Explore Loch Ness for Less

Posted June 1, 2009 by Kate Hamman

UK-ScotlandLochNessCastle-DEF It's rare to hear about Loch Ness without instantly thinking of its elusive monster, Nessie. And though exploring the lake on a boat cruise is definitely a fun and essential excursion, there are plenty of other reasons to enjoy your trip. While in lovely Loch Ness, you can also practice your step dance at a club known for its music, and then keep a watchful eye on the lake from the comfort of your hotel room.

Jacobite: If you want to search for Nessie from the safety of a boat, Jacobite offers daily tours of the Loch, lasting from one to six hours. Some trips include stops at the historic Urquhart Castle. The one-hour Inspiration Cruise is the shortest and least expensive option; costing £11 (about $18 U.S.; check for current exchange rates) per adult.

Hootananny: After a long day on the water, you'll need to add a little stomp to your step at Hotananny's. This popular club features traditional Scottish music and contemporary hits every night. Here, you can choose from three individual venues in one place, including rock music at Mad Hatters, a lounge vibe at the Bothy Sofa Bar, and lively ceilidhs at the downstairs Ceilidh Cafe Bar. Entrance is free most evenings, and the pub serves a range of local organic ales and lagers, as well as whiskey.

Craigdarroch House Hotel: For crystal-clear views of Loch Ness, the Craigdarroch House Hotel is the only four-star property with rooms overlooking the water. This country-house hotel in Foyers is run by husband-and-wife team Elanor and Martin, who make your comfort their main priority. They've created an ambiance that takes you back to a different time, with deep wood paneling, antique furnishings, and high molded ceilings. Each room is en suite, and comes with a hospitality sweet tray upon check-in. Rooms start at £80 per person, and include a full Scottish breakfast.

To search for flights and compare prices to Inverness, which is home to Loch Ness’ nearest major airport, please use our price-comparison tool.

(Photo: Britian on View)

Town and Gown in Oxford, England

Posted May 18, 2009 by Kate Hamman

England-Oxford-RdclfCmra-DEF When it's time once again to put on your thinking cap, look to a city like Oxford for literary stimulation. This medieval university town has been home to many great writers who studied long hours, stopped for pints to relax, and bought pub fare for sustenance here. Come see where these masters of the English language spent much of their academic lives and walk amongst the town and gown of this historical city.

Bodleian Library: It's not surprising Oxford would have the second largest library in the U.K. Nor is it the least bit shocking it's housed in architecturally impressive buildings more than 500 years old. The Bodleian Library, whose stacks hold in excess of seven million volumes, is an outstanding resource for the written word. Guided tours give insight into both the massive collections and those literary folk who studied here, including Oscar Wilde, J.R.R. Tolkien, and C.S. Lewis. The standard one-hour tour costs £2.50 per person (about $3.85 U.S. dollars; see for current conversion rates) and covers sights such as the Duke Humfrey's medieval library and the 17th-century Convocation House and Court.

Eagle and Child: Years before their books were adapted into blockbuster films, C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien would meet in this pub as part of a literary group known as "The Inklings." Rumor has it they even read from their works, The Chronicles of Narnia and The Hobbit. The "Bird and Baby," as it is affectionately called by locals, still caters to Oxford students discussing literature, but also welcomes anyone who wishes to pay their respects to the writers who once drank here. Grab a pint and take a peek at the memorabilia, which includes a plaque honoring the Inklings.

Oxford Covered Market: Serving as a place to buy goods for more than 1,000 years, the Covered Market in the heart of Oxford will take you back to Olde England. After you've admired the stalls of colorful fruits and vegetables at the greengrocer's, stop at the Oxford Cheese Company for a wedge of farmhouse cheddar or have your shoes resoled at the Oxford Cobbler. It doesn't cost a thing to browse, and you could spend days sifting through the plethora of specialty items. When your feet need a rest, grab a quick baguette with artisan crisps (British for potato chips) at mortons@work for under £4 or head home with a bag of tea from Cardews of Oxford.

To search for flights and compare prices to London, which is home to Oxford’s nearest major airport, please use our price-comparison tool.

(Photo: Steve Geer)

Go Beyond the Grave in York, England

Posted May 12, 2009 by Kate Hamman

England-York-Betty'sCafe-DEF York exudes English charm, especially along its winding medieval street called the Shambles. However, don't be fooled by its picturesque setting, as the city has plenty of secrets lurking in the shadows, including its reputation as one of the most haunted cities in Europe. Get to know the town by walking through its spooky history, dining with its ghosts, and drinking its tea inspired by an infamous ocean liner.

The Ghost Trail of York: The Ghost Trail of York takes you along darkened streets at night, while you listen to tales of murder, plague, heartbreak, and revenge beyond the grave. A costumed guide waits in front of the York Minster every night at 7:30 p.m., regardless of weather, to reveal the gruesome and tragic events of York's past. Tickets cost £4.00 (about $6.00 U.S.; check for current conversion rates) and the tour lasts about one hour and 15 minutes.

Golden Fleece: When you go to a pub for spirits, it's unlikely you're thinking of the dearly departed variety. The Golden Fleece, however, typically serves both. Built in 1503, you'll find York's most haunted drinking establishment across from the historical Shambles. Skip the drinks and go right to the main attraction of comfort foods, such as homemade Yorkshire pudding. Try not to be too alarmed if you catch sight of Lady Peckett, one of the five resident spirits. For a haunting good time, you can also rent one of the four rooms and spend the night with your newfound friends. Entrees start at £6.25.

Bettys Café Tea Rooms: Bettys Café Tea Rooms on St. Helen's Square captures the elegance of afternoon tea with absolute precision. Inspired by the founder's maiden voyage aboard the Queen Mary in 1936, the ornate and extravagant interior is reminiscent of the grand ocean liner which, incidentally, is haunted. A cup of the Tea Room Blend costs £2.95, but order Yorkshire Cream Tea, served in a piping hot pot with two scones, preserves, and clotted cream for £7.95, for a truly authentic experience.

To search for flights and compare prices to Leeds, which is home to York’s nearest major airport, please use our price-comparison tool.


Sky-High Weddings? Airline Seeks Unconventional Revenue

Posted May 7, 2009 by Nicki Krawczyk

Airplane-Wedding-Cake-Topper-718332 In today’s economy, we’re all trying to be a little extra creative about saving and making money. Some of us are canceling cable. Some of us are taking second jobs. Some of us are building tanks for jellyfish.

If you’re an airline, of course, things are no different. You’re still looking to cut corners and bring in cash to make up for deficits—your deficits just tend to be closer to the million-to-billion dollar range. So...yeah, you might have to get creative. Whereas offering discount flights may have cut the mustard in the past, you might have to step it up a bit now. Charging for luggage? Been there. Charging for meals? Done that. Charging one person for two seats? Puh-lease. Well, leave it to the British to think out of the box, if not out of the plane.

Budget UK airline, easyJet, has just announced its plan to hold in-flight weddingsas a way of generating a little extra cash. And, oh, it’s not just for those lucky couples who met by being sat side-by-side found love in the great blue yonder. easyJet suggests that perhaps couples might enjoy saving time and save money by just getting married on the way to their honeymoon destination. (Saving time on their wedding: Many a bride’s dream come true.)

Of course, before easyJet can swing this new revenue-generator, they’ll have to change the law in the UK that states that wedding ceremonies can only legally be conducted in a permanent (non-moving) structure and be officiated by a minister of religion or registrar employed by a local council. Details, details.

It’s a little zany and I can’t say that I can picture printing “easyJet” on my wedding invitations, but I definitely applaud the thinking. Obviously, doing business the same old way isn’t helping the airline industry to turn a profit; putting them back in the black is going to require some risk-taking and more than a little creativity. But do I think it’s possible for them to muster the talents and come up with some winning ways to make money. Oh, I do. (Couldn’t resist.)


Around the World in 80 Tweets

Posted April 3, 2009 by Katie Blais

Twitter_fail_whale Truly a tale for these times. British traveler Paul Smith has completed a trip around the world solely using the good will of others on Twitter. While most people use Twitter to stalk their favorite celebs or tell everyone they are stuck in traffic on their way to work, Smith decided to use it for a good cause, helping him get from London to New Zealand all while raising around $7,000 for his water charity. The rules were that he couldn’t plan anything more than three days in advance, he couldn’t stay in any destination longer than 48 hours, and it had to come from one of his friends on Twitter.  

At the end of his journey (he was just shy of his final destination of World Heritage Site Campbell Island because the next ferry doesn’t depart until November), Paul had 11,000 followers on Twitter and had gained enough media attention that he was able to score a free flight to New Zealand and got his picture taken with Liv Tyler—not too shabby if you ask me!

It makes me want to use my Facebook and Twitter accounts for than just posting pictures from last weekend’s shenanigans and picking my top five favorite cartoons.

It’s in the Bag

Posted March 20, 2009 by Katie Blais

Baggageclaim A consumer bureau in The U.K. has given us another reason to not check our bags. Besides those pesky checked-bag fees, it has been reported that carriers lost some 40 million bags back in 2007, with a projected annual total of 70 million by 2019 … EEK!  I have been lucky enough to never lose a bag during a flight—quick, I need some wood to knock on—but I always wait with baited breath at the baggage claim every time I fly.  So what to do when your underwear is in Denver and you are in Dusseldorf, or even worse, some jerk walks off with your bag

Unfortunately, since airlines have different rules for what constitutes a missing bag versus a lost bag, it can take anywhere from a week to even a month for a resolution and then there is a lot of rigmarole as to what you can actually claim. The amount varies depending on whether you are on a domestic or international flight, what airline you were flying with etc, etc. Once you and the airline have come to terms with an amount, you can wait months to actually get paid out … fun times!

So besides jumping on top of your bag and riding it through the turnstile until it gets loaded, what can you do to make sure your bag arrives at the gate with you?  A few tips are to always:

  • label your bag with your home address
  • pay close attention when you check in that the correct tags are put on your bag
  • have something on your bag that makes it stand out (I feel less foolish about having a flowered suitcase now) in a sea of black Samsonites
  • keep your valuables (both monetary and sentimental) with you in your carry-on.

(Photo: Google Images)        

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