Sunday, December 28, 1997

From Amsterdam to Zambia: travel 1998

From Amsterdam to Zambia: travel 1998

With high culture in Stockholm, low fares across America and a new, tourist-friendly Tripoli, 1998 will see a range of fresh options opening up in the world of travel. Jeremy Atiyah and Simon Calder offer their own A to Z of what's happening, when - and where

A is for Amsterdam... particularly on the weekend of 18 and 19 April when you can tiptoe through Holland's museums for free (or almost free). Over 800 Dutch museums throw their doors open to the public.

B is for Blue Sky... British Airways' new cut-price offshoot, which should start flying in the spring from Stansted. BA picked up the name when it bought British Caledonian (remember them - they never forgot you had a choice); Blue Sky was the name of that airline's tour operating subsidiary.

C is for Culture... when you hear the word you should reach for your credit card and book a flight to Sweden where Stockholm will be the 1998 European Capital of Culture. Until this summer, flying from Britain to Sweden for a low fare was tricky. Then Ryanair solved both problems at once. For pounds 99 plus tax you can fly from the Essex airport to what is euphemistically described as "Stockholm South". A connecting bus covers the 60 miles into town in about 80 minutes, for pounds 11 return.

D is for Duty Free... Another triumph for European federalism; 1998 will be the last full year before the final phasing out of duty free shopping for journeys within the European Union in 1999. For cheap wine and beer you will then have to get off the boat and go into the nearest French hypermarche.

E is for England... a cultural entity that looks set to reappear in the collective hearts and minds of the English as power begins to devolve to Scotland and Wales and the British Tourist Authority starts talking about how to brand the Real England.

F is for Free-wheeling... According to Richard Trillo of the Rough Guides, seeing regions in microcosm - crossing 20 miles a day instead of 200 - will be the hippest way to go in 1998. In other words, bicycling will be big.

G is for Gold Rush... an example of which occurred in California exactly 150 years ago. It was 24 January 1848 that gold was first discovered in Oakland California, a discovery which doomed the entire area to rapid development. 1998 is liable to produce another rush as tourism leaps in to capitalise on the anniversary.

H is for Havana... where there will be celebrations in the Cuban capital on 8 January, commemorating the entrance into Havana of Fidel Castro in 1959 - the event depicted on the one-peso note. As the Revolution moves towards middle age, Dr Castro approaches old age with his economy in tatters (the aforementioned note is officially worth one US dollar, but in practice you get 20 to the dollar).

I is for the Internet... which is going to play an ever larger role in the way we book our holidays. Keep an eye out for sites such as: (an index through which you can book hotel rooms, flights, rental cars or check on flight times around the world) and (one of the proliferating number of travel magazines; this one specialises in getting about cheaply).

J is for Jet Kerosene... the standard aviation fuel (which is remarkably similar to domestic paraffin and for which British Airways won't tell us how much it pays). International agreements mean that it has so far escaped tax but with finance ministers around the world trying to work out how to milk travellers more assiduously, you may encounter fare rises in the year ahead.

K is for Kandy... the hill-top station on the Indian Ocean island of Sri Lanka, a country which is celebrating its 50th anniversary of independence on 4 February. For all the efforts of the Tamil Tigers, interest in the island is booming: The travel guidebook publishers Lonely Planet says its book on Sri Lanka is the surprise top seller this winter.

L is for Libya... which is going to be 1998's coolest destination for the Real Traveller. Hard on the heels of Gaddafi's decision to promote tourism, a series of British tour operators are beating a path to the Roman ruins, sand dunes and palm trees that lie between Cairo and Tunis.

M was for Mackinaw City, Michigan... until it abandoned its annual Soap Opera Fanfare, which will now not take place in 1998. Instead, forsake this dowdy Midwest town for nearby Motown; chartbusting Detroit will have you dancing in the streets (so long as the muggers don't get to you first).

N is for Nagano... where the Winter Olympic Games are due to take place in Japan in February. Not only is Japan one of the world's major skiing countries, but it is also one of the few places where you can watch macaque monkeys with frosted faces bathing in hot springs as you ski.

O is for Oporto... in English at least. Top billing goes to Lisbon this year, venue for Expo 98, but Portugal has much more to offer beyond its capital. Enjoy the country's second city, Oporto, a good-natured conurbation devoted to port. All the famous names blend wines and brandies to create a crisp white aperitif for the locals and a rich red digestif for the British.

P is for partying like it's 1999... After next Wednesday, there is only one more opportunity to get your New Year's Eve technique ready for 31 December 1999 (as long as you don't live in Dubai, whose hotels deemed yesterday, 27 December, to be New Year's Eve in order to avoid a clash with Ramadan, the Muslim month of fasting).

Q is for, inevitably, Quebec... Avoid the 1998 World Cup in France in June and July by going to the most French place in North America. Quebec City is a charming and confusing entity, quite as quixotic as the most atmospheric French city. Many Americans visit as a cut-price alternative to a trip to Europe. Cottages tumble down the hillside in random ragged ribbons, a street plan thoroughly at odds with the rest of North America. The atmosphere is faux Parisian and the food is divine.

R is for Recycling Destinations... That may sound like industry jargon, but it is also the phrase that Jennifer Cox of Lonely Planet employs to describe the post-modern phenomenon of trendy travellers reclaiming the holiday destinations of their 
ancestors. Watch out for floods of discerning travellers in the Costa del Sol next year.

S is for Southwest Airlines... the US cut-price carrier that inspired EasyJet and its competitors. An pounds 83 airpass will get you from coast to coast - and the airline gives you four vouchers for free inflight drinks, too.

T is for Thailand... Since the collapse of the Thai currency there is even less reason for anyone not to visit the land of King Prawns and lemon grass, especially given that the locals need tourist revenues more badly than ever. If you still need motivation, read Alex Garland's novel The Beach, dealing with dissipated youth on Thai beaches (due to be made into a film next year as well).

U is for the Underground in London... whose fares rise yet again next Sunday. The capital has the most expensive public transport of any major city. A journey within the central area will cost a minimum of pounds 1.30, which means that for the journey from Covent Garden to Leicester Square the mileage rate will be more than pounds 8 - nine times the rate on Concorde.

V is for vertical integration... whereby Britain's biggest tour operators own chains of High Street travel agencies, as reported on last week by the Monopolies and Merger Commission. Next year - thanks to the report - you will not be forced to buy overpriced travel insurance to qualify for holiday discounts.

W is for the World Cup... which could turn the British middle classes' favourite discreet holiday destination into a maelstrom next June and July. A million or two football supporters (not all of them, thankfully, English) will descend on France in the summer of 1998, causing hotel prices to rise and public transport to jam. Englishmen who dislike their compatriots should particularly avoid La Baule, near Nantes, where the team will prepare, and Toulouse, Marseilles and Lens in mid June.

X is for Xinjiang... the largest place in the world whose name begins with the letter X (shame on you if you cannot place this autonomous region of China which is twice as large as Germany and France combined). Xinjiang may enter the news in 1998 if simmering discontent in the local populations boils over causing the closure of tourist destinations such as Kashgar and Turpan.

Y is for the Yangtze River... another part of China that won't be out of the news next year. As construction work on the monumental Three Gorges Dam project continues, tourists will need to be quick if they want to catch a glimpse of the historic gorges before they are submerged forever.

Z is for Zambia... Last year it was Zimbabwe that featured strongly in predictions of where would be big for the forthcoming year, not least because southern Africa is fast leaving war and political chaos behind it (and not because there are so few places beginning with Z, honest).

Sunday, December 21, 1997

Want to stuff the turkey? It's never too late to escape

Want to stuff the turkey? It's never too late to escape

Jeremy Atiyah reviews great last-minute getaways, from Istanbul to, er, Corby
Jeremy Atiyah 
Sunday, 21 December 1997
Have you had enough of Christmas? Those who loathe the festive season and all its works - the relations, the overcooked turkey, and the British damp - are fleeing this weekend. But should you suddenly decide you can't face it, there is still time to get away. A surprising range of possibilities is available for the coming week, on condition (a) that you are not fussy where you go or (b) that you are willing to spend a lot of money.
For those who do like Christmas but want to avoid the work, the solution could be a stay in a posh hotel in this country. Exclusive Hotels - a chain of British country house hotels - are hosting Christmas and New Year packages which should be available right up to Christmas Eve.
How about an action-packed four-night break at The Manor House (tel 01249 782 206) in Castle Combe, starting with afternoon tea on Christmas Eve and running through to a champagne breakfast on the 28th? It costs pounds 725 per person, but that is full-board and includes not only visits from Father Christmas, but also hunting, racing, golf and pantomines. Similar packages will be available at Lainston House in Winchester (01962 863 588) and South Lodge in West Sussex (01403 891 711).
If your problem is fear of loneliness and idleness, you could give Solo's (0181-951 2800) a call. They still have places for "adventurous over-50s" in Corby to spend three nights at the Stakis Hotel, including a four-by-four driving exercise on Christmas Day folowed by endurance go-kart racing.
Leaving the country also remains an option. Thomas Cook says customers walking into its shops on 22 or 23 December will be able to get something straight away, probably to the areas of highest capacity such as the Canaries or Balearics (tel 0990 181818).
For the cheapest possible escape to the continent, you can hop on to a ferry at Ramsgate for Ostend - a day-trip on Holyman Sally Ferries (0990 595522) costs pounds 7.50 any day over the holiday period except for Christmas Day (when there are no sailings). You won't escape Christmas in Belgium but you might be able to fit in some ice-skating in the town's main plaza which is used as an open-air rink. Another tempting little Belgian escape would be to Bruges with Inntravel (01653 628862) on 30 December, where pounds 232 per person will get you two nights in a 14th-century canal-side hotel including a slap up New Year's Eve dinner (and travel by Eurostar).
Many European city breaks in the days immediately after Christmas are still bookable. David Deane, product manager of Ingham's (0181-780 7700), says although flights back from Spain in the first days of 1998 are booked solid, from Italy and anywhere in eastern or northern Europe, including Paris, there is still availability.
How about Istanbul for the new year? Savile's Turkish Collection (0171- 625 3001) have availability at the Bosphorous Pasha Hotel (with private landing stage), departing on 30 December. Two nights in a deluxe double room with views will cost pounds 599 each.
If that doesn't sound exotic enough, how about these African Christmas breaks still available through Union-Castle Travel (0171-229 1411)? Departing on the 23 and 24 of December are luxury one-week trips to Botswana and Zimbabwe respectively. These all-inclusive water and land safaris in the wide open spaces of southern Africa cost pounds 2,999 per person. But you could book tomorrow and be there by Christmas.
The United States is probably off-limits and you may have left it too late to go skiing, at least in your resort of choice, though Crystal have a handful of departures on 27 December for Austria and Italy (resorts allocated on arrival). Thomas Cook, however, is confident that last- minute ski breaks will be available right through the Christmas period.

Sunday, December 7, 1997

Old travellers don't die. They just end up in Patagonia

Old travellers don't die. They just end up in Patagonia

Jeremy Atiyah 
Sunday, 7 December 1997
You have caught me in the very act of superficially scratching a surface. The surface, that is, of not merely a city or even a country - but of half a continent. You may not yet believe that I am writing these words in a stuffy hotel room in downtown Buenos Aires but once you have seen the depth of my insights you will.
Surfaces are there to be scratched. I now know for example, on the basis of a class in a dusty Argentine dance hall, that EL TANGO is a dance whose name should only ever be written in capital letters. I also know that no philosophising pseud ever disappeared up their own backside to the extent that this dance has. Here are some instructions on the eight basic steps for a man:
Just walk as you would walk in search of a woman. Walk with the nature, walk as if you were a human being. Walk as if you were laying waste to the cowardice and treachery of your life.
Got that? Walk. Naturally. Towards the woman (not away from her). That's how I became a dancer on Monday. On Tuesday I went to Uruguay.
Another profoundly superficial experience. Let me tell you what I learned about that little country which has won the World Cup twice. For a start it has an old Portuguese city called Colonia just across the River Plate from Buenos Aires. There is also a farm about 10 miles away up the coast where you can buy a soft, squidgy, toffee-like substance called "dulce de leche". It's sunny but it rains in the afternoon.
But this is dangerously detailed. Let me get back to safer territory - for example the generalities that I am going to learn when I get to Chile, the world's only two dimensional country.
The potential for surface-scratching in the thinnest of countries is quite enormous. I will doubtless ask people what they think about the new economic prosperity in their country; they will doubtless reply that things have become far too expensive. I will ask about politics; they will tell me that nothing changes. I will then go down to the coast at Valparaiso and look out across the Pacific Ocean and tell myself that one day I too will cross those waters. Then I will return home.
Waffle? Possibly, though I prefer to think of "broad-brush effects" and "majestic, sweeping panoramas". Anyway I have hardly started. Here's another thing I picked up, just by looking at the map: That the southern part of South America is indeed the place where you would want to be stranded on holiday if nuclear war broke out.
Because this is the continent on the way to nowhere. Both Argentina and Chile enjoy the luxury of tapering away to the most terminal dead-end on the face of the earth; to the land of fire and spray and ice-bergs (and Welsh sheep farmers) where the concept of an international metropolis is Stanley on the Falkland Islands.
Patagonia is the place where the mad English walkers, American train- spotters and Belgian cyclists who dream of traversing the entire planet always end up because there is literally nowhere else for them to go. After years of walking (or train-spotting or cycling) they finally come to the cliff overlooking Cape Horn and realise that an end is an end. It is not a good place to realise that one has taken a wrong turning somewhere in Texas.
Or so I suppose. The fact that I am not going to get to within 2,000 miles of Patagonia means that I cannot confirm the details.