Category Archives: Hotels

Entrance Ticket – P&O Cabin Key, Hull to Rotterdam

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Once on board we wandered around the maze of narrow corridors on deck ten searching among five hundred and forty-six identical looking cabins until we finally found our inner berth shoebox and after we had negotiated sleeping arrangements in a fair and democratic way I bagged the bottom bunk and let Jonathan practice using the flimsy aluminium ladder to get on top.

One of the rules of the crossing is that passengers cannot take alcohol on board the boat – not because P&O have anything against alcohol it is just that they would rather prefer it if you buy it on board at one of their bars rather than from a supermarket in Hull so without any smuggled on beer or wine there wasn’t a great deal to hang around for in the cabin so we made our way to the Sky lounge and the Sunset bar at the very top of the ship to see the sunset that was dipping down over the River Humber to the west.

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A Postcard From The Black Forest

Black Forest Postcard

When I was a boy my parents had an LP record by Bert Kaempfert. He was a German band leader who was quite popular in the 1960s. They liked it! One particular tune that I can remember distinctly was a jaunty little melody called ‘A walk in the Black Forest’ and inspired by the tune that is exactly what we have done several times..

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A Postcard From Sorrento

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In the spring of 1976 I made arrangements for my very first trip to continental Europe and booked a Cosmos holiday to Sorrento in Italy with my girlfriend Linda.  We were due to go on the 12th June but at some point shortly before travel she fell for the charms of a reporter on the local newspaper and abruptly ended the relationship.

This created a problem because it was within the no refund period and so I was faced with the prospect of losing all my money.   I could have begged I suppose but that would have been undignified so instead we had a family crisis meeting and the solution was found when dad enthusiastically stepped in and agreed to take her place. That’s what dads are for, I would do exactly the same!

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Early Days, 1955 Part Three – Disney, McDonald’s and La Résistance

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“The people of McDonald’s need guidance. They need to be told that Europe is not Disneyland…. It should look like a normal European bistro and nothing to tell you from the outside that this is a McDonald’s except for a discreet golden arches sticker on each window and a steady stream of people with enormous asses going in and out of the front door.” – Bill Bryson, ‘Neither here Nor there

The year 1955 unleashed another American icon on the world when Walt Disney opened his Disneyland theme park in Anaheim, California.

Sixteen years later the World Disney World resort opened in Orlando, Florida and although I have never been to California I went to Disney World three times in the 1990’s which was good fun but at least one time too many.  My young children enjoyed it of course but I tired of the theme parks fairly quickly and looking back I would have to say that I liked EPCOT most of all and here in Walt’s own personal dream my favourite was the World Showcase.

Disney World Epcot

In 1955 Disney and McDonald’s almost got together when Ray Kroc wrote to Walt Disney offering a deal: “I have very recently taken over the national franchise of the McDonald’s system. I would like to inquire if there may be an opportunity for a McDonald’s in your Disneyland Development.” The story goes that Walt was too busy to deal with the matter himself so he passed it on to the President in charge of concessions.  Allegedly he agreed but wanted to increase prices by 50% with all the extra profit going to Disney.  Kroc refused and it was to be another thirty years before they worked together.

I am not sure just how big a set-back that was because since then McDonald’s has globalised and like a giant tsunami swept into every continent  in the World, the company has more than forty thousand restaurants in over a hundred countries, with two million employees and serving nearly seventy-five million people every day which is a staggering 7.5% of the World’s population – but perhaps some people go twice!

Although a lot of us deny ever dining there most of us secretly do.  Take the French for example.

The French are famously snooty and protectionist about all things Gallic and they didn’t take very kindly to Micky Mouse when plans were revealed to open a Disney theme park in Paris and the proposal was a subject of fierce debate and controversy.

I like France but the country has a massive unjustified superiority complex and the French are so up themselves about things like wine and food and language whilst they turn a blind eye to dog poop on the pavements in Paris, too much garlic in their food and Charles Aznavour as a cultural icon.

As Disney threatened, French intellectuals and conservative republican traditionalists denounced what they considered to be the cultural imperialism of Euro Disney and argued that it would encourage in France an unhealthy American type of consumerism.  But they were powerless to stop it and it opened anyway in April 1992.  There was one final act of defiance in June of the same year when a group of French farmers blockaded Euro Disney in protest of farm policies supported at the time by the United States.

As heirs to the revolutions of 1789, 1830, 1848 and 1968 French farmers in gilet jaune  need of course only the tiniest excuse to raise a barricade, shut down motorways and burn tractor tyres.  Booking a ferry ticket from Dover to Calais always includes that inherent risk.

Today the theme park, rebranded as Disneyland Paris, welcomes over fifteen million guests a year and half of these visitors are from France and that is more than 10% of the population of the country!

And this statistic raises another important issue.  The French boast that with over eighty million people a year they are the most visited country in Europe but it turns out that 10% of these visitors are going to Disneyland and think they are in the USA!

EPCOT France

After language the French get most uptight about food and for McDonald’s the battle for France was one of the most difficult.  The first outlet was opened in the Paris suburb of Créteil in 1972 and in 1999 a farmer turned environmental activist and anti-globalisation protester Jose Bové gave a whole new meaning to the term ‘drive-through’ when he vandalised a McDonald’s in the town of Millau in the south of France by driving a tractor into it.

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At the time he was running for President and must have thought this would be popular with the French electorate but he was no match for Le Big Mac and this act of folly completely scuppered his chances. The French it seems didn’t want a modern day Asterix the Gaul swinging a battle axe heading up their government. The first round of the presidential election was held  and Bové finished an embarrassing tenth, getting barely one percent of the total vote.

By then, the Gallic dam was well and truly breached, McDonald’s was expanding rapidly in the land of classic cuisine and fine dining and had three hundred more restaurants than when Bové began his futile campaign.  The company was pulling in over a million people per day in France and annual turnover was growing at twice the rate it was even in the United States.  Against McDonald’s, Bové had lost in a sticky landslide of mayonnaise, milkshake and ketchup.

He spent a few weeks in jail but unbelievably went on to become a representative at the European Parliament.  Little wonder the people of the UK want to leave!

More evidence of French snobbery…

“Lots of people around the world are completely bemused by the fact that French people want a McDo at all. Many of us see gastronomy in France as something to be cherished and a visit to McDo is letting the side down and a slap in the face to the heritage of French cuisine.” – a patriotic French website

Even though the French still maintain that they despise the fast food chain an awful lot of people eat there. Across France there are nearly twelve hundred restaurants and in Paris alone there are almost seventy restaurants under the golden arches with even more dotted around the outer suburbs. That’s much the same as London, but with only a third of the population.  McDonald’s, or “McDo” as it is known, is France’s dirty secret.   In 2017 sales exceeded five billion euros.

That is more than it generates in the UK and in terms of profit, France is second only to the United States itself and it has the most locations per capita in Europe and the fourth-highest rate in the world ( USA, Japan, China are the top three, the UK is seventh).  It is now so firmly a part of French culture that the menu includes McBaguette and Croque McDo and in 2009 McDonald’s reached a deal with the French museum, the Louvre, to open a McDonald’s restaurant and McCafé on its premises by their underground entrance which is probably why over eight million people visit the Museum every year, not to see the most famous painting in the World but to get a Big Mac and Large Fries!

Mona Lisa with Fries

Statistically (but questionably) France is the most visited country in the World but most likely because most people want to go to eat at McDonald’s.

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In the world of national and international politics, in this year Winston Churchill resigned as Prime Minister in Great Britain and Juan Peron, who was famously married to Eva Duarte, or Evita as we popularly know her, was overthrown from power in a coup in Argentina.  Cardiff became the official capital of Wales, Austria was restored to the status of sovereign independent state and faithfully promised the world to remain forever neutral and the Soviet Union finally declared the end of the Second-World-War with Germany.

In sport the 1955 Le Mans disaster occurred during the 24 Hours motor race when a racing car involved in an accident flew into the crowd, killing the driver and eighty-two spectators which in terms of human casualties was, and hopefully always will be, the most catastrophic accident in the history of motor sport.

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Favourite Places in Spain, Ronda in Andalusia

“We sighted Ronda. It was raised up in the mountains, like a natural extension of the landscape, and in the sunlight it seemed to me to be the most beautiful city in the world.” –  José Agustín Goytisolo

Ronda  is one of the pueblos blancos (white towns) so-called because it is whitewashed in the old Moorish tradition and sits like a shining wedding cake in contrast to the surrounding ragged countryside.  It also happens to be one of the most spectacularly located towns in Andalucía sitting on a massive rocky outcrop straddling a precipitous limestone cleft in the mountains.

During the day it is a busy place with a procession of tour buses from the Costas and from the city of Seville but this is a town to enjoy in the evening when everyone has gone home.  I stayed here for two nights in 2016 and have always regretted that it wasn’t three or maybe four.

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Favourite Places in Spain, Antequera in Andalucia

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When planning a road trip in Spain at least for one night I generally like to find a place to stay off the usual well beaten tourist trail.  I have had great success with this and in picking places like Carmona, a few miles east of Seville in Andalucía, Pedro Bernardo in the mountains of Castilla y Leon and Almagro on the Ruta de Don Quixote in Castilla-La Mancha.

I was optimistic that Antequera was going to be added to the list of good selections.

Because of geography, tradition and culture Antequera is called the heart of  Andalucía and was once considered as a suitable candidate for the regional government to be based but it eventually and inevitably lost out to Seville.

My instincts proved to be correct and I was not disappointed.

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Favourite Places in Spain, Almagro in Castilla-La Mancha

Almagro Watercolours

Almagro is an old town that was once much more important than it is today, two hundred and fifty years ago it was for a short time the provincial capital of La Mancha (1750-61) but religious decline set in during the reign of Charles III and it fared badly and suffered damage in the Napoleonic and the Carlist wars.

Eventually it was eclipsed by its neighbour Ciudad Real and it settled down to become  the quiet provincial town that it is today on, not being unkind, a secondary, less important, tourist trail.  We came upon Almagro quite by chance and chose it for a one night stop-over.  We stayed for three!

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