England plans to sell all its public forests

English environmentalists, hikers, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and pretty much everybody else is up in arms about a UK government plan to sell off all the woodlands managed by the Forestry Commission in England, the BBC reports.

The Forestry Commission manages 18 percent of all England’s forests, some 2,500 sq km (965 sq miles). A portion of the forests are already being sold to raise £100m million ($159 million).

A public poll this week found 75 percent of the public against the move.

The plan will not affect forests in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland.

This is the dumbest idea the UK government has come up with since selling the Royal Mail. Forests are a national heritage, not something to be sold off by privileged members of government to their old classmates from Eton. The government says that environmental and public use rights will be protected but, to use an English phrase, that’s a load of bollocks. Once the forests are in private hands, it will be much easier for private interests to undermine the laws governing them, or simply ignore the laws if the fines come out to less than they’d make turning the forests into shopping malls and housing developments. This is already standard practice in Spain, and it has ruined some of the best stretches of the Mediterranean coastline.

As a hiker who loves England’s woodland, I have grave concerns over what this will mean for people from England and around the world who go to the woods to see some of England’s most beautiful spots. A few hundred million pounds in the government’s pocket will not solve the economic crisis, or save national health care, or pay off the national debt, but it will mean that the heritage of the English people may disappear forever.

[Image courtesy user ntollervey via Wikimedia Commons]

Ryanair passengers stage sit-down strike

What would travel bloggers do without Ryanair? From trying to get rid of co-pilots to arresting passengers for complaining about the sandwiches, the budget airline provides endless grist for our mill.

Yesterday more than a hundred passengers refused to leave their plane after their Ryanair flight from Fez, Morocco, to Beauvais, France, was diverted to Belgium. It was one of four Ryanair flights diverted to Liege due to foggy conditions in France. Passengers were offered a bus to their final destination, a journey of 225 miles. While passengers in three of the planes agreed to go, those in the fourth flight refused, insisting to be flown there instead. The flight had departed Fez three hours late and landed in Liege at 11:30 PM. The passengers didn’t leave the plane until 3:30 in the morning to catch a 4:30 AM bus home.

That’s the story both sides agree on. Beyond this, there are two stories. Passengers say they were then abandoned by the crew, who even left the cockpit open, and were not given any water for several hours. The toilets were also locked.

Ryanair said the crew stayed for an hour and only left when some passengers got disruptive. They also say that they would have gotten an earlier bus if they had agreed to leave.

[Photo courtesy user Yap S S via Gadling’s flickr pool]

G20 summit hits Toronto tourism hard

If you’re in Toronto to sample the Canadian city’s great shopping, culture, and nightlife, you picked the wrong weekend.

The G20 summit has caused many of the downtown businesses to shut, reports travel site Martini Boys. The site gives an long list of major restaurants, theaters, and other attractions that will close their doors this weekend. Even the iconic CN Tower will be shut up tight and the Toronto Blue Jays have moved their next three home games to Philadelphia.

Fearing protests, G20 the police have set up a 4 km (2.5 mile) long barricade around the convention center, cutting off much of downtown and disrupting some 2,000 businesses. The U.S. State Department has posted a travel advisory suggesting people stay away. Many places are shutting down for the duration. Nobody is sure what the economic impact of all these closures will be, but the Canadian Restaurant and Foodservices Association says that restaurants alone will lose $23 million Canadian (US $22 million) this weekend.

Photo of Toronto G20 security fence courtesy Gary J. Wood.

Bangkok government protests escalate

For those not following the recent news from Thailand, the country has yet again been experiencing political unrest. The Red Shirts, supporters of ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, have been demonstrating on the streets of Bangkok since mid-March. The protests have been largely peaceful up to this Saturday, when events turned deadly. The BBC is reporting nine people were killed and 300 injured in the current skirmishes, including four civilians and a foreign Japanese journalist. The U.S. State Department has also issued a Travel Alert on the situation.

Although clashes have been isolated in a few spots in Bangkok, namely near the city’s Democracy Monument, clashes with the protesters, military and police this weekend edged closer to nearby tourist spot Khao San Road. Several Khao San Road tourists were apparently injured when they failed to move out of the way. Riot police have also been massing near Bangkok’s main shopping district in anticipation of an upcoming protest rally. The city’s Skytrain mass transit has also been temporarily halted.

Anyone planning an upcoming trip to Bangkok should keep a close eye on the situation and exercise extreme caution until the situation cools down.

Only in Boston: Party like it’s 1776

Boston’s crazies concerned citizens love to come out and play when there’s political capital at risk. I saw and attended many protests when I lived here and saw first-hand the energy percolating ahead of the die-in before the start of the Iraq war. Yet, one’s convictions are mere street theater to someone else … and in regards to the latter, Boston ever fails to deliver.

As I wandered through the city yesterday, eager to see the North End with an unobstructed view (I left Boston before the highway was fully sent below the ground), the noise carried up Congress Street softly but easily. As I approached, specifics became clear, including the shrill cries of a woman on the curb in front of Faneuil Hall, “If you want socialism, move to China!” … though the local accent brought it closer to “Chine-er.”

This is the Boston you must see when visiting, even if only once. Of course, Boston has a long history of both civil and hostile disobedience, from the jettisoning of tea into the harbor to the busing scandals of the 1970s and beyond. What I encountered yesterday is an essential flavor of the city and should sit well above Fenway Park on any itinerary.


The crowd yesterday had a decidedly conservative bent – the “Nobama” folks were well represented. The locals have always had a strong loud dissenting conservative community that never fails to mobilize when it feels justice must be served. What results is a mix of professions, economic classes and sanity levels that in its own unique way is a testament to the ability of beliefs to unify.

Though not nearly of the scale of the major protest events in our country’s history (most aren’t), this one was still sufficient to slow the tourist traffic around Faneuil Hall, but not beefy enough to upstage the adjacent breakdancing troupe. Signs were nonetheless held aloft, and zeal oozed from every pore on the tightly laid brick underfoot.

For a devotee of civil liberties, the sight was intoxicating, even if it was only because the debate had truly been brought to the public. It was the essence of the American experiment in the place where it was born.

Doubtless, freedom can’t choose its own spokesmen, and many of Lady Liberty’s representatives yesterday afternoon symbolized the necessary consequences of giving everyone a voice – think of it as the kernel of beauty inherent in tragedy (or vice versa).

As I crossed the street and approached the crowd, I encountered an older gentleman. He had take a knee and was working studiously with a marker and a piece of poster board, ensuring the legibility of the large block letters that would convey his message: “READ ATLAS SHRUGGED.” It wasn’t surprising to find an Objectivist (i.e., a follower of the beliefs expressed by Ayn Rand) at a protest over the healthcare bill. All smiles, he explained his position before taking a spot in the public display with the ostensible goal of maximizing his visibility. John Galt, sadly, was not in attendance – or at least didn’t reveal himself (maybe he’ll co-opt the airwaves later).

Across the street, atop the stairs next to City Hall, I was able to view the scene in which I had immersed myself only moments earlier. The change in perspective was incredible. On the ground, you’re essentially planting your nose inches from a Monet: you’re up close but missing both the magnitude and the message. Above and away, you sacrifice the energy but can appreciate the entirety.

The chance to witness – or participate in – a Boston street rally isn’t something you can schedule in advance, unless you’re planning a trip around controversial legislation. When the opportunity arises, though, it’s worth deviating from your Freedom Trail jaunt, if only for a glimpse.