In which we present a regular round-up of news from the world of Grown-up Travel
The real extreme sport: skiing in Afghanistan
A gaggle of villagers deep in the mountains of central Afghanistan stared in wonder as a professional snowboarder from New Zealand launched himself over half a dozen young children, two of them perched atop donkeys.
It was one of the oddest interactions between foreigners and Afghans in the decade since US-led forces invaded the country, and the result of a surprising tourism push in a country at war.
International aid workers and enterprising locals are trying to attract snowboarders and skiers to the untouched slopes of the Koh-e-Baba mountains to improve the fortunes of Bamiyan province – the site of towering Buddha statues destroyed by the Taliban in 2001, and one of Afghanistan’s poorest provinces. It’s no surprise that challenges abound.
Though Bamiyan is largely peaceful, it’s tough to convince any but the most adventurous travellers to come to war-torn Afghanistan. Once visitors land in the capital, Kabul, they face the tricky prospect of catching a diplomatic or humanitarian flight since no commercial airlines fly to Bamiyan. A few hardy foreigners have braved the six-hour drive despite the threat of robbery and kidnapping.
There are no ski lifts, so every ascent requires a lung-busting climb up snow-covered mountains that rise to more than 5000 metres. Skiers climb up using “skins” – pieces of rough fabric stuck on the bottom of skis for traction. Snowboarders use special boards that split down the middle and then lock back together for the downhill.
The writers of the definitive (and only) guide to skiing in Bamiyan also suggest the “donkey lift” – hiring a villager’s donkey to carry you up the mountain.
The commercial guest houses open in the winter provide little more than a bed and a traditional wood-burning stove, and “apres ski” is limited to tea, kebabs and parlour games.
But the mountains are spectacular and provide seemingly endless runs down pristine slopes filled with nothing but the sound of the wind and the rush of skis against snow – a far cry from the crowded trails of American and European ski resorts.
‘Most Londoners don’t want wifi on the Underground’
The majority of Londoners do not want wifi on the Underground system when it rolls out this summer in time for the 2012 Olympics, according to a new piece of research.
Fifty-five per cent of the Londoners polled revealed their unhappiness about the internet coming to the tube when questioned. Forty-eight per cent said that they would be concerned about their privacy being compromised when browsing the web on the Underground, particularly when it came to submitting passwords.
It was announced yesterday that London Underground has reached an agreement with Virgin Media, which will see a wifi service being introduced in 80 of the networks in 217 stations by the summer.
At the end of the year it will have reached 120 stations. However, it remains unclear when or whether it will be extended to the whole of the network.
Commuters will be able to check emails, check the tube service status and surf the net at stations which are wifi enabled.
They will also be able to do so when trains are stopped at the stations, but not while they are in tunnels.
The study, carried out by discounts site My Voucher Codes, which polled 950 Londoners aged 18 and over, also found that 31 per cent of those against the idea were so, because they thought it would lead to an increase in thefts on the tube – especially if people had their laptops and tablet computers on show at all times.
A further 14% of the respondents who were not in favour of wifi on the tube, explained that they thought that people spending their whole journey using the internet would lead to ‘increased stress’ whilst travelling.
The remaining 7% were concerned about the amount of space that would be taken up by people using their laptops.
Travel groups look east for 2012 bright spots
With a weak western European economy, fear of political unrest in North Africa and a cruise business hit by the Costa Concordia disaster, travel groups are looking to eastern Europe, China and corporate travel to brighten up 2012.
The United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) expects global arrivals of international travellers to increase by 3-4 percent this year, after a 4.4 percent increase to 980 million in 2011, with growth driven by emerging markets.
“The whole world is skewed to the East. This is the New World,” Taleb Rifai, secretary general of the UNWTO told Reuters in an interview at the ITB Berlin travel fair.
Officials from the tourism ministries of Tunisia and Egypt, which are struggling to encourage tourists back after uprisings, said Russian tourists were now the leading visitors to their countries, and that they were keen to attract Asian travellers.
China is expected to account for 100 million arrivals by 2020 as the country’s booming economy translates into corporate investments outside China and into rising wealth for the broader population, according to the UNWTO.
German travel group TUI AG, the owner of Europe’s largest tour operator TUI Travel, will bring its first groups of Chinese tourists to Europe in the summer on a package tour of Europe’s cities.
“We’re calling it the tour of the Museum of Europe,” CEO Michael Frenzel said, highlighting that TUI is the only European tour operator to have a licence to organize international travel for China.
Frenzel said spending on foreign holidays by travellers from Asia-Pacific was expected to reach 349 billion euros by 2020 as it grows at an average rate of 10 percent a year, compared with growth of 4 percent for Europe.
Spending by Chinese tourists is the fastest growing in the world, having jumped 38 percent last year, followed by Brazil, India and Russia, according to UNWTO data.
“If you’re a hotel owner in Berlin, you want the Chinese to visit,” said Hubert Joly, chief executive of hotels and business travel group Carlson.
10 great places to have a drink underground
Even if you don’t spot a leprechaun, there’s another reason to look down this St. Patrick’s Day. Some great new bars and restaurants (and a few old standbys) are underground, says Brian Ellison , president of Death’s Door Spirits, a Wisconsin-based craft liquor maker. Basement locations are conducive to conversation, he says. “They’re cozy and comfortable.” Owners find the rent is often cheaper, and they sometimes offer a setting with speakeasy style, adds Ellison, who shares some favorite spots with Larry Bleiberg for USA TODAY.
This 1920s bank-turned-bar in Chicago’s Wicker Park neighborhood keeps interest high with its clever renovation. Tables back up against safe-deposit boxes, the former vault is now a lounge, and you can prop your drink on a stand that once held deposit slips. Ellison says the bar and restaurant seem timeless. “It really does work. It doesn’t feel like a space that has been cobbled into something different.” 773-235-8800;bedfordchicago.com
San Jose, Calif.
Future-focused Silicon Valley takes a step back in time at this saloon and cigar bar with a Jazz Age atmosphere. But the emphasis is on cocktails, not speakeasy shtick. Juices are hand-squeezed, and the menu avoids name brands, Ellison says. “It’s small craft spirits, obscure liquors and potables from far-flung places.” 408-792-7356; singlebarrelsj.com
Hidden beneath Chelsea Market, this new bar occupies a century-old storage area that had never been open to the public. Vaulted ceilings, brick walls and salvaged wood create an industrial vibe. It serves drinks like the Buzzing Black Buck, made with rum, coffee liqueur, espresso and ginger beer. “This bar has this really great feel to it that you’re in a secret place that other people don’t know about,” Ellison says. 212-206-0000;thetippler.com