Warning of the week : Autoroute to Hell
This was the week when UK airline passengers became aware of "red zones" – the "temporary danger areas" shown in red on charts of volcanic ash. But red alerts also apply to travellers who prefer to stick to terrestrial transport.
On the French autoroutes from Paris, the first "red" day of the summer is forecast for next Wednesday, 1 June. This prediction is from the Centre National d'Information Routière (CNIR). This forecasting body, based well away from heavy traffic in the leafy Paris suburb of Rosny-sous-Bois, was established in 1968. Its key device is the Bison Futé ("clever buffalo") system, aimed at coaxing motorists away from key routes at the busiest times. When it began 35 years ago, the scheme was based on a map of alternative routes – but in the 21st century, the main device is its website: bison-fute.gouv.fr.
It has a useful English section where key dates this year are highlighted: www.bit.ly/RedRoutes will take you straight there. The red alert implies, say the forecasters, "very difficult circulation". Another "red" day is expected for routes converging on Paris next Sunday, 5 June.
The two very worst days of the year are forecast to be the last Saturday in July and the first in August. On 30 July and 6 August, motorists can expect "extremely difficult circulation". And contrary to stereotypes about the French tendency for long, lazy lunch breaks, it seems the middle of the day is particularly bad. The "absolute record" for traffic jams was reached at 12.30pm on Saturday, 4 August 2007. Drivers experienced "842 km of total congestion, which corresponded to the route from Paris to Toulon being totally blocked".
Bargain of the week: Manchester united with the Gulf
"More long-haul seats from Manchester than any other airline," boasts Emirates, which this month launched a third daily service to and from Dubai. But Emirates faces stiff competition this summer from the other two big Gulf carriers. Qatar Airways switches its existing Gatwick-Doha service to Manchester from 1 June, while Etihad goes double-daily to Abu Dhabi at the start of August.
This sharp increase in capacity means downward pressure on fares: Manchester-Bangkok return, leaving on 1 June, is priced below £500 return on Emirates via Dubai, with the other two airlines closely following.
Destination of the week: Arctic afloat
The typical cruise from Southampton goes south, and costs upwards of £100 per person per night. But the P&O Aurora sailing on 6 June heads north, and costs less than half as much. The two-week voyage takes in the cities of Stavanger and Bergen, and goes north of the Arctic Circle to Tromso and Spitsbergen – all for £689 per person based on two sharing an inside cabin (£949 for an outside), through agencies such as the Luxury Cruise Company (0800 883 0411; theluxurycruisecompany.com).