Category Archives: England

Latest Air-Travel Add-On: Complaining

U.K. Passengers may pay to complain.

ComplaintDeptThis is rich. In an effort to lighten its workload, Britain’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) wants to shift some passenger complaints to Alternative Dispute Resolutions”(ADRs). There are three, and oddly,  two of them propose to charge an upfront fee £25 that will only be refunded if if the customer’s complaint is deemed “successful.”

The first step in complaining remains to address the airline itself. The second step, in case the problem is not resolved or the airline does not respond, would be to proceed to an ADR, which in theory should avoid an eventual court case.  The ADR’s decision would be binding, but it it anything like the way FINRA (Financial Industry Regulatory Authority) handles investor complains in the U.S., it’s usually futile to go that route.

Nineteen airlines have reportedly moved their conflict resolution to an ADR. These include  British Airways, easyJet and Thomas Cook Travelers.

Tower Bridge’s Spectaular Glass Walkway

New visitor attraction at old Victorian Bridge.

TowerBridgeVisitors may now see London’s iconic Tower Bridge from a new angle — from new glass walkways situated between the towers 45 meters (nearly 150 feet) above the Thames. It is an expansion of the Tower Experience, a museum display that includes historic displays and the bridge’s original workings. Since 1982, Tower Bridge Exhibition has told the history of the bridge and why it came into existence through this fascinating exhibition. The new high-level walkways are something else. Transparent glass floors provides a bird’s eye view of the bridge deck and the raising, lowering and passage of ships far below. The walk-up cost to experience this is £9 per adult, but less expensive options also exist.

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Vicarious Visit to France Via the Tour de France

TV coverage is about cycling — and scenery.

TourDeFrance-logoThe 2014 Tour de France is beginning in a few days with three opening stages in England followed by the remainder in France. This will be an unusual route — no Alpe d’Huez, no Mont Ventoux, just nip into the Pyrenees but lots of Yorkshire. Longtime commentators Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen know the roads and landmarks of France very well, but both are born Brits, which should make for interesting words. I really admire the French TV feed of the landscape, villages and cities on the Tour route. Every time I watch, I want to go to Europe. Right away!

TDF2014-map

 

Ride High Over Las Vegas in a “Super Wheel”

World’s biggest Ferris Wheel derivative is Sin City’s newest attraction.

LasVegas-signIn Las Vegas, the house always wins. It is the site of the world’s largest “observation wheel,” several generations removed from the old-time Ferris wheel. With the inauguration of the High Roller launched yesterday with champagne-bottle-breaking fanfare, Las Vegas has won bragging rights for the world’s largest observation wheel for now.

The SkyView HighRoller, or HighRoller Sky Vue, or some other ame welcomed its first passengers yesterday.
A rendering of the SkyViue High Roller or High Roller SkyVue, which welcomed its first passengers yesterday.

It is 550 feet high with 28 40-passenger stand-up glass cabins suspended on the outside of the wheel so as not to obstruct the view. The cabins are designed to revolve around SkyVue, an enormous LED screen promoted as “one of the most effective advertising platforms in the world….With over 100,000 square feet of high definition LED screen, SkyVue integrates the bright lights of Times Square with the eye popping views with the London Eye.”

If eyeballs from pedestrians and people in vehicles the ground aren’t enough, SkyVue screen on the High Roller is visible to more than 39 million airline passengers a year as they take off and land at nearby McCarran Airport, along with guests at high-rise hotels whose rooms look toward it. Caesar’s Entertainment, the High Roller’s developer, sold the naming rights to SkyVue for $1.2 million.

VitalVegas.com, an award-winning local blog, has tempered its enthusiasm for this spectacular attraction, noting:

“SkyVue, plagued by rumors of financial problems and construction delays, was considered by some to be an unlikely candidate to get naming rights to what industry insiders consider “a competing attraction.” Caesars Entertainment, however, felt otherwise. Caesars Entertainment has not been without financial turmoil of its own. The company has approximately $24.5 billion (yes, billion) in debt, or about what it would cost to purchase Paraguay.”

Still, the waiting line for the inaugural day of the super-sized observation wheel was measured at five hours — but maybe that was just to be the first to ride it. The cost is $30 for a 30-minute ride. Each cabin can accommodate a roll-in bar for an intimate private party — even a modest wedding. Reports are that the first marriage proposal occurred on opening day.

This Vegas attraction is the latest entry in what I think of as the “wonder wheel wars.” In the US, contenders are the High Roller (550 feet) and 190 meter (623 feet) the New York Wheel (623 feet), which was scheduled to start construction “early in 2014” on, of all places, Staten Island. Elsewhere, the Singapore Flyer (541 feet), the Star of Nanchang in southeastern China (525 feet) and the London Eye (443 feet) reign over their respective landscapes. Construction was supposed to begin last April on Bluewaters Island, a new island that I believe was recently completed in Dubai, will be the site of The Dubai Eye (650 feet), which will surpass its existing and planned rivals — until China or someone else comes up with an even bigger one.

It is not Las Vegas’s first High Roller — and I’m not counting humans. In 1996, a steel roller coaster called the High Roller opened on top of  the 909-foot Stratosphere Tower, the tallest free-standing observation tower in the country. It wasn’t all that popular, was difficult to maintain and was dismantled in 2005.

Princess Diana Exhibit Coming to Canada

Mammoth West Edmonton Mall to host Princess Diana exhibit

Diana-logoIn the years since the storybook wedding when Lady Diana Spencer married Prince Charles, the heir to the British throne, the royals have provided a stream of news: babies, betrayal, divorce, a suspicious death and another storybook wedding. But through all that, Diana, the Princess of Wales continues to live in the public’s affection. Now, “Diana: A Celebration,” a dazzling exhibition that chronicles the life and work of one of the most complex and remarkable women of our time is on display at the West Edmonton Mall from February 9 through June 9.

The exhibit, which will cover almost 7,000 square feet, contains 150 objects in nine galleries. Among the items are Princess Diana’s magnificent royal wedding gown with its 25- foot-long train, 28 of of the royal fashionista‘s dresses, family heirlooms, jewels, personal mementos, paintings and rare home movies and photos. Also in the exhibit are the original text of the Earl Spencer’s moving tribute to his sister at the funeral in Westminster Abbey and books of condolences left by people throughout the world.

Display of Diana's wedding gown with its 25-foot train.
Display of Diana’s wedding gown with its 25-foot train.

On loan from Althorp, the Spencer family’s 500-year-old ancestral home in England, Diana, A Celebration, chronicles the life of Diana and invites people to share the milestones of her many roles:  as a youngster, schoolgirl and athlete; as the shy kindergarten teacher who was said to have captured the heart of the prince (although subsequent events proved that not to be as billed.  The public loved her as a young, ravishing royal bride, devoted mother, sister and daughter, and as the tireless charity advocate and spokeswoman.

Diana, A Celebration was produced by Arts and Exhibitions International and all profits generated from the exhibition at Althorp and overseas go to the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fund. While the exhibit has traveled extensively around the United States since it was established in 1998 (it recently closed at the Frazier Hisotry Museum in Louisville, Kentucky), it has only had one other Canadian stop and that was in Toronto a decade ago.

Tickets are already on sale at the mall’s guest services for C$23.10 for ages 13 and older, $16.90 for ages 60+ and $18.90 for ages 12 and under, or online from Ticketmaster, which adds service charges.

Televised Time Travel to ‘Downton Abbey’ Tonight

Highclere Castle, the real Downtown Abbey.
Highclere Castle, the real Downtown Abbey.

Highclere Castle is site of hit PBS series

National Public Television’s “Downton Abbey” returns tonight for its third season. Millions of us fans can hardly wait to be transported into the upstairs/downstairs world of early 20th century England. It is filmed at Highclere Castle. home of the Earl and Countess or Carnarvon and remains a distinctive country manor inhabited by a distinguished and noble family. The home and the gardens are closed to the public in winter. Tickets for summer visits will be released in Feburary. Meanwhile, the online gift shop is open for shopping year-round.

‘Shades of Grey’ Now In Lake District Hotel

Damson Dene Hotel

Titillating bestseller lands modest English hotel in the news

When I read the USA Today headline, British Hotel Replaces Bibles With ‘Fifty Shades of Grey,’ I imagined the mega-stink that would be raised if a hotel in the US — even a modest 40-room establishment — were to do the same thing. The paper quoted  a blog post  by hotel owner, Jonathan Denby, and it is only one of several international newspaper and broadcast reports on the topic:

“Tonight millions of women will be curling up in bed with a good book and you can bet your life it won’t be the Bible. More likely than not it will be Fifty Shades of Grey. I haven’t read the book yet – I’m not in the target audience – but I’m told it’s a ripping good yarn and everyone who’s in the target audience loves it. This made me wonder about the sense of providing a book, the Gideon Bible which noone reads, and many dislike, in the bedside cabinet of our hotel bedrooms, instead of a book which everyone wants to read, such as Fifty Shades of Grey.”

The Damson Dene Hotel certainly is not a no-tell motel in a questionable area. It is an award-winning charmer in the village of Crosthwaite near Bowness-on-Windermere in the lovely Lake District. I have no idea whether Denby did this for his guests or for the publicity inherent in the audacious move. The local vicar denounced the switch as a gimmick, and Denby told NBC that he has received admonitions from America.”People in the States feel much more strongly. We’ve had quite a few e-mails quoting the scriptures to us and suggesting that it would be a good thing to put the Bible back.” The American admonishers presumably don’t tend to quote Matthew 7:1-5: “Judge not lest ye be judged.” For the record, Denby says that Bibles are still available from the reception desk.

For my part, I don’t much care what people read, and it strikes me that Denby was pretty clever, no matter what his initial motivation might have been. I haven’t read Fifty Shades of Grey, though I sure wish I had written it. Author E.L. James (a Brit BTW) has reportedly earned $50 million. So far.

London Railroad Hotel Reopens with Victorian Splendor

The historic Grand Midland ressurrected as St. Pancras Renaissance Hotel London, officially re-opening today

William and Kate have been married for nearly a week now. The horses are re-stabled, the carriages and uniforms put away for the next state occasion, the tourists gone home, most Londoners returned from their extended holiday and the father of the groom, Prince Charles, is in Washington. D.C., visiting an urban farm near the Capitol, meeting American dignitaries and otherwise performing his royal duties. More enduring news for travelers is the rebirth of the Grand Midland Hotel, which was officially opened by Queen Victoria, Prince William’s several-times-great-grandmother in 1873. The long-shuttered railroad hotel had been resurrected as the glorious St. Pancras Renaissance Hotel London, part of the Marriott family of properties.  Guests have been staying there for serveral weeks (I’m sure including during the royal wedding), but the grand opening is today.

When Sir George Gilbert Scott's architectural masterpiece, the Midland Grand Hotel, opened 138 years ago, it was described by many as the most romantic building in London.
this romantically designed, The Victorian landmark, one of London's most spectacular, has re-opened following a stunning restoration as a five-star hotel within the St Pancras International station.

I learned about this, of all places, on a blog about France called The Provence Post. In a post called “A Major Hotel Renaissance in London,” blogger Julie Mautner, who lives n St. Remy, noted, “The new hotel—a 12 year project that cost £150 million–marks the completion of the regeneration of the St. Pancras International Station, which was completely restored and reopened in 2007. It’s now the home of Eurostar, the high-speed train connecting London to Paris, Lille and Brussels via the Channel Tunnel. ” And that’s how this news from the middle of London ended up in a blog about the South of France. Julie can hop aboard a seasonal Eurostar train in Avignon, arrive six hours later at St. Pancras and go directly to the hotel to see it in person. Me? Not quite such convenience.

Will High-Tech Border Fence Become a Tourist Attraction?

Other walls that kept people apart eventually draw tourists together

Walls are sometimes meant to keep people in (prisons, for example) and sometimes to keep them out (fortresses). The Great Wall of China to keep the Mongols out, Hadrian’s Wall to protect the Roman presence in Britain against raiders from the north, the Berlin Wall to keep the East Germans in and Israel’s walls to contain Palestinians are just a few examples over the centuries. 

I’ve walked along the Great Wall of China in both directions from Bandoling, an attraction for foreign tourists and visitors alike, because it is the most convenient segment to Beijing and the most developed as well.

The Great Wall of China, built in the 3rd century, B.C.

I’ve hiked along a section of Hadrian’s Wall west of Carlisle. Once a formidable barrier, it is now a UNESCO World Heritage site and north England’ s most popular tourist attraction.

Hadrian's Wall, begun in 120 A.D. and more than 70 miles long.

Nothing symbolized the Cold War more than the Berlin Wall, which divided the city that once was (and is now again) the capital of Germany.  Segments of the Wall have been relocated all over the world to memorialize the terrible tensions of the Cold War era and all the repression involved. The first time I went to Europe, I passed through Checkpoint Charlie separating the two halves of divided Berlin. Germany and Berlin have been reunified, and I’ve seen segements of the wall in Manhattan, Rapid City and elsewhere. I haven’t seen the one at Israel’s Ein Hod Artists’ Village, an sad and ironic place for it, since Israel is still building its dispiriting security wall.

Built in 1961 to divide East and West Berlin

Israel started building a formidable wall after the Second Intifada in 2003, and they haven’t stopped yet. An eight-foot wall cuts through some Palestinian towns and surrounds others, separates farmers from their field and their livestock, and makes Palestinians prisoners on their land. I passed through it in June going to and from the airport in Tel Aviv. It is not a tourist attraction but rather an impediment to Palestinian people and a provocation to them. Hopefully, a two-state solution will be hammered out of this bitter conflict and the wall (or small sections of it) will eventually become a curiosity and tourist attraction too.

The wall was begun in 2003 and is still under construction. When completed (or if completed) it will be 760 kilometers long (430 or so miles -- but correct my arithmetic if I'm wrong).

Another barrier, this one high-tech rather than brick and mortar, is/was a planned “virtual” border fence between the US and Mexico. This Bush administration brainchild, conceived in 2005 and was sold to Congress and the tax-paying public as chain of cameras, ground sensor and radar installations that were to detect “illegals” crossing the 2,000-mile border between the US and Mexico. Boeing has raked in a billion dollars, only about 53 miles of fence were ever constructed. Janet Napolitano is the  former governor of Arizona (you know, the state where Congresswomen, federal judges and 9-year-olds occasionally get shot), knows something about border problems and immigration issues. She is now the Secretary of Homeland Security and announced a few days ago that the project is dead. What took the Obama Administration so long to dump it? It cost $15 million a mile — money that could have gone elsehwere. Looking at previous attempts at fence-building, I wonder whether the bit of “virtual” fence will ever be a sightseeing attraction. You be the judge.

Installations like this were supposed to secure the 2,000-mile-long US-Mexico border. Only 53 miles have been built, and that's it. Have taxpayers gotten their billion bucks' worth?

 With the dream of a high-tech barrier stretching from one end of America’s southern border to the other – originally hailed by then-President George W. Bush as “the most technically advanced border security initiative” ever – officially canceled, I wonder what the next frontier will be to keep people out or in or have something to look at when it’s finished.

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In announcing that it would pull the plug on the troubled “virtual fence” project, the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) said Friday it would instead pursue a region-by-region approach, with different parts of the US border protected in different ways as dictated by terrain and other area-specific conditions.

“This new strategy is tailored to the unique needs of each border region, providing faster deployment of technology, better coverage, and a more effective balance between cost and capability,” said DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano in a statement.

Heavy Snows Paralyze Travel in the U.K.

Santa’s sleigh might be the only aircraft capable of landing in Britain right now. London’s Heathrow, Gatwick, Luton, Standsted and City Airports were completely, or at least partially shut down over some of the weekend as heavy snow fell on an area not equipped to handle it. Flights were cancelled. Passengers are stranded. It’s not the happiest of all peak travel seasons.

Highways, bus service and even train service were impacted as well. On the Continent, airports in Germany, France, Italy and the Netherlands were among those with flight delays and cancellations. It will take days for everything to sort itself out — and there’s the potential flooding problem when it all melts.