Destination of the year: Burns Country
In Scotland there is only one anniversary worth mentioning this year. If you didn't already know that tomorrow marks 250 years since the birth of Robert Burns, the nation's best-loved bard, then you will do by the time you sing out the year with "Auld Lang Syne" – at least if the Scottish government's new £6m marketing campaign has anything to do with it.
Homecoming Scotland 2009 is a 10-month programme of more than 300 events aimed at getting those of Scottish descent – and, indeed, anyone else – to come "home" for a visit. From Burns Night tomorrow (25 January) through to St Andrew's Day (30 November), a nationwide shindig will involve everything from pipe bands to poetry readings, from caber-tossing to comedy.
Many of the more established Scottish events, such as the Edinburgh International Festival or the 2009 Open golf championship, are getting in on the act with special Homecoming add-ons – the Scottish Cup, for example, is being rebranded as the Homecoming Scottish Cup.
The festivities officially kick off in Alloway, Ayrshire, where the National Trust for Scotland is building a Robert Burns Birthplace Museum in the small Alloway cottage where the poet was born (nts.org.uk/burns). The village will play host to a sound-and-light show tonight and to the official Homecoming Burns Supper tomorrow, when Scotland's First Minister, Alex Salmond, will address the crowds, if not the haggis.
Visitors keen on a more refined flavour of the work of Robert Burns might want to head instead to the Scottish Storytelling Centre in Edinburgh. The centre is holding a "Burnsfest" for the rest of the month. It will also host a Homelands storytelling festival from 23 October to 1 November, with performances and workshops based around the country's cultural traditions (tiny.cc/wtrpl).
For more direct engagement with the poet's life, ZigZag is a showcase of the nation's collection of Burns artefacts; it will be touring Edinburgh, Aberdeen, Glasgow and Dumfries throughout the year (zigzagburns.com). Tam O'Shanter 2009, a fresh take on Burns' famous narrative poem, will be performed at venues across Scotland in September by actors and musicians from the Scottish Youth Theatre, YDance and the National Youth Pipe Band (ydance.org).
More earthy celebrations include Mauchline Burns Club's ploughing match, which will take place at Burns' former Ayrshire home, Mossgiel Farm, on 29 March in honour of the bard's farming days (mauchlineburnsclub.com). Also in Ayrshire, the Burns an' a' That! Festival takes place from 16 to 24 May, with music, comedy and poetry events across the region (burnsfestival.com).
If it's endings rather than beginnings you're interested in, head slightly south-east. Burns lived out his later years before his untimely death at the age of 37 in Dumfries and the town plans to pay tribute to him with a Burns Light parade tomorrow. A vast lantern procession will pass Burns' former home and mausoleum before finishing at the riverside with music, film, poetry, a ceilidh and a fire show (tiny.cc/qpiyp).
Homecoming Scotland encompasses more than Burns. Other official themes for the celebrations include golf, "great minds and innovation" and whisky. May is designated whisky month, while the Wigtown Book Festival, which runs from 25 September to 5 October, is organising a new festival-within-a-festival, Whisky & Words, for Homecoming. Based at Bladnoch Distillery, the most southerly in Scotland, this will include music, tastings and talks (wigtownbookfestival.com).
In the capital, The Gathering 2009 promises to be "the greatest clan gathering the world has ever seen". Held at Holyrood Park on 25 and 26 July, this will culminate in a vast Highland Games (thegathering2009.com).
For more information see homecomingscotland2009.com, and for general travel information about Scotland see visitscotland.com
Bargain of the week: Dubai
Many of the airlines' January seat sales – including those of British Airways and Virgin Atlantic – expire at midnight on Tuesday 27 January. Among the bargains on offer, Dubai (pictured) is looking particularly good value due to intense competition between airlines. BA has three or four flights a day from Heathrow to Dubai to fill, while Virgin Atlantic has a single departure. Both are offering a fare of £296 for some departures in February. The cheapest deals, though, are being provided by Royal Brunei, which serves the same route non-stop en route to its South East Asian hub. Through opodo.co.uk you can find a fare of £249 return in February.
From other UK airports, the best deals are likely to be found on an Air France/ KLM via Paris or Amsterdam; currently the lowest fare from Manchester on some dates is £259 return.
In business class, Turkish Airlines is available from Birmingham via Istanbul to Dubai for £1,078.
Before you book your flight, though, bear in mind that Dubai's currency, the UAE dirham, is locked to the US dollar. Accordingly, prices in sterling have risen by more than one-third over the past year.
Warning of the week: Passport emergencies
Normally, the Identity and Passport Service keeps its main London office open on Saturdays to deal with applications from people who need to travel in a hurry. Next Saturday (31 January), however, the office in the capital will be closed for applications while new software is installed.
Many of the cases that the IPS deals with involve people who have failed to spot their travel document has expired and are turned away at the airport – a good reason for checking how long your passport has to run right now. More information: 0300 222 0000; ips.gov.ukReuse content