Delhi Cows in the Street. Time to Sleep.

Where other people are scared of actually arriving in the place they are going, I’m always more concerned about flying. I hate flying. So much so that I’ll pay over the odds for a good airline. We flew out with Emirates, which I chose partly because the new Airline over the Thames in London is so fabulous. There were ‘stars’ in the ceiling of our plane, the food was excellent, the film selection fantastic (I finally watched The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, a good choice for preparatory purposes).

Getting a taxi from the airport in Delhi was a tad scary, as it was dark and we were tired – but I chose a man who understood my body language and we paid 600 Rupees on a meter to get to the Radisson Blu, which had wonderful beds but was far from where we wanted to be, as well as more expensive.

We travelled to Hauz Khas this morning, the trendy part of town, in a posh taxi, feeling bad about squashing four mosquitos against the window. And now we are in a lovely homestay.

The Indian Government are supporting homestays as an alternative to hotels because the standard of hotels and availability is lower than they would like. Ours is wonderful, with pretty bedspreads, rugs and paintings, and the host is lovely, so I’d highly recommend a homestay over staying somewhere like the Radisson.

So far, the Delhi cows in the street are the most different thing about the place – this morning one was standing in a space between two cars, as if it had parked itself there.

People pee by the side of the road, but then they do that by motorways in Germany too. Some of the vehicles are wonderfully painted and it’s lovely to see auto rickshaws (tuk tuks) after six years of only travelling as far as France and Italy.

Don’t stay at the Radisson Blu or any other hotel chain on the outskirts of the city if you can avoid it. If you want to stay somewhere comfortable in that price range, in a place you’ll want to be, try The Rose New Delhi in Hauz Khas Village. Do go to the taxi stand and order on there rather than letting the mob bundle you into a battered old thing like ours, even though it is true that if you are a good judge of character, you will often spot the good man among the not so good.

Sophie Collard on Google+

On Running Away to India

‘You know, I rather like winter when I know it’s only going to last two weeks,’ I said to my mother when she visited last week.

I’ve been working in the travel industry for two years now, all the while living in London.

I’ve learned a lot. I’ve learned all about some people embracing the internet and social media to sell their stories to the world (or at least, to each other) and about people who are upset that the internet and the e-reader might replace printed articles and books and that maybe we are about to drown in a deluge of poor quality writing. I’ve also learned that I don’t really care that much. I’m tired of moaning. And this is coming from the mouth of a top quality moaner, seriously – ask my oldest friends.

I’ve lost count of the times people have asked me what I do and I’ve replied that I’m a travel writer whilst feeling like I’m telling the most enormous lie. The trouble is that they often ask this rather annoying follow up question, ‘so do you get to travel all over the world and get paid for it?’

I avoid eye contact.

‘Er no,’ I reply. And I want to say, ‘no, there isn’t much place for modesty in London. It doesn’t pay to say what you think quietly on a blog with a very small audience. It doesn’t matter if you have done some good things (see my previous post) or met some big people. If you can’t sell yourself, you won’t have very much money.’

I have met more people who haven’t really done all that much, but think enough of themselves to say they have, in London than anywhere else I’ve ever lived or visited. I’m terrified of seeing what people are like in New York. And some of these are the people being paid to look after social media accounts and write for great publications. Which is great. But I think I’ve lost my trumpet. So, as the old cliche goes, I’m running away to India to try and find it.

I’d like to share something with you. It’s Brene Brown talking. If you aren’t already watching TED talks, you’re missing out. And thisamericanlife.org, if you haven’t listened to that – have a wade through the archives. I promise there’s some really great stuff there. Obviously this is coming from someone who fears she loves her LoveFilm subscription more than going to parties, and spent this morning watching Curly Sue and crying all the way through it, but there you go.

Sophie Collard on Google+

Forward – Toward Working Together – Travel Blog Camp 2012

I thought I’d use Obama’s slogan as a title to discuss Travel Blog Camp 2012. Partly because, at this point in time, it’s hard to write about travel blogging when the US might vote in Mitt Romney – horrifying much of the rest of the world.

Forward is where I’d like the discussion on the future of travel media to move when (and if) I attend travel blog camp next year. Also, because what I’m hearing is that people don’t read like they used to, I thought I’d put the most important part at the beginning of the post:

Please, please, please get a copy of Macrowikinomics.

I’ve said it before but I really do think it’s the most important book I’ve read in years. It talks about the printing press revolution and compares it to the digital revolution at the beginning, for example.

There was a time people had far more patience.

Nowadays, people are flummoxed when one man is unable to single-handedly fix the world’s problems in four years. It’s fascinating really. So it isn’t surprising that some people are frustrated it’s taking so long for digital businesses to really take off.

I’m incredibly frustrated. Especially so because I believe digital businesses will save us. They will empower young people, encourage collaboration and create jobs. They will allow people to have their say in every single industry. They will allow people to shape politics, as well as charitable activities (I know, I met all these govermenty types after simply creating a hashtag, then put forward the ideas from which wewillgather.co.uk sprang).

Next year, I’d like travel blog camp to take the form of a BarCamp. I’ve seen BarCamps in the wonderful world of not for profits, I think travel types should get one.

At a barcamp, ideally, everyone has the chance to put forward an idea. There is much discussion. These ideas can then become actions. And actions are what will move the travel industry forward. Much as actions are what will save the world. And the best part is that you don’t have to be a journalist or a blogger or any other labelly type thing. You can just be you.

I like just being me. I have a blog (it’s mostly about trains, you’re reading it). I also had a piece in Fortean Times magazine last month and contributed to a piece in the Sunday Times Travel Magazine. And I do copywriting. And I work with startups. So I think that makes me just me. Unlabelled.

Next year, I want editors to put up their hands and say, ‘hey, pay me a fee and I’ll edit stuff.’ I want developers to put up their hands and say ‘hey, pay me a fee and I’ll do you a great backend.’ And I want designers to chime in with, ‘I’ll do the artwork!’ And then I’d like the entrepreneurs to bring them all together.

Everyone has a skill. If you have one you could bring to the table and join a team, we could start building really great digital startups.

Thanks.

Sophie Collard on Google+

The First Virgin Conspiracy Escalates

Today the Government have announced that they are scrapping the West Coast Mainline FirstGroup deal. To be honest, everything about the deal felt dodgy in the first place, as I pointed out in an earlier post.

Without trying to be too sensationalist, like the Daily Mail or someone, I’ll skim over the fact that the DfT were the ones who:

a) had a thing against Richard Branson, that went back to when he initially won the contact all those years ago and…

b) the DfT are the ones who made so many ‘technical errors’ in the bidding process that the whole thing has been scrapped.

A rushed job gone wrong? Or something darker…

Just what is the DfT’s ulterior motive here? What do they want? Branson out, indebted First in? Branson out, the DfT in (that’s what is having to happen in the interim after all)?

Surely the simple answer isn’t that they were just that stupid.

There are 15 more rail franchises to be looked at before the next election, the BBC has reported.

And you can watch this video on the BBC and attempt to work out what the hell is going on. There are far too many intelligent people working in government for this to be simply a monumental ****up. Who is playing who? I’m no detective but it’ll be interesting to see how this all plays out.

#firstvirgin #winning

Sophie Collard on Google+

Social Media Week London 2012

This week (this very one happening right now) is Social Media Week London 2012. Somehow, having had a gross cold (come find me later at the Closing Party) I missed a lot of the social good events, and ended up in the corporate ones. But I’ve taken away at least one interesting thing from each. From Unilever, I learned they are moving towards a way of working which means their employees can work from anywhere. This immediately made me think of Netmums users. In Unilever’s new offices you probably won’t get your own desk. It’s all highly progressive stuff. From Nokia and Kraft I learned that I could probably help them with a thing or two on the social media front but probably wouldn’t because I don’t want to work at Nokia or Kraft.

Today I got to see the founder of Social Media Week talking about the 10 Commandments of social media. Or the 10 Principles. Or something. Here they are anyway:

I came away with two book recommendations, which is nice. They were, Macrowikinomics by Don Tapscott, and The Lean Startup by Eric Ries. If anyone has a copy they can lend me tweet me.

Finally, I was glad Toby (said founder) mentioned trains. I like trains:

He explained:

Sophie Collard on Google+

The institute for Dark Tourism Research | Professor Sharpley Interview

A while back now I headed to Huddersfield to meet Associate Director of the institute for Dark Tourism Research (iDTR), Professor Richard Sharpley.

I’ve been interested in Dark Tourism for many years, without ever knowing it had been categorised as such. Dark Tourism is any tourism associated with death or tragedy. People have been Dark Tourists for millennia. Whether heckling Gladiators in ancient Rome, or taunting those poor people doomed to be executed in the middle ages, they’ve always ‘enjoyed’ being spectators to the dead.

Nowadays, we tend not to put people’s heads on spikes or drown them publicly with the excuse that they might be witches. But we haven’t lost interest in the macabre. We just visit  places deemed to be educational that relate to death, rather than ogling the dying for fun.

Anne Frank’s House, Auschwitz, Ground Zero and Titanic Belfast are the most visited places that can be considered part of Thanatourism (that’s Dark Tourism’s posh name). All the above get over a million visitors a year. And nobody will think you crass for visiting. The sites are important for remembrance, for education and for reconciliation.

Professor Richard Sharpley is interested in this idea of death as a context. He’s Professor of Tourism and Development at the University of Central Lancashire and runs a module on Dark Tourism as part of the Tourism & Development degree.

‘modern society hides from everything to do with mortality,’ Richard says, ‘We’ve lost our natural ability to deal with death and dying. After you’ve kicked the bucket, the death industry takes over – separating people who want to grieve from grieving.’

Richard has also made good use of travel blogs in his research,

‘I read about 50 blog posts about Rwanda, 95% of which were emotionally charged and relatively long. The bloggers were shocked by the horrific displays and couldn’t view the perpetrators as human. When they went back into modern Rwanda after, where those aged 16 and over had been present during the genocide – they were imbued with tremendous hope, because the Rwandans were putting their lives back together. I’ve read the opinions of some who have condemned others for visiting. But most people go there for the gorillas anyway.’

Richard and I spoke at length on the subject of Dark Tourism, and I’ll have an article coming out about it in my favourite magazine very soon. Until then I’ll leave you with a final thought from Richard:

‘Tourism is a lens through which we look at and understand others, it shows us what’s really important to us, and Dark Tourism is a part of that.’

This post was sponsored by East Coast. Their First Class experience has to be the best I’ve had in terms of the food you are offered. I’d rather they had pleather seats but can’t exactly complain.

An advance return fare from London to Huddersfield will cost around £40, or £100 1st class.

Sophie Collard on Google+

On the Brighton Pride Trains

Saturday 1st September 2012 was the 20th anniversary of Pride in Brighton. As such, it made sense to join VisitEngland on a trip to experience it. On the Brighton Pride trains. Or behind a float in this case.

It all began by the Volks Electric Railway, which runs along part of Brighton beach and is the oldest electric railway in the world (as the sign says). The image is horrifically cropped because I neither have photoshop or know how to use it (yet) and there was an annoying sign in the foreground. Anyway…

We walked with Brighton & Hove City Council and their gay dog

The dog proved very popular with crowds along the way.

After a bit, we found the council’s float a little on the quiet side, so went to see what everyone else was up to.

The above was my favourite costume, but many others were excellent too…

Cheeky.

This man was one of many dancers who, I felt, were the best, even though the hula hoop dancers were equally colourful. Mr. Blue Hoop made me laugh when he disappeared to Co-op halfway through to buy some booze.

Near the end of the procession, a beautiful angel appeared in a window. Even the mayor, who we’ll get to in a moment, noticed her. We bumped into her at Preston Park afterwards. She was quite shy and explained that it was her first Pride, but she may do the same next year. So look out for her.

When we reached Preston Park we met the Mayor of Brighton (& Hove, actually). I look a bit like a Teletubby in the picture. He gave us badges that said ‘I’ve met the Mayor of Brighton & Hove,’ so I gave him a #WeWillGather badge and told him all about the new site I had the idea for, wewillgather.co.uk.

He explained he has spent 40 years working in the voluntary sector, is a big person in the Green Party and has worked hard on behalf of Shelter amongst many other things. I was very impressed and look forward to talking to him further. Brighton & Hove are lucky.

Pride was a fantastic experience and I hope everybody had as good a time as I did. Thanks to the council for letting us walk with them, to Barefoot Wines who had the best freebies and allowed me to distribute some to the crowds along the way, and to VisitEngland for organising everything including a lovely dinner before our return, and to VisitBrighton for facilitating.

Sophie Collard on Google+

The First Virgin Conspiracy

I love a good conspiracy. I also love making them up, so forgive me this one. The First Virgin Conspiracy. Having taken the train up to (for the most part) sunny Lancashire this week with Visit England, those of us with strong stomachs (Pendolinos are a bit like fast boats at times) were feeling pretty pro-Virgin trains. Here’s a photo of wonderful PR Nora Maki to show our enthusiasm:

When we got off the train we saw much of Lancashire with its exceedingly green green grass (and, in this case, tiny ducks):

So arriving at the breakfast table at Mytton Hall on day two and being confronted with the news Virgin Trains was to be no more was really quite shocking.

Why would the man who made trains sexy be banished from our railways?

Is First Great Western sexy? No, no it is not. Will First West Coast be sexy? Unlikely.

Virgin trains were the first to have radio that you could plug your headphones into like you can on a plane. They brought us those lovely slimline Pendolinos. And, most importantly, Virgin has money. FirstGroup has no money.  So what’s going on?

Well, after Virgin came to the table in ’97, the DfT felt they’d been ‘robbed’ of millions of pounds and said in response, ‘mark our words you won’t see the end of this.’

And Richard Branson said in response to FirstGroup winning the West Coast route – ‘mark my words, prices will rise.’

So there’s been a feud between the two from the beginning.

Perhaps the Government are going to attempt to let FirstGroup take over all the lines, before neatly buying them all back to take the UK back to a non-privatised way of train travelling. But I have absolutely no idea where they think the money for that is going to come from.

You could compare it to Bristol City Council shutting Ashton Court Festival down because they didn’t control it and people preferred it to the council-run Balloon Fiesta. Or you could call me a liar.

Sophie Collard on Google+