Travel: Fab times with the Fab Four

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Indy Lifestyle Online
PLENTY OF Independent readers subscribe to Wanderlust magazine, so I paid particular attention to the results of its travel awards this week. The most encouraging trend, from the survey of 1,200 independent travellers, is that the "been there, done that" mentality is diminishing and some previously unfashionable destinations are suddenly in vogue.

For the first time that I can remember, Belgium features in a table of favourite destinations; the beautiful city of Bruges snuggles into fourth place, between San Francisco and Prague. And Canada, another nation to which the label "boring" is unfairly attached, made the top 10 countries, with Vancouver voted seventh best city worldwide.

My favourite nomination, though, which sadly failed to make the shortlist, was one reader's choice of top TV travel programme: Star Trek.

DESPITE WHAT the people of Manchester, Sheffield and London may say, when you visit Liverpool you are left in no doubt that this is the heart and soul of the British music industry. There's some way to go before Liverpudlians see their city as a "tourist trap", but when I invested pounds 20 for a London-Liverpool return on Virgin Trains I met literally hundreds of people from all over the world who are enjoying some of the most intriguing visitor attractions of any British city.

That number is about to be amplified when easyJet starts flying, next Friday, for fares as low as pounds 26 return from Luton (this assumes you book on www.easyJet.com; like Go, the airline penalises people who book by phone).

It is just as well that getting there, at least from the South-east, is so cheap - you are sure to spend a fortune when you arrive. The Beatles Story, which takes you through the story of the Fab Five, as they were originally with Stu Sutcliffe and Pete Best, costs a fiver; good value for an hour being transfixed by their early years.

Next, you can pay pounds 10 on the Magical Mystery Tour around the places where the Beatles grew up, aboard a coach that's a replica of the one used in the 1968 television film. You roll up for a two-hour ride around Liverpool, stopping off at the childhood homes of John, Paul, George and Ringo, visiting the place where John met Paul, and of course taking a trip along Penny Lane and past Strawberry Fields, ending up where the group really took off: the Cavern Club, or at least a replica of it; the real thing was demolished in the Seventies.

Best of all, though, was the Embassie Hostel, where I was alarmed to discover that the bed rate had risen to pounds 10.50. It was worth it, though, since the hostel shows near-continual re-runs of the great documentary the Beatles never made: Neil Innes' brilliant history of the Rutles.

HARRY RAMSDEN'S in Bournemouth is arguably the most picturesquely located of all the branches of the fish and chip chain (the view certainly beats that from the one at Heathrow airport's Terminal 1). But it could be worryingly crowded next Wednesday, 29 September, when the massed ranks of the travel industry turn up to lobby Labour MPs over deep-fried haddock. Luminaries such as Sir Michael Bishop, boss of British Midland, and Abta's president, Stephen Freudmann, will tell delegates to the Labour conference that if air passenger duty increases any further then the travel industry will have had its chips.

"THE TOURUGART Pass is a very hairy border," writes Alexander Kleanthous, in response to my request last month for advice for my friends Bharat Parmar and Gurdev Singh, who are planning a millennium trip from Barking to Peking. "You have to have all your documentation in place and know what you're doing. For example, leaving China, you first get to the big new border post, which is in fact 100km from the border. You have to ask permission from a guard before you enter the building - there is no warning; if you don't, you will either be kept waiting for a few hours, or sent back to Kashgar and told to return tomorrow.

"Carry several bottles of vodka - as `presents' for the Kyrgyz border guards (do not offer to the Chinese!). Have lowish denomination US dollars ($20s are good)."

"I HAVE worked in Kyrgyzstan several times, starting in November 95 and finishing in May 98," e-mails Laurence Hibberd, from Tirana. "I have stayed in Osh, Jalalabad, Karakol and Bishkek, so know it fairly well. I was even there for the Hong Kong handover and the local Chinese restaurant put on a surprise firework display. (I was surprised to see the waiters from one restaurant play cricket in the street, until I remembered they were Pakistani.)

"The border zone between Kyrgyzstan and China is a high-security zone some kilometres wide and cannot be entered without a permit. When I was there, the Russians maintained large garrisons for protecting and monitoring this sensitive border. Since the Palymia mountain range, with Mount Lenina its key peak, runs through this region, there is a fair bit of international mountaineering tourism to the area and there are tourist companies providing guides, transport and equipment.

"However, if travel permits for this region are not obtained in advance, then it can take weeks or lots of convincing presents, etc. It won't be easy, and up-to-date advice on bandit activity, or escorts for drug movements, should be obtained from the US or the German embassies, there being no other reliable ones there."

IT WOULD be eccentric, would it not, to choose your international sporting fixtures according to the particular beauty of the countries involved? But perhaps the best fixture ever kicks off in the Rugby World Cup next Friday, when Fiji play Namibia in the lovely Mediterranean port of Beziers.

The other game, Wales vs Argentina in Cardiff, does not have such allure. Other suggestions, for most and least aesthetic teams and venues, gladly received.

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