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08 September 2009 12:42 PM


Posted by James Ellis

Top stuff from Thomson

In an era where extra charges rule the roost and Ryanair think it's appropriate to charge more to fly your luggage then they do to fly you, it's nice to see a little innovation from Thomson that allows you to calculate some of the extra costs of a holiday.

The website gives passengers the chance to view and book more than 600 excursions in 55 destinations that range from from swimming with dolphins and horse riding on the beach, to hot air balloon rides and safaris on the Masai Mara.

Whatsmore, you don't even need to have booked your holiday through Thomson to use the website.

If you're already cheering at the thought of not being hassled by a rep to buy extras in resort though, think again. The package giant says: 'You will be able to contact the Thomson team to discuss your excursion at anytime during your stay.' I guess you can't always have everything...

04 September 2009 10:12 AM


Posted by Kieran Meeke

Are you pulling my finger?

It has always struck me that - like the army always being prepared for the last war it fought - airport security is worryingly aimed at the last threat, rather than anticipating the next. And, having a glimpse of what the next threat might be, I'm even more worried.

After 9/11, we are all being searched for box-cutters. After the shoe bomber, we are all having our shoes checked - even flip-flops. (The fact that the last plane on 9/11 and the shoe bomber were both prevented from carrying out their objectives by the passengers overpowering the terrorists surely means we might be better off carrying our own weapons on board, of course. But that's an argument for another day.)

Last week there was an assassination attempt on Saudi Arabia's Deputy Interior Security Minister, who is in charge of counter-terrorism.. A Saudi al-Qaeda terrorist, based in Yemen (now that's turning into a worrying place), said he wanted to reform and give himself up personally to the minister, Prince Mohammed bin Nayef. After being flown to the Saudi capital, Jeddah, undergoing security checks at Najran and Jeddah airports, and spending some weeks in prison, he had his audience - and then blew himself up. Where had he hidden the bomb? In his anus.

Fortunately, as you might expect, the blast was down and out, so the minister was unharmed. You might say the attempt backfired.

Remember that advice your mum always told you about wearing clean underwear when you went out? Worth bearing in mind the next time you face airport security.

02 September 2009 9:06 AM


Posted by James Ellis

For once I can't be cynical...

Nice to see EasyJet, probably the most sympathetic of the low cost airlines, come to the rescue of SkyEurope passengers.

Sir Stelios's team has offered passengers stranded by the failure of SkyEurope a 'return home' fee of just euro 40 on overlapping routes, which include: London – Prague – London, London - Vienna – London and Milan – Prague – Milan.

The offer is available until 23.59 (pedants) next Tuesday and to claim, passengers need to call 0870 6 000 000 (from UK) or 899 676 789 (from Italy) and quote their original reference number.

When the press release came into my inbox, the euro 40 price had an asterisk next to it and my original thought was that there would be a host of T&Cs attached to it such as having to fly at certain times or not including taxes... but the footnote simply said: 'Includes all taxes and charges'.

So for once, I can't be cynical about an offer and unless proved otherwise by reader experiences telling me differently, I have to say: Well done EasyJet.

19 August 2009 9:37 AM


Posted by James Ellis

Theme park PR stunt alert

A nice job of following where others lead popped off the pages of today's daily papers with the story that Thorpe Park is banning people from raising their arms on rollercoasters over the summer, less fellow riders get an offensive whiff of BO.

Of course, the announcement has nothing to do with the acres of coverage rival Alton Towers got last week with its ban on Speedos and everything to do with their spokesperson saying people sweat more because their rides are so scary.

Aside from the fact it's scientific hogwash - it's stale sweat that causes BO and not fresh - it also assumes the rides are going so slow that the offensive whiff is not carried away on the wind... hardly a great advertisement for the parks rides.

To paraphrase Lynard Skynard: 'ooh ohh, that PR stunt smells'

17 August 2009 9:32 AM


Posted by James Ellis

Virgin on the ridiculous

Virgin%2520Trains%25201[1] Here's a nice picture of Sir Richard. He's in one of his trains and he's throwing his hands up in the air. It's what I what I wanted to do when travelling with Virgin Trains this weekend.

My stepbrother and his wife live in Liverpool, it's not long since they've had a new son, so the other half and I decided to pop up and see them for a fleeting visit, out on Saturday morning and back on Sunday afternoon. Tickets were duly booked with Virgin via

Now I know the above headline is not going to get me a job on the sub's desk at The Sun but I was really shocked at just how bad the whole experience was. The train out was dark, dingy and dirty, there were chips in our table, the carpets were sticky and I don't even want to go to the toilets. I mean I really didn't want to go to the toilet, they were that bad.

Staff on the train were surly and condescending. We were sitting two rows from the Shop - Virgin's version of a buffet car. We were so close, I could see the white's of the woman serving's eyes. At some point on the way up, I fancied a cuppa and went over to buy one. The woman took out a paper bag.

Thinking myself somewhat environmentally conscious - yes, I know evironmentally conscious travel editor is an oxymoron - I said to the lady that I didn't really need one. I was only 20ft away after all.

She insisted. 'Health & Safety regulations Im afraid... Sir,' in a reassured passively aggressive tone. 'If the train jerks on your way back and you squeeze the cup, you could spill it all over someone,' she added as though explaining it to someone with an IQ the size of a pea.

Surely, it's just as dangerous for me to have hot liquid in a bag. If the train jerked, the bag could fly projectile like out of my hand thanks to the swing and cover even more people. 'I don't make the rules up.... siiiiir,' she hissed.

On the return, the train was dark, dingy and dirty, there were chips in our table, the carpets were sticky and I don't even want to go to the toilets. I mean I really didn't want to go to the toilet, they were that bad. (You may be sensing a theme here).

We boarded about five minutes before the train left and made our way to our reserved seats. You know how it is... on some tickets you just have to have a reservation, though no one knows quite why and it also means you have to carry twice the number of bits of paper (more dead trees then). Lo and behold there was someone sitting there.

'Excuse me,' I said. 'I think you're in our seats.' 'Maybe so,' came the reply. 'But I was first on, there were no reserved signs when I sat down and Im getting my lap top out on the table, so Im not moving.'

'I'm sorry. You're what?'

'Look mate, I am not moving, so find another seat.'

At this point, the other half had to intervene, less the chap's laptop ended up mysteriously back on the platform. Given there were no other seats, we made our way up the train looking for a conductor or 'train manager' as they seem to be called these days. With none found, our only option - save for going back and starting a fight with Mr Ignorant - was to upgrade to weekend first. Another £30 for VT thanks very much.

Having rude customers with no sense of social grace is not Virgin's fault but the thing that amazed me was the train manager's attitude when he finally appeared to take the money. It was little short of 'I don't give a s**t'.

'If he's not going to move for you, he won't move for me,' he advised while swiping the debit card.

'So you don't have the power to move someone who is sitting in someone else's seat when you insist that I buy a ticket with a reservation for that seat?'


This was only the second time I've travelled with VT and the one thing they did get right was to get the trains in on time.  I imagine that actually cleaning the train or making a point by evicting passengers who refuse to move to the seat they paid for would mean them missing their timetable targets. But until Sir Richard can get both timings and onboard service right, I won't be rushing back for another journey.

14 August 2009 11:53 AM


Posted by James Ellis

What's the worst job in the world?

Jovial_Brit_wins_Best_Job_in_the_World_xlarge[1] For me, currently, it has to be reading any more about Ben Southall - the young lad who is doing the so called best job in the world, or looking after Australia's Hamilton Island to the rest of us.

For anyone who's been living in a bubble, Ben 'won' his job in a competition (read PR stunt) held by Tourism Queensland earlier this year.

I don't begrudge Ben the job, far from it in fact; fair play to him and I hope he enjoys it. But as a story it's been done to death: announcement of the competion, preliminary rounds, local hopefulls, last ten, Ben winning, Ben going out there, what Ben's having today for breakfast.

Great stunt, nicely pulled off by TQ, tonnes of publicity and even imitated by a couple of other travel companies and destinations (second best job in the world anyone?).

So time to let it lie and bask in the glory? Nope, TQ are about to ram the idea down our throat once more with a new competition: to find four mates to join Ben (best best mates in the world?).

Im sure tonnes of people will want to join up (Im pretty sure it was 35k entries the first time round) and if you're one of them, you can do so at But it's one dead horse I'm not keen to flog.

13 August 2009 2:05 PM


Posted by James Ellis

Can we agree on the definition of 'staycation'?

Can we finally come up with a definiton for staycation and stop altering it to suit our own means?

My understanding, when the term was first bandied around as the new buzz word a year or so ago, was that it was all about holidaying at home. Forgoing the hassle of actually travelling and seeing things within the vicinity of your house that you would normally never go and see. From my Streatham abode, for instance, I could head into London and see some of the sights I've not seen since I was a kid, or I could equally head to the South Downs for a bit of a hike.

Predictions of a barbecue summer - yes, thanks for that Met Office - saw VisitBritain and the like jump on the term though and it seems to now mean simply holidaying in the UK. But is that really a staycation when it takes me as long to get to Inverness as it does to the Algarve?

In the last two days alone, Ive had two press releases from two different airlines that show the different meanings.

One from Aer Lingus, still jumping on any PR bandwagon possible as it pushes its new routes from Gatwick, proclaiming that the staycation (ie staying in Britain) was over as thanks to the weather it is now officially the 'dulcation'.

The other came in from FlyBe (the biggest domestic airline in the UK but with European routes too) that claimed the staycation (staying in your own back yard) was dead and there was a flurry of bookings to Scotland and Spain.

Personally, I prefer the original definition. It makes a 'staycation' seem something new, a fresh way to look at local sights and encourages people  to take a more active interest in their immediate area.

When it comes to the 'bastardised version', if you travel more than an hour from home and stay elsewhere, you are quite simply on an old fashioned holiday - no buzz words needed.

10 August 2009 10:06 AM


Posted by James Ellis

Brid or Madrid? Does anyone care?

Portsmouth_harbour_entrance[1]Headed into town on Saturday with two godkids to a very, very packed Madame Tussauds, one of Southern Railways posters from a campaign earlier this year caught my eye: Portsmouth, the new Malta.

I know it's a campaign that's been running through the summer but the reason I bring it up is a story that also caught my eye over the weekend. Apparently, following a debate on a BBC Radio Cambridgeshire show when Janet Reuben of Visit Hull and East Yorkshire went head to head with Beatrix Balesteros of the Madrid Tourist Board, Bridlington was voted a better holiday destination than Madrid.

What I don't really get is why either Portsmouth or Bridlington want to advertise themselves in contrast to somewhere else. In fact, aspiration to be the 'new Malta' is as likely to put me off going to Portsmouth as anything else.

Portsmouth has tonnes of history and last time I looked - admitedly in 1973 - Bridlington was a perfectly adequate seaside town and I'm sure it has only got better in the last 36 years.

So why don't the tourist boards give me a better idea of what I can actually do when there and try and lure me that way instead of telling me what other destination it could be like.

Despite Aer Lingus's latest campaign today to convince people to ditch the staycation it seems many people are still taking some of their holidays in the UK, so come on Pompey and Brid, blow your trumpets and tell us what you've really got.

06 August 2009 4:02 PM


Posted by James Ellis

Living it up at the Landau

Landau-Restaurant[1] Last night, me and t'other half got the cat sitter in and sped off for a night at the newly refurbished Langham Hotel, just across the road from the Beeb's Broadcasting House at the top end of Regent St.

Aside from the fact we were super looked after and got a fabulous room on the ninth floor of the hotel with amazing views across London to the Eye, one of the things I was most looking forward to was dinner in the Landau restaurant which I'd heard great things about.

Chef Andrew Turner came to the Landau last November and was previously at the Latymer at Pennyhill Park Hotel and the Bentley Kempinski, he's also put together an innovative menu of modern European cuisine with produce sourced from across the UK.

We tried a seven course grazing menu. Yes, that's right, seven courses, including a delightful sweat pea veloute,a Cornish crab concoction and English lamb cutlets. I was hoping t'tother half had not noticed there were sweatbreads on the latter, just to see the look on her face afterwards, but sadly she cottoned on before trying them.

Anyway, it was all fabulous and the hotel will be reviewed in our Wednesday Room Service column in a couple of weeks time. If you do go, do look out for one of the deserts, the Mango Egg, which has an extra special surprise when you pop it into your mouth...

04 August 2009 10:41 AM


Posted by James Ellis

Hanging out with the king of bling

Metro Saturday night saw me down in Dover for the re-opening of Dover Castle's Great Tower.

Dover seems to still be getting over the last recession, never mind this one, but back in the 12th Century when Henry II was king, things were much different.

The father of Richard The Lionheart and King John, Henry's empire stretched north to Scotland and as far south as Aquataine in France, so Dover Castle was built right in the middle of it all - but it served a greater purpose than just putting him at the centre of his kingdom.

In a fight for power, Henry had despatched his erstwhile pal, the cleric Thomas Becket, who had posthumously been canonised and his remains at Canterbury Cathedral became an attraction for pilgrims. Ian effort to show who was boss, Henry II wanted the pilgrims to see his crowning glory on their way to the shrine.

Given it's strategic and PR importance, the king furnished the castle lavishly with spending sprees that would have put Elton John to shame - a fact only recently disovered after extensive research by English Heritage. The Great Tower has spent the last year getting a £2.5m makeover to reflect this new thinking and is now lavishly refurbished with some state of the art interactive gadgets thrown in to keep the kids interested.

At the launch, English Heritage put on a huge light show to reflect what the 'King Of Bling' could have had in mind if he were alive today and we also got to play around with a new fangled light graffiti system, hence my rubbish attempt at writing Metro on it's walls in the above pic.

My other half and I also got to stay in a unique property on the site: Peverell's Tower. The castle's former prison was built in the 1300s but has now been transformed into an EH holiday cottage. Some of the old features remain: wooden beams, an exposed fire place and the name of a former prisoner etched into one of the walls. It's a spooky, yet incredibly special place to stay... try it out if you can.

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