Travel Letters

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Happy hippies go island-hopping

Can you tell me where to get information on Greek ferries in general and routes to the island of Halki in particular?

Sue Prutton

Norwich

Jill Crawshaw replies: About 120 of the Greek islands are connected by ferry or hydrofoil, with the largest number operating out of Piraeus. All services are considerably reduced between October and the end of May.

The routes usually connect groups of islands - the Cyclades routes, for example, connect 26 islands, the Dodecanese connect 17 or so, of which Halki is one. Travel between different groups can sometimes be frustrating and complicated. If you are intending to visit lots of islands, it is important to chart the connections in advance, and allow for possible delays.

Travellers were once able to hop aboard and then buy a ticket, but, as the island-hopper's bible Greek Island-Hopping warns, new computer ticketing means that you cannot always just get on the next boat these days and you may experience problems of double-booking. (Remember, boats get particularly full at the end of August when the Athenians return from their island holidays.) So, try to book in advance.

There are usually three classes of ticket on sale: from Piraeus to Rhodes (for Halki), for example, you could pay pounds 20 for deck class, pounds 30 for second class and pounds 40 to pounds 50 for first class. Catamarans and hydrofoils cost more.

Greek Island-Hopping 1998 (pounds 12.95 from bookshops or direct from Thomas Cook Publishing, tel: 01733 503571) highlights another scam - backpackers (foreigners in particular) are sometimes diverted away from areas with interior seating towards the open decks, although there is no such fare as "outside only". Anyone who experiences this should report the situation to Thomas Cook, so that evidence of this practice can be presented to the Greek minister for tourism.

As well as being a timetable, Greek Island Hopping also has details of hotels and tavernas, town plans, site plans and island maps.

Another useful resource is the free pamphlet Sea Domestic Schedules Routes and Fares, available from the National Tourist Organisation of Greece (send a large sae to 4 Conduit Street, London W1R 0DJ; tel: 0171-734 5997).

Back to your specific question: one of the least known and remote of the Dodecanese group, barren little Halki is reached by a daily ferry from Rhodes in about two hours.

The boat will land you at the attractive port of Nimborio where many of the houses have been converted to holiday villas - some quite smart. Many more are in ruins as islanders have left, unable to make a living from sponge fishing. The island has no fresh water supply.

You can take caiques to the bathing beaches round the island - the main one at Pandamos - or climb up the steep slope to the old town of Chora, topped by a castle. But Halki is an island for unwinding rather than sightseeing.

Other interesting islands linked via Rhodes include Kos, Kalymnos, Leros and Patmos.

Leave your baggage behind and take a royal ramble

We would like to attempt walking a long-distance footpath in the UK but dread the thought of carrying heavy rucksacks. We have heard that there are operators who organise accommodation and transport luggage. We would prefer to walk on our own rather than in a group. Can anybody help?

W Roddewig and I Williams

Croydon

The travel editor replies: Acorn Activities (tel: 01432 830083) can arrange independent packages of the sort you are interested in - for individuals - where your luggage is transported to the next hotel, while you do the walking.

It lays on walks such as Offa's Dyke, a 177-mile stroll along the border of England and Wales, from Prestatyn on the coast of north Wales to Sedbury Cliffs on the Severn estuary. There are plenty of hills along the way and you would be very hard-pressed to complete the walk in a week. (Two weeks would be fairly leisurely.)

Offa's Dyke may have the historic credentials, but the Pennine Way - the first official long-distance footpath in Britain - is even longer, running up the Pennines from the Derbyshire Peak District to Scotland. The walk, in its entirety, which can be pretty strenuous, would take at least three weeks. If you want to sample sections of the walk, call HF Holidays (tel: 0181-905 9558).

By the way, if you are worried by the possible downmarket aspects of long-distance hiking (camping, anoraks, etc), try Wayfarers (tel: 016973 22383). Its organised walks are distinctly upmarket - and expensive. Around pounds 1,200 will get you a six-night trip, all-inclusive, staying in very salubrious hotels.

With iodine, the drink's on you

We are going on an extended camping trip in the Alps and would like to be able to drink from mountain streams rather than carrying our water with us. Can you advise us about water purification tablets and the like. Do they really work? What about the bits of dirt and mud in the water - are they going to kill us?

Tristan Smith

Chester

Dr Richard Dawood replies: There are many fancy water-purifying gadgets on the market, but my favourite approach is the simplest, safest, cheapest and lightest: purify your drinking water with 2 per cent tincture of iodine - the standard solution available from any pharmacy.

The dose is four drops of iodine per litre of water - double the dose if the water is cloudy. You have to wait at least 20 minutes before drinking and longer if the water is very cold. On a tough hike, if you can't afford the time to stop, you may find yourself carrying quite a quantity of water with you while you wait for the iodine to take effect.

Ideally, very turbid water should be filtered before treatment, but this is not usually necessary. Most people don't mind the taste of iodine, but if you don't like it, iodine tablets are available that come with a neutraliser that you can add afterwards. Alternatively, try adding lime cordial or a few drops of squeezed lemon.

Dr Richard Dawood is the medical director of the Fleet Street Travel Clinic, 29 Fleet Street, London EC4Y 1AA (tel: 0171-353 5678).

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