Author Archives: Peter Taylor

Ryanair at it again?


Are Ryanair at it again squeezing extras out of their passengers after they have paid their fares? Their latest trick seems to be separating couples who check in when the window opens for free seating. I fly with them a lot and recent experience seems to suggest they are.

On our flight in May, my wife and I were seated12 rows apart in D aisle seats. As we boarded the plane we luckily met a mother and her young son who had been split up with C seats in the same rows and we were able to swop so that we sat together.

We were flying again on July 7 so we decided to pay for seats but, lo and behold, there were different prices for different seats. There were no four euro seats and seats in the front of the plane seemed double the prices in less popular parts of the plane.

Ryanair offer a great service at great prices and they make big profits so it’s a shame they are appearing less than friendly again in this way.

There’s another take on this new problem involving randomly allocated seats here:

The Music City of Nashville

Nashville Music City

Downtown Nashville

Nashville is a big-hearted friendly southern USA city dedicated to music

The heartbeat of Nashville is an area where 2nd Avenue dissects Broadway, just a stone’s throw from the Cumberland River. This is Music City and it doesn’t disappoint.

Band after band can be found in bar after bar belting out their own live songs and the enjoyment goes on day and night. For the price of a beer, you can listen to one of the numerous bands that head to the city in search of recognition.

If you don’t like the band you can head for another bar until you the find music you like. It’s not all country music either. You can find rock and roll, blues, crooners, honky tonk. Take your pick. On 2nd Avenue, B.B. King’s blues club and restaurant is a famous venue.

Nice thing about downtown is that It’s not hyped up and over-commercialised and I hope it never will be. By day, there’s a casual and friendly family atmosphere which is totally enjoyable. By night it becomes even livelier as revellers flock in to bar hop and enjoy everything from retro-disco to line-dance hootenanny.

Broadway in downtown Nashville

Broadway, downtown Nashville

This downtown Nashville area, known as the District, is within walking distance of most of the venues and centres that have made this small city famous.

Between 2nd and 5th avenues lie the Country Music Hall of Fame, the Ryman Auditorium and the Johnny Cash Museum, the state capitol building, the Tennessee State Museum, the Tennessee Centre for the Performing Arts, the Tennessee Convention Centre.

One thing about walking in the USA, many Americans consider any distance more than two blocks away to require a taxi. My hotel was between 25th and 26th Avenue so the hotel staff were just about imploring me to use shuttle or taxi.

But, after establishing it was safe to walk this area, I walked it and was rewarded with some great views of the Nashville skyline and a wander in to Music Row, on 16th and 17th, which houses famous old recording studios currently the subject of a battle for their conservation.

But for one thing, Nashville would be like any other party city throughout the world. That one thing is genuine grass roots music. The city’s love for it makes it a special place. I can’t think of any other city I have visited that compares with it. Maybe New Orleans, but New Orleans has an edge to it and you have to be careful where you go. Not so in Nashville.

When I was there, Paul McCartney was playing the Bridgestone Arena and I was lucky enough to take in his show. As I left towards midnight, after watching this great British musician perform non-stop for three hours showcasing 39 songs, the band in the bar across the road was playing a rousing version of Hey Jude. Nashville was buzzing.

Set on a bluff by the Cumberland River and surrounded by farmland, Nashville attracts millions of visitors each year, most coming for the country music.

Its other Mecca is The Grand Ole Opry which is 12 miles away from the city’s downtown area. The weekly country music stage concert presents the biggest stars of that genre. Founded in 1925 by George D. Hay it is also among the longest-running radio broadcasts in history.

Evora and the Alentejo region of Portugal – a magic mix of past and present

Evora and Alentejo

Time after time – remains of Roman temple frame the spires of cathedral in Evora, Alentejo region

Evora and Alentejo region

Praca de Giraldo, the main square in Evora, Alentejo, and its imposing balconies.

Evora and the Alentejo

It’s one of those places that you have to see to truly enjoy so I will let the pictures do the talking about Evora, the capital city of the beautiful Portuguese region of Alentejo.

There is so much history within this walled city that you can spend a week there alone browsing through it. And the people are great, welcoming and helpful although I wouldn’t recommend the hot chestnut man in the main square.

And Evora is the centrepiece of a beautiful region. The Alentejo region’s nickname – the bread basket of Portugal – doesn’t do it justice. Touring it by car is like driving through an oil painting by a master, beautiful landscapes on every side.Alentejo, Portugal

There is ancient and medieval history everywhere. The Roman emperor Augustus has truly left his mark on this part of the world.

Evora is a UNESCO world heritage site and is ranked number two in the list of Portugal’s most liveable cities.

For the moment, the pictures can do the talking. I will write more about Evora in a later post.

Evora and Alentejo - Evora at night


Ten great days out on the French Riviera


French Riviera - hilltop village of Eze

Hilltop village of Eze

French Riviera – Côte d’Azur – to do list

*Have a day out in Monaco during the week of the Monaco Grand Prix. It’s often said that Monaco is the star attraction of the French Riviera without being part of France. The tiny principality has been a symbol of wealth and glamour ever since its Prince Rainier married Hollywood star Grace Kelly in its cathedral in 1956. Visitors can gamble in the casino made famous by James Bond or watch the luxury yachts sitting quietly at anchor in the stunning harbour. But you don’t have to be a high roller to enjoy it. Its superb gardens and terraces, with dazzling views, are free and the locals give a warm welcome. And see my video clip below about grand prix day.

*Have a walk along the Promenade des Anglais, Nice, followed by a drink in the sumptuous Hotel Negresco, where doormen still dress in the manner of the staff in 18th-century mansions. In 2003 it was listed by the government of France as a National Historic Building. The main thoroughfare of Nice, the capital of the Côte d’Azur,  is named after the English after the wealthy 19th century visitors, who made it one of the first European resorts for travellers from the UK, stumped up cash.

*Take a train ride to Italy. It is inexpensive and total value for money. For a few euros you can ride from Nice to Ventimiglia, just over the border. The sights along the way are fantastic and include Monaco and Villefranche-sur-Mer.

*Visit the perched village of Eze, a medieval village perched like an eagles nest on a narrow rocky peak overlooking the Mediterranean sea. The ancient fortified village is still crowned with the ruins of its 12th-century fortified castle sitting on a narrow rocky peak. The castle grounds house the well-known Jardin Exotique

*Enjoy a scenic walk between the Côte d’Azur villages of Villefranche-sur-Mer and next-door neighbour Beaulieu-sur-Mer. This walk of around three quarters of an hour starts in Villefranche’s historic harbour, a favourite with cruise ships. It also takes you past Villa Nellcôte, the exotic location famous as the place where the Rolling Stones recorded their Exile On Main St album.

*Visit the Manet museum in Nice and Vieux Nice – the old town. The museum, on a hill in the Cimiez neighbourhood, houses the collection the artist and his heirs left to the city. The old town is an atmospheric honeycomb of narrow streets, dotted with Baroque churches, vibrant squares, shops and restaurants. Great place to eat out and party at night.

* Cannes is famous for its prestigious film festival which this year is from May 15 to 26. It has museums, churches and art galleries to see but the main attraction seems to be sitting in a cafe along the shore and watching people go by. If you don’t want to spend you can enjoy the seaside from one of its many piers and jetties.

* Inland slightly from the coast, the small town of Grasse is noted for being the centre of production for many of the world’s best perfumes. Visitors can visit the perfumeries that are strewn around the village or head out into the hills and enjoy walking through the unspoilt countryside.

*Hire a car and drive with care the French Riviera coastal roads between Cannes and Monaco. Enjoyable, with a feast of sights for the eyes, but to be avoided in peak holiday periods.

*Antibes, halfway between Nice and Cannes, sits atop the ruins of the fourth century BC Greek city of Antipolis. It has beaches and a port, an enjoyable old town, fortifications, good hiking, and a great Picasso collection.  It also has a traditional daily market.

Georgia On My Mind – visit the American Deep South for a real holiday experience

atlanta georgia usa

Atlanta skyline at night

Hotbed of history

THE southern state of Georgia, USA, has so much to offer the visitor that it is difficult to absorb everything in just one trip. I can’t wait to go back there after taking in the capital city of Atlanta and then enjoying  a  motoring trip down to its Atlantic coastline some 300 miles or so south.

 Georgia is a hotbed of American history, culture and diversity. It is also beautifully scenic in many different ways and has as much to offer, if not more, than its neighbour Florida where British families flock in their droves every year.

 The peach state, as it is nicknamed,  offers a wonderful outdoors of mountains, lakes and an Atlantic coastline which perfectly complements as a continuation of Florida’s with some enchanting islands thrown in.

 The dark days of the American Civil War have left a tourist trail all over the state particularly in Atlanta which was sacked by General William Sherman in 1864 and spawned Gone with the Wind via writer Margaret Mitchell in 1936.

 Because of all its contrasts, Georgia is perfect for an exciting family holiday and it is well geared for visitors. A fleet of hotel shuttle buses serve its busy main airport in Atlanta and it’s relatively easy to arrive at the airport from the UK and get quickly to a hotel to get your head down before journeying on.

 The downtown area of the city offers a great family attraction, the world’s largest aquarium which     includes more than eight million gallons of fresh and marine water and more than 100,000 animals from 500 species, including beluga whales.

 Next door is the World of Coke tourist attraction. The Coca Cola company has its headquarters in Atlanta as does CNN. Then there is the Centennial Olympic Park, a permanent reminder of the 1996 Olympics held in Atlanta and a big venue for events and celebrations.

The rebels remembered

History is never far away in Georgia and Atlanta is home of the Martin Luther King Jnr. National Historic site. Just 15 miles east of downtown Atlanta is Stone Mountain, the world’s largest free-standing piece of exposed granite, depicting the three rebel figures of Stonewall Jackson, Robert E. Lee, and Jefferson Davis, which sits in Georgia’s largest campground and is its most visited attraction.

 Though the city has much to offer, the rest of Georgia has more. One of the best ways to enjoy it is to hire a car and head north towards the mountains or south for the coast.

 I headed south with friends following the interstate highways to the palm trees, beaches and islands of the state’s 100 miles of Atlantic coastline where Americans flock to take their leisure in just the same fashion as Europeans head for the Mediterranean. Henry Ford was once a winter resident.

 It is simply a run-on from the wonderful beaches of Florida with lush golf courses and venues galore for visitors. Huge oak trees covered in Spanish moss form distinct overhead canopies to remind you that you are in the deep south of the USA.

 The names of some of these venues have you excited before you get there, for instance the Okefenokee Swamp or the Altamaha River kayak and canoe trail. Okefenokee    means “land of the trembling earth’’ in Seminole  Altamaha is a name derived from a Native American chief.

The 312 miles from Atlanta to our destination of St Simon’s Island is a comfortable journey of about five and a half hours via interstate highways 75 and 16 and 95. It is one of the famous Golden Isles that grace this corner of Georgia’s coast, renowned for their climate, beaches and gorgeous sunsets, and has plenty to offer in the way of golf courses, quaint shops and fine restaurants.

An hour’s drive up the road was the historic city of Savannah, where Georgia was founded in 1733 by settlers from Britain led by Sir James Oglethorpe.

It takes a leap of imagination for a British visitor, used to seeing much older historic buildings, to understand the importance of Savannah, which houses one of the country’s largest National Historic Landmark Districts and attracts millions of visitors, but it is undoubtedly a charming city, full of examples of 18th and 19th century prevailing architectural styles in America and offering guided tours by foot, trolley bus and even riverboat.

Georgia was able to flourish unhindered by the warfare that marked the beginnings of many early American colonies because of the friendship between Oglethorpe and the local native Indians. The last of the thirteen original British colonies on the eastern side of the New World was named after England’s King George II in 1733 under the terms of the charter granted by the king.

Black civil rights and displaced Native Americans

From quiet beginnings the state’s development went on to directly encompass just about every major issue you associate with the United States of America – displaced Native American settlements, Civil War, and the black civil rights movement to name the most important.

Atlanta had a hard time in the Civil War. The Union’s General William Sherman ordered it to be burnt to the ground. Savannah was spared and presented to President Abraham Lincoln as a gift.

Georgia  now makes the most of this episode of its history. The Civil War’s impact on the state was greater than any other event in its history with 11,000 Georgians killed and more than 100,000 total casualties. It boasts a Civil War tourist trail made up of a plethora of battlefields, cemeteries, arsenals, and museums.

As well as Atlanta Metro and the Georgia coast, the state has six other distinct areas to offer tourists – Historic High Country and North East Mountains, Historic Heartland and Classic South, Presidential Pathways, Plantation Trace and Magnolia Midlands.

Historic High Country showcases a one-time Confederate stronghold at the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park and offers a chance to ride the Blue Ridge Scenic Railway.

The Trail of Tears – the name given to the forced relocation and movement of Native American nations from south eastern parts of the United States  following the Indian Removal Act of 1830 – can also be followed here as much of the area was part of the Cherokee Nation. The 15 forts built during their removal can still be seen.

As well as peaches, Georgia is famous for its peanut and pecan production and cotton and tobacco still form part of the state’s agricultural industry which  plays a major role in its economy, contributing billions of dollars annually.

The state also offers  great shopping in sophisticated malls and bargain outlet centres.