Something To Declare: Cuba/Kosovo/US rail network/48 Hours
Saturday 23 February 2008
Warning of the week: Crime in Cuba
Most visits to the Caribbean's largest island "are trouble-free", advises the Foreign Office. If the Complete Guide to Cuba (pages 16-18) entices you to the island, however, be aware that the official advice also says also crime is increasing: "Beware of pickpockets and bag-snatchers, especially in Old Havana."
I had my camera snatched from my wrist in broad daylight in Havana last month. I gave chase, in flip flops – not the brightest move – but fell flat on my face and wound up with no camera and two bloody knees.
Shaken, I took a taxi to the police station. The well-armed officers drove me first to the scene of the crime so that they could take a look around, then the hospital. With my armed escort standing by, I had my knees cleaned out.
At the police station, I filled in a lengthy report, and was asked to flick through mugshots of possible suspects – in the company of a Korean girl who had also had her camera stolen that afternoon. Eventually, they insisted on driving us both home to our separate hotels. Despite all the personal attention, at no stage did I feel confident that there was much chance of recovering my property.
The Foreign Office also warns of a crime wave at Havana airport: "Theft from luggage during baggage handling, both on arrival and departure, is common."
Before check-in, you are advised to remove all valuables, lock suitcases and have them shrink-wrapped.
By Lucy Gillmore
Destination of the week: KOSOVO
If you want to be the first to join the celebrations in Europe's newest nation, the obvious way in is on British Airways' flights, four times a week, from Gatwick to Pristina. (BA's website insists that the Kosovan capital is still in Serbia and Montenegro.) At the time of going to press, a flight next Saturday, 1 March, for a week, was £215 return.
Before you join the party, note the Foreign Office warns "There is a tradition in the Balkans to celebrate major events with fireworks and sometimes gunfire into the air. During these periods we recommend you stay indoors."
Bargain of the week: riding the rails in America
Given the stress of travelling by air within the US, you may prefer to take advantage of the heavily subsidised rail network operated by Amtrak (001 800 872 7245; www. amtrak.com). Unlimited travel can cost as little as £8 a day.
Go in the next three months to keep costs down: a National Rail pass costs $389 (£205) for 15 days, or $469 (£247) for 30 days, until 22 May (or after 2 September). From 23 May to 1 September, the peak-season prices are $499 (£263) and $599 (£315) respectively.
Individual regions have their own passes. For example, an East Rail 15-day pass costs $329 (£173) off-peak, and $369 (£192) peak, or a little more for 30 days. It covers the zone from the Atlantic coast as far west as Denver and Albuquerque, and includes all of Texas. It even allows an excursion to Montreal. A West Rail pass, for the same prices, covers everything from the Pacific coast to Chicago, Memphis and New Orleans, and includes an optional extension to Vancouver.
For trips to the New England, New York and mid-Atlantic states, the Northeast Rail pass will do. It covers the best-served part of the nation's network, from Boston via New York and Philadelphia to Washington, DC. It extends as far south as Newport News on the Virginia coast, and also covers trips to Montreal and Niagara Falls. A 15-day pass costs $299 (£157) at any time of year.
To cover Canada as well, the North America Rail Pass allows 30 days of unlimited travel on both Amtrak and Via Rail Canada for $709 (£373) until 22 May; from 23 May to 15 October, the price rises to $999 (£526). One condition: you must take at least one cross-border train.
Passes are available online at www.amtrak.com or through specialist agents.
Download of the week: 48 Hours
When planning your next weekend break, bear in mind that The Independent offers the widest range of destination-based audio podcasts, from Athens to Tenerife, of any UK national newspaper, all available to download free at independent.co.uk/travel.
By Simon Calder
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