Together with my girlfriend, I'm planning a tour to Scandinavia, which involves a Hurtigruten voyage. We are planning on visiting early to mid August. Is there any preference from travelling from north to south or south to north for the best scenery and seeing the Norwegian fiords? We do not want to do the extended voyage in both directions.
- M. Maclellan, Mona Vale.
Although they travel the same route along the Norwegian coast between Bergen and Kirkenes, Hurtigruten's northern and southern voyages offer different excursions. Your choice really depends on whether, for example, an evening at the Lofotr viking feast (Excursion 4E, northbound) appeals more than, say, the midnight concert at Tromso (Excursion 8C, southbound).
You can check what's being offered on each cruise at the Hurtigruten website. If you click on "View brochures" on Hurtigruten's "Experiences" page, you'll find a 100-page guide with lots of glossy photos to help you decide. Whichever direction you choose, this is a really fabulous trip that never draws less than rave reviews.
A mountain to climb to see sights in a day
My husband and I are going on a cruise in April, which will end in Tokyo, after a day in Kochi and a day in Osaka, during which we will probably visit Kyoto. We would like to spend up to a week in Japan, but we have no idea where we should go. My husband would like to take a fast train and fly home from somewhere north. Should we see Mount Fuji? Any suggestions for budget accommodation?
- K. Kimbrey, Wollongong.
Kyoto is a highlight of any trip to Japan and it deserves more time than the slightly hectic day visit your cruise will allow. Three nights would give you time to explore the temples and gardens and the old Gion district of the city.
You could take in Mount Fuji on the way. The classic postcard view of the mountain is from the Fuji Five Lakes, which are located on the north side of the mountain, but getting to this region is slightly complicated. Weather permitting, you get a good view of Mount Fuji from the Tokaido Shinkansen train, which operates between Tokyo and Shin-Osaka, with good connections to Kyoto. You need to book seats D and E for the best views.
Hokkaido, Japan's northernmost island, is celebrated for its natural beauty. Much of the island is devoted to national parks and prefectural parkland, and this is a wonderful place to experience the country's wild side. However, it takes time and if you want to make this the focus of your trip, you would be better off spending your free week here.
Your visit coincides with cherry blossom time. The timing varies with latitude and altitude but, generally, late April to early May are prime. For budget accommodation, check TripAdvisor.
A guidebook will help you make crucial decisions and either the Eyewitness, Lonely Planet or Frommer's travel guide to Japan would be a solid choice.
Insure to ensure you have a happy holiday
My mum and I are visiting the US for the first time in August 2013. We would like to hire a car to travel around New England for about a week. Can you recommend any car-hire companies, and in which city would it be best to start this journey after a week in New York? Would Amtrak be a better option to travel through parts of Vermont and Maine? Could you also recommend a city as a stopover for a couple of nights on our way flying from San Francisco to Washington DC? We are keen to see somewhere different.
- A. Quinn, Bulli.
If you want to see the best that New England has to offer, a hire car is the only way to go. There are various websites that help you track down the best car-hire deal, such as VroomVroomVroom and Economy Car Rentals.
When you hire a vehicle in the US, no collision damage waiver cover is included. The hirer is totally liable for up to the full value of the vehicle in case of loss or damage. You can buy a full waiver when you collect your vehicle but it's expensive. A cheaper option is to buy a waiver direct from an insurer such as iCar Hire Insurance or Worldwide Insure.
You're also going to need an international driving permit, available from the NRMA, and a GPS is a must.
Starting your car hire from New York City is tricky because getting out of the city, coping with traffic and driving an unfamiliar vehicle on the right-hand side of the road is challenging. You'll make life easier if you catch a train to an Amtrak station somewhere up the Connecticut coast and collect your vehicle there. Bridgeport or Stratford would probably work.
One experience missing from your itinerary is the great wonders of the American west. You could, for example, fly from San Francisco to Wyoming's Jackson Hole and spend a few inspiring days exploring the lakes and mountains of Grand Teton National Park or even Yellowstone.
Hungary for adventure
My wife and I are visiting Budapest for a few days in June next year and would be interested in any accommodation and sightseeing recommendations you might have.
- P. Kelly, Hobart.
Budapest has a number of grand hotels that evoke memories of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, such as the Hotel Palazzo Zichyand the Corinthia Hotel, and prices are reasonable. At the aristocratic Corinthia, for example, prices start from about $176 a night in June 2013.
There are plenty of bargains lower down the price scale such as the easyHotel Budapest Oktogon, where the room rate for the same period starts from just €19 ($23.20) a night, although this is nothing more than a clean, basic room. Go to TripAdvisor to check recommendations from past guests.
Get your bearings with a ride on the No.4 or No.6 tram along the Grand Boulevard. Hop off when you see something interesting, take a look around and continue your journey.
Explore some of the city's gardens, with Margaret Island and Szabadsag Ter (Freedom Square) high on the list. A cruise along the Danube is another must, and spend some time in some of the city's historic coffee houses. Budapest is famous for its baths. Marinading yourself in the city's high-temperature, mineral-enhanced waters is an essential experience.
The official Hungarian tourism website is a handy resource, and a quality guidebook will help you organise your trip.
The Triposo app gives you access to travel guides to a whopping 8000 locations around the globe, all free. Once downloaded, the guide sits on your smartphone or tablet, no data connection required. One of the best features is the city map, which locates your position and pinpoints local restaurants and attractions. Even Afghanistan gets a Triposo guide, although this is premature for most of us. Available for Android, iPhone and iPad.
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