Global warming evidence at La Mer de Glace

If you are sceptical that global warming is not as bad as many experts make out then you will have to think again after the evidence I witnessed at La Mer de Glace in France.

I’m just back from a visit to Chamonix in France where I went on a fantastic mountain train journey to La Mer de Glace. This is the largest glacier in France and stretches for more than 11 kilometres and has a 3000m change in altitude. There are several ways to reach this amazing glacier. At one time the only way was by mule but in 1908 state approval was given for the building of a mountain railway, even though the fate of 300 guides and 200 mules was at stake, and I decided that using the mountain railway was the best option!

As you ascend the mountain you get incredible views but the best treat is when you reach the top because this is where you see the barren landscape of the huge glacier in front of you. You can see where the glacier has carved out a huge deep valley in the mountain.

Whilst the view is awesome there is a huge worrying downside to the epic landscape because the glacier has shrunk dramatically in only a few short years.30 years ago the glacier was only feet away from the terrace next to the terminus of the mountain railway. Now the glacier is hundreds of feet down and you can actually walk down 440 steps to reach the glacier and that’s after you have taken a cable car down several hundred feet. The evidence of the diminishing glacier is astonishing.

When you reach the glacier you can actually walk inside it because a huge tunnel inside the glacier has been created. The glacier is still several hundred feet deep but if the glacier continues to melt then the sight of this huge glacial ice might be lost forever.

Take a look at some photos that I took of L Mer de Glace below and for more information look at the official website.

La Mer de Glace
Visitors at La Mer de Glace
Evidence of global warming. The glacier has shrunk dramitcally since 1990.
Evidence of global warming. The glacier has shrunk dramitcally since 1990.
Steps down to La Mer de Glace
440 steps down to La Mer de Glace
Inside a glacier at La Mer de Glace
Inside a glacier at La Mer de Glace FRance
Mer de Glacen railway
Mountain railway to La Mer de Glace

Aiguille Du Midi – The highest cable car in Europe.

I have just been on the Aiguille Du Midi cable car and it is, without doubt, one of the most amazing experiences you can have. The cable car is in two parts followed by a lift built inside the rock to take you to the summit of Aiguille Du Midi at 12,602 feet. This is an article written about my experience of ascending this incredible mountain that gives you clear views of Mont Blanc, the highest mountain in Europe.

Where is Aiguille Du Midi

You can access the cable car to Aiguille Du Midi from the French town of Chamonix. Chamonix is located in a glacial valley and 10,000 years ago Chamonix was under 1,000m of ice. It was only in 1867 that the whole valley became accessible and tourists started arriving to see the wonders of the magnificent mountain scenery. The Aiguille Du Midi cable car is located in the town centre of Chamonix. Just look for the cables going up the mountain!

Aiguille Du Midi
View of Aiguille Du Midi from Les Tines in the Chamonix valley.

About the Aiguille Du Midi cable car

It was  an Italian engineer, Dino Lora Totino that came up with the idea in 1949 to build the cable car and 6 years later his vision was completed. The second section of the cable car ascends 1471m and travels at over 43km an hour at a near vertical angle. The cable car can take 600 people an hour to the top. Take warm clothing because at the top, even in summer, the temperature may only be -10C. I went to the top in a pair of shorts and in the sun I was ok but out of the sun it was freezing!

At 3842m the air is thinner than at sea level. Be aware that you will be breathless and might feel light headed at times due to the reduced oxygen at this height. I checked my oxygen saturation level at the top and it was 85%. It should normally be at least 95%.

How much does it cost on the Aiguille Du Midi cable car?

The adult price for a return trip on the Aiguille Du Midi cable car costs 58.50 Euros per person. A family package ticket for a family of 4 costs 174.50 Euros. For slightly more you can get a ticket that gets you on the amazing Train du Montenvers to the Mer de Glace. It might seem expensive but this is a once in a lifetime experience.

The train line is 5km long and has a change in altitude of 871 metres. This train takes you to the famous Mer de Glace where you can walk inside the largest glacier in Europe. You can witness for yourself how global warming has affected the glacier because the glacier has shrunk dramatically in only a few years.

The price of the ticket includes free access to step into the void, a glass room with a glass floor with 1,000 metres of air under your feet!

Tip! Check out the Aiguille Du Midi webcams to see what the weather is like at the top. If you can’t see anything at the top you might want to wait until the weather improves.

Read more about the Aiguille Du Midi on the official website here

What’s it like at the top of Aiguille Du Midi?

At this height the views are incredible. You can see down into the Chamonix valley as well as having amazing views of mountain scenery, including the highest peak in Europe, Mont Blanc. The photos I took below go a little way to giving you an idea what it’s like at the top. Not until you go to the top yourself will you fully appreciate this wonder of the world.

Top of Aiguille Du Midi
Top of Aiguille Du Midi at 3842 metres.
View from Aiguille Du Midi
View from Aiguille Du Midi

 

Lake Maggiore – What to do and where to stay.

I’m a big fan of the Italian lakes and I’m just back from a visit to Lake Maggiore and have previously visited Lake Garda and Lake Como. Lake Maggiore is in the northern Italian region of Piedmont and I arrived into Stresa, on the west coast of Lake Maggiore, by train from Milan, which took less than an hour. The lake is long and thin with beautiful scenery and views of The Alps. Lake Maggiore straddles both Italy and Switzerland. Other popular places to stay include Pallanza, as well as Locarno on the northern tip of the lake in Switzerland.

How to get to Lake Maggiore

There are frequent flights from the UK to Milan Malpensa or to Bergamo airport. It’s possible to drive using the A8 or travel by train from Milan Central station.

Trains are frequent and easily bookable through the Italian trains website Trenitalia. A one way train journey between Milan and Stresa only costs about 9 Euros per person.

What to do on Lake Maggiore

If you want to visit the main attraction on Lake Maggiore, the Borromean Islands, they are easily accessible by boat from Stresa. The Borromean Islands consist of Isola Bella, Isola Dei Pescatori and Isola Madre.

Isola Bella is the star attraction. On the island you can see an amazing 17th century Baroque palace and elaborate gardens. Construction took 40 years and the palace and gardens are built like a huge ship with stunning views of The Alps in the distance. I really enjoyed ambling around the back streets where you will find little restaurants, cafes and souvenir shops. Isola dei Pescatori still maintains its traditional way of life. Most people go for day trips but there are two hotels on the island if you want to stay longer. Take a look at the Hotel Belvedere if you are interested in a hotel stay on Isola dei Pescatori.

For amazing views of Lake Maggiore take the cable car to the top of Mount Mottarone. It takes 20 minutes to reach the top and the summit at 1,491 metres above sea level is another 15 minutes walk. The walk is worth it though because you can see 7 lakes – Lake Maggiore, Lake Orta, Lake Mergozzo, Lake Varese, Lake Comabbio, Lake Monate and Lake Biandronno. A return ticket costs 19 Euros for adults and 12 Euros for children.

Isola Bella, Lake Maggiore.
Isola Bella, Lake Maggiore.

Where to stay on Lake Maggiore

There are many towns and villages around the shores of Lake Maggiore where there are plenty of places to stay. I stayed in the busiest of the Lake Maggiore towns, Stresa. Stresa offers easy access by boat to the popular tourist attraction of the Borromean Islands and there are plenty of places to stay to suit most budgets.

For those visitors looking for lakeside 5 star luxury then you might want to consider the Grand Hotel Des Iles Borromees. Lake luxury like this though does not come cheap at £1,700 for two people for a one week stay.

Grand Hotel des Iles Borromées
Grand Hotel des Iles Borromées, Stresa, Lake Maggiore.

As a vistor with a more sensible budget I stayed at the 3 star Hotel du Park. It’s not lakeside, being about a 2 minute walk from the town centre, but it was comfortable and convenient. The hotel is furnished in a 1920’s style although the bedrooms are somewhat more modern! One week at the Hotel du Park for two people costs about £700 based on an October stay.

Hotel du Park
Hotel du Park, Stresa

Where to eat in Stresa

Stresa has a multitude of places to eat. In peak season it can be difficult to find a table in one of the restaurants. We ventured out at around 7.30pm one evening to try and find a restaurant to eat in and it was difficult to find somewhere. We eventually stumbled across a delightful restaurant called Trattoria due Piccioni. The menu was limited but the food was of very good quality. I can highly recommend the risotto!

Trattoria due Piccioni
Trattoria due Piccioni, Stresa, Lake Maggiore

How to see Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper painting.

Leonardo da Vinci’s painting of The Last Supper is one of the world’s greatest pieces of art. On a recent visit to Milan I visited this amazing masterpiece and I’ll share with you my top tips on buying tickets and information about this world-renowned work of art.

About Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper

The Last Supper was started by da Vinci in 1490 and the painting focuses on the moment of identification of the traitor, Judas, who in an isolated position with respect to the other apostles, receives a piece of bread from Christ and dips it into his dish. It’s actually a miracle that The Last Supper painting still exists because it has been badly damaged over time and has had several restorations. The painting has suffered vandalism, has been stored outside and the building where the painting is stored was once used as the headquarters for the fire brigade and as a military barracks.

Where can you see da Vinci’s Last Supper?

The Last Supper can be found in the church of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan. It’s a short walk from the city centre or you can also catch the Metro. The room where you can see the painting has an elaborate system in place to keep the room at a constant cool temperature in an attempt to preserve the painting.

How to book tickets for the Last Supper?

Don’t try to book tickets at the museum on the day because there won’t be any available! Da Vinci’s Last Supper is the painters most visited painting, so you need to buy your tickets in advance. Tickets are only on sale two months before you want to go so you need to be quick off the mark. Only 25 people in a group can visit the painting and each group is allowed 15 minutes to view the painting. I found the whole experience surreal and peaceful because the painting is in a big room so that gives you plenty of time to study the painting. Even though the painting is not in good condition it’s still a fascinating painting to look at.

You can buy tickets online at a cost of 36 Euros or you can book a Last Supper and Milan Walking Tour with a tour guide that lasts 3 hours and starts from Piazza del Duomo. I paid £55 per person for the 3 hour tour.

My photo of The Last Supper

The Last Supper
The Last Supper by Leonard da Vinci

The church of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan

The church of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan
The church of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan

Holiday protection just isn’t working

Article by David Brice – Lecturer in Travel and Tourism

This week saw the news that The Lowcost Travel Group has ceased trading. Whilst this does not surprise me, the timing of the failure does. The company owned several brands including Low Cost Beds which was used by the travel trade. This time of year is when most travel companies have most cash flow, so there must have been something wrong for the company to fail. Their CEO, Paul Evans, has blamed the failure on Brexit but there must be more to it than that. My guess is that fierce competition is the main cause as well as the falling value of the British Pound against the Euro.  You would think that with an alleged 110,000 forward bookings a company would be thriving but the company relied heavily on advertising with margins very thin in the travel industry costs are very high too. I have seen many companies cease trading for similar reasons over the last 20 years because they based their success on growth rather than profit.

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The Lowcost Travel Group were based in Palma, Majorca although they also had offices in London, Switzerland and in Poland. The reason that they set up base in Spain was because they wanted to get around the UK ATOL regulations. This is because they were selling flights and separate accommodation without an ATOL that they would need in the UK. The problem is that most of those people who booked did not realise they were booking with a company who offered no financial protection. Those people who have booked with Lowcost Travel will now realise the importance of booking a holiday with financial protection as they are faced with having flights booked but with no hotel. It will mean that they will have to pay again although some may get their money back if they paid on a credit card.

I have been saying for many years that the UK government does not have strong enough laws on holiday protection. Despite an ongoing low key campaign on the benefits of ATOL the message is lost as some companies take advantage of the lack of consumer knowledge on ATOL financial protection and continue to sell flights and accommodation as if it is a package holiday.

Whether this failure will make consumers more aware of booking with an ATOL bonded tour operator remains to be seen as travel is a price driven product. Of course, many people book their own separate flight direct with an airline and book their holiday accommodation on the Internet and this type of arrangement is never covered by ATOL financial protection.

 

Turkey in huge tourism decline

As the travel industry enters the traditional “lates” market there are signs that this late summer sales period is going to be very challenging. With poor weather in the UK and with only two weeks before the school holidays start there will be families who will be left disappointed with the few holidays that are available and the expensive prices.

Tour operators will be trying hard to sell off unsold stock although the majority of these holidays will be to unpopular holiday destinations such as Turkey. Turkey has suffered a huge decline in visitor numbers due to terrorism, although the once popular Mediterranean resorts such as Bodrum, Marmaris and Antalya have so far been unaffected by any acts of terrorism.

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Turkey holidays suffer huge decline

Visitors to Turkey have dropped by 34.7% year on year to May 2016 to a total of 2.48 million. Visitors from Russia dropped 92% due to tensions between the two countries.  In July 2015 visitors to Turkey reached an all-time high of 5.48 million. Tourism accounts for over 6% of Turkey’s economic output and 8 percent of employment so the effect on the Turkish economy will be significant. There is already a crisis with employment as hundreds of hotels on Turkey’s Mediterranean and Aegean coasts have had to scrap plans to hire seasonal workers. The slump in UK visitors to Turkey has also caused the collapse of several well respected tour operators. Jewel in the Crown ceased trading on 1 April 2016 after trading for 29 years and Anatolian Sky Holidays became the fourth Turkey specialist to fail in the last 12 months after the terrorist attacks. The other two tour operators to collapse were Elixir Holidays and Exclusive Escapes.

Holidays in Turkey have always been seen as value for money and tour operators will be hoping that big discounts will help sell the destination despite the risk of more terror attacks. Terrorism has far reaching consequences not just on those innocent lives that are so cruelly cut short but on a countries whole economy.

For many years it used to be the case that if you left it late to book a holiday, you would get a bargain. Ten years ago this might have been true, as I remember package holidays being on sale for £99 per person. These days are long gone as tour operators manage their holiday stock better and the shift in the market to the western Mediterranean causes demand to outstrip supply.

If the prospect of a soggy holiday in the UK fills you with dread, then be prepared to get your credit card out to pay for an expensive Mediterranean beach holiday.

Step back into the 17th Century in Hawkshead

I’m just back from a two night stay in the village of Hawkshead, Cumbria. This Lake District village, famous for the poet William Wordsworth and Beatrix Potter, lies to the west of Lake Windermere and just north of Esthwaite Water. You can drive to Hawkshead via Newby Bridge or Ambleside but the most interesting route is from just south of Bowness marina to Sawrey on the 18 vehicle ferry that runs every 20 minutes in the summer. There has been a ferry of some description on this route for over 500 years.

Hawkshead is well worth a visit and there are several places to stay and some good restaurants. We stayed at The Queens Head. The rooms are small but comfortable, bathrooms are modern and functional and the breakfasts are good quality and very big! I must say that the staff are excellent too. We also had an evening meal in the restaurant and the fact that the restaurant was packed is testament to its quality and popularity.

Queens Head, Hawkshead
The Queens Head Hawkshead

Walking around the old and narrow cobbled streets of Hawkshead is like going back into the 17th Century. The old grammar school was founded in 1585 by the Archbishop of York and attended by William Wordsworth. The school closed in 1909 but still looks like it’s still taking students.

The magnificent 17th century church of St Michael & All Angels stands at the highest point of the village and is well worth a look. Hawkshead itself is virtually traffic free and there is a large car park and it costs £3 for the first 2 hours. Their are toilets in the car park although there is a 20 pence charge.

Hawkshead is a fine example of the popularity of English tourist attractions as it’s a busy little place and there seems to be a constant bus load of foreign tourists dropping in for a look at the Beatrix Potter museum, which is great for the UK’s foreign currency earnings!

Hawkshead is probably not the best place to stop if you are wanting to climb some of the highest peaks in The Lake District. It took us well over an hour to drive from Hawkshead to Buttermere to climb Haystacks. There are some local walks from Hawkshead and the Grizedale Forest is nearby. We walked from Hawkshead to Tarn Hows, on our 2nd day, which is a pleasant circular walk of just over 5 miles. These are some of my photos that I took on our visit in July 2016.

Hawkshead, The Lake District
Hawkshead village shop

Hawkshead cobbled lane

Hawkshead cobbled lane

England’s largest lake, Lake Windermere is only a short drive away. Here you can watch the boats and go on a sight seeing cruise.

Lake Windermere - Englands largest lake.
Lake Windermere – Englands largest lake.
Lake Windermere pleasure cruise.
Lake Windermere pleasure cruise.

A walk up Haystacks from Buttermere

It was a windy and overcast day with heavy showers as we parked our car in the car park next to The Fish pub Buttermere before walking along the shore of beautiful Lake Buttermere in The Lake District.

As you approach the end of the lake you will see a path that leads up at 45 degrees and then it’s a fairly steep slog up over fairly rough terrain and boulders. Carry on following the path and you will eventually walk through Scarth Gap. Haystacks involves some scrambling up rocks. Going up is fairly easy but coming down these bits can be slippery underfoot especially when it’s been raining.

The walk took longer than we anticipated because there were heavy showers and we didn’t set a scorching pace! There are several ways you can climb Haystacks. We walked from Buttermere village but you can also park in the car park near Gatesgarth Farm, and you save about 1 mile each way along the lake if you start here. It’s also possible to start the walk at the car park at the Honister Slate Mine and the round trip from Honister is about 5 miles.

Here are some photos I took of our walk including some crazy mountain bikers carrying their bikes up Haystacks.

Buttermere, Lake District
Fleetwith Pike, Buttermere
Buttermere, Lake District and Fleetwith Pike.
Path along Buttermere leading to Haystacks
Mountain bikes being carried up Haystacks.
Mountain bikes being carried up Haystacks.
View over Buttermre from top of Haystacks.
View over Buttermre from top of Haystacks.

Stand on top of the world on Nordkette

Taking the scenic train from Verona to Innsbruck in Austria was amazing. In the summer of 2015 I took the awesome train journey from Verona in Italy to Innsbruck in Austria. It takes about 3.5 hours and the journey takes you through the Brenner Pass. The Nordkette mountain is easily accessible from the centre of Innsbruck.

Innsbruck has a backdrop of amazing mountain scenery and if you go you can’t miss taking the journey to Nordkette. The journey starts right in the centre of Innsbruck with The Hungerburg funicular which takes just 8 minutes to reach the cable car that takes you to The Seegrube, at an altitude of 6,250 ft.

Another short cable car then takes you to Hafelekar at an impressive 7,401 ft and the panoramic views are just amazing. The views must be some of the best in Europe. It’s just a short walk from the cable car station to the highest point and you get fantastic views over Innsbruck and the mountains in the distance. The photos below were both taken near to the top.

Nordkette, Innsbruck, Austria

Nordkette – awesome views

I’m at 7,400 ft on Nordkette, Innsbruck, Austria

Take a short break in Venice

Valentine’s Day may be a while off yet but impatient lovers who can’t wait to get away for a short break will find no better hide-out than the charming waterways and cobbled streets of Venice. So, why take a short break in Venice?

Many famous couples take a short break in the historic city of Venice. Elton John and David Furnish  took a honeymoon break in the beautiful floating city and they visited the amazing Saint Mark’s Square.

Other celebs who have escaped the media’s glare in Venice’s soothing canals include Nicole Kidman, Helen Hunt and Woody Allen.

It only takes visitors a few seconds wandering down the mysterious back streets of Venice to fall in love with its delicate charm. From the strikingly beautiful central sights of the Piazza San Marco to the hushed ristorantes of its mazy old alleys, the city will pluck at your heartstrings for every waking moment.

Music may be the food of love but seafood is a damn fine alternative, and Venice boasts a huge variety of juicy dishes as you’d expect from a city surrounded by waters. Squid, cuttlefish and octopus are cooked in simple but tasty herbs and spices to indulge the most demanding palette.

And then when you’re woozy with food and romance, step out and sip fine wines in the rustic Al Bottegon cellar or wheel to the jazz of Al Vapore’s bar.

Taking a short break in Venice in the summer months is great for the weather but the city can become thronged with sightseers and tourists, but if you want the city to yourself then the best time to visit is between October and April when the weather is cool and their are less crowds. Watch out though for the Venice floods. The city has a history of flooding in Winter and you may need to take your wellies.

When I  last took a short break in Venice it was hot and sunny and full of people but most tend to be day trippers and the city is quieter in the evenings. The first time I visited Venice I was worried that I was going to get lost because the streets are narrow and some parts of the city are like a maze. Getting lost though is just part of the fun and you will never be too far from a canal to help you navigate with the help of a good map.

Whilst on your short break in Venice, make sure you catch the water bus to Burano with its beautiful coloured houses and, of course, Murano, famous for Venetian glass.

I took these photos on a recent visit to Venice.

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Water bus on the Grand Canal in Venice.
Water taxi on the Grand Canal in Venice
The busy sea front in Venice
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Gondola station in Venice
Grand Canal, Venice
Colourful properties on a canal in Venice

Related travel articles about Venice

Venice – Enjoy getting lost

Venice – Just amazing – Holiday Review