All aboard In the 1920s and 30s, a time when working-class families could only look forward to one or two day-trips a year for their holidays, the charabanc (right) was in its heyday. These usually open-topped vehicles were the forerunners of today's tourist coaches and while the name was in common use for more than a century - from the 19th-century French horse-drawn char-à-banc to 60s holiday buses - the early 20th-century versions gave shape to the familiar charabanc image. Looking more like oversized cars than buses, they could carry dozens of passengers (and several crates of ale) at relatively high speeds and were widely criticised as a menace to other road users, and derided as déclassé by the rich, who begrudged the masses their short breaks and works outings. Newspapers regularly carried reports of horrific accidents - usually at railway level crossings - from all over the world. Twenty-three Dutch pilgrims on their way to Lourdes in France were killed in 1923 when their charabanc fell into a mountain ravine, for example, and in 1928 a charabanc got lost in the desert between Beirut and Baghdad and 20 parched passengers were reportedly found dead on board. An original charabanc, a 14-seater Chevrolet model from the 20s, still operates on the remote island of St Helena in the South Atlantic, but other than that original models seem only to be found as novelty exhibits at English country fairs. For anyone interested in the history of these pioneering tourist vehicles, a book titled The Charabanc: The Early Days of Motorised Coach Travel will be published next month and is available for pre-order at amazon.co.uk .
Face value Ritz-Carlton has just announced it will open a hotel in Tianjin this summer. Like the Hotel Indigo Tianjin Haihe, which opened last year, the new hotel will be vaguely evocative of the city's pre-war, foreign-administered days, when all manner of faux-European architectural styles sprang up. The hotel was designed by the Tianjin Academy of Urban Planning and Design, and its facade is des-cribed by Ritz-Carlton as being in a "neo-classical style", which these days seems to mean anything old and Western, and anyone with even a passing knowledge of architecture will raise an eyebrow at the claim. The building shown in the official Ritz-Carlton rendering (above) would perhaps be better described as either French Town Hall, French Colonial or, more charitably, French Renaissance Revival. Nitpicking over, watch this space for opening dates.
Oriental opening Originally scheduled to be operational for the Asian Games in 2010, the Mandarin Oriental Guangzhou (left) has finally opened for business as part of Swire Properties' Taikoo Hui complex in the Tianhe district of the city. The 263-room hotel is offering a couple of opening deals, including a second-night-free package that includes a one-way airport or train station transfer and a two-hour shopping-butler service in Taikoo Hui. Rates start from 2,100 yuan (HK$2,590). Click on Offers at www.mandarinoriental.com/guangzhou  for details.
Voyaging with Vuitton A book featuring images of more than 800 old luggage labels collected by Gaston-Louis Vuitton, grandson of company founder Louis Vuitton, has been available in limited editions at Louis Vuitton stores since last year, but World Tour: Vintage Hotel Labels from the Collection of Gaston-Louis Vuitton (right) goes on general sale from March 5. From a time before hotels succumbed to the blandness of modern marketing, the labels date from the early to mid-20th century and, according the publisher's blurb, "evoke an era when travel was synonymous with an [sic] art of living". The 500-page book also contains 10 postcards and many old photographs, and focuses on 21 themes that "reflect the favourite destinations and pursuits of cosmopolitan travellers: seaside stays on the French Riviera, skiing in Chamonix or Zermatt, cultural tours of Athens or Mexico, beach vacations in Honolulu or Capri".
Deal of the week Westminster Travel is selling a two-night package to Naha, Okinawa, with two days' car hire from HK$3,290 per person, twin share. Flights can be with Cathay Pacific or Dragonair, and accommodation is at the Pacific Hotel, Okinawa. The English version of the hotel's website, www.pacifichotel.jp  seems to be unavailable but you can get an idea of the place at TripAdvisor. Vehicles on offer start with a Toyota Colt, or you can have a Toyota Delica people-carrier for a package price of HK$3,790. Other hotels are available, but if you're driving in Okinawa (below) for two days, the Pacific is perfectly adequate as a base. For full details and reservations, go to www.westminstertravel.com  and look for Okinawa Fly & Drive in the Japan packages section. This deal will be available until the end of next month, when the weather will be best.