of friendly people I must say I preferred Denmark. One excellent thing in Malmo town square was the flea market, which did have some lovely local craft stalls along with many others.

Although it is quite an expensive place to visit and holiday in, it is well worth the time to visit. There are many things there that you will not find elsewhere in the world. The Scandinavian skyline, the architecture, the history (the worlds oldest royal lineage), the shops, the cleaner air (the air feels really fresh and "healthy") it has it all. So go even if just for a few days, and relish your time there - forget about the money if you can and just think about the experience.

(C) Copyright Dale Preece-Kelly July 2010

Basque In The Beauty

The Basque country is a much reputed area in northern Spain, high in the Pyrenees mountain range. Otherwise known as Biscay and a region steeped in history, from the Spanish civil war and the 2nd World War!

I was lucky enough a few years ago to be working for a Spanish company, who's headquarters were in Gernika in the Basque country. As such, I visited a few times on business. The area is beautiful, picturesque and idyllic. The people of the Basque country are very friendly and accommodating. It is not the war torn region that the media would have us believe.

I flew into Bilbao airport, in glorious sunshine. Bilbao is a beautiful clean city, with much to do. The Guggenheim Museum is an incredible building situated alongside a river. A contemporary building designed by Frank Gehry, housing modern art by Spanish and international artists, it is an amazing place clad in titanium and glass and designed in curves in order to catch random rays of light. Incredible! The city's public transport system will take you more or less to the doors of the Guggenheim.

In addition to this masterpiece of modern architecture, Bilbao holds attractions for all. Restaurants for everyone, bars, the fine arts museum, the Mercado Rural de Santa Tomas - a local flea market with bargains galore plus other flea markets, the amazing central square, the cathedral, there is a reasonably priced riding school, walking in the mountainous areas, more museums and art galleries, and on top of all of this there are the beaches to visit!

Drive 20km (or 30 minutes) North of Bilbao through the mountains and you come to the picturesque town of Gernika. A very historic town, close to the coast and full of charm. This town was the victim of Hitler in the 2nd World War when it was bombed in an effort by the Nazis to assist Franco to overthrow the Basque and Spanish Republican Governments. 1654 civilians lost their lives as a result of this attack, and the situation was immortalised in Pablo Picasso's painting "The Battle For Gernika".

Since then the town has rebuilt itself and is a stunning naturally Basque town full of narrow streets housing shops, restaurants, bars etc. For something a bit more picturesque you can drive about 7km east to the coast and sit on a terrace at a restaurant high in the mountains and eat your lunch with a drink overlooking the beautiful bays. Wherever you drive here, you see quaint hillside houses and beautiful churches on the mountainsides. Heaven!

The pace in this region is nice and relaxed - leisurely - life rolls by in its own time, and its a great way to unwind. If you want a relaxing holiday then visit this region of Spain and enjoy your time. If you are in Bilbao, then its definitely worthwhile visiting Gernika to experience its history - all of the public transport systems will take you there at a reasonable price.

Go to northern Spain and Basque in its beauty

(C) Copyright Dale Preece-Kelly June 2010

How Many Grains In A Bag Of A Sugar?

I opened a bag of sugar tonight. I asked my eldest daughter to guess how many grains were in the bag - she guessed at 27 million! I could not even begin to contemplate how many grains of sugar make up a kilo of sugar, never mind everything else in the world. How fascinating and amazing is this world of ours ?

There are so many unanswered questions, with so many things to contemplate. How many platelets in a pint of blood ? How many droplets of water in a cloud ? How many cells make up our body? How many stars in the universe (known and unknown)? How many species of spider (there are more being discovered all of the time)? How many blades of grass on a field? How many grains of sand on a beach, in the desert? It carries on . . . . How many questions about our world ?

How do we find the answers to these questions ? Going back to sugar, I Googled it ! There are apparently 17.6 million grains of sugar in a 1KG bag! This is deduced by the size and weight of sugar granules starting with demerera sugar and assuming 2.2 grains of white sugar = 1 grain of demerera! Crazy that this question has been answered.

So can we find the answer to all of our questions by using the internet ? Nobody seems to know how many stars are in the universe, or how many platelets are in a pint of blood (thought that one would have an answer) , or drops of water in a cloud, or any of the other questions. So many unanswered questions. What can we say to our children - perceptive as they are - as we kiss them good night and they glance out of their window and look at the stars, and promptly ask how many there are ? We make something up and generally tell a story and send them to sleep with a smile, as they close their eyes and think of all of the fairies with lanterns flying in the night sky! Then we walk out of their room, pull the door to and wonder to ourselves.

You could go crazy pondering every unanswered question, but there are so many. The point of this article ? Just to point out the wonders of our world, our universe. To ponder the unanswered, and make you think. There are so many phenomenally amazing facts yet to be discovered, I think sometimes we get lost in the day to day and forget the wonders of what makes our world turn, and our bodies tick tock, and our ecology support so much life (the only planet in the solar system - I wont admit the universe, because I believe!). We really do live in an amazing place and we need to appreciate that.

I guess you could call this a "green" article, because if we dont look after what we've got, then all of these questions will remain unanswered because our world will turn to dust before we get chance. Look after it, and these and many more questions will be answered, maybe not in our lifetime, but we can pave the way for our children and their children and their children's children . . . .

As for the question of how many stars there are in the universe - I still like to think of them as fairies with lanterns flying in the night sky, going about their busy lives. What do you think ? Do you believe in fairies ?

(C) Copyright Dale Preece-Kelly June 2010

Czech It Out

Continuing my series of articles on travel, we move from America to the Czech Republic - Prague to be precise.

I have only been once, on a four day excursion, but it was long enough for me to get a flavour for the country and the people. Two days before I was due to leave, I broke my ankle as I walked from the bank with my Czech currency!!! Luckily I worked for a wheel chair manufacturer and managed to take one with me, in order to get about - bad decision! I did not actually use it, and ended up hobbling every where! Prague is not a very wheel chair friendly place - due to its age, architecture and design. I bought a phrase book a couple of weeks before leaving, so that I could learn some rudimentary phrases - I find this an excellent way to get the best from a foreign holiday, as the locals are always honoured that you have taken the time to learn some of their language, and attempt communication and therefore you seem to get better service.

The hotel was not in the smartest district, nor was it of high calibre. It was about 2 miles outside the city and very basic, but comfortable - although the breakfast was a gorgeous continental style, with more than enough to eat and set you up for the day. It was needed, as due to the lack of a regular bus service, the trip to the city and back had to be walked (or hobbled) on a daily basis!!

The city of Prague is beautiful - ancient gothic architecture, buildings topped with gold, cobbled streets lined with bars, restaurants, shops and market stalls, alley ways off the main streets with plenty to be discovered and explored. Many many unusual items can be purchased, and there is plenty of choice of unusual items too! Things to see, include the town square, the astronomical clock which is world famous and totally amazing (people flock to see it as it strikes the hour!), Charles Bridge which spans the river and has market stalls all across it and a bronze you must rub for good luck, the churches are all amazing inside, you can climb to the top of the towers on Charles bridge for incredible views, the amazing historic Prague castle and about 70 miles outside Prague, the church of Sedlec.

Whilst you are out and about in the city, you will find restaurants galore serving traditional Czech food - not only is this very cheap, but the local Czech beer is only 50p a pint!!! Wonderful. There are plenty of shops to keep you happy selling local crafty gifts - I bought some Russian dolls. The alley ways, if you dare explore them (dont worry its impossible to get lost as you always end up back in the town square), hold undiscovered delights a-plenty - I found a gallery by an artist called Viktor Safonkin, who has been hailed the new Salvador Dali, and its true, his work is totally breath taking.

In terms of entertainment - you have bars, restaurants, clubs, theatres, all open ALL DAY!! Whilst I was there, I enjoyed the Black Light Theatre, which is a traditional Czech form of theatre using a black stage in a black box, using UV light and colourful marionettes in colourful costumes. Cheap to watch, intimate and very entertaining - a must see, because you wont see it anywhere else in the world!

If you like the macabre, then the Czech republic will suit you. It feels ancient, it feels like it could be scary, it feels darkly gothic and medieval - its a cool place. And what could be more macabre, more ancient and more gothic than the church of bones at Kutna Hora, in Sedlec?Sedlec is around 70 miles outside Prague and takes an hour on the train. A small unassuming town with little in the way of entertainment, but to see this incredible wonder of the Czech republic, its well worth the trip and essential you visit. The works of gothic art were put together by a half blind monk in the 16th Century, following the deaths of 30,000 people in the area from the bubonic plague - room was needed in the holy land surrounding the church and therefore the bones were moved to the ossuary to be stacked, but were fashioned into works of art, including a coat of arms, a chandelier utilising every bone in the human body, skull pyramids. An amazing display given the materials, and guaranteed to leave you astounded and amazed and with a memory of your holiday that will last your lifetime.

All in all I found Prague to be a fascinating and thoroughly relaxing place, full of friendly locals, giving good value for money and plenty to see and do. On the downside, it was not the cleanest place I have ever visited with human excrement in some places on the streets. Apart from that though, I enjoyed my visit and would happily visit again to find all of the things I missed. It is well worth the trip, although I would only stay for a few days, but it is certainly worth Czeching it out!

(C) Dale Preece-Kelly June 2010