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P&O Ferries unveil Disneyland offer


Sleeping Beauty's Castle at twilight by Loren Javier

Shaking hands with Mickey Mouse has become a rite of passage in the western childhood, and Peter Moore suggests that this summer could present you with the perfect opportuntity.

For the average eight year old growing up in Crouch End, Disneyland Paris really does represent the end of the rainbow.

Whether it’s strolling through landscaped gardens, whizzing around in teacups, gazing up at the pointed spires of Sleeping Beauty’s Castle or breakfasting with Mickey Mouse or Donald Duck, there is plenty to fire the childhood imagination.

And, for the parents who have long been considering a trip to cartoon nirvana, the latest P&O Ferries offer could be just enough to encourage them out of their tree-lined suburbs and get them on their way.

Until 30 September P&O Ferries are offering free adult entry to Disneyland with each ferry ticket that is bought for crossings between Dover and Calais.

It’s a flexible, alluring offer. The ticket is valid for one day, lending itself perfectly to day-trippers or for those who would like to combine the fun and thrills of a theme park with a few days’ of culture and art in the nearby city of Paris.

And because you’ve crossed the Channel by ferry, you’ll be able to have your car along with you for a true European road trip. No longer will you be at the mercy of airport queues, paying through the nose for dry sandwiches and warm fizzy drinks.

No. You’ll have the freedom to mix a day out at Disneyland with whatever else it is that you’re after. You could picnic in the Champagne region, pay homage to the battle fields of the western front or plan a stop in Lille, Bruges or Brussels.

All told, a trip across the Channel with a free ticket to Disneyland in your pocket is a good start. From then on, the rest is up to you.

OFFER DETAILS:

P&O Ferries’ great Disneyland offer could help you safe substantially on your summer holiday. For £23 (or £33 on Saturdays), you can get a Dover-Calais ticket for a car and up to nine people (which is worth £35) and a FREE adult hopper Disneyland Paris ticket.

The Disney ticket alone would cost more than £45 on the gate.

To find out more about this offer, please follow this link.

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image credit: lauren javier

The Beatles’ Hamburg experience


the-beatles-million-sellers-ep-by-Marxchivist

Our history books are filled with stories of power crazed dictators trying to send their armies accros the English Channel, but what about British invasions heading the other way?John Hillman looks at one of the most significant, yet least celebrated, Channel crossings in modern history.

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As a nation we like to celebrate the English Channel for the role it has played in preventing unwanted visits from foreign armies. King Philip’s Armada Invencible, Napoleon’s Grande Armée, Hitler’s Waffen-SS, all of these hostile forces failed thanks to the ever-presence of our surrounding seas.

However, when it comes to looking at traffic headed in the opposite direction, our sense of history begins to waver somewhat.

Everyone knows how important the Battle of Trafalgar was, we have a great big monument in the heart of our capital city to remind us how our subsequent wealth, freedom and status depended so much on that fateful encounter, off the coast of southern Spain, in 1805.

Yet there are no monuments to commemorate another crossing; one that’s just as important in the history of the British Isles. There was no nefarious master plan, the protagonists in question barely had enough money to finance their own boat fare, let alone raise an army, but it was the first act in the story of the most successful British invasion of all time.

Within 10 years this new movement had marched its foot-soldiers into every corner of the world, conquering hearts and minds wherever it went, not with guns and tanks, but with a simple 4/4 backbeat and some distinctive three-part harmonies. They changed the world forever and, unlike politicians, they managed to do it without killing anybody.

On August 16 1960 The Beatles, as they had just renamed themselves, set sail from Harwich to the Hook of Holland en-route to Hamburg, Germany. Packed inside an old Austin van were John Lennon, Paul McCartney and George Harrison, along with their drummer Pete Best, bass player Stuart Sutcliffe, manager Allan Williams, his wife, an obscure character called Lord Woodbine and a German translator who they had picked up in a coffee shop in Soho along the way (as you do).

They were off to begin a two year working association with Hamburg, a city that would have a profound influence on the band’s image and music. They arrived as a rough sounding, greasy-looking, five piece; they left as the mop-topped Fab Four that we all know and love.

As much as Liverpudlians like to claim ownership of the greatest band in the world, and rightly so, it is difficult to ignore the fact that without Hamburg there would, probably, not have been a band called the Beatles as we know them. Had they not decided to head out across the Channel in search of work, opting instead to stay in Liverpool, the chances are that they would never have developed into such a unique group of musicians.

As George Harrison once said:

“When you think about it sensibly, our sound really stems from Germany. That’s where we learned to work for hours and hours on end, and keep on working at full peak even though we reckoned our legs and arms were about to drop off.”

Hamburg in 1960 was not a nice place. Once Germany’s principal thriving seaport, the third largest in the world, by 1944 the entire city had been blasted to rubble by Allied bombing raids. Out of the ashes of conflict grew a harsh post-war urban sprawl with a European wide reputation for vice and criminality.

For British bands, however, it was a land of opportunity. A large market had developed in the seedy bars and clubs along The Reeperbahn for US style rock ‘n’ roll bands. With the US being such a long way off from Hamburg, booking authentic American acts was prohibitively expensive; hence promoters looked across the Channel for the next best thing: British sound-a-likes.

The Hamburg club scene revolved around just six places in the early 1960s: The Kaiserkeller, The Top Ten, The Star-Club, The Beer-Shop, The Mambo, The Holle, The Wagabond and The Pacific Hotel. The Reeperbahn and the Grosse Freiheit were dangerous and intoxicating places, full of neon lights, posters advertising bands and prostitutes walking the streets. Each club had a doorman whose job was to entice customers inside, as the drinks were expensive. Customers who couldn’t, or wouldn’t pay were severely beaten before being thrown out.

The Beatles began work the night they arrived, sticking to a punishing seven-day-a-week schedule from eight at night to two or three in the morning. It was this continuous performing that sculpted the band’s sound. Hour after hour they played, practicing and honing a sound that would eventually take them all the way to Shea Stadium, New York, and global superstardom.

Hamburg did more than give the group a platform to develop musically. It was here that the band met Astrid Kirchherr, Stuart Sutcliffe’s fiancée at the time of his death in 1962. She is credited with influencing the Beatles’ distinctive hair-styles and wardrobe, a look that she herself maintains was always popular amongst German students at the time.

Her grainy black and white photographs of the group from this era are amongst some of their most iconic images, and show a meaner, tougher side that the band’s management had purposefully erased by the time they made their first television appearance on 17 October 1962.

It was in Hamburg where the Beatles first met and played with Ringo Starr. It was in Hamburg where they recorded their first record, My Bonnie; an event that set up their first meeting with future manager, Brian Epstein. It was in Hamburg that Sutcliffe left the band, forcing McCartney to take up the bass, and where Harrison began singing with the rest of the group, initially just to give Lennon and McCartney a rest during their marathon performances.

Hamburg was where they were first introduced to drugs, taking amphetamine pills to sustain energy levels throughout the night; it was also where they cemented their reputation as one of Britain’s best live groups. As John Lennon once famously said:

“I was born in Liverpool but I grew up in Hamburg.”

This trip across the English Channel had profound consequences, not just for the Beatles themselves, but for generation after generation of British musicians who have gone on to follow the path carved out buy these early pioneers, and who continue to shape people’s musical tastes to this day.

In recognition of the part Hamburg played in the Beatles’ development, the city has built the Beatles-Platz, a vinyl coloured square at the junction between The Reeperbahn and Grosse Freiheit, with statues representing the four Beatles and the two other members from this period, Stuart Sutcliffe and Pete Best.

You can visit Hamburg by sailing with P&O Ferries to Rotterdam and then driving to Hamburg along the same route taken by the band before following the seedy trail to Beatles-Platz and paying your respects to the city that gave so many millions of people so much pleasure.

Indeed; it seems that the people of Hamburg have recognized the significance of this event and have commemorated it admirably, but isn’t it about time that the people of Harwich did the same?

Image Credit: Marxchivist

Cooking holidays in France


beaune-cheeses3

The allure of the French countryside, combined with a promise to unlock the secrets its finest regional cuisine, is proving too tempting for British holidaymakers. John Hillman investigates the new appetite for cooking holidays that’s sweeping across Britain.

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Summer holidays have changed over the last decade. There was a time when boarding a plane to the southern coasts of Europe, and spending two weeks sat by a pool nursing a glass of lager, was the most we ever expected.

However, more and more of us are now craving a bit of depth to our holiday experience, something authentic that we can take home with us, apart from the unwanted weight gain and sunburn.

This is visibly reflected across France in the growing numbers of Brits who are turning their backs on boozy-beach-hols in favour of something more authentic; searching out honest and earthy educational experiences such as horse-riding, sailing and painting holidays. Nowhere is it more in evidence than in the rise to popularity of the, now ubiquitous, gastronomically themed family cooking break.

From Brittany to the Cote d’Azur there are a rapidly growing number of small, privately run, cookery schools, offering you the chance to spend a week or two trawling the regional markets, vineyards and fishing ports, in search of the freshest local ingredients. You are then expertly taught, by local chefs, how to combine these delicate flavours to create all those wonderful French classics that we all watch being prepared on TV, by the likes of Keith Floyd and Rick Stein, but never actually get round to making ourselves.

Some websites are billing these holidays as the newest trend in family vacations, and it’s not hard to see why. With many of us are now working longer hours than ever before, the idea of spending some genuine quality time with our children, doing something that is both interesting and that brings us all closer together as a family, seems far more progressive and appealing than just letting them run around a pool all day, while you bury your head in the latest Forsyth novel.

There are cooking holidays across France that will suit all budgets, from campsites that run local courses to more expensive specialist residential schools, often set in stunning 17th Century farmhouses.

If you are tempted by the idea of a camping holiday remember that the French do love the outdoor canvas experience, so expect to find outstanding facilities if you book through a reputable source. Eurocamp, Keycamp, Siblu and Canvas holidays are all well established and offer campsites with local cookery schools nearby.

Those of you who prefer the authentic rustic charm of an old farm will have to pay more, but you’ll find many good independently-run guest houses that run cookery courses, many of them in English too.

You will need your car, especially if you are camping, or just want to maintain your independence, so don’t forget to check out P&O Ferries’ deals on this website. Then just pick your region, find a nice place to stay and enjoy your gastronomic journey of discovery. Bon Voyage!

image credit: Denisema4

The Tour de France


Tour De France 2 (Crop) by Joe Shlabotnik

The Tour de France, the world’s biggest cycling race, starts Saturday 4 July, covering Spain, Andorra, Switzerland, Italy and, of course, France John Hillman looks at this year’s big race, which promises more excitement than ever

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The 96th Tour de France begins on July 4 in Monaco and finishes along the Champs-Élysées in Paris on July 26. During that time the cyclists will cover 3,500 kilometres (2,150 miles) over a combination of both flat and mountainous terrain.

The race moves quickly through the countryside, from small medieval town to high altitude mountain pass to the cobbled city streets of Paris. If you want to keep up then the only way is by car, so book now with P&O Ferries and make sure you don’t miss any of the action.

Tour de France 2009; who to watch out for:

Blood, sweat and tears, a common enough phrase, fortunately not one I’m forced to apply to my own life too often. But watch the Tour de France and you see people who have embraced these words as ideals; simple stages to aspire to as they pull and push their way, metre by painful meter, all the way to the finishing line.

Harried, mud splattered, adrenalin racing through their bodies, their hearts threatening to burst up through their mouths and onto the scorched tarmac of the French countryside, and all in pursuit of a simple bright coloured jersey. Well, that and glorious sporting immortality.

This year’s event is dominated by the news that US cycling legend Lance Armstrong is back after a four year absence and threatening to take an eighth Tour de France title at the ripe old age of 37. His Astana team mate, Spain’s Alberto Contador, is also one of the favourites so the racing world will be watching to see what happens there.

Will Armstrong give way for the good of the team at the expense of an eighth title, if ordered to? Dubbed the most competitive man in the history of sport, many think he simply won’t be able to do it, so this could lead to some high drama towards the end of the race.

Sporting patriots amongst you should be looking out for Britain’s Mark Cavendish, winner of four stages last year and a genuine hope of becoming a British jersey winner for the first time since Robert Millar’s triumph back in the pre-internet days of 1987.

Other Brits on the tour to watch out for are Bradley Wiggins, David Millar and Charles Wegelius, meanwhile the force behind Britain’s Olympic winning cycling team will be out preparing the groundwork for a sustained British assault on the Tour in 2010.

The reigning champion, Carlos Sastre, is another hot-tip for glory, but expect the newspaper inches to be dominated by the box-office name of Lance Armstrong. When it comes to the crunch there just isn’t anyone in world racing with more of a story to tell.

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image credit: Joe Shlabotnik

The Channel and Napoleon Bonaparte


Napoleon Bonaparte from the Wikimedia Commons

The English Channel is one of history’s most formidable barriers. Peter Moore looks back to the nineteenth century, when it stood between Britain and the great army of Napoleon Bonaparte

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Having a sense of history is not a gift that is common to everybody. But for those that do, there is little to compare with the emotional tug of staring out at the English Channel.

At its shortest point this thin strip of silvery water measures no more than 21 miles across, but it’s a distance that has proved just enough to keep some of Europe’s most despicable tyrants off the green fields of England.

It did for Adolf Hitler in 1940 and 135 years before, just as crucially, it did for the Le Petit Corporal, Napoleon Bonaparte.

In the early years of the 19th Century, Napoleon’s grip on Europe was total. He was the first of the dictators with more power at his fingertip than even Louis XVI had enjoyed two decades before.

With brilliance and ruthlessness he had led the French Republic on an enormous campaign of European expansion, and by the early 1800s all that lay between him and the greatest empire that Europe had known since the time of the Romans was the conquest of Britain.

The sheer size of Napoleon’s forces was awesome. At his disposal was something like 1,400 landing craft and some 115,000 men – most of them based in a tight circle of training camps around the coastal port of Boulogne.

In a custom-built pavilion, far above the town, Napoleon brooded. He only needed a spell of suitable weather and he would be able to attack.

‘Eight hours of night in favourable weather,’ he declared, ‘will decide the fate of the universe.’

With characteristic ruthlessness he told his staff that it was irrelevant if 20,000 men were drowned as they crossed. ‘One loses that in battle every day,’ he reasoned.

As Napoleon waited like a python, ready to strike at the heart of England, the Prime Minister William Pitt hastily drew out defensive plans. A series of coastal beacons were to be set ablaze in the event of a French arrival and hundreds of thousands of military volunteers were set on the highest alert.

Throughout the years 1803, 1804 and 1805, the British were held in thrall.

History likes to record that Napoleon’s invasion did not materialise because of Nelson’s devastating but tragic victory at Trafalgar. Whilst this is true, we shouldn’t forget that it was the English Channel that stood like a wall about Britain for the three years before.

We should remember this. For the all the cities, the national parks, the lakes and the lochs that comprise Great Britain, we should always be mindful of the role that the English Channel has played in preserving our way of life.

And thinking of Napoleon and his fruitless quest to cross the straits is enough to inspire a sharp pang of triumphalism in any of us. Catching the 17.16 to Calais might sound a touch dull and prosaic, but what Bonaparte would have done for a fine vessel like the Pride of Dover doesn’t really bare thinking about.

So here’s to The Channel! Far more important to the British than all the tea in the world.

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Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Midsummer mistletoe and merriment


midnight-sun-by-graeme-newcomb

John Hillman on the summer celebration that progress forgot

After a year in which modern capitalism has left us feeling slightly cold and a bit let down, kind of like an average British summer, the prospect of reconnecting with our ancient pagan traditions has extra-strong appeal.

This sentiment is in evidence across northern Europe this week as millions of people prepare to dust down their maypoles and head out into the countryside to celebrate Midsummer’s Eve, a pagan tradition that’s as old as mistletoe itself.

Whether you’re heading to the Salisbury Planes in England, the Fete de la Saint-Jean festivities held in towns and villages across rural France, or one of the hundreds of bonfire burning rituals across Scandinavia and the Baltic states, now’s your chance to follow in the footsteps of your ancestors and celebrate a date that, until the industrial revolution, was one of the most important in our calendar.

St. John’s Eve, or The Feast of St. John, takes place on the 24th June, the date chosen to celebrate the pagan summer solstice. This is the point when the Earth’s axis is most inclined towards the sun, just as Christmas celebrates the old pagan winter solstice festival of Yule.

A few hundred years ago none of us would have been doing very much work this week, instead we would all be drinking beer singing songs and watching maidens perform numerous fertility rituals such as the maypole dance.

These traditions are still closely observed in Scandinavia, where almost continuous daylight, at this time of year, is still seen as a cause for wide celebration. Unfortunately for us in the UK such frolics were gradually discouraged over the years before those rather serious Victorians finally succeeded in putting everyone in big cities where their lives could be governed by the factory clock rather than the mystic machinations of the solar system.

So those of you feeling let down, why not pack a bag and head out into northern Europe, look for the lakes and the smell of burning cedar wood; you might just find something you forgot you ever had, a strong connection to an older way of life that until quite recently was as much a part of you as your credit card is now.

image credit: Graeme newcomb

A free holiday for a local hero


friends / amigos by pasotraspaso

Peter Moore looks at P&O’s search for an unsung-hero.

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As a company, P&O Ferries’ unwritten mission, as modern capitalism goes, is quite admirable: to get as many of us as possible to take a holiday.

And, in an extension to their usual strategy of low fares and excellent service, they have just launched an online offer which encourages members of the public to nominate local heroes who ‘deserve a free holiday.’

It strikes me as a fine idea. By nominating a local hero we are prompted to think about individuals that really make a different in our community, and it drags our attention away from the popular media and their unbending focus on celebrities and their bizarre culture with which it is almost impossible to relate.

As any ancient Egyptian would tell you, societies are not built by bronzed narcissists strolling along a beach. They are built by community-spirited people: by nurses, policemen, vicars, teachers, doctors and shopkeepers. And these are precisely the people that P&O Ferries has set out to reward.

A description of the offer, a family holiday in Normandy, has been set out on the P&O website:

“Who do you know that gives up lots of their time to help others? Is there someone who is a community champion in your local area? Is it a hard working mum or dad who runs a sports club? Or a fund raiser who’s tireless efforts raises money for local causes?

Let us know who’s hard work and dedication deserves a holiday, and thanks to P&O Ferries’ Local Heroes campaign the winning family will be transported from Dover to Calais courtesy of P&O Ferries and then onto the Residence MGM Houlgate, Normandy resort.”

To learn more about this promotional offer and how you can nominate someone from your community, all you have to do is visit the P&O Ferries website today.

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Image credit: pasotraspaso

The real final frontier?


diagram-of-solar-wind-effect-on-the-earths-magnetic-field by Chriss Purgeon

New research could revolutionize our understanding of our oceans and change the way we look at them forever, says John Hillman

New scientific research has been published with suggests that our planet’s magnetic field is being produced by ocean currents rather than molten metal swirling around at the Earth’s core.

If this is correct it means that the movement of salt-water is the only thing protecting us from a nasty encounter with high levels of solar radiation that wants to burn up our atmosphere and destroy all life on our planet.

And magnetism is also what makes all our electronics work, so if correct does this mean that the sea is underpinning electronic communication? Weird.

Despite scepticism from many quarters of the scientific community, the report, published by Britain’s Institute of Physic’s New Journal of Physics (now that’s what I call a snappy title!) puts forward ideas that could revolutionize our understanding of geophysics and show that we have badly underestimated the effect caused by the continuous movement of large amounts of salt-water around the planet.

It would also present a possible explanation for the mysterious behaviour of the north and south poles which swap places every 800,000 years or so. Ocean currents change and adapt according to external factors, such as climate change and the movement of tectonic plates, so this could alter the strength of the magnetic field in different parts of the world from time to time.

The magnetic field has always been thought to have been generated by the Earth’s core, a thick ball of white-hot iron surrounded by liquid metal which, as they move together, generates the magnetic field that penetrates 1000s of miles out into space and keeps us all safe and healthy – it sounds completely logical.

However if correct the new research will blow this orthodox hypothesis out of the water and make everything we thought we knew about geophysics irrelevant. It could be wrong, but at the very least it demonstrates just how much there still to understand about the world around us and especially about that big blue wobbly thing that our genetic ancestors crawled out of all those millions of years ago.

image credit: per ola wiberg

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