Another year of travel highs and lows has gone by, so it’s time for a review of poppy-filled, sports-dominated, battle-scarred 2014. The stories below stood out for me as the most realistic insights into much-discussed destinations and travel habits.
Trouble in Paradise
Thailand suffered from the effects of harsh military rule and the aftershock of a tragic double murder, claiming the lives of two British holidaymakers. The country’s Tourism Authority is now trying to put a positive spin on martial law, claiming it offers greater safety for visitors, but the increased presence of the police and the army isn’t appealing to everyone. During the darkest times for Thailand, Russian tourists helped to boost the economy, but the falling value of the rouble has seen fewer Russian arrivals. Fortunately, high-spending Chinese visitors have helped Thailand get back on its feet again. This is all the more important as it’s now been 10 years since the devastating Boxing Day tsunami claimed 8,000 lives and affected 12,000 homes.
One of my main goals for visiting Flanders was to see some of the World War One battlefield sites, and I got my wish by arranging a one day battlefield tour with a local company. Quasimodo Tours is run by husband and wife duo Philippe and Sharon, with the aim of delivering a really thorough introduction to the battlefields in the space of a single day, which is perfect for time-conscious travellers.
Whilst it would have been fun to devote my entire trip to cemeteries and memorials, like most tourists I had a packed itinerary to fit in, so a day trip was the best compromise. I hopped on a train from my hotel in Brussels to join the tour bus at Bruges about an hour later, for a bright and early 9am start at Bruges train station.
Start reading up on the history of Leuven and you’ll quickly realise this city is a survivor, with the scars of two world wars to prove it. Buildings like the university library, which I touched on in my previous post, have their own stories to tell, but it’s one of the newest additions to the city that has taken up the theme of conflict and explored it through art. Enter the M Museum Leuven and its Ravaged exhibition (referred to as Ravage in Flemish), ripping through scenes of destruction dating from the 15th to the 21st century.
Set just a stone’s throw from the exclusive shopping street of Avenue Louise, The Hotel Brussels takes its cue from its stylish surroundings and creates something that never goes out of fashion. I saw this for myself when I took the short walk from the Louise Metro station to the complex, passing Versace, Chanel and Jimmy Choo stores in the process. Stepping inside the building, my jaw began to drop as I took in the seriously chic decor – dark panelling, thick grey carpet and elevators sealed by gold doors. Definitely a classic.
Last week I touched down in Belgium’s capital for a few days of much-needed culture, and I found Brussels to be the perfect mix of quirky art, intense architecture and intriguing history.
There’s so much that I took in during my time here that it’s hard to work out where to start, so I’m diving straight in with some of the key sights that I encountered during my visit, armed with a 24 hour Brussels Card to give me free access to a whole host of museums, along with free public transport.
A few months ago I blogged about Belgium’s preparations for the centenary of WWI, and mentioned the sights I’d like to visit in Flanders to commemorate the occasion. Now I’ve had the chance to put those plans into action, as I’m heading over to Belgium this month to see things for myself, with some help from the team at Visit Flanders. I’ll be covering WWI, but also seeing other historical talking points such as museums and beguinages (more on those later).