We're planning a night at the opera

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The Independent Travel
My wife and I plan to be in the UK in late September and would like to take a side trip to Verona, to include an opera if possible - if not some other Italian destination where there will be classical musical events. Can you recommend travel agencies that specialise in this sort of thing?

Jack Wong

via e-mail

The travel editor replies: One very handy tour operator who specialises in taking people to the opera is JMB Travels (tel: 01905 425628). It offers both escorted group trips to Italian cities, and independent trips.

The bad news, however, is that the Verona opera festival will be over by the time you plan to travel: it takes place in July and August. For future reference, a package of three nights b&b in a three-star hotel - including three opera performances - costs pounds 695 per person this year, based on two people travelling together.

But one possibility which might suit your schedule this year, is Turin. La Sonnambula, by Bellini, is showing in Turin on 23, 25 and 27 September. A two-night stay in Turin, including flights, b&b accommodation and a ticket for the opera, will cost you pounds 429 each.

Alternatively, in Milan's world-famous La Scala opera house, L'Elisir d'amore by Donizetti is performed on various dates from 15 October to 9 November, and prices to see this would be similar to the Turin package . Other Italian options in late September include Venice (L'Orione), Florence (Lucia di Lammermoor) and Rome (La Boheme). The Rome performances, note, are in the relatively minor Teatro Manzoni.

If you are not fixed on Italy, however, your options expand somewhat. Another company called Travel for the Arts (tel: 0171-483 4466), which also runs opera packages, suggests Berlin, where a wide choice of performances will be on offer in three different venues. A three-night trip, including flights and a ticket for one opera, will cost about pounds 440 each, based on two sharing.

The Bastille in Paris is another classy option, and is only a short train ride from London. This September both Madame Butterfly and Don Carlo are on. A three-night break with a ticket for one show will cost from about pounds 300 each, based on two sharing. Otherwise, consider Vienna: this season, which starts in September, features a colossal repertoire. Three-night breaks are from about pounds 500 each. Finally, do not overlook Budapest or Prague. Both are extremely grand venues for opera.

If you want to buy opera tickets abroad but want to make your own travel arrangements, contact Edwards & Edwards Globaltickets (tel: 0171-734 4555), which has contacts in virtually every European country.

Will skiing be a bit of an uphill struggle?

I am in my sixties, am not a very fit person, and my joints are not very strong either, yet my children are urging me to go skiing with them in the Alps this winter. Can this possibly be a good idea? I am afraid it might be the end of me.

Mrs P Rutherford


Dr Larry Goodyer replies: To get the best out of a skiing holiday it is always a good idea to be fit and healthy before you go, so think carefully and perhaps discuss the matter with your GP before you decide.

Skiing is very much a matter of power and balance, and it is certainly a fact that for many of us muscle power declines as we get older. In general, therefore, I would say that for the older person, especially if they had never skied before, there may be a greater risk of an accident.

It should also be remembered that as we get older, so the ability to recuperate well from any accident also declines. This means that not only is there a greater chance of fracture due to brittle bones, but also poor healing of any such fracture and a longer recuperation from sprains and strains is a possibility.

You mention joint problems, and if there is any arthritis in the knee or thigh joints then skiing may cause some further damage. I think if in your own mind you are uncertain regarding your health, you should weigh up carefully the joys of skiing against the potential risks. There may also be considerations regarding medical insurance if you have a pre-existing condition.

Have you considered a holiday in the Alps, enjoying the resort and the company of your children, without actually skiing?

Dr Larry Goodyer is the superintendent of the Nomad Pharmacy (3-4 Turnpike Lane, London N8; tel: 0181-889 7014). Contact the travel medicine helpline on 0891 633414 (calls cost 50p per minute).

Looking for a bargain that is really tailor-made

I am shortly to travel to Australia and will be visiting Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, and Bangkok and have heard that there are bargains to be had with made-to-measure suits. Could you please advise me as to the best, and cheapest places to go and if they really are worth bringing back.

Ian Hurst


The travel editor replies: There are certainly some great deals to be found in the Far East, but heed a couple of warnings before you head for the nearest tailor's shop.

Firstly, to avoid coming home with a suit which looks liked it was designed in the early Sixties, take some magazines with you so that you can show the tailor just what kind of suit you want.

Also, decided exactly what you want and how much you want to spend in advance - otherwise you may never reach Australia, having spent all your travel budget on a new wardrobe. It goes without saying that you should be prepared to barter - you are likely to get a much better price than first suggested.

Prices are hard to generalise about, but you should be able to pick up made-to-measure silk suits from about pounds 50 upwards, especially if you are prepared to buy in bulk (if you can, it makes sense to get a few friends together and make a joint order).

Shortly before the free-fall of the Asian economies, a friend of mine was visiting Bangkok and spent pounds 500 on three suits based on Armani, Kenzo and Gucci designs - labels were even an optional extra - and six silk shirts, with eight silk ties thrown in free. Prices are likely to be even lower now following the crash. Remember, you can always pay by credit card.

The better known shopping districts will be featured in any good guide book, but when you arrive you will need to ask around for specific tailors. "You get what you pay for," is the old adage to remember when considering taking up the services of a cheap tailor who promises to turn your suit around in just 24 hours.

Ideally you should allow your tailor at least two or three days to be sure of a high-quality product. You will be measured up on the first day - take care when choosing the fabrics and designs of your choice. You should then insist on intermediate fittings on the second day, before picking up the final product, hopefully, on the third.