Tuesday, September 25, 2012

9 Fun Facts About Oktoberfest

Oktoberfest is is one of the most famous festivals in the world, a celebration of Bavarian food, drink and culture. Decked out in dirndls and lederhosen, millions make the pilgrimage to Munich to enjoy two weeks of fun. Here are nine fun facts about Oktoberfest that you may not have known:

It all started because of a wedding. The first Oktoberfest was held in 1810, to celebrate the marriage of the Bavarian King Ludwig I to Maria Theresia of Saxonia.

Oktoberfest is held in September. The festival starts in late September, and always includes the first Sunday in October.

More than half a million chickens are consumed each year at the festival. Also 120,000 paris of pork sausage, 40,000kg of fish, 70,000 pork knuckles, and the equivalent of 119 oxen.

There are 24 tents at Oktoberfest, which range in size from 60 to over 10,000 people. They tend to have different atmospheres, ranging from relaxed and sedate to raucous and rowdy.

"Prost!" is the traditional toast at Oktoberfest, translating to 'to your health'.

The beer is stronger than you think. While most American beers range 3-4% alcohol, Oktoberfest brews have a minimum of 6% and often higher. This leads to the appearance of 'Bierleichen' (beer corpses) of those passed out from overindulgence.

Unbelievably, beer was not available at the first Oktoberfest. Patrons had to purchase outside the venue. Fast forward to today, when roughly 7 million litres are sold at the festival each year!

72% of the 6.5 million annual visitors are German.

Oktoberfest celebrations are held in cities worldwide. Popular events are held in Ho Chi Minh City (Vietnam), Cape Town (South Africa), Blumenau (Brazil), Hong Kong, and Villa General Belgrano (Argentina). The largest is held in Cincinnati, Ohio, and attracts roughly 500,000 people each year.

(Image from Georgey Boy.)

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

5 of the Best Vegas Wedding Chapels

On average, 315 people get hitched in Las Vegas wedding chapels every day. The Vegas Strip is packed with a daunting array of venues in which to say your vows, so the Word Travels team has investigated which are the most famous, fun and entertaining, just in case any intrepid travel buddies urgently need to get married one night... Here are five of the best Vegas wedding chapels.

Graceland Wedding Chapel

The original home of the Elvis-themed Las Vegas wedding, the Graceland Wedding Chapel has been open since 1927 and performs a whopping 200 weddings per week. The chapel offers a variety of ceremonies ranging from the kitsch and quirky to the more traditional and conservative. Elvis is more than happy to help you write your vows and tends to include gems like “I promise not to treat you like a hound dog” and “I promise to be your hunk of burning love”. Jon Bon Jovi and Billy Ray Cyrus got hitched here.

Tel: (702) 382 0091
Address: 619 Las Vegas Blvd.

The Little White Wedding Chapel

The Little White Wedding Chapel is consistently voted number one in the fiercely contested Vegas wedding chapel ratings. They are open 24 hours, no reservations are required, and they will have you in, out and united for life in under 30 minutes. This king of conveyer belt weddings is a great favorite with celebrities and it has proudly hosted the weddings of Brittany Spears, Demi Moore and Bruce Willis, Michael Jordan and Joan Collins.

Tel: (800) 545 8111
Address: 1301 Las Vegas Blvd.

Hotter Than Hell Wedding Chapel

If you yearn for a rock and roll wedding with concert tickets for invitations, guitar picks for rose petals, a KISS member for a minister (impersonator) and a stage with smoke machines for an alter then you are destined for the Hotter Than Hell Wedding Chapel. The KISS themed chapel has costumes for hire including the popular ‘Lady Demon’ wedding gown collection. The chapel seats about 25 people so you can invite some friends to enjoy your rocking nuptials.

Tel: (702) 558 6256
Address: 4503 Paradise Road, Las Vegas

Little Chapel of the Flowers

Renowned for hosting the prettiest Vegas strip weddings, the Little Chapel of the Flowers is situated in grounds featuring flowers, greenery and a waterfall – it just bursts with photo opportunities. This venue offers more elegant and intimate ceremonies than its competitors. As quickie weddings go organizing one here can be a lengthy affair, with full-service wedding planners available to couples for a year before the big bash. Or you can make no plans whatsoever and show up on the day hoping they have space for you.

Tel: (800) 843 2410
Address: 1717 Las Vegas Blvd.

Tunnel of Love Drive-Through

This now famous drive-through wedding venue was originally opened chiefly to accommodate disabled couples opting for a quickie Vegas wedding but people are always drawn to novelty and it rapidly grew in popularity. The Tunnel of Love is an offshoot of the Little White Chapel and can be found at the same venue. All couples must drive through the Tunnel of Vows, which is adorned with murals depicting cherubs and a starry night sky. You can bring your own car (cheaper) or hire one of the flamboyant models on offer at the venue. Bikers welcome!

Tel: (800) 545 8111
Address: 1301 Las Vegas Blvd.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Travel Movie: The Beach

The Beach (2000), with Leonardo Dicaprio and an array of impressive supporting actors (Robert Carlyle, Tilda Swinton), directed by the famous Danny Boyle, suffered serious criticism on a number of counts but its status as a classic travel movie has never been disputed. The Thailand locations had armchair travellers the world over slavering in ecstasy, and the desire for freedom and escape encapsulated in the movie appealed to generations of backpackers keen to travel off the beaten track.

The film was shot largely on Ko Phi Phi Leh, an island near Phuket, Thailand, and the famous beach is actually called Hat Maya. The beautiful waterfall featured in the movie is not on the island; it is Haeo Suwat Falls and can be found in Thailand’s  Khao Yai National Park.
Haeo Suwat Falls

The great controversy of the filmmaking process, and a serious gripe for eco-warriors, was the apparent necessity to make the Hat Maya Beach more ‘perfect’ by bulldozing parts of it to make it flatter, and planting imported palm trees. This modification actually led to a number of court cases. Extra mountains were also added digitally in post-production to make the scenery more dramatic.

Hat Maya Beach
Any superficial damage the film may have done to this Thai paradise was swamped by the devastation of the 2004 Tsunami. The island has thankfully recovered fully since then and is once again a popular tourist excursion. Although at the time it came out Thailand’s authorities threatened to ban the film – because they thought it portrayed their country unfairly as a drug haven – it has since been noted that The Beach substantially increased tourism to the region.

The actual beach is not remote and inaccessible and you can reach it without swimming long distances in open ocean, sneaking through marijuana plantations, and leaping off waterfalls. There is a daily ferry from Phuket Pier and Krabi which will get you there in about 90 minutes.

The bay of Ko Phi Phi Leh
The film has survived in pop culture mainly because its locations so captured the collective imagination. It was a great disappointment to fans of Alex Garland’s eponymous book which had a far more complex plot. It was a book, however, which begged for a movie version and although it met with serious complaints from reviewers you will struggle to find a film more visually enticing.

Verdict: rent it

5 Tips for Using Technology While You Travel

5 Tips for Using Technology While You Travel


While many people still consider Twitter a place to post pictures of their lunch and hear from their favourite celebrities, the site has become an invaluable tool for communicating with large companies who keep a close eye on any negative PR. The best examples are airlines, who are often faster in responding to tweets than via phone or even in person! If your flight gets cancelled or you have problems with online check-in, don't be afraid to voice your complaint.


Heading to Cape Town to take in the view from Table Mountain? Did you know you can win free tickets on their Facebook page? How about the Minnesota State Fair, who's page offers giveaways for the nightly concerts? Check out your destinations and events before you go, and even if you can't score free stuff, you'll get the heads up on anything new and exciting and have the chance to ask questions.


You've probably used Groupon (or similar group-buying sites) at home, but have you considered using it while you're on vacation? Sign up for email alerts for the cities you plan to visit, and you may come out with a half-price dinner or discounted amusement park ticket. Best to do this a few months in advance, but look carefully at terms and conditions... especially expiration dates!


Skype has always been a great tool for communicating with people halfway around the world, and with the rise of smartphones and tablets it's become even more convenient. Take advantage of the free wifi offered in many coffeeshops, bars, and other places to say hi to loved ones, or check in at the office.


We've done several posts on terrific travel apps, but the best ones are often specific to your location. Have a connection Amsterdam Schiphol? Download their free app to check your departure gate and flight status. There are also great nightlife and event apps available for most major cities, and even tour guides for museums and historical sites. It pays to check out the attraction's website (or contact them on Facebook) to find out if they have one... it can be a great freebie!

Friday, May 18, 2012

Travel Movie: Out of Africa

 “I had a farm in Africa, at the foot of the Ngong Hills…” starts the iconic film Out of Africa, accompanied by sweeping vistas of African savannah. The film has become famous for its beautiful scenery, capturing the feel of a colonial farm in Africa at the beginning of the 20th century.

Aside from a few scenes that supposedly take place in Denmark but were really shot in Surrey, the movie was shot on location in Kenya, at the foot of the Ngong Hills. The hills are of course still there today, easily accessible by just a short car ride and full of many luxury wildlife resorts. The famous hair-washing scene was shot in the foothills with the actors surrounded by assistants, ready to chase away lions with high-pressure fire extinguishers.

While the farm house in the movie was made to look as believable as possible, it wasn’t the original. By 1985, when the movie was shot, Karen Blixen’s farmhouse had turned into a government college of nutrition and wasn’t available for use. However, close by there was an abandoned house that had belonged to the first Kenyan president’s wife. Set builders worked hard to turn the crumbling house into a close approximation of Karen Blixen’s original house, including adding an extra wing.

In response to the movie and its success, the Kenyan government turned the house into a museum in 1986, and named the district (now a part of Nairobi) Karen. Travellers who happen to be big fans of the film can today visit the original house.

Set designers had local women help them out by building traditional thatched huts to use for the movie's village scenes. The local women built the huts much more quickly than the workers transforming the main farmhouse, and by the time filming could start, locals had moved into the set's thatch hut village, giving the village an authentic, lived-in look.

Aside from Karen’s house, the only other building that plays much of a role in the film is the Muthaiga Country Club, where Karen first meets Denys. While the original country club visited by Karen Blixen did still exist and does to this day, set designers built a replica across from the house chosen as Karen Blixen’s. Visitors can today go to the original Muthaiga Country Club, although women won’t be allowed in the members’ bar – Karen Blixen is, to this day, the only woman who has been allowed a drink there.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Travel Movie: Amelie

Amelie is a quirky romantic comedy by French director Jean-Pierre Jeunet, and in his distinctive style he paints an intimate picture of Paris and its eccentric residents.

The fanciful world of Amelie may appear to be anything but reality, but the locations featured in the sweet film are all real places in Paris.

Visitors to Paris can't help but travel on the Metro, and you can visit Abbesses Station (where she first sees Nino) and Lamarck-Caulaincourt (where she leaves the blind man).

Amelie works in the Cafe des Deux Moulins (Two Windmills), located at 15 rue Lepic, and the infamous fruit stand she lives above is Le Marche de la Butte, at 56 rue de Trois Freres.

A pivotal scene in the movie, when Amelie leads Nino on a wild goose chase through a park, is set in the park below Sacre Coeur, and visitors can take a look through the coin-operated binoculars or have a ride on the carousel.

Verdict: Rent it

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Electronic Music Cruises

It may be the next big thing in cruising... party cruises are taking over the market for the new generation of cruise-goers.

The Holy Ship! cruise launches from Fort Lauderdale on Friday, promising top acts like Fatboy Slim, Skrillex, Laidback Luke, Diplo, Rusko, A-Trak, and DJ Aero with Motley Crue drummer Tommy Lee. The cruise will also feature activities like DJ-led poker and yoga classes.

But Holy Ship! isn't the first of its kind. The annual Rock the Boat cruise is a popular event on the South African calendar, sailing between Durban and Mozambique each December and featuring more than a dozen electronic and rock acts along with comedians, movie theatres, a casino and other activities.

Paul Oakenfold hosted another electronic music cruise in 2010 called Perfecto at Sea. While electronic music cruises are still a minor part of the cruise market, they represent the rapid expansion for mainstream dance music, which has largely been restricted to nightclubs and electronic music festivals.

Is this the future of cruises? Less shuffleboard and more 'Everyday I'm Shuffling'? What do you think? Tell us in the comments!

Image from NME.com