|Old Ironsides - USS Constitution in Boston Harbour. Norwegian waste to fly there from Cork|
Saturday, 30 April 2016
Friday, 22 April 2016
Once upon a time, decades ago when the word jogging hadn't been invented, it was faintly embarrassing to be seen running in the street. "You're a bit late for the Olympics mate", people would yell at you from passing cars weeks after the closing ceremony, or "Come on Brendan Foster". To avoid looking too conspicuous I would run in corduroy trousers and - until my first knee injury sent e shopping for some purpose designed footwear - a pair of Hush Puppies. But, as a frequent long haul traveller, I quickly twigged that a bit of vigorous exercise was the best way to combat jet lag. No sooner had I checked into a hotel in Los Angeles following an afternoon arrival, say, than I would pull on the gear and hit the pavements for a half hour or so. The worst thing about jet leg is not feeling like dinner when, wherever you are, it's dinner time. Exercise is a short, sharp, corrective shock to the body clock. And even if it's a short haul trip, running blows away the cobwebs and loosens muscles atrophied by confinement in a cramped aircraft seat. Modern running shoes weigh only a few ounces. OK - I know far more hotels now have fitness rooms than when I started - and swimming is an alternative - but running on a treadmill is boring and getting out in the streets can represent a quick and efficient introduction to a destination. This has been recognised in many cities by small tourism operators who have launched organised jogging tours taking the local sights. There's a long list at gorunningtours.com but in case your destination isn't covered just Google running tours in whichever city you're planning to visit. I've run in well over 300 places around the world. From Hawaii to Delhi I have braved the embarrassment of crossing posh hotel lobbies in shorts and a T-shirt and sharing lifts later, lathered in sweat, with guests who wished they could put clothes pegs on their noses. I have been tracked by a dingo in the outback of Australia's Northern Territory, laboured through yielding white sand around Bird Island in the Seychelles, encountered a poisonous snake in Tasmania and what I took to be a bear (admittedly at fairly safe distance) in Ontario. After astonishing the locals in sub zero temperatures during a visit to Beijing in 1980, not long after China opened its doors to foreign tourists, I discovered to my dismay that the water was off in my hotel. There was nothing for it but to wash with the water left in a flask for tea making. While on the subject of water I've learned, the hard way, the importance of hydration. On a fearsomely hot and humid summer day Tennessee, I was forced to drag my feet slowly for at least two miles back to my hotel (where else but a train carriage at the Chattanooga Choo Choo Hotel?) after a sudden, dramatic draining of energy. I've also learned, after feeling my heart rate zoom in the US Rocky Mountains, that even if you're conditioned to ski at altitude, you might find running a bridge too far. Occasionally as in Petra, Jordan, dogs have driven me off the streets or potholed, uneven pavements - as in Sofia and Puebla, Mexico - have forced me on to hotel treadmills. But I've run some lovely routes, which I plan to describe in a later article.
Monday, 18 April 2016
|Image courtesy Gatwick Airport|
Saturday, 16 April 2016
|Razzmatazz as Norwegian launches London-Boston flights|
Wednesday, 13 April 2016
Is there a real threat that the EU might demand US and Canadian citizens apply for visas before entering the Schengen area - or is it just sabre rattling? An absurd impasse has arisen because of unwillingness in Washington and Ottawa to extend visa waiver states to travellers from some European countries on the one hand and the EU's principle that all its citizens must be treated link on the other. The Commission first acted to counter the failure of of some countries to offer visa free travel to citizens of all all EU member states 24 months ago. The non-reciprocity problem with Australia and Japan was resolved. But The US still requires visas for citizens of Bulgaria, Romania, Poland, Cyprus and Croatia, and Canada still requires them for citizens of Bulgaria and Romania. If such problems have still not been cleared up 24 months after the relevant governments have been notified the Commission must propose suspension of visa free admission for their citizens, too. Discounting some obscure legal loophole, it appear to have no option. But tourism from North America - and especially that from the US - is immensely valuable to the European economy. It helps support millions of jobs. It's reckoned to be worth some €57 billion a year. And while the threat of suspension does not apply directly to the UK and Ireland - they have an opt out from visa decisions - it would clearly affect both if carried out. Many North Americans spend time there as well as visiting France and Italy, for example. Tourism from the US and Canada contributes around £3.4bn to the UK economy alone. Mario Bodini, chair of the European Tour Operators Association, said it was difficult to estimate the impact of a suspension but " we would expect leisure travel which, including visiting friends and relatives, makes up over 80% of the total, to suffer a fall in magnitude of roughly 30%. Mercifully both the Council and European Parliament has to take into consideration the economic impact and the practicalities of any mov. Even if the numbers were to drop, it would leave the main Schengen entry countries with a 10 million visa processing task. That alone should sink this idea. What should now happen? According to reports, Washington officials insist countries such as Romania haven't met the necessary requirements to join the visa waiver programme. Just what this means is not clear. Why can't citizens of those countries be obliged to apply for ESTA (electronic system for travel authorisation) in the same way that other EU citizens are? That system doesn't guarantee acceptance - or even admission to the US once accepted. Applicants can surely be vetted to ensure they don't pose security risks in the same way they are checked when applying for visas. Does the problem lie in the failure of the some of the relevant member states to issue electronic passports or to comply with international agreed specifications for them? I don't have the answer to that question. It seems on face value that the first move to end the stands off is down the Americans. But if there is a genuine reason why reciprocity can't be extended, European governments must take a pragmatic approach. While I noted flippantly in an earlier article that the silver lining would be a huge crop of cut price European holidays, the reality could be financial difficulties for many operators dependent on tourism and, in the longer term, that would be bad for the whole continent of Europe.
|Tourists at Notre Dame (image by Gideon, Creative Commons)|
Monday, 11 April 2016
A grey heron appears to take a shower while watching for fish under a sluice gate. Apologies for the poor quality of the image, taken with a soon to be discarded mobile phone. That'll teach me to forget my camera. There's usually something to grab to attention on the Thames Path in London and its suburbs. We walk from Kew Bridge to Kingston, a stretch of around 8 miles along the south bank of the river (you may take either side). It's a Sunday at the tail end of the school Easter break, the day has dawned chilly but sunny and the crowds are out. cycling, running, hiking intently. You must check the times of high tide on this part of the path, especially in spring, or you may have to make diversions to avoid flooding. There's plenty of evidence of this, notably at Old Deer Park, where the grass is submerged for maybe 50 metres inland. A deep ditch to the left of the path acts as a drain but in places it has proved inadequate. It's crossed by a little drawbridge that has been used to land plants bound for Kew Gardens, glimpsed beyond, between trees. Not far from the start of the walk we pass the red brick Kew Palace, built in the 17th century for a Flemish merchant and used in the 18th by George II and Queen Caroline, There's a little drawbridge across it, that has been used to land plants bound for Kew Gardens, glimpsed beyond, between trees.
We pass under Richmond Bridge, London's oldest, opened in 1777 and walk along the margin of Petersham Meadows, below the Star and Garter Home that once housed injured servicemen. The Belted Galloway cattle - this has been grazing ground for well over a century - have don't appear to have returned there from their winter retreat yet. Save at Richmond and shortly before Kingston, there aren't many pubs on this stretch,though you may walk across a footbridge at Teddington Lock to The Anglers, a pleasant, busy Fuller's pub where you may drink and lunch outside in good weather. It's right next door to the former Teddington Studios, now being demolished. where Errol Flynn began his screen career, and the Beatles and Morecambe and Wise performed for the cameras. The pub counts Johnny Depp, Tommy Cooper and the cast of The Office among its past regulars. If you would rather picnic, there are benches and tables by the lock. Though it's only a few steps from our route we don't have time or energy for a return visit to the wonderful Ham House, a superb, rare, example of 17th century architecture run by the National Trust . On then past Eel Pie Island, formerly home to a major jazz, blues and rock venue where stars from Acker Bilk to the Rolling Stones played. Just before Kingston, where we spot a pair of Mandarin ducks among the coots, moorhens, mallard and swans, is a tableau I haven't noticed before. It shows Sopwith floatplanes being tested on the placid waters just over a century ago. As we head through Kingston to the station, a band entertains shoppers with La Cucaracha on pedestrianised Clarence Street. I am reminded of Tom Lehrer's lyric about fiesta tim,e in Guadalajara "the mariachis would serenade - and they would not shut up 'til they were paid". I drop a tip into their hat but I don't want them to shut up. Their blaring music, which lingers long after we've left them out of sight, seems a suitable crescendo to another walk on the path that never fails to satisfy.
The official National Trail Guide to the Thames Path in London, by Phoebe Clapham, is available from book shops, Published by Aurum Press it covers the path from Hampton Court in the west to Crayford Ness in the east.
Saturday, 9 April 2016
|Palma, Mallorca (courtesy Holiday Extras)|
Friday, 8 April 2016
Thursday, 7 April 2016
Lunch is the most economical time to enjoy London's Michelin starred restaurants. That's when you get set menus at reasonable prices. And the best I have eaten in a long time - perhaps ever - was this week at Jason Atherton's Pollen Street Social, near Oxford Circus. It wasn't just the menu itself (2 courses for £32, 3 for £37) but the of little extras: an array of amuse gueules including tiny tartlets of beetroot and blackberry, a light mushroom drink with powder and a palate cleansing pre-dessert of courgette yoghurt and basil. And the main menu? My starter and dessert, respectively a slow cooked Burford Brown egg, turnip purée, parmesan, sage & kombu crumb,and chicken gravy - irresistibly reminiscent of a rich dish of eggs cooked with red wine that I kept drawing me back to a small restaurant in Montparnasse - and a dark chocolate marquise, milk mousse and honey ice cream were both impressive enough. But the star course was the main of roasted Cornish cod, flageolet beans, courgette and cockle chowder. This was simply stunning. The fish was just cooked so that it was flaky, delicate and near translucent . The chowder that remained the it was gone outgunned any I have eaten on the coast of New England - and that's saying something. It was excellent value, though the wine list wasn't for those on tight budgets. That said one doesn't consume irresponsibly at lunchtime and I could not begrudge paying £9.50 for a glass of delicious dryish Loire chenin blanc from a producer who had not exported to the UK before doing a deal with the restaurant. Add in pre dinner cocktails (this was by way of a minor celebration), coffees and 12.5% for service which could only be described as outstanding, and the total bill for four people came to approximately £280.And for those with a phobia of packed eateries with diners cheek by jowl, it's worth adding that this is the polar opposite. It's obvious;y popular with the business community but tables are sufficiently spaced that you'e unlikely to overhear any handy investment information. Is this the capital's best star lunch deal? I can't answer that of course, not having eaten my way through all of them. But it would be hard to beat.
Sunday, 3 April 2016
|Antalya (image courtesy Turkish Culture & Tourism Office)|
Friday, 1 April 2016
|Portugal's Alentejo coast - does exploring make you more likely to be pre-EU?|