Something To Declare: The Rhine; Mexico; join the club for a day
Saturday 09 April 2005
With more flights this summer between the UK and Germany, at lower fares than ever, this could be the year to take a cruise on north-west Europe's principal waterway.
Destination of the week: a day or two on the Rhine
With more flights this summer between the UK and Germany, at lower fares than ever, this could be the year to take a cruise on north-west Europe's principal waterway. The leading operator of short Rhine cruises, KD (00 49 221 208 8318, www.k-d.com), has started sailing for the summer, and unveils its schedule in three weeks.
These may be day-trips, but they are also serious and enjoyable voyages: you could comfortably get an early flight from the UK to Cologne-Bonn airport, and connect to Bonn for the 11.30am upstream departure - which arrives in the beautiful town of Bingen just before 8pm. The return journey is substantially quicker, because of the downstream current. The company caps the highest return fare to a maximum of €53.80 (£39) return. And if it is your birthday, you travel for free. A new catamaran, RheinEnergie, made a successful introduction on the route last summer; it includes an on-board children's playground, and storage space for bicycles. The oldest vessel, the 92-year old paddle-steamer Goethe (above), remains in the KD fleet - though a €1.50 (£1.10) supplement is payable.
Warning of the week: on the rails in Mexico
In much of Latin America, the railway network is being ripped up as buses and planes take over. But all is not lost for train travellers in Mexico, where rail services are reported to be "ridiculously cheap" although they may also be "stupidly slow". This is in the words of the Footprint guide to Central America and Mexico 2005 (£17.99). Some travellers imagine that the last remnant of Mexico's passenger train network is the Chihuahua-al Pacifico - the "Copper Canyon Railway", operated only for tourists. It is widely thought that only freight trains run on other lines. But the guidebook says: "Most trains still take passengers and even have passenger wagons... If you have a great deal of time, patience and are train-mad then you probably can travel through Mexico on trains." It warns, though, that: "The problem with having a public train schedule is that the public then expect the service to arrive and depart roughly on schedule," and points out that: "Train travel in Mexico never had such lofty expectations."
Bargain of the week: join the club for a day
The world's biggest airline, American, has a novel offer for travellers. For just $50 (£27), you can buy your way into the Admiral's Club - the airline's executive lounge - for the day. The payment not only covers the first location you visit: you could wine and dine in the lounge at Gatwick before your flight to Dallas, and spend the transit time in the Admiral's Club in the Texas airport while waiting for a connecting flight to, say, Mexico or California. One warning: inside the US, food and drink are charged for. And one bonus: if you buy access at one of American's Latin American airports, you pay only $35 (£19).
On the inbound leg, you can use the American Airlines arrivals lounge at Heathrow for just $35 (£20) - with its gym, showers and breakfast.
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