News: Rivals sail into battle; Indonesia gets even trickier

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The Independent Travel

Rivals sail into battle

Summer 2004 will see fierce rivalry and falling fares on ferries linking ports in the western Channel. P&O Ferries (08705 202 020, www.poferries.com) and Brittany Ferries (08703 665 333; www.brittany-ferries.co.uk) have long stayed off each other's patches. The only destination they share is Cherbourg, on Brittany Ferries from Poole and P&O from Portsmouth. But from this month, travellers will benefit from direct competition on two routes.

On 24 March, Brittany Ferries augments its Poole to Cherbourg route with a ferry from Portsmouth to Cherbourg - a key route for P&O.

Nine days later, P&O returns the favour: on 2 April, P&O launches twice-daily fast ferries from Portsmouth to Ouistreham, serving Caen (the city is about 12 miles south of the port). This nearly halves the six-hour crossing time on the existing Brittany Ferries route.

For a peak weekend daytime sailing for a car and four people, Brittany Ferries is charging £570, and P&O £542.

P&O also has a novel day-trip in which you can pick and mix from Caen, Cherbourg or Le Havre, sailing out to one and back from another.

It is valid until the end of May, and costs £69 for a car and four people (£10 more on Fridays and Saturdays).

* New trains are making travel trickier in France. The missing link on French Railways' high-speed network is the line east from Paris to Metz, Nancy and Strasbourg, which is expected to open in three years' time. But from tomorrow the conventional trains on the line to Alsace-Lorraine are to be replaced by upgraded rolling stock, known as Téoz. These refurbished "classic" trains already operate between Paris and Clermont Ferrand.

To pay for the enhancement, fares will rise by 10 per cent. Travel also become more complicated. Téoz travellers are obliged to book a specific seat in advance, just as on the TGVs.

Unfortunately, the new trains are no faster - indeed some journeys are scheduled to take longer.

Indonesia gets even trickier

Since the Bali bombing 15 months ago, Indonesia has been on the Foreign Office blacklist of countries it warns you not to visit: "There is a continuing risk of harassment of Westerners by fundamentalists," says the FO's Travel Advice Unit.

Many British travellers, particularly backpackers, have chosen to disregard this warning - even though most travel insurance policies are invalidated by visits to countries on the blacklist. Now the Indonesian government has brought in an extra disincentive: a requirement for a tourist visa to be bought on arrival. The three-day version, intended mainly for those on brief stopovers in Bali en route to Australia, costs US$10 (£6). The 30-day visa is US$25 (£15). It is not yet clear what currencies are acceptable for payment; carrying US dollars is probably the best way to avoid problems and/or unfavourable rates of exchange.

Note that the visas are available upon arrival only at what are described as "main points of entry"; if you plan any unusual approaches, such as by sea from Singapore, you may need to arrange a visa prior to travel; check your proposed port of entry with the Indonesian Embassy in London (020-7499 7661, www.indonesianembassy.org.uk).

One final hurdle: departure tax when leaving Indonesia is now 100,000 rupiah (£6.50).

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