Something to declare: Kurdistan; Oaxaca; riding the rails for free
Saturday 23 December 2006
Destination of the week: Kurdistan
You can now fly from Heathrow (on a good day) to Erbil, in Iraq's autonomous region of Kurdistan with a single change of plane in Vienna - and a mere 45-minute stopover in the Austrian capital.
Austrian Airlines (0870 124 2625; www.austrian airlines.co.uk) already flies from its home base to places such as Dnepropetrovsk in Ukraine and Krasnodar in Russia, and is the third-largest European carrier in terms of flights to the Middle East. It has just launched operations to what is widely regarded as the only safe gateway to Iraq: Erbil, the fourth-largest city. The lowest fare on offer appears to be £850 return.
While terrorist attacks are not unknown in Kurdistan, they occur extremely rarely compared with the numbers taking place in the rest of Iraq.
Warning of the week: Oaxaca
Place Mexico's finest city off-limits: that is the advice of the Foreign Office, which warns against "all but essential travel" to Oaxaca. Since May there have been several political protests that have turned violent. "The situation remains tense with the potential for further violent incidents", says the FO. It is not warning against visiting the rest of Oaxaca state, including the Pacific coast.
In Mexico as a whole, an average of 12 passports a month are reported stolen to the British Embassy. "Be particularly alert in tourist areas (especially on public transport and when dealing with real or purported policemen)," advises the Foreign Office.
Bargain of the week: riding the rails for free
The new January edition of the Thomas Cook Overseas Timetable (£12.50) includes some tidings of joy from America, for a change: a railway with no fares. The New Mexico Rail Runner is a service running through Albuquerque, the largest city in the state. Local residents qualify for free travel at all times. The authorities have also announced a fare "holiday" for all between now and 1 April. See www.nmrailrunner.com for schedules. From April onwards, the maximum fare will be $2 (£1.10).
The compilers of the timetable are enlisting help from travellers: "If anyone is visiting India in the next few weeks and can get hold of an up-to-date copy of Newman's Bradshaw it would be appreciated."
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