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The Historical city of Prague

Prague is a magical holiday destination reminding travellers of the renaissance period. A wonderful mixture of cobbled streets, bridges framed with beautiful wrought iron fences, cathedrals with gold-tipped towers and majestic buildings looking down on flowered plazas are just a few things that entice thousands of tourists to visit this city.

Climate

Prague has a temperate oceanic climate characterised by cold winters with low rainfall, and hot summers with plenty of sunshine. Summer time can sometimes bring violent storms.

Things to do and see

Several operators organise city tours, giving tourists the opportunity to discover the history and culture of this city. While in Prague, holidaymakers can attend festivals such as Prague Spring and Prague Folklore Days, or opt for a river cruise that offers surprising combinations of delicious dinners and great shows.

Travellers have many options in Prague, including sightseeing flights, water sports and relaxing spa treatments at Lakshmi Tantric Massage Temple. Prague also has a variety of restaurants serving traditional dishes centred on chicken and pork, along with delicious desserts and drinks.

Lodging

Travellers can find a variety of lodging options, most of them being located within walking distance of the city centre. Since Prague is one of the most visited capital cities in Europe, accommodation prices can double during summer and winter holiday season. Besides regular accommodation alternatives, including holiday apartments, villas, hostels and hotels, Prague also has a splendid ‘botel’ (boat hotel) renowned for its gorgeous city views.

Transportation

In general, a flight from London to Prague takes up to two hours. Public transportation is very reliable, taking tourists anywhere they want to go inside and outside the city.

PraguePicture: Moyan_Brenn

Air travel with kids – what you need to know

Travelling abroad with children can be an incredibly stressful experience, particularly for parents with babies and toddlers. Concerns about keeping the kids entertained and healthy while you are air-bound can often ruin the lead up to the holiday not to mention the holiday itself. Here are five top tips to follow in order to enjoy a successful family trip.

Book a night flight

If possible, book a night flight to give your children the best chance of sleeping during the trip. Check in during the day and keep the kids as mentally and physically active as possible during the hours leading up to the flight. That way they are more likely to sleep once on board.

Make you child as comfortable as possible

Put the kids in loose fitting, non-itchy clothing. There are few things more irritating for them on a long flight than wearing tight trousers or anything else that makes them feel stuffy. Layering is the key; make certain you have clothes to cover all eventualities. It is possible you may have an unexpected stopover or the weather at your destination may be worse than expected.

Protect their ears

As adults, we know how frustrating and uncomfortable flying is on the ears due to the change in air pressure. For children, the effects are often felt three-fold. Have sweets, dummies or bottles handy for take-off and landing so your kids have something to suck on. Other ways to lessen these effects include placing warm towels over the ears, eating bland food prior to flying and getting lots of sleep the night before.

Make a list of the essentials

Have all the vitals within easy reach; wipes, drinks and snacks, books and an extra set of clothes will all serve a purpose. Flights tend to dry out the skin and can induce thirst, so ensure you have plenty of liquids handy; many containers will have to be empty pre-flight to pass through security, however.

Keep them entertained

Many parents worry about issues with fellow passengers caused by screaming children. Have a selection of activities at hand; many of the classic games are available as travel sized alternatives and a pack of cards can keep children amused for hours. Personal devices, such as tablets and laptops are also a good idea.

Europe or long haul for your ski trip?

This is a question that has people debating long and hard, it is all about the snow conditions on the one hand and accessibility on the other. The long haul advocates will tell you that yes, it take longer to get to the resort, much longer in some cases, but the snow and conditions are far better than anything you get in Europe.

Canada has always been a favourite spot with the British. Take the resorts of Banff, Louise, Sunshine and Mount Norquay.  It is a great all round group of connected resorts for all levels of skier, it has a huge vertical drop for those who like a long run, and the snow is near perfect, described by locals as champagne powder! What about the States, some of the best facilities and snow can be found in places such as Aspen in Colorado, or Breckenridge where you might bump into a few celebs?

Well all very nice say the detractors, but they are all many hours away and to go for a week is really pretty much a non starter. Europe on the other hand has resorts scattered all over the Alps, Pyrenees, Dolomites, all within a few hours door to door from here. The snow conditions can be variable, but you are sure to get at least most runs open, even in a bad period; also it is possible to get a snow report and take a quick long weekend, very popular now you can take a snow train from St Pancras and be in the resort overnight or the same day.

It’s an argument that has two sides to the coin and if you can spare two or more weeks holiday in the winter, long haul might be for you, but why not take two separate weeks in Europe at different resorts? There is no winner is there.

Picture: Nick Wadge

Barbados and the Rum Festival

We imagine that there are very few people who do not know that rum comes from the West Indies, Barbados is a prime place and they have a festival to celebrate it, although to be absolutely correct it is called a Food, Wine and Rum festival.

But it is the Rum that Barbadians will shout about and it is here that the first properly commercial rum venture began, dated to 1703, when the Mount Gay distillery was set up in Barbados.  It all goes back to the days of Christopher Columbus who is the one that introduced sugar cane to the West Indies.

In Barbados, which has a strong claim to be the birthplace of rum, the first spirit was made, soon it was discovered by settlers from Europe that the sugar could make them far more money than cotton! Pretty much every plantation had its own still and gallons of the golden nectar became part of the Island’s fabric.

The annual Food Wine and Rum festival is held every November usually towards the end of the month, the 2014 dates are not confirmed but will be shortly. November is also towards the end of the official Atlantic hurricane season. Barbados is fortunate to be positioned at the south end of the Caribbean while hurricanes tend to veer to the north.  Barbados still averages nearly 8 hours of sunshine a day, this is a great time for a tropical getaway.

Picture: foodwinerum.com

Getting the right travel insurance

Travel insurance is a must have for those travelling aboard, and making sure that you disclose everything to your insurance provider is of the upmost importance or you could find yourself stranded without cover just when you need it.

Here are some tips on getting the right travel insurance:

Disclose all previous health problems

When setting up your travel insurance policy it is important to disclose all previous health problems you have suffered, even if they are minor. If you don’t you could invalidate your cover and be liable for a huge medical bill if the worst should happen.

Read the small print

Read the insurance policies fine print before signing. Check that your insurance will cover you for the countries you wish to visit, some European policies include Turkey and others don’t so check the policy thoroughly to make sure that you are covered especially if you are travelling to multiple countries or taking part in day excursions where you will travel over a border.

Hazardous sports cover – if you are inclined to do a spot of water sports or bungee jumping whilst your away check that you are covered. Most travel insurance policies cover you for some activities, but again check the small print. You may have to pay a little more for your policy but it’s definitely worth it. Also note that some insurers won’t cover you if you hire a scooter or if you lose valuables such as your passport or wallet while you are drunk.

Making a claim – your insurer may decline a claim if you do any of the following:

•    If you fail to place your valuables in a provided safe and they are stolen you may not be covered.
•    If you get private medical treatment instead of going to a state-run hospital your insurance company may refuse to pay leaving you with a hefty bill.
•    If you luggage gets lost or stolen while you’re on holiday you must get a police report or letter from the airline if it was lost at the airport. Failure to do this could invalidate you cover.

Insure expensive items separately

Most insurance policies have what is called ‘single item limits’, this means that they will only pay up to £300 per single item that is lost, so if you have an expensive camera or laptop it is best to insure them separately through a dedicated possessions insurance company.

Checking your UK visa

You’ve received your UK visa, but before you jump on a plane or boat it is important that you check through all the details carefully to make sure that everything is right. If there is something wrong with your visa there is a good chance that you will be refused entry to the country; your visa will contain the following information:

•    Valid from date – you will not be able to enter the UK until this date so make sure that any travel arrangements to the UK are on or after the valid from date.
•    Valid until date – you must leave the UK before or on this date unless you have successfully applied to extend your stay. It is recommended that you apply for a visa extension at least 4 weeks before your valid until date to make sure that it is processed in time.
•    Length of stay – this is the maximum amount of days that you can stay in the UK for.
•    Entry terms – this tells you how many times you can enter the UK while your visa is valid, it can be 1, 2 or multiple (MULTI) times. Most UK visas are valid for multiple entries, but it’s worth checking before trying to enter the country.
•    Visa Category – this shows your immigration category during your stay in the UK. You must meet all the requirements of this category throughout your stay or you could have your visa revoked.
•    Conditions – this outlines any special conditions attached to your visa, e.g. if you can work or not, or if you are entitled to UK benefits during your stay.

It is recommended that you check that all of your information is correct including personal details, valid from and till dates and conditions during your stay. If you think that anything is wrong you should contact the visa application centre that issued your visa immediately.

For the latest information and up to date visa news visit the IXP Visas twitter account.

Picture: Dwilliams851

Bern travel guide

The historic city centre of Bern has some of the best preserved medieval buildings in Europe, its medieval clock tower, historic sandstone buildings and picturesque surroundings make Bern a fantastic place to visit.

Surrounded on three sides by the Aare River, Bern was founded by Duke Berchtold V in 1191. Local myth states that the duke named the city after the first animal he saw when he was on a nearby hunt; this just so happened to be a bear and the city has had a strange fascination with the animal ever since. The coat of arms for Bern actually has a bear on it!

The Swiss capital is full of excellent restaurants, bars and clubs, as well as plenty of shopping opportunities. The city’s boutiques range from exclusive designer stores to traditional markets most of which are housed in the city’s medieval arcades. The majority of these arcades date back to the 15th century when the city was rebuild after a devastating fire in 1405.

Another interesting characteristic and charm of Bern old city is its fountains. Built in the 16th century as a source of public water, there are over 100 fountains in the city. As the population of Bern grew so did the fountains, with many of them decorated with stories and myths of the city’s past.

Bern is a great base for those who want to travel to the Alps or if you would prefer to stay near the city there is a range of activities for everyone including a trip to the bear park, riding the trams, visiting a museum or go on a pub crawl in a few of Bern’s famous watering holes.

Picture: Martin Abegglen

The best of both worlds

For the best of both worlds, skiing and sun worship, there is no better place than the slopes of the Sierra Nevada in southern Spain. At one time you bought a ski holiday and went skiing, simple well not anymore really because it seems that we British do like to cram into a holiday as much as we can, no longer is it dawn to dusk skiing, no it appears that we want to spend less time on the slopes. Most ski tour operators are now offering non-skiing activities, ranging from dog-sledding and snowmobiling, but why not combine sum winter sun as well?

Just a quick trip on a budget airline to Malaga and you are a short way from the Sierra Nevada, in southern Spain, it is here that there are a couple of contrasting alternatives to winter sports. Below the resort is the great European Islamic landmark of the Alhambra in Granada, which is well worth a day off skiing to see this remarkable piece of architecture. Just 90 minutes down the road is the Mediterranean resort of Marbella and the others resorts on the Costa del Sol and even in the winter the weather can be relied upon to be warm if not quite swimming in the Mediterranean, except for the hardy.

On the skiing front the Sierra Nevada’s ski area, below the 3,398m Veleta peak, has 18 lifts and a remarkable 116 pistes and the Aguila, is an excellent, 6km ride from the top of the area to the bottom. This is not an area for the “I only do black” but it does have some and there are good long blue runs to get the legs working, and there are some blacks as well as a good few reds. Although the quantity of terrain is pretty big and impressive, in reality it is no “three valleys” and will one orientation it is perfect for about three days of morning to lift closing time worth of skiing, unless of course you are a beginner and for them it is near perfect. So for the second part of your holiday it is a trip down the hill to the coast.

Marbella owes its existence as a beach-holiday destination to the climate; here the temperature averages 23C year round which is why the budget airlines are full all year round. The attractions of Marbella are well documented but what about a more cultural experience in Malaga itself?  Here you will find Picasso Museum, the city’s contemporary art gallery and the new Carmen Thyssen Malaga museum and a beautiful cathedral with an excavated Roman amphitheatre in the grounds. For those with children the nearby resort of Benalmadena has an aquarium or a trip further down the coast to Estepona which has a safari park.

Wherever you go, you are sure to feel the warmth of the Costa del Sol on your back; it is a ski holiday with a difference.

Picture: Rogier Mulder

Airport hacks

One of the most stressful things about travelling for most people is the airport. It’s the transitional place where you’re just waiting to get to your destination, and it often seems like so many things can go wrong. Here are some ways to make that experience that little bit easier.

If you’ve got a bit of a wait at the airport, or if you’re transferring flights and have a gap in between, put a bit of money towards getting a lounge for the time. It’s much quieter than being out in the departure lounge, you’re bound to get a comfortable seat and some even have food, drinks and WiFi included in the price. When you consider the benefits you get, it’s worth the small amount you pay.

If you’re spending some time in the airport, you’re likely to be using some electronic equipment, be it a phone, camera, laptop or iPad, and it’s likely that you’ll be draining the battery on these. Most airports now have hidden hubs for charging your equipment. Search on the internet beforehand to find out where these places might be.

Finding your luggage on the carousel can be stressful if yours looks the same as everyone else’s. It might seem simple, but just tying a ribbon around the handle in a bright colour will help you to identify yours and get out the airport more quickly.

airport trolleys

Picture: Bentley Smith

Halloween holidays

Halloween might not be as big in the UK as it is in the US, but it’s becoming a more popular thing for both kids and adults to indulge in every year. If you really want to scare the kids, or just give yourself a getaway treat for autumn, here are some great ideas for terrifying holidays.

If it’s a quick break you want with the kids, Alton Towers has a ‘Scarefest’ every year. For a small extra price added onto the normal ticket, you will get access to the ‘Scare Mazes’, one within the creepy setting of the Tower itself, filled with zombies and vampires.

If you’ve got a chance to go a little further afield, for the ultimate creepy experience, book yourself a trip to Romania and visit Dracula’s Castle. Once home to Vlad the Impaler, inspiration for Bram Stoker’s Dracula, you can take a Halloween tour complete with the true stories themselves.

For another terrifying tale, and to experience all the fun of Halloween in the US, head to Salem in Massachusetts, the town renowned as being home to the original witches who were put to death for ‘witchcraft’. You can visit one of the many museums dedicated to the trials. Or for something less scary, New England’s mountainous regions are known as being some of the most beautiful sights in the world in autumn.

Picture: greger.ravik