Based in Cockermouth

Mike Morton

It's Nice To Meet You

If you are looking to travel, whether for leisure or business, and would appreciate a bespoke, personal service to satisfy your wanderlust, give me a call or send me an email.

My name is Mike Morton and I am a Travel Counsellor living near Cockermouth, in the Lake District. I grew up in Cumbria but left to find work in London. After an absence of many years I am delighted to be back where I belong, working from home between the lakes and the fells.

I have more than 30 years’ experience in the travel industry and am fortunate to have travelled extensively throughout Western and Eastern Europe, South-East Asia, Australia, the South Pacific, and North and South America. I have specific expertise in long-haul travel and in much of Central and Eastern Europe, in particular Romania for which I am a specialist. If you are looking for adventure or somewhere different for a holiday check out my travel diaries for a few ideas. I work from an office at home so I can be available at times suitable for you, rather than those dictated by the high street.

I am proud to be part of Travel Counsellors which in my opinion, is the most exciting travel agency in the UK. Our award winning technology means I have access to scheduled, charter and low-cost flights, and hundreds of the best suppliers and hotels worldwide, at my fingertips. I am also part of a fantastic network of like-minded individuals, dedicated to providing you with the highest levels of customer service.

So if you are looking for that romantic Valentines Break in New York, or want to soak up the sun on a desert island, to shop until you drop in the boutiques of Paris, the malls of Singapore or the dazzling souks of Marrakech, ride the Old Patagonian Express, spend Halloween in Transylvania, encounter Whales in Iceland, or Penguins in Argentina, or even Komodo Dragons, or if you just want get away from it with a weekend in the Lake District, look no further. Nothing is too much trouble, so please get in touch.

I look forward to hearing from you soon!

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Whatever your holiday needs I'm here to help you, so simply give me a call or send me an email with your contact details on and I can get things started for you:

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My Blog

I absolutely live and breathe travel and I love to write about my experiences! Please take a look through my posts - you might find your own holiday inspiration.

A Tale of Two Cities: Cluj & Timisoara, Romania

18 November 2013

Mention city breaks and you think of Paris, Vienna, Barcelona, Venice or, perhaps, Budapest and Prague. However, with the opening of borders and the rise in low cost flights more European cities are becoming accessible for easy weekend breaks. Two of my personal favourites are Cluj-Napoca and Timisoara, both of which lay claim to being Romania’s second city. That is where the similarity ends. Cluj (‘Kolozsvár’) was the capital of Transylvania under Hungarian rule, while Timisoara’s influence is apparent from its ‘Little Vienna’ tag. The Carpathian mountains acted as a shield for Europe for centuries, while the Danube to the south of them has been the route of invaders, traders and travellers for just as long. As a consequence modern day Romania is a cultural tapestry; its language is Latin, inherited from the Romans, but it has been settled and influenced by people from all corners of the continent, and beyond, and has minorities of Hungarians, Germans, Turks, Armenians and Ukrainians. When I first stepped off an international train at Cluj one dark night I had no idea was embarking on a journey that would lead to a love affair with this irresistible country; one that has persisted over the years. Back then it was a terrifying experience; it was 1985 but it felt much more like Orwell’s 1984. My first thought was to flee back over the border, but once I got used to the fear, and the shortages, and saw the beauty of the countryside, and experienced the genuine, heartfelt hospitality of its people I was hooked. Nowadays it is no longer a frightening, difficult journey over the Iron Curtain to Romania. There are frequent, direct low cost flights from Luton to both Cluj and Timisoara and daily scheduled connections with Lufthansa and Austrian Airlines from Heathrow. Cluj is a frenetic, buzzing cosmopolitan University City with excellent restaurants and bars, shopping malls and cinemas, theatres and eclectic and neo-classical architecture, much of it dating back to the centuries of Hungarian rule. Key attractions include the Banffy art gallery, St. Mihai cathedral, the village and pharmacy museums, the famous botanic gardens with their giant water-lilies, and the beautiful art nouveau National Theatre – take in an opera as the top box seats must be the best bargain in Europe! My favourite hotel is the 4-star Agape, just off the main square, though I also have a soft spot for the Belvedere, a communist-era carbuncle atop the old citadel hill. Despite first impressions the services are very good, there is ample parking and the view across the city is fantastic. Cluj is perfect for a short break or as a gateway to Transylvania. It also makes a perfect two centre city break with Timisoara. Fly into one of these cities and back from the other, and link them with a scenic rail journey through the Apuseni Mountains. Or take a morning train and hop off at the pretty city of Oradea before continuing your journey later. Timisoara is another university city with Hungarian ancestry but it is the Austrians, that ruled during the time of the Dual Monarchy that have left their mark in its beautiful architecture. The pretty Unity Square is lined with baroque buildings: the Catholic cathedral, Serbian Orthodox cathedral and the trinity column, while other districts have many examples of Viennese ‘Secessionist’ style - of special note are those designed by the local architect Szekely. Timisoara is an elegant city too, and so easy to explore with large squares, parks and gardens, museums, theatres (and opera), shops including exclusive boutiques, and dazzling food and flower markets (check out the roses). It also has plenty of bars and restaurants, coffee houses, pavement cafes, and wine cellars, and the traditional beer garden at the Timisoara Brewery. There are numerous quality hotels but my personal favourite is the 4-star art deco Savoy, just a short stroll from the key sights. Nearby is Maria Square where the 1989 Romanian Revolution was sparked with the eviction of a reformist priest by the notorious Securitate – the Secret Police. Timisoara has always been a progressive, cosmopolitan city, facing West rather than East, so it was no surprise that the Revolution started here. Make your way to the immense, Romanian Orthodox cathedral on Victory Square, where thousands of people faced up to the tanks, and Securitate snipers, then to the opera house where Timisoara was declared the first free town in Romania.

A Land that Time Forgot - Maramures, Romania

27 April 2009

If you are looking for somewhere completely different, but don't wish to travel too far, why not consider Romania? I have travelled there many times and although, I sometimes feel I know the country inside out, there is always something new to discover. It isn't too surprising when you consider what a huge country it is, with so many diverse landscapes from the High Carpathians to the Transylvanian plateau, or the natural paradise where the Danube forms a huge delta as it reaches the Black Sea. One of my favourite regions is called Maramures - an unspoilt, traditional enclave which I visited last Spring. Maramures lies in the far north, enclosed within the Carpathians bordering the Ukrainian border. I travelled there with my wife, by overnight sleeper train from Bucharest, a thirteen hour journey, but there are other options. There are now excellent value, direct flights with Wizz from Luton to Cluj, the cultural centre of northern Transylvania which is four hours drive, or a very scenic, five hour rail journey from the heart of Maramures. Alternatively, you can fly to the regional capital of Baia Mare with Austrian via Vienna, or Tarom via Bucharest. We were greeted in the town of Sighetu Marmatiei (Sighet to the locals) by our host, who organised breakfast at a local restaurant, before a leisurely drive along the beautiful Iza Valley to our comfortable accommodation in a private guesthouse in the village of Botiza. We stayed with Mr Iurca, our guide, and his wife who is also the village doctor, and probably the best cook in all of Romania. The food was exceptional, copious, and always varied, tasty and fresh. During the days we took a packed lunch with us as it saved the trouble of hunting for restaurants in what is a predominantly rural region of meadows, woods and high mountains, interspersed with working villages which could have fallen from the pages of a history book. The most interesting villages are those which lie along the Iza Valley, which extends westwards from the Carpathians, and the Cosau and Mara valleys which descend northwards from the Lapus and Gutai Mountains. The valleys come together at Sighet and flow into the River Tisa. These villages are best known for their intricately carved wooden gateways, and their wooden churches, constructed without the use of a single metal nail. That in Botiza was actually transferred from another village, piece by piece like a giant lego set, over a hundred years ago when the original church burned down. The church in Surdesti, was the tallest wooden structure in the world for two centuries, until new churches were recently erected at nearby Barsana and then Sapanta. Some of these churches have fascinating frescoes, in particular the orthodox church in Poienile Izei, an hours walk from Botiza. These depict the Fires of Hell and the Final Judgement. Another fascinating place is the Merry Cemetery in Sapanta, where the gravestones are carved and painted to depict the life of the deceased, in a bizarrely comical manner. Maramures is an ideal place to escape and relax. We walked through meadows filled with thousands of wild flowers, even though it was still early in the year, sat under haystacks in the afternoon sun gazing over vistas of terraced strip fields, orchards heavy with fruit blossom and ancient woodland which is still home to bears, wolves and lynx. Even the villages have a special tranquility. People are friendly, cheerful and hospitable and it is not unusual to be invited inside for a drink. Life progresses at a relaxed pace: We observed shepherds with flocks of sheep, horses pulling carts and ploughs, traditional wedding processions, water wheels which drive threshing machines and fulling mills, and ladies weaving textiles on traditional loom. Botiza is well known for its handmade carpets, in the subdued shades of natural vegetal dyes. Our English-speaking host was an excellent guide with an amazing knowledge of the Maramures, its traditions and history. He drove us to various places when we were not out walking by our selves: the unique steam-hauled forest railway in the Vaser Valley (a full day) and the high Rodnei Mountains where swathes of purple croci were flowering as the snow line was receding. Needless to say I can't wait to return. Drop me a line if you are interested in a tailor-made Maramures holiday. It can be combined with other regions, or with alternative accommodation - delightful family-run hotels and pensions in towns and mountain resorts for example.

New York - A Walk on the Wild Side

13 May 2009

'New York! New York!' - the 'Big Apple' - The 'City that Never Sleeps' - whatever you call it, New York is an addictive place, familiar to us all from the silver screen, but it is also a city with many different faces. I think that is the reason that it is probably my favourite city, Certainly the most exciting city I have ever visited. I took my wife for our wedding anniversary, albeit two months early ... I couldn't wait! Like me, she was bowled over. We flew direct from Manchester and took the airport bus to Grand Central Station for a better sense of adventure. It couldn't have been more straightforward. Rather than stay in Manhattan, we had chosen the La Quinta on Queens Boulevard, over the East River in Manhattan. I had stayed in Manhattan before but this time I wanted to feel something of the real New York, not just the tourist traps or the business districts. It was therefore, with some trepidation that we boarded a Subway train and headed into Queens. The last time I had taken the Subway it had been very intimidating - Guardian Angels, safe zones on platforms, rats, graffiti covered trains and so on. I read it had changed. It was true - it really felt safer than the London Underground or the Paris Metro! And what fantastic value - we bought three day passes and used the subway to get about New York with ease. Our hotel was just 10 minutes from Grand Central, and from our hotel we had a view of the Manhattan skyline that you would never get from staying on Manhattan itself. After dropping our bags we headed deeper into Queens. There the Subway became an elevated railway, straddling the streets - just like in the car chase in the 'French Connection'. We disembarked at Jackson Heights, a Latin American quarter where we barely heard a word of English. But at no time did we feel threatened ... quite the opposite. there were dozens of Argentinian, Ecuadorian and Mexican restaurants. We settled for a Colombian one called La Pequena. I had the best steak I can ever remember, and a bottle of exceptional Argentinian Malbec. It was so good that on our final day we made a detour to La Pequena en route to JFK airport. And they didn't let us down. Queens was fascinating - a multi-cultural mix that dazzled the senses. One minute everything was Hispanic, then we were in Little India with spices and saris. Fantastic! Of course we also did all the touristy things - Fifth Avenue, Central Park, Chinatown, Wall Street, the Chrysler Building (you can only go into the lobby) and the Empire State Building. We had booked tickets in advance for both the Empire State and the GE Building ('Rock at the Rock') which enabled us to skip some of the queues. Those for the Empire State were enormous. I would recommend both, but the GE Building, formerly the RCA building, at the Rockefeller Centre was the real highlight. First the lift has a glass roof and the shaft is illuminated so you can experience how quickly you ascend! Then you have several viewing galleries with views north over Central Park, and south over Manhattan dominated by the Empire State ... certainly the best view in New York of its most famous skyscraper. I cannot pinpoint what it is I like most about New York. It could be the food - the ethnic restaurants in Queens, the best Chinese cuisine on Canal Street, or just munching a pastrami sandwich or smoked salmon and cream cheese bagel on the Lower East Side. Or it may be the architecture - the art deco skyscrapers of the midtown, the cast iron buildings in SoHo or the contrast between the contemporary glass and stainless steel and the traditional 'Gothic' skyscrapers in Lower Manhattan. Or it could just be that famous vertical skyline, whether viewed from the water, from the Staten Island Ferry (best bargain in New York - remember the film 'Working Girl'?) or from the air (from another tower) or from the Brooklyn Bridge (superb at night). Perhaps it is the people themselves? Especially in the suburbs. Or the nature ... we saw American Robins and woodpeckers in Central Park, and a Peregrine hunting pigeons at the top of the Empire State. Or perhaps it is just the variety as you wander through the streets and boulevards of this amazing city!

My customer stories

Sent by Jill Wells

Our visit to Gujarat was more than wonderful. Our guide, Vimal Shukla, was knowledgeable and attentive and had taken on board our preferences. He spoke excellent English and was unstinting. We could pretty much leave plans for each day to him and there was much that wasn’t in the schedule. The driver, Push, was excellent too. Not an easy job driving in India but we never felt ill at ease. The car was comfortable and he kept it immaculate. Highlights were the glorious step wells, the street markets, and the building of the trade dhows at Mandvi. All the hotels were good except for the House of MG. It is a beautiful house and comfortable but we found the senior and waiting staff off hand. We hope it was just that it was Christmas Day and a Sunday and they were stressed. The Devpura homestay was fun – they also run a school. So, altogether a cracker, thank you.

Sent by Doug Hackett

Cordoba was full of interest. The Mezquita (Christian cathedral built on site of Muslim mosque) was the most wonderful building I have been in. We found a modest restaurant behind a shop and as we eat our meal there was Flamenco dancing from three young people in their twenties. It was stunning. Breathtaking. Malaga had much of interest without going to the beach areas. A splendid promenade, yachts moored, good restaurants. There is also a Roman amphitheatre. Hellish busy place though. We would particularly applaud the staff in the Malaga hotel for their friendliness and command of English. We did not breakfast in the hotel preferring to seek out places where the locals went. The weather throughout was warm and sunny. We had a most enjoyable week. Thank you very much.

Sent by Mary Teahan

Knows our preferences snd is very proactive on suggesting great places to stay and things to do. Service is really personalized!

Sent by Renee Thomas

We thoroughly enjoyed it, loved the drive through the Atlas mountains – saw so many sides of Morocco. Everything went very well – no hiccups or problems, drivers all arrived on time. All the hotels were of a high standard and each was very different but wonderful in its own way. The only exception was the Taddard in Meldit but it was understandable that we had to have a break in the journey at that point. The stand out place for hospitality was the Ourika Garden Hotel but i think you already know that - The manager and staff could not have been more helpful.

Sent by Renee Thomas

We have used Mike's services for our forthcoming trip to Morocco because we were very impressed with the arrangements he made for us on a previous trip to Romania - very welll organised to suit us individually..

Sent by Alvery Grazebrook

Excellent interaction on a compound booking.

Sent by Susan Higgs

Mike is a gem: helpful, knowledgeable, kind and works within a budget. Priceless.

Sent by Griselda Cuthbert

Fantastic! Helpful and knowledgeable advice and suggestions. Mike really knows his stuff and is 100% efficient getting us best deals. Excellent guides and drivers. He made a memorable trip for us. Nothing was too much trouble. Will always use him for travel now.

Sent by Jerry Freeman

Mike, you were prompt, thorough, knowledgeable and very considerate! We look forward to traveling with you in the future, thanks very much.

Sent by David Shaw

Great service, friendly with all questions answered to my full satisfaction. Also was offered a great deal on my holiday arrangements. Well done Mike and thanks again for a job well done.

Sent by Bennett Swayne

We have been hugely impressed by the service provided and the personal interest taken in our needs for a tailor-made holiday.

Sent by Sonya Ayton

I have been very happy with Mike and his arrangements for holidays especially when it is at very short notice. I have recommended him to others and was very happy to do so.

Sent by Katie Garrod

Just to let you know I had a fabulous time with George Lurca! It all worked really well and George was lovely. We zoomed around in his car, stopping to take photographs etc, and he taught me a lot about Romania. His house was very comfy and I slept incredibly well (unusual for me), and his wife cooked the most delicious food. I was very spoiled and I had a truly lovely time. Thank you very much for recommending George. It was all a great success and I really enjoyed my time in Botiza. Now I have to think about what I can do next year! There is still masses to see in Romania - I will be in touch again.

Sent by Allison Bucknell

We have just arrived back from our second Transylvania trip which was better than the first. The only thing that was a little iffy was when the gypsy lady tried to convert us to be Jehovah’s Witnesses. Didn’t see that one coming! True to form, we bumped into a load of people from the a village about 3 miles from home at Count Kalnoky’s pad. So... what are you going to suggest to us for next year? (Yes, we are hooked!) Thanks for all your recommendations and arrangements, they all went like clockwork.

Sent by Liz Reason

I have been deputed to write to you to thank you for the holiday you organised for us. We loved the variety of region, places to stay, activity and people. George was ‘different’ (we’re quite sure you have had comments about him in the past!); all of the Trust people were delightful and informative. We learned absolutely loads about the history and culture – mind-blowing really. We’re glad we saw it before it changes too much. Budapest was also great. We could go back there for a week and still be fully occupied. Weather not brilliant but bearable. In any case, we couldn’t have done it without you. So thanks again.

Sent by James Kenyon

Just a few lines to thank you for arranging our trip. Both Michael and I thoroughly enjoyed Romania. Everything went well, the guides were very knowledgeable and good company. Once again Mike many thanks

Sent by Angela Carter

Just a note to say thank you for organising such a great holiday for Robin and myself. All the arrangements went extremely smoothly. Robin, who hates trains, even said our 6 hours back to Cluj was OK! Really great experience, people very friendly, food great, guides brilliant, everything on time, really beautiful countryside, visited lots of amazing places, totally blown away. Only down side - potholes and night time barking dogs. Rather confused about Romania's future, so much to offer, yet so many hurdles to overcome. Will definitely recommend it.Thank you.

Sent by Yda Morgan

I would give Mike ten out of ten! Everything he organised went like clockwork and the itinerary was perfect for us. Despite a lot of rain we loved every minute and amazingly the two days it most mattered we had beautiful warm sun. Very best wishes and thanks galore!

Sent by Charles Brims

We got back yesterday. Thank you for organising such a great trip for us. All the connections and transfers went according to plan; the accommodation was perfect and the guides excellent. Altogether a fun and stimulating holiday.

Sent by Lisa Evans

I'd never heard of Travel Counsellors until I was planning a trip to Romania and contacted a number of organisations looking for recommendations of a travel company to use. Mike was recommended to me as an expert on travelling in Romania. Mike lived up to his reputation and organised a truly memorable trip, he worked with me through every stage of the planning making sure we could see and do as much as possible whilst still having time to relax and not spending too much time simply travelling between destinations. He took on board our interests and our ‘must see’ items and came up with a fantastic itinerary incorporating a number of ‘one-off’ experiences that were his own suggestions including staying on the Prince of Wales’ estate and staying with a real life Transylvanian count.

Sent by Sandra De Laszlo

Our trip was just the most enormous success and I thank you all for your part in it. It is very hard to believe that just this time yesterday we were at the Church of the Bread in Delani, surrounded by all those kind local people. Sorin was the most wonderful guide, deeply well informed which he delivered to us in such an interesting and accessible fashion. He was always thinking of how best to achieve all the things we wanted to do, and his mind racing in how to do it in the time available, and he achieved it! Our journey home was smooth and thanks to Tyrolean we even caught our connection.

Sent by Jean Strassen

Mike provides an excellent service. Nothing is too much trouble and he is always prepared to go the extra mile to make every holiday 'the holiday of a lifetime'. He has the willingness and expertise to make this happen.

Sent by Harold Smith

A very big Thank You for arranging the trip. Every one met and greeted us on time and nothing was too much trouble for them. Di -as you said was a wonderful cook and manager I am sure that the scales will tell a lie the next time I step on them. Both of them were complete hosts nothing was too much trouble, the trips that they arranged were so well organised that we feel that we are the privileged ones.

Sent by Nicole Cannon

Let me say a big, “THANK YOU!!” for the wonderful trip to Romania. We truly couldn’t have done it without you! If Chuck and I had a question about something, we’d say, “Well, let’s see what Mike has written down for us.” We were never disappointed. Your guides on the ground, Sorin and George, were true gems. They were extremely knowledgeable, and George knew of some local traditions, such as the Monday market, which we would have never experienced otherwise and definitely a highlight of our trip! While we were in America and you in Europe, our communications went without a hitch! I must admit I had a few qualms about that at first, but even after our first conversation, I knew that we were in good hands.

Sent by Ian Fisermans

Just a quick note to say thank you for such a wonderful holiday in Transylvania. We adored the country and its people and were very impressed with the service you offered. Everything was attended to and special mention must go to all our guides and transfer drivers who were most helpful and friendly. Please pass my thanks on to Jez and Di who, in particular, were most welcoming and looked after us very well. Again, thanks for your help. The holiday was everything we wished for and more and I cannot recommend your services enough.

Sent by Julia Kruk

Slovakia was wonderful, thanks! Gorgeous hot sunny weather every day (except for our 'Orava' day - the castle from Nosferatu - so an overcast sky was more atmospheric! And the rain later only stopped us from visiting one other ruined castle). Everything went like clockwork - the places visited at the right time, with enough time to appreciate it all. Even when we turned up at a castle or monastery and it appeared closed, or we couldn't get in as a group, our lovely guide sorted it out, and we gained access! Full praise to the local guides - Marcela, who was with us all week - and the Vienna guide, Uta, who took us round for the morning. Thanks, Cecilia, for last minute arrangements - pick-ups/transfers, etc. all arranged perfectly! (And the Cox & Kings addition to our itinerary of the small Carpathian wine route with wine-tasting was absolutely splendid!) A brilliant trip!

Sent by Fiona Taylor

Just arrived back today after a fascinating trip. All the logistics were spot on and we both really enjoyed the diversity and adventure that Romania offers. Thanks for everything you did to make the trip run like clockwork.

Sent by Rosemary Hill

I just got back from Bucharest yesterday evening. I wanted to write immediately and thank you for arranging such a wonderful trip. It's amazing how few western tourists there were, even at the monasteries; I can't imagine how Romania has kept its secrets for so long. Everything went like clockwork. The guides were wonderful; I actually took an extra day's excursion with Mr Lurca in Maramures. Both were extremely tolerant of my idiotic questions and very patient with me when I kept asking them to stop on hairpin bends so that I could take yet another photograph (Sorin actually started anticipating me and pulling over every time he saw a good view!). I saw everything I wanted to see and lots more that I never expected. Again, many, many thanks - a very enjoyable and absolutely fascinating two weeks! Rosemary

Sent by Jessie Collins

We had an amazing time in Romania - thank you so much for organising everything for us! The people at Count Kalnoky's were lovely and I was pleasantly surprised at how well they coped with my vegan requirements - we've eaten so much in the past couple of weeks! You were right about the manor house being spooky! We're glad we stayed in it though, it's definitely a unique experience!

Sent by Courtney Tracy

Mike has been unbelievable! He always surpassed the service we expected. I have travelled twice to Romania through the assistance of Mike Morton, and cannot express how wonderful his agendas, and co-workers have been. I feel we got to experience the "real" Romania with our home stays and expert tours. We were always safe and taken care of! Thank you so much Mike for the wonderful memories!

Sent by DONNA FENTON

I found Travel Counsellors via a google search whilst looking for a holiday to Transylvania. I e-mailed Mike about the kind of holiday I was looking for and he quickly put together an itinerary for us which involved touring around transylvania over 4 days for 4 people. The booking process was very easy, any questions I had were answered and the tour itself went extremely smoothly. Well recommended!

Sent by Kathleen Clarke

Mike provided very quick and excellent advice on destinations for our honeymoon. We ended up going to Transylvania, but Mike was happy to investigate other options, and did lots of legwork finding out about deals in different destinations. Mike seemed to know Transylvania like the back of his hand, which was great! Thanks Mike for providing an excellent service! Kath & Dan Clarke :)

Sent by Marie Clayden

Last year we booked a holiday with Mike to Transylvania, it was all done over the phone and email, so as you can imagine we were slightly worried, but the holiday ended up being far better than we ever imagined, everything ran like clockwork, we were thoroughly looked after and didn't have to worry about a thing. We are now looking forward to our second holiday and can't wait!

Sent by Richard Pring

I consulted Mike Morton regarding a City Break for four flying from Bristol, and we were very impressed and grateful for his knowledge and the way he carefully considered the reasons for our trip and our specific requirements. Very refreshing to deal with someone who, one felt, personally had the wishes of the customer as the prime reason for his advice.