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TRAVEL AND TOURISM - 2012 Activities

January Meeting

Our talk in January was given by Ann and Adam Edmondson about their cruise around the Arabian Peninsula  in November /December 2010.

They  flew to Dubai for the two week round trip. The start from Dubai took in a shopping mall where  everything appeared to be gold plated and an aquarium containing hundreds of fish which was 30 to 50 yards long and 5 yards wide.  A visit to a Grand Mosque with marble flooring, a crystal chandelier and an enormous  colourful carpet followed.

Then to Corriche where you looked back to modern  skyscrapers from the old side where there was a museum of mud huts and old style living (40 years ago!).  Onto Dohain Quatar where 80% of the population is non Quatari and the indigenous  population do not  have to work due to the oil revenues. The water used throughout the area is made by desalination. The cruise continued to Bahrain where women can vote but not wear European dress  and then Kuwait where impressive towers  had views from them of the local area. Onto Ras Al Kamah where fishing still takes place and there is still a fish market. Camel races are held here which could make a change at Newmarket!

Onto Fujairah where the Fort showed an earlier time in the mountainous region. The Bidya Mosque (AD 1446), was one of the earliest in the area.  At Muscat in Oman we saw the Sultans Yachts (new and old) which made the cruise ship look diminutive. Flowers appeared at Corniche with a display of over 5 kilometres along the coast where there are also several forts.  Then to Khasab in Oman where there are folded mountains and dolphins in the sea  to watch. Telegraph Island came next, a place important in the days of wired communications, where some went swimming as well. At Souk they went on a dune safari and saw belly dancers and a colourful  Dervish dancer.

The whole trip sounded enticing for those of us who had not been to the area.

Ann and Adam were thanked for their enlightening talk.

Pamela Cotton

February Meeting

Jim Cotton produced an interesting slide show of the group’s recent visit in September to the Dordogne.  It reminded us of the good weather, excellent food and interesting and well organised trip that we enjoyed  from our base in Rocamadour.

Additional information and videos were included on the pros and cons regarding the production of foie gras in the region.  Less contentious were the videos explaining truffle hunting by pig, dog and fly.

In  December 2009, black truffles were sold for about €1,000 per kilo in a farmer's market and €3,940 per kilo in a retail seller.

March Travel Group Meeting – Waterways of Russia

Ann and Tony Sear had been on this trip in 2011 and gave a very interesting presentation of their journey by cruise boat from St. Petersburg to Moscow via the rivers and waterways with stops on the way at interesting villages and sites.

The holiday had been arranged by Jules Verne and the boat was comfortable, the food and service excellent with a guide from the company and three young Russian guides who were teachers working in their holidays.

St. Petersburg is a very beautiful city and they toured many sites including the Peter and Paul Fortress set on a small island of Neva which became a prison and held many political prisoners until 1922.  Here were tombs of some of the past Russian Czars and a Mint that still produces money and medals.  The Hermitage, the Winter Palace built in 1700s, is now a museum so large and so full of wonderful art works that it would be impossible to see all the exhibits in a lifetime.  They attended a Ballet in the Opera House and visited the fantastic Peterhof Palace and Gardens and saw lots of other beautiful things before the boat left St. Petersburg via the River Neva and through a lake to Mandrogi to see a destroyed village and museum.

On to Kizhi Island to see the Wooden Church and other wooden buildings.  This is completely cut off by ice during the winter.  The natural waterways are linked by canals and a flooded area where 700 villages had been submerged.  This had been created by conscript labour from the gulags.  There were stops at various  

villages and interesting buildings along the way until they approached Moscow.

Moscow was as full of traffic as any other modern city.  They saw the Red Square with the Kazan Cathedral and St. Basil, and the long queue waiting to view Lenin in his tomb.

One of the highlights was the Metro, dating from 1935, with its imposing cathedral-like stations and typical Soviet style statues.  Of course, not to be missed, the Kremlin and the Assumption Cathedral where the world’s largest bell took two years to construct for Ivan the Great.  When it was finally unmoulded after 100 years a piece broke off weighing 11.5 tons, total weight 200 tons  -  unsurprisingly it has never rung.  The tomb of the Unknown Soldier is at the Kremlin Wall.  It is the custom for all Brides and Grooms to lay flowers on war memorials to thank dead soldiers for affording them the opportunity to marry.

This was an unforgettable trip, with its two cities, each beautiful in different ways, and the lovely countryside seen in leisurely fashion on the boat, linking the two.  Needless to say the talk was illustrated with great photos, including some from Val and John Adams taken some years ago and also comments by Ann Edmondson who conducted a party of school children in 1984 when Moscow was a very different place.  

Meeting Monday 16th April 2012

The first half of the meeting was the annual general meeting. The chairman Tony Sear reviewed the previous successful year with trips to Jersey and the Dordogne and slideshows of Lille Christmas Market, South America, the Rhine and Moselle, the Arabian Peninsula and a cruise from St Petersburg to Moscow among others.  There was also a very enjoyable summer BBQ and a Christmas Lunch. The treasurer’s report showed a slightly reduced but still healthy balance at the end of the year. The existing committee was re-elected with the addition of 2 more to help spread the workload.

We then had an up to date briefing on the forthcoming trip to Bristol and Bath at the end of May. As this clashes with our normal May meeting the next meeting at New Green will not be until June 18th.

After welcome refreshments there was some discussion about possible visits next year with interest in visiting Ireland and other river and train trips.

Finally we enjoyed seeing some photographs of interesting natural phenomena and unusual architecture, including ones of the 36 kilometre sea bridge in China, the Lena Pillars in Russia and a desert alive with purple scorpion flowers which only happens once in several years.

Trip to Bristol and Bath May 2012

We were delighted to be picked up at New Green  on Monday morning by Derick, the same excellent driver who took us to Chester a few years ago . He is amazing, very professional, always cheerful and willing to do anything that makes our visit more enjoyable. He certainly contributed  a great deal towards the success of this trip.

How fortunate we were to choose for our visit not only the best week of the summer so far,  but also the week in which the Olympic torch would arrive in Bristol very close to our hotel.

We had a good journey visiting Oxford for lunch on our way to Bristol and settled in to our hotel in good time for dinner.  The Ramada hotel is in a very good central position and  was very comfortable and the staff friendly and helpful.

On Tuesday the majority of us visited the beautiful Dyrham Park whilst a few went by taxi to Tyntesfield.

At Dyrham Park we had the choice of going on the shuttle bus to the house where we were to meet a guide or walking  towards the house with a Ranger to see the beautiful herd of deer in the extensive park of 272 acres.  This proved to be a wonderful experience as the deer allowed us to get quite close for photographs without showing any alarm.  The Ranger was very interesting and pointed out lots of facts about the estate during the walk. After this the group met up with the guide before exploring the house in our own time.

On our return to Bristol a number of people took the opportunity to explore the beautiful parish church of St Mary Redcliffe which is right next to the hotel.  It is a stunning church and could easily have been mistaken for the cathedral. There are many famous names associated with the church such as John Cabot,  George Frederick Handel, Southey, Coleridge and Admiral Sir William Penn to mention but a few.  Other people went down to the river to watch the preparations for the arrival of the Olympic torch.  There was a great deal of excitement and a real carnival atmosphere in the beautiful warm sunshine.  Many of us were able to witness the bearing of the torch through the street and down to the harbour where it was taken by boat along the river to the main square.

Wednesday was the day for a guided coach tour of Bristol and we had an excellent Blue Badge Guide.  We visited all of the main areas of Bristol and beyond and enjoyed the wonderful views from Clifton which is one of the oldest and most affluent areas of the city, much of it having been built with profits from tobacco and the slave trade,  something that makes many of us feel uncomfortable about today.   Most of us walked over the suspension bridge which had earlier seen the arrival of the Olympic torch accompanied by fireworks.  The rest of the day was spent enjoying the harbourside in the warm sunshine with visits to various riverside restaurants, the SS Gt Britain, the Shed and boat trips as indiviuals wished.

Thursday saw our visit to Bath.  Again we enjoyed a guided coach tour with an excellent  Blue Badge Guide and this was followed by free time when people could decide which of the many sights they wished to visit.  I think some even chose some retail therapy!

All too soon Friday arrived, the day for us to return to Thurston but there were still two treats in store for us. We visited the Bristol Blue Glass factory after leaving the hotel and enjoyed a fascinating  demonstration and also the opportunity to purchase some of the glass.  A welcome cup of tea or coffee was also served before we set off for  Bourton – on – the - Water for our lunch time stop.  Although this is always a busy place and it was yet another warm day encouraging people to come out in their hundreds, it was easy for us to find nice places to have some lunch in the open air before rejoining the coach for the final stretch of the journey home, which was far more pleasant than anticipated as our driver chose a scenic country route where we met none of the usual Friday evening traffic jams and made good time in getting back to New Green.

I am sure everyone had a great time.

June Meeting

After discussion on the summer party, an update on the Rhone trip and ideas for future trips, Brenda and Harry gave an illustrated talk of their recent holiday in Australia.  They had an escorted tour in March of this year with the firm 'Journeys of Distinction' which took 21 days covering Perth, Ayers Rock, Alice Springs, Adelaide, Melbourne, Cairns and Sydney.

Perth, as in many of the cities, the buildings were Victorian style sitting alongside modern high-rise blocks.  The temperature was 38 degrees which was hotter than they expected.  In Perth they visited Kings Park and the botanical gardens where a 750 year old Boab tree had been transported from Kimberley by lorry and transplanted in the park.  They also visited the Port of Freemantle where the old industrial sites were being redeveloped for residential use.

They then flew to Uluru formerly Ayres Rock but now renamed, this is within the National Park but as there was no accommodation they stayed in the resort of Yulara where the accommodation is all owned by the Aboriginals.  In the evening they had a Sounds of Silence dinner in the desert and there were wonderful photos of the sunset over Kata Tjuta.

The next stop on the tour was Alice Springs and during a BBQ on a homestead they saw wild kangeroos.  Alice Springs is not founded on springs but on a river part of which dries up and disappears during the summer.

Adelaide is laid out in a grid pattern with lots of green parks, museums and botanical gardens.  They then went on to Melbourne visiting Captain Cook's cottage which had been transported from England in the 1930's and rebuilt in Melbourne.  Again there were a large number of Victorian buildings decorated with ironwork.  Here as in most cities a tram system provided people with free transport.

Next on to Cairns where the weather had been bad prior to their arrival with landslides cutting off the road to Port Douglas but they did get to see part of the Great Barrier Reef where we saw Brenda snorkelling.

The final visit was to Sydney where they had a tour of the opera house and a cruise to Bondi Beach.  They also had a trip to the Blue Mountains and spent the final day sightseeing around Sydney

 Meeting Monday 9th July 2012

The first part of the meeting was spent discussing the arrangements for the summer party in August, an update on the Rhone Cruise trip in September and possibilities for a trip next spring or early summer.

Then Andy Burrows from Simonds Coaches explained how a private group tour is put together. Once an idea for a tour is raised they have to check hotel availability for the dates and likely numbers involved. Normally they will only use hotels they personally know or have had a good report on from other tour companies. Hotels usually let groups hold rooms for up to 2 months before finally booking them. This gives time for the detailed itinerary, which has to be varied but not too busy, to be agreed and numbers confirmed. There has to be an absolute minimum for a tour to go ahead and at least break even and this is normally 21.

The company has 10 different types of coaches and around 53 drivers, of whom 18 -20 are tour guides/drivers. The driver is really important as although he has a detailed itinerary he must be able to use his initiative if anything has to change.

After the talk the photos from the Bristol and Bath trip were shown and were of interest to Andy Burrows as well as Simonds had organised the trip and they don’t often have the feedback from customers’ photos and comments.

Travel Group Monday 10th September 2012

We had to start our meeting with a few goodbyes. Long term member John Adams sadly died after a stay in hospital. Our best wishes are with his wife Val. Also Kathleen & Roger and Ann & Adam are leaving the group due to imminent or possible moves away from the area and we wish them well.

We then had some discussions on the forthcoming trips to Ireland hopefully next May, to Chatsworth in November and on a Rhone cruise at the end of September.  We also saw a short film on a slightly different cruise down the Rhone which certainly suggests those going on the trip will have an interesting trip.

After refreshments we had a session of informal contributions on Ireland from many members of the group varying from jokes to poems, from information about Guinness, Irish stamps and Irish myths as well as reminiscences of previous holidays there.