Simon Calder: The 9.5g of copper, zinc and nickel in your pocket
Saturday 27 March 2010
Seven francs; 2,000 lire; two German marks: for anyone who travelled to Europe before the euro devoured the French, Italian and German currencies in 2002, that was as pitiful as the pound ever got.
Sorry to start your weekend with more gloom, but after this week's Budget, I have been monitoring the ill health of sterling in the past 15 months. The conclusion: travellers burdened with the 9.5g lump of copper, zinc and nickel bearing an image of the sovereign should get accustomed to reduced circumstances.
Compared with January last year, when the pound had finished its free fall against most sensible currencies and was languishing in the financial gutter, things have barely improved. To generate those franc, lira and mark comparisons I used a rate of €1.08 – which is what you can reasonably expect today. A £10 note is now a voucher entitling you to be humiliated abroad.
Some travellers take the view that any nation where the euro is the national currency deserves a health warning – and, conversely, that anywhere outside the zone is bound to be cheap.
Nonsense. Portugal is barely on the same pricing planet as Finland. In the big Portuguese cities, Lisbon and Porto, a coffee costs just 60 cents – one-third the price in Helsinki or Turku. Something stronger? Even 20 years ago, I paid £7 for a pint of beer in the Finnish capital; today that buys a round in a Lisbon bar.
Conversely, a surge in bookings to Turkey indicates travellers believe they can dodge the "euro effect" by going further east. In fact, the pound has remained flat against the Turkish lira over the past 15 months – and it is difficult to find a decent hotel room for less than £100 in Istanbul, currently Europe's Capital of Culture.
Against some European currencies, sterling has sunk even further: you get £5 less for every £100 you change into Swedish kronor, and prices in sterling terms in Norway have risen by 10 per cent compared with the start of 2009. But most travellers will cheerfully pay a bit extra for great Scandinavian travel experiences: the Inlandsbanan railway through northern Sweden, which gets extra trains this summer; and the Hurtig-ruten ferry, revealing coastal Norway's picturesque perforations.
Good value still prevails in cheap nations whose currencies have strengthened, such as Poland. You get not a lot of zloty for sterling (7 per cent down), but the country remains an alluring, low-cost option. Next week we feature 48 Hours in Gdansk. ppp When sterling falls off a cliff, the graph of UK tourists often does the same. Last year, Ireland lost one in six British visitors. (OK, the Republic didn't strictly misplace them, as in "Now, where did we put those tourists?" But incoming numbers fell by 16 per cent.) To get people travelling and spending once more, the Irish are giving away train travel. Any foreign visitor aged 66 or over qualifies for unlimited rail trips the length and breadth of Eire.
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