To infinity and beyond (that'll be £70,000 please)

Susan Marling''s Traveller'S Checks
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The Independent Travel

It's tourism, but not as we know it. As Mr Kubrick's 2001 inches nearer, space fiction is becoming fact. Wildwings, a travel agency in Bristol, is already taking bookings for tourist trips into space that could begin as early as 2004. According to John Brodie-Good, the company's managing director, the £70,000 sub-orbital flight, lasting anything from 40 to 90 minutes and with two to three minutes of weightlessness guaranteed at the highest point, is only the beginning of what will soon be on offer to the space tripper. "By 2015 it will be possible to spend the weekend orbiting the earth," Brodie-Good predicts, "and there are already designs for space hotels, with rooms set to varying levels of gravity to stop the guests getting space sickness." For wannabe members of the 200-mile-high club, Mir, the Russian space station, is being financed and kept aloft by a Netherlands-based company, MirCorp, which has plans to use it for commercial purposes, including space tourism. Last week, the station was refu

It's tourism, but not as we know it. As Mr Kubrick's 2001 inches nearer, space fiction is becoming fact. Wildwings, a travel agency in Bristol, is already taking bookings for tourist trips into space that could begin as early as 2004. According to John Brodie-Good, the company's managing director, the £70,000 sub-orbital flight, lasting anything from 40 to 90 minutes and with two to three minutes of weightlessness guaranteed at the highest point, is only the beginning of what will soon be on offer to the space tripper. "By 2015 it will be possible to spend the weekend orbiting the earth," Brodie-Good predicts, "and there are already designs for space hotels, with rooms set to varying levels of gravity to stop the guests getting space sickness." For wannabe members of the 200-mile-high club, Mir, the Russian space station, is being financed and kept aloft by a Netherlands-based company, MirCorp, which has plans to use it for commercial purposes, including space tourism. Last week, the station was refuelled and repositioned at a higher orbit, ready for its first commercial and scientific guests. Instead of the normal view from your bedroom window, "imagine waking", the Mir website coos, "to the green of entire continents, the blue of entire oceans with the deep expense of space beyond". Currently in training for the first tourist flight up to the station is Citizen Explorer Dennis Tito, a former US space programme engineer, who is rumoured to be paying $20m for the privilege. Wildwings already provides (mostly corporate) clients the opportunity to fly "to the edge of space" in a MiG supersonic fighter (above right). The high point of that £3,859 experience, apparently, is the weightless moments when the cabin crew send passengers flying the length of the plane in Superman style. At 80,000ft the sky is black, the stars bright and the Earth clearly curved. Of course, for a fiver you can have the view, at least, in an Imax cinema - and you won't have to fight for a window seat.

Do caravanners even dream in beige?

Closer to Earth, Melinda Messenger did her best to bring a bit a glamour to the Caravan and Outdoor Leisure Show at Earl's Court last week. But somehow the Motor-Show-draped-dolly act doesn't work when the vehicle in question is not a scarlet Lotus Exige, but a big, beige motorhome with combi-boiler, four-ring hob and worktops in Korsica Apple laminate. And Melinda's recollections of her own happy caravanning holidays - which included running out in the night and "sometimes not quite making it" to the toilet block - were perhaps not quite what the organisers of this show, which is busting with vans that have their own toilets thank you very much, wanted to hear. The British caravan addiction, one man confessed, is all about sitting on site in your van while your wife looks out of the window scanning the competition: "Oh, there's a nice one. Look at the awning on that." But there's actually very little that's new to spur consumer desire in the caravanning world. Despite their exciting names - Kon-Tiki, Avante, Gazelle, New Dawn and Aztec - they are, apparently by popular demand, still overwhelmingly beige. No manufacturer has braved a new caravan concept in stainless steel; none is even painted dark green, which would surely make sense. I confess I did have a moment's flirtation with what used to be called a Dormobile, but which is now known as an "auto-sleeper". The brand new Duetto is £30,000 of Ford Transit with a little house built inside. For an instant I could just imagine plugging in a CD, sitting back in those big cab seats and cruising off to, who knows, Uzbekistan ... Except, wait, this a van that boasts "a dinette with the versatility to suit every occasion" and "fabrics in subtly contrasting shades, harmonising perfectly with the natural hues of the fine cabinetwork". You see? It's at least 30 years out of date, and reaching for a target audience that must surely be coming to the end of its driving life. Listen boys, it's time to get the designers in. Or at least take a look at your poor cousins the tent-makers upstairs at Earl's Court. Here, at least, there's an inventiveness with colour and I watched in wonder as a whole (dark green) tent with bedrooms and kitchen and dining room unfolded from a little trailer that costs 20 times less than the auto sleeper. The show continues until 6pm tonight. Entrance £8 adults, children free (tel: 0870 1288 288).

If it was good enough for Nicolae...

In a report just published by American Express we are told that, for the second year running, Romania - "a relative newcomer to the ski scene" - has emerged as best-value ski holiday destination, and that, once again, Jackson's Hole in the US was the most expensive. This kind of information is very misleading. Firstly, Romania's principal resort, Poiana Brasov, which was purpose-built by Ceausescu in the 1950s, is more like a holiday camp from that era than a modern ski resort. The slopes, while good for beginners and intermediates (who have plenty of instructors to choose from) are no rival for the Alps and Rockies either for the challenge they present or the reliability of snow. So when we are told that a snowboard costs £80 to hire for a week in the US but only £33 in Romania, there's also the question of whether you'll be able to use it at all. There is no grooming or proper marking of the runs in Romania. The resort amenities are fairly rough and ready - wild boar is a regular item on restaurant menus. And I certainly wouldn't want to break my leg and end up in hospital there. Against this background the "cost of seven items in your shopping basket" is irrelevant nonsense.

* s.marling@independent.co.uk

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