Queen Elizabeth’s Diamond Jubilee: 2012’s other major British event

In London, signs of the coming Olympics are everywhere. Barclays Cycle Hire docking stations have begun to expand into East London toward key Olympics sites, billboards urge drivers to begin to think about how they’ll deal with increased traffic, and the Prime Minister is busy warning unions that the prospect of a strike during the Olympics would be “unacceptable and unpatriotic.”

Meanwhile, outside of London, a number of cities have banded together as Heritage Cities in part to lure those tourists brought to London by the Olympics away from the capital.

But the Olympics are not the only event drawing visitors to the UK this year. 2012 is also the year of Queen Elizabeth’s Diamond Jubilee, the 60th anniversary of her coronation as Queen. The Diamond Jubilee will reach its peak during what is being called the Diamond Jubilee central weekend, from June 2 through 5. The weekend will be characterized by some serious pomp and circumstance. Events will include a 1000-boat pageant on the Thames on June 3, a BBC Concert at Buckingham Palace on June 4, and a special Service of Thanksgiving at St. Paul’s Cathedral followed by a carriage procession on June 5.

In addition to this peak period, there are a number of other events planned in the lead-up to the weekend and beyond.

For example, members of the Royal Family are traveling around the UK, the UK’s Crown Dependencies, the UK’s Overseas Territories, and Commonwealth to commemorate the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. Currently, Prince Edward, the Earl of Wessex and his wife the Countess of Wessex are on a two-week commemorative Caribbean visit, taking in St. Lucia, Barbados, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Grenada, Trinidad and Tobago, Montserrat, St. Kitts and Nevis, Anguilla, and Antigua and Barbuda. Locals and tourists alike in the region might just run across Edward and Sophie through March 7.

The Queen and Prince Philip’s travel schedule begins March 8 in Leicester and finishes off on what looks like a very busy July 25, taking in Cowes, the Isle of Wight, New Forest, and Hampshire.

There is an official website for taking stock of Diamond Jubilee events. There’s also a handy Google map allowing visitors to see where various members of the Royal Family will be celebrating the Queen’s reign throughout the year. (Spoiler alert: Harry got Jamaica.) Visitors can play with an interactive timeline of the last 60 years and also send a message to the Queen. And there’s the crucial bit of information that Andrew Lloyd Webber is co-authoring a Diamond Jubilee song.

[Image: Flickr | quinn.anya]

25 Haunting Shipwrecks Around the World

Twisted Sifter is a web site with three simple goals. Provide content that is interesting, funny or creative, use BIG pictures whenever possible and to keep their readers up-to-date with what’s popular online. Gadling found this gallery of 25 haunting shipwrecks at Twisted Sifter who tells us

“Fellow blogger Tom Moran from Urban Ghosts inspired this post. His excellent article on ‘Ship Graveyards: Abandoned Ships, Boats and Shipyards’ sent me on a quest to find some incredible photographs of shipwrecks around the world.

The United Nations estimates that there are more than 3 million shipwrecks on the ocean floor [Source: Wikipedia]. These once mighty vessels, both sunken and beached, are a haunting reminder that nothing lasts forever. These beautiful ships used to rule the seas they traveled. Now they serve as a window into our past.”

In the gallery below, 25 Haunting Shipwrecks From Around The World, there are shipwrecks everywhere from the Canary Islands to Grand Cayman to Portugal in all shapes and sizes.


Exploring Grenada: do as locals do

Of all the Caribbean islands to visit, Grenada is arguably the most out of the way. A little time in St. Maarten and Grand Cayman piqued my interest in island life long before I found myself out of the way, far away, hanging out in Grenada: a 133 square mile island with a population of 110,000 just northeast of Venezuela.

Before taking off for the trip, my father and my boyfriend’s father, and maybe even some other fathers I’m dismissing from my memory, cracked a joke or two about the relationship with Americans they assumed Grenadians would have.

“Careful out there! They’re probably not too happy with Americans after that invasion”.

But if there was any truth lurking in these cautions, I found no trace of it during the week I spent in Grenada. Murals and praises for Barack Obama and the U.S.A. graffitied more than a couple walls I spotted while driving around on my own (Note: Grenadians drive on the left. Accidentally reverting back to driving on the right is a bad idea). These painted walls are still damaged from Hurricane Ivan–a calamitous Category 3 hurricane that hit the island directly in 2004. The storm damaged or destroyed 90 percent of the homes on the island. A much less severe Hurricane Emily followed Ivan in 2005 and caused an estimated $110 million USD in damages despite her modesty. Although Grenada has recovered impressively from these blows, the skeletons of buildings torn through still stand, exposing their disillusioning vacancy as an ongoing reminder: life can end at any moment, so live each day to the fullest.
%Gallery-114506%Grenadians embrace this concept naturally instead of intentionally. The island way of life is engrained in the psyche of Grenadians–they seem to be predispositioned to relax. And who can fault them? I’d relax if I lived in a tropical paradise, too.

With a pungent distaste for tourist clusters and an insatiable desire to submerge ourselves in the island way of life, photographer Ben Britz and I set off to explore Grenada our preferred way–by following the advice of locals. And this required renting a car.

If you’re planning a trip to Grenada (pronounced greh-NAY-duh), the island of spice, do yourself a favor and leave the beautiful, but obvious, Grand Anse Beach. Here’s where you should go instead:

1. BBC Beach
BBC Beach is just around the corner from Grand Anse. Literally. You can walk from one to the other. The difference is an important one, though: BBC is a local treasure; Grand Anse is a tourist Mecca. BBC Beach is properly named Morne Rouge Beach and that’s how you’ll find it identified on maps. But locals call it BBC after a popular night club, now called Fantazia, that once operated on the beach. You’ll have these (predictably) teal waters all to yourself and a few locals at BBC, where the water is warm and calm. Grab a drink from Fantazia and enjoy vacation the way it’s supposed to be… peaceful. Tip: Bring your own chairs/blanket. Also, if you buy a drink, the nice people of Fantazia will let you park in their lot.

2. Patrick’s
If you want to eat some local homestyle cooking, Patrick’s is the needle in the haystack you’re seeking. Birthed from the mind and palate of the late Patrick Levine, his spirit lives on in his recipes. Although he never wrote down a single recipe, he trained the present owner, Karen Hall, in person, and she has creating this soulful food down to a science. For less than $25 a person, she’ll serve up local dishes that are, no exaggeration, perfect.

Breadfruit fritters and crab legs are just two of the twenty-some dishes they serve at Patrick’s for this low but all-inclusive price. Without even a modicum of good-restaurant haughtiness to match the good food, dining at Patrick’s is a delightfully casual experience. And lucky for you, the cottage-style restaurant is conveniently located in St. George’s. Tip: Call early and let them know the size of your party, especially if it’s a big one. Patrick’s is cozy in the only-a-dozen-or-so-people-can-fit kind of way, so you’ll want to be sure there’s room for all of you.

3. Gouyave Fish Fridays
You don’t want to miss this. Even if you have to stop in multiple towns along the winding dark road up to Gouyave asking porch-sitting folks for directions to the ‘Fish Fry’, directions which they’ll only disclose if you promise to bring them back a piece of fish, it’s well worth it. The town of Gouyave closes off streets and sets up for a charmingly raucous party every Friday–one that’s mostly meant for and mostly attended by locals.

Gouyave is a fishing village about 45 minutes away from the hotel district near St. George’s. From 6pm to around 1am every Friday, locals fry, grill, bake, steam, stir, and serve up seafood your taste buds won’t forget. St. Francis and St. Dominic streets line up with vendors ready to feed you and, by all means, let each of them feed you. A palatable aroma of freshly prepared seafood fills air. Fish cakes, shrimp, kebabs, lobster, conch, barbequed snapper… they have something for everyone.

Tropical juices, beers, and even Grenadian Chocolate ice cream are also available, ready to be paired with the meal of your choosing. If you want to experience a rollicking Friday night like a local, don’t miss out on the fish fry. Tip: Make the drive up in the daylight if possible. Kill some time in Gouyave before the frying begins. Why? Because driving the twisting waterside roads that lead there in the island’s pitch black is, as it turns out, kind of scary.

And finally, in closing, I leave you with this general tip for traveling in Grenada: Don’t be (overly) alarmed by the men who walk around carrying machetes. Sure, sometimes they’re used as weapons, but more often than not in Grenada, they’re used as tools.

[photos by Ben Britz]

Ten budget-friendly Caribbean destinations

If you get all your information about the Caribbean from travel magazines, you might find yourself convinced that a night’s stay in the region will set you back somewhere in the neighborhood of $500. The Caribbean’s super posh reputation has its roots in the region’s tourism history; until relatively recently, tourism in the Caribbean was largely restricted to the very rich. And as one might expect in a region that has historically catered to the rich, there are lots of impossibly exclusive luxury properties in the Caribbean today.

But these resorts do not and should not define tourism in the region. There are many spots across the Caribbean where costs are low and the quality of experiences on offer is high. Here are ten destinations where low hotel rates, exciting activities, and compelling local culture make for real budget-friendly value.

If you find this post interesting, be sure to check out Gadling’s archive of budget-friendly travel stories.

1. Carriacou, Grenada. North of the main island of Grenada is the laid-back island of Carriacou. There are some great beaches on the island (see above for evidence.) A fantastically budget-friendly place to stay is the lovely Green Roof Inn (from $40 for one; from $70 for two) north of Hillsborough, the island’s main settlement.

2. Havana, Cuba. Day-to-day expenses in the Cuban capital can be quite cheap. Casas particulares (owner-occupied bed-and-breakfast establishments) can be found for about $30 for two, and meals can be cobbled together for very little. Cultural events are astoundingly cheap, and reasonable taxi rates can be negotiated. For a listing of good casas particulares, check out CubaParticular and Casa Particular.

3. Big Corn Island, Nicaragua. It is often forgotten that the Caribbean Sea extends to Central America. Big Corn Island off the coast of Nicaragua presents a fascinating mélange of English-speaking Creoles and Spanish- and Miskito-speaking transplants from the mainland. Though undeniably hardscrabble, Big Corn Island has some beautiful territory and some unbelievably cheap hotels. Try Princesa de la Isla (from $60, with excellent Italian meals on offer) and Martha’s Bed and Breakfast (from $50). These are, by the way, among the most expensive places to stay on the island.

4. Saba. Referred to by locals as the “Unspoiled Queen,” Saba is one of the most beautiful and least well-known corners of the Caribbean. A mountain jutting out of the sea, it has no beaches and few obvious tourist draws beyond diving. Visitors discover cute villages full of houses with gingerbread trim, lush hiking trails, and outstanding views. Check out the Ecolodge Rendez-Vous (from $75) and El Momo (from $50 for one; $65 for two).

5. Anegada, British Virgin Islands. It takes a concerted effort to get here, but once on this furthest-flung of the BVIs, accommodations can be quite reasonable. The limestone island boasts some of the loveliest beaches in the entire region, yet has seen surprisingly little tourist development. Neptune’s Treasure offers double rooms starting at $110 in high season.6. Montserrat. Hit in 1995 by a major volcanic eruption, Montserrat saw most of its inhabitants decamping to the UK and elsewhere. Though many Montserratians have returned since then, the island’s tourism numbers have not. This fact translates into all sorts of great deals for visitors, who can busy themselves on the verdant island with beachcombing, hiking, rum shop tours, and visits to the Montserrat Volcano Observatory. Lodging at relaxed Gingerbread Hill begins at $45 for two.

7. Dominica. This very green island is no typical beach destination. It sees few typical Caribbean tourists, drawing instead eco-minded sorts who come to bask in its physical beauty. Highlights include hiking activities, national parks, striking waterfalls, hot springs, and all sorts of fascinating geological oddities, including the island’s awe-inspiring Boiling Lake. Stay at the remarkable Papillote Wilderness Retreat (from $100) or go fully rustic at the impressively eco-minded 3 Rivers (from $70; camping plots from $15).

8. Bonaire. Divers flock to this bone-dry Dutch island at the southern end of the Caribbean. There are other draws, too: snorkeling, historical tourism, and beachbumming on offshore Klein Bonaire. The island’s budget-friendly secret? Its stock of inexpensive bungalows and inns. Among other picks, check out Lagoen Hill (from $72), Lizard Inn (from $70), and Ocean View Villas (from $100).

9. Guadeloupe. On the surface, this overseas department of France doesn’t appear to be a good place to locate bargains. It’s expensive to access from North America and it uses the euro. But below the surface is Guadeloupe’s collection of very cheap gîtes–essentially b&bs, though often with a mandatory week-long stay required. Another plus is Guadeloupe’s appealing diversity of landscapes, from the mountains of Terre-Basse to the sleepy rum-producing island of Marie-Galante and the terribly cute isle of Terre-de-Haut. Find more than 200 gîtes on Guadeloupe listed by Gîtes de France.

10. Tobago, Trinidad & Tobago. This southern Caribbean island has seen considerable tourist development at its southwestern end. Journey to the island’s opposite extremity and find jungle-encircled beaches that never get packed, and cute fishing towns like Charlotteville where inns and house rentals are inexpensive. Cottages at beachside Man-O-War Bay Cottages begin at $60 for two.

The Spice Isle: What the Grenada guidebooks might not tell you

Grenada is so off the radar for a lot of Americans that it leaves a lot to be learned about the country. (For one, how it’s pronounced. Answer: “Gren-ay-da.”)

But here are some of the more practical tidbits that I learned while in the island country that might also serve you well on your visit:

Keep your swimsuits to the beach. An indecent exposure law forbids it elsewhere. Cover up, even if it’s just a little bit.

Don’t wear camouflage. It’s illegal to wear it in any color or format.

Ask before taking that photo of someone.
It’s good tact in any situation (although goodbye to spontaneity), but I especially felt the need to in Grenada. In fact, a few people called me on it when I didn’t. My instinct was to snap photos left and right at the market, but I intentionally stopped to talk about and buy produce first.

US money. Yes, you can use it and businesses accept it.

Go SCUBA diving. Grenada has the most wreck dives (sunken boats) in the Caribbean.

%Gallery-77695%Drive on the left. (Also means walking on the left-hand side). But first, you have to get a local driving permit from the traffic department at the Central Police Station on the Carenage. Present your driver’s license and pay a fee of EC$30.

No need to rush the spice-buying. You’ll have plenty of opportunities to buy spice and all of the variations of spice products — for cheap, too. Consider buying it from the shopkeeper that you’ve just enjoyed a great conversation with.

Say yes to insect repellent. Mosquito bites ended up being the majority of my souvenirs.

Keep some cash on hand for your departure tax. The airport doesn’t accept credit cards for the payment. You can use either American or Eastern Caribbean cash. Adults: EC$50 (US$20). Children ages 2-12: EC$25 (US$10).

Stick to one elevation at a time. Grenada is blessed with wonders from the depths of the ocean to the heights of a 2,000-foot-high mountain. But it’s such a distance that you’ll want to avoid going SCUBA diving and seeing Grand Etang in the same day — you’re sure to get decompression sickness (the bends).

Wait to buy chocolate until later. No doubt you’ll want to bring chocolate home (Grenada Chocolate Company makes an especially good kind — plus it’s organic and made small-batch). But if you’re like me you don’t have a refrigerator in your hotel room, the chocolate is sure to melt, so pick it up at the end.

Hydrate. It’s easy to forget that you need to drink more than usual because of the weather — even when you don’t feel thirsty.

Do as the locals do. Go to the beach on Sunday for an authentic Grenadian experience — you’ll find local families lounging on the beach, and kids starting up soccer games.

Keep an ear to the local slang. For one, “bon je” (jai/jay) is used as an exclamation of awe. That said, understanding the local patois can be as difficult as learning any new language.

Alison Brick traveled through Grenada on a trip sponsored by the Grenada Board of Tourism. That said, she could write about anything that struck her fancy. (And it just so happens that these are the things that struck her fancy.) You can read more from her The Spice Isle: Grenada series here.