I am planning to go to the Arctic (Svalbard) via Norway in July on a small group tour. I will be travelling by myself and wonder what I should see in Norway. I have about eight days to explore the country and I would like to see glaciers and fiords. I also wouldn't mind doing a tour group with people 40-50 years old to see the countryside.
- K. Plumridge, Surry Hills
The Norwegian coastline leaves you panting for breath. Stunning in scale and majesty, this is one of the most magnificent bits of the planet you will ever set eyes on.
The way to see it is definitely from the deck of a ship. Hurtigruten (hurtigruten.com) operate cruises along the length of the Norwegian coast, taking in fiords and green islands and nosing into cities such as Trondheim.
Hurtigruten's seven-day Classic Voyage North should fit neatly within your time frame. The cruise begins at Bergen and travels all the way to Kirkenes, the last town before the Russian border. Wideroe (wideroe.no) operates a one-stop flight between Kirkenes and Longyearbyen on the island of Spitsbergen, which is in the Svalbard archipelago.
The official visitor site for Norway, Visit Norway (visitnorway.com), is a useful resource.
Standout cruise worth more
A girlfriend and I have been contemplating a tour to Antarctica from Ushuaia next January, if possible. However, as there are quite a few companies that have cruises to this area, I am unsure which to choose. I would like to see as much as possible but am not prepared to pay a fortune. Can you recommend a specific tour at a reasonable cost — about $5000 or a little more?
- J. de Mestre, Towradgi.
Sydney-based World Expeditions (worldexpeditions.com) has several Antarctic trips that might fit the bill provided you can stretch the budget a little. The 10-day Highlights of Antarctica voyage starts at $5650, departing Ushuaia on January 9. Its 11-day Antarctic Highlights cruise starts at $6280, departing Ushuaia in mid-January. Both of these cruises are aboard the MV Ushuaia. My choice of all the World Expeditions trips is Across the Circle, an 11-day voyage departing January 28 at a starting price of $6365. This voyage is aboard the Akademik Shokalskiy, a Russian ice-strengthened expeditionary vessel. The trip is operated by Aurora Expeditions and, from my own experience with Aurora on an Arctic journey, the guides and naturalists on board make their cruises a standout.
Book ahead if you're hitting the road to Rome
We would like to hire a car in Florence to drive through Tuscany and then return the car to Rome Airport. As we want the flexibility to change our schedule, we've decided to organise car hire when we arrive in Florence instead of pre-paying in Australia. Would hiring a car at Florence airport and returning the car at Rome Airport be a good idea, or shall we hire the car outside the airport? Or which reputable car-hire companies would you recommend? What hidden costs — such as credit card imprints or one-way car hire fees — should we be aware of? Also, can you recommend places to see for five nights in North Tuscany with moderate-rate accommodation?
- L. Chang, Sydney
Flexibility is a great asset for a traveller but if you don't pre-book your hire car, you will most likely find a limited choice of vehicles at a higher price. Hiring a car at an airport usually incurs a surcharge and there are several car-hire operators with more convenient locations than the airport.
Try one of the car-hire search engines to track down the best deal, including CarRentals.com (carrentals.com), Vroom (cars.vroomvroomvroom.com) or Compare Car Rentals (comparecarrentals.com.au). You need not be concerned about hidden fees. When you book, you will be told all charges. Carry a print-out of your booking documents.
Tuscany is a region with rich and varied attractions. Florence, Siena, Lucca and Arezzo are all worth visiting. What to see depends on your interests; a guidebook will help. The Eyewitness guide to Florence and Tuscany or the Frommer's guide to Italy would be my choice.
Venere (venere.com) has plenty of accommodation options in Tuscany, and you can search by price.
Language no barrier
My husband and I are planning a two-week China trip in September. We are travelling to Beijing, Guilin, Xian, Shanghai, Suzhou and on a Yangtze River cruise. This is our first time in Asia and we can't understand Mandarin, so we'd like to be escorted. We approached China Odyssey Tours and they gave us a good price. But this is a Chinese company and although they have many good reports on Tripadvisor, I don't know if these can be trusted. Do you know anything about the English spoken in China?
- C. Zilberstein, Sydney
Have no fear. According to the World Tourism Organisation, 55 million foreign tourists visited China in 2010 and although statistics don't specify, it's a safe bet that few spoke any Chinese language. China has a well-developed infrastructure and finding your way, arranging transport, getting a hotel room and eating in restaurants is no problem in the areas you are planning to visit.
Many foreign visitors now choose to travel independently, although if this is your first time in Asia, a guided tour is the way to go. Choose a reputable Chinese tour operator and their guides will be well accustomed to dealing with English-speaking tourists.
China Odyssey does get glowing reports, not only on Tripadvisor (tripadvisor.com) but also on other travel websites. Based on those judgments, you could feel confident when you book one of their tours.
Not only does the Kindle app give you access to more than a million books, magazines and newspapers, it also allows you to select from an expansive array of travel guidebooks. Lonely Planet, Frommer's, Fodor's and Eyewitness now offer many of their titles via the Kindle Store and toting a guidebook in electronic version has to be a better idea than a paperback. One caveat; this is one app that suits a tablet device much better than a smartphone. Free for iPhone, iPad, Android, BlackBerry. amazon.com.
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