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Little and lovely - LINGER IN LUXEMBOURG!


I knew Luxembourg was small, but it wasn’t until I looked at the map of Benelux that I realised just how little it is. Up against the Netherlands and Belgium, pretty modest-sized countries themselves, it looked positively tiny.

Nowhere in Luxembourg is more than one hour away at most, one of the locals told me. This was something I was going to dispute throughout our travels around the Grand Duchy. Many of the roads are so full of bends and wind through such scenic country that you just have to slow down to look or get out to explore. Thus even short distances seem to take forever.

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BRUM ROAMIN’


Ever-changing Birmingham may roll with the times at astonishing speed, but it has plenty of intriguing windows to the past

Birmingham’s a curious city to behold. It’s a bit like a kaleidoscope, constantly changing. At first glance, it’s a sea of cranes, building sites, factories and some ugly 1960s/70s concrete monstrosities. But a few twists and turns here and there show grand Victorian buildings, among them the neo-classical Town Hall – now an acclaimed concert venue – and the Grade II* listed landmark that is Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery. Then there’s the stunning modern architecture such as Selfridges’ façade of 16,000 silver discs, the International Convention Centre and the Library of Birmingham, said to be Europe's largest public library. The Mailbox still appears, at least from the outside, like Europe’s largest sorting office. It was built to withstand a nuclear bomb, but now it’s a posh and pristine mall of designer shops and eateries. All this is set amid a rich pattern of well-used canals and thriving quarters, each with a unique industrial history, as befitting a place once known as ‘the workshop of the world’ and ‘the city of 1000 trades’.

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IT’S ALL WIGHT!


Soon after we land on the Isle of Wight, we meet Dean, who works at the zoo in Sandown. “Just arrived?” he beams. He’s a terrific ambassador for the island. “People think that this is a small island, but the amount of history and things to do is incredible. Their jaws drop when they discover this!” he enthuses.

Dean’s words are very reassuring because I’ve had a bit of a pang on the ferry over from Portsmouth, heading across the Solent instead of in our ‘usual’ direction of France. But we’ve not come just for the island’s tourist attractions – ‘though our teenage daughter Sophie would like to think otherwise. I have rather romantic visions of walking cliff paths at sunset, wandering across windswept downs and along olde-worlde streets of thatched cottages. I also want to see if the view from Queen Victoria’s family home at Osborne House really is as reminiscent of the Bay of Naples as Prince Albert proclaimed.

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MY KIND OF MANN


Getting around the Isle of Man is such fun! We jump aboard one of the ancient clacketty trams of the Manx Electric Railway for one of the most delightful – and shaky – rides of our lives. Our destination is Snaefell, 2,036ft (620 metres) above sea level and the highest point on the island. We switch at Laxey for the mountain railway, slowing down to photograph the Great Laxey Wheel, probably the most iconic image of Mann. As we climb higher, the conductor points out south east Scotland, the Solway Firth and part of Anglesey. On a clearer day we’d be able to see the Mountains of Mourne.

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