Friday, 3 July 2015

Learning how to crack open a coconut in Samoa
Visiting Gruyere in  Switzeland
Riding in the Andes in Ecuador

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

 Visiting northern France, Lucy Daltroff finds poignant reminders of the casualties of conflict 100 years ago

It’s a large area with rows and rows of immaculately-tended white headstones grouped together in pairs. Red roses and shrubs grow in the flower beds. It’s sad, but strangely beautiful. I am in Étaples Military Cemetery, designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens and the largest Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemetery in France.
Lying before me are the last resting places of 10,773 casualties from the First World War, all of whom died in the 20 hospitals built in this area. To the left of the main plot is a segment where the tombstones are set more widely apart. Closer inspection reveals it as the Jewish section, containing 24 stone markers.
The citadel at Montreuil-sur-Mer
The citadel at Montreuil-sur-Mer
Each bears the name of the regiment of the dead soldier, a Magen David and the date of death. Some have family messages on the bases. Air mechanic Aaron Levy’s reads: “In loving memory of our dear son. May his soul rest in peace”.
This is a poignant beginning for my tour of the area between Ypres and the Somme in the Pays de Calais region of France, and its associations with the conflict of 1914-18.
Just seven miles down the road from Étaples is an attractive cobbled square that is the centre of Montreuil-sur-Mer. In medieval times, the town was an important fortified port. Its defences were strengthened in 1567 under French king Charles IX, who also added a citadel. Then, in the 1670s, Vauban, the famous French military engineer, built on top of the fortifications to make them even stronger.
It was this infrastructure that became an important factor when the British headquarters commanded by General Haig moved here in 1916. It made sense geographically too, as the various British bases on French soil were within easy reach. It was near the front line and halfway between the Allied capitals of London and Paris. Suddenly, peaceful Montreuil became the military capital of the First World War.
The citadel today contains a small but informative war museum. The red bricks and attractive architecture have great  charm and I soon found that walking on the ramparts gives a fine view over the surrounding countryside.
Victor Hugo spent just a few hours here in 1837, yet immortalised it by using the town as the setting for Les Misérables. To commemorate this, every year, a themed outdoor son et lumière spectacle is staged at the foot of the ramparts, with hundreds of locals taking part.
It is an attractive town, with many of the houses in the cobbled streets bearing brightly-coloured flowers trailing from their window boxes. There are also several small hotels and eateries. For a real treat, try dining at the Chateau de Montreuil, a Michelin-starred restaurant noted for its food and stylish surroundings.
Returning to memories of the war, I find – in stark contrast to the ancient walls of the citadel ­– the imposing white Canadian Memorial, a tribute to the 11,285 Canadian soldiers reported missing during the First World War. Many were lost on 9 April 1917 in the battle of Arras when they succeeded in taking Vimy Ridge, which had been strongly defended by the German army.
Lucy Daltroff at the grave of Isaac Rosenberg
Lucy Daltroff at the grave of Isaac Rosenberg
In the front of the tall cenotaph is a powerful statue depicting Mother Canada mourning her lost sons. The memorial took the designer, Walter Seymour Allward, 11 years to build and was unveiled by King Edward VIII on 26 July 1936. The whole dramatic appearance is further enhanced by its setting – in the middle of a 250-acre preserved battlefield park.
Another casualty of the conflict was the famous artist and war poet Isaac Rosenberg, who died at dawn on 1 April 1918. In contrast to other celebrated war poets, Rosenberg was a private. His Poems from the Trenches are recognised as some of the most exceptional written during the First World War and his artistic talents are shown by very visual depictions in his poems.
Rosenberg was assigned to the 12th Battalion of the Suffolk Regiment, a bantam battalion for men under the usual minimum height of 5ft 3in. After turning down an offer to become a lance corporal, he was later transferred to another bantam battalion, the 11th Service Battalion of the King’s Own Royal Lancaster Regiment. In June 1916, he was sent with his battalion to serve on the Western Front in France and continued to write poetry while serving in the trenches.
No one knows whether his death occurred at the hands of a sniper or in close combat, but he died in a town called Fampoux, north-east of Arras, at the age of 27. His simple grave is at Bailleul Road East Cemetery, Plot V, Saint-Laurent-Blangy. Later, he was honoured in Poet’s Corner in Westminster Abbey and his self-portraits displayed in both the National Gallery and Tate Britain.
• Useful Contacts
Pas de Calais Tourism: www.uk.pas-de-calais.com
Lucy travelled with P & O Ferries: www.poferries.com

The Citadel: www.tourisme-montreuillois.com 
or www.chateaudemontreuil.com


Lucy stayed at the Best Western Hotel Hermitage: www.hermitage-montreuil.com
Holiday Inn Express Arras: www.holidayinn-arras.com

Saturday, 1 March 2014

Lucy Daltroff explores the Kennedy family’s New England roots as the US marks the 50th anniversary of the murder in Dallas of its cherished 35th president

Lucy Daltroff outside Kennedy's Birthplace,  83 Beals Street, Boston. 

"You have to understand that in a way the Kennedys are our Royal family” explains Lily from Lexington, at the start of my journey to New England to mark the 50th anniversary of the assassination of John F Kennedy. During the next six days, as I toured Boston, Cape Cod and Rhode Island, nothing led me to disagree with her statement.

I began at 83 Beals Street, in the Boston suburb of Brookline, the birthplace of the future president. The house, which became a museum in 1967, is quite small,because in 1914 when JFK’s father Joseph bought it as his first marital home, he was president of a local bank and not yet a wealthy man. Jack, Rose and Joseph’s second child, arrived on 29 May 1917, and eventually there were three other siblings living with him there; the other five were born after 1920 when the family had moved into a bigger house nearby.

Peeping into the dining room, I noticed the table where the children were encouraged from an early age to debate the topical issues of the day. With two grandfathers, state senator P J Kennedy and Boston mayor John Fitzgerald, in public office, conversation about politics must have been endemic.Also interesting was the box file on John’s mother’s desk, with a card for each child with a record of all their illnesses. This was especially relevant for John, who was frequently ill and read adventure books to keep himself occupied.

 John returned to Massachusetts at the end of World War II,  a decorated war hero and decided to enter politics. He was elected to Congress in 1946 and the Senate in 1952 and became President on 8 November 1960. All the sites related to JFK’s political rise are covered along the Kennedy Trail in downtown Boston, along with the elegant Omni Parker Hotel, the longest continuously-operating hotel the US, where he proposed to Jackie. Also nearby is the stark Irish Famine Memorial,recalling the disaster of 1845, when a potato mould caused death, hunger and disease in Ireland.

The most fortunate of the population, about 1.5 million people, managed to flee to the USA, mostly to Boston, to start new lives. Among them were John Kennedy’s eight great-grandparents.

The John F Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum is dedicated to the memory of the 35th president and is located on a 10-acre park overlooking on the one side of the building the very ocean that brought his great-grandfathers over from Ireland and on the other side the city that launched him to greatness. The complex was dedicated in 1979 by members of his family, including Jaqueline Kennedy Onassis and his children Caroline and John F Kennedy Jr. At 43, good looking ad charismatic, JFK was the youngest person and the first Roman Catholic to be elected president and the museum addresses the many major issues he faced during his time in office. They include the Cuban missile crisis, the Vietnam war, Latin America and the spread of communism plus the civil rights movement, as well as the establishment of the US
space programme and the Peace Corps. Also included, of course, is Kennedy’s famous inaugural speech with the much-quoted line: “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do
for your country.”

 
Some may regard the museum as slightly sycophantic as it fails to mention any of the character flaws that came to light after Kennedy’s death, but despite that it contains an interesting and valuable record of a determined and able man.
Part of the Hyannis Kennedy Legacy Trail 

 The Kennedy story continues in Cape Cod, where, in 1928, Kennedy’s parents Rose and Joe bought a summer home in Hyannis Port now known as the Kennedy Compound. It served as a getaway for the family and important events in their lives happened here. Visitors can follow another Kennedy pathway here, the 1.6-mile Kennedy Legacy Trail which explores the family’s
history in Hyannis by way of stops at 10 important sites including the JFK Museum, although the
best way of getting an overall view of the compound itself is by taking a boat trip.

The third stop on any serious Kennedy exploration has to be beautiful Rhode Island, a favoured haunt of the rich and famous, whose huge Newport mansions are well worth a visit. More importantly, the island is where Kennedy, then a young senator, married Jacqueline Bouvier in St Mary's Catholic Church in 1953. The wedding reception was held at the Bouvier family estate, Hammersmith Farm. I was lucky enough to
Helicopter view of Rhode Island
be able to take a helicopter ride and see the farm and the mansions from the air – an unforgettable experience to set the seal on my trip. Rhode Island was a place John and Jackie loved to visit; John especially enjoyed going out in the 12-metre yacht, Weatherly. There is a well known photo of him taken from the deck, waving from the shores of Hammersmith Farm to the crew of the US entry as they were heading out to take part in the America’s Cup races of 1962.



Useful Facts

Virgin Atlantic offers flights from London Heathrow to Boston from around £440 return, including taxes and charges. Details: www.virgin-atlantic.com
New England Tourism: www.discovernewengland.co.uk or call 01825 76 36 33
Alamo offers car hire from £18 per day. Special deals include cover for a free additional
driver (worth up to £45 p/w) for early bookers. All rates are transparent and fully inclusive of zero-excess insurance and taxes. www.alamo.co.uk
USA Accommodation at the Omni Parker House in Boston starts at around £165 per night for a traditional room sleeping two people; special offers are also available.  www.omnihotels.com/Boston





Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Les Causses and Les Cevennes

By Lucy Daltroff


It may be our nearest neighbour, but France still has some undiscovered gems, often neglected by the average British tourist.   Take Les Causses and Les Cevennes. A remote area, but one that has much dramatic scenery included within its 3000 square kilometres - all of which has recently been granted UNESCO World Heritage status for “continuing evolving cultural landscapes”.  The largest area ever to be added to the list.

Remote, and historically too poor to host many cities, there is real beauty in the natural parks and valleys in this territory which stretches all the way from the Lozere, down to the area just north of Montpellier, embracing the 4 counties of Aveyron, Gard Herault and Lozere.

Entering the region is stunning in itself, if approached, as I did, via the tallest bridge in the world and the marvellous engineering achievement known as the Millau Viaduct.  Designed by our own Norman Foster and opened in 2004 it is elegant as well as useful - spanning the large Tarn valley and providing a direct route for visitors travelling from Paris to Spain. It cost £272 million and was entirely privately financed.  Although taller that the Eiffel tower and 1.5 miles long, -when I saw it first on a cloudy day it appeared ethereal and delicate - a sort of sculpture, floating overhead.


The sheep grazing grasslands of the surrounding countryside have for 11 centuries supported a thriving lambskin glove trade, which has historically given employment to many local Jewish people over the years.  It was one of the few trades which was allowed to be followed when there was heavy discrimination elsewhere.  Wandering through the small historic village of Meyrueis to the east of Millau, I saw a plaque commemorating the Jewish quarter, confirming that the people that lived there worked as glove makers - and money changers - and rather ominously, that they stayed until the end of the Middle Ages.

Spurred on by this notice I decided to visit the famous Causee Glove Factory in the centre of the town of Millau, to watch the gloves being made by hand for top international fashion houses.  The specialisation of each of the 42 workers was intriguing whether it was the cutting of the leather or the sewing on of the decorations.  It takes four hours to produce each pair and an on-site exhibition shows the many celebrity end-users, who include both Madonna and Kylie Minogue


Nearby is a completely different tourist attraction.  The Chaos (meaning heap of Rocks) at Montpellier Le Vieux is one of the most phenomenal block fields in the world.  It’s a strange collection of varied shaped dolomite slabs extending over 120 hectares.  The whole area was once covered with a vast shallow sea and enjoyed a tropical climate.  Then a hundred million years ago the thrust resulting from the formation of the Alps and the Pyrenees gradually lifted the young rock which resulted in the high plateaux of the Causses - and replaced the sea.

Since then years of erosion and rain have made some of the ruins look like ancient cities - complete with pillars and arches, while other rocks take the form of human or animal faces.  So it was no surprise to hear that for hundreds of years local villagers were frightened to visit and it was just inhabited by wild animals.  Even now, local shepherds tell the story that the fairies founded this ancient city, then got tired of it and went away, leaving it to fall in ruins. Today it can be discovered by a selection of walking paths or a dramatic zip line.  I took the popular, specialised train, and found that although it was really crowded this did not detract from the extraordinary surroundings.

Visiting Cirque de Navacelles, was another wonderful spectacle of nature.   It is the largest canyon in Europe carved out of the limestone thousands of years ago by the river Vis. Viewing it from a newly built viewing platform and looking at the fantastic panorama is both remarkable and unexpected.   Right at the bottom of the canyon is a waterfall and one of the most beautiful medieval hamlets in France.

The lack of large conurbations mean that conventional hotels make way for more  unusual and interesting places to stay.  In the Causses the architecture is mainly stone built while the Cevennes has more organised buildings, intertwined with narrow alleyways.  Accommodation ranges from castles to country house bed and breakfasts, and most are quirky, fun and full of character.

There is another story to this remote area.  It has long been a refuge for the Hugenots who practised religious tolerance.  During the Second World War “Le Juste de Cevennes” were the brave inhabitants, many of them Hugenots, who risked their lives sheltering Jewish children and so defying the Vichy Government that had power over this part of France.    Evidence of these selfless acts are now to be found some way away, in the village of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon, where a small, new glass museum contains more information of the individual intriguing wartime stories of courage and subterfuge.


Fact Box

Lucy flew to Rodez from Stansted Airport

www.chateau-de-creissels.com

www.cevennes-meridionales.com

http://cdt-lozere.com/

www.tourisme-aveyron.com

www.montpellierlevieux.com

www.ville-lechambonsurlignon.fr


Friday, 31 May 2013

It’s a tongue in cheek television programme and one of the first mass holiday destinations but I am curious to find out what Benidorm is really like.


“Who can see the rhino? ” said Dennis our driver as we climbed up a steep mountain above the town. Things were getting more and more bizarre I thought, until I realised the rhino was actually the animal-shaped mountain to the right of us.  We had decided to take a jeep trip away from the beautiful beaches and towering hotels of Benidorm and thanks to Marco Polo Tours in a surprisingly short time were driving along the Sierra Aitana mountain range. Nearby was the second highest, but most prominent, peak, Puig Campana , popular with mountaineers and serious climbers.  It looks as though a square hole has been sliced out of its summit and legend has it that Roldan, a giant, created the gap because he had been told his wife would die when the sun set behind the summit. By creating a great notch in the mountain he could enable her to live a little bit longer.

View of Benidorm
Even riding in a jeep on a fairly ordinary off-season day, the views are magnificent, and it was good to find out that Mark and Dennis from Marco Polo also arrange bike trips, horse riding and other outdoor adventure sports in the highlands.

Back in Benidorm, with its familiar pubs, English fish and chips restaurants and penchant for fun, it’s easy to forget that a change of pace is possible and an unspoilt countryside is waiting to be discovered.

Despite its annual 6 million visitors, the old town -  the birthplace of Benidorm - is still intact. The 18th century church by the sea with its gleaming blue dome, and the cobblestones of Carrer dels Gats with its small archways, are reminders of the fishing village it once was, before the onslaught of tourism began, way back in 1961.   It was then that the decision was made to build upwards rather than outwards, leaving space for parks and swimming pools in order for the seafront to be accessible to all.

I went up to the 52nd  floor  of the four star Gran Hotel Bali, the tallest hotel in Europe, to get a panoramic view of Benidorm, and its two sparkling beaches Levante and Poniente.    Besides cleanliness  they are also known  for their  beach libraries where  it is possible to leaf through newspapers and books in both English and Spanish and the fact they are easily accessible for  wheelchairs. The roof of the Bali gives a good view of the little triangular off shore island simply referred as L’illa, a twenty minute boat ride away and one of the well known symbols of this tourist community.

Every half-hour boats go from the main port in the centre of town,  to the island.  It’s a journey worth taking.  Once there, a protected walk leads to the summit, an ideal place to witness the many birds who call this island home. It is also possible to step down, inside a bright yellow  “Aquascope” - a cross, between a submarine and a glass sided boat - and glide through the waters, viewing the variety of fish and marine vegetation, which also makes it a good area for scuba diving

Restaurants abound in the town and the food is usually fresh and  varied  although the Spanish do have a tendency to sometimes put pig inside vegetable dishes.

Benidorm is famous for its theme parks.    I visited two that were interesting for adults but undoubtedly the main emphasis is for children.

Terra Natura is a zoo, based upon 3 continents;  Europe, Asia and America, replicating both the animals and eco-systems,  and successfully fills the twins roles of fun and education.   My favourite occupant had to be Shusto, a year old rhino and the first to be born in captivity in Spain.   Mum, Shiwa, looked very pleased with her offspring, and after a 15 months pregnancy, there was every reason for her to feel proud.
Terra Natura  - Baby Shusto

Mondomar Park is famous for its water performances.  I saw the performing dolphins, which were brilliantly choreographed and made a wonderful show.  The empathy with their trainers was evident and it looked natural and well organised.   That is if you are not sitting in the two front rows of the audience, who get soaked.

Mondomar Park  - Performing Dolphins
One evening I visited the Benidorm Palace, not knowing quite what to expect and truthfully fearing the worst.   So many times I realise how bad it is to have preconceptions, and this was one of them.  The show was of the highest quality and it was easy to see why it had been awarded Europe’s best cabaret theatre and nightclub for 2012, beating Paris’ Moulin Rouge. The packed audience of 1500,  mainly sit at tables and are served a good meal during the show.  The dancers, musicians and acrobats were fabulous and the evening excellent.


Coming back home after a busy few days, I began to realise how much more there is to do and explore in Benidorm than its stereotype image leads us to believe.



I flew Monarch Airways.  www.monarch.co.uk

And stayed at the Flash Hotel www.flashotel.com

 www.benidorm-palace.com

Escorted jeep safari www.marcopolo-exp.es
Specialist sport operator.  Escorted jeep safaris in 8 seater vehicles - full day from €59 (Under 12 yrs €48) including entrance to

Mundomar www.mundomar.es dolphin & sealion shows, animals, conservation & play areas.

Terra Natura  www.terranatura.com animals in natural settings, attractions, shows & rides, conservation & breeding programme


  Further information

 www.en.visitbenidorm.es (in English) and www.facebook.com/visitbenidorm