Grown-up Travel Guide News Update – 03.07.2012

In which we present a regular round-up of news from the world of Grown-up Travel

Heathrow immigration queues are ‘unacceptably long’

The Independent

Airport operator BAA today said recent immigration queues at Heathrow were “unacceptably” long.

Last week some passengers faced waits of two-and-a-half hours to get through immigration at the west London airport.

With thousands of athletes due to arrive at Heathrow over the next three weeks, there are concerns the immigration system – the responsibility of the Home Office – may not be able to cope.

BAA said the Home Office had promised all Border Force desks at Heathrow would be manned during the peak Olympics arrival times.

But it added that the Home Office should be “delivering a good experience for regular passengers as well as Olympic visitors”.

Under its targets, the Border Force must get non-EU passport holders through immigration at Heathrow in less than 45 minutes for 95% of the time.

The target for EU passport holders at Heathrow is less than 25 minutes for 95% of the time.

According to the Daily Telegraph there were half-mile queues at Heathrow’s Terminal 4 last Friday, while pictures in the paper showed empty immigration desks.

A BAA spokesman said today: “Immigration is a matter for the Home Office. The Home Office has said that from July 15 all Border Force desks at Heathrow will be open during peak arrival periods.

“Immigration waiting times for passengers during peak periods at Heathrow in the last few days have been unacceptably long and the Home Office should be delivering a good experience for regular passengers as well as Olympic visitors.”

The Immigration Service Union, which represents 4,500 border staff, told the Daily Telegraph that the present problems were being made worse as only about half the current workers were fully trained to allow passengers from anywhere in the world entry.

A Border Force spokeswoman said the queue breaches at Heathrow had been “less than an hour” and that extra staff had been deployed to deal with them.

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Plenty of darkness at U.K. Munch show

Toronto Sun

How do you stage an Edvard Munch exhibition without featuring the work for which he is renowned the world over – “The Scream”?

Four versions of the haunting, swirling image exist of which three are in museums and unlikely to travel, while the fourth just sold at Sotheby’s New York for $120 million, the highest price ever paid for a work of art at auction.

The Tate Modern in London believes it has the answer. In a new show dedicated to the Norwegian painter, the London gallery has chosen to focus on the whole of his career and paint a more rounded picture of the artist.

“The idea was to build an exhibition whose star lot was not missing, and we wanted to get away from that,” said Nicholas Cullinan, curator of “Edvard Munch: The Modern Eye”.

“Tragedy and loss and angst — all of those words are often associated with Munch. They are true, but they are not the complete truth,” he told Reuters at a preview of the show featuring around 60 paintings and 50 photographs.

In a written introduction to the show, Cullinan referred to the “cliches of Munch as an angst-ridden and brooding Nordic artist who painted scenes of isolation and trauma.”

In fact, Cullinan argues, Munch was an artist interested in photography and film making – disciplines which helped shape his paintings – and engaged in current affairs when portraying street scenes or incidents reported in the media.

“It’s trying to come up with a balanced and accurate portrait of Munch as an artist,” he explained.

That involved showcasing many works from the 20th century, which account for around 75 percent of Munch’s output.

The fact that early versions of The Scream, and other familiar pictures like “Madonna” and “Vampire,” came from the late 19th century, have meant him being associated mainly with that period.

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A night at London’s newest and most expensive hotel

The Italian man at the table beside us has just ordered a bottle of Dom Perignon champagne.

His leggy date isn’t the slightest bit impressed as she fidgets with a designer bag and adjusts one of several sparkling bangles on her wrist. She’s bored.

“Could I look at the wine list?” I ask. And there it is: Dom Perignon at £280 (AU$428) a bottle. Nothing odd about that, perhaps, in this part of town, but then after a couple of sips the man orders a bottle of white Burgundy for around the same price.

My wife and I reckon his bill for dinner alone will come to around £900.

Benvenuti to the brand new Bulgari Hotel in London’s Knightsbridge, the most expensive place to stay in Britain  where the cheapest room comes in at around £690 – and that’s before you’ve even had a cup of cocoa, never mind the almost obligatory dispensing of £5 notes to grovelling staff as they press the lift buttons on your behalf and generally buzz about like pesky wasps. This is conspicuous wealth gone mad.

By comparison, the Ritz costs £402 and the Savoy £414 – and the fact that the Bulgari is practically full every night (including the £14,400 penthouse suite) tells you everything you need to know about those pockets of modern Britain that have been turned into temples of vulgarity, attended by flashy foreigners who pay no taxes here but inflate the price of everything for the rest of us.

Good taste – once something this country did reasonably well – has too often been swallowed up by crass monuments to bling that make a mockery of the Prime Minister’s now infamous sentiment that we are all in this together.

The Vulgari, sorry, Bulgari, is just across the road from the One Hyde Park block of flats – some of which sell for tens of millions – built by the brash property developers Nick and Christian Candy.

A new offshoot of the Italian jewellery house, Bulgari has sister hotels in Milan and Tokyo and I dare say more are planned now that it’s part of the French luxury group, LVMH, which paid £2.8  billion for the company last year, adding it to a stable of brand names that includes Louis Vuitton, Christian Dior, Veuve Clicquot and Moet & Chandon.

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Bin men trained to offer tips to tourists

The Telegraph

Tourists struggling to find their way around London this summer will be able to call on an unusual source of advice – the city’s bin men and street sweepers.

An estimated four million overseas holidaymakers are expected to visit the capital this summer, with many arriving to watch the Olympics.

In an attempt to make their trips more trouble-free 1,000 road sweepers and refuse collectors have been tasked with providing directions to overseas visitors, as well as keeping the capital’s streets clean.

Each sweeper has been given training to improve their customer service skills, and many have been equipped with pocket-sized maps to help point tourists in the right direction.

The service has been launched by Veolia Environmental Services, and will be offered in four London boroughs: Camden, Lambeth, Tower Hamlets and Westminster, all of which are expected to receive a high number of visitors this summer.

“Our street sweepers and bin men are some of the friendliest faces in town. So much so, that as well as keeping the city clean, they often become the unofficial tour guides for London,” said Cllr Ed Argar, cabinet member for city management and transport. “This initiative will increase that engagement and make the millions of people expected this summer feel even more welcome.”

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