QAs parents of a sport-mad daughter with a disability, we were interested to learn that the Special Olympics take place in Ireland this summer. Would it be possible for us to take her to some of the events, and if so, how do we book tickets?
M Shaw, Reading
AThe Special Olympic World Games are held every four years, a year before the Olympic Games. This year is special, as it is the first time that the event has been held outside the US. The games will take place in and around Dublin between 21 and 29 Junee 2003. A visit should prove a worthwhile and enjoyable trip for all of you. Ireland is going to huge lengths to ensure that it's a success. Individuals with learning disabilities will be competing in everything from athletics to volleyball, and there will be demonstrations of kayaking, judo and pitch-and-putt. About 500,000 visitors from Ireland and abroad are expected to attend.
The swimming events at the National Aquatics Centre and athletics at the Morton Stadium are likely to draw large crowds. The organisers also recommend a visit to the Festival Village at the Simmonscourt Pavilion, part of the Royal Dublin Society grounds in Ballsbridge. Open from 22 to 28 June, 9.30am to 5.30pm, it will feature a daily cultural and artistic programme including theatre, music, street performers and storytellers.
Tickets to all the events are free and available at the grounds on the day. A free shuttle bus linking the different sports venues throughout the city is being laid on. Tickets for the opening and closing ceremonies on 21 and 29 June at Dublin's main stadium, Croke Park, should be available online from the end of March, on a first come, first served basis. The organisers are not sure yet whether they will be free, so keep an eye on www.2003specialolympics.com to guarantee your tickets.
Dublin is great to visit at any time, so there will be plenty to do if you feel like a break from sports.
Dublin Tourism (00 353 1 605 7700; www.visitdublin.com) can offer lots of suggestions. It also offers a comprehensive selection of accommodation and a booking service, although you would be wise to book as soon as possible as availability will diminish closer to the games.
The official accommodation website for the 2003 Special Olympics World Summer Games (00 353 1 280 2641; www.ovation.ie/html/families.htm) can help you to choose and book the best accommodation for your stay. Bewley's Hotel (00 353 1 668 1111; www.bewleyshotels.com), Merrion Road, Ballsbridge, Dublin 4, next door to the Royal Dublin Society, offers good value for families, with rooms for up to two adults and three children costing €99 (£66) excluding breakfast. The hotel also has disabled access.
Ryanair (0871 246 0000; www.ryanair.com) is now offering flights from London Gatwick to Dublin from £70 return per adult, for departures on 20 June. Aer Lingus (0845 084 4444; www.aerlingus.com), one of the major sponsors of the games, has flights from London Heathrow to Dublin (handier for you) from £82 return per adult and £75 per child (aged two to 11). You might also try British Midland (0870 607 0555; www.flybmi.com).
Full details of the games, including the locations of all events, are available on www.2003specialolympics.com – and you can telephone for information on 00 353 1 869 1666.
Who knows, a visit this year might even inspire your daughter to take part in future games.
QWe are booked to fly from London to Tel Aviv on British Airways, taking our daughters to see their grandparents for Passover – flying out on 13 April and back on 27 April. BA has cancelled all flights to Tel Aviv indefinitely. We are determined to go, but will BA give us our money back on fixed-date tickets without a fuss? And is El Al continuing to fly, despite the Iraq situation?
Sarah Gold, London
AFollowing advice from the Foreign Office, BA has indeed stopped flying to Israel. However, the airline is offering a full refund on any tickets, including fixed-date discounted tickets. The airline will also "re-protect" you (transfer your booking) to another airline. The obvious one is El Al, which also flies from Heathrow Terminal 1. El Al is willing to accept BA tickets, but the ticket must be reissued by BA, not your travel agent.
El Al (020-7957 4100; www.elal.co.il) currently flies 13 times a week from the UK (12 flights from Heathrow and one from Stansted) and has no plans to reduce or cancel their schedules unless advised to do so by the Israeli security forces. El Al managed to maintain a normal service throughout the Gulf War in 1991, and plans to do so again.
As for the wisdom of travelling to Israel at the moment, the Foreign Office is strongly advising against it. Its website ( www.fco.gov.uk), where you can check for updates on its travel advice to any country, states: "There is a risk of an attack against Israel from Iraq in the event of hostilities. This might involve chemical and biological weapons.
"We therefore advise against travel to Israel and Jerusalem. If you are already there, you should leave as soon as possible unless your presence is essential."
If you choose to go despite the FO's advice, be warned that flying on El Al to Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion airport is a stressful process at the best of times, with intense questioning of all passengers at both ends of the journey. With the prospect of attacks on Israel, the atmosphere is likely to be distressing for young children.
If you would still like to take your daughters on a Passover holiday, which coincides with the school Easter holidays, alternative kosher destinations are, of course, available. You could contact specialist travel agents such as Totally Jewish Travel (020-7692 6929; www.totallyjewishtravel.com), which offers worldwide trips for the religious period – everything from a tour through Jewish Spain to Passover at Walt Disney World, Florida.