Travel Destinations

Not since 1066 have we been invaded by Vikings. Then King Harold saw them off before meeting his nemesis, William the Conqueror. This time they are invading Wembley.

This Sunday, the Minnesota Vikings are playing American football there but that won’t be all you’ll be hearing about. Twenty-four Minnesotans have invaded our shores to market the state to us. The Mayors of the Minneapolis and St Paul are talking business deals with our companies and their tourism people have tagged along to talk to travel agents, tour operators, and the media so that you will hear a lot about the benefits of a holiday in the state.

The first reason why you should consider holidaying in the state is that there are direct flight links on Delta. (North West Airlines in the old days.) The airport in Minneapolis-St Paul is quick to get through. The entry queues that you get at Orlando, New York, Miami, Chicago and Los Angeles usually don’t exist. The airport holds my record for the fastest time it took me to get off the plane and go through formalities before catching my hotel shuttle bus – just under 5 minutes. Admittedly I was one of the first off the plane and I had only hand luggage. Nonetheless, that will take some beating.

Secondly, there is a light railway costing just $1.75 to take you into either of the twin cities. Or for the same fare you can go to Bloomington where the Mall of America is and you’ll find over 520 shops plus a Nickelodeon children’s area give parents the chance to shop whilst letting the kids play. Generally, prices at designer shops and regular stores are 50% cheaper than they are in the UK and Ireland and even 10-15% cheaper than New York or Florida.

Thirdly, within a few miles of the airport, you can be either in one of the two cities or you can be strolling around the lakes nearby or even fishing in them. When the season starts even the governor of the state is out there looking for walleye or sockeye salmon. You can canoe in the morning and visit museums or shops downtown in the afternoon or vice-versa. Cycle paths are everywhere so you don’t need a car to get around if you don’t want one.

Then there is the food. It can be a mixture of American with a St. Paul slant like a Juicy Lucy hamburger where the meat is hollowed out and cheddar cheese is placed inside so that it oozes out when you bite in. And there is a strong Scandinavian influence in both the food and the culture as this part of the United States had lots of migrants from different Scandinavian countries.

That’s why the football team is called the Vikings. But this time the invasion will be a quieter, less troublesome affair. Apart from at Wembley, that is!

For more about Minnesota, click here
For more about Minneapolis
For more about St Paul.

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Travel Destinations

Last year nearly 100,000 Britons visited the Caribbean country of the Dominican Republic. That’s a small number compared to the total of millions that come each year. Since it has been a staple feature in the holiday brochures of major tour operators for decades why don’t more of us visit a country that combines the prospect of beach holidays, trekking, desert landscapes, and rainforest?
So here is a quick potted guide to what the Dominican Republic has to offer the holidaymaker and traveler.

This is the place where Christopher Columbus landed in 1492. The Spanish influence has lasted to this day although the country has been independent for nearly 170 years. It attracts the fourth largest number of tourists in Latin America each year after Mexico, Brazil and Argentina and those visitor dollars mean that nearly 8% of the economy is due entirely to tourism. 4.6 million people visited the country with 1.6 million from the USA alone. This means that US dollars are freely available even though the peso is the official currency with about 68 pesos to the pound. It also means that the country works hard to attract visitors with a continuous upgrading of services and the introduction of new ones.

Take the opening of Los Delfines Water & Amusement Park last week. Los Delfines, the Caribbean’s biggest amusement park was created to gather the family, around a wholesome and enjoyable activity overlooking the sea. A second stage to increase its size by two-thirds is already planned.


Whilst you probably won’t holiday in the capital, chances are that you will be offered an excursion there. The capital is Santo Domingo – the oldest city in the Americas – which is also where the bulk of the population of the country lives. Although a modern city in most respects, it has an area known as the colonial zone which is largely a UNESCO World Heritage site. It is here that you’ll find Catedral Santa María La Menor, the oldest cathedral in the Americas, the Casa de Bastidas ( a military complex dating back to 1512)and El Alcazar – a palace built for the Spanish leaders. Less than a week ago, the tourism ministry announced that funds would be made available to restore and renovate the historic facades of individuals homes in a dilapidated state within the Zone.

Golfing is a major attraction for the country having twenty-seven golf clubs including five in Casa de Campo’s where there are the “teeth of the Dog” course which is reputed to be not only the best in the Caribbean but one of the top fifty courses in the world. It may be given a run for its money by a Jack Nicklaus course at Punta Espada which is proving popular with visitors.

Like most Caribbean destinations, it is to the beaches and the sea that visitors are attracted. In the south, there tend to be more beaches catering for the visitor whilst in the north, they are less developed in some areas although more money for development is being considered. Inland there is mountaineering, hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding, paragliding, driving in 4×4 vehicles, tubing, cascading, canyoning and rappelling.

Punta Cana is probably the leading tourist destination with over 35,000 hotel rooms, golf courses and miles of beaches. Here you’ll also find the Indigenous Eyes Ecological Park which has exotic plants on trails that take you through via eleven natural lagoons and one of the country’s largest caves, Fun Fun Cave which has a 4.5-mile long river flowing inside it. From here you can join one of the many jeep safaris, that will take you through a tropical jungle but you’ll still be never too far away from a deserted beach where you can stop for a swim before re-joining the safari.

And where there are beaches, there is skin-diving but this is the Caribbean. Here there are tales of Spanish galleons laden with treasure that foundered on the reefs. In August it was announced that divers from Anchor Research and Salvage working with the Punta Cana Foundation discovered a 450-year-old wreck. The cargo found contains the single largest cache of 16th-century pewter tableware ever discovered as well as some extremely rare Spanish silver coins from the late 1400′s. Is it any wonder that divers come in their thousands in the hope of seeing something like this or just to admire the seabed and the corals.

They also come for the turtles as do many other visitors. The government operates a nest-vigilance programme to monitor, count and protect one the great tourist draws. This year, 1,317 births of various sea turtle species – hawksbills, greens, and leatherbacks -from May to September were recorded on the beaches of the National District.

On the northern coast is Puerto Plata with 62 miles of beaches, coastal villages and hotels This is where you’ll find the remains of the first European settlement in the Americas are located. The three ships of Columbus made landfall here in 1492 and called it La Isabela. Nicknamed the “Amber Coast” because of the amber deposits this is the most developed are in the north. Incidentally, amber is one of the major tourist souvenirs but bring back only amber that has been worked as its export in the raw is forbidden.

If there is evidence of colonial influence here, then Pedernales in the south-west is where you will find indigenous influence. The province also features a high number of caves, many with evidence of pre-historic cave paintings, such as pictographs made with red paint. Among the most notable are La Altagracia, Trou Nicolás, and La Colmena.
Eco and adventure tourism majors strongly in the Dominican Republic. In fact, there are nine distinct ecological zones including a desert area in the south-west. It certainly wouldn’t like to be known as just another Caribbean beach destination.

Getting there:
British Airways has direct flights from Gatwick Airport. Thomas Cook has flights from Gatwick and Manchester and Thomson Airlines links the country from Birmingham, East Midlands, Gatwick and Manchester with seasonal services from Glasgow and Newcastle. Air Europa has flights via Madrid from Gatwick; Air France via Paris from over 20 different British and Irish airports.

You will require a visa which costs $10 and this can be obtained on arrival. Check with your travel agency to see whether this is included in your bill from them. Returning from the country there is a departure tax but this is often rolled into you airfare or your holiday package.

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Travel Destinations

Anyone interested in World War II history who finds themselves in the area before October 2013 should travel to the Musée du Pays de la Zorn at Hochfelden in Alsace where they will discover memorabilia of one of M16’s most secret operations, the Sussex Plan. At the beginning of 2014, it will be relocated to the Association de Sauvegarde du Patrimoine Historique Militaire in La Wanteznau 12 miles from Strasbourg.

The Plan was conceived in 1943 when the Allies needed every bit of information about the enemy’s movements in Northern France as they planned the D-Day landings. Most intelligence gathering networks including SOE and French Intelligence had, by this time been infiltrated or overrun and although the Allies had cracked the German codes and by destroying the telephone system, had forced the enemy to communicate by wireless, there was always the fear that the Germans might change the ciphers just before the invasion.

Thus it was decided to create an entirely fresh network using agents new to clandestine work. It was a tripartite initiative; Kenneth Cohen of British SIS and Frances Pickens Miller of American OSS were joined by Officers of the French B.C.RA ( Bureau Central de Renseignement et d’Action) set up by the leader of the Free French, General de Gaulle, in London.

Gilbert Renault, known as Colonel Rémy was responsible for finding French-speaking recruits for the operation. These were mainly men who had escaped from occupied France to North Africa and Spain. They were brought to England where they all had to pass through the rigorous checks of the Victoria School Intelligence Centre otherwise known as the ‘Patriotic School’ in London before moving on to special training at St Alban"s.

The late Captain Guy Wingate had served as a liaison officer at St Alban"s. He had been selected for this job because he spoke perfect French, having been born in Paris where his father had an interior decoration business. He had trained as an architect before joining the British Army at the outbreak of war, where he served as part of the British Expeditionary Force which was evacuated from Dunkirk.
Some years ago while compiling a programme for BBC Radio 4, I visited St Albans to meet Guy Wingate. We went first to Glenalmond, now an old people’s home which had then been used as the operation’s administrative center during the war and Guy told me something of the training the recruits received.

“There were about 120 Frenchmen and women here under the command of my skipper, the late Colonel Malcolm Henderson,” he said, “ They lived at Praewood, another large house just up the road and most of their field training took place in the grounds.”

The training included codes, enemy recognition and identification, civilian disguises, unarmed combat, gun handling and grenade throwing.
“I remember going to pick up the grenades which hadn’t gone off,” Guy reminisced. “We couldn’t afford to waste them.”

Each recruit was issued with a bicycle and taught to drive both cars and motorbikes. Night map reading was also on the syllabus, which at first alarmed the local populace who through these young people roaring around on motorbikes were German spies. Generally, however, relations with the locals were good, a couple of them even married local girls. Some of these Frenchmen worked under the aegis of the Americans and some under the British which resulted in an amount of friendly rivalry, with the local pubs, the Fighting Cocks and the White Hart becoming unofficial HQs for each side.

Capt. Wingate & Col. Henderson

The agents were to work in two-man teams, one mission chief, and one radio operator. Each team was given a specific mission to perform and expected to recruit sub-agents in the field. Each man was equipped with a cyanide pill to use in case of capture.
Initially, it had been decided to parachute the agents to their locations “blind”, that is without any sort of reception committee. Rémy, who had run his own resistance network considered this far too dangerous and proposed some of his own ex-agents who had escaped to England as “pathfinders” to go ahead and prepare the ground.

One of these was Jeanette Guyot who, with three companions was parachuted into France early in 1944. She made her way to Paris where she had a friend whose husband had just been taken prisoner by the Germans. This was the young Andrée Goubillon who owned a café in the fifth arrondissement. “I remember when she first came into the bar,” she told me when I visited her in her in Paris, “I knew she did this sort of work and I agreed at once although there was a Gestapo post just down the road.” So began Goubillon’s task of running a safe house to say nothing of feeding “her boys” as they passed through Paris.

One of the “boys” who remembered these days was William Bechtel, 93 years old when I visited him in Les Invalides. He told me of his adventures in Rouen where he and his brave radio operator Vallande transmitted information about General von Kluger’s 7th Army for the RAF bombing until he could signal “ Apart from me and my equipment there was not a military objective left in Rouen.”
The Sussex Plan did suffer several tragedies; one of the most poignant because it happened right at the end of the war involved five agents including the young Evelyne Clopet. Three Sussex teams procured a German lorry which was subsequently stopped by fleeing Germans who were surprised to see it driven by civilians. Even then the young people might have got away with it but as they were forced out of the lorry at gunpoint a case fell open revealing transmitters and arms. One agent escaped but four were tortured and then taken to a quarry and shot.

Most of the missions, however, were successful. The Sussex team at Evereux relayed Field Marshall Rommel’s movements from la Roche Guyon which resulted in an RAF raid within minutes. Information was also relayed about V1 rocket sites in Northern France.

After the war, the surviving agents used to meet for a monthly reunion dinner at Madame Goubillon’s café which they repainted and re-named it Café du Reseau Sussex. Sadly the café is no more as, after Madame Goubillon’s death, it was transformed into a piano bar although a plaque commemorating the role the café and its owner played during the war has been erected on what was its wall at rue Tournefort.

Guy Wingate, Andrée Goubillon and the majority of the agents involved have since died and it is in order to preserve the memories of these brave people, together with the some of their documents, uniforms, and equipment that Dominique Soulier, son of a fortunately surviving agent Georges Soulier, had the idea of creating a museum as a lasting memorial to all who had participated in this little-known but vital operation.

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Travel Destinations

Tiny Grenada will soon be back on the map when Sandals opens later this year, but the fragrant island has more to offer (or is it less) than large all-inclusive resorts

The drive from my house in West London to Gatwick airport to board the flight to the Caribbean was longer than the drive across the full length of Grenada. At 21 miles long, the island is small but packs in all the essentials we expect from this part of the world, great year-round weather, lovely beaches, colonial architecture and Oh! That heavenly smell

Known as the Spice Island because of the smells of nutmeg, cinnamon, and clove that fill the air, Grenada has a quaint old-fashioned feel. Despite that, it has established itself as one of the Caribbean’s premier diving and sailing destinations. Verdant rainforests, vibrant spice markets, historic forts and plantations and activities such as river tubing – where one rides on top of an inner tube on the water – and hiking are some of the attractions. A hike through the Grand Etang rainforest affords a glimpse of the country’s Mona monkey. Several troops of Mona monkeys roam the forests of Grenada. Mona monkeys are not native to the Western Hemisphere but instead were introduced from Africa.

Travel GrenadaAbove all; the island’s tranquillity and unspoiled character reveal the authentic Caribbean, although in many people’s minds the island will always be remembered for the brief US invasion in 1983 after the country’s takeover by the socialist People’s Revolutionary Government. These days Grenada is quiet and sedate and, although independent from the UK since 1974, it still carries the names of the four British patron saints in its parishes and village names.
I returned to Grenada this year ten years since my last trip in 2003. Twelve months afterward, in 2004, Hurricane Ivan had paid a visit and flattened much of this pretty Caribbean island. Although tenacious little Grenada has recovered most of its old verve and energy, it was still sad to walk around the capital, St George’s, the other week. Once hailed as having the ‘prettiest harbor in the Caribbean’ many of the capital’s churches and fine old Georgian buildings are still left roofless. The Grenadians have found it difficult to finance the repairs needed following the disaster. But although tourism has been in decline for some years, that is set to change later this year with the opening of Sandals which has taken over the old La Source hotel. Not everyone welcomes the move – Grenada has for many years been one of the Caribbean islands that have resisted the all-inclusive chains. On the other hand, the opening will herald increased airlift and much-needed publicity to put Grenada back on the map.

Top things to do in Grenada


Grenada is the second largest producer of nutmegs in the world, accounting for about a third of the world’s supply. Visit one of the processing plants such as Grenville, or visit the historic Belmont estate which is a real eco-adventure. The River Antoine Rum Distillery is the oldest water propelled functioning rum distillery in this part of the world, using methods little changed since the 1800s.


While I was relaxing at the boutique True Blue bay hotel, my husband, a keen Scuba diver, was under the Grenadian water. Here lies the former luxury liner Bianca C, one of the world’s most famous shipwrecks, a 600-foot long cruise ship which sank in 1961. The Moliere Underwater sculpture park serves a double function as an underwater art gallery and artificial reef. Other famous dives include Shakem, another wreck which sank in 2001: Shark Reef which is teeming with sharks, turtles and other marine life and Purple Rain Reef which gets its name from the large schools of Creole Wrasses and purple vase sponges which live here.


Above the water, this former British colony offers charming architecture, and St George’s, despite the roofless buildings, still has 300-year-old Fort George the oldest structure in the country with a maze of tunnels and ramparts. The National Museum is another worthwhile stop which occupies an area first used as a garrison. A few steps away is the 340-foot Sendall Tunnel, constructed by former governor Walter Sendall after he observes the plight of porters and horse-drawn carriages slipping on the unpaved streets. I strolled around on Saturday morning when the colorful spice market is in full swing. At sundown, keep your eyes peeled for Grenada’s famous ‘green flash’ – an optical illusion best experienced with a local rum sundowner in hand.


The high spot of my recent trip was a nighttime excursion to see turtles nesting. Gigantic female leatherback turtles lumber ashore Levera Beach in the north of the island to the same spot where they hatched themselves some years before. They then dig a hole where they lay their eggs. We watched one female lay 96 eggs before covering her tracks and heading back into the ocean. This fascinating activity usually occurs between March and May each year, and six weeks afterward the golf-ball like eggs hatch. The tiny hatchlings then start their perilous journey to the sea. It is possible for visitors to return to see the hatchlings, but few of them survive, sadly. When I visited researchers from the local university were on hand to monitor and document the proceedings.


Not to be missed is a trip to Grenada’s Out islands of Carriacou and Petit Martinique known for their sleepy island charm. In August the regatta on Carriacou celebrates the indigenous art of boat building handed down by Scottish and Irish ancestors and racing focuses on these locally built workboats.
From the UK, British Airways and Virgin Atlantic service Grenada weekly with direct flights from London’s Gatwick Airport.

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CD-Traveller tells you what’s hot and what’s not in the travel world.  Read on to find out why it’s a good month for Sri Lanka, if not Scunthorpe…


Pampered Pooches

Want to pamper your pooch? Look no further than the House of Mutt ( in Suffolk. The dog only hotel can arrange long country walks, bespoke portrait painting and indulgent spa sessions for £39.50 per night.

Screaming in Norway

2013 marks the 150th anniversary of Edvard Munch – aka Norway’s best-known artist. To celebrate Munch’s most famous painting, The Scream, the Norwegian tourist board is asking people to record themselves screaming in Norwegian locations – and then upload their wail to The prize for one lucky winner? A week-long trip to Norway.

Corruption Tours in Prague

The Corrupt Tour agency in Prague has launched a tour taking in the Czech capital’s sites of sleaze and scandal. “We have corruption in our cultural heritage. We want corruption in Prague to be listed by Unesco” commented Petr Sourek – the founder of the CorruptTour agency. The Czech Republic was ranked 57th on the Transparency International’s corruption index.

Rio decoded

Rio de Janeiro is providing tourists with information about the city by embedding QR barcodes into Rio’s iconic black and white mosaics. The codes have so far only been installed at Arpoador – a massive boulder that rises at the end of Ipanema beach. However, there are plans to install 30 of these QR codes at popular tourist sites across Rio. All tourists with a QR reading app on their smartphone need to do, is to take a snapshot of the mosaic and a map will appear showing your exact location and providing you with information about that area.

Sweet dreams in space

NASA is testing an inflatable bedroom for astronauts at the International Space Station. The 13ft pod which Nasa aims to install by 2015, has been designed by Las Vegas-based company Bigelow Aerospace. The price is pretty perturbing tho: a 60-day stay will cost £15.6m. Ouch!

Surf’s up!

Surfer, Garrett McNamara, who holds the title for the biggest wave ever surfed, broke his own record in February when he surfed an incredible 100ft wave off the coast of Nazare in Portugal. This was the spot where the 45-year-old Hawaiian set his last record on a wave measuring 90ft, back in 2011.

March 16 will see Alton Towers launch its biggest ride to date. The name of the new ride isn’t yet known (insiders are using the code name, Secret Weapon 7,) but it promises to have a drop of 30m.

Forking out for fresh air in Beijing

So bad is Beijing’s smog (the American Embassy reported that concentration of polluting Airborne particles went past the ‘hazardous’ range and off the chart last month), that one Beijinger has started selling fresh air in a can! Multimillionaire businessman Chen Guangbiao is selling cans of fresh air for 5 yuan (80 cents). Chen said he wanted to make the point that China’s air pollution is now so foul that the idea of selling bottled air makes perfect sense. Proceeds from the sale of green and orange cans of ‘Fresh Air’ are sent to the poorest regions of China.

Sri Lanka

March is the month that British Airways starts flying from Gatwick to Sri Lanka. The flight may be 12 and a half hours but at the end of the journey, you’ll find palm-fringed beaches, treasured temples, verdant vegetation, happy herds of elephants, and brightly colored saris, in spades.



Sorry Scunthorpe but you’ve been named and shamed, as the least romantic place in Britain. The North Lincolnshire industrial town was voted the most unromantic place to visit in the UK in a poll by booking website Bradford and Blackpool claimed a second and third place, respectively.

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Travel Destinations

Ljubljana may be difficult to spell, but Slovenia’s charming capital is oh so easy to love says, Lauren Razavi.

Despite being one of Europe’s smaller cities, the Slovenian capital of Ljubljana is fast emerging as the cultural heart of the former Soviet East. Maintaining a distinctive and mesmerizing old world charm but still attracting a considerable number of bohemian young things, Ljubljana is gaining attention as one of Europe’s must-visit destinations for 2013. Whether you’re looking for a short weekend break or a longer holiday experience, you’re sure to fall in love with Slovenia’s political and cultural core.

Ljubljana City Center

The city center is concentrated around the Ljubljanica River, making boat tours a wonderful way to get a feel for its layout. Tours depart from the Triple Bridge’s riverside area each day: expect spectacular architecture and breathtaking scenery, from the historic buildings to the many different types of bird and tree that can be found dotted around the banks of the Ljubljanica. Cycling is encouraged through the Bicike scheme though; a network of public bicycles available for use by anyone including visitors, and free for up to one hour. However, streets in Ljubljana are mainly pedestrianized, and much of the city is best explored on foot. Whichever method of transport you choose, there’s plenty to see and it’s possible to cover most of it in a day – though you’ll find yourself wanting to spend much longer than that getting to know the place.

Ljubljana Castle, which is accessible by funicular from Krek Square, is one of the finest attractions on offer here. The medieval dwelling looms stoically from Castle Hill, boasting excellent views over the Old Town. Depicted atop the castle’s turret is the Ljubljana Dragon, a symbol of the city and the subject of much mythological debate amongst locals; from the Christian Saint George who was associated with the fiery creature to tales of Argonauts leader Jason slaying a dragon on Slovenian land, its exact origin is unknown but its historical significance to Slovenia’s capital is clear.

Market in Old Town

The Central Market in Ljubljana’s Old Town is one of many highlights. Regional produce such as wild strawberries and delicious local jams and conserves will whet your appetite, while handmade crafts such as painted glassware make excellent keepsakes. The market site is lined with sidewalk cafes including plenty of outside seating that overlooks the market; sit back with a coffee and watch everyday Slovenian life in action. Another fine feature comes in the form of Tivoli City Park which incorporates several halls and mansions, as well as a clay-bottom pond, a glasshouse, and a rose garden. Whether it’s daytime or evening, Slovenia’s largest garden is a perfect for relaxation and reflection.

When the sightseeing adventures come to a close, there’s still plenty to fill your time in Ljubljana. The city boasts an astounding 10,000 cultural events each year and an admirable 10 international festivals. A myriad of museums, galleries, theatres, music venues and street performance offer almost too many possibilities for those looking to explore Ljubljana’s arts scene. A favorite among tourists is the fascinating National Museum of Contemporary History; it’s incredibly easy to lose yourself in tales of Slovenia’s past for an afternoon there, and the museum offers a poignant reminder of what Slovenia’s people have overcome to create the burgeoning young nation that exists today.

Ljubljana main square

Ljubljana’s 50,000 strong population of students are an important part of the Slovenian capital, demonstrating its role as an innovative center for education, science, and technology. Street fairs take the form of celebrations of science and knowledge as well as more artistic pursuits here, marking the city as a unique gem and showing how its dedication to study and progress offers benefits as a whole – to both residents and visitors alike.

Literature makes up a huge part of Ljubljana’s heritage, and it is because of this that Slovenia has been recognized internationally for its contributions to the world of reading. 2010 saw Ljubljana awarded the UNESCO title of World Book Capital, and this year sees it as a strong contender for UNESCO City of Literature. Even during a short stay, it’s easy to see why: the city’s bookshops make up a substantial portion of its character, each varying in look and feel but still encompassing something of Ljubljana’s spirit. From spacious, modern and downright trendy coffee and book spots to longstanding backstreet haunts full of dusty old volumes and timeworn classics, Ljubljana’s book culture is enchanting. Ljubljana’s most important literary project, however, is the yearly ‘Library under the Treetops’ scheme. Running from May through to September, its sole purpose is to encourage locals and visitors alike to sit down with a book next to the river. During these months, random bookcases appear on many city streets, offering any passer-by the opportunity to grab a book and get involved with the project.

Library under the Treetops Books

Many will be surprised to learn that Slovenia is also a notable location for gastronomy. Historically a wine-trading hub of the Eastern European region, Ljubljana is known to Slovenians and their neighbors as ‘the city of wine and vine’, and for good reason. Restaurants on every street boast exceptional homegrown wines and other produce, and all at a reasonable price. 2012 saw Ljubljana host the fifteenth annual Slovenian Wine Festival and the fifth national Culinary Festival, while 2013 sees a huge range of gastronomy-fuelled events on offer).

The origin of the name ‘Ljubljana’ has been subject to much speculation amongst historians and locals, but a favored theory is that the name originates from an old word meaning ‘beloved’. Full of history and culture, you’ll certainly look upon the city as a beloved treasure after spending some time there. Ljubljana is the flourishing capital of a vibrant, attractive and genuinely impressive new nation: you’ll be sure to find yourself planning your next visit on the flight home.

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America’s love affair with the automobile is being replaced by rail writes CD-Traveller’s managing editor, Adrian Lawes

You’d be forgiven for thinking that there is a typo in the headline. Don’t we mean America’s love affair with the car? But times are changing in the US and trains are becoming more popular.

Over 33 states are investing in train options. to try and relieve congestion.This nugget came from Bob Stewart who is chairman of the National Association of Railroad Passengers.

We haven’t got a similar body in the UK. NARP, founded in 1967, is a charitable body that lobbies and educates about the advantages of rail travel. Some states like South Dakota don’t even have a passenger rail system. While many of us think of the US as just a country of cars and freeways, at one stage rail travel was the main way travelers crossed the vast expanses. But after WWII, the car became dominant.

Today rail is having a resurgence. Why? Are Americans wearying of the delays, the petrol costs and the accidents that interrupt car journeys? The answer, according to Stewart, is yes. But they aren’t turning to airlines either. Security issues, increasing add-on costs to base fares, delays at airports and the sheer time it takes to get through airports before you even get on a plane are putting Americans off.

When I first went to the US 30 years ago, not many cities had their own rail systems. Boston, Chicago, New York and San Francisco did, but it didn’t always link to airports. To get to New York’s JFK you took a bus or the train to Howard Beach and caught the bus from the long-term car park.


So much has changed, as Bob Stewart explained. Los Angeles has installed a light railway system, Portland in Oregon has integrated the airport with bus and train systems. In the central part of Portland, the light railway system is free. Denver has 39 miles of railway. In Miami in Florida, a new rail system links the airport to the Tri-State railway system. Rail is the flavor of the month!

So how does the NARP operate? Each week of each month some of its 25,000 members write and submit rail reports on their journeys. Any issues raised are taken up by rail companies be it the national company AMTRAK or the smaller locally run networks. But it isn’t really like our Consumer Focus that represents rail passengers to the railway companies. NARP does take ups individual cases sometimes if it is a serious issue, in which case they will contact their sources at Amtrak. As Stewart says: “we are Amtrak’s cheerleader and critic depending on the issue.”

When Mr. Obama announced support for high-speed rail links and found most of the money to go ahead, it looked as though a new renaissance in rail travel might occur. But three states, Florida, Wisconsin, and Ohio actually turned down the money! Can you imagine a county doing that in the UK? We might argue over the route of HS2 as it plans to link London and Birmingham and then splitting to go to Leeds and Manchester but a route would be found.

But, just as in the UK, Stewart says it is politics that determines some the rail services. AMTRAK doesn’t even have the luxury of being able to plan years ahead because it receives its $1.5 billion subsidies each year. Until it gets that vote, it doesn’t even know whether it will be in business next year! And this is a company that moved over 32 million people last year on sold-out trains.

Infuriating as this must be to AMTRAK, it grieves Stewart too. “Give me $15 billion,” he says, “and I could construct a reasonable, truly national rail network.” Given how much money is wasted federally and how much has been spent on quantitative easing, this is a tiny sum. In the UK, we subsidize our railway network three times over the US figure.

When we visit the USA, many of us use public transport because we are used to it and the thought of driving through places like New York or Chicago makes us wary. So rail is a real option for the visitor. Jokes made about the rail network 30 years ago are no longer valid. Every sort of person uses rail. Trains are clean, well maintained and as punctual as most trains are in the world. What hasn’t happened is frequency unless you are visiting the north east of the US where trains running from Boston through New York to Washington DC run many times a day.

As airlines have faced changing consumer demands and higher costs, many have stopped services to cities with populations of 25-30,000 or so. Can railways step in and fill this breach? There is a route from Chicago to Los Angeles but only eight percent of passengers travel the whole route. All others just use it for linking city visits. And, as Stewart says, what will happen in 2050 when the population of the US is expected to have grown by another 100 million people? Freeways won’t be able to cope. Rail may be the answer. And some of it will be high-speed rail.

California, which likes to espouse its green credentials, is probably going to be the first state to implement a high-speed rail system. Oddly enough the second state is Texas – the state we most associate with the oil industry especially since the late JR Ewing used to try to corner the market in those old episodes of Dallas. And it is from the city of Dallas to the other large city in Texas -Houston – that the first high-speed line, after California, will probably run. North Carolina and Illinois are just two states implementing the increased use of rail.

Stewart, not surprisingly, is all for this but he is more concerned by new legislation which comes into force in October 2013. From that date, individual states will have to fund any railway system up to 750 miles long. They will have control. For those states that moaned about federal parsimony for years, now they and they alone will take the responsibility and the blame for establishing and keeping those lines going. They will have to come up with the funds to run the trains. And that is his concern. Will they find the money? Will the network continue to exist as it does now? Or will it expand and states jump at the opportunities that a bigger railway system might bring to their economies

Going through the Cascades on Amtrak

For the visitor, there must be endless possibilities if new railways come to pass. In cities, we’ll be able to get around more easily. New rail links will offer tourism potential. I have written of the AMTRAK service between Los Angeles and Portland Oregon and the wonderful combination of sunshine on Californian beaches contrasting with the snows of the Cascade Mountains in the north of the state and in Oregon. My train had not only visitors on it, but those who were traveling because rail is relatively inexpensive.

Stewart pointed out to me that there are many freight lines. Could passenger services be brought back there? Could the freight line that goes part of the way through the Mojave Desert be opened so that visitors can see what the desert is really like? And could there be stopovers so we can be taken to see the old mining towns and the old Western heritage in places like Ridgecrest? Since AMTRAK provides holidays as well as rail travel is this something we could look forward to? Stewart thinks that’s for the future. At the moment he just wants more services, more routes, and more members to strengthen his hands in twisting the arms of politicians that hold a tight rein on the money coffers.

And for us visitors, it would give us a chance to see more of this huge country without the hassle and tiredness caused by driving or flying.

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The 18th London Turkish Film Festival is taking place from today (February 21) until March 3. Read on for the low-down.

What’s it all about?

The 18th London Turkish Film Festival runs from February 21 to March 3, 2013, at The Odeon West End, The Rio Cinema Dalston, The Institute of Contemporary Arts and The Cine Lumiere.

The festival celebrates another year of outstanding achievement that has seen Turkish films honored at festivals around the world from Sundance to Berlin. Over its 18 year history, the festival has screened over 250 feature and 350 short and documentary films.

What are this year’s highlights?

* The World Premiere of The Butterfly’s dream, the new film from writer/director Yilmaz Erdogan starring popular heartthrob Kivanc Tatlitug at a glittering Opening Night Gala at The Odeon West End.

* A masterclass with internationally renowned Turkish director, Reha Erdem.

* Films from veteran names of Turkish cinema as well as the debut features of an exciting new generation of Turkish moviemakers.
A diverse selection of short films, with many of the filmmakers themselves on hand to meet their audiences.

What are the Golden Wings awards?

Five outstanding films will compete for the unique Golden Wings Digiturk Digital Distribution Award, worth £30,000. The winning film will be distributed in cinemas throughout the UK and made available via home digital platforms.

This year’s competing films are:  Night of Silence – Reis Çelik’s 2012 Berlin Film Festival prize-winner; Jin– the latest film from Reha Erdem, direct from Berlin 2013; Can – Raşit Çelikezer’s Sundance Jury Award winner; Beyond the Hill directed by Tepenin Ardi andSomewhere in Between directed by Yeşim Ustaoğlu.

The Golden Wings Lifetime Achievement Award

This year the festival will honor legendary actor and director Kadir Inanir, who will be the special guest at the Opening Night Gala and will be attending a Q&A screening of his new film Farewell Katya. In previous years the festival has recognized the life and work of such cinematic greats as Türkan Şoray, Şener Şen and Hülya Koçyiğit.

Golden Wings People’s Choice Award Voted for by visitors to the Festival at venues across London. This year more than 20 features will be competing.

The Jury

Wendy Mitchell, editor of Screen International and
Edward Fletcher, joint managing director of Soda Pictures.
Tony Grisoni, writer Tony Grisoni has worked with many of the finest contemporary filmmakers including Michael Winterbottom, John Boorman, Rankin, Julian Jarrold, James Marsh and Anand Tucker. He is best known for his collaboration with Terry Gilliam on a number of projects including Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and the ill-fated Don Quixote. He has written and directed a number of award-winning short films. His latest screenplay is the four-part series Southcliffe, produced by Warp Films, which will be screened on Channel 4 this year.

Sedef Ecer, Turkish actress, journalist and playwright Sedef Ecer’s plays have been staged in some of the world’s most renowned theatres and have been acclaimed with major awards. She is currently working with the Oscar-winning director Randa Haines on two feature-length films.

A word from festival director, Vedide Kaymak

“Over the last decade, Turkish filmmakers, not only in Turkey, but also those living in the rest of the world, have found new creative directions, making critically acclaimed films, and winning awards all over the world. The LTFF has always had an inclusive approach towards programming, and I am especially excited by our expanded programme this year.”

The 2013 line up

Feature films



CAN (Raşit Çelikezer)




JIN (Reha Erdem)





OTHER ANGELS (Emre Yalgın)

PRESENT TENSE (Belmin Söylemez)

SAINT AYSE (Elfe Uluç)


THE STRANGER (Filiz Alpgezmen)

TO BETTER DAYS (Nihat Seven)

THE TRACE (M. Tayfur Aydın)

WHAT REMAINS(Çiğdem Vitrinel )


Documentary films


I FLEW YOU STAYED (Mizgin Mujde Arsian)


SIMURGH (Ruhi Karadağ)


TURKISH A+ (Murat Bayramoglu)

Short films:

A COOKIE TALE (Ilkyaz Kocatepe)


LANDESCAPES (Damla Kirkali)

MIRROR (Bedirhan Sakci)

RESTING ROOM (Hakan Burcuglu)

SHIFT 12-48 (Fatih Ozdemir)

TURKISH DREAM (Oguzhan Akalin)

VELVET SOCKS (Ahmet Baturay Tavkul)

For further information on the festival please visit:

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Travel Destinations

For a Finnish short break with a difference, the city of Tampere provides a great mix of wintry culture and nature with its fascinating museums and scenic lakeside location, writes Anna Maria Espsater

Tampere, Finland’s third largest city, is friendly, laidback and surprisingly nice to visit in winter. Santa Claus might be living further north, but there are plenty of reasons to travel to other parts of Finland during the snowy months – a scorching sauna session followed by a bracing ice-hole dip, to mention one. What’s more, there are year-round direct flights to the city from the UK.

Tampere was founded back in 1779 by Swedish king Gustav III, at a time when Finland formed part of Sweden. It grew rapidly during the 19th century, mostly due to the many industries, particularly textile, situated here, giving rise to the city’s nickname ‘Manchester of the North’. Just like many other former industrial cities in Europe, Tampere has had to reinvent itself in recent decades and these days the city’s longstanding industrial history can be viewed in fascinating museums.

Many of the museums are found in the so-called Finlayson factory quarters. A lot of Tampere’s industrial prosperity can be traced back to one man: James Finlayson was a Scottish Quaker and engineer who first visited Finland, by this time part of tsarist Russia, in 1819 and decided to settle here. In 1820 he began using the water power from nearby Tammerkoski River to build a factory in the city and at one point the Finlayson textile factory and cotton mill was Tampere’s largest employer. A whole factory quarter was set up, rather like a mini-city within the city, and the Finlayson family even had their own chapel built here. The Finlayson legacy has been long-lasting and Finlayson textiles are made in Finland to this day, albeit on a smaller scale. The vast factory quarters now house the Textile Industry museum, the Finnish Labour museum and, perhaps more surprisingly, also the Spy Museum.

A museum entirely dedicated to espionage is a world first for Tampere. Washington D.C. may since have overshadowed their efforts somewhat by creating a larger one, but there’s no doubt that the Finns got in there before the Americans. The museum, although on the small side, has plenty of authentic gadgets, informative displays, and information on some of the greatest spies in history. It’s also great fun for kids, with interactive exhibits and spy tests to be taken, not to mention a pitch black ‘spy tunnel’ to negotiate. A lie detector, bugging devices, and poisonous umbrellas are also among the interesting features found here. For those looking to explore even more museums, Tampere has one of the few in the world dedicated to Vladimir Lenin.

Tampere is a nice place to enjoy the great outdoors, even in winter. The city has a lovely location between two lakes, Näsijärvi and Pyhäjärvi, with Tammerkoski river rapids running through it. Covered in a thick blanket of snow, the location looks even more picturesque. In winter the river rapids often make for a spectacular sight when frozen solid and it’s possible to walk all along the riverfront on the gritted pathways. The rapids run through the heart of town and the streets running east and west from here are where you’d find a lot of the city’s bars, cafes, restaurants, and main shopping area, as well as the Central Square and theatre.

In the run-up to Christmas, Keskustori Central Square is home to a wonderful market, complete with dancing Moomin troll, Finnish handicrafts, and gourmet products. They also do ice-sculpting in the square to add to the scenic wintry atmosphere. Nearby shopping street Hämeenkatu has some of the best shops in town – try Sokos and Stockmann for a wide variety of Finnish design such as Moomin troll mugs from Arabia pottery or Iittala glass.

If staying a few days, there are several places near Tampere worth a visit, e.g. the Pispala district, to the west of the center – a quaint, old-fashioned neighborhood replete with 19th-century wooden houses, overlooking the lakes. Also in the western part, on a peninsula jutting out into Lake Näsijärvi, lies Näsinneula Tower, the tallest observation tower in the Nordic countries. The revolving restaurant at the top serves excellent Finnish food and offers spectacular views of the area.

No visit in winter is complete without a sauna session and when in Finland one must be brave and do as the Finns do – sweat, sweat, and sweat, only to rapidly cool down with an icy dip. Villa Amanda, near the village of Pakkala, some 35km (21 miles) from Tampere is an exceptionally inviting place to go through this Finnish rite of passage. The well-appointed villa is a winter-dream come true, complete with open fire, big sauna, and cozy loft bedrooms. It’s not far from cross-country and downhill skiing options if you really want to work up a sweat before sweating some more.

Villa Amanda sits right on a lake and after some 15 minutes in the sauna, nipping outside is starting to sound better and better, even if it happens to be -10 outside. Of course with such temperatures, the lake does freeze solid, but the kind owners of the villa simply open up a hole in the ice for hardy sauna-goers to cool down in. Make sure you wear some footgear walking along the snowy path to the ice hole, where a small ladder leads into the lake. No point taking too long about it, you’ll only get too cold and change your mind. Just briskly climb down the steps and enjoy the rather strange sensation of going pleasantly numb in the icy waters, before heading back to the sauna, feeling ever so slightly brave and tough. Warm up again in the sauna and take the plunge twice if you fancy, then return to the open fire for glöggi (mulled wine) and Finnish nibbles – elk or reindeer salami perhaps?
Tampere is a great place for uniquely Finnish experiences, perhaps especially so in winter.

Need to know

Getting there
Ryanair ( flies direct from London Stansted to Tampere. No other airline flies direct, but Finnair ( has flights via Helsinki and SAS ( via Stockholm.

Further information (Spy Museum)

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Travel Destinations

As an island England has more than its fair share of coastline and the national tourist board’s new Coastal Escapes campaign sets out to celebrate it, from quaint Victorian promenades and secret coves to surfers’ hot spots and long sandy stretches. Read on for the low-down on England’s top coastal experiences…

Admire Aldeburgh beach

World-renowned, thanks to its connection with Benjamin Britten, the pre-eminent composer and founder of the annual Aldeburgh Festival. Aldeburgh is about as perfect a traditional seaside escape as you could hope to find. Pastel-coloured 19th-century holiday villas line the promenade. To their east lies a pebble beach with fishermen’s huts selling the daily catch. Stroll north a mile or so along Aldeburgh seafront to see the famed Maggi Hambling sculpture, the Scallop.

Scilly sea safari

A sub-tropical gem, the Isles of Scilly offer numerous boat trips and sea safaris that give visitors the chance to see seals and seabirds up close; you might be lucky enough to glimpse porpoises, basking sharks, and dolphins, or even an exotic visitor such as a sunfish or a turtle.

Dinosaur hunting on the Jurassic Coast

Wander Dorset’s Jurassic Coast, a World Heritage Site, and marvel at the incredulous rock formations while keeping an eye out for dinosaur bones. This stretch of coastline charts a whopping 200 million years of the Earth’s history.

Donkey rides in Scarborough

Scarborough is one of England’s best traditional seaside resorts and there is nothing more ‘bucket and spade’ than a donkey ride along the seafront. This beach is home to an adorable collection of well-behaved and well-loved animals all wearing their names proudly on their harnesses to help children choose their favorite. Nothing quite beats the smell of warm leather saddles and the taste of candyfloss…

Surfing at Fraisthorpe Beach

Bridlington is the country’s birthplace for surfing and the excellent waves have made Fraisthorpe Beach a favorite among the surfing and kite surfing community on the Yorkshire coast. The beach is wide open with strong winds, so perfect conditions for both kite flyers and beach buggy surfers.

Coasteering in Cumbria

Cumbria’s Lake District is known as ‘The Adventure Capital of the UK’ and it’s a well-deserved accolade. For a memorable seaside, adventure tries rock climbing, scrambling and jumping off coastal cliffs in the Western Lake District. Not one for the faint-hearted!

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