A 20 Year Old’s Notes on Driving on the Continent:

My guest blogger this week is my son, Joe

In June, one of my friends (who can’t drive) and I took off on a big road trip around Western Europe, hitting France, Switzerland, Italy, Austria, Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium. As the only driver, going 2500 miles in a little over 2 weeks was a little daunting as my first time driving outside of England, but it turned out to be a lot of fun. Here’s what I learned, country by country:
• France – the French are all mental drivers and I’m glad we chose to stay outside of Paris, taking the train into the city instead. From trying to kill us by slowly moving into our lane, to overtaking at 70mph on winding Alpine roads, we had our fair share of close calls. France did have the most fun roads to drive on; having got lost looking for our camp site by the Swiss border, we got to spend an hour driving in circles in a beautiful valley.

There are worse places to get lost!

There are worse places to get lost!

• Italy – We entered Italy through the Mont Blanc tunnel (not intentional, we just couldn’t navigate well) into the Aosta Valley, just in time to see a fleet of supercars heading in the opposite direction. After grabbing a bite to eat, we headed for Milan and straight into a huge thunderstorm that brought everything to a standstill up in the mountains – at times we couldn’t see anything at all due to the torrential rain.

• Germany – Our journey to Germany went via the Austrian Alps, late in the evening so the roads were empty, which was an awesome little experience on the way.

Snow in June?

Snow in June?

If you want help planning a road trip in Europe or further away, just get in touch with me.  I love helping clients plan their trips to maximise their enjoyment!

We act as The Global Travel Group Ltd in connection with the sale of travel products.  Unless specified as the operator, The Global Travel Group Ltd is the agent of ATOLProtected Tour Operators and other principals.  Agency refere S0466

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Is too much choice a bad thing?

We all like to have choices but sometimes, too much choice is just confusing and counter-productive.  Take the task of booking a holiday.  Just Google “Holidays to Florida 2016” and you’ll get over 3 million results.  Which is the best?  The company who has paid lots to be at the top of the list and just wants loads of bookings, without needing to talk to the person booking?  Or the company who isn’t at the top of the listings but who takes the time to talk through all the choices (not 3 million of them however!!) and suggest a few options for them to consider.  These options will also include accommodation suggestions based on our conversation, flight times to suit you and car hire to fit your family.  Plus loads of suggestions of what to do in Florida, apart from Disney and Universal Studios.

Where can you get this superb service?  From an independent travel agent like me, of course!!  And it’s not just for Florida.  Online gives so many choices, people often come to me confused about what companies to trust.  We only deal with tried and tested suppliers, ones we’ve dealt with for years or ones that our Head Office has checked out thoroughly before adding them to our approved list.

Your money is safe here, all funds are paid into a secure client account which is used to pay our holiday suppliers.

The Guardian published an article about choice today, agreeing with this.  Showing that Tesco offered 28 tomato ketchups whereas Aldi has just one – and who is gaining more customers?  Aldi.  Less choice doesn’t mean lower quality – it just means that you don’t have to wade through lots of companies offering you the same holiday.

It saves you time and will often save you money, booking with a travel agent.  We’ve done the training, trawled through the brochures – both paper and online, read the online reviews and tourist board write-ups – just to get you the holiday you need and deserve.

Diamond Travel is an independent travel agent, based in Farnborough, Hampshire.  We act as The Global Travel Group Ltd in connection with the sale of travel products.  Unless specified as the operator, The Global Travel Group is the agent of ATOL Protected Tour Operators and other principals.  Our agency reference is S0466

Fundraising for Phyllis Tuckwell Hospice

We’ve linked with Phyllis Tuckwell Hospice in Farnham to raise money for them. The Hospice believe that every day is precious and so do I. You have to make the most of every moment you can. I love the quote attributed to Saint Augustine – “The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only one page.” So Diamond Travel’s role is to inspire you to travel as much as you can!
A new way of supporting the Hospice is to book a holiday through Diamond Travel in Farnborough. Every time some makes a booking through us (and mentions Phyllis Tuckwell Hospice), I will make a donation to them out of the income I make on that booking. It costs you no extra, this is my way of supporting the work they do. Approximate donation amounts will be given at the time of enquiry and then confirmed once the booking is made. Donations are made once the traveller has left for their holiday, to avoid complications with refunds if a holiday is cancelled.
Some examples – 14 nights in Goa in November 2015, staying in a 3 star hotel on B&B basis, with flights from Gatwick – cost for 2 people sharing from £1410. Donation to the Hospice would be £55 (cost for Indian visa not included). Ref JCH

3 nights at the ICEHotel in Sweden this winter. Includes return flights from Heathrow. B&B basis. Cost for 2 people sharing from £1778. Donation to the Hospice would be £70. Ref SVI

2 tickets with hospitality, including padded executive level 2 seat, access to the sports bar before the match, at half time and at full time and Match day programme. Plus 1 night in a hotel on the date of the match. For example – 2 people seeing the match on 13 February against Tottenham Hotspur and staying at the 4 star Copthorne Hotel in Manchester that night on B&B basis. Total cost from £370 for 2 people sharing. Donation to the Hospice would be £15 Ref SPB

Short break to Chicago (a great alternative to New York) in February 2016. Staying in a 4 star hotel for 5 nights. Transfers not included. Total cost for 2 people from £1370. Donation to the Hospice would be £30. Ref T2

http://www.pth.org.uk/supporting-the-hospice/fundraising/corporate-partnerships/

All prices are quoted subject to availability at the time of booking. All holidays that include flights are protected by ATOL. We act as The Global Travel Group Ltd in connection with the sale of travel products. Unless specified as the operator, The Global Travel Group Ltd is the agent of ATOL Protected Tour Operators and other principals.

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Exploring Vienna and Bratislava

This year’s holiday took us to Austria.  We travelled there by rail, which made the journey very enjoyable.  Stopping overnight just outside Cologne, we arrived in Vienna very relaxed.  On our first day, we took a cruise along the Danube to Bratislava.  The day started with a quick breakfast at the hotel, then another on-board the river boat.  It takes 4 hours to cruise across the border into Slovakia and then to the lovely city.  A city tour on a trolley bus was a great introduction to the sights, followed by a short walking tour through some of the small streets.  We passed a Tesco express and a Tesco home-delivery van, so looks like the Slovakians have adopted some of the UK tastes.  The old town is very compact and on the Friday we were there, full of stag parties there to enjoy the cheap beer.  They like their statues in Bratislava, not just the usual important people but also some quirky ones.   Just like this chap down a manhole lookingIMG_0369 up the ladies’ skirts.  The cruise took 6 hours to return back to Vienna, going against the current this time.

Vienna is a beautiful city, easy to walk around the main sights in the centre.  Public transport is plentiful – buses, trams and underground trains.  After a day of sightseeing through museums and other cultural highlights, we joined the Viennese at play on Sunday.  We went to the Prater, where the Ferris Wheel from the classic film – The Third Man – is still in operation.  We took aPICT4514 ride in the vintage carriages, with the windows PICT4555wide open in the heat.   A traditional cake in a local Konditorei followed.    However the highlight of our trip was a concert at the spectacular Schonnbrunn Palace.  Concerts take place every night, either in the Orangery or the Palace itself, we were lucky enough to be in the Palace.  With a small orchestra and two singers, we were in heaven.  There was music from both Mozart and Strauss, including a few duets and arias.  They finished inevitably with The Blue Danube Waltz.  Delightful evening and thoroughly enjoyed by all.  The next day we left for Salzburg – more about this soon!

Touring holidays

They’ve had a bad press in years gone by, but touring holidays are now revised and revamped for the 21st Century. Coaches are luxurious – many with extra legroom, reclining seats, on-board refreshments, toilets, TVs at most seats, some with DVDs for personal viewing, USB points at your seat. Hosts on-board look after their guests and ensure that they have a good time, as well as making the most of each destination. However if such personal attention isn’t for you, then there are other options.

Some touring companies, such as Trafalgar Tours, have holidays where you can opt out of the tours – based in a city, you can choose to take the organised excursions or step out on your own. Other tours, such as river cruises, have this same option.

Not all touring holidays have to take place on a coach. Basically a tour is a holiday that allows you to see more than one destination, usually with guides or escorts to enhance the experience. However it could be argued that driving holidays can be tours – especially if they follow a pre-planned route with visits and excursions booked in along the route.

Touring by train is becoming popular as travellers want to avoid long queues at airports. Travelling in Europe in first class is also much cheaper than doing this in the UK. It might take you longer to reach your destination, but you feel part of the countryside as you speed through it. Last year, we joined a river cruise in Switzerland by train from the UK. Both trains (Eurostar from London and the train from Paris to Basel) were both very busy but we didn’t feel crowded and although the second part of the journey was very long, we still arrived at the boat feeling more refreshed than if we had flown. We’re doing the same this year, travelling to Austria and then exploring part of the Danube. More details in July when we’re back!!

Escorted holidays by coach aren’t just for the more mature traveller – many companies run family friendly tours and it’s a great way to explore a country with your children, no worries about driving overseas. Excursions aren’t just sight-seeing these days. You’re just as likely to have a trip to the opera or a concert in Vienna, learn to cook in Italy or have a wine-tasting (we did a lovely wine-tasting in Germany last year, great way to spend a Sunday afternoon!!)

 

For more details, contact Olein at Diamond Travel. Agency ref S0466. We act as The Global Travel Group Ltd in connection with the sale of travel products. Unless specified as the operator, The Global Travel Group Ltd is the agent of ATOL Protected Tour Operators and other principals.

Travel trends for 2016 – Mediterranean

The Med is always popular.  However with resorts in Tunisia and Egypt currently off-limits, it might be time to go back to some resorts you might not have explored for some time.

Spain came back to the top of many most-visited lists in 2015.  However rather than sticking to the main Costas (del Sol and Blanca), try these in 2016.  Costa del Almeria is largely undeveloped, despite (or maybe because of) its proximity to the Costa Blanca.  However the main resorts of Roquetas del Mar and Mojacar have some lovely hotels.   In between the Costa Blanca and Costa Dorada, there is the Costa del Azahar, with family friendly beaches and orange groves.  Off the beaten track in Spain’s mainland – hire a car and just explore!

Greece – its financial troubles don’t seem to have deterred tourists in 2015 and this confidence will surely improve in 2016.  The islands especially are expected to be popular destinations.

Just contact me for more details on holidays to any of these destinations.

Diamond Travel, Agency ref S0466.  We act as the Global Travel Group Ltd in connection with thsunset-1057463_640e sale of travel products.  Unless specified as the operator, the Global Travel Group Ltd is the agent of ATOL Protected Tour Operators and other principals.

Marrakech do’s and don’t’s

Just from our recent experience!!  We felt safe there, but there’s a few things we noticed….

Do cross main roads at zebra crossings, at traffic lights and definitely in a group!  Much safer.

If someone offers to direct you to an attraction, shop or museum – be careful.  They are likely to ask for money in return.  We were trying to find the tanneries area of the souk (see picture) and someone took us down there.  HoweverDIGITAL CAMERA once we’d been taken round there and deposited in the shop where we bought items, we were then hassled for money (around £15-20 in total) which we didn’t have.  It was the only time we felt vulnerable.

Excursions to the Ourika Valley or Mountains, great day out.  But check if your time there will include hiking, so that you’re prepared with the right clothes and footwear and that the walk will be suitable for your fitness level.

Evening events that are or might be outside, make sure you take a jacket or shawl.  High daytime temperatures do not mean high night-time temperatures!

Diamond Travel, agency ref S0466.  We act as the Global Travel Group in connection with the sale of travel products.  Unless specified as the Operator, The Global Travel Group is the agent of ATOL Protected Tour Operators and other principals.