Simon Calder: The Man Who Pays His Way

France faces US backlash

Go away. When the world descends into war, most of us are inclined to stay at home, switch on the news and watch the awfulness unfold. Who would choose to travel during armed conflict and global uncertainty? You should. You have the chance to make the most of the extraordinary deals that will imminently become available to persuade people to travel. You have the duty to spend generously for the benefit of some of the millions who depend on tourism to feed their families. And you really should meet as many people from different backgrounds as you can. It is harder to hate people when you have shared a beach, a meal or a hike with them.

In the past decade, cheap trains, boats and planes have vastly expanded the range of opportunities for brief encounters with diverse cultures. Within Europe, you can fly to Bohemia or sail to the Basque country for next to nothing. This morning I shall fly to Dortmund in the Ruhr; but unlike previous generations, it will be a peaceable journey to Germany aboard Air Berlin. Cut-price flights have done more to integrate Europe and the world than any amount of treaties. Do mankind a favour: go away, make friends and influence people.

"There's definitely been a rise in business in the past two weeks". At last: someone is reporting an upsurge in sun-seeking customers. Unfortunately Adele Sicka, who gave me the cheerful news, cannot be counted as a travel industry executive. She runs the Sun Room, a tanning centre in central London. It appears that people are swapping natural beaches for artificial rays.

What makes Ms Sicka's thriving business especially interesting is that it is located in Newman Street, across the road from the Association of British Travel Agents. With the Government warning of a heightened risk at tourist sites during the conflict, the UK's travel trade is having a miserable time. Tour operators and airlines depend on forward bookings to keep their cash-flow looking healthy. But a story common to many travel enterprises is that the phones stopped ringing on Thursday, save for people phoning to cancel. As the hotel beds empty, Adele Sicka's sun beds are filling. An Abta survey says that one in six holidaymakers have decided to wait and see what happens in the world, while 13 per cent say they will definitely not take a trip abroad this year because of war and terrorism.

In the long stretches of idleness that many in the travel industry must now learn to endure, there is at least the consolation that business is probably not as bad as it is for the French. Since Jacques Chirac's spirited condemnation of a US-led attack on Iraq, which induced some Americans to deride the French as "cheese-eating surrender monkeys", France has not been the destination of choice for every US citizen. Expect to see some good deals for Paris, Provence and the Loire soon, since these are the favourite French destinations for Americans.

"The number of contacts we get are down 50 per cent for March," says Marion Fourestier, spokeswoman for the French Government Tourist Office in New York. The bureau has also been receiving hostile e-mails – 700 since the end of January – "ranging from serious people saying they're changing their travel plans to people who we don't think would have gone anyway".

David Bielby e-mailed from Normal, Illinois, to say, "It will be a long time before I make another trip to France, based on Chirac's comments and actions this year to ignore the danger Saddam has posed to Americans. All of my friends who are in a position to travel to Europe feel the exact same way: we're amazed at the lack of understanding for how we feel about terrorist threats being linked with nations like Iraq."

With some understatement, Ms Fourestier says, "We think the next month or two will be difficult, that's for sure."

According to Abta, one in 50 of the people who would normally take an overseas holiday will now take a British vacation, which should mean a boost of around half a million people to the UK tourist trade. The city that should be best placed to capitalise is Bath, because of its new Millennium attraction, Thermae Bath Spa. "Thermae" was the Roman term for a public bathing area, but the chances of the public taking a bath in Bath any time soon are not good. At least four target dates for the opening of the city's rejuvenated spa have been missed already. The latest date for completion of the building is 30 April, though this should be taken with a large dose of saline solution. Perhaps the Millennium in question is the year 3000.

The millennium bug was big as the year 2000 began, but the perceived risk that the travel industry's computer networks would blow a collective fuse as they ticked over to midnight failed to materialise. One nation snubbed its nose at the rest of the world's concerns, and invested a grand total of about four-and-a-half pesos in its preventative programme: Cuba.

While much of the world is regarded as off-limits on the grounds that if Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome doesn't get you, al-Qa'ida probably will, the Caribbean's largest island looks increasingly attractive. All the terrorist attacks that Cuba has suffered since the 1959 Revolution have originated in the US, which currently has its attention elsewhere. Despite Fidel Castro's failures in important areas such as democracy, human rights and the economy, the Communists' focus on preventative health care means that Cuba is safer than almost anywhere else in Latin America – so long as you don't fly around it. Wednesday's hi-jack to Florida of a domestic flight bound for Havana ended safely, but the fact that the aircraft involved was a DC-3, a type that first flew in 1935, shows the parlous state of Cuban air travel.

The world is beating a path to Fidel's door. The specialist agency South American Experience (020-7976 5511) reports an unprecedented number of "stop sell" messages from hotels in Havana. These are sent out when bookings hit 100 per cent; already, many hotels in the Cuban capital are sold out for Easter.

The best flight deal that South American Experience can offer is aboard Air Europa, for a fare of £461 return. The airline is first cousin of Air Europe, a casualty of the first Gulf War.

People of almost all nations except gastronomically challenged Cuba express disdain for food in Britain. Our nearest neighbours are particularly sniffy. But one London eatery is constantly busy with French and Belgian customers: Marie's Cafe, in Lower Marsh, in the shadow of Waterloo station. A large chunk of the clientele comprises Eurostar train staff on their meal breaks between arriving in London and returning to Brussels or Paris. The main attraction is superb, fresh Thai dishes at low prices. Another draw is the perfectly preserved Fifties interior, barely changed since the Festival of Britain was staged nearby half a century ago. But demand from train crews, in-the-know travellers and stray tourists from the London Eye now exceeds the available space. So the proprietor has chosen to renovate the café to accommodate more diners.

Like the no-frills airline, Buzz, Marie's will close for the month of April and emerge in May transformed. It will reopen bigger and brighter, but some of the ambience is sure to be lost in the process. You have until 3pm next Saturday to sample London's most atmospheric place to eat. And if you wish to venture no further than the South Bank rather than the South China Sea, The Oasis tanning centre is five doors along.

Marie's Cafe is at 90 Lower Marsh, London SE1

News
people
News
people
Voices
Left: An illustration of the original Jim Crowe, played by TD Rice Right: A Couple dressed as Ray and Janay Rice
voices

By performing as African Americans or Indians, white people get to play act a kind of 'imaginary liberation', writes Michael Mark Cohen

News
i100
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Hand out press photograph/film still from the movie Mad Max Fury Road (Downloaded from the Warner Bro's media site/Jasin Boland/© 2014 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.)
films'You have to try everything and it’s all a process of elimination, but ultimately you find your path'
Arts and Entertainment
Imelda Staunton as Dolores Umbridge in the Harry Potter films
books

New essay by JK Rowling went live on Pottermore site this morning

News
Russia Today’s new UK channel began broadcasting yesterday. Discussions so far have included why Britons see Russia as ‘the bad guy’
news

New UK station Russia Today gives a very bizarre view of Britain

News
people

Top Gear presenter is no stranger to foot-in-mouth controversy

Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch at the premiere of The Imitation Game at the BFI London Film Festival
filmsKeira Knightley tried to miss The Imitation Game premiere to watch Bake Off
News
i100
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Sales Manager - Commercial Cable & Wire - UK

    £60,000 - £75,000: Recruitment Genius: As a top tier supplier to the major Aer...

    ORNC Visitor Experience Volunteer

    Unpaid voluntary work: Old Royal Naval College: Join our team of friendly volu...

    Junior Application Support Engineer (ERP / SSRS)

    £23000 - £30000 per annum + pension, 25days holiday: Ashdown Group: An industr...

    IT Systems Analyst / Application Support Engineer (ERP / SSRS)

    £23000 - £30000 per annum + pension, 25days holiday: Ashdown Group: An industr...

    Day In a Page

    The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

    The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

    Commons debate highlights growing cross-party consensus on softening UK drugs legislation, unchanged for 43 years
    The camera is turned on tabloid editors in Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter'

    Gotcha! The camera is turned on tabloid editors

    Hugh Grant says Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter' documentary will highlight issues raised by Leveson
    Fall of the Berlin Wall: It was thanks to Mikhail Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell

    Fall of the Berlin Wall

    It was thanks to Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell
    Halloween 2014: What makes Ouija boards, demon dolls, and evil clowns so frightening?

    What makes ouija boards and demon dolls scary?

    Ouija boards, demon dolls, evil children and clowns are all classic tropes of horror, and this year’s Halloween releases feature them all. What makes them so frightening, decade after decade?
    A safari in modern Britain: Rose Rouse reveals how her four-year tour of Harlesden taught her as much about the UK as it did about NW10

    Rose Rouse's safari in modern Britain

    Rouse decided to walk and talk with as many different people as possible in her neighbourhood of Harlesden and her experiences have been published in a new book
    Welcome to my world of no smell and odd tastes: How a bike accident left one woman living with unwanted food mash-ups

    'My world of no smell and odd tastes'

    A head injury from a bicycle accident had the surprising effect of robbing Nell Frizzell of two of her senses

    Matt Parker is proud of his square roots

    The "stand-up mathematician" is using comedy nights to preach maths to big audiences
    Paul Scholes column: Beating Manchester City is vital part of life at Manchester United. This is first major test for Luke Shaw, Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao – it’s not a game to lose

    Paul Scholes column

    Beating City is vital part of life at United. This is first major test for Shaw, Di Maria and Falcao – it’s not a game to lose
    Frank Warren: Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing

    Frank Warren column

    Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing
    Adrian Heath interview: Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room

    Adrian Heath's American dream...

    Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room
    Simon Hart: Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

    Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

    Manuel Pellegrini’s side are too good to fail and derby allows them to start again, says Simon Hart
    Isis in Syria: A general reveals the lack of communication with the US - and his country's awkward relationship with their allies-by-default

    A Syrian general speaks

    A senior officer of Bashar al-Assad’s regime talks to Robert Fisk about his army’s brutal struggle with Isis, in a dirty war whose challenges include widespread atrocities
    ‘A bit of a shock...’ Cambridge economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

    ‘A bit of a shock...’ Economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

    Guy Scott's predecessor, Michael Sata, died in a London hospital this week after a lengthy illness
    Fall of the Berlin Wall: History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War

    Fall of the Berlin Wall

    History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War
    How to turn your mobile phone into easy money

    Turn your mobile phone into easy money

    There are 90 million unused mobiles in the UK, which would be worth £7bn if we cashed them in, says David Crookes