Grown-up Travel Guide News Update – 14.09.2012

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

33,000 flee Guatemala volcano eruption

A long-simmering volcano outside one of the Guatemala’s most famous tourist attractions has exploded into a series of powerful eruptions.

Thick clouds of ash was hurled nearly three kilometres high, spewing rivers of lava down its flanks and forcing the evacuation of more than 33,000 people from surrounding communities.

Guatemala’s head of emergency evacuations, Sergio Cabanas, said the evacuees were leaving some 17 villages around the Volcan del Fuego, which sits about 16 kilometres southwest from the colonial city of Antigua. The ash was blowing south and authorities said Antigua was not currently in danger, although they expected the eruption to last for at least 12 more hours.

The agency said the volcano spewed lava nearly 600 metres down slopes billowing with ash around Acatenango, a 3763-metre-high volcano whose name translates as “Volcano of Fire.”

“A paroxysm of an eruption is taking place, a great volcanic eruption, with strong explosions and columns of ash,” said Gustavo Chicna, a volcanologist with the National Institute of Seismology, Vulcanology, Meteorology and Hydrology. He said the cinders spewing from the volcano were settling a half-inch thick in many places.

He said extremely hot gases were also rolling down the sides of the volcano, which was entirely wreathed in ash and smoke. The emergency agency warned that flights through the area could be affected.

There was a general orange alert, the second-highest level, but a red alert south and southeast of the mountain, where, Mr Chicna said, “it’s almost in total darkness.”

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Britain visitor numbers fell in July, despite Olympics

The Telegraph

The number of overseas visitors to Britain fell during July, despite the lure of the London Olympics, research has revealed.

Foreign travellers made 3.18 million visits to Britain in July 2012, down from 3.36 million in July 2011, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

Total spending by overseas visitors also fell in the same month, from £2.13 billion in 2011 to £2.01 billion this year.

Figures for August, when available, could show a similar trend. BAA recently reported a two per cent fall in the number of passengers passing through its airports.

The statistics will come as no surprise to tour operators, who earlier this year warned that high hotel prices in the capital had dissuaded ordinary holidaymakers from visiting Britain.

A similar effect was seen at the previous Olympic Games in Beijing. Hotel rates in the city during the 2008 Olympics were up to 10 times more expensive than normal, a figure that is thought to have contributed to a 30 per cent decline in visitors during 2008 compared with the previous year.

The figures will be a blow to the Government, which last month revealed its goal of attracting an extra 4.5 million overseas visitors during the next four years.

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Europe’s small museums hold great art

Toronto Sun

For many travellers, a visit to one of the great treasure-chest museums — Paris’ Louvre, London’s British Museum, Rome’s Vatican — is the highlight of a European trip. But sometimes a march through endless galleries dense with other tourists can be a mood-killer, as you battle the throngs to scratch yet another biggie off your to-do list.

At the start of a trip, I’ll seek out every great painting and cathedral I can. After two months, I find myself “seeing” cathedrals with a sweep of my head from the doorway, and I probably wouldn’t cross the street for another Rembrandt. I’m not saying you should skip the Mona Lisa. But Europe’s great museums can be hard work, and I am rarely good for more than two or three hours at a time.

Luckily, not all art masterpieces are kept in powerhouse museums. Europe is filled with many fine little museums that amply reward those who venture beyond the monumental sights. Smaller places have their own superstar attractions, and because their collections are rarely encyclopedic, you can see everything in one visit and still feel fresh.

Take, for example, Paris’s Marmottan and Orangerie museums. Fans of Monet and Impressionism gravitate toward Musee d’Orsay, with its impressive collection — and inevitable crowds. But savvy sightseers know they can get their Monet fix — with less competition — elsewhere. Monet himself designed the setting for his great Water Lily paintings at Paris’s Orangerie, where French royalty once grew orange trees for its palaces.

Perched on the edge of Paris and fronted by a lovely park, the Marmottan owns one of the best collections anywhere of works by Monet, including the painting that gave Impressionism its name (Impression: Sunrise). After a pleasant stroll through the galleries, you’ll still have enough energy to enjoy the museum’s park and to wander along nearby Rue de Passy, one of Paris’s most pleasant and upscale shopping streets.

Europe’s cultural wonders often hide out in fascinating buildings that were never meant to be museums. For instance, one of Michelangelo’s Pietas lives in Milan’s Sforza Castle, itself a Renaissance palace where Leonardo da Vinci was the in-house genius to the mighty Sforza dukes. The exquisite and famous Lady and the Unicorn tapestries are among the medieval treasures in Paris’s gem-like Cluny Museum, once the mansion of an important church leader.

London’s Wallace Collection features fine 17th-century Dutch Masters and 18th-century French Rococo pieces inside a sumptuously furnished townhouse. From the rough and intimate Dutch lifescapes of Jan Steen to the pink-cheeked Rococo fantasies of Francois Boucher, a wander through this little-visited mansion makes you nostalgic for the days of the empire (and it’s free). I love these cultural “two-fers” — great art surrounded and deepened by authentic bits of history.

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A taste of Africa in Paris

The Guardian

Paris is a melting pot of African communities, cultures and, of course, cuisines. Our blogger takes us on a whistle-stop tour of her favourite African restaurants in the French capital.

This blogpost first appeared on the Vingt Paris blog.

Home to over five million people of African and Arab descent, Franceenjoys a rich culinary diversity; and where better to experience this than in the cosmopolitan metropolis of Paris.

Stroll around any of the 20 arrondissements and you’re bound to find a restaurant serving up authentic African dishes. Yet despite the popularity of such eateries, it’s difficult to know where to look and what to expect. Online search engines often describe these restaurants as “African cuisine” – a rather oversimplified term for a continent with 54 countries, hundreds of diverse religions and thousands of languages.

There’s a whole host of Parisian restaurants bursting with African flavour and fragrance and, contrary to popular belief, they are not exclusive to neighbourhoods with large African communities.

Le Mono (40 rue Véron, +33 1 4606 9920) is a charming restaurant behind the Moulin Rouge. Much like the artwork mounted on the walls, the menu offers specialities from Togo in west Africa. I particularly like the fish in moyo sauce made with tomatoes, fresh chilli and a fiery citrus kick. Their steamed semolina bread is a delicious accompaniment and a refreshing alternative to rice. And with main dishes for under €15, Le Mono is both affordable and appetising.

For more west African cuisine, head east of Montmartre to the vibrant Goutte d’Or neighbourhood. After five minutes at the open-air Dejean market, which sells everything from kola nuts to African fabrics, it soon becomes clear why this area also goes by the name “Little Africa”.

Opposite the community mosque is a Senegalese joint, Restaurant Nioumre (7 rue Poissonniers, +33 1 4251 2494). The soupe kandia is a speciality served only on Saturdays; it is a palm oil-based stew packed with shreds of meat, stockfish, okra and plenty of flavour. Other dishes include mafé (a thick peanut sauce with chunks of tender lamb) and my personal favourite yassa, chicken braised in a Mediterranean-flavoured stew of green olives, onion and lemon.

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