Something To Declare: The best of Japan; Bolivia; North America via Iceland; The Djibouti express
Saturday 20 February 2010
Destination of the week: The best of Japan
Nara celebrates the 1300th anniversary of its becoming the capital of Japan this year, with a programme of events and exhibitions including guided walks of the city, special exhibitions and lectures at some of its temples, and events in the wider prefecture (district).
Nara is most easily reached via Kansai International airport, which serves Osaka. Through Opodo.co.uk you can travel on Emirates from Gatwick via Dubai for as little as £499 return – cheaper than comparable fares to the current capital, Tokyo.
Cox & Kings (020-7873 5000; coxandkings.co.uk ) has an eight-night Essential Japan private journey that takes in Nara, pictured, along with other key sites in Japan – including Tokyo, Kyoto and Hiroshima – for just under £3,000, including flights, hotels and internal travel using mainly high-speed Shinkansen "bullet trains".
Warning of the week: Bolivia
The latest Foreign Office warning about this poor South American nation makes worrying reading: it talks of a "number of violent crimes against foreign nationals, including British visitors". Be careful how you travel: "Avoid people offering cheaper transport, particularly, but not exclusively, at the popular overland Copacabana crossing point from Peru. This has been a regular starting point of violent, and sometimes life-threatening, attacks and abductions.
Assuming you get past the border, "beware of individuals offering help at taxi points at bus terminals, where many thieves work in teams throughout the day and night to distract their victims. Some criminals pose as police officers and act in collusion with bogus taxi drivers to target foreigners on arrival. Their tactics have included using bogus police stations to fool victims."
The Foreign Office also warns of the risk of so-called "express kidnappings". These are "short-term, opportunistic abductions, aimed at extracting cash from the victim". Victims are held while criminals empty their bank accounts with stolen cash cards, or use their credit cards. "Once the criminals have managed to obtain money from the ATM for two or three days, the victim is usually quickly released. Foreign visitors are particularly vulnerable when entering Bolivia on overland border points with Peru and Chile, such as Desaguadero and Copacabana, and in transit to La Paz."
Bargain of the week: North America via Iceland
No-frills flying to the US and Canada has a chequered history, with a number of failures by airlines. As a result, prevailing fares across the Atlantic during the August peak on non-stop flights with British Airways and Virgin Atlantic are in the £450-£500 range. But Iceland Express (0118 321 8384; icelandexpress.com ) has fares typically around £345 between Gatwick and New York's Newark airport if you are prepared to change planes at Keflavik airport near Reykjavik. (Fares on the competitor Icelandair are significantly higher.)
The airline is also offering flights via Iceland to the Canadian city of Winnipeg, which no longer has direct flights from the UK. August departures appear to be running at a constant £585 return, around £250 cheaper than the prevailing fares on other airlines – most of which require a change of plane in the US, with all the extra hassle and bureaucracy that entails.
Tip of the week: The Djibouti express
Seat61.com , the best online source of railway information, now has a page on Ethiopia and Djibouti – which are connected three times a week by metre-gauge train. The fare on the 193-mile run is £5 in first class (note that "third class means travelling in a goods wagon").
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