World Shakespeare Festival begins in April

With just 26 days to go until the launch of the World Shakespeare Festival, which begins on Monday 23rd April and runs until November 2012 as part of the London 2012 Festival, audiences can look forward to the biggest celebration of the world famous playwright ever staged. Thousands of artists from around the world will take part and anyone who wants to stay in London for the festival can book one of the London hotels on the website LondonTown.com.

It’s an ambitious project on a scale never seen before featuring collaborations with leading UK and international arts organisations and over a million tickets available for a programme which includes 23 brand new productions – 21 of which were commissioned specially for the festival. With almost 70 productions, events and exhibitions taking place across the UK, including London, the World Shakespeare Festival has something of interest for all ages and all nationalities.

In London, Shakespeare’s Globe theatre is staging Globe to Globe in which 37 of Shakespeare’s plays are performed in 37 languages in six weeks. Further highlights include Nicholas Hytner directing Simon Russell Beale in Timon of Athens at the National Theatre, Michael Attenborough directing Jonathan Pryce in King Lear at the Almeida Theatre, and Gregory Doran – who will succeed Michael Boyd as Artistic Director at the Royal Shakespeare Company, it has recently been announced – who stages a production of Julius Caesar at the Roundhouse.

Doran’s Julius Caesar is one of two Royal Shakespeare Company productions which will premiere in Stratford-upon-Avon during the summer and then transfer to London’s West End. Iqbal Khan’s Much Ado About Nothing, with Meera Syal in the leading role of Beatrice, will also transfer to the Noel Coward Theatre from August.

From 19th July, visitors to the British Museum will be treated to Staging the World, a major exhibition – complemented by a 20-part BBC Radio 4 series to be broadcast in April – which illustrates the emerging role of London as a world city 400 years ago through the perspective of Shakespeare’s plays.

There’s a grass roots aspect to the festival with over 260 amateur groups involving 7200 people (aged from 6 to 90) taking part in Open Stages, a project coordinated by the Royal Shakespeare Company and nine partner theatres. These amateur productions will be staged in castles, churches, parks and pubs, and some will perform at the RSC’s Stratford-upon-Avon home.

Thousands of teachers and young people will take also part in the festival which will create a legacy for young people through a number of projects including Worlds Together, an international conference that explores the influence of Shakespeare who is already studied by 50% of the world’s school children.

World Shakespeare Festival events are taking place across the UK, not only in London but also in Shakespeare’s home of Stratford-upon-Avon as well as Newcastle/Gateshead, Birmingham, Brighton, Wales and Scotland. For the full festival guide visit www.worldshakespearefestival.org.uk and for more information on planning a trip to London visit LondonTown.com, a useful resource for visitors and local residents with listings on everything from Shakespeare to shopping. Find and book hotels and restaurants, and discover the best festivals and events happening in London this spring and summer.

Uncovered: The fairy tale castles of Germany

Fancy something a bit different for your holiday this year? Germany has a wealth of fairy tale castles that are great for visits for the whole family.

Research by Agoda.com has revealed the top castles to visit in Germany. Majestic old palaces and turreted stone castles might be the stuff of children’s fables, but for the cultural traveler they offer a beguiling glimpse into European history. Whether intact or in ruins, these fantastical buildings provide insight into the lives of nobility throughout the Middle Ages, with many restored palaces also housing extensive collections of art, antique furniture, weapons, and medieval artifacts.

Most of the best-preserved castles lie outside the major cities, their more remote locations contributing to their preservation throughout centuries of war. The more famous of these can be found in the southern states of Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg, amid some of the most beautiful and pristine countryside in Europe.

To explore Germany’s fairytale castles, travelers starting from Berlin can enjoy a scenic overland journey via road or rail to Frankfurt am Main, launching trips to Trier, and taking in the wine country of Mosel.

From there, travelers can enter the Swabian Alps region, visiting Heidelberg and Stuttgart and the small medieval townships that line the valleys. To complete the fairytale tour, travelers can then go on to Füssen to see two of the country’s most famous castles, then on to Munich, the hub of Bavarian culture.

TOP GERMAN CASTLES

MESPELBRUNN CASTLE

Owned by the Ingelheim family, this moated castle (wasserschloss) is concealed in a quiet valley in the Lower Franconian countryside. It starred as one of the locations in the Cannes-nominated 1958 film, Das Wirtshaus im Spessart, based on a German fairy tale. It’s located in dense Spessart forest, about 50 km from Frankfurt.

BURGHAUSEN CASTLE

This thirteenth century castle is the longest fortress in Europe – more than a kilometer in length. It houses six courtyards, multiple towers and gates, gardens, chapels, and protected inner chambers that successions of Bavaria’s Dukes and Duchesses used as a second residence. The castle is located on the Salzach River, close to the Austrian border.

HEIDELBERG CASTLE

Now in ruins, this medieval stronghold hails from the thirteenth century. Destroyed by war, fire, and lightning, it has long been a romantic figure of the poets and artists of Heidelberg, winning the admiration of many writers, including Victor Hugo and Mark Twain. The castle overlooks Heidelberg city in the north of Baden-Württemberg, a two-hour drive from Frankfurt.

LICHTENSTEIN CASTLE

Once a fortress for the knights of Lichtenstein, this neo-gothic castle sits precariously on a rocky bluff overlooking Honau in the Swabian Alps. Its remote location in mountainous woodland helped keep it safe from destruction, and it’s still owned by the Dukes of Urach today. It’s also in the Baden-Württemberg state, a day-trip from Stuttgart.

ELTZ CASTLE

Thirty-three generations of the Eltz family have called this castle home. Perched on a hill, with pointed spires and Tudor woodwork, it’s the archetypal medieval castle, complete with a vast collection of antiques, paintings, and weapons. It’s a moderate 45-minute hike from Moselkern train station to the castle.

HOHENZOLLERN CASTLE

The flags on Hohenzollern Castle’s turrets flutter 855 meters over the surrounding countryside, a position it has enjoyed since the eleventh century. The not-so-humble home of the Prussian royal family, it was destroyed and rebuilt twice, restored to its current form in the late nineteenth century. It’s close to the Swiss border, in the foothills of the Swabian Alps.

SIGMARINGEN CASTLE

Now owned by an offshoot of the Hohenzollern family, this eleventh-century fortress has changed ownership numerous times, and was once even the seat of the French Vichy. The striking centerpiece of Sigmaringen, a quiet medieval village on the Danube, the castle today houses collections of porcelain, armor, carriages, and torture devices.

NEUSCHWANSTEIN CASTLE

Technically not a castle, in that it wasn’t built specifically to protect, this extravagant palace was the creation of the eccentric King Ludwig II of Bavaria, inspired by the medieval castles of fairy tales. Its extravagant design in turn served as the inspiration for one of the most iconic fairytale castles today: Disneyland’s Sleeping Beauty Castle. Neuschwanstein Castle overlooks the village of Hohenschwangau in southwest Bavaria, 100 kilometers from Munich.

The Hunger Games set to increase tourism

It’s one of the most eagerly awaited movies of the year and comes from the best selling books its not surprising that The Hunger Games is set to provide a major tourism increase in North Carolina.

The movie, which took $155m (£98m) in its opening weekend in the US, focues on a post-apocalyptic world where teenagers are forced to fight to the death which was filmed entirely on the American State.

This is the first book from the trilogy to be made into a film, the books written by Suzanne Collins’ were brought to life in North Carolina.

Asheville forest became the backdrop for much of the film, and locations such as an abandoned town and the city of Charlotte have also been used in the filming.

The abandoned Henry River Mill Village near Hildebran was the setting for the hometown of the main characters, named District 12. Many buildings remain is this deserted town, but the mill burned town in 1977 – the property’s 83-year-old owner as received lots of attention since the filming began.

Mr Shepherd told Associated Press: ‘I’m getting too many visitors. Day and night, they’re driving through, taking pictures, getting out and walking. I’m just bombarded with people.’

The local tourism industry has been quick to jump on the movies success, offering special hotel packages, guided tours and tutorials in survival.

The state’s official tourism website has created a four-day self-guided tour for fans, which includes visits to Charlotte, Hildebran, DuPont State Recreational Forest and Shelby.

A company solely created to offer tours for fans has also popped up, Hunger Games Fan Tours, offering day and weekend long trips based around the movie.

The end of the weekend experience sees tourists take part in an enactment of the Hunger Games, however the games see participants receive prizes at the end rather than being killed.

Kensington Palace now open after a £12m makeover

Following a £12million transformation, Kensington Palace has now reopened to the public. This will allow the public to view some of the palace’s private areas that have gone on display for the first time. 

There is also a special exhibition dedicated to Queen Victoria, who was born at the royal home and lived there until she was 18.

There will also be an exhibition of some of Princess Diana’s dresses and people will be able to wonder through the beautiful Queen’s State Apartments. 

The Palace’s gardens have now been opened out. Now only the original gold gates remain, the iron railings have been removed.

The grounds landscaped by Charles Bridgeman in the early 18th century, can now be seen uncluttered by railings or large trees. The statue of Queen Victoria has also been spruced up and sits in pride of place in the gardens.

Replacing the ‘Golden Gates’ as the public entrance will be the new Jubilee Garden.

Visitors will enter into ‘The White Court’ where they can view a light sculpture called Luminous Lace, which apparently replicates a royal lace pattern.

Visitors will then go on to the grand ticket office, where they can choose from four different exhibitions spanning across four centuries.

The revamp team are hoping the new look Kensington Palace will appeal to all ages and are hope visitor numbers by at least 100,000.

‘We’ve set out to awaken a sleeping beauty,’ announced Charles Mackay, the chairman of Historic Royal Palaces, the independent charity which runs the place.

Tickets will cost £14.50 for adults, £12 for concessions and children will get in free. Visit www.hrp.org.uk/KensingtonPalace

Only a ‘Bunny’ Hop, Skip and a Jump Abroad for Brits this Easter

Over two million Britons sought an escape from the harsh winter weather in 2011 and migrated to sunnier climates for the Easter holidays, and it looks like this year is set to see much of the same – but at what cost?

In research conducted by My Travel Cash, 81% of respondents said cost was the primary factor in picking holiday destinations, however it looks like familiarity and prior knowledge of the area might take more precedence than originally thought.

A poll carried out by carhiremarket.com revealed that over a third of British holidaymakers have booked a trip to the popular Spanish Costas despite further afield destinations such as Bulgaria and Poland having been regularly hailed as desirable options due to the strength of Sterling against their currencies, as opposed to its dwindling strength to that of the Euro. 

And when comparing some standard holiday purchases, the proof is definitely in the pint! While a lager will cost the equivalent of £0.78 in Bulgaria, visitors to Spain can expect to pay more than double for the same drink.

Even the cost of a simple trip down the beach could be halved or doubled dependent on the two destinations. In Bulgaria, ice-cream cones for a family of four would cost around €4 whereas the same purchase in Spain could result in a bill of nearly €25 – almost six times the cost!

Myles Stephenson, CEO of my Travel Cash commented: “What we found interesting from our research is that people are still determined to get away to sunnier climates despite the current economic uncertainty, and perhaps instinctively cite cost as the major factor when deciding where to go. What I’m surprised to see however, is that so many holiday-makers are choosing familiar destinations in comparison to trying somewhere further afield, despite the cost of living whilst in countries outside of the Eurozone being so much more cost effective.

Prices slashed at hotels across Europe

If your thinking of taking a trip to Europe, now is a great time to go.

Research has revealed that hotel prices have dropped by almost 50 per cent since last year. 

The study by TripAdvisor showed that an average nights stay in locations across Europe have seen prices drop dramatically from last year as the Eurozone continues to struggle. 

Popular cities including Rome, Barcelona and Lisbon have seen hotel prices plummet. 

Hotel rates in wallet-friendly Albufeira in Portugal have seen a drop from around £82 a night to £47 for a good nights sleep – a 42 per cent drop. 

Even popular tourist spot Arles in France which boasts impressive Roman monuments – has seen a drop in hotel prices from around £83 to £55, 34 per cent. 

TripAdvisor spokesperson Emma Shaw says: ‘It has been an economically-troubled year for much of Europe, particularly for the Eurozone countries, and we are seeing that hotels are dropping their prices in some very well-known tourist destinations. 

‘For travellers looking for value for money, this is clearly good news. And with deals to be had in many destinations across Europe,  2012 looks like a good year for the short-haul holiday.’

Angry Birds launch UK activity park

The creator of the successful game Angry Birds has announced plans to open themed activity parks across the UK. Hoping to expand its reach, beyond being the world’s most downloaded game.

In the game players use a slingshot to catapult birds to destroy green pigs, which are hidden within the game. Facebook has declared it as the fastest-growing app with more than 700 million downloads. 

Angry Birds creator Rovio announced plans to launch the parks as its first expansion outside Finland, with further plans to target the Asian market.

The news followed the release of the new Angry Birds Space game, which was released, on iTunes, Android, PC and Mac yesterday.

Working alongside Finnish playground equipment maker Lappset, the parks will feature swings, sandpits, climbing towers, slides and outdoor arcade games which have been inspired by the popular game.

The playgrounds will be situated in cities and towns or attached to large-scale theme parks across the country. 

Visitors to the parks could receive an added bonus when arriving on the playground. Mobile phone sensors will detect when they arrive allowing them to download bonus features.

Peter Vesterbacka, marketing chief of the Finnish start-up said: “I hope that the parks will encourage more children to engage in outdoor activities with their families.

The game is played by two year olds and their grandparents. Hopefully with these activity parks they will do a little exercise”.

He admitted that thousands of these parks could be placed across the planet.

Rovio revealed plans to team up with a major US retail chain to sell its merchandise, and plans were in place to open branded retail stores in China.

On April 28 ‘Angry Birds Land’ will officially open in Finland. Visitors will be able to enjoy attractions, which include rides, park games and a ‘Magic Place’ area, which features interactive games.

The makers consider their selves an entertainment brand, not just a games company. 

Mr Vesterbacka added: “We want to make Angry Birds a permanent part of pop culture. We’re just getting started”.

Article by Charlotte Greenhalgh

Alton Towers new ride ‘too scary’ for under-12s

Alton towers will be opening a new ride that’s been named ‘too scary’ for those under the age of 12 by the British Board of Film Classification.

The ride, Nemesis Sub-Terra, as a result younger visitors to the park will not be able to experience this ride when it opens for the Easter holidays this weekend.

The BBFC were invited to experience the new ride by Alton Towers following feedback from the testing panel, this will be the first time they have classified a theme park ride.

Murray Perkins of the BBFC concluded that Nemesis Sub-Terra contained ‘some intense moments, in some respects comparable with scary scenes which may be experienced in horror or science fiction films at ’12A’/’12’.’

He said that as a result, the BBFC recommended Alton Towers should classify the experience in the ’12A’ category, which allows for ‘moderate physical and psychological threat, provided that the disturbing sequences are not frequent or sustained.’

The rid is completely in the dark, but what actually happens to you during the experience is being kept quiet until it officially opens on March 24.

It has been described as ‘neither a ride, performance nor a maze’.

Publicity has called the ride ‘unlike anything the world has seen before – a psychologically and physically thrilling experience, taking place in a dark, intense underground setting and based around the back-story of the original Nemesis attraction, launched in 1994.’

Mr Perkins said: ‘We are seeing a real blur of the old boundaries of visual content and physical experience in both 3D and 4D cinema, and at theme parks.

‘After experiencing the attraction first-hand, based on 100 years of experience and line with British public opinion, we would recommend that Alton Towers Resort classify the new Nemesis Sub-Terra a 12A.’

Katherine Duckworth of Alton Towers said: ‘The classification advice from the BBFC is important to ensure the well-being of our guests.’

She added: ‘We are aware the enforcement’s that will now be implemented will mean that many of our younger visitors are unable to experience Nemesis Sub-Terra, which we are obviously concerned about.

‘However, the Alton Towers Resort prides itself on offering a variety of rides for all ages and we hope that those under the age of 12 will continue to enjoy our other attractions.’

Watchdog investigate Ryanair over £10 charges for emergency exit seats

Budget Airline Ryanair are currently being investigated by safety watchdogs after passengers were made to pay an extra £10 charge so they could sit in seats by emergency exits.

The popular seats offer more legroom for travellers, however the seats located next to the emergency exits have been left empty on hundreds of flights after travellers refused to pay the added cost.

Ryanair passengers buying standard seats are told that they can sit anywhere on the plane apart from the first four rows and the emergency exit rows in the centre.

However passengers in standard seats are still expected to be able to follow directions on the emergency procedures.

The Irish Aviation Authority and UK regulator, the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), have launched an investigation into the airline. Suggesting that Ryanair should look at its policy as the issue is described as a ‘grey area’.

The British Airline Pilots Association (BALPA) has also questioned safety issues on board.

One passenger on a Ryanair flight said that he was asked to make sure that he was aware of how to open a door that he was unable to see.

“I wasn’t allowed to sit in the emergency exit row so I sat in the window seat in the row in front. Before take-off, one of the cabin crew spoke to me, and another passenger who was in the aisle seat.

“Basically, she was saying that, since we were the closest to the emergency exit, we’d have to make sure we’d read and understood the instructions for opening the doors in the middle of the plane in an emergency”.

Adding: “She said emergency row seats could only be used by people who had paid extra. It just seemed ludicrous and mean-spirited.

Stephen McNamara, the head of communications at Ryanair said: “We do not believe this to be an issue, as all Ryanair passengers are provided with the same safety and evacuation information.

“We will continue to discuss the matter with the IAA”.

Article by Charlotte Greenhalgh

The Olympic flames tour unveiled

There will be 8,000 torchbearers, taking a 70-day journey that will come within ten miles of 95 per cent of Brits.

The tour will begin at Lands End on May 19 and continue on to the Olympic Stadium where it will arrive on July 27.

Every street it passes though will be plotted on an interactive map.

However it has been highlighted that 80 per cent of the flame’s tour will take place in a high security van, each torch bearer will take it just 300m on foot.

The bearers will be dressed in white and gold tracksuits designed by Adidas, sponsors of the games, which have been compared to pyjamas.

The outfits are supposed to ‘accent the energy of the Olympic flame’, however when revealed yesterday the 100 per cent polyester outfits have been called a fashion failure.

But Mayor of London Boris Johnson said he ‘thoroughly approved’ of the gold tracksuits.

They are beautiful outfits. They are lovely. They are elegant but not too austere,’ he said.

It is hoped that Stella McCartney’s design for the British tea will bring more style to the games.

Yesterday saw 7,300 people named as torchbearers after being nominated as unsung heroes of their communities.

The remaining 700 are likely to be celebrities and will be named later in the spring.