Travel: A Swedish traveller who would not stop videoing the proceedings was shot for his troubles

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IF YOU run a tourist attraction, you know you've made it when Blue Peter makes a film about it. The BBC's children's magazine programme bestowed this accolade on one of the world's finest train rides, the Chihuahua al Pacifico, which runs from northern Mexico down to the Pacific Ocean through an utterly implausible sequence of tunnels, bridges and loops.

Marguerite Cullen has long been a fan (of the railway, though no doubt of Blue Peter as well) and keeps this column updated on developments.

The omens this autumn look bleak: "Helicopter flights are now passing the hotel, which obviously spoils the peace and quiet. The helicopter ride looked fantastic on Blue Peter, but obviously detracted from the atmosphere. The road to Divisadero (the mid-point, where trains pause for a spectacular view of the Copper Canyon) is now almost complete, enabling coachloads of tourists easy access to the now-enlarged hotel. Independent travellers are not so warmly welcomed."

You can say that again. Ms Cullen reports a rumour that the train had been held up, and all the passengers robbed at gunpoint. "A Swedish traveller, who would not stop videoing the proceedings, was shot for his troubles."

PERHAPS WISELY, Keith Miller of Edinburgh chose to book his wife and two children on a flight to Copenhagen rather than Mexico, using frequent- flyer points. "Subsequently, we had to cancel the flights." Mr Miller understands that he loses the points, but is concerned about the pounds 40 in Air Passenger Duty that he paid: "It does seem rather unfair to be charged travel tax when you haven't travelled."

It does, indeed. Who keeps the money, the tax collector or the airline? Either way, the system seems unfair.

DURING THE World Travel Market earlier this month, I asked Serbia's minister of tourism, Slobodan Celovic, about the morality of pushing the republic as a holiday destination.

A verbatim transcript of that discussion. I asked: "There are still European sanctions in force against Serbia. Is it really appropriate for you to come here to promote Serbia as a destination when the European Union feels there are problems yet to be resolved?"

Mr Celovic replied: "They are the reasons for promotion. The problems are maybe reasons to promote something. If there were not any problems, there wouldn't be any need to promote. I have to tell you something. Tourism is the fastest and most developing part of the economy, and probably the most profitable part of the economy. But at the same time, tourism puts people together, and tourism actually facilitates and makes people know other cultures, and tourism helps create opportunities for friendship amongst people."

YOU CAN insure most of the cost of a holiday against cancellation - but, says Eve Marles, make sure the policy covers you against having to give evidence in court: "I recently had to cancel a holiday at short notice when I was summoned to appear as a witness. I was relieved when, on checking my policy, I found that I was covered for this eventuality. I suggest that cover for being asked to appear as a witness or juror is pretty important."

THERE IS no insurance, however, against an inept telephone information line. "I know that National Tourist Offices are not what they used to be," writes SC Pearce of Maidstone, "but I had not realised how low they could sink until this afternoon when I rang the Belgian tourist office (or at least its Flemish component, which recently split from the French- speaking part) in search of brochures about Bruges and Ypres. "It was an 0891 number, so I was not surprised to be told that the charge would be 50p a minute. I then heard a discourse on the number being only for brochures; there were other numbers that I should ring if I had other needs. I held on for the first 50p worth while I was given a list of these other numbers. Then I was told that I was to hear a list of brochures and I was to say "Yes" whenever there was one I wanted. Otherwise I was to say nothing. Then followed a question `Are you a journalist or a travel agent?' Since the answer was `No', I remained silent, but it was assumed that the answer must have been `Yes' and another rigmarole started, so I hung up."