How do you save people from concentration camps when there’s a war raging across Europe and beyond? It’s a big question, but the answer sounds scarily simple: in the case of Scandinavia, you get permission from Himmler himself, then commandeer some buses, ambulances and trucks, collectively called the White Buses. You use a volunteer network to drive them from Theresienstadt, Dachau and Ravensbrück through war-torn Europe to the safety of Malmö’s medieval castle.
Last year I went to Malmö and saw the extraordinary place where those liberated spent their first weeks of freedom. Unsurprisingly, it gave me the research bug.
I don’t often include guest posts on the blog, but I couldn’t resist this one. Like me, Jennifer Wolfe has fallen for Malta and its islands, and she knows you can see even more of them from the water. If you’ve never been, prepare to be tempted now…
Although it’s becoming more popular with UK travellers, Malta still isn’t as widely known as it should be. The islands of Malta, Gozo and Comino retain the feel of an out-of-the-way place, dense with history and echoes of the various cultures from conquerors over the years, and they deserve to be discovered.
Whereas 2014 was all about knee defenders, awkward profiles of Brits in the German press, and Outlander-themed tours of Scotland, this year has been very different.
We’ve seen terror on the streets, refugees in crisis, and a king reburied half a millennium after his death, and that’s only a snippet of what 2015 involved.
A World in Chaos
With ISIS/ISIL-led terror attacks tragically striking Egypt, France and Tunisia, and with parts of Belgium on lockdown following the recent Paris attacks, it’s been a sobering year. Western tourists have naturally been cautious, but holidaymakers are not the only targets. Locals socialising or going to work also lost their lives. Whilst the travel industry is under pressure to deliver better safety measures and tighter security, anyone driven to cancel their holiday and stay at home won’t be risk-free, because domestic threats are just as common. The sad fact is that we can’t always prevent these attacks from happening, however we can’t live our lives in constant fear.
It had me at ‘free tea and biscuits’. I’ve been to more museums than I can count in my 26 and 3/4 years, but never have I been offered a free cuppa and snacks as part of the deal… until now. Evidently, the Museum of Comedy isn’t your average tourist attraction, but the promise of a good old-fashioned English treat, alongside decades of authentic comedy memorabilia, worked wonders.
Based in a church undercroft between Tottenham Court Road and Holborn, this small but mighty two room venue covers the history of British comedy, from variety acts to TV sketch shows and stadium tours, and all that’s in between.
I recently blogged about the Freedom Pass from Dublin Sightseeing, but my city break also involved another sightseeing card (yes, I like to spread my favours): the Dublin Pass, which gives tourists free entry to 33 leading attractions.
Adult prices vary from €39 (£29) for one day or €61 (£45) for six days’ access. My three day option cost €71 (£52), which worked out at €23.66 (£17.33) per day, and I was determined to see as much as possible during that time.
So what sealed the deal? As with my Freedom Pass experience, the convenience factor is one big incentive: carrying less cash saves time. With the Dublin Pass you get a free one-way Aircoach transfer, and you can skip the line at some of the city’s most popular sights. To get your attraction tickets, the staff scan your pass using a mobile app. Here’s my verdict…
I’ve seen couples posing for romantic photos at the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin, and children use it as a playground, leaving sweet wrappers behind; I’ve seen bored teenagers struggling to feign interest at Sachsenhausen concentration camp. In those cases it was the visitors, not the attractions, lacking emotional intelligence and leaving me speechless.
London’s Jack the Ripper Museum, in the heart of Whitechapel, has gone one step further in terms of emotional intelligence failures, by actively encouraging tourists to mock murder victims. The appalling serial killings of Victorian prostitutes are offered as the perfect subject for a selfie or two this Halloween weekend. A recent press release, publicising the museum as a Halloween attraction, suggests visitors take “a selfie with the serial killer” (or, at least, a mysterious bloke in a top hat). Fancy “a picture with Jack in Mitre Square together with the body of Catherine Eddowes”? Go ahead. It’s not like Eddowes can complain, right?
Dublin is mostly a walkable city and, though you can navigate it easily, there are always extra things to be seen from the road and from the experts. When I visited last week for a short break with my parents, I knew a bus tour would be on our agenda, but we wanted to get the best value for our Euro.
I chose Dublin Sightseeing’s Freedom Pass as it seemed like good value for money: €33 (or £24) provides three days’ unlimited hop-on hop-off bus travel on two sightseeing routes, plus public bus travel (the blue and yellow buses you see everywhere), a free Pat Liddy walking tour and free entry to the Little Museum of Dublin, alongside a range of attraction discounts. Not bad for the equivalent of €11 (£8) per day. But would it be useful in reality?
Whether you’re travelling en famille or you’re flying solo, you know there’s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all city break. As there are far too many existing Paris guides aimed at couples, I’ve aimed to redress the balance for the rest of us with these tips, following on from my guide for first-time visitors.
Paris with Kids
I recently compiled a city break itinerary for a family of five, so I can promise you this city is child-friendly. It’s just a case of finding what will keep everyone entertained…
The city of light can be dazzling, which may explain why it’s on so many travel bucket lists. Paris seems maze-like and full-on at first, with its different arrondissements (neighbourhoods) and its constant trendsetting, but once you start wandering you’ll see it’s not so daunting after all. Are you ready to explore?
Your First Trip to Paris: The Basics
Start as you mean to go on…
If you’re travelling from the UK, choose the Eurostar over planes. Charles De Gaulle airport is nowhere near where you want to be, and it’ll cost €10 for a train ticket to the city centre, whereas the Eurostar takes you straight to the Gare du Nord.
The Mayor of Paris’ website has a ‘First time in Paris’ guide full of tips – I like the sound of the helium balloon tour in the André Citroën Park (weather-permitting).
Using the Metro is pretty straightforward, and the ticket machines have an English language option. Buy a carnet which gives you 10 tickets – much easier than buying a single or return each time. Try to avoid travelling at rush hour (09:00-10:00 and 18:00-19:30).
Read the free Metropolitan magazine on the Eurostar for up-to-date events listings and more ideas of what to see. Text is in English (phew!).
The big Tourist Office is at 25 Rue des Pyramides, near the Opera metro station.
Find out which local markets are on during your stay – useful for buying fresh food or souvenirs.
Safety tips are as standard for any European city; keep an eye on your valuables, be wary of walking alone at night in quiet areas, and don’t react to tourist scams (e.g. someone asks if you’ve dropped a gold ring, in the hope of distracting you).
We all know the French are a stylish bunch, but save your Louboutins if you’re seeing Paris on foot. Swap them for a pair of unisex Stan Smith trainers by Adidas – loved by the ever-chic Phoebe Philo of Celine, seen in a 2013 issue of Vogue Paris and sold at hot designer boutique Colette, where Pharrell Williams even issued a limited edition customised Stan Smiths range.
You don’t have to do these, but you’ve heard about the hype…
I won’t big up the Eiffel Tower – you’re either desperate to visit or you’re not bothered, let’s be honest – but get alternative city views from the top of the Arc de Triomphe and Notre Dame. The Arc de Triomphe is open from 10am-11pm, with free entry for under 18s. Adult tickets cost €9.50. Notre Dame is open 10:30-18:30 Mon-Fri and 10:00-23:00 Sat-Sun. Tickets are €8.50, and queues move quickly.
Montmartre’s famous Sacré Coeur church is open daily from 6am-10:30pm. The nearby Muséede Montmartre (2/14, Rue Cortot) is on a side street, and it’s open every day from 10am-6pm. There’s also Paris’ last working vineyard, Clos de Montmartre, opposite.
If you won’t rest until you’ve seen the tiny Mona Lisa, pre-book your Louvre tickets to cut down some queuing time. The Paris City Pass gives you free entry here, and to many other museums and galleries.
Desperate for a Seine cruise? High-end evening trips can cost up to €180pp, which isn’t good value in anyone’s books. Instead, the Paris Tourist Board has a range of daytime cruises from €6pp. Bateaux Parisiens has lunchtime trips from €33pp, including a one hour tour; if you get a Paris City Pass you’re entitled to a one hour Bateaux Parisiens Seine cruise (without food) for free.
The Musée des Arts et Métiers (60 Rue Réaumur) is a bit like London’s Science Museum, with exhibits covering science, technology, energy and communication, including Foucault’s pendulum. Visit from Tues-Sun, 10am-6pm, and late night on Thurs until 9:30pm. Tickets are €8 for adults and €5.50 for children.
Food and Drink
Not every meal is baguette-based or best consumed with wine…
When I’m busy writing about far-flung city breaks or adventures abroad, I forget to shout about the sights on my doorstep here in Sussex. It’s high time this was resolved, especially as East and West Sussex have some really unusual attractions that need to be in the spotlight. From an Indian-inspired pavilion to a 15th century Chaucer text, these unique locations are certainly worth your time.
It started life as a small Saxon village, but today Arundel is a busy town, dwarfed by a cathedral and a huge castle that’s nearly 1,000 years old. Just along from the castle, you can hire a rowing boat at Swanbourne Lake, before checking out the Blackfriars ruins as you head back to the main streets.