Monday, November 8, 2010

Africa - Ready, steady, ski

Forget Austria, Italy and France. Ghana is the newest contender on the ski scene. After the Vancouver Winter Olympics, Kwame Nkrumah- Acheampong aka The Snow Leopard has finally embarked on his dream to develop the Ghana Ski Team with the launching of ‘The Ski Slope Project’ in Ghana on the 27th of November 2010. This project will see the first ever dry ski slope built in Sub-Saharan West Africa. The Ghana Ski Team is inviting international media, fans and the ski world to be part of this unique project to sponsor a meter of material at a cost of £30 to have your name permanently in history on a monument to thank those who helped bring skiing to Ghana.

In conjunction with the launch of the ski slope in Ghana the Ghana Ski
Team will also be launching an online scheme to recycle unwanted ski and snowboard equipment, through donating such equipment to the development of grassroots skiing in Ghana. The project will encourage winter sports enthusiasts worldwide to send their unwanted equipment to designated collection points for forwarding to Ghana.

Legally Blonde

Exotic resorts usually sell visions of their aquamarine waters and white sandy beaches to lure tourists. But one company is hoping the staff's hair color will be among the draws to its planned island paradise. A Lithuanian firm called Olialia -- pronounced "ooh-la-la"- has announced that it intends to build a resort in the Maldives that will employ blonde women only. There are plans to build a high-class blondes resort with hotels, entertainment and spa centers on the island. Other important assets in the resort will include an education centre called “Pretty Women which will teach female guests to always be perfect and look great," said the company's Giedre Pukiene. Olialia is already run and staffed by blonde women and has a variety of business interests, from selling food products to operating a limo service to running parties at popular Lithuanian nightclubs.

Olialia reportedly plans to open the resort in 2015, but the unusual business plan has already received world attention and is prompting lots of questions, outrage and doubts over whether it would ever be built. Maldivian media note that local resorts are required to employ a large percentage of Maldivian staff -- Olialia has not said whether employees would be required to dye their hair blond to work at the resort. The company claims it does not discriminate. “But we find that when women with dark hair work here, they are surrounded by all these beautiful blondes, so eventually they end up going blonde too," she told the BBC.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

A helping hand in Ghana

His distinct laugh won me over right from the start. One look at him and he would burst into chesty sounding hysterics, oblivious to the harsh surroundings. Kwame was about nine months old when I first met him at Osu Children’s Orphanage. No one knew his exact age but he was by far one of the healthier looking children in the ward packed with babies and toddlers.

Osu Orphanage was where I chose to do my volunteer work with my sister as we combined a holiday in Ghana with a chance to do some volunteer work. Our initial plan was to work on the street kids programme but as this proved impossible to organise at short notice, we signed up to voluntary work at Osu instead. During our introductory tour of the orphanage the baby unit cried out to my sister and I, where two American volunteers were visibly swamped by a lack of resources and hands to help them with nappy changing and feeding time. Once assigned to the cotful of babies the reality of a third world orphanage hit home. It didn’t help that we arrived just after lunchtime – which means babies from five months old are placed on potties all around the corridor, their heads unable to support themselves. I dared to ask why these babies were not still in nappies. “We don’t have time to be cleaning all their nappies all the time,” was the candid response from one of the aunties running the ward. My heart wrenched as dozens of forlorn eyes looked up at me whimpering to be saved from the potties that they were propped up on. We were told by the aunties to push their potties against bins, walls, cots and even each other for support. When one fell – which was inevitable - it was a dominos effect as all of them would tumble to the ground, with the consequences of upturned potties and hurt babies. I swiftly realised there was two ways to react to this situation – sob hysterically at the tragic set-up or to hold back the emotion and make the time to hug and cuddle these unwanted children. There was only one baby who seemed unperturbed by these tough surroundings: One little child who was propped up in his blue potty with a large bin to support him when I first caught eyes on him. He chuckled when I made eye contact. I did a peekaboo gesture from behind the bin and his protruded belly shook with ripples of laughter. “Who is he?” I asked Auntie Missy, intrigued by the sheer contentment of this baby. “Kwame,” she replied, her smile showing she was just as enamoured by this adorable child.

From that moment Kwame became “my little boyfriend”, the child I secretly wanted to adopt if I could and the baby that I would sneak out of his cot for a cuddle at any opportunity. My actual boyfriend laughed and raised his eyes as I told him about Kwame later that evening. “Oh god you want to do an Angelina on it,” he joked. Deep down, however, I knew he could see the impact this nine month old was having on me. Along with Kwame I had never seen so many children in one room in need of a cuddle. Without volunteers in these orphanages these children stuck indoors all day and there aren’t enough people to clean them, never mind give them quality playtime. I felt both queasy and excited at returning to the orphanage the next day. Sure enough Kwame was there to give me my morning pick me up with a heart warming smile. He had already been fed his porridge mix so I moved on to the smaller babies, letting them glug down their bottles of formula before lying them on the large playmat where they scratched and kicked at eachother for space. Meanwhile the older children at the other end of the corridor would be calling out “Obruni, obruni” (white person) arms outstretched and begging to be picked up for a cuddle. There wasn’t enough time, however, as babies were crying to be washed, changed and fed. The aunties were telling me I needed to speed up my rota of washing babies, while my heart cried out to each of them as I wanted to cuddle them for hours instead of seconds. Hours later once we had washed every baby and pinned their cloth nappies on them and had them back in their cots; I focused on the other children who ranged in age from one to two years. We would take them outside for a run around, play games under the shade of the trees, sing them songs and buy them bananas and juice from the market close by. The rush for second and third helpings of bananas was overwhelming. They would clamour over each other to get one more taste of the sweet fruit.

On my last day at Osu it was unsurprisingly difficult saying goodbye to the children, especially Kwame. I sneaked a cuddle and a picture with him promising I would be back next year. The next day, however, I got a surprise call from one of the volunteers to say Kwame was gone from the orphanage. He had been adopted a few hours after I had kissed him goodbye.It made my departure from Ghana a little easier knowing that the future can be bright for some of the babies like Kwame, despite their tumultuous start in life.

To volunteer at Osu Children's Home visit

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Keeping up appearances

Dubai may appear cosmopolitan and modern to the outsider, but Muslim traditions still prevail in the Arab emirate. Break the rules and you'll pay the price.

“Let’s just say if your dress was any shorter you might be insulting the Arabs.” This was the advice an Irish embassy representative in the UAE gave me when I quizzed him about etiquette in Dubai. Fortunately I am not easily offended and heeded his advice in good humour, swiftly changing from my dress into more appropriate attire. Other foreigners, however, are not as understanding of the customs in Muslim populated holiday destinations. Most recently a British tourist stripped down to her bikini in a Dubai shopping mall after a group of Emirati women approached her to declare she was dressed inappropriately. Rather than respect the tradition (and the signs all over the public shopping areas) that covering up is obligatory, the infuriated Brit decided to make a stance there and then. She shed her clothes and stood in her bikini much to the shock of other shoppers and horrified locals. She was consequently arrested and taken to a police cell, where charges against her were later dropped. If she had any sense, however, she would realise in Arab territory you do not mess with the law, nor try to oppose it. After all this is a place where you can be sentenced to death for carrying drugs or stoned to death for murder. Prison terms are also handed out for situations that we may regard as genuinely sweet gestures in Western society. A kiss could be seen as an inappropriate display of affection and anything more amorous than this could land you in a prison cell for a night or longer. This was proven when the British couple involved in the infamous “sex on the beach” scandal in Dubai last year were charged, fined and given a month’s jail sentence.

The number of Irish tourists to Muslim tourist destinations like Dubai and Abu Dhabi is on the constant rise while the Irish ex-pat community in the UAE has grown significantly in recent years, now totalling four thousand. However all signs indicate the Irish have not caused much disruption since their take up in this Arab emirate. “We are aware of only a small number of Irish citizens who have been arrested in the United Arab Emirates since January 2009,” says a representative of the Irish embassy based in Abu Dhabi. “We are not aware that they concern a lack of awareness of local laws or customs.” Irish ex-pat Shane McGinley echoes this viewpoint. “I think the Irish are good at keeping under the radar and not offending. Our Catholic restraint meshes well with Muslim sensibilities. It is usually boozy Brits that make the headlines.” Shane has been living in Dubai for almost two years and swiftly realised the things you can and can’t do in Arab culture. “There are always the horror stories about people being arrested for kissing in public but if you are smart you can stay under the radar. It is important also to always be aware if Muslim families are around, especially if you’ve had a few to drink. I have also noticed Arabs are getting stricter on clothing lately so it is best to cover up, especially in shopping malls.”

Unmarried men and women living together is one of the main offences committed by ex-pats living in Dubai and the neighbouring emirates. “They can’t live together unless they are married, but everyone has mixed households and flats,” says Shane. When it comes to public displays of affection, however, this is not as easy to get away with. “Shows of affection do happen and you may get a tap on your shoulder from a bouncer if you are kissing in a nightclub,” says Shane. “That said there are certain bars and clubs that only foreigners frequent so they are usually more liberal and laid back.” While the Arabs dominate how the state is run, there is a noticeable hierarchy in the UAE. “How you are directly treated depends on what nationality you are,” says Shane. “In the west we try to be all PC and pretend that doesn’t happen, in the Gulf there is no such urge to pretend. If you are European in Dubai, you will always be treated better than an Indian. Arabs are on top and men get prominence over women.”

While the UAE boasts the typical holiday attractions of sandy beaches and warm weather to draw an international crowd of tourists and ex-pats, it shows no signs of relaxing its laws or traditions, especially with regard to alcohol, clothing and public displays of affection. In particular this month the rules become even stricter as Ramadan gets underway. The month of devout praying and fasting can be a frustrating time for ex-pats and tourists. “Ramadan means you can’t eat drink or smoke in public and you can be fined or arrested,” explains Shane. “Loud music is also frowned upon, so no music in your car or load parties are allowed. Clubs are closed too and there are no concerts or entertainment events.” While it is a less popular time for holidaymakers to visit Dubai and more ex-pats tend to leave the emirates for their holidays during this period, Shane is one of the few ex-pats that embraces the holy month, for ironic reasons perhaps. “Dubai ex-pat life is very drink led so in some ways the quiet month is a new time to detox and give your system a rest.”

For information on travelling to Muslim holiday destinations or relocating there visit the Irish embassy website .

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Europe on a plate

Eating out is one of the pleasures of going on holiday, but for some gastronomic tourists the food is the deciding factor for which destinations to visit writes Karen Creed

1. Turin
It is unlikely that anyone who visits Turin will be returning home on an empty stomach. The taste and variety of local dishes make a good case for the city being Italy’s food capital. So what’s on the menu? Visit famous café Molusanno for a nibble on delicious tramezzini (sandwiches), washed down by piping hot chocolate at Café Baratti & Milano. Turin’s other desirable edibles include fritto misto, a mouth-watering concoction of fried seafood that features fish, squid, crab and cuttlefish. Desserts are similarly lavish, with unique white truffles, pralines and gianduiotti chocolates being the very definition of guilty pleasures. Best of all, you could go on a café crawl to compare drinks as Turin is home to four of Italy’s eighteen best cafés, as chosen by Italy’s gastronomic bible, Il Gambero Rosso. Turin’s tradition does not extend solely to food and cafes with impressive wines also, such as the Malvasia and the Barolo. Before visiting Turin it is worth reading Eating in Italy by Faith.H. Willinger.

2. Marrakesh
Moroccans proudly assert that their cooks produce one of the four great cuisines of the world (the others being Chinese, French and Indian). From lamb tagine to minced lamb, Marrakesh in particular is a meat lover’s heaven. The food stalls in Djemaa El Fna offer the best taste of street food from some of the world’s biggest and most colourful al fresco kitchens. You can sample every Moroccan staple here - tajines and couscous, kebabs and spicy sausage. Beyond the square, in the narrow streets of the medina, there are places where traditional and tasting menus excel in elegant settings. Dine on chicken tagine on El Baraka’s terrace with a view of the Atlas Mountains or else consider l’Abyssin with a Mediterranean-influenced menu. Before leaving Marrakesh one may be brave enough to try the street food lover’s Holy Grail, the luscious meat scraped from a whole sheep’s head and served with crusty Moroccan bread. For more information visit

3. Budapest
With more than one thousand eateries in Budapest, how do you choose? The restaurants in Hungary stretch way beyond the stereotypical expectations of goulash. Apetito in the Castle Buda district is one of the most charming restaurants in the city with an eclectic menu including smoked mackerel with tomato ice-cream and pear and shrimp soup. Modern venues like Karma flank the vibrant Franz Liszt Square where goose liver and spicy pork are regular features. Hungary is not exactly the right country for vegetarians, but local salads are always fresh, and slices of barbecued sheep cheese are often offered. If you have a sweet tooth, do not forget to stop by at the First Strudel House in Budapest, where you can enjoy a good lunch, after which comes nothing less than a delicious roll. You can choose a strudel with cord, apples, cherries, plums, cabbage and of course poppy. For more information on food in Budapest consider, The Food Lover’s Guide to Budapest by Carolyn Banfalvi.

4. Lyon
Most French regions have their culinary delights and Lyon is no exception. One can hardly speak of this French city without mentioning the celebrated Paul Bocuse restaurant. Although it is not centrally located it is well worth the trek as the food is exquisite. For a delicious lunch alfresco, try frites from the stands in the park, or make a picnic with cheese from Mère Richard, bread from Jacquier Pascal, charcuterie from Reynon or Jean Plasse and chocolates from Bernachon. A gastronomical tour of Lyon would not be complete without the famous bouchons like La Mère Cottivet, where you can have a plate of meat from 10am onwards, or a saint-marcellin cheese with a glass of Beaujolais. Lyon happily benefits from a nearby vineyard, which provides a welcome addition to every course ordered in a restaurant. Côtes du Rhône and Beaujolais wines are a permanent feature of the Lyon restaurant table. For information on Lyon eateries visit

5. San Sebastian
Food is taken very seriously in this Basque city, as a stroll through La Brecha market or a bite to eat at one of many Tapas bars proves. San Sebastian has more Michelin stars per capita than any other city but even the most ordinary establishments serve food and drink of a high standard. Tapas bars are the ideal lunchtime hangout for price, atmosphere and most importantly taste with some of the best bites being octopus, sizzling kidneys, lamb brochette, potato omelettes and slices of glistening ham. Both cod with pil-pil and the baked crab are traditional dishes of San Sebastian while the two most popular tipples are apple cider and Txakoli, a dry white wine. To bring home a taste of San Sebastian you can purchase a dazzling array of deli items and wines at Solbes. Finally for a Michelin treat consider the stunning Akelarre, perched on cliffs looking out onto La Concha Bay. It is renowned for New Basque Cuisine and the house speciality of milk fed lamb cooked two ways. For food recommendations in San Sebastian visit guides/San_Sebastian

Friday, November 6, 2009

Lonely Planet founder stands by Cork as one of the world’s Top 10 destinations

The founder of Lonely Planet has fended off criticism after Cork was voted one of the top 10 places to visit in 2010 this week. Speaking at a travel conference in Galway, Tony Wheeler says he was overwhelmed by how much debate there was surrounding Cork, after it was voted one of Lonely Planet’s top 10 destinations. As the rebel county embraced the recognition, it sparked a nationwide debate on the airwaves, with some claiming Cork lacks the charm to be awarded iconic status. Lonely Planet’s front man, however, defended the decision by his publishing company to include Cork on the list, and claims the reason for the city’s entry is down to a number of factors. “Firstly the island’s Lonely Planet author would have said Cork is brilliant and deserves more attention. Also the Europe regional guide has a commissioning editor who would have picked Cork as a really happening place.” Tony says there was a similar reaction in New York two years ago when Brooklyn was heralded as one of the top destinations by Lonely Planet. “There was uproar in Manhattan, but the people in Brooklyn were delighted.”

Tony’s return to Ireland this week coincided not just with the launch of Lonely Planet’s 2010 hit list, but also to speak about a growing trend of adventure and activity holidays in Ireland. According to Failte Ireland the adventure holiday sector generates revenue of approximately €1.1 billion annually. Also this area of tourism is proving to be a lucrative market with activity tourists spending up to 40% more than the average tourist. Tony not only agrees that adventure and activity tourism is on the rise, but that it is crucial to anyone travelling in a recession. “People are trying to make their money go further and that is why adventure holidays are great. It makes sense to go off on a walking or cycling holiday as it is much cheaper than renting a car and driving around some place.” His recognition of the “staycation” is also at the forefront of Lonely Planet’s guidebooks, and changes have been made to encourage readers with more ideas for holidaying close to home if they can’t afford farflung destinations.

While the “staycation” is still a rather gloomy proposition for many Irish holidaymakers who crave the sun, Tony doesn’t believe that is a reason not to enjoy a holiday in Ireland. He claims our weather is in fact part of the attraction. “At the moment here in Galway there is wind, rain and the sun is shining all at once, “he says. “If you don’t like the weather, you just wait fifteen minutes,” he adds. Tony’s upbeat attitude to travel is what makes him so popular in the industry and successful in his world domination. Since the company started from humble beginnings in 1972 - when Tony and his wife Maureen wrote a book on how to travel around Southeast Asia on a shoestring – it is now developed into a multi million euro business that publishes over 500 books and has 400 staff.

So are there any countries or destinations that remain undiscovered by Lonely Planet? “There are always new places to find and explore,” says Tony. “I try and go to at least a few new ones every year. I would be disappointed if there wasn’t a new place to visit. This year I went to Malawi and then Costa Rica which is a bit like Ireland with lots of adventure.”

Next year his wife Maureen is off to Charleston in America (as voted in Lonely Planet’s 2010 hit list) while Tony has yet to narrow down his wish list. Cork aside, Lonely Planet’s nine other desirable destinations for next year include Cuenca, Sarajevo, Abu Dhabi, Kyoto, Lecce, Singapore, Vancouver, Istanbul, and Charleston. Tony rates Sarajevo as one of the most intriguing. “It was once totally off the radar and now it is back on it. Similarly Cork has been getting more popular all the time.” In fact Cork was one of the first places that Tony visited in the early years of Lonely Planet. His preference is Cobh to Cork city and he remembers his fascination with the Titanic and the Lusitania during his first visit to the seaside town. “I have a friend who has been to every single country in the world but I haven’t got to his stage quite yet.” says Tony with an obvious intention to achieve this record some day. Perhaps if he is not scuba diving in the Pacific, or eating delicious noodles in Singapore, he might come back to Cork next year to see if the city really deserves the Lonely Planet title.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

8 reasons to try freelance journalism

1.You are your own boss. As a freelance writer you can enjoy an independence rarely experienced in other professions.

2.Your source of material and work is endless.

3.You can specialise in your passions.

4.You can work from home. Your costs are miniscule and your only essential tool is a computer and a phone.

5.For every story you write, you will learn at least one new fact.

6.For every story you write, you will meet at least one new person.

7.Your hours are flexible. Freelance writing is something you can do part-time. Unless you are out on assignment you can work from home, at the times that best suit you.

8.A hobby can become a career. You can turn any interest you have into profit by being published. If you have a passion for travel, adventure, show business, the arts, health and fitness, food or finance you can turn this into a money-making pursuit. Similarly if you have a professional skill, readers would like to hear from you.