Archives for Europe

The killer bikes of Amsterdam

Amsterdam. The very name conjures up images of tulips, canals, trams, windmills, artists such as Rembrandt and Van Gogh, and yes, cyclists. The Dutch are bike mad and proud of it. Seemingly, everyone has a bike, and they are ridden by all ages, all the time, and often in a very aggressive “we own the path” manner. Cycling in Amsterdam: beware of the killer bikes
Read More

Buy carefully on London Food Tours

Food tours are enormously popular in many major cities around the world, and often in areas with unique cuisines. London presents a special challenge as Europeans generally look down upon English cooking as stodgy, provincial and unimaginative. John Bishop found there is plenty to be delighted about as he took three food tours around London, with some history and culture thrown in. View article as PDF
Read More

Continental river cruise

There are few things better in life than quietly drifting down two of Europe’s best-known rivers in comfortable surroundings, well fed, with plentiful supplies of wine and other drinks, rising each day to a new town and a new experience. View as PDF
Read More

Airbnb booming in Spain – is it  a good experience?

News that the number of tourist beds in Spain offered by Airbnb operators now outnumbers hotel beds is an interesting development but not necessarily a welcome one. AFP quotes a survey by the Spanish tourism sector body Exceltur that in Barcelona 64 per cent of available rooms are offered by online home rental services. Airbnb and other similar sites now list 2.7 million beds in Spain (December 2014 figures) compared to 2.4 million beds at hotels and other lodgings. Tourism accounts for about 11 per cent of all economic activity in Spain and for one in nine jobs. But apart from quality issues there are two other drawbacks from a national economic perspective. The number of jobs generated from home rentals is just 9.8 per 100 beds, compared to 53 jobs per 100 tourist beds at a hotel, according to Exceltur. It also estimates that up to $1.3 billion is lost in tax due to undeclared earnings. From the tourists’ perspective Airbnb may be cheaper, but I think the practice raises questions about quality. I used an apartment in Brooklyn
Read More

A weird place to stay; Z hotel in Piccadilly

I’d like to say nice things about this place. But it’s hard because so much didn’t go well, though the staff always apologised. They were willing to fix things and to try and make up for the various lapses with offers of wine, beer, coffee and food. The Z hotel in Piccadilly is one of the new breed of micro hotels, well situated and with some amenities but with tiny, and I really do mean tiny rooms. The length of the bed was the entire width of the room. The suitcase goes under the bed and the clothes pegs on the right of the picture are the wardrobe. There is a small bedside table – with a shelf, but no drawers. The bathroom is small but quite functional. The shower is good; toilet and hand basin are fine. There are a couple of shelves above the toilet. I put some underwear there, but they are not deep enough for a folded shirt. The hotel is so new that the reception desk is still being built. Two receptionists are sitting on
Read More

A fine breakfast at Simpsons in the Strand

Simpson’s in the Strand is a name that connotes luxury, empire, tradition, majesty and upper class-ness. In London recently I didn’t have the time for lunch, for which they are rightly famous for their servings of beef or lamb carved off massive haunches at the table. But I can manage breakfast. I know what I am having well before I get there. It’s a treat I have promised myself. The Great British Breakfast at Simpson’s is “Cumberland sausage, streaky and back bacon, Stornoway black pudding, fried mushrooms, baked tomato & egg (fried, poached or scrambled)”. It is just wonderful. Beautifully cooked and served hot (how rare is that) on a warmed plate and eaten with silver cutlery on a linen table cloth with a copy of the Times next to me. I read the court circular recording the activities of the Royal Household with particular interest. The room is left over from the 17th century – a high ceiling with dark panelled walls, festooned with pictures including one over the mantelpiece at the end of the room, showing a meal
Read More