In the News this Week...

brought to you by News Editor, Roger Bray
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    Edinburgh gets new Poland, Hungary and Romania flights

    3 months ago

    New flights to Poland, Hungary and Romania are set to take off from Edinburgh. Fast growing Wizz Air will launch its new operation from the Scottish capital tomorrow with a four times a week service to Warsaw. On Saturday the airline will start operating to the Polish port city of Gdansk and Budapest, with three weekly departures to both cities and to Bucharest twice a week. Meanwhile Air India has started flying three times a week from Stansted to the Indian city of Amritsar, using a Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner. The Sikh holy city of Amritsar is in the northwest Indian state of Punjab. It is home to Harmandir Sahib, the Golden Temple and was the scene of the notorious Jallianwala Bagh massacre during a period of unrest over demands for Indian political autonomy in 1919, when British officer Acting Brigadier General Dyer ordered his troops to open fire on a dense crowd which had defied a ban on public gatherings.

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    Ben Nevis (courtesy Shearings)

    New UK walking packages launched

    3 months ago

    Coach holiday specialist Shearings has launched a new programme of five day UK walking breaks for next year. Each includes details of routes ranging in difficulty from the South Downs Way between Eastbourne to Alfriston to the tougher challenges of Helvellyn in the Lake District and Ben Nevis. Prices start at £249 per person and include hotel accommodation with half board, packed lunches and coach travel from a variety of pick up points.

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    How The Londoner will look

    June opening set for London’s “super boutique” hotel

    3 months ago

    Billed as “the world’s first super boutique hotel”, The Londoner is scheduled to open next June in the capital’s Leicester Square. And with six levels underground it will also be one of the world’s deepest buildings. Flagship property for Edwardian Hotels London, it will have 350 rooms including 35 suites, a reminder that the term “boutique” now reflects style and not necessarily scale. There will be a rooftop bar and the subterranean floors will house a luxury spa. Though the hotel is pitched strongly at business travellers and organisers of meetings and other corporate events its size and prime location in the heart of London suggest it will also be in the market for weekend leisure breaks.

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    Harbour Air seaplane

    Seaplanes could go electric

    3 months ago

    Vancouver’s characteristic seaplanes could soon be powered by electricity. As green pressure grows to restrict the amount we fly, Harbour Air, which operates scheduled and sightseeing services, says it plans to convert its first aircraft, a six passenger DHC-2 Beaver, to carry out the first flight teats later this year. It has unveiled a partnership with electric engine manufacturer magNix, whose CEO Roei Ganzarski notes that in 2018, 75% of flights worldwide were over distances of 1000 miles or less. “We see tremendous potential for electric aviation to transform this heavily trafficked ‘middle mile’ range.” Harbour Air bills itself as North America’s biggest seaplane airline. It began as a service for the British Columbia forestry industry and now has over 40 aircraft operating up to 300 flights a day and carrying some 500,000 passengers a year.

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    Arizona: spectacular stargazing deck opens

    3 months ago

    Visitors can get detailed views of planets and see more of star fields, nebulae and far galaxies using six advanced telescopes at the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona. The 4300 sq ft Giovale Open Deck Observatory promises “a viewing experience that goes far beyond seeing faint smudges of light”. Among the telescopes is an 8in refractor for close up views of the Moon, planets and dense globular star clusters and a 32in reflector with “a gargantuan quartz mirror”, allowing visitors to see the detailed structure of nebulae and galaxies. Besides its telescopes, the observatory has a range of exhibits including an interactive “planisphere” that can be adjusted to show constellations at specific times and dates.

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    Air New Zealand Boeing 787-9 by Masakatsu Ukon [CC BY-SA 2.0] via Wikimedia Commons

    Air New Zealand to axe London flights

    3 months ago

    Air New Zealand is to axe London flights after nearly 40 years of operation. The daily service Between Heathrow andbAuckland via Los Angeles will continue until October next year. The airline said no tickets had been sold for flights after that. It will now launch services between Auckland and partner United Airlines’ New York hub. Acting chief executive officer Jeff McDowall says while it is hard to leave “such an iconic route” the airline needs to focus on the greatest opportunities for long term profitable growth. “Today Kiwis have more than twice the number of ways to fly to London than a decade ago and preferences have changed. Less than seven percent of all airline travellers between Auckland and London chose to fly via Los Angeles last year. At the same time, the Atlantic has become one of the most hotly contested routes in the world and Air New Zealand lacks the home market advantages and scale of the North American and European airlines we’re up against.”

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    New lift at Trysil (courtesy Ola Matsson and resort owner SkiStar)

    Airport to open close to Scandinavian ski slopes

    3 months ago

    A new airport serving ski resorts in Norway and Sweden is scheduled to open in December. Scandinavian Mountains Airport is only 10-25 minutes from the slopes of Sälen in Sweden, which comprises four ski areas with a combined total of over 100 runs, and 40 minutes from the Norwegian resort of Trysil. Starting on 28 December SAS will fly from Heathrow to the airport once a week on Saturdays. Flights will depart from London at 6.40am, arriving at 10am. UK bound services will leave at 11.25am, arriving at 12.55pm.

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    Nigel Mansell's car (courtesy Jakob Ebrey)

    Revving up on the grid – motorsport attraction opens this week

    3 months ago

    Motor racing fans will be able to exercise their inner Murray Walkers at the new “immersive” Silverstone Experience, which opens on Friday (25 October). They’ll be able to try commentating on a race. At a replica pit wall they they’ll have the option of trying out a wheel gun. Hands on activities will include taking the wheel of a 1940s Grand Prix car. The attraction is the culmination of a £20m project backed by Prince Harry, motor racing stars including Sir Jackie Stewart and – to the tune of £9.1m – by the National Lottery Heritage Fund. It is housed in a restored Second World War RAF hangar at the Northamptonshire circuit. Exhibits include Nigel Mansell’s 1992 British Grand Prix winning Williams and Barry Sheene’s 1979 Suzuki, with his leathers and helmet, modified to enable him to smoke while wearing it. Items from the British Racing Drivers’ Club archive include a drivers’ scrapbook from the 1940s and the 1992 signing on sheet with signatures including that of Ayrton Senna besides Mansell’s. Provided there is no racing associated activity taking place visitors will be able to follow the “Heritage Track Trail”, learning about the current circuit from information panels and walking on part of the old track. Tickets will be available for allocated time slots. For further information see the Silverstone Experience

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    Sharm El-Sheik by cpadula [CC BY 2.0] via Wikimedia Commons

    Government drops Sharm el-Sheikh holiday ban

    3 months ago

    After four years the Foreign and Commonwealth Office has finally dropped its warning against all but essential travel to Sharm el-Sheik. The Egyptian Red Sea resort has been off limits to holidaymakers from the UK tourists since the bombing of a Russian Airbus A321 not long after take off from its airport, killing all 224 people om board. Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said: “The safety and security of British nationals remains our top priority and this decision follows close co-operation between our aviation security experts and their Egyptian counterparts, and improvements in security procedures at the airport”.

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    Van Gogh The Starry Night (image courtesy MOMA New York)

    New York Modern Art Museum re-opens after re-vamp

    3 months ago

    Manhattan’s Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) was scheduled to re-open today (21 October) after a $400m makeover. Besides clearing the way for a reappraisal of the way such art is presented – allowing works by artists from different eras to hang next to each other – the re-vamp will provide space to display the works of lesser known artists in its collection along with star exhibits such as those by the likes of Van Gogh and Picasso. Its three floors will now mix paintings and sculpture with disciplines such as architecture, design and film. Street level galleries will be free and the building will incorporate a studio for live progammes and performances.

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    Aerotel by Plaza Premium Heathrow T3

    Heathrow terminal gets hotel

    3 months ago

    A hotel has opened in Heathrow’s Terminal 3. The Plaza Premium Group’s Aerotel is only a few steps from check in and guests are able to book any length of stay from six hours up. It has two floors with 83 bedrooms, round the clock check in and a lounge serving all day breakfast and Chicken Tikka Masala. It offers six, nine, 12 hour and overnight stays starting at £50. Until 31 December there’s a 30% discount for guests staying nine hours or longer. And across the Atlantic a Grand Hyatt has opened on San Francisco airport. The $237m luxury property is connected to all terminals via its own station on the airport’s automated AirTrain system. It has 351 rooms, a fitness centre, a restaurant and a lounge and bar that also serves food.

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    Dorset Coast - Selworthy

    Steps to fitness – new adventure walks

    3 months ago

    The trend towards checking the number of steps you take on Fitbits or other devices is reflected in a new initiative from one of Britain’s longest established travel firms. HF Holidays has launched new adventure walking holidays including short breaks that demand 50,000 paces over three days or 100,000 over four. They are available on the Dorset Coast and in the Peak or Lake Districts, the Cotswolds, Northumberland and the South Downs and cost from £369 or £515 respectively with full board accommodation at one of the firm’s country houses. Other new walks in the adventure programme include a “Ben Nevis Challenge” and winter walking with leaders from the Plas y Brenin National Outdoor Centre.

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    Visitors will be able to leaf through guides and other old books

    Grumpy letters from Scott and Ruskin in new exhibition

    3 months ago

    A letter from Captain Scott, complaining about a map of the Antarctic, will be on display to the public for the first time in an exhibition opening on Friday. The somewhat tetchy missive was addressed to Stanfords, cartographers and long established retailers of maps, guides and travel literature. It appears Scott’s ego was pricked by the inclusion of Ernest Shackleton’s name with his own at a point marking what was then the furthest point south reached by explorers. He wrote: “According to all precedent, this coupling of Mr. Shackleton’s name with mine implies dual leadership, and it is not in accordance with fact”. Besides, he noted, the name of Scott’s other companion, Edward Wilson, was omitted. However, he was clearly mollified by a reply from Edward Stanford, offering to “omit Lieut. Shackleton’s name in the next printing”. Though this and letters from other high profile customers were dug out for Peter Whitfield’s 2001 history of Stanfords, they otherwise lay tucked away in boxes until the firm moved its London headquarters and shop to new premises not far from Long Acre, near Covent Garden, where it had traded since 1901. Among them, also born of grumpiness, is a plea from John Ruskin, who had deplored the arrival of a railway in the Derbyshire Dales with the famous lament that “every fool in Buxton can be at Bakewell in half-an-hour, and every fool in Bakewell at Buxton". Writing in 1887, he asked Messrs Stanford & Co: “Have you any school atlas or any other sort of atlas on sale at present without railroads in its maps? Of all the entirely odd stupidities of modern education, railroads in maps are the infinitely oddest to my mind”. It was signed “Ever your faithful servant and victim J Ruskin”. Other items on view include a letter of thanks for mounting some maps, from Florence Nightingale, and a 1937 invoice sent to Winston Churchill at Chartwell, for four shillings in respect of a road map of Yugoslavia. Remarkably, visitors will be able to leaf through old books, such as a fascinating atlas published to mark Queen Victoria’s jubilee in 1887. Stanfords was founded in 1853. The new shop in Mercer Walk is part of its sixth headquarters since then. The small but fascinating exhibition is in nearby Langley Street. Some of the exhibits are on loan from the British Library, The Mercers’ Company – Stanfords’ new landlords – and the Royal Geographical Society. Admission is free. There could be more gems to unearth from the firm’s own archive. Chair and CEO Vivien Godfrey, whose father and grandfather were chairmen, says: I think we have got the cream”. But she adds there are many more books of correspondence to be explored, “so it’s possible we might come across more letters from famous customers”.

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    Silver skiers prefer quiet slopes

    3 months ago

    Quiet slopes are among the strongest magnets for silver skiers and snowboarders, a new survey shows. Just over half (51%) cited them as an important element in choosing a resort, compared with 41% of those aged 25-44 and only 31% of 16-24 year olds. The research, organised by the Ski Club of Great Britain, closely followed publication of results from a questionnaire to readers by the US website, asking them what annoyed them most on the slopes. Its founders were surprised by the number who complained about rude, dangerous and out of control skiers and snowboarders, “risk takers who don’t turn on groomers (prepared pistes) and those who show “complete disregard for slower skiers”. The website is aimed at skiers and boarders aged 50 plus. The average age of Ski Club respondents was 48, indicating that a significant number were well past the half century milestone. They are likely to spend more than other age groups on their wintersports holidays and have a stronger preference for staying in hotels than in chalets or self catering, the survey shows. When deciding where to go they are much more concerned about the efficiency of the lift system and, unsurprisingly perhaps, much less bothered about bars and nightlife. The message to resorts on both sides of the Atlantic is clear. In order to attract and retain their biggest spenders they need to do more to reduce the risk of collisions by policing the slopes.

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    Sea Containers London

    Top accessible hotels named

    3 months ago

    London’s Sea Containers Hotel, on the South Bank of the Thames, has been named the capital’s most accessible place to stay. Specially commended in the inaugural Blue Badge Access Awards was The Beaumont, in Mayfair’s Brown Hart Gardens. The Kings Head in Cirencester took top spot in the boutique category and luxury Yorkshire self catering destination Cottages in the Dales was voted top venue by visitors to disabled access review site Euan’s Guide. The awards, which stem from a collaboration between Blue Badge Style, whose website reviews and offers tips on stylish and accessible places for disabled people, the Bespoke Access Awards and the Leonard Cheshire charity.

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    Image courtesy Jules Verne

    Cairo to the Cape – luxury package launched

    4 months ago

    Travel on a steamer once owned by Egypt’s notoriously self indulgent King Farouk and a train billed as the “world’s most luxurious” is included in a new Cairo to the Cape package launched by tour operator Jules Verne. Customers on the 34 day journey will spend 13 days on the Nile, aboard the privately chartered SS Misr, which was originally built for the Royal Navy and launched in 1918. Later they will spend a further eleven days travelling from Dar es Salaam in Tanzania to Cape Town on Rovos Rail’s Pride of Africa, with its wood panelled suites and elegant, updated pre-1940 dining cars. For the rest of the holiday, except for two night flights they will stay in hotels including Cape Town’s Mount Nelson. Along the way there will be visits to ancient Egyptian sites, and lectures by an Egyptologist and, on the train, by a historian. There will a day trip to Zanzibar, game drives and a stay at the Victoria Falls Hotel. Departure will be on 13 September next year and prices, as you might expect will involve a raid on the kids’ inheritance. They start at £17,495 a head.

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    Cambodia's grande dame hotel re-opens

    4 months ago

    Raffles Grand Hotel d’Angkor, which has played host to celebrities including Charlie Chaplin, President de Gaulle, Jackie Kennedy and Princess Margaret, has reopened after a six months refurbishment. Spotlights points and USB charging stations have been added in its 119 rooms and suites and bathrooms have been given a major makeover, with the installation of separate rain showers. A new restaurant – named 1932 after the year of its original opening – will be launched officially next month. The hotel, which was taken over in the 1970s by Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge regime, is in Siem Reap, close to the spectacular 12th century temple of Angkor Wat. Designed with strong art deco influences, it retains its wrought iron and wood lift.

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    El Salvador - bird watching on Lake Suchitlan (courtesy Explore)

    Guerrillas turned guides – new El Salvador tour

    4 months ago

    The former guerrilla stronghold of La Cinquera, where former fighters and their families act as guides, is included in a new tour of El Salvador launched by adventure travel specialist Explore. The rainforest village was a base for the FMLN, one of the main left wing factions during the Central American country’s long civil war in the 1980s and now one of its principal political parties. The community has established a grassroots tourism project that creates a living museum of the conflict, with the associated aim of protecting the surrounding forest from illegal logging. The eleven day trip also includes an optional boat trip on nearby Lake Suchitlan, where over 200 bird species have been recorded, a lesson in the making of the Salvadoran pupusa – thick flatbread with a variety of stuffings ranging from cheese to refried beans, a walking tour of the capital, San Salvador and a hike up Santa Ana Volcano. The trip costs from £1199 excluding flights.

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    Deal to acquire Cook's travel agencies signed

    4 months ago

    All of Thomas Cook’s 555 High Street travel agencies have been acquired by Sunderland based Hays Travel after a deal was struck with the Official Receiver and KPMG. John Hays told the BBC it was difficult to give cast iron guarantees that all the shops would remain open. Talks with individual landlords are continuing and there may be some towns and cities where Cook’s shops have been operating in competition with Hays’ existing agencies. But it was expected the vast majority would survive and with them the jobs of most of Cook’s 2500 retail staff.

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    Manchester Airport offers home bag check in

    4 months ago

    Passengers flying from Manchester Airport can now check in bags from home and collect them at their destinations. The service is available to travellers on flights with “partner airlines”, including British Airways, Virgin Atlantic, easyJet, American Airlines, Cathay Pacific and Finnair. Baggage is processed in a dedicated facility away for the terminal check in areas. The service is being operated in partnership with Airportr, which already offers it at Heathrow and Gatwick. Passengers may book it via airport’s website. They choose a 3hr collection slot from home, work or a hotel, and can follow the progress of their luggage thanks to the use of electronic tags. Prices are £20 – £30 for one bag and £7 for each extra bag.