In which we present a regular round-up of news from the world of Grown-up Travel
London abuzz a month before Olympics
London moved into the final month of preparations for its Olympic Games with a new landmark to greet visitors, and a warning that some others would not be welcome.
London Mayor Boris Johnson and Seb Coe, chairman of organizers LOCOG, watched as a giant set of interlocking Olympic Rings were eased into place on Tower Bridge across the River Thames.
The rings, 25 metres wide and 11.5 metres tall, are a centrepiece of the “2012 look” that visitors from around the world will experience as they flood into the capital for the Games starting on July 27 and ending on August 12.
“Tower Bridge is recognized the world over and, adorned with the famous Olympic Rings, is the perfect choice to showcase what London has to offer this summer,” declared Johnson.
“With just a month to go, we are making our final preparations and want to ensure each and every person in the capital gets a flavour of the celebrations and feels part of the Games.”
The Tower Bridge rings, which cost some 260,000 pounds to produce, have been paid for out of a 32 million pound ‘Look and Celebration’ budget with events scheduled across the capital.
Not everyone will be allowed to attend the party, however.
Britain has already refused a visa for the head of Syria’s national Olympic Committee, General Mowaffak Joumaa, to travel to London.
Queen’s diamonds go on show at Buckingham Palace
The public can soon get a rare up close look at some of the world’s most spectacular diamonds, belonging to the Queen.
A special exhibit at Buckingham Palace is displaying the historic and priceless diamond jewels, crowns and tiaras as part of the Diamond Jubilee celebrations.
Some of the items have never been on display before.
Jewellery made from the world’s largest ever diamond is reunited for the first time ever. Seven of the nine principal stones cut from the Cullinan Diamond are on display together. The other two form part of the Crown Jewels kept in the Tower of London and are seen when the Queen wears the Crown and holds the Sceptre at her Coronation and State Opening of Parliament.
The Cullinan Diamond was mined in South Africa in 1905. At first, because it was so big, it was assumed to be crystal. When it was taken to the manager’s office, the clerks threw it out of the window, unable to believe that something so big was a diamond.
“The Cullinan diamond is one of the most famous diamonds in the world. It is in fact the largest diamonds ever discovered and in its rough state it weighed 3,106 carats. A truly exceptional diamonds both in terms of its size but also in terms of its clarity and colour. It is completely flawless and has a wonderful blue, white colour,” said Caroline de Guitaut is curator of the exhibit.
UNESCO declares Rio de Janeiro a World Heritage Site
Rio de Janeiro’s iconic landscape, marked by soaring granite facades that drop into the ocean and white-sand beaches that go on for miles, is now an official world heritage site.
UNESCO gave Rio the title in recognition of the unique way its exuberant natural setting blends with the urban landscape.
Rio has great waterfront open spaces, and one of the world’s largest forested areas encompassed entirely within an urban setting: the Tijuca National Park.
The designation mentioned several key features that have shaped and inspired the city’s development: the Christ the Redeemer statue atop Corcovado mountain, the Botanical Gardens, established in 1808 by the Portuguese emperor, and Copacabana, a vast bay bracketed by granite hills and hemmed by a white-sanded beach.
These elements “have contributed to the outdoor living culture of this spectacular city”, UNESCO said, adding that “Rio de Janeiro is also recognised for the artistic inspiration it has provided to musicians, landscapers and urbanists”.
Some of the elements mentioned in the decree have been well kept, but others, such as Botafogo Bay, at the foot of Sugar Loaf mountain, have been degraded by pollution over decades.
Continental taxi drivers take travellers for a ride
AA bemoans ‘appalling’ standard of driving and customer service in 14 European countries.
Travellers hailing taxis in European cities risk paying way over the odds for a dangerous or unpleasant journey. Test rides in 22 locations, covering five routes per city, resulted in rip-offs, rudeness and breakneck speeds.
The AA, which published the findings, concluded: “The standard of driving and customer care was often appalling. Not one of 22 major cities on the continent provided a taxi service that could be described as ‘very good’.”
The exercise was organised by EuroTest, a Brussels-based consumer testing programme involving motoring clubs in 14 European countries.
The reports make alarming reading. When a passenger from Rotterdam airport asked to pay by credit card, the cab driver swore, made an abrupt U-turn and drove back to the airport to find a cash machine. In the same Dutch city, another taxi had a quarter of a million miles on the clock, holes in the seats and broken windows.
Only six of the cities had drivers rated “acceptable”; the same number were marked “very poor”. In Germany’s second-largest city, Hamburg, a taxi driver drove at 92km/h (57mph) in a 50km/h (31mph) zone, hurling the car – and tester – around corners. In Lisbon, the driver reached 83km/h (52mph) while weaving in and out of traffic. Ignoring red lights, pedestrians and cyclists was commonplace, as was mobile phone use: one driver in Milan sent a text while at the wheel.
The survey rated the skill and attitude of the driver, the route chosen and the condition of the vehicle. The German cities of Berlin, Cologne and Munich, along with Paris and Barcelona, scored highest. At the other end of the table, taxis in the Slovenian capital of Ljubljana performed badly in every category.