Language holiday

I would like to find a short French language course, with the emphasis on conversational French, suitable for me (rusty O-level) and my 14-year- old son (taking GCSE next summer) to attend together. We would prefer somewhere in France, and would like to go next Easter.

Jane Green

Oxford

Kate Calvert replies:

Most language schools prefer not to take under-16s but with another member of the family they are willing to consider them. Santa Fe (tel: 01273 687697) can offer tailor-made options and would suggest Montpellier as more personal than Paris. It suggests you might like to consider individual tuition which perhaps you could do together. You could also consider fuller immersion by choosing accommodation with a host family. A standard course of 20 lessons per week would be pounds 149 for one week, pounds 289 for two, half-board accommodation with a host family, pounds 115 per week.

Cesa (tel: 01872 225 300) suggests a school in Antibes which might be running junior courses at Easter. It does suggest that family members should not be in the same class because the dominant (not necessarily the parent) inhibits the other. As at all schools, new students are tested on arrival and allocated to the appropriate class. Partly because of the distance I would recommend going for a fortnight. A standard two- week course might be pounds 358 with three or four lessons per day, half-board in a private household pounds 440.

Euro Academy (tel: 0181-686 2363) suggests a host family stay in Lille and a minimum of five private lessons a week or more if preferred. A home stay includes full board and two family excursions per week and would cost pounds 285 for you, pounds 270 for your son and lessons for the two of you at pounds 22 per hour.

All prices quoted exclude travel to and from France.

Kate Calvert edits `Family Travel', the subscription-only publication for parents (tel: 0171-272 7441; website: www.family-travel. co.uk).

Beating jet-lag

We travel to Australia every year. My wife never suffers from jet-lag but I always do. It takes me about 10 days to recover. Are there any medical reasons for this?

Jonathan Sieghardt

Woking

Dr Larry Goodyer replies:

Relatively little is known about why some people seem more prone to jet- lag than others. As it is due to a disruption of the circadian rhythms - the body's own internal clock mechanism - it may simply be that in certain individuals this is more easily upset. Most of the strategies that people are advised to take against jet-lag focus on trying to minimise this disruption by allowing the body to adapt gradually to the change in time zones.

The best advice is to get some sleep during the flight if you can. You might consider some medication for this. Avoid large meals taken at unusual times during the flight and definitely do not drink any alcohol. All these precautions may give a more comfortable flight and perhaps lessen the severity of jet-lag.

It is said to be worse when going from east to west and is perhaps related to total daily sunlight. Also claimed to help are Melatonin tablets, although these are not currently licensed in the UK. People often find alternative remedies such as homeopathy and aromatherapy help. I suspect that the main benefit from these is to allow people to relax and hopefully get some sleep.

Larry Goodyer is a lecturer in clinical pharmacy at King's College, London. Contact the Nomad Travel health helpline (tel: 0891 633414; calls cost 60p a minute).

River cruising

I want to travel by boat on one of the world's great rivers, such as the Amazon. However, I do not want to go with an organised tour. Is it possible to travel on public transport on rivers such as these?

Cameron Gaskin

W Midlands

Phil Haines replies:

The most unusual boat journey possible by public transport is the 1,734km- long Kinshasa- Kisangani steamer along the river Congo. The six to seven day trip down river (10 to 11 days upstream) is one of the great African travel adventures - inadvisable for the fainthearted. Hot, muggy and noisy, the steamer carries over 1,000 passengers, as well as pigs, goats, live crocodiles and monkeys. You get used to the stench of smoked fish, the claustrophobia of people on every inch of the deck and the endlessly blaring radios once you develop a taste for the excellent local Primus beer. In fact, the combination of the sluggish steamer and the Primus creates the perfect state to sense the heart of darkness and make some friends.

The patience prerequisite to this trip is first tested purchasing a ticket from ONATRA in Kinshasa and, again, while waiting for the theoretically three-times-a-month boat. Deluxe cabins have two bunks, air-conditioning and a private bathroom costing $200 including three meals each day available in the cabin or air-conditioned dining room. First class is similar without a/c and costs $150 including meals. Second class costs pounds 60 and has three to four bunks and you use the shower on a barge roof, you can eat in the a/c dining room for a small charge and, more importantly, use the bar. Third class involves finding space on the crowded deck. In the lower classes one meal is provided, usually rice, beans and meat, often monkey. These prices are approximate, like the duration of the voyage.

A passage on the Amazon is much easier to arrange. If you are already in Brazil you first fly, or take a long-distance bus, to Belem or Manaus. The river is navigable between Belem, at its mouth, and Iquitos in Peru, although it changes its name after Manaus where it splits into its tributaries. On all sections there are several boats each week: local boats costing about $20 per day, including meals, and dearer tourist boats. From Manaus to Belem takes four days and costs $60, six days upriver costing $90. Tabatinga, on the Peru and Colombian borders, to Manaus takes three to four days and costs $50, five to eight days upriver costing $70. From Iquitos, Peru, to Tabatinga takes one to two days and costs $20, three to four days upriver costing $30. Again, these fares and timings are approximate and a hammock is advisable.

If you have less time available you may like to take advantage of Laos loosening its visa formalities, permitting travellers to obtain them at the border. The town of Chiang Khong lies 137km from Chiang Rai in northern Thailand. Across the Mekong river is Ban Houei Xai, in Laos, from where you can speed in a long-tail boat to Luang Prabang, the cultural capital. This journey takes most of the day and costs about $30. It is such a thrilling ride that you are obliged to wear helmets, an incongruous way to arrive in one of the more spiritually calming towns of South-East Asia.

Phil Haines, the youngest person to have visited every country in the world, runs a travel company, Live Limited (tel: 0181-737 3725; phil.haines@live- travel.com), "specialising in travel to special places".

Send your questions to: Travel Desk, `The Independent on Sunday', 1 Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London E14 5DL, or e-mail: sundaytravel@independent.co.uk

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