Category Archives: General information

7 things you didn’t know about the stag beetle

Discover fantastic facts about the UK’s largest beetle. May 21 from BBC Discover Wildlife

Stag beetle

1 Empty threats
The males’ intimidating, antler-like mandibles are designed for wrestling rivals rather than biting. The bite of the smaller-jawed females is more painful to human handlers.

2 High-fibre diet
Stag beetle larvae spend five to six years feeding on rotting wood. They leave behind a distinctive network of tunnels and C-shaped chambers.

3 Beetle juice
The adults live for just a few months. Their only sustenance is fruit juice, tree sap and water, which they drink with the aid of a furry, orange tongue.

4 Overground underground
In July, females burrow up to about 30cm into the soil to lay their eggs underground near a source of rotting wood for the larvae to feed on.

5 Picky predators
Magpies, major predators of adult stag beetles, eat only the nutritious, fat-filled abdomens, leaving their victims to wander around, sometimes for days, before they die.

6 Urban legends
Primarily a woodland species in Europe, in the UK most records are from parks and gardens. They have been recorded breeding in growbags, discarded chipboard and horse manure.

7 Palm problem
In the Middle East, stag beetle larvae are serious pests of date palms, killing up to 70 per cent of trees through boring into the roots and stems.

Don’t become a victim of crafty tourist scams

from Tour Expi, Sunday May 17
As we enter the heart of the vacation season, wise travelers should constantly remind themselves that another kind of “sightseer” lurks nearby: The sight they are seeking is anyone who is so dazzled and distracted by local attractions that they forget to watch their wallets.

This week the Better Business Bureau continues its exploration of the many tactics that crooks of all ages, sizes and descriptions are using to get your vacation dollars. Sadly, many of these scammers and thieves are young children. Tourists travelling abroad are specifically warned of these schemes, some of which are also employed by stateside scammers. Here’s a rundown of some current favorite scam tactics:

Wallet watchers
Often the aim is to pinpoint the location of your wallet. A varied number of little street dramas are designed just to get you to automatically feel for your billfold while someone watches. Later, armed with the knowledge of precisely which pocket contains it, a seasoned pickpocket relieves you of it.

Among favorite schemes to get you to reveal its whereabouts:
Beggars.
An elderly or a pregnant woman on the street will try to guilt you into giving them a bit of cash. A nearby pickpocket is carefully watching to learn where you keep your wallet as you get it out.

.“Helpful” locals
Someone on the street will warn you that they just saw someone get their phone or wallet stolen. As you automatically check for your own, they or a nearby accomplice are noting where yours is for a later pickpocketing. Some have been known to post warning signs in an area about pickpockets just to spot where tourists are patting their pockets to see if a wallet is safe.

‘Kid-proof’ your wallet
Children on the streets in many countries have scamming skills far beyond their years. These are some of the tourist games they play:

Postcard help.
An impoverished-appearing child may shove a postcard and pen at you while pleading for help writing a letter home. A sad story of his plight will be shared, designed for your sympathy. Then comes an impassioned plea for your money.

Petition pleas.
A group of children will ask that you sign a charity petition and that you give a donation. They may be picking your pocket even as you read the document, their hands hidden under clipboards.

They’ve got you surrounded.
A large group of children will clamor around you, wanting you to hand over cash or valuables. Sometimes newspapers are offered for sale, unfolded before your face and distracting you as your pockets are searched.

Hotel-related tricks
Scammers can be working on you while you are en route to your hotel and can even lurk at the establishment once you are there. Here are some ways they operate:

“Wonderful alternative.”
A taxi driver who is in on the scheme will say that your hotel is closed for renovation. He just happens to know of another great one. It will be in a bad location and greatly overpriced. There have even been reports of drivers delivering tourists to hotels that have copied the name of the one you seek, claiming it is the right one and that the online photos were wrong.

Fake employees.
Two people dressed as hotel employees will knock on your door for a “room inspection.” One distracts you while the other steals your stuff.

Fake front-desk calls.
Identity thieves may call your room saying there is a problem with your credit card and asking you to confirm the card details, sometimes in the middle of the night to befuddle you and be sure you won’t go downstairs to check it out.

Many travelers experience none of these scams. That some do is reason enough to prepare for the possibilities. Don’t let your hard-earned vacation get ruined by creative con artists.

Chile volcano erupts after 40 years causing panic and excitement

Published on : Friday, April 24, 2015 from Travel and Tour

volcanoSouthern Chile is on alert for a third eruption this week. Chile’s Calbuco volcano erupted twice in 24 hours and the National Geology and Mining Service of the country indicated more strength in the second eruption than the first one.

President Michelle Bachelet, who flew to the affected area, said: “We don’t know how the situation is going to evolve. It’s pretty unpredictable.”

According to the local folks, the explosion caused immediate hysteria among residents and they could not believe what they were seeing. As the mayor of the nearby Puerto Montt, which is a popular tourist gateway of the Patagonia region, said that the residents were extremely frightened, some other locals said they were more excited than afraid.

Volcanic ash has caused the roofs to cave in, nearly a metre high in some spots. Road workers used heavy trucks to plough a path through the ash, as residents shovelled it off their rooftops. This volcanic ash is intimadated to damage the crops, animal feed, bridges, roads, people’s work routines, tourism and health. Authorities issued a red alert for the towns of Puerto Montt and Puerto Varas in southern Chile. Both are popular tourist destinations.

Massive ash clouds forced airlines to cancel flights and drifted as far away as southern Argentina — including the picturesque ski resort of Bariloche, which warned people to stay home to avoid inhaling dust particles.  Chile has about 90 active volcanoes. Geologist Alfredo Lahsen of the University of Chile finds it a positive attribute of nature which helps the nation to be the world’s largest copper producer.

Dubai Trolley to make sightseeing a pleasure for tourist

Published on : Friday, April 24, 2015 from Travel and Tour World

Dubai TrolleyDubai Trolley, The world’s first hydrogen-powered, zero-emission street trolley tram opened for public service.

The user friendly transit system is an attractive commuting service for visitors and residents alike. Dubai Trolley rolls along Mohammad Bin Rashid Boulevard, offering residents and tourists an easy access to the Dubai Mall, Souq Al Bahar and several iconic hotels. It is travelling in a distance of one kilometer in the first phrase.

“Dubai Trolley is another innovative addition to Downtown Dubai that also redefines the concept of urban mobility. By integrating the unmatched aesthetics of a trolley tram with a state-of-the-art locomotive system, Emaar is presenting a sustainable transport mode for visitors and residents in Downtown Dubai,” said Ahmad Al Matroushi, Managing Director of Emaar Properties.

The trolley can comfortably seat 50 passengers at a time. It will offer its services from 4pm to midnight on weekdays and from 3pm to 11pm on weekends and will move at a leisurely speed of 10km/h but if needed the trolley can manage speed up to 80km/h.

The trolley will redefine the concept of smart urban mobility which can be adopted by other cities as well. There is an open deck facility in the double-decker tram. The tram is fully air conditioned and elegantly designed to complement the Arabesque architectural features of Downtown Dubai.

“In a polished design, they are resplendent in bright red with aesthetic gold pinstripes and green trim colours. During winter, the glass window panels of the trolley tram will be removed for the added comfort of the passengers,” said Al Matroushi.

The tram serves food and beverages and currently stops at three stations along with a Trolley Terminus near Old Town Island. The Dubai Trolley will be fully operational soon spanning across 7 km across the entire breath of Downtown Dubai.

13 Places On Earth People Risk Their Lives To Visit

from Tour Expi, Apr 6,2105

Our world is magnificent with beautiful natural wonders that attract several visitors right through the year. However, there are some wonders that can scare the living daylights out of you, or have you toying with the urge to flirt with death and disaster. While the common man might just say no to visiting these places, destiny defying adventure seekers know them only too well.

  1. Trolltunga, Norway
    Literally translated as Troll’s Tongue, Trolltunga is one of the most spectacular scenic cliffs in Norway. It is 1100 meters above sea level, hovering 700 metres above Lake Ringedalsvatnet. The view is breathtaking. The hike goes through high mountains, and takes 8-10 hours in total (to Trolltunga and back), and the ascent is about 900 meters. The hike is usually possible to do from mid June, depending on when the snow melts in the mountains. Do carry an extra pair of pants if you plan on peeking over the edge.
  1. Siju Caves, Meghalaya
    The Siju Cave in Meghalaya is the first limestone natural cave in India. It is also home to a flimsy rope bridge that connects the summits of two hills. Its wobbliness will make you freak out. Extra pants are always a good idea!
  1. Huayna Picchu
    The ancient city of Machu Picchu is best viewed atop the summit of this mountain. However, getting there is the hard part. Inhospitable terrain, narrow and steep stairs, and high altitudes can be pretty unnerving.
  1. Hussaini Hanging Bridge, Northern Pakistan
    Located in the Gilgit-Baltistan region of northern Pakistan, this bridge served as a connection across the Borit Lake in Upper Hunza. This rope bridge is both long and poorly maintained. Many planks are missing, and strong winds shake the bridge as you cross it. A previous, older, broken bridge hangs in tatters next to the “new” one, not something that would ease your nerves.Despite its dangerous looks, the Hussaini is a relatively safe bridge and has become something of a tourist draw, with hikers testing their nerves as they carefully work their way across.
  1. Mont Blanc Box, France
    We’re not talking about the luxury brand, but the glass box that stands 12,604 feet over the rocks to give you a 360 degree view from Europe’s tallest peak. Engineers have assured visitors about its structural durability and the technology that prevents this box from toppling off the edge. But is that enough?
  1. Mount Huashan, China
    Visitors flock to this mountain in China which is famous for its almost vertical stair cases, steep edges, and the creaky wooden planks that are bolted onto the sides of the mountain.
  1. Moher Cliffs, Ireland
    This biking trail in Ireland would give an extreme adventure sports fanatic an orgasm. The winding track is 4 feet in width at its widest portion and was featured as the “cliffs of insanity” in the 1987 movie ‘The Princess Bride’.
  1. The Trift Suspension Bridge, Switzerland
    The Trift Bridge is one of the most spectacular pedestrian suspension bridges of the Swiss Alps. It is 100 meters high and 170 meters long, and is poised above the region of the Trift Glacier. Even reaching the bridge through the ravine by cable car is an adventure.
  1. Phugtal Monastery, Ladakh, India
    Located in the Zanskar region of Ladakh, the monastery is a unique construction of mud and timber. It is built at the entrance of a cave on the cliff-face of a lateral gorge of a major tributary of the Lungnak (Lingti-Tsarap) River. From a distance, the monastery looks like a giant honeycomb.This is the only monastery that can be reached by foot. The altitude and limited options for food make it a little difficult for visitors to adapt to.
  1. El Caminito Del Rey, Spain
    Known as the “Little Pathway of the King,” this was built in 1905 and has had little to no repairs done until recently. Therefore, bold climbers enjoy braving the sections that are dangerous and completely disintegrated.
  1. Devils Pool, Zambia
    The Devil’s Pool forms the lip of the Victoria Falls, Africa’s highest waterfall, which borders Zambia and Zimbabwe. A lot of visitors have lost their lives trying to get the perfect view of the 355 foot cascade but that hasn’t stopped the local tourism industry from stopping tourists from visiting it.
  1. Stolen Chimney, Fisher Tower, USA
    The Stolen Chimney is a route located on the Ancient Arts tower, one of the Fisher Towers in Moab National Park, Utah. This is the most common route to ascend the Corkscrew Summit of the tower, which is the western most summit of the Ancient Arts tower but is not the tallest. The summit is noteworthy for its extremely unusual shape which makes climbing this technically different from most other climbs.
  1. Kjeragbolten, Norway
    Kjeragbolten is a rock wedged between two boulders in the Kjerag mountain and has long been a famed photo op spot. It was featured in the 2006 Visa viral video ‘Where the hell is Matt?’, where traveler Matt Harding danced atop the precarious boulder. Due to its enormous popularity, long lines usually form with people who want to have a photo from the site. Expected waiting time can be anywhere from a few minutes to over an hour. Let’s just hope gravity doesn’t decide to have its way anytime soon.

10 things you never knew about animal sex from BBC Wildlife

Discover sex’s most surprising secrets. 

beetle sex

1. Rotifers live in a male-free society

Sex costs a lot of energy, so why not evolve to bypass it altogether? Well, one group of animals has. Bdelloid rotifers (the ‘b’ is silent) are tiny creatures found in bird baths, ponds and puddles. When wet they come to life and hoover up micro-organisms. When conditions become dry again, they shrivel up into a ball and are blown from place to place. There are billions of them on Earth, and every single one is female. According to their DNA, they haven’t had sex in perhaps 40 million years.

Without mixing up their genes through sex, the rotifers should fall prey to bacteria and viruses, their defenses outmaneuvered. Yet they are still here. How? It seems that drying up then blowing from place to place may allow them to outflank and outlast their parasites. In their world, males add no genetic value.

2. Pandas are good at sex

Giant pandas are widely chastised for being unable to ‘get in the mood’ in captivity, and for having a window of ovulation (about 36–48 hours) too tiny to be practical. The reproductive life of Edinburgh Zoo’s Tian Tian and Yang Guang shows just how difficult it can be to encourage the species to breed normally in captivity. But in the wild, pandas are masters of sex.

Even though their territories can be enormous, males and females locate one another at exactly the right time for ovulation, primarily by monitoring chemical sex messages left on trees via squirts of urine. They also communicate vocally. Males bleat when they approach a reproductive female, possibly offering an opportunity for her to assess his size and strength. A female in oestrus often mates with several males, so they have evolved one of the highest sperm counts of all bears, to better guarantee any offspring is theirs.

As our understanding of the animal’s wild breeding improves, zoos adapt accordingly. For example, keepers liberally apply the urine of potential partners to panda enclosures in the run-up to breeding season. However, the use of ‘panda porn’ or ‘panda Viagra’ is much more controversial.

3. Some girls are boys

Many animals, especially fish, switch between egg-producing (female) and sperm-producing (male) phases during their lives. For instance, in many reef fish all of the juveniles are females and become males as they grow. These are known as ‘sequential hermaphrodites’, a phenomenon very common across a number of taxonomic groups.

In invertebrates, particularly slugs and snails, things go a step further – individuals possess male and female genitalia at the same time. In fact many slugs and snails even have the ability to fertilise their own eggs.

With such flexible reproductive equipment, it’s no surprise that a number of invasive species are hermaphroditic. Among the most worrying is the Spanish slug, which has become a serious agricultural pest across much of Europe. A single egg transported in a flowerpot is all it takes to unleash this master and mistress of sex into new places.

4. Animals have had sex on the moon

The diversity of mites’ sexual behavior is staggering. There are mate guarders, harem keepers, warring males, macho show-offs and incidences of incest and cannibalism. Perhaps the most celebrated of all is the red velvet mite. Males create trails of silk in their territories that direct females to little packages of their sperm, called spermatophores. If one approves, she will absorb the sperm into her body.

Species of mite are everywhere – in the noses of seals, on the legs of chickens, in the ears of porcupines, in the middle of a sea urchin and within the rectums of bats. In fact it’s likely that eyelash mites Demodex spp. are having sex on your face right now. It’s probably the only animal to have had sex on the moon, carried by the 12 men who have walked on it.

5. Genitalia can sing

The variety of male genitalia in the animal kingdom is jaw-dropping. There are fin-like ones (sharks), barbed ones (cats, beetles and dragonflies), regenerative ones (seaslugs), lobes (turtles), hooks (mosquitofish), finger-like extensions (barnacles) and a detachable swimming penis (the Argonaut octopus). Some penises have become adapted for other sexual purposes. The lesser water boatman frantically rubs its penis against a special comb-like structure on its body to pump out a mating call equivalent to almost 100dB. Relative to size, it’s the loudest animal on Earth.

6. The value of DIY

One of sex’s greatest mysteries is why so many animals seek to pleasure themselves, rather than find reproductive opportunities with others. Lions, bats, walruses, warthogs, whales, dolphins and deer are just some of those known to partake in such ‘auto-eroticism’. Are such behavior evolved, or are they emergent phenomena associated with something else, such as captivity?

The marine iguana is one species where auto-eroticism is common – smaller males rub themselves against rocks as they approach reproductive females. The behavior means that their resultant copulations are shorter, so smaller males are less likely to be interrupted by bigger, burlier rivals. According to research, the strategy is likely to increase their chances of a successful mating by 41 per cent – easily enough to be evolutionarily significant.

7. Monogamy is hard to find

Monogamy rarely flourishes in animal groups because fidelity limits an individual’s reproductive potential. It only persists among the species where the result is a higher number of healthy offspring. In birds, where the raising of chicks may demand care from both parents, monogamy arises fairly frequently. But it has popped up in other species and groups, too: antelopes, prairie voles, some cichlid fishes and the Australian sleepy lizard (also known as the shingleback skink). None of these are true monogamists though – each may be inclined to change partners between seasons.

8. Homosexual acts are widespread

Though many consider swans, albatrosses and emperor penguins to be nature’s most virtuous couples, all of these pale in significance compared with Eurasian bullfinches and jackdaws. Bullfinches are highly monogamous, and as a result males are modestly endowed and produce poor-quality sperm, not having any need for more sophisticated reproductive mechanisms. On the other hand, jackdaws remain faithful for life and stay near their partners year-round, even within bustling and complex colonies. They are perhaps the most monogamous of all common UK birds.

Though animals rarely eschew sex totally with the opposite sex, observations of individuals partaking in homosexual activities throughout their lives are wonderfully common, from hyenas, lions, whiptail lizards, dragonflies and bed bugs through to orcas, koalas, barn owls, king penguins, mallards, sticklebacks and rattlesnakes, to name but a few.

According to the experts, bottlenose dolphins indulge in homosexual activities as much as heterosexual activities. One of their favorite activities is ‘goosing’, when dolphins of the same sex nudge each other’s genital slits with their beaks. Other bottlenoses indulge in ‘socio-sexual petting’, when homosexual and heterosexual pairs stroke one another undersides with their outstretched flippers.

Only in recent years have scientists begun to lift the lid on the evolutionary causes that may be responsible. Though homosexual animals in vertebrates obviously suffer from lower reproductive outputs, there may be evolutionary benefits such as kin selection, whereby non-reproductive offspring enhance the survival and reproductive chances
of their siblings, ensuring their own family genes persist.

9. Duck dramas

Being largely internalised soft structures, female genitalia can be tricky to study. Among the best understood are those of ducks. Intense competition between male ducks has done remarkable things. They have evolved a long corkscrew penis that can be ‘exploded’ into a female’s reproductive tract, giving a male a greater chance than his rivals of successful fertilisation. In response the female reproductive tract has evolved into an anti-corkscrew, with pockets and dead ends.

By modelling the tract of Muscovy ducks, scientists found that she can rebuff unwanted sperm – her reproductive passages only loosen enough to grant access to the males that she deems worthy. They’re the ones with the brightest bill, for those are most likely healthiest and less likely to be infected with sexually transmitted diseases.

10. Fatal attractions

Episodes of sex that are so intense the animal dies, known as semelparity, evolve when it pays more (in terms of offspring) for males and females to invest everything in one sex act than to stay alive and breed again next year. The Pacific salmon is a good example. Though not strictly semelparous, frogs and toads often live their last days during the breeding season. The energetics of mating are arguably worse for females than males – competition can be so intense that she drowns under a mass of rival suitors. But when this happens in the frog Rhinella proboscidea, death doesn’t spell the end – the males practise ‘functional necrophilia’, squeezing eggs from dead females which they fertilise in the water.
pany Limited under license from BBC Worldwide, which helps fund new BBC programmers.

Crystal Cruises kicks off 25th anniversary of luxury cruising with special celebrations

ETN Global editor Dec 31, 2014

crytsal logo 2
LOS ANGELES, CA – Celebrating two and a half decades as a leader in luxury travel, Crystal Cruises is embarking upon a year of commemorative celebrations, cruises hosted by the company’s leadership – both past and present – plus much more. That is, more itineraries (63) sailing to more ports of call (224) in more countries (65), including more than double the number of maiden calls (24) in 2014.
Kicking off Crystal’s 25th Anniversary is the line’s first-ever circumnavigation of the globe. The 108-day, round-trip Miami “Silver Celebration World Cruise,” begins January 14, 2015 on Crystal Serenity and is the line’s 20th annual epic journey. Crystal Symphony begins 2015 immersed in a dazzling Asia series featuring Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam, China and Japan. In addition to the new and favorite highlights of the year’s global itineraries, new onboard entertainment and amenities, plus enriching experiences ashore punctuate travelers’ Crystal experiences in the coming year.
“A hallmark of Crystal’s philosophy for more than two decades has been to pioneer new programs, amenities, experiences and destinations, offering luxury travelers a truly unique journey each time they step aboard a Crystal ship,” says Crystal president and COO, Edie Rodriguez. “In 2015, we’re continuing that philosophy, pushing the limits and visiting new locales while celebrating the unchanging values that have made us the best in the world.”
Of the 224 ports scheduled in 65 countries, two dozen of them are brand new for Crystal ships. The line’s unprecedented calls include lesser-known locales like Albany, Australia; Ambodifotatra and Taolanaro, Madagascar; Arrecife, Canary Islands; Richards Bay, South Africa; Sanary-sur-Mer, France; Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic; Souda Bay/Chania, Greece; Aomori, Japan; Archangel, Korsakov and Solovetsky Islands, Russian Federation; Belawan, Indonesia; Rijeka, Croatia; Bodo, Narvik and Oye/Hjorundfjord, Norway; Helgoland, Germany; Londonderry/Greencastle and Galway, Ireland; Kochi, Japan; Sanya, China and Scarborough, Trinidad and Tobago.
On board, guests can revel in the celebration of Crystal’s 25th Anniversary with special parties and receptions and European voyages hosted by Rodriguez and the company’s Chairman Nobuyoshi Kuzuya. Additionally, the festivities continue on four Trans-Atlantic, South America and Asia itineraries hosted by long beloved Crystal captains Glenn Edvardsen, Reidulf Maalen, Helge Brudvik and John Økland.
The lineup of festive occasions adds to the growing list of features guests can enjoy in 2015 both on board and ashore:

Recently discovered secret tunnel in Turkey to open for tourism

turkeyFrom Tour & Travel, Dec 26, 2014

A secret tunnel discovered during restoration work under Tokat Castle, Turkey’s second-largest castle in the northern province of Tokat, will shortly be opened to tourists. The tunnel, known as Ceylanyolu, is claimed to have been used by a Roman king’s daughters in order to go to the Pervane bath in the Çanakçı stream area.

Tokat Governor’s Office Provincial Culture and Tourism Directorate started restoration work in the castle in 2009 in order to open the castle to tourism and completed in 2010. Last September, work began again to reinforce the bastions in the castle, which were used for defense in the Seljuk and Ottoman eras.

Over the course of the restoration carried out by three archaeologists at cubes, a military shelter, two dungeons and a secret tunnel to the Pervane Bath in the city center were discovered. It has been claimed that Wallachian Prince Vlad III “The Impaler,” who was also known as Dracula and lived between 1431 and 1476, was held captive in one of the these dungeons during the early 15th century.

However, most historians say he was kept in captivity in Romania. The exact length of his captivity is open to debate, though indications are that it was from 1462 to 1474.

Work has recently begun to open the castle’s secret tunnel to tourism. A railway system has been set up for the removal of stones and earth at the entrance of the tunnel. The Provincial Culture and Tourism Director Abdurrahman Akyüz, highlighting the importance of the castle, said, “The castle served as a prison in the Ottoman era, and many famous figures was kept there.”

It is estimated that the tunnel is about 300-350 meters long and goes to the Pervane Bath.

Airlines: Skimpy Pics, Bad Tweets and One Lost Grandma

skimpy flights atfrom Tour Expi, Dec 25, 2014

Let’s face it: We air passengers weren’t at our best in 2014. We got into fights over reclining seats. In retrospect, we did kinda overreact to Ebola. And once again our hopes that this would be the year that people finally realized it’s not cool to take your shoes off on an airplane were dashed.

And yet, airlines managed to be even worse than their passengers, inventing new and innovative ways to demonstrate apathy and incompetence. Sure, some of big flops this year weren’t entirely the fault of the airlines. Still, they put airlines in the headlines for all the wrong reasons — and made us shake our heads and say, “This crap doesn’t happen on trains.”

10. VietJet’s sexy photo shoot
It was bad enough that VietJet did a photo shoot that revived that unfortunate sexy-flight-attendant trope, which we thought had gone out with Pan Am. What really got us was that once the airline started getting called out for its sexist campaign, it tried to claim that the photos were just a “trial shoot” for a proposed campaign — an undress rehearsal? — that, oh my gosh, one of their models accidentally posted on her popular Facebook page.

9. Virgin Australia bathroom leak 
A Virgin Australia flight from Los Angeles to Sydney had to turn around after liquid spilled from the bathroom into the aisle. Despite claims from the passengers that the toilets had backed up and there was human waste streaming through the aisles, Virgin had to clarify that it was the sink that was leaking and that there was no human waste in the leak. When you have to issue a statement clarifying that a smelly onboard spill on your plane did not contain feces, you’ve had a fail.

8. The puke plane
Also from the smelly-flight file, an Israel-to-Philadelphia US Airways flight had to make an emergency landing after a puking epidemic broke out. Apparently a strange odor on the plane caused more than a dozen passengers and crew members to begin vomiting. Something similar happened in the 1980s comedy Airplane, except this wasn’t funny. And this flight didn’t serve fish.

7. United Airlines’ lame apology

You know how “Sorry if I offended you” is a lame apology? This is even lamer. United Airlines sent a laughably impersonal form letter to a Reddit user named “lyndy.” It was addressed to “Mrs. ——” and included such sentences as “Your comments regarding (SPECIFIC EVENT) will be used for coaching and training our employees” and ”(CUSTOMER NAME), I ask that you allow us another opportunity to serve you.” The only possible response: “Dear (LAME AIRLINE): Please go (ANATOMICALLY IMPOSSIBLE PHYSICAL ACT) yourself.”

6. Malaysia Airlines’ bad timing
No airline had a worse year than Malaysia Airlines. One of its planes, Flight 370, vanished with 239 people on board in March. And another of its planes, Flight 17, was shot down in Ukraine with 298 on board. With the circumstances behind both tragedies still somewhat mysterious, it probably was not the best time for not one but two Malaysia Airlines faux pas: having a “bucket list” contest asking passengers to come up with places they want to go before they die, and sending out a tweet for another promotion that read, “Want to go somewhere but don’t know where?” This was a pair of devastating unforced errors that this airline did not need.

5. Southwest tweet
Someone needs to tell Southwest Airlines that sticks and stones may break your bones but tweets will never hurt you — unless you overreact to them. The airline was savagely criticized this summer after its gate agents in Denver pulled a passenger and his kids off a flight. The reason for that draconian action: The passenger, Duff Watson, had posted a complaint about a gate agent on Twitter. Watson said he hadn’t been allowed to reboard until he deleted the tweet. He said that Southwest later apologized and offered him flight vouchers, but that failed to fix the damage. Southwest may have a reputation for low fares, but the incident also gave them a rep for having a thin skin.

4. Delta loses dog

A heartbreaking fail on the part of Delta Airlines. Passenger Frank Ramano says Delta lost his dog. The 6-year-old pit rescue, Ty, apparently had chewed through his crate and escaped. Ramano very publicly shared his story of losing his best friend and the runaround he says he got from the airline, causing countless dog lovers to join him in sympathy — and in anger at Delta.

3. Lost grandma
This story of a lost loved one has a much happier ending. A sick 85-year-old grandmother attempting to fly from Newark to Denver on Southwest Airlines missed her flight, and people feared she was lost. Turns out she wasn’t lost at all; a skycap had wheeled her to the gate and didn’t tell the gate agents she was there. This was hardly Southwest’s fault; the skycap worked for the airport, not the airline, and it was Southwest employees who fixed the situation. Still, “Airline Loses Sick Grandma” is not a headline you want.

2. Lufthansa strikes
Lufthansa embarked on a series of cost-cutting measures to save money. But the resulting walkouts by its pilots this year have cost the airline a pretty penny — an estimated $250 million, to be exact. The walkouts, staged by pilots angered by the airline’s proposed changes to retirement benefits, forced the cancellations of hundreds of flights and disrupted the travel plans of tens of thousands of people worldwide.

1. Korean Air nutroversy
This end-of-year story is tops because it has all the classic elements of a farcical airline flop: an innocuous incident (the daughter of Korean Air’s chairman is served macadamia nuts improperly on a flight out of JFK); a ridiculous overreaction (the daughter, who’s also an exec at the airline, angrily orders the plane to return to the gate to kick off the offending flight attendant); a public apology (by not only the airline exec but her father too) followed by an international nut storm (the exec faces a criminal investigation, the entire airline faces fines and suspension, and South Korea’s family-owned conglomerates face public backlash); complete with a delicious cherry-on-top epilogue (South Korea’s macadamia nut sales are exploding). Nicely — or should we say, badly — played, Korean

Taste your way around Scotland with the Year of Food & Drink – now this sounds good

from Tour & Travel, Dec 11, 2014

Year-of-Food-DrinkVisitors to Scotland during 2015 are invited to create their own brilliant moments as they discover the world-class, award-winning, protected-status food and drink Scotland is famous for. From Whisky Month to the seafood trail and Michelin-starred restaurants, there is a food and drink experience for all tastes and ages in Scotland. Throughout the Year of Food & Drink, VisitScotland is highlighting the country’s ‘land to larder’ ethos and showcasing to visitors how the amazing Scottish land creates bountiful and delicious produce.

There will be a feast of experiences to whet the appetite of visitors including a packed programme of food-focused events and experiences such as the Big Burns Supper Festivals and the World Porridge Making Championships! Here’s a taster of some of the amazing experiences that visitors can expect…

Raise a Glass

Isle of Harris’ first distillery to open
Spring 2015, Isle of Harris
The Isle of Harris Distillery in Tarbert will be the first distillery on the island when it opens in spring 2015. The Distillery will give its guests a warm welcome with personal guided tours and the rare opportunity to find out how the first Harris whisky will be made.

May is Whisky Month and World Whisky Day
Throughout Scotland

Whisky month is a celebration of the water of life and the many varieties of whisky that are produced in Scotland. The month starts with the popular Sprit of Speyside Festival, takes in Edinburgh’s Whisky Strammash and the international celebrations around World Whisky Day (15 May) and ends with the blissful surroundings of Feis Ile – The Islay Festival.

Arbikie Distillery producing Scottish vodka and gin
Near Abroath, Angus

Farm-to-bottle is the ethos at Arbikie Distillery in Angus, which is producing its first batches of vodka, whisky and gin with ingredients grown on its farm. The vodka is made from potatoes grown by the three farming brothers, who harvest the potatoes and turn them into a smooth, creamy and flavoursome vodka that can be blended with botanicals into delicious cocktails. As well as vodka, they are producing The Arbikie Highland Estate Single Malt which has revived whisky making on the land which was first recorded in 1794. Whisky drinkers will have to wait a few years as the first batches are still maturing in the bourbon, sherry and red wine casks. If you can’t wait for the whisky, Arbikie Distillery will also be producing an ultra-premium dry gin from spring 2015, and a visitor centre is in the pipeline and will offer tastings of their gin, vodka and whisky.

Lick the plates clean
The Old Forge – Britain’s most remote mainland pub

Knoydart, north west Scotland
There are few things better than a cold pint after a long hike, and if you’ve walked the 18 miles over Munros or canoed the seven mile sea crossing, visitors to The Old Forge definitely have earned their drink! There are no roads to the pub, which makes it the most remote pub on mainland Britain and fantastic food and drink is served daily including the freshest seafood from the coast and fisherman nearby. There’s also lots of live music for everyone who makes the journey to the pub, and visitors are encouraged to bring their own instruments or borrow the pub’s.

Taste bud trails

Discover the West Coast Seafood Trail
The west coast of Scotland is famous for its world-class seafood and visitors to the area can enjoy tasting their way along the coast on the Seafood Trail. The Trail takes in some of Scotland’s finest seafood restaurants, where guests can enjoy a catch of the day whilst watching the fishermen come back from sea and bring in their haul. The Trail winds its way through Argyll and explores the rugged coastline, lochs and unspoiled countryside – all of which make the seafood taste so exceptional.

The Perthshire Chocolate Trail
Perthshire is not widely known as being one of the world’s greatest chocolate producing regions but it is home to many world-class artisan chocolatiers who supply some of the UK’s biggest brands. Chocolatiers carefully source their desired coco and then add a variety of Scottish ingredients to give the chocolate a Scottish twist. Iain Burnett: The Highland Chocolatier is a multi-award-winning chocolatier and is part of the Perthshire Chocolate Tail. His customers include British Airways First Class, Claridges, international golf resorts, Gordon Ramsay Royal Hospital Road Restaurant, Harvey Nichols, and members of the British Royal Family. Visitors can take a tour of his workshop, enjoy a chocolate tasting and buy their own chocolates from the Scottish Chocolate Centre shop. Also on the Perthshire Chocolate Trail, a visit to Taysteful will leave the taste buds tingling as you witness locally sourced fruit, cream and other ingredients being made into succulent chocolates. Classes and workshops are also on offer at their Blairgowrie base.

Weird and wonderful food festivals

Scone Palace Chilli Festival
September 2015, Perthshire
Some like it hot and this is the perfect festival for chilli heads! There are chilli variations of popular foods, experts on hand to answer questions, live music and a chilli eating contest. Make a weekend of it and spend time chilling out at Scone Palace – one of Scotland’s most important stately homes as Macbeth and Robert the Bruce were both crowned there.

The Golden Spurtle – porridge making championships

October 2015, Scottish Highlands
2015 will see the 22nd annual World Porridge Making Championships take place in the Scottish Highland village of Carrbridge in the Cairngorms National Park. The event draws competitors from around the globe to compete for the coveted Golden Spurtle trophy and title of World Porridge Making Champion. It also celebrates the diversity of porridge through a speciality section, and has porridge, craft and local produce stalls for visitors.

Big Burns Supper Festival
23 – 31 January 2015
Various venues across Dumfries
A contemporary Burns Night celebration, this unique festival – extended to take place over nine days this year – features multi-disciplinary and grassroots theatre, comedy, song and arts projects throughout Dumfries as well as interactive and children’s events. The Burns Night Carnival will take place, with community groups creating lanterns that will light up the streets in this dazzling parade. Burns Night Suppers will also take place throughout the Festival