Something To Declare: Santa country; riding America's rails


Warning of the week: Santa country

This is peak season for visits to Lapland (above), which is perhaps why the Foreign Office this week issued updated travel advice. Just in case you were wondering, "Finland can be affected by severe cold weather in the winter months, particularly in the North. You should be prepared for harsh conditions."

And just in case you were contemplating driving a sleigh or similar, be warned that "the drink drive limit in Finland is 50 milligrams of alcohol in 100 millilitres of blood (lower than the UK)".

Oh, and while you're planning your shopping, bear in mind that "Khat [a natural stimulant] is illegal in Finland and those who try to import it are summarily deported."

Bargain of the week: riding America's rails

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 (00 1 800 872 7245; www.amtrak.com). It can cost £10 a day or less. To cover the whole country, a National Rail pass costs $550 (£314) for 30 days. Individual regions have their own passes. An East Rail 15-day pass costing $325 (£186), or $405 (£231) for 30 days, allows travel as far west as Chicago and New Orleans.

A West Rail pass covers everything past these points including Louisiana, Oklahoma, the Dakotas, and the ski areas of Colorado, Montana and Idaho (below) - plus California, Oregon and Washington, a part of the US highly recommended by Peter Bass, editor of the Thomas Cook Overseas Timetable: "It's absolutely stunning. You look out over the ocean on one side and the mountains on the other."

The Northeast Rail pass covers the best-served part of the network, from Boston via New York and Philadelphia to Washington DC. It extends as far south as the Virginia coast, and covers trips to Montreal and Niagara Falls.

A five-day pass costs $175 (£100), which is about the price of the cheapest return ticket from Washington to Boston; $211 (£121) and $247 (£141) cover 15 and 30 days respectively. Regional passes are not valid on Acela Express high-speed trains, but slower trains are covered.

Finally, if you want to cover Canada as well, the North America Rail Pass allows 30 days of unlimited travel for $766 (£438) on both Amtrak and Via Rail Canada.

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