There are lots of Welshmen around, but I wasn’t the one. I was talking to Stephanie Abrams, the nationally syndicated US radio travel journalist, about the UK and her thoughts on the UK when the story of this elusive man arose.

Stephanie has a two-hour travel radio show on Saturdays and a three hour one on Sundays. Here she was at the New York Times Travel Show, headphones clapped to her ears, interviewing various travel industry figures. I was sandwiched in between her recordings which were taking place on a small stage at the end of one of the aisles at the show. She is forever traveling so it came as little surprise to learn that her recently published novel, Rumors, was a decade of gestation. Even then I’m surprised she found time to write it (it’s available over here via Amazon)

Stephanie has a wide radio audience: she has been to the UK many times and I thought who else could give me a good view of what Americans like about the UK. Especially since whatever she thinks is relayed to that large radio audience. But hardly had we started, when this anonymous Welshman loomed large in the conversation.

Who is he? She doesn’t know and that’s the problem.

The story goes that in 2010, she had been visiting Ireland from a London base and was catching the ferry back to Holyhead. After a day’s delay due to bad weather, she caught the train back to London arriving in Euston, tired after the long journey and not having her usual “Joie de vie.”

Waiting in a long line for a taxi, jaded and perhaps a little irritable at the delay in getting to the front she heard a man say: “I could never do this with my wife. But then, she’s always drunk.” As a conversation opener, this was pretty good. Stephanie laughed and the Welshman cheered her up with other witticisms until she felt more relaxed and less fed up with the world. As she took her taxi, he remarked that he lived on a mountain and she was welcome to stay because she was from Massachusetts and not one of those Brits that he’d instantly turn away. Laughing, she left without bothering to learn his name. And since then, she has been trying to find this man. So if you happen to know someone who lives up a Welsh mountain, is about 60 and six feet tall with pepper and salt hair who remembers a laughing American in a taxi rank at Euston…

Normally Stephanie collects details like names. She mentions good service on her programmes. Here is one other of her stories that reflect the very best in service we would like, but so rarely get, when we travel. Her husband is the photographer(I should have asked why a radio broadcaster needs a photographer, but listening to her stories it just slipped me by!) He had left his camera either on a train or in the taxi taking them to their hotel. The fact that there were hundreds of photographs sitting on the camera from their recent travels was much more important. They contacted lost property and had left details, but heard nothing before they left. A few weeks later on a return trip, they were reunited with the camera and the all-so-important pictures. What had happened was that the taxi man discovered them, took them to the hotel but because Stephanie and her husband had left he wouldn’t leave it there so he left it with lost property. The hotel contacted Stephanie and her husband, saying they would collect them if she would authorize it. She did, they did and then drove and met her at Heathrow’s terminal 5 to hand them over when she transitted in London, on the next trip.

Both the taxi driver and the hotel went that extra mile in customer service that warrants a hefty congratulation. Unfortunately, the name of the taxi driver isn’t known, but if he happens to read this Stephanie gives her very grateful thanks. The hotel is known: it is the Cranley in Bina Gardens in London. That is the sort of service that all of us would like to think was available and certainly would make us prefer the Cranley over another hotel. Hats off to both of them.

By this time I was wondering where this interview was going. She was supposed to be telling me her thoughts about the UK but so far all I had were two – albeit interesting – stories.What was her philosophy for traveling for example?

She believes that her role is to present destinations so that visitors will return from them enriched, inspired and uplifted. And she believes that when people travel they should aim at the luxurious. But not everyone can do this I suggested, only to be told that visitors should pick a destination or attraction where they can afford to visit in luxury. She contends that it will make it more memorable, more of a break and more of an experience.

So where does she rate highly in the UK? It was unsurprising to find that they were luxurious places as well – such as the Cannizaro House Hotel, near Wimbledon.She likes it because it is close to London but has the advantage of being within spitting distance of the upmarket restaurants and cafes in Wimbledon Village. But don’t during Wimbledon fortnight, she advises.

Again, the hotel goes the extra mile for its guests which is something that Stephanie obviously remembers and repays in loyalty. She also speaks highly of the Samling Hotel in the Lake District and Dalhousie Castle which is also a luxury hotel on the outskirts of Edinburgh. Glenapp Castle in Ayrshire, which has been developed into a luxury hotel by an ex-vet and his wife, is another of her favorites. It only goes to show what can be done by a couple as has been done at another of her haunts, the Michelin starred Boath House Hotel in Nairn.

You will notice that not one of her suggestions was in Wales. Could that be because she is still waiting to find her mysterious Welshman and to see whether he has a luxury hotel?

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Featured, Travel Destinations

Tomorrow will see a new icon on the London skyline, open its doors to the public for the first time. The View from the Shard – the visitor attraction at the tallest building in western Europe – will offer visitors a whole new perspective on the capital.

England has quite a history of thinking big. In celebration of all things great and not so small, Visit England looks up at some of the nation’s tallest attractions that are putting this country on top of the world.

The Shard, London (224m tall)

The View from the Shard takes visitors up 224 meters to the viewing platform on Level 69, the only place you can see all of London, all at once. Twice the height of any other viewing platform in the capital, the 360-degree view extends more than 40 miles (64 km) out to the coast and Windsor Castle on a clear day. Closer to the building is some of London’s most famous landmarks including Buckingham Palace, Tower Bridge, St Paul’s Cathedral, the London Eye and Westminster. Before entering lifts to ascend the Shard, visitors pass through a multi-media experience that gives background information on London’s history. Once upon Level 69, visitors can use Tell: scopes to learn more about the city. This high-tech, interactive telescopes can be used to zoom in on the view in real time or to find out more about the city and its history. Those who dare can further their experience with a climb to Level 72, the highest habitable point of The Shard, to stand in the open air above ground. Tickets must be pre-booked cost £24.95 for adults and £18.95 for children. To book, visit www.theviewfromtheshard.com

Arcelor Mittal Orbit, Olympic Park, London (115m tall)

130,000 visitors, three proposals, and one queen… Rising over the Olympic site, the ArcelorMittal Orbit, a bold statement of public art, presented a new perspective on London life during the Games. Literally lighting up London’s East End the UK’s tallest sculpture took 18 months to construct and required 560 meters of tubular red steel to form the sculpture’s lattice superstructure. A total of 2,000 tonnes of steel has been used to build the ArcelorMittal Orbit, equivalent to the weight of 1,136 London black cabs. Anish Kapoor’s creation will open again to the public at the end of March as part of a new programme of tours designed to showcase the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. For more information, visit www.arcelormittalorbit.com

Scafell Pike, Lake District (978m tall)

Did you know that this country has over 200 mountains? Of all the peaks of England, the majority can be found in the Lake District. These include Scafell Pike, England’s highest mountain, which sits majestically just waiting to be tackled and once described as “every inch a mountain” by legendary guidebook author Alfred Wainwright Characterised by crags and jaw-dropping views, Scafell Pike is no walk in the park. Pack a picnic and climb to the summit for an exhilarating sense of achievement. If you’re considering the challenge, visiting www.scafellpike.org.uk is the best place to start. After all that hard work why not relax at the Cuckoo Brow Inn, Ambleside. Enjoy a two-night winter getaway for £119 per person, Dinner, Bed, and Breakfast (offer valid until the end of February).

Spinnaker Tower, Portsmouth (170m tall)

Soaring 170 meters above Portsmouth Harbour and the Solent, the Spinnaker Tower is taller than the London Eye and Big Ben and has already established itself as a national icon. Situated on the waterfront at Gunwharf Quays, it offers panoramic views of Portsmouth Harbour, the south coast and out to the Isle of Wight, with views stretching for up to 23 miles – breathtaking by day and a glittering sea of lights by night. View Deck 1 boasts a glass floor, where visitors of all ages can dare to ‘walk on air’; View Deck 2 is home to a Café in the Clouds, while View Deck 3 – The Crow’s Nest – is open to the elements, enabling visitors to feel the wind in their hair. Tickets cost £8.25 for adults and £6.55 for children. To book, visit www.spinnakertower.co.uk

Big One, Blackpool Pleasure Beach (72m tall)

Brace yourself for the Big One, the UK’s tallest roller coaster. Feel the adrenaline rush as you climb to a nail-biting height of 72 meters over Blackpool Pleasure beach. The attraction’s first drop boasts an inclined angle of 65 degrees and at speeds of up to 87mph – this roller coaster is an experience like no other! The Big One is also one of the longest rollercoasters, measuring over a mile in length. An unlimited rides wristband for Blackpool Pleasure Beach costs £17.50 for adults and £15 for children. To book, visit www.blackpoolpleasurebeach.com

Weymouth SEA LIFE Tower, Dorset (53m tall)

Weymouth Bay is part of England’s most scenic coastland. It’s also home to some of the country’s best sailing waters and hosted the Olympic and Paralympic sailing events last summer. Soaring high above the resort, Weymouth SEA LIFE Tower provides stunning panoramic views of the Jurassic coastline – England’s first natural World Heritage Site – and out over Weymouth Bay, Chesil Beach, and Portland. Turning through a full 360 degrees and climbing to over 170 feet above sea level, this is an experience not to be missed! Tickets cost from £13 per person. To book, visit www.visitsealife.com/Weymouth

Up at the O2, London (53m tall)

Ever climbed an icon? Now’s your chance! This breath-taking attraction combines an exhilarating active outdoor challenge with a completely unique perspective on the capital. The unforgettable 90-minute experience takes visitors on an uplifting guided expedition across the roof of The O2 via a tensile fabric walkway suspended 53 meters above ground level. An observation platform at the summit will enable climbers to take in spectacular 360-degree views of the city and its many landmarks, including the Olympic Park, Thames Barrier, The Shard, Historic Royal Greenwich and Canary Wharf, before descending back to base. Tickets start at £22 for adults and children. To book, visit www.theo2.co.uk/upattheo2

Angel of the North, Newcastle Gateshead (20m tall)

Up in Gateshead, Anthony Gormley’s The Angel of the North spreads its iron wings to 54 meters wide. After a controversial start in 1998, ‘The Angel of the North’ is now almost universally loved, and it seems the feeling is mutual; the sculpture’s wings are angled forward 3.5 degrees to create, in Gormley’s words, “a sense of embrace”. Free to view. For more information, visit www.angelofthenorth.org.uk.

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Today the London Underground, the world’s first subterranean rail network, celebrates its 150th birthday. The once unthinkable concept of ‘trains in drains’ is now a celebrated engineering marvel and one of the capital’s most recognizable icons, stretching more than 250 miles and carrying over one billion passengers every year. But it’s not just the capital which lays claim to enviable engineering feats – up and down the country there’s a whole host of engineering achievements to marvel at. From the British Engineerium, which opens for sneak previews in Brighton this weekend, to the fastest car in the world on display in Coventry, VisitEngland takes a look at some of the best.

The world’s oldest underground network, London

Dating back to 1863, the London Underground is the world’s oldest underground network. On its first day of operation, the Metropolitan line carried a total of 40,000 passengers from Paddington to Farringdon in the newly constructed tunnel via Edgware Road, Baker Street, Portland Road (now Great Portland Street), Gower Street (now Euston Square) and King’s Cross. The train took 18 minutes to make the 3¾-mile journey. By 1880 the line was carrying 40 million passengers a year. A range of events and activities is planned to mark the anniversary, including a special exhibition at the London Transport Museum, commemorative stamps, and coins, and a series of steam train runs.

The British Engineerium, Brighton
Steeped in history, the Grade II listed British Engineerium asserts itself as an impressive landmark in Brighton and Hove. The collection of Victorian bricked buildings and imposing chimney demands historical and architectural recognition. But inside this polychrome exterior is where the real action is: the restored Corliss steam engine and 1890s steam-powered fire engine stand proudly amongst an array of gleaming exhibits and nineteenth-century engines. Such grand equipment boasts of engineering mastery and the adjoining workshop indicates the Museum’s emphasis on craftsmanship and invention, breathing life back into British industry. The Engineerium is being renovated and is due to reopen later this year, however, a series of Open Days run throughout the year, starting on 6 January.

The steepest funicular railways in England, Hastings
The East and West hill funiculars are superb examples of Victorian engineering, built to attract tourists and transport people to the glorious hills of Hastings. The West cliff railway, close to the ruins of Hastings Castle, was opened in 1891 and built by the Hastings Lift Company. A 363 feet brick-lined tunnel was driven through a natural cave at an inclination of 1:3. The 500 ft. journey to the top, taking in panoramic rooftop views of the Old Town squeezed between two hills, takes a few minutes and the original carriages are still in use today. The East hill funicular is the steepest of its kind in England. The water balance lift, at a gradient of 78 percent, opened in 1902 – Coronation Day. Today it’s an electric operation and the carriages, new in 2010, are replica versions of the handsome mahogany-framed cars with oak strip flooring and arched roofs. A return ticket costs £2.50.

The fastest car in the world, Coventry

Thrust SCC is the current Land Speed Record-holiday car and is on permanent display at the Coventry Transport Museum. The car was designed and built by an English team headed by the charismatic Richard Noble OBE and was driven through the sound barrier by RAF Wing Commander Andy Green in 1997. Visitors to the museum have the opportunity to experience the land speed record-breaking run for themselves, in the ThrustSSC simulator. This incredible feat of English engineering is still appreciated today: the same team is now in advanced stages of building a new car, ‘Bloodhound SSC’, which it is hoped will break the 1,000mph barrier.

The oldest surviving turning shed in the world, Derby

The crumbling remains of Derby Roundhouse, the oldest surviving turning shed in the world, have been restored into a truly unique learning center. The world’s first railway roundhouse, built by Robert Stephenson in 1839 for the North Midland Railway, contained 16 lines of rails, radiating from a single turn-table in the center. The turntable was a genius invention because it allowed a locomotive to be turned around for the return journey. The Derby Roundhouse was endorsed by the Guinness World Records in 2012 and you can track down Derby’s rich railway heritage on a Roundhouse tour, taking in true-life stories of the men, women, and children who pioneered Derby’s railway industry. Tours cost £6 per person.

The largest bell foundry in the world, Leicestershire

John Taylor Bell Founders has been casting bells in Leicestershire since the 13th century. In 1881 John Taylors cast the largest bell in Britain, ‘Great Paul’, for St Paul’s Cathedral in London. John Taylors are now the largest bell foundry in the world and have a museum which tells a remarkable story of one of the oldest manufacturing industries in the world. Don’t miss the room full of bells from different ages and different founders – this display has a wooden mallet so you can sound the bells and see for yourself which sounds best. Ding dong!

The oldest windmill in Britain, Buckinghamshire

Dating back to 1627, Pitstone Windmill is believed to be the oldest windmill in the country. Pitstone ground flour for the village for almost three hundred years until a freak storm in the early 1900s left it badly damaged. It was later donated to the National Trust and restored. As you walk around, wonder at the way the mill and its machinery balance on the head of a massive wooden post, discover the tail pole the miller had to wrestle with to turn the huge structure to face the wind and explore the surrounding Chiltern Hills with stunning views from nearby Ivinghoe Beacon. Entry costs £2 for adults and £1 for children.

The world’s first passenger train, Manchester

Attend steam school and learn how to ride and operate the world’s first passenger train at the Museum of Science and Industry. MOSI is housed in the original buildings of Manchester’s Liverpool Road station, which was part of the world’s first passenger railway – the Liverpool & Manchester Railway – built in 1830. Once used to transport goods between the port of Liverpool and the industrial powerhouse of Manchester, this huge engineering feat revolutionized travel and is now the oldest surviving passenger railway station in the world. Visitors to the museum should also check out the Revolution Manchester Gallery for more engineering feats, transport revolutions, and the computer age. MOSI is free to enter. The 4.5-hour Steam School experience is run monthly and costs £250.

The longest, highest and deepest canal tunnel in Britain, Huddersfield
The Standedge Tunnel, England’s longest, highest and deepest canal tunnel, passes under the Pennines between Diggle and Marsden. Built over 200 years ago, the tunnel is nearly three and a half miles long and took 16 years to build. The final section was overseen by renowned engineer Thomas Telford in 1811. It’s one of the Seven Wonders of the Waterways and visitors can explore deep into the tunnel on a family-friendly guided boat trip, stop for a bite to eat in the local cafe and let kids explore the wildlife garden. Entry to the tunnel is free. 30-minute boat trips cost £4.50 per adult and £3.50 per child.

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Travel Destinations

The historic city of York is an ideal destination for a day trip, as Kaye discovers

Confession time… I have lived and worked in the UAE, Cayman Islands, and China and think nothing of visiting Vietnam, schlepping to Sri Lanka or booking a weekend break in Boston but back home in Britain, I have only left London on the rare occasion (read visiting relatives and attending weddings).

As regular CD-Traveller readers will know, I love London but nonetheless am aware that judging a country on its capital is the equivalent of saying you’re au fait with America because you’ve had a Big Mac or not interested in experiencing India, having slurped a Starbucks’ Chai Latte.

So inspired by the new £4 million government-backed ‘holidays at home’ scheme, I decided it was time to venture north of the M25 and visit York – the historic city that not only topped a poll of the most beautiful cities in the UK, but was ranked as the place most Brits would like to live. Throw into the mix the fact that York is currently celebrating the 800th anniversary of receiving its charter from King John of England in 1212, and 2012 seemed like a memorable time to visit.

The magnificent Minister – the largest gothic Cathedral in Northern Europe – tops the usual sightseeing agenda and for good reason. York’s blockbuster sight is an instantly familiar, iconic landmark guaranteed to jump-start a cold tourist engine. Consecrated in 1472, this beautiful building (www.yorkminister.org) took 250 years to build and contains England’s greatest concentration of medieval stained glass including the great east window which, at 186 square metres, is thought to be the largest area of stained glass in the world.

I continued my classical sightseeing with a walk around York’s famous 3.4km long medieval walls. They are the longest in England (allow two hours to do the full thing) but the arresting views from the top, ensure you won’t regret a step! Next I took the time machine back to AD975 and experienced the sights, sounds and smells of Viking York (the capital of Viking York in the late ninth century and early 10th centuries) at JORVIK (www.jorvik-viking-centre.co.uk) in Coppergate. Built on the very site where archaeologists discovered over 40,000 Viking age artifacts, this gem of an attraction affords visitors the opportunity to get up close to 1,000 year old relics as they are revealed beneath your feet!

Yet while castles, cathedrals, and vikings are a big deal, they’re not the whole picture. Not by far. To truly appreciate York, you have to lose yourself in its labyrinths like cobbled streets and atmospheric alleyways: step forward the Shambles whose narrowness and exterior wooden shelves (a reminder of when cuts of meat were served from the open windows) acts as a remnant of an older, miraculously unspoilt world. The Shambles and its sister streets – Swinegate, Stonegate and, my favourite, Whip Ma Whop Ma Gate – wind haphazardly through the city centre and are home to quirky boutiques, as well as a plethora of top notch restaurants, chic bars and laid back cafes.

For food is undoubtedly a big part of York’s short break pleasures (not for nothing did TripAdvisor name York as the UK’s top food and wine destination in October 2011). The antique city is choc a bloc with tea rooms selling local treats like warm, buttered fat rascals (a tasty teacake bursting with currants and candied fruit) but the best, by far, is Bettys (www.bettys.co.uk). Busy at all hours, the famous wrought-iron-embellished tea rooms serve light bites, lunch and dinner (welsh rarebit, sausages and mash and more) in an elegant old – wood panelled room, but the afternoon tea is where it’s really at. Expect a generous sized spread of scones, thick clotted cream, the freshest of jams and a pot of Yorkshire tea, which the owners will watch you savour with fierce pride.

The sweet toothed can satiate their cravings further in York’s newest visitor attraction – ‘Chocolate: York’s Sweet Story’ (www.sweehistoryofyork.com). York is home to some big names in the chocolate aisle: Rowntree’s created Kit Kat, Smarties and Aero while Terry’s created the Chocolate Orange during the 20th century in their sizable York-based factories and this immersive experience – which only opened on April 1 – will educate you about the city’s confectionery trading and manufacturing past. And yes, tasting opportunities are happily guaranteed!

Regardless of whether you choose to check out the much-hyped Chocolate attraction or hidden gems like the Historic toilet tour (www.yorkwalk.co.uk) or YorkBoat Cruises (www.yorkboat.co.uk), exploring is easy. Unlike other university towns (here’s looking at your Cambridge) everything is accessible by foot and if you purchase the York Pass (www.yorkpass.com), you’ll score free entry into over 25 attractions.

Had I been there for an evening, I would have liked to have gone on a guided ghost walk (many York pubs like the Black Swan, www.blackswanyork.com, are said to be haunted) or have seen a show at the Grand Opera House (www.grandoperahouseyprk.co.uk).

Still, now I know that a short train ride north brings me to scenes the equal of any abroad (I was constantly reaching for my camera), it won’t be long before I am back. “Why don’t more Londoners come?” asked an attendant at York Train Station as I prepared for my all too soon return south. Why indeed?

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Travel Rumblings

I was going to write a good old moan. This time, my moan was about the way that Visit Britain was not promoting our countries. I was in New York for the New York Times Travel Show because it is always interesting to see how others view your countries. They see things that sometimes we overlook.
But there was only one solitary stand representing the UK and that was from Bath. Now Bath has a great deal that it can offer, more than many places but Britain has so much more. But where was Visit Britain? Where were other UK destinations? I felt a rant coming on.

And then I was handed a copy of the magazine from the Sunday edition of the New York Times. Most of it was given over entirely to London apart from the regular columnists. Even some of the letters talked of the UK, – well Downton Abbey which went down very well with TV watchers. And everybody was being given a copy of the magazine. And I checked. Every copy I picked up, wherever I was that day from Staten Island to Queens had the magazine inserted with the rest of the two-inch thick paper.

It’s quite fascinating how they portray us. Adam Davidson called his article, “Just like Wall Street…Only Richer” because as he points out, London is the biggest international financial center in the world. His map of the northern hemisphere with New York surrounded by areas he calls things like “thicket of tough rules,” “litigious hordes” and “tariff rock” contrasts with London adjacent to “Bay of Better Banking” and Sea of Simple Systems.”

It would be hard to write a story about London without mentioning the theatre. It’s at the heart of London says the piece which really just has photos of people like Judi Dench and Patrick Stewart.

But what’s missing is the queen. No story, little reference to her (but The Only Way Is Essex gets a mention) and the only royal story is whether Kate is pregnant and what the name might be- Fergie is 250:1! Perhaps the New York Times has forgotten that we have a diamond jubilee for only the second time in 1,500 years.
Craig Taylor’s calls his piece, “True Londoners Are Extinct” and his argument is that a third of London’s population has ancestry firmly rooted overseas. Whilst the images beamed from the Olympics might be of tradition and pomp, London is cosmopolitan. Wasn’t it ever thus? We’re a mongrel race of Angles, Celts, Normans, and dozens of other nationals who have settled here in the last couple of thousand years. But I did like the definition of a Londoner that he got from someone. “A real Londoner,” Taylor was told, “would never, ever eat at one of those bloody Angus bloody Steakhouses in the West End.”

But maybe the most interesting piece is a two-page spread called “Why are they always apologizing” which claims to answer questions about us. For example, it describes the London in July and August when overseas tourists descend on London as “like a cranky father compelled to host a party for his teenage daughter –awkward, uncomfortable and simmering with barely contained fury at the ghastly, noisy interlopers who insist on having a good time.” Are we like this?

Visit Britain may not like the last article by China Mieville which talks about last year’s riots, diversity and whether the legacy of the Olympics will be good for London. It is slightly despairing and reaches no conclusion but Visit Britain will be hoping no-one reads every article.
But Visit Britain is certainly getting the word about London around.

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Travel Rumblings

CD-Traveller tells you what’s hot and what’s not in the travel world. This month Croydon and coach tours of the M25 are proving (inexplicably?!) popular



We kid you not. Croydon – one of the areas worst hit during last year’s London riots – has become an unlikely tourism hotspot. Croydon Tours have launched a £8 per person day trip that takes travelers to famous spots from Peep Show (the Croydon-based sitcom) and ends, erm, a multi-story car park.

West is best

Research by Fly.com reveals that west is best when it comes to flight prices. For instance in Spain, flights to Barcelona have risen by 18 percent while those in Murcia have increased by 30 percent. Meanwhile, flights to Sharm el Sheikh in Egypt are up 21 percent. Conversely, flights to destinations in the west – step forward Rio and Miami – are cheaper in 2012 than there was last year.

Holiday romances

A new survey by sunshine.co.uk has revealed that half of the 2,000 18-25 years polled had enjoyed a holiday romance. But a word of caution: hooking up with randoms rarely ends happily. Case in point? Two-thirds of the travelers questioned, revealed they regretted their holiday flings.

InterContinental Hotels

The world’s biggest hotel operator, InterContinental Hotels, beat city forecasts for its 2011 profits and, unsurprisingly, chief executive Richard Solomans is excited about the year ahead. “In spite of the considerable uncertainty in the eurozone, IHG is well positioned to globally benefit from positive, long-term industry trends, and, in particular, growing demand in emerging markets,” said Solomans.

Carry on cruising

In the wake of the Costa Concordia tragedy, a confederation of the world’s leading cruise lines has decreed that muster drills must be carried out on each and every ship before it sets sail. Current rules require lifeboat and evacuation drills be carried out within 24 hours of sailing.

Coach tours of the M25

Brighton and Hove Bus and Coach Company has added extra dates to its £15 coach tour of the 117 mile M25 due to “huge demand.” Here at CD-Traveller towers, we can’t imagine anything worse than spending fours sitting on the M25 but clearly the opportunity to see sights such as Heathrow Airport’s Terminal Five, Epping Forest, Lakeside Shopping Centre in Essex and the Dartford River Crossing bridge has some appeal after all.


Scotland’s third largest metropolis – aka the granite city – has been rated the fifth most ‘unsung’ destination in the world by travel experts, Lonely Planet. “ Aberdeen has long been an unsung hero in Scotland and has history to rival Edinburgh. For years it was favored by the Scottish kings and there is so much on offer in Aberdeen,” says author Abigail Blasi.

Swimming in the Seychelles

The Seychelles swimming ban has finally been lifted six months after a British honeymooner and a French tourist was killed in two separate shark attacks – the first in the Seychelles in nearly 50 years. Specially-trained lifeguards have now been introduced to the Anse Lazio beach (frequently voted one of the best in the world), following consultation with experts from South Africa.



Tour operators say that the Maldives are still safe but the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) advises against all but essential travel to Male. The capital has witnessed a spate of violent clashes in recent weeks following the coup that toppled President Mohamed Nasheed.

Taking children on holiday during term time

The coalition is considering fining parents who take their children on holiday during term-time in an attempt to improve school attendance rates. It is estimated that 4.5million days of school are missed each year, because of pupils going on holidays.

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Travel Destinations

With just under 200 days to go until the Paralympics event, the countdown for the London Olympic Games is well and truly underway. But what if you missed out on tickets? Happily, there are still plenty of ways to enjoy the spirit of the games – from afar or for free. Cheapflights.co.uk has the insider guide

No ticket? No problem – Check out FREE events

While most events are ticketed, it’s still possible to get in on the action for free. As with everything Olympic related, it’s advisable to arrive well in advance for the best seats. Here’s a sampling of some of the free events:

Men’s and Women’s individual road cycling time trials: taking place on August 1, the starting point is Richmond’s Hampton Court Palace
Men’s Marathon: taking place in central London on August 5
Women’s Marathon: taking place in central London on August 12
Women’s Triathlon: taking place on August 4 (crossing through Hyde Park and Birdcage Walk, Buckingham Palace)
Men’s Triathlon: taking place on August 7

Escape the crowds: Skip London altogether

Try events taking place outside of London to avoid the crowds and save the pennies. Some venues, such as those for mountain biking, kayaking, rowing, and canoeing are a mere 20-50km away. For those venturing further afield, Wales, Scotland, and spots along UK coastline will also be hosting Olympic events. Football tournaments (in Manchester, Coventry, Glasgow, Newcastle, and Cardiff) and sailing events (in Weymouth Bay and Portland Harbor) will make for a good staycation or quick weekend break.

Follow the torch

Though the torch relay is staying within the UK, as opposed to taking the usual international route, the destinations lucky enough to receive it are still very much worth a visit. The tradition kicks off against a spectacular backdrop in Land’s End on 19 May. By the start of June, the flame will burn through Belfast and Northern Ireland, then to Edinburgh and Scotland by mid-month. The torch will reach the Olympic Stadium on the 70th day – 27 July.

Join the crowds

Immerse yourself in the buzz at the London live sites. From the big three locations in the capital – Hyde Park, Trafalgar Square and Victoria Park – to the 20-plus other locations across the UK, there will be big-screen viewings of medal ceremonies and competitions, free concerts and contests – all designed to include locals and visitors alike in the Olympic experience as it unfolds.

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Travel Destinations

As regular readers of CD-Traveller will know, I returned to the UK last summer after a stint overseas.While out living in the far east, the metro was one of my Beijing bete noirs and I thought (owing to the crowded carriages) for good reason.

But after the tube chaos that has ensued in London over the last week or so, Beijing’s subway system is one I would kill for.

It’s been a hellish seven days for Londoners – especially those forced to ride the Jubilee line (the silver one which, worryingly, is also the principal tube line for the 2012 Olympics, serving the stadium at Stratford). London’s charismatic mayor, Boris Johnson, has spent some £13 million on upgrading the Jubilee line: it hasn’t been money well spent. Yesterday, Jubilee line services – used by more than 650,000 passengers a day – were suspended between Willesden Green and Stanmore, with severe delays over the remainder of the route. The worse part? Sadly this seems to be the rule rather than the exception.

Transport for London says that yesterday’s chaos was the result of a late finish to weekend engineering work. I say it is simply unacceptable. Londoners are facing delays on a daily basis yet paying sky high fares (as a result of the price hike in  January, my daily travel card now costs £15.80 – not exactly peanuts).

If you’d asked me before Christmas who would win May’s mayoral election, I would have answered that Livingstone was destined to finish last. However come February 2012 and I am feeling rather differently: unless the flaxen-haired one gets a grip on the transport system, City Hall could well become a no-go for BoJo post May 3.

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Each month Jane Egginton brings us her letter from London. This month, the travel writer lets us in on why she believes that London can claim the title: cycling capital of the world

“I believe that the cyclised city is the civilized city”, declares ebullient Boris Johnson. Love him or hate him, London’s mayor is – not so quietly –revolutionising cycling in the capital.

More tourists than locals currently use Boris bikes – a hugely successful £140 million pay as you pedal scheme launched in July 2010. Locals and visitors alike can just swipe a membership key, credit or debit card and get on their bike. The first 30 minutes are free and at the end of your journey, it is a simple case of just dropping the bike back to one of the several locations in central London.

Amsterdam has traditionally been the world’s most cycle-friendly city. From nannies to bankers and school kids to senior citizens, pretty much everyone in Amsterdam gets on their bike. From the 1960s onwards, Amsterdam transformed itself from a congested, traffic laden, commuter nightmare to a cyclist’s paradise. Statistics currently show the preferred mode of transport at 35 percent bicycle, 40 percent car and 25 percent public transport.

This may be impressive but some London boroughs boast cycling achievements that easily match the Dutch capital, despite London being one the most congested capitals in the world. Schemes such as Move by Bike includes free check-ups for cyclists and a chance to purchase lights and reflectors wholesale. The scheme offers free cycle training, promotes the health benefits of cycling and makes plans to improve security.

London is steering clear of Amsterdam’s biggest mistake: schemes that segregate cyclists and car drivers. Trevor Parsons, a leading light of the London Cycling Campaign, believes that integration is the way forward. He says that “in the Netherlands, people are compelled to ride on separate cycle tracks and paths where they exist and Dutch police shout at people for cycling on smooth, empty carriageways. We don’t want that over here. Our view is that the whole street network is the cyclists’ network.”

In just the last year, London has seen a massive 15 percent increase in cycling on the city streets, but the mayor is not resting on his laurels. He ambitiously aims to bring a 400 percent increase in cycling by 2026 and has just announced that London will host a two-day, world-class cycling festival in 2013 on 19–20 May. Named the London Revolution it will become an annual event as part of the Olympic legacy.

The cycling festival will be the first major event to make use of the Olympic Park in east London after it reopens in summer 2013. Day one will involve a family ride on traffic-free roads in central London, in which it is expected up to 70,000 cyclists will take part. A loop of roads – all closed to traffic – will lead North and then west from the Isle of Dogs to Royal Windsor, taking in landmarks such as Windsor Castle and Queen Elizabeth’s Hunting Lodge before arriving at an overnight lodge.

Day two will see an additional 35,000 amateur and professional riders – some of them world-class cycling south and east for a further 80 miles. Beginning in the Olympic Park it will follow the route of the 2012 Games cycle road race, taking in some of Surrey’s prettiest countryside. before arriving at Tower Bridge at the finishing line. A lovely little extra touch is that the route will take in sites covered by cyclists at all of London’s Olympics: Windsor Great Park (1908), Herne Hill velodrome (1948) and Box Hill (2012). Booking is essential, with entrance costing £39 for a day, £78 for two days, and £169 for both days including the overnight camp.

The current cycling World Champion, Mark Cavendish MBE, suggested: “This is the ideal legacy not only for our world-class team of cyclists and para-cyclists, but also for thousands of amateur cyclists. This event will be a fantastic opportunity to show Britain at its best and to share our Olympic cycling heritage.” Brian Cookson OBE, President of British Cycling seems to agree that the event is nothing short of a quiet revolution, declaring: “This event will celebrate the new place of cycling in British culture, right in the heart of the capital.”

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For those who have been lucky enough to get tickets the London 2012 Olympics, the next challenge for most is going to be finding a place to stay. Richard Hirson from onefinestay has some suggestions

With the London Olympics just around the corner the attention of the lucky few that have tickets, is now turning to where they are going to stay. With many of London’s top hotels holding their rooms for big group bookings visitors are being forced to look elsewhere for a place to stay. However, this is no bad thing as many of London hotel rooms are small, soulless and could be in any of the world’s major cities. In a city as diverse as London, there are many different and exciting alternatives places to stay which are more interesting a dull hotel.

Perhaps the most unique bedroom in London is Living Agriculture’s  A Room for London designed by David Kohn Architects, in collaboration with Fiona Banner. This temporary structure is part hotel room, part boat and is perched on top the Queen Elizabeth Hall at the Southbank Centre. With just one bedroom on offer and as it is only available for a short time,all the spaces were sold out within ten minutes of being online. This is truly unique alternative to any hotel room and its 360 degree windows give you views that are only rivaled by the London Eye.

With just two rooms, 40 Winks is likely to one of the smallest boutique hotels in the world but what it lacks in beds it certainly makes up for in character. Designed by David Carter this quirky resting place is ideal of anyone who is looking for an eccentrically English hotel in the heart of London. The hotel is also great who people who are just looking for a day out as they offer old vintage afternoon tea parties and glamorous pyjama parties to passers by.  Its unique combination of high fashion and shabby chic have made this hotel a favourite for celebrity and fashionistas.

For travelers who are looking to experience the �?real’ London then the only option is to stay in a homeof a true Londoner. This has been made possible by the launching of a series of new companies who allow guests to stay in in upscale homes while the owners are out of town. Being in the home of real local means that tourists can avoid all of the queues which are typical of a tourist hotspot such as London. In recent years there has been a large increase in couchsurfing, but this is most effective for solo travelers. This new idea of home rentals allows whole families to stay in upscale family homes which have more space than only hotel room. All onefinestay holiday rentals also come with all the amenities that you would expect from a top hotel.

For  further information on Onefinestay – a London based company  which allows visitors to live like a local  – please visit www.onefinestay.com

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