SIMON CALDER

'In Greece, taxis are negotiable and drivers as honest as the day is long - perhaps less one hour'
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The Independent Travel
"The one word xenos still serves for both 'stranger' and 'friend'." Geoffrey Banks of south London was one of many readers who took exception to our coverage of tourism in Greece, when we focused on high prices and on the scams some tourists encounter there.

Mr Banks continues: "In 28 years of visiting the Greek islands and mainland, I fail to recognise any situation of discontent you feature. I have never been cornered by a group of 'harpies' and conned into paying for their enjoyment, except in Soho. Taxis are negotiable and drivers are as honest as the day is long - perhaps less one hour. Perhaps you found too many odd spots where the locals respond to the aggressive bad manners of some visitors. They, I assure you, are situations I recognise."

Noel Josephides, managing director of Sunvil Holidays, says complaints by tour operators to Greece of high prices are sour grapes; his company bought local currency ahead to stabilise prices. "If an operator is irresponsible enough to cost a brochure without purchasing forward to protect his position, then he should be prepared to take the consequences and not whinge to newspapers - putting the blame on innocent parties when in fact it was his own gamble that went wrong."

Mr Josephides says bookings to Greece with his company are higher than last year, and invites us to consider another story: "Perhaps you could do a piece on how British tour operators indulging in the abhorrent practice of 'allocated-on-arrival holidays' have played a major role in destroying Greek resorts. That would at least equally apportion the blame for what has happened to Greece this year."

The good news about last weekend's catastrophic absence of trains between Euston and the north-west was that no one was hurt. The bad news for me and tens of thousands of other would-be travellers was that we endured a long and miserable evening with hardly a word of explanation as to what was wrong and no idea about how long we might have to wait.

Whenever I have used Euston station in recent years, I have found a platoon of maroon-clad "InterCity customer care" staff greeting arriving trains. Since, on Friday night, no trains showed any signs of arriving, you would assume these people had the perfect chance to live up to their title with the many distressed passengers. Strangely, the staff all vanished. One thing they were definitely not doing was making arrangements for travellers to depart from Paddington or King's Cross, two of the alternative ways to reach the north-west from London.

The first useful advice I heard was 12 hours later - not on the station public address system but on Radio 4's Today programme. "We will certainly make appropriate compensation," said Ivor Warburton, managing director of InterCity West Coast. I have already applied for my share to make up for a ruined weekend (to Mr Warburton at Stanier House, 10 Holliday Street, Birmingham B1 1TG; fax 0121-654 4625), and would like to hear the best and worst compensation stories from this sorry saga.

As well as dispensing useful advice, Today also featured a man from Railtrack making the hopeless suggestion that you should "phone your local station" for information. The phone lines to my local station, Euston, had been blocked for as long as the rail lines. Eventually I got through to Rail Direct, the office in Newcastle that had sold me my ticket. What, I wondered through gritted teeth, were my prospects for reaching Scotland that day?

The initial response was "Why didn't you travel last night when you were supposed to?". Once I had apprised them of the biggest shut-down in services since the last strike, the advice was instantly available. "Phone your local station."

As GK Chesterton wrote in 1916: "There is only one way of getting through on the telephone, but there are an infinite number of ways of not getting through."

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