Simon Calder column

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The Independent Travel
Why, I wondered a fortnight ago, do you have to re-confirm British Airways flights from Peking and Jeddah, but from nowhere else? Neil Taylor of Regent Holidays, who has been sending travellers to China for years, thinks he has the answer for Peking.

"This is a Chinese government regulation so, in theory, all airlines have to abide by it. It has been around since the mid-Seventies, when the first international flights were allowed to use Peking (previously overseas services were restricted to Shanghai). Visa rules were very tight, so it was one of the many ways to supervise travel by a nervous government. I expect that sheer inertia has kept the rule in force."

Thankfully, the People's Republic has opened up since then. Mr Taylor returned this week from a trip to the south west, where a new alternative to leaving China on trains, boats or planes has just emerged.

"I can definitely recommend walking out. The new border post to Vietnam at Friendship Pass has no queues and little paperwork. Fellow travellers, if any, will be mango sellers heading north in search of the higher prices in Chinese markets. They are happy to lighten their load to passing travellers for no more than 10 pence each."

When you buy a Big Mac at Melbourne airport, you get more than a burger - you also get handed a publication providing a fast education in fast food. Did you know, for example, that McDonald's in Shrewsbury occupies a 13th-century building (presumably with the sales pitch "cheefeburger and large frief, with a foft drink, two groats"), or that the world's largest McDonald's is in Beijing? And if Fidel Castro wanted to become the person to buy the 14,000,000,001st burger, "He would simply have to go to McDonald's at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba."

That must be a comfort to the world's longest-serving ruler during his present difficulties - not to mention McDonald's.

This column's next prize is the I-Spy book of Civil Aircraft. Anyone likely to enter the competition will probably enjoy the reward, since it involves the arcane world of airport city codes: LHR, JFK and so on. If ZIG-ZAG would take you from Ziguinchor, Senegal, to Zagreb, Croatia, and HOT-DOG is a journey from Hot Springs, Arkansas to Dongola, Sudan, what is the snappiest trip you can come up by linking city codes together with a minimal number of other words? To start off, try the following examples: PUB, GIG, TOY, BOY and MAN - the last, of course, being the world's favourite airport.

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