Countries, Deals, Europe, UK

Strain of Britain’s trains

Holidos and don’ts goes off track (what’s new there?) with a vent on a national disgrace… the strain of Britain’s trains.

I mean it shouldn’t be this expensive to attend a Christmas party in London.

It’s not as if you’re circumventing the globe.

I mean, it’s only a 403-mile expedition between the Scottish capital, Edinburgh, and the English/British capital.

And just four hours, 40 minutes on the old hail and rain.

Train drain

Rail downer: It’s Bean and gone

But book a train for a fortnight’s time, Thursday, December 16, on LNER to go out midmorning (10am) and get an overnighter (12.05).

And it’ll set you back £145.10 if you’re lucky enough to get the few remaining special offer tickets before they’re swallowed up.

And your bed for the night for your 10hr 13mins trip Sir/Madam is a cramped seat.

Plane savings

Take it Easy: Easier by plane

Compare that with a flight out with EasyJet for those dates and you’ll get change out of £100.

Still dear, yes, but why cheaper than the train.

Alternatively you can take the coach.

Now a detour here down Memory Lane when I took an overnighter down to London and back.

I’ll reach you by coach

Coach me if you can: Topdeck

For a Topdeck Munich Beerfest reunion.

My sole motivation was to renew a holiday romance with a South Australian, Di.

Only she didn’t turn up at our Leicester Square rendezvous.

But did turn up on the night with her Scottish boyfriend.

Still, it wasn’t the coach’s fault… and I’d take it again.

There are, of course, new transport businesses on the road and new booking platforms.

Omio way to go

With Matteo in Bergamo Alto

Omio are now the way to go.

As I found out the last time I circumvented our politicians’ Travelstapo curbs on us going to the continent and visited Bergamo.

And I’ve done the homework for you here too for getting around the UK and brought you a return coach trip Edinburgh to London for £44.12.

And you’ll save in not having to book a hotel room with two nine-and-a-half hourer overnighters on the bus.

The train refrain

Bandanaman and the Bandanettes In Denver

So the bandana and the man stayed home while my Croatian friends had their Christmas party in the Embassy in London.

All within the restrictions too if our one- law-for-us government is watching.

So what then do I do with the sell from HolidayPirates survey.

It says that more than three in four Brits would travel by train if there were more direct destinations and connections.

Whether it’s some post-Brexit British is best loyalty to our trains or whether it’s always been a misplaced patriotism.

Swiss trains

Comfort: Swiss trains

But for anyone who has travelled on subsidised continental trains like in Switzerland will testify they’re cheaper, more efficient and faster.

Guess though we’ll keep buying our government sell and keep putting up with the strain of Britain’s trains.

Asia, Countries, Europe

Turkey with all the trimmings

I love my Turkey with all the trimmings and still like to get stuck in well after Christmas.

And the new year is when we’ll get back out to one of our old favourite destinations, Turkey.

Now going off on a tangent, or Turkey run, let’s revisit why the country and the fowl are interchangeable.

The story of the turkey

Where you from? Turkey, you say?

The turkey that we know, and scoff, is actually not the turkey that came to define the post-Ottoman Republican country to us.

That turkey is from Mexico which would make school geography schoolteachers and children’s heads turn.

Whereas the Turkey of our Europe and Asia- straddling country is actually the guinea fowl which was transported through eastern Africa to the OE.

And how it all got mangled into the word turkey is because of the similarities to the region Turcia.

Before he got stuffed on turkey: Jonny as Hank

It is also thought to have been passed around the courts of Europe.

With King Henry VIII said to have been the first English monarch to have eaten turkey.

Department of Turkey

Your Onur: With Onur, my pal from Turkish Airlines

That’s all something to chew on then as we digest the latest offerings from our pals at Travel Department.

Istanbul is the only place to start with Turkey.

Where obvs you’ll explore the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia and go shopping for Turkish treats (and cats) in the Grand Bazaar.

I’ll always seek out war history wherever I go.

And next up is a visit to Gallipoli.

And if you were dreaming when that was taught in school then listen up to The Pogues’ And The Band Played Waltzing Matilda.

I, of course, worked like a Trojan at school, at least at history and this scribbling lark.

The joy of Troy

Trojan heroes: And not too Brad

Which is why I’d just scoop up the half-day excursion to ancient Troy.

You’ll also discover Ephesus, an Ancient Greek city which housed the Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.

Deal me in

My cup of tea: Turkey

Priced from €1299pp it includes flights, transfers, seven nights’ accommodation on a B&B basis and expert guides.

Departures from 12th March with a selection of dates up to 11th October 2022.

I’ll take that: Turkey with all the trimmings and put it in a kebab for me.

For more information https://www.traveldepartment.com/holiday/istanbul-ancient-turkey

Countries, Culture, Europe

Alpha to Omega of variants and travel

Ever wondered why the latest viral threat is called Omicron… well here’s the Alpha to Omega of variants and travel.

We have the World Health Organisation to thank for improving our Greek… and Zeus knows I’ve forgotten almost all my Classical Greek from school.

And anything that shines a light on Heroic Hellas and its culture has my vote.

The WHO plumped for the naming system so as to remove stigma from countries after the media jumped on the first Covid variant.

And our news gatherers lazily called it the South African variant.

Now we here at TravelTravelTravel being internationalists fully support their motives, particularly because jingoism and racism can run as wild as pandemics.

And it is to the Greeks that we have turned for wisdom and philosophy.

Lay off the Spanish

With queen of Spain Teresa, Eoghan Corry and Sharon Jordan in Dublin

Back in 1918 when the last global pandemic broke out it was tagged the Spanish Flu, the name by which it is still referred.

And this wasn’t because it broke out in the Iberian Peninsula (we still don’t know its origins).

Rather it was because that was where the information first started emanating about the virus.

On account of Spain being neutral in the First World War and its media generously sharing the information.

While, of course, the virus was taking its toll across the world.

Going for a walk: In Tenerife

And war-concerned countries were killing information at home just as freely as they were needlessly destroying each other.

As it is the first reported death was in the USA but let’s not quibble.

I only say this to set the record straight and correct a historical wrong in favour of my Spanish friends.

And we well know that they have had their own troubles to seek either natural or political as is all too real in one of our favourite Spanish destinations, the Canaries.

And my last port of call in Spain, Tenerife.

Alphabetti spaghetti

Next year? When I’ll be back in Vegas

Now, Omicron as it’s coming back to me now is the 14th letter of the Greek alphabet which means that w’ve had 13 variants.

Delta we all know, and this pesky letter put paid to my trip to Oregon at the last minute…

And led me to pull out of the earlier working assignment to Las Vegas.

But beta, gamma and epsilon thankfully passed us by.

As did their friends zeta, eta and theta… who sound like the intake of a modern-day creche.

The next one barely registered an iota (and yes Greek letters have entered our lexicon before all this pandemic nonsense).

Kappa (no, not an American college sorority), lam(b)da (not a Tex-Mex dance), mu, nu (the other discarded Teletubbies) and Xi (a Chinese dynasty) soon followed unheralded.

Until we got to our Omicron.

Omicron, not Armageddon

Dip your toe into Kythera in Greece

And although our leaders are scaring the bejaysus out of his by interchanging Omicron with Armageddon it’s not.

The narrative is that it’s more infectious but haven’t we been told that the vaccines and the boosters are there to protect us.

And is it just me who is cynical.

That at a time when our politicians want to distract us from restricting our liberties the seriousness of Omicron gets ramped up.

And so we in the UK are told that we must now get a PCR test on arrival back in the UK and self-isolate until we get the result.

Which again sounds scary until you realise that we’re all Working From Home now anyway.

Isn’t it about time that we challenged these assumptions.

Particularly as everything our politicians have told us since the pandemic was called has blown up in their faces?

Democracies on trial

Now we might not go as far as Socrates who attacked Greek democracy (roughly translated as power of the people) in favour of meritocracy or elite rule.

But it is well seen that democracies are on trial.

And while it was the legacy of the First World War which all begun with the assassination of a royal in Sarajevo in the Balkans which heralded in the Fascists of the Twenties.

And of course the Wall Street Crash.

But it was also the failure of democracies in a crisis. We have been warned.

The good news

The good news is that there are only another nine Greek letters to go so we should be through all of this soon.

That’s the Alpha to Omega of variants and travel then.

See you on a plane or ship soon.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Countries, Europe, Pilgrimage

Happy Birthday to me, the Jim Yin

I defer to only one Scotsman, my hero Billy Connolly, which is why I was bowled over to get a signed copy of his autobiography. So it’s Happy Birthday to me, the Jim Yin.

What I didn’t know is that Billy’s birthday is tomorrow when he will still be 23 years my senior, at 79.

Billy is everything I admire and aspire too, a raconteur, a liberal and an adventurer.

And the Travel writer I want to be.

Glasgow belongs to us

My hero: Billy Connolly

Whether it’s in my Glaswegian genes or it’s because I’ve simply copied him I keep discovering random things we both enjoy.

And so in the first couple of pages he describes the garb he was wearing one day… and his own personal Jesus is my Homeboy T-shirt.

No doubt from the same batch as my own.

While he is also a devotee of the magic cloth, the bandana.

Both of which I’ve taken on many a journey.

Amsterdam birthday

žCan I be trusted on a bike? In Amsterdam

Being a winter baby I’ve oft found myself confined to barracks in a dark old Northern European country when it comes to my anniversary.

The exception was my first year with my Scary One. 

When she took me over to Amsterdam for the first time. 

And cycled my legs off, so much so that I cramped up on the way back… not something that we had to contend with at George and Amal’s favourite Dutch hotel, the Dylan Amsterdam, 30 years later. 

I’m fitter now through my walks and pilgrimages with Camino Ways.

Have boots, will travel

By George: We both love Amsterdam

But hundreds of kilometres of trekking has taken its toll on my boots (and liver).

And the Scary One has upgraded my boots, although it’s sad to say Adios to the old ones.

Throw in a pyjama and slippers set (although I do like my branded hotel ones) from the Outlaws and I’m a happy birthday bunny.

Of course on this day of days I always think of my Dear Old Mum as we did go through this journey together.

And she’s always been the first to wish Happy Birthday to Me, the Jim Yin

 

 

 

 

Countries, Europe

From Prussia With Love

There are some things we never question, one of which is where the Brandenburg Gate leads to… which is why today we bring you the answer From Prussia With Love.

Granted there is is a touch of lazy shorthand about the tag ‘outer Berlin’.

And yes, I was part of the great Beetablockers Teeline scandal at the Centre for Journalism Studies in Cardiff in 1988)!

Because the iconic gate in the west of Berlin leads to another great Prussian town, Brandenburg an der Havel.

And Brandenburg housed the royal City Palace of that state’s monarchs.

To the north of the gate is the Reichstag parliament building and through it is Unter den Linden, a boulevard of linden trees.

It has long been my mission to say Ich Bin Ein Beriner and Der Scary One is on board.

And all the more so as Berlin and its environs is a gardener’s Nirvana.

German unification

When most of my teenage peers were spiking their hair and pogoing to Punk.

My Dear Old Dad was pummelling education into me.

And while I never did get the point of the hypoteneuse or the litmus test.

I did take to history and developed a lifetime passion.

For whatever reason one of the core periods on the curriculum was the Unification of Germany.

If you know your Medieval Germanic you’ll recognise that Brandenburg derives from braniti (to defend) and bor (forest).

And there’s history aplenty (and nature too) with Brandenburg the regional capital and hub from the early 10th century.

Until it ceded that to Potsdam in the mid-17th century at the end of the Thirty Years War.

Potsdam pomp

My old history books may be where I first met the Prussian Princes and Bismarck.

And it is where I will meet them again in the Palaces and Parks of Potsdam.

It’s a world all of its own, with more than 500 hectares of parks and 150 buildings constructed between 1730 and 1916.

The complex was designed by the top architects and landscape gardeners of the period.

And they worked with sculptors and painters to create masterpieces such as the Sanssouci Park, the New Garden and the Park of Babelsberg.

Our German friends

Now, of course, it’s impossible to boil down the scale and beauty of Potsdam.

Or its importance in modern history.

Frederick the Great’s gaff it also housed Kaiser Wilhelm II until his abdication at the end of the First World War in 1918.

While it also brought the Great and Good of the Allies together in 1945 for the Potsdam Conference.

And the Allies

That would be Stalin, Truman and Churchill and then Attlee.

And they had the small matter of the reconstruction of Europe.

And the destruction of Japan, though Harry S decided to keep his intentions to himself.

All of which I’ll immerse myself when we get out there next year.

While Der Green-Fingered One explores the parks of Sanssouci (carefree), Germany’s largest World Heritage site.

All of which we gladly bring you From Prussia With Love.

America, Canada, Countries, Europe, South America, UK

Benefits in going Cold Turkey

It’s a country I love and where I should be this month, and it might surprise you, but there are benefits in going Cold Turkey.

Turkey is for ever set at a crossroads, of continents and civilisations and change.

And diverse colours, hues of peoples and views.

And that changing perspective is as true of Nature and the seasons as it is of the peoples of this multi-faceted country.

As holidaymakers we’re more used to seeing Turkey when it’s roasting.

But it’s resplendent too when it puts on the winter whites.

Cappadocia caps it

Balloons for all seasons: In Cappodocia

Don’t just take my word for it though (well do) but Cappadocia glistens more than anywhere in the world according to our Instagrammers.

Wellness experts at Area 52 have looked at locations across the world and analysed Instagram hashtag data to see which are the most relaxing winter destinations to de-stress this year.

And Balloonists’ Nirvana Cappadocia tops the list with 

I’ve something of a history with balloons having missed out on the pleasure in locations as wide as the South of England, South Africa and Florida.

All of which makes me think that the best is just waiting for me when I get back on board with my favourite Turkish Airlines carrier.

And join the 257,000 Insta clickers who have got there first.

Lapping it up

Northern Lights too: Lapland

And yes you would expect Santa’s home in Lapland to be a favourite for winter worshippers.

And, particularly children which is why I put an old colleague and her nipper first… and incurred the wrath of Daddy’s Little Girl.

Lapland has been the focus of 222,000 Insta followers. 

Give a little Whistler

Whistler while you ski: Canada

With our attentions switching back to the full return of skiing my own revival on the slopes is on course.

Back in the day when I first took up pen my old boss used to snap up the Whistler trips.

And joined the thousands who broke off to snap the Canadian vista on Insta, 45,700 in all.

NY in winter

Icescraper: New York

Now when you’ve seen The Big Apple in the sweltering summer you’ll be glad to chill out in the winter.

This year I’ll leave it to my Irish-American relatives to enjoy their Thanksgiving Day (bucket list) but I’ll be doing the next big thing.

And break bread with my Irish family and friends at Visit USA in Dublin. 

Insta Kings

Now because we just know that you all love a list, here’s a rundown of the other favourite Insta winter destinations.

On the King Charles Bridge in Prague

Location

Instagram Hashtag

Cappadocia, Turkey

257,000

Lapland, Finland

222,000

Missoula, Montana

124,000

Whistler, Canada

45,700

Prague, Czech Republic

27,200

Dolomites, Italy

27,200

Bled, Slovenia

26,500

Lofoten, Norway

10,500

Tromso, Norway

10,400

South Coast, Iceland

8,800

New York, USA

6,700

Mt.Cayambe, Ecuador

5,200

Lapland, Sweden

4,200

Highlands, Scotland

3,600

Yosemite, California

2,700

Rila, Bulgaria

862

Swiss Alps, Switzerland

845

Lake Baikal, Siberia

169

 

Countries, Europe

Slovenia’s Mother of Dragons

And, no, we don’t mean Melania Trump. Fire up for Slovenia’s Mother of Dragons.

Now, a diversion here (no surprise) and since my own Mother of Dragons dragged me back, kicking and screaming to Scotland, she has turned the new place into Game of Thrones II.

And so a wooden plaque bearing the name Winterfell hangs above our front door.

A ceramic dragon sits in front of the entrance and a Medieval-type mirror is the centrepiece of the front room.

You’ll be a dragon one day: The baby

And she dragged me around Belfast to sit in the Iron Throne and take in the Game of Thrones Tapestry.

Now, if you like your dragons then Slovenia (who knew?) is the place to go. 

Where you can find baby dragons (olms) in the Postojna Caves, 53kms from capital Postojna.

How to baby train your baby dragon

Dragonfire: George R.R. Martin a fan

Now, the best caves have a dragon and Postojina’s are the envy of all others.

The earliest written accounts of the offspring of a terrible dragon living inside Postojna Cave date back to the 17th century. 

In the 18th century, biologists competed against one another, seemingly almost at war about who would be the first to present a new animal species from Postojna Cave.

Giovanni Antonio Scopoli was the first to obtain live specimens of the creatures, and in 1768, the “baby dragons” got a scientific description and a Latin name: Proteus Anguinus.

Even Charles Darwin wrote about the wee fellas from the subterranean world of Postojna in his work On the Origin of Species. 

Slovenian dragon: Melania and Donald Trump
There is a choice of options for the dragon-seeking tourist…

The Tour Postojna Cave, the Queen of the Underground World is priced at €25.80, the package deal includes tours of Postojna Cave and the Predjama Castle for €35.70, down from €39.60.

And 100% cave experience, the package deal includes tickets to Postojna Cave, the Vivarium, as well as the Expo Cave Karst and the Butterflies of the World exhibitions.

And that’s €37.90 of your Earth money, reduced from €45.60.

On the right track

Jump on board: Cave train
Billed as the largest show cave in Europe, Postojna is a 24-kilometre-long cave system.
 
And you will get to feel the magic of the underground world and experience a one-of-a-kind ride on the cave’s underground train. 

The best Knight

Good knight: A step back in time

It’s not just underground that this part of the world captivates. 

From the magical depths of Postojna Cave make your way to the fairytale world of knights.

The Predjama Castle is another must-see Postojna Cave Park attraction – a veritable medieval miracle, perched in the middle of a rocky cliff for 800 years.

And unsurprisingly it’s a great favourite of Game of Thrones author George R.R. Martin.

Something for Christmas

Fantasy: With a Nativity theme

Now we presume that there were no caves around Bethlehem when Our Lord came into the world.

But it would have been a dramatic setting, which is what our Slovenian friends believe too.
 
Between 25 and 30 December, you can enjoy their Living Nativity in the cave.
 
It consists of 16 biblical scenes staged inside the cave.
 
Discover the fairytale-like underground world during a 90-minute tour and enjoy one of the most fascinating Christmas experiences in the world! 
 
And maybe make your own addition to the Christmas manger scene… Slovenia’s Mother of Dragons and her brood.
 
 

 

Countries, Europe, Food & Wine, Ireland, UK

Ho Ho Holyland

Bah Humbug to all those who whinge about Christmas decorations being out… in Israel it’s Ho Ho Holyland already.

Now, we won’t get too hung up on the wherefores.

Just to say that Jerusalem Santa Issa Anis Kassissieh, the official Ambassador of the Holy Land Santa, has been filming in Israel’s Golan Heights.

And, of course, with Israel being a little warmer than Lapland JS has parked the sleigh for a kayak.

Jolly Golan Christmas

Sticking his oar in: Santy

Santa’s journey began at sunrise, on a kayak on the River Jordan, a waterway I know well from my G Adventures trip.

Adaptable JS carries his Christmas tree and presents.

And he then strolls through the citrus and almond orchards typical of the Golan landscapes.

Sporty Santy

Froome, Froome: Getting on his bike with Chris Froome

Sporty Santy then gets on his bike to cycle with British four-time Tour de France winner Chris Froome.

And his fellow team members of the Israel Start-up Nation professional cycling team who are currently touring Israel.

Santa’s little helpers: Israel style

JS ended the day at the Kursi National Park, site of the Miracle of the Swine.

And there as the sun set overlooking the Sea of Galilee, he spread love, peace and joy to the children of the Golan Heights.

JS will be back too later in the year when for those who don’t know The Promised Land will be unaware there will be snow on the ground.

Israel deal

Santa Pause: Where to go next

El Al, as we all know, has its route now out of Dublin, with a sample four-day return trip In January from €625.

And out of the UK from London from £287.

So, it’s Ho Ho Holyland and Go, Go, Holyland.

America, Asia, Countries, Europe

Submariners and life under the sea

You been keeping Vigil these nights and got to thinking about abut submariners and life under the sea.

Well thankfully we don’t have to plunge the depths to get a sense of what submariners had to go through.

I’m sure there’s one sitting down in the port near you…. or somewhere in your country.

New York Up Periscope

Depth charge

I stumbled upon mine in New York as a ticket in my CityPass book.

And I spent a couple of hours out of the Manhattan heatwave at the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum

Walking through the cramped USS Growler with others.

And ducking your head through the doorways gives you a sense of the challenges these subterraneans faced.

Without of course seeing the sky for weeks on end and worrying that you could get blown up at any minute.

Of course Manhattan has the advantage of being an island surrounded by water.

Jordan jumps

Get back in: The Red Sea

But you can find submarine anywhere even landlocked countries as long as they’ve got a stretch of water.

And so in Jordan on my G Adventures trip they have the Dead and the Red Sea.

Now I’m no scientist but would the sub not float to the salty surface… this sub(editor) certainly did.

But the Jordanians did drop a submarine in the Red Sea to encourage marine life (and snorkelers) to swim through.

Now, while we’ve all been hibernating they’ve been up periscoping in places we wouldn’t expect.

Swiss subs

Swiss dip: On Lake Lucerne

Such as Switzerland, bang in the middle of Europe.

So let our Swiss friends take it away just like they took me away with Swiss Air.

‘Dive into the mystical darkness deep below the surface and glide weightlessly through adventure-filled underwater worlds..

‘Visitors can explore old wrecks in Lake Lucerne on an unforgettable dive.

‘Go to depths of up to 120 metres in Switzerland’s only passenger submarine.

The P-63

Tourist ahoy: In Lake Lucerne

The P-63 submarine is equipped with state-of-the-art technology and safety systems.

‘And it offers passenger trips for one to three people.’

 

Countries, Cruising, Europe, Music

Malta’s Cirque de Soleil

Yes, they’ll be bending over backwards for Malta’s Cirque de Soleil, the first by the troupe in Europe since lockdown.

Now I’ve been entertained by the super-bendy acrobats on a couple of occasions and it was tickety-boo (I was told).

And in time-honoured fashion I’ll go around the subject, like Cirque de Soleil do, until returning to the matter in hand later.

At any rate the world’s leading producer of high-quality live entertainment, and Visit Malta have got together.

For a brand-new production created exclusively for Malta.

FIERI spectacle

A drop of Malta: Back in the day

FIERI will be presented in the capital, Valletta starting November 25.

And it’s the ideal backdrop for any production with Valletta harbour equal to any anywhere.

‘We are delighted to return to Malta, a country steeped in history, to pay tribute to this resilient nation and its people” said Diane Quinn, COO of Cirque du Soleil Entertainment Group.

‘Now more than ever in our absurd world, Cirque du Soleil’s power to bring joy and hope to our audiences is not only welcome but necessary.

‘So I welcome you to this show and to the magic that descends as the artists take the stage.’

Special treat

Ship of dreams: And MSC and Cirque de Soleil are pals

Now magical it is and I’ve enjoyed their show on MSC Cruises stop-offs in Dublin Port.

And, of course, MSC is all about the entertainment as we found in the Norwegian fjords.

Back to FIERI and Malta is clearly thrilled.

From the sponsors

Night spectacle: Malta

‘FIERI by Cirque du Soleil will be another opportunity to showcase Malta’s credentials in the cultural and entertainment sector,’ said Minister for Tourism and Consumer Protection Clayton Bartolo..

While Johann Buttigieg, CEO of the Malta Tourism Authority weighed in.

‘Having a month full of uplifting shows inspired by the cultural roots of Malta is a stamp in quality for our country’s hospitality industry.’

‘The last time that the majestic auditorium of the Mediterranean Conference Centre welcomed audiences for a musical production was March 8, 2020.

‘Countless sacrifices were made since then.’

Return to Malta

I was scooting along: In Gozo and Malta

Now our Maltese friends have been holding court at the World Travel Market in London this week.

And they are backing all this up in a destination I know and love.

I did make a certain lovestruck young woman’s dreams come true there.

When I bent down to tie up my shoelaces after all and she screamed yes.

And I returned there to the Med’s jewel, alas without her, 20 years late.

And I found that the same restaurant still there although the free Champagne offer had lapsed.

It was all a dream

Back to our Cirque de Soleil pals and I must confess that I slept through their bells and whistles performance of The Beatles LOVE in Las Vegas.

In my defence my body clock was Back in the UK.

So do what I say rather than what I do… and get bending over backwards for Malta’s Cirque de Soleil.

Tickets for the 75-minute performances of FIERI by Cirque du Soleil in Valletta from November 25 to December 19 are available online at www.visitmalta.com