Saturday snippets – 4th January 2014

By | Category: Travel news

the capital of Latvia, Riga in winter ©

Welcome back to those readers who join me each Saturday as we highlight the less covered travel stories of the week. A happy new year to you all even if the year has continued where the old left off- with rain, wind and flooding.

Am I the first to suggest there is a new form of visitor – the Disaster Tourist who journeys to take photographs and make life less easy for the emergency services? In both Surrey and sout-east Wales I came across people, down for the day, chancing their arms as they used their smartphones to record rising floodwaters. One person had some very fancy photographic equipment complete with tripod and lenses that seem to stretch into the middle of next week!

You have another country in which to spend those euros saved from last year’s holiday. Latvia has joined the eurozone, becoming the 18th member. As well as being a popular weekend/city-break destination it has been announced that Latvia has become the EU’s fastest-growing economy.

To fly there you could go from Gatwick. And you can get to Gatwick again. The Gatwick Express service, which links the West Sussex airport with London Victoria and which closed on 26 December for maintenance has re-started. A new platform was also built at Gatwick Airport during the closure, with changes to track and signalling. Platform seven is due to be open from February.

The Gatwick Express will take you to London Victoria where in years to come you may gaze skywards and seem people cycling above you. Plans to build a network of cycle paths high above the streets of London are being put forward for consultation. SkyCycle is a 136-mile (219 km) route, with the first phase, proposed from east London to Liverpool Street Station, costing more than £200m. If approved, the 10 routes would be built above existing rail lines and would take about 20 years to complete. We move so fast in our countries once a good idea is suggested!

But then some things do happen quickly. Storms in Dorset over the Christmas period have uncovered a 1.5m (5ft) ichthyosaur skeleton at the base of Black Ven.. With more storms forecast more of the Jurassic Coast might erode and even more discoveries made The giant marine reptile fossil, which looks a bit like a dolphin.

In Dublin, the Irish Jewish Museum in Portabello has received permission to extend despite some local opposition. Visitor numbers are projected to increase from 10,000 to 50,000 a year when the extension opens.

A much faster development is occurring at Welshpool in mid-Wales. The town’s motte and bailey castle is privately owned but the town council has signed an agreement with those owners to run the site. The project will include a car park, new walkways and interpretation boards so people can explore the medieval castle and learn about its history. And how did the council pay for this far-sighted approach to increasing visitor number in the town. By a levy on residents? No it came about through an agreement with supermarket giant Tesco as part of its deal to open in the town and the European-funded Severn Valley Regeneration Project. And it opens in a few months ready for Easter.

It isn’t the only new attraction opening soon. A central London office where Jimi Hendrix lived for a year is to become a permanent museum dedicated to the 1960s music legend. The top floor flat of 23 Brook Street, Mayfair, was his home from 1968 to 1969. The other interesting feature of this new museum is its location. It’s near another musical legends house, that of Handel’s which is a few doors away at number 25. The flat is currently used as an office for the Handel House Trust and can only be visited by the public during the annual open house weekend when a limited number of tickets are available. The new museum is expected to open next year.

If you are quick you still have time to visit Imber on Salisbury plain. Abandoned in WWII, it is used by the military for exercises. The isolated village and St Giles Church, the only building left intact after the Army took over, will be open to visitors until 5 January. Public access to Imber is granted by the MoD on up to 50 days each year but military training means the number of days granted falls well short of that. You have until the end of the weekend to make a visit.

the old town part of Oporto

In the Portuguese city of Oporto, the BBC was reporting that there was a new guided tour. Tough economic times have hit the area and guides will now take you on a tour of dilapidated, deserted and less than perfectly maintained architectural gems that are crumbling away through neglect. This is a little different from what visitors normally see and which was highlighted by Anna-Maria last year.

New Year’s eve saw the ever-more impressive display of fireworks around the world to herald in a better year than last. Usually Sydney gets the honour of providing the best but the half-a-million fireworks used by Dubai and stretching for 30 mile, according to some reports, must take the award this year. The displays have two roles I fancy. The first is to encourage us to be there on the night for a “first-hand experience” and the second to get their names in front of us before we make up our minds about holidays.

The York Army Museum has received a £1m grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund to transform its collection in time for this year’s centenary of the start of WWIThe museum, housed in a former Territorial Army drill hall, opened in 1984. It houses artefacts telling the stories of soldiers serving in local infantry and cavalry regiments since the 1700s.The money will be spent on new displays and “audio visual experiences”.

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