The Spanish capital, Madrid, is one of a number of destinations to which the train is expected become a viable alternative to the plane within Western Europe during the next decade.
It’s thought a high-speed Paris–Madrid train link will be in place within the next two years, bringing the journey time between the two cities to 5½ hours.
Although a flight would take less than half that time, you have to add several hours for checking-in, airport security and travel to and from the city centres. The rail industry is hoping to attract passengers who are becoming disenchanted with this ‘airport hassle factor’.
The German train operator, Deutsche Bahn, is in talks with Eurotunnel about a direct train route to and from London through the tunnel, while Eurostar – which currently runs services from London St. Pancras direct to Paris and Brussels – has also made no secret of its interest in taking trains farther afield.
There would certainly be no lack of support from the respective governments as trains are seen to be more environmentally friendly than planes in short-haul travel.
by Andy Moreton
Luxique offers a wide choice of luxury hotels in Madrid, from the traditional Westin Palace to the quirky and fun Room Mate Mario.
Parisians have been marking the 100th anniversary of the day the Seine burst its banks and filled the city with torrents of muddy water.
Thousands of residents were forced from their homes and power was cut off for months.
To commemorate the 1910 flood, Paris’s Galerie des Bibliotheques is exhibiting a collection of photos, postcards and witness accounts. Among them are sepia shots of bowler-hatted men travelling piggyback, trousers hoisted up and knee-deep in water; people pulling up to Notre Dame cathedral in boats, and food being delivered by ladder to second-floor apartment windows.
But while present-day Parisians view the old scenes with a smile, there are warnings that it could happen again – and be ten times worse, despite various flood defence measures put in place over the years.
“The flood is unavoidable,” said Louis Hubert, director for the Paris region at France’s Ministry of Ecology and Sustainable Development. “What we can simply say is that we are almost certain to see new considerable floods, but we don’t know when.”
Paris museums such as the Louvre have a flood plan by which priceless objects are removed to a safe house in a town north-west of Paris – if they get enough warning.
by Andy Moreton
The exhibition at Galerie des Bibliotheques is on until March 28th. And if you’re planning a visit to France’s romantic and historic capital city, browse through Luxique’s unrivalled selection of luxury Paris hotels.
We all love those hotels that go the extra mile for their guests, but here’s one free service you might think you can do without.
The Holiday Inn chain in the UK is to pilot a scheme in Manchester whereby someone sleeps in your bed to warm it up before you get in. Sleep experts say a cold bed inhibits sleep – the ideal temperature is 20–24 degrees Celsius (68–75 Fahrenheit).
The human electric blanket will be dressed in an all-in-one sleeper suit and spend five minutes under the duvet.
Holiday Inn spokeswoman, Jane Bednall, said:
“People want to leave the cold outside and climb into a warm bed. The service is a bit like having a giant hot water bottle in your bed, warming it up before guests climb in to give them a great night’s sleep away from the cold. Of course they jump out before you jump in.”
Of course. But it could take some explaining if you forgot to tell your partner you’d booked the service …
by Andy Moreton
Most of us try to avoid hanging around airports for hours, but a British academic is going to spend a year in one – funded by the government.
Anthropologist Dr Damian O’Doherty will live for up to 18 hours a day at Manchester Airport, observing passengers’ and workers’ habits. The aim is to make them better places to visit or work.
Dr O’Doherty said he was particularly interested in what he called the kinetic elite:
“people always on the go, fixing business deals on their laptops, at the same time talking on their iPhone and perhaps posting a Twitter to friends and family.”
“It is very unusual for an anthropologist to do this but the place is a vibrant hotbed of change and it fascinates me.”
The exercise will cost about £40,000 to the taxpayer and not everyone thinks it’s money well spent.
Matthew Elliott, of the spending watchdog, the Taxpayers’ Alliance, said:
“If the department [for Business, Innovation and Skills] wanted to find out how people interact in an airport, all they needed to do was to rent the Tom Hanks film [Terminal Man, 2004]. Surely that would be better than squandering tens of thousands of pounds getting someone to research it for a year?”
by Andy Moreton
If you happen to find yourself in Manchester and in need of a hotel, rather than an airport bench, Luxique has four luxury options, including the renowned Lowry.
A debate has been raging in the media about the decision by the cruise line Royal Caribbean International to continue to dock its ships at a private luxury resort in Haiti.
Passengers have been enjoying the beautiful expanse of white sand at Labadee, only 60 miles from the capital, Port-au-Prince, where up to 200,000 people are believed dead in the devastating earthquake.
The burning question has been: Should vacationers relax and have fun with so much suffering elsewhere on the island, or would it be worse to stop the port calls and deprive locals of what they earn from tourism?
One cruise passenger wrote:
“I just can’t see myself sunning on the beach, playing in the water, eating a barbecue, and enjoying a cocktail while [in Port-au-Prince] there are tens of thousands of dead people being piled up on the streets, with the survivors stunned and looking for food and water.”
But Royal Caribbean President and CEO, Adam Goldstein, defended the decision to continue with scheduled stops in Labadee. He said the site had sustained no damage and the Haitian government had welcomed the ship. The country reaped a fixed cost per passenger, plus annual fees and the cash that tourists spent on goods at a market where locals sold trinkets and crafts.
In addition, he said, Royal Caribbean was delivering food and water during every call and pledging $1 million (£620,000) plus net revenue from Labadee to the relief effort.
by Andy Moreton
China is planning to construct the world’s highest airport at an altitude of 14,500 feet (4,436 metres).
The airport will be built in the Nagqu prefecture of Tibet – what’s been called ‘the roof of the world’. The region is home to a mostly ethnic Tibetan population of about 400,000.
The airport, to be located about 140 miles (230kms) north of Tibet’s capital, Lhasa, will be the sixth in the region, which has been ruled by China for almost six decades. It is expected to surpass Bamda Airport, also in Tibet, by 335ft (102m).
This is the latest in a series of ambitious infrastructure projects being carried out by China. A railway line connecting Tibet to the rest of China opened four years ago, and the government is constructing six new rail lines in and around the vast region, which is rich in natural resources.
Critics of China’s rule say this new infrastructure is allowing its ethnic Han majority to flood Tibet, exploit its resources and consolidate political control. But Beijing has insisted that such projects will raise the standard of living in the remote region.
Construction will begin next year and is likely to last three years. Experts say the task won’t be easy given the altitude and the climate – average temperatures there stay below zero throughout the year.
by Andy Moreton
The principality of Monaco – playground of the rich and famous – has a tiny population, and it’s crammed into the smallest of spaces.
Now Prince Albert II is trying to ease that overcrowding with an ambitious plan to reclaim about 12.5 acres of land from the Mediterranean.
The £10 billion ($16 billion) project was first proposed last year, but put on hold because of the financial crisis and the Prince’s concerns that it would damage the marine environment.
He’s very much a ‘green’ head of state – driving an electric car and travelling to the North Pole to measure the effects of global warming. He wants this project to be an eco-showcase that sets an example to the world.
So his idea is that the mixture of luxury property, offices and public buildings be built on stilts so as not to disturb the marine life underneath.
The Prince has asked three groups of international environmental experts to study sedimentology and currentology, marine bio-diversity and the creation of false reefs to support a wealth of marine life. They will hand in their conclusions in the next few months.
Major names from the world of architecture will then be asked to come up with new designs, with construction not expected to start before 2015.
by Andy Moreton, with Henry Samuel
If you fancy an up-market holiday experience like no other, Luxique offers six of the best luxury hotels in Monte Carlo, Monaco. They include the Hotel de Paris, of which one recent guest from London commented: “If you want to feel like a film star, this is the place to be.”
I wrote last week about some of the items that are lifted from hotel rooms (Nickers Down Under).
As far as the former US Ambassador in London, Raymond Seitz, is concerned, there’s only one souvenir he looks for – the ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign. He’s now amassed a collection of 500, he told February’s Condé Nast Traveller magazine.
“I think I’m attracted to these signs because their message so perfectly captures my personal philosophy. I would be happy if I could go through my life with one of them hanging around my neck,” he said.
He’s not alone in his passion – I discover there are a number of collectors around the world and at least one website dedicated to this peculiar pastime, set up by someone who’s got a staggering 6,000 of the things (http://www.freewebs.com/dndcollector/).
Mr Seitz is apparently not a fan of the trend of some hotels to re-word the simple message in favour of such modernisms as ZZZZ, I am re-energising, or I’m catching a cat nap.
by Andy Moreton
For the fifth year in a row, France has topped a list of the best places in the world to live.
International Living magazine’s 30th Quality of Life Index surveyed almost 200 countries across nine categories, including cost of living, culture/leisure, environment, and safety/risk.
“In France, life is savoured,” said International Living publisher, Jackie Flynn. “I don’t think anyone would disagree that France is one of the most beautiful countries in the world, where there is so much pride in all the small details. The French love little window boxes filled with flowers, tidy gardens, pretty sidewalk cafes and clean streets.”
International Living paid particular attention to provincial France, praising the affordability and services outside Paris, especially for retired people and their families.
Australia jumped up the rankings from fifth to second place on the strength of its economic recovery, while the US dropped from third to seventh. International Living claimed that sustaining the ‘American Dream’ had escalated out of the reach of many.
5. New Zealand
7. United States
The UK’s position? A lowly 25th behind the Czech Republic and Lithuania.
by Andy Moreton
Luxique can help you book some of the finest luxury hotels in Paris and in many other areas of beautiful France.
The UK government’s announcement that it intends to introduce body scanners at all major airports has stirred up something of a hornets’ nest.
The decision was taken in the light of the failed attempt to blow up a US plane on Christmas Day, but the government has been told the devices might breach an individual’s right to privacy under the Human Rights Act.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has written to the government expressing its concerns.
The scanners produce ‘naked’ images of passengers, and civil rights groups warn they could generate illegal pictures of children and celebrities that could be leaked online. In response to such fears, the Department of Transport said it was developing a staff code of practice for airport body scanners.
In its letter, the EHRC calls on the Home Secretary, Alan Johnson, to set out in detail the justification for bringing in body scanners, and clarify what safeguards will be put in place.
The Netherlands has also decided to install the scanners, but other countries such as Spain have sounded less enthusiastic.
by Andy Moreton