Category Archives: TOURING

It’s cherry blossom time – a time to celebrate

cherry blossom time is here

It’s cherry blossom time all over the world!

From now until May devoted fans of the lovely blossoms will be watching out for their colourful arrival. My picture is from the Algarve in southern Portugal where cherry blossom time is already being celebrated.

In Washington, USA,  James Perry, chief of resource management for the Park Service, cheered up the winter-weary this week with the news that the trees have braved severe weather and should reach peak bloom between April 8 and 12.

On the other side of the world, the Japanese are probably the most besotted nation of all when it comes to cherry blossom time.

Washington’s annual cherry blossom festival, hailed as the “nation’s greatest springtime celebration,” marks the anniversary of Japan’s gift of 3,000 trees to Washington in 1912

In Japan, the season usually begins around March in sub-tropical Okinawa, the southernmost island, and works its way up through Kyushu, Shikoku, and Honshu arriving in northernmost island Hokkaido last, usually in May. The sakura – as it is known – is a signal of the coming of summer and it’s time to get out the camera and capture a pretty picture of a tree in bloom. My picture here was taken in May in Sapporo, the capital city of Hokkaido, which, by the way, is a great city.

cherry blossom time in Japan

In Japan it’s also a traditional time for open air picnics and enjoying a drink with friends and family under the trees in the afternoon and evening. People bring home-cooked meals, do BBQ, or buy take-out food to celebrate the blossoms and the coming of the summer.

I would like to run pictures from around the world on the cherry blossoms as they appear. You can send them to me at

A spring break in Europe? The choice is endless

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h2Europe calling/h2
DAYLIGHT hours are lengthening. Spring is not far away and it’s a great time to be daydreaming about a refreshing break in one of the top destinations in Europe.

With the plethora of budget flights around and the ease of online booking of hotels of all varieties in advance, there is something to suit every purse or wallet.

These days you don’t have to plump automatically for your local airport. You can cast your net wider and drive further afield, leaving your car in airport parking for your trip.

For example, someone travelling from, say, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, can go as far afield as Edinburgh Airport, even Manchester, and make huge savings on some budget flights.

A quick glance at the easyJet website today revealed a huge number of opportunities for varied travel experiences in March and April.

A return trip from London Gatwick to the beautiful city of Copenhagen is under £100. Or why not the majestic French city of Lyon, a gastronomic treat, for around the same?

Newcastle to Geneva is cheap but flights end on April 20. Newcastle to Nice is launched on April 1 with good value return flights at around £100. Manchester to Munich at around £100 return also looks good.

Ryanair (if you can put up with their attitude to paying customers) is offering return flights of around £80 from Leeds to Milan in early April. Norwegian Airlines is a new player well worth a look at.

Within the school holidays, things get more expensive so the fortunate travellers are those who can operate independently around them.
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Here are my top tips for some great short breaks in Europe. There are links below this article to read more about them.

NICE is a great gateway in to the French Riviera -a chance to take in Cannes, Saint-Tropez, Monaco and Antibes. Its airport is only a couple of miles from the city centre and has a handy bus terminus. You can even take the train across the border to Italy and the resort of Ventimiglia.

BUDAPEST is a stunning city straddling the banks of the beautiful Danube. Dine in a floating restaurant on the river or walk around its  700-year-old Royal Palace and the gleaming white cloisters of the Fisherman’s Bastion.

BERLIN is now pulling in millions of people looking for fun. These include families on sightseeing and shopping trips as well as partygoers looking for nightlife in the one-time cabaret city of Marlene Dietrich. A boat trip on the River Spree takes you serenely right through the middle of the city yet stays apart from its crowds and traffic.

VERONA has a Romeo and Juliet trail but perhaps even more impressive is its Roman amphitheatre, commonly known as The Arena, which dominates the city. It was the third largest in the Roman world after the Coliseum in Rome. Only an hour’s dribe away fromVerona is Lake Garda.

LISBON is one of the friendliest cities in the world with an amazing history and all kinds of monuments, within walking distance, to a city which began life hundreds of years before other European capitals such as London, Paris and Rome. Under Julius Caesar, it was a Roman city called Felicitas Julia. Built on hills, some city walking can be tasking.

COPENHAGEN is aspan style=”color: #000000;” colourful waterside city boasting the famous Tivoli Gardens and numerous public squares which make it a treat to walk around. The Hans Christian Anderson trail provides fairytale charm amongst some of the world’s most avant garde architecture/span.


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Best European route to the sun – avoid Paris and head for Madrid

Best route through Europe to the sun

Summer has arrived on the Algarve, Portugal


From channel ports to the sunshine coasts of Spain and Portugal – best European route

Summer is bursting out now on the coastlines of southern Europe – as you will see from my picture above taken at Praia da Rocha on the Algarve, Portugal.

Here is the best route, in my opinion, for those lucky enough to be able to afford the time and the money to tour by car from England through France and Spain to either the Portuguese Atlantic coastline of the Algarve or the Mediterranean costas of Spain.

It”s based on a couple of recent trips and is an attempt to strike a balance between the cost of toll roads and fuel for a comfortable journey south.

French toll roads are expensive and you can easily spend 70 to 80 euros on tolls in getting down to the Spanish border. Of course, it makes for a fast, easy trip but you are often cutting out the chance to take in some really interesting towns and cities en route.

First you have to decided which English channel port to sail from. There are a host of options. Calais is usually the cheapest crossing but Caen is good value as it chops off about 160 miles of the road journey.

best european route to the sun

Highway map of France copyright ©


From Calais head for Rouen and Le Mans to bypass the headache of the Paris ring road. You can also make life easier by using the toll road at first to get down to Le Mans. Then head for Tours to pick up the no-toll N10, mostly dual carriageway, all the way down to south of Bordeaux.

From Caen you can drive for free on the E401/A84 to Rennes and the E03/N137 to Nantes. Both routes are comfortable dual carriageway. From Nantes the D137/E3 offers a slow but pretty route to Niort where you can either speed the trip up on the A10 or avoid tolls by picking up the N10.

Once past Bordeaux you are on your way to Bayonne and the Spanish border and need to head for Vitoria-Gasteiz and Burgos. You are on easy street now – great auto-routes, no tolls and good coffee at around a euro a time in the service stations.

driving permit test as a way to reduce points on your driving record or reinstate your license, but depending on the circumstances, your age, and the number of violations, traffic driving permit test could be part of your penalty if convicted of a traffic violation. title=”Map of Spain” alt=”Europe trip – map of Spain” src=”” width=”750″ height=”614″ /> Highway map of Spain


You can head for Madrid where you will face one small toll on leaving the city via one of its three ring roads. You are now in easy reach of Spain”s Costa Blanca or you can travel further to the Costa del Sol or Gibraltar. Spain is also the place to buy your petrol with the cheapest prices you will see on your journey, around 1.40 euros a litre.

If you want to go to the Algarve, my advice is to take the great auto-routes all the way to Seville and Huelva and the Portuguese border where you cross in to Vila Real de Santo Antonio.

Here you can take the A22 along the Algarve coast but beware! This is an electronic toll road and the Portuguese authorities expect you to pay to use it. To do this you have to find somewhere to buy the necessary ticket. A bit difficult when driving at night.

If you”re not tired it might be easier to use the old N125 which meanders along the Algarve. Don”t be too surprised if you get stuck occasionally behind a horse and trap in daytime or if you see prostitutes at the side of the road in certain spots. It”s a recent trend on the Algarve where prostitution is not illegal.

This journey from the Channel ports of France can take anything from two days to seven or more depending on what pace you want to set or how many places you want to visit. More to come on places to stop, etc, in future articles.

Europe road trip – day three and four

Europe road trip

Leaving Spain

The weather changed dramatically as I headed to northern Spain and Basque Country.

I thought I might have got lucky with the advent of spring by choosing to travel in the middle of March from the south of Europe to the north and England. But my fond dreams of birdsong and plumes of daffodils were premature. The cards of the weather gods were still being dealt in favour of the winter sports brigade.

The road from Madrid to San Sebastian near Spain’s border with France was straightforward, mostly A1/E5 but hitting San Sebastian at night to pick up the road to St Jean de Luz, just over the border in France, was a bit nerve-wracking. A lot of road tunnels and not a lot of useful signage to an English driver.

San Sebastian is an interesting city in itself boasting one of the best in-city beaches in Europe but I will have to enjoy it on another day. I reached St Jean de Luz late in the evening in time for stroll around its marina and harbour before bed.

The historic region of the Basque people is the western Pyrenees and the area spans both sides of the border between Spain and France. St Jean de Luz is a typical French Basque village with whitewashed houses boasting shutters and timbered rooves.

Europe road trip - St Jean de LuzA great stop on a tour, if a little pricey, and a place I would like to revisit in warmer weather. It was getting colder and colder as I headed north. The T-shirt weather had gone and people were wrapping up. How I wished I had set off in April.

Next morning I popped in to the local tourist office in St Jean de Lux for some directions to pick up the N10. As I had set my mind on not paying road tolls I thought I would try the N10 which seemed the most direct route to Caen, Normandy, where my ferry awaited.

I spent about an hour on the D810 minor road before hitting the E5/E70/A63 and the N10. This provided a good stretch of two-lane motorway like our A1. A bit congested with lorries and tight lanes but I was able to 120 kilometres an hour most of the time.

This took me to Bordeaux where I spent about 20 minutes on the city’s ring road waiting for the sign for the E606/N10 to Angouleme and Poitiers. It comes after the sign for Bergerac. This again provided an A1 type stretch of road and about 8 kilometres from Angouleme there was an Auchan superstore easily visible from the road. It was selling the cheapest petrol I had seen in France at 1.55 euros a litre for 95 octane unleaded.

I made good time to Poitiers but from here on the route was very slow and winding towards Tours. Very interesting though and I saw so many villages I would like to be able to stop off at on a more leisurely tour that I will visit again.

The snow was starting to lie on the roads as I headed towards Le Mans and at this point I thought it would be safer to give up on my attempts at toll-free motoring in France and join the auto-route. It got steadily worse.. See my clip below. You could play Chris Rea’s Driving Home for Christmas at the same time and maybe have a glass of sherry!.

The highway authorities were closing motorways and I was lucky to get through to Caen after being allowed to pass a whole fleet of stranded lorries waiting for the A28 to reopen.

Europe road trip - Caen, Normandy

Caen, Normandy

Europe road trip - Caen ferry queue

Caen ferry queue

Around midnight, I was the only vehicle on the autoroute and was often negotiating packed snow.

I wondered what I would do if my car broke down. It was a strange experience all round and one I wouldn’t care to repeat.

Caen was covered in snow and the roads to the ferry terminal from the city’s peripherique ring road were somewhat confusing. An armada of snow ploughs and other vehicles were on the move.

I got there in the early hours and was able to curl up on the back seat of my car and wait for the ferry terminal to open up about 6.30pm. Later in the day I was in Portsmouth, England, and had left the snow behind, for a little anyway. I had spent a total of around 17 euros on toll roads travelling from the Algarve, Portugal, to England.

Europe road trip - Portsmouth

Portsmouth, England, the same day












Europe road trip – day two

Europe road trip – from orange-laden trees to snow

Europe road trip - Plaza de España, Seville

Plaza de España, Seville, Andalusia, Spain

Seville – the orange city

On the second day of my trip I was able to ogle with admiration at the architectural wonder of the Plaza de España, Seville, Andalusia, Spain, a favourite location for the producers of Star Wars.

Seville is a gorgeous city. In early march the trees which line its streets bulge with the famous Seville oranges used for marmalade. Local residents are so used to them they don’t even bother picking up the windfalls.

Europe road trip - Seville It’s a favourite destination for people on the Algarve, Portugal, and on the Spanish  Mediterranean coastline .

Seville’s feast of architectural delights include everything from Roman ruins to  one of the most famous bullrings in Spain.

And then there is the nightlife. The winding medieval streets of Santa Cruz and other old town areas weren’t built with revelry in mind but they are bursting with cafes and bars that go on until all hours. It is very easy to get lost in the narrow streets but you will rarely be short of company.

See the link at the bottom of this piece for a video clip of Seville at night.

After taking in Seville and enjoying a beer and tapas in a bar, I was off in the car again to get through Spain in one day. I was heading for the French side of the Basque region.

The route up to Madrid was great, A4/E5 auto-route all the way to its ring roads. Madrid has three main ring roads, the M30, M40 and M50. I chose the M30 and seemed to sit on it for ages waiting for my exit on to the A1 to Burgos. Here I faced the only road toll I paid in Spain which was 1.95 euros.

From here it was onwards to San Sebastian and a taste of the Basque country. The pretty French village of St Jean de Luz was my destination.