Peter Peel’s Confessions of a Secret Tourist

Sometimes what can seem like a rather enjoyable pastime can seem to some of my mates to be rather, well, rather odd.
Talking to them about my pastime makes me feel like I have a secret vice. And really it is nothing of the sort. Just a harmless bit of fun, as far as I am concerned. Something that until last week I was quite happy to admit gave me happiness, delight, fun, joy, bliss, contentment.
In fact, I thought this little pleasure of mine was quite run-of-the-mill. To think that it is a secret vice! When in reality we aren’t like that at all. Well, not much…
Anyway, to explain:
Last Thursday, I was partaking of our regular weekly bar meal at the Old Cow when my partner, let slip the truth.
To give you the full picture, there’s six of us that do the meal once a week, just before the quiz night starts. (We are The Avengers largely because of my surname and the fact that my partner’s name is Emma – if that means nothing don’t worry, it’s not important).
So, anyway, I have cottage pie, peas and chips, and a pud, and then on we go to the questions.
It was during the pudding (mine’s a cheesecake) that the problem began. We were talking holidays, and Emma started to tell the gang about our recent coach trip to Paris.
And there was silence. I could see at once that our friends were stunned. Shocked one might say.
Eventually Sandra from across the road said, “With other people?” And then for clarity added, “On a coach?”
Emma said yes, it was indeed a coach, and indeed there were others besides ourselves on the coach. There was more silence, until Sandra continued, “And was it … all right?”
So we confirmed that our fellow-travellers were indeed all right, and that the coach was really smooth, and with more leg room than your average plane. As I explained, we’d actually stayed in touch with one couple we’d got to know, and were following up on their recommendation for a trip to Austria.
“By coach?” asked Sandra, her incredulity now reaching such proportions that she had actually put down her wine glass before it was empty. “With other people?”
We agreed that this by and large summed up the situation.
“And were they, all right?”
They were, we said once again, all right. We’d got chatting to them in a café by the Seine, after we’d had a trek round the Louvre to see the Mona Lisa.
“Never had you down as a fan of fine art,” said Derek, Sandra’s man about the house.
“Well,” I said, “you can’t be right outside and not go in and see the Mona Lisa can you? I just followed the guide to the painting, had a peek at the old girl and walked out again, picking up a leaflet just so I had some background – in case anyone asked.”
“And did anyone ask?” Sandra enquired.
I admitted no one had. “Anyway, after that we went to Disneyland Paris just for a bit of contrast.”
Just then the landlord rang an old ship’s bell that he has on the bar, which summoned us to the quiz. The Avengers rose as one (we’re good at that), and took our place at our regular quiz table. “Besides,” I said as we took our seats, “I rather like this sight-seeing lark. Being a tourist is good – it means you can talk to people and see the sights plus sit around doing nothing much when you feel like it.” And then to make the point, just in case they hadn’t got it, I added, “Being a tourist is fun.”
“Talk to people?” said Sandra, following her regular habit of taking one little phrase out of a sentence and repeating it as a question. Noticing at last that her glass was half empty, she quickly remedied the fact by making it completely empty.
“People,” I confirmed. “Fellow travellers. Others who like to go and see places and do things.”
“So where are you going next?” asked Doug, watching Sandra with some alarm as she refuelled, and topped up, all seemingly in one movement.
“After Austria, we’re thinking of Bruges and the Flemish speaking part of Belgium.”
“Isn’t that where Poirot comes from?” said Sandra, uncertainly.
“No,” I told her, “he was French speaking.”
“But what,” persisted Sandra, refusing to be put off the scent, “if you don’t like all these other people?”
“Liking them isn’t obligatory,” said Suzanne. “Some people like to stick together as a couple, some like to make new friends. Up to you.”
“Oooh that sounds fun,” said Sandra.
“And the beer’s cheap,” I told her.
“Yes,” she said, “there is that.”
The question master for the evening called us to order. “Question 1,” he announced. We readied ourselves as a hush fell on the room. “What year was the Mona Lisa painted? And I will accept five years either way from the normally given dates.”
All eyes on my table turned to me. “Somewhere between 1503 and 1506 – according to the gallery” I said writing 1504 on the card.
One nil to me I think.
Peter Peel
There are details of Peter’s coach trip to France on our website and details of his next trip to Belgium are here. Peter’s next post is due later this month
Image courtesy of flickr user Peggy2012CREATIVELENZ

A Simple Chicken, Prawn and Chorizo Paella Recipe

Bring a taste of Spain to your home with this simple paella recipe that combines chicken, prawns and chorizo into a mouthwatering dish that is perfect for parties!
This dish takes about an hour to create and should serve about eight.

What you’ll need

Chicken, prawn and chorizo paella
A simple chicken, prawn and chorizo paella recipe – the perfect party dish!

1 thinly sliced chorizo sausage
3 chicken breast fillets, chopped into bite size chunks
1 pack of large, pre-cooked, tiger prawns
2 large, diced onions
400g arborio paella rice
Paprika
White wine
Olive Oil
1.25 litres of chicken or vegetable stock

How to cook it

  • Add a glug of olive oil to a large, heavy bottomed frying pan and heat on a medium to high setting. Add your thinly sliced chorizo to the pan and allow to cook on both sides until golden and starting to go black. Using a slotted spoon, remove the chorizo whilst leaving the oil and chorizo juice in the pan.
  • Add the diced chicken to the pan and cook until lightly golden, the meat doesn’t have to be cooked thoroughly at this stage. Remove the chicken and keep until later.
  • Add your diced onions to the pan and cook until brown and soft.
  • Now add your rice, two teaspoons of paprika and about 200ml of white wine.
  • Bring to the boil and allow the mixture to cook for around 2 minutes.
  • Now add your chicken and chorizo to the mixture and stir in your stock.
  • Reduce to a low heat and allow the paella to cook for 20 minutes without stirring.
  • Finally, add your prawns to the dish and continue to cook for a further 5 minutes or until the remaining mixture has been fully absorbed.

Freshen things up a bit

If you would like to freshen this dish up a little, let your paella cool, add some freshly chopped tomatoes, peppers and cucumber and serve on a bed of lettuce.
Image courtesy of flickr user S. Navarro

The 5 Best Travel Apps for your iOS Device

Just a few short years ago holidaymaker’s suitcases were packed with everything from CD players, to cameras and books to help pass the time. But nowadays all you need is a phone or tablet and these five travel apps. From camera optimisation to travel organisers, these apps will ensure your holiday runs smoothly from start to finish.
1. FlightAware – Free
FlightAware is a live flight tracking system designed to keep you up to date with the latest news and information regarding your flight. Just type in your airline and flight number and you’re away. From there you will be sent updates on flight delays, gate changes and cancellations. Plus, if you accept the push notifications you can receive all this information without even having to open up the app. If you’re flying, it’s a must have travel app in our opinion
2. Instagram – Free
Despite being recently bought by Facebook, Instagram is still the iPhones best camera app. This simple photo app allows you to share your travel snaps with all your friends back home and will transform your pictures from the mundane to effortless cool at the touch of a button! It’s like Photoshop in your pocket.
3. Wattpad – Free
The Amazon Kindle and iBooks app’s are the most well known reading apps on the iPhone but in Wattpad there could be a huge selection of free books that you have been missing out on. The app has been around for several years now and offers over 5 million stories for you to read – all for free! Just download the app, choose you favourite genre of book and you’re away. From romance to horror to comedy, Wattpad’s excellent library has something for everyone.
4. Google Translate – Free
If you’re travelling to a country where you don’t know the language, it’s always handy to have a little helping hand from time to time. And rather than carrying a bulky phrase book around with you, why not simply download the Google Translate app? It will quickly and easily translate words and phrases between 64 languages and can be a real life saver when you’re struggling to get your point across. It’s like having your own personal translator!
5. XE Currency – Free
There’s nothing better than haggling with local market traders and coming back from your holiday with some absolute bargains. But when you don’t know the currency it can be difficult to know if you’re getting a good deal or not. Step forward the handy XE Currency app. The app quickly and easily converts different currencies so you can see exactly how much you’re spending. It’s a bargain hunter’s best friend.
Is there any apps that you think we may have missed? If so let us know in the comments below.
Image courtesy of flickr user Tony George

It’s Greener to Travel by Coach

As one of the UK’s leading escorted tour operators we are in the business of providing our customers with the best of what Europe has to offer whilst thinking about the environmental issues of travel.
Holiday destinations are often popular because of their climate, beauty and the activities that the landscape makes possible it is important to us that we consider both our home, working and destination environments in all aspects of the business.
We make it easy for you to experience Europe through our Web Sites, Call Centre & High Street Retailers. In all of our many locations we aim to operate sustainable business practices that consider the environment and use of energy and resources.

The Facts

With climate change in the headlines day after day, it is worth noting that, according to the Coach Tourism Council, coaches are not only safer to travel in than planes, trains and cars, but pro-rata they use less fuel.

  • While each gallon of fuel will take two car passengers about 30 miles, a gallon of coach fuel takes the same two people 200 miles.
  • Coaches are seven times safer per mile than a car while a gallon of fuel will pro-rata, take two people travelling by coach six times further than by car.
  • Coach passengers do not have to pay APD (Air Passenger Duty). Another reason to go by coach and save money.

The Benefits

So how will a coach be more beneficial to you?

  • Coach travel is fast, efficient, comfortable and very economical too.
  • Most importantly you’ll arrive at your destination refreshed and directly at the door of your holiday destination.
  • Delays or cancellations are virtually unheard of and journeys are always departure point (over 400 England, Scotland & Wales) to Destination thus eliminating the time and cost of airport transfers etc.
  • Coach travel conveniently does away with the long queuing times typical of check-in and baggage collection, and as your luggage always stays with you, this avoids the nuisance of it ever being ‘lost in transit’
  • As boarding a coach is a much swifter affair than that experienced with aircraft, travellers do not need to arrive at departure point too much before their departure time.
  • Once aboard and seated in your seat you have your own space relax and watch the world go by.
  • And with no restriction on the use of laptops or mobile phones (a few restrictions still apply and common courtesy should always prevail).

So whilst air travel continues to be more stressful than ever, and concern for its environmental impact grows, more and more travellers are turning to coach travel as a convenient, economical and cleaner way forward.

Ways to reduce your carbon footprint

There are also a number of simple things you can do when traveling or at home to reduce the impact on the environment:

  • When you’ve finished with your brochures, pass them on to a friend or recycle them.
  • Even better view our brochures online and tell your friends.
  • Buy local produce which reduces the carbon footprint incurred in transporting the food to a kitchen for final preparation.
  • At your hotel or home use water sparingly, take short showers instead of baths and hang towels for drying and re-use.
  • Switch lights and air conditioning off if you are not in the room and turn off your TV instead of leaving it on standby.
  • Don’t carry with you packaging from goods you buy for your trip, leave it at home then recycle as much of this as possible when you return.

Related Links

Below you will find links, which are related to green travel issues.
Foreign & Commonwealth Office
Know Before You Go is an on going travel safety campaign run by the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) which encourages British people to be better prepared for their overseas trips.
Transport Research Laboratory
TRL provides independent and impartial world class research, consultancy, advice and testing for all aspects of transport.
The Travel Foundation
The Travel Foundation is a UK charity that cares for places we love to visit.

Three places not to miss on your visit to France

Being the third largest country in the whole of Europe can make deciding where to visit in France a bit of a nightmare.
You probably have all the well known places, such as the Eiffel Tower, already on your list. But what about those lesser known places? Those areas that take your breath away, that are steeped in local history but are a little less popular than the regular tourist traps.
To give you a bit of an insight into where we would recommend you visit, we’ve created this handy list of three places we really think are not to be missed!

  1. Verdon Gorge
    Gorge du Verdon
    The Verdon Gorge is situated in the south of France and is well worth a visit

    The stunning Verdon Gorge (Gorges du Verdon in French) is situated in south-eastern France and is often considered the most beautiful river Canyon in all of Europe.
    Although it’s much smaller than Arizona’s Grand Canyon, the Verdon Gorge is deep, wild and beautiful. You can spend hours trekking around its paths but for some truly breathtaking views why not explore the area by car? Exploring the region by car allows you to see much more and gives you the freedom to stop for lunch in quaint local cafes and wander around the quieter areas of the Gorge.
    For the more adventurous travellers among us, we would recommend trekking along the Imbut Trail. The trail runs from the Hotel Grand Canyon to some of the quietest spots in the entire gorge. Be careful though, this route is only for experienced and confident walkers.
  2. The Somme
    The Somme
    Explore the Somme and discover more about this famous WW1 battlefield

    The Somme is perhaps not the first place you would think to visit when travelling to France. But with its rich history and natural surroundings it’s an area that everyone should visit if they get the chance.
    The area is best known for the Battle of the Somme which took place between the 1st of July and the 18th of November 1916 and was the largest battle in the whole of World War 1.
    Visiting the area can often be quite daunting, especially if you aren’t accompanied by a guide or someone ‘in the know’. If you are unsure where to start and what to do, we would recommend visiting the Musee Des Abris located in the heart of the Somme Battlefields. The museum is situated in a series of tunnels with thousands of items on display that give a fascinating insight into what life was like during the war.
    Although not everyone’s cup of tea, The Somme offers the whole family a fascinating day out and one that will live long in the memory.
  3. Sacre-Coeur, Paris
    Sacre-Coeur
    For the perfect photo of Paris head over to the Sacre-Coeur Basilica

    The Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Paris, more commonly known as Sacre-Coeur Basilica, is a Roman Catholic Church situated at the highest point of Paris and offers beautiful views across the entire city.
    Possibly not as well-known as other tourist destinations in Paris, the Basilica was constructed in 1919 and is dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. At the very top of this imposing landmark is a photo opportunity not to be missed! The large dome at the top of the building is open to tourists and offers a spectacular, panoramic view of Paris.
    If you do make it to Sacre-Coeur, be sure to visit the peaceful meditation gardens. They offer the perfect haven away from the hustle and bustle of Paris and provide you with the perfect opportunity to sit back, relax and enjoy the peacefulness of this tranquil oasis.

If you would like to discover more of France why not join Leger Holidays on a tour of the country? We have everything from 3-day city breaks from only £109 to Grand Tours of the whole country. Find out more about our tours to France now.
Images courtesy of flickr users dnfisher, Sean MacEntee and amandabhslater.

Interesting facts about Italy

Mount-Vesuvius

Find out what makes our list of fun facts about Italy below:

  • Romans love cats, so much so that a new law condemns any person killing a cat to a 10,000 Euro fine & up to 3 years in jail!
  • The city of Pompeii was completely buried after the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in AD79.
  • Did you know that Rome is further north than New York?
  • The Sardinian islands are famous for their “witches” who make health potions for local people. The “witches” are usually women and they use a secret language that they pass on to their daughters.
  • Naples gave birth to the pizza around 1860.
  • The average Italian consumes 26 gallons of wine and 25 kilograms of pasta a year.
  • Italy has more hotel rooms than any other country in Europe.
  • Italyis home to more UNESCO world heritage sites than any other country in the world.
  • The national animal of Italy is the Italian Wolf.
  • Venice has over 400 footbridges.
  • In 2007 an Italian dog found a truffle weighing 3.3 pounds which was later sold for a world record $333,000.
  • At its height in A.D. 117, the Roman Empire stretched from Portugal in the West to Syria in the east, and from Britain in the North to the North African deserts across the Mediterranean. It covered 2.3 million miles and had a population of 120 million people.

Do you have any fun facts about Italy? If so, let us know in the comments below.

The perfect recipe for a tasty Ratatouille dish

Ratatouille Dish

Ratatouille is a traditional French dish which packs plenty of vegetables into a tasty meal for the entire family to enjoy. This rustic recipe will serve four, is ready in about 40 minutes and packs in a massive 4 of your 5-a-day quota for fruit and veg!

Ratatouille Dish
A traditional, tasty ratatouille recipe

What you’ll need

4 large tomatoes
2 peppers
4 courgettes
2 aubergines
1 diced onion
3 garlic cloves
Olive oil
Basil
Sugar

How to cook it

  • Prepare your vegetables by chopping your aubergines, courgettes and peppers into bite size chunks.
  • Quarter your tomatoes and scrape out the seeds before roughly chopping into smaller pieces.
  • Heat a heavy bottomed sauté pan over a medium flame and then add a large glug of olive oil.
  • Brown your aubergines, courgettes and peppers on each side for 5 minutes or until soft. TIP – Be careful not to overcook the vegetables at this stage.
  • Remove the vegetables from the pan and set aside for later. Add in a little more oil if required and cook the onion and garlic for 5 minutes.
  • Stir in a handful of basil, a pinch of sugar and your tomatoes and allow to cook for a minute.
  • Return your vegetables to the pan and cook for a further 5 minutes. TIP – now’s the time to add a little salt and pepper to your meal if required.
  • After 5 minutes of cooking it’s time to dish up and enjoy!

Spice things up a little

If you would like to create your own version of this traditional ratatouille dish why not add some chicken, chilli and fresh noodles for a modern twist on a French classic.
Image courtesy of flickr user jplahm

A trip down memory lane

Stephen Egginton travelled the world whilst working in catering and hospitality for the Navy. But, having moved back home to South Yorkshire, and during a general clear out of clutter, he was astonished to find a blast from the past. Hidden buried in a box was a documented file of his very first trip to foreign shores – a tour with Leger Holidays to the Austrian Tyrol 29 years ago when he was just 13 years old.

Stephen’s family today

The paperwork he found incorporated a day-by-day diary of the holiday, from initial pick up at Woodall Spa Services by Benny the coach driver, through to the overnight stay in Belgium and on to Austria, and also included booking details, leaflets and even luggage labels!
Stephen, who lives with his wife and son, tells us more…

How did you rediscover the diaries?

I was having a root out in our cupboard under the stairs and there were boxes which had been there since we’d moved house years ago. I decided to rummage through a few – and was shocked to find the diary, which I’d forgotten all about!

Is it the first holiday you really remember?

It was the first holiday where I’d been abroad and so I was really excited. I went with my parents and younger brother and I was 13 years old. I think the anticipation had really built up which is why I decided to write some of the diary before we even went – researching the local area and currency/climate etc. It almost looks like it was written for a school project, but it wasn’t! I recall spending hours researching it and writing daily entries.

Austrian Holiday 1982

What bit of the holiday stands out the most for you?

The trip to Innsbruck really stands out for me – it’s obviously a big place for winter sports and the winter Olympics were held there. We used to watch Ski Sunday on the TV at home, and so it was quite a big deal to be visiting there.
Also, I remember meeting people on the tour – most memorably two girls of a similar age to me and my brother! But it was generally a very sociable trip and I remember everyone saying they would keep in touch afterwards. It was very like Channel 4’s Coach Trip TV series! I enjoyed it so much I went on another of Leger’s trips to Austria with a friend a few
years later.

What inspired you to keep the diary? Did you usually write a diary?

I think I was just so excited for my first trip abroad it seemed a good way to vent all that energy! In those days, Wales was the furthest I’d ever been and that seemed like a million miles away. I did, however, like keeping diaries generally. In the same box as the holiday diary I found a pocket diary from 1982, where I’d made brief notes on each day and given it a mark out of 10!

This is what our original travel documents looked like

What bit of the diary stood out or made you laugh the most when you re-read it?

There was a bit about my parents coming back from an evening out singing songs from The Sound of Music which made me laugh. They’d obviously had a great time! Also I remembered how I’d tried to meet up with an existing Austrian pen pal I had – the poor guy had to travel all the way from Vienna to Salzburg to meet us and, from the diary, I realised I waited just 10 minutes and then when he wasn’t there I just left! I can’t believe I didn’t wait any longer. Surprisingly, I never heard from him again…

Have you been on any coaching holidays since then? Would you go on one again?

I haven’t been on one since – my career has mainly taken me on my travels – but I would definitely consider it. Everything is taken care of and it’s very sociable. Plus you get to see the real highlights of the destinations – including some which might be a bit off the beaten track.

Do you remember what the coach was like?

I think it seemed very luxurious in its day. I’m sure it’s nothing compared to the coaches used now though! For a young lad it was a very long trip so we seemed to spend a lot of time on the coach – but that was part of the adventure.

Why do you think coach holidays are appealing?

I think the fact that you get to see so many places – including those you’re just travelling through to get to your destination. Plus it’s all organised for you, and it’s such a friendly way to travel.

And these are the more modern documents used if you travelled now

What kind of person do you think is best suited to coach holidays?

I think the stereotypical view would be those of an older generation, but I think in reality they can appeal to everyone. I have a son of my own now who is 12 years old – about the same age as when I wrote the diary – so I’d love to take him and see how he finds the experience.

Given you’ve travelled extensively, of all the places you have visited throughout Europe, do you have a favourite?

I have been lucky enough to travel the world – to 57 countries – but all of them were ports obviously, as I was in the Navy! I’ve been to places as diverse as the Middle East, Seychelles, Norway and Russia. In terms of favourites, I love St. Petersburg – there’s so much to see. Also Tallin in Estonia. I love culture and plenty of things to do – those combined with a bit of good weather and I’m a happy man!

Are there any European destinations you haven’t been to which you would love to visit?

I have to admit, with my job and my love of travel I’m lucky enough to have seen most of it! However, I’ve never been to Switzerland and there are some parts of Italy I’d still love to do, like the Amalfi Coast and Naples. Maybe one day I’ll go back to Austria again too!
Do you have any travel memories from years ago? If so we’d love to hear them, just add a comment below and tell us all about it!