It sounds like something out of a movie, but a mountaineer scaling the Alps has come across a valuable stash of jewels including emeralds, sapphires, and rubies, buried in the snow — a treasure trove estimated to be worth $332,000.
The French climber stumbled across a metal box while scaling Mont Blanc, Europe’s highest peak, earlier this month. Upon opening it, the hiker discovered colorful gemstones, some of which were wrapped in pouches marked “Made In India.”It’s believed the jewelry ended up in the Alps following one of two Indian plane crashes in the region — one which took place in 1950 and another that occurred 16 years later. Other cargo and belongings from those plane crashes have previously been discovered in the area, but this latest discovery could be one of the most valuable stashes to be uncovered.
The mountaineer handed the loot over to French authorities who are working to track down the owners of the lost treasure. However, a local police officer told the AFP that under French law, the valuables could be handed over to the hiker if the owners or heirs of the jewelry are not found.
Like many longtime New Yorkers, I don’t own a car and know little about the finer points of purchasing or owning a vehicle. A recent Volvo ad caught my eye in an airline in-flight magazine: If you purchase your car and pick it up in Sweden, they’ll pick up the tab on your trip. A new car and free travel? This was something I could get behind! Doing some research, I discovered quite a few of the top European car makers offer an overseas delivery program.
While you’ll have to plan in advance (generally 3-4 months) to get your car and your trip, you’ll save on the vehicle cost, plus get to pick it up hot off the presses and drive it around European roads. Once you have it shipped to the U.S., you will wait another 8-10 weeks or so to be reunited stateside. Some programs include free airfare and hotel nights, most include factory tours, European road insurance and import/export fees.
Here’s a look at the most popular programs, including travel costs and savings.Audi (Germany) Travel perks: European Delivery customers get 5-15 percent off airfares on Lufthansa, chauffeured pick up from the Munich airport and a free night at a 4- or 5-star hotel near the factory. On the day you get your keys, you’ll visit the Audi museum and factory, with free meals and snacks all day. You then have two weeks to tool around Europe, with free drop off (by advance arrangement) at any one of 16 locations in Germany and western Europe. Extra options: Serious Audi fans might consider an additional driving or race “experience” in summer or early fall (many of the winter events require special experience like driving in Scandinavia), where you can learn to drive like a pro, take on a racing circuit, or tour Europe in a luxury vehicle. It’ll cost extra, of course, from a few hundred euro per person. Note that all vehicles ready between November 1-April 15 must have winter tires installed at the factory, but that may be included in the cost of the car. Car pricing: Audis are priced from $33,800, before the discount up to 5 percent off MSRP, except for the highest end models such as the R8 Spyder.
BMW (Germany) Travel perks: You can get to Bavaria with 5-15 percent off airfares on Lufthansa. At the BMW Welt facility, you’ll get free museum and factory tours, and refreshments at the cafe. They’ll cover European road insurance for up to 14 days, then you can drop off your vehicle at one of 12 locations free, except Italy which has a supplement of up to 850 euro (must be those Italian drivers!). Extra options: In addition to airfare, you’ll pay to get to the factory from Munich airport, as well as any hotels on your trip. As befitting a luxury automobile, BMW offers a range of luxury add-on trips designed to make the most of driving the Autobahn in the ultimate driving machine. (The “optional” note indicates they aren’t included free in the deal, but they are specially designed for BMW customers.) Winter deliveries will also require seasonal tires in Germany; it is possible to rent the winter tires if you don’t have them factory-installed. U.S. pick up: Another option entirely is the Performance Center Delivery Program in Spartanburg, South Carolina. If you travel down south for your car, BMW will pay for your hotel and meals, plus a tour of its U.S. factory and museum, and best of all, professional driving instruction. You won’t get the savings you’d get on a European delivery, but the travel costs are much lower. Car pricing: From $29,065 with savings, up to 7 percent on MSRP. See all models here.
Mercedes-Benz (Germany) Travel perks: While airfare discounts aren’t included, you’ll get Mercedes’ travel assistance for booking your trip, airport transfers and one night hotel accommodations. When you pick up your car, you’ll have a tour of the factory and museums, meals at the delivery center, 15 days road insurance and a tank of gas to get you on your way. Extra options: You can add a self-guided tour of the Black Forest or Alps at additional cost. Drop offs in Italy, England or Spain are additional (Germany, Switzerland, France and the Netherlands are covered at no cost), and you’ll have to arrange for winter tires as with the other programs. Car pricing: Vehicles from $35,800, with a 7 percent discount on MSRP.
Volvo (Sweden) Travel perks: The best “deal” of the European Delivery programs, Volvo will include two round-trip plane tickets from the U.S. to Scandinavia (we’d assume Stockholm, but it’s 4-5 hours from the Volvo factory), one night in a hotel in Gothenburg, as well as the usual factory tour and road insurance. Extra options: You will have to pay if you drop off or pick up anywhere other than the factory location, several hundred dollars or more, but it makes sense given the location of Volvo in Sweden as opposed to more central Germany. You may also see some seasonal charges: $150 per passenger supplement for summer flights, and the rental costs of snow tires between December and April. Volvo offers a variety of trips for more Scandinavian travel if you’d like to extend your trip. Car pricing: Eligible Volvo models are from $31,420 after savings up to 7 percent on MSRP. See available models.
Bottom line: If you’re buying a new luxury vehicle, you likely aren’t a budget traveler. The savings even with free airfare, road insurance and a night at a nice hotel won’t likely offset what you’ll spend on the rest of your trip, let alone a car. However, if you are in the market for a slick new ride, driving it home on the Autobahn after seeing how it’s made is likely to be an unforgettable trip.
Well at least global warming is good for something.
The rise in Earth’s temperature is making snow lines and glaciers recede on mountain ranges all over the world. While this is a worrying trend, it’s revealing hidden bits of history to archaeologists.
In Norway, the receding Lendbreen glacier at 6,560 feet above the sea level has revealed an ancient wool sweater dating to the Iron Age. Carbon dating has revealed that it’s 1,700 years old. It was made of sheep and lamb’s wool in a diamond twill, and was well-worn and patched from heavy use. The Norwegian research team estimates that the person who wore it would have been about 5 feet, 9 inches tall.
The results of the study have recently been published in the journal Antiquity.
This isn’t the first discovery thanks to receding glaciers. The most famous, of course, is the so-called “Iceman”, a well-preserved corpse of a man who died in the Alps around 3300 BC. Last year we reported the discovery of the bodies of soldiers from World War One in the Alps. in Norway, about 50 textile fragments have been recovered in recent years, although the sweater is the first complete garment.
Most discoveries have been accidental, with hikers and mountaineers reporting their finds to the appropriate authorities. In the Iceman’s case, people originally wondered if the well-preserved body might have been a recent murder victim!
So if you’re hiking near a melting glacier, keep an eye out for ancient artifacts and bodies, and remember that it’s illegal to pocket them. Do science a favor and call a park ranger.
Spain is being accused of intentionally holding tourists in long lines as they make their way back from day tripping in Gibraltar. The British Overseas Territory claims the traffic jam — which has so far affected more than 10,000 vehicles — has been deliberately orchestrated because of a disagreement over a creation of an artificial reef in territorial waters. Of course, this isn’t the only territory in the middle of a tug-of-war match by two — or sometimes more — countries. Here are just a few of the dozens of places with disputed borders where you may find yourself stuck:
Mont Blanc Summit (France vs. Italy): Both countries have had a long but peaceful dispute over ownership of the summit of the highest mountain in the Alps.
Liancourt Rocks (Japan vs. South Korea): this group of small, craggy islets has become a tourist attraction in recent years, but its sovereignty is still being disputed.
East Jerusalem (Israel vs. Palestinian Authority): Jerusalem’s Old City and some of the holiest sites of Judaism, Christianity and Islam are just a few of the attractions that lie in this hotly debated territory.
Ceuta (Spain vs. Morocco): the majority of this city’s population are ethnic Spanish who are opposed to the idea of being ruled by Morocco.
Tennessee River (Tennessee vs. Georgia): Georgia lawmakers claim surveyors who mapped out the border between these two states in 1818 got it wrong, and part of the Tennessee River should actually belong to Georgia.
Paracel Islands (China vs. Taiwan vs. Vietnam): three countries lay claim to the Paracel Islands in the South China Sea. The islands have the potential to become a popular tourist attraction because of their large reef system, but currently tensions between the countries are too high.
Southern Half of Belize (Belize vs. Guatemala): All of Belize was formerly part of Guatemala, and today the debate still continues over who is the rightful owner.
Spending a week following the Tour de France was a dream come true, and perhaps even the trip of a lifetime. But is it the trip of a lifetime if you plan to go again?
Want to plan your own trip following the la Grande Boucle? You have plenty of options.
The first, and probably easiest, option is to purchase a tour package. I booked mine through Sports Tours International, a British outfitter. (Full disclosure – STI gave me a significantly discounted rate, but my wife paid full price.) For the first-time visitor, a tour package is ideal. The hotels we stayed at were always clean and well appointed. A tour bus allowed us flexibility where we rode and how far. On most evenings, the hotel served us multiple course meals that hit the spot after a full day of riding and race-watching. There were options for those with bikes and without, so if you have a non-riding spouse, it’s ideal.
But there are some caveats. First, don’t expect any handholding on one of these trips. If you don’t feel comfortable changing flats or navigating the roads of a foreign country on your own, this is probably not the tour for you. Also, our tour guide was a terrific guy, but didn’t speak a lot of French and wasn’t too familiar with the history or topography of the areas we rode. Luckily, we were never in a situation where we couldn’t communicate with a local – either one of the group knew some French or the person we were speaking to knew English.
Some tour operators, the biggest one being Trek Travel, offer additional perks – more guides, team access, more luxurious hotels, etc. – but you’re going to pay a premium for them, and they can quickly add up.
If you have a desire for more control of your itinerary, you could always plan your own trip, book your own hotels, find your own meals and plot your own rides. This is a great option for experienced folks who only want to follow the Tour for a day or two, or might not want to share space with strangers for a week or more.This approach is going to be somewhat more expensive on a day-to-day basis, and depending on your mastery of the French language or Kayak.com, perhaps a bit more difficult. Finding empty hotel rooms near the Tour de France route can often be hard, particularly for towns not equipped for the massive crowds attracted by the Tour. And if you’ve been riding all day, one of the last things you’re going to want to do is hike from restaurant to restaurant, searching for a place to eat.
During one of the stages, I ran into a couple from Ohio, who had rented a RV for a week. After talking to them for about an hour and doing some additional research, this may be the route we choose the next time we follow le Tour.
You should be able to find a six-person camper van for between €150 and €270 a day, depending on options. A quick google search should give you some nice options for rentals. If you watch the Tour coverage on televeision, you know RVs are a very popular way to follow the race, so it’s best to book early or, better yet, fly into a neighboring country and drive into France. The camper van will allow you to move from stage to stage with ease and allow you more flexibility when riding. You can also save a ton of cash by buying groceries and utilizing the RV’s stove and microwave rather than eating in restaurants two or three times a day.
However, while modern French highways are nice and wide, some villages’ roads were designed with pedestrians and horse-drawn carts in mind, not cars. The tighter quarters makes navigating a large RV through the twists and turns a bit of a challenge for American drivers. You should also be sure you can survive living in tight quarters with your friends for days, if not weeks, at a time. Following the Tour de France may be the trip of a lifetime, but is it worth losing lifelong friends over.
The best time to start planning your trip is in October, when the next year’s route is announced. Hotel rooms tend to fill up quick, so it’s best to make reservations early. If you’re planning to ride the route, decide how difficult you want to make it on yourself. If you want to tackle the legendary climbs, the Tour typically spends three to four days each in the Alps or the Pyrenees. Just be sure to train leading up to the trip, otherwise you’re setting yourself up for hours upon hours of pain – I know this from experience.
There’s a lot of hoopla and excitement in the hour or so before the riders pedal out of a departure city; you should check it out at least once during your trip. Spots near the finish line fill up quickly, so get there early or, better yet, find another spot a kilometer or two down the road when the sprinters’ teams are winding up for their big push to the line. It’s just as excited and not quite as packed.
On flat stages, the peleton can pass in seconds, so if you’re trying to get photos, aim for hillier stages, where the riders are spread out more. That said, steer clear of the big mountain finishes, such as Col d’Tourmalet or Mont Ventoux; officials will shut down the roads to vehicle traffic days before the stage and often won’t allow bike traffic up a day before. Even with those restrictions in place, more than one million fans jammed Alp d’Huez during this year’s stage finish.
If you do attend a mountaintop finish, don’t be one of those guys that runs next to the riders shouting. Everyone hates those guys.
Most importantly, have fun and get to know the people around you. The Tour de France is perhaps the greatest bike race in the world — the fans are understandably passionate and love to share that love with fans from other countries. Just don’t rub it in when a foreign rider is wearing the yellow leader’s jersey. It’s a bit of a sore spot.