British bargain of the week

First class travel on the GNER network between London and Inverness for a maximum fare of pounds 79 return

If you book by 6pm the day before travel, and stay away at least two nights, you save pounds 170 on this journey compared with the normal ticket price. The deal will also take you from Glasgow to Peterborough for pounds 69, or Doncaster to Stevenage for pounds 59. Call 0345 225 225 for more details.

Euro-bargain of the week

Switzerland with extra frills for a no-frills fare

Starting this morning, the crafty traveller to Geneva can enjoy wide- bodied comfort and high-quality in-flight service on a new run from Heathrow. The route is being launched by the Arabian airline, Gulf Air (0171-408 1717). Economy passengers pay pounds 123 return, but can expect long-haul standards of food and entertainment on the short hop to Geneva.

Those paying pounds 273 for business class will be indulged, while passengers whose gold credit cards can stand the shock of a pounds 423 fare will enjoy a first-class seat and the luxury of gold-plated taps in the first-class washroom. And contrary to some rumours, Gulf Air is, in my experience, by no means "dry".

For comparison, British Airways charges more than pounds 500 for a Club class return. The only drawback with Gulf Air? There are just two flights a week.

Trouble spots

Milan Malpensa airport

Travellers heading to Italy's second city - and main aviation hub - to see Leonardo da Vinci's freshly restored Last Supper will probably find themselves arriving at Malpensa, 35 miles from central Milan. This is because the Italian government has decided that flights should be moved from the much handier Linate, just five miles from the centre.

On the rail link to Milan, reports Independent reader Richard Madge, trains run every half an hour and the fare is L15,000 single (about pounds 5): "However, at the present time the high-speed link is not complete and the train runs for most of the way on an old branch line (much of which is single track) and at fairly low speed.

The journey takes 40 minutes, and presently deposits passengers at Cadorna, a station in the northern suburbs which is roughly the Milan equivalent of Finsbury Park in north London.

Should one wish to go anywhere more useful, it is necessary to take the Metro (well known for pickpockets and bagsnatchers) or a taxi (approximately pounds 7 to central station)."

In this context, the bus from Malpensa to central station, which takes one hour and costs slightly less than the train, is probably still the best option.

Malpensa has been the scene of considerable delays recently, and if your flight is affected you could be entitled to a meal voucher. But it appears that only passengers who request this are given one.

Currency of the week

The Panamanian Balboa

The first European to set eyes upon the Pacific Ocean was Vasco Nnez de Balboa, who traversed the Panamanian isthmus in 1509. (The poet Keats is wrong in giving credit for first seeing the Pacific to "stout Cortes".)

Panama's currency is named after Balboa - but is tied to the American greenback so tightly that there are no notes for the Balboa; indeed, the country's constitution prohibits the circulation of any paper currency other than the US dollar.

Adopting the courtesy title of the Balboa (written B/), the dollar circulates freely and in poor condition, since most of the notes have been carried around in sweaty back pockets for years.

Panama's adherence to parity with the US dollar is of considerable benefit to the traveller.

The problems of convertibility which afflict every other currency in Central America, from the Costa Rican coln to the Guatemalan quetzal, are unknown in Panama. Furthermore, it is easy to obtain US dollars in exchange for traveller's cheques, or on a credit card, which can be most useful for travelling elsewhere in the region.