A stopover to soak up some Japanese culture

Just your cup of green tea ... the indoor mixed-gender bath  at Hoshi Onsen.
Just your cup of green tea ... the indoor mixed-gender bath at Hoshi Onsen. Photo: AFP

We're a couple in our mid-60s who will be returning from a trip to Britain in September, and stopping over in Japan. We arrive at Narita on a Sunday at 2.20pm and leave the following Wednesday at 7.50pm. We would really like to stay in onsen/ryokan accommodation and soak in the hot springs for that time. Do you have any suggestions as to how that might be achieved, with recommendations for train travel?
- D. Grainger, Canberra.

Japan has about 3000 onsen - natural hot springs - and the Japanese were enjoying the soothing effects of communal soaking for many centuries before it occurred to Californians to do likewise.

Hoshi Onsen could be just your cup of green tea. Bathing at Hoshi Onsen takes place at just a single ryokan, Chojukan, which is a beautiful, traditional ryokan in mountainous country about 2½ hours from Tokyo by train.

Local hang-out ... the Shakespeare & Company bookshop in the quartier Latin, Paris.
Local hang-out ... the Shakespeare & Company bookshop in the quartier Latin, Paris. Photo: AFP

Built in 1875, the ryokan sits on both sides of the narrow Nishi River, joined by a covered wooden bridge. The detail in the 37 guest rooms is refined and exquisite, and scrupulously maintained by the Okamura family, the sixth-generation descendants of the original builders.

At its heart is an indoor mixed-gender bath. From 8pm to 10pm the bath is reserved for women. There is also a smaller women-only bath, open all hours, and an outdoor hot-spring bath with separate bathing times for women and men.

Scroll down the webpage mentioned above to find directions from Tokyo. If you want a window on the Japanese soul, nothing beats a skinny dip.

The Venice Carnival in Piazza San Marco.
The Venice Carnival in Piazza San Marco. Photo: AFP

Itinerary nirvana for a teen with spirit

I enjoy reading your column and thought it would be worth asking your advice about the best things to see and do for a 16-year-old. I am taking him to London, Paris, Prague and Vienna in late September/early October for three weeks. He enjoys modern art (street art) and modern music (bands etc). He is also a good traveller; last year I took him to Beijing and Chengdu. I am a frequent business traveller but not good at walking long distances. It would be good if there were some things he could do without me tagging along.
- L. Davis, Drummoyne.

Young men of this age can be a tough call. In Paris, some will want to hang out in the Shakespeare & Company bookshop on the Left Bank, others to join the Paris Roller, the mad mass skate that takes place every Friday at 10pm. Why not ask him what he'd like to do?

Constructing your own itinerary is hugely empowering, and being given the freedom to pursue your own interests in one of the great cities of the world is a marvellous gift to young and impressionable minds.

Ask him to build a wish-list for each of the cities you'll be visiting. No doubt there are some things you'll want to do together, but also some you won't. To help him make an informed choice he needs resources, and there's plenty of quality information on the web.

Lonely Planet is a great start and the Thorn Tree in particular. Time Out gives a heads-up on the current music, arts, performance and cafe scene, and the National Geographic Traveler website has luscious pictures and a handy must-do list for each of the cities you'll be visiting, plus city walks.

Based on my own experience, teenagers are not necessarily early risers, so you may want to take account of that when planning your days together. Internet access is vital at this age, so make sure your hotels have free wi-fi - and make sure he turns off data roaming if he's packing a smartphone.

Ditch the car in Venice

We're driving a hire car through Italy and I'm wondering what would be the best strategy when we get to Venice, where we have a hotel booked in the city for three nights. Is there a convenient spot where we can leave the vehicle before we cross to Venice, with good connections for us and our luggage?
- M. Charlton, Newcastle.

The most convenient option is to park in Piazzale Roma, in Venice itself, where there are several parking stations. But they are expensive. If you park at the ASM parking station, for example, the cost is between €24 (29) and €26 a day, depending on the season. You can get a slight reduction if you book online. From here you can catch a vaporetto along the Grand Canal to the stop closest to your hotel.

A much cheaper option is to park at Venice's Marco Polo Airport, where the parking station charges just €5 per day. From the parking station, you can hop aboard the free shuttle bus to the airport, then take either the Alilaguna boat or, for a much lower price, the ATVO bus to Venice.

Bargains in the Big Apple

My friend and I are planning a trip to the US for July next year to celebrate our 21st birthdays. After touring the west coast with Contiki, we'd really love to visit New York. Is there a pass that will allow us to enter New York attractions at a discounted rate? Do you recommend a comfortable and cheap youth hostel central to the city? Also, is it possible to book tickets to a Broadway musical in advance, and if so how do we go about this? Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.
- H. Roods, Gosford.

Great move. NYC is an absolute blast. Head for "buy attractions passes", which you'll find under the "top attractions" tab on theNYC Guide site. There are several options here to suit different requirements and they can save you a bundle on admission prices to the top attractions, galleries and museums.

The Q4 Hotel gets generally good reviews and the location is convenient, just across the East River from Manhattan's Midtown and the Upper East Side. The nearest subway is about a 10-minute walk. If that doesn't work out you can find plenty more choices on the Hostels.com website, with user reviews.

You can buy Broadway tickets in advance from the New York Show Tickets site. Many of these shows are expensive but you can save a bundle if you click on the "SEE MORE BROADWAY TICKETS" link on the left side of the page, which takes you to the wonderful world of discount tickets. Prices here are usually keener than from the TKTS booth in Times Square and you don't have to queue.

Digiwatch

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If you have travel questions, we'd love to hear from you. Include the name of your suburb or town  and send it to tripologist101@gmail.com. Personal correspondence cannot be entered into. Only questions appearing in print will be answered. One published letter each week will win a Lonely Planet guidebook.

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