Brittany Ferries Strike Affects Travel, Business In Three Countries

A strike by the employees of Brittany Ferries is disrupting the movement of travelers and goods between England, France and Spain.

The BBC reports the French union that staffs the ferry service is striking in protest of cuts by the company, which is deeply in the red. Brittany Ferries operates several lines from England to various ports in northern France and Spain. In addition to travelers using the service to bring their cars across the water, about 3,000 commercial trucks use the service.

In a press release, the company stated that because of repeated wildcat strikes, they’ve made the decision to suspend almost all service: “The only route which will be unaffected is the Poole-Cherbourg passenger service which is operated on our behalf by Condor Ferries … Because of this indefinite stoppage we are recommending customers to travel to Dover where we currently have special arrangements in place with P&O Ferries and MyFerryLink to accept Brittany Ferries tickets [see website for details]. Unused Brittany Ferries crossings will be refunded.”

One of Brittany Ferries’ destinations is Santander in Spain, where I live part time. Port fees, customers using local businesses, and the shipment of goods all bring an injection of much-needed money into an economy in recession. Local paper El Diario Montañes reports that the ship Cap Finistère has been stuck here since September 20, with 500 passengers and 100 vehicles. Most have made their way to other ferries in France.

[Photo of the Cap Finistère courtesy George Hutchinson]

Spirit of Britain super-ferry enters service on the busy Dover-Calais route

This morning, Dubai owned P&O ferries took delivery of the Spirit of Britain – one of the largest ferries in the world. The vessel will operate on the Dover-Calais channel route, and is capable of transporting 2000 passengers.

Compared to the ferries of the past, this new vessel is more cruise ship than ferry – with an upscale shopping center, private lounge, shower facilities, free Wi-Fi and various restaurants.

Passengers on the 90 minute journey can drive their car onto the ship along with up to nine passengers for just GBP19 ($30), with 6 free bottles of wine and a free breakfast. There is room on its decks for 180 freight trucks, for a total of 400 vehicles – or almost 2.2 miles of cars and trucks.

Despite the introduction of the Channel Tunnel back in 1994, ship traffic between the two countries is busier than ever. On this short route, P&O has to compete with two other ship operators.

The Spirit of Britain is the sixth ferry from P&O to operate on the channel route, and will be joined in September by the Spirit of France. The ships were built in Finland by STX shipyards, the same yard responsible for building the massive Norweigan Epic cruise ship as well as various Carnival cruise ships.

[Photo: AP]

Thousands trapped in Channel Tunnel

More than two thousand passengers were trapped in the Channel Tunnel last night when unusually cold weather in northern France made four Eurostar trains break down at the same time.

Four trains coming from Brussels and Paris entered the tunnel between France and England and promptly broke down because of the temperature change between the cold air in France and the warm air inside the tunnel.

Some passengers were evacuated after a few hours, but others had to spend all night in the tunnel. The blockage caused a huge traffic jam of cars on either side of the tunnel.

Eurostar has warned that services will remain severely disrupted throughout the weekend and that passengers should seek alternative ways to get to their destination. Eurostar has apologized for the delays and has offered refunds. It’s also considering compensation.

But the trouble doesn’t stop there. Heavy snowfall and unseasonably cold temperatures have disrupted travel in many parts of England and Scotland. Drivers are being turned away from the Channel Tunnel and being warned not to drive on the M20 near Folkstone or Dover. The Port of Calais in France is also closed.

Dover castle gets medieval makeover

For nearly two years one of England’s most famous landmarks has been undergoing a radical transformation. Blacksmiths, woodworkers, painters, embroiderers, and craftsmen have been working with historians to recreate a 12th century interior for the Great Tower at Dover Castle. It’s now open to the public and gives an idea of what it was like to live the good life in the Middle Ages.

Dover Castle was built by King Henry II, who ruled from 1154 to 1189. He was one of England’s most powerful kings, asserting control over an often unruly church and nobility and strengthening the rule of law. Dover Castle was his most important fortification and he often stayed there because it was on the coast, where he could keep an eye on his extensive lands in France.

This project is something new for English Heritage, which manages the castle. In the past it has avoided doing reconstructions when researchers weren’t sure what the original looked like. Records of day-to-day rooms and objects from the Middle Ages are scarce, and most of the things that have survived from that era are trophy pieces like armor or jewels, not mundane things like cushions. To the folks at English Heritage, the historical accuracy of cushions is a big deal. So they made a compromise. The artisans used techniques and materials common to the period, scoured medieval art books, and made things in the same general style.

The result is impressive both in its detail and its vibrant color. People in the Middle Ages loved bright colors and painted every surface they could with brilliant tones. They even added natural dyes to their food to give it a nice neon look, even though neon hadn’t been invented yet. If it had been, they would have put it everywhere. The main hall has an ornate wooden king’s chair painted deep blue and bright gold with vines spiraling up the legs, and a rich red standard hangs behind it. The smaller details are interesting too, like the simple yet durable ironwork, and the expressive carvings of animal and human heads that decorate many of the wooden objects.

These aren’t simply vacant rooms. Costumed actors and soundtracks bring the period alive and as visitors wander through the rooms they’ll realize that a lot is going on, from the deadly diplomacy of the rich and powerful to the gossiping of the servants. There’s even a court jester named Roland the Farter. The man actually existed and was granted a manor and thirty acres of land in Suffolk in return for acting as the royal flatulist.

All in all it’s a stunning wok of historical reconstruction but perhaps English Heritage could have been a bit less accurate with the royal flatulist.

Disney Cruise Line heads to new waters in 2010

I’ve never been on a Disney Cruise. I have a couple of relatives who say a Disney Cruise is the best thing since sliced bread. Not really, but they’ve shown me the pictures of their swell time.

Disney is expanding its repertoire of offerings in 2010. Booking starts today, October, 14, for cruises to St. Petersburg, Russia; Tunis, Tunisia; Malta; and Corsica. There are several options.

One of the most involved, the 12-night cruise that heads to St. Petersburg, starts and ends in Dover, England and makes stops in Oslo, Copenhagen, Stockholm and Warnemunde, Germany. Each stop involves a day on shore, except for St. Petersburg which includes a day-trip to Moscow if you want.

After watching the video at Disney Cruise’s web site, I’d say that for people who want to travel with their children, but who don’t necessarily want to spend every waking moment sightseeing with their darlings, this type of cruise would be an option–not a cheap option, mind you, but an option.

Activities that are country specific are organized for different ages. Of course, with all the real castles that abound, dressing up like a princess (or a prince) and having a party where real royalty whooped it up is part of the offerings. I’d just as soon duck out of that party and look around on my own, but I bet that’s allowed as long as you make it back to port on time.

Evidently, Mickey Mouse even tags along making appearances at famous landmarks. Not really, but Mikey is in the video frolicking with kids at the Red Square in Moscow.

For the press release that lists each of the cruise options and dates, click here.