Tag Archives: travel

Greetings to the new government

And here are five travel-related pearlers to get your gnashers into:

Volcanic ash
The new government may have come into existence with UK airspace open but today some UK travellers are suffering from disrupted journeys. The major disruption of last month was only fixed when it got everyone’s attention after a slow start with attention elsewhere: let’s hope concentration and precedent is enough to ensure everyone’s getting it as right as possible.

British Airways
Britain’s flag carrier remains beset by the threat of industrial action. BA are a great airline and all this is doing them no favours. There may be a conciliatory role to be played by a new Business Secretary.

Air Passenger Duty
The travel industry would love a reduction – or outright removal – of APD, the ‘environmental tax’ designed to curb our enthusiasm for hopping on planes everywhere. They might just get their way as one early policy suggests a per-plane tax should replace a per-passenger one. It’s not clear what this means yet, but it is similarly unlikely to result in a reduction in the number of people flying, or the number of planes in the sky. Might it result in airlines packing in more passengers? Some airlines might. others are less likely.

Heathrow Expansion
The third runway will not go ahead. Therefore, alternatives must be considered. Is the solution to the south-east’s congested skies to be found in the Thames Estuary, Madrid or in serious attempts to wean us off flying? Or do we just muddle along making do while Schiphol and Frankfurt grab passengers with better facilities, more comfort and fewer delays?

High-speed rail
Labour Transport Secretary Lord Adonis was a champion of high-speed rail and his enthusiasm for steel wheels will be much-missed under a new regime. The fate of High Speed 2 – a fast rail link from London to Birmingham and beyond – is unclear. Is the journey between first and second city so sluggish that a few extra minutes shaved off makes all the difference? Or would the money be better invested, as some commentators have suggested in track, train and station upgrades nationwide?

Classic Travel: A Time of Gifts

A Time of Gifts is everything a travel book should be: brilliantly written, educational, inspiring and full of memorable anecdotes that, once read, appear like ghosts in the reader’s own journeys.

It begins with a simple decision. It is December 1933. 18 year old Patrick Leigh Fermor can’t decide what to do with this life, so he decides to go for a walk. Full of the vim of youth, he decides that Constantinople is his destination. Resolved to this gently eccentric trip, Leigh Fermor proceeds to carry it off, armed with a stick, a few possessions and occasional pickups of money from home.

As the story progresses his naive charm works a magic spell, turning a trip that promised months of freezing nights in hedgerows into being put up in castles and fine apartments. Leigh Fermor never loses his edge though, and once back on the road returns to the traveller’s life with endless enthusiasm.

Two features of A Time of Gifts jump out and linger long in the memory. The first is Leigh Fermor’s prose which is rich and lively. He deserves the title of the greatest living British travel writer. While in part the lucid nature of the writing is due to the author writing – in 1978 – as an older man looking back on an adventure rather than scribbling in the moment, and therefore being able to weave in the astonishing knowledge he possesses, it is also the obvious thrill of discovery and the simple delights of an utterly free life that makes the book special.

Once read, I’d defy anyone to not recall the noise of the ice skiff charging along frozen Dutch canals or share the joy of rummaging around a ruined castle on the banks of the Danube, when considering a journey to the areas visited today. The Europe the book describes disappeared forever in 1939, and the lands travelled through in A Time of Gifts feel foreign and distant. That said, it remains a richly rewarding companion on a journey to the continent.

There is a sequel, Between the Woods and the Water, which takes the journey from the Hungarian Border to the Danube gorge known as the Iron Gate in what was Yugoslavia. Leigh Fermor did make it to Constantinople fourteen months after leaving Tower Bridge, but that was not the end of the adventure. The author went on to fall in love with Greece and a Romanian noblewoman with whom he lived with in Athens and Moldavia, and serve in the Irish Guards during the Second World War. Later adventures in Greece and the Caribbean, marriage and a life divided between England and Greece followed.

There has not yet been a third volume. Patrick Leigh Fermor will celebrate his 95th birthday on 11 February.

Suggestions for your favourite travel reads are welcome. With what’s left of winter, warm yourself up with A Time of Gifts.