Saturday snippets: 9th August 2014

By | Category: Travel news
Llanelli eisteddfod

Eisteddford -Llanelli 2014. Children there on holiday outside term time

Taking children abroad out of school term time has, as we know, become expensive with fines being imposed on those that do. Now BBC research suggests that about 64,000 people have been fined since last September for holidaying in term time with their kids.  The BBC evidence suggests that this is an understatement as only three-quarters of councils in England responded to their questions. 200,000 people may have signed an online petition but still the government seems intransigent in its belief that any time off from school is detrimental to the child’s future. I won’t re-hash the familiar arguments to you, you can read my views here, but it seems to me that the figure being fined will top 100,000 before the years is out. And how many have a criminal record for not paying?

The owners have said that Eastbourne Pier, of which a third – the third nearest the shoreline -was damaged by fire at the end of July, could be partially open by Christmas. The fire began in wood panelling in the arcade and police think that an arsonist was responsible.

On a happier note, Penarth Pier in South Wales has won a national competition and is declared as the country’s favourite Special Place.  This was part of National Trust Wales’s promotion to find Wales’ most treasured landmark. The pier had already been voted “Pier of the Year” by the National Piers Society earlier this year, Second came Cyfarthfa Castle near Merthyr Tydfil. Nowhere in the top five were Cardiff or Caerphilly Castles, the Brecon Beacons or the Presellis, Cardiff Bay or Snowdon making me wonder just how campaigning for voting might have affected the true result since visitor numbers don’t seem to reflect the voting.

Staying in Wales, the last  day of the National Eisteddfod are under way. Don’t just think this is for Welsh speakers. There are free translation headphones that can be collected and although Welsh is the preferred tongue, you hear more English being spoken than use to be the case. There are dozens of stalls selling everything with free music and events for the kids although the main competitions are charged for. 150,000 will attend this year at the event near Llanelli and I easily spent most of a day there when I was thinking I would be just there for a couple of hours.

In Northern Ireland this week it was a different matter.  A shortage of visitors to one destination. Instead of visitors heading to one of their favourite places – Portstewart Strand in County Londonderry – which has two miles of sandy beach, they couldn’t as it was closed for a few days. Filming was taking place for the new series of the TV hit, “Game of Thrones.” There might still be some closures this weekend so Northern Irish readers may want to visit another beach instead!

From Villa Plus comes research suggesting that nearly 50% of us encourage children to try the local cuisine in restaurants when we take the abroad. It also revealed that the lack of children’s menus was ne issue parents had abroad. I seem to remember having difficulty persuading our two to try anything different when they were young.

kids at the Please Touch Museum

at the Please Touch Museum

But if you are planning on going abroad with children, there is a museum in Philadelphia in the US that is tailor-made for them.   The Please Touch Museum is more appealing for those under 7 the museum suggests. On 24 August when it launches Star Wars Day for visitors to meet and greet their favourite science-fiction characters. For the younger ones, Thomas the Tank (I didn’t know Thomas and his friends were popular in the US) will be on hand on 16 August. Under ones go for free and tickets for all other visitors cost £10 per person.

If you are in Philadelphia, then a visit to the zoo may not sound interesting to some kids as one zoo is like another. But not here. Philadelphia Zoo operates a  ZooBalloon allowing visitors to soar up to 400 feet above the zoo for a bird’s eye view of some of the zoo’s animals whilst also offering far reaching views across the city centre. The 10 minute flight costs from £9 per person or £30 for a family of four.  The city also makes for a day out if you happen to be staying in New York. It is about 90 minutes away by train and the main station is just minutes away from attractions like the Liberty Bell.

If you fancy somewhere a bit hotter with rainforests and coastal beaches you might want to consider Costa Rica as there will be bargains to be had. It comes as a result of the World Cup. As people didn’t travel whilst it was on, the Costa Rican Tourism Board re-launched a promotion campaign titled “¡Vamos a turistear!” (Let’s go sightseeing!) to encourage local tourists to take advantage of green season deals.  The promotion runs until the end of the year as accommodation occupancy rates were a lot lower than the tourist board forecast. Although the promotion is aimed at Costa Ricans, overseas visitors are also in line for the discount and the value added offers like free breakfasts and extra nights at no cost.

a beach in Costa Rica

more tourists wanted to fill Costa Rica beaches

Also in Costa Rica, the mysterious stone spheres crafted by the pre-Columbian Diquis peoples in the Osa Peninsula, in the southern region of Costa Rica, have been granted UNESCO World Heritage The archaeological sites Finca 6, Batambal, El Silencio, and Grijalba-2 in the Diquís Delta in the Osa canton are considered unique examples of the complex social, economic and political systems of the period between 500-1500 AD. Costa Rica now boasts four UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the country including the Talamanca Range-La Amistad Reserve/National Park, Cocos Island National Park and the Guanacaste Conservation Area.

There will be other bargains to be had and I suggest looking at Greece, Turkey, Tunisia and Thailand. Why? Because a number of Russian tour operators have gone bust in the last few weeks and these are top destinations for Russians. Hoteliers will be looking at filling beds so there could be deals on the cards. In Thailand, Russian bookings have fallen by 30% in the last six weeks or so and not just due to the tour operator collapses. In Greece, visitor numbers have grown by 17% in the first six months of the year but the last month has seen a drop to those non-visiting Russians.  The number of Greeks visiting their own country has also dropped by nearly a third according to the tourism minister so there might be a promotion from the Greeks to fill those spaces.

There definitely will be a promotion from Israel that also has suffered a decline in visitor numbers. The Israeli tourism ministry says that a huge campaign in Russia, (this was before the collapse of the Russian tour operators) Germany, France, Italy and the UK will happen.”

aerial view of Lisbon

Lisbon, to where more and more Brits have regional direct services

Lisbon is becoming one of the most well-connected non beach destinations that is available to us. With an additional two flights a week by Ryanair starting from Manchester, there are now over 140 flights a week from Bristol, Edinburgh, Liverpool, London and Manchester. TAP – the Portuguese airline provides the bulk of the services with connections onto Madeira and the Azores for those venturing further afield.

Further afield, Macau will be holding its Lantern Festival in early September. Dating back over 3,000 years to China’s Zhou dynasty, this popular Chinese festival of abundance and togetherness is held during the full moon of the eighth month in the lunar calendar, roughly mid-September. It is famous for families coming together to make and eat mooncakes – a pastry filled with sweet lotus paste – to observe the new moon and to worship the gods.  Thousands of lanterns are hung from trees and buildings.

Back home in Scotland, the Commonwealth Games has ended but a sour note has tarred the success. Clyde, the mascot, was cloned into 25 statues placed around Glasgow. One such – in Govan – has been stolen and others vandalised. Now the council is removing the others but still plans to have them on show somewhere and somehow which should please fourteen-year old Beth Gilmour who came up with the mascot.. Are the vandals the same idiots who attacked the statues of Grommit in Bristol? I would like to think so as it means there aren’t many idiots who take pleasure out of damaging something hundreds of thousands have enjoyed.

Luckily across the other side of the M9, the Edinburgh Festival and the Fringe is just about to begin. Ticket sales for the Festival are at their highest and, apart from the problems in getting accommodation at the last minute, the combination always manage to cheer me up!


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