Grown-up Travel Guide News Update – 24.08.2012

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

Traffic police in Portugal ‘targeting’ tourists

The Telegraph

British motorists visiting Portugal have been warned to expect little leniency from the country’s traffic police, with seemingly trivial offences attracting large fines.

Earlier this year Portuguese media reported that the country’s National Republican Guard (GNR), which enforces motoring laws, had been told to increase their annual revenue from traffic fines, to help support the country’s ailing economy.

Offences such as parking against the flow of traffic, and driving while wearing flip-flops, have reportedly attracted fines in excess of €200 (£160), while the GNR has been accused of targeting overseas tourists in order to meet its targets.

One British resident of the Algarve, who asked to remain anonymous, was stopped by police while driving last month. Although her paperwork was in order, she claims that authorities were only pulling over foreign-registered cars, and says she saw an elderly British couple having their vehicle confiscated.

Another expat reported seeing several UK-registered cars clamped outside a supermarket in Albufeira, despite no sign prohibiting parking. He claimed that tourists were seen as a “soft target” as they tend to pay, and get on with their holiday, rather than contest the fines.

Meanwhile, a shopkeeper in Guia claimed that foreign motorists in the town had been targeted using a law that requires drivers carrying commercial loads to possess a document of ownership. Drivers had been fined, he said, after visiting a supermarket and then being unable to show police a receipt.

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U.S. puts the brakes on American trips to Cuba

USA Today

Authorized by President Obama last year as a way to boost Americans’ engagement with everyday Cubans despite a five-decade U.S. trade embargo, “people-to-people” programs to the communist island have been put on hold.

According to a recent column by Detroit Free Press travel writer Ellen Creager, almost no organizations with previous people-to-people licenses from the U.S. Treasury Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) have received renewals. Advertised trips have been scrapped, she writes, and organizations “are left to wait without any updates or information.”

Jeff Braunger, program manager for Cuba Travel Licensing under the Treasury Department, told the Free Press “we have issued approximately 140 people-to-people licenses. We are doing our best to process both first-time applications and requests to renew existing licenses. We receive numerous such requests which are being handled in turn. It is our goal to respond in a timely manner.”

But Jim Friedlander, president of the travel service provider Academic Arrangements Abroad in New York, told the paper “we work with about 30 different non-profit organizations that have programs to Cuba in next 12 months, and 100% of them have not received renewals of licenses.”

“It’s a wait-and-see game,” added Christopher Baker, a Cuba guidebook author and tour leader for U.S. organizations.

Thanks to the longstanding U.S. embargo against Cuba, most Americans have never visited the country unless they traveled under a family or religious visa. And as I discovered during an Insight Cuba “Weekend in Havana” tour in May, the new people-to-people alternatives are no salsa-and-cigar-fueled beach escapes. Under U.S. rules, they require mandatory participation in “a full-time schedule of educational exchange activities.”

But the programs have been wildly popular, with many sold out or wait-listed through the end of 2012. In May, in response to reports of “abuses,” the Treasury Department tightened regulations for its people-to-people licenses. It now requires U.S. companies to provide a sample itinerary, assign a representative to each tour and explain how the exchanges would “enhance contact with the Cuban people, support civil society, and/or help promote the Cuban people’s independence from Cuban authorities.”

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Explore Oman‘s Hatta Pools, if you can take the heat

The National

Outside, it was just another baking-hot summer day. But where we were, standing in a pool of water amid high canyon walls that prevented the sun from reaching this spot for more than a couple of minutes a day, it was, surprisingly, a little chilly.

This had seemed like an impossible prospect three hours earlier, when the car’s thermometer peaked at 48° Celsius as we drove across the Madam plain on our way towards the Hatta township. Even after we drove into the mountains and walked down to the Hatta Pools, the rock was too hot to touch.

Within a few minutes, we’d entered a different world. A cool one, in both senses, and with a dash of adventure thrown into the mix.

I first did this trip four summers ago, with my contrarian nature rankling against being told by everyone it’s impossible to do anything in the UAE’s outdoors during the hottest part of summer. A bit of research suggested Hatta Pools was within range of a day trip and had potential to prove the naysayers wrong.

That first trip had been in the middle of the day, when temperatures hit 50°C. In the deeper lower gorge, where at one point the canyon walls meet at the top to create a short cave, it was like being in air conditioning, but after a final swim through a pool, it was so hot on the walk back that by the time we arrived at our cars, every stitch of clothing we had on was dry.

Since then, I’ve gone back a couple of times

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The £39 fry-up: London’s most expensive hotel breakfast

The Guardian

London hotels charge up to £39 for a fry-up. But don’t choke on your eggs, there are more palatably priced breakfast stops.

Breakfast may be the most important meal of the day but that doesn’t mean you want to blow your daily food budget before 10am.

Yet that’s a real danger if you’re staying at one of London’s luxury hotels. Perhaps it’s no surprise that a five-star hotel charges five-star prices but £39 (each!) for a fry-up is enough to make you choke on your organic free-range banger. The £39 breakfast offered by the Jumeirah Carlton Hotel tops the list of most expensive breakfasts compiled by hotel booking app Blink Booking, with the Dorchester (£36) and Ritz (£35) not far behind.

The least expensive is at The Levin hotel in Knightsbridge who charge £9.95. Even so, that’s still steep for breakfast. If you are staying on a room-only basis, we say skip the hotel breakfast and venture out to the nearest cafe, street food stall or market stall. Not only will you save money, you’ll have a much more interesting breakfast – The Towpath Cafe on Regent’s Canal, recommended by Mark Hix in this round-up of chef’s favourite breakfasts, serves a mean masala-spiced scrambled eggs.

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