Something To Declare: Kalingrad; Scottish hostels; Fiji
Saturday 16 June 2007
Destination of the week: Kaliningrad and beyond
The familiar air hubs of Europe such as Amsterdam Schiphol, Frankfurt and Paris Charles de Gaulle are about to be joined by a new interchange airport. Flights begin this week from Gatwick to Kaliningrad (top right), Russia's outpost on the Baltic – the former Prussian city of Königsberg.
At present, the only Russian cities with direct air links from the UK are Moscow, St Petersburg and Ekaterinburg.
This new flight is the first British route from a regional Russian airline, called KD Avia (007 4012 350 800; www.kdavia.eu). The link from the Sussex airport to the westernmost point of the world's largest country is aimed squarely at the Russian expatriate community in the UK – estimated to number as many as 400,000. Almost all passengers will use Kaliningrad only as a transit point, changing planes to a range of "second division" Russian cities. KD Avia offers connections to Astana (£398 return) and Cheljabinsk (£328), plus nine other cities. The tortuous Russian visa procedures mean that only the most dedicated UK travellers will explore these locations, but the new flight does open up a fragment of Russia. At Kaliningrad, visas can be issued on arrival – the only place in the Russian Federation where this is the case.
While much of the area was destroyed in the Second World War, Kaliningrad remains a fascinating location where 60 years of Soviet and Russian history can be compared with the previous 700 years when it was German. The new link also offers a "back-door" approach to north-east Poland, western Lithuania and western Belarus.
Bargain of the week: Scottish hostels
In Edinburgh in summer, beds are traditionally in short supply, as festival-goers and normal tourists vie for accommodation. Next month, though, a temporary summer Youth Hostel opens at Robertson's Close in Cowgate, adjacent to the Royal Mile. It will offer single rooms (the only type available) for £18.50.
The Edinburgh Metro hostel functions as a student hall of residence for most of the year, but is pressed into service from 13 July to 27 August. Call 0870 155 3255 or book online at www.syha.org.uk.
The same contact details apply for the St Andrews Summer Hostel in Fife. It opens 14 July to 28 August, and has double rooms for £38 and singles for £25.
Warning of the week: Fiji
The US Department of State this week told travellers "to consider carefully the risks of travel to the Republic of Fiji due to the current unstable environment in the country". The diplomats warn "While Fiji is currently calm, political and economic uncertainties continue," and that "A large public sector strike" could take place in the coming weeks. "The security situation, especially in Suva [the capital], could deteriorate rapidly."
The Foreign Office echoes concerns about the political situation, which has been tense since a military coup last December. But the latest travel advice, issued this month, warns about a range of other threats.
In the water, "You should note there are dangerous rip tides along the reefs and river estuaries," and "There have been shark attacks in some waters". On the roads, the accident toll has risen to an average of two deaths a week: "Night-time driving, particularly on the road between Nadi [the main resort area] and Suva, is considered to be hazardous, as animals wander on to the road and accidents are frequent."
Gay and lesbian travellers are warned that "there have been aggressive outbursts against homosexuality," and "Whilst the 1997 Constitution provides for sexual freedom and equality, primary legislation still exists which prohibits homosexual acts."
Finally, the traditional local ceremony of drinking kava may be bad for you. The UK Medicines Control Agency (MCA) has warned that the plant extract can lead to liver failure.
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