I’M A FEMALE IN MY LATE 20S AND ABOUT TO EMBARK ON A TRIP TO AFRICA. I HAVE NINE DAYS BETWEEN FINISHING ONE TRIP IN NAIROBI AND STARTING ANOTHER IN ADDIS ABABA. I THINK I’D LIKE TO RELAX BY A BEACH. DO YOU HAVE ANY SUGGESTIONS?
C. CHALLENGER, BEAUMARIS, VIC
Zanzibar. The name alone conjures up ivory, spices, gold, slaves and Arab traders – the very incarnation of the exotic. These days, the equatorial island off Africa’s east coast trades mostly on its balmy weather, tropical reefs and glorious beaches. Europeans have flooded in, yet the pale masses grilling on the beaches have not dulled the soothing calm of the island and its Islamic-African melange. The cultural heart of Zanzibar is the extraordinary Stone Town, a knotted, ancient city of teetering balconies and filigreed facades. Among the island’s other curiosities is Jozani Forest, home to the rare red colobus monkey, one of the great personalities of the animal kingdom. To the south, past Kizimkazi Mosque – the oldest in east Africa – village boys will take you out in small boats onto the reefs to snorkel with dolphins while flying fish erupt from the ocean. Along the north coast, Ras Nungwi is a quiet fishing village that remains mostly unmolested, despite its excellent beaches and reefs. Precision Air (precisionairtz.com) has direct flights from Nairobi. Be prepared to sigh.
MY HUSBAND AND I ARE TRAVELLING TO EUROPE IN AUGUST AND SPENDING MOST OF OUR TIME IN BELGIUM. IS THERE A TRAVEL CARD WE CAN BUY FOR ALL OF BELGIUM, AS WE WILL BE TRAVELLING BY TRAIN THROUGHOUT THE COUNTRY, OR WILL WE HAVE TO BUY INDIVIDUAL TICKETS? ALSO, ARE THERE SIM CARDS I CAN USE IN LONDON AND EUROPE, WITHOUT BREAKING THE BANK? PREFERABLY PREPAID.
M. THOMSON, SYDNEY
The rail pass (belgianrail.be) is probably going to work best for you.
It gives you 10 journeys anywhere on the Belgian railway network for €76 ($108) in second class. You can buy it online, with your smartphone or from railway stations either at a ticket machine or a ticket office. If you plan to make fewer than 10 trips, you and your husband can travel on the same rail pass, but make sure you fill in the date and your origin and destination station on the ticket each time before you travel.
Prepaid SIM cards are available throughout Europe, and they are cheap and reliable. In Britain, for example, a Vodafone SIM card with 100 minutes of talk time and 200MB of data cost me £5 ($8.30) recently. Although you can buy SIM cards that will give you pan-European coverage, it is cheaper if you buy one for each country.
MY PARTNER WILL BE WORKING OVERSEAS LATER THIS YEAR AND GETS TWO WEEKS OFF TO FLY TO ANYWHERE IN EUROPE. I PLAN ON MEETING HIM AND WE WOULD LIKE TO GO SOMEWHERE REASONABLY WARM. THIS MAY BE DIFFICULT AS IT WILL PROBABLY HAPPEN IN FEBRUARY OR MARCH. ANY IDEAS?
E. PALMER, PERTH
Deep south would be my choice and it doesn’t get much deeper in Europe than Malta. The island is a bite-sized wonder, just 25 kilometres across, with a wonderful history and polyglot ancestry that has left Malta with a Latin gastronomy, a Levantine taste for cafes and coffee, sensible British road rules and a Byzantine, part-Arab language. Much of the island’s coastline consists of limestone cliffs that the sea has gnawed into grottoes, tiny beaches and underwater caves. Except when the sirocco blows from Africa, the climate is benign. The Maltese have chosen Italy as their preferred cultural template. Open-air cafes, pasta, long lunches, siestas and evening strolls find a foothold in everyday Maltese life. Prices are a bargain and it isalso romantic, which won’t hurt at all.
OVER TO YOU...
"What’s the scariest road trip you’ve ever done?" was the question, and mountain roads inspire the greatest terror. "Reunion Island, heading up a terrifying, tortuous mountain pass," G.Zuch writes. "It took all three of us to drive. One behind the wheel, one with the map calling out the hairpin turns and one to yell 'Too close!' when we veered towards the sheer drop off the road’s edge." India’s Spiti Valley, N.Grove writes, is "full of switchback bends, waterfalls over the road, rock falls, pitted surface, ravines only metres away and teeming with sheep and goats. Constant sightings of trucks and buses left to rot, having rolled off the road." "The ominously named Route 13 in Laos takes the cake for me," J.Cameron writes. "Double-decker buses duking it out with mopeds and 18-wheelers on precipitous unsealed roads with no barriers." My own nomination comes from a journey on a stormy night through the Carpathian Mountains of Transylvania. The only other traffic was horse-drawn wagons loaded with tree trunks. Some were lit from behind by small lamps, but more often the pale spears of timber were all but invisible in the murk until we were almost impaled, which is a suitable way to enter the country of Dracula.
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