Monthly Archives: April 2017

Beirut offers a mezze of cultural attractions

Lebanon currently sees no more than a trickle of western tourists, others discouraged by political turbulence. The UK Foreign Commonwealth Office labels the no-go zones – and these I avoided. Sadly the list includes some of Lebanon’s premier sites and notably the colossal and remarkably preserved Roman temples of Baalbek.

But the areas I did see were completely relaxed and unthreatening, with an apparent easy ethnic mix. In rebuilt Downtown Beirut you could be in any smart European capital – albeit with some restored Ottoman-era facades. There are glossy shops, sophisticated restaurants and stylishly-dressed Lebanese living life to the full. Go at sunset to the achingly cool rooftop Iris Bar, overlooking the Med, to witness the hedonistic lifestyle enjoyed by the youth of Beirut.

Unmissable landmarks in Beirut

Muhammad Al-Amine Mosque

Al Amine Mosque (or Hariri Mosque), Beirut (c) Susie Boulton

Beirut my sightseeing starts at the Muhammad Al-Amine Mosque, a city landmark with its dazzling blue dome and lofty minarets. Although I’m covered from head to toe I’m told to don a huge black-hooded cloak – a stark contrast to the scantily-clad Lebanese ladies shopping in the designer boutiques a stone’s throw away.

Sursock Museum

I head to Christian East Beirut to see the Sursock Museum in the affluent quarter of Achrafieh. This elegant Italian/Lebanese 1912 mansion reopened in 2015 after a major overhaul and is now a cutting edge 21st-century cultural institution, devoted to modern and contemporary art.

National Museum

Directly to the south, and right on the former ‘Green Line’ separating East and West Beirut, is the National Museum, home to a superb archaeological collection, much of it heroically saved by staff from destruction during the civil war.

Special places along the coast

Lebanon is such a tiny nation you can base yourself in Beirut, and make excursions to other attractions. Jeita Grotto, 18km northeast of Beirut, is a colossal cavern of stalactities and stalagmites which would thrill even the most jaded speleologist. On the coast at Jounieh the Téléférique (cable car), dubbed the Terrorifique, climbs steeply up to the heights of Harissa. Here a striking white statue of the Virgin of Lebanon commands spectacular coastal views.

The ancient site of Byblos

Byblos Centre (c) Susie Boulton

But the real highlight along the coast is the ancient site of Byblos, a picturesque fishing port, occupied by the Phoenicians and said to be the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world. I climb to the top of the Crusader Castle and explore the ruins of ramparts, temples and a Roman theatre, set amid wild flowers above the sea.

Qadisha Valley

From Byblos I head inland through the scenic Qadisha Valley to the peaceful mountain town of Ehden, where Lebanese come in summer to escape the heat and in winter to ski on the Cedars Mountains’ slopes. I stay at the swish new Mist Hotel, above the town and built into the rocks.

Pool at Mist Hotel, Ehden (c) Susie Boulton

Soaking up the mountain scenery, in absolute tranquillity, and exploring Ehden’s beautiful nature reserve, it’s impossible to believe that this picturesque resort was the scene of a massacre, with around 40 deaths, between rival Christian factions during the civil war.

A stroll along the Corniche

My final day in Lebanon ends with a stroll along Beirut’s seafront Corniche, where locals come to jog, bike, socialize and see the sunset. Following the coastline the Bay Rock Café makes the perfect spot for a cocktail or nargileh as the sun sinks behind the iconic 60-metre high Pigeon Rocks, standing offshore like sentinels.

Pigeon Rocks (c) Susie Boulton

Heading back to my base I pass the lavish 5-star Phoenicia Hotel, a haunt of celebrities in the 1960s. Behind it rises the bullet-ridden Holiday Inn, built in 1974, just one year before it became embroiled in the ‘Battle of the Hotels’. Overlooking the city the disfigured facade stands as a monument to the city’s war-torn past. But there are plans to renovate or rebuild, perhaps into another glittering development, following Lebanon’s journey from Armageddon to Armani.

Jane Austen trail across Britain

Jane Austen and Hampshire

Jane was born in Steventon in Hampshire. She is also buried in the county’s Winchester Cathedral. She did most of her writing in Hampshire and even penned her first novel, Sense and Sensibility, here. So, it makes sense that this county is the focal point for the Jane Austen 200 commemorations.

Jane Austen House (c) Visit Hampshire/Laura McCready

Start your trip at Jane Austen’s House Museum (her former home) and Chawton House Library in the village of Chawton, which is hosting changing exhibitions, talks, activities and other special celebrations up until December.

In the meantime, Winchester Cathedral is running “Tours and Tea” every month until November exploring Jane’s life and in Basin

Jane’s footsteps in Bath

The South West Spa city of Bath is a great place to get to know Jane Austen, where she lived between 1801 and 1806. The city’s perfectly preserved Georgian architecture remains unchanged from the streets depicted in Northanger Abbey and Persuasion.

Visitors can step back in time with a free downloadable audio walking tour of the city In the footsteps of Jane Austen, that includes extracts from her novels and letters, which brilliantly describe Bath as it would have been in its Georgian heyday. Be sure to stop off at the Jane Austen Centre, located in a Georgian town house just a few doors down from where she once lived and home to an exhibition of costumes, manuscripts, and film clips to bring the author’s world to life and explore the city’s influence on her work, as well as the all-important Regency Tea Rooms (£11 per adult and £5.50 per child).

Jane Austen Festival (c) VisitBath

And for true enthusiasts, visit between 8-17 September to join the largest gathering of Jane Austenenthusiasts at the Jane Austen Festival. Previous years have seen fans donning full regency garb at the Grand Regency Costumed Promenade, meeting their very own Mr Darcy at the Country Dance Ball, and dancing their sense and sensibilities away at the Regency Costumed Masked Ball. 2017 will see the 17th edition of the annual festival. Tickets on sale now.

Explore Jane Austin’s seaside sojourns in Lyme Regis

Jane is known to have visited and loved Lyme Regis. In her letters to her sister Cassandra she described walking on the Cobb and tellingly her last novel Persuasion was set in the Dorset seaside town.

It’s easy to explore the area especially with a guided tour with Literary Lyme who offers a several walking tours of Lyme Regis and the Jurassic Coast that follow in the footsteps of several authors who lived or visited Lyme Regis. In the mix is a visit to the Golden Cap, the highest point in Southern England, which features in a film adaptations of  Persuasion – 90 minute tours cost from £10 per person.

Literary Trails and film buff locations in Berkshire

Jane Austen went to school at Abbey Gateway, Reading between 1785 and 1786. It was the only time in her life she lived away from home.

To get an insight explore the area on a Readipop Reading Literary Trail, a free walking tour developed by a group of young locals, as part of a heritage project called Reading on Tour to uncover Reading’s hidden history.

Film buffs may like to visit the 18th-century Palladian mansion of Basildon Park. It had two roles, one as Mr Bingley’s house, Netherfield and the other it was the dreamy location for Darcy and Elizabeth’s first meeting in the 2005 production of Pride and Prejudice starring Keira Knightley as Elizabeth Bennett and Matthew MacFadyen as Mr Darcy.

With both its impressive exterior and many of its indoor spaces featuring in the lavish production, Basildon is instantly recognisable to fans. Entry to Basildon Park costs £14 per adult; £7.50 per child.

Jane and her family were regulat visitors to Goodnestone Park and gardens. Set amidst 14 acres of 18th century parkland, the house retains a lot of original features from Austen’s time taking guests back to the dinners and dances she would have attended there.

As well as being home to Austen’s heritage, Kent is home to a number of locations for well-known film and TV adaptations of her books.

BBC’s adaptation of “Emma” starring Romola Garai and Johnny Lee Miller showed off the idyllic village of Chillham, which represented 18th Century Highbury and Squerryes Court in Westerham, which doubled as Emma’s family home.

The Keira Knightley big screen adaptation of Pride and Prejudice also found its home in Kent with Groombridge Place in Tunbridge Wells providing the perfect visualisation of the Bennet’s family home. Visitors can take in the gardens and enchanted forest year-round (from £10.95 per adult and £8.95 per child).

Jane Austen by the sea in East Sussex

The seaside town of Brighton makes an appearance in Pride and Prejudice as the place where the flirtatious Lydia Bennett flees with her roguish lover, George Wickham.

The author’s relationship with coastal resorts is explored in an exhibition “Jane Austen by the Sea” at The Royal Pavilion (until 8 January 2018) looking at life in Brighton during her time, to mark the bicentenary of her death.

It paints a picture of the fashionable watering hole in the early 1800s, when it was a thriving garrison town featured in Austen’s novels alongside other towns all along the south coast.

Curator Dr Alexandra Loske has gathered items including highlights such as King George IV’s personal, specially-bound copy of Emma at the Royal Pavilion for the first time, a mourning brooch containing a lock of Jane Austen’s hair, one of her music books, and important rare manuscripts and letters including unfinished novel, Sanditon, set in a seaside town in Sussex.

These sit alongside prints, paintings and caricatures of the resorts and fashions popular with coastal visitors in Austen’s lifetime, and original Regency costumes from Brighton & Hove’s own collection.

JFK Airport Terminal Project

JetBlue (NASDAQ: JBLU), New York’s Hometown Airline®, today released a Request for Qualifications (RFQ) for the development of a terminal at New York’s JFK Airport. This development initiative is aligned with New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s vision plan to transform JFK International Airport into an airport equipped to meet the demands of the 21st century. In coordination with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey’s master plan process, JetBlue is seeking to lead the development of the former Terminal 6 site and potentially the Terminal 7 site.

JetBlue will identify innovative development opportunities that meet the needs of travelers in the New York region. The project would accommodate increases in customer traffic in the airline’s largest focus city, enhance and facilitate codesharing and interline agreements, and open the door to new value-enhancing partnership opportunities.

“Terminal 5 has been and will continue to be a key factor in our success in New York from a customer experience and revenue growth perspective,” said Lisa Reifer, vice president infrastructure, properties and development, JetBlue. “This project lays the groundwork for JetBlue’s future leadership in our largest focus city. We are seeking innovative, cost- and capital-efficient approaches to Governor Cuomo’s ambitious vision for JFK to deliver a world-class airport experience for our customers and crewmembers while allowing us to maximize the value of our strategic airport assets.”

JetBlue is opening this RFQ process to developers. After receiving submissions from the RFQ, JetBlue will identify a select pool of qualified bidders to participate in a Request for Proposal (RFP) process later this year. For a copy of the RFQ, please email gs-JetBlue-JFK-Correspondence@gs.com. Responses are due no later than 5:00 pm ET on August 11, 2017.

T5’s World Class Experience – In 2008, in partnership with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, JetBlue opened its state-of-the-art Terminal 5 (T5) facility. T5 is the newest terminal at JFK and focuses on delivering a leading customer experience and operational efficiency. In 2014, JetBlue opened T5i, its international arrivals hall extension bringing Federal Inspection Services in-house, creating a more seamless experience for customers. T5i development produced nearly 1,000 jobs for workers in the New York region during the construction period.

From JFK, JetBlue offers up to 175 daily nonstop flights to 70 destinations throughout the United States, the Caribbean and Latin America. Last year 13.9 million travelers passed through T5. The 800,000-square-foot terminal currently boasts 29 gates distributed throughout three concourses, an international arrival extension, and a 55,000-square-foot central retail and concession Marketplace.

New York’s Hometown Airline – JetBlue is the only major commercial airline based in New York City and New York State. JetBlue proudly celebrates its hometown pride with a special livery celebrating New York State Tourism and adorned with the I Love New York logo. With its strong position at JFK and its headquarters in Long Island City, JetBlue employs 6,700 crewmembers in the New York area.

Tips for writing travel

1. Have a clear storyline

A trip is not a story in itself, it’s just a series of events. Some of these events will be interesting (you made it up Kilimanjaro!) and some will not (you arrived back at the airport on time*). As a writer, your first job is to decide on the particular story you want to tell, and the events which make up that story.

To see the kinds of stories that get published, look at the bold line of introductory copy (known as ‘standfirsts’ in the trade) of articles in papers, magazines and websites. Try writing the standfirst for your own story, and then use it as your brief.
2. Have a goal

Some trips have a physical objective (reaching the top of Kilimanjaro, crossing Costa Rica, seeing a tiger) that gives your article direction and purpose. The reader (hopefully) sticks with you because they want to know if you’ll achieve your goal.

But many trips don’t have an obvious goal; they are more about discovering a place, unpicking its history or meeting its people. In this case, create a personal goal to give your reader a sense of where you’re taking them. Sentences like “I wanted to discover…” or “I was keen to understand…” give readers an idea of what’s to come, instead of you simply plunging them into the unknown.

3. Include dialogue

“Look! There! The lions are on the prowl,” whispered Joseph. Or: we could see the lions heading off hunting. Which sentence is more interesting to read? Dialogue brings a scene to life, gives personality to the people in your story, and allows you to convey important information in a punchy way. Whenever you travel, make notes of what people say and how they say it.

4. Show and tell

‘Showing’ and ‘telling’ are two everyday storytelling techniques you probably use without realising. Showing is when you slow down your writing and describe a scene in detail – what you saw, tasted, heard, felt: you are showing the reader the world through your eyes. Telling is simply moving the story along: ‘We returned to the tents for a well-earned rest’.

5.Aim to entertain, not impress

Novice writers often try to pack their writing with literary phrases or recherché nomenclature (like that). Good writers tend more to follow Hemingway’s maxim: “My aim is to put down on paper what I see and what I feel in the best and simplest way.” That doesn’t mean you can’t be playful and experimental: just don’t do it at the reader’s expense.

6. Use vivid language

Travel articles are peppered with meaningless words and phrases: stunning, incredible, pretty, diverse; ‘land of contrasts’, ‘melting pot’, ‘bustling’. Any of these could be applied to thousands of destinations worldwide. Try to use language that is specific to what you’re describing, and which allows readers to paint a picture in their mind’s eye.
7. Leave signposts

If you’re wandering around a strange country without a guidebook, you look for signposts. So do readers as they travel through your story. Every few paragraphs tell them where you’re going next, and remind them of your ultimate goal.

For example, you could write: ‘The next day we travelled from Tokyo to Hirosaki.’ Or you could signpost things a little, by writing: ‘It was tempting to linger in Tokyo’s restaurants, but my search for Japan’s best sake would next take me deep into the countryside.’ Aha, thinks the reader: I can see where this is going, and why – I’ll keep tagging along.
8. Give yourself time to finish

In an effort to include every fascinating tidbit, too may travel articles finish like a high-speed train hitting the buffers, leaving readers dazed and confused. With a paragraph to spare, put the brakes on and start setting up your conclusion.

Show your readers that the end is nigh. Think about where you started, and reflect on the journey. Try to sum up the experience. And – please – come up with something more inspiring than ‘I would just have to come back another time.’