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Tips for getting the best out of Salzburg’s Christmas markets

If you’re looking for an alternative to Germany’s excellent Christmas markets, then why not head over the border to Austria?  Salzburg is one of Europe’s most elegant cities, and during the run up to Christmas, it’s bedecked with festive lights and crammed full of stalls.  I spent the weekend exploring its Christmas markets and experienced Advent Austrian-style.  Here are my tips for getting the best out of a pre-Christmas trip.

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Make the most of public transport with a day pass

An extensive network of buses and trolley buses makes getting around easy.  Day passes are available, as is the more expensive Salzburg Card which includes free admission to visitor attractions as well as free transport.  It does cost 24 euros for the day, however, so you need to be sure you’re going to get your money’s worth for the extra 20 euros you’ll be spending per person.  If you’re going to be spending a lot of time at the markets it’s unlikely the Salzburg Card will represent good value for money.

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But if you buy regular, transport-only day passes from a machine they cost just 4 euros a day, compared to 5,70 euros if you purchase them from the driver of the bus.  If you’re arriving in Salzburg by train or plane, you’ll find these machines in the main bus station or at the airport.  They are valid for a complete 24 hour period rather than by calendar days, so you’ll most likely be able to use them the following morning too – good to know if you’re going to be starting your day somewhere there’s no machine.  Print off or download maps before you go to make sense of the network; there’s also an app featuring timetables and mobile ticketing.

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Download from:

https://salzburg-verkehr.at/service/downloads/

There’s an English option available, but if not these are the maps you’ll find most useful:

City: Liniennetzplan Stadt Salzburg              Region: SVV Zonenplan

Wrap up warm

You might not get a dumping of snow as I did, but if you’re visiting Salzburg in December, it is likely to be very cold. Temperatures during my visit hovered just below freezing, but if like me you’re tempted out onto the Wolfgangsee, the wind that blows across the lake is a chill one. Pack accordingly, and layer up with hat, scarf, gloves and thermal underlayers. If all else fails, drink gluhwein!

Plan your market trips

As you might expect, there’s more than just one market in the city, as well as some delightful markets in the surrounding towns and villages.  I took a trip out to St Gilgen and Strobl on the shores of the Wolfgangsee.  Strobl’s market featured livestock in the form of sheep, goats and reindeer and boat trips were possible too between the lakeshore villages.  St Gilgen’s market was bigger and had a lot of character.  A day pass on the #150 bus meant I could hop on and hop off all day for a fare of 17,60 euros.

In the city itself, the largest market is the Christkindlmarkt in Domplatz.  As the name suggests, it’s right by the cathedral in the Old Town.  It has its origins in a market that started in the 15th century, though in its present incarnation it’s been going since 1974.  Just around the corner you’ll find an ice rink.  The Christkindlmarkt had a huge concentration of stalls but as a result was packed; if you’re not so keen on crowds, I’d recommend visiting this one during the day.

There is also a smaller market at Mirabellplatz, which is handy if you need to kill time or grab a hot drink before your bus leaves as it’s right by the stops.  This year the market up at the Hohensalzburg fortress is closed due to renovation work, but well worth checking out next year.

My favourite of all the city markets was that at Hellbrunn, a short ride away by #25 bus and included in the 4 euros day pass.  Nestled in the courtyard of this attractive palace, there are plenty of artisan stalls so a lot of choice if you plan to do some gift-shopping.  The inclusion of hundreds of trees festooned with red baubles and the use of the palace shutters to turn the palace into a huge Advent calendar makes this one extra special.

There is a 3 euros entrance charge at the weekend (it’s free on weekdays) but this is redeemable for a mug of Gluhwein which would have cost 3,50 euros.  If you have kids with you, it’s good to know that this is the place where they have the trick fountains and although they used to be a summer-only attraction, for the last couple of years these have been opened during Advent too.

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To check opening times and other details, this is the link you’ll need:

https://www.austria.info/uk/things-to-do/skiing-and-winter/christmas-markets/christmas-markets-in-salzburg

Don’t just visit the markets

Space them out and punctuate your visits with other activities. There are carol concerts and muscial recitals at many of the markets; you’ll find schedules online, though not all sites are in English. For something completely different, I caught a train out to Oberndorf bei Salzburg to visit the Silent Night chapel, a memorial chapel in the village where schoolmaster Franz Gruber and pastor Josef Mohr composed and performed the popular carol for the first time.  In the company of a band of actors and local dignitaries, I participated in a themed walk that crossed the Salzach River into Laufen, Germany.  there, at the Salzachhalle, watched a play which recounted the tale of the history of those twin villages as well as the story of how Silent Night came to be.  I won’t pretend I understood a lot with my schoolgirl German, but the music was heavenly.

Attending a Krampus run is also good fun and it’s worth checking out where the nearest is during your visit.  If you haven’t already seen the blog I wrote about Gnigl’s Krampus festivities, check out the post here where you’ll also find some useful links if you plan to go yourself:

https://juliamhammond.wordpress.com/2017/12/05/the-scary-side-of-christmas/

Done Salzburg?

If you’ve already been to Salzburg’s Christmas markets and they’ve given you a taste for more, why not try these alternatives?  Last year I blogged about Copenhagen and Regensburg, both of which can be visited in a day from London:

https://juliamhammond.wordpress.com/2016/12/05/just-back-from-a-day-at-copenhagens-christmas-markets/

https://juliamhammond.wordpress.com/2016/11/25/just-back-from-a-day-trip-to-regensburg/

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Wherever you are this Advent, have a safe and happy time!

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Book review: Europe by Rail

I was thrilled when an opportunity arose to review the latest edition of Europe by Rail in exchange for a complimentary copy.  This guide, now in its fifteenth incarnation, is to print what the Man in Seat 61’s website is to the internet – the definitive guide.  But with so much information freely available on the internet, should you buy this book at all?

Europe by Rail

A task of epic proportions

Covering all the railways of all the European countries in a book light enough to carry onto a train is a huge undertaking.  As a consequence this book acts as an overview.  While it’s definitive, it doesn’t claim to be comprehensive.  The guide is designed to be used together with the European Rail Timetable – or in these times of data roaming, in conjunction with the websites of national rail providers in the countries it covers.  The authors, Nicky Gardner and Susanne Kries, have updated the guide once more, expanding coverage of the Baltics and the Balkans, as well as providing current information about rail travel across the continent.  Schedules change frequently, and I was sad to learn that the excellent CityNightLine service which I enjoyed in 2015 ceased operations between Munich and Berlin last year.

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CityNightLine

An inspiring guide

The authors wanted to take the guide in a different direction and as such, set out to inspire as well as inform.  So although there are factual sections in the guide, its greatest strength is in the persuasiveness of the descriptions that comprise the bulk of its pages.  Underpinning this erudite prose is a fundamental belief that train journeys are fun and, most crucial of all, to be savoured.  While acknowledging the important role Europe’s high speed trains have to play, Gardner and Kries put the case for slow travel, yet never come across as preachy.  If you need to zip across the continent in a hurry, then so be it, but for those with more time, there are routes to be savoured on local stopping trains, with tempting sidetracks built in as well.

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Crossing the Landwasser Viaduct in Switzerland

Punctuating the narrative are frank insights into the realities of each trip: “It’s an easy run south to Barcelona.  The railway enters the Catalan city through its unexciting northern suburbs and terminates in the subterranean gloom at the Estació de Sants.”  Nuggets of advice are also in abundance, such as this on Italy’s fabulous Cinque Terre: “A long sequence of tunnels means that you’ll see little of the area from the train, but take time to stop and explore.  Vernazza is a good base; it’s the prettiest of the villages.”  Gardner and Kries have put the hours in and travelled these routes, which makes them authoritative as well as engaging.

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The Cinque Terre

What could be improved?

Numbers rather than names refer to each of the fifty routes covered by the guide once you get past each one’s title.  Though this system takes a bit of getting used to, many of them cross international borders so it’s hard to see how they could be referred to in any other way.  It doesn’t help, however, that some of the subtitles within each section, specifically those of the major cities en route, are in the same sized font, making it confusing as to whether you’ve reached the end of a route or not.  It takes a bit of time to get your head around, but once you’ve got into a rhythm, you won’t be bothered by it.

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Spain’s high speed AVE

Each route features a map.  The presentation is simple, with a table attached that shows the journey time, frequency and cross-reference for the European Rail Timetable.  While I could see that the authors were aiming for clarity, I thought it was a shame that these maps couldn’t have been illustrated to showcase some of the key attractions along the way.  This would have added to the temptation to jump on a train and follow in their footsteps.  I’m guessing publishing constraints required the photographs to be grouped in their own section, as is the way with most guidebooks, but it’s again a pity that these couldn’t have been integrated with the text.  Instead, I wanted to skim over them, impatient to get to the routes themselves.

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Sintra station’s exquisite ticket office

There’s a lot of page turning, back and forth, which breaks into reveries and brings the reader back to reality.  I appreciate that logic dictates a section entitled “Before you leave” should be placed at the beginning of a guide, but perhaps the parts detailing rail passes, ticket classes and the like would have been just as at home in an appendix.  These are minor criticisms, more a measure of how keen I was to get stuck in than any fault with the guide.

The verdict: would I buy this guide?

For anyone planning to embark on a rail holiday in Europe, this guide is an invaluable companion.  Even if you’ve travelled extensively by rail across the continent, things change regularly and it’s an easy way to bring yourself up to date.  Don’t wait until you leave to buy it.  The suggestions for stopovers and detours will help with your planning and you’ll have information at your fingertips about rail passes, supplements, connections and the like.  If you’re like me, it won’t help you make a decision, as there are so many tempting routes from which to choose, but it will give you hours of pleasure as you take a virtual journey on some of Europe’s most scenic tracks.  Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m just going to go back to that chapter on Arctic Norway…


The scary side of Christmas

The bus is packed and tempers are fraying as those who can’t fit are left to wait on the snowy pavement.  On board, spirits are high. Childish excitement is contagious.  At Gnigl station, the bus spews its pasengers onto the street and the pace quickens as I follow the crowd up the street.    A fire engine blocks the road and the scream of labouring engines marks the point where the trolley buses unhook and divert to continue their journey under their own power.  Behind metal barriers, the crowd is already four or five thick.  I squeeze past and make my way along the street until I find a space next to three youngsters of primary age.  I take a few test shots with the camera and the little boy next to me tells me sternly to use the flash.

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Soon, the parade gets underway.  The Krampuslauf has a long history in Austria, its origins in pagan rituals dating from the Middle Ages.  While St Nicolaus rewards good children with sweets, those who have been naughty have to face the consequences of their actions.  Chains and claws set the Krampus apart from the evil Schiachperchten, who are also masked creatures with shaggy pelts and curved horns.  Traditionally, the perchten weren’t seen during Advent, instead being associated with the period between the Winter solstice and Epiphany.  These days the once defined lines between the two have become blurred, though no one seems to mind.

The costumes are elaborate, with no visible trace of the human inside.  Hand carved wooden masks are painted in garish colours.  From head to toe a suit of shaggy sheep wool, plus tail of course, tops shoes hidden behind hooves.  The jarring sound of the bells on their backs marks their arrival.  The children next to me fall silent, their fearful eyes widening.  They’re young enough still to believe.  A six foot beast runs at the barrier and clambers up, rearing over the children’s heads to great effect.  Their shrieks pierce the night and they shrink back, momentarily afraid.  Even as an adult, it’s a frightening moment, and I can’t help myself as I jump back too.

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One child  finds the courage to roar back at the Krampus and the monster ruffles his hair in a good-natured response.  Everyone plays along, and the atmosphere is one of family fun.  But there are more terrifying figures behind him.  As they dart up the street, they twist this way and that.  The cow bells on their backs clank heavily and they swish whips fashioned, I’m told, from a horse’s tail.  I’ve heard that it’s common for them to thrash spectators’ legs and it makes me a little nervous.

From time to time, there’s an injection of humour.  One group stop and perform a dance routine, though they’re as far removed from a boy band as you can get.  Another pair face off as if in a boxing ring, before dropping to the floor and doing press ups.  The children next to me giggle, at least until they jump to their feet.  But St Nicolaus isn’t far behind and their pleading cries gain the desired result: sweets.  They stuff their faces, eyes bright, their fear of Krampus forgotten.

The frigid air bites my cheeks and I wrap my scarf tighter around my face.  The parade’s only about half done, but there’s a gluhwein stand within sight and it’s time to warm up.

Where to see the Krampus in or around Salzburg

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Tonight, 5th December, is St Nicolaus Eve and you can attend the Krampus run in Salzburg’s Altstadt.  There are also many other parades that take place throughout the Salzburg region, from its suburbs to tiny mountain villages, as well as throughout Austria and the neighbouring German state of Bavaria.  The following two links will help you plan which Krampus or Perchten parades coincide with your visit:

https://www.krampuszeit.at/veranstaltungen/salzburg/

https://www.salzburg.info/en/salzburg/advent/krampus-percht

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If you plan to head to Gnigl next year, it’s an easy ride on the #4 trolley bus from Mirabellplatz in the centre of the city.  Alight at Gnigl S-bahn station and follow the crowd a couple of blocks up to Turnerstrasse or Schillinghofstrasse to claim your spot.


An interesting turtle project on Sal, Cape Verde

While in Sal last month I was fortunate to be able to meet with a couple of volunteers working for Project Biodiversity.  Established two years ago, it’s a non-profit organisation which works tirelessly to protect the turtle population on Sal, one of the Cape Verdean islands most afflicted with the negative impacts of mass tourism.

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Sal has a significant number of loggerhead turtles yet the species is globally endangered.  The rapid development of tourist infrastructure and large scale hotels on Sal is threatening this species alongside historic threats like poaching and pollution.  A team of local rangers, field biologists and volunteers donate their time and expertise to ensuring that these creatures have the best chance of survival.  They also run an education programme in local schools to ensure that children get the message about how important turtle conservation is, not just to Sal but also to the global community.

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I visited the project, located at the top of the beach near the Rui Palace hotel, to find out more about the organisation’s work.  During the nesting season, roughly from June to November, volunteers patrol some of the beaches on Sal Island.  They’re looking for hatchlings and if these tiny creatures aren’t heading in the right direction – that’s straight for the sea – then they rescue them and take them back to their base for some TLC prior to release.

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Something like 7500 nests have been monitored this year, and at the time of my visit, 984 nests had been rescued and brought to the main hatchery, with several hundred more rescued to other locations.  Female turtles typically lay between fifty and a hundred eggs at a time, up to seven times a season.  Incubation is between 50 to 60 days.  But then, explained volunteers Cristina and Marisol, comes the heartbreaking statistic: they don’t all hatch and on average only one in a thousand hatchlings makes it to adulthood.  It’s a tough life being a baby turtle!

The work that Project Biodiversity is carrying out aims to help conserve this species.  Each of the hatchlings is counted, the time of birth recorded and also that of their release.  The number of eggs per nest is recorded too in an attempt to monitor the health of the species.  But despite the non-profit’s efforts, they estimate that  many turtles were still killed this year.  Volunteers go out with locals knowledgeable about the island’s beaches and also with military assistance, not because of any particular perceived threat but because their presence helps to ramp up the deterrent factor.

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Yet even with the best efforts of Project Biodiversity to educate, there’s also an issue with misplaced kindness. One Riu Palace tourist I spoke to explained that he’d seen hatchlings being taken from their holding pen while the Project Biodiversity centre was unmanned and released directly into the sea.  But this interferes with their ability to imprint to their natal beach.  The hatchlings need to make their own way down to the sea across the sand – that way they’ll be able to find their way back to nest as adults.  In addition, hands that are contaminated with sunscreen or other oily substances like handcream can also interfere with the imprinting process.  Sal has one other threat to hatchlings taken right to the shore.  The waves are huge!

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To find out more about the project, visit their website:

https://www.projectbiodiversity.org/sal-turtle-conservation

During nesting season, it’s possible to visit the project in the afternoons around 5pm.  Note that if you aren’t staying at the Riu Palace, you won’t be allowed in the hotel grounds; take the path around the side of the hotel instead.  You’ll be able to witness the newest hatchlings make their way to the sea and learn first-hand about Project Biodiversity’s work.  If you wish, there’s also the chance to adopt a nest or make a donation to the project, but there’s no hard sell.

With thanks to Project Biodiversity for their time and also for permission to use of the images in this post.


Get to know Royal London

If you’re a lover of all things Royal, then you’ll be looking forward to next May’s Royal wedding which is set to take place at Windsor.  London, a stone’s throw away, is of course a Royal favourite, but where should you visit to follow in the footsteps of the Royal family?  From the obvious locations like Buckingham Palace to places with a less well-known connection to the UK’s best loved family, these excursions will tick all the boxes.

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Fortnum and Mason

Along Piccadilly, you’ll see the distinctive eau de nil façade of the Queen’s grocer, Fortnum and Mason.  The Queen, despite her advancing years, is a frequent entertainer, hosting heads of state and other dignitaries for lavish banquets.  Her annual food bill was recently estimated at around £1.4 million.  Fortnum and Mason receive a chunk of that money but there are plenty of affordable goods to be had for regular customers too.  Don’t miss the food hall and pick up a picnic fit for Royalty.  Time your visit to watch the clock outside chime the hour; Mr Fortnum bows to Mr Mason.

Buckingham Palace

Near to Piccadilly is Green Park, the smallest of the capital’s eight Royal Parks at just 40 acres.  Its tree-lined paths and grassy meadows make for a beautiful picnic spot.  Aim to reach Buckingham Palace by late morning to coincide with the Changing of the Guard ceremony; you can check the exact time at www.changing-guard.com.  For the best view, try to get as close to the Palace gates as possible.  If you’re visiting in August and September, then it is possible to take a guided tour inside the palace itself and that’s well worth the entry fee.

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Queen’s Gallery

At Buckingham Palace, tours of the Queen’s Gallery operate year-round.  Located in what was originally one of John Nash’s conservatories, the structure was destroyed during World War Two.  It was rebuilt at the suggestion of the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh to house the Royal Collection in 1962.  Exhibits change, but it’s likely you’ll see works of art by an eclectic range of artists including names such as Rembrandt, Hockney, Rubens and da Vinci.

The Royal Mews

The Royal Mews is where you’ll find the Queen’s carriages and it’s found around the corner from the Queen’s Gallery on Buckingham Palace Road.  Guided tours operate between April and October and are included in the price of your admission.  Wardens dressed in a smart navy and red livery will show you the highlights of the collection of vehicles, including the Diamond Jubilee State Coach which is the newest addition to the fleet.  Equally dazzling is the Gold State Coach which dates from the time of George III.  It weighs nearly four tonnes and requires eight horses to pull it.  It’s the coach that has been used to take each monarch to their coronation since the early 19th century.  Animal lovers will also be pleased to learn that you’ll get to meet the horses during the tour.

The Goring Hotel

This exclusive hotel is tucked away a short walk from the Palace in Beeston Place.  It describes itself as “London’s last remaining family-owned luxury hotel – a grand hotel with impeccable manners.”  It’s the hotel in which Kate Middleton’s family stayed on the eve of her wedding to Prince William and this five-star establishment is sure to impress.  If you have the budget, you can stay here too; room rates begin at a little over £300 per night.

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Kensington Palace

Access to Kensington Palace, former home of Diana, Princess of Wales, its gardens and exhibitions is by ticket only.  Inside, you’ll be able to visit the King and Queen’s state apartments, little changed since 1690 when they were built for the then monarchs William and Mary.  Temporary exhibits also feature; the “Diana: her fashion story” collection scheduled to open early in 2017 is sure to be immensely popular.

Diana Memorial Garden

Following the edge of Hyde Park, another of London’s Royal Parks, you’ll come to the Diana Memorial Garden.  Its highlights include a playground, a nod to Diana’s great love of children, featuring as its centrepiece a huge pirate ship.  Also, it’s here you’ll find a memorial fountain built from 545 pieces of Cornish granite.  Water flows in cascades and swirls until it reaches a calm pool at the bottom, symbolising Diana’s sometimes turbulent life.

The Brown Cow, Fulham and the Cross Keys, Chelsea

My final suggestion is to down a drink at one of Prince Harry’s favourite pubs.  The Brown Cow is owned by one of his friends, Mark Dyer, a former officer in the Welsh Guards.  Harry was a regular when in town, before his engagement at least.  It’s the place he chose to toast the birth of his nephew Prince George.  You’ll find it on the Fulham Road.  The Cross Keys in trendy Chelsea is another Mark Dyer establishment.  Originally Chelsea’s oldest pub, Harry celebrated his 31st birthday here.  You’ll find the pub just before you get to the River Thames near Chelsea Embankment.  Cheers!


A visit to Bury St Edmunds Christmas Fayre

Regular readers of this blog will perhaps remember how I enjoyed a trip to the Christmas markets in Regensburg, Germany last year.  If you’re looking for a German Christmas market destination, then I’d recommend this small city near to Nuremberg as the markets are compact yet very atmospheric, with one located in the grounds of the delightful Thurn und Taxis Palace.  I snagged flights with Ryanair for less than a fiver, making it viable both in terms of time and cost for a day out.

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Copenhagen’s Christmas markets were also well worth the trip, with the Danish capital adding some Scandi style to the proceedings.  This year, I’ll soon be spending the weekend in charming Salzburg, Austria to see how they compare.  In the meantime, you can read more about Regensburg and Copenhagen’s markets here:

https://juliamhammond.wordpress.com/2016/11/25/just-back-from-a-day-trip-to-regensburg/

https://juliamhammond.wordpress.com/2016/12/05/just-back-from-a-day-at-copenhagens-christmas-markets/

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But what about the markets closer to home?  Can the UK compete?  A news feature on BBC Look East about increased security at Bury St Edmunds Christmas Fayre was not only reassuring but perhaps more importantly, brought the event onto my radar.  It took about an hour and a half to drive through some of North Essex and Suffolk’s most scenic countryside to reach the town.  At midday on the Friday of the Fayre, the Park & Ride was full, as were the town’s long stay car parks.  I began to wonder whether I should have taken the train, though it would have involved two changes and an extra hour on the return journey.  Finally, we were given permission to tuck the car into the exhibitors’ car park.  Was it worth the trip?

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The Fayre

With around 300 stalls spread across several locations in the town, there was plenty to hold our attention.  In total, we spent around 5 hours at the Fayre, beginning in the pedestrian streets spanning Cornhill and Buttermarket.  Moyse’s Hall Museum, which focuses on local and social history, is worth making the time for.

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Outside the museum, we found several enticing food stalls, the best of which specialised in salami and sausage.  Purchase one in the bag.  Not far away, Just Our Stall, which has a permanent base in the town on St John’s Street, had a wide selection of sheepskins and farmed reindeer hides.  Prices were very competitive and quality was high.

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From there, a stroll down Abbeygate Street led us via shops and cafes towards the Abbey itself.  Fairground rides and Santa’s Grotto would keep the kids happy.  Inside, we were disappointed at first to find that there weren’t as many seasonally-themed traders as we’d imagined, though once we got to the reindeer pen, things got a lot more Christmassy.  One of the two reindeer wasn’t too keen on remaining in the pen, attempting to climb out when someone produced a carrot.  He was a real character.

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Through the Abbey gate, the concentration of stalls selling Christmas gifts and decorations was higher, making this our favourite part of the Fayre.  Stand out traders, for their sense of humour as well as their product range, included HaGA Lifestyle which enthusiastically embraced the Danish concept of hygge.  Locals will be aware that their regular base in Eastgate Street has an excellent cafe, a deli and also offers dog grooming.

The Once I Was stall also brought to mind the recycling theme I’d seen in action in Copenhagen.  Each of the products had previously been something else before being repurposed for use in the home.  Tealight holders, chopping boards and Christmas decorations had been fashioned from drawer fronts, fence posts and sheets of plywood.  Also worthy of a mention is The Crafty Foxes.  Based in Queens Road, they offer craft workshops.  Here at the Fayre, they had a range of gift bags for sale which made excellent stocking fillers, as well as some rather unique Christmas tree decorations.

Food stalls were in abundance and there were some tempting and very festive offerings from which to choose.  In contrast to the European markets, however, there was a lack of seating nearby, which meant either standing around or walking around with food and drink.  Hopefully, that’s something which St Edmundsbury Council might consider for next year.

As the sun set, the festive atmosphere ramped up a notch.  There hadn’t been time to duck inside the Athenaeum for the indoor stalls or catch one of the cookery demonstrations in the Cathedral Courtyard.  Walking back to the car, we reflected on what an enjoyable afternoon it had been and well worth a return visit.

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Review of Thomas Cook Airlines

I’m no stranger to low cost flying, but it’s been a long time since I’ve flown with an airline which made its name catering for package tourists. So what’s it like to fly Thomas Cook Airlines?

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Timing

I chose to fly to Cape Verde, and at the time of booking, I was flexible about which of its nine inhabited islands I would fly to.  The only direct flights from London were with Tui (formerly Thomson) and Thomas Cook Airlines.  I could have flown with scheduled airlines but it would have meant an indirect flight, such as with TAP via Lisbon.  The flight times were convenient too, with an 8.05am outbound option and a 2.45pm inbound flight.  Flying on a Wednesday worked for me, though to get a daily flight option I’d have needed to fly indirect.  From LGW Thomas Cook Airlines fly in winter; in summer the only flights offered depart from Manchester.  But with November temperatures in the late twenties, the islands are a good choice for a winter break, if a little windy.

Additional costs

Though the base fare was reasonable – and even more so now November is almost over – the airline’s pricing model worked on getting its passengers to pay for add-ons.  Some of these prices were pretty steep.  £10 for each sector secured you a hot meal, a suitcase was £25 each way and allocated seating cost from £13 per leg.  I opted just to take a suitcase, given that the carry-on dimensions (55cm x 40cm x 20cm) and, especially, weight limits (6kg) weren’t sufficiently generous for a week-long holiday.  This would be higher on the all-inclusive Economy Plus tariff but the price difference was significant, making it poor value for money.  I didn’t choose the seat allocation and was randomly allocated a middle seat in each direction.  A polite request with the check-in staff got this changed to an aisle seat both ways, but of course this can’t be guaranteed.

On-board service and comfort

The Sal flight operated on an Airbus 321.  Legroom was 28″, 2″ less than on a Ryanair short haul flight.  On this six-hour mid-haul flight, that’s cramped, and I was glad of the aisle seat to be able to get up and stretch my legs frequently without disturbing other passengers.  Service on board was excellent, the cabin crew without exception polite and professional.  Ground staff also conducted themselves well.  Many travellers were on package holidays and thus met by a member of the Thomas Cook team, but as I had booked a flight-only option I had no interaction in this respect.

Other information

There’s an entry visa requirement for UK travellers headed to Cape Verde and this currently can be purchased for €25 on arrival.  So long as Advanced Passenger Information (API) is completed via the Thomas Cook website 7 days or more in advance, this is paid for by the airline even if you are on a flight-only booking.  There’s no need to queue at the visa desk on arrival, saving you time when you get there.

The verdict

Would I travel with Thomas Cook Airlines again?  I was impressed by their punctuality and professionalism.  However, the lack of flexibility in their schedule and the steep cost of extras means this wouldn’t be an airline I’d consider travelling with again, unless like this route, all the scheduled options were indirect flights.