City slickers: The three top destinations from Britain’s busiest airport
Chalkmarks: Hungarian Parliament Building on the Danube, Budapest, Hungary, September 2022

Good morning. This is what happened in the world of travel this week: Friday 17th March 2023

Why is it when you hear of some place new, you instantly want to go there? For us this week it was Aktau in Kazakhstan – the world’s largest landlocked country. It borders five other nations yet still has a navy. It may have had a bad press with Sacha Baron Cohen’s Borat films but even the tourist board adopted the ‘very nice’ phrase. When we Googled it, we found Kazakhstan was the birthplace of the apple, that 99 of the 118 elements on the periodic table are found there (we’re going to triple check this), and it has the highest skating rink in the world…for some reason! Aktau is a port city in western Kazakhstan on the shores of the Caspian (inland) Sea. It’s home to pristine open landscapes, multi-coloured pink, red and yellow chalky mountains, and in the city the streets have no names. That’s as far as we’ve got… a trip there would put a lot of adventure into a little holiday. Very nice! Switch off the Budget, travel is much more fun. Here’s a round-up of the week’s headlines.

In the green corner!

Checking out: After three years of holding back on travel Britons are back to their globetrotting ways. Heathrow Airport revealed that last month the most popular destinations were Dubai, New York and Madrid. Passengers numbers are also up to 5.2 million passengers compared to 2.9 million in February 2022 – this was due to the bounce back from China.

Checking in: Also happening, Heathrow boss John Holland-Kaye promised this year’s four-day Easter getaway (2nd weekend in April) will be more successful than the chaos we saw last year, with holidays ruined, flights cancelled, queues outside terminals and baggage lost – all due to the lack of staff following this pandemic. He told ITV News: “The February half-term went very smoothly, thanks to a great plan and teamwork across the airport. This should give everyone confidence that we are prepared for a successful Easter getaway.” 

Where next: And the Oscar for the best tourist attraction on the planet goes to? Machu Picchu? Venice? Nope! It’s the Hungarian Parliament Building in Budapest. And the worst? The Hollywood Walk of Fame. The 99 rankings came from luggage storage firm Stasher which crunched reviews from Tripadvisor, Google and Booking.com. It found the Hungarian Parly – built on the blueprint of London’s Palace of Westminster (see above) had been viewed 887m times on TikTok. Disneyland Paris came second and the Blue Lagoon in Iceland, third. MailOnline has the full rundown. 

Going green: This is when Dublin gets lit up emerald green for today’s St Patrick’s Day celebrations. Iconic buildings in the city including Christ Church Cathedral, Trinity College and Government buildings gleam on the skyline. This “Going Green” even happens across the world with famous landmarks such as the London Eye, Niagara Falls, the Great Wall of China and the Colosseum in Rome joining in the fun. At about midday the half-a-million-strong crowd hears the far-off sound of drums and soon comes the parade. The first marchers are soldiers and followed by a burst of music as if the city had been plugged into an electrical current. There are street sellers with their paraphernalia from t-shirts and scarfs to specs and “kiss me, I’m Irish” ties. You can even buy a bright green hat – the one with the beard – to look like a Leprechaun. For more than an hour 3,000 artists, musicians, acrobats, dancers, poets and performers dressed as characters from fairy stories, mythical tribes and pirates float by. In the afternoon the celebrations move into the city’s 700 pubs decorated with balloons, and the tricolour that flutters in the wind. Here’s what happened when we took our place on O’Connell Street. And this is a very fast recap!

Who was St Patrick: The earliest records of the name suggest St Patrick arrived in Ireland from England or Wales sometime in the 5th century. He converted the pagan Celts to Christianity and the rest nobody really knows. The legend also goes that he used the Shamrock as a religious symbol and banished all the snakes into the sea where they drowned. That must be true, because when we were there, we didn’t see any slithering around – but that could just be because there was drizzle blowing in our eyes.  

Have you seen our pictures: Our fantastic travel photos, which capture some of our favourite destinations around the world, are now available for sale on Alamy. Woohoo!

T&Cs apply: We are programmed to live by the clock especially when it comes to trains. But this week Avanti West Coast announced it would be trialling discounted tickets. Hooray, you say. But there’s a catch: you won’t know when you’re travelling. Its Superfare scheme means you book a ticket, and choose if you want to travel morning, afternoon or at evening. You then wait until 24 hours before the day of travel to hear what service you’re on. The idea is to regulate passengers across trains throughout the day. If you don’t mind what time you travel then you can get a cheap day out to London, Birmingham, Liverpool and Manchester for as little as £12. The Manchester Evening News has the details.

Time v money: There’s a new shuttle service between Luton train station and the airport. It’ll zip you from Luton Airport Parkway to Luton Airport in just three-minutes. It’s hard to believe they haven’t done this sooner and it will bring the airport more in reach of people travelling in from London Euston. Yet, despite this new Dart service, there been criticism this week over the price. The shuttle costs £4.90 whereas the bus cost £2.40 and took 10 minutes….not to mention the waiting in the cold, which was a grim start to a warm holiday. Airport boss Graham Oliver said the Dart was like “the Suez Canal”. “It connects two important parts. Its value is in the connectivity,” he said. Once officially up and running, the bus service will end. Sky News has the story.

Hanging on: Gatwick stood apart from Heathrow on Thursday by announcing it was back in profit after the pandemic. The airport said it had made £196.5m last year while Heathrow, last month, reported loses of £684m. Gatwick boss Stewart Wingate said: “The decisive actions we took early last year allowed us to offer good levels of service,” adding: “We still have some way to go to reach a full recovery”. The BBC had the story.

Newsflash: On the home front, the visitor numbers for the UK’s top attractions came in this morning. All were in London. Taking the top spot for the second year running was The Natural History Museum with 4.6m visitors. The British Museum took second place with 4m visitors, and the Tate Modern came third with 3.9m. The figures released by AVLA showed Windsor Great Park was yet again the most popular outdoor attraction with 5.3m visitors.

This time last year: Hello holidays: International travel is back! There was a rare feeling of relief in the air with good news making the front pages…Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky and Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke of a peace plan…The war in Ukraine continued to impact travel to central and eastern Europe…Fuel costs were also on the increase…Elsewhere, gone were the lengthy online passenger locator forms and the day 2 test for the unvaccinated…The-then Transport Secretary Grant Shapps told the House of Commons: “No more quarantines. No more tests. No more forms. International travel is back.”…Abta research showed 57 per cent of people had booked a holiday oversees, with Spain, France, and Italy in their sights…Also, passengers faced days of disruption after P&O Ferries laid off 800 of its staff without warning.

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Happy St Patrick’s Day!

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