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Does This Turn You On? Then Don't Seek Asylum With The Czechs


If you're a gay man and thinking you need a new start, away from the bigots and haters, then don't be heading to the Czech Republic.

Authorities there have drawn the fury of human rights agencies for using a controversial "sexual arousal" test on homo asylum seekers, to determine if in fact they're telling the truth about being gay.

The story, detailed in the BBC, reports that applicants are hooked up to a machine that monitors blood flow, for the "phallometric test", and shown images of straight porn. If they become aroused, the machine detects it, and asylum is refused.

The European Union's Fundamental Rights Agency has sharply criticised the testing, saying it may violate human rights laws.

The case emerged when Germany refused to deport an Iranian asylum seeker to the Czech Republic on the grounds that as a gay man he would be tested.

The Czech interior minister said phallometric testing had been used in fewer than ten cases, with full consent of the asylum seeker, while the country's human rights commissioner has called the testing "undignified".

Know Your Enemy: The Mako Shark


This whole shark attack thing going on in Egypt has caught the world's attention, and will surely, as usual, mean bad news for sharks at the hands of hunters.

But, to be fair, the ones locally that have killed a German woman after mauling four Russians in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, well, they are a problem that needs to be dealt with. And did you notice we said "ones", rather than "one"? That's right, a  US investigator has declared that more than one shark is behind the spate of attacks, and more than that, the second attacker is a different species.

In an interview with the BBC, marine biologist George Burgess said that photographic evidence proves that this is not the work of one "deranged" shark, but that environmental effects had caused more than one species to attack, in what he called "rational attempts by a predator to find food". The first shark – a White Tip – is still at large, while the authorities have caught a Mako (species pictured) that they say attacked at least one of the Russians.

One possible cause was the dumping of animal carcasses in the water by a cargo ship last month, which attracted sharks to the area.

In the meantime, if you are visiting and won't consider staying out of the water, you're advised to swim in groups inside the reef, and to NOT go in at night.

Movies That Make You Want To Vacation #3: Local Hero


Filmmaker Bill Forsyth's 1983 movie about a big-city oilman sent to bully a tiny Scottish village into signing over their beach to drill for oil is a classic of our times. Burt Lancaster has never been better as the mad-as-a-hatter oil tycoon with a passion for stargazing and the Northern Lights. The whole movie is a call to find peace in the simple things in life, or to see the open sky at night anywhere far enough north to witness nature's most splendid light show this time of year. Or if that sounds too cold, just rent an old copy of Local Hero and get cozy on the sofa.

Travel Tech: The Canon G12


The sort of camera we take on our travels isn't the same one we slip into a pocket for a night out. For one, when we're enduring long-distance travel, we want to be sure to get images and video worth the effort. So we're liking  Canon's G12, successor (not surprisingly) to the G11. Why bother with the new one, when the old was a perfectly good camera? HD video is why: the G series ain't small, and there was never a convincing reason not to have high quality film capability.

As a working camera, one that can come out of the bottom of your carry-on unscathed and start shooting right away, time and time again, it fits the bill: rugged construction, hefty feel and weight.

Remember, it's not teeny - you can fit it in a pants pocket but not comfortably, but it's perfect for a jacket pocket or slipping into a bag. And battery life is good, which we appreciate. Also, you can grab one for around $470 right now online.

What The Butler Saw ... But Didn't Tell Anyone About


We're delighted that one of the great British institutions beloved of travelers in days past – the butler –  is back. London's super-posh Savoy Hotel, opened after a $150m refurb, has been trialing the service, which lets guests arriving at one of the hotel's suites be greeted by a rank of perfectly turned out butling men and women.

And the service has been so successful, say reports, that a version of the service will be rolled out to all rooms within the year.

Even more reassuring is that according to the hotel's more senior butler, Sean Davoren, discretion is the key to his profession, and guests' requests, so long as they are legal, will be heard without your butler "batting an eyelid". He is scathing about the sort of behaviour evinced by the late Princess Di's personal butler, Paul Burrell, who made public some very personal information in the years after her death.

Among the more bizarre demands thus far? Well, Davoren will not, of course, go into details, but says he was asked “to track down a particular type of milk that is very good for the older man who has a younger wife, apparently.

“It comes from Africa from an animal with stripes. That was quite challenging.”

When pressed about the wild goat’s milk, he merely said: “The milk cost £3.50 [$4.75], but I had to send a chauffeur, who cost £650 [$925], to Wales to collect it.”

Pictured is, of course, "The Singing Butler" by Scottish artist Jack Vettriano. We can't guarantee The Savoy's butlers will do this for you...

Things Not To Try And Take Through Airport Security #37


A seasoned traveler likes to take his or her favorite toiletries with them on trips, and we're all used to the rules on what you can and can't take through security in your carry-on, right?

So, fans of a rather nice little bar of dermatologically tested, vegan soap called "Periodic Table" would be just fine packing a couple of bricks of it along with their moisturizer, you'd think. Except the element this one is modeled on is Uranium, and has that logo and number on the front. And glows in the dark; a nice luminous scary green glow, to be exact.

So, good luck trying to argue that it doesn't break any flight rules, when you're holding up the line at the security check. And if you don't get it confiscated, please refrain from using it in the restrooms on a night flight, ok?


Last Chance To See ... The Taj Mahal in White


Yes, of course we messed with this image. But soon, it might not be too far off the mark. The magnificent white marble Taj Mahal is in danger of turning a sickly yellow shade, due to runaway pollution.

Reports today say that a study commissioned by the Indian Ministry of Environment concludes that the desperate measures launched a decade ago at a cost of around $150m, to prevent the 17th century wonder from succumbing to airborne pollutants and turning yellow, have failed.

Local efforts in the city of Agra, which include a banning of cars near the tomb, intensive clay-pack treatments to the facade itself, new clean-fuel initiatives to nearby industry and a lot of serious investment in emission reduction, have been positive, say experts. But the trouble is that Agra lies downstream of Delhi, and the river water arrives polluted with both human and chemical waste.

As yet, the building looks white, but that won't last for long, fear campaigners, so go now, or prepare to Photoshop your holiday snaps

Egypt, You're Gonna Need A Bigger Boat ...


Swimmers and divers in the legendary Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh have been warned to stay out of the water until a deadly Whitetip shark that has attacked four swimmers is caught.

The Russian tourists were horribly mauled in two separate attacks by the same shark, according to lurid Brit tabloid The Sun.

Details of the attacks are pretty horrible, involving loss of limbs, and the Egyptian Coast Guard is hunting the shark, while insisting people stay out of the water in the area.

And yes, we used the pic of the great Roy Scheider in Jaws because because we didn't want to show an actual scary Whitetip with a mouth full of teeth: December's depressing enough without that.

So if you're booked to be heading there any day soon, maybe take some extra books.

A Threat To Britain's 24-hr Drinking Culture?


Those alcohol-loving Brits currently have 24-hour-opening in many bars and clubs across that tiny island, meaning some of the biggest nights out start late and finish very very late, or in many cases early next morning. It means some great gay clubs keeping the bar (and party) going til dawn.

But new government plans there to curb alcohol abuse (and the violence that follows, such as the that pictured above in the Queen Vic in our fave camp Brit soap Eastenders) could lead to tens of thousands of venues stopping serving at midnight, which could seriously impact your party vacation plans.

The Brits' Home office is considering a late-night levy on bars that open late, as high as £4,500 ($6250) per bar per year. And that might not be something the owners are willing to soak up.

But we're sure that if there are any venues that really want to stay open all night, it's our sort of venues, so it doesn't mean the party's over just yet.


Favorite Thing This Week: "Glamping"


We love camping; the romance, the communing with rugged nature, all that sort of thing. But we struggle with actually sleeping on a thin mat on rough ground in some forsaken dark wood, unable to really get clean. And so "Glamping" sounds very nice indeed, being a rather obvious and delightful mix of glamour and camping, in that order.

It doesn't quite match the space and comfort of Harry, Hermione and Ron's tent in HP7 (though really, they could have done much more with the rooms; some nice flowers, a throw or two, a print on the wall...) but the BBC has highlighted some of the best glamorous camp offerings around, from the upscale Furnace Creek "inn" in Death Valley, thru some raised tents (showers are communal, which is better than a box of wet wipes) in Yosemite, to the truly fancy Blackfoot Valley in Montana. The tents have king-sized beds, master bathrooms and electricity, which is really what the outdoors should be all about. Shown above is the view out of the tent door. Sadly it doesn't all fold into a magical backpack to be taken somewhere new, but you can't have everything...

Safe to go to ... Sicily!


If you're one of those people who plan vacations only after googling your intended location +"serial killer" just to be on the safe side, you can once again add Sicily to your list of possible spots to visit.

The Italian island had been plagued by a man know as "The Monster of Cassibile", who'd killed five people and injured another four between 1998 and 2009.

But police have arrested one Guiseppe Raeli, know locally as "Pippo The Wolf" (really, you'd have thought police might have thought to chat to anyone with such a nickname a wee bit earlier in a series of murder cases) in connection with the crimes.

And it turns out that Pippo would try to kill people whom he thought owed him as little as 200 Euros (around $250) for odd jobs. Just the sort of person you didn't want to hand your cases to when first arriving in town, and then tip him short for lugging them to your villa...

Pictured is of course a scene from The Godfather Part II, which was in no way linked to Pippo The Wolf, but did, we think, show how an idyllic island and a murderous culture could co-exist nicely.

Travel Tech: Hard Candy's iPad Street Skin


So, you and your iPad are set to be one of those pretty cool travelling pairs, hopping from flight to train to beach. But you're afraid to just shove it in your carry-on, because let's face it, it cost a pretty penny and your mom taught you to look after your belongings, right?

So, consider a tough case that doesn't make you look like you took a leather-bound journal with you. Hard Candy's Street Skin gives the iPad a 3mm rubber coating with an easy optional screen covering of the same material. All ports and controls are accessible: this isn't going to let you drop it six feet onto rocks and then into the ocean, but it should give some peace of mind when you see someone cramming a sharp-edged case into the overhead locker you just stowed your bag in.

Price? $39.95. And they come in more sedate colors than the shocking pink one we like (just try and dash out of a hotel room without noticing you left this beauty behind...)

Train Travel is GOOD


As we all prepare to endure the particular hell that is airports, railway stations and car rental garages at the start of the Thanksgiving Weekend, here's a reminder that non-Americans sometimes look at the way we travel here with nostlagia and even excitement.

Writer Anna Pickard, of Brit quality paper The Guardian, writes a delightful online column that positively glows with pleasure at spending 15 days traveling 6,500 miles on Amtrak, across America.

"Riding a train through the west provides a feeling that the other more perfunctory routes in the east do not offer", says Pickard. "You get a sense that you're cutting through a slice of American history."

She adds: "Riding in these great silver beasts, though, passing slowly across hotly contested lands and wildest wests, you gaze across the prairies and start to imagine the possibilities they hold and realise the drive of those pioneers."

There's more, here, peppered with her American friends' disbelief at her excitement, and urging a plane ticket instead. And an admission that really, it can get awfully boring. But even the train smashing into a truck and cutting it in two (no casualties) doesn't dampen her enthusiasm.

But we're not scoffing: Amtrak's gay microsite is a refreshing direction for a travel company. And maybe it takes a non-native to look for and find the beauty, the nostalgia, the excitement that we tend to ignore in the marvel of being able to go coast-to-coast. And it's an optimism we could all do with this weekend.

To suit the mood, pictured are two classic Amtrak posters. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Around The World in 80 Pee-Pees #2


We’re not sure who this lean, unclothed young fella-me-lad is, who decorates the square outside the Prague Castle's Toy Museum. Nor are we certain he’s above the legal age limit to be looking at his peen as we are. And we’re even less sure why such a thing would be bared in front of a toy museum, of all places. But, given he’s a statue, and not a real boy, it’s a moot point and we mustn’t get all outraged on his behalf.

All we DO know is there’s a lot of visitors to the Czech Republic who must be rubbing his intimate parts for luck, if the fine shine on the bronze is anything to go by. 

Now We Can Wrestle Turkish-Style Forever!


The UN is all about preserving our heritage (and stopping wars, and feeding starving people and planning to invade and conquer America, of course), and has released a list with the boring title of "Forty-six new elements added to Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage" but which translates as the genuinely exciting 46 Great Things We Need To Keep.

We skimmed past the Azerbaijani carpet weavers and the art of Alençon needle lace-making, were neither here not there on the matter of Colombian Marimba music, but our interest was piqued by the Croatian Gingerbread Makers, and we were positively excited by the inclusion of our favorite sporting event ever, the Kirkpinar Oil Wrestling Festival. The ritual is splendid, a snippet of which is "the oil man oils the wrestlers assisted by the towel holder, before the warm-up exercises and greetings." An "oil man" and a "towel holder"? Splendid!

The festival takes place in Edirne, once a year: official contacts are here, should you wish to plan a trip. Which you really should.

So You'll Be Staying Here For The Wedding, Of Course


Well, we all know Brit Prince William is going to be married to the enchanting commoner Kate Middleton, and of course your invites will be in the post, right?

Should there be some postal slip-up, though, and you find yourself not actually ticketed for the event and not allocated a room in Buckingham Palace, but love the way those Brits do their royal weddings (did you SEE the fuss made at Diana's one? Of course, looking back, she was clearly unhappy even then, but still, it was quite an overflow of public emotion) you might want to be in London anyway next summer.

If so, check out our rather excellent city guide and scope out a place to stay, a place to stand and a nice gay pub to toast the royal couple afterwards. Maybe Prince Edward will be in there, too, raising a cocktail to his nephew...

India's First Gay Bollywood Kiss

Bollywood's first-ever gay kiss is set to be released on a not-entirely welcoming India this Friday.

If Your Next Airport Security Check Looks Like This ...


.. then don't panic, and don't get too excited. Because those new intimate pat-downs that are more like rubdowns are causing quite a stir with airline passengers

The troube comes from the replacing of the old loose-patting thing with a very thorough top-to-bottom siding motion, over all bumps and protrusions and not missing out butt or inside legs. Obviously, this makes it WAY easier to detect a bomb, and so makes sense from every angle, except maybe if you've issues over inappropriate touching. And a lot of people have, it seems.

A traveler at San Diego International Airport was marched out of the premises over the weekend for refusing to walk through the full-body scanner and then refused the personal touch.

The scanners themselves are also a cause for concern: many passengers just don't believe the images are kept private, though officials say otherwise.

Just try not to make any wisecracks along the lines of "You might at least have bought me a drink first" when looking down at the flushed head of the security guy as he gives you the full "slide down" at the airport next trip.

And yes, you should go rent Women in Love, to watch the famous wrestling scene used above. And no, the security guys won't be actually naked or look like Oliver Reed, and all you should remove is your shoes and belt, to start.


Reasons To Be Careful: South Africa


The murder this week of a young honeymooner in Cape Town has once again put that troubled nation's crime levels in the spotlight. A good World Cup and a drop in the murder rate (from 18,528 in 2005/6 to 16,834 up to March 2010) have been good news, but the carjacking-killing has once again reminded us that if you're thinking of going, you need to be extra careful.

Car-jackings across the country are up 1,000 to 13,902, according to South African police records, meaning they occur at a rate of 38 a day. And 187 sexual offences per day were reported in the same period.

The Western Cape (the area of which Cape Town is capital) has the nation's second-highest murder rate, at 42.4 killings per 100,000 people, 10 above the national average. 

Some tips for the traveler determined to visit South Africa: don't hike or walk alone, ask for advice on safe areas at your hotel, never stop to assist apparently stranded motorists and make sure you don't LOOK like a tourist, with carelessly slung videocameras and money belts.

And choose your beaches carefully: this is not a country to seek out a secluded empty stretch of sand. Instead, opt for somewhere busy, well policed and managed, such as Cape Town's Clifton suburb. The beach, shown above, is regarded as safe. Clifton's 3rd Beach is a favorite gay spot.

What They Say About Gay ... Brighton


Brighton's change from sleepy English seaside town to gay mecca has been slow and steady, overlooked my many along the way. Now, though, some estimates put the resort's permanent LGBT population at as much as 40,000: a quarter of the population. And when Banksy leaves your town a mural of two kissing coppers (above), you know you've made it.

There's a host of great websites serving gay residents and the transient crowd, but we love the  ("Brighton & Hove's guide to the UK's gay capital") website for its earnest, kindly and oh-so-50s-British-sounding endorsement of the gays. This from the site:

"The City of Brighton & Hove acts as a magnet for lesbians and gay men from all over the world attracted to its bohemian atmosphere, open minded attitudes and raffish air. Brighton has now long been known as Britain's number one gay resort.

Kemptown is known as the 'gay village' and has a thriving and diverse scene ranging from leather workshops, pink parlours, and techno clubs, to specialist boutiques, hotels, estate agents and kickboxing classes.

There's something for everyone. Why not bring your loved one and have a commitment ceremony on the naturist beach!?"

Really? "Raffish"? And "techno clubs"? Ah well, it's worth a trip anyways to get hitched naked on a windswept English beach (!?)