Sent by Jill Wells
Bury St.Edmunds 08/01/2018
Based in Cockermouth
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 Whiethaven, on the edge of 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 sea.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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