My top 10 tips for a comfortable coach journey

One of the great things about coach travel is that you get to sit back, relax and let someone else do the navigating and driving!

 

Of course, all coach holidays are different “ different durations, different countries, different climates, etc, but here are a few things I’ve found useful on all the coach trips I’ve been on.

 

1. Wear comfortable shoes

Wear comfortable footwear that can be removed or slackened off if required. Remember to keep moving from time to time by pointing and flexing your toes, and circling your feet and ankles.

 

2. Wear loose-fitting clothing

Dress for comfort so you can relax as you travel, and dress in layers. Layering your clothing means you can dress/undress to make yourself more comfortable in the temperature of the coach.

 

3. Take a travel pillow

It’s easy to nod off with the motion of the coach as you travel along, so to enhance your relaxation, why not purchase a travel pillow and make your snoozing more comfortable.

 

Make your snoozing more comfortable with a travel pillow
Make your snoozing more comfortable with a travel pillow

 

 

4. Carry wet wipes

Wet wipes are great for freshening up as you travel and take up very little space in your luggage.

 

5. Stretch your legs

If you’re travelling on Silver Service, make use of the rear lounge. It’s a great place to stretch out, read a book or magazine and chat to your fellow passengers or just have a snooze or listen to your music. At comfort stops, even if you don’t need to use the facilities, step off the coach for a few minutes and stretch your legs.

 

6. Carry some change

Some service stations may make a small charge for using the toilets, so keep some change to hand. At some service areas, you’ll be required to pay and take a ticket to use the toilets, these tickets can then be used against payment for items bought from the service area shop.

 

Spare change, anyone? Be prepared with a handful of coins.
Spare change, anyone? Be prepared with a handful of coins.

 

 

7. Choose your reading material

It’s always interesting to read a book fact or fiction with tales of the area you’ll be visiting.

 

Choose reading material relevant to your holiday.
Choose reading material relevant to your holiday, this was mine on my Highlights of Provence & the Dordogne trip!

 

 

8. Listen to music

If you’re travelling on Silver Service you’ll have complimentary headphones provided for your own personal use. On all coaches, of course, you can take your own, personal music player to enjoy your favourite tracks through headphones/earphones as you travel along.

 

Music to your ears: listen to music while you travel.
Music to your ears: listen to music while you travel.

 

 

 

9. Learn a language

Why not learn a language while you travel? There are lots of language CDs with books to accompany them; learn the lingo while you travel and practice it when you get to your destination!

 

Learn the lingo and practice it when you get there!
Learn the lingo and practice it when you get there!

 

 

10. Keep a diary

With so much to see and do, why not record your experiences in a holiday journal. Not only will it help you identify places in your photos, it’ll also jog your memory when you return home.

 

Keep a diary or travel journal to look back on.
Keep a diary or travel journal to look back on. ©Flickr

 

Also for the comfort of your fellow travellers

Please ensure that your mobile phone is turned to low volume and that any portable devices (tablets, mp3 players, games consoles etc) are used with earphones when travelling on the coach. Please make sure that volume through headphones/earphones is kept to a minimum so that it cannot be heard by your fellow travellers.

 

Check your volume.
Check your volume!

 

And that’s it! My top ten tips for a comfortable coach journey.

 

If you have any more, please let us know.

 

Happy travelling!

 

 

Croque Monsieur: just another toasted sandwich?

To you and I, it’s a toasted cheese and ham sandwich. But over the Channel, it becomes Croque Monsieur. Like so many other things, it sounds so much better in French, doesn’t it?

The name comes from the French verb croquet which means ‘to crunch’ and the word monsieur which is French for ‘mister’. So, in English, a ‘crunchy mister’ it is! Now you can’t tell me that sounds better than it’s French translation!
According to some accounts, the Croque Monsieur was created by accident when French workers left their sandwich tins on hot radiators, which melted the contents. Whether it’s true or not, it makes a good story! The Croque Monsieur is said to have made its first appearance in Parisien café menus around 1910, when the sandwich was made with Gruyère cheese and thinly sliced ham. Over the years, the ‘croque’ has seen a few transformations, with the most familiar being that of the addition of mustard and béchamel sauce.
On any visit to France, you’ll no doubt see the Croque Monsieur making a regular appearance on café menus, along with its ‘female’ counterpart: the Croque Madame. So why not bring a little bit of France to your own cuisine? Just follow this simple recipe.
(Serves 2)
▪    4 slices of white bread (crusts removed)
▪    8 thin slices of ham
▪    Dijon mustard
▪    Grated Gruyère cheese
▪    Butter, softened
▪    1 tbsp plain flour
▪    Milk
Preheat the grill to high.
To make the sauce:
•    Put a large knob of butter in a pan over a medium heat.
•    Stir in the flour, a bit at a time, to make a paste.
•    Whisk in milk, a little at a time, until smooth.
•    Simmer until thickened but still smooth.
Note: To make your sauce extra tasty, remove the pan from the heat and add a large handful of grated cheese to your béchamel sauce, then return to the heat and stir the cheese in until it has all melted.
•    Season and add nutmeg, if desired.
•    Keep the sauce warm while you prepare your sandwiches.
To make the sandwich:
▪    Toast one side of the bread under the grill.
▪    When lightly toasted, turn the bread over and spread mustard on the un-toasted side.
▪    Add sliced ham and grated cheese to two slices and return to the grill until the cheese has melted.
▪    Place the remaining slices of bread on top, mustard-side down, to make a sandwich.
▪    With the sandwiches on the grill tray, spoon on the thick béchamel sauce.
▪    Return to the grill until the sauce is bubbling.
▪    Serve immediately.
Et voila!

Watch out for the bubbling cheese!
Watch out for the bubbling cheese!

 
This took me around 15 minutes to prepare (and around 3 minutes to eat!). Be warned though: the bubbling cheese has a tendency to weld itself to the roof of your mouth on contact. But it just tastes SO good, you just want to eat it!
So, IS Croque Monsieur ‘just another toasted sandwich’? I think not!
There are many other versions of this truly magnifique dish… dipped in egg and lightly fried; without mustard; without the sauce; with sliced cheese rather than grated; with cheese on top as well as inside… Give it a try and let us know your favourite!
P.S. if you want to turn the ‘Mr Crunchy’ into its female version, just add a fried egg to the top!
 

Mostar: where it’s quite normal to see someone jumping off a bridge!

I wasn’t sure what to expect from the city of Mostar – all I knew about it was of the trouble in the early ’90s, but it turned out to be one of my favourite places of my tour of Dubrovnik and the Dalmatian Coast.

I joined a guided tour to find out a bit more about the city. Situated on a deep valley of the Neretva River in Bosnia and Herzegovina, I learnt that Mostar was named after the bridge keepers who used to watch the bridge – the ‘Mostari’ – and it is for the large stone structure of the Old Bridge, the Stari Most that the city is well known. It’s hard to believe that just 20 years ago, 90% of the city was destroyed – the Stari Most itself became a symbol of the city in the Croatia-Bosnia conflict in the early 1990s when it was destroyed, but it has since been rebuilt and now represents a symbol of unity.

The Stari Most today represents a symbol of unity
The Stari Most today represents a symbol of unity

The first thing I noticed as we followed our guide through the market stalls of the cobbled streets was the wonderful smell of food… that mouth-watering, smoky aroma that really gets the taste buds going. The streets of the bazaar were buzzing with chatter and shoppers browsing the colourful market stalls – it was such a great atmosphere as we followed our guide past the small crooked bridge, Kriva Cuprija – five times smaller than the Stari Most – to the Turkish baths and the location of the tannery.
Colourful streets of the bazaar
Colourful streets of the bazaar

As we approached the Stari Most itself, a crowd was gathering. There, standing on top of the bridge was a young man who had just stripped down to his Speedos, pouring bottles of cold water over himself. The water wasn’t just to cool him down in the 39-degree heat of the day: this was in preparation for his dive. From the 70-foot high bridge, individuals plunge into the 20-foot deep, ice cold water of the Neretva River below each day – a tradition which began centuries ago. There’s a proper diving technique used by the Mostar divers which involves jumping feet first with arms outstretched and knees bent. Another guy collected money in an overturned hat from the crowd. As the mass of people began to cheer, the man closed his eyes, paused for a minute, took a deep breath and leapt out into the air, his legs tucked up behind him and his arms stretched sideways. In a couple of seconds, he hit the vibrant green water, to the roar of the people above, and gave us a wave.
The crowd watched as the diver jumped from the bridge
The crowd watched as the diver jumped from the bridge

As the crowd dispersed, we followed our guide over the smooth, slippery stones of Stari Most, over to the east side of the bridge. Once on the other side we passed through the Old Bazar, the Kujundziluk. Mostar has a distinctive Turkish feel to it, with its minarets and sounds of the call to prayer filling the air five times a day. Walking along, soaking up the buzzing atmosphere of this delightful street we were surrounded by interesting stalls of decorated plates, traditional Mostar reed pipe flutes, woven shepherd’s bags, embroidered tablecloths, wonderful copper works, handmade jewellery, colourful paintings, and bright, traditional shoes with pompoms – it really is a shopper’s heaven. Further along, we passed grey, stone buildings which still bear the scars of the heavy bombing of the early ’90s.
Stalls of the bazaar
Stalls of the bazaar

Reed pipe flutes
Reed pipe flutes

Our next stop was the Turkish House – Biscevic’s House – a beautiful, old Ottoman-style building and a real gem. In the courtyard, surrounded by high walls (to protect the females of the house from any prying eyes) was the ‘fountain of life’. The 12 holes in the top of the metal fountain represent the 12 months, four metal jugs below represent the four seasons and the three stone globes surrounding the fountain at the bottom represent birth (the stone facing the house), life (the stone facing Mecca) and death (the stone which faces the exit of the house). We slipped off our shoes and entered the well-preserved, 16th century building where our guide told us some wonderful stories about the way of life here, which also involved me modelling the traditional clothes worn by the house’s tenants – a pair of ‘one-size-fits-all’ bright red, silk harem pants made from 6 metres of fabric (the ankles of which our guide pulled up around my knees), a short-sleeved, patterned shirt and a white scarf for my head – much to the amusement of the group!
Biscevic’s House (unfortunatley there is no photo of me in local dress!)
Biscevic’s House (unfortunatley there is no photo of me in local dress!)

Leaving Biscevic’s House, I used my free time to explore the places we’d already passed a bit more. It was wonderful strolling along Coppersmith’s Street, through all the different stalls selling colourful scarves and shoes, lots of handmade jewellery, embroidered hats and cushions, hammered copper decorations and little decorated metal pots which were too hot to touch in the heat of the day’s sun. Despite so many stalls fighting for business, there was no pressure to buy or even to look, but it was hard not to do either! “I have more boxes inside that aren’t so hot” said a young girl, as she flashed me a friendly smile.
A shopper's paradise
A shopper’s paradise

Heading back towards the Stari Most, originally built by the Turkish architect, Hairuddin, I could see the Halebinovka and Tara towers – the watch towers which stand at each end of the Old Bridge – being lit by the afternoon sun. The original bridge, completed in 1566 after nine years of construction, was rebuilt in 1997. Stones from the destruction of the bridge in the early ’90s were pulled from the Neretva River below to be used in the bridge’s reconstruction. Unfortunately, they were too damaged by grenades, shrapnel and bullets to be made use of, so stones were brought in from the same quarry used by Hairuddin for the original bridge. In 2003-2004 the bridge was rebuilt, and today looks like it did before the war, standing almost 70 feet high, 97 feet long and almost 15 feet wide. Now, this whole area is protected by UNESCO.
Further along, returning over the bridge and along Onescukova, I encountered the source of the wonderful, smoky aroma – lots of inviting eateries offering Mostar’s mouth-watering traditional cuisine. Our guide, Tangra, had recommended that we try the local dish: cevapcici – grilled mince meat, like a type of kebab, formed into sausages. It’s actually pronounced ‘chewapchiechie’, but Tangra told us “just ask for chichichichi – they’ll know what you mean”! In no time at all, the lively waitress – singing as she went and wearing brightly-coloured harem pants, a white blouse and a black, embroidered waistcoat – served me my ‘chichichichi’… the 8 ‘sausages’ came with flat bread, chopped, raw onions and ‘ajvar’, a spicy relish made of peppers, aubergine and chili pepper – very tasty and definitely well recommended!
In no time at all, my short trip to Mostar had come to an end, but it had really left its mark as one of my favourite places of the trip.
Have you been to Mostar? Share your stories with us here.
 
 
 

My top 3 things to do in Rüdesheim

 I’d been to the winemaking town of Rüdesheim (Rüdesheim am Rhein, to give it its proper name) before in late autumn and at Christmas, so I was looking forward to seeing the town I’d loved so much on my last visit, this time, in the summer sun.

Arriving in style

As we pulled into the coach park, there was a colourful little ‘Noddy train’ waiting for us, which would take us right into Rüdesheim’s centre. Snaking through the narrow streets, we rattled along in our little carriages as people stood against the walls to let us pass, some of them giving us a friendly wave and a smile as we went by.
 

Your carriage awaits! The little train that took us into Rüdesheim.
Your carriage awaits! The little train that took us into Rüdesheim.

 

Music to our ears

Our first stop was Siegfried’s Mechanical Music Museum, which is where our little train dropped us. Tucked in a small courtyard at the end of the main street, this lovely old building houses a strange and wonderful collection of – yes, you’ve guessed it – mechanical musical instruments. Our guide, dressed in period costume, welcomed us in and showed us around the place, demonstrating the self-playing instruments as she went and telling us all about the history and construction of them.
 

Our knowledgeable guide in Siegfried’s.
Our knowledgeable guide in Siegfried’s.

 
I was surprised at just how big the place was: little rooms appeared left and right and along small corridors, all full of weird and wonderful machines: small music boxes; ornate music cabinets; violins; pianos; organs; huge metal discs which played various tunes; and an old gramophone playing an old record of Doris Day singing ‘Que Sera’, which a few people had a bit of a sing along to. There was one large machine which had little figures all playing their own instrument, and another which played violins using a round bow! Amazing!
 
Siegfried’s Mechanical Museum.
Siegfried’s Mechanical Museum.

 
These violins were played by a circular bow.
These violins were played by a circular bow.

The place to be

Back out in the warm sunshine, I headed to the Drosselgasse. Not far from Siegfried’s, this narrow, world-famous street is always busy and links the main street, Oberstrasse, to the riverside. Full of souvenir shops, wonderful restaurants, wine houses (of course – this town has a long history of wine growers and is situated amongst vineyards), beer gardens and live band entertainment, this is one place that’s great to visit at any time of day or night, even if it’s just to enjoy a walk along it.
 

The Drosselgasse
The Drosselgasse

Time for coffee: Rüdesheim style!

Back up on Oberstrasse the cafés were full of people enjoying the weather, and, judging by their cups and saucers, a ‘Rüdesheim coffee’ – the local speciality, made with plenty of brandy and topped with whipped cream. I was looking for the cable car to take me up to the Niederwald Monument, perched high on the hillside above the town. I found the station at the side of the Christmas shop, and, as I’d already decided to walk back down to the town as it was such a nice day, I got a one-way ticket (€4.50) and climbed aboard.
 

A wonderful cable car ride above the vineyards
A wonderful cable car ride above the vineyards

Above the vineyards

It was so peaceful, sailing over the top of the vineyards. The views from the cable car were fantastic: the path zig-zagging its way through the grapevines; over to the town of Rüdesheim; and across the River Rhine to Bingen. Ten minutes later, I was at the top where it was just a short walk over to the Niederwald Monument – the Niederwalddenkmal – the large figure of Germania which, unfortunately at the time of my visit, was covered in scaffolding as it was undergoing some restoration. The panoramic view from up there was just as wonderful, and there were benches and telescopes up there to have a rest and enjoy the views. (Just a quick note: you need 2 x 50c or 1 x Euro coin for the telescope.)
 

Admiring the views over Rüdesheim…
Admiring the views over Rüdesheim…

 
...and from the Niederwald Monument.
…and from the Niederwald Monument.

 
Heading back down to Rüdesheim, the walk was lovely. There was a warm breeze, the birds were singing and the grass was blowing in the gentle wind. Except for the birds, all I could hear was my footsteps on the ground. I followed the signs – sometimes along tarmac paths, sometimes stones, and in some places, a few steep steps – through the vineyards and back to town.
 
A steady walk back to Rüdesheim
A steady walk back to Rüdesheim

 
Walking amongst the vineyards
Walking amongst the vineyards

 
Almost there: the path to Rüdesheim
Almost there: the path to Rüdesheim

 
Back in the town, the little bars had filled up and there was a buzz about the place as I made my way back to the coach. So that was it. My taste of ‘summertime Rüdesheim’ had been just as good as my autumn and Christmas experiences. I’ll have to try springtime next time!
 
Auf Wiedersehen, Rüdesheim.
Auf Wiedersehen, Rüdesheim.

 
I visited Rüdesheim on Leger’s Romantic Rhine, Fairytale Castles and the Black Forest tour.
 
 

Time for a short break?

If you’re craving your next holiday but short of time, on a budget or you just fancy a change of scene for a few days, a short break is the answer.

Not only will you come back feeling better, you’ll feel as if you’ve been away longer than you have. When we’re away from our daily lives, we become much more aware of our surroundings, and, as a result, come home with many more memories than the same period spent at home. Research has also shown that holidays are great for our mood, reducing our stress levels, increasing our energy levels and generally making us feel better. And these benefits can continue after we return. So holidays are good news all round!

Seizing the day (or four)

Seizing the opportunity to travel whenever I can (and since I’m ‘otherwise engaged’ from 9-5 each day), I decided to make the most of the four-day Easter weekend. People travel for all different reasons, and for me, this short break would mean doing something different than if I was at home. I wanted to visit somewhere I’d never been before… so where would I go?
Just a couple of hours’ drive from Calais is the charming town of Honfleur. I didn’t really know to much about the place, but it always looked really pretty in the photos I’d seen, so I decided to go and see it for myself.

Strolling along the pretty streets of Honfleur
Strolling along the pretty streets of Honfleur

A place in history

Walking along the narrow, cobbled streets, I made my way to Honfleur’s port, known locally as Vieux Bassin in the heart of the town. The port is bordered on three sides by large, stone houses around one side (Quai Sainte Etienne) and tall, narrow buildings on the other (Quai Sainte Catherine). It had been ‘the coldest March for 50 years’ in England and France wasn’t much warmer, but the sky was blue and the sun was shining, so the temperature didn’t seem to matter.
At the port’s entrance is the Lieutenancy building (la Lieutenance). This old, stone building was used as residence by the king’s lieutenant, the governor of Honfleur, until the French Revolution and it’s also what remains of a little fortified castle which formed part of the town’s original, 11th-century ramparts.

The Lieutenancy building sits at the entrance to Honfleur's old port.
The Lieutenancy building – to the right of the photograph – sits at the entrance to Honfleur’s old port.

This town is famous for inspiring the work of many artists, including Monet, Courbet, Boudin and Sisley on account of its ever-changing light, and walking around the streets there are galleries and artists’ studios everywhere.
Many years ago, Honfleur’s shipyards were among some of the best in France, and you can see the skills of the local shipbuilders inside the town’s most famous building – the Church of Sainte Catherine – the ceiling of which resembles the hull of an overturned ship. Today, this building is the oldest and largest wooden church in France. The square in which the church stands (just a short walk from La Lieutenance) was bustling on the day that I was there, with a large, lively market selling local produce: a huge range of really strong-smelling cheese, meat, seafood, fruit and vegetables, plus ciders and Calvados – the apple brandy native to this area.
Church of Sainte Catherine, the the oldest and largest wooden church in France.
Church of Sainte Catherine, the the oldest and largest wooden church in France.

The smell of the cheese on the market stalls wafted around the streets.
The smell of the cheese on the market stalls wafted around the streets.

Calvados – the apple brandy native to this area.
Calvados – the apple brandy native to this area.

In one of the little shops, the old man in there handed me a couple of samples of Calvados to try – one which said 10 ans on the bottle – ten years old – and another one which was ’12 ans’. He showed me how I should swirl the drink around to coat the glass before sipping it (although before he got to that part I’d already gulped it all down, to his cry of “sacrilèdge!”). It was very nice, and very warming on such a cold day!
Continuing my stroll around the historic old port, along Quai Sainte Etienne was a small church – Church of Sainte Etienne – Honfleur’s oldest church and today, the Maritime Museum. The small building houses an important collection of engravings, carvings, various maritime memorabilia and model ships, all providing an insight into Honfleur’s sea-faring past.
The Church of Sainte Etienne (in the centre of the picture) is Honfleur’s oldest church and today, the Maritime Museum.
The Church of Sainte Etienne (in the centre of the photograph) is Honfleur’s oldest church and today, the Maritime Museum.

A sample of Calvados, a ‘crispy mister’ and a French lesson, all in one visit

Later, sitting enjoying the spring sunshine, I noticed how narrow and tall the buildings opposite, along  Quai Sainte Catherine, really are. Some of them can’t be more than 8 or 9 feet wide, and, not only do they appear squeezed together, they’re also different heights and widths, some standing further out than others, and with the window levels changing from building to building. Apparently, not only are they different in size and shape, they also have two ground floors: one that opens out onto the quay and another, half-way up, which opens onto the street behind. And, even more peculiarly, because of the structure of the houses, each house is apparently privately-owned by two different householders.

The narrow and tall buildings along Quai Sainte Catherine.
The narrow and tall buildings along Quai Sainte Catherine.

Down on street level, the buildings’ colourful canopies – orange, red, yellow, pink – were flapping in the breeze and below them, the cane chairs and small tables were full of people enjoying the views as others strolled along the quayside.
Le Petit D̩jeuner Рbreakfast was cr̻pes with Nutella!
Le Petit D̩jeuner Рbreakfast was cr̻pes with Nutella!

As I sat in a little café along Quai Sainte Etienne, all around me people were enjoying an aperitif or tucking into crêpes or gaufres (waffles), drizzled with Nutella or strawberries and piled high with whipped cream.
For me also, it was time, to sample some more French cuisine. I ordered the very-French Croque Monsieur (which translated simply means ‘crispy mister’). It may just be a cheese and ham toasted sandwich, but it was délicieux! I even got a brief French lesson thrown in – the waiter telling me “Non, non – it’s not boNjour… you say ‘bo(n)’… without pronouncing the ’n’… you have to get the accent right!”
Have you been to Honfleur? Share you stories with us.
Or you could visit Honfleur on Leger’s Rouen and the Seaside Towns of Normandy short break.
There are lots more short breaks to choose from… click here to find out more.

Be Brave With Your Breaks: Top Travel Tips from Dr David Lewis

Be Brave With Your Breaks:  Top Travel Tips from Dr David Lewis

 

Thinking about trying a new holiday destination – or even an entirely new type of trip – can be a big step for people.

 
Maybe you like to go back to the same places every year as you know you’ll have a great time. Or maybe you always like to do a cruise as that kind of holiday has worked well for you in the past.
 
But maybe 2013 is the year of change. You fancy being a bit more adventurous, seeing some of the ‘must-see’ sights the world has to offer. But where do you start? It can be quite intimidating trying to figure out all the places you might want to go and how to get there.
 
We have worked with renowned Psychologist Dr David Lewis to develop some top tips to help aspiring adventurers make their travel dreams come true:
 

  1. It’s all about the planning, planning, planning. Where have you always dreamt of going? What do you want to see or do when you get there? If you are undecided speak to someone who has already done it. There is safety in numbers and hearing about other people’s exploits emboldens you to do likewise.
  2. Once you’ve decided on your trip – do your homework. By learning as much as possible in advance about where you are going, you will make it more interesting, enjoyable and rewarding. And help build up the anticipation!
  3. When preparing for a holiday, or even when you are away, keep a checklist and tick off tasks and items as they are completed. This will increase your confidence and prevent slip-ups or lapses in memory.
  4. If you are going to a place where English may not be widely spoken or understood, even if you are on an escorted tour, write down a few basic phrases in that language to help you communicate. You will feel empowered by having it to hand ‘just in case’.
  5. Having to rush unnecessarily depletes energy levels and increases stress. Leave yourself plenty of time to get places or consider an escorted tour where the travel arrangements are all sorted for you, removing that element of worry.
  6. As people get older they need more ‘me time’ to collect their thoughts and increase energy levels. Try to spend at least 15 minutes a day chilling out away from too many distractions.
  7. Never say never. And don’t ever use ‘I’m too old for that’ as an excuse for not doing something you secretly long to do. At the same time be prepared to say ‘no, not for me’ if you really don’t want to undertake an activity or go to a certain destination.

 
So whether you secretly want to scale Mount Kilimanjaro, see the volcanoes in Italy, or you long to sail along the Fjords of Norway, we say – go for it! Those in need of some holiday inspiration can also visit our website where you’ll find plenty of great break ideas including our Grand Explorer tours to destinations such as America, Russia and the Arctic Circle.
 
 

Adam Rees’s – All Quiet On The Western Front Tour

All Quiet On The Western Front tour

In our magazine we’re always explaining to our readers that few experiences are as moving as visiting the fields on which family members fought and finding the grave or monument where they’re commemorated if they fell. To see the value of such an expedition for myself, I took a trip of the Western Front with Leger Holidays. ‘All Quiet On The Western Front’ is a five-day introductory tour that includes meticulous visits of the Ypres Salient, Arras region and the Somme. It’s not only a must for any military history enthusiast, but also if you discover a family member who fought in these terrible battles of World War I.

Although there’s nothing stopping you visiting these places on your own, having an experienced tour guide with you makes the trip far more interesting, to add information on sites, facts and answer any questions that arise. Our expert Marc Hope gives colour to the history of the war, using maps, pointing out key positions and encouraging the attendees to take time to explore the cemeteries and monuments around every corner including going to “say hi to the Pals Battalions” who lay next to each other in Serre Road Cemetery no 2 on the Somme.

Battlefield guide Marc Hope talking to the group
Battlefield guide Marc Hope talking to the group

It’s this insight that makes a guide such an advantage. It’s easy enough to find the biggest British and Commonwealth cemetery at Tyne Cot or attend the incredibly poignant Last Post held every night at the Menin Gate, however, there are few printed tourist guides that show you the farmhouse on Ypres from where Adolf Hitler ran messages to his officers, or the café where Winston Churchill ate his breakfast while stationed on the Front – amazingly this was only a few miles away from his future adversary.
Although the tour is on a strict plan, detours can be made to accommodate personal visits to see the grave or name of a relative who was killed, giving an even more personal experience to your tour. During the trip to Arras one of the tourists took a moment to visit the grave of his great-uncle who was killed on the first day of the battle in 1917.
Tourists took a moment to visit the grave of his great-uncle
Tourists took a moment to visit the grave of his great-uncle

As well as the usual souvenirs, trips to battlefields can present a whole host of mementos. Any fan of programmes like Time Team will be aware of the priceless artefacts that can be uncovered in places such as battlefields and historic sites, in particular the Western Front with its high concentration of men taking part and unfathomable amounts of munitions used, many of which never exploded. Nearly a century later farmers on the Western Front are still digging up fragments of shells, clothes and, sadly, bodies. So it isn’t surprising when looking at the tower of the Ulster Division on the Somme that a farmer digs up two shells from WWI, undisturbed since they were fired in 1916, complete with heavy shrapnel balls that are shared out among our tour party.
Two recent discoveries
Two recent discoveries

The trip is both fascinating and incredibly moving, both for those who knew only patches of the history of the war or in my case, having read about it for 20 years. No matter how much you soak up from a book or watch in documentaries or dramatisations, the sheer scale of the loss and devastation wrought in this particular conflict is hard to fathom.
The Tyne Cot Cemetery
The Tyne Cot Cemetery

With preparations underway to commemorate the centenary of the war in 2014, with tours of the battlefields being booked up fast and events being planned across the country, there’s never been a better time to visit this scarred but fascinating corner of Europe, and discover the stories behind each name inscribed upon a wall or on a grave, for more information please visit the Battlefield Tours page
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Bringing history to life for the next generation

Connor reading Paul Reed's book at Hawthorn Ridge No.1

Bringing history to life for the next generation

…introducing Conor Reeves

 

Here at Leger we’re used to having people of all ages come along on our battlefield tours, covering everything from eight to 98. Often this can include those who may be looking at it as part of a school project or who are interested in researching something personal to them.


Let us introduce you to Conor Reeves, a 15-year old battlefield enthusiast, who decided to take it a step further and pursue his dream job for his school work experience…

My name is Conor Reeves, I’m 15 and I’m from Cheshire. In July 2013, I will be doing some work experience with Leger. This will involve me accompanying a guide on one of the battlefield tours as a kind of ‘apprentice’. During the trip I will be presenting some of the research that I have uncovered about the men from my school who died in The Great War.

Bringing History to Life for the next generation - Connor reading Paul Reed's book at Hawthorn Ridge No.1
© Mark Banning – Conor reading Paul Reed’s book at Hawthorn Ridge No.1

This fortunate situation arose when I returned from my second awe-inspiring trip to The Old Front Lines and my history teacher suggested contacting Leger about my work experience. I expected nothing more than a “we would love to, but it just wouldn’t be possible” response. As I sat at home wishing I was back in France, I emailed my Leger guide, firstly to thank him for the brilliant service we’d had on our tour, but secondly to enquire about the possibility of work experience. Within the hour he had replied, and got in touch with Paul Reed (the head Leger battlefield guide) to see what could be done. Paul was incredibly obliging and quickly responded with a “yes”. After discussing details, we decided that the best date for me to accompany a tour would be in the summer of 2013.
I have had a passion for First World War history for a long time so it was extremely important for me to walk in the footsteps of the heroes that I have read about for so long. The first tour of The Western Front that I went on, in 2011, was Leger’s most popular tour “All Quiet on the Western Front”. Being my first visit, I really did not know what to expect. I was very pleasantly surprised. Everything ran smoothly and I could absorb all of the information that was being imparted to me by the incredibly knowledgeable guide, as one by one the names of places that I had previously only seen in books and histories rolled by. On the coach, I told the driver that I would take as many photographs as possible because this would probably be my only trip to the battlefields, to which he replied: “You’ll be back with Leger. Once you have been on a tour, you will always come back”. Little did I know how right he would be.
I was in awe of my guide from the start, longing to know as much as he did, as he delivered the stories of the soldiers that had fought on the ground on which I was stood. As I wandered through the military cemeteries of Northern France and Belgium reading the beautiful epitaphs and admiring the wonderful work of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, Brookes’ words were flowing through my thoughts: “If I should die, think only this of me”. I ground to a stop to look at one of the portland stone graves and had a moment of disbelief when I realised where I was. I was in that “corner of a foreign field that is forever England”. I was standing in front of heroes. Men that went to war for our King, our country and our freedom. I felt honoured to be in the presence of this particular great man. Then, when I lifted my head and saw over 11,000 of these stones, you realise that all these men had interesting stories and all deserved an equally prolonged visit, which of course is sadly impossible to do.
After returning back to ‘Blighty’ my interest in The Great War increased greatly. It inspired me to do some research into the stories of my school’s old boys who had died in the First World War. I decided to set up The Peace Garden Project which will create a place of remembrance for all the men from Sandbach School who died in conflicts around the world. My interest in The Great War has not gone unnoticed from my school as I have worked with the History department to add a local aspect to the teaching of The War, using my research to try and encourage interest in the conflict.
So, what does Leger mean to me?
Leger allows The Great War to maintain its longevity as people can easily access the battlefields and the wealth of information that Leger and their guides provide. The team at Leger will always be the people that allowed me to reach the battlefields of the 1914-18 war.
Conor will be going on the “All Quiet on the Western Front” tour in July 2013. We will be posting further blogs on how he finds his work experience – good luck Conor!

Romantic Germany at its best

When putting together our holidays we work closely with tourist boards from various countries to make sure we show our guests the very best of what the area has to offer. We recently spoke to Charlotte Jakobsen from the Rhineland-Palatinate tourist board to find out what she recommends to visitors of the area.

What can visitors expect to see when they visit the Rhineland-Palatinate?

The Rhineland-Palatinate is an area where vineyards stretch as far as the eye can see and almost 500 fairytale castles, palaces and ruins decorate the river landscapes around the Rhine and Moselle rivers. Visitors will also see plenty of charming little towns with half-timbered houses here, plus a wide range of cultural points of interest and a wonderful mild climate – all hallmarks of the Rhineland-Palatinate.
The Upper Middle Rhine Valley is known for its high concentration of castles and a central feature of this area is the mythical Loreley Valley near St. Goarshausen, where the song of a beautiful young maiden is said to have lured seamen to perdition.
 
Burg Katz

There are also plenty of vineyards along the valley. There must be plenty of wine produced here?

Viticulture – the study of grape cultivation – was brought to Rhineland-Palatinate by the Romans over 2,000 years ago and has been thriving here ever since. The region produces around 70 percent of all German wine and is a real paradise for wine lovers and connoisseurs, with the six wine regions of Moselle, Rhine, Ahr, Nahe, Palatinate and Rheinhessen, which includes the only German ‘Great Wine Capital’, Mainz.
The Palatinate region also boasts the biggest wine festival and even the biggest wine barrel in the world, located in the city of Bad Dürkheim. The outstanding wine-growing areas continue to impress visitors with their award-winning wines and a special experience for any fan of wine is to visit the vineyards and learn about the traditions and history of German wine from the one person who really knows – the winemaker himself.
Rheinsteig Herbstfotoshooting 2008 - Kaub - Weinbergslage

What other activities would you recommend to anyone visiting the area?

The natural beauty of Rhineland-Palatinate provides the perfect setting for a number of outdoor activities like hiking and biking. Few other German regions offer such a variety of terrains combined with certified, well-marked, high-quality walking trails and cycling routes, as well as accommodation designed to suit the active holidaymakers’ needs.
 
Moselschleife
 
Rhineland-Palatinate is a region full of historical highlights while at the same time remaining a modern and active region so there’s something here for everyone.
We look forward to you visiting us soon.
Charlotte Jakobsen
Rhineland-Palatinate Tourist Board
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