Tips and advice: The Tripologist

Saturday, September 22, 2018

I HOPE TO TRAVEL TO CUBA WITH A GROUP OF FRIENDS IN OCTOBER. OUR ITINERARY INCLUDES HAVANA, VINALES, CIENFUEGOS, TRINIDAD AND CAMAGUEY. IS THERE ANYWHERE WE COULD SEE LOTS OF FLAMINGOS WITHOUT SPENDING MANY HOURS DOING SO? WHAT WOULD BE AN ECONOMICAL ROUTE TO GET TO CUBA USING BETTER AIRLINES?
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H. BROWN, ENGADINE

Cuba has some 70,000 nesting Caribbean flamingos and countless chicks, the largest colony in the Western Hemisphere. The best place to see these majestic birds is the Rio Maximo Wildlife Reserve, a flamingo conservation and rehabilitation facility run by Cuban conservation biologists, located to the north of Camaguey Province. However it’s not particularly user-friendly, since access is difficult. Flamingos are quite often seen from the causeway out to Cayo Coco but this might not feature on your itinerary, and it would mean a long detour off the main route to Camaguey.

Contours Travel Managing Director Ted Dziadkiewicz advises Qantas or Air New Zealand to Los Angeles, then Mexicana Airlines to Mexico City and on to Havana. Another option with an excellent and highly reliable airline is LA to Panama City with Copa Airlines and on to Havana. He advises against Cuban airlines on grounds of reliability.

Melbourne-based Contours Travel (contourstravel苏州美甲美睫培训学校419论坛) is a Cuba specialist, and a great choice for anyone planning to visit this fascinating  but creaking Caribbean island.

WE ARE PLANNING A TRIP TO EUROPE OVER CHRISTMAS WITH OUR 6-YEAR-OLD DAUGHTER AND WOULD LIKE TO VISIT SOME CHRISTMAS MARKETS, POSSIBLY IN GERMANY. ANY SUGGESTIONS?

T. ARMITAGE, NEWCASTLE

Germany is ground zero for Christmas markets, and it is only fitting that Berlin has more than 50. Pick of the bunch is the Kaiser Wilhelm Gedächtniskirche Market, centred around the Gedächtniskirche, the Memorial Church, at one of the city’s main shopping arteries. As well as the hand-carved, cuddly and cute that are the staple Christmas market fare, Berlin brings its own edgy awareness to the business with contemporary works by designers and artists. Along with the essential mulled wine, sausages and sauerkraut, expect artworks and an eclectic selection of antique and contemporary jewellery.

The oldest Christmas market in Germany, Dresden’s Striezelmarkt, takes its name from the local striezel or stollen, the fruity cake-loaf that is Germany’s own Christmas cake. Among the goods for sale are pflaumentoffel, good-luck charms made from dried plums, representing the small boys once employed as chimney sweeps. Christmas pyramids, textiles, gingerbread, filigree lace products from Plauen, blown-glass tree decorations from Lauscha and candleholders from the Erzgebirge Mountains are among the goods for sale.

If you want something smaller, Mittenwald is a picturebook Bavarian alpine town, set against the soaring rock wave of Westl Karwendelspitze. Obermarkt, the main street, is lined with houses with folk-art scenes painted on their shuttered facades, along with wooden balconies and carved gables. Goethe called it “a picture book come alive,” and the Christmas market here is a beauty. At an elevation of around 1100 metres, Mittenwald is almost guaranteed a white Christmas. Access is easy since the town lies on the main train line between Munich and Innsbruck, with frequent services in both directions.

Whichever you choose, check dates carefully. While the Christmas markets in the cities are open for most of December, those such as Mittenwald might only operate for a few days.

I’M A 27-YEAR-OLD WOMAN WANTING TO TAKE ADVANTAGE OF CHEAP RETURN AIRFARES TO LA IN MAY. I’D LIKE TO JOIN A TOUR FROM LA UP THE WEST COAST, IDEALLY TO PORTLAND AND SEATTLE, AND ALSO TAKING IN YOSEMITE AND THE GRAND CANYON. I’M NOT THE PARTYING/DRINKING TYPE SO I HAVE RULED OUT CONTIKI. I’VE LOOKED AT G-ADVENTURES, GECKO AND INTREPID YET THE AFFORDABLE ONES – AROUND $1500 FOR 10 DAYS – ARE CAMPING, WHICH IS NOT MY STYLE. CAN YOU SUGGEST OTHER TOUR OPERATORS THAT ARE YOUNG ADULT-FRIENDLY, HAVE A MAX OF TWO PER ROOM, AREN’T ABOUT DRINKING AND ARE AFFORDABLE?

B. ISAACS, SYDNEY

A tour that takes in the natural wonders of the American West, from LA all the way to Seattle with motel accommodation and within budget is a tall order. One that might almost fit the bill is the 9-day Western Discovery tour from Travelbag (travelbag.co.uk). This starts in LA and includes the Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon, Las Vegas and Yosemite before finishing in San Francisco. Accommodation is in hotels, motels and inns and the price starts from $1650 . From San Francisco you could hop on  a bus to get to Portland and Seattle. Travelbag’s 7-day Western Trails tour starts from just $1100, but it starts and finishes in LA. Most of Travelbag’s tours of the American West include Las Vegas and this might not be your thing, however their itineraries can be customised so this might be a better option

CONVERSATION OVER TO YOU…

The question was “Hotel minibars are a trap for the unwary, the tired, the hungry and possibly the traveller with kids in their own hotel room. Ever been caught out, and what was the damage? “

M. Clarke writes “Yes. Four days into a two-week cruise, I decided to check my on-board account was surprised to see mini-bar charges listed.  My kids had had the mid-afternoon munchies and helped themselves to chocolates and chips from the mini-bar at $5.95 per item!”

“I have a particular weakness for Toblerone chocolate bars,” admits J. Wright. “When I spied one late at night at the minibar. I thought ‘Whacko!’. However it was light as a feather – a previous guest had neatly sliced open the end with a sharp knife and removed the contents. I wasn’t charged, but would happily have paid the rather stiff bill.”

From K. Davis, “I bought a can of Coke from a convenience store, drank it in my hotel room and tossed the can into the waste bin, then when I checked out the hotel had recorded that as a sale from the minibar! Outrageous! They reversed the charge when I explained and they did a count of the minibar, but they really should have checked that first.”

P. Millic writes “My experimentally-minded son discovered that a minibar with sensors can be fooled. If the drink cans are on their side, you can pop the top and allow the contents to dribble out into a glass below, without a sale being recorded. But as a morally-minded parent, I made him confess and we paid up.”

Next question: Incidents of air rage are on the rise, and it’s ugly. Ever been a witness, or just seen plain bad behaviour on a flight?

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