Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Fort Lauderdale: The Segway

One of the more peculiar sights of Fort Lauderdale has to be the Segway Police. Forget the animal cruelty of horseback, the doughnut laden car or the gas guzzling mighty beat motorbike; times have changes, it’s environmentally friendly staged across two wheels with a maximum speed of 12.5 miles per hour – let me introduce to you The Segway.

The Segway has slowly been emerging as a favourite new vehicle across the world in recent years and the Americans seem to be taking it very seriously – so too the tourist market. Throughout Fort Lauderdale these funky machines can be found; especially in Hugh Taylor Birch State Park; this protected reserve was the escape of Chicago attorney, Hugh Taylor Birch, in 1893, by 1940 at age 90 he donated his 180-acre estate to be used as a public park to preserve the subtropical paradise within a bustling and growing city. His art-deco-style home, Terramar, still stands on one of two original sand dunes in the area; the rest of the city was dug out from the massive waterway system of the river.

M Cruz Rentals in Hugh Taylor Birch State Park has a selection of the generation 4 and generation 3 models – little difference except the steering. If you haven’t ridden one before it will take you at least 5 minutes to get used to it. First it’s all about balance, then it’s all about control. For me the experience was like handling a pogo stick but once I had the knack I was cranking the Segway up to its full 12.5 mph and doing a few spins on the spot – however I was the first and only person to be too confident to then go flying into a nest of trees, head first! I even have video proof.

The tour will take you through the nature reserve, observing a selection of birds and tortoises along the way as well as incredible specimens of plants trees. In 2007 the area was severely damaged by Hurricane Katrina which sliced the heads of many small trees leaving a much more exposed habitat. Multimillion-dollar properties lie just beyond the reserve and a ride along the beach exposes the full brutality of the midday sun hammering the golden coastline cooled by the gentle ripples of the azure blue Pacific Ocean.

This is a highly recommended afternoon activity for two or a group of you. It is great fun and you feel the freedom as the wind blows through your hair.

M Cruz Rentals offers to rent: Segways, Bikes, Canoes, (954) 235 5082, www.mcruzrentals.com (Segway tours run 10am, 12pm, 2pm,4pm 365 days a year)

Hugh Taylor Birch State Park, South East Florida,  - paradise in urban Fort Lauderdale, www.floridastateparks.org Open 8am til sunset, 365 days a year. Entrance fee required.

Friday, 23 December 2011

Wishing you a very Merry Christmas

A big thank you for reading my blog, following my Facebook and watching the video series. What a year it's been with videos completed of Iceland, Argentina, Cuba, Fort Lauderdale, London and Brighton Gay Pride and with much more to come in 2012.

Follow the Journey - Honest Omissions by Ryan C Haynes


Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Cuba - Traveling the Che state


Cities of interest:
Havana
Santa Clara
Trinidad
Santiago de Cuba
Cienfuegos
 





During the 1950’s Cuba was the next big thing; splendid resorts lined the coast just east of Havana; brightly painted chalets filled the country hamlets and Chevrolets ruled the roads. Today, the resort Playas del Este is nothing more than modern ruins with the occasional working property; the beaches are reminiscent of a wealthy bygone era. The chalets, much like the inner city 19th Century Spanish mansions, are dilapidated while the Chevrolets are fighting with Ladas on the road.
 
White beaches and glorious crystal blue seas frame an island steeped in history clinging to itself for success. Its heroes in Fidel Castro and Che Guevara are emblazoned across every street, in every town in every region; the people, committed to a life of communism with an income stream from the capitalist tourists of the North.
 
The country opened its borders to travel in the early 1990’s as their Sugar Cane exports ran dry. The need for better technology encouraged them to trade directly with both Russia and China; the main cities certainly do not go without all the mod-cons of the developed modern age – do we include the iPhone? Well, yes they have them too.

Follow this series as we explore Cuba.
Sightseeing - Old Havana, Centro, Costa Blanca,
Havana can be covered in two days. Exploring Habana Vieja will take about three hours where you will see the Plaza de la Catedral, Plaza de Armas, Plaza Vieja and may well stumble upon the odd Tourist festival.

Costa Blanca is just a short boat trip across the harbour where you will find a working 1950’s electric railway, a monument to the former president and the home of Che Guevara.
 
Centro Habana is the life and soul of the city, where you will find disused theatres, abandoned steam trains, and rusting American style school buses. Capitolio Nacional is an exquisite structure modelled on the Washington Whitehouse, in fact opposite you can find the most central gay bar – Prado Cafeteria. Only open until 9pm and serving canned beers, Cubans stop by this waterhole to exchange gossip and plan their evenings ahead. Tourists get a lot of attention!

Gay Havana
There are certainly areas in the Vedado area where you will find a thriving gay community. Calle 23 is the centre of gay life, near the Cine Yara (cinema), this street is frequented by gay people night and day – but don’t expect it to be anything like major cosmopolitan cities. The one gay venue on this street is more like a canteen than a party establishment, though get talking to one of the locals and they will invite you to the official gay party that evening.

If you want to join in the official parties you need to put faith and trust in the local Cubans who will order a taxi and take you to the chosen event. However be aware that you will most likely be expected to pay the taxi fair, entrance fee and possibly a drink for the guide.

Unfortunately as the gay scene is yet to enjoy the freedoms of North America and Europe, or even its South American counterparts, Havana’s gay nightlife is one of the best-kept secrets.

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Le Fete Des Lumieres - Lyon, France

The second weekend of every December Lyon is lit up in tremendous displays of light. The second city in France, near the Alps while usually bitterly cold, the city's key buildings and monuments are draped with incredible projections for Le Fete Des Lumieres.

Visit the old theatre and see a live light ping pong machine, you can even queue up to join in the fun.

Visit the grand square and experience a 360 degree light theatre spectacle. The Town Hall and surrounding buildings showed a montage of lighting techniques - the buildings shook, horses galloped across the open space and dancing ladies were projected across the plaza in this 10-minute presentation.


Head to the churches to witness light displays to music, these can last between a few minutes and 10 minutes and keep the entire audience in awe.

Walk around the rest of the inner city, enjoy warm wine, crepes or waffles - walk across the River Rhone and River Saone to watch displays across the rivers and light projections from Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière.

The city is packed when the lights are switched on at 6pm until they finish at 1am during the four day spectacle.

When you arrive in the city, you're advised to buy a travel pass for the metro - it only costs €2.50 but except for using it to get to your hotel, it is unlikely you will need it at all during your stay as Lyon is very walkable.

A weekend trip to the city is perfect, it's easy to walk around and it is steeped in history. Plus being famous for its Gastonomie you can enjoy the amazing French cuisine. 

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Fort Lauderdale – the experience of the Florida coast.

Fort Lauderdale was an unknown destination to me just a few years ago – as I discovered more I learned of its popularity among Americans ([particularly those from the North – think New York and Chicago). On meeting the Fort Lauderdale Tourism team I learnt it is a huge gay destination.

When I was invited to get familiar with the place how could I say no? Florida? Summer? Sun? Gay? Hell yes!


American Airlines flies direct from London  - Miami followed by a short 40-minute taxi transfer. Delta also flies in this direction, possibly with a stopover in New York (great for a two tiered vacation).

As the plane descends to its landing spot the sea transcends from a deep blue to a bright azure with each ripple emitting a shine of a 1000 stars – little different to a carpet of fairy dusting. The 8.5 hour journey could be made more comfortable by better food and entertainment on AA (AirFrance, British Airways and Virgin kick these guys above AA for preferred airlines) however the service is friendly and relaxed.

Fort Lauderdale is on the south of Florida – the weather is excellent all year round; winters can drop to a minimum of 5 degrees while the summers average 30+ degrees. Perfect weather for the perfect beaches.

Florida is certainly not short of hotels and was significantly affected by the recession – here in Fort Lauderdale there are properties abandoned, left dormant while the owners wait in hope that very soon the economy will pick up and they can reopen (or for some, open for the first time). However it’s certainly not all gloom, some hotels have performed well and invested in their future – among them The Royal Palms.

The Royal Palms is a boutique Hotel recently renovated especially for the gay market with a sleek contemporary European style meets splendour. This 62-room resort has been expanded courtesy of two additional buildings plus a more glamorous makeover in the shape of two heated swimming pools (one clothing-optional), a bar/grill, spa and fitness center, all just a few blocks from gay Sebastien Beach. www.royalpalms.com

The whitewashed buildings create a bright open fresh space becoming a suntrap. GG’s Bar and Grill is the open-air showpiece decked in ruby-red glass tiles, misters, and a polished deep stone bar overlooking a pool adorned with patio furniture and poolside cabanas.

Steel, grey and black patio furniture and stylish poolside cabanas add to the scene. A spa with wet room and massage rooms for single or double use and a fitness center (with Dennis Dean photo gallery for inspiration) ensure guests can get appropriately relaxed or pumped before exploring Walton Manors, the city’s gay nightlife. Day passes will also allow non-guests to savor the Royal Palms experience.

Fort Lauderdale is next to Miami – and Miami says it all – here the 300 miles of coastline accompanied by predictably hot and sunny weather, the food is fresh and ripe and the people with a heath glow.

If you’re a keen sportsman the beach is packed with opportunities to join in team games, alternatively – like myself - you can enjoy an early morning run along the promenade to take in the full spectacle of the rising sun followed by a dip in the Pacific Ocean.

Fort Lauderdale is certainly an escape from the ordinary of the hustle and bustle.

NOTE:
American Airlines – will also charge you for Wine and Beer and you must pay by credit card, on this trip in USD. The option here is AA save you hours in transfer as it is a direct London Miami, however I have been assured the Sky Team are launching a direct flight to Fort Lauderdale by Summer 2011.

Royal Palms Resort & Spa: www.royalpalms.com - +1 800 237 7256
Water Taxi – Fort Lauderdale, experience the “Venice of America” www.watertaxi.com Adult fare US$20

Monday, 12 December 2011

On your own doorstep - Bexleyheath: Discovering a local Christmas

Sometimes I wonder if us city dwellers actually stop for a second to discover what's around them. Most Londoners tend to stick to their part of town and that can be as limited as a 500m2 area. London has everything on your doorstep - so why travel.
London though can be a lonely place, meeting people as a newbie is never easy and building friendships can often take sometime. The sheer size of the city does limit your options, traveling takes three times longer than outer city distances; take a 10mile trip into the city taking an hour. So what can we learn from what's around us?

I visited our local Woodlands Farm in Bexleyheath, having stumbled across its Christmas Fete as we went hunting for a Christmas Tree. Free entry bought me to learn that there ARE farms in London, there is a community and there is charity. 
This locally organised event happens every year with the farm opening its doors throughout December. There are local craft stalls, food huts and a walk around the farm to enjoy. Perfect if you have kids, godchildren, friends with kids or whatever to see Santa Claus.
It took me back to my country roots in Dorset; if I'd lived in my back yard then I wouldn't have the experiences I have today.
Check out your doorstep - what are you missing?


Oh - there's also a Plumstead Film Festival coming up, looking forward to what that has to say...

Friday, 9 December 2011

Rediscovering East London: Shoreditch drops edgy cool for brand

Shoreditch has always been at the edge of fashion, culture and London - that was until Central London embraced it. Formerly the home of artists, musicians, people on low-income it has now become one of 'the' places to visit in London.

Once ignored Shoreditch is now thriving with more upmarket galleries, stores, bars and clubs - infact if you go Soho you're as No-Go. This is the new place to be seen. What people wear this season in Shoreditch people wear in 2 seasons across the globe - but can that remain to be the case?

I arrived at Shoreditch tube in the early evening last Saturday, its a tube stop I frequent regularly as I head for the city district of Liverpool Street - instead I was heading to Brick Lane, so I took a different turn and here I stumbled upon Box Park Shoreditch.

A set of quirky storage boxes turned into tiny retail stores. This truly hit my interest, I love this sort of thing. It was well positioned, structured and each store well presented, but to my disappointment it was all huge global brands - at this point I realised the uniqueness of Shoreditch is being lost.

Though what a surprise - with city workers muscling in on the space and property value increasing immensely - developers finding spare land to build on and the Olympics 2012 on its way, Shoreditch as it was once - maybe lost.







Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Things to consider when choosing an airline

The flight is the part of your holiday, trip or travels that gets your excitement pent-up - it may even set nerves running through your bones, or the odd shiver down your spine; maybe you hate heights, flying or find airlines difficult to deal with. Unfortunately I have the most unluckiest experiences flying, here's just a few of them in the past year:


- Flight delayed by 3 hours then cancelled and rescheduled for the next day
- Placed on following flight as there was too much weight on plane
- Flight delayed by 2 days due to snow
...for more see below

So I have a few tips just on preparing yourself mentally:

Luggage, today's greedy airlines want us to carry less. Stupid Irish budget airlines insist on a specific size and weight even if we take the bag on board (which is impossible for business commuters most the time - the reason I chose EasyJet and Commerical airlines) Commercial carriers are much more amenable but as a flyer I still don't know the bag policy - 1, 2 3 ? I see businessmen get onboard with a pull along, laptop bag and a special iPod carrier, women with handbags the size of tents, plus their suitcase and goods bought in duty free. So what is the limit?

To get through it: triple check the allowance and always under pack - regardless. I find that you can reuse underwear for up to 4 days before mould starts growing. If in doubt, the soap in most hotels have a strong frangrance, so a good thorough handwash can make it last longer.

Food. This annoys me; budget airlines are clear - pay for everything - therefore buy a crappy sandwich from Boots or force yourself to digest a tasteless yellow arches patty before boarding. Commercial airlines are hard work; British Airways - complimentary drinks, small bag of snacks. AirFrance - complimentary drinks, either a croissant or sandwich. American Airlines - complimentary soft-drinks and a snack.
Obviously, the best are complimentary drinks this way you can get alcohol to help you forget this difficult hurdle. (or help you nodd off to sleep).

To get through it: eat well before you leave home, eat on the way to the airport and drink plenty before going through security - you can then handle starving for up to 4 hours should that need to be the case (the longest flight I know of is 27 hours, I did a 24 hour fast when I was 13 years old, I reckon I could do a little longer now if needed!).

Toilet seats - getting a plane seat next to the toilet, you may as well be sat in the bog with the smell - we were sat right next to the toilet on our trip to Argentina, it was a long long trip.

To get through it: choose your seat in advance or check-in early, alternatively ask if you can just sit in the toilet - you may as well get the full experience.

Inflight entertainment - commercial airlines make a huge point over this and i'm yet to be impressed. The music is awful, the films limited and uninspiring and short videos are dull. You would have thought in the age of the internet the material would be better. Plus, if you are ever on a long flight and your tv screen is broken - it's a very long journey.

To get through it: buy books!

The brace position - I discovered this was to save your teeth for dental records so they can identify you. That's nice to know!

To get through it: Check the flight history of an Airline - you'll be surprised, I just cannot bring myself to fly on some airlines. As for the brace position, if you do this then at least your family will know - that's a good enough reason right? Then again maybe you don't want them to know you've gone, so keep your head high on any immediate steep uncontrolled decline!

Babies - I know they can't help it but why take a baby that screams on a plane, poor thing and my poor ears. There should be test flights available to get kids used to flying and the pops to their ears - as a kid I remember the pain, so they need good training. I call on the government to open the "Baby flying academy".


To get through it: bitch about the parents, always makes me feel better, good headphones with loud music and deep breathing- very deep!

Leg room - what can I say except I am 6'1" and on some flights its agony. Plus nothing worse than a seat that reclines a few inches - what's the point?

To get through it: go premium economy or better, if not moan, groan and deal with it.


More to come in the future, but for now, Bonne Voyage.




Monday, 5 December 2011

Travel competitions – Alaska or get your photography noticed

Facebook is now flooded with travel and entrepreneurs and webslites like this blog all talking about travel. Everyone has a unique perspective and when trying to make decisions on where to go, what to do and who to follow it will always come down to your personal preferences – and what you like. Facebook is no compromise, it’s whatever you want it to be.

So having trawled through the Fan pages as I work on building mine (you can subscribe on the blog to the right) http://www.facebook.com/ryanchaynes I found some competitions worth applying for – and looking out for.

The intrepid explore: Nomadic Matt, has hooked up with G Adventures to offer a free trip to Alaska. Pretty cool http://www.nomadicmatt.com/travel-blogs/get-a-free-trip-to-alaska/ 

While World Footprints Media have launched a photography xompetition, submit up to 4 photos and get your friends to vote, only for US citizens though: https://www.facebook.com/WorldFootprints


Orbitz have launched - Gift It Forward - you get to nominate someone who feel deserves a free vacation, but I'm sure they need to have done something to achieve it, like for charity. So think about your do-good friends and nominate them for a trip to Mexico: https://www.facebook.com/Orbitz?sk=app_203363546342705



Friday, 2 December 2011

The Royal Palms Resport & Spa, Fort Lauderdale

I stayed at The Royal Palms Resort in May as part of the International Gay and Lesbian Travel Association Convention. I had heard a lot about it for quite a long time having met the owner several years before at a series of industry events in Europe. It was the first full gay resort I had visited and I must say I was impressed, the photos did make it look glamorous, but I wasn't quite expecting it to be a reality.

The service was just great, the staff knew everyone's names (including those not in our group), the food was different (being British) but definitely a great selection of hearty breakfasts and the rooms were perfect; huge and had everything you needed.

It is right near the beach, but is a good taxi ride to shopping centres and the gay district (Wilton Manors) is quite far away - but I find that in the USA anyway outside of major cities. Just one thing, I wish they had some way of contacting other rooms (as they have no in-room phone system) without having to physically knock on friends rooms - but otherwise it was great.


Check out the Video and the website: http://www.royalpalms.com/