Travel: Something To Declare

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The Independent Culture
Bargain of the week: Australia or New Zealand, pounds 999 return - including one way in business class.

Ten years ago, the first charter flights took off from Britain bound for Australia. The impact on travel was startling: for the first time, return fares of less than pounds 500 to the other side of the world were on offer.

Today, air travel is so cheap that apart from the Christmas peak, no one who calls a few discount agents need pay more than pounds 500 return for a scheduled flight to the main Australian cities. With a dozen airlines offering fast, comfortable services to the Antipodes, the carriers' problem is how to catch the traveller's eye. Malaysia Airlines has come up with the best deal of the year for anyone keen on comfort on the long haul: pounds 999 return, travelling one way in business class, the other in economy.

This offer applies until 15 June next year, apart from a "black-out" of a couple of weeks around Christmas. Choose Adelaide, Brisbane, Cairns, Darwin, Melbourne, Perth, Sydney, or Auckland, New Zealand. Open-jaw tickets, where you fly in to one city and back from another, are allowed, as are stopovers in Kuala Lumpur.

Malaysia Airlines normally charges a one-way business-class fare of pounds 1,499. (It follows that anyone wanting a cheap and comfortable one-way flight will save themselves pounds 500 by buying this special deal and throwing away the return half.) The choice of which direction to fly in business class is yours. There are two good reasons for taking the homeward journey in comfort: the flying time is a couple of hours longer, so there is more time to be indulged; and you will have the luxury to look forward to on the return trip.

The deal is not available from the airline direct. Book through Austravel (0171-734 7755) by 31 October.

Simon Calder

True or false: the French start the day with a breakfast of coffee, croissants and cigarettes?

True, according to the ever-enterprising restaurateurs of India, who target tourism with their consummate marketing skills.

Breakfast on the rooftop restaurant of the guest-house in Varanasi looked more like a religious offering than a mundane plate of food. The "muesli" was a delicious concoction of puffed rice, coconut, pomegranate and banana mixed up with a fistful of cornflakes - the perfect thing to set up a hungry tourist for a day of dodging rickshaws and persistent street traders in the city.

Breakfast is always something to be eagerly anticipated in India, mostly because of the surprise factor.

First, there's the inconsistency - a camping bowl full of creamy banana- topped porridge on a cold and rain-soaked morning in Manali could be followed by a dish of grey watery oats made by the very same hands the next day.

Another thing is the unfamiliarity to the British stomach: rice and dal at six o'clock in the morning on a flight between Delhi and Leh or "sorry, we don't have bread today, how about a massala dosa [curry rolled up in a pancake]?"

The best thing, though, about breakfasting in India is the jokes tucked away in the spelling of the menus - the cleverness of the "prodige" in Delhi, the continental sophistication of the "omlattes" in Shimla and the agony of the "choclet paincek" in Varanasi.

Best of all, if the "African" breakfast that was advertised in Rishikesh - I still don't get the connection with Africa - doesn't grab you, there is always the "health" breakfast (muesli with curd, honey and tea or coffee), the "Israeli" breakfast (bagels, yoghurt and, of course, Israeli salad) or - my personal favourite - the "French" breakfast advertised in Delhi which, as well as coffee and croissants, offers a cigarette to finish off the meal in a singularly French way.

Rhiannon Batten

Green channel

A new bus service has commenced in the Bekaa Valley, the first time public transport has been available in this part of Lebanon since nationwide bus services were shut down during the war. The service will operate between Rashaya in the south and Hermel, which is the northernmost town

in the Bekaa.

The 25 buses began service on 1 October, and run to several towns that are of interest to travellers, including Baalbek and Zahle. Most Lebanese and travellers rely on taxis and service taxis to get around much of the country, as until now only Beirut had government-run bus services.

From `Comet', the Lonely Planet on-line magazine; subscribe for free on

Red channel: the tram to avoid in the Czech capital

"There is a high incidence of petty theft, particularly in Prague. Pickpocketing is extremely common at the main tourist attractions, the main railway station, on trains and on trams, particularly the number 22 route to and from Prague Castle."

Advice published this week by the Foreign Office Travel Advice Unit (0171-238 4503)