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Twelve blogs of Christmas

Foreign Office Consular , London
Posted 17 December 2010 by Twelve blogs | Comments

Julian Braithwaite, Director Consular Services

We’ve now come to the end of our 12 days of Christmas blogs.

Julian Braithwaite, Directo Consular Services
Julian Braithwaite

We hope you’ve enjoyed reading about some of the work we do to support British nationals abroad and gained some insight into what it’s like to spend Christmas away from the UK. If there was anything you particularly liked or any of your own experiences you’d like to share, you can post a reply to any of the blogs – like letters to Father Christmas, they will all be read!

Our staff around the world can help you over the festive season, but do read through the blogs as you’ll be able to pick up a few tips on how to enjoy a trouble free stay and avoid any unwanted visits to one of our consulates.

Also tune in to BBC Radio 4’s Excess Baggage programme at 10:00am this Saturday (18 December) where I’ll be talking about our consular services and the work of our staff around the world during the Christmas period. 

Wishing you a safe and enjoyable festive season wherever you are!

 



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17 December 2010
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Posted 16 December 2010 by Twelve blogs | Comments

 Richard Wood, Consul General, Cape Town

Think of a Southern Hemisphere Christmas and chances are you’ll think of a barbie on the beach at Bondi. But close to half a million Brits a year are choosing Cape Town as a long haul destination. And who can blame them? Half the distance of Sydney and only two hours ahead of the UK (no jet-lag!), some of the world’s most spectacular scenery, vineyards on the doorstep and an equally fanatical barbecue culture (though here it’s called a braai).

Richard Wood, Consul General, Cape Town 

Richard Wood

South Africa saw a surge in publicity around this year’s highly colourful and well-organised World Cup.  The vuvuzelas may have been irritating on TV, but they undoubtedly added an African note to the World’s Greatest Tournament. Even on TV, it must have been obvious that those who made the trip enjoyed an amazingly warm welcome from a nation keen to display its natural assets to the world.
For this Consulate, there was not one serious crime-related incident to deal with during the World Cup, despite an influx of 25,000 or so England football fans. The bulk of our visitors have nothing more serious to report than a lost passport, some red-facedly admitting to leaving them on the beach while swimming or mislaying them on a more raucous than expected visit to Cape Town’s lively bars and clubs.  We’ll be happy to give you an Emergency Travel Document if you do lose your passport – but it will save a lot of hassle (and close to £100) if you avoid losing it by keeping  it in your hotel safe and only carrying a copy for ID.

Cape Town 

But that’s not to say that things can’t go wrong for visitors here over the Christmas holidays. The dangers range from bad driving and bag snatching to car-hijacking . It is a good idea to remember that the majority of South Africans are not well off and that visible valuables represent a temptation to some individuals and a definite target for organised gangs.

Be aware of what’s going on around you, and if you are driving, watch for people loitering when you walk to or from your car and be vigilant at traffic lights at night. Also, because of the rate of violent crime in the poverty stricken townships, if you really want to see them, you should only do so with a reputable local guide in a group.

Armed with some basic information and taking sensible precautions, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t come here and be one of the vast majority of Brits who visit Cape Town and take home only happy memories. I reckon you’d be hard pressed to spend a better Christmas than on a Cape Town beach overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, while eating braaied turkey and sipping some South African bubbly.  


Look at our travel advice for South Africa



Twelve blogs
16 December 2010
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Posted 15 December 2010 by Twelve blogs | Comments

Dawn Naughton, Consul, Cairo

If you are holidaying in Egypt at Christmas time, chances are you’re looking for something a bit less traditional than mistletoe and wine!  Whether you will be finding sun and sea on the Red Sea Coast, or enjoying the wonders of Egypt’s fantastic Pharoanic sites around Luxor and Aswan, you probably aren’t here for a full roast turkey dinner.

Dawn Naughton, Consul, Cairo
Dawn Naughton

Nonetheless, many of our visitors will be amazed at how much effort the hotels and cruise ships will put into celebrating a holiday that is not their own. Most Hotels catering for foreign tourists will have Christmas trees and decorations to make everyone feel at home and many of the tour companies will be working a festive theme into the activities they offer. You may even get that full roast turkey dinner! It makes it even more difficult to remember when emerging from the comfort of an all inclusive resort that for the rest of Egypt, Christmas is something celebrated by very few and the society and culture around you requires a little bit of an adjustment.   

Many of us like to drink and eat too much at Christmas. Whilst we consider this to be part of the tradition, others may not see it in the same light. Egypt is a predominantly Muslim country and loud spirit fuelled merriment is not commonly seen on the streets. So if you don’t want to spend the remainder of your Christmas holiday sobering up with the local police for company keep your spirits under control.

Another alcohol fuelled issue we come across is the occasionally eventful combination of medication and drinks. Often the alcohol served at all inclusive resorts is more potent than that served at your local pub and we’ve seen on a too frequent basis the results (bar fights, wrecked rooms, hospitalisations etc) produced by the combination of strong alcohol and medications. If you’re on medication please seek your doctor’s advice on drinking with your prescription.

On a more sober note, living on the streets or waking up in hospital, are never a good ways to spend your holiday and at Christmas it must seem even more distressing.  It’s well known that Christmas can be the most depressing time of year for the more vulnerable members of society. Many therefore travel abroad to avoid the festive period. However, we see many cases of people on anti-depressant medication abandoning their prescriptions when holidaying in Egypt. Swapping the wet, grey December skies of Shrewsbury for the sunny warmth of Sharm el Sheikh may make some feel better in the short term but it does not cure bi-polar depression. 

 Pyramid

My team often receive calls from concerned relatives, tour representatives, hospitals and police reporting British Nationals in a distressed state, sleeping rough, behaving erratically or violently. All too often, upon meeting the person we find out that the problem is a direct result of the distressed Brit neglecting to take their prescribed medication rather than anything more sinister. As they say here, welcome in Egypt, but remember to keep taking the pills.


Look at our travel advice for Egypt.




Twelve blogs
15 December 2010
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Posted 14 December 2010 by Twelve blogs | Comments

Simon Ferrand, Consul, India

Office banter right now is about who is going back to Blighty to celebrate with the family. Back at the house my kids are busying themselves drawing up ever growing wish lists for Santa but, outside, you have to look hard to know Christmas is just round the corner. Occasionally you get a clue, be it Santa on an elephant on his way to a party or a small shop bursting at the seams with all the decorations an entrepreneur has just shipped in.

Simon Ferrand, Consul, India
Simon Ferrand

In India, Christmas simply doesn’t have the same feel as it does back home. There are no jazzed up renditions of traditional songs being piped through shopping malls, no lights to switch on in our equivalent of Regent Street. Basically, Christmas is not as important in India as there are numerous other religious festivals which take place throughout the year in this vibrant and extremely diverse country. Not so long ago we celebrated Diwali, the festival of lights. The night was lit up by fireworks and the smoke took two days to clear. Eid was a much quieter, family affair but, by the time we get to Christmas the Delhi streets will be bare.

In a country as vast as Western Europe, December can mean snow for those in the north along the foot of the majestic Himalayas. A mere jumper will suffice if you’re in the mild climbs of the east and swimsuits are de rigueur if you’re anywhere along the southern coast. With so much choice it’s no surprise that over 150,000 Brits come to India at this time of the year. Some to be with their extended families, some for the sundrenched beaches and others to discover the country's rich and varied history.

Santa Claus on an elephantAs in any country, just like back at home, things go wrong and India is no exception. Last Christmas, consular staff looked after the needs of over 200 British nationals who had come here on holiday. Most cases are straightforward; a lost passport or a stolen wallet. Hand me a photocopy of your passport and you’ll be on your way in a relatively short period of time. Use my phone, I’ll give you your bank’s number to cancel your cards and your sanity will be restored in a jiffy. For other problems it’s not quite so easy.

As with any festive period we sometimes do things we later regret. Last Christmas seven Brits got themselves arrested and 18 others landed up in hospital. Many of these cases could have been avoided had some of these people just been better prepared. So, if I was to have my Christmas wish, all I ask is that you all read our Travel Advice before you set off for a smashing time!

Look at our travel advice for India.




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14 December 2010
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Posted 13 December 2010 by Twelve blogs | Comments

Giles Paxman, Ambassador to Spain.

Spain will be a popular destination again this Christmas for many Britons - almost 600,000 visited Spain last December.  Many will be here to visit friends and family or just experience a Spanish-style Christmas.

Christmas and New Year celebrations here aren’t quite the same as they are in the UK. 

 

 Giles Paxman

Instead of a big Christmas day lunch of turkey and Christmas pudding, for many Spaniards, the time when family and friends come together is the evening of Christmas Eve or Noche Buena.  Festive Spanish delicacies include turrón (a type of nougat), marzipan, and polvorones (small cakes made of shortbread).

On New Year’s Eve or Noche Vieja, it is a tradition here to have 12 grapes at the ready for the midnight chimes.  You then eat one grape for each chime - not as easy as it sounds!

Many Spanish children (if they have behaved themselves throughout the year!) will wait anxiously until the 6th of January to receive their presents, which are delivered not by Father Christmas but by the Three Wise Men, or Los Tres Reyes Magos.  If you are in Spain for the 6th January, be sure to catch the local Three Wise Men processions or cabalgatas.

Despite the freezing temperatures in Spain last Christmas, I am sure the majority of Britons who were here had a great time. However, unfortunately, our Consulates had to help over 400 people who found themselves in difficulty.  In many cases this could have been avoided with some simple preparations. 

We see so many problems caused by people not having bought travel insurance.   Travel insurance these days can be quickly bought online for the cost of a glass (or two) of mulled wine and can cover unexpected costs such as having your luggage stolen or missing your flight home.  Without insurance,  a small upset can ruin the holiday and you could start the New Year saving to pay the bills.

Similarly, people don’t realise that you need to have a European Health Insurance Card to entitle you to any emergency health care you may need when in Spain.  It’s easy to apply for and completely free, just follow the link. 

If you do plan to visit Spain this Christmas, or if you already live here, I hope you have an enjoyable and safe festive period.
Feliz Navidad y Prospero Año Nuevo.

 

Look at our travel advice for Spain.

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13 December 2010
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Posted 10 December 2010 by Twelve blogs | Comments

Today, we’re launching our Winter Sports and Ski Safety campaign in Val d’Isère. We in the British Consulate in Lyon are working with the local authorities, tour operators and Lyon St Exupéry airport to keep skiers and snowboarders safe and enjoying their holidays this winter.


Our Consular team in Lyon, Chantal, Jeanie, Nicola.

From the moment the final school bell rings on the last day of term before Christmas, and until around Easter time, some 700,000 of you will be heading for an alpine holiday, leaving hard work, dismal skies and budget restrictions behind you for a while.

This is the beginning of our busiest time at the British Consulate, Lyon. Although less than 1% of you will get into some sort of trouble and ask for help, this is still a lot of people. Problems range from lost passports (of which there are an inordinate amount), arrests, hospitalisations and fatal accidents.

Winter holidays in the Alps are all about sunshine on snow, log fires, sleigh rides and Father Christmas and lots of nice food and wine, with some pretty strenuous exercise on the slopes in between.

But one of the sadder aspects of our job in the Consulate is helping the families of people who die on skiing holidays.  Not everyone gets themselves up to an adequate level of fitness for all that strenuous activity, and last year we dealt with several deaths from heart attacks on the slopes.

We’ve also had to help in cases that aren’t fatal but still destroy people’s holidays.  For example, on the slopes there’s a highway code just as there is on the roads.  We’ve seen cases where people have not only been hurt themselves but also been held responsible for someone else’s injuries, and there is still an ongoing court case against a Brit for allegedly refusing a right of way on the slopes.  We often have to assist someone who’s been hurt because they’ve ignored warnings on weather conditions or avalanche threats.  We also regularly get involved in cases where people have not realised that their travel insurance won’t cover them off piste; so if they’ve skied off piste, especially without a trained guide or instructor, or even just lost control and ended up off piste, they’ve found themselves saddled with bills of several thousand pounds that their insurance won’t help with.

We have to help out when around a dozen people each winter get hurt or arrested because they’ve been lunching or letting down their hair après-ski and haven’t taken account of the fact that alcohol affects you more quickly at altitude: your reactions are slower, you don’t feel the cold, you may take more risks. 

Losing valuables or a passport on the slopes can ruin people’s holidays – we always advise people to put them in a secure place like an hotel safe. For items that may be mislaid or stolen, we suggest that people make sure they have all receipts available even for items they have brought with them from home.  Due to high incidences of insurance fraud, the police have several times refused to take statements of theft if ownership of stolen property cannot be proven.

Winter sports in the Alps are absolutely fabulous, and most people have a wonderful time.  I hope any of you reading this who are planning to come skiing or snowboarding will have a great time, with nothing to spoil your holiday.  When you raise your glass of vin chaud at the traditional Christmas Eve vigil, waiting for the presents to arrive at midnight, give us a fleeting thought and hope we don’t meet soon!

Wishing you a Happy Christmas and a prosperous and trouble free year 2011.

 

Look at our travel advice for France.



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10 December 2010
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Posted 09 December 2010 by Twelve blogs | Comments

Rob Noble, Vice Consul, Sydney

Summer has finally arrived in Australia, and Christmas isn’t far behind!

Although this will be my seventh Christmas here, I still can’t get used to celebrating in the mid-summer heat, on the beach or at a backyard BBQ; or the shop windows full of tinsel and fairy lights, glinting in the summer sun.  It just doesn’t seem right somehow.  But being an expat Pom myself, I can well understand the attractions for the hundreds of thousands of Brits who visit Australia at this time of year.


Rob

Just as most people here are beginning to wind down before the holidays, our Consular teams around the country are preparing for another busy summer season (from December to March).  Over 660,000 Brits visit Australia each year, and most visits are trouble-free.  And over one million Brits already call Australia their home - the biggest overseas Brit resident community outside the UK!  Both visitors and expats sometimes need our help, whether down to bad luck or bad planning (or a bit of both).  Two of the most common problems for visitors here – lost/stolen passports, and getting into trouble in the surf – are easily avoided.  Did you know that Brits are more likely to have their passport lost or stolen in Australia than anywhere else?  Common locations include pubs, clubs, hostels, at the beach on Christmas Day, or while out watching the New Year’s Eve fireworks.  Proof of age cards are available, at little cost, from the Australian authorities.  Get one soon after you arrive and you won’t need to carry your passport around with you – reducing the risk of it being lost or stolen, and avoiding the hassle and cost of replacing it.

Australia is well known for its dangerous marine wildlife – sharks, crocodiles, poisonous fish and jellyfish – but unless you’re very unlucky, the closest you’ll get to any of these is at a zoo or aquarium.  You have far more chance of getting stuck in a rip current, the main hazard for all beach users.  Most Aussies learn about these at an early age, so they know what to look for.  Foreign visitors are at far greater risk.  Rips can occur at any beach, and can sweep even the strongest swimmer out to sea.  Ironically, if you see a calm area of water with little surf and no-one near it, there’s probably a good reason it’s empty: those are classic signs of a rip current.

Of the 15,000 beach rescues and up to 120 drownings a year in Australia, Brits account for 600 rescues and four drownings – more than any other foreign nationality.  We’re working with Surf Life Saving Australia to promote their surf safety top tips: always swim between the red and yellow flags; don’t swim at unsupervised locations; and always swim with a friend, never alone.  By all means wear a Santa hat and have a few beers at the beach on Christmas Day, but don’t swim after consuming alcohol or drugs.

We’ve also been planning for the England Cricket Tour of Australia, which began in November and ends in February.  Unfortunately, we seeing fewer England fans here this year compared to the last Ashes Tour in 2006/07, which is a shame as it looks like we’re getting a completely different result this time! 

 

We’ve been working closely with the Barmy Army and local authorities to ensure that the Tour goes as smoothly as possible.  We’ve put together some travel advice tips so fans don’t get caught out (pardon the pun!) while they’re here.  And we’re sending regular updates on England’s progress on our Twitter channel.

You won’t find a better place to visit at Christmas than Australia.  If you’re coming, have a fantastic – and safe – holiday.

Look at our travel advice for Australia.



Twelve blogs
09 December 2010
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Posted 08 December 2010 by Twelve blogs | Comments

William Robinson, Consul, Nairobi

In Kenya Christmas is synonymous with the family, giving to the needy and spending time in spiritual reflection. Kenya is a staggeringly beautiful country and as Christmas approaches, most visitors meet up with family and head for the world-renowned game parks and the warm, white sands of the Indian Ocean. Hitting the beach and the game parks after a hard year’s work normally results in some good memories, some sand in the suitcase and a trip to the camera repair shop to get the dust out from inside the camera.


William Robinson

For the vast majority of visitors, Christmas will be the fulfilment of a trip of a life time, with the endless opportunities to swim with dolphins, climb mountains and stare into the eyes of some of the worlds largest land mammals. However do remain alert as sadly, Christmas also coincides with a spike in crimes such as car jacking and muggings.

Be careful if you venture out to sea as it is not all calm waters. Piracy remains a significant threat in the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean and has occurred as far as 1000 nautical miles from the coast of Somalia. Sadly, sailing vessels are particularly vulnerable to attack due to their low speed. The Chandlers have finally left Kenya to be with their family after 388 days in captivity inside Somalia.  For them, the opportunity to spend Christmas in freedom will be extra special this year.

But being held by pirates is not the only form of captivity we have had to deal with this year. Forced marriage is also incredibly traumatic and the impact can last a lifetime - we are there to try and help victims back to a normal life.

With around 165,000 Britons visiting each year and an estimated 20,000 calling Kenya home, there are bound to be some who seek a dream, but fall on hard times. We are here to help and often people are surprised about what we can do (paying a visit to you in hospital or issuing Emergency Travel Documents are some examples) – others are shocked about what we cannot do (we can’t buy tickets for you or help investigate crimes).  Spending time in hospital or losing your passport is distressing enough but with the right support it can be more manageable. I often deal with people who are going through difficult experiences and I am always impressed by the way families can pull together and step up to help get us back on our feet.

Lastly, if you're heading to Kenya this Christmas you will find a warm hearted and welcoming country and with any luck it will all go well. But should it not, just remember we are here to help.

 

Look at our travel advice for Kenya.

 




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08 December 2010
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Posted 07 December 2010 by Twelve blogs | Comments

Caroline Vaudrey – Vice Consul Bangkok

Party time is approaching!  Although the majority of population in Thailand is Buddhist, many Thai people take part enthusiastically in Christmas celebrations. Travellers often combine the festive season with the famous Full Moon Party, which brings tens of thousands of happy people each month to the small island of Koh Phangan in southern Thailand.  People gather on the narrow beach enjoying drinks from beachfront bars. Generally speaking, most visitors to Thailand have wonderful, hassle- free holidays, and Christmas is the perfect time to visit, with a cooling North East breeze and lower humidity.

Caroline Vaudrey


But the Full Moon Party is different from your average Christmas do. Dave, our Honorary Consul based nearby, took me to a Full Moon Party when I first came to Thailand, and it was loads of fun. People dancing barefoot, daubed in florescent paint, happily tipsy, the fire jugglers and swimmers in the gently rolling surf. Sounds like heaven doesn’t it? But there is another side – the  injuries from broken bottles or needles in the sand, cash and passports lost on the beach, nasty burns from the flaming skipping rope, the very real risk of drowning after falling asleep on the beach and the late night boat accidents out at sea.
 
I’d like to think of myself as a positive person, but I always worry about the awful situations that people will find themselves in. After each Full Moon party, Dave visits the local police stations, clinics and hospitals to look for British travellers in need of help.
 
Full Moon Party, Thailand.

Every month, we find people who’ve had a nasty injury but can’t get the medical help they need because they can’t afford treatment and have no insurance. And there are others who have been arrested and detained on drugs charges – the Thai authorities treat drug offences very seriously - some of our detainees are serving sentences of fifty years or more.

And then there are the other island activities. The winding roads on the beautiful wooded hillsides of Koh Phangan are easily travelled on a rented motorcycle.  But what I think of are the conversations with anxious people who’ve paid costs running into hundreds of pounds for “damage” when they return a hired bike or jet ski. I also remember speaking to the families of those who’ve died in tragic motorbike accidents on these roads and their profound grief and loss.
 
People will always need a bit of help from time to time when travelling in a foreign country, but the number of serious and tragic cases would be far lower if people took a little more time over holiday preparation; such as that top seasonal purchase – insurance. Remember your insurance won't cover you if you are involved in anything illegal, don’t wear a helmet on your motorbike or drive while drunk. And hospital bills can be tens of thousands of pounds.


I hope that everyone travelling in Thailand this Christmas will have a wonderful, safe and enjoyable trip. But if you do find yourself in trouble, you know that we’ll do all that we can to help.

 
Look at our travel advice for Thailand.



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07 December 2010
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Posted 06 December 2010 by Twelve blogs | Comments
Julie Morl, Vice Consul New York

Christmas is always a very exciting time and here in New York the crisp cold air and skating in Central Park make it that more magical. It’s then off to The Plaza and depending on your preference, it could be a glass of mulled wine at the Oak Bar or afternoon tea in the Palm Court listening to melodious songs from the piano. From here it would be a wonderful walk down Fifth Avenue past Tiffany’s and Cartier to Saks to see their fantastic light show and window display, then across the road to Rockefeller  Plaza to see the most beautiful Christmas tree (the tree is recycled in the New Year, the wood is used to build homes for the homeless). Continuing down Fifth Avenue to Lord and Taylor for another great window display and then to the Empire State Building which is open until 2am for some wonderful views of the city. A walk down 34th Street (it’s a miracle to have made it!) to the final destination of Macy’s and to the most festive of windows.

 

Our Consular team in New York (Julie Morl, centre)

For this Consular section, the festive season brings many challenges. The start of Christmas begins for us in late November with Thanksgiving and the Macy’s parade. This is when we see an increase in British visitors who are here to do their Christmas shopping. Unfortunately this is also when the pickpockets and bag snatchers are also busy and as ID is required to cash travellers cheques and to get into bars, this usually means passports are often stolen too. Luckily we can normally help with issuing an Emergency Travel Document, which can help them get where they need to go. Obviously this service costs money, add to this other costs such as having to delay a flight and stay an extra couple of nights in a hotel that £50 for travel insurance is actually a bargain.



The week before Christmas is when our next wave of customers contacts us for help and these are the British nationals who are either here on work visas or are permanent residents and want to travel to be with their families for the holidays. They have booked their tickets way in advance but unfortunately have not checked their passports and when they do, they realise it has either expired or they cannot find it. So not only are we extremely busy with our tourists, we then have the added pressure of the emotional ‘you have to help me, it’s Christmas and I want to spend it with my family!’ pleas. We can and do help where it is possible but sometimes there is just nothing we can do when someone comes to us with a passport that expired in 1976!

We almost feel we miss some of the festiveness of the season but love that we are able to help and get great satisfaction from knowing that we made it possible.

The few days after Christmas are normally quiet and this is when we are able to catch up with the paperwork and get ready for that first working day after New Years Eve!! 



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06 December 2010
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Posted 03 December 2010 by Twelve blogs | Comments

James McCamley, Consular Assistant, Nicosia

On my desk there’s a Christmas card from a friend in the UK. It’s very traditional – snow, robins, holly, you know the kind of thing. It seems a bit odd looking at that while the sun shines outside, the sky is blue and I even went swimming in the sea this weekend (ok, the water was cold – but no colder than Brighton in June).


James McCamley


However, while the backdrop may look wrong to British eyes there is no shortage of Christmas tradition or Christmas lights in Cyprus.  Many people enjoy a ride on the big wheel, all lit up for the season, at the Christmas Fair in Nicosia.  Good food is even more a part of a Cyprus Christmas than at home and Cypriots prepare by fasting for 40 days beforehand. Christmas is still a very religious event here, and on Christmas Eve people will be heading to midnight services to sing their kalanda or carols. Epiphany is a much bigger deal here than in the UK and is a public holiday while, according to the Orthodox tradition, presents are not associated with 25th December but are delivered by Saint Vassilis on the 1st January.

While many people are winding down for Christmas, I’m as busy as ever – in fact, apart from the summer, this is one of my busiest times of year (though, with 1.2 million Brits visiting Cyprus every year, everyday is busy). Obviously the vast majority of holidaymakers have great fun and no trouble but we dealt with about 1,200 British nationals in distress and in need of our help in Cyprus last year - and that included 130 in December 2009.  Sadly six of these cases involved hospitalisations and not all of those people were insured. “Make sure you’re insured” must be the most frequently repeated message from our consular teams around the world. In Cyprus there’s an added twist. The island is divided and this means that insurance is more complicated. To put it in seasonal terms:

Away in a manger
Before you set forth
That EHIC you're carrying
Won’t work in the north

If you’re going to be in the north of Cyprus, make sure you have travel insurance – your EHIC is not valid there (it’s worth remembering that even where the EHIC is recognised, it will not cover the cost of repatriation – so you should still take out travel insurance).

What else do we have to deal with? The good weather means we have many of the same issues as in the summer – not least of which is people using quad bikes without insurance or crash helmets.

One of my sadder jobs – particularly at this time of year – is visiting Brits in prison. This year there’ll be 14 British nationals spending Christmas Day in a Cyprus Prison. You may be surprised to know that one of the main offences we deal with is the handling of forged Euros. The Cypriot authorities take a very dim view of this and jail sentences can be up to 18 months. So make sure that you get your money from reputable exchange bureaux or cash points.

God rest ye merry Gentlemen
Let nothing you dismay
Unless you got those Euros from
“Some bloke I met called Ray”

In the time it’s taken me to write this blog I’ve answered three phone calls and received 10 emails. It’s not going to be a white Christmas but it certainly looks as if it’s going to be a busy one.  

Look at our travel advice for Cyprus.



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03 December 2010
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Posted 02 December 2010 by Twelve blogs | Comments

Fabiola Aguilar, Pro Consul, Lima.

Christmas is around the corner and so is New Year.  The streets in Peru are starting to look glittery and the adverts about New Year’s Eve parties will soon fill all newspapers and bars.


Fabiola Aguilar, Pro Consul, Lima.

In Peru, Christmas is a fairly quiet, family-oriented celebration. Although it falls at the very start of summer, the tradition is to have a very hearty meal on Christmas Eve which typically includes hot drinking chocolate and panetón, a traditional Christmas cake decorated with snowmen and santas.  New Year’s Eve tends to be wilder affair with lots of partying, drinking and staying out late.  

Around 69,000 British tourists travel to Peru every year, and although most of the visits are trouble-free, we face drug-related arrests and loss of passports regularly.  December is no exception.  With the highest rates of crime in the country due to the holidays, a higher frequency of internal travel and the recent touristy New Year parties in the Plaza de Armas (main square) of Cusco, Machu Picchu town and Mancora beach in the north of Peru, it would be wise to get some advice before you come.

Cusco parties generally end well, however we have seen British nationals who after partying all night, have decided to see in the New Year by jumping into a river for a swim. Unfortunately this has resulted in death – not a great way to start the year. During holidays, accepting rides or drinks from strangers in Cusco has sometimes ended in a drug-assisted rape. New Year parties in Mancora are trouble-free, but it’s quickly becoming a summer hotspot for tourists so just be aware and avoid isolated places.  
 
In Lima public offices are closed for the holidays in December, but officers on duty still arrest foreign nationals at the airport trying to smuggle drugs out of Peru, even if they have swallowed the capsules!  So we would advise you to think twice if you have been offered “a good deal” to spend your holidays in Peru!  A prison in Peru is really not a place where you would want to spend Christmas or New Year. 

There are 40 British nationals imprisoned in this country at the moment, most of them facing long-term sentences for trying to traffic drugs out of Peru.  We are advised quickly by the police as soon as they are arrested and visit them the next day.  Prison conditions in Peru are not of the same standard as in the UK or Europe and this can be shocking for new detainees. Facing Christmas in a cell away from family and friends, a long way from home and unable to speak Spanish can be very hard.  If you don't believe us, take a look at the video below.

On a final note, passports are regularly stolen in Peru, especially on buses and coaches. Keep your passport in a zipped pocket while on the bus – not in your rucksack. If possible, when you’re out and about it’s best to keep a copy of your passport on you and leave the original in your hotel safe.


 

 

Look at our travel advice for Peru

Fabiola Aguilar, Pro Consul, British Embassy , Peru

 




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02 December 2010
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Posted 01 December 2010 by Twelve blogs | Comments

Laura Hakala, Vice Consul, Helsinki

Every winter, as many as 200,000 Brits travel to Finland’s Lapland to meet Santa Claus, go skiing, snowmobiling, ride reindeer pulled sleighs or experience a husky safari. Santa’s village is located on the Arctic Circle, north of which the sun can be seen even at midnight during the summertime.


Laura Hakala

 

During the winter, however, the sun stays below the horizon for most of the time and in midwinter, or the twilight period, light is provided by the moon and stars as well as the magical Northern Lights and a clean, bright cover of glistening snow. Santa’s village is particularly popular amongst families, who can visit Santa’s main post office, the Christmas exhibition and Santa’s Ice Park as well as taking part in other wintery activities.

Northern Lights

Lapland’s pure and clean snow cover provides a magnificent setting for all kinds of activities and adventures; those who visit Lapland say that more memorable adventures are hard to find. Most of these adventures pass off without incident, but things do sometimes go wrong. The most serious accidents, in addition to skiing injuries, happen on snow mobile safaris. Snow mobiles have powerful engines and can travel at over 100km an hour – and without a seatbelt on difficult terrain many Brits have lost their lives. The competitiveness of groups of younger men in particular can have catastrophic consequences.

Another thing to remember when visiting Lapland is the quickly changing temperature; the weather can be fairly mild one day, but plummet to minus 35°C (minus 31°F) the next. It is important to check the temperature every morning and to dress accordingly. In fact this is a national pastime and if you spend any length of time in Finland, you will notice that Finns are obsessed with the temperature and thermometers are everywhere: outside every home, on billboards, shops…  It is easy to see why this is so – it is not uncommon for tourists to return from reindeer and husky safaris with severe frostbite and even hypothermia. So do dress warm, wear several layers of thermal clothing and plan your activities carefully – if the day is particularly cold, it may be a good idea to postpone your trip into the wilderness.

Down south in the consular section in Helsinki, we also deal with dozens of Brits every winter who intend to get married in Lapland. Kakslauttanen near the Russian border, just over 200 kilometres north of the Arctic Circle, is a particularly popular destination for British couples. If you do want to get married in a snow chapel and spend your wedding night in a futuristic glass igloo, do remember to prepare well and have all the paperwork in order. Sometimes during the excitement of wedding preparations British couples forget that they must produce a “certificate of no impediment” when getting married in Finland. Please check our website for more information on how to obtain one.

On the whole, wintery Lapland is a wonderful place to visit. So come and visit Santa Claus, but wrap up well and do take care whilst you’re here!

Laura Hakala, Vice Consul, Helsinki

Look at our travel advice for Finland.



Twelve blogs
01 December 2010
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