Tripologist: how many nights should I plan for each stop in Europe?

Everyone asks ... 

How many nights should I plan for each stop on my European tour?

The minimum is three nights. Many try to cram too much into a tight itinerary in Europe, and it's a big mistake. Like visiting an epicurean restaurant and bolting the meal, rushing through Europe is not a recipe for happiness.

Say you arrive in Venice on day one. By the time you check in to your hotel, it's already mid-afternoon. A three-night stay leaves you with just two full days to explore. By all means, visit St Mark's Basilica, take a vaporetto along the Grand Canal, have coffee at Caffe Florian in Piazza San Marco and take a ride in a gondola if you must, but it's the small and unexpected events that charm. If you discover a fantastic little pasticceria and the boss remembers that you ordered the torta di mandorla when you stopped by yesterday, that's the stuff of which fond memories are made.

If your journey from one stop to the next is just a few hours, which is typically the case in Europe, check out of the hotel in your origin as late as possible. If you arrive at your destination before midafternoon, you might find your hotel room has not been serviced. While you can always leave your bags in the care of the hotel, it breaks up your day when you have to return to your hotel to complete the check-in process.

Those autumn colours fall in September

I hope to visit my daughter in Denmark to coincide with her autumn holiday in mid-November. I would love to see autumn colours, as well as the Rocky Mountains on the way, and I thought a train trip across Canada from west to east, then a short trip in the east to catch autumn colours before going to Denmark might fit the bill. I am 80 but quite active. Have you some suggestions?
- E. Brown, Ballina.

I'm afraid the autumn colour show will be well and truly over by November. I spent a couple of years of my youth living close to Toronto and the leaves would change colour shortly after we went back to school in early September.

In Canada's Rocky Mountains, as well as the prime viewing areas of southern Ontario, the Laurentian Mountains of Quebec and the Maritime provinces, peak season for viewing the autumn spectacle is generally the last week in September and very early October.

By November the leaves will have shrivelled in the cold breath of winter. However, Niagara Falls and the city of Montreal are well worth a visit at any time of the year.

The journey from Vancouver across the Rocky Mountains by train is still a lovely trip, but if seeing the autumn colours is a prime reason for your trip, you need to set out towards the end of September.

Bulk billing just might work

I'd like to travel by cargo ship to Murmansk, preferably from Britain, but I'm having trouble finding such a trip. I've never travelled by cargo ship before but have done a lot of backpacking off the beaten track. Do you have any suggestions?
- M. Balfe, Claremont, WA.

Try Murmansk Shipping Company. The website is in Russian ( but you could try its email (

There's also Nordic Bulk Carriers (, a Danish operator. In 2012, Nordic Bulk shipped ore from Murmansk to Huanghua, in northern China. Rather than the standard route through the Suez Canal, the company engaged Rosatomflot, and went via Murmansk and through ice accompanied by an icebreaker on the Northern Sea Route.

The success of this journey may inspire more cargo traffic to and from Murmansk, and open the door to travellers. The Northern Sea route would be a sensational journey.

Options galore in Abu Dhabi

I will be travelling to Morocco in a few weeks with a 22-hour layover in Abu Dhabi. I would love to have a look around in Abu Dhabi but am not really sure of what to see or where to go. Is there anything you recommend? And am I allowed to leave the airport? I am a single, well-travelled female.
- L. Paardekooper, Maroubra.

Search online for "Abu Dhabi entry requirements". You should find the official Abu Dhabi website, headed "Getting a visa for Abu Dhabi". If you hold an Australian passport, you are exempt from the country's entry permit requirements and can obtain a visa on arrival.

The Louvre Abu Dhabi is not yet complete, but the current Manarat Al Saadiyat exhibition in the Saadiyat Cultural District offers a prelude. Google "Frommers Abu Dhabi" for a helpful site with plenty to fill in your day. Also see the Visit Abu Dhabi website

As a single woman and an experienced traveller you should have no problems.

Grab a bike and see the sights

My friend and I are 20-year-old students and after our organised tour of Vietnam we intend to spend a week in Cambodia, where we would like to see the sights at our own pace. We have never been to an Asian country. We both hold driving licences and we are considering hiring a scooter there rather than booking tours as our finances are limited. What's your opinion? If it is too risky, what are our other options for getting around the sights without booking tours?
- A. Gane, Glebe.

The places you'd be most likely to hire a scooter in Cambodia are in Siem Reap, the gateway town to Angkor, and Kep or Sihanoukville, on the coast. I've hired scooters there and so did my daughter a couple of years back when she was about your age and all was OK.

But do you have a licence to ride a scooter? Ever done it before? If the answer to both of these is "no", you really shouldn't be doing it in Cambodia. Asian traffic and roads are not like our own. If you do come off, medical assistance may not be forthcoming or adequate.

Why not use bicycles? You can easily hire bikes, especially in Siem Reap, and riding out to visit the temples is a delight. If you stay in backpacker accommodation, you can find plenty of budget-priced tours of the local highlights.