Growing up, we never managed to go away with the whole family. My mother, Lesley, would take us to a seaside hotel in Devon or Cornwall with my grandma, and my father, George, would come down at weekends, as he was busy with work. I loved those holidays – the hotels were the sortRead More »
‘I am not blaming the resort for this, this is my wife’s fault. But just know that this is the thing that can happen at this resort,’ says man in review
American digital nomad said she was being deported ‘because I am LGBT’
Professor Yves Crozet said the train firm’s financial position was as if it had been through a war
Airbnb has been criticised for promoting large group properties in Edinburgh, despite Scotland being under a strict national lockdown. Disgruntled local residents have taken to Twitter to complain about rowdy groups staying in the city. David Weinczok wrote: “Cheers to @Airbnb for taking bookings at the height of a pandemic – currently 89 in New Town/North Edinburgh alone. “Before you say it could be for essential purposes etc. tell that to the group of 10+ drunk, shouty lads who kept me up the last two nights. Reporting them today.” Another Twitter user, travel blogger Samantha Grant, replied: “Just checked, 300+ current properties coming up on Airbnb to rent in Edinburgh without owner approval required. So while hotels, b&bs etc go out of business, these guys keep going as normal! Shocking.”
The older I get, the surer I am of it: cities are not for me. Lockdown has only further confirmed this. Currently based in the countryside; there is very little I miss about my hometown of London. In fact, I am dreading the return of noisy crowds, obscenely expensive bars and the soul-sapping daily commute. The same goes for when I travel. I see little appeal in city breaks; an immersion into slightly different versions of the same scenes, with the added inconvenience of a language barrier. The greatest adventures I’ve ever had have been situated in those alien landscapes most uncontaminated by humans; Antarctica, Lapland, the Australian Outback and the Namibian desert. My best Covid-era forays last year were to the empty places that would otherwise have been overrun with tourists; Venice and Santorini. The first place I’ll flee to as soon as restrictions lift is to the lonesome South African bush. My first holiday when this is over? Back to the best country on Earth But there is one metropolis I’m keen to tick off before I die, crowds notwithstanding, and that is Tokyo. It appeals to the somewhat unhealthy all-or-nothing aspect of my character. Before I write cities off altogether, it would surely be prudent to first experience the most cityish of all the cities in the world. If I must explore by way of overpopulated public transport, let it be the fastest train in the world; Japan’s bullet service. If I’m going to subject myself to an assault of the senses, let it be the frantic, futuristic, electric billboard-studded streets of its capital. If I’m going to be short on space, why not succumb to the novelty of sleeping in the coffin-like enclosure of a capsule hotel. If my wallet is to be abused by way of an overpriced cocktail, let it be in Asia’s most expensive city, served to me by a robot. And to hell with navigating Europe on a limited vocabulary of French and Spanish, purely out of politeness; I might as well lose myself in a place where hardly anyone speaks a word of English, and deciphering a menu or map will be all-but-impossible. That sounds like an adventure to me.
“Wind up your window and hold on,” says Othman, our driver. He floors the accelerator and we speed towards the dune, the vehicle suddenly rearing skyward as we hit the slope head-on. He grinds through the gears and we scale the soaring wall of sand, coming to an eventual rest on a high ridge. From there, the Grand Erg Occidental, the great Western Sand Sea, is visible in all its vastness. I step out of the car to take in the panorama. In every direction, great windswept dunes, some up to 400ft high, surge across the horizon like Atlantic rollers in a winter storm. Othman checks the time and walks out into their midst. He bows and falls to his knees, his tiny, praying figure highlighting the sheer enormity of the terrain. This erg alone covers an area twice the size of Belgium. One of the largest sand seas in the world, it represents just a small fraction of Algeria’s share of the Sahara, which extends north to south for a thousand miles and is considered by many to be the most beautiful desert on Earth. Othman concludes his Friday prayers and we drive to the nearby town of Timimoun, nicknamed “La Rouge” for its striking, ochre-red, mud brick architecture. “The colour not only reflects the local red rock,” he tells me. “It also represents blood; our physical sense of belonging in the desert. We feel a deep connection to it. Everyone who comes to the Sahara feels it too.” We pull up outside the police station and wait for an escort for the onward journey, a bureaucratic necessity for tourists travelling by road in much of Algeria, a country with a particular fondness for red tape. We set off in convoy and drive 400 miles across the desert’s infinite variety of landscapes, the dunes soon giving way to gravel plains, then petrified forests, and finally, a spectacular rocky oasis, the “pentapolis” of the M’Zab Valley, a chain of five ksar, or fortified cities, more than a thousand years old. First established by the Mozabites, a conservative Muslim sect, each of the ancient settlements is dominated by a mosque and minaret-cum-watchtower. Box-like houses spill down the surrounding hillsides, their roof terraces painted pastel blue – a centuries-old method for repelling mosquitoes. Similar in appearance, they are unique in atmosphere. Ghardaia is the valley’s commercial hub, with a lively, welcoming souk that sells everything from herbal haemorrhoid cures to great branches of sticky, sugary dates. El Atteuf is the oldest; its minimalist mosque was much admired by the legendary Swiss-French architect Le Corbusier, and is said to have inspired his designs for the Notre Dame chapel in Ronchamp. Beni Isguen remains the most traditional. Here, visitors can only enter the historic centre accompanied by a local, and entry times are restricted to after the Asr, the midafternoon prayer. Smoking, revealing clothes and the taking of selfies are all frowned upon.
We stand on a raised bank on Hickling Broad, clapping hands and stamping feet against the December chill. A blackbird sounds its excitable pre-bedtime “chink, chink” alarm. After a day of mist and drizzle, the winter light is fast draining into dusk. Time to be heading home, you might think. But the day’s defining performance is still to come. First, a dark shape appears, drifting low over the marsh. Our binoculars reveal the signature shallow-V flight profile of a marsh harrier, returning to its communal roost. No sooner have we picked out three more, straining the limits of our vision, than a clarion bugling diverts our gaze to a line of larger birds emerging from the south. Deep wingbeats and outstretched necks identify these as cranes, Hickling’s speciality. Their high, rolling calls bring a brief blast of northern taiga before they, too, drop down into the reeds. Even now, the show isn’t over. With the landscape reduced to silhouette, a murmur rises in the north, quickly swelling in volume, like a distant advancing mob. “Pink-feet,” says Mike. “Look up.” And here they come: a straggling army of pink-footed geese materialising in waves against the last of the light. The thin etch-a-sketch skeins thicken, converging overhead in a milling canopy of birds thousands-strong, their individual voices lost in one overwhelming clamour. We stare up in awe as they pass, then they’re gone. With the sky silent, but our ears still ringing, we turn back towards the car park.
Hoteliers across England have spoken out about the need for hospitality to reopen by Easter. With March being touted for a possible lifting of restrictions, Easter, which this year falls relatively early, on the first weekend of April, will be more key than ever for businesses hoping to recover some of the catastrophic losses they have suffered. Dan Brod, who owns the Beckford Group, which operates four pubs with rooms in the south-west (The Beckford Arms, The Talbot Inn, The Bath Arms at Longleat and The Lord Poulett Arms), said: "It is not just a wish but simply an absolute necessity that Government reopens hospitality (that is able to offer some social distancing) by Easter. He went on to point out the huge amounts businesses such as his had to cover in order to make their premises Covid-secure last year, only for many to be forced to close again once the tier system was in place if an area went into Tier 3 (or later, 4), under which only takeaway was allowed. Furthermore, in the month leading up to the second national lockdown in November, hospitality (bars, cafés, pubs and restaurants) accounted for less than three per cent of outbreaks, according to figures from Public Health England. "During the [first] lockdown we put in every possible measure, including building ventilated custom-made marquees costing tens of thousands of pounds. Grants have not gone anywhere near the real costs to our business and Government never really appreciated the cost of shutting down and starting up again. [Data has shown that Covid did not spread significantly] in hospitality, as we put many mitigating measures in place. "We must be put in a position where not only can we survive, but we can put back into the economy what we have been helped with by Government," he said.
“You couldn’t keep any secrets for five hours in this border town,” writes Graham Greene in the 1938 story ‘Across the Bridge’. The narrator is in an unnamed town on the Mexican side of the US/Mexico border. “There was no interest in the place for anyone; it was just damp and dust and poverty, a kind of shabby replica of the town across the river: both had squares in the same spots; both had the same number of cinemas. One was cleaner than the other, that was all, and more expensive, much more expensive.” There are shoeshines, a stray dog, the comfort of strangers, no good hotels; a car dealer fails to show up. This being Greene there’s a a fugitive millionaire and a couple of agents on his tail. There is languor; there is tension. I read Greene’s story years before I crossed the border from Tijuana into San Diego – by accident, as it happens, because the bullying traffic jostled me and siphoned me over. I did a speedy U-turn and came right back to Mexico. Give me danger and dodginess over a zoo, every time. I was interested in seeing the US, not visiting it. During the next couple of days I’d find vantage points to look across, over the satellite dishes and antennae on the roofs of gimcrack apartment blocks built on the worst side of town, into the land of the free. And then I’d look around me. Compare and contrast. California was once one long territory from the bottom of Baja up to Oregon. The border – a fence, a river, barriers and the machinery of police and customs – cut it in half, as they do the history of the two Americas.
'It was a selfish decision. There's no reason that I can give you to grant me a second chance,' Skylar Mack says
The Seychelles has reopened to visitors from anywhere in the world who have received two doses of an authorised vaccine for Covid-19, becoming the first country in the world to do so. In December, Cyprus also announced a plan to waive testing requirements for arrivals who have been vaccinated, making it the first destination to specify that immunised travellers will not need to meet other Covid-related entry rules. However, the country's ministry of health is yet to confirm if this will go ahead, as planned, in March. The announcement from the Seychelles followed the start of its vaccination roll-out: it plans to become the first country to immunise more than 70 per cent of its population under 18. “From there we will be able to declare Seychelles as being COVID safe,” said President of the Republic of Seychelles, H E Wavel Ramkalawan. International visitors are vital to the economies of both countries. The contribution of travel and tourism to the Seychelles' GDP is around 65 per cent; for Cyprus it is 23 per cent. It should be noted that no approved Covid-19 vaccine has yet been shown to prevent transmission of the virus. Other countries have also made steps towards allowing unrestricted, or less restricted, entry to those inoculated against the virus. Iceland allows proof of Covid-19 antibodies for entry in lieu of a negative test result (surely vaccinated tourists will soon be given the same pass). Meanwhile, European Union members are lobbying for a “vaccination passport”, with the EU as a whole considering a bloc-wide certificate. Other nations, such as Israel, have firm plans to launch one. So which countries might be among the next to re-open to immunised tourists? Based on vaccination roll-outs, economic dependence on tourism and support for vaccine passports, these could be in the running. Greece EU countries should adopt a “standardised” vaccination certificate in order to boost travel, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said in a letter to European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen last week. Mr Mitsotakis said people who have been vaccinated should be free to travel. "It is urgent to adopt a common understanding on how a vaccination certificate should be structured so as to be accepted in all member states," he said, calling for a "standardised certificate, which will prove that a person has been successfully vaccinated". Greece is far down the worldwide leader board of vaccine roll-outs with just 0.8 doses delivered per 100 people. However, mainland Greece and its islands, which remained one of a limited number of quarantine-free destinations for Britons for much of last summer, rely heavily on tourism: the contribution to its GDP is around 21.5 per cent. UAE The United Arab Emirates is at second place in the worldwide race to immunise populations; 19.9 Covid jabs have been administered per 100 people. Meanwhile, the UAE has licence for the Sinopharm vaccine, which it can produce itself rather than importing it. It has begun to donate doses to other, less developed countries: 50,000 were delivered to the Seychelles. Dubai specifically was keen to welcome back tourists in 2020, opening up in July and allowing entry with a short quarantine and negative Covid test. This has since been changed to a negative Covid test taken no more than 96 hours before departure for UK travellers. The contribution of travel and tourism to the UAE’s economy is 10 per cent. Most recently, a UAE airline has launched a vaccine passport. In partnership with the International Air Transport Association, Emirates is one of the first airlines worldwide to trail the IATA Travel Pass, which comes in the form of a mobile app. The pass will allow passengers to create a digital passport to verify their pre-travel Covid test or vaccination meets the requirements of their destination. It will also be used to share test and vaccination certificates with authorities and airlines. Emirates plans to start the first phase of this trial in Dubai, from April; customers travelling to Dubai will be able to share their Covid-19 test results with the airline prior to arriving at the airport.
Business travel has been dealt another blow as tough new border restrictions come into force. Elsewhere, vital business link Eurostar is on the brink and airlines continue to slash premium cabin seats. But what do these ongoing troubles mean for the future of the industry? Over the weekend, executives and entrepreneurs were quietly struck off the UK quarantine exemptions list, meaning they will now have to isolate for up to 10 days upon arrival, essentially ending the limited business travel that had been occurring. The sharp policy change comes only a month after Transport Secretary Grant Shapps launched a special fast-track route for business executives, saying it could generate millions of pounds of new investment and jobs for the UK. Meanwhile, it has emerged that Eurostar is on track for financial collapse following a 95 per cent drop in passengers since the onset of the pandemic. Industry sources said that forecasts indicate it could run out of money as early as April, although company insiders insisted its reserves could be stretched until the summer. A spokesperson for the company said: “Without additional funding from the Government, there is a real risk to the survival of Eurostar as the current situation is very serious.” The prospect of losing the vital link to the continent in a post-Brexit landscape has led to British business leaders writing to the Chancellor Rishi Sunak asking for “swift action to safeguard its future.”